My parents moved from Detroit to Philadelphia in September 1975. I started university the same month, and I supported myself (tuition, room, and board) by continuing my high school janitor job in Detroit, about a half-hour drive from Ann Arbor.
That September—forty-six years ago this month—I drove my white, 1967 VW Beetle to visit my parents to hear my dad’s first sermon. It was a six-hundred-mile drive. Three short miles from home, my poor old Beetle’s transmission shifted its last gear, grinding itself to death.
My parents picked me up, we had a great weekend, and I hitchhiked back to Ann Arbor after hearing my dad preach.
My dad was a pastor of a small church, and my parents lived paycheck to paycheck. They couldn’t afford to help with tuition (which is why I drove to Detroit on weekends), and they certainly couldn’t help with my car repair.
I was in a bind. I needed my car so I could drive to work, so I could pay tuition, but I only had $800 in the bank for repairs.
Mom Did What She Could
My mom couldn’t help me with money, but she offered to find a local repair shop. She sat by her phone all day Monday calling shops. She made over fifty calls, but the best price she could find was $2,000 for a rebuilt transmission (with a two-year warranty) or $1,500 for a used transmission (with a one-month warranty). Both prices were beyond my budget of $800.
She went to bed that evening feeling sad for her son (thanks mom!) and frustrated with repair costs. The next morning, she realized she had tried hard to help but she had forgotten to pray. She shifted into reverse, and dashed off a prayer for help.
Immediately (she claims it was three seconds after her “amen”) the phone rang. The caller asked for, “Costa’s.” She said, “Sorry, wrong number.” Thirty minutes later someone else asked for Costa’s. The phone continued to ring, and by noon she had received a dozen calls for the same company.
Mom reported the problem to the telephone company. They said they had published the wrong phone number in a new directory, giving out my parent’s phone number instead. The operator gave my mom Costa’s correct number in case anyone else called.
Out of curiosity, my mom called the number. It belonged to a repair shop that specialized in “foreign” cars. It was located three blocks from my parents’ home.
Mom asked if they could repair a VW Beetle transmission. Costa’s said that they had a rebuilt 1967 VW transmission in stock, one that someone had reneged on. They could install it for $750. Mom said my car was three miles away. They said they could tow it for $50.
The next weekend I hitchhiked back to Philadelphia, wrote a check to Costa’s for exactly $800, and drove my Beetle back to Ann Arbor with a rebuilt transmission, warrantied for two years.
Last Friday, my mom reminded me of that wrong-number car repair from forty-six years ago. I immediately recognized three important lessons.
First: before moving forward, God often asks me to shift into reverse (that is, repent!) and just ask God for his help. He loves it when I acknowledge my total neediness.
Second: the most common commandment that I break is God’s commandment to “Remember!” I’m beginning to make a list of big and small answers to prayer since my youth. Just shifting into a little remembrance has renewed hope for my current drive. Why do I continually forget to remember?
Third: I have to ask myself, “Was that wrong number just a coincidence?” If so, maybe I need to down-shift from praying for more miracles and into asking God for more coincidences.