A Point of Grace concert was a delightful way to end a fun day at the Iowa State Fair. My sister Connie and I, along with our ten-year-old daughters, made the three-hour trip early that morning so we could enjoy a full day of attractions, rides, fried food and gazing at the famous cow sculpture made of butter.
The hot, sunny weather, typical for Iowa in August, made our day even better. We left the fair tired but content at about eleven that night. It was sprinkling when we left and soon rain fell steadily. Heavy rains developed into a thunderstorm shortly after we began our trip home, yet our mood remained light as we belted out tunes from the concert and listened to the girls’ excited chatter in the backseat of the van.
Thirty minutes into the trip, the van started to wobble and vibrate. Connie pulled on to the side of the highway. “I think we have a flat.”
“What are we going to do?” I watched the rain pelt the windshield. “Do you know how to fix a flat?”
The van quivered as an eighteen-wheeler whizzed by, a reminder that we were a few feet from Interstate 80.
“I don’t have any idea where the spare and jack are stored. I didn’t expect problems with a new van,” Connie said.
We considered our predicament. Flat tire. No cell phones. Pouring rain. No nearby buildings. Two young girls in the backseat. Pitch black, except for the occasional flash of lightning and the lights in our van. Sparse traffic other than the semis zooming past us on the Interstate. “What are we going to do?” I asked again, this time an octave higher and a decibel louder.
“I don’t know.”
Connie and I stepped outside the van, hoping a plan would come to us as we opened the back of the van and searched for the spare tire. A man walked toward us. He seemed oblivious to the rain.
“Where’d he come from?” Connie asked in a hushed voice.
“I don’t know.” For miles, we hadn’t seen car headlights in front of us or behind us. Our van was the only vehicle on the side of the road.
“Can I help you?” the man asked when he came close.
I can’t explain it, but something about his pleasant voice, and perhaps the way he walked, made me feel safe. He wore a white T shirt and was probably in his late twenties.
“We need help,” I said. “We have a flat tire—”
“But we don’t know where the spare tire is,” Connie said.
“That’s okay. I’m familiar with this van.” He smiled and said, “Don’t worry. I know where things are, and I can take care of it.”
I thought it strange that he would know about this van, especially since it was new, but I didn’t argue.
Despite the rain, he changed the tire and put the flat one in the back of the van. “Is there anything else I can do for you?” he asked.
“No, we’re fine now.” Connie opened the driver’s side door, scrambled to find her purse, and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill. “Thank you so much for your help.” She held out the money.
“That’s all right. Glad to do it.”
Connie insisted, but he shook his head. “If there’s nothing else I can do, and you’re sure you’re okay, I’ll be on my way.” He waved and walked back the way he had come, from behind our van. We yelled good-bye and thanked him several more times. Then I could no longer see him. “He seems to have disappeared as quickly as he appeared,” I said.
“He can’t just walk in this horrible rain,” Connie said. “But I didn’t see any headlights or taillights.”
“I didn’t hear a door open or close,” I said.
Where did he go? Did that really just happen? Who was he?
Just then I thought about our girls. We hadn’t heard a word from them. “Do you think they’re scared?” I whispered.
“I don’t know,” Connie said. “And how can we possibly explain to them what to us is unexplainable?”
Connie and I slid into the van, and tried to control the shivers from our soaked clothes. We turned to face our daughters.
“Amanda? Darcy?” I asked, “Are you two doing okay?”
The girls sat quietly in the back. They were surprisingly calm.
“Yes, Mom.” Amanda’s voice sounded peaceful. “We’re fine.”
“Did you see what happened?” Connie said. “A man came out of nowhere and—”
“Amanda and I were freaking out when the van started shaking,” Darcy said, “and when the thunder crashed—”
“That made it even worse,” Amanda said, “and I was afraid.”
“Amanda said we should pray and God would take care of us. That’s what we did.”
Connie and I had been so caught up in what was going on that we hadn’t thought to pray.
“We prayed that God would keep us safe,” Amanda said.
“We needed help, so we asked God to send someone,” Darcy said. “God sent that nice man.”
“We knew God would take care of us.”
“God sent an angel to help us,” Darcy said.
Connie and I marveled at the innocent faith of our young daughters. As we drove along, I kept rethinking that event, and spontaneously thanked God for caring and taking care of us, even though I hadn’t asked.
That August night, we learned an important lesson. As Christians, we knew God was with us, but until that incident I didn’t realize how easily the Lord answers our prayers. As we drove home, I kept thinking of a verse I had known for years, but now it took on relevance: “Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done” (Philippians 4:6).
Our daughters grasped the lesson before we did.
As we understood later, it took an angel to convince us.