For reliable, safe cars.

On the 21st day, I’m grateful for our safe, reliable cars.

In January of 2009 I was living in a small attic apartment near downtown in Raleigh, NC.  I think my rent was $400 a month. I was not yet married to Renee, but we were  talking about wedding dates. And I was making about $1,000 a month doing this homeless ministry thing I did, and had a 30cc scooter to drive around on instead of a car. I ate a lot of meals at the soup kitchen as a necessity, in addition to whatever outreach opportunities it afforded me.

Renee needed to go to see her heart doctor as part of a routine checkup. Her car was broken down, and I said I would take her on my scooter. It was a good 7 miles away. Uphill. And it started to sleet on our way there. My face was literally blue when I arrived. Her teeth were chattering.

“This is bullshit”, I said. I was fully convinced I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. Had been called to do, in the language I would have used at the time. I could barely house myself, or feed myself, and my disabled fiancé was depending on me and my tiny scooter to take her to the doctor in the snow. I was so discouraged. I felt defeated.

That night, I stomped around my apartment, pissed. About 9PM, I called Renee and told her.

“I’m quitting. I’m not sure what I’m going to do, but I can’t keep doing this. I feel like God wants me to do this work, but if so, God can damn well come up with a car for me to do it in, or I am out of here.”

The next morning, I was in a coffee shop, doing some freelance writing I occasionally did in those days to bring in extra money, when a guy I know stopped at my table.

Let’s call him Chip. He was in his mid-50’s and was part of a church that had donated hygiene supplies to my organization the year before. He was very Charismatic – believed in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues and the whole thing. Chip was… annoying. He was a close talker – you had to lean in to hear him –  and he called me “Brother” all the time, and was a little handsy – he had to touch your arm or shoulder when he talked to you.

“Hey, Brother. The Lord told me I would find you here. I really need to talk to you.”

I was too kind to mention that he had met me there for at least three different meetings in the previous three months, and I had mentioned each time that I often worked there in the mornings. Whatever. We will let the Lord get the credit for this one.

It seems that his ex-roommate had moved away and left a car in his garage, where it had sat for a while. Eventually the roommate signed the title over to Chip, who now had this car he didn’t want. Or need.

“So anyway, last night I was praying and asked God to tell me what I was supposed to do with this car, and God told me I was supposed to give it to you – that you couldn’t be expected to do this work without a car, especially as bad as the weather’s been lately.”

“God told you this?” I asked, somewhat skeptically.  “When?”

“Last night after I got home from church. About 9PM.”

Well, crap.

I want to state, for the record, that I don’t have that sort of theology. I mean, I knew literally dozens of people in worse shape than I was. Why would God single me out, out of everyone that could possibly need this car? I debated explaining this to Chip, but I shut up and we took the car, and drove it for three years, including to the beach for our honeymoon that fall.

I was telling my friend Brian this story several years later, and reiterated that this wasn’t my theology. Brian agreed, and said it wasn’t his either. And then he said, “Don’t you hate it when your experience of God contradicts your theology?”

Well, crap.

Spoiler: I did not quit. That car was a turning point for us – one of maybe three things that happened around then that let me keep going, and that set the path for me and would change my life.

These days, we own two cars, both older, but safe and reliable. Both are paid off. And while I’m tremendously grateful for their being in our driveway, I think a lot about the debt I owe to a charismatic close-talker who talked to God like it was real, and to whom God told to give me a car when I really, really needed one.