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Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Unlikely Angel

I think this may be my first Thanksgiving story. And also my first non-fiction story. Yes, this is a true story that happened to me. I wrote it in an omniscient first person point of view, mainly because that's my view of the story. If you're not sure what an omniscient first person point of view is, ask me in the comments and I'll 'splain it to you,

Now, onto the story!


A Likely Angel

I encountered an angel in the wee hours of the morning in 1994. A very unlikely angel, but an angel nonetheless.

I pastored a church in Weslaco, Texas at the time—about mid-way between McAllen and Harlingen in the Texas “Valley.” I put valley in quotes because there really is no physical valley. The land there is as flat as the plains in east Colorado, west Kansas, and north-west Oklahoma. First time I drove there, I kept waiting for the drop into a valley that never came.

In this instance, however, I was driving out of the Valley on my way to Wichita Falls, Texas. My mom’s aunt had passed away, and I wanted to be there for my mom and grandmother, which meant driving all night to arrive on time after taking care of pastoral tasks I had that day. By the time I turned off US 281 onto IH 37 and headed north toward San Antonio, it was past three o’clock in the morning, and I still had a long way to go.

But I was at least glad I had fixed the car before I left on this trip. The car’s battery had died. First I replaced the battery, but it died again after some driving. As it turned out, the alternator wasn’t charging the battery, so I paid the auto shop to replace the alternator. With that problem solved, or so I thought, I felt confident I could drive the car to Wichita Falls.

However, it was nearing four in the morning when my dash lights began flickering and my headlights dimmed. I barely had time to pull off onto the shoulder before the car lost all electrical power and turned into an expensive, oversized paperweight. Turning the key failed to get so much as a grunt from the engine, much less any flash of light on the dashboard.

I couldn’t understand it. The battery was new, the alternator was new; what else could it be? Whatever the problem was, I was stranded on IH 37 in the middle of the night. This was long before I had a cell phone I could call for help on, and the closest city was miles away.

“Okay, Lord, now what am I going to do?” I had no clue. Even if someone traveled this lonely stretch of road, who would dare stop to help someone like me?

As I struggled to figure out how to deal with this development, lights crested a rise behind me. The first vehicle to approach my location. I watched, fully expecting the driver to fly right on by me. Instead, he slowed until he stopped beside my car. I couldn’t believe it. God had so quickly answered my prayer!

I exited my car. An old, well-used pickup truck greeted me. Inside the truck sat a grungy-looking, rough rancher of some kind. Dirty overalls, scraggly beard, and a tattoo on his arm, along with a pack of cigarettes resting on the dash. “Lord,” I said to myself, “couldn’t you’ve sent someone a little less scary?”

He nodded toward me. “Need some help?”

I nodded back and proceeded to tell him my story in abbreviated form.

“Hop in. I’ll take you to San Antonio so you can get a new battery.”

I hesitated. I could see my mug shot on a milk carton after I’d mysteriously gone missing. This man didn’t engender any good vibes. Yet what other options did I have? Who else might drive by and stop to help? I didn’t have much choice. How could I look this gift-horse in the mouth?

“If you’re sure, Lord,” I confessed to God. I accepted his offer, locked up the car, slid onto his passenger seat, and off we headed for San Antonio. I kept waiting for the turn onto a side-road that never came.

He wasn’t much of a talker, but I did find out a little about him, and told him something about myself as well. But he seemed in a different world than I was, so a good part of the time we sat in silence, watching the miles roll under the truck.

True to his word, he pulled into a Walmart once we arrived in San Antonio. I bought a battery, and he drove me back to my car, an hour each way. Then he helped me install the new battery. When I offered him some money for his time, he refused it. By this time the dawn had arrived. He returned to his truck and rode off into the sunrise.

I marveled that someone like him was willing to take two plus hours out of his day to help some stranger on the road in the middle of the night. Despite his appearance and apparent lifestyle, he literally was an angel to me. An unlikely one, but an angel nonetheless.

With the dawning of the day I no longer needed my headlights, so I took to the road once more, knowing I’d arrive, if all went well, less than thirty minutes before the funeral was to begin. I kept expecting the battery to lose power again, but it didn’t happen. I arrived in time to attend the funeral.

That evening, I followed my mom and aunt to my aunt’s house in Granbury. On the way there, with my lights on, my car began to show signs it was about to run out of power again. I cut the lights and pulled over. The engine kept running. Obviously the headlight were pulling more power than the alternator could keep up with. So I drove behind my aunt and mom with my lights off and hoped we wouldn’t be stopped by a patrol officer.

The next day, we had a mechanic check out the car. Come to find out the shop that installed the alternator failed to pull the pin that allowed the brushes to rest against the armature. The arcing from the armature to the brushes was enough energy to power the car with the headlights off but not on. Another alternator installed, I returned safely to my family in Weslaco.

But I’ll never forget the unexpected angel God sent my way, and the lesson I learned not to prejudge people. The most unlikely person could be an angel to you as well. It is sad that so many will be judgmental instead of grateful for those God has sent to help us in our trials and struggle for spiritual growth.

For the former rejects God’s help, but the latter emboldens us to be an unlikely angel to someone else in need.

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