The telephone startled us from a sound sleep. Peggy fumbled for the receiver and mumbled a groggy hello. It was our neighbor, Virgil Brown. He apologized for calling so late but his wife was stranded along I 20. Their car had broken down again, he explained, and he didn't have any way to get her. "Sure, you can use ours," I heard Peggy offer as I faded back to sleep. The next day we learned that the Brown's old car had died as Tamara was driving home on the expressway. It was a frightening experience for her to be stranded alone at that hour of the night. They were able to push the car off the expressway but didn't know what had caused it to suddenly stop running. It was a tired vehicle that had a lot wrong with it and was long past the point worth fixing up. The Browns badly needed dependable transportation for their family and for their work with neighborhood youth, yet their limited budget just couldn't handle a car payment. This was a discouraging predicament for them.
Unbeknown to Virgil and Tamara, earlier that same week a suburban couple in another part of town were having a discussion about their own transportation needs. Their kids had grown beyond car pool age and the van that had served them well was no longer needed. It would be easy enough to sell the van which was in great shape and still had a lot of miles left in it. Or they could have the joy of donating it for a worthwhile cause. They decided to call me to see if our ministry had a need for it. I told them about the dedicated work that the Browns were doing with the youth of our neighborhood and of the inadequacies of their family car. "Perfect," they said. They would get great enjoyment in surprising the Browns with a much needed gift - anonymously. We made arrangements to pick up the van which was actually parked at our house when Virgil woke us from our sleep. Little did he know that God's answer to his dilemma was at that same moment sitting in our driveway!
The next morning, I drove a shiny, well-appointed van into the Brown's driveway. Virgil had already taken the bus to work but Tamara and the kids were home. As I handed her the keys to their new van, her eyes widened in disbelief. She and the children stood in silent astonishment while I signed over the title and executed the gift "bill of sale." Shock still registered on their faces as I left their house. I had walked past two houses and was turning into my driveway when I heard the Brown home erupt in squeals of excitement. A few moments later, the van pulled out of the driveway and headed for Virgil's workplace. This was a miracle he was going to have to see to believe.
"God will provide everything we need!" Virgil had insisted barely a week earlier to a skeptical group of co-workers at his plant. During a break time debate, he stressed the importance of faith over human effort, using as proof the home God had provided for his family through volunteers from a church. And then the surprise room addition that neighbors and church friends had built onto their home so they could work with more community youth. "We needed a computer for the kids to learn on and God gave us that, too," Virgil drove his point home. "You just have to believe and trust God." The men were intrigued but not entirely convinced. They had no way of knowing just how much behind-the-scenes hustling and selling Virgil might have done to get these so-called "gifts." It was a bit too simplistic sounding for some of them. "God knows we need a van and He'll provide that, too," Virgil stuck his neck out even further. The men pressed him on just how God was supposed to pull this off but Virgil wouldn't speculate on God's method or timing. "You just have to have faith and wait," he told them. The break ended and the men went back to their machines.
This conversation with his co-workers had taken place less than a week before. Now Tamara was standing in the same break room with the astounding news that someone had just given them a van, a really nice van! Didn't know who. She dangled the keys in front of Virgil's face. This was too good to be true. And if it was hard for Virgil to believe, the men would surely doubt that it was a gift. This would be just too incredible, too unimaginable, for them to swallow. They would suspect that he had worked out some sort of a deal and was calling it "a gift from God." People just don't give away their vehicles - unless they're junk. No matter their reaction. It was God at work, Virgil knew it. And the proof was sitting right outside. But as he raced out to see for himself what God had surely provided, a wave of doubt rolled over him. Could this be a big misunderstanding? Maybe he had heard Tamara wrong. The van was just too new, too clean, too deluxe to be a gift. "It's ours!" Tamara excitedly assured him as she showed him the title and bill of sale. Virgil grabbed the papers and raced into the shop waving them for all his co-workers to see. "See! I told you! God will provide everything we need!"
I am continually amazed and delighted by the playfulness of God. Like a master playwright, He creates ingenious daily dramas complete with suspense, humor, intrigue, agony and marvelous surprise endings. He assembles casts of sometimes willing, often unsuspecting players and assigns them roles without lead-time to practice their scripts. He corners one actor into trusting Him with a difficult dilemma; another He entices into giving away a treasure. And when the stage is set and everyone is properly positioned, He pulls back the curtain and the play unfolds into real life. Sometimes the audience is large but mostly these are private showings. But whenever we are invited to play a role or to take a peek backstage, we know that we are in for a special treat. For a brief moment we catch a privileged glimpse of a reality behind the mortal plane. We discover that we are the performers in the daily, active, on-going miracle of Divine interplay in human history. What a wondrous benefit of the life of faith!