He Was Ahead of Me

Posted by Linda Handzel

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

It’s a twenty-six foot travel trailer that has been perfect for our family, but I decided earlier this year to sell it. I’m only using it once a year, and I discovered there are other camping services available at the annual family destination. So I planned to use it one more time, then sell it.

My daughter Sarah and her husband Jon helped me load the camper a week ago, and we headed out for a relaxing week together.

My dad taught me how to tow the trailer when I bought it six years ago. Thankfully, it’s a skill that comes back to me even though I only use it once a year. Dads voice echoes in my head as I watch the lines on the road fade away in the rear view mirrors: “Keep the load in the middle of the road. It takes longer to brake. Never jerk the wheel.” These priceless tips and a few others keep me company while I drive 375 miles to our destination.

This year the dog was my only companion, and he complained a lot, but I just turned the Southern Gospel Music up a little louder.

After a week of summer sun we packed everything back up and I headed toward home without the dog. He rode with my son in his car, so I could enjoy my music in solitude.

I was halfway home when I felt the trailer rumble for about five seconds-like I had hit rough pavement. Then everything calmed down, so I decided it was an unusual spot on the road. A half hour later I stopped for gas and when I was finished I pulled over to the side of the parking lot. 

I got a few snacks out of the trailer, and looked at the hitch. There are seven critical spots that have to be hooked correctly, and I always count to make sure everything is still secure. Then I walked past the drivers’ side of the camper to check the tires. I stopped short when I saw that the tread on the rear axle tire was peeled down to the steel lining. It looked like the tire had been peeled like an orange. There was no tread to be seen, only bare steel belt. I had never seen anything like it, but I wasn’t going anywhere like that! I had a spare, but knew the whole process of loosening the lug nuts after I got the jack in place was more than I wanted to tackle. 

“Lord, I need help.” 

I called my daughter to find out where she and her husband were on their journey back to my house, but they were at least a hundred miles ahead of me. 

The Phone Book

Taking a deep breath I walked back across the lot and boldly approached an older gentleman leaning against his car, waiting for the gas pump to shut off. I explained my situation and asked if he could suggest a tow service that would change my tire. He sounded doubtful: “I don’t know, it’s a Saturday.” Then after a moment: “I have a phone book, we’ll look it up.” He dug a well-worn phone book out of his car and started looking for numbers. 

After a couple of failed numbers I was able to contact a lady who promised to pass my name and number on to someone else. Sure enough, a minute later my phone rang and a man said he would be there shortly. I thanked the kindly gentleman with the phone book, and he went on his way.

Back at the trailer I took the spare off the back of the camper and set it beside the bare tire. Then I decided to unhook the hitch so it wouldn’t twist when the camper was jacked up on one side. The three points that were the hardest to unhook and re-hook had to be disconnected. 

The sun was hot and I was hungry, but I only stopped long enough to sip an ice coffee while I worked. I had barely prepared the camper when the mechanic arrived in a little VW diesel car. It was an unlikely sight, and I hoped the man was who he was supposed to be. When he opened the trunk I was relieved to see a jack in there with tools to change a tire. Greg was friendly and helpful, even taking my bare tire back to the shop to put a used tire on it. He said it would work in a pinch.

While he was gone I struggled to get the hitch re-hooked. The camper had moved slightly, even though I had chocked the wheels, and it took awhile for me to get everything lined up. The refueling place was busy, and several dozen cars came and went while I struggled with the camper, but not one person asked if I needed help.

After Greg had delivered my spare I settled back into the car, relieved to be on my way. I was discouraged about the travel time I had lost, knowing I still had a long way to go. My adult children would be leaving to finish their trip the next day and I didn’t want to miss any time with them.

I turned up the music and got back on the highway. About eighty miles further down the road I felt a horribly familiar shudder in the trailer and knew I had peeled another tire. Pulling over to the side I got out to see which one had shredded. To my horror it was the spare Greg had just put on the rear axle. Walking around to the other side my heart sank when I saw that the matching tire on that axle was also bare. I had peeled three tires in under a hundred miles! I was sure there was something horribly wrong with the axle, causing undue stress on the tires.

The warm summer breeze whistled through the empty fields and rustled leaves on the trees nearby. A few cars flew by, but nobody stopped. I stared in disbelief at the steel belt of the tire, shimmering in the late afternoon sun. Panic threatened to rise up in my throat as I considered how desolate this place was. I shoved it back down, telling myself that God was with me, and had a perfect plan. 

The Sign

One lone sign stood by the road declaring that Ossie’s lunch was four kilometers down the road. Resolutely I climbed back into the car, determined to make it to Ossie’s. With the emergency flashers warning others that I was only going ten miles an hour I hugged the shoulder of the road and prayed that the two remaining trailer tires would get me to the exit. My fingers held the steering wheel in such a death grip that several times I had to peel them off.

Ossie’s was booming with seafood lovers, and I pulled the trailer to the side of the road, careful not to block the parking lot. I was relieved to be there, but wondered what to do next. There were no other buildings in sight. 

I have roadside assistance on my auto insurance policy, and I prayerfully punched their number into my phone. A nice gentleman on the other end affirmed that I do have roadside assistance but it doesn’t cover the trailer. I shoved the panic back down again, repeating to myself the same sentences I have said to many others: “God is here. He has a plan. This is happening for a reason. I’m not alone.”

Now that there were people in sight I didn’t know who to trust. “Oh God, I need someone who is capable and honest.”

Taking a deep breath I walked toward a picnic table where two men were waiting for their order. “I’m sorry to bother you, but I need help.” After explaining my predicament one of the men stood up and started walking toward the trailer. 

He shook the tires, felt the rims for heat and crawled under the trailer looking for a problem. “I don’t know why your tires peeled, but I don’t think your bearings or brakes are the problem.” 

“Do you know if there’s any way I can get a mechanic to look at my trailer?”

“I am a mechanic. To be truthful, it’s desolate here and I don’t know of any garages for at least thirty miles. Let’s see if we can find a towing company who will do a service call on a Saturday night.” He pulled out his phone and started making calls for me.

People were placing orders for their seafood supper at Ossie’s counter and numbers were called out over the loudspeaker. Cars full of hungry families came and others left satisfied while I stood there holding my phone in my hand, wondering what God would do.

By this time I had called my daughter again, and also talked with my Dad. I was three hours from the nearest family member, and although they were concerned, they couldn’t help. They promised to pray and I knew God was listening.

The Phone Call

My phone was still in my hand and when it rang I looked down to see who was calling. It was Al Robbins. God’s timing couldn’t have been more perfect. There are two pastoral couples in my life who faithfully call to check on me, and one of them is Al and Laura Robbins. We went to college together, and although we had lost contact with each other, Face Book brought us back together almost a decade ago. They pray for me faithfully every day. 

I didn’t even say ‘Hi’. Instead I answered the phone with: “Al, I need help.” I quickly outlined what was happening and he promised to get me help. I had no doubt that he would, because he’s the type of guy who people respond to--a commanding yet compassionate personality.

The mechanic who was trying to find a tow company reported that a man was on his way to change the tires. While we were waiting he crawled under the trailer two more times trying to see what had peeled my tires, but could find nothing. A few people came over to stare at my steel tires and commented in awe. No one had ever seen anything like it. 

I kept looking at my phone to see the time, knowing it would be dark soon. Even with new tires I didn’t want to try to finish the trip in the dark. I found out it was a three-day holiday for the Canadians and all the camping areas in the entire region were full. Maybe I could make it over the border and park at WalMart for the night. 

Al called back to tell me he had posted a plea for help on Face Book, saying a widow was in trouble. Several people had responded and he was working to find out who was the closest to my location. Al and Laura had dropped everything to help me. 

The roadside assistance man arrived and jumped out of his truck to look at the tires. “Those tires are old. They couldn’t take the heat of the load any more.” 

I thought I had bought new tires for the trailer a while ago, but now I wondered if my memory was as old as the tires.

The mechanic had stayed near the trailer to help me for over a half an hour. I remarked that he had to be hungry, but he answered that he had been hungry before, and it was no big deal. His children came over to tell him his food was getting cold, but he didn’t leave until the towing company arrived. When he said he was leaving I shook his hand and thanked him profusely. “God is going to bless you, Trevor, I promise. Watch for it, because He WILL bless you!” Trevor looked doubtful, but politely acknowledged my remarks.

Chris, the roadside man showed me numbers on the sidewalls of my bare tires. “See this?” he boomed, “Those numbers say your tires were made in the thirtieth week of 2000. You don’t have a problem with your axle, you have a problem with old tires!” He swiftly took the tires off the trailer, but struggled to get the old rubber unwound from around the brake drum and the leaf springs. He was successful on one side, but commented that he would have to bring his crowbar to get the other side cleaned out. Then he left to exchange new tires for the bare ones.

Finally, I listened to my grumbling stomach and ordered a sandwich. Al had called again to say a couple of kind people were on their way to help me. I stood there waiting for my number to be called, wondering what God would do. I was going to be able to move the trailer, but where would I put it? WalMart wasn’t looking very promising, since I would arrive there after 10 PM.

Old Friends

A car pulled in beside my trailer and I could tell the people were looking for someone. Hurrying across the parking lot I recognized Paula, a woman I had gone to college with thirty-five years ago. She had seen the plea for help on Face Book and contacted Al for details. She told me she hadn’t been on FB all day, but tonight when she turned on the computer, there was Al’s message that a widow needed help. She told her husband about the post and said: “Ossie’s is just a few miles from here!” 

Randy and Paula had dropped everything to come help me. We ate together and considered my options for the night. I talked about WalMart, but they mentioned their church would put me up in a motel. That sounded a lot safer to me than WalMart. But when Randy called to see if there was a room available, he was told all the motels in the area were full because of the holiday.

Chris came back and was able to free the rest of the rubber entwined under the camper by breaking it in pieces with a crowbar and hammer. Then he put the new tires on and assured me once again there was nothing wrong with my axle. 

After he left I asked Randy and Paula if they had outside water and electric I could hook my camper to. They assured me they did and said I was welcome to park in their yard. It was getting dark, I was exhausted and they only lived a few miles from Ossie’s. Gratefully I followed them to their home, struggling to stay awake on the short fifteen-minute ride. I was in no condition to drive forty minutes to the border.

They helped me park and made sure I had everything I needed for the camper. Paula invited me to use their shower, knowing what a long day it had been, then invited me to join them for breakfast the next morning.

I collapsed into my cozy camper bed that night overwhelmed by God’s goodness at the hand of people I hadn’t seen in thirty-five years. The cloudy skies had threatened rain, but the heavens didn’t open until I was warmly tucked into my camper. Listening to the rain pounding onto the roof I considered how different it all could have turned out. I could have been struggling to get the camper set up alone in a WalMart parking lot during a downpour. 

Instead warm, caring strangers had seen to my every need. 

Once again, God had been ahead of me: 

He had a man with a phone book pumping gas when I needed a number for roadside assistance. 

On a desolate stretch of road I stopped my camper by a sign advertising Ossie’s Lunch. 

A mechanic was there with his family at the same time I was looking for help. 

Al Robbins rang my phone while I was standing beside my broken camper. 

Paula turned on her computer at the same time a plea for help was posted on Face Book.

Randy and Paula had only lived in that area for two weeks when they responded to that plea. 

I drove home the next day without incident. 

I don’t believe in coincidence or luck, instead I believe in a God who orders every moment of our lives with perfect purpose.

The picture for this blog post is the cover to my book that will be published this fall titled “God Is Ahead of Us”. I will be adding this chapter to the manuscript.

By the way, I have a camper for sale and it has four new tires. Contact me in the comment section below if you’re interested.


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Reader Comments

“Linda - you are such a wonderful writer and a true blessing!”

“Wow, Linda! You were really going through a horrible and scary time. God is so good! You are NEVER out of His sight! I thank God for being right there with you......ahead of you. Knowing all along that He would send just the right people at just the right time. Praise God!”

“I remember seeing that plea from Al and Laura. I enjoyed reading how God move in every part of your troubles.”

“How awesome God Is!!! Thank you Linda for this encouraging story. My life has been so strained these few months. This is such encouragement. Such a reminder of God's eternal presence. Thank you.”


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