by Phil Callaway
Thanksgiving weekend began the way Bob and Audrey Meisner had planned. Piling a full‐size van high with mattresses, sleeping bags, and children, they drove a thousand miles through the flatlands of Manitoba to the in‐laws in Michigan. It was a beautiful trip. Patchwork prairies sprinkled with lakes stretched toward the horizon. Bare poplar branches held up their arms in surrender to winter. The children counted columns of Canadian geese deserting their homeland and heading for Florida. Neither Bob nor Audrey knew that the beauty of the first leg of their trip would stand in sharp contrast to the journey home.
The weekend was filled with relatives, turkey, and laughter. On Sunday night the Meisners said their good‐byes and headed for home. Leaving at 11:00 P.M., they drove through the night, arriving in Minneapolis about 8:30 the next morning. Though Mom and Dad were tired, the Mall of America beckoned, and it was many hours before they watched the skylines of the Twin Cities disappear in the rearview mirror as they drove toward the setting sun.
When Audrey offered to drive, Bob clambered into the back of the van, where he disappeared behind some sleeping bags and drifted off to sleep.
An hour and a half later, Audrey pulled into a rest stop as quietly as she could, hoping the family would sleep on. As she let the engine idle, she noticed how it seemed to be missing a cylinder, which made her think of Bob’s snoring coming from the back of the van.
After using the restroom, Audrey climbed back into the van, stirred some coffee, took a long sip, and pulled back onto the freeway. Two hours passed quickly as she tapped her fingers to a country gospel station and spun the dial, sampling talk shows. When she arrived in Fargo, North Dakota, the kids began to wake up. But not Bob. Wow, he’s tired, thought Audrey. Her seven‐year‐old appeared in the rearview mirror, rubbing his eyes.
“Go back to sleep, honey,” said his mom.
Suddenly, the peacefulness of the morning was shattered. “Where’s Daddy?” one of the kids asked.
“Very funny,” said Audrey, adjusting the mirror. “He’s back there sleeping… isn’t he?”
The children began pushing pillows aside, looking for Daddy. “Nope,” said her seven‐year‐old, “he’s not back here.”
“Do you think maybe he got raptured?” another child said. “You know, Mom, like you’ve been talking about when Jesus comes to get us?”
Audrey wasn’t laughing. Panic overtook her as she looked for the next exit. Should she turn around and go back? She had no idea where the rest area was. Was it two hours ago? Three?
Calm down, Audrey, she told herself. Then she prayed, Dear Lord, help me find Bob. And please keep him safe, wherever he is.
Pulling into a truck stop, she picked up a pay phone and called the police. “Um… I… uh… left my husband in Minnesota,” she told the officer. “At… well… at a rest stop.”
There was a moment of silence. “Sorry, could you repeat that?”
After a few minutes punctuated by desperation, Audrey was able to convince the man on the other end of the line that this was no joke— that she had left her husband, but not intentionally, although he might be thinking so.
“Tell you what,” said the officer. “You hang on. I’ll get all the numbers of the rest stops in that area. You don’t go anywhere now, ya hear?”
Audrey didn’t go anywhere.
After thanking the officer for his help, she started down the list. One number after another. Each phone call was met with surprise, but no success. Almost out of hope, she dialed the last number on the list. “Do you have a guy there who—?”
“Yaw, I shore do,” said a thick Norwegian accent. Moments later, Bob was on the phone.
“Honey, I’m so sorry,” said Audrey. “I didn’t mean to—” Audrey started to cry. And Bob started to laugh.
Two hours earlier he had climbed out of the van to use the restroom. But when he came back, the van was gone.
“Ha,” Bob had said. “Very funny.”
He had walked around the service area three times, expecting to find his family grinning around the next corner. But they were nowhere to be found.
“She wouldn’t leave me like this,” said Bob. “Would she?”
To pass the time, Bob washed people’s windshields and prayed that God would speak loudly to his wife, making his absence apparent. He even climbed in with a trucker who needed some spiritual encouragement. “You know,” the trucker told Bob, “this time with you was a divine appointment. I really needed this.”
“Dear God,” prayed Bob, “please, no more divine appointments tonight.”
Early the next morning, Bob watched the headlights of a familiar van pull into the rest stop. He stopped cleaning windshields and breathed a huge sigh of relief. It was a return trip for Audrey. But this time she honked the horn loudly, not caring whom she woke up.
“It’s the first time I ever left him,” she says, laughing now. “Believe me, it will be the last.”
“At first I wondered if the rapture had taken place,” Bob says. “Then it seemed like something out of a horror movie. But I thought, Well, make the most of it.”
Audrey learned a few things, too. “That night I realized the importance of casting all my cares on God. They are His, and He is completely trustworthy…. And I learned that it’s always a good idea to count bodies before you pull out onto the freeway.”
It happens to all of us. Just when life seems to be humming along smoothly, something as simple as a trip to the restroom turns into one little surprise after another.
There’s probably no way to avoid such unwanted twists of fate—but we can control our reaction to them. I’ve found that adversity in married life is easier to handle when I choose to face it with a smile instead of a frown. So the next time your spouse leaves you stranded by mistake, remember Bob Meisner. You can stew for hours sitting on the curb—or get up and wash a few windshields.
- James C Dobson