Faith in My Cars

A young woman's prayers are answered by four wheels, a reliable engine and God's grace.

- Posted on Feb 18, 2011

By God's grace she had wheels

"How did you get to be such a positive person?”

That’s a question I’m sometimes asked, especially by people who know I didn’t exactly have an idyllic childhood.

My father was in and out of jail. My mom struggled with drug addiction, and when I was 12, I was deemed a ward of the court and put in foster care. I only saw my mom on the weekends. She got herself clean while I was in high school, but she died three years later. My father and I are working on repairing our relationship.

These hard knocks didn’t bring me down, though, because there was one thing I knew: God is real. And he cares about us down to the smallest details of our lives. How can I be so sure? Let me tell you about my cars. Yes, that’s right, my cars.

First there was my 1988 Dodge Colt, aka Petey, the Put-Put Mobile.

In 2002, I was a freshman at Pacific Union College when the manager at the drug rehab home where my mom worked (and had once been a patient) said someone had dropped off a car. He wanted five hundred dollars for it and I wanted (more like desperately needed) a car. Even one with a rusty roof, cracked vinyl seats, manual transmission and no air-conditioning.

I had worked all summer as a camp counselor. I paid him in cash, and that grayish-brownish (I could never really tell) hatchback was mine. All mine. And with the kind of love you have for a first car, I drove Petey with pride…especially because it took me so long to figure out how.

The weekend I bought Petey, my mom taught me to drive stick: Press down the clutch. Step on the gas. Let off the clutch. Stall. I wasn’t catching on. After a few tries my mom said, “Why don’t you take my car back to school and I’ll keep Petey, the Put-Put Mobile here?”

A few months later, when she was totally sure I wasn’t going to stall out on the freeway, we swapped cars. Later that day, I stalled at a red light! C’mon, Lord, pleeease let it start! I prayed. For the life of me I couldn’t get that car to move. I called my mom in tears, begging her to help.

“Honey, you are two hundred miles away. What do you expect me to do? You’ll figure something out,” she said. It was sink or swim. A few more tears and prayers later, swim…er, drive, I did. Eventually, that little clunker took me places—30,000 miles’ worth—till he was all out of put-put.

That’s when Blue Steel rolled in. My ’96 Chevy Corsica—a huge step up from Petey (I don’t know if I could have taken a step down). “Fifteen hundred dollars and she’s yours,” offered the father of a friend of mine.

He was buying her a new car. I was now a junior in college, working part-time in the alumni office, and that fifteen hundred might as well have been fifteen thousand. Lord, I prayed, I need a reliable car, but I can’t afford this one. Can you help here?

That afternoon my cell rang. “Hi, Tiffany. I’m calling from the finance office. It’s about your tuition,” a woman said. Great, just what I need, I thought. A problem with my tuition. The woman continued, “I’m happy to say that you have been approved for the Chafee Grant, which awards financial aid to students who have been in foster care. We’re giving you fifteen hundred dollars for your travel expenses.” The phone nearly fell out of my hand.

I bought Blue Steel. She ran for four years before she died. I parked her on the street, hoping that I would eventually have the cash to fix her up. Or maybe I could sell her to somebody who was looking for parts, and get enough for a small down payment on my next car.

Around that time my fiancé, Paulo, and I visited his family in Brazil. We’d only been there a few days when my roommate sent me a MySpace message: “Someone smashed into your car! I can’t even open the door. The guy left his insurance info on the windshield.” His insurance company not only gave me a rental car for a week, but appraised Blue Steel for double what I’d paid for her. God was good indeed!

Ah, then came my 2008 Toyota Yaris. I walked into the dealership with almost nonexistent credit, and wandered (and prayed!) through the car lot, looking for the cheapest car. I proudly walked out with a pink slip in my hand, a big debt to pay and a Barcelona-red four-door sedan. So what if the interest rate was through the roof and the Yaris had no real power? It had all I needed: four wheels, a reliable engine and a stereo system. I was the first person in my family to buy a brand-new car. The first ever.

Later that year Paulo and I were married. Last summer we sold the Yaris and bought a shiny off-the-lot 2010 Toyota Corolla. (And this time we were well-qualified buyers—boy, does that make a difference!) Sometimes I catch myself staring at the Corolla, with its metallic gray paint, its spoiler and its fancy gizmos, like a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a six-CD changer and a moon roof.

“Praise God,” I say. Yes, praise him for the Corolla, the Yaris, Blue Steel and Petey, the Put-Put Mobile. Through my cars, he has shown me that he has plans for me. Plans for me to have what I need when I need it, to move up from where I’ve been in life.

Plans to give me hope and a future, just like it says in the Bible.

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