In this excerpt from her new memoir Faith and Other Flat Tires, Andrea Palpant Dilley shares a surprising experience with a hitchhiker that she will never forget.
From Faith and Other Flat Tires: Searching for God on the Rough Road of Doubt
One winter afternoon when I was twelve years old, my father picked up a hitchhiker. My two brothers were sitting with me in the back seat of our Plymouth Voyager van...
The hitchhiker looked sixteen or seventeen, a tall Scandinavian wearing blue jeans with big holes in the knees. It was thirty-five degrees out. He ducked his head and climbed into the van with us, and then my dad drove on. The ensuing conversation, which I will never forget, went something like this:
"These are my kids, Andrea, Ben, and Nate. My name's Sam. What's your name?"
"Donovan," the hitchhiker said.
"Oh, that's a good name." My father paused. "Have you ever heard of Amy Carmichael?"
"She was a Christian missionary to India who worked to save young girls from sex trade enslavement. The place where she worked was called Dohnavur, which is kind of close to your name, Donovan. So you have a good name, a name with Christian purpose."
In the hitchhiker's long pause that followed, I remember thinking, My father is out of his mind, preying on this young hitchhiker who wanted a ride and instead got a church sermon on Christian missionary history. I felt embarrassed in the same way I did when my dad prayed over our food in a restaurant and the waiter brought the ketchup while he was still praying.
Donovan rode with us for several miles until we reached the cut-off road to our house. After pulling the van onto the shoulder to let him out, my dad turned to my older brother, who was about the same size as the hitchhiker, and said, "Ben, why don't you give Donovan your jeans. It's cold out."
Proverbial Christian wisdom says you give away the coat off your back, not the pants off your backside.
In the back seat of the van, Ben took off his pants and gave them to the hitchhiker while my little brother and I looked sideways at each other. Proverbial Christian wisdom says you give away the coat off your back, not the pants off your backside. In exchange for my brother's jeans, the hitchhiker handed over his own — the jeans with big holes in the knees — and my brother wrestled them on. Then Donovan got out. He was headed farther north toward Canada. I watched from the back seat as he diminished into the distance, a tall, lean figure standing on the side of a long winter road.
These years later, I remember the whole exchange as a small act of goodness. My father, the funny priest, blessed a hitchhiker not with holy water but with jeans. I can see this only in retrospect, though. Then, in my early teens, my mom and dad seemed painfully Christian and parental...
[Now, I] remember my father saying in so many words to a hitchhiker, "Your name means something. Your life means something too."
-Andrea Palpant Dilley
Q: Has a stranger ever surprised you with a "blue jeans" kind of blessing?
- Adam Forrest, Zondervan
About Andrea Palpant Dilley
Andrea Palpant Dilley grew up in Kenya as the daughter of Quaker missionaries and spent the rest of her childhood in the Pacific Northwest. Her work as a writer has appeared in Rock and Sling, Geez, and Utne Reader, as well as the anthology Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing Up Female and Evangelical. Her work as a documentary producer has aired nationally on American Public Television. She lives with her husband and daughter in Austin, Texas.
Synopsis of Faith and Other Flat Tires: A story of crisis and redemption for anyone who's ever struggled with spiritual doubt, Faith and Other Flat Tires presents the moving story of a former missionary kid whose "mean questions about God" lead her to abandon her faith and search for a way to believe again. Learn More
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