Coincidences are funny things — if you can even call them that at all.

In March 2007, my husband Chuck headed to work in Omaha in a snowstorm.

Chuck called me soon after he left saying his car had gone off the road and he needed me to come and get him.

Our sons, Mike and Zach, were still living at home then and the three of us piled into my small car and set out.

Mike drove and we went near the spot outside of town where we thought Chuck’s car was — but couldn’t see him.

Before long, we were in a whiteout.

I marvel at how Mike kept the little car on the road. To make a long story a little shorter, we ended up at a bowling alley in Elkhorn.

No kidding.

We didn’t have a cell phone, but the waitress let me use the bowling alley’s phone to call my boss at work. I’d eventually learn that a sheriff’s deputy had taken Chuck home.

In the meantime, I started interviewing people at the bowling alley about the snowstorm for a story.

I was getting some good quotes and was pretty happy about it.

Then after a while, the waitress said her boss was closing the place because of the storm.

My sons and I would have to go somewhere else. So with me driving the car, we tried to make our way up a snowy hill to a nearby convenience store.

The street was so slippery and snow packed and I jammed my foot against the accelerator as I tried to steer the poor car up the hill.

We made it, but the car’s sensor light went on and I was worried that I’d overheated the engine. The kids got out and Zach backed up the car near a gas pump so we could put in more fuel.

I was so proud of my sons. They were young men, taking care of their mom.

Mike had pulled up the hood of the car to check on the engine with Zach and I standing nearby when a tall, stocky Hispanic man in tan coveralls came up to us.

The good-natured young fellow started giving us advice about the car and the engine. I can’t recall what he told us, but I made some kind of joke about us all staying at his house if we had serious car trouble.

I was looking at the engine, when I realized that—suddenly—he was gone.

Where did he go?

I looked around the parking lot. He was nowhere to be seen. How could he have disappeared so quickly?

Had he hurried away rather than have three, unexpected guests staying at his house?

Or was he an angel?

I never shared these thoughts with my sons, but I’ve wondered about this for years.

In the Bible, we read about angels doing all sorts of things.

One told Mary that she would give birth to baby Jesus. An angel rolled away the stone from the entrance of Christ’s tomb. An angel got Peter out of jail — walking him right past the guards.

And that’s just in the New Testament.

There’s another New Testament story in which an angel came to the Apostle Paul.

We can read about it in the 27th chapter of the book of Acts.

In this account, Paul is a prisoner aboard a ship headed for Rome. Paul has tried to warn a centurion that the voyage ahead will be dangerous because of the weather, but the man listens to the ship’s owner — who still wants to go — and the group of 276 men set out.

Sure enough, the weather gets bad. A tempestuous wind hits and the ship is caught up in it.

As days pass, the ship is violently storm-tossed. Neither sun nor stars appear for a long time and the men lose all hope of being saved.

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At one point, however, Paul will make an announcement.

He tells the men to take heart, because while the ship will be lost — no one is going to die.

How does he know that?

An angel told him.

“For this very night,” Paul says, “there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’”

In other words, everybody will be OK.

And Paul isn’t finished.

“So take heart, men,” Paul says, “for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on some island.”

What happens next?

On the 14th night, some sailors lower a small boat with plans to escape.

Paul tells the centurion and other soldiers on the boat that unless, these men stay on the ship, “you cannot be saved.”

So the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s smaller boat and let it go.

That must have been so scary for the sailors who wanted to flee.

Yet as the day is about to dawn, Paul tells the men — who’ve been in such suspense — to eat something.

“It will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you,” he says.

Paul gives thanks for the bread they’re about to eat. The men eat and are encouraged.

Guess what happens later?

The ship runs aground on a reef and is broken up by the surf, but all the men make it to land, either by swimming or holding onto pieces of the ship.

Everyone survives — just like the angel said they would.

My sons and I went inside the convenience store.

From there, a Good Samaritan took us and some other stranded travelers to Community of Grace Lutheran Church.

I interviewed my fellow travelers and wrote a story on the church secretary’s computer and sent it via the internet to the Fremont Tribune.

Eventually, the weather cleared and Mike drove Zach and I and one of the other stranded travelers to Fremont. We counted more than 50 vehicles that had gone off the road. Some semi-trucks had been stranded in the middle of the highway.

We made it home safe.

Although swamped with calls, a towing service retrieved Chuck’s car. And our newspaper would record that Fremont got 9.5 inches of snow.

More than 12 years later, I think about that snowstorm and angels.

Was that man in the tan coveralls an angel, who was there right when we could have used a little advice?

Or was he just a Good Samaritan, who knew how to exit a scene quickly because he had other things to do that day?

I don’t know, but I’m glad he was there. I was comforted by his advice, presence and amiable attitude amid the cold weather.

Actually, I believe we’re surrounded by angels — the heavenly type and humans, who assume the role of helper when needed.

Once in a while, I think one of them dons a pair of coveralls and provides some helpful words at just the right time.

And I don’t believe, even for a minute, that it’s a coincidence.

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Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She writes a weekly spiritual column.


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