What about Bob?

I first met Bob and Audrey Meisner when they invited me into their kitchen following a television program. I'd been on in the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. If you've never been to Winnipeg, well ...don't go for the scenery. Go for the people. Winnipeg has two seasons: winter and mosquitoes. As we ate some of the finest spaghetti and meatballs this side of Italy, I listened to one of the funniest stories I'd heard in a long time. A story often punctuated by Audrey's contagious laughter (which three young children have only enhanced) and Bob's soft chuckle. Audrey is glad for that chuckle. As she puts it, "If Bob had no chuckle, I'd be in as much trouble as...well, as a person who's in a lot of trouble."

After the first few minutes of their story, I began to understand why.

Thanksgiving weekend began the way the Meisners had planned. Piling a full-size van high with mattresses, sleeping bags, and children, they drove one 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 seemed to hold up their arms in surrender to winter. The children counted V-shaped columns of Canada 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. And turkey. And lots of laughter. On Sunday night they 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 skyline of the Twin Cities disappear in the rearview mirror as they drove toward the setting sun. When Audrey offered to drive, Bob clambered toward the back, 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. She let the engine idle and 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. Thank God for Colombian coffee. Her seven-year-old. Appeared in the rearview mirror, rubbing his eves. "Go back to sleep, honey," said his mom.

Suddenly the peacefulness of the early morning was shattered. "Where's Daddy?"

"Very funny," said Audrey, adjusting the rearview 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? You know, Mom, like you've been talking about when Jesus comes to get us?"

But Audrey wasn't laughing. Panic, worry, and fear 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. "Dear Lord," she prayed, "help me find Bob. And please keep him safe, wherever he is."

Pulling into a truck stop, she stopped at 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 him 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 state patrol officer, "you hang on. I'll get the numbers of all 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 very last number on the list. "Do you have a guy there who-?"

"Yah, 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," said Bob out loud. "Very funny." He walked around the service area three times, expecting to find them grinning around the next corner. But they were nowhere to be found. "She wouldn't leave me like this," said Bob even louder. "Would she?"

To pass the time, Bob spent the hours washing people's windshields and praying that God would speak loudly to his wife, perhaps give her a flat tire or something. 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 apppointments tonight." Early the next morning, Bob watched the headlights of a very 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 laughs now. "Believe me, it will be the last."

"We've had plenty of chuckles over this one," says Bob past a broad smile. "At first I wondered if the Rapture had taken place too. It was like something out of a horror movie. But then I thought, Well, make the most of it. So I did. Sometimes the only thing I can control is my outlook. My response. This was definitely one of those times."

Audrey learned a few things too. "It seems the only time I really learn is when there's nowhere else to turn but to God," she admits. "That night I learned the importance of casting all my cares on Him. They are His, and He is completely trustworthy. "And of course I learned that it's always a good idea to count bodies before you pull out onto the freeway."

It's time to be honest. What would you have done if you were in Bob's shoes? Think about it. Be honest now. I think I would have pouted for about three hundred miles. And made her bring me breakfast in bed. For six weeks. I've known Audrey and Bob for many years now, and I've watched them go through far deeper struggles. Their attitudes through those tough times have given them an international platform through a television ministry that is touching hurting people with the truths they teach.

Callaway, Phil. Laughing Matters. Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, 2005, p. 32-36.

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