Just last month, I was leaving my house on a Sunday afternoon. Home from church, I was headed to the grocery store. After working all day throughout the week, I want to sit down each evening with my family over a meal. I’ve got to plan ahead to make it happen. It’s my Sunday routine. Well, this Sunday afternoon would be anything but routine.
My son was playing in the front yard. As I began to back out of the driveway, he hopped in the car to ask me where I was going. That’s when I saw them. We live on a one way street, near the top. I heard yelling, and there was a car stopped facing the wrong direction at the top of the street. More yelling. Lots of yelling. The driver got out of the car and ran around to the passenger’s side. He dragged a young woman out of the car and threw her on the ground. He ran back around to the driver’s side and sped the wrong way up our street. I was frozen. I looked her way, and she had picked herself up off of the ground and was walking away. I glanced back in the other direction, and he had turned the car around and was speeding up our street again. I braced myself for the worst. All I could do was watch. I panicked. What do I do? Go after her? Call 911? My worst fear left me, as he drove past her and turned out onto the main road. I backed my car out and headed in her direction.
I drove up my street and made a right and pulled up next to her. I rolled down my window and asked her if she was alright. She turned toward me and just broke – crying hysterically and shaking her head. I told her to get in the car, and we drove away. That was the moment that I realized that my son was in the back seat. I had not even realized he was with me – a front row seat to this madness. I glanced back at him, and he just stared at me in stunned silence. I made the block and dropped him back home. I told him that I needed to help her, and instructed him to go inside and tell Dad where I was. The question occurred to me in that moment, almost with a chuckle, What on earth will he tell his dad?
My attention turned to her. I said, “How can I help you? What can I do for you?” Through tears she said, “I just need to relax somewhere.” I told her I would take her anywhere, and I asked if she wanted me to go with her. She shook her head ‘yes’ and said, “Bread Company, please.”
I began to pray. The weight of the situation came over me. There was a stranger in my car. What can I offer her? What can I do? A familiar track began to play in my head:
Who do you think you are? You can’t do anything to help this girl. You are so foolish. You have a family to think about. Drop her off and move on with your day. You have things to do.
I struggled with where to start with my many questions for her. She was so fragile, and dear Lord, she was just a baby. She was 18 and just two days past a premature delivery. We live near a hospital, and she and the baby’s father had gone out into the parking garage to talk. He wanted her car. He wanted gas money. He didn’t want her or her baby. As she talked, I learned that she was totally alone. Originally from California, she met him online and moved here to start their relationship. Once here she quickly became pregnant, and he became violent. This was the fifth child he had fathered, and somehow she had known for some time that he wouldn’t have a relationship with her sweet baby girl either. After a healthy pregnancy, her girl had arrived two and a half months early – after a beating.
She was covered in shame. Her story vacillated between hollow words of strength and moans of helplessness – too embarrassed to reach out to her father and mourning the loss of her mother, who had been murdered earlier this year. Murdered.
My heart broke for her. My mind wondered back to the overwhelming flood of emotions that accompanies bringing another life into the world – and coupled with a situation like this – I struggled to wrap my mind around it.
She drank her coffee and talked. We cried. We prayed together. We made a plan to get her to safety. Her thought-processes and reasoning were barely past that of my own pre-teen daughter in one moment, and then in the next, she was older, hardened, resigned. Her emotions bounced about like a balloon we were trying to keep from hitting the ground. On the falling, she wanted to walk away – not return to the hospital. Her baby was better without her and this situation, she told herself. In the diving to catch it, she wanted to return to the hospital for the next feeding.
“She was covered in shame. Her story vacillated between hollow words of strength and moans of helplessness…”
I looked at her and was struck by the differences in our lives. I’m blessed with a loving husband, healthy children, and a home. She has none of those things. I know what you’re thinking as you read this. I was tempted to think the same. That is… until I heard her heart.
She is not just some statistic, destined to live some horrendous life of which we can all sit in judgment. She’s smart. She’s beautiful. She’s got so much to offer her daughter and this world. She spoke truth in between tears. She yearns for a better life. She just lacks so much of what so many take for granted. Why Lord?
The story ended as the track predicted. We were in contact for the next 24 hours, but then she stopped responding. So I began to ask why I was placed in this situation. The track began again:
See, I told you…you can’t make a difference. Nothing you said to her mattered. She will go right back to him. What did you think would happen? Did you really think she was going to just take your advice and act upon it?
To be honest, that track – the one where I’m powerless and I don’t matter – has played for months regarding my reflections on this situation. And, if I’m really honest, this track plays in most areas of my life most of the time – and it has for more years than I would like to admit.
What I’d forgotten until very recently is that during the time this situation occurred, I had been crying out to God. Praying and begging for answers. I, like that young girl, was feverishly looking for the exit, an escape route, and God provided one that I didn’t recognize at first. He put before me an opportunity. And, without thinking, I had been obedient. That obedience brought panic and fear – a fear of a loss of comfort, routine, shalom – but it also brought gratitude, renewal, and answers.
You see, in the spring, I applied to Covenant Seminary for study in the counseling program and was accepted. Since that time, I had been in internal panic mode. Over the months, with plenty of help from the enemy of my soul, I had almost completely forgotten why I applied. In all honesty, I was looking for the perfect reason to quit before I even began.
I see now that she was an answer to desperate prayer, and I was so focused on my attachment to her decisions in her situation – and honestly, my evaluation of how I had performed in the situation, as measured by her decision – that I almost missed it.
Many years ago, I completed an undergraduate degree in psychology with the plan to complete my Ph.D. and go into private counseling practice. During that degree, not a Christian, I lost my only sibling – my first friend and baby brother. After years of crying out for help, he took his own life. The years that followed his death were dark for me, and I made the decision that I would never sit across from hurting people and pretend that I had hope for them. No more pretending.
Marriage, counseling, and my relationship with Jesus helped me to identify “the track” that’s been playing since I was a girl. I learned to fight against it, and it’s a gift I can never repay. It’s a gift He has called me to give to others.
I’m listening to a new track now. It’s a track of life, hope, and purpose. When I listen in humility, I hear God’s call on my heart for women – for mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, grandmothers – a desire that’s bigger than me and my performance, to walk with them to all that they are called to be.
That young mother’s eyes are a vivid image in my mind. Her pain literally takes my breath away as I pass by the hospital on most days. I pray for her often – mostly that the God of the universe will rescue her – that He will pull her hard onto His lap and never let her go. That’s what He did for me.
The hard stuff remains, but my path continues to be illuminated by His grace, step by step. I count it my honor and blessing to someday point others to Him, drawing close with them around the glow of a fire that has been there all along. Tuning their ears to the new, life-giving track of the gospel of Christ.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2
Being made new,
Lisa is best friend and wife to Andy. They have 4 great kids. She partners with great colleagues to share the story of Central Christian School (fundraising and communications) as a career, and she has recently become a very part-time seminary student.
In her free time, she tries hard to listen to God, stays up too late watching great shows with Andy, and enjoys cooking and camping with their crew.
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