Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Adventures in Moving

     My Senior Pastor was out of the office.  I can’t recall where he had gone, but when Sharon showed up on the front steps of the church with her one box full of life’s possessions, I was the only one to greet her. Even the secretary was gone.
     She was very quiet. She said she had left her boyfriend because he was abusive. The black ring around her left eye and the bruises and scratches on her arms attested to her story. All she asked for was a ride to her friend’s mobile home a mile or two from the church. Me, Sharon and her box got into the church van and headed down the road.
     Her jacket was torn, and her hair was as limp and thin as she was. It hung straight to her shoulders. Her skin was empty of color and her face devoid of expression. Her words came almost in a whisper, her eyes never met mine. She softly instructed me toward the unit her friend lived in and in a single motion grabbed her box, was out the van door and striding toward the mobile home. The cool, fall breeze pushed into the van and I shivered as she walked away from me, then turned the vehicle around and started back to the church.

     Sunday morning was crisp and clear but the fall wind still blew cold and biting. I walked into the rear of the sanctuary and began to greet the congregation. There was Sharon sitting quiet and alone in the far right corner of the room. She was wearing a thin summer dress. I couldn’t imagine her walking from the mobile park to the church in such attire. Her dark blue, winter jacket lay across her lap. She spoke to no one but stared straight ahead, hands folded atop her jacket.
     “Hi Sharon,” her eyes looked up to mine and a smile came to her face, “It’s great to have you in church today!” She nodded.
     When the service was over, people quickly exited, we shared the building with a Southern Baptist congregation which had their worship service immediately following ours so the folks had learned to save their conversation for the fellowship time downstairs.
   Sharon didn’t leave though. She was kneeling alone at her pew, her back to the front platform. Quietly, I interrupted.
      “Sharon, is there anything I can pray with you about?”
      “I have to go back to the house.”
      “How come?”
     “I left some important stuff there. I could only carry one box, if someone could take me back, I could get the other. It’s sitting in the living room, all of my things are inside it.”
      “Are you sure it’s important, maybe you just want to leave it there.”
    “It has all of my pictures in it. From when I was a little girl. All of my bathroom things too; my blowdryer and curling iron. I really need those things...especially the pictures.”
      Her eyes were pleading.
     “No problem,” I said, “Let’s just run over there this week and pick it up. Meet me here at the church in the morning and we’ll take the van over get your things.”
      “Thank you Pastor,” she said and rose to her feet. I noticed that there was a slight Southern accent in her voice.

     Mid-morning on Wednesday, Sharon walked into the church office. The secretary hollered back to the rear of the sanctuary where my office was. I grabbed my coat and keys and headed out to meet Sharon.  We climbed into the van .
     “I hope he’s gone when we get there,” she said. “He’s supposed to be out of town this week.”
    I nodded as we sped away down through town and under the freeway overpass toward her home. I was only half paying attention at this point, still thinking about the work back on my desk in the office. It was about the time we began circling the East side of Lake Sammamish that I started to pay attention. Most precisely it was right after she said:
     “Well, maybe he got arrested and is in prison. He’s wanted in seven states...”
Those words trickled out of her mouth like she wasn’t even talking to me. They came out as innocently as dinner conversation. Like, “My, but this is a wonderful casserole, and the rolls just melt in your mouth...did I tell you my boyfriend is wanted in seven states?”
     “Wanted for what?” I said.
     “Oh,” she said, seeming surprised that I was asking.
     “He’s wanted in Montana for car theft, Wyoming for assault, Nevada for drug-dealing....”
     She went on from there. In some states he was wanted for numerous crimes.  Now, I must say at this point that I never have seen myself as a macho-man.  I would rather negotiate than go to battle, and I am no hero. In any case, there was a sense in the pit of my stomach that I should have turned around right then, but something about Sharon’s pitiful state kept me driving that old silver van down the road. As we continued toward our destination, I kept telling myself, “Don’t worry, someone else is in control of this whole endeavor.”
     We went up a long hill and through a heavily forested area, past a gas-mart and a wrecking yard.
     “Why would you get involved with someone like that?” I asked.
    “Well...He used to love me...I think. Things were different back when we first got together. We’ve been together for 12 years. It’s just gotten to be too hard now. He scares me sometimes. When he hits me, he’s so angry...it really scares me.”
     Her words were so soft and quiet, emotionless. Her hands were folded and in her lap, palms up, like she was holding a book and reading from it. She toyed with a ring on her finger.
    “The last time I told him I was going to leave him was after he beat me up pretty good...he went back to the closet and got out his rifle and cleaned it real slow, all night long. Turn right here.”
    And there we were. Pulling up and into the driveway of a wanted criminal who for all I knew was still cleaning his rifle, or perhaps now that it was cleaned, it could fire that much more readily upon unsuspecting youth pastors just trying to help someone and truly not wanting to cause anyone any trouble.
     Sharon hopped out of the van.
   “I should be just a minute,” she said, and she was gone. I wondered if I should keep the motor running for a quick get-away.
    She walked up to the front door. It was locked. She disappeared around the back of the house. I sat uncomfortably in the driver’s seat, trying to convince myself that the end of this story was going to be mundane.
    Suddenly the once-locked front door burst open and Sharon came running through it with a box in her hands,
    “Start the car! Start the car!” she shouted.
     I did as I was told.
    A few seconds later, about twenty yards behind, a criminal burst through the door behind her. Sharon climbed into the van spilling the contents of the box onto the floor between her seat and mine. We both locked our doors. She didn’t need to tell me it was time to go. I looked behind me down the drive to the street to see if the road was clear.
     Then I faced the front again and put the car in reverse. Seeing that he could not catch Sharon the man headed straight for the van. He carried some kind of metal bar in his hand. It could have been a crescent wrench or pry bar of some kind. As we were backing down the hill, he took flight and landed on the hood of the van, his face staring straight into mine through the front windshield. He had long blonde hair, with darker side burns and a moustache. There was a scar on his forehead, his eyes were blue and his teeth were yellow. I think he had fillings in all of his back teeth. He was screaming something which I cannot recall at this time. I turned away from him as we rapidly backed down the drive and swung the back end of the van to my left. The momentum from the turn flung the man from the hood of the van and onto the road. I threw the gear-shift into drive and we were gone.
     My heart was pounding! We zipped down the road and when I saw that wrecking yard we had passed on the way to the house, I pulled in behind the office, making sure the van was parked out of sight. Sharon and I went inside and she called the police, who came and arrested her ex-boyfriend. The rest of this account can be read in True Detective Stories magazine volume IX, 1985...Actually that is not true. The rest of the story is not so wild. Sharon stayed on with us at the church for some time. Her boyfriend was sent off to prison and we had the privilege of helping her get into an apartment and start her life over again. It was a true blessing to be a part.
     Now, in hindsight I cannot draw any particular spiritual analogy from this story. All of my efforts to be used by the Lord have not been quite so dramatic, in fact most would have very little chance of being told on CNN. Yet, one thing I can say truthfully is this, my journey in Christ has seldom been boring. You see, Christianity was not meant to be a spectator sport. I think that when Christ promised us that in him we would have life and that life in Him would be “life more abundant,” (John 10:10) he wasn’t kidding around.
     I heard Tony Campolo once say, “You will know you are a Christian when your heart is broken by the things that break the heart of God...” That is what I want. I desire to be so in-tune with what the Lord is feeling when he walks through life in my shoes that I will see, hear, feel and touch and love in the manner he would. I must confess that I am a long way off from that goal.
     Every once in awhile I hit in right on the nose though, and that’s when the adventure begins. That’s when I know that I have tapped into, “the life more abundant.” I think that most of us would be amazed at how we could be used if we would just get up off our faith sometimes and allow God to get us involved with what He’s doing right under our noses.

     BTW - For future reference, keep the van running...