Some time back, after chatting with a friend, I decided to stop wearing my headphones when I ran. I had enjoyed being able to check out mentally for awhile but realized that this was valuable time to pray, think and be open to “God opportunities.” I’m something of a watchman at heart, as well, and this would allow me to keep my ears open for things going on around the neighborhood. I told God I was open to however He wanted to use me (a dangerous prayer).
So, a couple of weeks back, my decision bore fruit. I was out running, enjoying the chilly weather, when I decided to change my route a bit; I often mix it up for variety and to see new parts of my neighborhood. As I crossed a major street through the area, I saw a woman halfway up the block being noisy about something. For a moment I considered hanging a hard left and avoiding the situation, but I said a quick prayer and proceeded.
“Do you live around here?” she asked.
“Uh...yeah, a few blocks up that way,” I pointed. “What’s the problem?”
She was quite distraught, talking with a friend on the phone from out of state and smelled faintly of alcohol. She tells me she’s not crazy and that she’s not been drinking, though she is going through alcohol withdrawals and likely smells of it. Her name’s Becky (name changed for anonymity), and she’s not from Chicago but Idaho (place changed, too). She lives with her boyfriend. Her demeanor is pretty manic...probably a bit like when I went off alcohol. She said her boyfriend had pushed her down the stairs and repeatedly lifted up the back of her shirt, asking if I saw bruises. “Just a couple small ones, but I’m sure it hurts if you fell down the stairs.” She was very clingy, continually grabbing me and holding my hands and rubbing my arms, partly because it was 50, very windy and I was sweaty and wearing only shorts and a mesh tee while she wore jeans and a jacket.
While she was on the phone, she kept pulling my head to hers so I could hear her conversation. I repeatedly insisted this wasn’t necessary. The whole scene would’ve looked mighty suspicious to a cop rolling by. At this point her boyfriend calls. She tries to share the phone, but I decline. Then she tells her boyfriend that she hadn’t heard anything he’d said and that he should repeat it, holding the phone up to my ear at that point so I can hear the whole thing. The guy sounds calm, patient...I didn’t really get a bad vibe from him. He was just encouraging her to come home.
She gets off the phone and brings my attention to her finger. She has a knuckle that’s a bit swollen and asks me if I can help her change the bandage. So here we are, standing in the middle of the sidewalk pouring hydrogen peroxide over her hand and replacing her bandages (both of which she had in her tote bag) and I'm trying to pry more of her story out of her.
I really can’t tell if she’s been hurt by someone or not. It’s all a bit sketchy, so I tell her that her options as I saw them were to: a) go to the hospital and get checked out, b) flag down a cop or go to the station, or c) go home. “I just want to make sure you have a safe place to stay tonight.”
I don't feel like I can really make the decision for her and she’s very indecisive, so I ask her if I can pray for her. She laughs but agrees. As I pray for her, she starts to cry and calms down a little. “OK, OK,” she interrupts, still crying. “I was going to go out drinking, but now I’m not going to. I want to go home. But you have to go in with me.” I agree and we start walking with her hanging on my arm, rubbing my hands despite my best efforts to keep a little personal space. “Are you affiliated with a church?” she asks. “Well, I work for a church, but I’m not a pastor. I’m just a neighbor who wants to make sure you’re OK tonight.” “I’m Jewish. It’s OK that you prayed for me, right?” “Yeah, it’s OK.” “Arnie’s Catholic. You and he can do the church talk, OK?” I laugh.
So we get to her place and I suggest that she probably shouldn’t be holding my hand when we walk in. “Right, right.” She says the front of the building is locked up, so we have to go around back. We walk down this narrow walkway alongside the building and for a fleeting moment I think, I wonder if I’m about to get rolled, if this is a setup. Well, you got me into this, Lord. She unlocks the door and invites me in. “No, you invite him to the door. I don’t need to come in.” So she does.
Arnie comes into the kitchen--big Chicago guy with a shirt unbuttoned exposing lots of chest hair. I size him up. Yeah, I can take him if I have to, but we’re both gonna’ get really hurt in the process. He’s friendly enough. Again, I don’t really get any bad vibes. He tells me she’s in recovery and thanks me for bringing her home. Becky is standing there nearby with eyes wide and her jaw dropped, “Why aren’t you yelling at him? You yell at everybody that comes in here. Do you guys know each other?” “No,” I assure her.
Not sure why exactly, but I felt like I should pray for them. So, I asked if I could, they said yes and I began praying for them right there in their kitchen. Becky asked again if it was OK, given that she was Jewish. Then she interrupted and asked how I knew Arnie’s name. “We were just introduced,” I said. After a couple more interruptions by her, he got frustrated and said, “We need to let him go. It’s cold out and I’m sure he has things to do.”
Becky grabs me and says, “Pray for me before you go. Say a prayer for me to get a job that I love.”
“Becky, I get the sense that God has something else for you before a great job. You have some healing to do. One thing at a time, OK?”
“OK, then say a magic prayer for me. Say a magic prayer.”
“There are no magic prayers. The prayers that mean the most are the ones that come from your own mouth. Would you pray with me?”
“OK, say a magic prayer.”
So I began praying and having her repeat after me. I prayed for God’s peace, for clarity of mind, for the courage to take the difficult steps she needed to take and to be able to surrender her life to God. “Amen.” She looked at me, tears running down her cheeks. “Surrender...like the AA prayer, right?” she whispered, sobriety settling over her a bit. “Yeah, like that.”
And off I ran into the chilly night, amused and grateful to be used in a totally unexpected God appointment. May there be more (he prays nervously).