Game-Changers: The Lady on the Bridge

Part of the series, Game-Changers

 

There must have been something in her manner…

820 and mccart

…some peculiar way she moved on the bridge, or the way she looked down at the traffic below.

It was too dark to see her face. And no time, really, to study and analyze the situation. I was driving and Carol was the first to see her there on the McCart Avenue overpass. I stopped the car at the corner and jumped out. Carol drove to the other side of the bridge, in the direction of our house, and waited. I ran up to the young woman and grabbed her as she leaned precariously over the edge of the overpass.

I told her it wasn’t time yet for her to go and that God had the answers she needed. She told me she couldn’t go on. There was no hope anymore. We took her home with us, got her something to eat and listened to her story, which was long and very sad. By the end of the evening, Carol had found her a place to stay—a shelter for battered women—and taken her to that place of safety.

Stranger Magnet

I have a long history of talking with strangers.

Correction

I have a long history of strangers talking to me.

To this day I really don’t have a clue why.

Every time I flew home from school (or back) whoever was sitting next to me would be transformed into Chatty Cathy, no matter what I was doing or what mood I was in—which was more often than not a profound state of panic.

I’m embarrassed to admit I often didn’t even try to disguise the rolling of my eyes as this stranger verbally—and often physically—invaded my awkwardly introverted personal space.

There was no joy for me in this constant interaction with strangers.

And it showed.

Until the lady on the bridge.

The stories behind the stories

This poor, sweet lady finally got through that barrier I’d put between the outside world and the inside of me.

Every person who shares our part of this world has a story, whether they reveal it to us or not.

And a story behind the story even they may not be aware of.

And we all need to tell our stories and to be understood.

Risky business

A thought has often struck me in the decades since I met the lady on the bridge.

What if I’d been wrong?

What if she hadn’t been about to jump?

What if I’d touched her arm and she’d panicked at this stranger invading her personal space?

The fact that I was right doesn’t eliminate the very real possibility that, next time, I may not be right.

I guess that’s the risk we take when we agree to be God’s instruments of grace to the people who share our world.

The lady on the bridge…

…helped me to see that the danger of not acting is often greater than the danger of pretending to be safe.

She’s the reason I’m not afraid to “have the conversation.”

She, helped along by thousands of other, less intense, encounters with strangers, has helped me discover and experience the power of connecting with a human being who is desperate to connect.

Twenty-seven years have passed since that evening and we have never seen the woman again. I confess I can’t even remember her name. But I know I’ll see her again, in heaven, because she came to the One that night who had all the answers she would need, and all the hope, and all the love.

It’s risky business, this engaging with strangers.

And sometimes messy.

But sometimes there’s simply no way around it.

You don’t always have time to analyze.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

—Matthew 9:36

 

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Day One

Part of the series, Game-Changers

 

pine seedling

Looking back, it’s obvious that my relationship with God first took root, not from some major realization of his reality or right to claim my life. Or in some sudden clarity of vision.

And it wasn’t planted into the deep soil of faith and conviction.

At the time, my mind was all question and struggle. Many questions, many struggles.

No answers.

For me, the seed of God’s life was planted in a soil made up, mainly, of terrifying fear and life-threatening loneliness.

No one I talked to at the time—and I talked to a lot of people at the time—none of the people I talked to was able to answer my questions in any way that seemed to help. Though many of them tried mightily and courageously.

It really wasn’t their job.

Only God himself could answer my questions. And he had to bring me to a place where I could hear and respond.

And, for the first time in my life, trust.

So one night, all alone, all my friends gone home for Spring Break, I just broke down and gave up.

How do I describe the noise that was going on in my head? Voices from the past. Voices from the present. Voices of fears and voices of grief. And voices I did not recognize until much, much later.

The noise of my heart banging against my chest.

A deafening hum. I could literally hear my pulse beating in my ears. I dreaded the night and saw no hope in the dawn.

(I used to have panic attacks in those days. Sometimes alone in my room. Sometimes on the way to class. The only way I knew to relieve them was to go cling to some poor friend who was trying to study or practice the piano. That night, it was like the sum of all panic attacks I’d ever had. And there was no one around to cling to or even call on.)

I just sat there alone, in the middle of the living room of a borrowed house, every light I could find turned on. All the curtains closed as tight as I could make them.

And I gave up.

I said—out loud, because that was the only way I could hear my thoughts through the noise—I said, “God. I don’t know if you’re real. I just know I can’t take this any more. If you’re real and if you care, I will give all I know of me to all I know of you.”

And I waited.

And I realized the noise had stopped.

And there was quiet.

And I was able to sleep.

I didn’t realize it then, but it was on that night, during Spring Break, just before midnight, that everything I knew changed.

March 23, 1974.

Life began.

Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
—1 Kings 19:11-12

 

Photo Credit: Starting Out, a photo by arbyreed on Flickr.

1990: A Postscript…

Part of the series, Game-Changers

 

I was thinking today…

Truthfully? This is the most challenging year we’ve faced since 1990. This afternoon, one of those mischievous thoughts—the kind you really need to watch out for—popped into my head.

The best thing I can say about 1990 is that it keeps 2010 from being the worst year ever.

But that’s simply not true.

A few months ago I wrote about 1990. I ended the story at what I considered the breakthrough point. But I didn’t go on to talk about how fruitful ministry became for me as God brought healing from the brokenness. The next 15 years were the most productive years of ministry—so far—in my life.

And none of it would have happened without that turning point near the end of The Worst Year of My Life.

2010

It’s been a rough year, and the last few weeks have been among the roughest.

But as I thought about 1990 this afternoon, a possibility dawned.

What if 2010 is a parallel to 1990? What if everything we’re going through right now is a retooling for great things during the next 15-20 years?

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,whohave been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. —Romans 8:28

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. —James 1:2-6

Stay tuned!

Game Changers: 1990…

Part of the series, Game-Changers

 

Remember the Dustin Hoffman character in Wag the Dog?

wagthedog_photos_2483Hoffman played a movie director brought in to fake a war and hopefully help a scandal-plagued president get re-elected. Every time he’d face a set-back, Hoffman’s character would say “You think this is bad?” And then he’d launch into some nightmare tale of a movie-making catastrophe from his storied career. No matter what awful thing was happening right then, he’d have a story about something far worse from his past. “This is nothing,” he’d say. It was hilarious.

And true to life.

When Carol and I heard the first “You think this is bad…”, we turned to each other knowing we’d found a new running gag. Because no matter what happened to us going forward, 1990 was worse.

Far worse.

Let’s see if I can recall them all:

Lost my job in January (after losing the career of my dreams three years earlier).

Nearly lost the house in the Spring (you haven’t lived till some guy from the mortgage company rings your doorbell, “just to see if anybody’s still living here…”).

Was almost physically attacked by Gypsies who (hopefully) had just repaired the hail-damaged roof (okay, they probably weren’t Gypsies, just dark-haired guys led by a creepy dude with Charles Manson eyes, demanding cash and no check).

Spending a Texas Summer in a house with a broken air conditioner (even my mother didn’t want to visit).

And then…

Pop. Lung cancer. Back in Virginia. When I went to visit him, he was too drugged up even to know who I was.

Totally saturated with grief and worry, I was completely numb by the time I had to plan his August funeral. At the graveside, I almost felt like an actor performing a role. I remember thinking “What am I supposed to look like right now? What do I say to people? Should I be strong? Quiet? Tearful? (No tears were available that day, even the acting kind…)

I felt like I was floating outside, above the events, looking down, confused.

Isolated and alone.

The bridge

It was within a few days of the funeral that I found myself in the parking lot by the river, staring straight ahead—at a bridge.

I had parked there and ridden the train (since it went through a tunnel into the Tandy Center, we called it the Tandy Subway) up to downtown Fort Worth in order to look for a job.

But now I was sitting in my car staring at the bridge. The bridge spanned the entire subway parking lot and then across the Trinity River to the north.

I was sitting there completely numbed out, no idea what to do next. A verse of scripture came into my mind.

REVELATION 21:3-4 (NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION)

3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

This is one of the most encouraging verses I know of in the Bible, but that fact just went right by me.

Instead, a…thought…popped into my head. Or maybe a picture. Just for half a nano-second.

I saw myself flooring the accelerator and heading into one of the bridge’s big concrete supports.

As quickly as the thought came, it raced away.

I sat there in silence for a moment, and then I said, out loud, “Nobody believes in me.”

There was another moment of silence, and then I felt a kind of presence. And then I heard a voice.

The presence was Jesus, the God of the Universe, the Redeemer of my soul.

And the voice, his voice, said—softly, simply—

I believe in you.”

And I sat there for awhile, silent.

And then the tears finally came.

Questions…

  • Would God actually say that to somebody—”I believe in you”?
  • Would he say that to you? If so, why?

Whatever your thoughts, I’d love to hear from you!

Postscript…

What The Worst Year in My Life made possible.

Game-Changers: No time to analyze…

Part of the series, Game-Changers

 

There must have been something in her manner…

820 and mccart

…some peculiar way she moved on the bridge, or the way she looked down at the traffic below.

It was too dark to see her face. And no time, really, to study and analyze. I was driving and Carol was the first to see her there on the McCart Street overpass. I stopped the car at the corner and jumped out. Carol drove to the other side of the bridge, toward our house, and waited as I ran up to the young woman, grabbing her as she leaned precariously over the edge of the overpass. I told her it wasn’t time yet for her to go and that God had the answers she needed. She told me she couldn’t go on. There was no hope anymore. We took her home with us and got her something to eat and listened to her story, which was long and very sad. By the end of the evening, Carol had found her a place to stay—a shelter for battered women—and taken her to that place of safety.

Twenty-three years have passed since that evening and we have never seen the woman again. I confess I can’t even remember her name. But I know I’ll see her again, in heaven, because she came to the One that night who had all the answers she would need, and all the hope, and all the love.

I’ve wondered since then: What if we’d been wrong? What if the young woman had just been out for a walk? What if I’d gotten out and grabbed somebody whose only need was some time alone?

I guess that’s the risk we take when we agree to be God’s instruments of grace to the people who share our world.

You don’t always have time to analyze.

Matthew 9:36 (New International Version)

36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

 

Game-Changers: A shepherd’s heart, continued…

Previously on A shepherd’s heart

I just wanted to read my paper...

Part of the series, Game-Changers

 


Chuck’s Great Adventure

Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Start Being a Real Person

Well, sort of…

Pancho's_New_Logo_2Matthew 4:19 (New International Version)

Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!”

The training began while I was standing at the end of a long line.

One thing you need to understand is that I don’t—didn’t—like lines. Of any kind. But especially long ones. Especially when I was waiting to get fed.

But it was more than that.

You see, I basically thought strangers were put into my life to get in my way. I had this infantile perspective, somehow, that people in—say—the line in front of me didn’t exist anywhere else except in that line. In other words, they existed only when I saw them. They didn’t have real lives, hopes, dreams. They were props in a one man play. Starring me.

Somehow, even though I knew logically this was not the case, my emotions convinced me of this blatant, profoundly weird—and toxic—untruth.

But there, at the end of a long line at Pancho’s, the Voice spoke:

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Game-Changers: Refuge in a cool, dark room…

Part of the series, Game-Changers

 

It was, by far, the worst place I had ever worked.

Linotype

It was worse than the car dealer (where I lasted only two weeks).

Worse than the department store ladies’ shoe department. Or selling vacuums in the store on the other end of the mall. Or any of the scores of temporary assignments I’ve had as a graphic designer.

Worse than any of the places that fired me.

It was a typesetting company. Which, at the time I was working there, was like being a buggy whip manufacturer in the 1920s. My job involved taking computer files sent to us by artists and advertising agencies and outputting them on film. They’d ship the film to a print shop where it would be used to make plates for printing presses.

But it wasn’t the work that made it so bad.

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