Praying with Strangers

He didn’t know what to do after his wife took the kids and left him, so he joined a motorcycle gang, turned to drugs and drink to dull the pain.

“I don’t really blame him,” his daughter said. Still the hurt of all that shadows her. “I have a hard time crying. I can cry for others, for God even, but not for me.”

Her mama kept running long after she left her daddy. She married five times. One of those men claimed to be a Christian man. He took the kids to church and lead the family in prayer, before and after the beatings. That man believed he was the hand of God administering the discipline and wrath of God.

Her brother didn’t remember the beatings. He thought she made it all up until he got on the battlefield in Iraq and it all came to him in a rush, the way the terror of war does for those who’ve survived it.

Throughout her growing up years, she kept thinking: I don’t belong in this family. This can’t be my real life. She wasn’t like her brother, her sister, or her mother. “I never felt like I belonged in my own family. It didn’t make any sense until I went in search of my father.”

She did that in her mid-20s, after she got saved.

“How does a girl in her 20s get saved when she hasn’t grown up in a church?” I asked.

I’m never surprised anymore how these conversations spill out off strangers. This time an isolated corner of Salt Lake City airport. I was working. She sat down near me, clutching a Karen Kingsbury book.

“You like Karen Kingsbury?” I said, choosing purposely to engage a stranger.

A decade ago, she’d received a call at her home in Arizona telling her that her granddaddy was dying, so she hopped a plane east.  Her father and his father had been at odds for over 35 years. That’s no longer water under the bridge — that’s a sizable flood to try and divert. Why are we always so willing to reconcile in death what we won’t in life?

They couldn’t talk at first, her daddy and her. What is there to say to a man you love but don’t really know?

But she’d been a good study of her mama. She’d learned how to keep a bad relationship going. She asked the hospice nurses to pray for her, pray that God would give her the strength to leave the man who was her lover, the man who beat her like that other daddy-wannabe.

Thank God for good women. Those hospice ladies didn’t lecture her, didn’t boss her about her business. They simply said they would pray for her. And sure enough, it wasn’t long after her granddaddy passed, after she went back to home to the broken relationship that continued to break her, that on a particularly good day, a day when everyone was happy and laughing, she announced to her boyfriend that she was leaving him.

She moved East, to spend time getting to know her father, finally. She began to see the reason that her mama had pushed her away — she was more like her daddy than she’d ever imagined.

Her parents had met at a Bible College in Tennessee.

“Can you believe that? ” the girl asked. Her highlighted hair fell in gentle folds around a smile that flashes like a faint star twinkling. She can’t see the prettiness I do.

Sometimes it’s like we are all walking through a House of Mirrors, trying to determine which reflection is really us, unaware that every single one of those images is distorted because we are staring at the wrong thing. To really see ourselves we have to step away from the mirrors of self, and get face-to-face with God.

The mystery of us is revealed only when it’s God’s face we seek, not our own.

This, people, is why God put the law there — for our own protection — not to be contrary or arbitrary.  It’s there to help us stay the course. So we don’t come to the end of our days and realize, far too late, the path we blazed scorched the earth, burned down homes and left many severely scarred.  Shame kept her mama running, not only from her past, but from the future and the hope God had intended.

“Can I pray with you before I go?” I asked, after folding my laptop back in its bag. I wasn’t sure how much time had lapsed or exactly when the flight for home departed. Everything had been hinky-kinky since I’d called home early that morning and found out the husband was sick. I paid the extra $50 to change the flights so I could get home earlier, though still not early. It’s a long way from Pensacola to Pasco.

So I knelt there in that airport and prayed with this young girl. Prayed for God to redeem it all. God doesn’t plan our hurts but he won’t waste them either. He takes the refuse of life and creates beauty from brokeness.

He is Creator God. An Artist and a Poet.

An hour or so later, at the end of the D-Gates, I pulled out my ticket and checked my seat: 6A, when I looked over and saw her standing yonder, holding her own ticket.

“Where are you headed?” I asked.

“Pasco to visit a friend,” she said.  “What about you?”

“Same,” I said. “What seat are you in?”

She looked at her ticket: 6B

Right there at the D-Gates, among a standing-room only crowd, we laughed as God whispered his poetry over us.

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