A few years ago I attended a conference with a friend who is also a pastor. Since we’re both pretty cheap, we decided to drive together to the airport and share the cost of gas and parking. Once the conference was over, we flew back, spent an hour trying to find his car in the discount parking lot, stopped at a fast-food restaurant, and headed home.
We were exhausted, but the atmosphere in the van was upbeat. We were excited about what we had just learned, Jimmy Buffet was playing on the radio, and I had a chicken sandwich in one hand, french fries in the other, and a soft drink wedged between my knees. It was one of those ideal, peaceful moments you always forget about the day after they occur.
As we drove along I-70, outside of Richmond, Indiana, the mood dramatically changed. Without warning my friend suddenly swerved his van hard to the right and almost lost control. Something was in the middle of the road, but we couldn’t tell what it was. The car behind us barely missed it as well.
“What was that?” I yelled.
“I don’t know. Maybe a deer.”
I turned around and was shocked to see a human being standing in the middle of the highway.
“It’s a woman! She’s trying to kill herself! Pull over!” I pushed the door open and ran to where the woman was standing. By this time she was in the middle of the inside lane, facing oncoming traffic. I edged my way out to her like a police officer inching his way toward someone getting ready to jump off a skyscraper.
“You don’t have to do this!” I shouted. “Give me your hand. I’m a pastor. Please. I can help you. Don’t do this!” I glanced to my left and saw an eighteen-wheeler coming straight toward her. At the last second she lunged toward the truck, but the driver miraculously missed her. The truck’s horn was deafening. I could see the driver scream and arch his back as he struggled to control his steering wheel. I heard the cargo slide and hit the wall of the trailer. Seconds later a van and another truck blared their horns as they drove by, just feet behind me.
Finally, as if receiving a signal from a mother ship somewhere, the woman turned, walked right past me, got into her car, started her engine, and drove off. My friend quickly wrote down her license plate number and called the police, while I stood beside him on the side of the road, shaking and completely unnerved. The rest of the way home we sat in awkward silence, replaying in our minds what we had just experienced.
Through the years I’ve thought a lot about that woman and what drove her to take such drastic steps. Was she on drugs? Had she committed some unspeakable crime and couldn’t shake the guilt? Or did she have a deep wound from some dark place in the past that became too difficult to carry any longer? The question I most ask, however, is what was she thinking? What thoughts were racing through her mind? The whole time I was with her, she never said a word. Not one. But I did get a good look at her eyes. And I’ve seen that look more times than I can count—hollow, resolute, time for tears long past. Her lips never moved, but her eyes spoke volumes.
If there was only one verse from the Bible I could have read to her that day, if she had let me, it would have been Romans 8:37-39:
“We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Don’t ever forget that. Ever.
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