I just have to tell you this story because it’s true. This really happened.
If you live in the Midwest, or if you’ve ever visited the Midwest, or if you’ve ever even heard about the Midwest, you can appreciate the cold weather we sometimes get here. I’m talking kick-me-in-the-gut-I-can’t-breathe kind of weather. It’s what we’re experiencing this week.
It was exactly one year ago, on a bitterly cold January day, that I was running errands. Why was I running errands when the wind chill was 25 degrees BELOW zero? Because my husband’s birthday was coming and I needed to get him a gift.
I had bought the gifts and was headed home on that minus-25-degree-wind-chill day when I got stopped by a train, which, in itself is nothing new because rumor has it that 75 trains every day go through our town.
As I sat in the line of cars waiting for the gates to go up, I looked at the clock in my car—it read 2:45. I needed to pick up my daughter at school at 3:00, so I contemplated my next move. I could either stop by my house and drop off the packages, then go pick up my daughter. Or I could just head to the school and wait, taking a 10 minute breather.
Suddenly, something to the right caught my eye. It seemed like a flash of pink or orange or yellow. I glanced up ahead of me and off to the side of the road and noticed a small woman, huddled down in the snow. She wore a winter coat, no hat or gloves, but underneath the coat I could see the bright fabric of some type of ethnic costume.
She looked to be Chinese or Vietnamese, but whatever her ethnicity, she was definitely not from around here.
The train had gone, the gates went up, and the line of cars began to move. As I crept past the woman, I noticed something startling—she was not the only person crouched down in the snow. She had a little girl with her. And the girl didn’t have a hat or gloves either.
Maybe they’re waiting for a ride, I thought to myself. Hopefully their ride will come soon.
As I neared the train tracks, I felt a nudging. I can’t explain it, but something inside of me thought, Help her.
“Sure, Lord, I’ll help her. I’ll pray,” I thought. “God, this woman needs help. Please help her.”
There. Done. I drove on.
About a block later, there it was again. Help her.
“But Lord, I don’t want to help her. I don’t have time to help her. I have to pick up my daughter in 15 minutes.”
And, to my shame, I kept driving.
About three blocks down the street I felt another nudging, a niggling, bothersome thought in my head again.
Oh boy, this was serious.
I was nearly in tears. I was frustrated. I was scared. And I was mad because I really didn’t want to do this thing that God was clearly calling me to do.
To be honest, I usually just ignore these kinds of “thoughts,” especially if they are inconvenient or ill-timed. But I had recently had a conversation with a friend who has become much more intentional about listening for God, and it made me want to become more intentional about it too.
So on this cold winter day, I knew without a doubt that the nudging in my head, my heart, whatever, was definitely not from me. And I turned around.
I headed back toward the woman in the snow, hoping her ride had arrived and she would not be still crouched there with her little baby girl.
But as I came up and over the tracks, I spotted her. Still there.
I knew that if I pulled up to her going the direction I was currently facing she would be on the left side of my car, so I decided to go around the block so that I would pull up to her on the passenger side. This would give her ride a couple more minutes to show up, I stupidly thought, even though I knew in my heart that I was her ride.
I drove around the block. As I turned the final corner my heart sank to see her still sitting there.
“O.K., God, I get it. Please help me to do this thing you want me to do,” I quickly prayed.
I pulled up next to her and rolled down the passenger-side window. “Do you need some help? Do you need a ride?” I called out to her.
She shook her head and seemed to say, “Yes.”
“Get in,” I said as I waved her to my car. “It’s cold out there!”
The tiny woman smiled as she climbed in my car and settled her little girl on her lap. “Thank you,” she said as she looked at me.
“O.K., so where are we going? Do you speak English?” I asked.
She shook her head and said something like, “Wah ses doh ses veddy fah.”
Uh oh. I had no idea where we were going, but it seemed like we would be going "very far."
So, motioning with my hand, I asked her if she could point the way to where she was going.
“Yes, yes,” she replied.
We headed back down the street, toward the train tracks and she immediately said, “No, no” and gestured to the right. Ah, I was supposed to turn right. So I backed up the car and headed in the right direction.
We continued on, she was pointing, I was praying. I had no idea where we were going or how long it would take to get there.
“But, God, I know you want me to do this, so I will take this woman wherever you want me to go.”
We drove on. Past a school. Crossing a busy intersection. Toward the opposite end of town from where I lived and where my daughter would surely be waiting for me at her school, wondering where I was.
But that didn’t matter. I was on a mission from God, and I was determined to fulfill my duty.
Suddenly, just as I began to REALLY wonder where we were going, the woman got very animated, pointing wildly to the left.
“Wah ses doh ses veddy fah!”
“Here?” I asked. “You want me to turn here?”
“Yes, yes!” she nodded her head and pointed some more.
We turned into a neighborhood of townhomes, a neighborhood that I’d never driven through before, and I looked up to see the words “Valley Forge” on a street sign.
“Valley Forge? Do you live on Valley Forge?” I asked.
“Yes, yes! Wah ses doh ses.”
And, as if God was putting His hands on my cheeks and turning my head, I glanced over to the house to my right and saw 1626 Valley Forge. So that was it!
“Here?” I asked. “Is this where you live?”
With her face lit with recognition and an enormous smile, the woman pointed to the house and said, “Yes. Wah ses doh ses veddy fah!”
We pulled up to her door and she climbed out, her beautiful little girl clinging to her hand, smiling at me broadly.
What does one say at a moment like this when you can’t communicate well but it seems something needs to be said?
“God bless you,” was all I could muster.
“God bless you,” she smiled and bowed in return. The little girl waved as I drove off.
It’s hard to describe the emotion of what I had just been through. The frustration, the fear, the lack of communication on both our parts, the sense of being completely out of control. Those emotions and more bubbled to the surface as I pulled away, tears streaming down my face.
I prayed one more prayer for this dear woman and her child, “Lord, please help them.” And I realized that He did.
I quickly drove to my daughter’s school, hoping she would not mind if I was a few minutes late. But when I arrived at our meeting spot, I glanced at the clock in my car—“3:00” the numbers read. I was on time after all.