Saturday Night Gale
It's Saturday night, and I know exactly what I want to do this evening: sit on the couch and watch football with my kids. God, however, has something else in mind.
Outside, the weather is deteriorating rapidly - there's a storm front moving in. The wind is howling, temperature is dropping, and the steady rain that has been falling all day is quickly turning to snow. It is frigid. But inside, it's perfect, with a hot cup of coffee and Denver moving the ball against a stingy Patriot defense.
Then, a few minutes after 9, the doorbell rings, and everything changes. There on my porch stands a rain-soaked woman, desparately sobbing: "I need to call the police, I need to call the police! Please help me..." And then she dissolves in tears.
The world turns twilight in the blink of an eye. She is my neighbor, from half a block down. I have seen her a few times before, spoken to her once or twice. But that's it. I don't remember her name, she doesn't remember mine. All she knows is that my wife gives her peanut brittle every Christmas. "And I knew you was a pastor, so I came to your door."
What is a pastor supposed to do, when a strange woman knocks on your door in the night? They don't teach you this in seminary. I suspect there are some things you learn only by living. Trial and error, playing it by ear. Faith.
I don't know what to do, to say. So I ask her in, I ask her what has happened.
She and her husband of 15 years have had a fight. He has kicked her out and won't let her back in the house. She's been standing in the rain since 7:30. She's already called 911 twice, but no one has showed up. I lend her my phone and she tries again.
And then we wait. Sitting in my kitchen. What do you say? What do you do? How do you counsel someone in distress? Are you supposed to share the Gospel? Or just sit there and listen? I have no idea, and so I ask her if I can pray for her.
One of the things I have learned - in times of crisis, you need not ask whether someone believes in God. Just ask if you can pray for them. I have never had anyone say "No" or "Oh, I don't believe..." or "Why bother?" In times of crisis, there are no atheists. She was no exception.
I asked. She said yes. And so I prayed. Right there in the kitchen. And she thanked me profoundly.
And then we sat some more. Every so often she'd ask if the police had showed up. No dice.
Finally at 10 PM I call 911 myself. The operator is disinterested. "Oh. Hmm. Looks like an officer was already over there."
That is crap. My son has been standing out on the porch in the snow for the last hour. There has been no squad car on our street. I request them to send another officer, and then we go back to waiting.
This goes on for another 45 minutes. I ask about her family (she doesn't have much). I ask if her husband hit her (she says no, but he threw a mattress and she was scared). She says he yells at her a lot. She's really concerned about her 8 year old daughter who's still in the house with him.
I find myself wondering if she's been drinking. Is she telling the truth? Is she strung out? It's hard to say, and so at one point I actually walk down the street and knock on her door. He comes to the window, but he will only speak to me through the glass. He certainly looks put together. But he is not at all glad to see me.
"Who are you?" He is very suspicious.
I tell him my name, that I live down the street, that his wife came to my house.
"Tell her to call the cops." Did I just hear him right?
"You want her to call the cops?" I am very puzzled here. His face is emotionless, but the tone of his words is scary.
"Tell her to call the cops." That is all he will say.
So I go home. Still no police. So I call again at 10:30. Marilyn gets home from her concert and takes over in the kitchen, giving her a bowl of soup, lending her a listening ear. Marilyn is really good at listening. I take my turn out on the porch, and pray, pray, pray.
What IS someone supposed to do in this situation? Do I encourage her to go home? Do I offer to let her stay in my place? Do I keep calling the police? What DOES one have to do to get them to show up anyway???
At 10:45 she is tired and exhausted. She insists that she wants to press charges, but she has given up hope on the police arriving. "They're not coming, are they? I've got to go home to him, don't I?"
I don't know what to say. I tell her I'll help her do whatever she wants - if she wants me to keep calling, I'll do that. If she wants to go home, I'll walk her back.
We walk back. And we knock on the door. And her husband makes her stand there for 3 or 4 minutes before he finally unlocks it and lets her in. And then I walk back to my house wondering what I should be doing. I'm not sure if there are any right answers in situations like these.
At 11:15, an officer finally shows up at my door. And to his credit, he was very interested - listened to what I knew, was concerned about the sitation, volunteered to walk down and check on her. He even apologized that it took so long to get there. "We've been swamped tonight... shootings, accidents, stuff like that." He seemed like a good man, with a very hard job.
And that was it. I have no idea where things stand. I have no idea who was in the right or wrong. I have no idea WHY God brought this woman to my door. But I know that God brought her, and I'm glad he did.
If you think about her, please pray for Dianne. She and her husband need your prayers. And pray for the pastors and policemen and counselors and all the rest who get to deal with the brokenness of this world far too often. And pray for the church, that she would be a lighthouse and a beacon in the midst of these Saturday night gales.
At the end of the day, maybe that's all he's really asking us to do - to put our hands to the plow, and pray, and then trust that he will work it out. I'm still not entirely sure. I still have a lot to learn.