Friend or Stranger
Do you believe that the unseen realm can intersect with our daily lives in a tangible, observable way? This week, Becky Allender writes about a holy encounter with a mysterious stranger—one that took years to tell because it brings into question our usual assumptions about the world around us. This post originally appeared on Red Tent Living.
“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”
Hebrews 13: 1-3
We weren’t sure what was best: Try and outrun Hurricane Dennis or change our plans to arrive late in Lansing, Michigan for Dan’s orientation for his Doctoral program. The chaos began the day after our bible study friends in Boca Raton, Florida helped us load our U-Haul truck only to realize the engine needed repairing. With floodwater creeping over our ankles, the U-Haul headquarters sent a tow truck to haul our truck away because the idea of unloading everything was too much to bear. The scheduled time for me to learn how to drive our stick shift Volkswagen Rabbit was now! Dan had me practice in a parking lot and the puddles were as high as the bottom of the floor board! I could barely concentrate on the gears with the frightening, rising water and wind that would not let up. After the lesson, our nineteen-foot U-Haul truck was re-delivered and Dan said, “Let’s go!”
With shaking legs and arms and tears running down my cheeks I got into the car and locked my eyes on the U-Haul’s rear lights. It was crazy what we were doing but it seemed equally crazy to stay. The hurricane had been downgraded to a tropical storm, and our going away party was scheduled to begin in five hours. The thought of friends partying without us only made the sting of leaving friends hurt more. Deep roots in my heart had been planted with our friends, who had all gotten married around the same time and had our first babies together. I was frozen with sorrow and fear.
The Atlanta Child Murders of 1979-1981 were going on that summer. Twenty-eight children, adolescents and adult African Americans had been found dead. The serial killer had not been found and the city was tense with so many senseless killings and no leads. As we approached Atlanta long after midnight, I was aware of the city’s rage and aware of my white skin. I was tired and overly stressed, because I never did learn how to find first or second gear and had to literally throw my money into every change bin for all the turnpike driving we did. We had gone as far as our bodies would allow. It became my job to go into each hotel lobby and ask if there was a turnaround since we were towing a car behind the U-Haul truck. Most of the motels we passed had “No Vacancy” signs, and our exhausted bodies were ready to give out. Thankfully, the late night manager at the fourth motel said we could have a room and yes, there was a turnaround.
Dan drove the truck with our Buick Monarch in tow, and I dutifully followed in the Volkswagen with eyes barely able to focus. Suddenly Dan slammed on the brakes and opened the truck door in a panic and shouted, “We’re doomed!” Not just once, but three more times he hollered our fate! If I thought I was shaky at the beginning of the trip, it was nothing with how I now felt with an enraged, scared husband. Ahead, blocking the turnaround, was a fenced off area with dug up concrete. He was right. We were doomed. The U-Haul truck and our car were stuck going up a steep grade with no place to go.
Although we had been married almost five years, I had never seen my husband cry because of fear. He sat down on the bumper of the car and covered his face and wept. Dan asked me to go see if there was anyone awake in the hallway or office that could come and help us. I walked to the nearest door I could enter and behind me heard a voice. When I looked back there was a short, muscular African American man walking towards Dan. Fear gripped me as I began running towards them. I heard him ask Dan what was wrong. Dan explained that there was no way he could back out of the driveway with our car on the hitch behind the U-Haul truck. The man said, “Let’s try and get it off.”
They went over to the U-Haul truck and the man instructed Dan to unhook the latch holding the U-Haul frame on the towing ball. They each took a separate side and pulled the car off the ball. Dan pulled the truck away from the car. The man then told me to get into the car and put it into neutral so they could turn the car down hill to reconnect it to the truck. It seemed impossible.
Dan later told me that as he pushed with all his might, he could tell he was not moving the car an inch; however, the man seemed to make the car move without effort. They pushed and I steered, and eventually it was pointed downhill. The man asked me to get out, and Dan and the man lifted the car back on the hitch.
Dan shook his hand and said, “Let me give you some money to thank you for your help.” The man shook his head and said, “No, all I ask is that you do something good for someone else.” I ran to get my wallet to give him a twenty-dollar bill but he had disappeared instantly. Our backs had been turned to him less than 20 seconds.
At the corner of the building were two chain link fences, and there was no way possible that he could have gotten through or over them. There was no way out and yet, the man was gone. Dan and I looked at one another with wide eyes and no words. Moments later, Dan whispered, “I think that man was an angel.” It was so holy and so outrageous of a thought that we said nothing more about it for many years. Truly, it was a story that took years to tell.
We read Bible stories about angels to our children but did not tell them that angels are real and active. Now that I am a grandmother things have changed. Time is short with my grandchildren and Jesus has a stigma today that wasn’t the same when my children were little.
Recently reading Judith MacNutt’s book, Angels are for Real, has equipped me to believe in angels with more scripture to validate their reality. Dan and I also read John Eldredge’s daily and evening prayer almost everyday, and in it we pray to call forth angels to come to our aid. I have found it so sweet with grandchildren who are afraid to fall asleep to tell them that they have their own angel that watches over them.
So was that just a passer-by who helped us in Atlanta so many years ago?
When I ponder many near death experiences over my lifetime, am I remiss to not wonder if angels were there to orchestrate life when there should have been death? Take a look at the stranger that extends a strong hand and ponder, “Oh, terrifying friend, where do you really come from?” And, “Who are you asking me to become?”