I was washing my hands when the janitor walked into the restroom. I remember thinking he shouldn’t be here, but I chalked it up to a cultural difference and turned to offer him a friendly smile. Instead of the toothy grin that I was expecting, he faced me with unzipped pants, fully exposed.
My first instinct was to get between him and the stalls that my 2 young daughters were in. Calmly, I urged them to finish and prayed that the Lord would shield them from whatever might happen next. “One exit.” “Pretty narrow.” “I can fight…but I don’t want to touch him.” “What if there is someone behind him.” “Too secluded to scream.” “I don’t know the local word for “Help.”
I encouraged my girls to wash their hands well so that I had time to watch his movements and plan our next move. He started to mop the floor of a stall and then moved to the next. I gathered my daughter’s wrists in my right hand and purposefully walked towards the door, willing all of my strength into my left arm on the chance that I would need to fight our way through. As we neared him, he stepped closer with a creepy expression, but let us pass. We passed through the doorway and quickly, I challenged the girls to a skipping contest to hurry them along without alarming them to the danger that we had just eluded.
As soon as we were at a safe distance, I called my husband. He was hosting two men who had just arrived that morning for a short term exploratory trip, and we rushed to the restaurant where they were eating. Upon arriving at the restaurant, I felt conflicted because I didn’t want to give our visitors the false impression that where we were living was dangerous; because 90% of the time it is a peaceful place. However, I was desperate to share the burden of the last few minutes.
At first, I was careful with my words, but quickly, my emotions took charge of my inflections and gestures. Their faces shifted from surprise to concern and then, anger. Furiously, my husband set off to confront the man. Recognizing the tenor of my husband’s stride, our new friend marched after him. At the time, I didn’t realize the integral part that our friend would play, but am forever grateful that the Lord would send him to Indonesia, if not for that exact moment.
When my husband reached the bathroom, he found the janitor who quickly connected the dots and started apologizing incessantly. My husband collected the man’s neck in his right hand, lifted him off the floor and slammed his head against the wall while shouting into his petrified face. Seconds later, our friend gently placed his hand on my husband’s shoulder and calmly spoke, “Enough”. My husband’s yelling had brought a team of hotel security and eventually, an interrogation. I had to return and identify the janitor who now looked fragile and frightened. The head of security ensured us that he would be punished to which we requested he only receive counseling and not be allowed to work where he might be alone with women and children. And, that was it. The three of us walked slowly back to the restaurant where our other friend was watching our children who remarkably remained oblivious to the events of the last hour.
As I reflect on that horrible incident, two things rise to the surface.
One, God has provided us with a physical body designed for and perfectly equipped to react to fear. Our brain responds by sounding the alarm, our pupils dilate, our vision calibrates. Next, our breathing quickens which oxygenates our blood and fuels our tensed muscles. Our adrenal glands release cortisol which elevates our heart rate and lets our liver know that it needs to release stored energy. Last, our digestive system slows to push all blood flow to our brain and muscles. In mere moments, our bodies instinctively react, primed for fight or flight. Not a coincidence!
Two, God sends ground support. I just finished reading Sophie Hudson’s Giddy Up, Eunice, which is probably why Mary and Elizabeth are on my mind. In the book of Luke, Mary and Elizabeth find themselves with the unexpected pregnancies of Jesus and John the Baptist. Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, is literally speechless while Elizabeth herself remains in seclusion for 5 months. Mary’s fiance, Joseph “had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:19) and Mary is bracing herself for the harsh criticism of her community. Faced with these challenges, Mary “hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.” (Luke 1:40)
Sophie Hudson says, “When the Holy Spirit in one responds to the Holy Spirit in another, safe places become sacred spaces.” The Lord provided Mary and Elizabeth to each other for the kind of sacred support that is only built from empathy. Little did we know that our friend who had whispered “Enough” to my husband had been a victim of child abuse. While definitely not equal, our respective experiences provided “a sacred space” where we had freedom to cycle through the wheel of emotions driving our thoughts and behaviors. While bought at a great and unfair price, his wisdom was our salve. Again, not a coincidence.
Our friend moved to Indonesia with his family for a mere 4 months and without a clear vision for his purpose there. He and his wife felt God prompting them to go, so they packed up their family and came. While they impacted many lives during their time in Indonesia, their impact on me was profound.
In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers says, “A saint’s life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see…” The target that our friend could not see was our family. God loosed his arrow and it literally landed on the exact day and at the exact time when it was needed.
The experience of that day has left it’s mark. Good or bad, I am hyperaware of my surroundings, always looking for the exits and constantly assessing people. However, two lessons burn the deepest. First, I will never let my children use a public restroom without an adult. Second, I will always try to understand my purpose of place; to live like our friend, like an arrow nocked against the bow, anticipating that “Perhaps this is the moment for which I was created.” (Esther 4:14)