A year ago I traveled to Guatemala and it rocked my world. Upon returning from the trip, I began experiencing a strong conviction. While I had no problem serving people in another country, I noticed how grossly I had been ignoring the needs of those living right in my own community. I began praying that God would help me translate the sense of concern and urgency I felt for the people of Guatemala to the people in my own backyard.
I should have known that God always responds when we pray for something aligned with His heart.
Showing up in the ordinary, God answered my prayer during a routine morning run with a friend. We were climbing the last hill of our workout when I saw her.
A woman, probably in her 60s, was walking slowly down the hill toward us.
It was clear, even from a distance, that she was downtrodden. She walked with her head down, exhibiting the sort of exhaustion reserved only for the most difficult of times. I felt God stir my heart for her, but I was immediately uncomfortable, and, quite honestly, a little annoyed.
Right now, God? Really? I just want to finish this run and get home.
In a moment we were upon each other. My heart was racing as I debated whether to stop and say something to her or not. I didn’t have too much time to wonder, though, because she spoke first. Up close it was even more evident that she was truly in a tough situation.
Tentatively, the woman asked us if we knew how she could get to Woodlawn Road. My friend directed her to her destination and I asked her if she was planning on walking there. When she responded yes, I blurted out with surprise that Woodlawn Road was quite a ways away, 2 miles at least. She responded with a sad smile and thanked us for the directions.
I was kicking myself as we finished our run back to the house.
Why did I say something so discouraging to her without even offering to help? Wow, I really blew that opportunity.
But my guilt lasted only for a moment. As soon as we got back to the house, I hopped in the car to drive another friend to the airport. We chatted cheerily on the way. After dropping her off, I decided I’d stop by a local bagel shop before heading home to reward myself for the run that morning.
There I was, cruising down Woodlawn Road with hot coffee and bagels on my mind, completely oblivious to the irony of being on the street mentioned earlier that morning.
I nearly caused a wreck when I saw her again, still hunched over, staggering down the road she had inquired about earlier.
It was a second chance. I threw up a frantic, jumbled prayer.
Okay, God, I get it. I know you want me to stop. I’m nervous, but I’ll do it. Make it clear how I’m supposed to help her. Oh, and please don’t let her have a gun hidden in that handbag, alright? I’m trusting you.
Pulling off onto a side street, I turned around to meet her. She looked surprised as I rolled down the window, my hand shaking on the button.
“Excuse me, ma’am? I met you earlier when I was running with my friend. I just saw you again and wanted to see if you need any help.”
Her eyes went a little wide as she responded.
“I saw you turn around and I hoped that maybe God was sending you to help me. Yes, I need help. I need a ride. Would you mind giving me a ride?”
I told her to get in.
She proceeded to tell me she had left the hospital that morning and was headed toward her home in a town almost 20 miles away. In shock, I asked how she had hoped to walk all that distance.
I had no chance of anticipating her response.
Through tears, she explained how she had planned to beg for bus fare that morning to catch a public bus to her town. However, before asking for money she felt strongly that God was telling her to walk. She felt Him urging her, I have someone for you. Just trust me. Start walking.
The realization that I was the person God had promised to her hit me so heavily I could barely keep driving. I had been praying for a moment such as this. For a moment to notice and care and respond to someone’s need, right here in my own backyard. I silently thanked God for using me despite my selfishness and for offering me not one chance, but two.
Like clockwork, as soon as I pulled onto the highway the heavens exploded and rain barreled down.
Oh, God. What would have happened to this woman if I had not picked her up? Would she have kept walking in this storm? Would she have even survived in her fragile state?
Clearly, calmly, God whispered to my heart.
Ashley, there was no Plan B. You were my plan. Working through humanity is, and always has been, my design. You do have a choice whether or not to respond to peoples’ needs. I won’t force you. But just understand, sometimes, there is no Plan B.
How many times have people needlessly suffered, even to the point of death, simply because nobody around them responded to the divine urge to stop and help? What if, as it happens in Scripture, God wants to use ordinary people to carry out extraordinary plans? What if we really are sometimes the answers to each other’s prayers?
Sometimes you and I are part of God’s plan – Plan A. Sometimes there is no Plan B. The question is whether we’re listening, and then whether we’re living like it.
Photo Credit: Gonzalo Espinoza , Creative Commons