On a long commute home through Sunbury, Ohio, I paused at the corner of a major intersection to stay on St. Rt. 3 (36/37) toward Mount Vernon. While impatiently waiting to turn left at the light, I had a lightning-bolt recollection of a major conversation I’d had with God in the last year — one where I asked him to really challenge me.
I had told him I wanted to go to places others wouldn’t dare to serve others in His name, even if it made me incredibly uncomfortable. I wanted to be fearless, entirely yielded to what he would would call me to do, so that I could witness and take part in His Kingdom coming on Earth, here and now. I imagined something big and on-trend, like freeing sex slaves in a third-world country or maybe landing a mega-church as a business client. I had no idea what I was getting into.
I sipped my Yogi decaf tea and flipped through my iPhone playlist for a split second before looking up — to see a hitchhiker, hunched over the guardrail just past the upcoming traffic light.
I looked at the hooded figure out of my periphery, taking care not to look too close. Admittedly, I never like to see hitchhikers’ faces for fear of making a personal connection. As I crept closer, I felt a direct pull on my heart — that I was being called to rescue this person. I was irritated — because it seemed completely ridiculous.
I began to arm wrestle with Abba. “God, I KNOW you would never call me to do something that would put me directly in harm’s way. That man could be a rapist or a serial killer, and it is ENTIRELY inappropriate for me to pick him up. This can’t be of you, because I know you would never have me pick up a strange man in my car,” I thought.
As I passed by this shivering, hooded figure, I realized — she was a woman. She sat cold and alone, her whisper-white, windblown hair peeking out of an oversized black hooded jacket. The image of her sun-leathered skin on a face of hopelessness was burned into my retinas like a white-hot light.
Despite knowing she was a woman — a petite, older woman at that — I continued my hissy-fit with God. I did NOT want to pick her up.
I kept driving, desperate for a distraction. I’m usually quick to forget these kinds of encounters, but a mile down the road, I couldn’t shake the thought of her. Two miles… three miles… she was still right there in my mind, still cold and alone. I became nervous, eager to discern what I needed to do.
I prayed, “God — I really don’t want to go get her. But I can’t shake this. Is this really what you want me to do? I need a clear message from you.”
His response was almost audible, “This is what you asked for — and it’s not always going to be pretty. Now, go back and get her.” With Matthew 25:40 echoing through my mind, I choked back a tear, swallowed my pride, and turned my Trailblazer around.
As I drew closer, my heartbeat quickened, my breathing labored, and my palms began to sweat. I was scared. Even acting in yielded certainty, I had no idea what to expect. I scrambled to throw anything of value — my laptop bag, some cash in the cupholder, even my iPhone charger — into the backseat. I pulled over and rolled down my window.
The woman joyfully met my gaze and proceeded to hobble her way over to me. As I helped her lift two heavy bags into the car, she began to gush, “Oh, thank you thank you! I’ve been here for five hours and nobody stopped. Thank you so much. I am so cold and my knees just ache. I thought I would be here all night.”
Although I struggle to share my faith — especially with strangers — I felt prompted by God to tell her the truth.
“Honestly? I really didn’t want to pick you up,” I said, feeling ashamed. “I was several miles down the road, and — this might sound crazy to you — but God told me I had to come back and get you.”
Her eyes welled with tears. “Oh honey, the Lord has been with me on this entire journey. So it doesn’t surprise me at all that he asked you to come back. Thank you for being obedient — you are one of his beloved children… one of the really good ones.”
We spent the 40-minute car ride talking about life, faith and the future. Incredibly, “Ruthie” was a writer — down on her luck financially, making a journey from Arizona all the way to New Hampshire to start a new life closer to her support system. She was 58 years old and in poor health, but desperate to follow God’s path and make a fresh new start, with only the clothes on her back and a laptop to document her cross-country faith journey.
As we drew closer to town, I learned she had no money for food and nowhere warm to sleep for the night. It took only one call to my church family to get her a piping hot meal and a hotel room for the night. She had been turned away from many churches on her journey, and she was again moved to tears to see God show up through our collective means of service and love toward her.
Ruthie even got to meet my family. My husband, Mike was blessed by the whole encounter (whew! I was nervous to even tell him I picked up a hitchhiker, let alone ask for his help!) and Bella, my four year old, was intensely curious as we showed the love of God to someone we didn’t even know. We sent Ruthie off with a care package of granola bars, apple sauce packets, and laundry detergent — plus our well-wishes and prayers for the journey ahead.
Let me be clear: I’m not suggesting we all start picking up hitchhikers. I may never do it again myself.
But my heart has been completely broken for God, and I want what He wants. I meant what I said when I asked for a real challenge, and He came through by using me to show mercy to “one of the least of these.” He protected me and blessed me with a passing person of peace on the side of the road. The kinship connection I made with Ruthie is something I will never forget.
John Wesley believed that in addition to piety, acts of mercy are a means of grace. And although I’d consider myself more of a Calvinist, I’m living proof of Wesley’s sentiment.
This service opportunity left me forever changed. I’m eager to walk down roads less travelled — and I’m ready to once again step way outside my comfort zone to be an active participant in God’s coming Kingdom.
I invite you to do the same in whatever way He might call you. It’s just too amazing to miss.