riving home after a long night shift as a railroad police officer, I couldn’t stop replaying in my mind what had almost happened during my routine patrol; I’d nearly shot two suspects.
The male trespassers were young, early 20s, and my first indication of trouble had been a pair of boot-clad legs running behind a line of freight cars. I spent the next hour following those legs, stopping when they stopped, moving when they moved, until we reached the end of the line--no more train cars to hide behind. When a thin man with rumpled hair and clothes stepped out into the open, his back to me, I saw he held a gun with both hands high over his head. I pulled out my service revolver and aimed the muzzle at his torso. “Drop your weapon!”
He’d turned slowly to face me, his arms lowering but still grasping the pistol. I tensed, knowing it took only a second to pull a trigger.
“Last warning: drop your weapon.” But he stood frozen, eyes and mouth wide open, obviously shocked to see me.
I began to squeeze the trigger but a sudden impression to take a closer look stopped me. Keeping my finger poised, I waited for him to make a move. He finally did, releasing his hold on the gun and letting it clatter to the ground at his feet.
I reholstered my Magnum and reached for my cuffs when I heard the sound of shoes scuffling on gravel behind me. I wheeled around to face a second suspect, casually holding a gun by his side. Once more I drew my pistol and shouted, “Drop your weapon!”
His reaction was the complete opposite of the first man’s; throwing his weapon as if it were on fire, he fell to his knees and pleaded for me not to shoot. I was now even more suspicious but for a different reason; these guys were not the typical tough-acting criminals I was used to arresting.
With both of them cuffed, I bent over to pick up their weapons and immediately felt weak in the knees; they were plastic replicas of handguns!
Close to the Edge
By the time I’d written the report and headed home, a nauseating anxiety began to overwhelm me as I realized what I had almost done.
As soon as I arrived home, I opened each bottle in a six-pack of beer and downed them quickly, but the liquid tranquilizer didn’t numb me fast enough. Fearing nightmares, I desperately flipped through the Yellow Pages for anything to do with God, only to discover God didn’t have His own listing. I went to the “church” section and punched a number that promised answers to life’s questions. A recording asked me to leave my name and number, which I did, and then slammed the phone down. I knew I’d never hear from anyone.
After an endless night of recurring images of my finger pulling a trigger and sending bullets slamming into bodies, I found myself in a morbid, dark mood all the next day and evening. Even my dog, Snoopy, couldn’t lift my spirits, so he resigned himself to sitting beside me on the ragged couch.
A knock on the front door jolted me out of my trance. Through the peephole, I saw two trim men dressed in suits and ties, standing on my porch, their breath visible in the cold fall air.
Cracking the door wide enough for them to hear me, I asked, “What can I do for you?”
“Are you Dean O’Shea?”
“I’m Bob Conrad, and this is my associate, Wayne Goebel.” He gestured toward a smaller man with gentle brown eyes and a gray mustache. Both men had unlined faces but exuded the maturity seen in older men, carrying themselves with a strong, quiet â?¨confidence.
“Dean, we’re here to talk about the questions that have been troubling you. Do you have time for some answers?”
Realizing they must be from the church I’d called the night before, I shook my head in amazement at their timing.
“Come on in.”
As soon as we were seated, I skipped formalities and blurted, “Why does God allow so much suffering in this world?”
Bob looked at me with a kindness not usually seen in people I knew, let alone strangers. He opened a Bible on his lap and told an amazing story of a love older than time, a jealous hatred born in heaven, the subsequent battle for our souls, and the freedom we now have to choose between good and evil. Love can’t be love if it’s forced, they said. But with that freedom came the risk that people might choose to hurt, rather than help, others and themselves. Yet God still preferred love to defeat the enemy instead of controlÅ?completely opposite of the methods of humanity.
A tiny glimmer of hope began to take root as I listened to their words of encouragement, assurance, and unconditional love. Rather than a lightning bolt, it felt more like a gentle tugging at my heart, an intuitive awareness that healing had begun in my soul. By the time they were ready to leave, I knew I’d never look at life’s events the same.
What Do You Think?
1. When have you been spared from making a tragic mistake? What was at stake? 2. What was your initial reaction? As you thought about it later, what other feelings did it generate?
3. When have you experienced one of those "before you call, I will answer" prayers? Are they reserved just for special occasions? Or are they available all the time?
4. Why are these stories so important to our spiritual development? What do they communicate to those with whom we share them?
Walking them to the front door, I handed them their coats. “I’m surprised how quickly you guys responded to my phone message last night.”
Exchanging glances, Bob spoke in a quiet tone. “We don’t have an answering machine, and we’re not listed in your phone book. We work for a Christian organization in Canada.”
Wayne smiled knowingly. “We’re not sure whom you called, but we are sure who called us.” With a warm handshake, they were gone.
That night I lay awake, staring at the ceiling. There was no logical explanation for how Bob and Wayne knew to come to my home out of all the homes in Lincoln, Nebraska. Only God had known about my desperate attempt to reach out to Him.
My life changed dramatically after their visit. Relying on God’s strength, I stopped drinking, replacing my addictions with physical exercise and socializing with health-minded people. I began reading my Bible to learn more about this heavenly Father who’d taken an interest in me, a prodigal who’d left Him as a teen to make my own way in life, only to mess it up. And when I fell as far as I could, to that dark place of hopelessness, He’d sent two strangers to knock on my door and share the story of His love and grace.
Dean O’Shea writes from Sequim, Washington.