July 27, 2011

An Unlikely Sanctuary

The day was cold and rainy. I hadn’t brought an umbrella, so I hurried from my car into Walmart for groceries. Grabbing a cart, I started down the aisles. First, the personal-care section. Let’s see, shaving cream for my husband, ChapStick—was there something else in this section?
I saw her in the shampoo aisle. Middle-aged, hair swept up and away from a kind-looking face. An employee stopped to ask about her hand as he passed. I hadn’t noticed her hand. As I glanced at it, I noticed a bandage loosely wrapped around her palm and fingers.
Instantly I felt a strong impression: Go talk to her.
OK, Lord, I thought, give me the words.
“I’m so sorry about your hand,” I said as I approached her cart. She looked up with a smile, and we chatted for a while as she told me that every doctor she’d been to, including the ones at the Mayo Clinic, hadn’t been able to diagnose her problem. It had been bothering her for some time.
Suddenly a thought crossed my mind. You should pray for her, right now.
Here, Lord, in the store? No, I think I’ll just tell her I’ll pray for her.
2011 1521 page28I opened my purse and rummaged for a pen. “What’s your name?” I asked, as my fingers closed around a pen. “My husband and I keep a prayer journal, and we’d love to pray for you.”
Her face lit up. “Oh, I’d love that! My name is Jan.”*
There was that nagging thought again! Jill, pray for her right now. But I brushed it aside as I wrote her name on my grocery list.
We Meet Again
We said our goodbyes, and I headed elsewhere. My mind busy with my list, I didn’t see her again until suddenly I glanced up and there she was again, looking at some candles.
Jill, stop and pray for her! The thought came again, but instead, I just said hi, and we laughed. I turned my cart down another aisle and stopped for some cat food. But just as I neared the food section, I saw Jan again. She was in the chip aisle, and we smiled at each other as I passed by.
Jill, stop and pray for her! The unbidden thought rose again, but I tried to ignore it, and continued my mental dialogue with God instead. Not now, Lord, I’m already past her. I’m sorry; I know I should’ve prayed earlier, but it would seem rather odd to go up to her now and ask to pray for her. I missed my chance. I’m sorry.
My legs continued walking, and I methodically checked off the items on my list. I mechanically entered the prices into my calculator to ensure I stayed on budget, but the nagging thoughts wouldn’t leave. What if I was really supposed to pray with her? I tried rationalizing. Hadn’t I witnessed by talking with her and telling her I would pray for her? And it’s not like Greg and I won’t pray for her. We will follow through on that, I’m sure of it.
Coming out of the aisle with the trash bags and paper towels, I looked back and saw her at the back wall of the store in the dairy section. Uh-oh, God—are You trying to tell me something? But instead of walking toward her, I turned my cart away and continued toward the baking section.
My Fleece
Well, God, if You want me to pray with her, just bring her across my path again. After all, You can do anything, so You can easily make us cross paths again. However, that smug prayer did nothing to quiet the unease in my heart. I couldn’t get Jan out of my mind. How many times did God have to speak to me before I would obey? Hadn’t He already caused her to cross my path at least three times?
Standing there by the flour and oil with shoppers passing all around me, the Holy Spirit finally broke through all my rationalizations, all my excuses, to my core—to my heart. God had given me three good opportunities to share His love, and I had been too busy, too uncertain, too afraid. Worse than that, I had refused to obey His still small voice—not once, but three times!
Forgive me, Father, I prayed as I turned my cart around, walking toward the butter and eggs cooler at the end of the store. Maybe she would still be there. O Father, could You keep her there so I can obey this time? I peered down the open aisle, and a wave of relief washed over me as I realized she was in the same place I had seen her last. Thank You, Jesus!
I hurried down the aisle, slowing my pace only when I saw she was talking with an older couple. They walked off as I came up to her, and she said, “Oh, this couple is from my church, and I was just telling them about the nice, sweet girl I met here who said she would pray for me.”
It was the opening I needed, and I said, “Jan, that’s actually why I came back. I’d like to pray with you right now, if that’s all right with you.”
She reached out her good hand to mine as she said, “Oh, honey, I’d love that.”
I began to pray, or I should say, we prayed together. We thanked God for the physical healing He could provide if it was His will; we prayed for salvation for her doctors; we pleaded for strength and faith and acceptance of His will. With one hand on my shopping cart and the other in my precious sister’s, oblivious to the shoppers or the fact that we were in a major thoroughfare, we petitioned the throne of God and found grace, mercy, and help in our time of need.
Then we hugged, and Jan said, “Thank you for coming back to pray with me.”
I turned my cart around, yet again; but this time to leave God’s sanctuary. I thought, No, I’m the one who’s thankful! Thankful I can still hear the prompting of God’s Spirit, thankful He didn’t give up on me, thankful that I finally chose to obey.
What if I had obeyed sooner? I pondered that and other things as I ran through the rain to my car. Sharing Jesus and witnessing to others does not come just from a Bible study, it doesn’t always come from the preacher in the pulpit, and it doesn’t always come from knocking at a stranger’s door. Sharing Jesus is simply walking with Him and obeying His voice when He speaks to our hearts. It’s being willing to say, “Here am I, send me!” (Isa. 6:8).
The size of the job doesn’t matter. Neither does its importance, or the publicity it brings, or the pain it might cause. What matters most is our willingness to hear His voice and obey.

* Not her real name
Jill Morikone is one of the hosts of Let’s Cook Together, seen on the Three Angels Broadcasting Network. This article was published July 28, 2011.