Whatever this year may bring us, I have this undergirding confidence in the character, purpose and goodness of God. One event that strengthened this for me, was one that took place on a hot June night in 1995.
The phone call came after midnight into the dark dorm room on the campus of Willamette University in Salem while I was attending Annual Conference. This was before I owned a cell phone. I stumbled through the dark room to the ringing phone on the wall and answered. There on the other end of the line was Karen, my wife, and I could hear that she was crying.
“Honey?” I said, “That you?”
“Yes,” came Karen’s shaky reply. “I think we may just need extra prayer cover this week. I need to tell you about something that happened.”
She had put all the girls to bed and gone to bed herself. As was typical for her when I was gone, she could not go to sleep right away, so read until she could not hold her head up which came earlier than usual that night. She turned out the light at around 11 pm.
She was awakened at about 1140 pm with the dogs barking, the doorbell ringing and a persistent knocking.
In the Banks’ parsonage we were right next door to the church, so often we had people come to us for assistance or help. They would not normally come in the middle of the night, except we had learned, when I was out of town. So Karen was wary as she made her way downstairs, turned on lights, and came to the door.
She called through the door, “Who is it?”
And the voice that came back was our neighbor’s, “It’s Tina,” she said, “and I have your little girl.”
That door flew open in nothing flat. And there in Tina’s arms was 3 year old, red-headed Gabrielle. Not panicked or upset really, just looking tired and bewildered.
Karen was shocked. Not an hour before she had checked on all the girls and they were all sound asleep.
“Tina, how did you get her?” Karen asked, receiving Gabrielle from Tina’s arms.
Tina said, “I couldn’t sleep in this heat so went onto the porch for a cigarette and was out there when I heard a child crying. I could not make anyone out, but vaguely saw a shadow across the street. So, I walked over and there was Gabrielle in front of the office building at the church crying. I reached down and picked her up and said,
“Honey, what are you doing out here?”
Gabrielle looked up and said, “I am looking for my daddy but cannot find him.”
“Sweetie, I think he is out of town, but your mom is home. Here, let me take you home. So I brought her back here.”
Karen thanked Tina profusely, said goodnight, closed the door and carried Gabrielle upstairs.
“Honey, if you awaken again, would you come and get me? I am here. You will be okay.” Karen spoke urgently.
She tucked Gabrielle back into bed. Gabrielle was asleep before her head hit the pillow. Karen then went back downstairs and positioned a kitchen chair so that it was wedged under the door handle, went back upstairs and sat on the bed. This experience spooked her some, causing her to fear for our children’s safety. Not tired now she took out her journal and wrote of the experience.
While Karen sat there on the bed, dialoguing with Jesus, Jesus showed her what she could only later describe as a video replay of the rest of the story.
She saw herself go tuck the children in bed, go back and check on them, and turn out her light. She saw Gabrielle get up, go downstairs and open the front door and step outside closing the door behind her. And there outside that door, Gabrielle was not alone. There were angels standing there flanking both sides of the walk Gabrielle took as she made her way from the house down the driveway and then turned right down the sidewalk. The angels were in a linked-arm formation and where Gabrielle had stopped in front of the office, the angels blocked her way, keeping her from going further.
When Tina had come to Gabrielle the angels broke rank to allow Tina in and then were with Tina carrying Gabrielle all the way back to the house.
Karen saw this and realized two things – one, God had protected and guarded Gabrielle. And two, we needed to be praying for the protection of our children.
This event was a watershed moment that I have returned to many times reminding me of the simple fact that we have a God who knows our needs moment by moment, and who is truly “with us” on these journeys in life. In this Camino year, this is especially precious.