On Secluded Bathrooms and the Security of the Soul

{Hey friends: there was a delay in delivery to inboxes this week. If you’ve already seen this posted elsewhere, please forgive the presence of old news ;)} 

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I was praying for a parking space as I pulled up to the shopping complex; it was a Saturday night and Edgehill Village was packed. Cooler than cool twenty somethings leaned over the rail with drinks in hand, coiffed to the nines. I exhaled a “Thank You” as I spied a rare space in the row across the street. With eyes upon the purse in the passenger seat, I thought to myself, “I need to leave this here…if I get mugged, there won’t be anything for them to take”. Don’t think me morbid or alarmist, it was the first time the idea had crossed my mind. This was something like my 160th trip, and it was to be the very last in the line of seven weeks worth.

Shayne and I had been painting a house near Music Row, and restroom breaks required a short car ride down the street to the posh shopping center. I’d been there a million times before, and I could have walked it in my sleep. After painting the final line, I’d left my brush with Shayne for cleaning, and had headed cheerily off, for the very last time. 

I climbed the stairs, thanking the Lord that though this had been one of the hardest jobs we’d ever worked, we’d surmounted the challenge together; had gained new respect for one another’s resolve. I smiled at the Lord, looked in His eyes, and to my surprise, heard Him say, “Yes, all that is true, but you’ll fight a harder foe together yet”. I was just passing through the old iron gate when He said it, and I was instantly in alarm mode. What could He mean? What would we have to face?

I had covered the ground between the gate and the inner door while still lost in thought, and as I swung the doors open, and looked down the short flight of stairs into the empty inner hallway, my breath stopped short. There was a man in his mid twenties, shaved bald, and sitting inclined forward on a bench by the side wall. Rarely was anyone ever in that interior corridor. If anything, they were always passing through. And there was something about him. His eyes were too dark, his countenance too mean. I don’t know how to say it. Have you seen pictures of criminals in which the iris and the pupil seemed to swallow the light; the eyes are hard, black, hopeless- as though the soul were vacant? This man had those eyes. And his shoes… for some reason I took note. They were red and white high tops, split in color on the diagonal. Red on the bottom; white on the top.

My heart was pounding; this just didn’t feel right. But, dadgummit, I always think the worst, so surely this was a hyper-reactive response on my part. I turned in front of him and went up the ramp to the restroom. We were in an area from which there was no exit without making several turns, crossing several doors. No one could seen easily, and no one could have heard. I entered the bathroom, and tried to let the door close softly. It slammed. I reasoned that he was probably waiting on his girlfriend. Why else would he be hanging out there just waiting. When I saw that there were no other feet visible below the stalls, I became a little alarmed, and resolved to keep a weather eye on the door.

Sitting down, I grabbed my phone. I would keep Metro Police dialed in case something happened, and I would stay bent double to watch for red and white shoes.

I never had time to dial.

Within about 3 seconds, the door cracked and in he stepped. There was no sound; he must have been holding the door so it wouldn’t slam and alert me to his presence. He just walked in and stood looking for me. The fight or flight kicked in and the heart pounded, and I yelped out a half croaked, “HEY!”, and he backed up. I fumbled through the numbers of the police station.

Why, oh why, do I now have to dial a one and the area code in my own home town?

I nervously explained to the officer on the phone that I had just been followed into a secluded restroom by a man who had fled seconds before, and asked if he would stay on the phone with me as I got my things and left. He was beyond gracious and patient. It seemed that time moved very slowly, but I felt safer already. As I crossed through the inner doors, I caught sight of the red and white hightops again. There he was, lingering just inside the old iron gate, pretending to check his phone; he looked up at me as I walked by. The officer assured me that he would stay on the phone until I felt safe (would I ever feel safe?) Hurrying across, I got in my car, thanked the officer and hung up.

An hour later, I still hadn’t completely calmed down. I so badly wanted it to have been an honest mistake. Yet, I couldn’t explain it away: that man had risen from his seat to follow, had walked past the men’s restroom and into mine, had held the door so I wouldn’t hear him; was waiting for me to leave the safety of my stall, so that he could….what? What would have happened if I hadn’t already been locked in the stall, what would have happened if I hadn’t shouted at him?

Three hours later, my emotions were still high, and I wondered if I would be able to sleep.  I finally turned to the Lord for the first time since He had warned me and I had entered the stairwell. Immediately, the scene in my mind and the timbre of my emotions changed. I was given an entirely different understanding of the situation.

The truth I now saw was that the man had come as far as he had been permitted; a wall of Christ’s presence had stood between us. I could see it in my mind, saw its location in the room. The air was permeated with My Protector, and the Barrier was more solid than stone. That man could not have transgressed it though he had pressed with all his might.

If my spiritual eyes had been opened like Elisha’s, I wonder if I might have seen angels with flaming chariots and swords, or knives trained on his frightened throat.

And here is the Word that dropped me to my knees; “You will not be afraid…a thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not approach you. You will only look on with your eyes…because you have made the Lord, my Refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place”. Weeks before, the Lord had had me begin memorizing Psalm 91. I had added another verse just that morning. And as He gave me His insight to the situation, I found that I had not just memorized Psalm 91, I was inside it, living it.

Indeed, He had let the danger get so close I could look on with my eyes, but it had not approached me. He had “covered me with His pinions, and under His wings I had sought refuge”. He had been Refuge and Fortress, Hiding place; for “it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper”.

Indeed He had.

The words of the Psalm had become real- realer than real. I had experienced them; felt their solidity and truth. And there I stood with mouth agape. The fact was that I had never been in any real danger; I had been in “the shelter of the Most High” the whole time.

It’s only fair though that we should ask, what if this story had ended differently?

What if He had allowed me to suffer harm? Would He be any less good? Any less my Protector? Would Psalm 91 have been a lie? May it never be. God has been teaching me that He never allows any suffering to come to me unless it is so. absolutely. necessary. He is so fond of me (and of you), that He will stop at nothing to save us. He cannot fail to come to us, but there are some pains that must be permitted for a time; for the good of the soul, for the good of the Kingdom, even for the good of some passerby. We rarely ever know why on this side of eternity.

But this I do know; nothing gets to me apart from His permission (see Job); and if He had chosen to allow harm to come to me, He would have somehow worked it to my good in time; would have pick-pocketed the thief’s work so that one day I could stand and say with Joseph that what had been meant by man for my destruction, God had turned to good.

I thank Him earnestly for sparing me (this is an understatement); and I’m more than shocked that I feel thankful for the experience. I stood toe to toe with one of my greatest fears, separated by the “Shelter of the Most High”. I looked on with my eyes, and because of Christ I came away less afraid not more; I came away shouting praise, not shattered; confident not crushed. And that is the great reversal of the Kingdom, and life in God’s hand; beauty in place of ashes, oil of joy in place of mourning….security in place of secluded terror. And I can’t help but thank Him loudly.

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