Thursday, June 12, 2008

Lightning never strikes twice

On Thursday afternoons I go to a church to pray for an hour, each week. It kind of helps me restore my equilibrium in the middle of the week and reminds me of who I am and what I am about. The church that I go to is in a rather bad neighborhood, but usually, it is fairly safe due to the fact that this particular church has a soup kitchen and a food pantry, and is widely known for their work with and for the poor. It happens to be on my way home from work and makes for an easy stop along the way. The pastor there is the same pastor who married my husband and I almost 17 years ago and, since we've been through so much together, that is a draw as well.

About 18 years ago, my husband and I were finally preparing for our wedding and we were taking the Pre-Marital Inventory Test. This is a test designed to help couples with what you might call full-disclosure and to help the priest know whether or not there were issues that needed to be dealt with before the marriage. Father was just sitting down to go through these tests with us, when there was a knock at the door. As was his custom, he allowed the person, who said he needed to use the phone, into the rectory and asked me to go to the kitchen and make him a sandwich. No sooner had I returned than the visitor told us all to get on the ground because he had a gun. I looked at him in dumb shock, but I complied (since Michael was grabbing my hand and dragging me down to the floor...). This man proceeded to steal everything that was not nailed down and then lock us all in the safe. Thank goodness there was a safety latch on the inside of the safe and we were able to get out. They never caught that guy.

In the settling dust of the next morning, we were chatting with the office staff and that other priests of the household. One particularly cynical priest remarked that "this kind of thing happens when you where your religion on your sleeve." Michael remarked that he would always gladly wear his religion on his sleeve, and then, as the cynic walked away said, "Now there's a man who will never die for his faith".

Fast Forward 18 years...

Tonight, I was at church with Michael and we had just finished up our prayers and preparing to leave, when lightning struck the church. It was amazing! I had never seen anything so cool in my life. All of the chandeliers lit up with the lightning and the electricity traveled from candle to candle and then dissipated. Then it struck the church 3 more times. I'm telling you, there is some serious circuitry damage there. But, there was a problem: It had rendered the elevator useless. The elevator is the only way to get out of the church when it is not time for mass. Furthermore, the alarm was ringing away. We thought that someone might be trapped in the elevator. Michael and I finally got a hold of Father who came over to check the elevator and to try to restart it. Unfortunately, he needed a second set of hands so he took Michael to hold the reset key while he worked on the main switch. Before he left, he opened the front doors, so people could get in and out. As the storm was raging away, he told me that if people needed to take shelter from the storm, I should just let them in, but no panhandling.

I stayed in the vestibule at the door watching the storm and it was not long before the bus pulled up out front and two people ran in from the street. I opened the door wider for them to let them in. The rain was coming down in sheets and the wind was terrible. Immediately, one of the asked for a bathroom. I indicated the bathroom to them and went back to watching out the door.

After a little bit, one of them asked what kind of church this was. I replied that it was a Catholic church. She asked me what the difference was. I explained, as briefly as I could, some of the differences, but that it was, indeed, a Christian church. She decided that I was being smart and told me so. The other one replied that she (he? I wasn't sure until later) didn't feel comfortable here and I replied that they were certainly free to leave if they wished and that I wasn't keeping them there. It just escalated from there. They wouldn't leave, but they wouldn't leave me alone, either. Additionally, there were two older ladies in the church praying; ladies that I didn't want disturbed. Finally, one of the older ladies, we'll call her Ellen, came out to see what all the ruckus was about and express her irritation about having her prayers disturbed. She wasn't mad at me, of course, but she told the women from the bus to leave.

After Ellen went back into the church, the more aggressive of the two women decided that she would poke her finger in my face. I blocked her arm and told her not to touch me, whereupon she did just that. I have never been punched squarely in the face. It's like an explosion. She hit me in the eye, then again in the jaw and then a third time in the side of my head, right behind my ear. I had been knocked back onto the ascending steps behind me at the first punch. I finally remembered to scream. The thought occurred to me that I might just get beaten to death on these steps and no one would know. I was truly afraid. After I screamed, the second woman grabbed my by the hair and swung me around and onto the ground. And with that, they ran out the door.

I was left to kneel there, my head just inches from the stone door posts, my face exploding in pain and my glasses, God only knows where... Suddenly from my haze, people began to appear. One of the first on the scene was my husband, who having heard me scream, thought I was singing and that Mass had started. ( Thanks, honey, now I know my singing sounds like screaming...j/k) Another was a UPS driver and, of course, Father. As soon as they determined that this had just happened, they were off to chase them down. The UPS driver found them at the seedy Motel across the street and called the Police. I identified them, the police filed their report and I intend to press charges. As I was sitting waiting on the police to finish with the two women, Father came and we looked at each other and started laughing. "What are the chances of lightning striking twice?" we were both thinking.

As the police were wrapping things up with me and my report, one of the officers said, "Well, what are you going to do with prostitutes and drug dealers?" Ellen, who had stayed to see that I was OK, said without any thought, "Feed them," she paused. "Sprinkle Holy Water on them? Hope they get saved before they die?"

God Bless you, Ellen (even though that's not your real name, God will know who to bless). Bless you for reminding us all that these are all God's children, too. And just like us, they deserve justice, but also mercy. I am still going to press charges. But, will I be afraid to go down in that neighborhood again? Nope. Will I hate those two women forever? No, (though right now my aching head is giving me pause about kind words of forgiveness for them). Do I feel sad for them? Yes.

Would I continue to wear my religion on my sleeve?
You bet! I want Jesus to know me when he gets back.

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