Story by Joan Wester Anderson
Stephanie Slater was in graduate school when her mother passed away. “Mom had always pushed her children toward higher education,” Stephanie says. “Among the seven of us, there are five bachelor’s degrees and five masters’ –one of my sisters has two masters.” Stephanie’s mom was a very assertive person too, who hated to stand by and do nothing, when a response was indicated. At least people could try, she felt. “Would it kill you to ASK?” she had told Stephanie more than once–most recently when Stephanie hesitated to apply for college financial aid in the belief that she would be turned down. She had taken her mother’s advice–and received a student loan. Now, despite being devastated over the loss, Stephanie decided to continue her courses. It was what her mom would have wanted her to do.
One evening a few weeks after the funeral, Stephanie was driving home from a study group meeting in Tampa. It hadn’t gone well. An important participant hadn’t attended, and Stephanie was upset about it. In fact, she was uncharacteristically irritated over a lot of things lately. Her father had just had a stroke, she was carrying a heavy load of work and school, “even the fact that it was late and dark bothered me,” she says. “I continued to stew as I sat at a red light at a busy intersection.” Then suddenly a little boy walked in front of her headlights.
Stephanie was startled. “He was so out of place, and too young to be alone –probably only seven or eight years old,” she says. “It was dark, and there were no sidewalks on the side of this road.” The child looked dirty and bedraggled too, as he continued past her. What was he doing here? She should get involved, but… what if her intention was misjudged? Or what if she called to him, and he responded rudely? After the day’s hassle, she was just not in the mood, and the light was about to change.
Then Stephanie heard a strong inner voice: “Well, would it KILL you to ASK?” It was her mother! Stephanie recognized not only the phrase but the attitude–why stand by if something could be done? Immediately, Stephanie rolled down her window and called to the child. “Honey, are you lost?”
Another few feet and he would have been gone. But now he stopped, and looked towards her car. “Yes,” he said, his lower lip trembling.
The light changed. “Stay where you are!” Stephanie pulled around the corner up to the boy, reached out of the window and handed him her cell phone. He was obviously scared, but he punched in some numbers. As Stephanie watched him, she had a sense of unexpected peace and power. This was how the situation was supposed to work out, wasn’t it? Her daily cares somehow floated away… Now Stephanie heard the joyful shriek of a woman on the other end of the phone. The boy handed it to her. “I’m so glad you found Michael!” the woman was crying and laughing at the same time. “The police have been looking for him for four hours!”
Stephanie and the mom agreed to meet at a nearby video store, and Michael took the phone again to receive permission to get in the car. He had wandered five miles from home, Stephanie discovered as they drove and talked. And he was twelve, far older than she had thought. “What happened?” she asked. “Did you just walk too far?”
Michael paused. “I have Tourette’s Syndrome,” he told her. “Sometimes I stutter. My friends were playing and they started making fun of me, so I got mad, and started walking. All of a sudden, I didn’t know where I was.” Stephanie thought her heart would break. Who would make fun of such a precious little boy?
Just a few moments after they reached the store, Michael’s mother arrived. She wept and hugged him, and hugged Stephanie too. How terrified she must have been, Stephanie thought, as she tried to put herself in the woman’s place. And now, how joyous! Maybe God feels that way about us too, loving us just the way we are, rejoicing when we return to Him… She hadn’t ever thought of that. It added to the inexplicable serenity she had been experiencing ever since she met Michael. Then he turned to her. “Are you an angel?” he asked.
“No, Michael,” Stephanie answered, her own eyes filling with tears. “But I think an angel put you in my path tonight.”
Stephanie is more open to situations now. She often finds herself asking, “Was I put here to help in some way?” She has also learned that in the midst of grief, there can be joy. “I think this event was my mother’s way of relieving my stress, and letting me know that she’s still watching over me,” says Stephanie. “That’s my message to others who have lost a loved one: the truth is, they never really leave you.” And the work in God’s earthly kingdom continues, aided most by those who are willing to ask.