Following the summer of 1991, fourth grade had commenced and with it the traditional back-to-school assignment of “What I Did on My Summer Vacation.” Some mental snapshots had been clear, others fuzzy, as one particular event dominated my mind. Pencil to paper, my nearly unreadable cursive scrawled a recollection of atypical fare, which I was asked not to read aloud to the class. Instead, my teacher pulled me aside to inquire as to whether or not the narrative had been a fabrication.
Four doors down from my family’s dwelling, two older, middle-school aged friends and I attempted to remedy the boredom of having gone too long with nothing to do. While a parent went to purchase a fried chicken lunch, we found ourselves briefly home alone. Living room activities had become lackluster, so we ventured out to the open garage for entertainment and the breeze of the open door. I was piddling around for a toy when I felt it—that sinking, dark, cold sensation when something is about to go awry.
Unhurried, a navy blue—almost black—van crept toward the driveway’s end. The van wasn’t terribly well kept. Its windows were heavily tinted and a long rope dangled awkwardly from the chrome of the driver-side rear-view mirror. None of us recognized the vehicle as having been in our subdivision before. Stranger-danger training—mingled with adrenaline and the Holy Spirit—kicked in as we each dashed to claim hiding spots. Mine was beneath a woven vinyl beach chair, the dual-toned kind with the footrest that folds out via metal ratchet hinges. The van paused, and my breath along with it, as I peered out from beneath the chair’s weave. Wearing sunglasses and bearing a scar slightly above his left eyebrow, the driver began his attempts to cajole us his way: friendly words, direction inquiries, offers of candy—all of it unbelievably on the nose. It felt like we were in our very own after-school special. We didn’t move or speak.
Obviously, he had noticed us before or he wouldn’t have attempted to interact, but perhaps he couldn’t really see us now. Just maybe he would assume we had gotten away before the absoluteness of his arrival. But when we failed to comply, the man’s demeanor changed from persuasive to demanding. Promises of sweets morphed to deranged vows as he pointed to each one of us and then to the rope hanging from his mirror. Slowly, he slid his finger across his neck, a disturbing grin accompanying the gesture. He’d seen us and he had plans to have us. We were stuck. Due to the emptiness of the garage, it was obvious that no adults were home. There was a door to the back yard, but it was fenced in and high. None of the surrounding neighbors were home either. There was nowhere to run. Heart pounding loudly, silently I prayed. By then, the villain had pulled slightly into the short driveway and began his approach when I felt it—that stirring, bright, warm feeling when hopelessness is about to shift.
Hastily, the kidnapper-to-be, not yet fully out of his van, clambered back into driving position, squealing away in panic and a trail of burned rubber. He was stricken with fear by an unfamiliar white car that had appeared as if from nowhere. Neither did I see where it went. Though I do remember watching the van leave. Coast clear, we were still too afraid to go near the road. Exiting the garage to the back yard with weak knees wobbling, we climbed over several rows of wood slats and chain links until finally arriving at my house. My mother called the police from our rotary dial phone. Its rotating clicks had never seemed slower.
As much as I’d like to offer the platitude, “all’s well that ends well,” fear doesn’t end when the immediacy of a threat is over. It reappears from its lurking places in the corners of the mind, dancing lead with subconscious in recurring nightmares, inserting terrified thoughts into happy days. Calculating, fear appears even today in the wakeful hours as a carpet van with tinted windows parked beside my vehicle at the grocery store. Or as a criminal sketch on the news of a wanted kidnapper wearing sunglasses and possessing an over-eyebrow scar, implanting irrational questions as to whether this same man could have followed me for years and states away. Fear is a tactic the enemy distributes with glee. Malevolent terror is not content to remain in the mind’s recesses. Grappling for the forefront, it yearns to convince its victim that there is no escape. When fear lies, we don’t have to concede to being stuck by the oppressor.
When you’re so scared you can’t move except for the shaking, you want to run but your limbs fall limp and won’t let you to go, when your voice is silenced as your heart pounds in lieu of its speaking, whisper the name of Jesus and lean in to God’s presence. He covers you faithfully in his nearness. Invite the peace that transcends comprehension to protect your mind with Christ. Fear may have plans for you. It may threaten you, wrestling your cognizance weary. But fear does not inevitably have you if he holds you. God has plans too, for his glory and your good. Hold tight to hope. Your rescue may be about to appear, as if from nowhere, from a source beyond your control, by a means you never saw coming.
Through Christ’s passing through the other side of sorrow, we have been given access to engage with a holy, powerful trepidation. Although we may not always emerge from difficulty by any other way than going through what’s terrifying and coming out the other side, remember this: there were two types of fear present for me on that crucial day—the bully that backed me into a corner, and the salvation that compelled evil to leave.
Cover image by Dmitry Ratushny.