Sunday, January 22, 2023

Valley Of The Shadow

Bathrooms are a big deal.

A "No public bathroom" sign in the windows is code for "We're a business, not a charity. If you have to use the bathroom, buy something."  Once the money is spent, and the key requested however, right is right.

"Where is your bathroom?"

"We don't have a public bathroom."

"OK, no problem. As you can see, I filled up on pump 5 and am a paying customer."

"I know but we don't have a public bathroom."

"Does your bathroom work?"


'Yes' is such a simple word. When we ask questions and 'yes' follows, our satisfaction is usually assured. But if affirmation juxtaposes denial, the odd note squeezes, 'That's not how the song goes,' out of all of us. The dissonance of 'yes' and a locked door created a strange friction within me.

Friction lights matches. 

To prevent disaster, the very box used to coax the flame must be separated from the flame. Denial sparked anger. As the situation's match burned, distancing anger from the matchbox of the moment would have been wise.

I chose differently.

I chose to remember my potty trainers. Dr. and Mrs. Pickens were born in 1941, when Blacks were systematically refused perfectly functioning sinks, soap dispensers and toilets. If gas station points existed, my parents knew of no such. By the time I was born, they were using any bathroom they wanted, but their instructions were tinged by an urgency.

They potty trained like bathrooms were a big deal.

'Always leave things better than you found them,' was about common decency, but the axiom was also cautionary. When bathroom etiquette is taught by people intimately familiar with the odd note that American segregation produced, lessons drip with urgency. I remember my mother teaching me how to quietly urinate on the margin of the bowl rather than loudly into the water. Did she teach how to make seat covers because no mechanically dispensed covers were available during her segregated childhood? Wiping any filth on and under the seat, was important to her. When finished, a gentleman puts the seat down. Washing hands was a no brainer but did everyone teach their children to pay careful attention to paper towel over terrycloth? Paper was for use, but linen for aesthetic. Burn a match after bowel movements to eliminate odors.   

Think match sticks.

If history is a dusty case of dynamite, and suspicion is the match, dissonance can light history's fuse.  

The attendant's repeated apologies, and my unwillingness to leave, heightened tension. I planted my size 14 shoes and flatly stared at the petite attendant. She bit her lip before saying, "Someone overdosed in the bathroom. We are not allowed to let people inside."

Her refusals had nothing to do with me. Rather, intravenous drug use had rendered a small town between Pittsburgh and Washington DC inhospitable; same with the bowling alley and the other two gas stations in town.  

"I found someone a few weeks ago and had to call 911. My co-worker had to give CPR. The last person we found was taken away by EMS but we don't know if he lived."

My rage was redirected to recognition of her peril.   

"How are you coping?"

"Thank you for asking. You do what you have to do. I have bills and need this job. Please sir, that's the only reason we refuse the bathroom. I didn't want you thinking it was something else."

"No worries," was my terse response. I had jumped to conclusions, still needed a bathroom, but was now filled with compassion. She saw my need, offered a bathroom referral and forgave what remained unspoken between us.

With relief came revelation.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. ~ Romans 5:8

Sin is missing the mark and I missed the mark in a Speedway gas station. Nevertheless, Christ died for me, has forgiven me my thoughts and returned me to a ministry among the people who are called when overdoses are discovered in gas station bathrooms.  

Police officers are called by post traumatically stressed gas station attendants. If anyone needs visible reminders of God's plan in a fallen world, first responders do. Miles away from the jurisdictions in which the chaplaincy has influence, the Holy Spirit presented an opportunity for a chaplain to (again) confess and repent.

I was traveling to raise additional prayer and financial support among East Coast classmates.

The Lord drew me into a stranger's pain. Shortfalls and misunderstandings are hazards of living and in a Pennsylvania valley I got things all wrong. The name of her town is less important than the name of our Redeemer.

Jesus has a plan.

Despite our country's history, amidst an opioid epidemic and alongside short-staffed rescuers, the Lord is moving. Sometimes seeing what God is up to is difficult. The matches we hold are moments of decision. The way the Holy Spirit reduced my paranoia is the same way the Lord moves in everyday circumstances.

Will you fast and pray for a town Christ loves, longs to reach and sent me through as a testimony?  

Bathrooms are a big deal.

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