When I was about 5 years old I was on a road trip with my parents and siblings to visit 3 of my brothers that had moved to Atlanta. We stopped in Ohio at a rest stop to check the oil (our cars always needed a little TLC), eat some sandwiches and use the restroom. My mother and older sisters were chatting away in the restroom, and since I had already washed my hands, I was going back to the car. When I went out by myself, a janitor who worked there called me over to him. Not wanting to be rude, I went. I don’t remember what he said to me, but I do remember the panic and fear that overtook me as he started to slide his hand up my shirt. I pulled away and he grabbed my arm, pulling me toward a door. Because of having 6 older brothers I had learned how to quickly squirm away from someone holding onto me, and I ran back to my mother and sisters in the restroom. I clung to my sisters; holding each one of their hands on our way out. As I looked back, I saw that man hiding around a corner watching as I passed by. Pulling away, I sat in the very back of the station wagon watching the rest stop fade in the distance. I felt dirty, and I believed that I had done something horribly wrong. I vowed to leave that experience there, and never speak of it to anyone.
It has been 35 years since that happened, and to this day that memory resurfaces from time to time. After I got a little older and understood what had happened that day, I regretted not telling anyone. I have often thought of what damage that man may have done to other children because of my fear to tell. The guilt of others who may not have gotten away like I did weighed on me, and it took years to forgive myself and recognize that I was a child who didn’t understand any of what happened. The birth of each of my children has brought back this memory, and every 5th birthday I have kept them a little closer. The entire experience that day was over in less than 5 minutes, but it is something that has haunted me a lifetime.
When my oldest daughter was 5 we were out shopping. I noticed a man who kept showing up on every aisle, watching her. He approached her to talk and ask if she was having a good day. He received a reprimand about not talking to children without knowing them first and we went to the other side of the store to toys. He showed up there as well, and approached me and asked if I would be interested in signing a contract for her to be a model, and all I had to do was come to his van in the parking lot to sign a contract and get a check up front. I came unglued that he thought I would be stupid enough to think that the new recruiting station for models was stalking children in a local store. I went to customer service and reported what he had said, and they looked at the cameras to locate him. He was hiding behind a rack of clothes watching us only 15 ft. away. Thankfully, the store manager sent one of the associates to escort my daughter and I through the checkout and to our car, and the man was approached and questioned to keep him occupied while we left. The police called me later to make a statement, but that was the last I heard of him.
Two very different times in my life, but very similar in circumstance. Being in the position of the child was someone who didn’t understand the threat fully, and had no idea what an appropriate response was. I ran because of fear … sheer instinct. But as a mother, I didn’t run, I immediately became protective. I stood between the aggressor and my child with absolutely no intention of backing down. The love I have for my children is greater than any concern I have for myself, and I would willingly lay down my life to protect them. That’s not a decision that had to be made consciously, it is simply the reality of our relationship … sheer instinct.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
When I was early in my walk with Christ I would run away, withdraw, because of shame for things that still happened in my life. I didn’t want to tell anyone for fear they would tell me it was my fault. Over and over I would run away from the flock, becoming isolated and vulnerable. Thank God He continued to pursue me and bring me back each time, and has now equipped me to see those situations like the one I just shared. When we are young believers, we can be deceived into thinking that our struggles should be hidden for fear of judgement. The problem is, when we hide something, we are already in the process of withdrawing. The plan of the enemy is laid out in John 10:11-13 clearly. The wolf is focused on attacking the flock to scatter them from each other, and from the shepherd.
I don’t want to be like the hired hand running away from the sheep because they’re not my responsibility. If I pull away from struggling people, I am running like the hired hand. If I am too focused on my own interests and don’t want to get my hands dirty for someone else, I am running like the hired hand. If I am not willing to sacrifice my comfort, pride or aspirations for another, I am running like the hired hand. I’m not, nor will I ever be, the good shepherd. Jesus is the only one who has the capacity to fill that. What I can be is a good and faithful servant, who has concern for the flock, and when I see the wolf coming, I run toward the wolf to attack.