A fellow was driving through West Texas along a deserted two-lane highway. Seems like he was somewhere out on the other side of Odessa, if I remember right. It was hot and dry and so dusty he felt like he was breathing face down in a sandbox. Through a shimmering haze rising from the melting roadway, he saw what looked like a small car stalled out beside the road about a half mile away. As he got closer and slowed down a bit, he could see that a flat tire was the problem.
Standing at the back of the car, with the trunk lid lifted and stuff scattered all over from bags and blankets was a young mother, trying her best to excavate the spare. She looked to be in her early twenties, college-age, maybe. Looked like she had three or four kids in the car, he couldn’t tell for sure. But he could see at least two little heads sticking up from car seats in the back and another little one or more climbing around in the middle.
His first impulse was what anybody would do–pull over and help her. But just then she turned around, and he got a good look at her. She was a pretty girl–real pretty, in fact–but she looked a little rough. Her shorts were real tight, real short, and her shirt barely covered anything. He quickly averted his eyes lest he sin and started wrestling with his conscience. On the one hand, he wanted to help this woman stuck out here all by herself. That just seemed like the right thing to do. But there was no doubt–no doubt at all, his quickening heartbeat told him–that she was the kind of woman that he, a good Christian man, and a happily married one, at that, should avoid at all costs. In fact, with him being a fairly attractive fellow as well, he reminded himself, he wasn’t really sure if something inappropriate might happen. Lord have mercy.
The wrestling match heated up. And then the tattoos did it, and his conscience was down for the count. When he saw the skin graffiti running up her arms and across her back–and he thought for moment that he might have even seen a little one peeking out of the back of her shorts–he knew what the Lord would have him to do. “Flee fornication!” he shouted out loud, as he gunned the engine and sped by in a terrified, but pious hurry.
The little woman stood mouth slightly agape for a moment as she saw her only hope for help vanish over the horizon. She cursed freely for a bit, confirming that fine Christian gentleman’s worst suspicions, yelled at the kids to “get the perdition back in the car and set down for two eternally lost seconds, please!”–though I should probably be frank and tell you that she didn’t actually say “perdition” and “eternally lost.” She chose a more colorful way of saying it that my pastoral discretion will not allow me to repeat. Unless I am quoting scripture, of course.
Anyway, he was gone, and she was mad. Real mad. And then, I’ll be, if out of the east she didn’t hear the sound of another vehicle coming her way. She stopped pulling on the blankets in the trunk and started waving at the approaching Ford F-250 that looked like it just drove out of an oilfield. It may have been red, or even orange, at one point in its life, but she couldn’t tell for sure from all the West Texas caliche painting it a sort of dull, lifeless gray. She waved furiously at the friendly looking fellow peering at her through the front glass, and then sighed in relief with an uncharacteristic, “O, thank God!” which seems to say that she did have some good left in her, as he slowed and started pulling over.
As he climbed slowly from the cab of his pickup truck she ran toward him gushing with gratitude that help had finally come. She noticed the Christian fish on his window and a Bible slung up on the dash. He had a WWJD wristband and a belt buckle the size of El Paso that proclaimed in graven gilt: “J-E-S-U-S.” She knew now that he was a good man who would help her. At least, that’s what she thought. It didn’t take long to lose that notion.
Here’s what happened. Tommy–for that was the man’s name–had been praying just that morning for the Lord to open him a door to reach some lost soul today. He climbed out of the truck ready to save a soul. He saw the flat tire, but it was only a blur on the edge of his singleminded vision. This woman was on her way to hell, taking her children along, no doubt, and Tommy meant to save ’em all. And by the look of her–Tommy now saw for the first time–she needed it bad. Real bad.
Tommy stopped just at the back edge of her disabled chariot and turned to look at her with a heavy anointing starting to rise upon him. She was still prattling on, so glad to have a kind stranger stop to help, totally unaware that she was about to be hit with a tsunami of right-minded soul salvation. Tommy sucked in a deep breath and let her have it.
“Young woman,” he said, through slightly gritted teeth, “do you know the Savior?” Her eyes widened a bit, and she laughed a nervous little laugh. “Who?” she asked. “The Savior?” she said, her voice slipping a few notes higher as a twinge of fear flickered behind her eyes. “Is this guy a lunatic?” she wondered to herself. “Is he joking? Since he stopped to help, does he mean that he is the Savior?” All of this, and thousand other wild thoughts bounced around in her head.
Tommy repeated the question, stepping just a little closer and lowering his voice for dramatic, Billy Graham effect. “Do you know the Savior?” The tatted tart froze. Dead still. She looked at him, eyes narrowed, and then she got it. This man had come to save her soul, and, banish it all to the place of eternal torment, all she wanted was her tire changed. “Excrement!” she said, though I am once again applying pastoral license, “I don’t care about the Savior! I just want my eternally lost tire changed!” She was–you may have noticed–getting mad again. And when this one got mad, as a dozen boyfriends could attest from painful personal experience, she could get really mean. Most certainly needed Jesus. Tommy was right about that.
What he didn’t expect, though, was that she would speak to him of this and that, interesting things about his parentage, stuff about his mama that, frankly, he had never heard before. She told him in a most earnest and forthright manner what he could do with himself and every other person, apparently, on this side of the Brazos River. She dressed Tommy down for the next five minutes in a way that he, with long experience in the oil field, had never heard before.
Tommy was shocked. And then he was saddened. All he meant to do was to stop out here in the hot West Texas sun and save this little offscouring of society from an even hotter place. “Some people just don’t care if they go to hell,” Tommy thought. “In fact,” he went on, now thinking out loud, “some people surely deserve to go there. No wonder God created a place of eternal fire and damnation! For people just like you!” Now Tommy was mad, but his was a righteous indignation. “Alright then,” he said, ” you can just go to hell!” But we must point out that he said it in a good Christian way. God love him.
Tommy turned and stomped back toward his truck muttering mightily about sinners in the hands of an angry God. He reached for the handle of his door, and then ducked as a shoe or sandal or some sort of wicked footwear bounced off his windshield just to the north of his head. “Jesus loves you!” he yelled over his super-sized, aftermarket side mirror and climbed into his air-conditioned truck. He squealed tires, peeled gravel and laid rubber for a half mile down the road. Like Jehu, he drove furiously to execute the vengeance of the Lord.
The little woman stood there in a daze. Her emotions veered wildly from hilarity to outrage to dumbfounded incredulity and back again. She cussed, she laughed, then just stood there staring off in the distance like a pixie troll turned to stone at the first light of dawn. “Unbelievable,” she thought, and turned back to start on the trunk again.
She didn’t even turn around this time when she heard it coming. Sounded like another tarnation-ed truck with an overcompensating Cummins diesel and and jack-donkey-ed oil rig evangelist, and she didn’t want no more of that. Again, her sentiments are pastor-scrubbed for the children and our wonderful but sensitive sisters in the Lord. Yes and amen.
Anyway, she wasn’t going to get her hopes up this time, so she didn’t even look around when she heard the truck stop and boots crunching on the gravel. She stiffened slightly when she heard a smooth voice with an exotic, British-sort-of accent ask, “Having trouble with your tyre?” She turned slowly and raised up ominously from the trunk ready to skewer him in exasperation for stating the obvious. Just as she was about to release a blue volley of epic proportions, the curses froze on her lips. Her eyes locked on his for a moment. Dark, brooding eyes that looked like they could be either very friendly or very dangerous. Her gaze then drifted upward to the turban that wrapped his head, and then down to the robes that draped over the sport coat and jeans that ended at a pair of handcrafted Leddy’s boots. She didn’t actually know that they were Leddy’s, but I felt that point should be emphasized. He was an amazing, yet terrifying blend of the Middle East, West Texas and the British Empire all at once.
“Of all people to stop, this has got to be the worst!” she thought, as a silent desperation started rising in her belly. “He will probably kidnap me, abuse me for days and then sell me and my children into slavery somewhere in Saudi Arabia.” Her knees felt weak. Her sweat-soaked body went cold, and she thought she would pass out right here, right now, in front of God and this cowboy-booted terrorist. She closed her eyes and waited for the worst. She heard him say, “Miss?” A pause. “Everything ok, miss?” She slowly opened one eye. Then the other. He was smiling in a quizzical, almost goofy sort of way. You have to wonder if he had seen this reaction before.
“Ma’am,” he said, speaking in his best bilingual Texas drawl, “do you need help changing your tire?” Took her a second to speak, since she was trying to process the fact that this turban-headed foreigner didn’t seem to be preparing his scimitar and duct tape. She drew a deep breath, stepped back one step, and attempted to speak. “Yes,” she croaked, “I need help with my tire.” That epic speech concluded, she relapsed into a timid but encouraged silence. “Do you have a jack and a spare?” he asked. “Apparently not,” she squeaked. And then, gathering up astonishing courage, she told him the sad, sad story.
The car was borrowed. The tires were exhausted with life. The road was rough, and the rubber parted. A blowout ensued, which scared the bejeebers out of her and the children, and once she finally got the careening vessel safely stopped, she emerged from the near-wreckage to find that the spare was missing and all other tools were doubtless in hock. But she said all of that with fewer and finer words, words that would have made Jack Nicholson proud. The man that was “not from ’round here, ar ya?” laughed out loud. He laughed until he leaned against the side of the car, wiping tears from his eyes. “You are amazing!” he wheezed and gasped. “You are truly amazing!”
The little woman smiled an uncertain smile. She wasn’t sure exactly why he was laughing, but laughter was certainly better than murder. The foreigner wiped his eyes, and introduced himself. “I am Ahmed, but my friends out here call me Joe. Not sure why, but they do. And you are?”
After introductions were made, Ahmed–AKA., Joe–helped her rummage one more time through the trunk to see if that spare had sprouted in the interim. It had not, and her foreign friend checked undeneath as well just to be sure. Nothing there. So, the man from sandy river took her and her kids into town, where he rented them a suite at the Holiday Inn, arranged for a tow truck to haul the little car into town and paid to have new tires put on all around. He bought them dinner and covered every expense expecting nothing in return. When the tatted tart and all her children of the different last names–turns out there were four of them–finally turned in for the night, the mysterious stranger departed into the sunset certain that all the little family’s needs were met. For he left his American Express on file with the manager.