This past Saturday I attended a book fair on the public library grounds in Hutchinson, Kansas. I was one of several authors who spoke throughout the afternoon, and was grateful to be assigned to speak first. After my own sharing time was done I was able to relax and enjoy the other authors' talks.
We were under a large tent with the authors' tables set up in a U shape filling the back third of the space. On the other end of the tent, about 50 chairs were set up in front of a raised platform that served as a podium for a small wooden lectern.
My husband, John, attended the event with me, and had gone to a used book sale on the other side of the library. I was sitting somewhat isolated from the other authors, next to the entrance to the tent and adjacent to a busy street. A young man approached my table just as I knocked over a cup that contained a bit of water.
I jumped to my feet, tore open my purse, and began to rummage around inside. I glanced up at the man and smiled, saying, "I just have to find some Kleenex to clean up this water spill before it reaches my stack of books. He had a strangely disconcerted expression on his face, and in order to put him at his ease I tried to make conversation. He was staring at my caregiving book and so I asked, "Does anyone in your family have Alzheimer's?" He seemed to find this amusing and laughed at great length, a sort of spine-chilling giggle that unnerved me.
He moved to the basket of chocolates I'd brought along. "I don't want one of those books but I'll give you a quarter for some of this candy," he said. I told him to take some and welcome to it.
Still laughing, he plunged his hand into the container and took a fistful of the candy, and then came around to my side of the table and began eating it,chuckling all the while. He was standing uncomfortably close. I began to pray silently, "Lord Jesus, Father God, Holy Spirit, protect me." I made one more attempt to converse with the man but when I did he threw back his head and laughed loudly as though he couldn't believe I would chat with him. I decided he was either unstable or had evil intent; or perhaps both.
A phrase from the Lord's prayer came to mind and I began to pray over and over, "Deliver us from evil..."
I pulled my phone from my purse and held it to my left ear pretending I was receiving a call. The man was standing about two feet from me on my right and slightly behind me. I pressed speed dial for my husband's phone and he answered immediately. I said, "Well hi, how are you doing? Oh, are you headed here now? Yes that's fine." John got the point somehow and said he would be right there. After he hung up I continued talking to the dead phone. I pretended that the person on the other end was asking about how the day was going and conversed animatedly. I was still talking away to no one when John appeared. John stepped between the man and me and took a seat in the folding chair to my right. When the man turned his back to walk a few steps away I saw the outline of a handgun stuck in the back of his jeans. He had his t-shirt pulled down over it.
The man was still standing too close to us for me to tell John what I'd seen without being overheard. I sat there frozen for a few minutes and then pulled out my phone. I pulled up a text screen and typed, "He has a gun stuck in the waistband in the back of his jeans." I said, "Oh look at this text message I just got..." and stuck my phone right in front of John's face.
John read the message then turned, pretending to adjust his chair so as to see the speaker more clearly, but in actuality so that he could keep his eye on the man. John said later that he planned to tackle him if he reached behind him for the gun. The man seemed nervous, and continually checked the street behind us--for traffic? Checking for witnesses? Waiting for a ride?
The man hovered uncomfortably near to us for maybe 20 minutes, and then walked across the book fair site and entered the library. John followed him (and I texted prayer partners for intercession) but the man quickly disappeared and we did not see him again. We told the library personnel about it and they did a sweep of the library. He was nowhere to be found.
I think maybe he'd planned to demand my change box, or perhaps to grab my purse and run; but when I spilled that water and jumped up I startled him.
Yesterday morning I felt the Lord wanted me to read Psalm 121, and on a whim I read it at Biblegateway in a different translation than usual; the New Life Version. I prayed through it and claimed its comfort for our day. In the morning when I had read this Psalm, the part about God not letting me stumble really spoke to me. I didn't want to trip on my way to the podium, nor did I want to stumble over my words. But when I re-read the Psalm in the evening after the events of the day had transpired, this portion jumped out at me: "The Lord watches over you. The Lord is your safe cover at your right hand" (Psalm 121:5 NLV).
I believe that as that man stood uncomfortably close just to the right of us yesterday that the Lord stood between us. I believe we were delivered from evil.
This morning in church I pondered yesterday's events as our pastor spoke about the great humility of Jesus, and I understood anew what Christ has done for us. He has delivered us from evil. By humbling himself to death on a Cross, Jesus Christ paid once and for all the terrible price demanded because of the sin of humankind. Because of His awesome victory over sin and death, Jesus stands for all eternity between us and evil.
I think the Lord delivers us from evil more often and in more ways than we know. I won't ever know what would have occurred had I not just happened to spill that bit of water on my table yesterday. Whether or not the young man who acted strangely and appeared to carry a concealed weapon intended us harm, I have received an Easter illustration of what the Lord has done for us.
Sometimes the Lord protects us from evil, and sometimes He sees us safely through it in the way He is seeing us through my mom's Alzheimer's. Either way, I praise His Name.
"For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:13 NIV84).