When I was in the third grade a man tried to abduct me in our neighborhood. I was walking the five houses down to my best friend’s house, a thing I did almost everyday. A man pulled his car over and began to ask me questions.

He wanted to know my name, how old I was, and where I lived. And then he paused for a moment and said, “Why don’t you take a ride with me?”

Stranger Danger and a innately suspicious personality made me say “no.”

He asked a second time if I could “just come a little closer” to his car.

Again, I said, “no.”

What happened next was something out of a movie.

I went inside and told my parents. We all got in the family suburban. My dad began to follow the man’s car. To say that my parents are invested in the health of their community would be an understatement.

We followed the car for a block or so and then the guy pulled over. My dad immediately yelled to my mom, “Put Sarah in the back seat at your feet! Put a blanket over her!”

My Dad began a seemingly friendly conversation with the guy. He told my dad that he was headed for a job interview and my Dad said, “Oh I know where that is. Follow me.”

And then my McGyver of a Dad, who had a cell phone in 1993, called the cops and got them to meet us, perpetrator in tow, in a parking lot.

It turns out the man was drunk and had a history of DUIs. The picking-up-little-girls-thing was new. 

That week, I was asked to tell the story to my third grade class as a “This Can Happen to You, Kids!” warning. After that, I did not tell it much. At least, not in its entirety. 

These days, the story is connected to our son, who is now (with loads of supervision) navigating our own suburban streets. I’ve told a few friends when we talk about our children being out and about on their own. People often respond with, “Wow. You must be pretty terrified to let your kids out of your sight.”

I’m not. And not because I am brave or self-actualized. Not because I have been in loads of therapy. You see, the above story is the one I tell because I do not want to sound crazy. I pretty consistently leave out the weirdest part of the story. The part where God intervened.

This is the part I leave out: 

After the man drove away, I actually kept walking to my friend’s house. In my third grade mind, I was no longer in imminent danger, so there was obviously nothing left to report. It did not occur to me that the man would just find another little girl on another street.

As I was headed down the street, away from my own house, a woman called to me from a neighbor’s driveway. She was sitting there parked in a brand new white Cadillac, the kind that my grandmother drove. Weirdly, despite the fact that I had just had an unnerving encounter with another adult in a different car, there was something about her that said “safe.”

She looked to be in her 60s, with gorgeous bright blonde hair, and she was wearing a white sparkly dress. Her hair was cropped short and very teased up. It was like a little bit of Dolly Parton and a little bit of Barbie and whole lot of the women I grew up around. She was, I now realize, exactly what an angel would have looked like to a little girl from Mississippi. She smiled at me and said, “I saw everything that just happened. You need to go and tell your parents.”

Let’s pause here to recognize that if an actual adult had seen a child almost abducted, she would have intervened. But this was not a person—this was a member of the Heavenly Host. Also, my mother later checked with this neighbor about an overdressed woman sitting in the greatest car ever made. The neighbor had no idea who this would have been. 

So, almost robotically, I did exactly what she told me to do. I turned around and ran back to my house. And now you know the whole story. 

This is not the kind of story that you tell if you want to sound sane. When I was going through the process for the Episcopal priesthood I did not tell them that a major part of my calling to ministry was realizing the intimate presence of God as a third grader. In a freaking angel. That looked like a 70s country music singer. Nope. I hid that gloriousness under a bushel marked Intellectual Christian. 

But it did happen and I find myself thinking about it more as I grow older.

As strange as the story is, I’m convinced that it is not altogether unusual. Everyone has stories where something otherworldly has intervened. Moments when we should have died or been hurt. Moments when a single doctor’s visit has changed the trajectory of the rest of our lives. Everyone has encounters in life when we have been given something we did not deserve. For some of us, it is the moment when we meet our spouse. It shows up often at death beds and birthing tables alike. Something about it feels holy and different, as though a soul much larger than our own is moving. We may ignore that element or attempt to forget it. But it’s still there. 

We should talk more about the moments we cannot explain in worldly terms. It is true that God makes grand gestures, parting Red Seas, casting plagues, and turning loaves into fishes. But our God is also the God of the intimate. Jesus heals the dying girl, talks to the wretched tax collector, and sends an angel disguised as Dolly Parton to protect children. Our God is also a God of the specific. Because he specifically loves us. 

Besides: sanity is just so limiting. These stories need to be told. They makes us less afraid of dying. And less afraid of living, too.