A 50-year-old Abduction Story is Still Teaching Me

I’m battling some anxiety about things these days. But that’s not new. Fearful thoughts have plagued me for years. It seems to have started with an attempted abduction by a creepy stranger when I was seven. I don’t know if my bouts with anxiety are somehow connected to that — could be unrelated. But that’s the first time I remember feeling afraid. Really afraid.

In the small town of Greenbelt, Maryland in the early 60’s the local police had started doing presentations at elementary schools about how to respond if a stranger approaches. They had come to Center Elementary School to speak to some wide-eyed kids, including me.  I remember thinking no such thing would ever happen in our little town where everyone knew everyone and kids ran around safely without concern about bad guys showing up. Why would a stranger think a kid would fall for getting in his car to find a lost dog or get candy anyway? That was just silly.

I was shocked to find this picture of the detached garages in Greenbelt similar to the one where my friend was abducted. Photo credit: http://www.nps.gov

Just one week later, Pam and I rounded the corner after school to walk through a row of garages and he was there leaning against the back of a blue car. Smiling. Asking our names. Inviting us to go with him to get ice cream on that warm spring day. I studied his face; made a mental note of the color of his car; and memorized his license plate number. Just doing what the police said I should.

The problem was telling my parents. You see, my friend agreed to go with him!  I couldn’t believe it. Pam was in the same police presentation as I was. Yet when I tried to pull her away she pulled against me, trying to get me to come along. As I turned to run he said, “Hey!” I turned. “If you tell anyone about this I will find you and hurt you,” he said with a firm but hushed voice. I can still see his dark, glaring eyes.

I couldn’t fall asleep that night. I kept seeing those eyes and rehearsing his license plate number, afraid I would forget. I remember thinking I didn’t want him to find me…or my baby brother who was in a crib in my parents room next door. I wrestled with whether or not to tell my parents. Finally, I rushed to their room sobbing. Within hours the police had picked up the mean-eyed man; discovered that Pam had been returned home (my parents never told me if she had been harmed); and called us in for the lineup.

The weeks…or was it months?…between his arrest and the court date seemed to take forever.  My parents told me not to be afraid because the police told him he could never come back into Greenbelt. Back then, kids were told not to tell their friends about stuff like this to avoid a panic. Pam didn’t come back to school and ended up moving. I remember walking to school with my neighborhood friends and feeling scared that he was lurking. I didn’t tell my parents I was scared. I wanted to be brave; to live up to the police commendation of me being such a courageous and smart girl.

Years later it came up that I really was scared for those tense weekday walks to school and back before the trial. Mom was sad that I hadn’t told them. It was then I learned a police escort followed my friends and me daily…unseen.

Today I’m thinking about those days. Sometimes when I’m afraid I’m still hesitant to admit it. I want to be brave and not cowardly. I want to “live up” to the encouragement I’ve received about walking through difficulties with a trusting heart. I’m realizing that there’s still a bit of that little blonde seven-year-old still inside who wants to keep my fears quiet so everyone will think well of me.

I’m in pretty good company. In Philippians 2 Paul talks about sending Epaphroditus to Philipi so check on everyone so that he “might be less anxious.” And in 2 Corinthians 4:8 he speaks of “being perplexed, but not driven to despair.” The apostle who warned us to be “anxious for nothing” struggled himself with anxious and perplexing thoughts.

Are you anxious? Fretful about money; a needed job; a struggling or wayward child; years of singleness adding up; a difficult situation with a friend; ongoing challenges in your marriage?

You’re not alone. Temptations to fear are common. Trusting God, as a pastor friend of ours once said, “can be just plain hard work sometimes.” It’s hard for me right now in some areas. Yesterday I told Benny about my fears. It wasn’t easy. I felt childish and vulnerable and not brave. Yet there’s peace in being known as one who struggles with the common temptations of believers throughout history. Paul didn’t hide his anxiety and perplexity and neither should I.

I want to deal with my anxiety; to see it for what it is — a common but treasonous response to hard things that tempt me to doubt God’s proven faithfulness, protection, provision and care.

Today I’m reminded that Someone is watching over me. He’s with me everywhere.  And He’s not watching from an unseen distance but dwells in me. Because He was willing to die on my behalf as proof there is nothing He is unwilling to do to love and care for me, I can repent of my anxious thoughts and cry out to Him for fresh faith.

I can trust Someone who has demonstrated His unrelenting commitment to help me, even when the help I need is to believe He’s still actively and lovingly there. Only God could use something that happened to me 50 years ago — something scary and bad — to remind me of His watchful care.

His eye is on the sparrow — and I know He watches me.