The Tuggles

Episode 4: The Hitchhiker

November 6, 2017
hitchhiker

It was early on a Wednesday morning and the crisp December cold was bitter. The loud rumble of the Dodge pickup’s diesel motor droned a vibration all the way down my legs in the back of the truck’s cab. Tim moved his foot to the gas pedal as the traffic light turned green and we began to accelerate down the North Carolina highway. I took a swig of my piping hot coffee as the truck abruptly moved into the left lane and slowed as Tim clicked the turn signal.

“You picking her up?” Lynn asked. I craned my neck to see who she referred to and saw a young woman walking down the side of the road the opposite direction.

“Yep,” Tim said.

Nearly every day for over two months I had sat in the backseat of this truck hearing story after story of this missionary couple’s journeys on horseback. Numerous accounts from miracles to extravagant provision. I had already seen and talked with many of the co-stars of these stories and captured their perspectives with thrilled awe. Now I found myself inside a new story. A new account. One that landed me my own co-starring role.

We made a U-turn and pulled off the road onto the shoulder in front of her. The girl gladly accepted and climbed into the backseat next to me, a burst of cold air colliding with our wonderfully heated enclosed space. She rubbed her bare hands together and breathed hot air into them, shivering. Her beige jacket was far too thin to contain any kind of quality warmth in this 31-degree weather. Her black hair was pulled into a low pony tail which revealed her large gold, hoop earrings. Wearing blue jeans and heels, her painted toes were exposed and undoubtedly numb.

I wrapped my arms around my waist and squeezed my thermal-lined, purple Carhartt jacket in a self-hug, suddenly over-aware of the comfort and warmth I had been sitting in.

“Where are you headed to?” Tim asked, refastening his seat belt.

“Going home from an interview I just had at Dollar General,” the girl answered. “Just stay on this road for the next couple of miles.”

“Oh, how did the interview go?” Lynn asked, looking back at her with eager interest.

“I think it was okay,” she answered, positively. “It was my second one, so I’m crossing my fingers that I get it.” Her tone was upbeat and cheery.

“That’s great. Good for you,” Lynn affirmed. “I’m Lynn Tuggle, and this is my husband Tim.”

“Oh it’s nice to meet y’all,” she replied. “I’m Christina.”

“And I’m Christie,” I said, smiling at her and reaching over to shake her hand. She gave me a soft smile in return.

I swallowed and glanced out the window, unsure of exactly what to do with myself. I had never picked up a hitchhiker before, nor been with anyone who had. The ease and comfortability evident in Tim and Lynn was not quite as accessible for me, and I could only hope it didn’t show.

Tim explained to her their ministry and described the purpose of our travels together.

“Will you have a car to get to work if you do get this job?” Tim asked.

“I should,” Christina said. “My boyfriend’s mom was supposed to take me this morning but it didn’t work out that way.” She fidgeted nervously with the strap of her purse as she talked.

“So is your boyfriend’s mom supposed to be your ride in the future?” Tim asked.

She shifted in her seat. “I can hopefully take my boyfriend’s car, if everything works out,” she said, seeming slightly uncomfortable.

“What needs to work out?” Tim pressed.

Suddenly, the floodgates of her thought-life came bursting open and Christina burst into tears.

“Okay, the truth is that my boyfriend beats me.” Her tone abruptly shifted from lighthearted and airy to utterly distraught and desperate. “He locks me in the house all day long if I make him mad enough, and his mom shouts at me about what a useless waste of space I am.” She began to cry even harder. “The other day he choked me until I pissed myself.” Her head hung in her hands and she heaved with each breath.

Fury went through my system like a shockwave. I suddenly found myself wanting to bludgeon this guy with a sledgehammer. The detailed description of her words crawled down into my heart and activated a passionate protection for this one whom I didn’t even know. I was far more used to retaining the right to remain detached in a moment of exposure to the world’s suffering; but a bleeding heart sat next to me and there was no option available to refuse the feelings that were coursing through me.

Tim pulled the truck off into a gas station parking lot and shifted the gear into park.

“He locked me in the bedroom after that and his mom kept yelling at me that I’m a worthless piece of shit.”

I had never felt more enraged on behalf of a complete stranger. She continued to describe the horrific situation through blubbering, helpless tears, and I swallowed hard in attempt to process each description. She paused after a few minutes, the three of us reeling.

“Christina, do you know who Jesus is?” Tim questioned, looking at her through the rearview mirror.

She nodded without looking up.

“Have you asked Him to be the Lord of your life?” Tim asked.

She looked at him through her tears and hesitated. “Yes, I have.” She sniffed and looked down at her lap. “I’m not doing a very good job of following Him though.”

Tim shifted in his seat. “Christina, we want to help you. I can’t take you back to a house where your boyfriend is beating you.”

Suddenly aware of these implications, I became sick to my stomach to think of us dropping her off at this house. Unanticipated emotions started flooding my system and my pulse quickened.

She began throwing out excuse after excuse as to why she couldn’t leave him. How she couldn’t make it on her own, and how he has a really good side to him as well. Finally she arrived at the real reason for all of her excuses.

“Okay,” she sighed out, resigned to her next reveal. “I’m addicted to heroin, and he is my dealer,” she declared, unveiling the truth. Her face contorted into another sob, this one of utter despair and pure grief. “I can’t leave him. Because I need it.”

Her words dripped with hopelessness. My heart stopped.

“I don’t deserve for you to help me, and I don’t deserve to get out,” she continued, dejected.

I sat, gaping at the beautiful girl next to me and was suddenly wrecked by the extreme disparity of who she thought she was and the person I saw her to be with my own eyes.

“How old are you, Christina?” Tim asked.

“Twenty-nine,” she replied.

“Do you have any family you can call?” Lynn asked.

“My mom lives in Virginia where she’s raising my two kids. He never lets me see them.” More tears escaped, her mascara now running in full black streaks. “I tried to leave him a few months ago and I chickened out once I got up there. I ran off and called him and he came to pick me up, threatening to kill me if I ever left again.”

“I know the bondage that you are describing, sweetheart,” Tim assured her, compassion seeping out of his low tone. “I know how you feel.”

He told her of his former drug addiction and the years of wallowing in the pain and misery of his self-inflicted wounds. “It’s never easy walking away. But God is right here with you. He is providing you a way out.”

As the exchange unfolded between them, the contrast of this girl’s life was held up juxtaposed with mine. I had never known a life such as hers. I had never done drugs or been abused, nor ever heard someone shout obscenities at me. I knew nothing of the deep anguish represented in each tear that she shed. But what I felt was a weighty grief such as I had never felt for a stranger. And I saw that the truth that I was seeing about her in the mere minutes of knowing she existed had been obliterated long ago from her mind by the shrapnel of a long list of explosive trauma. All motivation for freedom had been incinerated right along with her self-worth. She believed she was a worthless piece of shit, just as her boyfriend’s mom had said. The compulsion to expose these lies overwhelmed me.

“Christina,” I began, my heart racing. “You do not deserve to be treated this way. It doesn’t matter what you have done. The fact that we are here with you right now—that proves that Jesus isn’t through with you.” A twinkle appeared in her eyes as those words hit her, and then evaporated as quickly as it had come. “God sent us to pick you up today,” I said emphatically, utterly convinced of my words. “To give you a chance at a new life. His grace is that big. Two kids are waiting on their momma!” My tone had evolved into a plea.

She turned away and looked down, her expression pained. “I’m useless now,” she said, gravely, shaking her head. “There is nothing good that can come from my life. I deserve everything I’m getting from him, and I don’t deserve to be free from my addiction.”

It was the epitome of Satan’s grip on someone’s life. Bound up in lies upon lies.

“Can’t you see that this was no accident, meeting us today?” I begged her. “We want to help you get out, to have the life you have always wanted. You are a beautiful girl with untold potential. You have so much to offer the world simply because you were made in God’s image. Don’t believe the lies, Christina. Don’t believe them.” The words thundered out of my throat with full conviction of the power they carried.

I held her gaze for as long as she would let me, sensing her wavering.

“We will drive you to your mother’s house in Virginia,” Tim resolved. “If you want out, we will take you.”

The truck fell silent. For three solid minutes I saw this girl wrestling with this fork in the road. Here was freedom right before her, staring straight into her face as the clutches of her addiction remained tightly around her neck.

The unknown of her future was almost too much to bear. What was about to happen? Was I about to witness the redemption of this girl’s future? God had sent these three traveling missionaries to deliver her. How could she not see that!

In my unequivocal emotional investment, I crammed as many short bursts of prayer into that measure of silence as I could possibly muster, pleading with God to break through the prison cell of falsehoods surrounding her. All she had to say were three simple words: “I want out.” More than anything I wanted to see her choose this rescue.

Instead she chose three other words.

“Take me home.”

She stiffened herself, withdrawing from the emotional outpour that had just ensued from her. Without another word, Tim started the vehicle and responded to her directions to the house. The somber silence allowed for no further input. The decision had been made, and we all understood it.

Pulling into a neighborhood, she told Tim where to stop, thanked him for the ride, and without another word, she was gone.

“So that’s it?” I blurted out, dumbfounded, Tim exiting us from the neighborhood. “We just drop her off and pull away and that’s it?”

“That’s it, sweetheart,” Tim spoke resolutely. “People are free to make their own choices and no one can force freedom on another person.”

The temptation rose up in me to stiffen myself against this injustice, masking over my compassion with cynicism. Yeah, that’s just how the world is. Right? What could I ever do to change it? I shoved the temptation away as quickly as it came.

As we pulled away, I wasn’t sure what had just happened. An hour ago I hadn’t even known this girl existed. She was just another random stranger, walking down the road as I zoomed by at 50mph. Now she was my sister. My peer. Her problems had become mine, and her griefs and traumas were inescapable from my radar. She wasn’t a story I had read in an article or in a book. She was a live, breathing person with tears landing inches away on the seat next to me. To feel her pain was not an option. To wonder about her fate was not a question. I felt myself back away from the ball of convulsing emotion that had overwhelmed me for the last hour, and I looked at it with brokenness and disdain. Angry that I had to feel so deeply for her and then she turned away from my compassion. Angry that a rescue team had showed up and she chose her bondage instead. Angry that I had never invested my heart in all these same ways at any point prior in my 27 years of life. I would never have to know the plethora of that girl’s daily struggles.

The injustice of the imbalance of human experience angered me above all the rest. And I realized there, in that place of sacred struggle, that in different circumstances, all of that could be me.

There, in that place of recognition, I heard the Spirit speak.

Do you see what I’ve done for you? How are you using your grace?

The gamut of it all was thrust to the front of my consciousness, and I saw the life I had been given as having been handed to me as a divine resource. A tool. A weapon, even. The powerless need the powerful to rise up and show them their own dormant power. The wounded need the healed to come bind up the broken places. The shackled need the free to come and break off their chains.

I am the powerful, the healed, the free. All by the grace of God.

If I don’t rise up and use this grace I have been given to see the same grace bestowed on those trapped in separation from it, what good is it?! To stay comfy in my plush world of safety from “worldiness”?

Not on my watch.

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1 Comment

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    Reply Rachel Thompson (Canton, NC) November 16, 2017 at 10:40 pm

    These are sooooo great!! I’m hanging on every word and I’m usually asleep an hour ago!! Thank you!!! Thank you!!!

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