The clopping of horse hooves carried the traveling crew alongside the main highway. The increase of traffic told Tim they were nearing another cluster of towns. Houses were sparse in that day’s trek, and the team took notice of the upcoming trailer park, somewhat hidden behind the overgrowth of trees. Tim peeked through the foliage and spotted the first mobile home. He immediately felt a stirring within him and he quickly recognized it.
“We’re going inside here,” he blurted. “We’re supposed to pray over this place.”
Lynn didn’t miss a beat. “You got it,” she replied, surely. These were the moments she had grown to love most about their journey. The possibilities of who they would meet, where they would end up, and the ever-thrilling unknown of how God would use it all to meet their needs.
Cher carried Tim up the incline of the drive, pack string in tow with Lynn bringing up the rear. A few minutes later they were rounding the main circle drive of the park, trailers lined up and packed in like sardines. A woman stood in her yard as they passed by her home and she quickly headed for her door without a word. They continued their way around the full park, praying silently for each home as they ambled by. A man stood in his doorway, staring at them for a minute, then swiftly closing the door without so much as a smile.
This is a little weird, Tim thought.
He checked his watch. It was late afternoon so the children should be out of school already. The usual response they got in this kind of neighborhood setting would be the total opposite of this. The horses drew curiosity and sparked conversation with the greatest ease they could hope for. Not today.
They completed the full circle of the trailer park within twenty minutes without so much as a “Hello” from a resident. Resolving that they had been obedient to the Lord’s prompting to pray, they continued onward along the main highway.
After another mile of travel and contemplation over the strange experience, Lynn noticed a young girl walking ahead of them on the side of the road. Her stringy, blonde hair blew in the breeze of the cars zooming past her mere feet away. The road’s shoulder was wide enough to contain the three horsemen and their six horses, yet this girl seemed unfazed to be hovering so closely to the white line.
It was another ten minutes before they got close enough for her to notice the sound of the horse hooves and she turned to look. She stopped as she took in the visual from the 1800s. Coming within reasonable earshot, Tim called out to her, “Do you want a ride?”
She began moving towards them and suddenly burst into sobs.
Approaching each other, Tim asked, “Are you okay?”
She looked to be early twenties and she wore black yoga pants over her scrawny legs and a loose backpack hung beneath her waistline. Tears fell like streams, mixing with dirt smudges as they stained her cheeks. The drivers halted their horses and Lynn dismounted.
“I want to go home,” she gasped through her sobs. Lynn put her arm around her shoulder, immediately recognizing the bruising that covered her neck and down her arms. She shivered at Lynn’s touch, goosebumps covering her exposed arms in the cool, fall breeze.
She avoided eye contact as she told them of her boyfriend’s antics of abuse that surrounded the drug addiction that had bound them both. Her desperation to be free from any more pain, physical and psychological, drove her to walk out on him that day, and she was convinced to hitchhike her way back to her family in Arkansas.
“When we get into Shelby,” Tim said, “we will put you on a bus to go home.”
The girl wiped her tears away, allowing this glimmer of hope to calm her emotional storm.
Lynn helped hoist the girl onto one of the other horses and she tentatively took the reins, anxiously awaiting a step-by-step instruction list, clearly having never been on a horse. She settled into the groove of their caravan and the crew of unlikely travelers continued on into the dusky North Carolina evening.
Tim handed her his phone, recommending that she call her mother to explain that she was coming home.
“Mom, I’m not lying,” she stated emphatically into the cell phone, “I really did get picked up by people on horses.” She paused, listening to the rambunctious bout of noise spewing from the phone.
“Here, hand me the phone,” Tim said, reaching out to receive it. He spoke with her mother, confirming her daughter’s testimony.
“Well praise God,” the mom said, relieved. “With a story like that, I was convinced she was on an acid trip or something. We will gladly welcome her back home, and a little two-year-old girl would love to see her mommy again. But just so you are forewarned, this has been an ongoing thing with her. So be careful.”
Tim assured the woman that they would take good care of her and see to it that she would be home soon.
By this time they had entered a small town and the highway had turned into a local main street. Going a bit farther, they approached what appeared to be the downtown area, passing small businesses and weaving around the local traffic. In contrast to the earlier experience of strange avoidance, the locals showed the typical intrigue of their peculiarity and began approaching them to satisfy their curiosity. Business owners came out of their shops. Mothers brought over curious children to pet the horses. The crew stopped every hundred feet, ministering to people through their story and listening to the stories of others. One man handed Tim a one hundred dollar bill.
The occasional passerby would ask the girl questions of her involvement with them, beckoning her own story into the mix, which she reluctantly shared with no shortage of tears each time. Her brokenness sparked compassion in another young girl near her age and she handed her a twenty dollar bill. The act of kindness wrecked her even more deeply and her soft cry became a silent, breathless sob.
After noticing that a horse had lost a shoe, they decided to pull off at a nearby gas station and assess any local options for getting a replacement. While conversing with various locals and allowing the horses to graze in a patch of grass, the girl went inside to use the restroom. A while later she returned.
“I think I made a mistake,” she said, face contorting in a strong cry. She held her hand over her mouth as Lynn placed a hand on her back.
“What happened?” Lynn asked.
“I called my boyfriend to come and get me,” she whimpered in defeated resignation. Tim took a step towards her.
“You better hope he doesn’t show up while I’m still here,” he warned. “Because I’ll take him out back behind a shed and teach him a thing or two about putting his hands on a woman.”
The girl grabbed Lynn’s hand to hold her up as she broke down uncontrollably, weeping and apologizing for exhausting their time and attention on her worthlessness.
“Here, please take this money,” she pleaded, extending the twenty towards Tim.
“That isn’t our money,” Tim said calmly. “You spend that money however you want to. That girl gave that to you. You do with it whatever you’re supposed to do, and whatever you do with it is between you and the Lord.”
Tim stared into her eyes as though looking in a mirror, deeply familiar with her level of broken desperation. Desperate to get out, yet desperate to go back. The desperation that drove her back into the arms of her abuser was all too uncanny, and he broke her gaze.
“Let us pray with you before he comes,” Lynn offered. In her reluctance, she allowed it. After praying for the Holy Spirit to guide her and reveal truth to her, Tim took her face in his hands.
“You are worth more than this. More than a beating, and more than an addiction.”
His voice broke at his last word, a lump quickly forming with a choke-hold grip.
She held his gaze, cheeks raw with moisture.
“Someone else was beaten so you wouldn’t have to be anymore,” he forcibly continued. “He loves you so much. And He is waiting for you to take hold of that Love.”
They each hugged her and promised to pray for her. She remained silent and pensive, sniffing and swallowing. Minutes later a dented Oldsmobile pulled in.
“Tracy!” a young boy bellowed out the window. Without another word or glance, she scurried towards the car with her head down.
Watching them drive off, the couple closed up their saddlebags and untied the horses. The ache in their disappointed spirits gave way to the comforting hope of the seed that they undeniably planted within her.
They climbed back into their saddles in silence, continuing onward on their journey. Tim felt his last words sink down deeply within him, desperately working to be as real to him as he had hoped them to be for her.