The Woman in the Rain
By LaWanda Bailey
“God sent you,” she said. The two of us stood in a small-town convenience store in 1975. She didn’t know me, but I knew her. Thunder rumbled as I tried to figure out why God had sent me to Eva Barrett Long.
My thoughts shifted to my childhood camp days where Mrs. Long had spun biblical truths into fascinating tales. We kids listened wide-eyed in the sweltering heat. Our rag-tag group knew she had a special gift from God. Summer after summer she spoke, and I admired her from a distance.
Years later, I was surprised to see her on stage at my college. Her skillful interchange of prose with poetry captivated our audience of young women. She mentioned a furrowed field that lay hard by the road, and I tucked the phrase away for future use. As a distinguished graduate of our college, she spoke several times while I was there. After my graduation, I sometimes read about her and knew that she was chosen as our state's alternate poet laureate one year. Still, we never met.
You don't forget someone like Eva Barrett Long, even when you haven't seen her for ten years. But I never dreamed that she would figure into my plans on that rainy night.
I was on my way to meet a friend, Carol. We were going to a single-parent dance while our kids stayed with their fathers. We needed a break from the heaviness of parenting and financial strain. But a pounding rainstorm toyed with our plans. As the weather worsened, we phoned back and forth and finally chose fun over safety. “I’ll be there in half an hour,” I said, allowing time to stop at a local store to cash a check.
Outside the store, a blast of rain swept under my umbrella and drenched me. There go my chances of looking pretty for the dance, I thought as I stepped inside. I shook like a wet dog and pulled at my dripping clothes. When I looked up, I did a double-take. Eva Barrett Long stood in the center aisle. I pushed at my wet hair and approached her. "Mrs. Long, you don't know me, but I'm a graduate of your alma mater."
She touched my arm and whispered, “God sent you.” Now, that was a shock, given the mess my life was in. Divorce had knocked me senseless and placed demands on my life that had nudged God to the side.
Mrs. Long explained her plight. “I’m scheduled to speak at Mt. Lebanon Encampment."
Rain and darkness had obscured the camp exit and forced her to double back to the store. As her speaking time neared, she had started to her car. A man in a nearby car rolled his window down and made lewd comments. She retreated to the center of the store and then I arrived.
We discussed the best way to get her to the meeting. Calling the police from the store phone and the resulting procedures would make her late.
I said, "Let’s walk to our cars together. If the man follows, I’ll lead you to the police station. If he doesn’t, we'll go to the camp.” With umbrellas and courage raised to the sticking point, we ran out, two college sisters against the world. And it worked. The misfit ignored us.
We headed south on the highway, headlights clawing their way through the rain. Before long, we were at the encampment. As we pulled into an open area, the rain stopped with a dramatic snap.
I walked to her car. She took my hand and said, “You’ll be in my speech tonight, dear friend. I prayed for help, and God sent someone with a plan who knew me and the area.” I watched her taillights wind up the hill before I left to meet Carol.
The rain fell on the just and the unjust that night. God used my life, torn apart and off-track, to meet the needs of a noted spiritual leader. How wonderful that we don't have to be perfect to be his instruments. Whenever thunder rumbles, I remember how he used me to help the woman in the rain.