She was overwhelmed with anxiety and fear until a billboard for a prayer line helped her turn things around.
- Posted on Nov 25, 2019
Take a gun and end it all, Sheryl, said a dark, mocking voice in the back of my mind. End it and all this pain and worry will be over.
I didn’t even own a gun. I had been in the middle of my nightly routine when the strange thought popped into my head. Now I just sat on my bed, staring blankly at the wall. It felt as though a literal weight were pressing down on me.
Suddenly something else snapped into focus in my mind, like mental whiplash. Not a thought, exactly, but an image. An imposing, rectangular shape. A billboard. Pushing aside the other thoughts until it was all I could visualize, looming over lanes of traffic. It had a black background with red lettering. Simple, straightforward. It was faded from months in the sun but still legible. Like any other sign you’d see on the freeway, hawking new car models or phone deals. But this one was pushing something different. In no-nonsense letters, which stood out sharply against the plain background, it had a phone number for a prayer request line.
Wait a second. I know that sign! I’d seen this particular billboard hundreds of times on my drive to school. I’d never given it more than a cursory glance. But now it was all I could see. A prayer line? I’d never been one to pray for things. I’d certainly never called a prayer line. I mean, who did that?
But I had to do something.
I was in my mid-twenties and had dissolved my one-year marriage. My husband had been abusive, both emotionally and physically. I’d finally reached my breaking point when he came at me with a large kitchen knife. I fled our house—his house—with nothing but a bag of clothes. Ever since, I’d been staying with my mother. In my old childhood bedroom.
But I’d been working hard to get my life back on track. I went back to college at St. Margaret School of Nursing. I’d been accepted into its accelerated program. The only problem was that the school was in Pittsburgh, a lengthy drive from my mom’s home in rural Fayette City, Pennsylvania. I had to leave at 5 a.m.in order to make to class at 7 a.m. Not only was the course work difficult, but the time I wasn’t studying or in class was spent in the car. Plenty of time for my worries and doubts to pound away at me.
I had always been an upbeat person. Through it all, I’d maintained a positive outlook. Still it felt as if life had been knocking me down again and again and—each time—it was harder to get back up.
It didn’t help that I’d paid hundreds of dollars to take a review class in preparation for my upcoming state board certification test. After two sessions, I realized it wasn’t worth the money. I had to study on my own. Now, wading through years’ worth of old notes, it felt as if I were drowning. The stakes were high. Anxiety was setting in, and the possibility of failure was becoming more real—all embodied by this horrible voice.
Could a billboard prayer line really be the answer? It seemed silly, but something about the image compelled me. I dialed.
A woman picked up after one ring. “Hello?” She sounded kind, but I didn’t know what to say. “Hello?”
“I need help,” I blurted out. “Can you pray for me?”
“Of course,” she said. “What’s your name, dear?”
“You’ll be in our prayers, Sheryl. We’re having a lock-in tonight.”
“A what?” I asked.
“A group of us are staying in the church all night,” she said. “Praying. We won’t leave until morning.”
I thanked her before I hung up. People—strangers—praying for me all night? Weird, I thought. But what did I have to lose?
I fell asleep. Only to wake up suddenly. A feeling. There it was again, as if someone had gently touched the bottom of my right foot.
I sat up in bed. The room was empty, cast in the nightlight’s dim golden glow. But there was a presence. Faint at first but growing stronger. From the point where I’d felt that disembodied touch, a warmth blossomed. It traveled from my foot, up my leg, then spread throughout my body, like water slowly filling me, surrounding me. Bathing me from my feet to the top of my head.
What’s going on?
That was when the nightlight in the room changed to red. It was brilliant, nearly blinding, but I could still clearly make out a humanlike shape. I was terrified.
“Do not be afraid,” the light said. “For everything here means nothing.” Though the words hadn’t been spoken aloud, still I understood them.
My mom needed to see this. She was asleep in her own room, just down the hall. But I was unable to move. I called out to her. I heard her footsteps, but suddenly the figure retreated, seeming to melt away. By the time Mom opened my bedroom door and asked me what was wrong, the being was gone.
“I must have had a dream....”
But the words remained. Everything here means nothing....
I mulled over the phrase the next morning during the drive to Pittsburgh. Everything? The stress brought on by my schoolwork, my financial woes, the pain of my disastrous marriage and separation, the fear I had of the future...
Everything here means nothing.
I suddenly remembered the people praying all night, praying until dawn. I realized it wasn’t a message of despair but one of hope.
Do not be afraid.
My worries and fears did not stop right away. There were days when I thought I’d never graduate or move on. But whenever I passed that highway sign, I smiled. It was a reminder that there were people out there. Strangers who cared.
And ever since I made that phone call, I’ve started to pray. There are always answers. Sometimes not as obvious as a billboard on the side of the highway or a figure of light appearing in your bedroom—but they’re there.
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