With Strangers In Pajamas: A Repost

Today’s post was inspired by my friend Ginny at Make a Difference to One. During a discussion with her on Twitter, I found myself tweeting to her a story I’d once heard. After I’d sent the first 140-character installment, I realized that I couldn’t remember all of the details of the story. Well, I couldn’t leave her hanging, so I made it up as I went and this is how it turned out:

I once heard a story about a little boy that was going to run away from home. He must have been 3 or 4 years old. His mom had sent him to his room to punish him for something. And when she went to check on him, he was gone. Scared, she ran to the front door and looked out. He was sitting on the front steps with his Spiderman backpack. She walked out and sat with him.

“Are you running away?” she asked.

He looked up at her with teary eyes and said, “Only if I can take you with me, Mommy.”

That’s the kind of relationship I have with God. He makes me mad and I run. But I don’t get further than the door, because I can’t go without him.

The tweeted story went pretty much unnoticed by the other tweeters in Twitterland, but it didn’t leave me. I couldn’t stop thinking about how God really is my heavenly Father. How He cares for me so meticulously and completely. And how He never leaves me alone–sometimes coming to me in a still small voice or a breeze across my face. Sometimes He comes in the form of strangers in pajamas.

And now, on to the repost:


I’d only been out of college a few months.  I was living in my first by-myself apartment (a studio apartment barely big enough to turn around in) and working in my first real-world and in-my-field job (as a community college ESL teacher).  It was a normal, boring Monday evening.  I had finished my lesson plans and was lying on the couch, watching The Biography Channel when I noticed red and blue flashing lights strobing through my venetian blinds.  Curious, I peeked through the window only to see firetrucks lining the parking lot and tenants pouring out of the building.

But I don’t smell smoke! 

I knew it had to be a false alarm, but I pulled open my apartment door to see what I could find out.  Firemen raced past me, carrying a fire hose.  The bottom dropped out of my stomach and I heard my blood rush in my ears. 

Oh, God!  This is for real!

My mind raced as I stood frozen in my doorway, wearing pajamas and flip-flops. 

Jesus, everything I own is in this tiny apartment!

A fireman snapped me out of my daze as he stopped in front of my doorway and bellowed at me.

“Hey lady, you gotta get outta the building!” 

I looked down at my pajamas and opened my mouth to speak, but he barked at me before I could make a sound.

“NOW, lady!”  Then, he disappeared down the hall.

A slideshow of all of the things I should take with me clicked through my mind.  My Bible.  Family pictures.  My laptop and lesson plans.  But in the end, my shaking hands only fell on my cell phone and keys before I pulled the locked door shut behind me and headed out into the dark parking lot full of strangers.

I had lived in the apartment for more than six months and had never met a single one of my neighbors.  I lived in a city where people naturally keep to themselves.  Living so close to Fort Bragg, there were a lot of military folks, of course.  They moved in and out all of the time.  Nobody seemed to stay for very long.  It had just seemed easier to keep to myself and live my own life.  But now that I was standing, terrified, in front of my burning apartment, my loneliness was sharp.

All at once, I heard children crying.  My head snapped around to find the source and my eyes fell on a young woman trying to dial a cell phone while holding an infant in one arm and a toddler on the other hip.  Both children were hysterical and the mother didn’t look far from it herself.  To make matters worse, they were in the way of the firefighters, standing between the trucks and the building.  My latent maternal instincts surged and I instinctively ran over to the little family. 

“Ma’am?  Can I help you?”  I put an arm around them and began leading them out of the way as the mother looked up at me with tear-filled eyes.  Both children continued to wail.

“My husband is at work.”  Her accented voice broke, but she continued.  “I can’t reach him!  He will be so worried!”  And with that, she dissolved into sobs.

I pulled the screaming toddler from her arm and settled the little girl on my left hip, then put my right arm back around the mother, wondering for a moment what to do now.  As I did, a forty-ish lady walked up and gently took the howling infant and eased him to her shoulder. 

Tossing a grateful glance at my new helper, I offered a comforting smile to the young mother.  “Come on, let’s go sit on that curb by the streetlight.  It’s out of the way and you can try your husband again.” 

I sat on the curb with my curly-headed two-year-old charge and the rest of my rag-tag group.  Soon, my little Sesame-Street-pajamaed bundle went limp.  I looked down and realized that she’d fallen asleep against my shoulder.  For more than an hour we adults sat, quietly chatting and watching the fire trucks, wondering what this night–this fire– would mean for us.  But for that brief period of time, not even knowing each others’ names, we were okay because we faced the fire together. 

We were blessed that night.  Only one unit in our building burned– the one next to mine.  It didn’t come through the wall into my apartment.  No one was injured.

For months after that event, I watched out for these ladies in my comings and goings, but I never saw either of them or the children again.  I think that maybe God just put us together for that one night.  I learned that during the fire, God never leaves you alone and that when you reach out to give hope and help to a stranger, sometimes that’s the very thing that gives hope and help to you.

About Sarah Salter


  1. Crazy how situations like this bring people together. We have had floods, hurricanes and massive snowfalls around here that bring people out that we’ve never seen before. It’s sad that we can’t find ways to help our neighborhoods be a real community.

    I’m so glad God used you were there in that moment to help those people. I’m sure it helped in ways you will never know until you are with your Creator.

    God bless you, my new dear friend.

  2. Wow, Belle, you, again, bring up such amazing points (amongst heart wrenching moments!)

    I just said the very thing tonight to a young lady about our friendship. We thought it was just for the time I was with her, but now that I am gone, I am actually able to help more….extenuating circumstances revealed.. however…… EVERY moment shapes us, as your blog mentions. I am grateful for every moment in my life!

  3. “..during the fire, God never leaves you alone and that when you reach out to give hope and help to a stranger, sometimes that’s the very thing that gives hope and help to you.”

    Oh so true. My deepest darkest moments in life are times when I’ve been required to reach out to others, when I least felt equipped to do so. I later realized it was for my own healing as much or more than theirs.

    Thank you for this.

  4. I love the story about the little boy running away. I think I heard it before, too.

    About your story,it is funny how when we try to be a blessing to others, it often gets turned around and they’re the blessing to us.

  5. So, I read this last night and I swear I left a comment. Wow, it must have been a crazier day than I realized!

    I love the story/analogy of the boy running away. I also firmly believe that God does bring us together with people for a purpose…sometimes maybe just for 1 night!!

    What a perfect way to remember that even during traumatic events, there are blessings to be had.

  6. Love this story and the reminder. I also saw the first part on twitter and liked it- just didn’t jump in. 🙂

  7. It is always amazing how God often gets us where he wants us to be even when we don’t understand why we’re there or why the circumstances work out the way they do. This morning part of the scripture read was Hebrews 13:2 “Do not forget to entertain stranges, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” Sometimes when we help others, we don’t realize God is really there helping us. He uses our gifts to aid others as a covering for Him to help us. Certainly your gift of helping them was also a covering for Him to be there for you. Ain’t God Good? All the time!

    Thanks for reminding how great God is to us, by how He has used you.

  8. Yep, time of trials/fire bring people together.. during the worst of times it brings the best of people. Hasta luego, sarah. Su mejicana hermana

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