Policemen shuffled in with a 7-year-old, fragile slip of a girl, shackled and handcuffed, and hurriedly took her through the emergency room where I worked as a registrar. The policemen towered above the child, numb with fright, as they executed their way through the stretchers on which lay the sick and hurting. They moved past the technicians, doctors, nurses and aides to take her to the outpatient psychiatric evaluation unit in the back of ER. I learned her "crime" was being "uncontrollable" at home.
My heart and mind screamed silently, Lord, she's only 7 years old!
Two nights earlier, the scene had been the same except it was a 9-year-old boy. That youngster hadn't been numb with fright. The obscenities from his mouth pierced above the clamor and commotion of my busy workplace.
How did he learn such words at his young age? I wondered.
In the cubicle next to this young child lay a 13-year-old who had eaten a tremendous amount of weeds to bring on hallucinating highs. Charcoal powder, given to her by the field medics trying to induce vomiting to save her life, still lingered around her lips. The ER nurses and doctors were frantically trying to keep her alive, as she whimpered, "Mommy, Mommy, where are you? Help me, Mommy." No one knew where Mommy was.
I silently prayed - silently, because praying out loud to Jesus was against the rules.
Day after day, night after night, the emergency rooms of our nation are bombarded with such scenes. Since the banning of prayer in public schools in 1962, statistics show that child abuse is up to 2,300 percent; teen suicide, 450 percent; illegal drug use, 6,000 percent; divorces, 350 percent.
While at work in the emergency room, I had learned to stop crying at the pain around me. But I was haunted at night by the things I saw. I didn't need the statistics to affirm what I already knew: A nation without God cannot survive. At times I was so overcome with tears on my drive home, I felt I couldn't face going in another day. Each day it seemed I was becoming insensitive to people and their real needs. Even the practice of "granny dumping" the elderly into the emergency rooms for a weekend by their uncaring relatives began to seem normal.
The cold, hard shell I put around my feelings and my mind kept out the pain-most of the time. But inside, I felt as if I were dying. Five years of emergency room exposure had taken its toll.
Then God intervened.
I was taking information for registering a young woman who had overdosed on drugs and had attempted suicide. Her mother sat before me as I typed the information into the computer. The mother was unkempt and bleary eyed. She had been awakened in the middle of the night by the police to come to the hospital. She could only speak to me in a whisper.
Hurry up, I said to myself, as she slowly gave me the information. My impatience was raw as I finished the report and jumped to the machine to copy the medical cards. That's when God stopped me-at the copy machine. He spoke to my heart so clearly: "You didn't even look at her." He repeated it, gently: "You didn't even look at her."
I felt His grief for her and for her daughter and bowed my head. "I'm sorry, Lord. I am so sorry," I said.
I sat down in front of the distraught woman and covered her hands with mine. I looked into her eyes with all the love that God could flood through me and said, "I care. Don't give up."
She wept and wept. She poured her heart out to me about the years of dealing with a rebellious daughter as a single mom. Finally, she looked up and thanked me. Me ... the cold-hearted one with no feelings.
Until she showed up - and God.
My attitude changed that night. My Jesus came right into the workplace in spite of rules that tried to keep Him out. He came in to set me free to care again. He gave himself to that woman through me. My God, who so loved the world, broke that self-imposed barrier around my heart. Now He could reach out, not only to me in my pain, but to a lost and hurting woman.
I often think of a quote by Hubert Humphrey as I look back on those years I spent in the emergency room: "It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life-the sick, the needy and the handicapped."
I am now director of a maternity home for women in crisis pregnancies. I still hear heartrending stories of lives lived without Christ. But now, thanks to God's intervention in the emergency room, I can reach out to them with a caring heart.
Even though our laws are making it more difficult to witness about Jesus to others, I know He is with me. Our government might fail the moral test that Hubert Humphrey wrote about more than 20 years ago, but we don't have to. We can reach beyond the law and touch one more lost and hurting soul.