Thursday, October 03, 2013

Speaking to strangers...

River Jordan speaks at Palms Conference Center
PANAMA CITY BEACH — Laughter initially filled the Palms Conference Center on Wednesday afternoon as author River Jordan took the stage to tell her stories. Soon enough, however, the deeper truth of those stories began to sink in as River led the luncheon audience to understand how the lives of strangers are intertwined.

“Sometimes the life chooses you,” she said. “You don’t choose the life.”

River, the author of “Praying for Strangers,” is a Panama City native now based in Nashville. She spoke at the fundraiser to benefit the Panama City Rescue Mission’s Bethel Village program for women and children, which is working to purchase new mattresses for the shelter, with the help of The Sleep Center in Panama City.

“So many of us think of prayer as a bedtime activity, as we prepare for sleep,” said Cathy Byrd, director of the Women and Family Ministries for the Mission. “So this is a nice tie-in with our campaign. River shows us we can pray anywhere, anytime, for anyone.”

(For more details on the fundraising effort, visit PCRMission.org.)

Fran, River and Leah (mom)
River, who wore a necklace marked “Dream” on Wednesday, is a natural storyteller. She says she was “discovered” as a writer by a sixth grade teacher. She considers herself a novelist — she’s currently working on a new novel about “bourbon, bullets and broads” — and never intended to write a nonfiction book.

Clearly, as she says, she also never wants to be “trapped in the box” that people might want to imagine for her.

I first met River when she was executive director of the Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center in Panama City. In her spare time, she was working on a novel that became her debut, “The Gin Girl.” Since then, she has published another three novels and two non-fiction books, including “Praying for Strangers.”

River started praying for strangers in 2009, as her sons were deployed to the Middle East and she realized she was selfishly praying for their safety. Instead, she vowed to pray for the strangers she met each day. She never meant to tell any of them that she prayed for them, and she never expected to know how her prayers might be received.

“It was never about anything except God’s love and blessings and perfect peace,” she said. “That they be loved, they be warm, that they be fed, or whatever (their need) may be.”

Me and River
But then she felt led to tell a woman in a bus stop that she had prayed for her, and the story that poured out of the woman inspired River to begin writing down what she learned through the year. Others shared stories with her, and she discovered that praying for people she didn’t even know was blessing her own life in unexpected ways.

“I don’t ‘look’ at the people in that moment,” she said. “I ‘behold’ them. I don’t judge them. I see them.”

And isn’t that, essentially, the prayer of everyone?

Peace.
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This is my Undercurrents column for PanamaCity.com and The News Herald this week.
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