At the end of 2008, author, playwright and radio personality River Jordan had a lot on her mind. Both of her sons were being deployed overseas, one to Iraq, one to Afghanistan.
“I kept writing notes to excuse them from the war,” Jordan said during a recent stop at a Dallas Barnes & Noble. “That didn’t work.”
In addition to the distraction of her sons’ departures, Jordan was busy with the holidays. She was planning what had to be the “perfect’ ski trip with all of her family.
“Looking back on it, I realize just how insane I was,” the author of “Saints in Limbo” and “The Miracle of Mercy Land,” said with a laugh. “Everything had to be perfect. We had to take our Christmas presents. We had to take a lot of pictures.
The last thing she needed was a New Year’s resolution that included praying for a different stranger every day.
“I had this idea when I was standing in the kitchen,” the Nashville-based writer said. “I would pray for a stranger every day. It just kinda passed through my head like a character would. Just like that.”
Jordan’s husband thought it was a great idea, but she was having none of it.
“Then, on Dec. 31, I was in a stall in the ladies’ room at the ski resort. There was a little boy in the next stall over.
“I knew he was in trouble,” she said. “All I could see was his blue shoes. I didn’t intervene, but I spent the rest of the day looking for him.”
That evening, as Jordan was recounting the events surrounding the boy to her husband, he said, “It looks like you’ve found your stranger for the day.”
That’s when I realized the potential this idea had and the purpose of it,” Jordan said. “I embraced the idea.”
But embracing a concept and going public with it are two different things.
“I never intended to tell anyone [about the resolution],” she said. “I was raised Episcopalian. I’m good with sacred spaces and candles, but I’m not going to walk up to someone I don’t know and tell them they are my stranger for the day.”
It was a trip to the bus station a couple of weeks into the new year that changed Jordan’s mind about sharing.
“I took my mother-in-law to the station,” she explained. “I saw this woman at the ticket counter. I knew she was my stranger for that day.”
Jordan walked up to the woman and asked her name. Then she said, “I just want you to know I have this resolution and every day I pray for a stranger and I just want you to know that today you’re my person.”
The woman backed up and said in a strong Kentucky accent, “Honey, do you know I was praying for other people this morning? I asked God, ‘Is there anybody in the whole world praying for me?’”
When she got back in the car and told her husband what had happened, he said, “You’d better write that down.”
Jordan realized there was a bigger picture here.
“There was something more important going on than just me and my story and my privacy, which, by the way, has taken a turn and left out the window,” Jordan said with a laugh. “This has helped me get out of my own mind. I’ve realized you don’t have to have two sons deployed to war zones to have a bag of stuff to deal with. It has helped me on days when I just need to have an interaction with someone else.”
As a rule, Jordan doesn’t pray with her stranger. She waits until the end of the day where she thinks about them, says a prayer that their burdens are lifted and that they’re healthy.
A lady at a rest stop changed that.
“I went into a restroom and saw her,” Jordan explained. “That’s my lady. I didn’t want to talk to her in the bathroom, so I hung out near the water fountain. Then, she came out humming. I figured she’s happy and I’m outta here.”
Jordan’s feet, however, had other ideas.
“I go outside,” she said. “The lady’s walking that way, I’m walking the other way. Then my feet turn me around. My feet have a life of their own these days.”
When Jordan told the humming lady about her resolution and that today she was the stranger, the lady grabbed her hand and said, “Please, please pray for me. My son just died.”
Jordan’s first reaction was, “I’m Episcopalian. I don’t do this in public.”
The look in the lady’s eyes changed Jordan’s mind, and she whispered a prayer right there in front of the store.
“Here we have this moment together that never would have happened,” Jordan said. “The book is filled with moments like this.”
When 2009 ended, Jordan decided to keep up her daily prayers and took her husband’s advice to write a book about her experience.
"Praying for Strangers" is a hit with critics and readers alike and is finding an audience in Bible classes and book clubs, much to the author’s delight.
“I’ve been so surprised at the letters and e-mails that I’ve received,” she said. “This is something I normally would not have written – or even talked about – and it’s probably going to have a greater impact than anything I’ve ever done.”
For more about River Jordan, see www.riverjordan.us
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