DaRT: Hounds of Heaven: Sniffing Out God’s Treasures on the Train

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Contributed by Julie Atwood.

“It’s pouring rain all over downtown Dallas.” Cheryl flashes her smartphone to the group, revealing the tell-tale image of green sludge oozing across her projected Dallas map. “Do we want to just cancel for tonight . . . or take a risk and go for it?” She bows her head. “What do You have for us, Lord?”

During our prayer, Cheryl receives the name “McKinney.”

Henry, “Mockingbird Station.”

And I see a picture of two inward-curving horns, sprouting from a rounded head.

“Let’s go for it!” Brandy decides with dancing eyes. So we all follow her as she hops onto the train.

We decide Mockingbird is tonight’s designated location. “I received a strong sense on our last trip we’re meant to go to Mockingbird on either this trip or the next one,” Henry shares.

And Cheryl fixes him with thoughtful eyes. “Do you know what a mockingbird does? It imitates the calls of other birds . . . much the way I see the enemy imitating God’s voice and confusing folks who are seeking God’s wisdom.” She’s expounding on a Scripture verse she’s received from her devotional and just been discussing with Brandy: From a lack of knowledge My people perish (Hosea 4:6).

Moments after our location is decided, Brandy nudges me. Indicates the burly man slumped in the seat catty-corner from us, sporting a black T-shirt etched all over with Texas symbols. “He was highlighted to me the moment he boarded the train,” she tells me in low tones. “Let’s listen to God, and please let me know if you receive anything about this man.”

I squeeze shut my eyes. Again two horns pop up behind my lids . . . the same horns I pictured back at Rowlett Station. They’re shooting from a round head, curving toward each other in two semi-circle shapes.

Rather like the horns of a bull.

“Hey, that’s perfect!” Brandy’s eyes light up like sparklers when I share the image. “I just received a word that this man is like a bull, strong and courageous and determined. . . . Let’s go tell him.” We scramble for new seats, Brandy positioned to interview our Treasure while I intercede from a seat across the aisle.

“Yeah, that does fit me.” A wisp of smile flickers across Leon’s rock-like face as Brandy speaks God’s prophetic words over him. “I could use some strength and courage about now. Just got out of prison ’bout three months ago, been tryin’ to keep clean and stay away from all the stuff that’s been tryin’ to bring me back down.”

“Do you have a little boy, about two or three years old?”

Leon’s eyes widen with surprise. “I got a son five years old.”

“Well, that’s close enough, I guess. I just saw a picture of a little boy. . . .” While the rest of us intercede, Brandy speaks God’s words of protection and blessing over this struggling yet strong dad and his small son.

In the course of our prayer, a train guard strides through to check our tickets . . . then eyes us with concern as he passes us back the other way down the aisle. “You folks doin’ okay?”

Moments after he’s gone and after Brandy and I rejoin the others, Cheryl greets us with a grin. “Hey, did you guys notice that guard’s name tag? His name is Wisdom!”

We all chuckle and marvel, recalling our earlier discussion about God’s knowledge—

“Mockingbird Station!” the recorded voice announces. We spring to our feet, head for the exit door . . . which flips open to reveal sheets of rain.

We hesitate . . . a beat too long.

The train’s door slides shut. We’re once again lurching forward.

But in the meantime, James has boarded the train and plopped down on a seat nearby us. He’s our second Treasure . . . and also a treasure-trove of God-given talent. A writer and singer of Gospel rap, he’s beaming and eager to perform.

Starting with a slow and haunting love song to God, he follows with a rap that shoots out words of truth much like those shared between Cheryl and Brandy in their earlier discussion.

“I started out with a group that did secular rap,” James shares after we’ve applauded his amazing performance. “But whenever we tried to practice, things kept goin’ wrong. We’d lose our music, or the computer would quit workin.’ Seemed like God was tryin’ to grab my attention, let me know He wanted me singin’ for Him. . . .”

Like Leon, our first highlighted Treasure on the train, James has only recently been released from prison. “Made the mistake of helpin’ my girlfriend break into a house, a plan she set up. But I was the one they caught, while she got off. . . . Learned my lesson that night, not to take part in anythin’ like that again.” But only peace, not bitterness, flows across his face as he continues, “I’m takin’ classes now—that’s where I just come from, in fact, when I got on the train. Tryin’ to get my life back together, so I can take good care of the good wife I have now an’ our four kids. . . .”

While James shares his life story, the recorded announcer calls out station after station. The train jolts to one stop after another. Yet we remain glued to our seats, riveted to the singer’s narrative.

“My wife Rachel’s got a lot of talent too. She writes beautiful songs, like poetry put to music. But she’s shy, won’t share ’em with the public.” James chuckles, shakes his head with rueful eyes. “In fact, whenever I ask her to sing one just for me, she always says, ‘I lost the music.’ ”

“Have you prayed with her over her talent?” Cheryl asks. “You know, as her husband you’re her spiritual covering. And whenever my husband prays for me, I’ve always found his prayers to be extra powerful . . . more special than the prayers of my other friends.”

“That’s true when my husband prays for me too,” I work up the nerve to add.

Soon we’re all holding up both James and Rachel in prayer, speaking God’s blessings over the talents of them both. And Brandy’s telling him about her husband’s ministry of helping ex-prisoners take steps with jobs and housing. “Henry here is on the board.”

Henry speaks up. “With your musical talent, you might consider performing for our church’s promotional video about this ministry.” He pulls out a card for NHV, hands this to James, while Brandy texts the singer’s number into her phone. After taking down the information offered him by Henry and Brandy, James rises and beams and pumps all our hands.

He exits the train at Ledbetter . . . the final stop.

The end of the line.

By now, of course, we’ve all realized tonight’s intended location . . . the train itself.

We’ve just got time to turn around and head back to Rowlett . . . but the “Out of Service” sign that pops up above the window warns us we’ll need to switch trains to journey home. Hopping off a few seconds after James, we’re pelted by only mild drizzle as we splash across the divider and board the northbound train.

Several miles fly on past. I’m just dozing off to the rhythm of whirring wheels when I feel a bony elbow dig into my right shoulder.

Startling and glancing right, I see the elbow’s owner—a lanky beak-nosed man hunched forward in his seat as he loops one long arm over its back. He’s engaged in deep discussion with Brandy, who’s seated facing him across the aisle.

“. . . . I’m gonna have the vet check it out, but I swear she poisoned my dog. She’s just that evil. . . .”

Switching seats to avoid his elbow and tune into his narrative, I soon learn Richard’s talking about his ex-girlfriend. His eyes blaze like dark flames as he turns to scan our entire group. “What do you folks think? Are there people scattered throughout the world whose sole assigned purpose in life is to carry out acts of evil?”

Cheryl studies him with thoughtful eyes, responds with gentleness. “There are people like that, but we must remember they made a conscious choice to follow evil. We all have the freedom to choose the ways of good or evil. And we also must remember that the Holy Spirit is much greater than the evil one. When we choose to follow Him and are willing to forgive those who wrong us, He can deliver us from evil.”

By turns, she and Brandy share with Richard—our third highlighted Treasure—the ways of God’s love and His forgiveness. Again the recorded announcer calls out stations; the train screeches to stop after stop.

At two of these, Richard leaps up from his seat and tries to bolt.

At his first intended exit, the door freezes shut. Though Cheryl tries to help by pressing the button several times—all the while she and Brandy are wrapping Richard up in prayer—the door refuses to pop open.

At his second intended exit, Brandy springs up after him and, to my muddled eyes, appears to follow him straight off the train. An instant later, I again glance to my right. Only to once more see them both—or perhaps their clones?—seated right where they’d been before. Still engaged in profound conversation.

I blink. Do a double-take.

What just happened here? A miracle? Some kind of quantum leap?

At one point Richard narrows his eyes, fixes us all with a wry grimace. “I don’t know for sure what your posse is all about, but I can tell you this is weird. Not too long ago I was at this gay conference—I’m not gay, but I find those events interesting—and this old black lady walks up to me and tells me all the same things you’re telling me right now. She starts praying for me, too. And then, a few days later, this old man standing out in front of his fruit stand does the exact same thing.” Richard’s eyes grow wild. “Why do you folks all do that? Is it me? Is it something about me?”

My heart pounds with excitement. The Hound of Heaven, I think, recalling this classic poem about a man pursued by God’s relentless love. And at the same time I remember this, Cheryl’s reinforcing the concept aloud. “God loves you, Richard. He wants you to receive His love and forgiveness, to be able to forgive, to be set free. Do you think all those people He’s sending into your life are mere coincidences? Or even some of the things that have happened tonight, like the door not opening for you?”

“Or like the way you’re sitting here right now, talking to us,” Brandy puts in. “Do you know when I first saw you on the train, you were highlighted to me? You were sitting several seats back, busy talking on your phone, and it didn’t look like a good time to approach you then. So I prayed, ‘God, if You want me to talk to him, would You please have him move up here and sit across from me?’ And—only a minute after my prayer—you did!”

Richard shakes his head, continues to protest in despairing tones how he can’t forgive his “evil” ex-girlfriend. But while Henry and I engage in silent intercession, Cheryl and Brandy continue to work away at him. Like chisels chipping away at rock, like hounds of Heaven sniffing steadfastly for their quarry, they keep on speaking words of God’s great love over their Treasure. And of the freedom that comes only from forgiveness.

During the course of this spiritual battle, I notice two teenage girls glide into our car. One plunks down across from me, right next to Henry. While she laps a cherry lollipop and taps out a text, her eyes keep shifting up to regard with curiosity the exchange going on between Richard and his two pursuing “hounds.” And her friend, though also texting, watches the scene from a seat across from her.

At last, right before Richard makes his final exit—at Rowlett Station, the final exit for us all—he admits in softer tones, “I’d like to be set free.” Armed with a day pass we offer him in exchange for “making” him miss his earlier stops, he seems much more peaceful as he disembarks.

The two eavesdropping teenage girls also rise to exit. But one of them first pauses to voice aloud her curiosity. “Hey, what religion are you guys?” When Cheryl tells her then asks her the same question, she responds rather curtly, “I’m an atheist.”

While the train, its route completed, idles in its station, we continue holding Richard up to God. We pray for his freedom to forgive and be forgiven . . . and to receive ultimate Love. We also give to God the two curious teens . . . trusting He has planted seeds in them as well. And having once heard Cheryl share how she herself used to be an atheist, I find it more than coincidence that she’s the one who answered the one girl’s question.

Yes, miracles can and do occur . . . even if not always the ones I suspect. “No, Julie, Brandy and Richard did not hop off the train and then magically re-materialize in their seats.” Cheryl chuckles at my “sci-fi” imagination. “You might have had your eyes closed, interceding at the time, but they walked straight past you before they once again took their seats.”

Yet I hardly need that miracle . . . in the face of all the real ones I’ve witnessed tonight. And in the face of all God’s Treasures pursued this night by hounds of Heaven.

Including the one who was herself a hound . . . literally.

She comes loping up to us the instant we hop off at Rowlett Station. A bouncing, grinning mongrel, her scrawny neck proves collar-less and her golden coat is soaked into corn mush from the rain. Melting with compassion at first sight of the friendly stray, both Cheryl and Brandy are willing to take her home. Cheryl wins out . . . and we all cluster together to coax our lost “hound” into her car. But though willing to leap and lick our faces, the smiling creature proves strangely reluctant when pursued. Her wariness reminds me of Richard’s on the train.

At long last, though, she’s captured . . . and gently guided into the backseat of Cheryl’s car. And I’m touched by a strong sense that—just as this Prayer Warrior wraps her loving arms round this stray dog—God will wrap His loving arms round Richard and all His other straying Treasures.

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