Ever had a close call – the scary kind?
I have. The time when two men followed me around Wal-Mart and then out to my car.
On Father’s Day, 2016, my family and I had stopped to pick up a few groceries after church to make a scrumptious celebratory feast. I flew through the produce section, grabbing a watermelon and onions, unaware until I reached the back of the store that I was being watched.
I passed the children’s clothing section and noticed two tall European-looking men sporting casual business attire eyeing me. They carried no basket and pushed no cart as they huddled along the edge of the aisle, one fingering a rack of dresses, the other boldly staring, his hands in his pockets.
Odd, I remember thinking, what are two businessmen doing in a closed toddler girls’ department? (We live in a county that only allows pharmacy and grocery purchases on Sundays.) I thought it strange, shrugged, and moved on.
I had a feast to prepare.
Shifting my focus to the five-item list, I grabbed a pint of cream, a gallon of milk, and a box of butter and then scurried to the cashier to make the purchase. Within minutes, I realized that the unnerving pair had parked themselves at the store exit.
No bags in hand.
I gulped. There I was in my mom-dress, trying to play it cool.
Is this all in my head?
I completed my transaction and walked slowly toward the door, questioning whether-or-not the fiction-writer in me was having a heyday. As I approached, I found no trace of the pair. I exhaled loudly, allowing myself a small smile, chastising myself for getting all worked up.
Beth, Beth – you silly goose.
My husband, Christian, had parked close to the door, so I headed to the car. Even before I reached it, I could tell he was yapping on the phone with his dad, wishing him a Happy Father’s Day, no doubt, as the kids bounced around in the backseat. I whisked open the trunk and unloaded the bags. As I reached back for the last item, I gasped.
One of the men stood there smiling wide, holding my watermelon.
My heart stopped. Not in a good way.
Pretending to be helpful, he moved close to me, passing the watermelon in front of my face and into the trunk a little too slowly. I felt another person move directly behind me, and as I tried to turn around, I realized I couldn’t.
He was that close.
I froze. It took me a moment to process that this was actually happening. Shock overtook me like quicksand a gazelle, and I found myself engulfed in a quagmire of danger. Fear threatened to immobilize my ability to escape, and my would-be captors capitalized on my hesitation, gaining great and strategic position.
Flight-or-fight kicked into high gear and ushered in a growling Mama Bear Morgan. Just as I was about to unload every jiu-jitsu takedown I’d practiced with my kids, the watermelon dropped into my car with a thud. My eyes whipped to the carrier’s face, now covered in terror, his eyes riveted on one thing.
Christian staring at him in the rearview mirror.
And then they were gone. Just like that. Vanished into thin air.
I slipped into the car, not quite right. Music swirled around me as the kids sang along, clapping and nodding their heads to the beat. Christian, oblivious to the danger lurking outside, ended his happy chat with Dad and then smiled at me.
“That was nice of that guy to help you with the watermelon.”
After I told him what happened, he made a U-turn to go back to Wal-Mart, hunt them down, and clean their clocks.
That’s MY man, ya’ll.
It being Father’s Day and with a carful of hungry kids, we settled for calling Wal-Mart security. They handled my call well, stepped up parking lot patrols, and reported it to the local authorities.
The incident shook me more than I would have expected. It also made me realize the value of being prepared for such a time as that. We just never know.
I detailed the incident to Professor Wil Horneff of Training Grounds Jiu-Jitsu and MMA in Westwood, NJ, ending my account with, “Maybe the guys were just trying to be nice, and I misread them. Maybe they just like watermelon.”
Wil shook his head. “No. They had a plan.”
We’d met Wil during a time of great instability in our lives. Our family had just survived several life storms, moved to New Jersey, and wrestled with how to return to normal life while daily grappling with intense post-traumatic stress. At one point, we had huge concerns for our son as he seemed unreachable, unable to focus, and unaware of the depth of his need for help.
Our pastor recommended we try jiu-jitsu at Training Grounds.
From day one, we were grateful. Master Wil took John under his wing, and within three months, John became Student of the Month. Abby and Hannah sat on the sidelines watching John’s classes. Soon, they asked to join the ranks, and now, all three of our kids have gained a solid foundation in self-defense through the extraordinary programs at Training Grounds.
Master Wil is fantastic, an award-winning black belt as well as a gifted teacher and communicator. My kids love him. All the kids love him. He’s like the Pied Piper.
Adults, too. Law enforcement, military, active adults wanting to stay in tip-top shape. Wil just has a way with people. Tough skin, warm heart, great teacher.
Master Wil knows what it’s like to be bullied. He knows what it takes to stand up and face anyone with confidence, not looking for a fight but ready to face whatever comes his way. Everyone in class benefits from his years of experience as he pours not only skill training and technique but also wisdom and character into his students with the intent of preventing problems before they escalate.
He strives for excellence in every aspect of his organization. Wil’s wife, Alisha Horneff, not only does a fabulous job running the office, but she also helps train the female students in the adult classes. The other Training Grounds staff members are top-notch, too, working together to ensure all who enter receive the best possible experience.
Hats off to you, Wil, for leading by example. Thank you for sowing not only valuable skills but also excellent character into the lives of our kids. Thank you for inadvertently teaching me what I needed to know if things had gone differently that day back in June.
You and the entire Training Grounds staff are a blessing to many. I thank God for you and pray He continues to use you in powerful ways to train up warriors to fight the good fight.
To the end.