Dark eyes hid behind shaggy bangs, watching for danger—real or imagined—for one never knew for sure which was which when one lived on the streets. It was on these cold, black nights that Sam found herself reevaluating her choice to run away from home. Home. That was a shifty memory, sometimes a happy place where a little girl laughed and played and, alternately, the nightmare that could not be endured for one more minute. Sam had no desire to go back. She only allowed her mind to return to that awful place for as long as it took to convince herself she was better off sleeping in an abandoned warehouse than to let that monster hurt her again.
Sam slipped into the building and found her corner. After sweeping it free from potential spiders, she created a pillow using her shoes. In the beginning she felt safer leaving her shoes on, but now she preferred to give her feet a breather and her head a cushion. She settled into the one position that didn’t leave her bruised from the unyielding concrete floor beneath her and wrapped herself as best she could with her jacket. The sound of her wheezing breaths somehow comforted her, drowning out the sounds of the night and the loneliness, until sleep prevailed.
When Melanie accepted the position at the Rescue Center for Runaways she knew God had called her to this work and trusted Him through the challenges. Hadn’t He taken her through the worst of the worst already? She knew better than most what these kids needed and she was now equipped and prepared to provide it. She came downtown this morning to do a sweep of the empty warehouse where the younger ones often took shelter.
She didn’t want to startle anyone but she didn’t want to stomp in like a bull either. Street kids were likely to run if they sensed danger. As Melanie moved gingerly through the building she spotted a dark figure cocooned in a corner and felt her heart wrench. As she moved closer she could see that the figure was a girl, maybe 15 or 16. There was typically only one reason a girl that age would be living on the streets instead of at home—sometimes the monsters were not under the bed.
“Wake up, honey. I’m here to help you.”
“What the…,” Sam was disoriented by the soft voice. She scrambled to her feet and backed against the cold wall.
“Don’t be frightened. I’m not going to hurt you. I’m here to help you.”
“I don’t need your help!” Sam didn’t understand who this lady was but she wasn’t about to let some social worker send her back to the monster.
“My name is Melanie. What’s yours?” She kept her distance for the child’s sake, but she ached to hold her.
“It’s nice to meet you, Sam. Is that short for Samantha?”
“What’s it to you?”
“I used to go by Mel,” she laughed, ignoring the hostility, “Are you hungry?”
“I can take care of myself.”
“I know. I just thought you might like to join me for breakfast today. I know a great place to get pancakes.”
“I guess. Hey, is this a trick? You can’t make me go back!”
“That’s not what I’m here for, honey.”
Back at the Center Sam indulged in pancakes and cold milk until she thought they might come back up. She surveyed her surroundings and wondered what else she might be able to take advantage of in this big house.
“I want you to stay with us, Samantha,” Melanie said. “Many girls go in and out of here, but God is telling me that you are to stay. There’s a small room next to mine for you. We can take care of you here—feed you and clothe you. But more importantly, we can protect you. You can even finish high school. Please stay tonight and you can make your decision in the morning. Follow me, I’ll show you your room.”
Samantha sat down on the shabby quilt that covered the simple mattress and thought that it was the softest thing she had ever felt. Melanie looked into the girl’s eyes and saw shadows of herself—before the healing.
“Can I pray for you?” Melanie knew just how to pray. Not so many years ago someone had prayed for her on this very bed.
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