They watch her walk to the pulpit. She has a slight limp, in contrast to her hot-pink hair. The earrings are so long they touch her shoulders, sparkling with every turn of her head.
There is something tattooed on her wrist, but her purple-tinted lips are smiling. Her eyes mirror a life lived in varied degrees.
The youth pastor doesn’t have an introduction for her.
The girls in the audience watch and wait, expectant.
It is my turn to speak today. If I can get through to them at this retreat, then this headache won’t be so bad.
Taking a deep breath, I lift my gaze to meet the eyes of my teenaged audience. The stares are deliberate, some angry, others accusing, a few bored.
My mouth opens and nothing comes out.
Help me to reach them, Father.
I cough and clear my throat to try again. “Hey. I’m here today…to tell you…a story.”
My leg throbs.
It must be raining outside.
“Excuse me.” I glide past the pulpit, sitting down on the steps that lead up to the stage. Twisting my leg to the side, the throbbing eases. “Bear with me a moment, please. I uh, sort of broke my leg in a motorcycle accident a few weeks ago. Makes it kinda hard to stand.”
Closing my eyes, I lean back against the pulpit, it is easier focus if I do not have to look at them just yet.
“There is a little girl named Anna. She has a mom, a dad and they live in an apartment. One day Anna’s mom goes to the hospital. Anna is going to get a little baby brother. She can’t wait. Night comes and no one calls. Dad comes home, but he doesn’t want to listen to her. The phone rings. He answers it. The first night he hits her. He tells her that she is useless and ugly. Her mom is dead and so is the baby. Now she understands why he is never home.”
Feeling bolder, I open my eyes.
Some of the girls seem to be listening.
“Anna’s life slips down a tube of darkness. No one is there to help her. No one seems to care. Every day is filled with pain, regret and darkness.”
A pixie-faced girl inches forward on her pew.
Our eyes meet, briefly.
“Soon, Anna’s drunk father is killed in a gang war. With no where left to go, she joins the gang. They teach her to steal and fight. She can survive on the streets in one piece, but her heart can’t. Anna is sixteen when she starts looking for love in the wrong places.”
I tell myself to keep my voice steady.
“Nothing fills her soul. Anna is always empty. One day she meets a blind youth minister. He accidentally walks through a gang argument and leaves with a broken wrist. As he stumbles toward the street, Anna begs to take him to the hospital. She signs him into the emergency room and leaves after stealing his wallet.”
There is a quiet gasp.
I ignore it.
“His name is Martin Randall. He shows up two weeks later and asks Anna for his wallet back. He gives her fifty-dollars and a standing invitation to dinner, she gives his wallet back. His house is in the nice neighborhood. Anna laughs it off.”
My foot itches.
I finger my long earrings.
“The gang is jailed shortly afterwards. Anna escapes because she is visiting the music store. She wishes there was a song to fix everything in her life. When she leaves, Martin is waiting at the bus stop on the corner. He asks her to dinner again. He promises chocolate cake. Anna is so tired of all the hurt, the lies and the running. She says yes.”
Someone hands me a box of Kleenex.
I laugh through my tears.
“Everything works out, doesn’t it?” The blonde hands me another tissue. Her mascara is running. “Right?”
“It does.” A guy answers. A red and white cane tests the stairs before he sits down beside me. “She finds a heavenly Father who fills her soul and heals her heart. She starts school and Martin teaches her to play the trumpet. She shares her story to remind us of hope.”
His hand is on my shoulder.
“My name is Martin and this is my wife, Anna.”
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