Out of the Shadows

It was a rain swept day. She came to us in the shadows. Under the overpass.

Her stare pierced through Hayley’s face. She would not look at me, but I could see her, the eye surrounded by shades of green and purple, the gash above the lip. What she didn’t say spoke everything to us.

Her desperation translated to us: she needed to get away from there, out of the shadows, away from watchful eyes. 

The trust was too fragile to jump straight into the rescue mission we wanted to perform. So we took one small step: “Debbie, will you go to lunch with us?”

She said she would, but had to say goodbye to her dog, a gray mutt tethered to the tent. She petted and played with him for so long I was certain she would hide away again and we would lose the chance to take her outside of the shadows.

Somehow she made it to the car, still barely a whisper out of her mouth. We took her to a burger joint and sat outside while we ate. I asked her, “Do you have any children?”

“One son . . . today is his fifth birthday.” The joy and longing jumbled together in her voice. “I don’t have a way to call my dad to talk to him.” 

“Would you like to use my phone?” She nodded yes. After the call, as she handed me back the phone, she saw the background picture of my own little boy, and her tears started to flow. I felt the pain, the longing of her mother’s heart to just be with her baby. I reached my hand out across the table. A few seconds later, she reached her hand up and placed it in mine.

When we finally asked her if she wanted to go somewhere safe, she looked away from us and said not a word. Maybe she isn’t ready. But she has to be; she looks so desperate, so fragile.

We didn’t want to lose contact yet, so Hayley invited her to coffee, and there they spent a few hours with our friend Gayle. Together they called up shelters like The Family Place and Genesis. Genesis had a bed, but Debbie wasn’t able to finish a conversation with them on the phone before she was ready to go.

Gayle gently reminded Hayley, “She’s not ready. This is what you all do. You build trust and wait for the person to be ready.” On days like Friday, we need the truth of how we work spoken back to us. The pain in the person is so deep, the situations are life and death, and it just feels like if only we could be persuasive enough, they would come with us to get the help they need. We can visualize the better life being offered them; we see their beauty. But they are not ready.

And so we wait. And so we go back. We keep building trust. And when the day comes and that person is ready for help, we are there. Until then, we hold them in our hearts and pray fervently that God would protect them and make them ready.