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I don’t think any of the girls slept that night. I know I didn’t. Poor Savannah—the new girl—cried ceaselessly. Everybody knew her story by now. She had to be taken away from her mother because she had been hurting Savannah under the influence.
I sighed as I stared at the bunk above me. Many of the others had a similar story. I was glad mine was not theirs. But in some ways it hurt me as well. Because I had never known abuse or neglect the rest assumed I did not understand.
Could not understand.
And they were right…mostly.
But…I figured if a person could love then she could understand at least a little bit.
And I loved these girls. I truly did. Every one of them. Even down to that mean old bully Carrie.
As her sobs continued, I finally got up and went over to Savannah’s lower bunk, sat down on the floor by her, and began to rub her back. “The world isn’t going to fall apart because you’re here, you know.” I said as softly and gently as I possibly could. “If I have learned anything, Savannah, it’s that everything will be all right in the end. No matter what happens.”
Savannah rolled halfway over after a moment. “Even if people break their promises or hurt you? Or…die?”
“Even then.” I said, nodding a bit.
She frowned, her tear streaked face unsure, doubting. “How do you know?”
“The most powerful Book in the world says so. Right in the end of it. It says everything’s going to be all right. I’ve read it, you see. I know. Just because something bad happens doesn’t mean we need to fall apart. It just means we need to cry, pray for strength, and move on. The world isn’t very forgiving, Savannah. If we fall apart, it won’t. It will just keep on going, no matter what we do.”
Savannah swallowed. “How do I…not…fall apart?”
“You read the Book. And you won’t. At least…not forever. But the Book will tell you what to do so that you’ll be all right.”
Savannah sat up and gave a great, long sigh. “Can you…tell me about it, Meredith? You seem so…so sure. Like today when everything was all a mess and the girls were crying and the maids weren’t sure what to do. And the ambulance came and the police and…and everything and everybody were so upset. Meredith…I looked at you and…you were so calm. So…so confident. I’ve never been sure of anything in my life. And I want to be.”
“The only thing to be sure of in life is Jesus, Savannah. That’s why I’m sure. Because He promised to never leave us nor forsake us. All you have to do is ask Him into your life.”
“What then?” Savannah asked.
“He’ll give you rest.” I whispered. “Rest in your soul. And He’ll fill up that place inside of you that can’t be filled. And He’ll take away your guilt. He’ll take away all the wrong things you’ve ever done in your life. And He’ll make you new. He’ll make you feel as though you can conquer the world. And do you know the thing about Him that is most amazing, Savannah?”
She shook her head , leaning closer. “We are more than conquers through Him who loved us so much that He would die for us.”
Savannah’s eyes got a little bigger in her face. “What is more than a conquer?”
I laughed a little. “Something undefined. Something amazing.” I said. “Something that makes me uniquely His. And you can be His too, Savannah. All you have to do is ask. He is the One thing you can be sure of. He will never leave you. He will never forsake you. He won’t hurt you.”
Savannah sighed again, a sound saturated in longing. “That sounds so good, Meredith. So very good. Almost too good to believe.”
“I assure you, it’s not. I’m living proof if you will believe nothing else.”
She paused, bit her lip. “Can I read your book first?”
I smiled. “Certainly. I suggest you begin in the gospel of John.”
I got up and retrieved my Bible for her before I left the room to get a drink of water.
I tip-toed toward the kitchen in my bare feet, avoiding the places that creaked. I had learned the build, layout, and sounds of the house by playing hide and seek with the little girls.
Crystal was sitting on the table when I entered the kitchen. I yawned as I opened a cabinet and grabbed a glass. I filled the glass with water from the tap and took a sip as I looked up and out the window right above the sink.
“Who will take over now that Mrs. Greyson is dead?” I said aloud. Those were the words that every girl was thinking but nobody had been brave enough to say.
Crystal’s sigh was small but significant. “Death is a strange thing. It stirs up the world. But the world never stops for it.”
“I’ve always thought…if Death cannot take something away…nobody can. What has remained in my heart and head after my parent’s death…those are the things that—I think—will live forever. Because…in the wake of Death…some things died in me. But the things that didn’t die…my faith…my love…my joy…they feel…invincible. And sometimes I’m scared because of that.”
A light from a car driving up the long drive to the orphanage caused me to turn my head. I didn’t see Crystal’s reaction to my words. Perhaps I should have.
“Ah…Meredith Windsor…the wisdom and foolishness of humans continues to confound me. You are so young…”
The person driving the car stopped it and climbed out.
“Who’s that?” I whispered. The glass trembled in my hand. I looked down at my fingers and relaxed my grip on the glass.
“Change is inevitable, Meredith.” Crystal reminded me, now standing just behind me.
My forehead corrugated. “There’s something strange about this change. I can’t quite…”
I looked out the window. The figure became a shadow as the headlights of the car went off.
I thought it was a woman.
My hand trembled as I lifted the glass to my lips and drank it as quickly as I could. Then I slammed the cup on the counter, wiping my mouth across the back of my hand.
In the still of the slumbering house, I heard the opening of the front door.
I turned around, crossed my arms, and leaned against the counter.
The woman’s shoes made soft, sharp clicks against the wood of the floor as she stepped down the hallway.
Who was she? Why was she here?
She came into the kitchen, just as I knew she would.
She gave a heavy sigh and—unexpectedly—kicked off her high heels.
I knew who she was now. I recognized her by the demon Contros breathing down her neck.
Contros saw me before she did. He leered at me.
I ignored him. Of course. I should have guessed that she would come. “Hello.” I said. Loudly.
Like I knew she would, the woman jumped about a foot off the floor.
She spit out a curse and flipped on the light. I blinked, trying to adjust as quickly as possible to the unexpected change in aperture.
When I finally raised my eyes, I found two eyes the color of the bluest ice.
Mrs. Greyson’s daughter.
Lorna. Lorna Greyson.
The woman held a hand to her chest her glare never lessening in intensity.
She really was extremely threatening. Even without the heels she was tall.
Perhaps just shy of six feet.
Certainly taller than me.
“What are you trying to do to me, girl?” she hissed.
I tilted my head, studying Contros. “Leave her alone for once.” I breathed.
“Don’t you know,” Contros said. “A demon sticks as close to his soul as an angel does.”
“What…who are you—“
“I was…testing you.” I interrupted quickly, my eyes going back to hers.
She floundered for a moment at this answer. “Testing me…” The woman finally snapped to attention. She narrowed her eyes at me. “Did I pass?”
I bit my lip. “Not really.”
She let out a short breath of disbelief and shook her head a bit. “What are you doing down here, anyway? Shouldn’t you be asleep?”
“None of the girls can sleep this night, Miss Greyson.”
Her eyes clouded over at that comment. She looked away from me and sighed. “Yes, I suppose you’re right.”
“Don’t be too hard on her, Meredith,” Crystal said, her blue eyes liquid pools as she stared at dead Mrs. Greyson’s daughter. “Lorna loved her mother.”
“Yes.” I looked at the woman, ignoring her faults for the moment. “I’m sure she did.”
“What…you’re sure…? Girl, who are you talking to?”
I smiled a little. “Sorry. Um…are you going to run the orphanage now?”
She opened and closed her mouth several times. Then she simply gave a little shrug. “Go on back to bed. I’ll answer your questions in the morning.”
I looked down at my feet before I took a step forward. As I passed her, I stopped, head bowed. “I’m sorry.” I said. “You’re mother changed many lives. And I’m sorry that…”I tilted my chin up, met her gaze—turned vulnerable with grief. “That the world won’t pause to grieve her death.”
I saw her withdrawing into herself. Becoming ice in human form. Saw the demon sucking all comfort my words may have given out of her. She looked out the window, her stature turning haughty.
“Thank you. Oh…what is your name?”
“Meredith.” I replied simply.
A little gasp escaped her lips, partly breaking her icy composure. “Meredith...Meredith Windsor?”
“The same, ma’am.”
She studied me suspiciously.
Oh, yes. My reputation. It preceded my introduction. As usual.
“Miss Greyson, I don’t know what your mother said of me. But I ask you not to judge until you have seen enough of me to judge. I know that I am unusual. But I’m not crazy.” I watched her eyes widen, her lips open but I turned and slipped away before she could say anything else.
But I did not go back to bed. I went outside, stood on the wrap-around porch that wound its way around half of the house. Slowly, my bare feet descended the steps worn smooth by a thousand other feet that had been there before. When my feet touched the cool earth it was as though energy shot up my legs, into my torso, filling up my head.
Ran up the hill, past the swing set, down the other side.
I stopped at the bank of the lake.
I sat down on a large rock nearby.
Often I did this. Often I came.
In the midst of the night.
I had cried so many tears here.
And tonight I allowed a few salty drops to release themselves from my heart.
Tears for Lorna Greyson who would not allow herself to grieve her mother as she should.
Under the influence of the very demon of control himself she would not.
And I cried for Mrs. Greyson. I did not know the state of her soul as she had never discussed it with me.
And I prayed God would comfort those left behind.
Perhaps God’s soul speaks most loudly to ours when we weep. When we sorrow.
I had discovered what sorrow was for.
It was meant to deepen the shallows of the heart. To give depth to souls that never had much of it.
If we experience sorrow and pain then we can know more fully what joy and love is.
But…the thing about sorrow was that it was our choice what we did with it.
We could allow it to embitter us so that we filled up the shallows instead of making them deeper as God intended. By doing so, we may never be hurt again. But neither would we be effective for the Kingdom of God.
Or sorrow could deepen and strengthen a soul. So much so that whatever waves came, those depths could take it.
A heart that knows sorrow knows exactly how to love more deeply.
Or close up more fully.
Once I had been bitter. But the more I prayed, the more I loved, the more I sought peace and joy through Jesus, the more my sorrow mellowed and deepened into something else.
Something not ugly and black as I had first thought.
It was as though God had thrown the stars across the dark midnight of my soul.
And when I could see again I saw all things new.
Sorrow changes things. Death changes things.
But I needed to make sure that the change was only for the better.
If I had learned anything it was that pain is never without a reason.
Pain tests the caliber of your character. Your relationship with God.
Fire makes a person draw closer to God or push Him away.
I squeezed my eyes tight before I burst from my sitting position on the rock and began to run along the lake. Right in the place where the water touched the land.
I knew who I was.
I knew what I was.
I was Meredith Windsor.
A child of the King of Kings.
And despite the pain that every death causes, I ran beneath that knowledge free, guiltless.
At last, I tripped and fell, halfway on land, halfway in the water.
I rolled over onto the land and found myself staring up at the stars.
Even though I was half-wet, even though I did not know what was to happen tomorrow, an inexpressible, unexplainable joy filled my soul to the brim.
I closed my eyes to rest in the moment. And the moment stretched for a long while.
“Meredith, I will never be able to understand a soul such as yours.”
I sat up and smiled at Crystal.
She smiled back, shook her head a little.
Then she looked out across the water, and her smile faded, but a tangible wonder lit up her face.
I followed her gaze and found a man, clothed in white, standing in the midst of the water.
He looked so familiar…”Crystal,” I whispered, not able to tear my eyes away from him. “Is that…”
Then I noticed that He was very near the dock where the orphanage’s canoes were kept.
I took off running. I leaped onto the dock, ran the length of it.
I still wasn’t close enough to touch Him, standing so far out on the water as He was.
But He was only about ten feet away.
I stepped onto the very edge of the dock, wondering if I should say something as He was turned away from me.
Then He turned toward me.
And the light of His countenance was so bright it filled up my vision. It should have overwhelmed me. But…I was able to look somehow without being blinded. But the beauty of His face, of that light…it made me want to cry for joy.
His face was full of love and compassion and mercy.
I could not breathe.
He searched my face, seemed to delve into my eyes with His own. “Ah, Meredith,” He said.
My knees trembled when He said my name. He smiled.
The nearest thing I could compare the glory of that smile to was a falling star blazing across the heavens, bestowing on man a rare glimpse of incomparable splendor.
When He spoke again I feared I might faint for the powerful love His voice held. “The time comes upon you to leave. Don’t be afraid.”
He walked toward me then, stretching out His hand.
I held out my own eagerly. I glanced down at His hand as it came nearer and nearer to mine.
The reflection of the moon shone on the water. And the light of it shone through the hole in His hand…
With a gasp I awoke, the dream saturating every sense I possessed.
I looked out toward the water and saw nothing unusual.
The sun ignited the horizon with blazing red color.
“Meredith?” I jerked my head toward Crystal. “You’re crying.” She said, her confusion guiding her face into a frown. “But these tears seem…different than any I’ve ever seen before.”
I reached up to touch the wetness, as surprised as Crystal to find them on my cheeks.
“What kind of tears are they?” I asked her.
“They are made of…joy.”
I smiled a little. “Oh. Yes…they would be, wouldn’t they?”
I stood up, brushed myself off. “I guess I should go back.” I said with a sigh. “I wonder what Miss Greyson will say to us girls?”
I turned toward the house. But, in doing so, cast one last look toward the water.
A movement of white caught my eye.
I watched as a white heron took flight, lifting himself up into the air and over my head with strong, graceful wings.
“Sometimes good things hurt because they’re so good.” I told Crystal. “But it’s a nice kind of hurt. It’s the kind I could spend eternity trying to explain.” I paused, took a step toward my destination. “But you know something, Crystal?”
“Not the something you are about to tell me.” She said, eyes a bit wider than usual as she listened to me.
“I don’t think even eternity would be enough to explain what I feel when I am close to Him.”
Crystal chuckled softly. “No. It wouldn’t be.” Was all she said.
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