As Cindy brought two cafe mochas to a few young men at a table near the door of her coffee shop, she noticed a young woman sitting in her car looking around. Cindy couldn’t see her clearly through the window realizing she needed to clean her glasses, but something in Cindy’s spirit prompted her that the young woman in the old Honda was in turmoil. Cindy returned behind the counter. She loved being behind the counter where she could greet her customers personally. Before she helped Billy, an elderly man who always came in for a black coffee to drink while he did his crossword, Cindy said a quick quiet prayer for the troubled girl sitting outside. She asked the Lord to comfort the girl and then went on to chat with Billy. Cindy knew Billy came more for friendship than he did for the coffee, so they chatted for a few minutes. Billy was just one of the many customers Cindy thought of as her special friends to pray for. She may have looked like an ordinary American working mom, but there was nothing ordinary about her prayers or the encounters happening at The Harbor. As Billy went to sit down. Cindy glanced over at the door and saw the young woman approach the door, so Cindy again asked the Lord to help the girl.
Jessica paused at the door feeling reluctant to enter. She had sat for a while in her old Honda to do the breathing exercises her therapist had shown her to reduce anxiety, but she still felt the anxiety coming over her. New places and situations could cause her to have anxiety attacks. For some reason the name of the coffee shop made her think of peaceful images. When she saw The Harbor above the door, an image flashed in her mind of a scene in a movie on the beach. She felt a little more calm for some reason, but didn’t know why. She took a breath, reached out her hand, and opened the door. First step taken she told herself which was part of her self talk to cope with her anxiety. A trivial thing to most people, but for someone struggling with anxiety, this was a huge first step. Second step, she walked through the door.
She spotted the young men drinking their cafe mochas. They smiled at her, but Jessica quickly diverted her eyes to avoid eye contact with them. Men still made her uncomfortable until she got to know them, which in itself was a struggle. She walked past some soccer moms enjoying their pumpkin spice lattes on this cool November morning and heard them talking about some kind of women’s group. When Jessica saw the four young women her age studying together, she felt a bit more at ease, yet also sadly wondered why she couldn’t have had the life they did. Then she saw a few tables of older women playing cards. Memories of her grandmother flashed through her mind. The only times she remembered feeling safe in her life were the times she was with her Nanna Deb. Even though it was a brief few seconds to walk past them, images of Nanna Deb reading with her, baking her cookies, and tucking in her, flashed across Jessica’s mind. Seeing the older women calmed Jessica’s nerves a bit.
Then a display at the front of The Harbor caught her attention. She could see Love Justice shirts for sale along with handmade bags, bracelets among other items. The name Love Justice peaked her curiosity, so she quickly googled Love Justice on her phone and discovered it is a ministry that helps rescue children and women from sex trafficking. Her reaction was a mixture of relief for the ones Love Justice helps and regret for herself. She couldn’t help but feel the regret or the thought that surged up in her spirit, “I wish someone had loved justice for me.”
Jessica made her way to the counter where Cindy was waiting for the petite young woman. Jessica was all of five feet two, three if she wore heels, and barely tipped the scales at 110 pounds. Jessica’s small size only seemed to reinforce her feelings of powerlessness. Jessica got to the front of the line to order, but she didn’t make eye contact with Cindy who was waiting with a smile to welcome her. Eye contact wasn’t easy for one life had beaten down.
Cindy asked her, “What can I get for you?”
Jessica meekly replied, “I just want a cup of coffee.”
“Sure, is this your first time here?” Cindy inquired.
Jessica still couldn’t make eye contact, but quietly nodded yes.
“Welcome to The Harbor. My name is Cindy. I am the owner. If you need anything, just let me know.” Cindy was trying to reassure the fragile soul in front of her.
That brief interaction prompted feelings in Cindy. Her maternal instincts were kicking in for the poor child in front of her. At least that was the natural reaction for Cindy having children of her own, a few not much younger than Jessica. Jessica being twenty-one was no child, yet Cindy’s motherly instincts were in full gear. Cindy gently smiled and handed her a mug. “Here’s a mug for you. You can help yourself at that counter. I am glad you came in.”
Jessica muttered a soft thank you and went to fill her cup. Jessica walked away and Cindy again prayed for God to comfort the wounded soul she had just met along with one more request that Jessica would stay long enough for the slower time of the afternoon, so Cindy could talk with her.
Jessica filled her mug with some Guatemalan Dark Roast and stirred in two sugars to have something a little sweet. She would have liked one of the specialty drinks like some kind of a frappe, but starting life over in witness protection meant watching every penny. As she stirred the sugars into her coffee, she wondered if someday she would have a normal life whatever that is. She reminded herself that no one knew her in this new city for her, Lincoln Nebraska of all places. She had never heard of it before being rescued. Her contact person, Julia with the Justice Department, was friendly enough, but she longed for some real friends, but who could she trust. That was the issue pressing on her mind.
She looked over at the older women and noticed some big cushy chairs near them. The thought of sitting near some Nannas made her feel better, so she went to sit in one of the cushy black vinyl chairs. Jessica was small enough to sink into the chair with her feet in the chair and feel engulfed almost as if she disappeared from sight so no one would notice her. She got on youtube again to listen to that song she had stumbled upon a few days ago. She was trying to understand how the lyrics could be true, so this was perhaps the hundredth time she had listened to it in the past few days. The song was I Am No Victim by Kristene Dimarco. Jessica was trying to figure out how lines like ‘I am what he says I am’ could be true and what they meant. She had figured out Kristene Dimarco was a Christian singer, but Jessica’s only experience with a church was the one in her hometown that seemed harsh to her. Jessica softly whispered what she would learn later was the first prayer in her life. She whispered, “God if you are real, I need someone to explain this to me. How can I not be a victim?. My father abused me, the guy I thought would be my boyfriend after I ran away was even worse. How can I not be a victim?”
Jessica was listening to the song and looking down at her cup of coffee hoping Cindy wouldn’t come over from the tables she was clearing, so she hadn’t noticed the very Mediterranean looking woman who had walked over to the set of cushy chairs. When the woman asked Jessica if she could sit in one of the chairs, Jessica was startled at first and almost spilled her coffee. The woman apologized for surprising her, but when Jessica looked into the woman’s soft brown eyes, a feeling of peace came over her, so Jessica reassured the woman it was okay to join her. The woman sat down and smiled at Jessica. Jessica was trying to figure out why the woman made her feel calm and not anxious. She looked at the woman’s long dark curly hair, her olive complexion, but mostly it was the softness in the woman’s brown eyes that caught Jessica’s attention. The woman’s eyes were full of gentleness and understanding almost as if they were saying “tell me everything”.
Jessica noticed the anxiety she felt before coming in and the almost panic she felt when she saw the young men had faded. She no longer had the feeling of the world collapsing in upon her from all directions. She could breathe easily without that feeling of a weight bearing down on her chest. The rest of the coffee shop seemed to fade away as she looked at the woman who had just joined her.
The woman reached out her hand to introduce herself, “Hi, I am Mary.”
Jessica without thinking shook hands with Mary actually making eye contact and replied, “Hi Mary. I’m Jessica.” Then Jessica wondered to herself why she felt so free to talk with someone she didn’t know.
Mary held Jessica’s hand for a moment, looked into Jessica’s eyes, and shared, “Jessica, it is a privilege to meet you. I have a feeling we were supposed to meet today. What song are you listening to?”
Jessica opened up a bit more and let Mary know she was listening to I Am No Victim, but she added, “I don’t understand how I could ever say that.”
Mary put her cup of peppermint tea down and looked into Jessica’s eyes. Jessica was only twenty-one, but her eyes had a sullen look in them, the look of a person who feels no hope. Mary softly shared, “I understand how you feel.”
That response caught Jessica off guard. Here was a beautiful mature woman telling her she understood how she feels. How could this woman understand how Jessica felt? How could anyone understand? Jessica blurted out, “I don’t think anyone can understand how I feel.”
Mary stayed calm and gently replied, “My story might surprise you. Maybe we should start there. You don’t have to tell me anything that you don’t want to. You are safe here Jessica. How about I share my story with you. Would that be okay?”
Jessica nodded yes, but asked Mary, “Can I ask where you are from? You seem to have a bit of an accent.”
Mary laughed a bit and said, “Sure. I am from Israel originally, but now I reside elsewhere, far from here or Israel. I just popped in for a visit today.”
Jessica simply muttered an “Oh” while wondering what far from here meant.
Mary continued, “Jessica when I was young some things happened to me. Things no girl or young woman would want to have happen to them. Sometimes children are abused by their parents or others.. Sometimes there are things that happen that affect us too deeply and leave a wound. Abuse can be in many forms. I won’t go into too many details about what happened to me, but believe me when I say I understand how you feel. I know that knot in the stomach feeling of overwhelming anxiety. I know what it is to feel like an outcast with no hope wishing someone would love justice for me.”
Jessica’s sullen blue eyes began to water while at the same time she wondered how it was that Mary could be saying exactly what Jessica had mumbled to herself moments before about wishing someone would have loved justice for her. She knew Mary wasn’t in the coffee shop at the time because Jessica had learned to know her surroundings as a matter of survival.
Mary continued, “Jessica look in google for bible gateway.”
Jessica typed into search bible gateway wondering why she so easily followed Mary’s instructions.
Mary guided Jessica through using bible gateway and helped her find the passage in the bible that introduces Mary Magdalene as a woman Jesus had healed of seven demons.
Jessica glanced at Mary with a puzzled look and thought to herself it was crazy time.
Mary knew what must be going through Jessica’s mind and reassured Jessica with, “I know this must seem like crazy time to you, but please hear me out.”
Jessica wondered how it was that Mary again had spoken words that Jessica had not spoken to her, and yet Jessica wasn’t freaked out. For some reason, she felt compelled to listen.
Mary continued, “I know this will sound crazy to you, my name is Mary, but my whole name is Mary Magdalene and I have been sent her to talk with you today Jessica.”
Jessica was now transfixed in the moment. She was unaware of anyone or anything around her. Her full attention was on Mary. If was as if the whole world was only those chairs and the two women.
Mary went on, “No little girl has dreams of becoming an outcast with seven demons. Things happen and then we make wrong choices and we end up trapped in a situation we have no control over. When I was an outcast, I had no hope of ever being anything more, but then one day a man named Jesus came along. He rescued me. There was something about him that made me realize he would be the first man I could ever trust, but he didn’t stop there. Many times in the bible you see my name with the name of his mother Mary. Jesus welcomed me into his group, part of his family if you will. He was so gentle and kind. He never embarrassed me by telling my hurtful secret memories even though he knew them. He was my big brother, best friend, rescuer, and teacher all rolled into one.”
Jessica gulped a bit trying to take it all in and softly and shyly asked Mary, “Do you think he wants to become those things for me?”
Mary quickly replied, “I don’t just think, I know for sure he will. But that is not all of the story. I was with the group that followed him and I felt like finally I had a life when the unthinkable happened. The man who healed people, forgave people, and encouraged the broken-hearted, was arrested on phony charges. He was taken away to be tried, beaten and then was killed by crucifixion. I was devastated. It seemed like my whole world was coming to an end. I didn’t want to end up an outcast again. I saw him suffer terribly. I was there at the cross when he died”
Mary’s story touched Jessica to the point tears were running down her face. Jessica expressed resignation by telling Mary, “That is my life. Every time it seemed like something might help me, it was jerked away. Like I was never given a chance.”
Mary reached out, took Jessica’s hand, looked in her eyes, and gently replied, “But my story is not over yet dear. You see Jesus died on a Friday before sundown. At that time days were marked as sundown to sundown. On Sunday morning, the third day , I went to the tomb of Jesus. I know that a huge stone was rolled in front of it. It was also guarded by soldiers. But when I got there, the stone had been rolled away. The body of Jesus was gone and two men dressed in white asked me why I was looking for the living among the dead. I didn’t understand what they were talking about. I hadn’t slept much in days and my emotions were all over the place. Then a man I mistook for a gardener, because my eyes were so filled with tears that I could see straight, asked why I was crying and who I was looking for. I was blubbering and cried out they have taken my Lord away. Then Jesus said my name. That was all it took. He said one word, my name, Mary. I realized Jesus had defeated death just as he had promised he would.”
Jessica could only look at Mary with her mouth open and her eyes full of astonishment during this part of Mary’s story. She finally spoke up, “Wow. That is just so. I don’t know how to say it. But wow. But what does that have to do with me and this song I can’t stop listening to?”
Mary leaned back in her chair and smiled. She knew Jessica was close now, so she went on with her story and why she was sharing, “It was that morning that I really began to understand just what it meant that Jesus is my rescuer, or should I say Savior. You see Jessica, it was that morning I began to understand that Jesus wants to heal us spiritually, emotionally and psychologically, and also forgive us of our sins, the things we do that are wrong.” She took both of Jessica’s hands with love and gentleness flowing from her eyes and continued, “Jessica, Jesus wants to heal you spiritually and emotionally. He wants to forgive you for what you have done wrong and also to heal you from what others have done to you. The song you have been drawn to has that message. Basically, it means that even though we were victims in the past, we are no longer victims when we come to know Jesus. He will empower us beyond being victims, so the past has no power over us anymore. He wants to do that for you Jessica. He wants you to be his daughter. Look dear, my time is about up and I do need to return to my heavenly home, but I think someone else wants to meet you. Someone who can help you with your questions and with knowing more about Jesus. Someone who is about to become one of the best friends you could ever have. Bye for now sweetie. I know we will meet again.”
Mary got up and headed out but for some reason the door never opened. She just kind of vanished before Jessica’s eyes. Jessica sat there stunned and had her answer about what the song could mean for her. She began to feel a glimmer of hope for the first time in her life. She had begun to wonder how she could make sense of it all when she heard another woman speak to her. “Hi again. I am Cindy. Do you mind if I join you for a while?”
Jessica, still mesmerized by what had just transpired, looked up at Cindy and noticed she had soft brown eyes like Mary did but much shorter hair, looked at the door and then looked at Cindy again and nodded yes. Jessica felt she could ask Cindy a few things but stumbled a bit at first due to still being stunned by her encounter with Mary. She started off, “Sure. You know. I am. I don’t know. You see. Uhm. Do you know Jesus? Can you tell me more?”