Friends Struggling with PTSD Meet the Man Who Carried the Cross of Jesus.

Friday afternoons were the time a few people struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder would stop in for coffee after their support group. This afternoon only Megan and Billy had time for a cup after their group. Megan suffered from flashbacks from her time in the war which at times caused her to have debilitating anxiety attacks. Billy was trying to emotionally recover from the terrible car accident his wife of thirty years died in when they were hit by a drunk driver. Billy being a retired teacher in his sixties was kind of a father figure for Megan, so they often had coffee after the group. Megan enjoyed playfully helping Billy get the hang of social media, and for Billy, well it was time away from the loneliness of an empty home. The Harbor had become Billy’s home away from home even though he had not shared much with the people working there. He usually would stop by in the mornings to do his crossword puzzle while enjoying a cup of coffee, so he was one of the regular gang, so much so, that everyone knew what he would order before he spoke. Megan loved to tease Billy about trying something different.

“Maybe next time you can try a mocha,” teased Megan.

“No, no, just a cup of joe is all I need.” Billy quickly asserted.

“How about a frappe?” Megan smiled as she was having a little fun with her friend.

“If God wanted us to have those fancy things, coffee beans would have grown flavored.” Billy retorted with an impish grin.

“Billy, I really appreciate you joining me after group on Fridays. I don’t know if I will ever get control of my anxiety, but the group helps me a lot.” Megan confided partly to share her heart and partly to encourage her friend. She knew Billy felt so alone since his wife died.

“Well anything to help a vet even if she is pushy about me changing my beverage of choice,” Billy replied in his usual playful banter. Megan liked the way the the old Irishman would joke with her.

“But seriously Megan, please don’t stop the group. I hope you can heal up from the anxiety. I just wish there was more I could do.” Billy tried to comfort the young woman he had grown to think of as a daughter.

“There is healing available,” interrupted the man sitting beside them.

Surprised, they turned to look at the man who seemed to rudely interrupt their personal time.

“Hey now, who are you?” Billy promptly responded. The protective papa bear was coming out of him.

The man sought to reassure them, “Let’s just say I am a person who once witnessed one of the most gruesome violent acts but that act led to my healing in all ways and I would love to share a little with you about it”

Megan jumped in, “Let’s start with who are you, what is your name and why are you imposing?”

The man apologized, “I am sorry. I don’t mean to cause any distress. My name is Simon. I originally came from a place called Cyrene. I am only visiting here for a brief time this afternoon and actually God sent me here to talk with the two of you, Billy and Megan.”

Startled, Billy inquired, “How do you know us? Were you at the hospital when we left the group? Have you been eavesdropping?’

“Oh my, no. My name is Simon. I just sat down, but I do know a little about both of you. Megan you are having troubles with post-traumatic stress from being in the war. Billy for you it is from being in the car accident your wife died in. I too once witnessed a terrible ordeal.” Simon reassured.

“Who told you all these things about us?” Billy insisted.

“As I told you, God sent me here to talk with you. Could I share a little about what I watched happen to an innocent man?” Simon asked.

Intrigued, Megan agreed. Billy did too but he was wary of the stranger.

Simon continued, “I left my home in Cyrene with my two sons Rufus and Alexander to go to Jerusalem for the Passover. That was the most important religious observance for Jews and being a Jew, I wanted my sons to experience one Passover in Jerusalem. We traveled with a caravan and I felt safe knowing Roman soldiers patrolled the roads. Then we arrived in Jerusalem and got a room. The next day we went out to get some food, but people were lined up in the streets shouting and shaking their fists in the air. I was concerned for the safety of my sons, so we got close to some Roman soldiers thinking we would be safe.”

Billy was growing impatient, “Nice little story, but what does that have to do with us?”

Simon calmly replied, “I understand. Let me get to that. The reason for the almost riot was a man was carrying a cross down the road for his own crucifixion. That was how Romans executed people. The man stumbled. The Roman soldiers all of the sudden grabbed me and ordered me to carry his cross. I heard his name yelled out, ‘Jesus’. I was shocked. I had heard about a Jesus who healed people and did miracles even back in Cyrene. So there I was carrying the cross of an innocent man, not able to understand why he was on his way to his death. The cross was heavy, so I was surprised he could have even carried it that far. He had been beaten badly. I was forced to carry his cross all the way to a place called Golgatha where prisoners were crucified. I stood there frozen in a dazed stunned fog. I couldn’t move. I was numb. I watched as the soldiers nailed him to the cross and then hoisted him up. It was the most horrific scene I ever observed.”

“So you are saying you saw Jesus killed? You were there?” Megan asked hesitatingly.

Simon wasn’t upset, “I realize this is hard to believe, but how else would I have known about you unless God had told me?”

Billy wanted to get to the point and let Simon know it.

“I think the main point is that I understand trauma whether it be experiencing it first hand or watching someone else go through it. That night after Jesus died, I couldn’t sleep. Images of Jesus and his beaten body hanging on the cross kept flashing through my mind. It was the longest night of my life. When sunrise came, I did the best I could to put the events out of my mind and focus on my sons, but emotionally I was still there at the cross and my heart was pounding in my chest,” Simon sought to share why he understood.

Megan was moved, fought back a tear, and asked, “So how did you get over that? What does all of that mean to us?”

Simon realized the moment was right, “What I was forced to do and what I saw done to Jesus was brutal to say the least, but my story doesn’t end there. I stayed in Jerusalem for a while because the journey was long back in those days. I needed to try to recover. I ran into some of his followers in the days after and they recognized me. They expressed their concern for me and wanted to know if I was okay. I heard rumors that Jesus was alive again, but that was unbelievable for me. Then one day some of his followers invited me and my sons to a gathering of about 500 people. While we were together, Jesus suddenly appeared. He was there. He was alive again. I realized that he was truly the one and only Son of God. I came to trust in him and when I did, I felt a rush of healing emotionally.”

Billy was close to bursting when he exclaimed, “So don’t leave us hanging. How does that apply to us?”

Simon gently looked at them and answered, “For anyone who receives Jesus, who trusts in him, Jesus will come into their lives. Jesus promised that anyone who believes in him that he and The Father will come live with them. We are also promised that anyone who believes in Jesus receives a spirit of adoption to be children of God and not slaves of fear. For some the inner healing happens quickly. For some it is step by step, but we can know he is always with us. There is healing in his name for our emotions and for our minds. That can be a process, but he will stay with us each and every step of the way. We can know that we will never be alone.”

Tears were running down Megan’s face as she asked Simon, “Does Jesus want to do that for me? I need help so badly. I need peace.”

Simon reassured her, “Yes, he wants to do that for you and he can give you peace for your soul.”

Billy ever the skeptic asserted, “I am almost there, but I am not sure about all of this.”

Simon smiled as he replied, “Yes, Billy, I was told you would need more. You will have another visitor in the future. Your life isn’t over. You still have things to do here”

Billy sighed, “oh great, another visitor.”

Megan laughed a little, “Papa bear, I think it will do you some good.”

Simon politely thanked them, “I appreciate you listening and letting me share about my experience. It is time for me to go. God Bless.”

With that Simon was gone. Megan looked at Billy and for the first time seemed lighter in her spirit, “You know Papa bear, I think it was supposed to be just us having coffee after group today. I feel like God might help me after all.”

Written by Matthew Kohrell

Note from the author- Thank you for reading my stories. If you have a person from the bible you want to see incorporated into a story or a story idea, let me know by sending me a comment.

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God Bless

Fatima Meets The Woman From The Well

Our eyes can be windows into our inner selves even if we try to hide what is going on in our secret inner world. Such was true for Fatima as she went through her every day life trying to conceal the pain she carried with her; pain from having been rejected by her husband and left to be a single mom, pain of being left by another man who claimed to love her,  pain of having to flee her homeland in the Middle East because of violence, and the pain of seeking to make a new life for her and her children in her new country the U.S. with all of the ups and downs. It seemed like mostly downs for her. Sure she would smile, but her smile was an outward mask to prevent others from seeing how vulnerable she felt.

Fatima stopped in at The Harbor for an espresso one day after dropping her kids off at school. As she approached the counter to order her espresso, she avoided eye contact with those sitting at the tables. She looked down at the floor as she walked to the counter and when she was finally first in line, Jessica smiled and let her know, “I will be right with you after I finish this latte.” Feeling shy about speaking English, Fatima forced a smile and nodded averting her eyes in hopes Jessica wouldn’t notice her. Jessica having survived ordeals herself, picked up on Fatima’s forced smile and knew something was wrong. There is a kind of intuition survivors have when it comes to recognizing others who have suffered.

Fatima got to the counter and Jessica asked what she could get her. Fatima avoided eye contact and quietly answered, “I only want an espresso.” Espresso reminded her of the good times in her life when she would drink an espresso with her parents even though the memories were of a distant time and place. Espresso was one of the few times she could feel connected to that far away land and memory.  While Fatima was lost in her thoughts about her parents, Jessica made her espresso. Then came the innocent intrusion on Fatima’s brief mental escape, Jessica returned with the espresso and asked, “Is there anything else you need?”

Fatima shook her head no and softly replied, “No Thank you.”

Jessica noticed Fatima’s accent and it reminded of the accent Mary Magdalene had when Jessica had her encounter  with Mary, so Jessica gently inquired, “Where are you from? You have a beautiful accent. It reminds me of a woman I met a while back.”

Trust is an issue for survivors and being a refugee only heightened that issue of wondering who she could trust. Fatima simply replied, “I am from the Middle East.” Then without saying another word, she went to a table in the corner of The Harbor Coffee Shop to be out of the way and unnoticed. Her desire was to have a brief respite from her struggles by mentally disappearing into her past before life fell apart.

Jessica sensed something was troubling Fatima, so she asked Ashley to cover the counter for a minute. Jessica quickly found Cindy in the back. Cindy had gotten to know Jessica quite well and could tell there was something pressing Jessica needed to ask. “What is it sweetie?” Cindy asked while reassuring Jessica with a pat on the shoulder. “There is a woman I think we need to pray for. She is sitting by herself and I am sure something is wrong,” Jessica confided. They joined hands and prayed for the welcome stranger.

Fatima was lost in her thoughts when another woman approached her and asked if she could sit with her, “Do you mind if I join you? All the tables are full.” Startled, Fatima looked up to see a woman who looked like she could of come from the same area of the world and also had an accent similar to hers. Fatima hesitated at first, but after looking around and realizing all the tables were full nodded yes and held her hand out to the empty chair at the table to motion for the stranger to have a seat.

Fatima surprised herself by talking with this woman. Feeling free to strike up a conversation was not something a survivor often experiences. Fatima asked the woman where she was from and the woman informed her, “I am from a place called Samaria.”

“Samaria?” Fatima pondered and then inquired further in her broken English, “I not know where Samaria is..”

“Oh, I understand. Samaria is not very well known, and least these days. It is in the part of the world around Israel,” the woman explained.

“So you are Jew?” Fatima asked.

The woman replied, “I used to be a kind of mix of Jewish and other things, but that wasn’t very acceptable in those days. By the way, you can call me Salome. What is your name?”

“My name is Fatima. What do you mean used to be?” Fatima asked.

“One day I met a man who changed my world, my life.” Salome explained.

“Men. I not like men. They only hurt.” Fatima looked down as she reacted to images flooding in her mind of her ex-husband, the boyfriend after him, and the thugs that attacked her village.

“Believe me, I understand. But this man is one we can all trust.” Salome confided.

Fatima was curious now “How do you know we can trust this man?”

Salome could see the moment was right so she went with it, “One day, many years ago, I went to the well. We used to get our water from a well back then. As I approached the well, I saw a man sitting by the well. I was surprised that he was sitting there because at in those days Jewish people would not come through my area of Samaria. They thought it would make them unclean, so they would walk around our whole area, But there he was just sitting there. I went up to the well to draw some water and then he spoke to me. I was startled because he was obviously a rabbi, a teacher, of some kind and he was speaking to me, a Samaritan woman. He asked me for a drink of water.”

Fatima interrupted, “Were you scared? Did you give him water?”

Salome smiled and continued with her story, “We never got to that. I was surprised he would ask me for a drink and told him so. I asked why he was even talking to me. He answered in what seemed a strange way. He told me that if I knew who he was that I would ask and he would give me living water so I would never thirst. I asked him to give me some of his living water but again he responded in a peculiar way that really got my attention. He told me to go get my husband.”

“That is men, only respect men.” Fatima interjected.

Salome wasn’t disturbed because she knew Fatima was following her story. “Actually, he was getting my attention. It didn’t feel like he was judging me. It felt more like like he had something important he wanted to share with me. I told him I didn’t have a husband and he proceeded to let me know that he knew I had been married five times and the man I was with was not my husband. He had my full attention at that point. I talked about  the Messiah, the promised one from God because I was wondering if he was the Messiah. He told me he was the Messiah. With that I ran to my village and told the people. We all came back to listen to him.”

“Did he ever give you living water?” Fatima wanted to know.

“Yes, he did, but it wasn’t physical water. He was talking about the Holy Spirit. God gives the Holy Spirit to all who believe in the man I met at the well.” Salome explained.

“Who is this man? Can I meet him? Can I have this living water?” Fatima asked abruptly.

“Yes you can. Anyone can meet him and he will give this living water to anyone who trusts in him. His name is Jesus.” Salome shared.

Fatima looked down at her espresso thoughts swirling around in her mind and then looked back up and into Salome’s eyes. “I think I need learn more about this Jesus.”

Salome touched Fatima’s hand to reassure her sharing, “My time here is about up. I need to go back to heaven now. God wanted me to come talk with you. But don’t worry. A woman named Cindy is going to come over here as soon as I leave. She will share a lot more about Jesus with you. We will meet again someday. If you ever want to read about me, you can read in the Book of John Chapter 4 in the bible. Bye for now my friend.” Salome was gone and Fatima sat there dazed by her chance meeting trying to take it all in.

Cindy came over to greet Fatima, “Hi, my name is Cindy. Welcome to my coffee shop.”

Fatima perked up, “Hi, my name is Fatima. I talked with a woman, Salome. She tell me to talk with you. Can you talk to me about Jesus?

Cindy sat down smiling, “Of course. I would love to talk”


Discouraged guy finds new hope at The Harbor over coffee, Brian meets John Mark.

Waking up in the morning to only dread the day ahead had become commonplace in Brian’s life. It felt like life was one endless series of tries and failures in his career. There was the time he tried Real Estate only to find he didn’t really have the heart for sales and trying to persuade people to buy. He was a self-admitted flop when he tried to start his own organic lawn care company. Each endeavor was part of his search to find a way to support his wife and two year old daughter while also pursuing his life’s passion of music. For any creative personality, when everyday life isn’t going well, creativity can wane. The worship pastor, Pastor Steve, at his church wanted Brian to be part of the worship team, but depression over feeling like a failure caused him to say no and avoid the worship pastor. Even church life was something Brian was starting to feel reluctant about. Brian eventually got out of bed to make breakfast for him and his wife Maria. During breakfast, he did his best to hide his depression from Maria. However, Maria being quite perceptive knew her husband was troubled about things.

After breakfast, Brian kissed Maria and their little girl Rachael goodbye, got in his twelve year old Toyota, and drove to meet his friend Larry at The Harbor for coffee. Maria was not going to surrender the husband she loves so deeply to the darkness coming over him, so she sought out the one person she knew could help Brian. She went to Jesus in prayer, and pray she did, for an hour.

No sooner had Brian pulled into the parking lot, he had a text alert on his cell phone. He parked his car, checked the text and saw that Larry had sent him a text saying something came up at the last minute and had to cancel their coffee appointment. “What else can go wrong?” Brian thought to himself. He got out of his car and headed to the door of The Harbor anyway.

Jessica was working that morning. Her life had blossomed since her encounter with Mary Magdalene thanks to her new friend and boss Cindy and the people she had met at church. Jessica had watched Cindy on many occasions whisper a quiet prayer for customers as they entered The Harbor, something Jessica had started to do herself. Jessica watched as Brian came in with his head down obviously in a fog emotionally. She whispered a quick prayer for the man approaching the counter.

Brian got to the counter and mustered a slight smile as Jessica greeted him with a bright one of her own saying, “Good Morning. Welcome to the Harbor. What would you like to have?”

Brian was trying to count the quarters in his pocket while putting his keys in his pocket without being conspicuous about it. He figured he had enough for a cup of coffee, so he replied, “Just a cup of coffee today.”

“Sure, here’s a mug for you. The coffee is right over there.” Jessica tried to be cheerful for the despondent soul in front of her.

Brian got his coffee and sat down at a table along the side wall in an attempt to avoid interacting with people. As he drank his coffee, he wasn’t praying rather muttering his disappointment in himself and his life. He was blankly staring at his bible app on his phone when a man walked up to him to ask, “Do you mind if I sit here? There are no empty tables at the moment.” Brian looked up and saw the middle-aged man standing there. Brian nodded okay and looked back down at the bible app.

“Do you read the bible a lot?”, inquired the polite intruder on Brian’s sullen mood. Brian looked up at the man sitting in front of him. The man was neatly dressed and well-groomed including his neatly trimmed beard. In other words, on the outside, the man looked like everything Brian could only wish to be. Brian just responded with a puzzled, “sure”, wondering why the man would ask him such a question.

The man continued on trying to strike up a conversation with Brian, “I love reading the bible. You don’t know how lucky you are to have so many different ways to read it, book form, app on your phone, websites like biblegateway.” Brian didn’t react, he only thought to himself, “lucky? Me? This guy is nuts.”

The man persisted, “There are so many examples in the bible of people who stumbled along, failed, got back up with God’s help, and experienced changed lives. Changed for the better. That’s why I love reading the bible.”

Brian had had enough of what he thought was an annoying positive thinker sitting in front of him, sat back in his chair, and felt like giving him a full barrage of insults, however, he held back and simply said, “Sir I don’t know you. I am not in the mood. How about we just sit quietly and leave each alone.”

“Suit yourself. I am not one of those crazy positive thinkers who believe in fairy tales. It’s just that I have lived it myself coming back from failure with God’s help,” the man replied.

Brian wondered if the man was some kind of mind reader. How did he know he had just thought of him as a crazy positive thinker? The comment got Brian’s attention, so he apologized with, “Sorry. I am just having a bad day. My name is Brian. What’s your name?”

The man reached out to shake hands and let Brian know, “My name is John Mark.”

Brian wondered where he had heard that name before, so he reacted, “It seems I have heard that name before, John Mark, but I am not sure where. I have met guys named John and guys named Mark, but John Mark, I haven’t ever met anyone with that name. Where have I heard that name before?”

John Mark explained, “Well sometimes I am referred to as Mark and sometimes John Mark, it all depends on what translation you are reading.”

Brian was in no mood for games and the depends on what translation comment seemed strange, and he let John Mark know saying, “I am not sure what you are getting at about what translation. Maybe it actually is best if we drop it.”

John Mark apologized, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you. It’s just that I know you are struggling at this time in your life. The organic lawn care business wasn’t a failure. It simply wasn’t God’s plan for you.”

Brian had had enough of this now seeming odd man sitting in front of him and it was time to let him know, “How do you know anything about me and what business is it of yours?”

John Mark politely sought to reassure Brian of his motivation, “Brian there are many things I have been shown about you, but not to cause harm or confusion. After all, God is not the author of confusion. I will get to the point for you. My name is John Mark, and God has sent me here to share my story with you to encourage you that things can and will get better for you.”

For some reason Brian could not understand, he felt he should listen to the man and no longer thought of him as being off the wall. Brian only nodded and gestured for John Mark to go ahead.

John Mark continued, “If you look in your bible at Acts 15:36 to 41 you can see that I had failed the one and only Paul by deserting him and Barnabas before. Barnabas wanted to take me along with them to give me another chance, but Paul did not want me around. Paul, the great missionary apostle, did not want me around. I felt so low at that point. I mean if one of the top guys in the early church thought I couldn’t be trusted, what chance would I have of ever becoming anything in the church. Fortunately for me, Barnabas insisted I was worth it to give me a second chance. It was perhaps the lowest point in my life to feel like I had come between two great friends.”

Brian looked up over his cup of coffee at John Mark and bluntly retorted, “You know you are kind of blowing this cheer me up thing.”

John Mark chuckled a bit, “I see your point, but my story did not end there. Brian, Barnabas took me under his wing and mentored me. He was that older father figure kind of guy who could patiently work with me to help me grow in my faith and as a man. I learned a lot from him. The proof that it worked in is one little comment by Paul in the second letter he wrote to Timothy to instruct him to bring Mark along because he is useful in my ministry. Brian, God can do wonderful things in our lives as long as we don’t give up. Your worship pastor asked you to be part of the worship ministry. You have musical talent. Get in touch with him and ask him to let you be a part of it. Today, you can meet your Barnabas. My time is up, but when Jessica comes over here, ask her to introduce you to a man named Doug. Goodbye my friend.”

With that goodbye, John Mark was gone. Brian was sitting there trying to make sense of what had just transpired when Jessica walked over. “Can I get you anything else sir?” Jessica asked even though she had a feeling the anything else wouldn’t be coffee or muffins.

Brian was at a loss for words at first but finally managed to respond, “I am not sure how to say this. I, uhm, just had a conversation, but how to explain it.”

Jessica interrupted, “Don’t worry. I totally understand. I had one of those kinds of conversations myself the first time I came into The Harbor and it changed my life.”

Brian was relieved the young lady wouldn’t think he was crazy. He filled her in on what John Mark had encouraged him to do, “So the guy I just talked with told me you can introduce me to someone named Doug. Do you know a Doug?”

Jessica was beaming., “I sure do. He heads up a ministry called Love Justice. He is sitting right over there. Come with me.”

Brian followed Jessica over to another table where a gentleman was enjoying a cafe latte while checking into possible flights on his laptop.

Jessica felt comfortable around Doug because she knew he worked to rescue young women like she needed in the past. They had struck up a friendship to the point she looked at Doug as a kind of grandfather. Jessica got his attention, “Hey Doug, how’s it going?”

Doug looked up from his laptop and smiled. Joy showed through his eyes even though he was pushing 70. He hadn’t lost that zest for life nor his humor, “Hey Jessica. Good to see you. When are you going to bring me a doughnut?”

Jessica laughed and chided him, “You know doughnuts aren’t any good for you. You can have an apple haha. Actually, I have someone who needs to meet you. This is Brian and someone told him he should meet you.”

Doug motioned for Brian to have a seat, “Hey Brian, good to meet you, what’s up?”

Written by Matthew Kohrell

Note from the author– I hope you enjoy these short stories. I will try to post a new one each Tuesday afternoon. I have the next 3 story ideas, but if you have a brother or sister in the Christian faith from ancient times you want to suggest, please send me a comment.

Also- If you follow my blog, you will receive email updates when a new story posts.

God Bless



Jessica’s Encounter at The Harbor Coffee Shop

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 retired teacher 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 foster 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?”