(Posted with “Casey’s” permission)
I was sitting beside Casey (not her real name) on the front lobby steps of her high-rise apartment. She was nearly scrunched into a ball as she sat with her knees up under her chin, her elbows in her lap and her face buried in her hands. Her long, straight blonde hair covered her face as she hunched forward. She seldom looked up, and spoke in such quiet tones that she often needed to repeat what she had said so that I could understand. Her body language and the way she dressed gave evidence to her low self-esteem. She was haunted by numerous fears, hateful, impetuous, full of bitter anger, trusting no one. As I sat there beside her a safe distance away, I thought back to my first contact with her in November of 1988.
I had found a note hurriedly scribbled on the message board on the refrigerator: “Casey called.”
“Casey Who?” I asked my son who took the call.
“I don’t know. It sounded like a young girl.”
Then I remembered having received a call from my pastor that he had given my telephone number to a troubled, 17-year-old girl with the hope that I could be of some help to her. I hoped she would call again. She did . . . and it was the beginning of one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
For weeks, she called every few days. Most of our conversations were a half an hour to one-and-a-half hours long. They were punctuated with periods of silence, which lasted up to five minutes or more. I used those times to silently pray for her. Many calls ended abruptly as she slammed the receiver down in my ear. Either she didn’t like what I said, or her mother had come home unexpectedly.
She always asked, “Why did your pastor tell me to call you?” “Are you a professional counselor?” “You’re not my mother. If my own mother doesn’t care about me, why should you?” “Why are you doing this?” “What are you getting out of all this?”
After a few weeks her curiosity got the best of her and she asked, “What do you look like?” I described my appearance to her, and then asked, “Would you like to have a picture of me?”
She wouldn’t allow me to send it either to her mother’s address or to her married sister’s house for fear of what they might say. She didn’t want anyone to know she was sharing her life with anyone else. I suggested meeting with her in a safe public place. After a great deal of persuasion and reassurance, she agreed to meet me at a corner store near where she lived. I wondered how I would recognize her if she actually showed up. I browsed around the store, mentally checking out every customer. Sure enough . . . she came! She motioned me to go outside where I spoke briefly to her. I gave her my picture and something to read. I made the mistake of lightly touching her on the shoulder when we parted. She pulled away sharply and gave me a menacing look. I knew I had blown it. She late told me that if I ever touched her again she would break every bone in my body. I knew it was not an empty threat.
I asked to see her again. She agreed to meet me at her school before her classes started. I drove across the city many times to drop off notes to her. I gave her books to read, but she said she didn’t like to read. If I asked the secretary to see her, she often greeted me with, “What are you doing here?” Several times, she wrote and told me to forget about her and not to contact her again. I’d write back and assure her that the door would always be open if she wanted to talk. It wouldn’t be long until I heard from her again.
One night she called and said she had a present for me. She suggested that I pick it up at her school the next morning. I didn’t see the note to remind me of the appointment until it was too late. I called the school, but she had already gone home crying. In her frustration, she shredded every letter and book I had sent to her and cut the ear off the stuffed rabbit I had given her for Easter. For the next two mornings, I was unable to go to the school. She finally had a friend of hers call me to warn me that if I didn’t come the next day she would destroy my present. I made doubly sure I didn’t let her down a second time.
She was so upset she wouldn’t talk to me. She just thrust the gift at me and walked off. I gave my note of apology to her friend. I hoped Casey would read it and understand. I trudged back to the car fully aware that I would probably never connect with this girl. Then I opened the gift and found an adorable, large white, huggable teddy bear with a pink ribbon around its neck. I named it Casey after my young friend. After a few days of pondering my note, she called and gave me another chance. She had even sewn the ear back on her little rabbit Fernie.
When her mother left for a month’s visit to the United States I tried to get her to allow me to come and play a game of Scrabble with her. I promised not to touch her, only play one game and then go home. It took a couple of weeks to persuade her, but she finally conceded and let me come one Saturday afternoon. I whipped her at a game of Scrabble and promptly left.
Later that evening during a terrible thunderstorm, I received a call from my frightened little friend. She wouldn’t tell me what was wrong, but I detected the immense fear in her voice. I raced over to her sister’s home where Casey was staying alone, while her sister and mother were on vacation.
As I approached the house, I noticed that the electricity was off in that end of the city. Knowing how fearful she was of the dark I approached the house carefully. She was sitting there petrified on the stairway just inside the front door, clutching Grover, a bedraggled stuffed toy. She had no flashlight or candles. I refused to walk into the dark house when her black dog came bounding to the door. He seemed to remember me from the afternoon. He had growled and snapped at me when I picked up my shoes near him. I promised to fetch some candles and to return as quickly as possible. I set them in the living room, but Casey was sitting around a dark corner on the steps of a narrow stairway going up to the second story. I spoke a few words of comfort to her, and knowing how she felt about being touched, prayed for guidance. Then I took a chance and reached out both hands and gently touched her on her shoulders. She lunged forward, grabbed me and held me for a few seconds. Then I sat down beside her on the stairway and held her silently for nearly two hours until the lights came back on.
She later wrote about the experience and told me that it was the first time in her life anyone had hugged her. For that brief time, the inner pain was gone. She didn’t want me to leave that night, but I had to return to my family. When I left, her inner turmoil returned. She actually sat on the steps for the rest of the night with enough medication in her hands to end her life, but God prevented her from doing so.
Shortly after that, she called me at work, said she couldn’t stand living with her verbally abusive mother any longer, and was going to run away. I took a note over to her school the morning of the day she planned her escape and spent some tearful moments trying to persuade her not to leave to be a street kid in Toronto. I phoned my pastor and several close friends to pray earnestly for her to change her mind. By noon she called to ask questions about the shepherding home I had found for her to live in. By 3:00 p.m., she gave me permission to pick her up at school and take her to live with my friend who has a ministry to troubled teens. My friend keeps such teens without charge in her home until they have another place to go.
Casey and my friend hit it off from the very beginning and Casey began to show some signs of improvement. For the next four months, I spent two evenings a week with her. We painstakingly went through the process of recalling some of the painful memories that were so drastically affecting her life. We usually sat on the bedroom floor, leaning against the bed. We often didn’t say more than a few sentences in those two hours. Most of the work was done by writing down questions for her on a scrap of paper and having her answer them as best as she could.
Often the recalled memories of her childhood left me weeping. It’s little wonder that some kids seem so mixed up when they’ve experienced such horrible abuse. I learned that she had been abandoned by an abusive father, told by her mother that she wished she had never been born, been accused of breaking up the family, been severely mistreated at school, been sexually abused by male baby sitters, cruelly raped on several occasions, and miscarried a baby. It’s no wonder she was so troubled, couldn’t concentrate on her studies, was kicked out of school for misbehavior, and took to drugs and drinking to kill the pain.
I often told her about God and how he could take away her hurts, but she refused to believe in one who would abandon her when she had needed him as a child. “Why didn’t God stop it?” She thought prayer was as useless as talking to the air.
As an alternative step, I suggested that we at least bury some of the memories and have a memorial service for the premature baby she lost. So one evening we each drew a picture of a baby, (my husband and I had lost our first son), put them in a container, and buried it on the Lake Ontario beach near where she lived. With those drawings, she also buried a picture of herself when she was pregnant and a little yellow teddy bear she had bought for her expected child. I knelt down beside her on the damp sand. I prayed for the children we lost and for God to comfort us.
We often went back to that spot. She grieved and agonized inwardly. Occasionally she would say, “I want my baby back.” Usually we just sat there in silence, but sometimes she had me sing a children’s song to them, hoping they would hear us and know that we still cared about them.
One night about 10:30 she called me and asked me to go sit by the “grave” with her. She had just returned from a meeting about abortion and was visibly upset. It was a cool, drizzling night in early May. As we started to walk down the steep hill behind the house, I slipped on the wet grass and sprained my knee, but we kept going. As I limped down the narrow path through the tall grass toward the beach, I was reminded of one who walked a much more difficult and painful path for me. As we sat there by the “grave” in the dark on the rain-soaked beach, I prayed silently for Casey. I wondered when God would get through to this tough kid.
I offered to pray aloud with her many times about her problems, but she always refused. One evening in late July I got discouraged with her and said, “Casey, I thought if I listened to you and loved you that I could help you get over this. I’m afraid I can’t do anything more for you. You need a professional counselor who can help you work things out.”
She said I was the first person she ever told this stuff to and she would never go through the pain of telling anyone again. I took her home and didn’t expect to hear from her again. She did write once to return my picture and some other treasured things I had given her.
I drew Casey a picture a few days later and sent it in the mail. It showed a girl standing at the crossroads. One road led upward to life with signposts along the way, such as: professional counseling, prayer for cleansing of inner guilt, help of Christian friends, love, happy family, inner peace. The other road led downward to death with signs saying: pain, guilt, drunkenness, drugs, rape, depression and despair. The girl in the picture said, “I guess it’s my choice.” Casey promptly ripped it to shreds and tried hard to forget about me. However, that proved impossible.
A few days later she called again and said, “You know that picture you drew with the signs on it? Well,” she hesitated, “I did something . . . but I don’t think it was on any of the signs.”
I said, “Well, if it had been written on one, what would it have said?”
She was silent for a long time. Then she slowly described to me how, the night before, she had prayed with a Christian friend living next door to her and had invited Christ into her life.
How I rejoiced with her!
(Update twenty years later: Casey is a loving mother to her four children and works diligently to provide for her family.)