Samantha Hollis slumped under the weight of her backpack as she stepped off the school bus onto Worthington Way. Her door was three houses up the street on the left, next door to Mrs. O’Tool. She had to walk right past her house to get to her own. Her steps quickened and she tucked her head down as she walked. Her parents had not yet arrived home, so she could go to her room, shut the door, and bury her face in her pillow. Hopefully, that would cause her to suffocate and she would never have to live another day. She had her doubts about that, though. A person couldn’t smother themselves, could they? The desire to breathe would be too strong to overcome! She knew she’d end up jerking her head up from the pillow and gasping for air. By then, the pillow would be soaked with her own tears. Her mother would come home from work, ask her what happened, she would tell her, her mother would look concerned, maybe even sad or worried. Her mother couldn’t solve her problems. Nor could her father. Even though they both loved her with all of their hearts. Who could take away a broken heart? She thought God could, but, she’d been sad for a while, and God hadn’t taken it away.
Her thoughts swirled in her head as she stared down at her feet. She felt a presence as she passed Mrs. O’Tool’s house. She looked up quickly and down again. She saw the gray haired woman snapping beans on her front porch.
“G’day to ya, young Samantha!” Her Irish accent was soothing, so Sam looked up at her again, slowing her steps gradually.
“How about you comin’ over for a cookie or two? I got ’em just a minute ago outta the oven!” She set the pan of beans to the side and stood, holding up the corners of her apron, not wanting to spill the snapped off green bean ends in her lap.
“Oh, that’s okay, I gotta get home.”
“Nonsense!” Mrs. O’Tool smiled, “It’s just an empty house, and there’s time for a break before homework, aye?”
“Well…okay.” Sam smiled weakly. “I suppose I’ve got time for a cookie.”
“Thatta girl!” Mrs. O’Tool discarded the ends of the beans and opened up the wooden screen door, leading the way for Samantha. The door smacked the wooden frame loudly, but it didn’t bother Mrs. O’Tool, she was humming as she went to the kitchen. Samantha had been in her house before. She used to come a lot, but now that she’d entered the sixth grade, there wasn’t much time for visiting old ladies who made cookies and had doilies all over the place.
“Come sit yourself down.” Mrs. O’Tool pulled out a white wooden chair from her butcher top table. The legs scraped the floor. Samantha set her backpack on the floor by the chair and propped one elbow on the table, her hand under her chin. She sighed and then felt the tears welling up. By the time Mrs. O’Tool turned around, Samantha’s head was down on her arms and her tears flowed freely.
“Now, now, dear Samantha,” Mrs. O’Tool said as she scraped the legs of another chair along the floor and planted herself next to the girl, “whatever is the matter?” She patted Sam’s back and pulled her red hair up from around her face.
“Oh, I’m okay, I’m sorry, Mrs. O’Tool. It’s not you or anything…I should go.” Sam stood to leave, but Mrs. O’Tool would have none of that.
“Now, child, what kind o’ woman would I be to let a young girl run outta my house to her own empty one with herself all in tears?”
Sam blinked and wiped her cheeks.
“A bad one, that’s what kind!” She smacked her hand down on the table. “I certainly would not be a Christian woman, now would I? Now, suppose you go on and tell me what’s got cher heart breakin’ into tiny pieces before my very eyes?”
“Oh, it’s just that I don’t have any friends! I had a friend, but today…” she paused as she fought fresh tears “…today, I found out that she was making fun of me for wearing these clothes. She said I stank! She called me “Smelly Samantha” to another girl. She told her I was a silly, stupid good-goody. I don’t know why she’s doing this to me. Just last week, I invited her to spend the night and we went to church together. We had a good time and I thought maybe, maybe the Lord had given me a friend. Mother said if I ask God for a friend, He would give me one. I thought she was it, but…” new tears were flowing. Samantha’s face was splotchy. Mrs. O’Tool took a box of tissues from the counter and Sam wiped her eyes.
“You say, she was nice to you until you went to church?”
“What happened at church, Samantha? Something must’ve happened.”
“Nothing! She went with me to my Sunday School class and the preaching time. We ate lunch and went home. Nothing bad happened.”
“What was the lesson on, dear? In your class, I mean?”
“Just about how that saved people should live consecrated lives and that means to separate from sin.”
“Is your friend saved, does she know Jesus personally?”
Sam paused. “I think so.” she sniffed. “I asked her that Sunday, she seemed like she was.”
“Well, it could be that your friend just doesn’t know for sure and she’s embarrassed to tell ya so. Or, could be she or her family are livin’ in some kind of sin. I don’t think she meant to hurt ya, dear.”
“But, I thought she was my friend, I thought God answered my prayers, and now look! I’m right back where I was. I have no one!”
Mrs. O’Tool leaned back slowly. Her eyes stared off and they grew misty. Sam wiped her own nose and face.
After a moment of silence, Mrs. O’Tool spoke. “Well, dear, God doesn’t always work the way we’d like. We often hear about how God answers prayer for this or that or the other, but we don’t hear about when God says ‘no’. He does you, know. Sometimes, He says no.”
“Well, how can it be forever for the child of God? One day, we’ll be with Him in Heaven! He’s already said ‘yes’ to that! What can a few no’s on Earth be compared to Heaven?”
Samantha was looking down. New tears came. “You mean I have no hope? God said no and I’m going to be miserable for the rest of my life?”
“No, child, no, that’s not what I’m sayin’ atall. Come with me.”
She followed her into the living room. The room was all white. White shelves with books and pictures, white walls with framed photographs and even white wicker furniture. She reached up and pulled down two pictures.
“These are my boys.” Mrs. O’Tool’s voice cracked and a tear slid down her cheek. My husband and I worked hard to raise them right. We sacrificed everything so that they could grow up in America, where dreams come true. We had trusted Christ when a missionary came to our village in Ireland and led a Bible study. We read the Bible and prayed everyday. We did our best to live right, Frank gave up the pubs and the pipe, I watched my mouth and worked on my own issues. Then, one day, we got the opportunity to come to America! How excited we were! Our two boys, ages three and four, would have the best! They did, too. We worked hard and they learned to work hard. Ah…they were fine boys, they were. And I’m not just a sayin’ that! They had their faults, but, they tried to do right. When the war came, I prayed that God would bring them back safely. But…” her voice broke. “God said ‘no’, Samantha. He took my boys within two months of each other.”
Samantha looked down, not knowing what a twelve year old could say to this news.
“I think my Frank died of a broken heart. He was never the same.” Mrs. O’Tool sniffed. “I haven’t been, either. I wanted to die, too, when my boys died. Then, one day, I was reading my Bible -somewhat against my own will – and I read about when God sent His only Son down to Earth to die for me. For me, Samantha! How could He do that? And, a better question, how could I hate God for taking my sons? He had given His all for me, why not I for Him?”
Samantha couldn’t speak. She felt a solitary tear running down her cheek and wiped it away.
“I don’t say this to seem massively spiritual, dear, not atall…I’m so far from it. I often ask God why, why both my boys? Why could I not see my grandchildren? And I often come before His feet and weep for loneliness and grief. He helps me, child, every time. He sends me a rainbow, or a kind note from a friend across the sea, or a song bird to cheer me up. I have a lot of white walls in my house, but I like the brightness of it, it cheers me and reminds me of how Christ turned my old black heart white and clean with His forgiveness.” She looked at the walls with pride. “And sometimes, Samantha, darling, when it’s all I can do to even break the stems from my green beans, He sends me a beautiful red-haired Christian friend to cheer me! He lets me have her in for cookies, talk with her, cry with her, and help her along the path which Christ has led me so carefully for these many years.”
“Me? You mean I helped you?”
“Yes, child, you have. I’d forgotten the secret, until you dropped by today.”
“The secret to living for God till your old and gray.”
“What is it, Mrs. O’Tool?” Samantha asked wide-eyed and a bit embarrassed that she’d missed it.
“The secret isn’t really a secret, child, yet so many seem to forget it.” She bit her lip. “Like I did. The secret is the cross.”
Samantha’s face broke into a grin.
“When you think of our dear Savior, child, nothing seems too hard to do. He died in the worst way ever, He was mocked, He was left alone, He was treated so miserably by those who claimed to be ‘religious’. If He could keep going, cannot we, dear? We have His Holy Spirit and His Word to help us.”
Samantha suddenly felt no more anger, no more sadness, no more loneliness. She felt…good! She felt happy! After all, she had her parents who loved her, and Mrs. O’Tool. And best of all, she had Jesus. He would never leave her. Never.
“Yes, ma’am. I think you’re right.” She embraced the woman at the waist. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
“For what dear? I’ve done nothing special.”
“Yes, you have. You told me the secret, and you know…you’re the answer to my prayers.”
Mr. O’Tool’s blue eyes gazed into the green eyes of her young friend and they hugged again.
“Now, how ’bout you eat the cookies I set out for you. I only wish I could make them warm for you, they’re best when they’re warm, you know.”
“Oh, I can warm them in your microwave!”
“You can? Won’t it blow them up or something?”
“Oh no, just punch in 8 to 10 seconds and they are nice and melty, just like fresh from the oven.”
“Well, now! What do you know! Let’s try it!”