Had there ever been a night any darker?
Tori, felt the darkness like thick velvet around her. She stumbled over a trash can and a cat went screeching over what Tori assumed to be a fence.
The cold air made her body ache. What she would do for just a jacket right now. Her fingers and toes were so cold she wasn't sure she still had them all.
Her steps were labored as she willed each frozen foot to move
Then she saw it. The familiar site brought a tear to her eye. In the midst of the blackness of the night, the illuminated home was like a beacon to the surrounding area.
Thankfully the well lit gardens gave her enough light to find the old tool shed on the south side of the lawn. If she was lucky Poppy's (the long time grounds keeper) extra set of over hauls would still be on the hook. Just thinking about the possibility of their warmth hurried her slow steps.
The tool shed looked like a mansion to her tired eyes. She opened the door and allowed the landscape lighting to filter through the door.
There! Just as she remembered, the work clothes - freshly cleaned! were hanging on the peg.
Her frozen fingers fumbled with the snaps, but the fleece lining was already warming her cold, weary body.
In just a few moments she had cleared a small spot to rest. With no wind blowing and the warm clothes on, her bones and flesh soon returned to a full blood circulating capacity. And in no time, her frame was rhythmically rising and falling to the slow breaths she took as she slept.
As the first light of day streamed through the streaked window pane, Tori sat up and took in her surroundings. Remembering where she was, she knew she had to leave at once! She didn't belong here. Why did she think she could even come here last night?
Suddenly, she remembered her desperation in the cold of night. This was the only place she thought of.
The warm rest had done her some good, but she was still hungry. Her stomach gnawed at her insides. She knew that she had to find food or she would end up with a Jane Doe tag on her toe.
She considered keeping the overhauls. But as desperate as she was she couldn't bring herself to take anything from this place. She didn't deserve even the warmth of some old work clothes.
After a few minutes of digging, she did find a pair of pants and a sweat shirt in a trash container.
Poppy. Just the thought of the old man made her heart smile for a moment. She remembered him wearing that sweat shirt.
If he knew what she had done, would he want her wearing clothes he had thrown away.
Necessity pushed that thought aside. She knew she would draw unwanted attention to herself if in the bitter cold she went around in the tank top and shorts she had on.
Her stomach seemed to scream its need.
Her head was a little dizzy. She needed some water and just something to put in her famished body.
Leaving the tool shed she looked up to the big house and imagined what it looked like. She knew every room, every piece of furniture well. She remembered the aromas of each room. She could picture Sarah, the cook, bustling about the kitchen now, mumbling about having to get up so early to begin so much food preparation. Sarah, ever the talker, and even complainer - but everyone knew she loved to cook and the more the merrier.
Sarah. What would she think about Tori?
Nope. Not even Sarah would want to give her even a sliver of her famous fried pies.
Tori turned her head quickly. It was foolish to even think such things.
She had made her decisions, not she must live with the consequences.
That life was no longer hers to enjoy or to covet.
Food~ that was her goal for the day.
Where to go? What were her options?
A week ago, a job was her goal.
That was a joke.
All her clothes and belongings were gone~ stolen and discarded~ one by one. The one guy that gave her a chance at the truck stop, told her not to come back the next day in the same clothes.
Since she didn't have anything else, she didn't go back.
That was her companion now.
No matter where she went she couldn't get away from her two new companions.
She turned the corner on Main Street and was assaulted with new hunger pangs! The deli down the street and the little coffee shop both were emitting the most delicious aromas.
Her dirty fingers fumbled for her back pack. Could she have missed a few coins yesterday?
Her stomach begged her to search one more time.
In the alley, she stopped to look one more time in the almost empty back pack. She unzipped it knowing she would not find any coins.
She pilfered through the only things she owned now. A few undergarments and a torn t-shirt. She noticed the pocket in the lining and had an adrenaline rush! Could her next meal be paid for by a hidden bill?
With determination she reached for the opening. She found no coins but did feel something. She pulled it out. Another emotion flooded her being~ a memory of who she USED to be.
She turned the old debit card around in her hands. Would it still work?
Her father had surely voided this account long ago.
Her companions, Shame and Regret, let their nasty presence be made known again.
Her name was on the card, a name she no longer deserved.
She put the card back and zipped up her back pack.
She walked further down the street, her head a little lower, and her heart even heavier.
A single tear seeped out of her eye.
About two blocks down a side street, a bell rang. She looked up and saw the sign that read "Mission~ Free shelter and free food".
Like a zombie she turned and headed for the last option for sustenance.
Several dirty and smelly individuals were already in line for the meal.
The fragrance wasn't nearly as appetizing as the deli down the street, but at this point, she didn't care.
Food~ she was meeting her goal for the day!
For the first time since she could remember a half-smile formed on her dry, cracked lips.
A commotion on the far side of the room encouraged her to find a solitary seat in the corner.
A woman with hair all matted and big as crazy hat she had seen at an amusement park was screaming at an imaginary opponent. It seemed the "invisible" person had taken the big haired woman's baby doll.
Would she end up like the lady with big hair? All crazy from hunger and starvation that she resorted to disputes with someone who didn't exist?
Her half-smile would not come back for a while.
The lady that served the food announced the mandatory service would begin soon.
The once hungry group began disbursing quietly and monotonously headed to the makeshift chapel in the next room.
Once again she found a seat in the back corner, head and eyes down.
A straggly crew of musicians lumbered to the platform. In a few minutes a screechy "Amazing Grace" was plucked out.
Although crude and bare, there was a peace in the room.
The director stood behind the platform. All eyes were on him.
He cleared his throat.
"Before I begin today, I have an announcement to make. I've been making it every day for six months, but as requested, I will continue to make it."
Almost as if he felt stupid for even saying the words, the director continued in a drab, unbelieving voice,
"Victoria Grace. Victoria Grace. Is there a Victoria Grace in the room?"
At the mention of the name, the audience chuckles.
"I'm tellin' ya, preacher! If one of the Mr. Grace's kids ever steps foot in one of these places, then I'm a millionaire me-self!"
More laughs and guffaws.
Tori began to tremble. Fear replaced any shame she experienced earlier.
"Victoria Grace," he continues in his flat tone, "if you are here, your father wants you to know that he misses his little princess and has kept your room ready for you at home."
"Awwww. The 'wich' man wants his 'ittle pwincess back", sneered the lady with the big hair.
The crowd laughed again.
A big man with tattoos on his forearms stood and stared accusingly at the lady with big hair. "Myrna! If that millionaire loves his daughter enough to send a message to her every day for six months in every shelter in the tri-state area, then so be it! All I can say is, she must be pretty special to her daddy for him to want her back so badly!"
A hush settled over the little congregation and the director continued with the service.
Tori was frozen in a state of shock.
She didn't hear a word the preacher said or even hear the last "amen".
Her mind was buzzing with possibilities.
Could her father possibly want her back home after all she put him through? After all she had done and said?
What should she do?
What WOULD she do?
The lady with the kind eyes sat down beside her.
"Honey, is there something I can do for you?"
Victoria Lynn Grace, Tori, looked up with tears in her eyes. "I.... I, don't know what to do."
"Well, is going home an option?"
"I don't know. I didn't think so, but now....."
"I see. Sweetie, you are welcome to stay here as long as you like. I need to go to the office, but I'll be back in a minute to check on you, OK?"
Still stunned by the turn of events, Tori sat. She looked at her fingers and hands, folded in her lap.
Those couldn't be her fingers. The once neatly manicured nails and soft hands had been pampered from birth. Now, they were raw and blistery and filthy. The nails looked like any street beggars hands.
Once again Shame asked the question, "How did you get to this point?"
Regret had plenty of answers.
Fear was trying to voice his opinion too loudly.
Tori took her hands to her ears and tried to suffocate the voices as tears streamed down her face.
"Daddy! I'm so sorry! I never meant this to happen! I just want to come home!", she sobbed to herself.
Rocking back and forth she continued to have a conversation with her father, a conversation she believed he would never hear because she didn't have the courage to face him again. Not that he would do anything but love her, but because Shame was stronger inside of her than Reason. Reason said to go back to her father. Shame was wining the battle.
"Daddy! Oh, Daddy! If I had only known! I'm so so sorry!"
Through her tears and sobbing, Tori did not hear the door open.
"I don't know if it is her or not, but she is in there."
"Thank you, Ms. Smith."
In an instant, he knew.
He ran to the disheveled figure and cried, "Tori! My precious Tori!"
She heard his voice, but wasn't sure if she could raise her head. How could she?
He took his hand gently under her chin and lifter her head. Their eyes met. His full of love and compassion. Hers filled with Shame and Regret and Fear. Tears streaming down her face.
"My Princess! I don't care what you've done or what you've said. You are my treasure! You are Victoria Lynn Grace, my daughter that I love and adore! You are who I care about. Everything I have is yours! Please, come home with me and let me take care of you."
Tori, could only cry.
Was this really happening? Had she become delusional from all the hunger?
But then she felt the warmth of her father's embrace, smelled his cologne, felt his strength and she knew this was real. He still loved her! He wanted her home!
A hope surged through her being.
She WAS Victoria Lynn Grace!
Her father DID love her!
She was going home~ home to be able to take a long, hot bubble bath; home to a kitchen filled with delicious food; home to a warm, comfortable bed piled with mountains of quilts and blankets if she wished; home to a closet full of nice clothes; home to her father's endless love.
Her father called her by her name again, "Victoria Lynn Grace, I love you and nothing matters except that you know that I love you and that I want you to come home with me."
She was suddenly aware that Shame and Regret had been quiet. Fear was gone. In the face of the truth of her father's love, Fear had to leave and Shame and Regret could not speak.
Tori, no longer holding back, kissed her daddy on the check and hugged him with as much strength as she could muster. "Let's go HOME!"
Isaiah 43:1 "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine."
Isaiah 43:3 "Because you are precious in my eyes, and honoured, and I love you."
This story is for all you ladies who think the Father "tolerates" you in the Kingdom. This is for all of you who feel shame and regret for past mistakes.
Lift up your head! He IS the lifter of your head. You ARE His treasure!
He loves you and calls you by name!
May the Truth of this story permeate your being and free you from the bondage of shame and regret!
love you all!