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Sharon Randall: Saying ‘yes’ has the power to change lives

Two of the simplest words we know are often the hardest to say: “Yes” opens a door. “No” will close it. Yes or no, it’s up to us. But open or closed, doors can hold the power to change lives, for better or for worse.

Let’s call her Kelly. My late husband was a high school teacher and basketball coach. He phoned me from school one day to say a school counselor had told him about a 15-year-old student, who was living on the street working as a prostitute.

“Her folks kicked her out,” my husband said. “She wants to make some changes. But if she stays on the street, she’ll keep doing what she’s doing. I’m thinking maybe she could stay with us for a while? It’s up to you. What do you say?”

I looked over at my 10-month-old, grinning at me from his high chair while patting fistfuls of oatmeal onto his head.

“She’s a prostitute?” I said.

“She’s just a kid,” he said, “one who needs a little help.”

There’d been times in my life when I needed help. Nothing nearly as hard as what Kelly was facing. But help had been there for me when I needed it. I knew the difference it could make. So I said the magic word: “Yes.”

And that is how Kelly came into our lives. She was smart, funny and remarkably clever at appearing to follow rules, while doing exactly what she wanted.

Our rules were pretty simple. She had to be home in time for dinner, do her homework, get to sleep at a decent hour and get to school every day on time. If she planned to miss dinner, she needed to call to explain why.

My husband and I met her mother and father. They were late-in-life parents who loved their daughter, but found her behavior unbearable. We hoped to work together for her best.

Soon after she moved in with us, they began inviting her home for dinner. Kelly would call after school to see what each of us was cooking. Then she’d pick what sounded better, her mother’s cooking or mine.

Her mother usually won. After dinner, her dad would drop her at our place. She seemed close to moving back in with them.

One evening, while Kelly had dinner with her folks, and my husband was at basketball practice, I picked my baby up off the floor, pulled a tuft of dog hair out of his mouth, and answered a knock at the door.

And there stood someone I’d not met, but knew well from my talks with Kelly: A nice-looking, well-dressed, soft-spoken man, who had taken her in and turned her out as a prostitute.

“Hello, ma’am,” he said, smiling. “May I speak to Kelly?”

“She isn’t here,” I said, holding my baby a little tighter.

He nodded. “That’s a mighty cute boy you got there. Mind if I have a word with you?”

I grew up in the South, where if a stranger comes to your door, you invite him in for iced tea. I offered him a seat on the sofa but somehow forgot the tea.

He didn’t stay long. He just said he wanted us to know he cared about Kelly and that he was grateful to us for our help. Then he shook my hand, patted my baby’s head, and left.    A week later, Kelly went back to live with her parents. They were planning to move away and she wanted to go with them.

I never heard from her again. Years later I saw her name in a list of college graduates. Was it the same Kelly? I hope so.

I don’t know what our time together meant to her. It was far from perfect. I wish I’d been kinder, wiser, more loving—or at least a better cook. But Kelly didn’t need me to be perfect.  She just needed me to say “yes.”

When we open our heart to someone in need, God uses our imperfections in perfect ways.

I think of Kelly sometimes and pray for her best. I like to think she’s doing the same for me. She needed a safe place to stay a while. And I needed to know what she taught me: We don’t have to be perfect to say “yes.”

Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924 or at www.
sharonrandall.com.

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