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She brought her children to Sidewalk Sunday School. I thought she looked familiar, but she made no move to approach me. She chose instead to talk to Ms. Betty. That didn’t strike me as odd. Sidewalk has several different volunteers and people are drawn to each of us for different reasons.

She returned the next week. I kept looking at her. There was something familiar about her, but I didn’t know why. She couldn’t have been one of my former students. The kids from my first class would all be 17 and 18 now. She was too old, in her mid-20’s, at least. I approached her and introduced myself. She didn’t offer her name, and hurried away.

When the prayer requests were turned in, she asked for prayer for her mother. She gave her mother’s name, but not her own. She said her mother was very ill, and didn’t seem to be getting better.

She came early last Saturday. While I played catch with Moncey, the woman stared at me. She blushed when she realized I’d noticed. I walked over to her. “How is your mother?”

She shrugged, “Maybe better, but keep praying.” I told her I would, and started to turn away. She said, “Miss…” but shook her head and shrugged her right shoulder when I looked back.

That gesture was very familiar to me. I felt my eyes widen. “What is your name?” I asked her, but I already knew. We both said it at the same time, “Juana.” She was one of my former students.

“Why didn’t you say something?” I asked her, meaning two weeks ago, or the week before that even.

She shrugged again and waved her hand at me. “You look all different. Your hair. And your name. Your name is different.”

My name is different. I changed it when I divorced. My hair used to be very short, and platinum blonde. And back then I wore contacts.

Then she asked, “Why didn’t you recognize me?”

I replied, “You’ve grown up.” But that wasn’t it. She is at most 18 years old, and she has two children, ages 3 and 4. Her face is lined. Her eyes are sad. And she holds her shoulders as though the weight of the world rests on them.

Quilly is the pseudonym of Charlene L. Amsden, who lives on The Big Island in Hawaii. When she is not hanging out with Amoeba, she is likely teaching or sewing. Or she could be cooking, taking photographs, or even writing. But if she's not doing any of that, she's probably on Facebook or tinkering with her blog.


  1. Hi Quill,

    It must be very frustrating seeing a girl turn out this way. Do you wonder if there is something you could have done?

  2. So sad. I wonder how many of the people I used to know have ended up leading lives like this?

    All I can say is that by treating people gently and with respect, hopefully, they will someday find the strength to respect themselves.

  3. Brian — Juana is a victim of extreme poverty. Girls always seem to look for romance as a way out. Talk does no good, and I can’t raise them all. But situations like Juana’s are what led me to head Sidewalk Sunday School. I am doing something.

    Mumma — I told Juana her sons are beautiful — and they are. They are also well behaved, clean and loved. She is doing her best.

    Melli — as the heart and hands of Jesus, we (Sidewalk) will help her, too.

    Mike — Juana’s need for an easy way out is what likely lead to those children. That wand wasn’t magic, and it didn’t come with lasting support.

  4. Posts like this always remind me how lucky I have been in my life. A lot of bad things that could have happened to me never did. I hope she finds her way out of her problems.

  5. Who was it said something like: By the time we are 40, we are responsible for how our face looks. Something like that. Not that anyone is to blame for how their face looks, but you can see some of what they have been through. Look at how Lincoln aged in a few short years after the war he endured. She has applied herself to her condition. That’s what her face means to me.

  6. Her life is not over. If she sees other possibilities, there will be other opportunities. It won’t be easy but there is always hope.

  7. These are the kids that break your heart. That her children are clean and well behaved and she’s making the effort to bring them to sidewalk sunday school leads me to believe that maybe the next generation will find a way to bust out of that poverty.

  8. Gary — “There but for the grace of God go I.”

    Gawpo — contrasting Juana today to the little girl with a huge grin and dancing brown eyes that she used to be, I, too, see that she is not a good time, party girl, but takes her responsibilities seriously.

    Nessa — our job at Sidewalk is to offer hope, emoional suppor, and — if possible — assist, or point people toward existing community assistance.

    Doug — consequences like children bring mixed regrets. Juana proably wishes she’d made different choices, but she loves her sons, and they know it.

    Kat — as soon as she is comfortable with me again, I am going to talk to her about job training. There are programs that help single mothers, she jus may no know that they exist.

  9. Sad. Just goes to show that we all pay for our decisions good or bad. Hope she wakes up one day to a better feeling about herself.

  10. Yes there are programs. But some people are too proud, or too cowed, to take them. How much of what and where she is comes from her mother? And if she passes on …?

  11. OC – I’ve had hose same thoughts. What is mom’s illness? Has she seen a doctor? Is Juana’s reticence embarrassment, or pride? If we try to help her, will she let us, or will she run?

    That’s why forming a relationship first is so important. One can’t just charge in to fix something, without first determining why it broke, where it broke, and what kind of tools and supplies are required to complete the repair. This is a person’s life. A temporary patch will likely cause nothing but bigger problems in the future.

    And that word temporary leaves me wondering if I am the team member to take this on.

  12. At least she is doing her best and that her children are well cared for. I often hear of stories like this ending in abuse & neglect and the tearing apart of families. Here’s hoping she finds what she needs to pull herself out of this.

  13. That is so sad for her. I know too well the price of desperation. God sends us all angels when we need them. I have no doubt you are her angel. I will pray for her and her family (I already pray for you). šŸ™‚

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