I first met Libby on a crisp October day when the air was enriched by the fragrance of autumn leaves. Libby was a victim of domestic violence, homeless, and hiding from her abusive husband. Although she had been out of the violent marriage for three years, her former husband had made it clear that if she ever left him, he would find and kill her. Libby believed him, and her fears were not unwarranted. According to the Bureau of Justice, after a woman leaves her abuser the chance of being murdered by the abuser rises by 75 percent. Domestic abuse is rooted in power and control. Therefore, when a battered woman leaves her partner, the abuser will do anything to regain power and this can result in serious injury or death.
Libby had managed to stay beneath the radar and survive by taking odd jobs that kept her off the grid. Her most recent post had been caring for an elderly lady who was very ill. When this lady passed on, Libby was homeless. I really wanted to help her, but the old Victorian House that served as our women’s shelter was overflowing. In fact, we were so busy that I had converted the den into a bedroom, placing several air mattresses on the floor. I knew that if I put one more person on the floor we would be in danger of losing our license. Because of this, I called shelters in nearby towns to see if they might shelter Libby, but they were also filled to the max.
“I can sleep on the floor if I have to,” she offered. “I just need a place to get my nerves calmed down. It would also be nice to have a hot bath and something to eat,” she added.
Suddenly, I remembered the small attic room. I had wanted to fix it up for quite some time because I knew it could work nicely for one person. Earlier that same week I had noticed a twin bed at a thrift shop that would be perfect for the room. I told Libby what I had in mind.
“It’s just a small attic room,” I explained. “Nothing fancy, although I plan to eventually fix it up.”
The relief on her face was clear and she agreed to check back in a few hours while I arranged to prepare the attic room for its first guest.
Preparing Room for One More
I called one of my volunteers who owned a pick-up truck and we hurried downtown to the thrift store, hoping the bed was still there. By the grace of God we were not disappointed. The bed was 50 dollars, but my budget only allowed for 25. When I explained to the store manager why we wanted the bed, she gave it to us for the amount we could afford and cheerfully threw in extra blankets and pillows. When we returned to the safe house with the bed, two more volunteers were already working on the attic room, scrubbing it down from ceiling to floor before putting the bed together for our first guest. All of us wished we’d had time to paint and decorate the room, but we were relieved to offer Libby a safe and quiet place for healing and regaining strength.
After settling into the shelter, Libby found a job so that she could begin to save money. She was always helping the children with homework and took many of the other residents under her wing, encouraging them to have faith in themselves. Libby never hid the fact that she talked to God and that God talked to her, and she adamantly believed that we should protect ourselves from evil. After she had been in the shelter for only a few days, most all of the residents were wearing rosary bracelets that she had designed for their protection. Of course, as a clinician I knew that many counselors might have diagnosed Libby as a paranoid schizophrenic. But I surmised that she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Her abuser had held her hostage at gunpoint on more than one occasion and had isolated her from family and friends.
Who wouldn’t feel the need for protection after encountering this type of evil? Besides, all the shelter residents loved her and were pleased to wear the rosary bracelets and crucifixes that she designed. When Christmas rolled around, Libby took charge of decorating the tree with popcorn, crosses, and other interesting ornaments that she and the residents created. Then, when Easter arrived, she hid little surprises throughout the safe house for the children to hunt. Everyone was a winner, and the prizes were crosses designed by Libby, along with bags of jelly beans.
Eventually, all of the residents at the shelter moved on, either finding new hiding places with family or friends in another area, or returning to their abuser in hope of reconciliation. But Libby stayed with us for six months and during that time she endeared herself to everyone whose path she crossed.
Where Did Libby Go?
Then, one bright spring day, as I drove into the shelter parking lot I noticed that Libby’s Jeep was not there. No one at the shelter had seen her that day so I went upstairs to the attic room and knocked. After a few minutes, I opened the door and to my surprise the entire room had been painted bright sunny yellow with a matching border filled with angels. Even the hardwood floor had been refinished, and the bed was covered with a new spread. There were pillow shams to match the green window topper that one of the volunteers had contributed during our cleaning frenzy. A note from Libby had been carefully propped against the lamp on the bedside table.
God has told me it is time to move on. I hope you don’t mind that I finished the room for you. It is a close replica of the room I have in my heart for Jesus. Thank you for everything!
I placed the note in my pocket and smiled. The room looked beautiful! Then, just as I was ready to go back downstairs I noticed a nicely framed cross stitch picture of a magnificent angel. Beneath the picture were the words found in Hebrews 13:2:
“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unaware.”
Was Libby an angel? I wondered, as I went back to my office. She certainly seemed like a messenger from God with her words of hope and encouragement.
Later that same afternoon another client came through the program, in need of protection. “I just need a place to hide and heal,” she said, “a place where no one can find me.”
“I know just the place,” I smiled.