A young girl sat in the full waiting room of the clinic, her heart hammering, her stomach so tense she felt sick. One girl sat crying silently while an older, narrow-eyed, tight-lipped woman sat beside her. A woman in her late thirties sat with her slender legs crossed reading Fortune. Another girl, in her early teens, in a pair of baggy black Levi’s and a scoop-necked white T-shirt sat forward, knees and toes together, beside her a friend in a short black skirt and tight red sweater.
No one spoke. No one met the gaze of another. They stared down at their hands or a magazine or off into space.
The young girl closed her eyes tightly, praying for strength.
I AM HERE, BELOVED. I AM THE LORD YOUR GOD, WHO LOVES YOU.
The door opened, and a woman in white stood looking at her clipboard. “Number nine.”
The waiting room emptied of one.
The young girl hunched in her chair. Oh, God, oh, God, I’m so scared. I want to go home.
COME OUT FROM THEM, BELOVED, AND BE SEPARATE, AND I WILL LEAD YOU IN THE WAY EVERLASTING.
Shaking, she got up.
Her boyfriend clamped his hand around her wrist. “Where’re you going?” he said in a hushed, taut voice.
She leaned down and whispered. “I don’t want to do this.”
He pulled her down beside him again. “Do you think I do?”
“Then let’s leave.”
“And do what?” He leaned closer, speaking so only she could hear. “Look, this isn’t easy for me, either. Don’t make it any harder. We’ve been over this a hundred times. There’s nothing else we can do.”
She tried not to cry. Crying only upset him more. She didn’t want him to get mad at her. “I don’t think I can go though it.”
“You said your parents would disown you.”
THOUGH YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER FORSAKE YOU, I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU.
“And what about school?”
“There must be another way.”
“What other way? You tell me what other way.”
She looked up at him pleadingly. “We could get married.”
“Yeah, right,” he said sotto voice. “And live on what? Love?”
“Give me a break. At that fast-food place? Making minimum wage? And what about after the baby comes? Kiss my future good-bye. I want to go to college. Remember?”
Her eyes burned with tears at his tone. He had been so sweet and tender before they had sex. After the first time, that was all he ever wanted. And now that she was pregnant, he was angry with her most of the time. It wasn’t all her fault she was in this condition. She’d only forgotten to take her pill that one day, and he’d never once taken precautions.
“I’m scared,” she said in a soft shaky voice.
TRUST ME. I AM YOUR ROCK AND YOUR FORTRESS. I AM YOUR DELIVERER, BELOVED. TAKE REFUGE IN ME, FOR I AM YOUR SHIELD AND THE HORN OF YOUR SALVATION. CALL TO ME AND I WILL RESCUE YOU FROM YOUR ENEMIES. THE CORDS OF DEATH WILL NOT ENTANGLE YOU…
“I’m scare, too,” he said, surprising her.
“I want to leave.”
He took her hand and held it tightly. She could feel the perspiration on his palms. “I’ve heard it’s not so bad,” he said bleakly.
SEEK ME, BELOVED, AND I WILL ANSWER YOU. I WILL DELIVER YOU. I WILL BE YOUR HIDING PLACE. I WILL PROTECT YOU AND SURROUND YOU WITH SONGS OF DELIVERANCE.
“It’s only supposed to take a few minutes. By tomorrow, it’ll all be behind us.”
She looked at her boyfriend and saw how uncomfortable he was. He didn’t want to talk about it anymore. He just wanted to get it over and get out of here.
Oh, God, I don’t want to lose him.
I AM THE LORD YOUR GOD AND THERE IS NO OTHER.
Her heart jumped as the door opened again.
TURN TO ME IN YOUR HOUR OF NEED AND I WILL…
Her number was called.
…LOVE YOU WITH A LOVE THAT WILL LAST FOREVER.
“Go,” her boyfriend said, looking at her imploringly.
DO NOT HIDE YOUR FACE FROM ME, BELOVED. I LOVE YOU WITH AN EVERLASTING LOVE. I WILL PROVIDE FOR YOU. HEED MY VOICE.
Her number was called again. She wanted to jump and run screaming from the room.
CALL OUT TO ME AND I WILL BRING YOU UP OUT OF THIS PIT OF DESPAIR AND SET YOUR FEET UPON THE ROCK. I WILL PROTECT YOU. I WILL PROVIDE FOR YOU. OH, MY BELOVED CHILD, YOU ARE SO VERY PRECIOUS TO ME, SO PRECIOUS I DIED FOR YOU AND ROSE AGAIN THAT YOU MIGHT LIVE IN ME. TRUST ME. OH, MY BELOVED, TRUST ME.
Her boyfriend took her hand and stood. Heart hammering, she stood with him.
He didn’t take her out of the clinic. He handed her over to the woman in the doorway with the clipboard in her hand. The woman smiled and said everything would be all right. Letting go of her, the boy stepped back and turned away. As the girl went forward, she looked back and knew she was alone. When the door closed, death surrounded her.
And into the silence and separation that followed could be heard the weeping of God’s only begotten Son, the Atonement Child.
– Epilogue, The Atonement Child, Francine Rivers