Two new girls moved into House of Hope this week, and last night we had our first “house meeting” with them. Once a week, the staff, recent graduates and the HOH girls meet together for dinner and talk about life, how we’re doing, concerns, plans, etc. The new girls have spent the week moving in, attending two NA meetings a day, visiting doctors and counselors and getting adjusted to the daily times of meditation, chai making and garden weeding. It’s been a busy week, and I’m sure they are more than a bit overwhelmed by the newness—of place and people!

We fill our plates and take our seats in the crowded little HOH living room. Paulette and I choose the chairs, our recently graduated girl scrunches together with the two newbies on the couch, and Serenity takes the floor, saying, “I wanna be able to look at ‘em.” Silence hangs in the room, as we stuff our faces with drippy, chicken tacos and ice cold soda.

Nervousness. These new girls have no idea what to expect. They don’t know us yet. And we don’t know them. Who are these ladies? What will they do? What will they expect from us? Someone breaks the awkwardness with a light story and a joke, but we can all feel the uncertainty in the air. What’s coming?

When our plates are mostly empty, I start the serious talk. I welcome them and tell them how glad we are that they are here. Then I ask the two new girls to share with us anything they would like us to know about themselves, and I assure them that they don’t have to tell anything they don’t want to tell.

One of the newbies, shrugs. “I guess I’ll go first.” She bluntly confesses her IV drug addiction, her previous attempts to get clean and her run-ins with the law. She has only spent two months sober in the last ten years. “The longest damn months of my life!” This go around she’s only got eleven days clean, and those are because she was sanctioned to jail before she came to us.

She tells these parts of her story as a matter of fact, and even with hardened smiles, but when she speaks of her children, her tone softens. She pauses. Tears fill her eyes. Then she tells of their daddy, a violently abusive, fellow drug addict, her attempts to run from him, and the many times she went back, because “she needed him,” and the tears begin to fall. Around the room, heads nod and knowing looks are exchanged. “I only wanna be a good mama,” she cries, and immediately five voices declare, “You will be.”

She continues, now the words flow quickly, “This is my last chance. I don’t even know why the judge gave me another chance. I think God must have a purpose for my life. I’m so grateful for this place and for you ladies. You’re all so beautiful and so strong.” She turns to the other newbie and says to her, “You are included in those here who are beautiful and strong!”

Taking this as her cue, the second girl begins. It is a tale of the last two years of living on the streets, being taken advantage of by her own children who steal her money for drugs. Her own drug use, and mental health struggles. The night before she came to HOH she slept by the train tracks. She says, “This is a new beginning for me.”

Our recent graduate is shy (it took us months to get her to open up), but oh, she’s come a long way! She jumps in to tell her tale of “been there done that” and her own recovery through House of Hope. She says, “If it wasn’t for this group of ladies here, I’d maybe be dead. I don’t know where I’d be.” She tells the girls they are now her sisters, and that she will be available to them and that in fact—she needs them. Then she asks, “So when are you comin’ to my house for dinner?!”

When the girls have said all they want to say, I explain to them that this is a safe place—not that we will never hurt one another—this is met with “Oh, we wills!” from other girls in the room—but that we are committed to love each other “no matter what.” We will be here for one another and help each other through.

Paulette tells them that soon she will share with them her own story, but that it is a story of terrible abuse and many years of running away from God. “I only decided to come back to him about four years ago.” She urgently expresses our need for honesty—that the only way to recovery is honesty, and she thanks the girls for their openness with us.

Serenity, the House Mom, their new advocate and best friend, finishes our meeting by telling the new girls a parable. “You have just been dropped off in the middle of the desert. You have no idea where you are. You don’t know how to get home. You are totally lost. Suddenly, two men appear before you. One is dressed in a fancy suit and tie. He has slicked back hair and a briefcase in his hand. He says, ‘Come with me. I will show you the way.’ The other is a wild eyed, crazy looking tribal guy. He has a bone in his nose and a spear in his hand. He, too, says, ‘Come with me. I’ll show you the way.'” Serenity asks, “Which one do you follow?”

One of the ladies bursts out, ‘The guy in the suit will just pimp you out! Go with the crazy tribal guy!” Everyone laughs.

Serenity says, “Yes. That’s the one you should follow. He has been there; he knows the terrain. He looks like he belongs. He knows the way home. These women here have been through similar things. Some the abuse, some the addiction, some the crimes. They have received healing and new life, and they will lead you to new life as well. They will show you the way home.”