by Sarah M. Bowen
Once upon a time in a land far, far away (but, not so far as we would like it to be) lived a young girl named Bella.
Bella was particularly beautiful; she had soft, brown eyes that you could lose yourself in, beautiful curly black hair, and skin so dark that if she stood very still you might think she was a statue carved of the most priceless ebony.
Bella was born beautiful, but she was also very poor. When she was a small child, her mother and her aunts would smear her face with dirt, cover her hair with a kerchief, and insist that she only look at the ground. She couldn’t understand why they would do such things, but once she was properly attired and chastised, she could play with the other children. So, she didn’t mind.
As Bella grew, she learned that there were times she should not be outside. When the young boys on the edge of town would whistle, the young girls would run and hide. Men would come to town and look through the homes and talk to the fathers. They would offer them money, food, or the herbs that caused them to forget they were very poor and hungry. If the girls hid, held very still and very quiet, sometimes they would not be seen by the men. Most of the time, when the men would come, they would take one or two girls away with them. And, for a time, the family they had belonged to would have more food than everyone else, and the fathers in the family would use the herbs that helped them forget what had happened in their homes.
One day, Bella’s mother became very ill. Her aunts and her cousins sang and prayed, but nothing they did made any difference. Bella knew her mother needed medicine, and she knew that she and her brothers and sisters needed their mother. That day, Bella’s father noticed her.
t’s not to say that he had never noticed her before. Just that there were ever so many children in the town and sometimes the fathers would be hard pressed to say which were theirs and which were someone else’s. So many small children died due to illness and accident so, until they were half grown, there was little sense in growing attached.
Bella’s father drew her close to him and studied her. He rubbed the dirt from her face and tugged at her curly hair. He stared into her deep brown eyes. Bella held very still. She had never been this close to him and wasn’t sure what to do.
That day the men came. At the end of the day, Bella was gone. She had been carried away by the men.
Bella never thought much about what happened to the girls who left, and the terror of the unknown gripped her. She left her town on the back of a horse, holding tight to a man she had never met, and for the first time she saw the world beyond her small town.
She didn’t like it.
The men took her to a large, noisy city and left her in a large, noisy room full of many other girls. They were all very young, and they were all very beautiful.
Some of the girls were frightened and crying. That scared Bella, but what scared her more were the ones who were hard and angry. She shrank away from them as they passed and fixed her gaze on the floor like her mother had taught her.
Avoiding their gaze didn’t help. As night drew near Bella was pulled to her feet, scrubbed, and dressed in a gown that was impossibly beautiful and impossibly small. Her lips were colored, her eyelids were covered in sparkles, and her curls were cleaned and untangled.
For the first time Bella saw her reflection in a full length mirror. She was beautiful, and she was frightened.
One of the angry girls took Bella with her that night and showed her what to do. It hurt, but if she took her mind to another place, she thought she could stand it. Whenever the men would come to her, she would imagine she was back in the small town she grew up in, playing and singing with her cousins. She imagined that her mother was well and strong. Perhaps the money her father had received from the men would protect her brothers and sisters from a similar fate.
Sometimes it worked, but sometimes the pain was too much.
One day, when one of the men left, he accidentally left a gift behind. Bella didn’t notice it right away, but after a few weeks she realized what had happened. The days went by and the gift became brighter and harder to ignore. The other girls noticed the gift the man had left with Bella. They told her she needed to tell the men in charge about the gift. Soon, even they would notice that she had it, and they would take it away. The sooner she told them the less it would hurt.
Bella wasn’t sure how she felt about the gift. It came from one of the men that hurt her, but when she saw the gift she didn’t think of him. The gift was hers and hers alone. She wasn’t going to give it up.
That night, Bella escaped, keeping the gift with her.
As she prepared to leave, the other girls looked at her. They didn’t stop her, and they didn’t cry out. Instead, they laid their hands on her and encouraged her as she left. They found a blanket and fashioned it into a cloak to hide her. Then, they hugged her and touched the gift as she passed.
Many of them had had their own gifts in the past and had been forced to throw them away. They knew how much it hurt, and they didn’t want that for Bella.
Someone must have been watching over her, because the guards didn’t notice and not one of the other girls raised an alarm. Bella whispered a prayer for them as she ran. She knew that her absence would cause pain to those she left behind.
As she fled, she realized her gift was slowing her down. It had become heavier as time had passed. Bella tired easily as she carried it. She knew that there were places that she could go to discard it. But when she thought about that she remembered growing up in the sunshine with her cousins and her siblings. She couldn’t destroy her gift.
Bella came to a large stone church. She couldn’t go any further. She collapsed on the steps. As she drifted off into an exhausted sleep, she felt warm hands grasp her shoulders, raise her to her feet, and lead her inside.
When she woke, she was resting on a narrow cot. At first, she panicked, but she saw the brightly wrapped gift safely tucked against her. She relaxed somewhat. She gazed at her protector with lidded eyes and saw an elderly woman stirring a pot over a fire. The room was small and shabby, but warm and very clean. Most of all, the room felt safe. She felt safer than she had ever been. The old woman glanced over her shoulder at Bella and said, “You asked for protection and He helped you escape and He sent me to you. You and your gift will be safe as long as you’re here, go back to sleep.” Bella had been so very afraid for so very long, but she complied.
After a few days of rest and warmth, Bella felt strong again. The gift had become even larger and heavier, and she knew that it wouldn’t stay quietly in its wrappings for much longer. Her protector knew that too. She also knew that the men were hunting for Bella. Bella wasn’t so terribly valuable, but they would never let a girl escape. If one succeeded then others would try. They would lose money as well as their reputations.
Her protector clothed Bella in a simple dress and gave her a worn but serviceable cloak. She also tucked food, wrappings, and a very small outfit into a basket and handed it to her. As night fell Bella was laid in a wagon under a false bottom. The driver of the wagon looked at Bella in a new way. Not like her father did, as something to be sold Not like the other men did, as something to be purchased. This man looked at her as though she was a real person. When he gazed at her he didn’t stare at her gift and he didn’t stare at her body. He looked right into her eyes as if she mattered. He smiled at Bella and he cautioned her to stay very still. Bella didn’t smile back, but she took his words to heart. As the wagon rumbled through the streets, Bella held tightly to her gift. They were challenged at the gates, and she held her breath. The same Power that helped her flee the noisy room, and sent the old woman to her, helped them that night. The wagon rolled through the gates and on to freedom.
They traveled through the wilderness together and Bella got to know her driver. She learned that even though they were alone, and Bella couldn’t run, he didn’t try to touch her. She learned that he watched out for her and was interested in what she had to say. She learned that he thought her gift was as valuable as she did. He would do anything to protect both Bella and the gift.
After a few days of hiding in the wagon, Bella and the driver came to a small town. The town was not as small as Bella’s home. The people in this town weren’t the same either. They were different. Bella felt safe in this new place. The driver took her to a large inn and spoke quietly with the proprietor. By now, Bella’s gift was quite large and awkward. Everyone could see it. Bella lowered her head in shame. It was not right for a young girl to carry the gift all alone. She knew it wasn’t her fault. She knew the gift was worthy of protection, but the shame stayed with her.
The driver came back to Bella and told her she would be safe. The people in the inn would watch over her and she would work with them. Her heart skipped a beat as he turned to go, but he stopped and smiled at her over his shoulder. She knew, with a surety she had never had before, that he would be back.
She settled into her life at the inn. The people were kind and they watched over her. Finally, and not too long after she arrived, the day came to unwrap her gift.
Unwrapping it was harder than Bella could ever believe! Through the whole ordeal the innkeeper’s wife and the local healer were with her, encouraging her and holding her hand. More importantly, the same Power who had been there every time she needed Him was there again, protecting her and her gift, ensuring they survived the process. At the end of several hours of pain and fear, it was over and Bella could marvel in what she had done. She had never seen anything so beautiful.
The driver of the wagon returned three days later. He came with his wagon full of wood, clothes, blankets, and food. Tied to the back of the wagon was a sturdy ox, a few goats, and a mangy dog. He came to Bella and asked her to be with him, and only him, forever. Bella agreed.
As she settled into the wagon and they rode off for her new home, she looked down at the face of her gift, her baby, and regretted nothing. Her baby had beautiful creamy skin, curly hair, and deep brown eyes. She would never have her face smeared with mud or be told to look at the floor. Bella would make sure of it. The horror, the pain, and the abuse had brought her something beautiful, and she couldn’t wait to see how it turned out.
As Bella, the driver, and the baby drove off into the sunset, she sighed contentedly. Bella and her prince (for no one could tell her he was anything else) lived happily ever after. They lived together with the sweet baby born of pain and four more babies born of love. They didn’t have the kind of happily ever after where there is no sadness, no arguing, and no difficulty. They lived the kind where you know that you have someone with you through everything no matter what. That’s the kind of happily ever after that really matters.
Sarah M. Bowen is a Daughter of God, wife, mom of four, and pro-life warrior. She is the Executive Director of Alpha Omega Center, a Pregnancy Medical Center in New Castle and Slippery Rock Pennsylvania, and blogs weekly at sarahmbowen.com. You can find her on Facebook as Sarah M. Bowen and on Instagram @sarahmbowenwriter. Her goal through her writing is to encourage believers to take an active part in building a culture of life.