"Don't do that, Miriam," he said quietly.
"Why not?" I choked. "It would be better for everyone if I died."
"God loves you, Miriam. He's got a plan for you. Don't waste your life like this."
"Don't talk to me about God, Dan. He's the last thing I need."
"We all need God."
"Not me. I'm fine without him interfering in my life." My voice sounded hollow and hopeless.
"Yeah, you look it," Dan retorted sarcastically, yet gently.
"God certainly doesn't want me! I've done too much bad shit in my life."
"He'll forgive you if you want him to." Dan sounded so trusting and peaceful when he said this, a heavy lump began to form in my chest. I was desperate for a mere ounce of the sort of peace that I could see he was full to the brim with.
"He'd never forgive me," I assured him. "I'm going to hell when I die, and I deserve to."
"We all deserve to, Miriam. We've all done bad stuff, and we all deserve to be in hell. It's only God loving us that stops us going there." He took several steps towards me as I fought to control myself and to stop my hand shaking so much. Tears blurred my eyes yet again. I couldn't understand what was happening to me. I felt a desperate craving in my heart; a need to fill the empty pit inside my soul with something… or someone.
"I don't… I can't…" I whispered hoarsely. He was close enough to touch me, and I didn't resist when he placed his strong hand on my shaking one and took the knife from me.
"Do you want God to change you?" he asked.
"I… I try to be good sometimes… but every time I try I just can't… there's something inside me stopping me living… I can't get rid of it…" Tears were streaming down my cheeks by now, but I made no effort to wipe them away. I knew now that I couldn't go back to my old way of life. It was God or death.
"I can't live like this anymore," I admitted. "I want your… your peace, Dan."
"Then I'm going to ask God to give it to you," he said, as if he was just going to ask his mum for something as simple as a sandwich. I waited for him to kneel down or something, but instead he placed his hands on my shoulders and began to speak.
"Hey, God. Thanks for Miriam. Thanks for putting such an amazing girl in this village, Lord. I know you see what's in her heart and that you love her, so please will you give her your peace and forgive her so she can be friends with you."
He sounded like he was just chatting with one of his friends. Every one of his words cut straight into my heart, and when he stopped talking I was crying so hard I could hardly stand. It was the feeling inside me that was making me weep. The strongest feeling of love, acceptance, forgiveness and belonging that I had ever felt.
I died that night. By the morning the old Miriam Danielle Andrews was gone. In her place was a girl filled with such a love of God and life, she positively shone. The Harleys didn't know what to think when I threw my arms around both of them at breakfast and thanked them for putting up with me.
It had been a long evening. The whole youth group had stayed late into the night praying for me, and it was gone midnight when Dan half-carried me up the driveway towards the Harleys' front door. I was past exhaustion. The sheer amount of tears I had cried that evening made me weak and sleepy. I briefly saw Mrs. Harley's relieved face as she opened the door, battering Dan with questions as to what had happened. All he said was "You'll see!" before vanishing into the darkness. I was asleep before my foster parents had covered me with my duvet.
When I woke the next morning, however, the full force of what I had done hit me. I was free! Free of everything I had done in my life. A new person. I sang one of the songs I had learnt at band practise with all my heart, appreciating the words for the first time. It was as if I was seeing the world through a new set of eyes, and for the first time in years I was actually glad to be alive.
I left the Harley to recover from their shock and sprinted down to Dan's house, praying that he hadn't gone to church yet. I was in luck… just. I met them loading up their old, battered car with musical instruments. They stared as I jogged up the drive, but I only had eyes for one person, a person who was putting his guitar into the boot of the car. A huge grin split his face as he saw me approaching, and I threw myself into his arms.
"I have to say I prefer this greeting to the one I had last night!" he exclaimed, still amused at my exuberance. I released him, feeling rather remorseful.
"Err… yeah. Sorry about that," I muttered sheepishly.
"No worries," he assured me. "It added a bit of flavour to the meeting, anyway. And it's not everyday you get help at knifepoint. It was quite exciting, thinking about it now!"
"What about last night?"
"Umm… flippin' scary, actually," he admitted. "You can be quite intimidating, despite your size!"
"Excuse me!?" I exclaimed, cuffing him sharply round the head. "I'll not have you insulting my height! I like myself just as I am, thank you!"
Although we both laughed at my words, I wasn't joking. One of the amazing things about being a Christian is that you know God loves you for who you are. I knew God had created me with untidy, dark hair, a nose that was slightly too large and, as Dan felt the need to point out, not much height, but I was satisfied. I knew I was beautiful in God's eyes, so I didn't really care about what the world thought.