ONE NIGHT IN ARUBA

By Tindell Baldwin: My mom always stood by me, regardless of how rebellious my decisions were.  I never knew just how much love, support, and prayer she had for me until my senior spring break.

I can still see the bar, Carlos’n Charlie’s, packed full of people. It was 3AM in Aruba, and we had stolen my parents’ rental car.  We spent hours taking tequila shots and dancing with the locals. I wasn’t looking for boys, but while cheering my friend on in a dance contest, I felt a hand on my back and a voice in my ear.

"Can I buy you a drink" was all I heard. He was tall, about my age, and cute in a tequila-shot kind of way. Not American, but not local either. My heart was on the mend, but what could one drink hurt?

We talked, and laughed, and danced the night away.  When he kissed me, I didn't flinch.  But when 5AM rolled around, it was time to leave -- I had to get the car back before my parents noticed.   When I told him I had to leave, however, he tensed up and tried to get me to go with him instead of my friends.

Instead, I told him we would meet him tomorrow at the beach. Outside of the crowded bar, drunk friends in hand, I finally caught his name: Joran van der Sloot.

We did see him again on the beach the next day, followed by his two friends, but something about him didn't add up. He kept pressuring me to be alone with him.

My gut told me no, so I refused. We exchanged emails and I left it at that.

Six months later I got a call from my best friend, screaming, "Turn on FOX news!" I did, and there he was. Joran van der Sloot, the mystery man from Aruba, along with his two sidekicks, on the news and suspected in the murder of Natalee Holloway, a girl my age.

My heart sank in my chest.  That could have been me. I had made the same mistakes, fallen for the same tricks.  He even sought me out in the same bar.  But I was in my cozy home in Atlanta, watching his face run across every news channel on TV.

A few months later, my parents found a picture of me and Joran from that night and my mom burst into tears. What she told me sent chills running through my veins:

"Sometimes God wakes me up just to tell me to pray for you. And that night in Aruba, I spent hours on my knees."

Six years later, I am still amazed that I lived to tell about this night, and I’ve learned a few things. I learned that my mom’s support and belief in me never disappeared – like I could have. I learned that no one is beyond a second chance.

And I learned that grace never forgot about me or left me behind.

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