A few years ago, our alarm system went off in the middle of the night. The siren blared and it woke us all from a dead sleep. We didn't know what to do. Was someone in the house? Were they going to hurt us? Do we call the police before we do anything else?
My dad, perhaps ill-advisedly, grabbed the largest knife from the knife block and went to the basement where there was a presumed intruder. He was ready to attack if the situation warranted it. Instead, he found our cat who had chewed through the wires. Oops.
We may not have actually been in danger, but I can tell you that the last thing on anyone's mind was befriending the person we thought was trying to rob our home. My dad was ready to attack whoever was breaking in, and the rest of us were ready to help if necessary.
Leah Ross initially had the same reaction, terror, but then she realized there was a better option to fear: compassion.
On a cold December night, Ross remembers walking into her home and realizing something was off. Her backdoor was wide open and items in her basement were now scattered all over the kitchen. Ross spotted an old jacket of hers out in the snow, as well.
"I was freaking out," Ross told CBC News. "My heart rate like soared and my Fitbit had tracked it so I later saw that my heart rate went up to like 158 and I was terrified."
Ross called 911, called her neighbors, and the church across the street.
But before cops could arrive, Ross got a knock on her back door. It was the burglar, wearing Ross's jacket, watch, and sweater. She was only 17 years old. Ross took a picture of the suspect, and asked "Are you going to hurt me?" The girl said no, which is when Ross began to relax a little.
The young teen revealed that she had forgotten her keys and phone in Ross's home and had come back to retrieve them. She apologized to Ross for the break-in and the two embraced in a hug. Ross invited the girl in and they sat together at the kitchen table. The duo shared gingersnaps and eggnog, as it was all Ross had left in the house. Not long after, Pastor Kim Stoesz showed up. Ross told her the burglar was in her kitchen, and the pastor was understandably concerned.
"I was afraid because I didn't know that the burglar was a young woman," Stoesz said. "I could see that it was just a sad situation."
It turns out that the young girl had recently been placed in foster care after her biological parents gave her up due to the girl's drug issue. Her parents found out about the incident and sent Ross a Christmas card, asking if she'd call them. Since then, Ross and the teen have kept in touch.
Ross says she even bought the girl new makeup for Christmas, and joked that it would be better than the the stuff stolen from her home. The part-time teacher is sharing her story with hopes that people will learn that showing compassion to strangers is sometimes all it takes to change a person's life.