creative nonfiction


bjm21

Bobbie Jo Morrell is a mountain woman, poet, writer, leather crafter, rustic furniture builder, cat owner, technical writer, website designer. She says, “Colorado’s Front Range, with the smell of pine trees in the cool air of morning, is my home.” Her blog address: http://soulscompass.blogspot.com/.

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Deeper Warrior Chapter 18: F.R.E.D.

I rather surprised myself, introvert that I was (and am), deciding to spend four weeks of my summer break living in a sorority house at Drake University with about 50 Navigators from around the state at the Summer Training Program. Women at one end of the building, men at the other. Five people per bunk room.

We were to work each weekday; I had my real summer job with the corn breeders, and left the sorority house every morning after oatmeal for the 45 minute drive to the Agronomy Farm. I’d walk up and down corn fields that were more like rice paddies that wet year, then drive another 45 minutes back to Drake. I was very thankful for my solitary (or nearly solitary) work and driving time to counteract the crowded conditions of the training program.

Being a misfit in the Navs, I was fortunate to end up on a team of misfits—to varying degrees. Renee, our team leader, was a journalism student with definite artistic tendencies and sensibilities. One of our first team projects was to take a big sheet of butcher paper and many crayons and make a mural.

Teams had to accomplish certain tasks, in addition to attending the group teachings and events.

  1. Come up with a Team Name that had a meaning relevant to the theme of the program (“Run to Win” based on 1 Corinthians 9:26-27).
  2. Create and perform a skit to present the team name to everyone else—usually during dinner.
  3. Travel as a team on the next to last weekend for two days of “evangelism” in the real world.

We quickly and easily decided on a team name: FRED. The hard part was determining how the team name was relevant to the program theme. Surely it must stand for something…but what? After much discussion we decided that it meant “Freely Running & Enduring Disciples.” But we just said “Fred.”

As a run up to our skit, we started writing notes to our fellow Navs, including encouraging words and mysterious questions, all signed, “Fred” and put them in the little mailbox cubby holes. Whenever we safely could, we tried to be present when the recipient read the note. “Who’s Fred?” they asked aloud. We kept quiet and moved on.

Then on the big day I hovered outside the dining hall with a hairbrush for a microphone. At the right time I jumped into the room, shocking everyone by launching into a loud talk-show-host patter, asking, “Will the real Fred please stand up?”

“Is it Fred Astaire?” Renee and Angie came tangoing out of the kitchen and did a twirl in the middle of the room.

“Is it Fred Flintstone?” Elaine burst into the room shouting “Yabba Dabba Dooo!”

Finally we all lined up together for our FRED cheer, lame, but suitable to us. I can’t remember if we got much applause.

For the evangelism weekend we went to Renee’s mom’s house, near the University of Iowa. Mom was an artist, and her house was small and white with a studio on the north side. She made us pancakes with cottage cheese for breakfast.

Mostly we painted her fence and served her around the house. But we had to do something evangelizy, so we all went to the University, scattered in different directions and tried to pretend to start conversations with strangers. I had taken my tenor recorder with me, stopped to play now and then (I should have had a hat with me, perhaps) and got into a five minute conversation with an older woman about the different sizes of recorders. My duty done, I went down to the river to meditate in solitude under a weeping willow.

story by bobbie jo morrell, all rights reserved

back to voca femina home

Francine Phillips is a poet, author, and editor living in San Diego, California. Please check out her blog at http://francinephillips.tumblr.com.

__________________________________________________________________________________________Because Chapter 2

Because God so loved me, Mike sailed into my life.

I was coming up to 40, a single Mom for nearly eight years. My marriage to my seminary boyfriend had broken and died, mostly because, like many Christian virgins at 25 years of age, the only thing I had been taught about being a wife came from Proverbs 31.

Ridiculous.

I was blessed with two incredible kids, Molly and Jesse, who had to compete for my attention after a demanding day on the job. My father died and left me a little money, so we moved to a wonderful property with woods, a pool and a pond. I had a lot — great kids, an interesting job, a cool home, and incredible women friends. I held writer’s salons, parties, painting gatherings, readings, and planted a garden.

But I wanted a man.

Sleeping alone is one of the most painful parts of being a single woman. Just the act of turning down the covers,getting in alone, and turning out the light by yourself is something that those who are alone can’t understand as the loneliest moment of the day. Whether you take a book to bed with you, a strong blast of Scotch, or a bowl of Rocky Road ice cream, nothing is like sharing the warmth of the bed with a man. It just isn’t.

So I prayed for a husband. I told myself I needed a “helpmate,” which is Christian code for sex partner, even though you try to convince yourself that it’s really someone to cut wood for the fireplace, fix the car, help wash dishes, and sit in the driver’s seat. Bottom line, I wanted a man. And I wanted God to bring me one. Pleaded for one.

Not that I had been alone that much. In fact, I had just been through a final break-up with my artist lover after four off and on years of whisking the kids away for their Dad’s weekend and scurrying downtown for two days of snuggling like puppies to the sounds of drunks shouting on the sidewalk, sirens in the night, Van Morrison soulfully providing back-up vocals. A million miles from cold, stuck Cheerios, homework papers, lunch boxes, and alarm clocks. That getaway to another world was fun while it lasted. Now I wanted a man in my world.

It’s a mistake that many divorced women make who have financial security and a certain professional identity. Most are looking for a guy to come into the world they have made for themselves and simply help. My girlfriends and I were like that. We were the “’80s Ladies” that gritty K.T. Oslin sang about. We were women who owned our homes, and had obtained success, recognition and job satisfaction. We got together for poetry readings, gala events, lots of glasses of wine on the patio and laughter over dates from hell. Over the years we had refined our criteria for a mate. I shared our findings, once, with a male friend.

“We have narrowed it down to two requirements,” I said. “Solvent and capable of erection. Is that too much to ask?”

He thought for a moment. “Actually, it could be.”

We didn’t want to particularly change our worlds, just have help with the ones we had created. Husbands to explain things to the pool man, accompany us to the plays that we like, give us a kiss on New Year’s Eve, hold us at the end of the day. We thought marriage was 50/50 and we could probably talk the right guy out of wanting his
50 percent because we were smart, successful, brought home the bacon, and gave head.

God so loved me.

story by francine phillips, all rights reserved

back to voca femina home

bjm21

Bobbie Jo Morrell is a mountain woman, poet, writer, leather crafter, rustic furniture builder, cat owner, technical writer, website designer. She says, “Colorado’s Front Range, with the smell of pine trees in the cool air of morning, is my home.” Her blog address: http://soulscompass.blogspot.com/.

___________________________________________________________________________________________Christmas Merry Christmas to All

Christmas time. When families get together, and love and joy and peace fill the air.

Uh huh.

I went back to Nebraska for the holidays with a strange sense of trepidation. It was my first Christmasafter signing up to follow Jesus, and I wasn’t sure what it would be like to be back in the old neighborhood.

Sure enough, I resumed my avoidant behavior of staying up late at night, reading, so as to sleep a lot during the day. But one night as I stared at the book in front of me, a thought arose to consciousness—that sense of God thing again.

You should tell your mom about your sexual abuse.

Oh, hell, no! She’d kill me for sure. I mean, she would be so angry at me. I couldn’t face that. What would be the point?

You should tell your mom about your sexual abuse.

Are You crazy? No, really, why would I do that? Dredge all that up with mom. And how would I bring up such a taboo topic? At the breakfast table?

“Oh, by the way, Mom, I was sexually abused in second grade. Would you pass the salt please?”

Right. Conversations about big topics like that were not done in my family. No way.

You should tell your mom about your sexual abuse.

Okay, how ’bout this? I’ll tell mom about my abuse, but you have to have her bring up the topic. I can’t just bring it up out of the blue.

Silence.

I rolled over and went to sleep, confident that I had dodged a bullet. I mean, mom bring up the topic of sexual abuse of children? Never happen. Never.

In the morning after eggs and bacon I set about making the traditional “peppernuts” for Christmas.They are a kind of spicy cookie/candy thing that involves rolling a big lump of dough into lots of little tiny balls and baking them. I had just reached the rolling into balls stage of the procedure when I heard the Phil Donahue Show come on in the living room. The day’s topic was child sexual abuse.

Holy shit! I ducked my head down and kept rolling peppernuts, hoping that mom wouldn’t come into the kitchen. But presently she came sailing in through the dining room, speaking in an intense, angry voice. “If anyone did that to any of my kids, I’d kill them!”

Okay, God. You win.

With a heavy sigh I accepted my fate, and opened my mouth.

“Well, mom, I have something to tell you…”

I told her. Not in detail, just the bare fact of it happening. She sank, shocked, into a dining room chair. I continued to vigorously roll peppernuts while facing her across the peninsula of counter space that separated dining from kitchen. But I didn’t stop telling my story. I wanted to emphasize that I had turned all this over to God now, and he was working healing in my life—that the mere fact of being a victim was not the whole story by a long shot.

Suddenly she interrupted my nervous narrative to ask, darkly, “Who was it? Who did it?”

Great, she wanted to go kill him, I suppose. “Mom, that’s not really important right now…”

“Was it Pam’s brother?”

“No, mom…and it doesn’t matter because…”

“Was it Jack?”

“Well, yes, it was—but that’s not the main thing here. The main thing is that now Jesus is working to make me whole again…”

I don’t think she was listening. Maybe she was going over in her mind past interactions, responses,comments. Maybe she was thinking about how to rid the world of the pestilence that had done unspeakable things to her daughter. I don’t know.

The end of that conversation evades my memory. I know that the peppernuts got baked. I know that was the last time I ever made them. But something else odd began to happen. My mom suddenly became very touchy-feely-huggy. She was never that way before. I mean, the usual homecoming hug, or goodby hug. But now she was coming up to me at random times and giving me hugs and putting her hand on my shoulders and all kinds of affectionate behavior.

Was she saying she was sorry? Was she trying to make up for something? I had just shaken up her world pretty hard, after all. In any case, I kind of freaked out, kind of felt like a rogue vacuum cleaner was wandering around the house just waiting to latch onto me. What was that about? Wouldn’t I want extra affection from my mom? I didn’t know. But I trumped up some excuse and left several days earlier than I had intended, returning with a sigh of relief to the solitude of my tiny room in Ash House, and watched the eight-night-long PBS stage production of Nicholas Nickleby.

story by bobbie jo morrell, all rights reserved

back to voca femina home

Francine Phillips is a poet, author, and editor living in San Diego, California. Please check out her blog at http://francinephillips.tumblr.com.

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Chapter 1

For God So Loved the World that He Gave His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

John 3:16. Just saying the reference brings to mind a chorus of small children memorizing it in a sing-song tone, stumbling over the “whosoever” while the teacher waves her hand like a music conductor andmouths, “that means you!!!” And the room is getting hot and stuffy and my Dotted Swiss dress is starting to scratch the back of my knees and one of the boys is always too loud on the word “Begotten” and what does a six year-old know about perishing anyway. Life is already everlasting to a sixyear-old in Sunday School. Especially everlasting in a Dotted Swiss, too-tight dress.

Because God so loved me, Mike sailed into my life. I was coming up to 40, a single Mom for nearly eight years. My marriage to my seminary boyfriend had broken and died, mostly because, like many Christian virgins at 25 years of age, the only thing I had been taught about being a wife came from Proverbs 31.

Ridiculous.

I was blessed with two incredible kids, Molly and Jesse, who had to compete for my attention after a demanding day on the job. My father died and left me a little money, so we moved to a wonderful property with woods, a pool and a pond. I had a lot — great kids, an interesting job, a cool home, and incredible women friends. I held writers’ salons, parties, painting gatherings, readings, and planted a garden.

But I wanted a man.

Sleeping alone is one of the most painful parts of being a single woman. Just the act of turning down the covers, getting in alone, and turning out the light by yourself is something that those who are alone can’t understand as the loneliest moment of the day. Whether you take a book to bed with you, a strong blast of Scotch, or a bowl of Rocky Road ice cream, nothing is like sharing the warmth of the bed with a man. It just isn’t.

So I prayed for a husband. I told myself I needed a “helpmate,” which is Christian code for sex partner, even though you try to convince yourself that it’s really someone to cut wood for the fireplace, fix the car, help wash dishes, and sit in the driver’s seat. Bottom line, I wanted a man. And I wanted God to bring me one. Pleaded for one. Not that I had been alone that much. In fact, I had just been through a final break-up with my artist lover after four off and on years of whisking the kids away for their Dad’s weekend and scurrying downtown for two days of snuggling like puppies to the sounds of drunks shouting on the sidewalk, sirens in the night, Van Morrison soulfully providing back-up vocals. A million miles from cold, stuck Cheerios, homework papers, lunch boxes, and alarm clocks. That getaway to another world was fun while it lasted.

Now I wanted a man in my world.

It’s a mistake that many divorced women make who have financial security and a certain professional identity. Most are looking for a guy to come into the world they have made for themselves and simply help. My girlfriends and I were like that. We were the “’80s Ladies” that gritty K.T. Oslin sang about. We were women who owned our homes, and had obtained success, recognition and job satisfaction. We got together for poetry readings, gala events, lots of glasses of wine on the patio and laughter over dates from hell. Over the years we had refined our criteria for a mate. I shared our findings, once, with a male friend.

“We have narrowed it down to two requirements,” I said. “Solvent and capable of erection. Is that too much to ask?”

He thought for a moment. “Actually, it could be.”

We didn’t want to particularly change our worlds, just have help with the ones we had created. Husbands to explain things to the pool man, accompany us to the plays that we like, give us a kiss on New Year’s Eve, hold us at the end of the day. We thought marriage was 50/50 and we could probably talk the right guy out of wanting his 50 percent because we were smart, successful, brought home the bacon, and were good in bed.

God so loved me.

On the Receiving End, copyright 2009, by Francine Phillips

back to voca femina home

bjm21

Bobbie Jo Morrell is a mountain woman, poet, writer, leather crafter, rustic furniture builder, cat owner, technical writer, website designer. She says, “Colorado’s Front Range, with the smell of pine trees in the cool air of morning, is my home.” Her blog address: http://soulscompass.blogspot.com/.

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Just Me and God and…the Navigators

That spring Christine graduated with honors with a degree in Agronomy (aka “dirt”) and went to Indiana to pursue a master’s degree in entymology (aka “bugs in corn”). We wrote letters and occasionally talked on the phone—mind you, this was before email, texting, and nationwide cell service was known outside of serious geek circles—but on a daily basis I was on my own with Jesus, the healing thing, and the Navigators.

Torn between the desire to return to my hermitlike ways and the desire to be active in the body of Christ, as St. Paul put it, I stretched myself and did what group things I could. I went on the canoe trip to Decorah and embarrassed myself hugely by rolling the canoe I was in charge of in the currents of an undercut bank. With great presence of mind I managed to catch the loose floating stuff: paddles, stray life jackets, etc. Unfortunately while my hands were thus engaged, the current swept my glasses off and carried them to the bottom of the Upper Iowa River. (When I told Chris about this she joked, “See, God wanted you to get rid of those glasses!” They were permanently tinted brown, and she didn’t like that I hid my eyes behind them.)

I spent the rest of the float in the bow of Barry’s canoe. He was a very tall and very kind young man who lived in the Richardson Court Dorms and I was grateful to be able to recover at least a little of my dignity in his quiet and gentle presence. That night at the campfire, not only did I not get teased to death for my dip, but everyone chipped in some change to contribute a total of fifty dollars to go toward a new pair of glasses.

I spent the summer working for corn breeder research projects—mostly walking up and down cornfields and, later in the summer, coming out yellow with pollen. In the fall when Nav activities resumed, I joined the Bible study led by one of the women from Christine’s old study, and went to the all-campus gatherings. There I got to talk to Trina, who had led Chris’ study group and was first to come see me the night I decided to follow this Jesus guy. And I got to know Becky, who was the women’s leader of the Navigator staff there on campus. She and Trina were both from Minnesota, and their greeting, “Hellooo, Bobbie Jooo” always made me smile.

The study was a great group of women, led by Sandra. We were going through the little red study books published by NavPress, with lots of fill-in-the-blanks in them. I wasn’t nearly as excited by this as I had been by the discussions Christine and I had had previously. I could always tell what answer they wanted to fill the blank with without reading the scripture passage, so I usually didn’t bother to do the study beforehand. Read the bible text, usually, but the questions were boring.

I enjoyed the meetings themselves, the discussions around the text; although we didn’t seem to get as lively or as interesting in our questions and explorations. They were fun people though, and two of them even went with me to a Halloween party thrown by some of my old drinking buddies. I’m not sure they had a good time, though.

At some gathering I was telling Sandra about how, as a freshman, I had had my left ear pierced, and didn’t pierce the right one to make a pair until about a year previous. Her response made me laugh, but also echoed in my mind a little oddly.

“You weren’t…weird…were you?”

I knew she meant “homosexual”. No, I wasn’t, but she put it so…strangely. I was both glad that I had pierced the other ear, and annoyed somehow.

What if I told her about my abusive past? Would that be weird, also?

I also wrestled with the book. Healing? Really? It talked about guilt, low self-esteem and the healing of it, depression, and above all, the Wounded Healer, Jesus. Yet I didn’t feel that I could get away, get anywhere with this. My only confidante was in Indiana, and no one else here in town knew my story. I didn’t trust people with it.

Finally, with long distance encouragement from Christine, I looked for more help. Who to talk to? I couldn’t imagine asking, “What kind of healing does Jesus offer for victims of childhood sexual abuse?” in the middle of a group meeting, or of the Bible study.

Becky. She was the leader of the women’s groups, Navigator staff. Kindness and compassion flowed from her like sweet perfume. We got together now and again, and finally I unburdened myself to her. I was so afraid, or so ashamed, that I slouched in my seat and told my story with my head practically lying on the table. But there it was: I was a victim of sexual abuse, and I needed help figuring out how Jesus’ healing could be possible in my life.

Becky listened with compassion and gently asked some questions. I think I was presenting her with a difficulty she wasn’t accustomed to dealing with, but she took it with grace and thought carefully about what should be done next.

“You know, the E-Free Church here has a christian counselor come up from Des Moines twice a week. I’ll get her phone number for you; the church helps out those who need financial assistance to pay for it, too.”

Raising my head from the table I expressed my incredible gratitude. Partly for the counselor information, but mostly for her kindness and acceptance of my broken self. Healing, indeed.

story by bobbie jo morrell, all rights reserved

back to voca femina home

bjm21

Bobbie Jo Morrell is a mountain woman, poet, writer, leather crafter, rustic furniture builder, cat owner, technical writer, website designer. She says, “Colorado’s Front Range, with the smell of pine trees in the cool air of morning, is my home.” Her blog address: http://soulscompass.blogspot.com/.

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Deeper Warrior Chapter 15: Stalking the Wild Hope

Looking carefully to make sure that Christine was nowhere in sight, I silently closed my door and slid out to the sunny sidewalk. Quickly moving down the street, I passed Memorial Lutheran Church, passed the Campus Book Store, headed for the little bookstore in the basement of the bank building. Again.

Once more I was in the Christian book store, drawn to, and frightened by, a small trade paperback sitting on a shelf. I made another stalking pass, and heard the question ring in my head again:

“Do you really want to be healed?”

The book was about abuse—childhood abuse—and how God wanted to heal you from it.

You’d think the answer would be an easy “Yes!” Ha! But I knew there would be a catch. I knew it would mean opening a door I’d been trying to keep tight shut for many, many years. A dark door, leading to a darker place, with shiny, flesh-eating ooze leaking out at the edges. Surely it meant death.

And what might God require of me? The forgiveness thing was heavy on me already. What did that mean? Would I have to face my abuser? What else would I have to dredge out of the darkness? Visions of some goofball Christian guy leaping out from behind a bush to shout at me, “It’s God’s will for you to marry me!” made me break out in a cold sweat. Being loved wasn’t even on my radar; all I could see was the confining duty of  the good Christian wife who quietly submitted to her “head”–the man.

Oh, hell no!

Can’t you just wave your magic wand and make it all go away? I can’t stand the pain and darkness of where I am—but I don’t know if I can survive the pain and darkness of opening That Door. Yes, I wanted to be healed. No, the pain and risk is too great.

Balanced on a knife edge of ambivalence, I kept coming back to stalk the book—to hear the question that Jesus seemed to be patiently asking me—over and over.

“Do you really want to be healed?”

Slowly I reached out to pick up the book. No electric shock, no lightning strike. Then quickly, before I could change my mind, I bought it and ran down the street toward home.

story by bobbie jo morrell, all rights reserved

back to voca femina home

bjm21

Bobbie Jo Morrell is a mountain woman, poet, writer, leather crafter, rustic furniture builder, cat owner, technical writer, website designer. She says, “Colorado’s Front Range, with the smell of pine trees in the cool air of morning, is my home.” Her blog address: http://soulscompass.blogspot.com/.

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Deeper Warrior Chapter 14: It’s About Forgiveness

My  finger tapped the open page of the brand new Ryrie Study Bible (NASB) before me.

“So, what’s this where Jesus is telling us to forgive as we have been forgiven? How does that work?”

Christine looked up from her Bible. “Well, forgiveness is necessary to remove obstacles to relationship, you know, between people, and with God.”

She set her Ryrie aside and leaned forward in the chair. “Like when you and I had that conversation about the night I broke my ankle, when you were, er, incapacitated…”

“Yes, I remember.” My face felt suddenly warm.

“I was hurt that you weren’t, well, really there for me that night. And you felt bad about it too, didn’t you? So we were able to talk about it, forgiveness came in, and our friendship became deeper and better, right?” She threw her arms wide in a generous gesture, beaming at me.

“Right.” I couldn’t help but smile back at her, full of gratitude.

“But let’s say you hadn’t felt bad, or decided that you were justified somehow – or I decided that I couldn’t stop being hurt about that, couldn’t let go of it, what would have happened then? Broken relationship.” Her hand moved in a knife-like wave. “It would have become a huge obstacle, and interfered with our friendship. It works with God that way, too. I bring myself to God, whatever sorry state I’m in, without getting stuck in defensiveness or hurt, and the broken relationship with God is restored—because of Jesus.”

“Yes, I kind of get that.” I scowled for a while at the black letters printed on the onion skin paper, scratching at them lightly with a fingernail. Then I flipped back to a previous section of the text.

“Here it says too, that we should love our enemies, not just our friends.”

“Ye-es.” Chris sat back thoughtfully. She tapped her chin a few times before speaking again.

“Remember last fall, when I broke up with Dave, then?”

“Oh, yes! Denise and I had been telling you to dump him for quite a while.”

She smiled ruefully at me. “Yes, indeed. But during finals week I did break up with him, and then went over to your place on the west side to hide out. While I was there, he came here looking for me here at Ash House, stomping and shouting and threatening violence.”

I nodded. “We were afraid he would hurt you. Physically, I mean. He’d already hurt you…”

“So I have to forgive him for hurting me, but that doesn’t mean that I should let him hurt me any more, or risk physical injury.”

“No-o-o.” I cocked my head to one side, trying to grasp the mist swirling around in my brain. “So, what’s the big deal about forgiveness, then?”

Chris thought for a minute. “I guess maybe holding on to the hurt and sense of injury, not letting it go, interferes with my relationship with Jesus. If I spend my time and energy nursing a grudge, or wallowing in pain, then I get stuck there. Like how it could have been an obstacle between you and me—it was also an obstacle between us and God that we need to hand over to him, and not let it shut us down.”

She looked at me with smiling eyes. “I mean, if I stayed wound up in how Dave hurt me, how would I have time and energy to read through Matthew with you, or do things with the other girls, or get any school work done? It would be a serious drag.”

I scratched at the letters again, slowly. “But it still hurts, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah, but it doesn’t eat me up; it doesn’t control me. Usually, anyway. I feel the hurt, but I try to turn it over to God and not cling to it.”

Her gaze sharpened, and I felt her waiting, silently questioning.

Looking up quickly to make sure the door to my room was closed, I spoke in a low voice.

“So if I don’t forgive the guy who raped me as a kid, then that could become an obstacle in my relationship with God.” My eyes were riveted on the worn carpet.

Chris let out a breath with the sound usually written as, “Whew!”

“Bobbie…” She stopped, tried again. “I… well, I don’t think you have to put yourself at risk, or anything…”

My dark, sarcastic sense of humor came to my rescue. “I don’t see myself running to Nebraska to give him a big bear hug, no.”

Christine’s quiet laugh was tinged with sadness.

I rubbed my forehead vigorously, as if trying to erase some mark. “But what will it look like?”

“I don’t know.” Chris leaned forward and took my hand. “I guess we should just ask? Maybe all you need to do to start is tell Jesus that you don’t want it to be an obstacle, but you don’t know how to get started or what to do. He won’t leave you all alone to do it yourself, I’m sure of that.”

story by bobbie jo morrell, all rights reserved

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