Meagan Layne longs for a traditional life as a wife and mother. Love, marriage to an honorable man, a stable home life for her son, more children; it shouldn't be too much to ask. So how did she end up divorced from a man who left her in debt, with a small son to support on a budget that barely meets at the ends? Bobby Kerr despises his past and wants to build on the new start he made when he left his small hometown for Lubbock. He's a new man in Christ, but he can't forget the violent man he was. He won't subject another woman to the perils of life with him. But Meagan stirs Bobby's heart in a dangerous way, making him hope that love could be possible for him after all. If she's willing to risk it.
Bobby sat on the cold, hard steel bench in the holding cell of the Blithe County jail. He rested his elbows on his knees and pressed his balled fists to his forehead, squeezing his eyes shut against the harsh, fluorescent lights overhead. The officer who processed him asked if he was ready to make his phone call, but he wasn’t. Who would he call, anyway? Not Audrey. He needed to think. He needed to sit here until the alcoholic fog lifted a little and he could sort out this mess.
What had just happened? What had he done? He had been arrested on charges of DWI and assault—his first arrest on either count, though certainly not his first offense. He unballed his fists and buried his face in his hands. What happened to all his great intentions to change, to stop drinking, to stop pushing Audrey around? He’d been doing so well these past few weeks. What happened this afternoon?
He released a heavy sigh and leaned back against the cinderblock wall, knowing.
The news of the fire at the Rhodes’ house had spread quickly. He heard about it on his lunch hour and had fought the urge to drive out and offer help right then. He wanted Audrey to call him, to need him. He expected her to. He spent the rest of the afternoon compulsively checking voicemail to make sure he hadn’t missed her call, getting angrier with each notification of no new messages. She never called. Why would she with Brent there?
By the time his shift at the feed store ended, he’d been so mad he wasn’t thinking straight anymore. He drove back to his mother’s house and delved into the case of beer in her fridge without giving a single thought to what he was doing. It had been his brother, Tommy, who tossed the match onto the fumes in his soul.
“You just gonna let it go?” Tommy had taunted him. “You know, I drove by there earlier. It looked like half the town was out there, with Brent Thomason taking charge. You just planning on letting him have her? After all the years you spent with her, are you just gonna sit by and let him take your place?”
Bobby raised a hand and dragged it across his chin. It hadn’t taken much at that point to rile him. The alcohol had done its work, like always.
“God, I’m….” He let the whispered words trail off. I’m what?
Yes. He was all those things. He had never disputed that fact. And he tried so hard, but he couldn’t seem to break free from his old man’s way of living. It shouldn’t be so hard. He had decided to change, and now it should just be a matter of doing it. So why couldn’t he?
Countless times as a kid he’d cried himself to sleep after a beating, vowing that he would not turn into his father. That if he ever had a family, children, he would never lay a finger on them in anger. They would never have a reason to fear or hate him. All he ever aspired to be was the exact opposite of his father. Yet he turned out just like him, and no amount of effort on his part could ever change that.
“God, please….” He pressed his head back against the cold, cinderblock wall and looked heavenward, desperation nearly driving him onto his knees.
He had never been a praying man. He’d never seen the point. There was no way God would ever listen to him or take an interest. Not after all the vile things he’d done. But the simple phrase slipped out before he could lend a thought to it. And now that it was out there he couldn’t help feeling a tiny whisper of hope. Maybe something could change. Maybe it wasn’t too late.
“Please, God…” He ventured to reach out again. “Help me.”
He knew he’d be spending tonight in here, and he’d most likely face an arraignment tomorrow with a court-appointed attorney at his side. But that wasn’t what he petitioned God about now. Tomorrow he would plead guilty because he was. Hopefully, the judge would give him a fine or probation, or maybe both. His brother had been through this enough times that he knew what to expect.
But he was guilty of so much more than the charges landing him here tonight. And his heart and soul pled guilty to all of it, crying out now for forgiveness and healing even though it was the last thing he deserved.
21 years later
“Boy, it’s really comin’ down out there.” Fully under the safety of Mrs. McDaniel’s covered front porch, Meagan Layne set her toddler down and collapsed her umbrella.
Mrs. McDaniel pushed the storm door open and stepped aside. “Well, y’all come on in.”
“I’m sorry we’re late.” Meagan urged her son across the threshold, maneuvering him gently past his sudden fascination with a small hole in one of the planks beneath his feet. “The phone rings, and I just can’t not answer it.”
Had she known the caller would be Michael somebody-or-other from blah-blah collection agency wanting to work out a payment schedule for the credit cards her ex-husband ran up and then filed for bankruptcy on, she would have had no problem letting it ring. A defeated sigh slipped out before she could stop it. She should have let it ring. No one but debt collectors called her before eight a.m. anyway. But that information wouldn’t interest Mrs. McDaniel.
“Oh, it’s all right, hon.”
Meagan went down on one knee and unbuttoned Jay’s little yellow rain slicker. He grinned sweetly as he let the jacket slide down his arms and onto the floor, then he broke out into song.
“A, B, C, D, E, F, G,…R, F, Q, T, T, G, G,…A, C, G,…X, Y, Z.”
“Yea! Good singing!” Meagan smiled and broke into applause when he finished.
Thankfully, Mrs. McDaniel followed suit. It was getting harder and harder to work up any enthusiasm for the alphabet song, especially since she’d caught herself humming it in the shower first thing this morning.
“Hon, would you like a hot cup of coffee before you have to go out again?”
Meagan stood, crossing to hang Jay’s jacket on the coat rack by the door. She glanced at her watch and shook her head. “Thank you, but I can’t. If I leave right this minute I’ll get to the salon just in the nick of time for my eight-thirty appointment. I really should get going.”
Her heart sank at the wary tone of Mrs. McDaniel’s voice. If there was one thing life had taught her to do well these last few years it was detect bad news before it surfaced. Not that right now was a great example of keen intuition. Between the strain in Mrs. McDaniel’s voice and the look of distress on her face...well, it didn’t take any amount of extra sensory perception to know that whatever she was about to say wouldn’t be good news.
“Hon, you know how much I love you and little Jay.”
Jay wandered over to a large toy box on the other side of the room and removed its contents piece by piece, tossing them out as if looking for something in particular. Her shoulders sagged and a lump rose to her throat. But she tried to smile when she turned back to Mrs. McDaniel.
“Ray and I…we’ve decided to move back to east Texas.”
Meagan almost gasped. “What?” OK, maybe her powers of deduction weren’t so great after all. This news was way worse than she’d expected.
“Well, you know, that’s where we grew up, and both our mothers still live out there, and neither one is in very good health these days. It’ll be closer to all the kids and grandkids. Now that we’re both retired, it just doesn’t make any sense for us to go on living way out here when our whole family lives in east Texas.”
Meagan closed her eyes and nodded, though the feeling of being punched right in the gut lingered. “Of course. Yes, of course. It’ll be much better for you to live closer to all your folks.”
“I’m just so sorry to be leaving you and Jay in a bind. I know things have been hard on you since...well, since...” Mrs. McDaniel let her voice trail off as she shook her head. “But...”
Meagan opened her eyes again, took Mrs. McDaniel’s hand and gave it a gentle squeeze, forcing a smile past the rising ache in the back of her throat. “You should live closer to your grandchildren. They need you.”
“I’m so sorry, hon.”
“Do you know when you’ll be leaving?”
Mrs. McDaniel shook her head, her eyes misting over. “Ray drove out to Beaumont yesterday to make some arrangements. We don’t know for sure. As soon as possible. Maybe a month or so.”
Meagan drew in a deep breath and let it out again, then glanced at her watch. “I should go. I’m late. Jay, can you come over here and say bye-bye to your Mama?”
“No,” came the sing-song-y little reply from the toy box.
Tears stung her eyes. Jay felt so comfortable here. Mrs. McDaniel had kept him since he was three months old. This was like a second home. “OK. Then I’ll see you later.”
“OK. Bye, Mama.”
Jay had learned to sit up, and crawl here. He’d taken his first steps here. All while she’d been at work. How would she ever find somebody else she trusted so completely to care for her son?
Mrs. McDaniel followed her to the front door. “Have a good day, hon.”
Meagan choked back a bitter laugh at the customary farewell and waved as she put the umbrella back up and ran for the car.
It took three tries before the engine finally turned over, and she started to the salon. She glanced at her watch as she pulled away from the curb. Her appointment this morning was a regular. He’d been coming to her every month for about a year now, and he’d never shown the slightest trace of irritability or impatience. Of course, she’d never been late. Maybe he’d cut her a little slack. Tears welled and spilled, further blurring her view out the windshield. It’d sure be nice if somebody would.
“OK, God. I know you’re in control,” Meagan whispered, her voice shaky. “I know nothing that’s happened lately comes as a surprise to you. But it’s managed to catch me a little off guard. I can’t take Jay to work with me. And with the debt collectors calling every other day, I’ve got to have a job.”
Maybe she should file for bankruptcy, too. That would get the collectors to stop calling. But why should she have to do that over debts that didn’t even belong to her in the first place? She should have known better than to trust Kevin with credit cards that still had her name on them. When she realized divorce was unavoidable, she thought she was being smart in insisting they close all their joint credit accounts. By then it was too late. The damage had been done, the charges amassed. And although Kevin had sworn he’d accept sole responsibility for the accounts in the divorce settlement, he never did.
Meagan tightened her grip on the steering wheel and took a deep breath as the windshield wipers struggled frantically to keep pace with the rain coming down. “Just make it through today. Tomorrow will take care of itself. I can make it through today.”
And why couldn’t she? She’d made it through yesterday and the day before that, and the week, and the month, and the year before that. God had taken care of her. His grace had been sufficient. Life hadn’t been easy, but she’d been content. Another deep breath and she’d about convinced herself that a bright side waited just around the corner up ahead. It had to.
She touched her brake to take the turn. Then her headlights dimmed and went out. So did the radio. She managed to coast into a parking space after the engine died, but there on the sidewalk in front of her stood a two-hour meter. And it was five blocks from the salon, and, of course, the rain would probably continue like this all day.
Q1. Bobby sees himself as a product of his past environment. Is this view of himself accurate?
A1. Although his environment certainly can and does shape who he is, it is not the only factor. In Christ, Bobby is a new creation, capable of rising above his harsh upbringing and poor life-choices.
Q2. When Bobby first tells Meagan of his past abusive behavior, she turns away. Later, she follows what she feels is God's prompting to give him a chance despite his past patterns of behavior. What choice would you have made in that situation?
Q3. Would another choice have been wrong?
Q4. Bobby's abusive, dysfunctional history is completely foreign to Meagan. How does she support and encourage him even though she can't identify with the issues he struggles with?
A4. Meagan understands that the best way she can encourage Bobby is to remind him, when the accuser rises up, that he has been forgiven, that he is a new man in Christ.
Q5. The accuser loves to remind us of who we were, keeping us tethered to past mistakes. How can we combat his attacks?
Q6. How does Bobby mentally prepare himself to re-enter his old environment when his father dies and he must return home?
A6. He takes Meagan with him, to remind him of who he is now.
Q7. How can we, as Christians, come alongside and help people who struggle with issues that we can't identify with?
Q8. What role does Bobby's hometown of Blithe Settlement play in the story?
A8. It serves as a symbol of his whole past. That part of himself that he ultimately needs to leave behind in order to move on.