Jolene’s Divine Romance
By Lena Nelson Dooley
Jolene Whitworth stared out the window hazed by smoke as the steam engine slowly chugged through a pass in the Rocky Mountains. The higher they climbed, the harder it was for her to breathe the cold air. Weary and worn, she glanced down at her wilted traveling suit, covered with sooty dust. No matter how hard she swiped at her skirt, nothing removed the look or smell attached to her clothing. Even the hanky tucked into the sleeve of her jacket might never be white again. She hated to think what her blonde curls looked like pinned up into the best chignon she could accomplish by herself. If only she hadn=t needed to leave her personal companion and maid back in New York City, but Charlotte never would have agreed to come this far from home.
What am I doing out here in the wilderness of western Colorado? The words repeated through her mind, over and over like some ancient chant. Memories of what she had left behind, her beautiful home overlooking the Hudson River, the place she=d lived all her life in the lap of luxury.
Was this journey worth it? It was if her stepfather and the man he promised her to in marriage couldn=t find her. There was no way she=d ever let that man touch her in any way, especially not an intimate one. Shivers, not brought on by the cold, skittered up and down her body, making hairs stand on end. Just the thought made her feel dirty ... much more filthy than this uncomfortable trip had been. This could wash off. The other would have tainted her life until her dying day. Why hadn=t Mr. Curtis seen Mr. Rivers for the fiend he really was? Was money and power that important to him?
She knew her stepfather hated to look at her because she looked just like her mother. But that was no reason to sell her to the highest bidder as if she were a slave. Her grandfather had given their family=s slaves their manumission papers years before the War Between the States.
With a long, mournful wail from its whistle, the engine started to brake, accompanied by the harsh grinding of metal as it came to a stop by the platform in front of the tiny train depot.
What have I gotten myself into? As she stepped from the open doorway, it was like a leap into a different world. Maybe a world that would wipe out the horrible one she’d experienced.
A woman, heavy with child, rushed toward her. “Jolene, I’m so glad you’re here.”
Her roommate from the finishing school back East hugged her tight. She hadn’t had a hug since her mother died, so she clung to her dearest, and only, friend.
“Come with me.” Barbara released her. “Dean has the buggy waiting with hot bricks to warm our feet.”
They hurried toward the buggy and the handsome, blond giant holding the reins. Jolene’s trunk was already behind the seat.
“My husband is the pastor of the church on Ten Mile Creek below Buffalo Mountain. Many of our parishioners are miners, but there are a few families in the neighborhood, too.” By the time they reached the buggy, Barbara was huffing and puffing.
Jolene hoped her friend was O. K.
Before long, they arrived at a log cabin with smoke drifting from the chimney. “Welcome to our humble home.” By the time Barbara finished that sentence, her husband lifted her by her almost nonexistent waist and set her on the ground.
When he reached for Jolene, she shook her head. “I’m fine.” She carefully placed her foot on the tiny step, turned around, and backed to the ground. She’d had too many men wanting to touch her body. Her friend’s husband didn’t need to join them, even though his intentions were pure. She brushed off her gloves and reached for the carpetbag she’d kept with her on the train. Dean hoisted her trunk onto his broad shoulders as if it didn’t contain so many heavy books. She followed Barbara into the snug home, glad for the heat surrounding her. She wondered how long it would take for her to feel truly warm all over. Her body had been cold for most of the journey, and her soul for so much longer.
After they finished the hot elk stew and biscuits Barbara served, the two women sat before the fire and caught up on what had happened in their lives since they parted. A sense of peace that Jolene didn’t understand settled over her. Maybe she would be safe here.
For the next four days, she acclimated to the deep snow and cold winds that assailed her every time she even peeked out the door. She never tired of gazing at the majestic mountains surrounding the cabin. They looked as if they reached the sky.
On Saturday night, while Dean worked on his sermon for the next day, Barbara asked Jolene whether she went to church back home.
Jolene shook her head. “Not since my mother died.” Which felt like an eternity ago.
Being accepted for who she was and loved by her good friend, Jolene poured out her heart to Barbara. About feeling abandoned when her mother died … about being hated by her stepfather … about being exploited by him trying to build his wealth and power through the men he brought into her life … even about despising the men and the way they looked at her and made her feel unloved and dirty.
With every word she spoke, a bit of her burden broke off and disappeared, as if by magic. At least here, in these beautiful mountains, she was accepted for who she really was, not for what someone else could gain from her.
When she finished talking, Barbara stretched her hand across the lamp table separating them and clasped one of Jolene’s in her own. “I’m so sorry you’ve had such hardship in your life. I know your sweet mother would be heartbroken.”
Tears streamed down Jolene’s cheeks. She swiped at them with her other hand.
“I’m sure your mother wanted you to know about Jesus, but she died too soon to really tell you much about Him. We were so young when they sent us to that finishing school. She and my mother became friends when we were roommates. Didn’t you know?”
Jolene shook her head. There were many things she hadn’t known.
Barbara began telling her about Jesus. How He was the Son of God. How He came to earth to die on the cross so He could provide people with a way to get to Heaven. How He loved each person so deeply that He would have done it even if only one person needed Him.
New concepts danced through Jolene’s head. The real kind of love she craved. Was it within her reach?
“The Bible even says that we are engraved on the palm of God’s hand.” Barbara laid her hand across her heart. “I asked Jesus to come into my heart and be the Lord and Savior of my life. It changed me in a way I’d never known before.”
Jolene leaned toward her friend. “I want that. What do I have to do?”
Barbara smiled. “Jesus did it all. It’s His gift to each of us. All you have to do is accept.”
Jolene shifted to sit on the very edge of her chair. “How do I do that?”
“You just pray and ask Him into your heart.” Barbara’s smile widened.
“You mean like, ‘Now I lay me down to sleep’?”
“That was a good prayer for while we were children.” She lumbered to her feet to stand beside Jolene. “Just talk to Jesus the same way you’re talking to me. Tell Him what you feel about how your life is going. That you know He is the Son of God and that you want to repent of your sins and ask Him into your life.”
As Jolene prayed out loud, Barbara walked beside her as she paced across the cabin. Soft whispers Jolene couldn’t understand came from between her lips, and Jolene knew she was praying for her.
When Jolene finally stopped, joy had invaded her soul. She felt clean and warm. All her fears had disappeared.
As they left for the Christmas morning church service, Jolene felt like a new person, with a life filled with hope ahead of her. Jesus is already making a difference in my life.
©2016, Lena Nelson Dooley
(An excerpt from a novel to be written)
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Do you like Christmas stories? Have you ever written one?
Do you like Christmas stories? Have you ever written one?