Katie Murchison Ross has been one of those instant connections, for me, someone that I know I want to get to know better. As I’ve listened to her stories, over the past few months, I have become even more sure of this. It’s an honor to have her here today.
I know you’ll enjoy this story, and that many of you will resonate with it.
I am reluctant to rise so early, but I am so excited for fellowship that I agree. Antonia and I hear a tapping on our dorm-room door around seven, and one of us scrambles over to unlock it for Leanne. The October Minnesota mornings have turned crisp and cool, and I am stumbling out of my bed, not yet dressed, so Antonia grabs the faded yellow blanket from her bed and we sit in a circle on the carpet and cover our legs. Dear God, thank you for this beautiful morning, someone croaks, and we have begun.
The yellow blanket becomes our companion, our touchstone for seven a.m. prayer. In between closing our eyes, we stare down at the swirly white-flowered pattern woven into the fabric, and we hold onto it like a piece of solid ground in this new place far away from home, this vortex of new experiences and new ideas snaking around us. The blanket is cotton, warm enough for winter but light enough for spring, always covering our bare legs. We let it bind us together, hoping it can cover our broken pieces and keep us from hurting each other.
I am eighteen, and I feel like I have won the lottery, or at least the lonely Christian teenager’s lottery. I have started praying every morning with two girls from my dorm, I brag to my mom, my youth minister, and the director of the camp where I am applying to be a counselor. I feel stronger every morning when I leave my room to go to class. I feel less alone than I’ve ever felt.
Day by day, we lift it all up to God: our classes, our struggles, our friends, the people around the world who are hungry, Leanne’s cousin deployed in Iraq, my family’s Burundian refugee friend who is fighting an immigration battle. As weeks pass, and months, there are days where one of us unfolds our hands and says, “I need to talk.” And so we draw up our knees under the blanket and huddle closer and listen. We talk about confessions of sin, deep secrets, tear-inducing fears and desires.
It is partway through our sophomore year when I tell them I want to stop our prayer meetings. I have too many questions about God and I need the freedom to explore them on my own. Leanne looks sad, and I can see in her eyes this is only one more way I have hurt her. Antonia assents silently, but I want more; even as I push her away I long for her opinion and guidance.
It is not the yellow blanket I am sitting on when I confess to Leanne a few months later that I am afraid I have lost my faith entirely. It is a different blue fleece blanket that Antonia wraps around her the night I keep her up till four a.m. our women’s retreat, firing question after question. What if Jesus’ resurrection was a metaphor they made up to keep his message alive? How do we know the Bible is inspired but the Qu’ran was not? What if Freud is right and this is all just wish fulfillment? I don’t remember her answers, just that she lets me ask and doesn’t call me crazy.
During our senior year we are all back in the same dorm, and we try to revive the blanket days. Antonia and I have both studied abroad. I pray differently now, more openness and silence and grace—full of the freedom of the African landscape. Antonia is thinking about justice all the time now after her encounters with Oscar Romero and America-supported death squads in El Salvador. Meanwhile, Leanne has gotten engaged. We clutch the yellow blanket like it can bring us back to our first-year selves; we are still afraid of who we are becoming.
The mornings don’t really take, this time; perhaps the prayer circle feels too small for our new dreams; or perhaps we no longer want to be so moldable, so vulnerable; perhaps we are sleepy from staying up late with boyfriends; perhaps our fervor has faded. The blanket lies on Antonia’s bed, tangled with clothes and books and job applications. We are seniors, and we are about to redefine ourselves, and we don’t always understand each other anymore.
Five years have passed, and Antonia is in town for three months for a healthcare rotation, and as we gossip on her bed I recognize all the old college twin sheets and blankets. She tells me the yellow blanket was her mother’s in college; I don’t remember knowing this detail before, but I like it. There is a tiny part of me that aches for those first days, the simplicity of our passion and our faith and our friendship. But I love who we have each become—stronger, more confident in our paths, more ourselves. And when we gather for weekends or weddings or reunions, we still dance in perfect rhythm.
I wish I could say I still pray for them every day. What I can say is this: when I do pray, I am holding them with so much love and gratitude in my heart. I am holding Antonia and this budding career that is perfect for her; I am holding Leanne and her two small children so fragile and so full of grace. We have each woven new people and new heartaches and new passions into our lives, but underneath new patterns, it is enough that I can still see the swirling white and the yellow; it is enough that we are all still holding on to God and to each other and to sacred trusts that were born on chilly Minnesota mornings.
Katie Murchison Ross is a teacher, writer, and soon-to-be divinity school student. She and her husband have lived in East Africa, Washington DC, and western North Carolina. This fall they will be moving again to Durham, NC, where Katie is excited to continue exploring her calling as a pastor. Katie tries to keep up with friends far and near and would love to be your friend too: visit her at katiemurchisonross.blogspot.com.
The photo above is of the actual yellow blanket described and has been graciously provided by Katie.
You can check out the other de(tales) (so far) here.