A Slice Of Life To Go is an online Christian blog written by Todd Thompson. It encourages people to see the beauty in ordinary moments and to know God’s unconditional, unfailing love in everyday life.

Annie’s Duffle Bag

May 14th, 2002

“Excuse me…could I get a drink of water?”

She must have asked the question at least three times but I didn’t hear her over the spray of the garden hose. It was a Saturday afternoon during my last year of seminary. I was washing my truck in the driveway and a couple of stubborn tar spots on the bottom of the driver’s door were receiving my undivided attention. When it finally registered that someone was talking to me I looked up to find a girl standing on the sidewalk, a polite distance away.

“Excuse me”, she said again, “Could I possibly get something to drink? I’m walking to a friend’s house over on the other side of Mesa Drive and I forgot to grab a water bottle before I left.”

“Sure. No problem. Wait here. I’ll be right back.”, is what I said. “Thanks”, she said and smiled a very pretty smile as she unshouldered her bag and set it down beside her. It was a big bag. One of those oversized canvas duffle bags that causes certain husbands to wade into the perennially fruitless marital argument over luggage and how he could live out of a bag that large for a year so why can’t his wife survive out of it for a short weekend?

The bag looked heavy. Too heavy for a girl to be carrying down the street on a long walk. The black canvas matched the color of her duster coat and leather lace up ropers that peeked out from the legs of her boot cut jeans. Tossing the hose off into the grass and turning toward the house to get her something to drink, I knew this girl had a story. I wondered if I’d have a chance to hear it.

“I’m Todd”, I said, handing her a bottle of water and a phone. “I thought you could call your friend and see if they can come pick you up. That way you wouldn’t have to walk.” She touch-toned a number, got an answering machine and left a message. She handed the phone back to me with a thank you.

“I’m Annie”, she said, extending her hand. I shook it and tried to find the doorway into a conversation.

“So you’re headed to your friend’s house?”

“Yeah, it’s a couple miles from here.” Standing there in front of me she didn’t look any older than 17. I was thinking of my next question but didn’t need to ask it.

“My friend said I could stay at her house for awhile. I just need some time to think. My boyfriend and I broke up ten days ago and I’m not getting along very well with my parents, so this is probably the best. At least for now.” Well, I thought to myself, that explains the bag.

“I know you’re not supposed to ask a lady how old they are”, I said, apologizing in advance,”but will you forgive me if I ask you anyway?” She laughed at that. Like a sudden breeze it momentarily diffused the heavy cloud of reality she had just admitted to living under.

“I’m 19. Almost 20.”

Annie ran a hand through her shoulder length brown hair and pushed it off her face. Almost 20. The time in life when your convictions run faster than your life experience. Still, knowing how old she was made me feel somewhat relieved. When you’re almost 20 you can’t be considered a runaway. At least not technically. But she was running away. She knew that. And she seemed to know that I suspected it, too.

Her eyes caught my eyes looking down at the black canvas duffle resting against her leg. “That’s a nice bag. I’ve thought about getting one of those. You can put lots of stuff in it.”

“Thanks. I like it, too. I’ve got just about everything in here right now. My clothes. My boots. Some books. Even the things my boyfriend gave me.” She tugged on the button hole of her coat. “This duster is…or was, my boyfriend Larry’s. I bought it for him as a birthday present. But that was before…” Her voice trailed off as she remembered she was talking to a total stranger.

“Before you broke up?”, I offered. “Yeah. Before we broke up.” Her matter-of-factness wasn’t enough to mask the sadness in her voice.

“So what caused the break up?”

“I’m not sure, really. I thought we were happy together. His friends didn’t like me spending time with him. They don’t have girlfriends. I think they talked him into breaking up with me.” Annie tried hard to make her assessment sound convincing. Whether it was true or not, it sounded flimsy and she knew it.

Stuffing her hands into her coat pockets she looked down and ran the toe of her boot along a crack in the sidewalk. Then Annie took a deep breath. The kind of deep, serious breath you take right before you shoot straight with the person you’re talking to. The kind of breath you take right before you’re honest with yourself.

“To tell you the truth, up until ten days ago I was living with Larry. I thought for sure we would get married soon. I did everything for him. I put everything I had into our relationship. Because I wanted to. When we broke up, I moved back home with my parents. It’s been awful, being apart from Larry. I really love him.”

She bit down on her lower lip and looked across the street. “And, honestly, I’m really scared right now because I think I might be pregnant and Larry doesn’t know.”

It was an awkward moment. I wanted to let her know I cared but I didn’t know what to say. I reached in to the pile of phrases tumbling around in my mind like shirts in a dryer and grabbed one.

“I’m really sorry to hear that. I don’t know anything about your situation except what you’ve told me. But I’ve listened to lots of people’s problems. I’d be happy to listen to you.”

She gave me a hopeful look. “What do you do?”

“I’m a seminary student.” As soon as I said it, I questioned the wisdom of it. Saying you’re a pastor causes people to either open up like a book or close up like a clam. Occupational hazard, I suppose. I prayed that she would tell me more about this chapter of her life.

When she heard my answer she took a literal step back and swallowed hard on her water. “Wow. Really. That’s, uh,…that’s nice.”

She said “that’s nice” as if it were the main ingredient in her recipe for clam chowder. This conversation was over.

She reached down and snapped together the leather handles on her bag, paused, then stood up again.

“I used to go to church. In fact, I used to go a lot. All the time. You’d probably never believe it but I was one of the main leaders in our youth group. I was even one of the counselors at a Christian camp for high school kids.” And for a moment after she said it, she was quiet. I could almost see her memories of those days flash across her brown eyes. With a tear, Annie looked up and said, “I guess I should have taken my own advice.”

We talked for a while longer. We talked about God and I told Annie what she already knew. That God loved her and that there was nothing she could ever do to cause God to stop loving her. We talked honestly about choices and consequences. Mostly we talked about the grace of God. It was 20 minutes of real life conversation.

Just then her friend pulled up in a white Chevy 4×4. I picked up Annie’s bag for her and set it in the back of the truck. It was every bit as heavy as it looked. We shook hands again and she thanked me for the water. I thanked her for the talk and promised that I would pray for her. They pulled away from the curb, did a U-turn in the middle of the street and waved as they drove off.

I still pray for Annie. And when I do I can’t help but wonder if she’s still carrying that heavy bag.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, For I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30