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April 18th, 2019

leslie and loraAuthor Lora Jones, left, listens as Dr. Leslie Bissell talks about how the two friends initially met and how she has helped Jones through the process of recovering from an accident she had in which she lost her husband and children. L&T photo/Robert PierceROBERT PIERCE • Leader & Times

 

Leslie Bissell moved to Liberal from her home state of Ohio in 2008. About six months earlier, Lora Jones also moved to Liberal.

Those moves came about three and a half years after Jones experienced an accident on the way home to meet family for Thanksgiving in which she lost her husband and children.

Jones and Bissell met after Bissell had moved into town at the church Jones was attending, and Jones said it was at this point she was questioning why she was still alive as she still was recovering from the loss she had suffered.

Jones and Bissell were at a luncheon Tuesday for the release of Jones’ book, “Song of a Wounded Heart,” at Liberal Memorial Library which allowed the author to talk about the book and answer questions from those on hand.

Jones and Bissell both also talked about the friendship they have now formed as Bissell, now director of the Southwest Guidance Center, has helped Jones through the recovery process.

Jones first talked about her book which talks about her accident. She said first and foremost, the book was not on her bucket list and not anything she thought she would do.

“I have an accounting degree,” Jones said. “That’s as far from skills for writing as it can be. It was difficult for me to be able to do it. When I first started writing it, I wrote it down just in stories kind of like two and three page stories.”

Jones said her writing process started with writing down things she had told people about the accident.

“I was spending a year at the farm with my mom,” Jones said. “That’s when I first started writing it, but I didn’t have any idea how to put it into book form. There was a lady that lived across the street from us when we first got married from Clay Center. She is now a professor at Kansas State University in writing. I took her all these pieces, and I said, ‘Here, help.’ She was very kind, very gracious in helping me with much of my writing skills and then started putting it in order for me and showing me where I needed bridges and how to connect everything together.”

Jones said she later met a newspaper editor who wanted to help her with her writing as well. She said the editor took her to a writing conference in North Carolina.

“At that conference, you got the chance to sit across from agents and publishers,” Jones said. “I was so out of my element. I kept thinking, ‘Just talk. You know how to talk.’ As part of that, you could send some of your writing ahead of time, and they would evaluate it for you and give you pointers and stuff.”

Jones said one of the people she met at the conference showed interest in the book, but it did need some editing.

 “He said, ‘I think it’s something you should do, but don’t show anybody your writing this week,’” Jones said. “He said, ‘Just pitch your idea to the different publishers and such, but you need some help.’”

Jones said from that point, the story she told in “Song of a Wounded Heart” did not change, but significant edits were made.

“I didn’t change anything about what I wanted to say, but I had to change everything about how I said it,” Jones said. “It truly was a difficult process. I almost quit a few times because it was just so hard.”

Though Jones said she finds writing therapeutic, only the journal entries readers will find in her book were therapeutic for her.

“You need to be able to express somewhere, freely express, everything you’re feeling, and when I first started telling the stories and speaking, that was therapeutic for me because I had to figure out how to express what I was feeling,” Jones said. “That was good for me, and as people would ask questions, that helped me just try to figure things out and put them together and understand what God was doing in my life and how I could hear Him and what He was saying. That was all therapeutic.”

Jones said she only began writing the book about 11 years after her accident.

“By that point, I had learned the things that I wrote in this book,” Jones said. “I didn’t have any need to rip back open my heart. I did it because I had an overwhelming push from God that He wanted it written down. It was a labor of love for others to find healing.”

Jones said writing “Song of a Wounded Heart” did not start the grieving process over for her, but she did go backwards, on purpose, to be able to share her story with people.

“I wrote it because I wanted you to see and believe that God is real,” Jones said. “I know that storytelling is the most powerful thing we can do. Our life stories, your life stories, everything that we hear and have seen with our own eyes and felt with our hearts, those are the most powerful things that you can tell and share with other people. I wrote it because I wanted you to believe that God is real and I wanted you to be willing, whether you do that or not, to open the Bible and see what’s really in it.”

Jones came to know the Lord as a child.

“My mom and dad went to church,” Jones said. “They lived out what they believed, so it was very natural for me to believe there was a God. As an adult, when life didn’t always match up what I thought God should do, I began to wrestle with it. Then when the accident came, the Bible just kind of came to life like the characters would just lift off the page and talk to me.”

Jones is a storyteller by nature, and she said this allowed her to start telling her story and those of her family. It also, she said, made her fall in love with the Bible in a way she had never done before.

“I wanted you to fall in love with it too as I told the stories, and then I knew if I could help you believe there’s a God and I could help you believe that the Bible is real and worth reading, I knew you would find out what I find out,” Jones said.

As for future works, Jones said she has no idea of what the future holds in that realm.

“I realize that when you release a book, you ride a wave to who knows where,” Jones said. “I don’t know how long the wave will last, and I don’t know what’ll be at the end of it.”

Bissell later talked about how her and Jones met and the friendship that has formed from that meeting.

“I moved to Liberal about 11 years ago,” Bissell said. “When I moved here, I knew nothing about this lady. I knew nothing about the community. I knew I was to coming to work at the community mental health center. I knew that’s where God wanted me to be. I went to her church because that’s the denomination that I usually went to. I remember the day. She was on staff at the time. She came up, and it was, ‘You’re a single Christian woman. Hi, I’m single too. Nice to meet you. Hope to see you on Sunday.’”

Bissell said when she met Jones, she did not know the grief Jones was suffering from.

“I didn’t even know she was grieving, honestly, in the beginning,” Bissell said. “It wasn’t until as I then joined that church in part because of her friendliness and my desire to have a friend.”

Bissell said she had people ask her if she had heard Jones’ story, and for a while, she was cautious about asking her new friend about what happened.

“For me, it was like, ‘Do I ask? What do I do? But I really like this lady,’” Bissell said. “It was a while. It was at least six months, I think, before I was bold enough to day, ‘Lora, I know you have a story, but I don’t know what it is. Will you share with me your story?’”

For Bissell, she was simply trying to build a friendship, but over time, she would begin to learn what happened to Jones.

“All I know is this woman in front of me who is still trying to do ministry was trying to find a friend, and I felt that we could connect as friends, that I could be beyond, ‘I’m just doing my job at the church,’” Bissell said. “It came up out in spirts. I don’t think we ever sat down and got the story from beginning to end.”

In the 11 years since, Bissell said she has watched and walked Jones through her grieving process, and she has seen profound progress, as is the friendship the two have now built.

“She’s that friend that when I’m wrestling with those losses and I’m wrestling with those pains and wrestling with, ‘God why aren’t you answering the desires of my heart,’ very different reason, but same pain, literally hours, we would just kind of sit in somebody’s living room with our cup of tea and go ‘Yeah,’” she said.

Bissell said she and Jones now have the friendship everyone should have with at least one other person.

“There’s no judgment,” Bissell said. “You should never have to apologize. It’s okay. Sometimes just saying the obvious. It must be really hard. It’s Mother’s Day. I’m sorry for your loss. Even though it’s 10 years later, it still hurts. It hurts different now than it did then, but as her friend, knowing that yes, she knows a kind of pain that I have never known. I’ve known some pain that she has never known, but we know we have the same beliefs. We trust the same God. We can be together. I don’t have to understand everything that she’s going through. Sometimes, she just needs me to be present and just go, ‘Yeah, that sucks,’ and just honor that it’s not what we want it to be. That’s what grief’s all about. It’s about honoring that things aren’t the way they should be. Husbands shouldn’t die. Children shouldn’t die.”

Though she is a professional therapist, Bissell said she has never counseled Jones professionally.

“We’ve always just been friends, but I have seen her grow, and I have seen the change,” Bissell said.

Bissell emphasized the need to build a friendship like the one she has with Jones.

“I think all of us need somebody in our life that we can honestly cry with, that we know is strong enough to hold our tears for us and to pray for us when we can’t,” Bissell said. “Lora is that person for me, and I’m one of those people for her. That’s what friendship’s about.”

As she has watched Jones change, Bissell said she has particularly noticed the change in the story of the accident.

“I know as I’ve listened to Lora’s story change over the last 10 years and now this version of it, how she tells it now is very different than how she told it then,” Bissell said. “It’s her face, what she’s able to hold on to, what she’s able to give, what she can connect to. It’s a very different process.”

While grieving takes time, Jones said there is a point when it becomes easier and when it eventually is done.

“It’s done when you can experience pain and joy at the same time,” Jones said. “The pain won’t ever go away. I think that as friends, we really want our friends to stop hurting. Give them permission to not stop hurting, but give them permission to laugh too.”

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