Friday, December 30, 2016

Pouring Out The Bitter To Taste The Sweet

It's the last week of 2016 as I sit to write and likely the last plunking of these keys I'll manage before 2017 arrives in all her fresh resolve and ruddy winter glow, which is fine by me. This tiny space of time somewhere between post-Christmas hangovers (I'm talking about the child sized kind, times three), and pre-new year wonder has been a breeze of peace to the whirlwind these last few months never fail to be. No matter how carefully I map out the holiday season it always manages to run on ahead of me, much to the delight of three curly headed babies here at home. The excitement and anticipation, glow and glitter, they ate up every bit of it with voracious appetites, thus the "hangovers." So this breathing space of a few days is treasured and I'm spending it partially snuggled away with the girls (feet propped near the hearth while poor Will's turn to ice in his makeshift office - love you, dear!) and partially ignoring 2016's parting gift of a freak sinus infection plague.

Is it just me or was the year of the monkey as temperamental as its namesake?

I suspect I'm not the only one looking back and thinking these sorts of things. What went right? What went wrong? What to leave behind? What to carry on? All of the usuals have been plaguing me as I tidy up the Christmas things and organize around a blank calendar, but I've shoved away the answers more roughly than I ought. I already had the year sized up long before the itch to review came knocking: 2016? The year of the bitter cup, or at least so I decided.

There, there, you don't need to stop reading, I promise this isn't a letter of complaint. I mean, I'll own that I spent an embarrassing amount of time becoming proficient in my own bitterness, but that's just it, it was my own bitterness. The year was merely a cup for the filling.

I wallowed, though. Wallowed right on through the year on up until yesterday morning when I was thumbing through A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. Or was it this morning, I don't really remember. Anyhow, I was marveling a little bit at the shouldering of responsibility for blatantly idiotic decisions by some characters, and how it seemed a type of humility, no matter how steel bound, that allowed other characters the shoulder space to stand a little higher and be a little better. Something in there struck a chord of "I need that!" and kept striking in a way that kept me thumbing until I realized the connection. I didn't have to look far to figure out where that needed to be applied.

But that's all I'll say about it because I refuse to add the straw that breaks the back of my mess of a camel by being what George Macdonald calls a "creeping christian."  Who "gaze at the marks of our own soiled feet, and the trail of our own defiled garment. . . . mourn over the defilement of ourselves, and the shame of it before [everyone]. . ." That would be going out with a real bang now, wouldn't it now.

With myself out of the way, the view is explicitly different. Rather than the bulking shadow of my own petty struggles, all I can see is grace brimming the cup and running over on the landscape of the year like sunlight might do on one of those gorgeously clear, blue sorts of days.

It was the year of Wrennie bird bursting into our lives with her life song.
Of Lanna marking her fifth year and finally summoning the courage to dance.
Of celebrating two years of Selah and her housewifely, joyous little soul.
Of falling asleep next to Will and waking with three small heads to look over and cold dolls tucked against our backs.
Of dropping deeper roots of faith together through prophesies and Spurgeon.
Of anniversaries and birthdays that are more important than last year's and less so than the next.
Of having enough bread flour and buttermilk to tempt curious hands to cover the kitchen with it.
Of fattening bookshelves and finally finding the right souls to wander with in their riches.
Of a perpetually filled kitchen table and overflowing coffee and tea pots.

No, I'd not change a bit of it, and I think I can see where things went wrong now. My heart prayer of "Lord of mercy" that covered every little thing really should have been turned inward. It shouldn't have been "Lord have mercy on this messy kitchen, this burned meal, these tantrums, those missed opportunities. . ." No, it should have been "Lord have mercy on me for not seeing You here, for this flash of anger searing clear vision, for that moment completely emptied of faith just now. . ."

So for me, I hope that 2017 will be different in that way.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Advent, Handel's Messiah, And Falalala

It's November 30th as I sit to write - the end of Autumn and beginning of the Christmas season. Just about all the trees in our neighborhood have caught the seasonal burn now and most days have enough bite to require a solid sweater. Grey mornings and evenings find our gas hearth cheerily warming eighty fingers and toes (three mini and my own stiff knuckled set), and our bits of "scheduled studies" have all been set aside to focus on the collection of Christmas books enticingly displayed on the piano and Advent.

Advent is different this year, as it is every year, but I'm learning a little more about what strikes wonder in our hearts and truly helps us celebrate, what I want to stick in the girls' hearts if even just by the repetition of it all and nothing has really appealed enough to stick. We've experimented with crafts and chocolates and books and genealogies, but this year I scaled back and just used what we already love: Handel's Messiah. Just a few tracks a day with the scripture that accompanies it, and so far it's been everything I've been looking for: simple yet thoughtful, quiet but interactive, a wondering backward look yet also a hopeful gaze forward. Sometimes we draw, sometimes we play, but most often we just sit and listen. I didn't expect the girls' to really care anything about it, but it seems like they're as interested as I am. Just today we were listening to the portion with the angels declaring Christ's birth to the shepherds and I about jumped two feet in the air when I realized Handel tried to catch their arrival and departure; "Listen!" I said, "do you hear the angel wings?" So that's exactly what the next several minutes were occupied with - us listening to the track carefully (twice!) just to catch the sound of angel wings. Even Selah stilled herself to cock an ear.

But I'm making the days sound all peace and comfort. Then again, I guess I don't really need to expand on the insanity that is the holiday season. Commercialization and political diatribes aside, the motherly perspective is enough to strike some of the "merry" from Christmas. All that tightly wound excitement winding more tightly by the day; pre-dawn mornings and post bedtime nights; trying to balance nutrition and holiday greed with heavy doses of root vegetables and scripture; bank accounts emptying into the mountains of boxes daily being dumped on the porch, all of which have to be quickly snatched and hidden away before passing less fortunates do it for you; annual winter sniffles compounded with extra indoor romping due to cooling weather inevitably resulting in a broken lamp and picture frame or two. Tis' the season falalalala.

But then, certain moments crack the fragile exhaustion of the to do's and let the joy beneath seep through. Like tonight, when all three girls fell asleep in those precariously lumped-together beds in their room, and me, right in the middle of them. To see the peace on those faces, arms thrown one over the other, curls in a mass tangle on the pillows, and restful breathing in syncopation with my own . . . any lingering irritations from the day melted to the warmth of wonder. All the tight spots in my shoulders, all the hard spots in my heart, all of me seemed to suddenly dissolve in the more awing presence of grace mysterious and golden. All was forgiven, all was at peace. I could have dissolved to tears had it not been for someone turning over, everyone stirring in response, and the moment passing. It seems strange, even to me, that I wouldn't strain to cling to what was there just a moment before, but I have tried before and discovered (time and time again) that it's just too holy for my human hands to hold. Something, perhaps, like the moment when the Shepherds heard the chorus of angels declaring Christ's birth? An indescribably wondrous moment, but when it passed, it had fully passed and there was only the echos of wonder and hope where it had once been, and that was enough.

Hmph, Shepherds watching over their flocks by night . . . mothers tending sleeping flocks of children . . . sort of similar. It seems a much more endearing season when I see it from that perspective.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Glass Ceilings, Girls, And Margret Thatcher

So here we are wrapping up the week of yet another American election, and a doozy of an election it was. Unpredictable to the point that all the deodorant companies made a tidy little profit, I'm sure. There were just so many factors that, if I could put a picture to it, were like low-hanging fruit on the branching tree of American history. Not the least of these was our very first female presidential candidate who, understandably, was quite a hero in many eyes. Another was an all-party defying business man who represented something of the old forgotten patriotic spirit of "power to the people" and all that. His ended up the more tempting fruit, which was equally understandable.

Despite the "the people having spoken," there's still shouts of racial this, sexist that, bigot here, phobia there reverberating through these following days. Frankly, I'd say it sounds strikingly similar to the temper tantrums my toddlers throw, but even they're more controlled than some of the population, it seems. One tirade that recently caught my eye informed the female population we're all going to die now and even went as far as to imply that had Jesus been in the running, he would have looked strikingly similar to our female hopeful, so we basically just voted Him out. Um, my friend, I think the more obvious concern there is that if we were voting Jesus in for the presidency then we'd also be electing God as judge - sure you're ready for that? But I digress, because what I'm most confused by is the reaction of the motherhood of the nation who keep moaning something about what they're going to tell their daughters? Now, I'm a mother too so that lumps me in there with the rest, but this... this just sends my eyebrows halfway up my forehead in the perplexed question of, "about what, exactly?"

Because I know exactly what to tell them.

We'll tell them the names of pilgrim women who feebly stepped from rickety ship to wild land with everything they'd ever known, everything, an ocean away for the sake of freedom.

We'll hint that Jane Austin would make a fascinating dinner guest to sit next to, what with her truthful observation of human nature perfectly swirled with Sahara-worthy dry humor, both of which helped make her little novels relevant long after her death.

We'll bring to life the battle in which Molly Pitcher, crouched over wounded soldiers with her pitcher of water, saw her husband collapse, and watch with our girls as she sprinted over body and brush to take his place at one of the few firing cannons that kept the enemy from advancing.

We'll sit them next to Rosa Parks on a cool December evening in Alabama as she calmly sent a resounding trumpet note of human equality from the bus seat she refused to rise from.

We'll introduce them to Margret Thatcher as a young girl who dusted shelves in her Father's grocer, and whisper in their ears that she went on to become the first female Prime Minister of Britain and be known as "the iron lady" because. . . Well, you see what I mean.

If the currently protesting daughters of today knew these women of yesterday not as names in a textbook but as living, breathing, hope filled, chance taking, failing, succeeding, courageous friends. . . would they still be pooping on signs, burning flags, and moaning that the world is at an end? Be honest, because I'm not seeing it.

I get that a female just lost out and that losing is a wretched feeling, but so what. I don't see that as any reason for handing out failure on a golden platter or doom and gloom in a gift wrapped package. Has the "everyone is a winner" mentality so wrecked us that we can't see the opportunity for inspiration here? (Besides the lesson that you don't get anywhere by lying, cheating, and shoving your way to the top, ahem). So, a glass ceiling wasn't shattered. If it means that much don't whine about it, go shatter it.

For now, please excuse me while I dive beneath my pillow to stay until certain fellow countrymen quit embarrassing us all by moving beyond toddlerhood.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Cheers, It's That Time Of Year

As I sit to type this, it's Sunday, and not just any Sunday, it's time change Sunday.

This is that dreaded time of year that mothers everywhere raise their ten daily cups of coffee to call cheers to one another in the shared solidarity of 4am mornings. Dear Father Time decided to take an extra hour's snooze, did he? Well the children saw no reason to do the same, I assure you. Already, we've already read several books, played a rousing game of tennis, rambled around the neighborhood, pulled out the arts and crafts box, and eaten our way through a batch of salt crusted chocolate chip cookies, and what time is it? . . . 10am? Ah, yes, well, I think I need another cup of coffee. Cheers.

In truth, it's not as bad as all that. This year, Lanna's been offering a helping hand with this and that, and her wit shines vividly in the moments I need to gather myself. Out will come a stack of scratch paper, and as she hands 'round crayons and pencils she'll exhort the two little ones: "now don't go using these on the wall or furniture or YOU KNOW WHAT." Here, the little girls will look on with rounded eyes and crayons hanging from their anxiously puckered mouths as she ominously rattles a pen or two in the metal tin they're kept in. The little ones have absolutely no idea what the "what" is, and, frankly, I don't think Lanna does either, but it seems to work pretty well for her. I really admire her tactful dramatic flair there.

Speaking of pens, Wren just peered around the corner with one dangling from her mouth. She learned just last night that these magical tools her sisters always seem to have in hand actually make marks on things if you apply them just so. Glory! I wish you could have seen the way her face lit up when she realized the clever thing she was doing; it looked something like when someone yanks the chain of a lamp in a dark room and it's instantly transformed with a pleasantly warm glow A special moment, however ominous for me.

This may be a touch off topic, but it still catches me off guard how much of life is bulked into these small moments. There'll be a bedtime story here and a stack of dirty dishes there; teaching small fingers to tie a bow today, passing another hot cup of coffee into large fingers tomorrow; stirring oatmeal one moment and tackling the building of a block castle the next. In exchanging pleasantries and all that with an old friend the other evening, I summarized things here at home as being in "a season of consistency." She responded with a sort of chuckle and admitted that consistency is something she's not great at. Her honesty made me smile because I don't think there are many who could say otherwise, but it suddenly struck me how much of that stiff unfamiliarity it still holds for myself. It's shameful to own up to this, but this season of consistency has shown me just how small my faith is.

Living on the brink of barely-making-it for so long got me used to that warmth that came with active faith. Or, maybe not "warmth" as much as familiarity. When you don't have enough in the bank for food or the next semester's tuition, faith looks like praying and trusting and waiting. When you're faced with a two way street of decisions and aren't sure of the right way, you pray and trust and wait again. Etc etc. But, what in the world does active faith look like while rocking screaming babies, sorting a mountain range of laundry, or singing the alphabet to splashing bathers? I know where your mind is wandering and no, I'm not saying my faith was built on the fluff of emotion. What I am saying is that every day laundry sorting, alphabet singing, baby rocking, budget setting, coffee grinding, time change adjusting faith is hard. Dare I say, harder than the other? I mean, if I can face an empty bank account with more courage than another night of lost sleep, what does that say about my faith?

Did I really just write that down?

The girls are all here now, piled in and around my lap, and I'm chugging yet another cup of coffee as I try to hear what they're all saying as they excitedly chatter over one another. What does the faith look like in this moment. Not glamorous, that's for sure. And as I mull it over for the five hundredth time today, I'm thinking that maybe it's just the sort of question I'm never supposed to stop asking, because the moment I do is the moment I'll idolize my efforts. Maybe it's one of those questions you simply answer with "don't grow weary in this; you'll reap a harvest in time if you don't give up."

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

In Which The Trees Begin To Smolder

The trees started smoldering today.

I noticed it as I glanced up on my way to the mail box. The tips of our neighborly Japanese Maples, usually so green, were dancing as newly birthed flames of red and gold against blue sky. Plodding back with an armload of uninteresting mail, I glanced up again. It was such a warming sight and certainly made up for the lack of pleasantries in the box, I mused, willing my bare feet to pad more slowly along the warm cement path behind the quicker pace of the girls.

Late afternoon found me drowning desires for a nap in the steaming depths of milky apple-sage coffee. The girls were off with Luana making up for play days lost to an autumn cold, so Will and I had snatched the opportunity to hold a proper conversation with one another. He's been buried beneath a literal mountain of deadlines this month and I've been busy with my own respective doings, so it was nice to exchange more than the usual snippets of this and that. On the way home, I glanced over the rim of my cup to the trees flitting speedily past my window and realized that the same seasonal display was occurring beyond our neighborhood. Everywhere, trees are sparking a spreading blaze of red, yellow, gold, burgundy. . . . An unusual display for a sunny coast.

I adore autumn but have never quite been able to reconcile myself to our nontraditional version. There's no real call for heavy knits and hot cider; no smoky hints in the air; no true battle between fire and frost. This year though, as I'm caught off guard by the fast advent of the season, I'm doubly surprised to find myself not minding our usual mild autumnal nod. 

I like that I can swathe the girls in sweaters and let them tramp about with bare toes; that we can enjoy warm days at the beach yet come home to combat cooler evenings with hot soup; that every call for use of our unromantic gas powered hearth and every leafy fluttering of crimson and gold never fails to bring wondrous delight. Best though, is this slow enlightening that it's not just the cozy exterior of the season that enchants me, but also the mystique and richness of it. Knowing this, I think I'm learning to dip below the multi-faceted surface of it all and enjoy it regardless of the particular facet facing me. 

But I mean, I really can't help but love a good tree smoldering.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Day The Heavens Tore // Short Story

This past year I happened across the works of Elizabeth Goudge and was completely smitten with her storytelling. After reading her Damerosehay trilogy I went a little crazy collecting as many of her books as I could get my hands on, I admit. There's something distinctly special about everything she put out, though. All of it is captivating and quaint without losing relatability, and all so deeply penetrating that you can't set them down unchanged in some way. Anyhow, I was particularly taken with her short stories and grew a taste to try my hand at it. Will was extremely supportive of my efforts, so in a fit of inspiration my first try ended up being a retelling of one of his favorite stories that I typed up the night before his birthday. It isn't so much a short story as it is a micro story but it's a start and Will was pleased with it, so there you have it.

“Wretched fools.”

He stood watching them come up the mountain like ants. Hundreds of them, all so small and insignificant from this vantage point. “If only they saw that of themselves,” he muttered, but even as he spoke a sharp thorn of pity throbbed in response. Though small and insignificant, they were cherished enough for him to be standing here watching them swarm upwards. Important enough to be fished from the pool of blood and rot this land, their home, his home, had become.

Home. His eyes roamed the stretch of land that lay about him like the billowing folds of a drying cloak. Slowly, he greeted every hill and field and shaggy city outline with both the familiarity of old friends and a twinging of sorrow. The drought had clearly taken a toll for the ripening fields and proud olive orchards, contrasting strips of rocky outcrop and green fertility were all mellowed to monotone brown. Even the outline of the great river was unusually reduced and mucky. His eyes closed in tempo with a deep-breathed sigh. Oh to be back home tilling the once-fertile fields or stomping out the dance of the grape harvest. This business he was about was an exhaustively nasty sort with no immediate fruit like that of his former life. Every season held its share of work that yielded fruit he could hold and taste for himself, not at all like this shouting to ears that didn't listen and thundering of curses that ripped right through the simple graces of that former life. If only... if only he could go back for a bit, just to work off this perpetual exhaustion in his heart. . . .

A bright flash suddenly caught the corner of his half opened eye. Turning, he was just in time to see the spectacle of several hundred strangers in bright finery and fluttering robes nearing him from another angle in as dignified a manner as the rough ground would allow. Eating from the king's own table was clearly something they had made good work of, He mused, watching their laborious progress. Their bangles and trinkets clinked in a merry confusion that heavily contrasted the void of darkness in their eyes that bore straight ahead of them. Purposing to not avert it, he pulled himself up and quietly faced them with steel assurance despite the cold tingle creeping up his back. In that brief moment of wandering amongst his own thoughts, he had forgotten that it wasn't his business that he was about.

“All are here.” The annoyingly nasal voice could belong only to one person. Turning round, the stranger spotted a portly figure in bright clothing standing among a small throng of attendants, his bulbous nose quivering in childish annoyance. The heavy load of jewels and precious metals on the stubby body glimmered artificially in the sharp purity of the morning sun. Ignoring the little man, the stranger turned to face the crowded mountainside. The loud confusion that had been so nauseatingly deafening moments before stilled as his piercing gaze swept over them for many long, uncomfortable moments. Everyone in the crowd could feel it, even those who couldn’t climb to be near enough to see. Not a birdsong, not a twig crackle, not a stone drop could be heard. Then his voice shattered the silence like the first white fingers of dawn across the darkness of night:

“How long will you live in the middle?”

It wasn’t a powerful statement in word for it had been repeated too many times to be seriously considered, but the weight of it fell like a boulder that thudded its way down the mountain side, sending residual poundings of anger and fear and hope.

“If the Lord is God then follow Him, but if Baal is god then follow him.”

How simple it all sounded when put like this! A simple choice of the obvious. Yet he knew that again the statement held no weight. The icy darkness in the eyes Baal's priests was echoed in most of the faces he met these days; the whole lot of them were walking dead men in need of a spark of life to set them aflame again. That was the whole reason he was here, after all.

A nasal sniff of discomfort and a few huffs of disgust could be heard from the brightly colored cloud of individuals. But otherwise, silence reigned supreme as the glazed eyes of countless imprisoned souls continued to stare at the silhouette of the man on the mountain top.

The stranger’s gaze softened as he looked at them, so cold and lifeless.

“I alone am left…” Turning to the brightly colored crowd whose faces remained as stone, the darkness deepening in the icy depths of their hatred, his tone warmed with challenge as his own eyes flickered with deadly wisdom, “Give us two bulls and we’ll put it to an open test right here before you. Two sacrifices but no fire. You call on your god and I will call on the Lord. The God who answers by fire, let him be God.”

There. He had offered them the very key from their prisons. Something that had been very tight somewhere within him eased a bit; he had obeyed. He, the mouthpiece of the true God had once again spoken the Word. Mercifully there was no time for thought beyond these mortal victory cries, for the fire of his challenge had lit mockery in many of those eyes. But was it? . . . Yes. A hungry flame of hope also leapt out as eagerly as the answering murmur of assent: “It is well spoken, let it be done.”


And so it was that perhaps an hour or more later, one altar of rough mountain stone stood illuminated by bright sunlight and a thrill of expectation.

Around this one altar, the people pressed expectantly, quiet. Then, the swaying began. One voice steadily rose like the rung of a ladder before linking itself to another, then another, then another. A wordless chanting expressing deep, evil things steadily rising overhead. Voice after voice after voice, rose until all four hundred and fifty of that bright cloud of priests held their voices in a thick ascension. There was a crescendo. . . then death himself seemed to suddenly rise from the depths of their dark eyes. Up he leapt, rung after rung of their wavering chant before pausing at the highest point. Hovering above the listless crowd, he stretched a heavy hand and pressed steadily.

The stranger's strength quivered beneath the pressure, though he did his utmost not to show it. He had felt these things before of course, but this was the first time he had willingly faced them in a long while. More swaying, more pressing. The chanting now dipped and rose with a life of its own, wildly dancing like the desperate flames of the many starving hill top pyres that had consumed so many innocent lives in shameless eagerness and screamed for more. But now it seemed it was dancing on the brink of his own soul. Leaning more heavily on the stone pile beside him, The stranger's stomach rolled in nauseous fear. He was the mouthpiece of God, yes. . . but the last one. There had once been many before they were cut down by the fiercely misplaced dedication of their own countrymen. Was this how they had felt when they too had faced death? The stranger tucked his head to his chest. He was not the one to gain victories here, how could he? How different was he from the dozens of others who had come, declared, and died declaring? He wasn't different at all. He was a mouthpiece, simply a mouthpiece.

The inner battle of humility raged as fiercely as the one around him so that he barely noticed the goings on of that sickeningly bright cloud of lost souls. Fittingly, it was the puffing of the pudgy man that cut through the stranger's inward battle. Somehow he found himself emerging from the deafening clash of pride and meekness with his eyes trained on the fat little chest as it rose and fell in heavy sequence. It was so annoyingly alive, so obnoxiously evil, so frustratingly idiotic. “Such a waste… such a waste… such a waste.” The condemnations fell in pattern with his breath; the breath of life that was not his own. Ah yes, that was right, it not his own. Clasping trembling hands and standing a little taller in fresh humility, his inner struggles fell silent to the glory that flooded his senses in the momentary abandonment of himself.

It was then that he noticed the goings on before him.

The cloud of brightly clad fools were leaping and tumbling over each other; shouting, chanting, clearly perturbed. Even with the fresh cloaking of humility, the stranger couldn’t help himself: “Perhaps he is busy? Maybe you ought to cry a little louder so he can hear you above his business," he offered. Despite no acknowledgement, the jumping became a little higher and the shouting a little louder. A sad sight really, much like children making the most of the last few moments of play. There was a flurry of fabric as robes were whipped back and knives began slashing wildly across already disfigured skin. Blood flowed in abundance, defiling the ground with every quickly devoured drop, everlastingly feeding its greedy sodden mouth. The hoarse chanting seemed to take new form as the wildly slashing knives danced on, "more blood, more life, more, more, more more . . . ." It was a song from the gaping throat of death itself. This was the replacement of the sweet, melodic hymns of Yaweh's priests that had brimmed with life even before the grisly offerings made to grasp them from the very place they now stood.

The great gold sun passed that invisible middle line across the sky, and shadows shifted and sank deeper. The blues and golds and purples of evening began to glimmer into being on the horizon when the stranger finally stretched his cramped limbs and stood.

“It is enough. Come near.”

The confusion fell silent as he slipped off his outer robe and turned to the outcrop of stone he had leaned on all day, regarding it with familiarity. An alter of the Lord, ruined and forgotten but here all along. Slowly, he set to work with capable hands. Heaving and pulling under the added weight of many watching eyes, he lovingly restored it. Twelve stones for the twelve tribes, the wood, the bull. It didn't take long. But as the flaming sun of evening framed the crude altar, the stranger rattled all hope that seemed to lean on him by dropping to hands and knees and shoveling a deep trench around the thing. He couldn't possibly?... “Bring water.” Deadened eyes now sparked in very living shock as he soaked the whole of the sacrifice, altar, and trench three times. Stepping near the alter once more and dropping a prematurely peppered head of hair, he spread exhausted hands in humble trust.

“Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be made clear this day that you are their God, that I am your servant, and that you have turned their hearts toward you again.”

There was a brief moment of silence, breathing, and the deeply buried reaction of many heads raising as one.

Then, Yaweh answered.

Directly above the rebuilt altar, the seemingly blue vastness of sky twisted, crumpled, then ripped as if by unseen hands. From beyond the dome that closed in the world and all its inhabitants, an unearthly fire of pure sheen fell thick and fast. Nobody seemed to see it hit, but everything, everything, on the altar and around it burned as quickly as the fire fell and in such brilliance that all watchful eyes felt seared from the inside out.

As quickly as it had happened, it was done.

Panting a little, the stranger turned and faced the full mountain that was still trembling with shock, once again allowing his eyes to wander. These people were terrified. Today, Yaweh had reminded them that He wasn't legend and that He wasn't pleased. But that holy fire had done more than offer them a good scare, it had sparked a repentant fire of hope. The worshipful reverence in which they fell on their knees and the misty eyed declarations of “The Lord is God!” spoke to that. He turned to the bright cloud of fools, the priests of baal, the princes of rot, and still they held stony countenances and eyes that belched thick hatred. Well, as the Lord would have it in this case, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

“Take them.”

There was hardly light now. Deepening evening, but a clear one. Still, this exhausting day was unfinished for there was still a drought to be resolved. “Wretched fools,” the stranger again muttered as he strode up the mountain, but still he felt the thorn of compassion that had pierced him earlier. Compassion not being a strong gifting, it was definitely not his own. But as locked as his soul still was within his lacking humanity, his spirit was too busy basking in the echoing splendor of his God to waste energy on annoyance.

Pausing for a breath, the stranger pulled himself from his thoughts to observe his surroundings. There was so much more life present now: Birds crooning gentle lullabies, the rustling of small animals about their evening business, a few insects whispering soft hymns. All seemed caught up in habitual praise, as if all that happened there that day was simply an ornamental high note in the grand chorus they lived daily. It was restful to be in the midst of, despite the high strung joy of it, and there was nothing more that the stranger wanted than to sink down and meld into the scene. But rest remained elusive as his work lay unfinished. Sighing a little, he gathered himself and continued a forward stride.

Reaching the top, the stranger sank in weary appreciation. The alter still lay visible, the black stones visible in the deepening shadow. All the splendor of the day's victory was still so fresh that the difficulty facing him now was not the actual petitions for rain, but simply the lack of resplendence about it. A humble task to carry through the larger glory. So humble, in fact, that he had to work hard at pressing his mind to the ground in God's holy presence and wait patiently for the right words without irreverently falling asleep or being otherwise distracted. "Even a mouthpiece has a mind," he muttered, realizing himself already straying into the at-hand difficulties themselves. For the second time that day, the peppered head sank in reverent humility and pleading. Then again. And again, and again, and again.

With every new offered pleas, the stranger's glorious high tipped and poured over. Was he too tired? Not offering the right words? Too distracted? So beneath the prophets who walked before him that one act of God through this man was enough? No, he chided himself, this is how the Lord would have it, for this business of His was so far beyond the stranger's own frail frame, and what He had begun, He would also finish. He had sent the fire, He would send the rain. So the stranger dipped his head in deeper pleading, deeper assurance in spoken promises, again and again.

When the peppered head rose for the seventh time, bloodshot eyes directing a patiently waiting servant to look for signs of rain yet again, the offered tidings were not a surprise: “A little cloud out of the sea, the size of a man’s hand.” As if the cloud were a hurricane, the stranger rose in certainty. He knew this was the answer and accepted the momentary smallness of it. But if the smallness posed problematic for any possible observer, it didn't for long. The evening light was suddenly obliterated as the cloud gathered force as a dark, swirling storm. Sweeping in at a furious pace, the wind set the air to tingling with the electricity of anxious anticipation. The rain was indeed coming.

Again Yaweh had answered. First with fire, now with rain.

Was He, perhaps, finally purifying His land, His people clean?

Setting all nagging questions aside, the stranger leapt with new energy, gathered up his robe… and ran.

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