(A Short Story)
I looked out across the dusty horizon. A slight wind that should have brought refreshment from the scorching heat, instead was too dry and sandy to bring any relief. It played with my long, black hair, blowing it into my face.
My mind wandered back to two years ago. Back when everything had been good. When life had been a joy, instead of an unbearable burden. Back when my husband was alive. He brought life and joy to our family. The moment he stepped through the door after work each day, and smiled at me with his beautiful brown eyes, everything looked brighter. He encouraged me to hope, to dream, to live.
But now, he was gone. After only three short years with him, gone. And now I had nothing left to hope for.
My son, Rafael, was my only reason to live now. He was the only bright spot in my day, the only thing that could make me smile anymore. He, in his youthful glee, found joy in everything. Even in the midst of this terrible drought, where finding mere food is a struggle, still, he finds a way to smile. Even at the simplest things.
And so I pressed on. I lived for him, in hopes that I could give him a good life.
But now, I wasn’t even sure that I could give him that.
Our food was almost gone. We had nothing left. Only enough to make one small cake of bread, which would not suffice even him alone. And as a widow, in the midst of an unbearable drought, I had no way, no means to provide him anything else.
In a few days, we would die. And there was nothing I could do about it.
And so here I was, staring off into nothingness, hoping, praying for a way, a miracle that could give my precious son one more chance at life. If only God would hear me.
But He had not heard me before. How could I think that He would hear me now?
I pulled my blowing hair back and tied it with my soiled scarf, hot tears running down my dust-streaked cheeks. I wiped them away quickly. Rafael could not know. I would not let him see my burden, my worries. He must find a spot of joy in his last few days.
Could I even dare to still hope for a miracle?
Rafael awoke from his sleep, and hopped out of bed, running to give me a hug. He jumped up onto my lap and gave me a little kiss on the cheek, as he did every morning. His bright smile lifted my sadness, just a bit. I forced a smile, and gave him a tight hug, thankful for this last little blessing in my life.
“Is it time for breakfast yet, Mama?” His eyes were filled with innocence and childlike expectation.
“Yes dear,” I replied softly. “Although it might not be a very big breakfast.” I couldn’t bear to break the news to him yet. I still had time. I must let him live in peace for as long as possible.
“That’s okay,” he said sweetly. “Can I do anything to help you?” And then he smiled at me. Tears filled my eyes and threatened to overflow. I quickly wiped them away.
“Yes, you can come and help me gather some sticks for the fire.”
And so, with his hand in mine, we went to gather sticks so that I could prepare our very last meal.
He ran to and fro, laughing with glee, trying to find the “biggest and best” sticks for me. He hurried over, holding a perfectly straight stick, and held it out to me, a smile beaming on his little face. I smiled back at him, and gently took the stick, telling him that he could go find me another one. And so off he ran, giggling brightly. My eyes followed him, not letting him out of my sight.
The cry startled me. I turned around quickly, to see a man. He was much older than I, but not ancient. His long brown robe was soiled and had many tears. He leaned on his staff as he approached, as if wearied with travel. Rafael ran to my side, and I held him tightly.
The man did not look threatening, in fact, he smiled warmly at me and my son. He looked strangely familiar, as if I had seen him somewhere before. My mind raced, trying to place where I knew him from.
“May I ask of you a drink of water? I am thirsty from much travel,” he said wearily.
My mind quickly snapped back to the situation at hand. Where were my manners? It was obvious that this man was in need of a drink, and here I was, standing, doing nothing about it! I quickly nodded to him and hurried back to the house to fetch him a cup of water.
“Woman, may I also ask of you a cake of bread?”
I stopped suddenly, hardly daring to turn around. My head throbbed with so many thoughts. And that’s when I remembered. This was Elijah. The prophet of God. My hands trembled. Surely, the prophet must know that we are in the midst of a terrible drought. And can he not see my state? I am a widow! I cannot provide for even myself and my son.
I turned around slowly, my eyes filled with tears.
“Sir, as the Lord your God lives, I do not have a cake.” My whole body was shaking now, and Rafael clung to me, looking up at me with his big eyes. Elijah was looking at me too, so I went on to explain.
“I only have a handful of meal left in our barrel, and a little oil in a jar. Look at me! I am gathering two sticks so that I can go in and prepare it for me and for my son, so that we can eat it, and then die.”
There. The truth was out. I stood there helplessly, able to do nothing. Still, I trembled, but I must stand. I must stay strong for my son.
Elijah, he was a prophet. Could he do nothing? Didn’t his God know our situation? Could He not help us? I looked at him with pleading eyes, not knowing how to do anything else.
What? My face filled with surprise. I had just told him everything. My son and I are going to die! How are we supposed to be at peace with that?
He continued. “Go and do as you have said. But make me a little cake first. After that, go and make for you, and for your son.”
My eyes opened wide with shock. Wasn’t he listening? Didn’t he hear what I had told him? I had nothing left. Nothing! I opened my mouth, preparing to speak, when he continued.
“For the LORD God of Israel says this. Your barrel of meal will not waste, neither will your jar of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. Could this possibly be true? The look on Elijah’s face told me that he believed every word that he had just spoken. He believed that God would perform a miracle. For me. A lowly widow. It was almost too wonderful to be true. Too amazing. Too unbelievable. But could it be true? If God is truly there, could He have heard my cries?
And so I decided to believe it. It went against everything that I had been telling myself since my husband died. That God would not hear me, and that He did not care about me. If He was even there at all. But maybe He did care. I was willing to believe it. If not for myself, then for my son. And so I took a step. One step towards my house. And after that, another, and another…
Before I knew it, I was running. I burst into the house and started to prepare the cake. I kneaded the dough as the fire caught and burned brightly. I spread it out onto a pan and baked it over the fire. Within minutes, it began to turn a beautiful golden shade of brown, and I ran it out to Elijah, who had been entertaining Rafael with a story. As I handed the cake to him, my heart thumped in my chest. This was it, my very last cake.
And I was giving it away.
As Elijah gently took it from my hands, he smiled at me and nodded toward my house.
I barely dared to breathe as I walked in the door. Carefully, I took the lid off of the oil jar. As I looked inside, I almost dropped it in surprise.
The jar was filled to the brim with oil.
Millions of thoughts rushed through my mind at that moment, but only one was at the forefront. Thank you, God! The God of Elijah…He cares for me! It was almost too wonderful to believe, and yet it was true. Tears, tears of gratitude streamed down my face. I fell to my knees and cried. My heart overflowed with joy and relief.
Peace. For the first time since my husband died, I had no dread, no fear of the future. The God of Elijah cares for me.
And so I prayed. Prayers of thankfulness poured out of my heart, and yet I could never thank Him enough.
The God of Elijah cares for me.
Each new day was filled with brightness. There were still the troubles of daily life, but they seemed to dim in comparison to the joys that filled my life every day. Of course, Elijah was beckoned to stay at our house, and he was given the upper chamber to reside in. He spent many hours, telling stories to Rafael, and instructing us in the ways of God. When telling his stories, his enthusiasm surprised me. He would motion with his arms, and change his voice for each of the different characters. Rafael was always delighted, and watched intently. And whenever Elijah would speak of God, I could see his love for Him shining in his eyes. I cherished every moment of this, learning of the One who loved and cared for me so much. The One who provided for me.
Food was no longer a worry. Just as Elijah had proclaimed, the barrel and the jar never went empty. We ate to our full each day, and it never ran out. Each and every day, a sufficient supply was there.
But then, my worst nightmare began again.
“Mama.” Rafael weakly called to me from his room one morning. I came to his side, and asked him what was wrong. “Mama, I don’t feel good.”
I looked into his eyes, and I knew. I could tell he was in pain. I put my hand on his cheek and kissed his little forehead. “You’ll be just fine, dear.” I said, giving him a gentle smile. “Mama’s gonna take care of you.”
So I tucked him in, and held his hand as I dropped to my knees and prayed. God would take care of him.
But he didn’t get better.
Rafael no longer ran around the yard with glee. He no longer jumped and laughed. He would hardly even touch his food. He was burning up with a fever. He was sick, so sick. Just like my husband had been.
I pushed the thought out of my mind. My husband died from his sickness, but Rafael, no, he would not. He could not. God would provide, wouldn’t He?
But each day, my dear son grew worse and worse. His breathing became more and more shallow. But still, every time I looked at him, he would smile at me, and my heart would break. I could do nothing for him. Every day, I kneeled beside his bed and prayed, begging God not to take my son from me. I asked Him what I had done. What sin had I committed that was so terrible that He would take my son because of it? Let it be me! If I sinned, let me be in his place. Let me pay for my sin, dear God—not him!
Elijah prayed too. But nothing, nothing seemed to be working. God had provided before! Couldn’t He provide again? My nights were spent in tearful, heart-wrenching prayers for my son. Why wasn’t God listening to me? Was Elijah right? Could God really hear me? Maybe the food miracle was a coincidence, maybe there was some other explanation. If God provided the food for me and my son, of course He would heal Rafael!
The next morning, I held my son in my arms, softly singing his favorite song.
The sun, it still shines, and I’m right here with you.
With your hand in mine, together we’ll walk through.
He was barely breathing anymore. My tears slid down my tired face and fell onto his. I grasped his little hand in mine and focused on his beautiful face. I saw the corner of his mouth lift just a little.
And then he was gone.
It was as if my whole world stopped for a second.
And then it crashed down on me.
I broke into uncontrollable sobs. They were silent at first, but grew in volume as the realization set in. He was gone. Gone. Just like my husband. And here I was. Alone. My joy, my reason to live, was gone. And I was left. Broken. Numb. In anguish.
When Elijah heard my wails, he hurried down into the room. When I saw him, my anguish turned into a pained kind of anger. I couldn’t contain the words that came from the depths of my broken heart.
“What have I to do with you, you man of God! Have you come here to call my sin to remembrance and to slay my son?”
Deep down, I knew it wasn’t true. I knew that Elijah cared for Rafael just as I did. But he, as a prophet, was a man of God, and I was mad at God. And so I was mad at him. I laid over my son, weeping. Nothing could contain the utter depth of my sorrow. And so I cried. I cried until I had no more tears to cry.
Elijah had been standing across the room, silently watching me. When I glanced at him, his eyes were lifted upward. He was praying.
I tore my eyes away. How could he pray? Didn’t he see? God didn’t care about me. My dead son in my arms was proof. So whether it was some sort of illusion or something else, whatever it was that had happened with the “miracle,” it had convinced me that God cared about me, even loved me. But it was all a lie. God didn’t care, Elijah didn’t care, no one cared. I was alone. Utterly alone.
Elijah came up to me and whispered quietly, “Give me your son.”
He reached out and took Rafael from my arms. I didn’t want to give him up, but I was too weak, too numb to protest. So I let go and silently watched as Elijah carried my son up to his loft.
I sat there, still, staring off into nothingness. It hurt too much to think, so I didn’t. I just sat, hugging my arms to my chest, willing myself not to feel the pain. I heard rustling sounds from above me in the loft, but I paid no attention. But then, I heard something else. It was quiet, so I strained my ears to hear.
Crying. It was soft, but audible. Quiet sobs echoed from the room. I also heard whispers. Prayers, I assumed. What good that will do him. But then, a voice. This was louder than the whispers.
“Oh, Lord my God, let this child’s soul come into him again.”
Then a pause. And again, this time a little louder.
“Oh, Lord my God, let this child’s soul come into him again.”
What foolishness. I thought. God didn’t hear him before. Does he really think that God will hear him now?
But, then again, this time a loud cry that echoed through the house.
“Oh, LORD, my God, I pray You, let this child’s soul come into him again!”
And then silence. A heavy silence. Then a gasp.
My heart thumped in my ears, and I barely breathed. What was going on up there? I heard more shifting, more rustling, and a grunt. Then footsteps. Slowly, he descended the stairs.
And in the arms of Elijah, No. Please God, no. Deep down in my soul, I longed, I had foolishly hoped that Elijah could have done something. That God might have heard him, if not me. But still, Elijah held my dead son in his arms, bringing him to me so that we could bury him. I had no tears left to cry, so I just looked at my precious son, my heart a deep weight inside of my chest. Broken, but insurmountably heavy.
But then, I saw a movement. It was slight, but it was there.
I didn’t allow myself to hope. It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t. I must be dreaming.
But then Elijah came up to me, and in his arms, a happy, bubbling, alive Rafael! But how? It must be some sort of trick! But then he held him out to me and spoke.
“See, your son lives.”
Not allowing myself to breathe, I reached out and took my son into my arms. My heart was racing, and my mind exploded into a billion questions. He was real! Really real! And alive! He smiled at me, and it was honestly the biggest and most beautiful smile that I had ever seen. My doubting heart melted away as I looked at my dear son, and I knew. I knew.
I looked up at Elijah, and he seemed to understand the millions of emotions that were rushing through me right now. He just smiled at me, and then looked up to Heaven.
“Now I know,” I said to him, tears streaming down my face. “Because of this, I know that you are a man of God and that the words of the Lord that you have spoken are true!”
There was no more doubt in my mind or in my heart. I looked once more at my son, and then up to Heaven.