My Refuge and Fortress (Part One)

Clara was jarred from her sleep by the tinny ringing of her alarm.   The blue skies, ocean views and fruity drink disappeared in a flash.  “What in the?”  She fought hard in the darkness to find her glasses as the noise grew louder and louder.   “Where are they?”  She spoke frantically as her hand scrambled clumsily on the nightstand.  “Ah,” she fumbled and set the bottle cap spectacles on her nose.  Even squinting she could barely see the phone screen through the thick lenses sitting perfectly sideways on her face.   She clicked the bright orange button and fell back onto her fluffy pillow and pulled the covers over her head.  “Why do I have to get up so early?”  She knew the answer, but never failed to ask the question at least once a week.  No one ever responded, at least not in a language she could understand.  Although, her dog, Ringo, would occasionally whine affirming her disdain.

The traffic blared, greeting this new day, and she could hear it all too clearly through the thin walls.  A stark reminder to Clara that her dreams of sunshine and sand between her toes was just that, a dream.  She pulled her weary bones out of bed and made her way to the bathroom.  In her groggy state, she nearly tripped over Ringo resting comfortably on his cushion.  He groaned and turned over, he wasn’t happy with this ridiculous idea of waking before daylight.  “I don’t blame you, buddy, I’d stay in bed too.”

She emerged in her favorite pink and white polka dotted bath robe and headed to the kitchen to brew some coffee.  “It’s Friday” she spoke to her canine companion and gave him a quick scratch on the head.  She stretched, reaching her hands toward the ceiling and did her best to shake off the stiffness of a few hours of sleep.  Again, Ringo, arguably her best friend of five years, groaned but made no attempt to move.

While she waited for the coffee pot to work its magic, she opened the blinds around her small apartment.  Looks like another cloudy day, she thought, exactly how I feel inside. She stood and stared out the window watching the cars buzz below, life always felt so busy.  The beeping of the coffee pot pulled her from her thoughts.  She pulled her favorite mug from the cupboard, LOVE was written in red on one side. It was given to her by a boy she once thought she’d marry.  She paused, her mind starting to wander, the romance had started off so well.  She shook her head, she wasn’t going to let those memories roll through her mind today.  She began to hum as she poured the coffee, then topped it off with a scandalous amount of cream.  Clara grabbed her Bible and found her way to her favorite chair.  She called it the “power hour” chair, even though her devotions never took an hour.  She placed her beloved, worn Bible on her lap, and it fell open to her favorite Psalm.  The words never ceased to comfort her. 

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High

will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,

my God in whom I trust.” Psalm 91:1-2

She whispered the verses as she blew steam from her hot cup which immediately fogged up her glasses. She closed her eyes and allowed the words to wash over her.   “This is a big day, Lord, as you know.  I’m nervous and need your strength more than ever.” She hesitated, “and, please help me to be kind and hopeful to those around me no matter what happens.  Amen.”    Her thoughts traced their way back to last week when a memo showed up in her email warning there would be layoffs.   The department where she’d devoted the last five years of her life was downsizing.  She’d been a nervous wreck and binge eating carbs ever since.

She recounted the story as she dressed. 

She’d been young and ambitious, starry eyed and full of hope.  She’d been told countless times in youth group that she could change the world, and she believed it. She was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” in high school with good reason. Straight A’s, secretary of the student government, photographer for the yearbook club, and a student mentor were just a few of her lofty accomplishments.  She’d left school with a Bible in one hand and a very loose grip on reality in the other.  Started college believing she would be successful in life, nothing would be too hard.  She was a Christian, after all, and Jesus would make a way.  It never occurred to her at the time that HIS way might look different than hers. 

She’d majored in architecture and by anyone’s standard she was really good. Good enough to earn a scholarship and graduate Magna Cum Laude with a job waiting in a city she’d dreamed of living.  “What happened?” She asked as she wiped the fog from the bathroom mirror.  Her reflection took her by surprise.  With eyes dark and hollow, the young woman in the mirror didn’t look like the hopeful girl who arrived a few years ago.  Lost in thought, she glanced at the clock. “Yikes!  Ringo, why didn’t you tell me the time?!”

She pulled her light brown hair back in a tight pony tail and brushed some gloss on her lips as ran out the door.  She was a far cry from the girl who used to love shopping in all the make-up stores and who’d kept her hair pristine.  That thought occurred to her as she leapt on the train just as the door slammed behind her.  When had she stopped caring?

The ride to work was always eventful. Today a young girl sat with a bucket nearby crooning lyrics of lost love.  For a short moment Clara thought again of Brandon, the one she’d left behind to chase this dream.  She smiled briefly then turned her attention to the present.  She pulled out her wallet discreetly and dropped a worn dollar bill into the bin and offered the young singer a timid smile then grabbed the plastic loop hanging from the rafter and steadied herself as the train lurched to life.  She stood lost in thought back to a time when she still dreamed, back before she realized dreams didn’t come true for girls like her.  She wasn’t particularly pretty, average at best.  Her mom used to tell her she was pretty, but that was before she got sick.  Life seemed a lot emptier since her mom died.  It seemed so many of her thoughts began and ended with memories of her mother. The train came to an abrupt stop and Clara was swept up in the crowd as they exited onto the busy street. 

Once she emerged from the train station, she weaved her way to a less crowded spot on the sidewalk and stopped to take a deep breath.  Looking up at the expanse of the beautiful blue sky she noticed the long shadows stretching across the street. She suddenly felt very small in this place filled with high rises and even higher hopes.  

“Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare

    and from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with his feathers,

    and under his wings you will find refuge;

    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”  Psalm 91:3-4

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