My Refuge and Fortress: Why, Lord?

Clara moved quickly weaving in and out of the mass of humanity on the crowded sidewalk. Her thoughts were filled with memories of when she first moved to the “big city,” as she called it. Back then, she was brimming with anticipation and naive enough to think if she worked hard enough she’d earn promotions and win notoriety. It was all about timing. She’d waited for her big break eagerly, always giving more than those around her; late nights and early mornings were the keys to success. But, somewhere along the way she’d begun to realize her “plan” wasn’t working. The thought made her shoulders droop and she pulled her drab grey sweater a little tighter around her waist. The wind was picking up a bit just as she rushed through the glass revolving door that spilled into the lobby. Clara could hear the ding of the elevator and her brisk walk turned to a sprint. She barely slipped through the elevator doors before they closed tightly behind her. “Thirteen, please,” she spoke softly. There were too many bodies surrounding her this morning and she looked straight down at her shoes to avoid eye contact or conversation. She just wasn’t in the mood to pretend to be happy.

The ride up gave her more time to think. 

She didn’t have charm or speak with a silver tongue like others who’d moved up the ladder of opportunity. She’d kept her standards high, like she was raised, and found herself passed again and again.  “You’re great, Clara, a real team player.”  “Don’t know what we’d do without you, Clara, you’re a real asset to the team.”  She’d heard the rhetoric more times than she could count.  At first she believed them.  She put her whole heart and soul into being the best “team player” the company had ever seen.  But as the days, weeks, months and even years rolled by, she began to realize “team player” just meant you weren’t going anywhere. 

Especially up.

The sound of elevators doors opening pushed her into the present.  “Excuse me,” she repeated several times as she exited into the hallway.  Once off the elevator she stopped in the wide hallway to straighten her sweater.  “Hi Clara,” the blonde haired girl behind the receptionist desk spoke in a cheery voice.  “Um, hi,” Clara responded, distracted.  This girl was way too happy about being here and Clara had no time or desire for small talk.  She quickly walked past the blonde cheery girl and yanked the double glass doors with the words Smith & Smith Architectural Design open and headed for her cubicle. 

Today was a big day. 

The impending doom letters were being delivered by mail currier.  Her stomach was tight and full of butterflies that grew to the size of bats.  She couldn’t wait to get to the privacy of her small space.  Although most likely not true, she felt like all eyes were on her and she wanted to disappear. The moment her foot stepped inside the make shift walls she sighed relief, slipped out of her sweater and draped it over the chair.   The tension was palpable.  She made eye contact with Laura who sat across from her, Clara nodded her head slightly saying Good Morning and God Help Us All in one motion.   She slid into her seat and pressed the power button on the computer.  While it hummed to life she pushed her lunch box under the desk and opened a bottle of water preparing for a morning of tedious work.  Sometimes she wondered what it would be like to throw caution to the wind and flee from this place.  It no longer held the allure it once did.  She dreamed of starting her own business.  She was good at her job and knew she could make a living if only…

if only she had the courage to try. 

Ty usually came by with the mail around lunch.  Clara was pretty sure the morning couldn’t go any slower.  She’d answered a few calls and worked diligently on a project but still the clock seemed to stand still.  Finally, at 11:30 she could see the top of his head over the short wall surrounding her.  He was such a nice guy.  She’d had many shallow conversations with him as he’d dropped by her desk a thousand times delivering letters, packages and sometimes cookies.  He had a sweet wife, who was the culprit cookie maker, and a newborn.  He was always ready to show a family picture to anyone willing to look.  Clara guessed she’d gained five pounds since Ty started bringing those baked goods around, she had a love hate relationship with the whole cookie situation.  When she saw his face she knew something was awry.  He stopped in front of her small space barely looking up, nothing like his usually friendly self.  He handed her a thin stack of envelopes and quickly pushed his mail cart down the narrow hallway.  Her hand trembled a bit as she sorted the letters and then she saw it.   It was the last one.  On the front of a plain white envelope with the company’s logo in one corner and in the center it read plainly, CLARA BELL.  As if seeing her name wasn’t enough, it was in all caps and emboldened.  The color drained from her face as she turned the envelope over.  Her hands were shaking visibly as she opened the drawer to get her letter opener.   The fancy letter opener had been a company Christmas gift last year and the irony was not lost on her. 

Dear Clara,

It is with great disappointment we must inform you effective…

She couldn’t read on. It seemed the whole world stopped around her.  She could hear Laura saying her name but she didn’t have the heart to respond.  Five years, she thought.  Five wasted years.  She crumpled the paper, grabbed her sweater and purse and headed for the door.  It was lunchtime after all, so no one would think twice about her exit.  How strange at a time like this she would be concerned about what people might think.  Walk calmly, Clara, don’t attract attention.  Her mind was racing.  The thought occurred to her in the midst of a train wreck of emotions, when did it start to matter so much what others were thinking?!  All she wanted to do right now was escape to the street and blend in with the masses of humanity. 

She wanted to be invisible.

She was in the lobby before she realized she’d forgotten her lunchbox.  No way was she going back in for it, she was taking every single second of this lunch hour to regroup or have a mental breakdown or both.  She rummaged through her purse and found a coupon for Subway then began the walk two blocks over to get a sandwich.  She wasn’t a bit hungry but desperately needed distraction.  The entire two blocks her mind raged, and she tried desperately to cope with this new information.  Why, Lord?  She asked again and again in a voice only she and the Father could hear.   How could she finish the rest of the work day?  How could she bear the questioning eyes of others?   It was all more than she could take at the moment.  She unwrapped the sandwich, spread the corners of the crinkly paper evenly on the table and sat completely still until lunch was over.

She was hurt, humiliated and terrified.

How would she pay her rent?  What would she eat?  What about food for Ringo?  Winter was coming, what about heat?  Rent or heat wouldn’t matter if she was homeless.  What about insurance? Or the remainder of her school loan?  Her mind went round and round and each time it came back to the same conclusion.

She was ruined.

“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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