My Refuge and Fortress: Humbled (Part Nine)

It was still dark out when Clara opened her eyes.  The small apartment felt dark and cramped in the face of her current situation.  She’d prayed thoughtfully about so many of her disappointments and fears a couple of nights ago.  But, she still had to remind her troubled spirit often that everything was going to be okay.  Her email inbox remained void of any good news and her cupboards were nearly empty, just like her bank account.  “Today’s the day,” she whispered into the darkness.  She’d waited as long as she could, but an uncomfortable conversation with the Landlord was inevitable.  Her rent was due and there was no money.

Clara climbed out of bed and headed to the bathroom to grab her pink bath robe.  Ringo rolled over noisily in his bed protesting the early hour.  The apartment felt cold this morning, probably because she’d turned the thermostat down as low as she could possibly stand; it was one of many small ways she’d been able to penny-pinch her way through the last several weeks.  She cinched the belt of her robe tightly around her waist and pulled the fluffy collar up to her chin.  Coffee sounded perfect.  Another benefit of this painful time was she’d learned to drink her brew black, no money to spend on cream or milk these days.   All luxuries were long gone.  It was puzzling to her that she was still content.  All her life she’d fought hard to have enough, to be enough, only to end up here, a place where she had no control over any of it.  And in the most unexpected of turns, she found she was happy.  The kind of happy some might even call joy.  As long as she kept her heart and mind aligned with scripture, a song remained in her soul.   “Be grateful in all things.”  She’d said to herself countless times over the last couple of days.  “There are some out there hurting way more than you.”  She found her prayer life more meaningful and fear had less of a hold on her heart as she began to trust in ways she hadn’t before.    Maybe that’s what the scripture means when it tells us to “keep our mind on pleasant things…things that are good and noble.”  Over the years, she’d heard sermons and youth devotionals about the importance of keeping your mind on the promises of God.  But, she’d never practiced it that much, until now.  And, to her complete surprise, it worked.  Keeping her thoughts focused on Christ and his Word had settled her and kept her believing in a better tomorrow.

And now, tomorrow was finally here.  It was time to talk with the Landlord about her inability to pay the rent.  She spent extra time kneeling in front of the “power hour” chair asking God for courage and opportunity. Then, she showered and listened to upbeat music while she dressed.  Finally, she stood in front of the full length mirror, screwed onto the back of the bedroom door, and stared at the finished product.  Her hair was mousy brown and hung simply over her shoulders, she’d always longed for shiny thick hair like she’d seen in magazines.  But, unfortunately, it was never meant to be.  She wore a white t-shirt covered by a brown cardigan and her favorite jeans.  Her whole life she’d wished for beauty, something that would make her stand out in a crowd.  She’d avoided mirrors because her wish had never come true.  But today, she couldn’t explain it, she felt beautiful.  It was like there was light shining through her eyes making her countenance lovely.  “Your Word, Lord, brings light and beauty,” she spoke to the simple girl in the mirror.  And the lovely girl smiled in return. 

“Here I go,” she rubbed Ringo as she opened the brown door that had been an obstacle for so long.  Not anymore, today she opened the door with confidence and headed to the stairs.  Go before me, Father, she thought as she bounded down several flights.  And, with all the faith she could muster, she believed he would.

Clara entered the dated orange and green lobby and headed for the door with the faded office sign.  She tried to be quiet but the door made a scraping sound as it opened, the receptionist behind the desk looked up immediately.  “Can I help you?”  She was young and blonde and didn’t recognize Clara.  Clara’s heart beat wildly, “Ummm, yes, I’d like to speak to the Landlord, please.”   “Let me see if he’s available, what’s your name?”  “Clara, Clara Bell.”   The blonde got up from her chair, straightened her mini skirt and knocked on the door directly behind her.  Clara could hear a muffled voice from behind the door and the blonde entered.  A few moments later, she emerged and told Clara to go right in.  Clara’s hands were sweaty and she didn’t know if she could make her feet move from the place they were, apparently, cemented to the floor.  “He’ll see you now,” the blonde repeated a little louder and Clara forced her legs to move. 

The office smelled of stale smoke and the man behind the brown desk didn’t get up as she entered.  “Hi, I’m Clara Bell and I have an apartment in this building.”  She spoke fast and could hear the quiver in her voice.  “Have a seat,” he spoke over her.  And so she did.  “Now, what can I do for you?”  His dark brown eyes looked over the desk, piercing her.  His bushy brown mustache made it impossible to tell his age.  She knew he must be older because everything about the entire office and lobby looked as though it stepped out of the seventies.  “Umm, I’m Clara Bell, and I have an apartment in this building.” She repeated.  She felt faint, but pressed on, “I lost my job recently and I’m having some financial trouble.  What I’m trying to say is, I don’t have the money for this month’s rent.”  “Ah, I see,” said the man with the big mustache.  “What was your name again?”  “Clara Bell.”  He began to tap on a computer that looked to be as old as the furniture.  Tap. Tap. Tap.  He wasn’t used to typing, Clara could tell.  Finally, he spoke, “there you are.” He pushed the reading glasses from the tip of his nose and leaned in closer to the screen.  “Been here a few years, I see. Never had any trouble with the rent before.”  Clara squirmed uncomfortably.  “Wait, don’t have money for the rent, you say?”  “Yes,” Clara cleared her throat after she spoke.  “Well, it says here your rent this month is paid.”  Clara blinked several times in confusion and the Landlord must’ve sensed her bewilderment because he followed with “yep, paid a few days ago, it looks like.”  Clara felt the room spin a little and she braced herself in the chair.  Paid?  What in the world?  How?  Her mind was full of questions and she tried to ask a few.  “I have no idea, it just says it’s paid.”  The Landlord said with finality and Clara could tell the subject was closed.  He stood and thanked her for coming.  She stepped outside his office and he closed the door behind her. 

Clara stood in place for an uncomfortable minute and then looked at the blonde behind the desk.  “Do you remember someone paying rent for Clara Bell?  Someone besides me?”  She asked.  The blonde thought for a moment and finally said, “I think I do.  She was in and out in a hurry a few days ago.  She said not to say anything, but, I guess I could tell you.”  The blonde shrugged.  “Hang on, I wrote it down.”  The blonde looked back through her visitor book.  “Let’s see, looks like her name was…Laura.”   A thousand feelings of love and regret crashed into Clara’s soul and she fled the office before she embarrassed herself with a flood of tears.  She sat down on the vinyl sofa of the dated lobby and pulled her phone from her pocket.  Her number was easy to find, it was still in Clara’s favorites.  She clicked the picture of her friend and it began to ring.  Clara put the phone to her ear just in time to hear Laura say, “Hello.” 

He will call on me, and I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble,
    I will deliver him and honor him.
Psalm 91:15

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