Enduring Hope

Enduring Hope

A Story by JoshiDx
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A short story I wrote for a friend of mine. Photo by Proverbs

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Sarah knelt at the foot of her bed, eyes closed, praying more sincerely than she had in weeks. “God,” she whispered, “I’m not happy. I miss Jake; I miss him so much I can barely say it. I miss his laugh, his smile, those little jokes he makes. I just want him back home. I know you’re looking out for him in Iraq. I know you’re in control of everything, but this loneliness is more than I can take. Please bring him home.”

She winced. Something inside of her felt wrong praying like that, like she was telling God what to do. Still she prayed. The loneliness had been building since the first day, and now hit in waves that felt unbearable. To her friends and family she would keep acting fine, but with God she would be sincere. Gritting her teeth she stood, brushing her silk nightgown down before slipping into bed.

Nights were the worst. She clutched Jake’s pillow tight, thinking back to when she kissed him goodbye, the last day she saw him before he went overseas. He tried to send her a letter every week, but the letters were a mixed blessing. They were always signed “with love”, and reminded her that he missed her too, but they also told of his loneliness and hardships in the war. Sometimes she wished there were no letters at all.

 

The next morning she woke as usual, eating breakfast alone, wishing there was someone else to brew coffee for. Flipping through the channels on the television she found the same dreary programming that seemed to plague her every weekend since he left. Saturdays were rough. Monday through Friday she could lose herself in her job, putting in overtime hours to earn extra date money for when Jake made it home again. On weekends though there was nothing. Sarah had taken to volunteering at every opportunity to help pass the time.

At eleven in the morning Sarah went out to her car and drove across town to her friend’s church, Hope Baptist. In that small church elderly widows gathered on Saturday afternoons to knit, play games, and share the stories of their long lives as wives and women. Sarah’s friend Joan, whose husband Toby was overseas in the same unit, had convinced her to volunteer there every week.

“Makes you feel better about yourself,” she said. “At least our husbands may still come home.”

Their friend Clara greeted Sarah at the door. “Glad you’re back this week. Today is Bingo day. Some of the women may need more help than others.”

“I can imagine.” Sarah forced a smile. She still wasn’t feeling her best. “Have you heard from Jim yet? You said Thursday you still hadn’t gotten his weekly letter.”

“It came this morning actually. Thank you dear for your concern.” Clara was ten years older than Sarah, and somehow her age seemed to give her a sense of serenity about the situation that Sarah just couldn’t manage. Clara rarely faltered when mentioning her husband, and Sarah envied the peace she seemed to have knowing her husband would come home.

“It’s a God thing,” Clara had once said. Sarah wanted to believe her, but found herself stressed nonetheless.

“Sarah!” Joan greeted her with a wide smile. “I’m so glad you’re here. I’ve been praying for you and Jake.”

Sarah hugged her tightly. “I’ve been praying for you and Toby.”

“Just ninety-six more days,” Joan said. “How are you doing?”

“Oh I’m getting by.” Sarah sighed. “It’s just… hard, you know?”

“Oh we know, believe me.” Clara smiled at her. “Come on though, the girls won’t be knitting forever.”

 

Soon Bingo was underway. All the elderly ladies were having a grand time, slapping their markers down on their small white sheets as numbers and letters blared from the tiny church PA system. A warm bonding and understanding could be felt as they played together, their aged hands collecting gift cards to various stores and salons, prizes for their luck.

Sarah had been assigned to help an older woman named Ida who kept coming one spot short of victory round after round. Ida kept very quiet, her hand wavering as it moved from her chips to her card placing another marker down.

“Almost have it this time,” Sarah said, pointing to the empty B3 spot on the card. “Maybe they’ll call it.”

“Probably not.” Ida frowned. “Today’s just not my day for winning.”

“N 24!” a voice crackled over the speakers.

A hand shot up. “Bingo!”

Gentle applause rose from around the room as the winner was announced and handed her prize.

“Maybe next time,” Sarah said helping to clear Ida’s card for the next round.

“You keep saying that,” Ida chuckled. “But it still hasn’t happened yet.”

Sarah nodded. “I know. Have to keep hopes up though. It helps you get by.”

“Do you really believe that?” Ida looked at Sarah with a sudden intensity, her eyes flickering.

“I… yes. I mean I think so.” Sarah didn’t know what to say. She had been wondering this very thing to herself just a few days before, and here a widow was calling her out on it during a Saturday game of Bingo. “I mean I guess I just believe that God will take care of things, you know?”

“No,” Ida scoffed. “I don’t know. I don’t believe in God, thank you very much. Didn’t do much to help Hank when he got cancer, now did it?”

“I’m… I’m sorry.” Sarah took a sharp breath. She felt very unprepared for this conversation. She looked to Clara or Joan for help, but they were busy helping others as a new set of numbers and letters came pouring over the speakers.

“Not to bother you with that dear.” Ida put a chip back on her free space. “I just don’t see how people can believe in God with all of the awful things that happen.”

“I guess it gives us comfort.”

“Some comfort.”

Silence fell between the two as the game went on. Sarah’s thoughts wandered as she thought of all the bad things going on in the world. It was hard sometimes to believe that God was there through all of that. After all, God is good, or so she thought, and shouldn’t want bad things to happen.

“Thanks for helping me.” Ida smiled at Sarah. “Even if I didn’t win.”

Sarah blinked. The rest of the game had flown by. “Maybe next time,” she said again.

“Still keeping that hope?” Ida chuckled. “We’ll see.”

 

“God doesn’t want bad things right?” Sarah sat on a park bench by the lake near her house, drumming her fingers against her thighs. “I mean he wishes he could stop them, doesn’t he? Wishes we didn’t have to suffer?”

“Of course.” Clara patted Sarah’s shoulder. “I know things are hard sometimes with our husbands away, but the real important thing is that God is there, watching over us, keeping us in his plan.”

“I guess I’m just finding that hard to believe lately.” Sarah shuffled her feet on the ground and sighed. “It’s starting to feel like Jake will never get home. His last letter said he might not be able to write for a while because of their next mission. I don’t know how I’m going to take that.”

“Jim said the same thing.” Clara looked up into the sunlit clouds and took a deep breath of the cool spring air. “You know I have my doubts too Sarah. Some days it seems like there’s no one up there, and that my prayers are headed straight to voicemail.”

“Really?” Sarah raised an eyebrow. “But you always seem so calm about everything!”

Clara laughed. “Only through the grace of God, dear. When Jim first went into the army I just about had a nervous breakdown over it. His first mission was hell, if you’ll pardon me saying so, and I mean hell. It’s taken me many years to feel this calm about him being away, and even now I sometimes worry. There’s always doubt.”

“I always thought you were just a rock.” Sarah smiled. “It makes me feel strangely good knowing that you struggle too. Not that I want you to of course.”

“Of course,” said Clara. “And of course I struggle. We all do. That’s why we wives have to stick together.”

“That’s right.” Sarah looked up at the sky, imagining the clouds as ships and planes that might carry Jake home to her. With a contented sigh she turned away. “Thanks for talking to me Clara. It means a lot to me.”

“Anytime. I’ll see you on Saturday, right?”

“Right; noon at the church. I’ll be there.”

 

Sarah sat next to Ida, watching the elderly woman knit. They were paired up again, though this time it was because Sarah asked Joan to set it up. She wanted to know more about this woman; something drew her in.

“Who’s that for?” she asked, pointing at the sweater that was slowly forming through the threads of blue yarn. “One of your kids?”

“I don’t have kids.” Ida seemed to make a face. She sniffed, a firm frown crossing her lips before her hands resumed their steady work.

“Oh I see.” Sarah paused. “Sister or brother?”

“Dead.” Ida continued rocking without looking up or stopping her work. “Just like all of them. No I’m afraid it’s just me now, living in my little house, fighting off the nursing homes. No mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters or husbands.”

“You never had kids?”

“Oh we tried, God knows Hank tried…” Ida laughed bitterly. “Never had them though.”

Sarah lowered her eyes. “I’m sorry.” She sent up a brief prayer for patience and understanding, shifting closer to Ida. “I thought you didn’t believe in God though?”

“Oh I don’t. I just… well I mean, it’s a figure of speech, just something you say. Oh…” Ida grumbled as she lost her words, trailing off into silence. Her hands kept at knitting with practiced patience.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“You didn’t. You just… well I used to believe.” Ida’s hands stopped suddenly, her eyes flashing up to meet Sarah’s. “I used to have faith. But what happened to Hank wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair. And then me, here alone, trying to pay the bills off of the little we had left. It just didn’t seem like God cared, you know? So I stopped.”

“You stopped?”

“Stopped believing.” Ida resumed her knitting, staring off into the fluorescent lights of the church as if lost in memory. “Nothing wrong with believing. At least I don’t really think so. It’s just not for me.”

Sarah’s heart broke for the woman, how frail she was beneath her tougher exterior. It had been hard not seeing Jake in the past few months; she could hardly imagine him being gone for good, and not having at least her family around for support. “Do you mind if I ask how it happened?”

“No I don’t mind.” Ida shook her head. “But… not today. Some other time.”

“All right.”

Sarah watched in silence as Ida finished knitting, until at last she held up a perfect blue sweater.

“Don’t you think it will look great on me?” Ida asked smiling. “Matches my eyes, I think?”

“It does.” Sarah smiled at her. “Well they’re closing up for today. Will you be here next week?”

“Of course! Next week is Bingo week.” Ida folded the sweater. “I can’t miss that.” She began packing up her things.

Sarah reached down to help. “I hope to get a chance to talk to you next week then.” She smiled kindly at Ida, whose eyes seemed to twinkle just a bit back at her.

“I hope so too.”

 

“She’s so sweet.” Sarah sat in Joan’s living room, shaking her head. “I can’t help but want to dig deeper.”

“A lot of the women who come in have a lot hidden beneath the surface.” Joan sat down next to her with a cup of coffee and smiled. “Buried treasures so to speak. There are lifetimes’ worth of wisdom and experience waiting to be discovered in each one. That’s why I love working with them.”

Sarah nodded. “It’s funny too. The first time you had me work with her she kept missing Bingo by one space every round, and it led to this whole conversation on hope, because I kept telling her to keep up hope that she’d eventually win. Funny how that happened.”

“God works in funny ways sometimes.” Joan sipped her drink thoughtfully. “Well I hope you two have a chance to talk some this weekend. I’ll be praying for you.”

“Thanks Joan. It means a lot to me.”

 

Next Saturday Sarah sat in the parking lot of Hope Baptist brushing a tear out of her eye. She hadn’t heard from Jim all week, and it had taken its toll. This morning alone she had gotten up late, burnt her breakfast, and was now an hour late for volunteering. She hadn’t felt up to volunteering, but didn’t want to miss a chance to talk to Ida. Closing her eyes she whispered a prayer.

“Please help me as I talk to Ida today, God. Something keeps drawing me to her, and I can’t help but feel that you have a reason for our talks. I doubt I can do much today given how awful a week this has been, but if you can use me for something even like this then I am willing. Please, if you’re listening up there, give me some strength. Amen.”

With a deep breath she stepped out of her car and made her way into the building. Ida smiled at her from across the room and waved her over immediately.

Clara leaned in to Sarah as she passed. “She asked about you as soon as she got here.” She smiled at Sarah. I’m glad to see you getting along so well. That’s really what this volunteering is about, giving people someone to talk to.”

“Believe me,” said Sarah. “I know.”

Sarah sat down by Ida and forced a smile. “Hello.”

“Glad you could make it,” Ida said smiling back. “I was beginning to worry we wouldn’t have our talk. Besides, Bingo is going to start soon.” She began putting away her knitting supplies and moved to a table.

Sarah gathered a sheet and chips for Bingo and brought them to the table. “Maybe you’ll win today.” She sat down by Ida and put a chip on the free space. “There you go. One down already.”

“Yes, one down.” Ida turned to Sarah, and a surprising earnest tone resonated in her voice as she spoke. “You know I’ve been thinking all week, and well… I don’t really talk to anyone about it, I mean,” her voice grew softer, almost inaudible, “I don’t really have anyone to talk to about it. You’ve been nice though, and you did ask. May I tell you about it?”

“Sure.” Sarah watched her, wondering what she would hear from this sweet old lady. “I’d love to.”

“Ladies!” Joan shouted through the speakers. “Are you ready for Bingo?”

“Well Hank was a corporal in Vietnam,” Ida said, speaking softly amidst the chorus of excitement that rang in the room. “He didn’t want to go; didn’t think the war was right, was married to me… there were so many reasons… but he felt it was his duty to go. So he did. And it was hard, him being gone so long.”

Sarah nodded. “I understand. My husband’s serving in Iraq right now.”

“Really?” Ida looked deep in Sarah’s eyes then continued. “I see. Well you know then. It’s hard. Anyway when he got home he was a little different. The war took its toll. But we lived happily together for years, until he got sick and didn’t seem to be getting better. Went to the doctor, and he said it was cancer. Exposure to Agent Orange most likely in the war.”

“Hank had always talked about how going to war was what God had wanted him to do, that God wanted him to follow authority, to serve his country. He used it as a point to talk to people about God, sharing about how God got him through the war. Then after all of it, after serving and coming home he gets sick with cancer…”

Ida shook her head. “It just didn’t seem right.”

“I’m sure that was very hard on you.” Sarah wondered what she should say. Ida moved a chip onto her card, silent in her own thoughts. She had opened up to Sarah at last, and Sarah felt she needed to say something, even though she didn’t know what it should be.

“That’s kind of what I constantly worry about,” Sarah said suddenly, unthinking, the words coming from the very depths of her heart. “I pray every day that God watches out for Jake, that he’ll bring him home. I’ve even started praying that he’ll bring him home sooner, but then worry that sooner could just mean dead. Somehow though, I know no matter what happens God is still watching him. That’s probably not what you want to hear I know, and you probably think I’m foolish and naïve for feeling that way. I just can’t help but want to hope.”

“I want to hope too,” Ida said quietly. “Always have. It’s just been so hard.”

“I don’t always have faith,” Sarah said, half-confessing to herself. “Sometimes I don’t think God cares at all. To be honest I was late this morning because I’ve been so worried about Jake that I was a mess getting ready.”

“Oh you poor dear.” Ida clasped Sarah’s hand in her own and smiled. “Did you just come to talk to me?”

Sarah blushed a little. “I felt like God wanted me to talk to you. I know that might sound silly since you don’t believe, but I felt called to talk to you.”

“Well I’m glad you came.” Ida looked down at her board. Once again she was one spot short of a Bingo. “Typical I suppose.”

The speakers crackled. “B 9.”

“Bingo!” someone else called across the room.

Sarah laughed. “Typical is right. Maybe next time.”

“Maybe next time.” Ida’s eyes flickered with thought. “But so… you don’t always believe either?”

“No.” Sarah shook her head. “Not at all. I have doubts all the time.”

“I guess it’s nice to know I’m not the only one.” Ida cleared her board and pushed a chip back onto the free space. She fell silent, her eyes focused on her card, her ears perking up to the letters and numbers drifting through the speaker.

Sarah sent up an unspoken prayer. Slowly Ida’s card began to fill, until again just one spot remained.

Ida looked over at Sarah. “How’s that hope of yours?”

“Holding up,” Sarah smiled.

“O 42.”

Ida gasped. “Bingo!”

Sarah raised her hand, motioning to Ida. “We have a Bingo over here Joan.” She smiled at her friend who looked up from the podium.

“Glad to hear it!” Joan said. She smiled knowingly back at Sarah. “Read off the numbers.”

Ida read off her numbers proudly and beamed when they handed her a ten-dollar gift card to the arts and crafts store in town. “That’ll pay for some nice purple yarn,” she said to Sarah.

The whole rest of the game she was happy, excited from winning. She didn’t talk anymore about her husband, but Sarah was content just to see her smile. At the end of the games they said goodbyes and went their separate ways, with Sarah promising to be on time next week.

 

When Sarah got there the following Saturday Ida was already there, sitting in a rocking chair while knitting something with brand new purple yarn.

“They had just the color I was looking for,” she said to Sarah. “Wasn’t sure they’d have it but a nice young man pointed it out to me. Very glad I found it.”

“I’m still excited about you winning last week.” Sarah smiled. “Got to see a little bit of my hope pay off.”

“It was nice winning.” Ida kept working mechanically, putting her creation together. “Did you hear from your husband this week? Jake, I think his name is? I asked Clara about him, I hope you don’t mind.”

“No not at all, and yes, I did, thank you. He was actually able to call using a satellite phone they got for his unit. It’s the first time in nearly a month I’ve gotten to speak with him on the phone.” A look of puzzlement crossed Sarah’s face. “Why do you ask though?”

“Well…” Ida shrugged. “I figured since your hope worked for me, I could try having a little for you. I prayed this week that you would be able to talk to your husband.”

“You prayed for me?” Sarah put her hand to her mouth, feeling a sudden urge to cry. “That was so sweet of you Ida. Thank you so much.”

Ida smiled softly. “I’ve been thinking about what you said. I still don’t know what I believe, but who knows? Maybe it’s not so wrong to hope after all.”

“Maybe.”

Ida continued knitting, with memories seeming to drift through her mind. “It’s been nice to have someone to talk to. Thank you, Sarah.”

“It’s been nice for me too,” Sarah said. “This has meant a lot to me.”

“I’m glad.”

 

That night Sarah placed the purple scarf Ida knit for her on her dresser. Smiling she knelt on the floor and closed her eyes, her heart feeling lighter than it had in weeks. With a smile she began to pray.

“God, I still miss Jake. I don’t think that’s going to change while he’s away. But I want to thank you so much for showing me what you can do with me in this situation, and for showing me how much you do care. I was so touched by Ida’s prayer and her gift. Give me the strength to keep going until Jake gets back, and help me to keep serving you every day. Amen.”

© 2012 JoshiDx


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Added on June 22, 2011
Last Updated on May 5, 2012
Tags: Christian, Military, God, Hope, Love, Faith

Author

JoshiDx
JoshiDx

Iceland



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I decided to break down and write something here. Too bad I don't know what to say. What's there to know about someone who doesn't exist? Even if words capture the essence we are still at a loss for w.. more..

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