My name is Zaharina. It means the Lord has remembered, but right now I don’t think that is even true.
I am alone. My husband died five years ago when a plague swept through the village. That man was my strength. He wasn’t flowery with his words. He was quiet. But there was something in his eyes that reassured me that as long as he was around, I would be safe. He was a pillar that stood strong no matter what storms blew around us. I got used to him always being there and for the first time in my life, I wasn’t always afraid.
I used to think often about how God had fulfilled the very meaning of my name in the gift of my husband. But then He took him— the very ground that kept my feet steady. Ever since then I’ve not been quite the same. I still believe in Him. I don’t have anything else to believe in that actually makes sense. But something inside of me still questions how He could take away the very gift He had given.
I live in the little town of Zarapheth. It was once a bustling village, a place to call home, where neighbors supported each other and helped each other through the hard times. Until the famine hit. Somehow then it became every man for himself.
Many have died already. I’ve barely left my house for weeks other than to gather wood because it hurts my heart too much to see the kids in the village sitting outside their houses with that lost look in their eye, and their little ribs showing through their tattered clothes. There’s no more sounds of kids playing in the streets. The only sounds that break the quiet are the wails when yet another little heart ceases to beat— another little mouth ceases to beg for food that can’t be given.
I wouldn’t care about the famine if I was the only one who was going to suffer. But I have a little mouth to feed who I love more than anything else in the world. I’ve always wanted to provide for him and give him the carefree childhood that I never had. I’ve tried so hard to shield him from how dark the world is out there. Sometimes the hardest battle is to simply shield him from the darkness inside of me, and smile like nothing is wrong so that he can grow up without feeling the responsibility to worry about taking care of me.
Now there is nothing I can do to protect him from the reality that this famine is taking everything we had left. I kept the reality from him for awhile, but the day that the first one of his little friends died and I had to tell him why he hadn’t come over to play was the day I couldn’t protect him from reality anymore. It tripped my heart in two.
I’ve been skipping meals for days so that I could provide more for him but I know that I have to eat enough so that I have the strength to stay here for him. This morning when I looked in my little flour jar, I knew the day had come. The last day we will eat. I only have enough for one small loaf of bread that will barely be enough for one meal. We are starving already and I know we won’t last long after this final meal. I only hope that my baby breathes his last before I do so that I can hold him and sing some sort of peace over his little heart as it all ends.
And so this morning I’m dragging my tired body to the gate of the city looking for sticks to make my last fire.
That’s when I see him. A stranger walking into my village. That may not be remarkable normally but trust me, it is right now. My neighbors aren’t even walking around anymore.
There’s something strange about this guy though. He’s not gaunt like all the rest of us. His stomach isn’t bloated out because of starvation. For a flickering second the thought crosses my mind that maybe the Lord has remembered. Maybe this is an angel and he’s come just in time to save my son and I and provide us with food?
But that’s when I finally register what he’s saying. He’s not coming to provide for me. He is asking me for water.
You are asking me? Do you even realize how ridiculous and selfish that sounds right now? Can’t you see that I am just skin and bones? Can’t you see that I am a women? Aren’t you supposed to lay yourself down to protect people like me, just like I do for my boy? That’s what my husband did. I guess not all men are like him.
Despite all that though, I’ve never been one to turn someone away and I can’t start now. I won’t let my dying legacy be that I turned someone in need away. I can sacrifice my water for today and my son will still have enough.
And so I turn and drag myself back to my little house. Until I hear his voice again.
“Could you please bring me a piece of bread too?”
Excuse me. Do I look like I have bread? How do you expect me to give you what I clearly do not have for myself? How can I satisfy your hunger when I can’t even satisfy my own? And why would you ask me to give up the very bread I need to simply survive one more day? Isn’t that cruelty in the extreme? Do you even have a heart?
I don’t say all of that, but despite my efforts to stay calm, my voice has a slight harshness to it as I answer.
"Sir, as sure as God lives, I don’t even have any bread to bring you. the last dregs of my flour and oil are barely enough for me to make the last loaf of bread for my little boy and I. After that meal, we’re going to die. I’m collecting these sticks now for the last fire I’m ever going to make."
Surely that would awaken his sympathies or at least his understanding. But his answer leaves my breath caught in my throat, and I’m not even sure exactly why.
"Don’t worry. Go home and make the bread like you’ve said but before you make some for you and your son, make a small loaf for me."
Are you kidding me? I. have. nothing. Do you know get that? Do you not understand what it feels like to be alone and to have to fight for the will to live every single day? I’m not just talking about since the famine. I’m talking about every day. I’ve always known more loss than anything else. It’s like something in the universe is jinxed against me. I never have enough. I never am enough. All I can see is the battle I fight every day to be enough for the need all around me. Enough for my baby. Enough to seem like I’m ok on my own to my friends in the village. And honestly, enough for the God who seems to ask so much and forget to give back. Now you come asking for more from me on what may be the last day I even breathe?
But he continues…
“God has told me today to tell you that your jug of oil and your jar of flour won’t run out until He sends rain once again to your village.”
What? Did He really say that? Did He really have a message for me? Just for me? Is this Him remembering?
But why would He ask me to make bread for this man before He fills my jug and my jar? What if I do what He has said and He doesn’t replenish my supply? What if I pour out everything I have and there is no more? What if I give it all away and then there is none left for what I need most? What if listening to Him right now means sacrificing everything I love the most and loosing my life? Do I even have the strength to answer?
And yet, how can I not? How can I withhold the last bit of my life from the One who gave it to me in the first place? What if He doesn’t answer and I breathe my last a little sooner simply because I answered Him? Can I really complain? Aren’t I and everything I have His in the first place?
And so I make my way slowly back to my house. This may be the last thing I ever do, but I’ll do it for Him. It sounds strange to say that because some part of me is still angry with Him for all He has taken. But despite that, I guess some part of me still loves Him, because I can’t say no to Him.
I make that last loaf of bread and as I do I keep glancing over at my baby lying asleep on the ground by the fire. Heaven only knows the courage it takes to pull that loaf of bread out of the fire and hand it over to the stranger sitting there warming himself, knowing I had no more flour in my jug.
Something in me shifted though as I handed it to him. If today was the last day breath beat through my anxious heart, at least I would know that I gave it away. Maybe the sacrifice was worth it, even if there was no more flour in that jug.
But there was. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I opened it. Just enough to make a loaf big enough to be a satisfying meal for both my baby and I. And he’d never even have to know how close he came to not having that meal.
the Lord had remembered. He’d given me just enough today to give back to Him and to keep my baby’s heart beating.
And at the end of the day, my strength was renewed too. More than it had been in weeks. I breathed a little easier that night.
For the next few weeks the stranger stayed with us. I wasn’t sure why exactly, but it was a relief to have him there to help gather the wood and light the fires while I kept making bread. My little one seemed to attach to him too. After awhile, it almost seemed normal to have him with us. And most of all, to me, he was a reminder that God actually cared and that He would provide for my needs and always give me enough to give away. After all, every single day there was a little more flour in that jug.
For a little while I’d thought it had been getting brighter. But then the same thing happened that had happened every other time it had gotten brighter. The night came back as black as ever.
My baby got sick. Every day it got a little worse, but so slowly that I didn’t even realize how bad it had gotten until one morning when I woke up next to him, he couldn’t even move to get out of bed. I knelt by his bedside and cried and prayed all day. I didn’t see Elijah much that day. He came in and prayed with me sometimes, but most of the time he quietly slipped outside. I can only imagine he was out there begging God for the life of my boy too., and silently I thanked him.
But as evening came and the sun turned from gold to pink and then dipped below the horizon, I lost the battle. My baby died. And in that moment all the faith and hope and trust that had been growing in my heart for God over the last few months turned to anger.
How could He do this again? How could He take everything I loved? every. single. time? Wasn’t the pain of my childhood enough? Wasn’t my husband enough? Wasn’t half my village dying in a famine enough? Why take my baby too? Why did He always take everything and leave me alone? He said He cared but in that moment I didn’t know if I’d ever really believe that again.
Normally I wouldn’t have lashed out but when I saw Elijah, I lost it.
"What do you have against me? Didn’t I give my last bite of food to you? Wasn’t I willing to give away my last breath? Why have you come here simply to remind me of how broken I am and to kill my baby?"
I bit my tongue as soon as I’d said it. I knew it wasn’t true. My pain was so deep that I wasn’t even myself. I wasn’t sure I ever would be again.
Elijah didn’t reply to all my antagonism. He looked me quietly in the eye and said, “give me your baby.”
Give him to you? Sure he may be dead, but I won’t let go of him. Not now. Not ever. I won’t give him up.
And then I remembered that loaf of bread. I remembered how he’d asked for my last bit of flour and oil. I remembered the way sacrifice had lit the flame inside my heart again and I’d really lived for the first time in forever. I remembered how through sacrifice the Lord had shown that He remembered me.
I gave him my boy.
Elijah took him upstairs and I could tell from the sound of his footsteps that went into my boy’s room. Even from downstairs I could hear him pray. I’d never heard someone pray like that before. He put his whole heart and soul into that prayer as if it was his own life he was begging God for.
Before I even had time to process what God would do about that prayer, he was coming down the stairs again. And that’s when I heard it— the sweetest sound in all the world.
Elijah handed him to me, and as I took him in my arms I thought I’d never let him go. I pushed back his curls and kissed his little head with more love than I ever had before.
The Lord had remembered. He had given back.
But it wasn’t just Him that remembered. I did too. I had to. I’d almost lost my life and the life of my boy in famine. And then I had lost him, only to be given him back again.
Both times the Lord had remembered and given back when I gave Him everything I had.
And maybe that is where life is found. Maybe it’s when I give away all I have that He fills me up again. Maybe it’s when I give away love when all I want to do is hide in my room and cry. Maybe it’s when I smile at my baby for the hundredth time when my own heart is breaking. Maybe it’s when I seek out the lonely and heartbroken in my village who have lost family in the famine, when all I want to do is remember the man I lost.
Maybe I live when I give it all away. When I give away my last bite of food and my last breath. When I give up my baby. When I hand over everything I have and lift my empty hands.
Maybe it’s when I remember sacrifice that I see Him remember to pour out more. Maybe it’s when I empty my hands of the dust that is in them that He takes them and fills them with gold.
I pause and pray that I will always remember.
Because I am Zaharina.
He is the one that remembers me.