Although we grew up seeing one another at various family get-togethers (our dads are high-school besties), my friendship with Annalyse didn’t truly develop until my brand-new husband and I house-sat for Annalyse and her husband. We started meeting regularly for Friday night dinners (pizza for the guys, Pho for the ladies) and soon discovered we were both pregnant with our first child. Five years, five kids (between us), (probably) hundreds (ok maybe exaggeration) of playdates and bowls of Pho later I’ve gotten to know a bit of her heart, and friends, it’s beautiful. Annalyse wrote this novel while struggling with her own infertility: she connected with Sarai and longed to know more about how God worked in and through this woman’s struggles. Now her oldest is almost 5 and Annalyse wants to share these words with others, male or female, to bring hope by recounting God’s goodness through all generations. This is a different type of storytelling, and we’re excited to host Episode 1 on the Campfires and Marshmallows blog today. You can follow Annalyse’s blog at https://annalysemower.wordpress.com to receive each episode delivered to your inbox (it launched February 21st!) and watch the story unfold.
CIRCA YEAR 2066BC – MESOPOTAMIA
This was why I had come, and yet I could do nothing. Even as their voices raised and tempers flared, I could do nothing.
“Father, they are clay! These ‘gods’ are nothing but dirt! Powerless. Senseless! How can you resist the one true living God for fear of statues?” My husband, Abram, motioned with an outstretched hand to his father’s shelves laden with the inventory of household gods. Terah was shaking. I was shaking.
“You fool!” Terah exploded. “Do you want to curse this whole family? Dare you come to blaspheme the gods in their own workshop? You were ever taught to respect the gods!” Terah shook his idol-filled fist in Abram’s face, inches away from his nose. “Are you so quick to abandon the gods of your fathers for a strange being…the first time a demon addresses you?”
Abram’s eyes were locked on the human form in his father’s hands. “It is not the first time.” The air was sucked from the room, and Terah and I gaped in the darkness, breathless. Abram raised his fierce eyes to meet Terah’s. “He spoke to me first in Ur, just after we buried Haran. I denied Him then. I thought He had abandoned me to my own stupidity.” His voice sank almost to a whisper. “I will not test Him again.”
Terah shook his head violently. “Do not speak your brother’s name to me. I will not have his memory defamed by a blasphemer!” His screams echoed in the small room, the mud walls magnifying the sound. I instinctively cowered – but Abram stood tall.
What has happened to my husband? I thought, my mind spinning. Always so reticent in the face of conflict…he abhorred it with every bone in his body. Yet there he stood, inflaming our father’s rage with careless, impious words. “Abram…” I whispered, creeping toward him. I reached out to tug the sleeve of his tunic but Terah threw his hand out at me. I froze. His eyes never left Abram’s face.
“These gods you deny.” He extended a hand toward the shelves. “Have we not been blessed by them? They have prospered our business – we have never been so wealthy! The afterlife is nothing…all we have is now. Would you curse your family in the days of plenty? Indeed, you are already cursed!” His palm closed and his finger pointed at me. “Surely this persistent unbelief must be the cause of your wife’s barrenness!”
It was not meant for me. I was nothing but a woman, too weak to persuade her men…but the words slapped across my face and brought tears to my eyes. I gasped before I could stop myself and turned my eyes toward Abram. His jaw flexed as he ground his teeth together to keep silent.
Terah sneered at him, basking in his victory. He kept his gaze locked on Abram as he collected a broom from the backroom, then turned his back on his foolish son, rage emanating from his body like heat. The conversation was over and Abram had lost.
Abram refused to concede. “How, Terah? How does clay that lines the bank of the river suddenly gain the ability to see and hear when molded by human hands?” Abram stepped to Terah’s shoulder, trying to force his face in front of his father’s. Terah threw his whole focus into the task of sweeping. His silence only caused Abram’s voice to grow in strength and intensity. “Human hands, Father. We have no power to give life. If you could give life, would you not have saved…”
Terah jerked upright, staring at the wall. His frame shuddered, and I could see the redness of fury seeping up his neck toward his face. I had often seen my father enraged, but only once like this. The beating he had given Nahor, his oldest son, in his bloodthirsty rage had left his firstborn with a life-long limp.
Terah’s breath had quickened and rattled loudly in the small shop. He will kill Abram. Terror coiled in my stomach. He may kill me. But Abram was unafraid. He brought his mouth half a hand’s breadth from Terah’s head and shot his words into his ears. “How is it that this clay has senses and power when that left on the banks does not? How do I run the risk of being cursed by something under our power, which we formed with our own hands? Is not the creator greater than the created?”
Terah spun on Abram, his open palm cracking against the side Abram’s face. “I am not great enough to understand the ways of the gods! It is not for me to grasp…no more for you.”
Abram laughed derisively and rubbed his cheek as a red welt raised before my eyes. “You put so much faith in a piece of clay worked by your own hands, and yet you question how I can have faith in the God of the universe, whose power I felt and who chose me?!?” He grabbed a statuette from the shelves and held it out towards Terah. “Father, it is just clay!”
Terah began to tremble again. “You fool!” He growled between clenched teeth. “You defile the gods by your touch.” He snatched the statue from the apostate’s hands and spit on him. “These clay gods are more powerful than your god will ever be.”
The blood drained from my face. I opened my mouth but found I was mute.
Abram grew silent, like a gathering thunderbolt. He glared down at Terah, who watched him with scorn. I did not understand what this God had done to so radically change my husband, but I knew Terah’s challenge had lit a wildfire in his gut. It was not my place to trifle with the affairs of my husband and father but common sense dictated I intervene. Intervene! My mind screamed. Before he kills him! But I could not move; I could not speak. I was frozen and, as always, helpless.
The three of us stood immobilized, tied by the palpable hate. Suddenly a sound like lightning crackled through the room. I startled. Pieces of the clay figure in Abram’s hand trickled through his fingers, the idol crushed by his iron grip.
“What kind of god can be destroyed by a man?” He asked quietly, letting the final clay shards fall to the dirt floor.
Before either Terah or I could move, Abram picked up a larger wooden idol and drew it across the shelves, smashing some statuettes on contact and sending others to their doom on the ground.
“What kind of gods allow their servants and representatives to be destroyed by a mere human?” He shouted above the din as the temple statuettes were reduced to rubble. “What kind of guardians cannot protect themselves?” The entire inventory of clay dog statues was demolished. Nothing was left but clay carnage.
Abram was in a frenzy, wild with frustration. What can he possibly hope to gain by this display? Terah and I stood motionless, aghast at the simple and systematic destruction of what our people trusted in – had trusted for generations. It was a hope my father had peddled to great profit, now all swept away in the fury of an overzealous man. A faint, elusive thought danced across my mind and turned my stomach.
What if Abram is right?
“What kind of gods would allow me to wreak such havoc without stopping me?” Abram cried, beating the wooden statue against the ground until the head finally splintered and fell away. He tossed the body among the rubble and wiped his forehead with the edge of his tunic. His breath was ragged and heavy, but the light in his eyes remained undimmed. “If your gods are so powerful, Terah – why did they not stop me?”
We stood and surveyed the shop. Dust danced in the air and made me cough. The shelves that had been laden with armies of clay figures now stood barren. One shelf hung at a precarious angle, partially broken by Abram’s pounding. The once-impressive supply of household gods, prayer statuettes and guardians now littered the floor, covering it like a layer of thick dust. A few of the wood idols were splintered and broken like the one Abram had used as a weapon. The rest were strewn about like sticks blown by a strong wind.
Abram had in one evening destroyed several months of labor, a year’s worth of profit, and what had been left of my dwindling faith. I saw nothing here to inspire fear or worship. My stomach turned as I realized I had been correct all along. The gods do not care about us. We were alone, in charge of our own fate and vulnerable to the abuse of life. The power of the gods was nothing more than this rubbish heap, to be thrown into the middle of the street and trod on by citizens and dogs alike.
Abram was staring at Terah expectantly. He had not destroyed his father in malice, but rather to free him from the claws of his useless religion. He had tried to save his father.
Terah did not see. His whole body shook with anger and his face gradually darkened to purple. “Get out!” The scream tore from his throat. “Get out, you blasphemous son of a whore!” He spit in Abram’s face. “I want you out of my house. For my daughter’s sake alone will I allow you to gather your things…but do not take three days.” Terah turned his back on us.
Abram stood speechless. Shock was etched on his face. He had tasted his God’s presence and it had made him drunk. It never occurred to him that others might not imbibe as readily. His eyes softened and his hands started to shake. The zealous terror softened into the husband I recognized. He realized his mistake…but too late. “Father…”
Terah spun on him. “OUT!” He bellowed, his finger pointing at the door. Every feature in his face was strained with fury, his eyes wide and bulging. His scream burst forth from his depths, causing the very walls of the shop to shake.
The sound was cut off prematurely. Terah gasped, gulping for breath. He sagged against a wall, his hands clawing at his chest as if to free himself from bonds. His body trembled slightly as the reddish-purple hue of his face drained instantly to sickly grey. Eyes still wide, Terah slumped to the floor.
“Father!” Abram rushed forward and dropped to his knees next to the prostrate form.
The tears streamed down my cheeks, unbidden and surprising. I did not love my father. He had not loved me. I was simply a sign of his wealth, the daughter of his concubine. But I still wept, not even realizing it until I felt the collar of my tunic soaked. Terah lay on the floor motionless. His face was pallid, unseeing eyes staring at the ceiling.
Abram raised his eyes to mine, agony disfiguring his face. “Run!” He choked on his tears before catching his breath. “Fetch Shesh-kalla and Lot! And the physician! Bring the physician!” He returned his gaze to the stony features of Terah’s face, his hand resting on the still chest. I turned and stumbled out of the shop, crushing the shards of idols under my feet.
Abram’s scream of grief followed me as I fled, echoing down the street.