We’ve recently moved to the desert, a rocky land punctuated by jumping cholla and pink skies with air dry enough to crack your lips and warm enough that even now in early March I rarely wear more than a thin sweater, and, then, only when it is early morning or after that bright sun has disappeared beyond the rust-colored mountains. It is so unlike my native Pacific Northwest, with its green hills and cold, wet air.
My body is still adjusting to this harsher land; yet, if I am honest, my heart has set up shop. It is as though I’ve been on a long journey and then suddenly I have turned an unfamiliar corner and here it is: home.
I am in love with this desert’s stone walls still warm to the touch well into the inky black night. The jackrabbits that watch me on my walk, the quail that rustle in the thorny brush. The empty moonlike space just off the interstate. The room to breathe. I know there is danger here, too. Our hikes are aptly named for Coyote and Scorpions, a not-so-subtle nod to the new neighbors. But that feels refreshing, too, in its own odd way, as though I am being roused from a long hibernation and given my breath back.
Pay attention, this land says in a thousand wordless ways. Time is short and today is all you’re promised.
This is what writing did for me a decade ago: It roused me from a stupor.
I was an absolute mess at 30 when the Kindred writing group started. I was staggering toward a future that I could not see. There are lots of painful details that I won’t bore you with, but it was a bleak moment in my history. Then, suddenly, I had writing, this gift I had received in childhood but had remained dormant for decades. A small miracle hidden underneath all the wreckage.
There is a story in Scripture about the prophet Elijah. The land has dried up and famine has ravaged the food source. God tells the prophet to head to the city, to find a widow there who will provide for him. When Elijah gets there, this nameless woman is gathering sticks to make a pitiful meal before stretching out beside her child to die in the dust.
Make me a small cake first, he says. It is an audacious request, one, that, if not for her humility, she should’ve balked at.
The prophet asks her to give what she has before any promise of receiving what she needs. Maybe you know the rest of the story—that her one courageous act of faith leads to hope: her flour and oil survive the drought.
I always loved this story as a child—it was so visual, so magical—these jars that stayed perpetually full. But lately I’ve been thinking of her as a person. How God picked this end-of-her-rope woman out of all those people in that city. Certainly there were wealthier people to choose, people who were more connected and stable, who had more to offer a prophet than a flimsy flour cake made on the backs of dirty sticks. Because while this is a story of faith, it is also a story of the miracle of being chosen: the divine provision was for her as much as it was for him. Maybe more so.
This is how I see writing. When I was at my lowest, I was invited to give the meager offering I had, and in return received words and ideas and friends that lasted through all those lean years.
Nothing tangible ever came from the writing—no book deal, no publisher, nothing I could grasp in my palm. But, I suppose that was never the point. Even the widow, herself, had nothing but the breath in her body to prove God had visited her.
I have been thinking of her as I say farewell to Kindred and the writing season that Kindred represents. While there are moments of sadness, it is a tender farewell, tethered to meaning not by grief but gratitude.
On that ancient morning, when the widow found her oil jar bone dry, did she lovingly study the round face of her child?
Did she close her eyes to hear the tiny pings of rain on the roof?
Did she stick her head out in the cool air to breathe in the wet earth after all that dust?
Were there green shoots on the hill just outside her kitchen?
I cannot know for sure.
Certainly, though, she did not resent that the jars had run dry; they had brought her safely here, to this moment, on the other side of those desperate days.
CLAIRE CAREY DEERING lives with her husband and son in a small desert town. She doesn’t write as much these days, but she loves symbolism, so she is especially excited to tell you her new house is on Hope Drive.