|Out of the Miry Clay
To order: Out of the Miry Clay
The chronicles of Rachel Todd-Elliott and her charming husband, Christopher, continue as they embark upon a new phase in their complex lives.
Rachel meets Myra Clayborn, an enigmatic new friend, who utters apocalyptic warnings as the earth groans and convulses with killer hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes. Do they foreshadow the end of the world?
Christopher, meanwhile, is busy working with British intelligence to find out the truth about a mysterious figure rising to prominence in Europe.
Rachel and Christopher are united in facing the fresh challenges ahead as new enemies appear to deter them from their course: following God's plan!
Chapter One-Birth Pangs
Myra Clayborn thought monochromatically. An injury sustained early in life had damaged her ability to see color in the world. Years of disappointment destroyed hopeful expectations and led her to the brink of despair where thoughts of death became her daily companions.
Deceitful promises spoken by whispering spirits offered easy solutions to end her desolation. Believing the lies she indulged in the pleasures guaranteed to secure the love she so desperately desired. Her pain subsided but only for a moment until a new wound appeared more vulgar than the first. The twisted truth had been the enemy’s deception, which plunged her more deeply into darkness torturing her already tormented soul securing her captivity in seclusion more decisively, until…
Boom! Thunder clapped outside my window. I closed the book and laid it down on the table beside me to contemplate the meaning behind the mystery. Myra Clayborn’s story was intriguing and inspirational and thoughts of meeting her for the first time filled me with mixed feelings of delight and expectation. The fact that she had written the introduction to her history as an analogy was intriguing; and in a way it inexplicably compelled me to read on.
Myra had become a small but powerful voice speaking to the masses; human souls ready for harvest were like brands to be plucked from the fires of hell and this, she stated, was her earthly commission. She wanted to combat the strongholds of evil that had taken residence in the lives of people keeping them imprisoned in misery and despair.
January had been extremely cold and wet; fifteen inches of rain had already descended this season, eight in the past three weeks. We had already surpassed our annual level, which was something closer to twelve. The usual stories of mud slides and water damage filled the newspapers and the American Red Cross and Salvation Army were busy assisting those in need of temporary shelter and supplies.
A warm fire blazed nicely in the hearth of the large old fireplace situated in my sitting room keeping the normally cool area cozy while the rain poured down outside. The wood being consumed by the flames was an awful reminder of the words I had just read: brands plucked from the fires of hell.
I was enjoying my quiet morning alone; Martha had brought my breakfast in on a tray and while relaxing I sipped a cup of hot cranberry tea and nibbled on the crumbs of a hot, buttery scone until another crack of thunder awakened me from my contemplation.
I walked to the balcony and opened the doors; the ocean was barely visible today due to the weather. It was raining profusely so I closed the doors and shut the drapes to keep out the cold and then returned to my reading.
When the clock on the wall chimed nine I left the bedroom to take a shower; the steaming hot water gently awakened my body rejuvenating it for the busy day ahead. My long auburn hair was already wrapped neatly in a tight chignon so after applying my make up all I needed to do was dress.
My attire for the day was casual and chic but functional; a long hunter green woolen skirt with a matching bolero jacket worn with an ivory turtleneck sweater would keep me warm and dry if the rain continued. Black stockings and boots were fashionable accoutrements to my outfit and appropriate shields from the inclement weather. I surveyed myself in a long mirror and smiled; not bad for a grandmother!
Patricia was already in the foyer with my coat and hat when I descended the long winding stairway from my bedroom to the front hall. Patrick, her husband, was waiting with her carrying an umbrella. He opened the front door and together we stepped out into the rain; he escorted me to the car and I stepped inside next to Prudence, my friend and bodyguard. Sam, her associate, was at the helm.
We drove slowly down the estate driveway until we reached the highway; there, we cautiously joined the flowing traffic traveling more slowly than usual due to the heavy rain. Our trip lasted only fifteen minutes and we arrived without incident at our destination. Sam parked the car at the rear of the old brick building our church had recently purchased; and we quickly left our vehicle and headed toward the rear entrance.
The lovely three-story brick building had been erected sometime in the late 1890’s by a local rancher. Originally constructed as a hotel, it had been owned and operated by many for a variety of purposes during the last century, and was still in remarkable condition. It sat on a large corner lot in the middle of town near our small neighborhood church, which had grown considerably over the years, and had acquired the building for use as a school. Due to its age, it needed to be renovated before we could safely begin classes. Fortunately, one of our board members, an architect, had surveyed the property and was working with a contractor to make the necessary changes.
The ground floor consisted of a large meeting room, which we wanted to use for lectures and seminars, a large office, a kitchen and utility room and several small sitting rooms. The second and third floors had been hotel rooms that would be converted into classrooms; each floor had a private parlor and bathroom facilities that made it ideal for our purpose.
Sam, as a precaution, was the first to enter the building; I walked behind him and Prudence followed behind me. John and Sarah Edwards, our church pastors, had already arrived and greeted us warmly.
“Come in!” Sarah said sweetly, “Let me take your coats,” she offered holding out her hands.
“Thanks, Sarah,” I replied removing my raincoat and handing it to her. “Is Myra here yet?” I asked anxiously.
“No, not yet. We expect her any minute though,” Sarah responded politely.
“We’ll be meeting in the Principal’s Office,” John said matter-of-factly. “It’s a bit warmer in there and I believe the conference table will be large enough to accommodate our small party.”
“That’s fine,” I replied and together we made our way down a long hallway toward the front of the building where the office was located near the front entrance. Nick Daniels, the Pastor’s administrative assistant, who had apparently been busy setting up the room said hello as we entered and offered each of us a hot drink.
Walking into the long rectangular office was like stepping back in time; it was austere in a way but the room had an old-fashioned literary charm that I found irresistible. There was a large ornate fireplace in the middle of an exterior wall with a marble mantle. On either side of it were several high windows placed above a series of bookshelves; I thought it might have originally been a card room in days when it was a hotel or perhaps a library. Regardless, it was now generally referred to as the Principal’s Office.
A large mahogany desk sat gracefully at one end of the room surrounded by large overstuffed chairs covered in burgundy leather. The long, wide table that occupied the area at the opposite end of the room was elaborate and beautiful; its sides and legs were hand carved with an exquisite design that reminded me greatly of my grandfather’s work. He had been an exceptional carpenter and it was through him that I had gained the acumen to detect quality workmanship.
I took a seat at the table near John and Sarah and we chatted casually while we waited for our guests to arrive. Sam and Prudence positioned themselves at opposite ends of the room standing in silent vigilance as always.
Two large windows, at the front of the room, faced toward the Town Hall and Police Department, which were across the street. Several smaller windows lined the adjoining outside wall that faced a side street that housed a number of small offices; the local fire department was one block down the same street.
The rain continued to pour non-stop as lightning flashed across the sky and the sound of thunder followed; God was making his voice heard intently today. It felt a bit eerie being in the old building which creaked mysteriously around us, obviously from age and perhaps due in part a little to the dampness.
Voices emanating from the hallway announced the arrival of our guests; Pastor John and Sarah arose quickly from the table and walked to the back door to greet them; moments later four venerable ladies were ushered into the office. Laughter filled the air as they joyfully removed their wet coats and handed them to Nick who gracefully carried them to the coat rack in the foyer so John and Sarah could rejoin us at the table.
Pastor John made the introductions and we greeted one another with warm affection and a sense of anticipation. I met Moira first, she was obviously the youngest member of this eclectic group and I guessed her to be approximately thirty years old; she was tall and thin with long red hair and she, we were told, was their musician. Laurel, closer to forty than thirty, was of medium height and had short brown hair. A lovely African-American woman, Laurel was an executive assistant to the CEO of a large construction company, who handled all their travel arrangements. Elena, a short robust Latina woman in her mid to late fifties was a bi-lingual communications expert. I met Myra Clayborn, our honored guest, last. She was a short, stout grey-haired woman of sixty; her brown eyes sparkled, she smiled sincerely and when she shook my hand firmly it was electric.
Tea, coffee and cookies were offered to the ladies as refreshment after their travels; the inclement weather made the hot beverage a delight and the chocolate-macadamia nut cookies, which Sarah had baked, delectable.
John and Sarah Edwards had been close personal friends for many years, so I knew them quite well. He was the first to speak after the refreshments were served introducing himself and sharing a bit of his vision for our small ocean side community. A kind, sensitive and intelligent man, John had a heart for God and people; the greatest desire of his life was to see lost souls surrender their lives to God. In doing so he believed their faith could inspire them to walk in hope while overcoming difficult situations in a spirit of love.
Myra, as an author and speaker, told us she used her gifts to promote a message, which she commonly summarized in three words: truth, trust and transformation. She said the novels she wrote were ‘contemporary parables’ wherein she used fictional characters to teach the Biblical values she so adamantly espoused. And while their visions were different their passion was the same and it prompted Sarah, who had met Myra the previous year, to consider engaging her as the guest speaker for our fall women’s conference.
“Dear ladies,” John began slowly, “we thank you for traveling so far in such bad weather to meet with us; we want you to know how much we appreciate your sacrifice and commitment.” The ladies smiled and nodded and John continued. “Having read several of Myra’s books I am able to speak about them from familiarity; they are thought provoking, inspirational and entertaining. And I believe they reveal the heart of their creator and her essential beliefs, which we share as well. Sarah and I are grateful for your willingness to be a part of our vision for our congregation and I want to ‘thank you’ for allowing me to participate in your planning session.” He then turned the meeting over to Sarah.
“It is with tremendous delight,” she said, “that we welcome you to our small community church. We have been looking forward to this time together as it is our desire to get to know you better and pray for you as you prepare to minister to members of our congregation. During the past few months while we’ve been communicating, we believe a friendship between us has been birthed and that God will continue to develop it over time. As you already know, the theme of our conference is ‘Standing upon the Rock,’ and we are eager to hear the revelation you hope to share with those who plan to attend.”
“I appreciate your kindness and your invitation,” Myra began slowly and modestly. “We believe God has a purpose for us; and we endeavor to go wherever God seeks to send us. We are here today because we believe as you do that the Lord has a purpose for us in this lovely community.
“As you are already aware, I am not a professional speaker and what I share comes strictly from my heart. I never acquired a college degree nor am I a member of the clergy; my training comes from the Holy Spirit as does my ordination.
“I am just a simple woman; a plain earthborn vessel created for the Master’s use. I think of myself as a plate designed to serve; the food I serve is the Bread of Life, and it is what nourishes and sustains hungry souls. The plate does not provide nourishment;” she continued humbly, “it is only a receptacle so its value must be seen in its service; nothing more, nothing less.”
Myra spoke softly, clearly, succinctly and with conviction and I found myself sincerely captivated by her humble demeanor and the simple way she expressed her beliefs; her words rang true and settled comfortably within my spirit.
Thunder clapped loudly outside rattling the windows; the noise startled me and I jumped along with a few of the others who then smiled and laughed. “‘The voice of the Lord is powerful;’” Myra said, quoting Psalms and then continued speaking in metaphors referring to herself as a simple work of clay; an object of the earth designed to speak earthy but profound words to a lost world. She shared just a snippet of her own story with us and the gratitude she felt at being called out of darkness into the light of Christ’s love; her story was one of resurrection; her journey a source of encouragement; her meekness genuine and inspiring.
A bright light flashed across the sky illuminating the room and the rumble of thunder quickly followed. This time, however, the earth began to move and shake quickly growing in intensity and magnitude.
“Earthquake!” Sam yelled from his silent post near the door. “Get under the table.” Quickly, we pushed aside our chairs and sought shelter under the immense old table, the only place where we could be safe from falling objects. Huddled close together, the room continued to move and sway; within seconds we were bathed in murky darkness. The noise of the earth’s roar was deafening; I could hear the sound of broken glass but kept my eyes covered and my head tucked closely to my body. The air became heavily saturated with dirt, dust and debris, evidence the building was failing in places. The table overhead shook as the ground rolled beneath us and the sound of heavy objects falling added to my fears; and I quietly prayed the ceiling wouldn’t collapse on top of us.
The temblor lasted a little less than thirty seconds but the damage done in that short span of time was often immeasurable. When the earth finally stopped moving, I found myself frozen in fear clutching one leg of the enormous table. We all remained still for a matter of moments until we were reasonably sure the quake was over. Slowly we climbed out from under our safe haven to view the wreckage.
The only light streaming into the room came from the open windows many of which were now bereft of glass. Prudence, who had sought refuge near me, quickly looked around the room calling each person by name. John, Sarah and Nick were fine. Elena, Laurel and Moira were all fine. Sam and Myra were covered in dirt but were uninjured as well. They were at the other end of the table closest to the corner wall.
“We probably should go outside,” Sam suggested. “I’m not sure about the integrity of this building; it may not withstand an aftershock which is sure to follow.”
“I agree,” John Edwards said and we began to exit the building as quickly as possible. “Be careful where you walk,” John said leading the way, “portions of the ceiling have fallen.” We stepped cautiously as we walked toward the back doors trying to avoid tripping and falling over any of the debris. Just as we reached the rear door of the building the earth began to shake violently again for the second time that morning. We crouched into archways waiting for it to end; when it did we made our way quickly outside where we could maneuver freely. Looking around the parking lot Prudence began to counts heads again.
“Where’s Myra?” Laurel asked fearfully.
“She and Sam were together,” Pastor Edwards said as he turned around and went back into the building Nick following close behind. Several long minutes later he and Nick reemerged carrying Myra in their arms; her leg was bleeding profusely. Laurel opened the back door of her SUV so they could lay Myra down inside; Sam had followed the trio outside and quickly made his way to the car to retrieve the first aid kit and a blanket.
“Rubble from the back of the building has blocked the entrance to the parking lot,” Nick said looking for a way out.
“Call 911!” John said quickly.
“They’re bound to be swamped with calls,” Sam replied, “even if you can get through.”
“The fire department’s just up the road; I’ll go for help,” Nick said and he turned and quickly ran down the street. Prudence wrapped Myra’s leg to stop the bleeding as much as possible and then covered her with the blanket while the rest of us began to remove what debris we could to free the passageway out of the parking lot. It seemed like only minutes had passed before we heard the wail of a siren announcing the arrival of the paramedics.
The rain had slowed to a mist fortunately but we were soaking wet regardless; our coats were lost somewhere inside the building and we were beginning to grow cold. Myra was placed on a stretcher and lifted into the back of an ambulance, which was now screaming down the highway toward the hospital.
Sam looked miserable watching the ambulance as it disappeared down the street.
“It isn’t your fault!” I said hastily.
“We were just walking out the door when the aftershock struck. Myra was a few steps ahead of me; a loose portion of the ceiling must have given way and dropped down on top of her. There was nothing I could do to protect her,” he said painfully.
“We need to go to the hospital to be with Myra,” Elena said redirecting our attention to the difficulty at hand. It took a while but the men working together were finally able to push the largest pieces of debris away to make a large enough opening so we could leave.
“We’ll go with you,” I offered quickly, “at least to show you the way.”
John locked the door of the school and then he, Sarah and Nick departed. They needed to go to the church to open it for those who might need shelter, aid or counseling.
Prudence, Sam and I escorted Myra’s team to the hospital and after promising to check back with them to see about her condition, we began our drive home. We tuned the radio to a local station to receive the news reports about the earthquake; there was a great deal of speculation over the magnitude but those of us who had experienced other temblors predicted it would be around a six.
Our community had a very good emergency preparedness plan, which comprised several teams we knew would already be assembling; Noah, my business manager, headed the team for our area.
On the journey home we were able to survey some of the damage in town, which appeared minimal. I felt relieved when we turned off the highway and onto the road that led to the estate entrance; it too appeared intact. Grandfather had built his home well; the strong structure had survived several natural disasters over the years and been through a number of very strong earthquakes suffering only a minimal of damage.
We made a quick stop at the Tea Cottage to speak to Noah before going up the hill; his team members were already arriving and preparing to depart to perform their designated tasks.
“Have you spoken to Miriam? Is everyone at Tabitha’s House okay?” I asked hastily.
“Yes, they’re fine. I had to use the walkie-talkies, the telephone lines are out and the cell phones are constantly busy. I’ve already spoken to Eli too. It seems the earthquake didn’t do that much damage in our area; I heard the epicenter was approximately fifty miles to the north of us.”
“John Edwards is setting up the church as an emergency shelter; if people need crisis counseling you can send them there. Please check with him when you have a chance to see if he needs anything. And if any of our staff members live in the quake area or need to leave let them go. Those who can stay should begin to prepare food for the emergency workers.”
“Don’t worry, Rachel; we’re already on board,” Noah said with a smile.
I thanked Noah and after checking in with Sophie at the Victorian Inn next to the Tea Cottage, we drove up the hill toward home.
When I entered the front foyer of the estate I was greeted by Patricia carrying Baby, my toy poodle, who was shaking in fear.
“Is everyone okay?” I asked quickly taking the dog from her.
“Yes,” she replied anxiously. “We had some breakage in several of the rooms upstairs and a few broken windows. Patrick has the grounds crew checking every room and he’s inspecting the secret passageway and the basement himself.”
“Thank you. Patricia. You look like you need a cup of tea. Why don’t you join me?” I said and we walked to the kitchen to see Martha.
“Mum,” she said when we walked through the doorway, “I was so worried about ya!” I walked over to Martha and gave her a big hug.
“I’m fine, Martha. Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” she replied stoically. “It was a real shaker, wasn’t it?” she said with a laugh. “Lost some of my favorite bowls though,” she wailed in her thick Irish brogue.
“Don’t worry, they can be replaced. I’m happy that no one was hurt. Have you heard from Christopher?”
“No, Mum. The telephone isn’t working.”
“I tried to call him on my cell phone but the circuits are busy,” I complained. “He’ll get through when he can, I’m sure. I’m going to take a hot shower and change my clothes to get the dust out of my face and hair. Patricia needs a cup of tea,” I said looking at Martha who shook her head and put the kettle on and then sat down to take care of her frightened friend.
Christopher, my husband, was still in London, settling his parent’s estate. Morgan, his father, had been gone for more than a year after suffering from a heart attack; his mother Clare went nine months later after succumbing to pneumonia. They were together on earth for more than half a century; now they were walking on streets of gold.
The power was out but the estate was equipped with emergency generators to handle all of our energy needs. I showered quickly, changed my clothes and hurried downstairs with Baby not wanting to be alone if another aftershock hit.
Martha made dinner for our household and the grounds crew was sent down the hill to eat at the Tea Cottage with other emergency workers and their teams. News reports coming over the radio reported the quake’s magnitude at 5.8; the epicenter was as previously stated, about 50 miles north of our location.
When Noah arrived later than night he brought good news regarding the community, which was in comparatively good shape. The majority of damage done appeared to be in the older buildings whose structures hadn’t been retrofitted to meet current earthquake standards. Losses in areas closer to the epicenter were more significant but fortunately we had been spared. The Red Cross had set up a shelter in the local high school and the Church of the Open Door would be open all day and night to help those in need, assisted by the Salvation Army and its dedicated staff.
Several aftershocks shook the estate that evening but each was considerably smaller and of shorter duration than those before. I hesitated to go to sleep but weary after the stressful events of the day I finally dozed off sometime after two in the morning. When I awoke the next day the storm had passed, the sun was shining and the birds were once again singing gay melodies outside my balcony window.
Feeling famished I dressed quickly and hurried downstairs to get a bite to eat. Martha had bacon, eggs and potatoes O’Brien on the stove when I arrived and after pouring myself a cup of steaming black coffee, I devoured the scrumptious meal she had prepared. Prudence was just coming on duty and after she finished eating her breakfast I told her I wanted to drive into town to see Myra. She quietly left the room in search of Patrick who would bring the car around; Sam and she would accompany me as usual.
In less than an hour we arrived at the hospital where Myra Clayborn was now a patient. Laurel, Elena and Moira had spent the evening in the waiting room concerned about the welfare of their friend. They told me she had a mild concussion from a blow she received to the side of her head, an injury no one had noticed the day before. She was also in a great deal of pain due to a shattered broken leg, which would require surgery. She was going to be transferred first, however, to a larger hospital nearer her home.
I entered Myra’s room quietly fearing she might still be asleep but as I drew near to her bed she opened her eyes and smiled.
“Ah, Rachel, it’s so good of you to come today,” she said sweetly.
“Myra,” I said taking hold of her hand, “how are you?” I asked tearfully.
“Fine,” she assured. “Please don’t worry about me.”
“I’m just so terribly sorry that you were injured,” I exclaimed regretfully.
“We mustn’t question what God allows,” was her sweet response. Myra then closed her eyes; I sensed she might be in pain but I waited silently for her to speak again. When she did, her voice was barely audible; she said almost in a whisper, “The earth is groaning, Rachel…I believe it’s the beginning of birth pangs.”