Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Billboard/Poster/Sign (any or all) (12/02/10)
TITLE: The Billboard - and Beyond
By Beth Muehlhausen
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The sky hung like a domed blue umbrella over young Sarah’s sun-spangled world filled with butterflies and wild daisies. Despite the relational and circumstantial turbulence in the adult world surrounding her, there was nothing to fear. The sky said so, and she believed it implicitly.
Sarah learned to trust the sky even though her parents interpreted it differently. In fact, they spent most of their time ignoring the sun, moon, and stars - and whatever else might be far-beyond-the-known - to focus on gritty circumstances and their own magnified anxieties. They missed the blessing of looking up.
But nothing, not even her parents’ despair, could quench Sarah’s quest for intimate relationship with the wild blue yonder. When a thick cloud-cover spread gray blankets overhead, her mother became the Wicked Witch from the East while her father belched acrid emotional smoke like that of the pretentious Wizard himself. However, even on the darkest days Sarah continued to believe in the promise behind the clouds: the silvery lining. What was the dark sky’s consistent message to her? Be patient. Wait. Hope.
As the years passed, Sarah learned that the sky always had something to say to her, no matter its mood, if she only took time to receive it. It didn’t matter if the heavens were gloriously clear or speckled with rain and snow. Each sunrise offered fresh encouragement, each sunset brought rest, and the daytime hours in-between ministered to her through arching rainbows of promise, violent storms preaching authoritative sermons on justice, sun-filled openness exemplifying disclosure, or restful clouds of mercy.
When Sarah became a mother, she sought to teach her children the same respect and awe, and she practiced her sky-watching discipline with them. Together they spent hours sprawled on their backs, jointly watching cloud-shapes by day and constellations by night.
Eventually Sarah's identity changed to that of a witty, eccentric, chubby grandma with thick glasses and whiskbroom hair. Her grandchildren loved her, not only for her signature cookies featuring huge chunks of milk chocolate, but also for her honesty and optimism. “The sky will tell you the truth,” she counseled them while walking slowly hand-in-hand through the pasture, matching their child-sized steps. “Just pay attention. It is so very wise, you know.”
Of course at first they often didn’t understand. A talking sky? But they respectfully listened to their grandma, knowing this woman of deep understanding had also tutored their own mother or father. Sarah’s grandchildren believed her, and became faithful sky-watchers who believed in looking up – always UP.
On her deathbed, Sarah’s family gathered around. “Mama, tell us about the sky,” her daughter whispered as she leaned gently over her mother’s face. “We want to know. How did you first fall in love with it? Why did you take so much time to teach us to love it so?”
Sarah’s weak body lay propped up with cumulous-cloud-like pillows as she gazed out the window, gathering her thoughts. Finally, she spoke with a quavering voice. “The sky … it was always there … for me. The sky …,” she offered with some effort, “is God’s billboard.”
A few tears welled in the eyes of the sky-watchers surrounding her bed. The droplets dripped unchecked without shame like those in a slow spring shower, down-down-down the cheeks of the loved ones who understood. These faces had all been stricken by sun and rain and snow, by sights of glory and grandeur and power, when upturned in precious moments with Sarah. Their sky-discoveries and celebrations had been corporate. Billboard-watching symbolized familial unity.
“He speaks to us … there … all the time,” Sarah continued. “We see His faithfulness … His hope … His love …right there.”
The children and grandchildren silently digested these carefully chosen thoughts as Sarah gawked at a cloud-studded sky beyond the bedroom window and spoke her last words to it. “If this is what dying’s like … it’s not so bad.”
She closed her eyes as a single gust of wind ushered from some high place in space, whished through the window to caress Sarah’s hair, and then carried her beyond the billboard to paradise.
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