It’s all about promises, see? Way I’s brought up, you weren’t never even supposed to promise. You said, “Yes,” that meant yes—said you’d do somethin’, you did it. Fact is, promisin’ was kinda suspicious. “I’ll do it, Mama, I promise.” It was like you was over-arguin’ your case—like there was actually some reason you wouldn’t do it. Mama drilled that into us. “If you tell me you’re gonna do somethin’ an’ you don’t, then how am I gonna trust you? an’ if I can’t trust you, how am I gonna respect you? Now child, that don’t have anythin’ to do with lovin’ you. I’ll always love you.” Love was somethin’ we just got. She just gave it to us. Trust and respect, we earned.
Now I loved Abe. Back then we all called him Abe. I still do. That Abraham stuff got to be kinda funny. Back then, Abe was tellin’ me what I most wanted to hear. He’d tell me that this God of his was tellin’ him to pack up and head out—that his God was promisin’ him all kinds of land, but I’s more interested in Abe tellin’ me he wanted me to be with him wherever he was. He told me ’bout God promisin’ him that he’d be the father of nations, but I’s more interested in Abe tellin’ me he wanted me to be the mother of his children. I’s a good bit more interested in Abe than in Abe’s God. In fact, his God din’t have too terribly much to do with choices and decisions I made. More important was Abe’s smile and the way our blood ran hot and the dreams I had of a husband and a family of my own—of getting’ away from all the expectations of his family and mine—bein’ able to start over—just the two of us.
So I said, “Yes,” to Abe, and we made our promises (they’re okay on special occasions). They sounded so fine. To have and to hold. To cherish through our day-to-day. To grow together as husband and wife and as Abe and Sara. It was like I’s livin’ in a dream—one of those wonderful romantic dreams where everythin’ works out like it’s supposed to.
Then I began to find out about promises. Abe’s God’s promises. Abe’s God, see, promised us the land we got to. Which sounded real good. We’s gonna be landowners. Course as soon as we got there we had to leave. There was a famine and we had to keep goin’ hopin’ to find food so as to not die. I’s real impressed. What good’s a land of milk and honey with no milk and no honey? An’ it got to be somewhat worrisome that maybe this God of his wasn’t gonna come through for us on promises made. I shoulda known. Leave this place, and you’ll find a land of milk and honey, I promise. Yeah, right.
Then there was Abe’s promises, too. When we got to Egypt, Abe got to worryin’ ’bout how good lookin’ I was an’ how many men was ’round there who was more powerful than he was, so when we met Pharaoh, you know what that man did? Abe, I mean. He passed me off as his sister. Now I ask you, how romantic is that? It goes without sayin’ that my trust—my respect for this man dropped considerable. He’s a good lookin’ guy with a nice smile who talks real good. Which when it comes right down to it, well, that ain’t much—fact is, I felt kinda funny ’bout havin’ made important decisions based on stuff like that.
On top of all this, we was havin’ trouble with this business of startin’ a family. It’d’a been real easy to start getting’ down at this point. the things that were important to me—or that I thought should be important to me—that gave me a sense of bein’ important—of matterin’—were all fizzlin’ out. Abe’s God fizzled. Abe fizzled. The idea of children fizzled. On top of all that, I’s gettin’ older—losin’ some of the looks that turned Abe’s head, and Pharaoh’s head. Oh yeah, it’d’a been real easy to get down. Stuck in the middle of this—well, it wasn’t a godforsaken place, but I wasn’t sure how much the God who hadn’t forsaken this place was worth—which was a disappointment, no lie! It was kinda nice—the idea of marryin’ a fella who had himself a God lookin’ out for him. but Abe wasn’t what I’d dreamed him out to be. An’ neither was his God. No kids. All fizzled out.
So I’s feelin’ empty. It’s that dark and lonely feelin’ that hits late at night when you wonder why you matter anyway, and who cares, and what difference does it make that you’re cryin’ and hurtin’, and when did I get the idea that my dreams was worth comin’ true or that I was worth my dreams comin’ true. An’ you toss an’ you turn, an’ your pillow’s too hot, an Abe’s over there snorin’ like he ain’t got no problems, an’ I’d slip outta the tent and go look up at stars and take long walks—talkin’ to myself, and wipin’ away the tears. Only it wasn’t just late at night.
But somethin’ wouldn’t let me leave it at that. Somethin’ whispered down in my feelin’ hollow. Nothin’ I could understand, but somethin’ was there—whisperin’—there in the empty. An’ I begun to think. An’ here’s what I came up with: there’s more to me than any man I’m with. There’s more to me than whether or not I can or do have kids. (An’ why was that necessarily my fault anyway? Come to think of it!) There’s more to me than my husband’s dreams and plans and fears—my husband’s needs and my husband’s God. I am not worthwhile because I turn heads. I do not need children. I do not need Abe. I do not need Abe’s God.
Now I wasn’t at all sure what I’d have or who I’d if I didn’t have all that, an’ there’s a big difference ’tween not needin’ somethin’ an not wantin’ it. But there you have it. There are things we want—want bad—sometimes so bad we can’t admit we don’t need ’em. At least till we get to one of those dark and lonely times where everything seems so starkly clear.
Now there ain’t no way for you to imagine Abe’s face when I started in talkin’ thata way! It was a sight to behold, let me tell you! He’d never heard the like. Never imagined the like. He didn’t know quite what to do with me there for a while. He’d get this funny look on his face an awful lot. It’s that look everyone gets at a family reunion when someone who don’t know no better says the one thing ain’t no one supposed to say. “Y’all hear about Aunt Ruth?”
But this much I gotta say for Abe. He let me be me. Not real sure why. Most men wouldn’t’a tolerated what he did. Sure he’d get that funny look, but—well, maybe he’d developed a high level of tolerance for craziness dealin’ with that God of his! An’ we began to discover each other again. I turned his head again! An’ this time, it wasn’t just my looks. By this time, maybe it wasn’t my looks at all!
He began to act in ways I’s proud of. That whole business with that slimy nephew of his, for example. An’ I’s particular proud when Abe began to wonder ’bout that God of his. Fact is, one time when God was a talkin’ to him, Abe talked back, “An just what promises have you kept?” he asked. My question exactly. “You promised us children—lots of ’em, in fact.” God said, “Look at the stars. You’ll have children like the stars.” uhuh. “And all this land will be yours.” An’ Abe said, “Now would you mind me askin’ how I’m to know all this is really gonna happen—this time?” Oooh, I’s proud a him. But that God o’ his talks real good—real smooth, an’ Abe came back believin’ again. “Honey, God promised.” Don’t know as how I’ve got much use for a God who has to promise—and keep promisin’ ’cause none of ’em comes true.
Well, in the passin’ a time, the birthdays and anniversaries come and gone, we got to be too old for children. That happens, you know. It’s biology. I wasn’t going to have children. I knew it. Abe knew it. It has ceased to be with me after the manner of women. An’ then one more time, “You will have children like the stars in heaven. I promise.”
Now you may have heard I laughed. That got written down somewhere. Well, it’s also written down that Abe laughed—laughed so hard he fell on his face. Laughin’ at this God who talked so good. Laughin’ at himself for believin’ talk—for believin’ so long till you couldn’t believe no more. Laughin’ at us for havin’ lived our lives on a prayer. An’ there was some angry in his laugh—lots of hurt, but the more we laughed, the more real that laughter got. After all, it’s not that things had turned out bad for us. We’d made it. Set out and grown up. An’ it was kinda funny to think ’bout the crazy dreams we’d so carefully kept. Maybe if we’d gotten all those dreams, we wouldn’t be who we are. And we were fine. We weren’t expectin’ nothin’. We’d learned to make it on our own—with what we got. We didn’t need nothin’.
An’ deep down inside, there was a whisper. Somethin’ wouldn’t let me leave it at that. Somethin’ whispered. Nothing we could understand, but somethin’ … or someone … whispered.
An’ that’s when I laughed. I mean really laughed. I’d heard that whisper before, an’ I knew. We began to notice that there wasn’t nowhere God wasn’t. An’ there wasn’t no part of us not touched by God. In the tears of life at its deepest and richest—always whisperin’. In the laughter of all God’s children dealin’ with life the way it is and the way we think it should be. In the angry—the hurt—the pure clean fun of it. Always whisperin’, “There’s more!”
“There’s more, but you gotta let go. Let go of whatcha got. Let go of whatcha want. Let go of whatcha think you need. God’s promises ain’t like ours. It ain’t that God’s overarguin’, but God’s promises don’t seem to kick in till you—till you’re dealin’ with whatcha got—till the dreams, well, till you face who you are and what you got without those dreams. An’ then God’s promises are what you hang onto when it ain’t possible no more. God’s promises are there when you’re completely empty. When you ’bout given up. When you have given up.
An’ then, if you’re listenin’, you find out God’s tellin’ you what you most want to hear. That it’s not just God whisperin’ and God’s promises woven though all we do and all we are, but it’s God. That’s why without Abe—without family—without anybody’s idea of who and what God is—I am. I am me. That’s why God promise that we’d get land was less important to God and less important to us than us wantin’ God to be with us wherever we were. God’s promise that we’d have kids was less important to God and less important to us than us wantin’ to be children of God. God’s more interested in us than in any plans that involve us.
See, God will earn our respect and trust, and maybe we’ll earn God’s, but love is always more important. There ain’t nothin’ more important than that. It’s just a whisper though. You gotta get rid of all the other voices to hear it. An’ then you’ll laugh.