Northern California’s rolling hills were not their usual honey gold. Instead, they lay gray, gaunt, and cheerless, huddled like burnt ashes piled high from a million fireplaces. The record heat of the summer had finished off whatever bit of green had survived four years of negligible rainfall. Digger pine, California bay canyon oaks, yerba santa, and poison oak still dotted the parched hillsides, but any grass had long since retreated into the parched earth. Blackened trails from recent fires meandered indiscriminately through forests.
East of San Francisco Bay, nestled high in the perpetually snow-capped Sierra peaks, the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir stood at its lowest level in thirty-seven years. Wapama Falls usually pouring a steady flow all year, now showed alarming depletion. Due west of Wapama, Tueeulala Falls’ gossamer display of water dropping over a sheer cliff into the reservoir had been reduced to a trickle. Great mountain streams that normally roared westward out of the snow and high glaciers had dwindled to empty beds of mud and gravel. This perpetual source of water, taken for granted by the millions of people who had depended on it for decades, was now endangered by nature’s insolvency.
John Cain’s mind was focused thousands of miles away on a more personal concern—Jessica—as he drained the last sip of water and stared pensively at the empty glass.
Where is she, Lord? Why did I have to leave her behind? She’s only twelve years old.
He offered up a look of anguish at the black oak that reigned like a grand monarch in the far corner of the backyard patio. Through its branches and leaves, he glimpsed the fading rays of the evening sun.
First it was Jenny. That nearly tore us apart for good, Lord. And now Jessica.
Refilling the glass, he set the pitcher down on the Middle East map spread out on the patio table beside his Bible and the day’s Chronicle.
Where could they have taken her? He leaned his head back and stared up at the sky. God, why don’t you answer? Why won’t you tell us?
Heaving a sigh of frustration, he reached for the first section of the paper, staring once again at headlines he already knew by heart. The news was not good. The lead articles were focused on the disintegration of hope for peace in the Middle East.
He pushed the newspaper aside and reached for his water glass.
Has she been beaten? Raped? Is she dead? Has her body already been tossed like garbage into some nameless grave half a world away? When I left her there, Lord, I asked you to protect her and help her get home safely. I trusted you. I trusted our little girl to your safekeeping. What’s happening with your promise to never leave us or forsake us?
A thought repeated itself over and over in his mind: “Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” (Hebrews 10:35–36). John had read these words repeatedly in the past week, a biblical injunction to the faithful to persevere while passing through hard times.
Did the writer have any idea how hard the times could get? Is it possible God’s promises don’t cover our kind of need?
He turned the glass slowly in his hand, anguishing over thoughts that seemed too blasphemous to be spoken aloud.
Promises made can also be broken. I never thought so before. Not God’s promises. But now I’m not so sure.
He lifted the glass to his lips and drank deeply. It was good water. Mountain water. One of the nice things about living in Baytown. It had always been there. But now, with the extended drought, even the promise of water might not be trustworthy. No one knew for certain.
One thing John did know for certain was that no lack of rainfall or water in the reservoirs could compare to the dryness in his soul.
Maybe there aren’t any guarantees after all.
He stared off in the distance, wondering how this tragedy could have happened in the first place. His mind went back, as it had a hundred times, to that fateful day, four weeks ago, when his little girl had simply vanished off the face of the earth.
What sort of thing have I fallen into? What is really happening here?
He set the glass onto the table, thrust his hands into his pockets, and glanced regretfully at the map. This whole episode was insane. And as far as he was concerned, all that really mattered in life had come down to one burning question.
Where is Jessica?