By Saturday morning, Elizabeth was both exhausted and starving—and she had barely been at the retreat for twelve hours. It was seven in the morning and she was sitting in the kitchen with Morgan and a handful of other new Level Twos, working on a service project for the church. A huge pile of brochures not unlike the one that Jacqueline had shown Elizabeth before her first visit to the church all those months ago sat on the card table. The small group in the kitchen was folding the brochures into shape, making them as perfect as could be. Every few minutes one of the older members—a Rose Angel, Pastor Jeffrey, or Benjamin—would walk in and double check their work. If it wasn’t satisfactory, they had to fix the ones they had ruined.
They had spent most of the night in group prayer or copying Bible passages. Elizabeth still hadn’t asked Sandra about the passage she had found on her own, and she figured this wasn’t the best time to ask. Around three in the morning, Pastor Jeffrey had finally announced that it was time for bed. Everyone had passed out pretty quickly, but they had been woken up again a mere two hours later. That was when they had started working on the brochures, another group was working on counting and folding a new batch of scarves and stoles that had arrived recently, and the third group was stuffing envelopes for some sort of mailing.
Elizabeth’s stomach growled, and she could swear that she heard at least three other stomachs in the kitchen growl in response. She looked at Morgan, who gave her a pitiful stare.
“I’m starving,” Morgan whispered. Her voice was pretty well covered by the sound of shuffling brochures.
“Me too. And my scarf is making my head itch. I can’t believe we had to sleep in them last night,” Elizabeth whispered back, adjusting her scarf.
“Delia said it’s because we’re on a church retreat on church property.”
“But do the residents here have to wear theirs all the time too?”
Morgan shrugged, almost dropping a brochure in the process. “I doubt it. The residents here aren’t on a retreat. They’re not on an exercise like we are...” She trailed off, looking over Elizabeth’s head to the kitchen door.
Elizabeth turned to look and saw Delia glaring at the group. “No talking!” she ordered loudly. The group resumed their brochure folding with renewed vigor as Delia walked away again. Benjamin passed the kitchen door after her, heading toward the family room. He stopped for a second and stared again at Elizabeth before moving on. Elizabeth shifted uncomfortably and turned back to the task at hand.
An hour later, they had barely made any progress on the brochures, having had to refold them several times. The excitement in the room picked up for a moment, however, when they heard a crash come from the family room where the group working with the scarves and stoles was working. Everyone converged on the family room, then, wondering what had just happened.
Emily, a small girl with red hair, had collapsed on the floor. She blinked a few times and sat up slowly, staring around at the people surrounding her.
“What happened?” one of the Rose Angels asked.
“She just got up and then fell down again!” another Level Two cried dramatically.
“Why were you getting up? You aren’t done with your project,” a Rose Angel said sternly.
Emily was notorious in the group for having a short attention span. She looked around at the mass of people again, blinked a few more times as though she was thoroughly confused, and then said in a matter-of-fact way, “I was distracted…by Jesus.”
Most of the Level Twos, including Elizabeth and Morgan hid their mouths behind their hands, desperately trying to stifle laughter. The Rose Angels collectively shushed their charges, shooting them harsh looks.
Emily stared at her hands and then explained, “I’m just so hungry. That must be why I…you know.”
Pastor Jeffrey shook his head in disappointment. “If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small. Proverbs, chapter twenty-four, verse ten. Because of Emily’s lack of strength, we will abandon our service projects for the time being and join in group prayer.” A grateful sigh passed over the group. “Don’t get too excited…you will be returning to your projects in a few hours.”
Elizabeth and Morgan found seats on the floor near Emily, who looked paler than usual. “Are you okay?” Elizabeth whispered while grasping Emily’s and Morgan’s hands and starting to bow her head for prayer.
“Yeah, Elizabeth, I’m fine,” Emily whispered back, although Elizabeth was pretty sure Emily’s grip was weaker than what could be considered normal.
Elizabeth finally returned home around midnight on Sunday night. She had slept a grand total of five hours the entire weekend, her fingers were calloused and tired from the multitude of hours spend folding the brochures, and she felt like she had lost fifteen pounds over the course of the last few days. She felt filthy, having not changed clothes since Friday, but she was too tired and hungry to care as she entered her attic room and settled down on her bed.
Just got back from retreat. Can’t keep my eyes open. Just wanted to write that I was back, because my family doesn’t seem to care. Don’t know how I’m going to survive this week at school. So tired. So hungry.
The pen made a slanted line across the page as Elizabeth’s eyes closed and she fell asleep.