The only thing that kept Hannah’s father going was her warmth, her inability to be dragged down by anything in life.  Despite this positive attitude, her father still became sick because of his depression.  Hannah and I would pray for him several times a day, with much feeling and compassion, but the man’s will to live had simply faded.  It hurt Hannah greatly to see her father suffer so, and to essentially reject life, but at the same time she acknowledged that it was his choice.

            “He misses Mama, and I can’t blame him for that.  If he wants to be with her, I cannot stop him, and God won’t either, if it’s what Father’s soul really wants, no matter how hard we pray.”

            “Hannah, I understand that your father doesn’t want to live any more, because his wife is gone, but then why didn’t your prayers work to make your mother well?”  I asked, seeing how Hannah’s seemingly unshakeable faith would explain this apparent failure, for her prayers had not saved her mother, her calls to God had seemingly gone unanswered. 

            “That’s a silly question,” she giggled, “God wanted Mama with Him in Heaven, so He called her to Him.  My prayers couldn’t stop that, and I didn’t really want them to.  Being with God must be the most wonderful thing a person could ever experience, and I would never deny that of anyone.  I think that I prayed to show God that I was concerned for Mother and wanted her to be well, but it’s all up to His will, what He has planned.”

            Once again I found myself surprised at how large a part of her life faith had become.  I had known Hannah all her life, and was more aware than anyone of her love for God, yet she consistently continued to astound me with the directions faith could take her in life.  She was completely free of worry or fear, because God was running things and she had faith in Him.  I felt the same way, but found it surprising in a human, generally a sceptical bunch.  Every day Hannah made me come to respect humanity a little bit more, for she showed me the potential in each person. 

            Despite my happiness with my young bride, I felt a growing apprehension about the coming birth of our child.  I wondered how I could explain to her what God had asked me to do.  How could I take away a child she had prayed for, especially since she had waited for years?  After thinking about it for many days, and praying to the Lord, I came to her bedside.  I decided to rely on honesty, for that had served me well in our first encounter and won me her heart.  Even so, I found myself nervous.  I was about to tell her that, while her dream of a child was finally coming true, she would not be allowed to keep it for very long. 

            “Dearest,” I began, taking her hand, “There’s something I have to tell you.”

            “Yes, my angel?”  She smiled, “What is it?”

            “Our child, your soon to be born daughter, she is a gift from God…”

            “Yes.  I am very excited, aren’t you?”

            “Yes, I am, and I understand that you would be, you’ve waited a very long time.  However, no one can gain anything without sacrificing for it first.  Such is balance, and justice, the way of God.”

            “Yes, darling one, I know.  One gains life through struggle and labour, and then sustains that life by working the land, or preying on other animals.  When we die, we give back what we took by becoming one with the land that we took from.”

            “I’m glad you understand,” I said, with some relief, “Because God requires a sacrifice of us both.”

            “What kind of sacrifice?  I’m afraid that I don’t understand.”

            “You asked God for this daughter.  You prayed to Him.”

            “Yes, of course.” She agreed.

            “Well, the Lord sent me to answer that prayer, so that you could have your child.  But he also sent me to tell you that you have to… you have to…” I suddenly got choked up with emotion.  My heart was torn between doing God’s will, and not wanting to harm the woman I loved.  I wept, afraid to continue speaking.

            “Raphael, my love, my life, what do I have to do?”  She asked, placing her hands on my cheeks and gently wiping away the tears.  “What does God want of me?  Whatever it is, I will obey.”

            I looked up at her with tears in my eyes, my beautiful human wife, and spoke words that I knew would undoubtedly break her gentle heart.

            “He demands that I bring the child from you to Him, from Earth to Heaven.  You will not get to keep her.  That is the sacrifice you must make in order to have your wish.”

            Hannah’s eyes stayed locked with mine during a tense moment of absolute silence.  I don’t think either of us even breathed.  Then, wonder of wonders, Hannah’s face grew a glorious smile, the warmth of which reminded me of the glow of God on His throne, as it filled me with a sense of her love.  I was flabbergasted that she could be smiling after such seemingly terrible news.

            “Oh, that’s perfect!”  She said, elated.  I stared at her in confusion while she continued to speak.  “I could not have asked for anything better!  I knew that if I was patient, God would answer my prayer!”

            “What do you mean, better?  I have to take your daughter from you.”  She was ecstatic, and I found myself more and more perplexed by her attitude.

            “I know, that’s what’s perfect!  The Lord wants my daughter with Him in Heaven.  She will be amongst the angels in the sky, happy and free!  Oh, Raphael, I’m so happy!  Now it’s exactly as I wished, exactly as I had prayed.  My faith is being rewarded!”

            She wrapped her arms around me in a rapturous embrace, pulling me close to her.  She had once again surprised me with her faith, in a totally unexpected way.  I had been utterly certain that she would be distraught at the news, and here she was delighted and praising God. 

            It was the last time I would see her so, for the labours began in earnest then, with the breaking of her water.

It was one of the greatest challenges of my life.  I have been a messenger of God, a warrior in His holy cause against demons, evil spirits and fallen angels, struggled against the most vile forms of evil, but helping my beloved Hannah give birth, and what followed, proved to be at least as difficult a task as anything I had ever experienced.

            The labour lasted more than a day, and long into the night.  I watched as she pushed and strained and fought to deliver this child, stood by while her beautiful face was contorted by spasms and effort, held her hand as the terrible contractions continued to wrack her body.  I prayed incessantly for her to do well, for the baby to be healthy, but an immense fear gripped my heart and soul as the labour continued.  I think the worst part of it was knowing that I could not help her to perform this task, that it was beyond even my powers to be helpful, other than to hold her hand.

            It was taking too long, far too long, and it seemed to me that there was too much blood.  I had seen many births as an angel of the Lord, I had even seen Hannah’s birth, and none had seemed so frenzied and strenuous as this.  I began to question God in my prayers, that He could let someone so faithful to Him experience such pain.  My love and concern for Hannah made me berate my God, and I found myself disgusted that He seemed to feel that her suffering, and mine at her side, was justified.  He had spoken of sacrifice, and I had accepted His words.  Now that I saw what He had meant, I wept for my wife and for myself.  This was how our loyalty to Him was repaid, this pain and anguish…

            Her father stood outside the doorway, waiting for the outcome.  Every scream from his daughter sent a shudder through his now sparse frame.  He had not been eating well ever since his wife’s passing, and I don’t think he had slept much, either.  I knew that he was nearing the end of his rope, having lost his wife, and now having to watch his daughter’s agony.  She screamed again, a sharp, piercing noise that should have shaken the house to its foundations.  Her father collapsed to the floor with a moan.

            “Raphael…” She managed to say, her voice strained, “It’s so hard…”

            “Yes, beloved.  I know.  But it’s almost over…”

            “It is.  I know…  Only one more push…” She said.

            “How do you know?”  I asked, looking into her gorgeous eyes, now ringed in purple with her fatigue.

            “They say so…  they say you need to put your hands down there and pray…”

            “Who says?”  I demanded.  “Who is there?  What do you see?”

            “Don’t argue, beloved husband…  just… just have faith.  Always.  Please remember…  God knows best, and I asked for this child.  Do not hate Him.  They say you are angry, but you need not be…”

            I believed that I understood, and did as I was bid.  As soon as my hands touched her, she pushed.  She uttered a last, terrible scream, and there was a blinding flash of light from her womb.  A fierce wind blew open the shuttered windows with a bang and rushed through the room.  When I could see again, I found that I held her child in my hands.  My child.  Our daughter.

            I looked at the child, and was astounded.  She was glowing brightly, not unlike the throne of God or we angels in our celestial forms.  Her eyes were a startling blue, like the skies we fly through, and she looked directly at me and smiled.  Every detail was perfect for the size of her tiny body:  ten perfect fingers, ten perfect toes, and everything in between.  But the most astonishing detail of all was on her back, where wings sprouted from her shoulder blades.  They had tiny, wet and downy feathers, just as a duckling or baby swan experiences.  I began to weep from exhaustion, astonishment and an understanding of why the labour had been so hard.

            I took the child to her mother, and showed Hannah our delicate beauty.  Hannah smiled weakly, held the baby in the crook of one arm and took my hand with the other.  I bent down and kissed her softly on the forehead.

            “Our daughter, Hannah,” I whispered, “You did wonderfully.”

            “Praise God,” she said quietly, “But I have to make you promise something.”

            “Anything, dear one.”

            “You must name her ‘Mara’, and you must take her to Heaven, as you were commanded.  You must bring her before God and let Him explain.  You cannot be angry with Him, Raphael.  He is your Lord and Father, and He loves you.  He knows what is best, even if you don’t understand His plan.  Be patient and have faith.”

            She died then, softly and quietly, as if she were simply falling into a deep sleep.

            “No!”  Her father shouted.  He started to come towards me.

            “It is the will of God.”  I said softly, looking down at my dear one.  “She knew and went willingly.”

            “God’s will!  YOU killed her!  She’d still be alive if not for you!  You came and made that baby, that abomination inside her, and it killed her!”

            He struck out, but I easily caught his arm and pulled him close to me in an embrace.  I understood his anger, and knew that he needed comfort.  I held the old man as he wept, his body shaking with paroxysms of grief.  “Not her too.”  He began to say, over and over, “Not her too.”

            I held him like that until morning.  He gradually exhausted himself in his grief, and I carried him to his bed.  Days before, we had sent word of his daughter’s impending labour to her sister in the village, and by now she and her husband were on their way to visit.  They would be able to console the father far better than I. 

            For now, though, I had a mission to carry out.  I took the sleeping babe from the corpse of her lovely mother, and cradled her in my arms.  A soft light began to glow from her, and as it grew in intensity it enveloped me.  In its bright and warm rays I was transformed, regaining my angelic form.  Suddenly I was nine feet tall, my hair a golden crown surrounded by a luminous halo, and my skin shining like bronze in the sun.  My wings erupted in a glistening rainbow of colour, each feather extending themselves to the heavens in anticipation of the flight to come.

            Once more attuned to the celestial plane, I found myself surrounded by angels, seven of them.  I nodded, expecting their presence ever since Hannah had spoken of the mysterious “They” who had been speaking during her labours.  I recognized them as some of my seraphim, led by my brother Michael.

            “It is good to see you, Raphael.  Welcome back.”  He said warmly.  “Congratulations on the birth of your daughter.”

            “Thank-you,” I said, looking at her and smiling.  “We must bring her to God.  It has been commanded.”

            “I know.  That is why we are here, as an honour guard for a beloved son that is returning home with a gift both for and from the Father.”

            “Will one of you stay to watch over the father here, at least until his daughter and her husband arrive?  He might give way to despair if no one guards him.”

            “Do not worry, my brother.”  Michael said.  He nodded, and one of the angels saluted, heading off to guard my father-in-law.  “He will take earthly form, explaining your absence and comforting the family.  Now, are you prepared?”

            “I am.”  I said with all my strength and conviction.  We leapt into the morning sky, each of us glowing almost as fiercely as the sun rising in the east, and left Earth for our divine home.

            Looking back, I feel that I answered Michael’s question with total inaccuracy.  I was nowhere near prepared for anything that followed from that moment on.  Only my loyalty and my promises to Hannah kept me going, as those were all that allowed me to hold on to my faith in the Lord as the events that were about to transpire began to unfold.

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