What Strength Do I Have to Hope
Chapter information

Ghosts of the Past

Written by

Katherine Rebekah

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But A Crushed Spirit Who Can Bear

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Silent As the Grave

When they got home Katara slid out of the car. The rain had slowed and its somberness had dissipated into a gentle drizzle that kissed her cheeks in a pleasant way, cooling her to just the right temperature.

She checked the rusted mail box, which stuck crooked out of the sand in front of their house, to find a solitary envelop inside. It was from Yugoda. She ripped it open to find a Christmas card with the words All is Calm All is Bright scrawled above a black and white picture of Yugoda with her three grandchildren.

"Little early for Christmas cards isn't it?" Katara muttered under her breath as she shoved the picture back into its envelope. Then she noticed a paper inside. She pulled it out to find it was a folded sticky note with Yugoda's hasty cursive scribbled across it.

Dear Katara,

Merry Christmas. I decided to give you your card early because I wanted to invite you to church. I know you're probably rolling your eyes right now but I think it would have made Kanna happy to know that you went during the Christmas season. If you look in the bottom of the envelope you'll find a card with the churches address on it. I hope to see you this Sunday.

Sincerely, Yugoda

Katara let out a sigh that compelled Aang to look over her shoulder.

"What is it?"

"It's Gran Gran, back from the grave to nag me to go to church."

"What?" He grabbed the card form her hand and skimmed over it, realization dawning on his face. "Well that was nice of her. You should go." Katara made a face.

"Yeah right. I stopped going to church a long time ago, for many good reasons."

"It's never too late to give it another try." Katara scrunched her brows at him.

"Aren't you a Buddhist? Why are you trying to convene me to go to church?" Aang shrugged.

"I believe that, whether you are Buddhist or Christian, Hindu, Muslim, or anything, that if you are earnestly seeking God you will find him, her, or it, whatever God is. It doesn't matter what you call yourself or the specifics of your belief. All roads lead to one great spirit."

"That's a nice sentiment, Aang, but if you had ever gone to church, you would know that they don't believe that."

"This isn't about what they believe, you asked me what I believe." Aang switched from his wise monk face to his concerned and whiny husband face. "Please Katara. Some spirituality might do you good. I know you're a spiritual person. Maybe this is what you need." Katara didn't know what good 'spirituality' would do. It wouldn't make Yon Rha stay in jail. It wouldn't bring Kya back.

But, eventually, after a little more back and forth, Aang won out (a rare occurrence in their house) just because Katara was tired and she couldn't come up with any good excuses not to go.

So the next morning she found herself sitting at the dining table at ten in the morning, clasping a cold coffee cup between her hands, a solid knot of apprehension churning in her gut. Aang sat across from her, he was texting someone, and Sokka and Toph were still sound asleep. How she envied them, still trapped in blissful slumber, while she would have to spend the morning reliving her least favorite childhood memories simply to please her husband and her boss.

Aang looked up from his phone at Katara. She had an awful expression on her face, yet she managed to still look stunning. She had curled her hair and put on a deep blue dress that matched the shade of her eyes perfectly. Still, she didn't look like Katara. She hadn't looked like Katara since she came home Friday night, and it hurt him to see her like that.

"You ready to go Sweetie?" Aang asked.

"As ready as I'll ever be, I guess." She took one last draught of cold coffee, cringing as it went down. For a split second the awful taste made her question her love for the stimulant, but only for a split second.

The drive seemed longer than it was because Katara got lost in her thoughts, staring out the window at the gray sky, the world still soggy from yesterdays rain. The GPS jarred her into awareness when it informed them of the "destination ahead". She was struck with a moment of confusion as Aang pulled into the parking lot of a strip mall.

"Are you sure this is right?" She fished through her purse and pulled out the card Yugoda had given her. The address matched.

"Oh, there it is." Aang said pointing out the window. "Phoenix Church." And sure enough one of the signs read Phoenix Church in bold orange lettering. Under the larger words was a small scripted that read 'Out of the ashes we rise.'

"Hey, isn't that the church Zuko donated to?" Aang asked.

"I don't know. I didn't know there were any churches on Kyoshi Island named Phoenix."

"Well I think they changed the name. They were about to die, and then Zuko gave them all this money, so they named it after Phoenix Corp." Katara let out something between a scoff and a sigh.

"Just what we need in this town, another place that bows to the almighty Phoenix Corp." "Oh come on, that's not fair to Zuko. He is trying to do good. To restore the company."

"I know. I know. Just, bad memories."

Katara pressed a cool hand to her temple. Talking about Phoenix Corp. wasn't making this church thing any easier.

"Are you ready to go in?" Aang asked and Katara scrunched her nose. Do I look ready? She wanted to snap at him, but instead she took a deep breath.


When Aang and Katara walked in she was surprised at what she saw. Phoenix looked like no other church she had been to. There was a small elevated stage at the front flanked by two large screens and illuminated by red and green lights (for Christmas she thought), the music playing in the background was definitely not a hymn, it sounded more like "Ceiling Can't Hold Us" the acoustics reverberating through the room, and the relatively small space was packed with people.

"Good morning!" Katara was jarred from her analysis of the room by a short girl with a purple pixy cut who had her hand extended to Katara. "I'm Loo, I play the drums in the worship band." Katara attempted a smile, hoping her face was making the right shape.

"I'm Katara." She shook the girls hand.

"Nice to meet you."

"Hey, you said you play the drums?" Aang interjected himself in the conversation, freeing Katara, and he began to chat with Loo, who looked as if she couldn't be more than seventeen. Katara skimmed the room, looking for Yugoda, and found her sitting toward the front. She made her way though the crowd, faking smiles at anyone who looked her way, until she came to her instructors seat. Yugoda's wrinkled face lit up at the sight of her.

"Katara, I see you got my invitation." She patted the seat beside her. "Have a seat." Katara followed her orders like a good student, smoothing out her skirt to sit down. "Well, to tell you the truth I'm impressed with you. I didn't think you would take up my offer. I'm sure it makes Kanna proud." Katara failed to see how someone who was cold in the ground could be proud, but she didn't question it. "Visola told me you caught something at the hospital. Are you feeling okay?"

"Yeah, it was a twenty four hour thing." Suddenly Yugoda was right in her face, pulling at her eyebrows and looking into her eyes.

"You certainly don't look okay, Dear. Dark circles, irritated eyes," She pinched the skin on Katara's forearm.

"Ouch!" She pulled back.

"Dehydration." Yugoda nodded to herself, kinky strands of gray hair flitting around her face. "You need a Gatorade and bed rest."

"Do I really look that bad?"

"No, Dear, you look lovely. It's just that I can see past what other see." Just then Aang slid in next to Katara with his hands full of bags.

"What the heck is that?" Katara asked and he handed one to her.

"There gifts for first time visitors. Loo gave them to me." He started digging though his and pulled out a chocolate bar. "This is some good stuff."

"Aang don't eat that in here."

"Oh it's fine." Yugoda said. "People do it all the time." She reached over Katara and pulled something from the bag, popping it in her mouth, with a smile directed at Aang.

Just then there was the sound of a buzzer, the lights dimmed, and a count down appeared on the screens. With each turn of a number the buzz sounded as people scrambled to take their seats. When the count down hit one there was a boom of the acoustics and the lights came up again to reveal a man Katara hadn't even noticed take the stage.

He was tall, with a tan complexion, much like Katara's, and had long brown hair, half tied up. He was waring ripped dark-wash jeans and a blue button up. Katara's mouth fell open a little, then began to turn up into a smile. It was Bato.

"Good morning! Welcome to Phoenix. Glad to see some new faces." He smiled in their direction. "I hope you'll stand to worship with us."

Everyone stood, Katara and Aang fallowing suite.

The lights dimmed and a few people steeped up to the mics. The screens above their heads displayed the words, and when the song started Katara was startled. The music was incredibly loud, good, but loud. This effect was worsened due to the her closeness to the front. It was too dark to see anyone but the singers who had lights on them, but she could feel the movement all around her, people swaying, and singing. She looked over at Aang and could make out his crooked smile in the dim purple light. He leaned over and shouted in her ear.

"I like it!" Katara frowned and didn't answer back. She stood through another song, then a slow song. Then sat through a special that the purple haired girl sang while they passed around an offering plate. When it came to Katara she panicked a little. She had forgotten to bring offering, but Aang reached over and put a ten in the plate.

After the purple haired girl was done the lights came back up and Bato stepped forward again. He briefly introduced a couple to come up and light the first advent candle, a Christmas tradition that had completely slipped her mind. Two sisters, Niyok and Nutha, who she recognized from her days in high school, stpeped up and grasped a mic from one of the stands. Nutha spoke while Niyok bent over to light a large purple candle perched on the edge of the platform.

"Today we light the candle of Hope." Nutha began. "If you know the history of when Jesus was born, you know that it was a dark time, not only for the Jews, but for much of the world. The Roman Emperor Cesar Augustus ruled with the hand of a tyrant and King Herod was no kinder. Many people in that time were under oppression, they were over worked, over taxed, and under feed. There were small bursts of uprisings from Jews everywhere that, not uncommonly, resulted in brutal deaths, even crucifixion, the most humiliating death the Roman Empire had to offer. Still, the Jews clung to hope. It was prophesied that a savior would come to them. This, perhaps, was the only thing that kept them going." Nutha handed off the mic to Niyok.

"The world that we live in today is just as cruel. Nutha and I, as many of you know, lost our parents at an early age and have had to struggle to survive on our own. Many times we didn't know where our next meal would come from and for us there was little to no hope. Finding Phoenix was our saving grace, and while not everything is right with the world we now have a hope for the future. Hope that with the help of God we will make it through. We urge you today to cling to hope, even when there is not hope to be found." The sisters left the stage fallowed by applause, but Katara found herself silent.

Hope. It was a word she had always clung too, especially in the hard times. But, while the sisters story was beautiful and touching, Katara just didn't seem to believe in that word anymore. Hope was an illusion, as far as she could tell. It was a promised light at the end of the tunnel, a light she had always thought that she could reach. But now she found that no matter how far you walked, the tunnel was always black, the only certainty that lay at the end, the abyss of death. There was no hope in that.

Much to Katara's surprise Bato took the platform again and began to preach a sermon. It hadn't occurred to her that he could be the pastor and, what's more, her initial joy of seeing him was slowly turning sour and becoming anger at not knowing of his return.

As he preached Katara silently simmered in her seat, not quite being able to take any of his words seriously, as she saw the hypocrisy of his being a pastor, yet not even contacting his own friends. She began to develop an urge to walk out in protest and not even give him the time of day. Still, she sat there, knowing that making a scene wouldn't do any good.

Toward the end of the sermon she looked over at Aang to find him, classically snoozing in his chair. She rolled her eyes. The man could meditate for hours, but couldn't seem to sit though a twenty-minute sermon. She nudged him with her elbow and gave him a death glare as he woke up.

Once Bato had finished, and invited everyone to stand up and sing, he stepped down and took his place, much to Katara's dismay, standing between her and Aang. He and Aang began to talk, even through the obnoxiously loud music. Katara shoved in some ear buds she had found in the "goody bag" hoping he would pick up on the hint that she didn't want to talk after service. But he didn't pick up on the hint, and right after the dismissal he made a b-line for Katara. Reluctantly, she removed the squishy orange things from her ears.

"May I sit down?" He asked, his voice trembling with timidity. So he did sense something was wrong. Of course he did. He wasn't an idiot.

"It's a free country." He took a seat.

"Katara I- I"

"Save your breath if your going to apologize. There are not words that can make me feel any less angry with you, but I do want an explanation. Why are you back from war? How long have you been back? And what the heck are you doing pastoring a church?" Typically Katara would feel like a jerk for speaking to some that way, but now she felt nothing.

"Katara, I am sorry for not contacting you. I have no good excuse."

"I'm glad you realize that, but you haven't answered my questions yet." Bato cleared his throat and reached down, Katara thought, to scratch leg. In actuality he ended up pulling up the hem of his pants to revel a metal prosthesis.

"That is why I'm back. I lost my leg." Katara swallowed a lump in her throat that transformed it's self into a knot in her stomach. "I've been back for a long time now, but I spent most of my time in Chin City. When I got back the Navy gave me a top of the line prosthesis and they payed for all of my medical bills. I still get checks from them. I'll be getting payed for life, but back then I had lost all motivation and I spent most of the money on gambling. I ended up being homeless for awhile."

Another kicker. Katara was beginning to regain her humanity, and was starting to feel like a jerk for her harsh words.

"To answer your last question, when I was living on the streets I made a friend and he asked me to church, there I became a Christian, I got turned around, and one thing lead to another. I went to seminary and when I heard that the old United Methodist Church was about to close I came here, gathered up the members, and started this church. It's been a hand full, but we managed to grow and things are looking up. I was going to call you guys soon and invite you for Christmas. I don't know why I haven't before. I guess I was scared."

"Scared of what?" Katara didn't mask the snap in her tone, her quick burst of sympathy having no solid impact. Bato shrugged.

"I've changed Katara. I'm not the Bato that left here when you were nine. I guess I was scared that you wouldn't accept me."

"Well that's a stupid thing to be scared of." Even Bato's sob story hadn't softened her anger.

"It was stupid. I'm sorry." Katara began to grab up her purse and stuff the "goody bag" in it.

"You know Bato, I'm glad you'r sorry. I'm glad you have this nice church thing going for you. People really seem to like it. You've got a lot of new friends and you don't seem to need us anymore. So if you'll excuse me." She stood up. "I will see you around."

"Katara!" He called after her but she didn't stop. Aang was talking to Yugoda and she grabbed him by the arm and began tugging him out. Just before she was out of ear shot she heard him mutter.

"Just like Kya." And that was the worst. To think that Kay would do something as cruel as she was now. She hated herself for it. She hated Bato for not calling. She hated the church that had fed her so many lies as a child. And she hated this place and all the obnoxiously happy people in it.

Aang went with out protesting, seeming to sense Katara's turmoil and as they slid into the car he turned to her.

"So, did you like it?" She looked at him, and that was all she needed to do to let him know the amount displeasure she had suffered at attending church that morning.

"Yeah." Aang muttered and jabbed the key into the ignition. "That's what I thought. Sorry I even suggested it." Katara sighed and mumbled inaudibly.

"Yeah, me too."


The song is Iris by U2. It's probably my favorite song right now. The only lyrics in it that pertain to this chapter are "The ache in my heart is so much a part of who I am", but it's a great song so I just decided to use it anyways.

Phoenix Church's set up is based on my church. You may have thought it was weird that I said, "Ceiling Can't Hold Us" was the background music, but in all actuality my church used this song many times as we entered service (we just used the clean version).

It is probably pretty obvious by now that I am a coffaholic. I think I have mentioned coffee in every chapter now. So if you're seeing that tendency in Katara here, it came from me. Just thought that was worth mentioning, even though it's not really important...

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