Category: Inspiration

Merry Christmas from Mary

This month, I’ll be giving away the first three chapters of the first book in my Reflections series. That’s right. If you follow the blog, you’ll get to read the first three chapters (one per week) without investing more than your time.

Of course, I hope you get invested in the story. I hope you love it like so many readers who’ve left ONLY POSITIVE reviews about the story.

Reviews like this one:

But now, as I’ve promised. Here is chapter one of A Pondering Heart, Reflections Book One:

The day my world changed began like every other day in recent memory. An orange sun rose over the brushy hills. Pasty clouds chased each other across the blue expanse of sky. A refreshing chill from the autumn air nipped my cheeks.

I meandered along the worn dirt path. My destination was the same as every morning: the cave beneath the terraced hillside where my father planted his crops. Over the past three years, the path had worn to little more than a rut beneath the constant traffic of my sandal-clad feet and the goats’ sharp hooves.

At the mouth of the cave, I swung the wooden gate toward myself and ducked to keep from knocking my forehead on the rocks. Not that I was tall, but the entrance wasn’t even six spans high.

When I entered our makeshift stable, the milk nanny rubbed her nose against the wool girdle that secured a water bladder to my hip. I pushed her away, scratching her forehead to ease the rebuke. She whined. One look at her engorged udder explained her urgent desire to follow me out of the pen. With one hand on her leather collar, I secured the gate behind me. Not a moment too soon. The other goats pressed their faces through the wide rungs. Their persistent baas echoed around the cave.

I patted a few of their heads. Pushing the shawl back onto my shoulders, I knelt to begin the task of milking. A hummed tune lifted my heart and kept the bleats of the kids in check. My thoughts wandered to the dream I had about my wedding last night. Rather than my face being hidden, the face of my groom was covered with a veil. Some say dreams have significance. If that’s true, what did this one mean?

Soon, the udder hung limply, and the nanny pushed her nose into the enclosure. I never had to tie her as long as her kids were penned up. Most of the young ones were meat goats, not her babies at all, but she seemed to adopt them anyway. The goat knew mothering better than Anna, my father’s wife. But I shouldn’t complain. It would harden my spirit, and if my stepmother had taught me anything, it was that I didn’t want to become bitter.

I carried the pot of milk through a narrow tunnel into a cool room. Light filtered through several fissures. I strained my eyes to make out the large pot and small jar sitting on a ledge in the wall. I placed the fresh milk beside the other containers and reached into the large pot.
The sour smell of curdling milk stung my nose. The curds were still too small and soft. At least one more day before the cheese would be ready for draining. One less thing on my list of responsibilities for today. I sighed. I loved making the cheese almost as much as eating it, but I hated listening to Anna complain about the smell when I brought it into the house to mix in the herbs and salt.

I scuttled back to the main cave, wiping my hands along my skirt. The goats bleated as I opened their enclosure. My little flock surrounded me, snuffling at my girdle, hoping for a treat. I laughed, fondling their ears while leading them into the scraggly grass surrounding our home. Now that the harvest was well past and Father’s winter wheat plucked its head in the midfields, foraging became a chore. There wasn’t much fodder, since they had been grazing these fields for a month. The time for selling the young ones neared. Luckily, the market for goat meat never waned in Nazareth.

With a critical gaze, I studied the three male kids. I would need to choose the most perfect one and keep it for Pesach, still four months away. Since I had begun caring for the goats, Father always let me decide which one was unblemished and fit for sacrifice.

Gamboling, frolicking, nipping at each other, the kids led the way to the watering hole. Adults pulled chunks of grass, wayward leaves on the bushes, and even strips of bark along the way. All around me, the pasture looked forlorn. It was nearly time to stake my herd closer to the house, where they would clean up the remainder of Anna’s vegetable patch. Of course, I would need to be doubly certain she was finished with it. For such a small woman, her rants stung like a whip. At least she saved most of them for me or my sister, Mary (how confusing to have two Marys in the house), leaving my not-quite eight-year-old brother Jesse unscathed.

The sun rose, and my breath no longer misted in the cool air. I glanced at the sky, measuring the height of the sun. Still plenty of time to sweep the floors before Anna trekked to market, leaving me in charge of the young ones and preparing the midday meal for Father.

I herded the goats back into the cave, promising to give them another chance to graze before dinner. Maybe I was crazy for talking to them. They weren’t human after all. But life could be lonely on a farm.

I pulled the jar of fresh milk from the cool room. Amazing how a single hour in the dark space dropped the temperature. I carried it in the crook of my elbow.

When I left the cave, a draft pushed the scents of goat, manure, and moldering straw away from me. I didn’t mind the smell of the goats, but fresh morning air always relaxed me. My shoulders sagged, and I trudged away from the cliffs, never too anxious to return to Anna’s domain.
As I rounded the bend, I glanced up at the dusty track leading to the house. What I saw froze me in place.

A most unusual man blocked the path. His white flowing robe reflected the sunlight. Golden-white hair haloed his sharp, pale features, which sparkled with iridescence. Eyes the color of the sky, seeming illumined from within, pierced me as easily as a sharp knife.

“Hail, thou that art highly favored.”[Luke 1:28] His voice shook the ground. Or maybe that was just my legs trembling.

My heart thumped against my ribs, and my breath gurgled in my throat. I clenched the pot, unwilling to let my morning’s work fall prey to my terror.

“The Lord is with thee,” the man continued. “Blessed art thou among women.”[Luke 1:28]

My mind spun, waking, at the strange greeting, from the paralysis his musical voice caused. How was a farmer’s daughter highly favored? Certainly the dung caking the soles of my sandals sang a different tune. Who was this man to assure me of my relationship with Jehovah? Yes, I prayed each morning and night, as Father had taught us all, but how could this one know that?

Most disturbing was the final part of his greeting. Only one woman would be considered blessed among the daughters of Eve and Sarah. I was not that woman. I was just a girl.

“Fear not, Mary.” He extended a pale hand toward me. “For thou hast found favor with God.”[Luke 1:30]

Was this a heavenly messenger? I loved Jehovah as much as any of my friends, but why would the Almighty give honor to a girl like me? A haze of unreality veiled my mind.

“And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.”[Luke 1:31]

Now I knew the messenger had the wrong house. I couldn’t have a baby, because I didn’t have a husband. Yet. Was he accusing me of being intimate with a man? My face flushed.

“He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David.”[Luke 1:32] I admit I gasped at this. “And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”[Luke 1:33]

My stomach dropped to my feet, and my arm lost all strength, sending the clay pot plummeting to the earth. It splattered near my toes, sloshing goat’s milk onto the barren ground. The words proclaimed by this messenger echoed the prophecies of old and the promises made to my father’s great-grandfather. The phrasing matched words spoken by my father’s deep, warm voice during our evening devotions. A similar thrill evoked by those recitations tingled along my skin.

This messenger spoke of the Messiah, but what he said couldn’t be true. I could prove it to him.

“How shall this be?” When I asked about this delicate subject, heat flooded my face, and I couldn’t look directly at the man. “Seeing I know not a man?”[Luke 1:34]

I was betrothed, yes, but I remained innocent. I might be a simple farm girl, but I knew how children were planted in a woman by the man’s seed. And I had never been with any man in the intimate way reserved for married couples.

I pictured the kind face of my betrothed, and my heart skipped in my chest. He was godly, handsome even, but we had never even touched hands. To lie with him as a married woman? I couldn’t imagine it.

The Lord’s messenger didn’t seem surprised by my question. He continued without pause.

“The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee.”[Luke 1:35]

A verse Father shared from the prophet Isaiah rang in my mind: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”[Isaiah 7:14]

My mouth dried like summer-parched ground. I forced saliva in, swallowing past the pomegranate in my throat.

“Immanuel?” It still came out as a whisper.

The angel-I can hardly believe Jehovah sent an angel to me-nodded and said, “That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”[Luke 1:35]

My mind, whirling and bucking, refused to process the full meaning of these words. Even as I’m jotting the whole thing down now, it seems so unreal. A fantastic dream.

“Thy cousin, Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age,” the man in white said. “This is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.”[Luke 1:36]

Elisabeth? She had been an old woman when last I saw her. Older than Father. Women that old were beyond childbearing years.

The angel gave a slight nod of his head. He must have seen understanding glimmer in my eyes.

“With God nothing shall be impossible,”[Luke 1:37] he said.

Elisabeth had miraculously conceived. According to Jehovah’s messenger, I would experience a similar conception. Similar, but not the same. The Spirit of God would father my child. My hand flew to my flat stomach. With fingers buried between the folds of my gray robe, I wondered how it would be possible. Had it already happened?

The man in glistening white garments waited. Did he expect me to have a return message? My throat constricted again. What could a poor girl say to the King of Glory?

Finally, I found my voice. It sounded stronger than I felt.

“Behold the handmaid of the Lord,” I said, bowing my head toward the angel, “be it unto me according to thy word.”[Luke 1:38]

When I looked up, the path before me was empty. The house was only a few steps away. My foot throbbed, waking me from my stupor. My smallest three toes had blackened ends. A puddle of thick white liquid slowly soaked into the ground.

Who can I tell about this? I can’t tell Joseph. He would never believe such a tale. Who would?

Enjoying the story so far? Grab your copy now. REFLECTIONS: A PONDERING HEART is available in paperback, eBook and audio.

A Preview of A Laboring Hand

November is halfway over. My Reflections series has been introduced, and I’m thankful for those of you who have purchased, read and reviewed the book. But it is only the first in a series, and I’m going to give you a peek inside the second book in the series today.

Today’s excerpt comes from A Laboring Hand, Reflections Book Two, which releases to the public in January 2020.

If you’re familiar with Mary and Martha of Bethany, you’ll recognize this scene. It’s based on Luke 10:38-42. I’m intentionally starting in the middle of the scene so you can’t see what leads up to Martha’s frustration.

I hope you glimpse the overwhelmed, responsible big sister whose trying to make sure her guests are content and satisfied. Not only is she serious about being the “hostess with the mostest,” Martha wants her siblings to help.

How often have you been frustrated with the lack of help from your family during a hosted event? Or maybe I’m the only person who can imagine this actually happening.

Excerpted from A Laboring Hand, chapter four:

Soon enough, the laughter and banter of a crowd of dusty men filled the room. I welcomed them with a small bowl of water and a clean linen cloth. Well, it was clean for the first man or two who dried their hands.

Yeshua reclined at the head of the table on the largest cushion which my parents had often shared. John bar Zebedee, one of the Boanerges, sat on it with the Master. He was only a couple years older than Mary and the youngest of all the Master’s followers.

The crowd of dirty disciples filled the room, folded onto other cushions. Some chose to lean against the wall on rugs Laz had pulled from his room and ours. The dirt floor could hardly be seen with so many men sprawled around the room.

Mary and I circulated with pitchers, filling every cup we owned and still two men shared each one of the battered pottery pieces. Once we finished, I began to distribute bowls of spiced beans and cloth-wrapped packages of bread, still warm from their place on the hearth. I turned to ask Mary to assist me, but she’d seated herself cross-legged at Yeshua’s feet, staring up as he started to teach.

I blinked hard. What on earth was she thinking? Was this her rebellion since I hadn’t let her get water for foot washing? She was certainly positioned in a way that she could wash his feet if she had the supplies.

I continued bustling around taking care of our guests, but my frustration grew. Yeshua’s authoritative voice, usually so soothing, fueled the ire inside me. He could make her help me. I glanced at Laz, but my brother was watching the Master and scribbling on a piece of parchment. Mary never once looked my way, even when I nudged her with my ankle as I passed to refill the cup John shared with Yeshua.

They had promised to help. When I’d first mentioned inviting the group to stay over for more than a day, both Laz and Mary agreed to help with the work. Now they sat there, enjoying Yeshua’s teaching while I served everyone.

With a careful eye, I glanced at every cup and bowl. Levi raised his cup in my direction, and I sidled through the sprawled bodies to fill it, nearly tripping on another man’s filthy feet.

The mud-caked toes never even flinched, and my bubble of anger swelled. I swallowed it, and turned to top off his cup. He stared through me, as if I were invisible, but I was used to that from working in the Pharisee’s home. In the past, Yeshua’s friends were more gracious.

Unrest stirred inside me as I shuffled around, refilling cups and then fetching more bread to replenish the diminishing stacks. After refilling my pitcher from the jar stored beneath the eaves, I counted the loaves in the linen clothes on the counter. Only three dozen were left. Soon, I would need to bake more.

And that’s when it became too much. I strode toward Yeshua holding the jug of watered wine aloft and jabbed my sister with a meaningful kick. She blinked, staring at me for a moment as if I’d woken her from a deep sleep.

As I filled the Lord’s cup, I said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone?”

A hush descended in the room. I heard the wine trickle against what was in his cup. Our eyes met.

“Bid her to help me.” Couldn’t he see how much work needed to be done? And Mary was just sitting there like a useless lump.

“Martha.” His voice was quieter than it had been, almost gentle.

At the sound of my name from his lips, the turmoil loosened inside me. Why had I waited so long to ask for his assistance? His dark eyes filled with understanding and concern. I knew he would help me because he cared about me.

“Martha, you’re anxious and worried about many things.”

The comfort oozing through me turned sharp and became a prickle of conviction. Worry was sin. My father had told me so.

“But one thing is needful.”

One thing? I wanted to jerk my hand around at the crowd of hungry men who needed food, drink, and places to sleep. There were many things that needed to be taken care of. I knew he could see that.

Yeshua sighed. His fingers rested on the handle of the pitcher beside mine. They were square and scuffed—working man’s hands.

“And Mary hath chosen that good part.” His voice rose slightly, but not with anger or impatience, and his hand dropped to his lap. “And that won’t be taken away from her.”

Everything warred within me as I struggled to comprehend his words. Mary was sitting there while our guests needed food and drink. How was that better than helping me meet their needs?

With one long glance, he turned to scan the room. “A certain man…”

I recognized the beginning of a parable. Usually I loved his stories—they always carried so much spiritual significance. Tonight, I couldn’t listen because the words he’d spoken to me stung my heart.

Mary hath chosen that good part.

I filled cups with lowered eyes. Tears burned at the back of my eyelids whenever I blinked, but I widened my eyes and jerked my shawl up to cover most of my face.

Mary sat at his feet doing nothing, but Yeshua said she’d chosen the good part. Mary hath chosen that good part. The words kept echoing all evening, drowning out the Master’s stories and the disciples’ questions.

Even now, as I’m writing about it, his gentle admonition stings somewhere deep in my soul. Was there something wrong with my desire to make the men comfortable? Did Yeshua not want a meal and refreshment while he was talking?

One thing is needful. What one thing?

Mary stirred on our shared bed. Her forehead wrinkled and then smoothed. As I’d helped her prepare for bed, I’d wanted to ask about the lessons, but I felt foolish. If I asked, she would know that I hadn’t paid attention while Yeshua taught.

Why did that make me feel guilty? Yeshua wasn’t angry with me. He even thanked me for the food and drink as I passed him to go to bed.

Yahweh help me understand what this means. What is the one needful thing for me to do? Sit and listen like my sister?

I sighed and my heart weighed more heavily in my chest. But if I do that, who will do the work?

**This is copyrighted material.

Are you ready to read MORE of Martha’s story? If you will commit to posting a review of the book on Amazon (and perhaps Goodreads and Book Bub), you can sign up for an advance copy. They will be going out to my Advance Review Team in December. Sign up here.

Thanksgiving is Coming! Time for Thirty Days of Gratitude

Gratitude is one of those non-negotiable items in my world. I love making the month of Thanksgiving a month-long celebration of gratitude.


You’ve seen my memes before.


This year, it will be a little different. I’ll be running the thirty memes on my Facebook Author page. Find it here.

I’ll be asking for your input, too.

What are you grateful for?

Remember when I ran a year-long campaign of gratitude? I had that hashtag. You know #365DaysofGratitude.


That was the year that Gratitude was my “guiding word.” I found the smallest things to be thankful about.


Sometimes the little things are really the big things.


As I type this, I sip cold, clean water out of an insulated tumbler.

There are millions of people in the world who don’t have cold water to drink. In fact, there are hundreds of millions who don’t have clean water to use for any purpose.

How often do I take those 60-80 ounces of water I drink daily for granted?


I hope you’ll celebrate Thanksgiving with me all month long. Grab the #30DaysofGratitude hashtag (not my invention) and use it on all your social media platforms.


I can hardly wait to be reminded of all the blessings I enjoy.

Which of the memes shared here resonated most with you?

The Wide Angle Lens on Helping

It didn’t surprise God that Adam needed a companion. The Creator of time glimpses each moment of it in the same instant. The thought boggles our minds, I know. So let’s move on to something we can comprehend.

Now the Lord God said, It is not good (sufficient, satisfactory) that the man should be alone: I will make him a helper meet (suitable, adapted, complementary) for him – Genesis 2:183

If God recognized this problem, we shouldn’t doubt it.

A Lesson from the Garden

Read Genesis 2:18-25.
Have you ever wondered why God didn’t make the woman right away? Verse 19 tells us God made the animals and birds. Look at verse 20. What was the true purpose behind God’s parade of livestock?

You’ve heard the saying: “dog is man’s best friend,” but that’s not a truth from scripture. After God made all the animals and Adam named them, there still wasn’t a suitable helper for him.

List the ways a wife helps her husband in our world.
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
I don’t know how things work in your household, but my husband and I share all the domestic chores. If I cook dinner (which is usually a minimum of five nights per week), he does the dishes and cleans up the kitchen. When our kids lived with us, they shared this responsibility. On weekends, he cooks breakfast and sometimes I clean the kitchen up afterward. What can I say? Dishes aren’t my thing.

I keep the house clean. We both do the laundry. He takes care of mowing the lawn and weeding the flowerbeds. (Praise the Lord! I detest yard work. And remember my black thumb?)

We help each other take care of our home. It’s a team effort.
That’s exactly what God created in the garden.

Read Genesis 1:28-30. What responsibility to God give to Adam and Eve?

How does that look in the 21st Century?

Obviously, the Earth is “replenished.” However, reproduction guarantees that humans will continue to be able to share the Gospel and shine the light of Christ in our dark world.

Lessons from Godly Women

You can’t read a woman’s study book without turning to Proverbs 31, right? King Lemuel’s mother described the perfect wife. This Virtuous Woman shows us more than we want to see. (It does me, anyway. Does this woman ever sit down and take a break?)

Read Proverbs 31:20-25. How does this woman help others? Who does she help?
v. 20
v. 21-22
v. 23
v. 24
What is the result of her helpfulness (v. 25)?

Copy Proverbs 31:31.

How does that verse motivate you to be more helpful?

Read Acts 9:36-39.
Who is the godly woman named in this passage?

How is she described (v. 36)?

What did she do to help others?

What did Peter do (v. 40-41)?

Why do you think he did this? Is this what the two men who brought him to Joppa expected?

I believe Tabitha’s death left a hole in the church and community of Joppa. Her helping heart ministered to many people and displayed the love of God for all to see. Even though I can’t sew a lick (and don’t want to learn), I admire this saint. Will I ever be described as “full of good works” like she was? I don’t know, but I believe helping others should be every Christian’s priority.

Lessons from Jesus

Consider the life of Christ. He was always helping others, putting their needs before his own.
List some ways Jesus helped people during his earthly ministry?
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
Read Matthew 25:31-46.
When will this separation of sheep and goats take place?

It’s important to note that the sheep didn’t inherit the kingdom because of the works listed in verses 35 and 36. Just as James 2:17, 18 & 26 confirm, authentic faith in Christ produces works.
The children of the kingdom, sheep, were characterized by many good works. What sort of actions does Jesus say they do?

What is the key to this kindness in Christ’s eyes (v. 40)?

Jesus came to minister to others and give his life. We should pattern ourselves after Him, which means helping others on a daily basis.

This Bible lesson was first published in FINDING FOCUS THROUGH THE LENS OF GOD’S WORD in 2016, copyright belongs to Sharon Hughson

What is Mentoring?

This month, I turned my blog into more of a teaching platform. We all know what teachers do, but what is thing called mentoring?

A mentor is someone who advises or trains someone (especially a younger colleague) says the dictionary.

I’m not a huge fan of this definition because that makes it sound like mentors are only for the work place. What about the home place? Or the church place? Shouldn’t there be mentors there as well?

I believe there should be. And I think the Bible supports that idea.

Mentorship on Wiki

According to Wikipedia:

Mentorship is a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. The mentor may be older or younger than the person being mentored, but he or she must have a certain area of expertise.

If this is true, then any setting is appropriate for a mentorship relationship.

As a young mother who didn’t do the “babysitting” thing as a teenager, I relied heavily on my sister as my mentor. It helped that she was a wonderful mother and loved babies (even if they cried and puked all the time). Since she had a baby that was seven months older than mine, she was current with all the “shoulds” and “should nots” pediatricians were spouting.

Remember, this was long before I could Google anything, and there wasn’t a library of YouTube videos to show me how to get my kid to sleep longer than four hours at night.

Mentorship at the Bookstore

Take a minute and go to Amazon or your favorite online book retailer. Type “mentoring” into the search bar. When I did it at Amazon, there were twenty pages of results.

Titles like THE ELEMENTS OF MENTORING, MODERN MENTORING, and MENTOR 101 popped off the page. There were guides and programs and they were available in print, hardback, audio and ebook formats.

I think this mentoring is a “thing” in our society. And it should be something we consider as we’re living our lives.

Mentorship for Writers

As a hybrid author, I’ve relied on a number of published authors to guide me in my writing journey. Most of this came in the form of books on writing, but I’ve also attended classes (online and at conferences) where I could ask the teacher pointed questions.

Writers need feedback. This is something that frustrated me early in my career because it seemed impossible to get it (without paying through the nose and then not necessarily getting helpful input).

That’s why I have a page with links to my own blogs on this journey. And why I share all the great resources I’ve found on the Internet on that page.

It’s also why I’m active in groups on Facebook. I’ve always got my eyes open for someone I can help. And I’m still looking for people further along the journey who might be able to offer insights I need, too.

Mentorship for Anything

That’s the bottom line. We all need to be mentored. And we all have skills and knowledge that would benefit someone looking for a guide.

But I’m shy. I have stepped out of my box a couple times and offered to be a mentor, and I’ve been shot down. One hundred percent of the time, the person I reached out to didn’t want help.

Does that mean the older person is supposed to wait to be asked? Is it presumptuous to “offer” to mentor someone?

I mean, I’m not perfect. I don’t know everything. But I’ve learned a few things in my half-century of life (most of them the hard way), and I’d like to think that would be valuable to someone younger.

Is mentorship only for the workplace? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

And if you’re interested in going deeper, I’ll be tackling the subject in depth on September 7, 2019 in my Facebook Group.

FINDING FOCUS: Mentoring

Mentoring is God’s plan for passing along Christianity and the example of Jesus Christ himself.

This month, the blog will take a closer look at this important calling. As in the study book (no longer available for purchase), the study starts with a Portrait.

Mentoring is becoming a lost art. As you’ll see in the Bible study segment, we should be more serious about this focal point of Christianity.

What follows is my attempt to paint a portrait of one of the best examples of mentoring given in scripture. Because the details of the arrangement aren’t spelled out in scripture, plenty of license was taken in the fictionalizing of the account.

Air stagnates in the women’s section at the rear of the Ephesian synagogue. I open my mouth to join the recitation and nearly gag when the body odor of an elderly woman in front of me wafts my way. Lord, help me!
Yes, that is a prayer. I find myself uttering three- and four-word petitions all day long. And the gracious Lord I serve hears and answers.
In this moment, I don’t heave the contents of my stomach onto the women around me. Nor does a retching sound emerge in place of the scripture. God has answered again.
My tongue forms the ancient words from Deuteronomy. Feminine voices embrace me on every side, joining and blending with the deeper tones from our fathers, husbands, brothers and sons.
I tilt my head to the side, searching for my husband Aquila. My father is dead, my brother remains in Rome, uninterested in the Way, and the Lord has never blessed me with sons, only two daughters, both married.
Aquila is more than enough. We serve Jesus Christ together, just as we make tents together.
A male voice begins the first song of degrees. Other voices join in. I twitter out the high part my mother taught me so many decades past. The soprano notes complement the lower voices of both women and men.
A woman behind me joins on the high harmony. My heart leaps as I’m transported back to childhood, learning the part with my younger sister.
I turn my thoughts toward the Lord, voicing each word from my lips to his ears.
“The Lord is thy keeper,” we sing (Ps. 121:5). Praise Him for keeping us safe when Caesar evicted us from Rome.
“The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil” (Ps. 121:7). Yes, Lord, you have preserved Aquila and me too many times to recount.
“I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord” (Ps. 122:1).
Tears clog my throat. King David, author of this psalm, wrote of the tabernacle, but I have never seen the temple in Jerusalem. I squeeze my eyes closed to ease the burning.
When the singing ends, several men pray aloud. Their voices make a tuneful backdrop to my own thanksgiving and supplication.
The rabbi reads from Isaiah. It is one of the three books outside of the Torah that this synagogue has available, along with sacred scrolls.
A stranger, dark skin naming his origin from parts to the south, perhaps even Egypt, stands and speaks. The tone of his voice is cultured, smooth like cream. His words are fine. He expounds on the passage from Isaiah’s prophecy before speaking of other prophecies.
I nearly topple over when the man mentions the teaching of John the Baptist. I straighten against the hard seat, nothing more than a plank of wood set atop cinder blocks.
He speaks of the Messiah. My heart thrums in my throat until his honeyed words are nearly drowned by the pounding. Does this man know of the Way?
Many members of the synagogue are believers, but others claim Jesus of Nazareth was not their Messiah. The topic is dangerous to discuss in this Jewish place of worship.
I couldn’t discern whether the young man knows the Way. His focus seems to be validating John as the forerunner, the prophet to make straight the path before Messiah.
A chorus of murmurs from the men interrupts his fine speech, keeps me from hearing what more he says.
Several other men stand to read or recite scripture. No one else expounds on the passages. After another hymn and prayer, the rabbi dismisses the gathering with the traditional Shalom blessing.
Outside the domed building, I breathe deeply, watching the men file out. Aquila comes, head bent close to Benjamin, one of the members of our house church. Aquila’s leanness makes him appear taller than the stout cobbler. They exchange nods before Aquila extends his hand to me.
I take it, amazed that it can be cool and warm all at once. I press my back against the wall of the synagogue, raise on my toes to speak directly into my husband’s ear.
The crowd leaving the worship service is quiet, but the street around us teems with commerce. It is Ephesus. The trading never ceases.
“Who was that man? The one who spoke of John?”
“Apollos, an Alexandrite Jew.”
“Does he follow the Way?”
Aquila shakes his head, a slight move. I stare into his rich, brown eyes and see the motion wasn’t a denial. He thinks the younger man might be a believer, but it is dangerous to assume this. Apollos hadn’t spoken openly of Jesus, like Paul the Apostle had done when he visited here a few months past.
“We should invite him to break bread with us.”
Aquila nods. He scans the trickle of worshipers still emerging from the synagogue. A royal blue cloak swirls at the doorway, and the dark-skinned man emerges. Behind him, the rabbi shakes his head vociferously. My stomach clenches at the sight of the synagogue leader’s stern visage.
My husband shuffles toward the two men, waiting a respectful distance apart. The rabbi looks at him expectantly, but Aquila nods toward the stranger. Apollos stands half a head taller than my husband. Their lips move, but the bustle of the city and my distance from them makes hearing the conversation impossible.
Soon, Aquila is nodding. Both of them step toward where I’m waiting, hands folded over my queasy stomach. Lord, don’t let this be a mistake.
Trivial conversation follows us through the crowded market and into the quieter trade district. I fall behind the men, trying to listen to snatches of their conversations.
Lord, protect us if this man is not sent from you. Grant us wisdom to teach him Your Perfect Way. Move in his heart. Touch our tongues and lips. You promised your Spirit’s aide.
I could not hear much from the men, but I know the Lord hears every syllable of my fervent prayers.
A faint odor of tanning hides greets us when Aquila swings open the door to our home. It is nearly impossible to keep the stench away when our trade requires us to handle cured hides and skins every day.
The men sit on the couches in the center court of our small shop. My feet glide soundlessly across the mosaic and into the storage room. I fetch a skin of new wine and three cups. I place some bread and olive spread onto a large platter beside the cups, and carry all of it to the men.
I pour wine for both men, meeting Aquila’s eyes when I hand him his drink, ducking my head when I pass a cup to our guest.
Aquila swallows before asking, “What do you know of John’s baptism?”
Apollos sips his beverage, reclines on the pillow-covered arm of his couch. “His immersion of believers in water prepared men and women to become part of something greater.”
They discuss this subject. I swallow a mouthful of drink, but the knot in my stomach won’t allow more than that. I continue to pray until I feel a nudge from the Spirit.
“What of Christ?” I say.
Both men turn to stare at me. My husband’s eyes widen. Apollos holds my gaze, sipping from his cup before setting it on his thigh.
“Has Messiah come?” The dark man’s eyebrows press together, creasing his wide forehead.
I keep my eyes pinned on our guest, but I still see the slight shake of Aquila’s head. The witness of Christ within me prods me to ignore the wordless warning from my spouse.
“Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ. He called an assembly from the body of those baptized by John. We were baptized by Paul the Apostle in Corinth a few years past.”
“I heard rumors about this Jesus. Why do you say he was the Christ?”
Aquila and I take turns quoting prophecies of old which Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled. Prophecies everyone agrees spoke of the coming Messiah.
Aquila asks questions and nods at our explanations. His attendance on my words sends a flush to my cheeks. This man is a powerful orator. If he follows the Way, many people will turn from the path leading to eternal destruction.
Light fades. I bring a lamp from an inner room and light the wicks floating in pots encircling the terrace. A sense of peace envelopes me, a blanket of assurance as real as the curtain of darkness falling around us.
Today I have discovered another way Aquila and I can serve the Lord together. A young man will be saved from destruction. In turn, his persuasive speaking will convert many more to the Way.
Thank you, Lord.

You can still join the LIVE study in my Facebook Group by clicking here. That’s where you can download a FREE copy of the book and interact with others who are interesting in finding their God-given focus for life.

***This excerpt was first published in 2016 in the first edition of FINDING FOCUS THROUGH THE LENS OF GOD’S WORD, copyright belongs to Sharon Hughson

A Glimpse Inside What I’m Writing Now

The cover for the second book in the REFLECTIONS series will be unveiled soon.

A Laboring Hand is the story of Jesus told by Martha of Bethany. And it’s a story that’s had a profound effect on the author writing it.

I’ve always teased my sister about being bossy, but Martha has taken flak from preachers for a couple thousand years about her tendency to be bossy. We’re familiar with this scripture from Luke 10, right?

38 Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.
39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.
40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.
41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:
42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

But what did it look like in Martha’s life?

Here’s a glimpse from A LABORING HAND, chapter four.

I washed my hands and began to chop the handfuls of pungent herbs I would add to the beans. The pestle in my hand smashed the beans with rhythmic efficiency. Mary pressed together more flour, salt and olive oil, intent on baking more bread.

“The stone was hot.” The words had barely left my mouth when Lazarus limped in followed by a boy carrying a jug on his head.

“Leave it in the shade outside,” I waved a hand to the boy. “We’ll draw out into my pitchers half-filled with water. That will make it last.”

Laz nodded to the boy, gesturing to a place further along the house, away from the cooking fire and the chimney. I heard the jingle of coins.

“It’s already watered.”

“What proportion?” My brain estimated the amount of drink a dozen thirsty men would need.

“Fifty percent.” Lazarus slouched against the wall. Weariness etched his features, but I knew he wouldn’t rest. He was more eager for the visitors than any of us.

“We can safely add another twenty percent. Will you see to it?”

“I’ll need to draw more water.” Mary’s hands hesitated over the dough. “They’ll need what I drew for washing.”

“They aren’t zealots.” I returned to my chopping. “They won’t care about washing before they eat. Could you reach me the bowl of olives?” I gestured to the line of pottery on the wall overhead.

Mary shoved Abba’s weaving stool into place and stepped up to grasp the bowl. “I intend to wash their feet.”

I froze. Why would she insist on doing that? It was a servant’s job, and since we didn’t have servants, none of our guests ever expected this service.

“They’ll just get dirty again when he leaves on Sunday.”

“But they’ll be clean for Sabbath.”

Like that really mattered in a small synagogue like ours.

“There isn’t enough water.” That would solve it.

“I’ll draw more.”

“The bread needs baking. And the floor should be swept and the cushions beaten. Plus, we’ll need to get out all the extra rugs.”

Lazarus sighed and pushed away from the wall. “I’ll get started on the cushions.”

I shook my head. With only one arm, it took him much longer to clean them. “I’ll do it. Draw out the wine.”

Laz blinked at me, sharing a look with Mary. It was an apologetic look. He’d tried to aid her plan, but the bossy big sister nixed it. Something gnawed at my heart, but I ignored it. There was work to be done.

Soon enough, the laughter and banter of a crowd of dusty men filled the room. I welcomed them with a small bowl of water and a clean linen cloth. Well, it was clean for the first man or two.

Yeshua reclined at the head of the table on the largest cushion. My parents had often shared it. John bar Zebedee, one of the Boanerges, sat on it with the master while the others filed onto other cushions, some choosing to lean against the wall on the rugs Lazarus had pulled from his room and ours. The dirt floor could hardly be seen once all of them sprawled around the room.

Mary and I circulated with pitchers of wine. Once we finished, I began to distribute the bowls of spiced beans and packets of bread, still warm from their place on the hearth. I turned to ask Mary to assist me, but she’d folded herself cross-legged at Yeshua’s feet, staring up as he started to talk.

I blinked hard. What on earth was she thinking? Was this her rebellion since I hadn’t let her get water for foot washing? She was certainly positioned in a way she could wash his feet if she had the supplies.

I continued to serve. His authoritative voice, usually so soothing, fueled the ire inside me. He could make her help me. I glanced at Laz, but my brother was watching the master and scribbling on a piece of parchment. Mary never once looked my way, even when I nudged her with my ankle as I passed to refill John’s cup.

With a careful eye, I glanced at every cup and bowl. They would need continual watching. Matthew raised his cup in my direction, and I sidled through the sprawled bodies to fill it, nearly tripping on another man’s filthy feet.

They weren’t drawn out of the way, so I turned and topped off his cup. He stared through me, as if I were invisible. I was used to that from working in the Pharisee’s home, but usually Yeshua’s friends were more gracious.

The unrest stirred inside me as I shuffled around, refilling cups and then fetching more bread to replenish the diminishing stacks. Soon, I would need to bake some more.

And that’s when it was too much. I strode toward Yeshua with my pitcher and jabbed my sister with a meaningful kick. She blinked.

As I filled his cup, I said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone?”

A hush descended in the room. I heard the wine trickle against what was in his cup. Our eyes met.

“Bid her to help me.” Couldn’t he see how much work I was doing? Why should she just be sitting there?

“Martha.” His voice was quieter than it had been, almost gentle.

At the sound of my name from his lips, the turmoil loosened inside me. Why had I waited so long to ask for his assistance? His dark eyes filled with understanding and concern. He would help me because he cared about me.
“Martha, you’re anxious and worried about many things.”

The comfort turned to a prickle of conviction. Worry was sin. My father had told me so.

“But one thing is needful.”

One thing? I wanted to jerk my hand around at the crowd of hungry men who needed food, drink and places to sleep. There were many things that needed to be taken care of. I knew he could see that.

Yeshua sighed. His fingers rested on the handle of the pitcher beside mine. They were square and scuffed. Working man’s hands.

“And Mary hath chosen that good part.” His voice rose slightly, but not with anger or impatience, and his hand dropped to his cup. “And that won’t be taken away from her.”

Everything warred within me as I struggled to comprehend his words. Mary was sitting there while our guests needed things. How was that better than helping me meet their needs?

“A certain man,” his gaze scanned the rest of the room.

I recognized the beginning of a parable. Usually I loved his stories, they always carried so much spiritual significance. I couldn’t listen though because his words stung my heart.

I filled cups, my eyes lowered. Tears burned at the back of my eyelids whenever I blinked, but I widened my eyes, pulling my shawl which had dropped to my shoulders, up to cover most of my face.

Mary sat at his feet doing nothing, but Yeshua said she’d chosen the good part. The words kept echoing all evening.

Even now, as I’m writing all this, they sting me somewhere deep in my soul. Was there something wrong with my desire to make the men comfortable? Did Yeshua not want a meal and refreshment while he was talking?

What do you think? How had you imagined Martha in this moment that gets so much negative attention? Should women be more like Mary?

If you’re excited to learn more about the REFLECTIONS series, make sure you’re a member of my newsletter. I’ll be running special (including FREE audiobooks of A PONDERING HEART) to my subscribers FIRST!
Sign up here

Happy Independence Day: A Look at Freedom

July 4,1776, a crowd of rebellious patriots rally around a document written by Thomas Jefferson and sent to a king thousands of miles across the sea. This king taxed the “colonists” but in return they received nothing from him.

Today, I’ll celebrate our independence with a collection of links to posts with the title “Why Freedom Isn’t Free.”

I don’t endorse any of the products these posts might be selling. I am not saying I agree with all of the content. But, in the spirit of “free speech” I am sharing diverse opinions about this subject.


We’ll start with an old post of mine. I wrote it when the hubs and I walked the “Freedom Trail” in Boston.

Next up is a post from a life coach. He translates freedom in your personal life to freedom in your career and finances. Read it here


I especially agreed with the first line of this next post: “Years ago back in my days at the academy and in the military, I used to hear the phrase ‘freedom isn’t free’ over and over again. Not because I heard it in my military days, but because I think it’s a phrase that’s going out of style.

Read the rest of this post here

This final post has a religious bent with a text from Genesis chapter two. I’m including it because, I believe, that’s when this struggle for freedom truly began for mankind.
Read it here.

As always, I’m happy to hear your thoughts on freedom, but please don’t quote the other articles as if I stated them or agreed with them. I am only sharing them to offer some diversity.

Don’t you get tired of hearing only MY opinion on this blog?

Do you agree that “freedom isn’t free”? What price have you paid for freedom?

The END GAME for Marvel’s AVENGERS

You don’t even have to follow this blog to know I love superheroes and superhero movies. If you subscribe to my newsletter, you figured it out right away.

I mean, the thing is called HERO DELIVERY.

My memes for it feature my favorite super: Wonder Woman.

My TWO favorite supers: Wonder Woman and Captain America

And much of this love started because I have boys and they adored the X-Men movies. Just when I thought I might have to become a mutant to get special powers, along came Marvel with a whole universe of heroes for me and my family to fall in love with.

And I didn’t really love Iron Man. I mean, Downey Jr. is a great actor, and I totally loved his sarcastic wit. But he was all about being a rich playboy off the back of weapons that killed thousands. Until he was kidnapped and compromised and found out that he could become the weapon.

Oh, right, but he would fight for good. When all he really wanted was redemption from his past mistakes.

Yes, seeking redemption is utterly human and it drives plenty of stories, but it doesn’t make the best hero. Not in my mind anyway.

And while CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER might not have been the best film ever, Captain America won my heart. You can read about why in this old post. And see why I picked him in the CIVIL WAR film.

Because those CAPS totally keep their identity secret

Give Me a Team Any Day

But I’ve already said my favorite superhero is Wonder Woman and she’s from DC’s comic universe. They’ve tried to capture the audience that Marvel has sold by the blockbuster, but they don’t have the same writers, I guess. Or they try to make it all about Superman. Or their superheroes don’t really have abilities.

From JUSTICE LEAGUE:

Barry: What’s your super power again?

Bruce: I’m rich. (Yep. And he’s trying for redemption.)

So when Marvel gave me the AVENGERS, I was over the moon. I thought Thor was hunky (and has an accent to boot) but I admired Captain Steve Rogers. Sure, he woke up 70 years after going on a mission to save the world from Hydra and the Nazis, but he was still the same guy.

Sorry, Tony Stark, he’s “more” than just the serum your dad created. They would never have injected him with it if he hadn’t met their “hero” personality requirements. And he would fight to the death for the underdog then, too, but now that he’s a “super soldier” he can actually win.

I like that no one player can win on their own. That they need to push aside their egos and personalities and learn how to fit together.

That’s probably my basketball and softball playing/watching/love shining through.

How About Some Team Players

And just like when I play softball or volleyball or some other team sport, I want to be on a team that plays like a team. If all you have are a bunch of hot shot star players, you could find yourself losing.

That’s what the first AVENGERS movie was all about. These super powerful people had to learn to “play nice” and respect each other.

Sure, Marvel had a bigger picture. They gave most of the main players their own movies to keep building the story line. Did everyone have their favorites? I know I did.

And I loved that it wasn’t a closed team.

We love Spidey! And he makes the team…eventually

But the struggle for who would be the boss always played in the background. I mean, was it Tony’s team because he financed it? Or was it Cap’s team because he led it?

And in each movie, you saw the relationships between the team members grow, deepen and change.

Like in real life. Not everyone on a team is best friends, but they know their jobs and the do them. Yes, I loved the snark (from Tony Stark) and the way the members without superpowers were considered as valuable as those with them. (Whereas in JUSTICE LEAGUE, they were doomed without Superman.)

And at first I didn’t like INFINITY WAR because they lost. But then I realized that even the greatest teams have to lose. Why? Because there are lessons you can learn from losing that you’ll never know if you always win, win, win.

Read my review of that movie – you know Thanos’ story? – here.

END GAME was filled with epic battle scenes and an ending that made you gasp.

And I’m SO glad that the AVENGERS didn’t have Captain Marvel until the end. As much as I love her character, I’m glad she’s busy saving the universe elsewhere. Because she’s not as much of a team player as the others. Maybe that’s because her “team” ditched her and betrayed her. Or maybe because she’s so powerful she doesn’t need a team (and don’t we all LOVE playing on a team with a person like that?)

Go team! I was so glad to see them working together, all of them, in that final battle.

Watch the Movie

I planned to write a review of the movie. That’s what I sat down to do. I’ve watched it two times in the theater, and I have some definite opinions about it.

But when I sat down to write that’s not what came out.

If you’ve been watching the Marvel movies, you’ve probably already seen END GAME by now.

If you haven’t watched many of the other movies and wonder if that matters for this, I say yes. This movie gives head nods to almost every other movie in the series. If you haven’t watched them, you’ll miss much of the entertainment.

If you haven’t watched END GAME, dial back your expectations. Not because this movie won’t meet them–it will. But it probably won’t deliver exactly what you’re hoping for.

This guy will have HIS own series on the new Disney streaming channel

After all, Marvel is planning to continue the universe. But when the major stars are “done” being cast in the roles of America’s favorite heroes, what can a movie studio do? Sure, they can try to find other actors, but that won’t appease the fans who’ve been following this cast.

So, they do what TV series do when a contract isn’t renewed. They write the main characters “out” of the series.

Just for laughs because, “Hey, Chris!”

That doesn’t mean they killed them off, but it does mean they “ended” their part in the Marvel Universe–as far as this new, Thanos-free timeline is concerned anyway.

What’s your take on AVENGERS END GAME?

Another Year is Ending

It seems like only a month or two ago and I was working out the word of the year for 2018. Now it’s time to introduce the word for 2019.

Where has the time gone?

And so much has happened for me this year. It’s crazy! And unbelievable.

But choosing Metamorphosis for my theme word last year turned out to be more accurate than I’d planned.

Remember how I was going to change my brand and my focus.

It all started with hiring a designer to help all my posts have a certain look.


I joined Novel Academy, mostly for the weekly live classes.

Then I went to the Deep Thinker’s Writing Retreat. And while I was there, I messed up the story I was working on. Because the SEQ’s for the characters revealed more story background than I could reveal in a 30,000-word novella.

I released my second book to Kindle Worlds in March. Then Kindle Worlds announced they would be closing in July. What? I had planned three more novellas to release in that world for the year.

So much for those plans.

Thankfully, the owner of the First Street Church Kindle World decided to open her own publishing company. I was SO thrilled about this.

I wrote the story for the July 3 release that wasn’t going to happen now that Amazon had closed Kindle Worlds. I submitted the manuscript to the new press, and it come out at the same time my first two novellas re-released.


August was a busy month for me. Those three novellas came out, and a short story I’d written for a summer romance anthology with my first publisher, Roane Publshing, also released.

I ran a contest and found a few new subscribers for my newsletter. I also tried a different method of finding an Advance Review Team, and of the twenty-two books I gave away, nine people reviewed ONE SULTRY DAY.

My sister and I visited our brother in New York City over Labor Day weekend. When I got home, I was hard at work at the contracted novella for Sweet Promise Press (to release April 2019).

At the end of the month, my husband and I attended a marriage seminar in Florida. It was hot and wonderful.

While I was there, my publisher, Roane Publishing, notified us that they were closing their doors after seven years.

This ripped my heart out.

Half of my published works disappeared the next week.

This was NOT the metamorphosis of my brand I had in mind last December when I was coming up with that word.

Strangely, my remaining works were all Christian. It was like someone else DID have a big plan.


While I was working on the romantic comedy and outlining two novellas to write for National Novel Writing Month, an idea for a Bible study book gelled. I outlined that, too, and wrote some of it while on vacation with my husband.

After the big closing announcement (two in one year? Really, God?), it was difficult to focus on anything. But I did. And I determined that 2019 will be a building year for me.

I’m going to build my newsletter list. I’m going to build my new brand as a Christian writer. And one of the ways I’m going to do it is by expanding the REFLECTIONS FROM A PONDERING HEART into a series. (More on that later.)

I struggled to write 50,000 words in 30 days for National Novel Writing Month. But I did finally manage it.

Then it was December. I had to rewrite the romantic comedy, beef up my character motivations and figure out how to make it funnier without losing the serious essence that is my trademark.

I spent a week in Hawaii. So this post was written early.

Based on the clues I’ve given, what do you think my word will be for 2019?

Do you pick a theme verse or a theme word each year? If so, what will yours be?