Category: Women’s Issues

We’re Finally Seeing 2020

Happy New Year, friends.

I like the idea of seeing things with 20/20 vision in 2020. If God hadn’t announced my word for this year so clearly in November, I would have probably run with the idea of perfect vision or clarity or something like that.

But God said, “You need to rest, daughter.”

And sometimes I do what He tells me.

But those of you who know me know the idea of taking a break, time off, extended down time and all that is synonymous with rest is NOT part of my mindset.

Well, it hasn’t been. And that might be the reason why this year, God has called me to rest.

What This Means

No, this doesn’t mean I’ll be sleeping in every day or working only two days per week (although that sounds fabulous). It doesn’t mean I’m taking a vacation from all things work-related for 366 days.

It does mean that I’ll be away from my keyboard, office and social media accounts at least 48 hours every week until further notice.

I need to unplug. I need to stop thinking about what’s happening with my author page, my fan group or my book rankings.

In November and December, I completed a 40-Day challenge. Since then, I’ve been more focused on my spiritual health. And I’ve realized that one of the reasons I’m suffering from burnout is because I didn’t tune into the voice inside me that cried for more time in prayer, meditation and scripture reading.

Instead, I fed into the part of me that wanted success. The part of me that thought indie publishing a series of biblical fictionalizations was a grand idea. You can read how that turned out here and here. And since the second and third books are coming soon, you might learn more about it in future posts.

I’m going to be listening more to my body. When it says I need to “Move away from the computer” and “Stop working on that today,” I plan to do those things.

I hope it means I’ll be enjoying more reading and crocheting. I hope I’ll finally finish that big scrapbooking projects of my family’s vacations I started a few years ago. BUT…if those things start creating stress for me, I’ll dump them too.

What This Doesn’t Mean

I’ll be at my desk. I’ll be writing. Having a year of Rest doesn’t mean I won’t get any work done. In fact, I hope it means I’ll get more work done. Meaningful work. Creative work.

And even though I’ll still be up at 5:30 on weekday mornings doing my workouts, I’ll have a different motivation. I won’t be doing it to lose weight or get slim or be better. I’ll be doing it because it makes me feel great. Those lovely endorphins that get released during exercise are better than any prescription happy pill I’ve taken.

This month, I’ll be revising the next book in the First Street Church open world. It needs quite a bit of love, but I plan to have it to beta readers by mid-month. I’ll also be submitting a proposal to Sweet Promise Press for a solo series. You’ll be the first to know if it gets contracted.

I’ll be writing. I have one book that is slated to release on September 18. Once I finish writing it, I don’t know what’s next. That’s part of my “rest.” I’m trusting God to show me what to write when the time is right.

Until then, I’ll finish the projects I’ve started.

I know I talked about taking a break from writing in earlier posts. I hope that’s not the case. But I won’t be forcing words onto the page.

That means things around this blog will be scarce. Or they won’t. If I’m inspired to write, I’ll do it.

What does “rest” mean to you? Do you have a word of the year? 

My 40-Day Challenge

Am I the only one to notice this trend of challenges? Whether it’s a 21-day no sugar challenge or a 30-day clean eating challenge or my own 30 days focusing on gratitude challenge, it seems like challenges are everywhere. I recently finished a 40-day challenge.

I purposely left what type of challenge it was out of the title. I wanted to draw readers in before they said, “Whatever.”

It’s based around the book DRAW THE CIRCLE by Mark Batterson, and I was skeptical about it at first.

After all, forty days seemed to echo Lent to me. And I’m neither Catholic nor Protestant, so I’m always leery of investing in “programs” designed by these mega groups.

But it was a prayer challenge, so I suppose those large religious groups might have a bit of expertise in that area. Or they should.

Why This Challenge?

I kept a prayer journal for several years, but about two years ago, I went through something difficult. It seemed like every prayer got a big negative answer from the Lord.

It discouraged me. I didn’t feel like praying to a God who wouldn’t honor my “promise prayers.” Yes, I was praying prmosies and verses and asking the Lord to perform them in my situation.

But He didn’t. Because He wanted me to move out of that situation (but we like our comfort zones, don’t we?) and that was the only way it would happen.

I’d been becoming more spiritually restless, too. When my passion for writing – my gifted calling from God – disappeared, I decided I needed Him more than ever. And I was the one who had moved away. I had stopped praying faithfully.

So when I saw this title, I decided it was time. To go along with my gratitude focus of thirty days in November, I would do this prayer challenge for forty days. I already know it will continue long after I finish the “guide” that goes along with it.

I’m not giving up on those circles I’ve drawn. I’m going to circle those requests in prayer until the Lord answers.

Why Now?

This answer is two-fold:

  • I need it now and
  • Finishing the year with something new is a good way to find my word for the next year

I love November. I love coming up with reasons to be grateful every day. The more obscure or unlikely these things are, the happier they make me.

And I was drowning in disillusionment. I’m Peter whose walk on water was interrupted with sudden sinking.

“Save me, Lord!”

And prayer is the only way I could call out to Him. He gladly grasped my flailing hand. Although I haven’t seen other answers to my specific requests, I’ve changed.

Prayer changes the person who prays. That’s the biggest and best reason to take up a prayer challenge. It doesn’t have to be this long. Even a seven-day challenge could return you to the center of God’s will.

What I Learned?

On the fifth day, I made a crazy specific request and “circled it” in prayer for the next three days. It had an expiration date: November 8. The answer to my prayer was a resounding, “NO!” Caps and exclamation point intentional.

The next day, I wondered what I was even doing. I wrote out the answer beside the circle with the original request, and I was pretty mopey.

About twelve days into this thing, I thought, “I can’t come up with forty different prayer requests. They’re already starting to sound the same?”

Which drove me to this request, “Turn my focus to others.” It shames me a bit to admit this. I’m supposed to be interceding for others regularly. Many of those first days’ requests were for family members.

By twenty two days in, I realize God was stretching my faith. Different characters and verses were echoed everywhere I went, and because I was listening, I heard them.

Now that the challenge is over, I’m back on track. I’m continuing with the circles I drew in the journal and adding new ones daily as I’m burdened. I’m out of my box, checking in with people to see if God has answered my prayers for them.

And I’m writing again. But I’m still in need of rest. And what I learned the most during this challenge is to LISTEN as much as a pray. God has something to tell me, and it begins by a narrowed view of my future. He’s shown me my “next step” for writing. After that? I don’t know.

I’ll try to keep you posted right here on this blog.

What sort of challenges have you seen? Have you participated in any of them? Do you think they’re good or just another type of “New Year’s resolution” that’s sure to be broken?

Third Glimpse behind the Curtain

Tomorrow is my birthday. Let’s celebrate by ME giving YOU another free peek inside my latest book. A Pondering Heart is the first in a series of biblical fiction that stretched both my faith and my writing ability.

But you don’t care about that. You’ve read chapter one and chapter two, and now you’re ready to keep reading. Today, you’ll meet Joseph of Nazareth. What man would believe the tale he’s about to hear from his “wife”?

If you enjoy these samples, please comment. I’d like to offer the same for the next two books, but not if they aren’t worth reading.

Here’s chapter three of Reflections Book One:

What a welcome home! I bolted outside and heaved into the waste bucket until I thought my stomach might rend in half. I vomited until all that came out was a thick green slime. It burned my throat as it erupted from my mouth.

It was beginning. I pressed my sleeping shift against my stomach. Elisabeth warned me to expect as much as a month of nausea, usually just in the mornings. She kept flat bread beside her sleeping couch, claiming it helped to have something in the stomach before trying to stand up in the mornings.

I didn’t know if I would be able to convince Anna to let me leave food beside my bed. Even if she allowed it, my brothers might eat it before I did. Those three were always hungry.

I clutched my stomach and returned inside. Tonight, Father and I would meet with Joseph. He had built a new house in town beside his shop. Father told me Joseph had been traveling for much of the time I was visiting my cousins. Did he wonder why I left so suddenly without a word to anyone?

Father told me nothing of his plan to approach the subject of my sudden pregnancy. Neither of us expected Joseph to uphold his end of the espousal agreement, not that we spoke our doubts aloud. An honorable man like Joseph bar Jacob would find infidelity an unacceptable breach of contract. How could I defend my virtue when my body told a different story?

Darkness fell early. Father and I walked to the village and down a small street far from the town’s center to a sturdy brick building. Joseph’s house (would it ever be mine?), a simple two room box, had sturdy wooden furnishings. Two pillows were nestled together near the hearth. Father lowered himself onto one of them. I stared toward the ground and nearly missed Joseph’s gesture for me to sit on the other pillow.

Father shook his head.

“Thank you,” I said, raising my eyes as far as Joseph’s beard, “I will share with Abba.”

Joseph nodded. “Would you care for wine, Father Heli?”

“Not at the moment.”

I squatted beside Father on the edge of the pillow, my back resting against his side. Joseph folded his legs beneath him and nodded to Father respectfully.

In the light of the candles flickering on the nearby table, I studied this man, my betrothed. Flecks of gray dotted his dark brown beard, which he kept closely trimmed to his face. His skin was sun-darkened and weathered.

Pale brown eyes stared at Father. The planes of his face were broad and masculine, accentuated by his neatly trimmed hair, which hung to the collar of his robe in the back but was brushed away from his face in the front. It wasn’t a traditional haircut, but it made sense for a man who bent over wood and stone, working with tools all day.

The two exchanged greetings and small talk, while I watched Joseph from beneath my lashes. I pulled my shawl further forward to camouflage the inappropriate staring.

“This is more than a social visit,” Father said.

Joseph nodded. “Of course.”

I felt Father glance toward me. I clenched my skirts with suddenly cold hands. Tightness in my chest made breathing difficult.

“Something unexpected has mired our betrothal agreement,” Father said. “In days to come, you will surely hear many unflattering accounts of loose behavior and speculations against my Mary’s character. An honorable man should never learn things in such a manner.”

Joseph tilted his head toward Father, but his eyes swept in my direction. Heat clawed up my neck and burned my cheeks.

“Just over three months ago, Jehovah’s messenger visited Mary.”

A whisper of wind could have knocked me backward at that moment. Father said we would keep the truth from everyone, and yet he was telling Joseph. I glanced toward my future husband, wondering how he would react to the unbelievable account.

His face didn’t change while Father repeated the angel’s declaration. A calloused brown hand smoothed his beard. He cupped his chin in one hand, a finger straying to cover his strong mouth.

Father’s direct approach shouldn’t have surprised me. Of course he would tell Joseph. How else would he explain my condition?

“Mary is with child,” Father said. “Although she has done nothing to violate the marriage contract, the law gives you the right to divorce her.”

Joseph’s brown eyes filled with emotion. I guessed it was disbelief. My experience spotting Anna’s disapproval and condemnation made it easy to rule out those emotions. He rested his gaze on me, and I tried to shrink into my robe, wishing for a larger shawl to hide my embarrassment.
If he spoke to me, what would I say? The whole thing sounded absurd when Father admitted it aloud.

“You realize how incredible this sounds?” Joseph drew each of his words out, as if carefully selecting them.

“Yes. Precisely why no one outside this room knows about it.”

Not exactly true. I had wanted to tell Father about Elisabeth’s prophecy, but the trip had worn me beyond fatigue. Too tired to eat dinner, I had gone directly to bed when I arrived the previous day.

“You are claiming she is carrying the Messiah,” Joseph said.

“I claim nothing. I am simply repeating what happened.”

If what Elisabeth said was true, I would see this son rise to a position of importance. If Jehovah knew how scared the thought of being set aside by Joseph and shaming my father made me, would he still choose me? After all, I was no one. And now, his special child would be worse than an outcast and raised by a woman considered to have a loose reputation.

“I’m expected to believe my wife is pregnant but didn’t have marital relations with another man?”

Father’s silence made my stomach clench. Bile burned the back of my throat. I gritted my teeth, keeping the churning acid from making an escape. If I vomited here, I would die.

“I expect you to accept my word, one honorable man to another.”

Silence filled the space around us. It was so complete I could hear the fire hissing against the lard on the candle nearest to me. Father expected too much.

“A large request, Heli,” Joseph said. His face unreadable, voice unchanging; the man’s emotions mystified me. Did he think Father lied to him?
No arguing—it was an amazing tale. So why should he believe it? Especially with his honor at stake.

By some miracle of faith, if he agreed to marry me, people would say we had prematurely consummated the wedding contract. If he broke our agreement, folks would believe I had stepped out during the engagement.

“I will respect whatever decision you make.” Father never once dropped his gaze from Joseph’s.

Silence dripped. Time dragged. My feet itched to run away while my stomach tumbled, threatening to disgorge the lentils and bread I’d eaten for supper.

“I will consider your words and weigh my options,” Joseph said.

He rose smoothly, bowing his head in reverence to my father. I scrambled to my feet, steadying Father as he stood. Creaks and groans sounded from his joints, reminding me that he was no longer a young man. How much had my predicament aged him?

Tears burned my eyes, blinding me from seeing the final exchange of glances between the men. I dared not spare a single look toward Joseph. Let his dismissal of me arrive in a writ on the morrow. It would be easier than hearing him denounce my father’s honor in person.

That night, again, a flood of tears soaked my pillow. Is it true Jehovah keeps them all in a bottle? He will have to wring my pillow to capture the innumerable drops shed since his pronouncement.

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

Go ahead and spend Christmas with Mary of Nazareth. Experience the true wonder of this holiday season.

Your Next FREE Look Into Mary’s Heart

Happy December, faithful reader of this blog.

Welcome to chapter two of A Pondering Heart:

Anna huffed, arms crossed over her chest, when she shuffled down into the small room she shared with Father. Father and I had spent time together in the evenings since before my mother died. He taught me to read, write, and do sums. Some might accuse him of defying tradition (only men need these skills). However, teaching his daughter—who in turn taught her sisters—was a necessity. With all the labor required to keep the farm going, he didn’t have energy for the record keeping.

I scanned the largest room in my father’s house rather than looking him in the eye. I recalled all the hours of sitting here to eat with my family. I recalled sitting around the fire listening to Father’s deep voice teach us the stories from the Torah. Now, the silence pressed against me like a weight. If I listened closely, I could hear my brothers whispering in their bed behind a hanging goatskin less than twelve spans away.

My father’s hand patted my shoulder, and I turned my gaze toward him. Black eyes dwarfed the portion of his face not covered by his mostly gray beard. Heli bar Matthat, my father, concealed a host of emotions behind those dark eyes. I blinked to keep the tears stinging my own eyes from betraying how weak I really felt.

I knelt like a common servant at his feet, my hands clenched together. My heart felt lower than the hardened earth beneath my aching knees. He was sending me away to Elisabeth. I hadn’t seen her in seven years. She came to care for Jesse after Mother died giving birth to him.
Elisabeth, wife to a priest, had no children of her own and could be spared to spend several months with a widower and his three children until a more permanent caregiver could be found.

“I will arrange for you to travel with a merchant.” Father’s voice, low and gravelly, revealed what his face did not: disappointment, a hint of despair.

“Abba, I swear I’m telling the truth.” I sounded like my youngest brother, Caleb, tattling on Jacob, who was closest to him in age.

Father’s warm, calloused finger tilted my chin upward. The waning candlelight reflected off moisture in his eyes.

“I have always known you were special, Mary.”

My lips trembled, smiling at his words. The tension gripping my heart loosened, making it easier to breathe. He believed in me. Warmth swelled my heart.

“You must not tell others,” he said.

A knot twisted my stomach. Not tell others? But once my condition became evident, they would believe the worst about me. Did Father expect me to bear their judgments silently? Heat flooded my face as if I stood before an open flame.

“They will believe what they want,” he said. “It is the nature of people to believe the worst. If you tell them . . .”

I watched his throat wobble beneath his whiskers. My shame would be his shame.

“Abba, no,” I said, unable to keep a tear from streaking down my upturned face. “People will speak ill of you. I can’t bear it.”

“If I can bear their scorn, you can bear it.” His harsh tone startled me. “We know the truth. Nothing anyone says will change it.”

“But Joseph . . .”

Tears choked me. The thought of seeing pain in his gentle eyes raked across my soul. His opinion of me mattered almost as much as my father’s. Joseph was older, but he had pursued me specifically, even though other girls had more appealing dowries. He would know we hadn’t been together. He would think I had . . .

More heat flooded through my face and spread down my chest until I thought I might burst into flame.

“We will meet with him together,” Father said. “I will explain your situation to him. Just the three of us.”

“I’m sorry.”

How could calloused hands be so gentle? He pulled me up, holding me on his lap as he often did with the young ones. I couldn’t remember the last time I was held this way. Safe, for the moment, in his arms.

“Never be sorry when Jehovah’s plans are not your own.” His warm breath, smelling of wine and thyme, tickled my cheek. “His ways are not our ways, daughter. They are higher. We can’t understand, but we can obey.”

My chin shivered, making answering him difficult. “Yes, Father.”

My father’s reputation would soon lie in ruins. And it was all my fault. No man would ever marry me. I was sullied. I tried to imagine sharing this house with Father and Anna and the young ones, carrying my own child bound to my chest. Anna would dislike me even more. It would be worse than a death sentence.

And so I sobbed late into the night. Did I even weep this much when my mother died? My pillow muffled the anguished sounds, so my siblings slept undisturbed around me.

I spilled so many tears that night I doubted the straw inside the linen cover would ever be dry again.

* * * *

Trudging up the switchbacks behind a donkey cart lost appeal by the end of a single hour. Forget spending three days enduring a similar view. Father’s merchant friend sang or spoke softly to the animals, two mules with bulky packs and the donkey pulling the small, rickety cart. He might have been alone for all the attention he paid me. Perhaps he didn’t mean to slight me. After all, most of his time on the road was solitary.
Apparently, the fee Father paid the man to escort me to the remote village didn’t include conversation. The void left plenty of time for unwelcome thoughts to invade my mind. The meditations swarmed like flies on a pile of goat dung.

One thought kept repeating: everyone would think the worst of me. People talked about the Messiah coming, born to a virgin of the tribe of Judah. No one understood how it could happen. None of them would believe the goat-herding daughter of Heli—namely me—would be the vessel Jehovah used.

If I hadn’t spoken to the heavenly messenger, I wouldn’t believe it. I pictured my best friend, Sarai, telling me she was pregnant by the Holy Ghost. (Isn’t that what the angel had told me?) I would want to believe her. Why would she lie? Yet, I knew it would sound like boasting. If I couldn’t imagine believing my own best friend, how could I expect anyone to accept the story from my mouth?

Father believed me. For now, that would be enough.

The meeting with Joseph would wait until I returned from my visit in the hill country. I had not seen Elisabeth, my cousin, since after my mother’s death. Had it really been so long? I counted my brother Jesse’s birthdays and decided it had been seven years.

Elisabeth’s kindness helped our family through a difficult time. After Mother was gone, she stayed with us for two months. She’s the one who found an acceptable wet nurse for my brother Jesse and showed me, just a young girl then, how to take care of a family. Yes, a girl of six years was expected to bear the responsibility for two children and a farm house.

Even then, she had been an old woman, my grandmother’s age. Yet, the heavenly messenger said she would soon bear a son. How could one such as she bear fruit in her womb?

It was a miracle of God, the messenger had said. How would she feel? Would I be able to help her? Would she believe me if I told her about the messenger? Somehow, I knew I would find comfort in her bosom.

And so I climbed on, breathing dust through the thick wool of my shawl, which I pressed tightly over my mouth and nose. I endured the rocks cutting into the soles of my sandals. When my ankle twisted in a rut, I pushed the pain to the back of my mind. I focused on what lay at the end of my journey: a mother’s warm embrace offered by Elisabeth.

Perhaps, I would have solace of my own to offer her.

Or maybe I wouldn’t speak about my problems, as Father had instructed. It would be months before my body revealed the secret. Joseph should be the first to learn of it. I wondered if he would think I betrayed my vows while on this excursion. Did it matter?

I sopped up a tear with a corner of my shawl—one I hoped wasn’t dusty. My heart ached at the thought of wounding Joseph.

When Joseph set me aside, no other man would want me, not even for a second or third wife. My fatherless child would chain me to spinsterhood. Father’s reputation would suffer, making it more difficult for him to make a match for my sister Mary, who was little more than a year younger than me. I would be shunned by the women in town. Being my friend would be tantamount to social annihilation. Who would risk it?

After a third full day of travel, we neared the end of the journey. Night fell before we reached the small dwelling Elisabeth shared with her priestly husband, Zacharias. Flickering candlelight offered welcome from behind the wooden shutters. Exhaustion made my legs feel like boulders, and the small pack of belongings on my back pressed down like a sleeping goat. Wrestling with my worries hadn’t helped.

I knocked on the wooden door. The mules snorted and stomped behind me. The merchant delivered me to my relatives. His part was done.

With the light behind her, I couldn’t distinguish the features of the woman who opened the door. Her voluminous robe covered her midsection but not the fact that she was expecting. A mound pressed against the front of her dark blue caftan. Her hair, pulled securely into a roll at the base of her neck, was mostly white with only a few dark threads running across the top.

“It’s late, child.” She tugged me into the house. “Zacharias has already retired for the night.”

I wanted to apologize, but she shushed me and hustled me toward the table where the dripping candle offered light to the room. Her fingers tugged my pack from my back, but I pulled it to my chest, unwilling to let her bear it in her condition.

I greeted her. “You look well, cousin.”

The shake of her head stopped. Her dark eyes widened, and the front of her robe bounced. The child moved! I wanted to reach out and touch the squirming mound but restrained myself. Anna had despised it when anyone touched her stomach when she was expecting.

“Blessed art thou among women,” [Luke 1:42]Elisabeth cried, dark eyes glowing with a strange sheen, words echoing with authority.

“And blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” Elisabeth threw her arms wide, as if to embrace me. “And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”[Luke 1:42-43]

I allowed her to hug me, amazed when her child kicked through her skin and clothes and into my side. Tears leapt into my eyes. I had been more emotional in the past four days than I had been since my mother’s death. If Father’s wife’s pregnancies were any indication, it would only get worse as my condition progressed.

Even as I reveled in her warmth, I wondered how Elisabeth knew I was expecting the Messiah.

“Your greeting?” I tried to ask about it.

“Lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.”[Luke 1:44]

Her interruption didn’t stop the babe’s churning. Did it hurt to have something rolling inside her like that?

I stepped back. My shawl dropped to my shoulders. Elisabeth’s spotted and wrinkled hands cupped my face. Her calloused fingers smoothed away the moisture worrying my cheeks.

“Blessed is she that believed, for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from The Lord.”[Luke 1:45]

A strange peace engulfed me, and words poured from my mouth. For the first time, praise blotted out the fear.

The Lord had chosen me. It would not be easy, and most people would criticize and mock me. None of those things mattered. The Messiah was coming. God had promised this blessing to our Father Abraham, and now his ancient promise was being fulfilled. One so mighty could surely sustain me through the tumult ahead.

Both of us were crying when I finished my pouring out the praise to our Lord. Not tears of sorrow—tears of joy and shared comprehension. God had a special purpose for the sons we carried. Bearing the scorn of neighbors seemed a small price to pay in exchange.

As I write these words, once again I must say, “Blessed be Yahweh, whose words are as sure as the sunrise.”

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

See what readers are saying about it here.

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.

Just Another Substitute Teaching Job

September comes. School is back in session, but I know it will be several weeks before I’m called upon to fill in for teachers.

Until I get the first call…before September comes. WHAT?

The Long-Term Job that Wasn’t

So I was a tad surprised when it wasn’t even September and my cell phone showed a text from one of the language arts teachers at the local high school.

This is the same teacher who asked me to talk about writing tropes during her J-Term book club. I’ve covered her classes many time.  At the last-minute or while she was off for long weekends with her family.

Apparently, she hadn’t had the best summer. In fact, she needed surgery and hoped it would only mean two weeks out of the classroom. I hope that’s true.

I conceded to cover for her. The entire month of October if she needed me.

Fast-forward to the last week of September. The job was cancelled. At the same time my inbox got that notification, a text came from the teacher. Complications. She has to wait until January for the surgery.

She’s frustrated. While I understand her irritation, I’m actually a bit relieved. I have deadlines and projects that need my attention at the moment. But January? I don’t even know what I’ll be working on then.

Maybe nothing. Read more about that here.

My Favorite School

After the cancellation, I decided I should check out the updated computer system.  While I was there, a job popped up: Friday in a social studies classroom.

At my favorite school. This also happens to be my local high school, the place where I won’t be doing a long-term job in October.

Civics class? A bunch of seniors who have a current events quiz and then preparation for presenting in a faux congressional hearing.

Topics they’ll “debate” ranged from lessening gun control (does this surprise you?) to improving schools to changing immigration policy. Yes, I’m the substitute teacher who walks by every group to ask what they’re working on (even if they’re on their phones and don’t appear to be doing anything remotely scholastic).

Two Weeks with Freshmen

This first job is in the hall where I worked with freshmen for the final weeks of the term last May while their social studies teacher was in Germany with a group of students.

When that teacher walked into the classroom, he gave me a high five. He informed me he was heading out of the country again in the spring. Would I be interested in covering for him again?

Because he wanted me to do it. And there would be dark chocolate as part of the bargain.

It’s nice to be wanted, right? Even if it does mean a couple weeks trapped in a room with freshman. One of the weeks in question being the week before Spring Break.

Can anyone say “Spring Fever”?

But, since I don’t know what else will be on my calendar, it felt pretty good to accept a paying gig for a couple weeks. It was my favorite school, after all, even if it wasn’t my favorite subject.

What do you remember about substitute teachers “back in the day”? I remember they didn’t do much teaching, but they did seem to think they had “all the power.”

I Don’t Know What to Write

I am a published author. It’s my job to write all the things…and when I finish writing them, to write something else. For the first time in five years, I don’t know what to write next.

That doesn’t sound too bad, right?

But it is. Because I don’t know if I even WANT to figure out what to write next.

Where is this Coming From?

This year, I stepped outside of my comfort zone to write a series. No, it’s not a series that is out of the zone for me. It’s the genre of this series and the method of publishing it.

I don’t want to be an independently published author. Crazy, right?

In this day when indies make as much money as many traditionally published mid-list authors (if they have a backlist and a decent following), you’d think I would embrace this new paradigm. Ah, the freedom! The income!

The stress. The multiple hat-wearing. The crazy schedule. The headaches of finding affordable cover designers, editors and formatters.

But I didn’t consider all this. After all, I had the second story half written. The third book was the same story from a different character’s perspective (how hard could that be?) And the fourth story…yeah, it might never exist.

I wrote two stories. I’m revising and editing book three (while book two is with my line editor), but the plan to write book four during November? It’s out. Because there is NO story. Not enough to write 30,000 words for sure.

I tell myself it is the burnout of writing this difficult genre (historical fiction based on biblical characters). Or it’s the fact I’ve been doing so very little “creative” work during this process. After all, I’m following the Bible’s outline.

Too much revising and editing make this writer a very cranky girl. Could I sell that along with a little “redrum” to the horror crowd?

Where could this Lead?

What’s scary to me is that in the five years I’ve been “doing this author thing” for real, I’ve never ONCE run out of passion, drive or stories.

Truthfully, I haven’t run short on story ideas now, either. But not a single one of them calls to me. Nothing says, “Tell my story or I will keep you awake.”

And since I don’t want to be an indie author, I’m looking mostly to my small publisher for ideas. Of course, SPP is all about series. The publisher is offering two “solo series” each year to authors who have published in any of her shared series. I have some ideas to pitch.

But none of them are siren songs to my creative soul.

I applied to write a story in one of the existing series. (The one that I wrote for originally is NOT going to be opened for any new stories.) The “open worlds” are going to be released in batches and only one time per calendar year. I have several ideas for that series, but I don’t know if I want to write them or not.

This lack of passion could lead to a total derailment of my “author career.” And just when I’m starting to get a “regular” paycheck that can buy more than a cup of coffee, too.

What if I have to take more sub jobs? Or write a ton of $5 emails on Fiverr? Is that what I want to do for the rest of my life?

No. I’ve said it before. My sub license expires in 2021, and I’m praying I’ll be making enough from other sources (especially my back list of novellas) that I won’t “need” to renew it. And I raised my prices on Fiverr which has led to a marked decrease of orders because I didn’t have time to deal with those piddly emails.

Where I’m NOT Going with This

Earlier this year, I mentioned taking a dive into the nonfiction world. I’d outlined and drafted a book called THROUGH THE VALLEY OF SHADOWS that chronicled my “grief” journey.

I’ve invested time on this idea this year, too. You can hear about my attempt at writing a proposal that would sell it to agents here.

I attended some online conferences especially to drop into sessions about writing nonfiction and memoir. During one of these, I signed up for a free 15-minute consultation with an author coach. She graciously agreed to look over my proposal and give me an idea of what she thought I’d need to write this book.

Needless to say, the book needs an overhaul. Mostly because I wrote it for me without a clue about structuring a nonfiction book.

Do I want to spend a $1000 and several months turning it into a finished product?

I know I won’t be able to sell it to an agent. I learned that from the Book Proposal Workshop I took this spring, and I don’t foresee anything changing that reality.

The answer here is pretty obvious.

Which brings me back to the original question: What do I want to write next?

What Do You Want to Read?

Thanks for stopping in to read my blog. Not many people do. That’s why I’ve trimmed back to posting once per week and often recycling older posts or content from some of my published works.

If you read my books, this is where I need your input.

I’ve been kicking around the idea of pursuing my “dream” of writing fantasy (possibly young adult fantasy). Would you buy and read it?

I’m also considering delving into women’s fiction since many of my romances are more about issues than finding love. Would you buy and read those?

Better yet, what do you LOVE to read? What do you WISH someone would write because you can’t find it anywhere?

REFLECTIONS Series: Have You Read Book One?

I’m thrilled to announce that the first book of the REFLECTIONS series is live on Amazon. In fact, it’s available in three formats and at discounted rates if you buy the print version and add on either digital or audio (or both).

Better yet, it’s so pretty.

I know the woman on the cover isn’t authentic to first century dress. Scroll down to see the covers of the other three books in the series. I did much better using authentic models on those covers.

But, I’m SO overjoyed to have my first self-published title recovered and rebranded under my InkSpired imprint.

Also, I’m doing some live author events in November. I hope you’ll be excited enough to get an autographed copy that you’ll plan to attend.

REFLECTIONS: Where it Started

This started years ago as a seed planted from a Facebook quiz.

I know. That’s crazy. But if you’ve followed this blog for long, you know that I get story ideas from many strange places.

“I don’t think I’m anything like Mary the mother of Jesus. I mean, God chose her to be the mother of His Son. She must have been perfect.”

A comment from a friend on Facebook that went something like that planted the seed for this story in my heart and mind.
Because I had felt similarly. In fact, I’d retaken the silly Facebook quiz because I’d gotten Mary the mother of Jesus as my first answer, and I thought, “NOT!”

But why? Aside from the Catholic compulsion to saint Mary and pray to her for absolution of sin (which doesn’t have a basis in scripture), why would any human who lived be “perfect” or “above me”?

Because I don’t have the right perspective. I think that the fact Peter, Paul and Mary are written about in scripture means they are superior human examples. (Bonus points if you thought “The sixties folk singing trio?” when you read those names.)
They are human. God used them as examples.

None of them are perfect. The only perfect person to live? Jesus Christ.

And suddenly, I felt an urge to tell Mary’s story so people would see her as a woman who God chose to mother His Son. What would she feel? What would she think?

Well, scripture is clear she pondered many things in her heart.

And there you have the title.

The first version of this book was self-published on CreateSpace in 2015.

This updated version includes two additional scenes and a section of lesson plans so the book can be used in Sunday school classes or youth groups to help teenagers grasp the humanity of Mary of Nazareth

REFLECTIONS: A PONDERING HEART

This is the new cover and blurb, as well as some reviews of the first edition.

From Handmaid to Madonna: a journey fraught with agony

Blurb

My father asked me to keep the strangest parts of this story to myself, but I’ve always worked my thoughts out best when I put them on parchment. So, this journey begins the day an angel informed me I would have a baby—before I was even married.

On that day, the girl who loved her goats and spent time making cheese to sell disappeared.

Once Joseph realized I hadn’t betrayed him, life settled into a new pattern. In the next few years, I traveled further than I had in the fourteen years before them. But my spiritual pilgrimage had barely begun.

“You’ll call him Jesus,” Yahweh’s messenger told me. The old man in the temple prophesied that my soul would be pierced with many sorrows. From Judea to Egypt and back to Nazareth, swords of sorrow struck my heart and mind.

Jesus was only the first of five sons I would mother, but his life changed us all. For the better, yes, praise Yahweh. But not without conflict.

God’s promises always come to pass. Could I learn to embrace the painful with the same sincerity as the joyful?

As old Simeon told her in the temple, a sword pierced her soul – again and again. And the killing blow was yet to come…
What readers of the earlier editions are saying:

“This is an excellent fictional account of what it might have been like to walk in Mary’s shoes. The author did not take any verses out of context, but simply allowed the reader to see the human side of Mary.” Barbara, winner of Goodreads copy

I started reading this at 9:00PM on Dec. 23. I thought I could start and then finish it on the 24th. Well, let me tell you – I was up in the wee hours of Dec. 24th, not being able to stop reading once I had started. Sharon Hughson has done a beautiful job of putting words to paper on this narrative of Mary’s thoughts from the time she was approached by an angel about a virgin birth. There are no words to sufficiently describe this BEAUTIFUL story. As a mother and a lover of my Lord – this book moved and touched me deeply.
Vicki from Wyoming.

This was a great story and I can’t stress that enough. It was an in depth look at how things may have been for Mary after she found out she would give birth to Jesus up to his ascension. I learned so much about their customs and saw things from a different perspective. I highly highly recommend this book!! – Mary, 5-Star Amazon Review

This isn’t the typical book I’d pick up and read, but found I was hooked from the first page. I’ve often thought about Mary, not only as the Blessed Mother, but as a woman. Mary is perfect, and as a Christian woman that’s an intimidating standard to live up to. This book takes a brave look at Mary’s life and shows the human side to her, bringing the reader into her world and her mind. I wish this was required reading for CCD classes! Not only was I drawn into Mary’s story, her fears, her hopes, her dreams, I was amazed at the historical detail and the biblical accuracy as well. Highly recommended! – Jessica, 5-Star Amazon Review

Sharon Hughson took the little bit of information contained in the Bible, with (probably) a great deal of research, and a bit of literary license – managed to write a very realistic rendition of what Mary’s story quite possibly looked like. I was utterly impressed with what I read. I am without a doubt looking forward to reading the rest of the series!!! – E. Eblin, 5-Star Amazon Review

This book will give you a new perspective on the life of Jesus. – Shonda, 5-Star Amazon Review

REFLECTIONS: Where it’s Headed

So far, I’ve written two additional stories for this series. The second book, A LABORING HAND, is Martha of Bethany’s story. It didn’t receive the same stutters of awe and amazement from my beta readers as Mary of Nazareth’s story did, but it is the story I was most compelled to write during November 2018.

The third book is Mary of Bethany’s story. It’s truly a young adult book, so it also includes a section of lesson outlines. It’s also the most worrisome of the three stories. At the moment, I’m revising and polishing it so I can get it to my editor by October 11th. I’m sure she’ll need to work more magic on it than either of the other stories needed.


The fourth book in the series is roughly outlined. It’s Salome’s story, and I’m struggling with where it needs to start and end. What is the point of this story?

For me, I’m writing it to understand Salome’s audacious request that her sons sit at Jesus’ right and left hand in His kingdom. I’ve always been stunned by this short scene in scripture.

But other than a few passing mentions, scripture tells us much less about Salome than any of the women I’ve written about. That means there’s more room for my imagination.

And more chance I’ll blunder the story completely and turn off all my readers.

I’d appreciate your prayers as I tackle this story in November. I want to explore my thoughts, of course, but I really want to tell the story God wants told.

My Author Schedule

Now that I’ve rambled on about this series. Let’s get specific about the release of A PONDERING HEART. The best way to stay informed about my author events, is to follow me on one of these platforms:
Facebook
Instagram

If you want the full rundown and opportunities to give me input about what I’m writing next, you should join this Facebook Group.

I’m hosting two book release events:
The “in-person” event will be held at Cathedral Coffee in Scappoose on Friday, November 8, 2019 from 6:30 to 8:00 PM.

The Facebook Event, which will include a couple of live videos, a giveaway for an autographed copy and several FREE copies of both digital and audio copies of A PONDERING HEART will be held on Saturday, November 9.

Here’s a link to the event. Plan to attend for your chance to win series bookmarks, an autographed copy of the first book OR the entire REFLECTIONS series on eBook.

Of course, if you’re willing to pay $10 and shipping, I’m happy to send an autographed copy of the paperback anywhere and include a FREE audiobook code with it.

Just complete this form:

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

FINDING FOCUS: Helping

“I will make him an help meet for him” (Genesis 2:18) is the Bible’s first description of Eve. In fact, when God created the woman (Adam’s name for her since he named all he saw), His purpose was to give the man a helper.

After all, there was too much important work to do–naming everything, dressing the trees in the garden, having dominion over all of creation–for one guy (even a perfect man, which Adam was at that point) to do it all. Eve was created to help him.
Is it any wonder so many women feel inclined to help?

You arrive for dinner at a friend’s house. The first thing you say after thanking her for the invitation: “Can I help you do anything?”

Dinner is over. You stack your silverware in the middle of your plate and reach for the plate next to you and the next one. The thought of setting them on the counter makes you cringe, so you rinse each one and tuck them into the dishwasher (unless it’s full of clean dishes).

Although our world is sliding into a state of selfishness, most women still possess that urge to help others. They notice a need, and they step to fill it. (This is one reason we can fall so easily into the auto focus trap mentioned in chapter two.)
Let’s take a moment to focus on the first woman’s pure, innocent desire to fulfill her role as her husband’s helper.

* * * * * * * *

Eve followed Adam through the garden, listening as he recited the names of each tree they passed. A small critter with a bushy tail scampered down the branch of the oak tree.

“Squirrel,” her husband said. “They like the nuts. Once I tried to count how many he stuck in those fat cheeks, but he hurried away and buried them.”

Eve reached toward the gray and brown fur. The squirrel wiggled his nose at her, ducked his head up and down. The hair on his face tickled the pads of her fingers. When he dashed back up the tree, the fluffy tail brushed against her wrist.

“He’s soft.”

Adam’s handsome face creased with a smile. He extended his hand toward her. “Let me show you how to harvest the vegetables.”

Eve held the broad fingers which dwarfed her own. Together, she and her husband stepped from the shade of the massive tree into a wide clearing.

Rows of green, leafy plants stretched in every direction. Corn stalks towered over her, the browning silk on their ears indicating ripeness. Bushes burst and bowed beneath the weight of green and purple gourds that Adam called squash. Her husband dropped her hand to demonstrate how to tell which ones were ripe and twisted off a smaller green one.

“We can roast the zucchini whole when they’re this size.”

Her lips formed the strange name. Zucchini. He handed her the squash. Its stem felt bumpy and the hide smooth.

The garden seemed endless. Beyond the vegetables, there were rows of berry bushes. The raspberry left a pink stain on her fingers. Tart exploded along with sweetness on her tongue. Carrying these by the handful didn’t seem practical. It would take too much time and too many trips to collect enough to satisfy her craving for another taste.

A pair of deer nibbled on the leaves of smaller bushes. They raised their heads when Adam approached, their ears flicking toward him.

With dewy brown eyes and smooth tawny pelts, the animals were beautiful. Adam spoke softly to the deer, rubbing the one with antlers behind its large ear.

Eve’s mind whirled with all the information. Her stomach gurgled and her tongue longed to taste everything.

Her gaze rested on Adam’s muscular frame. “Are you hungry now?”

She extended the handful of berries toward Adam. He turned from the animals which side-stepped away from the sound of her voice. His dark eyes grazed her face before he grabbed the raspberries and tossed the whole bunch into his mouth. A few of the seedy fruit missed the mark, dribbling onto his bare chest.

Eve flicked the stray bits away, frowning at the pink dot left behind. Adam pressed his hand over hers. Warmth seeped into her palm from his smooth skin. Tingles skittered up her arm, much like the squirrel had scampered up the tree.

Their eyes met.

“If you’re hungry, you can show me how to cook the squash.”

A longing welled inside her chest. She ached to help him take care of the garden. Her heart leapt at the thought of preparing food for them, seeing his eyes flicker with satisfaction as they did when he swallowed the raspberries.

“There are fragrant herbs to make things more savory.”

His hand dropped away, and he walked ahead. He would teach her what he knew, then she would find the best way to please him.

Warmth pooled in her stomach and radiated into her chest. Helping him be content would give more pleasure than eating her fill of sweet fruit.

Which must be why their Father God said everything was very good.

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