Tag: Jesus Christ

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.”

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Take a Look Inside My Newest Series

This comes to you from chapter six of REFLECTIONS: A PONDERING HEART, the story of Jesus Christ from the journal of his mother, Mary.
Is there a better way to spend Christmas than with the Christ?


The sun’s last rays kissed the walls of Bethlehem as our group straggled within view of the city. Rather than heading toward the gates, Joseph followed a well-worn path to the east. His uncle lived outside the walls, near the shepherds. He spun cloth from the sheep’s wool and grew a supply of linen on a small plot of ground. Most farmland stretched further to the west, away from the meandering sheep. Or maybe away from the shepherds, who weren’t considered the cleanest of people.

We parted from the other travelers, including the grumbling man and his donkey. My feet protested against walking. I rubbed my lower back, stretching my shoulders to relieve the pressure. It would be good to sleep on a mattress again. The hard ground hadn’t done any favors for my already stressed muscles.

Joseph lessened his stride so I could remain beside him. Bleating and the familiar odors of sweat and dung eased my anxiety. These were smells and sounds of home. A group of keepers milled around the low walls of a sheepfold. Three stood in the doorway.

One goat rubbed its head against a shepherd’s leg. A twinge of sadness poked my heart. I missed my goats. My sister Mary cared for them, but she had given up the cheese-making. My mouth watered at the idea of spreading the soft, fresh goat cheese on bread. Perhaps Joseph’s uncle would invite us to join his table for dinner. Anything other than stringy dried meat sounded appealing.

The pathway widened into a well-traveled track with deeper ruts. I stumbled on a rock, too busy gazing at the shorn fields to watch my step; the advancing twilight didn’t help matters. With a strong hand on my upper arm, Joseph steadied me. Our pace slowed even more. I yearned to arrive at his uncle’s house, but my legs rebelled against moving any faster.

The smoky odor of cooking meat made my stomach rumble. I pressed my fingers over it and earned a kick from the babe. Out of the shadows, two buildings emerged beside the road.

From the larger of the structures, candlelight flickered invitingly. It was a flat-topped adobe building, common in Nazareth for merchants and shop owners. It was strange to see one outside the city walls.

I stood behind Joseph when he knocked on the door. It seemed a long while before the man appeared in the doorway. He had more gray hair than Joseph, but otherwise didn’t seem much older.

“Joseph,” the man said. His eyes slid toward me and he stepped outside, joining us in front of the house. “Your cousins arrived yesterday.”

“Travel was difficult,” Joseph said.

Uncle Biram nodded. “I have no room left in the house.”

He seemed embarrassed to admit this, looking toward the ground rather than directly at Joseph.

“The roof would be fine. Something for Mary to sleep on is all we really need.”

His uncle’s gaze rested on me, sliding down to where my hand rested on my distended abdomen. His eyebrows drew together. Would there be no escaping the judgmental scowls? We were miles from home and the untimeliness of my motherhood still garnered speculation.

“The roof is where we put Nadab and his family. They arrived two days ago.”

Joseph nodded. Were we being turned away by his family? Trembling started in my lower legs. I leaned into Joseph’s broad back. Behind his uncle, the door to the house opened and a woman emerged, holding a candle in a shallow pottery dish.

“Biram? Oh, it’s Joseph. Hello.”

“Aunt Leah.” Joseph nodded his head in respect.

“I was just telling them about our full house,” Biram said.

“This crazy census.” Aunt Leah shook her head, corners of her generous mouth turning down.

“I can find other accommodations tomorrow. If you could at least spare some floor space for one night—”

I could see Uncle Biram opening his mouth to deny this plea. Shame and anger clashed in my gut, making the empty organ churn. The baby kicked against my ribs.

“The barn,” the woman said. “We’ve room in there for you.”

I turned to gaze at the other building, stone and wood, shabbier than the adobe structure. It would be out of the wind and cooling night air. Perhaps I would find clean straw to mound into a pallet. It would be an improvement over sleeping beside the road. My back cramped at the thought of another night on the sun-hardened earth.

“Thank you.”

“I’ll bring some food out,” she said. “I see you have blankets.”

“Sorry I couldn’t offer you something more.” Biram sounded apologetic, and his gaze didn’t stray toward me this time.

“Times are hard for everyone, Uncle,” Joseph said.

He turned to me, face in shadow. His fingers closed around my elbow. We moved toward the barn. Behind us, the door to the house closed.
“It’s because of me.”

Joseph draped his arm over my shoulder, pulling me against his side. My head nearly fit there.

“My cousins came to register. You heard them.”

“The way he looked at me . . .”

“I’m sorry.” His lips pressed against the top of my head, reminding me of something my father did when I was a much younger girl. When would we have a normal husband and wife relationship? Maybe never. Nothing was normal for me now. It never would be.

I swallowed away the tears. The dark doorway into the barn loomed before us. Stepping inside, the familiar scents of animals and manure embraced me. Tension drained from my shoulders.

I would be more comfortable here than in a house full of condemning relatives.

Pick up a copy now. It’s available in paperback, digital and audio formats. This makes a great gift for the readers in your life, too. Better yet, with the purchase of the paperback, the digital and audio copies are reduced in price, so you can shop for three distinctive readers.

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 Snippet of What I’m Writing Now

Write. Write some more. Right now I’m writing the first draft of the first two novellas in my new REFLECTIONS series.


This isn’t the smooth and easy writing of fiction.

Because I’m writing a fictionalization.
Fiction? Fictionalization? Sounds the same to the average non-author type.

Except fiction is something completely formed in my muse’s imagination. If set in our real world, I have to be accurate with details, but as far as what characters say and do, I’ve got free license.

Not so with A LABORING HAND and AN ADORING SPIRIT. These novellas are based on the very REAL people Martha and Mary of Bethany. I don’t have much to work with except the Bible’s accounts.

Nothing like taking God’s inspired Word and making a fictionalized story out of it. SO–for those of you still wondering–a fictionalization takes an ACTUAL EVENT and adds fictional elements to flesh it into a complete and compelling story.

Not trying to imply the Bible isn’t compelling on its own because IT IS. But sometimes the things it doesn’t tell keep us from engaging with the characters the way we do in fiction.

You know, get inside their minds and hearts. Feel their fears and pains and indecision. If we can relate to Bible characters in this way, I think it improves our odds at applying their lessons to our lives.

So, here’s a familiar scene from John 11: 1-3 fictionalized and written from Martha’s perspective. (Beware: this is a first draft so there are probably all kinds of errors.)

From A Laboring Hand, chapter six (a rough draft):

His fever raged. Every bad memory from the worst weeks of my life suffocates me. I sweep and cook and bathe his face with water and roll him from side to side so I can put clean linen beneath him.

None of it matters. His shriveled arm clings to his side like a poultry wing. Muscles in his shorter leg twitch, dislodging the sheepskins I’ve heaped over him, hoping to break the fever. He thrashes and moans, and it is the poliomyelitis all over again.

Yahweh, I cannot lose another brother.

Losing two of them to that epidemic nearly broke me, and it did kill my family. The way Abba faded away afterward, losing his will to outlive his heir and the woman he loved.

But Lazarus is the only protector Mary and I have left. I know he really isn’t strong, but he’s a man of legal age and he keeps the meddlers at bay. Everyone knows I’m the one that works to provide for all of us. Lazarus is a good manager, though, and he’s been handling the scheduling and payments for many years. How will I run the business alone? Especially now that Mary is marriageable. And desirable. Unlike me.

Stop feeling pitiful and start being helpful, I hear Mama tell me.

“I’ll sit with him.” Mary’s voice barely pulls me back to the present.

The huge tears hanging on the edge of her thick lashes wrench my heart from my chest. She has lost as much as I have, and she feels everything so much more deeply. If I expect to fold beneath the weight of losing my brother, what will happen to her?

And that’s when I decide. “I am sending a message to Yeshua.”

Her lips tilt into the closest thing to a smile I’ve seen since this fever put Lazarus abed.

“He can heal anyone.” I know there’s more than faith shining in her glowing brown eyes, but I ignore it. That’s a talk for another time.

Instead, I nod my agreement. We aren’t like so many others who follow Yeshua because of his many miracles. He speaks God’s Word with authority, and He is the Messiah. We’ve seen him perform a few feats of divinity, but we’ve heard about even more. Blind men see and lame men walk. The paralyzed can move, a lad’s lunch feeds a multitude and lepers are cleansed.

Whatever afflicts my brother will be a simple matter for the Lord to cure. And we are his friends. He’s done greater things for strangers, surely he won’t begrudge this small favor to his friends?

I scrounge around for a scrap of parchment and scratch a short message. The one you love is ill. I sign it: Martha and Mary.

After tying my coin purse to my sash and covering my head with a shawl, I stride toward the well. Several young boys have been running messages for me, and I think I know where Yeshua and his disciples were planning to next teach.

A group of youths toss bean bags around near the community oven. The scent of baking bread reminds my stomach that I have neglected to eat. There’s been too much to accomplish, or at least I don’t wish to sit still for more than a minute because then the grief crashes in.

I see one of the orphans who sleeps at the synagogue and assists the rabbis.

That’s it for now.

What do you think? What would make it more compelling?

Merry Christmas from your Favorite Author

It’s Monday. But it’s a Monday like no other. Because today is Christmas.

Merry Christmas, my friend.

I pray it will be a day full of joy and family and contentment. If the Christ of Christmas has his way, it will be a day of peace and good will, in your heart if not in all the earth.

And if I have anything to say about it…there will be something sweet to eat and enough laughter to make your sides ache.

Since I didn’t take you on a tour of the Ozarks when I went there, how about a little Missouri for Christmas?

On the day we arrived, there was a parade through town and up to a lighted nativity displayed on the hill. These period actors were going the wrong way on the route about fifteen minutes before the parade started.

Adoration Parade, Branson, MO on December 3, 2107

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This parade consisted of a dozen floats (most sponsored by churches) and more marching bands than I’ve ever seen in one place before. Oh, and random shepherds.

This is one of the school bands whose uniforms I liked.

This is the sunrise I gasped over and made my husband get up early to photograph. And the picture doesn’t do it justice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our shopping trip to Branson Landing. This is my cousin and his lovely wife. Yes, I’m short. Thanks for noticing.

We took a road trip on our road trip…to Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

Home of the Christ of the Ozarks. It’s 64 feet tall (the face is 15 feet tall). And, yes, that is a large nativity at the base of the sculpture. It was c-o-l-d up on that hill, even though the sun was shining.

Christ of the Ozarks overlooking Eureka Springs, AR

My favorite part of the trip to Branson was on the last evening. We attended the dinner show at the Dixie Stampede.

The pre-show act: a band of brothers singing bluegrass
This guy was too embarrassed to show his face, but his dressage was incredible.
One of the Palomino “sisters” involved in the Roman ride

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apparently, there was a land grab in Oklahoma? Anyway, this huge sculpture is near the large Bass Pro Shop in Oklahoma City.

Galloping your horse in a crowd on rough prairie land is dangerous.

The entire reason for the pit stop in Oklahoma City: my beautiful Aunt Betty.

Merry Christmas to my Oklahoma family who faithfully read this blog.

What’s your favorite Christmas memory?

 

Paying the Ultimate Price: A Salute to Veterans

Veteran’s Day graces the November calendar, brightening it with red, white and blue. And although this isn’t a day to salute those who paid the ultimate price, it is a time to honor those WILLING to pay it.

Thank you to those currently serving in the United States Armed Forces. I offer you the deepest respect. And to those who served in the Armed Forces in times past, thank you for your service.

Yes, I’m technically a veteran since I served in the US Army Reserve, but it feels like a cheap imitation of the service given by men and women who left their families behind to face enemy fire in a hostile place. I’m in awe of those people (and there was a time in my life when I would have gladly been one of them).

A couple months ago, I read a blog post that touched me. It featured a military veteran.

The Price of Giving it All by Kelly Balarie

Two shadows appeared. One was a small, old, hunched over man with a cane and the other a young and vibrant woman with a flowery dress.

Sitting, they leaned in toward each other and talked. A father and daughter? 

All I could think as I noticed this man’s feeble body, his leaning body on that old war memorial was, “He must be telling her about a life that counted.”

He’s saying, “Sure, I paid a mental price, seeing all that war stuff, seeing people fall. The battles, the pain, the sacrifice. But when push comes to shove, I gave my all. My life. I offered up what mattered.”

Only a few minutes later, I saw the “Vietnam War Veteran” pin on his cap. I wanted to remember this man, because without saying a word, he delivered to my heart a message from God: Kelly, if you give it all up for me, you won’t look back and regret your life. You’ll sit on a memorial of what I did and rejoice over it.

I asked the man if I could take his photo.

To finish reading this post, click here.

I was touched by the idea that God used this bent soldier to speak to the heart of a normal woman. A woman who had never donned a uniform.

He used the old war memorial to remind her (and through her, me) that He will build a memorial of our faith when we give up everything for him.

Jesus promised to reward his followers if they willingly forsook all to follow him. This requires daily recommitting our future to him, picking up our cross and following.

Paul compares the Christian life to that of a soldier.

And let’s face it, most of us live in a cushy home and wear whatever uniform we want and eat things that make military chow resemble Dog Chow. So why aren’t we willing to give it all up for Christ?

As we enter these next few days, flags will fly. Memorials all over the U.S. will host special ceremonies to honor veterans.

If Christ is your savior, consider enlisting in his army, signing on for a lifetime of service. Suit up in the spiritual armor and step outside your comfort zone, committing to give Him all.

He already paid the ultimate price for you.

Are you serving Jesus? Can you commit to following him every day?

A Word to the Wise–or the Wanna-Be Wise

Years ago, a pastor suggested reading through the Book of Proverbs every month. One chapter per day, 31 chapters in the book, seemed like a reasonable idea. Especially if you’re looking to be wise.

Wisdom isn’t a highly sought after commodity in many circles. People are content to “know enough” to do their jobs, take care of their family and have a good time.

We know I’m a recovering Type A perfectionist, so the thought of NOT being wise rubs me the wrong way. I mean, if it’s as simple as reading a chapter from the Bible every day, why not?

Nothing is ever that simple.

This month, I’m encouraging myself to reinstate this practice that has fallen into a slump lately. After all, there are YouVersion reading plans, so why do the same old, same old? (This month, why not do both? That’s my plan.)

Because God’s Word is a living book. Every month a different verse will stand out or stomp my toes.

I haven’t attained wisdom status yet. (I know that shocks all of you.)

So, I’m sharing the first week of daily reading memes here. Maybe you’re looking for some wisdom in a world gone crazy with blame and accusation. Why not give A Proverb a Day a test drive?

I know I’m a day behind for the week, but bear with me.

Monday: Read Proverbs chapter 2

Tuesday: Read Proverbs chapter 3

Wednesday: Read Proverbs chapter 4

Thursday: Read Proverbs chapter 5

Friday: Read Proverbs chapter 6

Saturday: Read Proverbs chapter 7

Look at that! One week of considering words of wisdom is in the bank. Don’t you feel wiser already?

What is your definition of wisdom? How do you cultivate it in your life?

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Crime Against a Creative Spirit

Legislating away my right to create is criminal. Sometimes its the weather or circumstances that commit the crime which freezes imagination. Might as well hit it with liquid nitrogen.
Creativity holds an artist hostage. It plagues the mind at inopportune moments (like when I should be sleeping). The very element of creating can wind up like a fast-pitched softball and, if released too early, peter out short of the plate (our expectations).


Lately, I’ve been keeping up with one of my betterment goals designed for No Fear this Year. It involves reading an inspirational book before bed at least four nights per week.
The current read looks to link creativity and spirituality. It’s an interesting connection, but I’ve yet to sell myself on its reality.

The Difference between Soul and Spirit

Even though my title mentions the creative spirit, I believe creativity emerges from my soul.
The soul is the part inside me that makes me have the character, personality and world views that distinguish me as an individual. While I strive to grow my character to look like Jesus Christ’s, I’m certain my personality is not a thing like his. Because I’m a woman living in the 21st Century, my world view looks completely different, too.
On the other hand, the spirit in me is what makes me alive. It’s the breath of life that God gave Adam on the day of his formation. It’s the thing that keeps my heart beating and lungs working without any conscious thought on my part. And if the spirit of life leaves, then those automatic functions stop, too.
Therefore, I believe the soul is the source of my creativity and the spirit the source of my existence.
Can creativity be linked to spirituality then?

The Difference between Heart and Mind

There’s another level of personality that I see as diverse. Decisions I make might originate in the heart but are carried out by the mind.
The heart is the seat of my emotions. This is where I feel the death of the hunting dog in Where the Red Fern Grows. It’s where disgust over political lies or ire about injustice kindle and ignite.

Is this linked with creativity? Is creativity all about emotion?

My mind is where reason holds court. It listens to the exclamations and rhetoric of the heart’s reactions, and it weighs that in my soul’s world view balance. If it deems there is sufficient reason to act, the mind wills my mouth or body to do so.
I hope my mind is engaged when I’m creating. It should be running the show when I’m worshiping, too.
In this case, I believe both the mind and the heart are involved in pursuits of creativity and spirituality. Things that are emotion-driven might seem to come from the heart, but the heart is only a messenger. It can’t act apart from the mind. (Although there are times when I let my heart lead and wished I’d thought things through a little better.)

Creativity or Spirituality?

This brings me back to my original inquiry. Is there a link between my creative self and my spiritual self?
Unless I’m two people, there’s a link. It’s me. My individuality that shines forth through my lifestyle.
Can the spirit operate on it’s own? Or is spirituality tied to every facet of life because it is the seed of life?
If only I had the answer. Perhaps when I finish the book, I’ll know for certain if these two aspects of my being are related. At times, I’ve felt deeply spiritual while being wildly creative. However, there are plenty of instances when I was quite spiritual without a creative thought, and creating like mad without being spiritual.
I believe that means they aren’t mutually exclusive. Perhaps I would be more creative if I focused wholly on strengthening my spiritual side. But am I less spiritual when I set my imagination free?
The truest crime against my creative spirit is giving it a question like this that has no definitive answer.

Do you think creativity and spirituality are linked? What drives your creative spirit into hibernation?

I’m Thankful

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I’ve mentioned this several times, but it bears repeating. I’m even looking forward to it this year when I’m going to be the hostess.

I’m not the hostess with the mostest, I can tell you. I’m the hostess who serves crunchy baked potatoes. Or doesn’t have enough of the main dish to go around. Or stresses out so much about every little thing that she can’t enjoy the moment.

Not this time. This time, I’m counting on my sister to bring her awesome cornbread stuffing and taco dip. My mom will bring green bean casserole and pumpkin pie. My husband will help me hoist the hefty turkey into the oven at the appropriate hour so it finishes cooking by 2:30, when everything else can then go in the oven to be cooked.

It’s not about the stuffing. I love stuffing. I could eat turkey and stuffing slathered in homemade gravy and nothing else and feel extremely thankful. I repeat: it’s not about the stuffing.

I love Thanksgiving because it reminds me to be thankful. I may be thankful to the many people in my life who love me, but most of my thanks go heavenward. After all, I wouldn’t even be breathing if it weren’t for the Almighty God who holds creation in the palm of His hand.

I’m thankful for my husband. He’s a great provider for our family: financially, spiritually, and physically. That’s why I call him Mr. Wonderful.

I’m thankful for my sons. They work hard in their endeavors. They have brilliant minds and entertaining personalities. Watching them conquer the world makes every sacrifice I made for them worthwhile.

I’m thankful for my sister. After all, she’s the one bringing the stuffing. No, kidding aside, she inspires me to be my best, to try things that scare me and most of all to follow my dream of becoming a published author.

I’m thankful for my mother and stepfather. Mom has been fighting cancer for several years and she inspires me to keep going forward when things seem impossible. Her strong personality is the cornerstone of my own willfulness. (Really, that’s a good thing.) My stepfather has stood by her and loved her through all of these trials. Thank you.

I’m thankful for my nephews and niece. They’ve faced difficult times these past few years and it hasn’t stopped them from becoming the people God wants them to be. They make me proud to be an aunt.

I’m thankful for my home. It’s big enough to host this host for Thanksgiving dinner.

I’m thankful for more than I could list in this post without losing the interest of my readers. Suffice it to say, I’m thankful that Jesus Christ is my Savior. I’m thankful that God plays an important role in my everyday life.

I’m thankful that I can pursue my dream to be a published author. I pray every day: “Lord, let me use this gift for your glory.”

What are you thankful for today?