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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.

Release Day! Get your FREE copy here!

May 5th and Reflections from a Pondering Heart is being released into the wide world of readers.

Today, I’m offering readers of my blog a chance to win a copy of the book. I will give one eBook copy and one print copy (signed, of course) to randomly drawn commenters on today’s post.

Now, for the excerpt I have been promising for awhile.

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.  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. A few gray hairs dotted his dark brown beard, which he kept closely trimmed to his face. His skin was sun-darkened and weathered.

Pale brown eyes, flecked with amber and green, 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.

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 hazel 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.”

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

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

“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.

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Reflections from a Pondering Heart by S.L. Hughson

Reflections from a Pondering Heart

by S.L. Hughson

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