Tag: Mary

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.

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?

IN THE BEGINNING: My Review

In The Beginning_CoverEight stories that span the imagination, recreating Biblical events into dark tales featuring young adult heroes. Month9Books released their charity anthology on October 25, 2016.

All the authors cite the “inspiration” for their retelling of common and obscure Bible stories. Two of the stories are more allegorical as opposed to straight retellings.

With the exception of one story, these short tales will appeal to teenagers who like fantasy, dystopian and darker themes. Does it seem odd that this anthology twists Bible stories into something foreboding, even chilling or evil?

Maybe. Or maybe not.

To read and enjoy this collection, one can’t open the cover expecting to see the truth of the Bible. Here the imagination of some storytellers has converted segments of scripture into compelling farcical stories. They just left at the whimsy.

Stories I Enjoyed

I didn’t hate any of these stories. All of them were well-written and well-edited. Some of them took a little bit more of a stretch to accept them. You know how I feel about being kicked out of my fantasy world by unrealistic and unbelievable things.

I really enjoyed “Condemned” by Elle O’Neal. This story gives a Hunger Games spin to the story of Barabbas. If Barabbas were a teenage boy in a dystopian world where people liked to be entertained by televised gladiatorial-type games.

The character of Barabbas was well-constructed. I would have liked a little more explanation about this dystopian society. I never understood why they had the game or what made Barabbas a contestant.

Still, if you’re like me and you’ve often wondered how Barabbas felt when Jesus took his place on death’s row, this is a chilling way to get that insight.

One of the truly allegorical stories, “Babylon” by Nicole Crucial, gave me plenty to think about. The author personifies The Book of Life as the main character in this story. It’s a gut-wrenching tale of a friend who knows her friend is destined for a downfall.

It makes readers ask plenty of insightful questions. And convinced me once and for all that having foreknowledge of the future would be a bad thing.

Why Some Fell Short

For example, “Daniel and the Dragon” by Stephen Clements is inspired by a text that is included in the American Standard Version of the Bible that I had never read. Of course, dragons.

Clements wrote a good story but it includes concepts, wording and practices that will be foreign to most young adult readers. Also, it was more of a fictionalization of the passage rather than a retelling.

What do I mean?

A retelling is exactly what it sounds like: the same story but using different characters in a different setting.

This is not a bad story at all (didn’t I mention there are NO bad stories in this collection?) but it just missed the mark with me.

Other stories were also fictionalizations rather than retellings. “The Deluge” by Marti Johnson is a depressing recount of someone who didn’t survive Noah’s flood. “First Wife” by Lora Palmer gives us a look at Leah and Jacob’s wedding night and the day after.

Palmer’s story had great characterization and emotion. At the end, there’s another character introduced. I would have enjoyed the story more if it was about that “friendship” rather than Laban’s double-crossing of his nephew and daughters.

Even though I couldn’t buy the premise in “Emmaculate” by Christina Raus, I do think most teenage girls will fall for it and enjoy the ride. It’s packed with real-to-our-world issues and plenty of trauma drama.

My Top Pick

When I read the ARC, my favorite story was called “The Isaiah Boy.” So color me shocked when I didn’t even see that title listed on the press release during the cover reveal.

But then I found it. It had a new title, but the same incredible “there has to be more than this” ride. I’m talking about “Last Will and Testament” by Mike Hayes.

To say I was a little outraged when I saw the scriptures from Isaiah 53 at the beginning of the story is putting it mildly. After all that chapter prophecies Christ’s death thousands of years before it happens.

“It’s just a story” I started chanting to myself.

And it really isn’t a story about Christ. It takes the “wounded for our transgressions” literally and gives that “power” to a boy, Baz.  What I really admired was that the story was told in first person by a character other than Baz.

I don’t want to give anything away because you need to read this story. When you do, we need to talk about it. And Mike Hayes needs to write a novel that takes off right where this short ends.

Oh yeah, I’m looking at you Mr. Hayes.

Be warned, most of these stories have an incredibly dark tone. Some of them are downright depressing. But all of them offer more than an hour of entertainment. They give a snapshot of humanity that will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.

Disclaimer: I have a story in this anthology. I don’t mention “The Demon was Me” in my review because it seems self-serving to do so. Elsewhere I have mentioned it is the best short fiction I believe I’ve ever written. I hope you’ll read it and decide for yourself.

Have you read IN THE BEGINNING? What stories spoke to you?

Like what you read here? Would you like a Hero Delivery directly to your email inbox? It can be on the way in a few clicks.

Check out Poet Inspired and my other books. Already read one or more? Your honest review is a golden nugget in this writer’s world.

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.

In order to be entered into the special drawing I’m running on my blog, comment below. When have you experienced the uncomfortable situation of sharing unbelievable news? OR what should Mary do to convince Joseph of her innocence?

I will draw a name in one week and contact the winners via email. Thanks for visiting. Share this page with any of your friends who might be interested in reading this book.

To purchase your copy, click here.

Or for another chance to WIN a copy, sign up for the Goodreads giveaway.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Reflections from a Pondering Heart by S.L. Hughson

Reflections from a Pondering Heart

by S.L. Hughson

Giveaway ends May 15, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to Win

In Search of… a Street Team

The release date of May 5, 2015 marks my calendar. On that day, the novella Reflections from a Pondering Heart wings its way to readers. As a first-time publisher of an independent title, I’m doing what even traditional authors do – seeking help from my readers.

If you follow my blog, I expect that means you think my writing is read-worthy. Perhaps you’re here for the fantasy titles my author tagline promises. Maybe you like reading about my writing journey and aren’t interested in my fiction at all.

Bottom line: I need you.

In order to get the word out about my upcoming novella, I need people who will read and review it – before the official release. I want people who aren’t afraid to tell all their friends about the book – after they read and love it.

(Obviously, if you read it and aren’t all that impressed, you aren’t obligated to continue any further. I hope that won’t be the case, but reading pleasure is subjective.)

What the Book is about

Here’s a rough “back cover” blurb for Reflection from a Pondering Heart:

Living in Galilee near the dawn of the First Century, Mary is a simple girl dreaming of her upcoming wedding. In a single moment, a heavenly messenger changes the course of her future.

During the next thirty-three years, Mary pours the pondering of her heart onto the pages of a journal. From a nearly-broken betrothal to a strenuous journey in her final weeks of pregnancy, Mary’s innermost musings reveal the heart of this “handmaiden of the Lord.”

What might it have been like to see your firstborn son rise as a notable prophet? How would his ministry affect the rest of his earthly family? Read the story of the Gospel from the perspective of the woman chosen by the Lord chose to mother His only Son.

What is a Street Team?

A street team is simply a group of readers who believe in an author’s work and agree to help promote it.

This promotion can be as simple as sharing status updates on your Facebook timeline and tweeting about reviews, blogs and releases. It will certainly require you to post a review on Goodreads and Amazon.

A street team provides the biggest impetus for book sales – word of mouth. Team members reach out to their circle of friends and acquaintances and encourage them to try the book.

What it means for you

This novella is a story from the perspective of Mary, the mother of Jesus. If you think you would enjoy such a story and wouldn’t mind writing reviews, posting about it on Facebook and telling people you know about where to buy it, would you consider applying for this street team?

For about three weeks, I will ask you to post something to your preferred social media. One thing per day so your friends aren’t annoyed. I’ll provide the text, images and ideas for sharing them.

If this sounds like something you could commit to, please click here and complete the form. That’s it.

If you complete this contact form, you’ll receive an email from me notifying you that you’ve been selected to “audition” for my Street Team. You’ll have the opportunity to unsubscribe at that time.

In about one month, I will send you an ARC (advance review copy) with another questionnaire (5 to 10 questions). Since this is a novella-length book (less than 40,000 words), I hope you would be able to read it and return the questionnaire by April 20.

After I review the completed questionnaires, I will notify people if they’ve been recruited for my street team. So basically what signing up here means is:

You get a free eBook

That’s it. If you have any interest in this at all, please complete the form. Thank you.

Join the Pondering Heart Street Team

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