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