Friday, December 23, 2011

Women of the Bible Encouragement Series: Mary ~ Mother of her Messiah

Night air sucked hard through her teeth as Mary gasped and clutched her stomach. “It’s coming.” Wetness seeped through her robes and warmed the poor donkey beneath her. Lord, we’re so close to the town. Couldn’t it wait a bit longer? A seizure gripped her middle as her body rebelled against the good sense she offered
With a forceful rush she realized, I'm not ready. 14 years she'd lived on this earth. What did she know about raising a child? She'd only learned where babies come from a couple years ago. Not that it helped much in this situation. Her mind rushed through the events of the past year like it did only when she'd been chewing a sugar cane too long--her betrothal to Joseph, the angel's frightening visit, and the arrival of her cousin Elizabeth's baby boy. Joseph's heartbroken rejection when he'd found her with child, his acceptance of God's will after his own visit with an angel, and now this long journey to the city of Joseph's ancestry for Herod's census.
She took another breath to calm herself. It didn't work. Mama had talked her through what was to come with a birth. So why did she feel so unprepared?
 Joseph took three steps, dropped the donkey’s lead rope and turned. He looked thunderstruck. “What?”
“The child.” She gritted out. “He’s coming.” A mess of emotional thoughts flew through her mind while she watched her betrothed’s eyes flip from her face to her stomach and back again. Thoughts like, Who am I that God has chosen me to deliver his child?
            The donkey swished its tail, growing cold now with the moisture and night air.
            And still other thoughts like, What if I do something wrong and the babe doesn’t survive? Will God kill me too? And…
            Joseph raked a hand through his hair, his long, travel-worn cloak whipping up with the motion, and sported a dumbfounded expression.
…What am I doing so far away from home with this clueless man?
Reality must have settled in Joseph’s mind, because he grabbed the donkey’s halter and pulled them along. Dim lights of Bethlehem came into view and relief melted over her shoulders.
She struggled to stay on the donkey when another pain hit. Joseph knocked on the door of the inn and looked torn between staying with her and barging in the door. She knew he wouldn’t go in without her, but after three tries, no one answered. Becoming frantic, he gave the door a final, hard pounding. “Please, let us in.”
“Look people,” the voice came out muffled and gruff before the door opened. “We got no more room in here. Not even if the Messiah hisself came and asked to stay…” Coarse laughter exploded from inside in response.
Mary cringed.
With a glance at her condition, the man softened his tone. “Sorry. Couldn't fit another person if every one in 'ere sucked in and turned sideways.”
“Where is the next in? My wife is… She’s…” Joseph gestured to her.
“Next inn?” the man snickered. “Bethlehem only has one and this is it. Next place for decent folk to stay would be in Jerusalem.”
Joseph, jaw twitching in anger, looked up the long hill to the royal city. She could almost hear his thoughts. It would be too late before they reached another inn. There was no way she’d make it into Jerusalem.
            Dear God! If the city of David does not receive Your Son, is there no place on this earth He is welcome?
“‘Fraid you won’t find any room there, either. Horrible crowded, what with ‘His Greatness’ Herod’s decree.” The innkeeper said with a snort. He eyed Mary closely. “Though, from the looks of it, you’d best find some sort of shelter soon.” The man moved to go in, then turned. “There's…” he scratched his mustache, “What I mean is—it’s not a fit place for a birthing but… There's stables,” he gestured, “In the side of the hill yonder, where the shepherds sometimes stow their flocks in the winter.” He looked between the two of them and the donkey. “Sorry.” The proprietor rubbed his belly and shuffled back into his inn, muttering under his breath.
“Oh,” Mary groaned. The pangs were coming closer together now. This one so strong it startled her.
Joseph looked up. The urgency in his eyes mingled with determination and reminded Mary of his iron-like will. Honor was everything to him. Even early on, when he’d suspected her of infidelity, he’d chosen a merciful path, rather than the justice he held rights to. He studied the skyline a moment.
“Dear Lord, I’m sorry,” he prayed as he trudged up the hillside, “but this is the best I can do.”
The path to the stable became a blur of agony. Sweat trickled into her eyes. When she could finally breath again, she looked up at her home for the night.
It was a cave. Only a little less frightening than she’d imagined, though not as dark. The starlight was unusually bright here.
Joseph led her into the primitive shelter. The stale odor sheep left behind trampled over any sweet smell the hay might have provided.
Lord, is this where you want your son born? Nothing made sense. She moaned. Especially when her stomach tightened like now. She bit her tongue to keep from screaming and tasted blood.
Joseph lifted her from the donkey and carried her to a mound of trampled looking hay. That’s when the pain rolled in. Her mind turned to mush. Vague moments came through in pieces—Joseph caressing her brow and hesitantly checking her progress, herself uncomfortable with his seeing her this way.
Another pain hit.
She was going to be a mother soon. A virgin, but a mother. She couldn’t deliver this child alone. Her abdomen contracted and nearly bent her in two. There was no choice but to sacrifice her embarrassment.
Joseph eased behind her to support her back with his chest when the spasms eased for a few seconds.      
Thank you, God, for such a man.
The cloud of anguish returned faster and stronger than ever. She screamed, unable to hold back, then the pressure eased and her burden was gone.
“He’s here,” Joseph whispered in her ear, as if she didn’t already know. She almost laughed but didn’t have the strength. He reached around her to gather the baby, and brought the slick new infant into her view. “And he’s perfect.”
Mary looked at her baby. Something wasn’t right. Why wasn’t he breathing? Where were the cries? Had she done what she feared? Had she messed up God’s plan?
Joseph’s big, man’s hands cleaned the baby’s miniature face and massaged its tiny chest until it began to wail so loudly, she almost wished He would be quiet again.
She laughed and made a feeble attempt to help Joseph wrap the child in the cloths he’d found—cloths left from wiping down the animal occupants now gone away. Warmth filled Mary as Joseph helped her hold the baby to her chest to nurse.
“Jesus,” her husband whispered to the hungry baby boy.
The Messiah. He was finally here. She couldn’t resist reaching a wobbly finger to touch his finely shaped brow and closed eyelid. A tear dropped from hers.
Then a thought hit her and left her shaken. “Joseph.”
He was just as busy studying Jesus as she. “Hmm?”
She turned to watch the man to whom she’d pledged herself. “Why us? Why here?”
Joseph caught her gaze. He opened his mouth to respond, but his eyes filled with moisture. He ran his tongue along the inside of his cheek and shook his head instead. After a few moments he said, “I don’t know,” and brushed calloused carpenter’s hands overtop her baby’s head. “But I’m glad.” His voice broke and they cried together, and laughed, and cried again.
When quiet descended and the warm weight of her baby lulled her, Mary dosed in Joseph’s arms. Birthing was harder than she’d guessed.
A noise woke her. “What was that?”
“Hmm?” Joseph murmured into her hair, obviously enjoying their tranquil closeness. He’d not even held her as of yet.
A sheep ran into the shelter and sniffed the corner before lying down.
Joseph, ever protective, stiffened and moved to stand guard.
Another sheep joined them. Then another, followed by a thin, rangy man who knelt, beholding Jesus with tearful worship. More followed him—some young, some old—gathering about the cave’s mouth like cautious children.
And finally she knew. Knew why this is where God wanted His son to meet His creation. Why He was born in the deepest part of the earth, witnessed by outcasts, showing how far Love would reach to save His people from their sins.
It was for her.

Hey ya'll. Hope you enjoyed this scene. I know it may seem a bit 'Americanized', but I had so much fun writing it, I just had to share. You'll find the Biblical account in Luke chapters 1 & 2.
Our next post will be Friday, Jan 6. We will be learning about Rahab, suggested by Bethany.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Women of the Bible Encouragement Series: Ruth ~ Rags to Riches

“You did what?” I asked, stupefied. The slow smile curling the corner of Ruth’s mouth told me I’d heard her right the first time. It was positively scandalous. Of course, I’d read the Biblical account of her story before this visit and knew it was coming, but just for the sake of comprehension, I needed to hear it again.

She laughed, ebony eyes sparkling in the lantern light. “I said, ‘I uncovered Boaz’ feet and lay beside him.’ ” She patted her grandbaby Jesse’s blanket-wrapped bottom while he lay in the bend of her elbow. “The surprise on your countenance is almost as satisfying as Boaz’ was when he awoke.” She looked up at the ceiling, sounding a chuckle that ended on a memory-laden sigh. “Oh, that man. His startled innocence touched my heart.
“You see,” she leaned forward conspiratorially, “we were at the threshing floor, a place where much nonsense was known to take place among the young men and women reapers after a big harvest was through. And poor unsuspecting Boaz, a single man of great wealth, woke to find himself in a very interesting situation.” Ruth laughed again, this time so hard the baby stirred and Ruth had to wipe tears from her eyes.
Then she sobered. “Remember now, I did all this only because I was advised by my mother-in-law, Naomi who had brought me with her from Moab after our husbands died. For all my pagan ways and upbringing, I was still a very somber young widow in those days and had some reservations. I was new to this country and had little knowledge of their ways, excepting the few traditions of my first husband, Mahlon, and Naomi, his mother. Though, I don’t think this was a normal occurrence even in her country. ”
            She smiled. “Whether or not she knew Boaz would accept my proposal that night, I’ll never know. Sometimes I wonder if she intended to use her knowledge of our evening together as a threat that would produce a proposal of his own, had he refused my advances.” She chuckled. "Oh, how I miss that woman!"

I tried to process this, all the while trying to picture Ruth as somber. From what I'd seen, she never stopped smiling. “What did he do then?”

“He jumped and twisted like a startled pup and asked me who I was." Ruth said. The words were barely discernible with all her laughter. The man was scared to death, I tell you. It was dark at the end of the heap of corn and my back was to the moon, giving me a perfectly lighted view of his panic-stricken face and rumpled hair, but not allowing him the same advantage. I said that I was Ruth, his handmaid, and told him to spread his covering over me. That he, as Naomi’s kin, was in a position to take me as his wife, provide for my mother-in-law and me and render a son to Mahlon’s name.”

Several seconds after hearing this, it occurred to me that my jaw was hanging slack and I should shut my mouth. “You woke him from a deep sleep after a hard day’s work and proposed to him with a reminder that he was your kinsman—that he was in line to take care of your financial needs? And it worked?”

Ruth laughed again. The baby stirred in her arms and I wondered if she'd ever get it to sleep. “Yes. But only, I think, because the Lord God had already been working in our unique situation. See, when I first came to work in Boaz’ fields (a happenstance on my part), he noticed me and asked his young men who I was. He heard from them that I was caring for my mother-in-law, Naomi, with whom I had recently returned from Moab. 
"Traditionally, widows and the poor were allowed to gather what the reapers left behind, but as was his nature, Boaz made sure, when the harvest was gathered, that his workmen left behind handfuls of barley on purpose for me to pick up. He also ordered them not to touch me. Even though I was a Moabitess, there were a few young men who were quite forward in their approach. In light of that, and my grieving for my newly deceased husband, it took me a while to notice Boaz’ interest for what it was. But he faithfully cared and provided for me even before we were married. He gave me permission to take meals with his workers, drink of the water they drew, and he urged me to work only in his fields.
“But back to the threshing floor… When I told Boaz my name and that he was a kinsman of mine, he blessed me for coming to him and not chasing the hotheaded young men, whether poor or rich. Indeed, he called it a kindness. He calmed my fears, assured me he would do all that I required, and praised me as one who had a virtuous name among the people.”

I smiled. “So there is your happy ending.”

“Oh, not quite,” she said and raised her brows. “Boaz knew of another man who was closer in the family line than he. My old ire reared a bit when Boaz first told me. He said if the man was willing to act as the nearest kinsman and take me as his wife, then so be it. I wondered at his indifference then, but now I know that my Godly husband would never have gone against the laws of the day. He honored his country and faith, even if it meant giving up his own desires.”
She looked up at me, confused. “Where were we?”

“The nearer kinsman.”

            “Ah, yes. Thank you, dear.” Ruth shifted the once-droopy baby and patted my hand, causing his eyes to pop open again. “Well, Boaz told me to lie down until the morning. The next day, before it was light enough to satisfy the eyes of ravenous gossips, he took my veil and filled it with six measures of barley! Then I went home under cover of darkness to wait with Naomi.” She leaned forward and groaned with distress. “I had never been so impatient in my life. It seemed days of waiting, when it was only hours. I was fretful and could hardly stop pacing, but Naomi told me to sit still until we heard how the matter would fall. She assured me he would not rest until the thing was finished that very day.
“In the meantime, Boaz was in town. He called aside ten men of the city, and bade them sit down. The man in question was confronted with his right to marry me and take possession of my husband’s land. He instantly agreed. 
"Then Boaz further informed this kinsman that his firstborn child would be required to bear Mahlon’s name and the man refused to do his part rather than put his own inheritance in jeopardy.
Ruth clapped her hands and hugged them to her chest. “Oh, I remember when he came to tell me! He was so happy. As the happy bridegroom, he brought more gifts into Naomi’s house than it would hold. I’d never seen such abundance.
“Even in Moab, I had never been wealthy. And compared to Naomi’s dwelling, Boaz’ home looks a palace.” She motioned around her. The room was well furnished. Woven rugs covered every inch of the floor.
Ruth stopped patting Jesse. The baby was asleep. She bent and laid his limp little body in the plush cradle. She caressed the wispy fuzz on his head. “I never dreamed then that I would have babies and grandchildren of my own.” She came and sat again. “My marriage to Mahlon had not been fruitful and at times I despaired, believing I was barren. But when Boaz and I came together, the Lord blessed our marriage and gave us our son, Obed. His name means ‘worshipper’. And his son Jesse,” she motioned to the cradle, “he is our Gift from God.
“For a long time I feared my children would never be accepted into the community since I am a Gentile, but the Lord has been good to me. As family of Boaz, the Lord has brought my name and the name of my children out of obscurity and into honor. 
"In more ways than one, Boaz’ love has changed my life. I came to this land a penniless widow and now I am the wife of a very influential man. But most importantly, I know that the God I now serve is the One True God--that he is faithful and hears the prayers of his servants. And none of this would have taken place if I had not met a little old woman who was determined to go back home to the presence of God.”  

The exciting story of Ruth is recorded in it's own book of the Bible. I've embellished quite a bit here, but still can't tell it as well as the Original Author. Read it for yourself. There are so many interesting things I couldn't fit into one post. I hope this was a blessing. 

Come back next Friday, Dec. 23,  for a short bonus post about Mary, Jesus' mother. It won't be an interview. In fact, I'll probably eliminate the first person altogether, showing the scene from her perspective. I'm hoping the fun tool of fiction will let us sample some of what she might have felt on that first Christmas night.

'Til then!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Women of the Bible Encouragement Series: Rebekah ~ Ready to Run

     I squirmed in my perch atop a brownish-red camel. Each rolling step of the itchy, malodorous animal soaked me in gratitude that I was no longer afoot. By a slight miscalculation, I had landed smack in the middle of the desert. (Apparently I need to study up on my maps of ancient Israel.) Lucky for me, a caravan happened along and offered me a ride—the caravan bringing Rebekah to Isaac, her intended. I shifted again and squinted against hot sunlight as Rebekah came bounding up beside me. Her maid, an older woman approached a bit slower on her own ugly, smelly camel—two attributes she didn’t seem to mind.

     “So how did you happen to be back there, alone….with no sustenance or water?” Rebekah asked. Her eyes burned bright with curiosity and she grinned at me, hair whipped mercilessly by dust and wind. “Are you mad or simply foolish?”

     The gray-haired maid’s mouth fell open. “Bekah! Remember your manners. You are to be married soon. It’s time you put away your girlish boldness.”

     Rebekah still stared at me, waiting.

     “I um…” I stammered, “made a mistake.”

     Her eyes narrowed with her smile. “You’re not a runaway servant are you?”

     At this, the maid scoured me with her suspicious perusal.

     “No!” I responded a bit too quickly. "Good heavens, no. I lost my way." I didn’t know what the usual punishment was for runaways, but given these ladies' reaction it wasn't good and I wasn’t eager to find out. "What about you?” My heart picked up speed. I couldn’t wait for her side of the story. “Why are you traveling?”

     “I…” she began, then took a deep breath and let it out on a laugh, “I am going to meet my husband.” She turned to me, almost smug. “Surprised?” She faced forward again, her bearing that of a desert princess. “I’ve never seen him, but since the beginning of this journey, I’ve wrung from his servants every single detail about his character and his person." Her brows rose and lips that were used to smiling curved upward on one side.
     “He is a man of 40 years, of medium stature, strong, and with a kind spirit. His mother died not very long ago. His father is old and would see his son wed before his death.”
She turned and giggled. “His servants will not tell me whether or not he is handsome. They are all men and say they cannot tell, but that he carries himself with confidence. I do not think they would know how to tell a handsome man if they saw one.”

     I smiled. “How did this come about—you being fetched, I mean?”

     She shook the bright scarf from her dark hair. “You would never believe me if I told it to you,” her tilted head assessed me, “but I will tell you anyway.” She pointed far ahead. “Do you see the man at the front?”

     I followed the line of her finger to where an old man sat a camel as if he was born riding. Once in a long while he gave a calm order and the man next to him rode ahead to relieve the front scout. It reminded me of scenes I’d read about wagon trains on the Oregon Trail.

     “He is Eliezer--head servant in the house of Abraham, my husband’s father. He came to the well outside of my village about three weeks ago. He was tired and thirsty, and in need of a place to stay when he came to the well on the outside of town, where women draw water at evening. When I filled my pitcher and hefted it to my shoulder, ready to carry it home, Eliezer ran to meet me and asked of me a drink of water. I saw his camels were weary and, as soon as he drank, emptied my pitcher into the camel’s trough and ran to fetch more water until the animals were done drinking.”

     “Didn’t you wear yourself out?” I asked and glanced around, amazed. I couldn’t imagine toting water for all these camels. Each fat, fuzzy creature looked like it could guzzle a river and still be thirsty.

     “Oh, it took a long while, but I was used to watering our animals there as well as fetching water daily. It was not my first time to the well.
     “After the men and livestock drank their fill," she fingered thick, gold bangles on each wrist, "Eliezer gave me heavy, precious jewelry and asked my father’s name and requested lodging for the night. When he learned I was his master’s distant kin, he dropped his head and worshiped the Lord." 
     She laughed, a fun, boisterous sound. "I ran home faster than I thought my legs could carry me and shared the news of what the stranger had said and that he was coming to stay. My parents recognized the name of Abraham as he is my grandfather’s brother.
     “When my brother, Laban, saw the earring and bracelets on my hands, he ran to the well to greet Eliezer and urge him to stay with us, probably hoping to be rewarded for his greeting with a gift like mine. Eliezar came with him, but would not so much as eat before he delivered his message and his reason for coming—to find a wife for his master’s son.
     “He said he had prayed that the girl whom the Lord had chosen for Isaac would not only give him a drink when he came to the well, but also offer to water his camels. My father said it was a sign from the Lord and consented that I would be Isaac’s wife. The next morning, my mother and brother urged the man to stay at least ten more days, but he was eager to bring me home to his master and have done with his errand. Mother and Laban were not pleased with this, but they asked my opinion and of course I agreed to leave right away.” She sighed. “I’ve dreamed of grand adventure and faraway places since childhood and never thought it would happen to me, yet here I am.” 
     Curiosity bled into her wistful expression and she stretched tall in her seat and peered ahead. “We should be nearing Isaac’s fields.” 

     The camels picked up speed as if smelling the sweet scent of home and a cloud of dust filled the place Rebekah had occupied. She slowed beside the head servant and asked a question. She stretched a graceful hand toward the fields where a man stood alone, then she whipped her veil over her head to cover her face and jumped off her camel, agile as a deer. The man began walking toward us. It was Isaac.

     My stomach grew nervous and I felt Rebekah’s anticipation. Was he as good as his servants had said? Would he love her? Was she doing the right thing by marrying this older man, sight unseen?

     When Eliezer had told Isaac all the things that he had done, the master turned to my veiled, newly found friend and smiled at her for a long time, then took her hand and led her home.

The Bible gives us so many windows into Rebekah's life. It was hard to choose which time of her life to spotlight, but there is so much symbolism in these first glimpses of her, so today, the beginning is where we meet her. Check out Gen. 24 for the real story. One of my favorite parts of the whole passage is in Gen. 24:67 where it says "...and he loved her:" It's such a sweet, sigh-worthy way for God to end and begin a great love story, don't you think? 

Also, did you notice how many times people were running in this story?? Eliezer RAN to Rebekah. She RAN to fill her pot and water the camels. She RAN home. Her brother RAN back to meet Eliezer and bring him home. She JUMPED off her camel when Isaac came into view. When they knew what to do, they did it not just willingly, but eagerly and with excitement. Can you imagine what our lives would be like if we had this type of zeal? 

The lesson this story brings to mind is threefold: stay willing(Eliezer loved his master and agreed to travel a long distance, 3 weeks or more, to fulfill his master's wishes.), stay watchful (Rebekah noticed the camels were tired and thirsty because she was attentive to the things around her, thereby fulfilling the sign Eliezer prayed for from God.), and stay at the Well (Had Rebekah decided not to carry through her daily, mundane but necessary chore of fetching water, she might not have been there that day, would not have built the strength to carry water to those camels and Eliezer might have chosen a different girl to be wife to the father of Israel. Stay faithful in the 'everyday' areas of serving God. He may be preparing you for something great.). 

Our next post, Dec. 16, we'll be looking at Ruth, suggested by Learning to Fly and Aliene. Thanks for reading!