An excerpt from Reflections from a Pondering Heart by Sharon Hughson
“Yes, Mother,” he said. “Do you want me to take Rachel?”
My youngest—finally a girl—was strapped to my chest, where she’d fallen asleep during the walk from the village. I shook my head. I didn’t want to risk waking her, even if my lower back ached from the extra weight.
Jesus stood and grabbed the hands of his cousin James and his brother Simon. The three-year-olds chased each other on chubby legs until he corralled them with a touch.
“How about a game outside?” Jesus spoke quietly but with authority.
Judah, Mahlon, and my James barreled past the open doorway, cheering. They loved when Jesus wasn’t working in Joseph’s shop and could play with them. He certainly had more patience and energy than I ever did.
I pushed through the goatskin hanging over the doorway into the additional room. Inside, a bed, table, and stool filled the space. Woven rugs added color to the dirt floor. My stepmother sat on the stool, working wool with her birdlike hands.
I should have kissed her cheeks, a proper greeting for a mother, but we have never been close. I nodded to her instead and sat on the ground near her feet, cradling Rachel’s warm body against my chest.
Lord, let her sleep on. Don’t let my movements disturb her.
Silence filled the air between us. Laughter from whatever game the children played floated through the small window behind Anna’s sturdy bed. My lips twitched in response.
When Joseph and my brothers had left for Jerusalem, I chided myself for not accompanying him. Now, I realized staying behind with my sister and the children had been a good decision. They needed time to play, and travel was hard on everyone. The cousins loved spending time together. Soon, Cleopas, recently promoted to vineyard steward, would move his family closer to Capernaum. What a different life my sister and her children would lead.
“Nomi is unwell.” Anna’s voice drew my attention away from the window and to her wrinkled visage. “I don’t know if she will survive the pregnancy.”
“The first is difficult for most women.” I didn’t want to encourage the woman’s negativity. How difficult must it be for Nomi to live with a mother-in-law who disapproved of her? I knew exactly how harsh Anna’s wrath could be.
“Was it difficult for you?”
Anna’s dark eyes glared at me. It was a chance for her to throw my infidelity back into my face. Father had never told her about the angel of the Lord. Instead, she assumed I had consummated my marriage to Joseph before the ceremony took place. She wasn’t the only one; everyone in Nazareth suspected the same.
“I would have preferred to be with family,” I said. Silently, I beseeched Yahweh for a special measure of patience. “But Joseph’s aunt was an experienced midwife.”
Anna stared at me a few moments longer. “Can you do something to get her out of bed? I fear her lethargy weakens her. She will need more strength than she has when her hour comes.”
My narrowed eyes studied this woman seated before me. She had been a kind grandmother to my sons, although she hadn’t paid much attention to Rachel. Her only daughter, Sarah, had died of an illness when she was but a babe. I had wept openly for my half sister, but Anna shut herself away for several weeks. When she emerged from her mourning, her tolerance for my sister and I seemed even more forced.
I patted Rachel’s back, staring at her chubby face, lips pursed in a sucking motion even as she slept.
Thank you, Jehovah, that Joseph loves his daughter as much as his sons. He is so much like my own father.
I rose, dismissed from Anna’s presence. I turned and left the room, pushing aside the skin into the bedroom where my sister-in-law reclined against a stack of straw pillows. Her face, pale and drawn, relaxed when I entered. Thankful it wasn’t Anna? Likely.
“Thank you for coming, Mary.”
I stepped forward and grasped her hands. They were cold. I leaned down and kissed her cheek.
“Rachel?” She held her arms out when I stood up.
I asked about her routines, while I untied the scarf holding Rachel to my breast. A smile transformed Nomi’s features once I settled the baby in her arms.
“She’s beautiful.” Her tone was reverent.
I blushed at the comment. Most women didn’t make a fuss over the appearance of daughters. After all, sons were what men coveted.
“I want mine to be a girl,” Nomi said in a quieter tone. “I know Jesse needs a son, but it would be nice to have company around the house.”
What she didn’t say hung between us. Anna didn’t offer to spend time with Nomi, help her with household chores, or offer any sort of support.
My heart constricted. What a terrible position Nomi was in. But there was no help for it. Jesse was the oldest son, responsible for our stepmother’s welfare until she passed into the next life.
“The boys are good helpers,” I said. “Jesus works in the shop with Joseph. Soon, Judah will be six, old enough for lessons at the synagogue. I’m sure Joseph will begin teaching him carpentry too.”
We visited for a while. Rachel awoke. I carried her back to the main room, changing and feeding her behind the drape of the sleeping area I had used for thirteen years. Mary and I would sleep here with our children tonight. Would we stay with Nomi the entire week until the men returned from Jerusalem?
I thought of my small room and firm bed. The boys often slept with me when Joseph traveled. I would have Rachel to keep me company for sure.
Perhaps Nomi was right. Having a daughter might be a special blessing.
A squall from outside brought my head up. The curtain jerked aside. My James rushed in, tears rolling down his face, streaking the dust with rivers of mud.
“Mahlon stepped on me,” he said.
I laid Rachel over my lap and gestured with open arms for James to come to me. He hugged my shoulders, snuffling into the shawl draped across my body to provide modesty while I fed the baby.
“You are a strong carpenter, James,” I soothed, patting his back. “Think of Father hitting his thumb with a hammer. Does he cry?”
James rubbed his head from side to side on my shawl. I bit back a smile when I thought of the smudges he would leave behind. A small price to pay since he rarely came to me for comfort. As much as I missed his warm hugs, I must continue teaching him independence.
The curtain fluttered. I looked up to see Jesus peeking in.
“Come, James. Mother is busy with Rachel.”
“I am never too busy to share your hurts,” I said, patting James again.
He pulled away. The dirt was smeared across his face, part of one cheek wiped clean. I ran my fingers through his thick, brown hair, still soft but getting so much longer.
I glanced up at Jesus, nodding. He stepped forward and gently turned James away.
“They are trying to hit the gate with pebbles now,” Jesus said. “Do you think you can throw that far?”
James wiped a sleeve over his face, nodding vigorously.
Jesus is a wonderful son, Jehovah. You have blessed me beyond measure.
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