Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Midwinter Memories {twenty-five}

To start at the beginning ...

Ruth felt the ache of the winter’s cold in her joints, and as she settled on her pallet, she felt a deep weariness.  Gripping the wool blankets in her gnarled hands, she lay back, nestling into her bed. Matthew knelt by the hearth and stacked fresh, dry wood along with brush in the fireplace.  Blowing on the coals, sparks flew up the chimney, spinning in circles.  As the wood caught, he sat back on his heels, brushing the cinders from his hands and cloak.   She welcomed the warmth of fire, feeling fingers of heat creep across the room to where she lay.
“That should carry you through the night, Grandmother.  It is late and I am expected home.”  Ruth reached out to her grandson and gripped his offered hands,  “I’ll be by early in the morning with fresh wood and water, before I tend to the sheep.”
“Thank you, Matthew, my boy.  You have been a blessing to me this evening.  Go with God.”  She kissed her fingertips and placed them tenderly on his forehead as he bent towards her.  Watching him walk out the door, her eyes burned.  His faithfulness to her in these past years was a precious gift, and the time spent together had brought her great joy.  He reminded her of Jacob in so many ways:  his smile, his gentleness, his faith in God.  His grandfather had passed down a legacy of noble character, tireless patience and a strong belief in the goodness of Yahweh, a result of all he witnessed that first noel.  A gift that Ruth treasured as she watched their children and their children’s children live lives of faith.
Closing her eyes, Ruth sighed, feeling her body melt into the mattress.  Her body was exhausted, but her mind continued to be full of memories, some sweet and others bitter.  Images fluttered through her thoughts as she lay in the dark ...
Ruth remembered how crushed Jacob had been to hear that Mary and Joseph had departed in the middle of the night, leaving without saying goodbye.  Following the visit from the angels he had spent every extra moment during his days and nights, sitting with the family and talking to Joseph.  In those few days, he seemed to grow up before Ruth’s very eyes, becoming more mature and wise.  While Jacob was shaken the morning he discovered the stable cold and empty, his faith never wavered and he continued to share the miracle of the Messiah’s birth to everyone in the village and any visitors who stopped to listen.
Her mother’s coldness endured through the spring and summer, in spite of Ruth’s efforts to restore their former intimacy.  While she refrained from speaking of the baby Messiah in her mother’s presence, she shared freely with visitors to the inn about their special guests and the baby that had been born on the night of her birthday.  As the seasons passed, Ruth accepted the possibility that her mother might never believe and that sadness grew like a lump of ice in her heart.  Then with the death of Benjamin, her mother was lost to her forever.
Tears pricked Ruth’s eyes and she felt the hot tears slip from her eyes, gliding into her silver hair as she lay, stretched out on her back.  She would never forget the horror of that day, nor the terrifying clamor of the soldiers as they filled the village, hunting for the baby boys.  The screams and cries echoed in her mind, the barbarity of the mass killings haunted her still.  Even her father’s faith had been shaken at the loss of Benjamin, an innocent victim of King Herod’s jealous rage.  But it was her mother who suffered the most and the following winter, she faded away, dying from a wounded heart.
Ruth had fought against waves of fear and anger in the frozen months that followed; questioning God and wrestling with His purposes, but Jacob had listened to her and gently reminded her of the promises made by the angels and the prophets.  Each in their own way, they had given their hearts to Jesus on that midwinter’s night and that shared moment had drawn them close together, a bond that would be strengthened in the years to come.
Ruth smiled as she recalled their wedding celebration, the births of their children and the years full of family and work.  She reflected on the goodness of God in the health of their family and the provision of the inn to meet the needs of their growing family.  Of course, there had been seasons when their needs seemed overwhelming and God seemed to have forgotten them, but lying there in the dark, she could see that God had been present every moment of her every day.  Silver strands of His presence wove through her memories like a spider’s web, all fanning out from that moment, that night when she sat in the hay, watching Mary worship her baby, with a kiss. 
Suddenly an picture came sharply into focus, a memory that had hidden away in a lost corner of her mind.  Jacob had arranged for Ruth and their children to travel to Jerusalem for the Passover many years ago and when they had arrived, crowds swarmed the streets.  Some were pilgrims like themselves while others filled the streets as a result of a great trial that had the city in an uproar.  As Jacob pushed through the crowds, they were caught up in a procession headed up a hill to the outskirts of town.  They managed to keep their family together, but soon found themselves standing amidst a crowd, watching a battery of Roman soldiers carry out a crucifixion.  It was gruesome and Ruth gathered her children, forcing her way out of the throng, escaping the scene of death.  Before she could flee, however, she caught sight of a woman kneeling at the foot of one of the men who hung on a cross.  The older woman wept and then stood and kissing her hand, reached up to touch the feet of the condemned man.  
The image of the kiss shook Ruth as she lay on her mattress.  Her eyes sprung open in the darkness, realization dawning on her suddenly.  She would not have recognized the man, but the woman ... the woman she could never forget.  The same nose, the same eyes and the same kiss of adoration.  The words of the prophet Isaiah washed over Ruth, tears of joy streaming down her lined face, 
Surely he took up our pain  and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Clasping her hands against her chest, she clenched her eyes shut, and spoke into the the darkness of her humble house.  Words of praise bubbled up from Ruth’s lips, “That baby truly was your gift of Salvation, Lord Yahweh.  The Redemption of Israel and a Light to the Gentiles.  Thank you for the gift of your Son, Immanuel, God with us.  I give you my heart anew.”  
Ruth felt the relentless pain leave her body and she sighed, relief flooding her bones and her spirit.  Peace coursed through her veins and she felt sleep tugging at her, ushering her into a time of rest.  And when again, she opened her eyes, it was Jesus she saw.  
“Welcome home, little Ruth.”


My gift to you ... and a gift you can share with those you love!
Midwinter Memories

Monday, December 24, 2012

Midwinter Memories {twenty-four}

To start at the beginning ...

As promised, Jacob fetched Ruth from the stable just as the winter sun was peeking over the hills of Bethlehem.  In the short walk from the stable door to the door of her home, Ruth talked about the stories Mary and Joseph had shared about the angels that had visited them and Jacob recounted his experiences of the night before as he and the shepherds had traveled door to door telling everyone in the City of David about the birth of Jesus.  Many villagers had listened, astonished at the news, while others has laughed and closed their doors on the shepherds.  “We had a few visitors last night after you left,” Ruth said, “Several came and brought gifts to Mary and Joseph.  Perhaps more will come today.  They will stay for a few days before heading back to Nazareth.”

As they neared the door, Ruth stopped.  She could hear her mother and father’s raised voices as they argued.  Embarrassed, Ruth thanked Jacob and opened the door.  The house fell into silence as she walked into the early morning gloom.  Her father sat in his chair by the fire while her mother paced the floor, wringing her hands.  “We can ask her now,” her father turned his attention fully to Ruth and beckoned for her to stand by him.  “Your mother was just telling me about our guests in the stable.  You have just left them, yes?”  Ruth nodded silently.  “And how are they, little Ruth?”

“They are well, Abba.  I told them I would bring them breakfast when it was ready,” she glanced at her mother, nervously, “If that’s okay, Mother.”  Ruth’s mother nodded stiffly and looked to the fire, still twisting her shawl in her fingers.
“And what about this baby.  Tell me about him.”
Ruth swallowed hard and fiddled with the edge of her mother’s cloak.  Her father gently lifted her chin with his large, chapped finger and looked her in the eye, encouraging her to speak.  With a glance at her mother, she told her father everything about the night before, including the stories Mary and Joseph had shared about their angelic visitors.  As she finished speaking, silence filled the house.
Her father leaned back in his chair and rubbed his face, thinking.  Then he nodded and remarked, “That fits with the announcements I have heard throughout Bethlehem.  We had our own visitors last night, a band of shepherds reciting a message they received from a chorus of angels.  I believe you know Jacob?  He was one of the messengers.”  Ruth blushed and studied the hem of her cloak before nodding.  “The prophet Micah foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.  Perhaps the promises of God are being fulfilled in our days ... and in our stable.  I will go now and see for myself.”
As he straightened up and stood, Ruth beamed at her father, clutching his rough hands.  “It’s true, Papa.  The Messiah has come.”  He patted her head and walked purposely out the door, letting it fall closed behind him.  Turning to her mother, Ruth saw sadness and fear etched in her face.  Reaching for her mother she hoped to appeal to her, but instead her mother turned to the fire, wrapping her shawl tightly about her shoulders.  A moment later, Benjamin fussed in his cradle and her mother hurried to busy herself with her infant son.  Tears burned in Ruth’s eyes as she walked to the door, fetched the pots for water and left for the town well.
In the days that followed, Ruth’s family was frozen, brittle.  Her father spoke endlessly about the promises of the prophets and invited teachers of the law to the house to hear more about the Messiah.  In contrast, her mother built a wall around herself, holding herself distant from everyone.  There was a coldness between her parents that Ruth had never experienced before.  Her father assured her that in time her mother would come to understand the truth, but Ruth was doubtful.  Even after the young couple left, disappearing several days later in the middle of the night, Ruth’s mother was silent and withdrawn.  

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Midwinter Memories {twenty-three}

To start at the beginning ...

Matthew helped Ruth to her feet and fetched the smooth staff that leaned against the bench.  Before handing it to his grandmother, he rubbed the rounded top with his thumb, smiling in the darkness at the familiar etching under his fingertips.  Ruth cocked her head and smiled at him, “So we would never forget that night, no matter what happened.”  She took the staff and traced the elaborate star that Jacob had carved into the olive branch all those years ago.  “And so much happened as a result of that baby.  Much suffering and pain, but also much happiness.  Such is life - a mixing of sorrow and joy.”
Ruth shuffled a few steps, wincing.  “Sitting too long in the cold has made my bones ache.”  She leaned heavily on her grandson and patted his arm,  “Thank you for coming with me, Matthew.  It is sweet to recall these memories with you and it brings me such joy to know that you have these stories buried in your own heart.  You can pass them along to your children and your children’s children...”
“Just as you have, Grandmother.  Just as you have.”  They made their way slowly through the stable door and out into the cold night air.  As they rounded the house, Ruth gazed up at the night sky.  Matthew stopped and stood, supporting Ruth and looking into the star-filled night with her.
“He’ll come again in the sky, Matthew.  The heavens will open and he will call us home to an eternity spent in his glorious presence.  And I’m sure the angels with be celebrating again, singing praises to the King of kings and Lord of lords.”  Ruth stood staring up into the blackness and Matthew could see that her eyes were glistening with fresh tears.  “But you must believe.  You must know in your soul that the baby born that night truly was the Messiah.  And that later, his cruel death satisfied God’s final requirement for a blood offering.  And that ...”
“He conquered death and rose to life ...”
“And ascended to heaven to reign with God.”
“Yes, Grandmother, I believe.”
She turned her glassy eyes to Matthew and smiled, patting his arm again.  “I know, Matthew, and for that I am so grateful.  But many didn’t.  Many refused to believe and died still looking for the Messiah.”  She blinked and dabbed at her eyes with her shawl.  Nodding sadly, they walked the few remaining steps to the door of her house.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Midwinter Memories {twenty-two}

To start at the beginning ...

“Ruth?” Jacob whispered, “Is that you?”
Gathering her cloak around her, Ruth rose to her feet and tiptoed to where Jacob and the young men stood.  The stable door closed with a thud, pulled shut by a gust of arctic air, causing all of them to jump.  The donkey in a nearby stall brayed, startled by the noises and the visitors.  Joseph stood and comforted the skittish creature, murmuring quiet reassurances in the beast’s long ear, while from her place beside the manger, Mary smiled, a puzzled expression on her face.
“Yes, Jacob, it’s me.  What are you doing here?” Ruth inquired in a hushed tone.
Jacob looked to dirt floor and rocked from side to side, suddenly self-conscious of the shepherds’ intrusion in the quiet stable.  Looking at the young couple, he saw their inquisitive eyes and felt his fellow shepherds falling back against the door, unsure of themselves.  His heart sunk as he realized how foolish it might sound, this mysterious visit by a host of angels.  But there in the feeding trough a baby slept, just as the angels had proclaimed.  He looked up into Ruth’s smiling face, however, and was encouraged.  “We just came from the fields.  The night was filled with angels and they were all singing about ... him.”  He pointed to the manger, waiting for them to laugh perhaps or to send them away.  Instead, Ruth clapped her hands joyfully and beamed.
“All of heaven is celebrating, Jacob!  Come quickly, come and see the baby Messiah.  He is the promised Redeemer,” and clutching Jacob’s cloak, she tugged him toward the circle of light where Mary and Joseph now sat, tears in their eyes, smiling.  “His name is Jesus.”
The band of shepherds made their way slowly to the makeshift cradle, curious and yet shy.  Ruth pulled Jacob onto his knees beside her as she knelt in the scratchy hay and the other shepherds followed, bowing low and peering at the baby.  Mary carefully drew back the blankets to reveal the infant, sleeping peacefully.  Joseph turned to the shepherds and spoke softly, inquiring about the angel chorus.  In a hushed tone, Jacob recounted their story, finishing with the angel chorus, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”  The words hung frozen in the night air, echoing in the hearts of those present.  Joseph shook his head in amazement and Mary treasured the promises in her heart, marveling and yet unable to comprehend their significance.
Several minutes passed in silence.  Each lost in their own thoughts.  Suddenly, Jacob stirred and turning his dark eyes on Ruth, he said, “We must not keep this news to ourselves.  All of Bethlehem must know about this.”  Directing his words to his fellow shepherds, he spoke.  “Let us go and tell everyone about this miraculous event.”  Bowing low to the family, the young men rose to their feet and made their way to the stable door.  Jacob held back, lingering near Ruth.  “Do you intend to stay?”
Ruth nodded, “Yes, I must be home at first light, but Mother gave me permission to stay here.”
“I will fetch you at dawn, to escort you home.  If you would like.”  Jacob blushed and looked down at his feet.  He looked toward the door where his friends shuffled their feet, waiting for him.
“Thank you.”  She smiled and hurried back toward the manger, coloring rising in her own cheeks.  Settling into the hay, she felt a gust of cold air and then heard the door close tightly behind her. Kneeling close to the baby, she murmured, “Even the angels can’t contain their excitement.  Imagine ... the sky filled with angels and cherubim and seraphim, all singing about you, Jesus.”

Friday, December 21, 2012

Midwinter Memories {twenty-one}

To start at the beginning ...

“I remember sitting on Grandfather’s lap and hearing him tell that story.  The star and the angels ... there were so many angels.”  Matthew rubbed his hands to warm them and his breath produced puffs of frost as he spoke.
“The sky was filled with them, singing and praising God.  He said it was terrifying and thrilling all at once,” Ruth smiled remembering, “He was still trembling when he stepped into the stable that night.  Not from fear any longer, but from excitement.”  Ruth felt the chill air in her nose and ears and fingertips.  She pulled Jacob’s old cloak more tightly about her frail shoulders.
“Tell me again what the angels said to Grandfather and the other shepherds.”  Matthew settled on the bench next to Ruth and gathered her wrinkled hands in his own, pulling them under the folds of his own cloak to warm them.
“Ahhh ... the angel chorus.  Jacob told me that he and the shepherds had been sitting, huddled together for warmth, puzzling over a star that had appeared that night, when suddenly an angel appeared in the sky.  Of course, they were frightened, but the angel spoke words of comfort to them. ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people!’  As you can imagine, they were still terrified, but as the angel continued, Jacob’s heart burned in him.  The angel said, ‘Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’  With those words, Jacob had gazed out over Bethlehem and it suddenly dawned to him that the star shone down on our stable.  It was then that he understood the angels pronouncement, but before he could stand, the sky was filled with angels, all celebrating the birth of the Messiah.  Do you remember how Grandfather would sing those words?  When he worked with the sheep, I would catch him singing them again and again ...”
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
“That’s right, a chorus of praise.  And chorus of hope ... that we would experience God’s peace here in our troubled world.”  Ruth sighed, her shoulders curved wearily.  She closed her eyes for a moment and sighed again before renewing her story.  “Just as suddenly as the angels had appeared, they were gone.  Jacob and the shepherds sat stunned in the frozen blackness for a few moments, recovering their wits.”  Ruth smiled again, “Then the shepherds all began talking at once and I remember Jacob said that he had to shout to be heard over them.  The only time in his entire life, I believe, that he ever raised his voice.”  Ruth chuckled and Matthew smiled, rubbing warmth into his grandmother’s hands.  “As he told them about the young couple in our stable, they agreed to go and see for themselves.  Even then, I’m not certain that Jacob believed what he had seen and heard, but as he stepped out of the icy darkness and into the warm glow of the stable, all doubt faded away.  Everything was just as the angel had said.”
“Even the babe in the manger.”

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Midwinter Memories {twenty}

To start at the beginning ...

Young Ruth settled on a bench, leaning back against the rough wooden slats of the stall.  With a hushed swish of her skirts, her mother joined her, studying the young couple as they ate.  “What did she mean about the baby being God’s Son?”

Finishing her bite, Ruth leaned toward her mother and whispered, “This baby boy is the promised Messiah, Mama.  An angel appeared to both Mary and Joseph and announced that she would give birth to a son, the Redemption of Israel.”  Ruth’s mother’s brow furrowed and she opened her mouth as if to say something, but then closed it again.  They sat in silence for many minutes.  Ruth jumped up to ladle Mary and Joseph another serving of stew and then returned to her seat next to her mother, savoring her own birthday dinner.  “We share the same birthday, this baby Jesus and I,” Ruth smiled up at her mother in the dark, “And what a gift!  To share in the birth of the Messiah!  The promise we’ve been waiting for!”
Ruth’s mother shook her head sadly, “Little Ruth, we don’t know anything about this Mary and Joseph.  How are we to know that what they say is the truth?  Surely God would not choose such a poor couple for His Messiah’s parents, nor would He allow His Son to be born in such a humble place.  I fear that they have deceived you, my sweet child.  Yes, he is a precious baby, but I would need to hear from an angel myself before I believed their story.  Come now, help me to carry the dinner dishes back to the inn.  It is very late and it is time for you to go to bed.”  She stood and collected the crock and ladle, waiting for Ruth to gather the bowls.  But Ruth sat frozen on her seat.
“Mama ... it’s true.  I have heard their stories about the angels and, and ... I just know it’s true.”
“Come, Ruth, we’ll talk with Father about it in the morning.”  Her voice was stern now and her mouth set in a firm line, looking down at her daughter.  “Fetch the bowls.”
Ruth bowed to her mother, tears pricking her eyes and approached Mary and Joseph, head down.  They held out the wooden bowls to her and whispered their gratitude again.  As Ruth turned back toward her mother, she peered over the edge of the box and smiled at the sleeping baby.  She reached out a hand toward him and then drew it back sharply, looking over to where her mother waited for her.  “Blessings on you,” she murmured and then walked quickly to her mother.  Tears glistened in her eyes and she sensed her typical stubbornness brewing inside here.  Taking a deep breath, she swallowed and looked up into her mother’s eyes.
“Mama, I want to sleep here tonight.  Please.  Just tonight.”
“Don’t be foolish, child.  It’s freezing out here.”
“I’ll be fine, Mama.  I have my cloak and I’ll stay near the animals.  They are keeping the stable warm.  Please, Mama.  For my birthday?”  Her eyes pleaded with her mother, begging to stay with the baby and his parents.  “Please?”
Ruth’s mother stood, clutching the empty crock to her chest, her stern face set in stone.  She glanced toward the circle of light and gazed for a few moments at Mary and Joseph as they sat in the hay admiring their firstborn.  Then her eyes softened and a small smile crept across her lips.  She sighed, shaking her head.  “Sweet Ruth, you may stay.  But at first light, you must return home.  Here,” she set the crock on the bench and slipped off her dark green shawl, “wear this.  It will help to keep you warm.”  Smiling warmly at her daughter, she opened the lid of the crock and Ruth nestled the wooden bowls inside.  With a gentle pat on her daughter’s shoulder, she turned and walked back out into the night.
Turning back to the scene before her, Ruth wrapped the shawl about her and sat at the edge of the circle of light, nestling into the fresh hay.  She watched as Mary bent to kiss Jesus’s head again, a sweet image, etched in her Ruth’s memory, of the new mother worshipping the newborn Son of God.  The stable door creaked open again and Ruth sighed, preparing to confront her mother, but as she looked over her shoulder she was surprised to find Jacob standing there amidst several other young shepherds.  His wide eyes reflected back the lamp light and the wonder of finding a baby sleeping in a manger filled with straw.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Midwinter Memories {nineteen}

To start at the beginning ...

At the sound of the stable door creaking open, Ruth turned and found her mother carrying something through the darkness.  Ruth sprang up and hurried to her mother, eager to share the news and to help.  “Mama, Mama, the baby has come!”  She whispered excitedly.  She relieved her mother of several bowls that she balanced on the lid of a heavy crock.  “He’s come!”
“Praise God, little one,” she smiled warmly, “I have brought dinner.  It is so late, but the last guests have finally retired for the night.”  Together Ruth and her mother quietly made their way back to the circle of light where the new family lay nestled in the hay.  Setting down the clay pot of lamb stew, her mother knelt near Mary, who pulled back the swaddling cloths to reveal the baby’s delicate features.  She murmured, “He’s precious,” with tears glistening in her eyes.
Mary bowed and spoke in a hushed voice, “He is the perfect Son of God.”  Then she bent over her sleeping son and gently kissed his smooth brow.  Ruth’s mother cocked her head, studying Mary.  Confusion clouded her face and then she stood, brushing hay from the folds of her long dress.
“Shall I serve some stew?  You must be starving, as well as exhausted.  Ruth, fetch the bowls, please.”  Briskly, they served three bowls full of steaming stew; the aroma of the generously seasoned lamb and vegetables reminded Ruth how hungry she was and her mouth watered at the delicious smells that filled the stable.  
As she turned to hand Mary her portion, Ruth paused, unsure of what to do.  Mary’s hands were already full, holding her newborn child.  Looking around, Ruth spotted a wooden feeding box that lay empty against the wall.  She set the bowl on the wooden bench alongside the half-full crock and dragged the wooden manger toward the Mary.  Stooping low she gathered several armfuls of fresh hay and made a nest of straw in the box.  Turning back to the young mother, Ruth found her smiling, nodding her head.  “Thank you.  Again,” she said quietly and then she laid baby Jesus in the manger, tucking away stray pieces of hay, making him comfortable.  She then accepted the bowl of stew gratefully, saying, “You’ve been so kind.  God bless you for your hospitality.”  Joseph nodded mutely from beside his wife.  Then they ate.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Midwinter Memories {eighteen}

To start at the beginning ...

A donkey brayed from his stall and Ruth stirred from her daydream.  She sat on a bench, leaning against the rough wooden slats behind which several sheep burrowed in the straw.  Bending forward, Ruth plucked a piece of hay from the folds of her cloak and sat silent, rolling the dried grass slowly between her thumb and forefinger.  Raising to her face, she breathed deeply, taking in the comforting scent of the straw.
“I have sat on this bench, in this stable, every year on this night for the past sixty years,” Ruth croaked, her voice catching in her throat.  “Remembering again that night.  The night that changed everything.”  A smile rose on her lips and she looked up at Matthew who stood patiently at her side.  “There was such joy that night.  And so many surprises ... surprise visitors and surprise celebrations.”  She sighed, “Of course, it was also the beginning of much pain and sadness.”
Matthew gently patted his grandmother on her shoulder and waited for her to continue.  “Man can be so cruel.  So much suffering as a result of that wee babe’s birth.”  She dabbed at her eyes with the corner of her shawl.  “But that little boy was the answer to God’s promise to redeem us.  And what a gift He was.  The most memorable birthday gift of my many, many years,” she chuckled.
A gust of wind groaned around the corner of the ancient stable, the wood creaking and complaining in the cold.  She gazed around once more, imagining again the events following the birth of the baby, Jesus.  Shaking her head in disbelief, she marveled again at the wonder of that night.  In her mind’s eye, she saw again the young family huddled together in the hay - the smiles and tears.  She heard again the whispered prayers and she was awash in goosebumps once more, recalling the stories Mary and Joseph shared about angels and dreams and the promise of the Messiah.
“Many villagers scoffed at the news, but if they had been there, like Grandfather and I were, they would have believed as well.  They would have known that God had sent His Son, the Lamb of God. Just as Isaiah promised, he came:  Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father ..."

"The Prince of Peace,"  Matthew finished with a smile, looking down at his grandmother tenderly.

"The Savior of the world was born here in this stable.”  Then with a crooked finger, Ruth pointed to a rickety wooden box, overflowing with hay, “And He slept in that manger.” 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Midwinter Memories {seventeen}

To start at the beginning ...

The minutes passed, marked out in moments of peace followed by moments of pain.  Joseph returned and deposited the jar of fresh water by the door before heading out again into the frozen air.  A frosty wind had stirred and there was a moaning that filled the stable, echoing Mary’s own cries.  The animals in the stable were restless, stamping their feet and offering brays and neighs.  The night air was filled with the comforting sounds of the beasts.
As midnight approached, Ruth began to worry.  She had just decided to run and fetch her mother when Mary suddenly cried out.  Standing with her hand on the latch of the stable door, she turned back to the nest of straw and blankets to see Mary clutching the newborn baby.  Silence fell over the stable.
There in the stillness that followed, Ruth could only hear the pounding of her heart, beating in her chest.   Moments passed, frozen and hushed.  Then she heard a weak, plaintive cry and a deep sob rose up in Mary’s throat.  Tears sprang to Ruth’s eyes as she hurried back to the mother and child.  Kneeling in the scratchy straw, she gathered an extra blanket and wrapped it around the newborn baby, wiping the child clean.  She dabbed her tears on the sleeve of her shawl and laughed, joy bubbling up in her heart.  Mary’s own eyes were glassy with emotion and she smiled, clutching Ruth in an embrace.
Peeling herself free from Mary, she clapped her hands,  “I’ll fetch Joseph!” she cried.  Ruth ran out into the night calling for the new father, who stood a few yards away, staring up into the night sky.  Within moments, they both came running back into the stable, the wooden door clanging shut behind them.  Tears of relief shone in Joseph’s eyes as he knelt beside his wife.  He brushed her hair way from her forehead and kissed her gently on her brow before turning to the bundle she held in her hands.
Gently he folded the swaddling cloths back and gazed for the first time on his son.  “Welcome, Jesus.”

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Midwinter Memories {sixteen}

To start at the beginning ...

Ruth winced as Mary gripped her hand, pain was etched in the young mother’s tired face.  The moments passed slowly and Ruth felt the her grasp relax as the contraction eased.  She studied Mary’s face as she gently dabbed a cloth across her brow.  Mary’s dark eyes spoke of her fear and anxiety, but also of her joy and anticipation in the birth of her child.  Then another contraction washed over her and Ruth closed her eyes in prayer.
There was a rustling behind the woman and Ruth glanced over her shoulder to find Mary’s husband, Joseph, standing in the hay near the stable door, hands hanging limply at his side.  His eyes begged for news of his wife’s delivery.  As the contraction passed, Ruth patted Mary’s shoulder and helped her to lay back in the blankets to rest.  She stood, dusting the dry straw from her dress, and turning to Joseph, she smiled encouragingly, “It will be soon.  Your wife is strong and the birth is progressing well.  Soon you will be a father.”
Joseph smiled and nodded.  “Please, what can I do?  Give me a task ... anything to keep my hands busy.”  He peered around Ruth and caught a glimpse of Mary.  His brow furrowed.
“You can fetch us fresh water,” she handed him a jar and gave him directions to the town well.  Joseph nodded, gratitude flooded his face, but his peace was fleeting as another contraction seized Mary.  At the sound of her pain, his eyes clouded.  He turned and headed out into the night leaving Ruth to tend to his wife.
Kneeling beside Mary again, Ruth helped her to sit and when the contraction passed again, she offered the young mother a sip of water from a clay cup.  “Thank you,” Mary whispered, licking her lips.  Her eyes echoed her thankfulness.  Ruth could only nod, her own words caught in her throat.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Midwinter Memories {fifteen}

To start at the beginning ...

Ruth woke with a start.  Sitting in her chair by the fire, she sat clutching Jacob’s old cloak in her lap.  She looked about the room, disoriented.  What time was it?  Was it still day or had evening set? Had she missed him?  Ruth reached for her cane that rested against her seat and stood shakily to her feet.  She wrapped Jacob’s cloak about her bony shoulders and added her mother’s shawl.  Heavily bundled now she turned to the inn door.  With a trembling hand, she for the latch and swung the door open.
The inn was filled with lantern light and Ruth squinted in the brightness as she crossed over the threshold from her dimly lit home.  She heard a chorus of laughter.  From somewhere to her left a booming voice started singing, a song she had learned in her childhood.  She smiled and mouthed the words, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  You have set your glory in the heavens.  Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger!”
The inn was a hive of activity and Ruth stood near the door, out of the way, craning her long slender neck to see over the crowd.  She saw Sarah slip by, a tray of food balanced in her hands, making her way to a table filled with several guests.  John, Sarah’s husband, stood at the bottom of the stairs.  His familiar boisterous laugh rumbled around the room as he clapped his guest on the back.  They both threw back their heads and roared.
Not wanting to be a burden, Ruth quietly stepped back into her home and let the door fall closed.  The sudden darkness of her house stopped her in her tracks, blinded.  She waited for her eyes to adjust before moving slowly toward her front door.  Pausing at the window, she pulled the shutter aside and peered out into the street.  The shadows were long and the street was grey.  The sun had just set behind the hills.  Ruth took a deep breath and opened the door, staggering as the wall of icy winter air struck her.  She hesitated and then determination seized her.
She had visited the stable every evening on her birthday and this year would be no different.  Tottering out into the street, she braced herself on her staff and reached to pull the door closed.
“You weren’t going without me, were you?” a voice said from the street behind her.
She turned with a smile and saw Matthew, holding a lantern, grinning at her.  Her grandson had Jacob’s same gentle smile and dark brown eyes.  He offered his arm to her, patting her bent fingers as she rested her hand in the crook of his arm.  Avoiding a patch of ice, he escorted her around the corner of the building, following the familiar path.  As they stepped into the stable, Ruth paused, taking in the scene.
“It’s the same as it was sixty years ago,” her voice trailed off.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Primary Colors

Hanging up the phone, Jane goes in search of Tommy.  Peeking through the door, she spies his goofy grin.  Then mom scans the color-splattered wall, ceiling.  Finger paints uncapped, squished in the carpet.  Blood pressure rises, deep breathing commences.

"You're a regular Jackson Pollock."

Blue drips through fingers.  Hair's smeared red.

"Bath time!"



Linking up with Red Writing Hood this week - 500 word-limit with this inspiration:

image courtesy of robin.elaine
(via Flickr Creative Commons)
I tried something new this week ... a 55 Word story.  First sentence is 10 words, next is 9 and so on.  A fun challenge!

Midwinter Memories {fourteen}

To start at the beginning ...

As they walked back toward the inn, Ruth opened her bundle of almonds and offered some to Jacob.  With a gentle shake of his head, he declined.  She stuffed the parcel into her cloak to save for later and they walked on in silence, listening to the quieting of the street as they left the market.  The sun was beginning to set behind the hills that surrounded Bethlehem, the wisps of winter clouds scattered across the sky were lit pink by the setting sun.  The air, already frozen, was being stirred by a chilled wind that tossed and tugged at Ruth’s shawl.  As they approached the door to the inn, Jacob slowed and walked behind Ruth, head bowed.  
Just as Ruth reached for the handle of the door, it swung open and a man walked out, his wife following close behind.  Ruth and Jacob stepped to the side to let them pass and Ruth couldn’t help but notice that the woman was very pregnant.  Over their heads, Ruth saw her mother standing in the flickering light of the lamps, worry and sadness etched on her face.  The man turned and nodded to Ruth’s mother and then the couple made their way across the street to where a donkey stood tethered.
Ruth watched as the man bent to help help his wife onto the beast and heard the woman gasp.  She grasped her swollen belly and leaned forward against the donkey’s withers, burying her pain-filled cries in his neck.   Before Ruth could move, she felt her mother brush past her, running out into the street toward the couple.  Ruth listened to the soothing murmur of her mother’s voice and smiled as she watched the man nod, bowing deeply in gratitude.
“Ruth, fetch several blankets from the house and meet me in the stable.  Jacob, leave those jars there and please come with me.”  
Ruth stood staring at her mother and then sprang into action, as if woken from a dream.  She ran through the open door, gathered an armful of woolen blankets and ran back outside, making her way around the inn to the stables behind.  As she swung the old wooden door open, a warm glow flickered from a lamp that had been hung from a beam.  The donkey was tethered and contentedly eating hay.  The man knelt at the side of his wife who sat on a pile of straw, leaning against the wall.  Ruth’s mother beckoned her into the circle of light and together they piled the blankets around the young mother in an attempt to make her comfortable.
Ruth heard the door bang shut again and she turned to see Jacob walk in, carrying fresh hay and a jar of fresh water.  They looked at one another, anxiety reflected in each other’s eyes.  Another groan from the young woman brought a blush to Jacob’s face and he looked toward the door.  He deposited his load and whispered to Ruth’s mother that he would be heading out to the fields with the other shepherds for the night.  She thanked him and dismissed him, turning her gaze to Ruth.
“I must tend to our guests in the inn.  Please stay with Mary and Joseph and fetch them anything they might need.  Fresh water or more blankets.  I will bring stew and bread after dinner is served.”  Ruth stared at her mother wide-eyed and nodded silently.  She bent her head toward her daughter’s hear and whispered, “You were a great help to me when I delivered Benjamin.  I know that you will be a comfort ... a blessing to Mary.”  And with a soft kiss on Ruth’s forehead, she was gone.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Midwinter Memories {thirteen}

To start at the beginning ...

Ruth rounded the corner and tried in vain to stop.  She reached out a hand, grasping the corner of the house in an attempt to steady herself as her feet slipped out from underneath her.  Her momentum carried her several feet further and she landed with a thump on the icy surface of the road.  
From where she sat, she gasped in amazement.  The market place was filled with hundreds and hundreds of people.  Never had she seen so many people in one place!  There was a steady hum of voices, sparked with shouts from sellers, hawking their wares.  A chorus of voices filled the air around her and she marveled at the variety of languages and dialects being spoken.  Amongst the voices, she heard the braying of donkeys and the snorting of sheep along with the clip and clop of hooves on the frozen street.
“You’ll be trampled sitting there.”
Ruth looked up, recognizing the voice, even though the sun was setting behind the speaker, casting him in shadow.  She smiled at him and lifted one hand toward him.  Jacob reached down and helped her to her feet.  He then escorted her across the road to stand in the sunshine, where her footing would be more secure.  He stood silently at her side as she rattled on about all the sights and sounds and smells of the market, only nodding periodically when she turned her smiling face to him.
“I’ve never seen anything like this!  It’s so exciting ... so many people!  Look at that woman’s robe, she has pomegranates embroidered along the bottom.  Exquisite!  And look at that man.  His beard is braided into three sections!  Have you ever seen such a thing?”  She laughed, “I can’t imagine Papa with his beard in braids!  Oh, how Mama would tease him!”
They watched the crowd for several minutes until Ruth remembered her father’s words.  “I’ve been sent for oil.  Do you know where the oil seller has his booth, Jacob?”  He nodded and stepped out into the flow of the travelers, beckoning Ruth to follow him.  She skipped after him staring at all the people she passed, astonished and thrilled with the experience.  Soon Jacob stopped in front of a cart and nodded to the merchant.  Ruth stood on her tip toes and peered into the wooden cart.  The man in the grey cloak raised his eyebrows and inquired, “And what do you need, young lady?”
“Oil for our lamps, please.  My father has sent me.”  She reached into her cloak and felt the coins.  Suddenly feeling shy and unsure of herself, she paused.  How much did oil cost?  Why didn’t she ask her father how much to get and how much to pay?  Would she get a fair deal from this foreign merchant?  She opened her mouth to speak, but Jacob spoke first.
“Two jars, please.”  Turning to Ruth, he murmured, “I fetched oil for your father last week.”  Ruth smiled, relieved, and drew the coins from her pocket.  The merchant reached into the wagon and pulled out two ceramic jars and set them on the table in front of him.  He held out his slender hand and Ruth dropped four coins in his palm.  Smiling, the merchant nodded and turned to the next customer.
“Thank you, Jacob,” Ruth smiled.  He nodded and lifted a jar in each arm, resting them against his chest.  Turning back toward Ruth’s house, he started walking away.  “Wait.  Wait ... I want to buy something else.  My father sent me with money.  For my ... for my birthday.”  Ruth blushed as Jacob fixed his warm brown eyes on her.  A faint smile played at the corner of his lips and he nodded silently again.  “I don’t know what to get.  Can we walk along here and look at the booths?”  With a nod from Jacob, they started back into the market.
After peering into several stalls, Ruth stumbled upon a vendor with baskets filled with nuts.  She inquired about the cost and counted the remaining coins in the palm of her hand.  The merchant measured out a portion of almonds into a scrap of fabric and handed it to Ruth in exchange for her money.  She nodded her thanks and turned to Jacob, smiling proudly.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Midwinter Memories {twelve}

To start at the beginning ...

Ruth shivered.  She looked down at the quieting embers in the fireplace and wondered how long she had been sitting there since Sarah left.  Shaking her head, she laughed to herself, “Nothing better to do than daydream the light hours away.” The hard wood of the seat brought an ache to Ruth’s hips and back prompting her to move.  
She stood shakily with her staff clutched in her right hand and shuffled a few steps toward the fire.  Supporting herself heavily on her staff, she bent forward and gripped a fresh log in her gnarled hand.  Easing the olive branch into the fire she watched the sparks fly up and circle in the hot air.  She carefully wedged another branch in among the coals and smiled as the wood caught and a fresh wave of warmth rolled toward her.  In spite of the fire, however, Ruth still felt a chill.  A draft from the window crept across the room, long fingers of cold stretching out into all the corners of the house, causing Ruth to go in search of an extra blanket and shawl to wrap around her delicate frame.
Stepping carefully, Ruth approached an old basket that sat on the other side of the fireplace.  She leaned her staff against the wall and leaned her hand on the icy, clay surface of the wall, her frail arm supporting her.  The basket had a wicker lid that closed with a latch.  In several places the twigs were broken and bits of fabric escaped through the holes.  It was her wedding basket from years and years ago, filled with blankets passed down from her mother and little scraps of cloth left over from her children’s cloaks; small fragments of her past stored in a treasured basket.
Ruth bent over the ancient hamper and lifted the lid.  It fell sideways, one of the hinges breaking free from the woven twigs.  Poking through the contents, she pulled out an old grey, woolen blanket and draped it over a nearby chair and then retrieved a dark green shawl that had belonged her mother.  Reaching for the lid, she moved to close the basket, but stopped.  Folded beneath the shawl lay a rust-colored cloak.  With her free hand she reached for her braid that had fallen over her shoulder and fingered the plaits, closing her eyes for a moment.  Then she stooped and picked up the cloak, letting the lid of the basket fall closed.  The cloak unfolded and draped to the floor, pooling at her feet.  She held it to her nose and breathed in the sweet familiar smell.  Jacob’s cloak.