Joseph and an Angry Father

Joseph’s Decision

by Leslie Crouse

Joseph planted his feet and stared him down. “Balaam, I will not tolerate your stubborn antics.” He hated this donkey. The typical, rebellious gleam was in Balaam’s eyes. Every time Joseph needed him, the creature would dig his back hooves into the ground making a stubborn last stand. Or sit, if he were being realistic. And if Joseph did not keep one eye upon him, Balaam would take a bite out of his back side.

The sound of banging on the stable door interrupted the battle of wills. Hezekiah, Mary’s father, stormed in. The peaceful man was like a second father to him and had never worn such a thunderous look. Stepping out of the reach of Balaam’s teeth, Joseph turned his full attention to Hezekiah.

Face mottled with red, Hezekiah marched up to Joseph jabbing his finger into Joseph’s chest. Nose to nose Hezekiah screamed, “How DARE you! How dare you touch my daughter before the wedding! Do you know what you have done?! You worthless son of a carpenter! You have defiled her!”

Joseph stepped back, brow furrowing as he took in Hezekiah’s words. His first thought was that this had to be a joke, but his soon to be father-in-law was shaking with barely constrained rage. Facts. I need the facts.

“Mary is with child? How long?” Joseph asked. “HOW LONG?!” Hezekiah waved his arms. “YOU should know! Her belly will be showing soon!” Hezekiah’s finger jabbed again, “You will fix this Joseph son of Jacob! NOW. Before anyone knows. Because if you do not do your duty by her, the village will stone her.” Hezekiah’s voice lowered to barely a whisper, “And then I will kill you.”  

Joseph was stunned. Mary? His Mary? Who had done this to her? Joseph had loved Mary since they were children. Her fiery spirit and flawless integrity had always drawn him to her. He knew she would never betray the LORD. Someone has hurt her! Who dared touch my Mary?

White hot rage consumed him. He clenched his fists and looked Hezekiah in the eye, “I will not take responsibility for that which I did not do. Your daughter is a woman of integrity,” now pointing his finger at Hezekiah, “as you well know, and if she is with child it is because someone has done a grievous thing to her.” Joseph crossed his arms and turned his back. Through gritted teeth he said, “I must think on this. It changes everything.” Joseph turned back around as Hezekiah stared hard at him. Joseph did not know if Hezekiah believed him or not, but one thing was for certain. There was murder in his eyes.

Joseph put down his tools and climbed to the rooftop of his house to pray. He wept for what had been done to Mary. He wept for dreams lost. None of it was to be. If he married her to save her reputation, he would lose his.

All his life he had walked in integrity. Earned his place of respect among the men of Nazareth. If he married her, he would be taking her disgrace and making it his own. No. He would not do that to his family. His father, Jacob, would be turned out from the city gate. There were more people involved in this than just himself.

If he publicly broke the betrothal Mary would be disgraced in front of all. They might not stone her, since she had been violated, but they would use her as a public spectacle, teaching other young women the dangers awaiting them. He gritted his teeth. It was not just. To take a victim and use their pain as a teaching for others. He hated injustice. He would not publicly break the betrothal.

Could he raise another’s child? He loved her enough to. But the thought of another with her churned his stomach with acid.

For hours Joseph’s mind circled the options. For hours he prayed and wept and raged. For hours he heard nothing from the LORD but silence. Physically and emotionally spent, Joseph decided he would not expose her to the public. He would quietly break the betrothal and allow her to be free to make her own choices. She deserved to have some say in what would befall her future. Mulling over the decision, Joseph fell into a troubled sleep and dreamed.

In his dream, he saw Mary walking down a dusty, lonely road as silent tears rolled down her cheeks. He reached out to comfort her but then pulled his hand back, knowing his decision would separate them forever. She was no longer his to comfort or protect.

Suddenly, in his dream, Mary looked straight into his eyes. Though her cheeks were tear-stained, her eyes were full of fire and his heart skipped a beat. Then, he saw a massive heavenly host armed for war, escorting her down the road.

A huge angel appeared and began speaking to him, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Joseph’s eyes popped open and he bolted upright. Joy battled with astonishment. WHAT?

A plan formed as Joseph sat down and began writing. He would send the letter to Ein Karem with his next load of furniture bound for Jerusalem.

~~~~

To continue reading the Christmas Mini-Series, look for my next story The Wise Men.

Mary’s Visit: A Christmas Mini-Series

Mary’s Visit

by Leslie Crouse

…continued from Mary’s Hiding Place.

~ Six Months Later ~

For the last several months the only prayer in Mary’s heart had been for Elizabeth and the new thing the LORD was doing. That night while in the stable deep in her prayers, she heard a voice. Looking up to see a bright shining angel, she began to shake with fear.

“Greetings, O favored one, the LORD is with you!” Favored? God is not a respecter of men. Is this an angel of light? Mary attempted to discern the greeting. She knew Darkness often masqueraded as angels of light.

The angel spoke again more gently this time, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” Angel of Light. Darkness would use my fear against me. Giving her time to discern his greeting, the angel continued, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Oh! A grin split her face in a marvelous smile. Would the LORD allow her a part in His plan!? Wait – what? Wide-eyed, Mary stammered, “H-how will this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel smiled, clearly enjoying this birth announcement. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” Mind whirling, Mary could not take it all in. But the angel did not pause this time.

“And behold,” Mary looked up from her thoughts and saw a scene playing out in front of her. Her barren cousin Elizabeth waddled around her house with –thanks to midwife training – what appeared to be six months of baby in her belly!

The angel continued, “…your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing is impossible with God.” The angel’s joy made him beam with light. What was his name? Gabriel. Mary looked him in the eye, bowed her head and said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” The angel nodded and disappeared.

Gabriel liked the common folk. They were not arrogant like those tedious priests. He thought again of Zechariah and grimaced. Truly, silence was the only solution for a priest who questioned Yahweh. Yet, Yahweh in His mercy had restrained Gabriel’s hand and limited Zechariah’s silence to nine months. Yahweh remembered Zechariah and Elizabeth’s pain and granted His mercy freely.

Mary bolted from the hay loft. Nearly tripping, she paused before the threshold and took a deep breath. First, she must brave her parents and tell them all the angel had said. She could not do any of this alone. Confident in the LORD, Mary squared her shoulders and waited for a quiet moment alone with her parents.

Their “discussions” had woken everyone in the house. Mother believed her. Father had struck her for the first time. When she denied any wrong doing, he had yelled, “I will not abide your falsehoods! I know men! How could you be so stupid daughter?! Unless Joseph marries you NOW, they will kill you! Before our very eyes!” Ready to call Joseph to account, her father stormed to the door intent upon the carpenter’s home. Mary stood in stunned silence, her cheek stinging from her father’s hand. Then, her mother intervened and suggested a new plan.

“Send Mary to Ein Karem to stay with Elizabeth until the woman gives birth. Perhaps Mary’s midwife training may be useful to her. Mary’s absence would buy us time to address this issue with Joseph and find a way forward. And, if Mary suffers from pregnancy in those first three months, no one will be wise to it.”

Father glared angrily at Mary. “Pack your bags young lady. You are no longer a daughter of mine. You will not return to my house. I wash my hands of you.” Heartbroken, a river of tears was her only companion as she prepared for Ein Karem. Surely God would mend this? She looked South toward Ein Karem and prayed she would find sanctuary among this little town in the Judean hills.

Mary left before dawn. Her father would not see her off. Her mother had asked a friend who had business in Jerusalem to escort Mary. “Tell no one,” mother had said. Mary walked in silence preparing her heart for the coming storm of more unbelief, accusations, anger and discipline.

Father was right. An unwed mother would not be tolerated in the village. Unless Joseph acknowledged an act that was not his, she would be stoned to death. Joseph. She knew him to be a righteous man who cherished the law. What would he do?

A spirit of Fear circled about her, telling her all the ways an unwed mother could die. It’s menacing laugh echoed in the her recesses of her mind as more tears formed in her eyes. No! I will hold unswervingly to the vow I have made to the LORD. She would be faithful. But she was terrified.

As Mary walked and prayed she sensed the evil straining to be unleashed. It was in these hours, on a lonely, dusty road that Gabriel’s words became entrenched in her heart; a lifelong mantra she would end up clinging to in all her darkest hours.

Nothing is impossible with God.

Look for Joseph’s story next in the Christmas Mini-Series, An Angry Father. If you love these stories, share them with your friends on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!

Mary’s Hiding Place: A Christmas Mini-Series

Mary’s Hiding Place

by Leslie Crouse

~ Fifteen Months Before The Birth Of Christ ~

Mary fell back into the fresh hay finding comfort in the clean, grassy scent of her father stable. Every morning before dawn she came to the stable to pray. Few understood it. But Sarah, her mother, allowed her this time of solitude. When the sun shone upon the roof Joseph would arrive to escort her to the midwife. Another day of tedious house calls.  

Her mother watched from the window. The moment Mary had begun signs of womanhood, Sarah had insisted she train with Nazareth’s midwife. “You are to assist and learn all you can about the female body and birthing process,” she had instructed Mary. “One never knows the turns life can take.” Mother believed in equipping her daughters.

Mary did not like it, but she had already learned much. Besides, her family lacked money for a midwife’s expertise, so her sisters took turns assisting the local midwife as an exchange for services when needed. But the pre-dawn hours were hers.

In the stable Mary could set it all aside and bask in the presence of the LORD. This was her heart. She came to the stable, her hiding place, every morning finding privacy and freedom to dig into prayer. Her father called it intercession. He had instructed her in the lives of Daniel, Moses, Elijah and others. Ancient, spiritual giants, all of them.

Mary was no spiritual giant. All she knew is that she burned with the need to cry out for others. So she prayed until the urgency was replaced with peace. She found joy and purpose in it. Today, her cousin Elizabeth was heavy upon her heart.

A knock sounded at the post below. Has an hour gone by already? She peeked down into the breezeway. She covered her burning face with her hands and cringed. Joseph. As children they had played in the neighbor’s pond, caught frogs from local streams and he had helped her with her lambs. Her best friend. But he had gone and changed everything when he had asked her father’s permission to marry her. Which means he knew. Mary stifled a groan.

How humiliating! Someone – probably her brother – had told him she had begun her monthlies and was of marriageable age now. Joseph was her friend, not her idea of a husband! Regardless, one discussion led to another and now they were legally betrothed.

In celebration of the betrothal, he had built her a manger handcrafted for the lambs she raised. Everyone thought it odd. Mary, however, was begrudgingly moved by it. Together they had saved that struggling lamb. When he gave her the manger he whispered, “May we never forget our unblemished lamb.” Joseph is a good man. And as my husband, he understands my need to pray. At that last thought, her eyes lit up.

Something was shifting in the spiritual realm. She could sense it. There was an eagerness inside of her. An excitement she could hardly contain. The LORD was doing a new thing. An urgency to pray harder than ever before gripped her heart. Whatever the LORD’s plans, she wanted to be a part of it. For her, the LORD was a pearl of great value, worth any price.

Mary prayed daily for Elizabeth. She loved Elizabeth like an aunt because she was so much older than Mary’s cousins. Mary had no idea what was going on, but she knew Herod to be Judea’s arrogant, unpredictable king and Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, a priest in the temple. An explosive combination. What forces were at play?

…look for the continuation in Mary’s Visit.

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The Shepherd’s Sword: A Christmas Mini-Series

The Shepherd’s Sword

by Leslie Crouse

…continued from The Shepherd.

Belial had not been informed of Heaven’s plan. But Darkness heard the angel’s announcement. All of creation did. He quickly rallied the powers of Darkness for a counter attack. If it was war Heaven wanted, war it would get. This invasion was not to be tolerated. Darkness would not release its hold on earth so easily and this shepherd with his spindly sword was standing in his way.

Shammah took his hand off the door handle. Glanced to the inn. Did no one else sense the Darkness pressing in? Were they all sleeping peacefully while Darkness invaded their city? Jehovah! I am no soldier! A lion or bear here and there, but never this! And why the sword? It’s useless against such… things! Another shepherd, in another time, with another inadequate weapon. The irony.

Or was it? What had David done? Then, like a song on the wind an idea formed. Shammah thrust the sword tip into the ground. Not wishing to attract the attention of the Roman soldiers around the corner, he began to speak in a barely audible voice:

I come in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel… the LORD saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the LORD’s.

Menacing snarls rose from all around him as they paused in their approach. But it did not last. Darkness wanted the baby inside. Shammah dragged his sword tip through the sandy dirt leaving a line behind him as he spoke aloud the only words his mind could form.

” ‘He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty...’ ”

Shammah rounded the first corner of the stable and proceeded toward the back as the guttural sounds grew in number. Muscles solid with tension, Shammah punctuated each step with the words scrolling through his mind:

“…you will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness…

He turned the third corner of the stable. Almost there. One shadow gnashed his fangs and Shammah’s heart crashed into his ribs. A rancid odor overpowered his thoughts for a moment as he locked eyes with those that glowed red.

“…For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways…”

Shammah was finishing the last words of the psalm just as he was completing the circle around the stable. Lifting the tip of his sword from the sand he noticed a stiff wind began to blow. Over the growls and snarls he heard the ringing of a multitude of swords being unsheathed. Deadly silence reigned for the span of a heartbeat.

Then, a bone-shattering thunder crashed and the earth shook with the force of it. Shammah collapsed with exhaustion.

Thwarted! Belial snarled at his defeat. He would come again. Later. But next time he would use men. Men were proud and pride was his greatest weapon. “Yes,” he hissed. Perhaps that buffoon sitting on the throne would be useful. He was already a promising vessel of Darkness. As his plan formed a low, guttural sound escaped into the night. But for now, he would remind that shepherd of his worth. Belial signaled to Rejection and nodded to the sleeping shepherd.

~~~~

Shammah fell into a deep sleep. He floated above as he watched his father approach an infant. Himself he perceived. Eli laid his hand on Shammah’s head and said, “Son, I love you, but from this day forward I cannot look at you for all of my sorrows are upon your head.” Shammah awakened to the familiar weight bearing down on his soul. He sat up rubbing his beard and focused on a huge man who whistled as he went about his morning chores.

“Shalom, my friend! What a glorious morning! Such a silent, holy night last night. Wouldn’t you say? Don’t believe I ever slept better. May write a song about it.” The man laughed with his entire body it seemed. “My name is Hananiah and I am the innkeeper here. Are you ready to meet the Savior of the world? Is that why you have come?”

Shammah sat staring at the jovial man when the other shepherds appeared. Shammah blinked. Did last night happen? Shammah looked around for confirmation and saw it. The line in the sand. He unsheathed his sword and looked at the newly engraved words, THE BATTLE IS THE LORDS. He turned it over. WORD OF GOD glinted in the morning light. Chills spread over his arms and legs making every hair stand on end.

“Best not let the Romans see that sword. May get the wrong idea. Come!” Hananiah led the way to the stable undaunted by Shammah’s mute astonishment.

A baby’s cry penetrated his heavy thoughts as he followed Hananiah in. Finally! The stable he had set out for hours ago. Shammah approached the couple and the woman held out the baby to him. “His name is Jesus.” she said with a smile.

Shammah looked into the eyes of baby Jesus and felt a deeper connection with this child than any other person before. A tear escaped. He could not explain it, but somehow he knew he was looking into the face of another scapegoat.

Baby Jesus’ tiny hand gripped his thumb and in that moment, Shammah wept. Peace flooded his soul. Where darkness had been, light now penetrated every corner and the burdens he had carried for a lifetime were gone.

Then he wept for the boy. He understood what this boy would face. This boy would grow to be a man of many of sorrows. Rejected by men. Acquainted with grief. This tiny boy would trade his peace for the weight of another’s sin and sorrow. Would there also come a day when his father cannot bear to look him and forsakes him as well? As Shammah wept, a tear slipped down the young woman’s face.

Who was this baby? Why had Darkness attacked so forcefully? Would he set the captives of Darkness free too? “Good news of great joy that will be for all people,” the angel had said. “…On earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” Was God pleased with Shammah? Is faith all that was needed? It was all so much to take in.

Of this he was certain: never had he felt such light. Love, peace and joy flooded his heart. Overwhelmed, Shammah bowed his head and worshipped.

~~~~~

Thank you for reading my Christmas Mini-Series! If you like what you read please share the stories with your friends! To continue reading, look for Mary’s Hiding Place next!

-Leslie

The Shepherd: A Christmas Mini-Series

The Shepherd

by Leslie Crouse

…continued from The Innkeeper’s Wife.

Shammah slid loaves of bread, raisin cakes and dried figs into his pack. Strapping on his canteen and bed roll he was almost ready. He just needed his staff, his rod and his sword. He did not usually carry a sword, but he had a niggling feeling he would need it. Judea was treacherous.

This week they would move the flocks into the Judean mountains near Bethlehem. David’s home town. He had been a shepherd too. Shammah smiled to himself. Perhaps I could learn to master the sling like David. Then father may take notice.

Eli, his father, stared at the fire refusing to look up. Shammah informed him he was leaving and was granted no more than a grunt in response. Shammah was a blight on the family. Death and ruination had visited them the day he was born and Eli had never forgotten.

Father lost everything when the caravan had been raided. After limping home with only his life spared, Eli discovered Shammah’s mother had died in childbirth as well. Two blows in the span of one day. Grief was indelibly printed onto the fabric of their family.

Eli held Shammah personally responsible. Ruin he had named him. From the moment he entered the world Shammah had become the family scapegoat bearing the grief, sorrow and sin of others. Thus, father had rejected him and assigned him to shepherding duties. Out of sight. Out of mind. Out of trouble.

Shammah did not mind. He was no one’s prize. Shepherding was a dirty business, but he liked to use the oil found on the wool for his beard. He smelled like an animal, but the sheep liked him. Followed him. Knew his voice. Trusted him without question. And he liked the solitude. Better the Judean mountains with their wild animals than my cold father. Resolute in his decision, Shammah refused to look back at the campfire. It was time to move out.

Five days later, Shammah and the other shepherds found what they had been searching for. Green pastures. Quiet waters gliding through the ravines sourced from the higher mountain regions. It had been a grueling journey and everyone was ready to find rest in the meadows. It was no wonder David wrote psalms of worship here. Truly, these remote places restored the soul and brought one closer to Jehovah.

Eli had not been a man of faith. But Rachel, their aged servant who raised him, had taught him the words of Jehovah. As a boy, Shammah had hungered for the steadfast love of a father described in the sacred scriptures. As a man, he was not convinced of the reality. But, out here he felt closer to the Presence of Jehovah. Less distraction.

As evening drew near one of the shepherd boys began to play his flute. Music quieted the sheep and the soul while also keeping predators at bay. It was Shammah’s favorite time. In honor of the city of David, the boy was playing one of David’s psalms. Or, at least it sounded like one of David’s.

Shammah gazed at the unusually bright stars and began humming along trying to remember the words:

“Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts! Praise him sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars!”

He shut his eyes and hummed the verses he did not remember and picked up again at the end:

“He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for…

The reedy notes abruptly ceased and Shammah opened his eyes. A giant stood before him! He was so big and shone so bright they all cowered in unmanly fear. And then he spoke,

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” As suddenly as he appeared with the message he was gone.

Then, a cacophony of singing erupted like he had never heard before. All the heavens. Praise from the highest heights. All his angels. All the hosts. All the shining stars. Jehovah’s word is true! Shammah marveled. The horn of salvation! He is here? Tonight?

Bursting with excitement, Shammah shouted, “We must go see!” But no one answered him. The others lay on the ground, passed out with fear. He did not blame them, but would not wait. He started running down the path to Bethlehem when he forgot his sword. Why did he care?! He wouldn’t need it! Ah! It is like my feet are frozen to the ground! I must get it first.

Forty minutes later they began their descent into the far side of the city. That was when he heard it. A feral, blood-chilling snarl. Judean lions? So close to the city? Hand on his sword he peered into the darkness and once his eyes focused, he froze. Not. Lions. Shammah looked to the hills again. What once had been covered in angels’ songs of praise now had writhing, dark figures coming from all directions slinking toward the stable in the hillside.

Nearby two pairs of red, glowing eyes intent upon the stable door. In the light of the moon Shammah saw the glint of unnaturally long fangs. A musky, unclean smell permeated the suddenly very cold air. At the soft cry of a baby from inside, righteous anger welled up within Shammah. He planted his feet and drew his sword.

…to be continued as The Shepherd’s Sword on December 14, 2020.

All quotes taken from The ESV Bible by Crossway Publishers.

The Innkeeper’s Wife: A Christmas Mini-Series

The Innkeeper’s Wife

by Leslie Crouse

…continued from The Innkeeper.

“That MAN! What was he thinking?!” Outside Evie took a deep breath and then another. She knew what Hananiah had been thinking. That infuriating, practical, wonderful man of hers was thinking of her. She saw that look in his eye at dinner. For twenty, long years they had weathered barrenness together but the pain never really lost its edge. When had her pain become so crippling that her husband felt he needed to protect her even at the cost of compassion?

Eve. What had her parents been thinking? Eve meant life. Mother of the living. Thirty-seven years with nothing to show but two heartbreaking miscarriages. Her name added irony to her pain. Expectations never met. A daily reminder of shriveled dreams. But not tonight. She refused to be swallowed up by self-pity. El Roi saw her. Heard her. She and Hananiah had the LORD and each other. Besides, tonight was not about her. And what better way to step out from one’s own pain than by serving another?

Evie looked up at the stars. She always felt closer to the God of Israel when she saw them. Strange. Tonight the stars looked extraordinarily bright. Glorious even. Like they were singing. Though the ever present pain remained a powerful peace entered her soul.

Quietly she slipped toward the barn door and listened. The tell-tale sound of a tiny mewling cry escalated into gusty wails that only a newborn could make. Time to move. She was none too early with these cloths. At least they were clean! She held back a smile at the look on Hananiah’s face when she ripped them up. Serves him right for putting business before compassion.

The young man looked up at her, wild eyed with hair sticking up in every direction. Relief flooding his face, he ran to her and said “I have no idea how to do this! I have wrapped him up four times but his arms keep escaping! Every time he just screams louder and louder.”

Evie smiled. This she could do. Gently she approached the young girl, who was trembling from exhaustion. Compassion overwhelmed her. Vaguely she heard the barn door open and close as Hananiah sheepishly came in with more hot water, blankets and a earthen bowl of warm broth for the young woman. He flicked a glance at Evie as he approached. His face guarded, unsure of where they stood at the moment. Evie knew he would nurse his pride for a bit, but he was a good sort and she loved him.

Finishing a perfect swaddle she glanced up at Hananiah and smiled as a peace offering. Surveying her handy work and the now content baby, she picked up the sweet boy and with Joseph’s permission and cooed to him. She walked over to Hananiah and together they looked into the most amazing dark, grey eyes they had ever seen.  

As she locked eyes with the infant, something broke inside of her. A flood of tears. Sobbing she could feel the healing take place. Deep within her heart all the names she had been called, the accusations that had been launched, the scars she had lived with for so long melted powerless. A warmth began to grow inside her. Beginning in her belly, the heat spread like a fire throughout her entire body. Shaking with the power she felt surging through her, she handed the little boy to Hananiah who was also weeping – with joy it seemed.

Eagerly he took the baby. Holding him high, laughing and weeping at the same time. A glow she had never seen in him shone from his eyes. In this singular moment, she saw Hananiah changed. The anger and bitterness he tried so hard to hide was gone. Replaced with unspeakable joy. Peace. In awe, Hananiah again looked into the face of this little child and Evie knew that he knew. They glanced at each other and again at the baby. It made no sense, but with absolute certainty Evie knew this tiny, red face was the face of God.

Sensitive to the sacred moment taking place between man and wife, Joseph gently reached for the child and said, “His name is Joshua. Or – Jesus, as Caesar’s register will say. For he will save us from our sin.”

Evie watched Joseph as he laid the boy in a feeding trough beside Mary so that he could spoon feed the broth to her. Jesus. What miracles had just taken place! Marveling at the baby in the trough, and the heat that still vibrated through her body, Evie turned to Hananiah as he put his arm around her and led her back to the house.

When they entered all was still. The guests had retired and the lamps burned low. Had hours passed? As they prepared for bed on this silent, holy night they discussed in excited whispers all they had witnessed. Each had experienced the overwhelming power of God’s love when they held little Jesus.

“How can the full strength of God’s love dwell in a tiny baby?” Hananiah asked.

“And how God’s love burns like fire! I am hot all over.” Evie said excitedly while rubbing her tingling fingertips. Hananiah laughed with her.

“It is a miracle! I could not decide if I wanted to shout for joy or fall to my knees in worship! Evie, there is immeasurable treasure in our stable right now. Why us? Why our stable? I was prepared to move them inside, but somehow, I sensed that is where El Shaddai wanted them.” Hananiah said.

That night, Hananiah and Evie fell asleep as he held her close. A once brokenhearted couple basking in God’s overwhelming love.

Almost one year later…

Evie smiled at the sound of her baby’s cries. Hananiah’s eyes were so full of pride and joy as he looked at his first born and then Evie. In a look they shared their remembrance of Jesus, the child who changed their world with one powerful encounter of love. Then Hananiah addressed their family and friends saying, “His name is Samuel because the LORD God has heard.”

…continue reading my Christmas Mini-Series with The Shepherd on December 14, 2020.

The Innkeeper: A Christmas Mini-Series

The Innkeeper

by Leslie Crouse

Hananiah sat amidst the noisy dinner guests watching them fight over the last of Evie’s famous challah bread. His wife was the best cook in Bethlehem and he was big enough to prove it. Evie’s heart was even bigger. He watched her serve their guests with that soft smile and sparkling eyes. After twenty years together, he loved her deeper than he could have imagined.

Over the din he heard, “Where are your children? I do not believe I have seen them running around here with my own.” He cringed and glanced at his wife Evie. Silence fell in the room as Hananiah watched a flood of sorrow overtake Evie’s eyes before she nodded at him and ducked into the kitchen.

He cleared the lump forming in his throat at the sight of his wife’s pain and answered, “The LORD will bless us in His time.” This was no new question. Small talk always led this direction and over the years Evie had learned to let him answer while she avoided the knowing looks.

That quick flash of pain in her eyes was the only indication of their deep sorrow. Does not God hear their cry? Does he not see what a wonderful mother she would make? Anger fought to fill his heart but he pushed it back down. God knew best. Over the years Evie had not hardened her heart and he would honor her by doing the same.

God had blessed them in so many ways and he was not ungrateful. Having been born here, they did not need to travel during this ridiculous census. Hananiah and Evie had been able to stay put and collect the income brought on by Caesar’s decree. Pompous man. If he were God fearing he would know strength is not found in numbers but in the name of El Shaddai. Ah! He must shake this dismal mood or his guests would suffer for it.

At the sound of a knock or, rather a bang on the door, Hananiah began the task of standing up. Difficult after another of Evie’s fine meals. He kissed her cheek as he walked by and whispered something in her ear that made her smile and swat his arm.

Outside stood a young man wringing his hands. “Shalom! Sir, I beg of you, I must find a place to stay tonight. My wife’s pains have begun and I fear we do not have long. I have asked everywhere. Please say there is a place for us.” Hananiah looked at the woman and took a double take. Wife? This was a mere girl! Something did not seem right here. Why can Evie and he not find joy in children while this undeserving couple did? LORD! It is not right! Well, whatever she was, clearly she was in labor.

Hananiah gritted his teeth. He wanted help, but the inn had been full for days and there was no way he would ask a family to leave. Refunds were impossible. They had already spent the rental income on linens, supplies and fresh grain for the animals. With town as busy as it was, food and supplies were scarce and greedy men had raised prices. Again.

The city square was no place for a woman to give birth. Where could they go? He must think.

“Shalom my friend. I see you are in need of… much.” He began leading them to the stable but the young woman paused to brace herself – one hand against the wall and another wrapped around her large belly – suppressing a low groan. She was embarrassed and obviously this was her first or she would have been better prepared.

Where was her mother? Maid? He set them up in the stable with fresh water for them as well as their animals and told them he would return shortly with blankets and food. It was the least he could do. Wasn’t it?

As he walked back toward the inn he heard another of her cries and the sound launched him back in time to when his baby sister was born. He was the second son of nine and had listened to births before.

He supposed he could let them have Evie and his room. It was in the back, separate from the others. But what a noisy business! Messy too. No. I will not do that to Evie. I will not make Evie watch a girl give birth in her own bed and then clean up after her too. Besides, if the other guests are disturbed our inn will always be remembered as such and destroy any future business. It is decided then. The barn it is. Evie would not approve but he would do what he must. His wife and his business needed to be priority.

Another cry pierced the night pulling him from his searing conscience and justifications.  The more he thought about it the more urgent the girl’s need became. This girl needs a midwife now! Where is that servant boy?

“Jacob, go get the midwife and bring her to the stable as fast as you can!” Hananiah yelled.

“But Sir! Grandmother Anna left for her hometown day before last. She isn’t – ” Jacob said.

“Then knock on every door and find one! We have no time!” Hananiah interrupted. At the rate she was going that baby may be here before the boy made it back. He watched Jacob, race down the dusty street. Truly, at this point any midwife would do. Any experienced mother.

Bitterness welled up again. Evie would not hesitate to help but she did not have the knowledge needed. He must tell her about the situation though. Maybe he could put it off until after the baby was born. She had her hands full with their guests. And if the guests caught wind that couple would never get any privacy.

“HANANIAH BEN JOHN! What do you think you are DOING? You told that poor girl to give birth in a barn? A BARN!” Fists planted on her hips, Eve skewered him with that fiery look of hers that withers every argument. She was on a war path now and was coming straight for him.

He had known she would not approve, but he had done the only thing he could. Right? That Jacob and his big mouth! What was done was done and right now they did not have time to argue.

“Eve, you must know given everything going on this was the best option. I will not argue with you about it. There is too much to do.” Eve whirled away in a fury. She began slamming open cupboards and ripping out all the brand new linens he had just purchased for their guests. He turned to get fresh water when he heard a ripping sound and his eyes grew round.

“Evie!” Hananiah’s face blanched as Eve ruthlessly tore their new linens to shreds. Never had he seen her so angry. It gave him pause. He turned his back and took a deep breath searching his heart one more time. Why had the barn seemed like such a good idea again? It is much too dirty for a woman giving birth. He knew that!

Before he could remember his arguments, His shame was punctuated by a loud smack as Eve stormed out the kitchen door arms full of the most expensive rags he had ever seen.

…Continue reading my new Christmas Mini-series with The Innkeeper’s Wife on December 11, 2020.

Christmas 2020

Summer melted into fall, and fall into winter. As our community navigates the Covid-19 pandemic, much has changed.

Kids wear masks to school. For months we all wore gaiters which are now out and ear loop masks are in. I had hoped we wouldn’t need subcategories for the word “mask.”

Shields are installed on every counter, nail salon booth, front desk, and grocery check out. Restaurants and other businesses vacillate between 25-50% capacity. Many of them never recover. 

Churches also operate between 25-50% capacity as childrens classrooms are limited with registration required and rows of seats are roped off to create “social distancing.” The new catch phrase of 2020.

Most people are able to spell the word quarantine now and use it in everyday conversations. Kids transition between online learning and in class learning. Parents who swore they would never homeschool find it is not so bad after all and have seriously considered abandoning traditional school options.

Isolation and depression are skyrocketing as the government slams guilt and fear based propaganda into the people demanding families not meet for Thanksgiving or Christmas lest we unwittingly kill grandma via the virus.

The devastating effects of this message is yet to be seen as people take ownership of false guilt and spend their years struggling beneath a burden that was never theirs to bear.

Unable to enforce the laws they have dictated, leaders instead use the weapon of fear to turn neighbor against neighbor, calling upon them to report each other for noncompliance and disguising the ugly reality they are creating with a warped teaching of “loving your neighbor.”

At the approach of Christmas, I find my soul burdened and distracted from the true meaning. Traditionally a time of celebration and reuinting with family, it falls flat in the midst of this pandemic.

But is that what Christmas is about? Family? Friends? Travel? Bustle? As I find myself drifting away from the spirit of Christmas in a sense of loss toward all that has changed, the anchor of my soul pulls tight against the drift.

You see, I chose Christ. My soul is anchored inextricably to him and nothing can separate me from his love. When I begin to drift with the cultural current, my anchor pulls tight and I am not lost. Because this season is not about family, or parties, or shopping or even snow.  It is about Christ. Without Christ, Christmas becomes a shimmering mirage making promises of hope, joy and peace only to disappear when I try to take hold.

Hope, healing, love, joy and peace are found in Christ. They are not promises I dream of or wish for when the pandemic is over, they are realities I can take hold of now.  Christ is the rock I stand on in the storm.

Christ is my Hope. Christ is my Healing. Christ is my Joy. Christ is my Love. Christ is my Peace. In Christ I find all my heart longs for. All my soul needs.

2020. Has there ever been a year when we needed Christ more? Not a holiday, a religion, a building or a rebellion. No. We need a personal encounter with the God of the universe who has overcome the world and all its troubles. One who freely gives all he has to us. The One who has conquered sickness and death. The One whose family is not altered or changed by death.

If you, too, feel the loss of Christmas this year you don’t need to. Christ is right here waiting for you with hope, joy, peace, love and healing.

This year, I made my own ornaments and they say exactly what I want them to.

Random Thoughts with Leslie

New Phase

I cannot believe how this family has changed. I have a friend who just had a baby, and she made the comment “I know you are way past this stage, but I still think it’s fun to see.” Gosh! Am I? Have I crossed over that line, where I am officially past that baby stage? Seems surreal to think so. But I don’t know, I do still need concealer. And someone told me that you know the baby phase is over when you stop using concealer.

However, my two youngest turned 4 this month!! How did that happen? They are obsessed with princesses, unicorns and fluffy skirts of every kind. They start preschool in the Fall and are such big girls now. Looking back at this last year, when they were three, it has been my favorite so far. All the snuggles, all those moments that I got them to myself before they run off to school and life speeds up to a blur again.

Now that I think about it, life was a complete blur (hello name of my blog!) for so long. Five solid years full of: 3 cross-country moves, pregnancies, 5 babies being born, houses being bought and sold, jobs being changed, endless renovations. It’s really no wonder life didn’t slow down until we landed here and the older kids began school. I have a feeling this slower pace is what allowed me to cherish my time with them more. And in some ways I sense that our previous busy-ness prevented me from cherishing that 3-year old stage with the other kids. Sorry Esther, Gabriel and Micah.

New Schedule

Now, COVID19 has effected its own changes to life. My slower pace is even slower and if I were honest I may be enjoying this a little bit too much. But, I am an unapologetic, introverted homebody. My friends know it. I know it. My husband knows it. When life slammed to a halt 6 weeks ago I may have done a jig in my brain in terms of my own schedule being cleared. Well, I did after 3 weeks of adjusting to zero personal space.

I do miss my friends though. Not one to rely on social media, I miss their faces in real time. It is possible I may be guilty of popping my minivan trunk once a week in random parking lots and partaking in literal tailgate parties with a coffee in my hand. Stop your hateful thoughts. We stay 10 feet apart in open air. It’s a throw back to wagon days. Except we circle the vans instead.

Family Sports

What have we done to occupy ourselves? Taken a lot of walks in the woods. Until I lost half the kids and almost called the police. Apparently they are part homing pigeon. When I finally committed to calling in the authorities I found them pilfering through an intended Easter package on the front porch. Guess my lesson on “How to get home if you are lost in the woods: Landmarks” was better than I thought and they decided to put it into practice instead of waiting on their slower siblings. We haven’t been on a walk in the woods again, but we did get some pigs to occupy our old chicken coop and that has been it’s own sport of sorts.

Pencils

Homeschooling is for rock stars. It never ceases to amaze me how fast I can bring my children to tears over pencils. But really, I don’t want the pointy end waving around my face. I just don’t. And why do we use the wooden ones? Why not mechanical? Sharpening them has become one of those homeschool side hustles I need power tools for.

Small and Large Victories

And Gabe and Micah gave their hearts to the Lord! Esther, Gabriel and Micah were all baptized on Easter morning right here in our creek. So special. Best Easter ever. These days at home have been trying, but this up close and personal approach to life has opened so many doors to amazing conversations and life-changing decisions. Thank you Lord for this moment to refocus as a family.

Continued Changes due to Coronavirus

I cooked a lot before, now even more. It astounds me how much food the kids go through now that they are home all day long. Once or twice a week we support a locally owned business by ordering dinner. But since we are not allowed to go in, they deliver it curbside.

Spending more time together as a family means my community that was once outside these walls, is now entirely within these walls. This has brought us closer as a family physically and relationally, but exposed our weaknesses as well.

Since we do not go to church, we worship here in our living room. This week Gabriel accepted Christ into his heart. Esther and he are to be baptized this coming weekend – Easter weekend – in the creek. Obviously, it won’t be a big hullabaloo like before but I do think the intimacy makes it more special.

In some ways, life reminds me of our intense baby stage when my house was never clean, I rarely had time to work out or put makeup on, I lived in leggings and my mom-bun hair was washed every three or so days. It is was as uncomfortable then as it is now. However, I have become more familiar with each of my children. Strengths. Weaknesses. Preferences. I have also become more familiar with my own.

Part of me mourns the loss of time in the mornings with Grace and Ruth before they leave for school next year. Now I am fully occupied with homeschooling and they play by themselves. But, I am so grateful we are all healthy, home and together.

I really believe we will look back at this time in our lives to see this particular season of loss and disruption as a time when God pruned away our non-essentials and grew our faith, our love and our family. This is a call to fix our focus on things most important. It is a chance to know God as Provider, Prince of Peace, Healer, Comforter, and Friend. To know family as community.

I am choosing to dive in deep to this unprecedented time, when the world seems to have paused for a moment and the rush and race of life has slowed down on the home front. Praying for fresh strength to steward this season with wisdom and grace.