"I write so that my handful of pebbles, cast into still waters, will create a ripple."

Sunday, August 25, 2019

What I Know About Being 70



I used to think age came in only two flavors—young or old. I preferred young. I dreaded being—old. But the years between 65 and 80 are starting to look pretty interesting. I haven’t experienced as much growth and change since I was a teenager.

I’ve discovered something. The decisions I made in my 40s are beginning to have consequences. When I was 40, I worried about the things I could control: Divorce or stay together. Lose weight or not. Send the kids to college or don’t. Take a vacation to Hawaii or stay home.

We made some good decisions back then that are paying off. The kindness I showed my husband, the interest we took in each other’s lives created friendship between us. We talk, we laugh. We share 50 + years of memories. The savings we tucked away as a nest egg is our play money today. The physical labor I did when I was younger makes my body strong and resilient

The 60s came in like a lamb and went out like the March lion. During our 60s, my husband and I were those happy people in cruise line commercials—smiling at the camera with our own teeth and hair, wearing stylish shoes and real make-up. We thought nothing of driving into Ashland to take in a show. Midnight and wine were still our friends. So was my chin. In good lighting I could pass for 58.  

By 68, I began to see life as an assembly line where some of our family and friends started dropping off. People we knew rode the conveyer belt on the last loop and weren’t there anymore. I wondered if I would be next. I thought it was my imagination, or my unlucky choice of friends, but my doctor told me that if I live to be 70, I’ll probably make it to 90. Wow. That’s good information.

I started making a Bucket List. I self-published a collection of short stories. Made a submission plan for the novel manuscripts. Added intentions to walk part of the Pacific Coast Trail. Learn to fish. Play guitar again. 

He bought the car he always wanted because it may be his last. And because the safety features will help him drive safely for another few years. Arranged to go elk hunting. Took his BMW on a few overnighter roadtrips. Got another dog.

I started giving things away—advice, clothes, a little cash to my children. This year we rented a vacation house in West Yellowstone and the kids and their families came from three states for a week of eating, cooking and sightseeing. We rode horses, fished, toured Yellowstone, picnicked, grilled and listened together. It was the best money I ever spent.

But everything isn’t fun and games. I started reading about senior abuse. I filled out an End of Life Directory, —just in case. I notice the clothes and shoes I’m drawn to in stores aren’t really that comfortable. I traded Not Your Daughter’s Jeans for a pair of stretch slacks with an elastic waistband. Hello Mom!  

So what else do I know about being 70?

I stopped watching TV because I don’t need 90% of the stuff they sell in ads.
The most important phone calls start with, “Hello . . .Mom?" or even better, "Hello, Grandma?”           
Listening to people complain about their ailments gives me a headache.
I share meals at restaurants and order water to drink. I think a 12 % tip is reasonable.
I post photos of my grandkids on the refrigerator and spend occasional long weekends at their soccer games and gymnastic try-outs. But I don’t even try to sit in one of those low beach chairs anymore.
I play with the grandkids because their parents are too busy working—and too serious about life. We eat ice cream sundaes. 
I am connected to God in a deeply spiritual way and relish the time I spend in prayer.
I keep a thought for people who crossed my path during their lifetime.
I make plans for the next ten years but live every day in the moment.

So that’s it. That’s what I know.




Saturday, August 10, 2019

All the Pretty Horses


Boots on the ground aren’t the same as boots in the stirrup. I was reminded of this on a recent trail ride in Montana where a part-time rodeo clown/dude ranch hostler led us off into the trees with a warning about the full-grown bear that had scattered trail horses and clawed a tent the day before. “What happens if we see one,” I asked. Clown Dude shrugged and grinned. “Then it’s every man for himself.”

So it’s been awhile since I sat a saddle and I don’t remember it being so hard—a bit like balancing a kayak in a moving stream. The trail wound around trees and recrossed a stream while my horse tried to nip the horse in front. “Keep away or you’ll have a fight on your hands,” Clown Dude warned after the first clash. “But stay bunched up.”

The two-hour ride seemed quite zen-like as I contemplated the possibility of bear at any turn. In retrospect, the ride turned out to be exhilarating, but I seriously don’t think Clown Dude cared one way or another. Another bear story would go down like aged whiskey on Saturday night for his rodeo pals. What made the day special was having my skills called to high alert. The trail through the trees was similar to ones I’ve ridden on a trail bike, but factoring in some horse attitude, an extra four feet of height and a novice perch made everything a rush.

Challenge is the stuff of life. The pioneers knew it. The astronauts knew it. Maybe Clown Dude, Monty, knew it too, and let me cinch my own saddle, so to speak.

Another great moment happened on the vacation. My daughters and their families were with us at the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming. We wandered down to the kiosk with the Western Writers ofAmerica display. My granddaughter keyed Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name in the search bar. I followed with Willa Cather. Someone searched for Craig Johnson. We were crowded around the interactive display when I entered my own name and watched my photo and bio pop up.

You know the saying, There was a moment? My family stood there contemplating what they were seeing. “That’s so cool,” I heard a son-in-law mutter. My daughter snapped a photo of me next to my display. I swear to God, I can die now. My life is complete.



Almost as good, Boy in theDarkness, my historical western novella set in the Wyoming plains released as #1 on Amazon new releases for Children’s Historical Western. Too cool—even though it’s not a children’s book at all. My family joined me in the happy dance. 


On the way home we stopped for breakfast at a little cafĂ© with a lot of cars parked outside. Took a seat near two tables waiting for their food while the harried waitress tried to keep up. The cook was putting out a plate every ten minutes. I had time to chat with locals and to photograph the cowboy hats hanging in a row around the room to honor deceased local ranchers. Five tables and an hour later the waitress brought our oversized plate of thick sourdough toast. I started around the room, offering cowboy toast to everyone still waiting. The waitress flashed me a surprised look, but I didn’t much care. The tension in the room melted as people spread jelly on their toast.

When we finished eating, the waitress passed us our bill with a note that the tab had been taken care of. If you’re ever in Lander, Wyoming, stop in at the Maverick. Great hat collection and a decent omelette if you’re not in a hurry. And take your kids on a tour of the West. It’s their heritage. Maybe encourage them to read a western historical  


Thursday, January 24, 2019

Farewell to You, My Trusted Friend


I’m waiting for a letter.

My friend, collaborator and former publisher wrote deathbed letters to his best friends, telling them what they’d meant in his life. He left them with his lady friend to be mailed after his death. I hope I get one.

He was one of a handful of friends who make up the short list of people I turn to for advice or to share the best and worst that life brings. The ones who will be with me until the end.

Our friendship was a touchstone of growth and insight. He was a brilliant man, stoically determined to remain an agnostic while countering my Christian beliefs with well-taken points that gradually changed me from being a card-carrying Catholic to a spiritual thinker increasingly uncomfortable with blind acceptance to a religion and pat beliefs about homosexuality and tolerance. He sent me an unexpected birthday gift once, a crucifix made of inlaid tiles, one of six he'd purchased from a down-and-out artist friend for $100 each. And he kept a Catholic crucifix on his office wall, covered by a hat. Hedging his bets, I told him. We both grew, but neither of us managed to change the other person’s core. Just as it should be, I suspect. 

I met him at a writing event. When he later asked me to edit an anthology he planned to publish, we embarked on a collaborative journey that spanned twenty years, my move to Oregon with my husband of forty-five years—and his to Canada, and after his divorce, to Santa Fe to become a screenwriter. Our first ventures included publishing my two memoirs with old-fashioned off-set printing. When the Fed Ex truck delivered three pallets of the first title, I was stunned at how much space 4,500 books took up in his garage. When he retired from publishing, I bought up the remainders for pennies on the dollar. I was expected to sell them, so I did. Over the years the pallets dwindled. Nineteen years later, I’m down to a single case of one title, a dozen cases of the other. I didn’t want to disappoint him so I became a speaker, a marketer, a writer.

He was fond of quoting obscure philosophers. I have a stack of Post-It notes with his pithy little sayings stuck in a box somewhere. I used to keep them on my wall, but now I find my own. As with, “A friend is someone who brings out the best in you and accepts the worst in you.” We’re lucky when we find such a friend.

His passing wasn’t a shock. He’d passed off his symptoms for a year before he finally went to the ER. By then the cancer had spread to his colon, liver and lymph glands. He endured the gamut of surgeries, chemo and their side effects with cheer and stoic resolve, determined to accept the consequences for his negligence. Or maybe he merely mustered his best self for our phone calls in the last months and weeks of his life.

My last package to him included soft, fluffy pajamas and a photo of our new church, built while he was undergoing his chemo. Armed with a black felt tip pen, I had climbed onto the unfinished altar and wrote his name on the center 2x6 steel girder, in bold block letters, so that every Sunday he’d be there under a layer of sheetrock and paint, in the space between the crucifix and the tabernacle. I touched up the photo with his name where it will remain for the next hundred years or so, and mailed it to him. He was moved to tears—by that and the candle I lit for his vigil, the week he passed. Not much else I could do from 1,500 miles away.

So I guess this is it. He wouldn’t want sorrow. But he promised me a letter. I hope it arrives.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Zina Abbott











       INTRODUCING A BOOK BLITZ 
       FRIDAY NOVEMBER 2

          
 Robyn is a fellow Women Writing the West member and an author who sets her historical novels in my part of rugged California. I hope you'll get to know this talented author during her book blitz today. 


           
              NISSA 

     by Zina Abbott 





 A widow with two small children, Nissa Stillwell was forced out of the mining  supervisor's house after her husband died in the mine disaster in Wildcat Ridge, Utah. She quickly learns before his death, he went heavily into debt. She leaves    what few possessions remain behind and contracts with the Ridge Hotel to do their laundry and live in the laundry shed and drying yard
next to the hotel. She is able to make ends meet—barely.

          Being left with only the furnishings and personal items that make up James Stillwell’s estate, Mortimer Crane goes after Nissa to pay the balance owed. She refuses, but he insists she work off the debt in his Gentlemen Only Salon.

          Rancher Dallin Walsh has been too busy building up his spread in the isolated mountains of western Colorado to look for a wife. He comes to Wildcat Ridge for a big horse auction. Between Crane and three drifters, he comes to Nissa’s defense more than once. Desperate to leave Wildcat Ridge, Nissa asks him to hire her as a housekeeper. Does Dallin want a housekeeper—or does he have something else in mind?

          Hal and Buck, two wranglers who work for Dallin, soon find most women in town are as eager to find husbands to move to Wildcat Ridge so they can keep their homes as they are to sell horses. A woman in difficulty captures Hal’s attention. Another woman finds Buck, but he definitely is not interested in a wife.

          Who will go to Colorado, and who will stay in Wildcat Ridge?





Introducing Author 

Zina Abbott




    
ABOUT THE AUTHOR


My name is Robyn Echols. Zina Abbott is the pen I use for my historical novels. I’m a member of Women Writing the West and Western Writers of America. I currently live with my husband in California’s central valley near the “Gateway to Yosemite.”

I love to read, quilt, work with digital images on my photo editing program, and work on my own family history.

I am a blogger. In addition to my own blog, I blog for several group blogs including the Sweet Americana Sweethearts blog, which I started and administer.

Facebook ~ Website ~


More info about Zina, giveaways and games at her official event today. Drop on over! 

To view our blog schedule and follow along with this tour visit our Official Book Blitz Page  for giveaways and more about Zina

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Rocking the Red Letter Days


In the past two months, four of our friends called us to share their diagnoses of late-stage cancer. One passed early in her treatment. Another passed this week. One is undergoing debilitating chemo that has stolen his energy and his body fat, but he's gritty and determined. Their suffering has been a reminder that our time is limited. We need to be grateful for each moment, especially the ones that lend a lift to our step, plant a smile on our lips and make evident the angels that walk among us.

I had a day like that yesterday—one to balance out the pencilled dates in my calendar for doctors appointment, septic tank clean-outs, juice fasts and trash days. Not that I hadn't planted seeds. It's just that the whole field sprouted on the same day. I want to give a sincere "thank you" to the Power That Be. A writer walks a tight rope between enthusiastic marketing and crowing, and sometimes we miss the nuances, as my dear sister might point out to me under the influence of too much wine. 

The important thing is to recognize the day. It's the first step in seizing it. Recog Diem!

Gratitude begets blessings. That's why writers have adventures that end up in their books. I know mine do. In fact, my boomer memoir is devoted to recognizing the red-letter days in a woman’s life of small steps. For me, living in a state of gratitude became a habit.   

Yesterday, an email from a publishing house started a chain of events that will occupy me for two years. A bookstore contacted me about an event in early September. I volleyed ideas with an editor over a novella that will be released next year. Granddaughters want me to go to San Francisco with them to see a play. My husband took me to Red Robin for $6.99 burgers and salads. We drove home the long way, through the dark woods, listening to the Garth Brooks Channel on Sirius and talking about things close to our heart. 

A Red Letter Day.

I'd love to hear about your RLD's. What can you teach us about gratitude? 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

50 Years and a Rag-Tag Wedding Ring Story




Back in 1968, Steve and I were college kids, scrambling to get married before I “started showing,” to use the popular vernacular of the times. We counted our cash and scraped up a little over a hundred dollars between us. With a baby on the way and college to finish, we found a Columbia Merchandise Catalog and sent away for a ring with a diamond that looked, in the photo, like a cocktail ring Elizabeth Taylor might wear.

Ten days later, on a Saturday morning, Steve presented me with a parcel still wrapped in its brown shipping paper. I used my butter knife to cut the Scotch tape and opened the plastic case. Inside was a microscopic diamond in a 10-carat white gold setting. The engagement ring had a swerve to the band where the wedding ring would mate up. I glanced at the wedding ring; it looked like a fishhook or a beer can opener. With my girlish fantasies blown to smithereens, I tried to smile.

On our wedding day, my rings were blessed by the priest for a life of happy ever-afters. Joined, the set looked better together, but each ring had a difficult time settling in to marriage. They seemed awkward and self-centered, each wanting to do its own thing instead of working as a team. I visited a jeweler and had them soldered together.  

Eventually, despite fillings and repairs, the gold wore thin. On our 25th Anniversary, my husband bought me a white gold anniversary ring with a circle of small diamonds. I wore that as my wedding ring for the next fifteen years. When my husband’s tiny Portuguese grandmother passed away, I inherited her gold ring and had it cut and soldered onto my band. I thought my little ring family was complete. But life sometimes brings surprises.

Last year my mother passed. Among her jewelry was an assortment of gold and diamond rings, including a man’s pinkie ring. “It’s George Mort’s, I think,” my sister said.

Image result for art nouveau diamond ringGeorge and Loulla Mort were a colorful couple who drove into our lives on a hot summer afternoon in 1962, to inquire about renting my grandmother’s bunkhouse. George had been a riverboat gambler and Loulla a brothel madam, as close as we could tell. She had a son whom the county took away when he was a baby. They had traveled the country, making a living playing Five-Card Stud and various other side jobs. They rented from my grandmother, off and on, for a decade. When George died, Loulla traded his pinkie ring for back rent and Grandma let her stay on until she “lost her mind” as they used to say, and the county took her away. Grandma looked in on her at the nursing home until she passed.

I wear George’s ring now. It’s a platinum filigree art nouveau diamond ring with a beveled diamond that sparkles in the light. 

I smile every time I look down at the hodge-podge collection of memories on my finger. Fifty years will do that for a person; one ends up with a lot of recollections—and if you’re lucky, you get a good man, too. So this week is our 50th  Anniversary. Where did the time fly?         

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Joseph’s Promise (By Anne Schroeder)


The donkey’s small hoof clinked against a stone, sending a puff of dust over the man’s wooden sandals as he trudged the well-traveled ridge route to the small Jewish village of Bethlehem, his ancestral home. His thoughts wandered as far afield as his journey. He was not a wealthy man, even though his line claimed ancestry to the House of David—and through him, to another ancestor, Solomon—but his carpentry trade was adequate to support a growing family, thanks be to God.  

On the donkey’s back, a girl swayed from side-to-side, one hand clinging to the veil covering her dark hair. Her head sagged and she closed her eyes for a moment. Seventy miles, the journey, and so near the time of her delivery. The month-long journey had provided little time to rest, and few trees to shelter them from the full sun. When the donkey stumbled, the girl groaned, quickly biting her lip to check the sound. 

Her husband, Joseph, clenched the lead rope with a white-knuckle grip. He paused to brush a pebble from his sandal and straightened, scanning the trail for bandits or wild dogs. Satisfied that no danger threatened, he glanced at the setting sun and urged the donkey on. His ears caught the slight, almost inconsequential sound of his wife’s distress and his lips tightened in agony. “What is it, Little Mother?”

The girl offered a timid smile in response. “Husband, it is nothing. A tiny pain. God eases my burden.”

Joseph growled his displeasure into the cowl of his cloak. “Wife, you should not be here. The Romans are cruel to demand this journey. I would have spared you this.” His husky voice barely concealed his displeasure, but he would not burden her with his fears. His thoughts returned to their predicament and he paled. “A tiny pain, you say?” He moved to stand beside her, concern in the lines that marked his face from years of desert living. Many years older than his young bride, he felt as insignificant as a grain of sand when he judged his worth against hers and the child she carried. The thought consumed him, night and day: Yahweh would never forgive him if anything happened on this difficult journey. That she suffered because of a Roman tyrant’s census to count Jewish heads filled him with despair. He lifted his hand to touch hers, but withdrew when he saw her eyes flutter closed. “Tell me what I should do,” he pleaded.

The girl, Mary, released her hold on the donkey to cradle his face between her hands. She buried her fingers in his thick, untrimmed beard, now tangled and filthy from dust and sweat, and Joseph felt the tension ease from his weary muscles. Her face held a look of gentle acceptance that made his fear seem inconsequential. It was impossible to fret when her quiet faith sustained them.

“You have done so much,” she murmured. “Yahweh is pleased with you, my husband.

Joseph returned to the trail, filled with resolve.

From behind, the jingling of bells and a shouted warning caused him to quickly tug his donkey to the side of the road. A caravan of camels trotted past, carrying strange-looking men in rich clothing. Their features marked them as foreigners, with their dark skin and almond-shaped eyes. Each was dressed distinctly, with turbans and long, flowing robes spun, it was said, by silk worms in the distant East. Even the camels were garbed in tassels and bells, with thick padded saddles trimmed in gold and magenta, colors that he had seen only in the Temple on the holiest of days. A supply caravan trailed behind, fifty camels led by servants in finely woven livery.  Joseph kept his eyes downcast as the soft grunts and dust clouds filled the air. Even Mary seemed entranced at the splendor.    

“Princes of the East,” he whispered. “I wonder what brings them to Judah?”

The mounted foreigners shared the trail without the pageantry and rudeness of other high officials that Joseph had encountered on this trip. More like scholars than soldiers, he observed.

Soon they were alone again. Many of the travelers had stopped to make camp on the outskirts of Jerusalem, five miles back, but Joseph hurried on. No matter that Mary tried to hide her pains, his mother-in-law, Anne, had told him what to expect and he knew that his wife’s time was near. As they had prepared to leave, Joachim, his father-in-law, pressed his hand with a deep, penetrating look of anguish for his daughter. Joseph had wanted to share the secret the angel had brought, but a stern frown from his young wife reminded him of the angel’s warning of secrecy.  No one must know, not even Mary’s parents, the precious burden that their daughter carried.

“I should walk a bit and give the poor donkey a rest,” Mary offered.

“Keep your seat, Little Mother. His burden is nothing—like a single orange blossom. He doesn’t even know you are along.” Joseph’s gentle tone rang with humor.

“A single blossom? You have walked too long in the heat, my husband. I feel as laden as an orange tree ready for harvest.”

They shared gentle laughter. Mary took a tighter hold on the donkey’s stubby mane as the narrow trail opened onto a rocky field planted in olive groves. Ahead, scattered campfires twinkled in the distance.

Bethlehem,” Joseph murmured. Although the city of his birth, it had been many years since he had returned. In the clearness of the desert air the town seemed a stone’s throw away, but he had spent his life in this land and he was not deceived. The hour would be late when they arrived, but he knew that Yahweh would provide a place for them. Still, a great stone would be rolled from his mind when he had Mary settled in a comfortable kahn; an inn provided for strangers would provide privacy and a midwife to attend the birth. He would sacrifice his cloak to the innkeeper as payment for his wife’s comfort, his beautiful cloak, its four blue tassels, one on each corner, stitched by his wife in preparation for this journey. This was what he had decided.

“I will find an inn,” he vowed, half to himself. His hand moved along the donkey’s neck and captured Mary’s small fingers. So young, he thought. So pure. So good. She had never once complained on this journey, even as she had accepted the shame and gossip that she suffered in Nazareth when her pregnancy became known. True, they had been engaged, considered as good as married in the Jewish way, but even he had doubted her. He shook his head to clear the torment, recalling the days and weeks of anguish he had spent wondering at Mary’s unexplained pregnancy when he had never laid with her. It was not until Yahweh sent the angel Gabriel to explain and to seek his cooperation, that he was able to believe his Mary again.

When she returned from visiting her cousin Elizabeth, a journey of nearly a hundred miles, Mary, in her customary way, had seen his sorrow. There was nothing to forgive, she had insisted.
Although they had spoken of the matter, he had labored in his carpentry shop, trying with every pounding of his hammer to make sense of this matter. He spent long hours on his knees each night pleading to Yahweh for understanding while Mary slept alone in her small alcove. He prayed to be worthy to raise this unborn child who was his stepson, even though he was, himself, unworthy. He had descended from Solomon, who had sinned. Mary held the greater claim, descended from Nathan, who had not sinned. He prayed that he would be strong and worthy.       

As though she read his mind, Mary spoke. “A woman’s pain is like making a sacrifice at the Temple. It is my thanksgiving for the gift that Yahweh will bestow on us. I am glad to offer it—the pain.”

“Little Mother, it is obvious why Yahweh chose you from all time to carry His child.” As always, Joseph felt his knees weaken at the task he had been given. “He will provide a room for the birth,” he repeated.

The town had settled into sleep when the exhausted donkey limped down the cobblestone path. At the first inn, Joseph halted and knocked on a solid plank door. After several minutes a man appeared, his night garb illuminated by an olive-oil lamp in his hand. “We have no room. Let a man sleep. Look about you. Do you think you’re the only travelers tonight with the need of a room?”

Joseph had pulled his cloak from his shoulders, in preparation for the exhange. Now he stood uncertainly, feeling the strain of disbelief that this could be happening. “But my wife. . . she is—”
The door slammed, rattling the lintel and the frame before Joseph could finish, and he turned back toward Mary, his eyes downcast in shame.

“Husband, you must not mind him.”

Joseph shook his head, feeling like a fool. He had never stayed at an inn before, had only heard tales from others of how to conduct himself. Of course the night was late and the inn keepers were sleeping, but surely Yahweh would provide a suitable place for His own son. Joseph must find it.
Turning to the next inn, he knocked again.

Down the small street he continued, knocking and being turned away from the khans where travelers overflowed into the crowded streets. No one wanted to hear about his pregnant wife. At the last inn, Joseph knocked louder than before. A shutter opened from above and a tired voice called down, “No room. Can’t you see the lamps are out? Go away.” Joseph stood, silent and troubled in the dark street. The innkeeper paused behind the half-closed shutter. He saw Mary and called, “Wait a moment.” Joseph heard the heavy bolt sliding in its holder and he knew that he had found a room. The innkeeper emerged and his eyes swept over Mary, who dozed atop the donkey. 

“Your wife is in late days.”

“Yes, we need a room. She will deliver soon. This is a special baby.” Joseph could say no more. His heart was thumping against his chest. Please, let it be here, he silently prayed. 

“I’m sorry. I have no room for even one small woman. If I did, I would give it to you. But there is a place. . . if you’re not particular. It’s warm and clean. And private.” The innkeeper glanced again at Mary.

“We’ll take it. Anything.” Joseph glanced about, hoping for a private home.

“There’s a small stable, a cave where I keep my animals. At the edge of town . . . over there.” The innkeeper pointed. “Use it with my blessing, and may Yahweh be with you.”

Mary woke to hear this last. “Yahweh is with us, always. It is good, husband. A stable. Let us go see.”

Joseph walked for several steps until he was out of the hearing of the innkeeper, who had already disappeared inside. He slung his cloak back over his shoulders, secretly glad for the warmth on this chilly night, but his ears still stung with the words of the innkeeper. “This is what Yahweh wants for his child? To be born in a stable? This child should be born in the richest house in the city. In the Temple, itself. We should go forth and present our situation to the people. Surely someone has been directed to give up their home for the birth of this God-child. A stable?” His voice was angry. There had been so little direction from the angel. No one had forewarned him of this journey, or his role in caring for the child. What was he to do? Surely Yahweh would be angered if he, Joseph of the House of David, could find nothing better than a stable among the lowest animals for His son. Tears of frustration gathered in his weary eyes. Not for Yahweh’s child, a stable. Never.

“Let us go and see. Do not worry, Husband.”

His heart filled with grief, Joseph silently led the donkey down the narrow street in the direction the innkeeper had pointed.

The stable was not hard to find. A group of men had camped nearby and their campfire lit the small enclosure burrowed into the limestone hill. Joseph halted, hopelessness stealing his speech.

“Shalom, pilgrim. Will you join us for a drink?” one of the rowdy men called, offering his chalice with a swagger.

Joseph shook his head and met the man’s gaze with a weary reply. “I think not. We must be on our way.”

The man glanced at Mary and scrambled to his feet. He stared for a long moment then half-turned toward where the others lay laughing and drinking on their cloaks and bed rolls. “Come, let us leave our camp for these travelers. They have more need of it than we do.” Amid groans and complaints, he gathered their things and hurried his group away, their drunken sounds disappearing into the darkness.  

Joseph looked around. The cave was warm and sheltered from the night air and the animals lent a musky, not unwelcome aroma. Against his will, he decided to make camp. At least until he could locate a kinsman with a room to share. In their haste, the men had left a gourd filled with water, and the remains of a bird still sizzling on the fire spit. Silently, he helped Mary from the donkey and into the stable. Fresh forage was piled at one end, out of reach of an ass and an ox quietly chewing its cud. To one side an empty feed crib lay overturned on the ground. Joseph straightened it and returned to unpack their bedding and supplies.

Mary drank water from the gourd. Wordlessly, they dined on the remains of the bird, the sheaves of unleavened bread that she kept wrapped in a linen cloth, and a few dates and figs they had purchased that day from a vendor near Jerusalem. Then Mary lay back to rest.

“Husband?” She murmured in a sleepy, sated voice.

“Hmmm?”

“My spirit rejoices here. Do you feel it?”

“Yes, Little Mother, I feel it. Perhaps Yahweh wants us to rest here until someone offers their house. Some midwife, perhaps. We will wait here and see.” He turned to frown at the few lights that flickered in the darkened town while he chewed thoughtfully on a date.

Mary’s groan interrupted his silence. “Joseph. . . it is time.”

He struggled to his feet, looking frantically about for someone to assist in this most important birth. He was a clumsy carpenter, good with a hammer and adz, but not with his precious Mary’s birthing. In their village, the women assisted in the births. “I will go for help.”

Mary’s face was pale and exhausted, but filled with confidence. “Husband, there is no time. You will help me. Remember the angel Gabriel? All will go well, my husband. Yahweh chose you to be my midwife.”

Despite the chilliness of the night, sweat beaded his brow and dripped into his eyes. His hands trembled from fear. Thoughts tumbled over each other until, finally, he allowed himself to speak what was foremost on his mind. “You and I have not been together as man and wife. I have never seen you. . . in that way. You are a modest woman. A woman chosen by God. How am I to assist in such a . . . personal matter?”

“Husband . . . ask Yahweh to guide your hands. He will hear your prayers this night of all nights. He is with us in all ways.”

Mary’s quiet confidence seeped into his blood and he rushed to retrieve the rags she had packed for this hour, and the gourd of water waiting near the fire. He spread fresh straw for her bed and after that there was nothing for him to do but wait and pray.

Mary endured the pain of childbirth with peaceful acceptance while angels warmed the room with their fluttering wings.

Finally, trembling at the miracle he witnessed, Joseph gently placed a baby boy in her arms.   
The cave was lit with a glow more powerful than the mere oil lamp he carried. Joseph marveled at the aura of light that came from the Child, from its tiny naked body that Mary now swaddled.

“Let me help you with that, Little Mother.” His huge, calloused hands seemed to have a will of their own as he quietly sponged the baby with warm oil then helped to wrap the swaddling cloth about the baby’s perfect limbs.

Mary watched her baby’s tiny arms thrashing as she secured the wrapping cloth. “My soul magnifies the Creator who has given me His son. Immanuel. The angel said we were to name him Immanuel, for his name will remind us that God is with us. Oh, truly, Yahweh honors me with this precious gift.”

Mary’s weariness, her gladness lent softness to her face. Joseph, watching, felt great love for her. “Sleep now, Little Mother.” He smiled. “At last I can truly call you that.”

The hour was late when Joseph slipped outside to stir the fire, careful that no danger hovered in the shadows. Inside, the ox softly lowed and moved against the side of the cave, its sweet animal scent mixing with that of the straw. Overhead, something drew his eyes up and he saw a star shining with blinding intensity against the blackness of the sky, until the star’s tail seemed to descend into the very cave itself—surely a sign from the Heavens that this was the most special of all nights.
In the distance, a caravan of camels advanced, illuminated by the star’s light. Behind them, lowly shepherds approached, struggling under the load of half-grown lambs they carried. Joseph stiffened and reached for the stout walking stick that accompanied him on this journey, for protection against wild animals and robbers. He retreated back inside the cave and stood protectively alongside his family while the caravan approached.

In the moments that he waited for the visitors, God’s presence filled the cave and he released his firm grip on his staff. Confidence swelled inside him, and humility. He prayed silently, a promise to serve in whatever humble manner was required of a carpenter poor in goods, but richer than the kings and wise men that were approaching. Maybe the foreigners understood, for their servants carried ornate chests filled with gifts for the baby.  

Mary’s steadying voice assured him that she, too, felt the change. “It is good, husband. All of this.” She shifted her veil to cover her hair, careful that she was modest in all manner, but she spared no thought for her own vanity. “Who are they, Joseph?”    

Joseph shook his head. Important travelers, he thought. “Princes from the East. Magi,” he said aloud. 

He waited as they approached, and his greeting was firm and sure. “Shalom, my noble guests. You are welcome on this night of nights.” We have nothing to offer, he thought. And then he turned to where his guests were bowing to the child lying in the clean hay lining the feed crib. His eyes filled with tears and the skies filled with the hosannas of the angels.

Tonight a king is born in a stable. He shook his head, dazed at the night’s events, for the ways of Yahweh were too wondrous to ponder. He was but a simple carpenter, a middle-aged man with little education. Why the Creator would choose the humble life that he, Joseph, could offer His son filled him with confusion. But his prayers had been answered. He gazed at his little family and his heart burst with love for mother and child.