Chapter 2, Down to the wire

The wood shop that Joseph had worked in for years, first as an apprentice with his father, and after his death, on his own, wasn’t very far from Mary’s family’s home.  On this day, it was a distance far enough to tire her so that she needed to lean against the door post to catch her breath before announcing herself.  Inside, Joseph was putting the last touches on a project for a loyal customer, one of the handful that didn’t desert the young carpenter at the news that his fiance was pregnant with a child that wasn’t his and that he decided to keep her instead of punish her.  He was putting in extra hours to finish before the festival and combined census so that he could pay for shelter in Bethlehem.  It was a warm fall day.  His headband was soaked with perspiration.  The hammer still in his grip, he raised his forearm to wipe more sweat from his eyes, then dropped his arm suddenly, the hammer landing with a loud thud. He leaned on the workbench, hunched forward in fatigue.  Head bowed, he quietly asked God for strength not only to finish his customer’s order but to follow through with a marriage and be a good parent to ….. who? not another man’s child, but, of all things, God’s Son and Messiah.  Dreams.  He had had a very real dream, but a dream nonetheless as his only evidence and at this moment in time, he doubted his decision to marry her.

Mary hesitated at the doorway, tipping her head just enough to observe him while he worked.  From her childhood, she had passed the open door of his shop and stolen glances at this fine young man.  Her girlhood crush never faded.  None of the other boys interested her more than Joseph.  She clearly remembered the day when he came to the house and conferred with her father.  She hoped against hope that it was a marriage contract instead of a business deal and when they called her into the room and offered her the proposal, she averted her eyes to avoid letting Joseph see her excitement.  Then he extended the cup of wine and set it down in front of her.  If she picked it up and took a sip, they were betrothed and in the eyes of the law, married.  All that remained was signing the contract and the year long preparation during which time they waited for the week long wedding ceremony to live together.  If she let the wine sit and left the room, there would be no marriage and likely no second chance after such a rejection.  That was the sweetest wine she ever tasted.  But as easily as she remembered the sweetness of that day, she remembered the bitterness of seeing disbelief and betrayal all over Joseph when she scraped up the courage to announce her pregnancy and the unlikely explanation.

Joseph saw something out of the corner of his eye, his brow furrowed in a frown as he looked up. Mary started and almost left the lunch in the doorway until she noticed that his frown softened just as suddenly when he recognized her.  She stepped inside. “I brought you your lunch.  Mama made it for you.”  She set it on the work bench and backed away slightly at his continued silence.  He gazed at this tired girl who used to blush when she caught his glance and wanted to reassure her that he wasn’t backing out like he’d been tempted to do only minutes earlier.  As she started to turn, he racked his brain for anything to say to keep her from leaving and blurted “I’m almost done packing for the trip tomorrow.  I want to leave as early as possible and will tie some of the softer bundles in front of where you sit so you can lay your head down if you need to.”

Mary’s eyes twinkled, and she burst out laughing.  What did I say, he thought, his face locked into that puzzled man expression.  “Joseph, do I look like I can bend forward and lay my head on anything?”  The girl he’d seen playing with her friends, eyes sparkling with innocent joy, planning her day so she could walk by the shop as if he didn’t notice, came to life again after so many weeks of stress, facing down whispers and doubts.  Though they were living apart, they were, through ceremony and by law, husband and wife and therefore required to register as such for the census.  He had to make sure, out of respect for her, that they were at least in sight of a caravan even though he had the distinct impression that no one wanted to travel as if to appear associated with them. It was going to be a tedious trip, but after seeing her today, standing so close to him, watching him, he again resolved to protect her any way he could.

Joseph turned again to his lunch and thanked her.  “Mary, I don’t want you to worry about anything.  Go home and get your rest.  We’ll take it as easy and as slowly as you need.”  Before she could move away, he indulged in one gentle touch to her cheek.  She smiled, blushed a little and turned to leave.  As she walked slowly back to the house, holding the small of her back, he watched until she was out of sight.  His love for this girl he’d watched grow into a beautiful woman warmed him and reassured his soul.  He was doing what God wanted him to do and he determined in his heart that he would not fail her or the child this mysterious God of the universe entrusted to his care.

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