Somewhere in Egypt – many months after the birth of Jesus

My dear cousin Elizabeth,

I have wanted so much to visit with you again, to see you smile, to hear your voice and spend some peaceful moments in your garden. I don’t know when I will be able to visit, so I have decided to write to you to let you know how I am doing and where I am.

I hope and pray that you, Zechariah and your son John are all well. Joseph, my husband, sends his love.

Mary’s visit with Elizabeth

So much has happened since I stayed with you before the birth of your son John – it seems now as though that pleasant memory was only a dream. Joseph and I were married soon after I returned to Nazareth and began our married life together. Those first few months of our marriage were a joyful time for Joseph and me, as we quickly learned each other’s habits and needs and found great solace in living together. About four or five months after our marriage was celebrated, the census demanded by Rome was announced. Joseph was required to travel to Bethlehem from Nazareth to register, as Bethlehem was the birthplace of his ancestor David.

I traveled with Joseph to register for the census even though the date of my child’s birth was close. I wanted Joseph to be present when the child was born, and thankfully, he was. Joseph was such a great help to me when the child was born and continues to be my dearest friend and confidant. He is a wonderful father and is overjoyed at the presence of the child in our midst.

I had no difficulty in giving birth to our son. We have named the child Yeshua as we were instructed before his birth. Because of all the travelers coming to Bethlehem for the census, Joseph was unable to find suitable housing for us until after the birth of our son, yet with God’s providence we were safe and secure. Joseph found daily work once Yeshua was born which has provided for our needs. We planned to return to Nazareth as soon as our son was presented to the Lord and hoped to visit with you and Zechariah on our return journey home.

The Presentation of Mary

I have looked forward with great anticipation since Yeshua’s birth to the day of my purification. How I longed to be in the Jerusalem Temple once again, lifting up my eyes to the Holy of Holies from the women’s court and feel in my heart the Lord’s presence with us. I have missed the sense of closeness to God that I once felt in the Temple as a child, even though I know that our loving God is always close to us wherever we may be.

Once I completed the rites of purification, it was time for our son Yeshua to be presented to the Lord. The Temple was full, as it almost always is – the sights and sounds were overwhelming. The air seemed alive with expectation; the sun shining bright and clear with a nearly cloudless sky. The day was perfect. There were so many people milling about, offering their praise to God, praying aloud or silently, with their faces uplifted with wonder and a sense of peace.

Simeon and Anna

As we walked toward the place where Yeshua would be presented to God by the high priest, we were approached by the old woman Anna, whom I remember fondly from so many years ago. Anna’s face was lit by an inner light – she seemed almost young again and was full of joy. I was surprised and delighted when Anna reached out to our son Yeshua, longing to hold him in her arms. As I relinquished Yeshua to her grasp, Anna cried out with words of joyful praise. A small crowd gathered around us, all appeared to be delighted to see our infant son.

Not long after Anna approached and spoke with us, an old man, Simeon, joined our small gathering. He too reached out for Yeshua, taking him from Anna and holding our son aloft in his arms. Simeon spoke a prayer of such intimacy and joy, it was as though he had been waiting a lifetime to see and hold Yeshua. 

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel”.

Joseph and I stood quietly aside, both of us stunned and speechless. How could this elderly stranger Simeon and ancient Anna know anything about our son?  Who has shared this knowledge with them? We have told no one. Only to you, Elizabeth, and your husband Zechariah has this knowledge been revealed by our gracious and loving God.

Simeon blessed Joseph and me and then took me aside, away from the others who had gathered around us, to give me a word of warning: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and the rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted and you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

After presenting Yeshua to the priest for the ceremony, Joseph and I quickly left the Temple and Jerusalem, hiding our child under my veil, as we were concerned and frightened by all that had happened and had been said to us. Once back in our temporary home in Bethlehem, we prepared to return to Nazareth the next morning. Joseph made a quick trip to the market to purchase the remaining needed supplies and before eating a light supper, he watered and fed our faithful, little donkey. How we have depended on this sweet little creature of God for his service to us through all this time!

Flight into Egypt

We had not been asleep long when Joseph reached out to me and woke me: “Finish packing quickly”, Joseph whispered almost frantically. “We need to leave Bethlehem at once!” I complied, without question or comment, spurred on by the fear I could see on Joseph’s face and the rapid beating of my own heart. I wrapped the sleeping child in my cloak, lifted him to my shoulder and followed Joseph as we walked hurriedly away from our Bethlehem home. Our faithful little donkey made no noise or complaint when Joseph roused him from his stall and led him away before us. When we were all safely away from Bethlehem, Joseph related the message of the angel which God had sent to him earlier that night in a dream: Herod was preparing to send troops to Bethlehem to seek out Yeshua and kill him. God had warned Joseph that we had little time to flee to safety.

We were so thankful that the night was dark, illumined only by the twinkling stars. Even the moon, which was often bright this time of year, did not show its light until nearly morning. The road to Egypt was easy to find, and as we walked quietly, we could see in the sky behind us the light of fires illuminating Bethlehem and hear the sounds of screams and cries as the soldiers rode into the town, killing all the younger children and any parent who tried to hide or protect the children. Simeon’s prophecy was already coming true! My heart was breaking even as we walked, and I cried silent tears for all those who had been hurt or killed by Herod. The memory of that evil act haunts me still.

For quite a few days we traveled only at night, hiding whenever we were approached by riders on horseback, fearing that Herod had sent his soldiers to find us. It took several weeks to make the journey into Egypt. Joseph assured me that in that strange land we would be safe from Herod. Once we had crossed the river into Egypt, we found another Jewish family who kindly offered us lodging until Joseph could find us a temporary home and obtain work to sustain us. We have been here in Egypt since then.

How I long to return to our homeland, to my friends and family and our little home in Nazareth. Joseph and I are daily reliving our ancestors’ struggles to make a life when they were sent into exile. We both understand now how our ancestors yearned for the sights and sounds of home, and how the ancient songs and prayers of our people sustained the faithful during those years away from the land God had given to us.

We are so grateful to our powerful God for the protection He has provided for us during all this time away from home. Joseph finds frequent work to provide for our food and lodging. Our son Yeshua is healthy and strong and seems to grow more each day. He is a happy child, always smiling and cooing and seldom frets except when he is hungry. We have even made a few friends among the Jewish population in this strange place. We are praying that God will soon instruct us to return to our own land and to Nazareth.

If at all possible, Joseph and I will visit you in Ein Karem on our way to Nazareth. I am praying that the time to return home will be soon. Until we meet again, dear Elizabeth, I think of you daily and whisper little prayers to God to keep you and your family happy and safe. I am confidant that our gracious God hears my whispered prayers and answers them.

All my love,

Miriam

Liturgy of the Hours

Some years ago I purchased a book entitled “Christian Prayer”, an amended version of the Liturgy of the Hours prayers. I  wanted to pray along with at least the Morning Prayer from the daily prayer of the Church – this is called the “Liturgy of the Hours”. I was unable  to determine which psalm and hymn accompanied each day’s prayer in the book I had purchased, as the psalms and prayers change daily. There is also a paper guide which can be purchased to help with the Christian Prayer book, but even that guide wasn’t helpful to me.

On many mornings in the Morning Prayer there is a long passage from the book of Daniel, Chapter 3 to be read and studied. I had little experience or knowledge of the Book of Daniel at that time except for some remembered childhood stories of “Daniel and the Lion’s Den”.  So after several months of attempting to pray the morning prayer of the Church, I returned to praying an alternate prayer, similar to but shorter than the Liturgy of the Hours. This shorter prayer is from the Magnificat magazine, which I had followed for several years.

Last fall I found an app for my phone called “Universalis” which provided everything I needed to be successful at reading and praying along with the Liturgy of the Hours. Once I began reading the morning prayer regularly, I found that I loved the variety and beauty of the psalms and prayers that were presented each morning. The passage from the book of Daniel, Chapter 3, verses 52 through 90, was presented often, as I expected. Since my first attempt at praying the Liturgy of the Hours morning prayer, I had come to recognize that the passage from Daniel was a “litany”. Understanding the form of the passage from Daniel helped me to overlook  the repetitive nature of the passage from Daniel.

A litany is described as “A liturgical prayer consisting of a series of petitions recited by a leader which alternates with fixed responses by the congregation.” We often pray litanies such as the Litany of the Sacred Heart at specific times in our Church during our worship on First Friday feasts of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Daniel Chapter 3 describes the trials of the Jewish captives who refused to worship the golden statue of Nebuchadnezzar and were condemned to be burned in a furnace. The men walked into the flames and began praying to the Lord. As the flames grew higher, the men continued to pray and praise God. The flames did not touch the men in the furnace and an angel was seen walking in the flames with the men. The inside of “the furnace became as though a dew laden breeze were blowing through it.” Hearing the men sing and seeing the angel walking with them, Nebuchadnessar ordered that the men be released as he realized that he had no power over them.

Here are some verses from Daniel, Chapter 3:

“Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord, praise and exalt Him above all forever.

Angels of the Lord, bless the Lord, praise and exalt Him above all forever.

You heavens, bless the Lord, praise and exalt him above all forever.…” and this continues for quite a few verses until the last verse: “Bless the God of gods, all you who fear the Lord: praise him and give him thanks, because His mercy endures forever.”

A verse from the Daniel passage “jumped out at me” one morning: “Light and darkness, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever”  I remember reading in Genesis how God said “Let there be light, and there was Light”, but I never thought about the darkness. If there wasn’t light then surely it would be dark, but then I realized that without God, there was nothing – no light, no darkness, nothing! How can I have missed that important fact all these years?

Praying with the Liturgy of the Hours these past months has opened my eyes in many ways. I have discovered the beauty of Psalms I seldom read; I began to understand passages in other books which I usually avoided and I have become more familiar with the writings of early Fathers of the Church who provided homilies and letters to their congregations. Many of these letters and homilies are included in the readings which accompany the Morning Prayer.

I still love the Magnificat, the little book of daily readings which I have subscribed to for many years, but I have come to find comfort in praying the daily prayer of the Church: the Liturgy of the Hours thanks to a little app for my phone entitled “Universalis”.

The Visitation of Mary Luke 1:39-55

Aunt Rose

I was thinking about the Visitation the other morning as I meditated on this mystery of the rosary. I remembered my occasional visits with my Aunt Rose during the summer months as my husband and I traveled to New Hampshire from our home. Those were wonderful times full of laughter and the sharing of memories with lots of hugs and smiles. Always before we left to continue our journey Aunt Rose would offer me a gift which had some connection with our shared past. Once it was my grandfather’s smoking stand, another time it was the wooden lawn chair that “grandpa” would sit in during the summer evenings greeting neighbors as they walked past his front sidewalk, often it would be photographs of those who had passed before us. I still have those precious items for they are a reminder of those I knew and loved so long ago. As my husband and I left Aunt Rose’s home to continue our journey, there were always little packets of food passed to us to munch on as we drove and lots of hugs and tears as we promised to return soon. The most important of those gifts shared with me during our visits were the evenings Aunt Rose and I spent reminiscing about the times and people we both loved and missed so deeply.

As I continued to think about Mary’s visit with Elizabeth during those last three months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, I thought Elizabeth would want to share some small item as a memento of the times she and Mary had spent together just as Aunt Rose had done with me.

 What would Elizabeth choose as a gift to Mary? Would it be a piece of Elizabeth’s favorite jewelry, a pressed flower or a small stone from the garden where they would sit together during the heat of the day? It would be something personal, something that could be easily carried in a pocket, perhaps kept close to Mary’s heart and looked at over and over again in the years to come. It might be a handwritten letter to thank Mary for her sacrifice in visiting with Elizabeth and a reminder of the times they had shared. 

Outside of birthday card
Inside of card

In my own life it is the words of love which I treasure above all the material things. I still keep the greeting cards Aunt Rose sent to me even though her message was always short and sweet – she always signed the cards  “Love, Aunt Rose”. In those three simple words are a lifetime of memories and all the love my heart can hold. 

I can never duplicate Elizabeth’s words or truly imagine the times Mary and Elizabeth had shared. Still I wrote a letter that Elizabeth might have written so long ago. I know that Mary would have treasured Elizabeth’s letter and carried it with her always.

—————————————-

My dearest Mary,

Thank you so much for coming such a long way to visit with me. I know the travel was difficult even though you didn’t say a word about how hard it was for you. I have made the trip to Nazareth several times and as I remember the journey, it was never easy – so many hills to climb, so many dusty roads, so many nights spent sleeping outdoors on the hard ground.

The Visitation

Having you here with me during the last three  months of my confinement before John’s birth was so comforting to me. Your help with the simple tasks of dressing and caring for my household and my husband Zechariah provided such help to me. I enjoyed all of our quiet conversations, our walks and naps in my garden during the heat of the day, the loving memories we shared of your parents and your childhood.  

The little prayers we would say for the child growing in my womb gave me such hope. Seeing your smile and hearing your sweet voice was a great blessing for me. I am so grateful to our loving and faithful Lord for sending you to me.

Having you here beside me, holding my hand, as my little one was fighting his way to be born gave me peace. The songs you sang to me, the prayers you said for me as I was in labor relieved my pain. 

I am not looking forward to your leaving – I know our final hugs will be watered by my many tears. I would keep you here forever, but I know that God has plans for your life and the life of your unborn child. I love you more than my simple words can reveal. I miss you already and yet you are still here with me.

I will pray each and every moment for your safe travel. May God bless you on your journey. May He protect you and the child who is growing in your womb and bring you safely home to your beloved Joseph.

If it is possible, let me know that you have arrived home safely. Perhaps Joseph knows someone who will be traveling to Jerusalem for a festival or for work who can carry your message. Zechariah and I will provide the traveler with a warm welcome and a safe place to stay. 

Shalom, my dear cousin. You carry all my love with you.

Elizabeth

Is this a sign that Mary is protecting me?

Over a week ago my husband and I had trouble with our air conditioner which is installed in the attic. The air conditioner technician noticed that some of the insulation had been pulled off of the ductwork, a clear sign that a small animal had invaded our attic. Since we live in a rural area where wildlife abounds, it is not uncommon that a wild “critter” prefers a home attic to their natural environment.

ringtail cat

We had had the roofline and attic sealed less than two years ago when a ringtail cat invaded our attic and lived there for several months, so we were surprised that we had a live-in visitor so soon after having the extensive work done. I could not find the receipt from the previous work, so I called a different company to inspect the roof. A young woman came to our home, examined the roofline and told me that there were five places that the visitor was using to enter our attic. She showed me a photo of what she had seen.

The previous work had cost quite a lot of money, so I was understandably upset. The young woman recommended that I contact the previous company and see if there was a warranty. Finding the receipt took some time but after several hours of searching I did find the company which did the original work.

Rosary necklace with St. Benedict medal

While I was speaking with the young woman she noticed that I was wearing a rosary necklace, one of several kinds which I make. Since the woman recognized what my necklace was, I thought the woman might be Catholic and asked her about her faith. The woman said that she was Catholic and so I gave her the necklace. The young woman accepted the necklace and commented that it was lovely and it fell perfectly on her neckline. I was pleased that she liked the necklace. I asked the woman to send the photo she had taken of the damage to the roofline and an estimate of the cost of doing the repairs. I gave the woman my email address and saw her type the email address into her phone.

I waited several days before contacting the inspection company, as I had not received the estimate, the photo taken or the invoice for the inspection. After several calls and a text message to the inspection company, I still have not heard back from them – this has been over a week now. I was able to contact the company which had sealed up the attic two years ago, and they scheduled an appointment within two days of my call for an inspection.

I recognized the inspector from his previous work. After spending over an hour examining the roof while my husband watched, the inspector said there were no places where an animal was getting in. Since the air conditioner technician had surmised that the “visitor” was a raccoon due to the damage to the ductwork, the roof inspector suggested that we place food in the attic – marshmallows and cheetos – which would attract the animal. If the food were eaten, we were to call the inspector again and he would place cameras on the roof and in the attic to ascertain where the animal was getting into the attic. So now we wait.

I am still in a quandary about the first inspection and why we have never received the photo of our roofline and an estimate for the suggested work. I had not carefully examined the photo on the woman’s phone to ascertain that it was our roofline pictures, as I thought I would have ample time to examine the photo in detail once I received it through my email account.

As I reflect on the experience I wonder if the photo was not of our roofline. Is that why the young woman never contacted us again? Is this a sign of our Blessed Mother looking after me as I had given the young woman the necklace made in honor of Mary? And where will this necklace take the young woman? Will it be a constant reminder to the young woman that God sees everything and that He watches over all of his children?

Session 1 of “Presence” – Reflection

Exodus chapter 3:2-8, 10-15

This passage in Exodus continues the story of Moses, who is now a shepherd who serves his father-in-law Jethro. Moses had left Egypt forty years earlier. Moses has not had an ordinary life for a Hebrew. As an infant Moses was set adrift in a reed basket in the Nile River by his mother in an attempt to save his life – all male Hebrew infants were to be drowned at birth by an order of the Pharaoh. Moses was rescued by the daughter of the Pharaoh and raised as her own child. Moses then lived a privileged life with the royal family until his murder of an Egyptian, who had been beating a Hebrew slave.

Moses set adrift

The only mention in the Bible of Moses’ relationship with his birth family or other Hebrews during these early years is that Moses was nursed by his birth mother at the request of the Pharaoh’s daughter. Once Moses was weaned, he was returned to his adoptive mother. There is no mention in the Bible of Moses further interaction with the Hebrews until he returned to Egypt to fulfill God’s mission.

Moses fled Egypt when his murder of the Egyptian is seen by Jewish witnesses and likely reported. Moses then settles in Midian where he marries one of the the daughters of Jethro, a Midianite priest. His wife is named Zipporah and she bears Moses a son. Even though the Pharaoh whom Moses knew had died, the Hebrews remained slaves to the new Pharaoh in the land of Egypt. 

(A Bible dictionary tells us: “ to be holy is  “to be set apart.” This applies to places where God is present, like the Temple and the Tabernacle, and to things and persons related to those holy places or to God Himself.”)

Moses and the burning bush

In Exodus chapter 3 we read, “and the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush...”. Moses has been tending the sheep of his father in law near Horeb (Sinai), the mountain of God, and his attention was caught by an unusual sight – a burning bush which is not consumed by the flames. Intrigued and curious why this might be so, Moses approaches the burning bush. A voice calls to him from the bush – “Moses, Moses” and then Moses responds: “here I am”.  Moses is told by the angel’s voice that the place on which Moses is standing is holy ground, that he should take off his shoes.

Taking off one’s shoes in the presence of God or in a holy place suggests that one must be submissive and respectful to the One who is above all things, who has power over all things and all people, who deserves to be venerated and loved. In Church we genuflect or bow when we enter as we recognize the holiness of the worship place and of the Person who is present in the Tabernacle behind the altar.

God addresses Moses and tells the shepherd that the Person speaking to him is the same God who once spoke to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, ancestors of Moses’ people. In fear and reverence for God, Moses hides his face for we read that  “he was afraid to look on God.” It was believed at that time that gazing upon God would bring instant death.

God has spoken to Moses for He has an important task for Moses to accomplish – Moses must go back to Egypt and bring God’s people out of Egypt to the promised land. God tells Moses that “I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry…I know their sufferings.” Moses is understandably confused and perplexed as he later wonders aloud how he is to accomplish this task. God comforts Moses by telling him that He, God Himself, will be with him as Moses goes about this work. The sign that God has sent Moses on this mission will be shown when Moses has accomplished the task – the Israelites will worship God on this very mountain of Horeb.

What God is asking of Moses is an unbelievably difficult task. For centuries the Hebrews have been enslaved by a powerful foreign nation. Moses must return to Egypt, where he is a wanted criminal and even rejected by the Israelites some years ago and free the enslaved people. At first Moses is given no directions as to how he is to accomplish what is asked of him, although God assures Moses that “I will be with you“.  As the conversation continues, God provides more details about the help that He will provide to Moses.

Moses’ first response to God’s request is somewhat strange – Moses wants to know God’s name in case the Israelites ask him. God responds to Moses’ question and says that His name is – “I AM WHO I AM… this is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”  God continues in this way: “Thus shall you say to the Israelites: “The Lord, the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever.” God is reminding Moses and the Israelites that He is making good on His covenant with the patriarchs, that the chosen people have not been forgotten. God then tells Moses how to begin this mission so that the Israelites are assured the God will lead them to the land once promised to Abraham and to freedom.

Knowing a person’s name was important in Biblical times as it denoted some control over that individual if his name was known. God’s response to Moses question does not give any power over Him as the name itself denotes God’s power. God cannot be controlled or owned by anyone as He just is. God is existence itself.

This story is similar to many which we read in the Bible – God calls someone for His purposes and doesn’t tell the person how exactly to accomplish the task which has been assigned to him. A person appears to be on his own, to come up with the means and methods to accomplish the task until the story unfolds further and the reader recognizes that God has been directing the action and assisting the person in his mission.

God places His trust in the person He has chosen. God’s choice of the person and the mission is not random. God sees the past, the present and the future. God created the person he has chosen, so God is aware of what the person has the ability to do.

Moses’ conversation continues with God. Moses tries to back out of the assignment citing his speech impediment, but God gives Moses help by choosing Moses’ brother Aaron to help him, to do the speaking for Moses.

Moses from “The Ten Commandments”

The sign God presents to Moses is what I found most troubling at first. “You will know that you have done what I have asked you to do and that I have asked you to do it when you have accomplished it.” In other words you won’t know for sure that God has sent you on this difficult mission until you accomplish it.

As we continue reading we see all the signs of God’s presence along the journey which Moses undertook. There were plagues directed against the Egyptian gods, the Passover of the angel of death, the parting of the waters of the Red Sea, the manna in the desert, the water from the rock, the cloud and fire which accompanied the people and many other miracles.

How does this story relate to the mission which God has assigned to each of us? Our lifelong assignment from the time of our Baptism into our faith is to follow Christ, to carry the crosses in our life, to relate to the people and situations which God places in our lives, to share His message of love. We will not truly know that we have accomplished our mission until the mission is completed. We walk in the dark, using our reason and the gifts God has given to us. We trust that we have understood what our task is until we finally reach the end of our lives. We then hope to hear our Savior say to us, “well done, good and faithful servant“.

Like Moses we must trust that God is with us as we travel the path set before us. As we proceed in our assigned tasks, we are blessed with many “signs” of God’s presence as Moses was. Christ has left us the Eucharist, His Body and Blood, to serve as food for our journey. Christ left us His Holy Spirit to encourage and guide us along the way. By reading and studying the stories in the Bible we are encouraged and strengthened, for we see God’s work throughout salvation history which assures us that He is with us.

The God of Surprises

Over this past week the weatherman had predicted rain for Sunday night into Monday and continuing during the day on Monday. Rain is so important for my husband and me as we collect rainwater for our household needs. The rainfall has been sparse over this past winter and in April we received less than a tenth of an inch when the month of April is when we usually receive the most rain in our area. The trees and all the native plants were thirsty after a dry winter and  especially after the trees set out full canopies of leaves and the wildflowers bloomed. 

Photinia after 25 years

My husband and I  made all the necessary preparations for the rain event on Sunday evening so that we would be sure to collect as much water as possible when the rain came. We eagerly watched the weather radar during the day and evening on Sunday to ascertain the truthfulness of the weather bureau’s prediction. We watched as a line of showers announcing a cold front approached us from north Texas.

Since the weather bureau predicted that the rain would come overnight, my husband and I went to bed believing that we would hear the pitter patter of raindrops on the roof during the night. When I arose on Monday morning the driveway and surrounding areas were dry; I had not heard any rain or thunder during the night. I was so disappointed and worried that this chance for measurable, collectible rain had passed us by. I looked again at the radar images and saw a small area of rain far out to the west of us, but there was nothing nearby that seemed to be approaching.

The swimming pool and some potted plants were in need of water, so I headed outdoors to attend to those needs. I had finished watering the potted plants and filling the pool which took about 30 minutes when I felt raindrops on my head. Before I could walk hastily indoors, the rain was coming down hard. Once inside I looked at the radar images on the computer. There were  large areas of rain headed our way. Where did the rain clouds come from, as I had not seen these radar images just 30 minutes before?

Yellow Iris

By the time Monday was over, we had received an inch and a half of rain. During the storms I ran outdoors several times to “save” some potted plants that were quickly being inundated by the heavy rain. We were able to collect over a thousand gallons of water from the rainfall.

I had to laugh later at my wet shoes, socks and shirts which came from my mad dashes between thunder claps to save drowning potted plants, because God had taken care of our immediate needs – and He always does. The weather bureau predictions of rain were correct, but the images on the radar maps which I trusted missed the rain until after it began to fall. 

God surprises me so often that in addition to saying that God is a  “God of Love” perhaps I should start saying that He is also “a God of surprises and unexpected blessings when I most need them”. I needed those surprises and blessings that were brought by the rainfall yesterday. So praise and thanksgiving to our good and gracious God who takes care of his little flock – and especially me.

An inspiration about Mary as a mother

During one of the morning Liturgy of the Hours, one of the first psalms to be read and prayed was psalm 95. The psalm begins this way:

“Come, let us sing joyfully to the Lord;

Let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation,

Let us greet him with thanksgiving;

Let us joyfully sing psalms to him….

As I read the psalm I imagined that the Blessed Mother often sang this psalm to her Son in the quiet hours of the morning, perhaps when she nursed Him. The psalm continues praising God for His work of creation and reminds us that everything belongs to Him for He made everything.

The psalm then continues:

“Come, let us bow down in worship;

Let us kneel before the Lord who made us.

For he is our God,

And we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.”

As we read and pray the psalms we see many of the topics which Jesus used in his preaching. I wonder if many of these motifs became ingrained in His heart and mind during those early years of His life when He spent so much time in His mother’s presence.

The extraordinary life of Mr. Doofus – part one

Peeps

When our daughter was in the seventh grade, her science class hatched out some chicken eggs as part of a science project. As the school year was drawing to a close, our daughter asked if she could bring home one of the chicks – a cute little peep. Since we lived outside the city and had a few acres of land, we decided to “adopt” the baby chick. For some weeks the little peep lived his life in a box under a light to keep our baby chicken warm.

Original chicken coop

Aware that our growing peep would need a more secure and spacious home than the cardboard box he or she was living in, my husband started building a chicken coop. We still have that original coop, having moved it to our newer home. Over the years the original coop has deteriorated as you can see – it was once painted a bright spring green. It was quite a nice coop “in the day” when the wood and the paint were fresh. Now the old coop is used for storing wood to keep it dry for when it is needed.


His Majesty, Doofus the Great

Day by day the little peep grew. Of course, we had hoped the chick was a hen – my husband had dreams of fresh eggs for breakfast. But as luck would have it, the chick was a male. Sexing baby chickens as we later discovered, is a special art and not one which we have ever learned. As the chick continued to grow and then started to crow, we knew that our cute little chick was a rooster. My husband named the little rooster “Doofus”.

Having adopted a rooster, it was necessary to find some hens. Roosters have no known use except to make noise, fertilize the hens’ eggs and sadly, to serve as food. We were able to purchase two young hens of laying age and named them Henny Penny and Miss Chicken. Now we had a happy chicken coop! Day by day our hens gave us fresh eggs – one apiece. Minute by minute Doofus let us know how special he really was with every loud song he sang. 

We purchased books about chicken husbandry as we were curious about how often roosters crowed, the best food to buy for raising chickens and when to be concerned about the chickens’ health. Roosters crowed, according to one book, when the barometric pressure changed; another book said roosters crow in the early morning when the sunlight appears over the horizon. Given how often our rooster crowed, we surmised that the “instruction books” were either all wrong, or we had a rather remarkable rooster. We know now that Roosters crow when they have a mind to – even in the dark. Doofus was usually quiet at night, but a passing car on the dirt road alongside our property late at night could encourage Doofus to raise his voice in song. Once Doofus started singing, it was hard to stop him, such was his desire to “proclaim glory to God.”

Doofus, Henny Penny and Ms Chicken

It became apparent that two hens for this incredibly busy and exceptional rooster were not enough. Due to the way roosters “impregnate” hens, the hens started looking raggedy with lots of their feathers missing from all the rooster’s activities. So before long we bought a few more hens to keep Doofus occupied and happy.

We purchased a few different breeds of chickens because their feathers or the colors of their eggs were pretty, but we quickly learned that Rhode Island Reds, also called Production Reds, were best for making eggs. Although Leghorns also lay quite a few eggs, their low weight allows them to “fly the coop” whenever they have a desire to do so – which it turns out, they often have the desire to do.

Is this a hen? Doofus looks
confused
Whoa! Not a hen!

The original coop quickly became too small for our growing flock. My husband built an even larger coop which connected by a wire covered tunnel to the vegetable garden behind a redwood fence that surrounded a storage yard. Within the storage yard we had a small metal shed for garden implements, a laundry line where I hung loads of laundry several times a week, trash barrels, a covered shed for our tractor and other power equipment and the new, larger chicken house. Life was interesting and good for all of us – chickens and humans.

We have arrived safely! – Joseph

Dear Family,

I am sending this short letter with a distant relative whom Mary and I met in Bethlehem – Simon bar Josiah. Simon has promised to deliver this letter to all of our family when he travels soon to Nazareth. 

On the way to Bethlehem – F. McDonald

Our journey to Bethlehem was difficult for Mary, since she was so heavy with child. We could not keep up with the caravans traveling to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Mary rode our donkey for the bulk of our travel which slowed the pace of our journey to Bethlehem. We were often alone during the days and nights of our travel, but our merciful and gracious Lord protected and sustained us. Mary and I arrived safely even though the journey took much longer than we had anticipated.

Mary and I could not find proper lodging when we arrived, since so many people had arrived in Bethlehem ahead of us. A kind soul pointed out the grottos on the hillside outside of Bethlehem where sheep were sometimes sheltered at night. We were able to find an empty cave which was a warm and quiet place, and Mary was delivered safely of our Son. We named the child Yeshua at His circumcision. He is a strong and healthy child.

I was able to find lodging for us in Bethlehem a few days after the child’s birth, as most of those who had come for the census had now returned home. It is a small living space, but it is quiet and secure. Both Mary and the child are doing well. God’s Providence has been guiding us throughout all this time of difficulty. May the Lord be praised!

Purification of Mary

I have found work to help support us while we await the time of Mary’s Purification. Mary and I look forward to returning home to Nazareth once this time of waiting is over. The child will be stronger as will Mary, so I am hopeful that the return journey to Nazareth will be safe for both Mary and the child.

Please give our sincere thanks to our new found relative Simon when he visits with you. He has been helping our little family more than I can say in this short letter.

Affectionately,

Joseph

Hearing the Voice of God

Home in Round Rock

In the early 1970’s my family purchased a bluebonnet covered 4 acre lot on a windy hill just south of Round Rock, Texas and had a home built there. We lived on that property for more than 20 years. The only trees on the property were a few scraggly hackberries along the barbed wire fence bordering the dirt road which ran by the property. Eventually we were able to plant several live oaks and coax them to survive in the heavy clay like soil.

From the back porch of the home we could see the spire of the Palm Valley Lutheran Church along Highway 79 in Round Rock. To the south of the home we could see another hill, similar to ours – mostly barren, except for the fence line hugging hackberry trees and the ever present scrub grass. Just south of that hill was the growing suburban city of Pflugerville.

What was most interesting about our location on that windy hill was our being able to enjoy the majesty of the changing sky. In the fall we could watch as the growing thunderclouds, which announced cold fronts, marched slowly our way. In the summer we could see the thunderclouds coming in off the Gulf of Mexico bringing much needed rain to Central Texas.

Summers in Round Rock

Our home in Round Rock had a well which served us for our water supply. When we first moved to that windy hill, the water level in the well was less than 50 feet down. As the years passed and Round Rock expanded, the pump had to be dropped again and again, as the city drew water from the same aquifer, until our pump was nearly 350 feet below ground level – quite a change in 20 years.

Summers in Central Texas are usually quite dry, so we limited outdoor watering during the summer season. Eventually we added a 5000 gallon water tank to draw and store water when it was more available during the spring. There were few options for us if we ran out of water. It might have been possible to buy water and have it delivered, but even that was questionable during the dry summers.

The lack of water and the infrequent summer rains led to great anxiety for me. One spring I had planted marigolds in the small planting area near our front sidewalk. The plants thrived and the blooms were glorious in the spring, but once summer came, the plants began to dry out and die.

Planting area for marigolds

I prayed daily that God would send us one of the summer storms from the Gulf of Mexico to supplement our meager water supply. The storms often came tantalizingly close, just to skirt around us when the clouds seemed just a mile away and reform and rain heavily north of us over Round Rock. This scenario played out day after day until one day I lost all hope to save my precious blooming marigolds. 

I ripped the plants out of the ground in a fit of anger as I saw another of the summer storms approach. I said to myself – “once again it won’t rain here, I don’t know why I even asked the Lord to help.” In my head I heard the following words loudly and clearly: “You don’t think I can do it, do you, Franciene?” The voice was from Someone who seemed to be laughing, as if God Himself was amazed at my lack of faith and my frequent emotional outbursts, and found it amusing.

Marigolds

Having recognized that the voice came from outside of me and Who was speaking to me, I wanted to find the nearest black hole and lose myself in it. Not having such a hole nearby I asked for the Lord’s forgiveness and have never forgotten the lesson He taught me that day.

The rain didn’t come on that day, but the storms did rain on us the next day. Sadly, It was too late for the marigolds, as by then I had tossed the dried out nearly dead plants in the recycle bin.

The questions I ask myself as I remember this incident: “ Have I grown in trust of the Lord since then? Do I understand that God answers prayers – and always answers prayers – according to His schedule and His will and not mine?”

I am still overly emotional. I want things when I want them. I am impatient and selfish. In short, I am a flawed human being and always will be. I repent each night of my thoughts and deeds which did not come up to God’s will for me. I frequently disappoint our God, but for some unknowable reason, He still loves me. For that I am thankful and always will be.

Dirt Road looking east south east in Round Rock