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Labor and Delivery

I could no longer deny what was happening. When I had dismounted the donkey in favor of walking, despite Joseph’s protests, I thought perhaps the back pain was from the long, bumpy journey. When the contractions began, they were light, and I thought it was only the walking. But this one forced me to stop, my entire body clenching around my womb, as if to embrace the child within.

As the pain receded, I became aware of Joseph’s solicitous concern. “Can you go on? We are almost there.”

“How much longer?” I asked.

“Maybe a quarter hour. The shepherds back there said it’s just over the next hill.”

“Yes. I’ll make it,” I declared. “We’ll find a bed, and a midwife, and our son will not have to be born on the side of the road.”

The minutes stretched into nearly an hour, however, as I had to stop for several more contractions. Joseph had helped me back onto the donkey so we could walk faster, but he still stopped to steady me during the worst of them.

Finally we entered Bethlehem. The streets were packed with people, vendors, residents doing business, travelers like us. Joseph asked directions to the inn as I fought against the worst pain yet. Thankfully, it was not far. I stayed on the donkey as Joseph went in to secure a room for us.

By this time, I was engrossed in a private world of pain, but it seemed to be taking a very long time. Finally Joseph returned, followed by the innkeeper and a woman I took to be his wife. The woman came over to me directly and asked, “How is it? Will it be soon, do you think?” I was unable to answer, as a fresh wave of pain and pressure washed over me. But she nodded over her shoulder, saying, “She can’t go any farther. We will have to put her in the stable.”

The stable? With the animals? Joseph and I didn’t have much, but before leaving Nazareth we had carefully packed money that we had hoped would purchase a small, private room, at least for the birth, if not for our whole stay.

As the pain lessened, I became aware of the woman’s gentle, soothing stream of chatter as she led me into a surprisingly large cave partitioned into stalls. “I would give you my own bed, my dear, but it has already been rented out as well.” This she said, casting a dark look over her shoulder at her husband. “But we still have room in here. It’s not as comfortable as the house, but it will perhaps be a bit more private. The stable boy has put down some fresh straw, so it’s as clean as we can make it.”

She escorted me into a stall with high walls not far from the entrance. The straw was indeed fresh and clean, and Joseph threw his cloak over it for me to lay upon. As the pains began again, I was glad for the chance to at least rest my weary legs. They were coming faster now, with not much time between to catch my breath.

The innkeeper’s wife shouted orders to someone outside the door. The dear woman stayed by my side the whole time, encouraging and comforting me through the worst of the pain. It seemed like a long time, but I don’t think it was actually very long before she told me that the child was almost here. One more contraction that felt like it must either free the child or tear me in two, sudden relief, and she was holding up my son. He gave a gasp, pulled in his first breath, and let it out in a small, piteous wail. She laid him then on my breast saying, “You have a fine, healthy son.” She provided towels to clean and dry him and soft cloths to wrap him. I held the small bundle to my chest, finally holding the tiny boy that I had been promised. That day now seemed a very long time ago.

“He is your first born. Will he be named after his father then? A little Joseph?” she asked as she bustled about, removing the soiled straw and replacing it with fresh.

“No,” I replied. “Joseph and I have agreed that his name will be Jesus. His…his father’s family asked us to give him that name.”

“A fine name for a son of David,” she said, kneeling next to me and gently brushing her hand over his head. “Yahweh saves.”

“Yes,” I agreed, hugging the little boy tighter to me. “He does.”

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Blood

I couldn’t help it. When I first heard that He was coming this way, my heart started beating faster with the old hope. Perhaps this was the One who could help me. I immediately tried to quash it. I had tried so many times before. All any of them had ever done for me was to dash my hopes and lighten my purse. I had long ago stopped looking for the next physician or holy man who claimed he could cure me.

I’m not sure why I decided to go. As always, changing my routine required a major effort. Just thinking about it usually made me tired. But this seemed different. He couldn’t help me, I told myself, but they said that He was a great Rabbi. It would be interesting just to see Him. And maybe, maybe…no. I had heard that sometimes He would stop and speak to crowds. I would just hope to hear some of His wisdom. That would be enough. That would have to be enough.

He wasn’t hard to find. I just had to find someone to follow. It seemed like everyone in town was going to the same place. The crowd was headed toward the nicer end of town, and I was almost out of breath by the time I reached them. My uncleanness kept most far away from me, but I did overhear someone say that He was going with Jairus.

I realized that He was actually at the tail end of the crowd, with most of the people running ahead toward Jairus’s house. I knew that Jairus’s daughter was very ill. Much more ill than I was. He must be going to see her. To heal her, perhaps. No one wanted to miss the miracle.

A sudden surge of bitterness twisted my insides, at the point of my illness. The girl would die soon, or she would get better, but what of me? Who else knew what it was like to live as I did? Who else had to watch their lifeblood seep away, not in a sudden surge, but a trickle at a time, day by day? Who else had a womb that was worse than barren, one that would not stop bleeding no matter what the physicians did? Who else had to bear the dual burden of perpetual uncleanness and the contempt of everyone around me?

A sudden energy, driven by anger, carried me to the very heels of the Rabbi. Desperation made me foolish, and I reached out to Him. If He was the miracle Man that everyone said He was, perhaps just a touch of His cloak would be enough. I knew I wouldn’t be allowed into Jairus’s house with the others; it was my last chance.

As my fingers brushed the fringe at the bottom of His cloak, I felt something. I don’t know how to explain it except to say I knew that as of that moment I was well. The pain was gone. The rags I used to catch the blood were still damp, but I could no longer feel the slow seep of blood.

Then the Rabbi stopped and announced that someone had touched Him. I recoiled with horror at what I had done. Even then I was still unclean from the bleeding; I had not even changed my clothes yet, much less purified myself. I had defiled His cloak, and therefore Him, with my filthy touch. He would no longer be allowed into Jairus’s house, so I had taken away a young girl’s chance to be healed. I dropped to my knees in shame.

I vaguely heard the muttering of the crowd through the tears that blinded me and the sobs that I tried to hold in. I crawled to His feet and through my tears admitted to Him that it had been me who had touched Him. I found myself pouring out the years of pain, illness, and shame onto His feet. I told Him that I could feel that my body was now well.

Then the true miracle happened. He reached down and put a hand on my head. Slowly, I looked up into His eyes. They were filled with compassion and kindness. “Daughter, your faith in Me has made you well. Be well and go in peace.”

I remained in that spot, unable to move from this place where I had touched Him, and He me, even after the excited crowd had pulled Him away. Finally, after I was sure that I would remember every detail of His kind face and gentle hands, I turned and headed home to begin the purification rituals. Twelve years of blood, and in seven days, I would finally be ritually clean again. But my heart already felt clean.

© 2012 Marianne Gieseckee

Blessed and Broken

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My father and I only wanted to go and watch. Listen to the Rabbi. Perhaps see a miracle.

We had heard that He had come to our area trying to escape the crowds. We weren’t quite sure where He was, so we brought a bit of food just in case. It wasn’t much. Barely enough to share. Just a fish each and a little bread. I carried the basket.

He wasn’t hard to find, though. We just had to follow the crowd. They were all chattering and speculating about what He might say or do. By the time we had arrived, there were already people in the crowd saying that He had healed them. I didn’t know any of them, but my father said that he had seen one of them, a cripple, begging on the streets of a nearby village while he was trading there. The man was leaping and dancing at the edge of the crowd.

A hush fell over the crowd like a wave, starting with those closest to Him. The Rabbi was speaking. He said many strange things that I didn’t understand. I wanted to ask Father about them, but the crowd was nearly silent, straining to hear His words, and I didn’t dare.

The harsh afternoon sunshine had mellowed into a golden sunset, and the rustling noises of the crowd were increasing. My own stomach growled, and I began thinking about the bread and fish that I held in my lap.

There were men moving through the crowd. One of them saw my basket and said, “The Rabbi has asked us to find food. Have you brought some?” Without thinking, I nodded. “Will you bring it to Him?”

I thought about my empty stomach and the long walk home. I thought about all the people around us. Surely others had brought more food than we had. We only had enough for ourselves. And what we did have was hardly fit for the Rabbi. It was just our everyday simple, coarse bread. It wasn’t far to the nearest village, where He could buy as much bread as He needed for Himself and His followers. It would be far nicer than anything we could offer Him, even if He had come to our home.

Then I thought about how the Rabbi had come to this place to escape the crowds, yet the crowds – and my father and I – had followed Him. I thought about the man I had seen dancing on his newly strengthened legs. I thought about the Rabbi’s strange words about a new kind of kingdom. Without realizing that I had made a decision, I found myself getting to my feet and walking to the front of the crowd in the man’s wake. I threw a belated glance over my shoulder at my father, but he was following and gave me an approving nod as I approached the front of the crowd.

The other men were crowding around the Rabbi, telling Him that they had found no food, when the man I was following pulled me into the crowd. The Rabbi addressed the man, but His eyes were on mine, when He asked, “And you, Andrew? Have you found food for the crowd?”

I barely heard the man called Andrew reply as my eyes filled with tears. I had thought he just needed food for himself. Our little basket couldn’t possibly feed more than one or two people. The Rabbi couldn’t use what I had brought at all.

I heard Him exchange greetings with my father. Then He knelt down so He could look into my eyes. Embarrassed, I rubbed my hands across my cheeks to wipe away the tears that had fallen despite my efforts to hold onto them. He smiled at me. “You are the only one here who was willing to offer me food.”

Surprised, I looked into His eyes, which I had been avoiding. They were looking directly into mine, filled with kindness and humor, but a little sadness, too. “It’s not much,” I said.

“It is everything that you brought,” He replied. “That is much.”

I held the basket out to Him. “You are welcome to it, Rabbi.”

With another smile, He took the basket from my hand. He held the basket up, giving thanks to God, and He blessed it. Then He reached into the basket and pulled a loaf out. He broke it into several pieces and gave them to some of His followers. I expected them to eat what they had been given, but instead they passed it along to others in the crowd. What were they doing? Even if broken into bite-sized pieces, only a few people would get even a taste. The Rabbi did the same with one of the fish, then more bread and more fish were being passed around. Surely the basket must be nearly empty. The food kept coming, though.

I ended up sitting on the ground between Him and my father, eating what seemed like the same bread and fish that I had carried in the small basket. It couldn’t be the same, though. I was sure that I myself had eaten more than the basket had held, but every time the morsel in front of me disappeared, the Rabbi passed me another, or Father did, or one of His disciples, who were sitting nearby.

I leaned back, my stomach full to bursting with bread and fish. The Rabbi turned to me and said, “Thank you for letting Me use what you brought.” Then He turned to His followers. “Gather the leftover pieces and bring them here. This boy and his father should take them home.”

How could there be leftovers? It was a miracle that there was food for all. But the men started coming back with handfuls of bread and fragments of fish. They piled them into my little basket until it was overflowing. Someone must have found more baskets, or perhaps the Rabbi multiplied those like He had the food. When the men finally stopped going to and fro, there were a dozen baskets lined up in front of us, all filled to the brim with bread and fish. Laughing with joy and confusion after saying goodbye to the Rabbi, the man named Andrew, and the others, I carried my own basket home, while Father carried two larger ones, one under each arm.

© 2012 Marianne Giesecke