fiction

Journey to Bethlehem

The woman winced. Again. Her breath took on a raggedness. Her words broke through clenched teeth.

“How much farther?”

“Not much, Woman.”

He’d been mentally referring to her as woman since he found out. It helped. The woman was pregnant. The woman had a special touch from God. He was not to abandon the woman.

Woman was not an insult. But they’d agreed: it was how he loved her, saying her name. Softly. Over and over. He hadn’t said her name since he found out. Not once. If the insult cut her she didn’t let on, else she was fixed on riding out the pain.

Even after the dream Joseph couldn’t bring himself to think her name. The angel commanded: he was not to leave. In cases… like this, a quiet separation was a gift, was merciful. Some men, pious men, would have stoned her. Fashioned of jealousy and pride as he was, Joseph figured the plan was to break him first, before the inaugural wails of the infant-God made landfall. There was one reasonable expectation a man may have of his virgin wife. One.

And…in a gesture of unparalleled irony, He had them travelling. Now. He didn’t know who was punished worse: the pained one, or the witness. Every so often there was a sharp intake of breath. “Like being run through with a serrated blade,” she said, when he asked what it felt like. That was when he dropped their gear and let her ride on the back of the beast.

Never before had the donkey held anything but freight. Something told Joseph, maybe it was the lingering echo of the dream, but it told him in no uncertain terms: the beast would not buck her. The gear would be replaced. Innumerable gifts would be brought. As Joseph held the tether and trod the parched and crenulated ground, an alien certainty overtook him. A waking dream: the woman’s name was still beautiful, would always be beautiful.

A needling anxiety to get to their destination settled upon him, as if the world behind them fell away with each step, and was falling faster and faster. To Bethlehem they marched, because of the census. Caesar and his arbitrary decrees. Like sand grains they were blown with no discernible purpose to a city he no longer called home. But the unborn child would enter the world, either here in the open plain or in Bethlehem, if they could make it.

*Thanks to Michael for the heads up on this fun Christmas challenge. Michael’s son wrote a lovely little poem, and being the homeschool mom I am, I dig that. Though I have been known to write poetry, it’s usually when I’m angry. I hope the folks at Mindescapes.net don’t mind I used their image to create a flash piece. Want to join? Go to Mindescapes Christmas Challenge 2017.

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Personal Journey

Incidentally You Have a Brain Tumor and Your Van Won’t Start

I’m not whining, for the record, I’m recording. Those violins are entirely coincidental.

Ever have an experience that was so thoroughly insane that you wondered whether God-in-heaven had just bragged about you to Satan, “Have you considered my servant, X?”

March, 2014. I had pneumonia. Not walking pneumonia, mind you. Although I walked from the parking lot into the doctor’s office, mewling, and kept it up while I waited for them to work their magic and make everything better.

“Well… what have we here?” asked a motherly Indian doctor. I cried. I gasped. She said she doubted I had pneumonia but she’d do a chest x-ray just in case. I didn’t even say I told you so. Breathing the words required too much effort.

Dr. Thank-God gave me some superhero antibiotics, steroid lung mist, and a codeine cough syrup that made me think I was hearing choruses from The Grateful Dead. I looked forward to being not dead and grateful.

Convalescing is lovely for kids and old people and anyone else who can afford two weeks on her back. Not me. My refrigerator was empty, and the minions were hungry. No, starving. They’re always starving. We go straight from full-of-orange-chicken to desperately languishing. It takes five minutes, I tell you, and a mother can only take so much whining.

I shuffled into Aldi, weak and shaky, and considered turning around and going back home, but I’m prideful and didn’t want to admit weakness the kids would flog me for returning empty-handed. As I pushed the cart down one aisle and then another, I felt weaker and weaker, like my knees couldn’t be trusted. That being an entirely new and unwelcome feeling for me, I became alarmed. My heart raced, and no matter how much air I gulped, it wasn’t enough. I began to fear the very real prospect of fainting in Aldi.

It took herculean effort to put those groceries on the belt and gasp into my phone. Come… get me.

In all our 20 years of marriage, I have never asked Bob to come get me.

On a bench in Aldi, quite the spectacle, I waited. Bob was taking forever (7 minutes), and I regretted not calling the squad. I’m going to die in Bob’s car.  Because I couldn’t feel my arms and legs, because my heart was completely out of control, because I couldn’t breathe– I sincerely believed I might be dying. What a relief to make it to the ER. Much rather die there.

The intake nurse asked if I ever had a panic attack before.

No. I don’t have panic attacks. I’m here for you to fix this whole weak kneed, heart pounding, head hurting, unable to breathe thing I’ve got going on. Don’t judge me, just fix it.

I think the strategy in ER’s is to make you wait until you either 1. die or 2. get better on your own. My symptoms worked themselves out while I lay there waiting for test results. #2 for me.

The doctor told me they didn’t know what caused my presenting symptoms, but they had found something else while they were in there looking around. An incidental finding, he called it. A mass, he called it, about 7 millimeters diameter in my brain.

[record screech]

I know metric measurements, and I know what diameter is. And I thoroughly know masses don’t belong in one’s brain. Still, I held up my fingers and asked: This?  Like a marble? Yes, that. He was a nice-enough guy. He was just punching me in the gut with his incidental finding. It’s hard to like someone when they’re doing that, even if they speak like Buddha and gently touch your skull while illustrating. I wouldn’t lose sleep over it, he told me. Just see this neurosurgeon…

Don’t lose sleep over it?  I have pneumonia and a brain tumor and I still don’t know what mutiny happened inside my body to bring me in here in the first place.

Have you considered my servant, Kelly?  Only that could explain the ridiculous pile-up of medical afflictions with which I found myself. Don’t lose sleep over it, snort.

Bob put his arm around me, and we hobbled to our van, aware we still had a trunk full of groceries in the Aldi parking lot. I was in shock and beat down and mumbling bits of Scripture to myself.

The van was dead. The whirring, moaning sound it made left little doubt. In my mind I laughed that I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening maniacal laugh reserved for the truly absurd. I wouldn’t be more surprised than if we walked out of the ER to a couple of dairy cows in our parking space.

What I know now, without a doubt, is there is no hedge and no escape from the brokenness of our world.  Anything can and will happen. Jesus tried to warn me (John 16:33b), but I’m more of an experiential learner: In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world. 

He has, I tell you– overcome. It’s been more than a year since they discovered my marble. I find it a handy excuse when I forget things or am generally scatterbrained. Maybe I’ll have it cut out someday if it gets unwieldy. Life gets unwieldy sometimes, like that day. But then there’s a next day, and a next. And eventually you can look back and laugh, not even maniacally. You can look back with Jesus and watch your personal storm together like you’re watching a movie, and he looks at you and you look at Him, and He winks.