Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to you from the Crouse family! Today I pray the God of peace and joy fills your heart whether you are packed in a house full of family, or tucked away all cozy with your favorite blanket and Christmas movie.

2022 carries the promise of a new year and I am so excited for it. I always ask God for what His word is for the year and then I agree with it.

Last year’s word was “Harvest” and knowing that could go in lots of directions, I simply blessed God’s harvest plans for 2021. Little did I know, this would be the year I signed a contract to publish the prayers I had written seven years ago. And by November 2021, Tired Mamas Pray was released.

If you are thinking about and planning 2022 already, here is a prayer for this coming year:

Father of Lights, in your book are written all the days ordained for me, before one of them came to be. I bless and come into agreement with your will and purposes you have ordained for me in 2022. Show me how to align myself with your purposes. What word would you give me for this next year?

Merry Christmas friends, and a Happy New Year!

Leslie

Escape to Egypt

12 Weeks of Christmas Finale

by Leslie Crouse

Mount Durunkah, Egypt. Six Months After the Birth of Christ.

Joseph

Through all the dangers, toils and snares God’s provision never ceased. The Magi’s gifts equipped and provided for their escape to Egypt. Egypt, being outside of Herod’s authority and a close neighbor of Judea, had become the much-needed refuge. With ease they had crossed the Nile Delta resting in Wadi Natruh.  When God had provided a boat, they traveled up the Nile to Mount Durunkah. There, Joseph found a large cave and for the first time since the Magi’s visit, felt safe enough to rest his family for a time.

He remembered the words of Hosea, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Hundreds of years ago his people had fled Egypt. Now, they fled to it. As if Jehovah had always intended to bring the story full circle. Would he redeem Egypt as well?

It had been nearly a year since the news of a census had upended their world. A year propelled by crises, each one more harrowing than the next. Joseph had moved through each situation with total objectivity. He had to. Emotions were a luxury he could not afford.

While Jesus thrived and was at peace wherever they were, it was difficult in Egypt. Mary cried all the time, though she tried to hide it. Is it normal? He wondered. She has been through so much. He wanted to help. Wanted to comfort her but did not know how. Feelings of inadequacy arose again.    

Having fled Bethlehem in the cover of darkness, neither of them had found closure. The past year seemed a blur. Neither spoke about it. Mary silently stored up the details in her heart and pondered them privately. Nothing had gone according to his plan. Though he asked for news at every Judean outpost, he had learned nothing that indicated they could return. How long would they wander?

Their family believed them dead. Given he and Mary had never come home after the slaughter of Bethlehem, there was little else to conclude. The deceit weighed heavy upon Joseph’s heart. Round and round his mind went, but it always landed on the same conclusion. Any word will compromise the safety of everyone involved. As long as the world believes us dead, Jesus will be safe. Still, both he and Mary ached for home.

Joseph, did his best to integrate them into the Jewish community of Egypt. Yet, still they waited, suspended in time, until word of Herod’s death. How long must we wait, LORD? For the first time in his life, Joseph prayed for the death of a man.

Mary

Mary tried to adjust to motherhood, but nothing was like she thought it would be. As a girl, she used to dream her mother would be beside her as she learned how to nurse. She had assumed the midwife would deliver her son. Envisioned friends and family surrounding them to celebrate the joyous occasion. She used to dream of seeing the far away places her ancestors had walked and lived in.

Technically, many of those dreams had come true. She had a godly, loving husband. A beautiful baby boy. And their journey had taken her to places far beyond Nazareth’s safe borders. But nothing felt like she had expected. For six months they had been on the run. Hiding in caves and traveling at night. Joseph did most of the purchases at markets so as to not draw suspicion. She had expected to feel unspeakable joy. Instead, she felt suffocated by exhaustion, loneliness, sadness and guilt.

She was the blessed mother of the Messiah! Highly favored by God! How could she be so weak? She dare not speak of her struggle. No one would understand. I must pack. I must leave. A more worthy woman would take my place. She shifted, uncomfortable with the thoughts of betrayal that circled her mind like carrion.

Missing her warmth, Jesus made a soft sound. Careful not to wake Joseph, she shifted and gently picked Jesus up and holding him close one last time. Oh, how she loved this sweet, baby boy. He was so joyful. So full of life. Tears of grief ran trails down her cheeks.

Nuzzling her face into the soft skin of his neck Mary wept. Realizing she could not hold back her despair any longer, there in the darkness of the cave she sobbed pouring out her heart’s every fear, weakness and doubt to the true Father of Jesus. When her tears were spent, she looked up into the perceiving eyes of God’s only Son and saw such love in his eyes. Jesus raised a pudgy hand to her face, never breaking eye contact and burbled, “Ma-ma.” Holy fire spread through her chest. Peace like she had never experienced flooded her body as heavenly light blasted through the dark recesses of her heart erasing every doubt and sadness. For the first time in six months, the burden lifted and a rusty laugh escaped her lips.

Suddenly, Joseph shot up from his pallet with a strange light in his eye. Searching the cave for her, his perceptive eyes landing on her half-packed bag, he put an arm around her shoulder and a hand upon Jesus’ head and said, “It is over. Let’s go home, love.”

I hope you have enjoyed my Christmas Mini-Series and that it has awakened your heart to the truth of the danger and grit of Mary and Joseph and all they endured. Next time you see a nativity, remember that things were not so simple nor so peaceful and safe. Heaven had indeed declared war on Darkness. And soon, Jesus would carry the keys to death and Hades and purchased the freedom of Darkness’s captives with his own blood.

12 weeks of Christmas:

#3 Herod

by Leslie Crouse

Herod sat and mused to himself how far he had come. Born a servant, he knew what it was to be a powerless puppet. Yet, through his political brilliance, he had risen to become Herod the Great. They called him a madman for murdering his favorite wife and step children. But she had been of the Hasmonean dynasty and he would not tolerate any claim to his throne.

It’s true. He was a violent man but would leave a different legacy through his building projects. Recently, he had completed his masterpiece. Jerusalem’s new temple. Named Herod’s Temple in his honor. It was a veritable circus in the court of the Gentiles, but he had appointed Annas as High Priest of Jerusalem and the oily priest made sure the temple was a lucrative business.

And just this morning, Annas had reported the Shekinah Glory of God was dwelling over Jerusalem! It had not happened since Solomon’s day. Herod finished another large glass of wine and leaned back giving a satisfied sigh. I am Herod the Great King. Even the God of Abraham recognizes my rightful place on the throne with the presence of His Shekinah glory.

Belteshazzar

The journey from the Parthian Empire had taken about 4 months. Belteshazzar led the entourage of Magi, soldiers, servants and beasts as they traveled. In total there were about 700 of them and the journey had gone slower than he liked.

But, the sword-shaped Shekinah had led them steadily. By day it looked much like a cloud sparkling with golden flakes. At night, it appeared as a pillar of living fire. It was a fearsome sight to behold and any who got too close died.

Belteshazzar was excited. He was witnessing history being made. There were bad relations between the Parthian Empire and Herod. Herod was an Edomite who hated the Jews and stolen the Hasmonean throne with Roman assistance. He was deceitful at best. A maniacal murderer at worst.

Belteshazzar knew Phraates IV was all too eager to recognize a new king and rebuild the bridge with Judea. They were there to be ambassadors as much as to celebrate the birth of the new “King of the Jews.” And Phraates IV was adamant they use that very title, “King of the Jews” when referring to the new king.

He could see the walls of Jerusalem. Soon, the watchmen upon the walls would cry out their arrival and he would face the unpredictable Herod.

Herod’s Courts

“Your Majesty, I have an urgent message from your Captain at the wall.” Breaking his musings, Herod set his wine down and extended his scepter allowing the man to continue his report. “There is a great entourage approaching Jerusalem. Our scouts are reporting it is of Parthian origin.”  

Herod froze, wine halfway to his wet lips. The Parthians? They have opposed my every decision. Were they here to bring war for the executed Hasmonean heir, the princess and her children? Herod wondered what political intrigues were afoot. “How many?”

The man bowed and continued, “Between 600-800, Great King. There are many soldiers and Magi.”

Herod thought for a moment. How can he maneuver this to his advantage? His armies were away, reinforcing a Roman battle. Now was not the time for teaching the Parthians a lesson in submission. Perhaps they have seen the Shekinah Glory of the LORD and come to recognize me as the rightful king.

Herod replied, “Prepare a feast for them. I want all the best entertainment present. We will welcome them as friends and find out what their purpose is.”

~~~~

That evening the Parthian entourage marched through Jerusalem with much fanfare. The people were terrified it meant another war. Given the number in this entourage, Herod too, was nervous. What is their intent? He wondered.

At Herod’s invitation to speak, the Chief Magus, Belteshazzar, approached his throne and bowed low. “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw his star,” pointing toward the Shekinah Glory of the LORD, “when it rose and have come to worship him.” For a moment, Herod simply stared.

Belial slithered up the throne and whispered, “Who dares make a claim to the Jewish throne when you are the one who has conquered this country?” White hot fury filled Herod.

Master of political diplomacy, Herod smiled, “My friends, how my heart rejoices at your arrival! I welcome you at this time of celebration. Please, before we discuss this further, I insist you rest from your great journey. Come, my servants will show you to your rooms.”

Belteshazzar bowed and said, “You are gracious, Sire.” He noted that while Herod, appeared joyful at this news, the wily king had avoided revealing any information. Belteshazzar looked into Herod’s jubilant eyes and reminded himself that this was a madman not to be trusted. Used to being put off by kings, he bowed low again and allowed Herod’s servants to usher him and the other Magi to their prepared rooms.

Herod called for an immediate assembly of all the chief priests and scribes of the people. He inquired where exactly the Christ was to be born and all information about him. Annas reported “In Bethlehem of Judea,” and went into a long Jewish prophecy.

Herod paced in his chambers. He hated the Jews. This hope for a messiah they held on to was foolishness. It fueled rebellions and had been the cause of several false messiahs. He was ready to squash this Jewish hope once and for all. But the Parthians were a new dynamic that sparked a fear he did not like to recognize. Why are they involved? The Shekinah led them here? The LORD’s manifest glory is for another king? Again, rage consumed him.

Several hours later, Herod summoned Belteshazzar and the other Magi to his private quarters where they discussed the Shekinah and the time it first appeared. Then he shared the information about the Messiah. Who he was and how they all had waited so long for the Eternal King.  Herod finished saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word that I too may come and worship him.”

Belteshazzar sensed something did not equate. If Herod had been waiting for this king, why did the Shekinah come to them and not Jerusalem? Why would Herod not search for the long-awaited king himself? Did the king expect the Parthian Empire to do the work for him? And what would they find? This journey was turning out to be very interesting indeed. Dangerous even.

Tired Mamas Pray is Here!!

Order NOW for great Christmas gifts!

I am SO excited to share with you all, my brand new book, Tired Mamas Pray. This book will revolutionize your prayer life, even as a tired mama. It was written for you!

Seven years ago, when my twin boys were one year old and my daughter was not yet two, I sat down three nights a week and I wrote ten prayers at a time.

Taking scriptures that had leapt off the pages of my Bible, I turned them into prayers for my babies. Seven years later, I am seeing the fruition of this dream come to pass. It is such an exciting time to finally share them with you.

These prayers, inspired by a doctor’s diagnosis over my son by a maternal fetal medicine specialist, I learned first hand the POWER of praying scripture.

Today, I hand this powerful tool over to you and to all the women in the world who are just as tired as me.

As a gift for your friends and family for Christmas, Mothers’ day or a baby shower – or for yourself – this book will be a blessing to all the tired mamas out there who long to pray while wondering where they will find the time.

Here is a quick peek at the back cover:

Sleep-Deprived. Overstimulated. Overwhelmed.

As a tired mama, it can be hard to balance family life with your ideal prayer life. Laundry, chores, cleaning, school runs, screaming, and snuggles all contribute to the day’s pressing concerns to choke out your deepest desire: to pray for your children.

If you become overwhelmed just thinking about it because you have no idea where to start, what to say, or how to fit it in to your mama schedule, Tired Mamas Pray was written for you.

By keeping it simple, author Leslie N. Crouse shares her secret to a vivacious prayer life as a busy mama. Tired Mamas Pray takes the timeless strategy of praying biblical scripture and makes it so easy you need less than sixty seconds to do it. No more struggling to find the time. No more searching for the words to pray.

Tired Mamas Pray provides 90 daily prayers for your children that will keep you praying for their:

  • Relationship with God
  • Character development
  • Discernment
  • Friendships and relationships
  • Relationship with the Church
  • Purpose

Powerful, effective prayers are within your reach. No more overthinking this. Just focus on two to three scriptures each day and personalize them to your children in less than sixty seconds.

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The Wise Men

by Leslie Crouse

Four magi came to his office and bowed low. “Lord Belteshazzar. As you have requested, we have searched for information among all Zoroaster’s scrolls. But Sir, this new sword-shaped star is not found in our records.” Belteshazzar stared out his window considering the magi’s report.

His window overlooked the Parthian Gardens, which were renowned for their beauty. But right now, it was the brilliant shining star that captivated his attention. The star that was so bright it could be seen in the day and looked like a cloud of living fire shimmering with gold flakes. Should he call it a star? It was far too close. This star was in complete defiance of the cosmos.

Belteshazzar ran his hand down his manicured beard and said, “What of the ancient Babylonian writings? There was once a Magian Chief who was very wise. He predicted many things that have come to pass. His name was also Belteshazzar, but you would likely find the scrolls under his native Hebrew name Daniel. Search in the time of Nebuchadnezzar or Darius the Mede. Go.”

Belteshazzar had a secret obsession with Daniel. The Magus had been legendary walking in both miracles and prophecies. He had been the best of all Babylonian Magi. Ever since Belteshazzar discovered the shared connection he had with Daniel, he gloried in it. He too, had worked his way up to become the Chief of the Magi and this star would send him into infamy as well. Whatever they discovered, Belteshazzar was certain Daniel was the key to this cloud of glittering fire that danced like a sword in the sky.

The next day, Belteshazzar choked on his wine when Arash’s voice suddenly broke into his peaceful morning thoughts. “Sir! We have found it among Daniel’s writings!” The man marched into his office and belatedly bowed low. Belteshazzar said, “Rise. Tell me what it is you have discovered.”

“Daniel refers to it as Shekinah. It is the glory of the LORD, Israel’s Most High God. A cloud of shimmering fire that physically dwells among men. But it rarely appears. Only for events of magnitude.” Belteshazzar waited as Arash searched for the exact words of Daniel. “It says we will see the Shekinah Glory of the Lord dwell among men as the Son of Man is,

‘given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.’

Arash pointed again to the star, “That is the Glory of the Most High, the Shekinah is the sign that marks the birth of this eternal king! A king has been born!”

“Arash,” Belteshazzar said, “send word to the Great King. We have his answer.”

Hours later, Belteshazzar was summoned into the throne room of Phraates IV, Great King of the Parthian Empire. “Belteshzzar, you have done well to solve the mystery of this star dwelling in our Empire. I have read through your report and made my decision.”  

Belteshazzar continued to bow low before the Great King. “If the birth of this new king is powerful enough to defy the cosmos,” Phraates IV continued, “and create this Shekinah, then we know his kingdom will be greater than any that has ever been. If we are to survive this rising kingdom, we must humble ourselves now. We must pay homage and acknowledge his superiority with many gifts. It will be a humbling act of obeisance, but perhaps, if we become his friends, we too, will share in the dominion and greatness of his kingdom. Rise.”

Belteshazzar rose before the Great King and waited for his orders. “You will prepare an entourage of Magi immediately. We will bring all the best gifts suitable to a king. Gold. Frankincense. Myrrh. We will welcome this new King of the Jews. Affirm his throne. Confirm our military support against any who dare to defy his claim. Take three hundred of our best soldiers with you to illustrate the strength of our kingdom and the friendship we offer. You have two weeks to prepare.” Belteshazzar bowed low and began to back away when the king’s voice stopped his retreat. “And Belteshazzar, beware of King Herod.”

12 Weeks of Christmas: #7 The Innkeeper’s Wife

The Innkeeper’s Wife

by Leslie Crouse

…continued from The Innkeeper.

“That MAN! What was he thinking?!” Outside Evie took a deep breath and then another. She knew what Hananiah had been thinking. That infuriating, practical, wonderful man of hers was thinking of her. She saw that look in his eye at dinner. For twenty, long years they had weathered barrenness together but the pain never really lost its edge. When had her pain become so crippling that her husband felt he needed to protect her even at the cost of compassion?

Eve. What had her parents been thinking? Eve meant life. Mother of the living. Thirty-seven years with nothing to show but two heartbreaking miscarriages. Her name added irony to her pain. Expectations never met. A daily reminder of shriveled dreams. But not tonight. She refused to be swallowed up by self-pity. El Roi saw her. Heard her. She and Hananiah had the LORD and each other. Besides, tonight was not about her. And what better way to step out from one’s own pain than by serving another?

Evie looked up at the stars. She always felt closer to the God of Israel when she saw them. Strange. Tonight the stars looked extraordinarily bright. Glorious even. Like they were singing. Though the ever present pain remained a powerful peace entered her soul.

Quietly she slipped toward the barn door and listened. The tell-tale sound of a tiny mewling cry escalated into gusty wails that only a newborn could make. Time to move. She was none too early with these cloths. At least they were clean! She held back a smile at the look on Hananiah’s face when she ripped them up. Serves him right for putting business before compassion.

The young man looked up at her, wild eyed with hair sticking up in every direction. Relief flooding his face, he ran to her and said “I have no idea how to do this! I have wrapped him up four times but his arms keep escaping! Every time he just screams louder and louder.”

Evie smiled. This she could do. Gently she approached the young girl, who was trembling from exhaustion. Compassion overwhelmed her. Vaguely she heard the barn door open and close as Hananiah sheepishly came in with more hot water, blankets and a earthen bowl of warm broth for the young woman. He flicked a glance at Evie as he approached. His face guarded, unsure of where they stood at the moment. Evie knew he would nurse his pride for a bit, but he was a good sort and she loved him.

Finishing a perfect swaddle she glanced up at Hananiah and smiled as a peace offering. Surveying her handy work and the now content baby, she picked up the sweet boy and with Joseph’s permission and cooed to him. She walked over to Hananiah and together they looked into the most amazing dark, grey eyes they had ever seen.  

As she locked eyes with the infant, something broke inside of her. A flood of tears. Sobbing she could feel the healing take place. Deep within her heart all the names she had been called, the accusations that had been launched, the scars she had lived with for so long melted powerless. A warmth began to grow inside her. Beginning in her belly, the heat spread like a fire throughout her entire body. Shaking with the power she felt surging through her, she handed the little boy to Hananiah who was also weeping – with joy it seemed.

Eagerly he took the baby. Holding him high, laughing and weeping at the same time. A glow she had never seen in him shone from his eyes. In this singular moment, she saw Hananiah changed. The anger and bitterness he tried so hard to hide was gone. Replaced with unspeakable joy. Peace. In awe, Hananiah again looked into the face of this little child and Evie knew that he knew. They glanced at each other and again at the baby. It made no sense, but with absolute certainty Evie knew this tiny, red face was the face of God.

Sensitive to the sacred moment taking place between man and wife, Joseph gently reached for the child and said, “His name is Joshua. Or – Jesus, as Caesar’s register will say. For he will save us from our sin.”

Evie watched Joseph as he laid the boy in a feeding trough beside Mary so that he could spoon feed the broth to her. Jesus. What miracles had just taken place! Marveling at the baby in the trough, and the heat that still vibrated through her body, Evie turned to Hananiah as he put his arm around her and led her back to the house.

When they entered all was still. The guests had retired and the lamps burned low. Had hours passed? As they prepared for bed on this silent, holy night they discussed in excited whispers all they had witnessed. Each had experienced the overwhelming power of God’s love when they held little Jesus.

“How can the full strength of God’s love dwell in a tiny baby?” Hananiah asked.

“And how God’s love burns like fire! I am hot all over.” Evie said excitedly while rubbing her tingling fingertips. Hananiah laughed with her.

“It is a miracle! I could not decide if I wanted to shout for joy or fall to my knees in worship! Evie, there is immeasurable treasure in our stable right now. Why us? Why our stable? I was prepared to move them inside, but somehow, I sensed that is where El Shaddai wanted them.” Hananiah said.

That night, Hananiah and Evie fell asleep as he held her close. A once brokenhearted couple basking in God’s overwhelming love.

Almost one year later…

Evie smiled at the sound of her baby’s cries. Hananiah’s eyes were so full of pride and joy as he looked at his first born and then Evie. In a look they shared their remembrance of Jesus, the child who changed their world with one powerful encounter of love. Then Hananiah addressed their family and friends saying, “His name is Samuel because the LORD God has heard.”

…continue reading my Christmas Mini-Series with The Shepherd on December 14, 2020.

Cultivating Hope in the Home

As parents, it is our honor to cultivate the hope of Jesus in our homes and in the hearts of our children. What if during this holiday season, friends and family who stepped over the threshold of our homes encountered the life-changing power of hope? Would they leave changed? Would they feel they had stepped into the presence of God and yearn for more?

Yet, what do we say most often? I do not want to get my hopes up. Or, Well, I do not want to Jinx it. We dare not hope because we want to protect our hearts from disappointment. But what if most disappointments are ushered into existence simply because we refuse to allow the power of God’s hope to take effect? Job said, “That which I have feared has come upon me.”

Did you know the Hebrew word for hope literally means a rope? A tangible lifeline in the turbulent sea of life. God gave us hope to carry us through the heartaches and heartbreaks, the seasons of silent waiting, a rope to grab onto as we fix our eyes on His faithfulness.

The very reason God gives us Hope is to preserve us from fear and defeat, to see us through dark times, to raise us up out of the ashes to conquer. To pursue the victory. As the world and all it’s worries fade away, Hope is one of three that remain.

Stop and think about that for a moment. When all else fades away faith, hope, and love remain. Which means there is a life-changing, eternal power in hope we should be tapping into.

God’s Word has much to say on all that is accomplished by hope. Here are a few:


Hope

Steadfast Anchor

Unashamed

God’s Full Attention

Fearless

Source of Joy

Strength

Tree of Life

Victory


Christmas fast approaches and there will be many coffee mugs, pillows, and ornaments with the word hope written in calligraphy. Commercialism desensitizes us. But, this Christmas I challenge you to take hold of the lifeline God has forged for you and hold tight to the faith we profess and meditate on the power of Jesus, our living hope. Let hope sink deep into your heart and home.

Teach hope to your children. Teach them to be in awe of the miracle that gives us access to this powerful four letter word: the Creator of heaven and earth abandoning his throne of eternal splendor to sacrifice himself for us so that we might awaken from our ashen slumber and come alive once again. That we might live with hope.

For afterall, if nothing is impossible with God, who else has more authority to possess an unrealistic hope than a Christian?

Fun facts:

If you are of a curious nature like me, you have likely wondered, What is a Jinx? And why must I be afraid of it?

Loosely paraphrased, a “Jinx” is rooted in Arabian culture and legends. It is a demonic spirit that preys upon, steals, deceives, kills and tortures people. Much effort was spent in this culture avoiding any contact with or attention from a Jinx.

Which means that we, by denying God’s hope in an effort to avoid drawing attention from a Jinx to our situation, proclaim the boundaries of our faith and declare through action who we believe is more powerful.

Do I credit the legend of the Jinx? Well, I am less concerned about legends as I am cultivating faith. I am however, fully aware of the spiritual battle my family and I fight constantly and how it is effected by our words and actions. As Paul said, our “fight is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” I do not care what name it goes by or what myths it has wrapped itself in.

If God’s hope is a powerful weapon that guards our hearts against one on a mission to kill, steal and destroy, I’ll take God’s hope and I will fly his banner high.

12 Weeks of Christmas: #8 Road to Bethlehem

Ein Karem

by Leslie Crouse

…continued from An Angry Father.

Mary’s time with Elizabeth, in Ein Karem, had come to a close. Father would be here soon to escort her back to Nazareth. This little Judean town had been a sanctuary for her. Elizabeth had been the only friend who rejoiced at the miracle she carried. And Elizabeth had given birth to a beautiful son! Zechariah and Elizabeth named him John, causing quite the scandal at the synagogue. But it had earned Zechariah his voice back and given him new ears to hear too.

Gabriel. Mary still had a hard time equating the kind, joyful angel she had met in the stable as being the same angel responsible for Zechariah’s missing voice. She did, however, know that years without children had made Zechariah cynical toward God. She wondered if there was more to the story than Zechariah was telling. Mary remembered her father’s voice saying, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”

As Mary washed John’s baby clothes her thoughts turned toward her father. He had visited her a month into her visit, delivering Joseph’s letter. Her father, Hezekiah, had asked forgiveness for his actions, anger and accusations. Yet, tears still filled her eyes at the memory of him slapping her. She had always been her father’s little girl. They’d had a special relationship and his rejection had hurt more than any physical pain in that moment. She had forgiven him, but trust came harder.    

Joseph had believed in her more than her father had. The incident had both given her an unshakable confidence in the LORD’s faithfulness while fracturing her childlike confidence in people. Humanity was broken. Even those who were godly made serious mistakes only the LORD could heal and make right. Would her son – God’s Son – heal this broken world? Would Jesus be the key to finding peace amidst the storm?

Best gird your loins, she thought to herself. You have yet to face those in Nazareth. Mary lifted her chin. God had made a way for her. It would not be easy, but it would be safe. Joseph had written they would marry upon her arrival. But, he would not consummate the marriage until after the birth. Her cheeks burned with the thought. He had gone on to explain that to the world, they would appear married. By law they would still only be betrothed. She knew his intent was to protect her and Jesus.

Suddenly, she was very grateful for Joseph.

~Sixth Months Later~

Joseph could not believe the injustice of Caesar. The man’s greed had no end. Apparently, Caesar needed money to pay for the expansion of his kingdom and maintain the Roman roads he was so proud of. So, in true form, Caesar cunningly mandated a census. All people were forced to travel and register in their hometown. Then, Caesar charged them a toll to travel the roads. It is extortion! He thought angrily to himself.

Joseph packed three day’s worth of supplies planning to leave in the morning. Mary could give birth any day now. It was a two day journey to Bethlehem from Nazareth, but he must be prepared for every possibility. He prayed the trip would not be too taxing for her.

His father, had encouraged him to take Balaam. He would have to fight that cursed creature the whole way. Balaam only responded to a whip and Mary would never allow it. Jospeh smiled. It seems I am to struggle with a stubborn beast and stubborn woman the whole way. It was worth it. He would not ask her to walk so far at this stage. They would take the cart he hauled his furniture in. Mary had a touch with animals. Perhaps she could tame Balaam’s cantankerous spirit.

At sunrise, Joseph held Mary’s hand and helped her up. They set out and turned onto the main road. Outside the city, Joseph paid their first toll. When would there be justice in the world? Joseph was a black and white kind of man. He did not live in grey. Romans lived in the grey area. It allowed them to justify every false action.

Joseph hungered for a new kingdom. A King that defended the weak and governed with righteousness and justice. Would his adopted son, Jesus, share his passion for injustice too? What would he do when he found the temple charging worshippers triple for sacrifices? Lost in his thoughts of the Messianic kingdom, he did not realize his worst nightmare had begun.

Over halfway to Bethlehem, Mary’s pains began. He had thought pains gradually increased, but Mary’s were hard and fast with longer breaks in between. But what do I know?! What can I do? Mary decided she wanted to walk for a bit. They rested when the intensity started building and walked once the pains relaxed. This was the progression of their trip. Joseph was desperate as he watched his wife and thought, There are lions in Judea. We cannot risk her giving birth out here in the open.

Joseph prayed.  LORD! My God! This is beyond me. I am useless to her. Be our strength, be our shield! Joseph looked over and saw Mary was ready to start walking again. “Mary, you are doing so well. We are almost there,” he encouraged. Mary seemed to be handling the affair with a cool head. Maybe that midwife she had assisted was more than a gossip after all, Joseph thought wryly.

Joseph looked up to see lights in the distance. “Mary! We have made it! We will find help soon.” Mary gave him a nod, and he caught the words of her favorite psalm.

During her time back in Nazareth, Mary had clung to the scriptures and found much comfort in the Psalms. As a married couple, they had read them together every morning. It had been awkward as they found their footing together being pseudo-married and pregnant, but their shared love for the Word of the Lord bound them together in spirit.

Once in the town of Bethlehem Joseph knocked on every door. Every. Single. Door. Did no one have compassion? Finally, when he knocked on the last door a huge man stepped out into the evening.

“Shalom! Sir, I beg of you, I must find a place to stay tonight. My wife’s pains have begun. I fear we do not have long. I have asked everywhere. Please say there is a place for us.” Joseph said.

“Shalom my friend. I see you are in need of… much.” The large man took in Mary’s dilemma. Joseph watched several emotions cross his face. But unlike the others, he did not turn them away. At least, not completely. He introduced himself as Hananiah and led them toward his stable.

Parenting Sibling Rejection

“But I want to play with you!” “No! Only Esther and Tess are allowed to play!”

Some wounds from childhood cut deep enough to stay with us for decades. Rejection is leaves scars and warps identity and relationships.

If it’s not fun for one, the game is done.

When I see our children playing at the expense of sibling, I immediately remind them of their identity. “We are Crouses. We work together. Play together. Love each other. When we fight, we forgive each other. And no matter where we are, or who we are with, our brothers and sisters will always be our best friends and welcome to join in.” It requires frequent reminders. But, I have seen it play out heartachingly beautifully. 

Train them up in God’s love. In school, playground can often be hurtful battlegrounds. But if a sibling is in view, there should be a sense of refuge there. A safe place to run an be accepted. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” – Proverbs 17:17

Rejection and rivalry wrecks havoc in our homes. As parents, we often pick our battles. I believe, this should be one of them that we as parents should fight tirelessly. The wounds of rejection grow to beliefs about personal value and love. It changes the way we see ourselves. For a child it becomes a part of the fabric of his or her identity and can warp their relationships far into the future, leaking from the home into our churches and our society as well.

God’s family is full of people from different backgrounds, languages, cultures and values and he bonds them together in the unity of love. When it comes to the blended and diverse families, there is none larger than the family of God. We find in His word the key to bringing our family into unity. He even made it into a family creed:

“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” – Ephesians 4:4

What is your family creed that binds you together? When divisions arise and the spirit of Rejection steals into your home, do you have a truth you speak over your children to keep them rooted and grounded in love? If you need a few ideas, here are several great places to look: Read Ephesians 4:1-16, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 and pray Ephesians 3:14-19.

Ephesians 3:17-19

Father, give my family a spirit of unity and love. Lead us to be “rooted and grounded in love” that we may all  know “with strength to comprehend…what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” Let your love permeate and define our family so that rejection and division have no place in our home.

An Angry Father

Joseph’s Decision

by Leslie Crouse

Joseph planted his feet and stared him down. “Balaam, I will not tolerate your stubborn antics.” He hated this donkey. The typical, rebellious gleam was in Balaam’s eyes. Every time Joseph needed him, the creature would dig his back hooves into the ground making a stubborn last stand. Or sit, if he were being realistic. And if Joseph did not keep one eye upon him, Balaam would take a bite out of his back side.

The sound of banging on the stable door interrupted the battle of wills. Hezekiah, Mary’s father, stormed in. The peaceful man was like a second father to him and had never worn such a murderous look. Stepping out of the reach of Balaam’s teeth, Joseph turned his full attention to Hezekiah.

Face mottled with red, Hezekiah marched up to Joseph jabbing his finger into Joseph’s chest. Nose to nose Hezekiah screamed, “How DARE you! How dare you touch my daughter before the wedding! Do you know what you have done?! You worthless son of a carpenter! You have defiled her!”

Joseph stepped back, brow furrowing as he took in Hezekiah’s words. His first thought was that this had to be a joke, but his soon to be father-in-law was shaking with barely constrained rage. Facts. I need the facts.

“Mary is with child? How long?” Joseph asked. “HOW LONG?!” Hezekiah waved his arms. “YOU should know! Her belly will be showing soon!” Hezekiah’s finger jabbed again, “You will fix this Joseph son of Jacob! NOW. Before anyone knows. Because if you do not do your duty by her, the village will stone her.” Hezekiah’s voice lowered to barely a whisper, “And then I will kill you.”  

Joseph was stunned. Mary? His Mary? Who had done this to her? Joseph had loved Mary since they were children. Her fiery spirit and flawless integrity had always drawn him to her. He knew she would never betray the LORD. Someone has hurt her! Who dared touch my Mary?

White hot rage consumed him. He clenched his fists and looked Hezekiah in the eye, “I will not take responsibility for that which I did not do. Your daughter is a woman of integrity,” now pointing his finger at Hezekiah, “as you well know, and if she is with child it is because someone has done a grievous thing to her.” Joseph crossed his arms and turned his back. Through gritted teeth he said, “I must think on this. It changes everything.” Joseph turned back around as Hezekiah stared hard at him. Joseph did not know if Hezekiah believed him or not, but one thing was for certain. There was murder in his eyes.

Joseph put down his tools and climbed to the rooftop of his house to pray. He wept for what had been done to Mary. He wept for dreams lost. None of it was to be. If he married her to save her reputation, he would lose his.

All his life he had walked in integrity. Earned his place of respect among the men of Nazareth. If he married her, he would be taking her disgrace and making it his own. No. He would not do that to his family. His father, Jacob, would be turned out from the city gate. There were more people involved in this than just himself.

If he publicly broke the betrothal Mary would be disgraced in front of all. They might not stone her, since she had been violated, but they would use her as a public spectacle, teaching other young women the dangers awaiting them. He gritted his teeth. It was not just. To take a victim and use their pain as a teaching for others. He hated injustice. He would not publicly break the betrothal.

Could he raise another’s child? He loved her enough to. But the thought of another with her churned his stomach with acid.

For hours Joseph’s mind circled the options. For hours he prayed and wept and raged. For hours he heard nothing from the LORD but silence. Physically and emotionally spent, Joseph decided he would not expose her to the public. He would quietly break the betrothal and allow her to be free to make her own choices. She deserved to have some say in what would befall her future. Mulling over the decision, Joseph fell into a troubled sleep and dreamed.

In his dream, he saw Mary walking down a dusty, lonely road as silent tears rolled down her cheeks. He reached out to comfort her but then pulled his hand back, knowing his decision would separate them forever. She was no longer his to comfort or protect.

Suddenly, in his dream, Mary looked straight into his eyes. Though her cheeks were tear-stained, her eyes were full of fire and his heart skipped a beat. Then, he saw a massive heavenly host armed for war, escorting her down the road.

A huge angel appeared and began speaking to him, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Joseph’s eyes popped open and he bolted upright. Joy battled with astonishment. WHAT?

A plan formed as Joseph sat down and began writing. He would send the letter to Ein Karem with his next load of furniture bound for Jerusalem.

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To continue reading the Christmas Mini-Series, look for my next story The Wise Men.