Having asked around the village how long others thought the journey to Bethlehem would take, Joseph added three days to the predictions, wanting to accommodate Mary in her condition. However, those extra days had already elapsed, with the rest stops getting longer and more frequent. There were at least three more days of walking ahead of them and by then the little town would be spilling out the doorways with others, like them, had made this ill-timed trek for this unwelcome reminder that they were not a free people. Each morning, to his chagrin, Mary looked wearier, less color in her cheeks, the smile thinner on her lovely, youthful face. He was pained that he couldn’t help her more, couldn’t suggest just stopping altogether, couldn’t reassure her about this baby soon to be born. The census in Bethlehem had begun yesterday, he knew, but there was a full week planned so there was still time to register. But what about this baby, this son, this one to be called Jesus? Joseph’s soul was set to soaring with a kind of joy waterfall inside of him, a sensation of being filled up like a water jar at a well. And yet, his mind seemed bent on trying to figure things out, trying to picture how the next days would play out, trying to work this whole thing like he would a new project in his woodworking shop.  But each time he thought of the upcoming birth, his mind, like a stubborn mule, would go off on a worry tangent, off the trail and get tangled in the briars and thickets of all the what-ifs. So strange, this ongoing back-and-forth, his soul at peace and his mind in turmoil! It was exhausting!

Mary, to take her mind off her swollen belly and her aching legs and feet, kept rehearsing the lessons she learned from Elizabeth’s elderly friends who had spent much time excitedly remembering and recounting their own experiences with pregnancy and childbirth from all those years ago. From them, and from her own mother, Mary had gleaned much new, helpful information (some of it terrifying, if she were honest) and had been able to make necessary preparations when she learned they would have to make this journey now, before the baby was born. She so wanted to share with Joseph all these things, but she was shy and the details felt too intimate, for women only, and from the little she had mentioned, she sensed that he was very ill-at-ease in that area, so she held her tongue and waited. Yesterday, as they were settling in for the night, another young couple, also about to have their first baby, were nearby, and having seen the condition of Mary’s feet, had offered to share an ointment they had brought with them, an ointment Mary knew nothing about, but which promised relief from the swelling and an easing of the pain. Joseph had been so timid, so gentle, massaging the cooling, fragrant, herbal cream into her feet. And it had helped. This morning, she noticed the difference with gratitude as they set out again for another long day of walking. She knew Joseph was anxious to arrive, to get off the road, to find a place for them to settle, to locate a midwife who could intervene when the time came. As a discipline this morning, she rehearsed that strange, spontaneous song of praise that had escaped her lips nine months ago in Elizabeth’s home. Maybe she was singing it out loud, because, when Joseph looked over at her, his eyes popped open in surprise and delight. He said she was glowing! Fatigue lifted, Mary had a fleeting urge to grab Joseph’s arm and skip ahead of the morning crowd. Today felt so full of fresh promise, so very full!

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