With a pang of loneliness, she turned the dough and rolled it beneath her hands, the yeasty aroma rising to her nose. It was a familiar scent—the fragrance of a home—but it reminded her that her home was empty. With a sigh, she dusted the flour from her hands and set the dough to rise. She picked up her broom. Usually Mary would have done the sweeping, but her daughter had been gone for three months now. Three whole months! Each day weighed heavier than the last.
Before tears could rise in her eyes, Anne heard someone call out from the doorway, “Anne! You home?”
She welcomed the distraction. “Come in, Hadassah!” Anne returned and set aside her broom to greet her next-door neighbor and friend.
“Oh don't let me stop you,” Hadassah laughed as she settled herself on the bench with a sigh of relief. “I just popped by to see if you'd heard from Mary yet.”
Anne swallowed hard. So much for distraction. She picked up her broom and gathered the bits of dry grass and dust into a pile. If only she could collect her emotions as easily. “No, not since the last letter. Elizabeth was near to her time, so I'm hoping it won't be too much longer.”
“I still can't believe it,” Hadassah laughed with wonder. “Your cousin Elizabeth having a baby at her age! It's a miracle.”
“It is indeed.” Anne nodded. Elizabeth was an old woman now, old enough to be a great-grandmother. It was hard to picture her cumbersome with pregnancy, as she must be by now if she hadn't yet given birth. Anne shook her head a little, remembering the anxiety she had felt leading up to her due date with Mary. She sent up a quick prayer for her cousin.
“It was nice of Mary to go be with her,” Hadassah said, reaching for the clay pitcher and pouring herself a glass of water. “But, she has always been sweet, your girl.”
“Mary is a treasure,” Anne said warmly, tossing the dirt out the door and settling down across from her friend. “I'm sure every mother feels the same way, but Mary is truly a gift from God.”
Hadassah leaned forward with a gleam in her eye, “And this will be a good experience for her, witnessing a birth. Before she knows it, she will be wed and bearing children of her own!”
“From your lips to God's ears!” Anne laughed. “Yes, I look forward to being a grandmother.” Her arms ached to hold a baby, but first, Mary needed to return to Nazareth and her betrothed. Thoughts of her future son-in-law warmed her heart. Joseph was a righteous man, he would take good care of her daughter.
As if reading her mind, Hadassah asked, “How is Joseph doing these days?”
“Good! He was here yesterday, asking if Mary was back yet. But surely you saw him,” Anne said as she raised a brow.
“Yes...” Hadassah laughed. “But I didn't overhear what he said.”
Anne chuckled and shared Joseph's progress as he prepared his home before taking Mary as his wife. They had been betrothed for almost a year, the traditional period of waiting before the wedding. If Mary was home now, no doubt she would be eagerly packing the items she had gathered for her new life, keeping them ready in anticipation of the day Joseph came for her.
Anne was half-way through relating the improvements to his house when both women paused and glanced at the doorway, ears pricking up. It sounded like there was a crowd of people outside. The women shared a glance and hurried outside to see what all the fuss was about.
Anne's heart did a leap when she saw who was drawing all the attention. Mary. Her daughter was surrounded by neighbors and friends welcoming her home as she unhurriedly made her way down the street . Mary leaned towards a little boy and laughed at what he said. The sight of her daughter made tears prickle in the back of Anne's eyes. She couldn't wait a moment longer.
“Mary!” Anne cried out, rushing forward. The crowd parted to let the mother embrace her daughter. Anne hugged her daughter close, the two of them swaying gently back and forth as everyone chattered around them.
“How was your journey?” one called.
“Were you stopped by soldiers?” a little boy shouted, and his mother shushed him.
“How are your cousins Elizabeth and Zechariah?”
Anne stepped back as Mary answered everyone, finishing with, “Elizabeth gave birth to a son, a beautiful little boy named John.”
As everyone praised God for His blessings, Anne put her arm around Mary and drew her towards the house. She could tell the young girl didn't want to disappoint anyone, but she appeared tired from her journey. As they ducked inside, everyone else returned to their business, their voices drifting away.
Anne bustled around, slicing bread and bringing over a dish of oil and vinegar. She sat opposite her daughter, drinking in her face.
Mary ate hungrily, smiling at her mother, but there was something in the girl's eyes that caught Anne's motherly attention. Anne couldn't put her finger on what she discerned; it wasn't fear, or anxiety, but a certain caution. Mary was a quiet girl, treasuring things in her heart rather than blurting them out, but Anne hoped that the young woman would share what seemed to be weighing on her mind.
When the bread was eaten, Mary leaned back and dusted off her fingers.
“So?” Anne prompted with a smile. “How are you, my dear, really?”
Mary folded her hands in her lap and looked her mother in the eye. “Mama, I have something I need to tell you. It might seem hard to understand, but remember, I have always been truthful with you, so please listen carefully before you react.”
Anne's stomach flipped over, but she only nodded.
“I was visited by an angel,” Mary said solemnly. Anne swallowed hard, choking back the words of disbelief. “He told me that I had found favor with God and that I will become pregnant with a son. He told me that my son would be great, and he will be called the Son of the Most High.” Anne gasped and put a fluttering hand over her heart as Mary continued, “He said that God will give him the throne of David his father and that he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.”
Mary paused, and Anne took a deep breath. “Oh my,” she puffed out. Her mind spun. She knew her daughter was good and pure, but that God would bless her in this way—to be the mother of the messiah!—filled her heart full to bursting.
“Oh, Mary! What a future to look forward to!” Anne cried out, reaching forward to grasp her daughter's hand. “You and Joseph, the parents of our long-awaited messiah!”
Mary drew back slightly, her brows contracting. “Mama, Joseph is not the father of my child.”
Anne froze, sifting through Mary's words. Her eyes widened as Mary lovingly caressed her belly.
“Y-y-you're pregnant now?” Anne gasped. She felt the blood draining from her face.
Mary nodded. “I am pregnant, but I am still a virgin, Mama. I swear it. I have never lain with a man. The Holy Spirit of the Lord came over me.”
Anne rose to her feet and turned away, pressing a shaking hand to her mouth. What had happened to her daughter? Could it be as she said? She spoke to the wall opposite. “And you're sure you're pregnant?”
“Yes, I discussed this with Elizabeth in great detail. The moment I arrived at her house, it was revealed to her by the Spirit that I am with child. We figure I am about three months along.”
Anne's eyes widened. Three months. Soon Mary would begin to show. Then all would know. Everyone, including Mary's betrothed.
Anne turned back to her daughter, who was watching her with pity in her eyes. Pity for Anne, not for herself. Anne swallowed back a burst of anger. Didn't her daughter understand what this meant for her future? If Joseph was the father, no harm done. They were betrothed, bound as legally as if they were married, and such things had happened before. But if Joseph was not—and if he turned Mary away on the grounds of adultery—then what would become of Mary and the child that she bore? The messiah a dishonored bastard? Her righteous daughter scorned by the world? No! It was impossible. Anne felt sick to her stomach. She walked back to her seat with wobbly knees.
“Mama, I see what you're feeling,” Mary spoke gently. “You're scared for me. I was scared too, for a while. But my visit with Elizabeth, witnessing her faith and how God has blessed her, gave me comfort. Would God bless me and curse me at the same time? No, I'm confident that He has a plan to care for me.” She again stroked her belly. “He will care for this child.”
Anne wished she had her daughter's serene faith. Everything seemed to hinge on Joseph at this moment. He alone stood between her pregnant daughter and the community's derision and blame.
“So you haven't told anyone else yet?”
“Just Elizabeth. I will go and tell Joseph now.”
“Now?” Anne choked, panic clawing up her throat. Was her daughter's honor to be sealed so soon? She yearned to put off the inevitable. “Stay, rest for a time.”
“It will be all right,” Mary rose to her feet. “Whatever Joseph says, I am the Lord's servant. God shall care for me.”
Anne helplessly watched her daughter leave the house, leaving her mother behind. For all Mary's life, Anne had been there to protect, teach, and guide her. Now Mary was venturing forth on an adventure that Anne couldn't fully understand. There would be little Anne could do to smooth the way for her daughter. Mary was on her own. Anne struggled in her heart.
“Lord, why have you done this?” Anne whispered. “I am so happy that you saw Mary's goodness and that you have blessed her to bear the promised one. But in this way, Lord? Wasn't there an easier way?” She stared around the empty house, feeling alone. Mary's life had changed forever, and the girl was relying on her heavenly Father to care for her. The words of promise the angel gave her daughter filled Anne's mind. She pressed her hands to her heart, feeling it pulse with hope, and yet longing for the little girl who didn't need her anymore.
“I guess I will be a grandmother sooner than I thought,” she whispered. And inexplicably, she laughed as tears ran down her cheeks.
Read the story of Mary's angel visit and her journey to Elizabeth in Luke 1:26-56
At each stage of my life, I identify with the story of Mary's miraculous conception in different ways. As a young girl, I had imagined how scared I would be. When I was pregnant, I shared in Mary's hopeful joy. Now that my older children are teenagers, I once again feel something new. Mary's mother is never mentioned in the Bible, but if she was living, how did she feel hearing God's plan for her daughter?
I used the traditional name for Mary's mother, Anne, which would have been "Hannah" in Hebrew. We aren't sure how accurate the traditions are, but they say that Anne and Joachim struggled for years with infertility. Like her namesake, Anne prays to God for a child, promising the child to God. When Mary is three years old, Anne fulfills her promise and gives her daughter to the temple--much like the boy Samuel. Mary spends her childhood serving at the temple, growing in favor with God.
Whether this tradition is true or not, it reminds us that our children are a gift from God. Parents carry the responsibility of caring and teaching them, but ultimately they are not ours to keep.
How would I react if my children told me that God had a plan for their lives, a plan that could make a difference in the world, but that might be dangerous? I pray that my children would have a personal relationship with God, but what if that looks like something more daring than my protective heart would like?
It comes down to trust in God, and doing our best to equip our children for wherever God leads them. As parents, we sometimes want to wrap our children in bubble-wrap! However, more effective is to train them to put on the armor of God. (Ephesians 6:10-18) When Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel, she was as ready as anyone could be, bravely declaring herself a servant of the Lord, saying, "May it be done to me according to your word."
You can read my short stories on Elizabeth and Hannah in my book 'As the Stars: 45 Bible Fiction Short Stories'. Enjoy your paperback copy, or get the ebook right now for less than the cost of a fancy latte!