I thought I was prepared for the big thing in my life, because I thought I knew what it was: marriage. Our parents all met together in the one room, laughing and joking as old friends, while Joseph and I sat in the corner. I was nervous until I saw his eyes looking down at the floor, and saw how tightly he held his hands together. I was surprised. He must have been ten, fifteen years older than me, but he was scared, too. At that moment, the fear left me, and I smiled at him, to reassure him. He gave me a shy smile back, and I thought, ‘it’s going to be okay. He’s a good man.’
That was before, of course. Everything is now measured in terms of Before and After. I had heard of angels, believed in angels, but nothing quite prepares you for the experience. It’s not so much the flash of light, nor the gravity of the message, though those were intimidating enough, but it was the tangible sense of pure, undiluted goodness that made my legs tremble. It felt like a searchlight on my heart, extreme intimacy, and I wanted to laugh yet weep, embrace him yet run away.
I had always known God, but this was such a sharp focus on the goodness and presence of God, even through his angel. How much more unbearable and glorious would it be to see God face to face, I wondered?
After he went, I felt excited, and then scared – and then alone. My mind couldn’t stop. It was the middle of the night before I eventually fell asleep.
I dreamt I was outside my home, and my family were all gathered around me, all the people nearest and dearest to me. I smiled at them, and put my hand on my stomach, which had grown huge. But something was wrong, their faces looked hostile and angry. They all took a step back from me, and then I looked up and saw Joseph, with disappointment in his eyes and a large rock in his hands. I screamed “No – you don’t understand…” but as I looked at the faces of those gathered, I saw they all had rocks and were raising them above their heads.
I woke in a sweat, and slept fitfully for the rest of the night. What would happen to me? There hadn’t been anyone in our community killed for adultery in years, but I knew there were tales from other villages of women where it had happened. It was in the law, after all. How would I be able protect this baby?
The next day, I ran into Mama’s room.
“Uncle Boaz – is he still going to the hill country today? I’ve changed my mind – I’d like to go along with him. I want to visit Elizabeth, see how she’s doing. It’s been ages.”
I was so glad that the angel had told me about Elizabeth. The secret was burning a hole in my heart with its potency, and I needed to tell someone.
Do not be afraid. You have found favour with God.
These words kept returning to me, like a mantra. All throughout that endless journey up to the hill country, making small talk with my uncle, I was afraid. I kept trying to push the fear away, but I kept visualising the conversation I would have with my parents, and it never ended well. And Joseph…? I dared not even think about Joseph. He was so devout, so upright. My story sounded so farfetched. Was there even a chance he would believe me?
You have found favour with God.
God sent his messenger, I reminded myself. He is bigger than this. I know it doesn’t look good, but God looks at the heart, not at the outward appearance. Though outwardly this whole situation doesn’t look good for me, I just have to remember: I have found favour with God.
How would I do this on my own? I couldn’t expect any help from Joseph now, and perhaps my family would keep their distance too. Who among our ancestors had been a single mother? Naomi – she did it, she managed just fine. It could be endured. Of course, she then had Ruth, I thought, and my eyes brimmed with tears at the thought of seeing Elizabeth. Would Elizabeth believe me?
The rolling hills and the rhythm of the donkey’s tread soothed me as we climbed upwards, and my thoughts took a different track.
What if somehow I had imagined it all? My body felt no different, my period had been late before. Perhaps all the stress of the wedding has pushed me over the edge, maybe there was no baby, no angel at all. (Was I becoming mad?)
I was terrified it wasn’t true, and terrified it was true.
I won’t tell Elizabeth straightaway, I decided. I’ll wait for a little.
There was something in me that needed to see for myself. I had had the supernatural miracle of an encounter with the divine messenger, but I needed to see the supernatural made natural: a woman who couldn’t be pregnant, miraculously pregnant. Sometimes we need to see it in someone else before we can truly believe it for ourselves.
And – do you know? God is so good. We rounded the track, called the donkeys to a halt, and took them to the watering hole. Elizabeth had already spotted us, and was standing at the door, waving, with a whole bunch of people behind her. I would have to wait a little while before I had some alone time with her and could tell her my news, I realised.
I ran up the path to her, and I saw that same smile I had always loved, the crows feet a little deeper around her eyes as she grinned, her hair streaked with grey – and her burgeoning stomach. It really was true – God had done the impossible.
We embraced, and she stepped back, surprised, one hand to her stomach.
Then – uncharacteristically loudly – she cried out,
“But you – you are the guest of honour. I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to have you here. You have found favour with God, and you are blessed, and so is the child you will bear.”
I stood there, eyes wide, mouth open. She couldn’t have known. There was no way. I could feel my face flushing – my cheeks confirmed the news for her before I could speak.
“You are the mother of my Lord – my womb knows it,” she said, and then we were both in tears, hugging, weeping, and before I knew it, my relief and joy had turned into a spontaneous song of praise.
I don’t do this kind of thing. Elizabeth doesn’t do this kind of thing. The others grew quiet, and watched, holding hands, as we embraced and I sang. We were on holy ground, and everyone there knew it.
It has been three months that I’ve been with Elizabeth now, and it has been such a gift to me. I’ve needed the calm before facing the others, and I’ve needed Elizabeth’s quiet trust that what I say is true, no matter how farfetched. She has been there for me, holding back my hair as I’ve vomited into her latrine in the mornings. She’s given me ginger and milk, and chatted about pregnancy, and we’ve prayed together all our fears and joys. It won’t be long now – her stomach surely can’t grow any bigger, she waddles like a duck everywhere she goes. I will stay for the baby, and then I will go home, my stomach speaking for me before I have the chance to say anything.
Do not be afraid. You have found favour with God.
After three months of friendship, I am starting to believe it.
“I had always believed in angels, but nothing quite prepares you for the experience.” – @Tanya_Marlow: Mary’s Story
“The secret was burning a hole in my heart” – @Tanya_Marlow – Those Who Wait: Mary’s Story
“I was terrified it wasn’t true, and terrified it was true.” – @Tanya_Marlow – Those Who Wait: Mary’s Story
“I needed to see the supernatural made natural” – @Tanya_Marlow – Those Who Wait: Mary’s Story
“Sometimes we need to see it in someone else before we can believe it for ourselves.” @Tanya_Marlow: Mary’s Story
Over to you:
- When have you needed to see ‘the supernatural made natural’?
- Who is a gift in your life?