That’s the devil’s game.

bible picI had a revelation this morning when my Bible fell open to this page. I shared with my small group last night that I’d been angry with God since we lost the baby. I knew the anger was there. In fact, I’d kind make a joke out of it and my prayers would sound like, “I love you but I’m a little ticked. I’ll get back with you.” Only I never did and just drifted and drifted for months until I was sick of myself–exhausted from trying to heal without the Healer.

Anger is a normal, necessary stage of the grieving process, but I can’t forget the One who walks through my grief with me hand in hand. When I saw the note on the top margin where the devil tempts Jesus, all the dots connected. Satan places conditions on Jesus, tries to strike a little bargain with the King of Kings. Huh. What a dangerous game–to attempt to thwart the plans of someone who is in complete authority over you, the Living God. But now I realize that this is the place where my anger has taken me. I’m not going to pray, or study, or worship right now. I’m angry! Fix it, and then we’ll talk.

But Jesus doesn’t play. When I enter into that negotiation, I’m playing the devil’s game.

Last night at Bible study we talked about obedience. When God tells you to do something, you do it or you sin. No two ways about it. But that doesn’t mean that he isn’t simultaneously holding your hand and heart as you grieve. And just like I draw so much support, affirmation, and comfort from unpacking my grief with my sisters in Christ, conversations with the Father have all of that to offer and MORE.

My act of obedience today will be to bring my grief to worship with me. I think Jesus is eager for us to unpack this together. Here’s a verse I’m meditating on: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness…” II Peter 1:3

If you’ve lost your way in the grieving process, I invite you to come with me to the Father and claim this promise. Wait expectantly for His divine power to heal your broken heart.

 

Following Makes the Follower

I’ve just read another article defending school teachers. It’s the millionth  (probably zillionth) published, rapidly going viral, well deserved justification of my profession. Really, there’s so much written which credits teachers as heroes that I’m having trouble figuring out who the villains are. Exactly who is panning American educators, laying the blame squarely out our feet for the very downfall of Western Civilization? Admittedly my research on this topic is grossly limited because no one is liking and sharing the blog posts which bemoan teachers for being lazy freeloaders.

Teaching wears me out. It’s hard work. And ladies and gentlemen, I am not lazy. Here’s a little known fact that I always want to scream from a rooftop when I hear teachers criticized—the skills, people. It takes an unbelievable amount skill to deliver a lesson well. Communication, intuition, classroom  management, on your feet decision making, maintaining discipline—SKILLS. And that’s just the delivery of a lesson.  That’s not to mention the interpersonal skills it takes to develop relationships with  your students and create a welcoming atmosphere for each class, even though at times you’re met with fierce resistance.

Now, how about planning? When I first switched from teaching English to history, I sat at my desk and cried because I had no idea where to start. I’m not sure about other teachers, but I do a fair amount of research for history presentations. It’s very time consuming. Then, you have to be creative, even a little artistic at times. Technology? Heck, yeah. You better be on top of that.  Time management? Indispensable. Planning is just a fraction of what a teacher does in the mislabeled “planning period”. Teachers act as their own personal assistants. We type, copy, distribute, and file every document ourselves.  In 45 minutes, I may have a stack of papers to grade, a couple of tests to run through the copier, an assignment to type, and five or so emails to answer in addition to all the research and lesson planning. Then there’s the matter of personal business. More than once, I’ve spent the bulk of a planning period playing phone tag with my doctor’s office.

But here’s the kicker, folks. You can’t simply have nominal familiarity with each skill. To be the teacher that apparently we are all expected to be, you have to master all these skills.  What’s a perfectionist like Mrs. Beasley to do? Well, let me tell ya. I feel a lot of pressure. All the time. At least once every school year, I have something like a nervous breakdown. The kids know I’m a basket case and discuss it when I’m not around. It’s embarrassing. I thought it would get better when I left public schools for Christian education, but I have a unique gift for not letting things go.

All this pressure has given me mixed feelings about my career as a teacher. I love planning (the creative part, not all the clerical stuff) and presenting. I truly do. I enjoy my students. But my heart’s desire was always to be a stay at home mom.  As a young adult, I never envisioned my children in daycare, or in full-time pre-K classes, all so that I could put in my time teaching other people’s children during the day and have nothing left over for my own in the evenings. I thought it would get easier when my children got a little older. They’re in the first and fifth grades now, and I chase my tail now more than ever. I’d love to quit my job, run my household, be more available to my husband and children, and write.

I’m sure that sounds cynical, but I promise this post has a happy ending. I’ve returned to teaching several times because of circumstances. It took a lot of years for us to finally have a family of our own. Every year that I returned to school in August felt like a slap in the face. I simply wouldn’t be there if I hadn’t miscarried. Those years were long and bore the ever present specters of brokenhearted loss and freaking out over test scores. Public school, I don’t miss you.

For a few years after we first adopted, I quit teaching and worked part-time. This I could manage. But, Todd’s call to plant a church is my call to plant a church. It’s that one flesh thing, I think. The first time that he suggested I go back to teaching school full-time so that he work on a church plant, I lit into him. It was not my finest hour as a wife, I confess. Amazingly, the Lord went to work on me, and I’ll never regret the decision to move, go back to work, and plant Renew Church. I might choose an easier schedule, but I love my school and I love my students.

Unfortunately, my spiritual gift is wearing my feelings on my sleeve and blabbing my thoughts and opinions to anyone with ears, so it’s no secret how hard teaching full-time is for me.

Luckily, my principal and I have a good working relationship, one characterized by my frank admissions that teaching wears me out and I’m pretty much always overwhelmed. He knew the day he interviewed me that I’d hoped to move on from teaching eventually. That he still hired me is better than any trust building exercise. Over time, I’ve conveyed my deepest concerns about my employment without holding much back. I’m a better wife and mother when I am not obligated to a full-time job. It plays on my conscience to be deprived of the time and energy that I’m sure should go to my family. Recently, he waved me into his office to ask me how I’m doing. I had a miscarriage a couple of weeks before school started. It’s been a hard year.

We had an honest conversation. We always do. He knows that I would like to be at home more and have time to write. He knows that I have to work to support us while we plant the church. He knows that more than anything, I wanted my baby. I assured him that, as worn out as I get, I’m all in. “I know,” he said. “You’re committed to these students.” Thank you for that, Mr. G. I’d like to think that each and every nervous breakdown has been for the greater progress of the gospel.

Then he said something that I wasn’t sure I could accept.

“You’re going to have to be OK with the fact that God called you to teach. I know it’s true because He’s using you here.”

See, this is a problem because that was a really nice thing to say, and I can see that you’re my biggest fan, but that’s not what I wanted to hear.

Also, that’s the second principal who told me that I’m called to Christian education. It’s the second time that I doubted (and resented) this assessment of God’s will. That conversation has hovered over my thoughts since that day. Honestly, it depressed me a little. And irked me a lot. I’d like to determine what God’s telling me to do, thank you very much.

A few weeks ago, I was writing a bible study lesson for my small group when God placed a startlingly simple truth under my nose. What makes a follower of Christ? It’s the following.

In order to disciple, we teach all these different facets of the Christian walk—pray, study, worship, serve. Don’t conform. Be transformed. We flesh out all those simple truths into a litany of specific obligations. Attend church—be there. Join a small group—get real.  Sing in the band—serve in the way that gives you joy. Teach Sunday school—volunteer when no one else will. Go on a mission trip—stretch yourself. Surrender to the ministry—make church your job. Plant a church—even if it’s crazy. Surrender to missions—go where no one else will.

So much stuff. Am I simply picking what works for me and my situation? Why do some women get to stay home but I have to work? And, how do I know I’m not called to something even bigger, like foreign missions? And, if I have a passion to write and it is really fulfilling to me, can that be my call?

A week or so later, I was teaching European imperialism to my 9th grade history students. The presentation includes details of the Chinese Boxer Rebellion between 1899-1901. As we discussed the massacres of foreign missionaries and Chinese Christians, I told the students that one question plagues me every time I teach this unit.

Why does God call some to all that hardship—in this case to be the victims of unthinkable atrocities– but He called me to Baptist Prep?

Funny. Those words—called me to Baptist Prep—that actually came from my mouth. OK, it’s true. If I felt that God had some other plan, that’s what I would do. Also, in comparison to martyrdom, teaching seems so easy. Even funnier, the next thing to tumble from my lips was that startlingly simple answer. What makes a Christ follower is the following. He leads. You follow. Period.

I have a friend who might have made an awesome school teacher, but she is now a missionary in Ecuador. She’s single. Her heart’s desire is to take God’s Word to women in the jungle. He led her there. She followed. It never crossed my mind that God might ask me to follow Him, as a single woman with no children in my future, into missions.

I have a another friend who would much rather be a missionary in Africa than teach school. She owns a salon, her day job, if you will. But she’s also  fundraising for African Christian Outreach for no pay at all. Someday, she’ll be in Africa full-time. She can’t wait for the day that Jesus leads her to Kenya for good. I’ve always been kind of relieved that He never led me to Kenya.

I have another friend who works in a nursing home and I can tell that those patients are richly blessed to have her there. She is amazing, so compassionate and genuine.  Me? I’d rather teach school, or go to Africa, or to a jungle, or teach school in an African jungle, than work in a nursing home. I kind of have a phobia of nursing homes. Please God, don’t lead me there!

What those women do seems so difficult to me. Yet, I’ve heard from my friends again and again, “I don’t know how you do it. I couldn’t work with kids every day.” They might be really relieved that God didn’t call them to teach writing to eighth graders (which is hard, I can tell you).

The strongest spiritual influence in my life, my mom, was a teacher for a short time. I’m sure she believed when she was in college that she would teach for a lot of years. But God led her to Bible Study Fellowship International, and she followed—first as a class member, then in leadership in the children’s program, and finally she became a teaching leader. I’ve always been astounded at the influence she had because of BSF.  When I was a kid, I just thought she gabbed on the phone with her leadership circle a lot. Years later, I realized  that it was her ministry which she conducted over the phone, in leaders’ meeting, and giving her lectures. She taught hundreds of women over the years, but also personally mentored many of her leaders. She also mentored me. Things would have turned out very differently for a lot of people if my mom had gone a different route.

Jesus led my husband to plant a church. Todd followed—and brought his family along! Jesus led me back to teaching. I followed. I’m going to trust Him that our choice to make our lives here will turn out for the greater progress of the gospel—that a lot of lives would turn out differently if we weren’t following where He leads.

In His authority, God carries out His plan. Maybe where He leads you is where you will have the most influence—where your presence will turn out for the greater progress of the gospel. And guess what? That’s hard work, no matter what it is. Going to China or the jungle, teaching or a nursing home—if you’re there to proclaim the gospel, it will never be easy. What is it that Jesus said to do before you follow? Oh, yeah. Deny yourself. Take up your cross.

 

 

 

 

 

Katie Revisits Pain and Purpose–or, She’s Back in Black

I shocked myself a little bit this week when I realized I hadn’t published anything on this blog since February. FEBRUARY. Dang. Where’ve I been?

It’s not that I haven’t written at all. I’m working on a bible study that I hope to have published. My biggest obstacle is deciding when I’m done with research and can actually write. I’d like to have it done by the first of the year. Don’t hold your breath, though. I sure won’t.

We launched Sunday morning services for Renew Church in February. It was awesome. Euphoric. What a joy to see it all come together! After all those years of wrestling with God’s call to move and plant a church, we now see a long inspired vision spring to life. My insight into this rather lengthy test of faith was that God indeed has a plan, that the plan is most often challenging if not downright painful, and that the pain of the plan puts me on my knees. I get to be a part of what God’s doing, and it draws me to Him like a gravitational pull. The more challenging the test, the stronger the pull.

The church launch was the last time I wrote for this blog. Since then? More of the same. Husband, kids, teaching, church plant.

Oh yeah, and then I got pregnant.

You’ll find these two principles sprinkled throughout my blog: God has a plan, and God gives me more than I can handle. Then there’s a third principle—that the first two are for my benefit (among many other things). What follows here is more of more than I can handle.

When I found out I was pregnant, I almost didn’t react. Back in the day, when getting pregnant made sense, I would stand over the little pee stick and wring my hands in anticipation. A positive test would be met with squeals and then a high five to the good Rev. But this?

Unplanned. Unplanned for a 45 year old. Unplanned for a full-time working momma and wife to a bi-vocational pastor. Unplanned after many miscarriages had gone before.

One time in all our pregnancies we heard a heartbeat, but it was still so early that there was nothing to see on the scan. All we knew is that the baby’s heart was beating. Back then, I thought a heartbeat meant that everything would be okay. But four weeks later I was bleeding.

Last summer, we allowed ourselves to get excited when we saw our 8 week ultrasound. With this scan there was more to see. Peanut had a head and body. There was a picture of a little person there.  I knew that we weren’t out of the woods.

Two weeks later, I went in for another scan. There’s a horrible moment when the tech doesn’t say anything. Just tick, tick, tick on the keyboard, and you know that it’s bad news.

Loss is not uncharted territory to me. I’ve done this many times. But it’s doing a fine job of wrecking me.

My husband took my girls on a trip this weekend, so I’ve been alone. It’s actually been really good for me to have a couple of days to reflect. People have a great capacity to sweep grief aside in order to perform. The only way for me to function was to put this loss on the proverbial backburner. Day in and day out, I had this peculiar feeling that there’s some loose end that needed attention, but I couldn’t bring myself to face it.

Since Friday night, I’ve been facing it. What I’ve found out is that when I can assign a purpose to my pain—when I see how it figures into God’s plan—I go straight to Him with that pain. But when I can’t figure any way that He can use it? When it seems purposeless? I bolt.

All my planned pregnancies, and subsequent miscarriages, led me to something. They led me to adopt. They taught me about His authority. They strengthened my marriage. They deepened my empathy and provided me with an avenue to minister to others. I see their purpose.

But not this time. I got nothin’.

As I took all this to the Lord this weekend—finally—I realized that my obscured view of His purpose is the purpose.

If “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”, then certainly I must apply faith to this situation. I can’t see his plan. I don’t know His purpose, and yet it is my deep hope that He has one. It’s the lack of understanding—or perhaps the lack of accepting—His purpose that is the opportunity to build my faith.

Before I found out I was pregnant, I read a blog which asserted that everything doesn’t happen for a reason. It bothered me. Maybe we’re splitting hairs here. Maybe you say God doesn’t have His reasons yet still believe that He will “cause all things to work together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” The writer who published that blog contended that Romans 8:28 does not mean that everything has a purpose, but that I can choose a response to my circumstances that benefit me. The obvious question here is, what if my response is wrong? What if I make the wrong choice? And I definitely chose wrong in the past. In the beginning of our miscarriage journey, I chose anger, and it got me absolutely nowhere.

I say that interpretation of Romans 8:28 makes too much of me and my ability to respond and not enough of God. He is bigger than my ability to make the right choice. His Word declares that God Himself makes all things work together for my good. I believe it, and yes, believing it is a choice.

Picture this. You take your last breath. Your spirit departs your body. You hear ethereal singing and the Holy, Holy, Holy of the creatures around the throne. You see Him—complete with the holes in His hands that are now reaching to embrace you. When you pull back from the most heavenly of hugs, He offers to answer your most disturbing question.

Why did I suffer? Why did I have so many miscarriages that I lost count?

“Oh,” says the Word, who has been with God since the beginning, “no reason.”

No. That can’t be right.

I choose faith—the assurance that though I can’t see or understand His purpose, He has one. When I ask Him why I suffered, I believe He will point to my participation in the work of the kingdom, to others who were moved by my testimony, and to how my suffering was the gravitational pull that put me before Him and kept the cross before me.

For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is no one like Me,
Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things which have not been done,
Saying, ‘My purpose will be established,
And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’

Isaiah 46:9-10

Before a launch, you gotta yield . . .

Tomorrow we will open Renew Church’s doors for our first ever Sunday morning worship service. Actually Renew Church’s doors are really the doors of the Boys and Girls Club of Saline County, AR. After 18 months of bible study in a living room, it’s time to launch.

Church plant!

Church plant!

The vision for this ministry prompted us to leave comfort and security in Texas and trust God to provide all our needs in coming to Arkansas—when Todd told the church staff in Texas that he was resigning, neither of us had jobs. When we rolled up to our rent house for the first time in Benton, Arkansas, we had one part-time job between us. I can’t claim that I had faith through all of this; I was simply too afraid to not take that leap.

God began working in Todd years ago, first with this little whisper plant a church, plant a church, plant a church which gradually increased in volume and intensity. Then finally in 2012, we catapulted into this wild free fall of faith—if God is saying go, I’m afraid to say no.

So, here we are.

It is glaringly obvious that the Lord went ahead of us and put each piece in place. In the beginning, I was concerned about basic needs and where the money would come from so that we could survive. Looking back, what is most impressive to me is not really about money, but more about comfort and sustenance. It’s about how he drew us into relationships with godly friends who also have visions for ministry that seem impossible. But God builds the ministry and nothing is impossible for Him.

With all this awe and gratitude bubbling over in my heart, I am especially aware of the years God has spent preparing me for this.

Me. The one who said rather pointedly, “I will not go back to teaching school so that you can plant a church.”

Me. The one who scoffed at the idea of leaving Texas for Arkansas. Plant a church? In Arkansas? Psssh. Try that one on your second wife.

Evidence of changes that would come are found in the notes I jotted down in my bible over the years. There are many, many references to God’s authority scribbled in the margins. Even this morning as I read about Jesus’ baptism and the descent of the Holy Spirit, I wrote, “Jesus—God and sent by God—demonstrates submission to God’s authority. Does this demonstration of submission and willingness open the door for the power of the Holy Spirit?” Looking back, I see that pattern played out in me. At each milestone as I yielded more to God’s authority, I experienced His power to change me.

This morning I also ran across an old note on the first page of I Thessalonians. Sometime in the last few years I wrote this–

            Faith–>Work

Love–>Labor

Hope–>Endurance

Serve the living God and wait for His Son.

Then on the opposite page, I added later—

            Share the gospel and your life. The fruit of the ministry is your joy and crown.

Faith compels us to work. Love for the Savior inspires us to labor for His purpose. Hope of seeing Him face to face creates an indomitable endurance. And all this happens by the power of His Spirit as we yield to His authority.

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that I’m teaching school in Arkansas to provide for our family so Todd can co-pastor a church plant.

The woman who wrote all that down is so drastically different from the 26 year old who naively vowed to be joined for life to a minister. Want to know something funny? For the first few years I toyed with the temptation to walk away from this marriage. What a dumb kid! I would have missed out on all this JOY.

A healthy fear—or reverence, if you prefer–of God’s authority has made all the difference. It prevented us from ending our marriage. It guided us through miscarriages to adoption. It prompted us in the very decision that brought us to Arkansas. It instigated all the changes that make us want to fulfill our purpose. I’ve seen something good born out of every instance where we yielded to His authority.

Church, we must stop dodging God’s authority and looking for loopholes in the things He expects from us. It is a gigantic obstacle to fulfilling our purpose in this world. Don’t hesitate to yield. By the power of His Spirit, good things will come.

I’m pretty excited to see what’s next.

ADVENTures Day 22–Dark Games

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2 (NIV)

I come from that generation who played outside until dark. “Be home when the street lights come on!!” my folks would say, and mostly we obeyed. This is a bit of a problem since, well, it’s fun to play in the dark. Every once in a while, in the wintertime when it is dark by 5:15, we would stay outside and play and play until someone stepped out and called us in.

We made this a habit during Christmas break, and I think my mom would let us get away with it just to keep us out of her hair. I understand this, now that I have my own two bairns–my two sweet little angels who woke me up on the first of my 10 vacation days with loud shrieking and the unmistakable sounds of trading punches. Sigh. Peace on earth.

One year during Christmas break, we took to playing hide-and-seek in the dark. I. LOVED. IT. No one could beat me. I had the very best hiding place–right on the front porch. This would be the proverbial hiding in plain sight strategy, except I could just step back into the shadows and no one knew I was there. The biggest danger is giving yourself away by laughing. Someone would come so close, even look directly at that dark corner and never see me.

We were out there until someone called–someone with authority called me by name out of the darkness .

My life before Christ was a little like this. I was a good kid–mostly, but some things about the darkness I found hard to resist. Generally I wanted to be obedient, stay out of trouble, and stay safe. But I held back a little darkness here and there, because it was fun–exciting even. It was obvious from watching the people around me that the darkness–as attractive as it seemed–was truly dangerous. After seeing one or two lives in shreds, I worked at maintaining a balance between light and dark.

But it doesn’t really work that way. You can’t love the light and flirt with darkness.

‘It can be bright with joy if you will do what you should! But if you refuse to obey, watch out. Sin is waiting to attack you, longing to destroy you. But you can conquer it!” Genesis 4:7 (TLB)

And this . . .

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. I Peter 5:8 (NLT)

God had allowed Israel to be devoured by the nations around them. He spared a remnant, brought them home, and promised them a Savior. The Lord had to teach His own people not to love the darkness–that they couldn’t be His chosen people and sprinkle in practices from pagan religions. What a treacherous, painful lesson for all those people. Yet, we repeat that pattern, don’t we? Isn’t it all too frequent that those who claim Christ as Savior are holding a little bit of darkness back for themselves?

That was my life for a number of years. I had made the decision to follow Christ, but I tried to bring the darkness with me. The Lord in His mercy knew that I had to be taught just how dark the darkness is. I love Psalm 110:75, “I know, O LORD, that your judgments are right, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me.”

My husband’s testimony is a dramatic example of being rescued from darkness. He would tell the story better, but in a nutshell, he made a decision to follow Christ as a kid. When he grew older, like so many of us, he rebelled because he loved to play in the darkness. One night as he was out with some friends, God simply spoke to him. Clearly, Todd heard Him speak. “You don’t need this anymore.” I love this story. I’ve heard him tell it so many times that I knew there was a specific spot on a particular street in Marion, IL, where my husband heard and obeyed the voice of the Lord. When we went home for Thanksgiving, I asked him to take me there and I snapped this picture.

Boulevard

That night put my husband on a collision course with so many things that followed–a call to the ministry, college, seminary, me. I’m so grateful. He shook us both loose from the darkness so that we would be ready for each other.

God, in all His authority, has stepped out of Heaven and called you home. He gave us Jesus, the Light of the world, so that we would have no fear of being devoured by the darkness. If you have received the gift of the Lord Jesus, then you have so many things to praise Him for this Christmas.

If you are still flirting with darkness, are you tired yet? Maybe your life is in shambles because sin has devoured you. It’s not too late. Light has dawned on those living in deep darkness. He has done all these great things for each of us–and yes, also for you! Don’t refuse His gift!

Leave your darkness and run home to the light.

Merry Christmas.

 

ADVENTures Day 18–Highly Favored

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth,  to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, the ]bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.  Luke 1:26-38 (NASB)

Well, friends, I’ve missed a few five days. I have no excuse, really. Wait, yes I do. I’m a teacher which means that (pretty much all the time) I chase my tail, herd cats, and all that jazz. We are giving final exams this week, which must be graded, and I am also in the middle of a pile of essays—the ones that I now regret assigning. Anyhoo . . . I’m back with a word.

Today brings us to Mary. Gabriel brings news that turns every atom in her universe inside out. She had been looking forward to a wedding; now she’s to be pregnant and unwed—albeit a virgin, but you know how people are! And these aren’t just people we’re talking about here. These are 1st century Jewish folks. Churches today give a lot of attention (or they should, and if you aren’t, shame on you) as to how to welcome people into our ministries regardless of their background. But back then? It was perfectly acceptable to shun a sinner. In fact, because of the legally binding status of engagement in that society, Mary would have been considered an adulteress. Remember the woman caught in the act of adultery? (John 8:1-11) Was this the kind of treatment that a woman in Mary’s situation would expect?

Still, I don’t see the terror that I would have felt if this announcement had been made to me. The tone of the passage indicates Mary’s thoughtful consideration of the matter. She’s perplexed—not quaking with fear. The angel gives her the rundown of how the Holy Spirit would bring about the pregnancy. I love how he punctuates this explanation of the miraculous—“she who was called barren is now in her sixth month . . . nothing is impossible with God.”

To me, Mary’s reaction to the news indicates precisely why she is favored. God highly approves of this young girl. That’s quite an endorsement. And for this role in human history, it must be. She was given the responsibility of raising our Lord. The amount of trust that God places in Mary is difficult to imagine.

I think Mary’s quiet confidence is an indication of her faith. She must have trusted that if God chose her, He would bring His plan to completion. Any actions her community might take against her were the least of her worries at the moment. Perhaps she already saw the pain that lay ahead—a pain unlike any other, and infinitely deeper than that of an unwed mother. “A sword [would pierce her] own soul,” Simeon said in the next chapter. Absolutely it would.

Then, notice how Mary concludes the meeting, not Gabriel. It almost sounds like she is dismissing God’s angel. “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is one of my favorite verses in all of scripture. You see, I think Mary realized that being highly favored meant that a lot would be required of her. In the book of Exodus, a bondservant is described as a slave who loved his master and did not wish to go free. He would then demonstrate his devotion to his master by having his ear pierced with an awl. Mary realizes that she is God’s servant, but she chooses the word bondslave and indicates her love for Him with a willingness to obey in very difficult circumstances. What I hear Mary saying is, “I love the Lord. Go back and tell him I’m ready.”

We are also highly favored. In Christ, God offers His grace—unmerited favor, approval which we don’t deserve and cannot earn. With His favor comes enormous responsibility—to take up our cross and follow Him and bring as many as we can with us. I wonder if we need to hit a reset button somewhere, and like Mary, thoughtfully consider what God requires of us—but also consider what He has done for us.

Honestly, in light of the gift of Christ, I think Mary’s response is the only response.

I love you, Lord. I’m ready.

ADVENTures Day 12–Barren

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.     Luke 1:5-13

Don’t get me wrong–I like all the prophecy/Old Testament connections in Advent readings. But I LOVE THIS. I love the story–THE STORY–of how the arrival of the Son of God came about. Here, all the pieces start to come together. People who had never dreamed of playing a role in Messiah’s story get visits from an angel. Today’s part of the story I revel in–because I remember my days of being childless.

I addressed this passage in a very recent post, Pray Boldly, which I’d love for you to read, but I have more thoughts to add here. Women who can’t have children suffer from peculiar feelings of failure. No matter what the doctor said to convince me I was not to blame for the miscarriages, and I knew there was nothing I could do any differently, I simply could not carry a baby to term and so, was a failure. So I thought. It felt like I wasn’t able to do something that was automatic for every other woman around me. For several years, I kept these feelings to myself; I never even told Todd. Finally I said something to a counselor, who, thankfully, validated those feelings and all of my anger.

For Elizabeth, I imagine these feelings were magnified exponentially because of their culture. If you can’t have children, you must be a sinner. Surely there is a reason God has denied you His blessings–His favor. My generation is kinder, thank God. Yet, in general terms, I struggled with the why. A genetics counselor said to me, when I broke down after sitting in a waiting room for over an hour with a bunch of very pregnant women, “You feel persecuted, don’t you?”

Yes, that’s it. Persecuted. Maybe I’m a little old-fashioned, but I’d imagined my future a certain way. I would work until I got pregnant and then stay home and raise my children. That was my purpose; I was sure of it. Everywhere I turned women were great with child, talking about nothing but motherhood, positively giddy about being stay at home moms.

That’s as close a connection as I can make with Elizabeth. Still, it seems pretty close to the heart of things. If this isn’t to be my role, then what is? And what’s so wrong with me having this role in the first place?

Look what God did for Zechariah and Elizabeth. He gave them the son that Elizabeth said took away her disgrace. More than that, he birthed a new purpose in them. They raised the child that will herald the King of Kings.

I was recast as an adoptive mom. Believe me, I don’t regret it. Looking back, this is just one of many times that God placed my feet on a different path than I would have chosen for myself.Road Sometimes it takes years to see how God was working out some purpose, but it has all been worth it.

You may be in one of those seasons of life. Something you had felt sure of didn’t materialize. What you had believed was your purpose is off the table. It’s heartbreaking, isn’t it? This Christmas, look at those circumstances through the lens of God’s purpose. He works it all for good if you love Him and are called according to His purpose.

I’m praying that this post finds its way to readers who need these words. Grace and peace to you, friends. Merry Christmas.