1000 yeses: Mary’s journey

This is my little drummer boy offering this advent season–to Christ–and to you, my dear ones. What have I to give? I give my heart and these poems, written like separate days on Mary’s journey. I originally intended to give you one poem a day, but time got away from me and I wanted you to have them before Christmas. So, grab a cup of coffee: get cozy. Enjoy the slow journey. And may these words bless you, encourage you, and strengthen you to say your own “yes” to God and remember His most precious “yes” to us.

Mary’s words still lingered
Like incense in the temple:
“Let it be to me… Let it be,
According to your word.”

How the angels bent to hear
Her unlatch the lamb’s gate,
To welcome eternity like an honored guest
In the half-light of a dusty grotto.

How long did the radiance of the angel’s words burn like sacred oil?
Did she warm herself all through that first night
At the holy blaze of wonder?
A chosen one to save, to reign, to fill
The great yawning ache no one could name.

Was she like a sleepless virtuoso that night?
Luminous with inspiration,
Did “my soul glorifies the Lord,” keep her awake
While a parade of future generations marched in her mind, mouthing “blessed,”
As her soul reveled in the firelight of favor?

~*~

How long was it before she noticed
That the angel’s presence had flickered and fled,
Suddenly snuffed like a fugitive’s flame?
How long was it before her words and the stranger’s echoed in the dark?

Favor didn’t feel like bliss in the ensuing silence.

It felt like risk.

Like Father Abraham leaving the land of Ur,
Like outlaw Moses stepping into Pharaoh’s court,
Like once-barren Hannah depositing her boy-treasure in the temple,
Like young David momentarily quivering in the eclipse of Goliath’s shadow.

Let it be to me—let it be.
Would favor feel like stones thrown?
Would it feel like a bridegroom’s scorn?
Would it feel like stares and smothered laughs?

“Elizabeth,” a new thought ripened.
Elizabeth, would know what favor felt like.
If a barren desert truly bloomed,
Perhaps Mary would have faith to say
The second of a thousand more yeses.

~*~

The rise and fall of the Judean path
Mirrored the rise and fall of her thoughts.
“How can it be?” she mumbled again breathless.
“Nothing is impossible with God” filled her lungs.

A thousand times the conversation replayed
While sandaled feet hastened down valley and up crest.
A thousand times she steeled herself in the shadows
To say again the “yes” that had come so easily in the light.

~*~

She held the unbelievable like an awful secret.
She hid the uncontainable in a still-imperceptible curve.
She ached with unquenchable hope and too-human fear.
Yet she craved a sight, a sound, a touch of faith in flesh.

The miles had fled for: “Elizabeth?”
“Mary!” even her name felt like a blessing when Elizabeth spoke it.

Weathered arms outstretched, encircled
As John’s mother plunged her beneath waves of benediction:
“Blessed are you among women, and
Blessed is the fruit of your womb!
“And why is it granted to me that the mother
Of my Lord should come to me?”

Then Elizabeth’s baby leapt just like Mary’s own heart.
Hope cannot be submerged.
It comes up gasping like the twice-born.
And just when we need it most,
Blessing descends like a dove from heaven,
Favor falls lightly like a feather in our hands.

~*~

How often do you glimpse a soul?
The inside workings—the God-meets-man moments–
Of another frail and fragile human being?
Elizabeth beheld it.

Had the magnificent words which rolled now off Mary’s tongue
Been cherished, treasured thoughts held close
In a cathedral of the heart for days or weeks?
Or were they thoughts of that instant that filled and flooded her mind–
An outstretched cup –beneath an infinite cascade?

Either way, the beauty of a soul outstretched in worship,
Is a beauty because it is a disappearing act.
It is all mirrors and light.
In this prism of light we see not Mary,
But God.

Could we all but turn toward the light
Like the shards of broken glass we are
We would be “a city that needs not sun,
Nor moon to shine upon it,”
For His light would reflect and refract
In a prism of broken wholeness unending.

~*~

Three months passed protected for Mary
Like a seed in the warm, dense soil
Of Elizabeth and Zechariah’s understanding,
celebration, and anticipation.

But shoots were not meant to stay underground.
The unfurling of faith is a widening affair.
It pushes out from protected places
To say yes in the harsh light of the open day,
In the scorching heat of skepticism,
In the drought of disbelief.

The hilly path home must have felt longer,
Lonelier, and more terrifying.
Mary’s faith had taken root in the security of
A community of the faith-filled.
But now it must push forth, unfold in the
Harsh stares of her own village,
In the full-light of a fiancé’s face,
In the winds of whispers and slurs.

But faith that breaks the ground can be expectant.
It can hope for the sun which has never ceased its shining.
It can hope for the freshness of a long-awaited rain.
And when grace falls it may feel like the wind of angel wings
Fluttering through the dreams of the one you love.
Grace falling–the yes of God’s unmerited favor—
May feel like summer rain drops dancing on upturned hands.

~*~

Caesar Augustus never waited for her yes.
She was only a number to be counted,
In the place of her husband’s birth.
But God still quietly whispered,
Will you trust the path you cannot understand?

“Let it be,” she whispered, as she took Joseph’s hand
And began the final journey before the babe would come.

~*~

She couldn’t see her sandaled feet
Beneath a belly bulging in hope as she descended
Dusty paths from Nazareth into the Valley of Jezreel.
But she could hear the sounds of Israel’s past:

A shout and 300 jars breaking, here where God vanquished Gideon’s foe
With only their shards of faith and firelight in the darkness.
She could hear Israel’s children weeping where Philistines
Slaughtered Saul’s army and David waited on God for the throne.
She could hear the dogs howling on the heels of Jezebel,
Israel’s enemy fleeing after years of drought and doubt.
Could this princeling she carried bring peace to the Valley of blood?

The hand that felt hope kick could reach out and touch
Ancient gnarled olive trees as they passed through grove upon grove.
Were these the trees that gave Samuel his anointing oil?
Would this Messiah—anointed one—be blessed by prophet or priest?
The tightening waves across her belly reminded her
Time ripens all things, time presses in,
And we groan for the change for which we both hope and dread.

~*~

The grade grew steeper each day.
But each night the endless ascending and descending
Ended, punctuated by a well.
Here at Jacob’s well, the caravan’s buckets stirred ancient longings:
Ancient fears and ancient hopes.

The ache: it came again for Mary.
Was it pain or longing?
The tightening of time like a vise;
What would it bring forth?

Here at Jacob’s well one could not help
But wrestle with fear and hope,
And be broken forever by it.
Here one could not help but
See a long-dreaded enemy on the horizon
And feel the fear flee in the unexpected grace of embrace.
Here at Jacob’s well one could not help
But understand why we make altars to remember
The ascending and descending of hope and fear,
The punctuation of unexpected grace.

As Mary sipped Jacob’s water perhaps she felt a tiny heel press
Into her side, pushing upon her like living waters
Ready to break through stony places,
To gurgle through to the surface with
Cool, sweet refreshment.

Something about this place,
She pondered.
Something ancient, something present,
Something yet to come.

~*~

These ancient paths had heard
Pilgrims songs for centuries.
Songs for the work of ascending,
Songs to pass the waiting,
Songs that climbed upward in joy
As the holy city, Jerusalem, burst forth into Mary’s view,
And Mount Moriah drew the eye
To the temple, where God drew near to His people.

Were these songs lisped like gentle lullabies
As Mary plodded upward?
“I lift my eyes to the hills,
From whence does my help come,”
Were these her songs as the labor pains closed in?
“As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
So the Lord surrounds his people.”
Did she breathe with labored breath
As Joseph encouraged her that the miles from
Jerusalem to Bethlehem were short?

Ancient songs of faith to firm
The new steps of faithfulness.
A call and echo between generations,
Strengthening her soul to say again,
“Yes, Lord, let it be.”

~*~

Bethlehem, at last,
Bethlehem, alas.
When the hope on the horizon
Flickers and flees like a mirage,
Will faith be a madman’s dream?

No place, no room, no way,
Was this the welcome party
For her whole-hearted yes?

~*~

And so the fullness of time came,
It constricted, it pressed,
It would not wait, could not wait.
Eternity pushing forth into time:
No place, no room, no way–
Are no impediment.
With God all things are possible:
Even limitless condescending to limitation,
Even infinity taking on flesh,
Even all-powerful coming like a baby.

And in an excruciating cooperation
Of will and wonder, the miracle broke through.
Silence broken with a cry.
And in a moment Mary could feel God’s yes squirming on her chest,
A tiny breathing miracle, she’d wrap in swaddling clothes.
Yes, He would not forget us,
Yes, He would not forsake us,
Yes, the Word, of God’s favor, made flesh.
How could she not echo, with every fiber of her being forevermore,
A yes to every question He’d ask her, a yes to the God of love.

Falling Short

The other night my husband and I watched a small-budget film. We cringed in places at the writing and acting. While it was clear the film had heart, we stopped the movie more than once to groan over its shortcomings.

Now I’m a huge proponent of doing whatever you are called to do with as much excellence as you can. And while healthy criticism has an important place, I want to bracket that for the moment to share the wave of conviction I felt later that evening as I went to bed.

God laid me flat with this thought: It’s easy to criticize; it’s hard to create.

Clearly, we live in a consumer-oriented culture. Everywhere we go, we are lulled into the sluggishness of consumption. Restaurants, grocery-stores, our televisions, even our churches let us limp along with the false assumption that our primary purpose in life is to lap up the fruits of others’ toil.

But God made us all in His creator image for a purpose: to model Him in creating. And that means everyone, creative types and those who would never apply that label to themselves. God calls each of us to create and bring order out of chaos.

But here’s the rub: to create, as an imperfect being, means to create with imperfections. It means even as we aim, we err.

Earlier tonight, my middle son sat crumpled in my lap in tears. He had labored over a drawing book, emulating a master artist’s creation of a blue jay. Despite my son’s earnestness and effort, his final product was not like the master’s. That gap between ideal and real undid him with shame.

As I gathered him in my arms, did I mock his work? Certainly not. Did I lie to him and tell him it was easily as good as the drawing in the book? No. But I truthfully told him that his drawings showed much more promise than mine did at his age. I praised his effort and encouraged him that even going through the process of emulating the master’s work he was learning and improving. I sympathized with the gap between our hoped-for creations and our actual-creations. And I told him I was so very proud of him and pleased that he was practicing his drawing skills.

Here’s my point. God calls all of us to create. To create is by nature a risk and we have no promise of perfection. But that risk by no means gives us the right to opt out. Like the parable of the talents, we have been entrusted with a sum. The master will by no means be pleased if we bury it in the ground (Mt. 25:14-30).

We consume on auto-pilot. That’s easy. Criticizing? Yep, that comes naturally too. But where is God calling you to take a harder route?

Creation requires mindfulness, effort, and vulnerability. Perhaps the fear and nakedness we feel as we do it, might just be the reason God calls us to it in the first place. “Take my hand,” he whispers: “I’m with you.” Falling short might just mean we have to fall up and further in.

Like what you are reading? Kick back and stay awhile. Check out some of my past posts, take a look at my books on Amazon, and subscribe here so you don’t miss a post. I hope you leave here challenged to live a deeper and more fearless faith.

How to Weather Adversity Like My 2 Year-Old

About a month ago, my sweet James caught his foot under him while playing in the basement. We didn’t see the moment that it happened and at two and a half, communication is still less than perfect. At first we thought he’d just stubbed a toe, but after a day went by and he refused to put any weight on the foot, we knew something was definitely wrong. After a trip to the pediatrician, the radiologist, and the orthopedist, he came home with a bright blue cast on his right foot—and a diagnosis: a fractured first metatarsal. There were a few tears at the doctor’s offices, but overall he was a brave boy. He even managed a smile on the ride home.

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This being my inaugural fractured bone as a mother of four boys, I didn’t know what to expect. But I’ll confess, I feared it was going to be a challenging several weeks. The first night we got home and I was putting him to bed he said, “Shoe off, mommy?” And then I explained to him that his blue boot couldn’t come off for at least four weeks. There were tears and more repeated requests that night and the next for me to take “the shoe” off, but after that he didn’t ask again.
Instead, he taught me a few lessons about handling adversity with a sweet spirit.

1) Accept your limitations. Since it basically rained most days here in the month of May and getting his cast wet was out of the question, we had to set pretty strict rules about him not playing outside most days. And even on the days when it dried up for a few hours, we couldn’t let him play in the grass where it was still wet. Several times he stood at the glass door like a forlorn puppy, while his brothers got to play outside. But he didn’t throw any tantrums or drive us crazy whining. He accepted his limitations with grace and looked around to see what else was available to him. Because no matter how small your yard is, you’ll waste what has been given you if you spend all your time looking at the fence.

2) Discover new strengths. With outside time being off limits and mobility up and down the stairs to the basement being somewhat a struggle, James turned his attention to puzzles. Before he got his cast on, we knew he had a slight interest in puzzles. Now 4 weeks later, he has absolutely amazed us. Since my other boys never really gravitated to puzzles, I didn’t have a whole lot of them around the house. I did, however, have a set of continent puzzles I’d gotten for teaching my 6 year old homeschool geography this year. James started out mastering South America. I was pleased, but with only about a dozen pieces I wasn’t surprised to see him memorizing the puzzle. Then he turned his attention to North America. When I noticed that he was matching the shapes of 50 states, Canadian territories, Mexico, Central America and the islands to the puzzle outline I called my husband to stare with me in disbelief. A day later, our 2.5 year old had conquered Asia, Europe, and Africa as well, all the while refusing help from anyone who offered and persevering til he finished the very last piece. If he hadn’t had the cast, who knows if we’d ever have discovered his hidden talent. Sometimes it takes a weakness to discover a strength we didn’t know we had.

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3) Love on others. There is only one member of the family less mobile (for the moment) than James and that is baby brother, Beau. James seized the moment amidst his trial to spend his “down” time with baby bro and give him some love and attention. Because no matter how bad things are, there is always someone else who could use your love and encouragement.

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4) Break expectations. When we finally had a dry enough day to play outside for a bit, with just a little bit of help on and off, James took immediately to his tricycle. Basketball and backgammon were also on the agenda. While we do have to accept our limitations, that doesn’t always mean we have to be defined by them.

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5) Let others help.  It was so sweet over the course of the weeks with his cast on to watch his brothers learn compassion and service. Each night, Isaiah faithfully prayed for James’ foot to heal. Luke was sweet to offer James his hand or build a special Lego surprise for him. Both boys served him by clearing his plate or bringing him his milk. It was a sweet reminder to this mama that sometimes our trials are God’s opportunities to help others learn service and compassion.

 

On Tuesday, we went back to the orthopedist. Thankfully, the bone appears to have healed. While James is still a little unsteady, he is on the road to full recovery, but we’re richer from having watched him walk through this trial with such grace. Next time I’m faced with something hard I hope I’ll remember my brave and cheerful little 2 year old and weather the storm with a smile.

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What God May Want to Teach Us through Our Exhaustion

rusting windowLately, I’ve felt exhausted. If it’s not the physical exhaustion from waking up multiple times a night to feed my four month old, it’s the exhaustion that comes with trying so hard to instill character and discipline in my 2, 4, and 5 year olds. But the reminding, the instructing, the modeling, the reinforcing—well, as any parent in the trenches knows, it’s a lot. It is hard work that takes everything you’ve got… and then some.

The other night on my way back from a book group I attend, I was thinking about some of the other mothers I know and how there is this same look of exhaustion and, at times, almost desperation in their eyes. I was thinking about how often we long to spend more time with each other, but we simply don’t have any more of ourselves to give when it comes to the end of our days. And then I felt the Holy Spirit nudging me with this question:

Do you think there might be a purpose in the near-constant state of exhaustion that we feel as parents of young children?

“A purpose?” I wondered. “Why would there be a purpose to our exhaustion?”

1. “You Need Me.” The words came as a loving reminder. A newborn baby relies on his or her caregivers for everything. From feeding, to changing, to swaddling, or even burping—a baby is an adorable bundle of need, but a bundle of need, nonetheless.

But like that baby, we as mamas are needy, dependent beings too. We face taxing physical demands: night-wakings, carrying little ones, feeding, bathing, changing, dressing, undressing, cooking and laundering for them. And beyond the physical, as our children grow, there are the almost moment-by-moment dilemmas we face in questions of discipline and priorities, the trying of our patience, and the doubting of our own wisdom.

Perhaps, God wants us to begin parenthood feeling completely at the end of ourselves because that’s the place where good parenting begins. When we realize that we aren’t enough, when we realize how desperately we need God to show up, perhaps that’s the place where everything that is any good happens.

2. “You Can’t Do It All.”
I tend to burn the candle on both ends. I have a hard time turning in when something I’m working on isn’t finished. I have to remind myself that the Bible says, “In vain you rise up early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat, for he grants sleep to those he loves.” (Psalm 127:2)

Part of the discipline of trusting the Lord, is trusting that he has given exactly the number of hours we need to do the tasks he wants us to do. We rest in his grace and not in our power or works, when we go to bed at a reasonable time or even take a nap when we need it. “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (Ps. 127:1).

Jesus, himself, moved within the limits of a twenty-four hour day. Certainly, he could have worked later or gotten up earlier…healed one more, taught one more parable, but he trusted in the limits God had put on his physical body. How much more should we trust God with leaving things undone! He is in control. And rest is his gift of grace to us.

3. “You Are Loved, Just Because.” Sometimes when we are exhausted, we just can’t. We can’t take the meal to the family who is in need. We can’t sign up for the ministry that could desperately use an extra hand. We can’t even perfect our talents or gifts because quite frankly, we don’t have the time or the energy.

And you know what, it’s okay. (Gasp!)

Yes, it’s okay. It’s okay because God doesn’t love you for what you do for Him. He loves you simply because He is love. It’s okay because the success of God’s great plans doesn’t rest on your shoulders, but on His. It’s okay because life has seasons, and you are in an especially demanding season.

When I was younger, I read the biography of Amy Carmichael, a famous missionary to India who cared for hundreds of orphaned children. The thing that made the biggest impression on me was what she learned at the end of her life. After a lifetime of “doing” for Jesus, she was stuck in bed. While her mind was strong, her body was not. And for the first time, she learned that God did not love her for what she “did” for him—as if God actually needs anything from us—but that he loved her, simply loved her.

While God certainly is pleased when we join Him in serving others, He does not “need” us. He loves us even when all we can do is lie in bed. He loves us for who we are in Him.

I don’t know about you, but I’m fairly sure God is trying to teach me something through the exhausting, desperate days of parenthood. What better place to start the journey than at the end of ourselves. What better way to love our kids, than to know that while we are finite we can point them to a God whose strength is infinite. What better way to rest in what we have to give today, than in knowing we are loved, simply loved.

So dear one, if you are exhausted, breathe. Go to bed early tonight and trust in the limitations God has given you as part of His grace to you. Trust that the little you have is enough, if you give it to Him. Trust that He loves you, and rest.

 

Isn’t it good news that God is speaking to us in even the hardest places? I’ve come to live expecting to hear from Him in all kinds of places… places of hope, of desperation, and of joy. He whispers to us in all of these if we listen. Would you join me in expecting God in our everyday lives and struggles? If I could encourage you in this listening…in this living expectantly, it would be my honor to have you sign up to receive these posts straight to your inbox.

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