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.

Thank You For Your “No”: A Mother’s Day Letter

baby-4-1428356-639x426This Mother’s Day I hope someone will snuggle up next to you, wrap two (probably sticky) hands around your neck, and tell you that you are a good mama—tell you that you are loved. I hope you’ll get a picture that a chubby little hand drew with more love than talent or a phone call from a grown son or daughter who is blossoming because of the love you’ve sewn in them. And I hope the man you’ve joined your life to will look deep into your eyes and tell you thank you: thank you for the love you lavish, for the nights you lose sleep, for the drudgeries you endure, for the pain you’ve faced—all because you wear the name, “Mama.”

And while I hope someone thanks you for the things you do each day. I want to thank you for the things you haven’t done. I want to thank you for taking a humble little path, not of glory, but of sacrifice.

You see, I’ve seen you around. You have an incredible amount of talent and intelligence. Some people think you’ve foolishly tossed chances away. But you know in your heart that you made a choice—and a worthy one. You said, “yes” to your children and that meant sometimes saying, “no” or at least, “not right now” to parts of yourself. A lot of people have no idea about the things you’ve turned down: the promotion, the spotlight, the time, energy and availability for that quiet dream of yours. Sometimes saying “yes” to motherhood has meant saying “no” or “later” to so much. But you’ve done it. And while no one may see the quiet heroism of laying down your own life, I want you to know there is One who knows and who values the service in obscurity.

He values also the ways you’ve said, “yes” and “no” with your money and resources. He sees the little luxuries you’ve done without so that they could have piano lessons, a week at camp, braces, or a little bit tucked away each year for college. You’ve made do with less to give them more. It’s a gift you’ve given through your, “no.” It’s a gift that the children may not appreciate until it’s time for them to make similar choices, but it’s a gift you’ve willingly, quietly given. God sees it. He gets it because he gave us His most precious gift of all so that we, His children, could have more as well.

He sees all the many “no’s” you’ve said, so that you can say “yes” to them. For the naps you’ve done without, so you could say “yes” to tea parties and Lego building; for the night out you’ve given up so you could help her get her scouting badge or ease the pain of a little one teething; for the free time you’ve done without so you could read one more chapter of that beloved book, coach him through writing his college entrance essay, or stitch up the torn princess dress.

And while you may get a thank you from your children or from your spouse this Mother’s Day for the things you do, no one may thank you for the quiet things you haven’t done. So I hope this note finds you, mama. Because what you haven’t done is as important as what you have done.

But even if this note doesn’t reach you, I have a feeling it’s okay. Because you, of all people know, that what you’ve received far outweighs the sacrifice. You’d do it all over again in a heartbeat for that sticky hug, for that scrawled picture, for that phone call. You’d do it all over again to see that smile, that look of accomplishment, that contented moment when their eyes close and you watch them dreaming. You’ve learned the secret: that sacrifice is not the way of death, but the way of life. You’ve learned that the humble road where we lose ourselves is the one where we find the greatest joy. Because life was never meant to be stockpiled and saved, but splashed joyously out—and you, sweet mama, have made quite the splash—soaking everyone around you with the joy of your life spilled for others. I know you are soaked through with joy because of it.

 

If we haven’t yet met, welcome! I’m so glad you stopped by. My aim with every post I write is to challenge you to live a deep and fearless faith. You’ll see I often write about motherhood because I’m write in the middle of it: four sweet children deep. Consider signing up to get these posts directly to your inbox, or check out my book for new or “new again” moms: Waiting in Wonder: Growing in Faith While You’re Expecting.

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.

A Half-Full Cup of Coffee: A New Perspective on Our Interruptions

coffee


The half-drunk cup of coffee is a running joke in our family. At the end of many a day, my husband will be loading the dishes into the dishwasher and will find my half-empty cup of coffee sitting cold in the microwave or resting idly on the counter. With four children under six, the morning ritual was of course interrupted by the baby’s cry, by the toddler needing help at the potty, by the fight which needed breaking up, by the “Can you cut my waffle, mommy?”, the tantrum over not getting to be first, and on and on the list goes.

There’s a glorious inefficiency to motherhood. It doesn’t seem to matter the task, there are always ample interruptions before it can be completed. This, of course, is because there are so many little people who depend on us to do the most basic stuff of life: from pouring milk to wiping noses to intervening in conflicts.

There are points in my day where I do nothing but hold. The baby needs holding because he is fussing. Just about the time I get him down for a nap, the toddler wakes up from his nap grumpy. He refuses to be put down and so I hold him, loving him happy again. About that time the baby has woken up again and needs feeding and a fresh round of holding all over again. And whatever task loomed large in front of me, is still undone.

By the time the day is done, the tasks are still half-done, like my half-drunk cup of coffee. There’s this tantalizing satisfaction that eludes us. If I could just finish… If I could be left alone long enough to… If I could even complete a thought… how wonderful it would be to finish something—especially that cup of coffee.

Perhaps it is because the work of raising children is so abstract, that we long to complete something, anything. But in our lust for completion if we’re not careful, the children come to be seen as obstacles, impediments to our progress.

It’s hard to remember amidst the pure drivel of mundane how deeply important all of those interruptions are. In fact, perhaps it would be better to see things in reverse: the tasks (laundry, dinner, cleaning, our work outside the home, etc.) might, in fact, be the things which interrupt us from the main work of loving these little people into mature adults.

So here’s another perspective: art has never been an efficient process. An artist doesn’t sit down to his canvas and think, “How can I finish this process most quickly so I can get on with the other parts of my life?” We’d laugh if we heard an artist say that. We might wonder: “Where’s his passion for his work?” “When did something of beauty come quickly?” we might rightly ask.

Van Gogh once said, “Christ is more of an artist than the artists; he works in the living spirit and the living flesh, he makes men instead of statues.”

Perhaps, mothers work in this same domain. It is a work which happens in cooperation with the Spirit of God and only through His empowering, but it is a work nonetheless. It is a work which does not belong to us, isn’t completed by us, and yet somehow, we get to participate in it for a time.

Did you have to stop loading the dishwasher to teach a child to share? You work in living spirit and living flesh.

Did you have to put a pause on supper to help a little one acknowledge his wrong and say he’s sorry? You are making men, not statues.

Did you put down your phone, or computer, or turn off the TV to hold a crying child, to let her know she is deeply loved. You are working in the realm of something which will outlast time itself.

Can we find a little dignity in our duties if we see ourselves as apprentice artists with Christ—allowing God to work through us in the clay of molding and shaping the character of our children, graciously chiseling away at the bad habits, quietly brushing away the debris of sin and selfishness? Can we be patient with the process—remembering that in His time He will bring completion to His work?

Most importantly, can our children become the masterpieces in our eyes and not the impediment to it? Maybe, then we’ll see that half-drunk cup of coffee at the end of the day in a new light. We won’t feel sorry for ourselves, but rather remember how caught up we were in the beautiful work—God’s beautiful work. Maybe we’ll see the glass half full.

 

Thanks for reading–I pray you found something here of encouragement.  Perhaps, there’s a line here that will help someone you know love a little child a little better today–would you mind sharing this post with your friends? And if you aren’t a regular here, consider signing up to receive these posts straight to your inbox. It would be great if we could keep on spurring each other on to live a deep and fearless faith.

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