Mary Did You Know?

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Mary’s words have long haunted me: “I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.”

The angel’s word to her was that she was going to have a baby. The Son of God. A king who would reign over a kingdom that would never end.

That may have sounded wonderful to the wife of a king, but to an unmarried virgin, it must have been terrifying. I cannot imagine it felt like good news. She would have to explain it to her betrothed, Joseph. And to her parents. And if they didn’t believe her, the punishment could have been death. And even if they understood, her pregnancy would bring shame and scandal. To everyone.

And yet, despite it all, Mary joyfully accepted what God asked her to bear. But she had no idea what that would entail.

As the months went by, she might have expected some type of divine intervention. Even accolades. After all, she was carrying the Son of God. But nothing extraordinary happened. So as she and Joseph made the long trek to Bethlehem, she probably wondered, “God – when are you going to intervene? When will I live in the fullness of what you have promised? This cannot be what you meant.”

When an angel says you are going to have the Savior of the world, you don’t expect to give birth in a stable.

I’m guessing for Mary, life wasn’t unfolding the way she expected. She may have asked God, “Is all this pain part of Your plan?”

I have asked myself that question, undoubtedly many more times than Mary ever would. When nothing is turning out as I expect, I am encouraged when I look at Mary’s humble surrender, “Let it be to me according to your word.”

Mary shows me that surrender is born out of devotion, not obligation. Out of love and not duty. In perfect surrender, there are no strings attached and no expectation of having things turn out my way. It involves trusting the One to whom I am surrendering, not focusing on what I feel entitled to.

Surrender implies, “I don’t need to have it my way, Lord. I’ll accept Your plan even if it costs me my dreams.”

Last June, I came to God armed with complaints and shattered hopes.  I was feeling desperate and scared and wondered what I’d do if my dreams were abandoned and my nightmares came true. It seemed like that was happening in front of me anyway.

As I poured out my heart to God, I realized I was focusing on the wrong things. I needed to focus on God rather than my circumstances. He was more important than my longings. I wrote a post about this experience, and in it acknowledged that if I never remarried and never felt loved by a man again, God would be enough.

That one statement felt excruciating. I felt entitled to be loved. But I realized that I was not entitled to anything and all I had was because of grace. I wanted God – not the expectation of a good life- to be my treasure.

A few weeks later, I met the man I will marry in February. We were engaged over Thanksgiving and I couldn’t be happier.

After my complete surrender, God gave me the longing of my heart.

But that wasn’t my first surrender. And most of the time I haven’t received back what I surrendered.  Life hasn’t been all tied up with a bow.

I surrendered my son Paul as he was being taken in the ambulance. Within an hour, he was dead. I surrendered my 20-year marriage. It ended in divorce. I surrendered my health issues with post-polio. I live with a weakening body daily.

But every time I’ve surrendered, I’ve learned more about trusting God. I’ve learned that while I may not see or understand His plan, I can trust His heart. And I’ve learned that His plan and timing are perfect, even when it looks like everything is falling apart.

Surrender often brings more pain than pleasure. When Mary said, “Let it be to me according to your word,” she had no idea how hard that word would be. After an ignominious pregnancy and delivery, Simeon told her that a sword would pierce through her own soul. And it did.

And as she watched Jesus be crucified, she may have wondered what happened to the angel’s prophecy of her son. She had been told, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

At the foot of the cross, Mary may have wondered, “What happened to all the promises of God? How could they end this way?”

And yet, amazingly, incredibly, all the pain that she endured was for a plan much greater than her wildest dreams. A plan that would save her as well. As the song Mary Did You Know asks, “[Mary] Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new? This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.”

God asks me, and you, to surrender our lives to Him. Much like Mary, I don’t know all that God’s call entails. I don’t know how difficult the process will be and I don’t know when the struggle will end.

But I do know how it will end. It will be glorious. One day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. One day there will be no more tears or crying or pain. One day I will see how all things worked together for good.

For now, before that magnificent day, I must walk by faith and not sight. When God’s promises seem to crumble in my hands.  When the road is more treacherous than I would have imagined. When all hope seems lost and I feel desperate. When all of those things happen, I must trust that God is working out His perfect plan in my life. And one day everything will be tied up with a bow. The plan God set in motion before the dawn of time will come to pass, and my life, which is part of His larger plan, will be made right.

Until then, I must learn to say with Mary, “I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.”

 

 

Thanksgiving with a Twist

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This Thanksgiving, as with many others, I have much for which to be grateful.

For friends and family who have loved me unconditionally. For countless undeserved blessings that have enriched my days. And for thorns and suffering that have taught me to lean on Jesus. They have all been gifts.

The following narrative was emailed to me many years ago, and has lingered in my mind ever since. I hope this blesses you as much as it blessed me.

 

Thorns to You!

Sandra felt as low as the heels of her Birkenstocks as she pushed against a November gust and the florist shop door.  Her life had been easy, like a spring breeze.  Then in the fourth month of her second pregnancy, a minor automobile accident stole her ease.  During this Thanksgiving week she would have delivered a son.  She grieved over her loss.

As if that weren’t enough her husband’s company threatened a transfer. Then her sister, whose holiday visit she coveted, called saying she could not come. What’s worse, Sandra’s friend infuriated her by suggesting her grief was a God-given path to maturity that would allow her to empathize with others who suffer? “Had she lost a child? No-she has no idea what I’m feeling,” Sandra shuddered.

‘Thanksgiving? Thankful for what?’ she wondered. ‘For a careless driver whose truck was hardly scratched when he rear-ended her? For an air bag that saved her life but took that of her child?’

“Good afternoon, can I help you?”  The flower shop clerk’s approach startled her.  “Sorry,” said Jenny, “I just didn’t want you to think I was ignoring you.”

“I….I need an arrangement.”

“For Thanksgiving?”

Sandra nodded.

“Do you want beautiful but ordinary, or would you like to challenge the day with a customer favorite I call the “Thanksgiving Special.” Jenny saw Sandra’s curiosity and continued. “I’m convinced that flowers tell stories, that each arrangement insinuates a particular feeling. Are you looking for something that conveys gratitude this Thanksgiving?”

“Not exactly!” Sandra blurted. “Sorry, but in the last five months, everything that could go wrong has.”

Sandra regretted her outburst but was surprised when Jenny said, “I have the perfect arrangement for you.” The door to the shop once again opened.

“Hi Barbara!” Jenny called.  She politely excused herself from Sandra and walked toward a small workroom.  She quickly reappeared carrying a massive arrangement of greenery, bows, and long-stemmed thorny roses.   Only, the ends of the rose stems were neatly snipped, no flowers.

“Want this in a box?” Jenny asked.  Sandra watched for Barbara’s response. Was this a joke?   Who would want rose stems and no flowers!  She waited for laughter, for someone to notice the absence of flowers atop the thorny stems, but neither woman did.

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Where is God when I’m NOT Suffering

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“Can you be close to God when you’re not suffering?”

This is one of the most common questions I get after I speak.

I understand that worry. I’ve faced it myself. It can seem that sufferers get the inside track on intimacy with God, joining an exclusive club that no one else can enter. I have even found myself half wishing for trials so my walk could be deeper.

Yet trials are not the only way to meet the Lord. They are not the only way to grow. Suffering is not the only way to have the abundant life God offers us.

But in some respects, it’s the easiest way.

When I am suffering, there is nothing else to think about but God. I am drawn to Him in incalculable ways. I see my need for Him with every breath. But when everything is going well, it’s more of a struggle to see God.

But I must remember that God ordains my days and gives me exactly what I need. He purposefully shapes me through all of my experiences. So when He is showering blessings, I should enjoy them and be content. In abundance and in need. In plenty and in want.

In both trials and joys, God can be found.

He says so in His Word. And in His Word He says simply that we need to call upon him. Draw near to Him. Seek Him.

I can do that in both good times and bad times. But in the bad times, God is all I have to hold onto. In the good times, I can feel like time with God is something else on my to-do list.

God is not changed by my circumstances. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Only my perceived need of Him changes.Continue Reading

What’s the Point of Suffering in Obscurity?

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The angels and demons are constantly watching to see if I treasure God.

When I initially heard this idea, almost 15 years ago, it changed me. Radically.

At first it was unsettling to think that I was constantly being watched. Yet it became strangely comforting when I realized I was not alone in my suffering. That there was a greater purpose to my being faithful than I could see.

Over the years, I had often wondered if my private suffering had much meaning. I understood that public suffering, such as the faithfulness of the martyrs, inspired believers and unbelievers to see the value of God. But unseen suffering, that no one else on earth was aware of, seemed pointless.

Or at least it seemed pointless to me.

If no one ever knew what I was going through, how could God use it? If it didn’t inspire others to love Jesus more, did it really matter? If no one was there to observe it, what was the point of a godly response?

And yet as I heard Pastor John Piper unpack the book of Job, I saw that my response to suffering mattered. Not just for me, but because a watching world, a world that I could neither see nor hear, was waiting to see how I would respond to trials.

The book of Job begins in the throne room of God. Satan is mocking God, claiming that Job treasures Him for what he has been given. Satan claims that if God takes away what Job has been leaning on, Job will curse God to His face. In essence he implies, “God, Job doesn’t really love you. He loves your blessings. He worships you not for who you are but for what you give him.”

This is a great assault on God’s value. And after the worst has happened to Job, Job’s wife falls into despair and tells Job to curse God and die. This appears to be a great victory for Satan.

At this point, Piper conjectures that tens of thousands of angels watched in dismay, wondering what Job would say as well. But when they heard Job declare, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” Piper imagines that 20,000 angelic arms went up, proclaiming, “Yes Job! God is more valuable than your health. Thank you for holding fast.”Continue Reading