A Mother’s Ponderings

 

for Greg's wedding_0007Prone on her pallet, Mary listens to the night sounds. A small breeze rustling through the streets of Nazareth, the soft breathing of her slumbering family close by. She gazes up at a cool shaft of moonlight slanting through a window and ponders why the One who made the moon would choose her to be the mother of His Son. Spreading her hands over her stomach, the fear which woke her gradually yields to adoring wonder at this treasure growing deep within.

From before His conception, Jesus’ mother Mary, lived with the knowledge that her child would be the Son of God. She kept this knowledge, revealed to her by an angel, to herself early in her pregnancy, until God made it known to Joseph, her betrothed, and her cousin, Elizabeth. Mary carried the child foretold by Isaiah, the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son. (Isa. 7:14 NIV) This simple peasant girl, especially chosen by God to be the mother of His incarnate Son, must have spent many a sleepless night pondering the immensity of what was to come.

No doubt Mary was distinguished among all mothers throughout history, yet she exhibited several traits common to those who have borne children. One trait, revealed in portions of Luke 2, was her inner contemplation about her child. After the shepherds came to see the infant Jesus lying in a manger, just as the angels said, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:17-19)

From the moment a mother knows she will have a child, she begins to think about who her baby will be and what their future holds. Perhaps she dreams about them achieving fame or accomplishing humanitarian deeds. But she really has no idea what they will become. Mary did know, because her child’s identity and deeds were revealed by the Holy Spirit through the prophets and angels. She knew He was the Son of the Most High, a Savior, Christ the Lord. Certainly the meditations of her heart must have been filled with awe and exaltation!

When her adolescent son stayed behind at the temple in Jerusalem after the Passover, Mary heard about His amazing interaction with the teachers there, and again she held these things dearly, deep within herself. (Luke 2:51 Msg.) But did she also think of earlier words spoken in the temple about her son soon after his birth? Moved by the Spirit, a devout man named Simeon said her child was destined to be a sign in Israel so that the thoughts of many hearts would be revealed.  And a sword will pierce your own soul too. (Luke 2:35) She would not know the meaning of those words until decades later when she saw her precious son crucified on a cross. Then came the unspeakable joy of His resurrection, confirming all that had been foretold about Him.

Mary was favored by God to be the mother of His Son. Every mother is given a child chosen for her by God. Not all are dedicated mothers, yet those who are share the heart of Mary in pondering the things they treasure about their child and the desires they have for them. Pondering and prayer go hand in hand, the highest calling of a mother.

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A Long Obedience

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Evangelist Billy Graham died today. (Feb. 21, 2018) Not only did he live a long life of 99 years, more significantly, he walked out a long obedience to his God. As a young man attending a Florida Bible school, he was still not convinced he should be a preacher, until one sleepless night as he rambled the greens of a nearby golf course.
“I finally gave in while pacing at midnight on the eighteenth hole,” he remembered.
“All right, Lord. If You want me, You’ve got me.”

From that point of obedience to God’s call on his life, Billy Graham went on to become the most well-known evangelist of this century, preaching the gospel live to over 210 million people worldwide. Only God knows how many souls have been saved because Billy obeyed His call.

From the above quote, it is obvious Billy obeyed God only after a personal struggle. He was no different than the rest of us, valuing our individualism to the point of becoming put off by following someone else, even God. Rules given to establish someone’s control naturally invite rebellion. But we often forget that God does not need to prove His control. He is sovereign God, after all. Out of love, He has given us a choice to obey His commandments or not, and when we realize He means them for our own good, we will want to obey because we trust Him.

Billy Graham obeyed God’s individual call on his life to be an evangelist, but before he did so, he was learning how to walk in obedience to what Jesus Christ desires to see in all His followers.

“I am asking you to live by the command that we love one another. I am not writing to you some new commandment; it’s one we received in the beginning from our Lord. Love is defined by our obedience to His commands. This is the same command you have known about from the beginning; you must live by it.” (2 John 5-6 The Voice)

The evangelist’s lifetime of obedience was deeply rooted in his love for God and thus a desire to live out his Savior’s commandment to love one another. He best did this by fulfilling God’s calling on his life to proclaim the gospel to as many people as he could.

God has called each of us to a long obedience, not only in walking out His commandments in our daily lives but in obediently responding with purposeful action to the individual calling He has placed in our hearts. We are each part of the body of Christ, uniquely gifted and called to be His representatives on earth. Our love for Christ and each other is defined by our obedience to His commands. Whether we obey the call to be an evangelist proclaiming the gospel worldwide, or the call to be a home-schooling mother, or the call to serve the needy in a third world country, God will honor a long obedience.

“The essential thing in heaven and earth is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

 

The Shape of a Heart

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There is a woman who walks beaches and forest trails in search of heart-shaped rocks. Not large rocks, just ones the right size to tuck in her plant pots or heap in a clay bowl on her table. Some are smoothed by the sea and sand, some chipped off a craggy cliff, but they all have the familiar shape of two rounded wings and a downward-pointing tip.

The woman who collects them has a passionate heart, a fiercely loyal and loving heart. It is also a fragile heart, wounded early in childhood then mended by the love of Jesus, yet still bearing scars that go deep. These scars resonate with the scars of other hearts, giving her the ability to connect to the hurting on a level most cannot. Because she lives and speaks from her heart, it is vulnerable and sometimes wounded. If not for the love of Jesus holding her heart in His nail-pierced hands, it could easily be broken beyond repair.

Perhaps she collects heart-shaped rocks because she has encountered so many human ones in various shapes, sizes and conditions. They may be a reminder of her own heart which has gone through multiple transitions, yet remains undivided. Like the psalmist, she often prays to the keeper of her heart, “Teach me Your way, O Lord, that I may walk in Your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere Your name.” (Ps. 86:11 NRSV)

That is the secret — maintaining an undivided heart, not allowing it to be diverted from loving and obeying God. There are so many distractions and temptations that can splinter a heart, weakening its devotion to the One who made it.

The apostle Paul, whose heart underwent rigorous refining at the hand of God, spoke from his own experience in writing to the Thessalonian believers about keeping their hearts undivided.
– He wrote of not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.   (1 Thess. 2:4 NIV)
– His desire was for God to strengthen their hearts so that they would be blameless and holy in the presence of their God and Father. (1 Thess. 3:13)
– His prayer was that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who gave eternal encouragement and good hope, would encourage their hearts. (2 Thess. 2:16)
– He prayed confidently that the Lord would direct their hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. (2 Thess. 3:17)

The woman who collects heart rocks has learned Paul’s secret of how to keep her heart undivided. She puts it in the keeping of God. He is the One who tests, strengthens, encourages and directs her heart. Each time she picks up a heart-shaped rock, brushes off the dirt and warms it in her palm, she remembers Who keeps her heart whole and she commits it again to God.

 

Submerged

 

Beneath the sea there is a rock, created when darkness was over the surface of the deep. Myriads of sea plants and creatures have touched the surface of the rock over the eons but never changed it. Currents have swirled, earthquakes trembled, yet the rock endures, immovable.

When calm weather smooths the sea far above, sometimes shafts of sunlight reach down to illumine its craggy face. Darting fish shadows dance across it, sea grasses stroke green fingers along its stony skin, and it remains constant. Just as it does when storms lash the sea with wild winds and rain. Thunder claps, subdued beneath the surface, are more felt than heard within the chaotic churn of the sea. Surging currents sweep loosened debris and marine life helplessly along, reducing visibility to green murkiness. The rock is a shadowy, immutable presence in the middle of the turmoil.

The love of God is a rock submerged beneath the ever-changing currents of our lives. No matter what may be occurring on the surface, God’s unfailing love remains a steadfast foundation beneath all that tosses us about. Does this bring you deep comfort, as it does me?

Years ago when my life was a storm of hardships, this image of a rock beneath the surface of the sea came to me as a gift, I believe, from God. Knowing my love of the sea, He placed this picture in my mind of His unchanging love for me. I remember as a child ducking under the sparkling waves at the ocean’s edge. It was a different world beneath the surface, where gravity was suspended and sounds muted. Grasping the rocks on the bottom to keep myself from popping to the surface, I opened my eyes in the green, opaque beauty of the undersea world. I couldn’t see the rocks before diving but I knew they were there, just as later I knew without a doubt that God’s absolute love was the rock beneath my unsettled world, even when my troubled spirit could not sense Him.

“Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord Himself, is the Rock eternal.” ( Isaiah 26:4 NIV)

The world tends to portray love as a soft, often fickle emotion, capable of inspiring great passion that can soon fade. It cannot compare to God’s enduring love demonstrated ultimately in the giving of His Son. Jesus Christ willingly took the plunge from His home in heaven, submerging Himself in our sinful world yet never sinning so He could offer Himself as the perfect sacrifice for us. He is the bedrock of our living faith and the perfect expression of God’s love.

“As you come to Him, the living Stone — rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to Him — you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house.”
(1 Peter 2:4-5)

Beyond the Garden

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A garden offers up its secrets generously, whispering renewal in scent, color, fruit and loam. A quiet garden, when listened to carefully, teems with stems stretching, buds unfurling, roots reaching deep; a symphony of life discerned below the surface of hearing. When I walk in a garden, some primal echo of perfection and innocence resonates within me.

“The Eternal God planted a garden in the east in Eden—a place of utter delight—and placed the man whom He had sculpted there.”(Genesis 2:8 The Voice)

In the song of soughing breezes in tall aspens, Eden beckons.
Cool grass beneath bare feet marks a path to Paradise.
The very breath of Heaven sighs from sweet roses.

In a garden I begin to remember a place of utter delight. And just when that ancient memory stirs within, death overshadows. I see the weeds, smell the decay, know the serpent of sin hides beneath the leaves, waiting to deceive. In the cool of the day God walks in the garden of my soul, calling, “where are you?” Naked and ashamed, I have permitted perfection to be marred. But not beyond hope. Because there was another garden.

“At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.” (John 19:41 NIV)

In the shadow of the hill on which Christ was crucified grew a garden belonging to a rich man in whose own tomb the body of Jesus was laid. From the stark, sun-baked heights of Golgotha, Jesus was brought down to the cool, clean air of a garden grove. By law He should have been given a grave with criminals outside the city. Instead He was returned to a garden, much like the place where the ancestors of those who crucified Him were created.

The kernel of his dead body was pressed into the tomb, like a single seed into dark soil. For days it laid buried. Then a supernatural germination occurred; a transformation of earthly body to glorified. Life shed the husk of death, bursting forth like a fresh green shoot. And because of the death and resurrection of this sacred Seed, many will live to know perfection in eternity.

“Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:19)

In a garden, the cycle of life/death/life speaks to me of deeper truths. When the earth appears lifeless in frozen midwinter I remember the garden in summer, alive with flowers, trees and birds, and know I have been given the sure promise of new life with Christ. Someday the dead shell of my body will be laid in the ground, but my spirit will thrive forever in a place of perpetual bloom. Paradise found because of a singular Person given in perfect sacrifice.

Hand in Glove

 

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His old leather gloves are worn and soft, wrinkled across the knuckles, cracked in the palms, permanently formed in the shape of his hands. If they were used for a plaster mold, the result would be an accurate cast of my husband’s hands. Clad in these gloves, his strong hands have dug gardens, shoveled snow, repaired cars, hung Christmas lights, even gently cradled newborn grandbabies in their broad, warm palms. Muscles, bone and sinew working together to perform specific tasks have given these gloves their unique shape. But when they are laid aside on the shelf, no matter how much they resemble my husband’s hands, they are powerless. Only his hands within them bring warmth to cold leather and strength to hollow fingers.

When I feel weak and empty I sometimes see myself as a laid aside glove. My spiritual form is made in the image of God. Like a glove, the shape of my soul is contoured by the life of Christ within it. But when I have in some way blocked His life-giving power from filling out the contours of my soul, then I am weak and ineffectual. Not that I have been discarded. That is not possible, for He promised, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:28 NIV)

The truth is, I don’t always allow Christ’s indwelling Spirit liberty to expend the power He desires to work out in my life. Sometimes my passion for Him wanes, my eyes stray from His face, I become distracted by my own desires and self-preoccupation, worried and burdened by the temporal. And my soul begins to slowly deflate like a balloon losing air, or an unworn glove.

When this is happening, it takes me a while to catch on. I begin to notice my spiritual energy leaking away and I am less effectual within my own faith life and in the lives of those around me. So I know I need to draw near again. Set aside the tasks of the day and spend some time nourishing my soul in the Word of God, listening to His heart in prayer and meditating on His love and goodness. Gradually the fingers of my glove tingle with returning strength. Not my own but the strength of God’s power vitalizing my grip, working through me to accomplish those things He desires me to do which I cannot do on my own.

“For it is not your strength, but it is God who is effectively at work in you, both to will and to work, strengthening, energizing and creating in you the longing and the ability to fulfill your purpose for His good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:13 AMP)

It takes some time for a new pair of gloves to take on the shape of the hands they belong to. Fingers are stiff and tasks done clumsily, yet with use the leather gradually forms to the hand’s unique shape. I want my soul to be well-used, sculpted in the shape of my Saviour whose Spirit fills me from within to work out His purposes. It is a unique, miraculous partnership, hand in glove.

Between His Shoulders

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Atop my bookshelf stands a small wood carving of Jesus as a shepherd, with a staff in his hand and a lamb across his shoulders. It is primitive and roughly carved, yet I contemplate it often because I sometimes see myself as that lamb in need of care.

It is a reminder of the countless times Jesus has carried me when I’ve been too weak and wayward to take my next step, when He lifted me up and draped me across His shoulders, rescuing me from outer circumstances or inner failures I could not escape myself. More than that, it is a vivid picture of His love being a place of protection and rest.

“Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in Him, for He shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders.” (Deut. 33:12 NIV)
Before the patriarch Moses died, he pronounced this blessing over the tribe of Benjamin, along with blessings for the other tribes of Israel. The temple, God’s dwelling place on earth, would be located in Benjamin’s territory, surrounded by the protection of shouldering hills. Benjamin is spoken of as a beloved tribe, enjoying intimate communion with the Lord.

This verse also reminds me of the shepherd, Jesus, portrayed often in the New Testament. In Luke 15 Jesus uses a parable about a lost sheep to convey the lengths He will go to seek a lost sinner. In the parable, when the shepherd finds his lost sheep, “he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.” A lamb carried on the shoulders of a strong shepherd or God’s temple secure in the folds of shouldering hills; quite different perspectives, yet vividly depicting the protective, caring heart of the Good Shepherd of my soul.

Not only do I see myself, a child of God, secure and shielded on His shoulders, I also draw comfort from being “the beloved of the Lord” and “the one the Lord loves.” Like a warm blanket, these words wrap around my heart with the everlasting, perfect love only God can provide. What more selfless act of love is there than that of Jesus’ sacrifice on my behalf?  “I came to give life with joy and abundance. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep in His care.” (John 10:10-11 The Voice)

There is a rest like no other found in the care of the Good Shepherd. The image of resting between His shoulders gives me such a sense of peace and safety. I can rest calmly there, even in the midst of trials and chaos, because I know what it is to experience that peace which passes all understanding, coming from His indwelling Holy Spirit. In his book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, Phillip Keller writes, “Our Shepherd knows best when He leads us through the dark valleys with Himself. He knows where we can find strength, and sustenance and gentle grazing despite every threat of disaster about us.”

My rough little carving represents the safest, most loving place I can be, resting between the shoulders of the Shepherd of my soul.