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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Daybreak

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Sensing rather than seeing the columns of tall evergreen trees along the path, our small church family made its way in the dark toward the beach. We had come to celebrate Easter with a traditional sunrise service, however, winding our way through the woods in predawn darkness felt far from traditional. It felt humbling, even a bit perilous, to journey in the dark to the untamed shoreline of a coastal island so we could worship the risen Christ.

I couldn’t help but think about the two women making their way in the darkness to the tomb of Jesus. Not only were they surrounded by the gloom of the waning night, their hearts were also darkened with grief and loss. By the time they arrived at the garden, a thin gray light had begun to seep up from the horizon, revealing the darker forms of rocks and trees, and the looming cliff face where the tomb had been carved out.

Daybreak is a strange thing. It happens without measurable progress, beginning as a mere lessening of darkness until the moment when the sun edges over the horizon to flood all in its sphere with light and life. Perhaps for the two women coming to Jesus’ tomb, daybreak came as a herald of the dawning of a new era. In the increasing light of dawn they saw the stone rolled away from the tomb; the first rays of sunlight revealing its empty interior. Then to verify what they saw as reality, an angel said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen!” (Luke 24:5 NIV)

Could the beginning of each new day ever be the same for these women? With every sunrise the brilliant reality of Jesus’ resurrection would dawn anew in their hearts, the power of His indestructible life flooding theirs with light, joy and hope.

Once on the beach that Easter morning, our small congregation stood silently on the sand facing the ocean. With each wave whispering on the shore, the deep rose flush of dawn pried apart sea from sky until the whole expanse filled with the glory of God’s light. For those of us who rarely witnessed a sunrise, its beauty indelibly imprinted on our hearts the scripture recited by our pastor.
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:2, 6)

The whole earth is full of resurrection reminders. Each spring when new life emerges from dormant winter, each baby born from a dark womb, every morning sunrise breaking the hold of night, is a picture of rebirth. The resurrection of Jesus Christ has given us new life and the sure promise of eternity with Him. He has broken the bonds of death for all who believe in Him. His light has dawned.

“Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge Him. As surely as the sun rises, He will appear; He will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” (Hosea 6:3)

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.

In the Wake of the Storm

img_2323At some point that evening I went from being exhilarated by the fierce summer storm raging outside, to fleeing in fear to the only windowless room in our home. I huddled with my husband in the dark while the wind roared and shook the house as if it were too close to a speeding freight train. Finally sensing a lessening in the storm’s clamor, we cautiously crept out to witness the utter chaos left in the wake of its violent tantrums. Broken tree limbs and debris littered the lawn, but worse was the uprooted cottonwood tree stretched like a slain giant across our crumpled fence into the yard behind, barely missing the neighbor’s house.

In the following days as we cleaned up the wreckage from the storm, I mourned the loss of the cottonwood tree. On hot summer days we used to rest in our lawn chairs under its cool shade, lulled by the lyric rustle of its leaves in the breeze. It had been a green sanctuary to myriads of birds which we enjoyed watching splash in our nearby birdbath. Our grandchildren once climbed the lower branches, safe in its woody embrace. Now an ugly stump was all that remained, and empty space where once a friendly giant stood.

My husband took a more pragmatic view of the loss of the tree. He saw how its absence allowed more sunlight to reach his vegetable garden, especially the rows closest to the fence which always did poorly for lack of light. We observed carrots and parsnips gradually flourish with more sunlight to strengthen them.

In her book, “Roots & Sky”, author Christie Purifoy writes, “God does not erase our losses, those empty places in our lives, but He does something almost more miraculous. He fills the loss with a sign of His presence.” Losing a tree cannot compare to losing a loved one, or a marriage or a part of who you are, but for me it was a picture of how loss opens up room for a new work of God.

There was a time in my life when I lost everything I had ever feared losing; my marriage, financial security, health and family unity. In the midst of these devastating losses, I could not imagine a future when all would be made new, even better than before. But God could. “His mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of.” (Eph. 3:20 TLB)

God takes loss and turns it into abundance. In the ashes of my pain, I discovered the abundance of God’s love, His perfect character and His always faithful promises. When life left me hollowed out, He filled the space with His own presence. As I discovered, this is God’s specialty, giving beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. (Isa. 61:3 NKJV)

In the equation of loss becoming abundance, He uniquely illustrates for each of us His supreme renewal project, the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24 NIV) He was speaking of Himself as the Seed, abused, crucified, buried in a dark tomb. Then the Seed came bursting forth alive, His resurrection beginning a great harvest of souls for God’s kingdom. Death gave way to life. Decay became deliverance.

A mighty tree once stood in my yard where now there is just a weathered stump. However new light floods a healthy garden where many seeds now flourish in abundance. In our memory’s landscape, the scar of a loss does not need to be a place of pain forever. It may be remembered, even mourned, but more significantly, it is a landmark telling where God met us and how He brought restoration and renewal out of the darkest places of our world.

Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Cross Around My Neck

IMG_2129In its little velvet box, the gold cross on a chain appeared small and fragile. But I saw a royal insignia, a medal to wear into the fray, the emblem of a conqueror. It took three months of minimal payments on layaway at the jewellery store before I owned it. Working part-time and on a limited budget, buying a gold necklace seemed extravagant, but I knew it as a necessity. You see, my life was a battlefield, with my marriage gasping out its last dying breaths and my family scattered and struggling. Yet in the midst of the smoke and ruin God showed up, like a bright flower blooming in devastation. I needed the cross necklace as a banner for going into battle.

Before this, God and I were old friends who had lost touch. I thought of Him with affection and respect, but not someone I talked to often. Then His Spirit began stirring up a hunger in my soul. Like a starving woman, I consumed the bread and wine of His Word, longing for more. His voice drew me into deep, prayerful conversations. I craved time with others who knew Him, whose encouragement fortified me for what was ahead. I knew that God was preparing me for combat.

So why wear a cross around my neck? Some saw it as an archaic icon of a gruesome form of public execution, even a talisman to ward off evil. To me it symbolized the One who died on such a cross with His arms spread wide in love and sacrifice. I had come to believe that Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, gave His life willingly on that cross, was buried then rose from the grave to conquer death and sin, offering forgiveness and eternal life to those who believe in Him. I wore an empty cross, not one with Jesus still nailed to it, because I knew He was alive, just as I knew the battle I was facing would be fought in His strength.

“Stay focused; do not lose sight of mercy and truth; engrave them on a pendant, and hang it around your neck; meditate on them so they are written on your heart.”
(Prov.3:3 The Voice)

When I stood before a courtroom judge to fight for an equitable end to a dead marriage, I wore the cross.
While toxic chemicals flowed into my body to fight a life-threatening disease, I wore the cross.
As I battled abandonment, poverty, loneliness and more, I wore the cross.

Every morning as I fastened the chain around my neck, I felt fortified. It was only a little piece of gold, but it gave me a focus, a touchstone to wear into the day, reminding me that I faced the challenges ahead in the strength of Jesus, who overcame death on the cross. He promised in His word, “My grace is enough to cover and sustain you. My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor.12:9)

Jesus brought me through those long ago battles and for now the fields are green and peaceful. But I still wear the gold cross, although brutal in its origins, because it is the highest badge of honor displayed for the ultimate sacrifice given upon it by my Savior.

“It was God who brought us to life with Him, forgave all our sins, and eliminated the massive debt we incurred by the law that stood against us. He took it all away; He nailed it to the cross. But that’s not all. He disarmed those who once ruled over us — those who had overpowered us. Like captives of war, He put them on display to the world to show His victory over them by means of the cross.” (Col. 2:13-15)

 

©Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

“By Virtue and Valour”

Navy Dad-001I can remember the smell of the Royal Canadian Navy ship on which my father sailed, a pungent blend of diesel fuel, marine paint and salty sea air. Once a year the crew’s families were invited on board for a tour. My brothers and I clambered on the large guns mounted on the fore and aft decks, never thinking about what they were for. HMCS Mackenzie was a destroyer escort class warship, commissioned to the Pacific fleet of the Canadian Navy after World War II. She carried impressive armament and electronic equipment, ready to defend Canada’s west coast against enemy attack. But she was never called to do so. She had an uneventful career, spending most of her time as a training ship or performing general duties, such as port visits and naval exercises.

Neither the Mackenzie nor my father ever saw active war duty, yet they were both vitally necessary to the safety of the country. My father is recognized as a veteran because of the risk he assumed by wearing the uniform of the Canadian Navy and pledging allegiance to protect his country. The ship’s motto, “by virtue and valour,” set the standard for what was expected of him if war should break out again. He was to be ready at all times.

As a Navy veteran, my father was honorably released from service upon retirement, but those who serve under the command of Christ will never be veterans until they reach heaven. God has equipped us with spiritual weapons to prepare us for the ongoing battle against spiritual forces of darkness.

“So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long.” – Eph. 6:10-18 The Message

Every weapon God has given us is battle-ready at all times, supernaturally created to vanquish the enemy of our souls. But we have a part in this battle too, which is to be prepared to put them to use. My father’s naval duties involved many days of battle exercises; “playing war”, as he called it, so in the event of a real conflict at sea, the crew would know what to do. The same is required in spiritual battle. Often in my own prayer time I pray through the passage above, figuratively donning the armor of God, preparing myself for whatever battle the day may hold. And I know without doubt there will be battles. But I also have an advantage which helps me when the combat heats up, and that is the knowledge of who wins. Before Jesus gave up His spirit on the cross, He declared, “It is finished.” (John 19:30) His death and resurrection brought about victory over death, the weapon of the enemy. “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Cor. 15:57 NIV

I am thankful my father never had to engage in active battle during his naval career, but I am also proud that he would have done so readily if needed. He was trained, equipped, and fighting fit, ready to defend his country with his life. There is something for me to learn from him, about doing spiritual warfare “by virtue and valour”. It is by Christ’s virtue and Christ’s valour, not my own. I just need to be a willing volunteer.

© Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Question of Love

IMG_1277“Why do you argue when all I want to do is bless you?”
The question dropped into my mind fully formed, almost audible. After years of struggling against a current of numerous personal crises, the tide had turned, bringing resolution and happier prospects. The let-up of relentless negative pressure felt strange, causing me to doubt the possibility of better days to come. So I argued with God.
Can this truly be your will? Do You actually want me to marry this man and start a whole new life or is it just my own desires taking over? Then He asked me the question which changed everything. I quit arguing and answered yes to His overflowing blessings.

The questions of God have a way of making those He asks look at their situation in a different way. God doesn’t pose questions to find out the answers. He is omniscient, all knowing, the One who looks into the heart and sees the end from the beginning. His questions are always succinct, probing and worded to challenge a present thought process.

The first question asked by God in His Word is still relevant to us now. Our reply to this question determines our present journey and our eventual destiny. Adam, a man previously free and unashamed before God, disobeys His command and goes into hiding. But God does not abandon Adam in his sin. He comes near, walking in the garden in the cool of the day, calling to him, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9 NIV) God knows exactly where Adam is, physically and spiritually, but He asks this rhetorical question because Adam needs to see himself where he is. God’s question makes him realize he is hiding in shame … trying to cover up his wrongdoing … avoiding God for fear of punishment … making excuses … passing blame. And man’s first conscious awareness of guilt is exposed in the revealing light of God’s query.

If He asked you the same question, how would you answer God? The answers could be numerous but there are only two that really count. If you answer, “I am far away from You, not even sure You exist,” then remember how God walked in the garden to draw near to a man whose sin distanced him from perfect love, and know He provides a way through the sacrificial death and resurrection of His son, Jesus, to bring you close. If you answer, “I am here, Lord, close to your side as your beloved child, but You know how easily I wander away,” then remember He will never leave you or forsake you. No matter how fickle your heart is or how easily your eyes stray from His face, He never loses sight of one He calls His own.

God asks questions to help us see ourselves in light of where we are in relation to Him. Self-examination can be painful but when done in the presence of God’s redeeming love, it reveals areas of our life needing a touch from Him. We don’t have to find the answers alone, for He walks with us through the process, providing guidance in His Word and by His Spirit. God already has an answer for His own question. He just wants you to search and find it for yourself.
“He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered Him, “You are the Christ.” ~ Mark 8:29

© Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.