Tuesday, December 17, 2019
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you.
Did I know? That is the most mainsplaining thing ever. I mean of course I didn’t fully know. But I knew as much as I could have. I knew like any mother would know that I hoped and prayed my child would do great things. Things that would mean far more than anything I ever have done. But did I know, know. Well, here’s what I knew...Right around the time I was 14 and had began making the monthly trip to The Red Tent I decided I didn’t want to have children. Listening to the other ladies spin tales of horror. Babies dying in the womb. Mothers dying in childbirth. As I sat there with blood oozing down my inner thighs, cramping terribly with no relief I thought: I will not have a child. Maybe I will be a midwife and help the ladies of our village birth all their babies.
But I didn’t know that God had another plan.
Around the time I had began making the monthly visit to the Red Tent someone started coming around our house. Joseph, a local carpenter. He would bring me sweet bread from the bakery. I enjoyed the bread and his company. But I was not interested in a man. Or being a wife. Or especially having children. Then more and more he would stop by and more and more my parents would invite him to stay for dinner. Until one day my parents informed me I was going to marry this Joseph. I ran into my room and cried and cried.
Now don’t get me wrong. Joseph was a good man. A good looking man with a respected carpentry business that could provide for me, but I just wasn’t ready to be married. My parents said it was a done deal, and that they wouldn’t allow me to become an old maid like Ms. Mildred that lives next door. So we were betrothed to marry. It’s more serious than an engagement, but not quite a marriage. We set a date to be married and he continued to visit me, bringing sweet bread and stories from the carpenter shop. Over time I warmed up to the idea of being Joseph’s wife and I was almost excited about the prospect of getting married, white veil, walking down the aisle. A huge wedding the entire town would come out for.
But I didn’t know God had another plan.
Here’s where the story gets a little weird. So believe it or not I was visited by the angel Gabriel. No, I'm not crazy. I don’t need meds. Gabriel told me that I was highly favored by God and get this that I was going to have a son and this son that he will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end. I really thought maybe Gabriel had gotten me mixed up with someone. I asked him if he was sure he had the right Mary and how can I be pregnant with a son when you know, I have never…He told me to not be afraid. The Holy Spirit will come upon me, and the power of the Most High will overshadow me. And I will have the holy one called the Son of God. He told me that even Elizabeth my cousin is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God. I was stunned, but how could I tell an angel of God "no." I accepted this as my life's mission and the angel left me.
The excitement of the angelic encounter quickly faded. Did this really happen? I had no one to talk to about this. The next month I walked around kinda in a daze. Wondering if that was a dream, or if it was real. I kept marking down the days until it was time to go to the Red Tent. And when the time came and we gathered at the tent, there was no blood. I tried my best to hide this from the ladies in the tent. My nosey aunts and cousins. I knew I couldn’t sit next to my mother because she would notice. I just kept to myself and tried to figure out what I was going to do.
There was talk of going to visit my cousin Elizabeth. Some of my relatives were making a journey to see her and bring her gifts for the baby. They were calling her pregnancy a miracle. Maybe I wasn't crazy after all. I spoke up and asked my mom if I could go! She said: "We will see." Which usually meant no. When we got back home I heard her telling my dad that she thought it would be good for me to go on a little trip, especially since I was about to be married. I was allowed to go.
I just knew my cousin Elizabeth could help me. When I walked through her doors and called out to my cousin she came running to greet me. She put her hands on my stomach and said: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” I explained to her everything that had happened and she invited me to stay a while with her. I stayed three months with her and my baby grew and grew and my body stretched and stretched. One day while we were eating breakfast she said you must return home and tell Joseph.
Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next. When I got back home, Joseph was waiting at my house for me with sweet bread. I ran and hugged him. He looked at me with shock and refused to hug me. Hot tears streamed down my face. I retold him everything that had happened and then tears welled up in his eyes. He called for my parents and showed them my belly and said it was a disgrace. That he could not possibly marry me, but that he cared for me and because of his respect for my father he would not tell the elders. He would quietly separate from me. And he left me.
As soon as the door shut my father and mother started screaming at me. My mother yelled in my face: "What have you done. You have dishonored our name. You could be stoned to death." My dad quietly said: "You should be stoned to death but we all know Joseph is a good man. " I went to my room and cried and cried and cried until I fell asleep as the sun was coming up.
For three long torturous days I stayed in my room. My mom would bring me food. But I refused to eat or leave. I would not bathe. Or speak to anyone. My room became a tomb. I hoped for death. To be buried alive in my sorrow. And then on the fourth day I woke to the scent of sweet bread. I ran into the kitchen and found a basket of my favorite kind and I note from Joseph: "My darling Mary, please meet me at my shop at sun down." I devoured the entire basket. I bathed and my mom braided my hair and i went to meet Joseph. I was scared but thought maybe he had a change of heart. And then my eyes saw it. A crib. And the fresh scent of wood. Joseph ran to me and picked me up and twirled me around. He put me down and knelt down and kissed my feet. He kissed my belly. And hugged me so tightly I thought I would stop breathing. He said how very sorry he was for not believing me. He was visited by an angel in a dream that confirmed what I said and he was ready to take me as a wife.
The big fancy wedding I had imagined was off the table. At four months pregnant we had a very small quiet wedding and a meal at my parents’ home before I moved in with Joseph in the room he built for us at his parents home.
But that was not the worst of it. I had know idea how cruel people could be. The entire town was talking about me. So much so I couldn’t go anywhere. I was trapped at Joseph’s parents house. Long days while Joseph worked. They called me a whore. And said I shamed my family. Shamed by God. And that Joseph had married a disgrace.
So when I found out we had to make a journey to Bethlehem to register for the decree made by Caesar Augustus for a census as difficult as that journey was I was thankful to get out of this town. The journey took several days. My back ached so badly. I couldn’t tell if I was going into labor or my back was hurting because I was riding on a donkey over rocks. I had wished I had some of my cousins with me to tell me if it was getting close to time. But all I had was Joseph because we he was from the lineage of David from the house of Bethlehem. It was Joseph’s family were were traveling with. They ladies in his family were cold to me. The entire clan finally left us. Went on ahead of us on our second day of the journey. They were getting frustrated by my pace and said there would be nowhere to sleep if we were the last to arrive I kept having to stop to use the restroom and it was harder and harder to get back on the donkey with each stop. My back was now aching non stop.
When we finally arrived at Bethlehem my back was killing me. Joseph stopped in the first inn he could find. He told me to wait with our things and he went in to speak. It was getting dark out and I was getting cold. He came back with a downcast look. He said the inn was full. That on the other side of town there were two other inns and maybe they had room but because of the census the innkeeper doubted it. We were about to go but I had to pee so badly.
We went in to ask if I could please use the restroom. The innkeepers wife’s eyes got as big as saucers. She yelled at her husband: "How could you turn this woman away— the baby is at the door!" While I was in the restroom an arrangement was made that we could stay in the inns stable. There was bright red blood mixed with thick mucus when I was in the restroom. I remembered what my cousin had told me. This meant the baby was almost here.
We got settled in to the stable. The innkeeper's wife kept bringing us things. Blankets and water. She brought us figs and grapes and cheese. I couldn't eat, but I was glad to see Joseph eat something other than the granola and pita bread and honey we had packed for the journey. All through the night I tossed and turned. Now the ache in my back had moved to the front. It was gripping me. I cried out to God: "Have you brought me here to die in this this stinky barn." This went on all night the next day and as the sun was going down my water broke. It didn’t break with a huge gush. Just a little trickle. I thought at first I peeing on myself. But it didn’t stop trickling.
At this point the innkeeper's wife wouldn’t leave my side. She was an angel. I was so thankful to have her and wished my mother was with me. A few hours later the pain was almost unbearable. I was frightened by how much it hurt. She told me I would know when it was time to push and it would be a relief to push. What felt like hours wasn’t that long and it was finally time. With Joseph holding my right leg back, and the innkeeper’s wife bracing my left leg, I began to push and I pushed and pushed and with one final scream my first born son burst forth from my womb.
He was beautiful. A masterpiece. I was in complete love with him. I never knew I could love someone so much. and if I had known then all the heartache I would endure watching this child I bore be mocked, stripped of his clothes and dignity, beat until he bled and hung on a crooked cross like a criminal left to die well I just couldn't have taken it to know all that at this moment. I didn't know the whole picture. I didn’t know I would watch him take his last breath. The sky would fade to black. The curtain in the temple would be torn in half. And he would feel as forsaken as I did when I was left alone in my room.
What did I know? I had a promise I pondered in my heart. I didn't realize this child I delivered would soon deliver me. Save our sons and daughters. Walk on water. Heal the deaf. The blind. The lame. And after being buried for three long days my son would rip his way out of the grave like he burst forth from my womb. No I didn't know all that.
Here's what I knew. My child was special. He was healthy. He was beautiful and he was mine. As he snuggled up next to me and drank deeply from my breast all felt right in the world. All was perfect. If just for a moment. Heaven touched earth and kissed. He was pure love. I loved him so deeply it felt like my heart might explode. All I knew was love.
Tuesday, March 5, 2019
Ash Wednesday is upon us. The time each year that is set aside to reflect on the duplicity of our ever present mortality, coupled with the never ending mercies of God. A loving God that grants us safe passage from the ashpit of life to the eternal hope we have in Christ. And so with both deep humility and great hope we receive the ashes that mark the beginning of our 40 day journey (plus Sundays aka little Easters) to the cross, through the grave, and into the glorious light found Resurrection morning. English please! Ok, you are going to die. Have you stopped for a second to inspect how you are living while you still have the breath of life filling your lungs?
Why participate in Ash Wednesday?
By participating in Ash Wednesday, you will begin the Lenten season with a solid commitment made with the strength of the community around you. A strong start makes it more probable you will finish strong!
In between the last of The Tatonut Kingcake donuts, the final parades, and other fun & festive Mardi Gras celebrations, be thinking what you could give up for Lent?
What could you offer? A technology fast? Refrain from eating out as much? Turn the faucet off your running mouth.
But more importantly, ponder what you can "add" to fill the void created by your fast--Start a daily scripture reading practice. Tomorrow I'm starting a @YouVersion plan 'Journeying With Jesus - 40 Days Lent Devotional'. Check it out here---> Click here to join me! Set a dedicated time to pray? Commit to being in worship each Sunday of Lent? Just can't be there? Join our online worshipping community. Forgive someone? Gather around your family's table more? Use the money you saved from eating during Lent to start a "Giving Jar."
The entire point of "giving up" something or "adding something" is to make an intentional effort to draw closer to God as we focus on our 40 day journey to Easter morning.
God is not the one that moves away from us. As we seek to refocus our lives and center our hearts around Christ, God will be found.
The Greenhouse on Porter any time from 9 -11 am or at the Ms. Gulf Coast YMCA from 4-6 pm to begin a season of intentional reflection by an outward expression of your inward effort to become more like Jesus. Or participate in our Ash Wednesday Service at 12 noon at St. Paul at our Porter Avenue location or 7 pm at our East Campus location. If not, just get your ash somewhere! Google is a miraculous thing: Ash Wednesday Service near me. Click! ------> Lent Begins.