Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Another Layer, Another Lesson

As the beginning of a new year rolls around, I often contemplate what I have learned over the past year. Most of the time, I find that God has shown me many things and I have either chosen to learn them or ignore them.

While my family was driving home from church this week, I was looking at the road which was becoming quite rough and had many potholes. Now, this road had been fixed two years ago, and I was surprised that it was already so bad. I then began thinking about how the road is often like my spiritual connection with God. I begin in a state that I believe is perfect, and yet God wears down the layers of sin that still coat my life. It may make my road a little bumpier, but in the end it is all for good. Like the cars that have worn down the road near my house, God has worn away the layers of evil that I have failed to recognize.

Through all this “wearing away”, God teaches me lessons in trust and prayer. All lessons revert back to the Bible, and I can choose whether or not I want to accept this lesson from God. Sadly, I do still ignore a great many teachings from Him, because I am scared of what they will do to my life. And yet, when I take a big step in God’s direction, He rewards me with a strengthened relationship with Him.

So what have I learned this year? I have learned:

-A- How to work hard.

My job has taught me more about a strong work ethic than anything else ever has. Working in a place where everyone is in a different mood has helped me come out of my shy shell every now and then and be a friendly, smiling employee. I am so thankful for my job, and hope to continue there through college.

-B- To have God’s joy!

I think one of the most important things I have learned this year is to find joy in every situation. Although I do not always succeed, I know that God’s joy radiates through the happy and sad. Smiling most definitely comes from God, and I aim to use this gift often! Like my sweet cousin Esther, I want to laugh and smile through everything.

-C- To trust Him in everything.

Through the many good times this year, bad times have been lightly sprinkled. Throughout these times I have questioned God and wondered when He will come through for me, and every time I am reverted back to the Bible and its many answers. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding…” Proverbs 3:5, has become my rock that I cling to.

-D- To pray through all.

When 2009 began, my prayer life was practically non-existent. It was not because of the lack of time I had, rather it was because I chose not to pray. I decided to remedy that, and I have found strength through my newfound prayer life. I have a long list on my desk, and I every time I think to pray, I look at that list and ask God to fulfill that person with His all-consuming love. This has been a very good technique, and I have loved growing even closer to God.
This year has been one filled with joy and God’s light, and I am so thankful to be beginning another year where God will teach me even more! I look forward to His lessons, and am thankful that He is slowly wearing away the layers of sin that once engulfed me.

May your new year be filled with happiness and God’s presence!

Psalm 25:5, “Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour, and my hope is in you all day long!”

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Journey to Bethlehem - Part 4

(The final week of the Christmas story from Mary’s perspective. Merry Christmas!)

The pain gripped me with such force that a small sob escaped my lips. Joseph had settled me onto a bed made of straw, and was watching me with wide eyes. I knew I had to be brave for his sake. The terror in his eyes was evident, and I did not want the birth of a child we would raise together to be a bad experience.

After breathing through the pain for several hours, I knew the time had come. God’s Son would be born tonight, in a stable filled with animals and dirt. As the baby’s head appeared, the pain could not keep the joy off my face. Although I had feared this day for nine months, I no longer felt inept. Having attended many births in Nazareth helped. I knew what to expect, but the miracle of life was even more amazing when it was my own child being born.

“Joseph! He’s almost here!” I cried in excitement. Joseph ran to my side, grabbed my hands and offered his support while I brought Jesus into the world. An infant’s cry pierced the silent night and I looked up to see Joseph holding the baby. The wonder and love in his eyes made me weep with joy and I thought back to the miraculous events that had led up to the birth of Jesus.

Joseph handed the child to me, and I could see tears trickling down his cheeks.
Never had I known my husband to weep! His happiness was evident to me, and I, too wept when I looked at my child’s perfect face and body. I tore linens into strips and swaddled him. Bringing him close to my heart I whispered, “Jesus, you are born this night into a world filled with darkness. Yet you have brought light!”

At that very moment, a light pierced the surrounding darkness. Looking through the slats of the stable, I saw a star, brighter than all the rest twinkling in the heavens. I laid my baby in the manger, an inadequate bed for the Son of Adonai, yet felt a peace when I watched the face of my newborn slowly drift off into sleep.

A knock outside shattered my reverie, and Joseph got up to see who came. Three finely dressed men walked in carrying gifts for the baby. The baby! How had they known? A laugh bubbled softly within me. Most likely because of their faith in a coming Messiah, of course!

Another knock led a bewildered Joseph to let in several shepherds who had heard from the angels that the Messiah had just been born. As I watched the grown men gaze upon my beautiful baby, I knew that this was the happiest night of my life. Although I was not sure I would be a good mother, I had no doubt that I loved my baby more than words could express.

After our evening guests had left, I watched Joseph pick up Jesus with a tenderness I did not know he possessed.

“Mary, he’s beautiful,” Joseph whispered, tears threatening to spill over once more. I nodded and placed my hand on his. He looked at me with more love then I had ever seen before, and I knew that he would be a good father.

Jesus was brought into the world that night to a poor family of Nazareth, and yet I knew that God had special plans for him, plans that would make him more special than anyone else on earth. God chose me, a young girl, to mature into a woman so that He could fulfill a mighty work: the birth of His Son.

That night would live in a special place in my heart, and no one could ever take away the joy I felt at bringing that small babe into the world.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Journey to Bethlehem - Part 3

(Continued from last week – Mary’s Perspective.)

We’ve been traveling for over two months and I am exhausted. I can tell that Joseph is, too. I can’t believe he has walked this whole way, letting me ride the donkey! I can’t imagine how exhausted he must be.

I am nearly nine months pregnant, now. I can’t believe how quickly it has gone! Although it has been difficult, I cannot wait to bring this babe into the world.

With this excitement comes fear, though. I am so afraid of the pain of childbirth, but I cannot let my fear get in the way of God’s will. My mother’s instructions relieve some of my trepidation, but I still can think of nothing else.
Joseph has been kind to me, letting me stop as often as I need to stretch my legs. The long months on the road have put so much stress on him, and yet he has never lost his temper or been rude to me. I truly have found a gem for a husband.

Early this morning we reached Bethlehem! It seems like so long since we have seen other people and eaten real food! After many months of eating the same foods, we will finally taste fresh fruits and vegetables! I have been craving something other than the salted meat and dry bread that has made up our meals for so long.

I climbed off the donkey and shook my legs, excited to see my husband’s birthplace.
A catch in my back kept me from straightening for a moment, and Joseph looked down at me in concern.

“I’m all right, Joseph. Just tired and sore!” I said. Joseph sighed with relief, and tied the donkey to a tree. Then he grabbed my arm to support me and we began walking through the town. Every now and then, Joseph would point out something that he remembered, and even tell stories about his childhood.

It was then that I realized how little I knew about my husband. Although we’d known each other for ten years, I never thought to ask him many questions. To do so would be inappropriate, but now that we are married, such questions are not unseemly! The rest of the day we took turns asking each other questions, and I learned much about my sweet husband.

On the way back into town, my back pain began getting worse and worse. Joseph once again glanced at me in concern, but this time I could not reassure him.

“Mary! What is happening? What is wrong?” Joseph asked. I took a deep breath, trying to calm myself down, but I could not deny the fact that my labor pains had begun.

“Joseph, please go find us a place to stay. I think the baby is coming!” Joseph looked at me in horror, and began running toward the nearest inn. But then he quickly ran back out again. I was in terrible pain, and I did not know what Joseph was doing. He had been in four inns already!

“Mary, there is no room for us! The only place available is this farmer’s stable. I’m so sorry!” Joseph gasped, out of breath from worry.

I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. The son of God would be born in a dirty stable. And it would happen tonight.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Journey to Bethlehem - Part 2

(Continued from last week… Mary’s Perspective. Part Two in a four-part series.)

I was six months pregnant when it happened. I was walking down the street, on the way to my dear friend Maya’s house, when Joseph ran from his house in my direction!
He had not spoken with me since the day I told him that I was pregnant. I was very surprised, and even more so when he started calling my name!

“Yes? Is something wrong?” I asked. Joseph shook his head no, and then motioned me into his house. I stepped in, my legs shaking with fear, but Joseph quelled my fright with one loving look.

“Mary! An angel of the Lord appeared to me in a dream last night, and I believe your story! The son you will bear truly is the son of the Holy Spirit,” Joseph said calmly.

I broke into tears of relief. Finally, someone believed my story! Then questions flooded my mind. Would he take me back as his wife? Would he support the child that was growing within me?

“Joseph, what can this mean for us?” It may not have been a very proper question for a girl to ask, but I had to know. Joseph slowly reached for my hand, covering it in his scabbed, carpenter’s hands, and smiled at me. I knew that no longer would I have to worry for the baby. He would have a home and a father!

I gave Joseph one last grateful look, then walked out of his house with more joy that I had experienced in many months. So great was my relief, that I almost forgot that I was on my way to Maya’s house. With one hand on my stomach, I proceeded on my journey. I had not seen Maya since the day I saw the angel, but I knew that she surely would know of my pregnancy by now.

I was right. When I knocked on the door, Maya answered it, all the color draining from her face when she saw me.

“Hello, Maya! I have not seen you in many months! How are you, my friend?” I asked cheerfully. Maya just shook her head and began to close the door. Having received this response from several people since my shocking announcement, I knew I had to stop her. I put one hand on the door and met Maya’s cold eyes.

“Why are you shutting me out?” I asked tearfully. Maya motioned me inside with a sigh, and proceeded to tell me what her grievance was.

“I should not be talking to you. You are pregnant outside of marriage. How could you do such a thing? My father has told me to stay as far away from you because or your choices!” Maya yelled loudly.

Tears welled up in my eyes, and I ran to Maya to give her a hug. She pushed me away, as tears began rolling down her cheeks.

“I used to know you, Mary, but now I cannot be your friend. Please leave my house,” Maya said coldly. I had no choice but to let myself out. All the joy from Joseph’s acceptance of me was gone. I had no one who believed me except my betrothed. The rejection from so many of my past friends overwhelmed me, but I did not let it show.

As I made my way back to my home, I heard the pounding of horses’ hooves. Seven horses with Roman soldiers came barreling into Nazareth. I had to run out of the way, for fear of being trampled! What could their hurry be?

“I have a message from Caesar Augustus! All people must journey back to their homeland and attend a census there! You must leave in enough time to complete this journey!” a soldier cried and then galloped off to the next town.

I gasped when I realized what this could mean. A tap on my shoulder made me turn around too quickly and I bumped into Joseph.

“Mary, as my betrothed, you must journey with me to my homeland. We must go to Bethlehem,” Joseph said solemnly. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, nervous and excited. I nodded my head, and made plans with Joseph to leave in a week’s time.

I walked home quickly, making a mental list of all the things that had to be done. I then realized that my baby would not be born in my quiet, safe little town. It would be born in Bethlehem! This realization scared me, but I knew that I was in God’s hands. It was His child, and He would make sure it was born safely.

That week was spent packing up all of the provisions and clothing needed for the trip. My mother who had not hardly spoken with me since I became pregnant sat me down and told me all the steps that I would go through when I was in labor. Although the thought terrified me, it was good to have a woman’s perspective on what was going to happen.

Early in the morning, Joseph helped me onto a donkey, and loaded all the provisions as well. Goodbyes were said, and we set out on our journey.

The journey to Bethlehem, where the son of God would be born.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Journey to Bethlehem - Part 1

As we get ready to celebrate Christmas, it is always good to stop and remember the true meaning of Christmas. It’s easy to get caught up in the shopping, wrapping, cooking, cleaning, and typical hustle and bustle that comes with December 25th. So, to commemorate the birth of my Lord, I will be writing a four week series, retelling the events that led up to the birth of Jesus from how I believe Mary would have felt. This does have basis from Luke 2 and Matthew 1, but I have fictionalized it greatly to tell the story in a more personal way. Have a very Merry Christmas!

(From Mary’s Perspective)

I grabbed the pitcher and began making the half mile trek to the well. It seemed we were always in need of water on the hottest days! I did not like walking in the heat, but I tried to be cheerful about it all the same. My friend Maya came out of her house as I passed and offered to walk with me to the well. I denied her offer, knowing she was doing it to be nice. She nodded her head goodbye, and I carried on
with my task.

As I reached the well, I found it odd that no one was around. Typically, there were several mothers with children drawing the water for their families. I thought no more of it, however, and dipped my jar into the full well. As I drew it out, I had a strange sensation that someone was near. I turned around and dropped my pitcher to the ground in fright. An angel stood before me, smiling!

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for I have great news! You are to bear a son and he shall be called Immanuel, God with us,” the angel Gabriel said. I was so frightened, and many thoughts were racing through my already confused mind. Yes, I was engaged to a man named Joseph, but I was still a virgin! What could the angel mean?

“How can this be? For I am a virgin!” I cried. The angel smiled and told me that I would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit. I was calmed, somewhat, and then Gabriel was gone. I took a deep breath to steady myself, now thinking of how I would tell Joseph and my family. Babies born out of wedlock were terribly mistreated, and the mothers condemned to death in some cases.

I drew more water from the well, and started home, dreading what was to come. Although I was terrified, a wonderful peace settled around me. I was to bear the Son of God! How could this be? I was not a particularly perfect girl, nor did I seem special in any way. I was just Mary, betrothed to Joseph in a small town called Nazareth. Yet God had chosen me, and I felt so very special because of it.

I had finally reached my home, and knew that I needed to tell my family as quickly as possible. I set the jar of water down, and sent a quick prayer for strength up to God. I walked into my house, and saw that both my parents were in the kitchen talking quietly. And there in the corner, was Joseph! God had obviously arranged this gathering, and I was to tell them my news at that very moment.

“Father, Mother, Joseph,” I whispered, scared nearly to death. “I must tell you something.” They all looked at me with worry written across their faces, and I knew this would not be easy. I took a deep breath and began again, “As I walked to the well today, an angel of the Lord appeared to me! It was most wonderful, and he said that I am to become pregnant and bear the Son of God!” From the looks on their faces, I knew they thought I was crazy.

“How could you! What a lie you have told! How could you betray your betrothed and become pregnant by another man? What a wicked girl you are,” my father yelled. Tears began rolling down my cheeks as I realized that my family would not accept my explanation. Both were God-fearing people, but such a thing was unheard of. I bowed my head meekly, accepting his criticism, although not agreeing with it. My mother ran from the room, sobbing angrily.

At that moment, I felt the hand of God comforting me and telling me to trust Him. Joseph looked me in the eye and I could see the heartbreak and betrayal that he thought I was doing to him. Then Joseph said, “Mary, I don’t know why you would betray me like this, and I should have you stoned. It is not against the law to murder an adulteress, and if I had the mind to do it, I would. But I think I would rather divorce you in quiet so that you are not hurt.”

I could contain it no longer, and began weeping with a broken heart. My father sternly told me to leave until I could regain my composure, and I ran outside and all the way to the well. I looked around thinking of all the things that were happening because of the baby growing inside me. I did not know how I would deal with it! Overcome with emotion and sadness, I threw myself to the ground, sobbing like I never had before. Then I remembered that God had chosen me, a poor young girl to bear His son. The tears stopped flowing as I raised my hands to the heavens, crying out to God.

Then I made this commitment: “I will bear this child, O Lord! I will bear him for you!”