Mary’s Christmas

 

It’s a great journey even thought it doesn’t always feel great. Don’t give up!

Obviously, growing up as a church kid I’m not stranger to the Christmas stories, songs, traditions and over all “holy bling” of the holiday that was established to celebrate the birth of Jesus. I still remember several tunes from “365 Days of Christmas” – a children’s Christmas program that I participated in when my age was in the single digits. It wasn’t until decades later that I really took a real look at Mary, the mother of Jesus. It seems silly now to think that I would focus on a new born baby without giving any thought to the mother that birthed him.

What a fascinating character Mary is. Looking at what she herself says, what is said about her and the fact that she was chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus, quite a resume indeed! I heard an excellent sermon in church this week about taking a closer look at Mary and seeing her as more of a “mover and shaker” than we typically think. Of all the things about Mary that I’ve heard, read or thought, my mind comes back to one verse that just challenges me no matter where my life is when I read it.

“And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1.45 NRSV)

This was spoken of Mary to Mary by Elizabeth. Elizabeth was certainly no slouch either. She was chosen to give birth to and raise the strong willed John the Baptist who would grow to be a force to be reckoned with in his own right. (Can you imagine those bed time battles?) First of all, this is not an impressive statement at first glance. It’s basically saying, “You go girl! The Lord told you something and you believed it.” It’s a simple statement. But like many simple statements, it’s not easy to live out.

  • “Trust God,”
  •  “God will supply all your needs,”
  •  “The Lord will be with you always,”
  •  “Don’t worry, God is going to take care of you.”
  •  “The Lord loves you.”

These are not complex ideas. They’re quite simple to memorize and recite. They are not so simple to believe. Sometimes your brain knows things before your heart believes those things, and vice versa. I’ve had very few times when my heart and brain were on the same page at the same time. I think that’s part of our human struggle as we “work out our salvation.” It’s our daily task and privilege. Some preachers and church people like to throw out those simple spiritual statements to sound holy (in my opinion), without ever wanting to admit to the fact that belief is a struggle for them too. (And if they say that belief is not a struggle for them at least occasionally, I think being self aware and honest most certainly is.) I heard an elderly women once admit that temptation was more of a struggle for her as a senior adult than it had been earlier in her life. (Imagine my disappointment. I had hoped that once you joined the gray haired committee that you would graduate from those spiritual battles.)

It seems like everyday of my life I’m trying to train or nurture my heart to believe a truth that my head knows about God. I have to practice believing those things. That means I have to be honest about where I am emotionally and spiritually, but I need to work and create an environment in my inner world that fosters belief. How do I do that? I make my voice say things like, “God is going to be with me on this hard day,” (even when my insides are all in knots), I need to sing spiritual songs about promises and faithfulness (even when I’m not quite convinced). I need to think about scriptures where people who were struggling saw God fulfill promises. Finally, and sometimes most difficult for me, I have to put myself with and talk with people who are struggling and seeking God, people who want to grow in faith along with me.

Disbelief is not a sin or something to be ashamed of. It’s a part of being human. God is not nearly as uncomfortable with our humanity as we sometimes are. What’s a simple spiritual truth that is on your mind? Do you believe that truth in your heart? If not, admit it, own it, work it out and……………..be blessed! It’s a great journey even thought it doesn’t always feel great. Don’t give up!

An Open Letter to My Pastor

I'll tell you what, when your brain learns and your heart believes that you are loved and accepted by God just as you are, it's a game changer.  

 Many years ago I found myself in a place where a decision was made that would change my life forever. I knew I was committed to the path I was choosing, but just as many people find themselves before marriage or before the birth of a child, I had no idea what I was signing on for. I remember the evening like it was yesterday, I can take you to the exact spot where this conversation happened. I was putting gas into my car and there was a gentleman at the pumps beside me who was clearly distraught. Somehow our eyes met and I inquired about what was upsetting him so. I figured he was going to ask me for money or something. I have learned to expect that at gas stations or parking lots. He began just pouring his heart out to me. Yes, he also needed money for gas. His life was a wreck. He lost someone very dear to him. He was desperate. I think I put $10 worth of gas in his car, by the way. He was elated about the few gallons of gas he received but he still kept pouring his heart out to me. I am very skeptical of people, all people, strangers or not, especially those asking for help. This guys struck me very differently than other situations I’d been in. He was a mess, he was broken and he knew he needed help. As has been my practice for years, I wanted to direct him to a church because “there are people there who will love you and help you.” I believe that. I know from experience the healing power a church family can have on broken people. I’ve been on both sides of it. As I began speaking to him and trying to offer him comfort, I realized that I couldn’t invite him to the church I was attending. He was very honest about being a gay man. This is the same time when I was not quite sure how to let my loved ones know that I was a gay woman. I was trying to come to grips with how to tell that to the people in my life. I looked at him and thought, “I can’t invite you to my church because you will always be treated like you have something wrong with you. You will be loved but never accepted, tolerated but never affirmed.” It sounds like I’m pronouncing judgment on churches but I’m just being real. I grew up in the Evangelical church all my life. I know what is said about gay people by church people who are speaking freely because they don’t think any gay people are around. I’ve heard the, “We’ve got to do something to help those gay people,” conversations by very sincerely concerned but short sighted congregants. So, back to the gay guy at the gas station, I told him about another church in town that I knew he could find help in. It was an open and affirming fellowship and would help him with his difficulties and give him a place to get connected to God’s love.

That night driving home I knew I had to leave that church, my church. It broke my heart. I had committed to live in a Christ like integrity, and that meant that I couldn’t continue to hide this very essential part of me. I don’t think I would have been treated horribly had I stayed, but I knew as I grew in Christian maturity and emotional wellness, that I had to surround myself with people who accepted all parts of me. I’ve got to tell you, I went from being a church “insider” to being a church visitor very quickly and it rocked my world in lots of different ways.

Fast forward many years, many church visits, many days of feeling angry and rejected, many harsh comments from people who thought I was possessed by some evil spirit or had just lost my mind, lots and lots and lots of moments, prayerful and otherwise. It’s Advent 2018 and we’re just days away from Christmas. I was sitting in my current church, a very different congregation from my earlier years. There were instruments and songs, carols and prayers. I just closed my eyes and let it soak into my soul. On Sunday mornings in that sanctuary, there is a gathering of very different people. What I mean is, not only are we very different from each other, our congregation is very different from most congregations. For Example: Earlier in the fall our Pastor invited the transgender people from the congregation to come up front and she prayed a prayer of blessing over them. After that the congregation clapped for them to show them support. My heart was about to explode. I thought to myself as I was driving home, “I can’t believe I get to be a part of a church where a group of people who would be labeled as misfits by other churches, get prayed over, loved and applauded for living out their lives and not hiding who they are.” On Sundays I get glimpses of what the kingdom of God is like. So thanks Pastor Beth and everyone who role models the love and acceptance God has for all of us. I’ll tell you what, when your brain learns and your heart believes that you are loved and accepted by God just as you are, it’s a game changer.