Beautiful Ending

You would think that Mary, of all people, would get it. After all, she was the one to whom the angel appeared. She knew from the start that the child she carried would be the Messiah.

With a birth announcement like that, you’d think it would be hard to forget who Jesus really was.

But apparently it wasn’t. If you read the first few chapters of Luke, you’ll find that Mary “treasured” and “pondered” the events of Jesus’ childhood, “marveled” at the prophecies spoken at His birth, and was “astonished” to find Him imparting wisdom to the teachers in the temple courts.

And I have to wonder how she could so easily forget who He was. Did staring into the eyes of a helpless babe somehow lessen her view of the Messiah? Did she not understand what she had signed up for? Did she ever get it at all? Because when I look at Mary’s life after that moment she said yes to God, I don’t see signs of that inspiring faith we’ve all learned to admire.

Sure, there was the day she urged Jesus into starting off His ministry by transforming a bit of water into wine, but then there was the day she and her other sons went to “take charge of Him,” convinced He was out of His mind (Mark 3:21).

What happened to her dream? What happened to her faith? And perhaps most importantly… how many times have I asked myself the same questions?

How many times have I abandoned a dream because I forget how clearly God breathed it into being? How many times have I “treasured” and “pondered” and “marveled” at things God had promised me all along? How many times have I found myself astonished that God is actually true to His word and that He is finishing the work He began in me?

I think that once upon a time, I prayed for a faith like Mary’s and it seems like I got it–though it’s not all I dreamed it would be. Because I missed a vital part of the story: the ending.

The last time we see Mary in scripture, she’s weeping at the foot of the cross. There’s no resurrection for her. I mean, there was, obviously, but it’s never recorded through her eyes. Our final picture of Mary is a broken, doubting woman living out the worst day of her life.

And if that’s where Mary’s faith will leave me, I’m reneging on my prayer. Because I don’t want to be guilty of forgetting God’s promise. I don’t want to stand weeping at the death of my dreams without ever getting to see the resurrection.

I want the kind of beautiful ending that finds me in the arms of God in the final scene.

The Life I Never Planned

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I can’t even count the number of times that question has been asked of me. I was never one of those kids who struggled with an answer. I had my entire life figured out by the time I was eight. I was going to be a missionary and a mother. Eventually my writing dream slipped in there too, and by the time I left home, I was set in my plans.

It’s funny how plans change. How the life I once dreamed of is not the life I am currently living. Right now, I’m a missionary drop-out, soon-to-be-published author of the kind of books I never wanted to write with no husband in the foreseeable future. Sometimes I roll my eyes and say that God mocks me, but honestly… Honestly I’m coming to terms with the fact that God knows best.

That He sees the dreams I never dreamed.

That His dreams are better than my dreams.

If you look at people throughout history – people who are famous for doing extraordinary things – I’m willing to bet they didn’t set out to accomplish those things in the beginning. I’m willing to bet that God interrupted their lives with a purpose that was greater than their imaginings.

Take Mary in the Bible, for instance. I’ll bet all Mary really wanted was to marry Joseph and live happily ever after in her comfortable little life. Then came the angel that declared she would give birth to the Son of God. Say what?

God gave Mary a task that was way, WAY beyond anything she could have ever asked or imagined. And it wasn’t easy. Her community scorned her for what they assumed to be an illegitimate pregnancy, her fiance nearly kicked her to the curb (and who could blame him?), and the last Mary sighting in the Bible is at the foot of the cross where she watched her son suffer a horrible death.

Following God’s call on her life cost Mary everything. It hurt. It hurt so much worse than her comfortable dreams of happily ever after ever could. But I’m willing to bet that if you asked Mary if she wished she had done things differently, she would say no. She wouldn’t have it any other way. She had traded her old dreams for a new promise.

And the miracle was worth the price she paid.

As I find myself thinking things like, “This isn’t how I thought my life would turn out,” and “I never asked for this ~ wouldn’t have chosen this,” I think of Mary. And I ask myself if this miracle will be worth the price I paid. Though sometimes it’s hard to imagine, I trust that my final answer will be yes. Yes, it was so worth it. I’m trading my old dreams for a new promise.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Mary’s Extraordinary Faith

Everyone has their own take on the nativity story. Mine has changed in the last week or so. I think I’ve always tried so hard to picture Mary as an ordinary girl that I overlooked the depth of her extraordinary faith.

I always imagined that Mary was too wonder-struck to say anything but yes. I figured that there wasn’t much room for logic in the midst of her awe, and imagined that it was only after the celestial being, mysterious message, and rush of excitement departed that reality set in. I pictured Mary instantly going from, “Wow!” to, “Oh snap, how am I going to explain this to my father?”

But then one of my co-workers got me thinking about some other Biblical heroes who weren’t quite as willing as Mary. Think about it:

When Moses heard his calling in the burning bush, he exhausted every excuse he could conjure up.

When Jonah was asked to go to Nineveh, he ran as far as he could in the other direction.

When Gideon was told he would lead his people to freedom, he asked for sign after sign after sign.

The Bible records at least three other cases of miraculous childbirths in which all of the parents had their doubts. They all wanted proof – a sign. Sarah even laughed out loud at the very idea of giving birth to a son (and she was a married woman, so it makes the miracle that much less miraculous than the one Mary was presented with).

Here I imagined that Mary simply didn’t consider the cost of her obedience when faced with the miraculous, but in reality, she was just like all these other doubters. Though she couldn’t fully understand the magnitude of what her obedience would cost her, she could at least imagine some of the challenges she would face – the ridicule, the gossip. Still, Mary didn’t make excuses. She didn’t ask for a sign. She posed only one question: “How?” And when she was assured that all things are possible with God, she said simply, “Let it be to me according to your word.”

That’s how extraordinary Mary’s faith was.

I think the way I once envisioned Mary was similar to what my response might have been. I might have said yes in a wonder-struck moment and been flooded with doubts once the angel disappeared. That’s why God chose Mary instead of me. Not that Mary didn’t have her doubts. I’m sure the shepherds’ words weren’t the only things she “pondered in her heart.” And there’s Biblical proof that she didn’t always “get it,” but she walked forth in obedience regardless of her understanding (or lack thereof).

Today I pray for faith like Mary’s. When I feel God call me toward the seemingly miraculous things of life, I pray that my answer will simply be: “Let it be to me according to Your word.”