Legion.

*Just to continue to break up the monotony of regular blog updates, I thought I’d share something I wrote recently. I got to teach the kids this lesson on a recent Wednesday night. There are lots of different applications you can draw from this story; I hope you enjoy my rendition of it.*

legion

A rendition of “Legion” by one of our Wednesday night 5th graders.

The day had been long and tiring. Jesus had taught and healed in the hot sun by the sea shore all day long. The crowd had been immense, forcing Him to balance precariously from a fishing boat while continuing to teach in parables. He was spent.

Night was fast approaching, so Jesus told His disciples to get in the boat and push off to the other side. The crowd was not anxious to leave Him; many hopped in their own boats to follow, more out of curiosity than actual need. Jesus was exhausted. He promptly went to the helm and fell fast asleep on a borrowed, fishy-smelling pillow.

Hidden in the inky blackness of the night sky, a storm was brewing over the Sea of Galilee. It swept in from out of nowhere, taking the disciples by surprise. Though many of them were seasoned fishermen, this storm was like nothing they had ever encountered. Bailing felt more like backpedaling; the boat was beginning to sink.

They rushed to their Master and were dismayed to find they had to physically shake Him to wake Him up! But, when He did, He did the incomprehensible: He rebuked the storm. The disciples were taken aback. Not only had the storm completed dissipated at the sound of His voice, He had actually treated it like it was alive – an entity of its own, not just a weather phenom. Who is this Man?

Arriving at the other side of the shore, the shaken and weary disciples trudged through the coast to drag the borrowed boat on to land. Jesus joined them in the shallows. A mundane task in the quiet morning was rudely interrupted by the sound of shrieks coming from the hillside.

They all turned to see what could possibly be making the racket. A man, completely nude, with broken chains hanging around his wrists, unkept hair nearly to his waist, and a scraggly beard, was charging towards them, screaming obscenities – and calling Jesus by name. Now, who was this man?

The man stank; he was covered in bruises, bleeding and scratched on almost every orifice of his dirty body. He was thin, almost famished. While he looked quite aged, the disciples wondered if that was merely from living in a cave or in the sun for an unknown amount of time. His entire being shook, foam slipping from the sides of his mouth, as he slid in front of Jesus, face to the ground. He addressed Jesus by name, but simultaneously refused to look Him in the eye. With his face to the ground, a raspy, otherworldly voice, quaking with palpable hatred, asked, “Why are you bothering me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? For God’s sake, don’t torture me!”

The disciples glanced around at the weary travelers who were still hauling in their boats from the previous night’s excursion across the waves. They couldn’t help but wonder if this was the show they had followed Jesus to see – first a violent storm being stilled for no reason and now a crazy man begging Jesus, Who had so far done nothing except walk ashore, to leave him alone. A show it definitely was; the question was now, how would it end?

Jesus could have asked anything. He asked for the man’s name. A pause. Then the raspy, obnoxiously loud voice answered, “Legion.” In their Roman world, the word ‘legion’ instantly drew mental images of at least 3000 soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder, armed to the hilt and ready to fight. A few disciples took unintentional steps backward. A host of demons were in this man; it was unimaginable.

The man’s voice changed then from one, distinct tone to what seemed like hundreds, if not thousands, of different voices speaking simultaneously. The demons were begging Jesus not to destroy them. They knew Who He was and the power He wielded over them. And they were terrified.

The man looked up at the hills and pointed. Everyone swiveled to see what he was pointing at. Only then did the silent onlookers hear – and smell – the thousands of pigs milling about on the hillside above the lake. All of a sudden, their presence, which hadn’t even been noticed yet, was all-consuming. The stench, the grunting, the stamping of little hooves on the ground – it was all everyone could hear aside from the slapping of waves on the untethered boats.

“Send us into the pigs.”

The crowd held their breath. Jesus nodded. With His consent, the man began to shake violently and was flung like a lifeless toy onto the beach. Shrieking was heard and the atmosphere tangibly cooled, as if a north wind had gusted around them.

Then, the pigs began to shriek. Their calm grunting had turned into mass chaos. Thousands of swine could be heard for miles shrieking, stampeding. The quiet morning was shattered as they took off for the cliff. Completely unorganized, the pigs flung themselves off the edge and into the deep waters and rocks below. The onlookers who were still standing in the shallows quickly dashed either into their boats or onto the shore as the red, defiled pig blood began to wash towards them.

Before they all reached the shore and long before the events had fully registered with the astonished disciples, more shouts were heard. A crowd came running from the village having been told by the herdsmen that their entire livelihood was lost. They pushed and shoved their way towards Jesus. They ignored completely the fact that the man who had terrorized their town for years was sitting, in his right mind, clothed and having a sane conversation. They stuck their accusatory fingers in the air and adamantly demanded Jesus leave immediately.

Calmly, the Master rose from the rock He had been seated on and motioned to His followers to begin to push the boats back out to the water. The newly healed man clung to Jesus’ robes and begged Him to come, too! “No,” He responded. “Go home to your friends, and tell them what wonderful things the Lord has done for you and how merciful He has been.”

As quickly as their morning began, it was now over. The morning sun still sparkled on the lake and stomachs still begged for breakfast as they began to row back across the water to where the journey had began less than 12 hours before.

One man. He did all of that – for one man. If He pursued this man that hard, just imagine how He is pursuing you.

Finding God in the Pain

Many of you know about my cousins’ journey through adoption. My cousin Jared and his wife Krystal have been traveling the road of adoption for quite a while now. A year ago, things came to a head – but not in a good way. A little girl they were just about to bring home from Ukraine (literally within the week) was whisked away from them and they haven’t seen or heard from her since.

Adoption has always been on our hearts, so we have been following their story very closely. When we heard what happened, I cried as if it had happened to us. My heart just ached for them and their very real loss. I could only imagine what Krystal, especially, was going through.

Now, it’s been a full year and they are just months away from now bringing home a little boy from the Caribbean. Krystal has started a blog, is writing a book, and now travels the States sharing their story.

Why do I share this with you? For one thing, I am so proud of Jared and Krystal and how they have used their pain to try to bring awareness and change to adoption policies. She’s become an advocate for the voiceless, nameless, parentless children of the world and I think that is absolutely awesome and if I didn’t have so much on my plate already, I’d join her!

Secondly, I’m sharing this because I know for a fact that it’s so easy for us, myself included, to blame God for the pain in our lives. If anyone had a reason to do so, they did. I found myself asking God that very question when I heard what happened to them – just wondering why God “allowed” this to happen to them. It’s so easy to have the first thing we do to be to turn on God when tragedy strikes. “Why, God? Why me? Why do bad things happen to good people? What did I do to deserve this? Where are You?” etc etc etc. We’ve all been there. We may have even been there this week.

Believe it or not, it is OKAY to cry out to God and be angry with God. If you read even 1/4 of the Psalms written by David, you can hear his frustration and even anger at God. Yet, you can also see how he reconciles himself with the fact that through the pain, God is still on His throne, He’s still in charge, and He’s big enough to handle our accusations. He is not the one at fault or to blame. He is the hope and reason for getting up and keeping going.

Instead of running from God screaming in anger, try running to God.. even if it’s screaming in anger. He is your only true hope for healing from immeasurable pain and brokenness. I have been reminded so often recently that truly the answer to every question, to every need is simply… Jesus.

I encourage – no, implore – you to check out Krystal’s new website and read through their journey. Start by clicking here and then read the rest of their story. Start at the beginning for it to make complete sense. Join Krystal in her desire to take care of the orphans of our world by sponsoring a child through Holt Int’l (all info on her blog). Have her come speak at your small group or women’s Bible study.

Above all, next time life throws something at you that is literally unbearable, take it the only One Who can bear every burden thrown His way. Even if throwing it at Him means you do it weeping on your bedroom floor out of sheer frustration and anger, that’s okay. He’ll gladly lift it from you and heal the wounds hidden deep in your heart. You just need to let Him.

April Sunshine!

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Yeah!! Spring has finally sprung in NE PA!! Man, it feels good to be outside again. Granted, both kids have already face-planted in the driveways and Joe looks like he’s been in a fist-fight, but hey – builds character, right?! The kids could live outside constantly and thankfully, I have stocked up on stain remover, so the mud stains don’t matter much. They’re tired at night – that’s all I care about right now!

ImageBCM’s e-zine, BCM World, is out with another edition! I am BEYOND privileged to write for this every time it comes out AND to be edited by Jeanette Windle. Google her. It’s pretty sweet to have her be my editor. She is wonderful to work with and I’ve learned a lot about missions journalism already. Please read this e-zine! This time, there’s articles on the DR Congo, Kenya (mine), camping in Peru, work in France (actually,in  the city of Toulouse which just happens to be where my parents were missionaries years ago, though not with BCM), and profiles on the new BCM North America candidates (also mine). You can sign up to receive this directly to your inboxes when it comes out again in just another couple of months. Pass the link to friends and family and enjoy!

I have to tell you — Brian is the graphic designer. This involves so much more than just simply uploading a Word document. He’s worked almost non-stop on this for the past few weeks. It involves designing numerous pages and emails and links and then the actual layout – it’s a lot of work. For someone with no graphic design background, I think he does a phenomenal job. If you think so, drop him a note; I’m sure he’d appreciate the encouragement.

 

What sacrifice?

I remember sitting in my sixth grade class at school and being asked the inevitable question: What do you want to be when you grow up? I listed off, rather quickly, my top four choices:

  1. Archaeologist. I had a current obsession with Indiana Jones. It wasn’t until later in life that I discovered what an archaeologist really does and realized I did not have the patience for that.
  2. Teacher. Thanks to my Sadie Rose books (anyone else read those?) and Laura Ingals Wilder, my deepest desire was to teach in a one-room schoolhouse, even though I knew that was probably a pipe dream.
  3. Missionary. Yes, my unspiritual sixth grade self listed that goal third. 
  4. Christian author. I remember distinctly clarifying that I would be a Christian author. As if a believer would ever truly be a secular writer. Somehow I thought the clarification sounded more elaborate.

Obviously, I have never become an archaeologist, but like I said, once I found out Indiana Jones archaeology doesn’t truly exist, I gave that one up.

When I was in high school, I more fully gave my life over to the Lord for full-time ministry. I was aware that would mean future sacrifice, but I had no idea what that meant. “Sacrifice” was such an abstract concept at that point in time. I also figured that “missionary” would truly mean cross-cultural, probably in some remote part of the world, single, with a plethora of long skirts in my suitcase.

I had no idea how God would take the deep desires of my heart and transform them into something beyond what I could dream… and all because I made the conscious decision to follow Him when I was still a kid.

Point in case: I got my one-room schoolhouse. A beautiful one-room schoolhouse with the best kids on earth. They stole my heart and I will never, ever be the same thanks to those four years.

I learned Spanish – a bucket-list sort of goal I had set for myself in college.

I became a missionary. I got to do the “overseas thing” and now I get to do the “State-side thing.”

Also part of my “bucket list” was training children’s ministry workers. In case you weren’t aware of this, this is one of the main reasons we were so excited about joining BCM – the fact that they had a program specifically for training children’s ministry workers. Now, I get to do this on a fairly regular basis and I love – simply LOVE – every single second of it.

Now, I get to do #4 on my “what do I want to be when I grow up” list. I write. Let me clarify this: When we were first married, I was extraordinarily bored, lonely, and home way more often than Brian was, so I had time on my hands. So, I did the natural thing: I wrote. Well, I joined a gym… and THEN I wrote. A lot. I told Brian, “I don’t want to just write floopy stuff. I want to write stuff with meaning – with purpose. I want my writing to make a difference.” Then, we sold all we had, moved to South America, had two children, and writing was put on the side in the form of this blog and some newsletters.

We’re back in the States now and one of the thing I get to do is write for our mission board. Meaningful, purpose-driven material. I get to “be” a journalist even though I purposefully never got a Bachelor’s (in anything) because I knew God wanted me on the mission field immediately, so I forefeited the four-year degree. Somehow, God is using my uneducated self (similarly to how He used me to teach for four years with no teaching degree) to write articles.

Nope, they’re not the award-winning novel of my dreams. They’re not in a huge publication and my name will most certainly never be in neon lights for them.

But… they’re out there. And they’re mine. And there’s purpose behind them. I get to share with the world what our great and awesome God is doing in the world – at this very moment.

I never would’ve had this chance if I hadn’t told God to use me, take me, let me be His full-time – no matter the cost, no matter where it takes me.

When talking about missions, the word “sacrifice” is used an awful lot. I won’t deny that that’s true. We gave up literally everything to move to South America. I’ve said goodbyes before – the big, emotionally draining, life-altering, heavy-sobbing goodbyes that still make me tear up to think about. I’ve had two kids in foreign clinics with doctors I didn’t understand with no mom by my side. I’ve had shingles, gross reactions to bugs, and major illnesses. We’ve had to start over – twice – with barely any possessions to our name. We live on a tight budget and “fun shopping trips” for me consist of not just going to Aldi, but getting to go to Walmart, too!

But, honestly, when I think about our life, the word “sacrifice” isn’t even in my vocabulary. I think at least once a week for the past few months, Brian and I have looked at each other in total excitement to say, “Who gets to do this?! For their career??” So many opportunities – for both of us – that we never would’ve gotten to do (at least not the way we get to do it now) if we weren’t serving the Lord full-time.

What sacrifice? It’s much more a blessing than a sacrifice to serve the Lord!!

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. -Ephesians 3:20-21

Hope.

When I was 15, the Columbine High School shooting happened in Colorado. This was not the first time that year that there had been a school shooting and I remember not really caring and being slightly annoyed that it had happened “again.” When the news finally came out about how awful it truly was, I went into my room and just cried. I journaled pages and pages. For some reason, this particular shooting shook me to the core. I think it was the first time that the reality hit me that there were teens out there my age living such a hopeless existence. It was during this time period that I realized God was calling me to missions. I could not imagine doing anything with my life other than sharing hope with others.

I have shared the Gospel, mostly in a classroom setting to children, many times over the years. It’s not like it’s a new message for me. But, to hear someone else passionately share the meaning of the Gospel still resonates with me. There’s something about sitting back and listening to someone who truly loves the Lord, has been saved by grace, and is passionate about telling others about it that just makes it hit home that much harder. All over again. Like hearing it for the first time.

I was not saved out of a life of sin. I was not saved out of the depths of hopelessness or from the brink of disaster. I was saved when I was 4. I was a kid. I had zero concept of the magnitude of the decision I made to give my life to Christ. I understood what I had done, absolutely, but the magnitude of it? That still hits me like bricks on a regular basis. “The depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God…” (Rom. 11:33) is such a true statement.

However, even though I was not saved out of sin and hopelessness, I was saved from it. This is one reason why I’m so passionate about reaching children: to have God save them from a life like that. A life that those boys in Columbine lived. A life that is so commonplace now that no one even blinks an eye at someone who’s depressed – it’s just “a part of life.”

But it’s not normal. At least, it shouldn’t be. God did not create us to live a life of hopeless existence on planet Earth. He did not create us to spend our whole lives wondering why we’re here and questioning the entire meaning of life and eternity. He did not give us His written Word on a whim, hoping that the select few would be wise enough to open it and read it. He did not make Himself inaccessible, distant, and hard to understand.

The exact opposite. He wants us to live a life of hope – a life full of purpose and meaning. There is a reason why we’re here and there’s hope for where we’re going next. He placed eternity in each person’s heart – that longing for something more, that question of “what comes after life”, that gut feeling that this is not all there is. He did that on purpose so that we would search Him out. I love that He put books like Job into the Bible. An entire book dedicated to questions from a man to Eternal God – hard questions! And God answers him. Infinite God bends His ear to ordinary man and answers his tough questions – simply because Job dared to ask them.

We do not have a distant God Who created us and left – Who doesn’t care and isn’t involved. He cares for us – individually. Constantly. His desire is for us to come to Him and know Him for Who He is.

This week, Billy Graham turned 95. I grew up seeing him on TV on a regular basis and being annoyed that my parents made us watch “preaching” after we had spent all day in church already. Anyway… he gave one last address to the nation and it’s available here on youtube. He lays out the hope that is available in Christ so clearly. I have heard and presented the Gospel so many times and yet, like I said earlier, hearing someone else passionately lay it out is just… awesome.

If you’re searching for hope, if you’re skeptical about God, if you’re questioning why you’re even here at all – take 30 minutes from your day and watch this video. This is the message that Brian and I have dedicated our lives to sharing with others. Not because it’s an easy life or lots of fun to travel, but because we believe it’s true and want to be sure everyone hears this message. What you do with it is up to you.

“I know where I came from. I know why I’m here and I know where I’m going. Do you?” -Rev. Graham

The American Missionary

We are going through some changes at our sending church right now. They are pretty big and there’s been some big controversy over some of the issues. We are trying to reach the post-modern culture in America and we want to reach young people and children. To do so means lots and lots of changes, to the building and to the ministry focus. I wrote this during CIT and didn’t want to post it at the time, but I thought it was appropriate. So..here ya go. The American Missionary.

 

When we hear people talk about “cultures” or “cultural training,” we automatically assume it’s about another country. As if somehow, America is exempt from having a culture. America is always portrayed as the norm and everyone else has a culture and is different. Yet, in reality, America is its own culture and is full of diverse sub-cultures, just like everywhere else in this world.

One of these sub-cultures is church. Of course, within church culture, you have an even greater number of more sub-cultures! Churches are all different – different denominations, worship styles, preaching styles, age groups, ministries – the list could go on and on.

Now, if all cultures naturally change over a period of time, are churches exempt from that change? Some would argue that yes, they are. The methods of worship and evangelism worked well 50 years ago – they should work fine now. Others would say no-  in order to be affective, a church must change over time, with the larger culture it’s a part of, and look vastly different from generation to generation. Are either of these views correct? Let’s take a look.

If a church remains the same for years and years, it almost reminds me of a museum. Museums preserve things very well. But, it can be generations before new things are added that can be considered “history.” The tour is the same, the displays are the same. The information is important and the presentation is pristine, but, let’s be honest, it can get old after awhile. Only true devotees of history frequent the same museums regularly. It’s great to visit, see what’s there, maybe learn something new, but not normally is it a place for “repeat offenders.”

On the other hand, if a church decides to change completely with the times and throw out all of the old in order to appease everyone, it can appear quite syncretistic. How far do churches go to fit in and draw a crowd? Some have likened churches like this to amusement parks: there’s something for everyone. The message itself gets watered down in attempts to make it inoffensive, tolerant, and appealing.

So, where’s the balance? In dealing with any culture, the balance is in proper contextualization. I say “proper” because even here, the balance is quite delicate. Like a trapeze artist over Niagara Falls, one wrong move and it’s all over. The balance is precarious, but crucial. How do you avoid staying a museum without becoming an amusement park? The same way a missionary would in any other culture.

As much as most of us hate to admit it, and even fewer of us will admit it out loud, the methods of evangelism that worked 75, or even 25, years ago just simply do not work anymore. Our culture is shifting from being very scientific (modern) to very emotional (post-modern)…in a nutshell. Appealing to the senses is crucial in reaching this generation and possibly even the generations to come. Now, most believers will argue – and rightly so – that true faith is not purely emotions. While that is completely true, remember that God does manifest Himself in very real heart-emotions: love, joy, peace, contentment, hope, etc. The post-modern person needs to hear about a God Who is here for him today. He doesn’t necessarily need to be convinced God exists – he probably already knows that. He needs to know God is real for him now.

But, if we only appeal to the emotions and focus on giving them an emotional experience with God, we are not giving them the whole truth. Just giving them what they want to hear and what we know will draw them to Christ is not enough. Emotions always wear off. We must blend fact in with the emotion (the old with the new) in order to sustain their true faith. We also have to keep in mind that our culture is in the process of changing. Not everyone is emotionally driven, therefore, one method of evangelism and church just will not reach everyone.

Another thing that is even harder to admit is that our method of worship has changed. This doesn’t just mean music. The entire service has changed over the years- everywhere from how people dress to types of instruments played to length and style of sermons. There is something to be said about having some kind of structure, but ultimately, “worship” is not constrained or defined by any of these things. Style of music, length of sermons, types of instruments, and length of the service are not worship. They are merely to assist people in personal worship of the Lord. If you only worship on Sundays, then the meaning of “living a life of worship” has not gotten a hold of you yet. But, ultimately, does our “worship service” look like a museum tour that never changes or an amusement park that tries so hard to please everyone that no one enjoys it and someone always ends up sun burned?

Years ago, missionaries went to a new country and brought with them their way of doing things. This is why the most widely sung music in churches all over the world are English and American songs. Church, in many countries, looks shockingly similar to church in America. The buildings have steeples, the people dress up, and they sing from hymnals translated from English.

Now that missionaries are spending more time learning about the culture they are going into, they are drastically changing their methods of reaching people in other countries. People are writing their own music and worshiping the Lord in styles familiar to them. Their styles of “church dress” reflect their own nationality. Fewer foreign pastors are preaching; more merely participate and offer guidance when asked. Church buildings don’t always have steeples anymore and some, to the American mind, wouldn’t even look like a church…or even a building for that matter.

We no longer expect a missionary to change the people group he’s ministering to in order to reflect his own home culture. We expect missionaries to adapt and help form indigenous churches so people can come to know and worship God in their own way. We do, however, expect the missionary to help guide the people in Godly truth.

We define a “missionary” as someone who tells others the Gospel, correct? We also stress in America that we “don’t need to go overseas” in order to be a missionary, right? If we are all truly missionaries, then we need to do what all missionaries do:

1.     Step back and observe the (new!) culture around us.

2.     Develop a strategy to best meet this culture where they’re at.

3.     Set aside our own preconceived ideas of church as we know it and try something new.

4.     Be wary of straying from the truth and accepting things into the church that are not from the Lord, as outlined clearly in Scripture, being careful not to interpret Scripture through our own cultural viewpoint.

 

A museum, amusement park, or God-glorifying church? The choice is yours…as the American missionary.

My Son, My Savior

Happy Easter, everyone! This has nothing to do with our training and it’s a little long, but I hope you enjoy anyway.

            The lid to the trunk was jammed. She pulled hard and tugged until it finally burst open. The scent of the incense was strong. This particular trunk had not been opened in almost 10 years. The heat and moisture of the years had almost completely sealed the lid. Now, the smells that the lid had blocked assaulted her senses. She inhaled deeply and coughed as they overpowered her. They brought back so many memories. She lifted the vial from the trunk and groaned at its weight. She set it on the wood table and sat down in a chair. The vial was still just as beautiful as when they had first received it. She scrubbed the dust off of it and sneezed as the dust floated into the air. The dust and the smells were making her eyes water. She went to the bucket on the floor and dipped a corner of her dress in it. Using the moisture, she cleaned off the vial, making it shine like new. She sank back into the chair and turned to the open door to watch the sun rise. Another beautiful day. Actually, more beautiful than they’d seen in almost a week. If only it wasn’t going to be such a sad day, she might be able to enjoy the sunshine and warmth. Time ticked slowly by and still she sat. Finally, her two friends appeared at the door, their eyes showing as much sadness as her heart felt. They each carried their own gifts. She picked the vial up off the table, wrapped her head in her black shawl, and walked out into the early morning.

            The sun was bright, almost blinding, this morning. The dew was damp under their feet, but nobody complained. It had been their own choice to make this trek this particular morning. While the rest of the world slept, they walked softly in their sadness, each carrying their own memories.

            Her memories were more vivid with each step. These hillsides held so many of them. The vial in her hand held even more. Her thoughts went back to one silent night, 33 years ago.

           

She remembered the night as if it had happened the night before. She had been just a child, really, when she gave birth to her first baby. It hadn’t been like she’d planned. In fact, it was the diametrical opposite of what she’d wanted. Her mother had tried to prepare her for a birthing and she’d even been in attendance at a few, but nothing could have completely prepared her for it. It was like nothing she imagined and her young husband had been about as helpful as the animals that had looked on in the stalls. He had run around looking for water and pulling cloths out of the baggage until she had grabbed his tunic and forced him to stop and help her.

            The night had been awfully dark and perfectly still. Their cave had been set back quite a ways from the inn, so they had no noise from the other patrons. It had been just them in those first few minutes. The soft cries of the new baby were so beautiful, they had wept in happiness. It wasn’t their home; it wasn’t anybody’s home but the animals, and yet it had all been so perfect. Her husband had done his best to make it wonderful. He had lined the manger with brand new, soft hay that smelled so sweet. He had moved the louder animals outside and tethered them so they wouldn’t leave, in order to have a little more quiet. He had laid his best tunic on the earthen floor to give her padding, knowing it would have to be burned once the ordeal was over since it would be defiled. He had found fresh water and bathed their new child, wrapping him in soft cloths she had brought along for just this case. The soft lighting of the lantern had made it so special, almost romantic. They had laughed at his tiny little hands, struggling against the confines of the cloth. They had sighed with contentment as he nursed for the first time. They couldn’t take their eyes from his perfect little body as he slept in the uncouth cradle.

            The silence of the night had been broken by some noisy local shepherds. They had rushed in with the tale of having seen angels in the sky telling them where they could find their king. She had always thought it was peculiar that out of all the shepherds in the countryside this time of year, these particular ones had been told of the baby. These were the shepherds that raised the sacrificial lambs. Could that mean something? No, she had reasoned, just a wonderful coincidence. When they had left, she and her husband had talked until morning about all they had been told.

            Then, they had brought their precious baby boy in to the priest to be circumcised. She had been dreading the horrendous ordeal, knowing the pain it would cause her sweet baby. But, her heart had been calmed as she met two wonderful people – an elderly man and an elderly woman. Both rejoiced at the sight of her little baby and were overjoyed to have met the child. The child? Why? He was just over a week old and yet they were excited to meet him? She knew he was special, but why would anyone else think he was?

            And then there was the night they had been visited by a whole group of kings. They had moved into a small house in town and she had been rocking her baby to sleep after the evening meal. Her husband had been working on building them a new table when the commotion had started outside. He had flung open the door, expecting something sinister, only to find more than 100 men outside, climbing off camels, dressed like royalty. He had not known what was going on, but then three stepped forward, obviously the ones in charge. After much formality, they had explained about seeing a star and wanting to worship the new king. The baby was not even three! How could he be royalty? But, she had hid her thoughts and allowed them to bend their knee to her child, sitting contentedly on her lap, sucking his thumb. He had squealed in delight as they had offered their gifts to him. She distinctly remembered him pushing off her lap and toddling over to touch the beautiful boxes. He had squatted down next to them as only a toddler can do and clapped his hands in delight. One of the kings had been down on the baby’s level and was surprised when the child climbed into his lap and snuggled next to the robes. She remembered the king not knowing how to react and ending up succumbing to the child and playing games with him, making his laughter ring through the house.

           

During the walk that morning, she smiled at this remembrance. Her precious child had been able to bring joy to so many people. She pulled the vial closer to herself and shielded her eyes from the sun. It seemed to be rising awfully early this morning. As she looked at the trees and shrubs scattered on the hillside, more memories came back to her.

           

Her boy had grown into a wonderful child, then a young man. As a child, he had been full of joy and had spread that joy to the neighborhood children. He was gentle and loving as he taught the younger ones all he knew. His childish wisdom had always seemed more than his years. This was most apparent on a trip to the capitol for the feast. After losing him for a couple days, they finally had been forced to return to the city and found him, their boy, teaching the religious leaders!

As a teenager, he had worked with his father as a carpenter. She remembered his hands growing rough from all the work. She had spent many evenings pulling slivers from his still growing hands. By the time he was 15, his hands were as rough as his father’s and he worked just as hard. He was still amazingly good with his younger siblings, though. He always took time with the kids, playing and teaching and loving. His sisters were enamored by their big brother and followed him around constantly. She smiled at the memory of her tough 16 year old son picking up his 6 year old sister and setting her on his bench in the workshop and teaching her how to handle a saw. She had loved spending time with him and was always begging to go play with her big brother. Even his younger brothers loved him. He taught them all he knew and they all secretly strived to be like him. She knew because she was their mother and mothers always know these things!

            And then one day, he had left. He had stayed home long enough, she knew. Longer even than his youngest sibling. He had been content to live in the barn, among his work. All the other siblings had married and moved to their own homes. They visited often and he loved his new nieces and nephews. That was why it had surprised her so much when he had left. He had packed what few belongings he had, said a brief goodbye, and walked out. She didn’t know where he was headed or if he’d be back and she remembered crying every night for weeks on end, wondering where he was and if he was okay. And yet, she knew all along that everything was fine – just as it should be.

            She had been lonely, though, since her husband had passed away a few years before. Her son had been her rock, always there for her, helping her and taking care of her. But, now, he was hardly ever home. And when he was, the neighbors and townsfolk treated him with such contempt, she was almost glad to see him go. Her loneliness finally got to her and she moved to the capital. One of her sons lived there as well and had allowed her to live in a room in their small house.

            She made herself useful, taking care of the grandchildren. Her son stopped by often and she traveled with him when she could. But, her health was not as it once was, so she became more and more content to stay home and wait for him to come to her. Then, those visits stopped as well.

            She went once with some of her sons to see him teach. The crowd had been bigger than she had imagined. She knew he was drawing large groups of people whenever he talked, but she had no idea it was this many! They had tried to push their way to the front so she could see her son, but the crowds had kept them back. She sighed as she walked, remembering how frustrated she had been that she couldn’t get near her son. They had passed a message up to the front, but he had refused to see them, almost not even claiming them as family! Oh, she had been hurt! His brothers had been angry, refusing to return for a second try to see him later. She hadn’t blamed them. It was hard to understand. But, as she sat in her old rocker that night, she remembered something.

            When she had been told she would have a child, she had been informed that he would be different. His father was not her husband. His family was so much bigger – in many ways – than she first thought. It made sense, though she couldn’t put it into words, that he would refuse to see them that day. Yet, how could she explain that to his brothers? This thought had bothered her for months.

           

She tripped on a rock in their path and one of her friends grabbed her arm to keep her steady. She thanked her and brushed the tears from her eyes that were blocking her view. She brushed the top of the vial with her hand, making sure it was still closed and in good condition. She looked down at the road she was walking on, but all her mind saw was her son’s last footsteps.

           

He had been beaten. He was bloody and almost stripped naked. He was missing his customary Jewish beard, since the men had ripped it out. His once muscular arms and back were just strips of flesh, hanging on by sheer will, not because they should have been. He had stumbled, like she had just then, only no one had been there to catch his fall. The man who had kept numerous children from falling in the crowds that followed him; the man that had helped the elderly sit and stand as they listened to him teach; the man that had put everyone else’s needs long before his own – had fallen, landing with pounds of wood hitting his blistered back, with no one to help him back up.

            She had cried out, trying to break through the crowds to get to her son. Her baby! Her precious boy! But, the crowds had held her back and the best she could do was make eye contact with him. That had been just as painful as watching him fall, though, because the sadness in his eyes was more than tangible. His heart spoke to hers and she knew this was how it had to be. Yet, her heart continued to break as she pushed through the crowds, following him up the hill.

            The sounds of the hammers had rung through the still air. The air had been stifling, no movement at all. She had thought she would pass out. But, her son’s best friend had held her steady, holding her up by his strength. One of her friends had passed out – her friend that walked with her now, looking so defeated. When they had raised that hideous piece of wood with her precious child hanging from it, she didn’t even have the voice to scream. Now, of all times, the crowd parted for her and his friend and they went to the foot of the cross. The guards prevented her from even wiping the blood off his feet. He had looked down at her with those sad eyes and in an even sadder voice he had asked his friend to take care of her. Take care of her? How could he think of her at a time like this? In his last moments, he was still thinking of others.

            Her tears had flown, watching her precious son die before her eyes. It’s not supposed to be this way, she had cried mentally. Parents are not supposed to watch their children die! Especially not like this! She had forced herself to stand there, watching the skies turn gray, until the ordeal was over. His last shout was still echoing in the hills when his head had fallen in death.

           

Now, as they trudged through the morning dew, she wondered how the world could be so bright and look so exciting when such an atrocity had happened just a few days before. Her baby, her innocent child, had been murdered for no reason! And now, she was headed to his tomb to anoint him with the kingly gift he had been given at his birth. She touched the spot on the vial where the paint had chipped. As a child, he had insisted on playing with it and his little fingernail had chipped the beautiful paint. She could hardly believe she was carrying it now to finish his burial process. Her son’s burial. This was just too hard to believe.

            They talked as they walked about how they would move the giant stone in front of his tomb. The men had not wanted to come with them this early morning. Their grieving would be done locked in a house in the city. The women needed to grieve by touching his body and saying their final farewells. And yet, the men who had killed him had made even their desire to merely say goodbye almost impossible with their ingenious idea of putting a huge stone in front of the entrance so no one would steal the body. The three women had no idea what they would do, except coerce the guards into opening the door so they could pay their respects. They could only pray it would work.

            As they neared, they knew something was different. They could feel it in their bones. While the others slowed their steps, she sped hers up. They were at the tomb before they knew it…but it wasn’t as they expected it to be. It was open! The guards were not around and the door was wide open! What was going on? It was too good to be true! They ducked into the low tomb and saw two men in white sitting where her son should have been lying. The message they relayed was unbelievable and the other women raced to the men back at the house in town to share the good news. She continued to stand, dumbfounded, looking into the tomb.

            A voice startled her. She turned, but there was no one. When she turned back to the tomb, the men in white were gone. The voice came again and she knew what it was. It was her son, calling her “mama” once more. Deep in her heart, she could hear his voice calling out to her, telling her it would all be okay – just like he had after her daughter fell and broke an arm, after her mother passed away, and after his father passed away. This was no exception. She knew, in her heart of hearts, it was all okay.

            Mary set the vial of unused myrrh on Jesus’ unused burial cloths. This was one gift that would never have to be used. Death had no hold on her son. She knelt in the tomb, her hands grasping the burial cloths. “My son. My Savior,” she said as she raised her eyes to heaven. “It all makes sense now.”

   Lisa Biegert, 2006