Slouching Efforts

Yesterday, I attended the school play for my middle daughter. My husband attended our eldest daughter’s performance and they rushed home after a flurry of frenzied texts about the delay in the dismissal of the previous session. Dad and I made a mad dash of a switch as he hopped off, I hopped on and pedaled off with a different kid on back.

When I arrived, I keyed the code to get into the school grounds and as staff saw us, they ran to meet us, check temperatures, sanitize us and rush us off to our respective locations.

It was pretty amusing see my daughter whisked off by staff, switching her outdoor shoes for her indoor ones, taking her school hat and getting her ready. Meanwhile, I ran up the stairs and was guided to my marked square on the tatami floor of the school hall.

I sat down, took my coat off and tried to get comfortable, giving into the temptation to sit cross-legged on the mat. Very unladylike.

But as I sat, waiting for my daughter’s 3 and 4 year old class to come on stage, I noticed with customary envy how the women can all kneel so prettily and keep their backs ramrod straight for the entire time.

The other acceptable position for a woman is off-kilter, like you just tipped over the side of your legs while kneeling. The legs are still tucked under, and though the hips are at an angle, still somehow these women stay straight up without leaning on their hands.

It’s so pretty, and try as I might, I cannot pull it off for very long. My legs fall asleep, I fidget around after 15 minutes or so, and overall, I feel like I sit significantly higher than them since I have wider legs than they do.

At any rate, I saw the rows of straight backs and thought to myself, “There we go. Though I’m a bit late, it’s a good New Years Resolution in the health department: Good posture.”

My back aches, and it’s the proverbial January 2 today and I’m still trying to be careful to correct my body whenever my shoulders slouch forward, etc. I don’t want to end up an old lady, in pain and unable to walk upright. That requires action now.

Anyway, last night as I was laying in bed, enjoying the relaxing of tired muscles, I was thinking about the various bits and pieces that we need translated into Japanese for our website and in the general running of our ministry. Honestly, thinking about doing it myself made my head ache in a way that I instantly found a “pair” with in with my weary back.

Nonetheless, it needs to be done. I could take the easier road and ask someone to do it for me. But if I am ever to do “well”, I must make the effort though I know I will fall drastically short of my desired standard when I get it edited by a native speaker. Sometimes I wonder why I make the effort, as so many of my word choices or particle choices are exchanged for better ones. This is not to be unexpected, this is normal. We have to learn this way. And I can only make progress if I make myself dredge through it.

But, I think this kind of attitude MUST be with those who go on the field, from the very elementary task of language proficiency to the more “advanced” tasks of effective cross-cultural ministry. It’s wearying, it’s a joy (ok…. sometimes), it’s daily and constant, all-engulfing, and ultimately a privilege I see this attitude in several of those I have worked with or am acquainted with or even read about. It’s that sighing and yet, still pushing of yourself in an area (in ministry and in their personal lives– I think it often shows up in both arenas), that tightening of slouching muscles– to do things rightly. To do well. Maybe not perfect, but better than it has been… closer to the goal. Discipline. Excellence. Vision for the end game.

Because, God is worthy of my effort, and my utmost efforts reflect my perspective of the worthiness of God and the task He’s given me.

Things my kids say in America

So, the one benefit of living in another language is that sometimes we can still talk about whatever we want that we wouldn’t normally say in public. Sure, everyone has studied English and they listen into our conversations to see if they can understand.

But, it’s also a benefit because… you know that really awkward stage kids go through when they make less than politically correct observations whenever it occurs to them to do so?

Well, it’s a little less embarrassing for me, since we have little bit of a cover.

Welcome to America though. Ha.

Still, sometimes their observations tell me what they’re looking at.

………………………

That’s humongous! (Literally, about anything)

The trees are different here.

Why do you have your shoes on in the house? You forgot to take your shoes off!

Why is that person buying so much food?

Mom, look at the grass! It’s so green!

Why are there so many flags everywhere?

Why are there so many churches in America?

Why is that person rolling around on a car in the store?

They bought TOO MANY toys.

(While eating dinner with friends) Um, why do you have different rice?

(When exasperatedly explaining that they had to wait for their clothes because they were in the dryer)… But mom, I don’t know what a dryer is!

That’s too cold! (regarding toilet seats– they are heated in Japan)

Are we going to walk or are we taking the car?

Upon merging onto the highway: Wow, this is like a racetrack way!

Every time we go to America, it’s fun to see how they see the country through their eyes. What are the things they notice that I take for granted? Sometimes it gets us side-long glances from those who don’t know our story.

Re-entry Events– Shopping

“WOW! This store sells EVERYTHING!”

I smiled as my daughter experienced that joy of entering Target for her first conscious time.

Yes, honey. Yes, it does.

That glorious feeling of entering a store, located on one enormous floor where you can purchase socks, noodles and dish soap and even appliances all in one stop.

It’s absolutely wonderful. Given our tight quarters in dense Tokyo, we’re used to escalators, stairs and lines for the elevator at “department stores”… separate registers for separate floors and all the rest.

While it’s so convenient, it’s also a wee bit overwhelming. It’s a favorite “event” for me– one that requires patience on the behalf of family and friends.

Let’s take a moment to think about this.

Imagine yourself walking into a foreign market. You could imagine yourself walking into a Japanese supermarket. Or if you’re familiar with that, say- an Indian supermarket. Or an outdoor market in South America.

Now, you need to meal plan for a week and buy all your household goods– toiletries, laundry goods, kleenex, etc. And your kid needs to contribute a cleaning rag to the school and that’s due tomorrow.

True story.

Anyway, how long do you think that’s going to take you?

Is that salt… or sugar? Pork? Beef? Oh wait, a picture of a cow. Ok, beef.

Will this work as a substitute for what I was thinking?

What kind of meal should I use this vegetable in? Do they sell frozen carrots or should I get fresh?

You get the picture. You’re going to be walking those aisles awhile.

Well, surprisingly, as long as you think it’s going to take you in that store is how long it takes me when we come back to the States. Back in Japan, I can get in and out of the stores fairly quickly. (Well… my husband might debate that one…) but I’m pretty familiar now with my options, opportunities and limitations.

Here though… I stand in the aisle of box meals or snacks and I stare. Then I turn 90 degrees, stare down at my list and turn back to the shelves and look up again blankly…. leave the aisle and decide to try again later.

And don’t even get me started on the lotion aisle.

What’s the difference between all these options? How much do I need? Should we take some back with us? Which is the best deal? Is it better to get cheap or is it better to get something in the middle? And oh, what is that??

I feel like I am the foreigner in my own favorite stores and it takes time to get reacquainted and try to ride that bike again.

Home and Heritage

Over the last year, I’ve been reading a book about raising healthy TCKs (Third Culture Kids). There are some wonderful benefits to raising your kids overseas (like an expanded global worldview, outside-the-box thinkers, an intuitive ability to empathize, etc.). But there are also challenges that many TCKs tend to face and that don’t often surface until their adult years.

So, I’ve been reading about them and some proactive approaches as a parent to help them.

One of the suggestions was regarding how we spoke about “home”.

In my mind, “home” is America. It can also be wherever we currently have our suitcases– but the key idea of “home” for me is in a little wooded street between hills, with a green house with a white porch, drafty bedrooms and ongoing improvement projects.

For my kids, “home” is Japan. Their passports may say otherwise, but to them, our corner apartment on the side of a busy street through town is where their life goes on. Trips to America are just that– trips– to a foreign country. Loved ones are there, but essentially it’s a country and a culture where life is different.

In the book I’m reading, the author recommends referring to Mom and Dad’s home culture as their “heritage” as compared to their home.

It’s an interesting concept! So, we’ve been taking the opportunity to explore things on our trip to America as learning experiences for the kids– “This is where Mommy comes from. These are some things I ate growing up. This is how people in this part of America do this.”

Even though we’re American (well, and Honduran too), having lived on another continent for so long– we’ve changed a lot. Our ways of doing things have changed. Our taste buds have changed. Our way of thinking and perspective on many things has changed. So, our culture at “home”–the one in Japan– is not necessarily American. It’s a little mix of everything that works for us.

Approaching things from a heritage perspective has helped me be more purposeful about things– pointing things out, having conversations. Granted, they aren’t in depth conversations since it’s a (almost) 7 year old and a 4 year old.

But it’s a start between bridging these worlds that are oceans, plane rides and life experiences apart.

Phone Calls

One of the most intimidating things for me is making phone calls. If possible, I always prefer to talk to a real person. It’s so much easier to understand– seeing their face, their mouth moving, anything they might have to show me– I usually leave with a fuller understanding of what the situation is and what I need to do, if anything.

Plus– if you don’t manage the phone call well, you might end up making things worse. Or having to incorporate a 3rd party.

We pay most of our bills via cash (Japan is still primarily a cash society) at the local convenience store. But more and more, everyone wants us to pay via bank transfers or credit card and send a little explanation page with this “easy” bank transfer option.

Since we deal with banks on two continents, different accounts in Japan, and have to keep good records and budgets and all that fun stuff, it’s just easier to deal with cash.

Anyway. I got a fancy-looking bank transfer slip from the electric company a few weeks back. It looked kinda important, and seemed like it was a new way to pay that they were offering. It had certain codes and all that. I browsed over it, but didn’t get the impression that it was mandatory.

Still, I stored it away with my stack of “questionably important Japanese paperwork” that I’m not always sure what to do with.

We were getting ready to go to “the ‘Merica'” as my 3 year old calls it, and I was attempting to make sure everything everywhere was accounted for and taken care of before we left for a month.

I kept waiting for my electric bill to arrive.

It was about 10 days late. I had an uneasy feeling and the clock was ticking. So I went back to my questionably important pile, re-read it more carefully and lo and behold- it was not an optional payment method.

I needed to register my phone to receive a link to pay online. Complication #1. I didn’t recognize the last digits registered for the phone number. I guess when we moved and a friend helped us get our utilities set up, they registered the account to their own phone. Complication #2. And now I’m late on receiving my bill. Complication #3.

So I did some fiddling online, tried to change the number registered and sign up for the fancy new service. I hoped I had it taken care of.

A day later, and two days before departure, I still had no resolution and no way to pay my bill. I didn’t want to arrive back to Japan with our electric off in the dead of winter.

So I broke down and called. Eventually I heard the word “operator” and pressed the number accordingly.

A long explanation of “my situation” with its complications, long periods on hold while the operator checked with his manager about how to handle us (Japan is very by the book– and we usually don’t fit in the books!)… and 30 minutes later we had a solution.

I felt really satisfied at how far we’ve come in being able to get things done and manage affairs in Japan– even so far as making phone calls! Still, pride goes before the fall, so I don’t want to get over-confident, because I’ll probably botch the next one.

Glimpses

So, I’ve been toying with the idea for a while of changing up the blog format to something that’s a little more feasible… and that’s just to give you short glimpses into the window of our little corner of the world. Hopefully this will let me post more frequently and not have to try to aim for clever blogs. 😉

So, without further adieu:

The Post Office

Like many places in Japan, the post office is a useful place. Not only can you obviously post things, but you apparently there are things you can do with insurance and savings and other things. I don’t know much about that, because I only frequent one window of the post office.

I frequent that window, and they know me. Not just me, but my kids too. Especially this sweet, short lady in her 50s with a short cut that curls under her round face. I got to know her during the Christmas season while I was desperately trying to attach stamps to a huge stack of cards destined overseas. The staff wasn’t able to attach them due to the quantity, so I stood in the back, rocking with my foot a baby stroller that contained a very unhappy little one. I was frazzled, and she had compassion.

She particularly admires my oldest child, has followed the course of my second and third pregnancy and was so excited to meet Ronja when she finally was out and about after lockdown.

And I never fail to confound them. Especially lately.

I had to go in to open a “Post Office” bank account. If you live in Japan, it’s likely that you’ll have to end up opening an account at a variety of banks. For example, my kids’ preschool only accepts bank transfer payment from Mizuho. The kids’ swimming class only accepts bank transfers from two or 3 banks. As Rosalyn is getting ready to go to first grade, the PTA payment is only accepted from the Post Office “Yuucho” account.

Thus I ventured in. I spent a good long time explaining to another lady behind the counter (and by default, to the entire room) why we’re considered self-employed even though we have an organization that is based in America. She took lots of notes, got lots of binders out and gave me a packet of papers to fill out and come back in a couple hours after she’d researched how to handle my case.

It ended up being pretty straightforward, and she was very kind and helpful and even apologized another time I came into the post office for the hard time it was to open the account.

Then, I came in to ask about the luggage delivery service to the airport. More binders. Asked to come back again. I came back and they had a clear understanding of “my case” and everything ready for me.

And back to that packet I sent recently. With this pandemic, which countries are accepting mail (and which type of mail) is constantly changing. I stood at the counter, knowing to expect a wait. My three ladies, including my main lady, were gathered, leaning into the screen, pressing buttons and conferring.

I stood there, watching them and smiling. I really love them. They know that.

They figured it out eventually. And I left with fond feelings of how sweet “community” is.

Bound, but not bound

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my Gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal.  But the Word of God is not bound!  Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

2 Timothy 2:8-10

 

There is something that always stirs inside my soul when I read those words—But the Word of God is not bound!

Praise God.  It’s powerful, transforming lives… it transformed and transforms my life!  It doesn’t matter where we are in the world, what season we’re in, what’s going on in the world—the Word of God is not bound by anything.

It’s not bound by Coronavirus.  It’s not bound by location.  It’s not bound by governments. It’s not bound by enemies.

The Word of God is not bound.

I was always so awed by this idea that I kinda just stayed in the afterglow of this thought and breezed past the next one.

Therefore, I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

I endure everything.  Everything.

It prompts a great question—what am I willing to endure for the sake of the advancement of the Gospel?

Am I willing… no, really—am I willing to endure chains for the sake of the Kingdom of God to go forth?

What is my “everything”?

That’s perhaps easier to answer from the comfort of my couch.  Sometimes we romanticize, imagining ourselves in that valiant role, standing solidly on our faith as a gun is pointed at us.

But what if it’s not physical chains we’re bound by?

I’ve been reading some books over the last few months about missionaries and burnout.  One, specifically for women… one, a general book.

Last year at our organization’s conference, we learned that every year, 7000 missionaries leave the field.  Seven thousand.  That’s 20 a day.  Almost one per hour.

As one missionary said, “It’s hard out there.”

In his book, The Mind of a Missionary, David Joannes says,

-In a survey by the Journal of Psychology & Christianity in 1983, 90% of women and 88% of men said they were more stressed working as missionaries than they were beforehand, with women bearing a higher brunt of that stress.

-In 1967, psychiatrists, Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe, began to study whether stress contributes to illness.  They surveyed more than 5000 medical patients and asked if they had experienced any of a series of 43 stressful life events in the survey in the previous two years.  Each of the units… had a different “weight” for stress.  The patients marked the events that they experienced and tallied their marks to find their overall score.  The higher the score, and the larger they weight of each event, the higher the probability that the patient would become ill….

The original 1967-1970 study found that if a person reached a level of 200 on the scale in a year, the cumulative stress would have consequences for some time to come.  In fact, they found that 50% of those who reached this level were hospitalized within two years.  The reasons included heart attack, diabetes, cancer, and other severe illness.  If a person reached a level of 300, they were almost certain to end up in the hospital within two years.

In 1999, doctors Lois and Larry Dodds of Heartstream Resources began to study the levels of stress on the mission field using a modified version of the Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale.  First term missionaries were found to have scores peaking at a whopping 900, while veterans maintained 600-plus year after year….

Joannes goes on to say “…while the average person requires a decent amount of self-care, rest, and rejuvenation, and a person in the danger zone requires even more, a missionary realistically requires a bare minimum of at least 3 times the amount of attention to self-care than the average person.

Now, I don’t know how that’s possible.

But it’s true that the stress is immense at times. I’ve taken the test, which didn’t include half of the things I consider stressful in my life… and my score was around 400.

Specifically for our field, Christ Bible Institute Japan’s Brett Rayl and Michael Oh write, “Serving for years amid great spiritual oppression with little to no apparent spiritual fruit has led numerous missionaries and entire agencies to abandon Japan or transfer the work to another field. Supporting churches and sending agencies have often discouraged missionaries from pursuing ministry in Japan. The words of one recruiter for another mission field summarize the thoughts of many: ‘Japan had its chance.’”

Japan has long been known as a missionary graveyard— not a physical one, but a career graveyard.

Remember those 7000 missionaries that quit a year? Many not only quit the field, they quit their faith.

Again from David Joannes’ book, “Upon crossing cultural, linguistic, and geographic barriers, global missionaries are faced with tremendous and often unforeseen pressures… When asked about the emotional struggles on the mission field, one of my missionary friends, who wishes to remain anonymous, responded with a barrage of one-liners that she confronts: ‘Rejections, betrayal, territorialism, competition, and homesickness.  Guilt of not being with family during crises; guilt over never doing enough or doing well enough, disillusionment and fear of failure… unrelenting standards and unrealistic expectations…”

Whew.  I won’t go on. There’s a lot that could be said and things that have been written that say it better and have more insight than I do.

But in this very real struggle, I’ve learned something about endurance and how it works.

It’s the “why” of it all.

It’s for the sake of those who have yet to hear.  It’s for the sake of His Kingdom.  It’s for Him.

Now, I “knew” all those things before.  And again, in my romantic notions and comfortable setting, it was easy to give the “pat” answer.  But having gone through my own struggles, I’ve learned it.

And I’ll probably have to re-learn it many times.

Hebrews 12 encourages us to run with endurance.  To look at joy that is set before us.  That enabled Christ to endure the cross and triumph in spectacular glory.

To endure, I need to cast my eyes to the glory of God and to the goodness of who He is.  To His triumph that gave me life and allows me to triumph over sin, over distress, over opposition.  It allows me not just to conquer these things, but to be more than a conqueror…. And “having done all, to stand firm.” (Eph 6:13).

I’m not going to give you a spiritual pat answer either, because I despise pat answers as truly unhelpful and often insincere.

There are practical things that need to be done to self-care.  There has to be rest.  There has to be times to cool off your brain and shake all that stress out.  There really needs to be trusted people you can talk frankly with.  Some work needs to be delegated so as to spread the burden out. Stress will fog your ultimate vision and wear you down from running the race. Speaking of running, even in training for a marathon, rest is necessary to both recover and run more effectively.  

So, yes, those things are needed.

But under it all… turn our eyes, Lord, to the “why”.  And then help me to answer my questions.

Am I willing to put up with intense ongoing stress?

Am I willing to face opposition?

Am I willing to trod a seemingly unfruitful field?

And am I willing to put up with all these things that feel like chains for the sake of those who have not yet heard?

 

Lord, though I may be bound, I have your word in my heart, and your Word is not bound.  Help me to be more than a conqueror.  Help my brothers and sisters, wherever they are and in whatever they are going through, to learn patient endurance.   Let us hold to the hope and joy of your glory shown in our lives, conforming us to your image and likeness, and may all who see and hear also put their hope in You.  To YOUR NAME be the glory forever and ever.  Amen.

 

Quoted:

The Mind of a Missionary by David Joannes

I also grabbed a few quotes from this article.

 

Anthems of the Season

Life is seasonal.  It’s contrasting. Light and dark.  Mountain and valley.  Short term and long term.  

We’re getting ready to head into the rainy and humid season where it will take days for our clothes to dry on the line. With a newborn and two preschoolers who firmly believe in “playing hard”, I’m a bit concerned that our apartment will soon resemble a dense jungle of uniform shorts, socks and bed sheets hanging from every conceivable ledge and knob.

It’s only seasonal though.

Have you ever had one of those songs that just seems to really say everything that you’re walking through at the time? You know… that one song that just sucker-punches you in your gut and you just give it all to God every single time you hear it?

A few years ago, it was “Oceans” for me. I knew the song but then I walked through a season where God really challenged me to trust Him and the song just broke me every time I heard it. I still remember the goodness of God in that season everytime I hear it.

Well, we’ve been walking through a season. A long, grueling season where at times I intensely longed for quiet, a hot cup of coffee with hazelnut creamer and a porch swing overlooking a picturesque view.

And quiet. Did I mention that?

Every day a battle. Every day discouragement, lies from the enemy. So much to handle with care and caution, precious few things made easy. Every day being kept in the fire, waiting for a Word from the Lord.

Tears.  So many tears.

While my baby was napping and I was cutting quilting pieces the other day (my surprising therapy these days), I was playing worship music in the background. On came a song I hadn’t heard before and- *gut punch*… I’d found the anthem of this season.

“Another in the Fire” by Hillsong seemed to say all that’s been pent up for me. Both a look back at God’s grace and power and a reminder of His presence with me from the beginning.

The last version of the chorus still gets me. Every. Single. Time.

There’ll be another in the fire standing next to me

There’ll be another in the waters

Holding back the seas

And should I ever need reminding 

How good you’ve been to me

I’ll count the joy come every battle

Cause I know that’s were You’ll be.

Many moons ago in youth group, I heard that apparently in ancient times, the Romans would train their war horses by making them stay put in a fiery building until their trainer released them. They had to hold it out, sweat draining from their bodies, overcome fear and worry and to just fiercely re-focus on orders from their master.

I’ve recalled this so often. But praise God, He’s with me in the fire. He’s always been with me. He’s always been so good. I have to look back and remember. “Remember the signposts,” they told us in missions orientation. Remember the times God spoke, God moved, God did the impossible. “You’ll need that map”, they said.

And we did.

Over the last year, God has continually brought out a theme in my readings. Suffering and glory.  Endurance and the image of God.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. -Romans 8:18

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. -Romans 8:29

Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 2 Corinthians 1:9

These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:7

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 2 Corinthians 4:7

These are all just snippets of the rich and deep paragraphs they are part of. I could share a message on each of them, they’ve come to mean so much to me. But there has been a theme. Not one I’ve particularly enjoyed, but one that, beneath all the ash of the dross that is being burned away… somewhere beneath that, I can find joy and strength in.

In my weakness and frailty, and humble and unimpressive form as a jar of clay, I can find the power of God that raised Christ from the dead. And going back to clay…. God’s ultimate work in and through me will be conforming me to His image.

Hudson Taylor, an incredible missionary to China said, “All God’s giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on His power and presence with them.”

And so, as we still face battles and hurdles, we know that, come what may, God will have the ultimate victory, that He will use the hard and painful things to conform me to His image, to develop yet more endurance, and to truly know the power that robbed the grave which is in me and with me.

So, I can count the joy in every battle, in every impossible situation. Because I know He’s with me… and He’s the God that makes paths through the sea (or oceans… if you will!).

Christmas Again

In all the hustle and bustle of December, I am surprised to find that I have a few minutes of peace and absolute quiet in the house.  Vicente took the girls to the park and I finished some errands and have the grand luxury to sit and do something that I’ve been wanting to do for a number of weeks.

I really enjoy reading about personality types, particularly those of my family.  I recently saw a little graphic that said that the comfort zone of my personality was “order, stability, a completed to-do list, knowing your life is under control, and peace and quiet.”

Well, you can’t always have everything, but I’ll take the peace and quiet for now.

It’s a busy season for everyone, and one of my favorites.  I love decorating, baking goods, scarves, warm cups of coffee, Christmas music and parties.  It’s just such a unique, festive and hopeful time of year.

This year, this season has meant taking a new look at faith for me.  I got started a couple years ago doing the Bible in a year, but didn’t begin in January.  So I finished one “lap” through the Bible a couple months ago or so, and finished the Christmas accounts in Luke not too long ago.

Having gone through all the Old Testament and the prophecies especially, I am really reminded of the incredible maneuvering it took to make everything happen.  That sounds like a man-made word- maneuvering– but really it was a supernatural word. Abraham and Sarah having a baby, Rahab becoming part of the lineage of Jesus, Ruth coming from Moab to meet Boaz and become part of the lineage… Mary’s trip to Bethlehem to deliver to fulfill the prophecy… and hundreds more!

There is just so much to marvel at.  As a person who loves details and is interested in how things come together to work, I see such a capable, sovereign hand making this “come to pass”.

God surely has all the events and times of man in His hand.

But I’m also reminded that the players in these prophecies didn’t necessarily see all the necessities of these things.  They didn’t see the end picture.  We see it from a hindsight perspective, with the glib attitudes of “I knew it all along” from a comfortable distance of 2000 years.

But had we been the actual players…?

Almost to my 3rd trimester myself, I would have seen the census as a huge inconvenience and annoyance.  A manger would not have been my ideal “birth plan.” The social shame at being pregnant with the Savior of the world, embarking on a new journey with sneers from neighbors along the way, her prospective match for the future in danger… That’s quite a roller coaster for a pregnant lady.

This verse about Mary just jumped right off the page at me:

“and blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Luke 2:45)

Christmas is about the incredible sovereignty and majesty and goodness of our Faithful God. It’s about trusting God to fulfill His Word.

Do I believe that God will fulfill the things He’s spoken to me? 

He didn’t and doesn’t promise that it would be easy.  So, when life is tough and I don’t understand why things are going the way that they are and don’t know how things can work out, I can trust that God has a grand scheme going.  I must be willing to say to the Lord, “Let it be to me according to your word.”

As Mary carried Jesus in her womb, “God with us”, so Jesus has given us His Spirit and has promised that He will never leave us or forsake us.

And as I go along, I see a little snippet into Mary’s tactics: she pondered these things in her heart.  She treasured them up.

We don’t always comprehend what’s going on.  We don’t see how things are going to work.  But we don’t have to.  We can focus on the inconveniences and pain and complain about it all.

Or we can take the trinkets and treasures God gives us in the moment and store it up in our hearts as we have to move forward.

So.  That’s my Christmas reflection this year.  God did amazing things to bring about this Christmas night… hundred of years worth of prophecies fulfilled in a more-than-Disney magical night. But He wasn’t done by any means.

And He’s still not done.  His birth is the reminder of His power. His entrance into our lives is literally “God with us”, our source as the Prince of Peace, confidence of the everlasting Father.

He has a mighty work still to accomplish in and through us.  It’s not going to be easy.  I’m not going to understand.  But I can be confident of a future glory by His grace, as I put my faith in Him and treasure up His goodness in my heart.