Monday, November 28, 2011

Mary's Diary

July 7
Yesterday something happened that I can’t explain. I don’t understand it myself so how can I tell anyone – most of all Joseph and my parents. How will they believe? I can barely believe it myself.

I went to sleep troubled. Thinking. Praying about my experience with the angel that visited me under the fig tree. I was startled by a touch on my shoulder and a heavenly voice sweetly uttering my name. “Mary,” said the angel. It was Gabriel himself. He read my mind because he told me not to be afraid.

I’ve prayed since I was a little girl that Yahweh would use me to bless and glorify Him, it’s all I wanted in life. I told Yahweh this many times.

The angel’s words seemed to answer my heart’s cry beyond what words could express. I will have a baby. He said the baby will come as the Holy Spirit overshadows on and conceives in me. He will be called the Son of God and His name will be Jesus. I was speechless. I was overcome by the magnitude of his message, yet I remembered the scripture from the prophet, “The Lord Himself will give you a sign: the virgin will be pregnant. She will have a son and she will name him Immanuel.” How often in wonder and perplexity have I pondered those words of the Lord and how in this instant I know and understand these words! These holy words are about me! Me! Thirteen and a half year old Mary. Me! I fell on my face before the angel and said aloud, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let this happen to me as you say.”

When I awoke I wondered if I had dreamed. But then I knew, in my womb I felt conception take place. The Holy Spirit visited me. I can’t explain it but I knew. I smiled. Tears began to stream down my brown cheeks. Holy tears of joy even though I had no idea how to break this news to others. The angel didn’t give me instructions on this.

Oh Abba, what do I do? That’s when my cousin Elizabeth’s name arose in my thoughts. Yes, I must visit cousin Elizabeth to see if what the angel said about her is true. Could it really be that my aged cousin is pregnant long past the years of childbearing? If so I will know that I am not imagining this. Elizabeth has been more like a mother to me than a cousin. She is wise with Yahweh’s wisdom. Yes, I will go. I will make some excuse to my parents and go to my cousin, my Imma.

I repeated the words to Yahweh that I said to the angel. I bowed low and softly said, “I am your handmaid, Yahweh. Let it be done to me as you say. I will obey as the virgin girl of the prophet’s words.”

July 12 – October 8
The caravan stopped a few hundred feet from Elizabeth and Zechariah’s home. Because of her age and all she has taught me I always called cousin Elizabeth Imma or Mommy. She liked it because she, in great sorrow, had no children. I was like a daughter to her, and she like a mother. She cherished me and I adored her.

Excitement and joy began to well up in me as I quickened my pace to her house. I saw her in the garden where she spent so much of her time. She was facing me but her head was down concentrated on her plants.

“Imma! Imma!” I excitedly called out. She stood suddenly clutching her large abdomen.

It is true I thought to myself in wonder. Elizabeth is with child. There was a holy silence between us when Elizabeth burst out, ”Mary! Daughter! When I heard your greeting the child in me leapt in my womb.”

“Mary, the Lord has been speaking to me about you but I didn’t know why. But, oh child, now I know. You are pregnant with the Most High. For months I have been meditating on the words of the prophet.

I completed the sentence, “A virgin girl will be pregnant. She will have a son and name him Emmanuel.”

Tears streamed down our faces and then Imma took me into her arms and said, “Blessed, blessed are you my lovely daughter because you took the Lord at His word. You believed in simple faith that He chose you to bear His son.”

“Why me Imma,” I asked. She replied, “Daughter look at me! Why me?”
And we laughed until we cried. It was then that I knew somehow it would be alright. I am in His hands. The handmaid of the Lord.

That night as I slept next to Imma I softly prayed in wonder and worship, ”Blessed by Your name, Yahweh. You, rich in mercy, answered my prayer of many years since I was a little girl. All I’ve ever wanted is to be Yours. All I’ve ever wanted is to know You and please. You’ve answered my prayers. I am blessed among all women.”

“Yahweh, I will care for this child, our child! I will care for Him and protect Him with all that is within me. Please teach me how to teach Him and what to teach Him until the day when I know He will teach me.

“Forgive me, Yahweh. I am worried about Joseph. About my parents….” That is when I heard His quiet voice, “Do not be afraid, Mary! The Lord is not only with you, He is in you; in your womb.”

Yes, Abba. I am the handmaid of the Lord.

Monday, November 21, 2011


“Be joyful always; pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” ~ I Thessalonians 5:16-18

I’ve always thought this is a verse that I would want to have with me if I was stranded alone on a deserted island.

Let’s see. What’s my agenda today?
o Be joyful all day
o Pray nonstop
o Give thanks while being on a deserted island (or whatever your trying circumstance might be.
o Know that I am in Christ

At the end of the day, before I fall asleep under my palm strands and after a mango night cap, I am content knowing I’ve done God’s will.

But, who needs an island. Let’s try it now. Want to join me for 30 days? For 30 days carry this verse and recite it once every hour and obey its directive. Share the verse with all your friends and family. Memorize it! Share it. Teach it. Live it.

To make it easy let’s start on Thanksgiving. After 30 days I wonder what I will be like. I hope to be living out a daily Thanksgiving holiday. I am trusting God to evict my whining and complaining. I want to increasingly find out that the joy of the Lord is our strength as Nehemiah tells us in chapter 10, verse 8 of his book.

Paul wrote this to Christians who had tough, stressful challenges like you and me. Not Christians with nothing else to do on a deserted island. He wrote it to encourage them to make Christ their focus rather than their problems.

So, if you are game, drop me an email and tell me you are on for the “J.P.T.” challenge of Joy, Prayer, and Thanks. I am going to practice right now.

With joy over you,
Prayer for you,
Thankfulness for you!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Jesus’ Use of Technology

He knew it before Steve Jobs did. He created it before him. These are just some of Jesus’ key innovative ideas that you see daily on your keyboard.

We have to start here, after all He is our Savior, giving us eternal life. But we can press that key at any time for any situation. Then as quickly as you can press it, like a mother comes running to her baby’s cry, He comes running to us. He saves us again and again in the sticky situations of our lives.

Ah, yes, one of my favorite keys that Jesus uses in my life. Negative attitude…oh, God, forgive me for that attitude. Then I hear the delete key pressed as my sin is deleted in an instant through the unending mercy of the cross.

Sometimes, actually a lot of times, God sends something so encouraging our way. But He always wants us to receive our gifts and forward them to those in need of our encouragement. Use this key often.

Moving a little too fast. Making mistakes. It’s not fatal. Jesus’ backspace key is the redemption key. Whenever we blow it, He backspaces making all things work together for good to those that love God; to those called according to his purpose.

This is Jesus’ rhythm key of our Christian lives. Sort of like inhale/exhale. We need to send out to others. To give of ourselves but we also need to receive from God through others. Keep your sending and receiving in balance.

Junk Mail
This box is God’s provision to focus on the “majors” and get rid of the “minors.” What are you so worried about today that you won’t remember a year from now? Throw it in the junk mail box and delete it as soon as possible.

Is there junk in your inbox? Thoughts or actions that corrupt you? Get it into the junk box and delete it as often as you need to. Then use the Philippians 4:8 as a filter for what gets to your inbox.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Phil. 4:8 NIV)

Reply to All
I love this key. It is the community key where Jesus resides in the midst of Christians when two or three are gathered. Bring many into your life to live out your daily running Christian program.

This is the memory key. Take stock of all that God is doing in your life, and save them into an archive where you can go back often to be encouraged. God constantly told his people in the Old Testament to archive or remember.

This key is to remind you that you are out of control and He is in control. Do not use this key. Let only the Holy Spirit use it.

Open Explorer and go to God. Everything you’ve ever wanted to know is in the mind of God; wisdom for any situation when you go to Him. Lean not on your own understanding. Instead, use Google to get God’s mind on things.

I’m sure God has some new things coming out. I heard He is coming out with a Thy Phone to replace the iPhone.

Technologically Yours,
Nick, The Geek

Monday, November 7, 2011

Grief Share

On November 6th it will be one year ago since my big brother, Gene, died. This past year has been one of the most amazing years of my life. With my brother’s death I lost my past. My entire family vanished with his passing.

This past year has had two parallel tracks. One has been an unparalleled grief in my life. It has been lonely and overwhelming many times. The second track has been an unparalleled experience of the mercy and comfort of God. I’ve experienced God in a deep fathering and mothering way.

I want to share with you some of the things I’ve learned on unexpected and unwanted path. I think you will find some of these helpful in relating to our friends’ losses and anyone in particular who suffers. I offer this in humility with my desire and prayer to be a blessing to you and your ministry.

I learned in those first moments that nothing can prepare us for the shock of losing someone you deeply love and who lives in the fabric of your life. It is a painful tearing with accompanying shock. In those moments you learn to receive from others. The simple gestures of phone calls, cards, and flowers are like taking medicine to keep you alive.

Early on there were three gestures that came in the form of material gifts that God used all year long to steady me and comfort me.

My friend Jody Strathman, in Colorado, sent me the most beautiful card with artwork from a young friend who drew it just before she died in a car accident. It was three hands working to repair a broken and bleeding heart. Three hands represent the Trinity who lovingly and steadily work to do emergency surgery on our ruptured, injured hearts. In the card, Jody wrote the most beautiful and tender encouragement to grieve and let God love me. Jody was like a nurse helping me to know the way to heal. Thank you dearest Jody! ♥

My dear friend of many years, Donna Hatasaki, took me out to lunch telling me that she wants to hear everything and just listen. Donna is one of the greatest listeners I know in my life. Nothing has been more important to me than someone willing to listen over and over again. The shock of grief demands a retelling of the story to emerge into the reality of what has happened and eventual acceptance that does not have a time limit on it.

Donna lovingly listened. Then she gave me a beautiful gift that I will forever cherish and always remember my brother by. It was a gorgeous, ornate, white heart Christmas ornament. Donna told me it was for the healing of my broken heart and to remind me that God has healed my brother’s heart. I looked at it all Christmas and what Donna said was true. It was healing for my heart and comfort to know God has my brother’s heart.

After Christmas I could not put it away. I asked God what to do and then my eyes landed on an 8x10 photo of my birth mother when she was 18 years old. She was carrying me in her womb at the time of the picture. Gene and I are adopted from two different families. I found my mother but he, painfully, never found his. I hung the beautiful ornament on the top left corner of the photo saying, “Gene, I give my mother to you to be your mother.” It is by my bedside and I look at it every night knowing God has healed Gene’s mother wound. Thank you, Donna, for giving me something so tangible that has lasted all year.

Then my wonderful 17-year-old, artist son, Zack, gave me something that also has been a daily source of healing. He fashioned and painted a small clay lighthouse with a sign on the front that says, “Gene’s”. That it came from one of my precious sons at Christmas and symbolized light in darkness blessed me to the deepest core of my spirit. I have it in front of my favorite picture of Gene and me. Thank you, beloved Zack.

These gifts taught me the power of a gift in the form of a tangible object associated with the one you lose. It is just a symbol that God can powerfully use especially when you fall deep into the pit of despair.

From the beginning, my lovely Susie has walked with me. Our grief affects all those who love us and especially those closest to us. Susie has been faithful though I know many times it was hard for her. I know she needed grief relief. The comfort we give is not just to the one who has lost but to those closest to that person. Thank you, Susie, for coming alongside me and staying like the Holy Spirit does.

I learned that within a few weeks most everyone forgets about your loss, but it is just getting started for you and the roughest days are still ahead. I foresaw this and early on made an important decision. I decided that I would not hold anyone under resentment who was not present for me in my grief, realizing for various reasons that they were unable to be there. I would accept from God which comforters He decided to send me. There are people you expect to draw near you that don’t and people you never would have expected who do.

One of those was my dear friend, Jen, who lives many states removed from me. Jen is truly the angel God sent me. Phone calls, texts, cards, and emails nearly every week. She made me feel free to call her anytime. She listened, and listened, and listened some more. She never showed impatience. It was as if I had a broken leg healing and she walked alongside me letting me lean on her for support. I felt her support every day though we never had a personal time together. Thank you, Jen, for the gift you gave in friendship that I can never repay.

Then there was Shelley and Kristie, my ministry mates, who I see daily. They constantly drew me out when I wanted to withdraw. That is one of the greatest dangers of grief. But Shelley and Kristie wouldn’t let me do it. At times I felt like a club kid against the wall who didn’t want to play the game. Then Shelley and Kristie would pull me into the game for my own good.
My friend, Lydia, lost her sister 11 years ago. When I began to sink beyond the grief into self pity she, like Shelley and Kristie, would not let me. She disciplined my thinking onto Jesus with my grief to find His peace.

Yet, even with a small circle of wonderful friends it was a journey I have had to travel with God alone. I was thrust into the arms of God in mercy and grace. And did God ever show up! There have been countless visitations from God to encourage me, comfort me, and hold me up. I have learned that when we free fall, He really does catch us. I have learned as I draw close to Him how intimate He is with me. I have experienced His wooing and drawing me to Himself like the lover in the Song of Solomon. I have experienced His specific reassurance that my family is not lost to Him but He holds them in His heart. He has consoled me to know that our little story of a small, poor Italian immigrant family, living together on a farm is all a part of His larger story and is one of the millions of God’s chapters in His book of life!

I have learned that good memories can begin to emerge that start to overshadow the grief. Yet, my loved one will never be forgotten. There will be a sadness that cannot fully be healed until heaven. And yet this simply deepens the experience of life and character. For me I feel a greater urgency to love the people God has placed in my life and tell them so. I realize life is fragile and someone you love can be taken at any time. So I must be attentive to these relationships and savor them. I cannot let my “to do” list take priority over my “to be” list. My list of who I am to be present to with encouragement and attentiveness. I am taking more intense joy and gratitude at leaves falling silently in wonder this fall, in a hot cup of black coffee while sharing my life with a friend, in a family dinner, and in a card received or given. Pain is making me more sensitive to the gentle prompting of the Holy Spirit.

I have had to remind myself that grief is different for everyone. My grief is unique as well as how long it takes; a fact I want to carry for the rest of my life when someone in my life loses someone. There is no one size fits all. Like Jen has been to me I want to be present, patient, sensitive, and listening to the friend who has lost someone; and to the Holy Spirit’s prompting about how to help.

One morning a couple of months after Gene’s death I had coffee and conversation with Amira. Amira and I love books, movies, coffee, and conversation. We are such dear friends. She said, “I don’t know how to ask this or if I should but how are you doing with your brother’s death?” I know Amira was concerned she would cause me pain, but it is the opposite. I told her that it meant so much to me that she asked. It freed me to talk and reminded me that I am not alone. When someone is in grief I encourage you to ask how they are. Many people don’t know what to say so they pretend like nothing has happened. That’s what makes the pain worse.

I have learned to grieve but not as those without hope as Paul says in Thessalonians. What an unsurpassable gift we have as Christians. We have real rock solid hope of eternal life. I know for a fact that I am going to reunite with my brother, father, and mother in a joyous reunion. My precious friend, Lydia, and I take a prayer walk every Wednesday. Our relatives are buried in two different cemeteries across the street from each other. We regularly go to each on our walks, talk to our loved ones while praying, and remind ourselves we have the hope of Christ and will reunite soon. The early Christians met in cemeteries and rehearsed this certain hope of unspeakable joy.

I have learned that God, rich in mercy, fills the holes in our lives. This year God has so gently and intimately spoken to me this: “I am God your Father and I am your Father in the loss of your father. I am Holy Spirit and I am mother to you in the loss of your mother. I am Jesus and I am your big brother in the loss of your brother. I am your holy family in which you belong.

There is so much more but I better stop here. Friends, go to our club kids. Go with mercy, comfort, and grace being slow to speak, slow to anger, and quick to listen! Let the Holy Spirit make you a gracious, ever-present comforter to our friends!

In His abundant mercies,