Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mary's Heart of Faith—an Example for All of Us

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, "Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!"

But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end."

Then Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?"

And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible."

Then Mary said, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her. –Luke 1:26-38

Keisha Castle-Hughes as MaryAs you look at the story of Jesus' miraculous entry into our world as a baby, you can't help focusing on the incredible way God introduced Himself to a teenage girl, radically shaking up her paradigm—and all of mankind's—forever after. (Photo: Keisha Castle-Hughes/The Nativity Story-IMDB)

When I look at Mary portrayed in the pages of the Bible, and especially in this passage of Luke, I can't help but notice some familiar, and then amazing qualities of this young woman, which speak to all of us.

Here was a teenage girl, of the lineage of David, and the tribe of Judah. Great ancestry, yes, but, what is so inspiring to me is Mary's simple, yet solid trust and faith in God, even when she didn't understand the whole scope of His plan.

An ordinary day suddenly became extraordinary when her routine was interrupted by the visit of the angel, Gabriel. Having been sent by God with the news that would forever change the course of history, Gabriel greets Mary accordingly, calling her "highly favored," "blessed among women," and that "the Lord is with" her.

Understandably, she is taken aback and troubled by his words to her—trying to figure out what this greeting could possibly mean. (Of course, the fact that AN ANGEL was standing in front of her was probably unnerving at the very least—Daniel had another reaction, but I digress)

Gabriel goes on to explain God's plan to bring the long awaited Messiah to the world. I can imagine that it must have been hard for Mary to hear anything the angel said, past the part about her conceiving and "bringing forth a son"!

When the Heavenly messenger takes a breath, it was the first thing—and the only thing—that Mary questions him about.

"How can this be?" she asks, "since I do not know a man?"

Now, earlier in the chapter, Zacharias received a little visit from Gabriel as well. When told about his own coming miraculous event, he poses a similar question to the angel. Why is it that his question brought him rebuke and discipline, while Mary's did not?

The angel rebuked Zacharias for his unbelief. After all, his scenario had happened before—with Abraham and Sarah. And he was a priest; of all people, he should've responded in faith.

Mary, on the other hand, had a very legitimate question, and she was not chastened for unbelief. In fact, after Gabriel explains what will happen to Mary, she responds with a heart of obedience, surrender, humility and trust…

"Behold the hand-maiden of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to Your Word," she said.

This young woman rose to God's occasion for her and chose to embrace His plan in FAITH, though she didn't comprehend it all.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm frequently mystified by what God seems to be doing at various times in my life. But, I—and all of us—are given the opportunity to embrace it in faith, trusting the benevolent love of the God that we've come to know.

These are precarious times—financially, emotionally, and in many other ways. But, the Apostle John reminds us in 1 John 5:4, "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—OUR FAITH." (emphasis mine)

It was Mary's example, and it still holds true for each of us some 2,000+ years later; that solid, simple trust in God—faith.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Perfect Game that Wasn't... Perfect

What was to be a shining moment in baseball history, became a shining moment of character and integrity instead.

TobyMacI hadn't been watching the fateful baseball game between the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday night, but ESPN—not wanting to miss extending viewers the opportunity to witness history—switched to the ballgame in Comerica Park and gave the set-up. (Photo: MLB)

It was the top of the 9th inning and Armando Galarraga, who had struggled earlier this season and just days before, had been placed back into the Tigers' pitching rotation, was having the game of his life so far. He had a coveted and rare "perfect game" going and you could feel the anticipation of the last three outs as he took the mound.

Now, for those not savvy to baseball terms, a "perfect game" means the pitcher has not allowed any hits, walks or runs—no base runners at all. It's "27 up, 27 down." And it is so hard to achieve, since the variables are many (the defense behind the pitcher must be perfect as well) that there have only been 20 perfect games in the entire modern history of baseball. Surprisingly, 2 of them came this year.

And now, we were on the edge of our seats for a possible, momentous 3rd perfect game in one season… unprecedented!

You could hear a collective gasp as the first batter up in the 9th hit a deep fly ball that had both the left and center fielders running to catch up with it. It looked like a sure base hit, but somehow center fielder Austin Jackson made a phenomenal over-the-shoulder catch reminiscent of Willie Mays, and we could all breathe again.

Out number two came easily enough and then it was down to one more.

The wind-up… the pitch…

Missed CallJason Donald hit a ground ball that was looming toward the space between first and second base. Detroit's Miguel Cabrera hustled over, fielded it and readied to flip the ball to pitcher Armando Galarraga, who had run to cover 1st base—a fairly routine play. You could see the pending smile mixed with concentration on Armando's face as he reached for the incoming ball and made sure his foot was on the bag before Donald could get there. (Photo:

Out! Perfect game! Armando was just starting to celebrate when he suddenly realized the first base umpire, Jim Joyce, had called Donald "safe."

Safe?! Perfect game blown.

But, as the instant replay began to proliferate the stadium JumboTron, and our TVs ad-nauseum, the truth was plain…

Donald was out. The call was absolutely and very obviously wrong. It cost this young pitcher a perfect game, his name in the history books, and the annals of Cooperstown.

But, that's where the grace began.

Upon realizing he had just been robbed of a perfect game, pitcher Armando Galarraga… smiled. He didn't come unglued, he didn't scream profanities… he—albeit no doubt stunned—just smiled.

More grace was shown on the part of umpire Jim Joyce as he stood and allowed Detroit manager Jim Leyland to speak his mind in full regarding his call.

The game went on and the next batter's out made the Detroit win final… but not perfect.

After the game, umpire Jim Joyce asked for the tapes of the replay so he could see it for himself—and there it was.

He was instantly remorseful and his anguished cry could be heard from the room. "I missed it, I missed it," he lamented. "I took a perfect game from that kid who pitched a perfect game. It was the biggest call of my career and I kicked the (stuff) out of it. I'm sorry. I had a great angle and I missed the call."

This is where Joyce's integrity began to shine, as he sought out Armando, the very one he'd "robbed," to offer his heartfelt and genuine apology.

Joyce and ArmandoAnd that's where Armando's character was plainly revealed, as he told reporters later regarding Joyce, "He really feels bad. He probably feels more bad than me. Nobody is perfect. I give a lot of credit to that guy. [An apology] doesn't happen. He apologized. He feels really bad. Nobody is perfect." (Photo:

More grace was shown by Detroit's manager Jim Leyland the next day when he had Armando himself bring out the lineup card to a tearful Jim Joyce behind the plate.

It was a big deal that Armando did not receive the full credit of what he had earned that night (the next day GM awarded him a Corvette for his efforts), but in the midst of what seemed so disappointing, the integrity, character and grace that was shown, seemed to make the perfect game almost pale in comparison.

And, who knows? Just maybe Armando will have another shot at it someday!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Jillian Michaels… You Don’t Know What You’re Missing!

"…For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made…" -Ps. 139

I've watched a few episodes of TV's The Biggest Loser, so I'm familiar with trainer Jillian Michaels' chiseled physique and have even appreciated her heart behind the "tough love" workouts she and her cohort inflict on the winded contestants struggling to complete that last push up.

I've admired her. …Until now.

Jillian MichaelsLast week she made a statement that I simply must contend with since it is regarding something so very close to my heart—having children. …Or, more accurately—being pregnant.

Jillian apparently told Women's Health Magazine that she would not "ruin" her body with pregnancy, but that she would adopt. (Jillian Michaels/AP Photo)

While I completely agree and advocate adoption—there are so many young people and children in our foster systems alone, who desperately need a loving home—I must take issue with Jillian's view of pregnancy.

It's not that she's wrong; it's absolutely true (because I'm speaking from personal experience) that being pregnant and carrying another human being inside your own body WILL CHANGE IT.

However, "ruin" is not the correct word.

Even now, as my two children are 26 and nearly 21, I can still (almost physically) recall that incredible sensation of feeling my baby move about in the womb, or the almost-imperceptible flutter of her hiccups, akin to the quiver of a tiny bird's wings.

Yes, there were backaches and swollen feet.

But, then there were moments, rocking in a chair, imagining this new little person who would soon be sleeping in her crib and what impact she would someday make on the world.

Or, just stopping to consider the amazing miracle that God was knitting this child together a bit more each day—in secret.

…My hands on my surprisingly expanded belly (nearly the circumference of a basketball!); praying for this little one. Headphones wrapped around my middle so he could enjoy some music.

Even childbirth—as hard as it is—there is nothing on this earth that compares to bringing another life into the world.

Aimee and daughter AllisonOh yes, your body will most certainly be changed—but not ruined. Mine may not be back in the "pre-baby" shape it once was, but I wouldn't trade a moment of carrying my children in-utero for being in perfect shape. Not one.

In fact, there are actually physical BENEFITS to pregnancy…

Your hair grows like never before, you have twice the blood in your body so you're almost never cold, and naturally enhanced—well you know… but those are the obvious ones.

Did you know… (according to a Telegraph UK article)

-A pregnant woman's skin often creates its own moisturizer
-Some women with MS experience a remission of symptoms during their pregnancy
-Some women with Rheumatoid Arthritis also experience a remission while pregnant

Whether you stick with your decision to only adopt, or you eventually do become pregnant, Jillian, raising a child from a baby till the time they tell you they're "moving out" (like my youngest did last week), will be the most important and most wonderful thing you do… "ruined" body or not!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Unafraid: What God Wants Us to Be

"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear…"

About a year and a half ago, a friend and I went to see veteran Christian recording artist Amy Grant in concert. After a night filled with Amy's beloved contemporary classics, she played a song from an album that was (at the time) still in the works.

Amy GrantThe song was called Unafraid, and it reached in and touched my heart like none of the others had that night.

Here's why...

As I've been walking with the Lord for nearly 25 years now, He has changed my heart and my life in many ways. But, more than anything else I can put my finger on…

…God has given me courage.

I don't say this in a boastful way, mind you. I'm making this known as a tribute to Him—because it's no small feat.

Before I knew the Lord, I was afraid of many things. As a child I was terrified that my parents would die (they've always been quite healthy—it was just fear). As a young adult on my own in a state far from where I'd grown up, I suffered from extreme loneliness. I was much too shy to put myself in circumstances where I would meet new people, although I hated being without friends.

Then when I became a single mom, I was so fearful of somehow losing or mis-parenting this precious child of whom I was now in charge.

Even later on, as a "new" Christian, the challenges of the beginning years of marriage brought an anxiety that threatened to steal my peace of mind at every turn.

But now, as I look back, I can clearly see the enormous change that only God could bring to my heart, soul and to who I am. It's even stated in 1John 4:18:

"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love."

Bottom line; God's perfect love has cast out my fear.

It has enabled me to love my husband—unafraid. To entrust my children, now young adults, into God's secure hands—unafraid. To let go of my brother, till we meet again on the other side of the veil—unafraid. To see my parents getting older, but to know (since they're Believers) I can never really lose them—unafraid. To look to the future—unafraid.

It doesn't mean never being fearful of something—but because God's perfect love is always present, it brings courage. Courage, by the way, is not defined by never being afraid; but by—in the face of that fear—pressing through it.

Merriam-Webster defines "courage" this way:
"…mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. …mental or moral strength to resist opposition, danger, or hardship. Courage implies firmness of mind and will in the face of danger or extreme difficulty."

Sounds a lot like what the Apostle Paul says in 2 Tim. 1:7, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind."

Recently, Amy's new EP was released and I heard the full version of her new song: Unafraid. As I listen, I know God has done this work in Amy, as well as in me. She tells the story well; here is an excerpt from the lyrics:

Watchin' my children finding their way
Through struggles and trials and heartbreak
I hope the roads they take are making them strong
I'll still be on my knees long after they're gone.
But, Love has made, Love has made, Love has made…
…has made me unafraid.

Jennifer, Amy Grant, AimeeIf you struggle with fear, I pray that you will allow God to do this great work in you too.

May His perfect love cast out your fear today.

(To watch a video of Amy Grant playing this song, click here: )

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Gleaning Hope in Our Time

Across the board, no matter the generation, gender, financial or employment status, every single person needs it—without it, life becomes mere existence at best.

But, the person who possesses this can survive—even thrive—under the most inhumane or desolate conditions:

-Amid the stifling sickness of the concentration camp
-As a prisoner of war, enduring the pain, waiting for rescue
-As a patient, taking another round of poison-called-chemo into your veins to wipe out the cancer
-Or, a mother praying and believing for her wayward child to come home.

It’s not money, fame or a new drug; it’s not even friendship, although that can bring strength as well…

…It is HOPE.

Emily Dickinson wrote about it so eloquently:

“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all…”

Though history reveals many other desperate times, every current generation likely feels the urgency for hope, as if there is no more need like the present. In every situation we find ourselves; in order to get out of bed each morning—we need hope.

The thing is, it’s there for the taking. Now, some may cite the old argument; are you an optimist or a pessimist—is the glass half full or half empty?

But I believe gaining and retaining hope is much more than just your personality or temperament. We can choose to fill our hearts and minds with what brings hope, or with what is devoid of it. Let’s face it, there’s plenty out there that is devoid of hope. And, because those downer things, attitudes and influences are all around us, we need to actively choose to input that which fosters hope. Or else, it’s all too easy to become discouraged.

But, from where do we get hope? What is its origin?

The origin of hope is GOD. Romans 15:13 says, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Italics mine)

Okay, so God is the Author of hope, but how do we acquire it?

The answer is found in Jesus.

Colossians 1:27 tells us that Christ in us is the “hope of glory.” In fact, it is the “hope [that] does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us,” according to Romans chapter 5.

There are three main ways that I gather up hope from the Lord, and I’ve found them to be pretty sure. One is through reading the Word—the Bible. A verse I love, found in Psalm 119, depicts the scenario well: “the entrance of Your Words gives light…” (Psalm 119:130) As if you’re journeying through the darkest caves where you cannot see your next step, and you speak a verse from the Bible; suddenly there’s a little light reflecting off the cavern walls—the more you speak from the Word, the brighter it becomes. And, for me, light and hope are often intertwined.

Another great way to “gather up hope from the Lord” is through music. Singing to God, and singing or playing the songs He gives you; sometimes even singing out what He is speaking to you or someone else, can be so heartening.

I really believe something very special happens between us and the Lord when we are caught up in worshiping Him—it’s a communication and interaction of another level. And it changes us.

Worship changes our attitude, heart, mind and mood. …It fosters hope in us; that hope that “does not disappoint” because it’s Christ in us, the “hope of glory.”

And the third way to bring hope to yourself, is to bring it to others. Jesus told His followers in Luke 6:38, “Give and it will be given to you…” And we know He says elsewhere that whatever we sow, we will also reap. If we then sow hope and encouragement in others, we will reap the same.

It only takes a quick glance around your town to see that the enemy of our souls is working overtime to bring people down. Starting this year, let’s be the ones to counter that—to bring the light of God’s Word; the music of Heaven; and the heart to touch another with His love.

Gather up a little hope from the Lord today.

“Out of the browns and grays, from between the long lines of wet-falling...emerged...color.

And from behind the blank wall of waiting for warmth in my mind...there came...

Creeping in like a shy guest to a room full of strangers, it stayed in the corner for a while.

But as the pastels of spring grew brighter, the flicker kindled yet more and more.

Tentative, so delicate, but blooming nonetheless...”

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Young Man’s Remarkable Grace in the Face of Bitter Disappointment

The much anticipated BCS Championship Game last Thursday night held a few surprises, and one big heartbreak for the Texas Longhorns and their highly-rated quarterback Colt McCoy.

An SI article worth reading, by Andy Staples, notes how close McCoy has come to obtaining both conference and national titles—including the Heisman—in his career, but that somehow each time they remained just out of reach.

This past year—2009—was McCoy’s final year at the University of Texas and his final season with the Longhorns. He led them to a perfect regular season record; 12-0. The 2010 BCS Championship game on January 7, 2010 was the talented quarterback’s final opportunity to shine at the college level.

But, once again it was not to be.

During the Longhorns’ very first drive of the game, in the red zone, Colt McCoy was “blasted” by Alabama linebacker Marcell Dareus, forcing him back into center Chris Hall. It knocked McCoy out of the game with a pinched nerve in his shoulder.

After being x-rayed and examined, he returned to the field to encourage his teammates and especially his replacement, back up quarterback Garrett Gilbert—a freshman.

Despite a valiant effort by Gilbert, the Texas Longhorns were defeated by the Alabama Crimson Tide 37-21.

And while the Alabama victory was certainly earned and deserved, there was another victory of sorts that night.

In light of all that had happened to him in his college quarterback career, Colt McCoy chose not to give into despair.

Staples writes: “Given multiple chances to feel sorry for himself, McCoy didn't take the bait. ‘It would be so easy to question why,’ he said. But he never did.”

In fact, McCoy explained what it was (or Who it was) that enabled him to deal with this disappointment in what began as the biggest game of his young life thus far.

"I worked and played my whole career to be on this stage, to be given this opportunity," Colt told reporters. "I know what it would have been like had I played that game. To know that is tough. But at the same time, I am a man of faith. I stand on the Rock. I'll never question God for why things happen the way they do… There's bigger and better football days to come."

That’s grace, and that’s trusting the Lord for the bigger picture.

It’s a good reminder to each of us that true strength and character isn’t measured by victories, but by how you get up and press on after defeat and disappointment.