My first child was born a few days before Thanksgiving, just over 16 years ago. Having a newborn at Christmas, made advent come alive as I rocked him late into the night by the light of the Christmas tree. I couldn’t help but feel a kinship to Mary, the mother of Jesus, in a deep way during those beautiful, illuminated moments.
As the wife of a church planter, I sometimes feel alone. I live with Satan continually attacking my family like a relentless wolf nipping at our heels. There are countless times when I have thought, “I could not have made this up if I tried,” as I stand incredulous at what the enemy has thrown our way. It feels lonely that not many of the people in my life can relate to what that feels like.
“It’s nothing personal,” people have said when they chose to worship somewhere else. What those people do not realize is that I have personally prayed for them, I have personally invested my time and heart into them and their family. They are loved by my family and our church family. Their choice to leave may even be the right thing for them to do, but it is indeed very personal to me. It has hardly ever happened that someone understands that.
Eighteen months ago, our family of six moved from Pennsylvania where we first planted a church, to the UK to join a church planting team there. The sun was shining one day that we traveled to a nearby city for necessary immigration paperwork. We bought sandwiches at lunchtime and ate in a stunning ancient Cathedral courtyard. I snapped a pretty picture of my daughter grinning at the sun and posted it on Instagram. Someone immediately commented, “Show off!” My heart sank. We were not on a Great Britain joyride. Our kids were still crying themselves to sleep each night. At that point, everything about this move felt wrong, too hard and “not worth it.” As I attempted to guide my four children through the rigors of navigating a new culture and homesickness, it felt like following God’s call narrowed the amount of people who can relate to me to a very small number.
“Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion.” (Luke 1:24) It is not clear why Elizabeth stayed in seclusion for 5 months when she became pregnant, but I am sure there were things about her pregnancy that felt isolating. Being the oldest person anyone of the village had laid eyes on as expecting a child would make me want to stay inside as well. She was a woman whose lifelong prayers for a child had been finally answered and there were divine designs on the purpose of her unborn child — perhaps she just needed some weeks to let that set in.
Mary too was alone in her calling. Her plight as a pregnant virgin would have been much easier had the angel, Gabriel, appeared to her at the evening meal where her whole family could have born witness to his message. Instead, she received this life-altering heavenly declaration alone; facing divorce, possible death and at the very least, judgement.
Bravely, she told Gabriel, “May your word to me be fulfilled.”
Mary is the only woman in history to bear within her body the One who embodied a second chance for humanity. Her weighty journey of motherhood was a road she walked alone, until she was able to visit Elizabeth. What comforting confirmation it must have been for both women to have John the Baptist in utero leap and Elizabeth experience the Holy Spirit coming upon her when she heard Mary’s voice.
Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!
Elizabeth affirmed her young counterpart.
“There are very few people who understand what my life is like,” a fellow pastor’s wife confided over coffee. I nodded. I understood and we shared our stories. God in His graciousness has given us to each other.
My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
Mary’s song of praise begins with a declaration that God has been mindful of her. He saw her. He knew that in His strength alone she could handle the calling that in many ways separated her from her peers. In His gracious goodness, God not only sent an angel to clue Joseph in to what He was doing, but also gave Mary a friend in Elizabeth, another mother with a high calling.
But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
I cannot help but think as Mary treasured each newborn moment, her faith in God Her Father was also growing, because while much about the Savior’s birth was less than ideal, God’s presence was so incredibly known from the shepherds breathless report of angels, to a place to rest in an overfull town, to the star in the sky. When we know, see and feel God Almighty’s hand upon our life, we can persevere through much.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain. (Psalm 139:3-6)
God has equipped pastors’ wives to sometimes walk alone in our calling. He is our great reward as He sees us, knows us and loves us. And sometimes, His love looks like coffee with another pastor’s wife who totally gets the road we walk.