Monday, December 21, 2015

Status: Grace

Credit
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
John 1:1

Oops!

I'd forgotten to make the monthly payment to the insurance company before the due date. Slightly panicked, but knowing that they wouldn't cancel after only one delinquent day, I went to the website to pay.

But here's what got me:

There was a box that said, "Status." And instead of listing my status as late, past due, or even delinquent, something you'd expect to find, it said this:

Grace.

I stopped and pondered that--but only for a moment, as I had to get that payment made!

But it's still with me.


Status: Grace.

It's not late. I'm not (a) delinquent. Or a prodigal. Or a screw-up.

And by now, you know I'm not talking about an insurance payment. But in a way, I am.

Grace is defined by Merriam Webster as a temporary exemption, a brief reprieve, an act of kindness, courtesy, or clemency.

But the more interesting definition is the first one listed, which is: unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification; a virtue coming from God.

Note that this is not given to Christians, but to all humans. It is an act of kindness, a courtesy--and it unmerited. In other words, we can't earn it. And we're all eligible.

That virtue, that grace that comes from God, was sent to us in the form of a helpless babe--one who was completely dependent upon the humans who would one day become dependent upon Him. 

This baby who rested his head on his mother's chest beckons us to now rest our head on His.

When I celebrate His birth at Christmas, I tend to think not of the baby, but of the man He would become, did become--the One who embodied grace--that unmerited act of kindness, courtesy, and clemency. This act of kindness I did not deserve and couldn't earn, but I chose to claim it anyway, simply because it was offered to me.

credit
The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14


When you celebrate Christmas this year, might you just take a moment to think about the Word of God Who became flesh and dwelt among us--the One who was full of grace and truth and freely offered His life so that we could share in that grace and truth?

There is no greater gift.


For the law was given through Moses; 
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ
John 1:17

Until then,
Christmas Blessings Along a Joyous Path,
Mary

I will be taking a blogging break until after the new year. Look for my next post on January 4 or 5.

Please enjoy this video, The Word Became Flesh, from Anointed:


And this one, Grace Flowed Down, by Christy Nockels:



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Monday, December 14, 2015

My Return to Tacky

I've had a fake tree for years. Can't be bothered with the fuss of a real tree. I always forget to water it. And even during the years that I've diligently nurtured a real tree, it was dead by mid-December. So, fake it is.

This year I wanted a real one. I don't know why; I suppose I simply got tired of putting the tree together and looking at all the space in between the branches.


For years, I dreamed of a tree with silver balls and red and silver bows. Instead, my trees--both fake and real--were decorated with handmade macaroni frames housing an awkward Polaroid Instamatic picture of one of my children, anywhere from Nursery School to fifth grade. Various other hand crafted ornaments, some missing pieces came out each year. When the kids moved out, I still brought the same ornaments to the tree. I think I felt obligated. You know...tradition and all that.




Last year I decided to make my dream come true. Sparkling white lights danced around the glittery silver balls. Red and silver ribbon trailed down from the top where a big bow rested instead of an angel. The tree cried "Christmas The holiday season is here!" 

Actually, that's not true. Not at all. Oh, my fake tree cried. It wept. In fact, it screamed. 

It screamed, "Macy's!"



Yes, my tree was pretty. But sterile. I really didn't like it. Not at all.

What I thought I wanted wasn't at all what I expected.

I thought I'd find joy and satisfaction in something that I saw in stores, in magazines, and in movies. 

If I make my tree look like that, I can BE that. 

But that wasn't who I was.

What I really wanted was what I had--what I deemed tacky last year in search of something more fitting, more glamorous, more...me.

But it wasn't at all tacky. It was familiar. Meaningful. Personal. Do we put up and decorate a Christmas tree to impress others or to enjoy with our family?

Fast forward to the present. We got the real tree. Put it in the stand. I even bought colored lights, deviating from my strict policy of white lights only.

I dragged all the decorations up from the basement, and there in one box were all the silver balls, white lights and fancy silver and red ribbons/bows. I reached in to take hold of the ribbon, and my hand stopped. 

What was I doing? I hated this last year.


I found myself waxing nostalgic. I looked at my little boy with the missing front teeth in the glittery foam frame.



That little boy is now a man (with very nice teeth, I might add). 

I took out the heart-shaped hand made wood frame with an impromptu picture of my little girl with a disheveled look taken at playgroup. 



That disheveled little girl is now a woman who would never go out of the house with hair like that! 

I chuckled.

Silver balls can't compare to that.

Suddenly, I was excited to use the "old" decorations--but only because I now wanted to, not because I felt any sort of obligation. I picked through the years of ornaments and chose the ones I wanted to decorate with. Some reminded me of the folks who gave them to me. Some were pretty. Some--pretty goofy. My eclectic tree was real in more ways than one.

It was me.

I had returned to what mattered most. What was important. Who I really am. I'm not a polished silver ball and red bow kind of tree/woman. I'm an eclectic mish-mosh with no particular theme kind of tree/woman. A little homey, a little tacky, a little crafty with a silver ball thrown in here and there...but mostly, a lot of love, loyalty, and devotion.

So often we aspire to be someone who looks good on someone else, or have something that looks good in the store. We take it home, we put it on, we show it off...yet, it doesn't fit right, doesn't look right, and doesn't feel right. 

Like a fake tree with sterile ornaments.

We realize that it wasn't at all what we expected. And maybe we really didn't want it all that much. 

The things that we once held so dear often become the very things we long to escape, only to beckon us back with a stronger bond.

Is there something you've tried to change or escape from, only to discover that when you got what you wanted, it wasn't at all what you expected it to be? It's never to late to return to that which beckons you home again. 

Return to who you are this Christmas.



Because there's no place like home.


Blessings Along the Path,
Mare


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Monday, December 7, 2015

What Do I Know About Need?

Every year at this time, my daughter and I spend a day in New York City, since we live so close. We don't do Rockefeller Center or Macy's or even Radio City. We've done all that. After a few years, it gets old.

We do, however love the Union Square Holiday Market with all its funky vendors and artisans, along with wonderful aromas of spices and indulgent foods. We always find some interesting Christmas gifts there--as well as goodies for ourselves! But more than that, we love spending the time together. 

This year, we lunched at the Spice Market, an Asian fusion restaurant in the Meatpacking District (Amy's favorite restaurant). After shopping and eating, we decided to find something sweet in the Chelsea Market, the former Nabisco factory. I love strolling through the old building and taking in the old architecture. Imagining a different sort of tired people who walked these halls when it was a factory.


I took this picture while strolling through the market (in search of chocolate).
Aren't the lights beautiful?

We found our chocolate and headed back to Union Square, where the car was parked.

But of course, nature calls from time to time, and when you're walking along the streets of New York, a bathroom is not an easy thing to find.

We found a Starbucks--always a good place, because they never refuse a non-paying customer a place in the bathroom line (it's actually part of their policy).

While Amy waited in line, I waited outside, since I was taking up space needlessly. 

While I was waiting, an older man, hunched over a shopping cart, shuffled up to the pay phones (yes, they still exist). He had a hard time walking, and the difficulty of life almost visibly rested on his shoulders. His cart was full of newspapers. 

Newspapers?

What on earth does he do with those? I wondered. 

A gray woolen blanket lay on top, and he carried what seemed like all of his belongings in the kind of reusable bag I bring to the grocery store. The bag had what looked like a handmade Christmas tag hanging from the handle.It was in the shape of a Christmas tree, made from green construction paper. Perhaps it said, "Merry Christmas" to an anonymous needy stranger from an equally anonymous not-so-needy stranger who felt that packing this bag with a warm blanket might somehow assuage the guilt of not being able to do more. 

Someone like me.

The man parked his cart by the phones and carefully placed the blanket on top. Taking his bag with him, he walked what might have been ten steps to the Starbucks entrance, where I half perched, half leaned on the cement wall next to the door. It seemed to take an eternity for him to reach the door. His steps were small, his balance precarious without his cart, and his demeanor heavy.

He was a big man. I don't know if he was homeless. He didn't smell when he walked past me. 

Who knows? Maybe I smelled to him. Like someone who tried to care but didn't really. Someone who didn't see people like him on a regular basis, so didn't know what to make of him. Someone who smelled people to see if they were homeless. Someone who is ignorant to the plight of the kind of people who pack newspapers into a cart.

I figured he was going in to use the bathroom (remember the Starbucks policy?). While he was gone, I snapped this picture.



I was intrigued by this man and his cart. 

He came out only a few minutes later. Amy hadn't come out yet,which meant she was still in line. So he hadn't used the bathroom. Why did he go in?

He had newspapers in his hand. Day old ones that the management allowed him to take?


He held on to a pole as he gingerly stepped down onto the sidewalk. It seemed to take forever. I wanted to help him, but maybe he didn't want help. Could I just let him have a little dignity?

I watched, as he slowly walked back to his cart, added the newspaper, put his bag on top, and pushed on. Away from me, paying no attention to me, as I have done to so many like him.

When Amy finally came out, I told her about the man.

"Why would he have all those newspapers?" I asked her.


"Maybe he sleeps on them?" she offered. "Or maybe he takes them to the recycling center and makes a little money that way."

As we walked, I thought of the contrasts of what I'd just seen.

The glitz and the glitter/the burdened and the broken.
Starbucks coffee drinkers/day-old-newspaper collectors.
Disposable income/income-producing recyclables.

Living side by side. Each ignoring the other.

And I thought, What do I know about being in need?

In my lowest of lows, I have never known true  poverty. True homelessness. 

But I am familiar with need. 

We all know need. Sometimes, it's clearly visible; other times, we try to hide it out of pride or shame--behind the glitz and the glamour of our life. We don't want to risk allowing someone to see our burdens and brokenness. Still, we all know that desperation of needing someone to care. Similarly, every one of us has been on the other side of that need-being the hands and feet of Jesus.

There is need all around us, not just in the bowels of the city, but maybe next door, across the street, or right on Facebook.

I couldn't help Newspaper Man. It wasn't my job to rush in and be his savior. 

But there is One who delights in that job. 

In our helpless state, in our lowest of lows, whenever we have felt abandoned, betrayed, or unloved...Jesus was there. Still is. Always will be. Even if you don't believe He is who He says He is.

Yahweh. I Am. 

Emmanuel. God with us.

What do I know about need?

I know that I need Jesus. And today, that's enough.

Blessings Along the Path,
Mare


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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

What's in a Name, Anyway?

When I was 19 years old, I followed a boy across the country. Well, I didn't follow him. I went with him in his beat-up VW van--the kind my daughter calls a "kidnapping van." 



Only problem was, he was following his girlfriend, who was waiting for him in California. When we broke down in West Virginia, he decided that I should return home to New Jersey. Devastated and humiliated, I called my mother (who else?), who came and bailed me out not for the first, and not for the last time.


photo credit
Undaunted, I flew out to California anyway (I was a little stubborn, not to mention proud back then) and temporarily housed myself with my father and stepmother until I could find an apartment.

I also decided to change my name. 

Mary simply wasn't good enough. Too plain. Too simple. Too boring. I was in California! And it was 1979! I was trying to find myself.

I'll bet you want to know what my new name was, don't you? 

Maresa.

(pronounced the Spanish way, with the 'e' sounding like a long 'a'). I still love that name.

I'd discovered that my full first name was really Mary Theresa (not just Mary, with Theresa being my middle name). I thought I'd go with that, but shorten it.

Funny thing was, I couldn't bring myself to do it. I tried, but it sounded strange, like everyone would know I was lying, and I'd be found out, and they'd all make fun of me. 



Plus, I didn't know when people were talking to me. It didn't stick. In fact, years later, someone from an organization I'd briefly been involved with called my father's house looking for Maresa. He told the caller that she died. Which she did.

Why do we feel the need to escape who we are?

Because we want to escape our past. We want to start over. Try something someone new, because frankly, we don't like who we are, or were. 

Moving to a new state gave me ample opportunity to change who I was, complete with a new name. Or so I thought.

The problem with that is this:

Simply changing our location and our name won't change who we are. 

We can try to forget our past, but it's like putting a bandage over a deep wound. It works for awhile, but needs constant care and attention to keep the blood from soaking through. 

Eventually, we need to see a doctor to have that wound stitched up properly so that it will begin to heal.

We need to deal with our past and all the feelings that go along with it. That constant care and attention we give it gets exhausting, not to mention the fact that it leaves room for infection.

Why don't we like who we are?

Why do we want to change?
What do we want to change?
What about the things we can't change? How do we deal with those?


Dealing with questions like these takes time and takes courage. Sometimes, we may need a good support group, trusted friend, mentor, pastor, bible study or even a good counselor.

God is big on changing names. Abram became Abraham (Gen 16-17). Jacob became Israel (Gen 32). 

Then there's Peter (John 1:42).



And Paul--who actually adopted his Latin name, "Paul" (his father was a Roman citizen) for missionary purposes. Reference



But all kidding aside...

My favorite from Isaiah 62:2-5:

you will be called by a new name
    that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.
You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand,
    a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
No longer will they call you Deserted,
    or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah,
    and your land Beulah;
for the Lord will take delight in you,
    and your land will be married.
As a young man marries a young woman,
    so will your Builder marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
    so will your God rejoice over you.

Hephzibah means My delight is in her (and Beulah means married).

Now THAT, my friends--this name-changer--is a game changer!

The key is not in changing our name, but allowing our name to be changed--by God Himself.

When we come to Christ and give Him all the pain and hurt of our past, He makes us new. He gives us our new name.

But know this:

Your new name will only come when you give the international call for help:

S.O.S.

  • Submit to God, instead of continuing to fight against Him.
  • Obey His instructions, instead of continuing in rebellion.
  • Stand and see the deliverance the Lord will bring you (Ex 14:14).
Our job is to submit and obey. The rest is up to God.

So, scratch Maresa. I now have another new name:

Mary
.

That's right. The name my parents gave me.

The name Mary is a derivative of Miriam, or even myrrh, which means, "bitter," or "rebellious." Yeah, not so great, but sadly, it describes the former me. But get this:

It also means, "wished for child." 

Awww...

And according to my mother, I was.

It is also believed to have originally been an Egyptian name, meaning, "beloved."

So there ya go--full circle:

From bitter rebellion to beloved, wished-for child.



What's in your name?

Check it out at Behindthename.com.


Blessings Along the Path,
Mary



Song of the Day: I Will Change Your Name


Exciting News (at least, for me)!

Did you like this post? If so, you'll like my new column in the Ruby for Women magazine (and sometimes in between in the Ruby blogger). 
 
Embracing Who You Are and Walking in Who You Were Meant to Be.

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