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Heaven in Her ArmsWhy God Chose Mary to Raise His Son and What It Means for You
By CATHERINE HICKEM
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Catherine Hickem
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLOVE IN THE REARVIEW MIRROR
Mary Knew God Looks at the Heart
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth. —Luke 1:26
Life never goes as you plan it. Just as we were launching Taylor off to college, the kids' vehicle, an old SUV, bit the dust. Taylor and Tiffany had shared it through their high school years, and we were hoping to get another few years out of it. Unfortunately, it died a few days before we took Taylor to school.
Some dear friends saw our situation and wanted to bless us. They bought us a used car, one that had 30,000 miles on it. It was in great shape, and we were thrilled to get a car that worked well and that was not on its last leg. The only challenge for my family was that it was a stick shift, and I was the only one who knew how to drive a manual transmission.
Tiffany was beginning her senior year, and she would be attending a private school twenty-five miles from our home. We had been blessed for her to attend the school, because God had provided for her and Taylor's tuition. But now, with only two days before school was to start, she would have to learn how to drive the car.
The night before school began, Tiffany told me she did not feel ready to drive a stick shift. I asked her what made her nervous about driving it. "I am scared I am going to conk out in the middle of the road, and people will honk at me," she said. "I do not want to deal with angry drivers."
I knew she was right. Having lived in South Florida my whole life, I was familiar with how impatient people could be. But I also knew that this was an opportunity for her to be stretched, so I did not want to let this moment pass. A thought dropped into my head that I know came from God.
"What if I follow you to school, so if you conk out and people get frustrated, they will honk at me? That way you get the driving practice, but I will be your rear guard and protect you from the hostile drivers," I said.
"What will I do in the afternoon when school is over?" Tiffany asked.
"I will be there waiting for you and follow you home," I replied.
"Okay, I can do that."
The next morning came, and off we went. We left early since we knew it might be an adventure. Sure enough, we weren't out of the neighborhood before Tiff conked out. I could see her eyes in her rearview mirror, and she had a panicked look on her face. She looked at me through the mirror, and I held up my thumb, giving her the sign that everything was okay. She smiled, started the car, and moved a little farther.
She conked out about five times that morning on the way to school. Every time she did, she would look back, and I would smile and give her a thumbs-up. She made it to school in one piece, with her mother right behind her the whole way. That afternoon I was waiting for her when she walked out of class, and we headed back home. She stalled a few times, but she was always protected from the impatient world because I was there.
This went on every morning and every afternoon for four days until we had time to take her to a driving course for her to practice. On Friday morning, she drove to school by herself without any problems and had the confidence to handle her travels from that day forward.
As I reflected on that experience, I was reminded of how God does the same thing with us if we let Him. He is always there, covering our backs, letting us know He is with us. That doesn't mean life always goes smoothly or is free of difficulties and challenges. What it does mean is that we can count on Him to never forsake us and to always love us. His love for us is intimate and sufficient for whatever trial we face. But we must be willing to love Him with all that we have and all that we are. That is what God loved about Mary: she had passionate love for Him.
Mary Was Chosen for Who She Was
When God selected Mary, He was looking for heart. God set out to find the precise woman who would give her heart to Him, completely and wholly. He wanted a woman with whom He could entrust His perfect Son. This was going to be no ordinary woman.
Or was it?
Mary was not a woman of status and means. Her family was probably considered "blue-collar" by the societal and cultural standards of her time. In Luke 1:48, she is described as "humble" (NASB), indicating a lowly position. She did not come from a place of influence and power. It appears that she was simple, pure, and young. Not a typical portrait for the mother of a king.
Yet God began the Jesus journey with the selection of the finest woman of that time. Theologians and historians believe that Mary was a young woman around the age of fourteen or fifteen. Since she had recently become engaged to Joseph, a carpenter, it is thought that she had just come into an age and body that the culture would define as a woman. While we can accept her youthfulness, it would be her heritage with which people would struggle.
Even during that era, Mary did not fit the image of the mother of a king. Her background and simplistic life did not qualify her for the role. She was a Galilean, from an area known for its despicable ways. (How dare we believe that anything good could come from Nazareth! [See John 1:46.])
Mary was the unexpected selection in a journey that no one ever quite understood. For you see, the world was looking for a king to come from earthly royalty. God wanted His Son, the King of kings, to come from a humble woman so that the entire world could relate.
Religious and political figures expected a king to be born of powerful, prestigious, and wealthy lineage so he could rule with authority and history behind him. God wanted King Jesus to come from a place where heritage and affluence could not buy Him His authority. God simply wanted His Son to embody the characteristics of His own heart. He wanted the world to recognize that His Son's value came from being God's Son. Nothing more. Nothing less.
God also wanted to instill in Mary that her value came from being God's daughter. This lesson is similar with children, but not exactly. They need to move through the world knowing that they are deeply connected to their mother, where their identity is rooted in something familiar and comfortable. The one difference is, they also need to anchor their identity in God, and put Him first. A mother is the facilitator and keeper of that identity formation.
Today's women struggle with the reality of their lives and their limitations. Too often they believe they are not good enough because they cannot provide all that the world says they need to give, including what they ought to give their children. Through Mary, God showed that what the world says is important isn't necessarily so; she was living proof that heart trumps heritage and substance rules over status.
Loving God Was her Priority
Show me a woman who keeps her focus on Christ the way Mary did on her God, and I will show you someone who has 20/20 spiritual vision. This type of sight enabled Mary to maintain passion for her faith, purpose for her life, and a heart for her God. We see Mary giving God her life to do with as He desires. We see her "pondering" (Luke 1:29; 2:19 NASB), thinking her way through her motherhood moments. At the end of her son's life, we see her being steadfast and faithful in spite of her son's pain. Mary's success is that she quickly learned God was in the business of using the unlikeliest of people to reveal the most extraordinary truths of His heart and character.
Mothers can see a turnaround in their parenting lives when they focus on God to define who they are. It is an amazing moment when women realize they do not have to live under the limitations of their past or their heritage.
I once had a mom come and speak to me before a conference we were doing for mothers and daughters. She seemed very anxious and nervous. I pulled her to the side to see if I could calm her down.
"Am I going to learn how to be a good mom at this conference?" she asked.
I told her that I thought she would learn many things, including the heart of being the mother God wanted her to be. I then asked her, "Are you worried you are not a good mom?"
The woman responded immediately, "I came from an abusive home, where my mom did not want me. It took me years to get up the courage to decide that I wanted to be a mother because I didn't want to repeat my background with my child."
"Have you parented differently than you were parented?" I asked.
Horrified at the question, the mother responded, "Absolutely!"
"How have you done it differently?" I gently questioned. I had a purpose in mind, but I needed her to list her strengths before I could intervene.
The mom began to immediately list all the ways she was parenting her daughter. It was clear she had worked very hard to give her daughter the emotional things she herself had needed as a child but had never received. As she began to wind down, I asked if I could point out something to her. She nodded.
"It is apparent you have worked very hard to mother your daughter differently than the way you were mothered. You have been intentional in loving her well, meeting her needs, and remembering the things that really matter. It seems as if the biggest enemy you presently have is the way you define yourself: you define yourself by your past instead of your God."
Her eyes looked intensely into mine. I could tell she was listening with her heart. I continued:
"God wants you to release your fear to Him. You cannot define your motherhood by how you were parented, but instead by the power of God to be what you need, when you need it. God will honor your heart's desire to raise your daughter in a manner that glorifies Him, but you must let go of your fears; they are getting in the way of you experiencing joy in motherhood."
This woman had heart. She had a passion for being a good mom. More than anything, she didn't want her daughter to ever go through what she had endured. And God would honor that desire.
Like this mom (and most others), I wanted to put my heart and soul into being a good mother. Because I'm a woman of deep passion and conviction, I do everything I do with all that I am. If I am wrong, I am 100 percent wrong. If I am right, I am passionately right. No lukewarm temperature on this mother's thermometer!
As a mom, I have made more than my share of mistakes. I have said things I never should have said, done things that experience would have me do differently, and reacted when I could have responded. In the midst of all my weaknesses and failures, however, the one thing my kids know is that I love them with everything I have. I believe that is one of the reasons they have been able to forgive me, be patient with me, and love me. They have known that my heart was always for them, in spite of my limitations.
I believe God selected Mary because she had a heart after His. She possessed a passion that status, lineage, and power could not touch. And she knew that God looked at her passion and love for Him. It would be for this reason alone that God would give her favor and blessing.
Chapter TwoA WOMAN'S GREATEST BATTLE
Mary Knew She Couldn't Embrace Her Fears
Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God." —Luke 1:30
Fear. It is the single greatest paralyzer of all time. It comes in many shapes and sizes. It is no respecter of persons, race, or status. It can cause big men to collapse, soldiers to crumble, and nations to retreat. It has sabotaged peace, prevented healing, and stirred division among families.
Fear is a dynamic that people embrace and give power to in their lives. It is the silent enemy of hope, reconciliation, and success. It undermines confidence and minimizes opportunities. Fear comes in forms both simple and complex. It respects no one, nor does it mind if it explodes in bigger-than-life fashion.
Gabriel had been in the angel business for quite a while and represented God's heart to His people. I have no doubt that Gabriel's words to Mary, warning her not to be fearful, came directly from God's mouth to Mary's ears. He knew that fright could easily take away her ability to hear of the miracle that she was getting ready to receive. Mary was a young Jewish maiden who had probably never thought of herself in any way worthy of a special glance; surprise and fear were going to be the emotions of the moment, and God was prepared for them.
"Do not be afraid" was not a request, but a command. When Gabriel declared that message to Mary, he was establishing the worthiness of God's protection and safety in her life. God was aware of her vulnerability in that moment, and He didn't want it to linger in her mind or heart. He wanted to remove her focus on her emotions and place it directly on Himself and His character.
This was significant, because Luke 1:29 tells us that she was greatly troubled. And why wouldn't she be? Here you have this humble Jewish maiden going about her business, just being a precious young woman who truly loved God. She was living an obedient, spiritually rich life, knowing that she had a future with a young man by the name of Joseph.
Since they were engaged, not married, Mary and her fiancé were still in the premarital phase of their relationship, getting to know each other, each learning how the other thought and felt.
So it is no wonder that Mary was troubled from the first moment the angel opened his mouth. She knew from Scripture that God had used angels throughout the ages to deliver special messages and important instructions. Mary had also heard the prophecies of Christ being born. Yet being the humble-minded person that she was, it never would have dawned on her that God would select her for this special occasion. She was a simple girl. What could Gabriel possibly want with her?
Mary knew the angel's message Was divine
The "Do not be afraid" came on the heels of a moment when Mary's mind was swirling with her knowledge of biblical history. This command would be given to all the key players in the birth story of Christ. It was such an eternity-impacting event that no one was prepared to be a part of the moment. But that did not negate the fact that God was in charge and that He had selected the people He wanted to carry out His eternal plan.
God would not allow fear to sabotage His hope for eternity and the salvation of humanity. This is why He waited until Mary was at the right age in history to implement hope for all of us. He knew that a strong foundation had been laid within her about who He was so that in that very frightening moment, she would trust Him to be true to whatever He told her. Fear was one of Mary's natural human responses to which all people can relate. Isn't fear a normal reaction to the unknown and the unexpected?
Every mother has encountered fear. Whether it is a pregnant mom awaiting the impending birth, a birth mother giving up her baby for adoption, or an adoptive mother waiting for the adopted child to arrive, she is anxious because she has no control over whether her heart will be blessed or broken. I could go on for pages recounting the fears that fill the hearts of women everywhere—marriage, career, family, faith. Fear surfaces when we recognize that life may not go as we planned. Will we be able to cope or function if the carpet gets pulled out from under our world?
Over the years, much of my professional attention has focused on parenting, family relationships, and motherhood. I have had the wonderful pleasure of observing, listening, teaching, coaching, and mentoring moms. I have worked with mothers who long to be the best they can be for their children, from the crib to adulthood. I have also picked up on several themes that seem to span age, experience, education, and socioeconomic levels. One theme in particular has done the most damage: fear.
As I've listened to their concerns, a major fear issue surfaces for most women and most aspiring mothers—that they would carry on the less desirable legacies of their own mothers. Several women have grown up in homes where their mothers looked good on the outside but had been emotionally empty and unavailable to them as children. Fits of rage, lack of nurturing, and critical comments were some of the experiences these women had personally encountered as kids.
Excerpted from Heaven in Her Arms by CATHERINE HICKEM Copyright © 2012 by Catherine Hickem. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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