Sunday, December 11, 2016

An empty crib and Mary's occupied womb: When life turns out differently than you had hoped

Right now, there is an empty crib in my bedroom, along with dozens of other unfulfilled wishes collecting dust in my heart. I am knocking on the door of 27 and life was supposed to look differently by now, at least the way I wrote it in my dreams. Married with at least one on the way? Perhaps. Or playing the role of "middle mom," rocking a precious child-born-of-another at midnight and whispering in her ear that she is safe? Glorious. At the very least, I should be righting wrongs and solving the world's most perplexing problems. Life was supposed to be different. 

Instead, I stare at an empty crib. Undoubtedly an odd thing for a single, childless, 26-year-old to have in her bedroom. It really was my crack at stealing the pen from God's hand. Maybe I can create on my own this story I thought I should be living, I said. Let's just say it didn't go as I expected. So I take inventory, counting the people in my life who seem to have found the corner on fulfilled dreams. Or at least, they have discovered MY dreams and are living them (whether or not they are one and the same as their own). I stare at December 25th on my calendar, another holiday to be spent single, childless, and not as I had do I make sense of this? 

I think about her and wonder if we might have been friends. With the Expected One unexpectedly cradled in her womb, surely she felt the twinge of dreams shelved to gather dust. How old might she have been? A teenager, they say. Looking at the days and months ahead and perhaps marveling at how far they would extend beyond the storyline she had written for herself. Mother of a child conceived by the Spirit? Did she ever think, "This was not how I wrote the story?" Gone would be the traditional wedding ceremony, friends and family prepared to celebrate a new marriage. Life would never be simple. Did she mourn what could have been? 

We see the story differently, of course. We say, "What a privilege! To carry the Son of God in her womb!" Of course there would be hardship, for watching the child you raised be misunderstood, scorned, and ultimately slain on a cross could not have been an easy road to walk. But she spent years cradling Jesus, first in her womb, then her arms, and forever in her heart. A unique calling for a humble girl. What a privilege!

I think about her and wonder, though. When she "pondered all these things in her heart" (Luke 2:19), did she ever go back to that day the angel visited Nazareth with earth-altering news? To the minutes and hours before that announcement and the dreams that had captivated her heart once-upon-a-time? I can't know, but I wonder. We are told she was "troubled at his words" (Luke 1:29). But then, after Gabriel reveals the plan God has for her as the one to bear the Savior, she simply says, "I am willing to be used of the Lord. Let it happen to me as you have said" (Luke 1:38). 

This is the part that squeezes my heart. When Mary realizes the script is taking an unexpected turn, one that will no doubt bring misunderstanding and hardship and pain into her life (even if alongside honor and privilege), she simply hands the pen to God and says, "I am yours. Write the story as you wish." 

I look at the empty crib across the room, at a story that is so very different from the one I would have chosen, and I tremble in light of this question before me: How will I choose to respond when the story of my life takes a turn for the unexpected? Will I clutch the pen and cling to unfulfilled dreams? Or will I release the pen to the sovereign Author who promises to "finish the good work begun in me" (Philippians 1:6), to "work all things for the good of those who love God in accordance with God's will" (Romans 8:28), to   "never leave or forsake me" (Deuteronomy 31:6)? 

This story of my life is turning out differently than I had hoped, for sure, and there is grief to be had over dead dreams. But there is also indescribable joy as I discover new dreams, breathed into life by a God who pursues my soul on this unfolding journey. Tonight, I want to join Mary in handing over the pen and waiting with baited breath for the next page to be written. After all, God only writes page-turners. I think Mary might agree with me there.