by Bekah Vickers
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. — John 1:9-12
Children of God: Receiving Our Rightful Inheritance – In our final week leading up to Christmas, we are celebrating what it means to have “the right to be called children of God.”
Read Luke 1:39-45
In November, one of our Wednesday night panelists spoke of the importance of teens having “nondirectional adults” in their lives. Chris Robey said that it can make a huge difference for a kid in a fragile place to have an adult who will regularly check in on them. These “check ins” don’t have to be complicated – just a greeting every Sunday morning or a quick encounter in the hallway: “How are you – on a scale of 1 to 5?” And they do not involve any kind of guidance or parenting, either. In fact, they should be entirely free of advice or direction; teens receive plenty of that from other sources. This relationship between teen and adult is not based on anything the teen does or doesn’t do; it’s just about one person caring about another person.
As Chris shared these thoughts, I immediately recognized a pattern that I experienced in my own teenage years. I had grown up in the same town and at the same church, and so I knew a lot of the people at my church; but there were three or four adults who I knew expected a hug from me every single week. And even long after I’d left for college, I’d find them when I was home for the weekend, just to say hello. I still make sure to hug the few of them who are still living when we visit my parents.
And during the toughest of my teen years – from about eighth through tenth grades – there were three women in particular who became my own little support group and fan club. One was Tammy, my youth minister’s wife. “Just” Carroll, an elder’s wife, was another. And then there was was Lisa, a college student who volunteered her time with our youth group. All three of these women were active with youth activities and went out of their way to show love to all of us – but they also all had that gift of making you feel super special, no matter what you looked like or felt like or currently believed about yourself.
I remember Lisa saving me a seat on the church bus when we’d go on trips. We’d sit together and she’d tell me about her efforts to be a Christian example to her sorority sisters, and I’d tell her about my latest thoughts and dreams. She was a born encourager, and she often told me how much she admired me, how beautiful she thought I was, and how much she appreciated my wisdom. Y’all – I was the definition of “awkward years.” I had glasses and a bad complexion, frizzy hair, a poor sense of style, and I was not skinny. I was nerdy and quiet and just at the very beginning of trying to figure out who God made me to be. On the other hand, Lisa was a sorority girl. She was (truly, and by the world’s standards) beautiful. She was super fun and super silly. She loved the Lord but was humble and honest about her struggles. Everyone loved her. So when she said those kind, kind things to me, I began to believe it.
One morning, years later, I was teaching school in Austin, and I came to the breakfast table and saw a headline announcing the deaths of five McKinney people from a highway collision with a semi truck. It was a woman with her three kids and her mother. Minutes later, my mom called. The woman was Lisa.
At the funeral, I could not find the words to tell her husband Mike how much she had meant to me, how much it hurt to lose her, how much I knew he must be hurting. Instead, I found myself listening to Mike telling me how much I’d meant to her, and I walked away flabbergasted by the fact that Lisa was still sending me her words of encouragement, even after she’d left this earth.
I cannot begin to imagine how many different ways God worked through Lisa’s too-short life; but I promise you that I am one of those ways. He provided me with her friendship and companionship at a time when my own peers were unreliable at best (and often not at their best). She walked me through the lonely roads of adolescence and encouraged me to keep my faith in a God who is good, so very, very good. Even when things don’t work out in the ways you expected.
We don’t always include the narrative of Elizabeth and Mary when we talk about the Nativity. Rarely is Elizabeth cast in the Christmas pageant, and often we hear Zechariah’s story as something set apart from the birth of Christ, rather than as events that happened almost simultaneously. But as we look at this story with hearts open to knowing all the things God might teach us through it, let us give particular attention to the value that is given to relationships. And, in particular, friendships between women.
Although the brief narrative in Luke gives no indication of the specific relationship between Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, I imagine it to be something like what I had with Lisa. Mary was in a fragile place, having just received news that she would give birth to the Messiah, and perhaps having just worked through the confusion with her betrothed, Joseph. She needs someone older and more experienced – but also not too far removed from her own situation – to walk with her down this road. Beth Moore writes, “How tender the God who shared with her through an angel that someone nearby could relate….Women are like that, aren’t they? We long to find someone who shares our fragile places, who sees our sunsets with the same shades of blue” (Jesus, the One and Only).
Long after Mary returns to her home in Nazareth, as she moves forward in life through Bethlehem and Egypt, and then back to Galilee, and finally heading to Jerusalem, I have no doubt that the moments she shared with Elizabeth shaped her heart and her thoughts and her outlook on life. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and He used her to prepare Mary for the sacred work ahead.
And as the Spirit worked then, so He works now. Has God placed someone in your life to walk you through hard times? And to whom can you offer encouragement and companionship, your presence and your love, through the mighty power of His Spirit? A simple “check in” might be all it takes to make an incredible difference in someone else’s life. May we be a community that practices the sacred art of friendship, that honors this holy form of relationship, and that trusts the Spirit to work wonders through the ties that bind us together.