When I was a teenager, a giant poster of the album artwork from Simply Red’s “Picture Book” was on my wall. An A1 version of Mick Hucknall’s face staring down at you would traumatise the best of people, but for some reason, I had decided it was “cool”…something I never was! Right next to it a similarly sized poster of Christian Slater took pride of place on my bedroom wall. It wasn’t just a crush; we were meant to be together. He would be mine! There were cuddly ‘pound puppies’ (google away) sat at the end of my bed, a throwback to a childhood I wasn’t quite ready to let go of and a half completed five-year diary sat on top of a well-used prayer journal. My teenage years were spent worrying about weight loss, school work and maintaining my perm. In many ways, my life as a teenager seems far removed from the woman of steel I’m considering today. Although Mary existed in a time without walkmans and shell suits, some things I’m sure would have been similar. Romances were discussed, behaviour was scrutinised, and the grapevine was up and running and fully grown.
For the women in Mary’s day, the script was pretty predictable. A husband would be chosen for you, a family would expected, and your role would be set for life; wife and mother! Mary’s life was heading the same way until God took His pen and began to write different scenes, the ones we know so well. The encounter with an angel, the donkey ride (although a donkey is never actually mentioned) and the visit from the shepherds. It’s all so familiar to us, but Mary stepped onto the world stage and walked through the reality of that story.
Now that the busyness of Christmas Day is out of the way, I’d encourage you to pick up your Bibles and reread the story with fresh eyes. The shepherds had just visited the newborn Jesus and hurried away to the village to tell everyone they could about the arrival of the Messiah. The atmosphere was exciting and chaotic, but there must have been a strong sense for both Mary and Joseph that their lives would never be the same again.
I’ve read the account of the Christmas story many times, and the examples of steel demonstrated by Mary are endless. There is, however, one line that stood out as I reread the well-known words of Luke’s gospel. For me, one small line reflects the steel of this young woman.
In the English Standard Version Mary “treasured” and “pondered.” In the Good News Bible she “remembered” and “thought deeply” and in the King James Version she “kept all these things…in her heart.” The Message translation describes how Mary, “kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.”
I don’t get the sense that by holding everything that had happened deep within herself, Mary was suppressing how she felt. I imagine her sharing her emotions about the events of the past year with God through her thoughts and prayers as she processed the reality that her life was forever altered. Others may have had plenty to say, both positive and negative, about the choices she had made and the decisions she took in obedience to God, but ultimately their opinions were irrelevant. Her “steel” came from a place of obedience and recognition that the more she drew on God's power, the stronger her core became. Even at her tender age, she was able to take time to sit and ponder her experiences. She treasured the precious memories of the kicks and squirms from her unborn child and smiled as she remembered the protectiveness of her husband as they travelled through the night. She reflected on the fear of the opinions of others and remembered the promise Gabriel made to her all those months before.
I’m sure Mary had days where she struggled to process the events of the previous year, but for me, she will always be a woman of steel. She recognised that God was in all the trials and heartache, the core strength holding her together and helping her to stand tall.
Find a space in the downtime before the new year celebrations kick in, to ponder, treasure and remember 2018. Don’t just focus on the highlights! Find God in the dark moments, in the fear and the tears as well as in the joy and the laughter. Draw on His strength to heal and grow from the hurt of 2018 and smile at the moments of pure joy that you recall.
What will you treasure?
What will you cease to fear?
What will you learn from?
What will draw on God’s strength to process?
What will you thank Him for?
What will you remember?