Friday, December 9, 2011

Ordinary... Extraordinary

As is the custom, when someone new comes to our small group, we go around the room and introduce ourselves and tell a piece of our story. On a particular night this fall when a new couple joined us for their first night, I asked the group to share who had been the three most significant people in their lives. I love listening to people answer this question because it brings out some great stories and it shows who people value most.

When the time came for my wife to answer the question, I knew who one of her choices would be—me! Well, I hoped for that but I knew there was someone else who had a huge impact on who she become as a person. It was her Grandma Lottie. Janice had grown up on one of those country roads where family farms and farm houses scattered the landscape. Her grandparents lived just a short walk from her home. Lottie was a quiet woman, yet was very emotionally strong and stable. Her husband, a former farmer and carpenter, had a massive stroke when he was in his sixties that left him physically debilitated. Though he was unable to walk and struggled to communicate, Lottie remained his primary caregiver in their home. She served his needs for several years without ever a word of complaint until he peacefully passed away in their home.

If you were to have met Lottie, you probably wouldn’t have been overly impressed at your first meeting. She was quiet, simple, and very ordinary. She would not stand out in a crowd and would be a wallflower at a social gathering. But, her impact on people was profound. You could say it was extraordinary. Lottie’s home was an open refuge to her grandkids. She would always stop what she was doing to make a relational connection with someone who walked in her door. This was especially important to Janice during a tumultuous time in her high school years. When Janice was 14, her mom was involved in a head-on collision which left her hospitalized for several months. During that year of her life, Janice’s mom went through a ton of adjustments dealing with the aftereffects of her accident. As you can imagine, this had a tremendous impact on Janice’s world as a teenage girl. She needed a safe place and her grandma’s house was always that for her. A few years before Lottie’s death, Janice wrote her a beautiful poem of gratitude. The poem now hangs framed in our bedroom as an intimate reminder of Janice’s wonderful heritage. Now eight years after Lottie’s death, Janice can’t read that poem without a tear coming to her eye. She knows that her grandmother had much to do with the person she has become.

As I read scripture, I’m always impressed with how God chose to use very ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Just look at the characters in the Christmas story. There are the lowly shepherds, a simple carpenter, and teenager girl. These regular people are living very regular lives. Even God enters the story as something ordinary to any family—a baby. Mary would intimately carry the baby through pregnancy. She would nurse and care and love this child. Joseph would protect and guide this young, vulnerable family. And the sheep watchers, they got to be the first witnesses and guests of Jesus. This is a personal and ordinary setting with some very simple and ordinary people. Yet, God chooses this intimate place to do something as grand and cosmic as he has ever done in history.

So how does God do the extraordinary with those of us who are pretty ordinary folk? Well, as you read through Mary’s story this week in Luke 1, you may find one key answer. A message is delivered to this girl through an angel that she’ll become divinely pregnant with God’s Son. This Son will be the long awaited Messiah who will sacrifice himself to take away the sins of the world. Though Mary is overwhelmed with this news, and I’m sure filled with a lot of questions about her role, her response is beautiful:

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Luke 1.38

What a profound statement from an ordinary girl! “God, I’m yours. I’ll do what you ask. I want your plan to work out.” Perhaps being used by God in an extraordinary fashion begins with humble statements driven by a willing and submissive heart.
Lottie and Mary were probably a lot alike; humble and ordinary women whom God used extraordinarily to impact future generations. Today, start with Mary’s humble statement as a prayer for this day and this season. Then ask for something extraordinary.

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