This time of year, I always feel a special connection with Mary. She definitely takes center stage these days as Advent readings highlight her role in Jesus’ arrival—beginning with that remarkable conception story. However, for me it’s always been much more personal than that.
The Christmas season never fails to take me back to one particular December, eleven years ago. My pastor Joe Loughlin had invited our congregation to refresh our understanding of the Christmas story by viewing it through the lens of a specific individual. For some, he suggested, that might be the innkeeper—we’re just so busy and overwhelmed by everyday responsibilities that we miss the extraordinary taking place just outside our door.
Immediately I knew which character I would pick. At almost nine months pregnant with our fourth child, I could readily identify with Mary, and now felt a whole new sympathy for her. How thankful I was that I didn’t have any travel plans in my immediate future—I could barely make it across the room, let alone across country!
Still, the connection ran much deeper than coincidental due dates. I felt a common bond with Mary as one who could fully appreciate what it’s like to have God interrupt life with unexpected, remarkable and seriously mind-blowing plans. You see, at that time we were actually expecting two children—the child I would soon deliver—and the child I would have to collect. Shortly after Evan’s birth I would be taking an extended trip of my own, traveling around the world to China to claim our daughter Elizabeth.
Our plan to expand our family through adoption had its own “supernatural conception,” taking place in the heart rather than the womb. At the time, I felt just as astonished as Mary. I had my share of “how can this be?” moments. I remember one day in particular when I, too was “greatly troubled.” It had been one of those rock-bottom, epic mommy-failure days with preschoolers Katherine and Parker. I’m not sure what went wrong, but I’ll never forget crying out to God: “Do you see? I can barely parent the two kids I have—how can you ask me to take on another one?”
Like Mary, I received a paradigm-shifting answer:
“I’m not asking you to do it. I’m asking you to let me do this through you.”
Such powerful revelation enabled me to respond as trustingly and obediently as she did, “May it be to me as you have said.”
In the months that followed, I would often be “troubled” as we made our way through the bureaucratic tedium of international adoption. (Yes, Mary, I do know what it’s like to contend with faceless and arbitrary government officials!) Then—just as the end of our journey was almost in sight—we received even more astonishing news. We were expecting yet another child, due to arrive at the very same time as our daughter.
“How can this be?” As in, how could this have happened despite reliable birth control—but more importantly—how can we possibly manage such a thing? Two babies? At the same time? A world apart? How?
Time and again I returned to the same truth that first emboldened Mary so many years ago: “Nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). Impossible for us—sure. But miraculously possible for God to accomplish through us.
Perhaps the miracle of the Annunciation is not limited to literal conception and pregnancy, or even Christmas. Maybe it takes place whenever God breaks into our ordinary lives with unsettling, amazing, life-altering plans, and we respond with faith and humility. When we trust him enough to journey from fear and disbelief to acceptance and obedience.
I hope I will continue to be identified with Mary that way.
“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”