Unique Women of Christmas

In Hebrew, her name “Elisheva” means God’s oath or God’s promise. In the Greek, “Elizabeth” is further described as God’s abundance.

Cousin to Mary and wife to Zacharias, she played a pivotal role in the pre-Christmas story.

Elizabeth is listed in Luke chapter one as a righteous and blameless woman yet she suffered with infertility. In those days, barrenness was considered a curse from God.

But what Elizabeth did not know for many years was that God had not denied her request for a child; he just delayed the answer.

Until the perfect time…until Yahweh was ready to send an angel to Zacharias and plant His seed within a virgin.

We aren’t told how old Elizabeth was when she suddenly conceived a boy child who would become John the Baptist. But she and Zacharias were both old enough to consider their answered prayer a miracle.

During Elizabeth’s sixth month of pregnancy, her young cousin Mary became pregnant through another miracle – a conception through the Holy Spirit, prophesied for centuries and containing the Divine.

Mary’s Magnificat, also called the Song of Mary, declares her praise to God for his indescribable gift:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.”  – Luke 1:46-55

Mary traveled to Elizabeth’s house to spend time with her. What conversations they must have had – both of them pregnant, one with a Messenger – the other with the Messiah.

Elizabeth no doubt mentored Mary even while she protected her from the wagging tongues of gossips. Mary no doubt blessed Elizabeth who felt her child leap in the womb when Mary entered the house.

After Elizabeth gave birth, she supported her husband in the choice of their son’s name. “John,” she said. “His name shall be John.”

From the beginning of the Christmas story, God included women and their giftings to pave the way for His Son’s ministry.  He designated Elizabeth as a main character and a parallel element in the greatest story ever told.

We can imagine Mary and Elizabeth spending countless hours together as they watched their sons grow, taught them proper manners and showed them how to appreciate godly women.

And in the candlelight at day’s end, Elizabeth and Mary no doubt prayed together for their boys who they knew would have a major role in the salvation of mankind.

Each woman bore a son, then gave that son back to God, trusting in Yahweh’s divine purpose.

©2016 GateWay of Hope – Hope, Healing and Wholeness for Women

Love Gifts at Christmas

cindy-richardsonBreathlessly I waited as my brother opened the door to our family room to what I hoped would be Christmas heaven.

Old enough to remember the splendor of the prior Christmas, I expected more of the same. My brother would pass out the presents and we would pile them up around us.

Part of the fun was watching each other open presents; eagerly anticipating what wonderful gift might be in each beautifully wrapped package.

With one swift motion the door opened. Instead of wrapped presents under the tree, my gaze fell on clothes and a few toys laid neatly in piles. Not a single gift was wrapped!

Names were written on masking tape and placed strategically on each item. Disappointment came over me like a wet blanket. Why weren’t the presents wrapped?

It was not the Christmas I expected. Already suspecting that Santa was just fantasy, the lack of wrapping seemed to answer the question I was afraid to ask. If Santa was real, our presents would be wrapped; his elves would never forget to wrap presents.

Perhaps my crestfallen look led to the terse conversation I overheard.

“I told you we should have bought the wrapping paper,” my mother whispered to my father.

“And I told you, wrapping paper is a waste of money,” my father replied.

My childish disappointment at the lack of wrapping almost ruined Christmas that year. I had no idea declining health had led to my father’s job loss and mounting medical bills. The dwindling budget dictated the naked presents.

As I reflect back I realize my parents sacrificed greatly to give us any gifts at all. I now know they were given out of great love for us. Most of the presents were gifts we needed. Unfortunately, they weren’t appreciated as much as the gifts we wanted.

Another Christmas gift was given at great sacrifice. Wrapping himself in love, God became a human being. Entering our world as a baby, Jesus was the gift of God’s presence. Immanuel, God is with us.

Jesus is the gift everyone needs, but not everyone wants.

Joseph didn’t want the gift at first. Disappointed and worried about their reputation, when he found out Mary was pregnant he wanted to break off the engagement.

King Herod didn’t want to acknowledge the gift. Fearful of losing the power of his throne, this wicked king had all the male babies slaughtered.

Religious leaders, anxious to keep their power and prestige, didn’t receive the gift. Instead, they schemed to crucify God’s son.

Looking for a powerful earthly king, the Jews were disappointed in the humble servant leadership Jesus offered. Their unmet expectations led them to reject the gift of God’s Son.

Life can be hard. Broken relationships, financial pressures, and shattered dreams bring unbearable disappointment. Health issues, challenges in parenting, and death of loved ones can lead to discouragement and depression.

Receiving the gift Jesus came to give shifts the focus from what is lacking, to what he provides.

Peace, love, and joy despite life’s unwanted and unexpected circumstances is a gift only God can give. Knowing we would need a Savior, God was happy to give us his One and Only Son.

When I focus on disappointment and unmet expectations, like that Christmas long ago, I miss the love behind the gift. Embracing the love for myself, means I have more love to share. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

©2016 Cindy Richardson for GateWay of Hope

Cindy Richardson seeks to encourage, challenge and inspire women in their journey of hope through Bible studies, speaking and writing. Cindy weaves God’s truth and shares her faith with kindergartners at St. Joseph Christian School.

Residing in St. Joseph, Missouri with her husband, Tom, she enjoys the friendship of her three grown daughters and loves being Nana to six grandchildren.

For more inspiration, visit Cindy’s blog, Hang Onto Possible Endings.

How Elijah Teaches About Mental Health

Mental Health Awareness MonthMay is Mental Health Awareness Month. In last week’s post, we looked at different kinds of mental illnesses, the myths about these illnesses and some of the causes.

Today we will look at some lessons from the Old Testament prophet Elijah. It’s not what he has to say as much as what we can learn by observing his life.

Let’s start with a brief overview of I Kings 17-19. God works some miracles. No rain falls until Elijah says so. Ravens bring Elijah some food. Oil and flour multiply for a starving widow and her son. Later, Elijah raises the widow’s son from death.

Next, Elijah alone challenges 450 priests of Baal. He watches them prepare and offer their sacrifices to Baal, with no results. Then Elijah prepares and offers his sacrifice to God. He uses 12 stones, builds an altar, puts the wood on it, cuts up the bull and sacrifices it.

God accepts Elijah’s sacrifice, sends fire and consumes the altar. The people repent, capture the prophets of Baal, and Elijah kills all the evil prophets. The result is a big revival.

After all this occurs, Elijah tells King Ahab to hurry home and have a nice supper because it’s going to rain. But Elijah then runs ahead of Ahab 16 miles and arrives at Jezreel before the king and his chariot.

Ahab tells his wife, wicked Queen Jezebel, “Elijah has killed the priests of Baal.” Jezebel is so angry, she declares she’s going to kill Elijah. So he runs scared—in fact he runs 20 miles; then walks another 20 miles until he reaches the wilderness.

Then Elijah begs God to kill him. What’s with that? Is this man crazy? Suicidal? Depressed? Did he forget about the miracles God had just performed?

Elijah was a mighty man of God. Had he suddenly lost his faith?

No, he was not crazy and he had not lost his faith. He might have been depressed, certainly discouraged. Let’s look at what might be going on in his life and see if we can learn some tips about mental health.

First, Elijah is exhausted. Let’s look again at all the physical things he did. He completed a major building project by making the altar. Then he ran and walked several miles. He was tired, sleepy and hungry.

After Elijah asked God to kill him, he slept. Twice an angel woke him up and gave him food to eat.  Then, after he was rested and full, he had the strength to go on.

Elijah simply needed to rest, sleep and eat good food. This was not a spiritual issue. It was physical.

In his Bible study, “To Walk and Not Grow Weary,” Fran Sciacca concurs, “Often what we consider a hopeless emotional or spiritual battle is actually due to our own neglect of basic physical needs, such as proper rest, food, and exercise.” 

Lesson #1 – We need to take care of ourselves physically. When we are tired, we need to get enough rest and sleep. And we need to eat the right foods to give us energy. 

Second, Elijah believed a lie. He said “I alone am left.” Yet the story mentions 100 other prophets and 7000 God-worshipers. Though Elijah was a man of God, he believed the lie that he was alone. He surely felt lonely and frightened to think he was the only God-follower in the entire nation.

Elijah needed to know and dwell on the truth.

Dr. Chris Thurman, in “The Lies We Tell Ourselves” states, “Most of our emotional struggles, relationship difficulties, and spiritual setbacks are caused by the lies we tell ourselves.” 

Lesson #2 – We need to separate the truth from the lies and focus our thinking on truth. 

Third, Elijah was isolated. Although other God-followers were in the story, for the most part, Elijah was isolated and so, he felt alone. Occasionally, his servant was with him, but he didn’t have fellowship with other God-followers. Though Elijah had experienced many victories, he was not only isolated, he was probably lonely.

Elijah needed companionship 

Larry Crab in “Connecting” expresses a similar belief, “The problem is disconnected souls. What we need is connection…community.” 

Lesson #3 – We need to be around other people. We are not created to live in isolation. 

From Elijah’s story, we can conclude that Elijah’s depression (his desire to die) was not primarily a spiritual issue. Rather, his physical exhaustion, his cognitive beliefs, and his social isolation influenced his emotions and his spirit. Because he was tired, misinformed and alone, he was mentally and spiritually unhealthy.

So what can we learn from Elijah about having good mental health?

The next time you’re feeling really stressed, anxious or discouraged, ask yourself if you’re exhausted, believing a lie, or isolated.

If so, find some extra time to rest, eat some healthy food, think about the truth, and connect with a friend. If those activities don’t help, then call your doctor, your pastor or a counselor.

And don’t forget GateWay of Hope is here to help. Call us at 913.393.GATE (4283).

©2016 Deborah Simon, Director of Counseling, GateWay of Hope