Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Mary



(The story of Mary as told by Matthew & Luke—and filled in-between the lines with my vivid imagination. But what’s not imaginary is that we, like Mary, can all be pregnant with the promises of God. “For with God...nothing is impossible! A privilege of a lifetime can belong to each of us.)

My name is Mary. I was born to middle-class parents in Nazareth. My father used his hands to build furniture—really, anything with wood—for a living. I have an older brother named David. I grew up understanding that David was the favored firstborn—and a firstborn son, at that. He stood in line to inherit everything from my father. I stood in line to clean, wash clothing, and cook—everything expected of a girl in our culture. But YHWH had blessed me with a good big brother. David was my co-conspirator and confidante. We’d always had a great relationship and he let me tag along with him most of the time. In fact, it was through David that I’d first met Joseph. They were best friends. Of course, I wasn’t allowed to hang out with the two of them—that wasn’t permitted in our culture. But I’d seen him and knew he was handsome and heard David talk about him enough to know he was a man of good moral character. In fact, I’d hinted to David of my admiration of Joseph in hopes he’d tell our father who had recently told our family it was soon time for me to be betrothed. And it worked!  Joseph & I had recently celebrated our engagement with friends and family. Joseph was now working to build our future home and David had offered to help him in the evenings. 

But then, the “thing” happened. I was working in my room one morning when an ANGEL appeared to me!  I know—it sounds crazy!  But it really happened. Gabriel’s first words to me were, “Hello, Mary!  You are highly favored by God above all other women. Don’t be afraid!”  Of course, I was afraid! No one I knew had ever seen an angel before. I was also very confused. Why me?  The angel seemed intent to answer all of my questions. He said, “You will have a baby boy and name him Jesus. He will be the son of the Most High and he will rule his people.”  Thoughts were flooding my mind. Every Jewish girl hoped to be the virgin promised to have the Messiah. But how could this be?  I could only ask, “How can this possibly happen?  I’ve never been intimate with a man.”  The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and overshadow you and you will conceive this son. He will be God’s son!”  It was like moments of time—past, present, and future—were flashing through my mind. I was seeing everything which had brought me to this point and every possible outcome to this extravagant offer (because I knew it wasn’t a demand, but a request). I considered them all but in the end, I said, “I’m willing!” And my heart felt the pleasure of God. 

I went into the barn to find David. I felt like I was still in a dream but it had all been very real!  “David!  You’re not going to believe this!  An angel named Gabriel just appeared to me and told me I was the chosen one—I’m going to have God’s son, the Messiah!”  David dropped the tool he was using and grabbed my shoulders. “What are you saying, Mary?”  There was an intensity in him I’d never seen before. I explained it again, “An angel, David!  He told me God has chosen me as the virgin to have his son!”  David walked in short circles in deep thought. “What’s this going to do to Joseph?  Have you thought of that?”  Joseph!!  Of course I’d thought of him in those flashes before I gave my answer to Gabriel. But...would he believe me?  David shook my shoulders in his strong hands again and said, “You must go tell Joseph. I’ll go with you.  But first...you have to tell father and mother.”  After we’d told our parents of this wondrous event (At this point, fear had moved in—but I kept reminding myself it WAS a wondrous event!), they agreed we must tell Joseph immediately. 

My heart was about to come out of my chest as I told Joseph word-for-word everything the angel had said. I could see his eyes dim. And I could tell—he didn’t believe me!!  I was crushed. 

David didn’t say much on our way home. I could sense he was doubting the whole thing. But then, I began remembering other things the angel had said. I told David, “The angel told me that Elizabeth is going to have a baby, too!”  Elizabeth was our mother’s cousin who was as old as our mom and she’d never had a baby until now. “That’s it!” David exclaimed!  “We’ll send you to Elizabeth’s until we see what Joseph is going to do.”  We both knew we were facing a very scary situation. Joseph could have me killed for being pregnant before we married. The whole community would believe I’d been unfaithful to him if he chose to disclose it. He could also “divorce” me from our betrothal—another possible public humiliation. That meant I’d probably be doomed to never  marry. Our consolation was that Joseph was a kind man. But we never knew what could happen with pressure from his family. As soon as we got home, David told our parents of Joseph’s unbelief and suggested he take me to Elizabeth’s. They agreed. We quickly packed and David and I began the short journey to my cousin’s house. 

When we arrived at Zachariah & Elizabeth’s house,  Elizabeth saw me and screamed excitedly!  She had a glow on her face as she exclaimed, “You are blessed above all women, Mary, and the baby you’re carrying is also blessed!”  She laughed and told me her baby had leaped in her womb when she saw me. I grabbed her and hugged her tightly!  Someone KNEW!  Someone believed!  Even though my parents and brother wanted to believe me, I still sensed doubt in them. But when I looked at David in this moment, I knew he now believed. I wanted to cry, to shout, to sing and dance!  My heart was full and overflowing. How could Elizabeth possibly have known unless YHWH had told her?  

Peace pushed fear out of my heart. And I was reminded of Gabriel’s words to me, “For with God nothing is ever impossible and no word from God shall be without power or impossible of fulfillment.”  I soon found out God was proud of his son’s birth—he wasn’t ashamed and didn’t want me to be shamed. An angel appeared to Joseph and told him not to be afraid to take me as his wife—that what I’d told him was true. And God didn’t just speak quietly to Elizabeth’s heart or have an angel speak privately to Joseph. His announcement of our son’s birth was shouted in the skies by an army of angels. God made a public announcement that his son had been born—to the poor and rich, alike!  Confirmation after confirmation reassured me of God’s love for me and his son. 

I knew I’d never be a perfect mother to this perfect baby boy...but I knew God wouldn’t fail. He would fulfill every promise—just like he’d already done. I had the privilege of a lifetime.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Discarded Gifts




Have you ever given someone a Christmas gift—and you knew immediately it was a fail?  You could tell by the look on their face or the way they lamely thanked you—or the fact that they shoved the gift under all the wrappings on the floor. It’s disheartening. I’ve had a person like that on my list. I can spend hours thinking about the gift, search through every store and online, spend more money on them than anyone else...and still feel like I’ve failed. 

I was thinking about this recently (because I was shopping for them again), and it occurred to me that I may have done that with God. So I asked. “God, have you ever given me a gift which I apparently didn’t like and just tossed aside?”  I immediately heard, “Yes!”  (He didn’t have to answer so quickly!)  So I asked which gift I’d rejected. To which he replied, “The gift of writing.”  I tried arguing, “But I write all the time—blogs and...stuff.”  And he was silent. Because he knew that I knew what he meant. He meant fiction. I’ve toyed with the wrappings of that gift but had never picked it up and used it. So I told him right there that I wanted to embrace each gift he’s given me—and he might have to remind me of the other gifts I’ve rejected. 

It hurts when a gift is rejected. Remember that this Christmas.  And if you have the courage, ask God which of his gifts you’ve rejected.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

12 Days of Christmas Part IV




Kids with wings, shepherd’s robes, and animal faces were running all over the fellowship hall after the Christmas play. “Sugar high,” Caleb surmised. I was thanking Jessa for her help. “What a sweet way to start the candle lighting service.  I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out.”  “We were lucky that Evelyn didn’t toss all those costumes from ten years ago. I hope you stay in shape—you know everyone is going to expect this every year now,” she said laughing. I think Jessa had a point but it was so much fun, I didn’t even mind. “Merry Christmas, God,” I whispered in my heart. 

Christmas Eve. Time had slipped by so quickly and I only had one more gift for Caleb—and I’d just finished my twelfth gift for God. My 12 Days of Christmas giving had done something amazing—amazing and totally unexpected. My heart had become more passionate about my husband. I’d focused on his gifts and desires for over a month and it had been so much fun!  I’d also learned a lot about him. He told me, “Merry, you’ve made this the best Christmas ever!”  I think it changed Caleb, too. It’s like he couldn’t help himself by doing little things for me along the way—like bringing my favorite chocolate donuts from the Donut Stop when he went to the city. But out of the socks, handkerchiefs, a gift card to A Lotta Latte, a new study Bible, tickets to the Trans-Siberian orchestra, a soldering iron, and, among other things, a trip for two to Oregon to see his sister (thanks to the pay raise and bonus from A Lotta Latte!), I think his favorite gift was the print with his names and the letter with the  prayer. I still caught him reading it often.

As for God?  I loved the way we’d laughed and talked for the past month. I know “everything is from him, through him, and to him,” and that’s kind of what I’d experienced in giving to him. I could never keep a secret from him. And I think several, and well...maybe all, of my ideas came from him. But the thing is...I know he delighted in ALL of them!  But what amazed me is that so many of the gifts I gave him involved the people in our church—things like taking several containers of soup for Miss Shirley who’d been sick and lived alone, a night of babysitting for Mark and Sandra, taking Opal to the doctor, and vacuuming the church for our janitor who had knee surgery. All of these things had developed a relationship between me and our church. I’d found my place.  

Christmas Eve night, Caleb and I sat in front of our Christmas tree relaxing and enjoying the lights. I was admiring the James Avery birthstone ring Caleb had given me for my birthday when he asked me, “Do you want to open your Christmas gift now?  I could almost sense him vibrating with excitement. “If you’ll open yours first,” I said. I handed him a shirt box and he shook it and said, “A red shirt!”  I rolled my eyes and inwardly cringed because he was half right. He tore into it and pulled out the red shirt and faded red cap. They both had a masculine logo design I’d created which said “Steadman Farms.”  He sat there holding the shirt out looking kind of stunned. I quickly interjected, “Caleb, I hope you like the logo. I created it in faith—believing that some day God is going to enlarge your territory and give you your heart’s desire.”  He didn’t say a word...and I was worried. He just picked up a large flat manila envelope with a big red bow on it and handed it to me.  I nervously began pulling the flap open and pulled out some official looking documents. I honestly had no clue what I was holding. Caleb took the papers and layed them down and took my hands in his. “Merry, the most incredible thing has happened and I hope you don’t mind that I did all of this without your knowledge. But it all happened so quickly—and I wanted to surprise you, too!  You know Mr. Troyer who fell and broke his hip?”  I nodded ‘yes’ but nothing was making sense. “His family put him in assisted living this week. And I heard they were going to put his farm—including the farmhouse, barn, everything—up for sale.  I went to them and asked if they’d consider a lease purchase of it all—including all of the farm machinery. And they said YES!  Not only was the machinery included, but Mr. Troyer had already purchased the seed to plant next spring.  The price they quoted was way undervalue—they were just happy to sell to someone they trusted who would take care of it. Plus they didn’t want to have to make more trips down here to try to sell it. Of course nothing is official until you sign the papers, too.”  Big ol’ tears were sliding down my face. How could something this wonderful be real?  And then Caleb told me, “Of course, I’ll still pastor, but I’ve  already told Jake Leathers that I’ll only continue working for him until April and then I’ll go to work on my own farm—and hopefully make money from crops next fall. Jake told me I’d done such a good job for him that he wanted to give me a bonus. We now have our first calf!”  I was sobbing by this point. This was infinitely above all I could ask or imagine!  How could I contain it all?  God had heard and answered our prayer—in an incredible way. He had definitely enlarged our territory and fulfilled Caleb’s name and dreams. 

That’s when I heard God whisper in my heart, “Happy Birthday & Merry Christmas, Merry Noelle!”  My name had never fit better. 

The End

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

12 Days of Christmas Part III



“Socks and handkerchiefs!”  Caleb really seemed to look excited. Maybe it was because I’d splurged and gotten him the heavy duty socks. It was Day 7 and he seemed to be getting into my gift-giving again. Somewhere around day 3, something had happened. I don’t know if he was feeling guilty because he was the only one opening gifts or if it was embarrassing him...so I told him I didn’t have to keep doing the 12 days. But he quickly assured me that he liked it. And then I didn’t know if he was just trying not to hurt my feelings...but I wanted to keep doing it, so I did!  And honestly...Satan did keep trying to get me to take the bait of feeling left out. But when that thought would come in, I’d just tell Satan “NO!” out loud. I sure was glad no one was around to hear me. 

The gift for the 3rd day came from my Bible study in I Chronicles 4–of all places!  Two little verses tucked in that chapter talk about Jabez whose name meant “pain.”  He prayed a prayer asking God to expand his territory and redeem his name. So...I decided to google the meaning of Caleb’s names and hand letter it on beautiful paper.  Caleb Bartholomew Steadman.  I typed “meaning of name Caleb” and up popped the meaning of his name! His middle name came from his grandfather whom he adored so he was pretty proud of that fact. I couldn’t believe it when I uncovered the meanings of his name: “Loyal Friend—Ploughman—Farmer”  No wonder he liked farming—it was in his spiritual DNA and who God created him to be!  So I used all of that information when I wrote a prayer for Caleb to go with the print. I even asked God to expand Caleb’s territory like Jabez prayed.  “God, would you give him his farm?”  I know he loved that gift because I often found him reading the note again when he was relaxing in front of the TV. 

I’d also been busy advertising for A Lotta Latte. We already had 5000 followers on Facebook and it was still growing. I told Sam, “My goal is to gain 70,000 followers.”  After his eyes almost popped out of his head, I assured him, “I know that sounds like a lot—but that’s not even half of the city you serve, much less the surrounding area.” Sam seemed to be the one with the most ideas while Lynn was his support and encouragement. And she made his ideas come to life. He’d often call me with new promotions. “Hey Merry!  Lynn and I are thinking about adding soup and sandwiches to the coffee we already serve. The coffee’s selling great but Lynn has these dynamite soup recipes from her grandmother. What do you think?”  
“I think that’s a great idea!  The timing is perfect with the cold weather we’re having,” I said. “When you get a menu figured out, let me know and I’ll post it on social media. I think your traffic from this will surprise you.  Oh!  And Sam?  You really need to think about creating a website now. I know someone who is really good and isn’t expensive.”  There was a short pause and then Sam replied, “Send me his info. If we’re going to do this, we need to do it right!”

I certainly hadn’t forgotten about the 12 Days of Christmas with God. I wanted to give him spur-of-the-moment gifts.  I know it didn’t make sense, but I felt like the less I thought about it, I could keep it secret from him longer. The first opportunity came when I stood behind a  harried young mom in the grocery check-out line. Her baby was crying and she was desperately digging through her purse for five more dollars to pay for her groceries. I handed the cashier $5 and looked at the young mom and said, “Merry Christmas!”  I thought she was going to cry. Her baby had even stopped crying as the mom settled down. “Thank you so much!  I was panicked. That’s never happened to me before and...well, thank you!”  I looked up at God as I walked to my car and said, “Merry Christmas!”  

Another time (I think it was Day 3), I’d tried a super easy recipe I’d seen on Facebook.  In fact, it was called “No-Fail Enchiladas.” It said to buy a can of enchilada sauce, frozen taquitos, and cheddar cheese. Pour half of the sauce in the 9x12 pan, add taquitos, the rest of the sauce, and top with cheese. I’d even made rice and (canned) beans to go with the meal. It smelled heavenly. I was hoping for a culinary success. And just as we were sitting down to eat, George (a lonely widower from our church) knocked on our door. “Preacher, I’ve come to tell you our prayers have been answered!  My boy who’d gone to jail found Jesus there.”  As Caleb was celebrating with George, I poked my head around the corner and pointed at George and gave a little eating signal.  Caleb picked up on it and slapped George on the back and said, “George, how would you like to eat with us?  We’re having some of Merry’s enchiladas.”  “Don’t mind if I do. But just so you know, I didn’t mean to come at supper time,” George replied. He and Caleb were laughing as they walked into the dining room and I went to the kitchen to get an extra plate. I was so happy I had a no-fail meal to serve him.  I laughed in my heart and told God, “Merry Christmas!  And...thanks for the recipe!”

Since I was spending more time on Facebook with A Lotta Latte’s ads, I was seeing all kinds of things. One of those things was an adorable children’s Christmas play. It was so simple. I think I’d found my next gift for God. I decided to give Jessa a call. She was the young mom who did most of the organizing of our children’s ministry. “Jessa?  I think I have an idea for our kiddos for Christmas. Tell me what you think...”

12 Days of Christmas Part II



If I start feeling depressed, it’s a big red flag that I need to crawl up into my heavenly Daddy’s lap and let him talk to me. I needed to hear him in a big way this Saturday morning. “God, I don’t like this feeling of insignificance. I know it’s not from you, but I don’t know what to do about it!”  I sat there for the longest time just feeling God wrap his arms around me and then I heard him say to my heart, “Merry, just do the next thing right in front of you that delights you...and then the next thing...and the next thing...and every little thing after that.”  I sat there for a bit just rolling that thought around in my head. Finally, I got in the shower because Caleb and I were headed to the city to buy our first Christmas tree. And even though I scorned the spelling of my Christmas name, I LOVED Christmas!

Caleb and I were trying to decide on the perfect shape of our artificial tree when I heard someone shouting my name. I turned and saw Hallie. She was all smiles and her voice was eager as she said, “Merry!  I’m so glad I ran into you. Sam and Lynn were just telling me that they’re opening a new coffee shop and they don’t know the first thing about how to get the word out on social media—and I thought of you!  Would you be interested in helping them?  It pays!”  I turned to Caleb and saw a sparkle in his eyes and I thought, “This delights me and it’s the next thing in front of me!”  “YES!!  I’ll give them a call on my way home. Thank you so much for telling me about it.”  We hugged Hallie and hauled our new tree to the check-out counter. Life was looking up!

I began advertising for A Lotta Latte on Monday. We created accounts on every social media outlet and began giving things away as the opening of their coffee shop drew near. Taking a break, I ran over to the church to help Caleb bring down the Christmas decorations from the church attic. After that dusty job, I walked down the long hallway and noticed the sad looking bulletin board which obviously hadn’t been used in years. “This is such a poor representation of who we are,” I thought. And I slowed my step. I could do that!  My creative juices began to flow and I ran to the children’s storage room to find some supplies. An hour later, the old bulletin board had been given new Christmas life. It might not matter to anyone else, but I felt like I’d contributed something. And then I began laughing. “Just do the next thing right in front of you that delights you.”  This had definitely brought me pleasure. 

Caleb’s work in the field was slowing down—the harvest was almost in. So we celebrated that night by putting up our new Christmas tree. We were stringing popcorn (since we had so few decorations) when I asked him what he wanted for Christmas. He was silent for a bit and then said, “Man!  I can’t think of anything. But I could use some new sock and handkerchiefs!”  I fell in the floor laughing. Who used handkerchiefs anymore?  I guess farmers who were constantly wiping chaff off their necks and faces. 

Socks and handkerchiefs. Bleh!  Even though my new A Lotta Latte job didn’t pay much, I knew I’d have enough Christmas money to do better than that! My mind went into full-blown creative mode. I really don’t consider myself  artististic—just highly resourceful. A smile began to crack on my face as the idea grew in my mind. “Twelve Days of Christmas!  I’ll buy or create twelve gifts and start by giving one now and give the grand finale on Christmas Day!”  I sat down and started making a list and created a giving calendar. 

That night when Caleb came to dinner, an envelope was laying on his plate with a handwritten note on the front, “On the first Day of Christmas, I gave my true love a date with me.”  He looked at me quizzically but grinned as he tore the envelope open. “Tickets to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Christmas program in the city?  Wow!  You were really listening, babe. I’ve always wanted to do this.”  I was so excited!  And I knew in that moment that I might change some of my gift ideas to include more special time with my husband. 

And something began to shift in me. I was no longer thinking about my adjustment as a new pastor’s wife. I was having FUN! I was focused on my husband and finding gifts which would delight him. And then an extraordinary thought crossed my mind, “Why not do Twelve Days of Christmas with God?  I wonder what he’d like for Christmas?”  And then I began laughing with God as this thought floated through my mind, “I’d never be able to surprise him—he knows everything!” So I just asked him, “God, would you act surprised every time I give you a gift?”  And that made me think of the number of times my own parents had to do that very thing—acting surprised when they’d helped me shop and pay for their own gift from me. “This is going to be fun, God!”


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

12 Days of Christmas Short Story Part I



Hallie introduced us on that fateful Halloween night, “Merry Noelle Bishop, this is Caleb Steadman, your partner for the evening!”  


I would never have guessed that Caleb Steadman had a masters in theology and had hopes of being a pastor of a small Baptist Church—preferably bi-vocationally so he could still pursue his passion of farming. 


“Hi, Caleb!,” I said to my farmer-partner with a big smile. “It’s so nice to meet you!”  


I had no problem meeting new people—especially someone as good looking as Caleb. I could tell that he probably spent a good deal of time outdoors. After all, he was still in his work jeans and wearing a plaid flannel shirt and a faded baseball cap. I thought maybe he’d just dressed for the part, but as the evening wore on, I concluded he’d come straight from the field. 


Nodding and touching his cap, he smiled a crooked grin and said, “Nice to meet you, too. I hope I don’t embarrass you tonight. I’m not very good at this stuff.”  I laughed and assured him, “I don’t have to win. Let’s just try to have fun, ok?”


Caleb’s best friend, Josh McGyver, sat beside me during the dinner portion of the murder mystery game and spent more time telling me about Caleb’s aspirations than trying to help me solve the murder which had happened in the kitchen with the lamp stand. 


He told me, “Caleb knows God has called him to preach, but he can’t help but get dirt under his fingernails.  He loves the whole process of planting and harvesting.  He also hates being in crowds of people he doesn’t know—which is why I almost didn’t get him here tonight!!”  He scratched his head and said,  “I’m not sure he’s figured out how he’s going to pastor a crowd of people he doesn’t know.”  


Josh & Hallie were our mutual friends who were hosting the Halloween murder mystery party. They’d been married a year and had invited some of their single friends (mixed in with other married couples) in the hopes of making some “divine connections,” they later told us. Caleb didn’t usually go to parties like this—but Josh had twisted his arm. 


“Caleb, you’ve got to come!  We need a farmer and you’re the perfect stand-in for the part!  You won’t even have to change clothes—just come as you are!  You know there will be food.  Besides...wait until you see your partner, Nurse Betty!” 


I was “Nurse Betty” in the game—but I didn’t find out until much later that Josh & Hallie were actually trying to set us up that night. Caleb & I were thrown together throughout the hilarious evening of trying to solve the who-done-it—and I guess it worked. Fourteen months later, Caleb and I were married on Christmas Eve—which is also my birthday. (This explains my parents’  “unique creativity” in giving me a Christmas name—which has only caused me to have to spell my name over and over all my life!)


Merry Noelle Bishop Steadman.  I loved being married! And I knew when I married Caleb that he loved four things:  God, me, preaching, and farming—and in that order—with his cow dog, Max, and a few other animals thrown in there somewhere at the end.  Caleb had found his dream jobs in Sunrise, TX. He’d become the bi-vocational pastor of the 100-member First Baptist Church and he hired out to Jake Leathers as a farmhand. 


“Merry, the two go together,” he said. “Sowing and reaping can be preached in the pulpit as I do it in the field.”  I believed him. 


And as painful as it was for Caleb, he seemed to be overcoming his adversity to crowds as he got to know his church members...one at a time. Of course, I helped where I could by being my extroverted self. Caleb wasn’t just content to know his flocks’ names, he wanted to be involved in their lives—and he told them that. And they seemed happy to have him out and about in the community instead of sitting at a church desk. 

So when widow Katy Brown’s heifer was calving, she called frantically, “Preacher!  I need you over here NOW!”  And he was. He helped pull that new baby calf and stayed until it was nursing. 

And, yes, everyone called him Preacher. 

Or when Pete White’s farmhand broke his leg, Caleb didn’t even think twice—he jumped on that John Deere cotton harvester and helped until the cotton was tarped in the fields. 


Caleb told me often, “I love you, Merry!  You’re everything I’m not—and that God knew I needed.”  He was the kind of guy that when dinner was inedible, he’d say, “I was kind of hungry for a DQ Dude, how about you?”  But really...who ever gets hungry for DQ?  I knew he loved me by the way he cared for me. 


Of course, his first job commitment was to preaching—Sunday mornings to the church and Wednesday nights to the youth. His next obligation was to Jake Leathers. But Caleb would dream as we’d lay in bed at night, “I want to earn enough money working with Jake to save up for our own farm some day.”  It wasn’t going to happen anytime soon at the rate our savings account was growing—even if we did live in the church parsonage. 


Which is why I wanted a job. Plus my husband’s dreams were all being fulfilled. But somehow, I was having a hard time in Sunrise, TX, population 650, to find my dream job. I’d studied business and advertising. The grocery store, hardware store, The Grill, Sunset to Sunrise Motel, the Dairy Queen, nor the gas station needed help with advertising. They were the only game in town and everyone already did their business with them. 


I was also bored. Caleb was working way too many hours—and I didn’t know where I fit in the church. I didn’t know how to play the piano. I was too insecure to teach Women’s Bible Studies to women older than me. And I just couldn’t work in the nursery—it might stir up some premature desires.  The kitchen?  That was out, too. I could barely boil water. I didn’t want to be a complainer—but I was beginning to wonder why God had made me a pastor’s—uh, preacher’s—wife and why He’d set me in Sunrise, TX. My mom had always told me, “Merry Noelle, we expect you to always live up to your name!  God has given you a delightful laugh and a beautiful smile. Use it!”  I was afraid I was about to lose my “merry”—even though Christmas was right around the corner.