It was July 1984. My man had just received his marching orders for his next station. We were to go from Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi to Tinker AFB in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He was 19 and an Airman 1st class in the United States Air Force. I was 18 and 8 ½ months pregnant. We had been married the October prior…you can do the math…a mere 9 months earlier.
There was speculation in our small town. Rumors ran rampant.
My OB didn’t really want us traveling but when the government gives you a choice between going to your next assignment now or staying and doing base beautification for six weeks, well, young love said, I don’t mind traveling. So off we went in the sticky Mississippi humidity and the Texarkana heat, hospital papers in hand and instructions to pull over and find the nearest hospital if you have even the whisper of a pain. (Young love is also stupid.)
Our 1984 Ford Ranger was loaded down with everything we owned and nary a baby item to be found. (Did I mention I was due in two weeks?) We had no air conditioning, no money and no place to stay. We arrived in OKC a bit weathered (both of us) and a whole lot swollen (just me)…heat is hard on pregnant women…even young ones who are in love.
Fortunately for us, my in-laws met up with these two young star-crossed lovers, their car was loaded with ALL things baby. Our families baby showered us from afar and made burp cloths and quilts; they donated a portable crib (a wooden one that collapsed) and gave us the sweetest, teeniest outfits that were all hues of yellow and green.
They paid for the hotel and food…my father-in-law was rethinking this after I ate 2 Whoppers, a large fry and diet coke. We swam in the hotel pool, played Marco Polo with his parents; it was so good to see them. We didn’t have a care in the world. Oh wait…I’m now due in TEN days with no place to lay our own heads, never mind a baby’s.
They helped us find an apartment, paid our first months’ rent, get rental furniture (we had nothing remember) and stocked the pantry and fridge. We bought diapers and bottles for the baby and I got a much-needed haircut and perm. (Oh the days of big hair. As those in the south say: the higher the hair, the closer to God!) As we said our goodbyes, my father-in-law advised, I think the next thing on your priority list is to figure out where the hospital is on base and make an appointment. She’s going to have that baby soon.
And we did…after we played some basketball, found the gym and met up with a fellow classmate, Frank, who had had room in his car for the car seat the squadron bought for us. See, we weren’t totally without baby things, we just didn’t see the importance of bringing it with us…but those encyclopedias we bought from the traveling salesman? At least I could read to my naked baby. And yes, we figured out where the hospital was located on base just in the nick of time. We had that sweet sugar just three days later. A bouncing baby boy weighing in at 9 lbs 2oz.
We were entering the unknown zone. We were clueless. God was good.
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There is a story of another young woman who also went on a long trip close to her due date. While there are (major) differences: She was a virgin. I was not. She was carrying God incarnate. I was not. There are similarities in our stories.
There were rumors and gossip surrounding the pregnancy. Yeah right, she’s a virgin. Obviously, the birds and the bees talk didn’t go so well. And what is Joseph thinking…staying with her like that when he has every right to leave? Holy Spirit my behind…we ALL know where babies come from!
Her and her betrothed set out on a donkey (also without air conditioning) with not much more than the clothes on their backs. They were headed into a place not wholly familiar to fulfill a census mandated by the government. They, too, had little to no money and no hotel reservations made.
You know the story of Christmas: Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem because no one had room to house them…darn census! It is thought by some theologians that one of the inn keepers had pity on them, allowing them to bed down in the barn.
I imagine that didn’t matter one bit. While the hustle and bustle of the busy streets were shouting outside, there was Mary with her newborn son. That moment when Mom meets the miracle that has been housed in her for months is one that shuts out all else.
Several months would go by before they would need to travel again. Hateful Herod is looking for this new King and will stop at nothing to see him murdered. God tells Joseph in a dream that it’s time to go to Egypt…now. Fortunately, for this young family some rich visitors had stopped by, leaving them a treasure trove with which they could flee.
God’s provision was obvious. Not through in-laws but an inn keeper. Not through far off family showers brought to Oklahoma City but by far away faithful sage men who journeyed a great distance to bring gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Unknown zones weren’t unfamiliar to this young couple.
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How do we handle these unknown zones? Because they will come, mostly when we least expect them. The death, diagnosis or divorce. The issues with money, marriage and managing your career. The nightly news. The state of our country. The divisiveness. Unknown zones.
The first young couple navigated out of naivete. The second out of a knowing of the nativity that was to come. The first had a simpleton’s faith based on silliness and love that was young and dumb. The second had a faith that was simple, based on obedience and maturity, even though they, too, were young.
How do we get there? How do we grow our faith so we can go through our fires? How do we count it all joy when all we can count on is feeling like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day?
Mary shows us a few key elements:
Surrender control. With everything so out of control, the last thing you want to hear is to surrender what little control you feel you have. Hanging on tightly to control in times of uncertainty or zones of unknown is rooted in this belief: God is not for me therefore I must control the situation for the outcome I want. What if God doesn’t even show up? Our certainty is that He is for us and is already in the zone with us. (Romans 8:31 and Hebrews 13:5)
Be Still and Move. Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? So, do I be still, or do I move? Both. It’s in the stillness where we receive the strength and courage to move forward, to obey that which we know we must do, to face things we do not want to face, to walk in the fires and trials we are asked to journey through. It’s in the stillness where we learn about the One who will be by our sides as we move in the direction He lays out. Paths we may not choose if the choice were ours but as we surrender control and as we be still and move, we get to experience God in ways we never would otherwise.
Treasure and Ponder. All throughout Mary’s story we see that she treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:19NIV for example) She was taking it all in as she watched the story of her Son unfold. We can do the same with our own stories. We can journal requests and ways He answers them. We can treasure up by writing down all the ways He shows up in our lives. We can ponder what He’s already done for us, knowing He is faithful to do it again.
Praise and Gratitude. My soul glorifies the Lord and m spirit rejoices in God my savior for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. (Luke 1:46-47NIV) Mary had no idea of what was to come. Neither do we. She was thanking and praising him for his presence in the here and now. So can we. When we spend our time trying to calculate what life could, would, should look like based on today’s circumstances, we miss out on the goodness and graciousness of God that is right in front of us this very minute. What can we be thankful for even if, even when?
That first young couple went on to have five kids total, four grandkids to date, dogs, chickens and a load of unknown zones throughout nigh 38 years of marriage. God has been gracious and good even when we were not. His faithfulness never wavered when ours did.
Unknown zones are still places we are asked to journey through. We are still clueless about a lot of things. But with the practice of surrendering control, being still and moving, treasuring and pondering, we see that God is still good.
For similar reading: When Life Hijacks Your Joy