Philly Meets Bethlehem

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When you get one day off in a quarter, because you work three jobs and volunteer three places, you want it to mean some something and you treat that day like gold. At least I do because that’s been my life since August.

That golden day off, I took a solo adventure to Philadelphia, a city I had “been to” twice to the King of Prussia mall (not even in Philly) and once to a club in the middle of the night for New Years. When I was in college in CA, and friends told me about Love Park and seeing the Liberty Bell in my home state and I made it a goal to one day see those famous sites in Philly, not too far from my home town in PA.

It helps that my younger brother moved to Philly in recent months and that his birthday was just around the corner. It was worth my little adventure to see him for dinner and to have a place to park my car for the day.

The day before, I connected with a local Philly girl about what she recommended as the top “must see” spots for an impromptu day trip.

Alone but not lonely in my ventures, the Liberty Bell was free to visit, Love Park is pea sized compared to my original expectations, the Macy’s Christmas light show was cute, and I stumbled upon so much history!

Thomas Jefferson is buried in the city, the original White House was in Philly before being moved to D.C. Betsy Ross, who sewed the first American flags, stars forming a circle instead of lines on the flag, lived in Philly. And one of the cutest, oldest standing streets in the country, Elpheth’s Ally, was decorated a quaint colonial feel for Christmas.

History, lights, trains into the city, and navigating the sites was necessary and fun to get a quick breather and impromptu day traveling!

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Liberty Bell

I also learned how excruciatingly small the world is. You see, Love Park offers a Christmas Village with vendors from all over selling cute trinkets and off beat Christmas presents, and Danish food and drinks for purchase. At that point it was 4 PM, I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and had driven 3 hours and walked the city. A flaky, sweet, cinnamony apple strudel was waiting for me at an older baker’s shop. Between that and a coffee, I enjoyed my snack, as I sat on dirty, city steps below the LOVE at Love Park, while a musician played Christmas carols for the bystanders.

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Love Park

 

I looked around and noticed a booth with wooden carvings and a sign that said something about Bethlehem. Having been to Bethlehem I wandered over and peeked in.

“I’ve seen these carvings before!” I told the man and woman inside. “Are you from Bethlehem? Are these from Bethlehem?”

“Yeah!” the woman responded. “They’re from his family’s shop; they ship them here. We just want to share a little bit of Bethlehem with the people here!”

I pulled out my phone and showed her a Facebook pic that I had posted of the shop I visited in Bethlehem in 2012.

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Photo in Bethlehem of carved camel from Olive Tree wood.

“Yes! We used to sell camel carvings like that!”

I turned to the man, “The man in this shop that I went to in Bethlehem, he talked about the USA and selling things here, was he your father perhaps? I mean I know there were a ton of olive tree, wood carvings shops all on one street, but what if I met your father?”

In Bethlehem when I visited in 2012, the man in the shop stood out to me because he talked to the other students and myself when we were there. He was tall and refined looking. The shop was clean and organized. And he spoke about the USA as he traveled here himself and shipped carvings.

He was also a Christian. In his shop there were carvings of Jesus on the cross as well as quaint nativity scenes to purchase, all made from Olive Tree wood in the little town of Bethlehem where Jesus was born.

Now, the man in Philly smiled, “Yeah, there are a lot of shops in Bethlehem right next to each other, but my Dad runs a store there. You probably met him!”

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*Photo I took from a shop in Bethlehem in 2012.

I explained that the camel I bought from his father was bowing almost. It had a bit of red rug on his back, like the camels on display in their booth in Philly. They laughed and said I was a Bethlehem girl. Then they helped me pick out a small ornament as a Christmas gift for my mom.

The encounter was inspiring, but I was a bit weirded out, not going to lie.

It reminds me, the world is small. There are connections all over.

What’s more is my experience in Israel was difficult on a number of levels, but I loved the camel carving I bought. And since the encounter with this Israeli couple in Philly, memories have floated back to mind about my trip years before to their homeland.

Beyond that, it is Christmas. Celebrating Christmas now with flashbacks of the place that set the scene for the first nativity scene works for me…

It’s like He planned it.

What About Mary?

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Photo Cred: Joecy Mijares

 

*This post was originally written for Know Your Value by Wonderfully Made.

Every little girl who goes to church at Christmastime wishes she could be Mary. Age 9, 10, 11… Girls want to be Mary in the Christmas plays they watch and stories they hear. Mary, an innocent girl, chosen and well favored by God, to carry the baby Jesus, the Savior and Messiah. An angel visited her and she said, “Yes.” She went on an adventure with her new husband and even got to ride a donkey! We know the end of the story, and to us, to the little girls she is honored and venerated.

But what about the big girls? Do the big girls look at Mary and wish to be her, a chosen, favored girl tasked with an enormous responsibility and life change?

To be honest, I haven’t until recently. I wanted to be well favored and chosen for sure, but when it actually comes to living my life for God, as His servant and tasked with hard things, I cower. I ignore Him. I whine and complain. I make excuses for not stepping up in certain situations. And then to top it all off, I cry at night because my life is not what I dreamed it would be.

To be sure, in my heart, I’m God’s servant and loyal follower. I’ll volunteer and give my time and I’ll work wherever and do whatever for Him because I love Him.

But do I really with my actions? It seems I put up a fight when His plans and my plans do not align.

Mary was a teenager when she got engaged to Joseph. Perhaps, like other young girls throughout the generations, she dreamed of marrying this man of her dreams. Perhaps when he looked at her from across the street her stomach flip-flopped a little. Perhaps she pictured giggling with her friends and putting on beautiful attire on her wedding day. Perhaps she imagined their lives together, the children they might have, what they might name their kids…

Then, Gabriel, an angel of the Lord, came to Mary and told her that she was chosen. She stood out and God wanted her to be the carrier of His Child, whose name is already picked out. At this annunciation, she asked just one question, “how is this possible as I am a virgin?” The angel told her that all things are possible to God, “the power of the Most High will overshadow you,” (Luke 1: 35). And she responded, “may it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

REALLY?! That’s it? No other questions? No complaints? No worries (at least not expressed in the biblical document we read today)? No “let me think about it, you’re asking me a huge thing, and I’ll get back to you”? No selfishness over this rather ginormous wrench in her plans starting out her life with her new husband? Perhaps if I were there, I would have said to her, “Girl! Hold on a second, THIS IS YOUR LIFE!” …Or is it?

I’ve done all of that and more as I’ve felt God pushing me to walk into daunting situations. And nothing so life-changing as having a baby!

I picture Mary at Christmas with my little girl eyes, walking across a church stage with Joseph, or sitting serenely in a nativity scene. With that little girl perspective, I wish I was so good and honored that God would choose me to do something big for Him! Then, with dubious “grown up” eyes, I wonder have I ever been that brave and trusting of God in painful, hard experiences? When He’s asked me to do courageous things, have I ever responded simply, “may it be as You have said” without questioning, balking, or looking back?

Mary was brave and honored, and not just through her experience of carrying the Son of God, but in her whole demeanor and total acceptance of His plan and of this “wrench” in her life. She loved Him more than her own dreams, reputation, and fiancé.

She recognized that His plan, Gabriel, the virgin birth were not a wrench in her plans, but exactly where she was supposed to be, at His time doing His will.

This was His plan; her life was not her own.

I see it even more in the song she sang to her sister-in-law, whom she visited soon after finding out about Jesus.

“My soul exalts the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bond slave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name…” (Luke 1: 46-49).

Mary, at such a young age, knew that her whole reason for being was her God and her soon to be Son, Jesus.

Friends, you might not have an angel sit with you to deliver a message from God, but I encourage you to think like Mary this Christmas. If God asks you to do difficult things and join in on His plan with action, think about saying “yes” openly as Mary did. Be them hard or sweet, His plans are always good.