Saturday, December 28, 2019

Surprising Nativity

I love Nativity sets. My family knows this and has given me several over the years. I treasure them and some I keep out all year. I have a favorite set that I call the “chubby nativity” and another the “tall nativity.” There’s something heartwarming about those little figures representing the people who surrounded Jesus when he became a person because he loved us so much.

Recently I learned something surprising about that familiar nativity scene. I already knew that tradition had taken some liberties with the typical Nativity scene -- the wise men came later, not the night of Christ’s birth. I knew sometimes the family’s location was called a cave rather than a stable. But now I read that the whole story is different, or at least it certainly seems so.

I read books and other writing by Sarah Bessey and in her most recent newsletter she wrote about a “deconstruction” of the nativity story, as described by the theologian Kenneth E. Bailey in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels. Bailey “lived and worked in the Middle East for more than forty years while studying theology and scripture.” As Bessey writes, it turns out the Christmas story is even more beautiful than we thought.
For starters, Jesus wasn't born in a barn. Middle Eastern homes of that time did not have the stable for the animals separate from the home at all. Instead, the home was usually made of two rooms: one for the family and the animals and another one at the back or on the roof for the guests. Joseph wasn't turned away from a hotel; he was told that the guest room was already taken. Even there the text itself has been misinterpreted - it's not that there was no room at "the inn" as we understand a bed and breakfast or a hotel but rather the word is "a place to stay" meaning a guest room as part of an actual home. 
So the story is actually one of hospitality - the place where Mary and Joseph stayed was not a guest room but an actual family room. They were welcomed into the family's quarters. They weren't even in the guest room but in the main room of the home.
In addition, Mary and Joseph were not alone in their journey. They were part of a caravan, “likely part of a travelling community of family members all headed to a place ready to welcome them for the census.....They were well known, well respected and likely well loved.” This reminded me of the story when Jesus was a young boy and they were traveling with a bunch of others -- they didn’t miss Jesus for a day because they thought he was with others (Luke 2:41-52).

Bessey relates that Mary was also not alone at the birth.
She was almost certainly and absolutely attended by skilled and present women, likely even community midwives...She was in a warm home, surrounded by women who had walked the road ahead of her, who were able to care for her.
Is this surprising to you, as it was to me? I like what Bessey writes, “The incarnation is the miracle: it's not Jesus' otherness but his us-ness, his human-ness, his full experience as fully human and fully God together, that is the miracle.”

Whenever I learn or imagine something that makes Jesus more human, it fills me with wonder again, that he would become a little human being when he is this enormous, awesome, unimaginable God. Praise God for his incredible love.
What I call the "chubby nativity"
The "tall nativity"

Thursday, December 26, 2019

This is us.

The other day I ran across a photo of my mom and dad on their 40th anniversary. I can't find it now (of course!) but this one is close. I looked and looked at that picture, thinking "This is us now." We will celebrate 41 years tomorrow. It's so weird to remember how I thought of them then, and that now it's us. I didn't think of them as elderly, but, you know, they were grandparents and had been married 40 years. I didn't even conceive of becoming that. And now, here we are. Weird, but wonderful, too.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

God bless you.

I heard this blessing on Jen Hatmaker’s podcast. It’s called “Blessed Are the Unemployed, Unimpressive, and Underrepresented” by Nadia Bolz-Weber.

God bless you.

love, Mavis

Blessed Are the Unemployed, Unimpressive, and Underrepresented
by Nadia Bolz-Weber.

Blessed are the agnostics.

Blessed are they who doubt, who aren't sure, who can still be surprised.

Blessed are those who are spiritually impoverished and therefore not so certain about everything that they no longer take in new information.

Blessed are those who have nothing to offer.

Blessed are the pre-schoolers who cut in line at communion.

Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven, and Jesus blesses you.

Blessed are they for whom death is not an abstraction.

Blessed are they who've buried their loved ones, for whom tears could fill an ocean.

Blessed are they who've loved enough to know what loss feels like.

Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried.

Blessed are they who don't have the luxury of taking things for granted any more.

Blessed are they who can't fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else.

Blessed are those who still aren't over it yet.

Blessed are those who mourn. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

Blessed are those who no one else notices: the kids who sit alone at middle school lunch tables, the laundry guys at the hospital, the sex workers, and the nightshift street sweepers.

Blessed are the forgotten.

Blessed are the closeted.

Blessed are the unemployed, the unimpressive, the under represented.

Blessed are the teens who have to figure out how to hide the new cuts on their arms.

Blessed are the meek. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

Blessed are the wrongly accused, the ones who never catch a break, the ones for whom life is hard, for Jesus chose to surround himself with people like you.

Blessed are those without documentation.

Blessed are the ones without lobbyists.

Blessed are foster kids and special ed kids and every other kid who just wants to feel safe and loved.

Blessed are those that make terrible business decisions for the sake of people.

Blessed are the burned out social workers and the overworked teachers and the pro bono case takers.

Blessed are kind-hearted football players and fundraising trophy wives.

Blessed are kids who step between the bullies and the weak.

Blessed are those who hear they're forgiven.

Blessed are the merciful, for they totally get it. 

What can I pray about for you?


What is this?? A while back, I had an idea. I was thinking of some friends I wanted to pray for, but I didn't have a specific thing to pray about on their behalf. I decided to pray that they would feel God's love. I decided to send them an email when I prayed, so they'd know and be encouraged. Then I thought about my many other family and friends who I would like to encourage with prayer, and decided to start this email.
    Two things I try to do:
-- Encourage you with a reminder of God's love. My goal is to avoid anything where the response is "I should..." Just a short reflection of God's love.
-- Pray for you. I'll pray with each email, and please reply to me with anything you'd specifically like me to pray for you. I'll keep it confidential, don't worry..

.     If you would like to send me specific prayer requests. I will gladly pray with you. Email me at mavis at I'll keep all communication confidential.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas letter 2019

Dear family & friends,                     December 2019

At Christmas – and all the time -- it is good to remember that, even though things might sometimes seem hopeless, there are reasons for hope. My greatest reason is what we are celebrating right now -- Jesus becoming a human, showing us the greatest love in the world. As Eugene Peterson put it in The Message, Jesus moved into the neighborhood. Hooray!

Jane Goodall wrote a book titled Reason for Hope, listing as her reasons: “(1) the human brain, (2) the resilience of nature; (3) the energy and enthusiasm [of] young people worldwide; and (4) the indomitable human spirit.” I think her reasons can give us all hope.

This is where you come in. You are examples of that indomitable human spirit, and you are among my reasons for hope. Even though I may not have seen some of you in a long time, when I think of each of you and our times together, I am grateful and my heart fills with hope. Bad things happen. Bad things happen to good people. My hope is in the Lord. He gives me people like you in my life. I feel his presence through your presence, whether it’s acts of kindness, words of encouragement, listening ears, or sympathetic tears, I thank God for you.

A little news about our family -- also great reasons for hope. I feel like the luckiest mom and grandma in the world -- all my “kids” and grandkids are in the Bay Area. As they were growing up, I often thought how great it would be if they all settled in my time zone. And here they all are within a few miles!

Cori is an ER nurse at Stanford Hospital. She loves her job. She also travels quite a bit -- two trips to Italy, a trip to New Zealand and Australia, and quite a few other travels. Luke, Des, Delaney (11) and Lydia (6) live in Pleasanton, just a ways down the highway from us. Luke manages a truck parts and repair shop. Des works for a furniture dealership. Zach, Ashlee, and Violet (3) live with us right now, and it’s such a joy to have them. Zach oversees a warehouse for an audio-visual equipment company, and Ashlee is an amazing at-home mother. The grandchildren are such a blessing, and having them so near is a bonus.

Randy and I are still working, too, but looking forward to retirement in a couple years. I am reducing my workdays to ease my way out. Randy is still full time and his company was just bought out, so right now he is extremely busy. We purchased a little trailer this year and it has been so fun to take trips with it. We’re practicing for retirement. This year we went to Michigan for a visit with the Moon family, then Glacier National Park. Incredible.

In Christmas letters (and social media, and in general), we tend to talk only about how wonderful our lives are, and our lives are wonderful, but they’re not perfect. We have sad times, difficult periods of struggle; we make mistakes and work through them. One of the greatest gifts for me has been my discovery of the Ignatian (or Jesuit) Spiritual Disciplines. It started with a book called The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life by James Martin. I wondered if there was a Jesuit retreat center nearby and was thrilled when Google told me there was one just 20 minutes away! I went to several retreats, learned more and -- I know it sounds overly dramatic but it’s true -- it changed my life. Now I have started a 3-year course called Pierre Favre to deepen my knowledge and prepare me to be a Spiritual Director.

I continue to read quite a bit, one of the joys of my life, and I am trying to write more, too. I write an “email of God’s love” approximately once a week, and do some blogging. If you’re interested, check out

I would love to hear all about you and your lives. Have a merry Christmas and a joyful new year. I pray that your hearts are filled with hope.

love, Mavis & Randy

Sunday, December 8, 2019


I have always had kind of a thing about broad shoulders. Guys with broad shoulders are handsome. When women walk confidently, swinging their shoulders, I love it. I like the saying about Chicago being the city of broad shoulders (the real quote, from Carl Sandberg’s poem, is “City of the Big Shoulders”).

In Isaiah, and in the Messiah, it says about Jesus, “the government will be on his shoulders.”

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
~Isaiah 9:6

Don’t you love that part of the Messiah?

Last Sunday we read the 9th chapter of Isaiah (with “the government will be on his shoulders”) as part of an Advent devotional. As I read it, I got another image -- Jesus with a lamb on his shoulders. We often see that image when listening to Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep in Luke:

Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.”   ~Luke 15:4-6

Statuette of the Good Shepherd. Vatican Museums, Pius-Christian Museum.
Same shoulders. Jesus’ shoulders bearing the government -- being the king and ruler of all -- and Jesus’ shoulders carrying the lost sheep -- loving a tiny, powerless creature. At first I thought how opposite these two images of Jesus are. That powerful leader of all vs. a tender loving caretaker. But thinking more about it, maybe not.

When we think of a king, the leader of the world, we think of power, someone who can do anything he wants to do, and make others do his bidding. The image of the loving Shepherd seems the opposite of that, someone putting the needs of a poor helpless lamb before his own. But the Kingdom of God is often called the “Upside-Down Kingdom.” As this sermon from Len Betterink says:

Over and over we see things getting turned around, turned backwards, turned upside-down. Jesus said that in his kingdom the first will be last and the last will be first (Matt. 20:16).

He said that whoever wanted to be great would have to be a servant (Matt. 20: 26).

The apostle Paul said that God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, that he chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong (1 Cor. 1:27).

According to Paul, Jesus was equal to God, and then he emptied himself and made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant (Phil. 2:6-11).

Jesus was rich, yet for our sake he became poor, so that through his poverty we would become rich (2 Cor. 8:9).

After a while, you get used to the pattern. Things that make a person important in our world become unimportant in the Upside-Down Kingdom. And the things that seem weak and humble and poor — they make us better people and take us closer to the heart of God.

In the Upside-Down Kingdom of God, Jesus with both the government and the lost lamb on his shoulders makes perfect sense.

Thank God for his upside-down amazing love.


In Heaven, Southwest

Thursday, November 2, 2017
In Heaven, Southwest
boards C60-C1, B, families/
extra assistance, then A.

Friday, December 6, 2019

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains

Lydia spent the night last night, and this morning she colored this picture for me. It's from a coloring book of Psalms. I looked up Psalm 121 on my computer and she read it aloud to me. I talked about how she could remember God was always with her when she looked at mountains, and when she looked at her shadow ("your shade at your right hand") and she giggled in delight, especially when she pointed out her shadow right behind her as she stood in the sunlight from the window.

Awesome Grandma moment.

Psalm 121

A song of ascents.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.