I still remember the first time I heard my now wife’s name, “Maria Hanna,” mentioned in conversation.
I had no idea how she would live up to her name.
Hannah, after all, was a weeping, trusting woman, who longed for the blessing of children…and who longed to see her children bless the Lord. Her faith brought about the prophetic voice (Samuel) through whom God would give us the house of David, the line of our Lord Jesus.
And “Maria,” of course, is the most renowned woman’s name in history, the name of our Christ’s mother. And I see much of the quiet, fearsome beauty the Lord praised in her also in the face of my bride.
Today is Maria, my Maria’s, birthday. I can’t help but think today about the first time I ever saw her. My cousins wanted me to meet her and so they took me to the local mall for a kind of fashion show put on by the local department store. Maria and my cousin, both seniors in high school and both of whom worked at the store, were modeling some of the clothes that winter for the store’s spring line.
I really liked her, but I wasn’t sure. After all, Maria was a high school girl and, though I was only three years older, I was in college, and in the middle of a frenetic job with a congressional campaign. I was too old for her. But, still, for weeks after that show, I’d find myself walking into that department store and looking at her picture, with those of the other employee/scholarship recipients, hanging on the wall. I’d look at that picture and wonder what she was like.
Sixteen years, fourteen wedding anniversaries, and four children later, now I know.
Even after I agreed to let my cousin introduce us, I almost stopped it. On our first date, I almost turned around in her driveway when I saw the “Bush/Quayle ’92” sign in the yard. I was campaigning all over south Mississippi for a Democratic congressman, and I was going out with a Republican?
More than that, I worried she was “too quiet,” as I explained it to my cousin, too gentle, for the rough world of politics where I planned to live my life and career. I had illusions that I was going to be governor of Mississippi one day, and I needed a wife who had the “fire in the belly” to speak on the campaign stump, pressure donors into giving more, and attack back at political opponents. I needed a partner who was a Mississippi version of (at least the 1990s version of) Hillary Rodham Clinton, I guess I was thinking.
Maria didn’t seem to pursue me back, and that bothered me. Even though she knew from my cousins what was going on in their deliberations, she didn’t call. She didn’t drop hints. She didn’t flirt. She didn’t loudly fight for attention. She didn’t seem like she was anxiously waiting for me to pursue her. She just seemed quiet.
I didn’t like that.
But I couldn’t help but love her. I thought I would just toughen her up one campaign at a time. I might have been tempted to turn the car around on that first date night, but as we drove down the beach on the way to the restaurant I knew I would marry her, if she’d have me.
Things didn’t turn out the way I planned my life then. The Lord pulled me out of politics and rekindled a call to ministry. We’ve lived together through some unbelievably happy (and one miserable) ministry experiences. We were together through infertility, miscarriages, adoptions, births, and a lot more.
We’re not a “power couple.” That’s because I don’t know how to get anywhere close to the power she has.
Hannah’s power in Scripture is not in horses or chariots or in plans or in schemes. Her strength, she sings, “is exalted in the Lord” as her heart “exults in the Lord” (1 Sam. 2:1).
Our Lord’s mother first shows up in the story of Scripture as a picture of submission, “Let it be according to your word.” Mary doesn’t summon the angel to her well in Nazareth. She doesn’t, like Saul, “kick against the goads.” She, with almost preternatural calm, believes what Eve (and Eve’s mate) didn’t believe before: that God’s will is for her good. And when Mary cries out against injustice and evil, she sings. She sings, in fact, a song that echoes the song of Hannah long before (compare 1 Sam. 2:1-10 with Lk. 1:46-55).
Is it any wonder God’s messenger and God’s Spirit pronounce the Virgin to be a “favored one” (Lk. 1:27) and as “blessed among women” (Lk. 1:42)? She exhibits exactly what the Spirit tells us through the Apostle Peter is that “imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Pet. 3:4).
That quietness and gentleness our Father loves in our Lord’s mother is not a mousiness; it’s not being muzzled by her culture or certainly by any man. The quiet spirit comes from the fact that she “does not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Pet. 3:6).
My Maria’s quietness, I have recognized in retrospect, was peace. She trusted the Lord to provide her with a husband, with a family, or with whatever else he had for her. The quietness was also submission. She was submissive to her future husband, whoever he was to be, and not to any other man. She guarded her affections, her attachments, and her expectations.
That kind of fearless quietness is the joyful reason that, while I’ve worried about all kinds of things in my life, I’ve never (not once!) worried about Maria divorcing me or mistreating the children or flying into a hot rage or a cold war. It’s the reason she was able to grieve the loss of children through miscarriage even as she planned baby showers for women who had gotten pregnant around the same time she did, and why she’d be there at her friends’ baby delivery wards with flowers and genuine happiness.
And her gentle power is what I hope is seen clearly by the four young men we’re raising together. They’ll grow up in a culture of women pictured as having value based simply on what men think of them, for their sexual attractiveness or sexual availability or their earning power or the sheer force of their wills. Even in the so-called “conservative” subculture in America, the exact same phenomenon persists in the culture warrior princesses on the talking-head argument shows on television.
Every day, though, my sons see a peaceful woman who submits to the Lord and to a man…but only to one man.
And through it all, she’s shown me what it means that the woman is “the glory of man” (1 Cor. 11:7). I find her glorious, and through her I’ve seen what Christic glory is, for men and women, not self-seeking assertion but Father-trusting humility (Phil. 2:5-11).
On her birthday, I am thankful to God for giving me this gentle, mysterious, life-affirming, powerful woman as my wife. Blessed is she among women, and blessed is the One who gave her life.