Sunday, April 22, 2012

Hope Questions


Eileen Sommi, an encouraging friend and wonderful writer, recently composed a month-long devotional specifically for our church body.  I’m running a little behind (okay, more like sixteen days behind), but for good reason, I think:  I’m stuck on a question from Day One.  It is turning out to be a very important question.

The entry is based on the account of Moses sending a dozen leaders to scope out Canaan, a land God has already vowed that Moses and his followers will inhabit.  You’ve heard of it I’m sure:  the Promised Land. (Scary/funny sidebar:  I’m baffled by how it is that in over four decades I’ve managed to completely miss the significance of that title.  Go figure.)

It’s strange enough that God’s people can’t simply waltz in and take possession of what they’ve been promised.  For some reason, though, they'll have to fight for it.  And, according to the leaders who report back to Moses and the others, it’s going to be quite the battle.  If I were the Israelites, I’d be a little thrown off.

I was already struggling to make sense of that little peculiarity before I got to the questions for reflection.  The very first one brought me to a complete halt.

What has God promised you?

After thinking a few minutes, I couldn't come up with much of anything.   It didn’t take me long to slam into something not-so-great about my faith.

I don’t really know specific things God has promised me.  And if I’m honest, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know.

Because I’m not so keen on allowing myself to grab hold of the kind of hope required to believe God will do something specific and good in my life.  That kind of hope—the kind Caleb had when he told the Israelites they could beat those giants—has brought me way too much confusion and disappointment. 

I’m not sure I’m all that interested in going there.

Now, let me be quick to add that I’m great with claiming God’s general good-and-trustworthy-ness for me.   Giving God room to do whatever He wants without keeping me in the know . . . I’m good with that. 

But don’t get detailed on me.  Don’t ask me to name specific things He’s going to do.  Don’t ask me to anticipate living in the Promised Land.  Because what if it doesn’t happen?  What if I never make it?  What if it doesn’t exist?  What if I misunderstood?

I’m just not up for that kind of disappointment.

I’d like to think this is because I trust Him so wholeheartedly.  But that’s not the whole truth.

I’m not always willing to look for specific God-promises because I cannot bear the disappointment that comes when those hopes don’t come to pass.  Letting my heart attach itself to such possibilities means opening myself up to a kind of pain I don’t do well with.

Yet God does often promise His followers specific blessings:  He promised Abraham and Sarah a miracle-baby; He promised Joseph that his mean old brothers would bow down to him; He promised Israelites that their very difficult sojourn would end in a land of milk and honey.  A specific place.  He wanted them to bank on it, and they did.

They allowed themselves to envision the land. 

They travelled for years and miles to get there. 

They fought for it. 

And all the time, they allowed themselves to trust that His promise would come to fruition. 

Which means I might want to do the same.

Which is why the question in Day One stopped me in my tracks.

So I continuing to ponder (yes, hesitantly) the question from Day One:  What is it that God has promised?  Perhaps to others, but also to me?  Do I trust myself to be able to hear Him accurately?  Am I willing to envision specific future-blessings for my spouse, my family, my students, myself?  Will I un-guard my heart enough to let it long for the Promised Land He has for me?  Am I willing to a fight for it?  Can I refuse relenting to the confusion that comes with struggling along the way? 

These are questions I hope to answer.  

And these are questions that I have for you:  Are there specific hopes God has given you?  How did you come to understand them as His promises?   Have you had to fight for them?  What are you doing to sustain your hope?


Friday, April 20, 2012

Together


A comfortable chair.  A cool drink.   

Time, space, quiet—all reserved for conversation. 

And, of course, friends.  The ones who ask questions my heart longs to answer.

“How is your week?”

Comparing crazy springtime schedules.  

Laughter at the barely-surviving.

Celebrating the sometimes-thriving.  

 “How is your family?”

A glimpse of maturity in a ten-year-old’s talk.

A glimmer of God-hunger in an almost-middle-schooler.

A son’s frustration after an at-bat gone south.

A daughter’s question that would tug at any mother’s heart.

A spouse in a season of mostly-happy exhaustion, pouring out his very 
life for others.  For us.

Moments to rejoice over, to be sad about, to gather strength for. 

Shared.
 
“How are you?”

Words, fast at first, then slowing, mixed with pauses for deep, keeping-composure breaths.

Long pause. 

“How can I pray?”

Heart-mending miracle of another’s words articulating what can’t quite be said.

These are the questions.  These are the responses.

This is where hands can stop and heart can speak. 

A place to be known.  A place to be heard.  


Renewed and readied to re-enter the day with a little more strength, an easier smile.

This is the gift that comes from together.

[p.s. A confession to 5-minute-Friday friends:  I simply couldn't stop when the timer buzzed.  So, to be accurate, this is really a 15-minute Friday post.]

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Redbuds


{First:  Sheppard Tucker captured the amazing image you see here.  Thank you, sweet Sheppard!!} 


When my heart is almost saturated with February’s cold and damp, I remember, and begin my watch.

Soon they make their springtime entrance, taking my breath away. Scrawny branches, previously brown and bare, show tiny pink-violet buds peeking out into chilly air.  Nearly imperceptible at first, their color becomes a glorious magenta shout reverberating against the piercingly blue late-March sky.  


One glimpse of these blossoms speaks straight to my soul.  They tell of transformation.  Of possibilities.  Of rebirth.  Of breath-stealing splendor springing from what just yesterday looked little more than barren.



Reawakened by this burst of beauty, this blessed reminder, my heart sings their song, rejoicing in the fresh Word that is spring.


Then, almost as quickly as it came, the color is gone. Startling red-purple blossoms turn to quieter green.  Foliage whispers, leaves rustling in the sun-warmed wind.

Spring’s exuberant newness is replaced by summer’s steady stretch.  And I’m tempted to be sad.  To mourn the loss of the blossoms’ beauty.   To wish for the joy-surge flowing so effortlessly from this season of renewal.  

Yet now is when roots can stretch deep, finding needed nourishment in dark soil.  This is when branches can reach high, drawn heavenwards by hour upon hour of shining sun.

Spring must surrender to summer.

And it, too, is a sacred season.
======================================

But blessed are those who trust in the Lord 

and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.


They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
with roots that reach deep into the water.

Such trees are not bothered by the heat 
or worried by long months of drought.

Their leaves stay green,
and they never stop producing fruit.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Hope Resurrected


Ever since I became a mother, holidays make me nervous.  Oh, the pressure of making it special.  Of seeing my family smile.  Of fulfilling an expectation that may (or may not) have been mentioned.

I have good reason to be anxious:  there have been a few flops.  When that happens, it really stinks.  For the one who’s disappointed, and for me.

Of course, my kids are so resilient . . . . they bounce back in a matter of minutes.

Me?  Not so much.

Each and every one of those little special-occasion-missteps reminds me of one of my favorite fears:  it’s the “I’m-not-such-a-great-mom-and-my-kids-are-eventually-gonna-wish-they-were-born-to-someone-else” fear.  

Maybe you don’t suffer from this particular phobia.  But I’m inclined to feel its grip from time to time.  And trust me: it ain’t pretty.

When I make mistakes on the job, my colleagues probably aren’t all that surprised.  Neither are my friends, my family members, or my husband:  they’re all pretty well-acquainted with my shortcomings.  I’ve given them lots of opportunities. 

When I goof up with grown-ups, I’m not happy about it, but it’s relatively easy to ask for—and accept—God’s forgiveness.  Such mistakes aren’t desirable, but they seem more forgive-able, maybe because the playing field is a little more level.

But mistakes that hurt my children?  Not okay.  No Christian mother does that, right?  At least not the good ones.

Because my children . . . they’re little people.  Tender.  Impressionable.  And I’m the one nurturing their hearts, building up their souls.  Maybe helping them develop their coping skills . . . but not by providing practice recovering from their mother's flub-ups. 

Plus, I can’t even count how many books and sermons I’ve heard about how the parents have a hugely significant, gi-normous impact on a child’s view of God.  I mean, if I don’t parent well, then my children are going to need a whole bunch of help:  Bible Study, prayer, therapy, and Lord knows what else just to recover from my mess-ups.

The stakes are so very high.  The pressure: almost unbearable. 

I feel it each and every time I go to pick out the Easter bunnies.  Seriously.

Which is why the knot in my stomach got a little looser this morning when my daughter loved the Paul Frank Easter monkey I chose instead of the standard rabbit.

And why I breathed a disproportionately long sigh of relief when my son wasn’t overly traumatized by my forgetting the Hersheys Chocolate Drops I’d planned to put in his basket.

I somehow managed to make it through another Easter morning without making some kind of irreversible mistake that will wound my children irreparably.

Okay, I’m joking. 

Sort of. 

Fast forward only a few hours to my church’s Easter service:  I am reminded that, because of Christ’s death and resurrection (hallelujah!)  I have an inheritance that is being kept in heaven for me.  These are blessings that are impossible to destroy, to spoil, or to lose their beauty.

Yet every time I make a mothering mis-step—whether it’s being a little off-target on a birthday gift, or a lot un-grace-full with my words—I start wondering where my resurrection power went.  I start acting like He never died.  I stop allowing myself to live with great expectation, and start worrying about how to make up for what a mess I am.

Instead, I start believing that the blessing (yes, the one that’s beyond the reach of change or decay) just disintegrated, vanished into thin air . . . . gone forever.

Instead, I’m Peter after the crucifixion:  wondering (for good reason!) whether Jesus is gonna have anything to do with me anymore. 

I won't let myself expect the best.  I won't read on, to the part where Christ comes to Peter . . . .  invites him to say again that he loves Him . . . . entrusts his not-always-consistent-follower—to be the caretaker for His lambs.

Today, I'm reminded, and unspeakably grateful, that through Christ’s resurrection from the dead, I've been given an inheritance that will never perish, never spoil, never fade.   So have my kids.

And together, we have a new birth into a living HOPE (there’s that word again).

No one can destroy it. 

Not even me on a bad day. 

He Is Risen!  He Is Risen Indeed!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Saturday


“Waiting, waiting for something to happen . . . .”

Many years ago, I wrote this to describe my own unmet longing. 

The wait was for a spiritual experience I’d heard about from so many.  That moment when they’d recognized, without a doubt, God’s presence.  A moment transformed from defeat to victory, from pain to joy, from shame to forgiveness.  A moment accompanied by the overwhelming, even palpable sense (“I just knew beyond a shadow of a doubt”) of His presence, His activity, His being “for” them.  A life-changing, pivotal moment after which a life was never the same. 

A moment that served as proof-positive of the Divine existence, of the Father’s love, of His gracious, merciful, undeserved approval. 

A moment I still wonder whether I await, twenty years later.

I’ve known the symptoms:  The knot in the pit of my stomach.  The overwhelming sense of His nearness.  A flash of unexpected insight.  A “word.”  Chillbumps. Tears.  Elation. 

Sooner or later, though, the symptoms subside.  The knot loosens.  The tears dry up.  The epiphany isn’t so life-altering.  Elation fades to neutrality, ambivalence, apathy, melancholy.

A moment that felt so intensely of life ended up feeling like death.

Like Friday, when so many saw Christ breathe His last. 
When the source of such life somehow succumbed to death.

Is this how Martha’s sister, Mary, felt, remembering her joy at hearing her Friend’s affirmation of her attentiveness to Him?

Is this what Peter, James, and John felt, recalling the honor of seeing Christ transfigured right before their very eyes?

Is this how the woman felt, weeping as she watched the blood drip from the Healer who had halted her own issue of blood?

Even though Christ often alluded to the cruel death He faced, it must have been more than a devastating blow to their hearts.  To their faith.  To their hope.

How were they to make sense of this terrifying turn of events?  For they’d gotten to walk alongside the very Hope they’d anticipated for so many years before He came.  They’d seen so many transformations, so many miracles.  Defeat to victory.  Pain to joy.  Shame to forgiveness.  Blindness to sight.  Death to life. 

Life-changing, pivotal moments.  Moments that gave them proof-positive of God’s love, of His gracious, merciful, undeserved approval.

Moments that ended with what must have sounded like a most terrible proclamation:  “It is finished.”

Did those words shake their faith like the quake that came during those darkened daylight hours? 

Was the burial of their Friend’s body the entombment of the Hope He had invited them to embrace?

What were they to do . . . to think . . . to believe now?

All that He’d said seemed, at best, part of the past.  At worst, it had simply never been true.

Was this some cruel cosmic prank?

Perhaps most tragically:  to whom could they take their questions?  The very One to whom they’d gone no longer had breath to respond.

As they awakened that awful Saturday, all that was left was to pray, to wonder, to decide how (and whether) to hope again, to decide what to hope for. 

And to wait, wait for something to happen.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Friday's Miracle


It may seem strange to say it, but I will anyway: I love that Good Friday makes room for lament. 

On this day, we are invited again to envision a body ravaged by cruel spikes and countless lashes, to remember His writhing pain, to imagine what it must have felt to experience the physical torment.  The difficult disciplines of this day give us permission to go to our hearts’ shadowy places, to acknowledge them, give voice to them.

What moves my heart most compellingly, though, isn’t the physical suffering Christ endured.  It’s His admission in of feeling utterly and completely abandoned.

“My God.  My God.  Why have you deserted me?”     [italics added]

Psalm 22 begins with the very words Christ uttered from the cross, and theologians believe His allusion is meant to help us recognize the uncanny similarity between the circumstances surrounding His death and those described in this Old Testament song.

I have to wonder, though, whether the reference to this Psalm is also a way Christ articulates His own feelings:  Why are you so far away?  Won't you listen to my groans and come to my rescue?  I cry out day and night, but you don't answer, and I can never rest.”

Christ’s cry from the cross was a ragged, screaming response to feeling abandoned.  Not just by His friends.  Not just by His followers.  But by the one and only Being who actually had the capacity to rescue Him.

It was a plea to know again His Father’s abiding presence.  A call for rescue.  A cry that has crossed my lips more often than I care to remember.

Yet even as He called out in confusion, He acted with divinely-empowered clarity.

Though He voiced a very-human weakness, His God-given resolve stayed strong.

He felt distanced, confused, abandoned; His father’s provision remained, steadying and steadfast.

Before the miracle of Sunday, the miracle of Friday.

Thanks be to God.

Light


Light.

Sometimes I don’t get as much as I want.

As much as I think I need.

Often I walk this dusty, winding, pebble and rock-strewn path during nighttime hoursWhen I do, the moon-and-star-glow coming from the navy-blue sky illuminates, but only a little bit.   

My eyes see outlines, shadows against the horizon's darker background, and I’m not confident of what they are.   

My vision is limited.  

The darkness seems big.  Bigger than the moon.  Bigger than the stars.  Bigger than me.

But the lamp at my feet is enough for at least the next step.  Or two. 

And that is enough light for now.