Always Listen to Hope

This morning in church, I remember the day a wise friend told me that the Holy Spirit is always a voice of hope. “Don’t listen to any voice that isn’t hope,” she said. I was still a teenager, and my heart felt like a storm every day. I thought nothing would ever change. I thought God could never heal someone like me who had strayed too far. I thought God had no future for me. Sadness was my skin.

But that day with my friend, I remembered hope. It was a little whisper, a flick of a thought, a color that flashed across my soul. Hope was in there; I just had to hear its music again. It was settled deep in there, and I had to stir it all up like snow in a snow globe.

I remember that God is a Spirit of Hope (Romans 15:5). Some mornings, the old despair returns, and I have to choose hope. I cannot listen to discouragement or fear. And I’m trying to teach my daughters how to wear hope like skin. I’m trying to tell them that they must always listen to hope and no other voice.

My daughter reports with joy her Sunday school lesson on John 15 and how, if she stays close to Jesus, her life will bear fruit. She sounds so hopeful as she explains the gardening metaphor. “If I’m an apple seed, I will bear apples. I don’t need to be an orange or wish I were a banana tree if I’m an apple.

I think about self-acceptance and surrender. I think about how God ordains the life we have and how it took me 40 years and a book to articulate this very thought. She is talking about comparing her life to others, especially in school and when she sees other girls excelling in so many ways.

I see hope in her for the first time in days. Then, later, as we’re walking the neighbor’s old dog (the one we have to walk so slowly because she’s so very old), she says, “And do you know what? I shouldn’t worry if other girls seem so happy and have wonderful things happen to them. It’s like they have sunshine in their lives every day. I get jealous of all that sunshine. I have dark days. And then I thought of the gardener and vine. When I am having dark days, I remember that some plants need shade to grow best. My life may need more shade than others, and this is how I’ll grow.”

Some plants need more shade to grow.

Yes. I’m crying as I type this because she is already listening to hope. She tells me I can share her hope with others. If it’s a sad day, remember that some plants grow best in shade. 

 

 

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Verb of the Week

This morning, I talk to a student about the verb “rehabilitate.”  It means to restore to normal, to recover, to reestablish good working order.  In terms of physical therapy, this verb represents hope.

Physical therapists know that rehabilitation happens in the context of a whole network of support:  individual, family, and community.  You aren’t alone in the journey towards restoration.   It takes time, and we are all in this together. 

I think about this today because of the post-travel anxiety and moodiness I experience!  Nothing feels normal around here.  I’m rehabilitating–even still–from all those years of depression and anxiety.  Good days, bad days, hopeful days, hopeless days.

I’m learning not to fear the bad days anymore.  There’s a true self that emerges when you let even the darkness out. 

It helps that my neighbors tell me that their friendship isn’t dependent on my good, stable moods. 

Living with flair means we see life as a rehabilitation process.   As communities, we journey together patiently and offer one another the deepest, most beautiful hope.  Good days, bad days.  We are all in this together.

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Journal:  Are you rehabilitating, too? 

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When You Stop Resisting God

Last week, I was asked to write a piece on depression and Lent for The High Calling.  At my lowest point, I imagined God asking the question, “Will you live the life I ask you to live?”  I was humbled and so encouraged by the comments on this little essay called, The Best Question.  (Click the link and enjoy.)

Yesterday, I’m walking to the vernal pond and recalling that depression.  I remember how many years I resisted the reality of my life.  It didn’t look like it was supposed to.  But God knows what I don’t know; He sees what I don’t see.  But I wasn’t ready to surrender. 

Humbled again, I’m silenced as I walk in the woods.

We find our secret pond, and on the surface, I see the blue sky reflected. 

My daughters peer deeply, waiting patiently.  All of a sudden, we see the new frog and salamander eggs.  They might even be turtle eggs. 

Then, the water’s surface trembles:  little salamanders, spotted bright red and orange dart beneath the leaves.

Can you see that one hiding?  

I look out, and I see an entire pond filled with eggs, and tiny creatures move about everywhere. Those white cottony puffs are great big globs of frog eggs.  Next week, we’ll see unimaginable numbers of tadpoles.

As I think about my life (the one I resisted all those years), I hear another whisper of the Spirit.  I look deep into that pond, and I see how fertile, how bountiful, how rich and teeming this exact spot is.

This very spot where I find myself (no matter how wrong) will produce life in abundance as I cooperate with God.  And when nothing seems to be happening, I just have to look beneath the surface.  

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Journal:  Will I live the life God asks me to live? 

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Some Science Behind Happiness

The more I read about the brain, the more I have to admit I sabotage my own happiness on most days.

If you knew how lazy I really am, if you knew how much I detest exercise, and if you knew how my arms are really flabby noodles pretending to be arms, you’d be amazed right now.  Collective flair bells would ring all over the world.

I’ve never been able to do push-ups.  I’ve tried.  I can maybe do 4 on my absolute best days.

But with Jillian Michaels encouraging (yelling) at me from my basement television screen, I get down (in girl style on my knees), and start to lower myself only to push myself back up with the strength of my little frail arms.

It hurt.  It hurt, hurt, hurt.   But I did it.  And then I did it again and again. 

Here’s the story I told myself as I suffered through it:

“Do this, Heather.  Do this because you are investing in your future happiness.  You are gathering in happiness by changing brain chemistry right this very minute.  You wouldn’t forget to take your thyroid medication, right?  Swallowing that pill makes your body work for the whole day.  This next push up is your medication for mood control.  Do it, Heather.  You are earning 48 hours of elevated mood, scientifically proven, confirmed by neuroscience and brain scans.  There’s no getting out of this.  You have no choice, here.  You know the science.  Exercise trumps nearly everything else when it comes to long-term elevated mood.  You can’t ignore the science, girl.  Do it.”

And so I did it.  It didn’t feel like flair while I was in the thick of it, but the fact that I was investing in a future mood pay-off mattered so much.  We aren’t used to future returns.  We want immediate.  But living with flair means I don’t always have the luxury of automatic happiness.

Maybe it means understanding the science behind happiness.

I have to invest in mood-control activities that, scientifically, will change brain chemistry–maybe not right now, but soon.  The more neuroscience I read, the more I’m amazed with how much I sabotage myself every day.  The brain works best with certain foods and certain activities (keeping a flair journal is one of those things for me).  I don’t have a choice when it comes to this kind of living with flair.

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