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. 

 

 

Share

Big Picture Moments

I’m fixing my hair because I’m headed to a funeral.

At a funeral, you’re forced (finally) to “trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understanding.”  I’m a girl who loves to know the narrative.  I love to know what’s going on:  the why, the how, the when, the where.  I’m probably too controlling.  What happens when the narrative breaks apart and you have no idea what’s going on

In reading, we love these moments of confusion; we’re delighted to read on to make sense of an unraveling plot.  In life, though, we stagger and despair. 

A friend calls and reminds me that God knows the big picture.  It was a simple phrase–the Big Picture–but I know it’s true.  He sees what I do not see.  

There’s a bigger story, a larger picture, and these moments on the page–death, birth, joy, pain, confusion and every form of suffering and beauty–fold into it.

It’s a marvelous story if I just read on a little further.  

_____________________
Journal:  When life unravels, what keeps me pushing ahead? 

Share

How Emily Dickinson (and a Friend’s Blog) Saved My Morning

I’ll just begin by telling you a certain child in my family vomits seven times last night.  This is the other child (not the one with the entirely different virus). 

I don’t actually wake up this morning because I never actually went to bed. 

Everyone complains.  Everyone feels miserable, and to make matters worse, it’s a holiday!  We’ll miss the bike parade, the hot dogs, the fireworks–everything. 

Then I check my email, and a new friend sends me a link to her blog.  She’s entitled it “Dwell in Possibility.”  I think about the phrase all morning because it resonates deeply.  I’ve heard the phrase before–from some distant place–that recalls a beautiful hoping in me. 

Then I remember.  It’s from Emily Dickinson.  I love Emily Dickinson. 

I dwell in Possibility —
A fairer House than Prose —
More numerous of Windows —
Superior — for Doors —

Of Chambers as the Cedars —
Impregnable of Eye —
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky —

Of Visitors — the fairest —
For Occupation — This —
The spreading wide of narrow Hands
To gather Paradise —

I read the poem again and again.  Today, I choose to gather Paradise.

______________________
Journal:  What are the possibilities of this day?  Who could even name them all? 

Share

Do You Know What’s Coming?

We leave to travel for nearly eight weeks today.  (Don’t worry, Jack, Louie, and Snowflake have a family living in our home all summer.) 

I take one last look around the garden.  I realize that nature will offer several gifts when I return:

First, I can look forward to ripe raspberries.

Then, the blackberries. 

The beans have just started to send their little tendrils up, so I can harvest them when I return. 

And, the peppers!  I’ll have so many peppers. 

I have to imagine it.  I only see the unripe, unfinished, not-yet.  But I know how growth works by now.  I have hope that the unseen work will continue, and, one day soon, I’ll be up to my elbows in a new season:  harvest.

But not yet.  That’s just fine.  Living with flair means I wait and hope because I know what’s coming. 

___________________
Journal:  What fruit am I hoping for in this next season?

Share

Believing the Best

My daughters were flower girls in a wedding yesterday.   Their job was to follow the bride everywhere, keep their satin dresses clean, and smile.   I envisioned disaster the whole morning.  I could just see my youngest stepping on the bride’s train and sending her flying on her face.  I could just picture the oldest one stomping off in protest of having to stand still for the entire ceremony. 

I became a controlling, negative mother as I worried about their performance.  Those girls were going to ruin everything.

I imagined the worst.  I really did. 

But when the moment came, I turned and saw my girls walking perfectly down the aisle, casting rose petals left and right.  When I saw them standing still and smiling for 30 minutes, and when I saw how they gazed at the bride and floated around her like little angels, I felt ashamed at my own lack of faith in them. 

I’m a mom who imagines the worst instead of believing the best.  Something changed in my heart yesterday.  Instead of anticipating their failure, I learned to delight in those little girls.  I want to believe the best from now on.  Not just in parenting, but in marriage and in friendship.  And what about my relationship with God?  Do I believe the best instead of anticipating disaster? 

Living with flair means believing the best about people. 

________________
Journal:  Who needs you to believe the best about him or her? 

Share

A Strange Lesson from My Mother’s Day Candle

My mother was the first to teach me that candles have “memory.”  When you light a jar or pillar candle the first time, you must let it burn for a few hours until the wax pools all the way to the edges.

You see, the candle remembers how far the wax pooled that first time, and it will only burn to that boundary every time you light it.  A small wax pool means your candle will tunnel as it burns.  It will waste the majority of the wax.  It can’t break free of that early pattern.  It remembers.

This morning my family comes into my bedroom with presents for Mother’s Day. Two scented jar candles, wrapped in tissue, roll out on the bedspread. My oldest daughter has breakfast on a tray for me, and as I look at this little family around me and light my candles, I think about candle memory

Will I ever break free from old patterns?  Am I doomed to candle memory in my own soul?  

Sometimes life feels so limited by our destructive patterns–set deep in stone–that we cannot change.  But I don’t want a narrow life!  I don’t want to tunnel down–bringing my children with me–because of old patterns set by the world, the flesh, and the devil (as Scripture teaches).  All morning in church, I think of the hopelessness of that candle memory and of a life that cannot ever break free from a set pattern or false belief.

I need to recover from the patterns of thought–lies I believe–about where my hope and security originate.  
 
In church, I look and see rows and rows of folks in recovery from drugs and alcohol.  A few minutes before, I shake hands with a woman who tells me (in the same breath) her name and her reality:  I’m in recovery.  She’s been clean two weeks. 

What can break the old pattern?  Who can erase the narrow boundaries and set us free?  That new friend knows her name and her reality.  She’s in recovery.  Day by day, she embraces a new reality, a new pattern.  It’s Jesus in her–the only One who can set us free from the prison of ourselves.  

That’s what I think about when I light this Mother’s Day candle.  Candle memory may seem final, but there’s a Light that knows no boundaries and can expose any false pattern.   I invite Jesus in–all the way to the far edges–and let my heart melt and pool deep and wide. 

_______________________
Journal:  Do you ever feel trapped by an old pattern?  

Share

What Has to Die in Me?

This afternoon, I notice my winterberry bush budding in the backyard. 

Those blooms hold particular significance this Easter season because I’ve beheld their cycle this whole year.  I see death and resurrection, and I suddenly remember the importance of death

For months, this bush seemed more acquainted with death than life.    The brittle and barren branches! 

This bush endured the assault of ice storms.  Those branches seemed hopeless, trapped, and unchanging.

Things were being put to death in her.

Now, these new buds burst forth. 

I remember my winterberry bush when I think about God’s work in my life.  I go through seasons when things have to die in me.  The soul in winter feels like death, but with every burial, there’s a resurrection.  What will Jesus bring forth in us?  We await that bloom even when we cannot perceive the secret work happening deep within our souls.  

____________________
Journal:  What has to die in me this Easter?  What will God bring forth? 

Share

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.  

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

Share

Your Fresh Start

This morning my daughter brings out her whiteboard easel and draws me a coconut palm.  She says, “Mom, you will love this.” My coconut obsession has infiltrated my daughter’s imagination. 

She carefully chooses the right dry erase markers.  A whiteboard offers the kind of freedom and mistake-proof activity just right for her age.  Permanent errors do not exist with whiteboards.  You just start fresh with a simple wipe of a cloth. 

“Let’s start fresh,” is a phrase we repeat in our family, not just with the whiteboard, but after disagreements, complaining, failures, or bad moods.  We give a hug and say again, “Let’s start fresh.”

Reading about whiteboards, we discover that the non-porous surface means the ink cannot sink in, and even if it could, the dry erase markers have a chemical compound that makes the ink dry too fast for staining.  So the color rests on top, and you can wipe it away, leaving no residue on the surface.

Living with flair means we work as a whiteboard.  No matter what happens today, we can start fresh right now.  This failure doesn’t sink in and doesn’t stain.  We don’t let it.  We start fresh. 

_________________
Journal:  Who needs a fresh start today?

Share

Rearrange the Day!

This morning, I scrape egg off of a blue and white plate.

I overhear a pastor, Tim Keller, speaking about work in a sermon video. I wipe my hands on the dish towel and strain to hear.

Keller says, “Work is rearranging the raw material of a particular domain for the flourishing of everyone.”

I think about what “raw materials” make up this day.

So far, my raw materials are dirty dishes.  Later, I rearrange letters to make words and then rearrange words to make sentences.  Now, I position red peppers in a pan to roast for dinner.  At 6:30, I’ll open the front door and welcome the children for neighborhood fitness group.   

I also have the raw emotions of fear about my sick friend and sadness for the Japanese.  I take the feelings and do the work of prayer.  

Suddenly, I look at my work in new ways.  Cleaning the kitchen, teaching grammar, making dinner, praying, and then hosting the neighborhood fitness group tonight all represent ways I rearrange raw material into new positions for flourishing.

And if what I’m doing doesn’t contribute to our flourishing, then it’s not the kind of work I want.  I think of Proverbs 14:  “The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.”  I want to be the kind of person who rearranges whatever she’s been given today to allow everyone (including myself) to flourish.

Living with flair is a kind of rearranging:  We rearrange our circumstances, turn them towards the light, and find the good, the beautiful, and the hopeful.  

___________________
Journal:  How does my work advance our flourishing?    




Share