“Yes, Father, I still believe in your goodness, despite what I see with my eyes;
Yes, Father, I still believe you have a plan for my life, despite what I feel in my heart;
Yes, Father, I still believe my best days are ahead of me, despite what my enemies and friends and family and loved ones say to me;
Even if you ask me to live in mystery the rest of my life, I will wake up every day and say yes, Father, I still believe in you (page 154). “
When I was a teenager I went to a Christian camp, where the theme was Where is God When Bad Things Happen? He’s On His Throne. Although, I wanted that to be enough for me, I couldn’t believe it was that easy. And if it was, what did it really mean? To me, it sounded like God was aloof in his safe place, while all of us down here really lived our crazy stories and hurt in unimaginable ways. What kind of God was he anyway? I felt alone.
As an adult, I eventually picked up Second Guessing God: Hanging On When You Can’t See His Plan by Brian Jones. If, like me, you’ve cried and begged, angrily wondering where God is when devastating things continue to happen every second, practically every place in the world, take a look at this relate-able book. His prayer (above) is so honest, choosing to trust when he can’t make sense of all that’s around him; it’s refreshing to to have an example like this, since he leans toward God, when times are mysterious and scary. Written with humor and transparency, Brian is a Jesus follower, who actually admits he does not know all the answers and lays out his struggles with what he sees around him. No worries, I’ll share my copy with you but will expect it back at some point (it’s just that good!).
This blog began as A Little More Than I Was. Now it has grown into Hope WalksIn, simply because I write about the messy adventures of life and finding hope in the dark spaces (If you haven’t read this month, click here. It’s the same blog with a new name, and this year I’m focusing on Hope and Healing: Little by Little).
Always, the unknown exists, bringing times of joy, heartbreak and everything in between. Life does that, over and over — laughter and fun, followed by tough stuff that sneaks in when we least expect it. Each time, we can sink as the waves crash down or learn to swim–asking for help and hope along the way.
Hope walks in all types of ways:
earth-shaking like booming thunder
a hint of yellow light or red sky
a line in a song or a poem
a stranger’s words
a hug from a loved one
a place you’d least expect (like on the bumper sticker stuck on the car that cut you off)
the stories of others
While hope doesn’t air lift us from our troubles and place us on a lush island, free of sickness, war, poverty and daily challenges, it helps us to believe this uncomfortable-growing-stretching-sometimes-devastating space may not last forever. Maybe we’re not alone. Maybe there’s more to life than what we see at this moment. Maybe there’s something to learn.
Life happens in all its mystery, full of adventure, sadness and beauty. We find we’re a little more bruised up from life’s challenges, yet somehow wiser, stronger and braver than we knew we could be.
When we let go and search, begging, trusting God and even waiting for it to show up, hope walks right in the door.
The evening summer sun felt warm on my neck as we traipsed through the wooded path over the bridge that led to the little cabin. The six of us chatted as we walked through the screen door, filled our plastic cups with cool blackberry tea, and settled into the comfy chairs circling the fire pit. The humid air felt heavy, yet the music of insects and bird songs brought a lightness to our retreat from the busyness of the day. Distant thunder and the plunk of acorns falling onto the tin roof surprisingly added to this peaceful place. As the sun slowly slipped into night, the twinkle lights strung across the wooden posts and the strategically-placed candles left just enough of a glow. So we leaned in to listen while others read the gifts they brought for us.
Gifts of words.
I have loved this writing group from the first time, when I took a deep breath and read some of my work. To a writer, there’s something magical about connecting with those who also savor beautiful phrases or have an unusual perspective on the ordinary. Here, I am surrounded by those who also carry that delicious stirring of stories bursting to be placed on a page and shared. Realities of life with its joy, heartache and everything in between are read aloud with quiet strength, despite fear that whispers inadequacy. We speak into one another what we hear and know, as we relish the moments in this precious, vulnerable space. This is not a place for comparison and judgement but one to celebrate as we journey further one step at a time.
I am thankful for these beautiful women and their gifts of words.
There were violent storms in much of the southeastern U.S. this week. Forecasts here predicted hail, strong winds, possible tornadoes and heavy rain up to five inches. All of this happened (and more) in some states with terrible destruction. People’s lives are torn apart by wild weather, and just like that, everything is different.
But here, what everyone geared up for ended up being plain old rain mixed with a few thunderstorms for a couple nights. The days were tricky though, since it looked as if things were right on track for the dangers that were predicted. But in the early morning hours, the light broke through the dark clouds, and the sun finally returned.
Maybe we’re waiting on news about a loved one in the hospital, a job situation, a dream to finally come true, a diagnosis or something else. We worry about what it will be like afterward, even 24 hours from getting the answer, from the knowing. We hear others’ stories and see pictures of horrible destruction and sadness and expect this will also be our fate. We believe this, too, will be happening right where we are. After all, that’s what the experts say, and they know. That’s why they’re experts, right?
Brightly-colored weather maps show the exact minute when the storm will come. So we wait and watch, expecting the worst (which comes occasionally). At other times, the maps show calmer colors that once screamed alarm. Sometimes patterns and storm paths change unexpectedly, and experts can be wrong.
So, we can choose denial or accept the forecast. Sometimes it might be with fear, worry and anger. We can cry and think, Why me? We might even respond by crawling into our safe spot for a while and passively wishing for it all to pass.
All of this is okay…and then.
And then, with courage we can read and listen to the stories of those who have weathered the storms and emerged with scars but stronger somehow. We can learn and trust God in his all-knowingness and take a step forward. It’s never easy. It’s always painful, it seems, but we just might see the light eventually break through in ways we’d never expect.
Our dog Glory loves riding in the car, but it hasn’t always been this way. When we adopted her, she trembled in the backseat until we got home, even though my friend talked to her gently the whole time. She’s had a lot happen to her; much of it we’ll never know. She came to us with scars on the inside and fears of all kinds. In those days, it was mostly about being abandoned.
Things are different now with two dogs, but there are times when those old fears return. When we went to the dog park, what should have been fun with other dogs seemed scary to Glory. After walking around the fence with us once, we took her off the leash, ready to let her run. Instead, she made her way to the front gate and just sat there. Eyes red and breathing deeply, she did not, would not move, no matter what we said. I guess she connects that kind of freedom with being left without her family. I want to tell her what I know about the dog park: This is fun. Dogs LIKE this place. You are safe, and we’re right here. And I feel sad because she doesn’t understand. Maybe she will one day if we keep trying.
I wonder if God sees us the same way. He leads us to a place that might ultimately bring us more peace than we’ve experienced, but all we know is we don’t like change. Yet, we try it out, tiptoe-ing down that bumpy path and turning back when it gets too hard to navigate the way. After all, we make a cozy bed in our comfortable place, put our feet up and prepare to stay for a long, long time. Things aren’t bad there, right? We become used to okay. I wonder if God feels sad about this because he knows things could be so much better for us.
When I am challenged to move to the edge of what I know, I am like Glory–heart pounding, deep breathing, trembling. My head believes even this has meaning, but all I really want is to burrow into my still-warm bed and hide my head under the weight of the comforter. I don’t know how I will handle feeling lost, and I worry I will be unsettled forever because somehow this is hauntingly familiar. I trust there is goodness on the other side; still I am scared. Why would anyone want to revisit this?
And then comes my reassurance:
Be strong and courageous, for I am with you. Do not fear, for I am with you wherever you go. –Joshua 1:9
It’s when I remember right smack in the middle of my wavering– God is here, too, and has never left–that I start to loosen my grip, one finger at a time. This is a long, slow, seemingly never-ending process because I move forward, push back, take a step, jump back, want to control. I cry and breathe and pray.
Then, I’m shocked because I realize I’m fighting against my own release.
And although my fear makes sense to me, pulling away from what I ultimately need does not. So, I bravely push back the covers and get out of bed. Once again, I’m taking one step at a time further and further into the unknown but closer and closer to the edge of freedom.
I recently went to one of those canvas painting classes, where participants get step-by-step instructions in order to end up with beautiful artwork after two hours. I love the creativity! The time with friends! The challenge! And each time, I eye the example piece and nod my head, thinking, You can do THIS!
I’m always excited to get started, but by the end of the night, my gusto dwindles. Although I’ve had fun, I look at my work and know its earned a place in the garage.
This is not natural to me. I’m not an artist.
In the rare case when I draw for my elementary students to explain some kind of concept, I also have to explain exactly what it is I’m trying to show them. “This (rectangle with legs) is a horse,” I say, and they respond with sad, sad, we-can-do-better-than-that looks.
So, instead of wanting to hide my work (it’s a reminder that I fell short), I’d rather reframe this experience because I really do likethe everyone-can-paint-idea. We all may not be fantastic at it, but we can enjoy it.
What I’ve learned about making art (with paintbrushes, a canvas and well, in life):
1) When in doubt, ask for help. When painting a forest scene, the details on my trees looked all wrong. After getting some help and changing my technique, things looked more accurate by the time I got to the last tree (sometimes, I’m a slow learner). I also got some profound encouragement along the way.
“You’re looking at the finished product, but you’re not there, yet.” Um, yes. Always, it seems. And then, I pray because I need help.
2) Sometimes it takes more time. How often dowe look at where we are, mad that we aren’t where we think we should be? I look around at others’ progress and want to be where they appear to be– with them.When painting, I second guess myself and work too slowly, so when I get to the part that really counts, I’m slapping on details and running out of time.
3) Which brings me to—> be patient with yourself and your needs. I never have enough painting time and get so behind, I don’t even listen to the instructor anymore. It would be okay to take a break and get back to it later. Maybe I should buy the supplies and try to finish another day. It would feel scary to try it alone, but who knows what might happen?! Same thing with everyday things– forcing it sometimes just makes things worse.
4) Lose focus on perfection and have courage to make it your own. When I paint with a certain end in mind, I’m afraid I’m going to mess it up. And everyone will laugh. This time, some of my tree details took the shape of fuzzy caterpillars, so I gave one of them a smile and legs (although it felt wrong and still does, it’s growing on me). It seems like this gets easier later in life. Maybe our older and wiser self begins to care less about what others think.
5) Relax and go with the process. I had a great time with my friend, but I didn’t relax. I was stressed and ended up with a stiff neck the next day. Putting less pressure on myself and being grateful for the experience means finding more joy in the doing. I’m still learning.
Sometimes what we have in mind at the beginning of a journey takes a different path if we have the courage to let go of our expectations.
Be thankful for each new challenge because it will build strength and character. ~Author unknown
“Shush!” I told my barking dogs, holding their leashes until my knuckles turned white. The three of us stood in the dark of the early morning, directly across the street from the staring coyote. Practically dragging my heavy dogs towards home, I hoped my past workouts made a difference so I wouldn’t let go. The coyote kept its distance but followed us, and my heart pumped out of my chest until we were safe inside the house.
Days later, I came home and let the dogs in the backyard. As I glanced out the window, Journey and Glorywere suspiciously staring at the grass. I ran-walked out there, not sure I was ready for what I would find. “Did Glory teach you to eat poop?!” I asked Journey, who had something brown in his mouth (gross, I know, but HE doesn’t like that kind of snack). When he dropped it, I picked it up with my bagged hand, you know, the way only dog owners pick up these things. It squished, I screamed, threw it down and shuffled those animals inside the house, completely disgusted. When I went back, I saw a very slobbery and very dead mouse.
I called Brian and gushed about the sheer grossness. “Get the shovel and get rid of it.” He said, calmly. It took a while, but I launched it over the fence into the woods.
A week later, when I opened the door to let the dogs out one last time before bed, I saw something scurry by me. I whipped around, and a little brown lizard was hanging out on the wall right inside the door. So, I called Brian (who usually dealt with these things) at work and told him what was creeping around our home. “You can wait for me to get home if you want.” Hmmm...what if it went into our bedroom?!
I even took a picture so he could see why I was terrified.
If others saw me spring into action, they might have thought something was seriously wrong (with me). I don’t know how long it took, but I was sweating by the time I trapped the lizard in my Fit & Fresh lunch container with lid. Journey hung out right next to me the whole time, despite my wild screaming, praying and positive self-talk.
By now, you’re probably thinking…she’s a dramatic, weak, silly girl. Well, after these situations, I was thinking that, too, and wondering when did that start? When did I start being afraid of little things? I lived alone before marrying Brian and took care of myself. I have handled a lot in my life, as a strong, brave woman. What was my deal?
I don’t know. Maybe I’d gotten comfortable. Maybe God thought I needed some courage and strength training.
Apparently, I needed to start with three pound weights and work up to the heavy stuff like: ongoing health issues and tests that showed more problems (nothing like cancer but still frustrating), trying to get pregnant (or even ovulate, for that matter), and times when I am just so tired of STILL healing from sexual abuse(I believe this hard work is never done). Oh, yes, and trying to sell our house.
Those things aren’t easy. Then, sometimes when there’s so much uncertainty, I get irritable, bossy and controlling, and that doesn’t help my marriage.
Then, I read something powerful by Anne Lamott.
When God is going to do something wonderful, he or she starts with a hardship. When God is going to do something amazing, he or she starts with an impossibility.
In the middle of these sometimes impossible situations, I’m grateful for the little things that have (re)built my courage. Seriously, though. I’ve had enough. I don’t want to bulk up from all this strength training. I’m ready for something amazing.
She believed she could, so she did. ~Author unknown
This weekend I am running a 5K with two of my lifelong best friends (outside in the dead of winter, which really feels like real winter in the south these days). For us, this is new. Our little group has gone through adventures and heartaches together–youth retreats, amusement parks, sunburns, slumber parties, first loves and the inevitable breakups, graduations, weddings, moves to other states and continents even, children, sickness, funerals; time together and even more time away.
Millions upon millions of words have been spoken, laughs have been laughed, prayers prayed, tears cried and dilemmas analyzed again and again…and again.
Each of us has gone our own way, blossomed into a (more) grown-up version of the seven and eight, thirteen and fourteen year-olds we were when we met. We are oh so different in a multitude of ways, but there is a bond here–deep love for one another and the kind of comfort that feels like the best version of home.
One could say we believe in the power of together…and hard work and sweat and maybe even tears.
We believe we can run this 5K (and that means, “finish alive,” as one friend said),