Hope


pathSometimes, you have to pull back.  You need to stop talking and listen.  You need to stop producing (and consuming), and just be.  And many times, you need to process things on your own and not post it all over Facebook, Twitter, or your blog.  This, I have found to be especially true in the Season I have been in since winter.

My last post I shared I was angry, and then I went AWOL—at least from my blog. I let my heart process. I let myself be angry, and in many areas I allowed myself to let go.  I also realized that I was trying to use this blog as a means to replace a job that I once felt was woven into the very fabric of my being.  So I stepped back, and felt for the first time in my life, what it is to not have a “role,” and not have “giving” or “striving” be my identity. I have felt free from the lie our culture tells us that our profession/paycheck is our identity and our worth, all wrapped up in one. And I am slowly seeing:

I am more than what I do for a living, and so are you. We all are.

In all of this time “off,” I have felt much of my anger dissipate and forgiveness take root. It has taken a lot of prayer, some grieving, and some painstaking letting go.  And, if I am completely honest, I am not “cured.” Some things, when remembered, still bring a boiling anger to the surface—but it is much more short-lived, and much more easily handed over again in prayer.

I return to you today, because I want to share an observation from my journey with anger. It all centers on one of those questions that I just haven’t been able to let go. One of my main frustrations and questions for God during this season has been “why?”  Why did He allow me to be in a place where I was mistreated and not SEEN for who I really am? (Why did I allow myself to be mistreated?) I have asked this over and over again.

Then, today, as I sat in a Starbucks (I joke that it is my new office), with a former student, telling her the crazy story about how I was hired at the job that brought me to Pennsylvania, introduced me to some of the most special students/people I have ever known, and was also the place of some of my greatest pain (and some of my anger), I realized something HUGE.

It was all for GOOD.

There was a lot of good that came out of the past nine years—more good than the bad, more good than pain. When you come to the end of all of your anger and lack of understanding the past, and you see more good than bad, there is a lot of peace. When you look back and realize that even in the places of pain, God was sowing good, you can’t help but stand in awe. It doesn’t undo what has been done, nor repair all of the relationships that have been frayed, but it does make the journey worth it. It does make you stand in that place in your heart where you have been thrashing around and crying “why?” and instead, begin to lift your hands and voice in worship.

When you journey with God through your anger, rather than allowing it to rot into bitterness, it is amazing what He shows you. It is amazing the gifts he gives, even when we are still struggling to unclench our fists. He shows up, even when we don’t want to. He guides us through the anger, even in the moments where we don’t want to deal with it. And if we are patient (with ourselves), He brings us through to places of healing.

As I said, I am not finished with this journey and there are still unresolved questions. But today I feel like one of them was answered. Today, I feel His peace.

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tree a glowThree years ago, four minutes past midnight, on Christmas morning, I said yes.  Though it was more like “YES! YES! YES! YES!”

In plaid pajama pants and thermal shirts, hanging out in my parents family room, my now husband asked if we could stay up just a little longer…”until Christmas.” He pulled out a box way too long, and way too big for a ring, and told me I could open it at midnight. But just as twelve o’clock came, my sister came down the stairs looking for wrapping paper. Anticipation growing, we waited for her to go back upstairs. Then, four minutes later, when we heard her door close up stairs, my then boyfriend said “open it.”

Opening the box, I found a beautiful card that he had made with a picture of us on it. “One plus One…” it read. Then, he pulled out a much smaller box–a ring-sized box–got down on one knee, and asked me to be his wife. My heart soared, and all I could blurt out was four “YES’s”–because I wanted to make sure he heard me! He kissed me. I looked at the ring on my finger and then at him. We paused to take in the moment…and then woke up everyone in the house!

Christmas/Christmas Eve is a pretty common time for proposals (my dad hid my mom’s ring on the tree).  But, an important part of Christmas that we often forget is that it too, began with a “yes.”

Nine months before Jesus was born, we are told that an Angel appeared to a young virgin, Mary, and that he greeted her with these words:

“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28)

As any of us would be, Mary was troubled, and so the Angel went on to say:

“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High…his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:31-33)

Despite not having Sex-Ed in school, Mary knew how babies were made. This, just didn’t add up. So she asked the Angel, “How will this be, since I am still a virgin?” The Angel went on to explain the miracle God was about to bring about, and then finished with the words:

“For no word from God will ever fail.” (v. 37)

Up until this point in Scripture, there are no other stories about Mary, and yet what she is about to say speaks volumes:

“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (v.38)

Mary didn’t live in a time where she had a lot of options, or where she was waiting for that one moment when Prince Charming would ask her to be his wife. Instead, her choices had been made for her. She was pledged to be Joseph’s wife (Luke 1:27), but it was her father who made that arrangement. She lived without power, and without choice.

Still, becoming the mother of Jesus was something she said yes to. God did not impregnate Mary and then tell her that she was going to be Jesus’ mother. No, He sent her a heavenly messenger, telling her that she had been chosen to be the mother of His Son. When it comes to following God, He always gives us the choice. She could have responded differently. She could have said “I will be stoned to death if I get pregnant out of wedlock,” or “Joseph will never want me if I am pregnant.” or “Why me?”

Instead she said “May it be to me as you have said.”

She said yes.

Mary said yes to bringing the Son of God into the world.  She said yes to the seemingly impossible, believing that with God, nothing is impossible. She said yes to possible alienation–even stoning by her community–believing that God would not forsake her–and that rather, through her, He was coming to save His people.

Because Mary said yes to the plan that God had for her, Jesus came into our world and began His still unfinished work of restoration. Christmas is both a celebration of the work He has done, as well as the work that He has yet to do.

Mary said yes.  How may we be called to say yes this Christmas season–not to a ring, but rather to His work in our family, our community, and in our world? 

Redefining Female will be taking a break until after the New Year. Wishing you a Blessed Christmas and New Year!

riding into sun

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

Proverbs 13:12

We often notice it most when we can’t seem to find it. We carry it with us, like something we put in a jacket pocket and forgot about, only to one day reach our hand in and feel its warmth. It is what keeps us going when things get tough. Yet when we can’t find it in those dark times, it can be what keeps us from moving forward. It looks different for each of us, though I do believe it feels the same.

Hope.

Believing the sun will shine again. Believing things will be different tomorrow, next year…eventually.  Believing that the dream you hold in your heart will one day come true. Believing cancer won’t be the end. Believing you won’t always be in this job. Believing that–someday you will meet that person, someday you will be seen, someday you won’t feel this heart ache anymore…

Hope is Believing.

It was the incredible freedom I felt when I thought I may have cancer at twenty-three, and God whispered to me “How much of your life did you give to me?”

It was the rushing emotion I felt when the surgeon came to tell my mom and I–after operating on my dad–that he got all the cancer and that my dad wouldn’t need Chemo.

It is what keeps us going when everything else is telling us to give up. It is what keeps us loving, trying, and fighting.

Hope is Powerful.

Its absence was my greatest pain in my darkest hour. During that time, it felt like every direction I went in was a dead end. Everything I thought I was working toward wasn’t happening. I had pushed and strived. I kept feeling like I had hit a wall, and I couldn’t find my way over it.

Then, a friend who had been praying for me–yet had no clue of my struggles–came to me with a verse she said she felt was for me:

“You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light. With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.”

Psalm 18:28-29

And sure enough, with God’s help, I found my way over that wall, and out of the dark place I was in.

Hope is Necessary

Without it, the future is a place we don’t want to go. Hope-less is a state in which nothing can be done. Nothing can be healed. Nothing can be made better. Until my friend reminded me through that verse that God would turn my darkness into light, and that God had a way out for me, I was stuck. I couldn’t move forward. The good news was, that even though I couldn’t feel it:

Hope is Always Available

Though it is not always easy for us to comprehend (or at times believe), Jesus came to this Earth to make it possible for us to have a relationship with Him and through that relationship, discover more hope than we can fit in all the pockets we own. Because we live in a broken world and so many of us get used to living lives in which we are unseen or unknown by others, it makes it hard for us to truly fathom that the God of the Universe is mindful of us. But He is. And He longs to show His care for us, to bring His best for us into our lives, and to show us that in Him, we do indeed, have Hope.

purple ornaments and starOh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel, That mourns in lonely exile here, Until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to you, O Israel!

~ Oh, Come, Oh, Come Emmanuel

Over the past few years, there has been a lot of talk about the end of the world. It has had a similar feel to it as Y2K, only with much more ancient roots. Instead of fearing our computers failing us, it has been a calendar created by the Mayans “prophesying” our demise, that has had people on edge. According to the movie 2012, the Mayan calendar says that the “END” is only nine days away. And though many of us have shrugged or laughed it off–and we have been told the end of the Mayan calendar actually marks the end of an Era not the World–others have become “Doomsday Preppers,” convinced the worst is yet to come.

Then, in our news here in the US, the words we have heard over and over lately have been “Fiscal Cliff.” Though not all of us use “fiscal” in our everyday vocabulary, we ALL know the word “cliff” can’t be good. So, when we turn on the news, we are just praying that Congress and our President can figure out something positive–soon!

As if that isn’t enough, the economy has become an everyday topic in our world. I don’t know about you, but I can’t hear people talk about it without getting a heaviness in my chest; because the people losing their jobs or struggling to make ends meet are our family members, our neighbors, and our friends.

Whether the end of the world is near or not, we have had a rough year. We have all felt the stress of an unknown future. And many of us have entered the Christmas Season with some trepidation. But–at the risk of sounding like I am writing from the top of my soap box–I think there is one thing we have been doing, that isn’t really helpful.

This year, more than most I have heard things being referred to as Holiday–its now the Holiday tree, Holiday shopping, Holiday Season, etc. Though it may be “politically” correct, removing the name Christmas from the day, I believe removes the one thing we desperately need in our current difficulties; HOPE.

The Story of Christmas is THE story of Hope. It tells us that we haven’t been forgotten by the One who created the Universe. It reminds us that the God who hung the stars and set the planets in motion, came to Earth as one of us to save us from our brokenness. It is both the story of His greatest expression of Love–and His greatest sacrifice. Yet remembering the Christmas Story doesn’t just point us to the past, it also points us to the hope we have for the present and the future.

After Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, when He was about to return to Heaven, He said that He would be with us always (Matthew 28:20), and that he would return someday (John 21:22). By “being with us always,” Jesus meant that He would be present to us through His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the presence of God that we experience when we seek Him. It is the Holy Spirit that meets us when we pray. In His Word, God promises that if we seek Him, we will find Him (Matthew 7:7, Jeremiah 29:13). Christmas is a reminder that the God of the Universe  wants to be present to us now–even in our hard times.

When Jesus said He would return someday, He was referring to an actual yet unknown time in which He is going to return to Earth. Though there is much that we don’t understand in our world, and though there is so much brokenness, we haven’t been forgotten by God. He is still moving amongst us, and Jesus is still planning to return. No matter what we hear on the news, how bad things seem, or who says the world is ending, our ultimate fate rests in the hands of a Loving God–A God who sent His son to Earth, to be born in a manger, and to bring Hope to us all.

Linking up with Tanya Marlow today and her Advent series, check it out!