Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hope Floats Eternal

And now these three things remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13:13)

We talk a lot about faith and love, but hope is often squeezed in like a middle child: fully present, equally important, but often over looked until demanding to be noticed.

Anyone who has found himself between discouragement and despair knows how critical hope can be. Hope is what sustains us when we are holding on in faith, to a God of love, who hasn’t yet provided or revealed his plan.

I mentioned in my last entry how the last few months have been particularly tough for the construction business I run with my husband, but I know I’m not alone in security anxiety. I think of friends who have been laid off for months; others trying to keep their homes; and still others facing challenges that have turned their lives upside down.

These are the times when hope can bob on the surface of dark and muddy waters to give us something to hold onto. Hope buoys us when we feel like we’re sinking, gives us the energy to keep treading water, and reminds us that God knows exactly where we are and what we need.

Something I’ve started doing to focus on the positive is scanning the sea of my life for Hope Floats. These are the small or large buoys of encouragement I feel God sends my way to prop up my faith. A Hope Float might come as a call for a project estimate after the phone has been especially quiet; a client who is ecstatic about our work, or an idea that invigorates me with fresh enthusiasm and determination.

Even though Hope Floats offer positive possibilities, I must confess that some don’t float for long. Still, they allow me to hold on for a moment. And, I believe God uses even the ones that sink as part of a bigger picture.

It’s occurred to me that Christmas is really about hope, too. We have the benefit of knowing the whole story of how Jesus’ birth changed the world. But when he first came to earth, he was a bundle of hope: a hope that began with the prophets and was eventually planted in the heart of a young mother-to-be.

One of my most memorable Christmases was exactly 20 years ago when my son, Therren (TJ), was born on December 22. For the entire month, I intentionally focused on Mary to experience Christmas with fresh eyes.

I re-read the Christmas story as a pregnant woman, pondering what must have gone through Mary’s mind as our delivery times drew closer. From in utero kicks, to speculations about what the baby would be like, I considered all Mary would have experienced around the wonder, excitement and anticipation of what was about to happen.

There were some major differences, however, that made Mary’s Christmas story even more profound as I lived out mine. First, TJ was my fourth child, so I was very familiar with pregnancy and delivery. Jesus was to be her first born.

Second, my delivery was happening in the 20th Century. Kaiser was well equipped for my every need. Mary would deliver in a manger!

And third, while TJ has grown into a fantastic young man who brings great joy to my life, Jesus was the Son of the Living God!!

Mary couldn’t have understood all the ramifications of her Son’s birth, but she did understand that He was the hope of the Jews. A hope they had held onto for hundreds of years. He was the hope of salvation, the hope for a Kingdom restored, and the hope of a new day.

Now 2000 years later, we know that the hope in Jesus was not only for the Jews, but also for the entire world. Jesus was the hope of God’s promise to reconcile humanity to himself, and a plan fulfilled.

And that’s why we celebrate! God sent his Son in love, to offer hope, to all who would believe in him through faith.

Further, this is the same hope we can grasp to encourage our day to day lives, and the basis of our eternal hope in God.

Have a Hope-full and Merry Christmas!

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” – which means, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Not So Great Expectations

While on a retreat in the Santa Cruz Mountains last June, I was eager to spend time with God in nature, and pray specifically for direction on a few matters.

By the second afternoon, I felt I had a sense of that direction and was filled with the joy of God’s peace and presence. The sun was shining, the birds chirping, the evergreens especially green, and the scent of pine filled the air. All was right with the world and my soul!

To expand my time of solitude with God, I decided to go hiking. On a map, I found a two mile trail called “Eagle’s Landing,” which noted an ocean view. I was off and running (well, make that walking fast)!

After about one mile the trail turned into a dirt road that didn’t seem quite right. Consulting the map, I discovered I was in the wrong place. Flooded with frustration, I retraced my steps. I was nearly back at the beginning before I saw the trail I should have been on.

This new trail was tougher. The incline was steeper, and the trail at times so narrow that I feared I had made another mistake. Right about then, I reached a clearing and saw other travelers who affirmed, “Yep, this is the way to Eagle’s Landing.”


I pressed on with renewed energy, eager to see the ocean. It wasn’t long, however, before I had to slow down because the trail had become even more challenging. Surely, I must be near the top, I thought. I was tired, but motivated by the vision of a destination soon to be in sight.

But, I was wrong. The trail continued to twist and turn. And, each turn mocked me as the last one, because I could not see beyond the bend.

Finally, winded, hot and aching, I saw up ahead a clearing that had to be the top. It turned out only to be a plateau, though. I still had to take a flight of stairs to reach a deck, hence the name, “Eagle’s Landing,” I guess. But, I had made it.

Except, there was no ocean view!!

I knew the direction of the ocean, but it was hidden by a blanket of trees. As if that blanket enveloped me, somehow, I was profoundly disappointed.

“But isn’t this beautiful?” I heard God say as I plopped on the bench and reflected with Him.

“Yes…,” I sulked. “But I really wanted to see the ocean.”

“I know. But this is beautiful, too.” He said, “Look more closely.”

I peered at the view and had to agree. It was breathtaking. The sun was still shining and the sky, now completely visible, the deepest of blues. And, the evergreens looked even more splendid with the gradations of color from above.

It was indeed beautiful – just not what I was looking forward to seeing.

“And we’re here together,” God added. “Isn’t that the most important thing?”

I took in a deep breath, and exchanged the shattered expectation for the humbled contentment of that truth.

This experience has come back to me recently because I feel I’m reliving that retreat in my business life right now. We’ve been steady and had a great year overall. I’ve been filled with joy and gratitude for all God has done, much like the first half of my retreat.

But for the last three months, I’ve been on that hike! I’ve felt lost at times, have had to regroup, have consulted the map of God’s Word, and have been encouraged by fellow hikers. But the trail has continued to be challenging. I keep coming upon bends in the road, and I have no clue how much more of the trail lies ahead before I’ll reach the “destination” I envisioned for this year.

I know God is with me, though. And I know he will lead me to the destination HE has prepared.

But these darn expectations! Releasing them, taking the trail as it comes and staying close to God for direction is not an easy task. In fact, right now I’m aching and tired, (and sometimes I feel like turning around!)

Even so, I don’t want to miss the beauty of this journey because I’m fixated on a faulty vision.

Rather, I’m trying to trust and focus on God so his vision becomes mine.

God and I are on this journey together, and that’s the most important thing. The rest will fall in place.


So don’t worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ . . . your heavenly Father knows that you need [these things]. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:31-33)