Maybe Hope is a Habit

Last evening I posted probably one of the most difficult posts I’ve ever written. It was a lament. Fairly raw. Honest. Not overly filtered.

The entire time there was a part of me that wanted to cheer it up with some white-washed scripture. Something positive and reassuring and… ultimately, in the circumstances, pithy.

But I couldn’t.

And not because I was trying to hold on to good theology.

It was, rather, because I was too worn. Too broken. Scriptural truths (in context or not) were simply slipping like water from my grasp.

And yet, as we almost always find with laments in the Bible, I could not close without a reaffirmation of trust and truths that are so engrained within me that their presence is known even when all else falls apart.

Those four sentences were a struggle.

And yet they were just as raw and honest as the rest.

So I hit the publish button and I brushed my teeth and turned down my bed. And before I put my computer to sleep I opened up iTunes to my morning exercise playlist. And when I got my pjs out to put on, I placed my exercise clothes on the bookcase.

Just like every night.

I also had my tea pot warmer and cup ready on my desk along with the BIC lighter that I use to light my candles when I get up on time to write in the mornings.

And then I realized what I was doing.

I said it aloud. To myself. To God. I didn’t believe the morning would bring the ability to move about and stretch and exercise and I didn’t believe I’d be able to get up and around early enough to have some book time. There was no hope for a better morning.

But I still prepared for it.

Because it is habit to do those things.

And that’s when a new thought struck me: Maybe hope is a habit.

And I crawled into bed, with heat on my pressure-filled, aching ears. And I carefully placed my head on the pillow so as to not incite dizziness. And my weary body sunk into the warmth and comfort of my bed.

And I struggled to focus on my memorized evening daily office prayers.

And that’s when God’s Spirit  offered flashback images, reminders and new thoughts.

Because yesterday I just wanted to stay in bed and sleep off symptoms and cry. All day. But I went to work. (Well, Dad drove me.) And though I may not have gotten much actual work done (for more reasons than just my health – it was an unusually busy-with-people day), I was there.

And when I came home I crashed for a 2 hour nap, waking at 5 to my parents wondering what was going on for dinner. They could see I was not in a good place. They even offered to take me out to one of my favorite places. Mom asked me what I wanted to do. What I felt like doing for dinner.

“I feel like eating ice cream and going to bed,” was my honest response from my ever-sore throat and ever-weary body. “But instead I’m going to help you (help me) make dinner as best I can. And I’m going to enjoy the strawberry-chicken-spinach salad more once it’s in my mouth than I can currently imagine I will. And then I’m going to enjoy a half cup of strawberry ice cream. And then I’m going to make that Norwex call. And get that e-vite for another hostess out. And maybe write a blog post. And then I’m going to bed.”

And that’s exactly what I did.

Right down to enjoying the brilliantly combined flavors of the strawberry-chicken-spinach salad once they were in my mouth.

And so as I was in bed a few hours later, I was reminded of these things.

That perhaps I still have hope even when I don’t feel hopeful.

That perhaps God is still building character in me even when I feel I am lacking, slipping.

That perhaps I am still persevering even when I feel lethargic, apathetic and threadbare and like I’m slo-mo falling backwards rather than pressing forwards.

And maybe this is what it means to be held.

To be sustained by God.

To be formed by His Spirit.

To let go of my ideals, my pride and my striving.

Maybe this is what C.S. Lewis was referring to in The Screwtape Letters when he mentions obedience in the face of nothingness-of-desire.

“Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

I had always pictured living out that philosophy—that encouragement—victoriously. Defiantly.

A strong warrior’s cry deep within. I will do what is right! I will do what is asked! I will not let the enemy win! I will battle on! I will persevere! 

Like a movie montage highlighting the strenuous striving, sweaty effort and dogged determination of a warrior or fighter or athlete or overcomer, set in snippets and run together in moments what in reality takes months or years, all set to inspiring music like Eye of the Tiger or Chariots of Fire.

But maybe it’s not always like that.

Maybe it’s most often not like that.

There was no defiant cry last night. No striving. No battle cry.

Just a weary resignation to do what I had no desire to do.

And so I think of Bonhoeffer’s words and I wonder if I am “like a beaten army, fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved.”

When I set to choreograph that poem as a mime piece, one of the first and easiest parts, and the image that sticks with me the most even now, was that line.

Fleeing in disorder. 

I slow-mo’ed into a running statue.

From victory already achieved. 

With each beat I transformed the running statue into a cross.

The cross is the victory achieved.

God’s incarnation. God’s sacrifice. God’s work.

Not ours.

Not mine.

Maybe there are no movie montages for me.

Maybe there are no valiant battle cries or enemy-defiant shouts.

Maybe there is no earthly healing.

Maybe there is little to no seeing on my part of perseverance, of character, of hope.

Maybe there is only Jesus.

And maybe that’s okay.

Maybe then, in my failures and in my frailty… in my weariness and in my weakness… in my apathy and in my honesty… in my shameful brokenness… maybe then Jesus shines through.

Maybe then others can see what God is doing in and for me.

Because I am often blind to it.

And maybe that’s okay.

And maybe that’s what it means to be held.

And maybe hope is a habit not of my doing, but worked and sustained by the one in Whom I abide and Who abides in me, keeping me connected by grace to the vine that sustains and causes me to bear fruit.

Even when I can neither see nor feel it.


I am worn.

There’s that Bible verse. The one about endurance. The one that lists all the good things that suffering produces.

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

I’m having trouble believing it.

I echo the father in Mark 9, trying to put on the appropriate faith—”I believe!”— but then honestly crying out, “help my disbelief!”

Because from where I stand or, rather, sit dizzily and wearily, there is no perseverance.

I’m ready to throw in the towel.

My resolve is weakening.

My endurance is nonexistent.

I noticed in my symptom journal that out of the 207 days so far this year, only 15 were not noted as experiencing these ear and throat issues. I didn’t even bother looking at the fatigue and dizzy stats…

I no longer have good days. Sometimes I have a good half-a-day. Or a good string of hours.

But no good days.

And certainly no good weeks.

The longer this goes. The day in and day out of illness. The pain. The fog. The fatigue. The constant sore throat. The incessant aching pressure in my ears. The near-continuous state of dizzy. The unrelenting symptoms. The unanswered questions. The dashed hopes of thinking we have it figured out and a way to help heal or treat but it never working out. The frustration of doctors who won’t or can’t help. The pulling back in all areas of life. The isolation.

It’s getting harder and harder to hang on to hope for anything to change… for anything to do anything other than slowly, continually get worse.

I feel I have less character now. If the symptoms themselves don’t give me blinders, making it hard to see anything beyond their screaming for constant attention, then the depression that comes along with the constancy of such symptoms surely does. I do less for others. I put myself first more often. I give in more easily to sour attitudes, to grumpiness, to moodiness, to anger and frustration, to inaction… (and let’s not even mention how much church I’ve missed and how far behind I am in my daily audio Bible).

And I’m losing both the energy and the resolve to fight it.

I am not persevering. I am not persisting. I am not continuing steadfastly.

I’m at a standstill. Crumpled in exhaustion while the world goes on.

Maybe I’m just filled with the cynicism of Dilbert.

But I’m having a hard time believing that scripture verse out of Romans.

Because I don’t feel that anything of value is building in me through all of this. No perseverance. No character. No hope.

I simply feel worn.

Like an over-used shirt or a child’s poorly cared-for teddy bear. Days and years of use, of dragging, of friction have thinned the fabric, frayed the edges, worn some spots clear through.

I am threadbare.

And maybe, despite the fact that the verse keeps coming to mind, maybe I’m reading it wrong. Maybe it wasn’t meant to apply to my type of situation. I don’t know.

I’m frankly too tired to find out.

I just know that I’m not seeing it happen that way.

I am wearing. Not building.

I go back and read the verse.

Read that section.

Part of my brain acknowledges the truth in it.

That there is beauty there.

But it is fleeting.

And I look around about me. And I try to think if anything is still solid. Still steadfast. Still resolved.

And there is this:

God is real. God is good. There is grace. Heaven holds healing for me even if earth does not.

You will never convince me to disbelieve those things.

But right now? Right now I’m done.

I’m ready for Jesus to return or call me home.

I am worn.

I am threadbare.

My mind went again – only somewhat unwillingly – to all that I’ve lost (in full or in part) over recent years and things that I miss since my health has been on this continual, gradual decline of a roller coaster. How long has it been since I’ve mimed? Or danced? Or even signed? How long since my last tea attended? Even longer since my last tea hosted… I can’t remember the last time I worked on my book. My weeks to teach have been more miss than hit. I rarely go out, rarely socialize and have missed too many Sundays at church to count…

But a new train of thought stopped me in my tracks:

“What a minute. What about all those times you read scripture, sang songs or prayed prayers of sacrifice and surrendering? How many times have you told God He could have it all? Did you mean those?”

“Of course I meant those! Every time I spoke or sang those words. I’ve been paying attention for years now to what I sing and pray. I didn’t do it blindly. I meant it.”


“But I thought the mime thing… and then the tea thing… and some of these other things were things God gave to me. Things God wanted me to do! Directions God wanted me to go! Why would He put a passion or a dream or a goal or a direction into my heart and mind and then take it away? Or ask me to sacrifice or surrender it?

“You mean like God fulfilled a promise [and really the seed of a future promise] to Abraham by giving him Isaac and then asked him to give Isaac up?” 

“Um…. yeah.”

That hit me. Hard.

And the thing is, I don’t think I should count on a ram in the bush. I don’t think I should surrender or sacrifice these things expecting to get them back. For that would only be a nominal surrender, not a true sacrifice.

I don’t think the scripture story is meant to satiate us that if we sacrifice to God what He gave to us, then we’ll always get it back or get it back just as it was. Though I’ve heard folks talk that way.

It’s also really popular to bring up how Abraham tells his servants that he and Isaac will go up the mountain and sacrifice and then “we” will come back to you.

We point to that to show his faith in God.

And Abraham really did have faith in God. His words and actions show his trust and obedience to the One who was his God and Lord.

The problem is that we know the story. It’s easy for us to read into it that Abraham trusted God to somehow save or bring back Isaac – his exact 12-year-old Isaac.

But Abraham didn’t know the story.

And he didn’t know about the plagues on Egypt that displayed God’s mighty power. He didn’t know about the parting of the waters, food in the wilderness, water from rocks, cloud by day, fire by night, sun standing still, crashing Jericho walls, axeheads floating, oil and fishes and loaves multiplying, blind seeing, deaf hearing, lame walking, lepers being cleansed and the dead being raised…

That would all happen generations and centuries after this faith-father was long gone.

As far as I can tell, the only thing Abraham knew and had experienced was God’s faithfulness thus far.

In keeping him safe.
In bringing him to a land that wasn’t even his yet.
In fulfilling the promise of a son.

He had tasted God’s faithfulness.
Even when he was faulty.

And now he was asked to obey.

He had a choice.

He could choose to sacrifice or to refuse and hold tightly.

His display of faith shows us that he chose obedience.
And that he fully trusted God.

Abraham trusted that God was faithful and would somehow keep and fulfill His promise even if Abraham’s obedience to God ended the life of his promised son.

Abraham didn’t know the end of his story.

I don’t know the end of my story.

It would be presumptuous of me to assume that my stated willingness to surrender what God has given to me is somehow a magical key to unlock the door, removing all obstacles and bringing that idea, dream or passion to completion.

And it would be half-hearted, half-faced of me to say I will sacrifice what has been asked of me while actually believing I don’t actually need to relinquish it because I’m fully expecting to get it back.

I have seen the faithfulness of God.

In the history of Israel.
In the life and death of Jesus.
In the lives of countless believers who’ve come before me.
In the lives of those around me.
In my own life.

I can trust the Faithful One.

And I want to obey.


Even when asked to “Let it go.”

Dear Pastor

I stopped by the church the other day. It was a Thursday morning and I figured if you weren’t out golfing, I would be able to catch a minute or two with you. I wanted to give you a piece of my mind concerning how you failed to visit my mother when she was in the hospital last week.

But you were not at your desk. Though the light was on, as I peered in your office window I was miffed to find you not there. I continued down the hallway, ready to demand your whereabouts from anyone I came across. But the hallway was empty so I turned back around intending to head home. That’s when I saw it.

The door to your office was ajar slightly. And from this new angle I caught just a glimpse of you there, in the corner of your office, on your knees. Praying. Praying fervently. I could see the beads of sweat. Or was that a tear?

Pastor, I caught a glimpse of your heart that day. You were praying for us, weren’t you? Praying for the church you lead, praying for the people whom God has entrusted you with, praying for vision and wisdom and direction. Do you do that often? I now have an inkling that you do.

That’s why I had to write this letter. Because I don’t say ‘thank you’ enough.

Thank you.

Thank you for the sweat, tears and prayers. Thank you for being a godly pastor, with a deep love for God and His people. Thank you for taking your responsibility to our church seriously. Thank you for seeking vision from God and then working tirelessly to try and get us to also catch the vision, equipping us as the Bible says to make that vision a reality. Thank you for taking the brunt of any attacks that come upon our church and of any problems that arise within our church. Thank you for dealing with paperwork and red tape and interruptions all week long in the midst of studying, sermon preparation, counseling, calling, mentoring and working to equip your people.

You wear many hats, don’t you? Many that most of us never see…

So I want to tell you this: I respect you and I honor you as our leader and I will follow your lead as you teach us and equip us, spurring us on to know, love and serve God better, helping us to live lives of faith and make a difference in our community. I will support your leadership as pastor of our church. You have been faithful to God and to our church for years now.

I will not assume the grass is greener on the other side. In fact, I’m working to cut back my assumptions all together. I will refrain from church gossip or hearsay. If I have a question for you or a problem with you, I will come directly to you rather than discussing it with everyone else. Moreover, I will encourage others to do the same. I will not church hop with every new fad or when difficulties in our church family arise. I won’t drum up excuses to stay home when another pastor or guest speaker comes for a Sunday or two. I will make it a priority to join in corporate worship weekly and to get involved in the life of the church. And I will pray. I will pray, too, pastor. I will pray for you and your family and the other leaders in our church.

Thank you, pastor. Thank you.


This was originally conceived nearly a half dozen years ago now. My initial idea was to voice it over a video to share one October for Pastor Appreciation month. That never happened. In the summer of 2012, I finally sat and wrote this out and I gave it to my pastor. I am thankful now that I did…

The opening part is fictional. It is simply a story framework (albeit based on conversations heard during my many years of church attendance and service) that is utilized to convey the important content. And though it did not happen as described in the opening story, I have indeed caught glimpses of the hearts of my pastors. Glimpses that inspired this writing, this stated gratitude, this affirmed support. We most of us too often miss what is behind the words spoken and interactions had on Sunday mornings. 

a broken surrender

My mind is a very active place.

There is almost always conversation going on there.
With myself and/or with God.

So it was that yesterday afternoon while I was busy unloading from my work day and errands—putting groceries here, emptying my lunchbox there, taking my needed-for-the-chilly-morning scarf back to my bedroom—I was thinking about the new tonic my parents retrieved for me from my D.O.’s office that afternoon while I handled the other errands.

And I was hopeful.

I often am in such cases.

After all, it was my doctor who inquired about unmentioned symptoms as I was relating to her what was most bothersome at the time of my last visit. I had been flabbergasted at her pinpoint accuracy. And I was excited as she mentioned this new supplement of sorts that would not interfere with my current protocols. And I became even more excited as she described how the symptoms and body functions were all so interconnected and how this new tonic could promote healing.

But I didn’t leave with a bottle of it that day.
Instead I left with reading and research to review.

She also knows me well enough to know that I like to look into thing before jumping in.
(Well, for the most part…)

But the problem was that the paperwork ended up on that pile where everything important goes even though I’m too overwhelmed by putting out other fires to actually get to the important, if not urgent things…

Dr. Rahn and Covey tried to warn me about that…

Still, a month later those “also” symptoms had increased and I was becoming more and more convinced of my doctor’s connections and after being very knocked-off-my-feet sick for near a week and a half, in my increasing desperation, I grabbed the paperwork and a few minutes to read through it.

Then I called my doctor’s office. Do I get it through you or where? When are you open?

The next day my parents made the next-town-over run while I picked up a different prescription and our groceries for the week.

I got home just in time for dinner which meant just in time for my first dose.

And as I was here and there handling those just-got-home tasks, I was hopeful.

I was imagining the healing that could come as this little tonic works to fix something deep within my body that would allow my body to function and heal as God designed it to do.

I was thinking of better days.
Relief from a myriad of symptoms.

And then I was thinking about brokenness.
And this ongoing conversation between me, myself and God regarding my frail body, brokenness and healing.

Brokenness can be good.
A way in which God works wonders… for my benefit or to benefit others. Often both.

“I’m okay being broken,” the voice in my head declared.

I mean, what if this stuff doesn’t work?
But I still want it to…

“I’m okay being broken… But I’d like it to at least be manageable.”


Before the words had finished echoing through the chambers of my mind, I laughed out loud.

For I suddenly saw the absurdity.

“I’m okay being broken for you, God, so long as I can control how my brokenness looks and affects me.”

“I’ll surrender to you, God, so long as I can still have my way.”

That’s not how this works.

And again I am confronted by my own need to control.
To hold on tightly…
… even to what was never really meant to be mine.

And again I hear God’s whisper, “Let it go.”

Let it go.

Can I surrender my brokenness?
Can I trust the Faithful One even when I am at a loss, falling apart, and not anywhere near what I had wanted?

I still want the tonic to work, of course.

But even more so, I want to continue seeing and hearing these revelations as God works through some deep places in my life and continue responding and letting go and trusting Him.

Already-Not-Yet Presence

I didn’t grow up with what we call “high church tradition” — no lectionaries, no confirmation… communion happens just once quarterly and we stopped having acolytes lighting the tall candles sometime in the late 80s.

Sometimes the color of the pulpit cloth and table runner (because we certainly never called such things by their proper names) would change from purple to green or red or white.

But I never knew why.
I don’t recall it ever being pointed out back then.

But several times throughout my growing up years we celebrated Advent as a church.

Oh, there’s been a wreath with candles on that beautiful matching pillar pedestal for as long as I remember…

But we didn’t always acknowledge the weekly lighting or do special readings or scriptures for each week.

Still, by the time I was in high school I knew that Advent came before Christmas and was a time of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

Yet as my exploration of scripture and the church and traditions grew heading into the college years and then my seminary years and as I realized my wiring naturally leans towards the beauty, symbol and rhythms found in more ancient and worn paths of prayer and church seasons, I began to awaken to a new understanding of Advent.

A time of longing and hope and expectation.

Connecting to the yearning of Israel as they awaited the Messiah.
And recognizing our present yearning for His second coming.

I’ve written on it frequently these past few years.

And in that time I’ve also come to better understand that Christmas is not just one day when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, but that the Christmastide is the twelve days beginning Christmas day and leading up to Epiphany (a beauty in its own right).

And as such, the Christmastide is a celebration of the presence of Christ.

God with us.
Word become flesh.
Dwelling among us… and now in us.

And my Advent devotions extend through the Christmastide.

From hope.
And peace.
And joy.
And love.
To presence.

Yet as I read Isaiah 60:18-19 again on this ninth day of Christmas,
reading the hope,
perceiving the longing,
recalling the prophet’s echoes in the revelations of John…

A new thought occurs to me:

If Advent is a recognition of the longing of the first advent of Christ as well as our current longing for His second advent,

—an already-not-yet scenario—

then isn’t the Christmastide a recognition of the celebration of the presence of Christ among us as well as a looking forward to the final fulfillment of all prophecies and the time when we “will have the Lord for an everlasting light, And the days of [our] mourning will be over” and “the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away”?

Christmastide as an already-not-yet of His presence.

How shall I walk through the Christmastide with this understanding?

Seeking to recognize
to acknowledge
to experience
to walk in
His presence
more and more
grasping the joy of the already
and the hope of the not yet.

I’ve seen Advent as two-fold for many years…
now I am seeing the Christmastide is two-fold as well.

(Interestingly enough, last January 2nd I also wrote of the “already-not-yet”, but it was almost exclusively in relation to the prophecy, not the season as a whole.)


Righteousness On Display

The scripture I read this morning had me reflecting again on a new thought discovery I made this Christmastide while listening to carols and thinking on the story…

“And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.” (Matt 1:19)

Joseph’s righteousness propelled him to not ignore the (apparent) sin of his betrothed. Yet his righteousness did not demand a harsh, hate-filled and public stand against this sin. Instead, it would seem, love and mercy along with his righteousness led him to handle the matter in a more private way.

And I don’t meant to imply he was embarrassed and trying to hide it. The scripture doesn’t give that sense about him at all. And it’s likely their immediate families were involved…. just not the whole town and nation…

I think that today we view righteousness as something which must be loudly, starkly and very publicly put on display at all times. Sin and wrong-doing must always be harshly rebuked in front of everyone. And with social media this often means the world…

We speak of declaring truth and making a stand.
We want everyone to know what is wrong
… and who is doing that wrong.
We can’t allow even the appearance of sin.

(I wonder if subconsciously we think that by taking a bold stand against the sin of others that we will appear more righteous and folks won’t notice our own shortcomings.)

And the thing is that even as I write this a little voice inside is saying, “yes, but…”

Yes, but doesn’t scripture mention something about not allowing the appearance of sin?
Yes, but doesn’t sin need to be called out as sin?
Yes, but aren’t we to shine a light in the darkness so sin can’t hide?
Yes, but shouldn’t we be pointing out sin so that repentance can happen?

Yes, but…

Yet the character and choices of Joseph lead me deeper.

Of course I don’t want to hide or ignore or rationalize or pander to sin, sweeping wrong-doing under the rug. I’m just thinking that perhaps we tend to go about it in poor manner…

Righteousness calls for action to be taken.
But love and mercy call for wisdom and grace in how those actions are taken.

If a person sins against his or her spouse, then it should be dealt with among the couple and God (and sometimes the immediate family)…

If a person sins against a group of people, then it should be dealt with before that group.

If a person sins publicly then…

Well, you get the picture.

I think to several chapters later in Matthew 18 when Jesus is talking about confronting a brother or sister who has sinned.

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

It doesn’t begin with a loud, harsh, public outcry.
It begins privately.

Perhaps Jesus learned that from both his fathers!