Gather Hope

How do we live into hope?  How do we unpack such a thing in our hearts?

It is something we are reaching for that hasn’t come yet.  It is looking, watching, and waiting.

It is not knowing when, or how.  Keeping our hearts expectant, alive, and fresh with wonder.  Even when some days it hurts to lift our head.

It is living with more ambiguity than answers.  Accepting uncomfortable, because that’s the reality of where we are.  Planting our faith in this moment, to see God here.

It is courage to know this story hasn’t been fully written.  There is more to come.  I have yet to see, but it is coming.

How do we hold onto this longing in our hearts — this thing that keeps us walking forward — when our storm hasn’t passed and our spirit wears thin?  Because for anyone willing to admit it, life can be really, really hard.  And if you’re walking that, it’s painful.

I’ve lived enough trauma, walked enough healing, to have some idea of how to go through.  There are no simple formulas, but I’m grateful for this journey: while it has been seasoned with pain, it has also grown wisdom.

I want to offer one glimmer of inspiration that God has given me over many seasons and years of pain.  Gather hope.

You actually have to gather it.  Just like the Israelites had to leave their tent each morning to pick up the manna God provided for that day.  Gather hope.  Surround yourself with encouragement and truth.

I gather quotes, scriptures, songs, and reread them over and over until they sink down deep into my soul.  I gather clippings from emails, books I’m reading, facebook and twitter.  I make playlists with songs that encourage me for that season.  I light candles, turn on lamps, and constantly bring myself back to hope.

Things will resolve and unfold over time.  But as we wrestled with how hard it is to wait in recent posts, we have to cultivate hope:

God’s wait is so purposeful.  He is accomplishing transformation in our hearts that we can’t yet fully see.  He is orchestrating details for what will unfold next. But we’ve got to give him time.

It’s a one step at a time kind of progress.  Perhaps slow at times, but I’m realizing slow isn’t a bad thing.  It is the time you give to something of quality.  Something that matters.  Something deep. And how you get there is just one moment, or one day, at a time…  and then the next.

What is hope if you already have the answer and the clarity?  Where is the wrestling and growth in that?  We hurt, we stretch, we get uncomfortable….but our lives are transformed there.

We will come through different than when we began.  Stronger.  Healthier.  Deeper.  More whole.  If we invest well.

So as we wait, as our hearts long for something yet unseen, let’s hold onto the gifts God gives us along the way. Gather them up.  It will sustain us to walk another day.

(If you want to follow me on twitter or facebook, I attempt to post words that bring life, faith, and hope.  I’d be honored for you to join me in that journey.)

A Willing Sacrifice

I’ve been wrestling with time.  I cannot master it.  It is a gift given in the moments, but I cannot control it and make it go faster or slower. I can only commit to living it well.  Protect it by blocking out distractions.  Being present with now, for what God has for me here.

It is so hard to give something to God when it ultimately makes us uncomfortable.  Can we willingly give up and surrender things that we don’t like…..specifically, God’s timing?

Can we live in places that are for our benefit, our healing, or our growth, if we would prefer not to be there?  Maybe this place stirs up pain, or unresolved places without answers, or brings us work to do within ourselves.  “Outside our comfort zones” is an understatement.  It stretches us far beyond ourselves.

We have past the point of the year mark where Todd last had a job.  The only clarity I found in prayer was that healing had to come first, then the job.  That became the only path we knew to follow.

God has led us forward, one step at a time, to spacious places of healing.  It has involved rehab, therapy, marriage counseling, and more therapy.  It has connected us with support groups, recovery, studying countless books, and dealing with our stuff.  It has taken us deeper with God and deeper with ourselves.

You would think that we could have the open door that I’ve prayed for unceasingly.

But God has said, not yet.

I’ve been willing to share our story for the greater good of those who might need someone who understands their journey.  For God to be glorified in our mess.  For hurting hearts to be reached.

A friend shared with me about a woman deeply struggling in her marriage.  I felt God give me this post for her, and for others.  I thought about the ones who are new at the two different support groups I attend.  I see the pain in their eyes and I feel it in my own heart.

Just newly raw, starting out on the journey of recovery.  My heart is deeply tender and compassionate for them.  My own story is still so fresh.

I wonder if I could open my own journey and show you the hope that Jesus has put there.  It doesn’t come from shallow platitudes, easy answers, or distant indifference.  It comes from my journey through the pain.

My heart is overflowing with hope.  Sometimes — and I remember the feeling well — we have to borrow hope from others.  We need them to believe for us.  We need them to help us hang on, because on our own we are too overwhelmed.

The surroundings I am in are critical to get this.  Coming from a place where my own prayers are still waiting.  Where my circumstances are uncomfortable, and still painful at times.  And even here, even now, there is hope.

God’s wait is so purposeful.  He is accomplishing transformation in our hearts that we can’t yet fully see.  He is orchestrating details for what will unfold next. But we’ve got to give him time.

There is hope.  Wait it out.  Give him time.

We can’t skip today’s work because it prepares us for tomorrow.  We want to rush out of the pain, rush past the work, but we will miss something crucial.

Perhaps your answer hasn’t come yet.  Your marriage hasn’t fully healed.  Neither has mine.  But I can live today, and give God my willing sacrifice.  Yielding my timing for his.

He has given me just a taste of the joy that’s coming.  Enough to know that there is greater joy ahead than any pain or trial we’ve had to walk.  We don’t have to walk alone.  We can do this.  We can do hard.

 

 

 

Our Redecorated Christmas Tree

I wouldn’t have chosen it this way.  In fact, there is a LOT about our story I wouldn’t have chosen.  Yet God has allowed it to be so.  And my part is to live within this space, and glorify him here.

Our family lights a Chinese lantern in the month of advent to keep watch.  Wait for his coming.  Look for him.  Urge one another on to believe God, even when our soul is weary.

What is it about God’s timing that makes it so incredibly long  and hard to wait?  I have come to terms with waiting by realizing two things.  God is patient (literally read LONG suffering) and he is well acquainted with grief.

He can handle the wait.  He sees the purpose so distinctly, that for the joy set before him, he is willing to endure the cross.  That is a big picture kind of God.

Scripture teaches us, “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” 2 Corinthians 4:17

I could argue that present troubles don’t seem small — they are tangled, multi-faceted, and layered in complexity.  They are piled up, ongoing, and anything but small.

And won’t last very long?  A year is made up of living one day at a time,  for three hundred, sixty-five days. Often hour by hour8, 760 hours to be exact, and it can weigh heavy on your shoulders some days.  It can be hard to walk when you can’t see what God is doing.

Yet God’s Word promises that the glory outshines the darkness.  Don’t sink down in the dark any longer.  Arise!

Scripture promises the Lord is coming!  That is what advent is all about.  He came in Bethlehem and he is coming again.  And for those who wait on him in prayer, He is going to show up faithful, again and again.

Our daughters are tired.  Their faith is worn out.  In the past few weeks, both have come to me in tears, fearful and hurting.  Why hasn’t God shown up yet?  They aren’t waiting for Christmas presents.  They are waiting for God to answer their prayers — for God to give their daddy a job.

Perhaps God gave us THIS timing with great purpose.  He gave us THIS Christmas to be like no other.  A life changing, faith transforming, incredible opportunity to believe God — here.  To simplify Christmas to what matters most.  To have the incredible honor of raising our kids in faith and hope, even when the answers haven’t come.

We sat around our lantern and passed a Christmas gift bag.  We had already given Jesus our gift of praise and I told them now it was his turn to give us a gift of his promises.  This is what we hold onto.  This is how we keep going.

Filled in the bag were scripture after scripture of what God has given me in the past few weeks.  And now we redecorated our Christmas tree to cover it with His Word.

For all the times where our soul has grown weary, we can look at our tree and see verse after verse of hope and faith.

One scripture after another, everywhere we look, more faith.  More hope.  Comfort.  Mercy.

And suddenly, God transforms this fearful place of uncertainty to the most sacred Christmas of all.

If we already had a job, we would have missed out on this holy waiting as a family.  A holy expectancy that Jesus will surely come.  Urgent, desperate prayers that reach fulfillment.  A chance to tell our children that this faith of ours isn’t shallow or trite.  It is all we have to stand on.

And they will never forget it.

I was given the greatest gift in the world from Maddie this Christmas.  I will treasure it for the rest of my life.  All on her own initiative, held as a surprise for days before Christmas, she had this gift wrapped just for me.  She has captured our year in a homemade ornament.

It says “We can do hard!”  And she created a reference, “Richards Family 6:2” which stands for 6 people in our family and 2 dogs.  This is a phrase we began our year with and we remind each other once again as the year is coming to a close.

In all honesty, this year has been gut-wrenchingly difficult.  I have been worn thin and stretched beyond my ability to cope.  But God allows us to catch glimpses of joy that are so rich, I wouldn’t dare want to miss them.  God’s glory revealed in our midst.  

Today held great joy that could only be felt because of our intense wait.

I reminded our children again today of our lantern, looking for God.  For Christmas Day, it has been lit the entire day.  Therefore, keep watch.  Hearts expectant.  Romans 8 in the Message says, “We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.”

Recalling Faithfulness

It was ironically similar to this month — this season of waiting, anticipation, and desperation before God.  It was December 2004 and strangely enough, my husband had just lost his job to his addiction.  At the time, we didn’t really understand it was an addiction.

We were just beginning to learn about how incredibly entangling his bondage was.  We learned of new hope with therapy, a daily sponsor, and recovery in a twelve step group.  All of that was new lingo to us.  I remember it being shocking to embrace and accept, but I hoped to God it would bring help for Todd.  My heart broke for him and our family felt deeply torn by the heartache.

Something else, though…something extremely significant in our world was being birthed.  I honestly believe God gave me our calling to adoption, at this very time specifically, to give me something huge to trust God for — to watch Him move mountains and grow my faith, and nurture our little ones to follow hard after God.

God began our call to adoption with three words — surrender, obedience, and provision.  Surrender because we thought we were done having children. We didn’t have room or money.  Obedience because He called us to bring a little girl from China into our family.  He had a bigger plan, a greater purpose, and He wanted us to align with Him.  And provision because it would take the miraculous to accomplish such a thing.

We had many hurdles to trip us up that year, but losing a job in this particular timing trumped it all.  Our months of waiting for our referral ended for the other families in December.  They all received beautiful precious pictures of their babies waiting for them to come bring them home.  Joy overflowed for them.  We had to hold our breath and wonder.  Fear intertwined with pain and faith.  Our referral was unable to be received, because no job according to China means no adoption.

I was utterly confused before God.  I grieved a stillborn adoption, asking God if this was only meant to be an illustration, a metaphor, or a test of our faith.  Was God just giving us His Word for now, and fruition would be at another time, another baby, or did we just miss it?  I sobbed on my knees in prayer.  I so wanted to understand what God was teaching us, how we could survive it, and if God would come through.

The short story for now is that He did.  In the very final hour that we could receive this precious little girl, God made the way.  God opened the door for exactly what was needed.  And on her first birthday, we were able to see her face.

The Jews, God’s people in Old Testament history,  have a tradition of retelling the stories to recall God’s faithfulness.  At the same time every year, they have festivals called feasts that bring back to mind who God is, what He has done, and to remember they are His.  It is worship, relationship, connection.

I believe I’m in one of those months right now.  There are again mountains needing to be moved, and I know the God that can move them.  How do I know?  Because He has done it before, and He can do it again.  Remember that time seven years ago when we had no job?  Remember that anguish of soul that God touched with the miraculous?

As I sit in awe of Him, I feel like Mary, pondering things in her heart.  Go back a little further.  My heart swells with joy as I recall December 2001.  Ten years ago this month, Todd graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary with two masters degrees: a masters of divinity and masters in counseling.

God’s provision outpoured once again, as I was able to stay at home to have babies and raise our little ones.  Todd went to school full time, and worked odd jobs like bus driving, a coffee shop, a school janitor, landscaping, and with that there were others who came alongside us and supported us.

In the end, we had survived countless miracles…sometimes barely getting by, or praying our hearts out, but we graduated debt free.  Glory to God!!!!!  And to think that when we started I thought I would need to work full time and not be able to stay home to nurture my babies.  God gave my prayer partner, Denise, the scripture that the oil will not run out, and He fulfilled it!!!  That’s my God!!!

Incredible joy outshines my weary soul this morning.  I am so tired of walking this road that has devastated me in so many ways.  I have had many moments of wondering how I could take another step.  But God!  I don’t want to miss out on what God is going to do!!!  Have mercy!!  Help me get there, God!!

We can’t see it yet, but I am assured that this God who brought us through seminary debt free, this God that brought our daughter home and provided every penny, is also the God that will carry us through unemployment, recovery from addiction, and restoration of our hearts.  How big is your God?

Sorrow Flows Freely

“To protect your thankfulness, you must remember that you reside in a fallen world, where blessings & sorrows intermingle freely.” Sarah Young

It’s a jungle out there.  Last week we were slapped in the face twice, by two different job opportunities that led to closed doors. The long waits ended abruptly and swiftly.  The people themselves were kind enough as they quietly stepped out of our lives.  What remained with me, though, was the feeling of being harshly tossed to one side, then the other– how life can be brutal.  It can knock the wind out of you.

It is hard to pick up crumbled pieces and keep walking.  How did I hold such hope and then feel such defeat?  I am grounded in faith, prayer, determination, and the strength of the Spirit of God.  And the door still closes.  The wait lingers on like a relentless attack.

Our family has had some precious advent devotions together this year.  Instead of sticking to the traditional scriptures and stories, we are branching out some.  We are digging deeper to find the words to sustain us in this difficult season.

No matter how it feels, no matter what we face, God has not forgotten us.  He sees us.

I’ve been greatly encouraged in the past few weeks by Ann Voskamp.  She writes,

Faith is this unwavering trust in the heart of God in the hurt of here. Unwavering trust all the time though I don’t understand all the time. God is always good and we are always loved.

This past week our eager children were ready to hear that daddy’s interview brought him a job.  But it didn’t.  And I had to draw them back to the scripture that we had shared together in our advent devotions.  Even if he does not…. even if God doesn’t provide a new job, even if the answer is no.  Ann writes on in faith and I cling to every word:

Even if He doesn’t do what we beg, we are still His beloved.

Even if He doesn’t, He still is.

Even if He doesn’t do what we will, His will is still right and His heart is still good and the people of God will not waver.

Real prayer has eyes on Christ, not the crisis.

 Even if He doesn’t – He does give enough — Himself.

Even if He doesn’t – He does still love us.

“If He doesn’t — I will still believe. Still believe — in Him.”

That which we fear might happen to us — might be the thing to produce deep faith in us. Why be afraid of anything — when He’s using everything?

It is painfully difficult to watch your daughter cry out, “Mommy, why isn’t God answering?  Did He forget us?” But it is an incredible honor and privilege to speak truth into her hurting heart.  “No, sweetheart.  God is here.  God is taking good care of us.  He is answering.”

We’re letting our sorrow flow at times.  We cry tears of heartache and pain.  We wonder what God is up to and where He might lead us.  He has given us this season, to worship Him here.  Right in the middle of real life.  He is God and He is walking with us.

A Grateful Heart being Refined

I am surrounded by opportunity.  I can embrace hope and gratitude, or I can sink down in despair.  I can choose to believe that God is good, and keep watch for evidence that this is true.  I can tune my ears, my heart, my mind, to see Him in everything.

I have been entrusted with a story.  I have been given a gift of life, that will glorify God beyond shallow appearances and surface platitudes.  I have been given a voice to speak truth and life and hope.

My reality is this:  I can be crushed by the earthquake that has shattered my world this year, or I can look at the millions of pieces and find blessing in each one of them.  In every detail, every moment, there are endless opportunities to find Him, to trust Him, to glorify and praise and remember.

When God takes over, pain brings beauty, depth, and wholeness.  When God takes over, there is peace and safety — even when we don’t have all the answers, even if we are surrounded in uncertainty.

In this moment, there is peace, provision, and presence.  There is a nearness that God is close by and I can trust Him.  I rest in God’s care for me.  I rest in His divine power and control.  I rest knowing that He is the source and abundant supply.

 

He refines me in moments like these.  He sustains me with grace to hold on for another moment — to watch and wait for what God will do.