My Hope Is You

This isn’t a story I’ve told before, but I really should, for a number of reasons. First of all, I remember the things I write about, and I want to remember more. Second, we encourage one another when we share about our own experiences. Also when we tell our stories, we might jog another’s memory back to a time they had forgotten, to an experience of their own that they can share. In fact, I only thought to post this story because of what another friend shared, “just in case” someone needed to hear it. So you never know!

Here it goes; I haven’t spent a lot of time on this so there might be gaps or incoherence… dear God, please make sense of this!

When I was a junior or senior in high school, I was blessed to travel with my youth group to a New Year’s Eve event in Gatlinburg, TN. This was a huge event with hundreds of students and leaders gathering to hear speakers and bands, and I’ve since met others who have attended… but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was called. Maybe someone can help me out. I do remember that David Nasser was a speaker- so funny and encouraging. I’m also pretty sure that NewSong played “Faithfully” as part of one of the guys proposing to his girlfriend. That was cute. Anyway, I clearly remember that Third Day was one of the musical acts. I’ve always appreciated Mac Powell’s voice and approach to “performance;” every time I saw Third Day (which was quite a few times growing up in the Nashville area) it was more about worshipping God than about the band. So even though I was having fun with my friends, giggling over all of our inside jokes and discussing the minutia of our high school lives, Third Day’s music focused my attention on the Father.

It was during “My Hope Is You” that God really grabbed me, and the moment felt important, even as a young person who frequently found herself wrapped up in the little distractions of teenage life. I had a pretty deep inner life, too, but the pulls of pride and friends and comparison were strong! With a transition to college looming on my horizon, and not having life planned out to the degree I thought my friends had, I felt in my heart, assured by God’s Spirit, that I could say the words from the song to my heavenly Father: “My hope is you, show me your ways, guide me in truth, in all my days.” I prayed it in my heart, and I meant it, even though I couldn’t know then the true weight of it. And somehow I grasped that, too… “I don’t know what this will mean, but I know what it means to say it now.” As much as I could at the time, I was willing to put my life in God’s hands and accept whatever he had for me.

At different points in my life, the Spirit has snapped me back to that moment, in the dark, surrounded by youth group friends plus hundreds of strangers. Because of how God’s Spirit can move our hearts and communicate with us directly, I felt for a moment that it was just me and God, his listening to me and my telling a feeble promise to him.

Flash forward… the latest example of God upholding the promise I made to him (sounds backwards but it’s true) was near the end of another medicated cycle. I found myself in the middle of another “two-week-wait“– that time when everything I could control had been done– feeling defeated. My post-ovulation blood work had not been good and we weren’t sure we had gotten our timing right, so I figured this cycle would be another bust. But I’ve been through this experience enough times to know that, inevitably, for “whatever reason” (hint: there’s a reason), I would find myself hoping against hope for a positive pregnancy test as the wait neared its end. It had happened without fail every time before: I would find any shred of positivity I could and think that maybe, just maybe, we would finally have a success. I really felt like I couldn’t bear feeling that way again only to be disappointed. So I prayed that God would protect my heart by keeping me from hoping for a positive. “Please, don’t let me get my hopes up just to be brought down again. Let this end quietly, on a down note, so I can just move on to the next round.”

But this is what I heard back from him, from his Spirit to my heart: “That hope you feel when you reach the end of every wait… it’s not yours, it’s mine, and it canNOT be taken away. You asked for my hope all those years ago, and I’ve given it to you. I want you to feel it regardless of what happens, because I am here for you in every disappointment.”

I didn’t get that positive, as I guessed, but I was so humbled and thankful that God would remember. That he would give hope, and then sustain it in his strength and faithfulness. That he gives me what I need so I don’t have to be afraid. That his presence is constant, even though I sometimes think I’m alone. That he can bear my disappointment because we both know I’m not strong enough.

This is just one example of God helping me keep my promises and reminding me of who he is when I ask him to show me. He is always moving and working, even when I forget the things I’ve asked for.

It’s because of moments like these, and many since, that I often find myself praying for God to “bless and multiply my efforts” in this life of following him. I’ve seen him do it many times. It is exactly because of what he has done in faithfully showing his hope to me that I can keep going and keep doing this life, even and especially through the dark times. He’s taking the growth he brings about in my heart, mind, and deeds and graciously using it for his glory in so many big and small ways.

If you are a follower of Christ I’m sure you have examples of these gracious, “only-God” things, too. Ask him to show you what you might have missed… and then tell someone! We need to remind each other of his goodness.

Here’s a little image to remind us of God’s hope…

…and the song that God used to speak to me all those years ago.

2015 Verse of the Week #52: Psalm 46:10

Here it is, my 52nd and final verse for my 2015 verse-a-week challenge. Looking back, it has been an enriching experience to write about each verse (or passage) as I attempt to commit it to memory. I don’t think I did as much as I could to memorize these verses long-term, so I might need to do some printing and flash-card-ing. I don’t think I would do too well on a quiz of all my verses, is what I’m saying. BUT meditating on Scripture is always a worthwhile exercise, and even if the words don’t all stay intact in the mind, the heart is never left unchanged. Almost a year after posting my first memory verse, I do feel different. I place more of a value on meditating on Scripture, looking at it in context, applying it to my circumstances, and sharing it with others. I can also see areas in which I can improve, specifically in the word-retention department. So I will work on that. I don’t think I will repeat this exercise in 2016, although I will be focusing on verses in other ways, but I am so glad I did it this year.

The final song for the final verse is called “Be Still,” which is track 12 on the album Seeds of Praise by Seeds Family Worship. Here is the verse in the English Standard Version, which is actually the same as the 1984 NIV used for the Seeds song:

Psalm 46:10

“Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”

This verse is perfect for this week. In my planning ahead I figured it would work well for the end of the year at that quiet time between Christmas and New Year’s. There would be time to reflect and time to look ahead. And that is true, but of course there is more.
The theme of this verse seems to be God’s constant presence, steadfastness, and help in the midst of human conflict or natural disasters. I particularly love verses 1 and 2 from this Psalm:
God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present[b] help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea…
Hard things happen in the world and in our lives every year. That’s just the way it is. But at the end of this year, and maybe just today, I’m finding myself weighed down by it on a personal and universal level. Christmas, while joyful, can bring pain with the thought of those who can’t be with us. Remembering loss can make it hard to want to move forward, hard to know how. Also, reminders of the tragedies endured by people around the world are everywhere this time of year. Seeing and hearing those stories can make it hard to imagine better things coming in the new year. Of course there is hope with the start of a new year, and I do still feel that in my heart, but there is a downside to it that I’m noticing today.
During times of grieving over personal loss or over tragedies in our world, I naturally tend toward a couple of different responses (and I don’t think I’m alone in this): one is to distract myself with busy-ness or meaningless things so I don’t feel the sadness, and another is to focus on the sadness and get kind of caught up in it. But these are not fruitful responses, and in this week’s verse God calls us to a better response: “Be still, and know that I am God.”
Something came to me in a time of sadness a couple of years ago as I found myself facing doubts about who God is and how he operates. I have to say, this was from the Holy Spirit and not something of my own invention. But I started to test doubtful thoughts or feelings of being upset at God with these questions: 1) Are the things I have known to be true of God still true? And 2) Do my feelings indicate that I am believing something false about God?
Psalm 46:10 does not call us to be still and give in as our minds race with panic over what-ifs. It does not call us to be still and feel hopeless. It does not even call us to be still and empty our minds of thought or our hearts of feeling. No, we are called to be still and know that God is God. In the context of this passage, the character traits of God we are called to know are his deliverance and peace in contrast with the turmoil seen in other nations and in the earth itself. Some of the things said of God in this chapter:
-he is our refuge and strength, ever-present help in trouble
-he causes us not to fear (so he brings peace)
-he makes his people glad (he brings joy)
-he stabilizes us
-he helps us
-he is in control of the earth (he will bring justice)
-he is with us
-he is a fortress for his people
-he is working among the nations on behalf of his people (again, justice)
-he will be exalted among the nations and in the earth (meaning he is worthy of praise by merit of his character and deeds)
I have found that when I ask myself these questions regarding what I believe to be true, worries and hopelessness fade away. Pain may linger, but there is comfort in the truth. If I am feeling like God doesn’t care or is withholding blessing because of something I’ve done, the Word and the Spirit call to my attention the truth of God’s care for me and his many gifts of grace (even if I don’t get what I think I need or deserve).
If I say I believe that God is good, that his love endures forever, that he cares for me, that he works for the good of those who are called according to his purpose, then times of pain or fear or hopelessness are the testing ground for those truths. Because if they are, indeed, true they will bring comfort, peace, wisdom, maturity, understanding, and character (which includes action). But we must take the time to be still before God. Knowing these things about him will not come if we distract ourselves and place our focus on things of this world or creations of our own minds.
I think my favorite set of passages to focus on this year came from Seeds Family Worship’s album The Character of God. These verses and songs would be helpful to meditate on during a time of doubt. For example, if I am feeling like God is withholding something from me, have I begun to believe that God is unfaithful, or unloving, or unwise in his relationship with me? When I boil it down like that it sounds ridiculous, so I come to the logical conclusion that no, I do not believe those things about God. He is faithful to sustain me (1 Cor. 1:8-9), he is love and has love for me (1 John 4:16), and he is wise in all his ways (Rom. 11:33-36). If these things have always been true, and the character of God is unchanging (Hebrews 13:8), and I want to continue to believe and live by these things, then this true God will help me change my perspective so it lines up with his truth. This brings comfort (although not instant pain relief), peace, wisdom, and maturity into my life. And I lather/rinse/repeat with it. 😉
This week my prayer for myself is to know and embrace God’s truth and character as the new year approaches. I pray that I will take time to be still and know who he is, then carry that truth with me as he inspires me to action.
As always, please feel free to share your thoughts on this verse or anything I have shared. And Happy New Year!

This image is the work of artist Ivan Guaderrama. Click the image to see more of his work.

2015 Verse of the Week #30: Romans 5:1-5

I’m excited for this week’s passage because it’s one of my big-time favorites. It is just good, good, good stuff. Seeds Family Worship has a song for it called “The Character Song,” and it’s track 10 on “Seeds of Character.” Read it below (ESV):

Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

In my New Testament class I was taught that when we read “Therefore” it’s good to go back to look at what the proceeding statement is “there for” in light of preceding statements. Thankfully, Paul helps us out by reminding us of what he just said- that we are justified by faith. In chapter 4 he used the faith of Abraham to illustrate how God kept his promises to Abraham and to us, sending Jesus as justification for all who believe. I packed that into a pretty small nutshell, so feel free to read Romans 4 yourself to gain a deeper understanding.

I love the flow of this passage. Paul is showing us how one thing clearly leads to another and how all of these things work together in our lives as part of God’s redemptive plan: Justification through faith in God brings peace with God through Jesus. Through faith in Jesus, we stand in God’s grace and the hope of his glory.

As monumental as it is to possess justification, peace, grace and hope, Paul tells us, “Wait! There’s more!” And the more is that we can rejoice in our sufferings. This is one of the major ways that we as Christians are set apart; it is counter-intuitive and counter-cultural to rejoice in our sufferings. To be sure, our culture does embrace the concept of suffering leading to greater things in life, but when I read this passage I see God calling us to something greater and– as is usually the case– stranger.

I see that suffering is not merely something to get through in order to achieve a greater end, but that suffering in itself is an opportunity for God to reveal himself, to teach us, to refine us, to plant things in our hearts that could not take root were the ground not broken.

I have found this to be true in my life. Whether it’s a run-of-the-mill bad day or a long, uphill climb through the mud of uncertainty or pain or disappointment, God’s Holy Spirit is present in my mind and my heart. He keeps me from sinking by reminding me that I am justified, at peace with God, walking in grace each day, given hope of God’s glory, and that the God who has given me all of this is at work in those deep, dark, muddy moments of suffering. He is planting and fostering in me a light that cannot be extinguished: the power of the Spirit producing Christ-like character in undeserving ME.

Isn’t that amazing? What a gift of love from our holy God. Romans is full of these amazing concepts, and is a book every Christian should study in-depth more than once. My favorite study of Romans was with a small group a few years back. We went through chapter by chapter, discussing each verse and memorizing key passages together. I saw the Spirit working in our lives as we sought to understand the deep truths presented to us in this portion of God’s Word. I still don’t fully understand it all, but just that one study (in addition to the other times I have studied Romans in part or whole) fueled my mind and heart going forward.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this passage and the ideas it presents!

a sketch to help me remember these words

a sketch to help me remember these words

2015 Verse of the Week #21: Isaiah 40:29-31

This is my 21st verse (or passage) of the week, Isaiah 40:29-31. I’m following the order of Seeds Family Worship’s “The Power of Encouragement,” and this one is track 9. Here is the verse from the NIV translation:

Isaiah 40:29-31

29 He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint. 

There is encouragement in this passage, to be sure. But I don’t want to forget that these are also words of correction for God’s people who had turned away from his path to pursue their own ways (and the ways of those around them). Here we see a just and loving God reminding his people that he will sustain and strengthen them if they will only place their hope in him again.

Because this verse in very familiar to me, I poked around a bit for some deeper meaning. What I came away with was the meaning of the word “hope.” Apparently this Hebrew word carries the meaning of anticipation and excitement, like when we are looking forward to an exciting event.

My prayer as I meditate on this passage during the week is this: Father, help me to walk in your ways, with strength from your Spirit, in anticipation of your Son’s return which will bring true communion with you and your church. Transform my mind and heart so that this hope is more exciting to me than any earthly thing. Amen.

made on my own chalkboard with my own hands :)

the chalkboard in my kitchen