Hope Eternal

I stood there with tears streaming down my face.  The door to the past was closed.  The future uncertain.  Trust was at its lowest.  Fear loomed large.  I cried out to my God.  Please show me hope.  Show me hope today.

Later that morning, as I stood in the rain with my dog, I looked over and saw signs of spring.  Purple hyacinths were popping their heads out of the green.  The yellow of daffodils was opening.  The leaves of the bleeding hearts were rising from the ground.  Peonies were poking through the soil.  I saw hope.  Even in the rain, hope was around me.  Hope of better days.  Hope of new beginnings.  Hope of building trust again.

I saw hope on another day.  Male cardinals vying for the female’s attention.  Loud chirping.  Swooping tails in flight.  Chasing each other through the branches.  I saw hope.  Hope for rebirth.  Hope for renewal.  Hope for dreams fulfilled.

Perhaps there was hope for me.  A phone call.  An encouraging text.  A lunch and movie.  Time with friends.  Renewal.  Rest.  Reset.  Hope.


But forget all that – it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.  For I am about to do something new.  See, I have already begun!  Do you not see it?  Isaiah 43:18-19


The Israelites had been mistreated for far too long.  They were waiting for a savior.  One to rescue them.  One to right their wrongs.  Oh.  Their suffering became worse before it ended.  Perhaps hope did wane.  Discouragement can cloud hope when it seems as if God isn’t listening.

But God was listening.  He heard their cries.  God offered hope when He sent Moses to deliver them.  And God delivered His people in a mighty way.  Miracle after miracle flowed from his fingertips into their lives.  God proved with his mighty hand that he was in control every step of the way.  God destroyed their enemy in front of their very eyes.

Then Moses turned again to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me? Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people, and you have done nothing at all to deliver your people.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh: Indeed, by a mighty hand he will let them go; by a mighty hand he will drive them out of his land.”  Exodus 5:22-61 NRSV

This is Easter Week.  Holy Week.  Just the name implies hope.  But in order to see that hope appear, horrible events took place.  The sentencing of an innocent man.  Sentenced to death on a cross.

When Jesus cried out asking why God had forsaken him, I wonder if God turned to him and said.  Now you shall see what I will do by my mighty hand. 

Did Jesus see hope as he was dying on the cross?  Did he see hope for you?  For me?

Oh.  Two days later as he left the tomb very much alive, hope came in a bright light.  Hope rolled the stone away from his tomb.  Hope breathed life into his torn body. Hope shown through him as he appeared to Mary Magdalene.  Hope appeared as he showed his scarred hands to Thomas.

This was a different hope. This was a new hope.  This was hope eternal. Everlasting hope.

Today the daffodil bloomed.

When It Seems God Is Failing

In Exodus 3, God called Moses to return to Egypt to deliver his people.  The Israelites.  Moses fought the call.  Who am I to do such a thing?  He didn’t think he was good enough.  He didn’t think he was a good speaker.  He didn’t think he could make the Egyptian leaders believe him.  Even when God allowed Aaron to speak so Moses could perform the miracles, Moses resisted.  Even when God gave him clear instructions, Moses still wavered.  God reminded him that his people’s misery and oppression had been seen.  His people’s cries for mercy had been heard.  Moses was to go.  That was God’s clear command.  And God promised to lead Moses and his people to a land that was flowing with milk and honey.

So Moses went to Pharaoh.  Aaron spoke God’s words and Moses performed God’s miracles before Pharaoh.  But Pharaoh refused to give in to God and caused greater suffering for the Israelites.

Even with God’s promise, the Israelite’s suffering worsened before they were delivered.  They had done no wrong, but their workload was increased.  They were beaten.  They were abused.  They were threatened.

Then Moses turned again to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me? Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people, and you have done nothing at all to deliver your people.”  Exodus 5:22-23 NRSV

Could this have been the same cry that rang out from Jesus’ lips as he hung on that cross?  My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?  Jesus was in agony.  He felt abandoned by his Father.   Had God left him all alone on that cross?  Not only was the physical pain of being nailed to the cross unbearable, but he was bearing the weight of the entire world’s sins on his shoulders.

Death by crucifixion was barbaric.  It brought immense physical suffering.  It was cruel.  It was painful.  Nails were hammered into his hands and feet.  His breathing was ragged.  He had severe blood loss.  Broken ribs.  Collapsed lungs.  Exhausted thighs.  Shoulders pulled from their sockets.  A slow agonizing death.

Yes, there are times when life doesn’t make sense.  When things are going wrong.  Horribly wrong.  Others make decisions that impact innocent lives.  We feel abandoned.  We may feel that we’re in exile with no way of escape.  It would seem that God is failing.


Here on earth, you will have many trials and sorrows.  But take heart, because I have overcome the world.  John 16:33


The thing is.  I’ve said some of those same words.  I’m not good enough.  I can’t do this.  God, why am I going through this situation?  When will it end?  God, where are you?  God, why have you forsaken me?  God, why have you done nothing to deliver me?

When it seems that those you trusted have failed you, there is One who never fails.  God is not slow.  He is patient.  He is working behind the scenes.  Putting everything in place.  Oh.  It may seem as if he hasn’t heard the prayers.  It may seem as if he hasn’t seen our plight.  It may seem as if he doesn’t care.  He has said that we will have trouble in this life.  We will suffer.  We will face trials and deep sorrows.

But God has given us a promise that we must hold to as long as we have breath.  He will right our wrongs.  Oh.  Not necessarily as we would like, but in His all-knowing, all-seeing, all-present way.  God does not fail.  He is in control.

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.”  Jeremiah 29:11-14

God is good all the time.  All the time God is good.

 

Not My Will

Imagine being Jesus.  Sitting there, eating his final meal with his twelve closest friends.  The men he chose.  The men he handpicked to help spread his story.  His brothers.  His confidants.  His disciples.  And he knew.  He knew that before the night was over, two of those men would turn against him.  Two of his handpicked men would put aside the past three years of hard work.  To save themselves.  Yet he let it happen.  He welcomed them to the table and ate with them.  Oh.  He warned them both.  One of you will betray me and turn me over to be arrested.  The other will deny knowing me.  And still he ate with them.  Still He loved them.  He let them make the decision.  He let them choose their path.

Just hours before Peter denied knowing Christ, he had helped John prepare the Last Supper.  The Passover meal.  Jesus had asked Peter to get the meal ready, knowing that a few hours later Peter would deny  him.  Judas went to that meal having set his betrayal in motion.  He had already turned himself over to Satan.  He had already arranged a deal to hand Jesus over to the authorities.  Jesus knew.  But he welcomed Judas all the same.  When he told Peter what he would do,  Peter vehemently argued that he would never deny knowing Jesus.  He said he would go to prison or die first.

The thing is.  Jesus knew his disciples’ decisions would lead him down a dark path of suffering.  He knew those decisions would help lead him to his death.  But he didn’t stop it.  He could have chosen to stop his suffering.  After all.  He is God’s son.  But he knew his life purpose was to suffer and die for everyone.  Including those two men.


Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me.  Psalm 41:9

Just this week, I felt betrayed.  I felt abandoned.  I felt like I was treated unfairly.  Thrown to the wolves.  That’s how it felt.  And it stings.  It cuts to the core.  It leaves you reeling and wondering where to turn.  When trust is suddenly no longer within reach, what do you do?  But Jesus held steady.  He knew he would suffer.  He knew the path he was on.  He knew the road he was taking was not easy.  Yet he took it willingly.  He even died on that path.

Oh. Jesus prayed.  He asked God to remove the path of suffering from him.  He was in great agony over it.  But there was no other way.  He knew that.  He surrendered to his Father.  Your will.  Not mine.
Sure.  God could have spared me from this hurt.  But he didn’t.  I’ve been asking him to show me if I was where I belonged.  For the past two years, I have prayed that God would remove the people who didn’t belong.  I didn’t realize I was praying that prayer for myself.  That wasn’t my intent.  But God knew.  He allowed the situation to happen.  He’s giving me the opportunity to learn new lessons and gain new experiences from my loss.
Oh.  It hurts.  The path I’ve been given isn’t one of my choosing.  It’s a path I’ve been down before.  More than once.  I survived the journey before, and I will survive again.  But the path is uncertain.  I have no choice but to take this journey.
I’m all in.  No matter what lies ahead..

Life Isn’t Fair

In recent weeks, I’ve stood with families of two women who were in the prime of their life. Lives cut short. Husbands left widowed. One with young children. One with young grandchildren.  Parents and siblings left behind.

Two women.  40-somethings. Lives cut short by an awful disease.  Strangers to each other but known by so many.  Both lovers of God and lovers of people.  They both loved deeply and were deeply loved.

Taken too soon.  That’s what we say.  But God knows.  He planned their lives.  He allowed the suffering.  He called them home before we were ready to release them.

That’s how it is.  We’re never ready to let go of family.   We’re never ready to let go of friends.   We have memories.  But we want more to make memories.  We want what we had.  The good times.  The face-to-face interactions.  The laughs.  The hugs.  We want more than memories.

I’ve stood on the receiving side of grief.  I know the pain.  I know the heartache.  The whispers of comfort from friends and family.

We may ask why.  Why them?  Why so soon?  Wasn’t there more they could have accomplished in life?  Why wasn’t a cure found for their disease?  Didn’t their families still need them?  Weren’t they too young?

It’s hard to understand when we lose loved ones.  Especially when they’re so young.  It’s sometimes hard to understand why God allows such things to happen.


Life isn’t fair. But God is good. 

Pain is hard to understand. But God is good. 

Loss is tough. But God is good. 

Grief is trying. But God is good. 

The unknown looms ahead.  But God is good.


These women are now walking the streets of gold.  They’ve seen the face of God.  They’ve met Jesus.  They’ve been welcomed into heaven’s gates.  They’ve received their final reward.

My mother used to say. I’m ready to go, but I’m not in any hurry.  After her death, I thought she was probably kicking herself for not being in a hurry.  She was in heaven.  Life’s ultimate reward.

These two women weren’t in any hurry, either.  They were ready.  But they had reason to live.  Family.  Friends.  Faith.  But God called them home.  Their time on earth was short.  Too short in our eyes.

The clock is ticking for all.  Our time will come.  Fair or not.  Will we be ready?

 

Acquainted with Grief

She walked over to me that Sunday morning after church.  In a quiet voice, she said, “How do you do it?  How do you get through each day?”

A year earlier, I had lost my older brother.  Five years before that, my husband had lost his sister.  I am acquainted with grief.  She knew that I knew what she was asking.  My friend had lost both of her parents just a few months apart and was having trouble coping with the loss and the pain.  I recall feeling bad for her, because I couldn’t fathom losing my parents, let alone just a few months apart.

As we talked through our hurt and loss, we shared a common bond.  Grief does not discriminate.  It hits everyone who has lost a loved one.  It’s not a club you want to join, but you can’t refuse membership once it’s offered.  Membership is free, but you’ve already paid a great price.  You’re in the club in that moment of loss. With that one phone call.  Or with the knock on the door.  He’s gone.  She’s not going to make it through the night.  The test results are in, and it doesn’t look good.  There’s been an accident, and there are no survivors.

Little did I know at the time of our conversation, that only a few years later I would once again be circled by grief as I lost my parents eleven days apart.  Eleven. Days. Apart.

I am acquainted with grief.  I am acquainted with loss.  I am acquainted with the replaying over and over in my mind of how the scene of death played out for my loved ones. What were his last words?  When was the last time I saw her alive? Those thoughts filled every moment of every day for months on end.

What I realize now is that we really do need each other.  In those times of loss and uncertainty and unfamiliarity as we face a future without those loved ones, we need others who have walked that path.  We need someone to hold us up and to encourage us to grieve.  To live through the hard parts of life without our loved one.  We need someone to be there for us in those times when we can’t hold ourselves together.  When the memories and the loss are flooding down on us, and we feel like we can’t breathe.  When we don’t know if life will ever feel normal again.  We need to tell our story of loss over and over again.  We especially need someone to listen to our story. To hear our hurt and our pain.  To let us know that there is hope.  To let us know that as life goes on, we should cherish the memories we have and hold onto them.

As Reuben Welch said, “We really do need each other.”

Love one another, as I have loved you.  John 15:12

What Brings Me to Tears

There are certain events and experiences that bring me to tears.  Events that make me proud.  Actions that show respect to power and authority.  Experiences that are personal and meaningful.

I think of a bride.  Walking down the aisle on her father’s arm.  See the white dress.  The bouquet.  The veil.  The vows.  The kiss.  The anticipation of a life together.   The respect of the sanctity of marriage.  My eyes well up with tears.

I hear the national anthem.  The Star Spangled Banner.  I see the flag rise above the crowd.  People stand.  Right hand over their heart.  Pride in our country.  Thankful for freedom.  Respect for the courage of battles fought.   My eyes well up with tears.

I have served on jury duty.  I have been a juror.  People in the court room stand each time the jurors enter and exit the court room.  All conversations and activities cease.  All eyes are on the jury.  The group of twelve who will decide someone’s fate.   They know the power of this group.  They respect the sacrifice the jury is making to perform their civic duty.  The weight of the decision is in their hands.  My eyes well up with tears.

I have driven in a funeral procession.  Loss of a loved one.  Near and dear to my heart. People standing along the street.  They stop and pay respect.  Remove their hats.  Stop mowing their lawn.  Stand still for someone they’ve never met.  Traffic stops and lets the stream of cars interrupt their busy day.  They respect the loss of a loved one.  My eyes well up with tears.

I think of the man who died on the cross.  For me.  For you.  I think of his sacrifice.  He died willingly.  To save every sin everyone born on this earth has ever committed.  So we can enter heaven’s gates. So we can see Him face to face.  His mercy is new every day.  His love and compassion are never ending.  His sacrifice is our eternity.  My eyes well up with tears.

In Christ Alone.