Monday, September 26, 2011

The God of Hope

It was a warm summer day as I was driving across the Midwest. It was just going to be a short trip for some continuing education at a conference. Instead it had become a painful reminder of what wasn't. I drove past places that all haunted me with what could have been.

And I remembered what I almost had, only to have it gone.

Sometimes it takes seeing what you could have to make you realize what you don't have and just how much you want it. Such had been the case in what I had lost.

As I drove along I-70, self-pity threatened to engulf my little car.

Earlier that week, I had cancelled most of my long-awaited summer plans at the last minute because of a family crisis. Cancelling them wasn't that bad, but it just confirmed to me that hoping and planning for anything I wanted was a bad idea.

Then, there had been something else that I hoped would work out. And clearly, even today, I could see that it wasn't going to. It seemed that I had everything that I really didn't care about and none of the things that I wanted the most. I might as well bury that fading dream, too, and move on with my life... and not be so hopeful. Yes, hope. That was my problem. I hoped too much for things that I wasn't in charge of. I should know better by now - so often life didn't turn out as I would have hoped.

A few tears threatened to spill out and I stared hard into the cornfields. Sometimes it was easier to pretend I didn't care about these disappointments. But I really did care. A whole lot.

Maybe, I reasoned to myself, I should just plan for nothing. I'll be pleasantly surprised if anything happens the way I wish it would.

And then that still, small Voice spoke: "But I'm the God of Hope. Remember?" (Romans 15:13)
"Why do you discount and throw away hope when that is My very essence and character? I AM Hope!"

I gripped the steering wheel, glad I was all alone for hours more so I could have this conversation with God by myself. "B-But, I've tried hope. Hope makes me miserable. I don't want to hope anymore... I want to just live in reality - that life is hard and unfair, that the people and things that I love the most get crushed and torn apart, wrenched from my hands and heart. If I just plan for that, I won't get so disappointed. It's much less painful to live that way."

Case in point - this most recent disappointment. I had hoped that perhaps it was God doing something that I'd been waiting on and praying about for such a very long time. And then this... just nothingness. He wasn't doing something with that after all. Why did I think He was?

My gentle Lord continued probing. "Mary, you choose to believe a lie when you act like I'm not going to be good to you in this. You choose to believe a lie when you act as though you will reap sorrow when you sow good things. Do you not believe me when I say that those who sow to the Spirit, will of the Spirit reap LIFE everlasting? (Galatians 6:8) The Life that I give is an abundant one, not a dreary existence. Was it not obedience to ME that led you to say 'no' to what you wanted most?"



"It's not that I don't believe that You're good, God. You're just not necessarily going to give me all these things that I want so much in life. You are more than good if all you give me is Yourself and heaven. I'm going to lower my expectations and be happy with that."


I knew that Voice ~ God knocking on the door of my weary heart.


"Mary, I'm the God of HOPE! Not the God of frequent disappointment, as you're making Me out to be! To think anything less of Me is wrong. Why are you making a resolution to live as though I will disappoint you?"

I felt so rebuked... slapped almost. Why had I been believing such things about God?



The God of all hope... what does that mean in real naked truth?

First of all, Hope is not synonymous with demanding my own way or thinking that the sea will part before me just because I desperately want it to.

Hope is inconvenient, very much so. It makes the hard things in life that much more painful, because often I had expected different. It can search my heart and motives to the very bottom.

I don't usually ask for hope, and often I don't actually want it.
What I really want is for the desire to go away, or be granted.

As much as we find ourselves praying for what we want, sometimes God doesn't restore broken dreams, regardless of how right they may be. Sometimes He leaves them lying smashed all over the ground.

Sometimes the wayward children never come home and mothers receive phone calls that they died in a fight outside a bar last night. Sometimes lonely ex-spouses pass away having never reconciled with the one who left. And sometimes cancer and disease creep over the body and people grow weaker and weaker til they're gone. Sometimes strong young boys lose their limbs and eyes and sanity in accidents and war and come home as broken men. Sometimes little girls get molested for years behind closed doors and no one ever hears their pleading, silent cries for help. Sometimes babies die, even after years and years of waiting for them. Sometimes the fiance who broke up never changes their mind and "comes around."
Hoping doesn't mean that I believe that God will never take something from me that I love dearly. Or that a God who loves me will never let my heart and my little world be broken. Or that He won't let everything I've spent my life working on swirl down the drain before my eyes.

So, then, in a disappointing and broken world... what is hope?

Hope is a steadfast confidence in the nature of God to do me good -- from creation, to Calvary and all the way into eternity to come. Hope is believing what I cannot see, simply because I know God. Hoping is walking on in the dark, because Jesus is there. Hope is about not quitting when all seems lost, because I know that God is greater than all of these things.

The Psalmist said it well when he made that little, but powerful statement: "Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him..."

Hope in what? GOD.

And so I choose to continue to hope, to put my heart on the line, to be vulnerable and to trust that regardless of what I want, what I get will be good, because I'm staking my heart on GOD. God Himself will never disappoint me. A glimpse of God is enough to fill my soul and heal my heart.

Hope allows me to smile as I drive down I-70 and stare into the cornfields, even though all is not right in my little world.

Hope in my heart shouts to the pondering world that my God deserves to be trusted!

Why art thou cast down, O my soul?
And why are thou disquieted within me?
Hope thou in God....
For I shall yet praise Him,
Who is the health of my countenance, and my God.
Psalm 42:5,11

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Those People

I wrote this post a few months ago, and didn't want it to be taken wrongly, so I hesitated to hit "publish." But, once again, I've been thinking on these things and asking God to make me a merciful person ~ one who pours out grace on people who don't deserve it. I hope you'll be challenged to do the same.

I've been thinking today of the people I don't like to help and "waste" my time on:

The people who really don't want to change bad enough to do it.

Those people that hate their messed up lives, but they refuse to do anything different.

The people that call and whine about their husband and kids and work and house....

....and want ME to come over and make their life all better.

I have lots of friends with struggles. I help a lot of people. I usually enjoy it.

But those people...

Well, that's a different story.

They don't even try.

They don't even care.

They're always a victim.

Do they ever think about anyone other than themselves?

My mom and I were discussing a couple of people today ~ people who want our help and counsel on a near-daily basis. We've been helping and advising for years, but not much has ever changed.
They're still floundering and depressed and tell us that they can't function like we do because their lives are so bad, while ours are so good. (They actually have more money, less kids, less health problems, and waaay less work and duties and responsibilities than we do, but that's beside the point.)

Mom's more inclined to keep helping them and helping them and helping them. She's almost eternally patient with people. Even bad and ungrateful people.

I've helped them for years; driven them to the ER at really inopportune moments when their kids had sore throats and I thought it was silly to go, but they insisted that they had to. I've given up my bedroom so they could stay there for a few days after they'd just had a big fight with their husband. I've watched their kids for long days when I was already so behind with my own work that I could have cried. I've cleaned their refrigerators when they'd been left in a nauseating mess for weeks or months. I've loaned them money and sometimes they've paid it back. I've let them drive my cars, and let their kids use {and break} my stuff. I've given them some of my favorite clothes, just because they really wanted them, and they didn't have many. I've wiped their kids' vomit off our floors and couches... and sometimes I've become sick myself after spending the day with their sick kids. I've invited them to come along when I really just wanted to have a day with my fun friends and family.

I do this same stuff for other people, and it doesn't bother me because they value my help, and they do their best to get back on their feet and to say thank you and to just be nice about it.

But those people....

I was about done being a servant to those people.

My unloving and unmerciful advice to Mom about someone today: She needs to just learn that everyone's life is hard and she needs to deal with it and wash her dishes and take care of her own kids even though she doesn't feel like doing anything. And she needs to learn that we don't have time to talk to her for an hour a day if she's just going to whine about her life and her husband and not going to act on any of the advice she asks for. She hasn't changed a bit in the five years that we've been her friend, even though she always swears that she will.

The words were barely out of my mouth when I wondered what I look like to God.

Do I ever feel like one of those girls who will never learn and will never change?

Do I look like the person who says she loves God but forgets Him five minutes later?

Do I look like a hopeless case?

Do I repent and turn from my besetting sins, only to find myself back there again and again and again? Asking forgiveness again?? Like I'll never learn, never walk on in victory?

Does God ever see that it's me, calling heaven again and sigh that it's... me?

What does God think when He sees me not even caring.... not even trying?

He had compassion on me when I was His enemy.

He loved me when I didn't want to change.

He made an eternal covenant for my soul, even though He knew I wouldn't be faithful.

He loves with perfect love, when I stumble along and don't even realize how lost I am.

He keeps drawing my heart to Him when I have no idea what a mess I am.

Maybe when He said, "Go, and do likewise" and He pointed at fellow messed up people,
He really meant to help the people who will always be a mess.

Maybe He meant to show mercy to those people.

I think He did.

'Cause that's what He does for me every day of my existence.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Would I Choose God?

One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD.... Psalm 27:4

What do I want?

If we could have one thing granted just for today, what would we choose?

Seeing a friend?
An hour to myself?
A happier marriage?
My stress to go away?
More obedient children?
A clean house?
Enough money to pay the bills?
A day off to relax?
The house I've always dreamed of living in?
My head to stop aching?
My schedule to calm down?
One last visit with someone I love?
My dear one's devastating disease to be healed?
The pantry shelves to be organized?

Or would I choose God?
His Presence to overshadow my life and my wants and dreams and hopes and fears and annoyances and needs?