Hope for the Best

The last few months have been a whirl.  Packing up my life and moving temporarily in with my parents before permanently moving halfway across the country, it’s been a season of transition and change.  With that always comes the bitter and the sweet.  In my experience, more often than not the bitter is the temporal pains and the sweet the spiritual lessons gleaned along the way.  Springing from this season, eternal hope in glory is a sweet theme playing over and over in my heart.

13774350_1109086805796963_717508180_n(1)Hope is a touchstone word for me.  For so much of my life, hope was wrapped up in the earthly longings—hope for a husband, family, child; hope of a fulfilling vocation and career; hope for a home.  These hopes were no guarantees and nothing to depend upon.  In my reaction to crushed dreams, I tended toward eliminating hope.  “Prepare for the worst, and don’t hope for the best” was my mantra. It prohibited crushed expectations which soured life.  However, reading Romans 12:12, “Be joyful in hope,” or Romans 15:12, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit,” or Romans 5:3-5, “We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame,” or Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for,” filled me with shame for my lack of hope.  Although, I “knew” our hope was not founded on things of this earth but rather in things of heaven, I couldn’t claim it.  It wasn’t overflowing into my life.

My understanding of this hope eternal has grown through this move. In leaving my family—moving almost a thousand miles away—I gave up special times together, memories to be made, conversations to be had, baby cuddles, and hugs.  Besides the comforting confidence in following God’s will, the greater solace came in the knowledge that though I gave up time on earth with them, we will have all of eternity together.  Additionally, upon my arrival, I learned that a dear friend just received a diagnosis of cancer—terminal apart from the healing work of God.  The potential for a shortened time together here on earth, rallied this growing eternal hope within me.  For though I sorrow at the thought of not sharing more of my life with her, I am encouraged in the knowledge that any separation will be for a little while.  Eternity will be forever.

Of course, our hope eternal in glory is not only about the reunion of loved ones, but so much more.  It is the removal of sin and its wretched curse.  It’s the full satiation of all our longings in Christ Jesus our Savior.  It’s being at complete peace with God.  It’s the right ordering of all things.  Rather than shaming ourselves for longings, we can yearn for those things to be fulfilled in heaven–the rightful fulfillment.  In so doing, we follow Paul’s exhortation in Colossians 3:2, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

In the removal of the temporal, dearly loved ones and things in my life, God is breaking me free from the bounds of the earth and making way for me to follow faithfully with a view toward glory rather than merely five or ten years on earth.  Freedom comes in that outlook.  Hope overflows for that future when things will be made right and filled with all goodness.  “Hallelujah what a Savior,” we have for bringing about our salvation to this glorious end!

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Giving and Receiving

Have you ever wanted something for years–that you have prayed for, cried for, begged God for?  I have.

I attempt to live seeking God’s purpose for my life in the right now, but underneath there is still an anguish asking, “Why such a long wait?”  “Will you ever say ‘yes’ to my prayer? Or will you give me a settling peace to know it will never be mine? Please just don’t keep me in this desperate place of longing!”

I know I am not alone in this experience, if only because of Hannah.  In 1 Samuel you can read the account of her deep desire for a son which was unmet for years.  She had to watch her sister-wife have child after child–taunted.  Even though she had great favor from her husband it could not fill the depths of her longing; peace evaded her.

Finally in desperation, she poured her heart out to God at the temple.  She was so visibly distressed that the priest believed her drunk.  In her anguished prayer that day, she prayed for a son if only to dedicate him wholly back to God.  God answered that prayer and gave her Samuel.  She kept her promise, and once Samuel was weaned, she brought him to the temple to live and serve God.   That boy grew up to be one of the greatest prophets in Israel’s history.

Was Hannah’s waiting in vain?  No, for in her waiting, she released her greatest desire back to God as a sacrifice–and God used it mightily, in ways far exceeding Hannah’s imagination.  Today, thousands of years later, we still read of her and her son!  However, God did not use Hannah only to serve his purpose–he also blessed her with five other children.

I take comfort knowing that my waiting is not a sign that God has forgotten me.  Instead, this waiting may bring about greater works than I can imagine.  I take hope that the waiting will not be forever, and that like Hannah, once God’s purpose is fulfilled, my heart’s desire may be met.

God makes all things beautiful in their time…

SnSnowow softly falling covers the straw-like grass and the black, bare trees I have been looking at for weeks.  Snow transforms the death of winter into something beautiful.  God makes everything beautiful in it own time–even in the winter.

Spring brings the beauty of flowers. Summer the lush of green reflecting the dancing beams of sunlight.  In the fall, the trees bear the radiant hues of sunset.  Every season brings its beauty, but every season also has its times of ugly:  Winter the death of life, spring the rain and muddy puddles, summer the dry grass and scorched plants when there is no rain, and fall when the rain comes chilling, ripping the leaves from their perches.

Having a route to work that always passes orchards I have often seen a parallel between the apple trees and my life.  We both have seasons, season of life and death, of joy and hardship.  I find hope in my times of winter that spring always comes to clothe the trees in beauty so also I have hope for a spring of joy to follow in my life.  I have seen this to be true.

However, watching the snow fall this morning has prompted me to expand this parallel–no matter what season I am in, I can find beauty or ugly.  In my winters, I can still look for the snow and in my spring be aware it may rain.  God makes everything beautiful in its own time, but are we looking for it, even in our winters?

Living through Loss

Loss comes in different strains, but it is a common malady to all people.  Every change brings some element of loss—a loss of what was—what can never be.  It brings grief.  A common response to loss is to question why it happened.  If God is powerful and good, why did he not stop the course of events which led to the loss?

Right now I am walking through my own grieving process as I recover and move forward from the loss of a very close relationship.  I have had an assortment of thoughts and feelings that osculate from sorrow to pain to wonder to despair to denial to hope to frustration to questions to peace and joy to sorrow again.  Through my life I have endured enough other types of loss to know one thing to be very true and very important—turning away from God in bitterness and resentment for allowing the loss to happen is not the solution!  Rather the only comfort comes from burrowing my heart into God, drawing closer to him, seeking him.  It is not my natural instinct.  Initially it is somewhat satisfying to “punish” God by blaming him and ignoring him rather than going to him.  However, the choice of remembering God’s great love for me—he died for me and there is no greater love than that—is far more beneficial.  So the first part of comfort I have found in coping with loss is choosing to trust God and letting him ooze his peace and comfort into the depths of my pain.  This is the past lesson I have learned that bears truth into my present struggle, but now I turn to John 11 where I have been discovering a new comfort in this season of loss.

John 11 recounts the events and conversations that transpired with regard to the death of Lazarus.  John writes that Jesus learned of Lazarus’ fatal illness but waits until Lazarus passes before leaving for Bethany.  This is troubling from a human perspective, for the reader’s thoughts echo that which Martha professes, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” and what the other mourners consider “‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’”  Truly, Jesus could have avoided this great loss of life if he had come in a timely fashion to Bethany—he had demonstrated in the past his ability to heal sickness.  Yet, John gives a powerful insight into this situation that reveals the true motivation of Jesus—he quotes Jesus, “‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’”  In verse 14, Jesus also purposes it to give the disciples belief.  John also makes the effort to communicate Jesus love for Martha, Mary and Lazarus and express Jesus’ grief for the loss.  Although God allowed the pain and death to occur in order for his glory to be expressed and the faith of his followers to grow, his love and compassion are real and congruous with these purposes.  Now as the account continues, John presents the amazing resurrection of Lazarus to life—restoring to Martha and Mary the one they loved and had lost.

In my life, God may or may not restore this relationship to me.  That may not be his greatest good for me.  However, I can trust as Mary and Martha did while in the full throng of their sorrow that God is still capable of all things.  I also can choose to have hope even in a hopeless situation that God will work it out to a greater good through ways unimaginable to me now.  Best of all, I can know fully that God is at work to bring his glory about through this situation and that concurrently he is empathizing with my pain.

I am reminded as well of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac.  He knew that God had promised him many descendants through his son, yet he still offered up his most precious gift to God with full faith in God’s integrity.  Although, I have no promise from God that my future will include this relationship within it again as Abraham did, I do have a promise from God of a “hope and a future.”  Therefore, though he is asking me to lay down on the altar the relationship I thought would give me a wonderful and good future, I can have faith that somehow he will bring about a wonderful future despite my current loss.

“The Lord gives  and takes away, but still I will say, ‘Blessed be the name of the Lord'” Thanks be to God!