Finding Hope in Milestone Memories

A friend of mine recently crossed through a milestone moment—the anniversary of the death of her husband.

There’s no shirking the emotions that milestones like this bring about. Three years into her life change is nothing to gloss over, nothing to forget, nothing to celebrate…

…but there has been…

The lost days, the altered plans and the shattered dreams are beginning to yield to the blooming opportunities, new days and optimism she’s finding as she steps out of the losses and toward her new hopes. She’s grown, she’s gotten stronger, and she’s marking her milestone memories with plans for an unknown-yet-hope-filled future. That’s something to celebrate, even if the milestone moment and losses are not.

We all have these milestone moments. All of us. They are those days on the calendar or in our heart that cause us to withdraw and just think. They are our “would’a, should’a, could’a” moments that will always be a part of us.

But it’s what we do with them that counts toward our joy and our internal peace.

When we are walking through them knowing that the hard losses can still help us find our way to a future of something bigger…well, it’s then that our milestone moments are worked for good.

 


 

Finding Hope in the Grace of a Prison Visitation

I’ve written before about how someone I care deeply about is locked behind the walls and the concertina wire of prison. (You can read about that here)

While visiting with him this weekend, grace tapped on my shoulder.


At this facility, visitation (after the stringent security search, the full-body pat down, and the K-9 sniff test for the visitors, and the complete strip search for the inmate) means hugs and kisses upon arrival and departure, and it means cherishing the opportunity to sit in the presence of your loved ones (it’s worth every bit of inconvenience). There were aging parents visiting their sons, tired moms with toddlers visiting their children’s’ father, a teenaged boy laughing with his dad while playing a smack-down game of UNO, and a young momma who had brought her newborn to visit with his daddy.

The people in the room were here for different reasons. They were there to share a few hours with loved ones, trying to maintain relationships, trying to imagine the future together, or working out life’s inside-outside and outside-in differences.

Prison is hard.

It’s hard for the inmate, and it’s hard for the family of that inmate. You may have heard otherwise about prison, but, unless you have experienced it personally or lived the life that comes with loving someone on the inside, you have absolutely no idea…


Yesterday, in that prison visitation room, grace tapped on my shoulder.

As a woman was readying to leave the visitation room at the end of her visit, she approached my chair from behind and tapped me on the shoulder. She was with a man and two boys who appeared to be middle schoolers. Visitors are allowed to speak with other visitors; inmates are allowed to speak with other inmates. Visitors, however, are not supposed to speak with inmates, other than the one they are visiting, and inmates are not supposed to speak with visitors, other than those visiting them.

She tapped me on my shoulder and “whispered” loud enough for the others at my table to hear:

“He was my [doctor] for many years.
He helped me so much.
He changed my son’s life.
My son was plagued with ear infections
until we brought him there, and with all
he taught us and showed us, my son, who is now 11,
only ever had one ear infection after that.
He was such a good [doctor].”

The man I was visiting used to be a doctor. He’ll always be one, but he just doesn’t hold any licenses to practice anymore. The likelihood of him ever being able to practice again is very slim. It was his passion, and it was a part of his purpose for a long season of his life.

With the comments from this woman, his face grew white, and his entire mood changed. I saw regrets, sorrow, embarrassment and devastation in his eyes.

I took a deep breath, and so did he. I asked him if he remembered her. He was flustered and didn’t want to answer. He couldn’t remember her name, but he eventually did say that he did remember her.

I asked him if he was ok.
He said he was, but his demeanor didn’t affirm this.

“You know,” I said, “that was so kind of her to stop and say what she said. She could have just ignored us from across the room and never said a thing as she was leaving. She took a moment to come over to let you know how you have impacted her life. What a gracious thing for her to do.”

He nodded in agreement, as tears started to fill the corners of his eyes.

Grace. 

Unmerited favor;
Finding favor toward another;
Offering that which is often undeserved;
Love in action.

When I arrived home a few hours after my visit, the phone rang. The caller ID let me know that an inmate call was coming through the line.

He called to tell me he had just gotten back from church, and that instead of napping on his cot in the 90-degree, un-airconditioned cell block during the afternoon between our visit and church, he spent some time in prayer and reflection about this woman’s words to me following her tap on my shoulder.

He apologized to me, saying he “sucked thumb” and sulked for a while after we left, but he had come to the conclusion that he appreciated his former patient’s willingness to share the impact he had made in her life during his own past life and career. In his reflection time, he was able to remember the thousands of people he had helped over nearly 20 years of doctoring, and he was grateful for the people he had met along the way. He had decided that her words were going to serve as a positive reminder of his former season of life, rather than be a stinging reminder of what he didn’t have anymore.

And then he said it:
“She didn’t have to do that, but she did.
That was grace in action.”

Yes.
Yes, it was.
It was grace in action.
Grace brought on by a tap on the shoulder at a prison visitation.


 

 

Finding Hope in Hope

Welcome to June!

May was a magnificent month on so many levels. May brought sad endings, happy endings, fresh starts and new beginnings on my path throughout the month. Memories were made through milestone moments, love was shared and doors were opened.

May was also a tough month. Doors slammed closed on yet another round of hope, justice fell through a manipulative chasm, and loneliness ensued within a black hole of solitude.

June is here, and a new month is a new opportunity to mark a new round of optimism and hope… by choice, of course.

It is a choice.
It’s always a choice.

Within every given ending, start, beginning, milestone, anniversary, reminder, closed door, chasm
or black hole of circumstances, hope is a choice.

Do you hear that?
Hope… it’s a choice.

It’s a choice you have to make, and it’s a choice I have to make, too.

Don’t ever give up on it.
Don’t ever let the darkness overcome the light.
Don’t ever…

Choose hope.

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.
~Romans 15:13 (NIV)


What is your hope for June?
What is the darkness needing to be overcome by the light?
I’d like to pray for you, and I’d certainly appreciate your prayers for me, too.


 

Finding Hope in Time Away

I know.
It’s been quite a while.
I have needed time away, and I’m not sure if it’s been long enough or not.
If you are reading this and still following me, thank you!

I’ve posted tidbits and a few thoughts on Facebook over the last few months, but these pages have remained blank.

What’s up, you ask?
A lot.

It’s my story… it has had some heartache, drama, hardships, hope and twists in it over the last few months. These things have all left the writing side of me feeling drained and empty.

I’m not going to make any New Year’s resolutions about how you are going to see more of me on these pages in the coming months. (You already know I don’t make resolutions.) I don’t have any promises or epiphanies to claim about the desire to write more. So, if you are still reading this and following me, thanks!

I’ve just needed time away.
It’s been a challenging year.

Twenty-fifteen was full of amazing opportunities, new beginnings, laughter, love, obedience, growth and hope, but it was also full of uncertainty, personal difficulties, some depression, a bit of drama, loneliness and a broken-but-not-crushed heart.

I made quite a few changes in my life in 2015… changes I needed to make to keep me afloat mentally. Writing has been a place of solitude and meditation for me in the past, but the thought of writing so that I had something to post over the last few months didn’t bring comfort. It became another “to-do,” and I knew it wasn’t healthy. So I took some time away.

I also took some time away from participating in and facilitating women’s studies over the last few months. I didn’t want to, but the demands I was feeling from my home life necessitated me putting others before me, and the others had to be my family and not the women I was doing life with in groups. It was difficult for me to accept, but there are always blessings when we choose obedience, aren’t there?

Obedience looks different in the various seasons of our lives… I’m learning that, and I’m learning to embrace it. What would be recognized as following in obedience in one season looks very different after the passage of time, the growth of a soul and the nurturing of a Relationship with the One to whom we are called to follow.

So, here I am writing and posting that writing. Later in the week, I’ll begin to facilitate a Bible study and short-term group for women. It’s the first time in months that both have happened, and here they are taking place within the same week.

Circumstances haven’t changed much in my life, but there is hope to be found in taking time away. There is clarity, there is peace, there is rest, there is solitude, and there is opportunity to be found when we make the time to be still. When we carve out the time to be still and know that He is God, and that He can and will move in our heart and our life in His timing (and we’re ok with letting His timing be His!), good things can happen.

Writing and facilitating time in the Word with other women… those are two ways in which He has changed me and kissed my hope-filled soul in the past, so perhaps He will do so again!

Thank you for following the up and down journey of Hope Surrendered!

 

Finding Hope in a Question

I’m usually a little out of sorts when I leave the prison. My head and my heart both seem to be going in crazy directions. When one has a family member tucked away from the world, aspects of life can seen hopeless, helpless and senseless. Last week’s visit was no different.


On the two-hour drive there, I noticed I’d need gas in my car at some point before heading home..

“I’ll get it at the station just outside the prison’s entrance,” I thought to myself.

There’s not a lot around the prison, but the gas prices at this little country store are typically about 10 cents less than the station in town.


Silence… that’s what my son and I shared as we exited the doors and walked toward the car. It’s awkward to feel like you have had a “good” visit with someone when you do your visiting with concrete and glass separating you and your loved one. But it was a good visit. It was better than many we’ve had to have, and we both knew it as we walked across the parking lot. My words were chit-chat, but my heart and my head were a mess.

“I’ll let you drive in a little while when we get on the straight stretches on the other side of town, and I need to get gas at that little station just down the road,” I told my son. It’s all I could really say.


I exited the prison’s driveway, drove down the road and pulled into the gas station at the country store. As I got out of my car to walk around to the pump, an old ’70s Chevy pickup pulled in right behind me. A gray-bearded man in a John Deere ball cap motioned for me to come over to his truck.

“Ma’am,” he said in a southern drawl, “What’s your license plate mean?”

“It’s a Bible verse, Sir. It’s a verse that means a lot to me. It’s Romans 8:28,” I said to him.

“Oh?” he asked inquisitively.

“Yes, Sir. It’s a verse which tells me that no matter what my problems, no matter what my troubles and no matter what my challenges are, God is going to work them for good because I love Him.”

“Is that what it says?” he slowly pressed with more curiosity.

“Not with those exact words, Sir, but that is a sense of what it means,” I shared with him.

He nodded his head at me, and said, “Ma’am, you have a wonderful day. Thank you for telling me that.”

He smiled at me, gave me a wave and pulled his rusty ol’ pickup truck into a parking spot. I moved toward the pump to insert my credit card to pre-pay for the gas, but I saw him get out of his truck, look my way and give me a glance under the brim of his cap.


“What did that guy want?” my son asked from the passenger’s window while I put the nozzle into the tank.

“He wanted to know what my license plate means,” I told him.

With an eye roll, my son said, “And I’m sure you told him.”

“As a matter of fact, I did.” I said to my son. “I didn’t initiate the conversation; he did, but I did take a moment to explain it.”

“I’m sure you did, Mom…”


When I got back into the car, my son just looked at me with an “are you serious?” kind of face. We’re in a phase — and at a point in his life — where faith-based decisions and choices keep coming up. He’s struggling just a bit to submit to them with a cheerful heart, and he rolls his eyes at me quite often when I look at him and want to launch into one of my “there’s a lesson in that…” discussions.


“You know…” I started. “You know… maybe he needed to hear that today. Maybe he’s looking for some of the hope in that verse. Maybe I was supposed to stop here at the same time he was pulling in. We will never know… just maybe, Son.”

“Ok, Mom… whatever you say…”


Was I there to answer an old man’s question and give him some hope? Or was that old man there to ask me a question which would remind me of His hope?

Was I put there in that moment? Or was the old man put there? Or were both of us put there for different reasons and for different conclusions over the same conversation?

Was I in the right place at the right time to show my son how faith boldly intersects in every aspect of our lives? Or was he in that passenger’s seat in that moment to witness how, in fact, it does?

Was I there in that moment to get my thoughts away from my broken heart? Was I there in that moment to hear my own words and to really HEAR His words in the process? Was he an old man in a truck, or was he someone else?

We can never know how all of the incidences in our lives are woven together, but Romans 8:28 serves as a regular reminder to me for the things I do see and do experience.

Life has been a challenge over the last four years, but through it all, my hope is only growing in His ability to work ALL of it for good — my good, my son’s good, my family’s good, the good of others — and ALL of it for His glory. I do struggle in the moments and in the circumstances, but the precious chances where I find myself outside of the moments and circumstances and in the midst of how Romans 8:28 is being made reality are true blessings.


Dear gray-bearded man in the old, red Chevy… thank you for stopping to ask me about my license plate. I didn’t just tell you about Romans 8:28 in that moment, I experienced the beauty, the possibilities, and the reality of one of many ways it is being fulfilled. I found HOPE in your question.