Finding Hope in Shedding an Old Life

In April, I adopted an orchid. It was a take-home gift from a lovely bridal shower I attended in Michigan. I’ve never been tasked with caring for an orchid, but it was so lovely with its six blooms, that I was excited to transport it home.

The conditions in Michigan gave us a wintry blast of ice that coated the car to 1/4″ thick. It took 30 minutes of running the defrost and chipping away to clear the car before loading up my luggage and moving the orchid from the warmth of the hotel room. She was buckled into the seat belt in the back seat for the six-hour drive.

Upon arriving home, I settled her in on my kitchen counter with an ice cube for refreshment (Google is so helpful), before doing some laundry and packing up again for a seven-hour drive to Virginia. I gave strict orders to my family to NOT touch it or water the orchid while I was gone.

I returned a few days later to find a few buds had sprung open and new buds were forming. Yes! Victory in the moment! I had never grown one of these tropical beauties, but she was growing and glowing without much help from me.

Her 15 blooms have dazzled me with their beauty for months. A few weeks ago, her blooms began to wrinkle and lose some luster. Now, just three remain, and soon, she will seemingly slumber. As a first-time orchid owner, I’m not sure how long she’ll rest, but I’ll remain expectantly hopeful of her reawakening, no matter how long it takes.

 

 

This little orchid helps me to see the circle of life through the challenges and hopes within each of us. She has particular needs, and when her needs are nurtured, she is mesmerizing. Overdo or under do anything with her, and there will be issues. She’ll be less than she was created to be.

That’s life, isn’t it? There are surprises, delights, new opportunities, beauty, blossoming, showy moments and confidence in becoming who we have been created to be. Yet, in all of this, there are disappointments, heartache, a shedding of the old, fading joys, wrinkles, retreat, silence, and a feeling of loss where we have trouble knowing when we’ll get our groove back.

Expectant hope abounds in this little orchid, in all of nature, in us and in others. It’s all around us.

Can we see it in the simple?  Can we see it in the small?  Can we see it in the lonely?  Can we see it when we are shedding an old life, old habits or that which leaves us feeling dead?  Can we see it with a new opportunity?  Can we see it in our smile?  Can we see it when the Creator is working in us?  Can we see it?

Expectant hope abounds all around us.
Can we see it?


 

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Finding Trust (Because I Quit My Job)

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Trust is a weighty thing. It’s a two-way street in our relationships with others, but when it comes to God, it’s a one-way street. We don’t need Him to trust us, but we do need to trust Him.

Today is a new day, and it’s a first step into the days ahead. That’s the case for all of us each and every day. But today, it’s quite magnified for me.

I’ve taken some steps toward changes in my life—leaps of faith, as I see them—to move away from circumstances that didn’t honor God or me, but now I’ve moved into the unknown as a result of my choices.

I quit my job.

I gave my notice a few weeks ago, and yesterday was my last day. I don’t have another job yet, but I felt as though staying at that one had become something I could not continue to do. My husband has lovingly supported my decision, as he’s repeated to me that I “haven’t quit or retreated from anything,” but that I’ve chosen to “advance in a different direction.”  


My husband’s words of encouragement are extracted from Oliver Prince Smith—a decorated, four-star general and retired Korean War veteran—to encourage me: “Retreat, hell! We’re not retreating, we’re just advancing in a different direction.” My husband has repeatedly repeated the shortened version to me as I wrestled through making the decision about my job, and he reminded me of these words again last evening after I finished my last day in the office.


I’ve been wrestling with trusting God in my next steps. Today was a new day in the wrestling match of trusting Him.

My study time this morning took me into a lesson about time…and about how He knows the plans He has for us…and about how the plans He has ordained for us have already been written. Then I decided to read through Psalm 138 and 139.

My husband’s Bible was beside me in our library room, so I grabbed it and flipped to where Psalms would be found. The page I turned to quickly and randomly had a verse circled:

“Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.”

My husband had written “burden” above “cares.”

No coincidence.
None of it.
It’s yet another God-incidence.

When this morning’s Bible study turned out to be about time, I smiled a bit and said a few “Oh, of course it is!” thoughts under my breath. Those of you who know me well have heard me talk about the importance of trusting God’s timing, but I always throw in a “…but He’s so slow!” comment about my own experiences.

But this!…here’s another God-incidence in a lickety-split moment, found as I was moving into the next course of study. I needed to stop to write my thoughts (that you are reading), because I knew Psalm 138 and 139 were going to keep His reminders coming.

He knows the burden and worries I have been carrying. He knows why I needed to leave my job. He knows why I have struggled to trust Him in these next steps. He knows I need to feel His strength and His love and His confidence and His “I’ve got this,” especially today—on this new day into the rest of my days.


Oh, Lord. I thank you for your presence in my life. You are full of such mercy, grace, love…and hope! I am working on trusting you…on surrendering my wondering hopes to you…on having expectant hopes, instead. Thank you for your patience with me. 


Burger Saturday—It’s about a Burger and a Prayer!

Most of us think nothing of having a burger. We can zip through any drive-thru window, order a burger, devour it, and we can do it almost anytime we’d like to do so.

Saturdays have become burger days in our household.
They are a reminder of hope.

…might sound silly…
until you know the background.

At “The Hut,” burgers are served on Saturday. When you’ve spent a few months or years in a place where you don’t get to choose what food you get to eat, burgers on Saturdays are something to look forward to.

When he came home, it meant a lot for him to be able to choose to eat a burger on a Saturday. It was a way of remembering where he’d been, those he left behind, and the fortunes of being able to choose what’s for lunch.

“Do you mind that we eat burgers on Saturdays?” he asked me the other day.

“Not at all. I enjoy sharing burgers with you.” I told him.

We don’t eat them every Saturday, but we’ve had a lot of burgers on Saturdays over the last five months.

He prays for them while he’s grilling the burgers—for those who are still there…for those looking forward to their thin, dried hockey puck with a razor-thin slice of tomato and a paper-thin ring of onion (except for every 5th Saturday—for some reason, the tomato and onion aren’t on The Hut’s menu once every five weeks).

I still see it in him after every first bite of a burger…
I see him savor that bite as he takes a long time to chew it.

Sometimes, there’s such a long pause.
Sometimes, there’s a quiver of the lip.
Sometimes, he quickly wipes away a tear from the corner of his eye.

I don’t think he realizes that I watch him take that first bite, but I do, because I will never forget the day he took that first bite of burger on the first Saturday after he came home. Never.

You just can’t forget something like that.

He enjoys his tomato, his onion, the mustard, ketchup and mayo…
He sometimes tops it with avocado, or bacon, and a creamy slice of real cheese…

He enjoys his burgers, and it makes me realize—yet again—how much his life has changed over the last few months. Every bit of time we get to spend together is a blessing to me. I’ve learned so much from him about appreciating the little things.

To Clyde, Dave, and so many of the others…
We think of you when we eat our burgers.
Today was Burger Saturday, and we prayed for you today.

 


 

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.