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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The Feelings of Christmas

 

What is it about Christmas? …about the feelings this time of year brings about in us?

The stage is set in our intentions:

the twinkling of lights,
Christmas cookies baked by the dozen,
the wow gift for each of our loved ones,
a fresh-cut tree brimming with ornaments,
parties galore,
a crackling fire,
Christmas songs lulling us into a smile,
peppermint cocoa brimming our cup,
the sound of laughter,
the feeling of contentment,
[cue the softly falling snow].

How many of us experience the idyllic Christmas of our mind’s eye?  Sure, we find it in our head, and we have meaningful intentions in our hearts, but there’s a gap in what actually transpires as we ready ourselves for the season.

What are you really looking for this Christmas? …and can it be filled by the things of the season? 

Be encouraged to seek and to search. Feelings can be a challenge to deal with, yet spending some time with them can help to bring about a clarity which equips us with the courage and expectant hope to be more real in our own head and heart.


 

Finding Hope in the Unexpected

This is a Palm Sunday re-posting,
originally written two years ago.
The questions are timeless,
and so are the answers we’re seeking.

Donkey.HS

What am I expecting?
Hoping for?
Looking for?
Longing for?

Two thousand years ago, they were hoping for a way out of oppression.
They were longing for freedoms.
They were looking for a king…
…a king who would do all of this and more for them.

This past Sunday, Palm Sunday, marked the commemorative start of the Christian Holy Week. In many of our churches, we marked it by handing out palm fronds. Sometimes the fronds have been woven into a cross-like symbol meant to be kept as a remembrance. Some churches give out a single spear from a palm leaf, some give a small frond, and some hand palms out to wave during a particular worship song.

Last year I happened to be in Montreal, Canada, for the start of the Holy Week, and I visited the Notre-Dame Basilica just before Palm Sunday. I had been there as a teenager on a senior trip with my French class, and I wanted to see the grandeur of that church again. The only way to see the interior of the church on that particular day was to pay for a narrated program, laser light show and brief tour. That wasn’t what I had been hoping for. It’s amazing how one’s perspective on a church building can change after a few decades.

I also wanted to revisit the Gardens of the Way of the Cross at St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal in Montreal.  We came upon the glass doors leading into the garden only to find them locked. Deep snows covered the ground, so we couldn’t take in the peacefulness of the Stations of the Cross. The “Gift Shop” with a book about the Gardens was closed, too, but, those palm frond crosses many churches hand out on Palm Sunday? They were selling them inside the entry on this particular afternoon. That wasn’t what I was looking for.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a young donkey.  His triumphal entry into the city is the day we now mark as Palm Sunday. On that particular day, the Jews laid their cloaks on the ground and laid branches, taken from nearby trees, on the road to hail His arrival and to celebrate Him as a the one sent to save them. This account is told in all four gospels, and it’s told from a slightly different perspective in each:

Matthew 21:1-17;
Mark 11:1-11;
Luke 19:28-44;
and John 12:12-19.

They were expecting Him to be THE ONE who would cleanse the Temple, free them from Roman oppression and help them to regain their national strength and identity. They expected a military leader, but instead, got a humble servant riding into the city on a donkey. He had come to save them for all of eternity, but not necessarily to save them from the Romans. That wasn’t what they had been longing for. When they realized He wasn’t there to do as they had expected, they turned on Him. Days later He was brutally beaten and nailed to a cross to die a criminal’s death.

That wasn’t what His followers had expected.

He was crucified on a cross on a hill outside of Jerusalem. The grave couldn’t hold Him, and His resurrection a few days later brought new life.
That wasn’t what His followers expected, either.

Life isn’t easy. We often make it more difficult by adding expectations to our anticipations. These often go unmet, and we’re left with disappointment. When hopes don’t turn into what we’ve longed for, do we turn toward Him, or do we turn on Him? Do we surrender our expectations, longings and hopes just enough, while yet still trying to control the outcome we’re looking for?

His resurrection did bring us the opportunity for new life.
With that life, we can find hope when we turn toward Him.

We’re heading into the heart of the Holy Week right now. It’s more than egg hunts, bunnies, chicks, chocolate, new clothes, a big dinner and church attendance.

I hope you can find a tad more than you are expecting.

What are you expecting?
What are you hoping for?
Looking for?
Longing for?


 

Can He Really Use My Imperfect Parts?

CT.4-6
Photo and artwork belong to ComparisonTrap.org

This is the continuation of an earlier post about a Bible study in which I’m facilitating and participating.


But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses,
so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
~ 2 Corinthians 12:9

The Comparison Trap:  Week Four, Day Six… Some of my reminders and my takeaways from the daily devotional include:

We all have a story.
Our story matters.
It matters to God, and there are others who can learn from our story.

I feel like I say this to women all the time, because there are so many who are hesitant to share their story, thinking it means nothing, it’s full of shame, it’s full of mistakes, and that none of those things really matter… to anyone, but especially to God.

Sandra Stanley begins this devotional by telling us, “Comparison may be whispering to you the lie that those pieces of your story should be kept hidden—that admitting them out loud would be intentionally pointing out that you don’t measure up, that you aren’t perfect enough.”

His grace IS sufficient for us, and His power IS made perfect in my weaknesses. We struggle to believe this… and we struggle when we think we need to have no weaknesses to be used by Him… and that we must be perfect in order for His power to be made perfect. Stop it.

We’re so wrong when we allow those whispers to speak lies to us.

“God can leverage and use the unpolished, imperfect parts of your story.”

He will if you let him. It’s often in the shattered dreams that we find Him. It’s often in the broken bits that we discover more about Him. It’s often in the questions we ask where we’ll find hope. It’s often in hearing others’ stories where we’ll realize ours matters, too.

Whose unpolished and imperfect parts can be used?

It’s those of us who wonder from where our value comes.

It’s those of us who want to know how a broken heart can heal.

It’s those of us who are living in singleness.

It’s those of us who wonder who else cares.

It’s those of us who have watched our husbands die.

It’s those of us who cry in our quiet moments.

It’s those of us who feel the need to put on the smile mask.

It’s those of us who have watched our marriages fall apart.

It’s those of us who were violated.

It’s those of us who are lonely.

It’s those of us who wonder, “Why me?”

It’s those of us who have lost a child.

It’s those of us who have never been able to carry a child.

It’s those of us who have been cheated upon.

It’s those of us who feel lost.

It’s those of us who don’t know how to get through today.

It’s those of us who don’t know from where our hope comes.

Sandra walks us out of today’s devotional with a wonderful prayer:

“Heavenly Father, it seems a little crazy to me that you’re interested in taking the broken stuff of my life and using it for good. But since you say so, I’m offering all of it to you now. Please give me new eyes to see my story the way you do and to see how I can put it to good use.”

Amen. His grace is sufficient… even in our weaknesses. He uses every bit of it for His purpose, when we allow Christ’s power to rest on us.


 

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.