I was invited to write about “Hope” for an Advent series last month. My thoughts were prompted by a surprise. You know that verse about how hope deferred can make us heartsick? Don’t throw away or feel ridiculous to still hope. One day, maybe today hope will be gifted to you.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12 ESV
Here’s my contribution:
Fulfilling Signs of Hope
The reunification came as a surprise. My brother’s wife, whispered to me as we celebrated a new coming nephew,
“I found a Bible. It has your name on it.”
Going through the remnants of my mother’s abandoned home, she discovered it. A strange Bible it was, at least for a woman in her thirties, oversized rich leather, more than substantial in size words. Someone gave it to me, and I gave it to my mama once I “graduated” in my faith to a more proper women’s Bible.
Over the course of sixty plus years, I have owned four Bibles. One, a tiny little Gideon’s New Testament and Psalms, the hefty one I passed on to my mother, a pretty leather one suited for women’s groups and my current one, a fabric covered blue Bible for journaling, for telling myself truths and stories in the margins.
Last week, I misplaced my Bible. I felt lost.
I had been traveling and packed it to reference its importance as I spoke to a group of women. Unpacked and sorting, everything was placed back in its place, except for my Bible. Anxious and confused, how could I be without that one final item?
I decided to pray, and my prayer surprised me. Rather than simply “asking and knocking” for the door to be opened to me finding my Bible, I found myself so very broken and grateful. I thanked God for the desperation, the relentless longing for my Bible, for the broken-heartedness I was feeling to be without it. I found my Bible in the place I’d tucked it away for safekeeping.
I found my hope again, the “withness” of God beautifully demonstrated.
In the margin of the first chapter of the Book of Isaiah, I have written, “Who are today’s Isaiahs?” Isaiah spoke warnings of disaster. Isaiah spoke of sin that would bring judgment then he proclaimed beautiful redemptive promises for us through a “man of sorrows” who would make eternity with God possible. The pages of my Bible are strewn with notes, sketches of women and color to remind me of the words that were significant in some way and will continue to be.
In the seventh chapter of Isaiah, we read of Ahaz, the King of Judah refusing to ask God for a sign. He announces he doesn’t want to put God to the test. Isaiah speaks up and questions his reluctance. He tells him you are testing the patience of your people, surely you won’t continue to test the patience of God as well. (Isaiah 7:10-13) Since God is not a God to be tested, a sign was given.
“Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel” Isaiah 7:14 ESV
Immanuel, God with us.
How do you see evidence of hope?
Are you prone to tangible evidence being necessary or have you seen the dots connecting the scattered paths of your past to your present?
My sister in law could not have known the part she would play in my need of hope. I’d long considered the Bible I gave my mother to be lost or discarded. You see, I passed this Bible on to my mama, who believed in God but had reasons to not believe in hope.
A widow with little resources and an incapacitating illness, she’d begun to decline and spend most days alone.
As a child, we were not regular church-going people and so it was perhaps a bold gesture to give her a Bible; disrespectful, haughty or even judgmental, I suppose. I gave her my Bible with no explanation or expectation, only a hope that it may comfort. If it did, I cannot know.
I’d hoped it would be seen simply as love.
I wanted her to see I wasn’t afraid of church anymore, that I was taking a tentative chance on hope.
I cannot know.
But, the hope of it being gifted back to me, this is the evidence of God with me, seeing me, hearing the secret murmurs of my heart. The thick Bible is pristine. There are barely any marks of pencil and the pages barely looked thumbed. There are no places where pages have been turned down for later.
There is very little evidence that my mama read it.
Nevertheless, the underside of the front cover has my full name written in elementary school cursive, my daughter’s. There are construction paper faded Sunday school verses my son or daughter proudly delivered to me as we reunited on the wooden pews for worship.
There is one oddly compelling note on the very last page in my handwriting,
“When I give an account of my life…”
When I give an account of my life, I will include this Bible and its story as evidence of me being known by God and of hope.
Perhaps, this Christmas, we should all sit quietly and consider the birth of Jesus, the evidence of hope, the gift of a knowing and loving God being with us.
Where have you seen hope this year?
Has it been difficult to be hopeful in this vulnerable and bitter world?
Have you focused on the evidence of hopelessness all around us more than the hope in the miraculous although unseen, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world?
May you be surprised by hope this year, a resurgence of belief in what you long for and long to see. What have you yet to see that God long ago promised is coming?
The reasons to hope are immeasurable and too beautiful for us to fully know, the coming fulfillment or our hopes.
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken to the prophet: “Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). Matthew 1:23 ESV
I lean towards the serious, it’s the design of me. Someone asked, “Why do you always look so sad?” I answered, “Not sad, just thinking.”
But, I sure did think about the candid observation.
Yesterday I positioned myself on a piece of cardboard alongside a three year old. We’d played Cracker Barrel tic tac toe over lunch and annoyed the other shoppers by giggling over a plastic toy chicken.
Last week, I sat on the driveway and played “marbles”.
Together, we slid down a high slope of a backyard hill moist from humidity.
Our faces glistened with the warmth of a Sunday in November. We giggled over choosing which puppy we loved best and we decided on the brown one, the one that nuzzled most.
Not so serious me later (on purpose) fell off the yoga ball repeatedly while being serenaded by Elizabeth’s uncontrollable cackling.
Laughter prompted by toddlers, puppies and Sundays.
I’m not so serious, thought you readers should know.
“On different days, I’m different too, You’d be surprised how many ways.” Dr. Seuss, “My Many Colored Days”
Someone commented on Sunday, her love for the colors in my paintings. I smiled to myself. My palette has decidedly changed.
Formerly, I had a bend towards neutral, bland in conversation and tone. My aim was ethereal. I now see it was timidity.
Yesterday, I watched a tiny lizard fade from black to green to gray. I convinced my granddaughter to let him go as she clutched the caught creature, tiny thumb and forefinger keeping “the baby safe”.
Once set free, it scurried with a whip of a long tail into the sandy ground overtaken by green.
There was a time, I turned all the books exposing only the pages, clean and pristine, no color showing. My husband asked how we’d know the titles, I answered, “Pull it from the shelf and look and keep looking until you find one you like”.
Explore. Truth is, I felt comfortable with the quiet untouched arrangement.
It was safe, not noisy with color, uncluttered, avoidant of engagement.
Now, it appears I’m becoming vibrant, creeping towards but resisting crowded clutter.
Discovering wonder in tiny things again.
Like sunlight landing on spines of books I love.
Morning greeted me that way, touching the den’s corner and I saw the beauty, I saw the gift of a perspective change.
I lean my paintings against my mama’s white chair, the backdrop a mixture of blue speckled paintings and a splash here and there of yellow.
I’m layering color more boldly these days, still soft and easy, fluidly filtered but not at all shy.
Ebony paint fencing in water, creamy white shadows only slightly dulling the grasses.
Verdant green, velvet like a cool cushion.
Happy pinks and confident blues.
October 11, 2022, I paused to see if my memory was correct.
Then I tallied the years since my father passed away on October 11th, 24 years ago today.
I remembered the room where the decision was made and thought of how it seemed to be a circle of voting, “what do we do?”.
Hang on or let go?
I wondered, this afternoon, what might have been had we decided differently and for a minute I felt lonely. Then, a thought that might not be true for others; but, for me it quelled the useless wondering question.
Don’t waste your wonder over what might have been, only and always open your heart to the wonder of now and the wonder of them.
A cousin I haven’t seen in over twenty years wrote to me today. She said my daddy would check on her when he was in Savannah. It was always unexpected; but, sweet, so sweet when my daddy, her uncle came by to be sure she was okay.
I found myself like a child, filled with wonder and my day, one of many colored, was bright yellow dancing with indigo.
Not murky grey like regret, nor blah with grey from the dirty jar needing brushes washed.
No, blue like the eyes of a girl like me, filled with wonder. Coral like kindness, turquoise the assurance of hope for tomorrow.
These are the colors on this day, just one of my “many colored days”.
I have so many more.
“a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;” Ecclesiastes 3:4 ESV
A family of seven walked the trail together. Up ahead they kept in a slow rhythm, a man, a toddler, a few adolescents and a woman with a stroller.
One looked back, heard my catching up to them. The man smiled and commented on the humidity. The woman pushing the stroller I noticed was empty, corrected one of the children about something. Her voice was loud, her face so serious.
I smiled and looked back at the group, told them,
“My children laughed when I tried to be mean, I was never good at getting their attention that way.”
The girls and boys looked at me and stayed in step with their mama who added in a way that her children know she can be “mean”.
Not in a fearful or threatening way, I sensed the children understood.
It’s a matter of how we’re made, how we convey our truth.
Job argued defensively with his friends and with God for whole chapters and yet, never disrespected or disavowed his Father.
He was quiet, but strong.
Distraught, but not demanding.
Frail, but not frightened.
The Book of Job is poetry for the introspective and honest. It is comfort amidst woe.
It is quietly strong.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” 1 Corinthians 13:1 ESV
Quietly strong, a tone I love.
In the mornings, I find a smoothly writing pen and I write the names of my children side by side, circle them on their own and then add an embrace of a larger encircling together.
A quiet practice.
Strong and soft, unwaveringly committed.
A way of trust.
The way I know.
Wisdom found in quiet confidence.
“God understands the way to it, and he knows its place.” Job 28:23 ESV
With the songs and sermon, prayers and passages, I had church today while I painted.
The thought came to do both just as I’d decided to stay home. You’ve been running, racing and getting to do lots of things.
You’re learning, that kind of running will catch up, put you in slow motion.
Take your peace away.
Funny thing, I’d never painted while “going to church”. But, I felt compelled to do it and so, I listened as I prepped tiny canvases for color.
Just as I’d listened to a new take on an old favorite, Psalm 139. Whole house silent and I heard it differently, more clearly.
The Holy Spirit’s presence.
My soul knows it very well.
I wrote just these words beside my name in the margin. This beautiful psalm is one we read to remind ourselves we are known beyond our mind’s comprehension by God who made us.
Mostly, I’ve read this psalm to remind myself of God’s intentional love and to confirm that I’m here on purpose, not an accident.
Today though, in the quiet, I saw a little deeper meaning. God knew and knows that it’s our soul that guides and informs us, that the things we need to “hear” from him, we will hear with the nudge of conviction, correction and the deepest of joys that can’t be described in words, only the pure reaction in our core/our soul. Some say gut or conscience.
How do you describe the most intimate joy of being surprised by the ease of something you feared would go wrong?
How do you describe the peace in an unexpected emotional response to something as simple as a hug from a child?
A greeting at the door with a flower and a request for a jar?
How do you describe knowing what God wants you to know that you’ve been avoiding or are afraid it can’t possibly be true?
It’s close to impossible to fully convey the soul.
That may be why David ended this Psalm this way. Sort of a brave request of God.
I’m often afraid to ask such a question.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” Psalm 139:23-24 ESV
Because God knows all the beauty of us, He also knows the ways we get wrong.
Since He knows us so very well, wonderful creations, complex and complicated, we can trust that we’ll see the parts we sometimes get wrong.
If we’ll simply ask Him.
We don’t have to be afraid of the answer. It will come gently. After all, our Father is the maker of our very tender souls.
Today, I took my time, walked outside to breathe in the coming season, check on the mysterious morning glory and just because.
I stayed home.
Remembering lunch with my daughter and son on Saturday, rounding out my birthday celebrations, I recalled the sweetness of togetherness and the ways they’re so very different and deciding that’s quite okay.
My hopes for them, always been the same, are the very evidence of that very thing, hope.
“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” Psalm 139:14 ESV
I thought, I think… this is good, no surprise, exciting, you get a break to paint or to do whatever.
But, that’s okay. Last days are good, are meant to be noticed and honored.
Honored with the grace of two breezy morning walks, odd finds, two morning glory flowers, yellow leaves and some important to remember instructions about songs.
Today had me thinking of last days, last things.
Odd, some may say, but I miss the meetings when I offered up my space and the mothers, fathers, friends and others who introduced themselves with the story of the loved one who chose suicide.
I don’t miss the stories, I miss the significance of their sharing. I miss being invited to join them. I miss showing up.
I don’t miss the trying to turn left from Aiken Middle School’s exit to take my son home, but I miss my on the cusp of manhood son and his four or five tightly knit rascally buddies with baseball on their minds and ambition on their fearless shoulders.
I don’t miss walking into my daughter’s room and discovering the clothes explosion covering the floor hasn’t given me a path that’s clear, but I miss her just down the hall, I miss climbing into her tiny bed to talk.
I don’t miss the DFCS court days and the half-hearted or no show biological parents intent on being defended just for the happenstance chance of maybe the judge will give us a fourth chance. But, I surely miss the children, the ones I advocated for and often buckled into my car if “on call”.
I don’t miss the home visits that scared me s**tless, but I treasure the eyes that met mine and saw concern, an unspoken love and hope that life could be better.
I don’t miss board of directors meetings or foreboding financials, but I do miss the allegiance and commitment together to mental health.
I still get the “seriously?” looks when I retell the reason I retired, a child welfare and nonprofit leader, at 58 years old.
I made a promise to my daughter. My mama did the same. I’ll share the responsibilities with my “tag team” other grandmother (“Gamma”) and I will help care for my daughter’s daughter.
By the way, do you know the importance of the first three years of a child as far as strong love and bonding?
It’s important. They’re important.
The one I call, “Morning Glory”, the one who told me today,
“Grandma, you and the baby can find morning glories and you can’t sing “Rise and Shine”, that’s Gamma’s song.
Yours is “Jesus loves Me”!’”
The grandbaby I retired early for begins pre-school on Thursday.
Today was my last 5:15 a.m. alarm to arrive and send off to work my Literacy Coach daughter.
It was special.
Today and Monday.
Who knew, Elizabeth, God or had they talked already?
She added wings to an angel drawn with a stick in the sand. We decided dragonflies and butterflies are cousins. She told me my hair is long, long like her mama. She asked me to braid her hair and she told me she had a “happy” dream, a slide went into heaven and there were children there and it was beautiful.
She told me “Jesus, is up, up, up and way, way up there.”
And when I asked, she was smart enough to know my crazy hoping for the reply so spectacular,
“Have you seen Jesus?”
“Well, no,” she answered. “He isn’t down here, he’s up there…the rocks haven’t been moved again.”
Yeah, I had no words.
I listened. Again, listened.
I pushed her in the swing too small, sized for the baby because she wanted to be little.
Then, we got all gussied up and had salad for lunch and frozen strawberry slushy ice cream.
Oh, and we got shoes, red ones for school.
No matter the mood, red shoes can change it, right?
Today was my last “grandma day”, not for long, just a break or as needed.
I told Elizabeth I wanted it to be special.
This last day of 5:30 rising and driving out to the country, the place I named “pretty”.
Walking with a tiny baby close to my chest to racing with a toddler in a princess dress, seeing who can find a feather, a rock, a weed that’s a flower and pausing in the shadow of “That’s your favorite tree, right, Grandma”?
She said, “Memories, Grandma.”
Yes. I said “Yes.”
Morning glories I’ll never let go.
“Never go backward, only forward.” Grandma Bette aka my mama
Elizabeth Lettie goes to preschool, excited and
I will be.
So will I.
In a book there are flowers, a feather, a seed pod we call gumdrop and a plan to print photos, put them in a book called “Morning Glories”
Stories, songs, smiles, schedules and little things that are still secrets between E., God and I.
These are days the Lord made. We have rejoiced and we have been glad in them.
This baby has changed me forever. They say it’s that way. No need to wonder. I’ll hold fast to what I believe.
Prayers are said, “Jesus Loves Me is my favorite”, she tells me when we talk about her songs.
It’s been the favorite for as long as her just over three years old.
There’s the song about the sun comin’ and the one that’s my favorite, three little birds outside my window happily reminding me every little thing’s gonna be alright.
But, “Jesus Loves Me” remains the three years running favorite.
We turned from dirt to pavement, up the hill on the way to town after noticing bright happy yellow faces of new sunflowers. I told her we’d walk tomorrow to see them up close and she gazed out the window decorated with stickers to tell me the trees were so green, maybe they’re full of blueberries.
We slowly move from country to town and she announces,
“I saw a raccoon yesterday…a big one.
It was in the road. Someone ran over it, keep looking Grandma, we might see it.”
I looked and remembered and told her that I’d seen a raccoon yesterday too.
The car became silent, my mirror told me she was thinking, dreaming, maybe somehow seeing God in a way I can’t through her window and up past the fat clouds.
So, I added “I hope the raccoon is in heaven.”
She answered. “He is. I’m sure.”
Her assurance was more than cute toddler sing-song words. I felt a presence, God’s as I kept driving.
I thought, oh to believe with such untested abandon, such unfiltered commitment, such direct and unquestioning conclusion.
Heaven. Of heaven to be sure.
A “roadkill raccoon”, according to my granddaughter is surely in heaven.
I smile over the image, I meet Jesus one day and popping around the corner, a raccoon or several. If there are thoughts in heaven, I think, “just like she told me.”
Since becoming a grandmother, I’ve seen through the eyes of a baby, now toddler just what to be sure of and what really does not matter at all.
I could tell all the stories I know of Jesus and they’d pale horribly in comparison to what her sweet soul knows about God’s care and love for us all, creatures and sinners and questioners who teeter on believing without evidence.
“I love you so much.” she offers unprompted.
Best love of all, unsolicited, not a reply to the same casual announcement, not a cordial gotta go, see you soon, love you
More an “I see you” and I think you need it, need to let you know, you seem to need it so.