Hope Actually

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.”  – Ecclesiastes 3:1 (New King James Version)

The theme for this year has got to be Go Virtual. It is how the world has continued to turn in the midst of a global pandemic. Telecommuting used to be hard to negotiate with most employers, and now, it is encouraged. Face-to-face was the preferred method for meetings of the mind. Today it is through your online platform of choice or by video chat on a cell phone. School is my kids’ bedrooms, and their jammies are their uniforms.

Groceries are delivered direct to my trunk and packages arrive on my doorstep without a need to sign or interact. Touch free hand sanitizer stations, soap dispensers, faucets, and light switches.

We were created for connection, and life virtually leaves many of us feeling sad, empty, lonely, and hopeless.

I miss hugs. I miss seeing my family and friends. I miss watching my son hit a three-pointer. I miss having to apologize because I absent-mindedly wasn’t looking where I was going and I wandered in front of someone in a store. I miss meetings…I really do.

There is so much lost in the virtual when we were created to live in the actual.

Yet, there is so much gained when we realize that there is purpose in every season.

Ecclesiastes 3 lists over a dozen seasons in life. We shouldn’t be surprised that God even outlined the one we are in now in verse 5; there is “a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.”

I identify with King Solomon when I read Ecclesiastes. I can imagine him ranting as he verbally processes his way through the vanity of life apart from God. He figured it out. There is a season and a reason for every purpose under heaven.

Though life may continue to run virtually, let us turn our attention to the meaning of this season.

Christmas is a season of hope, light, love, and wonder. Let’s adjust our attitudes and fix our focus on the One who came into the world to save us. And isn’t that what the world needs now, a Savior.  

Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and to earth peace, goodwill toward men.”  – Luke 2:10-14 (NKJV)

We may have to hug virtually, but we can hope actually.

Confident Expectation

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13

My phone buzzed in my pocket like a toddler tugging at my pant leg for attention. A text message. I was in the middle of folding towels and encouraging my son to finish up his video game time, so I let it go.

“Mom, five more minutes. Please,” he pleaded.

And simultaneously, the reminder notification that a text message was waiting startled me. Buzzzzzzz.

“Ok, but then you need to wrap it up and brush your teeth for bed,” I called out.

The five-minute trick gets me every time, and I needed the five minutes to get the towels put away, so I was okay with it. I hurried up the stairs to the linen closet.

Buzzzzzz.

“Need some prayer…” she said.

I stopped the scurry and poured over the pool of words.

“Nathan wants to switch schools,” she said. “He and his dad are on a trip and he says he likes it there and wants to stay. I’m here and I don’t want to be away from him, but maybe this is just the fresh start he needs after all the girlfriend drama from last year. We’ve talked about moving there. I don’t know what to do.”

I felt it. Like a tug-of-war. Two sides. Pulling. Two perspectives. Wrestling.

“Trying to find God’s hand in this is challenging,” she said.

I feel that. We all do.

We are living in uncertain times. We are facing unprecedented circumstances.

There’s a global pandemic virus, civil unrest, and outbursts of violence. We cannot move about, shop for essentials, complete everyday transactions, get medical attention, spend time with others, or send our kids to school in the manner we are used to. We are out of sorts. Emotions and routines are out of whack. The struggle is real.

And, we can hope. Not because we always know the right decision to make or because our cultural norms are intact. We can hope, or have confident expectation, during our struggles because God’s love for us is sure.

We can confidently expect Him to carry us, comfort us, and care for us in every circumstance. He is love.

He is our Rock. He is our Guide. He is our Peace.

May we reflect this hope to others when they need it most.

 “I will of course pray. Do you need to talk?” I texted back.

“If you have time,” she replied.

“Son,” I shouted from the top of the stairs, “I need five more minutes. I’ve gotta make a call.”

Dear Lord, thank you that you are a God of hope. Even though we face challenges and uncertainty, we can rely on You. Your love is sure. Please fill us with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. And help us share that hope with others when they need to be reminded. 

I Can

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13

I rolled the extra basketball across the court to rest in the grass while Sam warmed up. A light breeze cut through the noon heat and it was game on. Time for my ninth grader to get in shape for high school ball. His focus was on his shot. Mine, his mindset.

“You’ve got this,” I called from my rebound position under the basket.

He missed.

“The rim is too big,” he shouted, then dropped and shook his head.

“Do it again,” I encouraged, “remember, you’re comin’ back from three months off.”

Shot. Miss.

“Ugh! My shot is off,” he said.

Shot. Miss. Make. Miss. Miss.

“I’m trash,” he yelled.

“Son, it’s important to start with a confident, positive mindset,” I reminded.

He scoffed at my coaching.

“It’s about skill, mom. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I got my steps in running back and forth after the ball. He got his words in beating himself up for his lack of perfection.

I cranked the pump-up music and passed him the ball again. As he set up his shot, a little blond boy with a huge grin toddled toward our end of the court. He was drawn in by the magic of the moment. A ball bouncing.

Sam paused. Loud sigh.

“Do you wanna play?” I asked the boy.

I sprinted to the grass to retrieve the second ball and made a gentle pass to him.

His eyes lit up and he danced with every bounce. He lost himself in the beauty. Mindset.

Then like slamming on the brakes and screeching to avoid an accident, the sound of the little boy’s father broke through the sweetness.

“Get over here,” he growled with exaggerated finger pointing to where he stood.

“You’re not strong enough for that sport.”

Is this how it starts? Someone speaks “you can’t” into our lives and we believe it.

 The boy dropped the ball and trudged away.

Sam was my little boy. I had a job to do.

“Let’s go, you can do this!” I shouted.

“Once a shooter, always a shooter,” Sam said. Swish.

“That’s right!” I chimed. “Good one!”

Sam seemed to breakthrough. He kept pushing. He kept shooting. He kept going.

“Again!” I cheered.

Make.

“This is my shot,” he said as he sent another from the wing.

Make.

“I wanna sink three from the line,” he said, and he set up to shoot free-throws.

He was on a roll. As he set his words on “I can”, he found the flow.

Hope flows this way too. It flows from the idea that I CAN – with Christ. When I set my mind on what God says and on who He is and on how He works – I CAN.

Good Shepherd

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” – Psalm 23:4

“I’m never gonna ride a motorcycle,” my son, Sam, declared.

“I’m glad,” I replied softly, mustering a smile.

“Please Lord, let it be true,” I said in silent prayer as I hugged Sam across the Emergency Room bed.

“You’re going to be okay, baby,” I reassured, wiping tears from his cheek, “God was watching out for you.”

He nodded.

 Sam had texted me a few hours before asking if he could stay another day at his best friend, Logan’s house. It wasn’t unusual for Sam to spend more than one day with his second family. He loved the rough and tumble of the crew, Logan, his brothers and sister, and usually several cousins. They had been a source of kindness, comfort, and adventure to Sam since we moved to Colorado eight years ago when I was a single mom.

Summer camp. Winter camp. Awanas Club. Flag football. Before school. After school.

Forever friends.

I agreed and carried on with errands.

When the call came from Logan’s mom, I didn’t answer right away. I was wrapping up another call and I assumed it was simply to confirm that she was okay with Sam staying over another night.

She called again.

And again.

“Sam crashed and I think he needs stitches,” she said, frantic, “I’m so sorry this happened.”

A reality-TV cop show crash scene flashed in my mind. Why hadn’t I done something to stop Sam from riding motorbikes?!

Mom guilt heavy.

“I was just headed up that way to get an emissions test near Castle Rock Adventist, so I will meet you there,” I replied.

“Don’t worry, it will be okay,” I said.

Would it be?

Hot tears. I prayed and pressed down hard on the gas pedal.

When I dropped him off the day before, he and the gang jumped on mini Razor motorbikes. I insisted on a helmet. And Sam insisted I let him grow up a little and have fun with his friends.

This ride, he forgot the helmet.

“I had my ball cap on, mom, so I felt something on my head, and I wasn’t thinking. I thought I had the helmet,” he explained.

Isn’t that how it is for us too? We think we’ve got it all together. We walk out into the adventure of the day and, at times, we aren’t prepared.

And God, our Good Shepherd, protects us, guides us, nudges us.  

I can’t say I expected to find hope in this situation. It was scary. It was unexpected. It was out of my control.  

And I realize, God showed up.   

“All he wanted was his mom,” she told me.

And all we needed was our Heavenly Father. Our Shepherd. The One who is always with us.

Eight stitches in his knee and no broken bones. Lessons learned. Thank you, Lord.

Hold On

“Let us seize and hold tightly the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is reliable and trustworthy and faithful [to His word].” – Hebrews 10:23 AMP

I had to get out the door before the heat. Rolled my COVID-19-pounds-heavier body from the sheets and I dressed myself for fitness. It’s what we do when we are feeling fat, but don’t want to look like it walking the streets of our neighborhoods. Periwinkle wavy lines accented my “yoga” pants and I topped it with a solid matching pull over, that covered my butt of course. No one wants to see that right now.

Phone in one thigh pocket, water bottle in the other, I strategized my escape. I had to make it past school-for-three at the dining room table and my husband-saint teacher who manages the lazy learners.

The coast looked clear from the top floor landing. If I could make it to the garage door without a “Are you working today?” or a “Where are you going?” it would be heavenly, like the decadent, red velvet cupcake I’m gonna eat when I get back from getting my steps in.

“Morning, Honey,” I said as I skipped down the steps and grabbed my sunglasses from the counter.

“I’m gonna get a walk in before it gets too hot,” I chimed.

“Ok, have a nice walk,” he said.

Phew. Made it. A moment to myself.

Podcast. Peace. Perspective.

I don’t know about you, but when I am on a walk, I breathe it all in and I can let it all go. I usually put on a sermon or some worship music to sweep away my thoughts. I lean into the message and let down my guard.

Uncertainty. Uncontrollable. Unlovely.

Our world, our society, our homes have been ravaged. And I am not talking about the culprit on the surface – Corona Virus. The enemy is prowling around in the midst of the topsy turvy using tools like fear, division, abuse, despair, and anger to drive us away from our source of hope and peace. And to drive wedges in between our relationships.

The writer of Hebrews tells us to “seize” and “hold tightly” to our confession of hope. As I remind myself of the principle of letting go of what is out of my control and learning to hold onto and act on what is in my control, I thought I would invite you to do the same.

Today, the details and circumstances of our lives and our culture have been impacted by a wave of uncertainty. This is outside my control. What can I control? My response.

I have a faithful, reliable Heavenly Father who knows what I am experiencing and who is trustworthy. When I am swallowed up by the fury of blended family or lost in the loneliness of quarantine, He is with me and He promises to care for me.

Let us cling to the One source of hope that is trustworthy.

If you forget, throw on your jazzy jogging suit and a worship playlist. God walks with us.

Okay to Be Still

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! The LORD of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.” – Psalm 46:10-11

I pulled into the post office parking space and pushed the engine button to off. I was frozen, staring as patrons scurried past and into the building. Sky gray. Mood gray.

I pulled the red and white flowered cotton mask over my face and marched my excuse-to-leave-the-house package to the self-service postage station. I bubbled wrapped a puzzle for a friend. It was the least I could do to keep from wallowing in stuck-at-home misery.

What I really wanted to slap a postage stamp on was my smile or a great big hug…in person. I’d even do a singing telegram at this point if only someone would take me up on it. Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

While I understand that staying at home is necessary, I am not experienced at being still. And there is a measure of stillness that has been served up lately. No matter how many family game nights, bake offs, or video exercise challenges I participate in, there is more quiet, alone time than I bargained for.

It’s uncomfortable! Not having control of what happens is uncomfortable, and I am afraid. You too?

When I was a child and my parents divorced, I kept my head above water by staying active, involved, and never at home. I tap danced, ice skated, played soccer, cheered, and starred on a traveling jump rope team. I threw myself into every activity I could possibly find to rise above the fear and outrun the pain.

The Corona Virus doesn’t give me a way out of stillness. I can’t run from the uncertainty or the illness by joining a club or meeting up with friends for happy hour. National, state, and county requirements say I am safer at home…with my family and my thoughts.  

It’s okay that we aren’t doing cartwheels. It’s okay that we don’t know how to work, learn, and dwell…at home…together…all hours of the day. It’s okay that we can’t seem to get it together.  

And it’s okay that we are battling with a gamut of emotions, some of which are not pleasant. I am angry. I feel lost. Not enough. Alone.

I sat in my car this week bolstering the courage to emerge and mail a package. What! For a moment or two…weeks, I forgot who was in control. I forgot that God is on the throne. I lost sight of Him in the midst of me.

 “Hi, it’s Robbie and um guess what I finished last night? My last jigsaw puzzle. Do I order one? Is anybody open? I don’t’ check mail very often, but I checked our mail today. This is a joy, a prayer answered,” she said.

Her gratitude for the puzzle package reminded me of His sovereign purpose at work. His word says that we can hide in Him and that He will be glorified. He is God!

Am I the only one who loses sight of this at times? At this time?

What can we learn from stillness?

I am learning that God has rich, beautiful time with my family that the rat-race pace of my typical professional world does not allow.

I am learning that God speaks to me when I am still. He comforts my fears and injects purpose into my daily routine.

I am learning that He can use me in the smallest of ways to remind others of the same.

It’s okay to be still.

Heavenly Hope and Practice

“But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again…Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  – Philippians 4:10-13

“I’m grateful for the beautiful mountains, fresh air, and healthy children,” I texted.

“You’re it,” I said, submitting to a virtual game of gratitude tag my co-ed daughter challenged me to yesterday.

We had finished a socially distant walk with her border collie, Buddy, and she indulged my weekly COVID vent session when her piercing crystal eyes cut to my soul. Or maybe it was her words.

“You need to be grateful, mom,” she implored.

“I am, baby girl,” I pleaded, searching her gaze for understanding before I continued.

“And…I am on six or seven hours of meetings every day, balancing home school, which takes five minutes instead of five hours, and then I try to keep the boys from melting their brains on video games all day.”

I was out of breath, not hot air.

Her eyes were still intent, expression soft.

“You’re gonna get through it,” she said, cocking her head to the side for emphasis like an exclamation point.

“I want you to be happy,” she continued.

Burning. Welling. Rushing physical pain invaded my chest.

Conviction.

I want to be happy…even when middle school moves into my dining room.

I want to practice gratefulness…even when my desk is my lap and my office is an unmade bed.

I want to hope in God alone…even when my circumstances do not match my desires.

She called it.

“I’m thankful for my family, my animals, and Netflix haha,” she texted.

Amanda and Buddy

Hope takes practice. Gratitude takes practice. Contentment takes practice.

Thank you, Lord for the reminder that with You, I can do it. And thank you for the opportunity to practice.

I am grateful for a daughter whose perspective encourages me back to You.

Uninhibited

“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” – 1 Corinthians 13:13

I yanked at the Lycra furiously as if it was the doorknob on my great aunt Jean’s basement. The excitement to get into yoga pants so soon again this week doesn’t quite compare to the thrill of the plastic kitchen toys my cousins and I found when the warped door opened and we thundered like wildebeests down to make believe.

And yet, there was a sense of wonder in it. Getting to work from home in my stretchy pants. I still shower every day for heaven’s sake. Do not worry. I haven’t lost all sense of self in this peculiar time we’re living in.

What I have lost is my inhibitions. That may sound funny given most of us are banished to our homes and restricted from our habits due to a nasty virus.

We are not free to frolic or to fraternize with friends.

We are kept from colleagues and covered in cloth masks.

We are harnessed by home school and hunkered down to protect our health. 

We are wearing Lycra for crying out loud!

How can I possibly feel a sense of freedom?

Walk with me.

The sun is out. Air crisp. Pace brisk. I broke away from the conference calls to burn off lunch and the weight of my worry on the Greenway Trail. I wasn’t alone. Six feet ahead or behind, others walked. Dads with daughters. Brothers. Couples. Families. And lots of dogs.

“Oh hello,” a friendly face greeted.

“Spread the love,” another called out.

A sidewalk chalk surprise met me at every curve.

“#selfcare.”

“We can do this.”

Colorful hope like a rainbow painted across the sky after a storm. A reminder – we are not alone.

We are unencumbered by the conventions of our rituals. We are creative. We are resilient. We are able.

I never knew this path existed before Corona. I never took walks on my lunch break before Corona. I almost never wore Lycra before Corona. 

In new ways of doing life, I find that faith, hope, and love remain uninhibited.

Mighty Rock

“Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him. Truly He is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge.” – Psalm 62:5-8

It’s takes me twelve-minutes to reach the base of the Rock in our town, a castle tower shaped butte and namesake, Castle Rock. Cotton clouds and distant snow caps frame it from the top, and I tackle the gradual, winding hike often to enjoy peaceful prayer time and God’s handiwork.

Castle Rock is known for its western charm, community spirit, and beautiful open spaces. I moved here 4 years ago when I got married, and I love it.

I’ve learned my way around the local Barn, a quaint collection of boutique shops, and I can savor a fried chicken comfort meal at the Corner Café. The people are active and friendly, everyone has a dog (heart emoji), and I work five minutes from home. It’s perfect. Shhh, don’t tell or other Californians like me will move here.

I call this watering hole my home, and yet, I’ve avoided one prominent feature that draws visitors from near and far – the Incline. Insert ominous organ music.

Two hundred grueling steps to the top of a giant hill.  

Until the latest stay-at-home orders and cooped-up craziness of COVID 19, I hadn’t even considered it. Conquering that hill was like asking five-year-old me to eat canned peas. Not interested. Won’t do it.

What I didn’t expect this week was the wall I would hit. Like a brick. Agony. Defeat.

Like many others, I have resigned to life at home with kiddos and school and work. I am considered essential personnel, and I end most days not feeling I contributed anything essential to anyone, including myself.

I am exhausted. I am emotional. I am exasperated.

The irony of it hit me too. I live in a town that quite literally means fortress or pillar of strength. God is so good. He placed me right in the middle of a town that points me to his nature – my Rock, my fortress.

It is God who is the pillar, the tower of strength that we need in our fear and fatigue.

It is God in whom we find hope and confidence when our energy and our pocketbooks are spent.

It is God who is mighty, in control, and able, in uncertain times, to be our refuge – the sanctuary we need.

In this reminder, I found a measure of my own strength to push past the pain and carry on.

I stood at the base of the Incline like David facing Goliath. I felt puny in the shadow of the giant. Deep breath. I gathered myself mentally, spiritually, and physically like three small stones. I bent down to tighten the laces of my tennies, grabbing a stone from my pouch, and I whispered His word over my circumstance, a flick of the wrist.

“With man this is impossible, but with You God, all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

I taught middle school. I shared important virtual moments with friends. I baked apple pie bread. I held meetings. I climbed two hundred steps – twice.

With Him, I broke through a wall, and I slayed a giant.

You can too.

Almighty God, You are our hiding place. We can count on You when we don’t have all the answers. You are our salvation, our rescue, and our redemption. Thank you that we can pour out our hearts to You and that we can confidently hope in You, our Castle Rock. – Amen

Hope in the Waiting

“Therefore, the LORD will wait that He may be gracious to you; And therefore, He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. For the LORD is a God of justice; Blessed are those who wait for Him.” – Isaiah 30:18

A persistent, dull headache and rapid, racecar heartbeat have been my companions the past three weeks. They join me for family meals and Monopoly. They jump on every conference call. They follow me to the bathroom, rude.

Though the Corona Virus has us quarantined with our loved ones, I seem to have a few unwelcome stowaways who won’t abide by the rules of social distancing. Anxiety. Grief. Confusion.

All I want to do is eat, drink, sleep and repeat. You too?

When the world around us is melting, like Velveeta, into something we don’t recognize, how can we remain hopeful and focused on what is true? How can we wait on the LORD?

There are a few key practices I believe will help us stay grounded in hope during this unique challenge.

Prayer. Talk to God through the headache and in the heartache. He already knows. And He is waiting to be gracious to you.

Scripture. Go to God’s Word for the comfort, guidance, and support you need. He is waiting to be merciful to you, to light your path.

Service. Help others in need. While we wait for the green light to go back to work, to eat out together at our favorite restaurant, or to throw the graduation party, God is on the throne. He is just and He is sovereign. If we can place our eyes on Him and look for ways to lift up the hearts and countenance of those around us, He will bless us.

Find hope in the waiting. God’s ways are higher than ours, His plan is better than ours. He is gracious. He is merciful. He is just.