Pilgrim’s Trip Through Green Gables

Our Glory-girl is a few weeks shy of ten. Raised by Gospel-loving lifelong book devotees, her deep immersion into the world of narrative and literary apologetics was inevitable and, thankfully, easy. She began listening to Anne of Green Gables at night when she was seven, and has now heard the series more times than any of us can count. She, her awareness of self and the world around her, has been shaped in wonderful ways by those late nights with the redhead from Prince Edward Island. Through Anne, Glory felt encouraged to love the world around her, to delight in words and special names for the places we hold dear. She has understood resilience of spirit, and championing those around her because she spent so much time with the feisty, romantic orphan. She also was shaped in a way we didn’t foresee as problematic until this past year—and what it took to rescue her worldview and heart was another beloved tale.

Glory began looking for her own bosom best friend as soon as she met Diana on the Barry’s front porch. She would come to me, cheeks glowing with excitement after getting to sit near a girl at church or playing with a new girl at the park, and declare that she’d made a good friend. She’d talk about the girl, explaining how lovely she was and how she thought she could tell that the girl wanted to be bosom friends. I believed this was a dear, soft introduction to friendships for Glory, and encouraged her to think of thoughtful questions to get to know the girls better, and be grateful to God that she seemed to connect with other people easily. Slowly Glory did make two good friends over the course of two years; she had playdates with them, attended their birthday parties, and would send silly videos to them sharing crafts she’d made at home, loving the ones she’d get back of baby robins being born on her friend’s farm, or tours of the other girls’ rooms and yards. Glory was content and grateful to have met her bosom friends, and wanted to become pen pals and continue the friendship until they were all old and married and gray, like Mrs. Rachel Lynde and Marilla.

Then, sadly, something changed. One of Glory’s friends seemed to drift away: she stopped responding to messages, stopped responding to letters. Glory faithfully sent her letter after letter one summer, but the friend never answered. Heartbroken, Glory came to me one night on the couch and wept. What had happened? Did something change? What could she do? She had no frame of reference for a bosom friend’s departure, and so Glory no longer understood her story.

I did my best to comfort her; I told her how we should always hold out hope that her friend would want to communicate again, but that maybe it was best to give her to God in prayer. I told her to try and be thankful for the friendship she’d had, and to trust God that He loves her and has her good in mind, as well. Mostly I just held Glory’s hand, and told her I was sorry her heart hurt.

That summer, we were reading the new edition of Pilgrim’s Progress by Helen Taylor to the kids at night. We were all delighted by the illustrations, and enraptured with the story, once again, of the journey a soul makes on it’s way Home to the Father. After a particularly emotional night of reading, when Faithful departs the tale, Glory came to me on her way to bed and said, “Mom, I think I understand it better now. What happened. I feel like Pilgrim, when he wants to keep walking with his friend, but God wants him to walk on his own for a while. It’s still sad, but I get it better now, what God is doing.” She hugged me good night, shaky-breathing, but remarkably more peaceful at heart.

Have you ever had your kids teach you something so profound in a moment, you sit stunned and silent by the miracle? Glory was right: she understood how to hold those two wonderful books, full of Godly messages, in tension and come through with a stronger faith. I was in awe, awe that I’d never seen it before, awe that God had used great literature to teach my daughter her place in the Grand Narrative. Anne taught Glory the value of friendship; Pilgrim taught her the necessity of holding it loosely, with gratitude. Her own experience showed her how to hold onto faith in the Great Author in the midst of it all.

Sowing Season

Last week I made my sowing schedule. 150 seeds, some indoor, some outdoor. The dates are staggered, some dependent on soil temperature, or rainfall. I have the indoor peat pots on the way, and 8 lbs of organic dirt is nestled next to my backdoor, much to my husband’s befuddlement (why are we paying for dirt, again? Because the online voices tell me to, honey, it’s fine).  I even brought in a hangdog open-air shelving unit from outside and positioned it next to our biggest, sunniest window. All of this is in hopeful anticipation of March 21st, and the beginning of sowing season. All of this is in direct defiance of the Great Disappointment of last year.

We had two weeks of over-one hundred degree weather last summer, which was anomalous, record-breaking, and life-destroying. I planted a huge amount of seeds in the ground last spring: six or seven varieties of pumpkins, tomatoes, moss and miniature clover galore (we’re replacing the grass that is so high-maintenance it causes an actual sin response in me when I have to water it), five varieties of sunflowers, and multiple blueberry bushes. Not. One. Thing. Lived. Every single seed and bush I planted remained in the ground, stillborn. To say it was heartbreaking is not an over statement; I had carefully selected every seed. I did the hard work of digging and watering. I talked to the little seeds as they went in; I used the time of weeding to teach our kids about sin and it’s roots, how those roots choke out our lives if we aren’t careful, serious, faithful. I thought it would be a bumper crop of a year; after all, the year before we had so many volunteer plants we had to give pumpkins and berries away…

But then July came, and no sprouts. The land remained dusty brown, and hot. I watered—I went out our back door at five am most mornings and cranked over the drippy, cold tap handle, unravelling the epically long stretch of garden hose, dragging it, slithering, across our half acre backyard. I watered the trees, the bushes, the fallow garden soil. Then that heat came—and by early August I had to accept that the year was a bust. Though I prayed, no miracle occurred. I had to actually look away when friends would send pictures of their zucchinis or flowers blooming away… my own land was infertile, and my heart hurt with the disappointment. I thought my decisions over carefully; I certainly could have been more diligent about weeding (why do those blasted things grow when big, gorgeous sunflowers will not?), I could have chosen a different method of watering, or schedule for it. I could have started more indoors, or purchased starter plants instead of seeds… But for all of that, I finally realized one thing, the only thing: my plants didn’t grow because the Lord didn’t will it.

There is no coincidence to the fact that I make my sowing schedule at the same time that I begin planning for next year’s homeschooling. We have five children, all still in elementary, and the selection of a planner alone has taken on the epic feel of an actual Holy Quest. I pour over reviews, overthink, pray, and research, research, research. Then the deep dive into curriculum begins—and oh! The varieties! The options! The opinions! I make a list for each child, and write out what they individually need, praying over them and trying to discern God’s will for them in the upcoming year. As the Good Word says, I prepare my horses for battle. I learn the state of my flocks. But I can get confused, too, over what my real job is—I can pick out curriculum, I can faithfully, neatly write out our schedule and pray over our year… but God alone will make His Truth take root. God alone will change their hearts, help our children learn to love the revelation of His Son in the created world. God alone will show them His divine spark in magnificent stories, characters who are kindred and brave and True. I can work the land and sow the seeds, but the miracle of growth belongs to the Lord alone.

So last year’s devastation, my powerless failure, served an important lesson to my heart and perspective as Spring begins anew in our home. I am not almighty—I am a joyful gardener. A tender. A sower. I don’t provide the sunshine, but I can help to prune the dark things that may obscure it. I can’t make the seedling take, but I can help to identify the weeds and attack them with vigor. And most of all, I can accept my own limitations in the face of overwhelming heat, yet choose, after discouragement, to step out in faith again, prayerfully sowing the seed and planning the year. Good growth can still happen, despite perceived failure: because we had a year of loss, I believe our next harvest will be the sweeter because it’s miraculous origins will be the clearer.

Lost & Found

I remember watching an episode of Lost years ago, where one character was detoxing from I think heroin, maybe? Another character took Charlie, heroin guy, on a long trek, and during the course of it Charlie got hurt and needed to have some sort of procedure done. The guy who was his guide knew it would hurt—that whatever was about to happen was going to be excruciating. So he did the act, and immediately fell on top of Charlie, holding him down with all his strength. There was something in me that sparked in that moment—that responded to the utter Great simplicity of extreme action needed, diagnosed, and taken. I remember feeling a clear distance between my life before that moment, and my life after: that’s what I want, I thought, staring at the screen. To matter. To do something dangerous but absolutely necessary, and just give all of me to it.

Fast forward 15 years, and I’m a homeschooling Mom of five children. I did not join the Peace Corps, which I seriously thought about for a while. I did not become a careered professional teacher, which is what I did before my children began arriving. I live in a 1,200 square foot hundred year old house in Spokane Valley, Washington and I serve at my local church. From a distance, it may look like I never found that dare-to-be-great moment I yearned for with Charlie all those years ago. My world may look mundane, sort of exhausting, definitely a “good for you but that is NOT for me” category-fitter.

But.

Over the course of these fifteen years, I have learned something: that true grit and purpose and abandon manifest most acutely not in exterior acts, but interior ones. In moments of “Not my will but Thine.” Times when you face a door and know deep, deep sorrow you will never unsee, never unexperience, is on the other side and God gives you the strength to walk through it, anyway. Moments of giving up what you think you’ve always wanted so that someone else can shine. Quiet crucifixions no one else will ever see or know, but the One who calls you to them. Faithful, steady service in the dark. That’s what grows one’s soul—not public accolades, or recognition. Not big-scale success, or social validation. Quiet moments of “yes, Lord,” and putting one foot in front of the other as we stagger on down the road. Realizing the truth of “I must decrease, so He may increase.”

This is an upside-down Kingdom truth: you have to lose your life to gain it. I thought forever ago that Great Destiny had to happen in a jungle somewhere, or on a public platform with a huge spotlight. But now I know the Greatest is the Least—the small acts of daily sacrifice for my children who don’t notice, the treasure hunting for true joy and cultivation of gratitude for all that He gives, because we deserve nothing but the cross—this is soul food. This enlarges me, us. As I struggle to stay sober and daily feel the frustration of not being able to defeat my own sin without constant help from Him, I am reminded that there is Glory in this battle: that my faith is being strengthened as I learn to cling more and more tightly to the One who will never let me go.

This is my dare to be great moment: this life. Because with an eternal perspective, these e’er-long days will seem a blink, a breath, a vapor, a mist. This is my moment, to dare all by throwing it all at His feet: all my ambitions and desires, all my hopes and abilities. He can have them all, because He is my All in All. I can dare to lose by losing myself in faithful service in the dark, because He has called me to come and die, so that I might live.

I still love watching reruns of Lost. Those fantasies are a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to spend eternity there.

An Old Story

Let me tell you a story.

I don’t know where we’re going, but when we get there, I bet we’ll know.

I read an article once that repositioned, redefined loneliness as homesickness. That sense you get when something absolutely wonderful, or ridiculous, or heart breaking happens, and you yearn to tell someone… but no one comes to mind. Like Andrew Peterson asks, “Don’t you want to thank somebody?” That feeling for me begs the question, “Who can I share this with? Who can I bring this joy to, this sorrow, this laugh, this sweet revelation… who can I text or call or touch and tell, how can I magnify or halve this moment?” My hands are overflowing, and I’m pivoting left and right, looking for a willing heart. It feels wrong to realize there is no one. The silence causes pain, a pause in my spirit that is silent, and aches. My eyes close, my head bows beneath the weight of realizing no one is there. I have to ponder this experience in my heart, to absorb the loneliness, breathe it deep down inward, then open my eyes, lift my head, and keep on going.

Then this revelation came, from one far-away writer: loneliness is the ache of homesickness. Loneliness is our awareness of our separation from the full presence of God. It’s always there—that imperfect reality, that veil, that dimness of mirror. But occasionally we feel it more acutely, we know it in a way we aren’t in tune to most of the time. To know, to be fully known: won’t that be Heaven? A land of Ture Marvels, where the far-off music is finally crystal clear in a wide-open sky? We will spin around in delight, our eyes incapable of taking it all in, our hearts overflowing—and we will be able to Thank Him, face to face. He will see our joy, and we will know ourselves as seen. We will be understood, and we will understand. We will finally achieve true self-forgetfulness, lost in the rapture and awe of Him. Delight and peace will reign in our hearts, the created come home to majestic, joyous thralldom.

But for today, this side of Eden, we are stumbling around in the vale of tears. The dim land, sin-wracked and thunderous-loud. Stars streak across this sky, enlightening our hearts, lighting the way home. Pilgrims. Nomads. Kingdom-bringers, light-bearers. The now-and-not-yet. Our existence is a liminal space, ever straining with the tension between Truth and deception, wars being fought over our hearts and souls. We long to turn our heads toward the false relief that comes with giving in, giving ground. But we cannot. When we slip, when we relax, our Brother comes. He comes in whispers, He comes in shouts. He comes through fellow pilgrims, in Word and deed. But He comes, calling. He knows His sheep, He knows his Kin. The charge to turn and follow, pick up that cross of yours, and get back on the road—that voice is ever-sweeter the longer the journey goes.

The road can be a lonely one. It can seem that that precious, pure light of our faraway country has dimmed at times. We have no eyes to see on these days- we can only put one foot staggeringly in front of the other, and limp along, trusting that the road will rise up to meet us in the dark.

And it does.

The road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began.

You may stray in mind, in focus. You may remember the sun on your face when you weren’t aware of how dark the road could become. You may remember the ease at night, falling asleep in your sins. Your contentment as your friends assured you that all was well—that if you felt, it was true. So feel good, feel fine, and it is so. You may remember these things, and feel the temptation to turn your head—toward your old home. Your old self. But then He comes- and He speaks to you of the Home to come. The warm hearth waiting for all weary Pilgrims. The fellowship, the rest you’ve never known. And you find the courage, strength, to do battle once more. You dismiss the false siren songs—you block your ears, and sing the Gospel to your heart once again.

And you remind yourself that this aching heart, the one that wants to share, to laugh in company, to trust completely—this heart is a gift. It is pointing you toward a need that has but one fulfillment—the Father’s house is waiting. The door is flung wide to you—and as in the old story, He is already running down the road toward you, to sweep you up in His arms, to take all the burdens off of your back and heart, to look you in the eyes, and to say, oh, well done, my good and faithful servant. Welcome home, my beloved child. Welcome home.

A Right Big Mess Was Made by All

Or, the Transformative Powers of Mud

My husband needed to observe a class somewhere in the middle of Northern Unknown, Washington, and so, desperate for a change of scenery, into our car the seven of us all piled merrily one Thursday morning. I packed five lunchboxes in preparation, picked out a couple of audiobooks, positioned the sun on the left side of the car, and off we went. The road, alas, was far windier than we anticipated, so we arrived at our destination slightly green around the gills—with one child in the far back succumbing to her sloshing tummy, but feeling immediately better afterwards. We dropped Max off at his school, and crept our way along the one main street, Main Street, in town. No stoplights, but plenty of charm-packed store fronts faced us, with aged signs and earnestly scrubbed windows displaying pride of offerings. It was January and only about 40 degrees out, and I was tempted stay in the heated car, find a quiet view and pass around the lunchboxes, but to be frank, the car and it’s occupants needed some airing out.

We found a sign declaring “Columbia River Camping, 2 miles.” Though it was far from the right season for camping, we were hopeful for a picnic bench and some birdsong as we crept along another windy road for two miles turned into one thousand thanks to the presence of heavy whining and claims of starvation and/or death by vomit smell inhalation. Finally, finally, pine trees began to appear around us—and then we turned the bend in the road to Glory on full display. If I were Anne Shirley, this bend would be titled something like, “The Gateway to Wonders” or “The Turn toward Eternal Beauty.” The vista that greeted us was miraculous, coming after such a smelly and arduous trek: The Columbia River abruptly appeared, vibrantly sparkling in the noon sunshine, with mountains just on it’s other side, rising in ombre blue to white peaks so pure our eyes hurt to see them. And, as is true in all good stories, we were transformed by the beholding of majesty. Suddenly I wasn’t a beleaguered and short-tempered Mother, frustrated by bad attitudes and too few car snacks. No, I was an Adventure Mom, a woman gifted by the interaction with True Beauty, Grand Possibilities beckoning her onward. “Guys!” I declared. “Do you SEE that?!? We’re getting out!” My children took a beat longer, but once they flopped out of the car and caught a whiff of freezing air fresh off of the river, they began sprinting as best they could through snow toward the water which clearly was meant for them to explore that day. They whooped, they giggled, they raced toward God’s gift to us. Their voices immediately began overlapping and growing in excitement: “Mom! Mom! I see all sorts of different rocks on the beach!” “Mom! Can you see these trees? They are HUGE! I can’t see the tops!” “Mom! Mom! Watch me climb this tree that fell! Do you think we can go swimming?”

The frantic cries of my eight year old alerted me to our Foul Disaster approximately fifteen minutes into our Columbia River exploration. Friend, do you know what happens to sand in the winter? We do now. Or at least, my boys and I have become familiar. Turns out, sand in the winter transforms into extremely muddy quicksand. As in, try to walk to the water’s edge on an only semi-freezing day in January, and you’ll find yourself up to your knees in pure, sucking mud in under thirty seconds. The only correct response at that point is to begin hollering at your Mom as though actual ROUSes are after you. Your Mother then, in a fit of we’ve-just-been-studying-chivalry-so-my-other-boy-should-actually-get-in-there- ness, sends in your younger brother to try and pull you out, which of course means that there are immediately TWO young boys hollering that the lightning sand from Princess Bride is eating them. At that point, your Mother, who has apparently fully lost her senses, tries to walk out into the mire, begins to sink herself, and runs away from you yelling, “You’re on your own!”

Ingenuity born of desperation is your real mother here, if you’re an eight year old boy abandoned at the edge of the Columbia River on the Day of Filth and Madness. So our Hawkins pulls his stocking feet free, yells directions to his younger brother to do the same, and heroically rescues all of the boots from the Sand of Devious Deception. I was so proud. And very worried that my own ill-chosen footwear was now toast.

To say they were muddy during the course of our red-cheeked lunch would be an understatement. They were mud, at this point. They were filthy, they were freezing, and they were exhilarated. They had peanut butter and jellies which probably never tasted so satisfying: they left the car as discontented boys and re-entered as valiant conquerors. Our girls applauded their heroics while simultaneously giving them and their proof-of-adventure smeared clothing a wide berth. While eating we found hiking trails and rhapsodized over the water lines on the ancient-looking pines around us as the sun’s reflection from the River semi-blinded us. We talked of Narnia, and we dreamed of spring, when we swore we’d all come back to this exact spot and witness the glory on display yet again. Hawkins began plotting fishing expeditions, lured on by the vastness of the river spread before him, now knowing he was prepared to engage with the challenges the River sets it’s champions.

When it was time to pack up and reclaim their Dad, we all took a moment to just look. To appreciate the water, the mountains beyond. To take pictures of the boot-sized holes by the water’s edge and take a last deep breath of the bracing air. We experienced lightheartedness and unlooked-for joy that afternoon. We remembered that winter isn’t forever, and that beauty reigns in all seasons.

Today I am challenged by this memory; I have been daily cursing the mud and dirt dragged into our home by my children as they try to find rays of sun and active pastimes in our backyard. I’ve resented what the dirt represents: carelessness on the part of my children. Work for me. But writing out this fantastic and hilarious and ridiculous memory has taken me back, and I hope transformed me a bit, again. That mud represents play. Fun. Adventure, High and Low. That dirt means that it’s not all snow outside: it looks like the promise of Spring beginning to come true. That mud means tulips, and more birdsong, and best of all, Easter. The sun rising earlier, and the Son Rising once again.

Though I will still attack and banish the mud and dirt on my floors with abandon, I will aim to take a moment and thank God, too. Thank Him for the opportunity to really appreciate a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich, for the overwhelming gift of natural beauty in our own backyard, and for children who have such an exuberant joy in experiencing it all.

On to the next adventure—hopefully in more appropriate footwear this time.

Hope this helps.  

The Widow & Motherhood

I chose this picture because my floors look clean in it. Don’t be fooled- -many, many things are perpetually lurking under those couches.

She had faith that made the incarnate God pause. She thought she was shambling toward worship in shameful anonymity; still she brought what she had forward, and she gave it all. Jesus doesn’t comment on her beauty; he doesn’t compliment her on her abilities; Jesus sees her generosity, her faith, and he stops his followers to praise her. He sees that forgotten widow. He sees her, stoop-backed and hungry. Not the object of man’s praise, not something overtly glorious and externally perfect. He sees her open her shaking hand and give everything she has, though that is nothing compared to what everyone else around her is able to give. And his praise is that she fully knows her poverty, and has given out of it. What most would cling tightly to, because they know how very scarce that resource is, she just brings it with her to her Father’s house and lets it go. And the living God incarnate sees her. He. Sees. Her.

So, this is what motherhood has become to me. I used to be a full-time employee, and a full-time student. I absolutely loved the praise of man: loved always being punctual, working hard and pleasing those in charge of me. When we had our first child, I entered into what my husband jokingly called “permanent retirement”. I went from teaching 75 college students a day to tending a tiny baby, alone, in a very hot house in southern Phoenix, sometimes not seeing another soul for 12 hours at a time. I entered what I now think of as “the cave of motherhood,” a space where, unless I told my husband, no one knew what on earth I was even doing for all those hours. The baby napped continually, and my extroverted, people-pleasing self began to atrophy, it seemed. I turned to the shallow comfort of social media for a sense of friendship, to be able to share all the little things our daughter was doing with ANYONE else. But that was junkfood, and my soul knew it. I became semi-depressed, self medicating with mindless television, beer or excessive volumes of chips in the afternoons, living for the hour my brand-new husband would come home so I could low-level resent him as he apologized, but needed to get right into his office and work. Finally, we knew I needed help, and I began seeing a Christian couple from our church for counseling. And it helped. It helped tremendously to be able to share my struggle, my embarrassment at having gotten exactly the life I’d prayed for and to feel it lacking, somehow. My desperation for friendship, for community. And ultimately: my anger at God for not giving me those good things I thought I deserved coupled with the ability to be content with them. That was where the poison really gleamed in the sun: my heart didn’t believe that this was a good life unless there were people around me to validate me like I’d been validated in school and work. I thought I needed other people’s approval instead of actually believing that God’s provision was enough, that His love was real, that His seeing me was all I needed.

The counseling helped. It trained me to turn to God with my felt needs, and to trust Him by preaching the Gospel to myself when I was hurting or angry or just incredibly lonely. In a given day all three things were true. But slowly, slowly, the Great Counselor ministered to me. He brought scripture to mind. He showed me how Jesus Christ was probably the most lonely person who ever lived, the most misunderstood, and definitely the most homesick. So, the person who I really needed those days was Jesus. He understood the pain of being isolated, the weariness of serving constantly. And by learning from His story, I began to see it: God isn’t calling me into a flashy external ministry. He isn’t displeased by a lack of praise of man for me. He is calling me to faithful service in the dark. He is calling me to trust him with every quiet cave moment, every huge failure, every loss of self-control and shame. He wants me to bring myself, fully, into relationship with him. Like the widow, he does not ask me to only give out of my strength, my abundance. He is calling me to give from my poverty.

Those years living at home with newborn after newborn, spending full weeks not seeing another person other than those babies and my husband, were hard ones. Desert years, in terms of friends and community. Most of what happened those days is treasured in only my own memory. But those are the years I look back on now, 5 children, a cross-country move, and a big, flourishing community at church later, as the very, very good times. Because those were the years I clung so tightly to God’s promises, I talked so regularly to Him, that I see them as my own infancy as a Christian, even though I was saved when I was seven. I only began to understand what God wants, who He really is to me, in those hot, lonely days. And now He is calling me out of my cave a little more, and I tell you this: sometimes I don’t want to go. I have developed a love for living anonymously, for operating from a mindset of God alone as my witness. And I’m the widow still: I see my own weakness, poverty, so clearly I can’t believe that so little can be used by anyone. But this is what I hope: my life, utterly average and full of what-on-earth-is-that-smell, how-can-anyone-want-to-share-so-much-embarassing-stuff, might encourage others who are limping along most days, as well. I want to help, is what I’m saying. I don’t have some stellar track record, and my kiddos are nine years old and under, so what on earth can I even know anyway?

But I try to think of what I would have wanted to hear from a big sister all those years ago, crying at my kitchen counter in Phoenix. And so I’ll write that. And I’ll try to share the Gospel, because preaching it to myself is really the only thing that saved me back then, and it’s the only thing that keeps me keeping on today.

Scripture does not go on to say that the widow is suddenly restored to comfort, to an abundance of resources, to a community who miraculously remembers her and begins to welcome her to warm meals and loving fellowship. We aren’t even told the old dear’s name. But the gift Jesus gave her is the one we all so desperately need the most: God sees. He sees us faithfully serving where we’re called, and despite how little we actually have to give, He is pleased.

This is my first post in a while. Now that I know what I need to say, what I most need to hear, it won’t be the last.

Sister, I want to say this to you, as you hide in your bathroom from the little mouths that always need to be fed, as you take deep shuddering breaths after having lost your temper again today, or as you begin to listen to the shameful lies that you will never actually get it right: you are incalculably loved. Understood. Held. He knows your weakness, your poverty. Bring it to Him, and rejoice, because I promise He sees you.

Hope this helps.

Bearing Sisters

Sisters, let us bear with one another.

Romans 12: 4-13 makes abundantly clear that we are called, all Christians, to do life together. We are all members of the same family; in fact, the connection goes deeper than that: this scripture says we are actually members of the same body. What a far more intimate, more complete, and frankly more earthy picture that is in scripture. In an ideal Eden, we would behave beautifully: like Olympic athletes, our limbs would be strong and perfectly trained. Our posture would be long; our head would be held high. Our heart would rest at 56 beats per minute, and when we set out to conquer a floor mat, people would weep.

Instead, here we are: the funk of sin permeating into our very marrow, turning our efforts at coordination into middle-school-dance level spastic motion that causes spectators to wince and look away.

I have experience in one arena of sin funk in particular: interacting with all other believers. Specifically for me, women. Please hear this: I absolutely love women. I am in awe at every birthing story, every clenched jaw in the nursing Mommas room. I have seen countless sister-saints line up to bring a meal, clean a fellowship hall, hold another weeping woman, and laugh until they cry at the utter ridiculousness marriage can sanctify us all through. God is manifested through his daughters in a  glorious splendor which generates nothing short of a grateful awe in me to witness. But also, we live on the wrong side of paradise, which means every single one of us has to prayerfully seek a way to obey our Father and, as far as it depends on us, live at peace with one another. It’s time for me to directly address the ladies: this means that, if you are a science-and-medicine-are-where-it’s-at lady, you must be able to sit comfortably in a pew next to your essential-oils-and-hot-tea-cure-everything sister. This means that if you happily and prayerfully send your kiddos off to public school on a school bus every morning, you have to be able to love your third generation homeschooling fellow soldier in God’s Army.

Frankly, it would all be much easier if it were part of God’s plan for us to form little life choices cliques within the body of Christ and stay contentedly in that comfort zone ‘til Kingdom Come. But there is simply no model for that anywhere in Jesus’ life. In fact, the opposite is shown: his disciples had almost nothing in the world in common. Sure, a few had the same profession (fishermen) or were related (sons of Zebedee), but from the Bible’s descriptions of them, there was no end of in-bickering and one-upmanship amongst those who walked with the Incarnate God. And if they were as physically close to the Savior of the Universe as anyone ever got and even they couldn’t always get along, what hope have any of us?

Well, to be cheeky, we have Hope Incarnate. We are people of endless potential, as Paul Tripp says. And even better, we have no need to look within ourselves for hope: God commands us to get along in His Word. More so than just “getting along,” which could technically be defined as simply not fighting, God commands us to go a step farther and actually love one another. And a bit of good news that will never get old: if God commands us to do something, and we pray for His help to do it, we are aligning ourselves with God’s will. There is simply no safer, more guaranteed-of-victory place to be. Back to the job at hand: Love is a verb—not an emotion. It is an active choice, working for your sisters’ good in all things. Read 1st Corinthians if you need a refresher on all that love is—but for now I’m going to skip to some application, because most of the sisters I know are too busy to read a lengthy blog.

Here is a likely scenario: you’re at a table at a church event, or on a playdate at a park, with a Christian woman you don’t know especially well. You start to ask her some questions, and land alive is she ever ready to tell you about her hills to die on, and they are plentiful. She is anti-sugar, pro-Target, and hates cold weather. She never lets her kids watch television, and believes that any kiddo who leaves the house with a dirty face has a Mom who is silently crying out for an intervention. You listen, soul shrinking, wishing desperately for someone, anyone, the Apocalypse if necessary, to intervene. Finally, the event is over, and on the car ride home you begin the slow mental detox after that particular onslaught. Perhaps you begin to rehearse your own arguments (never stated, of course) against her aggressive beliefs. Maybe you begin to formulate the text message you’re going to send to your best friend when you get home, describing the scenario and the woman. Or maybe you just sit in silence promising yourself you will never, ever get near that crazy lady again.

So, I’ve done all of those things. And worse. In the interests of transparency, I want to tell you that the advice I’m about to give is borne of the humbling fruit of God refusing to let me pigeon hole difficult brothers and sisters and walk away. Over and over again throughout the course of my life, God has put me in situations with the exact people I had decided to write off and avoid whenever I could, and He has lead me through those further interactions to a place of profound, earnest love for them. You could even say He has blessed me with the incalculable gift of getting to see some of my more beleaguered, hurting brothers and sisters through His eyes, if only in glimpses. He has called me to lean in to those who hurt so much they ache to hurt others. To those who are so fearful, so low on faith, that they seek to control their world by emotional manipulation, bullying, judgementalism, and self-sabotage. And he has humbled me further to let so much of what these fellow Christians do be a mirror for my own sin and struggles. So when I write the next bit here, know that it comes from experience hard fought, and Godly insight graciously given.

We are called to love one another. If a sister has a particularly strong opinion on something and you disagree with her, instead of pulling back and feeling judged, consider this: this moment is not about you. God is showing you a bit of raw sin, of fear, of insecurity living within the soul of His daughter. Instead of a situation to escape, this could be an opportunity to help. Try to stand still and listen. Ask questions for clarification, if at all possible without generating any defensiveness on her part. For example, instead of saying, “What makes you think vaccines even work?” Try, “Tell me why this issue is so important to you—where is God in this for you?” Try to steer the conversation from specific issues or opinions to a bigger picture by reassuring her that all any of us can do is partner with our husbands to walk righteously before the Lord—and that that means we will probably make different wisdom decisions. And, no matter what the result is of that interaction, instead of reaching out to someone else to vent or battling with her in your own head, pray. Lift her up to God.

The greatest thing you can do in dealing with hard situations is to let the difficult sisters in your life drive you closer to God. We are called to be patient with one another, are we not? Did you know another word for patient is long-suffering? That’s right, sisters. When we are adopted by our Heavenly, perfect Father we are called to start the suffering. And the great news I have for you today is that there is one who has suffered before you, and for you: take your struggles to Him. Read His word—really look into the people with whom he interacted, and ask yourself if they weren’t possibly a bit worse than the fanatical homeschooler who always gets scheduled in the nursery with you. Now look at his response to them: His gentleness, His kindness, His LOVE, family. His love. Look long and hard at your backstory and ask yourself if you have any right to condemn and reject a sister who so clearly needs Christs’ love, who is in reality no worse than you are. Now ask God to give you eyes that see: Eyes that see His truth, His love, His children for who He created them to be.

I’m not suggesting that you move next door to the lady who rolls her eyes at your kids’ boisterous voices and mismatched shoes. But I am reminding you that we are to be known by our love: and encouraging you that there is a beautiful truth in that those we pray for become slowly and inexorably more lovable to us. Once we invest in them in prayer, we divest ourselves of a bit of the pride that frankly enjoyed finding ourselves superior to a weaker sister. And that loss of pride is a good thing, my sisters.

A truth of church family, body membership, is that sacrifices will be made. We aren’t called to lock ourselves in the game room with those who make us feel happiest and like the same tv shows we do; we’re called to pick up our cross and die. And in that death, we become more like the One who loved ultimately and gave His all so that we might carry on His work here, in this fallen Kingdom. The world will tell you to cancel the haters, to find your tribe (like-minded besties) and focus solely on the pretty, comfortable garden you like tending best. Any decision we make that embraces that deadly nonsense edges us closer to the Father of Lies and farther from the Great Counselor, who came to serve the lost, the hurting, the helpless: so, us.  

So let us be known by our love, my beloved sisters in Christ. Let us bear with one another, grateful for the opportunity to be of use to our Father. In so doing we will make manifest the beauty of the Bride of Christ, and get ever-closer to knitting our body together so that we may stand, tall, coordinated, glorious and strong on the day of our Bridegroom’s return.

An Introduction: Soli Deo Gloria

Hi, I’m Sarah and I’m a glutton/over-drinker/robust sinner.

Well, darn if that wasn’t a hard-to-write 40 year sentence in the making. Is this the part where I explain what happened when I was young that caused me to experience so much self-loathing that I have been self destructive my entire adult life? I can, if you’d like, but really exposing those raw wounds wouldn’t be wise. The characters in that particular drama are all still alive, and I’ve forgiven them all– even the ones who don’t see their part in the sin-soaked, lonely, pain-wracked and literature-dense battlefield that was my childhood. Vaya con Dios, beloveds. Go with God– He loves me, He is Sovereign, He is not fooled, and vengeance is His– I do pray, frequently, that He forgives you all.

Let me not be unclear here: I am just as much a sinner as every other person I’ve ever encountered. The issue isn’t, the issue has never been, whether or not significant damage was done lo those many years ago– the issue is, what do I do with it now? Do I just obsessively chew on wrongs done as the justification for my ongoing sins? Do I permanently reframe and define myself as a victim and trudge along, excusing overdrinking and unhealthy habits as byproducts of self-medication that are my due?

To be honest, left to my own reasoning and the world’s wisdom, that’s pretty much where I would have landed. But the Holy Spirit has me– changed my soul and enlightened the eyes of my heart when I was seven. Ongoing sanctification has been like good barbecue: low and slow. Instead of taking off the lid every five minutes to check the progress and getting discouraged when everything still looks like a big bloody mess, you just have to close your eyes and trust the process. Sometimes whiffs of an aroma so deliciously perfect will reach your senses and encourage your patience and trust– but the rest of the time, you’re pretty much just standing out in the heat, waiting. Your faith is being built, minute by minute, the long lean muscles of faith and this crazy undercurrent of can-it-be-joy are actually developing, but like any muscle it gets torn all apart, there’s pain, whenever you exercise it. You reach the limits of tolerance, and you feel sore right down in the marrow of your soul. But the next time, the next time something heavy comes your way and you have to heave it up onto the altar and leave it for God, the strain isn’t as great. You probably won’t even notice, but your faith is getting stronger. You’re being trusted with harder battles for the Kingdom. And, as my husband and Tom Hanks like to remind me, the hard is what makes it great.

So, enough with the extended metaphors: let us speak hard and clear about what hurts. Naked admission: I struggle mightily with self-control. I am fully aware that drunkenness is a sin, yet if I’m going to have a drink, I don’t want one– I want ten. I want to get to the hazy-happy-out of it state where I don’t have clear thoughts, yet feel like talking world without end. I want to drink until reality tv is really good and everything is funny and I’m not overthinking anymore.

I’ve felt this way since I was about 22-24. Today I’m 40, so that’s 18 years of struggle with overdrinking. Until this year.

I want to say this is alcoholism, but it’s important I’m clear here: I’ve had 6 pregnancies since I turned 30, and I wasn’t tempted for one second of any of them to have a drink. Not one. I’ve gone for solid months at a time during these 18ish years and not even thought of drinking. Then, I’d get an urge to drink once, on a random day, and be off at it again– binge drinking one day, hating myself the next day and feeling super sick, then two days later I’d want to drink again. That would go on for months– then it wouldn’t. Alcoholism is a real disease– an addiction of body and mind. It is serious, and can be deadly– so I am being careful not to misappropriate it. Alcoholics, from what I’ve read, don’t usually go for months at a time without even struggling. My relationship with drinking, I believe, is a spiritual battle, not a physical or mental one.

I have prayed for help. Begged God to give me strength and wisdom to say no, to not feel the desire to drink or, if I did, to have the strength to say no. I’ve had my husband promise to hold me accountable– no drinking at all, or only drinking at social occasions and never at home, or… all the scenarios you can imagine. None of it worked or helped. I hit over 15 years of struggle and finally got desperate– I drank in front of my kids, and I knew I was hiding something, a struggle, a real need, from the church community God had given me to be His hands and feet. Sisters, this was really hard. I want so badly to be accepted by a community. I have this soul- deep longing to be wanted, included, loved. I believed on some level that if people at church knew I struggle with drinking, I would never be allowed to serve again. I thought they’d judge me. I thought they’d judge my husband for not being able to help me. But I’d hit my spiritual rock bottom, which looked alot like the final smashing of my pride and fear of man in this area. This was how the reasoning went: I needed prayer, and accountability. This church family was supposed to provide that. If they sinned in the process, that was between them and God. If my admission lead to us needing to leave the church because we wouldn’t be able to be serving, functioning, loved members anymore, then so be it. I needed to put it all out there and trust God with the rest. That move is something a pastor at our church calls “one brave step.” Just take the one step, and trust God for the rest.

So, I did. I told a group of women in a home group, then in a discipleship group– and nothing happened. I’m erring on the side of love and assuming they prayed for me some– and one of them did follow up and ask how I was doing with my self- destructive struggles… but that was it. My world didn’t crumble– in fact it got just a little bit easier to breathe, because I’d taken off a mask the size and thickness of which I had not noticed before. There. Whew. It’s out there– my dark secret, my private struggle. The old nasty heap was finally airing out in the sun, and I was relieved. My struggle remained– but it was somewhat lesser in scope and frequency. I still desperately prayed, and was comforted by the knowledge that I could go to a group of women and ask for prayer again, publicly confess my sin, instead of letting the stifling blanket of shame smother hope in community help.

I looked into local AA programs, and read an incredible article by an alcoholic pastor’s wife on getting real about getting help. I prayed more. And finally, friends, finally, the miracle happened. We struggled through Christmas praying and white-knuckling events which trigger the strongest desire to numb my heart and mind, and sometime after the holidays it happened: God took the struggle away. I no longer craved drinking– when the thought even occurs, the Holy Spirit reminds me how much accountability I have in place: that I would have to tell my husband, my church, my God, and the notion of drinking immediately is reduced to something unpleasant and foolish. This is all of grace.

Because of this struggle, I have finally begun to understand sin nature and the fruits of the Spirit: I am a sinner. The natural gravity of the human condition will cause me to always sink into sin. I will always choose it, given my druthers, because it is a law of the nature of sin: without the Holy Spirit, I will sin. It is God’s will and the Holy Spirit’s empowerment that enable me to see sin for what it is, to see wisdom for what it is, and to choose God’s glory over my own foolishness. I now have self control, which I didn’t before. I have the ability to be tempted by this specific sin and say no, whereas before I gave into the sin. There is nothing, other than God’s grace, which changed this situation– no program, no plan of mine, no person’s help, no good book or profound personal revelation– God chose to act, God chose to give me self-control, so I have it now. This means that, if it is His will, He may remove it in the future and I will sink back into sin again. As much as I don’t want that to happen, I do believe that God is sovereign, He is good, and He cares for me. If He is brought more glory and generates more good in His world and people by me not having self-control anymore and struggling with overdrinking (and gluttony– more on that later) the rest of my life, then so be it. Amen and Amen, He is still good.

Because, at the end of the day, this isn’t my story. I’m a minor, minor character in a much bigger narrative the scope and gorgeousness of which we will not see play out until Kingdom Come. Whatever part the Great Author chooses to write for me, I pray I feel a gratitude just to know He is there at all, and to trust in the very good resolution He mapped out from the beginning.

So, with that in mind, introductions need to be redone:

Hi, I’m Sarah and my disgusting, deadly sin has been completely washed away by the blood of my adoptive Brother and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Hi, I’m Sarah, daughter of the One True King.

Hi, I’m Sarah. Welcome to my imperfect song, sung loud with faltering pitch for the glory of our Heavenly Creator.

Hope this helps.

The Extra Hug

God has designed one of our children to have a tendency to front load some major lessons in life.

Like, sneaking away from your parents in a mall= not good.

Figuring out how to operate all the child’s safety locks in the church nursery and regularly escaping to the parking lot= a choice with consequences.

He also made it a daily game to wait until I was nursing our newborn and hunt down all the kitchen knives I’d hidden, presenting them to me proudly, smiling, like little trophies of terror. He was 16 months old at the time, and that was when I began to truly understand how little control I have over my own children’s safety.

He’s a kid who adores challenges and has no innate sense of fear. Wonderful friend after well-meaning woman would assure me that God has BIG PLANS for a child like ours, but the fact that I believed and agreed didn’t change the cold terror I’d feel at night when I’d rehearse the time he almost ran right into a road in his diaper, eager to see what would happen if a car hit him. I would replay the image over and over again and weep, giving him over to God, confessing what I should have prayed over all of our children, if I hadn’t been so prideful and deluded up until then: “God, I can’t do this. God, I cannot keep him alive. I have no power. You know my heart– I’m trying my best, but I can’t do it. I’m so desperate and scared, God. And I’m angry at him- he just will not listen, and he’s going to get so hurt or killed and I’ll never recover if that happens, God. I won’t. Please, God, please, help me.”

That was a regular prayer in my heart when it came to our son. Please, send help. Please, save him, Lord. And that prayer revealed some big sin on my part: fear that God wouldn’t be sovereign over our son. Fear that something would ever happen that would crush me beyond repair, like God isn’t sovereign over my suffering. And also: anger. I was so just plain mad that I had a son who would be so reckless, who would scare me so much, who would get us officially removed from nursery at church and humble me to the point where I had to write an open letter of apology to the entire nursery team, like as in every. single. volunteer. I mean, what was this kid’s deal?! Why, why was he so pain-and-injury bent? Why did God give us a child who I was afraid to really let myself love, because he seemed doomed to leave us? Why did every single event we went to have to revolve around troubleshooting what he might try to do (always dress him in neon if we’re going somewhere crowded, have one arm or two eyes on him at all times ((did I mention he’s #3 of 5? Yep.)) constantly check that any motorcycle, body of water, or busy street is a minimum of twenty yards away, and get ready to yell lots publicly and darn the sweet innocent moms who I’m about to shock, just be glad this isn’t your life and if you judge me that’s between you and the Lord, sister) and why did his presence always mean I just don’t want to go anywhere in the first place??

This was the chunk of nasty that was lying at the bottom of my sinful heart, turns out, as I began to turn it all over to the Great Counselor. And slowly, slowly, He began to show me the answer with my son: The “Why” is up to Him. It’s a mystery, but it’s for my good and His glory. My job was to accept, and– here’s the kicker– get grateful. One day God showed me how all that angry repetition of “why” was making it impossible to be grateful for my son, for whom I prayed. My sweet puddin’ of a blonde lad, who was no more a sinner than I was, he was just created to front load lessons– and there was so very much grace in that learning. Because as much as I wish he could have an easier (and less scary) time of it, there’s a tremendous truth he gets to learn now, young, that alot of us take a lifetime to really get: He’s a sinner. And he needs a Savior. Our son may not know how to avoid danger or have a consequence-free excursion with his family, but that boy has now heard the Gospel and been prayed with more than all our other kiddos combined. He gets it– ask him what his biggest problem is, and he’ll pop out “sin” faster than you can blink. Ask him what he should do about it, and he’ll tell you sure: pray to Jesus to help me. Amen and Amen.

The other coping method I learned early on as our son began to really ramp up the misbehavior has yielded some beautiful fruit: on my most frustrated, angry, scared days, I would sit on the couch, call him over to me, pull him onto my lap and say, “So, you’re my special project today. I need to cuddle you. All day. You may not leave Mommy’s side until I tell you.” After testing that boundary a few times, he settled right in– and to this day, he’s my biggest cuddler. When times are tough, he runs to his Mama. He knows there’s a hug and open arms and someone who will listen. In the beginning I would just hug him extra tight, and say, I love you I love you I love you until my heart broke and I’d cry– because that was the truth of all the fear and anger: this was my beloved son, and I was afraid of losing him. But slowly God showed me how foolish that was: I never “had” him to begin with. Every second I have with my son is a gift from God, a Holy ordained moment, to be used for His glory. I’m not in business as a mom to give our children long, safe lives free from consequences: I am here to help them see God’s unveiled glory in the lives He gives them, to train them to apply discipline and joy to their daily tasks, and to equip them to see themselves as image bearers of their Heavenly Father. However God decides that that will happen, so be it: whether an easy-going conversation on the couch or a frantic, tear-stained reunion in a mall with witnesses, to God be the glory for determining their individual, perfect paths.

So, if you have a wildling child who drives you to your knees, try to remember to thank God for showing you your weakness, because any other view of our identity is false. Thank Him for His mercy, His goodness, and His love– and whenever possible, give the wilding an extra hug. Try to spend more time showing them Godly love than wrath, fear, or frustration. By God’s grace, may it be.

Reclaiming Hope

This was a talk I gave at a ladies’ night for our church.

I got permission from the family involved to share this story.

Six years ago, I was terrified. Alone in my car, driving north on an Arizona freeway, I wanted nothing more than to pull over, throw up, point my car in the reverse direction, and drive home. The week prior, I had gotten a nightmare of a phone call: my friend Bonnie, whose baby shower I was in the act of planning when I received the call, had just found out that her baby girl had passed away in utero, at around 32 weeks gestation. It was a highly unusual, non-genetic cause. Bonnie and her husband Lance decided to deliver their baby girl in the hospital the following week, when their doctor was available to induce her. The days leading up to Bonnie’s due date were a flurry of emotionally-laden communications and activity, as I saw the best in Jesus’ bride come out in the form of thoughtful, loving acts of service and gifts of significance, meant to bring comfort to the family. 

A day prior to her delivery date, I got another phone call from a friend who told me Bonnie had said I could come to the hospital to participate in the long vigil between her inducement and her daughter’s birth. I was very surprised and conflicted because I was 30 weeks pregnant at the time. Bonnie and I had celebrated and enjoyed our pregnancies together, joyfully talking about welcoming these new little lives into our shared community. I could not comprehend the depth of faith and strength my friend must have had to have wanted me there, a visible reminder of what she had lost, during the very time of the consummation of that loss. But when I asked another friend for advice on whether I should go or not, she told me something I will never forget: “This time is Holy. You’ve been invited into it. Don’t say no.” 

So there I was, hands visibly shaking, driving up to the hospital, incapable of thinking of a way I could possibly help. What could I say? How dare I even speak to someone in such a place of grief, in such a time of unbelievable suffering? I had never known my hands and mind to ache with emptiness like that before. I was praying, comfort eating granola bars, and praying some more when a song from the last cd my husband had had on in the car came on, and these words spoke clearly and defiantly into the Arizona desert streaming past my car window:

And I will hold on hope 

And I won’t let you choke 

On the noose around your neck

And I’ll find strength in pain….

In that moment God spoke clearly to me: Hope. I was going to my friend, bearing hope. I was going to witness death and look straight at her hellacious, painful experience, and help remind her of the Hope we all have, if only by being willing to stand in the dark by her side. 

So, the question was, what could I possibly do to help my friend, someone going through life-changing suffering? And the answer, given by God through the Holy Spirit, transmitted via some Mumford and Sons lyrics, was “Help her hold on to hope”. But what is Hope? How does secular culture use that term, and how does the Bible define it? 

Worldly hope, as it is used in our American culture, is defined as a wish based on nothing mathematical or scientifically likely. Some examples of this may be: Hope you’re having a good day! Or, I hope my deodorant holds up.  It’s essentially an empty, light term that expresses a desire but no guarantees. The Bible, however, defines and uses the term Hope very, very differently. Biblical hope is a confident expectation based on our faith in God. 

Psalm 42:5 says, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my help and my God.”

What does “Hoping in God” mean? To believe God. To believe in His character—His Goodness, His Justice, His Mercy, and His Love. I had a very singular and life-changing experience this year: I began to more fully understand the Gospel. Prior to this experience, I could have told you the Gospel, no problem- I could use the five-finger approach (birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension), I could tell you how the gospel applied to my life, and how important it was to preach it to myself… and I had an ever-growing awareness of how much I needed the gospel, as I am daily convicted of my sins. But until this year, I was missing a vital component: I was convicted of my sins, but I had never been convicted of God’s love. And because I was missing His love, I was missing the element that could give me the joy of Hope. Recite with me the good words of our Brother John in John 3:16, “Because God so loved the world, He gave his only son.” Ladies, I confess to you tonight that I had missed the motivation for the very Gospel itself: God’s love for His children. God’s mystifying, vast love for me. For you. I was looking at the proof and totally ignoring the pudding. If we want Hope, ladies- real, unshakable, faith-fueled hope, then we need it rooted firmly in God’s love for us- the proof of which is the gospel itself. God so loved, that he gave… if we need to have proof that God will keep His promises for a hope and a future, that God is good and intends good for us, we need look no further than the cross. 

We need a brief break for a moment of clarification: much of what I say about “hope” can be replaced by the word “faith”- what is the difference, really, between faith and hope? What is their relationship? John Piper explains that faith and hope are interconnected—that faith is the bigger idea, and hope is a smaller component of that bigger concept of faith. “Hope” he says, “is faith looking forward”. Hope is essentially faith in the future tense- when you hope, when you have confident expectation in God’s goodness, you are seeing a situation and the world through the lens of your faith. Because you have faith in God and in His ultimate victory over sin and death, you can look to the future with hope. As the Psalmist says, “I believe that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” This is an expression of Godly hope—a confident expectation that God’s love will be made manifest before our very eyes, based on our belief, or faith, in Him.

So, back to the grammar lesson: if we can replace “Hope” with “wish” in a sentence, we’re frankly misusing Hope. Hope belongs to us, sisters- not to the world. Let’s not let it be misappropriated any more. Hope is rooted in God, first and only. No wonder it’s misused culturally- how can outsiders correctly speak the language of the kingdom? Let us remember that we are God’s children, and His word is our native tongue. The fallen world has it wrong– hope is not based on flimsy, semi-superstitious unlikelihoods. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

As a negative example, Emily Dickinson famously wrote, “Hope is a Thing with Feathers/ That perches in the soul.” 

No offense to Mz Dickinson, but she was dead wrong. Hope, real godly Hope, is anything but lightweight. Hope is concrete. It is diamond. It has teeth and sounds like a torn veil. It is vaster and greater than sin, and more real than death. Hope is a galactical world destroyer, an ever-fixed mark on the landscape of eternity. It danced at God’s side during the creation of the world and is strong enough to anchor a human soul.

For a Biblical example of misunderstood or misplaced hope, let’s go to the gospel of Luke. I hate to trot out the old girls at another ladies’ night, but I want to talk to you about Mary and Martha for a minute. Let’s look at each woman, and where she placed her hope. If you remember, Jesus was over at the ladies’ home for a meal. He was talking in the living room, and Martha was fuming in the kitchen. Martha had a vision, I think: an Instagram-worthy table spread, food so good people would rhapsodize over it, a spotless floor, and sparkling conversation. Instead, she was sweating away, mumbling to herself in the kitchen as her sister Mary feasted at Jesus’ feet. So, we see that Martha seemed to believe that her hope, her joy and peace, was set on creating an ideal meal and experience for her guest. Her self-worth was placed firmly in her abilities to shine as a hostess- so her hope was really in herself, not in Christ—whereas Mary was so consumed by love of her Lord she couldn’t look away. All her focus was on the Christ in front of her—and her choice, as Jesus says, WILL NOT BE TAKEN FROM HER. Sisters, Hope in Christ is, indeed, the Better Thing. 

What are we tempted to base our hope on? Money? Security? Peace? Control? Man’s approval? Self-righteousness? Our husband’s love, our children’s perfection and health? Can you truly lose all of those things, and yet still have hope?

Yes. Yes you can. Look at Paul. He had education, social prominence, personal security- yet once he met the Savior, he considered everything as loss, as garbage, in order to gain Christ.

With Paul in mind, it is vital to remember that our hope cannot be placed on a specific, tangible outcome. Our Hope is only anchored in our trust in God’s love, His Sovereignty, His justice, His Glory- and His Goodness. The manifestation of that hope is our good—but what is good for us isn’t always a cessation of suffering. It isn’t always a “yes” to our desperate midnight petitions. Therefore our prayers must be akin to the humble, ground-cast mumblings of the centurion, “I believe, Lord, Help my unbelief.” Let that be us, too: I believe, Lord- help my unbelief. Please, help me believe, help me to hope, despite the hellacious results of sin soaking into this unredeemed world. Because at the end of all things, what we need isn’t really a tangible outcome- we don’t need all of our prayers to be answered the way we want them to, we don’t need all of our sufferings to end… we need Jesus. We need to become more like Him, and to love Him more. That’s what our good will look like. That’s why God’s promise in Isaiah 43: 1-2, is so sweet:  “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” We will have trouble in this world—but God will never leave us nor forsake us. Therefore we can have hope in the face of any calamity to come. And we can hope past reason, because our hope doesn’t lie in our ability to reason. Our Hope is in Christ, and has its roots in the deep, deep mystery of how a Creator could love His creation so much He would allow His Son to suffer and die so that they may be reconciled to Him again. 

The timing of this talk could not be more providential; the world we wake up to is still dark, and cold. The evidence of our eyes would tell us that it would be in our best interests to stay indoors, under our covers, living in a warm, controlled world of our own making. But here’s the great beauty awakening with every slightly earlier dawn: it may still be dark outside, but Easter, the greatest realization of Hope in all of eternity, is coming. 

Along those lines, I was given the advice to consult books in preparation for this talk. I asked numerous friends for recommendations for books on Hope. I consulted trustworthy online bookstores and Christian websites I like… and strangely enough, all came up dry. Then one chilly morning a light dawned: I have been reading through the book of Isaiah for Lent, and I suddenly realized that I was looking at the answer I had been praying for: at the risk of making an affliction of myself, the definitive book on Hope is the Bible. I would especially recommend starting with our old weather-beaten friend, Isaiah. Ladies, he gets it. He sees that the world is sin-wracked. Desperate. Tearing itself to pieces. Isaiah spends the first half of the book identifying sin- and the second half declaring salvation. He makes clear that our greatest problem has already been taken care of. Isaiah uses the word “salvation” almost 30 times. This was a man who was shown the depravity, the horror of the fallen world in which he was living—but then God gave him true visions of God’s mighty, perfect plan for salvation. This is true hope, ladies. This is white-knuckled, wild-eyed Old Testament truth telling and Gospel proclaiming. If you need real encouragement- if you are ready to take the hard medicine and pop the bubble of this world’s flimsy take on hope, read the words our brother Isaiah lived to tell: he stared right into the valley of the shadow of death, into sin’s very real deadly maw, and proclaimed that Easter Is Coming. 

We all need hope. And we can’t do better than to heed the words of 2 Peter 1:16-21: “You do well to pay attention to it (the Word), as to a lamp shining in a dismal place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” 

So, ladies, let us read the Word. Let us be hedonistic feasters on God’s soulful, nourishing truth, because our Hope is not founded on anything in this world- but is found at the feet of our Savior. Let us commit together to joyously ingest Scripture, to sing rapturously in worship, to pray, and to study. These spiritual privileges will magnify, multiply, and make manifest our faith and the source of our hope. 

And now for a call to action. When it comes to bearing the true light that is Hope in Christ to this suffering world, let me be clear: no one else is coming. We- you and I- ARE the only embodied hope that this broken world will ever know until Christ’s return. We are the now-and-future victorious—we are the banner-wavers, we are the image bearers. Charged with a Holy and utterly dangerous Great Commission to enter onto a groaning and blood-soaked battlefield, destroyed by sin and cynical despair, let us confidently march, or, as WH Auden would say, stagger onward, rejoicing. Because we- all of us—HAVE this hope. God’s word in Hebrews says we HAVE this hope as an anchor of the soul, not that we will get it one day, maybe, if we try hard enough- this Hope is a gift we’ve already been given. It is ours, a divine inheritance. And we, the receivers of that Hope, must beg for the courage to stare death in the eyes, to stand by an infant hospital bed containing a tragedy that could break a soul in its sorrowful reality, and still proclaim, by our presence there, in our willingness to face the worst that Satan can do, with simple, sin-shattering hope, that “Easter is Coming.” Because the three men in the furnace knew the truth, and we need to say it, too: But if not, He is Still Good. We need to help each other, to help the hope-frail, to hold on, and to be held. This isn’t the end of the story, ladies. There’s still more kingdom work to be done before we get to go home. If we don’t bear the light of true Hope into this world, no one else will- because no one else can. 

Believe it or not, your presence here tonight gives evidence to the hope that is in you. You could be many other places right now, doing much more immediately fruitful and important and entertaining things than listening to some lady from church talk about the Bible. But here you are—faithfully attending a church event, sitting calmly and semi-comfortably in a folded chair, hoping that you’ll hear something worth remembering, confidently expecting that God will bless this attempt to grow in understanding of Him and will somehow strengthen the community of Jesus’ bride tonight. Thankfully, the result of tonight’s hopeful act of yours has very little to do with me—and is all of God. And this is true of every act of hope, every choice based on your confident and joyful expectation of God’s faithfulness to sanctify and bless His saints. Being in a church community despite the fact that sin impacts it, that sin hurts, and causes suffering, that Satan loves to sow division—sticking to it, choosing the people you’re going to sin against and be sinned against by and grow alongside—that, my sisters, is a reckless and beautiful act of Hope. The hopeful do not live in denial of sin, of pain, of annoyances and possible disasters. The hopeful, the confidently expectant, just choose to see all of that through God’s eyes—to see the eternal in the fallen and temporary. 

So if your hope feels small tonight, sisters, pray. Pray that if you get a chance to carry hope into a sad or hurting situation, be it a never-ending newsfeed or a friend going through unbelievable tragedy, that you would remember to fix your eyes firmly on the cross, and motivated by your own conviction of God’s love for you, you would have courage to faithfully remind a hurting world that He is Still Good. 

One way to be an image-bearer is to be a Hope carrier. Let that light so shine- not with the weak artificial illumination afforded by this world’s false religions and lifeless idolatries—but with the joyful expectancy of the rising sun, great and terrible- because the Son has risen, ladies. Because God cannot lie—and he has promised us a joyful, a beautiful, an impossibly glorious future.  Yes, if we choose to enter into the hard, painful moments in other people’s lives, we will experience suffering. But take heart! 

We couldn’t even muster up the courage to take that initial step into someone else’s pain unless we already were recipients of the great gift of godly hope. Hope gets us in the door- our hope in Christ is our sole motivator strong enough to prompt us to hard and holy good works, as is mentioned over and over again in 1 Peter, from 1:3 to 4:19… So our Hope, gifted to us by our God and rooted in Him, will motivate us to the type of good works likely to produce suffering… but notice what scripture says about that in Romans 5: 3-4:

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,”

It’s a self- feeding cycle! Our reward for acting on the hope we have, at the end of the day, is even more robust hope. The more we act on the hope within us, the more joyful, confident expectation that we shall see the goodness of the Lord in this land of the living we will have. That’s a Godly, good truth for us to meditate on and trust in as the world around us seems to grow ever-dimmer. 

Remember that Hope is not a soft feather flap. It is the death-defeating roar of the Lion of Judah.

The pounding, living heartbeat of Hope is God’s Love. The proof of God’s Love is nothing less than the Gospel itself. And that is our Hope, sisters. Let us Hope in God. As Hebrews 10: 23 says, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.”

Romans 15:13

13 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.