Category Archive: Hope

The Story I Write, Part I

Janae, my niece, was three years old when she spent that night with us. During dinner I asked my husband about his day and how he fixed the toilet. As I put my precious girl to bed, I asked her to tell me a story. Words like “wrench”, “it was really tough”, and “we finally got ahold of it” were prominent in her story–all things she’d heard over dinner.

Pastor Rene Schlaepher recently said we are all writing, living, and telling a story–not by our words, but by the way we live. And we have a choice as to what story we tell.

two babies wearing red mickey mouse shirts
Photo by Edwin Ariel Valladares on Pexels.com

Most of us have seen adorable pictures of infant twins babbling to each other. They laugh, giggle, and use “words” that to adults are meaningless. But if judged by their reactions, the twins understand each other well! I remember one in which one twin babbled something and the other almost fell over laughing. The one in the photo on the left looks unhappy that his twin is chewing his fingers!

Stories have been told throughout history in oral tradition. And those stories are still going on today.

Don and I cry at love stories. Those emotions are fanned by the storyline. Other stories about calamities like the volcanic eruption and tsunami in Tonga this week, or about troubles we all face, can lead to fear, panic and distress.

We can’t always control the events of our lives. An accident, critical illness, death, terrorist attack…they appear on our screens as blips, or dots. But we can control the narrative we put around them. Do we look at a sequence of negative events–the pandemic, cultural and political division, loss, illness–and put those into a negative story? Or do we look at those events in light of God’s promise to bring justice and righteousness to this earth, his promise of a plan for our lives?

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

Contamination or Redemption?

People in despair tell contamination stories. “I got a great job but the travel destroyed my marriage.” “Yeah, I got a raise but I hate my boss.” “My wife’s feeling better, thanks, but I’m sure she’s gonna crash again soon.”

Chemo #3, Bob and Sheila

People in hope tell redemption stories. My sister-in-law, Sheila, is one of these. When diagnosed with uterine cancer, she began to realize that without those symptoms that led to her diagnosis, doctors would also not have found the precancerous cells that wandered throughout her lymphatic system and, if latched on, were extremely aggressive.

After successful surgery, she is still fighting the remaining pre-cancerous cells with chemo and radiation. But, knowing how God has led them this far, she is confident and at peace, trusting that he will continue guiding them. While there have been times of fear, God showed her this smaller issue was to prevent a larger one happening. And, as she has shared her journey openly, people with whom she had a casual relationship have re-entered her life with deeper communication, often sharing their own battles with her. Sheila has looked deeper than the scars, the fatigue, and the temporary hair loss to what God is doing as she and Bob walk this journey.

My brother Arnold, whose wife suffered a life-altering stroke years ago, has built a narrative of love and care and hope around her limitations. Following her stroke In August 2012, my sister-in-law struggled with her identity. She was a capable, intelligent and caring businesswoman; now significant changes resulted in her feeling she wasn’t the same. Arn tells of a day she wept, feeling stupid (her word) because she couldn’t communicate the way she used to. He wrote, “The challenge to her identity was significant, and it reminded me of the Exodus story of Moses receiving instructions from God to lead the people out of bondage. When Moses asks whom he should say sent him to lead the people, God said, ‘I am who I am.’ There it is–the solid unmovable identity.” Arn and Carol’s love and faith is carrying them through a major life change.

We all have “stuff”. But how we handle that stuff shows where our hope lies. And only our God is that solid, unmovable source of hope.

crop black businesswoman reading newspaper near modern building
Photo by Ono Kosuki on Pexels.com

In II Cor 10:5 the apostle Paul challenges us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” So where are we focusing our thoughts, what input do we welcome into our minds and hearts that impact the stories we live? Like Janae, we often fill our stories with what we have heard and allowed into our minds. Frankly, I’ve stopped reading a lot of news because it distresses me too much and is usually a contamination story.

I confess that much of last year, after my mother’s death, I told myself (and others) contamination stories. “I don’t understand why her death seemed so hard to me.” Overwhelmed with negative input, I com-plained. “I hate this political turmoil, protests, brutality, increased crime, this pandemic.”

My parents’ wedding 1944

With time and help, I’ve been able to change some of that narrative. My sweet mother was so ready to meet Jesus first, and her beloved husband of 58 years (my Dad) in heaven, to worship and glorify the name of the Almighty. Whatever difficulty I experienced in her passing was momentary in light of eternity and I am eager to see her, Dad, Jerry, and others again. And why in the world would I want her to return from the very presence of God?

As to the rest? My God has not lost control. Life is good, but often hard. I don’t understand all my Father is doing through these difficult challenges, but I know he wants us to rest in his promise that he will never leave us or forsake us. I heard David Jeremiah talk about a young woman who had walked her cancer battle with God. He said, “Recently she won her battle and went home to be with Jesus.” What a different story–yes, loss aches. It can be agonizing. But she won. Her death was not the end, and that provides hope.

The redemptive story is that, because of what Jesus did for us at Calvary, Don and I and a host of you will see our loved ones again in heaven. Not only that, we will delight with them in a face to face reality of worship and praising our God, right there with us. THAT is hope!

… we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Romans 5:3-5

Restore

Even in the midst of a new variant, Omicron, on the Covid pandemic, our lives during Christmas and New Year’s felt full. While our get-togethers were with smaller family groups, we enjoyed the times we could be together.

This week? I find myself a bit lethargic, tired, unmotivated. Do you? Seems that now that life is quieter again I’m kind of worn out. We’re tired of masking, of conflict within families and friendships, of isolation.

I think that’s normal after the holidays; perhaps more so with the continuing pandemic. Friday afternoon Don and I took a wonderful 3.5 hour nap (very unusual!), then slept a full night. After church and Starbucks this morning, we took a walk with Paigey in her stroller. She seemed very content in the beautiful sunshine and fresh air, while we got some steps in. It was a renewing time for us.

So how do we respond to a bit of a letdown after a busy and uplifting time?

Following are a few things I find restorative:

Music can soothe the soul
  • Naps are helpful but, then, I’m retired. Not everyone has room in their life for naps. I didn’t either when I worked full-time.
  • Walks in the fresh air are renewing.
  • We enjoy our Sunday ritual of church and Starbucks, hearing the Word taught, then hanging out together.
  • Reading–the scriptures or a good book.
  • Listening to a challenging podcast.
  • Listening to, or playing, music. This afternoon we listened to a number of the old hymns we grew up with and felt encouraged. I used to play piano well, but am seriously out of practice. Nevertheless, those times when I sit on the bench of my mother’s piano and play, my soul feels restored.
  • Focus on a specific scripture, like Psalm 23. Close your eyes. What does it mean to you that the Lord is your Shepherd? That he leads you beside quiet waters and refreshes your soul? I used to have a favorite mental picture of a certain valley on the drive from San Jose to Fresno. The grass was lush, trees scattered about, and a lovely, bubbling stream wended its way through the valley. I can picture myself walking with Jesus in that valley, being refreshed in His company.
  • In the same chapter, think of what it means that He walks through the valley of the shadow of death with us? I experienced that with the loss of my first husband. No, He didn’t remove the pain; but He gave purpose and presence during the loss.
  • Last, find someone who needs help, and give it! I’ve found there’s not much sweeter than meeting someone who is lonely, or hungry, whom I can help, sometimes in little ways by giving a packet of non-perishables, sometimes by listening, bringing groceries or a meal, sometimes by praying for the person(s). Giving renews the spirit.
  • Exercise thankfulness. Like a muscle, it grows with use and changes our perspective.
  • Focus on his love–for you.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

I John 4:9-11

Did I mention naps? I took a short one before finishing this. Sweet! And I’m challenging myself with this post. These are the things I need to do to renew, to step out of my lethargy and move ahead with those tasks God has given me to do.

What do you do to renew yourself?

Blessings!

New Year’s Dreams

Happy New Year! What hopes and dreams do you have for the year ahead?

One I suspect we all share is that Omicron deals with those who get it in a more gentle manner than have Covid-19 and Delta. We pray that this pandemic will come to an end this year. I look forward to not wearing a mask; to being less isolated and spending more time with family and friends (although we’ve been blessed to have some significant times together this year despite the pandemic). To going out to an evening of dinner, a movie, the theater, church, a party again with a sense of freedom.

Hondurans dealing with the aftermath of significant flooding and destruction of infrastructure

Beyond that hope, dreams become both corporate and individual. Do we want more–more profits, more stuff, better furniture, fancier cars, more of whatever makes us feel good about ourselves? These aren’t necessarily bad. But there are so many who have significantly less than we do here in America. And while there are enormous needs here, areas of deep poverty as well as those wracked by hurricanes, floods, and the seven tornadoes in Kentucky on New Years’ Day.

One way to address these needs is to give where we can. Organizations like World Vision (worldvision.org), Samaritans’ Purse (samaritanspurse.org), and MCC (Mennonite Central Committee, MCC.org) address needs for food, medicine, and education in poverty-stricken or hard-hit areas around the world. My brother, Arnold, has become involved with Living Water World Missions (livingwaterworldmissions.org), who focus on clean water, education, and relationships with Jesus. They say over one billion people lack clean water, and about 1.5 million children will die this year from preventable water-born illnesses.

According to the World Bank, the United States had a GNI (Gross National Income per capita) of $64,610 in 2020.

  • Bolivia has a per capita GNI of $3,200
  • Mexico, $18,170
  • Sub Saharan Africa, $3,005
  • And of the Sub Saharan nations, Burundi has a GNI of only $700. And that’s an average in each country, so we know there are people who have significantly greater, as well as significantly lesser, resources.

Many churches and organizations offer opportunities to go on short-term service projects to help build, serve those in need, and understand the significant needs faced by others. And we can pray for the many in other lands who suffer from hunger, persecution, dirty water, war, and tribal infighting.

Don leading a work crew at RSM with Geronimo

For ten years before Covid hit, Don traveled with a group to Rancho Santa Marta (ranchosantamarta.org) where he managed building projects, from a small medical/dental facility for visiting physicians and dentists, to part of a new gym used for their school of about 250 children, part of the high school addition to the school, and a home for the most severely disabled, older boys who live on the premises. I joined him nine of those ten years and we learned to love the staff and children, orphans, children who had been removed from their homes due to violence and severe learning disabilities. Victor, who just turned 46, has spent almost all his life at the Ranch, and will stay there for its remainder. Teenage Cassandra, who didn’t speak when I first met her, is now talking, even raising her hand to ask for prayer or share a praise in their worship service. You can read more about the Ranch in my 2019 blogpost at https://carolshope.com/2019/05/back-to-the-ranch/

I love this scripture from the prophet Micah.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8 NIV

Sounds simple, doesn’t it. But it takes courage to speak up for injustice; to express mercy, and to learn what it means to walk humbly with our God. I plan to focus on this scripture more during the year ahead, asking where God wants me to get on board with work He is doing around the world and in my own neighborhood.

May God richly bless you and yours in the new year; and may you rejoice in His blessings as you share them with others.

As we Enter 2022

Merry Christmas from our house to yours.

with prayers for a happy, healthy New Year.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Psalm 100

Set Free … by Music

Georg Friedrich Händel was born in 1685 in Brandenburg-Prussia.

At the tender age of nine years, Handel began composing church services for voice and instruments every week for three years. As he grew and his talent developed, he worked as a composer in Italy and then England, becoming a German-British Baroque composer well known for his operas, oratorios, anthems, and organ concertos. 

Handel became a very successful composer of big, bold musical arias and operas for London society. At that time, going to an opera was not the semi-formal, reverent event it is today. Instead, listeners walked about, eating and drinking, spitting, booing, and sometimes rioting if they didn’t like the song. Handel even started three commercial opera companies to supply Italian opera to the English nobility.

in 1737, exhausted by stress, Handel suffered what appears to have been a mild stroke which impaired the movement of his right hand. Fans thought he might never compose again. However, after a six-week course of treatment in Germany he returned to London to continue composing. Six years later he suffered another stroke. Again, Handel’s audience thought he would no longer write but, once again, he stunned them with a quick recovery.

Handel did quite well with his big, bold music until that style went out of favor. He lost everything and went bankrupt. He is said to have suffered from anxiety and depression. One of his friends, Charles Jennens, sent him a letter filled with Bible references about the Messiah, the Chosen One God would send to redeem His people. Not being a religious man, he set these aside for a time. But when he picked them up and read of the promised Messiah in Isaiah, the coming of the King in Revelation, he locked himself in his study for twenty-four days straight, hardly eating or drinking, to complete this oratorio.

After twenty-four days Handel’s servant heard weeping behind the door. Forcing it open, he found Handel inside, tears streaming down his face. “I think I did see all heaven open before me, and the great God Himself,” he said. He determined to conduct the premier performance of THE MESSIAH in Dublin around Easter of 1742, with the goal of freeing many locked in prison for debts they could not pay. The oratorio received rave reviews and exceeded expectations, raising 400 pounds and paying the debts of between 142 and 157 prisoners.

Imagine those 150-ish men and women bending over, leaving their cells, bodies likely stiff from lack of exercise, as they walked through a low-arched stone passageway into the outside air. Glimpse their joy as their debts were pardoned and they returned to their families to start anew.

This is what Jesus Christ came to give us–new life, hope, peace, love, and purpose.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

John 10:10, ESV

What a picture of the redemption Christ offers us. For a sin debt we cannot pay, the penalty of which is death, He came to earth, born and placed in a lowly manger, and grew up to show us God’s character. He, the one person born without sin, then gave His life as a ransom for all who would receive this free gift.

So whoever has God’s Son has life; whoever does not have his Son, does not have life.

I John 5:12, TLB

Handel continued to share this oratorio, donating significantly to the London Foundling Hospital for abandoned children and infants.

Throughout his life he was known as a generous man. Never married, his will divided his assets among his servants and several charities, including the Foundling Hospital. And to prevent his loved ones from bearing the cost of burying him, Handel donated the money to pay for his own funeral. He was buried in Westminster Abbey a week after his death. 

It is said that when England’s King George first heard THE MESSIAH, and its closing Chorus, he stood in awe of the King of Kings. That began the tradition of standing during the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus.

In 2010 the Philadelphia Opera Company gathered 650 vocalists (in guise as shoppers) at the heart of a three-story Macy’s which had a large pipe organ installed in the center of the store. As the organ began the introduction to THE MESSIAH, the singers joined in for a fabulous flash mob. I hope you’ll take the six minutes to watch this, look at the faces of those who stop to listen, the hands raised in praise, the cameras taking in the sight and sound of this “Random Act of Culture”. I found it extremely uplifting, and hope you will too.

May you rejoice in the coming of Messiah, once as we celebrate Christmas and the babe born in a manger; and with the promise of His return in the future.

And He shall reign forever and ever. Hallelujah!