Tag Archives: hope

In a World Dry as Kindling

Dear Kids,

As you might have noticed, we were born in America.  We come from families with a long history of working hard to beat the odds, of excelling in all kinds of jobs—or not, as the case may be.  We have drinkers and pirates and politicians and scalawags, artists, creators, teachers, and pastors lining up in our DNA.  Some were noble.  Some were despicable.  Some were heroes and some victims (like as not, those two qualities combined.)  They are the stuff of legend.

As for our family, we’ve enjoyed a modest happiness, sheltered from much harm, sleepy with blessings and hopeful with dreams.  We’ve visited wide sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, fields full of sunflowers, mountains that scrape the sky.  We have sung around campfires and feasted on turkey every Thanksgiving.  We are no one special, except that by the grace of God, we are loved.

We are not special.  We are loved.

There are in this wide country a great many people who tell a different story.  Oh, their families, too, have high points and low, moments of love, moments of hate.  Maybe they don’t expect breakfast most mornings, maybe they’ve never seen much beyond a boarded-up window.  But people are people, dreamers and drifters, lovers and loved.  We all laugh easy when we go to bed warm and full, when we wake up hopeful.  We all come into the world wired for friendship and meaningful days.

It isn’t too hard to see where hate starts, where, if you were bent on it, you could rip a flag along fraying seams.  Envy, mostly, pride, or thoughts of revenge, fulcrums that pivot us toward dark places.  We all want justice for our enemies and mercy for ourselves.  We all die a little with the death of a dream or a door slammed.  It’s easier to be hard than tender.  It’s certainly easier to hold a grudge than forgive.  Sustain enough injuries, and scar tissue grows up, cording thick around our hearts, squeezing out grace.

A long enough drought and it only takes a spark to burn a million acres.

Our country is dry right now, really dry.  Hearts are hard from hurts and words spark angry like flint striking stone.  There is no logic than can forestall a forest fire.  Only water, only love.

I pray for you.  You scamper through dry woods, while clouds thick with static gather overhead.

What if?

What will come?

I want to immunize you against the taking sides, the never-ending, unforgiving duels.  Capulets and Montagues fling arrows, bruised and outraged egos bristle back, cycles claim another generation.

But, love.

Here child, fill your bucket, pour it down over your own head.  Fill it, fill it, let it run in streams around you, a circle of safety, damp with tears.  Turn your anger into weeping, turn your eyes to heaven, turn your bruised and fragile cheek.  Bend your sword into a shovel, dig up your unplowed ground, plant thickets of mercy.

Let justice roll down like mighty waters.

It is easier to despair some days than hope, easier to choose apathy than passion.  And hope that lands in disappointment can risk your heart.  The whisper, Where is God? becomes a scream.  Your faith must be as strong as your ego is vulnerable.

I remember a poem I learned years ago, a word for the misery of our times.  It’s “Dover Beach,” by Matthew Arnold, melancholy, wistful, the sound of losing faith.  And yet he ends with hope—albeit a battered and a mournful one.  You are yet too young to grasp these words, I think, but someday when your heart is low, maybe you will hear them.  They are partly true.

The sea is calm tonight.

The tide is full, the moon lies fair

Upon the straits; on the French coast the light

Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,

Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.

Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!

Only, from the long line of spray

Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,

Listen! you hear the grating roar

Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,

At their return, up the high strand,

Begin, and cease, and then again begin,

With tremulous cadence slow, and bring

The eternal note of sadness in.

 

Sophocles long ago

Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought

Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow

Of human misery; we

Find also in the sound a thought,

Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

 

The Sea of Faith

Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore

Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.

But now I only hear

Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,

Retreating, to the breath

Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear

And naked shingles of the world.

 

Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! for the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

I wish I could sit down with Matthew Arnold, ask him if he’d lost faith or only lamented the general loss of faith in the world.  I, too, lament, but there we part.  I stake my life on this: where all is lost and broken, there is hope, hope in the person of One who bled to water the thirsty ground, hope in the One who watched hate win, only to rise again above it, triumph of meekness over might.

If this bone-dry world, sweet kids, is all there is, then we are “here as on a darkling plain”—Charlottesville, Hitler, and slavery is all there is.  Hate wins.  But if this world is just the hard-cracked shell of a seed that must first break to burst out again in life, well, then, we wait.

I pray for you to hold fast to faith.  Take courage.  Risk everything you have to love.  And drive your roots down deep, so that on a scorching day you won’t dry out.

Yours while we wait,

Mom

“He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” –Jeremiah 17:8

in the waiting,faith

Whatever Comes (a devotional for the day)

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us…”  (II Peter 1:3)

Everything I need.  Every little blessed thing I ever needed, or ever will– that’s what God gives me?  Then hiding behind what I think I need there must be a deeper need, not a bigger house, but contentment; not a squabble to end, but love.  And posted on that closet full of goodness is a sign:  “Free for the Taking.”

Do I need hope?  He is my living hope.  Do I need light?  The Lord is my light and my salvation.  Whether the deep need of my soul today is rest and healing, shelter and peace, or I need strength for battle, a sword and a shield, God is my fortress.  There is no lack in my life he cannot provide–wisdom, friendship, joy, or love.  There is no moment his eye is not upon me, no place his arms cannot reach, no depths to which he will not go to find me.  There is no calamity which takes him by surprise, no situation out of his gracious good will.  He is warmth and kindness.  He is unassailable in power, matchless in beauty, victorious over every enemy, gentle as a shepherd.

Why are you downcast, o my soul?  For I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Charles Spurgeon wrote, “the Lord seems to say, ‘I am yours, soul; come and make use of me as you will.  You may freely come to my store, and the more you come, the more welcome you will be.’  It is our own fault if we do not enjoy the riches of our God…. Never be wanting while you have a God to go to; never fear or faint while you have God to help you; go to your treasure and take whatever you need– there is all that you can ever want.”

Lord, whatever comes, make me steadfast, make me rooted.

One Small Prayer

platitude, noun:  a remark or statement (especially with moral content) that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful.  Cliché.

It has happened a hundred times.  At gravesides, hospital beds, over coffee.  Tears are falling, someone is looking for answers.

He won’t be with us much longer.  

I’m going to lose the baby.  

We’re living in our car.  How did this happen?  

It’s really over this time. 

Where is God?

The questions come fast and thick, stumbling over one another in the race to be asked.  A lifetime of doubts and puzzles have accumulated and been ignored too long; now, in the moment of crisis, they all rush out at once.

Is God good?  Does God care?  Is God powerful?  Can He help?

We stand tongue-tied and awkward in the force of the deluge.  How can we adequately respond?  What can we say in the face of cancer or abuse or prison or divorce that can possibly reach wide enough to embrace that kind of hurt?

And we know, we really know, that it isn’t enough to say the usual things.  “It’ll be all right.  I know what you’re going through.”  Will it?  Do I?

And so, yesterday.  Again we turn on the radio to hear bad news, the senseless kind, the how-did-God-let-this-happen, is-He-on-His-lunchbreak kind.  And we most of us stand there kind of stunned and try to think what can possibly be said, while a few of us, the Important People, are handed a microphone.  And deep down, they’re feeling the same way.  What can they say?  How can they help?

So they say the only thing they know how to say, they mouth the words.  “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims.”  And no doubt they, too, have the same flood of questions behind the brave face:  where is God?  why has this happened?  when will it end?  But Important People aren’t afforded the luxury of confusion.  Important People need to have all the answers.  Important People need to DO something.

New-York-Daily-News-front-page-Thursday-December-3-2015-san-bernardino-shootings-474x620

Of course, that’s just ridiculous.  Because none of us have any answers, do we?

Or maybe we do.  Maybe prayer is the right answer after all.  And when we’re stumped and we don’t know how to pray, we look to the pray-ers of the past.  We cry out, “How long, O Lord?” with a chorus of heartbroken voices.  We call out, “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.”  We name our fears, our despair, our confusion, and we rob them of their power over us.  And then we name our Deliverer.

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love.”

“The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.”

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.”

We kneel precisely because we know the magnitude of our problem and our complete inability to fix it.  How could we?

What is it the Important People are expected to do?  Heal the broken and bleeding human heart?  Turn anger and hate into kindness and love?  Legislate hope?

But there is a vast difference between real prayer and “good thoughts,” between kneeling and posing for the camera.  I saw someone sign off a webcast the other day with the closing line, “vibes to you.”  I’ve been laughing about that ever since — vibes, baby.  But it’s a sad thing when we send our positive and encouraging willpower across the miles as though there is any whiff of restorative power in it, any chance of redemption unfurling in our fond thoughts.  When candidates send empathy over the airwaves or tear up for a photo op, it’s no wonder it makes skeptics cringe.  No one’s fooled by vibes.

A god that stood aloof and watched tragedy multiply through the ages, the unmoved mover, well, prayers to that god wouldn’t fix a thing.  Prayers to a cold and stoic deity would be an exercise in foolishness, spitting in the wind.  But a God that hears?  A God that, say, gave up His throne for a manger and exchanged a palace for a broke-down stable?  That God, who endured the senseless violence and suffered the bad news personally?  Well, that’s good news.  That’s great joy.  And we name that God,

“Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  For to us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders.

We name that God Emmanuel, because He became one of us, and yes, He did fix us.  Anyone who wanted fixing, that is.

And so I pray today to the Lord of Broken Hearts, the Lord of Sacrificial Love, the Blood Donor God who split a vein to pour out hope for all of us.

How long, O Lord?  We wait for You.