Hope is a four-letter word

He is my light, my strength, my song

He is my light, my strength, my song

Hope.

A small word that feels so flimsy, tenuous, whisper thin.

Dandelion seeds scattered with breath.

Just have hope

–a punch in the gut.

A four-letter word, bitter and twisted in the mouth.

Like hinging your life on nothing.

Air.

A concept.

Because:

My circumstances are too deep, too dark, too heavy.

Suffocating with their too muchness.

And I can’t hold them with human hands,

And my eyes can’t see for the tears that blind.

And hope is a slap on sensitive skin.

hope is a white flag

hope is a white flag

But maybe that’s the point.

Nothing is ours to carry.

To plan. To plot.

To wrestle into being.

To hold on tight with human hands, so weak.

To see with human eyes, so myopic.

It’s light, a letting go.

It’s heavy, an anchor for the soul.

It’s hinging your life on everything, because in the end, there’s nothing left but

Hope.

It’s everything.

Despite the bad news.

Despite the diagnosis.

Despite the years of waiting.

Despite the years of yearning.

Despite the pain.

Despite the despair.

Despite the rain.

Despite the scorching heat of the desert,

Despite the thorns and stones of the wilderness.

Despite the feasts of others when you’re dining on crumbs.

Despite the failure, the fears,

the groaning, the tears.

Hope is both the stubborn holding tight,

Hannah’s silent prayer, Jacob’s I will not let go until you bless me grip,

And the wild, free-fall from great heights,

letting be, letting live, letting go.

In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev’ry sin on Him was laid—
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory,
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine—
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow’r of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.

“In Christ Alone”
Words and Music by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend
Copyright © 2001 Kingsway Thankyou Music

I Have Found the One Whom My Soul Loves

To explain my absence from the blogosphere as of late, I’ll show you what happened to me one month ago, because a picture is worth a thousand words …

photo courtesy of Caitlin Ingles (http://caitliningles.carbonmade.com)

Needless to say, the past month has been a backwards roller coaster of emotion. To say I’m over the moon would be an understatement.

I have found the one whom my soul loves  — Songs of Solomon 3:4

Now that I have some time to myself to think and reflect and, like Mary, treasure these things in my heart, it’s amazing to see how God brought us together and the journey He’s taken me on leading up to this life-altering moment. As a girl at work (a newlywed) told me, having a semi-longish engagement (11 months) is perfect because it really gives you time to savour this new season and revel in the excitement of preparing for something you’ve been dreaming of since you were a little girl, and the ways in which God was preparing my heart this entire time …

Truth be told, being single wasn’t always very fun. I’d have moments of acceptance and faith in God’s plan for my life followed by moments of crippling doubt. Every time a Facebook friend got married and posted pictures of their wedding, I’d struggle to keep the bitterness and feelings of “is this ever going to happen for me?” at bay. I remember walking down the Escarpment last year, feeling utterly broken and lost. “When You Say Nothing at All” by Alison Krauss was playing on my iPod as I was thinking about my completely unattainable love interest at that time and I felt so lonely and low that only God could shine the light, meagre as it was, through the cracks of my brokenness.

I had to hold on to the memory of August in Scotland, riding the ferry to the Orkney islands, and feeling wind-whipped and so alive that I could cry and laugh at the same time, and God’s quiet assurance that He was orchestrating the details of my life and that I’d meet the man of my dreams very soon (5 months later, to be exact, although I didn’t know it then!)

Sounds crazy, but I met K in January of 2012 and was engaged on my 27th birthday. For some reason, back on that ferry ride in Scotland, I felt so strongly that 27 would be the perfect age to become someone’s wife, and I will be 27 on June 8, 2013. Our wedding day.

photo courtesy of Caitlin Ingles (http://caitliningles.carbonmade.com)

Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things — Kay Warren

Last night, after a day of wedding dress shopping and high emotions, I went for a restorative walk up the Escarpment along Ridge Road (which is actually quite close to our venue, and a part of my town I’m very drawn to). It was around 8 p.m. and the sky was blazing red and gold. Twilight has always been my favourite time of day, and the loveliness of walking in a magical dusk in late August when the perfect music is playing on your iPod is absolutely healing.

In the beauty of that moment, with a bluegrass hymn in my ears, I spotted three deer in the meadow. I stopped and marvelled at them, taking my earbuds out and simply being. Two deer scampered off, white tails shaking, but one stood and stared at me for what seemed an eternity. Immediately I thought of the verse:

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you — Psalm 42:1

photo courtesy of google image search

This past week, K has been gone across the country to his home province visiting his mom, and despite initially being grateful for a week “off” from wedding planning and errands, and despite speaking to him nearly every day, I’ve been lethargic and without appetite, like a character in a Jane Austen novel. I longed for him, a bride-to-be longing for her future husband. What God showed me was that marriage is a reflection of His love for His people, His bride, and how we long for our Bridegroom’s return.

And, just because God is awesome and it is so evident that He delights in blessing the tiniest desires of our hearts, when I was walking back I saw two monarch butterflies fluttering by and playing with each other.

I have been obsessed with butterflies since I was a little girl, and K custom designed my engagement ring with two butterfly details. The deer and the butterflies just couldn’t have been a coincidence …

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

Remember in January, when I declared 2012 to be a year of the dragon and the lioness? I also quoted this verse in Habakkuk, where there is also the image of the deer:

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord!

I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!

The Sovereign Lord is my strength!

He makes me as surefooted as a deer,

able to tread upon the heights

— Habakkuk 3:17-19

I am grateful that I can share with you a condensed version of my story, dear readers. I urge you all, no matter what your circumstance, to hold onto hope even when things seem hopeless. My story is evidence that your wildest dreams really do come true …

Love Story

Catherine Middleton and Prince William on April 29, 2011

I don’t think it’s just because they’re royals that we waited so eagerly and watched the Royal Wedding so excitedly a couple of weeks ago. It’s because there’s something in us that springs to life whenever we witness two people madly in love saying “I do” … why some of us, despite our grandest efforts, are suckers for chick flicks and shows like Four Weddings and A Wedding Story.

Because we were hardwired for romance.

It’s like we have these little clocks inside of us that begin spinning and chiming a tinny tune at the sight of a misty eyed groom beholding his veiled bride gliding down an aisle or the first chords of Pachelbel’s Canon in D major. Some of us are more easily reduced to soppy messes than others by all of the furnishings of authentic love (the title of my blog should be a pretty good indication of where I stand) and the pleasure we take in discussing Kate Middleton’s elegant wedding gown or the way Mr. Thornton kisses Margaret Hale at the end of 2004’s North & South must be somewhat checked and classified as “guilty.”

While those others–jaded, cynical, disappointed, unaffected, stoic, unromantic, what-have-you–may scoff and shake their heads at our “silly, girlish” (said pejoratively) fascination with wedding gowns and flower arrangements, there lies inside of us a little girl who never quite grew up–a little girl who once upon a time crowned herself with dandelions and dreamed of being a princess made beautiful by the love of a prince.

"Romance is the glamour which turns the dust of everyday life into a golden haze" -- Amanda Cross

At the core of this–our wedding mania and obsession with red roses and soft candlelight and stolen glances and dancing slowly–is our most intimate, naked, vulnerable desire:

To be loved.

To be wanted, accepted, pursued, chased and adored, whether we be princesses, paper bag princesses or queens in our own right. Beneath our feminism and self-love and independence–all constructive things, mind you–there is still a yearning, an ache to be cherished and held, to have someone see our light and our dark and love it all. For someone to see our value as diamonds and rubies, our dust and dirt as malleable potential. For someone to say, I would do anything for you and really mean it.

Despite how happy we are and how much we’ve come to terms with our circumstances, the heart knows what the head ignores and our throats constrict and our eyes overflow at the most genuine displays of true love. Despite what we know about waning romance, infidelity, unhappy marriages and patriarchal impositions and traditional gender roles and soiled diapers, overflowing trash bins and bad breath, we can’t help but sigh just a little whenever a bride and groom march down the aisle for the first time as man and wife.

Not everyone’s storyline heads in that direction but they make peace with it and some choose alternative lifestyles for themselves which is courageous and tough. And fairy tales, romantic comedies, and Jane Austen novels tend to conclude at the first kiss, the marriage proposal, or the ride into the sunset because what comes after is the lost luggage, mortgage payments, dirty socks on the floor, runny noses, and trial after trial after trial (or so I hear). And perhaps for some, period romances and Harlequins and flirting with strangers become an escape from the monotony of married life because reality never lives up to the fairy tale.

But why?

Because we were hardwired for romance.

"I am my beloved's and he is mine" -- Songs of Solomon 2:16

Human love, while ecstatic and wondrous and beautiful, can only reach so far, hence the Harlequins and heartbreak. But beyond that, the reason why we ache and dream and crave, is because we were made by love, to love, for love. Because human love may be brief and may end catastrophically and nearly destroy us, but we don’t die because a greater love story runs in our veins and sings us back home again and again and again.

Masked in the filthy robes of lust and desperation is our inherent need to be loved unconditionally and to be seen continuously as a breathtaking bride meeting her perfect bridegroom at the altar: the place of unity, sacrifice, and eternal promises.

As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you — Isaiah 62:6

From the moment we were born, our cries filled the air with the longing to be held and loved … the ache only intensified as we grew older and began watching Disney and royal weddings. Our hearts beat to the rhythm of love and our own personal love stories become apparent in our visceral/spiritual reactions to the sun setting in a wash of pink and gold; church bells chiming ancient prayers on lazy Sunday afternoons in the spring; the seamless orchestration of perfect moments when all of our senses are aroused … He has set eternity in our hearts and romance in our souls.

We are being romanced with a love divine, a love primordial, a love of one million happily ever afters.

How will your heart respond?

Penelope

"Penelope and the Suitors" by John William Waterhouse, 1912

Hurry up and wait.

I think we are each to be a Penelope, learning the weight of wait.

Patience. Perhaps the most trying of virtues. Calmness in the eye of the storm. Grace where there is the expectation of (and the attitude of entitlement to) instant gratification. Trust where there is seemingly no hope. Peace where there is discord and confusion. Strength to deflect distractions, counterfeit promises.

(Sow seeds in one virtue and watch the darling buds of others spring into life).

And this is the word that anchors us and protects us from drifting off to sea. Waitwaitwait.

Penelope, faithful Penelope. Weaving and waiting and each night unravelling so she could weave and wait again the next day. Not worrying or withering away or wasting her time with some eligible suitor. No gather ye rosebuds while ye may. No Lady of Shalott, sighing after shadows. Penelope knew Odysseus would return to her. She knew the promise. She waited. For years.

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you — Isaiah 26:3

We know the promises that await us. Goodness and prosperity and blessings. But do we wait? Can we bear the weight?

Or is patience a virtue we resign to earlier centuries, before instant messaging and communication made us restless and bored without the constant reassurance of our own existence? Before solitude and quiet made us uncomfortable and yearning for the cell phone beep or BlackBerry chirp to tell us that we matter?

(It used to take days, weeks, months, for the post to arrive with news from our friends … As I write this, I reach for my phone to see if anyone has sent me a text message since the last time I checked five minutes ago and feel stomach-tightening disappointment when no one has. Why is this so? Why the inability to wait five minutes for a message from a friend?)

Penelope received no word from Odysseus and still she believed he still loved her and would come. Servants snickered, suitors whispered sweet nothings. Twenty years went by and the bloom of youth faded from her cheeks. The ache to be held, lips dry from the longing to be kissed. Eyes to the burial shroud. Fingers busy. Tempted yet ever true.

We see others being blessed with the very things we desire and feel forgotten. Marianne Williamson says:

… it is very clear to me that people in our society at least unconsciously hold the conviction that someone else’s success limits their own, makes them lesser, and puts a permanent lid on their own chances. The world believes in finite resources and everybody’s guilt. As long as we adhere to these pernicious beliefs, we will not only fail to let others shine, but we will never be able to allow ourselves to shine fully either.

We think waiting is weakness, passivity. Our belief in “finite resources” keeps us operating in the spirits of lack and poverty and self-absorption. Me first! What about me?

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

To wait is active. It is to hope, to expect good things, to put our minds at ease. To realize we’ve been given everything we need and are always blessed, always loved, always secure. To stop ourselves from going down wrong paths and rather, sitting at the crossroads to have a cup of tea and sit in communion with our walking partner.

To be like Penelope who could greet Odysseus with a pure and faithful heart.

To wait is not merely to remain impassive. It is to expect — to look for with patience, and also with submission. It is to long for, but not impatiently; to look for, but not to fret at the delay; to watch for, but not restlessly; to feel that if He does not come, we will acquiesce, and yet to refuse to let the mind acquiesce in the feeling that He will not come.

–Dr. A.B. Davidson

We’re All Sensitive People (With So Much to Give)

"We're are gentle, needy, soft, sensitive little buttons who deserve special handling" -- SARK

Have you heard the phrase “hurting people hurt people?”

I would like to that change phrase that so it simply says, “people hurt people.” Because, as humans, we’re intrinsically flawed and imperfect and aren’t immune to the blows and stings of life; therefore we lash out at others, are rude, insensitive, make cutting remarks, give the cold shoulder, and generally act like meanies.

It’s a fact of life: people are not very nice to each other, from country wars and violence to the little, seemingly insignificant ways we hurt each other on a daily basis. It’s stupid and sad, but true. Those of us who are extra-sensitive (Note: not soft or weak, just naturally sensitive) have to take special care to not let life’s hurts bring us down and make us feel that the words and actions of others are an indictment on our being.

It’s a life-long learning curve which can be even harder when people tell us to “stop being so sensitive” and “develop thicker skin.” Okay, I’ll stop being so sensitive just like I’ll try to stop being blonde or blue-eyed or have a type B- blood type (I’m just guessing. I don’t actually know my blood type) or an astigmatism in my left eye. Let me just go ahead and ask God why He made me this way. These things can’t be helped.

HANDLE WITH CARE!

How do we proceed? How do we live, day-to-day, with the knowledge that our interactions with other people may, in some way, hurt us? This is especially difficult for those of us who work with the general public; while some people are awesome, encouraging, and kind, there are those who make you want to crawl into a hole and hide.

I recently read a quote by Louise Erdich in The Painted Drum which I thought was interesting and in a way, contrary to what I believe. Here it is:

Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love and you have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes real, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.

I wrote this down in my journal, but it’s a quote I don’t agree with 100%. I’ve had a friend give me advice similar to this and while it sounds liberating, there’s something about it I can’t quite support. He said something like, “It’s better to have your heart broken and damaged than to play it safe … life is about experiencing things and getting hurt and doing it all over again.”

That’s one way of looking at it. The other is to “play it safe:” protect your heart, guard yourself, be cautious, and prevent heartbreak at any cost. I suppose it’s a fine balance between what I view as recklessness (Louise Erdich’s advice and that of my friend) and cautiousness. I am drawn to the former but usually retreat to the latter when I’m inevitably hurt or heartbroken.

Perhaps what we’re supposed to do is live in the middle of the spectrum: allowing ourselves to be open to others and to love, but not to the point of giving it away recklessly just for the sake of “experience.”

Like most things in life, living in balance is key. It’s tough, but it’s key. I’m a big fan of SARK ever since I saw her poster, “How to Be an Artist” on the door of my high school friend’s older sister and have read nearly all her books and own two. One of the things she says, which is a philosophy I’ve adopted, is that you should give yourself what you need so you don’t expect it from others, but can then extend it to them. I’ve mentioned it before, but the notion of self-love and self-care (Note: not selfishness or narcissism) is definitely underrated. I believe that if you give yourself all the nurture, support, and positive affirmations that you require, you won’t go looking for it in other people, therefore not getting hurt and disappointed when they inevitably fail you.

Whether or not you choose to be care-free or care-full, treating yourself and others with dignity and respect has the potential to change your life and possibly soften life’s hard knocks.

play nice, boys and girls!

I’m going to vow to be the following to myself and others: gentle, kind, supportive, nurturing, loving, forgiving, honest, listening, sincere, careful, cherishing, honouring, accepting …

I’m choosing to drink out of the cup of kindness with the knowledge that we’re all, as Marvin Gaye says, “sensitive people, with so much to give.” I’m going to try to model my life on these words:

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection and take delight in honouring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other […] Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone […] Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.

Romans 12:9-21

Tall order, but not impossible.

I’ll leave you with Jack Black channelling Marvin Gaye in my favourite scene from High Fidelity:

FRESH

"In onself lies the whole world and if you know how to look and learn, the door is there and the key is in your hand. Nobody on earth can give you either the key or the door to open, except yourself" -- Jiddu Krishnamurti

I love Christmas, but boy am I glad it’s all over and a brand new year is approaching. There’s nothing quite as mysterious and exciting as a fresh start, a white blank page, a blanket of freshly fallen snow, a new year full of possibilities.

2010 was named my year of TRUST. Funny how I had to learn to trust  in every aspect of my life and rely on nothing but God’s promises (hello, Romans 8:28!) again and again and again. Looking back and reading some old journal entries, I can honestly say that in 2010 I learned so much and grew immeasurably. Some of the lessons I learned were pretty painful, and if it hadn’t been for the grace of God, good friends, and supportive parents, it might have felt a bit like Boot Camp.

A pessimist might say that this past year, I experienced many setbacks and hit a lot of brick walls and am further from my goals than I was at the close of 2009. Which, in a lot of ways, is sort of true. But at the same time, if God offered me everything I wanted on a silver platter immediately when asked, I would learn nothing. I would take everything He has given me for granted and I wouldn’t appreciate hard work and patience–both of which contribute to good character. I’d have a nasty little entitlement complex and would stamp my feet when I didn’t get what I wanted instead of realizing that His timing is perfect and His plans are good (hello, Jeremiah 29:11!)

I made a lot of progress this year in terms of thinking positively and remaining hopeful and optimistic, no matter what the circumstances. Hard bloody work, let me tell you! Keeping in that habit as I look back at 2010, I can see that while I may not have achieved that much success by society’s standards, God was everywhere weaving the beautiful tapestry of my life together in subtle and unexpected ways.

"One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar" -- Helen Keller

I have heard a lot of people say that they’re expecting 2011 to be a great year and I’m choosing to believe this too. I’ve decided to name 2011 as the year of REINVENTION. A scary concept, but an exciting one. I love the idea that I can constantly reinvent myself and still be me. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come; the old has gone, the new is here!” (hello, 2 Corinthians 5:17). I’d like to start the year off by getting a tattoo of a butterfly (if I finally summon the courage!) to remind me of this, because butterflies have always symbolized transformation and reinvention to me which is why I love them so much.

And what would a new year be without some resolutions, goals, plans, and dreams? I’ve made some realistic ones this year (mainly because last year’s were too ambitious–did I really think I could just learn German without at least planning a trip to Germany to use it? Or ASL without knowing any deaf people?), and I’m confident I’ll be able to keep plugging away at these resolutions this year without getting discouraged or burning out.

Here are just a few:

  • Stay healthy! — I made a lot of progress in this area, especially in the last few months and I’m kind of proud of myself! I gave up caffeine (for the most part–I work at a coffee shop dontcha know!) and sugar, with the exception of occasional dark chocolate (I’m still a girl). I even made it through the holidays without overdosing on sugar and sweets, only indulging in a delicious crepe on Christmas Eve. Because I’m already on the right track, I’m not hating my body and feeling gross at the end of December and then punishing my body come January; I can just keep doing what I’ve been doing! And because I eat very healthy, get lots of rest, exercise every day and have a superstar immune system, I’ve managed bypass whatever sickness has infected my workplace and most of my friends. Sorry to gloat, but being healthy makes me happy!
  • Oh, the places you’ll go … — Oh yes, this year I plan to travel, so help me God. There’s a big world out there and it needs exploring and adventuring. I’m young and unattached right now, so when will I get the opportunity to travel again? There is a summer trip in the works (I hope, I hope, I hope!) and of course, there are some places of my dreams. And a sister who just moved somewhere cool. Thinking of traveling makes me way too excited!
  • Unleash the creativity — I’ve decided to give my Inner Critic a one-way ticket to the Bahamas on an all-expenses paid trip. I’ve got a lot of words and ideas inside of me, and I’ll be darned if I don’t get them out! My portfolio needs bulking and my stories need to be told. For real, this time. I hope to meet with my wicked-awesome Writing Circle a heck of a lot more this year and make writing more of a discipline instead of whenever the inspiration just so happens to strike. I’d like to get connected with more writers/forums/writing “communities” (oxymoron?), so if you know of any–either in the real world or the cyber world–please let me know!
  • Sisters from other misters — Continue building more meaningful relationships and cultivate the beautiful friendships I already have in my life. Get to know more people. Strike up conversation like I didn’t have a shy bone in my body. Say “yes” to more social engagements. I suppose if my early twenties were about learning how to Be Alone and be comfortable with it, my mid-twenties shall be about Being Social. I can be quite the social butterfly when I want to be, so long as there’s a bed I can crawl into at the end of the night and recharge my batteries. I’m okay with this.
  • The power of positive thinking — Continue practicing positive thinking and choosing happiness. Hold every thought captive before it causes internal damage. Use my defenses with scripture, prayer, self-care, and recognizing my areas of weakness. Make sure I’m eating enough and well, getting enough sleep, having enough Alone Time and Social Time, and having a creative outlet.

I resolve that I will try my best in all of these things and not get too upset if things don’t go exactly as planned. But I’m going to go for it because I’m young and free so why not?