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

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after the rain, the sun

QUOTE it is well

Waiting on God requires the willingness to bear uncertainty, to carry within oneself the unanswered question

– Elisabeth Elliot 

It’s hard to accept that you are in control, that you have a plan that’s good.

It’s hard to trust in a story I haven’t written myself.

I wish I could skip ahead a few chapters and see what’s next.

Then I’d be able to trust you. Then I’d be able to relax and enjoy my life and not get bogged down by the what ifs.

Then I could say with confidence that your promises are good.

But it doesn’t work like that, does it? It’s not that easy.

I guess there’s purpose in the process.

Your will is in the waiting.

If I knew all the answers to my deepest questions, I’d only trust myself–my efforts. My abilities.

I wouldn’t cling to you so desperately, the bleeding woman with nothing else but hope.

If I knew it all I wouldn’t need you. You’d be a benevolent benefactor I’d acknowledge on occasion–“thanks for everything!” and our relationship would dissolve into YOU GIVE and I TAKE.

I would miss the unexpected joy of a miracle, the tiny ray of sun struggling through the clouds when it’s rained and rained and rained without stopping.

I would learn nothing in the dark times, the hungry times, the wandering, the wondering in the wilderness.

I wouldn’t see the beauty in the brokenness, the way you whisper in the wind:

I’ve got this.

So I relent.

I relinquish control to the one who orders the storm to still.

I silence my soul to the rhythm of waves on the shore.

It is well.

Immanuel

In the wake of a tragedy, the world is sensitive and throbbing, like a wound irritated and freshly opened. Fingers are pointed and blame is cast–from guns to mental illness to the government to the belief that God was “kicked out of the public school system long ago,” the last one standing out from the others as something that makes me so, so sad and not for the reason you’d think.

It’s simply because I don’t think it’s true.

In her blog, Rachel Held Evans counters the argument that “God did not show up at Sandy Hook because ‘God is not allowed in public schools,’ because ‘we have systematically removed God from that place'” by stating:

God can be wherever God wants to be. God needs no formal invitation. We couldn’t ‘systematically remove’ God if we tried.

photo courtesy of www.weheartit.com

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

Like Rachel Held Evans, I feel troubled and provoked by the assertion that God can be removed from somewhere, especially in light of the Christmas message that He sent His son to be Immanuel.

God with us.

Allow me this space to vent.

God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8), He is higher and more powerful than our human laws, and our government, and our educational systems and institutions, all the ways in which we attempt to organize our messy and sinful world.

He is more infinite, more far-reaching, and big that even our most sophisticated systems and intelligent laws cannot even begin to explain what He can do.

To think that a law, a bill, or an institution can keep God out is to greatly limit how vast and powerful He is. Preventing children from saying the Lord’s prayer in schools will not keep Him out, because, as Rachel Held Evans says, He cannot be kept out. He is everywhere at all times, God with us, even when we can’t feel it, even when we think something we’ve done or let happen will keep Him out.

What’s even more troubling to me than the loss of the Lord’s prayer in schools is that hearts have turned away from Him and don’t know His love. Because His people, Christians, aren’t showing them love–they’re keeping it to themselves, sequestered in their churches and programs and systems and then shaking their heads in disbelief when the rest of the world doesn’t follow suit.

They think that what a broken and hurting world needs is another church, another building, another system, another organization, another program or law, turning their noses up at the whiff of anything subversive or different, forgetting how subversive and different the very core of their religion is.

It is not, I believe, the system, the government, the organization, the program or law that people need. Telling people what to do and how to live their lives and “taking over” the government is not going to cause people everywhere to fall on their knees and take up Christianity.

It is you, Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).

It’s people, showing His love to other people in the simplest of ways, showing others how valuable they are without a script or a tract or a million-dollar church building or the “anointing” of another spiritual celebrity.

As previously mentioned, Jesus was different. He didn’t require the most sophisticated synagogue to reach out to people, or traveling funds or ministry school degrees or the celebrity status of the modern-day spiritual leader.

His ministry was so simple. He sat with people–the prostitute, the tax collector, the homeless, the adulteress, the sick and poor and forgotten and neglected and built relationships with them. He listened to them, broke bread with them, wiped their tears and spoke to them, the ones from whom many church people would turn away.

Because it was the religious people who ticked Him off, how they inflated their own egos and turned his “church” from being about people to being about getting money from people.

It is my personal opinion that many Christians are fighting the wrong fight. They’re fighting for laws to be passed and systems to be changed, when they should be focusing on how they can change their own hearts from being marred by self-righteousness and pride.

The fact of the matter is simply this:

Jesus loved people, and if we want to change the world, that’s what we have to do too.

Dear Child

To Liam, Holden, and Drew.

Dear Child,

I wish I could tell you that this is a perfect world, that the only evils are cartoon monsters on TV and that the only danger lurking around the corner is in your imagination.

I wish I could tell you that this world we’ve given you is always safe and that you will always be happy and unafraid and protected, and that you’re free to play and grow and explore the way you were meant to, without any threats of harm.

I wish I could tell you that everywhere you go, there will be people who love you as much as I do, who only want to see your childhood celebrated, who will let you be kids, who will treasure you and nurture you and keep you safe.

I wish you could feel my love, and the love of your friends and family, with you all day as you play and learn and sleep.

I wish I could banish all the bad guys from the world, all the monsters dressed up like humans, with the wave of a magic wand, and we could all live happily ever after surrounded by love and laughter and light.

I wish I could, but I can’t.

Because the world is not perfect, I’m afraid, and there are bad guys who never knew how much they were loved and so they act like monsters.

(But they were once children too, and a child should always be allowed to be a child and feel love and safety everywhere they go).

Dear Child, let’s fight the monsters together, so that no more children feel unloved.

Let’s pray for each other and ask God to keep everyone safe and happy.

Let’s be as kind as we can and as polite as possible.

Let’s show everyone we know that they are special and they make our lives brighter, and that they are allowed to be who they are, even if it’s different from us.

Let’s not get angry if things don’t go the way they want them to, and remember to let someone else go first.

Let’s be gentle and forgiving, even if someone is not gentle and forgiving to us.

Let’s remember that everyone has bad days and it’s okay to cry or talk about how we’re feeling.

Let’s try to make someone smile if they’re unhappy and comfort them when they’re sad.

Let’s use our nicest words and use our best manners.

Let’s hug often, smile often, and love with our whole hearts,

Because there is a lot of goodness in the world and a lot of love to be shown, and it starts with you.

photo courtesy of www.weheartit.com

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

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 …

Trouble been doggin’ my soul since the day I was born

architect of my mind, smooth the planes

Anxiety is not only a pain which we must ask God to assuage but also a weakness we must ask Him to pardon; for He’s told us to take no care for the morrow — C.S. Lewis

So is it true what they say?

That I can live a carefree, unfettered existence and not worry about a thing?

It seems so impossible, so irresponsible, so unlike me. What would my mind do if not eternally ruminating over nuances, scrutinizing interactions, infusing meaning into silences? What would I do with all that time?

You have the Creator of the Universe living inside of you. Every distraction, every anxiety, is designed to keep you from living a supernatural life based on that fact. Living in the rest of God empowers you to find the rest of what God has for you — Steve Thompson, from Colossians 1:28

So maybe that’s it. Rest. Remaining calm in the midst of chaos. Keeping the peace within at any cost, even if it means pulling away, closing my eyes, and breathing because it’s the most important thing in the world. Not fretting, not speculating, not analyzing, catastrophizing, obsessing, because my mind feels that if it’s not picking apart something it’s not being responsible.

Flip it the other way around. Maybe it’s the thinking that’s the problem, the nucleus of negativity, the kink in the system. Maybe being responsible means resting, slowing down, allowing love and light to fill the dark corners.

Maybe the absence of fear is peace, a wave unfurling on the shore.

let go, give in

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?