Category Archives: Hope

this is not how it should be.

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I just returned home from another hospital call. This has been such a crazy month, receiving hospital and hotline calls almost every time I am on call. (For those of you who don’t know, I volunteer as a rape crisis counselor, which involves answering hotline phone calls* or going to emergency rooms when new clients arrive.) This is not the appropriate venue in which to process this or any other call. I love this work. I am privileged to be part of this. And yet the suffering is so incredible. The pain is so deep. I know it may seem like Christianity 101, but I still wrestle with reconciling the goodness of God and the brokenness of the world. There are days when the edge of the hospital bed from which I am trying to give comfort feels more real than everything I learned in Bible classes growing up.

AND YET. And yet. I have lately been learning so much about the love of God. Not a nebulous, theoretical concept of love, but the real, constant, freeing love that God has for me, and for you. And it’s all nice and good to experience that love in the quiet safety of my living room, with a journal in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. Those are moments when I know God’s love as gentle and intimate. But on days like today, God’s love becomes strong, unflinching in the face of the forces trying to wreck our lives and steal our joy. I believe God loves us so much that he cries and grieves for the pain we endure. I admit that I wish he would swoop in and save us from experiencing that pain in the first place. I don’t understand some things. But I am grateful for his sustaining love, and one day maybe I will understand more fully.

This song has gotten me through some very tough moments, including parts of today. It’s a quiet plea to God from a man who lost his daughter. It’s an acknowledgment of things we don’t understand. And it’s a reminder that there is still hope. And I hope it encourages you today.

spotify:track:488GVshZX7RbT2XQYiNGGX

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*Have you or someone you loved experienced sexual assault? There are so many places to which you can go for help (if you feel like you’re ready for that). If you want more information on resources, please let me know! This was not your fault. And there is hope.

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yep.

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The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you?* Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.
–Soren Kierkegaard, Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard

*No, I am not actually decrying Christian scholarship. I’ve entertained the idea of further Biblical studies myself. But even that thought strikes a certain holy fear within me, a fear that papers and studies and lectures could become an intellectual routine that places a damper on the fire of the Spirit in my heart. (This reminds me of Sheldon Vanauken’s suspicion that the Yale scholars with whom he studied were people who “forget in a world of grey stone and parchment that stars shine on a tree in the quad, that the poem sings.”)

But how long would I need to partake in Christian scholarship before I finally reach the conclusion that Jesus is calling me to live a life very different from the one I now lead? That his definitions of comfort, safety, and success are very different from mine? Maybe I don’t need another master’s degree. Maybe I need to be a little more literal.

margin notes

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Do you remember your first Bible? I don’t. I know, I’m a missionary kid, born in the Bible belt and raised in Awana, but I really don’t remember anything about that first Bible.

I do, however, remember the first Bible that made an impact on my life. It’s hard to forget: I bought my forest green bonded leather NIV in 10th grade from my boarding school’s vice principal. I technically bought it for Bible class, but I began reading it all the time. I can still remember laying in the top bunk of my tiny dorm room, on my periwinkle-colored comforter, reading my Bible and writing in my first-ever journal. (The journal was bright green with a daisy in the middle of the cover, and was a gift from my mom when she and dad took me to boarding school.)

Somewhere in the shuffle and aspirations of becoming a progressive liberal-arts college student, I set aside my dark green NIV for other, newer versions of the Bible. But thanks to some recent projects for work, I retrieved my dusty old companion from its forlorn location and opened it for the first time in years.

I am amazed. The notes I wrote in the margins! So much underlining on so many pages. The worn gold leaf. These pages are precious to me, reminders of my journey with God, testimonies of his everlasting faithfulness.

While thumbing through the Psalms, I came across a note written under the heading of Psalm 46: “June 8, 2003.” That was the Sunday following my high school graduation. I will not regale you with memories from that weekend for fear that you will spend the rest of your day in weepy sadness. That weekend marked the end of something beautiful for me and my friends; it meant the end of a community of dorm brothers and sisters, friends become family, soon to be dispersed to universities around the globe. There have only been, thank the Lord, three times of intense grief and loss in my life; that weekend was one of them.

That weekend, Psalm 46 became for me a prayer and a cry to God, and has since become a testament to his goodness and faithfulness. During the darkest days of my life, during storms and battles and deserts, God has been with me. And he will not let me go.

For your encouragement and my joy, here is what I underlined that heartsick Sunday. Are you grieving and downcast? Take heart, my friend.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

c.s. lewis on forgiveness

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Some thoughts from Lewis on genuine, relentless, explicit forgiveness:

A great deal of our anxiety comes from not really believing in the forgiveness of sins, from thinking that God will not take us to himself again unless he is satisfied that some sort of case can be made out in our favor. But that would not be forgiveness at all. Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to that man who has done it. That, and only that, is forgiveness, and that we can always have from God if we ask for it. -C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

too bright for these eyes

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Sometimes I just need to take a hike.

Okay, so Wheaton and hiking might be mutually exclusive. But sometimes I need to take a metaphorical hike from focusing on my own life, and when that’s the case, I take to the streets of this little neighborhood. Sometimes it’s to get some fresh air and get out of my townhouse. Sometimes it’s to pray without the distractions of books and my computer and things to accomplish. Today it was simply to remind myself that this whole world is brimming with life, and God is in charge of all of it.

Isn’t it too easy to become self-focused? As though I am the planet’s center of gravity, and if my life is tipping too far in one direction, the entire world will come crashing down, too. I’ve been feeling like that lately, so off I walked, avoiding sidewalk cracks, admiring flowers, mentally repainting houses, and looking for life.

Do you know what I saw? Normal stuff. I saw a man in a suit, walking his dog. I saw two neighbors talking in a yard. I saw a father and son arguing in a driveway. There were sidewalks being repaved, cars driving by, a little kid riding a trike in his driveway — helmet and all. Life is so big. All of those houses are filled with people who have joys and pains, hundreds of years of combined experiences and memories. The Lord sees it all, knows us better than we know ourselves, and certainly has plans for us that are greater than our own — even if he isn’t quick to reveal those to us.

That’s a tough one for me. Yes, I chuckle to others, God’s got a good plan; it must be good, since he’s keeping it a surprise! But on the inside, I’m not always chuckling. The truth is, sometimes I just don’t get God. Sometimes I don’t hear him, or I’m getting mixed signals, or any number of communication problem metaphors. I know he’s there, and I know he’s doing something, because he is a living and active God, orchestrating his will in this world, for his glory and my joy. I know that in the deepest way that I can know it. But can’t he just let me in on the game plan?

I came home at the end of my walk, encouraged and peaceful, though still wishing he’d just write a message in the clouds. I reached my cross street, and to my right, there was a gorgeous sunset, against which were silhouetted some trees and a bridge. It was actually breathtaking. The sun was shielded behind some wispy clouds, and the sky was just saturated with orange light. I stood there, looking at that beautiful sunset, people driving by and probably thinking I was crazy for standing still instead of going somewhere. (Sometimes, we just need to stand.) And as I was standing there, thinking about the glory of God, the sun came out from behind those clouds. In full force, I could see the orange sphere of the sun against the orange of the sky, and a few seconds later, I couldn’t look anymore. The sun was too bright. But I wanted to see it! Why couldn’t my eyes handle the brightness of the sun?

As much as the gently setting sun reminded me of the glory of God, the blazing ball of fire that came out from behind the clouds reminded me of his glory even more. We just want to look, don’t we? We want to see it all! Moses saw just the back of God, and his face radiated with the glory of it all. I wanted to look at that sun, see it in all its beauty, but it was just too much for me to handle. And really, I know in my heart that that’s sometimes true of God’s plan, as well. I want the big picture, and he gives me a day at a time — as if that weren’t enough for me, anyway!

So, I’m a fan of walks and hikes, literal and metaphorical. I hope my walk today can encourage you in your own.