Not Without Hope

Many of you have heard the Bible verse that says we sorrow not as those who have no hope.  I would assume that almost every occasion (if not all) was in reference to someone who has passed from this life.  Sure, it is a comfort to know that we can have hope in the midst of our grief when we lose someone we love, but these past few weeks or so have once again made me look at a common verse a little differently.  I recently lost my dear uncle Dewayne Hoppert, and it has affected me in the most profound ways.  Of course the verse I mentioned keeps coming to mind, but not in just the sense of hope I have of seeing my uncle again, but more in how my uncle lived HIS life.

dewayne happyMy Uncle Dewayne (or Uncle Wayne as I called him) was the most amazing man of faith and incredible teacher of God’s word.  He gave up a very successful and lucrative career in construction to answer the call to full-time ministry.  He earned a double Bachelor’s Degree in Theology and Bible Languages, as well as Master of Bible Languages and Doctor of Bible Languages.  He was not only masterful in his study of God’s word and everything associated with it, but also in relating it to others in the most easy to understand ways.  He was an incredible Pastor and Uncle, but he was an even more amazing example of what it means to live by faith.  Uncle Wayne lived with the effects of Multiple Sclerosis for many years.  He had continual health issues, eventually ended up in a wheelchair and often needed assistance physically.  By all rights, he should have been sad, depressed, and maybe even angry at God for allowing him to suffer physically after he had dedicated his entire life to His service.  Many people would have thought, “If this is what serving God and living by faith means, then I don’t want any part of it.”  But not Dewayne.  Nope, my Uncle Wayne always had a smile on his face and encouragement for everyone else.  You could always hear him laughing from the depths of his soul or whistling as he wheeled around the church.  At his Celebration of Life service, it was one of the most talked about aspects of his life aside from his faith, and yet it was his faith that allowed him to be so joyful and hopeful.  How in the world was he able to keep that attitude no matter what stresses came into his life (physical or otherwise)?  Well, for lack of a better statement, “He sorrowed not as those who have no hope.”

Grief and loss is such a terrible sensation.  Whether we lose a loved one, our jobs, a relationship or any other thing we value, it saddens us.  It grieves us.  It breaks our hearts.  I have lost a lot of people in my life who were dear to me, and I usually go back to this verse (along with others) to comfort me that I will see them again.  Some losses have been profound, but this is the first time I have been so confounded by one.  Maybe it’s because Dewayne was my “second dad.”  Maybe it was because, for 20 years as Music Director, I had the privilege of working so closely with him as the Pastor.  Maybe it was that he was so consistently there for me as my Uncle.  Maybe it was that he was a giant of faith in my eyes.  Or maybe, just maybe, it was simply because he lived every word he ever taught or preached.  Every time he said, “God is in control,” or “God’s got this,” he spoke out of the experience of living it.  He may have doubted now and then, but he never caved to that doubt.  Instead, he talked about how we can live victoriously over our circumstances through our faith, hope and trust in God.  And just like him, we can do the same thing by letting our love and gratitude for God drive our mindset.

shutterstock_672165244Hope is not easy to come by in a hopeless world.  Recently our Pastor brought a message on hope, and it reminded me of what Dewayne always taught:  The word “hope” used in the verse  “…sorrow not as those who have no hope,” isn’t the kind of hope this world has conditioned us to consider.  This is not just wishing for something.  We talk about hoping we get that promotion or raise.  We talk about hoping something goes well.  We hope our team wins the game.  We hope the weather is good.  We hope, we hope and we hope, but what we are really saying is we “wish.”  This verse, however, uses a word that does not infer wishing, but conveys the certainty of a positive outcome.   I’m not going to go into all the certainties of the resurrection or the certainty of our salvation as believers.  Instead, I want to talk about this idea of being certain of the positive outcome of a situation.  Romans 8:28 tells us that all things work together for our ultimate good and His glory, but when you are trudging through difficulties it’s hard to feel that way.

Having faith isn’t very hard in the good times, but when the rubber meets the road, we are so quick to complain and murmur.  We complain about our jobs, families, churches, traffic,  health, and everything else that doesn’t go the way we want.  We all have difficulties and challenges, but we don’t all go through them the same way.  The Bible is filled with verses telling us God can be trusted and that we need to trust Him.  It tells us He operates differently, and has ways that aren’t like ours, because He sees the big picture.  He knows all the paths in my life and sees it as a beautiful tapestry, where all I see is the mess of threads on the other side.  He isn’t doing things to harm me, but I can only see the threads, and sometimes it feels like He must be mad at me based on my circumstances. But in Jeremiah 29:11 He declares, “For I know the plans I have for you: plans to proper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Verse after verse tells us to seek God first, and He has promised He’ll take care of us in every way.  Dewayne used to say our problem with being totally committed to trusting God is that we KNOW He will take care of us, but we are afraid He won’t do it like we want Him to.  That’s so very true.  We want Him to lead us, but not if it takes us down a path that has difficulties.  We’ve twisted our perspective of God and who He is so much that it’s no wonder we struggle with our faith when things go wrong.

shutterstock_527029558I’m going to be a raw here for a moment.  I miss my Uncle Wayne more than I could possibly put into words.  At times it is an isolating sensation, even though I know others miss him too.  The sorrow over the loss of his physical presence is even more difficult than I imagined it would be.  I miss everything about having him here to see and talk with, whether it was laughing about old times, sharing music, discussing God’s word, or even just saying nothing while enjoying his company.  My heart breaks every time I realize I won’t have one more hug, smile, laugh or conversation with him.  It is a loss so profoundly difficult to process, but then in those moments it’s almost as if I hear his whistling drifting down from Heaven.  I am reminded of what he endured in this life and how he kept his faith no matter what he had to face.  I remember things he taught, but more importantly I remember what it looked like watching him actually live those very things through faith.  He wasn’t perfect, but I’ve never known anyone who was a more perfect parable of what it is like to be a sinner saved by the grace of God, living victoriously through trust and faith in Him.  I told someone recently that we have the perfect, sinless example of Jesus Christ on how we should live our day-to-day lives, but I was blessed beyond measure to have the most perfect example of what it looks like for an imperfect child of God to dedicate himself to learning God’s word, loving God’s word and living God’s word – even when he messed up.  I saw someone who asked for forgiveness when he sinned and understood that he didn’t have to beat himself up over it, because God forgives AND forgets.  I saw “perfect imperfection,” and it was incredible to witness.

My last visit with Dewayne was something I intended to keep private, but now feel compelled to share with you.  I did not intend to see him in the hospital because my previous visit at church with him had been so “normal.”  I was content with it, but less than two days before he passed from this life, God tugged at my heart, and I wanted to go see him.  I couldn’t explain why, but my husband and I headed to the hospital.   He was resting and not very alert, though he would nod and react to what we were saying.  There were even a few moments of laughter and responsiveness.  Before we left, I took his hand and told him I loved him.  He kind of mumbled that he loved me too, and then said, “Hey Mike” to my husband.  On the way down to the lobby of the hospital, my husband and I were talking about being glad we came, even though it was tough.  Suddenly I realized I had left my purse up in the room.  DANG!  We had to go back.  I wasn’t thrilled, but it ended up that my forgetfulness was a total gift from God.  When I walked back in the room, he was actually quite alert.  I got my purse, but then he started talking with me.  We spoke for several minutes, mostly about God being in control.  Here he was, still proclaiming God’s goodness even in his most difficult time.  He told me three different times how proud he was of me, which felt like warm oil soothing my heart.  As we talked, he said, “God’s got this.  There may be some challenges here and there, but He’s working it out and everything is going to be ok.”  He repeated those sentiments several times throughout our conversation.  Then he said, “Study,” and I told him the great thing was that he had actually taught all of us HOW to study through the rules of interpretation.  I told him he had equipped us, and that I would absolutely study.  I said, “That’s a great gift because you can listen to someone all day long but until you study things out for yourself, you don’t own it.”  He pointed at me and said, “That’s right, you’ve got to OWN it.”  He and I then clasped hands, and he pointed at me with the hand I was holding and said, “Now you’re responsible.”  Although my cousin and I laughed and joked a little bit, in my heart (and based on his expression), I will always believe he meant we are the next generation and we need to carry on in faith.  Before I left, we told each other “I love you.”  This time there was no mumbling, but the clear beautiful words that are etched into your soul in those moments.  As I left his room I turned around and pointed at him, and he pointed right back.  Then I gave him a thumbs up, and he laughed and gave one back to me.  That was the last image I had of him.  He was laughing with me and giving me the thumbs up.

I started this post saying I have never had a loss that affected me so profoundly.  It is because the way he actually LIVED affected me so profoundly.  It is a multi-faceted kaleidoscope of memories and lessons that is too massive for me to be able to wrap my head around.  My last visit with him was filled with more than what I could have ever imagined.  His ability to keep his faith, trust and joy was so strong that it filled the room in which he was staying.  It really was no different than how it filled every other room he had been in over the course of his life.  He was different.  He had HOPE!  He knew it didn’t matter what he faced, even when he had every right to be angry or bitter, because in the end he knew he was going to overcome.  He never sorrowed in this life as those who have no hope.  He had hope even when MS began to make it difficult to do certain things.  He had hope when he became confined to a wheelchair.  He had hope when his health faltered or when he had to deal with other challenges associated with life or ministry.  He didn’t just have hope, he LIVED hope!  And so can we!

Matthew 5: 14-16 is something Dewayne spoke about quite often.  “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden, nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  So let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.”  He always said those verses don’t say we might be light, but that we ARE light; the question is whether or not we are going to shine or hide.  We have a reason to hope (the certainty of a positive outcome), and it is our turn to shine.  We don’t have to reserve our hope simply for knowing we will see our loved ones again.  We can be certain every day and in every circumstance (no matter how difficult) of exactly what my Uncle Wayne last said to me:

“God’s got this.  There may be challenges here and there, but He’s working it out and it’s going to be ok.”

Blessings!

Derailed!

shutterstock_135699662Do you ever have times in your life where things are swirling around you at such a terrible pace that you seem to just run off the rails?  I read a definition of the word “derail” that said it is “to be deflected from a purpose or direction, permanently or temporarily.”  When I read it, I couldn’t help but think of how things have been in my own world lately.

I’ve always said that sometimes life hits us with the most unexpected situations and leaves us absolutely reeling.  We are shaken and the longer it goes on, the more difficult it becomes to find our footing to stand strong.   When these situations involve the people closest to us, it makes it that much harder to not get discouraged or depressed by what is going on around us.  I say “we,” but maybe I should just speak for myself here.  I know what I believe…about life and about God.  I hold to those truths in the very core of my being but sometimes things happen that put a cloud between my heart and soul, and I find myself foundering, even though I still look like I am “on track” to most people.

Difficulties are often a private thing and, as such, we try to keep on going even when we are at the end of our rope.  We push ourselves to keep performing at work.  We tell ourselves we have responsibilities to fulfill at home or even in church.  We just keep plowing ahead with a determination that is sometimes detrimental to our well-being.  We’ve told ourselves that the only way to get through something is to keep going, so we keep pushing harder and harder, even when our bodies start telling us to stop.   We start breaking down physically and mentally.  Our emotions become harder to contain and yet we just keep going!  We will do anything to keep from stopping the motion because it seems like if we stop, we will be overtaken by everything that is around us.  The thought of it pushes us even harder.  We hit the accelerator in hopes that we can just power through whatever presents itself.

And then it happens…

We come into a curve too fast and suddenly find ourselves running of the rails.  Suddenly, the damage is unavoidable and we realize we’ve lost the ability to “maintain” any longer.   We are derailed.

Recently I experienced this pattern in my own life.  Things happened that rattled my world and created troublesome situations in the most grounding areas of my life.  The unrest it created spiritually, both internally and even within my home, was something that felt too painful to withstand. shutterstock_158132312I questioned things and began to wonder not only how it all would settle down, but when.    I tried to just keep going and consciously reminded myself of the truth of God’s promises that eventually everything works out for our ultimate good.  I tried to get up and go to work and do the best job I could for a company I love, even though I felt as though it didn’t matter.  I kept up my daily routines at home and church and kept powering through the emotions that kept hitting me in the face in every realm.  I just kept going…and going.  I just wanted so badly to get through things that I hit the accelerator into a curve and went flying off the rails.  I couldn’t think.  I didn’t want to breathe.  I just wanted to crawl into a hole, curl up into a tiny little ball and hide from everything.  I just couldn’t take one more thing.  If I couldn’t stop the world around me, then my only choice was to stop myself.

Derailments are an interesting process.  They can be massive, with devastating injuries and destruction or they can be minor, with only some small adjustments needed to get the train back on track.  They can require long periods of clean-up or almost none at all.  It all depends on how far off the rails things go…or how fast you’re going when you leave the tracks.  For me, I was so concerned with getting to the end of the line that I ignored the danger signs that kept popping up in front of me.  Maybe I thought I had the ability to manage the track without adhering to the warnings.  Maybe I thought people around me would think I was weak for slowing down.  Maybe I just wanted to keep moving because I thought it’s what was expected of me.  No matter the reason, it resulted in more difficulties than it resolved and caused me to have to stop for a while to rest, regain my bearings and let God repair the track.

shutterstock_691271There are some situations in life that we cannot change.  People disappoint us or have perspectives we cannot agree with.  Our loved ones may be dealing with their own situations or derailments and it can cause distance between us for a while.  We may feel alone and even abandoned as we journey through these times, but sometimes it is exactly what we need in our own lives in order to grow and become who we are created to be.  There are some things we must all journey through alone so that we come out on the other side with a strength, understanding and courage that does not come any other way.

So if you are experiencing your own derailment, don’t beat yourself up.  Take this time to step back and rest while the track is being repaired.  Use this time to assess the situation, and yourself, so that it can actually become beneficial for you.

And if are dangerously close to derailing, look up.  Heed the warnings and proceed with caution.  If you do, you will soon find that the next sign you see is the one telling you exactly which way to go.

Blessings!

When the Words Won’t Come

I sat down several times to write a post over the past week and the words just wouldn’t come.  I thought I would have time to reflect and share things with you over the weekend but that still didn’t bring the words I sought.

lightning sky2Sometimes we have those days or weeks (or even longer) when we want so badly to express ourselves but cannot find the words to do so.  We are faced with so many different situations and emotions that our spirit seems to swirl like a massive cyclone in which we can only catch glimpses of things as they fly past.  I have longed for the eye of the storm over the past few days but instead found the cyclone swirling even faster.  It certainly makes it difficult to find words when you can’t even find footing.

It is hard to explain the sensation of feeling alone in the midst of people or trying to let go of the pains we don’t understand.  It actually hurts to not be able to find the words to express the depth of our emotions…but what hurts more is to actually have the words and not be able to say them out loud.  I think that is one of the greatest pains of all.  Those situations bring a unique kind of pain…a hurt on top of hurt…a loneliness wrapped in isolation.

 

shutterstock_150535259It is not wise to say everything you think, believe or observe, but to feel censored because of the fear of confrontation or being belittled can be challenging.  Bullies don’t always use something tangible to attack others, but the injuries are just as deep.  Whether real or perceived, these things cause us to “clam up” and curl up into the corners of our soul where words are hard to find.  I have found it impossible to try and force words to the surface when the surface is not within reach, and I have found it too painful to reach down into the depths and grab them.

Personally, I struggle to understand why some people think or do the things they think or do.  I struggle to understand why some people seem to thrive on controversy, contention or confrontation.  I struggle to understand why it hurts so much to not understand.  I struggle just like the rest of you with these things and maybe there is comfort in that fact.  Maybe it is our collective struggle to live in peace that binds some of us together.  And maybe…just maybe that makes a difference.

Since hurt is made bearable by the salve of love, I pray we all feel that love in a way that binds our wounds and helps us heal…

even when there are no words.shutterstock_154402385

Blessings!

“I Have No Life!”

shutterstock_79823446How many times have you found yourself uttering those words?  I must admit, even though I have been blessed greatly, there are days I feel like I life I have no life.  My husband and I weren’t able to have children so we haven’t ever had the camaraderie that exists between couples who attend their kid’s events, etc.  We’ve had friends who have children but over time it ended up that we were always the ones making concessions on what to do, or where to do it since it was easier for us to pick up and go somewhere than it was for others to pack up the kids and then be constantly watching the time so the kids weren’t out too late.  You would think as we got older some of this would subside but it really didn’t because it wasn’t long before our friends started having grandkids.  Once that happens, all bets are off.  Then there are the friends who seem to constantly be on the run with activities or dealing with the drama in the lives of those around them.  Whatever the circumstances, I look around me and think, “I have no life.”

It’s hard when you spend your life always trying to cater to the people around you.  Even if you do it by choice out of sincere love for them, there are days when it can wear on you.  For me, I have this thing about not being a burden to others or infringing on their time and such.  I want the people around me to enjoy life to the fullest and, as a result, don’t want to interrupt their busy days or keep them from doing something else they have planned.  Of course, then I sit at home by myself and start feeling sad because it seems more and more that I don’t fit into their schedules…even though they would normally welcome the “interruption” and be glad to connect.  It may sound like I’m whining, but hang with me for a few more minutes.girlfriends

When you look at other people and it seems they are living life to the fullest, it can be difficult to realize that it also feels as though you are not important enough for them to make time for you.  Whether it is the truth or not doesn’t really matter because perception can be a powerful thing in our lives.  Is it really that they don’t have time for us or is it simply that we keep trying so hard to not be demanding or selfish that we fall over ourselves in order to feel totally alone?  It seems so counterproductive!  So what is it that makes us look at others and think they don’t care enough about us to initiate conversations or activities?  These are the times we need to stop and look within.  I’m not saying there aren’t people who will take advantage of you or take everything you are willing to give them without ever giving it a second thought, but more often than not, the problem rests within us and not with them.

For most women, we are taught that we should not get angry or upset.  We are taught to be agreeable and always put others first.  We are also taught this as Christians.  (“Prefer one another.” “Love your neighbor as yourself.”) silence Everywhere we look we seem to get the message that wanting or needing something for ourselves is selfish.  We are taught that standing up for what is right for us is selfish.  We are taught that our needs are less important than the needs of others.  This thinking is hammered into our brains over and over in life and then we wonder why we feel so drained.  We find ourselves feeling unimportant or even used by the people in our lives.  The truth is that our wants and needs are important too!  It doesn’t make you a bad person if you choose to pursue the things in life that make you happy.  It doesn’t make you a terrible Christian if you say “no”sometimes to people or activities that deplete your energy.  It doesn’t make you selfish to stand up for yourself and be who you are created to be, which includes respecting your own needs and desires!  It doesn’t mean you are the center of the universe, but it does mean that in order for you to be the best you can be, you have to learn to feed yourself.

“Give a man a fish and he eats for a day.  Teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”  We’ve all heard that quote but look at it from this perspective:  If you constantly rely on someone else to make you feel loved, then you will feel loved only for a short while.  If you learn to love yourself and be kind and gentle with yourself first, then you will feel loved for a lifetime.  We need to stop looking to the world around us to make us feel like we “have a life.”  We need to simply step up to the plate and CREATE the life we desire.

If that means burning the old tapes repeatedly playing in our heads that tell us we are selfish for taking care of ourselves, then strike a match and let’s watch them burn!

fire

Blessings!