Why We Hope When All Hope Is Lost

Yesterday I got to revisit one of my most read blog posts ever (and one of my favorite bible stories!) in a guest post for To Love Honor and Vacuum. I loved getting to work with Sheila and she was such an encouragement, but when she first asked me to write a new version of a piece I’d written over two years ago I wasn’t completely sure I’d be able to do it.

black-and-white-woman-girl-sittingIt was certainly an interesting exercise to reflect on the same issue from such a different place in life . . . yet I write that and I think, “Is it a different place in life?” After all, the post is about singleness, and I am still single.

. . . Or single again, depending on whether you see singleness as being unattached, or whether it’s a binary along with married — you’re either one or the other . . .

I tend to think in binary. Married or unmarried. For me, being in a relationship was the part of the one that felt like the other. You’re still adrift at sea, but you are in sight of land. Though maybe not close enough to it to tell if it’s a habitable island, or if it’s just the wreckage of another ship passing you.

As I wrote, I found I was less drawn to the idea of desperation, and more inclined to talk about hopelessness. Hopelessness, I feel, comes after desperation. It was desperation that made Sarah forget herself and laugh when she was eavesdropping on her husband’s conversation with the messengers of God — laugh, perhaps, to keep from crying. It was hopelessness that inspired her to give her handmaid, Hagar, to her husband Abraham to produce the offspring God had promised.

“Hopelessness is dangerous,” I wrote in my Confessions . . . and I believe it. I don’t think Sarah new what she was giving away. The birthright of the firstborn is a powerful thing in Hebrew culture. And though I believe that God honored and cared for Ishmael as Abraham’s son, the sibling rivalry between the descendants of Ishmael and the descendants of Isaac carries on throughout the entirety of the Old Testament and even down to the present day.  All because of a moment of hopelessness on the part of one woman.

In regards to marriage . . . part of me goes “Are we still talking about this? I’m so tired of talking about this!” . . . but in regards to marriage, I recently broke something I had kept for a long time in hopes of that day. It wasn’t out of anger or frustration. I simply broke it in carelessness. I had stopped believing it mattered. I had allowed my circumstanced to become my god and because of that I sacrificed something deeply important to me on the altar of hopelessness.

“Oh, there goes another thing I won’t need,” I thought, numb. Then it hit me like a flood a few days later and, sobbing, I dug the wreckage out of the trash can and squirreled it away somewhere, in hope of God knows what.

But in hope . . . hope it so buoyant. That is both the most miraculous part and the most painful. Our hearts were built for hope. And even long after the object of our hope is destroyed, long after we’ve doused the fire, a single look or word can kindle the spark again.

If you’re biblical scholar (or you simply looked it up like I did), you’ll notice that the second story I mentioned about Sarah actually comes before the first. Ishmael was born years before the messengers came to herald the birth of Isaac, and the promise of offspring was given to Abraham many, many years before that. I’m sure Sarah had smothered the flame of her hope more times than she could count.

Then God himself comes to have tea with Abraham and it stirs the embers in Sarah’s heart again. She lingers close to the wall of the tent where she can hear what the messengers have to say about God’s long-forgotten promise. We can only assume she held her breath because the response comes bursting out when she hears the words spoken.

And she laughs. She laughs because she realizes that, even after seeing her husband raise another women’s child as his heir, all the hope is not dead in her heart. She laughs at God and His audacity to promise such a thing. She laughs at her own foolishness for believing it.

“God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise . . . ” (1 Corinthians 1:27). And that’s the way it feels to hope when our circumstances don’t justify it, it feels shameful. Believing in our circumstances seems wise, believing in God despite our circumstances feels foolish.

But that is what makes us like Him. If there’s anything that characterizes the God of the Bible, it is unrelenting, often unrealistic, hope for His people. Our hearts were made for hope because our hearts were made for Him.

Advertisements

God’s Goodness to Job

At the beginning of last year, I wrote a song as a reflection on all the things God had done in my life the year before. The refrain went: “Oh, the goodness of the Lord is before my eyes, all my life.”

I was reminded of it this last Sunday.

The sermon at church was on the book of Job, and afterwards, my six-year-old niece, Abby, asked me what the pastor had been talking about. Our conversation went like this:

“Well,” I said, “Job was a man in the bible and all his possessions were destroyed, and his kids were killed, and he got very sick.”

“And Satan did that?”

“Yeah, God gave Satan free reign with everything Job had. But Job still kept his faith in God. Which is why we still read his story today, and will probably keep telling it for all of eternity.”

“And his wife didn’t believe in God?” she asked.

“No, she did believe in God. But when she saw all of the bad things that had happened to them she couldn’t believe that God was good anymore, so she told Job it would be better for him to die than to go on living.”

“And how was God good to Job?”

” . . . ”

It was a long silence, but I did end up giving Abby an answer. What I wonder is, what’s your answer to that question? It’s an important one. Is God still good when His goodness is not visible?

And how is He good?

It’s not just the question of a six-year-old, or Job’s wife, it’s the question of our world. Look at everything that’s happening, how can you still believe there is a good God?

The goodness, kindness, and gentleness of God have marked my life in extraordinary ways, but the hardest lesson of my spiritual life was having to choose Him when His goodness was nowhere to be seen.

Which is why it’s also a profoundly personal question. Moses doesn’t exactly describe what he saw on the mountain when God “caused His goodness to pass before him.” Maybe we all would have seen or experienced something different. And maybe we all do experience the goodness of God in unique ways, which is why it’s so crucial we tell, or sing (if you’re me and sing everything), or write about it — like David did in Psalm 23:6.

In the last chapters of Job, God has a conversation with Job. I consider it to be one of the most beautiful portions of all of scripture, because in it God describes Himself — He literally goes on and on about Himself. But the key is not just that God answered, not even that God defended Job, but that He stayed with him, and heard everything both Job and his friends had to say. He never left him for a moment.

What I told Abby was that the goodness of God to Job was His relationship with him.

But that’s my answer because that’s my story as well. In this video the preacher and writer, Bob Sorge, gives his interpretation of God’s goodness to Job, based on his own testimony and experience. It’s well worth a watch:

Where Do You Keep Your Hope Chest?

blue and white chinaI held the little pieces of glass in my hands, cupped in my palms, like I could will them back together. But it was all I could do to hold myself together at that moment.

I cry when things break, this is the way it works. It doesn’t matter if it’s something precious or a 200 rupee jar of jam that dropped out of the shopping bag on the way up the stairs. I don’t know what it is, maybe it reminds me of how easily larger things like hearts and relationships can shatter.

“It doesn’t matter,” I told myself, sitting there on the floor of my parents house staring at the box that had once contained my set of china, but now mostly just contained shards of it. I was alone. I could cry over it, however foolish I felt. It didn’t matter. But that was just the point — it didn’t matter. I was planning to give the china away anyhow.

Read the rest of my post at IndiAanya.

Loving the Prince of Peace in a World at War

I don’t need to recount the stories, I know you’ve seen them. It’s hard to avoid the barrage these days, it’s hard to take your eyes off it: children shooting each other, men witnessing and participating in gang rapes, women lighting themselves on fire to kill themselves or strapping themselves to bombs to kill others, leaders of countries massacring their own civilians . . . The Bible likens the turmoil of the nations to the raging of many waters, and I for one feel like I’m cowering in the midst of a storm. Historians calculate that in all the history of mankind there have been 13 years of war for every single year of peace.

But Jesus . . . He speaks a word and calms the storm.

Click here to read the rest of my post over at IndiAanya. 

21 Reasons Not to Start Blogging Again

  1. As consoling as it is on a bad first date, I really want to live my life without always thinking, “This will make a good blog post.” “Will this make a good blog post?” Or the alternative, “I’m never going to tell anyone about this ever.”
  2. Even those last ones sometimes become blog posts, because my response to embarrassment is usually to tell everyone I know about it. Somehow I think it helps.
  3. It does actually.
  4. Wait, that last one wasn’t a reason.
  5. Remember when I had an online vintage clothes retailing business? I eventually shut it down because I spent all my time photographing the clothes and not really selling them. The time I spend designing “the look” of my blog, versus the time I actually spend blogging, is kind of like that. If it were a business model, it would be a bad one. (But she’d have killer style.)
  6. Even aside from the looks factor, managing a blog is inexplicably time-consuming.
  7. I want to write different things than blog posts, and need the time to do that.
  8. I travel a lot. Which means great swaths of time without internet access.
  9. I live in India. Which means great swaths of time without internet access.
  10. I’m not sufficiently tech-interested to use the apps / 3G / doohickies that would make this easy.
  11. My past, techier, self somehow (and I don’t remember how) set this up to feed directly to my Twitter, which feeds directly to my Facebook, which in turn tells everyone I know about the ridiculous things I say sometimes.
  12. I say ridiculous things sometimes.
  13. But really. And people take me seriously. And they should know better.
  14. Despite the vintage-clothes-retailing debacle, I have an anti-proclivity to cameras (unless video) and picture-taking, which seems to be an unfortunate requisite for successful blogging these days.
  15. It seems exhibitionist.
  16. “A writer is one for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” (Thomas Mann)
  17. And blogging makes me a little quote-happy. Just watch.
  18. THE END.
  19. “What?” you say. “But that’s only eighteen!!”
  20. I should spend the time gaining valuable and thus-far overlooked skills. Like counting. And decoupage.
  21. Just kidding, I know how to decoupage and I don’t think it can be considered a skill.

Well, I guess I’m blogging again.

 

An Open Letter to My Mom, etc.

Hi Mom,

This is what I’m hoping to do in Kansas City: http://www.ihop.org/Group/Group.aspx?ID=1000041317

I’m planning on taking the May 5–28 Intimacy track and the June 2–25 Intercession track. However, with being stranded here in Turkey, I may only make it to the latter one. I’m praying about how God would like me to go forward from here with this change of schedule.

Acts 6:4 says the disciples “Devoted themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.” And I believe IHOP’s ministry is just that. I can hardly go anywhere these days without running into someone who’s views on Jesus/scripture have been profoundly radicalized by intersection with IHOP. They are not, in dad’s terms, “about where the Kingdom isn’t” but about where the Kingdom IS. And I believe they take their role in edification of the body seriously.

Like I’ve said before, I believe writing to be my calling, not M-work, and not prayer. But as I explained to a friend the other day, up till now I’ve been spending 5 hours a day working at a high-end clothes store. Meanwhile Ms in North India perish for lack of knowledge. I’d rather be spending 5 hours a day praying and mobilizing for N.I. I don’t believe it puts my calling in jeopardy because I’m able to do other work for the kingdom that desperately needs to be done. I don’t believe I have an excuse to do nothing simply because it would be more convenient for me to stay in California and sell clothes. I think mobilizing is one of my gifts and I believe prayer is an essential and life-long skill that I will use in any country or career in the world. So this path makes sense on a very practical level, too.

On a spiritual level, I’m learning that if we truly believed that “Life is War” we would live very differently. What I am trying to learn is how to declare war in the spiritual realm. I believe that’s what prayer is, I believe that’s what we do when we do God’s Will in a place where His Kingdom has not yet come, and I believe writing can do that, too. I’m going to IHOP and Pleasant Valley to try and glean from them how to do it in the ways they do it best, not saying that either place has everything right or the full picture of what God’s work in the world is. I don’t think I have that, either.

Does that clarify my motivation for you a little more? I absolutely want to keep first things first in this whole process, and let other things fall to the wayside. According to Jesus the first thing is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” I see writing, prayer, India as part of that. But as I continue to seek his face (another biblical command, per Ps 27) I hope to get a greater vision of the full reality of that in my life, from “my heart will not fear, though war break out against me” to seeing “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”

Feel free to pass this on to dad or other’s in the family that ask you questions about this decision-making process. I’m trying to keep everybody up-to-date about where my head and heart (and body) are, all at the same time, and not finding it easy!

I love you and thank God daily for giving me you as a mother.

Love,
Emily

On a Windy Day

In the fall here we get these legendary wind storms.  They’re called the Santa Anas or, at times, the Satanás—from the Spanish vientos de Satán, “the winds of Satan.”  Journalist Joan Didion wrote of them,

Los Angeles weather is the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse, and, just as the reliably long and bitter winters of New England determine the way life is lived there, so the violence and the unpredictability of the Santa Anas affect the entire quality of life in Los Angeles, accentuate its impermanence, its unreliability. The wind shows us how close to the edge we are.

And Raymond Chandler called them,

Those hot dry winds that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch.

But they’re not always hot and dry and when we were kids we thought they were greatest thing next to being allowed to jump on the trampoline at night—and maybe if we jumped high enough we’d be blown away. It wasn’t till we got older we learned how dangerous they were. Dangerous and beautiful.

While the winds are often credited with the largest and deadliest wildfires in this area, they’re also responsible for providing us Angelinos with the first few crystal clear days of winter after the haze and smogginess of the long, dull summer months.

60638790_4906357c43_o

Continue reading