Hope Scalds

For me, Hope is one of the great needs in life.  Air.  Water.  Food.  Hope.

If you somehow convince me that a situation can never be changed, I’ll leave the situation.  If you convince me that I can’t leave (and there is a strong possibility that I’ll chew my arm off to get out) then I droop.  I despair.   I stop doing ANYTHING.   It gets ugly.  Really, really, REALLY ugly.   Like, it’s a good thing that I can’t stomach alcohol, because I’d have vodka stashed in the couch ugly.

I don’t mind having to change tactics.  I don’t mind having to come at things from a different angle.  I’m all about flexibility.  And heaven forbid you think I mind working – I don’t.

But I won’t work if there is no hope.   Likewise, if I have to slog through and do my time … and I can’t speed anything up, but I just have to sit there?  Nap time!   I will do the bare minimum necessary to get to where I have to go.   Not pretty – and I’m not pretending that this is a nice part of my personality.

What’s hard for me is to have a problem and NOT mess with it.   To take my hands off and go do something else – that takes a tremendous amount of willpower, and preferably a choke collar with spiky bits inside.

But not everyone is me.   I talked to my BFF and to a couple of other people, and person after person told me essentially that they just got through the days – hope was dangerous, because you HOPE in something that you do not yet have, and that emotional investment can be scaldingly painful if it is taken away.   Interesting.  As a person who runs on hope, I am often disappointed.   I get my nose bopped, I get hurt, I sit down and mope for a minute…. and then I find another facet to work on or a whole new hope to invest in.   But I -literally- run on hope.

So, I’ve learned not to share my dreams with just anyone… it’s sad, because I’m perfectly happy to generate hope for others.   (And a path to the hoped-for-object, because I’m practical as well as dreamy).   I don’t like scalding people.

I have a problem right now (well, it’s not MY problem) and I can’t do anything about it, and I’m being cuddled and loved and kept busy… God is GOOD.   All my dreams could come true, does God will… or not, if not.   God is in total control.  I long, long, long ago surrendered to His will for my life, even if I don’t like it.  He’s God, I’m not.  We do things His way around here.

God is ALWAYS in total control, but not every season in life lends itself to that knowledge.   He often allows us the illusion of control.  But it’s an illusion.   Why should I not hope?  Any child can ask their father for a certain gift – and sometimes they get it, and sometimes not.   A healthy relationship with your Father is like a healthy parent-child relationship, where the child is not reluctant to reveal the desires of their heart, nor to surrender those desires to greater wisdom and perfect timing.

The difference is that we teach our children to do for themselves and not be dependent on us, for the children must grow up to be parents themselves one day.   We, as Christians, have growing up to do, but it seems to me that the more I grow in Christ, the more knowingly dependent I become, not less.   I grow in trust, in faith… and yes, in hope.

Hope does scald… but I wouldn’t trade it for despair, which is always five degrees cooler than room temperature, and a bit sticky.

I don’t want to be stuck.   Hope is easy – waiting is hard.


Caged Beast

Once upon a time, they caught a wolf and her mate.  They put them in a cage.  For years, the wolf howled, begging for release.   She hated the zoo.   But her mate was content there, even happy.   And so, the wolf eventually stopped howling at the moon, and concentrated on creating a wonderful den within the confines of the zoo.  She and her mate had cubs, and they raised them to adolescence.

Sometimes the wolf would see the moon over the bars of her cage and she’d long to howl, but she’d turn her face away and continue to make her den as nice as she could.  She connected with good resources, and she and her cubs were well taken care of.  She told herself to be grateful – and most of the time, when the moon didn’t sing, she was.  She had all the food she needed, she was safe, she was warm.

But her mate started to grow thin and tired.  He was brought out to display every day.   He didn’t complain, but his fur started looking patchy, and he didn’t have the energy he once had.   The wolf, who had been taking excellent care of herself (having nothing else to do) grew worried.   She made the den as nice as she could, and ministered to him when he was home, but she had no power to lighten his load.   Even if she were to go on display, it was him the crowds wanted, not her.

One day, someone came by and rattled the door to their cage.  No, not the door that her mate was brought out through when on display, but the door that they’d been shoved through, once upon a time.  Someone looked in on them from that side… Someone who caused her to trust irrationally… and words were spoken that she could not understand.

Hope, long buried, raised its head, and the wolf threw her head back and howled with everything she had within her.   She instantly hung her head in shame.  Her heart’s desire added a burden onto her mate, already sickened by his daily parade.   But she could hear the words outside her cage… what were they saying?  She’d heard rumors that sometimes, animals were released back into the wild… would they do that for her family?

She started dreaming of fresh air and peace.  She remembered her mate, so happy as the alpha of their pack, and how he had thrived, directing the other wolves and caring for them.   She looked around at her beautiful den and she felt a pang – there was much here to be grateful for.  Shame came again… why should she want something else?

She paced.  And then the zookeeper came to her – the one whose words she’d heard outside her cage.  He sat with her and petted her, calming her fears.  She still didn’t understand what he was saying, but she grew to trust him.   He brought her treats, and comforted her.

Now she was filled with confusion – she trusted the zookeeper utterly, but at the same time she’d never been a tame wolf.  She knew he’d never hurt her, and had her best interests at heart… but she didn’t know what he might do, or when he might choose to do it.

Hope had stirred up trouble… trust gave her peace… and every day, the wolf grew to hope more, and to be more peaceful.   But would she ever find herself running free?

What will the zookeeper choose?


The Wait

Have good Christian friends.  Fellowship (like all the other commands) is about improving YOUR life, not just obedience.  *  I went to visit my friend C this week, and she was telling me that the column of fire that led the Israelites through the wilderness also served as a rear guard, and I was like, “what? That’s not part of the story I remember!”  (And how many hundreds of times have I had that story taught to me, or read the story for myself?)  So, I made her prove it.

Exodus 14:19 The angel of God, who had been going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them. 20 So it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel; and there was the cloud along with the darkness, yet it gave light at night. Thus the one did not come near the other all night.

You know, it makes sense.  It takes a minute to get a million or so people to move anywhere.   But I’d totally forgotten that the Israelites were camped in the first place.  I knew they had a good solid complain at the edge of the sea, but the mental imagery has them stopped for an hour or so, not at least a day – probably days.   Let’s turn back a few verses…

Exodus 14: Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Tell the sons of Israel to turn back and camp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea; you shall camp in front of Baal-zephon, opposite it, by the sea.

So, Israel *sat there* until Egypt came running after them.  They had no idea what was happening.  They were sitting next to a sea, no exit plan, no clue what came next.   They started whining – I mean, last week they have frogs everywhere, but because they can’t see the way out, they freak out.

And that’s a consolation.  Because the waiting sucks.  It always sucks.  And the thing that struck me is that God almost always makes us wait.  We wait and we do everything in our power to change our situation… and we can’t, and then we freak out (and hopefully get on our faces and pray), and then He comes through.    And makes with the miracle.

I wonder if that’s not like everything else… maybe His pattern is like that for a reason, and the reason isn’t *just* to point out how little faith we have, but to make us pay attention.   CS Lewis said that God would come in when we’d come to the end of ourselves, but we wouldn’t know we’d truly come to the end of ourselves until we’d tried with all of ourselves.

And He’s protecting us in the meantime.  We are to take refuge under His wings… but how many times do we really avail ourselves of that protection?  I don’t know about you, but I mostly want to try to go it alone.  Like that’s somehow honorable.  -shakes head-  It might be honorable, but it’s not wise.

I beat myself up habitually.  All this time I’ve been beating myself up for the emotions that show up in the waiting time.   The anger, the fear, the frustration.  But you know… I’m a mortal.  Maybe it’s okay – maybe it’s even better – to be honest about those emotions and still stand on the trust in God.   Huh.  Sounds like David in the Psalms, really.  “this sucks, I don’t see a way out, but I trust You, you’ve got this, but it sucks right now, it totally does – but I know You’ve got me and I trust You.”

I’m not a patient woman.  I want my change, I want it now.  Especially the things that I know have had clearance from on high – I want those things *now*.   From my perspective, on the ground-level, I don’t see why I have to wait.  But from eternity, I know that there are reasons.  God makes all things come together for good for those who are called… well, working things together for good involves timing things properly.

The waiting time is useful.  God is still with me, protecting me.  I’m still in His plan, I haven’t messed it all up by doing something stupid (well, assuming I’ve stayed the course – reason #4529 for obedience).   It grows my faith to persevere through the waiting time in order to reap the miracle.

It’s okay that it’s hard.  Lots of things are hard.  And we can persevere through “hard” if we know that on the other end is a good harvest.  Which we do – in this world or the next.

Just keep swimming.



*The moment when you realize this for yourself is a big moment in your Christian walk.  God tells you to do *nothing* just because.   It’s all for your benefit.  All of it.  Even that stupid rule that you don’t understand and don’t agree with and is totally out of sync with modern reality… it will make your life better.   So suck it up, buttercup.  Obedience is the smart thing to do.

No Mortal Enemy

2 Timothy 2:24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.

No mortal is my enemy.   I know, that’s very Kumbaya of me…. and I know that there are mortals who would consider me their enemies.   So what?  Other peoples’ folly isn’t supposed to control *me*, is it?  I know my enemies.  And my hatred is saved for them.  (And oh yes, I do hate – I hate the spirits of darkness with every fiber of my being).

Ephesians 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.14 Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints,

If they are human, if they yet draw breath, they have the potential to become family, siblings in Christ.   No matter how horrible a sinner, Christ died for them.   I will *not* stand in their way.   This is hard.   It has to be a decision, not an emotion.  To stand for what is true and right – and simply stand, without attacking those who might one day come to join me, oh… that’s very hard.  And if it’s hard for me, who am a gentle soul, how much harder must it be for others?

I hate how things are going in my country.  I hate the divisions.  The people yelling at one another, the lies, the half-truths, the twisted news, the endless slander… it’s disgusting.   It’s as if those who are throwing words-as-stones have never read a history book, as if they don’t know what comes next…

Civil War.  Cultural Revolution.  Genocide.  Generations of divisions in families, communities, countries.

I’m not blind.  I’m not stupid.  And I’m literate – I read the end of the Book.  I know what happens.   I know the build up won’t be pretty.  Labor pangs take a long time to come to fruition.    Weird things have already happened, and they’re not going to stop happening.

So.  Speak up, speak truth.  Stand up, stand on the Rock.  But remember to let your speech be grace seasoned with salt – not the other way ’round.

Every one who would be labelled my “enemy” is just another human, caught in a web of sin.   I have no right to stand between them and my Savior.   My choices have eternal consequences, and so do yours.

Beauty Surrenders to Entropy

Beauty is profound.  Beauty is awe-inspiring.  Beauty touches the soul.  All true.  But we are protected from worshiping at her altar because all that is beautiful is subject to entropy.

Isaiah 40:6b-8 All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
When the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.

We are all desperately familiar with the fact that the work of our hands must be done, and redone and done again – the garden must be weeded, and pruned.  The clothing frays.  The buildings crumble.  But even the beauty of nature is subject to entropy.  Cliffs fall.  Beautiful hillsides burn.  Stars implode.

Beauty calls us to the Transcendent, but Beauty is not God.   Entropy is there to remind us of this, until the day when Death itself is killed.

Beauty challenges us


Natural beauty is something that I’m well acquainted with.  I’ve hiked the Sierra Nevada, camped in the Borrego Desert, and I’m five minutes away from the Pacific Ocean.   None of those places, as beautiful as they are, affected me the way that Point Lobos did.  Point Lobos is so beautiful that it makes your teeth ache.  Every twist in the path brings you to a view that is better than the one you left behind – something you’d think impossible.   Paths strewn with abalone sand, faintly iridescent.  Gem colored water.  The smell of pines and salt water, the sound of waves and barking seals.

The sheer amount of beauty overwhelmed me, and filled me with awe and reverence.  This is the only place I’ve ever been where I vowed to come back dressed properly – my bright shirt and shorts were wrong.  I stood there, looking out, and thought, “This place could cure your heart – or break it”.

Its beauty challenged me.  It offered to heal me,  but it wasn’t soft.  So much beauty, piercing the heart, bringing light to the dark.  But it challenged – if you chose to keep your heart shuttered tight, not to let the light in, one step forward off the trail would solve your problems for life.

True beauty creates awe.   It challenges you to change, to come alongside it, to become a part of it.  But it does not flex or soften its intensity, its power.  It is – will you live with it, or not?

Someday I’ll get back to Point Lobos, and when I do – I’ll be properly dressed.

Hidden Beauty

One of my parents’ students from China dropped by to see them last night, and I had an interesting chat with him about hiding beauty during the Cultural Revolution.

He was eight when it started… he remembered the Protestant church next door the day they brought out all the illustrated books and pictures, piled them in the courtyard and burned them.  He remembered being in high school, and secretly passing around great works of Western literature, finishing a 500pg novel in a night, because that was all the time he was allotted.  He remembered a few friends with whom he’d gather privately, and listen to Beethoven.

When we arrived in China, in 1980, the Cultural Revolution was officially over – but you couldn’t tell for looking.   Flowers and grass were considered decadent, pigs and geese wandering around the common areas eating off the trash piles were common.  I couldn’t tell you how many destroyed works of art that I saw – grass grown over a toppled statue, faces smashed off of a bas relief carved into a mountainside.   Everyone wore identical blue padded jackets and pants, and almost every woman I saw had her hair cut short.  Beauty was suspect.

But it was there.  Under the blue cotton of those padded jackets was silk brocade in myriad colors.  (Silk is an excellent insulator).  Under the official demeanor, my parents made true friend after friend, people starving for intelligent discussions, freedom of thought.   When we moved into our own apartment, my parents ended up throwing party after party – officially because one had to entertain the foreigners, but my parents weren’t party people.  No, they’d be packed with folks desperate to have an excuse to dance, get together, laugh.

I will never forget seeing the aging couple waltzing more beautifully than many professional dancers.  Both wearing their official blue padded jammies, of course.  They’d learned in another time – the time when Harbin was known as the Paris of the East.  I wonder how many nights they’d danced together, quietly so as to not let on to the neighbors.  How brave they were, to show so many others their skills once again.

Beauty lived on, even under the weight of the official lies.  Beauty was valued, even at the high cost that might be charged at any minute, were you found out.  Beauty has power.

And beauty cannot be covered in lies.  Oh, I remember being taken on lots of official tours. I was greatly fortunate to be able to walk through the Forbidden City, tour the Imperial Palace up close, see those treasures which had not been destroyed – carved jade that would make a sculptor weep.  I remember how annoyed the official tour guides were that we had no  interest in seeing industrial factories (although the callous disregard for safety has stayed with me for a lifetime*) but that we wanted to see yet more artifacts from their Imperial past.   They wanted to forget those things… but we didn’t.

I wonder sometimes if some of what made China amazing has managed to finally be destroyed by capitalism – accepting shoddy for true, ignoring details in order to cheapen the products… Well, even this.  True beauty shines above its imitators like a diamond in a pile of plastic crystals.  It embarrasses the counterfeiters.

True beauty is of great value, intrinsic value.  It speaks to the heart and cannot be denied.

A concept worth pondering.


*I will never forget being toured through the metal factory.   We were only 10 feet away from a waterfall of molten metal – not a bit of safety equipment.  That didn’t surprise my ignorant eight-year-old self, but what did was the man 2 feet away from that metal-fall.  He was wearing the same cotton clothing that we were, his only ‘”safety equipment” a pair of cloth gloves.  You don’t have to be an adult to get the instant lesson that human life was worth absolutely nothing to whoever was running the show.  I was definitely impressed.