Friday, January 8, 2016

Remembering to hope

My dear friends,

I had grand ambitions to write some year's end reflections last week. I'd sit down with a cuppa tea and scour old memories, looking for overlooked mistakes I could learn from. I'd search for themes in my decision-making and knee-jerk reactions to life's hard stuff, asking the Spirit to help me learn from them. I'd plumb the depths of my hardest moments, looking for signs of God's goodness that I may have missed. Then I'd look toward the new year with renewed determination to cultivate growth-oriented practices.

But a few hours into New Year's Eve day, I noticed my pants were on inside out and backward. A few hours later, they were still inside out and backward.

Here's the thing: I am tired. I am especially tired of trying to get healthy. It's a full-time job that reaps such little reward. Lately, I've been so exhausted that even breathing has been hard. All that *in* and *out*, and *in* and *out* business. It's breeeeaking the energy bank. And since rectifying pant situations is harder than breathing, I left my pants inside out and upside down, or however they were, and then I collapsed in a pile and mentally sang an operatic rendition of "The Ants Come Marching In." I'm hoping the doctor will be satisfied impressed with my recent mental attempts at singing opera when I see him next. It's the thought that counts and all.

And this is where I insert a plot twist you totally didn't see coming:

I did not sit down that day to scour old memories for signs of God's goodness; nor did I search for themes in my decision-making. Instead, I laid in front of the fireplace for 12 hours straight, shifting occasionally to find a more pant-friendly position, and trying to ignore the quickly approaching new year.

I think a lot of you put your pants on backwards and inside out on New Year's Eve day, too — metaphorically speaking, of course. You, like me, may be too tired to muster enthusiasm about the new year. You may even be dreading it. Maybe 2015 tore through your life like Hurricane Katrina and left everything in shambles. Or maybe 2015 slowly and quietly whittled away at your sense of wonder and curiosity and left you feeling dry and apathetic. Maybe it punctured your most secret hopes, or stole someone you love, or gobbled up your financial stability. Maybe it left you feeling lonely and directionless.

It is hard to look toward the future with excitement and hope when the past is laden with disappointment.

But hope buoys us. It keeps the thrashing waves from swallowing us when we veer into the unexpected and unfamiliar darkness. And sometimes, it bumps us into a still-water patch of sunlight just long enough to coax buds out of the gardens we're growing inside ourselves. Many of us need a good dose of hope this month as we tentatively step into 2016.
This week, now that my pants are on straight, I've been trying to inflate my rather limp hope as I look toward the new year. I've been praying, and mentally singing praise songs (sans the opera; I figure the angels could use a break from all my high-pitched warbling), and hanging out in Exodus 14 and 15.

In these chapters, the Israelites are standing at the edge of the Red Sea. On the other side of the sea lies freedom from slavery — finally, after hundreds of years under Egyptian rule. Behind them, an army of Egyptian slave masters is chasing them, threatening their imminent freedom. Most of us know the story well: God parts the Sea in half, and the Israelites walk across the seabed to safety. Once they've reached the other side, the sea returns to normal, swallowing the Egyptian slave drivers.

The Israelites must've fallen onto the seashore and turned to each other in relief and awe that day. They were free to establish a home of their own in the land God promised! And yet, a vast and dangerous desert lay between them and the Promised Land. Their trials were far from over. In fact, many of them would soon be longing for the comparatively "comfortable" days of slavery. Even so, they burst into a song of praise to God right then and there. My Bible calls it "The Song of Moses and Miriam."

In the first half of the song, the Israelites look back on the good things God has done for them:

    "Pharaoh's chariots and his host he cast into the sea,
    and his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea..."

In the last half of the song, they look forward to the good things God will certainly do for them in the future. In the English translation* they describe some of God's future acts as if they've already happened, such is their confidence in his promises:

  "...all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.
Terror and dread fall upon them;
    because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone,
till your people, O Lord, pass by,
    till the people pass by whom you have purchased."

The Israelites had hope in God's future provision because he'd taken care of them in the past. This is why God repeatedly admonishes his people to remember him and his unfailing love throughout the Old Testament. And this is why, at least in part, he built festivals of remembrance into the Jewish calendar. He wants his children to step into the future with hope that it will be full of good gifts because he's packed the past with good gifts.

I'm especially intentional about trying to remember God's past faithfulness when the burden of my sickness sends me staggering to my knees, but in these moments of crisis it can be hard to remember the good things he has done. In these moments, my brain tends to freeze, and my spirit is apt to pace and wring its hands in fear. So lately, I've started swapping stories about God's faithfulness with my friends throughout the daily humdrum of life. I want our stories to wiggle into my heart and take root, so when the storms come, the stories are a part of me. And so, when God answers a prayer request, I try to remember to tell my people. When I'm sinking into the quicksand of discouragement and anxiety, I try to remember to ask them to recount times God encouraged and strengthened them.

I have just a few resolutions for 2016. At the top of the list is my desire to make our stories of remembrance a reliable part of the rhythm of my daily life, because I know they will rewrite the direction of my life-song. I'm hoping you'll help me with this today.

Would you share with me, either in the comments section or via email, some story highlighting the good care, provision, and/or presence of God in your life? If you're comfortable sharing in the comments section, please do. I think lots of us are longing to hear stories of God's faithfulness to the saints as we practice the disciplines of remembering and hoping.

I'll start us off with a story from a particularly trying time in my life awhile back. I've been revisiting this story almost daily lately!


I'm sitting in a patch of sunshine outside the Eagle's Nest, one of Biola University's cafes, trying to respond to a work email. I've managed to type a decent greeting, but I'm struggling to string more sentences together.

When I was a kid, I learned that although we can't feel gravity, its force is really, really strong. I haven't thought about gravity a whole lot since then; but today, I can't stop thinking about it. It is distracting me from writing this email, because today gravity has turned into a sumo wrestler trying to flatten me to the sidewalk.

In my experience, grief turns gravity into a force to be reckoned with. In life's carefree moments, gravity lets us run and jump and hug and twirl; but in life's saddest moments, gravity weighs heavily, threatening to incapacitate us.

A few weeks earlier I suffered a loss that triggered a nightmarish flare-up in my health problems. For the first time on this crazy journey with sickness, I feel abandoned by God. Doesn't he know he's been letting me dangle over the flames for years now? Does he have plans to give me a break anytime soon? Must he really lower me deeper into the fire? Does he even know what's going on in my life right now?

I close my email and sit back in my chair. "God," I say. "My head knows you've not abandoned me, but my heart is really suspicious that you have. Please change my heart. Give me special grace. If you know what I'm going through right now, and if you care, then please move in someone in another part of the country or world — someone who doesn't know my circumstances — and prompt her to pray for me right now. And then, prompt her to message me on Facebook to tell me she is praying for me."

A few minutes later, I check my Facebook profile, hoping to see the red notification indicating a new message. There is no red. Ah, well . . . maybe God needs more time to answer this prayer.

A few hours later, after teaching my last class of the day, I check my Facebook again. There, in the upper left-hand corner, is a message alert. My heart beats a little faster and I nervously open the message. It's from a friend who lives in Singapore. I met her last year on an airplane. It was the day before Easter, and when I'd discovered she was a Christian and didn't have anywhere to celebrate Easter, I invited her to my church and folks' house. She spent the day with us and has been a friend ever since.

Her message was sent at 6:00 A.M. her time. I did the math and it must've been around 3 A.M. her time when I'd prayed earlier that day. Her message said,

"Hihi. Hope all is well with you. For some strange reason, you came into my dream last night. I pray that God's hedge of protection will be upon you, showering you with His joy and strength each and every day. Take care and have a blessed week ahead."


Gravity's sumo wrestler force didn't go away in the weeks after I got that message. My health didn't get better, either. In fact, it got worse. But often, when I am tempted to believe God has forgotten about me, I remember this story. He knows the battles we fight, and he cares about the burdens we carry. Sometimes, though, he responds to our needs differently than we'd like him to.

His goodness is often very different than I expect it to be. My understanding of his goodness is often paper doll-shaped. It fits into my dream-worlds and is dressed in pink frills and glossy pearls. But his actual goodness comes to us in real flesh and bones, nailed to a cross, and then busting out of a grave. Your stories of his faithfulness in your lives continue to broaden my understanding of the goodness of death and resurrection, and they teach me to hope in the things that won't disappoint.

I'd love to hear your stories now. Your long stories. Your short stories. Your personal stories. Your anonymous stories. Let's remember together.

I'm praying your first month of 2016 swells with the hope that comes from remembering.

I love you guys,


*I don't know how the Hebrew compares

© by scj


  1. Lovely post as usual my friend, you are such a lovely example of grace. Not to mention fabulous story telling.

    I have so many stories to tell. But! His most very recent huge provision story for me, I will share.

    About 2010, I lost everything. My home. My finances. My retirement. You name it, it was gone. Interestingly enough, this came right after Pastor Doyle at Sea Coast Grace shared a story about a best friend who was a bit leveraged in investments. He rocked and rolled with the crazy financial market and instead of holding onto God and His promises, and remembering that all our goods, dollars, and talents are His anyway, this man committed suicide. I sat in church and said in my mind to my Father, 'Lord, I would never do that if that happened to me.' It was like God said, 'oh really?' 'are you sure?' 'how do you know if you haven't been in those shoes?'. A few months later, guess who was in financial ruin. Yup. Me. Being tested and tested again. I will spare details, but some of the things that happened to me, would make for a great tall tale novel found in the non-fiction dept. So Joan set out doing one day at a time. Each day, one day. Next day, one day. Moved to a 450 sq. ft. studio, after having an acre. Sold my SUV and drove a very old Honda Civic. I did any and all kinds of work. I would get calls for work I didn't know how to do, but was recommended for. I took any and everything, as I felt I was being called to serve. And create income. I did massage therapy. (qualified to do!) I learned how to be a caregiver for 2 bed ridden elder folks. I rehabilitated a quadraplegic man who couldn't sit up, and got him in a wheelchair and developed his atrophied muscles. I cleaned. I caregave for elders and relatives of my Biola friends. I did Brand Ambassor work. I worked part time seasonal at Sephora. You name it, I took it and managed to pay the bills. Talk about a time of growth. During this time, I also completed the BOLD Program at Biola and completed a course for a degree in Psychology and a minor in Theology. At 53! What? So all the negative things turned into blessings as I was able to serve and attend school. Coming out of school a friend of mine from the beauty industry was creating a hair growth professional hair care line called Bosley Pro. I started 7 years ago including teaching for him along with everything else I was doing. Sometimes it was a class or two a month, sometimes nothing. Over the years as the company has grown, I have increased my work week to sometimes 5-6 days week! God has promoted me, when I wasn't even praying for it. Now today, I have three people from the company calling to work with me. I get the call first and do 99 percent of the work in So California for them. AND I am getting paid what God thinks I am worth, not man. Had I been too proud to take those really sad paying jobs, God wouldn't have been so proud of me. I am His beloved daughter and disciple. He is very faithful. That doesn't mean that we can be slackers and 'wait on Him'. We need to move and live and breathe with intention even if it is only wearing our pants backwards and inside out. He loves us anyway. So very thankful.

    1. Oh Joan, I love to hear about the way God has provided for you financially, vocationally, and academically. Thank you for sharing this story. I'm going to file it away so I can revisit it. :)

      Thanking Him with you,


  2. As you know Sarah Jackson, I too have experience chronic health issues for almost 30 years. over 10 years ago I started teaching children aged 9 and up how to quilt and i can't begin to tell you what a blessing each and every one of my students has been to me. I can't even begin to count the number of times I've been feeling both physically and emotionally "Blah" and as soon as my students arrive they just lift my spirits (The physical pain isn't always gone but the emotional pain is almost always lifted). I thank God every day for my dear l students (Or as I like to think of them, my blessings in disguise). This past week for example was an exceptionally difficult week. Thursday morning I had Lizzie and Ellie Hutchison here. I had such an amazing morning with them. They were such a ray of sunshine to me. After they left I told Tom I wish I could adopt them. This is just one example how God has blessed me with all my students.

    1. Carolyn,

      I love this. Thank you for sharing. It's such an encouragement to see how God provides for us through other people.

      I'm sorry last week was so difficult, but I'm thankful the Hutchison girls could lift your spirits. And I know your quilting students have been just as impacted by you as you have by them. I'm praying you see great improvement in your health in these upcoming weeks.