You see, these two holiday months-November and December- don’t create warm fuzzy feelings in me. I am not thankful this time of year. I have whole lists (and probably lists upon lists if I am honest) of what I am missing in my life, places that have come up dry and hard, painful and sore. Missing holes that I’ve asked the Lord to fill, but for now He has chosen not to. It’s a hard season to swallow for me. It’s a hard season for me to be thankful.
Holes and wounds and brokenness- they just aren’t things we associate with thankfulness. But this season is about thankfulness isn’t it? Isn’t it about “1000 gifts”, prayers of thankfulness, and acknowledging those we love?
I don’t know. Maybe it’s about those things, or maybe it’s a season in the year to just endure. I can keep my lists of all the things I don’t have that seem profoundly long this time of the year and grow frustrated and lonely. But then there’s this concept of gratefulness that I do have.
Gratefulness: warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received.
Gratefulness reveals a deep warmth of appreciation. It indicates something much deeper than thankfulness. It expresses the generosity of God in his Personhood (good, warm, loving, receptive, attentive, available). Gratefulness is receiving all the things I never knew I wanted but God gave me. I didn’t ask for them. I never prayed for them, but He gave them to me anyways.
Rather than listing all the things I am thankful for (don’t get me wrong, that is a good practice of the heart too!), I want to reflect on all the ways God gave me things I hold so dear now, that I never knew I wanted and never asked for in a few installments over the next few weeks. Check out part one, part two, part three, part four, and part five. Here’s the sixth:
God gave me hope
Feeling powerless is dangerous. When I feel like I can’t control what I need to, when I am powerless to bring about what I desire, I feel desperate. Despair long enough, and your hope for anything different dwindles. It feels like a constant losing game. Set up to fail. Fool: you should have known better Syndal.
Without hope, we lose all ability to see or think clearly. We can’t risk disappointment. We lose touch with ourselves and with others. We can not affect change. We lose the ability to remain resilient. We become hopeless.
I’ve felt hopeless, living off route memory, knowing what I was “supposed” to be, knowing how I was “supposed” to act. Long before I was willing to admit I had lost hope, I felt hopeless. I remember it like it was yesterday, sitting at this coffee shop with my friend/boss/pastor and saying, “I feel hopeless”. Those three little words I had felt for so long but hadn’t the courage to speak them. Who dares admit that when an underlining premise of the christian faith is based on hope…
I felt some instant relief when I spoke what was literally true for me. But I wasn’t understood. He said I had to have hope. I responded, “Not really“. It was in that instant of being able to SPEAK what was true for me, that I think a little bit of hope was born in that seed of courage. Hope enough to press on, even though I wasn’t understood.
You see, we need courage blown into our dwindling fire of hope. We need others to speak courageous and brave things into our hearts, reminding us to take steps and leaps and jumps, like the flames need oxygen to grow. Without it, doubt and fear overwhelm, take root, and destroy hope. We need the spirit that hope brings to carry us through those dark moments. We need courage spoken into our lives, penetrating our hearts, intercepting the lies, the doubts, the fears, the despair.
“Hope is not an emotion; it’s a way of thinking or a cognitive process.” –Brene Brown
Hope changes how you think. Hope reframes how we see and view the world. Hope sets us up to succeed, not fail, regardless of the outcome. And that’s what it’s all about isn’t it?
Hope sets us up to succeed in the most beautiful ways, to changing our cognitive patterns so we start to see what’s unseen. We see the beauty of humanity, the potential in the addict, the homeless man, the overtly defiant 3rd grader. We see this potential and we come alongside them and gently develop this potential in them. We call it out and speak courage and kindness and hope and life into their hearts the way that God breathed life into us. The way that Jesus saw a bunch of ordinary, normal men and knew they’d become extraordinary.
“She could never go back and make some of the details pretty. All she could do was move forward and make the whole beautiful.” -Torri St. Cloud
My story isn’t pretty. It’s filled with pain, hurt, shame, and longing. I can’t erase it. I want to. I can’t run from it. I’ve never even tried to. I wish it were that easy. I can hardly embrace the story that I have most days. I wish the details were pretty, but they aren’t. I hadn’t given much thought to hope, on waiting and expecting and working towards a change. I figured, “I get what I get and I don’t complain”. But there had to be more to life than silently enduring. I felt like a shadow in the lives of other people. A blip on their radar for the holidays. My unpretty, messy story never felt safe enough to come out. I thought I was destined to be this adult foster child, always bouncing around in the hearts and lives of people, never getting to stay and never allowed to be rooted in with a people. Never getting to unload my suitcase that held my most sacred memories and thoughts. I gave up hope on belonging, on receiving, and on being loved for who I am.
In early January 2013 a woman that would become my dear friend and mom figure wrote me a letter about hope. She wrote, “I want you to know that the source of my hope [for you] is not ultimately anchored in what you choose. Nor is my commitment to you contingent upon your choice [the choice to open my heart and trust her or not]. I will love you and hope for you always… I believe there is life and joy ahead for you that will be sweeter than the bitterness of the days you experience now. So I want you to have this necklace and be reminded of the great hope I have for you. Always.”
She gave me a necklace that was very special to her, a necklace that was given to her in a tremendously difficult time that has “Hope” stamped on it. She wrote that it reminded her to have confident expectation in God to provide despite her inability to bring about the deepest desire of her heart.
I confided in her that I had such little hope, if any. She responded, “That’s ok. I have enough for the both of us. I will hold yours for you, until you’re able to hold it again.”
This friend called into the deepest places of my heart and gently and kindly spoke courage and hope back into my little heart and life. I can’t claim to be an anchor of hope, or a pillar of hope, or a rock of hope. I still need her to hold some hope for me. But I do believe Jesus is more concerned over my preservation and my hope than even I am, than even she is. And I know this because of His Word and through the words and life of my timely friend. I know it, because when I had cried and begged and pleaded with God for help for years and it felt like He had stopped hearing me, He answered me in the time I needed it most, with her words of hope. Tangible, meaningful hope. I do hope the whole of my story will be beautiful. I hope the whole will be pleasant and honoring before the Lord. I hope this life, this one life matters.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy-the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” -Brene Brown
I had given up on hope. I had given up on belonging and on being loved and I was not even aware of it. Yet God still heard when my voice could no longer speak it and tears had long since felt useless.
Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. -I Corinthians 13:7