Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Hope Is

My next guest is Aaron Smith. He is part of my online community of friends. His writing inspires me because of its rawness and honesty. He's not afraid to say what he really thinks and I find that so refreshing. I love how he wrestles with hope in the face of depression and struggle in the everyday.


I don't really know what to say about hope.

I could talk about the weird relationship hope and cynicism have in my chest.

I could talk about the ways I want to be a hopeful man, even though I have been let down time and time again.

I could sermonize about hope as the one thing we Christians have that sets us apart.

Like I said, I don't know what to say.

Hope is this weird thing in my life. It's something that I have, and it's something that I lose quite frequently. Depression will do that to you. So will life.

So I have hope, I lose hope, and I find it again. Most of the time I find it in god-inspired ways: money from friends to cover rent and bills. Medicine that actually changes my brain to work in a healthy way. My son. These are a few of the places I find hope again.

Hope seems to be like an ocean in my life, coming in wave after wave, growing deeper as I let it wash over me. It also becomes shallow and dry as I run from its crashing breakers. I long to live in the deep, but it's dangerous out there. There are undertows and currents, tides and deep depths.

Hope is a dangerous, ferocious thing.





Hope is also a warm, welcoming place that I need to be to find healing for my battered, cold heart. Fierce and welcoming. Deep and comforting.

Hope is a weird thing.

But hope is something that I need in a desperate, hungry way. I need to hope that I will write that damn book someday and pitch it and get it picked up and maybe get out of customer service. I need to hope that my children will grow up to be more than I am. I need to hope that my bipolar and anxiety will come under control so I can live a normal, full life. I need to hope that my wife will find the treatment she needs for her emotional wellbeing and mental stability.

Above all of that though, way out in the deep depths of hope, I need to believe that all things will be made well by Jesus. I need to believe that there is something deeper and richer that we were made for, that we can begin to lean into that life now. That someday everything will be in its place, the sad things will come untrue, and that goodness will be seen by all.

I need  that hope to survive my days, to make them meaningful and alive. I need that hope so I don't kill myself, giving up on everything and everyone.

Hope is an important thing.

Without hope, life tends to wither and die. Without something to believe in, we lose our bearing and become so disoriented we can barely find our way through our days. Hope gives us a map, something to believe in, something to strive for.

Hope is something we need.

We may not always know what to say about hope. After all it is a big thing, a dangerous thing, a necessary thing, a desperate thing, a nurturing thing. There is so much to say about hope, so much to believe, so much to look for and strive for and move towards. More than something to believe, hope is something we must live into, live with, live through.

Hope is an element of life that makes life worth living.

So don't give up. Live into your hopes. Believe in the risky things. Hold fast to your faith. Hope is waiting to carry you into deeper places, where life comes alive.






Husband, father, believer, writer, nerd, coffee chugger. Just a typical Jesus obsessed, question everything, bipolar, poet-punk-theologian. You can connect with Aaron on Twitter and on his blog, Cultural Savage.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Hope...The Savior of Despair

My next guest in the series is Rachel Freeman. We have been friends for 36 years. We met our junior year of high school and have stuck with each other through thick and thin. She is one of those rare forever friends and I am thankful that she is mine! She typically only writes for her own personal pleasure and I am especially honored to be able to share this with you.


Hope is the savior of despair. It rescues us in our spirit.

When the turbulence of emotions threaten to overtake us and fling us into the pit of darkness...hope flickers its light.

When the noise of life convinces us that we cannot go on any longer...hope whispers an encouraging word.

When the cancers of this world invade our bodies and threaten to steal our last breath...hope shows us heaven.

When all that we have worked for is lost and we stand in the echoing emptiness of what was home...hope offers a window to see beyond the barren walls.

When the people we love throw us away as if we were trash...hope offers to show us a greater love and reminds us we are treasure.

Hope never dies, even when we feel as if we are dying inside...




Hope offers to write the promises of tomorrow on the pages of our lives...but often we neglect to accept the offer and we continue to live in the narratives of despair.

We all have times of feeling hopeless...but hope is ever present! We simply do not claim it. We carelessly let the webbings of our pain and stress and mundane existence trap it and hold it hostage from the abundant life we can experience. Hope does not cease to exist. We cease to look for it. We forget to hold on to it. We do not allow even a hint of its presence to exist for fear we will be disappointed if the outcome is not what we had imagined.

"I dare not hope" gives despair its stronghold.

We let despair have its victory in our lives when hope is hidden in the shadows just waiting to be embraced.

How do we find this hope?

The same way we find water. Sometimes we have to dig deep to find it...other times we have to listen for it...sometimes we have to look at the world around us and see it...sometimes we need a map to show us...sometimes another person will offer hope to us. No matter how we find it to quench our thirsty soul, we need to know the source of it so that we will never run out again.

I am confident that the source of hope is God alone.

God is eternal. God is infinite. God is absolute love and truth. God is our creator. God is our provider. God is our healer. God holds our future. God is the source of the hope that will sustain us through anything this life can throw at us...but we must hold on to that hope...we must hold on to God.

God is that light in the darkness.
God is that encouraging word.
God is the one who offers us heaven.
God is the shelter from every storm.
God is the one who promises you are loved unconditionally.
God is the one who declares that you are precious.

Hope is not wishing on a star. It's looking up at the stars and seeing the majesty of heaven and knowing there is more to life than this earthly domain...

Hope is not crossing your fingers...it's God crossing His heart with the promise that ALL things work together for good to those who love Him.

Hope...the savior of despair.


May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, 
so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
Romans 15:13






Here's the proof that we have indeed known each other for most of our lives...and that nothing much has changed. Here's to love and laughter and forever friendship!!




Friday, October 24, 2014

While There is Hope

The well-known maxim, "While there is life there is hope," has a deeper meaning in reverse:
"While there is hope there is life."





Hope comes first, life follows. Hope gives power to life. Hope rouses life to continue, to expand, to grow, to reach out, to go on.

Hope sees a light where there isn't any.

Hope lights candles in millions of despairing hearts.

Hope is the miracle medicine of the mind. It inspires the will to live. Hope is the physician's strongest ally.

Hope is our shield and buckler against defeat. 

"Hope," wrote, Alexander Pope, "springs eternal in the human breast." And as long as it does we will triumph and move forward.

Hope never sounds retreat. Hope keeps the banners flying.

Hope revives ideals, renews dreams, revitalizes visions. 

Hope scales the peak, wrestles with the impossible, achieves the highest aim.

"The word which God has written on the brow of every person," wrote Victor Hugo, "is Hope."

As long as we have hope no situation is hopeless.

Wilferd A. Peterson


Lord, you know the hopes of the helpless.
Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them.
Psalm 10:17 (NLT)


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

We Have Hope

Today's guest is Juan Lopez. I met Juan online through a chat with mutual friends. His writing has encouraged me and also made me really re-think how I see the church. He has an essay featured in "Father Factor: American Christian Men on Fatherhood and Faith". Take a moment to check out what they are about at www.fatherfactorbook.com.


It sounds easy enough. Just believe and you will have hope. Flip the switch and let there be light. If God feels far away it's because you moved. Somehow, this is all your fault. These are the things we tell each other. This is how we attempt to encourage each other.

At the expense of others.

At one point in my walk with Christ, I had a clear understanding of what needed to happen. I had a vision. It's written on a sheet of  paper in my wallet. It's wrinkled and yellowed. At some point, I spilled some water on my wallet and some of the ink smeared. But I still have it.

It's kinda silly really...

A ten point list of things God (wants?) wanted to do in my life. Each one fell apart little by little. Not because of doubt, but in the slow way that reality seeps into our boat of faith. We try our hardest to keep the stupid thing afloat but it wasn't built to handle these ocean waves. It gets so bad that you start to see things in the ocean. Was that a ghost floating in the water?

Who knows...

There's something that few people are willing to tell you about hope. Perhaps because they are lying or maybe because they don't dare venture into such a deep ocean. It's that when God fills you with hope, all things become uncertain. Everything can go wrong and everything can go right. All at the same time. AT some point, the definition of faith became Certainty. If you believe, you will not waver. You will not question. 

This is a lie.

Just look at Romans 15:13 and the words used to describe what God does when we trust in him. Fill with hope. Overflow with hope. Not the best words to use when you're trying to keep your ship afloat. Hope sinks our trust in anything that isn't God. Everything that we are certain of will sink with the weight of hope. Our biblical interpretations. Our style of prayer. Our devotional time. Our Christian leaders. All the things that we do or place our trust on in order to keep afloat. All the things that we do to please God.

If I do this, will you bless me?





When you become filled with hope, you don't need to play those games. Being blessed is meaningless when you're underwater in a river of Grace. All you can do is surrender. You learn to let life happen to you. This is the hardest thing to do. To let go of the wish list. Isn't that why we came to God in the first place? There was something we wanted. Only we didn't know what we truly wanted. But God lets us bring our wish lists anyway. Somewhere along this walk, we get thirsty. If you're there my advice would be:

Drink. There's plenty of water.

The God of hope wants to fill us with it. So that we will overflow and share it with others. Keep your eyes open. There are people dying in this desert of First World Problems.


May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him,
so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13





Juan is a Youth Pastor, Store Manager, Blogger and Marathon Finisher. Although, he loves being a husband, father, and beloved son much more. You can connect with Juan on his blog Running la Carrera and on Twitter.

Monday, October 20, 2014

When Hope Seems Hopeless

Today's guest is April Fiet. She is also part of my online community and I am honored to call her my friend. She encourages and challenges me with her writing. I love how she takes you on her journey of hope and the wrestling with it, and how that has played out in her life.


It feels wrong to write about hope while you are in the darkness of grief.

After all, hope is a sunny optimism, is it not?

When I was a young child, probably around the age of 7 or so, if you had asked me what hope meant, I probably would have told you that it meant being happy no matter what. I would have given you a definition that better suited the word "optimism" than the word "hope." Having grown up in church my entire life, I had internalized songs about joy, songs about praise. I heard stories about the triumph of good over evil. And, somehow, I assimilated this idea that Christians were to be filled with happiness all of the time.

After all, we were a people of hope. And hope does not disappoint.

The problem with this kind of hope is that it begins with the premise that things are already as they should be. This kind of view is more in line with the philosophical category of optimism that already believes the world is at its best. Optimism sees the best in every situation. Optimism is different from hope.

But in my juvenile understanding of hope, I equated hope with optimism. I believed that being a person of hope meant always having a smile on my face. I thought that times of sadness were sinful. That suffering was just a lack of perspective - not that I had never suffered. I had. I had been hurt. Deeply. I knew that the world was not at its best. I wanted to hope, but I did not know how. And, as I grew, (both in years and in my faith), I came to realize that hope was something completely other than optimism, though I did not know how to define it. Hope was something intangible, but hope was also something real.

I grappled with what it might mean to be a person of hope, but I did not know how to live it out. Perhaps I would recognize hope when I saw it.

And then this past summer, I heard someone define hope as, "Believing in something enough to do something about it." Hope did not mean that the world was already at its best. It did not mean plastering a smile on over my pain and broken-heartedness. It meant acknowledging the suffering, and believing in a better reality enough to do something about it. Hope was both intangible and active. Hope was somehow both a present reality and a future longing. In some mysterious way, hope was able to coexist with suffering and sadness.




Hope is the expectation of something better, the longing for the better to become a reality. Hope is believing in something enough to do something about it.

This kind of hope - a hope that is far more than naive optimism - not only is capable of co-existing with suffering, but it in some way also works to overcome it. Hope is not a passive optimism; it is an active pursuit.

But, what about those times when you can't seem to work toward the better you are longing for? What about those times when the darkness is so thick and palpable that you feel trapped by it, unable to move?

Sometimes the most active hope we can muster is picking up the phone and asking someone to help us - a family member, a friend, a therapist. And for darkness and despair that is more than simple sadness, sometimes this is the best way we can hope.

For me, at this moment in time, the darkness in my life comes from deep loss. Quite recently we lost a close family member to aggressive cancer. And the grief during times of profound loss brings the urgency of a renewed and healed world to the forefront. We need a Savior, and the darkness of grief makes that need both so apparent, and so hard to trust in.

Darkness and pain can make hope seem impossible.

Any remnant of optimism is shattered. Clearly, the world is not at its best. And the triumphant and active pursuit of hope seems more that my weary heart is capable of. Hope can still live in places like these - in those places of our lives that seem the most arid and hopeless. Sometimes our sorrow is the most appropriate form of protest. We weep because the world is not at its best. Our tears are the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. Our broken hearts point the way toward the future reality in which every tear will be dried, and death will be no more.

Hope is faith with its boots on the ground - both in the moments of profound joy, and in the moments of deep pain.

Hope is believing in something enough to do something about it, even if the only thing we can do is weep.





April has served as a co-pastor with her husband Jeff for 7 years. They are raising two fantastic, school-age children, which keeps life fresh, fun, and a bit chaotic at times. April enjoys running (at a snail's pace), karate, baking bread, reading (theology and children's books), crocheting, and taking pictures of nearly everything. You can connect with April on her blog, At the Table with April Fiet and on Twitter.






Hell, Hope and the Near Death of Mr. Cuddles

Today's guest is Kenny Pierce. He is an online friend who has spoken truth and encouragement into my life. We relate well to each other probably because we are the 'old folks' in our online community! He continually reminds me that our voices are important and our stories need to be shared.


Hell has a sign plastered beside its door: "Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'intrate"

I read that once in a work by Italian poet Dante Alghieri. Those words of his appeared in the first of the 3 books of his Divine Comedy - the "Inferno" (Italian for "Hell") in the 14th century. The words of seduction, bidding us to enter its abyss:

"Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."

Hell. The first thing that you do when you enter, before you take off your shoes, your gloves, your coat.

Hell. when you cross its threshold, the first thing that you're told to do is leave all hope behind.

I've abandoned hope, and I've walked its streets, barely clinging to my own sanity. So many times. I've followed the instructions as I passed through its gates, to descend into that void.

Hell. Many have described it as a realm of lakes of fire and screaming souls. Gnashing teeth and the lilke. My Baltimore catechism painted that image of it beautifully for me in my formative years. In no uncertain terms, I knew it in the womb, and onward.

Hell. As a spectator in this world, you can watch it, available 24/7, on cable, over the air, and on social media.

Images of bombs dropped on a village of innocents. Those screaming souls, cries of agony. Laughing demons that keep those in agony there. Those who've abandoned all hope long ago.

I walk the streets of Hell on a daily basis. I walked it in my youth as a taunted and bullied gay kid. I walked it as a young adult, watching a plague called "AIDS" decimate my gay brothers all around me.

I walked through Hell's side roads of muggings, gay bashings, alcoholism, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation.

And I walked through the worst kind of Hell. I turned away from the light of a God who I thought wanted nothing to do with me. I was sent to that corner of Hades by a Church that weaned me as a child, only to reject its own.

I've been to Hell and back, many times.

Hell. Dante spoke of it in terms of circles. Degrees of agony, or darkness, as you moved further from the light. That spear piercing your soul as the distance between you and the source of all goodness grows. When the gulf of darkness swallows you slowly.

Hell. It's quite obvious, when you're trapped in that realm. You knew it when you crossed its gates and saw the sign. Hope was no option. You sold your soul already. You sold it when you handed your ticket to the gatekeeper. When you gave him all of the hope you had left.

Hell. You are in a place where a fire so dark, so intense rages that it destroys you from inside. You scream and beg for respite but it will not let go. Will not stop. And as it burns, as it destroys its host, it will not grow weak, will never be reduced to embers. It feeds on itself, on you.

As your hope fades, hell only grows stronger. There is always another circle in hell that can be created, farther from the light. The fire lives and breathes yet you cannot see it. You feel it, and know that to claw your way out of its grasp demands that you defy the words at the gates of the place where an eternity of despair and pain began.

To leave this place of darkness requires that you recreate the one thing that the fires in the dark devour. You must pick up the shards of hope, now reduced to ashes. Though they be destroyed, you must hold on to that which you lost.

You must wish for the miracle of being whole again. Nearly impossible when you can barely think through the pain, rationalize through the insanity.

Hell. To escape its clutches and hope again requires nothing less than a miracle.


//


She didn't want him to die.

She'd adopted a hamster and I helped her decide which one to pick out a few months ago. Oh, she struggled with the decision. What to buy him, where to put him. What would he want to eat. What bed to put him in and whether he could possibly catch what took away her other baby.

Her most important task, however, was figuring out what to call him. Now THAT would be a major dilemma (so I thought).

"Ok, Sophie, take the nicest thing you can think of. Right this second. The first word that comes to your brain, and add 'Mr.' in front of the name for him."

"Mr. Cuddles! Ohh, I love him so much already! That's perfect!"

I'm like an uncle to Sophie and her sister. Her mom will send photos of her doing her flips and turns at gymnastics. She'll send photos of Sophie and her sister chilling and scrolling on their iPads.

But best of all are the pictures that result from Sophie's Mr. Cuddles selfie sessions. That camera of hers aimed at his smiling hamster face for the world to see as she passes them along. And they're always followed by smiley emoticon faces, laughing themselves to tears.

I love that.

But today was different.

Today's face didn't have a smile as the message came through from Sophie. Tears were streaming down the face of the emoticon on the message. In fact, she sent 3 faces with tears covering them. In a row. This was bad.

"I have terrible news. It's about Mr. Cuddles. He's sick. I think that he died. I think he died of old age."

A couple of other tear-streamed faces followed. She was speaking of the hamster who was quivering and cold in the past tense. You could just feel the agony from the little girl, sending messages and probably hoping for a miracle in the face of what was happening in front of her.

"Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."

No. Sophie needed to stop speaking of him as if he was dead. She was handing that ticket to the gatekeeper. About to walk into the dark place, but she messaged me. Told her mom what was happening. She hadn't completely handed the ticket over. Yet.

So I learned all sorts of interesting things about hamsters. One being that they don't deal well with cold.
At all. They go into hibernation and have to be brought out of it. They exhaust food stores that were never created if cold triggers that reaction. He'd run, hadn't eaten enough, and was in shock.

Sophie had to leave for practice so she passed Mr. Cuddles off to her skeptical mom. Over FaceTime, I coached Liz on how to care for the hamster; feeding him and keeping him warm. Reluctantly, she wrapped Mr. Cuddles in an old towel and cradled him against her chest. Certain this wasn't going to end well and dreading Sophie coming home.

The eulogy was prepared and being delivered a couple of hours earlier. Hope was all but relinquished. But when Sophie got home, he was staring at her, ready and waiting for his next round of selfies.

"OH MY GOD. WHAT DID YOU DO?? MR. CUDDLES. OH MY GOD HE LOOKS NORMAL. HOW DID YOU DO IT?"

Google can be a friend when you need it, I find. Or maybe what it contains. Someone else's fears, experience and wisdom. Their near loss of hope and their recovery. How we get ourselves out of the pit of despair. Often we see our own plight, a way out, in someone else's story.

"I HAD NO IDEA HOW MUCH I LOVED HIM UNTIL I THOUGHT HE WAS GONE."

Those were the words that stayed with me.

I'd said the same, so often, about my father, about my grandmother, about lost friendships, bitter quarrels. I'd abandoned hope so many times, and walked through the darkest places in its absence, and from the mouth of an 11 year old girl, I was reminded of the one thing that made coming out of that place possible.

Love.







Mr. Cuddles, I'm happy to report, is doing beautifully.

Sophie has gone back to her daily routine, knowing that her buddy is alive, well, and going about his regular wheel running, treat chomping, and camera mugging. She's probably a little wiser to the ways of hamsters, hibernation and what it is to love. She's 11 and has much more to learn about that most important lesson.

It was an important first step when she'd given up hope.

When asked to write a piece on hope, I agreed, but then pondered it, and procrastinated. I had no idea, if truth be told, what to say. So much I've seen lately, personally, on the news, all around me has been dark. I've struggled in my own past with loss, with depression, anxiety, substance abuse, bullying, and the list goes on.

I wanted to write the great opus on hope, with little to offer in the way of words available to me.

This is a simplistic rendering, I realize. A happy ending in a world where hope doesn't result in happy endings. Where hamsters die, people are murdered, children abducted, families in lands near and far destroyed by disease, war, famine, hatred. Where hope is a luxury available to few. Some hang on to it for dear life, when all is lost and they suffer horrifically. Have lost horrifically.

Hope is a ticket that is so readily handed to the gatekeeper. And who can blame any of us for abandoning it? The world demands it daily of us at its gates.

I don't have the anwers. For my own level of hope ebbs and flows as I go about my own way.

I don't often know how to move forward, as was the case with this topic, this piece. But I do know that the story of a hamster, brought back to life when we thought him all but dead, came out of nowhere, when I needed to believe, to find hope most.

There is a verse cited often as being among the most beautiful passages in the New Testament. I first learned it in a Catholic song I loved as a kid, called "Charity." I learned it before I'd ever read a word of scripture.

And now these three remain:
Faith, hope, love.
And the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 3:13

A little girl loved her pet too much to let it go yet, but was giving up hope. And I love that little girl too much to not try to help, to do something - whatever I could to try to keep her friend alive. Or to be right there to help her pick up the pieces.

"Abandon all hope" in a place defined by a poet and by generations to follow for its lack of it.

Perhaps Dante had the nature of Hell right. The lack of hope.

Perhaps love, as Paul described it, as the greatest of the three, makes the other two possible. Our great ticket out of the Hell in which we find ourselves as we walk in this world.

Perhaps I needed to be reminded, in the simplest terms, when I struggled most, that our greatest power lies in our ability to love one another. To lift each other out of the gutter back to that place of grace. I've been afforded this over and over in my time in this world.

At the risk of sounding like a Hallmark card, I believe it to be true. The abandonment of hope isn't final. I don't believe that destiny - even when mired in it - to be set in stone. We're reminded that there is something greater than the despair that follows hopelessness.

We're reminded that love always wins.



Kenny Pierce, a Mexican American native of Southern California, came out as a gay man in 1985 at the age of 21. Having walked away from the Catholic Church when he came out, most of his adult years were spent outside of any faith community. His early adulthood was colored by struggles with HIV, anxiety, depression, alcoholism and PTSD resulting from being a victim of violent assaults. Most of his advocacy is rooted in the horrors of the AIDS plague that played out around him in those early years. It was by way of recovery and Alcoholics Anonymous that he found his way back to a faith that demands we build God's kingdom on earth here and now, by our loving compassion for one another. You can connect with Kenny on Twitter and on his blog, Tangentials.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Out of the Dust

This is for those of us who are waiting for hope to show up. For those of us who feel overwhelmed by the pain in this life. For those of us who wonder if we will ever find our way out of the chaos. For those of us who see no way to retrieve what was lost. For those of us who wonder if anything beautiful can be made out of the dust...





Beautiful Things
Gungor

All this pain
I wonder if I'll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in you

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

You make me new, You are making me new
You make me new, You are making me new

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us