i thank God for fresh new mercies every single morning...
But i do get special breath of inspiration after the winter break as the new year dawns and i feel more refreshed and bold - full of optimism and confidence as i look ahead. It has become a bit of a habit to choose a word in the new year, but this year instead of choosing a word for the new year, my word chose me...
It came to me in verses, instagram posts, conversations. It was pointed out by friends, my kids, in our devotionals... It became almost comical as i laughingly predicted out loud to my kids one mid-December day that the word would be confirmed to me one more time and then texting them the mind boggling confirmation hours later.
i've wrestled with hope over the years. The delicate balance that exists between contentment and desire - between drive and acceptance; this has always been something i carried awkwardly. i could easily jump on to eternal hope - but got bogged down when i tried to carry hope into the here and now of my life. i'd lose hope when things got hard, when things didn't go my way, when i didn't see any possibility of redemption this side of eternity.
But Hope chased me down at Christmas time and i let it catch me. Winter melted into spring and hope was relentless. Summer burned itself out and the blazing glory of fall colours refused to sing an ending song; instead they called me to hope - ever louder, with increasing urgency.
A friend recently encouraged me with an off hand remark that she admired my flexibility with life.
It almost made me cry - this friendly encouragement about something that has been so hard won. i've been wrestling with and praying about this new season that we're heading into, (not having babies and simultaneously my oldest babies stretching out wings and preparing to leave the nest). i think i've felt at times almost like i could lose myself... like so much of my identity rested in child-bearing that i wouldn't know how to navigate the transition. i didn't want to transition. i resisted transition, fought it, cried over it, grieved it... And finally, i buried my face in my Father's chest and poured out my heart... "My hope is gone. The end of this season of life, brings the beginning of the season of death, and i'm not ready... i don't want it."
Gently, tenderly, mercifully... He has been leading me to a deeper understanding of hope. Hope that transcends time - hope that sustains me in the here and now... It has gone hand and hand with surrender, of all things... surrender.
Surrender of beautiful, worthy things is hard. i know it... And it often feels like this surrender is in direct opposition to hope. But when we surrender and our hope becomes not a specific thing or time or person - but instead we begin to hope for what most brings Him glory - it is life giving. When you think you hope for solitude, but God sends noisy, boisterous teenager company... You learn to joyfully hope for those teenagers. When you think you're hoping for your husband to come home, but he's gone and instead you have more time to devote to little boys and stories and all the housekeeping that gets shoved to the side when he's home, you learn to hope to fill your time wisely. When you hope for life to be easy, but instead it's hard, you learn to hope for the fortitude and the character to do hard things.
These lessons didn't happen overnight. The beginning was agonizingly tedious as i'd habitually want to control things that weren't mine to control. i kept track of each set-back... noticing when surrender felt impossible and even wrong... i gave myself a time line - two hundred days of surrender... of hope. Two hundred days where i would be flexible, hope for the good in the change and welcome joyfully all that came to me uninvited. i didn't know what would happen after the two hundred days, but i felt like i could shut my mouth for two hundred days... make notes of my rants, discomfort and failure... and practice a little grace. This summer, i celebrated my two hundredth day and it passed like any other - no fanfare, no burning desire to free myself from the shackles of hope. Maybe it was evidence of my own transformation that i let it pass in anonymity and woke up the next morning ready for more of the same.
i'd like to tell you that everyone around me was amazed by my efforts and by the fruits of obvious change in my life... but i don't know that anyone really noticed... except me. There was the discomfort and pain of surrender, and i knew that part was gonna be hard, but i wasn't prepared for the joy. It snuck up on me the same way the green sneaks up on the grass in spring. Less fierce control - more of the flexibility that my friend assumed was just something that had always been a trademark... There was a fierceness to my newfound joy. My happiness was genuine. i felt good, i felt strong, i felt hope in the here and now, in the daily grind, in the mornings and in the afternoons too. i was transformed by hope.
And i guess part of what i've noticed each year that i learn to recognize my Shepherd's voice is that the things i think i know - are always almost unrecognizably unfamiliar when God teaches them to me. It's so hard to explain a heart change in words - it's so hard to acknowledge His hand when it's internal, eternal, impossible to hold or describe. Surrender, flexibility, humility, joy... hope... words that are familiar and yet now, they're somehow changed; they're strange and new to me... These are the words that He's stirring in my heart in this season, and i'm doing my best to pay attention.