Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thankful November: Hope

Yipee--Hope slept through the night last night! That's a task she's completed a grand total of 5 nights out of the 359 she's been alive. Too bad I didn't sleep through :)

Tomorrow I'm giving a message at our school's very brief religious chapel. I've posted variations on this topic before, but here's what I plan to say:

Hope came after two miscarriages, several failed attempts at hiring a replacement for me at work, three unproductive trips to the hospital, and five days after my due date. She was born in the midst of a painful decision to leave the church we had been involved in planting.

I think one reason I went into labor multiple times before having Hope was that I was pretty much convinced that she would be stillborn. Maybe it was the previous miscarriages, maybe it was the turmoil at church, but for whatever reason, I was pretty much expecting that Hope would be dead—with all the suffering we were going through, it would have fit right in.

But Hope wasn’t dead. She completely lives up to her name, and daily reminds me of the passage she was named from, Romans 5:2-5:

we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Every night at prayer time, Henry says something to the effect of “Thank you for today, and help tomorrow to be a better day.” Henry’s definition of a “better day” is generallly one where he gets to watch lots of TV, play on the internet, buy a new toy at the store, eat all his favorite junk...and do it all his way.

Even though I’m no longer 7 like Henry, sometimes my prayers sound like his too—-I want what I want, on my terms and in my timing. I still find myself special ordering my life, especially with timing. I definitely had my plans for additions to our family– “wouldn’t the fall of 2007 be nice? I’ll be on leave!” was cancelled via a late, missed miscarriage. My plan for Hope to be born today, on my grandmother’s birthday, didn’t work either, despite my attempts to “walk” the baby out.

So why don’t we get our way? Why do we need suffering anyway? Personally, God needed me to be broken so I could fully appreciate the gift I was getting. I don’t think I would have treasured the third (or my first or second) child had I not had the miscarriages. I wouldn’t have gotten the “pre-requisites” for hope—perseverance and character—had I not had all the prior labor. And her birth in the midst of turmoil and stress over church drama reminds me that really, God IS in all of the messiness of life. His timing IS perfect, even when it’s not mine.

And suffering does have purpose. Whoever said “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” hasn’t read the Bible carefully. God routinely gives people MORE than they can handle on their own—just look at Moses, Gideon, David. God gives us more than we can handle to turn us to Him.

OK. So suffering produces good things in our lives—it draws us to God, and produces endurance, character and hope. I can accept that. But what I find challenging is the line that comes before that. My first instinct is to pray against suffering, or that it be short. This passage definitely challenges that prayer life—We’re supposed to REJOICE!
Yippee! I lost my job!
Yippee! Someone I’m close to is very ill!
Yippee! I’m worried about the future!
That doesn’t seem like a natural response…maybe it’s just Paul talking again. But no, Jesus said it too, in Matthew 5:11-13:
"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

I don’t know about you, but I find that challenging. I find it hard to bring up topics when I know it will open me up for attack, to willingly put myself in the line of fire, even when it's for a good cause.

But what I do know is what God has promised in these verses. He promises that suffering will refine us, developing us into the people He wants us to be. He promises His presence through the Holy Spirit. And he promises hope—hope that will not disappoint us.

So Hope was born a year ago, both literally and figuratively. And she continues to grow and bring joy daily, if not moment by moment. May you too have hope in your heart today—a hope not built on circumstances or possessions, but on God’s promises of his refinement, presence and glory.

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