I FOUND HOPE AT IHOP
It happened on the Saturday morning after Thanksgiving in Palm Springs. Our family had been together for four days and it was time for everyone to go their separate ways. Our grandchildren wanted to go IHOP that morning and we all agreed. Conversations during the four days had centered on everything imaginable – but hope and lack of hope was the common thread.
I have to admit that I had never been to IHOP and finding hope there never entered my mind. Nevertheless, there we were in posh Palm Spring and there it was: a large extended multi-ethnic family that included four very young children, an elderly man with his son, an African American family, a distinguished Middle Eastern family, dressed in what we used to call “church” clothes, and us. It all started with the family with young children who apologized as each group entered our section of the dining room. They did not want their energetic crew to disturb anyone. That simple, thoughtful gesture started a conversation. Everyone had experiences with young children in a restaurant. We all admired their beautiful children, their manners, and the parent’s good spirits. When they left, everyone cheered, happy that they had made it through a challenging morning.
And it was there in the server who spent more time than I’ve ever seen going over the menu with the elderly man. She stooped low so that they could hear each other and was so gentle that she made me think of Jesus. Then, there was our waiter who went out of his way to make sure our daughter had everything she needed when she was helping our granddaughter with her diabetes medication. He was respectful and kind in a way that seemed holy. Those 45 minutes at IHOP began my journey through this Advent.
I was reminded once again that God has a sense of humor and uses it so that we can see what we need to see. This time I imagined her saying: “You want hope, I’ll show you hope.”
- Laura Siriani
I was a hopeful child. I hoped for candy, toys, trips to Disneyland, and for summer vacations that would never end. As I got older I hoped for grander things; fun friends, good grades, a car, more money and the list was always expanding. Sometimes things went my way and at other times they did not. “Oh well,” I thought.
My hope was not always squandered on trivial things; I hoped my 10 year old sister would survive heart failure, I hoped that my 18 year old brother would survive leukemia, and I hoped that if I prayed and tried hard enough I would wake up one morning to find I was no longer gay. None of those things happened. “What is hope for,” I thought.
I didn’t give up on hope but I certainly did not trust it. Hope seemed fickle and illusive.
It would be many more years (decades) before I would come to understand that I had confused hope with wishing. It would be a difficult lesson for me to learn to distinguish between hope and the whims of my personal agendas.
Advent speaks deeply to the reality that hope is the ongoing work of an Almighty God who was, who is, and who is to come. Advent challenges us to wake up, to notice and to experience God’s coming into this world and into our lives.
In my darkest times, God has shown up as the love and tenderness of those around me. God has shown up in the healing work of grief. God has shown up when the seeds of new life have begun to sprout within me.
God does not prevent or protect us from the realities of this life, but God is always showing up in the strength and courage we are given to put our lives back together again. God is always in the business of redeeming (fixing) what is broken. Our response to hope is to be deeply engaged in this world, to be a part of God’s repair team.
Hope opens us up to more than we expect. Hope opens our eyes to the ongoing rhythm of life and creation. Hope opens us up to eternity. This is a hope that can be trusted.
As I write this meditation, I look out my office window and I can see the sun setting behind the majestic pine and oak trees across the way from my home. The sky is an awe inspiring blaze of orange, yellow and pink against bright blue that is vanishing into the deepest possible orange and darkening indigo as night settles on the mountains. The Holy One set this in motion and tomorrow morning the sun will rise. This I know is hope.
- David Milligan
BUYING AND BORROWING HOPE
It would be great, in these uncertain days, to be able to go to a department store and buy some hope. In bulk. I could keep a lot of the extra in the garage, between the toilet paper and the paper towels. There would be a box of it under the sink.
I’d be happy, even, with going to the neighbors’, a cup measure in hand, to borrow some hope until payday. A cupful of hope would probably be iridescent, sparkly blue, like the sea on a sunny day.
But hope is apparently something you can’t get quite that way, though chocolate can sometimes take its place in a recipe. Buying chocolate in bulk can feel hopeful, to be sure. But when we talk about hope, what we need is something more muscly and dependable, something that will stand us up and move us forward, even if our knees are shaking in fear.
Hope is rooted in our knowledge of the past, and those who survived hard times. Hope is fed by our memories of those who brought light to dark times through art and music, who made scientific discoveries that bettered human health, who stood up to despots and made heroic efforts in behalf of others. Hope is a natural by-product of being loved selflessly, and an equal by-product of loving. The past helps us to see that we can be agents of love, salt of the earth and light for the world. But hope’s true orientation is the future. When we live in hope, we keep our feet in today and our hearts in tomorrow.
Hope, ultimately, is a decision: a decision not to yield to despair. A decision to do something, to move our bodies a step down the road, to breathe the rich oxygen of stories and relationships and beauty to remind us of what hope is for. Hope is the decision to sing in the dark, whether your voice is shaking or not. Hope is the decision to imagine a better time, and to invite God’s grace to empower us to make it real.
- Kay Sylvester
Michelangelo said a lot of things about making art, and a lot of things about God for that matter, but one that has stayed with me is his perspective on sculpting: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
Despair is paralyzing, smothering, and dark. So if you are paralyzed, smothered, and blinded, change will come only if you find the strength to move, breathe, and see. Since despair is such a strong shroud, the strength may have to come from the outside – a push that brings you into the air and light.
The tools for pushing are tricky. Words seem to be the first things to try: Everything will be OK. You have so many people who love you. Well intended, but not very sharp. Get out the power tools: Acts of kindness, listening, being aware and acknowledging another’s pain. The light begins to come through the cracks.
Metaphors of darkness and light fill the days of advent. And then there is a baby, who is called the light of the world. He gives us the tools we need to bring ourselves and others out of the darkness and into the light, as Isaiah prophesied. He shows us the way to crack open the marble, and chip away until the angel is free.
- June Waters
If the birth of baby Jesus was the sign of hope for the world, it took a whole lot more than just that fragile newborn to bring hope to fruition. It required endless hours of caregiving and nursing from his mother; it required a wise, hard-working father to keep the family sheltered fed, and safe. It required a thriving Jewish community to steep him in the tradition that would become his foundation for all that would move and ground and inspire him. It probably even required a decent, functioning economy and an intact natural environment. Nothing happens in isolation!
How many times do we encounter a source of hope, like the baby in that manger, but are not yet able to recognize it as such? How many times do we inadvertently shirk an opportunity to nurture that tiny, unformed source of hope, or worse, swat it away? And how often might I have the potential to be a sign of hope for others, but I discount how my actions might actually matter in ways beyond my knowing?
This is a simple challenge I want to take on—to develop eyes that recognize the potential for hope to germinate all around me. I want to live as if whatever we do to bring about kindness, beauty, love, joy, compassion, wellness, wisdom, a decent standard of living, even just in the little world of our coming and going, MATTERS. All around us lie seeds of hope in need of the nurturing acts of us all.
A grand, deeply rooted oak that provides shade and habitat for many generations started as one small, insignificant acorn among many, unable to unlock its own potential without just enough water, and sun, and shade, and warmth, and safety. I want to do my part to foster that kind of new life. That is hope!
- Cassie Lewis