Hunting Hope

I have to tell you about my new friend, Nika Maples. We’ve never met, but that’s just a minor detail. We have prayed for each other, discussed struggles, rejoiced over victories, and cried over losses. She has shared my music, I have shared her God-inspired words. She has written an phenomenal book. I’ve been a part of several book launches now, but her book will forever have a special place in my heart. This launch experience has been like no other. So personal, so beautiful, so inspirational, and one I have enjoyed sharing over the past few weeks. Let me introduce to you, Hunting Hope.

You may have seen various pictures and quotes from the book on my Facebook feed, or even watched the video Daniel and I made of our song, “Hope is Not an Accident”, which was inspired by Hunting Hope. If it sparked even the slightest bit of interest, you have to read the book in its entirety. In a nutshell, Nika explains that hope doesn’t just happen. We can’t ever see the light in the darkness if we haven’t prepared for that moment. Our hope comes from God alone (Psalm 62:5), but if we don’t know Him, how can we expect to see how He’s working in those hard times? If we don’t know God’s character, we look for the reason behind the dark seasons, rather than the result of it. “Maybe it doesn’t matter what causes suffering in our lives near as much as it matters what suffering causes in our lives.” She goes on to say, “Perhaps our best question is not “How could You let this happen to me, Lord? but “How are you using this for me, Lord?””. This kind of mindset doesn’t just happen. You have to look for it- hunt it, if you will. She brilliantly compares hope to exercise. No one can just get up and run a marathon. They have to train. Just like trials, if we aren’t prepared, we won’t make it through. We have to spend time with God every day in the good times, so we can know that dependence in the trials. I’m trying really hard to not quote the entire book for you. I have a ton of highlights!

When Daniel and I struggled through the loss of Hartley, we listened to the song “Spring is Coming” by Steven Curtis Chapman A LOT. We needed to hold on to the promise that our metaphorical winter was not forever. We knew God would bring us through the darkness to a season of newness. Nika talks a lot about seasons. She reminded me that winter is a natural order of life. Winter reminds us that the weather will change, and “the hope of spring sustains us”. (I’m telling you- beautiful writing!)

It was an emotional book for me. I felt like everything I have ever felt in hard, dark times was explained on paper with renewed hope and beauty. I laughed at some of her stories. I threw my fist up in victory at others and rejoiced alongside her triumphs. I held my knotted stomach as I waited for her springtime. I’m just so excited about this book, can you tell??

I know I’ve been mentioning my reading challenge here and there, and this one went under my “Self-Improvement Book” because I honestly feel like a better person after reading it. I was truly just reading this as lagniappe, but I think it fits. If you’re interested in reading Hunting Hope, good news! It released today! It’s on Amazon, Lifeway, and Barnes and Noble. (Lifeway has it for $12.99, which is the cheapest, but I’m not sure about shipping if you’re going the online route.) It is such a good investment. I had a free copy from the launch team-which came signed, in a package that included gold twirly ribbon by the way, and I still bought a hardback version too. It’s that good. Let me know what you think. I can’t wait to call you a fellow Hope Hunter.

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What The Church Has Taught Me

It’s more than our beloved Bible stories. It’s more than Zacchaeus way up in the sycamore tree or Noah taking the animals by twosies (twosies). It’s learning God’s character through the experiences and actions of others. It’s practicing kindness and compassion, rejoicing with others, praying through the suffering, and collaboratively praising God.

Over the past seven years at my church, I have learned from various generations what it means to know and trust God. I have learned how to bake a pie. I have learned that you can still play hopscotch in your eighties, and you can teach grown ups when you’re five. I have learned that you can suffer immense loss and still praise God’s name for the wonderful life He’s blessed you with. I have taken the advice of a dear woman in her seventies when she said it’s hard to be mad at someone when you’re reading Scripture. It’s easy to find rest when you can’t sleep if you quote Bible verses. I’ve heard God speaking clearly through school age children when we talk about what to do when we feel helpless. We pray! I’ve seen the power of grace and mercy through the eyes of children who have seen more darkness than most adults. I’ve felt empowered by the boldness of a college student who picked up a homeless man and his son so they could eat breakfast at our church. I hear a man with Parkinson’s singing hymns as he walks, with an ever present smile on his face and a hug to give. I’ve learned sarcasm isn’t becoming- correction spoken in love, of course.  I’ve come to see Jesus in all the Old Testament Bible stories. I’ve acquired shoulders to lean on, hands to hold, and prayer warriors in abundance.

The Church is God’s design. It’s not a place to make a weekly pitstop or enjoy a quarterly potluck. (Although the Baptist in me LOVES a good potluck. Pass the casseroles, please.) Ephesians 1:22-23 tells us “He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (NKJV) We are his hands and feet. We show the world what God is about through our actions. We stand together, united by Jesus Christ, striving to live as He did. We can’t do life alone. Just look at Jesus. He surrounded Himself with his disciples. They fished together and ate together. Jesus continuously taught them through parables and His actions. Paul wrote letters to various churches as if they were family, bonded by Christ. He took time to teach them and pray for them. THIS is what Church is.

I’m so thankful for my church, but even more for The Church. It’s so much more than a building or an 11 AM worship service. It’s how we grow as Christians in the way God intended. So dive in. Go deep. Get in over your head. Soak in what God has designed and follow hard after him.

Distractions

I have a little extra time this morning, as I wait to register Hudson for KINDERGARTEN! It’s such an exciting time, but it does seem a little surreal. It doesn’t seem like he can actually be five, but part of me thinks, “That’s all?” I can’t imagine life before him!

With all of the hustle and bustle of birthday parties, bathroom renovations, soccer games, (life in general), I have been pretty distracted lately. I have a job where I basically get paid to distract children on a daily basis. I use a bag full of tricks to make IVs, NG tubes, lab draws, and port accesses a little bit easier. I pull out my handy dandy iPad and watch Mickey Mouse while the nurses use their steady hands to administer medications and treatments. I blow bubbles while they look for the perfect vein. I pretend to travel the world with imaginative patients while they have their ports accessed for the umpteenth time. Distraction can be good. But what happens while they are distracted? You can look at it two ways: something painful happens and something beneficial happens.  Isn’t that what happens when we get distracted from God? While I’m looking to TV or a book or chocolate to solve my problems, God is working, and I miss out. When my eyes are not on Him, He moves and I drift away. Good things are happening, and I’m not there to see them. On the flip side, as I hope and trust in things and not God, I’m hurting my relationship with Him, and the “ouches” of this world are a million times harder when I am not close to Him. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8 NKJV). He’s always there, but we have to acknowledge that nearness. Distractions keep us from realizing it. Distractions tell us that WE helped ourselves or WE accomplished greatness. It’s just not true. Anything I’ve done is a direct result of God’s providence and mercy. Distractions leave us wanting more. Temporarily fixed, but not whole. God is the only One who can truly help us in times of trouble. (Psalm 46:1 “God is our Refuge and Strength, a very present help in trouble.”)

I always feel like I want life to slow down. There’s just so much going on all the time. I let the busyness become a distraction in itself. Taking time to be in the Word- reading, taking notes, praying, meditating on verses- is a game changer. It takes effort. It’s a little daunting to see that early alarm set, knowing I could just sleep an extra 30 minutes. But it is oh so beneficial. The house is quiet, no one is posting on Facebook yet, and it’s me and God in the stillness. Distractions are minimal, and the Word is rich. “My voice You shall hear in the morning, O LORD; In the morning I will direct it to You, and I will look up” (Psalm 5:3 NKJV).

Lift up your eyes, dear friends. God is so much better than the distractions.