Choices: Hope in a Culture of Despair

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This time of year reminds me of a day 24 years ago when a close friend made the choice to terminate a life — her own. I still mourn. That choice ended all other choices.

She was in despair. A few weeks before graduation from her final year of university she was dropped from the program. Her supervisor said she did not have the temperament for her chosen field and would not receive certification.

It was the same temperament she exhibited the entire time and the decision so late in the process was a blow. She felt ashamed and like she had wasted nearly four years of her life. The rejection not only dashed her dreams, it became part of her identity.

Reject. Shameful failure.

When she talked about ending her life I interfered. I meddled. I made it my business, and I do not apologize for that. I arranged for professional help. I got her to the hospital.

I understand despair. I know what depression is like. I know the feeling that hope has been chased away by the ugly trio of anxiety, shame, and dismal forebodings. I know what it is like to make my failures my identity. I know what it is like to believe that the world would be better off without me.

I also know what it is like to be healed, to see the sun come out from behind the clouds and warm my heart again. I know the joy of hope restored. I know what it is to be loved for myself and not for my accomplishments. I have met the God of hope. He healed me and lifted me out of the pit of despair.

I know she told people what they wanted to hear to get out of the hospital. She still saw herself as an unwanted reject. I urged her to accept help, but she refused.

We talked on the phone a lot, frequently in the middle of the night. Telling her about how learning the truth of the simple child’s song, “Jesus Loves Me” rescued me from hopelessness brought an angry response.

“Quit cramming religion down my throat. I’m tired of religious people condemning me. You can’t tell me what to do!”

I wasn’t condemning her, but she had grown up with a lot of legalistic religion with impossibly high standards, so that’s how she interpreted what I said. She was right about me telling her what to do.

I could not tell her what to do with her body. She had free will. It was her choice. One night she hung up on me and chose to overdose. She told the paramedic who transported her to hospital that she changed her mind. But it was too late. She had an allergic reaction to the antidote and died. The consequence of her choice put an end to all other choices.

Years passed before I accepted there was nothing more I could have done to change her mind. It was her body, her life, her choice. I still miss her. I still love her. I still put flowers on her grave.

 

I read something another young friend wrote today. (For Danika’s excellent blog “My Life, My Choice” click here.) Danika’s life was also interrupted by a change of plans. She was on her way back to college to complete a program in a chosen field in which she excelled when she learned she was pregnant.

Her doctor urged her to get an abortion. She didn’t want her “to throw away everything she had worked so hard for.”

As I thought about it, I realized the doctor accepted the same belief as Lisa. Success in this culture is achieved through hard work leading to money, status, and power. Circumstances that set us back in this competitive atmosphere, in which everyone is too busy chasing goals to quit the race and stop to help another human being, are cause for despair.

Resiliency carries less value as a character trait when hope is lost. Compassion in a world of despair can offer only a cruel kindness. Abortion may look like a kind rewind but it ends the life of a living being whether or not you believe it is human or of any value. It permanently ends the possibility of any other choices.

I began to think about the many women I know who felt coerced by partners, social workers, doctors and family members into a choice that increased their sense of being a failure, whether it was failure to produce a male child, or a perfectly healthy child, or simply remain unpregnant. Some, feeling there was no place in the world for themselves if they could not keep up in the success race, assumed there would be no place for their child either. For some, despair and hopelessness led to a kind of suicide by proxy. Someone told them the world would be better off without their child and they believed it.

Danika chose a third way. She defied the edict that declared her only choices were to “throw her life away” by remaining pregnant or terminate and become a success by finishing her degree and getting a job. Her career plans have shifted and now she has started her own successful business and is studying online. Her little girl is a bright ray of sunshine in the lives of everyone who knows her. This child will grow up with free will and the right to make her own choices.

It has not been easy. I’ve watched Danika struggle, but I’ve also watched her accept help from community resources and family and friends who genuinely care, people who by their actions told her she is loved and valued for who she is and not just her accomplishments.

There was a time when suicide was against the law. What’s the point? I don’t think abortion can be legislated away anymore than suicide (although I certainly don’t want to be a part in it anymore than I would want to supply anyone with a lethal dose of pills). You can’t tell people what to do with their own bodies. They will follow through on intentions whether or not the process is “safe.” You can only be there to help, to support, to point out other options, to let the goodness of God show through your actions, and to point to the source of hope. The abortion issue is about more than a change in laws. It’s about change in hearts. It’s about hope.

Unless those of us who value life in the womb address the problem of the lack of love, honour, forgiveness, and hope in this world and until we live in a way that exemplifies resiliency and joy in trusting God to not only get us through tough circumstances, but flourish through them, we will have no influence. Until we are willing to care for others in non-condemning, self-sacrificing practical ways, we will only spend more years laying flowers on graves on our way to protest marches.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17 NIV)

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)

 

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“Christ in you” is not only your best hope of glory, it is the world’s only hope.

Then Shall the Eyes of the Blind Be Opened

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Following up on a reminder to remember, let me tell you this story.

“What would we do if that happened in our family?” my son asked. A book he read for a school assignment upset him. It was the story of a girl who became blind.

“First we would cry,” I told him. “Then we would make adjustments and help her to live life as best she could.”

That was an inadequate answer. I had more to learn. A few weeks later our daughter, his younger sister, went blind.

A case of pink eye, combined with side-effects of medication for another condition and the use of contact lens I told her not to wear, but should have confiscated, turned into a raging infection. I didn’t realize how serious it was until one morning, a couple of weeks before Christmas, she screamed that she couldn’t open her eyes because of pain. We took her to the hospital still thinking she was overacting a bit when the ophthalmologist told us she was admitting her. She had “fried her corneas” and faced serious scarring that meant she would probably lose her eyesight permanently.

The doctor was not nice about it. She yelled at us in the hallway in front of patients and staff, berating our parenting ability and accusing us of negligence. I was terrified and filled with guilt. Not only could my precious child go blind, but it was my fault!

The next few days were agony for all of us. Our daughter was placed in a small windowless room near the nurses’ station on the children’s ward. Anyone who visited her was also essentially blind, since any light caused her great pain. Every hour, day and night, a nurse entered and administered painful drops, which, we didn’t know at the time, she was allergic to. Her condition deteriorated.

“First we cry,” was entirely inadequate for the situation. “First we weep and wail and throw up,” was more like it. Of course, we tried to not let her see – or rather hear – our reaction. We tried to maintain a positive attitude around her, even when the doctor told her there was no way she was going home for Christmas. She would be spending it in the dark, stuffy room.

Of course, we prayed, but it was more and more difficult to maintain any kind of faith with every new negative report. But God…

“There was someone in my room last night, Mom,” she said when I came in early in the morning.

“It was probably a nurse, or hospital staff,” I said.

“No. I always know when the door opens because the light in the hall hurts and besides, they always talk to me. This felt different. The door didn’t open. It was just there. I felt, I don’t know, a presence.”

I assumed painkillers caused her to hallucinate.

Then the doctor came in. She was shocked. Our daughters’ eyes were much better. There was no sign of infection and inflammation and swelling were fading. She remained in hospital a couple more days to make sure, but she came home for Christmas.

Today she is a teacher and artist – a professional photographer who depends on keen eyesight. She was told she would never be able to wear contacts or have laser surgery for near-sightedness, but that prognosis was not fulfilled either. Now, she doesn’t even wear glasses. When doctors predicted her husband would die of necrotizing fasciitis, she had faith and hope beyond any logical scientific limitations. An encounter with the Healer opened her heart to possibilities she never imagined. It opened our hearts as well.

Here is where I was wrong. I told my son that if such a thing ever happened in our family, we would try to find ways to cope. Even though I grew up in the church and heard all the stories in the Bible about how Jesus healed people, I didn’t know he still heals. The best we could reasonably expect was help in learning to cope.

I know, the first yeah-but that comes to mind is the question about why many people who pray are not healed. I don’t know. All I know is that people who believe The Healer is part of who God wants to show himself to be for us see a lot more miracles and healings than people who have lost hope. People who rejoice in his goodness are free to live in hope – and hope frees us to live without limits.

God is good.

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Perennial

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I haven’t even tidied this corner of the garden yet. With other projects demanding attention, I’m late with weeding and clean-up. And yet here they are, my faithful, happy harbingers of joy, unpainted fence and plastic detritus notwithstanding.

Leopard’s bane are called perennials because they come back again and again, year after year, without me having to do anything. They are also called “bane” because they were thought to be a threat to threats. Joy as a threat. I like that.

As I downloaded photos today I thought about faithfulness. Faithfulness is one of the attributes of God that he has been emphasizing to me when I ask the question, “Who do you want to show yourself to be for me in these current circumstances?”

It is easier to go through a crisis on your own than to see your children and grandchildren face challenges. We can read about God’s faithfulness, but when we experience God’s ways of bringing us to experiential knowledge of that faithfulness, our relationship with God deepens and becomes our own. My mother’s years of experiencing God’s keeping power through pain meant nothing to me until I heard him sing over me during long dark sleepless nights.

She had her relationship and I have mine. Now I am watching my children and grandchildren discover for themselves that he reveals who he wants to be for them. As I pray for them, I’m learning to stand in the gap without standing in the way.

God is good. Perennially. And not just for me.

Your faithfulness flows from one generation to the next;
all that you created sits firmly in place to testify of you.

Psalm 119:90 TPT

Hope Springs

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The May tree is finally in bloom. It’s very late this year, almost a month later than last year, I think. I stopped checking it for signs of blossoms a while ago. I didn’t want to be disappointed again.

I think that the fear of disappointment is one of our greatest fears. I have talked to many people who are afraid to hope in God, lest he turn out to be as disappointing as many important people in our lives that we once relied upon have been.

When we fear abandonment or rejection, or worse, betrayal, we either give up, resigned to the inevitability of more disappointment, or muffle our own heart’s cry in distractions or work.

This has been both a challenging miserably rotten week of feeling helpless and a delightful inspiring week of spiritual growth. You don’t need the details. Weeks like this are custom-made to reveal what is lacking in our experience of who God wants to be for us. Your definition of rotten is probably different than mine, as is your experience of delight, but you know what I mean.

If my hope levels over the past few days were on a graph it would look like a major seismic disturbance. I’m much better than I used to be, but I’m not where I want to be. I wish all the weights on the worry side of my emotional scale would move permanently to the trust side without jumping back when I go to answer the phone.

The Lord has been reminding me to remember — and I would — and then, with more bad news, I would forget. I purposely wrote down promises I have seen fulfilled and miracles I have seen manifest before my own eyes. I have seen this stuff time and time again! Why do I struggle to hold those memories in my heart when faced with another crisis?  Why do I still oscillate between joyful trust and sick-to-the-stomach worry?

I spent time sitting in the warm sun under the May tree this evening and quieted my heart to wait on God. (My stomach still did its own thing.) This is what he reminded me to remember. I share it with you.

The God of all hope is the God of all love first because there is no hope without love.

Love is voluntary or it is not love. He chooses you. He likes you.

Lacking hope? Go back to love.

Quit acting like an orphan and trying so hard to figure it all out yourself. You’re adopted now. Let him look after you. Let him walk with you and show you how to do life with all its craziness.

Remember the many ways he has shown his love before, even when you messed up. And give thanks for as many things as you can think of. (This is important for your sake.)

You have never done anything that disqualifies you from being loved by your Papa God.

He is the God of all comfort and the God of limitless possibilities, so don’t ignore or limit him.

The greatest title you could ever hold is beloved son or daughter of the Creator of the universe. He’s got you.

He won’t stop loving you. He loves you because he loves you because he loves you — even on days when you can’t imagine how.

Look up, child. Spring will come. It always does.

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I Will Remember

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This is how I fight my battles. I paint my prayers. I started this piece at class on Monday eve, but it was not right. Too dark. I worked on it some more this evening.

Since Easter I have been running into the word “Remember.” Jesus’ last supper with his disciples was important. When you are on your way out you tend to make sure you talk about the things that matter most. He talked about remembering his broken body and spilled blood every time we take bread and wine together. He washed his friends’ feet as a demonstration of a servant’s attitude, but also as a reminder, especially to Peter, that we cannot do this on our own. We need Him. We must let him help us before we can help others.

We also need to let other disciples help us and admit when we are weak. This is about family and relationship and the giving and taking goes both ways. On Sunday I was on the prayer team and prayed for others. Tonight I am praying for my sixteen-year old granddaughter who is an exchange student in France. We just learned she is in hospital after a head injury.  I am also asking friends to come alongside and pray for her and for her parents and brother and us, her grandparents who are all a continent and ocean away.

This is my painted prayer. Bread, wine, water, basin, towel, candle. “Remember.” I remember all he has done for us and I praise and thank him. Jesus is the light of the world. God is love. He is faithful.

Twilight Pear Blossoms

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When I first looked out the kitchen window as the sun set behind the mountains, I thought I saw snow on the tree. We’ve seen a lot of snow these past months.

But no. It’s not snow. This time the pear tree is covered with blossoms.

Flowers of your faithfulness are blooming on the earth.
Righteousness shines down from the sky.
Yes, the Lord keeps raining down blessing after blessing,
and prosperity will drench the land with a bountiful harvest.
For deliverance and peace are his forerunners,
preparing a path for his steps.

Psalm 85: 11-13 TPT