After the Last Tear Falls

[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jill Slywka lives and works as an optometrist in Merritt, BC. She loves the mountains of BC, but always loves being able to come home to the prairies and to her family here.]

merritt bcI’ve lived in Merritt, BC for over 6 years now, and for most of those 6 years, I’ve spent my Tuesday evenings with a fun and quirky group of teenagers.  Spending time with them is often the highlight of my week, and I know I’ve gained more from them over these years, than anything that I’ve given to them.  We try to give them many things on Tuesday evenings – a safe place to come and ask questions about life and faith, a fun place where they can come and hang out with friends, and if nothing else, a place where they can come and have a snack.  But as I look around at these kids week after week, I can see that so many of them know brokenness, hurt and pain intimately.  I don’t know all their stories, and if I did, I’m sure my heart would break to know what some of them have gone through in their short lives.  I wish I could wipe away all their tears, and get rid of all of the pain that has been a part of their lives, but it’s precisely because of the hurt that I see in them that I know in my heart that one of the most important things we can ever give to them is HOPE.  They may not even realize that we’re trying to give it to them – but through our actions and our words, we’re trying to show them there is HOPE in this world.  HOPE, through Jesus, that the brokenness you feel in your life doesn’t have to be the end of the story.  HOPE for healing, for justice, for belonging.

So how can I show them this hope that we have, that we as Christians have access to?  Especially at the end of a long year, and I’m weary and tired, and find it hard to even see much hope myself.  How can my heart even dare to feel hopeful when we’re bombarded by brokenness on every side?  Does hope even matter in these days?

While sometimes my head tries to tell me that it doesn’t, that hope is just ‘wishful thinking’, my heart knows otherwise.  My heart knows that it does absolutely matter, and that we would be lost without it.  The other day, I was reading a blog by one of my favourite writers, Sarah Bessey, on why Advent matters.  I often find in reading other people’s words that they say something exactly the way that I wish I could, so rather then stumbling through and trying to find those words myself, it’s easier to just share what they have said.  You can read the whole blog HERE (and you should!), but the words that particularly struck me on that day were these:

But how could we possibly celebrate Advent if we are paying attention to this world?

How do we make merry when our hearts are broken by Paris, by Syria, by Kenya, by Beirut, by Japan, by Burundi? When, in response to every crisis, our communities seem splintered and divided in how to respond, and careless words are flung like rocks at our own glass houses? When, closer to home, perhaps we are lonely or bored or tired or sick or broke?

In these days, celebration can seem callous and uncaring, if not outright impossible.

But here’s the thing about Advent: we celebrate precisely because we are paying attention.

It’s precisely because everything hurts that we prepare for Advent now.

We don’t get to have hope without having grief. Hope dares to admit that not everything is as it should be, and so if we want to be hopeful, first we have to grieve. First we have to see that something is broken and there is a reason for why we need hope to begin with.

Advent matters because it’s our way of keeping our eyes and our hearts and our arms all wide open.

‘We don’t get to have hope without having grief’.  It’s in times when we feel like hope is impossible, that we need it the most, and somehow through all sorts of chaos and brokenness, hope is able to spring forth.

Andrew Peterson has been a favourite musician of mine for several years.  I often find his music strikes a chord within my heart, and while I can’t even always put into words what it is that touches me about his songs, I think that part of the reason is that so many of his songs have an underlying message of hope.  A couple months ago, I stumbled upon this performance of one of his older songs, ‘After the Last Tear Falls’, and I knew immediately that I needed to share this as a part of this blog focused on hope this year.  His words at the beginning, while somewhat specific to a particular event from a couple years ago, could just as easily be applied to us today, and the events that we’ve witnessed over the last couple months.  The song just gives me hope that yes, this world is broken, and yes, hard, hard things will happen in this life, but we know that this brokenness is not the end, that one day all things will be made right.  And if that doesn’t give me hope, then I’m not sure anything else can.

We Hope in the Dark

[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kaylee was raised in a small-town Lutheran church and married into the Church of Christ family. She and her husband have an (almost) two-year-old son. Kaylee obtained her Social Work degree in 2013 and doesn’t write much now that essays are in her past!]

Hope has always really resonated with me. It is my namesake – Kaylee Hope Elford. So you could say that I’ve sought out hope most of my life.

A friend of mine makes jewelry and she had a display set up at a local market. I saw a black bracelet there among all the others full of colour. It had one solitary bead on it with the word ‘hope’ inscribed. As I contemplated this purchase, I said to my friend, the jewelry maker, ‘I’m a sucker for hope’ – and she responded ‘Ya, me too.’
She had lost her son in a tragic farming accident just months before that and this was her first major outing since. I can only sit and imagine how hope plays a giant part of her everyday life now – waiting in hope for Christ’s coming and hoping that her son will be there waiting for her. Hope resonates with her. Hope stings her eyes and heart in season’s like Advent, on day’s like Mother’s Day. She lives HOPE.

IMG_2522At work, I inquire with potential caregivers about their personal lives and then am supposed to assess whether or not they would be ‘appropriate’ to raise children who find themselves in the foster care world. I have a cubicle I sit at Monday to Friday (insert Dilbert jokes here). Sitting beside me in my cubicle is a home decor piece I bought during the Advent season one year, when I still had time to do things like shop for home decor. The decoration is surrounded by flowers, two real, one fake – ya know, to try and brighten up my ‘cube’. To bring ‘hope’ to a hard job, to inspire hope in the people around me there. And to be able to use the phrase ‘it is my middle name after all’.

But as I think about this, hope is really often surrounded by dark. By despair. By broken stuff. Do you think of hope when the summer sun is warming your skin, the housework is done, your family is peacefully playing together and life is all that you had wanted it to be? Not me – I am thankful for those times – but not hopeful in them.

I am hopeful when I hear of children growing up in abusive homes, when someone at work uses the all too hurtful phrase “no one wants these kids anyways” – caused by the giant monster known as ‘compassion fatigue’. I think that’s all I have in those times – hope. Hope for a rescue, hope for compassion and diligence.

I’m not going to fill this reading with passages about hope from the Bible – you probably know them better than me. But I am going to try and convey to you the feeling I have inside of my gut and inside of my heart when I think about all the gifts we have received from God; things I can’t touch tangibly, but can feel.

Richard touched on this in his blog submission – hope isn’t “Gee, I hope my car starts” or “Man, I hope there is a good special on for lunch today – I’m starving” (no, you’re not starving). The hope we have in Christ, as Christians, is a gut-wrenching, unfathomable, tear-jerking LOVE. Our Saviour is the only one who can right all the yuckiness in this world. Only He can bring peace to the war-torn countries and Facebook spats. Only He can redeem us from yelling at our children or drinking too much that night.

We are surrounded by dark. By despair. By broken stuff. And in all of this, we have HOPE.

Hope for the World

For years, I have been appreciative of The Work of the People, a collective of beautifully-spirited folks who labour to produce films and resources that might bless the church.

The piece below features Jenny Flannagan, sharing a piece called “Hope for the World. (I purchased this video for use in our Small Groups and have posted it for ease of use. If you appreciate it, please feel free — nudged — to support WOTP with a donation or subscription.)

Perhaps, like me, you’ll feel as though Jenny’s telling of the “old story” helps you hear — or feel — parts of it for the very first time.

Love is Sovereign

[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tamara loves being part of the Glen Elm church of Christ community with her husband Matthew. Tamara has a M.A. in International Development Studies and is fascinated by customary land tenure systems. She is a BBC and CBC news junkie who loves social justice, words, reading, people, Zambia and coffee. She adores long discussions with friends and learning about what makes others ‘tick’.]

Advent has become a time of year that I crave. I can feel the clock and calendar marching toward the month of December in a familiar rhythm. The arduousness of life causes an itch for hope.

This November my longing for advent was more intense than usual. The evening we arrived home from international travel was the evening of breaking headlines and shattered hearts out of Paris. My internal clock was jet-lagged and not at all confident which direction time was marching. Thoughts and conversations became consumed with news reports. Senseless, brutal deaths brought time to a halt. Ordinary people, just going about their daily lives, were targeted and attacked.

Fear took hold.

In reaction to the fear, ordinary people in North America flooded the internet with a barrage of hatred, fear and racism. With their words, they targeted and attacked.

Each instance of fear and hatred made the world darker. Darkness begets darkness. Or so it seemed.

When fear and hatred take hold in our hearts we lose focus. We forget whose we are.

This year I need advent more than ever. When news headlines and social-media-rubbish-articles spew reminders of Satan’s work, I forget who is actually sovereign in this world. Vision blurs. Hope is lost.

Until my heart quietly beats, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Evil would have us believe that terror reigns in the world and in our hearts. God promises this is not so. Love came down and was swaddled in a manger. Jesus came to redeem humanity and to establish a kingdom in which the greatest commandment is this:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31)

As followers of Christ, we cannot submit to fear and hatred. God did not abandon us in a land of brokenness and evil. He came, He suffered, He sacrificed, and He is coming again. Love is sovereign.

Let’s hold space for Christ, for each other, for our neighbours, and for all of humanity as we anticipate Christ—the Hope of all nations.

Light breaks through the darkness. Fear does not win. Love is sovereign.

Unreasonable Hope

[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Moore ministers in the southeast corner of Saskatchewan at the Moose Mountain Church of Christ.]

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,

for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.

I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;

therefore I will wait for him.”

-Lamentations 3:21-24

I have a doctrine that I have been developing as of late: the doctrine of Unreasonable Hope.

The Christmas season is no different than other times of the year in at least one aspect: Even a brief look at the world around us causes all-consuming despair. Whether it is wars, terrorist attacks, violence in our own cities and towns, or more long-standing issues like hunger, disease, and neglect the darkness of this world seems ever present and vast.

Hope-short-quote-with-wallpaperAnd yet during the Christmas season we see people give more generously, help their neighbours, and sing Christmas carols to total strangers. Why? Because during the holiday season we frantically submerge the realities around us? Perhaps. But more importantly there is something fundamental about Christmas that unhinges us from this reality and helps us believe in Unreasonable Hope, even if it is but for a fleeting moment or two.

What is the “Christmas spirit” but an expression of Unreasonable Hope. A belief that no matter where we are, what has happened to us, or no matter what we have or don’t have we can joyously turn to helping others around us; that by simple glad tidings, by greeting, or acts of charity and good will we aim to make our neighbourhoods, towns, cities, countries, and indeed all of humankind a better place.

This belief is stacked against the attacks in Paris, Beirut, the war in Syria, and most recently the shootings in San Bernardino. So why do we persist with this belief?

Because of unrealistic, illogical, Unreasonable Hope.

The Hope of Christmas is not based on anything in this world, nor in the presumed goodness of humans. Rather this Unreasonable Hope comes from the concept, idea, event of a small crying infant being born in a forgotten place and time.

The idea and event of God, creator and sustainer of all things, truly beyond comprehension, who exists outside of all we know and understand, that God came to us as one of us. The creator became created, the giver of life is given life, the Divine and Human now one.

Everything about this is unrealistic, illogical, and unreasonable. This does not happen. It breaks all the rules. It is, in short, impossible.

Why is the impossible made possible? Glad tidings, peace on earth, chorusing angels all proclaim that God through this weak, small, and fragile infant will become through another impossible made possible event, the saviour of all humankind.

Whether implicit or explicit this is why we humans, even as we are normally generally pessimistic and dejected about things, during the Christmas season have a most unusual tendency to be cheerful, optimistic, and filled with Unreasonable Hope.

As we go about our busy lives in the days leading up to Christmas may we allow ourselves to be entirely taken over by the Unreasonable Hope that permeates this season. Give in to the urge to spread some cheer, help out, and make our world a better place. And maybe, just maybe, keep a little of that Unreasonable Hope tucked away somewhere in our hearts for the rest of the year.

Could be handy.

Our Deepest Hope

[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Preaching, teaching, encouraging wherever the Spirit blows him, Stan Helton loves God’s people and remains passionate about living out God’s Mission.]

The Apostle said,

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:22–25 NRSV)

My hope is too small. There! I’ve confessed it.

We are so focused on instant gratification that hoping for something as big as the recreation of the world, well, it’s both mind-boggling and patience-evaporating. Yet New Creation is the hope of those who believe the One who has already begun to recreate the world in us. That’s why we are said to have the first fruits of the Spirit—God’s project begins in each of us.

Hope, as Paul makes clear, is about waiting. If my hope is too small, my ability to wait is even smaller. But when we wait for the big ticket items in life: to grow up, to graduate, to marry, to have our first home, to have children, to enjoy grandchildren—all of which take place in their own time, we find out rather quickly that we cannot rush them. So we should not be surprised that God’s main project—which is not your own personal salvation, by the way—is the complete renewal of creation. Now that’s worth waiting for, but until then…

There’s groaning. In our (con)temporary experience, we groan. While not all of life is suffering, there is enough. And when we are in the midst of it, it’s too much. And for some of us, it never let’s up. We also groan with our world because too many resist the work God has begun and God will not force his re-creation on the earth before its time. The news outlets make sure every day that we know how much creation is groaning. But one day. One day all groaning will cease. So until then…

We groan, we live, we wait, we hope. Perhaps this classic hymn will help us wait…and hope big!

Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand

Time is filled with swift transition,
Naught of earth unmoved can stand,
Build your hopes on things eternal,
Hold to God’s unchanging hand.

Trust in Him who will not leave you,
Whatsoever years may bring,
If by earthly friends forsaken
Still more closely to Him cling.

Covet not this world’s vain riches
That so rapidly decay,
Seek to gain the heav’nly treasures,
They will never pass away.

Refrain:
Hold to God’s unchanging hand,
Hold to God’s unchanging hand;
Build your hopes on things eternal,
Hold to God’s unchanging hand.

Heart Sickness

[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jared Oberkirsch is in the home stretch of completing his training in family medicine. He lives in Regina with his beautiful wife, Haleigh, and together they battle the craziness of life; feeling as though they were never properly advised about this adulthood business. 🙂]

Words make more sense to me when they are compared with their opposites.  To better understand hope, it’s helpful for me to consider hopelessness.

DepressionIn this little experiment, the first word that pops into my mind is depression. Depression is a big expansive word that can mean many different things to many different people. Depressions are low points. They manifest as economic recessions and downturns where money and financial securities are suddenly lost in a puff of smoke. Depressions are the sunken places in nature – the hollows of forests and valleys of mountain ranges. They are indentations in wood furniture and footprints along the beach.

Depression also refers to sadness. We use this word to describe our mood all the time. It’s a word that rolls off our tongues all too freely and we can miss its darker undertones. In truth, depression is stone cold. It’s this crippling darkness that steals the joy from our eyes and the smiles from our faces. Depression is pounding waves – over and over – that erodes the stable places where we feel safe. At its worst, a depression can convince us that our only option is to just jump in to those waters and be swept away entirely.

Tough stuff. But this is real life for some of us.

There are two simple questions that I often ask people who pass through my office. These questions are just part of my routine. They have to be because if I don’t ask, some people would just hide behind forced smiles and small talk. Usually I open with, “And how has your mood been recently? If you consider the past two weeks, have you had:

1.     Little interest or pleasure in doing things that you usually enjoy?

…or have you been…

2.     Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless?”

There it is – hopeless – right in front of me. One of the most common barriers to mental wellness is this state of being without hope.

Proverbs 13:12 reads, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” That’s not really surprising is it? Those who cannot find hope experience suffering. Whether you see it on the news or in the stranger you pass on your way to work, suffering is all around us. This world is broken. Hopelessness is all around us.

Take HeartBut take heart, friends. Hebrews 6 describes hope as, “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” It’s a beautiful metaphor. Everyday the world washes over us – wave after wave – trying to catch us off balance and sweep us away, but our hope keeps us secure.

Hope is that feeling that drives away the darkness. Hope gives courage when all our previous efforts have failed. Hope lifts our downcast eyes and fixes them on our Saviour – the one who has already conquered the night.

“Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear.” [President Snow, The Hunger Games].