Hope Never Comes From a Leprechaun

Lucky Charms, hope, leprechaun

Lucky Charms, hope, leprechaun

 

Hope is not something we naturally think about building. We can find or lose hope. Hope can be destroyed or recovered. But hope is usually built. And that is precisely the problem.

We believe hope is akin to treasure at the end of a rainbow, as if some mythical munchkin will say, “Fresh out of gold. How ’bout some hope instead?” Hope must be built if we intend to retain it in our lives.

Understanding What Hope Really Is

Part of the reason we expect hope to come like a winning lottery ticket is because we misunderstand what hope actually is. Hope in its purest form is a Christian concept. It is described best in Romans 5:5 –

Hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

Hope is grounded in the love of God for us. We have the proof of God’s love in the person of the Holy Spirit within us. There are moments in our life when we understand afresh that the Creator of this complex and enormous universe loves little ol’ me and little ol’ you. These times should stir up hope within us.

When a Bible Verse Just Doesn’t Cut It

But there are days when this quiet confirmation of God’s advocacy for us is not enough. We feel like someone who was tricked by a leprechaun into taking fool’s gold, only to find ourselves with an empty black pot. We have pain that won’t end, a health condition that just won’t go away. In these moments, we want to cry out – O God, why have you forsaken me?

And this is why we must build hope. We must have a reservoir of hope during dry seasons. It is possible to develop habits in our lives that will give us strength when we are weary, so we can live another day.

Four Ways to Build Hope

Keep a journal, in a way that makes sense for you.

When the tough times pile up on each other, it’s easy to forget that God has ever shown Himself to be real. A journal stands as a monument of God’s faithfulness, and gives us courage to keep going. There are moment when we have known the love and presence of God, without a shadow of a doubt. But the dark seasons can wipe those memory away. We can battle this tendency with a journal.

When I say journal, I don’t necessarily mean a monogrammed notebook or a Moleskin. Anything you will use and not lose works just fine. It could be texts to yourself or videos. It might even be a series of screenshots and pictures. The details don’t matter, so long as you keep a record of God’s goodness somewhere.

Refuse the urge to isolate yourself.

Whoever said misery loves company hasn’t seen my sorrow. Perhaps it is because I am an introvert, but I do not want to share my misery with anyone. No, I want to curl up into the fetal position and wait for the bad days to end.

It’s only in community we find hope. I have written about this before here and here, so I won’t repeat myself in this article. There is great value in safe places and safe people, and we will need both to build hope.

Meditate on the truth of God’s goodness.

It is unfortunate meditation has become a word with nearly unbiblical connotations, because King David was one of the first to discuss it thousands of years ago. Meditation is nothing more than a deep focus upon a single concept – in this case the goodness of God.

If you are anything like me, chilling out with a book and thinking deeply about it sounds…well, it sounds boring. But reading one verse over and over again is not the only way to meditate. We can meditate in song. We can meditate in service. The details don’t matter, so long as we are able to focus on the good heart of God.

Create visual reminders of good times.

Maybe this means picture collages of family events. Perhaps for you putting calligraphy prints of Bible verses does the trick. It could even be that images of the Buddha bring joy to your heart. Whatever makes you happy, surround yourself with that.

I am not trying to say that a happy picture or some nifty words in a fancy font will remove the pain of a day with deep despair. But to the degree we can control our environment, we must do so.

We need more than magically delicious cereal to thrive in life, especially when there’s a chronic health condition involved. We need to store up hope.

How do you build a reservoir of hope in your life?

3 Myths About Chronic Illness Pastors Should Know

myth, pastor, chronic illness

myth, pastor, chronic illness

 

There are unfortunately pastors believe it is not a high priority for them to understand the challenges of an individual with a chronic illness. But the truth is that how well you understand a chronic illness be the difference between isolation and community.

(Note that for this discussion, we will define a chronic illness as a physical, mental, or emotional condition that is recurring or lasts more than six months.)

My daughter Cindy is autistic and epileptic, so she doesn’t fit any mold for children’s ministry. A few years ago, the children’s pastor of our church told us our daughter didn’t fit the profile of a “normal children’s ministry kid”, so we would need to pull her from that classroom. She also didn’t qualify for the special friends program they had for kid with special needs. Therefore, she would not be welcome in the children’s ministry, and we needed to find a place for her on Sundays on our own.

We were devastated. We liked the pastor, and admired the way the church was changing lives in the community. But if there’s no place for our daughter in that church, then there’s no place for us either. We left that church.

Now we’re in a church that is completely different. Not only are the volunteers thrilled to have Cindy join in the junior high ministry, but they notice when she is missing and ask about her. Beyond that, she even has a chance to serve by working with the toddlers in the children’s ministry as an assistant.

Because the pastors at our current church took the time to learn about our family, we are now ALL accepted and loved, instead of being isolated for not being normal. Stories like my daughter’s are far too common, and they are birthed out of three common myths about our chronic illnesses.

 

Myth #1: All illnesses are created equal

Even with the same diagnosis, an illness never affects two people the same way. For example, my daughter and my close friend both have a diagnosis of epilepsy, but their seizures are very different.

My daughter has short absent seizures that look like she is just zoning out. My friend has grand mals that bust lips and break teeth. To say both experience the same thing because the label is epilepsy is almost silly.

It’s not only epilepsy that has a varied pattern of symptoms and impacts to a person, but every illness. As a leader in a church, you have the opportunity to model the truth that the specifics of our condition do matter, and it is worth the effort to learn about what’s really happening in our lives.

 

Myth #2: We are just throwing a pity party to get some sympathy

Sometimes, we are accused of using our illness as a way to draw attention to ourselves. In contrast, we tend to avoid talking about our condition to avoid the awkwardness that often accompanies such conversations.

When we do risk enough to share a piece of our life, it is with some trepidation. We have all lost friendships over this type of honesty, when others decide it is too difficult to maintain a friendship with us.

The best thing a pastor can do when we do start talking about our illness is to lean in, listen without judgment, and ask questions to draw out more of who we are. You will lend us strength and pull us out of the darkness of isolation.

 

Myth #3: We don’t want to serve in the local church

Unfortunately, another myth that has been promulgated about those of us with chronic illnesses is that don’t want to serve in the church. Admittedly serving can be difficult depending on the details of our condition, but many of us are interested in giving back.

For example, I have a seizure disorder that causes 6’7”, 300 pound me to fall to the ground. Putting me in kids’ ministry is not an option (I might kill a kid), but I am doing several behind-the-scenes jobs during the week to support the church.

Taking the time to determine where and how we can serve in the local body will allow us to feel loved, valued, and accepted.

 

You Can Make an Enormous Difference

It can be difficult to lead those with chronic illnesses, because we come with a lot of baggage from poor experiences with others. But let’s be honest for just a moment – everyone has baggage.

The good news is that you can change the narrative of our story. Perhaps more than anyone outside of family, the perspective of a pastor carries a great deal of value for those of us with chronic illnesses.

By taking the time to listen as we describe what life is like for us, you validate our journey.

By understanding the risk we take very time we share a little piece of our life with someone, you strengthen us to risk again.

By applying some creativity and compassion to find a way to let us serve, you give us the chance to give back to our community.

We Did More Than Survive

Photo Credit: Photography by Julia (Creative Commons)

Photo Credit: Photography by Julia (Creative Commons)

As we now celebrate seventeen years, I have a few more thoughts. I edited a bit in the original post, and added a third concept.

Fifteen seventeen years. Fifteen seventeen. Years. I repeated the words slowly to myself about 10 am yesterday today in Starbucks as I considered our anniversary (insert pithy comment about a typical male not being home on his anniversary here). Two three thoughts come to mind when I ponder the last fifteen seventeen years with my wife: Boy have we grown up, and has it ever been eventful, and boy am I grateful for the privilege to build one life together with my wife!Continue reading

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