Advent: Hope That Does Not Disappoint

This is the first week Advent the Christian calendar. On Sunday we lit the the Hope candle and throughout this week, we focus on the hope the coming of the Christ child brings to us and to the world.

Advent 2020 is arriving in a desert thirsting for hope.

So many of us have been—and continue to be—battered by this year. The need for a light to appear at the end of this long dark tunnel is real.

Certainly, there have been times during this dark year when I have felt helpless:

Helpless to protect my children from the stress and isolation of quarantine.

Helpless to keep my family safe.

Helpless to bring peace in my community.

Helpless in the face of injustice.  

Even when I’ve socked in by the heavy fog of helplessness, I’ve never lost hope that everything will work its way out in its own way. I just need to take the next right step even though I can barely see past that.  

We are hardwired for hope

To live without hope is to cease to live.”  –Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Dostoyevsky got it right. Hope, real hope, not wishes and dreams, is powerful.

Do live like we believe that? We use the word a lot: I hope I’ll get to see you soon. I hope the kids will be able to return to school in the New Year. I hope the vaccine works. I hope you feel better. I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow.

We tend to say it when something feels just out of our grasp or control. And so, we weakly hope for something better, something we’re not sure will really happen, something else other than what we have.

We’ve stripped hope of its power so that it’s nothing more than a want or a wish.

Hope that does not disappoint

I was listening to a meditation on hope during my walk the other day and I heard Romans 5:3–5:

. . . but we also celebrate in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (NASB)

The phrase, “hope does not disappoint” kept ringing in my brain. I have heard this passage a million billion times.  It’s been a memory verse at multiple points of my life. I KNOW this, but on this day, it was a fresh reminder that my hope had been misplaced. I was settling for a watered-down version of hope that was actually a wish in disguise.

The hope that does not disappoint is powerful. It’s what keeps people going through the darkest of times. It is tied to the eternal truth of God’s goodness, which anchors us through all kinds of storms because hope does not disappoint.

Belief in this kind of hope is so much more than a shoulder shrug, “I hope it’ll happen.” This kind of hope is not tossed around, “I hope tomorrow will be better.”  These are wishes and wants.

Hope is what you turn to when things get hard. It is your source so that you can keep going when the gas runs out.  Where do you find your drive to press on despite hardship? When the fog of helplessness is thick and heavy, what allows you to believe it will not be there always? What propels you to take the next step even when you can’t fully see where you’re going? Is it a hope in something that might be or in something that is? The latter is the hope that does not disappoint.        

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Where I need to find grace the most.

Today, I’m breaking the silence. When I started this blog all those years ago, I named it “Finding Grace,” thinking it’d be about finding grace in the everyday. Finding it in others, for others. I realized, however, I wasn’t extending grace in the one place I needed it most, and that was toward myself. Without that, I have had nothing in my cup for anyone else.

And this, my friends, is the reason for the (very) long silence in this forum. During these blank years I’ve kept this blog online and gave myself excuses for why I’ve had nothing to say. I called it busyness. I called it distractibility. I called it priorities. But really, my cup emptied years ago. It started with drying up my words, and then it spread to my creativity, my sense of fun, patience for others, friends, family — my spouse. These months of COVID quarantine have only amplified this. 

 


Lockdown in a 1,000 square-foot apartment with four people is not for the faint of heart. There is literally no place to go. We have been in each other’s faces 24/7 for so long. Managing work and remote school in this small space  was all I could do on my best days. 

There was no room for my feelings in this small home. There was only room to meet needs, hand in assignments, and soothe children who ache for normalcy to return. I tried to tell my personal needs to take a pause, I’ll have time for you later. But that’s not a long -term solution. I don’t know if you can relate …

My gasket blew more and more often as the months wore on. My response was to dig in deeper to the way things are, stuff my needs further down, paint the brave face, only now it was emotionless. It was practically stone, and my flexibility left me. By September, well, it wasn’t pretty. Was I the only one who still had not figured this out? Surely not. But it sure felt that way. 

Then one day in late September I just blew up, or broke down — it depends on who you talk to. My husband sent me out for a walk. I didn’t want to go, but he said, it’ll make you feel better. I begrudgingly went because really I couldn’t think of any real reason not to.

It did. 

I plugged in a podcast and I walked… and I’ve been walking and listening to podcasts, to music, to my own thoughts and feelings ever since.  In fact, I’ve walked nearly 200 miles since that day and I’m finding my footing again. 

I could blame the debacles of 2020 for a lot of things, but the truth is, this year tore down many of my walls. The distractions, the detractions, are gone. And I’ve been left at the table, staring at my empty cup. It’s time to deal with it. I’m filling it up, one step at a time. 

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The Breath Prayer of Salvation

The Breath Prayer of Salvation

While my knowledge of Biblical Greek has faded considerably, I do remember learning about verbs that indicate something has happened and will continue to happen. This is how it is with salvation, we are redeemed and we continue to be as we journey through the dark nights and bright days of the soul. The communion table brings us back and reminds us of the once and continual work of living as God’s adopted children.

Our little church meets in a hotel conference room, so the words spoken to each person as he or she receives communion can be heard no matter where you sit:

“The body of Christ broken for you. The blood of Christ shed for you.”

(Pause.)

“The body of Christ broken for you. The blood of Christ shed for you.”

(Pause.)

“The body of Christ broken for you. The blood of Christ shed for you.”

This is the breath prayer of salvation; of community; of our human need to be forever and again reminded that we were redeemed long ago; that God can take human brutality and forge new life from it.

Matthew 7:7–8 is a well-known passage that uses this continuous tense and describes well what our faith walk is like. Jesus knew then that the answers we need for today are not the ones that will serve us tomorrow. Our faith requires us to continually go back and ask our questions, search for God, and step into the presence of the divine.

“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7–8, NRSV).

In the waxing and waning of my faith journey I come back to this rhythm, this beat that goes alongside the work of my physical heart: The body of Christ broken for you. The blood of Christ shed for you.

It is the rhythm of faith. Knowing that this long-ago action carries me into the present. And its mystery also drives me to keep moving in faith—no matter how great or how small it might be in that moment—to keep asking, keep searching, keep knocking. Those are the actions of faith. The moment we think we are done with these, we will no longer find God and see God move in our lives. We will grow stagnant and stale. I know. I’m a pro at this.

And then Sunday comes and I hear it again: The body of Christ broken for you. The  blood of Christ shed for you. And it stirs something deep within me and it moves my sometimes-concrete soul to start asking, searching, knocking again.Facebooktwitterpinterestmailby feather

Do Good.

Don’t let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good. Learning-Grace.com

This is long overdue. It’s just taken me awhile to get this one together.

2015 came to a close with the feeling that evil was running rampant. Peruse my blog a bit and you’ll see my thoughts on the goings on of the world these last few months. Then, just days after Christmas I learned from a childhood friend that her sister (also close to me in childhood) lost her battle with depression, leaving her family, her three young children bereft. In the current culture of mud slinging and blame, hate and bigotry, it certainly feels like evil is getting the upper hand. And while I know that this is not true in the end, it is easy to be overwhelmed.

Then, the other morning I read this: “Don’t let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good” (Romans 12:21, NLT).

Do good. That’s it. There’s no grand gesture required to overcome evil, just to do good. And so alongside my word for the year, discipline, this has become my prayer for this year: God, help me to do good.

As the mother of two small children I can’t just drop and volunteer, I don’t have tons of money to donate, but I can seek opportunities to do good. I can help a friend who needs childcare in a pinch, send a note of encouragement, stop and hold the door, just pay it forward. I’m not naïve. This will not bring an end to institutionalized racism. It will not bring ISIS to its knees. It will not make Donald Trump humble and speechless. It will draw me closer to my neighbor and it may help them to do likewise.

And really, that’s all we can do—seek opportunity to do good and go from there. The people who spearhead charities and start programs and ministries that make incredible impacts on their community and the world —you know, the ones featured in documentaries and movies—all began with someone looking for an opportunity to do good and then following through with it.

Visit the website of your favorite charity and check out the history and you’ll see it. Feeding America is an organization of 200 food banks, the first of which was started by a retired business man who, while volunteering at a soup kitchen in the 1960s listened to the suggestion of a woman struggling to feed her children to organize the food grocery stores throw out so that others can use it. Save the Children, which is active in 120 countries, began after World War I when Eglantyne Jebb was arrested for handing out leaflets showing how children were suffering in blockaded countries. The judge was so impressed with her mission that he paid her fine, which Jebb turned into the first donation to help starving children in Europe. And the stories could go on. These were regular people who just had their eyes open for ways they could do good for others.

Go forth and do good. It may not change the world overnight. But you won’t know until you try.Facebooktwitterpinterestmailby feather

The Choices We Make: Moms and Careers

More than one woman wrote that she wished someone had told her that you really can’t do it all when motherhood enters the picture. Some really hard choices have to be made. Learning-Grace.com

A mom friend recently posted on a parents Facebook group, asking fellow parents how they knew when it was time to go back to work after having kids and if they returned to their former careers. A very long, honest, and beautiful conversation flowed from that post about the choices we, particularly women, have to make, what we wish we knew, and how can we be there for our kids.

More than one woman wrote that she wished someone had told her that you really can’t do it all when motherhood enters the picture. Some really hard choices have to be made.

Growing up in the 80s and 90s many of us cut our teeth on the idea that we could be anything we wanted to be: entrepreneur, businesswoman, doctor, lawyer, scientist, with the assumption that we could have a family life, too. We were not tied to the same gender roles of our mothers. The world is a better place for it. But, many of us didn’t realize the impact of the mommy track until it was too late.

One comment on that Facebook thread read:

I wish instead of my mom telling me to go for my dreams and I can do anything a man can do. I wish she would have told me one day I may have a family and the juggle is hard so maybe focus on a career with flexibility—no one told me this. And I did not anticipate it at all and was smacked in the face HARD with this reality when going back full-time.

We were told that we could have it all: rewarding career, family, health, wealth, happiness. We were given the idea that as women we could do it all, too.

We can’t.

Psst, it’s not just you—no one can.

We all know we have to make choices in life, but this is one that so many of us never expected to make. When you work hard to climb the corporate ladder, establish yourself in your field; when you feel like you have this thing that is all yours—your career, your reputation, your professional niche—it is heartbreaking to watch it slip through your fingers because you made another beautiful choice—to have children, to become a mother.

We all deal with it differently. I left the traditional workforce when I had a good opportunity to start my own freelancing business, knowing my current occupation just was not compatible with family life. The vast majority of my coworkers (men and women) were either single, like myself, or married with no children or with grown children. The job was all-consuming and, while extremely rewarding, required one to make work the first priority. And so, when I realized that I might be starting a family in the near future, I stepped away as gracefully as possible. Do I miss it? Yes, terribly sometimes. But when I calculate the personal toll of returning to this line of work, I decide to stay put and work on my own businesses until I see something that feels right for all of us.

Other mom friends go back at two to three months after having their babies. They struggle mightily with this. They endure their coworkers’ sideway glances when they leave at 5:00 on the dot to pick up their little ones from daycare, or close their ears to gossip about their extra breaks to pump milk. They are passed over for deserved promotions because they are seen as less committed for taking care of their families. Some friends have changed to jobs that have fewer rewards but greater flexibility to try and find the middle ground. All of us career-women-turned-moms fear our years of hard work, education, and skill building will be lost if we take too much of a break—that we’ll lose our worth.

And that is nothing more than a lie.

Our worth cannot be found in what we are to other people: a worker, a professional, a caretaker, a provider. Our worth is in who we are: loving and compassionate; caring and committed. At home or at the office, know your worth. It is far more than you can imagine.Facebooktwitterpinterestmailby feather

Discipline

It’s only through discipline that things become truly fun and enjoyable. But first comes the work. Learning-Grace.com

Discipline. It’s not a fun word. In fact, discipline is not fun at all. But it is the key to a lot of life’s rewards. To be truly good at anything, it requires discipline: disciplined eating, disciplined exercise, disciplined learning, disciplined practice. It’s only through discipline that things become truly fun and enjoyable. But first comes the work.

This is why discipline is my word for 2016. There are so many things that I want to accomplish, but haven’t for lack of discipline. I’m kicking it off with disciplined eating. I’m currently on day 20 of the Whole30. If you don’t know what it is, it’s a 30-day eating plan to change your relationship with food—no grains, no dairy, no legumes, no alcohol, no sugar (even honey or maple syrup), and here’s the kicker: no snacking. And, I need to change my relationship with food. I love it a bit too much and I treat myself way too often. I’m so thankful that Ken decided to do this with me, for the most part. It’s helped a ton to have some extra support. And we’re reaping great rewards for our discipline. As we near the end of our 30 days, we’re thinking of what parts of this do we want to keep and what parts do we want to change.

In February, I’m going to work to keep the healthy eating going while adding getting up at least 30 minutes earlier (and going to bed earlier, too!) to my list. I need some time to pull myself together before the kids wake up. This is also when my creative brain is at its best, and when I do this I have a much more productive day. So, I need to make this a habit. March will be exercise. I don’t know what April will bring. This is as far as I’ve gotten.

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but I’m all for reflection. And as I barely survived the marathon that is December and thought about what needs to change so I can begin accomplishing all that unfinished business that I feel like is out there, I realized that my biggest stumbling block is discipline. I can excuse myself out of almost anything and it’s time for me to get it together and start making some changes. So, now that I’ve told you, you can hold me to it.

Discipline. It feels like a drag, but I know it’s going to open a door to some incredible freedom.Facebooktwitterpinterestmailby feather

Hope is Born

Hope is Born www.learning-grace.com

I honestly haven’t felt very Christmassy this year. I’ve been half-heartedly going through the motions: I put up some lights, the nativity scene, but certainly not as many decorations as normal. I baked an obligatory batch of cookies, but not the kind you cut out and decorate. Christmas cards still have not been done—they will probably be ecards this year.

The world events have got me down. I just don’t feel that “Christmas cheer” this year. I see the news and I am saddened by the hopelessness that I see. I am angered by the many who are in a place to help but do not. I am also frustrated with myself for reaching yet another year end without certain goals met.

I see the same in my neighbors and friends who are going through divorce, who are mourning the loss of loved ones, who don’t know how they are going to pay the bills, who are struggling with rifts in their beloved families.

This season puts a magnifying glass on our broken places.

And that’s okay. Christ did not come into a world full of peace and joy. He came to a place that was just as dark, if not darker, than it is today. He was born into a land that was ruled by a tyrant. Herod used fear to control his subjects. Jesus was born into a place and time in which soldiers carried out orders to exterminate young boys. It was a world filled with terror.

Advent: Coming. Christ is coming. Even if this is not a time of peace and joy and happiness, it is a time of expectation that in spite of the present moment, Christ is coming. A new hope is arriving on the scene. It’s okay to be sad, to feel the darkness closing in, but it will not always be that way. Do not lose sight of the hope that we have. The bright star in the dark sky saying, “hope is born.”

Let hope be born in you today.

“In him was life, and the life was the light of all. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” –John 1:4–5

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On Thanksgiving and Fear

Instead of fear, let us show generosity. Learning-Grace.com

I’m sitting here at my in-law’s table where we will celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow afternoon with family piled all around. I am grateful for so much: my family near and far, my community, my church, my kids. My cup overflows.

But, at the same time I cannot shake these pictures of Syrian refugee children and where they will sleep tonight. I cannot stop the news of activists being shot in Minneapolis, of the racial divide that continues to grip our country. Of the outright xenophobia being expressed by my neighbors. I am thankful and I am deeply troubled at what I see around me.

I have some other more lighthearted blogs in the pipeline, but the current state of our world: the fear, the hate, the misdirected anger, the dividing lines happening in our nation—the world, really—has my mind on more serious matters.

Our world didn’t get this way overnight, but the fact is those attacks in Paris and the ones since have shed light on exactly how polarized we are over matters of terrorism, hospitality, fear, and blame.

I find myself wringing my hands in the face of it all. The problems feel too big and too scary and I just don’t know where to start. And then I think of the saying: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

I can’t solve it all, neither can you. The issues we’re facing really are too big. But we can start with our neighbor and loving that person—showing kindness and generosity to him or her. And then we can start by expanding our definition of neighbor; maybe they’re not just the people on our street, but down the block or in our cities, country, world and then extend it to our neighbor’s neighbors. Instead of fear, let us show generosity. Let us think creatively about that generosity, like the California mom who is getting baby carriers into the hands of Syrian refugees in Greece.

We are all human, after all. The people who are in the midst of all this suffering really do suffer as much as you or I would. They are not made of tougher stock nor are they just “used” to it. They want their children to have a warm place to sleep. Their children are no less cold or afraid than our children would be. I look at my kids cozy in their beds, curled up with their stuffed animals and I cannot imagine them sleeping, cold and exposed on the forest floor. But Syrian kids and kids in many other places in this world (including the United States) do so every night. I just don’t understand shutting the door on them. And where in our Christian community is our faith? Do we not believe in the same God who commands:

You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:19 (NRSV)

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:33-34 (NRSV)

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Matthew 5:43-44 (NRSV)Facebooktwitterpinterestmailby feather

I have no words.

I have no words. by Michelle Okabayashi www. learning-grace.com

I have no words; I have too many words. And so I have said nothing.
Parisians. Lebanese. Kenyans. Iraqis. Syrians.
All crafted by the same God.
They bleed the same blood. They weep the same tears.

While others draw lines in the sand.

Hate. Love. Fear. Intermingled, confused.
The enemy and the victim look the same—to some.

Whom do you embrace?
Whom do you shun?
Who is worth the risk?

I am grieved.
I am moved.
Plunged deep beyond an anchor’s reach.

The hate scares me most: irrational and dangerous.
A torch waving too close to the tinder.

When fear overcomes love.
When “Christians” cower and spew hate.
Is this how we were created to be? Is this our witness?

Oh God, let it be not so.
Let your truth rise above.
Let it drown out the cacophony of hate.

Let your love surround. Heal. Forgive.
Shore up those whose lives have been burst.

Send your ambassadors, the ones with your word engraved on their hearts.
Rise up the fearless ones who know your perfect love is the necessary balm.

 

 

 

© 2015 Michelle Okabayashi. All rights reserved.Facebooktwitterpinterestmailby feather

Butternut, Sausage, and Apple Bake

 

Butternut, Sausage & Apple Bake www.learning-grace.com

This squash represents the last of our CSA bounty. It’s always a sad day to say goodbye to our farm-fresh vegetables. I wanted these to go out with a bang. So, I tinkered around and thought of all the wonderful things that I love to eat with butternut squash and came up with this one-dish meal. It takes a while in the oven, but it is so well worth it.

Butternut, Sausage & Apple Bake www.learning-grace.com

First, caramelize two onions. I love caramelized onions, they’re so full of flavor. I use a tablespoon or two of balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan. There is a method to cooking up the perfect onions, check this article from Bon Appetite to get the whole story.

Caramelized Onions www.learning-grace.com

Then I just mixed the cooked sausage, rice, apples, and squash along with the onions in a 9×13 baking pan. I added the sage and poured the chicken broth on top. Cook covered for one hour then take the foil off, sprinkle the parmesan cheese on top and bake a bit more. Enjoy!   

Butternut, Sausage & Apple Bake www.learning-grace.com

Butternut, Sausage, and Apple Bake
Serves 6
A one-dish meal full of fall flavors.
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Prep Time
20 min
Prep Time
20 min
201 calories
31 g
15 g
5 g
11 g
2 g
295 g
404 g
7 g
0 g
2 g
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size
295g
Servings
6
Amount Per Serving
Calories 201
Calories from Fat 42
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 5g
7%
Saturated Fat 2g
10%
Trans Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 2g
Cholesterol 15mg
5%
Sodium 404mg
17%
Total Carbohydrates 31g
10%
Dietary Fiber 4g
15%
Sugars 7g
Protein 11g
Vitamin A
243%
Vitamin C
47%
Calcium
13%
Iron
9%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Ingredients
  1. 1 1/2 lbs butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  2. 1/2 lb Italian sweet chicken sausage, casings removed and cooked
  3. 1 c cooked rice
  4. 2 onions, caramelized
  5. 1 medium-large granny smith apple, peeled and chopped
  6. salt and pepper to taste
  7. 1 tsp rubbed sage
  8. 1 cup chicken broth
  9. 3-5 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
  10. Toasted pine nuts and cilantro for garnish
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Combine squash, cooked sausage, cooked rice, caramelized onions, and apples in a 9x13 baking dish.
  3. Sprinkle rubbed sage over the entire dish.
  4. Pour chicken broth over the dish.
  5. Cover with foil and bake 1 hour.
  6. Remove from oven, sprinkle with parmesan cheese and bake 20 more minutes.
  7. Garnish with chopped cilantro and pine nuts and serve.
beta
calories
201
fat
5g
protein
11g
carbs
31g
more
Learning Grace http://www.learning-grace.com/
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