Hope for an untangled future

Per our usual tradition, my family put up our Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving. (By the way, this isn’t a discussion about when you should or should not decorate for Christmas. You do you, merry-makers! Deck your halls and trim your trees until you can festoon no more! And if that helps you beat the blahs of a pandemic holiday season, keep them up until August!) We dragged the boxes from the basement and began unloading their contents. Wreaths on the windows and doors. Tabletop decorations and a nativity set for the bookshelf.

 

We set up one (pre-lit) tree in the sunroom with colorful lights, kid-made ornaments, and a Santa tree skirt. I always ask our kids to hang the ornaments on this one. It’s fun to listen to them reminisce and laugh at the clay snowmen, pipe cleaner candy canes, and photos framed by popsicle sticks, dotted haphazardly with red and green pom-pom balls. And we always have to tell the story about the time when one of my daughters took a bite out of a dog bone ornament because she thought it was a Scooby snack cookie. (Either way…why? Rule Number 754 Of Things I Didn’t Think I’d Have To Say Aloud: Don’t eat, lick, or even nimble anything that is hanging on the Christmas tree.)

 

The other tree went up by the living room window. This one is artificial, too. (This also isn’t a discussion about live vs. artificial Christmas trees. Why is there so much to argue about when it comes to this stuff, anyway?!) We’ve had this tree for going on twenty years. It loses tons of (fake) needles each time we set it up, so it will eventually be bald. Until that happens, it falls to me to wrap the branches in white lights before the ornaments go on. This is not my favorite part of the process. It involves a lot of lights, standing on stools, going around in circles, and sweating.

 

As I was plugging in each strand of lights to check that they still work before putting them on the branches, I congratulated my January 2020 self for taking the time to wrap the lights around pieces of cardboard to keep them separated and organized. It would be oh-so easy to just dump the lights in a jumbled heap in the bin, pop the lid on top, and forget about it. But how I would regret it!

 

If you stop and think about it, there are plenty of things most of us are able to do because we’re infused with hopefulness. Unconsciously, we make assumptions about where we’ll be tomorrow and what we’ll be doing. When I wrapped all those lights around cardboard rectangles the day after New Year’s Day, I was saying, “I have a hope that I will need these when another Christmas season rolls around.”

 

During bleak times, remaining hopeful can sometimes feel foolish or naïve. Should we even make plans anymore? What’s the point when so much is uncertain? It reminds me of what James, Jesus’ brother, said when he scolds people for focusing too much on their own plots and proposals. “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” Good grief, James! This forces me to ask myself if I should even wrap those lights at all!

 

But then I search the Scripture for whispers of a living hope—hope for resurrection, hope for justice, hope that things will be made right. James goes on to say we shouldn’t boast about our own schemes, but spirit-filled hope is something we should shout about from the rooftops. Romans 5 gives us permission to boast, because we are bragging on a glorious and generous God who has given us a reason to be hopeful.

 

“And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope. 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.” Praise God for the hope He continually gives us. Whether it’s in the form of another day or a newborn baby, looking forward is an essential quality.

 

But focusing on the future doesn’t mean you don’t act in the present or even ignore the past. The miracle of hope is that it can involve all three. C.S. Lewis said, “Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.”

Just another day on Venus

As I was listening to the radio recently, I heard some interesting facts about the planet Venus. I already knew a few things, like that it’s the second planet from the sun, which I remember using that old mnemonic device from elementary school: My Very Educated MotherJust Served Us Nine Pizzas (Now that they’ve removed Pluto from the lineup, Mother serves Nachos, by the way). It’s the hottest planet, with a really muggy atmosphere…so pretty much just like Tennessee in August.

 

I didn’t know that it rotates backwards from the direction of most other planets. Hot and spinning backwards is never a great combination for me, think Tea Cups ride at Disney World. But Venus makes it work, lighting up the night as the brightest thing we can see in the sky apart from the moon.

 

The most surprising fact I learned was how slowly Venus rotates. It takes 243 “Earth days” for Venus to rotate once on its axis, making one Venus day. But the planet orbits around the sun in 225 “Earth days”, making one Venus year. Hence, a year on Venus (225 Earth days) is shorter than a day on Venus (243 Earth days). Just let that sink in a minute.

 

In the last few weeks, many of my friends have sent their children off to college, some for the first time. They packed them up and drove them miles from home so their sons and daughters can begin a new and exciting chapter. I still have two more years before this will be a chapter in my daughters’ stories (Chapter titles might include: “Twin Daughters Study Twice as Hard” or “The Library is Her Favorite”).

 

When it comes to evaluating moments like the first day of kindergarten or the first day of college, studying for spelling tests or preparing for driving tests, it’s hard not to say things like: “Where has the time gone? Weren’t they just in diapers yesterday? They can’t be this old!” We say these things because we humans are complicated creatures. Why else would something as measurable and concrete as time have a feeling? We say a Monday feels like a Tuesday. We say that 8:00 pm feels like midnight. We joke that “time flies when you’re having fun.”

 

There are times when we are metaphorically dropped onto the hot, clammy surface of Venus, and we think that the calendar mustbe wrong. We want time to spin backwards or at least stop for a bit so we can catch our breath. It’s easy to feel like we’re waking up from a coma, seeing our kids as if for the first time in years. He used to come up to my elbow, his hair just the right height for me to run my hand across it to wrestle with that cowlick. Now I have to reach up to pat down his unruly tufts of hair, and we’re eye-to-eye. Good grief! How long was I out?

 

But there was no coma, only the day-to-day moments that make up their childhood. The hectic mornings out the door and grabbing supper on the way to ball practice. The busy schedules and the good night hugs. The sweet memories and the discouraging frustrations. That feeling that we only get one chance to do this right because, in the end, it seems so fleeting.

 

So pretend that for today, you are a Venusian—a hot-natured inhabitant of the planet Venus. Make a “New DayResolution,” giving the next 24 hours your attention as if this day were as consequentially important to fully live as a whole year. Treasure the blessings and value what’s really important.

Welcome to Venus!

I Love Fall

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Fall is for brown-eyed brunettes. It’s our time to shine. Our mousy brown locks suddenly takes on streaks of auburn and honey-gold in the slanting afternoon sunlight. We can easily pull off warm, autumnal colors. That’s why our wardrobe is full of chocolate brown.

 

Speaking of chocolate, Fall is also for the less-than-slender. Gone are the summer days when you had to wrestle your way into a bathing suit. Now our outfits are like onions—layer upon layer. We are even able to wear skinny jeans or even jeggings because the roly-poly parts will be covered in over-sized tunics and long shirts, sweaters and sweatshirts.

 

Now that you mention it: Fall is for sweatshirts. What can possibly match the blissful feeling of slipping into a big hooded sweatshirt on a chilly day? You remove the uncomfortable business casual you’ve lived in for the past eight hours. Then you sigh and bask in the relief offered by the fleecy soft inside of your favorite hoodie. Once properly attired, you can prop up your feet and watch TV or a crackling fire.

 

Fall is for bonfires. The sooty smell is unmistakable on an autumn night. If you are fortunate enough to be present at a bonfire, you bring home the bonfire smell on your clothes and in your hair. It lingers like a perfume and it speaks of more than just scent. It says that you are rugged and you like being outdoors. It also says you enjoy s’mores over an open fire.

 

Besides the bonfire scent, Fall smells of cinnamon and wet leaves. It smells like silk floral wreaths and roasted pumpkin seeds, chili in the crockpot and cornbread in the oven.

 

I’m so grateful to live in a place with changing seasons. Fall comes at exactly the right moment for me. I welcome Summer when it comes calling around Memorial Day, but I’m never sad to see it go. By late September, I’m ready for something different.

 

The author of Ecclesiastes saw the beauty of changing seasons: “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away. A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.” (NLT)

 

Sometimes life seems to be spinning out of control. Changes come as uninvited guests. If we choose to relinquish our role as “spinner of the universe,” we might see these changes as opportunities. We might see this new season as a gift.