Monday, November 24, 2014

Hope for Hungry Hearts {from the archives}

If you are hungry, dear Crumbles,
Hungry for hope, hungry for healing,
If empty-bellied crowds fill your prayer list,
And your only resources are a slice of moldy Swiss
Sliding off half a Saltine,
And you despair--

Come, behold the living Word in the written Word.
Fall at His feet, the place of healing.
In His hands, a fallen crumb can heal a daughter,
And a sack lunch becomes a feast and more,
Hampers full of leftovers collected
When the empty, needy crowd is satisfied.

Behold His grace, unhindered by His disciples' forgetful unbelief.
Behold His riches, enough for every want.
Behold His compassion, spilling over the boundaries of His own people
     To all the nations, even native enemies like us.
Behold Him, and feed on His faithfulness.
He is fullness for our emptiness;
He is satisfaction of our longings;
He is hope for our hungry hearts.

These glimpses of Jesus in Mark 7:24-8:21 and Matthew 15:21-16:12 are feeding my soul today. He is the source of all my hope, for this life and the next.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Pondering the How of Hope {from the archives}

I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait,
And in His word do I hope.
O Israel, hope in the LORD;
For with the LORD there is lovingkindness,
And with Him is abundant redemption.
And He will redeem Israel
From all his iniquities.
Psalm 130:5,7-8, NASB

Your comments  on "Hope Waits" have resonated in my mind all week. I hear you, friends. I hear your wondering how not to let hope slip when things start to go sideways; I hear the tug of the "groaning in the longing"; I hear the confession of deep disappointment scabbing over into distrust of the One who allowed it, and His "tenderly tend[ing] my heart" all the while.

I hear, and I think I understand, having felt and done the same myself.

And then there is the commenter mulling over whether Calvin's faith-then-hope sequence is all there is to the case, whether "a really crucial feature of hope is that it can come *before* faith, and be as it were the seed from which faith grows."

Judging by the dubious standard of subjective personal experience, certainly there seem to have been times for me when hopeful feelings seemed to buoy faith and make it easier to believe what God has revealed to be true as well as times when I needed to turn my back on feelings and hold fast in trust to the truths I knew, waiting for the feelings to follow suit.

Judging by the standard of Calvin's words from the earlier post, there also seems to be room for regarding hope as a "seed from which faith grows," or at least grows stronger: is the foundation upon which hope rests, hope nourishes and sustains faith….
hope strengthens faith, that it may not waver in God’s promises or begin to doubt concerning their truth.
From Calvin's words (for which I unfortunately do not have the larger context), it seems to be a question of which came first, the chicken or the egg, or in this case the seed or the plant? Each one (or the potential), seed and plant, is present in the other at any given moment, and depending on where one is in the life cycle of the organism the seed may seem to come first or to follow.

Always, though, I want to hold subjective experience and even the best human words up to the straight edge of Scripture. After more meditation than systematic study so far, it seems to me that hope and faith or hope and believ* occur together a fair number of times in the English Bible. Both expect God to be true to His character and His promises, though hope connotes more of a waiting and looking to and faith a relying on. Both occur in noun and verb forms and as commands.

They seem wrapped up so tightly together that I wonder if they are as fraternal twins, Jacob and Esau striving together in the womb, a hand of one emerging, a heel of another, then a head crowns and a body follows, another head, another body, and only the mother and the midwife know for certain who entered the world first.

But how does that work? If I'm the one who has lost hope, as I have been plenty of times, what do I do?

If I have someone to pray for me, I ask them.
Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, NASB).
If not, I take it on faith that Jesus and the Spirit are interceding for me in the best way. And they are, even if the child of God has no faith to believe it.

Recognizing that we are whole persons and our bodily health and spiritual-emotional health are interwoven, I ask whether there is some remediable physical cause for hopeless feelings: illness, sleep deprivation, inactivity or overactivity, feeding my body the wrong fuel,...

And most importantly, I look to Scripture to find my way.

If there is something to lament, if I am Job on the ash heap, then by all means I am free under grace to lament, to pour out my heart to God. It's all right to grieve. There's nothing wrong with being sad about a loss, whether loss of life or dreams, love or livelihood or health...

But what if I have grieved, if I have lamented, if I want to find my way back to hope but don't know where to look for it? If I am in hopelessness and despair, I know no better example than Jeremiah:
He [Yahweh] has filled me with bitterness,
He has made me drunk with wormwood.
He has broken my teeth with gravel;
He has made me cower in the dust.
My soul has been rejected from peace;
I have forgotten happiness.
So I say, “My strength has perished,
And so has my hope from the LORD.”
Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness.
Surely my soul remembers
And is bowed down within me. (Lamentations 3:15-20, NASB).
What does he do when in such a hopeless, broken state? He digs channels of trust for hope to flow. He searches the archives of his recollection for some truth about God to undergird him and raise him up:
This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hopeThe LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,"Therefore I have hope in Him.”  (Lamentations 3:21-24, NASB).
Regardless of how hopeless I feel or how disastrous things look, God is still love, His compassions never fail, His faithfulness is great, and He is my portion. Hope is a gift to the believer because of the resurrection of Christ, but like love it is also a choice, an action we can take. To hope means, in Scripture, to look, to wait, to expect. Not necessarily to feel optimistic, though that also is a grace when it comes.

By no means do I intend to make light of the deep suffering of lost hope. By no means. I am neither a counselor nor a theologian trained to search these things out in "the right way." Maybe I am a Job's counselor adding platitudes to the suffering. If so, I ask your forgiveness and invite you to help me do better. My intention and prayer here is not to overload bowed backs but to seek after truth alongside you and record for myself as much as for you what has helped me persevere in the dry times.

When there's nothing else to be done, when the problem is not fixable, hope by its very nature waits. Hope waits for the fulfillment of God's promises to appear on the horizon. Hope waits for Him to prove true to His character. Hope waits, "looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus" (Titus 2:13, NASB). When I lack the feeling of hope, I can look to the Person who is my hope.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Hope Waits {From the Archives}

Hope, like perseverance, is a virtue for the "not yet" waiting time of life in this groaning creation. Hope waits, the father watching at the window for the prodigal to appear, the prophet Daniel in exile counting the years until 70 and the return to the land, the sisters in Bethany waiting for Jesus to come and help their brother. Hope waits for the promises of God to catch up with our desires, or so it seems.

John Calvin articulates the forward-leaning character of hope:
"Hope is nothing else than the expectation of those things which faith has believed to have been truly promised by God. 
Thus, faith believes God to be true, hope awaits the time when His truth shall be manifested; 
faith believes that He is our Father, hope anticipates that He will ever show Himself to be a Father toward us;
faith believes that eternal life has been given to us, hope anticipates that it will some time be revealed;
faith is the foundation upon which hope rests, hope nourishes and sustains faith….
hope strengthens faith, that it may not waver in God’s promises or begin to doubt concerning their truth."
     ~John Calvin, courtesy of Graced Again, emphasis mine
As beautiful as that is, who can weave the groaning, waiting perseverance of the now and the hope of the not yet better than the apostle Paul?
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it (Romans 8:18-25, NASB).
Hope waits, anticipates, groans, and ultimately longs until Christ returns to fulfill fully the promises and kingdom of the triune God. Come soon, Lord Jesus! 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Remembering Nonni (1922-2014)

When their first grandchild came along, my grandparents decided they liked the idea of using the Italian titles “Nonno” and “Nonna,” but my grandmother felt she was too young to be a “Nonna,” which led to the “Nonni” I have always called her.

Greatest Generation

Nonni was a member of the Greatest Generation. She exemplified the work ethic, integrity, thrift, and loyalty associated with those who came of age during the Great Depression and World War II. She remembered the defining national traumas of three generations of Americans: the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President Kennedy, and the terror attacks of 9/11.

One September a few years ago I asked her how she and Nonno had heard the news of 9/11; my husband and I were living overseas at the time, and it had never before occurred to me to ask. She replied that their neighbor had come running across the street while Nonni was working in the back yard and Nonno was sitting in a chair watching her. The neighbor yelled, “We’re under attack! We’re under attack! Turn on your t.v.!”

Next I wondered how that compared to hearing about Pearl Harbor. Without a moment’s hesitation, she said, “Pearl Harbor. Absolutely. That changed everything.”  She and Nonno were sitting together at his family home, planning their wedding and a honeymoon to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl game and parade. His sister Ellie came running in, yelling that America had been attacked, that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. (Are we seeing a pattern here?) They put away their wedding plans and turned on the radio. Pearl Harbor changed everything for them because the rest of the world was already embroiled in war, and now they knew that America and my reservist grandfather would now enter it. No one knew whether the Allies could defeat Hitler, Mussolini, and the Japanese. Their wedding was small and quiet, and they didn’t have that honeymoon. The news turned their personal world upside down in a way unequalled by 9/11.


Nonni was a sportswoman and avid sports fan. Her courtship with Nonno began when he saw her across the office and told his friend, “That’s the girl I’m going to marry.” Then he invited her to a softball game in which he was playing and promised to hit her a home run if she did. She came, and he kept his promise.

Early in their marriage he decided to teach her golf so she could go out on the course with him. She learned so well, so quickly, that no one could believe it.  She won multiple tournaments and hole-in-one trophies and took those awards with her to her retirement apartment. She even cared for her lawn so meticulously that it looked like a golf course.

She adored college football. The sports highlight of her final decade was TCU winning the Rose Bowl combined with meeting TCU quarterback Andy Dalton in the greeting card aisle at Target. He impressed her so much that she even shifted her professional football allegiance from the Cowboys to Dalton’s Cincinnati Bengals. (I'm sure the Cowboys' recent record had nothing whatsoever to do with the change.)

The sports calendar and family gatherings are permanently linked in my memory because major sporting events were so often playing in the background as we visited: golf at Mother’s Day, Wimbledon Tennis on the Fourth of July, and the Cowboys on Thanksgiving.

Faithful Friend

Nonni was a faithful and attentive friend with a knack for making people feel special. The large lithograph which hung in her dining room for as long as I can remember was a gift from an older neighbor she befriended long before I was born. Her kindness made friends of the people who served her regularly at the deli counter and the library. She really listened and remembered, paying careful attention to individual likes and dislikes. When she made potato salad for family gatherings, she made separate batches with and without onions. At Christmas, she made chocolate chip cookies with and without nuts. She respected my grandfather’s and my dislike of creamy sauces.

She made an effort to learn something about and take an interest in the interests of her family. She often shared or sent us clippings of articles she thought would interest us: gardening tips for Allen, healthy recipes and Cliburn piano articles for me.

She was a trustworthy confidante, good at keeping secrets. Sometimes this proved a source of consternation to her family, but it was also a great help when needed. When I was in seminary, I developed a friendship with a certain tall, bearded fellow student, but he was interested in someone else and told me so. After that “defining the relationship” talk, I happened to spend a weekend at my grandparents’ house. When I confided it to Nonni, she smiled reassuringly and said she’d pray about it, and if it was meant to be, the good Lord would work it out.

A week or so later that bearded man asked if he could court me. I asked him what changed his mind, and he said he just woke up one morning and it was like a lightbulb went off over his head. We’ve been married 15 years as of this August. With a twinkle in her eye, Nonni reminded me of this incident several times as proof that she could keep any secret I shared with her.

During the February of my freshman year of college, my other grandmother passed away. Not long thereafter, parents’ and grandparents’ weekend arrived at my university, and Nonni and Nonno came to visit. It was a wonderful weekend in many respects, but one memory stands out for me. For my birthday that year, they gave me a new Bible I’d requested in a word-for-word translation better suited to the more intensive Bible study I was learning to do. When they came to visit me, they brought a card to affix to the presentation page so I would always remember it was from them.
That Sunday afternoon, after my parents had returned home to my sisters, Nonni and Nonno sat with me around a portable table in the otherwise unoccupied vestibule of the Student Center. They listened as I shared how salvation and being right with God did not come from doing good things and going to church but about having a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. They listened because it was important to me and therefore important to them.

I showed them from the Bible they gave me that all people have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory; how the only wage our sin can earn is death, which means separation from God forever; how all our best attempts at righteousness are like filthy rags in God’s sight.

Then I shared that even while we were still sinners, Christ died for us as our perfect substitute, taking the full brunt of the punishment we deserved so that we could enjoy His righteousness and fellowship with God, which we did not deserve. As Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works so that no one can boast.”

In 2010 when chronic illness confined me to my bed and sofa and I was upset that I couldn’t attend church, Nonni said several times on the phone, “Remember that time when you talked with Nonno and me? Remember how you said that going to church isn’t the most important thing but loving and worshipping God in your heart is what matters? I know you do that, and God knows too.”

It was humbling to have my own words given back to me in that way, but it encouraged me even more than that to hear them from her lips and to know that one brief conversation made such an impression on her. As I said earlier, she truly listened and remembered.


With Nonni, tradition was an art form. She loved sending greeting cards and was well known at her local Hallmark store. My wedding anniversary this year occurred during her first hospitalization. When I opened the mailbox on that day and didn’t see an envelope addressed in her handwriting and sealed with a sticker on the back, I choked up, even though I knew why it was missing. A couple of weeks later, when I opened the mailbox again and saw that envelope, I cried.

The masterpiece of Nonni’s traditions, however, was Christmas Eve. She always made ravioli from scratch, all the way down to grinding the meat for the filling and making the pasta. There would be spaghetti, too, and broccoli with homemade hollandaise sauce and Mrs. Bairds’ brown-and-serve rolls. She always provided her trademark biscotti and two kinds of chocolate chip cookies for dessert. The table would be set when we arrived, with placecards holding 2 Andes mints per person.

She made each grandchild a special tree ornament. These were stored at her house and hung with great ceremony and flashing of cameras by each child each year, unless someone was absent, in which case a proxy hung that ornament and photos were nonetheless taken to document the event. When I married, she gave us a keepsake ornament so that my new husband would not be excluded from the ritual hanging of the ornaments.

Sometime that day my grandfather would measure each child against a closet door to record his or her growth. Even though I stopped growing (taller) in 7th grade, he persisted in measuring me until age 21, when I think Nonni intervened on my behalf.

The Rudolph on the right had apparently been in a fight. Also, we subbed red Jelly Bellies for the cherry last year. Don't tell. :) I don't yet have Nonni's skill at making these.

Christmas Eve would not be complete (and still isn’t at my house) without Nonni’s reindeer sandwiches. No actual reindeer were harmed in the making of the sandwiches. Rather, these were triangular quarter-sandwiches, crusts removed, made to look like a reindeer face. Broken pretzel twists formed the antlers, raisins adhered with peanut butter the eyes, and of course a Maraschino cherry made a Rudolph nose.

Exemplary Wife

Finally, Nonni was truly an exemplary and devoted wife. There was never any doubt how much she and Nonno loved each other and enjoyed each other’s company. Nonno could occasionally be a bit on the cantankerous side, but she always respected and honored him in front of us. If she had a concern about something he said or something that had happened at a family gathering, she would speak with him later in private. I only know this because he would sometimes say later, “Nonni won’t let me ____ when everybody’s here because people get upset.”

Ever since he passed away on the eve of their sixty-fourth wedding anniversary, she has been looking forward with hope to the day she would see him again.

Nonni was truly the matriarch and queen of the family. She liked to be in the background, serving in the kitchen, but she was the hub of our wheel. To say she is greatly missed would be an understatement. I love you, Nonni!

Your Tina Bird