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The Expense of Hope

My husband’s grandmother turned 92 last week, and while we sat next to each other on the couch, she rubbed the kicking baby beneath my skin.  I wanted her to feel that squirming little life, because she can’t hear or see well. After our unborn daughter rolled inside me, Louise told me she’d live to see her next great-grandchild. Because I’ve cauterized a lot of the outlets of my emotion in the last two years, I made a joke.

“You said that last time, Louise. I think I’m done having kids. You’re going to have to find something else, because we want you around.”

I’m not hopeful like I used to be. It’s embarrassing, but it takes so much faith to believe something you want, something you work and wait and pray for, will actually happen. Hope gets whitewashed as flippant wishing, but committing to waiting for the possibility of disappointment is excruciating and exhausting. Continue reading “The Expense of Hope”

White as Snow

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Words of ambiguous hopes and encouragement are hung from ceilings, printed in red, white, and green script, telling shoppers to “believe,” “celebrate,” or “imagine” something. In glitter, the words peace and hope adorn the windows of a card shop. I enter stores, looking for gifts for my family, and I leave before buying anything because all the smiling sales associates and the overpowering remixes of the same songs push me into myself and make me wish I could escape without making eye contact with one more person.

I can’t say I don’t enjoy a good rendition of “Blue Christmas” or that I don’t long for the kind of white Christmases I enjoyed as a kid in the Midwestern United States. I do. Every year, I get caught up in hoping for an enchantment of some kind to wrap me up and make me a more charitable and joyous person.

Yet I know that no amount of cinnamon-clove candles, peppermint mochas, plaid scarves, or billboards advertising snow could get me ready for the “Spirit of Christmas.” Whatever that obscurely benign ghoul might be, or where it might creep, I do not know; but I’ve been told I’d be better off if it possessed me.

This Christmas season, I’d like to be more specific about what spirits inhabit my home, and to do that I have to set aside thinking about such a nauseating portrayal of “Christmas” around Dallas to focus on Advent.

Today marks the first day in the season, and at lunch I lit the candle that stands for “hope.” When I think of how each candle stands for one word, I think of those vague but positive words in the mall, and I want more than that. I want to know for what I am supposed to be hoping. When spending time with family or friends can still feel empty, a charming but pathetic baby-in-a-manger scene isn’t going to cut it. Hoping for a baby seems too cute, too easy. I hate cute, easy things that are supposed to be meaningful because too often the meaning is covered with coos and the depth filled in with sparkling promises of magic.

In today’s reading [Isaiah 1:1-18], the prophet Isaiah bears the true torch to ignite our hope’s flame. Even though the LORD says He “cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly” of His people, He promises that “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” [Isaiah 1:13, 18]. We hope not for a child but to be forgiven. The “Spirit of Christmas,” by no uncertain means, calls for introspection and contrition.

I’d like to think I’d make the “nice” list this year, but the truth is that I never have and never will, except for the grace of God. I’m learning that it’s not about being good as much as it is about recognizing that you’ll always need to have your heart changed. The hope I have only comes with the humility that I need it.

Christmas, Backward

When Tim and I began the discussion about how we would celebrate Christmas in our family, I suggested that I would like to have an Advent wreath because I grew up lighting one at school and at home, and I thought that having one would help prepare me for such a special day with the reminders of allocating weeks for Hope, Peace, Joy, Love, and at last, the Christ candle. Together, we made the wreath, and as we’ve been lighting candles, I’ve wanted to write something devotional each week to reflect because that’s usually how I process my thoughts. Each week, I have wanted to write, yet I have not.

I wish I could blame not setting aside time in my schedule, or even complete spiritual negligence, but I won’t claim either. After every sermon I hear, I find that I have more questions than uplifting seasonal reflections to express.

With Hope the first week, I nearly laugh. I wonder how people stand to hope for anything. How can they dare to think anything should get better? In what or whom do they trust? After wondering about this candle, being the first, I conclude that there should be a “pre” Advent candle called Faith because there is no way you can hope for anything without first believing your hopes will one day be recognized and actualized. By the time I have recognized this, the first week has passed.

In the second week, I think of Peace, and I am brought to tears at the complete absurdity of thinking such a thing exists at all, whether reading about the pools of blood collected in the muddy streets of Syria after an air raid, or the aftermath of a madman gunning down a primary school. Even on a more intimate level in situations I know, often I agree with Charles Appleton Longfellow as he witnessed his country in the midst of the Civil War: “There is no Peace on Earth,” I say.

After two weeks of disappointment, at lunch I gaze at the pink candle we call Joy, and I almost wish I could skip right past it and concentrate on Love because at least that is one that I see and know on a very basic level. It is personal and I can spend the rest of my days trying to do it. Joy, however, I often find to be the exception and not the rule in this life.

Unlike Joy, Love seems easier to hold onto, something I can really hope to practice, but I know that it is only because so many other people get excited by the prospect of finding a cure-all. As a subject and a word, usually Love is volleyed between vacuous conversations of sex and occasional comforts that fail to challenge or to teach us anything. Occasionally, Love can be found to mean something in a familial context, but often its fragility and rarity can be so disheartening that it fosters its opposite, and hate is born of our bitterness of not having found Love in the state we wish it to be. Hence, it is probably the most difficult to truly grasp because we’re all so willing to trade real love for the knockoffs all because we want that so badly.

After the candle called Love, only the Christ candle remains.

When I realize that this is it, that I might run into getting through the entirety of Advent wondering what to do about these abstract (albeit important) concepts, I come to the center. The center focuses on the one truly strange man who could bring Heaven to Earth, preaching and dying for Love. He said that there is “no greater command,” and when I remember this, I realize that this year, it might have done me well to buck tradition by beginning with lighting the fire inside if I want to know Love enough to have Joy, Joy enough to spread Peace, and Peace enough to have Hope.

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