Keeping Hope Alive Posts

“How do you keep hope alive these days?” the questioner asked.  “It looks to me like everything is going to hell in a handbasket.”

The question sounded like a challenge.  It wasn’t friendly curiosity, and it was full of cynicism.   I felt like I was on trial.  I couldn’t decide if she was shaming me or judging me, but it felt like it could be both.

I started to answer, but then she said, “I’m sure you don’t get ruffled, so don’t even bother to explain.  I just don’t have your faith….or whatever it is you say you have.”

Good grief.   A pack of presumptions laid on me before I could respond to either one!

I thought about that question yesterday morning when I was suddenly startled.  I don’t mean that I was surprised or caught off-guard.  I am talking about one of those sudden, out-of-the-blue happenings that leaves you short of breath and with your heart racing.  In other words, the situation scared me to death.

Granted, it was over almost before I knew what was happening, and indeed, nothing was broken and no one was injured, except me, that is.  I couldn’t catch my breath for a few seconds, and when I did, I began to cry — uncontrollably, the ugly cry, the shaking all over cry.  And for several minutes, I cried like a baby. I think I could say that I was weeping — copiously.  It was serious crying — from my gut.

As I began to calm myself, two thoughts raced to the front of my mind at the same time.  I thought about how my inquisitor would judge me now.  I guess she could have assumed that I was falling apart at the seams.  If she had assumed that, she would have been wrong.

The second thought contained a picture of my dad in a hospital bed, following a stroke.  Upon reading all of the possible things that might happen to him as he was undergoing a necessary procedure — as in another stroke, paralysis, death — he burst into tears.  Mistakenly, the attending nurse chided him by saying, as if she was talking to a four-year-old, “Now, Dr. Ball, where’s your faith?”  I jumped to attention, and so did my mother and sister.  Was that a shaming tone we heard?

I’ll never forget how my dad — a strong friend of God, a man of long-standing faith, a retired 40-year pastor of a local church — took the pen from her hand, and signed the form and looked up at this stranger/nurse and said, “It will hold.  It will hold.”   He couldn’t see the form in that moment, but his voice was the strong voice I knew so well.

She had messed with the wrong person.  If she thought that shaming him for a lack of faith was going to challenge my dad, she didn’t know the half of anything about him.   His faith had been forged on the hot anvils of life for his entire life.  He might not be able to see or walk in that moment, and his face was pulled over to one side, but his faith was strong.  he may have been frightened about the test and about his life, but he was no ivory-tower preacher-man; he had walked the earth with both feet all of his life, standing strong,  and he walked his talk through hard times and struggles all of his life — through the Depression on.   He had had enough of the good times to know the joys of ministry, but he had had his heart broken, too.  Seasoned ministers get the whole enchilada, and for those with an open mind and an open heart, as well as a willing spirit, both the good times and the hard times can deepen their faith.

The struggles can make a pastor bitter, but my dad’s struggles made him better — better at everying.

Here’s what has happened during the last 5 weeks of this pandemic.   Martus and I have lost 4 longtime, close friends.  I had just gotten off the phone with a relative who shared with me her agony that her daughter, our niece, was non-responsive and near death.   Another phone call revealed that another precious relative has dementia.  I could go on, but it’s too depressing. There’s more.  Lots more.

Throughout all of these days, these losses have happened in the context of the 134 days of social isolation, the increasing numbers of cases and deaths very day, and the darkness of our political climate.  All of this loss has been handled by my husband and me with our customary resilience, strength and confidence that “our faith — or our anchor — will hold.”

But yesterday….startled, frightened suddenly, the dam broke.  I had been calm and composed for everyone else throughout these days, but suddenly, my grief broke through and as I cried, I knew that I was crying for my friends I had lost, the condition of the world and my fears and tremblings about what is going on around me.  If it is true that “tears are the body’s way of praying”, I was praying hard.

Keeping hope alive doesn’t mean that you can’t or don’t cry.  It doesn’t mean you don’t grieve, for crying out loud, and it doesn’t mean that you don’t sometimes rail against circumstances, get mad at the people who hurt you or cause others harm.  Keeping hope alive doesn’t mean that you are a passive observer of the world, but an active participant in the world, laughing with those who laugh and mourning with those who mourn.  And sometimes you have to mourn because you, too, are human and you grieve and cry when the world is too much with you.

As I began to calm down, another moment came to my mind.  Seven years after my dad had his first stroke, he lay in the floor of his bedroom after what was to be his final stroke.  My brother-in-law knelt down on the floor beside him and gently asked, “Poppy, are you OK?  What can I get for you?”

True to form, my dad said, “Oh, I’ll be OK.  Just give me a minute and I’ll be up and about.”

Ever the optimist, my dad’s last words before he died were to me, because I was the last one to arrive at his bedside.  “I love you, Jeanie.  I love you, Jeanie.  I love you….I love….”  and the next day he was gone.

Keeping hope alive is not some other-worldly, rose-colored wishful thinking.   It comes from within, and I believe that hope is the very presence of God within us, urging us forward, helping us to get up and take the next step indicated.  And hope comes from the Source of life itself, of love itself.

Our job is to fan the flames of that everlasting love by opening our minds and hearts to the Presence of the Source….within us and all around us…and between us, offered as a gift to each other.  God grants us the grace of hope….our job is to practice resurrection day by day.

When you are crying, I want to stand with you and give you presence.

When I am crying, please stand with me.

We are all walking each other home, and sometimes the path is rocky.

Grace to you –


(Next blog post:  Step Ten:  Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.)



Choose Life!

                  I have set before you today life and death, blessing and cursing…..therefore, choose life.

                                                                                                            Deuteronomy 30:19

If I had to choose a motto that I heard from childhood and have lived by and quoted for my entire life, it would be “Watch extremes”.   My dad applied that to many situations, and so can I.       However,  from my own life’s journey, my personal motto would have to be Choose life.

In mid-adulthood, as I was going through the beginning of a mid-life transition, I was also teaching a large weekday Bible study for women.  The format for that study was highly structured, and while I had taught Bible studies for years, I felt a lot of pressure to fit the mold of the program director.  That rigid format and the particular women who were in the Bible study hooked every insecurity I had at the time, but I learned a lot from the hard experience.

While teaching the Pentateuch—the first five books of the Old Testament– during the first year, I came upon God’s counsel to the children of Israel.  Newly liberated from slavery in Egypt, the Hebrew people met one challenge after another in their long walk to freedom.  Those challenges evoked their fears and regrets, prompted conflict with each other, doubts about Moses’ leadership and crises of faith in this invisible God.  Their long journey to the Promised Land was instructive for the long journey to freedom from my personal complexes, character defects and codependency.   And I am still on that journey, one day at a time.

I will never forget the moment when I came upon these words from God to those wandering pilgrims, many of whom were likely frustrated and frightened.  The words choose life stood out to me as if they were in neon light, and they have guided me for over thirty years. Read more

In the space of less than 24 hours last week, I had two experiences with the effects of this Covid 19 virus that have given me much to ponder.

First, I encountered an angry man in my dentist’s office who was flaunting his freedom by not wearing a mask and by roaming around among the 3 of us who were masked, waiting to pay our dentists’s services.  The man made a point of getting unnecessarily close to us and speaking to us.   The office staff, all masked to protect all of us, including the unmasked man, did a masterful job of staying calm, doing their jobs and then wiping down all surfaces as soon as he left.

The next day, driving to an appointment, I realized that I had turned right instead of left as I was looking for a particular tree on a tree-lined boulevard which my friend had described to me.  As soon as I realized I was going the wrong direction, so I pulled into a driveway so I could turn around.  Backing out of a stranger’s driveway, my eyes caught sight of a small sign on the ground near the driveway.

We’ll make it”, the sign declared, and I felt tears spring to my eyes.

We will make it, but what shape will we be in when all of this pandemic passes?

We will make it, but what will we have lost?   And among us, who are the ones we will have lost?

We will make it, but which of us will be able only to survive and who will be the ones to thrive?   Who will gain by this pandemic, and who will have lost everything or what matters most?

As a child, my dad taught me to “sit steady in the boat” when life is tossing me around.

As an adult, I’ve written a book entitled “Sitting Strong”, and yet, as faithfully as I have tried to do that, I admit or confess (take your pick) that when the angry man without a mask was circling around me in a close space, I was unsettled.  I also admit that when I saw that sign in a stranger’s driveway, I had to pause and allow that small sign to nudge me back to my center, the center where I remember the counsel of Julian of Norwich:

All will be well, and all will be well.   And all manner of things will be well.

   Those famous words of Julian of Norwich have been repeated by many during this time in which we are living.   Julian was an English woman who lived her life in the tiny cell attached to the church in Norwich, England, in the 14th century.   In meditation, she had several visions, which she carefully wrote down, and in the war-torn, pandemic-plagued time in which she lived, she maintained her steady faith in the love of God.  When people came to her with their troubles, her counsel remained the same.  Her writings were compiled into a book entitled Revelation of Divine Love, which was the first printed work by a woman.   Here is the larger text from which the above quote is taken:

He did not say 

You will not be troubled, you will not be belabored, 

you will not be disquieted;

but he said,

You will not be overcome.

God wants us to pay attention to these words and always 

to be strong in faithful trust, in well-being and in woe,

for he loves us and delights in us, and so he wishes us

to love him and delight in him and trust greatly in him,

and All will be well, and all will be well.

And all manner of things will be well.

Those words of assurance have come down to followers of Christ and friends of God through these seven centuries.  Framed, they hang in my study, a lovely gift from my friend and companion in faith Betty Cody.  Whatever is raging in my life, those words call me back over and over to the  assurance that is all through Holy Scripture:  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified…for the Lord your God goes with you.  He will never leave you nor forsake you.   (Deuteronomy 31: 6)   And in the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:20b:  I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

While our hope and faith are being challenged right now by external circumstances, it is in these uncertain, chaotic times that we discover the truth of scripture and of people like Julian who reassured the troubled, the traumatized and the terrified that God would never abandon them.  Indeed, there are times when most of us feel that we have been abandoned or that God has gone on vacation and not left his forwarding address.

While the incident in my dentist’s office only was unsettling — and it was the arrogance of hate that unsettled me — that is nothing compared to losing a loved one to this awful virus or losing a business, a job, your life savings.  But the worst of things have the potential of causing us to wrestle with God, who is ornery enough to never let us go, and it is often in the questioning, the doubting, the wrestling that hope becomes stronger and more vibrant.

God loves us so much that no matter how far we drift away, he is always waiting for us to return to his welcoming embrace.

And God loves us so much that our wrestling with him somehow increases our hope.

How about you?  What is the most audacious question you would like to ask God?

What unanswered questions have haunted you, but out of fear, you have not had the nerve to talk about them with another person?

If you have children, do you allow them to ask questions freely?

My belief about God is that he loves us so much that he can handle our biggest doubts, our loudest laments and our greatest protests.

(And if I am wrong, I still believe that he loves me — unconditionally, and will forgive my wobbly faith.)

Grace to you  — peace to you — and health to you — in this time of pandemic…






Humanly speaking, despair is presumptuous.*

Several years ago, I a conference on hope at the Texas Medical Center in Houston.  Sponsored by what was then the Institute of Religion, the topic of hope and its importance were addressed by a priest, a pastoral counselor, a minister. a [physician, a nurse and various professionals in the area of mental health.  Dr. Bruce Perry addressed the issues of hope and hopelessness in children, especially those who had experienced trauma, neglect or abuse.  To this day, what Dr. Perry said impacted me profoundly and forever.

Dr. Perry is an author and a psychiatrist and is currently the Senior Fellow of the Child Trauma Academy in Houston.  He is a leading authority on the treatment of childhood trauma.

Besides explaining how childhood trauma, neglect and abuse can affect the process of brain development in children, Dr. Perry brilliantly laid out in his presentation what happens when a child loses hope.  Hopelessness in a child can affect a child’s ability to survive, and certainly, to thrive.  When a child loses hope, Perry said, the child dies.

In the first column in this series of columns on Keeping Hope Alive, I mentioned that we who are the adults in the world and especially in a child’s world have a responsibility to speak hopefulness and act with hope, and I suggested that while we do that for ourselves, we do it because the children of our world are watching.  They take their cues from us.

In this column I want to emphasize that I believe that hope, unlike wishful thinking or wishing on a star, is a profound spiritual grace.  I will write more about that as at a later time.

***** Read more

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that is within you. — 1 Peter: 3:15b


“I feel so much better since I gave up hope.”

Startled, I almost shuddered at those words spoken by a friend and accompanied by a bitter laugh.

I refrained from trying to talk him out of such blatant cynicism, but only because I know the way it feels to look forward to something, only to have the hopes and schemes I had cherished and worked for fall apart.

I know what it is like to try to see the bright side of life, only to have my vision obscured by darker clouds.  I know how it feels to have someone tell me, “Cheer up!” when my heart is so heavy I think it might fall out of my body.   I’ve tried putting on a happy face when I am so worried about something  that the demand to stop worrying and pretend something I don’t feel seems like mockery.

Working hard to make my dream come true, I understand the frustration of watching them drift into the horizon, chased by forces beyond my control.

The truth is that giving up hope may be the only way some of us can survive, for sometimes we just wear out.  Sometimes we just can’t tolerate one more letdown,  another failure, betrayal or crushed dream.  Giving up hope feels like the better alternative, a relief in the face of reality.  After giving up hope like my friend, maybe you may feel better because you aren’t waiting for something good to happen.

And yet, there is something in me that still wants to believe that there is “a reason for the hope that is within me.”

When attempting to talk about hope, we are caught in the same bind a when we try to talk about love.  There are so many facets to hope and love, but maybe we trivialize hope when what we really mean is that we are wishing.  Perhaps we should differentiate between hoping and wishing.

Here is what I believe now about hope:   I have come to understand that hope is a world-view, a way of looking at the world.

Hope is a reflection of our God-image.

Hope is an orientation in life – a position we take.

Most of all, hope is the very life energy, the lifeforce, the dunamis  (power) of God within us.

If I differentiate between hope and faith, it seems to me is that hope is the inner energy and faith is the action, and as I see it, love is the force that motivates

both hope and faith is love.   I take seriously the memory verse I learned as a child from 1 John:  God is love, and that is the only definition of God I need.

But what about losing hope…?

I really don’t like giving up — on a person, a project or my favorite fantasy of how the world should be.

<u experience is that we often lose hope because we have put our hope in external happenings or objects or people.  Each of those can become an idol for us, if we try to make them the source of our hope.    We lose hope when we place our hope in outcomes, some as trivial as “I hope I get a good parking spot” and others as life-wrenching as “I hope my child (spouse, friend, parent relative)  gets well.”

We lose hope when we place our hope for our happiness in other people and expect them to do for us what only God can do or what we can and should do for ourselves.

We lose hope when we expect another person to be the one and only person who can make us happy,  save us or accomplish whatever it is that we can’t do for ourselves.  The psalmist counsels us in Psalm 118:8, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in men (or women),  It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.  Any human being who promises that he or she is the only one who can do for us what we crave or need is setting himself up on a pedestal made of clay, and any one of us who believes that promise is going to be disappointed when the pedestal crumbles.

The more we look to an external object or person to make us happy, the more we tend to lose hope.

The counsel of St. Augustine from the fourth century is helpful:  God, you have made us for yourself…  Our hearts are restless until we find our rest in thee, O Lord.

Attributed to Pascal, French scientist and philosopher, is this counsel: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every an which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator….”

But, how is it even possible to keep hope alive when there are so many depressing things out there?

The basic principle that I have learned in asking, seeking and knocking on the doors of people wiser than I am is consistent, and it is this:  Hope is the spiritual gift of God.  It is both the result of our faith in God and the cause of our longing for God.   God is the Source of Paul’s Big Three in 1 Corinthians 13, faith, hope and love.   Jesus says that the kingdom of God is within, and I understand that kingdom to be the kingdom of Love.    Accessing the inner kingdom is the challenge, but it may be as natural as breathing, once you accept the reality of the inner kingdom.

(Check out Luke 17:20-21…if you doubt what I write.)

It’s a mystery, this kingdom within,  isn’t it? –It begins with accepting and consenting to the possibility and the reality of the presence and action of God within.

How about you?   To what persons, activities or substances have you looked to give you hope?

How have you tried to stir up hope by your own will power?

What does it mean to you to “seek the kingdom of God”, if that kingdom is within?

Until next time…..peace and hope to you —

April 25, 2020


        In May of 1979, I began writing a weekly column for the San Angelo Standard Times.  From that time until the last column in January of this year, 2020, I didn’t miss a week.   Writing the column each week became part of my routine and my weekly discipline, and it provided a wonderful connection with friends through West Texas.  I met people I would never have known before, and I treasure those friendships that are across three generations.

The purpose of the column stayed constant through almost 41 years, and that was to take an everyday occurrence and meander around it to understand it and allow it to become an inspiration for personal growth.  My belief is that the more personal something is, the more universal it is, and so I became acutely aware of those ordinary incidents that in my life or others’ were either troubling or painful, joyful or lovely, life-affirming or discouraging, and called them “growing edges”.   A growing edge, as I define it, is a part of your life that is unfinished or incomplete, inadequate or confusing.  On the other hand, something new and different in your life can also be a growing edge — a new relationship, a career change, a new baby or an exciting trip  A growing edge is where you have the opportunity to …well, grow — mentally, emotionally, spiritually or relationally.

My own spiritual and religious life is deeply meaningful and important to me, but in this column my intention has been constant, and that was to communicate a spiritual truth in secular language that would not be confined by my particular chosen faith.  While some were critical of my not using the column as a forum for my own religious faith persuasion, I stayed constant in my desire to reach out to people of all faiths or political positions.  At Christmas and during the Easter season, I sometimes have used my own faith-of-choice to inspire a column, but hopefully, I have made the column broad enough that it still contains a truth that can transcend religious differences.   It has been my great joy that some of my most faithful fans are from faiths different from mine.

Over the years, I worked with many wonderful editors and publishers.   Last December I learned that the group that had most recently bought the San Angelo Standard Times in San Angelo, Texas, had decided to stop paying all freelance writers to deal with their own financial difficulties.    Sadly, that decision included me, but with the encouragement of others to write the column on my website, I begin again in this forum.

With this terrible pandemic,  not only will all of us have many different growing edges, but for this season, each of us needs to keep hope alive.

My friends, I hope that what I write here each week will shine the light on the possibility, promise, and potential that is hidden in the middle of every problem and challenge.    I hope we will be friends.  And for this season, my intention is to encourage hope.

So, the launching of Keeping Hope Alive begins on the next page — .

Keeping Hope Alive 1      

Week 6 of Sheltering at Home

My five-year-old grandson announced to his mom during Week 1 of his stay-at-home schooling that he would like to go on a field trip to the Mayborn museum in Waco.

When told that the museum was closed like his preschool was closed, his brow furrowed as he pondered the dilemma.  “Do they have germs, too?” he asked. It is hard to observe disillusionment and lost innocence in my children and grandchildren.  Frankly, I still don’t find it easy to have my own illusions shattered, but once that happens, I can see better.   Without illusions, I can make more informed choices.

I could never have imagined the horrors of this corona virus.  I could never have imagined the confusion and contradictions that would emerge, adding to the pain of suffering and loss.  Perhaps it was naivete that made it hard for me to imagine pandemic – especially in my country! Read more