Keeping Hope Alive: Radical Courage in Desperate Times

“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.

Keeping Hope Alive…by Choosing Life

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