Keeping Hope Alive Posts

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

Growing Edges Keeping Hope Alive: Radical Courage in Difficult Times Part 4

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;

Growing Edges: Keeping Hope Alive: Radical Courage in Everyday Life Part 3

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

Keeping Hope Alive — Radical Courage in Everyday Life Part 2

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.

Growing Edges “Keeping Hope Alive”

April 25, 2020

GROWING EDGES

        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