“Blessed are those who trust the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank with roots that reach deep within the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8
Hope – the word tucked in this verse between Lord and confidence, the word placed 129 times inside 121 verses in the Bible (wisdom4today.org), the word defined in the dictionary as “to expect with confidence,” and the word that has rested on my heart enough lately to become my word for the year. My hope is that this word and all it means will settle in, take root, and branch out to anyone who wants to plant seeds of hope along with me.
Those first whispers of hope actually came to me at a time when hope wasn’t likely to be seen, towards the end of 2018 during the turmoil and tragedy that struck my little community – a devastating shooting and widespread fires all within the same two week period before Thanksgiving. These events were horrible. They caused sadness, emptiness, certainly hopelessness in and of themselves. But, they caused me to be even more grateful for the people and lives around me, and made me pay even more attention to the good that people do in the storm of all the bad. I listened to and witnessed stories of people giving when they had little, helping when they also needed help, smiling when they had much to be distressed about. All this made me see that hope in the good is always stronger than the doubt that comes from fear and evil.
The season of Christmas followed all this, and to me, Christmas is all about hope, the hope of lights shining bright on cold nights, the hope found in watching sometimes corny yet always happy Christmas movies, mostly on the Hallmark channel of course, the hope that comes from thinking of what others need, the hope of Christmas songs, the hope of more time with family all together, and best of all, the hope from celebrating the birth of Jesus, who makes all this possible.
This past Christmas Eve, my mother-in-law asked the perfect question at dinner. “What has been an awe moment for you?” she asked.
I immediately said, “Oh, I know what mine is,” as I too obviously smiled that mom grin that let everyone know I would say, “Having my children.”
That was quickly shot down by the rule, “Births and marriages don’t count. We all would agree with those.”
So, I had to rethink my answer, and I’m glad I did, not because I still don’t believe my wedding day and the birth of my children are the true awe moments. They are, but by thinking about other moments, I was reminded once again that it is in the simple moments where real joy and hope are often found.
The answers everyone gave weren’t about the moments that were super flashy. They weren’t times when any of us shouted out in excitement to announce the amazing moment. Every single moment seemed to be one that crept in quietly and deeply, leaving that feeling of oneness with the world, that glimmer of hope in what is good.
The one I shared was when my husband, children, and I went to Colorado one summer. The first evening there we sat in a jacuzzi and gazed wide-eyed at the vast, big sky. It seemed clearer, more star-studded than the sky at home, and as we sat and watched, shooting stars flew by one after another. Surprisingly, these were the first shooting stars I remembered ever seeing, and I felt so in awe of this world.
My oldest son shared his time traveling to Italy after college, how it felt to be in another country far from home, to see all its beauty and wonder.
My next son shared being at a lake with friends, floating on a raft, staring up at the sky.
My third son shared the memory of that tragic shooting, feeling a bit shaken as he had friends at the scene, surprised that something like this could strike our safe home town. I understood his shock, his sadness, and though this wasn’t a good moment, we’ve seen that this community won’t allow tragedy to shatter its goodness.
My daughter shared a recent trip to Yosemite with friends from college, when they hiked to the top of a mountain at dawn to be greeted by the sunrise, the sky, the beauty of that place.
My mother-in-law shared her time on a boat in the middle of the clear, cold waters of Greenland, and my father-in-law shared his time as an engineer at Lockheed, amazed by the satellites he had the privilege to help build, stand beside, and launch, so much work, intelligence, and fulfilled dreams wrapped up in one huge scientific endeavor.
My husband’s response might have been my favorite, as he was absolutely speechless by this point. “We can only tell one awe moment?” he asked, trying to shake off the tears he didn’t think we’d see in his eyes. “All of this, you guys . . . .”
My mother-in-law came to his rescue, “You mean, life is good.”
“Yes, it is. Life is good!” he echoed.
And right then it hit me, overwhelmed me actually. This was hope. These are the moments we can still think upon when life gets messy. These are the things that quench us, lift us, breathe life back into us.
Since that Christmas eve, whenever I would feel worried about something, or anxious, or down, simply saying “Hope” made me feel lighter, and since I’ve been paying attention to it, I keep finding glimmers of it everywhere.
On New Year’s Day, I ordered a book a wonderful friend and coworker recommended to me before Christmas. It’s a children’s novel called Wishtree by Katherine Applegate. I think everyone needs to read this book. The minute I began reading it, I couldn’t put it down. First, it is beautifully written, and as my friend told me, “You love words, like me. You will love this book.” She was so correct. But, she didn’t know at the time, and neither did I, that Hope was going to be my word for 2019. The book is all about hope.
Wishtree is written from the viewpoint of a tree, an oak tree in fact, known in the neighborhood as the “wishtree” because people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to its branches. Throughout the story, we hear what the tree witnesses over the years, we learn some of its wisdom, and we see a very important wish fulfilled.
One of my favorite lines in the book is when the tree describes its hollows, where many creatures have made their homes. Two of its hollows were formed from woodpeckers, but a third was created when a large branch broke off from the weight of heavy snow one year. The tree says that “Hollows are proof that something bad can become something good with enough time and care and hope.” WHAT?!?! There it was! In the middle of this book, recommended casually by a friend before Christmas, the word hope appeared again, saying exactly what I’d been thinking all this time.
I could fill pages of my favorite lines from the book. One was, “Sometimes things happen that aren’t so good. When they occur, I’ve learned that there’s not much you can do except stand tall and reach deep.” Later, the tree wisely said, “But everyone needs to hope.” And finally, I love when the tree said, “I didn’t want to miss a moment . . . . I wanted to drink in the stars. I wanted to feel the fuzzy wings of the owlets. I wanted to stretch my roots just a tiny bit farther before the night was through. I wanted to indulge in some quiet contemplation about life and love and what it all meant.”
Ah, yes, contemplation on life and love and what it all means. This is just beautiful. This is hope. And so, on that I rest my thoughts for the coming year. I will stand tall and reach deep. I will pray. I will look for hope. I will listen for hope. In my friends, in my family, in strangers who show it and live it, I will see hope, and then I will write about it because although I have chosen hope as my word, it is not a word meant just for me. “Everyone needs to hope.”