YOU CAN FIND HOPE IN ALL THE PLACES YOU NEVER DREAMED YOU COULD
I've shared with you the devotion site thepracticeco.com before. This week, they began a new series focusing on hope. Here is the entry from August 31 for you to contemplate.
"Hope is not an emotion; it's a cognitive thinking approach. It's how we think. And it is 100% teachable."
You will find hope in all the places you never dreamed you would; in all the places you were told hope could never be found; in all the chaos and grit and uncertainty; hope lives on, true and strong and glowing.
These are strange times, and you are right to ask if hope can stay alive amid global pandemics, and gritty election seasons on which seems to hang the balance of everything good and true; and unjust systems of oppression that refuse to heed the stories and protests of those who have been under the boot of empire and colonialism; and all the other nuanced and complex traumas and heartaches the world over.
Yet still, hope endures.
First, remember this: hope is not an emotion, or a fairy tale, or a warm good feeling. Hope is not some whimsical idea of optimism or plastic practice of toxic positivity.
In an interview with Oprah, Brenè Brown said:
"Hope is not an emotion; it's a cognitive thinking approach. It's how we think. And it is 100% teachable." (She also talks about this in her book, "The Gifts of Imperfection.")
Hope is learnable, and life is always offering the lesson.
She went on to say, "Hope is a function of struggle. People with the highest hopefulness have the knowledge that they can move through adversity. When we take adversity from our children, we diminish their capacity for hope." (she talks more about this in her book "Daring Greatly.")
Hope is a function of struggle.
"Oft hope is born when all is forlorn."
Hope is something that is forged within you. It's a state of being. It's how you move through the world. It comes about when you allow the suffering you've been through, or that you're in, to transform you. Hope is the gutsy metal deep in your bones that moves you through struggle, challenge, hardship, monotony, global pandemics, racial injustice, crazy political climates, inequality, the dehumanisation of others, and more.
Hope is the depth within you that witnesses your life and the world, and echoes the sentiments of Emily Dickinson:
"I dwell in possibility."
Hope reaches beyond this moment in such a way as to help us move through it.
Hope is born of promise. Every new shoot of green from the ground is a promise that life can come from the grave of the dirt. Every morning, as the earth completes another cycle around the sun, those first rays of light are the promise that time keeps moving, and new days keep being born. Even the darkness carries the promise of the stars and the galaxies and the moon. A newborn baby is the promise that God believes in us, still.
The book of Jeremiah reads:
"Watch for this: The time is coming'—God's Decree—when I will keep the promise I made to the families of Israel and Judah. When that time comes, I will make a fresh and true shoot sprout from the David-Tree. He will run this country honestly and fairly. He will set things right."*
Many believe this to be a prophecy about the literal coming of Christ. And perhaps it was, even though from this side of history we can see that the promise didn't unfold the way many expected it too.
That's the thing with hope: it's a belief that something is on its way. But you can't pin it down, or accurately articulate it. You can only dwell in the possibility of whatever it will end up being. You have to hold the tension of seeing something that can't be seen.
So dear friend, what are you hoping for? That your struggle would cease? Or that in this time of waiting, it would birth within you resilience, capacity, and strength that only ever comes from choosing to believe that there is more for you in this moment, and even beyond it.
Whatever the season you're in, it is for you. Let it speak, let it tell you its secrets, let it whisper its promises to you, let it light up your way.
Instead of closing your eyes, sighing, and asking "What now, why now," open your heart and ask "what if, what next?" Dwell in the wild possibility of hope no matter what comes your way, not in spite of where you are, but because of it. Hope has no geographical or situational bias. It is with you through it all.
Written by Liz Milani
Good Morning FPCE Family,
I write to you from my desk at school in one of the most bizarre beginnings of the year I've ever experienced. This is my 3rd first day of school this week, as 25% of our students attend for one in-person day to receive their iPads, classroom materials, Google Classroom codes, and any other items they may need for virtual instruction that begins Monday. By the end of this week, I will have given my "welcome to choir" speech 16 times, and "welcome to music theory" 8 times. I'm starting to get bored with myself!
The Presbyterian Outlook magazine blog entry from a week or so ago speaks to this frustration about how we move ahead. Many of you have a child in your life -- son, daughter, niece, nephew, grandchildren, family friends -- that are about to begin any number of ways for a new school year. The author of the article provides some hope and comfort, and I share it with you today.
A word for weary parents: God is with us in the pandemic
August 12, 2020 by Rebecca Gresham-Kesner Leave a Comment
This summer we have instituted the Friday Funday breakfast picnic.
Typical summers, my daughter and I are both off on Friday and we have Friday Funday — because, let’s be honest, Sunday Funday doesn’t work when mom is the pastor.
This year, like most of you, we are finding new ways to have fun. She is a nature lover, so we have been exploring different places while we eat breakfast and I hear all about what happens in her mind. We have baked muffins. We have traveled dirt roads I did not know my car could handle, and now have a hiking bag to take with us full of useful stuff. I sometimes post pictures of our adventures, and recently a friend commented, “You have the most fun adventures!” Pandemic be damned, I will be making memories with this beloved child of mine all summer long. It gives us a sense of normalcy. Yet, what I didn’t post after our latest adventure, was that on the way home we decided to listen to a Christmas CD and had Christmas in July — in pandemic time there are no rules about such things. This led to a conversation about missing Grandma (my mom), who is currently living in Florida. I said: “I regret standing in line to buy dog food on March 13. I should have gone down to get her.” We hatched a plan: The moment the number of COVID 19 cases in Florida dip, we will drop everything and go get Grandma and keep her with us forever. It was a fanciful way of dealing with our collective grief about no Grandma visit this summer and the likelihood that even in December we won’t be hugging her.
Our adventures serve as a great distraction from the pain in the world right now. They are a few hours each week where we don’t have to worry about masks, social distance or a pandemic. For me it is a few minutes to forget about all the impossible decisions I have to make as a parent and pastor in the foreseeable future. For months now, I have been working with church leaders to make a plan for when we can reopen our building. The constantly changing recommendations and illness numbers have made this task feel insurmountable. We have had to ask hard questions about what church might feel like if we return and cannot sing. And: How do we partake in communion if we have to have masks over our mouths? What if someone gets sick? This experience of leading alongside my elders has given me compassion for everyone who has to make hard decisions in regard to safely reopening anything.
My focus on making memories comes from a place of pain in my own coming of age. Just before my father turned 40, he was diagnosed with a disease “men didn’t get,” and he died about 10 years later after a long struggle. Through those 10 years, I clung to happy memories, and I still do. This has certainly affected how I parent. I am always up for making memories — be it breakfast picnics or water balloon fights or reading together. My zest for adventure comes from the truth I have known since I was 8 years old: It can change in a moment. What is easy today can be hard tomorrow.
Why do I tell you all this?
Well it is because we are in the throes of making impossible decisions about reopening church buildings. It is because the news is a political firestorm of if and when our children can go back to school and go back safely. Just last week our school district sent out a survey outlining three options: a hybrid of in-person and online instruction, online only instruction, or homeschooling. I can have compassion for the school district leaders as they offer us three less than ideal options. There is no good solution; nothing can get us back to where we were on March 1. There is no way to meet the needs of every child and parent. It is a complete no-win situation. While I am frustrated at three impractical choices, I understand there isn’t a fourth solution that makes everything better. I also understand that the fact that I get options and can make a choice is a tremendous privilege that not many parents have. It is an impossible decision. Not one of these options is ideal for working parents.
Next, can we talk about economic disparities? In our home we will have to make one of these options work and we are in a place where we can make that happen and keep food on the table. I do not believe this is true for many parents. There are hundreds more “what if?” scenarios and unimaginable decisions to make. My other concern is that we keep hearing “children don’t get this, and children don’t die from this” (teachers and staff, I see you and I value you too). Those statements are both untrue, children can get COVID-19 and they can die from complications. Yes, it is a very low percentage, but in my book one child dying is one too many.
I’ve been flirting with turning 40 this year — and as I do, I am remembering and looking forward. I have often pondered my own mortality; I wonder if we have made enough memories to sustain my dear child through a lifetime should I perish in the next 10 years. But now, as I am forced to make decisions about school, I have thought about that beautiful young woman’s mortality. My tremendous love for my child does not make her immortal. Ash to ash and dust to dust, no one is immune. Somehow in pondering my own mortality, knowing that “in life and in death we belong to God” is a great comfort. This is not the case when I consider her mortality (or that of any child). The uncomfortable truth is that children die.
This is perhaps the underlying truth in what is wearing all of us down these days. We are mortal, our parents are mortal, our children are mortal. Six months ago, we were making decisions based on if our budgets could accommodate a trip to the movies. We thought nothing of being in a building with other people. We made everyday decisions that involved some risk – like driving in a car or swimming in the ocean – with ease. Now we face bigger decisions about if we should send our children back to school and if we should reopen our church buildings. And in the back of our heads, with every decision we make, COVID-19 and its ability to take lives is lingering. The exhausting thing is that it is in our everyday small decisions too: Do we sign up for Girl Scouts this year? What do we do about the summer camps that are still open? How about sports? Is it worth it to go into a store to get an item that would make life easier? How about a small outdoor gathering? Is it safe to visit my sister? Do I hug my aunt at my uncle’s funeral? My throat kind of hurts today, is it COVID-19? Wait — was I exposed?
I am exhausted (and I bet you are, too). I have been working from home since March and trying to do online school, followed by being “camp mom” during these summer months. I come at this with a decent amount of privilege and enough resources to make slime, moon sand and tie dye. Yet, I long for anything that feels like the old normal — to make a decision based on if my budget can accommodate something rather than if the calculated risk of leaving the house is worth it. All the while, I carry with me my own life experience of watching someone I love suffer with a disease they “couldn’t” get. I desperately want to believe my child is safe and protected from this by virtue of her age, but I have already lived through one statistical anomaly and I will do anything to avoid living through that again.
Being a faith leader, I feel like I should have some answers, some wisdom to add to the conversation, or at the very least be a non-anxious presence. In the absence of answers here is what I have. I believe in all things we are loved deeply by God and that God is with us on our best days and on our worst days. I believe when I am anxious about decisions, when I am fearful about what happens next, when I break down in tears because I am absolutely overwhelmed, God is with me. I know that going to school is safer than staying home for some children. I know that teaching in schools is the only choice some parents have. I know that some parents do not have a choice at all. I know we are all experiencing various levels of strain on our mental health. I know that we are called by God into loving community. We are capable of living into that call in these most difficult times. Loving community means we are going to work together to see our way through this. We will not let insecurity about our own decision-making reduce us to judging other people’s decisions about education or opening church buildings. We are called to support the single parent who has no choice but to send their kids to school and to support the parent who opts to homeschool.
Every day I ask: How are we supposed to manage this? Working and doing school/camp at home? The answer lies in that call to community. Community looks different now, but there is no reason we can’t support each other in making the gut-wrenching decisions that lie ahead. We can love each other and support each other even if we cannot hug each other. Let us remember in all things our call is to love one another and trust that God is with us in every moment of our pandemic ravaged lives.
REBECCA GRESHAM-KESNER is pastor at Faith Presbyterian Church in Medford, New Jersey. Outside of church and family life, you can find her in nature, finding fun ways to be creative or asking awkwardly deep questions of people she just met.
Happy Friday, FPCE Family!
Several announcements for you this morning:
THUR, AUG 20, 2020
Thought for the Day
God can make me new every morning.
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
— John 10:10 (NIV)
By late winter most of us have had enough of seeing bare, lifeless branches. Judging by the bigger picture, the color, warmth, and vibrance of spring seem far off. But if we go out into the garden and look at the smaller picture, we can see the beginnings of tiny shoots and the earliest signs of new life. Something is happening after all.
Sometimes our lives are a bit like that. We feel much the same and look the same from a distance, but up close God is at work in us — creating small changes. Little by little, God clothes us in more gifts and more love. We may summon up the courage to try something new. Often when we take that risk, we are surprised by the gifts that God has placed within us. We find that we are better at doing something than we thought we might be.
As we accept and enjoy these small changes, we sense God’s love flourishing within us. Just as the first signs of spring are beginning to show in the garden, so God’s spiritual gifts are taking root deep within us.
Living Lord, thank you for the new growth within us. Help us to trust your presence within us as we risk doing new things for you. Amen.
Meg Mangan (New South Wales, Australia)
Happy Tuesday FPCE Family,
A month or so ago, I shared with you the d365.org devotional site, which is primarily focused on younger Christians like college students. Given that most of our schools are starting back up in some form or another (I'm sitting at my desk in my office at school now!), I thought it was worth going back to the site to see what reflections they were offering for us. You'll recall that their format is short, simple reflections broken up into 5 actions: pause, listen, think, pray, go. Here is Sunday's entry, titled "Blessing of the Student Planner:"
The Lord your God is with you.
God’s Spirit goes before you as you listen, think, and respond.
Therefore, stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
-- Matthew 6:34
One of the big changes that the current pandemic has brought about is the shift from existing in an ever-changing group of people (like at school – different classes, groups, clusters of people) to being in a much smaller circle. Sociologists have been saying that we are spending much more time in our own heads. Without the distraction of other voices, environments, and interactions, we are forced to be more on our own – with only our own sights, sounds, ponderings, and outcomes. This might be a dream come true for you. Or this might be the greatest challenge of your life.
Regardless of whether this “time in your own head” is a positive or negative experience, you have TODAY. In your own head you can imagine what your day can be. You can let your dreams and hopes parade across your mind’s eye with time you might never have again!
Not worrying about tomorrow allows you to see what you and God can do today. Each day may have trouble of its own, but each day is a gift. And it sits there… in your mind.
God, I may or not have a plan for today, but let me focus on today. Let me stop and examine the possibilities for living that come with today’s hours. Today’s possibilities might lead me to quiet discoveries or important and significant changes in my life. Today’s plans might change completely! But I will be with you, God. I am here, and you are here. With all of the tools you’ve given me – to understand, comprehend, dream, plan, think, examine – I will use them for you. Amen.
Taking today’s moments into your breath, your heart, your hands and feet,
live what you hear from God today,
Hope you can take time to enjoy TODAY.
FPCE just received a phone call from Edgewood Fire Department telling us about a food distribution they are sponsoring on Saturday, August 29 from 10AM until they don’t have any left.
Location: Edgewood Towne Centre by Scene 75. Pass on to whomever might be interested/in need.
P.S. They will also be parking in our lots tomorrow night, August 15 when they hold their Pasta Drive Thru Dinner – please support our local fire department if you can. Below is article from our latest newsletter…
Typically, this month you would see calls for volunteers to help us work the FPCE booth at the annual Edgewood Community Day celebration. For obvious reasons, this year Community Day will not take place in person. However, the Edgewood Volunteer Fire Department invites you to a “drive-thru” pasta dinner, Saturday, August 15th, from 2pm-7pm! Enjoy a night off from cooking, while supporting the EVFD!
In lieu of our famous Community Day chicken & rib dinners this year, we will instead be hosting a “socially distant” pasta dinner. Stay in your car and drive through the fire station on Race Street! $10 per dinner. Each dinner includes rigatoni with red sauce, salad, roll, & choice of drink (sauce optional). Baked goods will also be available for sale, priced between $1-10. Payments can be made electronically using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay.
Free delivery available for more than 5 dinners ordered by calling Steve at (412) 901-3096.
Friday's recording time has been moved to 4:00PM. I officially start back at North Hills tomorrow for what is sure to be the most unique year of my teaching career with variations of virtual, hybrid, and in person teaching over the next few months. So that I can make it across town and have everything set up, I asked everyone involved in the worship service to come later in the day. This will likely be the schedule for the next few weeks. So if you are planning to join us in the back of the sanctuary for worship when we record, plan to arrive for 4:00PM, not 1:00. Thanks for accommodating me!