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Hope

I’ve found myself a little behind on my Advent reading, how about you?  I shared a couple years ago how observing Advent was new for me until about five years ago (To read more click here.)  But gracious, I have fallen head over heals into every way of observing this season of remembering the waiting, hoping, needing, and even sometimes doubting the arrival of Jesus.  A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.

But hoping has changed for me in the past two years.  When you embrace a hope of clinging onto and believing with everything that you can, when you put your whole heart on the line with no other option of believing anything else and that hope is deferred.  All hope feels lost.  And empty.  And silly.  And a waste of time.

Yet Advent, is a season of hoping, believing, and knowing that Jesus will come gently and quietly into a lost and grieving world.  Amidst groans and cries for relief, his very presence whispers, “I hear you.  I see you.  I know.  I’m coming.”

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Yet in my own groans and cries, hope seemed too vulnerable to put on again.  I could never again face the hurt I felt of hoping and believing with my whole heart to see healing, to see a miracle, to spend more Christmases with my Dad, and my hope was unfulfilled.  It only brought to mind so many other things I had prayed, waited, and hoped for that also were unmet.  Unfulfilled hopes I still carry.

But I’ve learned to see hope differently.

Hope is far more a waiting for something in a hot, sticky mess than it is a peaceful, orderly affair. – Sarah Bessey, Out of Sorts

Hope is not just knowing.  Hope is trusting enough to place your every bet on what may make absolutely no sense to believe.

And knowing if not, He is still good.

Hoping, vulnerably placing every single ounce of our weak and scared souls onto God fulfilling his promises is one of the absolute bravest things we can do.  And for me, one of the hardest things I’ve ever recovered from.


(Warning: I will probably get some facts wrong.  Friends who are knowledgable about space/science/etc. please correct me.)

On October 15, 1997 the Cassini satellite was launched on a twenty year journey.  Cassini ventured further into Saturn than any other previous explorations, observing its moons that may be suitable for life and its rings.

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Upon reaching its 20th year, NASA planned for Cassini not to return back to earth, as it had consistently sent all images and information back to NASA’s headquarters.  Rather, Cassini concluded its pioneering through its “Grand Finale” by going further and further toward the surface of Saturn until Cassini could no longer endure the conditions.

On April 26, 2017, Cassini began its Grand Finale, sending images of Saturn as it reached closer and closer to its surface until after 20 years of discovery, Cassini’s mission was completed.

This video explained it’s Grand Finale in a way I loved.  The narrator describes Cassini plunging 22 times around Saturn’s rings then making its final decent to the surface of Saturn, “fighting to keep its antennae pointed at Earth as it transmits its farewell.”  On September 15, 2017 Cassini sent its last images of Saturn to NASA, concluding its 20 year mission.


If I’m honest, I think learning how to hope again, has felt significantly more like fighting with all I have toward something that feels so unsafe I may be destroyed, than it has felt simple, safe, or peaceful in any way.

Lacking the energy and sometimes faith to hope, in many situations I haven’t.  And I’ve regretted walking away from loved ones who are hoping and holding onto believing in a miracle with all they have.  And I’ve called that silly deep in my bones because I didn’t have the faith to claim and believe in my own miracles.  I only had space to hold my unmet hopes.


But in the sweetest of ways, this Advent season has felt really different.  Really hopeful.

Of sharing in the waiting of centuries.  The waiting and hoping that looked much more like groaning, doubting, and grieving.  And amidst that waiting, believing and knowing that “Unto us, a child [will be] born.”

Hope is vulnerable.  It’s pressing deeper and deeper into our Father’s ability while simultaneously pulling us further and further from our own control, even our guarding our hearts.

But the beauty of our Father that Advent keeps bringing me back to is that He is a God who “fulfills His promises.” (Hebrews 10:23)

And as I read through the prophecies that point to the life of Jesus, God the Son, I am overwhelmed once again with how dependable and sure our hope is.  How God will always prove Himself true.

And I’m writing HOPE all over my Advent book as I read:

“He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.  In Him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
– Colossians 1:13-14, CSB

“What the law could not do since it was weakened by the flesh, GOD DID.”
– Romans 8:3, CSB

“Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through his death he might destroy the one holding the power of death- that is, the devil- and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death.”
-Hebrews 2:14-15, CSB

I’m learning to hope that my faithful Father will do what He says, even though He’s proven it time and time again, while the enemy loves to whisper the times my help felt unseen.  I’m working to allow myself to vulnerably lay all my heart deeply hopes for at His feet, and to know this is what He calls me to.  I’m learning to believe that I will receive, like a child who lays their head on their pillow, knowing Santa will bring them just what they asked for.

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Because our faith never calls us to be logical or to trust as much as we’ve seen trust fulfilled, but to have faith like a child.  A faith that cultivates hope.


fdb3Thanks for stopping by!  My name is Emily Katherine.  On this page you’ll find lessons I’ve learned through my own story, primarily in the sudden loss of my precious Dad on my 22nd birthday.  You’ll find book reviews and recommendations.  And in between you’ll find a few resources I use in teaching middle school through college students.

I would love to hear from you through your comments!  Click the follow button to stay in touch.

Home.

There’s something about the Holiday season that makes us treasure home a little more.  While the summer is filled with plans after plans to get as far away from home as possible or spend the most amount of time outside or at a friend’s house, the holidays bring us back.  We decorate, adorn, nestle in, and find a cozy spot on the couch next to the tree.  The holidays make us recognize what’s around us, sometimes reflecting on what’s changed in the year, sometimes being grateful for another year.  It makes us see home as a place and a part of us, rather than just part of the mundane of life.  It sheds a little light on why our ordinary is actually special.

This idea of home, especially around the holidays has changed for me a good deal in my lifetime.  I grew up in one house I can barely remember until I turned 4 then we moved into what I consider my “childhood home”.  It was an old house built in 1900 on a street in southern Virginia where trees that filled the median were each dedicated to local WWII heroes.  There was even a cannon at the end of that road, Mount Vernon Avenue.  Our house was brick, three bricks deep actually in each and every wall.  It had blue shutters and lots of little quirks because of its age that were just normal to me like having a small kitchen attached to the kitchen called a “butler’s kitchen” and an extra cellar attached to the unfinished basement (note: this was where we stored our gallons and gallons of water to prepare for Y2K, but if you’re reading this, you probably don’t even know what that was.)  The upstairs hallway of that house was so wide we called it “bowling ally” and we loved to run and slide down it in our socks.  Occasionally, though, nails would come up out of the boards in the floor, yet at only 6 or 7 years old this didn’t phase me.  It was normal for me to pick up the hammer we kept at the top of the stairs for this very reason and hammer that nail back down.

221 Mount Vernon Avenue in all of its quirkiness and grandeur was home.  It was where parents of friends dropped me off and I never had to give them directions.  All of our neighbors called it “the Dalton house” and it was.  It was the porch where I took pictures before my first dance recital dressed as a bumble bee, it was the back yard where I learned how to play basketball, it was the driveway where my brother infamously made it onto America’s Funniest Home Videos, it was the back deck where my birthday parties were held, it was the laundry room where I learned how to do laundry.  It was home.  But then it wasn’t.

Then there were moving trucks and boxes.  There was newness and change and so much to be done.  That was November and Christmas came quickly.  That Christmas just felt different and I knew all the ones to follow would be different.  I didn’t live at home anymore.  I didn’t really know what home was anymore.  We transitioned from that house full of history to a brand new one and as I think about that was pretty symbolic of the move my family was taking.  Both my mom and dad’s families had lived in that small town of Danville, Virginia for as long as anyone could remember.  My parents and their parents and theirs had a deep history in that town, a name for themselves, deep deep roots, and we were beginning totally new.  It was kind of earth shattering for my little 11 year old heart.  That Christmas was the hardest.

I went up to Virginia a week early to spend time with friends to muster up the closest feeling of home I could find, but it just felt like it was gone. I remember deeply resonating with Cindy-Lou-who on How the Grinch Stole Christmas singing, “Where are you Christmas?  Why can’t I find you?  Why have you turned away?  My world is changing.  I’m rearranging.  Does that mean Christmas changes too?”

Yes, Cindy-Lou-who.  It does.

It felt like Christmas lost its magic and in a way it had.  Because when you don’t have a sense of home, you don’t have a place to wake up excited for the magic of a special day.  We were barely even sure which room to have our tree in.  It didn’t feel right to not have my cousins who lived around the corner come over around lunch so we could all play with each other’s toys.  If anything, Christmas just made it all the more real that the home I had always known would be gone.


But somehow things changed as they have a way of doing.  And the new house in South Carolina became home.  I missed having the comfort of being known and having grown up with people my whole life, but I began to feel at home.  Somewhere between club volleyball tournaments, chorus performances at school, mission trips at church, and all the times in between, the friends I made here became home for me.  The small group of girls I met with each Sunday night from 7th-12th grade on a couch where someone was always drinking coffee. Home.  The school where I became friends on my first day with a girl who had cried and prayed for a best friend the night before.  Home.  The girls ministry associate at my church who I soon realized I had everything in common with and soon became my sister.  Home.

But as things have a way of doing, it was time for change.  So I found myself again moving south to a tiny little town called Rome, Georgia.  The largest college campus tucked far up in the hills of Georgia had captivated my heart.  There were building that looked like castles and I knew I would one day call it home.  But that scared me.  I knew what it was like for home to change.  But once I was there touring on campus, my fears of college went away and I knew it was where I was supposed to be.

I quickly made friends on campus and loved my school but  never imagined the way that little town could wrap its way around my heart.  Rome doesn’t have too much to it and it’s often hard to find a place if you haven’t been there forever, but I love it so very deeply to the point I have to stop myself from reading the Newspaper in line at the local coffee shop when its my turn to order.  In my first few years, I always imagined Rome to just be a transition.  I knew it would always be special to me, but I never knew what it would become.  Home.

I began working with girls at my Church and my advisor from Berry also went to my Church.  I remember the first time I went to an event with other girls at that church.  It felt like the first time I could stop being a student, stop trying to be cool, and just let my guard down.  Though it was my very first time in that beautiful loft apartment downtown that once belonged to Mary Magoni I knew the feeling that met me there- home. And it hasn’t left.

Last week I hosted a baby shower full of ladies from that very church.  I sat in my living room- the living room of a house I am able to rent because a couple from that church moved to Kenya to be missionaries that own that house and all of the ladies filled my home.  Ladies whose daughters I had known while I worked in youth and would often see as I would sit by myself in church, but ladies in the past few months who have come to feel like family to me.  The room was full of laughter and celebration that my friend Mary who first made me feel at home was about to welcome baby Claire into the world.  There was food and coffee and games but I was just overwhelmed with that feeling.  That familiarity.  That fullness.  That sense of home.

I’ve known since I was 11 that home isn’t a place.  I think I got it when I learned that the “Church” wasn’t a building.  And that feeling has met me in the oddest of places.

One in particular is in my favorite TV Show- Gilmore Girls.  I remember the first time I ever watched an episode of Gilmore Girls.  It was the episode when Lorelai is making Rory’s prom dress and the mannequin she is working on falls on top of her.  It was one of the first times I found myself instantly lost in a show.  I had seen 2 minutes of it, but I was instantly laughing out loud and deeply invested.  This love continued on a daily basis.  I would come home from school and work on homework while watching Full House, but at 5:00 I knew Gilmore Girls would come on.  I started receiving the DVD sets for each Christmas and would watch all the episodes in order as I was falling asleep every night.  I sometimes feel like I know Lorelai and Rory’s stories better than my own, as I would revisit them every day and spend any sick days or mental health days doing the same- watching Gilmore Girls.  I remember when I first came to interview for the WinShape College Program at Berry and I walked into the room where I would stay for the night with a girl that would later become my small group leader.  “You have Gilmore girls!” was maybe the fist thing I said.  And I knew I could be at home with them.

This year, 8 years after the show’s last season, Gilmore Girls came back together to make 4 episodes.  As the music played, the sights shown of Stars Hollow, Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel’s banter became audible, and cups of coffee were poured I began to cry because something about those seven seasons in Stars Hollow and the bond between Lorelai and Rory were that very thing for me- home.  They had seen me through the transition from Virginia to South Carolina, from South Carolina to college, and through my life crumpling to pieces for the last year.  That’s what home is. It’s constant.  And in an ever changing world sometimes home takes on a very strange from- like a TV Show.

But this sense of home met me in an even stranger place.  In a hospital waiting room on what I think was a Monday night.  We were sitting in the Critical Cardiac Unit lobby and most of the other patient’s families had gone home or been transferred to the heart floor but we were still there and had been since the Wednesday before when my Dad had his heart attack.  He had been unconscious all week and we had stayed closely by his side, praying for his every breath, pulse, rhythm, blood pressure, and whatever I could muster up the strength to understand and pray for.  It was traumatic, exhausting, heart wrenching, and just made it feel like time had stopped.  We had tried to take him off sedation and wake him up the day before, but it didn’t work.  So on this day, we were doing brain scans to hear back essentially whether or not I had my Daddy anymore, if it was just a responding body on a ventilator with no brain activity or if it was a long road of recovery ahead if my Daddy’s brain was in tact.  They had done the tests and we were waiting for a neurologist to come and tell us the results.  This honestly should have been the hardest time of waiting in my whole life, but that feeling met me there again.

We sat in the lobby as the sun set outside the window, a window I hadn’t really noticed at all before that week.  Someone had brought us dinner and we ate well.  We had been so blessed that week.  I watched as friends who are really family from our church and various other friends sat around with us in various pockets.  I was with my friend Emily Wyatt and our friend Tonya Bryson.  Our youth pastor was there.  Andrew’s high school best friend was there.  Countless people.  People we didn’t have to be anything with but just loved us and the air was light.  It just felt warm.  My youth pastor took a video panning the rom because there was just something about it.  I kept saying it felt like Sunday lunch after church with all of your family because that was really what it was like.  It was a little piece of home.

If I have learned anything, it’s that home isn’t a place or a person and it’s not just one place or one person.  It’s not a place where everything is right or magical or easy.  It’s a feeling and a presence.  It’s a warmth amidst the hardest days and a safe place amidst the scariest.  A real home isn’t somewhere you post on Pinterest about how well it’s decorated.  A real home is somewhere you are always met with undeserved warmth and love of being seen and known.  A real home is a sense that you belong, you’re safe, and things will be just like this for a little while, amidst a world where our plans disappoint us and let us down.  And that home becomes real for us, when we first allow ourselves to need it.

Waiting, Hoping, Needing- ADVENT

I grew up in a church that celebrated Christmas very well.  Trust me, I had my fair share of experiences climbing out of a window wearing 20 pound wings to play the archangel in the live nativity- still a little bitter I never got to be Mary.  We packed shoe boxes for kids overseas and gave Christmas presents to families in our home town.  One time, the Grinch even came to AWANA.  I was so afraid of him, my leader had to take me to my mom.  But amidst all of this, there is one thing we never celebrated. One thing that brings so much more meaning to Christmas- ADVENT.

I had such a small idea of what this word meant that when I came to college I wasn’t completely sure if that was even a Christian thing to celebrate.  Oh but the beauty it interweaves into a quiet night in Bethlehem.

I knew about the Shepherds, the virgin Mary, the manger, the stable, etc. but what I had not pieced together was just how long God’s people had waited for this moment.  Generations of generations of Israelites had spent their whole lives hoping and trusting the Messiah would come.  Through the difficult times of wandering in the wilderness, of slavery in Egypt, of captivity in Babylon, they continued to place their hope in this one day.  This one moment when “Christ the Savior is born.” 

This story, this picture is so much more than a baby being born in a stable.  It is the fulfillment of prophecies and hopes of God’s people for preceding centuries.

And in the same way that they hoped and believed in the prophecies of the coming Messiah, we too wait for Christ’s return.  We long in times of unrest, in times of infertility, in times of terrorism, in times of loneliness, in times of doubt, in times of poverty, in times of hopelessness, in times of fear.  We long for the coming of the Savior to fulfill what we have hoped for from generation to generation.


 

I’ve been learning a good deal recently about the idea of waiting and longing, because honestly I don’t think we get it in today’s society.  We are not a people who have planted seeds and waited for a harvest.  We are a people who buy an app and it instantly downloads to our phones.  We have no clue how to wait and how to long.  I even reached the point of not being sure of how to interact with God when I have consistently prayed for something and that need has gone unmet.

How do I invite You into a pain I know You can heal?

I haven’t been able to answer that question yet.  But I do see that there is purpose in waiting, hoping, and believing.  When we think of stories in scripture of people waiting and hoping for what they were praying for, we think of how God met that need, but we in doing this we overlook the period of time when they were hurting and hopeless, unsure of God’s response.

I think of Hannah in 1 Samuel praying for a son.  She had prayed for so long and found herself at her wit’s end of waiting so she went to the Temple to pray where she was praying with such passion that the priest thought she was drunk.  How we have lost this art of waiting.


Over the past few days I’ve been able to help a friend with her newborn baby.  Oh my gosh is she the sweetest thing! But also, she has brought so many truths to mind for me about who we are and how we’re created.

I went into the room 2 hours after she was born and in her first few hours of being alive I was realizing that up until this point she has never felt hunger, never felt cold, or never felt scared.  Her every need had been met and provided for her.  She’s never had to work to be full, she’s just been full.  She’s never had to be wrapped in blankets to be warm, she’s just been warm.

And what our Gracious Father has taught me through this frail, beautiful thing is that we weren’t created for this.

  The space and tension that we feel between the things we hope for and the things we receive is the very space that proves to us that He has set eternity in our hearts.  Our longing to be whole and to be satisfied are what propel us to crave His arrival and His return.

Thus I come back to this idea that is so hard for me to swallow- Our every longing draws us back to the feet of Jesus.  This sweet baby I have been able to hang out with, of course cannot meet her own needs.  She can’t hold her head up on her own yet, better yet provide food for herself, clean herself, protect herself, or wrap herself in a blanket.  She is born utterly dependent on her parents.

In the same way, we are not satisfied.  At times we are lonely, hopeless, depressed, hurting, and empty and Christmas has a weird way of reminding us of that.  And in the same way that a baby needs her parents to keep her warm, fed, and safe, we need our Father, our Shepherd, our Provider to hold us and keep us.

So my prayer this Christmas is to feel the longing and the hoping for the arrival of our Messiah to enter into the hurt of unfulfilled expectations and believe that He is crafting hope and purpose.  And to embrace more than ever that He is IMMANUEL- God with us.