Sustaining Hope

“You have to give a little history when you say something like that”

I turned and looked at my friend, and I knew she was right.  The days of talking “around” my story are over.  Since those ill fated days of pills, black eyes, broken noses, ruptured ear drums, concussions and abandonment, I am a new person.  Sometimes I don’t even recognize that person when I look in the mirror.  Finally, I believe in the Hope that He will and is “making all things new”.

As my friend’s words sunk in and I began telling parts of my story, I experienced an emotional reaction to my story that I’d never felt before.  Chills started from the top of my head and threatened to take over my entire body; chills that matched the snowy spring day, and for a second I had second thoughts about continuing.  As I continued, tears began to fill my eyes, tears that I rarely shed because I’d managed to emotionally disconnect from the pain; until now.  As the words come out of my mouth, I became more and more convinced of the faithfulness of God and the Hope that has been there all along.

After that brief recap of my story, my heart and mind simply leapt with the possibilities of finally understanding real Hope, and that it has sustained me thus far.  I don’t have to understand the “WHY’s” of my life, but I do want to constantly seek understanding of this Hope that has carried me thus far and will continue to carry me until the ultimate Hope is realized.  That day will come until there is no more pain and no more tears.

While writing this series, I have struggled to understand and grasp this concept of Hope because honestly, most of the time it “feels” hopeless, even given the clear faithfulness of God thus far in my life.  During this series of writing, He has used both music and His word to drill in my head that my Hope is in Him; I am in Him and that while life is hard, He is good.  I’ve spent the majority of my life claiming Him as great, but I have struggled to call him GOOD.  But, He is good, and while the world may disagree, He has never failed me yet.

This song, written and performed by Elevation Worship, is on repeat on my phone.  I play it over and over and you can find the words “Never Failed Me Yet” written all over my house from sticky notes on the fridge, to index cards taped to my computer to my shower doors after the steam provided me with an open canvass to converse with Him.

“Walking around these walls, I thought by now they’d fall, but You have never failed me yet.  Waiting for change to come, knowing the battles won, for You have never failed me yet. Promise still stands, great is Your faithfulness.  Still in Your hand, this is my confidence that You have never failed me yet..”

 

“Jesus, You are still enough, keep me within Your Love, my heart will sing Your praise again.”

If there is ever a Bible verse that I doubted it was this one.  However, during this quest to understand Hope, He has drilled it in my head.

“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.  Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow-not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love” Romans 8:31-38 (NIV)

And I finally believe it.  We have every reason to look forward to Hope with great anticipation because He has sustained me with it all this time, as He will continue to do the same.  Paul understood this Hope.  He understood it when he was shipwrecked.  He understood it when he lived with his actions of killing Christians.  He experienced it on the road to Damascus.  He definitely understood it in prison.  And finally, He understood it when the time would come that he would die because he clung to the only thing that will never fail, not him and not us.

Hope.  It came at a heavy price, most of us will celebrate our lives in Him as we remember the cross this Easter.  Thank you Jesus for a Hope that saves us and that sustains us; even when we do not understand.

“I have seen You move the mountains, and I believe I will see You do it again, You made a way when there was no way”

Thank you Jesus.

 

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Links To Series on Hope

Powerful Hope

https://journeyinthewriting.wordpress.com/2018/01/31/702/

Appearing & Reappearing Hope, Pt 1

https://journeyinthewriting.wordpress.com/2018/02/08/appearing-disappearing-hope-pt-1/

The World Needs Hope, The World Needs YOU

https://journeyinthewriting.wordpress.com/2018/02/21/the-world-needs-hope-the-world-needs-you/

A Man Of Hope

https://journeyinthewriting.wordpress.com/2018/02/28/a-man-of-hope/

Appearing and Disappearing Hope, Pt.2

https://journeyinthewriting.wordpress.com/2018/03/07/appearing-and-disappearing-hope-pt-2/

 

Appearing and Disappearing Hope, Pt 2

I dragged that beautifully framed college degree back to Jacksonville, where I immediately accepted a teaching job at the school attached to the church that I attended as a child. Ray and Gayle were gone by then and it was surreal being back in Jacksonville and it was unbelievably strange to be teaching in the very same classroom where I was a 6th grade student. Everything was different, nothing was the way I remembered it and that year was one of the most difficult of my life. I vastly underestimated how hard it would be to be back in Jacksonville, and almost felt like I was visiting a crime scene. I didn’t have any friends in Jacksonville, and if you know me, you know that I need people, and so I immediately began searching for connections. And, in doing that, I met John Watson.

I was not (am not) the girl that has dreamt of her wedding her whole life, or even being married for that matter. I did not date in college for a variety of reasons, chief among them that I simply did not have time. I know now that I was still living in fight or flight in college and the crazy busy days served to defer dealing with issues that simply were being ignored. And, in a way, meeting John compounded the issue, as suddenly there was focus on building a life with him.   And I think for a small period of time I was that little girl that dreamt of not the wedding, but being loved and protected—a feeling I did not have until the Dunning’s stepped in and then later at the children’s home. It seemed as though the entire body of trauma was coming to an end, and life was looking better. Early in our dating relationship, I laid down convictions I’d held my entire life and after dating for about a year, we moved in together. It was then that any hope I had of living a happy, relatively trauma free life was dashed in my mind.

The first hit came in that townhouse we shared on Jacksonville’s affluent south side. It came out of nowhere, and it was because I forgot ketchup at the grocery store. After it was over, I only wished the hit was hard enough to push me through the wall so that he couldn’t see me cry; or so that he could not see the light drain from my eyes; or see the thinly veiled cloud of hope disappear from right in front of me.

Of course there were apologies and all the normal promises, and I clung to them because I certainly wasn’t in a place with God where I even acknowledged Him. So, I went into performance mode and my hope came from fast success with a business that we started. I created a false sense of hope by fully throwing myself into that business. As success came, the cloud of false hope became a fat, puffy, sometimes very dark cloud that served only to protect me from the elements of life, but not him. The hits became the norm at our house, but I continued to perform to the point of about killing myself with stress and medications I chose to take to stop the pain, even if only for a little bit. Business continued to do well and the apology gifts got more extravagant and we added houses, boats and cars to our world. On the outside, it looked like I was living a redeemed life of childhood trauma. But on the inside of our home, it was an environment fraught with pain; maybe the deepest pain I have ever felt. The days were long and my only hope at that point resided at the bottom of a bottle somewhere. And, with each empty bottle, I went looking for more hope, hope that came in the form of milligrams and came from a drug store. And one night, my genuine hope was that the handful of pills that I took would put in the presence of the real Hope. But the problem was I wasn’t talking to God much. Nighttime prayers were replaced with drug induced sleep marathons. It was the only time it did not hurt to merely breathe. Then the next morning when I did wake up, I knew what I had to do. I had to chase Hope, but Hope was chasing me all along.

 

And man would I need it.

A Man Of Hope

It was radical for those days—a pastor preaching from the floor, not a pulpit and dared to use electronic technology to assist in his sermon. Yet, there he stood. And I will never forget the lesson.

“You are not a zero with the rim rubbed out”—he said this as he used his finger to erase the bottom part of the number he’d previously written on the transparency. It was one of the first times I began to believe that I was valuable, and that God created me in His image. I was beginning to believe that His creation was something to behold. Ray’s sermon that night: obey the commandment to live the life given to us with all of our shortfalls, but definitely with the gifts that He has given us. It was a sermon of Hope. As I sat in that cold church during that midweek service, I looked around at others and all were responding in kind. It was a radical idea at the time—preaching of one’s value. But Ray was radical. And that is why everybody loved him. He loved the sweet story of salvation (and shared it often), but outside the simple plan of salvation, he was a gifted pastor and even better person.

I mentioned in part 1 of “Appearing & Disappearing Hope”, I mentioned my foster parents. I’ve not been able to finish that piece because Ray went home to be with Jesus just a few short days ago. And while not part of my daily life, he’s been a constant source of encouragement to me over all of these years, more so in the last 10-15 after we reconnected. So, I didn’t want to just rush over his part of my story, and certainly needed a little time to even understand what I want to say.

So, I will try.

We all like to think that when we die, those left behind will have glowing things to say about us, and who knows if that will happen—we certainly know at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. It will not matter what people say about you. Changed lives will matter; lives that were changed forever because of yours. That is the category that Ray occupies in my life.

Upon abandonment by my mom, Ray and Gayle (along with their 3 kids) took me into their home. It was the first time I had a bed of my own; it was the first time I even knew that you are supposed to eat 3 meals a day and it was the first time that an adult demonstrated to me the sacrifice that the entire family did. And I will always remember that sacrifice. Even though I only lived with them for 18 months, I always will remember it fondly, and thank God that Ray planted a seed when he made that decision to keep me out of the foster care system. He planted a seed that he had to watch other people tend and water. He had to watch the fruit of his sacrifice from afar. And he did that with class and he did it without ever wanting any glory for a life that he helped save. And for those of you who knew me then, you know that I am not exaggerating.

Thursday mornings were my favorite in the Dunning household. Ray stopped by Krispy Kreme on the way home from church the night before and we had doughnuts for breakfast, much to the “arguments” of Gayle who was always pushing weird stuff like oatmeal with wheat germ on me! He relished spoiling us on those mornings and has he walked by to leave for work, the smell of his cologne served to comfort me—a strange feeling for me.

He refused to allow me to be defined by trauma up to that point, 14 years into my life. He treated me like I was one of his own children. That included fun things like doughnuts, but it also included copious conversations in the living room where I was getting the Ray Dunning “school of life”. And it was a good school too.   As soon as I would reach one place of healing, he would push for another telling me that “you have grown by leaps and bounds, but you have a long way to go”—and he knew that would serve as a call to action for me.  He gave me every reason to hope that I could do whatever I wanted, especially overcome a difficult life.

I often wonder how hard it was for him to see this broken child in his home. I never knew it if he thought that I’d not make it, not once did I ever think I wasn’t going to be okay, and Ray has a big role in that. He was a picture of Hope to me.  He often thought of other people during his decade long illness when it came to sharing his faith. I know for sure when he entered heaven that he was found faithful. Ray was my second pastor. He followed behind Dr. Estes who everybody loved. Ray and Dr. Estes had a beautiful relationship and Dr. Estes remained at that church, under Ray’s leadership, until the day Dr. Estes died. I am remembering Dr. Estes today because his favorite passage of scripture was shared and received by the young pastor following him. And, today, I can’t help but think of Ray when I hear the scripture:

“Be steadfast, not moveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord”

I am so grateful that he took that step of obedience every day for 18 months. I was loved well by him and he often referred to himself as my “second dad”.   This man demonstrated the Hope that life has even when it seems like you are down for the count. I firmly believe that my inability to give up, give in or be bitter is directly related to Ray Dunning. And, in true fashion, his last message to me a few weeks ago:

“I love you and I am proud of you”

And you just can’t script it better than that.

Made me want to be the same Hope for everybody I can.

 

 

 

The World Needs Hope, the world needs YOU

Where does time go? Seriously, how does 11 years just fly by like it is only one trip around the sun? Yesterday marked 11 years since I got off of the plane from Toronto after fleeing the states when I left my home and most of my belongings. That was the safest place for me. But when it came time to fly home I was ready to move on with life. As I walked through customs and out the double doors of that airport, the warm February Tampa air hit me. I was home. At least near home anyway.   Something inside of me clicked—and the monsters that awaited me on the outside of that airport would not, at least for awhile, phase me.

I often wonder what “happened” inside of me that made me leave. I wonder why I am not part of the statistic that a victim of domestic violence will go back on average 7 times before finally leaving, if alive that long. I wonder what made me make the decision to move to Clearwater, or what made me go to that big church on the corner, or even get up every morning in those early days.  But I don’t wonder those things very long.  Somewhere along the line, somebody reminded me of my Hope.

This morning, I woke up to the news of Billy Graham’s passing. As I watched the nonstop coverage, I thought only one thing: “that man was an ambassador of Hope”. He preached the ultimate Hope to hundreds of thousands of people over his long life; and while not so active in the latter years, even his presence on this planet made life seem a little “better”. Certainly, if Billy Graham could be used by God in, can’t I? Billy Graham’s God did not run out on Hope when it was time for my dance card to be stamped. My mind then began to visit places such as this:

–“Um, are we the grown ups now?”

–“Who will be Billy Graham?”

–“Who will be an ambassador or Hope?”

And just like that a Bible verse I memorized in Sunday school came to mind:

“And the Lord said, ‘Who will I send, and who will go for us’. Then said I, here am I, send me” Is 6:9

Now, I know that I am no Billy Graham, but Billy Graham and I share the same God, with the same Hope of a painless eternal life, and the same Hope to live in a world that can be described as nothing short of heart shattering.

What if, on social media, we all sought out ways to bring Hope to those who need it? I spend an inordinate amount of time on social media, and I often think I am wasting time (and most the time I am) but then there are these moments. Moments when you get to bring a smile to somebody’s face just because you cared enough to remind them of the Hope that is within them. What if? What if in real interactions (if we even have those anymore) we did the same? What if we put our phones down, what if we shut our laptops, what if we put our Kindle’s down, what if we put our PRIDE down and looked for ways to bring Hope to so many that need it? What if?

I can tell you the answer to that question. Somebody, maybe somebody like the early days me, will cling to that Hope and their life will be changed forever. Because that is what Hope does. Hope tells you that there are all the tomorrow’s you are ever supposed to get, and the one that you are not supposed to get is better anyway. Hope says “just because it was that way then doesn’t mean it is that way now”. Hope is a soothing balm to hearts held together by tape and superglue.  What I was given in the way of practical friendships altered the course of my life forever. Those early years were hard, but I had people, I had a VILLAGE of people. I could look into the eyes of these people and see that they had a light that I wanted. And they just stayed. So, as I think of the great loss of Billy Graham, I am reminded by the great loss of one of my good friend’s grandmother today as well. And finally, even though I knew it was coming, my former pastor and foster parent went to be with Jesus today as well.   I felt like somebody punched me in the stomach.

And then there is that word again.

Hope.

Paul said “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain”. As Christians we no doubt look forward to that day when there will be no more pain, no more sorrow, and no more tears.   But until then, we live here. And here needs Hope. Here needs you.

These two pictures are almost 11 years to the day apart. The light in my eyes, the ones devoid of light 11 years ago, we call that Hope.

Appearing & Disappearing Hope, Pt 1

Faith Children’s Home, June 6, 1987

It is hard to imagine how the light can be gone from the eyes of a 14- year old kid, but I am here to tell you, I don’t remember ever having light in my eyes, but on this day, everything I’d hoped for was gone.

My hopes of a world where I would have a family were gone; or so it seemed. Faith Children’s Home was a home that housed 18 boys and 18 girls. As much as they tried to not make it an institution, it had to be sometimes. We were not allowed to open the refrigerator and grab food or drink-we had to wait for the time when everyone ate and drank. We slept with 5 other girls in the same room. If you were lucky (and I was) you only had to share a bathroom with those 5 girls and not an additional 6 younger girls. These were things that made me cry myself to sleep in those early days.

I was a foster kid before finally ending up at the children’s home. I was very fortunate and only had one foster home; and they were good people. But, it did not matter how good they were, they were not equipped to meet the needs of a throw away kid. When a parent abandons their child like mine did, there is a special kind of brokenness that serves as a dark cloud, filled with unpredictable precipitation, over that life forever. My foster parents did the best they could, but in the end, the children’s home was a good decision for me. But for 18 months, I got a taste of what a mom and dad felt like, I had my own bed (a first) and understood what a normal meal schedule was like. I was not required to work for my basic needs, I was allowed to be a kid. I went to slumber parties, I “played” sports, I had a first boyfriend complete with the first broken heart– but with a mom to help me through it.

So, the day I was dropped off at the children’s home was the death of all of that; and that would eventually be ok, but those early days, I truly saw no hope for a normal life. I was to remain at the children’s home for 1,090 days, also known as my 18th birthday. That was the only future I could see, in exactly 2 years and 6 months, I would leave this place, and enter a world that I was prepared to fight for the rest of my life, just as I had for the entirety of my life.

Then the day came when these people, one by one, chipped away at my shattered, ragamuffin heart. And suddenly, I could see past the days that remained before I became a legal adult and would age out of the system. I could see good things in my future. My visions of a better future were weaker than faith but just as strong as hope. I knew in my heart that God had better things for me. I believed that then and I believe that now, because He told us as much in the Bible, but more importantly with the price He paid so that I could envision a future filled with Hope.

As time would pass, this place became the fabric of my heart, and that heart was no longer shattered, and had left its ragamuffin status in healing dust. And when I graduated from high school, as the class valedictorian, my speech was all about Hope, and a future where God would complete what He started (Phil 1:6). I left the children’s home just shy of the 1,090 days, but I was to return after a few weeks with my mom, which is a whole other story.

I remained there well into college. I worked in the office, traveled with the kids while going to college on a full ride scholarship. The promise I spoke of in my speech seemingly was the truth, like for real, the truth! He was, in fact, continuing the good work He started in me, not the day I got a forever family, but the day He made me in His image. And when I earned my degree, I was fully aware that this was not something that EVER should have happened, nor was it in my visions of a future filled with hope for my life. I had low standards of God. I would have been good with breathing air. But on May 7, 1994, I graduated from Clearwater Christian College with a decent degree, and every reason to believe that my future was still filled with hope.

As it would turn out, it was not quite that simple. And my definition of hope was blown away to an unrecognizable heap of smothering rubble.

Powerful Hope

The drive over the bridge from Tampa to Clearwater has always been one of my favorite drives. To say it is beautiful is a bit of an understatement. Sweeping 360 degree views of the beautiful, often transparent, blue water of the Gulf of Mexico has caused me more than one time to take my eye of the road. The sun glimmering off the water can be blinding but yet it is impossible to take your eyes off of those sparkles in that beautiful body of water.

I remember the first time I drove that drive. I was 18 years old and I was headed to my first year at Clearwater Christian College. The college was also nestled on the water, and the beach about 12 miles away. As soon as I drove on that campus, I knew I’d found my place. While accepted into just about wherever I wanted to go, this was it and I knew it from the time I drove onto that campus for the interview. I was also granted a full ride scholarship so there was that!

Yesterday, for the first time since the college closing in 2015, I drove onto campus (recently purchased by another college) and as I rounded that corner that I so often took on two wheels at a high rate of speed in college because I was always late, a man stepped out in front of me and held his hand up, refusing my request to merely drive around. As I turned my head to back up, all that I noticed was that all of the buildings were gone. Everything about that campus that made it recognizable was gone. Leveled. I was devastated.

As I visit the images in my mind of rubble, dirt, noise and my rude security guy, the word that first came to my mind was “hopeless”—if a college that was open for 50 years can close, why do I have any reason to believe that there is anything that will stick? And I felt that expectant Greek word—“hope” drain from my heart. It hit me harder than I thought it would, and as I drove off I imaged that pile of rubble and how so many of us must feel that way as we visit seasons of our lives that are those of “tearing down” or never “building up”—you know those days, months and sometimes years that it seems that everything you ever had and loved is gone or the things you want just will never come to pass.

I immediately remembered my own speech (attached below) at the final closing ceremonies at the college. That day reminded me of a verse that almost every professor taught me. My life up until that point was void of hope and this college put this verse in my heart and it never left.

I Peter 3:15b

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect”

I began thinking about this verse and it’s meaning when I was 20 years old and in college, or 35 years when I taught it to my high school students, or now when the necessity to give a reason for the Hope that is within all of us is at an all time high.

The word “hope” in this verse is interchangeable with faith or trust. “To look forward, usually with pleasure or anticipation. To have faith that something will come to pass” 

So what does that mean, exactly, for those of us who have hoped for many things in life, often with great expectation, or the faith that our hopes will come to pass; what happens when it doesn’t come to pass? We all have these things in our lives; everyone can name numerous times disappointment and dashed hopes consume our emotions. It is confusing when those things don’t come to pass in the way or time frame we want them to happen, if at all.

But here is the thing, and I write this to myself with all love and compassion as much as anyone who will read this.

Why are we so focused on our earthly hopes instead of the Hope that is within us? Why aren’t we telling the world about the Hope that is in form of Jesus and the price that He paid for us on the cross? Because the reality is this Hope has already been fulfilled. Sure, we look forward with great expectation of seeing Jesus, but we get to live on this planet with a sure knowledge that there is a Hope already realized in our lives and I want to learn to abide in that.  I want that to be my “go to” word when life feels hopeless…and that is an important question, “feels”–because of that Hope within us, and the promise of eternity, life isn’t hopeless.

Focusing on this Hope has eternal consequences. While I believe God to be a God that wants us to live an abundant life- I think in doing that it is important for us to remember why we have that abundant life, even when it doesn’t feel abundant. Or maybe we can figure out how to take advantage of the freedoms that we have because of this HOPE that is explains the power within us.

Did Jesus hope for pain to go away? In the garden, right before he paid the price on the cross, He asked that the cup of crucifixion be passed from Him. He asked this 3 times! Do you think that in some way he hoped that the Father would deliver Him? None of us can ever understand that kind of “betrayal”—and even worse the Father had to turn His back from Jesus, when that day became night, and our Lord was crucified on a cross–a cross made from a tree that was part of His creation.

But what does that mean for us? After all, we are flawed human beings, with natural hopes and dreams; disappointment is going to happen. Hope is going to be deferred. And we are going to be sad- often for years, if we aren’t careful. And I know that our God understands that and doesn’t stand in judgment of our human feelings when life tries to rob the laughter from our core, the smile from our faces and the hope from our hearts.

As I’ve meditated on this verse, I wonder if the healing balm to our hope deferred on this planet and all the pain that goes with that is reminding ourselves of the ETERNAL Hope that we have and this Hope explains the power within us.  This Hope trumps anything we could ask or think for ourselves! A mindfulness exercise of sorts, meditating on this precious promise that we do have a reason for the Hope that is within us, and that Hope is Jesus. Furthermore, let’s not forget the rest of that verse, especially in the global climate of today. 

When we have the opportunity to share the reason for the hope that is within us, we should do so with gentleness and respect. That means not ostracizing those who may believe differently from us. We know people are watching us. Are they watching us deal with earthly hope deferred? Are they watching us work that out in our faith? Do they see us land at a peaceful place where we know that God orchestrates our lives and sometimes hope deferred is His way of protecting us?

It all comes down to one question.

Do you believe in the sovereignty of God? Do you believe in His character? Do you have a reason for the Hope that is within you?

These are all good questions and ones that I hope address in this series.

For now though, it soothes my soul to know that there is an unshakable, unmovable Hope that is within me. And that Hope is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. So, as hope gets deferred, it is my prayer that HOPE will be my first thought—the Hope that never will leave me or forsake me.

And when the ruble is there; and the familiar is gone-like it was for me on campus yesterday; turn around—because when I did that, I saw the beautiful Gulf of Mexico. And I realized that nothing I could ever hope for myself could speak that beautiful body of water into existence.

How much more does He love us? Turn around, what’s there?

 

Here is the link to the video of my speech where I had the opportunity to tell my story and speak about his verse.