Hope is Not a Strategy

“And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in you.” Psalm 39:7

Matthew and I recently watched the movie, “Deepwater Horizon” on Netflix. It’s a movie about the 2010 BP debacle that left eleven oil rig employees dead and 4.9 million barrels of oil to spill into the Gulf of Mexico.

It was a difficult movie to watch. I mean those were real lives affected. The poor decisions of a few leaders trying to save a bit of money led to the largest catastrophe of its kind in human history. Yet none of those leaders wanted it to happen, and they put their hope in the fact that it wouldn’t despite warnings from more learned people than themselves.

One of my favorite lines from the movie was this. “Hope is not a strategy”. You see, the BP executive had sent the oil well inspectors away without allowing them to properly inspect the well for safety. It was going to be a costly inspection, and they were planning on pulling out from that drill site soon anyway. The BP executive decided to just hope for the best and save the company some money. Preliminary tests all looked good, but the experienced drillers on the rig all knew the inspections were needed.

After watching this movie and connecting so much with that line about hope, I started thinking about the role that hope plays in our lives. We all have hopes. I find myself hoping for lots of things. But is hope a strategy? Most of the time, I don’t think it is.

Let’s say you own your own business and you want to grow that business to be more profitable. You narrow your options down to two plans for growth. One plan will likely be more successful, but you are unsure as to which one that is. So you decide to add hope to one. Will merely adding hope to one of the plans improve its chance for success? I don’t think so.

Okay, look at it this way. Financially, things are tough. There is often more month than money in your account. You are really hoping for enough money to be able to pay your bills this month. Is that hope going to be enough to change your circumstance, and see more money come in to your account? No. It really isn’t.

You see, hope presumes on a future that only exists in our minds and in our… hopes. The past is gone. The future does not yet exist. The only moment we have is this one. We can have hope for things in the future, but what does that really do? Can hope really be a strategy? I can hope for grandchildren one day, but does that mean my hope will ensure I get them? I can hope my neck stops looking more and more like a chicken’s, but will that hope restore the worn out collagen in my skin?

In only one context that I can think of, can hope be a strategy. We have to change the preposition associated with hope. Instead of hoping for things, we hope in something… more specifically, in someone. As believers, when we put our hope IN Christ, that makes all the difference. When we change the preposition, we aren’t presuming on the future, but trusting in the One who is able and holds our future. 

When we put our hope in Christ, we can stand on the promise that he will give us the desires of our hearts, because now we are called according to His purpose. When we walk in the purpose He has for us, then our hopes are not wishes… they are the foundation for the steps we take to fulfill our purpose. We have the confidence to form the strategies that will see our hopes in Christ realized.

We inspect the well. We budget our money. We begin interviewing potential wives for our sons and husbands for our daughters so that we can have those grandchildren before we are living in an old folk’s home, too old and demented to enjoy them.

Sigh… Anyway…

As believers, Christ is the great hope that we have. It’s the only place where hope has any teeth, and the only context where it is a strategy. King David hoped for many things, but he knew the best place he could put his hope was in the Lord. Jesus is the only real hope we have.

 

 

Independence is a Four Letter word

It all started a very long, long, LONG time ago. The garden was lush and green, but not just green. No, there were flowers and leaves of every color imaginable. Life in this place was the kind from which dreams are made. Not even show hosts from HGTV could add to the curb appeal of this place to make it better. That is, unless there really was better out there… somewhere. I mean maybe all was not exactly as it seemed. Why depend on this place and its beauty and bounty when there might be more?

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That’s when Independence came along and ruined everything. Independence came in the form of a lie. It was a lie told so well, so skillfully, that even the best of minds, uncorrupted by sin and circumstance, would believe. Did believe. And that lie ushered in a cosmic shift that would change everything. It ushered in Independence.

When Adam and Eve chose to believe Satan’s lie about the garden, God, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he did it with the lure of Independence. There was no real need for God to tell them what was good or bad for them, they alone could have the ability to choose for themselves by taking one, solitary bite. Certainly Dependence was inferior to Independence, right? What could be better than self-sufficiency and self-reliance?

Up to that point Adam and Eve had depended upon God to tell them what they needed, how the world worked, and how to live. He had afforded them great freedoms there in the garden and bestowed upon them hefty responsibilities, but it was all under His care. Suddenly, after one bite, that all seemed wrong somehow. Now there were options.

Now there was the option to be afraid and feel shame. Never before had Adam or Eve feared God their Father, nor had they ever encountered shame. But completely understanding the weight of what they had done, they were wholly terrified and fully shamed. The garden was made for them, but only if they daily chose to depend on the Father for everything. Now, with the ability to choose for themselves right and wrong, good and bad, they were free to make judgments. But freedoms come with a price. Independence costs us. For Adam and Eve and for the rest of us, it costs us relationship with the Father.

Now we judge others. Now we judge ourselves. Now we judge God. We assume, we manipulate, we control, and we plot and weigh options. We are completely free to do that inside our Independence, but we are not the judge that our Father is, and so often we are wrong, more often wrong than right. But we do not learn, rather we move on the next decision or circumstance, and place a label of “good” or “bad”, as if we know.

We live in a world that tells us to seek Independence as if it is some pinnacle of existence. We are to be the masters of our own destinies. We can be self made men and women. Yes, we can be. We can fight, struggle, scratch and claw for everything we can, or we can choose to become dependent again. We can choose to enter once again into a circle of relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, where we find it is far better to live in Dependence. Who are we kidding, anyway? The very breath in our lungs is His, and Independence is a lie. To choose to live in dependence means we submit to God and to those He sees fit to put in authority over us. Together, they form an umbrella of protection for us.

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How do we leave Independence behind? We can choose to step back into the garden. We can give up the lie of control. We can give up the lie of self-reliance, and let God be God in our lives. It was a cosmic shift when Adam and Eve stepped out from dependence upon God, but the God of the cosmos gave us Jesus in return. Yet for that to have any bearing on our lives, we have to give up our independence and learn once again to depend. We have to learn to sacrifice what we can do under our own power, and fully rely on His direction for our lives.

For many of us, giving up our independence seems so scary, but I would imagine if we were able to talk to Adam and Eve about that, they would tell us that Independence is a four letter word.

What Good is One Shoe?

I am reposting this blog piece from several years ago. I am doing it in memory of the woman I wrote it about. Donna Gayle Fulton went to be with the Lord this week. In my estimation, it was way too soon, but I’m not in charge so I’m trusting her lot to the Father. She will be greatly missed, but I find peace in knowing I will see her again. I hope you enjoy this story and the lesson I learned from it. 

How often have you been driving down the road and see one lone shoe on the side of the road? Or lying in the middle of the road? Usually it’s a flip flop, sometimes it’s a tennis shoe. Do you ever wonder what happened to the other shoe? I do, but that’s just how my mind works, I guess. What good is one shoe? I mean, assuming you have two feet, one shoe doesn’t do you much good.

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I work for quite an unusual lady. I mean that in the best sense of the word, and I am not saying that because she’s probably going to be reading this and I really need to keep my job. I have been blessed to work for some truly wonderful people in my life and this lady is no exception. You’ll see what I mean here in a minute.

She recently shared this story with me.

A few years ago she had the privilege of caring for her aging parents. Unfortunately, her mother had fallen and broken, not one, but both of her wrists. Ouch. She was taking her mother to the doctor one day and had decided to pull up to the curb in front of the clinic and double park long enough to help her mom out of the car and inside. She was wearing her nurse’s uniform at the time and clog type slip on shoes. (Brand: Clarks. This information is important in a minute.) As she worked to get her mother out of the car and safely up on the sidewalk, she lost one of her shoes… down into the city sewer drain. If you spend the money to buy Clarks, it’s no fun to watch one go down the drain.

So there she stood with one shoe off and one shoe on, in downtown Birmingham, still needing to get her mom to the doctor, and finish her workday at the hospital. With only one shoe.

She finished getting her mom out of the car, onto the sidewalk, and suddenly remembered she had a change of clothes in her trunk from the previous Sunday. And she had a pair of shoes. Never mind that they were Sunday dress shoes, at least they were a pair. So she put on her dress shoes with her nurse’s uniform.

It was then she had the thought,

“What good is one shoe?”

So she took the Clark’s shoe she still had, walked back over to the sewer and flung it down with the first one. She told me she figured if someone found the first one, they might find the second one too and have a nice pair of shoes!

I’m not sure I know anyone else in the world that would have thought of that in that moment, but I am so glad to know her.

The Bible teaches us that faith without works is dead. This doesn’t mean that we are saved by our good works. No, that saving business is all Jesus. But good works are just a natural byproduct of a living, healthy and active faith relationship with Him. They don’t make Him love us more, they just make the relationship sweeter.

Just as one shoe is no good to anyone without the other shoe, so is faith without good works no good. The reverse is similarly true. Good works are fine apart from faith, but good works apart from faith serve only the worker in the end. Of course, those who received the benefit of the work are served, but in the end the worker gets the satisfaction of having done something, and so that part of him that desires affirmation gets a good stroke.

When good works are paired with faith, or come as a result of faith, it is God who is ultimately served. “Whenever you have served the least of these, you served me.” Matthew 25:40

For those of us in Alabama, as we live in the aftermath of last week’s tornados, we have a real opportunity to pair faith with good works to help our neighbors. No one should be excused from helping. We can all pray for those hurting. We can give what money we can to help the needy. We can add a few extra things to our grocery cart for those in need and drop them buy a donation center. We can go to work sites in communities hardest hit and help sift through the rubble and clear it away.

Hold a hand, dry a tear, give a hug. Share Jesus. We can do that.

What Fasting Isn’t

Number one. Fasting isn’t weird. Although for most of my life growing up, I thought it was… if I ever thought of it at all… which I didn’t very much. The mainline traditional church setting I grew up in chose to ignore the practice for the most part. I did a search to see how many references there are in scriptures to fasting. I found in the neighborhood of 34, give or take. That’s kind of a lot of scriptures to overlook.

I do seem to remember the season of Lent that came around each spring leading up to Easter. There was some talk from time to time about “giving something up for Lent”, but not so much talk about why or the benefits of giving stuff up. I don’t recall it ever being suggested that we should fast outside of the season of Lent. It was just never discussed at all. For the most part, I looked on people who fasted as weirdos or fanatics. I now know that I was so wrong. Fasting doesn’t make you a weirdo. I mean you might be a weirdo who fasts, but you aren’t a weirdo simply because you choose to do it.

Number two. Fasting isn’t for public display. I know lots of people who, when they fast, want everyone to know about it. Invite them to the office lunch party and see the deal they make about it in front of everyone. Hello, Mr. Super Spiritual dude. It becomes sort of a spiritual snobbery. Here’s the thing, most of the time when we seek the Lord in earnest, as we do during a fast, its kind of a private affair. Just between Him and us. Matthew, Chapter 6, actually tells us to enter into a time of fasting privately, for God, not for man. And besides, if you don’t handle it kind of on the down low, then you are unwittingly supporting “What fasting isn’t, Number One”.

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“When you fast, do not look sullen like the hypocrites, for they make their faces unattractive so that people will see them fasting. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others when you are fasting, but only to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18

Number Three. Fasting isn’t a have to. It’s a get to. I had a friend ask me recently if my church makes me fast. Well, a church that makes you do anything isn’t a church. That’s a cult, and you should run away really quickly. You can trust me on that one. Been there, done that. No. While the Bible does say, “When you fast” and not, “If you fast”, that’s the cool thing about Jesus. He wants us to follow Him because we want to, not because we have to. Real love is choosing, and when we choose to fast we open ourselves up to experiencing God during prayer times like we do not at other times. I am thankful for a church that taught me the blessing of a period of prayer and fasting.

Number Four. Fasting isn’t for weight loss. Some people don’t even choose to fast from food. I have friends who decide to fast social media or secular music and television. Some decide to fast from sweets or caffeine. What I have found is that it’s best to fast from something that you feel its absence in your life. I mean, I could fast Brussels sprouts, but then I never eat them (yuck), so I wouldn’t really feel the impact of fasting those. When we choose to fast from food, a pleasant byproduct might be some weight loss, but, we all know, if we add those foods back in after the fast, that weight will tend to show back up.

Number Five. Fasting isn’t a time for wimpy prayers. The Bible tells us that we have not, because we ask not. When we enter into a time of sincere, earnest prayer and fasting, we need to bring our A game. Do we need to see real life change in someone we love? Do we need a door of opportunity to open? An illness healed? An obstacle moved? A plan for moving forward? Do we need the strength to take that next step in our relationship with Him? To trust Him for real? To finally give Him that thing we keep holding onto? To finally give up the struggle of doing things under our own might? This is a time to leave nothing on the table, unasked.

Sunday, I will join thousands of other believers in a twenty-one day period of prayer and fasting. I am so ready and so looking forward to it. It’s hard, for sure. Really hard. I’m not so much the type to deny myself much, but when I do, I make room for God to speak and move in my life unlike other times. My head clears, my heart listens, and God speaks more loudly and more clearly, or at least I am positioned to hear from Him better. It’s truly a great way to start a new year. I can’t think of a better way to show the Lord that my 2017 belongs to Him to do what He will in my life and in the lives of those who matter the most to me, than by a time of prayer and fasting.

“Yet even now,” the Lord says, “return to me with all your heart – with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Tear your hearts, not just your garments!” Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and boundless in loyal love – often relenting from calamitous punishment. Who knows? Perhaps he will be compassionate and grant a reprieve, and leave blessing in his wake – a meal offering and a drink offering for you to offer to the Lord your God! Blow the trumpet in Zion. Announce a holy fast; proclaim a sacred assembly! Joel 2:12-15

We Are Family

It was finally the day. You know what I mean. It’s that thing you say you’re going to get to, but it never seems to be the day to do it? Well, it was finally the day. I reworked the rogues’ gallery.

I decided a couple of years ago that I wanted a gallery of pictures of my family up on the wall where I could see it all the time. Pictures of the kids as they grew up, and of special times and people in our lives. There are pictures of the kids all together, of them separately, and of extended family. There are pictures of the kids when they were little and some of them all grown up. My husband’s mom calls it my rogues’ gallery. I find that I look at those pictures often. It is amazing that we have come so far, this little family of mine.

The next few years will bring a bit of change to our family as my kids continue to grow as young adults. I’ve probably celebrated my last Christmas with them all living under my roof. I am both sad and excited for that. Sad for me, excited for them. Getting the kids out of the house is the ultimate goal, isn’t it? I mean, that is an oversimplification of the goal, but at its very basic level, it is the goal. Still…

Anyway. (Breathe)

Those pictures on my wall represent moments in time. My kids often say, “Why do you have those pictures out? We don’t look like that anymore.” But I love remembering the moments. Our lives are made up of those moments. Moments that are gone forever, but live on in pictures and memories. I find the older I get, I am thankful for the pictures as the mind begins to misplace some of those moments.


One of my favorite photos in the gallery is one of my two oldest boys when they were young. It was taken from behind as they stand at a creek near Cades Cove in Tennessee. They are looking into the water together. I often wonder what they were talking about in that moment. Another favorite is of Evan when he was just three or four. He decided to kneel in the picture because he thought it made him look better. And then there is the one of Laura on prom day. Beautiful. And the one where Matthew is baptizing Ryan? Mercy.

I especially like the one of the four of them together goofing off when they were supposed to be looking at the camera and smiling. My real favorites are those with the four kids together. They just seem to fit together like a set. Like pieces of a puzzle, they are all so different and unique, but they fit. Like family fits. It’s kind of funny… families. They can be strong and fragile at the same time. Strong because of all those moments, fragile because they matter so much and should be handled with care.

I imagine 2017 will add many new moments for our family. Some will be joyful and fun, some sad or disappointing. There will be adventures, trials, and triumphs. We will string those moments together, and add them to all the rest. Some of them will likely end up in the rogues’ gallery next time I get around to updating it.

I’m guessing you have a gallery of your own. Maybe it’s not on your wall, but I bet you have a gallery of people and moments that matter to you. It is the people in my rogues’ gallery that matter the most to me. They make me laugh the loudest and cry the hardest. When I boil everything else down to what matters the most, it’s right there on that wall. That’s just the way it is. We are family.

Happy People Hum

According to Psychology Today, humming can have positive effects on us. Are you sad right now? Feeling a little bit of those post-Christmas blues? Hum your favorite song for about 20 seconds… go ahead… I’ll wait.

Feeling better? 

Here’s the thing. While studies have shown that humming does make us happier, and some say physically healthier, the reverse is true as well. Happy people hum… and whistle, and sing. Humming also makes us feel safer. Ever hum your way to your car in a dark parking garage? Me, too.

This coming February will make a year that my Aunt Jean has been here in Birmingham at an assisted living facility. Her husband died a couple of years ago, and she was not able to live on her own due to her progressing dementia. 

My dad and I went to Virginia last February when the arrangements that had been made for her care were not all they were supposed to be. What I found when we arrived was a shell of the woman I had known growing up. She was weak, frail, confused and disoriented. Down to about 85 pounds, she was so fragile.

It was hard for me to see her in that state. I had always known her to be a strong woman, full of life and faith, and mentally strong. It took me a few days to come to grips with the woman I saw before me. The aunt I had known loved to laugh and make jokes. She loved to talk about Jesus and teach others about Him. 

Her life had been one with many challenges and hardships, but she trusted fully in the Lord to take care of her. I looked forward to talking with her again about Him, but I couldn’t seem to get her to do that. All the knowledge of scriptures, and of her relationship with Him, seemed to be locked away in there somewhere. What wasn’t locked away was her humor. She still made jokes, even if they didn’t quite make sense to anyone but her.

And she still winked. Winking has always been her thing, too. As far back as I can remember, my aunt would wink at me, and I would wink back. Even at large family gatherings, she would look at me from across the room, catch my eye, and wink at me. It always made me feel special. Standing at the foot of her hospital bed last year, she looked up at me, smiled at me, and winked. I almost cried.

My dad insisted that we bring Aunt Jean to his house this year for Christmas. I was skeptical. Taking her out of her routine at the assisted living residence always seems to mess with her mind a bit. I wasn’t sure the benefit of bringing her would outweigh the consequences for her. I was wrong. It happens sometimes.

I went early to help her get ready for the day. When I arrived, I wheeled her into the bathroom, and began to work on her hair… while she directed me. Jean was a long time beautician, and apparently still knows a thing or two about styling hair. I used to love to watch her fix hair… and listen to her fix it. You see, Jean was always a hummer. Always. She hummed when she fixed hair, cooked food, shopped, cleaned house… all the time. She never hummed any real song, at least not that I could tell. It was her own tune. I realized as I finished her hair, I had not heard her hum since moving her here.

When we arrived at my parent’s house, she was shocked to “meet” my husband and children. She had forgotten I was married, and even more surprised to see I have four grown kids. It surprises me, too, sometimes!

We fully expected Jean to tire out quickly, and had planned to take her back to the residence right after lunch. But when dad asked her if she was ready to go home, she said, “No. I’m not ready!” She was having a blast and enjoying all the noise and laughter.

When things started winding down, I asked my son, Ryan, to help my dad take Jean home. When he got back, I asked how it went. He said she kept thanking him for taking her home. 

When they got her safely back into her room, she said to them, “I wish I wasn’t missin’ you, I wish I was see’n you instead. But it’ll happen again.” Dementia has stolen so much from her mind, but not from her heart.

And then he said this, “And she hummed the whole way back. Like, the whole way.” He said it was not a song he could identify, but it lasted the whole way there.

He had no idea what a gift that was to me.

 

If You Do What You’ve Always Done

Henry Ford once said, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” Or was it Tony Robbins, or Mark Twain? I’m not sure exactly who said it. Maybe they all did. And now I have, too. The point is solid no matter who said it.

So many of us want to see real change in our lives, but we don’t seem to get the point that if we are ever going to see that change, we have to actually make changes to our lives. How often do we sit around, bemoaning our lives, wishing everyone else would change? If he would just do this… If she would just stop saying that… If they would only be different… THEN my life would be better.

I think we say those things or think those thoughts far more often than we consider the changes we could make in our own lives. We want different, we just don’t want to do the work of achieving that difference. We want other people to do it for us. We want to do what we have always done, and let others do all the changing.

I am beyond ready for this New Year to roll around. It’s a myth, and I know it is, but the New Year always seems to hold new and different possibilities. I mean it’s not like each new day isn’t the exact same thing, but there just seems to be something special about the newness of a new calendar year. We can wipe the slate clean, throw out the old, and bring in the new. We can say goodbye to stale, harmful habits, and work on new, healthier ones.

But here’s the problem with making change. As much as we gripe about the things we don’t like about our lives, there is a certain familiarity that breeds a sense of security from those things. New patterns, new habits, will shake things up. We might not be able to predict how things will go if we make changes. We’d almost rather continue living in our despair than risk everything for the uncertainty that change brings. How completely ridiculous is that? Pretty ridiculous.


As we learn and experience life, our brain makes physical neural thought pathways. I think that’s pretty interesting. Our repeated thoughts, and their subsequent actions, make those pathways wider and stronger. It makes sense, the roads we habitually travel the most are usually the easiest to navigate. But if we stopped going the same way we always go, that well-worn path would begin to break up, and eventually, getting down that old road would not be as easy as it once was, and the more times we decide to go down the new pathway the easier that would become. It’s the same with our brains.


Our brains, at any age, have the ability to make new pathways. We can actually rewire our own brains. I love the idea of that. Yes, old habits die hard. The patterns are literally, physically, ingrained in our brains. But with minimal effort, new pathways can form leading to new ways of thinking and behaving. We just have to be willing to go a different way. Initially, the going will be slow. As a daughter of a road builder, I know that new roadways are not built overnight. But they can be built.

Some of my old thought patterns are holding me hostage. There is more, different, and better out there for me. I’m going to leave behind some of my old pathways and I am going to build new ones this next year. I’m not going to continue to live like I have always lived. I’m not going to do what I have always done, and get what I’ve always gotten. My God wants to do more in me and through me this next year, and the only thing standing in the way is me. How about you?

“…assuming that you have heard about him and we’re taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:21-24