Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Seashell Gifts

One sleepy morning at Summer Camp, little Libby (changed her name for safety’s sake) moped into the gym where her peers were running amuck, expending energy at an astounding rate (the morning may have been sleepy for me, but kids actually don’t get sleepy: they are either happy and hyper or they are angry and hungry). The moment I saw Libby’s face I knew that something was not right in her world that morning. I motioned her close so I could search out the source of this precious girl’s problems.  As Libby drew near I watched her bite her bottom lip and look down, down, down at her light-up Velcro princess shoes.

 Alarmed by the dejected expression on this normally smiley face, I motioned for Libby to join me on the gym floor. As she sat I asked her what was the matter. She bit her lip again and swallowed hard, answering in a soft voice, “I want the shell.” I brushed a twist of Rapunzel blonde hair from her forehead and asked, “What shell, sweetie?” “The shell Jordan has- the one from vacation. It’s really cool and he has it with him.” Trying to follow, I asked if the shell belonged to her brother, Jordan. She nodded, biting her lip even yet.  “So it’s Jordan’s shell, but you want it?” More nodding and lip-biting. Though it was not hers, Libby desperately wanted this shell. In that moment the facts ceased to matter; I was suddenly overwhelmed with compassion for this little beauty. The fact that I was low on sleep and coffee was entirely forgotten. The fact that Libby was probably wrong to be so jealous of her brother’s shell was of no consequence. The fact that the shell was just a shell became a ridiculous idea: the shell was everything to Libby right then. Wanting more than anything to see her smile again (I’m telling you, that girl could light up a whole city block.), I problem-solved at lightning speed: “Hey, what if I brought you a different seashell from my house? One that I got from a beach in Ireland? What would you think of that? Would that be pretty cool?” The lip-biting stopped, she lifted her head a little, and I saw the faintest glow of a smile. And then I saw a nod. I was ecstatic. Smiling my face off, I told Libby I would retrieve her shell on my lunch break. She nodded and smiled a little more and scuttled off to join the pack.

After she’d gone, I thought about whether I really did want to give up that seashell. I thought about how special my Ireland seashells are to me, about the treasured memories they represent, about how I only have so many of those shells. But then I recalled the sight of Libby’s sorrow giving way to joy at my seashell suggestion. I thought about how I had plenty of other Ireland shells, plenty of memories. She wasn’t really asking for a lot. And it would be easy for me to give her what she so deeply desired. So when my lunch break came, I raced home to pick out just the right shell for Miss Libby. I picked up a small, but very pretty shell and placed it in a snack baggie with a note that said, “For Libby, From Kelsey. Shell from Ireland.” I wanted everyone who saw Libby’s shell to know that it was from Ireland, that it was special and that she was loved.

Driving back to work after my short break, I was surprised by how excited I felt over presenting Libby with this seashell. It seemed so silly. But then it hit me: God the Father must feel this way about us.  I was reminded of the “ask, seek, knock” passage in Matthew 7:
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

So if I, a grumpy, sleepy, selfish, caffeine-deprived camp counselor can give an undeserved gift to a camper, our heavenly Father can give and wants to give infinitely more abundantly. He has infinitely more resources and infinitely more compassion. We only need to trust this and look to him to provide. God has already sacrificed his Son so that we might have life. Surely we can trust his goodness in the little things. Romans 8:32 puts it this way,
32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 
If we believe that God loves us as much as the Scriptures say he does, why would we not trust that our Father deeply desires to dote upon us, his children. He wants us to have his seashells. He wants to help us. He gets excited about it. Jeremiah 32:40-41 says,
40 I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. 41 I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.
For me, meditating upon this truth changes the way I relate to God. When I've forgotten God's goodness,  I feel dry. I strive to finish every race by my own strength and I become exhausted quickly. When I am reminded of God's goodness and love, my confidence is renewed and I turn to God for help more often, instead of trying to do everything on my own. When I remember that God gets excited about giving me good gifts, like seashells, I am more apt to trust him with all aspects of my life. I know him as loving Father, not stingy King. I delight in his goodness and seek to give to others what I have been given.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Outgrowing Hope Part II: the problem with Santa Claus...and other musings about false hope

So in my last post I wrote a little bit about the significance of hope and about our senseless tendency  to outgrow it the way we outgrow nightlights or stuffed animals (For the record, I’ve only outgrown one of these two.).  I endorsed wild, childlike hope. Today I write about setting that wild hope in the right place and about the dangers of setting our hope in the wrong place.   

Let me refer to my last post again. Remember how I said that we’re programmed to hope? I think that everybody hopes in something. Notice I did not say “hopes for something.” You can hope for a short line at Starbucks or for sunshine on your day off: you’ll either get your wish…or you won’t.  But you hope in Christ, in material possessions, in your relationship status, etc. This hoping in (as opposed to hoping for) is a part of your identity; it dictates how you live. For example, if your hope is in possessions, you live to acquire. If your hope is in Christ, you live to love. If your hope is in your relationship status, you might live to be loved, or to be independent and unattached (depending on the desired status), at all costs.  Really, this world offers us an abundance of places to set our hope.  However, each of these, but for Christ, is unsafe and only damages a childlike hope.

Bear with me for this illustration: Santa Claus. *Permission to roll eyes granted* When I was small, my calendar year revolved around Christmas Day and my sense of morality was grounded in the naughty and nice lists. When I was told just days before my eighth Christmas that Santa was a myth, that my loving parents were the ones responsible for the piles of packages under the pine tree, I was rocked. I know this sounds melodramatic, however at the time it seemed that my entire worldview had toppled. I remember timidly sitting down on my mother’s side of the bed that evening and, with a knot in my stomach and a voice softer than my usual, asking if it was true that Santa was not real. In one short sentence, my hopes for Christmas morning were gone.  Oh I would still receive presents, but the magic was no more. The excitement, the anticipation, the thrill had disappeared with my mother’s truthful answer. I recall that particular Christmas morning being tough. What was the point, after all? Yes, I got the doll house I’d wanted. But I got it because my parents saw me circle it with a yellow highlighter in the catalog and not because Santa Claus just knew.

It took me a couple Santa-less Christmases before I could appreciate the holiday the way I had before. As I grew older and learned more about why Christmas is really worth celebrating, as my hopes shifted from Santa Claus to Immanuel, I became convinced that the lie of Santa, the hollow hope I’d clung to, had been damaging. It had shaken my faith in my parents firstly, but it had also left some part of me wondering if any hope at all was safe. If Santa’s not real...what else? Well turns out, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny, for starters.

As I continued growing, I placed my hopes in other unsafe places, like in the approval of boys. I repeatedly found my joy and my identity in winning affirmation from the opposite sex. But like all false hopes, these tumbled again and again. After each disappointing relationship I asked myself the same question I’d asked as a young child: Is any hope safe?  If his love wasn’t real…what else? For a few years I was caught in a cycle: receiving and hoping in affection from a boy, seeing this affection prove false or fleeting, then experiencing deep disappointment…and then repeating it all out of desperate longing to see hope win. I’d say it was only about a year and a half ago, if I’m being perfectly honest, that I began to realize where my misplaced hopes really belonged.

While I was studying abroad in Ireland in the spring of 2012, one of my classmates had anonymously slipped a brief note into my mailbox. A few encouraging words were scrawled across a piece of torn-out notebook paper and the last lines read “keep seeking. Memorize- Romans 5:5.” I grabbed my Bible and thumbed over the silvery pages until I found the passage, which read:
And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
There, sitting on the porch outside the kitchen door, gazing up at those green hills tumbling into the Irish Sea, something changed for me. A hope that doesn’t disappoint. The Holy Spirit whispered to me, “this is what you’ve been looking for. Right here. This is it.” And there was joy of the purest kind, the joy of a soul who is finally through playing hide and seek.  No more empty closets or bathtubs, as she finds herself face to face with the One for whom she’s been searching. I saw in a fresh way how silly I had been to place my hope, my identity in anyone besides my loving Savior, the Redeemer of my soul. I smiled.

This is where we are to put our wild, childlike hope- in Christ Jesus. When we place our hope in people or things other than Christ, we will eventually know bitter disappointment. But when our hope is in Jesus, we can face disappointing circumstances without being crushed. We can face ugly situations without being destroyed. We can know joy deep in our souls in even the grimmest of conditions, because we have a hope that does not disappoint. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Outgrowing Hope

Hope (noun): 1. the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best. 2. a person or thing in which expectations are centered (
Working morning shifts at camp, greeting parents and children as they arrive, I’ve noticed that typically kids don’t come in the door talking about all the bad things happening in their lives or all the bad things that could happen that day.  Instead what I hear is, “I really hope we’re swimming today,” or, “do we get to go to the game room today?” I love hearing, “do you know what??? My cousins are coming tonight from Wisconsin and I get to spend a whole week with them (and etcetera),” and then watching a child spend her whole day in light of that knowledge, that hope.  Everything that transpires that day will be filtered through the lens of the cousins’ imminent arrival. The good events of the day are very good, and the less fortunate events are only small, and possibly necessary, hindrances on her way to seeing her cousins.

I’ve also noticed that the younger the child, the greater her hopes for the day. The kindergarten kids skip into camp spewing optimism, while the 7th graders (who complain much more frequently than their younger counterparts) seem to make it a goal not to get too excited about anything.  I even find myself gulping down my enthusiasm surrounding the day’s filed trip or art project. I feel embarrassed to let people see my excitement, see what I’m counting on, see what I’ve set my hopes on. I have to be an adult. Hm. How is it that we outgrow hope, outgrow even optimism sometimes? Why does it seem that the older we get, the less we expect out of our days and the less we live in light of the good things to come? We commence our Mondays looking forward, basically, to Friday. We work, we leave, we get paid. I don’t know about you, but I’m just not satisfied with that.

I think that we might just be wired to hope. Without hope to drive and comfort us, we at best live mundane and muted lives. At worst we experience deep depression.
And maybe you’re thinking right now that you don’t have a lot to look forward to. Maybe your life is just sort of boring. 1) I’m not buying it. I’m guessing you probably just need to find things to hope in and/or get brave enough to actually let yourself hope. 2) If you’re a Christ-follower, you’re really without excuse for living plainly and hopelessly. We have a certain hope.  We have the Hope. Remember Hebrews 6:19-20?
19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priestforever, in the order of Melchizedek. 
And Romans 5:1-5?
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings,because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
 So, no big deal, we just have access to the throne of God through faith in Jesus’s sacrifice and have the Holy Spirit living within us. I think that calls for some wild hope, some lovely and joyous childlike hope.

P.S. When my mind is too crowded and noisy with my grown-up worries to hear hope’s quiet refrain, one of my favorite verses to turn to is Psalm 42:11. “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”   

Saturday, June 15, 2013

No, Love

Today while watching a riveting little film called Beverly Hills Chihuahuas 2 (that’s right everyone, get to your Netflix account right now.  This is a quality movie.) with the whole of the camp squad, my little buddy-let’s call him Casey (for safety’s sake)-snuck up on me.  He gave me a customary hug, wrapping his arms around my legs.  Then he stood on his tiptoes and threw his head back and declared brazenly, “I love you.” 

Let me back up a bit: This is not unusual for Casey.  Last year, his first year at camp, Casey and I bonded.  He was having trouble adjusting to life with forty children and his introvert flag was flying high. Being an introvert myself, I picked up what he was putting down. I got him. I spoke his language to him. And then we were friends. Casey took my hand every chance he saw.  He would crawl through an entire hoard of crisscross-applesauce kids to find my lap. I comforted him when he cried and was gentle but firm with him when he misbehaved.  He noticed everything about me it seemed, from the fading bruises on my arms to the slightly prickly hair on my legs.  He regularly told me that he loved me. We were pals. We undeniably had ups and downs, but leaving him at the end of the summer was sad.  Needless to say, I am elated that he is back at camp and is much more adjusted to the atmosphere here.

Okay where was I?  Right. So Casey told me, “I love you.” What do you think I said back to this little guy?  I said, “Aw I like you too, buddy.”  He replied, taking my hand, “No, love.”  Ouch. Ow. Somehow, standing right there in the middle of a group of campers entranced by an oversized litter of rat-dogs dressed in tutus, I was cut.  Casey’s response had instantly convicted me.  Why had I said that?  Why had I used the word like? He had said that he loved me.  Even a kindergartner knows that like and love are not the same.  It was too late for me to edit my response however: Casey had already scampered back to his seat on the floor. 

The more I thought about it the more I wished I had responded differently. Why couldn’t I have just told him that I love him too?  I do, don’t I?  Yes. Unquestionably.  I would do anything for that kid.  So why couldn’t I have just told him that?  


Ohmygosh I am afraid of everything.  Even the most beautiful pieces of human existence.  I was afraid to tell Casey that I love him for a few reasons, one of these being that I was unsure whether responding with an "I love you too" could be considered "inappropriate."  More deep-seated was a fear of growing attached to Casey to the point that I might miss him when I leave. I wanted to keep my distance while Casey wanted unconditional affirmation.  I was afraid of expressing my love because I didn't know if it was the "correct" thing to say.

But how silly is this?  It’s silly!  This is what we are made for, is it not? To feel deeply toward another human being, to the point of selflessness?  Our love for others should not be limited by any kind of fear; we ought to love boldly, maybe like Casey, definitely like Christ.  1 John 4:11-18 says, 
11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
The measure of audacity with which we love reveals the extent to which we know the love of the Father.  And when we're unsure of our capacity to love like this, we can draw confidence from passages like Romans  8:15-17.
15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
If we truly have life through the Spirit, as Romans 8 describes, then we can be confident in our capacity, through the Holy Spirit within us, to love fearlessly, to do what we were made to do.

I recognize that this story about Casey's expression of love is not the most dramatic or the most perfect example of what Christ's love looks like practically.  But that's not why I'm sharing it. I'm sharing it because this experience unexpectedly exposed my hesitation-nope, fear-to love as Christ loves.
So what am I going to do about it?  Basically not fear. For starters, you can bet that the next time Casey reminds me that he loves me, I'll reply, "I love you too."