Archive for the ‘Hope’ Tag

Singing in the Dark   1 comment

We need good stories, stories of courage and generosity and unexpected kindness.  In this dark world, we need to share stories of endurance and empathy and reconciliation–not to falsify reality, to romanticize the present or expect fairytale endings here, but to remind us that there is some good still, some glimmer of light to warm our hearts.

Bubblewrapping ourselves with comfortable lifestyles to avoid this broken world may bring picket-fence peace, but is not living by faith.  Faith is never a denial of the bad.  The very reason we are called to live in hope is that our present is rife with heartbreak.  The tintinnabulations of good that we catch are echos of a future yet to be.  So we tell those little stories of good to recall our coming deliverance, to remind ourselves that the infinite and eternal glory of God that surrounds this dark closet of our earthly days is the far greater reality, though it only reaches us through the cracks of our prison.  Those glints of good we share with one another makes our suffering more endurable though it may not lighten our present pain.

So come let us sing to one another in the dark and encourage our hearts with hope of redemption.  God is good, and one day we will see it and feel it and breathe it, but until then let us cheer ourselves with the little sparkles of good that we daily encounter.

Of the many heart-warming stories out there, here is a good one.

Posted May 29, 2015 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Death of Hope   6 comments

As Kimberly and I walked our dogs yesterday, I shuffled through my disjointed thoughts and feelings, arranging and rearranging them, trying to sort out with her the contours of my despair.  For two weeks I have felt crushed by the racial divides in our country, but unable to speak, silenced by the angry retorts that always come.  “Why do I feel such deep despair in hearing that dissent?” I asked Kimberly.  “It’s natural to be discouraged,” I went on, “since I smart when my thoughts are rejected and I grieve for those condemned by the critical reactions.  I can see a handful of reasons to be disheartened, but my anguish is so much deeper than that and crushes me at hearing just one or two retorts.  Why do I despair?”

After an hour of trying to fit the emotional pieces together it became clear that I was suffering from the collapse of my worldview.  I have struggled for two decades with my own impotence to change the world in some small way (as I mentioned here),  but I faced that personal uselessness by clinging to a broader hope for the world–that others would bring the change I could not.  If I was not a player on the winning team, I could still cheer on the good guys from the bleachers.  This year it has slowly been dawning on me that my hope is misplaced.  My team will not save the day, we cannot save the day, we are not saviors.  In fact, we are all in as much need of a Savior as the rest of the world around us.  We are all broken.  And along with our broken world we await the day of redemption.

I don’t mean to suggest that we can bring no good to the world.  We must work to bind up our little tattered corners of society, but ultimately it is a patchwork affair, a jerry-rigging until the Great Healer comes to bring us true and full peace at last.  As grace-infused people, we do not offer a resolution on this day, but a resolve until that day, we hold up a light of hope in this dark, troubled world.  That doesn’t seem much like the “Christmas spirit” of sleigh bells, bright lights, and belly-laughing Santas, but perhaps I misunderstand the true meaning of advent hope.

“Oh, come, oh, come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lowly exile here until the Son of God appear.”  Those words rang so true to my forlorn spirit, that they brought me to tears this week, tears of heartache but also of hope: “Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”  We cling to the first advent in expectation of the second.

Posted December 11, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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Strange Feelings   7 comments

Last night as I prepped for bed, I said to myself, “This has been a good day.”  In the last twenty years I must have felt that at times, but I can’t recall any… partly because they have been rare, partly because a depressed mind easily forgets the ups.  “Why was it good?” Kimberly asked.  Nothing exceptional.  I enjoyed my walk with the dogs… and some other incidental positives I couldn’t remember.  Incidentals don’t usually change the feel of a day for me.

The things that encourage others don’t sink deep enough to change the life experience of the depressed.  We see a beautiful waterfall, earn a compliment at work, or find a love note in our lunch, but like a cold sip on a blistering day, it tantalizes without refreshing.  It is the surface waves that leave the depths unmoved.   For all of us, emotional responses are spontaneous, unchosen.  We can tweak the flow of our feelings–calm a fear or encourage gratitude to some extent–but our influence on them is limited.

It’s the unwanted emotions I’d really like to avoid, but I can’t.  We melancholics are highly sensitive to our deeper selves, so we can’t work or play or friend away our feelings.  And even if I could snub them, I wouldn’t.  I need to hear what they have to say.  Emotions are dispatches from our psyche, so killing the messenger simply cuts that line of communication to a huge, vital source of personal insight.  In fact, it is to this core place alone that real healing must come.  Good feelings are yard sticks, not hammers: you use them to measure your soul, not to fix your soul.  Like your spouse, feelings are better listened to than controlled, understood than manipulated.  Insisting on positive feelings can be a form of self abuse.

The mundane events of Saturday felt good to me, and that’s a hopeful sign.  It suggests that a much deeper good is awakening in some part of my soul.

Posted October 20, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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Don’t Bump Me, I’ve Barely Got My Balance!   2 comments

I’ve been missing lately from my blog because I’ve been mysteriously content of late, and I’m doing all I can to step gingerly and avoid jostling anything that might splash unwanted bits on my day, a very closely managed contentment!  It is like having a badly burned part of my body–my most recent bout with serious depression–that is painless as long as I don’t move, and stings a warning if I take any chances… enforced relaxation… sort of like prison… like hiding in the bushes from a stalking bear and bating my breath to avoid detection… very much like that since I don’t know when and from where a new round of aggressive depression might pounce.

A harsh word, a guilty memory, a snub, a glimpse of an unfinished project and depression gets in a quick slap.  I feel it, and I will myself to breathe deeply, relax, let it go.  At other times it is the slow, almost undetectable drips of growing emotional dis-ease, when I go two days without exercising, for instance, or I avoid dealing with a niggling problem.  I can always feel it brushing past in the dark, know that I have a very thin emotional barrier protecting me.  Perhaps the clearest evidence is that even though I don’t currently feel bad, I have very little energy to take steps to enhance my life, and pushing myself past my energy level is sure to tip over my precarious detente with depression.

Certain things seem to keep me steady–walking daily for two hours, going to work each evening, talking through stuff with Kimberly, loving on my dogs–and my hope is that over time a steady pace will yield more stability. There are hopeful signs.  I am finding some comfort in books as I have not in years, and I catch myself whistling or singing snatches of verse.  But all those gradual gains could be swallowed up overnight, without warning, and without explanation.  So for today, let me just breathe steady, walk slowly, and hope for the best.

Posted September 29, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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A Flickering Candle In A Darkening World   11 comments

I was washing dishes in the kitchen yesterday and thinking.  My mind follows me everywhere and won’t shut up.  Suddenly I felt the bottom drop out of my stomach as I reflected on a political article I had been reading.  The current state of civic engagement in America is deeply disturbing to me, but what drives the stake into my heart is the entrenched position of my own people, the church… at least that part of the church I have always called home spiritually.  It feels to me like our world is careening around hairpin turns in the dark and the headlights just died.  This is not going to end well.  And leaning against the sink with dripping hands I realized another huge source of my depression.

I have known for many years that my personal sense of failure drove me into a deep depression.  I gave it everything I had and just couldn’t make it work: the overwhelming poverty of India mocked my attempts to help.  It is a great blow to realize your life is meaningless in the greater scheme of things, that your world, even your small corner of the world, will go on as it always has with or without you.  Still, though I wasn’t making a difference, someone was making a difference.  I had lost all hope for my own personal relevance, but I knew that the good side would win.

Then I slowly realized my pointless life was not in contrast to the overall progress of the world, but was a microcosm of it.  All the good in the world–the huge, sacrificial efforts of selfless people–did not and could not ever reverse the direction of this tragic human story.  Suffering is alleviated and evil stopped in small back eddies of history, but the world as a whole flows on in its destructive ways.

At some point in my own journey I finally understood that the positive, upbeat message on which I was raised was a false narrative that we told each other to keep us fighting a losing battle.  Against all the evolutionary optimism of my culture, the world would never be a better place, and there was nothing any of us could do to change that.  One war would succeed another, today’s tyrant would rise on the ashes of yesterday’s, a new disease would always spring up to laugh in the face of all our medical advances.  We were doomed to play violins on the deck of our sinking Titanic.  I was not just a failure in my own small sphere, but my story was one line in a great tragedy. My impotence was a small, dark reminder of the miserable whole.  I was not simply hopeless about myself, I was hopeless about the entire world.

I’m not suggesting we should stop playing our violins.  If we are all going down, perhaps we can bring some small comfort to face the disaster.  But if we hope that our stringed ensemble will keep the ship from sinking, we set ourselves up for repeated disappointment, and despair at last.  We will either strum more and more violently trying to drive back the rising waves or we will pretend the ship is fine and turn a deaf ear to the cries around us.  In a crazy way I found hope in hopelessness yesterday.  Sweeping away false hope clears a space for realistic hope.

It is not useless to adopt one mangy mutt from a city full of strays, give one store clerk a smile in her long, harsh day, clarify a point for one person on a website crowded with dissenters.  It is no small thing to bring laughter to a child’s cancer ward, to give a sandwich to a man three days hungry, to hold the hand of a mother whose son was killed in Iraq.  Perhaps I cannot cure Alzheimer’s, but I can listen lovingly to the same story repeated for the fourth time.

We have violins, let us play them.

Posted April 9, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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Hope Is Brutal   2 comments

I’m on furlough over spring break and it’s been difficult.  A fixed schedule helps my depression–simple requirements at set times take much less energy to commence.  That easy on-ramp is a big plus for me because my psychological crud poisons initiative, so whatever keeps my wheels turning, even slowly, keeps me alive.  When my schedule is wide open, just making decisions increases my load.  How much energy do I have?  How much energy will it take?  What is priority? How will Kimberly feel?  How long can I put it off before it breaks or blocks up the works or breeds flies?  Procrastination is a serious survival strategy.

I could rouse myself to do something invigorating if I were sure of a pick-me-up, but more often than not I put in the work and get nothing out of it but tired.  When I use up the little energy I have and find myself no better off, I feel hopeless and helpless and powerless.  And the more I try and fail, the more lost I feel, till I give up in despair.

But against my resistance, a little hope sneaks back in, maybe because I can’t live without it or maybe because it never fully leaves in spite of our countless beatings.  It grimaces and drags me back into the ring to get pummeled again by life.  Apparently I have a masochistic addiction to hope, like battered person syndrome.  Emotional resilience against my better judgment.  Is it a blessing or curse?

Posted March 13, 2014 by janathangrace in Life

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When the Future Looks Bleak   2 comments

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“Hope for the moment. There are times when it is hard to believe in the future, when we are temporarily just not brave enough. When this happens, concentrate on the present. Cultivate le petit bonheur (the little happiness) until courage returns. Look forward to the beauty of the next moment, the next hour, the promise of a good meal, sleep, a book, a movie, the likelihood that tonight the stars will shine and tomorrow the sun will shine. Sink roots into the present until the strength grows to think about tomorrow.”

~ Ardis Whitman

Posted December 4, 2013 by janathangrace in Reading

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