Monday, November 12, 2018

When you called her Hope

Six years ago I walked alongside some of my dearest friends (and providentially nearest neighbors) as they navigated the unique path of delivering their baby only to bury her.  When my friend went in for her 20 week sonogram to find out their baby's gender she heard the surprising and painful words "incompatible with life." As they grieved the imminent loss of their daughter, and for my friend what felt like the loss of her future family, we were doing our best to encourage them, comfort them, speak truth in love to them, and yet give them space to hurt.  We knew we couldn’t understand their pain. To feel the beautiful torture of butterflies, kicks, hiccups, knowing they were fleeting... 

I still don’t ever know what to say.

It has been six years, but every year at this time I fumble through my options. Send a card? Text “Thinking of you today”? Maybe you just don’t want me to say anything. What if you just want everyone to leave you alone?

But the truth is I am thinking of you.  I’m thinking of her.  Every November 13 I pray extra that God will comfort your family and multiply your joy.

I remember seeing your name come up on my text, and I ignored it because I was having coffee with a friend.  As soon as she left I checked to see what witty way you'd reveal the gender. But my heart stopped.  My hands were cold. Why did I ignore this text? How long have you been over there in your apartment crying by yourself? That was one of the saddest hugs I’ve ever given a friend.  I remember weeping to my husband that night and, for the first time in my life, sincerely pleading for Jesus to come back.  It hurt to know how, just down the hall, your world was so shaken— so broken.

But I also remember the day you both walked into our apartment and told us you had settled on a name. “We’re naming her Hope.”

Leave it to you two to take this utterly hopeless situation (the sonographer and doctor made that painfully clear) and to label it “Hope.” But it wasn’t denial.  It wasn’t wishful thinking.  It wasn’t just a pretty name.  It was a declaration – in this utterly hopeless situation there is Hope.

And here I am, six years later, thinking through how to say I still care and still love you and still wish I could be her “Aunt Abby” and fumbling back through my options…and it hits me.  What I really want to tell you is thank you.  Thank you for naming her Hope. Thank you for staring down the darkest, loneliest, most terrifying path that was laid before you and walking into it under the light of hope. I’m in awe that you looked at that seemingly hopeless situation and said “I know this is redeemable. If not now, then in eternity.” But that’s what you saw.  You saw beyond the pain of the now.  You saw that beauty and reality of the future that is promised to us. That one day all of this – all of us – will be made new. 

1 Corinthians 15:19 says “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” I’ll bet some people heard your story and then heard her name and thought it didn’t make sense. Or maybe that you were a Christian nut praying for a miracle. Or possibly even that you knew one day she’d be one of you guardian angels.  “Sweet, but pitiful.”

But we knew what you were saying – that you believe what has been promised. You were clinging to the assurance that “the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” It was your testimony that even death had lost its sting because of what Christ had done.  In no way am I saying that losing Hope wasn’t or shouldn’t have been one of the most painful experiences a person can go through. But when a Christian hopes, it’s because we believe that the deepest, heaviest, most painful burdens we carry in life will seem like “light and momentary troubles” when we cross to eternity. We are sure of what we hope for, certain of what we do not see, and confident that God is making all things new.   And by naming her Hope, you handed that to the world.  With tear-stained faces and an enormous belly, you called her Hope.

And friends, this world needs that hope. 

Honestly, I needed that hope. The next six years laid a number of painfully dark, lonely, terrifying paths in front of me.  And as I stared into the blackness ahead of me, your family stood at the far end of the tunnel holding up your light of Hope, encouraging me forward. On my darkest days, in my loneliest moments, I repeated often “Even if this lasts until the day I die, this won’t last forever.” I clung to it. Why? Because of hope.  Because I know there’s more coming.  There’s purpose, there’s redemption, and this broken beaten world and my broken beaten self are going to be made new.

I’m so thankful for the testimony of your family.  I’m blessed to witness her short and precious life that has reminded me of deep truths on dark days. It is such a privilege to walk the road with the broken faithful, and to call you our friends.   

I love you guys.  I’m thinking of you.  Thank you for sharing your life and your Hope with me.

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.  For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.  According to the Lord's word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.  Therefore encourage one another with these words.
                                                                                            ~1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

"He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."
                                                                                            ~Revelation 21:4-5

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

50¢ Worth of Gold

This is 50

– pennies, in this case.  I took them from my kids’ piggy banks.  I had to, because I no longer have pennies in my life.  Somewhere around college they became heavy and cumbersome, something to be dealt with rather than valued.  But to a child, every penny is a treasure.  You put 50 of them in a pile, and whoa, it’s like the Cave of Wonders in Aladdin.

This is 50

Image may contain: 2 people, including Beverly Bethay Wauer, people smiling, people standing and outdoor
 – years, in this case. These two amazing people have been married for 50 years. They’ve had multiple homes, multiple children, multiple careers… as well as innumerable sorrows, immeasurable fears, unrelenting stressors. Together they have found faith,  held sick children, and grieved the loss of parents. They have coached and educated, taught Bible lessons and refereed (on the court and in the living room).  They have held their own sick adult children. They have loved, wept, danced, prayed, and boy have they laughed together throughout their years.

Just like the pennies, some of their years were bright and shiny.  Some were dark.  Some old ones still stand out (maybe even more so because of their age), and some are dull and don’t really elicit a second glance. Some years were hard-earned, and I’m guessing there were a few that were so hard it didn’t feel like the “one cent” reward was worth the effort.  But some came with ease and giggles of delight.

Mom and Dad, I know that 50 years has been a long journey, and at the same time has flown by.   That’s how life is.  I’m sure you look at the pictures of your wedding and one side of your brain sighs and says, “it feels just like yesterday” while the other side says, “were we ever really that young?” Year after year, penny after penny, you kept adding to your pile.  Maybe you didn’t even know that’s what you were doing, but every September 28, you added a new one – shiny or dark, worn or fresh, dirty or clean, hard-earned or gifted, you kept faithfully adding to your pile.

Since I’ve put these pennies on the counter they have been oohed and aahed over, counted, sorted by years, recounted, inspected, carried, recounted… There’s something magnetic about a pile of pennies – something that beckons their admiration and awe. It’s just too much richness for grubby fingers to pass by.

Can I tell you something? Having this pile of 50 years sitting in front of me is like standing in the Cave of Wonders.  I’m overwhelmed by the treasure in front of me.

To a child, every penny is a treasure.  To your child, every year is like gold.  What a treasure your marriage is to me.

Image may contain: 26 people, including Nate Hoff, Abby 'Wauer' Hoff, Beverly Bethay Wauer, Sarah St André and Benjamin Wauer, people smiling, people standing, wedding, tree, outdoor and nature

Other people might not recognize it.  Actually, you might not even see it, but when this group of people sees your 50 years in front of us...yeah, all we see is a heaping pile of gold. Kids know a treasure when they see it.

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Thrill of Hope, Part 2

Back in high school a friend pondered a question aloud that had never occurred to me: Why do Christians celebrate Christmas so big? Her premise was not so much a negative reaction to Christmas, but that as believers, she reasoned, shouldn't our focus be primarily on Easter?  "When I have a family I'm going to send Easter cards and Easter presents."  As Christians who have been saved only by the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ and His resurrection from the dead, shouldn't our attention be on celebrating that?

I absolutely agree, Easter should be made much of - much more of than it often is, if you ask me - but something gnawed on me about the question.  "Why do Christians celebrate Christmas so big?" For 20 years I've been mulling it over, and for 20 years the Holy Spirit has been leading me to an understanding: it's all about redemption. The climax of the story is the cross, but the story of redemption started long before that. 


A Thrill of Hope, Part 1


A Thrill of Hope, Part 2

God promised: He is coming. God promised: He is coming. God promised: He is coming.  And they waited, and they waited, and they waited.  And if you have ever waited for something that was promised to you, you know that in the waiting comes excitement, anticipation, hope, desire… But as time goes on and the waiting continues new feelings creep in: fear, doubt, wonder, confusion, anger, worry, frustration, discouragement...

What if I misunderstood? What if He couldn't do what He thought He could do? What if God just lied?

And they knew they needed it.  Adam and Eve knew from the very moment they chose sin that they had no hope without this promise. And as the generations came and went they knew more and more that without this One that God promised He would send to redeem them, they were hopeless.  And they longed for that promise to be fulfilled.  They were desperate to know that what they were believing was true - that they did have a hope because God did actually have a plan to redeem them.

And they waited, and they waited.

And then God was silent.  For 400 years He did not remind them of His promise.  For 400 years there was no encouragement of "He is coming." And for 400 years they wondered if He would still send the One He had promised in the beginning to redeem, renew, and revive what they broke.  It was their only hope.

And they waited, and they waited.

It is in that quiet, lonely longing that we find some shepherds in a field. The night is quiet. The night is normal. The night is dark in every way.  And we've heard this story so many times, too many times, because I think we're able to read it without being astonished at what happens.  So let's slow it down and try to soak in what these shepherds heard and saw, keeping in mind that they have waited and waited and waited for God to keep His promise.  Try to push out of your mind Linus' voice, and any Christmas pageant you were in as a child, and forget the phrase "sore afraid".  Try to hear it as one who has been waiting your entire life for these exact words.  And remember, these shepherds have never read Luke chapters 1 and 2.  They don't know about Mary and Joseph, about the angel's visits or that the census has brought this expectant couple just down the street.  They have maybe heard about Zechariah's vision (because finally someone had heard from God!).

Read this as a weary shepherd in a deeply longing world.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  And the angel said to them, “Don't be afraid, for I bring you good news.  News of great joy that will be for all people.  For unto you… is born this day in the city of David a Savior, and he is the Promised One.

He is here. He. is. HERE.

If you have ever been on the receiving end of a promise fulfilled you know how that news affects you.   You know what it stirs inside of you.  I think back to my engagement, how with each word Nate said my face got a little more flush, my heart pounded harder, and I couldn't even hear the words any more because my ears were muffled and people's faces got blurry.  Why? It wasn't because of the restaurant he chose, or the ring he bought, or the words he said (because I didn't hear any of them).  It was because I knew what it all meant.  I knew what was happening, and I knew what was coming after that. I was THRILLED.  He was giving me what I longed for.

Did you see how many promises were fulfilled in that one statement from the angel?
"I bring you good news that will bring joy to all people" as God promised Abraham.
"I bring you good news that a child has been born to you" as God promised Isaiah.
"I bring you good news that He is in Bethlehem, the city of David" exactly as God promised He would be.
There was no more "He is coming, he is coming, he is coming."  He is here. God promised and He did it!

They were hearing exactly what they had longed to hear - exactly what their parents had longed to hear.  And their grandparents.  And their great great great great grandparents. And every generation all the way back to Adam and Eve.  "He has come. He is near. Go and see!" And they did.  They left immediately to find him and see if it was all true.  And when they saw everything exactly as they had been told they would they knew what it all meant.  They knew what was happening, and what was coming.  They were THRILLED.  God was giving them what they longed for. And they spread the news and sang and rejoiced and praised God because He promised, and He did it.

So back to the question of why Christians celebrate Christmas so big when our salvation hinges on the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is true Jesus' death on the cross paid the penalty that we could not pay to give us a righteousness that we could not earn, but redemption did not begin there.  And it is true that the resurrection of Jesus defeated death and made a way for us to live forever with the God of creation, but redemption did not begin there.  Redemption began when the virgin conceived and gave birth to Emmanuel.

God made a lot of promises about the One he would send to redeem this broken world - about how he would be born, how he would live, how he would die, what would happen after that -  and every one of those promises He kept in the person of Jesus.  If even one of those prophecies had been unfulfilled or even just a little bit inaccurate His death on the cross would have been insufficient because either Jesus was not the One God had promised or God was a liar about who the Messiah would be. But because Jesus accomplished everything God promised that the Messiah would accomplish, we can be sure that God is true and that what Christ has done is fully sufficient for us. God proved that every promise He makes He keeps.  He faithfully did what He said He would do in the past and He can be trusted to do what He has promised for the future.  He is completely trustworthy and completely sufficient.

And it all started when the virgin gave birth in Bethlehem to the hope of all mankind, the son of David, the son of Abraham, the son of Adam and Eve, and the son of God.  We celebrate Christmas so big because that is when redemption began.

That was their thrill of hope.  Jesus Christ came to redeem what was broken. God promised, and He did it.

And friends, that really should still thrill us, too.

O holy night,
the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear savior's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
'Til he appeared, and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees.
O hear the angel voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A Thrill of Hope, Part 1

Reader 1: In the beginning, the world was perfect. We were perfect.  There was no need for hope, because there was nothing to hope FOR.  Life was full.  Completely, perfectly full. Mankind walked with God in the cool of the day.

But sin - sin was an option, man and woman made their choice, and that which was perfect became broken.  Now there was a need, and God graciously promised to send One in which humanity could hope. One who would redeem, renew, revive that which was broken.  To the serpent He said:

Reader 2: 
“I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”

Reader 1: God promised: He is coming.

Reader 1: Generations passed.  Adam lived, and he died.  Abel lived, and he died. Seth lived, and he died. Enoch, Methuseleh, Noah…they all lived. And they all died.  Fathers lived and fathers died.  No man was the One that God had promised. 

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (violin)

Then God chose a man named Abram.  A man who was not a father.  A man who was beyond the age of child-bearing.  And again He promised.  He told Abram that through him He would keep the promise He made in the beginning - One who would redeem, renew, and revive that which was broken. To Abram He said:
Reader 2: 
…all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.

Reader 1: God promised: He is coming.
Reader 1: Abraham. Isaac. Jacob.  They all received the promise.  
Reader 2: He is coming. 
Reader 1: They told their children- 
Reader 2: He is coming.
Reader 1: Their grandchildren believed-
Reader 2: He is coming.
Reader 1: Moses, Joshua...
Reader 2: Decades came and went. 
Reader 1: Deborah, Gideon, Samuel...
Reader 2: Centuries passed. Thousands of years…
Reader 1: Years of thriving, worship, and rejoicing!
Reader 2: But he did not come. 
Reader 1: Years of famine, suffering, and oppression…
Reader 2: Still, he did not come.
Reader 1: But they heard, they believed, and they waited for what God promised. 
Readers 1 & 2: He is coming.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (violin)

Reader 1: David - a man after God's own heart - became king, and to him God extended His promise.   To David He said:
Reader 2: Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.
Reader 1: David, the youngest son of Jesse, would have a kingdom and throne that would last forever.    And from his tiny, insignificant town would come the eternal King.
Reader 2: 
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.”

Reader 1: From the little town of Bethlehem God would send the One who would redeem, renew, and revive that which was broken.  
But David died.  Solomon died. And the nation of Israel was divided in two.  Idolatry, murder, wickedness and war defined the nations of Israel and Judah.   But still, God promised: He is coming.  To Isaiah He said:
Reader 2: The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Reader 1: Emmanuel: God with us. Born of a virgin. Sent by God.  Again, to Isaiah He promised:

Reader 2: For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.

Reader 1: A child. A counselor. God, Father, Prince, and King. A man of strength and peace. Just and righteous forevermore. God promised:

Readers 1 & 2: He is coming.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (violin)

[10-15 second pause]

Reader 1: Then God was quiet.  No more visions.  No more prophecies.  Silence.  For 400 years God remained quiet.  
One to crush the serpent's head? 
Reader 2: He is coming.
Reader 1: One to bless the nations? 
Reader 2: He is coming.
Reader 1: Born of a virgin? Bringing peace? God…with us
Reader 2: He is coming.
Reader 1: Bethlehem is small and weak. 
Reader 2: He is coming.

Reader 1: They heard. They believed. They waited.  
Readers 1 & 2: He is coming.

Reader 1: Then God broke his silence.  Zechariah had a vision, and his barren wife felt a life inside her.

Reader 2: He is coming?  
Reader 1: He is coming. 

Reader 1: An angel visited a young girl - a virgin - and told her she had been chosen.  She would carry Emmanuel.

Reader 2: He is coming? 
Reader 1: He is coming.

Reader 2: But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” 
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” 
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God."

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (violin)

Reader 1: She believed God.  Her betrothed believed God.  The child that was promised grew inside her. They heard. They believed. And they waited. A census took them to Bethlehem - the town of David. And there, God would come to be with us.

Reader 2:
 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

Reader 1: The One that was promised from the very beginning - the One who would redeem, renew, revive that which was broken - the One who was the son of Adam, the son of Abraham, the son of David - the promised Christ, the Messiah, God with us…
Reader 2: Our Hope...
Readers 1 & 2: He has come.