So here it is January 2, 2017. Already.

It’s kind of unreal, honestly. Every new year I’m amazed at how fast the last one literally flew by. This one was no different in that aspect. Last Saturday, the last day of 2016, I was reflecting on the year and God spoke to me, “I answered your prayer.” When I wasn’t sure just exactly which one He meant since He answered more than one last year, He reminded me it was the one I had prayed at the beginning of the year when said I wanted to know Him in ways I’d never known him before. I then remembered how I had been nervous to pray that one–knowing it would probably mean experiencing things I hadn’t before–but my heart ached to know Him deeper. I knew I didn’t want to go through the year the same way I was.

So just a few days after my cautious but heartfelt plea He gave me a life changing word, one that has directed me the entire year. He said, “You are no longer a slave to fear. You are a prisoner of hope.” I knew that imagewas for me and that things wouldn’t be the same from then on. I knew how I was performance driven and controlled by fear…the “what if’s” and the “what about’s” and the “we can’t do that’s” and the “there’s not enough’s” and the “what will they think’s”. I immediately felt liberated. There was a release in my chest from years of carrying a load I was never designed to bear…the one where I, and I alone, had to be perfect. I cannot explain how literally every decision I made was motivated by fear. Like picking where we went out to eat as a group…what if someone didn’t like my choice? I wanted everyone to be happy. Why should they spend their hard earned money on food they didn’t like? What if the service was lacking? Would there be room for all of us? Could we sit together and not get separated? I could allow myself to be tormented by having to make a choice between a handful of restaurants. It was binding, it was limiting and it was ridiculous…but it was me. And He knew it.

You are no longer a slave to fear. You are a prisoner of hope.

And I knew that if He had just exposed something so intimate in my soul and so interwoven into my being, that this wasn’t just going to be an experience to feel. This was going to be dealt with. And it was. And it still is. The immediate release in my chest turned into a process of learning to live a different way. For example, one of my personality strengths is recognizing details and processing variables. I now had to do that in a way that didn’t pull the responsibility for other people’s responses back onto myself. He made me the way He made me for a reason but that reason was NOT to bear the weight of the world on my shoulders. He made me the way He made me so that Christ could be seen in and through me.

As the year marched along, I kept finding new applications to those two simple sentences that kept reverberating thru me with Divine purpose. “You are no longer a slave to fear. You are a prisoner of hope.” As my friend with a cancer diagnosis was recovering from brain surgery and starting her chemo & radiation treatment, I had hope to hold onto for her when fear was saying this was the end. When other people didn’t live up to my expectation for them, I found I could chose hope for what God wanted to do in their lives instead of fearing what someone might think of me for being associated with that. (Sorry for how religious that sounds. Just being real.) When I didn’t live up to my expectation for myself, I could choose hope for what God wanted to do in my life instead of fearing what someone might thing of me for my shortcomings. When I wanted to quit certain things, instead of fearing what was coming I was bound to a hope that wouldn’t let me let go. When it was time to stop other things, instead of fearing who would take care of the people I wouldn’t be seeing anymore I chose hope, knowing God would take care of them just like He takes care of me. When I wasn’t writing songs and blogs like I thought I should, He just said “Fall in love with me again.” Instead of being depressed because I wasn’t producing the visible fruit I wanted to those areas, there was a hope inside that God wasn’t done with me and I was the only one putting myself on a timetable.

Hope became my mantra this past year. It echoed through my days and nights and weeks and months. When I’d hear the word, my spirit would alert like our beagles picking up a rabbit scent. You know what I found? Hope is everywhere. I’d see memes on Facebook, hear a line in a show or a lyric in a song. I’d overhear a part of a stranger’s conversation. God’s creativity in reinforcing His message to me was endless. When you least expect it and most need it, God has hope for you because Christ is hope in you.

When you least expect it and most need it, God has hope for you.

Then two weeks ago we got a call that our 26 year old nephew had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly (we found later he had an undiagnosed genetic heart condition). I’ve lost family members before, but their deaths seemed easier to process because they had lived long lives (the youngest of my grandparents was in her early 80’s when she crossed over) and there was a sense of relief for them as they were with Jesus and weren’t suffering in their bodies anymore. Losing Stephen was truly something I never thought we’d experience. He was full of joy and love for Jesus and full of passion. He loved his wife and his huge extended family (and his cousins adored him). He was an assistant baseball coach at the local high school, an associate pastor and worship leader at his parents’ church, a cowboy and a hunter…he truly loved God and loved people. imageThough our loss is great, the first scripture Holy Spirit comforted me with was one of hope. HOPE. First Thessalonians 4:13 reminded me that I don’t mourn as those who have no hope. I do mourn but I have hope. Stephen is with Jesus in heaven. He’s more alive than he’s ever been. That part is settled. Our hope is secure.

Learning to live differently without him is a whole new thing though. Watching Micah’s sister bury her child and our niece-by-love bury her husband is forcing me as a mom and a wife to confront my greatest fear of all…losing one of my own. My heart aches for them in ways I’ve never known before. As I pray for them and all our family…his siblings who lost their big brother, grandparents who lost their grandson, cousins who lost their primary teaser (he was the first grandchild on both sides of his family…a born leader), aunts & uncles who lost a nephew…I’m continuing to stand on what God spoke to me a year ago now. That we’re not slaves to circumstances, to tragedy, to loss, to fear…but that we’re bound to Hope. The pain is fresh and the wounds are raw, but our Hope is real and near and eternal. I write Hope with a capital H, because I know Hope is really a person…Jesus Christ.

So yes, God answered my prayer from a year ago. I’ve come to know Him in ways I’ve never known before. And honestly, very few things went as I expected last year but I can still see His goodness in every one of 2016’s 366 days. I’m still walking out the depths of what He spoke into me last January. He normally gives me a word of focus for the new year but it seems I’m still getting stuff out of this one, so we’ll see. When He’s ready for me to move on I’m sure He’ll let me know. He always does, lol. You know what else? I’m praying that prayer again…to know Him like I’ve never known Him before. Whatever this year holds, I know Hope is holding me.

Happy New Year!

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
‭‭Colossians‬ ‭1:27‬ ‭NIV

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