Our church has a wonderful basketball program for children called Upward. Each year it has grown, and I love being in the midst of so many kids learning teamwork, respect and the skills they need to play like pros. The coaches are great role models, and I'm proud of their hard work and humility.
Usually Coach Bob gets to do the devotion, but a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak on the definition of "hope." Upward defined it simply as "the ability to see the positive even when bad things happen." I spoke about puzzle pieces given each day by God and how we don't always see the big picture, but that God sees it all -- he has the box; he made it. We learned that we can trust in God and that he is going to bring about good things, even though bad things do happen.
I used a simple illustration: My wife, Amanda, and I had been searching for a miniature Schnauzer to fall in love with as we celebrate 10 years of marriage. We felt it was time, but whenever tried to set up appointments to meet with a possible adoptee, something went wrong or the puppy was given away. I kept getting my hopes up, and then it would all be over that evening. It was very sad, and my hopes sagged.
Then one day Amanda told me a family was coming to visit and they had a 3-year-old named Bella. I once again became excited, and that Thursday evening we officially adopted Isa-bella, the fluffiest, cutest, most amazing mini-Schnauzer to have ever lived (in our opinion, of course). My heart was happy, and she instantly became a part of our family. So much so that I have a hard time not talking about her all the time. We even set up a Facebook page devoted to her at www.facebook.com/bellas.beard. She's incredibly adorable.
The big picture of that puzzle certainly wasn't apparent to me, and I had lost hope. I tried to bury my optimism because if I hoped too much I'd feel disappointed. In the back of my mind, though, in a small corner of my heart, hope grew. That small part of me celebrated when we met her. It was like when the angels celebrate as a person comes to God and begins to trust in him.
Yes, I felt very glad when it all came together.
Now that we have entered the season of Lent, I have even more reason to feel hope and gladness. As we retrace the horrible events that led to Christ's self-sacrifice on the cross, we're getting closer to the annual celebration of Easter -- the day Christians remember Jesus' victory over sin and death. It all looked so grim, and suddenly there was a win.
In this time, we look inward and try to remove anything that hinders our spiritual walk, and add things that will bring us closer to walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.
In my case, that means I'll be turning off NPR -- "fasting" for portions of my car ride -- and I'll be listening to God's quiet voice (through prayer). It means I'll try to rearrange my life into patterns that help me love all people (alms/doing good), which means I really need to give a little more of myself to more good things. Less "me" and more "us." And I'll be doing this in thankfulness for what God has given me, because when it comes down to it, everything I have belongs to God -- including you, including me ... and, of course, Bella.
Lent is a good time to resync with the one who created us; to plug into the source and feel his goodness. My hope is that no matter what darkness is in your life, you'll see the dots of light surrounding you and that you'll find in yourself a flame that will never die.