"Show me Your ways, Lord; teach me Your paths. Guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are God my Savior, and my hope is in You all day long. Remember, Lord, Your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to Your love remember me for You, Lord, are good..." - Psalm 25:4-7It's hard to believe another year has begun...and time to look forward to all that God has ahead for me in both my personal life and in ministry. As I think about so many of my past "new years"," it seems that I've often looked backward with regret and "I wish I would have's" and forward with dread and "I can'ts"...But this year has begun differently. I "rang" in this New Year'a midnight hour quietly at my new home--honestly speechless with utter amazement and awe as I realized how far God has brought me and my ministry this past year. And 2011 sauntered in with new hope, new joy, new grace, and new purpose. I wait with anticipation as God lays the path before me.
My daughter Brittany joined me in ministry in the last few months in H.O.P.E. through Art Stars."God placed a desire in her heart to reach out to kids through art...and she has done just that with the H.O.P.E. kids. Babysitting has moved aside to make way for creative expression and healing through paint and canvas. As I've watched God use her to open the hearts and creative minds of these children through Art Stars, I've seen a new hope and new purpose become instilled in my daughter's own heart. And I have been invigorated with new hope and new purpose as well.
My heart has overflowed as I've witnessed Brittany take hold of my mantra of HOPE in her own center of impact. Chad and Ashley gave me a framed scripture for my new house with HOPE emblazoned across the top. "Blessed are those...whose hope is in the Lord their God." (Psalm 146:5) Chad said that I should get used to it--items with HOPE on it--It's what I'm all about...He was being lightly sarcastic but, you know, I can really embrace that. I have turned a proverbial corner in my life and even my ministry. It's not about just surviving anymore...It's all about HOPE--not just a cutesy name for a group but about the real HOPE. So as I look toward what this year holds, I also look back at the beginning of H.O.P.E and it's grassroots in ministry. When God first put this vision on my heart, He showed me that all my striving was in vain if I never grasped the truth and took hold of what was inside of me...Colossians 1:27 - "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." And as He shaped that truth within me, He planted the grassroots of a ministry to women who had been broken, abused, and devastated by life's circumstances...
"H" - Healing our brokenness as we share together and encourage each other.
- Psalm 103 - "Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all His benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion...."
- Lamentations 3:19-42 - "...Yet this I call to mindand therefore I have hope:Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,for His compassions never fail.They are new every morning;great is Your faithfulness.I say to myself, 'The Lord is my portion;therefore I will wait for Him...' ”
"P" - Pressing on through our circumstances with Christ alone as our Strength.
- 2 Corinthians 4:6-10 - "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed..."
- Romans 5:1-11 - "...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..."
First of all, I can live my healing before others. I begin this year with a new attitude. For the first time in many years, I can honestly say, "I AM OK. I AM HAPPY, BLESSED, AND FULL OF HOPE!" No, I'm not perfect by any means--my healing is ongoing..Each one of us is a work in progress, but instead of focusing on the negative and criticizing our mistakes and imperfections, we can remember that healing is a process and look at ourselves positively...God isn't finished yet--we are being made holy. He loves us because He created us and He looks on all that He has made and He sees that it is good.
I want to empower women, not enable them. That happens by centering our study and activities on living life with purpose...Even as we take a hard look inward at our lives for the sake of healing, we should also focus outward. As we gain hope, we will also give hope through outreach and service projects. Just as we need to be loved and accepted, we can find ways to love the unlovable and accept those who are lost, lonely, or downcast--HOPE projects directed toward those in the hospital, deployed military, Afghani children, and here among us--special projects in reaching out to battered women, prostitutes, and homeless women.
I want to see women to be more deliberate about setting and defining firm boundaries and realistic goals...to provide more measurable accountability for pro-active steps. That happens by rippling some stagnant waters, and boldly speaking truth in love. Sometimes women need hugs and compassion, but sometimes they need a gentle nudge. And sometimes boundaries must be set for those who choose to refuse to budge or move forward. I am most thankful for those in leadership who did not allow me to wallow in self-pity.
Strength-training is a must. I've watched women over the past year make excuse after excuse for staying where they are...remaining in fear, in addictions, even in laziness and then falling back again and again in their same despair in times of crisis. They look to me and to counselors for an encouraging words, for help and hope but they don't put truth into practice in their everyday lives. They hang on to words and adages for dear life just to get through from day to day but soon lose strength because they don't take truth out of the package and put it to work in life. We need to focus more on practical coping skills in all kinds of circumstances...Thinking and planning ahead so that we overcome and gain victory over our circumstances rather than just surviving the crisis of a moment.
I want to see women take honest inventory of where they've been and where they are headed. I want determine the turning points in their lives--those defining cairos moments that made them or broke them. Making "creative inventory" a regular part of our curriculum and exercises so that they can take charge of their lives rather than letting life take charge of them. We persevere, we strive, we overcome...we find purpose because of Christ IN us--He is our HOPE.
It's hard to put HOPE in words just so--to define the process. I can only measure and teach by what I've learned and lived myself. I remember the other side of this mountain...a few years ago when I was hopeless. I remember the many times when I wanted so desperately to give up on life...but God always put someone or some Word in my path to give hope. He truly is faithful. It's been an uphill struggle and I slipped back down that hill many times...But now I'm rounding the top... I can look behind and see how far I've come and then turn and look at what lies before me now...And what a sight to behold! I want these women to see what I see now.
"You make known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand." - Psalm 16:11