The Tenacity of Hope

Living without hope is like burying oneself. – Buddha


I worked with a chaplain who did not believe in using the word hope in her vocabulary.

She viewed it as “too Christian.”  Hope was wrapped up in a theology of wishful thinking that placed one’s future in the hands of a God she did not believe in.

I have pondered her attitude about hope off and on for years.

Perhaps hope resides too much in the future and sets too many people up for broken dreams and broken hearts.  “Disappointment,” according to Eric Hoffer, “is a sort of bankruptcy — the bankruptcy of a soul that expends too much in hope and expectation.”

Sure.  I’ve been there.  I have cried out for change and healing and direction in my life only to be more than disappointed when my hopes and expectations were not realized.  I give thanks, however, that disappointment has yet to extinguish my ability or desire to continue to hope.

William Sloan Coffin once said, “Hope arouses, as nothing else can arouse, a passion for the possible.

Because of my faith, even in the face of disappointment, I trust that God’s spirit is at work despite the train wreck my life may appear to be at times.  In my hope I am embodying that passion for the possible.

Restless the other night with the usual worries I recalled this scripture: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 13:4 NKJV)  Over and over I repeated these words, a mantra filled with tomorrow’s possibilities that soothed me back to sleep.

This is why I am a person of faith.

This is why I treasure my Christian tradition and spiritual practices.

In the times I feel life’s stressors pressing in, I need only to turn to scripture, or prayer, or a fellow spiritual sojourner for strength and guidance while gaining a renewed hope for the future.

That said, I am not convinced hope is exclusively Christian and perhaps, all these years later, neither does that other chaplain.

I have witnessed hospice patients of all spiritual persuasions remain hopeful throughout their disease process. Their hopes may change—hope for healing becomes a hope for comfort, which sometimes moves into the simplest hope of a good bowel movement, and eventually the hope for a peaceful death—but always their  eyes are on the horizon, seeking the best that tomorrow may bring.

That’s the tenacity of hope.  It’s is about never giving up!

Whatever you are facing, may you find a renewed hope that lightens your burdens and makes your journey a little bit easier.



Here is some scripture to consider from Romans 5:3-5.  I’ve included verses from The Message and from the New International Version.  Be blessed!

3-5 There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit! (The Message)

 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 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. (NIV)


Homelessness and Humility


homeless Are you like me?

Too often I am uneasy waiting at a red light while a homeless individual begs for money.

My family and I moved to Oregon a year ago and there are still days when I am shocked to witness the size of the homeless population.

My first month here I drove passed a man on numerous occasions who held a cardboard sign in each hand. “Rock” was written on one sign;  “hard place” on the other.

Well put. So many men and women on the streets are stuck between that proverbial rock and a hard place.

I’ve taken the time to speak to a few of the homeless I’ve encountered.  One man shared that he was injured at work and evicted before his first disability check could arrive.  Another shared that he hated begging, but his work as an indoor painter had slowed down. True stories?  Perhaps.

Honestly, I don’t trip on whether they are telling me the truth or not.homeless dog and owner

Rather than judge, my faith calls me to be compassionate and to SEE these people as fellow human beings.  Have poor choices been made?  Probably.  Is drug or alcohol addiction or mental illness a factor.  Certainly possible.

Could I just as easily be in his or her position?  Absolutely.

I am keenly aware of how close my own family could have been to being homeless.  On several occasions, had we not had credit cards or family and friends to help out, our fate may have been quite different.

Even our move to Oregon found us on the edge of disaster when the house I had rented turned out to be too moldy to live in.  With no where else to go,  we stayed in a hotel—all of our belonging still in the rental truck—wondering how soon it would be before we’d find another place.  What an incredibly stressful situation even with the funds and friends to keep a roof over our heads in the week it took to find a home!

Opportunity Village

In October our church held a four-week forum in which  individuals who know homelessness first hand and those who work on their behalf spoke with church members.

Mike, who recently moved into a 8×12 unheated, micro-home in Eugene’s Opportunity Village, shared a powerful testimony during a Bible study on humility ( Luke 18:9-14). With Mike’s permission, our pastor offered his words in a sermon:

 “‘I suppose those who live in big, warm houses might think, ‘I am glad for Opportunity Village, but I am also grateful that I am not living there.’ And since I live in Opportunity Village I have a tendency to think, ‘I am so glad I am not like others who must suffer through the cold on the streets.’ But then I think to myself, ‘it wasn’t long ago that I was on the streets just trying to live and get along.’ So the perspective offered to me from this passage is that I should always try to do something for my brothers and sisters on the street. So every day I try to gather up some food to give them something to eat.’ And that is what Mike does each day.” (Humility at All Times In Everything: Rev. Jonathan Morgan)


That’s the key. From out of Mike’s humility, his compassion rises.

Let us do likewise.

Discomfort could very well be a natural reaction as we encounter those who are homeless in our communities, but may our hearts remain ever free of pride and arrogance as we extend a helping hand.

Let humility be the ground from which our compassion springs forth.

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
1 Peter 5:5b


A Pessimist in Recovery

Today’s Spiritual Prescription:

I am a recovering pessimist.

unhappy faceWay too often, however, I tumble off the wagon and roll into my old patterns of negative thinking. (Broken and Beautiful is a perfect example!)

Last week I was made painfully aware of how difficult it is to refrain from having a gloomier, darker outlook on life.

As I was leaving a skilled nursing facility I could not help but glance in each resident’s room as I cruised down the hall.

In one room there was a mountain of small stuffed animals carefully stacked on top of an individual’s dresser.  Without missing a beat, I said to the facility employee moving past me “I can’t imagine having ALL those eyes stare at me at night.”

It was a weak attempt at getting her into my car of trash talking someone’s conceivably weird behavior.

To make things worse, would you believe she had the nerve to suggest that all those eyes were “looking out” for their owner, protecting her against the “boogie man”?

Oh suuure…. isn’t that sweet.  Little furry protectors.

Then clearly the person is paranoid, I suggested.

In was no use.  With each negative slant I had on that mound of stuffed animals and the resident who piled them, the caregiver had something positive to say.

And before I realized it, I was an official jerk wondering why I had, once again, been drawn to the dark side. Why had I been so set on ferreting out the slightest negative perspective—and on stuff animals of all things?

What a waste of time and energy for my entire being!

And now for your Spiritual Prescription:                    

Don’t go to the dark side!0910131602

Resist seeing the world in a gloomy, dreary light.  It is a bad habit that impacts your body, mind and spirit!

Proverbs 17:22 puts it this way : A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

Don’t allow your spirit to be crushed by dark imagining.

Notice and fight off the temptation to negatively respond to life around you.

We miss so much of the beauty around us when we do.

(I saw this happy chalkboard message on my way home that day.  A nice reminder to keep working toward a joyful heart.)













BINGO! (More Sweet Than Bitter)

I found this beautiful image on the website Wish I knew more about it.

Some of the hardest personalities I work with as a hospice chaplain are the ones who are bitter.  These individuals carry heavy hearts burdened with loss, betrayal, hardship, and abuse.

Their conversations are always filled with negative comments, mistrust, dark thinking, and hatred.  Isolation is typical; forgiveness, rare.

Often, I don’t even make it across their threshold.  One mention of “spiritual” and my services are quickly declined.  In too many cases, I represent the God who left them hurting in the first place.

Others allow me in, identify as people of faith, but speak in such a way that the God, Higher Power, or guru they claim as theirs might not recognize them as followers.

And they can’t just stop the “stinkin’ thinkin’.”

I counsel individuals who have lived through decades and decades of disappointment and despair.

It is extremely difficult for them to trust and to see that goodness and kind-hearted people really exist.

But I do firmly believe that one’s attitude about life is the palette from which her or his world is painted.   Dark imaginings tend to produce dark realities.  If I am convinced that my day will be crappy, chances are…my day is going to be crappy.

If I assume that everyone I meet will belittle, cheat, or regurgitate their ugliness upon me…I’m fairly sure that any words or actions of another will be interpreted as such.

As I vigilantly stay on the look out for every bleak signs that I was right about this dark world, I sadly miss out on that small blessing that just passed me by: the clerk who genuinely complimented me on my outfit, the small child who smiled sweetly, the individual who helped me for no other reason but to be kind.

  The kindness, goodness, and magic of the world sometimes have to be diligently sought after.

When my children were younger, I began creating bingo cards  (5 x 5 square grid—the center one FREE of course!) to keep them entertained on long trips.  It was a treasure hunt, seeking out the ordinary and the ridiculous such as donkeys, rainbows, rock stars and unicorns.

Never seen a unicorn on a family trip before?  Well, they exist.  They come on key chains and bumper stickers and  little children’s t-shirts.  We were looking for a clown once and found it at a rest stop in the intricate design of a man’s tattoo.

 Even the most obvious, when we are not consciously seeking, can pass us by.

On a recent trip, as part of my own bingo challenge I decided—the hospice chaplain that I am—to find the Grim Reaper.  Impossible you say?  That’s what I assumed.  But, after 12 hours on the road, with an hour left to go, there he was on a billboard—the Grim Reaper, himself,  persuading folks to not drink and drive. I was so ecstatic to find him!

But honestly, after that many hours of driving, had I not been seeking Grim, I would have blown right by him and his important message against driving drunk.

 And what about you?

How do you see the world?  What shades of color are on your painter’s palette?  What are you expecting to find on your bingo card of life?

The Apostle Paul advises in his letter to the Philippians (4:8-9), “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received of heard from me, or seen in me—put into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you.(NIV).**

Perhaps stinkin’ thinkin’ can’t ever be fully eliminated.  Life, after all, can suck.  But let us strive every day to keep that which is excellent and praiseworthy on our lips, in our hearts, and on the forefront our minds.

    And when we do, I promise we will discover life to be more sweet than bitter.


**I also like this same scripture as found in Eugene Peterson’s The Message: Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.



Do You Know Your Way Home?

homeIt is a common occurrence among those with dementia.

Typically in the early stages, especially when the individual is still mobile, he or she has this strong urge to go home, even when they are already in their own house.

I witnessed this twice today while visiting with a hospice patient in a memory care facility. The first person was a lovely, adorable woman in her late 80’s.  Her white hair was beautifully set and her outfit, stylish as she walked swiftly despite her hunched back.  Upon passing by she graciously greeted me by saying, “I am going home…as soon as I rest for a while.”  The woman announced this to others gathered around and, after sitting in a chair a moment or two, proceeded outside.  There in the gated garden she made her way safely down the path and eventually back inside by another door.  As far as anyone else was concerned, she was home, once again.

The second individual was an elderly man waiting at the gate to the parking lot.  It was unclear at first if he was a family member, unsure of how to exit, or a resident hoping to slip out with a departing visitor.  To ensure that I did not let a resident escape (God forbid!) I engaged him in conversation before punching in the access code.

With a shaving kit securely in hand, he told me, “I’ve got to get home to Eugene!”  Though I knew better, I assured him he was already in Eugene. “Yes,” he replied, “but did you know that there are two Eugenes?”  Of course there are.  Eugene, where he once lived, couldn’t possibly be the place where he was now, lost in a world of dementia.  He was clearly NOT home.

So what does it mean,” I  considered on the ride home, “to be home?

Barring any memory troubles, when do we know we are finally home?

While living in the Netherlands in my youth, I found the word “gezellig” difficult to translate into a single English equivalent. It can mean cozy, homey, convivial [new word for me meaning (of an atmosphere or event) friendly, lively, and enjoyable], sociable, and snug to list a few definitions.  “Gezellig” seemed to be used most often when describing someone’s home…or at least that’s when I used it.  In my mind it described a place where I was welcomed and could most be myself.

And for me, that’s what it means to “be home,” to be in a place where I am welcomed for who I am.

Home is where my body, mind, and spirit are secure and at rest.  It’s a space that is often found in unexpected places: in a truly welcoming place of worship, on a secluded beach, in an Aspen grove, beside a brook, at a gathering of dear friends.

As I age, I am learning that the deeper I go spiritually, the better I am at uncovering those hidden, “gezellig” places where I feel most at home.  And even more than that, as my faith matures, I realize that ultimately home really IS where the heart is…right inside of me.   If I can be secure and at rest in my own skin, this temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), I just might find home to be around every corner.

Working in hospice, it’s inevitable that you will develop a fear of at least one terminal illness. Dementia, especially Alzheimer’s Disease, is mine.

Should that disease be the path I must walk, I pray that I will somehow always find my way home.

May you  find your way home, too!