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my own Thrill of Hope

As I decorated for Christmas this year, I wanted something new for my dining room shelf. I’ve had an inspiration photo of song lyrics from “O Holy Night” in my Christmas Pinterest board for a few years now, but the Etsy price tag for the original has always been out of my budget. So, with a lumber scrap from the shop, a not-needed frame Brad had already built, a sample pot of Behr Falling Snow, and a new black paint marker, I decided to make it myself.

And it turned out the timing of this project was serendipitous. 

On the first Sunday of Advent – after the Hope candle was lit – I had my own “Thrill of Hope” moment as my pastor preached in Acts. “Acts? Acts isn’t very ‘Christmas’” you might declare. And in one frame you’d be right. But for me, it fanned my flame of hope.

You see, for four years our family has been in what I’m calling a season of wilderness wandering. Back in the fall of 2017 after a culmination of painful experiences, we felt we had no choice but to leave our church. I still love them, and feeling like we had to leave has been hard. I haven’t taken pleasure in the situation at all. In the initial wandering, we took refuge in a church outside our community, but from the start, we knew eventually we wanted to return to a local church – it was important to us – and the leadership at that church agreed with our assessment. After 18 months of resting and processing, we transitioned to a local body. We tried for a year, but it was increasingly apparent the church we’d hoped to land in wasn’t a good fit for our family, so a year ago in November, we started visiting another church in town. On the first Sunday we visited, the pastor preached in Acts on the stoning of Stephen. While he had no idea, that sermon stirred up all kinds of emotion in me, as I’ve frequently reflected on the similarities between the passage and what had happened in 2017. 

But, a couple weeks later, the pastor announced we’d be leaving the exposition of Acts for a year as the church set out to read through the Bible together (with sermons preached from the weekly reading list). Admittedly, I was disappointed, as I was looking forward to continued exposition (sidenote: It’s all fine and the Bible has continued to be faithfully taught). But all this brings us to my thrill-of-hope moment on that first Sunday of Advent, 2021.

Back full circle with the reading plan, Pastor Tom preached in Acts and told the congregation that after the new year, we’d be returning to where we left off. This excites me, yes, because it’s my preference to walk through books of the Bible verse by verse, but the announcement wasn’t the actual thrill. What was? Well, in a flicker of a moment, I had the realization that there’s more to the story after the stoning of Stephen. Don’t get me wrong, I knew there were more chapters to Acts ( ;) ) but this time it hit me in such a way that brought me to tears. There’s MORE to the story. There’s MORE. And that’s what gave me a thrill of hope. That maybe, just maybe, there’s more for me, too.

I’ve been so weary. I’ve clung to my God (and He to me!) as darkness fell; as I lost friends, important relationships, a church family, the comfort of a building and body I love deeply (yes, this remains present-tense). God has held me fast as we wandered – not severed from Him, but from a place to belong. I’ve spent so much time dwelling in the shock of the stoning – trying to make sense of it, to heal from it, to forgive it. And that morning in church, as Pastor Tom nonchalantly said we’d be picking back up where we left off left me full of wonder – "a thrill of hope the weary world rejoices for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn." 

As I pulled a Mary and “treasured up these things in my heart” I also fell to my knees in thanksgiving and hope. I’ve no doubt God orchestrated the combination of the desire for new decor and the continuation of the book of Acts – my very own thrill of hope. 

I know this isn’t the case for everyone this Advent season. Some of you have newly entered a season of lament and are spending more time with tears on your cheeks than laughter in your voice leading up to Christmas. I want you to know that I hold such a tenderness for you, as does the Lord. He sees you, knows you, loves you, and even collects your tears. I know He will hold His children fast and tight through it all…as we wait...as we live this life between the Advents. Take heart, beloved, even when life doesn’t make sense. The Lord is near and He will come again, and when He does, all our tears will be wiped away. 


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