Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
For me, family picture day is exactly like physical torture with a side of mental self loathing.
It’s torture because I have to manhandle children and run my fingers through unruly curls and pry open mouths to brush teeth. The self-loathing comes into play because the goal of the day is to capture a Christmas card worthy picture while knowing full well that the one picture you will mail to your loved ones will be the one where YOU look the least chubby and the most like Mrs. Cleaver. How the rest of your family looks is of almost no consequence no matter the hours you invest in color coding everyone and brushing their teeth.
But I thought that this year, the one we’re calling the Second Great A-Wrecking, deserved a commemorative photo marking our triumphal survival of one mental illness diagnosis, thirty days of treatment, gads of therapy, new medications, and the quitting of all things that did not sustain our life.
And since I’m a truth teller, I’m going to go ahead and tell you that I felt the deep need to mail out Christmas cards to remind everyone that we’re still here on Avent street, doing nothing but breathing and eating all the food in sight. I cringe telling you that, but I can’t not tell you.
After much angst and lip biting and hand wringing and admitting to myself that I was, indeed, never going to lose twenty pounds, I sent a text to one of my dearest friends, who just so happens to be a miracle working photographer, asking her one question:
Would you have time to swing by, pose my family, and snap a picture of the eight of us?
She immediately replied with a YES!!, we scheduled a mini session for the following Sunday, and then I sent her one more last text
Hey. Would you think it weird if I wanted you to recreate the family portrait I have on the wall? The one that captured the eight of us at our most joyful? We’re that joyful again.
On Sunday, nearly seven years after the original JOY photo, we captured JOY again.
This past year illuminated the thorn piercing Thad’s side and showed us how his thorn afflicts us all. We wallowed in disbelief and camped out in sorrow and denied the very existence of God’s goodness to us in the midst of our very present grief. We were angry at our circumstances, frustrated with the lack of local resources to help us heal, and detached from everything and everyone who could not sit with us in our suffering.
And on our worst days, we had no hope. We simply could not imagine any sort of future that embodied the promise of for our good and for God’s glory. We were not confident in anything we could not see because the things we were seeing and feeling were absolutely soul crushing.
But because God is gracious, He reached down into the hopeless pit we had placed ourselves in and lavished us with tangible grace.
And we remembered that what God had done in the past – all the ways He’d wooed us and won our hearts – is a picture of what He will do again in the future.
Which is the basis of hope, you know?
Hope is the imagination of a good future based upon the past and present behavior of a good, good Father. And joy is the abiding expression of a soul full of hope.
In this season of Advent, no matter where you find yourself in the tension of joy and sorrow, the already and not yet, may you invite our good, good Father to remind you of the ways He’s captured your heart. Make space for God to woo you all over again by allowing Him to whisper into your soul the story of when He rescued you.
God’s past and present grace upon you is His promise of future grace upon you.
Cling to that truth and let HOPE be the wellspring of JOY this Christmas.