Tag Archives: hope

To Write Love on Her Arms

When I came back to work after Christmas and New Year’s in early January, I had a stack of holiday cards waiting for me from vendors and PR agencies. Each one tried to put their own creative spin on an annual tradition, thereby winning my favor and, ultimately, business from my company. I smirked slightly to myself, thinking that there was no way any clever gimmick was going to succeed. After all, they were missing the heart and soul of what a holiday card should be: love, goodwill, relationship.

But to my surprise, one vendor did manage to infuse a little bit of the true holiday spirit in their season’s greetings. They gave me a $15 gift card to donate to a charity of my choice. (Yes, I know charitable donations can be just as much a marketing ploy as anything else, but I’ll admit that they work on me.)

I eagerly browsed the website listing thousands of charities, excited to find one I hadn’t donated to in a while (if ever). My eyes flitted across the name of an organization I hadn’t thought much about since college: To Write Love on Her Arms.

This organization, which is focused on raising awareness and finding solutions for depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide, had been somewhat trendy to support when I was in school. I remember lots of the artsy students, and many of my fellow English majors, sporting shirts with the logo. Because the name spoke to me – to write love on her arms – I asked them what the organization stood for. Most of them couldn’t articulate it very well; they just said something about how some group of people (in some versions of the story, it was a band; sometimes it was specifically Switchfoot) took care of a girl right before she entered a formal rehab facility and how this group now goes around talking about it.

As someone who wore the badge “Critical Thinker” very seriously at the time, I had to find out if this was just some feel-good fad or if it was real. Either I didn’t have ears to hear or the organization’s website also struggled to articulate its purpose, but I remember sadly admitting to myself that these well-intentioned people were fooling themselves. Yes, I “saw through” them as I saw through so many things. From my perspective, they had helped one girl and were now designing T-shirts and getting alternative bands to endorse them and, oh yeah, they had a few resources to help depressed people get in touch with a qualified therapist.

Image from http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/to-write-love-on-her-arms/images/17797997/title/3-photo
Image from FanPop.com

Little did I understand the power of story, of art, of music. Little did I understand what an organization built on those things could become. An organization built on story is like a holiday card sent out of undemanding, unselfish love: They both have meaning and spirit behind the actions.

While browsing that charity website this month, the name To Write Love on Her Arms spoke to me again. And once again, I pulled up their website. Only this time, I saw how that fledgling nonprofit with only a story had started programs of all kinds to reach people in the deepest pain. Each program and initiative was imbued with the spirit of that story, a truth deeper than any statistical report about suicide rates among teens. I saw how story and art and music could “bedew, embalme, and overrunne” the hearts of those who desperately need hope.

And I re-read the original story that started it all. You can read it too.

The woman who inspired the founding of this organization, a woman considered too high risk for some treatment centers, was asked what she would say if her story had an audience. She responded:

“Tell them to look up. Tell them to remember the stars. The stars are always there but we miss them in the dirt and clouds. We miss them in the storms. Tell them to remember hope. We have hope.”

Thank God her story does have an audience. Thank God for cynicism transformed into hope. And thank God for all stories and works of art and songs that help us to remember the stars.

Featured image from Angelnel.deviantart.com.

“I want to die …

“I want to die as myself. I don’t want them to change me in there. Turn me into some kind of monster that I’m not. I keep wishing I could find a way to show the Capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than just a piece in their Games.”

Peeta Mellark, in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Sometimes I think the world isn’t all that different from the Hunger Games. We can give in to its pressures and respond out of anger, fear, and hurt when it lashes out at us — or we can respond as ourselves, or rather, as the people we were meant to be. We can let suffering produce perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5:3-4). There are some riches that can only be found in the crucible.

First Sunday of Advent: The Candle of Hope

The best thing about Thanksgiving being over is that we now officially get to start listening to Christmas music. But this year, I broke the “wait until after Thanksgiving” rule in a big way.

My friend and I co-lead a church “small group” that studies the Bible, prays for each other, and generally gets to know each other and has fun together. We decided that we wanted to create Advent calendars for each of the women in our group. This entailed writing out a Christmas-themed thought or Bible verse for each of the first 25 days in December. We then printed out these little bits of text and sealed them in envelopes labeled 1 through 25. From today until Christmas Day, the women will open one envelope every day and hopefully be encouraged by the verse/thought throughout the day. In order to make sure we could give the calendars to our group before December 1, we finished them well before Thanksgiving – thus prompting more than a little Christmas caroling when I was home alone one day in early November.

Advent Candle of Hope
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, when the candle of hope is lit.

Advent calendars are one of the traditional ways Christians celebrate the weeks leading up to Christmas, preparing our hearts for the arrival of Christ on earth. I didn’t grow up in a liturgical church (i.e., a church heavily focused on seasons like Advent or Lent), but I’m naturally attracted to the symbols and traditional readings that characterize the church calendar so I’ve taught myself a bit about it over the years. (Also, the church I’ve attended ever since moving to Boston – Park Street Church – uses the liturgical calendar in some ways during its services.)

One thing I learned this year while creating the Advent calendar is that the church calendar contains two cycles: the Christmas Cycle (Advent-Christmas-Epiphany) and the Easter Cycle (Lent-Easter-Pentecost). Each cycle begins with a season of preparation symbolized by the color purple and ends with a celebratory season symbolized by the color white. After each cycle, there is an ordinary time of growth symbolized by the color green. (from United Methodist Church website)

Advent: purple
Epiphany (the “twelve days of Christmas”): white
Ordinary Time: green
Lent: purple
Pentecost: white
Ordinary Time: green

Purple has been my favorite color for the past several years because I find it to be the perfect mixture of pain and joy. Blood red combined with the blue of peaceful water becomes longing, hopeful purple. This makes it the perfect color for Advent, the season of waiting for the Messiah.

While writing the text for December 15 of the Advent calendar, I couldn’t help but transition from humming a few bars of Christmas carols to belting out full choruses of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” I was writing about a story that demonstrates the Advent spirit of longing and hoping. Simeon had served God his entire life, waiting to see his promised Messiah and the salvation of Israel and the entire world. Here’s what I wrote:

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah…Simeon took [Jesus] in his arms and praised God, saying: ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.’” Luke 2:25-32

Simeon had been waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise for his whole life. Israel had been waiting since God had promised David a kingdom that would never end; Abraham had been waiting since God promised him descendants like the sands of the sea. And the world had been waiting since God told the serpent in the Garden of Eden that one was coming who would crush his head; Adam and Eve’s sin was not the end of the story.

In this season of Advent, we remember the long years of waiting for God’s redemption: “Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel!” We also rejoice that we live in the era of the fulfillment of God’s promise: “The thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!”

I couldn’t help but joyfully burst into song when I thought about God’s beautiful story of redemption, which he has been writing since the beginning of the world – and even before the beginning of the world. When I see the brokenness of this world and of my own soul, I am thrilled that God would send a Messiah, not to save Israel from the earthly oppression of the Romans but for a deeper and wider, eternal salvation. He came to save the world from the chains of sin.

I also sang because these verses reminded me about how long the world had desired Emmanuel, “God with us.” They knew God in the Old Testament way, but they hadn’t yet seen God become flesh in the person of Jesus. For thousands of years, people had trusted that God’s salvation was coming but they died with the promise unfulfilled. They never got to know Jesus the way I know him.

I was overcome in that moment by how much I love him. I know him, speak with him, and love him as I know, speak with, and love the closest people in my life, except even more deeply. And I am grateful beyond words to live when I do because I wouldn’t want to imagine a different kind of relationship with God; my relationship with Jesus is the most important, most real, and most hopeful thing in my life. How can I keep from singing?

Of course, the spirit of Advent – the waiting, the longing, the hoping – remains. Our world is still broken, still fallen, still in need of redemption. Today at church, we sang several Christmas hymns. As I mentioned, I didn’t grow up in a liturgical church, so I’m often surprised and delighted at the lyrics in the later verses of many hymns, even the familiar ones. I noticed today that the final verses of several Advent hymns talk about how we’re still waiting for Christ. We’re waiting for him to come again and make all things new.

We live in an interesting era, when the promise of the Messiah has been fulfilled but the final consummation of that promise hasn’t yet been realized and won’t be until Christ comes again. In one of my high school Bible classes, our teacher told us that the theological phrase to describe this idea is “already and not yet.” I don’t know if that’s a real theological phrase, but I think it describes the concept well.

So while we rejoice in knowing Jesus personally, we continue to trust God that the small glimpses of redemption we see are but small tastes of what things ought to be, and what things will be. Until that day, we continue to wait, and long, and hope.