In This Together

A couple years ago, a friend of mine told me she had been diagnosed with cancer. While it was not an absolute worst-case scenario, the diagnosis was still not good, and it meant that she was facing a difficult regimen of surgery, chemo treatments and radiation that would extend into the summer. As an 18-year cancer survivor myself, I know how challenging chemo treatments can be, so I knew that I wanted to be there with her for them – I knew that having a familiar face there would make the sessions go faster and maybe a little easier. Happily, she completed her treatments and is now another breast cancer survivor. It was not always easy, but she was a real inspiration, and we both found our time together to be special and fulfilling.

It’s hard to describe what I felt the first time I walked into the room with her where she would receive her infusions. My own treatments were 18 years ago, in a different hospital, under the care of a different doctor, but there were enough similarities between her situation and mine that I sort of gasped that first day. I was immediately thrown back 18 years, and I was a little stunned at how vivid all those 18-year-old memories still were. The smells were the same. The sounds were the same. The lights were still very bright. The chairs were still large and plastic and not entirely comfortable. The room was still chilly. The nurses were still young and sweet. And it was still a very diverse mix of patients and visitors. Old, young, women, men, black, white, Asian. And the patients themselves, though all different, still had similarities. Mostly bald. Pale. Sleepy.

My husband had recently been hired and was working at a new job for far more than 40 hours a week when I was going through my own treatments, so my mother was the one who took me to all my sessions, sat in the guest chair by my side for the four hours each session took, and provided the company that helped pass that time. Having her there each time was a treasure for me – she made it comfortable and manageable and okay. I used to wonder how I would have done it without her there, but I don’t wonder that anymore. She WAS there. And I endured it because she offered what I needed during those moments:  a hand to hold, conversation, silence, care.  As the chemo provided a solution, she provided the strength.

As I walked into a different chemo room 18 years later with my friend, the memories flooded back. I looked around and saw the patients, the nurses, the doctors, and the visitors – all those people, like my mom, who were sitting beside their loved ones offering that same care. And then I remembered one patient from 18 years ago whose face I will never forget. She was different from all the rest of us, because she sat in her own big, plastic, uncomfortable chair, all alone. The guest chair beside her was always empty. She came to her treatment sessions alone.  She took a cab to get there in the morning, and a nurse called for a cab to take her back home when the session was finished. No one ever came with her. No one ever gave her a ride. No one spoke to her except for the few spare moments a nurse could stop and chat before moving on to the other patients.

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I remember how much that burdened me. It seemed so wrong, so unfair. I knew firsthand what she was dealing with physically, but I had no idea how she was doing it. I knew that my mother’s presence took the edge off all of it for me, and all the other patients, with someone sitting in the guest chairs next to them, too, were also comforted by a presence – a person willing and wanting to offer the hand, conversation, silence, or care. But this woman didn’t have that. I couldn’t imagine how that felt. I wondered if she ever asked herself, “Why bother?” And in truth, I avoided imagining it. The journey through cancer is hard enough, but the idea that she might be coping with that pain and sickness without having someone to either celebrate a good outcome or console in a bad one was heartbreaking.

I was reminded of that woman as I walked in with my friend for her first infusion, and I was so glad I was there with and for her. Certainly, she has an amazing husband and many friends, and she would not have been alone through her experience, but in that moment, I was so grateful that I got to be that companion for her.

King Solomon speaks about that very thing in his book of Ecclesiastes. In verse 8 of chapter 4, he says, “There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother.”But just before that, in verse 7, he first says, “Again I saw something meaningless under the sun…”Among all the truths of life that his wisdom showed him was the fact that being all alone is meaningless. He calls it a “miserable business.”

We were never meant to be alone, ever. In Genesis we read about how God created the heavens and the earth, and as He created each part, He stepped back, looked at it, and labeled it “good.” He created the light and called it good. He created the land and the seas and called them good. He created all the plants and vegetation and called it good. He made the morning and the night and called them good. He created all the creatures in the sea, in the sky, and on the land and called them good. But then He created man, and put him alone in the garden of Eden, and for the first time, He said it was not good – not good for the man to be alone.

That has not changed. It really is not good to be alone. Solomon, in his wisdom, gained that understanding. He declares that, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.”He goes on to say that, “If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.”So true, so true. I think of that woman 18 years ago, falling onto a journey of pain and sickness and fear and uncertainty. I can’t help thinking that she would have had a greater chance of success with someone seated by her side. And success would not necessarily have meant a cure. For her, or for anyone enduring overwhelming hardship or pain or loss or challenge, success may be finding the ability to put one foot in front of the other on that path through that valley. That effort might truly be meaningless without knowing someone cares.

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Another friend suffered an immeasurably devastating loss a couple years ago. She and her husband were instantly surrounded by many people offering the care and strength that would help them endure it, and it was amazing to see so many people with hearts longing to climb into their yoke with them and share their burden. One of them said something that I thought was profound and which has stuck with me. As she held and cradled this woman grieving with such pain, she said, “If I could, I would lift you out of this dark pit you’re in. But since I can’t do that, I’ll climb down and sit in it with you for however long you need.”

The pits of life are often dark and unbearable. We all have them from time to time – Jesus warned us that that would happen.  We can’t escape them, we can only endure them. But I know that, for me, those dark pits are made less dim when there is someone by my side in them. As Solomon also said, “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer.”So I do two things:  I make sure I have people in my life whom I care for and I know will care for me, and I don’t ignore opportunities to come alongside someone in need of a companion. I assume it’s God’s desire for me to be there, and I know the blessings that follow will be deep.

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JennyB_Small

Jenny Buelow and her husband, Bill, have attended Hope for 18 years. She is involved in several ministries, including the Production Team, Women’s Evening Light, and the Visitation Team, and she and her husband have hosted a weekly Bible Study in their home for 26 years. Jenny is a grateful 19-year cancer survivor. 

 

 

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Forever Is Now

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift, which is why it is called the present.” – Eleanor Roosevelt 

You may have heard or read this quote before. It’s a popular one. There are a lot of quotes about time and, more specifically, about the present moment. It’s something with which we humans are so fascinated. We try to understand time and how it affects us, how to reverse it when we are old, how to speed it up when we are young, how to change it and how to control it. But the truth is we already have it implanted deep within us. In Ecclesiastes King Solomon writes a beautiful phrase that struck me and is more profound than any quote I have ever read about time.  

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) 

He has also set eternity in the human heart 

What a beautiful gift it is to have eternity inside each one of us. I imagine it like a single drop of water that has the potential for so many things. I actually looked up the journey of a drop of water, and it was fascinating. A single drop of water that is evaporated from the surface of the ocean enters the ecosystem and takes on whatever form the weather and temperature asks of it. It can be taken by the wind, can become part of a cloud, and it can turn into rain where gravity brings it back to earth. It could be a drop of rain on a tree, roll off and sink into the ground to become part of the groundwater and return back to the ocean. Or it could end up in your sink washing your dishes or in a firefighter’s hose putting out a fire. The point is, if a single drop of water could hold such potential for so many different purposes, don’t we harbor so much more potential for a greater purpose given that we have eternity set inside our hearts?   

I believe our potential and our purpose is also a part of that eternity. To stick with this water analogy (it is summer after all), let’s imagine a drop of water when it touches the surface. Doesn’t it create a ripple? When does that ripple end? How far does it go? What is the potential for its reach? There’s even a term associated with this. It’s called “the ripple effect.” The definition of this term is “the continuing and spreading results of an event or action.”  

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I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. (Ecclesiastes 3:14a) 

See? God has started the ripple effect even before we knew what it meant or that it even existed. And it’s beautiful. Another king talked about this idea as well. King David writes: 

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;  His love endures forever. (Psalm 136:1) 

King David actually wrote the phrase “His Love endures forever” 26 times in Psalm 136. God’s love endures, lasts, exists, continues, persists, perseveres, survives, lives, remains, goes on and prevails forever. Forever set inside each human heart. That is quite beautiful and quite meaningful.

So, what do we do with this revelation of forever? The revelation that God has loved us so completely that He has set eternity in our hearts? King Solomon, in all of his wondering and wisdom, discovered this… 

So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot. For who can bring them to see what will happen after them? (Ecclesiastes 3:22)  

Will the ocean see what the drop of water has done in its lifetime? Will it know the impact of its journey? No. It will never know. Just like we will never know the true impact of the lives that we live or the work that we do either. Should that stop us? Should that keep us from sharing our gifts? Cultivating our passions? Loving our neighbor? Finishing that project? Writing that blog? I think the answer to that is also no. The real answer is that each present moment holds within it the opportunity to begin again, to love again, to learn again, to try again, to be bold again, to be quiet again, to stand up again, to sit down again, to end again…because God “has made everything beautiful in its time” and the time is right now.  

I have an example to give you, a story about a friend and mentor. My friend’s name was Rob. He was cool and hip and had long hair when he came to my very conservative church. Rob was married to another cool, hip human being, and she was an artist. Her name is Suzanne. Rob and Suzanne made me feel normal as a teenager. They ended up volunteering their time with the church youth group and exposed me to really great music. Rob even “managed” the band that a group of us formed in the youth group. They just gave of themselves and were their authentic selves. This made me feel safe and loved and included and important at such a crucial time in my life. So much of what they poured into me influenced who I became as an adult in almost all of the aspects of my life…musician, mother, wife, friend, Christian, etc. It never mattered if we lost touch. They were a part of me. They had shared their drop of eternity with me. Years later, Rob became very sick. He was on hospice, and I had time in one of my work days to see him every week. I saw him wherever he was, either hospital or home. The staff even got to know me and didn’t even asked questions or stop me when I brought my guitar. I brought all of the songs that he taught me and exposed me to, and I sang to him. It was the very least I could do and, believe me, it felt like the least considering everything he and his wife and poured into me. Rob died on May 4, 2013, but Rob shared the eternity God gave him with me and I poured it right back into him. I know Rob is now inside of eternity itself and in the presence of the One who is eternal. The One who is Love.  

So, what do we do with this gift of eternity we are given? Enjoy it. Share it. Let God reside inside of it so that he may direct your journey even though you may never know where it will take you or how it will affect those around you or even what purpose it will fulfill once you’re gone. It’s just important to understand that we are each operating in eternity right now, in the present moment because it is set inside each one of our hearts. Pour it out, and it will create a ripple effect whether or see it or not. Forever is now. 


tori
Tori Conicello-Emery is a long-time member of Hope Community Church. She loves to engage in community, spiritual discussions, faith practices and is a dedicated member of the worship team at Hope.

 

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A Time for Everything

July is a busy month for our family. We have birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays to commemorate, each bringing its own sense of joy and reason to celebrate. As I watched my 91-year-old mother laugh with my soon to be 30-year-old daughter, I was immediately transported back to her birth. As my 86-year-old mother-in law-bent her head close to hear Jim tell a story, I reflected that I have been married and a part of her family longer than I was single. As my son and his new bride marked their third year of marriage, I remarked to my daughter-in-law’s mother that it seems impossible that it had been three years. So much life has been lived in what seems like a blink of an eye.

One of the birthdays we celebrate in July is my husband’s. Jim and I are the same age, so we hit the age milestones together. We have been married close to 31 years. We have celebrated and cried as we have built our life together. We have seen seasons come and go. We had to learn how to navigate each season as it came, never sure how it would end but knowing who held all our days in His hands.

young parents graduation

This was not a milestone birthday year. We are smack dab in the middle of our fifties (well okay, closer to our late fifties). What struck me this year, a year marked by blissful routine, is that time is a one-way street. We cannot turn the clock back. I must admit as I age, I have come to agree with Mark Twain, “Youth is wasted on the young.” Not because I begrudge the young the energy I once had or the sense of wonder in every new first they encounter, I just wish that the wisdom that comes with age could somehow be transferred to those on the front end of their journey. I wonder how my life would have been different if I had the insights about life I now have.

Chapter 2 of Ecclesiastes ends with Solomon once again lamenting that life is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.  My heart breaks for him. How thankful I am that I know the ending…stay tuned for his conclusion in the last chapter of the book; it makes the journey worth it. Solomon has only just started to dissect life in the early chapters of the book. As each facet has the spotlight turned on it, he decides it simply is not meaningful.  Then, in a moment of clarity, he gives us an insight so true, so profound that when I finally embraced its truth, I found it a guide post for living.  These simple verses give us a framework that keeps us from being overwhelmed by life.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

He starts out with the summary statement, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”  I wish I had embraced this truth as a much younger woman! I was such a Martha.  You know Martha, the woman that Jesus pointed out was distracted by many things. I wanted it all, and I wanted it all at once.  I did not have the wisdom to know that life is made up of seasons. The wisdom to know that I could not cling to a season for longer than it was intended. That I needed God’s strength to not get bogged down in a season I was meant to walk steadfastly through.  To know that God is glorified as much in the process as He is when the final goal is accomplished.  To know that to reap, I needed to sow.

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Verses 2-8 are so freeing. Solomon’s words give us freedom. Freedom to laugh, freedom to cry, to work, to rest. To set boundaries and to tear them down. God, through the pen of Solomon, is giving us a glimpse of “above the sun” thinking. We need to apply wisdom to our circumstances and put the lens of eternity over them. A common Tracey-ism is “in light of eternity does this matter?” Heck, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Will this matter tomorrow? In 2 weeks? In a year? Once I started to use this grid, I found I could discern what path I should follow, what decision was best, what I should pursue.

Without Ecclesiastes 3 thinking, I was routinely disappointed, confused and discouraged. I had yet to learn that there were no cookie-cutter answers in life. Each circumstance had more than one appropriate response. More than one possible outcome. More than one course of action. I needed to take time. Time to consider. To pray. I could impact the world for God, in my own little corner, in my own little world (thank you, Cinderella). Work took on a new meaning when I realized that it was not the task at hand as much as the people I did it with that mattered. When I was a young mother, I needed to find new ways to minister. I found coordinating a Sunday Morning ministry made the most sense since our kids were in the children’s program. As I am aging, I have had to learn to say “No.”  I cannot do what I once could; both my brain and body are slowing down. That does not make me a failure, it shows my humanity. All kingdom work brings God glory. Conversations on the sidelines of kids’ soccer games have been replaced with conversations playing cards at the senior center. Conversations at small group have changed from how to parent to how to be good in-laws and grandparents. It is all part of the normal ebb and flow of life. We need to embrace each season for what it brings and what it teaches us.

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These verses are also a source of protection. We can use them to protect ourselves from the lies of the evil one. We know that with life comes death, joy, and sorrow. God is telling us not to expect a life filled with sunny skies and fair winds. We will experience every one of the scenarios that Solomon paints. In these verses Solomon seems to break free of his “woeful” view of life and see the big picture. We live in a fallen world. We need to take the good with the bad. Job says it best: “shall we accept good from God but not the evil?”. These verses help me navigate life without blaming God for what simply is. They also help me know that in most cases “this too shall pass.”

The one-way nature of time is a reality. The best we can do is embrace that truth and live accordingly.

Paul tells us in Philippians 3, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Paul did not allow seasons of failure to define him. He did not let seasons of persecution stop him.  Paul did not grow lazy in seasons of plenty or despair when he knew want. He sang praises in prison and sang praises when in church. Paul, much like Solomon learned there is a season for all things.  May we all join them!


Jim

Tracey Paradis and her husband Jim live in King of Prussia.  Tracey serves as the Director of Women’s Ministry at  Hope Community Church and does her best to fill her days with people, ministry, and at least one bout of uncontrollable laughter.

 

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Chasing the Benjamins 

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JUL!!!!” Mom was more excited about my 15th birthday than I was, because I could start working. Her baby boy was now eligible to join the masses with the privilege of earning an income. This was a major rite of passage, marking the beginning of responsibility and stewardship.

She had already taught me how money worked. I remember asking her to buy me something one day, and her response was, “We don’t have any money.” That was the most ridiculous thing I ever heard. We lived in a nice 3-bedroom home with a full finished basement, complete with a pool table and VCR. I had a closet full of clothes and shoes, a kitchen full of food, a bike, a swing set, a basketball goal, and a video game system. She was a highfalutin’ manager at the Federal Reserve Bank, and my dad was making 6-figures as an engineer. Who did she think she was fooling? 

“Mom, I know we have money; you just don’t want me to have it.” 

“Oh, really? I’ll tell you what. You are going to balance my checkbook this month.” 

“WHAT?!  I can’t do that!” 

“It’s just math. I’ll give you all my canceled checks and deposit slips. You deduct from or add to the previous balance. Your number should match the number on my bank statement. If it doesn’t, either you or the bank made a mistake. It was probably you, so you’ll have to find and correct it. 

Easy enough, right? Well, I never knew how many checks one could write in a month. There were tons of checks and slips, but I got to work. After about an hour of sorting through all the transactions, additions and subtractions, I had my number. You know what happened next. My number was $0.03 off of the bank statement’s, so I had to do all my math all over again to find three doggone pennies! Mom just chuckled and went back to what she was doing. She’d been there and done that. 

checkbook

I went back, found the error, and declared proudly that I had done it. The point wasn’t to complete the task though, it was to see how much money was left. I looked at the balance and was shocked. It was not a lot of money at all. I wondered how we were making it. I wondered how we were going to survive the following month. I wondered if all of our things would be repossessed. Would they take my BMX bike with mag wheels? Would they take my state-of-the-art Intellivision gaming system? They wouldn’t dare take the VCR, would they?  Mom talked me off the ledge, and explained we were fine. That was the amount after the bills were paid. Plus, this was just one month. Some months there was much more left over; there just happened to be a lot of expenses that month. Whatever is left over though is oftentimes cut in half so money can be placed into savings. She then showed me the savings account. I about fell over. “WE’RE RICH!!!” I exclaimed. She replied, “We?” She then explained we were not rich, but that she was committed to putting money away for rainy days, and for the years I would attend college. I then understood that when she said we didn’t have any money, she meant we didn’t have any money for whatever it was I wanted. 

While she didn’t have the money to purchase all my material possessions, I now had the power to obtain all that my heart desired. I had EMPLOYMENT! My first job was Olga’s Chicken in White Marsh Mall in White Marsh, MD. My responsibility was to make sure we had enough fries. No biggie; just cut the bag open and dump them in the fry basket, right? Wrong. There were no bags of fries, only potatoes. I had to wash boatloads of potatoes and put them one by one in a fry cutter. You pulled the lever down onto the grate and the fries would come out the bottom. Doing that for eight hours was quite laborious, but that quickly turned to ‘glorious’ when I saw my first paycheck. It was WAY over the $2/week I was getting for allowance. I couldn’t believe I actually made that much money on my own. At my first opportunity, I cashed it, raced home, threw it all on my bed, and rolled in it! 

 money

I had finally gotten my first taste of what it was like to be part of working America. It certainly was an honor, but being the contemplative teen that I was, I started to look ahead to see how this was going to play out. I wondered if I would be able to make the kind of living I wanted. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted, but knew I wouldn’t hate being filthy rich. My goal was like everyone else’s – to make tons of money as early as possible and live a life that would make Robin Leach’s jaw drop. I knew no one who accomplished that though. Mom made a good living, but she worked very hard for it. Dad also put in lots of hours and travel. He also explained his six-figure income was just a number. It put him in a higher tax bracket, so his take-home was in line with the rest of the middle class. So what was I to do? The only path I knew was diploma > degree > job > retirement at 65. I knew that formula did not equate to independent wealth, so I looked for alternatives. Being a musician, I naturally tried the music business at 18, but that did not pan out. I tried multi-level marketing at 24, but that also did not result as I’d hoped. The most secure option I had was to obtain a job in corporate America and climb the ladder, though some of those rungs had some pretty hefty price tags hanging off them. A lot of sacrifices had to be made to make the climb, e.g. missed birthdays, anniversaries, school events, quality time, etc. Was it worth it? King Solomon sure had something to say about it. Ecclesiastes 2:18-23 basically says the point of amassing wealth is…pointless. Everything you acquire will go to someone else when you expire. Then why get the Porsche, and the mansion, and the planes? To enjoy, of course! You want to have as much fun as possible while you’re here, right? Nothing wrong with that. The issue is the joy they bring is highly temporal. I remember my kids having a big toy box that was literally overflowing with toys they rarely played with. At one point, each of those toys made them squeal with glee, but quickly became afterthoughts. The same holds true as we age; the toys just get bigger. 

So why was the wealthiest and wisest king so down on being rich?  Doesn’t the Bible say money answereth all things? Yes, it does, and in the same book, too – Ecclesiastes 10:19. Note though it does not say money is the answer to all things. Pastor Rashiid Coleman of Freedom Christian Bible Fellowship explained it this way several years ago:  money answers, or reveals what is in you. When you obtain a large sum of money, your character is exposed and magnified. If you are a giver, a miser, kind-hearted, angry, peaceful, or paranoid, it will come to the light when you are the beneficiary of riches. So when you see someone change after receiving a windfall, and perceive that the money changed them, it didn’t really. It just revealed what was already there. That’s why the Bible strongly cautions against striving to be rich in 1 Timothy 6:9:  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.” If you question that verse’s accuracy, just ask the countless lottery winners who ended up depressed, divorced, and broke; some even committed suicide. How in the world could money have that kind of impact? 

King Solomon realized in order for the happiness created by obtaining material things to continue, one had to continually obtain material things, then worry about keeping them (Eccl. 2:23), then leave all the remaining Benjamins for somebody else, who might just blow it all on nonsense. That’s enough to drive one batty. The Lord Jesus provided the remedy in Matthew 6:19-24: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  

So how does one actually store up treasures in Heaven? Pretty sure that’s out of FedEx’s jurisdiction. What He is saying is the success and prosperity you pursue should not only hinge upon the physical, but more so the intangibles; because unlike the physical, they last. Your pursuits should involve blessing the pants off anyone and everyone with whom you come in contact. If you obtain a fortune along the way, cool; use that to bless others, too. Be a conduit rather than a storage unit.     

Several songs have captured the essence of this, and these two did so rather well. Recording artist India Arie said this in her hit song, There’s Hope: 

Back when I had a little 
I thought that I needed a lot 
A little was overrated
But a lot was a little too complicated 
You see, zero didn’t satisfy me 
A million didn’t make me happy 
That’s when I learned the lesson 
That it’s all about your perceptions
Hey, are you a pauper or a superstar?
So you act, so you feel, so you are 
It ain’t about the size of your car 
It’s about the size of the faith in your heart   

Kenny Chesney wrote a powerful song with an incredible video to complement. Click the link below to enjoy it, and remember there’s nothing wrong with chasing success; just make sure your definition lines up with God’s:  JOSHUA 1:8: “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” 

Kenny Chesney:  Rich & Miserable  


Ketchum_julian

Julian Ketchum is a resident of Norristown, PA, originally from the Baltimore area.  He is a member and former elder of Hope Community Church in King of Prussia, and serves primarily on the Worship Team as a drummer, pianist, and vocalist.  He has been married to his lovely wife, Katina, for 21 years, and they have 3 children – a daughter aged 16, and two sons, 14 and 12.

 

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Satisfied

front porch

One morning this week I was sitting on the front porch. It was early, humid & already about 90 degrees. I was on the phone with a friend, trying to figure out how I was going to relate to & write about this part of Ecclesiastes. I really know nothing about the book, other than Solomon telling us that “everything is meaningless!”

As my friend & I continued talking, he shared a great point – in this book of the Bible, we get to learn from one of the wisest people who ever lived. In 1 Chronicles we learn Solomon had the opportunity to ask the God of the universe for ANYTHING; and of all the things, Solomon chose to ask God for wisdom. Solomon wanted to lead people & lead them well, which he knew would require wisdom – God granted Solomon wisdom & along with it, wealth, abundance, & a rather extraordinary life.

If we were to put these eleven verses in Ecclesiastes into a modern context, I imagine what Solomon experienced is comparable to what many of us think of the “American dream.” After all, we live in a country dominated by immediate gratification & pursuit of pleasure. From a young age, I think many of us are taught that the most important thing in life is to be happy & do whatever we need to do to make us happy.

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For as long as I can remember I absorbed this formula for happiness: graduate high school, make a lot of friends, {make sure you do what everyone else is doing because you don’t want to stand out}. After you graduate high school, go to a good college, get a good job, get married, have kids, work for a number of years, and then retire. Somewhere & somehow in that equation I thought I would “achieve” or experience happiness.

When I think about Solomon, I wonder if he was thinking the same thing: that indulging the richest experiences of his world would leave him feeling satisfied & content. He even stated he was going to “look for the good things in life” (v. 1). He tried to “cheer himself with wine” (v. 3); he built “huge homes” & “planted beautiful vineyards” (v. 5); he collected treasures, hired all sorts of entertainment, & took pleasure in “many beautiful concubines” (v. 8). Solomon became “greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before [him];” he “denied [him]self no pleasures” (v. 9-10).

After experiencing all of this, Solomon looked over all the things he had accomplished & again made his famous observation: “it was all so meaningless – like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere” (v. 11).

breakfast

How many times have you caught yourself striving? Striving to get to some far-off space, where everything is going to be okay? Perhaps you have thoughts of, “oh, if we can just get a house on the beach, we will finally be living our dream!” or, “if I just lose 10 pounds, I will be happy.”

I know I have had those thoughts before. Mine usually sound like: “this Monday I am going to do ___________ (ex. start working out consistently, eat healthy, read the Bible every day).” Do you want to know how successful I have been?

I have failed every single time.

What I am learning though, is that I have not failed because I lack motivation, self-discipline, or commitment. I have failed because I have continued to pursue things of this world that were not intended to be the center of my world.

I am certain the one & only thing that can actually satisfy my longings & desires, fulfill me, & bring me true, whole, happiness is Jesus.

After seeing Solomon & his story through this lens I realize I relate to him more than I thought. Do you?

blondie & flowers

My absolute favorite thing to do on this side of eternity is to have fun, travel, & experience new people & places. In fact, I am about to do just that. In October I leave the country for an 11-month long mission trip. My team will partner with people & organizations around the world to share the love of Jesus. As excited as I am for this experience, I have to continually remind myself that it will never satisfy. As much as I love my life right now, even if it were to stay this way forever, my life will never lead me to a place where I feel content, & that is because my life was not designed to bring me fulfillment; my life was uniquely designed to help fulfill God’s promise to His people – this story of hope, redemption, & the real, actual power of Jesus’ resurrection & defeat of death.

half reflection

I think it is interesting that Solomon uses the word meaningless over & over again to describe how nothing matters. I would like to think that meaninglessness in this context refers to something that does not have eternal value or significance. We tend to overemphasize the things that provide us with temporary & little pleasure because as humans, this is the only perspective we have – a worldly one – & Solomon is reminding us it is meaningless. Doing life with God reminds me that each thing I do has eternal significance, & therefore I ought to adopt an eternal perspective.

One thing I have learned in my 24 years on this earth is that in all things I do, if I take God out of the picture, it is meaningless (thanks, Solomon). I don’t try to do good things just because I feel like “I should.” In fact, if I feel obligated to do something, this is a place where I pause to evaluate why I feel obligated. Rather, I hope that as I live life here on this earth, it will continue to look more & more like Jesus’ life; for what am I doing if I am not doing it for God?

Because of Solomon’s wisdom, he was able to discern that nothing he would experience on this earth would bring lasting satisfaction, except his relationship with God. Thanks to Solomon’s life we have the opportunity to learn from the wisest person who lived – to be satisfied we need to look to Jesus. With Him at the center of my life, I will be satisfied, I will experience contentment, I will never lack, & I know I can always rely on him to protect, provide, & persevere with me through anything.

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IMG_20171028_144847-1Maddie Hungate moved to Pennsylvania 3 years ago & just graduated with her Master’s in Counseling from Eastern University. She enjoys being outside, running, drinking coffee, & hanging out with kids. Her favorite part of being involved at Hope has been being a youth leader for high school. If you’re interested in learning more about the WorldRace & her long term mission trip, you can visit her website: www.maddiehungate.theworldrace.org.

 

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The Point of Science

I stepped outside today and saw the yard flashing with lightning bugs. I have not seen more than a few lightning bugs in several years – they used to be abundant in June. They are demonstrating their skill at using bioluminescence. We humans fail miserably if we try to imitate this skill. The main purpose of this light display is to support community, to be able to meet other lightning bugs and maintain their species. But they provide a wonderful show and a beautiful dance. I think this show is greater than the fireworks that we plan to see on Wednesday.

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Eighteen months ago, I visited Zion National Park with my family. Zion is one of my favorite National Parks. Grand Canyon is bigger, but you mainly look down into Grand Canyon; Zion you can explore from the base of the canyon, and every turn of the path brings a new view of the rock walls and mountain formations. Scientists have developed an explanation of why the canyon formed, the forces of water and wind that carved the chasm, and the geologic forces and various materials that created the variety of rocks and layers in the canyon walls. Even with an explanation of these forces and processes, I gaze in wonder at the majesty and artistry formed by these natural forces. They point my mind to God.

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On Monday, I was leaving the church parking lot after a meeting. I looked up and saw this:

Sunset1

I know a guy who has a vacation house with a deck that looks out over a lake and into the Smoky Mountains. He often posts a picture on Facebook and says, “Good one tonight.”

Sunset2

Sunsets are just the scattering of the light from the sun as it passes through the atmosphere. Sometimes the colors and patterns are enhanced by the natural and man-made particles that float in the air. And the weather patterns of clouds provide a surface for the scattered light to become visible. I don’t think my friend is posting to Facebook to celebrate and share the atmospheric conditions of western North Carolina. This light show is a demonstration to him of the beauty that God built into the universe for us to enjoy.

I recently read a small book on astrophysics by a famous scientist who is also a famous atheist. Even though I understand a lot of science and mathematics, I do not understand astrophysics. Do you think Jesus understands astrophysics? Actually, he invented astrophysics.

“He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” (John 1:2-3)

This scientist/author showed a lot of awe or reverence for the marvel of the universe and its structure and the way it was formed. He even named one chapter “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” But he had no interest in any discussion of the marvelous Creator. He is a spokesman for the popular mindset that science and God are in opposition. He seeks to learn as much as possible about the universe and science, but he thinks that it would be unscientific to admit that God had a hand in the formation of the universe. The universe was created by the power of laws of nature/science without any pattern or plan or guiding influence. To people that share this line of thought, attributing something to God is to admit that we have a gap in our understanding of the science. I don’t think he has an explanation of the source of the single point of material and the massive expenditure of energy that constituted the initial Big Bang.

To me, there is marvel in the science of the formation of the universe, but it includes the marvel of a Creator who had great purpose in mind and prepared the universe with a plan. There are many scientists who are motivated by their interest in understanding the processes of our world, but also acknowledge the One who powers these processes.

“For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things and in Him all things hold together.” (Col. 1:16-17)

Some people have become so focused on increasing in knowledge and scientific understanding that they don’t see the purpose of the science they are studying. In the middle ages, when “science” was being invented, the scholars named the study of God “Theology.” This was known as the “Queen of the Sciences” because it was the basis and purpose of all other sciences. Biology and Psychology and Physiology and all of the other “-ologies” were studies of an aspect of the world that God had created and given over to us to manage and harness and use.

King Solomon considered all of the opportunities of life and found that none of them satisfied the soul. “I have seen all of the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind.” (Eccl 1:14). He sought out an understanding of science and knowledge and wisdom, as many still do today. “I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven…my mind has observed a wealth of wisdom and knowledge…I realized that this also is striving after wind.” (Eccl. 1:13,16,17)

Whether Solomon thousands of years ago or scientists in the 21st century, there is value in seeking an understanding of science, but it doesn’t satisfy the hole in the heart of a person. Studying science can help us make sense of the earth and the universe. Science helps us understand how the world works so that we can invent and design and benefit from the bounty of our world. Without knowledge of the laws of science, we could hardly build a shack to shelter ourselves from the weather. We would not be able to grow food to sustain ourselves and our neighbors. Science helps us to live, but it is also intended to lead us to God. “Since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made.” (Rom. 1:20)

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon seems pretty pessimistic, stating that there is no point in anything in life, certainly not knowledge, science and wisdom. And he is right that there is no point if we miss the point. And the point is to point us to God.

“Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might; Let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this; that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord.” (Jer. 9:23-24)

I hope you enjoy the world in which we live as much as I do. I hope you marvel at the wonders of nature and the vast variety of plants and animals (yes, and even insects). And I pray that the beauty and wonders of the world and of science point you to the awesome God who created them.

Zion2


ScottBio

Scott Sibley is on our Leadership Team. He also serves as our Director of World Outreach. His favorite times of the week are serving with Youth@Hope. It has been 40 years since he responded to Jesus’ command to “Come follow me”.

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Life is Meaningless

 

We are living in a time where information runs downstream at a rapid pace. We could find out what’s happening across the country and even across the world within hours or even minutes of it happening. Yet in this era of information where we can be informed and educated more than any other generation, have we changed? Have we stopped repeating the sins of our ancestors? Have we come closer to ending world hunger? Terminating human trafficking? Protecting the rights of children? Ending any form of genocide? Have we stopped hating our brother? The answer to those questions is…not really. So, what does this thing called life mean? What are we doing here anyway? Are we all just hamsters on this karmic wheel that keeps spinning in the same direction? 

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I believe most people have asked the question, “What does this all mean?”. At least once in a lifetime, many of us question our purpose, the meaning of our suffering, or what value we have in a more global sense. We all have existential dilemmas, and sometimes they grow into existential crises. In fact, it is so common that there is a form of psychotherapy dedicated to helping people process through their crisis by exploring their own human experience in-depth. Believe it or not, we even see this in the Bible. For many, it is easy to view the Bible as a mystical piece of literature, an out of date text or simply not relatable. But it is actually a book describing the relationship between God and His people. God and us. So it’s not surprising that the book of Ecclesiastes is actually an example of this humanistic experience and examination of the meaning of life from the perspective of the author. The first chapter is even entitled “Everything is Meaningless”.  

The words of the Teacher,[a] son of David, king in Jerusalem: 

2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”
3 What do people gain from all their labors
    at which they toil under the sun?
4 Generations come and generations go,
    but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
    and hurries back to where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
    and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
    ever returning on its course.
7 All streams flow into the sea,
    yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
    there they return again.
8 All things are wearisome,
    more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
    nor the ear its fill of hearing.
9 What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
    “Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
    it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
    and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
    by those who follow them. 

Look, we are still struggling with many of the same issues that generations did before us. We are most definitely struggling with new issues the more and more technology develops. At the core though, the human condition remains the same. Life is hard. Life isn’t fair. Life is redundant. And, as we know, life keeps going.  

In my line of work, I have seen a lot of hardship. I have worked in a children’s hospital, private practice, and in a setting with compromised young children. I have seen mothers lose their children over a long period of time, and I’ve seen them lose their children suddenly. I have sat with parents as a medical team is unplugging their child, and goodbyes are being painfully whispered. I have worked with children who were homeless, whose parents were incarcerated and who were kicked out of their preschool because of “poor behavior.” I have worked with teenagers who are hurting, can’t make sense of the world, and want to desperately understand themselves. Sometimes those teenagers contemplate ending it all because it “all feels so meaningless.” I have seen a lot of trauma, pain, and suffering, and I have experienced my own in the midst of it. Here’s the thing – I don’t know what it all means. I know what it means to me though. I know that my heart breaks with every patient, client, and case that I have worked on. And I know that the moment my heart stops breaking is the moment I have stopped caring, stopped loving, and even stopped fully living. Galatians 6:9 says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” James writes, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin (4:17).” 

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I know that every day can feel like the same old same old same old same old. I feel like I make less of a difference way more times than I feel like I’ve actually made a difference. I don’t know what I mean to others all the time, I don’t know how to weigh my value, and I don’t know if I’d be able to tell you what purpose I have on this planet. I do know what life means to me. I know what I value and what I feel is purposeful. And I believe that those things are what I am supposed to pursue. I may be doing the same thing as someone else because, honestly, there’s “nothing new under the sun”. But what if I’m doing good and some other person is doing the same kind of good and then 10 other people are doing it too? Doesn’t that amount to something bigger? We are called to be active, radical ambassadors of love while we are residents here on this planet. And the truth is, we may not know our meaning while we are here. But I believe that God cares. God cares what I do, and God cares about those I influence, those I help, and those I love. And I believe what I do can reflect God’s heart if I am doing the good works that I know I am supposed to do with the gifts and abilities I am given.  

 So maybe the question you can ask when you are in the midst of an existential struggle or crisis is not “What does it all mean?”. Maybe reframe the question as, “What does it all mean to me?”. Maybe we can see each moment as an opportunity to get closer to our purpose, increase our value, and see bits of meaning here and there. We may never have the answer to the meaning of life at the end of the day or at the end of our lives. But I know that we are meant to be here now at this time with the people that surround us and with the lives we are given. In a sense, we are ordained to be living this life, and that right there means something.  


tori

Tori Conicello-Emery is a long-time member of Hope Community Church. She loves to engage in community, spiritual discussions, faith practices and is a dedicated member of the worship team at Hope.

 

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