hope

We hear it’s 100 in Holland today, and we’re not sorry to miss it. If you’re suffering the smoldering Midwest heat, do forgive our inability to commiserate! What has characterized our weather is this: for the first two weeks in Oak Harbor, my jacket never came off, even indoors, and the space heater in our bedroom did its fair share of work.

But the cool weather was starting to wear on us. After a few clear days in mid-June, the sky developed what seemed to be permanent cloud cover. Locals measure the quality of the day by whether or not the mountains are “out,” and we hadn’t seen anything but vague bulges on the horizon for at least a week. We couldn’t stand the thought of returning to Michigan pale as milk for lack of sun. Our only consolations were (1) the three weeks we’d have in August to sprawl out on Holland’s beach and try in vain to catch up to our bronzy, sun-baked neighbors, and (2) the word on the street—that summer here starts on July 5, like clockwork.

We chuckled when people said this, sure that the seasons here cared little for calibrating themselves around an American national holiday. So you can imagine our surprise when July 4 rolled around and the day was hot enough that we! pulled! out! our! shorts! We ate honeydew on the deck and got ourselves burned.

The change in temperature gave me a renewed hope, a hope that my spirit has needed. Do you ever feel like your person is impervious to change? Like you’ve trod the path of a habit so long that you’ll never go another way and let the path disappear? Like you’ve learned a certain attitude or response to people and you’ll never be able to unlearn it? Those have been my fears lately.

If I thought I was self-aware before, marriage taught me otherwise. I’m not the first person to see my spouse as a mirror for myself, reflecting both the lovely and the rough. Being married to Dan has convinced me that I’m not the upbeat, diligent girl I was in high school. Not that I’m a depressing, lazy one, either, but this extreme proximity to one person has exposed my worst features, if only to him and to me. And while Dan himself is a stalwart encourager, a steadfast and loving recounter of my finer qualities, I have a tendency to let the weaknesses overwhelm the strengths. There are days when I can identify exactly how I’m responding to something and I know very well that it’s anything but helpful and yet I feel powerless to do anything differently.

For instance, while recently skimming a book that offered ways to engage strangers in meaningful conversation, I simultaneously applauded the suggestions and denied the possibility that I would ever be able to incorporate them into my repertoire. I’m not clever enough. I can’t think on my feet. I’d just smile politely and let the elevator carry us in silence. Changing takes too much work, is too painful.

As if in perfect response, I’ve been reading Marilynne Robinson this summer. I finished Gilead a few weeks ago, and I’m so close to the end of Home that putting it down feels ridiculous and pointless. The books follow the story of Jack Boughton, the middle-aged son of a pastor, who has spent his life—from infancy, really—on the fringes. He’s a scoundrel, a petty thief, a drunk. And now, for reasons his family can’t comprehend, he has returned home, his mother dead and his father on the cusp of senility. There’s something in Jack’s spirit that wants to be different, but he senses that he somehow deserves his difficult life and wonders if, thanks to predestination, God’s grace is simply inaccessible to him.

On the porch one evening, he entertains this idea in the company of his father, his sister, the aging pastor of another church in town who is both his father’s closest friend and the man for whom Jack is named, and the pastor’s young wife. After a while of Jack’s asking whether or not people can change, the wife, who is quiet but understands more about the world than her age lets on, speaks up.

“What about being saved?” she asks. “If you can’t change, there don’t seem much purpose in it.” Her husband, the pastor, considers this but admits that he’s not sure how to make sense of the mysteries of predestination and salvation, and it becomes clear that everyone is tiring of Jack’s persistence. Finally, just before they disperse for the evening, the wife says softly, “A person can change. Everything can change.”

It’s the only hope given to Jack. But it’s a ruddy, muscular hope. It’s the kind of hope that crossed the bounds of the page into life and buoyed me up. It’s a hope grounded in faith. It’s the hope of glory, rooted in Christ who is in us. It’s a hope built on nothing less…

A person can change. Everything can change.

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One thought on “hope

  1. Well, I was going to make a comment about still needing self-tanner for my milky-pale self, even where i’ve got sun and 100 degree temps, but that was just dumb. So instead I’ll post some words from a favorite hymn:

    My hope is built on nothing less
    Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
    I dare not trust the sweetest frame
    But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

    On Christ the solid rock I stand,
    All other ground is sinking sand.

    Thanks, G, for this.

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