Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops – at all
– Emily Dickinson
When I was in elementary school, I was a Girl Scout. Our quite interesting troop of girls had a lot of adventures together. One time, we, along with our dads, took a camping trip. And by “camping trip,” I mean we all spent the night in tents in one girl’s grandpa’s backyard. I love camping and I love my dad, so I enjoyed it a lot. We played games and told scary stories and roasted marshmallows that night, and in the morning we had a treasure hunt. I like treasure a lot. Notice that the verb “like” is in the present tense because I do still very much like treasure.
So here’s what we did: there was a creek in the yard where we were, and we were given shovels, strainers, and buckets and told to go at it…and I did. I dug and dug and didn’t care about how dirty my clothes got (they were so dirty when I was finished. I’m pretty sure my mom refused to let me in the house when I got home later that day) or how graceful or smart I looked. I just cared about finding treasure, and I found so much. There were very brightly colored jewels and I knew when I found them that I was a very rich and lucky girl. I felt like a princess. Then I was told that the jewels weren’t real and that my ownership of them did not automatically turn me into royalty. That was kind of hard and sad for me, but I got through it. I continued to believe for the next few years (yes, years) that those plastic dollar-store jewels were naturally occurring in the creek bed where we had been digging. One day I asked my dad if he remembered that camping trip we took with the Girl Scouts and how that girl’s grandfather’s house had gems in the creek, and my dad thought I was really dumb because apparently the jewels had been planted by the dads before we started digging for them, meaning that they were not naturally occurring in this man’s backyard. However, I still like to think that I found real-life treasure that day. It would have been fun to say I was in the Girl Scout troop that discovered precious gems in a creek off Lake Keowee.*
What I want to share about is mica. While I was digging that day through the sand with so much dedication to the discovery of something Great, I kept digging up mica. Mica isn’t very exciting, especially when you are intent on finding precious gems. But it’s persistent. And, especially in a creek bed, mica is shiny and likes to be noticed. It isn’t treasure, and you are aware of that when you find it, but it’s still something, and mica is there when you realize that you are not going to find real gems…whether you realize this in the moment, or years and years later. The deeper I dug into this creek bed, the fewer jewels I found, but no matter how far down I dug, I could still find mica. It was plentiful, but not in an annoying or exasperating kind of way. Finding something is better than finding nothing, even if the something you find isn’t what you were looking for, which is why finding mica wasn’t so bad although it wasn’t quite as cool as real-live gems.
I’ve recently realized that I consider hope to be like mica. Hope isn’t grand gestures in the form of fireworks or diamonds or daffodils (although I have no oppositions to any of those things, especially daffodils), but it’s ordinary, small moments of encouragement. Hope is subtle and you sometimes have to look for it, but I like it that way.
I work at Camps Hope/Sertoma at the Clemson Outdoor Lab during the summers and I am a big fan of it. I like to consider myself a proponent both of hope as a general concept and of Hope as a Camp. Working at Camp has taught me a lot about how to love people who are not necessarily so happily lovely all of the time, how to be loved by others, how to find hope when I’m lying on the floor with a constipated fifty-six year old woman (by singing “You Are My Sunshine” over and over, because sheis my sunshine), and an inexhaustible list of quite a lot of other things.
Camp has taught me that hope is a choice.
And so, with that, I felt like it would be appropriate if I had one of these bracelets, to remind me to make that choice often, as in every day. All the time.
So I bought one. And I wear it all the time. I love it. It makes me think of Camp, which makes my heart warm and happy.
However, this Monday, I was grumpy. I try to not be grumpy in front of people generally, because that does not encourage anyone or build them up, but Monday I was straight-up crabby. It was to the point that I went to the ice cream store on campus and leaned on their counter and begged them in a whiny voice for ice cream. I just really felt like I needed some sugar to help me survive the remainder of the day, and it really did help.
But before the ice cream, because I was so grumpy, I was walking around just glaring at people who tried to smile at me from across hallways and in classrooms, etc. People were trying to be nice to me and I just wouldn’t have it. I was angry at my body for needing sleep. I was mad that I couldn’t go sit in All In and write all the time instead of sitting in the library and studying all the time. And then I had a thought: When I am grumpy like this, how am I representing hope? Not well, I can say that much. The people I glared at could see the bracelet on my wrist, and I was not being a good proponent of hope to them at all. I was being a hypocrite.
So this is how I would like to represent hope in the future:
1) as something that is living – “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3) – without Jesus we would be so dead, and He, our literal living hope, gives us life. And we know that Jesus is eternal, so this hope is never-ending and that is so comforting to my heart. There is nothing that can happen to me anytime in my life that Jesus will not be there for.
Emily Dickinson in her poem says that “hope…sings the tune without the words/and never stops – at all.” You know what’s cool about that? Jesus. Jesus is cool. Because He “never stops – at all,” either. I like Emily Dickinson so much. I don’t know if she felt the same way I do about Jesus, but I think she accessed that feeling of hope that He provides. She shows this in her use of the hyphen on the last line of her poem. She says hope “sings the tune without the words/and never stops” and she could have stopped there and gotten her point across. Anyone reading her poem would have been able to tell that hope is a long-term situation. But by adding this hyphen on the end of the line: “- at all,” she is showing that she had to add something else on to the end of the line so that it would be communicated to anyone who read her words that she doesn’t just mean that hope lasts a long time, but she means that it is a permanent state of mind. It doesn’t stop – at all. Hope lasts forever, because Jesus is our hope, and Jesus doesn’t die. My God’s not dead; He’s alive! He’s alive!
2) as something to find great joy in – “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:11-12) – That’s a lot of things to do. But if you work backwards through those things Paul says to do, it’s a little less daunting. Being constant in prayer draws me close to God, and it is only through prayer and a very intimate relationship with Him am I able to be patient in tribulation (also being patient in general isn’t quite my strongest suit ever). When I am close with the Lord, I rejoice in hope because it gets me through dark times…actually, it gets me through all times. I serve the Lord through and because of the patience and joy that He gives me, and thus am (trying to be) fervent in spirit and not slothful in zeal. I have a fire for Jesus. It’s a small fire, and He’s the one who lights it and stirs it and keeps it going. The biggest thing, however, is hope, because Jesus is the hope that I find joy in. He is the hope that gives me patience in tribulation and He is the hope I pray to in the morning when my alarm goes off and I get very sad because I would rather be asleep. Jesus is what gets me through all things.
3) as a component of faith – “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) – You know what’s interesting? That hope and music are similar. You cannot see either of them. You can see evidence of them existing, like you can see musical instruments being played and you can see sheet music and you can hear music all around your ears and heart, but you cannot see actual music. And hope is the same. You can see the things that bring hope to people, and you can see people rejoicing and being inspired in and by hope, but you cannot visually see actual hope.
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, but it doesn’t mean that I always get what I hoped for – it means that I trust in Jesus to bring to fruition the things that glorify His kingdom, and if I can be a helpful (albeit quite broken) vessel in doing that, then I will, as much as I can. It’s easier said than done. But what I’m saying is that hope isn’t easy, and neither is life. Jesus is both of those things and he makes them possible.
If I focus my mind on these things: having and believing in a living hope that does not disappoint, finding joy in the hope that Jesus is, and following that hope through so that I have a stronger faith as a result of it, then I am wearing my bracelet well. But if I am not, then I should just take off the bracelet because it is misleading to all of the people around me (even the people who know already what hope is). As a follower of Jesus, I get to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. And I want to glorify God by being an example of hope to those around me: the straight-up, stripped of fanciful things, honest and vulnerable hope.
Peace out, Girl Scouts!
*Disclaimer: the Girl Scout story is more for entertainment purposes than it is actually informative/relevant