Safe Place with Ruth Graham

In my darkest moments, when I didn’t know what to do or where to go, I held on to hope. Why? I hoped that tomorrow, the next hour, the next minute things would get better. What gave me hope? Are we born with a measure of optimism? Is that hope, or wishful thinking?

What does hope mean? Hope is defined in my dictionary as, “the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out well.” To me that smacks of wishful thinking. It’s not based in anything solid or concrete. And for me, hope that makes a difference has to be of substance. I can hope to win the lottery one day – so does everyone else. But that hope is ridiculous since I don’t buy the tickets! My hope is not based in anything realistic. I hoped to one day finish my college degree. I couldn’t wish it into reality. It wasn’t going to happen by magic! At the age of forty I decided if my hope was to be realized, I had to get to work. I did. It took ten years but I eventually got my degree at fifty!

Hope has to have some sort of foundation, some substance, to make it sustainable. I hope to drive across the country to the West Coast. That’s realistic but not probable. I could do that but my hope isn’t strong enough to motivate me to make it happen. However, a cruise in the Scandinavian fjords would motivate me to save my money and plan the trip with a friend and eventually do it – one day.

The Bible describes God as a God of hope in Romans 15:13, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Notice he talks about abounding in hope! Hope runs all through the Bible. There are eleven Hebrew words for hope and four Greek words. But it seems to boil down to the notion of having a favorable and confident expectation but it depends on the object on which hope is placed. Clearly for a Christian, our hope is in Jesus Christ. It is not a vain hope but it is described as a living hope, a good hope, a blessed hope, a better hope. And this hope is our secure inheritance from Jesus, reserved for us in heaven.

The Apostle Peter writes of it in his first letter, “…God…has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (I Peter 1:3 NASB) The resurrection of Jesus is the proof that our hope is not wishful thinking. It is grounded in His resurrection. The Apostle Paul writes at length about it in I Corinthians chapter 15: “Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain….For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.”

The resurrection of Jesus is our proof that our hope is not empty.

I went to a dear lady’s funeral this weekend in Sweetwater, TN. Millie Oates – I called her “Aunt Millie”. I now have a better understanding of  the verse in Psalms 116, “Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His saints.” Here was a little “insignificant” woman, by many standards, who loved Jesus with all her heart and gave unselfishly to everyone she met. One of the most unselfish people I have ever known. And always positive and cheerful. She impacted so many people’s lives.
She knew me before I did! Ours is a 4-generation friendship. Her mother and my grandmother were friends in Montreat, NC., she and my mother were friends, her daughter and I are friends and our daughters are friends! Four generations! A treasure so few get to enjoy these days of transient lifestyles..
For a time she lived in my little town here in Virginia. She was my “guardian angel”. I loved having her near and I miss her presence in my life.
When I arrived on Friday late afternoon, many of her family were there and greeted me like a long-lost cousin. I was given a special gift – yarn crocheted coat hangers. A reminder of “Aunt Millie”, as I called her. As her health and mind failed her she did those hangers by the hour.
We all gathered at an Italian restaurant for dinner – they graciously included me and other friends who had come far. The restaurant was told 20 people – and the room held 55 – 80 crammed in! The staff handled it beautifully and the children never fussed or whined. There were introductions, stories, laughter, tears…love.
On Saturday, we gathered at 10 AM in a waning drizzle to bury the cask of her ashes. Her son-in-law made some remarks and prayed. Her youngest son brought the cask then kneeled down to lower it into the hole he, himself, had dug.  That was a very tender moment. (Many of her family members are buried nearby.)
When it was over, we stood around and talked. The children saw the pile of dirt from digging the hole and began to play in it…someone suggested they begin to fill the hole. It was precious and very fitting to see these toddlers take handful after handful to place in the hole of the grave of their great-grandmother. In the end, a grandson came and shoveled the rest of the dirt in and put the grass plug in place. So appropriate and really sweet.
Her service was just as sweet. The church was packed though, “Aunt Millie” has not lived there for some 20 odd years – a testament to how much she was loved in the community. A great-grandson played Jesus Loves Me on the violin, her favorite. He just learned it that morning and it was flawless. He was maybe 11 yrs. old! Another son-in-law read the scriptures.
Her oldest son gave memories of his mom.  A grand-daughter sang.
Her oldest daughter has very bad knees and held off surgery until her mom died. She had to climb very steep stairs every time she tended to her mom –  each step painful. But never complained. She  and her sister took very, tender loving care of their mother.
Her youngest son got up to give the message. He said he had to cut it short because of time – I spoke up from my pew and said, “We want it all.”  All there sounded agreement. But he did cut it short. He gave the plan of salvation short and simple. Then we sang “For All the Saints”.
Aunt Millie did not have much of the world’s goods. No fame or fortune. She was born on the mission field in Korea. She loved Jesus with all her heart and wanted everyone else to know Him, too. She left a very precious legacy to her family and friends. All who knew her are richer.

I shared with you earlier this year that I am reading through the Bible. I’m using the Daily Walk Bible in the New Living Translation. I try to do this every other year. This weekend I was finishing up Psalms – started Proverbs this morning. It always amazes me how much I forget or new things I see!

Anyway, yesterday I was reading Psalm 147. It is a Psalm written by King David praising God for Jerusalem’s restoration and prosperity. It talks about God rebuilding Jerusalem and bringing the exiles back. Then there is this verse: “He heals the broken-hearted and bandages their wounds.” Then it goes on to say that He counts the stars and calls them by name, His powers are absolute and His understanding is beyond comprehension. And the rest of the chapter is about God’s control over all things: nature, nations, political systems and people…all things.

The Psalmist writes things like: “He sends orders to the world – how swiftly His word flies!” , “He hurls the hail like stones…He sends the winds and the ice thaws…” In the middle all of the glorious and powerful things God does, I love that little sentence, “He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.”

You’d think God would be too busy doing all His wonderful and powerful works to even notice one with a broken-heart. Much less pause what He is doing to heal the one who has a broken heart plus take the time to bandage their wounds. One with a broken heart is not comforted by almighty power or absolute glory. That would be overwhelming to someone hurting. They need gentle comfort and understanding care.

When you go to the doctor or ER with a wound the doctor takes charge. You feel cared for, safe. The doctor has to get close to you.  He has to put his hands on you.  The first thing he does is stop the bleeding and remove any debris in the wound. That can hurt but you know it is necessary for healing. He works to get good access to the area that is wounded. He will also be sure to keep you warm and as comfortable as possible. He’ll rinse the wound out, and apply some anti-bacterial cream then he’ll evaluate it and bandage it.

When we are broken-hearted, when we are wounded, God comes close. He’s never too busy running the universe to stop and care for your needs. He is our safe place – our “ER”. But we need to take it to Him. Then He goes to work to stop the bleeding and clean out our wound with repentance and forgiveness. He wants to make you whole.

Yes, He counts the stars and calls them by name; He is sovereign over all things but He is never too busy to care for you personally. He knows you intimately. He knows your suffering. He will tenderly care for you and see that you get whole.

I shared with you that I have a cat. Everyone says she is “fat”. I say she just has sort legs. She is a good companion though lately when I’m away she likes to get up on my bed which she knows she is not supposed to do. Or she, like Goldilocks, tries out every bed and every chair. It wouldn’t be so bad but she shed! Big time. She is great and I wear a lot of black. I sue a lot of that sticky roller stuff!

Anyway, each morning when I get up she is waiting outside my bedroom door. I guess she hears the water running in my bathroom and knows I am awake. So she wait until I open the door. She has trained me to feed her first. She get 2/3 c. of weight control, indoor-cat, cat food. And I add 3 “treats” to her bowl. Plus I freshen her water. Once she has that she comes back to my room to stretch out on my rug and take her morning bath and siesta.

If the sun is up, she finds a sunny spot on the rug and luxuriates in that spot. One morning recently she settled down in a spot by my front door. I was just a narrow spot of sunlight. She seemed happy. But my room had a large sun-bathed spot – she chose to ignore it.

Isn’t that true of us?  At least of me. I am so easily satisfied with a small part of God’s blessing when He has given me everything to enjoy. I live as if He is a stingy God. He isn’t – He is lavish, abundant, exuberant, extravagant, generous, prodigal. Prodigal? That’s a word we think doesn’t belong there. We’ve always heard of the “Prodigal Son” and he was rebellious. Well, “prodigal ” means: wastefully or recklessly extravagant, giving profusely, lavishly abundant… Pastor Tim Keller has a book titled, The Prodigal God. It’s true. God is a prodigal God.

Next time yo see a sunrise or sunset, think of that. Next time you hear the chorus of birds in the morning, remember that. When you examine a flower blossom closely, remember how lavish God is.