I grew up in a winding and small neighborhood about forty-five minutes from Indianapolis. It was the late 80’s where no one locked their doors and I was rockin’ my blue ten-speed bike with pencil-thin wheels. I remember the summer I finally learned to not just ride with no hands but turn the corners with no hands. I’m still proud of mastering that skill. I knew it was time to come home either by my neighbors bell she would ring or when the streetlights flickered on. It wasn’t all warm hugs and chocolate but the memories I choose to think on remind me of stillness – innocence – and hope. Like when I would turn the corner home – hands on my hips- I would see our porch light jump out between the houses as I sped by. Porch lights remind me of hope.
So now here we are with our own homes, our own apartments, and our own porch lights. And you know what my porch light is used for? Security. Yep. It’s used to make sure all things are visible. Fear our porch! We leave it on continuously – and we have to (the HOA gods said so).
On Halloween the “on” or “off” of the porch lights is purposely used to say, “Go Away, kids! We are hiding in our basement with our pizza and wine and we shall not be disturbed by cheap costumes or maskless parents waiting in their warm car blocking our mailbox!”. It’s used to say – there is nothing here for you so you might as well just turn around. It says, go away.
Security. Fear. Rejection. (A little one-eighty from the feeling of hope, right?)
But here we are. We are starting the season of traditions, holidays, travel (well, maybe), extended family (maybe on that one, too), winter break (God, be with us all), and FOOD, glorious FOOD!
Is that hope? Can I find it there? Have we endured all five-hundred years of 2020 just to find relief in gravy and warm apple pie? In the placement of our ultra-creeptastic elves on shelves? In seriously overpriced matching pajamas from Target that we wear one time and sell on Marketplace? Maybe.
Truth check: I have lived most of my life since March in survival mode. Any time I have the chance to see, do, feel, or buy what we label as normal, I jump at it. The thought of returning to anything called lock-down makes me physically ill.
But I won’t find relief in the apple pie, peace in matching pajamas, or hope at the bottom of the gravy boat. And I don’t think I truly ever did.
I’m a recovering alcoholic. Trust me. If we are waiting on something outside of ourselves to feel better then we will be waiting for a long, long time. Did I emphasize the long time part?
My friend and writer, Matt Bays, referred once to hope as “an ugly bird with one feather – half-dead but half alive, too”. I track with that on the hard days. Can you?
I also read something from Austin Channing Brown recently. She challenged her readers to look at it this way: Sometimes hope is not what you feel but what you do – you embody it.
Whoa. Full stop. I need to say that again: Sometimes hope is not what you feel but what you do – You embody it.
You cultivate it.
You get out of bed. You keep going to couple’s therapy week after week. You sit in the back of a chapel angry at God and mad at the hypocrisy, but you show up anyway.
You stand in line for nine hours, in the crisp and wet forty-five-degree weather, outside, to cast your vote because you know that it is the most powerful tool you have been given.
I’m guessing hope is found more in the laughter and mess of making the apple pie than eating it.
Maybe it is finally allowing yourself to be an observer of your children as they scream through your house dressed in their matching pajamas and think, my God, I am so grateful for these people.
And 2020? – I think it looks and feels raw, honest, messy, scary, and filled with mistakes and hugs. I think it looks like praying hard, bursting with rage, committing, breathing, asking for, and accepting forgiveness.
It looks like sacrifice, empathy, self-control, and burning the midnight oil because your middle school students are worth it.
It looks like learning a new trade and re-evaluating your skillset at forty-three years old when the profession you loved and lived all your life is not safe to return to.
It looks like giving grace to those who are desperate for it, an honest conversation that has needed to happen with someone who has needed to hear it, or it may be a firm but loving goodbye to things and people who’s purpose is no longer healthy or life-giving.
It may be a quick flickering of a distant porch light but it is there.
Hope may feel different this year but if you look closely – you can see it.
Just look in the mirror.