The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall!
My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
"The Lord is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him."
The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
What do you get when you multiply four working mothers times multiple children with a day off of school? In the office at the university where I work, the solution to that problem looks like five elementary school kids rotating in and out of the conference and snack rooms; eating pizza and Oreos and drinking sodas as part of the bribe they extracted in exchange for being reasonably cooperative (actually that was just my child); watching Netflix and playing on iPads; drawing on white boards; and basically having a ball.
And as if all of that weren't enough, throw in a student babysitter, a bag of stale bread, and an hour to walk around campus while the grownups had a meeting, and you get the Great Good Friday Squirrel Hunt of 2017.
I have no idea how many squirrels there are in a square mile on campus, but the number has to be astronomical. The coffee shop in the Student Center declared them its mascot and sells shirts with a squirrel logo, and in general, the students, faculty, and visitors take an attitude ranging from tolerance to indulgence toward the little creatures. As a result, the squirrels on campus are bold little hustlers; they assume you have something for them and act mildly annoyed if you don't. The one in the photo above followed me a good ten yards down the sidewalk; you can see the frank expectation evident on his face. When he finally accepted I didn't have anything for him, he turned and ran for the nearest tree without looking back. I had to fight the urge to call out an apology.
So you can imagine kids armed with almost a full loaf of stale bread would have no trouble engaging the squirrels, which I'm sad to say is about as close to wildlife as my young city dwellers get these days. Still, there's something a little bit magic about coaxing a wild thing, a creature with no master, into a fleeting moment of contact. My daughter always flashes her brightest smile after a squirrel (or a duck, or a fish in the koi pond) takes her little offering; the thrill of being trusted by a creature under no obligation to trust anyone makes her feel special and chosen. She glows for hours afterwards.
When the student babysitter who served as fearless leader of the Great Good Friday Squirrel Hunt brought the hunters back to the office--sweaty, happy, and full of stories--she sat down to chat with us for a few minutes. She told us about their walk around campus, the attention the merry little band attracted along the way, and of course, feeding the squirrels. She said the challenge at the beginning was to overcome the overzealous impulse to chase the squirrels; no amount of stale bread could counteract the terrifying effect of five pairs of feet thundering after them. Squirrel after squirrel lit out for the nearest trees and shrubbery, seeking cover from the exuberant hands throwing big chunks of bread after their retreating figures.
It took a few rounds of that before the kids started to understand that if they were still, quiet, and acted like they were focused on other things, the squirrels were more likely to creep up slowly and take bread left lying on the ground a few feet away. After being left undisturbed to enjoy a couple of pieces, they grew bolder and more willing to come up even closer. The longer the kids sat quiet and still, the more the squirrels took advantage of their largesse. The kids' hopes to get close to the squirrels and the squirrels' hopes to get fed were both satisfied.
I spent most of Lent this year wrestling with hope not unlike Jacob wrestled the angel in Genesis 32. Some days I feel like I'm about to receive a blessing; other days I feel like I'm struggling beside a river with a dislocated hip. Don't get me wrong: everywhere I look I see signs of healing and progress, restoration and growth. We are all so much better than we were five years ago, three years ago, one year ago. Our current state reminds me of how I feel on the walk to the car after a trip to the emergency room: sobered by a brush with forces bigger than me, grateful to be through the immediate crisis, comforted by prescriptions to fill, reassured by post-treatment instructions to follow. As harrowing as the last few years have been at times, we made it through mostly intact. That is nothing short of a miracle.
But like the writer in Lamentations, I will never fully shake memories of the ordeal and the consequences that continue to shape our reality. Some days my soul can't help but sag under the burden, and when I try to reach for hope, it's the grabby, overzealous, thundering kind of reach the kids made for the first few squirrels they tried to feed. That never works. That kind of reach ends in hopes dashed or deferred, hopes exposed as false, or sometimes even the temptation to give up hoping at all. Resignation is palpable in my voice lately, the very opposite of hope. That isn't who I want to be.
The verse from Lamentations reminds me that where hope (and squirrels) is concerned, the best thing to do is to wait. Quietly. Patiently, if possible. With trust and open hands and faith that God will lead me with love and mercy and grace. Cultivating stillness, focusing on the tasks at hand, going about the business of loving the world every day--those things coax hope out from where it ran to hide in the bushes. They are the breadcrumbs that entice hope ever closer. Hope--real, authentic hope--can be elusive, but it sticks around, just waiting for the right time to reemerge. I want that to happen sooner rather than later, of course, but at the end of the day, hope doesn't follow a script or operate on demand. That's what makes hope fulfilled so thrilling--the sense of being so chosen and special that this thing you dreamed about actually came true.
Tomorrow morning is Easter Sunday, the most powerful example of hope fulfilled in the Christian faith. Jesus overcomes death and despair and returns in a brilliant demonstration of how chosen and special God's children are. We can hardly believe it's actually true; yet it was, and it is, and it always will be. In Jesus we see hope both promised and fulfilled, God's great faithfulness alive and active in the world and in our individual lives.
So I'll keep listening for "the tune without the words," no matter how hard it might be to hear sometimes. I hope you will, too.
Mother, photographer, writer. Expert in making things up as she goes and figuring things out along the way.