December | Hope | A Lesson by Katie Blackburn
“Hope governs our behavior.” I still remember the moment I grabbed a pen and the closest piece of paper within reach and quickly jotted those words down. I had been cleaning my office that morning: putting books that our toddler relentlessly pulled off the shelf back in their place, throwing paid bills in the recycling bag and looking with a bit of anxiety at the unpaid ones. In the background I had a John Piper podcast playing on the computer, but with my mind occupied with a whole lot of stuff, I was only catching phrases here and there.
And then the word “hope” stopped my busy hands. “Hope governs our behavior.” The words I scrambled to catch landed on a bright yellow notecard, which seemed fitting, because right in that moment I needed to slow down. My heart needed to sit with those words a minute, to ponder them, to take them off the page and put them to use in my life. I would not realize it until later, but I simply could not afford to miss their meaning.
Motherhood has a way of taking our eyes off the long term view and drowning our vision in diapers, spilled cheerios and toddlers climbing on the counter. The woman who once had a five-year plan with strategic goal milestones along the way is now counting the minutes until bedtime, unable to think of anything past the moment that the door to the last child’s bedroom is finally closed for the night. The couple who used to plan dream vacations on date nights is now planning budgets to make sure the medical bills are paid and the school supplies are bought. Being a parent is very here and now. Sure, we anticipate the seasons ahead but so often we get through the day one diaper, one spill, one heart-correction and discipline at a time.
But that is exactly why mamas need hope. Because hope “governs our behavior.” Hope is our anticipation of coming good and our confidence that today may be what we have right in front of us but it is not all we have.
This time of year, the word hope gets thrown around like a decoration: it’s on our Starbucks cups and framed in silver tinsel on the shelf at Hobby Lobby. It’s lit up on billboards and painted on store windows. It’s a safe word for the Holiday season, moderately encouraging even. But if our hope truly does govern our behavior, it’s not enough to put it on a shelf or drink a caramel latte out of something proclaiming its festiveness. Hope isn’t a nicety. Hope is a lifeline. And that’s why where we put our hope makes all the difference.
Hope cannot come alive if it is only in a Holiday and it will not sustain if it is only in temporary things: our bank accounts or reputations or even in our children. What, or who, we put our hope in is one of the most important things about us.
And it is absolutely, without a doubt, one of the most important things about our mothering.
When it comes to our own creative work, hope is equally important. Would we stay up late and get up early, would we wrestle the emotions bouncing around our minds to the ground, would we pay for babysitters or do the hard, vulnerable work of being completely and totally honest if we did not hope that in some way, all that work mattered? (Well, I might pay for a babysitter anyway).
The first time I heard John Piper’s words about hope, I knew they were true, and I knew that I needed them. Because my hope was in all the wrong things: it was in getting my son into the right therapy program, it was in my ability to change my daughter’s strong-willed nature, and it was in managing my home so that it looked presentable from the outside looking in. My hope depended on my circumstances, which were always changing and very difficult to control at all. So when all of those things were coming up short—when the insurance company fought the therapy and my daughter told me she wanted a new mommy and the third plate of the day fell from the table—my heart felt like it was coming up short, too. I was out of hope, and I was acting like it, because the circumstances I had put my hope in couldn’t carry the weight of it.
But when I thought about that angry mama reluctantly cleaning her office for the third time that week, I knew my actions were speaking for my hope, and that wasn’t what I wanted my three babies to see. They were watching a mama shaken and frustrated by the very life I had always dreamed of. They were looking at a heart that was screaming, “If I cannot have it my way, then I do not want it!”—the very attitude we try daily to curb in our little ones.
Motherhood has the most beautiful way of convicting, doesn’t it?
My hope was governing my behavior, and my hope was in ... well, it was in me. And I will always fall short. As those words scribbled on that yellow notecard came to life, I knew that my hope had to be in something far more permanent than my circumstances, because when our day to day lives are constantly throwing us curveballs we do not even have the time to steady our eyes to see coming, hope that doesn’t change—and does not disappoint—is exactly what a mama’s heart longs for.
Hope is what helps us take the long view in our lives, reminds us of the good that we believe is coming, and it dictates how we live as we wait. It gets us past the mess in front of us and helps our eyes see not just the what but the why. Hope is the soil from which all good things grow both in us and around us. And just like hope governs our behavior, it also governs our creativity. If our hearts see only here and now, so will our work. Perhaps one of the most powerful questions we can ask ourselves in our driest seasons, both of motherhood and of creativity, is this: what exactly do I hope for? The answer directs how we love our children and also how we create.
Motherhood and creativity—when they are founded on hope—really do fit together just right.
“Hope is like a path in the countryside. Originally there is nothing—but as people walk this way again and again, a path appears.”
– Lu Xun, Chinese Essayist, 1921
Can you think of a season when you felt out of hope?
What are your hopes for yourself?
For your marriage?
For your creative work?
In what ways are you misplacing your hope or hoping in the wrong things? What can you do to set your path straight and realign with what you truly believe?
How do you remind yourself of the hope that you have?
Write a letter to your children, writing out what you hope for them. Start with today: what do you hope for their day, their tiny moments of learning and experiencing right now? Then look ahead: what do you hope for their young adult lives, their first jobs and first loves and first real failures? Then look toward the end: who do you hope they become, and what do you hope they remember about you?
Mamas, the work of writing out our hopes for our children actually does its most important work in us: when we get clear on the kind of things we hope our children do, know, and are, it forces us to a higher standard, because they need to see those things in us.
During a season of my life where I felt fresh out of hope, one of the most encouraging things my people did for me was show up at the front door with something that that simply said, “I see you.” A meal, a card, flowers, a few groceries—small and simple tangible reminders that we have each been given a new day, and because of that, there is great reason to have hope. This day has purpose because every day has purpose. But when your people show up unexpectedly and remind you of that, I think that might be when your heart believes it the most.
This month, choose someone in your life who you know is fresh out of hope. Find a mason jar and some string and fill it with this yummy, healthy (and totally personalizeable!) homemade granola. Then print the tags in your digital gift and write a sentence or two about hope for your friend. Tell them you see them, that in the middle of something hard our hope can still grow because their story has a beautiful purpose, for today and for always.
And can I tell you something I know to be true: even if you are the one who is fresh out of hope right now, the act of being hopeful for someone else has this crazy way of re-filling your hope, too. It’s the paradox of generosity, and it’s pretty great.
- 3 cups old-fashioned oats
- 1 cup almonds, divided
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1/3 cup honey
- 3 tablespoons coconut oil
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Extras: chocolate chips, dried fruit, shredded coconut, etc.
Preheat oven to 350.
In a food processor, pulse ½ cup of the almonds until they are very fine. Then put the other half cup in and just give them a rough chop.
Pour the oats, almonds, salt and brown sugar into a bowl and combine.
Melt the coconut oils and honey in the microwave about 30 seconds. Stir to completely melt the coconut oil then add the vanilla extract. Pour over the oat mixture and stir to combine.
Add anything you want! (A touch of cinnamon + nutmeg, chocolate chips, dried cranberries and golden raisins are my favorites)
Pour mixture onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes. The take the pan our and stir it up and bake for another 4-5 minutes.
Pour onto a piece of wax paper to cool about 10 minutes, then try not to snack on it all before you give it to a friend.
And you know, if the kitchen isn’t your favorite place, just show up with bright yellow flowers. Because December needs some color and our hearts need to look at something that will remind us to slow down, to remember what we have our hope in, and that when we cannot find that thing, we still have a friend who will show up and remind us.
Artist Interview with Hannah hagen:
1. This past March, just minutes after giving birth, your sweet baby boy was swept into Jesus’ arms and home to Heaven. What has Titus’ life taught you about hope?
Oh my goodness, so many things. How many pages do I have?
One of them—and it seems so simple—but Titus’ life has encouraged a daily awareness of the hope I have. One of the ways this manifests itself is that I am crazy excited for heaven. In this world, we’re only able to experience a shadow of the real thing. Our hope is always battling against pain and sorrow and grief for our attention. And oh, how my heart longs for the freedom to experience it purely, to see the hope that I have, perfected in heaven. It brings a smile to my face that my son gets to live in that reality right now.
Titus’ life has also taught me the absolute necessity of hope. From the first minute we found out he wasn’t breathing, my husband and I had to exercise that muscle of faith, urging us to trust God with our son’s life. And even though God didn’t give breath to Titus in that moment, he promises us that Titus is alive and well, heartbeat strong, and lungs filled with breath for eternity. We’ve had to press into that hope and believe that what God promises is true.
He’s taught me to impart hope to others—and what an important calling that is! I consider it my partnership with Ty, spreading the hope of Jesus everywhere we go. Through painting, through writing ... every piece I write or paint I pray over, that God would infuse hope into the hearts of those who see it. My dad gave me a picture a few months ago of Titus up in heaven; he sees someone in need of hope and he starts jumping up and down, waving his arms, shouting to Jesus, “Put me in Coach! Put me in!” It’s an image that’s really stuck with me. Titus is working beside me to bring light to dark places.
2. In the months since Titus’ birthday, how have you learned to hold both your grief and your hope together and live with both at the same time?
Oh man, this is such a huge tension! My husband, Kent, and I run into this every single day. It is one of the hardest, most complicated parts of our journey since Titus passed away. We call it “jorrow,” joy in sorrow. I remember we were driving home one night talking about this tension and how it needs its own word. You know, like when you’re hungry and angry you’re “hangry.” Well, nothing we came up with sounded good, so we settled on “jorrow.” It sounds super awkward, but so is this experience, so in a way, it fits.
I think what we’ve learned so far is that IT’S HARD. It’s exhausting and incredibly confusing to feel two completely opposite emotions at once. One example is that I was pregnant at the same time as many of my close friends and both of my sisters. So it’s been especially difficult to try to hold joy in our hearts for them and with them, while our hearts are, at the very same time, torn wide open with grief. Seems impossible. And sometimes it is. And on those days we stay home and we nurse our wounds and retreat from the battle.
But we’ve also learned that grief, for us as believers, actually encourages hope. Sadly, it’s hard to fully understand the expansive power of the hope we have until we’re forced to look extreme loss in the face. In those moments, we so desperately need to believe that there’s more to life than pain and suffering and death. And so we seek out hope, wherever it can be found.
This is one of the simple graces of grief: that we notice Jesus everywhere because we are looking for him everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, it’s easy for me to focus on the pain, what was taken from us, what we aren’t able to experience. And that promotes some ugly things in my heart. And some days, I have to admit, I don’t feel so full of hope. Some days I’m just sad, disappointed, frustrated, and overwhelmed with sorrow. But that’s what happens when we live in a broken world—we’re broken. And thankfully, my Savior understands and is not surprised by the depth of my sadness. It is safe with him.
I guess that’s a long way of saying that for every sorrow there is joy. For every moment of grief, there is hope. Jesus died for me so that I could experience more than just pain and suffering. He died so that I could experience hope now and then joy forever with him in heaven. But until that day comes ...“jorrow.”
3. How has painting, writing and pursuing creativity been a part of your healing process?
It has been really, really instrumental. I’ve always loved writing. For years I’ve used it to process life in all its nuance. Putting words to those things is a great joy for me. But watercolor, that was pretty unexpected. Probably about a month after Titus was born and before I’d gone back to work, a good friend of mine invited me over to paint for an afternoon. She taught me some of the basics and a couple weeks later we took a class from one of our favorite watercolor artists we follow on Instagram. I was hooked. I think the biggest thing for me is that it gives my mind a break. While I paint, everything fades away and all I think about is water and paper and the movement of my brush. There’s always a point right in the middle of a piece where I think to myself, “This looks horrible. What was I thinking? I don’t like this.” But I keep going and usually the end product amazes me. And I guess in a way, I believe that is what life is like. We’re moving forward and even in those moments where we think to ourselves, “I don’t like this,” God promises us that in the end, HE will make something beautiful out of it. He will restore everything. And we’ll look at the end product and be amazed. That’s what hope is to me—moving forward, even when things are ugly, because deep, deep down you believe that there’s something better ahead. Watercolor, writing, creativity helps me to act out the hope that I have. It reminds me that I’m a work in progress and that God promises me that someday it will all work out for good.
4. What inspires you: as a wife, mom, and artist?
Well, this community of women, for one. Coffee + Crumbs has been one of those unexpected bright spots in my healing. Surprising, since you’d think that talking about motherhood would be hard for me. But I think it’s given me a safe space to acknowledge my own motherhood. It might look very different, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to talk about it and learn about it and be encouraged in it, just like any other mama. The grace you pour out on moms of all kinds encourages me so much.
I’m also greatly inspired by music. I have so many songs and albums that have carried me through very specific moments of grief. The beauty and emotion in music encourages me to create something of my own. I listen to music every time I paint.
Lastly, other writing or art (really anything creative) inspires me to do what I do with greater purpose and passion. Sometimes I go to the bookstore and look through cookbooks or crafting books (Year of Cozy is one of my favorites!) just to regain that spark for beauty. The photography alone in those books lights a fire in my heart. Other art and writing also encourages me to get resourceful in my marriage and pursue my husband with creativity, which is a whole different topic, but so important!
5. Do you have a scripture, word or mantra that guides your work?
There are so many! But consistently it’s been Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Since Ty was born, and actually throughout my entire pregnancy, we’ve had to attack many hard things with bravery. I tell people that he’s the little boy God is using to teach me courage. But my favorite thing about this verse is that it doesn’t say, “Gather up your own courage and strength and good luck with life!” It tells you to be strong and courageous, to not be afraid or distressed, “for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” That’s been a powerful reminder to us. It’s actually given us a lot of hope because there’s nothing about this loss that we’ve been able to handle on our own strength. And God doesn’t expect us to! I’m amazed when I look back and think about everything he’s carried us through. What a relief that he’s ready and able to provide all the strength we need. And that doesn’t just apply to us or to those who’ve experienced unimaginable loss. It applies to everyone, wherever you’re at, he is with you. What a game changer.
Because this is something that’s been guiding my life recently, it’s also guided my work. There’s such a temptation in the process of creating to question and diminish our work. To think it’s not good enough, or even to believe the lie that no one is interested in what we have to offer. A lot of art is very personal and it takes courage to put yourself out there. But I believe so strongly that it’s incredibly important to do this very thing—put ourselves out there. It’s important to learn from each other, to feel that “me too” moment, to know you’re not alone. And how else are we going to accomplish this than to be courageously sharing life with each other, especially through artistic expression? So every time I question something I’ve written, thinking that no one wants to hear what I have to say, every time I look at a painting and think, “What am I doing?! I’m not professional,” I take a deep breath and remember that it’s not about perfection or approval. It’s about being authentic and sharing what you have to give with the world, for the benefit of the world. Be courageous! Share life with each other, in all its messy, wonderful complexity. You’ll be better for it.
6. While your journey and the impact of Titus’ story are far from over, what is something you have learned in the past year that you are taking in to the new year with fresh eyes?
I think this last year has taught me that I’m not in control and to take one day at a time. I’m walking into this new year with open hands. I have no idea what comes next. And that’s crazy difficult for me. We’ve become painfully aware that even when we do plan, life doesn’t always turn out the way we expect. So I’m holding my plans loosely. I’m walking forward in faith, not knowing what could come next, but having hope that it’s something good.