“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

~I Peter 1:3

The word hope is often an ambiguous term. We “hope against hope,” or have “false hopes.” We “get our hopes up” and “hope for the best but prepare for the worst.” Over the years Hollywood has given us ‘hope’ themed movies such as Hope & Glory (1987),  City of Hope (1991), Hope Floats (1998), Hope Springs (2003) along with the various television series of Saving Hope (2012) and Raising Hope (2014).

This first week of Advent we light the candle of hope.  We do this in anticipation of the birth of Jesus who, as Peter reminds us,  is our “living hope.” In our hopeless circumstances we are then able to turn to a living God who provides living hope to all who seek Him.

Where in your life do you need a living hope?

How will you share the hope that you have with others this week?

 

” Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” ~1 Thess. 5:18

Thanksgiving is the time of year when family and friends gather to share food and fellowship. But we all know that the best part of Thanksgiving is the leftovers where we get to turn one elaborate meal in many more enjoyable meals.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 Paul states, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” If God’s will is for us to give thanks in all circumstances, perhaps these are the “spiritual leftovers” of Thanksgiving. God is calling us to turn a one day a year holiday into a daily practice of giving thanks.

What are you most thankful for?

In what ways can you express your gratitude today and every day?

“Don’t be afraid…Don’t you see?  You planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good. “ ~ Genesis 50:20

At our Summer Hope4Hollywood Ladies Tea: Stories of Grace, one of our ladies shared how God granted her grace in the midst of a difficult journey. “Many years ago when I was a college student at Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C.  I met a handsome graduate student from Sierra Leone, West Africa. We began dating and 9 months later were married the day after my graduation. I was so in love. He was intelligent, tall and always a gentleman in my presence.

In our marriage, like all marriages, we had our ups and downs.  He was an excellent provider, bills were paid, we had comfortable accommodations, and took two vacations a year. But I often found that he was emotionally unavailable and his authority was absolute. Throughout our married life he also continued to maintain his social life as if he were still single. I was not allowed to question any of his behavior.

Once we settled into our new home our lives seemed to be much like a storybook.  But the undercurrent was that he continued to maintain a separate social life. There were always whispers of my husband’s infidelity amongst my colleagues at the university where we both worked and I recall seeing him getting into cars with different women.  At those times I often felt something was wrong with me—that I needed fixing. So I would go to God in prayer to ask him to take away my “wrong attitude” towards my husband. One day, 11 years into our marriage, I went to God again. This time I did not ask him to ‘fix me”. Instead I asked God to start fixing my husband. Two days later, my prayers were unexpectedly and abruptly answered. My husband filed for divorce. I felt as if the bottom had dropped out of my stomach. How could this be God’s answer to my prayers?

It was then that I remembered one of my favorite stories in the book of Genesis. There Joseph experienced many devastating events from being sold by his brothers to being falsely imprisoned. Yet through it all he not only relied on God but surrendered all of his difficulties. I decided that if I could surrender my trials that were intended to harm me, God would be able to turn to them to good. Throughout the rest of my life I did just that, holding myself and my children up,  all while earning 3 degrees.   And along the way I embraced the  many ‘grace-filled helpers”— wise elders, friends, community leaders, stepping in to provide an answer, listening ear or to provide encouragement and support. 

These days I am in a new season of trials—this time with medical illness. Every day I am attempting to live a life of surrender, believing that God has the power to bring good even from this.”

What difficult trials are you currently enduring?

How can you surrender these so God can use them for good?

 

“Dear sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”

 ~ James 1:2-4

At our Spring Hope4Hollywood Ladies Tea: Stories of Joy, one of our ladies shared how God granted her joy in the midst of a difficult journey. “For as long as I can remember I have dreamed of being a doctor. So in college I earned high grades and diligently studied for the MCAT exam.  I was devastated to learn the news that my scores were too low to even be accepted into any schools. And to add to my sense of failure, my test scores did not improve and then I learned  that I had to wait 2 long years to reapply. I felt defeated,  mentally and emotionally exhausted, and my joy was gone. Why had my efforts failed?  After much prayer and wise counsel, I realized that God hadn’t taken away my opportunity but had just given me more time. He had gifted me with 2 extra years. This gift of time allowed me to save money as well as complete a Master’s Degree. Somehow my ‘struggle’ was turned into an opportunity to find joy.

Two years later I was overjoyed to receive the news of my acceptance into medical school!  I felt so blessed to finally have the opportunity to fulfill my dream of becoming a physician. But the transition to another state was very difficult.  Everything was brand new. I felt all alone and medical school was very challenging. Perhaps you have heard of the term imposter syndrome? That was me my first 2 years in medical school. I felt like I was pretending to be something I was not. Not only were classes a daily challenge but my relationship with my longtime boyfriend was disintegrating. I was an emotional and physical wreck, having doubled in size from all the stress. I was at another low point, discouraged and defeated.  How and where could I find joy in all of this? Once again I had to consciously choose to hang onto anything that would bring me joy.  Slowly over the next year God began to restore joy through the love of my friends and family.

Today I work as a medical resident and  am being challenged and tested yet again. I am working an unimaginable number of hours, without even time during my busy days to use the restroom or take a break. At times I feel under appreciated and devalued. Even harder is dealing with the daily burden of breaking bad news to my patients.  I recall recently delivering the news to my 30 something patient that she has stage 4 terminal cancer which will likely take her life within the next year. How do I find joy in the midst of all of this?

As in all my other dark times, I remember that I needed to take time to stop and reflect. And so one day at work, despite having a morning clinic session and a full patient load, plus a multitude of other tasks,  I decided to take my wheel-chair bound patient into the healing garden. We sat outside for nearly an hour, just enjoying the sun on our faces. He was so grateful to get out of the confines of his room and have a sense of something normal again. His smile and authentic gratitude reminded me of why I wanted to go into medicine in the first place.

James 1 reminds us that our struggles are actually “opportunities.” So each day I am making an effort to view my difficulties as opportunities–opportunities for joy and growth.  Hopefully I can turn these newfound opportunities into helping me develop into an even better friend, sister, daughter, partner and physician in the future.

What struggles are you currently facing?

How can you consider these struggles as “opportunities” for joy?

 

“Take off the grave clothes and live!” ~ John 11: 44

hope4hollywood

During this season of the year, we often focus on themes of new life and resurrection as we prepare for the celebration of our risen Lord.  One of the more interesting passages which explores these themes actually occurs a few months before Jesus’ resurrection. In John 11, Jesus is summoned to the tomb of Lazarus, who has been dead for 3 days. There he encounters the family who has been grieving, including Mary and Martha.  In a dramatic moment, Jesus calls Lazarus out from the grave saying, “Lazarus, come out!” After he performs the miracle of resurrecting him from the dead, Jesus then commands him to “take off the grave clothes” so that he might truly live.

Although Jesus has the power to set us free, we, like Lazarus, must take off our “grave clothes”– our past hurts, present pain and future worries. When we free ourselves from those things which hinder us, only then are we free to live the life God purposed for us.

Which grave clothes are you still wearing?

What steps will you take this week to remove these clothes so that you can truly live?

“I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful. I know that full well.” ~Psalm 139:15

I was born and raised here in Los Angeles, where my dad was a television writer and producer.  I remember all the cancelled vacations, as well as long days and sometimes months that my dad wasn’t home. I even recall overhearing my parent’s arguments at nights when I was supposed to be asleep. . As a result, I began to blame “Hollywood” for the toll it was taking on our family. My plan after graduation was to move to Oregon and become a music teacher and never live in Los Angeles again.

Looking back, I don’t remember praying and asking God about my plan – I just jumped into it assuming I knew myself well enough to decide my own future. It was three years into my music degree that I began questioning, “Am I doing the right thing? Am I on the right path?” And I began to feel God pointing me in a different direction.

This crushed me. Music education was my identity. I had always loved teaching music, and had been told that I had a lot of potential as a music educator. So, with some resentment, I took the first courageous step to drop the “education” part of my major and finish off a much less demanding general music degree.

I suddenly had more time to explore other interests so I quickly joined the student leadership team of my college Christian fellowship. Being on this close-knit team, I learned how to read the Bible, developed an incredible love for and reliance on prayer, and ultimately tuned in to hearing God’s voice. For the first time, I was becoming someone who could say yes to Jesus every time He called me.

About halfway through my senior year, my mom told me that a family friend of ours in LA, Karen Covell, was looking for a new employee for her ministry Hollywood Prayer Network.  Now, just to make the irony clear, one thing I had definitely never done in my life was pray for Hollywood. So I took a few months to think, talk, and pray about it. Through my prayers, I felt like Jesus was telling me there was no way I could avoid this call. He was telling me to go. He was challenging me to go back to LA and serve his people in Hollywood.

Psalm 139 reminds us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by our Creator. In this process, God was encouraging me to let go of the image I had created for myself. Learning to rely on God’s image of who I am allowed me to courageously give up my self-made path for His perfect plan.

As I now serve in Hollywood ministry, God continues to teach me more every day about courage.  I have learned that God often gives me smaller things along the way so that when it comes time for bigger risks, I am so used to trusting and taking leaps of courage that I am ready to take on a bigger challenge. It took courage for me to give up my path and accept God’s. And now I can see that it was Jesus who was giving me courage during these moments of small yes’s, proving over and over that trusting Him in my weakness is courageous.

Where do you need God’s courage this week?

How will you trust God’s plan instead of your own?

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” ~Luke 2:14

gareth-harper-175342-unsplash
Photo credit: Gareth Harper

This time of year we hear seasonal songs playing on the radio, in grocery stores and in shopping malls. From carols to jingles, I wonder, what is it about songs that make the holidays so special?

Songs are used throughout Scripture to lead God’s people into worship during specific times of God’s provision. After the Exodus, Moses and the Israelites sang a song to the Lord. When David defeated Goliath, the people celebrated with tambourines and musical instruments. And at the announcement of an infant birth a host of angels burst into song singing, “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth.”

We are blessed this Christmas season to continue the tradition of singing songs of praise to God. As we sing this season, let us do so with expectant hearts trusting that God always keeps His promises.

What song is your heart currently singing?

How will you thank God through song today?