September 27, 2005

Looking for Hope

I will post the remaining photos from Iraq later, but for now I need to write.

To be honest, I decided to post a photo a day for 30 days because I felt quite uninspired at the time to write anything. And rather than post a series of blah-blah, depressing posts, I thought the pictures might be best. But here I am now.

Once again, life has become a mish-mosh of stress and sadness intertwined with school, children, etc. The last few weeks have been a great struggle for me. And for the most part, I have kept my feelings masked. Well, except for one Sunday morning when I broke down in the bathroom at church on someone's shoulder. It's funny how when you hit rock bottom and just need someone, anyone, to be there, the one who is there is not who you might expect it to be. I digress...

I once sent an email to a writing group, asking how does an inspirational writer find inspiration for herself. Most of the replies back to me consisted of something along these lines, "I can't believe that a person who is named, 'Hope' could possibly ever feel uninspired!" Well guess what? I am, and I have!

I received a quote this morning that made me pause and think a moment:
"Life is mostly froth and bubble, but two things stand like stone, kindness in another's trouble and courage in your own."
- Princess Diana 1961-1997

Losing hope is an overwhelmingly powerful thing that is nowhere near being a good thing. Hope is the substance of optimism. It drives us when we feel like we couldn't possibly go another mile. Somewhere in the last couple of months, I felt like I had lost my hope and courage to keep fighting through my trouble.

I turned to the bible. I needed strength. Encouragement. Hope. What better place to go to find these things than the word of God? I searched to find a story of lost hope. I wanted--no, needed--to know that when hope is lost, it can be restored again. I needed to know that the battle could be fought and won.

Sometimes the familiar bible stories that we grew up on kind of grow stale because of the redunancy in which they were taught. But it is one of those very stories that gives me strength--the story of Goliath.

1 Samuel 17 places us smack-dab in the center of war. The Philistines gathered their troops and were ready for battle. They were spread far and wide, and the Israelites were scared to death. Saul and the Israelites camped at Oak Valley and spread their troops, preparing for the battle with with Philistines. The Philistines were on one hill, the Israelites on the other, and the valley lay between them (1 Samuel 17:3).

Out steps Goliath, a giant nearly ten feet tall. He had a bronze helmet on his head and was dressed in armor. His armor weighed a whopping 126 pounds! He wore bronze shin guards and carried a bronze sword. His spear was like a fence rail, with the tip alone weighing over fifteen pounds. And wouldn't you know...even as massive as this giant, Goliath, was, his shield bearer walked ahead of him. (That poses a funny picture in my mind!)

And the battle was on.

Goliath taunted the Israelited army. "Am I not Philistine enough for you? Pick your best fighter and pit him against me." Oh, okay. This is going to be a fair fight. R-i-i-i-i-i-i-ght

The Goliath upped the ante. "If your best fighter kills me, the Philistines will all become your slaves. If I win, you'll all become our slaves and serve us. I challenge the Israel troops today. Give me a man. Let us fight it out together!"

Now here's the clincher verse:
"When Saul and his troops heard the Philistine's challenge, they were terrified and lost all hope." (1 Samuel 17:11)

The Israelites, the ones who knew God and His power, lost hope. When the lion roared, they were deathly afraid and lost hope. Even though they had God on their side.


I can understand their position, because that is precisely where I've been. Staring at the face of the 'enemy' and hearing him taunt me endlessly, daring me to rise up against him so he can destroy me. And just like the Israelites, I was terrified and lost all hope.

Thank God the story doesn't end there. Truth be told, if I were in Saul's army, I probably would have turned in my resignation right then and there, too. I mean, what person in their sane mind would volunteer to go in battle against a giant?? Not me! But there was a boy, by the name of David, that was not inhibited by fear.

For forty days and nights, Goliath gave his speech. The Israelites were surely shaking in their shoes. What will we do? What can we do? There's no way to win this!

Jesse, whose three older sons had followed Saul to war, sent David, his youngest, to tend to Saul each day. One day he said to David, "Take this sack of cracked wheat and bread to your brother in the camp. Take these ten wedges of cheese to the captain of their division. Check in on your brothers and let me know how they are."

David arranged for someone to tend to his flock of sheep and headed to the battle zone at the crack of dawn. As he arrived, the army was moving into battle formation, shouting the war cry. The Israelites and Philisitines faced each other, ready for a head-on battle.

David left the food bundles in care of a sentry and ran to the troops who were deployed, to greet his brothers. While they were talking, Goliath stepped out from the front lines of the Philistines to give his challenge once again. Yet again, the Israelites trembled in fear and fell back the moment they saw Goliath. This time though, David heard him.

"Can you believe this man openly chanllenging Israel?" The scared troops weren't too afraid to banter. "The man who kills this giant will have it made. The king will give him a huge reward and offer his daughter as a bride. His entire family will have a free ride."

Now if you ask me, these men had been conditioned to their fear for so long (40 days and nights, remember?) that they had grown accustomed to it. Now their fear had turned into complacency.

David, who was talking to the men standing around him asked, "Who does this man think he is--this uncircumcised Philistine, taunting the armies of God?"

Eliab, David's older brother, heard David fraternizing with the men and lost his temper. "What are you doing here? You should mind your own business and go tend to that scrawny flock of sheep! I know what you're up to. You've come down here to see the sights, hoping for a ringside seat at a bloody battle!"

"All I did was ask a question," replied David. Ignoring his brother, he turned to someone else, asking the same question, and got the same answer as before. The things David was saying were picked up and reported to Saul, and Saul sent for him.

"Don't give up hope," David encouraged Saul. "I'm ready to go. I'm ready to fight this Philistine."

And what was Saul's response to this? "You can't go fight this Philistine. You're too young. Too inexperienced. He's been fighting since before you were born."

But David was determined. He was relentless. And finally, Saul said, "Go. And God help you!" Oh, Saul, if only you knew!

Sault outfitted David in armor as a soldier. But when David tried to walk, he could hardly budge. "I can't even move with all this stuff on me," he told Saul. And he took it all off.

David took his shepherd's staff, selected five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in the pocket of his shepherd's pack. Sling in hand, he approached the giant, Goliath.

What a sight that must have been!

Goliath paced back and forth. He noticed David and sneered at him. "Am I a dog that you come after me with a stick?" Goliath cursed David by his gods. "Come on. I'll make roadkill of you for the buzzards. I'll turn you into a tasty morsel for the field mice."

I suppose Goliath thought David would turn and run, being the small person he was. Boy, was he wrong!

David looked Goliath square in the eye and said, "You come at me with sword and spear and battle-ax. I come at you in the name of GOD, the God of Israel's troops, whom you curse and mock. This very day God is handing you over to me. I'm about to kill you, cut off your head, and serve up your body and the bodies of your Philistine buddies to the crows and coyotes. The whole earth will know that there's an extraordinary God in Israel. And everything gathered here will learn that God doesn't save by means of sword or spear. The battle belongs to GOD--he's handing you to us on a platter!"

What a speech! What a magnificent display of faith and hope. David had what all the armies of Israel had not--hope in God. He didn't just walk out and kill Goliath. He walked up to him and told him what he was going to do before it actually happened. If that isn't faith, I don't know what is!

David's show of faith angered Goliath, of course, and he started toward David. David took off from the front line running toward Goliath. David reached in his pocket for a stone and slung it. The stone made impact with Goliath, hard on the forehead. The stone hit so hard it embedded into Goliath's forehead! Goliath fell, facedown into the earth.

As David predicted, he finished the job by cutting off Goliath's head. When the Philistines saw that their great champion was dead, they scattered, running for their lives.

Oh, how great is OUR God!

This story gives me strength and courage. David faced a literal giant and won with great victory. If he could have such great faith to face a giant and never once doubt that he would win, how much more should I be full of faith and courage to face my own giants!

(Scripture from 1 Samuel 17, The Message version.)

September 12, 2005

Iraq in Pictures - Day 12

Sorry about the late post. I have a sick girl on my hands and this has been a long day!