This week I drove past a mom and her three small children riding bikes on the sidewalk. The mom was bringing up the rear, like a mother goose herding her goslings. The oldest child rode confidently at the head of the line, showing the way. The two smaller children had training wheels on their bikes. They would pedal a little ways, turn and look back to make sure mom was there and then pedal again.
As I passed them by, I thought how training wheels are small signs of hope. They are there for the time between when you first mount a bike and when you can balance on two wheels. The training wheels seem to say, "One day you will not need us; you can ride on your own. But right now, we are here to give you enough stability to get to the future." Hope is what carries us from here to there.
I checked my small garden one afternoon this week. My tomato plants are growing like crazy. I see the small yellow flowers that very soon will be red tomatoes. I thought how every flower on the vine is a small sign of hope: Something is growing here. It is not here yet, but it will be. Hope always has a starting point.
I did a wedding for a couple last year. Not too long ago, they sent me a picture of their ultrasound (pregnancy came quickly!). I could make out the baby's head, arms and legs. This baby in just a few weeks of growth has become a complex being. He has months to go before he is ready to enter the world, but the pictures are a small sign of hope. There is new life coming. He will be greeted with joy. But his arrival must not be rushed. Hope needs time to grow and mature.
I talked this week with someone who has cancer. She has been waiting to see her treatment team. Waiting is the hardest work of all. The meeting happened this week. The doctors laid out their recommendations and showed her the plan. Her team is optimistic. A treatment plan is a small sign of hope. There is a direction now, a schedule. Hope flourishes when there is a plan.
I've been preaching a message series about Body and Soul. I've gotten dozens of emails telling me the messages are speaking to them. Most of the messages I've received share the same thought: "I never thought about my body that way before." When someone tells me that, I know it's a compliment to God, not to me. But the compliments do give me joy. People are thinking differently. Thinking differently about your body, your marriage, your friendships, even your kids is a small sign of hope. Hope requires a shift in thinking.
Where I live, in South Carolina, we are having the prettiest spring in 20 years. We're between the dark, damp days of winter and the baking heat of summer. Normally spring in South Carolina lasts a week. Right now, we are on beautiful week number eight. Every day seems to invite us to go outside, to enjoy the weather, the birds and flowers. Each cool morning is a small sign of hope. Each cool evening invites us to live in this moment, to savor the gifts of breeze and refreshment. Hope requires you to savor the moments because they come only once.
Each day I listen to the news and hear another report about COVID-19. Each day brings news of more deaths, more cases. I wish the newscasters would share the number of people who are recovering. I try to remember to do the math. In South Carolina, 6,757 confirmed cases. Deaths: 283. I've forgotten how to do ratios, but it is a small sign of hope that most people with the virus are not dying. Hope needs to be reminded about reality.
I think God sends us small signs of hope, no matter what our crisis. It is his way of encouraging us, telling us he is still at work even when things look bad. We don't need to be led by our fears. Maybe a prayer for you to pray is for God to show you small signs of hope. They are out there. It's not a matter of just opening your eyes; it's a matter of opening your soul.
The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter.
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