by Inés Velásquez-McBryde
Ordained pastor, preacher, reconciler, writer, and speaker.
Chaplain at Fuller Theological Seminary
Count the Stars
[God] brought [Abram] outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
I am not hopeless because I count the stars. Often in the story of Abram/Abraham, the Lord invited him to look up at the sky. It usually occurred after a time of disappointment. There are two ways to count the stars. I count the times of God’s past faithfulness in my life and the many ways God was a living preposition; the resolution had come by going through, above, around, or under the pain and never quite with the results that I expected. I also count the stars by considering that God’s faithfulness came through friends who become stars and signs of hope to me.
I sat outside of my house under a dark yet starry night to take a phone call. I shared with a friend and fellow local pastor some disappointing obstacles in the church-planting journey. An enormous possibility had fallen through and I was discouraged and disoriented. He asked me a poignant question: “Do you feel hopeless?” Instinctively I looked up at the sky pondering my answer. I saw the twinkle of stars and galaxies far. “I cannot deny that the circumstances seem hopeless, but I am not without hope.” He dug again: “HOW are you not hopeless, though?”
I am not hopeless because I count the stars.
Often in the story of Abram/Abraham, the Lord invited him to look up at the sky. It usually occurred after a time of disappointment. On my dark starry night, I told my friend that it felt like Lot had just taken the best part of the land of the Jordan. Abram may have thought he was left with the scraps or none at all. In our particular verse above, we hear the promise of an heir even while Abram was childless. Abram could not see the signs of descendants, but God showed him the signs of God’s promises. Count the stars, if you are able to count them…
There are two ways to count the stars. I have counted the times of God’s past faithfulness in my life and the many ways God was a living preposition. The resolution had come by going through, above, around or under the pain and never quite with the results that I expected. I have also counted the stars by considering that God’s faithfulness came through friends. They became stars and signs of hope to me. At that time the individual calls, emails, texts and words of encouragement strengthened my resolve and resilience. A former pastor gave me a short leadership talk: “This is a momentary setback, but in the end they reveal greater blessings to those who persist in prayerful pursuit. Please take it from someone who’s been there before and learn to pivot from disappointment to determination. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.”
Count the stars, fellow pilgrims. The way around the pain and the witnesses to the pain are signs of God’s presence and promise.
How have you pivoted from disappointment to determination?
Who in your life has been a star and a sign of God’s presence and promise?
Thank a former mentor, coach, friend, coworker, teacher, or pastor for being a sign of God’s presence in your life during a time of disappointment. Send them a short handwritten note in the mail.
God of the stars, maker and placer of stars, you who know the stars by name, who placed them in the heavens, you who keep the planets orbiting in perfect motion, we pray to you, our Creator. For times of dark disappointment, would you be the lifter of our countenance and the comfort of our weary souls. Would that we lift up our eyes to the heavens and count the stars. Teach us to number the ways in which your faithfulness has been made known in our lives. Teach us to trust your faithfulness even as we defy the darkness with that simple trust. May our faithfulness be marked by your perfect fidelity. Grant us grace. Amen.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Hope has an inner sense of elusiveness at times, even and especially when one doesn’t seem to be able to catch it, capture it, or keep it. My grandmother’s witness as a creative entrepreneur was to cultivate it. In the face of hopeless situations, she kept hope at hand and was in the habit of cultivating it with her actions.
My grandmother Sara had a saying about hope that she would often say out loud in precarious situations: La esperanza es lo último que se pierde (“Hope is the last thing you lose”). Growing up in Nicaragua in the 80’s and 90’s we often were in precarious situations. Civil war. Post-civil war reconstruction era. Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Living under a communist regime with the sustained fear of violence and unsafety. She would watch the news about wars in other countries and I would see her wise wrinkles around her face tense up and get ready for whatever she thought was coming. I never quite understood the saying. Do we lose hope? Or, when we get to the bottom of the barrel, do we find hope?
Hope has an inner sense of elusiveness at times, even and especially when one doesn’t seem to be able to catch it, capture it, or keep it. My grandmother’s witness as a creative entrepreneur was to cultivate it. In the face of hopeless situations, she kept hope at hand and was in the habit of cultivating it with her actions. She kept one eye on the TV news and another eye fixed on the Good News.
My abuela was a type of Lydia, an amazing woman we get to know in Acts 16. Like Lydia, my abuela made a business of her skills and creatively defied the darkness. She was a teacher with a high school education. She washed and ironed clothes for other people. She was a seamstress and also taught other women how to sew so that they could provide for their family by making clothes or selling it. She cooked lunch for the employees at my dad’s pizza business. Through it all she prayed every morning before her grandchildren woke up. She was in the habit of hoping. Yet her contemplation was always coupled with faithful action.
My abuela Sara embodied this ancient hope that often perplexes me in that first verse of the hall of fame of faith in Hebrews 11. I cannot pin it down with a distinct and rigid definition, but I witnessed the practice of hope in her life. I have benefitted from the harvest of her hope. However, I also saw the planting and watering of those seeds, especially when the weather conditions were less than optimal. I often look back at how she hoped in order to be strengthened to continue to hope today; an ancient present faith and promising practice.
Conditions around our global familia, our local communities and our personal lives may continue to be less than optimal. Dear fellow pilgrim, would you hold onto hope? Would you cultivate it? La esperanza es lo último que se pierde.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers – (314)
By Emily Dickinson
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
How do you experience hope in your life?
Where do you need hope today?
Journal about hope. How would you define hope? What are the highs and lows of hope? What is one spiritual practice in your life that cultivates hope?
God of the hopeless, the helpless and the hurting. We offer you today those broken fragments of our lives that seem to be without hope. We offer you our fragmented souls. We offer you our workplace situations. We offer you the things that have changed temporarily or permanently. We offer you churches, schools, institutions, businesses. We offer you the things seen with the hope of the unseen. Breathe hope into our lungs even as we exhale hopelessness. Give us creative hope and teach us to cultivate hope. Jesus, when all is stripped away you remain a Living Hope. Who else will we run to? You are the only one with words of eternal hope. We hope in you. Grant us grace. Amen.