Habit of Hope

January 19, 2011 | 22 comments

It feels criminal, like I might wreck something. But I do this anyway:

I lay the suede-covered book — The “Ministerialbog” — on my kitchen table and run my hands along its cover, 123 years old. I lean over with eyes closed and hold my nose just above the binding. I breathe in a musty cologne.

The scent of ancient pages stays on me.

These are bound pages that hold names of the forefathers and the foremothers, who drove horsedrawn carriages over snow-encased roads to baptize their bundled babies.
I open the front cover of the book slowly, afraid I might tear something sacred. Someone dipped a pen in an inkwell 123 years ago and wrote inside the front cover: Vor Frelsers Menighed. That’s Norwegian for, Our Saviour Congregation.

These are my people.

There are two books, and the first one is dated 1888. That was the year Louisa May Alcott died, and the year Vincent Van Gogh cut off the lower part of his left ear. A deadly blizzard swept through Iowa that winter, and mamas buried their babies in tiny wooden boxes.

The book is on my kitchen table in 2011, pulled from the fireproof safe for just a few days, before we transfer these archives to another safe.

I look out my kitchen window, and see how January has pulled up a white blanket snug against this land, their land. Over the white-shrouded field, I see my church. Their church.

It’s a different building now, yes. The first house of worship burned to the ground in 1996. But this newer one? It’s theirs, too. Perhaps as much theirs as it is mine, or maybe more? I think of their sacrifices.

I repeat a childhood rhyme, lace my fingers: “Here’s the church. Here’s the steeple. Look inside and see all the people.”

Church is people.

And Hope is the cord that ties the people. Hope is the thread that weaves through souls to make one Body. I’m part of this now — this one Body.

I feel it when I turn the first yellowed page, fragile like onion skin. I try not to tremble, and my fingers make a shushing sound on the pages. On papers with torn edges, I find names of the first babies — Barnets Navn.

These names are not new to me. I’ve seen them on the graves across the road from my church. I roam that patch of land sometimes — a repository of bodies — and I wonder where they’ll put mine someday. United in baptism, united in death, united in resurrection. The thread weaves through, and we’re a part of each other’s stories.

I think about this when I sing their songs, our songs: “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” and “Children of the Heavenly Father.”

My Anna comes to see the pages. I let her touch a page, a name: another Anna from a century ago.

These two Annas and I, we share the Habit of Hope — an acquired pattern of reaching for the same unseen One who gives us timeless promises and practices, so that we might know Him more and find our place in the Story. We baptize. We dip bread in wine. We sing. We weep at the altar. We find glory in a mystery — Christ in us, the hope of glory.

I close the book on decades of names — anchored by ink and hope.

And we found ours among them.

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul,
firm and secure.”
— Hebrews 6:19

Most Wednesdays, I join Ann Voskamp for her Walk with Him Wednesday series. Today, she asks us to consider “The Practice of Making a Habit.” And I can’t stop thinking about those who came before … handing down this Habit of Hope.

by | January 19, 2011 | 22 comments


  1. Nancy

    Oh, how I love this–the intersection of world history and family history, all recorded as part of God's big story. I like that, in my church, we are reminded that when we unite our voices in song or in reciting ancient creeds, we are uniting with all the saints who have gone before. And someday, we'll do it all together and for eternity. And, Children of the Heavenly Father? You betcha I love that one!

  2. Rose

    I got goosebumps just looking at the pictures. How wonderful to be able to touch such an important part of history.
    You shared this beautifully, I feel as though I am there, savoring the moment with you.

  3. Patricia

    So very beautiful. That musty cologne reaches across the distance and I take a deep breath and marvel at the rich heritage you are privileged to touch…and yes…hope. I wrote about rejoicing in hope a few days ago, but oh…the habit of hope is deeper still…the sure foundation from which rejoicing springs forth. Thank you for this blessing. ~ Patricia

  4. Angie Vik

    I love how you see wonder in unexpected places.

    I've often wished to be able to have a peek into the past. Our house is over 100 years old. I wish there was some way to see, like watching a movie, the people who lived here. It would be neat if you could take a peek at the people who went before you in your church. Put some faces with those names. I'm blessed by your faith-full heart.

  5. David Rupert

    There is such disregard for history these days. Who we are was forged in blood, sweat and tears of our forefathers.

    What a great lesson to teach our kids.

    "Who are we exactly?"

  6. DenaDyer

    This is wonderful, Jennifer. And I LOVE the new blog look! 🙂 It fits you, your writing, and your photos. Miss you, dear friend!

  7. amy

    i'm just thinking on this…
    in the graveyard you see the record of their death, in your hands you hold the record of their life…
    in your hands…life…hope

    i so love this jennifer, i am going to continue to think on this today…
    in our hands…life…hope

    thank you

  8. Dawn

    It's sad that the entries stopped being handwritten. What a beautiful archive and spiritual heritage.

  9. Ann Kroeker

    What a treasure! The continuity is precious in this mobile world where roots are often plucked up and transplanted elsewhere.

  10. Duane Scott

    "And Hope is the cord that ties the people. Hope is the thread that weaves through souls to make one Body. I'm part of this now — this one Body."

    I have no comment.

    I just loved that one.

  11. S. Etole

    like touching hands with pen through eternity …

  12. Lyla Lindquist

    Christ in us, the hope…

    That means a lot today.

  13. Stacy

    Beautiful…..and what a habit it is, that of hope. Christ in us….yes….the hope of glory.

    You have a gift with words. Thank you for this post. Truly thought to meditate on and sink into.

  14. Erin

    … a habit of hope …

    Thank you so much for sharing this today.

  15. emily wierenga

    Jennifer, I love this. I love how the smell of ancient pages stayed on you. The way you write… don`t stop, friend. xo

  16. Laura

    You are so cool. Gravestones and ancient church logs. I love how you feel the presence of the saints that have gone before us, Jennifer. So beautiful.

  17. Linda

    You enrich me with your words Jennifer. This made me think about sitting with my Mom, looking at all the old family pictures – making connection to people I never knew but who are my family. There are even more things that bind us to our spiritual family. What a treasure those books are.

  18. heatherroth

    There's something awe-inspiring when you can step back and see yourself as a very small part of this history that stretches across generations and continents.

    Standing one Sunday morning in a small Mexican church, or another in a tiny, struggling French congregation, it hit me then, this reality that I am just one little piece of this story God is writing. It's both humbling and exalting; I'm a small part, but He wrote me in!

  19. Connie Mace

    "I breathe in a musty cologne.
    The scent of ancient pages stays on me." Oh how I love the look and scent of old books…and what a wondrous book this must be…all those people…each with story.

    Humbling and amazing that we have this moment into His Story for such a time as this.

  20. thesavingmomparents

    Totally had shivers when reading this. History is so important. What a treasure you have there. How amazing that you can see the links that make you all part of The Body. How Beautiful to share this important page of life. ~Jessica

  21. deb

    squealing out loud over the new look, Jennifer!!!!!!!

    I'll actually read the post now. 🙂

  22. deb

    It's sacred ,
    your experience,
    the space here where you share it .

    and so different from what I live ,

    and yet not in some way I think. I hope.
    the threads and cords and habits of hope.


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