I’ll condense it down to one thing:
It can be easy to feel hopeless in December. The chill of winter is more than just a matter of body temperature. It can seep into hearts as well. Leaden skies and shorter, darker days...holiday stress...not enough rest...impossible expectations...meaningless activity...reminders of loss...
...another year down the drain, with so many unmet goals...
...the cavernous gap between what is and what should be....
It is all overwhelming.
I think it’s the perfect time to pick up a warm little memorial stone from among the coals and hold it next to my heart.
This past October, I flew from California to Arizona to meet my husband for a family-inclusive business meeting. Shortly before take-off, an attractive, jet-setty-looking couple rushed aboard the plane. He was tall and handsome, with the air of an English aristocrat. She was younger...tiny, tan, sexy, and Euro-chic. Unfortunately, but typically, the airline had split them up. She stayed in the front of the plane as he loped down the aisle to the empty seat next to mine. I thought (briefly) about being polite and offering to switch places so they could sit together, but the flight attendant was already giving the safety shpiel. Instead, I just gave him a fairly civil half-smile/nod and immediately went back to my important reading material. (I believe it was either “Us” or “OK.”) I have mentioned before that I am not exactly a friendly flier.
IPod earphones in place, I stayed in my own cozy little cocoon for the entire flight, unaware that God had placed another unlikely angel next to me.
As is always the case, everyone on board bolted up the second the plane landed...and just stood there. For a good, long while. My upbringing finally got the better of me, and I made an attempt at polite conversation with my neighbor. Something to the effect of, “Are you traveling for business or pleasure?” When he answered, “Both,” I took a stab and said the name of my husband’s firm with a question mark at the end. Yes, he smiled, he was from the company’s office in Switzerland.
Immediately, we’re like family. That firm is adept at building a sense of international community. Unchauvinistically, he asks where my office is based. I explain that my husband works out of the company’s office in Athens, Georgia, thinking, “You really don’t want to ask me why I’m flying out of LA..” Of course it is the next logical question in the parlay of civilities. I want to simply tell him that it’s a long story, but decide that would be rude. I say something about being on the West Coast indefinitely because of a sick child, knowing that I will likely get one of the usual responses, “Oh, I hope it’s nothing serious” or “I hope he/she will be well soon.” The ‘Reader’s Digest’ version of the story unavoidably comes out.
He gives me a very intense look when I finish. “Tell her never to give up hope. NEVER,” he asserts passionately in his upper-crust Australian accent.
I stare at him, surprised at such compassion from a stranger.
Of course there’s a story:
His sister had such a devastatingly severe stroke in her late 20’s that the doctors told the family she’d remain a vegetable. Everyone was in agreement that it would be most merciful to turn off the machines. Except for the mother.
But Bruno’s sister went on to make such a complete and miraculous recovery that she was able to give birth to three more children after that. There actually was a story in the real Reader’s Digest about it!
I’m sure the other passengers on that plane had no idea why the delay at the arrival gate was necessary. I suppose I should feel a little guilty about it. If I’d been friendlier in the first place, God’s message could have been delivered in the air, and they probably could have rushed right off.
Because I’m so hard-headed, God pounded his message into me for the duration of the company trip. Although there were about a thousand attendees, my husband and I ran into Bruno and his girlfriend every time we turned around. We bumped into each other on the dance floor, in the elevator, by the bar, at the pool. Bruno is one of that rare breed of my husband’s height (6’6”), so it was hard for us to miss each other in the crowd. We became friends. We had dinners, drinks, and laughs. And with every encounter, we received a dose of encouragement about Katherine’s situation. The similarities in the two cases were surely not coincidental. The message was loud and clear. Hope. Hope some more. Never stop hoping. Impossible things happen. (...a future and a hope...)
At breakfast one morning, Bruno’s girlfriend and I looked up to discover that we were spooning fruit out of opposite sides of the fruit tray on the buffet table. The men were already in a meeting, so we had breakfast together and lingered over coffee until they cleaned the table out from under us. In her charming Spanish accent, my new young friend opened up about the tragedy of her mother’s recent death to cancer. But it was not a story devoid of faith or victory. She said one thing that I won’t forget: “Hope is the last thing you lose.”
Think about it.
In this time of winter blues, I’ve had my moments of that old hollow, lifeless feeling. I’ve gotten run-down and exhausted, and drifted down into the dark, gray place of faded, stale hope. I’ve even caught the Stones’ “Paint It Black” running through my head a couple of times. (And I want to kill whoever invented Daylight Savings Time. As the winter solstice approaches, it gets dark here around 4:30. The moon’s out by 3:00 p.m.!) I know I have to fight it, but it’s especially hard to cling to hope when you’re feeling crummy....and it seems that nothing’s changing or ever will. I have to remind myself of the signs received along the way, reexamine the evidence, and break it down to basics.
The word “hope” has become synonymous with wishful thinking. (i.e. “I hope it snows at Christmas.” “Hope Santa’s good to you!”) I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of wishes that don’t come true. That’s probably a good thing.
In reality, “to hope” is a much stronger verb:
intransitive verb1: to cherish a desire with anticipation
synonyms see expect
In my (supposedly) daily reading yesterday, this verse jumped out at me:
...And His name will be the hope of all the world. (Matt. 12:21)
It reminded me that I am not just wishing that the 'Fates will allow' things to get better. Or that improved karma's coming my way. Or that medical developments will accelerate at such a rapid rate that everything broken about Katherine will be imminently repaired. I am not fantasizing of better days to come with my fingers crossed...knocking on wood....holding a rabbit’s foot...rolling the roulette wheel...consulting a horoscope...chanting chakras...channeling positive energy.
When I read that verse, the Stones were replaced in my head by an old hymn. I grew up in a church which was founded in the 1820’s, and whose current structure was completed in the 1860’s or so. The original windows are probably 25 feet tall. I remember the rich notes of that hymn pouring out of the wonderful old golden organ pipes until those windows vibrated. The congregation sang:
“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus' name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand...”
I was clueless at the time...probably hungover from a high school Saturday night out in the college town where I grew up. But I get it now. In my long life, I’ve put my hope in lots of things that have sunk me right down into the miry clay frequently mentioned by the psalmists. I’ve put my hope in people and man-made structures and systems and institutions...in religion...in relationships... in myself...intellectualism...wealth...medicine...
appearances... being good,doing good... in luck and fate and in happy endings and fairy tales...
But there has only been one place I have ever placed my hope and not been disappointed...
...and His name will be the hope of all the world.
Oh, if only all those cutsie Santa signs emblazoned with “We Believe” represented a true belief in the Living Hope, instead of just a wishful, sweet, old myth...
Maybe there wouldn’t be such a letdown December 26.
“Then you will know that I am the LORD; those who hope in me will not be disappointed." (Isaiah 49:23)
And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:2-5)
Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. (Psalm 62:5)
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)