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Over the almost two years that this space has been silent, I’ve started to write several times.  The phrase “hope does not disappoint” was stuck in my head – a remnant of a verse learned years ago.  Maybe it was because, although the pandemic has been hard for me, I’ve never been without hope.  There was never a time that I didn’t have something to cling to.  

And I hesitate, even now, to write about hope because I am sensitive to the times it has been used as a Christian cliche, a pat answer provided by those who don’t fully experience desperate situations.  I don’t like cliches and pat answers.  I don’t like anything that minimizes that life is very hard for some people or implies that being a believer protects you from that. 

I am acutely aware that while I faced pandemic-related struggles, I have always known I’m one of the fortunate ones.  So what can I say about hope?  I didn’t lose my job.  I had access to health care if I needed it. I didn’t get sick.  I didn’t have to worry about a roof over my head or food on my table.  I didn’t have a parent in a retirement home that I couldn’t visit and who wouldn’t know me the next time I could go to them.  And I didn’t lose anyone close to me.  Outside of pandemic issues, I’m not struggling with chronic pain or terminal illness – either my own or with someone I love.  And I know many who are.

Maybe Easter weekend is a particularly good time to reflect on this.  There’s an old children’s illustration that I’ve used in the past that involves lighting one of those relighting birthday candles – and then giving children the chance to blow it out.  It appears to be extinguished, and then there’s the surprise of the tiny sparks, the faint crackling of a relighting wick, and then it’s back.  Is this a simple picture of the joy of the resurrection, after all appeared lost?  Can this help us understand hope?

I did isolate during the pandemic.  And the weeks and months without face to face contact, or physical touch, or “normal” interactions took their toll.  I felt the sting of being alone in so many ways – no spouse or at-home children to talk to daily.  

So how do I talk about hope in a way that reflects the depth and authenticity it has in my life?  That conveys it is not just a “pat religious answer”.  I was hesitant to publish anything when there was a constant stream of things that made me cautious to post – new Covid variants that shut things down just as they were opening up, a political season characterized by vicious attacks, racial issues that continue to tear our country apart, wars and more.  The world gives us much to be concerned about, and hope may feel further away than it used to. 

I’ve spent time in the scriptures and realized how much Job had to say about hope – a man whose life included the most horrific of losses.  I discovered that hope and expectation are not the same thing.  And there are biblical characters who never saw, in this life, the hope they knew was coming.  Even the remnant of the verse that stuck in my mind – “hope does not disappoint” – has a fuller context.  “And not only this, but we also celebrate in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”  (Romans 5:3-5 NASB)  

The translation I use these days (ESV) puts it this way – “and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts”.  At first I didn’t like “does not put us to shame” as much as I liked “does not disappoint” but I’ve come to see that in both translations, hope is “for” us, it is the thing to cling to, the thing that says we are not alone in our struggles.

At a core level, I don’t believe hope is a theological discussion.  I think it’s a heart one, borne out of our stories.  So the best way for me to communicate it is probably not a blog on hope.  It’s in the conversations where someone wants to know what gets me through things.  How did I survive the pain of a marriage ending after 25 years?  What was my cancer journey like?  What I believe about hope is wrapped up in the things I’ve written about trust and learning my value and healing.  It’s inseparable from my experience that God’s love is a safe place for me, that He has my best interest at heart.  

But I’ve realized  I can also consciously choose to make decisions based on hope.  

Some of those may be hard.  I choose to live in hope of a rich and full future, even if my hope and yearning for a companion never materializes.  So I hold the hope of that desire alongside the deep contentment I feel in my current life.  I choose to embrace, and not run away from, hard conversations in the hope that the resulting relationships will be deeper and real – and that I’ll continue to learn that avoiding conflict is not the best way to live.  And I’ll press into hard things.  I choose to publish this blog even though the writing feels clumsy – in the hope that it’s a step toward reclaiming my voice in this space.

Some choices bring immediate joy.  I bought a table for my new home that easily seats 12 – in the hope that I’ll host tables full of people again.  I had diamonds from jewelry that brought memories of a painful period in my life reset into a newly designed piece – to reflect the hope and beauty that comes from healing.  I created a tangible way, through “guest rocks” collected in a decorative bowl, to commemorate the people who visit my home – in the hope that in my new home there will be ongoing opportunities to provide hospitality.  My hope is to see the bowl full of memories of people who have been here.  

The picture at the top of this blog is an image of hope for me as well.  A pile of shoes that fills me with the hope that my home will be a place for guests, of all generations – a place of peace and rest.

And here we are, on Saturday, between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  A reminder that there are days when it feels hope has been extinguished.  To live in hope, particularly when it looks like it’s not going to happen, takes courage and faith and trust.  And an openness to not understanding everything, or seeing the whole picture, right now.  As the disciples endured the day we now set aside as Holy Saturday, they thought the hope was over – but it wasn’t.  

For me, I’m not able to live in hope based just on my own abilities or my own skill at navigating my future.  I need the hope based on the love of God, poured out to me.  It has sustained me, nourished me, comforted me, provided surprise gifts and so much more.  It’s what gets me through whatever is going on.  And it does not disappoint.