I assist in the Grief Share ministry at my church. Once a week for thirteen weeks I have the privilege of sitting in a room filled with people who have lost a loved one through death. Privilege may seem like a strange word to use but the blessings I receive from being witness to healing and hope even in despair are abundant and precious. I am witness to God’s provision and miracles as their stories unfold.
The people who come through the door are from all walks of life. They are old and young, rich and poor. Their loses include friends, parents, spouses, children, and grandchildren. Their deaths can range from horrible tragedies to diseases to suicide to old age. The thread that weaves their lives together is that the people lost were deeply loved. They were loved enough that their passing leaves a chasm that, for a while, feels to be filled only with despair and mourning.
As I get to know my friends through Grief Share I notice that every single one of them NEEDS hope. We simply can not endure the pain without it. Some friends enter and their despair is so gigantic that hope seems impossible yet even in their suffering they long for it. Hope for healing. Hope to not hurt so terribly. Hope that justice will be served. Hope that they can stop crying. Hope that tomorrow will not be so insufferable. Hope that God is who He says He is.
Hope is an important subject for me personally. As the survivor of loss from suicide I know too well how hope and the loss of it is the literal difference between life and death. Hope was the main thing my husband lost when he chose to die and it was the only thing to which I could cling when I chose to survive.
When I was thinking about hope and despair I googled exactly that. This image or one similar came up several times:
The above picture is not my reality. For me hope and despair are not diverged paths. They are companions on the same road. They remain in extremely close proximity for much of the journey.
Hope is found even in the midst of despair and fear and grief. I would argue that is precisely where it is born.
When Wesley was just four months old we were invited to a gathering for children with Rubinstein-Taybi Syndrome, the diagnosis he carried for years until advanced genetic testing proved otherwise. I sat in the large room in the hotel as other families entered. I watched nervously as the older children gathered in front of the television to watch the Wiggles. The panic quickly escalated as some twirled and flapped their arms. Very few of the children could speak. I had never been around children with special needs let alone a room full. I was never in that club until that very moment. At the time I wanted to be anywhere else but there. Now, I am proud of and blessed by my membership.
A sweet couple introduced themselves and sat at the table with us. They told us Wesley was beautiful. They did not pity us but celebrated our son. It was the first time someone validated what my heart already knew – that he was fearfully and wonderfully made. He was worthy of compliments. He was entire. For the very first time since his birth someone congratulated me. In retrospect, that it would be a stranger made perfect sense for they already knew the blessings that awaited.
As we spoke their daughter wandered off. At four years old she could still not walk so she crawled over to the table where there was food. With the determination of a girl on a mission she reached up to try to pull herself to stand to see what goodies awaited.
“Honey, Erica is on the loose,” the wife told her husband with a giggle as a cue to gather their child.
The father obligingly scooped his daughter up and sat her in the high chair at our table.
“Bob the builder, can we fix it? Bob the builder, yes we can!” the father began singing with all the passion of a rock star.
His daughters eye’s lit up, she smiled, and began using sign language to sing along with her dad. It was the first time I realized one did not have to say a word to sing at the top of her lungs and with her whole heart.
There is was. At that precise moment despair had given birth to hope.
For months the fact that Wesley had special needs consumed my thoughts and fears. Each morning before my eyes opened I tried to reconcile the fact that the life I had was not at all the one I imagined. It seemed as if after every medical test there was another problem revealed. I was quickly learning a new language with abbreviations like SLP, OT, IEP, and PT. The doctors appointments and impending surgeries were numerous. I was overwhelmed with the notion that I was not confident in my ability to care for my non typical child and his vast medical needs.
Yet here was a family sharing my table and special needs was just part of their lives. It was not all-consuming. Their daughter had red hair, loved Bob the Builder, and had a syndrome. It was just on the list of things that made her unique but not abnormal. At some point, I hoped, a syndrome would not define my family but would rather simply be the background music, hardly noticeable unless I purposed to hear it. Maybe, just maybe, we too would find a new normal.
The truth of my life is that hope and despair are never far from one another. I can not metaphorically stand at a crossroad and follow one while leaving the other behind. They both accompany me. The choice I make is upon which one will I focus. Which will hold my hand while the other walks silently a few feet behind? Which one will help me balance when the terrain is unsteady? Upon which one will I lean when I am too exhausted for another step? Which one will know the way when I will assuredly get lost? Which one will become known to me as a best friend? Which one will I need if my missteps lead me off a cliff? Which one can I say, with confidence, will save me?
Throughout the years of my life despair has birthed individual pearls of hope. Each pearl is beautiful but only part of the greater beauty. Pearls are meant to be strung together to adorn the object upon which they rest.
Over the next several posts I will share other pearls of hope born from despair with the hope of adorning Him upon whom I rest.