We introduced our sons to the TV series Lost in which marooned passengers from a crashed jetliner try to survive on a mysterious island. It didn’t take long for our boys to start to groan at the end of each episode, aware of how masterful the writers were at creating cliffhangers. There appears to be no ending, only a series of new beginnings.
“When you hear the hard news, there are two diverging roads from which to choose. One’s despair—don’t go there. There is hope!” I wrote those lyrics as part of a song that shares what I’ve learned through a lengthy battle with cancer. Today I was talking with a thirty-year-old husband whose wife just found out she has breast cancer. As I strived to give him comfort and counsel, what I shared can be summed up in these words: Because of God, there is hope.
Friends often remind me, “You’re not alone.” “God is with you,” they say. “Yes,” I answer. “He is.” Yet there are times—mostly when I’m pressed to accomplish a daunting task without anyone physically present to help me, or when I’m alone for extended periods of time—that I wonder, “Is God here with me?” And, if so, “What does His presence truly mean?”
For two and a half years, a visit to my wife’s oncologist was part of our weekly routine. But one visit was different. In a discernably subdued tone, he told us that he was going to stop her treatment. The chemo was no longer effective. My wife had come to the final stage of her fight against a fast-growing, aggressive cancer.
A mere half-hour watching the news today can fill one with despair as we witness the effects of greed, selfishness, and depravity. It pains the heart to see the utter devastation of the downtrodden. As we take in such brokenness it can lead us to lower our weary heads and simply trudge through life one day at a time—hope for a better tomorrow diminishing with each passing moment.
The Laingsburg flood of 1981 was the worst of its kind in South African history. In two days nearly half a meter (almost 17 inches) of rain fell, 104 people died, and 184 houses were destroyed. The town of Laingsburg was built close to the “dry river bed” of the Buffalo River. What the town engineers failed to realize, however, is that this relatively small river floods its banks every 100 years or so. Although the local farmers were initially grateful for the rain, their relief soon turned to dread as a six-meter (almost twenty-foot) wall of water rushed through the town, carrying with it people, animals, houses, and belongings.
It’s truly difficult to sit beside someone who’s grieving or in despair, a person who has taken one hit after another and has lost all hope. Whenever we surrender hope, our life slowly ebbs from us. We may continue to put one foot in front of the other, but we can no longer see the beauty around us. We no longer find joy in our life or in relationship with others. We see only gloom, and we find it nearly impossible to move toward light and love.
According to the experts, I’m part of the demographic known as Generation X. Maybe you are too. Born between 1965 and 1980, we’ve been described as being cynical about life, fearful of commitment, and spiritually lost. Ouch!
In 2015, a country in the Middle East elected its first women to public office. In fact, in the first electoral cycle in which women appeared on the ballot, 17 were elected! I listened to an interview of a woman who had won a seat on her local council, and she exuded ecstatic joy. She acknowledged how difficult life can be for women in her country, but this didn’t diminish her celebration. Many more reforms are needed, but all people should revel in this historic transition. After years of exclusion from the political process, women have now seen the door open a bit with the possibility of something better ahead.
Heather Kampf is an exceptional runner with impressive credentials. She once took first place in a 600-meter race after falling flat on her face! In the final 200 meters, just as she took the lead, Heather tripped and fell hard, leaving her at the back of the pack. She could easily have become discouraged and accepted what everyone was thinking—her race was over. But she didn’t stay down. Instead, Heather sprang up and immediately started catching up. To the amazement of everyone watching, she went on to win the race.
A volunteer disc jockey on an indie station I listen to once said, “There won’t be any peace until all the religions of the world are one.” That’s a nice, inclusive expression of our longing for peace, love, and unity. However. . .
Whenever my boys feel shame or are uncomfortable, they’ll often look away or bury their head in their chest. If they’re wearing a hoodie, they’ll pull it over their head, as if trying to become invisible. I have a similar impulse. When I’m ashamed or feel vulnerable, defeated, or hopeless, it’s easy to try to hide. With my sons, I draw close to them and calmly say, “Look up at me. I need to see your eyes.”
In March 2015, a woman in Spain posted some pictures on Facebook of a boy she’d cared for as a foster parent. She’d met the boy nearly 30 years earlier while volunteering at a juvenile daycare. The child had been abandoned, and the woman ended up caring for him until he was 6. Not able to adopt the child, the two were separated. But years later, after 3 days and 50,000 views of her Facebook post, they were reunited.
I read an online obituary for a friend’s father. My heart ached for my friend as I imagined how painful it would be to lose a parent. I sent him an email of condolence and was surprised by his quick response. “It’s been a tough year, but I’m rejoicing in our hope in Christ.” Even as he mourned, he spoke of hope and faith.