I have been quietly avoiding this Hope thing "hoping" it would pass me by but a friend called me out so here goes . . .
Everyone suffers to some degree in this life. I realize that. But in the past few years I have come to have a whole new understanding of suffering.
Married at 22, my dear wife of now 20 years and I struggled, and struggled, and struggled . . . always delaying children until we felt we were more financially secure. After 14 years of marriage, we both finally had decent paying jobs (mine in the Real Estate industry). We bought a fixer-upper, an SUV and a convertible Mini-Cooper. We had "the talk" and decided, "Yeah, kids".
I distinctly remember driving to work and "Worlds Apart" by Jars of Clay was on the ipod. I prayed the song; "God if I am not in the center of your will - take my world apart". Huh - he apparently was listening.
The mortgage industry collapsed, I had trouble paying the mortgage and car payments. My wife became pregnant. The doctors said our unborn daughter had a severe case of Spina Bifida and would not live more than a few hours after birth. The doctors also said my wife had ovarian cysts which might be cancerous. My cat died (true story).
I was in danger of losing my job, my house, my cars, my first child and my wife (did I mention the cat?). I became convinced I had cancer because it was one of the only travesties that had not yet befallen me. This was a situation of Jobian proportions.
To struggle for so long, to come so close, only to have it all taken by forces beyond my control. It was more than I could take. I began to have panic attacks and anxiety-fueled hallucinations.
Wonderful friends organized an extreme home make-over for our fixer-upper that was sliding into foreclosure. For all the beauty of the gesture, watching our friends sacrifice for a house we weren't sure we could hang onto added to the pressure and anxiety. I wanted to die and I set about trying to accomplish the act by eating and drinking with abandon. I didn't die. Totally. But much of me did. I gained 50+ pounds.
As it turns out my wife did not have cancer and my daughter did not die. She has become one of my inspirations. Plunged into the world of disability, I began to see a side of God that I had never seen. God had taken my world apart just as I had asked and was slowly putting me back together like a shattered Japanese Bowl. In the meantime I was putting one step in front of the other in what seemed to be utter darkness.
There have been a number of pivotal moments for me since those bad-old days that seem both very distant and yet very near. One of those moments was being invited to co-lead a weekly adult discussion group at my church. I believe that serving others by intentionally planning topics for our group has led me to deeper understandings of God, life and myself that I might not have otherwise received.
A more recent pivotal point came at a Life Rolls On event in April 2012. I love the ocean and I love being of service to others and this was the first time in my life that my physical condition (those additional 50+ pounds) hindered me from serving the way I wanted to.
I was ready for changes.
I started eating salads - a LOT of salads. I started running. A LOT (92 days and 300+ miles as of this writing). So far, 48 pounds lost (back to my college weight and none of my clothes fit anymore). Other things lost? My job and both our shiny new cars. But we kept the house and were given a couple more (less shiny) cars.
So where is the "Hope"? I have discovered hope in the utterly transforming power of suffering. God is making a new creation in me. Gone is my reliance on labels. Gone is my dogma. Gone is (some) of my judgement (still working on that one). I am seeing Christ and, as a result, life in new ways. I believe I am more loving, more real and more genuine.
The best parenting advice I have ever heard is: "Be the person you want your child to be". In fits and starts am slowly becoming that person.
God has taken my world apart and is slowly putting me back together. Through his grace I am stronger in the broken places.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
- Leonard Cohen
I watch this video and I think of my daughter's battle with her physical disability. I watch this video and I think of my battle with my own spiritual disabilities. But don't take your eyes off us.
My Annie is gonna show you . . .
I have wrastled with an alligator,
I done tustled with a whale,
I done hancuffed lightnen,
Thrown thunder in jail
I'm gonna show you how great I am.
- Muhammad Ali
A battle-tested hope is the strongest of hopes. I pray you know HOPE like I know HOPE.
We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.
Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way:
in great endurance;
hardships and distresses;
imprisonments and riots;
in hard work,
sleepless nights and hunger;
patience and kindness;
in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love;
in truthful speech and in the power of God;
with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left;
through glory and dishonor,
bad report and good report;
genuine, yet regarded as impostors;
known, yet regarded as unknown;
dying, and yet we live on;
beaten, and yet not killed;
sorrowful, yet always rejoicing;
poor, yet making many rich;
having nothing, and yet