Keeping Hope Alive: Radical Courage in Desperate Times

She had messed with the wrong person.  If she thought that shaming him for a lack of faith was going to challenge my dad, she didn’t know the half of anything about him.   His faith had been forged on the hot anvils of life for his entire life.  He might not be able to see or walk in that moment, and his face was pulled over to one side, but his faith was strong.  he may have been frightened about the test and about his life, but he was no ivory-tower preacher-man; he had walked the earth with both feet all of his life, standing strong,  and he walked his talk through hard times and struggles all of his life — through the Depression on.   He had had enough of the good times to know the joys of ministry, but he had had his heart broken, too.  Seasoned ministers get the whole enchilada, and for those with an open mind and an open heart, as well as a willing spirit, both the good times and the hard times can deepen their faith.

The struggles can make a pastor bitter, but my dad’s struggles made him better — better at everying.

Here’s what has happened during the last 5 weeks of this pandemic.   Martus and I have lost 4 longtime, close friends.  I had just gotten off the phone with a relative who shared with me her agony that her daughter, our niece, was non-responsive and near death.   Another phone call revealed that another precious relative has dementia.  I could go on, but it’s too depressing. There’s more.  Lots more.

Throughout all of these days, these losses have happened in the context of the 134 days of social isolation, the increasing numbers of cases and deaths very day, and the darkness of our political climate.  All of this loss has been handled by my husband and me with our customary resilience, strength and confidence that “our faith — or our anchor — will hold.”

But yesterday….startled, frightened suddenly, the dam broke.  I had been calm and composed for everyone else throughout these days, but suddenly, my grief broke through and as I cried, I knew that I was crying for my friends I had lost, the condition of the world and my fears and tremblings about what is going on around me.  If it is true that “tears are the body’s way of praying”, I was praying hard.

Keeping hope alive doesn’t mean that you can’t or don’t cry.  It doesn’t mean you don’t grieve, for crying out loud, and it doesn’t mean that you don’t sometimes rail against circumstances, get mad at the people who hurt you or cause others harm.  Keeping hope alive doesn’t mean that you are a passive observer of the world, but an active participant in the world, laughing with those who laugh and mourning with those who mourn.  And sometimes you have to mourn because you, too, are human and you grieve and cry when the world is too much with you.

As I began to calm down, another moment came to my mind.  Seven years after my dad had his first stroke, he lay in the floor of his bedroom after what was to be his final stroke.  My brother-in-law knelt down on the floor beside him and gently asked, “Poppy, are you OK?  What can I get for you?”

True to form, my dad said, “Oh, I’ll be OK.  Just give me a minute and I’ll be up and about.”

Ever the optimist, my dad’s last words before he died were to me, because I was the last one to arrive at his bedside.  “I love you, Jeanie.  I love you, Jeanie.  I love you….I love….”  and the next day he was gone.

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