Beyond Hope

Mar 13, 2014

If you doubt that spring is in the air, just visit Christmas Tree Shop on a Saturday afternoon, especially when the temperature has finally stretched past forty. I needed a frame and a lamp, and knowing the danger of entering that store and thinking you can leave with just two items, I tried to put my blinders on. But immediately my senses were overwhelmed with the shamrock green of St. Patty’s Day and the pastels of Easter.

It was a mob scene. Something primal in the human soul goes wild when spring peeks out from under the covers. Carts were filled with pots and shovels and bulbs and grilling accessories. It’s been a very long winter in this neck of the woods. Yeah I know… in Canada, it’s spit in a pond, but we’re not in Canada, hose-head.

I started to think about this shift, how vital it is for us to hope, and how hope is tied inextricably to faith. Proverbs 29:18 states, “Where there is no vision the people perish.”

I will never forget a patient I had many years ago. She came in for an emergency surgery that was fairly routine, like a gall bladder removal, but she had many other chronic health issues, darkly called “co-morbidities”. Things began to go wrong. What should have been minor setbacks became hurdles too high for her to jump. I watched her face as over the course of a few weeks, she began to lose vision.

The other thing I noticed is how those of us in health care unconsciously reject those that fail. We don’t mean to, but we pull away. It’s our way of guarding ourselves from despondency. We stop making eye contact; we perform our tasks diligently then scamper away. For the patient, isolation sets in. Then despair. I remember helping to move this woman from a stretcher back to her bed after yet another test. There must have been six of us in the room but no one spoke to her, even though there was the usual banter. As we pulled her body across the slide board to the bed, I caught her expression, or lack of one. Her gaze was upwards, detached.  She had climbed inside herself. She was dying.

I waited for everyone to leave and then I bent my face down to hers and gently turned her face to mine.

“You’re not alone, you know,” I said. Her gaze locked onto mine. She was silent. I told her not to quit, that she was not alone, that God loved her. Tears flowed down her face yet she did not move to wipe them. She didn’t speak but in her eyes she said everything. It was too late. She died soon after, and she did not die from the wound in her body. She lost her way and she died alone, but surrounded by dozens of doctors and nurses.

I walked out in my yard yesterday, just to feel the dirt under my feet after the last of the snow had melted.  A few brave daffodil stems are pushing upward through the frozen ground. I remember the first spring after Spence died, how I walked out on my porch this time of year and caught a flash of purple out of the corner of my eye. There, shivering beside the warmth of our chimney, a small cluster of crocuses had bloomed. I looked at them in disbelief, then burst into tears. I cried because they were so frail and so brave. I cried because I hated how time bullies us all forward. I did not want to go forward. I had lost my vision.

Sometimes pain is so loud you cannot hear the still small voice of the Holy Spirit. And darkness settles over you like swamp mud. But I knew that the One who for whatever reason had placed me there, would also never leave me or forsake me. I knew that even if I felt the flames around me, or the waters rising up to my very nose, He would not let me perish. So I walked on. When I began to veer off the path, I could feel a distinct tug pulling me back.

Pain can be a fertile soil of redemption and hope or the hard barren ground of despair. I have watched people I love a lot shipwreck and sink off of the shoals of bitterness and offense.

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance: perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.      Romans 5:3-5

Whom he has given us…. Also called “Paraclete”: One who consoles or comforts, encourages and uplifts, advocate.

As I look out of my window, there is snow drifting through the air, dusting the ground white again. This is rather discouraging as spring is scheduled to arrive a week from today. Still we have faith that we will use our shovels and grills and Turf Builder because the calendar says so.

But where is our faith when nothing looks familiar? When we really don’t want time to move forward? It takes a supernatural, an “other-worldly” grace to help us step forward when common sense says You will fall, or worse Why bother?; to press upwards like those brave little crocuses.

I close with a poem or song that I found in one of Spencer’s notebooks. I think he wrote it but I can’t be sure. Anyway, I know he liked it and so do I.

Our Hope

Our hope is what is hidden

Not seen with the human eye

Is promised to the forgiven

From a God who does not lie

“We hope for what we do not see”

This gives us hope in itself

The present cannot dictate

What lies beyond our death.

So we will not grow weary

When all we had was lost

Our treasure cannot be worked for

Only Jesus paid its cost.

So when vanity and emptiness

Overwhelm us with despair

We praise God for His promises

With hands raised in the air.

 “Set your hope fully on the grace to be given to you when Jesus Christ is revealed.”       1 Peter 1:21

(Scripture added by Spence)

Hope always points to heaven. (Thought added by me.)