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Hope When Your Heart Is Breaking: Finding God's Presence in Your Pain
by Ron Hutchcraft
Learn More | Meet Ron Hutchcraft
But I know somehow that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.
Dr. Martin Luther King
The announcement that summons all available medical personnel to a life-or-death emergency. Except this day it was the person I loved more than anyone in the world.
My wife’s procedure that day was really just a test. A heart catheterization to check her arteries. I was passing the waiting room time tackling a couple of items on my to-do list.
Then that announcement. “Code Blue.” Never occurred to me that it could be my Karen.
It was. I knew as soon as the waiting room door opened and I saw the look on the doctor’s face. Later, I would learn that her lungs had suddenly been overwhelmed with seven and a half liters of fluid. She was drowning, and no one knew. Until the doctor said, “I don’t like how her color has changed.”
My mind went into overdrive, flooded with what this could mean. Had I held the love of my life for the last time? I’ve done my whole life with her. How can I do the rest of it without her?
I was gasping for emotional oxygen. I was desperate for hope.
GASPING FOR AIR
In medical terms, they “bagged” my wife that Code Blue day—using a respirator bag to push life-saving oxygen into her lungs. To save her from literally drowning right in front of them.
Drowning is a pretty fair description of how it feels emotionally when one of life’s sledgehammers hits. In those moments that seem to knock the breath out of us.
The death of a marriage. The diagnosis that could mean either a death sentence or a life sentence of pain. The life-scarring choice made by your prodigal son or daughter. The caregiving that is pushing you to the limit. The “your mother and I are getting a divorce” that shatters your security.
The crisis of hope can come from the painful past that pursues you wherever you go. The “we don’t need you anymore” from the company you’ve given so much to. The verdict that you won’t be able to have children. The devastating failure.
For most of us, there has been—or there will be—that crushing time when we are desperate for a life preserver. We are drowning.
Like the day when Laura learned her husband was suddenly arrested for sexual crimes with underage girls. Or the day Greg and Tammy were informed that their five-year-old daughter had terminal leukemia. Or when the one man Beth had learned to trust—her mother’s boyfriend—sexually assaulted her.
Or that awful day when the love of my life was gone in one life-shattering moment. God had graciously given her back to me ten years ago after her Code Blue crisis. But now, the woman I adored, the only person I’ve done every day of my adult life with, was suddenly gone.
Most of us know the feeling on some level. A loss that levels us. A storm that obscures the sun we’ve always navigated by. A blow that leaves us feeling lost on a road with no map.
Gasping for air. Grasping for a life preserver.
Hope really is the emotional oxygen that keeps us going. “Things will get better.” “It doesn’t have to be the way it’s always been.” “Something good is about to happen.”
The dictionary variously defines hope as “a feeling of expectation” or “a desire for certain things to happen.” Or “grounds for believing something good may happen” and “intending, if possible, to do something.”
Nice. But not enough. Not for the 7.5 lifequakes. The Category 5 storms. We need more than a “feeling,” a “desire,” or “an optimistic attitude.” The blows are heavy. A lot of “hope” is Hope Lite. Too wimpy to bring us back when we can barely breathe. And no match for the moments that seem to shatter hope.
Hope has to be more than “when you wish upon a star.” Or crossing your fingers. Or just quoting inspiring slogans from a motivational speaker.
We need something more muscular, more durable, more authentic.
There is hope like that. I know. It’s the air I’m breathing right now. That’s sustaining each of the shell-shocked people I mentioned earlier.
But it doesn’t come from your circumstances. It comes from your choices.
THE FLAG IN THE RUBBLE
“You should turn on the TV. An airplane just crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers.”
A family member called to alert me. Who could have possibly known the unspeakable tragedy we were about to see unfold that fateful September day?
We’d been to the top of the World Trade Center many times. I knew someone who worked in an office there. To see those seemingly indestructible towers crumble to dust before our eyes—there are no words for it.
News anchors usually report the news dispassionately. Not on September 11, 2001. Like most of us, they could not conceal their disbelief and grief.
Suddenly, we were feeling something Americans were not used to feeling. Vulnerable. Our hallowed space between two protecting oceans had been brutally invaded. And we would never feel the same kind of safe again.
For a few hours, there were some hopes that a massive rescue effort could still save many lives. Those hopes were short-lived. An evacuation order was issued to all firefighters searching in the rubble. By late that afternoon, hope was hard to find.
And then, the flag.
Three weary firefighters. The dusty flag they had recovered from a boat in the harbor. They couldn’t possibly have known what the simple act of raising that flag over that heartbreaking pile of rubble would mean.
It remains the most iconic image of a generation’s darkest day.
Or, as USA Today said in their next edition, “It was hope on a day when it seemed that all hope was gone.”
It flew above the wreckage of a heart-shattering day. And seemed to say against a backdrop that appeared to represent only despair: “It isn’t over, folks. There’s hope.”
Truck drivers see it all the time. I’ve seen it a few times when we’ve needed to drive through the night.
It comes about the time you’ve opened the window on a frigid night. And you’ve turned to the most annoying radio station you can find. Because the night is getting long, and your eyelids are staying a little too long in the down position. To top it off, it seems like the dark has gotten darker as morning approaches.
Suddenly, there it is. A dim but distinct glow in the eastern sky. Oh, it’s still really dark, for the most part. But the glow will grow. And as it brightens, so does the horizon. Still dark, but something’s happening out there.
And you know the long night isn’t going to be forever. There’s light on the edges. And the light is pushing aside a wider and higher swath of that numbing darkness.
Ultimately, there’s that glorious moment when, preceded by glowing clouds, the sun teases the horizon. And in minutes, the darkness has lost. The sun has won. And the first light that had only brightened the horizon soon illuminates the whole landscape.
That’s my picture of hope. That’s why, on many mornings, I stand at the window, watching the sunrise.
Every sunset in my lifetime has been followed by a sunrise. Without fail.
By virtue of the people-helping work I do, I’ve walked with many through their darkest nights. And beginning the day I lost my wife—my baby—I believe I have been walking through mine.
And I’m ready to venture a real-life definition of hope. Of defiant hope:
Hope is a buoyant confidence, acknowledging the hurt, but anchored in an unseen but certain reality.
No, not wishful thinking. No, not inspirational slogans. Not escapist denial.
But a confidence that squarely faces the loss and the unanswered questions, yet chooses to not be defined by them.
Rather, to trust life’s Grand Weaver to make something meaningful—even beautiful—out of these dark threads.
Hope requires choices that defy the seeming hopelessness you may feel. In the pages ahead, we will explore five of life’s hope robbers, along with the choices that offer short-term relief—but long term, only more pain. More importantly, we will discover the choices that will help us breathe the life-restoring oxygen of hope.
Choices that don’t deny but do defy the pain of your past. The grief in your heart. The wilderness that surrounds you. The danger in our world. The seemingly unfixable brokenness of your marriage. The bitterness that seethes in your soul. The failure that has made you not want to get up. The sad story that has been much of your life. The person or situation that seems like it will never change.
There is a way to make it through the darkest night. There is a way to raise a flag of hope over the rubble.
It’s called defiant hope!
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