Life does not always turn out the way that we imagine. Here is my journey to finding hope in the unexpected.
Each of you reading this has a life story that I bet is very different from what you imagined. Someone is single, never married. Someone is divorced. Someone has an illness that has completely changed your life. Someone has hit a surprising financial setback. Someone has lost a child. Someone has experienced the death of a dream. Our stories are different but the same. We have encountered the unexpected. I’d like to share with you my unexpected story.
Night after night I cried into my pillow tears that would not stop. After 10 years of marriage the reality of infertility held me in a painful and suffocating grip. My dreams of giving birth to a family diminished as the years passed. Life was not turning out the way I had hoped.
The unraveling began gradually. During the day I was fine, but occasionally, late at night while my husband slept, I would slip out of our room and go cry out to God through my tears. This happened a few times a year. The next day I would be back to normal and able to go about normal life. As time went on, I walked around with a sense that there was a shadow in the corner of my life. This shadow was faceless and nameless, but it was powerful and it could make me cry. Usually this shadow had its back to me, and while I acknowledged its existence, I learned how to ignore it when needed. At night, however, when I was sick or otherwise weakened, it would turn toward me, and I would feel engulfed in a powerful sense of helplessness and longing for a child.
Over time these late night sessions with the Lord became more crushing and more frequent. Not only was I crying - I was sobbing with a deep sense of pain and longing. I became acquainted with grief. It was like mourning the death of someone - but someone I had never met. I dreaded these times, but my ability to manage them was lessening. That nebulous shadow became a faceless monster I could no longer control. I went through each day painfully aware of its presence and found myself crying at the smallest triggers and not just at night anymore.
Lying in bed one night just before falling asleep, my mind wandered to the subject of this monster's identity. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I had this thought, "The monster is HOPE."
Hope? This thought brought me wide awake instantly, and I became confused and a little angry. Hope? Hope is making me cry? Hope is stalking me and haunting me? In the Bible, hope is part of the good list. First Corinthians 13 verse 13 lists faith, hope, and love together. Hope isn't supposed to make you cry!
This brought me to a sudden realization that my hope must be broken. There was something wrong with my hope if it was a monster bringing me pain and threatening to imprison me in a world of bitterness and unfulfilled longing.
I remembered a dear woman in my church telling me several years prior about her life journey that included a renewed understanding of what hope meant. I immediately contacted her and met her for lunch, eager to hear in more detail what she had learned about hope. She shared that her discovery boiled down to two questions. Did she believe God was good? And was she willing to surrender to God's plan? She told me about a small metal magnet on her refrigerator that said "hope" on it. She said every time she looked at it she was reminded to align her hope with her deep belief in God's goodness and her willingness to surrender. In an unexpected act of generosity and friendship, she reached into her purse and pulled out the magnet, handing it to me as a gift. I thanked her through my tears and realized that God and I needed to have a long conversation.
I began searching the Scriptures for information about hope. I found verses in the New Testament that talked about putting our hope in Christ. No huge revelation there, I thought. I am an ordained minister and graduated from Bible college. Of course I knew we should put our hope in Christ. Still, this truth grabbed a hold of me and would not let go. I dug deeper and discovered some interesting things about tiqvah, the Hebrew word for hope.
In the Old Testament, tiqvah is used just 34 times and is usually translated as "hope" or "expectation" - such as in Psalm 62 verse 5, "Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him." But, two little verses in Joshua 2 translate tiqvah as "rope" or "cord." Joshua 2 verse 18 says, “The Hebrew spies said to Rahab, ‘When we come into the land, you must leave this scarlet rope [tiqvah] hanging from the window through which you let us down.’” A couple verses later she answers them. “’I accept your terms,' she replied. And she sent them on their way, leaving the scarlet rope [tiqvah] hanging from the window."
Something about these verses smacked me between the eyes. If hope is compared to a rope, then maybe my hope isn't broken. Maybe it is simply anchored to the wrong thing. I realized that my hope had loosened its hold on Christ and had wrapped itself around my imagined future.
Rahab put down her scarlet rope signifying her belief that "the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below" (Joshua 2:11).Was my hope anchored in my belief that the supreme God of the universe would or should do what I wanted? Or was my hope anchored in my belief that God is good and His plan is worth surrendering to? I realized that when our hope is tied to a belief in something other than God and His goodness, we anchor ourselves to a heavy and sometimes suffocating burden. Picture yourself pulling a boulder around on a leash. However, when our hope is tied to our belief in God's goodness, we tie ourselves to Christ who says that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).
Total surrender to God is easy to talk about in philosophical terms. It's easy to sing and even preach about; but when shadows and monsters are revealed, when life doesn’t turn out the way that we hope for, it is much harder to do. Maybe this is why Jesus describes it as picking up a cross and Paul says it involves crucifying ourselves. The hopeful side of all this is that Jesus also says His burden is light. Once we go through the initial pain of surrendering and dying, the life we gain is filled with joy and hope. This deep, inner joy is stronger than our circumstances and this hope is tougher than the disappointments life brings us.
Right in the middle of my journey toward hope and surrender, God did something miraculous and unexpected. He brought us a perfect and beautiful baby girl that we adopted. I would never have imagined such a perfect chapter in our story.
This Fall (2021), my husband and I will celebrate 23 years of marriage. Our little girl is now 10 years old and we stopped “trying” to get pregnant years ago. In fact, after turning 40 a few years ago, I realized that for the first time, I wasn’t really sure that I wanted to get pregnant anymore. I’m older, it would be harder. I felt like I could move on. Giving birth to a child would always be a tender and painful subject for me, but I knew, that with God’s help, I could be a woman of faith and grace, and I set my face toward the future.
Then, just about one month later, we discovered the most unexpected thing. I was pregnant. I shook my head in shock and gazed at the positive test with amazement and a little fear. There I was. Right smack in the middle of another unexpected development. Another opportunity to yield to the goodness and love of God. Another opportunity to examine my hope and make sure it is connected to Christ and His goodness, not my expectations.
My children are now 10 and 5 years old. As we live through this unexpected life, my husband and I are determined to hold on to Jesus and we pray the same for you. Ephesians 3:20 says, "Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”