Do you have a hope to hold on to when life throws its hardest challenges at you? Where do you turn when the world’s worst tragedies warp the days of your life? What is it that gives you light in darkness and strength in weakness that is worth waiting expectantly for?
Destruction. Depression. Division. Darkness. Divorce. Death.
Hunger. Harm. Hurting. Hostility.
Cancer. Greed. Neglect. Envy. Jealousy. Abuse.
There is bountiful anguish and compounded suffering in the broken world we live in. Just watching a commercial for the evening news or glancing at the cover of a news paper will give you your fill of desperate distress. The sorrowful tales of others are nothing compared to the agony of watching those we love, our nearest and dearest, facing unsparing tribulations.
It is one thing to be going through pain and suffering ourselves. But for some reason that pain seems to multiply when we have to watch the ones we love suffer. There is such a helpless feeling that goes with it. Images of suffering that become burned into our memories and are seared into our souls with the scarring a hot branding iron.
When my son was born he had a birth defect called gastroschisis. It is a defect of the abdominal wall. There was a hole in his stomach with part of his intestines being outside of his body. 35 weeks into the pregnancy it was discovered that the intestines outside of his body were dilated. After another ultrasound (there had been so many during the pregnancy, we lost count) the decision was made to induce labor.
This was no picture perfect birth. I don’t know how there were so many people and pieces of equipment in one delivery room. There was no group pause of awe and wonder of a mother holding a newborn baby, both wrapped in the arms of a father. When my son arrived I saw him for literally a second as the crowd in the room divided, most of them tending to the baby and to get him prepared to go into surgery.
I went to recovery. My son went into surgery. My husband went to the surgical waiting room. It’s certainly not how anyone pictures welcoming their first born into the world. To go from holding this child within you, to only being able to hold his tiny hand or cup my hand over his head creates a desperately painful ache that you never forget.
Even today, just over 19 years later, the memories are intensely vivid. Along with the feelings that go with them. Watching my son, on a ventilator, with IVs and tubes, and monitors and I couldn’t even wrap my arms around him. In those days there were so many things that I paid no concern to, my world was slowed and consumed.
My “hope” was wishy washy and worldly at best. It was based upon what the doctors said and what the nurses did. The world kept turning at its harried pace for most people in my life. But for me it was slow and tedious. It was such a challenge to interact with others outside of the hospital because I felt like they just didn’t understand.
Looking back, how could they. How could any who hasn’t walked that road really understand? I went through it and I have no words to explain it fully. For me one of the greatest pains was leaving the hospital at night. To walk out of the NICU or Special Care Nursery and down the hallway. It was like my heart was crushed at the closing of the elevator doors.
Inside of the hospital, being near to my son, being surrounded by people who had seen and experienced so much was the safe place to be. Leaving the hospital and going into public places was wretchedly difficult. Seeing pregnant women, watching families with babies, having to answer people’s questions, it still makes my chest constrict.
There was no extravagant hope in my life at that time. I grew up going to church. I had a bit of wrote knowledge in my head that I could recite. But, there wasn’t anything in my heart to really hold on to. To me, having faith was about having knowledge of rituals and words.
Looking back, I wish I had more when I was going through that season in my life. I wish I had been connected to a community of those impassioned with the heart of Christ. I wish I had more to hold on to when the storm got bad. I wish I would have known more about prayer. Most of all I wish I would have known the love of Christ to hold and comfort me.
There are so many, many regrets that I have in life. So many things I wish I could change. I wish more than anything that I could have been a faith filled Mom from the get go, especially for my son.
My son was almost 4 years old when I surrendered my life and opened the door to Christ. I found an extravagant hope to hold on to. As much as I wish that I could have had a real relationship with Jesus so much earlier in my life, the fingerprints of His goodness are indelibly impressed into my story, even when I did not recognize or acknowledge Him.
The doctors and medical staff that the Lord connected us with were incredible. Those who supported us and helped us, phenomenal.
Andrew was born on December 30th, 1999. He was able to leave the hospital with us on February 6th, 2000. He has several scars. He has no belly button, which would bring about its own challenges during summer trips to the pool with kids at daycare.
For the most part, his life has been pretty incredible and healthy. He was diagnosed with Alopecia Areata after loosing most of the hair on one side of his head in high school, but that’s a story and a struggle for another day.
While there are so many things that I wish for in my life, both looking back and looking forward, there is an incredible difference. I have an extravagant hope to hold on to through it all – the good and the bad, the terrific and the tragic. Through a relationship with Jesus Christ, I know the God of extravagant hope.
Here is the thing about the Lord of Lords, compared to the world He seems exceedingly strange and curious. There is so much of Him that is so far beyond human logic. So much that can not be contained by words of our languages.
I remember when I first encountered people filled with passionate faith for the Lord. I thought they were some pretty odd ducks. There was something so different about them, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but at the same time I wanted to be around them.
They had something that I could not articulate or describe. It was multifaceted in its beauty and mystique. There was joy and love and confidence. There was hope and faith and fortitude and forgiveness. These people were bighearted, generous, and unrestrained. They worshiped, even when they wept in great pain.
The messages they shared penetrated straight to my core being. It was like they had been acutely watching my life, listening to my thoughts, and hearing the cries of my heart. When they walked with me into the words of scripture from the Bible it was like they translated these hard to pronounce dry dusty words into sweet and luxurious life giving poetic words of love.
Where I was expecting moderation and restraint, what was being revealed to me was exorbitant, boundless, and elaborate. It was nothing short of extravagant, exceeding the limits of reason and necessity.
Then came the best news, I could be a part of this too. I could have an extravagant hope to hold on to, all day, every day, no matter what circumstance that I am in. No retribution needed, no initial trial period, no pending background check required. All of that has already been taken care of. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. All an extravagant gift of love from Jesus to each of us.
The best part, this is an eternal gift. The love and extravagant hope of Jesus is endless, enduring, and everlasting. This is not a backroom item that Jesus reluctantly brings out after making sure you have met a series of criteria or paid costs for. He comes to each of us, eager and excited to deliver what He has in store right to our door. He knocks and waits.
With the blood of Jesus sacrifice He writes the card for this eternal gift,
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 (NIV)
Extravagant hope. The promise of joy and peace. The power of the Holy Spirit. Braced and supported through all the trials and tragedies by the gift of eternal life. The Holy Spirit given to us to seal us in hope and expectation that one day we will see the fulfillment of all that is good, all that is of God.
I have no doubt that what is eternal is going to be so bountiful, so lavish, so overwhelmingly beyond the limits of our reason, and so sweetly saturated in love. Why would we continue to wish, when we can grab a hold of the opportunity to hope, when we can allow the God of hope to hold us through the sorrows of all our suffering?
Live Through It
With all my heart, longing to the depths of my soul, I desire to be an encouarger. My dear readers, the best encouragement that I can offer you is to get to know Jesus. I wish I had opened the door of my heart to Him so much sooner. There is no better time than the present.
When you were brought together in your mother’s womb, you were wonderfully made. You are a beautiful treasure the likes of which has never been seen nor ever will be seen walking this earth again. The invaluable combination of your talents, gifts, thoughts, experiences, and relationships is a gift.
It says in Romans 8:18 (NIV), “I consider our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
At present we may be greatly suffering, the walking wounded limping from the experiences of life’s trials breathing taxing shallow breaths. But this is nothing in comparison of what lies ahead when the suffering is wiped away, the limping run with vigor, and we breathe deep the life of eternity.
That gift of eternity it creates an extravagant hope for us to hold on to, a way to worship even when we weep in great anguish, and a path to persevere through the pain so we do “not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:25 (NIV)
Pray Through It
Beloved and Treasured Lord,
I have done so much wishing in my life. Wishing for circumstances to be different, wishing for regrets to be made right, wishing to be different that I am or was or will be, and wishing that it all wasn’t so painfully hard or didn’t hurt so badly. Wishing gets washed away so easily in the world we live.
Lord, I pray that all of our wishes would be replaced by Your extravagant hope. Lord, make us crazily convicted to know You more, deeper, and to find a rich joy by being with You. Help us to trust You beyond the limits of our reason. Help us to experience Your unsparing love for us, boundless and luxurious.
Lord, help us to find strength in our struggles by supporting on another. Lord, Your scripture tells us the world will know Your followers by their love for one another. So help us to love another, and love extravagantly. Lord, even when it is hard, when we don’t have full understanding, when we don’t even know what to say, when we our way out of our comfort zones, help us to not stop meeting together.
In the name of Jesus, who is the giver of extravagant hope, amen.