My name is Hope.

I slid the book across the table to her wrapped in a big bright red bow. The words “My Name is Hope” were engraved on the gray cover in black. I thought the bow would be a nice touch to the otherwise gloomy-looking exterior, as if to show that hope is actually something that can be packaged prettily and then set down in our hands.

She had just finished telling me three days before about the emptiness that had creeped into her gut and made a home recently. Despite a schedule full to the brim with coffee dates and time spent with people, she felt alone. She felt exhausted at the end of the day. Every day.

“I haven’t told anyone this yet, because I’m afraid to say it out loud. I’m afraid to say the word. But, I think…I’m depressed.” She looked terrified. The space between us in that moment was precious space. She had just scraped together all of the courage she could muster from every piece of her body and had gathered just enough to emotionally strip down in front of me, naked and vulnerable, and now I was left with the choice to fill that space with either love and life and hope, or not.

Before I said anything back to her, I thanked God for that space because I knew all too well the sweaty palms, heart-racing moment when you make the decision to breathe life into a thought that has occupied your head far too long without being uttered out loud, secured tightly by the fear that saying it to someone might make it true. I thanked God that she chose me to drop the facade of “everything is great” with. She was afraid of seeming weak, but her vulnerability left her looking staggeringly strong in my eyes.

I started recounting my own journey through depression, months of struggling to get out of bed. Painful memories of driving down the road and contemplating jerking the steering wheel towards the median. Overwhelming numbness, constant and brutal. Color and joy sucked out of life like a vacuum, leaving me as nothing more than a shell of a once vibrant and loving person.

“As someone who has made it out to the other side, I want you to know that there is hope. This season isn’t a forever season. If you leave with nothing else, please leave knowing there is hope” I told her. As I said it, I thought about the beauty of my life in this current season. The joy I know and now feel so deeply all because of the important lessons I learned during my season of depression. I continued thinking about it as I got in the car to return home. With the radio silent, I listened to rain splatting against my windshield  and came to an important realization. Hope isn’t always a pretty packaged thing. It isn’t a book wrapped up sweetly in a red bow. It isn’t a series of wonderful events leading to a culminating “everything makes sense now” moment. Hope doesn’t always look so beautiful on the outside. In fact, the greatest gift of hope this world has ever seen came to us in the form of a man nailed to a cross, bloody, beaten, and mutilated.

Hope is not this delicate, beautiful thing we hold in our hands. It isn’t a book title or a twelve step program. Hope is hard. It takes grit and guts and all you’ve got. It can look like trudging knee-deep through the mud and the mess of life, oh so slowly, for days or months or years at a time. It can feel like walking through the thick of the forest in the midst of heavy fog without any idea as to where the forest ends or when the fog will clear.

The thing about hope is that it is always paired with uncertainty. We live our lives with stores of questions buried deep in every crevice of our souls and our hearts ache for answers. We like being in control. We like knowing the intimate details about the times and places and seasons when life is going to turn for the worst and when it’s going to start looking up again. But hope isn’t neat like that. It isn’t a magic 8 ball that we shake and suddenly have all of the answers. It isn’t a white piece of paper with our life’s greatest triumphs and struggles detailed in black ink on it. Hope looks like a (sometimes messy, oftentimes hard) process of trusting in an unknown outcome, but choosing to believe that the outcome will be good.

This hope thing is truly beautiful, but it isn’t for the faint of heart. You think it takes courage to admit that you’re depressed? You think it takes courage to break up with your boyfriend in order to focus on healing from your past? You think it takes courage to be different than the rest of the world? It does. But it takes even more courage to have hope. One of the bravest things we can ever do is step into the unknown, look uncertainty dead in the eye, and choose to have hope.

Sweet friend, this is my encouragement to you tonight: In the midst of question marks, of vulnerability and pain and ugliness- muster up the strength to be the brave one who isn’t afraid of process that is messy and tough. Have courage, have hope.

 

12:17am

12:17am.

I lay in bed, staring up at the twinkle lights hung from the ceiling.

The lyrics wash over me and carry me away like the waves of the sea.

“Oh, I’ve heard a thousand stories of what they think you’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whisper of love in the dead of night
And you tell me that you’re pleased
And that I’m never alone

You’re a Good, Good Father
It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are
And I’m loved by you
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am”

Carried away to this place of unexplainable joy. Of perfect peace. This is the place You promised to me. I came to the end of myself and then I met you in this place. The fear. The exhaustion. The running away. The white knuckles. It’s done. And the moment I stopped trying to do it all on my own, I saw You clearly. And now I see it all clearly. All of the pain. All of the heartache. The shame. The guilt. The obstacles. The hard decisions. It all feels worth it in this moment as I realize that all of Your promises are true. You have set me in this spacious place. You have taken care of me all this time.

Oh, what a magnificent place it is. Oh, the beauty of this soul that has learned to find its peace, its trust, in You.

I sit up in my bed and start scribbling prayers of praise. I could go on forever.

You are a good, good Father. And I am loved by You.

When hope falls from the sky

I walked slowly through the neighborhood as white flakes swirled swiftly around my head. There is something so magical about the first snowfall of the year. The sense of awe and excitement it brings. The hopefulness of it. The way it seems to wash the world clean with its simple purity.

Silence fell on the neighborhood along with the fresh layer of powder that covered the ground beneath my feet. I closed my eyes to breathe in the cool air and exhaled as I let my mind wander to thoughts of you.

I wondered what you must think of the tiny crystals falling from the sky. I imagined that you must be just as excited as I was. Your simple enthusiasm for the beauty of life had always been contagious. It hadn’t taken me long to fall in love with the way you viewed the world with such wonder and excitement. Nothing was ever tainted with worry or stress in your world. Life was beautiful and full of opportunity. The world was your own little playground. Oh, how easy it was to adore that about you. How easy it was to want to view life like that, too.

I found myself wishing I had your hand to hold as I weaved through the neighborhood sidewalks dusted with snow. I found myself smiling as I pictured squeals of delight as we would dance in this world of white with pink cheeks and frozen toes, throwing snowballs and chasing each other, the neighborhood echoing with the sound of our laughter.

My thoughts are interrupted suddenly by the shrieks of children stumbling down a snow laden hill at the park. Their eyes are bright with wonder as they wrestle in a flurry of white, piling onto one another in a big bundle of giggles.

My gaze returned to the frozen ground as I thought again of the magic of snow. The hopefulness it brings. I thought about my own hopefulness in this “in-between” season and my dreams for myself as I work to grow in faithfulness and strength. I stopped to stare at the world of white around me and let my mind flicker back to you for just a moment more. I hope that someday you will you see the beauty of this season and my desire to grow. I hope that someday I will get the chance to hold your hand in the snow.