God, give me the courage to walk through this. Give me the faith to rely on you. I can’t do this on my own. I need you.
Those words appeared in my journal almost eight years ago today. I am also certain I prayed these same words yesterday, as I cried out to God for the umpteenth time during this coronavirus quarantine.
I am not today the same woman who wrote this prayer in my journal those many years ago. I liken her to Frodo at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring when he responds to Gandalf’s explanation of the growing evil with a wish that it was not happening. Gandalf—one of my favorite characters in all of literature—replies, “… so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. And already, Frodo, our time is beginning to look black.”1
Much like Frodo in his story, God surrounded me with sweet friends and community back then to walk that long road with me—and many are still walking with me today. There were ups and downs, I fought fear and isolation, and I was given a good deal of wise counsel. I saw miracles along the way that felt an awful lot like magic as God showed up in my story in major ways. I have an epic tale of a testimony and one heck of an ebenezer from this time.
Even so, I cried out that same prayer to God just yesterday. The same exact prayer. I mean—I have been to hell and back, and now I can’t handle a few weeks in my house with my family? What gives?! I am someone who is so intimately acquainted with seeing the hope of Jesus in the darkest of seasons. Why can’t I maintain that hope?
Hope seems so otherworldly, so elusive, at times. One of my favorite Emily Dickinson poems says, “’Hope’ is the thing with feathers – That perches in the soul – And sings the tune without the words – And never stops – at all …”2 In literature, hope seems to come from the sky, from above, diving down to help the poor souls below. In movies, we often see heads turned toward the heavens in times of trouble and strife.
As someone who has walked with Jesus for a long time, I know what my hope is in, and I know how I got that hope. The Bible is very clear. I do not place my hope in myself, my intelligence, my talents, or my health, for all will fail me at some point. But rather, my hope is in God, His love, His salvation, and His Word (Psalm 33:18; 71:5; 119:81, 114). And that hope was born out of seasons of suffering, through a process described in Romans 5: “… we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3–4 ESV). As believers, we know the source of and the reason for our hope. So why does it seem to slip away sometimes?
My husband Brian began following the international science reporting on COVID-19 in December. He followed the story and developments carefully as the virus ravaged China and began to spread. We decided to begin preparing our home and family for a potential pandemic back in February. But at that time in America, our media was not very focused on the coronavirus or its spread. Brian was seen as an alarmist several times as he tried to tell our friends and family to gather necessary food and toiletries to be able to stay at home for an extended period of time. We went to Costco, Target, and the grocery store back when shelves were fully stocked, and we assembled what we needed to stay home for about six weeks.
But all of our knowledge and careful planning still was not enough to prepare us for the darkness that came that first week at home when we and everyone we knew were told to shelter in place. My husband and I knew this was coming. We were not surprised by this. And yet, a darkness settled over our home. No one was sleeping through the night. I had the first panic attack I had experienced in years. My sturdy, stalwart husband began to shake. There was chaos and conflict in our home. My two toddlers lost their ever-loving minds, and it was no wonder with the way their parents were acting. We were running around like chickens with our heads cut off, banging into each other and the walls of our home. We were so focused on right here and right now that we forgot our hope.
Isn’t that what we all do? When life gets crazy, when things don’t go as planned, when we’re quarantined for weeks with no end in sight, our eyes become focused on the chaos and unrest around us. Our hearts rest on the seen rather than the unseen. We are those same forgetful people we read about in Scripture who see God’s great works in one chapter, only to grumble, wander, and forget in the next. We forget where our hope comes from.
At the end of Frodo’s story, he and his faithful friend Sam complete their marathon quest (which took three books to tell!), look around at the mountain crumbling around them, and decide there is no way to move forward. They seemingly give up. All I could think reading this was, Seriously? You have already made it through so many impossible situations—and you lived! You’re giving up now?! And then something beautiful happens. Hope—in the form of eagles and a wizard—comes down from the sky, scoops them up, and carries them to safety. After all of the magic they had seen, the triumphs and heartbreaks, the narrow escapes and long roads, they simply forgot to look up.
We have experienced the greatest magic of all—our hearts of stone were turned to hearts of flesh. Jesus brought us up out of darkness and into His marvelous light. We did nothing to earn this love, and we can do nothing to repay it. The King of the universe simply wishes to love us and call us His own. After all of the wonders we have experienced, in our moments of darkness, we cannot forget to look up.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13 ESV)
1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994).
2 Emily Dickinson, “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers – (314),” Poetry Foundation, 2020, accessed April 2020.