There is a difference between hoping things turn out in a certain way, and having certainty in how things will turn out.
Being at the depth of hopelessness left me with a few alternatives. One way despair and despondency. I could submit to feelings of hopelessness associated with Harrison’s failure to achieve remission, and the inadequacy of the chemo treatment. Many parents, at this point in the journey, give in to despair and fall victim to depression. This simply could not be the Gospel-centered path.
Another alternative was to “just believe” that he would get better, to put faith in faith. To simply “claim” Harrison’s healing. As a theologian, of course, I know the inability of my claims to bring about healing. And how many other parents had “claimed” healing for their children only to have them succumb to their cancer. This was merely an idealism that promised little more than future despair after a temporary reprieve.
No, the response to medical hopelessness was neither despair nor “blind faith” in some better place.
Instead, the answer was true, genuine, Christian hope. Surviving hopelessness required those key elements of the Good News of Jesus; namely, God’s personal presence, God’s people, and God’s promise that one day all will be made right in Christ.
Ginger and I, as parents of a cancer kid, found hope in the nearness of our Triune God. Scripture says that God is at work in Christ reconciling the world to himself. Right relationship with this God brings about a peace at passes any understanding.
Such a peace doesn’t mean there is no fear, no pain, no hurt, no tears, or no grief. Instead, in the midst of such things there is an assurance that our God is “with” us, comforting us in our immense difficulty. God didn’t simply “make things better” by helping us forget our pain, he brought his own personal healing by assuring us of his presence.
But God’s nearness, while personal, is not merely individual: he makes his presence known through his people as well. A thousand books couldn’t contain the stories of those whose care for Harrison, and for us, enabled us to emerge from hopelessness. Besides the fabulous medical professionals, the thousands of calls, emails, tweets, texts, visits, and kindnesses we’d know were a pathway to healing for us.
A student who works in the medical world calls with insight at just the right time. A friend phones from another state. Harrison’s oldest friend in the world comes over a day after Harrison’s siblings are tested to be transplant donors. My other children say just the right thing to me, to Ginger, or to Harrison at just the right time. Harrison’s classmates begin chanting his name like he’s a rockstar when he visits them at lunch. Lachlan’s friend asks those coming to his birthday party to bring gifts for Harrison instead of for him. Little girls from Harrison’s class start a “business” of selling items made from duct tape to donate to his treatment. A friend gives Harrison a professional-quality elliptical so he can fight to keep his strength up. The list is seemingly endless.
Without a caring community (which medical professionals call a support group, but what we call the people of God), we’d never have emerged from the pit of despair.
And finally, we returned daily to the passages in Scripture that had sustained us from the beginning. Psalm 126, Psalm 146, Psalm 130, and others. We had gone into “exile” in terms, but God had promised that one day we would return to the promised land with laughter and joy. We longed for that day, and continue to long for it. And we know the promise is the ultimate restoration that is to come. But we also prayed that God would restore Harrison’s fortunes. That he would restore his joy. That he would restore his life. But even if that didn’t happen, we knew God was good and kind and gracious. We would, as Harrison always said, praise the Lord for all he had done for us in Christ.
God’s presence, people, and promise. Without all three I don’t know where would have been, or where we would be.