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A Hope That Can Survive Death

Last Mother’s Day was one of the most emotionally charged days of my life.


For starters, it was the first Mother’s Day where I wasn’t sending a card or flowers to my mom. She was gone. She had taken her life that past fall after a slow fade from depression.

It was also my first Mother’s Day as a mom of two, and our baby son Caedmon was being dedicated at our church that morning.

If that wasn’t enough, my heart was freshly broken with the news that Stacy, a college student I had been mentoring for over a year, had died the day before in a tragic drug overdose. So there I was, in my yellow cotton dress, my heart heavy with crushed hopes and my arms full of soft, blue-eyed baby hope, all the prayers I had wrapped up in him.  

At the appropriate moment, my husband and I rose and moved to the front of our church for the dedication. After he was anointed with oil, my dear friend Tiffany laid her hands on our baby and prayed strong and faithful words over his life. As her prayers fell over my son, so did both of our tears. Tiffany’s a mother, like me, and had traveled faithfully with me on the past year’s gut-wrenching journey of losing my mom. 

I held out hope for my mother until the very end. I’d send songs, books, Scripture and emails in the hopes that something would penetrate the crust of her depression. When I got the call she had walked out in front of a train, that hope died with her.

Likewise, I had hopes for my friend Stacy. She had a painful past and a lot working against her. Yet in her soul, I saw the desire for something deeper and richer, coupled with the courage to swim against the current and enter the flow of God’s life-giving plan. When I got the call that she’d died of an overdose, my hope for her shattered. All those hours in my office, the early-morning cinnamon rolls, the hugs, the hopes … led to this? 

And then there was my son, whom I’d carried inside me as I followed my mother’s casket to the hearse. He’d been on such a journey with me already, all before he breathed his first breath of earth air. In spite of it all, here we were, promising our God and our precious community that we would be God-centered in our parenting. We would point him to God, love him like Christ and open his eyes to the deep truths beneath the current. Although both my parents were now side by side in their graves, there was no shortage of people there that day, encircling us to make sure we knew we were loved deeply. 

At some point, in the midst of the oil-and-water of emotions, I realized that at the center of it all was a question of hope. I breathed faithful prayers, held deep hopes and had beautiful intentions for Stacy and my mom, yet none of those practices kept them from the ends I was fighting against. My hopes for them expired with their breath—but I knew that giving up on hope in general wasn’t an option. We need hope as desperately as we need water and air.

So the real question is, How do we keep hope alive when all around us, our hopes are fading, dying?  

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I always try to look at the big picture and remind myself that this season of my life is only a pixel in God’s overarching plan. I go back to Eden and then fast forward to Revelation. God had a plan, it fell, we will all hurt and die—yet He has promised to restore and redeem it all. In fact, He’s restoring and redeeming all around us, even now. Somewhere in every soul, I think we know this; it’s the only explanation for the strong and intrepid nature of the human spirit. If I take a sweeping glance over human history, I can see it—we carry on, we keep hope alive. I still catch glimpses of Eden every day when I see my children’s pure love of bubbles or a seed growing against all odds in a concrete crack, hope sprouting and floating to heaven. In those moments, I feel as though I’m taking a bath in God’s perfect, original design, and it feeds my weary soul.

My hopes have flourished with my decision give up the search for an answer to the whys. I won’t know why my mother and Stacy had to leave early, and to be honest, I’m no longer convinced there is a why. The raw truth of it all is that pain and death are going to happen in our broken world. We hold our breath and pray that God will keep it from crossing our doorsteps, but in reality, that’s not on the table. The dark clouds will float into our lives, and instead of praying them away, we must pray for the strength and faith to stand when they come. 

A year has passed, and Mother’s Day is here again. That bundle in my arms is now tearing up my house with a mischievous grin. I stand shaking my head in amazement at changes evident in him and me; I’m not sure who’s learned more. Sure, he can walk and open doors, but I turned 30 and found peace with myself and my past—no small feat. My heart aches for those who have no hope or are considering letting go of what little they have left. Our hopes and prayers here on Earth may not always pan out. In fact, they often don’t, but don’t ever let that convince you God isn’t at work, redeeming and restoring. Never forget the inevitable victory that is on the way, and never stop looking for it all around you, even now.

Leanne Penny spends her days drinking coffee and chasing her two kids alongside her college-pastor husband in Ada, Okla. Occasionally, when they fall sleep or decide to play with their toys, she ignores the dishes and writes about her journey of hurting, healing and choosing joy at www.leannepenny.com.

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