The sky was still dark as I pulled out of our neighborhood on the way to the school carpool spot in town. The outside temperature was a mere two degrees which indicated that we should still be home in bed, snug and warm under our thick quilted blankets. As we waited for Andrew’s ride to arrive, I noticed many folks heading off to work in the darkness of this frigid winter morning. I wondered how they were feeling and if the weather had affected them. Were they happy, sad, struggling or just getting by?
The national events of the past few weeks combined with the poor winter weather are enough to make anyone feel troubled and down. Add to it the private events which occur in each person’s life and you never really know what someone is going through. This is what I was pondering today as I dropped my son off at the school carpool spot. I also could not stop thinking about the many folks who have been adversely affected by the government shutdown. I was filled with concern and even despair until an authentic news story caught my attention and gave me hope.
A Pastor at the First Baptist Church in Alabama was inspired to help Federal workers in his state after hearing about humanitarian Chef Jose Andres. Chef Andres had recently set up a food kitchen in the Washington DC area to feed furloughed federal workers. The Pastor was so affected by Andres that he dipped into his church emergency fund in addition to passing a few collection baskets, and gathered enough money to buy $16,500 worth of grocery gift cards for furloughed federal workers in his state. In the face of injustice, this Pastor, along with Jose Andres chose hope. While their efforts could not reopen the government or provide checks to deserving workers, they did provide something quite important in the midst of a crisis – hope – in the form of groceries and a hot meal!
Some of you may be thinking that you are not capable of such grand efforts. But I would argue that hope comes in many forms. Hope can look as simple as a phone call to a friend who is ill or who recently lost a loved one. Speaking from experience, those calls, letters and texts really do make a difference. For me, knowing that someone was thinking of me and praying for me when I could not do that for myself, really did bring hope to my heart during the period of my mom’s death. Sometimes we don’t know what to do when a person is sad, sick or lonely, so we don’t do anything. I suggest that even a small effort makes a huge difference and helps to bring hope to a friend in need.
I recently attended Mass at a women’s prison. After Mass was over, I was speaking with a few women whom I had met the previous week. One of them said “Thank you for coming, it means so much to have volunteers celebrate Mass with us.” I was stunned by her kind words and did not know how to respond at first. I finally said “It’s a gift for me to be here with you and the other women. Thank you for your courage, your faith and for teaching me how to have hope.” She just smiled thoughtfully but I think my words touched her too. Perhaps our meeting wasn’t a coincidence – we both have something to learn from the other.
As I’ve shared before, back pain is one of my biggest struggles right now. There are many people who suffer far greater crosses than I do, so I try to keep this suffering in perspective. Still, it has been 5 long years and I’ve arrived at a place where I need to accept my pain and limitations according to the doctors. For me, as long as I have faith in God, there is hope. I’ve been blessed with many beautiful people in my life. Through their choice to share hope with me – a kind word, a positive text, a warm letter, a walk, a visit from afar, a home cooked meal and so many more things – I’ve grown into a person who seeks to be hopeful in the face of struggle.
I’ve recently come across a favorite scripture verse which is a good reminder to all of us who struggle that we have nothing to fear. God is always close. Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. (Matthew 8 23:26)
Like the disciples in the story above, many of us struggle with our faith during difficult times. But at these moments, God calms the seas of chaos in our lives by sending folks like the Alabama Pastor, Chef Jose Andres and the many loving people we interact with daily. Our job is to choose to see God in all of these signs. Hope comes in many forms. One size does not fit all. When you receive love and hope, pass it on. I’ve been on the receiving end many times and I’ve tried to pass on the hope I’ve been blessed to receive. It is never in a grand or public way – it is often one person at a time in the quiet of a written note, a private conversation or some other inconspicuous way. But thanks to the example set before me by my beloved mom Joan, I choose to have hope. I pray that all those reading this blog will feel the same.