The Incarnation of Hope Thoughts on Henri Nouwen's, Our Greatest Gift: Meditations on Dying and Caring

Last night I dreamed I was pregnant.  I’ve dreamt it before so I know better than to give it too much heed. After all, most dreams really don’t come true and it’s a good thing or I would be perpetually showing up for exams that I hadn’t studied for and failing out of college.  Still I couldn’t resist the urge to linger over the idea for a few minutes.  I closed my eyes and let my head fall back into the pillow, my mind was quick to create images of muslin blankets and tiny diapers. What a celebration a new baby would be for us and for my daughter whose only sibling is an imaginary friend.  No matter how many times I set my mind on contentment, nay, no matter how content I truly am, I can not help but let hope whisk me off into a world of unrealized dreams. Hope, it seems, is irresistible.

I thought next of my friend who lost her father this year, another whose husband left her, another who miscarried recently. I wondered if they too let their minds wander.  If maybe all of us, in the vulnerable moments of sacred quiet when the lines between truth and fantasy are blurred by sleepy heads, if all of our dreams attempt to overtake us.

This month we read Our Greatest Gift: Meditations on Dying and Caring, in the Liturgy of Life Reading Group.  Henri Nouwen’s gentle questioning got me thinking that perhaps these irrepressible hopes are the very whisper of God to us.  Perhaps they are inescapable because He is all encompassing and in our hopes He speaks to us of His Kingdom.

Christians are fools there is no denying that. We are a people founded in mystery.  Our story begins with a talking snake and climaxes with a virgin giving birth.  We dare to call the undeniable existence of death nothing but a lie.  For us the brutality our last breath is our entryway to eternal glory.

We believe in the Incarnation of Hope.

So when hope rises in our hearts, we should not be ashamed.  We need not bury our longings for our parents to be reconciled in their marriages or for our dead children to come back to us.  The never ending “what if’s” and “if only’s” need not haunt us.  We are called to grieve for the brokenness of the world, indeed we are called to be broken. If you are like me tonight, your head weary on a pillow damp with tears, if it feels like hope is tearing you apart, know at least this, you are not alone and your dreams are not in vain. Out of our bleeding wounds we call forth life. We live for Resurrection.



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The Light at the End of Grief

Frost Weed. The light at the end of grief. Liturgy of life.
This is Frostweed. It flowers in the summer, then dries up. When the first freeze comes its stem bursts open with these beautiful ice formations for which it is named.


My husband’s chest rises and falls, the steadiness of his heart beating a few inches from my ear soothes me.  He asks me why I’m crying. I can’t answer.


I am overcome with my own brokenness.  Another month of my body betraying me, unwilling to conceive the baby we long for.  Exhaustion of years going at full speed, the strain of new relationships, not knowing which way to turn at the intersection or how to get to the grocery store.  Fear for my daughter, of the world that she will live in and the decisions she will have to make and my inability to protect her from its violence. And then there are the wounds left open from my childhood, or those self-inflicted from my years of wandering.


The tears flow.


To make them stop I think of those who are really suffering,  who have lost the ones they love, who are persecuted and enslaved.  My heart is grieved even more, I ache for the injustice the world.  And yet the fact that others are enduring terrible hardships doesn’t dull the pain in my own heart.


My grief is real.


I know there is such a thing as lingering too long over our hurts, like a dog, licking our wounds so fervently they can become open sores.   I’m not condoning this.


But I think more commonly our tendency is to go the other way.  To say, “Oh it’s all right,  there’s nothing else you can do, it’s really time to move on.”  To stuff our pain so deep that we don’t know it lingers and  eliminate any chance of sharing it, for our own benefit or for the sake of others.


Yet it occurs to me tonight that to forsake my own grief is to forsake my hope in a resurrected Christ.


When I tell myself that nothing is wrong  l turn a deaf ear to Christ’s comfortable words, to His singing over me.  When I strive  to feel no pain, I rely on myself.  When I let the pain of life penetrate my soul I make an opening for Christ to come in and heal it up again.


Grief drives me to hope.


Grief is my longing for God.


I don’t mean to say that on the other side of grief everything becomes easy. Scars remain and continue to shape us even haunt us.


But to deny grief is to reject a God who suffers with us.  Our grief is not wasted, it teaches us to live.  And so tonight tears flow, they are my prayer,  they are the sign of a life that longs for God and life in a resurrected world.




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Hope in Grief, Reflections from
The Cloister Walk

Hope in Grief Reflections from The Cloister Walk

Last year our family had the privilege to live on the property of a large group home for children. Sometimes when I would mention this to people their eyebrows would go up.

“Is that some kind of Juvenal Detention facility?” They would ask as if frightened.

Of course, these kids should be in JD. They are the kids who have had the worst that life can give them.  All faced abuse; sexual, physical or emotional. Their parents, and all of their relatives, are either dead or  so troubled that they can’t care for them. Some kids have been abandoned, others forcible removed from their homes.    The stories of these kids lives churns my stomach. They should be in JD, I would be if I was in their place. But they aren’t. These kids are wonderful and hopeful. They have learned to adapt, to roll with the punches, to keep going when life beats them up, literally.

This week in our reading group we are starting The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris. It is essentially a poetic memoir of her time spent in Benedictine monasteries.  In the beginning pages she talks about dealing with grief,

. . . true strength can emerge in the worst of times, when the known world is collapsing. . . She goes on to quote Gregory the Great, My mind is divided . . . torn to pieces by so many problems.

I can imagine one of the kids saying this as they try so hard to contain their emotions and not let the pain they have experienced destroy their future. Sometimes they succeed, other times they are overcome, the grief they battle is so strong.

And we live in a frightening world. A world where death is a guarantee.  A world that doesn’t care how sweet or innocent you are. These kids know it. They have lived it. And they inspire me because in the midst of this they still wake up every morning. They have no one, but they still get dressed and go to school. They still love to ride horses and learn to cook. They still play basketball and dance. They are still kids who want to live their lives well.

The truth is, I live in fear. I cower at the slightest hint of disaster.  I have to do deep breathing exercises just get through an annual check up .  I am afraid of dying,  I am afraid of my daughter getting sick or lost. I am afraid for my husband and sister and all the people I love. I want nothing but to keep everyone safe, but this isn’t possible in the world we live in and these kids can testify to that.

I would love to take away their pain. I would love to heal them. God how I wish I could heal them. God how I wish I could find each of them a family that would love them and walk them through their pain and tell them that they aren’t alone. I wish you could see how their faces light up at the prospect of being adopted. How much they long to be part of a family.

Everyday, Norris says we are called to, “take up life in the ruins.” The ruins looks different for each of us, for some it is life in a group home, for others it is caring for a sick child, others infertility, loss of job, or divorce. For some it is the small nagging things, working each day wondering if life will ever amount to anything.

Norris reminds us how God spoke to her through Jeremiah, I have loved you with an age old love . . . Again I will build you, and you shall be built . . .

When I look around and see these kids surviving, when I watch you take care of your child, when you are brave enough to share your grief  and then I see you carry on when I know you are broken-hearted, it shows me that God is real.  And, while I would do anything to spare us suffering, I know that heart break comes to each of us. When I see you and when I see these kids it gives me hope that maybe, as it comes to me, I will be able to live through it, or at least to die well.

It is humbling to accept loss, to grieve, and go on and still love God. It requires that we accept that He is sovereign, that He loves us and that He still allowed us to suffer.  To stop loving Him would be to give up all hope and to let go of the only true Comforter. And so we love Him, and in our grief we cling to Him or at least we reach to Him from a distance. This is taking up life in the ruins, that we are alive through grief that seems like it should have killed us. Some days I want more, but some days this is enough. I am alive, God is here, and that is enough.