Several years ago, I stood at a crossroads. To the right was a safe path of dutiful obedience where I could believe that God was good but mostly life just really hurt and I could learn to be okay with that. To the left was a daring path where I would have to believe the impossible – that God was not only good, He was good to me and He was still making beautiful things out of my life. I was about to step onto the safe and dreamless path when God whispered to my heart, Don’t be afraid to hope. So I turned, and I chose the daring path of hope.
Almost one year later, my heart was smashed to smithereens and I found myself grieving more deeply and wrestling more desperately than I thought I could. Yet my Father’s whisper remained: don’t be afraid to hope. It was during this season that I stumbled upon a lovely sterling silver ring with the word “hope” daringly engraved in its delicate, thin band – a physical reminder of His promise that even in my breaking, hope remained.
I wore my hope ring tenderly and bravely for the next several years until a brisk autumn day when I met this beautiful, courageous woman and the Spirit whispered to my heart: give her your hope. I was pretty sure He meant my ring, but I also thought maybe I had heard Him wrong. After all, He knew what this ring meant to me. So I asked Him for clarification, knowing good and well: He meant the ring.
I gave this darling woman my hope ring and told her its meaning. I told her it reminded me of His words, and I spoke them over her: don’t be afraid to hope. My heart was cheered in obeying, if not also a wee bit achy.
Not long after, I found the exact same ring online and promptly placed my order. It was set to arrive just before Christmas. In the meantime, I began to ask God for a word. What word would He have me carry into the coming new year? I asked several times, and His answer was the same each time I asked: New, He said. I am making all things new.
Christmas came and went, but my ring did not. I finally contacted the jeweler who sold me the ring and a few days after the New Year, it arrived. Now, this was an inexpensive sterling silver band barely thicker than a dime, but they had packaged it in the most beautiful black box inside of a larger ivory box topped with a satin bow, and oh. You would’ve thought I’d just ordered a diamond ring from these folks. I opened the package and pulled out the shiny new hope ring. I placed it on my finger and my heart sank. The fit was perfect and the design was the same, but something about it was different. It didn’t have the familiar scratches and dings my old ring had. It was so…shiny. It wasn’t the same ring I’d had all those years. And the Spirit whispered to my heart: No, child. It is not the same. This ring is new.
I walked through my year of New and indeed it was. Coming into 2016, I asked God for another word, to which He replied: abundance. And then things promptly proceeded to fall completely and totally apart.
Everything felt like a struggle. The landscape grew increasingly bare. I knew change and loss and trial during 2016 in ways I have not known them in a very, very long time. I found myself taking in the scenes around me and being so confused. None of this felt hopeful. None of it felt abundant.
One brisk autumn day while playing piano for my sister’s church, I placed my hope ring in my pocket. After church, I went to the grocery store and when I reached in my pocket for the ring, it was gone. I texted the pastor and she searched the church. I searched the grocery store aisles. No ring. I was heartbroken.
Was this a sign? Was He withdrawing His favor? Had I really landed in the barren wasteland I felt I had and was this finally, at long last, proof positive? (My despair game is strong, y’all.)
Or did someone else need my hope right then? Did some hurting soul need to stumble upon the thinnest of silver bands boldly declaring hope to her heart right there in the frozen foods aisle?
I chose to believe the latter, but it did not break my heart any less.
I searched for a replacement ring online, knowing good and well it would no longer be in stock – or even in production. So I chose another ring that said hope on it, only this one really wasn’t the same. My hope ring had been a tiny, square-edged band so dainty you’d have to look really hard to know I was wearing it. My hope ring had a crooked H and a bottom-heavy O and a top-heavy P and a slightly wonky E. This replacement ring had a thicker band with precise lettering. I wore it anyway, if only to prove to myself that I could still choose hope, even when life felt hard and unfamiliar and strange.
In the meantime, I spent every trip to the grocery store scouring the aisles for my lost hope ring, knowing good and well I wouldn’t find it and looking like a mad woman staring obsessively at the grocery store floor instead of the groceries.
One day in October, I drove home from work with all the weight of the year’s confusing abundance pressing on my chest and I prayed, “Jesus, please. I need a word. Just one word.”
That afternoon, I opened my mailbox to find a letter from a jeweler. This was the same jeweler who’d manufactured my beloved hope ring. The same jeweler whose entire online inventory I had already checked to confirm they no longer sold my beloved hope ring. The same jeweler from whom I had only ever purchased one item: my hope ring.
The letter told me there was a production error during the manufacturing of a jewelry item I’d purchased. They couldn’t confirm that my item was impacted, but they were sending me a new replacement just the same. It would arrive soon. They’d included a picture of my item for clarity’s sake. And there, at the bottom of the letter, as if to leave no room at all for questioning, was a picture of my hope ring.
Not three hours earlier, I’d told Him I needed a word. Just one word.
And isn’t this just like our Jesus?
Right when we need it the most, He speaks hope to our fragile hearts. Over and over again, He tells us to hope. We keep trying to choose the safe path devoid of dreams and He keeps pulling us deeper into a destiny we couldn’t dream up if we tried, whispering hope to us all the way.
Eventually, we learn to believe Him and we find a way to offer some of that same hope to our neighbors because let’s face it, their hearts are every bit as fragile and they need that hope just as much as we do.
And here comes Jesus again, circling back to remind us that the hope we just gave away is the same hope He gave us to begin with and His supply is never-ending, unceasingly abundant. So when He tells us not to be afraid to hope, He really means it because His hope is always in such spilling-over abundance.
See, He never runs out of hope because He is our hope and He will never run out of Himself. He is our stream of Living Water. He is the source of the hope-well that never runs dry, and He beckons to us: draw near and drink deep.
Three weeks after I read the jeweler’s letter, the ring arrived. It was packaged in the most beautiful black box within a larger ivory box topped with a satin bow, and oh. It held such treasure. I opened the box and there was my ring: crooked H, bottom-heavy O, top-heavy P, wonky E. I didn’t care how shiny it was – I put that hope ring on my finger and it’s been there since.
I won’t be afraid to hope. And I won’t be afraid of losing it ever again.