The Framework for Hope

By

It seems unlikely that an Irish stranger would be invited to pull her chair out of the shadows and join the conversation, yet here I am, and for that I am grateful. As I began to write this post I found myself searching for beautiful words that would somehow be worthy of the rich surroundings. If I’m honest, in my head the accent that is part of who I am began to take on a hint of Tennessee. What I ended up with was a post that may have been beautiful (at least that is what I tell myself) but it wasn’t true. And what is beauty if it isn’t true.

For the past few months, truth in my life has been less about beauty and more about brokenness. Last July I watched helplessly as my ten-year-old daughter faced for the first time the moment when childish innocence is invaded by something dark and cruel, an intruder whose presence is a constant and unwelcome reminder that bad things happen. Unexpectedly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, she discovered first hand that this story we live in has evil villains and dark forests with monsters who sneak up on us when we least expect it. For every needle that pricked her skin and broke my heart a little more, another question came. It just felt wrong.

For me, the deepest pain is in the knowledge that something has happened to my child which I can’t fix. No matter how much I want to, I can’t make it go away. I can’t make it hurt less. For Ellie, whose willingness to allow me share this is testament to her courageous honesty, the struggle goes deeper still. Oddly, the least difficult thing for her is not the condition itself. Medical advances and a tenacious determination mean that physically she is doing really well. The hardest thing has been the internal struggle that follows in its wake. The sudden intrusion of deep questions that many people don’t have to face until well into their adult lives. Why did God allow this to happen to me even though I have chosen to follow Him? Why does He not heal me when all it would take is a word? Does He care that I am hurting? Is He even there at all?

One of the reasons the Bible remains deeply and authentically real, regardless of your vantage point, is that it does not hide from these questions. Actually, it embraces them. Within the Psalms in particular there is a depth of intimacy with God and freedom before Him that has pursued me again and again, breaking me apart and breathing strength into my legs in equal measure. It has struck me that whatever situation the psalmists find themselves in, whether unfettered joy or pain and betrayal, through it all they cling doggedly to two truths which are stronger than their enemies and deeper than their pain. The first is that they continue to intentionally anchor their lives in God’s word. The second is that they choose to believe that God is ultimately in control.

This voluntary framework for hope is so important that it is laid down right at the beginning of the Psalms. Psalm 1 paints a beautiful picture of the child of God who, regardless of circumstance, chooses to place his delight in His word. Rather than being led and shaped by surrounding culture, such a child makes the word of God his home. Reading it, studying it, meditating on it and allowing it to speak truth into his moments and his days. The image the Psalmist uses is of a firmly planted tree, with deep roots that are nourished by life giving water whose leaves do not wither despite the buffeting of storms and the passage of time. Instead it produces fruit and, according to the final verse of the Psalm, the fruit is the intimacy of knowing and being known by God.

There is a beautiful passage in George MacDonald’s At the Back of the North Wind that brings home to me again one of the reasons why we must immerse ourselves in God’s word and in pursuing His heart and His character within it. In the story a young boy, Diamond develops a relationship with the North Wind, who appears to him in many different forms. There comes a moment when Diamond is faced for the first time with a side of the wind that scares him, sitting at odds with the goodness he has known until that point. The conversation goes as follows:

“Well, but listen to me Diamond. You know the one me, you say, and that is good.”
“Yes.”
“Do you know the other me as well?”
“No. I can’t. I shouldn’t like to.”
“There it is. You don’t know the other me. You are sure of one of them?”
“Yes.”
“And you are sure there can’t be two mes?”
“Yes.”
“Then the me you don’t know must be the same as the me you do know—else there would be two mes?”
“Yes.”
“Then the other me you don’t know must be as kind as the me you do know?”
“Yes.”
“Besides, I tell you that it is so, only it doesn’t look like it. That I confess freely.”

If I’m honest, there are times when aspects of God’s character leave me shrinking back in uncertainty, wondering whether my limited understanding of His heart was ever true at all. Then I remember the story that is at the heart of Psalm 2, of a king whose name is love and a kingdom that is coming. The great story that reminds me of all that I know Him to be and gives me the courage to believe that the part of Him I know is consistent with the part I cannot fathom. That, whatever the circumstances suggest, His heart and His love are constant. Those are the times when I climb like Lucy onto Aslan’s back, burying my face in His mane and holding on even as all of Narnia shakes with the thunder in His roar.

By the very act of deliberately and intentionally placing our delight in the word of God and obedience to Him we are taking our place within the kingdom where He is already king. If this is true then choosing to live within the borders of this kingdom is not a restricting of our freedom, but a stepping into something which is infinitely greater and more real than what we see around us. These boundaries of commitment and belief are the ancient writing engraved around the entrance to the place where “why?” is not a hopeless question thrown into the void, but the cry of a heart prepared to accept that God can be trusted even when the answer does not come. It seems almost unnecessary in the Rabbit Room to state that the brokenness we live with is passing; the truth of it whispers in every song and story, but for a ten-year-old whose little ship is being tossed on the waves for the first time, the wonder of it is a longed-for harbour.

I am often asked if Ellie will grow out of her need for insulin and the question is usually followed with the whispered ending “Will she have to do this forever?” I don’t know what medical advancements the future holds but I can answer with absolute certainty that it is not forever. If only the true survives, then all that is not true will one day be consumed by the fire that makes things beautiful, and the only thing remaining of the struggle will be the beauty that was formed within it. The reality is that, as people who were created for eternity, we are defined not by the things that will soon be cast away like an old winter coat with the coming of summer, but by the things that will endure because they are made in the image of God.

I think there are two reasons why I can’t shake the feeling that God is doing something here which goes beyond what we can see. The first is that the God whose heart is evident throughout Scripture is always for His people. He is always about the business of restoring and redeeming, even if it seems at times to us that he has taken the long way round. The second reason is that often, despite the darkness, glimpses of beauty shine through, as though this temporary veil of shadows is being pierced by the light of all that is to come. And so my prayer for my family, born out of this season in our lives, is that we will allow God to fashion in us the treasure that will last, whatever form that takes. That we will choose to anchor our lives in Him and in His word and, believing that He is ultimately in control, we will have the courage to step through the sacred door into a kingdom where broken wings are no barrier to flight and joy is all the deeper for having been born out of tears.

Profile photo of Heidi Johnston

Heidi Johnston is the author of Life in the Big Story and is currently the Rabbit Room’s only Irish contributor. She studied law at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and now, amongst other things, teaches a class on “Poetic and Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament” at Belfast Bible College. Heidi is passionate about getting people to engage with the Bible and has a fascination with the book of Deuteronomy.


28 Comments

  1. Collin Cockrell

    Thank you Heidi.

    Reminds me of a few lyrics from Rich’s song “Home”:

    And now the night is fading and the storm is past
    And everything that could be shaken was shaken
    And all that remains is all I ever really had

  2. Profile photo of Andrew Peterson

    Andrew Peterson

    @andrew

    Heidi! So glad that you’ll be contributing from time to time. I hope I can come and play in your church again soon.

    Folks, Heidi and her family are wonderful folks, and as you can see she has a way with words.

    How very Irish of her.

  3. Hilary

    What a great reminder! A few years ago in a Bible study I’m involved in we read a book called “What Do I Know about My God?” by Mardi Collier. What you wrote reminds me much of that book – when faced with a trial or stuck with our own imaginations it is so easy to become fearful. We do need to ask ourselves “What do I know to be true about my God?”

    Great reminder today, thanks!

  4. Clay Clarkson

    Truth that is good and beautiful. Thanks Heidi. “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil…” (Heb 6:19). Look forward to more of your writing.

  5. Kim F

    “…I can’t shake the feeling that God is doing something here which goes beyond what we can see…”

    Beautiful. I needed reminded of this. Thank you.

  6. Ruth Hasan

    Love this Heidi. A great reminder of God’s great plans in spite of our human frailty and weakness. Sin and sickness get in, but ultimately God is in control and He uses all things for His glory. Ellie is a testament to that, as are you. Been thinking this weekend after a sermon in Church yesterday of Wordsworth’s poem – Composed upon Westminster Bridge. In a city which is so often seen as bustling and polluted and chaotic – Wordsworth chose to see the beauty of the city of London. Praying we all choose to see the beauty in our lives amidst the busyness, pollution and chaos.

  7. Katelin Breitmayer

    Heidi, I too have had Type 1 Diabetes since I was 6 years old (I’m now 26) and have wrestled with the same questions you write here.

    “Why did God allow this to happen to me even though I have chosen to follow Him? Why does He not heal me when all it would take is a word? Does He care that I am hurting? Is He even there at all?”

    Thank you for sharing these honest and real thoughts. While I’m here, I will always want concrete, out loud answers to these questions, but I know that my hope in Him is my anchor. I’m looking forward to sitting down with Him with a really sugary Starbucks Frappacino and hearing about His big picture. Thanks again for this reminder!

  8. JamesDWitmer

    Welcome, Heidi!

    Good friends of ours have a nine-year old girl with type-1 diabetes. She’s sweet and gentle, and that makes your answer,

    I can answer with absolute certainty that it is not forever,

    especially poignant.

    Thank you for taking us back to the psalms, and for reminding us that the brokenness is temporary. It’s not unnecessary here at the Rabbit Room… that reminder, writ large, written beautifully, is what draws me back here again and again. Thanks for adding your pen.

  9. Jamin Still

    Thanks for your words, Heidi. I was talking to a friend recently about how repeatedly speaking truth to one another (and listening to truth from one another) helps keep us on track. We may know the truth already, but it’s easy to slip into doubt and effective disbelief when we only listen our own thoughts. So thanks for being one of those voices that we all need to hear to remain on the True Road.

  10. Matthew Benefiel

    God’s Word truely is a marvel. I’ve been reading about the captivity of Israel through Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Ezekiel has always been the hardest book for me to read. It so clearly tells us that we are in Babylon for our own selfish wanderings and pleasures, and yet we are not abandoned. In truth we are told to thrive in all things the Lord in Babylon and await that day when the mountains shall fall and the valleys rise, making way for that super highway where our Risen Lord will take us away to our eternal home. So as Switchfoot says, “Until I die I’ll sing these songs, on the shores of Babylon. Still looking for a home in a world where I belong.”

    Stay strong in Christ Heidi and fam. you know your post belongs here when songs such as “Grand Canyon” (Andy G) and “You’ll Find Your Way” (Andrew P) come to mind when reading it.

  11. Lita

    A kind friend recommended this article to us as my 9 year old was diagnosed a year and a half ago with Type 1. Your words have resonated with me, especially thinking back to when our older daughter was born with a significant physical disability (arthrogryposis). There were many dark days seeing your child endure what you know that the Lord has the power to take away. This wrestling ala Jacob is what has led our family and this momma’s heart to be more at rest in His sovereignty and His goodness regardless of earthly comforts. This is such a gift to your family to see His hand, His love, His grace in this broken world. Grace and Peace to You.

    I blogged about finding out about the Type 1 diagnosis here: http://www.jadeintheparke.com/2012/06/d-has-diabetes-part-1.html

  12. Dustin Petrey

    Heidi,

    Thank you very much for your words. My family has walked through some dark valleys with God’s leading and perfect guidance. Indeed, how thankful I am for the hope that Christ gives. It is though Him we are able to have a hopeful, eternal perspective.

  13. Jeffrey

    Andrew Peterson’s books drew me into this gathering place. I am fond of his words and his music. I first branched out with Pete’s stories, and now I find that I want to know this group better still.
    Heidi, I have type 1 diabetes, or as my sons call it, “diabeasties”. I was diagnosed almost 20 years ago and, actually, just got back from the doctor’s today to sit down to your lovely story. You may be far from Tennessee but your words reminded me of the struggles that I have gone through and the challenges I faced when diagnosed (I was 18).
    I wrestled with God for 10 long and unfortunately lost years where I was decaying in my thoughts and struggled to see my value.
    I woke to the realization that Diabetes was not God’s judgment of me, 5 years ago. I am blessed that those around me kept affirming Christ in me and challenging me to get out of my despair and live again.
    Thanks for your perspective here. It is a great reminder and deeply encouraging.

  14. Michael H

    Thank you so much for this and for your vulnerability. I know for me this is something I’m struggling with. I feel as if I’m shouting into the void for God and He is staying silent.; and yet I’m doing everything I can to keep my trust in Him. And it is hard. But a lament is important, as is asking God questions from our souls like, will this ever end? Whenever I’m in a place like this I find myself drawn to Andrew Peterson’s song, The Reckoning. Such a simple refrain lyrically, but so imbued with meaning.

    “How long until this curtain is lifted? How long is this the song that we sing? How long until the reckoning?”

  15. Loren Warnemuende

    Dear Heidi,

    I am so thankful that you have joined in the Rabbit Room writing community. Your words here are ones I have to be reminded of continually, and you have put these truths down in a way that I can remember.

    Last week my daughter’s teacher shared with us parents that she is facing a recurrence of breast cancer and is now looking at surgery and chemo. This news comes on the heals of my aunt who is near the end of her battle with cancer, and the loss of a close friend to cancer last summer. My daughter’s teacher is facing this head-on, but she doesn’t know Christ, and she expressed her frustration to me today (in good humor), asking that why question. I can only pray that I can encourage her with the right words and am pondering if she would appreciate some of this. She knows I understand grief, and that I’m praying for her, but I long for her to be able to throw herself onto God in the midst of her struggle.

  16. Becca

    Heidi, welcome! We are so glad to have you here. And thank you for sharing your wisdom so beautifully with us. Your honesty and hope move me.

  17. Jane Blair

    This is a brilliant article Heidi so privileged to be able to see the out workings of this hope in all of your lives.

  18. Heidi Johnston

    Thank you all for your welcome, insights and encouraging words. They are another reminder how good it is to be part of the Kingdom.

  19. Helena

    “If only the true survives, then all that is not true will one day be consumed by the fire that makes things beautiful, and the only thing remaining of the struggle will be the beauty that was formed within it.” This is beautiful, Heidi. It’s a pleasure to meet you.

  20. Ming-Wai

    Dear Heidi,

    Typically I read things from the Rabbit Room as soon as I see them, but I waited for yours. I waited for a silent space and a quiet moment to savor what I knew was going to be wonderful.

    And you still blew me away.

    “These boundaries of commitment and belief are the ancient writing engraved around the entrance to the place where “why?” is not a hopeless question thrown into the void, but the cry of a heart prepared to accept that God can be trusted even when the answer does not come.”

    For someone who has been tracing weary circles around questions that have not been answered, this is exactly what I needed to hear. And I know deep, deep, deep down that what you say is true, beautiful and true.

    Thank you.

    Ming

  21. May Novalis

    Hallelujah. Thank you.

    “For He has satisfied the thirsty and filled the hungry with good things…Then He guided them to the harbor they longed for.” Psalm 107:9,30

  22. Ari Jones

    This is encouraging to me in many ways, breathing answers of Life into the old stale questions in my heart.

    Thank you Heidi! I am a brand new reader to the Rabbit Room, and yours is my first post to read.

  23. Profile photo of

    Jen Rose

    @

    I finally got to read this all… really read it… and wow, wonderful. What a lovely introduction.

    Welcome Heidi! It’s good to meet you. 🙂

  24. SD Smith

    This was so wonderful. Thank you, Heidi, and welcome. I appreciate so much your guiding us back the the Bible, a book many modern “spirituals” seem to feel they have outgrown, a book I often turn away from in the insanity of sin.

    It is a delight to hear your voice here, and, like the others, I’m eager to hear it again. God bless your little girl and you all. May every stab of joy and every shroud of evil sharpen our longing for the True New World. Your post did that for me.

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