On Hope, Waiting, and Memorials in the Woods

We arrive at the house where we hope to move soon. This cold November day smells of wet earth and autumn leaves. We meander around the place, peeking in through the windows, noting the things that have been accomplished since our last visit. The kids shout at each other and their voices disappear in the woods.

There’s hope hidden around here somewhere: hope that things are turning for the better. Hope that after nine months in cramped quarters (a bus, then a basement), we will all be able to stretch our wings a bit. There’s hope found in the smell of new seasons and in the growing pile of wood with which we plan to heat the house.

This is what I’m learning these days: even when my hope in “big” things diminishes, there are still the very small shoots of green to look for. It’s harder work, unearthing these hidden hints of good things to come, but the hard work of searching for small hopes begins to shape my heart, prepares it to better hold the good things to come.

* * * * *

In the Old Testament, one of the transliterated Hebrew words used for hope is Yachal. It generally means “to hope,” but there’s also a subtle nuance to the word that hints at waiting, even delaying or wasting time. There’s very little of the sudden, when it comes to Yachal. It feels to me like a slow building, a determination, a yoga posture of the soul.

This word Yachal is used mainly in two Old Testament books. The first book is easy to guess: Psalms. Psalms seems a fitting place to go while waiting for hope. While treading slowly through the valley of the shadow. While drinking from the icy springs of a waterfall, eyes closed.

But the Old Testament book with the second most uses of Yachal surprised me: Job. It would appear that the story of a man losing everything oozes with hope.

Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.

If a man dies, will he live again? All the days of my struggle I will wait until my change comes.

Behold, I waited for your words, I listened to your reasonings…

Perhaps this is the great lesson of hope, that it is not a gift for the rich or the full, the content or the comfortable. It’s not something strewn far and wide to the unappreciative masses. Hope is offered to those who need it most: namely, those who sometimes feel they have the least reason to believe in it.

* * * * *

We herd the kids back into the warm van and buckle them in. Then Maile and I walk back through the surprisingly green yard and up into the woods. Along the path paved with yellow leaves. We turn right where the path turns left. Quietly. And there sits a small pile of rocks the children helped us gather not three weeks ago.

Warm in the earth beneath those stones lies a box. And in that box is a small baby’s nightgown my sister gave to us prior to Maile’s miscarriage last month. The two of us stand there by the pile of rocks. I stare off into the woods, and for the first time Maile doesn’t cry. She simply takes a deep breath, then exhales a cloudy burst of breath.

“Okay,” she says quietly, and we turn and walk back to the warm van filled with our four shouting kids. But my mind is still thinking about the small pile of rocks, and out of nowhere I remember the word etched on the top of the buried box:


11 Replies to “On Hope, Waiting, and Memorials in the Woods”

  1. “Beautiful” is the word that came to my mind, also. You helped me to keep hope alive in my life, as well.

  2. What a beautiful post. I am so, so very sorry for your loss. Your posts give me so much hope, and I love reading it all. Thank you for this.

  3. Hi Shaun
    This is my first visit to your blog and already I love your writing. I am a Fm/ME sufferer and today I am battling to allow those tender green sprouts of hope and faith to germinate and grow. My mind battles to envision the beatiful, green foliage that will follow the germination period. Thank you for being our Pappa God’s instrument to help carry my load. I am already encouraged.
    Blessings to you
    Mia (http://hislovingembrace.wordpress.com)

  4. Ah, Shawn. Isn’t that just the way? Hope wends its way into the most surprising places. Thankful with you for the soon-spreading-of-wings-time ahead. And sorry to read of a miscarriage – somehow I missed that somewhere. Deep breath – leaning into hope. Thank you for this.

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