A Palpable Hope

. . . those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31

“Sophie lies in a bed for the most part of the day unless her parents are feeding her, bathing her, exercising her limbs to avoid muscle atrophy or walking with her outside in the fresh air.  When her father picks her up from her wheelchair, nine-year-old Sophie is lifeless. In contrast, her hair is thick and shiny – like a healthy child’s. But Sophie’s eyes are closed. And under her tracksuit bottoms she wears a nappy (diaper). A transparent feeding tube runs into Sophie’s nose – this is how she has been nourished for the past 20 months. So how could a child who loved to dance become so deeply inert? ‘When I explain to the parents what has happened, I tell them the world has been so terrible that Sophie has gone into herself and disconnected the conscious part of her brain,’ says Hultcrantz, a doctor with Doctors of the World, an organization in Sweden. For nearly two decades Sweden has been battling a mysterious illness. Called Resignation Syndrome, it affects only the children of asylum-seekers, who withdraw completely, ceasing to walk or talk, or open their eyes. Eventually they recover.Hultcrantz tests Sophie’s reflexes. Everything works normally. But the child does not stir. Sophie is just one of the 169 cases of Resignation Syndrome among refugees in Sweden in 2015 through 2016. “In some way the child will have to sense that there’s hope, something to live for…” When children witness violence or threats against a parent, their most significant connection in the world is ripped apart. “Then the child understands – my mother can’t take care of me,” “And they give up hope, because they know they are totally dependent on the parent. When that happens, to where or what can the child turn?’ The health professionals who treat these children agree that trauma is what has caused them to withdraw from the world. The children who are most vulnerable are those who have witnessed extreme violence – often against their parents – or whose families have fled a deeply insecure environment. Sophie and her family are asylum seekers from the former USSR. They arrived in December 2015 and live in accommodation allocated to refugees in a small town in central Sweden. Sophie’s parents have a terrifying story of extortion and persecution by a local mafia. In September 2015 their car was stopped by men in police uniform.

“We were dragged out. Sophie was in the car so she witnessed me and her mother being roughly beaten,” remembers Sophie’s father.

The men let Sophie’s mother go – she grabbed her daughter and ran. But Sophie’s father did not escape.

“They took me away and then I don’t remember anything,” he says.

Sophie’s mother took her to a friend’s home. The little girl was very upset. She cried, shouted “Please go and find my dad!”, and beat the wall with her feet.

Three days later, her father made contact, and from then on the family remained on the move, hiding in friends’ homes until they left for Sweden three months later. On arrival, they were held for hours by Swedish police. Then, quite quickly, Sophie deteriorated.” Quotes are taken from “Resignation syndrome: Sweden’s mystery illness” written By Linda Pressly BBC News, Sweden, also portrayed in the Netflix documentary “Life Overtakes Me”.

After watching the documentary on this syndrome, I began to realize an even deeper sense of how important hope is as I witnessed what I would describe as palpable hopelessness.  The definition of the word palpable gives us more insight -“so obvious that it can easily be seen or known, or (of a feeling) so strong that it seems as if it can be touched or physically felt:” The Isaiah 40 reference in contrast to what hope is, describes a sense of fainting, unable to walk, without strength, a great weariness to be without hope. Hope is as much physical as emotional and spiritual because without it, we are lost – palpable hopelessness.

“Hope means hoping when things are hopeless or it is no virtue at all. . . As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude; it is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength.”  G. K. Chesterton

My own children dealt with this decades ago, during a very difficult divorce and a growing realization that their own mother couldn’t protect them from the deep uncertainties of our new life with the financial and emotional issues I was having and the ways in which their estranged father was using to vilify me and to alienate them from me.  In my work, I have seen this much too often. The child begins to shut down emotionally and withdraws.  My children couldn’t attend school. They couldn’t focus, and the only way I could protect them from school, social services’ officials and the court was to get them into a home school with someone I knew and felt I could trust.  That decision gave my children relief while they healed and regained some level of trust but in retrospect I realize that the emotional withdrawal lasted for years into their adulthood.  Palpable hopelessness begins in fear.  I couldn’t give my children a sense of hope in my own emotional free fall I was experiencing and so they reacted the only way they could.

The real turn around for me was when I reached bottom emotionally as my own hope slipped away.  I began to put together a suicide plan. Somehow in my fractured thinking, I decided that my children would be better off with only one parent to deal with.  Then, I rationalized, they wouldn’t be pulled back and forth. The Sunday before I was planning to carry this out, as I usually did, I went to church.  One of my lifelong friends came up to me and said, “God has shown me what you are planning to do and it is his will that you trust him for what’s to come. He has a great purpose for your life.” I realized once again, how closely God was watching over me or this sister would not have known what I had planned.  From that moment I gave up the plan and began to let go.  I decided that God loved my children more than I could even imagine and that I would give them to him to care for when I couldn’t. I then was able to be free of the fear as a palpable hope was again restored to me.

During that time, I miraculously ran across the book “God Calling” and read the January First reading. Here is an excerpt: “Dwell not on the past – only on the present. Only use the past as the trees use My Sunlight to absorb it, to make from it in after days the warming fire-rays. So store only the blessings from Me, the Light of the World. Encourage yourselves by the thought of these. Bury every fear of the future, of poverty for those dear to you, of suffering, of loss. Bury all thoughts of unkindness and bitterness, all your dislikes, your resentments, your sense of failure, your disappointment in others and in yourselves, your gloom, your despondency, and let us leave them all, buried, and go forward to a new and risen life. Remember that you must not see as the world sees. I hold the year in My Hands – in trust for you. But I shall guide you one day at a time. Leave the rest with Me. You must not anticipate the gift by fears or thoughts of the days ahead. And for each day I shall supply the wisdom and the strength.” Written by Two Listeners during WWII.

I learned that two women in London sat at their kitchen table with pads and pens, waiting for God to speak to them while bombs exploded around them across the city during WWII.  “God Calling” and a second book “God at Eventide” was the result.  You can still purchase both volumes filled with timeless, Spirit-filled  instruction and comfort for everyday life today.

Fear comes to all of us and would try to destroy faith and hope. In the last year, 2019, because of John’s health issues, I started to experience the realization of his eventual passing from this life.  I imagined more and more each day of going through the loss of him and some of the old fears I felt years ago when I was alone and my life was in such freefall.  I just couldn’t shake it. I didn’t talk about it with John but I dreaded the time I knew was coming.  What is this hope that Isaiah is talking about?  ‘. . . those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31

Without hope, we are just putting one foot in front of the other until we can’t anymore and fear begins to undermine our faith. During that time I prayed for the dread to go away and my peace restored. Then, on April 17, John accidentally fell while clearing some brush above our storm cellar stairwell.  Unaware, he stepped off a five foot wall onto his back on the concrete floor of the stairwell.  Miraculously, he survived this deadly fall for someone his age without even a bruise. I don’t know if there is a why or purpose for what happened but since that day, I no longer feel the dread of losing him but treat each day as a gift and a renewal to appreciate life even more as we prepare for the next phase whatever it looks like.  Jesus knew all about fear and how it could undermine our faith.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14: 27

The morning I felt led to write this chapter, the words “palpable hope” came to me as I was waking up. In my research, I found this excellent reference about hope: “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Because our Messiah, our Savior, our King did not stay dead, I have hope. Because Jesus is alive, I have hope! I know that death has been defeated and that it no longer holds power like before. I know that Jesus’ resurrection was the example that we will follow. I know that God’s Kingdom has been inaugurated. For all these things, I have hope. Easter was when Hope in person surprised the whole world by coming forward from the future into the present. Think about that. Hope is set in the future. When we hope for something, we must wait for it to either happen or not happen. In the moment of hoping, the thing for which we are hoping is out of reach. The events of Easter are the exception. Hope came out of the future, into the present. And because of this, the same is true today. The hope that I have because of Christ’s resurrection is real, almost palpable.” Taken from Inland Church website written by Michael. ( Full name not given.)

It bothers me to know the state I was in when I attended church that day decades ago, that I could have carried out my suicide plan but for God’s intervention through a friend. What if my friend had have just brushed off the spiritual leadings she had about me and didn’t say anything. There could have been a tragic outcome, not only just for my family but for all of those who God has put in my path for ministry.  For years I read God Calling every day and through faith have reached where I am today, with gratitude, looking back at a life filled with purpose, one that I could never have imagined. I know this is true for everyone who has been in a place of giving up.  God is true to his promises and he will never forsake you.  It may feel like dread as in your mind you wait for the worst to happen and you feel helpless to stop it, but if and when it does, he will have prepared you for it by setting a plan in motion that will be for your best outcome.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Psalm 42:11

“The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” Psalm 121:7-8

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13


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