On Friday, January 19, Peter and I had the opportunity to address the Moody Bible Institute community during our “Day One” chapel. “Day One” is a special day when prospective students and their families visit Moody to help determine whether or not God is calling them to come and study with us. Peter and I knew that this chapel was also a unique opportunity for us to speak into the storm that has been swirling around MBI for the past several months.
Today I am posting the first half of our Day One chapel talk. Next week I will post the second half, in which Peter spoke from Lamentations chapter 3. We pray that the truths therein will be an encouragement to you no matter what difficulties you are facing right now.
It was months ago, actually, that Peter and I were asked to speak at today’s Day One chapel, and the topic given to us was “Finding Hope in the Midst of Difficulty.”
When this invitation was extended to us and we accepted, none of us had any idea what would transpire in the meantime.
We began praying immediately … that our few minutes here together would provide another opportunity for us as a community to find strength and encouragement, peace and hope—and in recent days those prayers took on a new fervency.
Peter and I met at Moody.
In the fall of 1998, I started my teaching career here. And that same semester, Peter came from the mission field in Pakistan to study at the Moody Graduate School. We were introduced to one another by Moody Graduate School Professor, Dr. Green, over lunch one day in the cafeteria. We spent much of our dating life frequenting the coffee shops in this neighborhood. I would plan lessons and grade papers. Peter would sit across from me, reading thick textbooks and writing essays.
Fifteen months later, in December of 1999, we were married in a 13th century church in Plympton, England. And we started our married life, full of so many hopes and dreams.
However, just a few short years into our marriage, the wheels began wobble. And we entered a very difficult, extended, painful season.
Some of the particulars are as follows…
Peter’s dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer at the age of 56, and he died just months later.
We wanted to start a family, but suffered multiple miscarriages and the grief of infertility.
Our church at the time did not know how to help us in our hurt, and when I descended into depression, their response was to discuss church discipline, adding to our pain rather than helping us through it.
Then, not long after, my mom was diagnosed with cancer.
While she was fighting for her life, my dad suffered a life-altering injury.
The expense of my dad’s care put a serious financial strain on our family.
While Peter tried to put on a brave front, I spiraled deeper into the fog of anxiety and despair.
And for quite some time, I very much struggled with the concept hope.
I know the details of your story are probably very different, but perhaps your journey is in some ways similar to ours.
Most of you, I imagine, came here to Moody with certain hopes and dreams.
And whether you have been here for just one semester or for several years, during this season—this 2017-18 school year—you might feel as if the wheels are wobbling.
It has been and will continue to be a season of loss.
It has been a season of life-altering injuries—some which we have incurred ourselves, some which we have watched happen to people we love. The fact that you are here—in this place, at this time—will undoubtedly shape your life and your ministry in some significant ways.
Quite frankly, this has been a season during which certain cancers have been allowed to grow in our midst.
A season where we are sometimes wounding one another—brothers and sisters in Christ—adding to each other’s pain, rather than helping each other through.
We are aware, too, that for many of you—the current crisis of our community is layered on top of other personal trials that you are experiencing, making it that much more difficult to process the pain.
Over the past several months, Peter and I have talked to a number of you who are finding it hard to know how to hope.
It’s an often misunderstood concept, I believe. This concept of HOPE.
During our darkest season, the season I previously described, Peter would sometimes play a computer game. One of the characters in the game was called the Librarian. And the Librarian used to pop up on the screen sometimes and speak oh-so wisely, this saying: “Hope is the first step on the road to disappointment.” At the time, his pronouncement sounded just about right to me. Maybe it sounds right to you too.
Hope sometimes sounds like a dangerous or foolish thing to do.
This is because we can speak of hope in a rather flippant fashion. We hope in the same way that we wish upon a shooting star, or toss a coin into a well, or blow out our birthday candles.
“I hope I get what I want.”
Or “I hope this situation turn out all right.”
Or “I hope this pain comes to an end.”
Or “I hope God answers my prayer.”
We too often hope FOR, rather than hoping IN.
Or if we do hope IN, we hope in fallible things.
We place our hope in other people, or in our own strength, or in a scheme of our own design.
And then we flail and we flounder and we are easily overwhelmed by the waves.
For when we hope FOR a certain outcome, or we hope IN a mortal mooring, we settle for something less than the true HOPE God has for us, a secure hope, a hope that is focused ON our sure and certain God.
In the summer of 2006, when our little family was still in the thick of that very difficult personal season, Peter and I took a much-needed vacation to the Island of Great Chebeague, off the coast of Maine. We desperately needed some time and space to heal and to rediscover true and eternal and Biblical hope.
Despite its name being Great Chebeague, this little island is all of three miles long and one mile wide. just over 300 people call it home. It was the perfect place to regroup and reconnect.
We spent a week on that island, and during our time on Great Chebeague, God began to restore my understanding of what it means to find a certain hope in the midst of difficulty. Through much prayer and journaling and Bible study. Through long conversations with Peter and quiet walks on the beach and providential encounters with strangers, He repeatedly and persistently revealed Himself as the source of all hope and made His mercies known.
At the end of our island week, Peter and I had to take the ferry back to the mainland. We stood on the ferry’s deck for most of the one-hour ride, wanting to soak in every last bit of the Casco Bay. It was another foggy day, however, and it was difficult to see very far ahead. Eventually, though, our captain instructed us to focus our eyes toward the southwest—over the bow of the boat and beyond—out into the fog. The Portland Head Lighthouse, he promised us, was just a mile down the coast. So we strained our eyes to see. And sure enough, even before we could see the lighthouse herself, her beam was visible through the mist—rotating, pulsating, warning ships of the rocky coast, and guiding them home.
For the rest of the ride, I kept staring into the cloudy air.
Nothing but fog.
Nothing but fog.
Nothing but fog.
Then, suddenly, FLASH.
That simple image has stuck with me in the many years since as an image of hope. A sure and steady source of light when it is hard to see for the fog.
Sometimes our life situation feels so much like that fog. Other times it even feels like the black of night. But God—in His sure and steady faithfulness—breaks through the darkness and the mist in so many ways—through a Bible passage or a prayer or a conversation or a providential encounter—to lead us on and give us hope.
We pray that this morning, our worship together, and the truths from the Scripture passage that Peter is about to share, will be one more flash of light for you. One more providential encounter that will lead you on and give you certain hope.
Come back next week to read Peter’s message from Lamentations chapter 3.