Hope of a Ragged Sort

Despite the pile of books on my end table to read,

endtable books 005I requested Cynthia Ruchti’s newest book, Ragged Hope: Surviving the Fallout of Other People’s Choices  for review.  Why? Because I gravitate towards anything with the word “Hope” in it and any book by Cynthia Ruchti.

ragged hope

HOPE was the word I’d chosen to concentrate on at the beginning of this year. Hope is what I hang onto today, sixteen months after the death of my husband, and in the midst of watching my eight-year-old grandson die.

Jeremiah 29:11  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.

A year ago, still reeling with the loss of my best friend, I could not even imagine what God had in store for me. I had an agent but no book contract, for a book that my husband had encouraged me to write back in July of 2009. Today is the official release date of that book, Coupon Crazy: The Science, the Savings, and the Stories Behind America’s Extreme Obsession. (Familius) Chemo-Therapist: How Cancer Cured a Marriage, a book I had written in 2006/2007 and had abandoned in a file cabinet, will be released in April 2014. And Refined By Fire: A Walk in Grief is slated for publication in the fall of 2014.  If God can do all that then it is no wonder I still cling to hope these days.

But that hope and joy in the triumphs of the book world are all wrapped up in a dust jacket of sadness in light of my eight-year-old grandson’s obvious decline.

Working on Refined By Fire right now has been cathartic for me. Chronicling the clear path of grief I followed in the last sixteen months, I maintain hope for the path my daughter and son-in-law will soon trek down.

Knowing that his grandfather waits there for him helps me in the saying good-bye. Truly believing that Jacob will be going home softens the blow of impending loss.

Still, some days~most days~my hope feels more like that in the book of Job;

Job 17:15where then is my hope? Who can see any hope for me?

That is why Ruchti’s title, Ragged Hope appealed to me.

Unlike the true stories in Ruchti’s book, I’m not living with the fallout of other people’s bad choices. David did not choose to leave me. Jacob did not choose cancer. But oh, how ragged and worn thin my hope feels in the darkness of the night. Those are the moments I fall down to my knees and feel closest to God.

Ruchti’s book did not disappoint. (I don’t think she could disappoint. Her writing comes from deep within a loving heart)  “To the wounded, the worn, the wondering. And to those who let us see their scars so others can discover Hope’s hideout,” Ruchti writes in her dedication.

I am wounded. (I lost my mother and my husband in the space of sixteen months. I am losing my grandson sixteen months later)

I am worn. (I never wanted to be a single mom. I don’t like making parenting decisions all alone. I am so tired of grief.)

I wonder. (Why would God allow cancer in a little boy?) 

I am scarred.

But I continue to hang onto HOPE. Hope means I believe there is a reason for everything, even a little boy living, and dying, with cancer.  The Facebook page we set up more than two years ago chronicles Jacob’s journey. Thousands of people have been following Jacob in his journey. One day in early July I checked the statistics for the “Jacob’s Ladder” page and noted that more than 15,000 people had looked at his page.

15,000 people.

As an author struggling to build my audience, I have repeatedly pleaded with friends, family and “fans” (and I use that term loosely) to “Like” my Author Page on Facebook.  I have managed to acquire a bit of a following, but not even a small percentage of the following that our precious Jacob had on the day the hospice team informed his parents he didn’t have long to live.

15,000 people, viewing a little boy’s journey, and nearly that many prayers lifted to the heavens for healing, comfort, and strength.

An eight-year-old boy with eyes that speak volumes and a kind heart that speaks for all of us,  is dying. And just like Ruchti details in the examples of her book, there is “grace in every situation, even in those we did not cause but now live.”  There is grace in this. There is HOPE.

When the Morning Glory Blooms book review

“God doesn’t waste anything. Let the Lord use it. God will refresh and revive you. Brave writers all write from a dwelling place, or a history of pain.” Author Cynthia Ruchti, in a writer’s workshop at the 2012 Write-to-Publish conference

 

These were words I heard in a workshop I hadn’t intended on taking at a conference I’d learned I’d won a scholarship for on the evening of my husband’s wake. When Oak Tara publisher Ramona Tucker informed me that her afternoon session I’d initially signed up for might be somewhat repetitive of the morning workshop I’d just taken, I had only a few minutes to decide what other workshop I would take instead. I don’t remember the title of the substitute workshop, but Cynthia’s words that day spoke to me. I had been writing from nothing but pain since the death of my husband. Every word was a single tear, every sentence a wringing out of my heart’s blood. Surely Cynthia had noticed the woman in the front seat desperately trying to stem the flow of tears that continued to make their way down her cheeks.

God doesn’t waste anything. Let the Lord use it.” My pain is not for naught. God can use my pain for his glory. “God will refresh you and revive you”. God will refresh me and revive me. “Brave writers all write from a dwelling place, or a history of pain.” I am not crazy, writing from my pain. I am brave .I am brave!

Cynthia’s eyes softened as I approached her after the workshop. Yes, she had seen my struggle to remain composed during her speech. I felt I owed her an explanation. “I lost my husband two months ago. I’ve been writing from pain. I want you to know how much your presentation meant to me.” I sobbed once, twice, as her arms folded around me, and for a moment I felt God’s love through her. I do not remember much more about our encounter, but I have never forgotten that feeling of warm, comforting love, a love that has stayed with me and blossomed out to others this past year.

I hadn’t gotten around to asking Cynthia’s permission to use that quote as an epigraph at the beginning of one of my chapters in the book I’m writing, when I spotted the cover of her new book on Facebook.  

The cover of When the Morning Glory Blooms was beautiful, and drew me in. I resisted the pull of a lovely cover. I don’t have time to read fiction, I reminded myself. I was busy working on my own book and preparing for the Bible study I’d organized for our church.

Several days went by, and I still hadn’t asked Cynthia’s permission to use her quote as an epigraph, but that chapter was in the early rough draft stages so I knew I had plenty of time to ask. Cover images of her book appeared again and again on her Facebook page. I dutifully clicked “Like,” resisting the urge to order the book on Amazon. After all, I already have a large stack of fiction books on my “to-read” shelf. I didn’t need another pretty cover to taunt me in my limited free time. Then I was reminded of Cynthia’s heart-felt speech, her expression when I’d approached her, and the love I felt emanating from her as she hugged me. Curiosity got the best of me. I already knew she was a powerful speaker. What kind of writer would she be?

When the Morning Glory Blooms arrived in my mailbox on Monday, but I was too busy preparing for the Bible study to give it much more than a passing glance. Beautiful cover, I thought appreciatively before laying it aside. But I don’t have time right now for fiction.

when the morning glory blooms

On Wednesday I worked on the first day of “homework” for the Bible study, a section on the definition of love. That night I picked up Cynthia’s book and began reading. I was drawn into a world of unwed pregnancies and a memory long forgotten was unearthed. I suddenly remembered a time early on in our marriage, when David and I were being trained as house-parents for emotionally troubled youth. We still had stars in our eyes back then regarding our chosen majors in college; David slated for a degree in Social Work and me in Psychology with a minor in Sociology. Back then we attended monthly pro-life meeting with our one child in tow, confident we could change the world. We even discussed how our training could qualify us to work in an unwed mother’s home at some point. There were still unwed mother’s homes then, weren’t there? We didn’t really know, but it didn’t seem to matter. It was just another one of our dreams. We were dreamers and it wasn’t enough to just attend pro-life meetings. We wanted to DO something.  Our second child arrived and our part-time house-parenting opportunities mysteriously dried up. (It seemed the house-parenting gig was geared for the childless or those with one child) Life got busier, and reality set in.

Those were my thoughts when I went to bed that night; memories of days long ago when David and I had big hearts and even bigger plans.

Yesterday I got up an hour earlier than usual, made myself a cup of coffee, and immediately dug into the second part of the Bible study, focusing and meditating on what love means in God’s word. When I completed the second day’s assignment, I couldn’t help it; I glanced at the clock and noted the time before picking up where I left off in When the Morning Glory Blooms. Two hours later, I’d reached the end of the story. I reluctantly closed the book, not quite ready to leave a world full of characters I’d come to care about. When one character asks the other how she went on after the death of a loved one, the woman’s answer left me in tears. “I went on because that’s all a person can do with a broken heart. If you don’t keep going, it gets brittle. Pieces break off and get lost in the carpet or under the sofa…And I learned not to discount the healing power of tender memories.”

 

Tender memories of David keep me going. While the book’s theme could rightly be described as the journey of three women from three different eras looking for hope, what the book really is about is love. When the Morning Glory Blooms is a story that beautifully illustrates the power of love.

Love; a topic discussed in the Bible study I am facilitating. When I’d noted the subject matter of our first lesson I automatically thought about married love, and how I no longer have my beloved. Then I thought about the chapter in my book that will begin with Cynthia Ruchti’s quote. That chapter is essentially about how my heart has grown softer with loss. It ends with me recognizing my connectivity to others; from a bewildered stranger in the grocery store to a table full of faith-filled women at a writer’s conference, to a man who unknowingly ministered to my hurt over lunch, to the very friend who unexpectedly visited me yesterday morning. All these people have made my world a much bigger and better place in the year since David has died.

I pondered these things as I remembered what I’d proclaimed at the conclusion of the Bible study on Tuesday; that I believe God can speak to us. I believe He led me to the Write-to-Publish conference. I think I ended up in Cynthia’s workshop for a reason. I also believe the Holy Spirit prompted me to begin a Bible study at my church. I dare to say that I even believe that it was far more than a pretty cover that drew me to Cynthia’s book. When I contemplate how God can lead us in the smallest of things, even in the books we pick up or the people we meet, I am reminded once again of how he will watch over us in the big things.

Thank you, Cynthia Ruchti, for the reminder of God’s love.