To speak of hope implies that there is a problem. If there were no problems, there would be no need for hope. The problem that generates our particular mission of hope was stated with remarkable simplicity and power recently by a young lady named Makenna Wehe, a Legacy Scholarship winner. This 18-year-old girl really struck me with her articulation of the kind of hope-needing situation Inheritance of Hope serves. I encourage you to watch her say it herself, but these are her words, talking about her mom:
“We had to replace her entire spine with synthetic bone… she hasn’t really been the same since… Over Mother’s Day weekend we found 4 more tumors scattered up and down her spine… It caused us to appreciate the time that we have with each other… Cancer just tears at you and tears you apart, and when your family’s afraid to be vulnerable with each other, it’s like a wedge between you and your relationships… I’m just afraid of losing my mom; I’m afraid that she’s gonna die. I think there’s a childish fear, a child that still lives within me that is still really afraid – it’s a little girl afraid to lose her mommy.”
That’s exactly it! Little girls and little boys are afraid to lose their mommy or their daddy. We can talk intelligently and meaningfully about grief, death, trauma, psychological needs, spiritual needs, family dynamics, and on and on, but underneath all these things is a basic, primal problem. A little girl is afraid to lose her mommy. Loss of a parent, and fear of losing a parent, are tragic realities that beg for hope.
From the parent’s perspective, this loss is just as significant. In 2012, just a few months before she died, IoH co-founder Kristen Milligan asked me in an email about a couple of Bible verses. She said she wanted to know about translation issues for Hebrews 13:5 and Judges 16:20. In her NIV, these said “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” and “But he did not know the LORD had left him.” This wasn’t a mere academic exercise; Kristen was bothered by the thought of God leaving someone. Here are her words:
“The verse on Samson was really bugging me, especially because I have clung so heavily to Hebrews 13:5. More for my family than myself.”
Kristen knew that she was going to have to leave her family – soon – but she found hope in the promise that God will never leave us or forsake us. Even when she could no longer be with her family, she had hope that God would still be with them. The language of that promise in Hebrews 13:5 is emphatic. It could be translated as “Never will I even maybe leave you, nor never will I even maybe forsake you.” Or, “Never, in no way, might I leave you, nor never, in no way, might I forsake you.”
That is such a powerful promise! Yet it is in tension with Judges 16:20, as Kristen noticed, saying that God left Samson. It also seems to be in stark contrast to Jesus’ cry from the cross in both Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” How can we trust the promise that God will never forsake us if Jesus himself felt forsaken by God?
It is a question worthy of long reflection, but one summary of theologian Jurgen Moltmann’s writing about Jesus’ crucifixion offers this: on the cross Jesus was forsaken by God so that no one else would ever have to be God-forsaken. When I first came across that idea, one of my first thoughts was “Oh man, I wish I could share that with Kristen!” It would have been so helpful in our conversation about being forsaken that was weighing on her at the end of her life.
Sometimes I get caught up in wishing things like this. I wish young parents didn’t get terminal diagnoses. I wish that families looking forward to Legacy Retreats didn’t have to cancel because their diagnosed parent becomes unable to travel. I wish we could serve more families more often. I wish severe weather didn’t add more uncertainty to families already drowning in uncertainty. I wish a lot of things!
We can’t get stuck on a runaway train of wishes, though. What we in fact get at Legacy Retreats are a few days with the people who are here and the chance to share the message that God loves you in a way that never, for no reason, in no way, not even maybe could end. Not sickness, not a hurricane, not even death makes us lose God or God lose us.
We have many ways to share this message of the hope of God’s never-forsaking love. We can share it in the video of a teenage girl like Makenna. We can share it in the life experience of a remarkable family like the Milligans. We can share it in the words of German theologians. We can share it with Bible verses, smiles, hugs, silly games, fun-yet-insightful kids’ activities, memorable family outings, pushing a wheelchair, sharing a meal, bringing joy into grief, willingness to listen and share pain, the ability to enter people’s storms instead of run from them.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:35-39