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The doctor's words fell on my ears like deafening thunder. "How many years have you been married? Eighteen? Are you aware that you'll be looking at a nursing home in ten years? Your husband has multiple lesions on his brain." Speaking slowly as he nervously shifted his weight from one foot to the other, his face reflected doubt and hopelessness. Clutching his clipboard, he forced an attempt, for a quick moment, to make eye contact.

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I stood with him, toe to toe, outside Phil's hospital room, looking straight at him. I didn't hesitate. This was no time for facades. "As a nurse, I'm aware of the ramifications, but my hope is in God."


He knew the road ahead of a multiple sclerosis (MS) patient. Nodding his head, he held up his hand with his crossed fingers, then walked away. The routine sounds of the hospital faded as his words bounced in my head, playing chase with the fear that tried to grip me. My spirit, however, rose above the emotion and claimed the victory for that moment. It wasn't until three in the morning, when the hospital was quiet and Phil was asleep that the words came looming back to my mind. Unable to sleep, I headed to the chapel.


As I prayed, God's Word came drifting into my heart, quiet, but sure: "Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning" (Ps 30:5). God's Word planted a seed of hope in my spirit. Rising from my knees, I knew that I could cling to it.


In the years to come, as my husband's condition deteriorated, my three children and I faced the constant defeats of multiple sclerosis. Through it all, God's Word gave us hope to press on. That hope would often come as a spoken word from a nurse or concerned friend, in a dream, from children or in something I read.


Even when Phil died seven years later, I found that going to the place of hope got us through the dark days of adversity-sometimes in tears, other times in laughter.


Since then, I have learned that hope has many faces. When the life-threatening storms of terminal illness appear, the turmoil begins. Cold, hard facts fight with something that rises within us to contend reality. The unknown lurks ahead, blowing dreams apart. Depression and despair begin to move in, paralyzing us with fear and a sense of abandonment. Hearts sink, until someone comes along with the gift.


In my grieving, at times I felt bitter and angry. Hope seemed defeated. Then, two years later, the hospice nurse told me about Jessica, who had three small children and a husband with MS. His condition was deteriorating, and Jessica felt overwhelmed. The nurse also told Jessica about us and asked me to talk with her. I felt helpless and panicky. What could I offer her? How could telling her about my husband's death possibly provide any hope? How could I give her something I'd lost?


Reaching Out to Help

Despite my rebellion, I felt as if God was taking me by the nape of the neck and pushing me out on my own. He wanted to show me that the hope he had instilled in me wasn't gone, and he wanted me to share it with others.


Jessica agreed to meet one evening for coffee. The sharing began. Four hours later, time shared with tears and transparency, we left the restaurant. I'd bared my soul to this stranger. She'd opened her life to me.

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She hugged me and thanked me, through tears. She told me I had given her hope because, after hearing my story in all its despair, she saw how much she still had left. She left feeling renewed, not wanting to take any moment for granted. Moments she had dreaded would now become her welcomed treasures.


In my experiences as a public health nurse and now, once again, in the hospital, I constantly encounter families who suddenly must face the terminal illness of a loved one. When I tell them my personal story, I find that the willingness to be vulnerable and share what gave me strength opens the door to trust. Once they are inside that door, I can begin to offer hope.


Many Faces of Hope

Hope doesn't come in blanket generalities. As I speak to people, I begin searching for where they are. Are they at the beginning-in denial and bewilderment? Are they stalled in the relentless grips of anger and fear? Or are they bargaining for anything that will change their circumstances?


To the newly diagnosed, hope may come through expecting a miracle. To those lost in desperate straits and confusion, hope may come in a word from the Bible. To those who go about in vain trying to change and fix what they cannot, hope may come with the knowledge that sitting quietly and holding the hand of their loved one is sufficient. Those standing by the bed as eternity enters the room may find hope in being shown how wonderful it is that they are there to say goodbye, hold a hand, and know their loved one goes on in dignity, not alone.


Ecclesiastes 9:4 states, "But whoever is joined with all the living has hope." When the dance of life comes to an end, hope stays until the last minute. I used to think that when hope left, the room was forever empty. Now, I know that hope has life built into it. What is given to those in need will go on beyond the crises of their lives. They will take that life and pass it on, hope expanding and never quitting, always giving.


The Lord reminds us through Jeremiah: "For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope" (Jer 29:11). Hope is a gift from God-a gift that we can pass on to others.