Chapter 1

Who Doesn’t Want a Miracle?

“Nana, you’re pretty nice for an old person.” The ice cream scoop in my hand froze mid-air and I slowly turned to lock eyes with the nine-year-old. I didn’t speak but my expression must have said volumes because Noah immediately began to backtrack.

Pacing, hands fidgeting, he tried again, “It’s not that you’re old. It’s just that you’re―you know―you’re in between adult… and elderly.”

I handed him the bowl. “Eat your ice cream, Noah.”

This is the same grandson who told me why he loves coming to Nana and PopPop’s house. “It’s like the Garden of Eden—with marshmallows!”

I may have marshmallows, but as an adult who has endured much (and is not yet elderly) I can assure you that I live in no Garden of Eden. The losses I’ve suffered would not be found in that sinless paradise and I’m sure the pain you have endured would not be there either.

If we sat together and shared stories, our specific circumstances would differ but we would find our struggle for hope to be the same. Disappointment, offense, and pain have marched into our lives—uninvited invaders. They vandalized our joy and devastated our hope. At times they crept in softly, but often they blatantly barged their way in. However they entered, they broke through our protective doors and wreaked havoc. The despair that accompanied them caused hope to falter and eventually fade, leaving us to wonder if we will ever recover.

Fading hope is like fading light; it darkens our surroundings. We don’t choose to go to this dark place, but neither do we choose to not go. Life’s assaults weaken us and, in our diminished state, they carry us to places where fear threatens and vision dims. In the midst of the darkness we can’t see a way out and the prominence of our problems obscures the hand of God. It’s a shadowy, murky place to live. I believe this is where the widow of Zarephath lived when Elijah found her.*

At one time, love flooded her heart and her infant son’s smile all but overwhelmed her. There were no bounds to the happiness she and her husband shared. Indeed, they felt honored to be blessed with a son. As they watched their child grow, each stage of develop­ment thrilled them with fresh wonder.

Her maternal heart beat with unquenchable joy, until the day it didn’t. Until the day her husband left her a widow. Until she found herself poor and defenseless. Until famine ravaged the land and she watched her precious son waste away. Until she had nothing but a handful of wheat and a little oil. Her joy was long gone by then. Hope had vanished. She shuddered at what she saw in her future―death by starvation for her and her son.

Perhaps that’s why, when the prophet came to town and asked her for a cake, she prepared it for him, using the flour and oil that was intended for her and her son’s last meal. What difference did one meal make when there was no hope for a next meal. Had she given up? Or, did she feel a reverence for the prophet’s God? Or, did the God she likely did not know instruct her heart to respond? During the preparation of that final meal, did the widow feel hope flicker?

She alone had been approached by Elijah. When he saw her gathering sticks for a fire, she was the one he asked for bread and water. She weakly explained that she didn’t have any bread and the sticks she was gathering were to cook a last meal for her and her son. Elijah’s next words must have sounded absurd. He simply said, “Don’t be afraid.” Don’t be afraid of starvation? Don’t be afraid for tomorrow? Don’t be afraid of death? Lurking fear had usurped her hope, as it does ours, and the prophet identified it with his simple statement.

Elijah continued, “Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son.” Did he know how irrational that sounded? If she first made a cake for him, there would be nothing left to make another. But she did not have time to puzzle over the impossibility of his request because he continued speaking.

Elijah said, “For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land.’”

We do not know if her obedience was out of resignation or hope, we only know that she did as Elijah told her. I would love to read her thoughts. Could she have believed what he said? Was there reason to hope? There was no­thing to lose when she was already one meal away from starvation. But she didn’t starve. Miraculously, there was food every day—for her, for her son and for Elijah. The jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry.

You and I understand personal famine. We have experienced decimated joy and shriveling hope. Who of us wouldn’t want to experience a miracle of that magnitude in the midst of our desperation?

Did you, too, become a widow who was left to raise a family alone? Did you become a single parent through the pain of betrayal? Do you suffer from the unnatural sequence of events that allows a parent to outlive her child? Did your resources, like the widow’s, dry up and leave you unable to supply your own needs? Have you been abandoned by a child, parent, spouse, or friend? Is poor health robbing you of ability, energy, a future? Are you without employment, without healthcare, without direction? Have you experienced one loss after another until your hope has been depleted?

This book offers to restore your hope. I cannot assure you that your loved one will reconcile or that you will get a new and better job. I cannot promise improved health or finances. I cannot erase your pain or restore your loss. But I can offer you four paths that will renew your hope.

Notice that in the story of the widow’s miracle, Elijah did not simply appear and fill her jars with flour and oil. He required her to do something. It had to take an incredible amount of strength and resolve for her to press forward.

It will require the same of you when you choose to step onto the paths that lead to hope because hope has many enemies. Among them are weariness from the battle, incapacitating fear, and the inability to dream. Is it possible to envision a future through the debris of personal devastation?

  • Can we look through the lens of pain and find meaning?
  • Can we recover from the loss of one we deeply love?
  • Can we feel significance when all that defined us crumbles?
  • Can we trust again after being deserted?

We can. There may be no motivation other than, “What have I got to lose?” but stop and answer that question. What do you have to lose? The path of hopelessness is a downward spiral that will continue to deplete your spirit. I know. I lived there—the place where you may now live. The place of brokenness.

It is a place where depression threatens, lethargy holds us captive, and fear hovers everywhere. But the terror of being swallowed by the darkness can prove beneficial, if our desperation shakes us to attention and incites us to fight. The threat of being consumed can rouse in us a desperate hope for rescue and push us forward for one more battle. This critical juncture will determine hope’s revival or demise. Although I was broken, thankfully, I chose to fight. I followed four paths that renewed my hope, found in the anagram, H-O-P-E.

These paths are H—Hold your Eyes Higher, O—Open your Heart, P—Ponder the Positive, and E—Expect Grace. But before we explore them, let me tell you my story.

*1 Kings 17:7-16