A Thrill of Hope

Christmas tree.jpg

“A Thrill of Hope The Weary World Rejoices”

I printed those words as part of our Christmas decorations 4 years ago. Bryan was in the hospital at the National Institute of Health, undergoing his first major medical cancer treatment. Up to that point everything we’d done had been natural (or surgical). We knew he would be in the hospital for a whole month right over Christmas and I desperately grasped at these words. I wanted the Hope of Christmas. I wanted to rejoice even though I felt as weary as I ever had up to that point. We put a portable record player in the room and spun Simon & Garfunkel, old gospel hymns, and Christmas music. We taped this print to the walls and hung Christmas lights around the window. And there was something cheery, and tender, and beautiful about it. 

The next year I pinned it to the wall of our rental house in Arizona and pinned every Christmas card we got around it. I wanted the reminder, and, as Bryan went through another treatment, this time one his cancer wouldn’t respond to at all, I felt so strongly the need for hope and the truth that Hope often comes through people, through tangible flesh and blood relationships, through a physical babe wrapped in a manger surrounded by shepherds. 

Last year, these words stayed tucked in a box in the garage. It wasn’t because I didn’t need them, or because I couldn’t find them, it was something else. Maybe I just couldn’t believe or feel them. Something about seeing this print stung. Bryan had started to really not feel right around Thanksgiving. Around the beginning of December he was diagnosed with shingles, strep, and another infection all at the same time. There were other symptoms too, things that would turn out to be early signs that his cancer was growing again. We didn’t know that then, but we suspected. Christmas was spent quarantined at home alone, because both kids ended up with chicken pox. We put up the tree, but this print never made it out of the garage. 

This year is the first time I framed it.

My heart is still nursing the bruises of the past twelve months, and I ache for the world and all the pain so prevalent. This year my mind is heavy with the fear of what the next twelve months could hold, with the tension of knowing that there will be more treatments and more fights to fight as we battle this cancer.

This year, I also rejoice, I also swell up with gratitude, I also hold hope. We were given a gift, a miracle really, at Bryan’s last scan. The best scan we’ve had in 5 years.

This year I can taste all the pain, fear, and weariness that I could taste last year, but the scent of Hope hangs heavy in the air and the sound of rejoicing rings through my doubts. 

I’m choosing to frame it. 

I'm choosing to hold on to (and reach out for) whatever slivers of hope are extended to me. I’m choosing to hold on to hope, gratitude, and grace - even as I still feel the fear and hurt. I’m choosing to hold these words in my mind and my heart and do whatever I can to embody hope for those around me, as the Christ child has embodied hope for me - a babe born in uncertain times, threatened with death before he’s even out of toddlerhood, a refugee fled to Egypt, holding the potential of reunion for all, resurrection for all, hope for all.

What fragile hope Christmas brings! It is not the full grown hope. It is not faith, or certainty, or conviction, but the delicate hope of the unknown. It is the tender hope, hidden in the form of a fragile child. Oh, how familiar that feels to me. 

When we first got the news that Bryan's scan was so much better than we had expected I texted some close friends this picture of the little Nasturtium plant I was trying to grow from seed on my front porch. I told them it felt like the perfect symbol for how I felt, for the fragile hope I held. It was so delicate and spindly, it looked as if it could could die any moment, yet still it grew and held on and reached out for the light. 


This is the thrill of Christmas, the hope of Christmas - a fragile and vulnerable child holding hidden within himself all of the potential of a Messiah, a rescuer, a savior. 

And it is so fitting for this time of year, when everything seems to hang in the balance and uncertainty of winter. Will we make it through? We don't know. But we hope. 


Grace and peace,

Bethany Stedman