Today marks the end of something life-changing.
But really, truly, it's not the end. And no, I'm not talking about the Olympics (though I wish someone had told me to record the Closing Ceremony!).
(Be sure to check out where the Relay of Hope began and will end - with Melanie Crutchfield - and where I heard about it from - huge kudos to Aly Lewis.)
In all these true* stories of hope, though, there is a common thread:
Hope, however minute, however seemingly insignificant, endures.
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I'd like to tell you about a friend named Ted. Ted is a fantastic guy. He loves large, but he's been let down hard. Ted was once a pastor, but after years in ministry, he had the rug pulled out from under him, along with everything he'd ever known. He moved, bitter and resentful, and still searches for a glimmer - a spark of hope that something might actually go right in this world for once.
Some people see Ted as heretical or unbelieving. Really, truly, though, Ted seems lost more than anything. He searches and he searches, but the wounds of his past failures keep reopening, and after so long, the pain seems too much to bear.
Somehow, someway, though, Ted keeps smiling. At the very least, he's still fighting, because he knows there's something more to this life than the pain and rejection he's experienced thus far.
Ted needs this hope.
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I'd also like to tell you about a friend named Mark. Really, I'm not sure what to make of Mark. We aren't really friends in the traditional sense, but I'd consider him someone I care about. I haven't known him long, but in the time that I've known him, the voices talking about him have had a tendency to drown out the very voice that is his.
Rumors about about Mark persist: "He's a drug dealer," or "He has mental issues," or even "He's a thief." It's difficult to drown out these remarks, but hope covers them all.
Instead of hearing these words when I think about Mark, I instead think of his kindness. I think of his good-natured smile and his laugh. I think of the fact that he tends to a beautiful garden, creating and caring for the purest form of hope: life itself.
The cards seem stacked against Mark, but I know there's something greater within him and even greater seeking him.
Mark needs this hope.
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I'd also like to tell you about a couple we know well named Vincent and Christine. These two are happily married, journeying through life hand in hand. They each have different visions of the future, but somehow, they mesh.
Vincent enjoys being friendly with strangers and Christine enjoys entertaining and catching up with old friends. They each love serving those "beneath" society, those most often forgotten. They may not have the nicest house, but their hearts are adorned with the finest decor of love. They're on a mission to change the world, one person at a time.
Vincent and Christine struggle with various ailments, both physical, mental, and spiritual. If it's not one thing, it's another. But you would never know it by their smiles.
Vincent and Christine need this hope.
... ... ...
What could possibly be worth celebrating and commemorating by so many?
You've seen this hope. Maybe in yourself. Maybe in a friend. Maybe in a complete stranger. Hope lingers and never lets go. It flickers, but never extinguishes. It shines and never shorts out.
Yet hope is not some vague notion of some better reality far off in the distant future. Hope is here. Hope is now. Hope is in stories like these - stories that reflect goodness, love, and truth. Hope ignores the haters while changing their hearts.
Then again, maybe hope is something far off. But it could never arrive at its destination without first changing today.
Think of those you love the least. Think of those who hurt you. Think of those who degrade you. Those who have ripped your heart from your chest, stomped on it, spit on it, and pretended like nothing ever happened.
These people, each and every one of them, desire hope. Want hope. Seek hope. Need hope.
Despite our best chances to quench its fire, hope carries on.
Today may mark what we're calling the "Closing Ceremonies" of the Relay of Hope, but this is no ending. Instead, it's another step toward something greater, toward hope realized.
Will you pass Hope's torch today? Or will you do your best to smother out its flames? Will you look to the best in your neighbor and love them for that, or will you let doubt win out? Will you get to know someone better today, or will you brush them off as a nuisance?
Friends, we could all be Ted or Mark or Vincent and Christine. We could all be those people, hoping - so dearly hoping - and yet hushed by the world. We could be seeking a better tomorrow, while so many point to a poorer yesterday. We all exude imperfection, but we're all craving hope.
Remember these people today. For you, they may have different names, different faces, and different situations. They may have deeper hurts, bigger flaws, and more regrets, but the fundamental truth about them, about us all, remains the same: they seek hope, and hope seeks them.
The only question left, then, is if we're willing to get out of the way.
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* All names contained in these stories have been changed to protect people I love. The content, however, is completely true.
How has hope inspired you lately?