Here’s the thing about hope. It comes from a tragic past. There is no hope-filled story if one hasn’t first felt the crushing weight of betrayal or the sting of fear or the uncertainty of the future. If you know where every meal, roof, and article of clothing is coming from, there’s no need for hope. There’s no need to conquer or survive. There is only a pleasant life.
That would get boring pretty quickly.
Perhaps that’s why we writers always begin our stories in the midst of the struggle, so that’s where I’ll start this one. Sort of.
I was almost 25 and had just landed my dream job—working in publishing. After three years of less-than-dream jobs after college, I moved 1,100 miles away from my home and family in Arizona to work for a small Christian book publisher in Sisters, Oregon. I was thrilled to get to be surrounded by books every day and to work with some pretty amazing authors.
And that’s when everything started to crumble. It began with a phone call on a Friday night. My mom said, “Your sister hasn’t felt him kick in a few days.” My sister was 35-weeks along in her pregnancy with a little boy she and her husband desperately wanted to join their 2-year-old girl at home. And then the worst news of my life. “They can’t find a heartbeat.” Joshua was born and gone in a matter of hours.
I rushed back to Arizona in time to attend the funeral and catch my only glimpse of my nephew. Ten perfect fingers. Ten sweet toes. A full-head of black hair. He was perfect. There was only grief, only holding my sister and praying for some explanation. It didn’t come.
Two weeks after I returned to Oregon, my new employer announced that the company was being sold. I felt like the rug had just been pulled out from under me. I’d just moved my entire life for a job that was no longer guaranteed. Rumors burned like kindling, as we waited to hear who had bought us. And as the weeks dragged on, I became more and more certain that my job was gone. Everyone seemed to know who it was. And THEY already had an inspirational line. They’d have no need of the staff—especially not a young publicist with no publishing experience.
When I thought about my sister’s loss, the pain of losing a child she’d never gotten to know, I felt guilty for my own worries. But I was worried. I was about to be unemployed after spending most of my savings on the move and left in a town where I knew almost no one.
It was my sister who gave me permission to grieve the job I was sure was gone. “We’ve both lost a dream,” she said. And she was right. In a tiny way, my loss mirrored hers. And her words freed me to feel that pain. We cried a lot on the phone that summer. One day I called her on the way to the grocery store. By the time I got there, we were both sobbing so hard that I couldn’t go inside, so I sat in my car in the parking lot for an hour.
Things changed for me a lot faster than they did for my sister. Two months after learning we had been sold, I was offered a job with the new company. It meant taking a step back and making a move to Colorado Springs. I didn’t have a choice. There was nothing for me in Oregon but sad memories and the unemployment line.
I moved to Colorado exactly six months after I arrived in Oregon. Still the fear of the unknown hovered over this new adventure. I knew exactly nine people in my new city—none of them very well. But I had watched my sister that fall. She was so brave, putting one foot in front of the other, moving forward, finding her way. It wasn’t easy. Not for me to start over again. And not for my sister to begin reaching out to the broken-hearted. But her compassion was never more evident than in the year following Joshua’s death. When several of her friends shared that their husbands were leaving them, my sister responded with a tenderness that I hadn’t seen in her before. She’d never been cold or aloof. But somehow the reality of her own loss had given her a love for the hurting that was truly breathtaking.
I saw in action those words from the book of Romans. “We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Her character grew under her suffering, and it blossomed into a kindness that lifted up even those she didn’t know very well.
It’s been nine and a half years since Joshua died. I still call my sister on his birthday every year. It’s important that we don’t forget his life—no matter how short. We couldn’t anyway. Not when losing him has provided a hundred opportunities to encourage the hurting around us. A shared pain is a forged connection. And my sister has made those connections—carried others’ pain because she remembers the acute agony of loss. And she stands as a witness to not only survival but also the perseverance and character that bring hope.
My sister had two more kids after Joshua—another girl and another boy. They are joys.
As for me, I’m still in publishing. In Colorado Springs I met a friend, who prodded me to write and submit my first book. It was published in 2009. A few years later another Colorado friend told me about a job in Nashville working for my favorite author. I’ve been working for him for almost six years now. None of that would have happened if I hadn’t lost what I thought was my dream job.
The thing I’ve learned about hope is that it doesn’t dismiss the pain we feel or wipe out the grief. It just allows us to keep moving forward, to trust that God has a bigger plan and a wider purpose for our sorrow.
About Liz Johnson: By day Liz Johnson works as a marketing manager, and she makes time to write late at night. Liz is the author of nine novels—including her latest, The Red Door Inn (Prince Edward Island Dreams, book 1)—and a New York Times bestselling novella. She makes her home in Nashville, where she enjoys exploring local music, theater, and making frequent trips to Arizona to dote on her nieces and nephews. She writes stories of true love filled with heart, humor, and happily ever afters. Connect with her at www.LizJohnsonBooks.com or www.Facebook.com/LizJohnsonBooks.
About The Red Door Inn: Marie Carrington is broke, desperate, and hoping to find sanctuary on Prince Edward Island while decorating a renovated bed-and-breakfast. Seth Sloane moved three thousand miles to help restore his uncle’s Victorian B and B–and to forget about the fiancée who broke his heart. He wasn’t expecting to have to babysit a woman with a taste for expensive antiques and a bewildering habit of jumping every time he brushes past her.
The only thing Marie and Seth agree on is that getting the Red Door Inn ready to open in just two months will take everything they’ve got—and they have to find a way to work together. In the process, they may find something infinitely sweeter than they ever imagined on this island of dreams.
Want a chance to win a copy of Liz Johnson’s book The Red Door Inn? Subscribe to my blog at the top of the page. I’ll draw a name on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016 from my subscribers.