by Connie Vandeman Jeffery

 

“When all hope is gone, sad songs say so much,” sings Elton John in his classic “Sad Songs.” His song is way too sad for me. When I’m feeling hopeless I gravitate toward hopeful songs. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” And, “We have this hope that burns within our hearts.” These are the songs that “say so much” to me. How very blessed we are to have this “Hope” with a capital “H”—the kind of Hope that can come from Christ alone.

Even though I was born with an abundance of hope and joy, I’ve been from hope to hopeless and back to hope a number of times, like a mini rollercoaster of hope. When prayers weren’t answered the way I thought they should be, I’d lose a bit of hope.

From the age of six, I prayed for my brother Ron to be healed of schizophrenia, the chronic paranoid variety of the disease. From a complete nervous breakdown at the age of 21 through to his death at 68, he remained a very sick man. His illness was unpredictable, often scary, and always a complete mystery to me. Our family “hoped and prayed” for decades for the miracle of healing that never happened. We “hoped against hope” because “hope springs eternal.” I learned all the “hope” quotations and acronyms (Having Only Positive Expectations or HOffers Peace Every day). And I especially learned the verses of Scripture about hope, like this one: “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (Romans 8: 24-25, NIV). We waited ever so patiently.

My parents never lost hope. But I did. There were breakthroughs, new therapies, setbacks, some improvements, and more setbacks along the way. It wasn’t until a few years before Ron died, and many years after our parents had passed away, that I came to the life-changing realization that Ron’s once-beautiful mind, which had become so tortured and twisted with mental illness, would be made beautiful again in the earth made new. Hope began to stir anew and took root once again in my heart.

We had a conversation a few years before he passed away that was completely lucid on his part and ultimately healing for me. We almost never spoke of spiritual things. And yet, Ron asked me that day if I’d read the Gospels. “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,” he said eagerly. “Have you ever read them in one sitting, beginning to end?”

“Of course I’ve read them,” I said, “but not in one sitting. Why do you ask?”

“Because the ‘Story’ is in there and it’s so simple,” he said.

“And what’s the ‘Story,’” I asked hesitantly.

“Jesus took our pain!” he declared triumphantly.

“Jesus took our pain,” I repeated, completely dumbstruck that my mentally ill brother could grasp the essence of the gospel story in just four words. I told Ron that even our dad, great preacher that he was, could never have explained the gospel as eloquently as he just had. Ron liked that.

I know I’ll see my brother again, with his mind and body restored, because I’m holding onto “this hope that burns within my heart.”

My favorite HOPE acronym is Hold On—Pain Ends. I know Ron would like that one, too.

It was 57 years ago that my brother Ron had a nervous breakdown that launched our family into a four-decade journey into the unknown world of schizophrenia. It was also 57 years ago this month that “We Have This Hope” was introduced as the theme song for the 1962 General Conference Session in San Francisco. Wayne Hooper of the Voice of Prophecy wrote the song specifically for the session, the theme of which was also “We Have This Hope.” The song was used again as the theme song for the General Conference sessions of 1966, 1975, 1995, and 2000. It remains an Adventist classic that we sing at camp meetings, in churches, at memorial services, and anywhere Adventists gather to praise God. For me, it’s my personal anthem of hope that fills me with assurance and faith. We still have this hope. Let’s never stop singing it!

Connie Vandeman Jeffery is the host of All God’s People, a weekly short video series highlighting the people and ministries of the Pacific Union Conference, and has had a long career in media.