When I was little, I liked to play that game Chutes and Ladders. If you aren’t familiar with the game, you spun a spinner and moved as directed. If your piece landed on the bottom of a ladder, you get to advance to the top of the ladder and skip ahead. However, if you ended on the top of a chute, you had to slide down the entire thing and go backwards on the board.
Chutes and Ladders is a little like real life.
You are steadily moving along and all of a sudden good news strikes, and you feel like you are winning at life. It would be so nice if you could be guaranteed that there would only be ladders to help you advance ahead, but life comes with chutes too-setbacks, bad news, poor choices, or just downright unfair circumstances. Between Covid, the derecho, and a host of personal circumstances, many of the patients we have come into contact with have expressed life feeling more like a chute than a ladder these past few years. Perhaps you feel that way too.
I have a sign in my office with the quote by C.S. Lewis that says, “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” Life is going to have its ups and downs. There will be things and events outside of our control. Yet, there is hope. Hope helps us to make it through those downtimes and keep pressing ahead, knowing that things will get better again. Here at His Hands Free Clinic, we want to inspire hope into the lives of our patients. Hope that their health condition will improve or at least be managed. Hope that someone cares about them and views them with dignity. Hope that life is worth living. Hope that they can impact the direction their life takes through hard work and positive choices.
I am certainly not an expert on hope by any means, but I have gone through my fair share of challenging personal circumstances these past few years. In the midst of everything, here are a few things I have implemented to help me keep hope alive in my life.
Start a Gratitude Journal
This doesn’t have to be a fancy, long-winded journal entry. Instead, grab a notebook and just bullet point things that you are grateful for. I write at least five things at the start of every morning. This gets my mind focused right away on the positives. It also helps me to see those little glimmers of hope when the hard days come. Because — even on hard days — there are still things to be thankful for.
You may start out generally with things like family, friends, work, or church. However, I challenge you to get specific. Today I am grateful for the laughter that my children and I shared last night while playing a game together. Recently, I was grateful for the gift of music as I watched my son play in his orchestra concert. If you are going through a particularly difficult time, go back and read through your entries and soak in the little blessings of life.
Adjust your mindset.
Take a realistic look at your life and acknowledge what is within your realm to change and what you simply have no control over. Then, when you start to feel discouraged, focus on that list of what you are able to impact to change. Focusing on areas you can make a difference in, instead of what you can’t, helps keep hope alive. And remember, though we cannot control or change the people around us, we can change the way we interact or react to them.
Surround yourself with positive messages.
Find a quote that you find meaningful and post it on your fridge, bathroom mirror, or some other place you will see it frequently. My office has several inspirational quotes I enjoy, and our patients often comment on liking them too. Make the saying something short that you can memorize and tell yourself during tough times.
Don’t do life alone.
You need a support system. I need a support system. Everyone needs people in their lives that they can confide in, get advice from, and celebrate the good things with. The pandemic and isolation really highlighted how we are made to live in relationship with others. There are so many ways to connect nowadays, it doesn’t even necessarily have to be in person. My best friend and I actually rarely see one another outside of church on Sunday mornings. But, we often text throughout the week to check in on one another. Sometimes building a support system means humbling ourselves to let people help us. Other times it means stepping out of our comfort zone and being the first one to extend an invitation to talk or get together. Knowing that you have even just one or two people in your corner can help inspire hope in your life.
Remember this world is not our home.
For those of us who are believers, we have the ultimate hope. If you recognize that God loves you so much that He sent Jesus to the cross to die for your sins, then you have the hope of spending eternity in heaven. God’s word promises us that there are no tears or pain in heaven. The days on earth can sometimes feel long, but God has not left us alone down here. He promises to give us strength. This past year I have clung to the verse Isaiah 41:10 “Fear not, for I am with you. Do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will help you. I will strengthen you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (ESV) On a hard day, doesn’t the image of our Heavenly Father holding us up in His hand give you hope? It does for me!
Life is full of ups and downs. The challenges down here on earth will make heaven all the more special one day. In the meantime, keep holding onto hope. Even if you feel like you are just clinging to hope by the thread — keep that grasp. You are strong. Your life is valuable. Keep moving forward one step at a time, keeping hope that your story isn’t over yet. You can start where you are, right here and right now, to change the ending.