90. The Ring of Hope

90. The Ring of Hope

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

The Ring of Hope

Hope is grief’s best music.

~Author Unknown

A rusted metal chair was on the front porch of what would soon be my new home. It looked just as fragile as the splintered wood of the deck on which it sat. It was early on a Sunday morning when I found myself perched on that chair, hours before heading to church. I clutched a cup of coffee that I had brought from the large and beautiful suburban home that I was leaving behind. Everything that had felt comfortable and secure was gone.

Even though the sun was bright that early spring day, my spirit was dark and dull. Hot tears flowed down my cheeks and I wondered how I would find the strength to accomplish the tasks I had to do that morning.

The discovery that our family finances had eroded was shocking. My husband was leaving and I had to find a new home for my teenage daughter and me. In spite of her desperate pleading, we had no choice but to move. We had to pack up almost two decades of belongings and start over. The worn out, garbage-filled townhouse was the only place I could afford. I could not envision it ever becoming a home.

There was crayon on the walls, a hole in the ceiling from a leaky bathtub, and garbage everywhere. This abandoned townhouse was like the mirror image of my broken marriage.

As I sat on the deck that first morning, crying, I was surprised to hear the sound of church bells. They were playing a familiar hymn. I lifted my head. And after a few stanzas, I found myself crying harder and choking out the words “great is Thy faithfulness.” When the song ended, somewhere deep in my heart I heard another sound — the whisper of God saying, “Be at peace. I moved into this neighborhood long before you did.”

For the first time in many months I felt a flicker of hope. God’s reminder that He was near made me feel less alone. The bells rang out His presence and their timing had been perfect. With just enough energy to lift myself from the chair, I put down my coffee cup and weakly smiled at the heavens.

Wearily I opened the front door and began the process of cleaning and reconstructing. The project was enormous. It required a complete demolition and took a small army of deeply caring volunteers to tear down and then rebuild the terribly neglected structure.

In a strange way, the townhouse and I became one. There was tremendous pain in the things torn from my life; what I had believed to be a happy family, a beautiful home, a solid future, dreams and plans, extended family and friendships. But it took a surprisingly short amount of time to remove that which no longer had value, what was destroyed beyond repair, and to clean out the shell before deciding how to rebuild.

Countless hours were poured into the endeavor, and with it, slowly, came the hope that my daughter and I could create a home. For months I painted, laid tile, managed the installation of a hundred details and bore the stress of creating something out of little.

It seemed like a small miracle when the renovation was completed in three short months. When we had settled in, one precious friend, herself cruelly familiar with loss and pain, shared with me that massage had been a therapy for her in managing stress. As a generous housewarming gift, she gave me a certificate for a massage with the man who had helped her so much.

It took me several months to find the courage to make the appointment. It had been a long time since I had been touched in any way by a man; and even though I knew he was a professional, I was anxious. His practice was in the lower level of a home office building. It was cozy and quiet. He was gentle and kind, but my nerves were still uneasy.

After allowing me a chance to get settled under the warm flannel blanket, he entered the room where I lay face down on the massage table. The lights were low and soft music played. He warmed some oil and began to work on the knots that seemed to have settled permanently in my neck and shoulders.

Sensing my edginess, he asked easy questions and I chattered in response.

“What brought you to my practice?” he asked simply.

I answered that our mutual friend had offered his service as a gift.

“Ah, that is a good friend,” he replied.

His response opened the door for me to tell him how difficult life had been, the physical strain I had carried in renovating my townhouse, and the anguish I had experienced over the loss of my marriage, my home, and my dreams.

Then I told him the story of the church bells. The long, firm strokes of his palms on my shoulders paused and then he stepped away from the table. Although I could not see him, I knew he was still in the room and I guessed that he was changing the music, or getting more oil or warming some towels.

But the minutes went by and I heard him softly apologize, his voice cracking. What he said brought us both to tears and will forever remind me that God has a plan and a purpose for everything in our lives.

“My mother,” he said haltingly, “was the secretary for many years at the church that rang those bells. When my brother and I were younger we would often climb the big trees on the property while she was at work.

“One day,” he went on slowly, “my brother had climbed high, too high. He lost his balance and to steady himself he accidentally touched the nearby electrical wires and was killed instantly.” The air was still and silent between us before he finished.

Somehow I knew how he would finish the story and we were both crying as he said, “My parents donated those bells in honor of his life. It will mean so much to my mother to know how God spoke to you through their song.”

Even though I didn’t get to see the smile on his mother’s face when she learned that her gift had given me so much hope, I have imagined it many times. It is a sweet reminder to me that there are lovely things that can grow from tragedy and that church bells can ring a message of hope through a world of pain.

~Diane Lowe MacLachlan

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