depression - despair - hopelessness - ocean - beach - shore

The Dark Sea of Despair

Hope depends on faith to keep it afloat. It may be faith in yourself and your own ability to solve problems, it may be faith in God and His ultimate goodness, or it may be faith in technology or other means. No matter, if your boat of hope is not floating on faith, it is destined to be swamped and sunk by the first wave of fear, insecurity, disaster, or other unforeseen circumstance. Okay, so is hope based on faith a self-delusional foolishness? Who hasn’t had life circumstances dash all hope, perhaps temporarily, and send you to the bottom of a cold, dark sea of despair?

dressage - horses - riding -

My own dream horse, Dressed for Tea.

I’ve been swamped by despair and hopelessness this month. After years of struggling with sick or lame horses, I finally found my perfect equine partner. An attractive Hanoverian mare, Dressed for Tea (Tea for short), came into my life because she was level-headed and had promise of being just the ticket to restore my lost confidence. Indeed, she did just that. This summer we returned to the show ring after more than a ten-year absence and even participated in a riding clinic with a well-known trainer. Then disaster struck about three weeks ago.

laminitis - horses - hoof - founder

Icing down hoof

Tea came in very sore in both front feet. Laminitis. An affliction I had fought with another horse for years and even though I was on guard against it, here it was again. I hoped I had caught it in time with aggressive ice soaks, hoof packing, medication, and other veterinary treatment; alas, my blacksmith believes she probably has experienced rotation of the coffin bone and she is still very sore almost a month later. I blame myself. Could I have done more, sooner, faster? What if she is crippled for life? What if she is in chronic pain? What if I have to euthanize her? She is my Dream Horse, my “Heart Horse” as some people say.

Ironic, my dream horse is in crisis just as I published the newest addition to the Maryland Equestrian Novel series I write for Young Adults. Dream Horse is the title of the prequel. The short read was launched almost to the day that Tea first came in lame, and since then, the new book has–let’s be honest–languished a bit on the Amazon charts.

My greatest joys, biggest dreams, most uplifting hopes center around my horses and my writing (after family, of course). To have both side-lined so to speak at the same time felt as if I was cut off at the knees. I do realize these are minor problems in a world of truly life-threatening need and disasters, but seeing my horse in pain and struggling with whether I had cause for hope sent my emotions spiraling to the dark ocean depths of despair.

Which brings me back to the original question–is hope just foolishness if there is no tangible, intellectual, reasonable proof for having it? My first instinct was to feed my rational need for hope.  I turned to the Internet to read all I could about laminitis and founder. What’s the percentage of horses who recover from it? How much rotation spells disaster? I wanted facts that would give me reason to hope.

But hope is not always built on facts and reason. I’d say, more often it is built on faith and trust–two things that are hard to get your hands around. The Bible in Hebrews 6:19 describes hope as an anchor:

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and steadfast. 

What does an anchor do? It holds an object firmly in place. And what is the soul? It is described as our heart, mind, body, and emotions. Hope therefore anchors and helps to keep you steady and grounded. Without hope, we flit off in dangerous directions or sink into a lifeless state.

The interesting thing about hope is that it’s made up of both desire and expectations. Think about it. Sometimes you desire something, but have no expectation you will get it. Likewise, you may expect something, but not desire it. That makes me wanting (desiring!) my horse to recover, without any real expectation that she will, an impotent desire without hope…without some measure of expectation that it will happen. We need both desire and expectation.

Hope is also resiliency. I love the quote from Rumi that expresses this quality of hope:

Where there is ruin, there is hope for treasure. 

Here’s where the foolishness comes in. People who hope have to be a bit foolish, trudging through ruin looking for treasure. Maybe not looking, but at least not dismissing the possibility. They have to hold both their desire and their expectations in the face of facts that reason would tell them otherwise. Some would call this faith. Others, trust in God. I think it’s all of the above.

My grandmother had an expression, “Live in hope, you never die in despair!” This, I think, encapsulates the “foolishness” of hope, or faith, or trust. It is far better to have lived in hope, even if it were futile and fleeting, than to live with despair. Like faith, I would rather live with faith in God and goodness and find out in the end that I was wrong, than to live a faithless and miserable life (and find out I was right).

Resiliency also requires we reside in our despair, depression, treading water in the dark waters of the sea while we wait. Sometimes hope is not that strong as it struggles against overwhelming circumstances. We must let the dark have its time in order to let it pass through us and allow us to reach the other side. As Miriam Greenspan wrote in Healing Through the Dark Emotions:

“Don’t be afraid of your despair. Be gentle with yourself. Take your time with this journey. Let despair guide you to the self you need to birth, the meaning you need to make, the world you need to serve. Let it reward you with a resilient faith in life.”

There’s that word FAITH again. What does hope and faith look like? In Dickinson’s beautiful words,

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches on the soul —

For me, hope is not so much an anchor, but a buoy. It lifts and floats over the dark sea of emotions. Hope is

whiskey - tears - alcohol - spirits

Writers’ Tears Whiskey

the foolish actions we take in the face of “the facts.” It is the parent of a struggling middle schooler who opens a college account despite poor reports, it is the patient lying in a hospital bed who fills out her entry form for a 10K race. In my case, it was walking out to the weed-infesting riding arena (it doesn’t take long for weeds to take over when not being used) and pulling by hand hundreds of weeds and then leveling the footing, preparing it for the day when I ride Tea down its centerline again. Hope is also sitting down alone in front of a blank screen and writing. Creating. Changing the course of things.

Give hope to get hope.

Thanks for listening.

tunnel - sea - depression - light at the end of the tunnel - hope

Light through the dark tunnel