“Anna, do you know if Audrey or Andy want to go to the Lenten service tonight?” Liz asked.
“I don’t know about Andy, but Audrey texted me that she wants to come. Can you pick her up on your way to church?”
She added, “I can’t go–I have a paper due tomorrow.”
“It’s only an hour, hon. I’m sure that Audrey would feel more comfortable with you there.”
“I really can’t Mom. I have to finish this paper. Besides, Audrey loves you guys. She thinks you’re the best parents yet. And the boys are going, right?”
“Yes, okay, sweetie. Text her that we will pick her up at 6:40.”
Audrey was waiting on the porch when the O’Connells pulled up in the driveway. She waved at them and started walking toward the car when Liam got out and opened the door for her.
“How are you and doing, Audrey? And how is your mom?” Liz asked when Audrey was in the car and they were headed down Main Street.
“She’s doing okay, I guess. About the same.” Audrey didn’t offer any further details, and Liz didn’t pry.
Audrey and Andy had been coming to church with them most Sundays and joined them later for Sunday dinner. Abbey didn’t answer her phone, so Liz hadn’t been able to speak to her directly, but she had extended invitations to Abbey through the twins to go to church with them and to join them for Sunday dinner. Abbey had not responded to any of her invitations.
Liz noted sadly that the twins—most Audrey–had become their mother’s caregiver—watching over her to make sure she didn’t harm herself. Liz was just glad that she could offer some comfort to them during this difficult time of their lives, when they were mostly on the own.
Bernie greeted Audrey and all of the O’Connells warmly as they entered the narthex of the church. It was a short, quiet, and meditative service.
About halfway through her homily, Bernie said, “Jesus has the keys to open the doors to the dark places in your life. He wants to come into your life. Invite him in.”
Audrey gave a start. Liz watched Audrey in her peripheral vision, as she looked into her leather tote bag next to her. Not seeing what she was looking for, she put her hand into the bag and quietly moved her hand around inside. Removing her hand from her bag, Audrey looked stricken.
Liz leaned over and whispered in her ear, “Are you alright, sweetie? Do you need something?”
“No, it’s okay,” Audrey whispered back.
Liz was concerned, but turned her attention back to Bernie.
“Christians are people of hope. Even here at Hope Chapel, many of us find ourselves in the midst of despair for different reasons. Many of us are going through a season of darkness.
This week’s psalm was written during the time that David was hiding from Saul and his men at En Gedi. En Gedi is a box canyon, and David must have felt “boxed in” or imprisoned during the ten years that he hid in caves while he was on the run from Saul. In Psalm 142, verse 7 he wrote, “Set me free from my prison . . .” The psalm is a desperate prayer for deliverance.
David was in a dark place, hiding from Saul and feeling very alone. Again from Psalm 142, he wrote, “I cry aloud to the Lord, I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy. I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell him my trouble . . . No one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life . . . You are my refuge . . . Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need; rescue me from those who pursue me.”
David knew how it felt to be pursued by enemies who sought his downfall. He knew how it felt to be isolated and alone. He was as familiar with dark places in his life as we are with the dark places in our lives.
We can empathize with the loneliness and despair that David must have felt during the ten years he was hiding out from Saul. Like David, we wonder when our troubles will end. We wonder if we will ever recover from an illness or injury. We wonder how we can cope with all of the challenges we face. Like David, we live with uncertainty.
The Scriptures help us focus on moving from the dark places of pain and despair to places of light and hope. We are not always as fine as we let on. We worry about work, health, kids, relationships, aging parents, finances, and a myriad of other things.
God knows that and he assures us that he is with us at all times–that when we seek him, he will lead us into the light. He will bring us out of the darkness of the problems that haunt us, and light our way along the path he wants us to take. Jesus is the hope, the light of the world.
Isaiah 42 describes how the Messiah will come and rescue us. He will gently pick us up and carry us from dark places, our blind spots, and lead us to the truth that can withstand the scrutiny of sunshine: “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”
John wrote in the ninth chapter, verse 25 of his gospel: “One thing I do know that though I was blind, now I see.” Though most of us are not literally blind, we are often blind to God’s presence in our lives. You can’t help but think of the first few lines of the hymn Amazing Grace when you read the Scripture texts for this week: “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see.”
Hope is seeing light even when surrounded by darkness. Here at Hope Chapel we know that Jesus is our hope. He is our light in the midst of darkness. Hold on. He’s coming for you.
The service ended with a soloist’s quiet a cappella rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
The O’Connells dropped Audrey off after church and waited until she was safely inside the house before driving home. Audrey hadn’t told the O’Connells about her worst fears, which were confirmed when she opened the kitchen door to the garage and saw that their mom’s Lexus Rx was missing. She quickly checked her mother’s room, which was empty. Two telltale empty “water bottles” were on the bed.
She raced upstairs and knocked on Andy’s door. Receiving no answer, she opened the door, to see Andy seated at his desk, headphones on his head, with a history book open before him.
“Andy!” she shouted. “Mom’s gone!”
Andy turned around, took off his headphones, and said, “What was that?”
“Mom’s gone, and the car is gone! She’s been drinking and she took the car!” Audrey wailed.
To be continued . . .