Hope doesn’t preclude feeling sadness or frustration or anger or any other emotion that makes total sense. Hope isn’t an emotion, you know? Hope is not optimism. Hope is a discipline. . . We have to practice it every single day. — Mariame Kaba
In February, I participated in a conference with the ZZMUSA (Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, USA) Mission Network. Our theme was “Persevering Through Pain, United in Christ.” While planning for the conference, all of us—Americans, Zambians and Zimbabweans—were thinking about the trauma we have experienced through the COVID-19 pandemic. Yes, we had all suffered, but we were hopeful that God was bringing us through because we were all going through it together. We were united in our faith. But none of us knew the events that were on the horizon–Ukraine, Buffalo, Uvalde, Boston, Chicago and rulings by the US Supreme Court.
Being a Texas girl, Uvalde hit too close to home. I had no words, no hope, only anger, grief and anxiety. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and I couldn’t stop crying. It seems like the horrors and barbarity just keep coming. What helped was the realization that we are in this together. My travels and my life in Zambia have taught me that we are more alike than we are different. So many of us are stuck together in our anxiety, grief, horror and lack of answers. Slowly I realized I couldn’t just sit with my grief.
One of my favorite authors who has brought me through some of my hardest times is Anne Lamott. In a blog post she wrote after Sandy Hook, she said, “There were no answers that day, the next day, the day after that. But then slowly, life began to make sense again. Life, death, rebirth—the ultimate truth. Hope returned against all odds, eventually, because love is bigger than any horrors and barbarity that the world throws at us. We will have hope again, because of this love.” She said that talking and sticking together was the answer.
So, I started searching for those people I could talk to, people whose actions for justice I could join, people I could pray with. I found groups that are working to stop gun violence and I joined with them. My daughter and I attended March for Our Lives here in Atlanta, and as we stood in front of the Ebenezer Baptist Church with hundreds of other likeminded Atlantans, as we listened to the prayers and songs that were lifted, as we walked, chanted, yelled, and cried, I felt hope starting to return.
A few days later I did phone banking for Moms Demand Action. We were calling three states—Texas, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania. I have done political phone banking before, so I expected there to be rude people who would slam the phone in my ear. It didn’t happen. I was shocked. Almost every single person I spoke with agreed to support our cause for commonsense gun laws. Almost every single person agreed to let me transfer the call to their legislator. I was especially surprised by the people I spoke with in Texas. They were just like me, looking for some hope. They seemed excited to talk to me and to talk to their legislator with the hope of making a difference. At the end of my time making these calls, my hope was back, and I realized that love is bigger than the horrors we are facing.
Rev. Garikai Gwangwava, a pastor in Zimbabwe, wrote a song for the ZZMUSA conference. A song about hope and perseverance. His lyrics say, “One thing I’m sure, I will never give up for I know my God lives on. Because He lives I can face tomorrow.” Please, please – go to YouTube and search for Rev. Garikai and listen to his song!
One thing I know: I will never give up, and I know that the way I can continue finding hope is by sharing love. Protesting, making phone calls, welcoming strangers at church, feeding the hungry. Find ways you can show love. Be patient with yourself. Plant a garden. Make a donation. If we keep showing love, hope will flow back into our hearts. And as Mariame Kaba wrote, “Hope is a discipline. . . . We have to practice it every single day.”
Melissa Johnson is a Texas girl, a daughter, wife, mother of three and grandmother of two. She currently works with the CCAP Zambia Health Department as a Presbyterian Church (USA) mission co-worker. Melissa works to facilitate the development and implementation of health education programs that have been identified to improve maternal and child health, to address feminine hygiene and reproductive health issues of girls and women, to raise awareness about nutritional needs of children and adults, as well as communicable and non-communicable diseases.