Reorganizing my online photo albums recently was a walk down memory lane. Since 2012-2016 were what I refer to as my ‘four years of hell,’ it wasn’t an altogether pleasant journey.
Reviewing pictures I took during the lonely time when my family was in Brazil and I was in the US was grim. For 14 months I worked, paid off debts, sent money to keep the family going in Brazil, and sold off or gave away what was left of our possessions that wouldn’t be making the trip down to Brazil with me. This was a time when my faith mattered more to me that ever, and it had always been vitally important to me. I prayed, I read the Bible cover-to-cover (again), I did volunteer work, I attended church…and in the end, the last month of my solitary sojourn, I realized that what I’d believed for all of my adult life was a fiction.
The following 14 months provided the relief of being back with my family in Brazil, but also the consternation of being expected to be a believing Christian and perhaps even a leader in the church. I hung back from everything in that arena, finding solace in a few new Humanist connections online and a couple of Kindle books on that topic as well.
Through this all, my children suffered. While I was in the US they felt my absence as they struggled to adapt to a culture that was not really their own. When I was with them again I witnessed first-hand their hardship and heartache. Not only was everything different, our standard of living was greatly diminished as I sent resume after resume and made call after call seeking full-time employment in project management. It doesn’t matter if a foreigner has all his papers in order and speaks the language fluently, Brazilians avoid hiring non-Brazilians. One local tech company with great leadership finally welcomed me on board, but by then it was too late.
Christmas 2014 was a sad time. My daughter wept as we put up the tree and hung the decorations. That was my limit. After further reflection and discussion with the woman who was then my wife, I gave notice to the company and began preparations to move back to the US.
Several more hard months away from my family in the US followed by a lay-off right before they returned. A few months of unemployment and then finally a good job at a major media company…only to discover a few months later that my wife had broken her wedding vows.
Thinking back over those years of hell, I have felt a hollowness and wondered how I survived. Then, just this past week, the answer occurred to me: hope.
Those long months alone in Elizabeth, New Jersey were illuminated by the hope that I’d be back with my family and finally able to fulfill my years-long dream of returning to doing mission work in Brazil. The hard months of job hunting in Uberlândia, Brazil were driven by the hope that I could build a better life for my family and extend my career in that challenging market. My move back to the United States was compelled by the hope of a return to the familiar for me and my family, and the continued progress of my project management career in New York. Even the betrayal, as shocking and harsh as it was for me, was countered by the hope that I could now be unchained from someone who I’d felt had been dragging me down emotionally and in other ways for years.
Were the first two examples above ‘false hope’ because the thing hoped for did not come to fruition? Not at all! False hope is based on a lie, on something that is not real. My hope to return to mission work was rational, as was my hope of continuing my career in Brazil. One didn’t work out because I came to reason, and the other was dropped in favor of making life easier for my family and myself. Perhaps these were misguided hopes, but they were hope nonetheless, and they kept me going.
My hopes and dreams now are far more specific than what I’ve described here, and they could well be foolish and, like so many before, come to nothing. That doesn’t matter. My hopes animate my life now and give me reasons to get out of bed every morning, and that’s good enough.
“And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.” (Romans 5:3-5a NRSV).