My circumstances were telling me to give up on hope. 

There I was, a 17 year old who should have been in algebra class and hanging with my friends after school. Instead, I was sitting in a chemo chair surrounded by gray-haired patients and being told I would likely lose my hair. It was so unfair. My scars were slowly healing from surgery. I was getting used to the sickness that would come shortly following my chemo treatments.

Yet despite the unexpected turn of events, being diagnosed with colon cancer my junior year of high school, I couldn't help but feel excited.

"Prom's coming!" I'd tell my oncology nurses each week. They'd gather around to hear the latest updates. I had my red prom dress purchased, and I'd torn out magazine pages with ideas for makeup and hair. All throughout spring, as I took in more chemo and got ready for radiation, the gloom of cancer treatment didn't pull me too far down. I had prom coming up. This got me through some of my most challenging circumstances, and helped me not focus on the suffering at hand. 

Look Foward to Something

Find something you can look forward to, something in the future that gets you excited, and make plans for it.”

This is the advice I have now offered for more than 20 years as a cancer survivor, both in devotionals on hope and as a patient-speaker sharing my cancer story. How did I make it through colon cancer as a teenager and other hard times? I've learned to combat hopelessless with the power of planning ahead and finding the good. I've learned that hope isn't necesarily a feeling or belief, hope is a choice. 

Finding hope

Hopelessness is a real enemy, and it comes after us when we're down, depressed and defeated. Suffering comes in many forms, and it wants nothing more than for us to fixate on our current circumstances that feel dark and lonely. But, from the advent of Christ until today, there will always be hope in the world. 

Hope can be found in a dim light illuminating darkness. In a smile offering kindness when you assume nobody cares. Hope comes in the form of hugs, snuggles and high-fives. It's a warm cup of coffee to get you through the next morning. It's the first sight of a green seedling that started as a tiny seed. Sometimes hope is the sunrise and the sunset, and the promise it will start all over the next day.

Hope always starts small, and then it snowballs. Hope gets us from one minute to the next. How do we find this life-giving hope, a hope that will carry us through anything and never let us down? We look to the one whose idea it was in the first place: God.

God is behind hope. He created it. He knew we'd face suffering, and that we needed something to help us get through. That's why hope is the first candle of advent. Emmanuel, God with us: This truth will carry us through anything.

God's promised us that we're not alone, even when we feel like it and our circumstances say otherwise. The Lord will gently walk us through anything, anywhere, getting us from one step to the other. As He guides us through hopeless days and sleepless nights, He encourages us to not look back, and not to look side to side, but to look forward. That's where we'll find the light break through. That's where we'll find Him.

Prayer: Father, I want to believe in hope. Help me fight hopelessness. Bring to mind areas where I don’t expect things to get better, and remind me of your promises and love for me. Help me find things to look forward to. In Jesus' name. Amen.

“We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. Let your unfailing love surround us Lord, for our hope is in you alone (Psalm 33:20-22, NLT).

This devotional first appeared in the Monday Morning Survival Guide. Subscribe to get next Monday's devotional emailed to you.

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