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"Have You Lost Hope?"

My youngest brother, Tad, managed several vineyards for a few years. On a few occasions, he shared with me the many responsibilities he had as a manager of men and then as an overseer of a few vineyards. Prior to our discussions, I never realized how easy it is for something to go wrong if grapes aren't watched carefully. Certain molds or bacterias, even certain insects, can easily destroy not just a few clusters of grapes but an entire vineyard. Even extreme temperatures can destroy the entire crop. One careless oversight and it could be the loss of millions of revenue.

For most vineyard owners, their goal is not to grow grapes, but to sell them off for the production of wine. But prior to wine production, grapes experience a lot of things before the harvesting stage. Grape producers must monitor their crops nutrient status with periodic soil testing and annual tissue analysis. The vines must continually be pruned to keep them healthy. They must be watered and given the right mix of fertilizers and lime applications for proper growth. They need adequate sunlight and must exist in just the right temperatures. The vines need careful inspections and that means human beings walking up and down each row to closely scrutinize the soils, the root systems, all way to the actual fruit. And perhaps one of the most important things needed is the application of pesticides to prevent any unwanted insects or diseases which could destroy the entire crop. Optimum grape growth and quality requires optimum fertility conditions.

As strange as it sounds, these grapes go through a lot before they ever become the luscious, round-looking fruit you and I see in our local grocery store. Left on their own, grapes will never become the fruit you and I so enjoy. But with the help of the overseer of the vineyard, he can monitor and give it the care it needs to become the fruit we so enjoy. And sometimes the care needed isn't what you and I would consider caring. Care can include pruning, the application of strong chemicals, and other crucial actions to maintain the overall health of the vines.

But let's take it one step further. As I shared above, the goal of most vineyard owners is not so much the yielding of fruit, but to sell it to wine developers, or if he has the capability, to produce the wine in-house. I've already shared that grapes go through an arduous process before ever becoming a cluster of healthy fruit. The process of developing wine is entirely different than the actual growth of the fruit. I'm not an expert on developing wine as my brother is, but there is one thing I am sure of - wine does not become wine simply by placing a certain amount of grapes in a wine bottle. Wine only becomes wine through process of being crushed. When we taste a fine wine over a specially prepared meal, we never think about the process grapes go through to become the delicious wine we savor. We simply enjoy the wine with the company we're with. But in all reality, there were many stages, some quite harsh prior, which had to happen prior to it becoming wine.

As I thought about this, I found many personal applications especially as it relates to us as humans and the suffering we experience in life. Life is filled with many wonderful joys, but at the same time, we cannot deny that life is filled with many sorrows. Just turn on the TV and you'll see the suffering going on all around us.

In less than two years, we've lost three significant relatives in our family. Although each one was painful, the one most closest to my heart was my father. I still remember one of the e-mails I sent during my father's illness. I shared, "The family is still strong, although shaken, but we stand on the faith that we've been raised upon. And although we don't understand why such things happen, we continue to trust in God and his sovereignty over this particular situation."

My father hadn't passed away at the time I sent that e-mail out. But he was suffering very much, far beyond what many know. But throughout that horrible ordeal and for a time after he passed away, my family and I felt that crushing effect. From the loss of our husband/father, to the abandonment of close friends, to the wounds we received from well-intentioned individuals, there were times we felt we were at a breaking point. Nothing made sense and the hole left in our hearts was wide and deep.

Now I see things a little differently, although it will never make sense during my lifetime. For each of you reading this, you have faced or will face some very trying times. It's a given. Sometimes the pressure will seem so great that you want to give up hope. Some of you have experienced things that cannot even be expressed in words. The inner pain you carry is too shameful to share with others, yet you wish inside, you could get it out. The weights of suffering press you down, making you feel helpless. In fact some of you are hurting so bad that you've considered ending your life.

During my clinical days, I heard and saw some of the most horrific things that are too painful to share. I saw the inner turmoil many single mothers shouldered and the monumental pains little children carried. These little ones didn't have the language tools to express what they experienced and, for that matter, should never have faced. Every time I heard them painfully express, my heart was cut in half. But I learned about their pain as a clinician. With the loss of my father, I now see things through a new lens. I am slowly seeing that even through our most difficult of circumstances, we become more or less human. Our circumstances will destroy us or make us stronger. What will you decide?

Just like wine is created through the crushing of grapes, may we see that when we feel "crushed" that we are becoming something wonderful to savor (notice that we are becoming; it's a process). Even when your sorrow overtakes you, even when you feel bewildered, abandoned, or alone, your joy will not be apparent; most often, it doesn't seem like it will ever return. But I assure you, your joy will return in a new way. And at some point, your life will be like a fine wine for others to enjoy. Although it is a mystery, it is through your suffering that you can offer hope and joy to others who have lost it. May we become that wine.