Years ago, we were driving from Alaska to Kansas City with some friends and decided to take a detour to the San Juan Islands in Northwest Washington. It’s a detour I would happily take on an annual basis. We caught the ferry late into a clear-skied evening, making way for a ceiling of shimmering lights above us. I wandered to the back deck and tipped my head back as if to swallow the white specks whole, whispering to myself, “Hey, those stars are singing of a world far away. My heart is living for eternity today.”
A few days later we were passing through Portland, where we stopped for a drink with an old friend from high school. I had always viewed Jenny as one of the more straight-laced, pieced-together people I knew. She was brilliant, kind, and driven, and no one ever doubted she would accomplish everything she planned to. Jenny had a strong start in college, made even more colorful as she fell in love with a boy named Monty. It was a storybook tale, and they were in the midst of dreaming about a wedding and a long life together. Then one night, driving back from an evening at Jenny’s house, Monty was killed in a car accident.
When we caught up with Jenny in Portland, she showed us a scrapbook she had made in memory of Monty. I turned the pages slowly, shaking my head at the beauty and the tragedy, pausing to wipe the tears from my eyes. But Jenny didn’t cry. In fact, she seemed empty of tears after having cried them all out. She spoke so matter-of-fact. Not in a way that seemed dull, but real. Like she had spent some serious effort wrestling with God. She shared candidly about the frailty of life and investing in the things that matter. I kept thinking of the times Jesus told people “to find your life, you must lose it.”
We left Jenny’s around midnight, and as my friends each fell asleep in the car, I lingered in thought, penning the verses to this song and connecting my lament with the wonder I had felt aboard the ferry.
Jenny’s life hasn’t gotten much easier since those days. She has experienced much more pain and, in an effort to help others in dire places, has exposed herself to much of humanity’s ache. But Jenny’s pain isn’t an empty one. She still carries the grief of those days, but literally tattooed onto her body and written on her life is another reality: “HOPE.”