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Stubborn Hope at Christmas

During the holidays, we will experience moments of mixed joy and loss. While holding celebrations and challenges together, I have come to appreciate the phrase “stubborn hope”: a persistent and honorary hope that never gives up. 


As we anticipate Christmas, we will all need a dose of stubborn hope to navigate difficult conversations at holiday gatherings or the constant noise of holiday consumerism. And for individuals who are experiencing the death of loved ones, chronic illness, or cancer treatments, they will rely on stubborn hope more than most of us through a season that feels like endless hardship.


Thankfully, God provides us with voices that help prepare our hearts for joy and lead us faithfully through difficult seasons of life. One of those voices in the Bible is from the prophet Isaiah. The first hearers of Isaiah’s poetic words must have viewed life as a season of endless hardship. The Babylonians had defeated the people of Judah, and many citizens were removed from their homeland. They had experienced years of exile in Babylon, and instead of placing their trust in God’s power and love, they questioned it.


As depicted in Isaiah before chapter 40, the people heard God’s difficult words of judgment because they had rebelled against God and focused on their needs rather than helping their disadvantaged neighbors. From chapter 40 forward, God’s judgment was set in the past, and the focus was on God’s comfort toward future hope.


In the darkness of exile, Isaiah proclaimed the transformation of complex realities into a glorious future where the people of Judah and all people would experience a time when “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain” (Isaiah 40:4, New Revised Standard Version).


Centuries later, as we face complex realities today, I cannot think of a better pair of words than “stubborn hope” to help us see the power and love of God rather than question it.


Anne Lamott once wrote, “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up.”


In simple ways, stubborn hope motivates us to unpack boxes and decorate our homes for the holidays. In more profound ways, stubborn hope helps us move beyond suffering and remain persistent in spreading the love of Christ in a broken world.


Waynesboro resident and WWII veteran John Wesley Wingfield (February 23, 1926-November 12, 2023) lived out stubborn hope better than most of us. In his 97 years of life, he left us speechless with his faithful service to our nation, his continual help toward needy strangers, and his active witness of God’s love through Christ.


In the fall of 2020, John allowed me to record a few of his stories. One of these stories, illustrating a little stubborn hope and a whole lot of grace, involved a couple from Belarus.



A Virginia summer camp for children needed a doctor and advertised extensively. An electrical engineer who lived in Belarus and his wife, a medical doctor, saw the advertisement. The wife applied for the job and got it, and the couple moved to America.


When the summer camp closed, they needed to find work. Someone had given the couple an old car. They did not know where to go, but the one thing they did know was that they didn’t want to leave America. They got into their old donated car and drove south on Interstate 81. They took the Staunton/Fishersville exit and turned left onto Highway 250 toward Waynesboro. They stopped at Skyline Motel and asked if they could clean rooms for room and board. The manager accepted their offer; the medical doctor started cleaning rooms while her husband began delivering pizzas.


They soon had enough money to get an apartment, but in the meantime, their old car had broken down. They saw that John had placed a car-for-sale advertisement in the “PennySaver”. The couple contacted him and arranged to see the car. When John heard their story, he practically gave them the car. Over time, the couple and John became good friends.


The wife wanted to resume practicing medicine in America but required American certification. She studied for and passed all certification exams except one. When she arrived in Philadelphia to take the final exam, the exam proctor denied her taking the exam because she did not have sufficient medical experience in America.


John sought advice from Dr. Thomas Gorsuch, who was the chair of the board at the Augusta Medical Center (AMC), and Dr. Whit Caulkins, a local surgeon. They allowed her to work in AMC’s emergency room for three months, following which she passed the final exam. 


She was now ready for the next step, a required residency experience, but was not accepted into any of the residency programs to which she had applied. John again contacted Dr. Caulkins, who arranged for the three of them to visit Dr. Bill Kappas—a good friend of the CEO at the Medical College of Virginia (MCV). Dr. Kappas talked with the CEO about the plight of the immigrant doctor, and the CEO accepted her into the MCV residency program.


After she completed her residency, she accepted a position at a hospital in Spokane, Washington. She, her husband, and their son left the area ever thankful for overcoming so many roadblocks, primarily with John’s help.


We are grateful for faithful voices like John Wingfield and the prophet Isaiah, who bear witness to eternal hope and help people in difficult seasons of life. Throughout our lives, let us not miss opportunities to experience divine love by serving our Lord and loving our neighbors in need. May the gift of stubborn hope help dispel the darkness as God renews our strength, prepares our hearts for a new life in Christ, and leads us faithfully to celebrate the indescribable gift of the newborn king this Christmas.

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