"Your tumor is malignant."
"The layoff is immediate."
"Your son will never walk again."

Life's storms can crash in with a fury and intensity that is unexpected. Other times the clouds accumulate more slowly. Each day dawns gloomy, with thoughts such as, "No one will ever love me," "I hate my body," "I will never have enough money to send my kids to college" subtly darkening the horizon.


Life is not fair. Suffering is inevitable. No human escapes pain. It's true. Yet, in spite of the most searing hurt, joy can thrive. Hope can live.


Just ask Nancy Guthrie. Her daughter Hope and son Gabriel now reside in heaven. Guthrie buried both children within three years of each other - both before the age of 1.


Or talk to Kathy Troccoli, a singer, author and speaker who has battled bulimia, struggled with singleness, declared bankruptcy and buried both parents before she even turned 40.


You could also listen in as Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry share how it felt to be locked away in a prison in Afghanistan, never knowing whether execution or death by bombing would come the next morning.


In the most dire of circumstances, each of these women found the strength to endure. Yes, they wrestled with anger, depression, fear and doubt, but now each of them says that victory and even joy can be found in spite of suffering - and more importantly - because of suffering. All four women discovered through their ordeals that hope still works.


How did they hold onto hope? Each woman speaks of having consciously deciding to believe that God is good and trusting that He must have a purpose in allowing pain. All four emphasize the importance of renewing their minds with God's truth, of the value of supportive and uplifting friends who allowed them to cry and feel their pain, and of looking to eternity.


What is Hope?


"I think it's important to start by defining what hope is," says Nancy Guthrie, who feels most people use the term in the sense of wishing for a better outcome. "That's where most people place their hope, that's what hope looks like for them - it's hope for good, hope for success and hope for health."


Guthrie knows about hope - and about storms. When Nancy delivered her daughter, Hope, on Nov. 23, 1998, she had no idea that the very next day Hope would be given a death sentence. Genetic testing showed the infant had Zellwegger Syndrome, a rare metabolic disorder. There is no treatment, no cure, no survivors. Hope died on June 9, 1999.


"Hope's life and death forced us to dig a little deeper to what real hope is," Guthrie says. She found a definition for hope that is now engraved on her daughter's tombstone: "Hope ... the expectation of a favorable future under God's direction."