Smoky haze obscuring the horizon.
Families of birds, squirrels, and groundhogs scurrying, seeking retreat.
Skeletal trees revealed for who they truly are without colorful distractions.
I’m experiencing my first autumn in years and in the midst of this wonder, I am also tensely aware of the convergence of nature’s changes, my emotional state, and our national reality. As I get used to the idea that this winter will not be what I’d imagined, I am caught in between two temptations: to resort to a feverish stockpiling of information and goods or to be paralyzed and succumb to chaos’ current.
So I ask myself, “How can I prepare for uncertainty with the lens of abundance?” and the image of hope chests comes to mind. The hope chests I grew up reading about in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books were girls’ insurance for marriage—carefully guarded heirlooms for some theoretical, distant vision of a happiness dependent on someone.
I’m adapting the concept of hope chests as I plan what I want to carry with me in this moment. This hope chest contains all the petite pleasures I want to pay attention to over the next few months: locating the most vibrant autumn colors, rewatching the waltz in the Sound of Music, and roasting too many squashes. But it also goes beyond things to do or buy to become a reservoir of ways I can practice disciplined hope when life seems long buried. Preparing a hope chest is meeting various layers of noise, fear, and grief with multiple layers of healing . And in contrast to the traditional, individual-focused box stored in a dusty closet, I want to create a hope chest that will serve those I love looking to strengthen our hearts.
And so I open the wooden lid and prepare:
First, nestling in between books, a renewed sense of observation—the kind that is birthed every morning when I water plants around the house.
I detangle earbuds before including them, ready to start a playlist inspired by fleeting feelings my words can’t capture.
I iron and starch questions that I want to explore and better understand—about the implications of my power and what it should mean to practice citizenship every day.
I remove from the chest the urge to doomscroll on Twitter and consume more “hot takes” that only engage my speculation and not my action.
I roll a strip of stamps together to revive penpal traditions and remember when I cajoled my siblings into taping paper mailboxes on our doors for the exchange of surveys, jokes, and demands.
I polish off my heritage so I can see it better and give thanks for the conversations and podcasts that have fed me with stories of ancestors so that I know that I can create in the midst of bleakness.
I’m about to close the chest for now when I remember: playfulness! So I include improvised Codenames matchups, surreptitiously acquired reeds for wreath-making, and that mischievous spirit that urges me to dance when everyone else is on a work video call.
What will you prepare for your hope chest?
 Jonathan Brooks, author and pastor
Comfort Sampong’s heart is sparked by fried plantains, tropical foliage and the stories of women thriving and creating a way out of no way. She graduated in 2018 with majors in economics and international development. Now she lives in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where she works on English communications for the Association for a More Just Society, a Honduran non-profit fighting for justice and peace.