A non-Christian organization has established a hotline for people who are struggling with spiritual doubts. While the exact goal of this call-in center seems a bit fuzzy, its founder made an interesting observation: “Many people feel isolated or rejected when they begin to ask questions. . . . If churches suddenly started welcoming doubters [for food and fellowship], the hotline project wouldn’t be necessary.”
In one of Aesop’s Fables, a ravenous fox notices some grapes hanging on a vine. He leaps into the air, but he can’t reach the fruit. Dejected, he trots off and remarks, “Oh you aren’t even ripe yet! I don’t need any sour grapes.”
On an early morning walk, I spotted something blocking the path ahead of me. Several yards down the sidewalk, a massive bunch of tree branches had spilled over a white fence. The branches were weighed down with mature, red apples! The fruit was everywhere—far too many to count. As I neared the tree, I had to step off the sidewalk and move into the wet grass to get around the overflowing mass.
Move to a new home, or stay at the old address? This question filled my mind for several days as my husband and I discussed the possibilities. A handful of problems were obvious when we toured a prospective home. For instance, a pipe in the basement jutted up from the floor into the middle of a room. And there was an odd odor in the cellar. Still, there were new cupboards and beautiful windows that would let sunlight pour in.
One Sunday morning, my friend Sally announced some upcoming women’s events to our congregation. Sitting in the back, I made sure she could see my smiling face. Later she exclaimed, “You smiled at me the whole time!” I admitted that the “encouraging smile” idea had come from someone else—my friend Suzy. Several months before, Suzy had beamed at me during a short presentation I made to the church family.
Waiting in a long line to ride a roller coaster, I considered turning back several times. When it was finally my turn to board, the safety bar in the seat I was to occupy wouldn’t release properly. I was afraid of getting stuck, but I hopped in anyway. When the safety bar came down too tightly on my lap, I felt trapped and scared! I considered waving my hand and asking to be excused from the ride. But an attendant announced over the loudspeaker, “You can scream and you can shout, but there’s no way we’ll let you out.”
Picnics are usually a lot of fun, unless you realize— minutes before you leave—that you’re supposed to bring a dish to share! When this happened to me, I quickly put some meat in a pot, cranked up the heat, and left the kitchen to finish other preparations. Several minutes later, I smelled something burning. I ran to the kitchen, but of course it was too late to salvage the burnt offering.
Often, when I search for something on the Internet, I’m not sure I can trust the information I find. If I type a topic into a well-known search engine, I may end up on a website that features unverified information. Disclaimers warn that experts haven’t reviewed the content and so there’s no way to guarantee that it’s accurate, complete, or unbiased. No matter how authentic the material might seem, I know it’s unwise to trust it.
Amy Bleuel tried to end her life after years of mistreatment and heartbreak. She was 6 when her parents divorced and her stepmother began abusing her. At 13, she was sexually assaulted and blamed for the crime. At 18, her father committed suicide. Addiction and more personal trauma followed. Yet Amy’s faith in Jesus enabled her to survive. In time, she founded a support group for people with similar struggles—The Semicolon Project. Its message is simple, but powerful: “A semicolon is used when an author could have chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you, and the semicolon is your life.”
Scientists conducted a social experiment with two groups of commuters at a train station. They asked one group to start conversations with their seatmates. They instructed the other group to remain silent. The commuters who talked while traveling said they had a “more positive experience” than those who did not. Initially, commuters believed starting a conversation would be hard, but they found that most people were happily willing to talk.
During the closing seconds of an American football game, the referee had to make a very difficult, game-deciding call. His decision resulted in one team winning and the other facing the bitter sting of a loss. Furious fans from the losing team ridiculed and threatened the ref for days and weeks. In time he experienced panic attacks and even considered suicide. Doctors diagnosed his condition as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Lorenzo Quinn’s 900-pound aluminum sculpture called “Hand of God” features a gigantic open hand with a man seated on the highest part of an upturned palm. The man appears to be troubled and his posture reflects deep discouragement. But the hand that holds him up is much larger than he is.
It’s winter in New York City. The air temperature hovers just above freezing. A man puts on his wet suit and prepares to ride the waves at Long Beach, an area southeast of Queens where he lives. As he faces the water, he meditates on avoiding danger and prays to the ocean gods. His surfboard—a 9-foot Hawaiian-made job—features a picture of his now-deceased spiritual guru. The man says of the image, “It keeps me centered.”
After dropping my kids off at school, I drove onto a busy road and turned on some Christian music. Worrying my way through a long to-do list, I started to feel overwhelmed. Just then, I saw a sign in the back window of a car that read JESUS. At the same moment, the name Jesus was sung by someone on the radio. Hearing and seeing “Jesus” in the same instant snapped me out of my anxious state as I considered the power and hope found in His name (Matthew 28:20).