Steady rains had transformed the hardened terrain of our backyard into a soaked softness. Walking outside, I felt the coolness of the water and mud squishing between my toes. Our dogs had been digging in a small area, so I decided to move a few cement blocks to block the patch of ground from their reach. My work left me covered with moist dirt and grass. Deciding to wash before heading indoors, I watched the clear stream of water make my skin clean once again.
In just a few short hours, my husband and I learned that— although our lives were soon to be united in marriage— we wouldn’t walk identical paths. We had been dating for over a year when each of our fathers entered the hospital on the same day, though in two different facilities. One man breathed raggedly in his final stages of cancer; the other lay bleeding internally on the operating table after an open-heart procedure—two lives hovering between heaven and earth. The next day, one remained; the other did not.
While on vacation, my daughter and I strolled on the beach in the cool of the evening. Interrupting her mid-sentence, I tapped her arm and pointed. “Look over there!” What appeared to be sand moving back and forth proved—upon closer inspection—to be a tiny crab scuttling across the beach. Its beige color, tiny size, and quick reflexes provided protection against being seen, much less caught. The small creature wanted to survive, not stand out.
As my sister and I were growing up, our parents taught us about the love of Jesus and to enjoy intimate prayer with Him. As I grew older, sometimes life’s varied challenges pressed hard on me, and my prayers became requests based on need rather than tender dialogues with the One who delights in giving to His children (Matthew 7:11). In other words, my prayers were based on circumstances rather than on God’s character. Over time, I’ve learned to ask according not only to His will but also His goodness.
Born at 34 weeks, he was 3 pounds of miracle. Tubes and wires extended from his diminutive body to monitor his steady progress. His vision was restricted by a soft gauze eye mask to protect his eyes from the bilirubin light. He often became frustrated with all the equipment restricting his movement. But when his dad reached through the small opening in the incubator to gently cup his son’s tiny head in his large hand, the mighty warrior in baby form grew still and drifted off to sleep.
My heart heavy, I was tempted to park my grocery cart and interrupt their conversation. Though I hadn’t heard the entirety of their acidic discussion, I caught enough to know the four shoppers were deeply dissatisfied with individuals at their local church. Ironically, not one of them looked any happier for their venting. I didn’t know them, those they were talking about, or even their church, but I grieved over this verbal ripping apart of the body of Christ in a public store aisle.
Stephen Crane’s story “The Open Boat” tells the tale of four men attempting to survive in a lifeboat at sea. One of the men ironically reflected on a poem he had read as a schoolboy about a soldier fighting in Algiers. The man realized that “he had never considered it his affair that a soldier of the Legion lay dying in Algiers, nor had it appeared to him as a matter for sorrow. It was less to him than breaking of a pencil’s point.” He hadn’t felt compassion for the soldier—until now.
The sound of her name made me recoil. I knew the strong testimony of the well-known speaker and had no justifiable reason to avoid her podcasts. My disgust had nothing to do with her or the worthy cause she represented. I’d been hurt by someone who idolized her, so my prejudice came because of her association with that individual.
Flying back from a weeklong trip to Brazil, my husband and I received an unexpected text. The message from the church’s financial secretary revealed that a certified letter from our county’s board of education had arrived. Having planted a church that met at a local high school, we knew the letter had something to do with our rental agreement. For more than a year, it had been the place our church family called home each Sunday. Our dismay grew when we received the contents of the letter—the board wasn’t going to renew our lease for the building past the end of the year, just 3 short months away.
We have two 5-month-old puppies that are energetic and love to explore. Azusa, the female, is the one filled with true wanderlust. Seymour simply becomes her partner in crime when he tries to keep up in a wild game of chase. From the same litter, they sleep together, eat out of the same bowl, and nestle against each other for comfort. Seymour’s affinity to follow his sister out the door, however, shows that misplaced loyalty can lead one astray.
I wonder what went through Joseph’s mind as the shepherds returned to their flocks. In the stillness of that night I imagine Jesus sleeping—snuggled in Mary’s arms. But did Joseph remain awake, turning events over in his mind? He had seen angelic visitations, heard the voice of God, and witnessed the miracle of a virgin birth. Then came another dream.
We anticipated an amusing evening at church. Whether it would be the antics of our own kids or someone else’s, we were confident the kid-driven event would elicit laughter. Sure enough, laughter rang out, but my husband and I sat stunned and tried to hide our dismay. What had appeared to others as a funny comment had actually been a joke at my husband’s expense. Though we had felt tension with the couple in charge of the program, the episode exposed the depth of the chasm.
Seemingly unaware of leaflets littering the sidewalk and placards dotting the corners of the intersection, the pedestrians around me continued their normal pace of life on this national election weekend. As a foreigner, I saw a distinct similarity between the smiling faces of the candidates staring from their two-dimensional advertisements and those from my home country. All promised change and hope.
Beauty isn’t skin deep—not for the believer or for those who don’t know Jesus. A movement to see beauty in women of all shapes and sizes and the call to reject the false standards of entertainment and advertising continues to grow. From marketing campaigns using larger-sized models to local groups teaching young girls to be confident without wearing makeup, the message is clear: You are beautiful and you are powerful . . . simply by being you.