Jean Vanier was an accomplished naval officer who had recently completed a PhD, and whose family oozed with prestige (his father had been the Governor General of Canada). Yet, living in the small French village of Trosly-Breuil, Vanier was alone and downhearted. His pastor encouraged him to invite two disabled men to live with him, and L’Arche (communities where disabled and those who Vanier calls “temporarily-abled” share friendship and life together) was born. Fifty years later, L’Arche communities exist around the world.
Ihave a friend who has wounds so deep that she resists the compassionate love of others. Caring people have reached out to my friend. They would give their lives for her (in fact, in many ways they’ve done precisely that). Yet she runs from their love. She fears being loved. The love offered to her is so strong, and her heart so weak, that it terrifies her. It seems safer just to stay in her cocoon.
In 2011, marine biologists around the globe were fixated on a pod of sperm whales in the North Atlantic Ocean; they had adopted a bottlenose dolphin calf. Jens Krause, a German behavioral ecologist, told one news source that sperm whales have “never been known to mingle this closely with another species.” Apparently the young dolphin had a spinal defect and couldn’t swim fast enough to keep up with other dolphins. But surprisingly, the sperm whales gathered the struggling dolphin into their fold.
During my last year of high school, I saved up my money in order to buy extravagant gifts for my family. When Christmas came, I blew the whole $1,100 on my parents, my sister, and my grandparents. I imagined that—with college looming—I might never have the chance to be as generous with my money again.
My 11-year-old son Wyatt loves to watch some videos called “Minute Physics.” They feature a young, genius professor who answers mind-boggling questions such as “What is dark matter?” and “How does the sun work?”
In early 2014, the attention of the world turned to Sochi, Russia, where Olympic athletes pursued their lifelong quests. Our family loves the Summer and Winter Games—the global pageantry, the athletes’ grit and fight, the goodwill expressed among countries.
Harrison Odjegba Okene had been trapped 100 feet underwater for more than 72 hours. His air and his hope were running thin. The Nigerian was a cook on a tugboat that sank in the Atlantic Ocean in May 2013, leading to the deaths of the 11 other crew members. Harrison, however, found his way to a small cabin with a small, dwindling air pocket where he shivered as temperatures plummeted. Comforted by psalms he had memorized, prayers to God, and memories of his wife, Harrison clung to life. When rescue divers arrived, they pulled four corpses out of the water and assumed Harrison would be the fifth. But when a diver reached for Harrison’s hand, he was surprised when Harrison reached back!
On the occasion of billionaire Ted Turner’s 75th birthday last year, a CNN profile opened with these poignant words: “What will matter most about Ted Turner’s life story when they roll the final credits? That he started the first 24-hour news network? Built a fortune once worth $10 billion? Was Time magazine’s Man of the Year? Received a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame? Made The New York Times best-seller list? Maybe it was that time he raced a sailboat faster than anyone else. Or the year his baseball team won the World Series. Impressed yet?”
Recently, our family took a trip to visit my parents in a distant state. Our two boys love their “Grams” and “Pa,” so they were excited to see their grandparents. They were also excited to miss a week of school, to travel by aircraft, and because we had tickets for all of the guys in the family to attend a local university football game. As you can imagine, my boys counted the days leading up to the trip, something that was both excruciating and immensely exciting for them.
I once wrote a book based on a collection of letters that François Fénelon (a French pastor from the 17th century) wrote to a younger friend who was serving in the morally corrupt court of King Louis XIV. Fénelon’s fatherly posture and his call for unflinching devotion to God captured me. Words like this are standard Fénelon fare: “Becoming a follower of God is hard because it requires that we submit ourselves fully to a God who is other than us. We must let go of our insistence that we know best what we need. We must let go of our demands that God act when and how we demand.”
When my younger sister was 4 years old, a global dictator (who we’ll call Frank) was constantly in the nightly news and the contents of his angry speeches splattered across newspaper headlines. He was violent—spewing hatred and fear. My sister obviously had little political understanding, but she picked up on our national anxiety and understood that most people believed this dictator to be a dangerous, bad man. One day, my dad (who had taught us that God’s desire was for us to love absolutely everyone), quizzed my sister. “What do you think of Frank?” my dad asked. Perplexed, my sister carefully considered her reply. Finally, she answered. “I love him, but I wouldn’t play with him.”
Forty years ago, as the violence in Vietnam rained down on his village, an explosion killed Ho Van Thanh’s wife and two of his children. In fear and desperation, Thanh scooped up his infant son, Ho Van Lang, and fled into the jungle. For 4 decades, father and son lived far from civilization, carving a rudimentary life out of the land. Recently, villagers exploring some 25 miles from their homes happened upon the two. Thanh, now 82, was very ill, and the villagers reached out to help him.
Amid the horrific stories of shootings in schools, the news in August 2013 of Antoinette Tuff’s heroism was a beautiful exception. Antoinette, on staff at an elementary school, confronted 20-year-old Michael Hill when he entered the school building carrying weapons, including an assault rifle. “I just started talking to him,” Tuff said, “and let him know what was going on with me and that it would be okay.” Remarkably, Hill laid down his weapons and surrendered. Accounts of Tuff’s courage swept across the newswires, but she resisted acclaim. “I give it all to God. I’m not the hero. I was terrified.”
If you engage in any form of social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.), you’ve surely read something that set your blood to boil. I’m not sure that we’ve figured out how to have meaningful conversation around divisive topics in the virtual world. Is it even possible?
When the Nazis overran Poland, Father Maximilian Kolbe transformed his friary into a covert refugee center. Before the SS troops discovered Kolbe’s plot, the men had hidden more than 2,000 Jews. The SS shipped Kolbe to Auschwitz, prisoner #16670. Though beaten, forced into hard labor, and given sparse food, Kolbe’s gentleness never waned.