Last year I received two pieces of extremely sad news within a few hours. First came the news that a dear friend died of a sudden heart attack. Steve, who was only 60 years old, was a good man who loved Jesus and his family. A few hours later brought the tragic news of a dearly loved couple whose marriage collapsed under the weight of an adulterous affair.
Since the early days of human existence it’s been a constant foe. Recently it came calling in a friend’s life as she lamented her children not walking with Jesus. Another friend bemoaned the death of what had been a loving marriage. A family member looked at me with teary eyes, trying to form words that couldn’t come due to dementia. Another family member, deep in the throes of grief because of her father’s death, said softly, “I can’t believe he’s gone.”
Enjoying our evening out, we waited for our waitress to come to our table. When she approached, her cheerful demeanor brought an immediate connection, even though we had just met her. However, as our dinner progressed, my husband and I picked up on the self-deprecating comments interjected in her words each time she checked on us. Boldly, we spoke about God’s beauty in her and asked to pray with her. I was surprised the next morning to find a friend request from her on my Facebook page. Neither my husband nor I had told her our names or the name of the church where we serve.
I recently watched a viral video in which men were voluntarily subjected to pain similar to what women experience in childbirth. The men began the experiment in good spirits, joking around as electrodes were attached to their abdomens. But as the pain began and eventually increased, they started to grimace and wince in pain—eventually screaming and clutching each other’s hands for emotional support. As I watched the video, I thought about my own wife—the mother of our five kids—and couldn’t help but wonder: How do women endure that kind of suffering?
Their faces are wrung with anguish. Bloodied survivors of a terrorist attack stumble out of their Kenyan campus. German families grimly gather at a crash site in the French Alps. Nepalese parents dig through rubble, desperately calling the name of their lost child. As long as we live in a fallen world, humans will have moments when it seems we can’t go on.
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.”
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.
Dan Price announced in April 2015 that he would slash his CEO salary by roughly 90 percent so he could raise the salaries of his workforce (approximately 120 employees). By doing so, Price proposed that by 2017 everyone working for him would make at least $70,000 per year. To make this happen, his salary dropped from $1,000,000 to $70,000 per year—matching his employee’s minimum compensation. Price did this because he wanted his employees to have all they need. News of this generosity spread quickly because it is remarkable and unusual in corporate culture.
It seems to me that there are three primary things in life that make people feel good about themselves: wealth, good looks, and knowledge. With this trio a person can feel significant (because people will flock to you for good and bad reasons) and secure (because you think you have some semblance of control).
According to the American Institute of Stress, stress- related illnesses cost the US economy $300 billion in medical bills and lost productivity every year. Forty-four percent of Americans feel more stress than they did 5 years ago. Family relationships, job-related challenges, and even academic studies are a few stressors that weigh citizens down.
So what did Jesus look like? Did he resemble actor James Caviezel who played Jesus in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ? Probably not. Something like Warner Sallman’s famous portrait Head of Christ? Uh, no—don’t think so.
My friend says our lives are like trains. We make various “stops” for school, college, job, marriage, and family. At each stop we spend time with others who have stepped off. When we graduate or change jobs, we say goodbye to the people at that junction and step back onto the train. Only a handful of people stay with us all the way to the end. These are the most important people in our lives, the people who receive most of our time and attention.
At the climax of the film Superman II, it looked as if villain General Zod had beaten the world’s superhero. Zod had coerced Superman into a crystal chamber that was designed to expose him to sunrays from their home planet Krypton—rays that would neutralize his superpowers. But Superman secretly reconfigured the chamber so that the power-draining sunrays were released on General Zod and his Kryptonian cronies instead!
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.
My wife, Merryn, and I spent last Christmas on the Isle of Mull in Scotland. With its snow-capped mountains and vivid landscape, it’s a truly beautiful place! One moment we drove through snowstorms, the next we saw double rainbows appear from end to end. To me, Mull is a place of fairytales.