A few months after his son’s tragic death, my friend told me that people who had been close were now avoiding him and his family. He said it was as if people no longer wanted to be around them. I asked him why he thought the poor comforters were acting this way. His answer troubled me, for I knew it was the hard truth: “When people don’t feel they can fix a situation, they try to pretend it’s not there. They feel embarrassed.”
In 2012, thanks to a rapper named Drake and the supercharged vehicle of social media, “YOLO” became a popular acronym. It stands for “You Only Live Once.” Though the message of YOLO is test the limits, it became a justification to live life irresponsibly. The answer to drunk driving, parking illegally, disrespecting parents, and missing class was simply YOLO. Its underlying meaning is that my life is mine and I get to live it how I want to.
I remember when someone on our church ministry team responded with disbelief upon discovering that my husband and I have disagreements. But I didn’t back away from sharing that we—like any family—had to work through conflict to relate better. Being spiritually mature doesn’t mean we’re exempt from challenges or failure. And it also means being honest, not trying to hide behind a squeaky clean façade.
I like to write out my thoughts before I type them. But when I use an old pen that rolls roughly across the paper, my thoughts thump along in fits and starts. When I can’t squeeze the ink out, I can’t squeeze the words out, and I quickly toss the pen aside for a better one. A free-flowing pen opens my mind, and the words often come pouring out as fast as I can write them.
My daughter’s preschool teacher asked me to speak to the children about being a writer. Visiting parents were being presented to the class as “experts” in their professions. I agreed to talk to the children, although being an “expert” unnerved me a bit. I didn’t feel like an expert. That week, I’d been frustrated by a lack of good ideas and wondered if I would ever write anything of value again! I thought, You’re no expert. You’re not qualified to speak.
Recently I decided to renovate the living room of our old terrace house. I painted the ceiling and replaced the ugly and dated lights. I took down the faded curtains and put up roller blinds. I spent hours on the walls—sanding off flaking paint, filling the many dents and holes, resanding, then applying multiple coats of new paint. A cement slab in the corner was removed and new tiles were laid. The fireplace also needed to be replaced. Finally, I sanded back the skirting boards and repainted them with gloss. It was hard work, but I felt proud of the changes I saw each day.
US President Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, was angered by an army officer who accused him of favoritism. Stanton complained to Lincoln, who suggested that Stanton write the officer a letter. Later, Stanton told the President he was ready to send the strongly worded letter. Lincoln said, “You don’t want to send that letter. . . . Put it in the stove. That’s what I do when I have written a letter while I am angry. It’s a good letter, and you had a good time writing it and feel better. Now burn it, and write another.”
After I moved to Africa, a couple living in the US contacted me and said, “We’d like to make a financial contribution to help you with your ministry in Uganda.” Because my job at the time didn’t require that I raise funds, I thanked them but declined their generous offer.
When I was hiking in a park with my grandfather, our trail lassoed a lake at the bottom of a valley. As we walked, several smaller paths broke away from the main trail. Each time we came to a fork in the road, my grandfather let me choose which way to go. I always picked the steepest, rockiest, most difficult choice. My grandfather sighed a few times, but he took on the most challenging path for my sake.
One day during class, Adrionna Harris noticed something disturbing—one of her young classmates cutting himself with a small razor. As she perceived it to be a grave situation, she did what she thought was the right thing to do—stepped in, took the razor from him, and threw it away. But instead of receiving praise, her compassionate act earned her a 10-day suspension. Asked if she would do it again, Adrionna replied: “Even if I got in trouble, it didn’t matter because I was helping him . . . I would do it again even if I got suspended.”
The memory is vivid. My wife Merryn and I sat in emotional pain, talking. “If this really is our last chance to have a baby and it doesn’t happen,” Merryn said, “I need something else.” We’d spent the past decade trying everything to start a family—IVF treatment, healing prayer, adoption—all without success. We now awaited the result of one final IVF round. “If it doesn’t happen,” she said, her face downcast, “I have to have something else to look forward to.”
From a Distance,” the 1991 Grammy Song of the Year popularized by Bette Midler, describes what the world looks like from a distance: “From a distance the world looks blue and green . . . there is harmony . . . And no one is in need. And there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease . . . We are instruments . . . playing songs of hope, playing songs of peace.” The song ends with the lingering refrain: “God is watching us from a distance.”