Augustine’s Confessions traces his journey through misspent youth, false religion, and finally to Jesus. As a man with much to confess, Augustine was sometimes tempted to be defensive. A translation of one of his prayers says: “O Lord, deliver me from this lust of always vindicating myself.”
In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln said these words near the end of the US Civil War as part of his second inaugural speech: “Let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
They sit beside each other on a straw mat—he in beige trousers and a white-and-purple shirt, she in a blue-and-yellow dress. “I participated in the killing of the son of this woman,” says Francois, one of thousands of Hutu men that perpetrated crimes against Tutsis during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. “He killed my child,” says Epiphanie, “then he came to ask my pardon.”
When counseling young couples who are preparing for marriage, I always ask these questions: “Why do you love each other? Why do you want to spend the rest of your life with this person?” What I really want to hear is a flash of passion, a quake of desire. I don’t merely want to hear rational judgments (“We complement each other,” “Our families approve,” “I think we’d have the necessary elements for a successful family”). These observations are good, but I also want to hear how their souls yearn for one another, how they become more of their true selves in each other’s presence. I want to hear some indication that all they are is engaged in their transforming relationship that will culminate in marriage.
One of our sons has endured bullies on his elementary school bus. Two weeks ago, he walked into the kitchen after school and with a quivering lip said, “I don’t want to ride the bus anymore.” It’s been hard for him to learn how to protect himself while also staying open to forgiveness (if the bullies show repentance) and the possibility of extending friendship to them.
Gravity tells the story of Dr. Ryan Stone—a brilliant biomedical engineer on her first space shuttle mission. Her partner for the journey is veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski. During a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalski completely alone, tethered to nothing but each other, and ominously spiraling out into blackness.
As I greeted my friend, I asked, “How are you?” She immediately began to wipe away tears. Burdened with loneliness, she had watched as countless younger friends had married over the years—but she had not. As two more were set to wed soon, she wondered why she remained alone. Her heart’s desire remains, but as each year slips by, her fears of growing old alone intensify.
I overheard my 11-year-old son telling his grandmother about one of his classes at school. “On our first day of Studio Art,” he said, “our teacher told us to draw self-portraits. Mine was bad. Everyone’s was bad. The next day she taught us how to use lines, and everyone’s self-portraits improved.”
Carrie Stuart Parks is a talented writer and an award-winning artist. But you may want to think twice before signing up to become her next work of art. Parks is an FBI-trained forensic artist. Most of her “artwork” is comprised of the drawings she has made of criminals through eyewitness accounts and the human faces she has rendered after viewing the remains of unidentified victims.
In 2004, a man went over a dry, brown patch of grass while mowing his lawn. A blade on the mower struck a rock and created a spark, which resulted in a fire that soon raged out of control. The resulting catastrophe, known as the Bear Fire, blackened 10,484 acres of land and destroyed more than 80 homes. To put out the blaze required the efforts of 33 fire crews and 42 fire engines.
What’s your definition of success? People have said, “It’s being happy,” “Reaching my goals,” “Seeing people receive salvation.” One friend said, “Success is God’s prosperity in all areas of my life: spiritual, physical, financial, and relational.”
My conversation with the woman had turned from the care of our Maltese poodle to her ex-husband and her estranged mother. “I can’t forgive my mother; she abused me terribly. And my husband abandoned me when I was ill.” Although she longed to be free of the two people who had left her among the walking wounded, she couldn’t forgive them and so bitterness clung to her like a rotting stench—seeping through her pained words and weary eyes.
He shouldn’t have been there, but the pain and isolation made him desperate. Was this the sum total of his life—to scream “Unclean! Unclean!” whenever anyone came near him? To wear torn clothes to signal his diseased state . . . to feel so alone?
Dale’s neighborhood is home to many newcomers to his country. He loves the cultural richness but has felt a disconnection from it. So recently he prayed: “Lord, please use me to reach my neighborhood.” And he felt God’s simple, gentle nudge: Be a friend.
Starting as dancing droplets on the windshield, the rain increased in intensity as we drove down the road. My husband turned on the windshield wipers but then quickly turned them off. He did this over and over. When I looked at him quizzically, he explained that the passenger side wiper had stopped moving in sync with the one on the driver’s side. Turning them on long enough for both to move would have resulted in them striking against each other.