One Sunday morning, my friend Sally announced some upcoming women’s events to our congregation. Sitting in the back, I made sure she could see my smiling face. Later she exclaimed, “You smiled at me the whole time!” I admitted that the “encouraging smile” idea had come from someone else—my friend Suzy. Several months before, Suzy had beamed at me during a short presentation I made to the church family.
When I meet people who have lived overseas, I ask what they noticed about our culture upon their return to our country. Some appreciate our culture’s energy and can-do spirit, while others lament our individuality and lack of social interaction. Every culture has strengths and weaknesses, but we can help shape the culture that shapes us.
I received an email from a close friend with the subject line “I’m too old for this!” His email told of his recent ordeal riding a roller coaster with his 12-year-old son. He said that the ride lasted only a minute, but it was miserable. He didn’t get physically sick, but he also didn’t want to eat for the rest of the day.
When motorcycle riders approach a sharp turn in the road, they strive to look beyond it to the direction they want to head. By looking ahead—where they want to go—they can ride smoothly through the turn and continue on their journey.
I have a friend who has spent most of his life with people who live on society’s margins: People experiencing poverty or homelessness, those who wrestle with addictions or simply exist outside the mainstream, anyone who might be considered an outcast. “That’s where I seem to fit,” my friend says. “On the edges.” He helps believers in Jesus learn how to be in true friendship with those who are different. “This kind of friendship isn’t as complicated as we like to make it,” my friend insists. “Often it’s as simple as knowing someone’s name and how they like their coffee.”
Often, when I search for something on the Internet, I’m not sure I can trust the information I find. If I type a topic into a well-known search engine, I may end up on a website that features unverified information. Disclaimers warn that experts haven’t reviewed the content and so there’s no way to guarantee that it’s accurate, complete, or unbiased. No matter how authentic the material might seem, I know it’s unwise to trust it.
I live in a region and neighborhood that share a tragic racial history. For instance, the daughter of one of my elderly neighbors was part of a civil suit to force area schools to obey federal law and desegregate. As I’ve spoken with my neighbors, I’ve had to grapple with the racial divide in my country, with the many ways people have yet to fulfill God’s mandate to be agents of reconciliation.
T he Purpose Driven Life has been on the New York Times advice book bestseller list for one of the longest periods in history. With more than 30 million copies sold, it’s obvious many readers have turned to it as a source for living with meaning.
Today Mother’s Day is celebrated in my corner of the world. We take our moms out to eat, send them cards, and post our love for them on social media sites. I’ve noticed that most people don’t praise their mom for being a dynamic speaker, an inspirational leader, or an accomplished musician. We love our moms for much simpler things.
My pastor sat down in my church office and told me about a parishioner he had encountered years ago at another church. The woman, known for her criticism, felt that he did nothing right, and she shared those sentiments with others. His sermons weren’t the kind of preaching she liked. At best, she said, they were “mediocre.” She even asked him why he didn’t preach like some of the ministers on TV. When he met to talk with her about her criticisms, she didn’t back down. But even with all of the venom he received from the woman, my pastor could say to me, “There were many wonderful things she did for the church. We’re all mixed bags, Marlena, all mixed bags. Just remember that.”
As we grow older, we often come to the realization that certain people we doubted were right all along. How many of us have looked back and secretly wondered,If only I would have listened to my parents, who knows how many more opportunities I could have had? Who knows how many hurtful mistakes I could have avoided?
In Jesus’ Love. He closed his email message with those words. And as I read them, I realized how poignant they were. For this young man—who I had seen come to a saving faith in Jesus, who I’d baptized, whose faith was maturing—was back home for a stay in his birth country, a place not known for kindness toward believers in Jesus. He mentioned receiving “strange looks” from nationals as he prayed before his meal in a restaurant, the coolness his friend showed toward his faith, and that he was lonely. So I strived to encourage him by writing, “I’m so proud of you. God is using you to spread His presence in your city!”
Scientists conducted a social experiment with two groups of commuters at a train station. They asked one group to start conversations with their seatmates. They instructed the other group to remain silent. The commuters who talked while traveling said they had a “more positive experience” than those who did not. Initially, commuters believed starting a conversation would be hard, but they found that most people were happily willing to talk.
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.
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.