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.
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.”
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.
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.
Two government agents were assigned the case of “Dread Pirate Roberts.” This “pirate” was the anonymous operator of “the Silk Road,” a website that sold illegal drugs by using the virtual currency Bitcoin. The agents caught their man, but not before becoming criminals themselves. They allegedly sold the information about their investigation and blackmailed the “pirate,” transferring big bucks to their own bank accounts. Their story demonstrates how thin the line is between good and evil.
I first experienced the beauty of the global body of Christ when I traveled from South Africa to Malaysia as a teacher. In that country, with its varying religions and cultural beliefs, I found a spiritual home away from home. From the moment I stepped into the little church down the road, I was warmly welcomed and treated like family. Thousands of kilometers away from where I grew up, I met people with the same spirit and the same love for Jesus.
We have two 5-month-old puppies that are energetic and love to explore. Azusa, the female, is the one filled with true wanderlust. Seymour simply becomes her partner in crime when he tries to keep up in a wild game of chase. From the same litter, they sleep together, eat out of the same bowl, and nestle against each other for comfort. Seymour’s affinity to follow his sister out the door, however, shows that misplaced loyalty can lead one astray.
In April 2014, a blogger was sentenced to 3 years in prison for slander and spreading online rumors. He was the first among hundreds of bloggers detained in a crackdown on Internet rumors being spread in social media. The authorities said that the arrests were aimed at maintaining social order, but rights groups saw this crackdown as an attempt to limit freedom of speech online. There continues to be much discussion, debate, and disagreement on the uses and abuses of social media, not only over what’s been blogged but also in the way words have been used.
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.
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.
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.
Some dear friends of mine lost their little boy, Raphael, to death after just 8 weeks of life. Although my heart broke for them and I longed to be a comfort, I had no idea how to ease their pain.
One Saturday last year, my family rode our bikes to the downtown city market. Each weekend, the market takes over a parking lot and presents a diverse group of vendors’ booths. The place overflows with organic produce, baked goods, and every imaginable artisan craft creation (jewelry, paintings, woodwork, and more).