Many years ago, my pastor was talking with a church youth group about “masks.” He asked the students to state what God would see under their masks, should they choose to remove them. What was under their façades? Most gave superficial answers, but one, a senior in high school, had a much more profound response. She had experienced a painful life that included a suicide attempt and had found trouble nearly everywhere she went. Quietly she said, “I think God would see brokenness, but he would also see beauty.”
The myth of the Chinese New Year festival tells of a demon, Nian, who lived in the mountains. On the first day of the year, Nian would come into the village, steal the children, and eat livestock and grain. One day, an old man visited the village and gave the horrified people a solution. They were to hang red signs on their doors and make loud music—things the demon didn’t like. The Chinese word for New Year Guo Nian (过年) literally means “pass over Nian” or “overcome Nian.”
For years, Denise referred warmly to her sibling Carolyn as “my little sister.” Carolyn faced significant cognitive challenges, but she loved life and brought joy to everyone who knew her. She loved Jesus too!
Although a man murdered nearly all of a woman’s family in the Rwandan genocide, they’re now next-door neighbors. He says, “Ever since I [confessed] my crimes and ask[ed] her for forgiveness, she has never once called me a killer. . . . She has set me free.”
Are you close to someone who seems particularly far from God? It might help to keep in mind that this person is probably not less reachable than Paul, who claimed he was the worst of sinners because he had persecuted God’s people (1 Timothy 1:12-16). Paul realized if God could save him, He could reach anyone.
When I was sixteen, I had the privilege of interning with a local TV sports affiliate. My days were spent in the newsroom, in dugouts interviewing Major League Baseball (MLB) players, on the sidelines during National Football League (NFL) games, and flying to high-profile events. It was an exciting chapter of my life, one that helped prepare me for more than a decade of work and ministry in sports.
Scientists at Stanford University once conducted a study to measure voice recognition. During the study, twenty-four children heard three audio clips. The clips were less than one second long and contained unintelligible words. One clip was of the mother of each child, while the other two featured voices of women they didn’t know. Despite the brevity of the voice samples, the children identified their mothers’ voices 97 percent of the time!
As I was sailing with a good friend on an ocean that was calm and as flat as glass, I felt I couldn’t have asked for a more peaceful morning. But after my friend (the captain of the ship) checked a small digital gauge on the boat, he sprang to the till to change direction. He informed me that despite the serene appearance of the water, the bottom of the ocean was remarkably shallow where we were sailing. Thanks to the boat’s depth finder, we had just barely escaped getting the boat’s six-foot-long keel caught on a rocky formation. As I shook my head in amazement, he told me that the greatest dangers in sailing are not the threats you can see, but those you can’t.
I once heard about a first-time author who came to Jesus due to the stunning success of his book. The way he saw it, God escalated the book’s accomplishment beyond the merits of his talent in order to get his attention. Humbled, the author responded by seeking God and ultimately believing in Christ. What makes this story so unusual is that success more often has the opposite effect; after initial demonstrations of gratitude, we tend to forget God in the midst of plenty.
In a 2016 Washington Post article, Harvard-Smithsonian Center astrophysicist Howard A. Smith wrote that “the universe, far from being a collection of random accidents, appears to be stupendously perfect and fine-tuned for life.” Smith went on to describe the unique ways Earth is designed—that it doesn’t seem to be simply a random little planet as some would believe.
My twenty-something friends and I sometimes joke about the struggles of “adulting”—slang for doing adult responsibilities like maintaining a vehicle and home, cooking, paying bills, and planning. We grew up assuming these skills would come naturally with age, but they haven’t come naturally; it’s been a lot of work!
Age shouldn’t stop anyone from making a big impact. It certainly didn’t stop ten-year-old Mikaila Ulmer. Instead of putting up a lemonade stand, Mikaila opened a lemonade business. Her company BeeSweet Lemonade started with her grandmother’s recipe and led to her pitching a business plan on the popular TV program Shark Tank. Mikaila was granted a $60,000 investment and has also signed a contract to sell her lemonade in fifty-five stores of a major grocery chain.
Focused, she bustled past me in the canned goods aisle. Her Bluetooth device behind her ear, she filled her grocery cart while carrying on a phone conversation. I saw her again while I was in the self-checkout lane. Cool and collected, her ability to multitask seemed admirable on the surface. However, her curt tone toward a cashier revealed that the woman’s need to be on task had left her unable to care about others.
I don’t recommend gambling—it’s a fast way to become poor. Gamblers don’t always win, even when they do. In 2016, a woman was playing a slot machine when it rang up a US $43 million jackpot. When she went to collect her winnings, the casino said the machine had malfunctioned. Local law prohibited giving her the money, so the casino offered her a steak dinner instead. From US $43 million to a hearty meal! Now that’s disappointing.
Years ago, a stray cat began to visit my parents’ house. After several back-door bowls of milk, they decided to adopt him and name him Theo. He enjoyed being petted and fed, but he often left for days and returned with bloodied ears, smelling like a trashcan. But my parents were always happy when he came home.