As turmoil permeated my thoughts, every creak in my empty house intensified my anxiety. Extreme fear had settled into my life in my early twenties, and at times it was debilitating. My imagination became my enemy. Desperately desiring to be at peace, I would pace in my living room, repeating to myself, “God will keep in perfect peace the one whose mind is stayed on Him” (see Isaiah 26:3). But the stranglehold of fear broke only when my relationship with God grew to the place where my heart could grasp what it meant to truly trust Him.
Pastor and teacher Tommy Nelson experienced clinical depression related to a nonstop schedule. Reflecting on that time in his life, he said, “I didn’t know that you could get totally, completely burned out doing what you loved.” Despite the fulfillment his multiple ministries brought him, a lack of rest led him to become incapacitated. Over time, however, his situation improved as God renewed him through means such as counseling, encouragement, and relaxation.
When I was a boy, we’d often visit friends for meals overflowing with delicious country cooking: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, meatloaf, green beans simmering in bacon grease, and biscuits. There was a moment of pure anticipation, however, when the plates were cleared and someone would say, “Save your fork.” Those magical words could only mean one glorious thing: Dessert’s coming.
Elizabeth Stone wrote that having a child is “to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” Indeed. My biggest fear is that my children might walk away from God.
My dad passed away several years ago from pancreatic cancer. I remember that when we arrived at the graveside for a private family burial, the funeral director was waiting there with my dad’s cremated ashes. It was the first time we had seen the small urn that housed his remains. I suddenly became overwhelmed with grief. A caring family member looked me in the eye and quietly spoke these simple but reassuring words, “Remember, Dad’s not there.”
While sitting in the waiting room at my mechanic’s shop, I watched a segment on the waiting room’s television about a “Secret Santa.” Each year he gives away $100,000 in $100 bills to strangers. In the segment I viewed, the “Secret Santa” was in a grocery store handing $100 to a female senior citizen. It turned out that the woman had been suffering greatly as she battled stage IV cancer. She was surprised and overwhelmed by the “Secret Santa’s” gift, but more so by the kindness that motivated him to give it.
Senseless violence and dark injustice can make for a steady rain in life—dampening spirits in mists of gray. In the summer of 2013, a 17 year old from a rough neighborhood jumped in front of his mother to protect her from an attack. The bullet struck and killed him, leaving his mother clutching his lifeless body in front of their home. The boy’s brother, who witnessed the crime, said later, “I lost a big piece of my heart that night.”
“How can you sing joyful songs during this difficult time?” our relatives asked. It was the night before my brother’s funeral, and we were singing his favorite worship songs. My brother David had tragically and unexpectedly died a few days before. He was just eighteen years old when he drowned in the Danube River. Our family and the entire community were in shock. But there was a glimmer of hope in all of this. David was a believer in Jesus, and we knew that one day we would see him again.
Every Christian has a story to tell. Some conversion testimonies are more dramatic and spectacular than others. Some claim to have seen a vision of Jesus, or that He healed them of a terminal disease. My simple story is that 45 years ago, someone shared the gospel with me and I believed. There was no thunder and lightning, but my heart was changed forever.
Comforting anyone who’s lost a loved one is difficult, but the challenge is particularly hard for those who work with children whose parents have died. In such situations, one might think that it’s best to help children forget the trauma they’ve endured. But therapists have discovered that the opposite is actually true—remembrance helps children cope with their loss. Remembering all the good memories they shared with their parents helps them see their past with joy and their future with hope.
“Risen Lord, teach us to trust: the power of your cross.” I read the words of this liturgy after a week of heartbreaking news in my country, the kind of week when trust is difficult. For many people today, despair feels easier than hope, and fear and hatred feel more powerful than love.
The children in my church love to sing action songs. With joy and enthusiasm, they act out the lyrics. Seeing their exuberant childlike faith, I’m challenged to believe that because Jesus is with me, I can rejoice in the trials and pains of life.