The old lumberjack always strode with a purpose. But not today. Today the world clawed at his soul. As the gruff Swedish immigrant trudged up the hill to his family farm, tears rolled down his cheeks. The date was December 7, 1941, and Axel Gustafson had just heard the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. His sons would be going to war.
I’m lonely,” wrote Augusten Burroughs in one of his edgy memoirs. “And I’m lonely in some horribly deep way and for a flash of an instant, I can see just how lonely, and how deep this feeling runs.” I’ve seen Burroughs’ quote shared multiple times on social media. Clearly, he’s expressed a feeling many of us share.
During my sister-in-law’s lengthy hospital stay, battling an advanced form of cancer, our family spent many hours in a “family room” just down the hall from her room. We befriended a family whose mother had been diagnosed with the same disease. When both women entered hospice within days of each other, the two families shared tears and hugs. As I talked with a daughter of the mother, she said their experience had been “brutiful”—both brutal and beautiful. Similar to my family’s experience, God’s love and light had consistently peeked through the darkness of their family’s grief and pain.
Many years ago, a relative repeatedly attacked my faith in Jesus. His words and criticism—bathed in cynicism—deeply hurt me. Although he passed away more than a decade ago, and I’ve forgiven him, there are still times I feel as if this relative is standing next to me—belittling me for following Jesus.
Since going through a difficult experience three years ago, I’ve battled subsequent bouts of intense anxiety and fear. Upon learning of my season of struggle, a dear friend encouraged me to memorize, meditate on, and embrace John 10. The passage, she explained, expounds on the Good Shepherd we have in Jesus and calls us to recognize and listen to His voice rather than voices of doubt, darkness, discouragement, and shame.
I told my hairstylist that I was going to see the movie Miracles from Heaven, the story of a young girl who after falling thirty feet headfirst into a hollowed-out tree was miraculously healed of her incurable illness. The stylist had heard it was “based on a true story,” but said that “could simply mean the child fell from a tree.”
When artist Gary Sweeney decided to sell the home his family had owned for seventy years, he created a unique way of saying goodbye. Sweeney selected and enlarged one hundred family photos, placing them on pieces of plywood. He attached the plywood to the home’s exterior—covering the entire structure in memories.
Inky the octopus saw his chance and broke for freedom. In 2014, fishermen found Inky, a small octopus (roughly the size of a volleyball) trapped in a crayfish pot and severely injured. The fishermen delivered Inky to New Zealand’s National Aquarium. Though Inky seemed to adjust to his new home, one of the curators observed how they needed to “keep Inky amused” or he’d get bored.
The 2015 Pixar film Inside Out is about the emotions inside an outgoing 11-year old girl named Riley. The movie is fresh and original, cleverly portraying each of Riley’s emotions as its own character—Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and last—but not least—Sadness.
In the film The Hunger Games: Mockingjay–Part 1, Katniss Everdeen, the face of the revolution against the evil Capitol, is attacked and strangled unconscious by her beloved friend, Peeta. When she comes to, Katniss’ friends inform her that the Capitol had brainwashed Peeta. Before letting him be rescued, they used fear conditioning to turn him into a weapon designed to kill her.
I knew someone who had a difficult time believing she would ever truly experience God’s goodness and faithfulness (Joel 2:23). She grew up with an emotionally and physically abusive mother and absent father. In addition, she had been sexually assaulted by numerous men. In time, she thought she’d overcome the tragedy of her childhood and early adulthood. But even though she was faithful to Jesus and did her best to serve others, she couldn’t easily shake some of the dark influences that shadowed her.
Many of the local churches in our city still exist with the same spirit of segregation that has plagued my country for so long. Aware of this evil, a group of pastors and leaders across ethnic divides meet monthly for breakfast. We pray and eat. We talk about economic realities and political structures. We talk about our local history (decades ago a neighborhood with thriving black-owned businesses was razed to the ground). The most powerful thing, however, is when one of us is bold and vulnerable enough to share our own story, our pains and fears, our hopes and our longings. In that moment we draw others close. We allow other people to share our burdens, to share our life.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.” That saying has been used to cushion the blow of unpleasant words for more than 100 years. We know, however, that harsh words can pierce our hearts and shatter our spirits. Bruises and broken bones can heal with time, but a broken heart and crushed spirit caused by harsh statements aren’t easily mended. Some wounds can even prove to be fatal.
The small car shook as Frank pushed down hard on the accelerator while fixing his eyes on the headlights coming toward him. Having Christlike parents who ran a counseling organization, you would think that Frank would have had the skills to navigate his way through the trials and temptations of life. But his sinful choices, including the abuse of alcohol, had taken their toll, and he resolved to silence the shame and guilt. As he prepared to pull into the lane of an oncoming truck to end his pain, however, he was suddenly stopped by the palpable presence of God.
The woman and her daughter approached me after I had spoken on the way God can transform pain into something good. The daughter, Kate, was too distraught to talk, so her mother spoke for her.