Poet Christian Wiman, some time after being diagnosed with an incurable form of blood cancer, reflected on his ordeal, writing, “I have passed through pain I could never have imagined, pain that seemed to incinerate all my thoughts of God and to leave me sitting there in the ashes, alone.” But he found hope in the powerful presence of Jesus. “I am a Christian because of that moment on the cross when Jesus, drinking the very dregs of human bitterness, cries out, ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’ ” (Matthew 27:46). In times of great suffering, Wiman realized, only the One who carried all human suffering can sustain us.
In 1882, Antoni Gaudí began construction on the Sagrada Família, a basilica in Barcelona slated for completion in 2026. The National Geographic reports that at the time of Gaudí’s unexpected death, less than 25 percent of the exterior was finished. Even if he had not died prematurely, Gaudí knew he’d never see the completed work; but it didn’t bother him. He believed he was working for God. Whenever asked about the immense time for the project, he answered, “My client is not in a hurry.”
“Hope is the thing with feathers / that perches in the soul,” poet Emily Dickinson once wrote. Hope, as she describes it, is a gift that simply comes. No matter how dark or cold the storm, hope gently finds us, warming us and singing a wordless song, but never expecting anything in return.
The origins of crucifixion are unknown, but the Roman Empire was infamous for inflicting the debasing practice on society’s lowest. Yet today, the cross—the representative symbol of crucifixion—is often prominently displayed, cherished by believers in Jesus around the world.
As an educator, each spring I feel the promise of summer break beckoning me. I appreciate the respite from the usual demand to complete projects, grade papers, and participate in countless meetings. With more opportunities for quiet, summertime reminds me how often busyness can tempt me to see each commitment as merely a task to be checked off a list. Choosing to instead be present in the moment allows me to savor uncomplicated joy.
As I waded through a sea of vendors and their handmade crafts at an outdoor market in East Africa, I came across a woman so poor her inventory consisted of only a few cheaply made bracelets. To help her make ends meet, for that day at least, I purchased a few of her items. One of the bracelets I selected had the name “Jesus” woven into it. After paying her, I put it on my wrist and—referring to the name Jesus—said to her, “Sometimes I need a reminder.”
One day Dan McConchie was riding his motorcycle when a car unexpectedly came into his lane and forced him into oncoming traffic. When he woke up two weeks later in the trauma center, he was a mess. Along with a deflated lung and broken bones, he’d suffered a spinal-cord injury that left him a paraplegic. Dan prayed for healing, but it never came. Yet in the midst of this tragedy he experienced peace and learned a profound lesson: “Life isn’t for our comfort. Instead, the purpose of this life is that we become conformed to the image of Christ. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen when everything is unicorns and rainbows. It instead happens when life is tough.”
On the Sunday morning following Jesus’ crucifixion, a woman stood outside of His tomb weeping bitterly. Her dearest friend and mentor had just endured a grisly death. Now it appeared someone had broken into His grave and stolen His battered body (John 20:11-15).
In the 1950s, a promising running back at Florida State University dreamed of a professional career in American football. But an injury prematurely ended these ambitions, leaving the young man adrift. During that uncertain period, he enrolled in various acting classes, surprised by how much he enjoyed the craft. That young man was Burt Reynolds, who would go on to become one of the most famous US actors of the 1970s and 1980s. Few realize that Reynolds’ acting career began with the death of a dream.
The lead singer of a local Christian band shared how he sat in a doctor’s office awaiting test results. Alone in the waiting room, he cried out to God and felt an overwhelming sense of peace. Like others in the audience, I leaned forward, expecting a joyful proclamation that the result of the cancer test was negative. Instead, the testimony ended with a quiet prayer of gratitude that God answered when he’d called, confirming the promise that He will never leave nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). For this believer, the test results took a backseat to resting in the knowledge that God was with Him.
Poet Carl Sandburg has said, “A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.” This thought rings true for many of us. Despite the diapers, frequent feedings, and sleepless nights, infants give renewed hope for the future.
Andy Searles, a pastor and sports chaplain, recently gave a group of friends and me some wise food for thought. He said, “In our interactions we are always promoting or reflecting something—perhaps our values, our past, our hopes, or even ourselves. One of the primary purposes for those who claim to follow Jesus is to ‘promote’ and ‘reflect’ that which is ‘wholesome’ (Titus 2:1). We promote the love of God found in Jesus Christ and we reflect by letting this love shine through us into a dark world.”
Finlandia, composed in 1899, possessed the original title Finland Awakes. Sibelius’ brilliant masterpiece was part of the cultural resistance of Finland’s aggressive neighbor to the east. The symphonic poem begins ominously as brass and percussion swell to a raucous din. But sixty seconds into the clamor, the music softens to an elegant, peaceful beauty—harbinger of a better future for the nation. Finland would indeed awaken.
The ground smoldered for weeks after the fire. My parents’ farm in South Africa and the entire landscape around it had changed overnight. All that remained was the house and a few blackened trees. As I looked out over the ash-covered land, the sight was heartbreaking. How could this place recover? But then the rains came. As the earth cooled, tiny shoots pushed up between the ash, and within weeks green patchy grass covered the ground. Although altered forever, the farm was alive again. Many trees were lost in the blaze, but some struggled back to life. Soon the mangoes and lemons ripened once more, as delicious as ever.
Sitting near the front of our church every Sunday you’ll find a family with a teenage son who personifies joy. Landon never says anything more than “hi” due to his special needs. But he loves music!