I was power-trimming weeds beneath a large tree in our backyard when I felt a painful, burning jab to the back of my skull. Turning, I noticed several hornets buzzing around me. Having been already stung by one, I fled the scene. Later that night I discovered I had bumped the hornets’ watermelon-sized nest with my head! A sting had snapped me out of my clueless state, one that could have resulted in me being swarmed and stung repeatedly.
My adopted teenage son and I had the privilege of hosting two of his closest friends, Brock and Wesley (and their parents), in his native country of Uganda. Though our friends were spending just one week in East Africa, their plans were so ambitious that I said to Brock, “Your dad wants to do everything in seven days.” “It’s possible,” Brock replied. “God made the earth in seven days.” “Yes,” my son said with a smile, “but did God do all of these activities?”
Sam thought his teacher was a bit over the top with her interpretations of poetry. She could launch into a detailed explanation of why there are “five sibilant sounds in this phrase.” This would cause Sam to think, Don’t be ridiculous! The poet just used words with the letter S! Try writing a poem without that sound.
A woman named Wednesday was out walking when she saw a well-dressed woman coming toward her. The woman drifted in her path, pushing Wednesday to the edge of the sidewalk. As she brushed by, Wednesday noticed she was carrying a $60,000 Birkin handbag. She realized if she was going to be accepted in New York’s prestigious Upper East Side, she would have to get one.
Like many people with a guilt-inclined personality, accepting that the gospel is good news for me hasn’t come easy. Having grown up in the church, I knew the story, but could always think of why I might be exempt from sharing the joy of the gospel. I would worry about Jesus’ future separation between true and false believers (Matthew 25:31-46), troubled by the thought that even people who profess faith can be lost. I was haunted by the passage about the unforgivable sin (Matthew 12:30-32), wondering if perhaps I could push God too far away to return to Him. Christ coming again is supposed to be the best kind of news, but I sometimes wondered for how many people it would feel that way.
As a Bible teacher, I’ve traveled to many different countries to share the Scriptures. On many of those trips, I haven’t stayed in hotels but in people’s homes. Believers in Jesus opened their homes, providing me with food and lodging. Although we were strangers before I arrived, my hosts welcomed me, showering me with love and hospitality.
A friend of mine grew up in a rural part of Hawaii where her family had no electricity. As a child, the dark hours of the night frightened her. Without streetlights or the occasional lamp-lit window, it was easy to imagine a scary ogre or hungry beast lurking around the corner. Eventually, my friend left Hawaii to attend college in another region of the US. Although modern lighting brightened the evening hours, her fear of the dark persisted. Finally, as a married adult with children, she began to ask God to help her overcome her fear, and He answered her prayers. She’s no longer afraid of the dark!
In his short story “The Hurt Man,” Wendell Berry recounts how Nancy Beechum welcomed a complete stranger into her home after he stumbled up the street, bloodied, with a crowd of fierce, angry men chasing him. Nancy opened her door and washed the clotted blood from his body. She pressed the white rags, now crimson, onto his cuts. The hurt man trembled as Nancy spoke gently to him: ”You’re going to be all right.”
Susan had suffered one disappointment after another, and she was feeling disillusioned with God. She asked me and another friend to pray with her, and we gladly did. I’ll never forget my friend’s prayer, “Lord, let Susan know You love her—that You see her.” The next day Susan thanked us for our prayers. She said she’d been feeling invisible, and our prayers helped her to feel visible again. She knew afresh that God saw her.
We recently moved to my husband’s hometown, a city that features a beautiful metro park system. Every day, prior to work and after dropping off two of our three young daughters at school, we take a brief hike together. My husband straps our baby onto his back in a backpack-like contraption, and off we go!
A battle rages where I live—a rivalry between two universities. The rivalry manifests itself primarily in athletic competition. My alma mater proudly displays the letter “S” as its logo. The S stands for State, as in Michigan State University. The other school brandishes a distinctive “M,” which represents the University of Michigan.
During a particularly tense period at work, I found that the stress was making it difficult to concentrate. My mind was constantly racing, and I struggled to focus even on Bible study and prayer. I had to learn to deliberately separate and guard my heart from prevailing winds—wherever they came from.
“Pastor, the results came out positive. My wife has breast cancer.” When a congregation member broke this news to me one Sunday morning, I was speechless. What could I possibly say to comfort my friend in light of this bitter news? After a moment of silence, I quickly remembered the words that most comforted me when my own wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. And so with a level voice, I replied, “I want you to know that I’m here for both of you, no matter what.” He wore the same expression of gratitude that I had worn years before when a friend encouraged me with those identical words.
In March 2007, I was standing in an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in northern Uganda gazing at hundreds of young refugees who were staring back at me. As I looked into their eyes, saw their malnourished frames, and witnessed their deplorable living conditions, the Holy Spirit filled me in a way I’d never experienced before. I sensed God was telling me, “I love these children. I love them!” And then, it was as if He extended this invitation: “Come love them with me.”