My family and I exhaled as our little boat glided to a halt. Since the start of our amusement park ride, we’d “sailed” through dark caverns, where trolls and saucer-eyed monsters jeered at us. We’d hit rough water and felt waves slosh into the boat as we flew over a waterfall! Finally, we’d drifted into the calm water where we could disembark.
During the fourteen years I’ve lived and served in East Africa, I’ve had a few opportunities to join others on safaris. Typically, we’ve encountered large herds of elephants, Cape buffalo, zebras, and gazelles.
In 2017, when a hurricane levelled the island of Puerto Rico, millions were without electricity, clean water, medicine, and food. And since most of the country’s mobile phone signal had gone down, the majority of people had no way to communicate. However, a pharmacy owner discovered that her satellite, intended for transmitting prescriptions, was still receiving a signal. For days, the woman’s neighbors lined up to call their friends and loved ones to let them know they were okay. This working phone tucked behind a pharmacy counter provided a lifeline. The phone didn’t mean they avoided hardship, but it did provide help as they endured the devastation.
Weather forecasters predicted a hurricane would tear through the town where my friend and her young daughter lived. Hours before the storm arrived, my friend posted a picture of her toddler asleep on a bed of pillows in the bathtub—the safest place in their house. Brown curls framed her serene face; dark lashes fringed her closed eyelids. Completely at peace despite the plummeting barometer and accelerating wind, she was able to sleep because she felt secure.
BibleGateway.com allows online users to read the Scriptures in a variety of translations and languages. Over a twelve-month period ending in November 2016, more than 180 million unique visitors visited the website—resulting in around 1.7 billion page views. As people entered the ‘Gateway’, they searched for verses using keywords. The most popular search terms in order? Love, faith, and peace.
A close friend lost his father unexpectedly. Though my husband and I both had responsibilities on the day of the funeral, we asked others to cover for us so we could drive more than 350 miles to be with our friend and his wife. Overwhelmed that we would travel such a distance in one day to be with them, our friends held us close when they saw us. Others had brought food, still others had taken care of details back home, but in this moment we found that our simple presence carried comfort.
In 2017, two surveys highlighted the growing number of lonely people in the UK. One report claimed that some eight million men felt lonely at least once a week, with an estimated three million experiencing it every day. Another survey of more than 2,000 people suggested that nearly 75 percent of young people with disabilities suffered from loneliness.
In a previous ministry position, I was responsible for directing pastoral care at a church. My job was to remind people of God’s presence through my presence and prayers as well as to oversee those offering care to others. When someone was sick or dying, a family was going through a crisis, or a newborn baby was brought home, I was there to offer care, as well as discover if and how our church family could help further.
I love how joy can bubble up, unbidden. It can surprise me when I walk next to a gurgling brook or when I catch a glimpse of the faces of family and friends. Even when I fret about the friend whose feelings I’ve hurt, I can seek God’s help and peace as I release to Him my anxiety and receive the gift of His joy.
During a visit to Melbourne, Australia, my hosts took me on a mini-tour of the city. Along the way, they pointed out some buildings that had been converted from churches to bars. I’ve learned that this is a common practice—not only in Australia, but around the world. Troubled, I wondered what the future held for places of worship. Imagine my elation when I read of a bar that’s reversing the trend and returning to its roots as a church!
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.
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.”
Marilynne Robinson, the Pulitzer-winning author of Gilead and Home, has, in addition to her marvelous fiction, also spent much time pondering the current plight of modern America. Robinson has especially contemplated Christian faith in these times, and how modern pressures erode and distort our faith in insidious ways. Though there are numerous causes for our predicament, Robinson suggests that these questions always return her to a two-part conviction: “First, contemporary America is full of fear. And second, fear is not a Christian habit of mind.”
Since my children have been able to speak, I’ve recorded things they’ve said in a red notebook which now features a bent cover and curled page corners. A few times each year we read through the entries and reminisce about the (mostly) funny and (occasionally) insightful things the kids said as toddlers and young children. Some of the entries mark moments I still recall, but others would be lost forever if it weren’t for the “red notebook.”
From the time I first encountered Magic Eye stereograms (posters that show one obvious picture, but supposedly reveal more if you stare at them long enough), they’ve only frustrated me. I sat in front of one for what seemed like hours while everyone coached me, telling me to look through the image, then past the image, and then telling me to cross my eyes and look harder. No matter what I tried, I simply couldn’t see what, I’m told, was right there in front of me.