“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.
Theologian George Ladd once rhetorically asked, “Does mankind have a destiny? Or do we jerk across the stage of time like wooden puppets, only to have the stage, the actors, and the theatre itself destroyed by fire, leaving only a pile of ashes and the smell of smoke?”
As a 97-year-old friend and I discussed Horatio Spafford’s classic hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul,” she said the first line gives her reason to pause. The stanza “when peace like a river attendeth my way” doesn’t accurately depict all rivers, she explained, for “all rivers are not peaceful.”
Driving home one evening, I noticed I was low on fuel. Icy rain began striking the windshield, and I groaned at the thought of getting out of my warm car to fill up the gas tank on such a miserable night. But I reluctantly pulled into the next gas station I came to—and promptly did a double take! Through the pouring rain, I saw a woman dancing in the gas station. I sat for a moment and stared in wonder. Why would anyone dance with such joyful abandon on an awful night like this? A rather sad, cold, and lonely moment was instantly transformed by a woman who refused to be defined by her circumstances.
Amanda Varty was diagnosed with a chronic illness and lay confined to a bed in a darkened room for nine years. Usually too weak to go to church, one Sunday she felt compelled to ask her husband to take her to a service. As Amanda worshiped God, she felt strengthened in her body, but weakness returned when she went home.
I’ll never forget what one of my older friends said when her son died unexpectedly: “Heaven seems nearer.” Although she was a widow who had endured hardship and pain, she lived her life with verve and joy. In her sadness over losing her son, she sought God’s perspective and, in doing so, felt the distance lessen between God’s kingdom on earth and His kingdom in heaven.
I’ve seen believers in Jesus walk through fierce storms of life while trusting in God through it all. How do they do it? I’ve often wondered if it was their personality enabling them to show calm in the midst of turmoil, kindness when mistreated, and courage when most would falter.
In the sixties, a mystical, upbeat pair of tunes lent voice to the better aspirations of a growing counterculture. “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” anticipated an era governed by peace and love.
When I first recognized that the Psalms were not nearly as ‘tidy’ as I’d imagined—but were immensely human and raw—it opened up new ways for me to encounter God. While the Psalms provide us with words to express robust conviction, they also give us words—and permission—to express our doubts. When a child dies or a parent leaves or God seems a million miles away, the Psalms teach us how to gather our fears (not ignore them) and carry them to God.
On 20 September 2017, a Category 4 hurricane hit Puerto Rico, the island where I was born. The island was shredded, and nearly fifty people lost their lives. Months later, large numbers of island residents were still without water, electricity, medical care, and phone service. Hurricane Maria, with her death-dealing winds, roaring seas, and floodwaters, had pummelled Puerto Rico and its residences. It left the people with little, if anything.
“I’m crazy about em-dashes,” says the author of my favorite editorial newsletter. (It’s Stephanie Smith’s Slant//Letter, in case you’re wondering.) Also in case you’re wondering, this is an em-dash: —.
In August 1999, Georgina’s mother opened the hatch door in the church wall and carefully placed her baby inside a ‘baby bin’. She hoped her daughter would now finally be given the care she needed.
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.