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.
My best friend from college, now a missionary in France, stopped to see me during one of her furloughs. I remember her telling me that she had to leave by 4:00 p.m. As she prepared to depart, the wind started to pick up. Menacing clouds rolled in. She ran to her car, and we quickly waved our goodbyes. About five minutes later, the winds roared to life and shortly after, it grew dark as night. Concern for my friend’s safety gripped me as I surveyed the storm. I’d never seen anything like it—nearly pitch black during the daytime. Fortunately, my friend made it home safe.
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!
The song “Go Light Your World,” has long been a favorite of mine for its portrayal of the power of the gospel. The lyrics, echoing Matthew 5’s image of believers as the light of the world, provocatively invite the church to actively seek out—even run to—places of pain that are in need of the hope of the gospel.
In an annual custom dating back to Medieval England, the mayor of the town of High Wycombe attends a weighing-in ceremony where residents witness whether their representative has been getting fat on taxpayers’ money. If the mayor has remained the same weight or has lost weight, the crowd cheers; but if he has put on weight, the crowd jeers at his obvious “overindulgence” throughout the year. In times past, the crowd would go so far as to pelt the offending mayor with rotten tomatoes and fruit.
Coming from a family where I was the oldest of five children, I just assumed my husband and I would easily begin having children soon after our wedding day. Our hopes began to fade however as month after long month passed with no joyful news. One morning, however, my hair stylist asked, “Have you had a baby recently?” I was shocked. She explained that the quality of my hair indicated that my body had experienced a rush of hormones, leaving her to wonder whether I’d recently given birth. I hadn’t, of course, but I soon found out I was pregnant—with twins! In the midst of my fear and sadness I heard news that ignited hope of a future filled with joy.
For years, Denise referred warmly to her sibling Carolyn as “my little sister.” Carolyn faced significant cognitive challenges, but she loved life and brought joy to everyone who knew her. She loved Jesus too!
“Where will the word / resound? Not here, there is not enough silence.” These words from T. S. Eliot’s haunting poem “Ash Wednesday” lament a world of people so hardened and afraid that they “walk among noise and deny the voice.” The poem echoes the thought of John 1, where the light of Jesus persistently shines in the darkness of a world that will not recognize Him (Isaiah 55:5,10).
The Swedish writer Fredrick Backman’s 2012 debut novel A Man Called Ove is the tale of a man who sees no reason to live. After the death of his wife (the one person who brought him laughter, intimacy, and joy) and after losing his job, Ove plots his suicide. But then he’s drawn into the larger story around him: There’s a pregnant woman who needs his support, a neighbor in conflict with authorities who are trying to force him into a nursing home, and a young man estranged from his father. Ove discovers reasons to live as he moves beyond himself and toward others.
Someone close to me recommitted his life to God, began taking his wife and young daughter to church, and was seeking to follow Jesus faithfully. Within weeks, however, his world began to fall apart. His daughter was admitted to the hospital with a chest infection, his business partner refused to pay him, and his wife asked for some time apart. He looked drained and weary when I offered to pray for him, saying he’d rather not have any help from God. From the moment he’d chosen to serve the Lord again, he said it felt as if a huge target had been placed on his back and the Enemy was having a field day.
As I processed the news that my mother was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer, one thought that came to my mind was, Wow, what more amazing miracles does God want to do in and through my mom? When she told me the results of the biopsy, I was thousands of miles away from her, yet somehow I had peace knowing that God was in control of the situation. After seeing Him carry my mom through a painful divorce and the loss of a child, I had no doubt that He would once again unfold His power and faithfulness in her life.
In 2013 Dr. Ad Vingerhoets, a social and behavioral scientist from the Netherlands, wrote a book called Why Only Humans Weep. He’s one of only a few scientists who have dedicated their lives to studying why people cry. Vingerhoets states that “tears are of extreme relevance for human nature. We cry because we need other people.”
I’m not a farmer, but I once attempted to be one as the guest of a self-sustaining community. The group lived together in dormitories, eating their meals together as a family. They grew most of the food they consumed and raised cattle for milk and meat. During my stay, I performed a number of barnyard chores, from shoveling dung to taking the old cow on her morning walk around the property—leash and all!
Imagine you’re a Jewish child, nourished from a young age by the words of the Torah. You can recite the Torah’s opening lines describing how, just before the dawn of God’s magnificent acts of creation, darkness covered the deep and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters (Genesis 1:2). Those mysterious words signaled that something stunning was about to happen. God was doing something new. You’d hear the story of that first day of creation, the inauguration of God’s creation week when He said, “Let there be light”—and light flooded the earth (John 20:3). Adam and Eve in the garden, beginning the great adventure of human life. What stunning possibilities, what hope! You would know well this story—the story of how God’s new world began to flourish.