Friends are starting to plan their summer vegetable gardens. Some get an early start by planting seeds indoors where they can control the conditions and provide the best environment for sprouting. After the danger of frost has passed, they will transplant the seedlings outdoors. Once the garden is planted, the work of weeding, feeding, watering, and guarding against rodents and insects begins. Producing food is a lot of work.
Millions of people around the world have seen Gone with the Wind, which premiered in the United States on December 15, 1939. It won 10 Academy Awards and remains one of Hollywood’s most commercially successful films. It was based on Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel, which sold one million copies within 6 months, received a Pulitzer Prize, and has been translated into more than 40 languages. An epic movie often has its source in a powerful and timeless book.
During his only inaugural address as the US President, John F. Kennedy issued this challenge to Americans: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” It was a renewed call for citizens to surrender their lives in sacrifice and service to others. His words especially inspired the sons and daughters of men and women who had served their country in war.
When unspeakable tragedy shatters people’s lives, they search for answers. Recently, a mother who had lost a teenager said to me, “I can’t figure it out. I don’t know if I can believe anymore. I try, but God doesn’t make sense to me. What does it all mean?” There are no easy answers to such big concerns. But for those who have trusted Christ, there is hope—whether we are basking in blessings or grinding through grief.
More than 10,000 evangelists and Christian leaders sat in a giant auditorium in Amsterdam in 1986 listening to world-renowned evangelist Billy Graham. I sat among them, listening as he narrated some of his experiences. Then, to my surprise, he said, “Let me tell you: every time I stand before the congregation of God’s people to preach, I tremble and my knees wobble!”
A friend told me about the time he was watching football on TV as his young daughter played nearby. Angered by his team’s bad play, he grabbed the closest thing and threw it down. His little girl’s favorite toy was shattered, along with her heart. My friend immediately embraced his daughter and apologized. He replaced the toy and thought all was well. But he didn’t know how much his fury had frightened his 4-year-old, and she didn’t know the depth of her pain. In time, however, forgiveness came.
In 2008, house values were tumbling in the United Kingdom. But 2 weeks after my husband and I put our home of 40 years on the market, a buyer offered us a good price and we agreed to a sale. Soon our builders started work on the house I had inherited, which would be our new home. But a few days before the sale of our old home was finalized, our buyer pulled out. We were devastated. Now we owned two properties—one whose value was tumbling rapidly, and the other a virtual ruin that we could neither sell nor move into. Until we found a new buyer, we had no money to pay the builder. It was an impossible situation.
Every day a father craned his neck to look toward the distant road, waiting for his son’s return. And every night he went to bed disappointed. But one day, a speck appeared. A lonesome silhouette stood against the crimson sky. Could that be my son? the father wondered. Then he caught sight of the familiar saunter. Yes, that has to be my son!
I knew my son would enjoy receiving a map of the world for his birthday. After some shopping, I found a colorful chart of the continents, which included illustrations in every region. A birdwing butterfly hovered over Papua, New Guinea. Mountains cascaded through Chile. A diamond adorned South Africa. I was delighted, but I wondered about the label at the bottom of the map: Our World.
The majestic African cheetah is known for reaching speeds of 112 kph (70 mph) in short bursts, but it doesn’t do so well over distances. A BBC news item reports that four members of a northeast Kenyan village actually outran two cheetahs in a 4-mile footrace.
A pastor’s wife was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. That put the family in a difficult, stressful situation. The pastor wondered how he was going to be able to take good care of her while he still had responsibilities for his church family. But he needn’t have worried because church members stepped up and volunteered to assist him with meals and some of her care.
My friend Gus passed away a few months ago. Gus was a fellow trout fisherman. Weekends usually found him in his little boat on a nearby lake, casting for fish. I got a letter from his daughter Heidi the other day. She told me she’s been talking about heaven with her grandkids since Gus went to his home in heaven. Her 6-year-old grandson, who also loves to fish, explained what heaven is like and what Great-Grandpa Gus is doing: “It’s really beautiful,” he mused, “and Jesus is showing Grandpa Gus where the best fishing holes are.”
“God never gives us more than we can handle,” someone said to a father whose 5-year-old son had just lost his battle with cancer. These words, which were intended to encourage him, instead depressed him and caused him to wonder why he wasn’t “handling” the loss of his boy at all. The pain was so much to bear that he could hardly even breathe. He knew his grief was too much for him and that he desperately needed God to hold him tight.
George Burns, American actor and humorist, said, “If you ask, ‘What is the single most important key to longevity?’ I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress, and tension. And if you didn’t ask me, I’d still have to say it.” Burns, who lived to be 100, enjoyed making people laugh, and apparently followed his own advice.
When my husband and I supervise our son’s piano practice sessions, we begin by asking God to help us. We pray first because neither my husband nor I know how to play the instrument. Together, all three of us are coming to understand musical mysteries such as the meaning of “staccato” and “legato” and when to use the piano’s black keys.
The Nile of Africa, which spans 6,650 kilometers (more than 4,100 miles) and flows northward across several northeastern African countries, is the world’s longest river. Over the centuries, the Nile has provided sustenance and livelihood for millions of citizens in the countries it passes through. Currently, Ethiopia is building what will become Africa’s largest hydro-power dam on the Nile. It will be a great resource for the area.
On August 4, 1991, the MTS Oceanos cruise ship ran into a terrible storm off the coast of South Africa. When the ship began to sink, the captain decided to abandon ship and left with his officers, failing to notify those onboard of any problem. Passenger Moss Hills, a British musician, noticed that something was wrong and sent out a Mayday signal to the South African coast guard. Then, taking matters into their own hands, Moss, his wife Tracy, and other entertainers on board helped organize the evacuation of all passengers by assisting them as they were lifted into helicopters.
Lee Geysbeek of Compassion International told about a woman who had the opportunity to travel to a distant land to visit the child she sponsored. She decided to take the child, who was living in abject poverty, to a restaurant.
My friend Ed was telling me a story about his little son. He was standing in a mud puddle, so Ed told him to get out. But instead, his son began running through the puddle. “No running through it either,” he said. So the boy began walking through the water. When Ed told him, “No walking!” the boy stood with just his toes in the water, looking defiantly at his dad. The child knew what his father wanted, but he didn’t want to do it.
I’m grateful that God has given us the sense of smell so we can enjoy the many fragrances of life. I think of how much I enjoy something as simple as the fresh and inviting aroma of after-shave lotion in the morning. Or the mellow smell of fresh-cut grass in the spring. I especially enjoy sitting in the backyard when the delicate scent of my favorite roses fills the air. And then there are the savory aromas of delicious food.
Earthquakes are prevalent in the Pacific Rim region known as the “Ring of Fire.” Ninety percent of the world’s earthquakes and 81 percent of the world’s largest earthquakes occur there. I learned that many buildings in the city of Hong Kong have been built on granite, which could help minimize damage in the event of an earthquake. The foundation of buildings is especially important in earthquake-prone regions of the world.
My wife and I both have grandmothers who have lived past 100. Talking with them and their friends, I detect a trend that seems almost universal in the reminiscences of older people: They recall difficult times with a touch of nostalgia. The elderly swap stories about World War II and the Great Depression; they speak fondly of hardships such as blizzards, the childhood outhouse, and the time in college when they ate canned soup and stale bread 3 weeks in a row.
Charlotte Elliott wrote the hymn “Just As I Am” in 1834. She had been an invalid for many years, and though she wanted to help with a fund-raiser for a girl’s school, she was too ill. She felt useless, and this inner distress caused her to begin doubting her faith in Christ. She wrote “Just As I Am” as a response to her doubt. The crux of her distress is perhaps best expressed in these words:
The corkscrew willow tree stood vigil over our backyard for more than 20 years. It shaded all four of our children as they played in the yard, and it provided shelter for the neighborhood squirrels. But when springtime came and the tree didn’t awaken from its winter slumber, it was time to bring it down.
Noise. Vibration. Pressure. Fireball. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield used these words to describe being launched into space. As the rocket raced toward the International Space Station, the weight of gravity increased and breathing became difficult. Just when he thought he would pass out, the rocket made a fiery breakthrough into weightlessness. Instead of lapsing into unconsciousness, he broke into laughter.
It’s not about the table, whether it’s square or round. It’s not about the chairs—plastic or wooden. It’s not about the food, although it helps if it has been cooked with love. A good meal is enjoyed when we turn off the TV and our cell phones and concentrate on those we’re with.
I asked several friends what their most difficult, painful experience in life had been. Their answers included war, divorce, surgery, and the loss of a loved one. My wife’s reply was, “The birth of our first child.” It was a long and difficult labor in a lonely army hospital. But looking back, she said she considers it joyful “because the pain had a big purpose.”
British pastor Joseph Parker was asked, “Why did Jesus choose Judas to be one of His disciples?” He thought deeply about the question for a while but could not come up with an answer. He said that he kept running into an even more baffling question: “Why did He choose me?”
After being away on business, Terry wanted to pick up some small gifts for his children. The clerk at the airport gift shop recommended a number of costly items. “I don’t have that much money with me,” he said. “I need something less expensive.” The clerk tried to make him feel that he was being cheap. But Terry knew his children would be happy with whatever he gave them, because it came from a heart of love. And he was right—they loved the gifts he brought them.
From time to time, we read of people who are offended at not being treated with what they consider due respect and deference. “Do you know who I am?” they shout indignantly. And we are reminded of the statement, “If you have to tell people who you are, you probably really aren’t who you think you are.” The polar opposite of this arrogance and self-importance is seen in Jesus, even as His life on earth was nearing its end.
In recent years, my daughter has become fascinated with the history of the indigenous people in northern Michigan where she lives. One summer afternoon when I was visiting, she showed me a road that had a sign designating “Trail Trees.” She explained to me that it’s believed that long ago the Native Americans bent young trees to point the way to specific destinations and that they continued to grow in an unusual shape.
Crunch. Crunch. Whoosh! In the early days of film, Foley artists created sounds to support the story’s action. Squeezing a leather pouch filled with cornstarch made the sound of snow crunching, shaking a pair of gloves sounded like bird wings flapping, and waving a thin stick made a whoosh sound. To make movies as realistic as possible, these artists used creative techniques to replicate sounds.
Coming from someone who used to value ancestral gods, my 90-year-old father’s statement near the end of his life was remarkable: “When I die,” he spoke laboriously, “nobody should do anything other than what the church will do. No soothsaying, no ancestral sacrifices, no rituals. As my life is in the hands of Jesus Christ, so shall my death be!”
Ivisit two elderly women from time to time. One has no financial worries, is fit for her age, and lives in her own home. But she can always find something negative to say. The other is crippled with arthritis and rather forgetful. She lives in simple accommodations, and keeps a reminder pad so she won’t forget her appointments. But to every visitor to her tiny apartment, her first comment is always the same: “God is so good to me.” Handing her the reminder pad on my last visit, I noticed that she had written the day before “Out to lunch tomorrow! Wonderful! Another happy day.”
When our children were young, taking them to the doctor’s office was an interesting experience. The waiting room was filled with toys they could play with and children’s magazines I would read to them. So getting that far with them was no problem. But as soon as I picked them up to carry them into the appointment, everything changed. Suddenly the fun turned into fear as the nurse approached with the needle for the needed shot. The closer she got, the tighter they hugged my neck. They would cling to me for comfort, probably hoping for rescue, not knowing that it was for their own good.
The cozy little village of Rjukan, Norway, is a delightful place to live—except during the dark days of winter. Located in a valley at the foot of the towering Gaustatoppen Mountain, the town receives no direct sunlight for nearly half of the year. Residents had long considered the idea of placing mirrors at the top of the mountain to reflect the sun. But the concept was not feasible until recently. In 2005, a local artist began “The Mirror Project” to bring together people who could turn the idea into reality. Eight years later, in October 2013, the mirrors went into action. Residents crowded into the town square to soak up the reflected sunlight.
During the 1980s, a singles’ class at our church became a close-knit family for many people who had lost a spouse through divorce or death. When someone needed to move, class members packed boxes, carried furniture, and provided food. Birthdays and holidays were no longer solitary events as faith and friendship merged into an ongoing relationship of encouragement. Many of those bonds forged during adversity three decades ago continue to flourish and sustain individuals and families today.
When a defendant stands before a judge, he or she is at the mercy of the court. If the defendant is innocent, the court should be a refuge. But if the defendant is guilty, we expect the court to exact punishment.
When a powerful typhoon swept through the city of Tacloban, Philippines, in 2013, an estimated 10,000 people died, and many who survived found themselves homeless and jobless. Necessities became scarce. Three months later, while the town was still struggling to dig itself out from the destruction, a baby was born on a roadside near Tacloban amid torrents of rain and strong wind. Although the weather brought back painful memories, residents worked together to find a midwife and transport the mother and newborn to a clinic. The baby survived, thrived, and became a symbol of hope during a time of despair.
Athousand strands of time, events, and people weave into a tapestry we call place. More than just a house, place is where meaning, belonging, and safety come together under the covering of our best efforts at unconditional love. Place beckons us with memories buried deep in our souls. Even when our place isn’t perfect, its hold on us is dramatic, magnetic.
During recent elections in my country, one struggling mom I know exchanged her vote for a bag of diapers. We had discussed the benefits of each candidate, so her choice disappointed me. “But what about your convictions?” I asked. She remained silent. Six months after her candidate won, taxes went even higher. Everything is now more expensive than before . . . even diapers!
Recently my wife, Marlene, and I received a panicky phone call from our son and his wife. The night before, they had found two bats in their house. I know bats are an important part of the ecosystem, but they are not my favorite among God’s creatures, especially when they are flying around inside.
Charles Ponzi’s name will be forever associated with the financial fraud scheme he elevated to a way of life. After some minor financial crimes and brief times in jail, in early 1920 he began offering investors a 50 percent return on their money in 45 days and a 100 percent return in 90 days. Although it seemed too good to be true, the money poured in. Ponzi used money from new investors to pay prior investors and fund his lavish lifestyle. By the time his fraud was discovered in August 1920, investors had lost 20 million dollars and five banks had failed. Ponzi spent 3 years in prison, was later deported to Italy, and died penniless in 1949 at the age of 66.
The day before Billy Graham’s interview in 1982 on The Today Show, his director of public relations, Larry Ross, requested a private room for Graham to pray in before the interview. But when Mr. Graham arrived at the studio, his assistant informed Ross that Mr. Graham didn’t need the room. He said, “Mr. Graham started praying when he got up this morning, he prayed while eating breakfast, he prayed on the way over in the car, and he’ll probably be praying all the way through the interview.” Ross later said, “That was a great lesson for me to learn as a young man.”
Imagine standing at the bottom of a mountain, elbow-to-elbow with everyone in your community. Thunder and lightning flash; you hear an earsplitting trumpet blast. Amid flames, God descends on the mountaintop. The summit is enveloped in smoke; the entire mountain begins to shake, and so do you (Ex. 19:16-20).
When Moses gathered the children of Israel together to begin work on the tabernacle (Ex. 35–39), he called on Bezalel, a gifted artisan, to help make the furnishings. We’re told that certain women were asked to give their precious bronze mirrors to make the bronze basin he was constructing (38:8). They gave them up to help prepare a place where God’s presence would reside.
When I was in elementary school my friend Kent and I would often spend time looking at the night sky with a pair of German-made binoculars. We marveled at the stars in the sky and the mountains on the moon. All throughout the evening we took turns saying, “Hand me the binocs!”
When John F. Kennedy was president of the US, photographers sometimes captured a winsome scene. Seated around the president’s desk in the Oval Office, cabinet members are debating matters of world consequence. Meanwhile, a toddler, the 2-year-old John-John, crawls around and inside the huge presidential desk, oblivious to White House protocol and the weighty matters of state. He is simply visiting his daddy.
Drew, young and enthusiastic, was leading the singing for the first time in a large church. Lois, a long-time attender, wanted to encourage him, but she thought it would be too difficult to get to the front of the church before he left. But then she saw a way to snake through the crowd. Lois told Drew, “I appreciate your enthusiasm in worship. Keep serving Him!”
My husband, Jay, and I have a new family member—a 2-month-old tabby cat named Jasper. To keep our new kitten safe, we’ve had to break some old habits, like leaving doors open. But one thing remains a challenge: the open stairway. Cats like to climb. Even as kittens, they know that the world looks better when you’re looking down on it. So whenever I have Jasper downstairs with me, she is determined to go upstairs. Trying to keep her confined to a safe place near me has tested my ingenuity. Gates that work with children and dogs do not work with cats.