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.