The word Ebenezer in the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” refers to a time when the people of Israel were trying to regain the close relationship they once had with God. Their spiritual leader, Samuel, told them that if they would abandon their foreign gods and return to the Lord wholeheartedly, He would deliver them from being oppressed by their enemy, the Philistines (1 Sam. 7:2-3).
After dinner one night, a tiny brown sparrow flew inside our house through the front door. A chase ensued. Each time my husband got near to it, the little intruder fluttered away in a desperate search for an exit. Before we could escort it safely outside, the bird toured the house so frantically that we could see its chest throbbing from its rapid heartbeat.
When people say with a sigh, “Promises, promises,” it’s often when they’ve been disappointed by someone who failed to keep a commitment. The more it happens, the greater the sadness and the deeper the sigh.
On a recent flight, I got ready to do some work. Spread out on my tray were my laptop computer, backup hard drive, iPod, and other gadgets that are part of being a 21st-century “road warrior.” As I worked, a young man seated beside me asked if he could make a comment. He told me how inspirational it was for him, a young man, to see someone my age so enthusiastically embracing modern technology. In spite of his intention to compliment me, I suddenly felt about 120 years old. What did he mean by “someone my age ”? I wondered. After all, I was “only” 57.
During the worldwide financial crisis of 2008, a widow lost a third of her income when her bank stocks no longer paid dividends after her trusted bank failed. The Wall Street Journal quoted her tearful response as an example of the feelings of many people who were similarly affected: “You just think, ‘This can’t be happening.’ What is secure anymore?”
In the award-winning film Chariots of Fire, one of the characters is legendary British sprinter Harold Abrahams. He is obsessed with winning, but in a preliminary 100-meter dash leading up to the 1924 Olympics, he is soundly beaten by his rival, Eric Liddell. Abrahams’ response is deep despair. When his girlfriend, Sybil, tries to encourage him, Harold angrily declares, “I run to win. If I can’t win, I won’t run!” Sybil responds wisely, “If you don’t run, you can’t win.”
Before they were a week old, the eaglets were fighting over food. Neither was strong enough to hold up his head for more than a few seconds, so the pair looked like fuzzballs with bobble-heads attached. But whenever the parents brought food to the nest, the bigger eaglet was quick to peck down his brother to keep him from getting a single bite. His aggression would have been understandable if food was scarce, or if the parents couldn’t be trusted to supply what he needed. But nothing could be further from the truth. The eaglets were being fed fish many times their size; there was more than enough for both of them.
In one of Joe Morgenstern’s weekly Wall Street Journal columns about movies, he considered the impact of the great film stars in close-up scenes where they said nothing at all. “Movie stars,” he wrote, “can do as little as they do at crucial moments because, having already earned our respect, they can assume that we’re paying attention.” This quality of powerful silence that we admire in actors and actresses, however, can be frustrating or disappointing in our relationship with God when He is silent.
Historian Cassius Dio recorded a revealing event from the life of Hadrian, the Roman Emperor from ad 117–138: “Once, when a woman made a request of [Hadrian] as he passed by on a journey, he at first said to her, ‘I haven’t time,’ but afterwards, when she cried out, ‘Cease, then, being emperor,’ he turned about and granted her a hearing.”
After my doctor announced that I had cancer, I tried to listen to what he said, but I couldn’t. I went home, pulled a blanket over my head, and fell asleep on the couch, as if sleeping could change the diagnosis.
For His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus chose a donkey to serve as His royal transportation. His disciples were instructed to say, “The Lord has need of it” (Mark 11:3). Isn’t it astounding that the Son of God should use such lowly means to accomplish His purposes? Alexander MacLaren commented on this: “Christ comes to us in like fashion, and brushes aside all our convenient excuses. He says, ‘I want you, and that is enough.’ ”
Less than the least of all God’s mercies.” This was the motto 17th-century English poet and clergyman George Herbert engraved on his signet ring, and it was the phrase with which he signed his letters and books. Jacob had spoken these words when he pondered God’s goodness despite his own sin and shame: “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant” (Gen. 32:10).
I’ll never forget my first experience using an automatic car wash. Approaching it with the dread of going to the dentist, I pushed the money into the slot, nervously checked and rechecked my windows, eased the car up to the line, and waited. Powers beyond my control began moving my car forward as if on a conveyor belt. There I was, cocooned inside, when a thunderous rush of water, soap, and brushes hit my car from all directions. What if I get stuck in here or water crashes in? I thought irrationally. Suddenly the waters ceased. After a blow-dry, my car was propelled into the outside world again, clean and polished.
A year ago today, 155 people on US Airways Flight 1549 thought they were going to die. During take-off from New York City, their plane struck a flock of geese, disabling both engines. In a powerless glide, the captain maneuvered over the densely populated area, then announced: “Brace for impact.” Less than 90 seconds later, the crippled plane made a water landing in the frigid Hudson River, where boats and ferries quickly arrived to rescue the passengers and crew, all of whom survived. People called it the “miracle on the Hudson” and praised the pilot and crew. One grateful passenger said simply, “We have a second chance in life.”
The Puritans wisely sought to connect all of life to its source in God, bringing the two worlds together rather than dividing them into sacred and secular. They had a saying, “God loveth adverbs; and careth not how good, but how well.” Adverbs describe verbs—our words of action and activity. The proverb implies that God cares more about the spirit in which we live than the concrete results.
Longtime California pastor Ray Stedman once told his congregation: “On New Year’s Eve we realize more than at any other time in our lives that we can never go back in time. . . . We can look back and remember, but we cannot retrace a single moment of the year that is past.”
As a young girl in the late 1920s, Grace Ditmanson Adams often traveled with her missionary parents through inland China. Later, she wrote about those trips and the crowded places where they stayed overnight—village inns full of people coughing, sneezing, and smoking, while babies cried and children complained. Her family put their bedrolls on board-covered trestles in a large room with everyone else.
Our dog, Dolly, is a 7-year-old West Highland Terrier. She loves to dig in the dirt, which means she gets very dirty. We bathe her every week or so at home, but occasionally she gets so grimy and tangled that we have to take her to a professional groomer.
A gripping photograph of an old woman sitting in a pile of garbage made me ponder. She was smiling as she ate a packet of food she had foraged from the garbage dump. It took so little for the woman to be satisfied.
In 2008, the Day of Discovery film crew traveled to China on a special assignment—to retrace the life of missionary Eric Liddell, the 1924 Olympic gold medalist whose story was told in the movie Chariots of Fire. The crew took with them Eric’s three daughters, Patricia, Heather, and Maureen—allowing them to revisit some of the places where the two older sisters had lived in China. Also along on the trip was their elderly Aunt Louise.
While shopping in a nearby tourist town, I wandered into a small store stuffed with clothing and other items all marked with the slogan “Life is good.” Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of that simple truth.
I once came across a scene of beauty outside Anchorage, Alaska. Against a slate-gray sky, the water of an ocean inlet had a slight greenish cast, interrupted by small whitecaps. Soon I saw these were not whitecaps at all but whales—silvery white beluga whales in a pod feeding no more than 50 feet offshore. I stood with other onlookers, listening to the rhythmic motion of the sea, following the graceful, ghostly crescents of surfacing whales. The crowd was hushed, even reverent. For just a moment, nothing else mattered.
One would think that selling one’s soul, as Faust offered his to the devil in Goethe’s Dr. Faustus, is only a figment of literary fiction. Medieval as it seems, however, several cases of soul-selling have occurred.
In a suburb of Nairobi, Kenya, a group of international refugees has been singing songs that they hope will wake up their homeland. According to the BBC, the group Waayah Cusub has been enjoying extensive airplay on radio stations and television channels by using bold lyrics to address social issues. One of the musicians says, “We are not happy with what is happening back home; in fact we have recorded a thought-provoking song that we hope will bring our leaders back to their senses.”
A Chinese festival called Qing Ming is a time to express grief for lost relatives. Customs include grooming gravesites and taking walks with loved ones in the countryside. Legend has it that it began when a youth’s rude and foolish behavior resulted in the death of his mother. So he decided that henceforth he would visit her grave every year to remember what she had done for him. Sadly, it was only after her death that he remembered her.
In 1876, the Sioux leader Crazy Horse joined forces with Sitting Bull to defeat General Custer and his army at Little Bighorn. Not much later, though, starvation caused Crazy Horse to surrender to US troops. He was killed while trying to escape. Despite this sad conclusion to his life, he became a symbol of heroic leadership of a threatened people.
A young adult was struggling with his faith. After growing up in a home where he was loved and nurtured in a godly way, he allowed bad decisions and circumstances to turn him away from the Lord. Although as a child he had claimed to know Jesus, he now struggled with unbelief.
Our grandson Cameron was born 6 weeks prematurely. Undersized and in danger, he became a resident of the hospital’s neonatal unit for about 2 weeks until he gained enough weight to go home. His biggest challenge was that, in the physical exercise of eating, he burned more calories than he was taking in. This obviously hindered his development. It seemed that the little guy took two steps backward for every step of progress he made.
When we meet Naomi in the Scriptures, her life is a mess. She and her husband had gone to Moab searching for food during a famine. While in that land, their two sons married Moabite women, and life was good—until her husband and sons died and she was stuck, widowed in a foreign land.
I was having breakfast with a friend who had recently celebrated his 60th birthday. We discussed the “trauma” of the number 6 being the first digit in his age and all that the age of 60 implies (retirement, social security, etc.). We also pondered the fact that he felt so much younger than such a “large” number would seem to indicate.
As a young girl writing in my diary, my secret ambition was to compose the perfect sentence. I wondered what it would look and sound like. Perhaps it would include a strong verb and colorful adjectives.
Hours before 2007 began, some friends of ours in the UK were aboard their boat, anticipating the arrival of the new year, when a violent storm struck. But they were able to send us this reassuring note: “John and Linda are sitting on board the good ship Norna, and happy to say that we are secure. . . . The wind is storm force ten [48-55 knots]. Hope that all of you have a happy and prosperous new year.”
My 2-year-old grandson was fascinated by the bubbling mud pool, the result of geothermal activity in Rotorua, New Zealand. On moving to another spot and seeing no bubbles there, he remarked, “No batteries?” He was so accustomed to his electronic toys that he attributed even natural phenomena to battery power!
In the 1960s, the Kingston Trio released a song called “Desert Pete.” The ballad tells of a thirsty cowboy who is crossing the desert and finds a hand pump. Next to it, Desert Pete has left a note urging the reader not to drink from the jar hidden there but to use its contents to prime the pump.
In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the central character is Ebenezer Scrooge. As a boy, I enjoyed watching the old black-and-white version of that movie with Alastair Sim portraying Scrooge. Sim did a phenomenal job presenting the heartless, miserly, self-centered Scrooge. I still look in the television schedule each Christmas to learn when I can watch that particular rendition of Dickens’ tale.
One thing that impresses me about my wife is her commitment to walk two to four times a week for at least an hour. Come rain, snow, sleet, or shine, my wife layers up or down (depending on the weather), puts on her headphones, and off she goes walking through our community.
In Cantonese, a Chinese dialect, the word for wait sounds like the word for class. Making a pun on this word, some senior folks in Hong Kong identify themselves as “third-class citizens,” which also means “people of three waits.” They wait for their children to return home from work late at night. They wait for the morning sun to dispel their sleepless nights. And with a sigh of resignation, they wait for death.