James Michener’s Centennial is a fictional account of the history and settlement of the American West. Through the eyes of a French-Canadian trader named Pasquinel, Michener converges the stories of the Arapaho of the Great Plains and the European-based community of St. Louis. As this rugged adventurer moves between the growing clutter of the city and the wide-open spaces of the plains, he becomes a bridge between two drastically different worlds.
I have a friend who lives on a ranch in the wide-open spaces of Montana. The road to his home is a long trail that winds through the parched and barren landscape of the wilderness. As you drive toward his home, you can’t help but notice the contrasting strip of green trees and vibrant vegetation meandering through the ranch. One of the finest trout rivers in North America cuts through the property, and anything that grows near its banks gets the benefit of an unending source of vital water.
Some years ago my son Brian and I agreed to haul some equipment into an isolated Idaho backcountry ranch for a friend. There are no roads into the area, at least none that my truck could negotiate. So Ralph, the young ranch manager, arranged to meet us at road’s end with a small wagon hitched to a pair of mules.
In the book Kisses from Katie, Katie Davis recounts the joy of moving to Uganda and adopting several Ugandan girls. One day, one of her daughters asked, “Mommy, if I let Jesus come into my heart, will I explode?” At first, Katie said no. When Jesus enters our heart, it is a spiritual event.
I don’t know what desperate situation gripped Asaph, the writer of Psalm 77, but I’ve heard, and made, similar laments. Over the past dozen years since I lost my daughter, many others who have experienced the loss of a loved one have shared with me heartbreaking sentiments like these:
In the years following the American Civil War (1861–1865), Union Major General Lew Wallace served as a governor of the New Mexico territories; New Mexico not yet having been admitted as a state. His work there put him in contact with many of the characters that make up the Wild West’s near-mythic history, including Billy the Kid and Sheriff Pat Garrett. It was here that Wallace wrote what has been called by some “the most influential Christian book” of the 19th century, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.
There are sayings in many languages about the difficulty of changing long-established habits. In English, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” In French, “Ce n’est pas à un vieux singe qu’on apprend à faire la grimace” (You can’t teach an old monkey how to pull a funny face). In Spanish, “El loro viejo no aprende a hablar” (An old parrot can’t learn to speak).
Each morning when I reach my office, I have one simple habit—check all my emails. Most of the time, I’ll work through them in a perfunctory fashion. There are some emails, however, that I’m eager to open. You guessed it—those from loved ones.