• Topic > Life Struggles

    Unimaginable Promises

    In our moments of greatest failure, it can be easy to believe it’s too late for us, that we’ve lost our chance at a life of purpose and worth. That’s how Elias, a former inmate at a maximum-security prison in New York, described feeling as a prisoner. “I had broken . . . promises, the promise of my own future, the promise of what I could be.”

    It was Bard College’s “Prison Initiative” college degree program that began to transform Elias’ life. While in the program, Elias participated in a debate team, which in 2015 debated a team from Harvard—and won.…

    We’re Not God

    In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis recommended asking ourselves some questions to find out if we’re proud: “How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, . . . or patronize me, or show off?” Lewis saw pride as a vice of the “utmost evil” and the chief cause of misery in homes and nations. He called it a “spiritual cancer” that eats up the very possibility of love, contentment, and even common sense.

    Pride has been a problem throughout the ages. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God warned the leader of Tyre,…

    Remember to Sing

    Nancy Gustafson, a retired opera singer, was devastated when she visited her mother and saw her decline from dementia. Her mom no longer recognized her and barely spoke. After several monthly visits, Nancy had an idea. She started singing Christmas carols. Her mother’s eyes lit up at the musical sounds, and she began singing too—for twenty minutes! Then Nancy’s mom laughed, joking they were “The Gustafson Family Singers!” The dramatic turnaround suggested the power of music, as some therapists conclude, to evoke lost memories. Singing “old favorites” has also been shown to boost mood, reduce falls, lessen visits to the…

    Pruned to Thrive

    As I watched a bumblebee land lightly on the Russian sage, I marveled at its lush branches. The bush exploded with color, its brilliant blue blossoms attracting eyes and bees alike.       

    Yet only last fall, I’d wondered if it would ever blossom again. When my wife’s parents trimmed the periwinkle plant down to a stub, I’d assumed they’d decided to get rid of it. But now I was witnessing the radiant result of pruning that had seemed brutal to me. 

    The surprising beauty that results from harsh cuts may be one of the reasons Jesus chose pruning imagery to describe…

    The Wonderful One

    In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion return to Oz with the broomstick that empowered the Wicked Witch of the West. The Wizard had promised, in return for the broomstick, that he would give the four friends their deepest desires: a ride home for Dorothy, a brain for the Scarecrow, a heart for the Tin Man, and courage for the Cowardly Lion. But the Wizard stalls and tells them to come back the next day.

    While they plead with the Wizard not to send them away, Dorothy’s dog Toto pulls back the curtain,…

    Fireworks of Life

    On New Year’s Eve, when high-powered fireworks detonate across cities and towns worldwide, the noise is loud on purpose. By their nature, say manufacturers, flashy fireworks are meant to split the atmosphere, literally. “Repeater” blasts can sound the loudest, especially when exploded near the ground.

    Troubles, too, can boom through our hearts, minds, and homes. The “fireworks” of life—family struggles, relationship problems, work challenges, financial strain, even church division—can feel like explosions, rattling our emotional atmosphere.

    Yet we know the One who lifts us over this uproar. Christ Himself “is our peace,” Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:14. When we abide in His…

    True Success

    My interview guest politely answered my questions. I had a feeling, though, that something lurked beneath our interaction. A passing comment brought it out.

    “You’re inspiring thousands of people,” I said.

    “Not thousands,” he muttered. “Millions.

    And as if pitying my ignorance, my guest reminded me of his credentials—the titles he held, the things he’d achieved, the magazine covers he’d graced, the millions of lives he’d touched. It was an awkward moment.

    Ever since that experience, I’ve been struck by how God revealed Himself to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:5–7). Here was the Creator of the cosmos and Judge of humanity, but God didn’t…

    Gentle Speech

    I was on Facebook, arguing. Bad move. What made me think I was obligated to “correct” a stranger on a hot topic—especially a divisive one? The results were heated words, hurt feelings (on my part anyway), and a broken chance to witness well for Jesus. That’s the sum outcome of “internet anger.” It’s the term for the harsh words flung daily across the blogosphere. As one ethics expert explained, people wrongly conclude that rage “is how public ideas are talked about.”

    Paul’s wise advice to Timothy made the same caution. “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you…

    False Confidence

    A few years ago, my doctor gave me a stern talk about my health. I took his words to heart and began going to the gym and adjusting my diet. Over time, both my cholesterol and my weight went down, and my self-esteem went up. But then something not so good happened: I began noticing other people’s dietary choices and judging them. Isn’t it funny that often when we find a scoring system that grades us well, we use it to lift ourselves up and put others down. It seems to be an innate human tendency to cling to self-made…

    If Only We Could . . .

    The Weeping Alaskan Cedar tree whipped from side to side in the storm’s strong winds. Regie loved the tree that had not only provided shelter from the summer sun but also protected her family from the neighbors’ gaze. Now the fierce storm was tearing the roots from the ground. Quickly, Regie, with her 15-year-old son in tow, ran to try to rescue the tree. With her hands and 90-pound frame firmly planted against it, she hoped with her son’s help to keep it from falling over. But they weren’t strong enough.

    God was King David’s strength when he called out to…

    No Impossible Obstacles

    As an adult leader, I arranged a student fieldtrip to an obstacle course. We instructed students to slip into safety gear and scale an eight-foot wall. Those who volunteered to go first encouraged each climber to trust the harness and keep moving forward without looking down. One of our students stared at the barrier as we secured belts and buckles around her waist. “There’s no way I can do this,” she said. Affirming the strength of her harness, we encouraged her and cheered when she climbed up the wall and stepped onto the high platform.

    When we face problems that seem…

    Inside the Fire

    A wildfire in Andilla, Spain, scorched nearly 50,000 acres of woodland. When scientists entered the area they expected total devastation; and they did indeed see miles of blackened oaks, pines, and junipers. However, in the middle of the wreckage, a group of nearly 1,000 bright green cypress trees remained standing. The trees’ unusual ability to retain water had allowed them to safely endure the fire.

    In the days of King Nebuchanezzar’s reign in Babylon, a small cluster of friends survived the flames of the king’s wrath. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to worship a statue Nebuchadnezzar had created, and they told…

    Choosing Hope

    I am one of millions of people worldwide who suffer from SAD (seasonal affective disorder), a type of depression common in places with limited sunlight due to short winter days. When I begin to fear winter’s frozen curse will never end, I’m eager for any evidence that longer days and warmer temperatures are coming.

    The first signs of spring—flowers successfully braving their way through the lingering snow—also powerfully remind me of the way God’s hope can break through even our darkest seasons. The prophet Micah confessed this even while enduring a heart-rending “winter” as the Israelites turned away from God. As…

    Strong and Courageous

    Each night, as young Caleb closed his eyes, he felt the darkness envelop him. The silence of his room was regularly suspended by the creaking of the wooden house in Costa Rica. Then the bats in the attic became more active. His mother had put a nightlight in his room, but the young boy still feared the dark. One night Caleb’s dad posted a Bible verse on the footboard of his bed. It read: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; . . . for the Lord your God will be with you” (Joshua 1:9). Caleb began to read…

    Fighting Life’s Dragons

    Have you ever fought a dragon? If you answered, “No,” author Eugene Peterson disagrees with you. In A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, he wrote, “Dragons are projections of our fears, horrible constructions of all that might hurt us. . . . A peasant confronted by a magnificent dragon is completely outclassed.” Peterson’s point? Life is filled with dragons. The life-threatening health crisis, the sudden job loss, the failed marriage, the estranged prodigal child. These “dragons” are the supersized dangers and frailties of life that we are inadequate to fight.

    But in those battles, we have a Champion. Not a fairy tale…

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