• Topic > When Life Hurts

    The Would-Be Woodcutter

    One year, when I was in college, I cut, stacked, sold, and delivered firewood. It was one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done. So I have a good deal of empathy for the hapless logger in the 2 Kings 6 story.

    Elisha’s school for prophets had prospered, and their meeting place had become too small. Someone suggested they go into the woods, cut logs, and enlarge their facilities. Elisha agreed and accompanied the workers. Things were going remarkably well until someone’s axhead fell into the water.

    Some have suggested that Elisha simply probed in the water with his stick until he…

    The Picture of Despair

    During the Great Depression in the United States, famed photographer Dorothea Lange snapped a photo of Florence Owens Thompson and her children. This well-known photograph, “Migrant Mother,” is the picture of a mother’s despair in the aftermath of the failed pea harvest. Lange took it in Nipomo, California, while working for the Farm Security Administration, hoping to make them aware of the needs of the desperate seasonal farm laborers.

    The book of Lamentations presents another snapshot of despair—that of Judah in the wake of the destruction of Jerusalem. Before the army of Nebuchadnezzar swept in to destroy the city, the people…

    Death Row Joy

    In 1985 Anthony Ray Hinton was charged with the murders of two restaurant managers. It was a set up—he’d been miles away when the crimes happened—but he was found guilty and sentenced to death. At the trial, Ray forgave those who lied about him, adding that he still had joy despite this injustice. “After my death, I’m going to heaven,” he said. “Where are you going?”

    Life on death row was hard for Ray. Prison lights flickered whenever the electric chair was used for others, a grim reminder of what lay ahead. Ray passed a lie detector test but the…

    Broken to Be Shared

    We met every Thursday after he lost his wife in a car accident. Sometimes he came with questions to which no answers exist, sometimes he came with memories he wanted to relive. Over time, he accepted that even though the accident was a result of the brokenness in our world, God could work in the midst of it. A few years later, he taught a class at our church about grief and how to lament well. Soon, he became our go-to guide for people experiencing loss. Sometimes it’s when we don’t feel like we have anything to offer that God…

    The Faith to Endure

    Ernest Shackleton (1874–1922) led an unsuccessful expedition to cross Antarctica in 1914. When his ship, aptly named Endurance, became trapped in heavy ice in the Weddell Sea, it became an endurance race just to survive. With no means of communicating with the rest of the world, Shackleton and his crew used lifeboats to make the journey to the nearest shore—Elephant Island. While most of the crew stayed behind on the island, Shackleton and five crewmen spent two weeks traveling 800 miles across the ocean to South Georgia to get help for those left behind. The “failed” expedition became a victorious entry…

    Unexpected Change

    In January 1943, warm Chinook winds hit Spearfish, South Dakota, raising the temperatures from –4° to 45°F (–20° to 7° C) over a two-minute span. That drastic weather change—a swing of 49 degrees—took place in just two minutes. The widest temperature change recorded in the USA over a 24-hour period is an incredible 103°F (57°C). On January 15, 1972, Loma, Montana, saw the temperature jump from −54° to 49°F (–48° to 9°C).

    Sudden change, however, is not simply a weather phenomenon. It is sometimes the very nature of life. James reminds us, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we…

    Pierced Love

    She’d called. She’d texted. Now Carla stood outside her brother’s gated entry, unable to rouse him to answer. Burdened with depression and fighting addiction, her brother had hidden himself away in his home, walled off from help. In a desperate attempt to penetrate his isolation, Carla gathered several of his favorite foods along with encouraging Scriptures and lowered the bundle over the fence.

    But as the package left her grip, it snagged on one of the gate spikes, tearing an opening and sending its contents onto the gravel below. Her well-intended, love-filled offering spilled out in seeming waste. Would her brother…

    A Place of Belonging

    Some years after the tragic loss of their first spouses, Robbie and Sabrina fell in love, married, and combined their two families. They built a new home and named it Havilah (a Hebrew word meaning “writhing in pain” and “to bring forth”). It signifies the making of something beautiful through pain. The couple says they didn’t build the home to forget their past but “to bring life from the ashes, to celebrate hope.” For them, “it is a place of belonging, a place to celebrate life and where we all cling to the promise of a future.”

    That’s a beautiful picture of…

    Unimaginable

    Bart Millard penned a megahit in 2001 when he wrote, “I Can Only Imagine.” The song pictures how amazing it will be to be in Jesus’s presence.
    Millard’s lyrics offered comfort to our family the next year when our seventeen-year-old daughter Melissa died in a car accident and we imagined what it was like for her to be in God’s presence.

    But imagine spoke to me in a different way in the days following Mell’s death. As fathers of Melissa’s friends approached me, full of concern and pain, they said, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”

    Their expressions were helpful, showing that they…

    The Miracle of White Snow

    In the seventeenth century, Sir Isaac Newton used a prism to study how light helps us see different colors. He found that when light passes through an object, the object appears to possess a specific color. While a single ice crystal looks translucent, snow is made up of many ice crystals smashed together. When light passes through all of the crystals, snow appears to be white.

    The Bible mentions something else that has a certain color—sin. Through the prophet Isaiah, God confronted the sins of the people of Judah and described their sin as “like scarlet” and as “red as crimson.”…

    In It Together

    During a two month period in 1994, as many as one million Tutsis were slain in Rwanda by Hutu tribe members bent on killing their fellow countrymen. In the wake of this horrific genocide, Bishop Geoffrey Rwubusisi approached his wife about reaching out to women whose loved ones had been slain. Mary’s reply was, “All I want to do is cry.” She too had lost members of her family. The bishop’s response was that of a wise leader and caring husband: “Mary, gather the women together and cry with them.” He knew his wife’s pain had prepared her to uniquely…

    Mercy’s Lament

    Her father blamed his illness on witchcraft. It was AIDS. When he died, his daughter, ten-year-old Mercy, grew even closer to her mother. But her mother was sick too, and three years later she died. From then on, Mercy’s sister raised the five siblings. That’s when Mercy began to keep a journal of her deep pain.

    The prophet Jeremiah kept a record of his pain too. In the grim book of Lamentations, he wrote of atrocities perpetrated on Judah by the Babylonian army. Jeremiah’s heart was especially grieved for the youngest victims. “My heart is poured out on the ground,” he…

    Full Attention

    Technology today seems to demand our constant attention. The modern “miracle” of the internet (now easily accessible via the smartphone) gives us the amazing capacity to access humanity’s collective learning in the palm of our hand. But for many, such constant access can come at a cost.

    Writer Linda Stone has coined the phrase “continual partial attention” to describe the modern impulse to always need to know what’s happening ‘out there,’ to make sure we’re not missing anything. If that sounds like it could produce chronic anxiety, you’re right!

    Although the apostle Paul struggled with different reasons for anxiety, he knew that…

    Friendship Bench

    In the south central African country of Zimbabwe, war trauma and high unemployment can leave people in despair—until they find hope on a bench. A friendship bench. Hopeless people can go there to talk with trained “grandmothers”—elderly women taught to listen to people struggling with depression, known in that nation’s Shona language as kufungisisa, or “thinking too much.”

    The Friendship Bench Project is being launched in other places, including Zanzibar, Malawi, London, and New York City. “We were thrilled to bits with the results,” said one London researcher. A New York counselor agreed. “Before you know it, you’re not on a…

    Instead of Revenge

    After Jim Elliot and four other missionaries were killed by Huaorani tribesmen in 1956, no one expected what happened next. Jim’s wife, Elisabeth, their young daughter, and another missionary’s sister willingly chose to make their home among the very people who killed their loved ones. They spent several years living in the Huaorani community, learning their language, and translating the Bible for them. These women’s testimony of forgiveness and kindness convinced the Huaorani of God’s love for them and many began to follow Jesus.

    What Elisabeth and her friend did is an incredible example of not repaying evil with evil but…

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