In their book Dear Mrs. Kennedy, Jay Mulvaney and Paul De Angelis note that during the weeks following the assassination of US President John Kennedy, his widow, Jacqueline, received nearly one million letters from people in every part of the world. Some came from heads of state, celebrities, and close friends. Others were sent by ordinary people who addressed them to “Madame Kennedy, Washington” and “Mrs. President, America.” All wrote to express their grief and sympathy for her great loss.
In her book Listening to Others, Joyce Huggett writes about the importance of learning to listen and respond effectively to those in difficult situations. As she relates some of her own experiences of listening to suffering people, she mentions that they often thank her for all she’s done for them. “On many occasions,” she writes, “I have not ‘done’ anything. I have ‘just listened.’ I quickly came to the conclusion that ‘just listening’ was indeed an effective way of helping others.”
There was a season when my son Wasswa and I had 12 little guests at our dinner table in Uganda every night for 3 consecutive years. Previous to our sharing dinner with them, the children had often gone entire days without food. They began coming to our house when they heard that I would feed them. Many of the boys and girls—some as young as 3 years old—walked nearly 5 miles to reach our home, so I gave them a ride home each evening.
Dealing with painful circumstances tends to draw us inward. Sometimes we even forget there are others around us struggling with brokenness and sorrow as well! We’re learning how to share “The Beauty of Broken.”
After 20 children and 6 staff members were murdered in a Connecticut school, the entire nation was stunned that such a horrific thing could happen. Everyone focused on the tragedy and the questions surrounding it: What kind of person would do such a thing, and why? How can we prevent it from happening again? How can we help the survivors? Amid the chaos, an unlikely group moved in and made a difference.
A few years ago, my friend’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Since then, Beth has been forced to make tough decisions about her mom’s care, and her heart has often been broken as she watched her vibrant and fun-loving mom slowly slipping away. In the process, my friend has learned that real love is not always easy or convenient.
On the first night at family camp, the camp director informed the families of the schedule for the week. When finished, he asked if anyone else had anything to say. A young girl stood up and made a passionate appeal for help. She shared about her little brother—a boy with special needs—and how he could be a challenge to care for.
Sgt. Richard Kirkland was a Confederate soldier in the US Civil War (1861–1865). When the Union’s failed charge at Marye’s Heights during the Battle of Fredericksburg left wounded soldiers abandoned in no-man’s land, Kirkland got permission to help them. Collecting canteens, he leaped the stone wall and bent over the first soldier to lend assistance.
As I strolled through Chicago’s O’Hare airport, something caught my eye—a hat worn by someone racing through the concourse. What caught my attention was the message it conveyed in just two words: “Deny Everything.” I wondered what it meant. Don’t ever admit to guilt? Or deny yourself the pleasures and luxuries of life? I scratched my head at the mystery of those two simple words, “Deny Everything.”
Most regions of the world are familiar with the amazing phenomenon of snow. Snowflakes are beautiful, uniquely crafted ice crystals. Individual snowflakes are fragile, and they quickly melt if they land on your hand. Yet, en masse they create a force to be reckoned with. They can shut down major cities while creating beautiful landscapes of snow-laden trees whose pictures decorate calendars and become the subject of artwork. They provide pleasure on the ski slopes and joy for children as they make snowmen and ammunition for snowball fights. All because they stick together.
In 1987, our family moved to California to take up the pastorate of a church in the Long Beach area. The day we flew into town, my secretary picked us up at the airport to take us to our house. As we pulled into traffic, the very first thing I saw was a bumper sticker that read: “Welcome To California . . . Now Go Home!” It was not exactly a warm and cheery welcome to sunny southern California!
When I was a pastor, I served many women who were moms. I called on them in the hospital and rejoiced with them for their precious babies who had come into the world. I counseled with anxious mothers and tried to assure them that God was watching over their rebellious teenagers. I stood with mothers at the bedside of injured or ill children and felt their pain. And I cried with them in their grief when their son or daughter died.
As I started up my car in the dark hours of early morning, I noticed a seatbelt light on the dashboard. I checked my door, opening and pulling it shut again. I tugged on my seatbelt to test it. But the sensor light still beamed. Then, in slow realization, I reached over and lifted my purse a few inches above the passenger seat. The light clicked off.