I stood in the shallow end of the swimming pool waiting for my sobbing 5-year-old daughter to jump in. This had been going on for almost 15 minutes. “I’m scared,” she cried.
Today is the 15th birthday of a young man named Canaan Rogers. This birthday was not supposed to happen. When Canaan, my nephew, was seven months old, he nearly died because of a doctor’s misdiagnosis of a serious illness. By the time the doctors figured out what was really going on, it was too late. Canaan was all but gone.
I have a friend who will have an empty seat at his Thanksgiving table this year. That seat belonged to his father, who died recently. A few days ago, a doctor told another friend that his dad probably wouldn’t live to see Thanksgiving next year. I have yet another friend who was in a car accident and is in the hospital with serious injuries right now. He will be having Thanksgiving there.
“This year, we need a break,” said my wife, Raquel, at the beginning of 2017. Each year since we’ve gotten married, there’s been some huge stress that has shaken up our lives. I know we all go through those times, but knowing that doesn’t make them any easier — it certainly hasn’t for us.
Several years ago in my hometown, a man was driving down the highway with his wife when a tree fell down across the highway, landed right on the cab of their pickup truck, and killed them both. Later that week, I was in a church service in which the pastor referenced the freak accident and said, “Do you think that kind of thing happened by accident? There’s no way.”
I wasn't exactly sure what I was doing when, at nine years old, I was baptized by my father in a river – and I'm OK with that. There are people who think nine years old is premature for a person to be baptized. I'm actually surprised my parents didn't have me do it sooner.
“Gross.” That’s typically not the word I think of when contemplating a miracle Jesus performed, but there’s one exception.
I have this one childhood memory that used to haunt me. When I was in first grade, a careless adult did a great deal of damage with very little effort and it seemed like the hurt from that incident couldn’t be undone.
One Sunday morning when I was in my early 20s, my mom came up to me after church and said something that stuck with me: “I notice you always pray to Jesus. You should think about calling God ‘Father.’” I thanked her for her input but it agitated me a little. I was more comfortable keeping things on a first-name basis with the Lord and starting all of my prayers with “Dear Jesus.” I didn’t like the way it felt to address God as my male parental figure. I already had a father-son relationship and it was complicated.
I was five years old when I walked into my mother’s bedroom and told her I wanted to give my life to Christ. We got down on our knees beside the bed and I asked Jesus into my heart. After that, I proudly told everyone that Jesus had saved me, but my pride slowly diminished over the years.
Seven years ago, I was having a conversation at a birthday party when I suddenly felt like I was in a dream. My voice felt far off, the room looked two-dimensional, and I couldn’t get my eyes to focus. Fifteen seconds later it stopped, but that episode was only the beginning. I started having a variety of other bizarre experiences. Sometimes it seemed like I was watching a scratched DVD — other times I would lose my words mid-sentence or forget how to type.
I have a friend who was once known for her strength, and now she’s becoming known for her weakness. Rachel Wilhelm, a popular guest writer here, has felt her body break down over the last year. The only diagnosis doctors can offer is fibromyalgia, a mystery illness known for pain, acute weakness, and frequent sleep disturbance. Yet somehow in the midst of it, God has taken Rachel’s weakness and made something strong out of it. Here’s her story, in her own words:
One day last year, I was in a little convenience store in downtown D.C., where I quickly grabbed a drink and headed to the cash register. Three ladies were working, and when I looked at the youngest of the three (in the center of the photo) a simple phrase came into my head and seemed like it was just for her: Don’t settle for less.
The other day my seven-year-old daughter said something I wasn’t expecting: “Daddy, I know a bad word.” Oh no, I thought, my worst fears about the D.C. school system are already coming true. “Oh really?” I said casually. “What word did you learn?” “The S-word.” I cringed.
I went through a long, dark time a few years ago. I prayed that God would end it, that He would set me free from the people and circumstances that vexed me. He did not.