The Forgotten Miracle of the 9/11 Boat Evacuation

If you do not read this blog, please look at the YouTube video narrated by Tom Hanks at the end. Two more prophecy blogs are in the works, but for today, I want to join the multitude in honoring those who served New York on 9/11/01.

Many articles and details of September 11, 2001 are in the news, the blogosphere, and on social media today as people in America commemorate the 20th anniversary of the most horrible attack on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor in 1941.

What may get lost among the recollections and lamentations is that people came together in ways that seemed amazing, simply because they were needed.  Though short lived, the event that morning “made us notice that many of us fill our lives with trivialities.”  We returned, however briefly, to spiritual and eternal values and considered the value of a life, any life.  We brought out flags, renewed our commitment to our nation, attended churches, and cooperation seemed the order of the day, even among politicians.

And in the middle of the confusion and puzzled turbulence of the day, some boaters in the Hudson and East Rivers and the Upper Bay responded to a call to help their fellow-humans.  No one knew if this was an all-out war, if more attacks were imminent, if bombers would attack the boats or if the boaters would be overwhelmed.

The “Miracle of Dunkirk” involved thousands of boats off the coast of northern France that evacuated 338,000 soldiers who were about to die as the Nazi army approached.   The call had gone out to invite small boats to the rescue because large navy vessels could not get close enough in the shallow coastal waters.  In eight days the evacuation was as complete as possible.

But in 2001, when the call went out from the Coast Guard requesting any available boats to rescue people from Manhattan Island in New York, hundreds responded.  The result was 500,000 people were evacuated in NINE hours.  Called “The Forgotten Miracle of the 9/11 Boat Evacuation,” it represented the best of our values and our love of life.  Granted there were no Nazis with machine guns coming after the evacuees, but in the carnage of the morning no one knew what to expect.

“I never want to say the word, ‘I should have…’ If I do it and I fail, I tried. If I do it and I succeed, better for me.” Vincent Ardolino, Captain, Amberjack V

So where were you between 8:46 and 9:03 EDT on September 11, 2001?
What do you remember of that day?
What were your thoughts on man’s inhumanity to man or the value of human life?
Did it change your understanding of God or divine involvement in human history?
How did it affect your view of religion, Islam in particular?
Did it change your view of what is important in your life?

Intermezzo Guest Blog: Update on Afghanistan

As Biden’s humanitarian and military crisis in Afghanistan proceeds, friends in Afghanistan are trying desperately to find a way out of the country, mostly over land into neighboring countries.  Imagine thinking “escaping to Iran” would be an attractive option!

In spite of the small number of Afghani Christians, missions agencies report that for several years Afghanistan has had the fastest growing population of Christ-followers, second only to Iran.  This story is from the son of an imam who hated Christians when he was 17, but found out that Christians were offering peace and life while the Muslims of whom he was part were threatening him with death for simply reading the Bible.  The following is a transcript from a Christianity Today podcast called Quick To Listen.  Good reading and information in Christianity Today.
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‘My Heart Is Broken’: An Afghan Pastor Grapples with the US Withdrawal
America’s departure and the Taliban’s ascent is forcing Christians out of the country.
Morgan Lee, August 20, 2021

2021-08-23 Taliban in KabulTaliban patrolling Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021.

Earlier this year, President Joe Biden announced that after close to 20 years, the United States would be withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan. Last week, as the military began its exit, the Taliban was ready and within days had seized control of the country. The ascent sparked widespread fear and led to thousands arriving at the airport only to find their flights out of the country had been canceled. Some even grabbed hold of an aircraft in desperation.

Biden defended the decision, arguing that Afghanistan’s leaders “gave up and fled the country.” He also said: “The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight. If anything, the developments in the past week reinforced ending that US military involvement Afghanistan now was the right decision.”

He did concede: “The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.” As the government fell, it was not clear if the US had done anything to protect those who had worked with the military as translators. Plans to resettle Afghans as refugees seemed to be formulated in real time. The rights of women and girls, which were suppressed under the Taliban’s previous time in power, also appeared in jeopardy. And the lives of Christians, who according to official numbers only make up a minuscule number of the country’s nearly 40 million people, seem in peril as well.

David Paiman is an Afghan pastor and evangelist. You can follow his ministry herePaiman joined global media manager Morgan Lee and news editor Daniel Silliman to discuss how he converted from Islam to Christianity, the withdrawal’s consequences for the church in Afghanistan, and how we can best support the country and people during this time.

The transcript is edited by Faith Ndlovu

Highlights from Quick to Listen: Episode #277

David Paiman: Thank you for your concern about Afghanistan. We are grieving and our hearts are heavy. We see the news that Afghanistan is blaring and everywhere in the street, we can see hopeless people are left behind. But we see the reality more when we talk to people inside Afghanistan.

I’ve been talking to many believers inside Afghanistan. They are crying out for help, and they are crying out for the American army, and some of them sent me a video of many women and girls.

They have been to the airport and they’re crying out to American soldiers to help them. They have been there to serve them and help them but that is over. What we are seeing is too much and my heart is broken.

We are here in America, we see what we see on Twitter or television, but generally speaking, what do you find that Americans don’t know about Afghanistan that you really want them to know? What do they maybe misunderstand about what they do know?

David Paiman: Americans should know about Afghan believers, those who have converted to Christianity. Their lives are in danger, especially for people who are registered as Christians in Afghanistan. There are about many families there and they already got their identity. Many other Afghan believers only registered but they don’t have their identity cards yet; it’s still being processed. Suddenly everything has turned in a different way and they are in desperate need of help. Many people just heard the Taliban say very good news using soft words to say, “we forgive everyone, and we will do our best to build the country.” That’s not the truth. The truth we heard from inside is that they are going from house to house to search for people. They have been to many Afghan believers’ houses, and they took their Bibles. Praise God that the Afghan believers were not at their home. But they’re still searching for them.

Did President Ghani’s government require Christians to register?

David Paiman: They were not required to register, but they registered for the next generation. They don’t want their children to be called Muslims, they want their identity to be Christian.

Is your religion something that is printed on your ID cards?

David Paiman: Yes. But what the system did, because they don’t like Christians, when they printed out the cards for Christians they print out “other.” If they print out “Christian,” they face trouble with their own family, they cannot go to the bank, they cannot get a license, they cannot get anything. In reality they are Christian but they print out “other,” not Christian.

So, this was a big step historically for people to start declaring themselves in this official way, that they’re Christian and making public their faith, sometimes at great risk.

Afghanistan is a big country. Was this happening in Kabul? Was this happening in the villages? Where were these Christians deciding to take the stand?

David Paiman: All the Christians that registered are in Kabul. Today I heard the news, which I hope is false news. But I heard that three Christian families were taken by the Taliban and their houses were burned. We don’t know where they are, but I’m not sure yet that that is exactly what’s going on there.

There are very few Christians that live in this country. How did people end up hearing the gospel?

David Paiman: There are a lot of Christians during these two, three years. I am in media and get many calls every day, at least 10 calls from Afghanistan.

They want to receive Christ. Many house churches inside Afghanistan have started sharing the gospel with each other. Some families have been openly sharing the gospel with people and others heard from media, from Facebook, YouTube, and TV. But whenever they receive Christ, we try to connect them with them to get discipled and to grow in Christ, inside Afghanistan.

Take us back to 2001 when America invaded, what was that like for you? What was that like for Christians in the country?

David Paiman: Yeah, that’s what I call false hope. I will never forget in 2001 when the American army came and took over, everyone was celebrating, everyone got freedom and people were praising and thankful to America. Exactly 20 years later we see what’s happening now.

Where were you living at that time?

David Paiman: I was in Saudi Arabia.

With the hope that you experienced, what did you think might happen?

David Paiman: The real hope is Jesus Christ. Afghanistan has been trying many ways to get hope, to get peace inside Afghanistan, but they did not try Jesus Christ. They did not try God. They did not try His love and His mercy. My prayer and zeal are to share Christ with them. They can receive Christ and they can get the real hope, the living hope that never ends.

How old were you back in 2001?

David Paiman: I was about 17 years old.

What did you hear about the American military during that time?

David Paiman: I was very excited because I was a Muslim from Hazara tribes. My tribe experienced the pressure of the Taliban, because mostly Hazara from Shiá Muslim and all Taliban from Sunni Muslim. I saw many Hazara killed by the Taliban in those times and when America came in 2001, I was so excited that we got freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of everything that we could practice in Afghanistan.

Did that happen when the US first showed up in the first year or two?

David Paiman: From 2001 to 2006 it was good. From 2006 to 2010 it changed a little. From 2010 to 2021 it was not a good situation in Afghanistan as well because the government was corrupt. However, America helped the Afghanistan government, the Afghanistan government did not do what they were supposed to do. I don’t want to go into politics. I’m angry with Joe Biden because he said Afghanistan was not willing to take care of their country, yet billions of dollars have been used to help them.

It’s painful that many Afghanistans leave it behind and now we see that Afghanistan is bleeding and people are crying out for help, but it’s because they don’t take care of their own country.

Talking about the issue of women and girls, how did you notice how they were treated before the Americans arrived?

David Paiman: The girls could not go to school and the women could not go out without any man and there was trouble. Now Taliban is a little bit different, but this morning I heard the news that the girls and the women cannot go out without any men. I don’t know what to say about the Taliban 20 years ago and now, I don’t think they have changed. It’s still the same, the Sharia never changes.

But under the past 20 years though, you saw girls going to school, which was not happening under the Taliban. And you saw way more women working?

David Paiman: Yeah exactly.

Did you have any women who were leading churches or doing evangelism, or did they show up in church leadership too?

David Paiman: Yes, my sister-in-law, who is leading a house church there under the men’s leadership. She tries to help other women, does Bible study with them, and leads them woman to woman and men to men; under the men’s leadership which is what the Bible says.

Now the fear is that the schools that were open to girls are going to be closed and as you said, women may not be able to leave the house without men?

David Paiman: Yes. They cannot leave the house without the men. A few schools are open, but only girls under 14 years can go to school. We don’t know yet about college. In Herat city last week, the girls were supposed to go to college, but the Taliban stopped them.

You mentioned that in 2001 you were a Muslim. How did Jesus find you?

David Paiman: I didn’t want to come to the faith. I hated Christians and didn’t want to be one because I’m from a very religious Muslim background.

My father was an imam. They taught me how to be a good Muslim. I have been to Mecca six times, and I practiced my religion very well because I thought the Muslim religion is the only religion, the only way to God. But after my sixth pilgrimage to Mecca, a stranger came to me from Syria and he shared his testimony, how he received Christ inside the Mecca, how he saw the vision of Christ during his pilgrimage in Mecca. That made me get angry with him. I tried to fight with him. I wanted to kill him. But after 45 minutes of our conversation, he asked me, “Would you please let me pray for you?”

I was very proud. I said, “Okay, you pray for me. I will pray for you.” When he started to pray, I closed my eyes to listen to him and it seemed that he knew my problem. He knew my heart. He knew that I’m searching for real peace and that prayer led me to Christ. After he finished his prayer, the big questions came to my mind.

I said, “If he is an infidel, how could he know my heart?” He then gave me a New Testament Bible. I read but I didn’t accept it because my father taught me that the Bible is corrupt.

Six months later I went to Afghanistan, and I shared this experience with my best friend. He then gave me a Bible in my language. He said not to worry about the New Testament I should just start from Genesis. When I started reading from Genesis, I knew inside my heart that something is true here because God Himself is reaching humans, to bring them back to Him. It was so clear to me that this is God Himself wanting human beings to come to Him. I then took the Bible from him.

I started to read the Bible in my city Ghazni, which is about 250 kilometers from Kabul, and I started comparing the Bible and Quran. With two of my friends, every day we started comparing the Bible and the Koran to try to find which part of the Bible is corrupt.

While I was still reading the Bible, I was still a Muslim practicing Muslim, and I got caught by the police because somebody reported that I was reading the Bible. They took the Bible from me. I found myself in the mosque and there were about 60 or 70 people there and they started asking me why I was reading the Bible. I argued with the imam and started asking him a question from the Quran himself, he could not answer me. He started a claim that he proved that I was a Christian. I was not a Christian. I was Muslim. I did not want to become a Christian.

They started beating me until I became unconscious. I then found myself in a police station. I gave them a lot of money and then I ran away from the police station. I went to Kabul. I was hiding in a safety house, which had a lot of Americans.

A lady from Canada who was a missionary helped me to escape from my country to India. I didn’t know she was a missionary at that time. In India, I met Afghan Christians and I was very angry with them. I started to fight with them. One of the guys I fought with is now inside Afghanistan and is sharing the gospel there.

Three months later, one of my friends had epilepsy. I called the pastor and his friend, and they came and prayed for my friend who had epilepsy. At that moment he got healed and I saw the power, actually, I felt the power. I knew then there was power in the name of Jesus. I went to the bathroom, and I received Christ and asked Him to come into my life and I received Him. I gave my life to Christ in 2008.

Why did you go to the bathroom?

David Paiman: Because I didn’t want to receive Christ in front of them because I didn’t want to become a Christian.

I didn’t want them to know that I am receiving Christ. I wanted to receive Christ very secretly.

How did that practically change your life in 2008?

David Paiman: On that night after I came out from the bathroom and had washed my face as I had been crying, I proceeded to make tea for my guests and the pastor knew something had happened to me. After the tea service, the pastor came to me and asked if he could pray for me.

I said, “of course.” He put his hand on my shoulder and started to pray. I started to cry and confess my sin. The next day everything changed. I felt different. I talked differently and everything changed in my life. I saw things differently. I could see people differently and I started sharing the gospel the next day, right away.

I started sharing the gospel with people. I told them only Jesus could save their lives. Only Jesus can give you peace only Jesus can give you hope.

When you started telling people did anyone believe you? Did anyone decide to learn more about Christianity?

David Paiman: At first believers didn’t believe me because I had been persecuting them.

They thought maybe I had come from the Afghan government because I had a very close friendship with the embassy. They thought maybe I was a spy from them. But later on, they believed me.

But yeah. I saw many people come to Christ in India. I received Christ in India in 2008.

And then you started telling people in India for many years?

David Paiman: Yes. I was in India for five and a half years, and then I moved to Indonesia. I was in Indonesia for three years.

We started house churches there and then we baptized about 72 Iranian people. During those three years, 17 Afghan Muslims converted to Christ, and we baptized them. In 2015, I moved to Australia. I started an Afghan church in Sydney, Australia till 2019.

In 2019, I moved here and now we have a ministry. We are helping refugees and we started our house church here in Memphis, Tennessee.

What do you find about God or Jesus resonates with Afghans? What do they love about Christianity?

David Paiman: I heard many people like my friends, especially here saying they see the reality of love in Christian life.

They love you unconditionally. They don’t expect you to do something. They love you just as you are. In Afghan culture when you love some people you expect them to love you back but many of them say they see true love here in American people and Christian people.

That love has now opened the door for us. We can share the gospel with our Afghan friends here.

What’s your sense of what American Christians should be doing out of love right now?

David Paiman: For me, all Christians should practice at least two things, go, and give. If you cannot go, you should give. If you’re a believer, you have to share the gospel, go, or give, giving and supporting it’s all the one part. Christians in America can also pray and help financially. Send them food to eat. This morning I talked to one leader and he’s ready to go to Christ and what he asked me was, “after I go will you please take care of my family.”

He shared Philippians 1:20 (Phil 2:20) which says, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” He said, “to die, I get my life. I start my life with Christ” and that encouraged me. The only thing for me is the burden of his family. He has given his life to Christ.

I have a burden in my heart to take care of his family and it’s the burden for all Christians in America and to cry out to God and pray for them. If you know people in Afghanistan help them out of Afghanistan. That’s the greatest help.

So, you would say American Christians should also support welcoming thousands of refugees here.

David Paiman: Exactly.

What type of long-term impact do you think that the withdrawal will have on the mission field in Afghanistan?

David Paiman: To help Afghan believers inside of Afghanistan. The missionary can easily come out of Afghanistan, but Afghanistans are left behind.

If they are discipled well, they can share the gospel inside Afghanistan. That for me is long-term, helping Afghan Christians inside Afghanistan. It should start from inside of Afghanistan not from outside Afghanistan, that’s my opinion.

Because now Afghans will be leading these churches, not foreigners?

David Paiman: No, Afghans should start leading the church. They should start discipling people and that’s all Afghans are doing now.

How do the Christians that you meet find Christianity? Who tells them about it?

David Paiman: It’s mostly from media, from Facebook, YouTube, radio, TV, those are the four sources that we have inside Afghanistan. Now it’s not too difficult we can give them the bible. When they’re sleeping in the bed, they can hear the gospel, and no one can stop that.

This past week has been demoralizing. How has it affected your faith in God?

David Paiman: Whenever I talk to believers inside Afghanistan, I find that their faith is very big and mine is very low, and they give their life to Christ. Jesus said, “if you don’t take your cross, you are not worthy to follow Me, if you don’t confess Me in front of people, I will not confess you in front of My Father. That’s exactly what they are doing now. They took their cross willingly and they tried to come under the grace of God, joyfully give their life to Jesus.

Daniel Silliman: Yeah. That’s compelling, that’s what we all believe as Christians and that’s our call daily to take up our cross and the challenges that they’re facing are serious. Thanks for sharing that with us.

David Paiman: The other thing that American believers and Americans should know is this word about the church. In Afghanistan, people know they are the church, and they understand that. But here, mostly most of America, they say the building is a church. There is a building with a cross on it that’s what they call church but, in Afghanistan, the real church is going on.

I’m so encouraged by their ministry.

What are you praying for as you speak to people back in Afghanistan and Afghans here?

David Paiman: To be honest in the first two, three days, I didn’t know how to pray, and I could not pray because my heart was so heavy and when I saw the news, I was so upset with Americans, I was so upset with the missionaries. I was so angry and that’s my human nature. I could not pray but praise God when I talked to them, they encouraged me. They said, “Jesus is with us now.” Now my prayer for Afghanistans, especially for believers is for the grace of God to be always over them because they cannot do anything out of the grace of God. With the grace of God, they can do all things. That’s my prayer.

As we close our conversation, is there anything else that you would like our listeners to know, any information you’ve heard from your friends and family back in Afghanistan that you want to share, or anything we didn’t ask you about?

David Paiman: Yeah, please pray for believers. They are leaving the country, especially pray for two families who just arrived in Pakistan, three families that are in Iran now, and four families that are in Tajikistan. Please pray for them and specifically pray for four families inside Afghanistan. I think I already mentioned their life is seriously in danger.

In their new countries, what should we pray for them, that they get connected to a church community and build their lives someplace new?

David Paiman: Yes, we are praying for them to make contact with other believers at churches and their second countries. Pray for us here that we can make decisions wisely and that we don’t give them false hope or false promises.

Would you be willing to end our show in a word of prayer?

David Paiman: Sure.
Dear Father. You are a good father. I know you know everything about my country. You love my people. You love the Taliban. You love even the people persecuting us. Lord. You command us to love them back. Please help Afghan Christians, especially those inside the country to love them and share your words with them. Lord, I pray for your protection over believers inside Afghanistan I pray for my people, they’re hopeless. They just see the darkness. Lord, I pray that your light will shine on them. Open their minds and their hearts to see you and to see that you love them to see that You died for them. Lord, open their eyes so that they can taste and see that you are a good God.

You are a merciful, God. Lord, I pray for the American army in Afghanistan. I pray that you protect them from evil. Help them, give them the wisdom to choose the right people, and bring them out. Lord, I also pray for my brothers and sisters outside Afghanistan. I pray for the churches. Thank you for my spiritual family here, Lord, they encourage us. Lord. I pray that you give them wisdom and knowledge to help us in Your way, not in their way. Thank you, Lord, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Guest Blog – Hannah Anderson on Simone Biles

I do not follow sports very much . . . not at all, actually.  Unless it hits the major news outlets or affects UK’s basketball championship possibilities.  I recall reading an article in the late 70s that compared attending a sports arena to participating in a charismatic worship service.  The enthusiasm, the immersion into the object of worship, the fanatical dedication all reflected how the Holy Spirit calls believers in Jesus to experience Him.

To my surprise, Simone Biles made headlines by leaving her team at a clinching moment, disrupting the worship services of the Japan Olympics.  Caralyn, of BeautyBeyondBones, blogged on this on July 29, and presents an excellent analysis from one who has dealt with profound personal health issues.  And reading Christianity Today, Hannah Anderson gives an interesting spiritual spin to our obsession with sports.
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Simone Biles’s Critics Miss the Bigger Story of Bodily Abuse
by Hannah Anderson, July 29, 2021
Some see the Olympic gymnast as a self-serving athlete. But her withdrawal from competition is a model for how to honor rather than disdain our bodies.
2021-07-31 Simone Biles Olympian

The Olympics always hold surprises, and this first week of competition in Tokyo was no exception. On Tuesday, Simone Biles, captain of the USA Olympic Women’s Gymnastics team and the most decorated American gymnast of all time, withdrew from the team competition after uncharacteristic performances on both the vault and floor.

By Wednesday, Biles had stepped away from the individual all-round competition as well, citing the need to give attention to her mental well-being. With an almost guaranteed chance of dominating the games, Biles’s choice models something rare in both competitive sports and broader culture: the humility and courage to say, “Enough is enough.”

Although many supported Biles’s decision, others saw her choice as a failure. Conservative media voices like Charlie Kirk, Matt Walsh, and Jenna Ellis deemed her a quitter, equating her focus on “mental health” with a softness or lack of emotional fortitude. They went so far as to accuse her of failing her team and even her country. Others recalled Kerri Strug’s gritty 1996 vault, in which Strug pushed through obvious injury for a second attempt and ultimately led her team to gold.

After all, isn’t the whole point of competitive sports to push the human body to its limits — or past what we believe its limits to be? Even the apostle Paul invokes the metaphor of subjecting the body to rigorous discipline, writing in 1 Corinthians 9 that “everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. . . . I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (vv. 25–27).

Although we are called to discipline our physical (and also spiritual) selves, pushing the human body to its limits doesn’t mean that limits don’t exist. We’re required to have both the wisdom and humility to respect our limitations.

But you wouldn’t know this if you were taking your cues from the broader culture of the USA Gymnastics organization (USAG). For decades, the USAG has willfully denied such limits, opting instead to treat athletes as disposable by starving and pushing young bodies to a breaking point, then tossing them aside when they’re of no more use to the team objective.

Indeed, it was within such an abusive culture that Strug achieved her now-famous second vault. It was in this same culture that USAG coaches Bela and Marta Karolyi ran their notorious “ranch” — an official training facility closed in the wake of abuse allegations. It was this same culture that handed off vulnerable, hurting gymnasts to team physician and pedophile Larry Nassar. It was this same culture that covered up Nassar’s abuse, allowing him to continue to assault hundreds of other young gymnasts, including Biles herself.

It’s taken decades, but Biles’s willingness and ability to say no to that culture represents a sea change. As former Olympian and Strug teammate Dominique Moceanu tweeted, “[Biles’s] decision demonstrates that we have a say in our own health — ‘a say’ I NEVER felt I had as an Olympian.”

In the same Olympic games that garnered Strug a place in history, 14-year-old Moceanu hit her head on the balance beam and fell. Rather than get immediately evaluated by a physician, she continued on in competition. Meanwhile, Strug’s own injury on the vault would end her gymnastics career at the age of 18.

Such stories stand in stark contrast to that of Oksana Chusovitina, the Uzbek gymnast who was celebrated this week for the longevity of her career. Chusovitina finally retired at the age of 46, after competing in an astounding eight Olympics. She began in 1992 — five years before Biles was born. And while commentators may chalk her longevity up to her love and commitment to gymnastics, I wonder if the answer is much simpler. Perhaps gymnasts would enjoy longer careers if they weren’t abused to the point where they could no longer compete.

That, I would argue, is what Biles’s critics are missing. Soon after her withdrawal, the reality of her story became clearer, and that story is much darker than her detractors suggest.

In citing the need to focus on her “mental well-being,” Biles mentioned that she was experiencing “a bit of the twisties,” meaning a breakdown in the mind-body connection essential to performing complicated skills. The “twisties,” or aerial disorientation, causes an athlete to lose a sense of her position in the air and can lead to severe injury. It’s also a phenomenon that can be brought on by extreme stress and trauma — the kind Biles herself has endured.

“The trouble with the phrase ‘mental health’ is that it’s an abstraction that allows you to sail right straight over what happened to Simone Biles and, in a way, what is still happening to her,” writes Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins. “To this day, American Olympic officials continue to betray her. They deny that they had a legal duty to protect her and others from rapist-child pornographer Larry Nassar, and they continue to evade accountability in judicial maneuvering. Abuse is a current event for her.”

Call it what it is: Simone Biles is an athlete competing under the combined effects of mental, emotional, sexual, and physical trauma. That her mind-body connection chose this moment to misfire should not surprise anyone.

But consummate athlete and mature woman that she is, Biles also understands the danger that a disoriented mind poses. Instead of pushing through, she had the courage to reject a culture that would win at any cost and say, “No more.”

What’s damning is how many of us mistook her humility and courage for humiliation, self-serving preservation, or idolatry of personal well-being. None of us can know Biles’ motives. We often don’t even understand our own fully. But what we can observe is how she responded to human limitations in a culture that regularly abused them. When we face similar dilemmas — whether in our jobs, ministries, or relationships — we too might have the humility to embrace our own human fragility and the courage to speak truthfully about it.

Christ’s incarnation gives us a model for how to honor the very bodies that we so often disdain. Ultimately, it was his willingness to embrace the limits of human flesh — the weakness, the disease, the disorientation — that made our salvation possible. We should not be surprised, then, when embracing our own limits also leads to freedom and life.

Paul says in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” That line is often invoked to celebrate the triumph of the will, but we might learn to read it in another light. Because in the very next verse, Paul writes this: “Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.”

If humility teaches us to embrace our limits, courage frees us to share them with others. In return, we’re enabled to break cycles of abuse and receive the care we need. On Wednesday night after what critics deemed her biggest failure, Biles tweeted, “The outpouring of love and support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics which I never truly believed before.”

May we all know the same.

Hannah Anderson is the author of Made for More, All That’s Good, and Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul.

Guest Blog: The Night Before and After Christmas

The Night after Christmas, It Was Still Dark
How the story of the shepherds changes our view of suffering.
by Jeff Peabody – November 27, 2020 – Good reading in Christianity Today.

The little Palestinian town of Beit Sahour is believed to sit atop the site where “there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night” (Luke 2:8).  Two churches claim to mark the spot of the angelic visitation.  But that is just geography.  This year I find myself less interested in the where of the fields because I am more concerned with the when — the “at night” Luke briefly mentions.  The shepherds’ experience of darkness, both before and after their trip to the manger, holds special relevance for a Christmas arriving in the waning hours of 2020.

It has been a pretty dark year.  In the midst of already dire global conditions, the pandemic has plunged the world into what has seemed like an endless metaphorical nighttime.  It calls to mind when God brought the plague of darkness on Egypt, describing it to Moses as “darkness that can be felt” (Exodus 10:21).  Once again, something palpable seems to have blanketed the world with all the unknowns, fears, and uncertainties nightfall brings.  And as with most nights, we are weary.

Merry Christmas, right?

Maybe the sentiment is not as incongruous as it feels. Maybe the season of joy is right at home in these conditions. “Advent always begins in the dark,” writes Fleming Rutledge.

For most of my years as a pastor, it has felt as though I have been shepherding at night, in the dark.  No grand visions.  No mapped-out growth strategy.  I have prayed regularly for the light-up-the-sky kind of illumination realized by the Bethlehem shepherds.  Just show me what to do, God, and I will do it.  But my eyes have never been able to focus very far ahead.

That blindness became amplified by all that happened this year, like moving from twilight to midnight.  Suddenly, I could not see two steps in front of me.  Staring into a camera week after week to deliver sermons, I could not even see the flock, let alone the fields.  Each new crisis in the world begged for a response I did not have.  Big decisions and future planning became increasingly difficult, even as the need for them intensified.

The Old Testament book of Joel recounts a disastrous pestilence that wreaked havoc on God’s people.  It brought widespread, horrific destruction. In reflecting on those events, Eugene Peterson observed, “There is a sense in which catastrophe doesn’t introduce anything new into our lives. It simply exposes the moral or spiritual reality that already exists but was hidden beneath an overlay of routine, self-preoccupation, and business as usual.”

The virus we are facing may be novel, but the distress we are experiencing is not.  The preexisting darkness has simply grown thicker, making it more difficult to move.  But immobility is not always bad.  When we cannot go anywhere, we are left with sitting and waiting. And if we are still for any length of time, we are more likely to notice what we would have missed otherwise.

Such as those two little words: “at night.”

That first Christmas night created a watershed between epochs of darkness. There is pre-manger darkness and post-manger darkness.  “The shepherds returned,” Luke says, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told” (Luke 2:20).  After everything they saw, they returned to the place they had started.  In other words, they went back to that dark night.

All the brilliant, phosphorescent glory that lit up the entire sky did not end their experience of darkness.  It was still there, waiting for them on the far side of the manger.  And that was to be expected.  The angels had not visited the shepherds to bring a miraculous halt to the rotation of the earth.  They were not there to banish the night.  Glory displayed for one purpose only: to provide the irresistible prompt to seek out Jesus.  A flash of light showed the way to a greater light.

This, I have realized, is where I have often gotten hung up.  I have been praying for a light that will eradicate the dark altogether and get me out of it. I am looking — aching, at times — for clear, confident revelation that will end my confusion for good.  I have been waiting for God to solve life for me.  But honestly, that is more escapism than seeking God’s leading.  And that is not why he gives us light.  He shines his beams of revelation to show us the path to Jesus, the light of the world.

We can learn to reframe our questions from “Lord, when will this darkness be over?” to “What is pointing me toward Christ?” As we do, we may find there is significantly more light in the room than we realized.

The angel’s message began with the reassurance that there was no need to be afraid because God’s rescue plan was in motion.  It encompassed everything (offering joy for all people) and missed nothing (down to the details of how Jesus was bundled).  God’s grasp of history and his utter command of the situation were fully evident.  The birth of Christ happened before the angels arrived, during the unlit hours of the night.  The angelic announcement may have shattered the gloom with its brightness, but the miraculous arrival of Jesus occurred much like his resurrection: “while it was still dark” (John 20:1).

God is at work before we see him, absolutely unhindered.  Our blindness is not His.  “Even the darkness will not be dark to you,” the psalmist says (Psalm 139:12).  He is not intimidated by all the unknowns of night that stop us in our tracks.

That first Christmas night created a watershed between epochs of darkness.  There is pre-manger darkness and post-manger darkness.

Up until then, no one had ever lived in a world where the Son of God had dwelt among us as a fellow human being.  Prior to the Incarnation, God had not fully revealed himself.  As the shepherds sat out in those fields, they were living in a world that could see no more than the outlines of God’s redemption plan.  The veil had not been torn yet.

But then, as Isaiah predicted, a light dawned on the people sitting in that pre-manger darkness.  The birth of Christ changed everything.  Suddenly, there was physical evidence of spiritual action.  The hopes of endless ages were no longer abstract wishes.  They were about to be fulfilled within the lifespan of a real live person.

It was the reality of Jesus — not the light of the angels — that stuck with the shepherds.  As glorious as the heavenly choir had looked and sounded out in the field, it paled in comparison to the staggering truth the Christ child embodied.  Even as they were filled with wonder, the shepherds were given only the smallest glimpse of what was coming.  Their understanding was limited to whatever promise they could imagine from a newborn baby.  They did not know he would literally calm storms.  They did not see him heal the sick or raise the dead or feed the crowds.  They knew nothing of the Cross, let alone the Resurrection.  God did not show them the Holy Spirit’s work at Pentecost, the inclusion of the nations, or how the gospel would advance tirelessly around the globe for the next 2,000 years.  Yet the shepherds had enough light from that encounter to march back into their dark night rejoicing and praising God.

Sometimes we act as though what we are going through is pre-manger darkness.  When God seems silent, when we are bewildered by our inability to figure out a way forward, we make up a greater void than is truly there.  Because in truth, a staggering amount of light has been shed on Jesus since the shepherds.  History continues to provide both evidence and explanation.

I do not mean to minimize or trivialize anyone’s “dark night of the soul.”  When you are in one, it is painful and disorienting, often to the point of despair.  But as believers, our darkness is always post-manger.  Our darkness is forever against the backdrop of the light of Christ.  What has been shown of him cannot be unrevealed.  And Jesus never leaves our side through each season of darkness.  It is those who love us best who stay with us through our worst.  You know love is real when it shows up in the middle of the night.

Someday, morning will come.  Night never lasts forever.  In the meantime, we have Immanuel, God right here with us.  And that means we can return to the dark again and again, rejoicing and praising God for the light we have and the One who loves us enough to remain.  We can heed the angel’s call to not be afraid of this present darkness or any other.  The one born to us that night is still good news of great joy.

Jeff Peabody is a writer and lead pastor of New Day Church in Northeast Tacoma, Washington.

Angels We Have Hear On High – Pentatonix