2016: When Death Is On A Roll

As if the sudden deaths of British pop singer George Michael, 53, and American actress Carrie Fisher, 60—just four days apart—weren’t shocking enough, Fisher’s mother, renowned US actress Debbie Reynolds, also passed away yesterday, just one day after her daughter’s death. It was reported that she had suffered a stroke while planning for her beloved daughter’s funeral arrangements and never regained consciousness. She was 84.

The untimely deaths of these three entertainers, all within the span of a week, wrap up a year that has seen the demise of many beloved celebrities. They include rock legends David Bowie and Prince, as well as British actor Alan Rickman of Harry Potter fame. For me, it was the death of American YouTuber Christina Grimmie that affected me the most as I had been following her journey as a singer since she first started.

But while there is nothing surprising about death (after all, people die every day), there’s no way of getting used to it—especially if it involves our loved ones or someone we know.

Perhaps it was the fact that I had just watched Rogue One: A Star Wars Story a day before Fisher’s passing, and Princess Leia (acted by Fisher) was the last person that appeared before the credits rolled. Or maybe it was because Fisher had been in the headlines lately after her latest memoir, The Princess Diarist, revealed that she had had an affair with fellow actor Harrison Ford while filming the original Star Wars trilogy. For some reason, I felt like I had lost a friend when I heard the news of her death.

And then to hear that her mother passed away merely one day later—I can’t even imagine what the family must be going through. I wonder what they had talked about the week before as they gathered around the family table. Did they discuss plans for the future? Their dreams for 2017? Did anyone have any premonition that a double tragedy would happen just a week later?

As I try to wrap my head around this spate of deaths, I reach the same conclusion I had three years ago when my own father passed away after a massive stroke: Death is no respecter of persons. It can strike anyone anytime, anywhere.

Even as I write this, I’m fully cognizant of the fact that my turn on earth could be up anytime. I may not make it into 2017. I may not be able to achieve or complete what I plan to. Life is fleeting. Tomorrow is never a certainty. Whatever I have now is temporary.

What’s with all this doomsday talk? you must be thinking. We’re on the cusp of the new year, you’re probably saying, let’s look forward to 2017 with anticipation and positivity.

I cannot agree more. But if it’s the “new year” we’re waiting for in order to make new resolutions, to set our priorities right, and to devote time to what really matters, I’d say we might be missing an important lesson.

If not for anything, this year’s spate of deaths should sound the alarm that life is fleeting. We simply cannot afford to put off what’s important. Let’s not busy ourselves with urgent but unimportant stuff. Let’s find time for the important (but not necessarily urgent) matters.

The parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21) highlights the temporal nature of our earthly lives and what our preoccupations should be—certainly not our earthly possessions. Have we been spending our time, effort, and resources on storing treasures in heaven? Do we pursue God’s kingdom and live for others?

In Mitch Albom’s memoir of his sociology professor Morrie Schwartz, Tuesdays with Morrie, he quotes something his late professor said which has stuck with me all this while: “When you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”

I wonder how differently Michael, Fisher, and Reynolds would have chosen to spend their last days had they known those were their last. How would we spend our days differently if we knew they were our last?


US Election Results: Letter to All American Christian Voters

️Photo by : Blake Wisz
Written By Jenna Wiley, USA

Dear Fellow American Christian Voter:

I’ve never liked division.

Wanting to put my dislike of math to the test, I recently watched a short video on the basics of long division. The warm feeling of elementary school nostalgia quickly turned to horror as the second step of the equation approached, dropping down numbers from random places and adding in some zeros with no rationale (this may be my interpretation).

I stopped the video at 1 minute and 59 seconds.

Division separates the bigger number into smaller parts.

Division slices the pizza into 8 pieces, obliging you to share.

Division splits the possessions of two people who decide to go their separate ways when they find their marriage isn’t working out.

Division cuts food down into serving sizes, reducing the enjoyment of eating greatly.

I don’t like division.

Unfortunately, over the past year, slicing up pizza into too-small serving sizes have been the least of my worries when it comes to division.

I have watched the American people break apart into smaller, weaker, angrier units. Many of us have pulled away from each other and into our own corners, dukes up, ready to fight.

Over controversial issues. Over political parties. Over Presidential candidates.

The division that has broken my heart most of all, however, is the division within the Christian community over this election.

I have read of battles between family members carried out on social media, and of words exchanged that I would never repeat. Jesus followers have accused and called each other names, and relationships have been broken over this election.

It has been messy.

So now, the election is over. Trump won and you could be experiencing a variety of emotions. Maybe you’re overjoyed because your candidate is now the President of the United States. Or maybe you’re overwhelmed with anger and fear, believing that we are in what you would call a “nightmare” situation. Or maybe you’re a little like me—wondering how we even got to this point in the first place.

The brokenness of the world shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, but as believers, there needs to come a time when we choose to rise above it and refuse to allow the world to divide us any longer.

Many of us have spent the past year trying to point others to the candidate of our choosing. We have been sharing articles, debating, and researching, in an effort to convince others why our opinion is the right one. We have tried to point people to our view of the “right” way for the past few months.

But now that the decision is made, the only person we should be pointing others to is Jesus.

For He is the only one who can fix us, mend us, and make us stand united as brothers and sisters in Christ.

He is in control and He is sovereign, and as His people we need to put aside our differences on the issues that divide us and the opinions that segregate us.

This is not to say we have to agree on everything. We never will.

But we can choose to love one another the way Jesus loves us. We can choose to trust Him in the midst of fear and in times of uncertainty. We can choose to join hands with people who share differing opinions, yet share the greatest common denominator of all: a place in the family of Jesus Christ.

As Christians, we can cling to the One who is faithful and keeps every promise to His children. We can cling to each other instead of pushing each other away.

We are in this together. We can allow division to break us down into smaller, separate pieces, or we can allow our Savior to unite us in spite of our differences.

Dear Fellow Christian Democrat, Republican, Libertarian . . . we have the next four years—and until the day Jesus comes back—to use our lives to point others to Christ.

Let’s link hands and walk forward together. Let’s live in love, show grace, and be a light to a world in darkness.

Let’s fight against division and show the world what unity in Christ looks like.


Brangelina split: The end of Love?

Or so that is what some news reports have been saying, after news emerged yesterday that Hollywood’s golden couple, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, are ending a two-year marriage—after 12 years and six children together.

According to documents obtained by various news agencies, A-lister actress and director Jolie is pulling the plug on her marriage to actor Brad Pitt because of “irreconcilable differences”. Other news media suggest that Jolie’s decision—which her attorney described vaguely as being made “for the health of the family”—could have been triggered by differences in parenting style or Pitt’s anger problems and substance abuse issues.

Jolie has reportedly asked for custody of their six children and visitation rights to be granted to Pitt; she did not ask for spousal support. What about Pitt? Well, reports have noted that he is “very saddened” by the divorce and is most concerned about the “well-being of kids”.

News of their split has sent shockwaves all over the world, with many expressing sadness over the end of Brangelina, as they have been dubbed by the media. But why should they? After all, if we’re being honest, Hollywood marriages and divorces are, well, a dime a dozen.

Perhaps it’s because for once, we believed that Brangelina would be different. Throughout their 12-year relationship, we’ve seen the couple’s commitment to their professional work, humanitarian work, each other, and their children. As one Independent article put it, “Despite being astronomically wealthy and living thousands of miles away from the average Brit, Brangelina’s relationship was perhaps the most aspirational of all – no tantrums, no screaming matches, no huge betrayals, just getting on with life, even with the stresses and strains of illness, operations and six children to boot.” In short, they appeared to be the exemplary Hollywood couple.

That’s probably why many millennials have been reacting to the news of Brangelina’s divorce with the idea that “If they can’t do it, no one can”. And that’s perhaps why many news outlets have chosen to accompany their headlines on the split with lines like “Love is officially dead” and “Love ends today”.

But not everyone agrees. As Mashable’s writer Martha Tesema writes, “Love is far from dead. It’s very much alive, blossoming within the thousands of other high-profile power couples in the world we can look up to in awe.”

Tesema is right on one thing—love is far from dead. The end of Brangelina does not mean that love has ceased to exist. As much as we are in awe of everything they’ve achieved, they’re mere mortals—just like every one of us. They make mistakes. They fight. They break up.

But to take comfort in the fact that love continues to be “alive” because the marriages of other high-profile power couples are still thriving is downright naïve—and, may I add, foolish. If not for anything else, Brangelina’s split should sound the alarm bells in our minds that nobody is immune to broken relationships. Regardless of whether we’re the President of America or Britain’s most well-known footballer, we’re all fallible. By our own strength, we can never guarantee the constancy of our love for our partners—and vice versa.

Who then should we look to? It’s obvious enough, isn’t it?


Love is far from dead—because of Christ. It’s very much alive, blossoming within those who have received Christ’s love.

So let’s take heart, not in ourselves, but in the One whose love will never fail. Because He first loved us, we can keep on loving (1 John 4:19).

Photo credit: Filmstiftung via Foter.com / CC BY


What the Olympics is Really About

What would you do if you accidentally collided into a fellow competitor in the most important race of your life? Get up as quickly as possible and try to make up for lost time? Or stop and help your fellow competitor up?

Well, two track Olympians, New Zealander Nikki Hamblin and American Abbey D’Agostino, chose the latter during their 5,000 meters qualifying heat at the ongoing 2016 Rio Olympics, a couple of days ago. As a result, their act has been lauded by media outlets all over the world as an embodiment of the Olympic Spirit.

Here’s a quick replay: During the race, Hamblin had her legs clipped by D’Agostino, and both women stumbled and fell. D’Agostino got up quickly and helped Hamblin to her feet, encouraging her to finish the race. Later on, Hamblin was seen encouraging D’Agostino who suffered an ankle injury as a result. Both ended up last.

Photos of the pair helping each other up and hugging at the end of the finish line have been splashed everywhere by major news outlets. Hamblin spoke highly of D’Agostino’s kindness, telling reporters: “I went down, and I was like, ‘What’s happening? Why am I on the ground?’. Then suddenly, there’s this hand on my shoulder [and D’Agostino saying], ‘Get up, get up, we have to finish this.’ And I’m like, ‘Yup, yup, you’re right. This is the Olympic games. We have to finish this.”

As a New Zealander, I could not have been more proud of the 28-year-old track athlete, who epitomized the Kiwi spirit of willingness to lend a hand to those in need. But what was even more heartening to read was D’Agostino’s explanation about her response—which she attributes to God. In a statement posted by the USA Track and Field website, she said, “Although my actions were instinctual at that moment, the only way I can and have rationalized it is that God prepared my heart to respond that way. This whole time here he’s made clear to me that my experience in Rio was going to be about more than my race performance – and as soon as Nikki got up I knew that was it.”

And there’s a happy ending—Olympics organizers have given both Hamblin and D’Agostino places to run in the finals on Saturday after their teams submitted protests.

Reading about how Hamblin and D’Agostino helped each other in their moments of distress reminded me of the verse, “two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls, and has no one to help them up,” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).

How often do we stop to “help each other up”? We’re not just talking about physically helping a friend who has tripped and skinned her knees, but friends who may be going through tough patches in life. Will we stop to listen, comfort, encourage, or give them a hand?

A friend of mine has been looking desperately for a part-time job, but has been unable to find any suitable employment because she has to plan her work around her toddler. Not many employers are able to offer such flexi-hours. But I cannot remember the last time I had rung her to see how she was doing. My friend has “fallen down”, and I have done nothing to pick her up.

If I were D’Agostino, would I have helped Hamblin up? Maybe. Or I might have been tempted to continue running because I wouldn’t want to miss my chance of Olympic victory.

We live in a rat-race economy in which the person who snoozes, loses. But the Bible reminds us that we are to take time to look out for our friends’ well-being.

By stopping to help each other, Hamblin and D’Agostino may have gone home without any hope of any medals. But the actions the two displayed on that day were worth their weight in gold.