Easter: On Resurrection and Ruination

The three of us sat on stiff bleachers with maroon banners hanging over our heads, surrounded by thousands of fellow parents and our soon-to-be college freshmen. The university’s band played a song of celebration a few feet away, and I smiled as I watched the drummers beat out their joy at playing for a full crowd.

Just beyond the thick stone walls of the gym, tree branches swayed in the blush of first bloom. Students sat on checkered blankets sunbathing in the quad. Runners ran circles around buildings. Taxi cabs honked in the distance.

It was a typical spring Sunday for city dwellers, but for those of us who sat waiting, the day held the potential for a pivotal decision. If not for the few parents entering with palm fronds from the chapel, I would’ve entirely forgotten it was Palm Sunday.

Excitement thrummed under the surface in the room, as the president of the university took to the stage to welcome the potential students of the class of 2021.  As we sat with our daughter, I realized that this day could lead us to take our final step towards her future. I expected the president, a jesuit priest, to give us a rah-rah message, one meant to encourage our child’s enrollment with stats and impressive facts about the University. Instead, he met us at this fork in the road, and said something so surprising I’ll never forget it.

“We want to ruin your kids for life. We want to awaken them to the world, so that every day they wake up bothered.”

It wasn’t the message I expected at an admitted student’s day, but it was the Palm Sunday message my soul needed. I have faithfully prayed these convictions over my children and their future, but I fear that I haven’t been as faithful to live these convictions out  in our everyday.

I spend a great deal of time managing my children’s expectations, seeing to their comfort, eliminating pain where possible, serving their life to them rather than teaching them live in service to something greater. All the while praying that their convictions would come from a sincere relationship with Christ, a relationship that should be marked by ruination.

I want my kids ruined for life because of Jesus. I want them awake to the pain and injustice in the world around them, and I want them to wake up every day bothered by it. I want them to realize they have a role in the re-making of the world and in bringing God’s Kingdom here on earth. I want them to wake up every day knowing and walking in the truth of it.

In part, this is the message of Easter–that a life given over to Christ means suffering, sorrow, and bearing the burdens of others, but it also means a righting of wrongs. It means glorious resurrection. In my day-to-day, and in the daily lives of my kids, I’m not sure I have preached the message of Easter with my life as much as I’ve given it lip-service.

As I listened to the president priest, I knew we’d found a home for our daughter. I also knew more work must be done in my own home and heart. I forget that working out my salvation is a daily practice. I came away with his words ringing in my ears as a call to worship with the whole of my life.

May I too, wake up bothered. May I too, be fully awakened. May I be ruined for life for anything other than Jesus.

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Wishing you the happiest Easter! May your day be full of light, joy, and homecoming.

Fame Doesn’t Satisfy the Soul’s Hunger

I read an article recently in which a handful of famous actors and musicians shared their thoughts on fame and life in the public eye. Overwhelmingly, they saw fame as a curse, resulting in a lifestyle they never would have chosen for themselves had they calculated the cost. In most cases fame cost them their friendships, their faith in fellow man, and their freedom.

The soul isn’t made for fame, and yet many of us seek some form of it, thinking it will fill all of the empty places inside of us. So often, we already have everything we need to feel full and satisfied, but our eyes grow larger than what our souls can hold. We stretch against an ever-growing hunger.

While fame isn’t a primary motivation in my life, wanting to be known and admired is important to me in ways that, left unchecked, can become unhealthy. It is the sickness of being fallen and human. I have the love of a good man, the blessing of my children, the support of extended family, the soul-connections of deep friendship, and yet I continue to grasp for more.

When will I sit at the banquet table of my life and taste the sweet abundance spread before me?

“Enough is as good as a feast.” A friend wrote these words, and this truth continues to reverberate in my heart like the clear ringing of a bell. I don’t like this word “enough” and like any good American, I have set my life in opposition to it. I like more, bigger, better. Forget “enough”, forget satisfied. I want excess. Fame. Fortune. Feasting.

My idea of fame and fortune looks different than your average starlet’s, no billboards or magazine covers for me, but it is rooted in the same discontent. It is rooted in the belief that my life should add up to more than the everydayness of it. I forget that when I accepted Christ, I chose to live in an upside down kingdom where the last shall be first and the first shall be last. I am called to become less so that Christ may become more in me.

Enough is as good as a feast, my friend told me. This is love expressed through letters, reminding me to be satisfied in my smallness.

When Our Weakness Becomes A Strength

A few years ago, I joined my daughter’s class for a school field trip to Thomas Edison’s former laboratory here in New Jersey. The word laboratory sounds very clinical and boring, but in reality, it’s a large warehouse of a building, full of rooms fitted with dark wood paneled walls or heavy machinery or musical instruments. It is a delight.

The music room in particular held my attention. Painted strips of wood covered the walls which were lined with black and white photographs. Beneath our feet, worn oak floors bore the scars of a thousand visitors. The room itself held all sorts of instruments and multiple versions of the phonograph. In fact, the number of phonographs sprinkled throughout the entire complex bordered on overkill, until I learned that Edison spent fifty-two years perfecting this particular invention.

He called the phonograph his “baby”.

I thought all of this was amusing, charming even, until the docent made an almost throw-away comment. She said Thomas Edison, inventor of a device that reproduces the sound of music, suffered from extreme hearing loss since his childhood. While not completely deaf, he was severely hearing impaired.

Edison’s biggest weakness became the impetus for birthing his “baby”–his favorite invention plucked from his imagination.

I’ve thought about this off and on for several years, especially during times when I feel ill-equipped for the task at hand, whether it be a challenge in my parenting, creating, working, serving or simply in loving others well. My weakness can be a place where I flourish in spite of myself. This is counter-intuitive, unless I believe, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians,

“For this thing I sought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest on me.”

Allowing the power of Christ to rest on me results in strength, in courage, in tenacity. Edison showed a single-mindedness for fifty-two years, to create while wrestling against his own shortcomings. This is the kind of gumption I want for myself and for my kids. To stick with it. To dig deep into the well of my weakness, and find Christ there offering me a cup of living water to drink.

I read later that Edison could’ve chosen corrective surgery to improve his hearing, and certainly he could have invented a hearing aide. But, he’d grown comfortable with the quiet his weak hearing afforded him. He allowed books, deep thinking, creation, and invention to fill the silence. And we, the recipients of his long labor, are richer for it.

On Cultivating Gentleness

I noticed it in the way she smoothed the hair from Kaitlyn’s face. Her fingertips slipped over the sheen of sweat and tucked the girl’s damp curls away from her contorted features. She touched her child’s body with a gentleness I couldn’t summon after two years of being her daughter’s registered nurse.

Watching her, I realized I’d lost this sense of tenderness in caring for my patients…

To read the rest of this story on the art of gentleness, join me at In Touch Ministries.

Katharina & Martin Luther: A Book Giveaway

**This giveaway is now closed. Congrats to our winner, Michele!**

When Michelle told me she was writing a book about the marriage of Katharina and Martin Luther, I imagined her sitting among stacks and stacks of dry historical documents in a library carrel, possibly stress eating chocolate. I saw her sitting in the center of a swirl of words written by men for men about the historical significance of men. I couldn’t fathom how she would find enough material to write about one woman’s experience during the Protestant Reformation–even if that woman was a runaway nun married to the Protestant reformer Martin Luther.

Very few of Katharina’s own words and letters remain, but out of the copious amount of Martin Luther’s writings and those of his followers, Michelle weaves the strands of Katherina’s  life together to create a fascinating story. Michelle manages to capture the essence of  their marriage as seen through the eyes of observers in their home and through Luther’s private letters. It is thoroughly researched, thoroughly educational, and thoroughly entertaining.

Katharina lived in a time and place when women, however smart or strong-willed or educated, were treated as second class citizens. Marriage and motherhood were their highest (and some would argue, their only) calling. And yet, Katharina influenced her husband and their household in innumerable ways. She was a revolutionary ahead of her time who would not be silenced. When confronted with circumstances beyond her control, she looked for ways to circumvent them. When she encountered error or false speech, she spoke truth. Where she saw opportunity, she reached out and grabbed it.

She is exactly the kind of woman I want my girls to become. Women of valor, of truth, of resistance. Women who work tirelessly, who rise early in prayer, who serve and love and speak light into dark places. Women who are not bound by the words with which men label them, but who rise above those words and recognize themselves as Beloved, Chosen, Accepted, Free.

We live in a time where the messages my girls receive about who they are and their value as women is conflicted and confusing. A time when misogynistic speech rings out from the highest offices, and boys in the classroom repeat what they hear our leaders say. They sit in the middle of a swirl of words spoken by men for men about the significance of men which informs their view of the world and their place in it. They need women like Katharina, who lived in far more challenging circumstances, to speak to them today.

I’m so grateful Michelle sat surrounded by stacks and sifted through the mountains of words. I’m encouraged by Katharina and Martin’s story, and I think you will be too. In honor of strong women everywhere doing hard things, I’d like to gift one reader with a copy of Katharina & Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk. It’s the story of two imperfect people resisting the establishment together for God’s glory. I can’t think of a better time to read it.

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I’m giving away one copy of Michelle’s book, and I would love for you to have it. To enter the drawing either leave a comment here on the blog, or on my Facebook page. In an entirely unscientific method, I will choose one name out of a hat and notify a winner by next Monday, Feb 6th. Happy commenting!