Choosing Life When All We Can See is Death

It’s “spring” in Minnesota which means when I woke up this morning and it was gray and cold my first thought was, “Thank God it’s not snowing or raining again.”

Spring in Minnesota looks like a boat-load of ugly.


Yes, this is the mountain of soot-covered snow still in our parking lot.  We’re thinking we could raise money for missions if we take bets on the date it will finally be gone (and 4th of July is not out of the question).

It does NOT seem like an easy time to choose life.  Or to remember that life is there, beneath the surface, hidden in the ugliness of brown dirt.  It’s hard to remember that God WILL actually transform that ugliness at some point in the near future.


It’s much the same with seasons, or days of our life.  We can recite “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him.” but we think, “HOW in the WORLD is God going to change this mistake, this sin, this pain, this relationship and bring LIFE and Beauty from it???  How will God redeem it at all?” Continue reading

Learning From Those Who are Dying and Those Who Are Living

On Tuesday some dear friends welcomed their first baby, Nel.  New life, greeted with great joy.IMG_5900

This morning, Wednesday, we got word that a 93 year old friend had entered the kingdom of heaven overnight.  He had a mind as sharp as our polar vortex wind, but the body of a helpless infant.  The last time we visited him he had been in hospice at home for over a month and when we saw him he felt like he was just. done.  He was ready to greet death with great joy.

Upon Dallas Willard’s death, John Ortberg wrote of him:

“He (Dallas) said that a person is a series of conscious experiences, and that for the one who trusts and follows Jesus, death itself has no power to interrupt this life, for Jesus said that the one who trusts in him will not taste death.  Dallas died on May 8, 2013. I’m not sure if anyone has told him yet.” Continue reading

One Word and God’s Word

As you read this I’m in Florida for a long weekend.  Ostensibly for a fund-raiser for World Vision, but let’s be honest, I’ll be with friends and the temperature will be above 30 degrees farenheit.  I’m not suffering for Jesus here.


“Choosing life” is easy with beauty all around you.  Vibrant color, warm pavement under bare feet, up-lifting conversations.  But this week, living in the left-hand picture hasn’t been all Bougainvillea, sunshine, and Calamari.  Some experiences felt dismissive, some choices by others that felt unjust.  Not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things, but a little bumpy nevertheless. The kind of thing many, many people experience daily for years and years.

How can we not deny the “death” parts, but still choose life in healthy, non-Pollyanna ways?  Still keep perspective? Continue reading

Sitting with Dirty Hands

As I write this it’s 10 p.m.  I’m in Lusaka, Zambia, sitting outside with John at our hotel trying to take in the day.  There’s a small alligator in the hotel pond next to us and a gigantic cock roach who keeps coming around our feet, but we’re trying to ignore them and pay attention to other things.

Paying attention is a big deal any day of the week for me, but even more so on these trips.  And so, as a group we’re trying to do a version of the Examen each evening, looking for the places we’ve failed to cooperate with God in His goodness, and the places we’ve been present to Him, partnering with Him in His work.

Frankly, it’s darn easy to be present to…me.  My comfort, my will, my convenience, my agenda…But pay attention to Jesus?  Not so much.

And then you add in a team of folks you’re just getting to know and visits everyday with desperately poor but faithful people in another culture?  It’s kind of like playing one of those video games where you’re a race car driver and on the screen you see all these lights and images rushing at you as you try to steer the vehicle. Continue reading

When God’s Good Work Doesn’t Seem Good

Tuesday morning at 2:11 a.m. our friends’ baby took one last breath and slipped into the hands of Jesus.  Gentle, healing hands much bigger than ours.

Her parents have known for six months as she fought to grow in her mama’s tummy, that short of a miracle, her breaths would be few, if at all.

Every time the doctors asked if they wanted to abort, they gently said “No”, grateful when the question stopped coming.  They are strong.  They cling to Jesus.

With a good idea of what was ahead, they read with faith and heartache, “I knit you together in your mother’s womb.  You are fearfully and wonderfully made.”  But she was. Continue reading

Christmas Funeral

Dear Friends,                                                                                                                            I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, planning to post it today.                                             And then the Connecticut shooting happened.                                                                     And we’re reeling, wailing, mourning, grasping for answers and comfort.  No words are adequate.  So I want to be clear that this post is not in response to recent events, but nevertheless, I pray may be some small encouragement.

Here’s the thing.  I hate funerals.  I avoid them like a cat avoids water.  I really don’t like them.

I know they’re important and showing up to grieve with the family is good, but still…I’m just being honest.

Friday I had to go to a funeral.  The son of some friends of ours was killed riding his bicycle.  We love them and our kids grew up together.  It was just a freak accident, as they say.

Corey was a troubled young man who struggled with mental illness all his life, and so, in a sense, his death was a relief from his torment, an escape to peace with Jesus who he had claimed as his Savior.

Still…Both John and I had a hard time getting through the service.

As the words of Mark Shultz’s song “He’s My Son” bounced off the windows of our beautiful sanctuary decorated with greens and twinkle lights for Advent, we thought of our own girls, our own prayers, our attempts to protect them, our parenting mistakes…

I’m down on my knees again, tonight.  I’m hoping this prayer will turn out right…

Can you hear me?  Can you see him?  Please don’t leave him.  He’s my son.

How do you make sense of it all?  How do you survive the death of one of your babies?

I just don’t know.

But here was the biggest thing about Friday and that funeral...  In the midst of that tremendous, palpable pain at church, there was also an overwhelming sense of ….Emmanuel.

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A Near Death Experience

There’s a prerequisite for heaven.  It’s called death.

You remember that line from the movie, Princess Bride?  “There’s dead and then there’s mostly dead.”

The other day I realized I was only mostly dead.  Or even less than that.  Maybe just a smidge dead.

But I wanted to be SEEN as totally dead.  Dead to self.  To selfishness.  To self-centeredness.

Several times in the course of two days I gave time and effort and gave up comfort to go out of my way and serve someone.

And you know what?  It didn’t seem to matter at all.  No one said “thanks”, much less threw a parade.

The kid I tutor was rude and uncooperative.  The meal I made for someone didn’t fit their dietary restrictions.  And, and, and…

And my bratty 13-year-old self, wanted a high five or at least a little “Woohoo!” from Jesus.  And by that I mean from everyone around me.

The main person I really wanted to serve was myself.

I wanted the image of serving others, and the perk of being noticed and admired.

I wanted it to look like I had a shiny outside but my inside was pretty gross…maggoty in fact.

Have you ever recognized this in yourself?  Maybe once?

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Looking for Life and Death and Maybe Jesus

I’m taking a little August sabbatical.  I pray you’ll be blessed by a repost from last year on a Spirit Stretch Friday…

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Communion Debacle our daughters experienced at church.  It made me think about how hard it can be to truly enter into this sacrament and be present to God in the moment…reflecting on His grace and our sin.

Frankly, it’s darn easy to be present to…me.  My comfort, my will, my convenience, my agenda…But Jesus?  Not so much.  Are you with me?

Continue reading

How do you prepare for Easter?

Do you ever feel like an Easter failure?  I do.

I’m not a very good Easter person.

It doesn’t help that usually the season in Minnesota is exceedingly ugly and inevitably it sleets or snows on Easter morning which makes celebrating resurrection and new life a little tough, but still…

Every year I pray to more fully enter into a deeper gut-understanding of what Christ did for me.  And what it means.

And I feel guilty that I don’t FEEL it more deeply.  That I’m not more horrified at my sin.  That I can’t better enter into the pain of the cross.

I pray.  I read the accounts of Jesus’ suffering for me.  And I wonder, with Paul, why “God didn’t lose His temper and do away with the whole lot of us.  Instead, immense in mercy, and with incredible love, He embraced us.  He took our sin – dead lives and made us alive in Christ.  He did this all on His own, with no help from us!” (Eph. 2:4-6 MSG)

It’s just incomprehensible.

How can any of us grasp this?  Both how wrong we are and how much we’re loved?

If I had to choose a life verse, I’d probably choose Deuteronomy 30:19 and 20 “This day I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him. For the Lord is your life…”

Choose life.  I’m all about life.  I want to choose life-giving actions, words, relationships, experiences…

But as I’ve been reflecting on Holy Week, it’s all about the death that we must journey through to get to life.  So I’m thinking that in order to prepare to celebrate the resurrection of Easter, this week it would be good to choose death.   In a way.

I have a few ideas, of how to do Easter with Jesus, but they’re just awkward attempts…kind of like when I’m throwing bean bags playing Cornhole and have no form, but am all about hopeful.

As we move into Holy Week, I’d really love to hear from you what you are doing to enter in, to prepare your hearts.  Here are a few of my “death practices”…

1.  I wrote on Ash Wednesday about my non-Catholic self, processing Lent.  Yesterday I told Katy and Maggie that I was contemplating a fruit and yogurt fast for Holy week to make myself more aware of loss and to cleanse my body as a mirror of the cleansing of my soul that Jesus makes possible.  I was nervous to tell anyone because I’m terrible at any kind of fast, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be held accountable and I was relieved when I told them because they were like “You can’t do THAT, Mom!  That’s unhealthy!” and they gave me an easy out if I wanted it, but I’m choosing different kinds of fasts – “losing” something each day throughout the week – food, internet, phone, t.v….

2.  I’m “Examening”.  I’m not an icon gal, but I’ve found this palm cross on my bedside table is a great reminder to practice the Examen before I go to sleep – to look back over my day, replaying the different interactions like video clips, paying attention to when I felt the most alive to Jesus and when He seemed absent because I let sin get in the way.  I always do this looking for life and praying with gratitude, but this week in particular I want to make sure I’m paying attention to death.  To the sin I need to grieve and ask forgiveness for.

3.  I’m trying to enter into the pain of friends and family who are experiencing loss and death right now.  These are the people I want to be praying for, listening to, sitting with, and writing to this week.

4.  And I’m trying to (ever so inadequately) walk this week of loss with Jesus, through a couple favorite devotionals that simply invite me into Scripture, lectio-like.  No commentary.

These are just my feeble attempts to do Easter with Jesus.  But the good news is, even if I fail at all of them, even if I still don’t really “get” it, Jesus will still rise on Sunday and each time I mess up I can be forgiven and He’ll say, “Let’s start again.”

Please share with us…what are you doing to prepare for Easter?

Necessary Endings?

One of the most stretching things for my spirit is letting go.  I’m reflecting, in this season on change, and death, and release.  And the hope of new seasons.  Will you join me?  Praying today, with hands open, palms down, relinquishing the dead things I may be clinging to.  Shame, control, past pain, unhealthy relationships…thankful that God is a God of life and hope.  A God who changes old to new.

“Oh God of endings,                                                                                                                                                            you promised to be with me always,                                                                                    even to the end of time.                                                                                                        Move with me now in these occasions of last things, of shivering vulnerabilities and letting go…

…Be with me in my end of things,

dead ways,
 dead words,                                                                                                                                   dead self I hold so tightly,                                                                                                        defend so blindly,                                                                                                                          fear losing so frantically…”                                                                                                         Excerpt from Guerillas of Grace by Ted Loder



This day I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Now choose life so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him.  For the Lord is your life.” Deut. 30:19-20.