A Wall, a Window, a Door...and Whooping Joy


I’ve been thinking about walls and windows and doors lately. 

No, we’re not building a house.  I’ve seen a number of people “hit the wall” recently, in various ways (and I seem to do it myself all too often).  We’ve also had some precious times with grandchildren this winter . . . I love driving up to the house in New Hampshire and seeing eager little faces watching out the window for us to come. And oh yes: we’re getting ready for a trip to Ireland soon to see our family there.  I just can’t wait to walk through the door into their house and be engulfed by hugs and smiles and tangles of bodies in the joy of happy reunion.

Also, it’s Easter week as I write this.  In the past 10 days or so, there have been too many funerals: A much-too-young husband and father cruelly snatched from his family by a car crash on slippery roads.  A much-too-young mother slipping away after a long courageous battle with cancer.  Our daughter-in-law’s grandfather.

I keep thinking of author Peter Marshall’s unforgettable proclamation that because of Easter, death is no longer a wall, but a door. 

And I am, of course, reading Walter Wangerin’s Reliving the Passion again.  He writes of the paradox of the window of heaven being opened to us even as the heavens were, for a few horrific moments, closed against Jesus on the cross, becoming a door into heaven for us: “a doorway made out of nails and wood, a crossing, a cross” (p. 134).

Wangerin also writes of joy, of part of the purpose of Lent being that we prepare for joy.  Against the backdrop of all these funerals, against the backdrop of my own life, amidst a world of walls, his words ring truer than ever this year:

“The difference between shallow happiness and a deep, sustaining joy is sorrow.  Happiness lives where sorrow is not.  When sorrow arrives, happiness dies.  It can’t stand pain.  Joy, on the other hand, rises from sorrow and therefore can withstand all grief.  Joy, by the grace of God, is the transfiguring of suffering into endurance and of endurance into character, and of character into hope—and the hope that has become our joy does not (as happiness must for those who depend on it) disappoint us.”   (p. 31)

This is the joy we celebrate at Easter.  A joy birthed out of the Hope and Triumph of our resurrected Lord.  A durable, stubborn joy for all seasons.  Not only the endless winter we’ve had (and still have!) in the Northeast.  But a joy that sustains us even in our grief. Wangerin, again:

“Grief, while you are grieving, lasts forever.  But under God, forever is a day.  Weeping, darling Magdalene, may last the night.  But joy cometh with the sunrise—and then your mourning shall be dancing, and gladness shall be the robe around you. Wait.  Wait.”  (p. 138)

“Whooping joy,” Wangerin called it, describing the exhilaration he felt as a young child when his pastor father read the climax of the Easter story.  Because of the window and the door, because of the triumph of the Resurrection,  I wish you “whooping joy” this Easter—and far beyond.

Mom-mirrors of Dangerous Grace

Nothing has revealed my sinfulness and need of a Savior like being a mom.  Parenting my children showed me aspects of myself that I never knew were there--and didn’t like much!  I never knew, for example, that I had a problem with anger until I had kids.  In my teacher-life, I’d had plenty of students that pushed my buttons.  But never the way my 2-year-old or 10-year-old children could.

Walter Wangerin's book, "Reliving the Passion"

Maybe that’s why I was so struck by one of my Lenten readings this week from Walter Wangerin’s Reliving the Passion.  Wangerin points out that one of the reasons for reliving the Passion of our Lord during Lent is that it helps us to see our sin.  He talks about how his relationship with his wife becomes a mirror in which he can see, when he sins against her, the suffering his sin has caused.   A mirror that hides nothing and breaks through his denials and excuses.   He calls it a mirror of dangerous grace.

That’s what my family is to me.  My husband—and especially my children—are mirrors of dangerous grace.  When I put self ahead of them—or even them ahead of God, a subtle but tempting idol—I see in their faces and behavior both my sin and its consequences.   I see my desperate need of a Savior.   A Savior Who actually chose to bear the consequences of my sin (while my kids, of course, had no choice).

When I apologize to my children, as I’ve had to do countless times, and receive their forgiveness, I am reminded of my need to confess to God and be forgiven.  And I learn what the freedom of forgiveness feels like.

I’m also reminded of my constant, daily, moment-by-moment need of Jesus.  Recently my daughter, the mother of a 3-year-old and 6-month-old, posted on her Facebook page:  “My needs today--sweat, coffee, Jesus.”  A friend commented: “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”  Two moms who know what their deepest needs are.   Sort of a “severe mercy” (borrowing from  C. S. Lewis) that we receive by being a mom.

I suspect the words will haunt me throughout Lent: dangerous grace.  Dangerous because I see my sin in all its awful reality and realize that (Was it Luther who said this?) “We carry His nails in our pockets.”  Grace because He came.  He died.  He rose again.  He forgives.  He lavishes His grace upon us.  He grows us all the way into Glory.

It snowed this week in Wisconsin.  Normally not an unusual event here.  But we’ve had little snow so far this year.  So when I woke up yesterday morning with a winter wonderland in my back yard, it took my breath away.  All the dreary, shabby winter had been covered with pure, sparkling snow.

“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.”  (Isaiah 1:18)  Thank you, Jesus, for mirrors of dangerous grace.  Thank you that I can say with the Psalmist: “wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”  (Psalm 51:7)