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The Wonder Report: July 30, 2021
Happy Friday! It’s been a hot one here in central Indiana, but thankfully today we have a little relief. Hope you’ve stayed cool wherever you are. Thanks for joining me for another Wonder Report.
Before we jump in, I wanted to let you know that I need to cancel the Zoom call we had scheduled for next week. I’ve been making all my plans with an asterisk this summer anyway, but as Mom has continued to decline, I expect my attention will need to turn toward her even more in the coming days. I’m sincerely sorry, as I was looking forward to the conversation.
Now on with this week’s issue.
I’ve attended two funerals this summer, and at both, the pastors preached from John 11: the death and resurrection of Lazarus.
I’ll admit that both times I cringed a bit at the mention of the man from Bethany and his two sisters. I cringed, because I knew in both cases the family members standing around these caskets also wished Jesus had gotten there sooner and done something miraculous, just like Mary and Martha had. “Lord, if You had been here, my brother [mother, father, friend] would not have died” (John 11:21).
Unlike the two sisters, though, the funerals I attended did not end with the crowds rushing to the tomb and Jesus commanding the dead to come forth. Instead, they’ve been stuck at verse 35: “Jesus wept.” And those of us gathered around the casket wept, too. We’re still weeping, in fact.
Without the happy ending, what comfort can this story offer? Especially to those who’ve just buried their loved ones?
In A Habit Called Faith: 40 Days in the Bible to Find and Follow Jesus, Jen Pollock Michel offers a few thoughts about the purpose of this story, not only as a hopeful text for funerals but also as a way to bolster our faith in our every day lives. For one, this story highlights Jesus as both fully God and fully human.
“Jesus is God in the flesh, and he has the power to raise the dead. But Jesus is also God in the flesh, revealing what it means to be truly human.”
Jen says this story also shows us the ways that faith itself is a “deeply human venture—as something dynamic rather than static.”
“Faith in Jesus is not a once-and-done proposition. It is not only decided once; it is decided daily. It is not only past; it is also continuously present. It is both a conversion—and also a habit. We choose belief every day, choosing to trust that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and that we can trust his voice.”
Finally, the story of Lazarus’ resurrection is actually not a story about Lazarus. It is a story about Jesus, and ultimately it’s a story about all of us.
“[Lazarus’] death and resurrection are meant to foreshadow another death and resurrection: a resurrection requiring no human hands to roll away the stone and unbind the graveclothes.”
While Lazarus’s resurrection offers little hope to the grieving—for certainly, even Lazarus himself went on to die again—Jesus’s resurrection offers the greatest hope to all of us—for certainly even those we’ve buried will live again in Him.
That doesn’t mean we don’t grieve in the face of death—even Jesus, knowing what he was about to do, wept over his friend Lazarus—but we don’t “grieve as indeed the rest of mankind do, who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13).
“I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus told Martha, “the one who believes in Me will live, even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die” (John 11:25-26). We believe, Lord, help our unbelief.
Summer Reading Club
Let’s discuss Jen Pollock Michel’s A Habit Called Faith: 40 Days in the Bible to Find and Follow Jesus.
This week, we read Days 26-30 of the book. If you’re reading along (or even if you aren’t), consider responding to one or more of these questions in the comment section by clicking on the button below:
Does Jesus’s promise of resurrection and eternal life feel like a pie-in-the-sky hope—or something to be trusted as true?
How often do you think about the promise of resurrection and eternal life? How much does it impact the daily habit of your faith?
What character do you most relate to in this story: Mary, Martha, Lazarus, the Apostles, the mourners, the skeptics?
What questions does this story raise and leave unanswered for you? How do these impact your faith in Christ?
Here’s the Reading Schedule for the rest of the summer:
Week 7 (July 31-August 6): Days 31-35
Week 8 (August 7-13): Days 36-40
This and That
Stop by here for articles, essays, and more to give you hope, to make you think, to grow your faith, and as always, to help root you in love.
I just have one article to share this week: A Moveable Courage by Amy Lee for The Cultivating Project. This beautiful essay struck a chord of longing in me: I am in need of so much courage for all that’s ahead of me. It’s one of my biggest prayers in this season.
From the essay: “Sometimes doors shut. Sometimes weather and world events reach into our homes and prod us out onto uncharted pathways. If the unfamiliar and predictable are bound to come, perhaps the best way to meet them is to check the anchor of our hearts before they come to the crisis point — to lash ourselves to a solid mast and prepare to stay the course.”
What I’m Reading
Check out these books I'm currently reading or have just finished. I'll only share resources I highly recommend ... and I'd love to hear your recommendations, too!
The Round House: A Novel by Louise Erdrich
I’m new to Louise Erdrich, and this novel isn’t her newest or necessarily her most celebrated. But it was recommended by a friend, and now I’m an Erdrich fan. Erdrich, an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, a federally recognized tribe of the Anishinaabe, is an author who writes about the Native American experience.
The setting of The Round House is the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota, where a terrible crime has been committed against the main character’s mother. The story is part mystery, part coming of age, and part literary masterpiece. I was transported by Erdrich’s descriptions of the setting and characters, and I was carried along by the twists and turns of the complex plot. And I’ll definitely be reading more from Erdrich after The Round House.
From the publisher: One of the most revered novelists of our time—a brilliant chronicler of Native-American life—Louise Erdrich returns to the territory of her bestselling, Pulitzer Prize finalist The Plague of Doves, transporting readers to the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. It is an exquisitely told story of a boy on the cusp of manhood who seeks justice and understanding in the wake of a terrible crime that upends and forever transforms his family. Riveting and suspenseful, arguably Erdrich's most accessible novel to date, The Round House is a page-turning masterpiece of literary fiction—at once a powerful coming-of-age story, a mystery, and a tender, moving novel of family, history, and culture.
When I Write …
Finally, check out this section for a summer series just for writers called When I Write. I’ve invited fellow writers from The Redbud Writers Guild to join me with a brief explainer from their own writing, along with a prompt for you to try — even if you aren’t a writer.
This week, welcome Lucinda Secrest McDowell.
When I write, I rely on the techniques of good storytelling. Just because I write non-fiction doesn’t mean I can’t tell stories. Narrative non-fiction employs good storytelling to offer an important takeaway.
While strong characterization, dialogue, and context are important, the key is in the details. Details are what help a writer to heed the advice of “Show, don’t tell.”
Be specific. For instance, compare these two sentences:
1. I walked to my truck that morning and drove to work.
2. The sun had barely made an appearance and it was in that in-between time of faint light peeking through the darkness that I wearily shuffled out to my beat-up red pickup truck, wondering yet again if those worn-out tires would get me to work before the shift bell rang.
Both sentences get me to my truck and off to work. But which one tells you more of the story? Obviously, #2 with more details:
It’s barely morning – crack o’dawn.
I’m tired and not all that eager to go.
My vehicle is an old truck with worn tires.
I do shift work and can’t afford to be late.
We communicate more clearly when we use the right words – not just “I walked to my truck,” but “I wearily shuffled.” Descriptive words.
But to provide details in your non-fiction story you must be a person who chooses to notice. To slow down and be attentive to life. And then to filter those details through your own mind so that you can portray them realistically, empathetically, or critically to others.
Our readers don’t want us to tell them how to feel something or even what to feel. They want us to help them experience the situation so vividly that the lesson or emotion is naturally awakened within them. Good writing draws a picture for us and pulls us into the scene.
Now you try. This prompt will help you develop detailed storytelling in your own writing:
1. Write about a recent experience in which you learned something new. I don’t want to hear about what you learned; I want to actually experience it with you.
2. Draw me into the scene from the very first words with vivid descriptions of sights, smells, sounds… Help me be there with you – setting the scene not only of where you are physically, but also what you are feeling and thinking currently – where you are emotionally and spiritually as you begin to receive something new and unexpected.
3. Show me the breakthrough or lesson or “new thing” as though you were writing a story. Don’t preach but help me understand why the lightbulb went on in your mind and heart.
4. Finally, reveal an intersect between what you learned and what God says in the Bible. (This is what makes your story appropriate to use in a blog, devotional or speaking presentation.)
Lucinda Secrest McDowell is a storyteller and seasoned mentor who engages both heart and mind while “Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity & Strength.” A graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Furman University, McDowell is the award-winning author of 15 books including Soul Strong, Life-Giving Choices, Dwelling Places, and Ordinary Graces. She’s also a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and AWSA, co-directs the annual spiritual retreat reNEW – retreat for New England Writing & Speaking, and blogs weekly at www.LucindaSecrestMcDowell.com.
Well, you’ve come to the end of another Wonder Report! Thanks again for sharing this time with me. If you’d like to send me a note or ask a question, you can hit reply and end up in my inbox. Or you can also leave a comment on this newsletter, which will live in the archive over on Substack. It’s one of my favorite features of this platform.
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Until next time,