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December 31 2012

I’ve been reading the same novel for way too many months. Kristin Lavransdatter is a sweeping epic of a novel: one woman’s life in 14th century Norway, from girlhood to death. Ultimately it’s the story of how the main character’s one tragic decision as a sixteen-year-old leads to a life of broken relationships (with her parents, her husband, her future children) and to great loss.

It’s also the story of how it doesn’t seem possible that the main character could ever have chosen otherwise. Her passion was too strong. Could she ever have made a better choice? And if she had, could she really have been happier?

I’m finally nearing the end of the 1168 pages. And I’m overwhelmed by its lack of redemption (at least at this point). Where is the mercy? Kristin Lavransdatter has been striving her whole life to undo the decision she made as a young woman. But she can’t. Her life has too many layers. When our sin braids itself into the lives of our children, the futures of our marriages, the history we share with our parents, the judgment of our community, we cannot rescue ourselves and we certainly can’t rescue those who have been shaped by our failed choices.

In order for redemption to be real, it has to be cosmic. It has to happen both inside and outside ourselves. And true personal redemption is always communal as well. It has to weave itself through my spirit and also through the spirits of those I’ve hurt.

And if we believe in Jesus, we believe that somehow that great cosmic redemption happens (is happening still…) on the cross. What in the world does that mean?

We all need story to teach us about grace.

There are moments when the concept of grace is beyond me. Who am I to ever understand it? Who am I to even claim to believe it?

But then, I long for it. I long for it in every story I encounter. I want something to rescue my hero from the throes of her own sin. I want good to prevail. I want our relationships to be made right, despite our faulty attempts at loving one another.

I saw Les Mis on Christmas night. My husband and I snuck away from my parents’ sleeping house and we sat next to each other and relived our first date ten years ago when we saw it on stage. And I couldn’t help but compare the story of the musical with the story I’m reading right now. In Les Miserables, despite all the darkness, all the destruction, all the suffering, mercy prevails. It is mercy that changes Jean Valjean’s life, not law, not even “justice.” And, because of that mercy shown to him, mercy (when it is accepted) prevails in the lives of every other relationship in his life.

Once a friend told me that we are either a blessing or a curse to every life we encounter. I wonder if that’s true sometimes. I wonder if I can really bless or curse the woman behind the counter at Trader Joes. I wonder if my presence makes that much of a difference in the life of my downstairs neighbor who can’t stand how noisy our kids are. I wonder if my reaction when my four-year-old screams at me with a chest full of anger really is shaping the man he’ll be in twenty years.

And then I ache, because I know it’s true. I know it matters how I bless, how I curse. All of this daily living and breathing and encountering matters.

I’m thinking about grace versus destruction. I’m thinking about what my life is braiding into the lives around mine—my children, my spouse, my family, my friends, the strangers I move past in my everyday. Am I letting the Spirit bring healing to the broken places? Am I living like grace is real?

Do I believe in redemption?

Is Jesus more than a lower-case story? Am I living like it is the Great Story, the rescue big enough to bring wholeness to the lives I’ve undone by my sin? Am I living like my rescue has come, like it is big enough to braid grace into the sharp corners of my life, into the sharp corners of yours?


Photo: My own of Daniel Buren’s “Sulle vigne: punti di vista


  1. “Once a friend told me that we are either a blessing or a curse to every life we encounter.”

    This is a sobering thought. And sometimes it feels as though to be a blessing to one person (or group of people) we are a curse to others.Our choices do have far reaching consequences. Thank God for his mercy that reaches in farther than our sin, whether intentional or not.

    “Am I living like my rescue has come, like it is big enough to braid grace into the sharp corners of my life, into the sharp corners of yours?”

    I love the idea of redemption being woven in. So gentle, yet so sturdy.

    Thank you for this lovely reflection. And Les Mis has always been one of my favorite redemption stories.

  2. Ann Ehlert

    I agree that we can be a blessing or a curse but I also have come to realize it doesn’t all depend on me. I’ve taken this seriously into life and have found myself sacrificing myself and family for it. I’m trying to find the balance in serving others but continuing to care for those in front of me every day. Ill give you an example of how I’ve taken this thought too far. One day I was in line at the store and right before it was my turn a doctor was returning my call. I should’ve gotten out of line to take the call but instead I waited, preoccupied with the conversation. The woman behind the counter was so angry with me. I know what I did was rude and in normal circumstances I wouldn’t have done that and would’ve greeted her with a smile and care. I felt guilty all day. I totally believe what you are saying but I know that I have taken it to the extreme. As if maybe it all depends on me. I’m trying to live in the balance and letting go of perfection.

    As always live your thoughts. Thanks for sharing your gift.

  3. Thanks for this…this is speaks right to places in my heart….I feel God has had me in this “school”… learning lessons…teaching truth. And I too want to be a blessings…to add beauty to the space I am in… HIs beauty…HIs Grace…His Mercy. And Les Mis is my favorite movie….I have not seen the new one…but I am looking forward to seeing it too. Blessing and Grace as we learn to live His redemption~

  4. Mark Allman

    I have always been fascinated by the Butterfly Effect idea. It is sobering to think that my actions big and small cascade through others into their lives and the effect may never stop. So am I sending out destruction or am I sending out blessing. I need to be aware that I have the ability to do both. May our actions cascade through this world and may we choose to send out grace and love. A good reminder Micha!

  5. Oh, Micha. Such heartfelt thoughts and questions – and such good ones. I do believe we can either bless or curse with everything we say or do in relationship with others. And we can do either to ourselves as well. That negative voice or that drive for perfection – these can be curses that cripple and limit us, too. I never could plow through those books – and now I think I’m glad I didn’t! Because stories of redemption are what keep us going, don’t you think? That’s why Les Miz has survived as long and gone as far as it has. Happy New Year, dear Micha. May you be blessed in ways you cannot even imagine.

  6. Micha,your reflections on redemption and grace rekindle the flickering hope I have for this 2013. Resulting from my own awful behavior of the past, the place I find least willing to offer the grace of restoration is the church. The grace offered to me by the Lord Jesus, my family and friends gives me so much joy; however,I still wear the “leper’s clothes” at church.

    Thank you for your heart of love and compassion.

  7. I really, really love this. And so challenging to remember, to know, to act as if every interaction truly does hold significance. I know I don’t live like I’m part of that grand, big story. This helps pull me up out of the mire. Thank you!

  8. Lisa K

    Oh, Kirstin Lavransdatter! The end of the book has one of the most beautiful paragraphs about Kistin’s realization of how much God has loved her along and held her close to himself all throughout her life. Thanks for the reminder of that.

  9. Thanks for this lovely post, Micha. We, too, saw it on Christmas, and the priest’s reaction to Jean’s thievery has stuck with me almost more than any other aspect. Do I have the strength to sow grace and mercy when I’ve been wronged–overtly or covertly? I want to be like that priest. And I want to read stories and see movies that strengthen my belief that with God’s help, I just might be able to do so.


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