Mother's Day

How to Reach Your Full Human Potential

I’ve yet to meet parents who want their children to grow up and become penniless beggars. When our nest is empty, we want their joy to be full. We urge them to keep their nose in the books. Hone a skill. Earn a degree. Land a good job. And, when the time is right, and they find Mr. or Ms. Right, we want them to marry and eventually give us grandchildren we can spoil. We want our children to grow up and lead happy, fulfilled lives in whatever vocations the Lord gives them. No parents want their children to mature into something less than their full, human potential. I am the father of two teenagers, a son and daughter. Now, I’m sure that if I were to sit down with God and have a discussion about the future of my children, we wouldn’t see eye-to-eye on lots of things. I’m a selfish, short-sighted mortal, after all, and He’s, well, all-knowing and all-holy and all-that. But disagreements on details aside, we would concur on the One Big Thing: both God and I want my son and daughter to reach their full, human potential.

How will they reach this magical moment, this milestone on the journey of life? Perhaps by chasing their dreams, pursuing their passions with a heart wholly devoted to the attainment of whatever goals they set for themselves in life? As good as that might sound, no, that won’t get them there. Perhaps by devoting their lives to the service of others, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, putting every person’s interests ahead of their own? As wonderful as that would be, no, that won’t get them there either. Perhaps by becoming a voice for the oppressed, a defender of the life of the unborn, an advocate for victims of hate and prejudice and violence? As worthy as that would be, no, that won’t help them reach their full, human potential either.

To become everything God wants them to be, my children must first become the one thing they don’t want to be. They must become dead. But it’s a special kind of death; it’s not so much the omega of life as the alpha of life. To become that complete human being, my children—indeed, every person—must be united in death to the only complete human being who has ever lived. Full human potential is not a trophy achieved; it is a gift received. And it is received by bodily unity with Jesus Christ, with the one, unique man who is everything God wants a human to be. That unification takes places by a watery death that miraculously joins us to this complete man who gave His complete self for the complete salvation of a world gone completely wrong. Full human potential is reached when a person is embodied with the man who is also God by baptism into Him.

It is a fully true but also fully hidden reality—this unity with God in Jesus via baptism. It is fully true, for “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death. We have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life,” (Romans 6:2-3). And “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold new things have come,” (2 Corinthians 5:17). But it is also a hidden reality, for “you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory,” (Colossians 3:3-4).

This is the now-and-not-yet reality of the Christian life, the is-and-will-be-ness of the faith. In Christ we have already reached our full, human potential. We have partaken of the divine nature by being grafted into the human nature of that one man who is also God (2 Peter 1:4). And yet we await, with all creation, the day of resurrection, when the resurrection of Jesus will have its way with us, when His coming back to life will restore life back to us. On the Last Day the full reality of what happened on our baptismal day will be unveiled.

My son and daughter reached their full, human potential when they were mere babies, a few days old, when they were united to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in a simple baptismal font at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, in Wellston, Oklahoma. Whatever they grow up to be, to pursue, to achieve, I know that the most important thing that could ever happen to them has already taken place. They became children of the heavenly Father, partakers of a gift that they, and I, will fully see revealed when Christ returns in glory.

The Phone Number that Could Tell My Life's Story: A Mother's Day Reflection

For the last three decades, my parents have had the same phone number. I was eleven years old when we moved into our country home, a few miles outside Shamrock, TX, and were given that number. This month there’ll be forty-four candles on my birthday cake. For thirty-three years, anytime I needed to call home, I knew what ten digits to dial. A few days ago my dad informed me that they were disconnecting their land line. Everyone has cell phones, now, right, so who needs it? Perhaps a phone number seems an odd thing to get sentimental about, but I can’t help myself. You see, if that number, and the phone connected to it, could speak, they would tell my life’s story.

That was the number I called to tell my mom that, while driving to school, I hit a patch of ice in my Ford Ranger. I lost control when it started spinning downhill. The next thing I remember was crawling out of the passenger side window, as the pickup lay on its side in the snow-covered bar ditch. I ran to our neighbor’s home and dialed those ten digits. And, of course, I spent the first five minutes of the conversation assuring mom that I was all in one piece.

That was the number I called, many years later, through tears of joy, to congratulate my mom and dad on being grandparents to a healthy baby girl, and two years later, to a strong baby boy. And on two other occasions, I dialed those ten digits, through a different rain of tears, to tell them that something had gone terribly wrong, that my wife had started bleeding, that our babies’ lives had ended almost as soon as they began.

That was the number I called, after yet more years had passed, to let my parents know that my marriage of sixteen years was dying, that I had delivered the death blow, and that I was dying, if not already dead, on the inside. And those were the ten digits I dialed countless time in the years following, to hear my mom say that she and dad never ceased praying for me, that they loved me, that Jesus would get me through these dark times.

That was the number I called, after still more years, to tell them that Christ had brought Stacy into my life. She had called that number, too, when we both were teenagers, to ask me if I’d go with her to the Sweetheart Banquet that year. I said yes, and two shy young people went on a date in February of 1987, little knowing that it would be twenty-nine years until our second date—a date that would set in motion a love that is now shared as husband and wife.

That was the number I called to check in, to cry, to laugh, to ask for advice, to listen, to pray. It was that number that connected me, anytime and in any place, to two people who have always been there for me, whom I love, honor, and strive (and miserably fail) to emulate. My mom and dad are truly gifts from God to me. Without them, without their unconditional love and support, I would have been an orphan to hope in this world, a child without light, wandering lost in the blackness of grief. They have protected me, taught me, journeyed through life with me, as only parents can.

It will be Mother’s Day this weekend. I will call home. And, yes, it will be different not dialing those same ten numbers I’ve dialed the last thirty-three years. But the voice on the other end of the line will be the same. It will be voice of the one who has embodied for me, in this life, what love is, and what love does.