Friday, August 1, 2014

Dead Poets Society, carpe diem, and the story of my life

When I was in college, and for several years after, my favorite movie was Dead Poets Society. The story of John Keating and his students inspired me; carpe diem became my mantra. I was impassioned. I was determined. I was going to live a life that counted.

However, I was also clueless.

I wonder now, these 25 years later, if the 20 year old me with all her bright eyed idealism had been given a snapshot of her life as it would be at 45, what would she think? Would she consider her life lived to the fullest? If she saw herself on a hot day in July, for example, running errands and doing laundry and sweeping up dog hair, would she trust that she had indeed seized the day and lived a life thus far that counted?

I like to think she would, you know, being that I am that 45 year old me of which we speak. I mean, being a mom is the most important job I can do, right? And I volunteer at the crisis pregnancy center one day a week and we do good work, important work, kingdom work. And I teach women’s Bible study which certainly is not a waste of time or potential, is it? This is a full life I lead, an important life, a life that counts, right?

Sometimes I am not so sure.

I recently read Death by Living by N.D. Wilson. As I read I thought often of my younger self and her infatuation with Dead Poets Society and its invitation to carpe diem. In Death by Living, Wilson offers a similar plea to make the most of this life as we only live once then we die. Throughout the book he intertwines the stories of the lives of his grandparents and the story of his own life, who they were affecting who he is. Who will you be, he asks the reader. What story will your life tell?

As I ponder Wilson’s questions I feel much as I felt as that twenty year old sitting in the darkened theater all those years ago: inspired but clueless. What does it mean for me, for my life, to live with death as my reality? How do I make this life count? This life, here, today, this normal, white bread, middle class, ordinary, nay, even boring, life. Is there more? Is this enough? What will be the story of my life?

My pastor recently preached from Matthew 10:24-30. He too encouraged us to live a life that counted, a life free from fear. Trust in the sovereignty of God, he exhorted us, He sees the sparrows and we are of more value than they! What are we preserving our lives for? Why not pour it all out in glad risk for our Savior who loves us?

Again I wondered what this means for me and my life. Are the only courageous Christians serving as missionaries in the Middle East or dying as martyrs in the Sudan? Can a stay at home soccer mom seize the day and live boldly, daring to give all for her Savior?

I think yes and I don’t say so just because I am that stay at home soccer mom asking the questions. Sure, the Lord calls some of us to sell all and go. Maybe He is calling you to do just that. Or me.

But I think He also calls some of us to the radical and risky place of living like Jesus is real in the midst of a culture that has no need of Him what with its materialism and consumerism, its wealth and affluence, its arrogant intellectualism and laissez-faire tolerance. Here He calls us to boldly proclaim that there is something, Someone, infinitely better than, say, football or a new pair of shoes. Dare we? Dare I?

The post in its original draft ended here but I can’t help a postscript. Some of you know my friend died this week. From the moment of her diagnosis a mere four months ago she and her husband determined to humbly accept whatever the Lord granted. Even in her suffering she boldly proclaimed the true life, the better life, that is found in Christ. This audacious belief framed the story of her too-short life: Jesus is real, Jesus her only hope.

My friend knew something better, Someone better, awaited her beyond this life and she trusted Him with her life and in her death. And the life she now lives, she lives whole and full and free for all eternity with the One who loved her and saved her, to the praise of His glorious grace.

This is the life that counts.

Jesus is real. Jesus is better. Carpe diem. Sola Deo gloria.


  1. Good reminder. Sometimes I think it is easier to lose sight of our mission when we are in the comfort of home. And sometimes I just get plain discouraged wishing I were in a strange country dealing with strangers. Those in my path needing Jesus are not even as far away as next door. They are under the same roof. They like to call out my flaws and failings. They have learned to ignore me and instead of seizing the day for God's glory, I fade into the background with laundry and dishes. Thanks for spurring us on to remember that our service is to the Lord of all and that it is for a limited time so we must serve well at all times in all places.

  2. Lisa, your post reminds me of something I read recently in "Dispatches From the Front" by Tim Keesee. "[T]he gospel gives me perspective not to think that the greatest Christians are over there; neither are the greatest Christians over here. Actually, Christ is the greatest…"

  3. Great article, Lisa. How many of us can resonate with your opening! Thanks for the discernment as well as the encouragement. And I am sorry for the grief of the loss of your friends. Thankfully, as C.S. Lewis said, Christians never say goodbye!

  4. Thank you for this, Lisa. Weren't we all clueless 20-somethings? "Carpe diem," as it is understood these days, is far too self-centered a living for the Christian. You've poured yourself out right where God put you, whether you were in your hometown or Central America. We ought to make "Carpe Christos" and all it entails our mantra, right? By the way, I find it amusing that I'm writing such words of encouragement when I've been in such a spiritual funk for so many months...maybe this is for me to read. Thanks again, friend!

  5. Another excellent post! (We seem to be walking parallel paths with these thoughts/posts).
    So sorry to hear about your friend. Grace and peace to you all in Christ.