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Behold and Bless

Behold and Bless

by Martha E. Stortz

Two stories of my biblical namesake bookend a life. Together they speak a truth that neither one quite captures on its own. Over almost six decades they have transformed the personal and professional dimensions of my life.

The first story of Martha is in Luke 10:38-42. Martha was distracted by her many tasks so she asks Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.”

The second story of Martha is in John 11:20-27. It tells of her brother Lazarus’ death. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Luke’s portrait of the worried, burdened Martha buttresses the beginning. Even as a child, I was a worker, aiming for excellence. I remember walking home from elementary school, a distance of about 10 blocks. Every time my right foot hit the pavement, I would whisper “excellence.” It put a stride in my gait that is still there.

How does such ferocity come to a grade-school girl? It wasn’t parental pressure, but medical fluke. Early photos showed a slight list to one of my eyes. This was quickly diagnosed as amblyopia, but the explanation given to me was “lazy eye syndrome” or having “a bad eye.” Like the first story of Martha from Luke, lazy was something I wanted no part of. Moreover, if any part of me was to be bad, it would be on my own terms.

Martha E. Stortz is Bernhard M. Christensen Professor of Religion and Vocation at Augsburg College, Minneapolis.

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