Powerful Perspective from a Life Cut Short

I was reminded today how fascinating and humbling it is when you realize that every tiny decision you make has the potential to completely redirect your thoughts and spirit.

I had taken a needed break from my computer and was scrolling through Facebook when a friend’s post caught my eye.  She was mourning the loss of a beloved friend and mentor who had passed away in such a touching way that I couldn’t help but stop.

I hovered over the cited girl’s name and thought about moving on, but then paused…  curious and moved, I decided to click.

The Facebook page link popped into view to reveal a beautiful woman’s face. She looked young and vibrant, and it was clear after a few seconds that she had been remarkably successful and very well liked.  It said she had “changed her profile picture.” Underneath there were 58 comments. You could see after another minute it was an old picture and everyone was telling her how much they loved the shot… how wonderful she looked, the mood was light and cheerful again and again.

But at the very end, a few posts sent that cheer into a chilling 180 turn.

The last one read, “In the arms of The Lord.. Rest peacefully.”

Just underneath, the timeline continued; there were some of her own posts, added just a few days ago.

I sat there staring at the page for the longest time;  it was just so surreal.  The contrast between life and death when seen this way was simply staggering.

I came to learn she had heart failure in her sleep.    Age 42.

That’s my age.

Thoughts came rushing at me like wild animals.  The nightmare for her family, the shock, the paralyzing grief that would surround her life for days and even years to come.  All of her hopes and dreams  over — just… like… that.

I wondered if she had kids, if she was married, what she was dealing with or thinking of as she drifted off to sleep on that night, completely unaware her last breaths were hours away.

I thought about my own life – the things I had been anxious about, the hangups, the distractions, the ridiculous prisoner I had made my mind about things completely out of my control.

Bible verses filled my head.

Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?  Luke 12:25

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night.  2 Peter 3:10

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”
Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”  James 4:13-14

I was touched…. affected… deeply thoughtful.

How ironic the tragedies of life are almost always the only events powerful enough to shake us back to what really matters?

The gift of perspective often comes in the most unwelcome, unexpected packages.  Yet that gift can provide tremendous impact.

Returning from errands, instead of driving along with a single upward glance, I stopped to appreciate the magnificent pink clouds painted across the sky.

I breathed a word of thanks for the indescribable wonders displayed by our Creator; for His unyielding mercy and faithfulness.

I encouraged a friend.  Told someone else how much I loved them.

I stopped to refocus my thoughts and energies to the spirit – To love, gratitude, compassion…  to making a difference and making every moment count.

Oh that our focus would well up daily without the starkness of suffering and loss.

That we could stay planted in that wisdom every day.  That we could “live like we are dying” with the same dedication that we “live like we will never die.”

That we would wake every day determined anew to let our lights shine before men….  so that if tomorrow indeed did not come, we would join the Author of Life in perfect peace, knowing that we had left behind a trail of goodness, mercy, joy, laughter, compassion and love.

May her beautiful spirit be with God and may comfort and strength surround her family.

Side Kick to the Goddess – (A Lesson in Comparisons, Part 2)

Ahh, one of the great mysteries of life.   We always chase the opposite of what we have.

The short kid always wants to be tall.  The curly-haired girl always wishes for straight.

Or in my case, the girl with wavy, poofy, frizzy hair, always longs for smooth, flowing straight hair.  (As I’ve always tried to explain to Mom — mystery solved).

It goes on like that throughout life, and even when you have certain “gifts”  (aka, things that you should probably be proud of, you wish you had replacements instead.)

Although I did fairly well in school, I wasn’t necessarily proud of that. Instead, I was hung up on other stuff – the stuff that kids who were struggling in school aced.

As a strange bonus, I always had the ridiculous misfortune of becoming best friends with these unbelievably beautiful girls.  Let’s be clear.  If you’re a girl in your teens or early 20s and you are okay looking, it’s nice to have some decent looking friends (versus a crop of ugly ducklings), but if you are the shorter, side kick of the most drop-dead gorgeous girl within a 100-mile radius… not so good.

If this happens to you, you are now the starring clown in one side-show act after the next …which just happens to be sold out in every town from here to the state line.

Years later these memories bring side-splitting laughter to say the least, but then?  It was brink-of-death-level embarrassment… You know this scene.. the incredibly hot guy makes eye contact.  You flutter your eyelashes.. He flashes his dazzling smile.  You blush and offer a little rolling finger wave, nothing too suggestive.

You get that, “wow, this is really happening,”  feeling inside your gut as butterflies start flapping around like mad. …. he saunters over…  just as he leans over to whisper in your ear, you are grinning from ear to ear, your chest is heaving…. you are about to die…

And then of course you do die, because you know the rest …. “Hey, would you mind introducing me to your smokin hot friend over there?”

“Please shoot me.”

And I probably would have shot her, (my blond bombshell goddess college roommate that is) if she hadn’t been so darn sweet.  Long, blond wavy hair and crystal blue eyes, tall with long legs and a gorgeous smile.  She had perfect teeth and a sweet, soft country accent (not too heavy, just right). She had flawless skin and every time she even walked by a sunlit window she would get an even, golden tan. I would catch guys just staring at her with their mouths gaping open.  If I would have been thinking, I could have done ground-breaking research on the effect of various stimulus-response on the male species, I had such a prime opportunity…  Wasted guinea pig moments.

Mostly, it was just sick.  But the point is that she was studying to be a physical therapist, and had a few struggles along the way in her quest.  School was somewhat easy for me (sorry, Dad, I can’t remember if I ever told you the truth), so I would sometimes try to help her along. She would comment about how she would “give anything, just anything in the world to have that, to be able to just ‘get it’ the way I did.”  We would work together until we would break through to a few eureka moments. She would be giddy with excitement and gratitude; then she would walk out of the dorm to her flock of admirers as I pondered the ironies of life.

Now the truth of the matter is this.  I joke about our relationship, but during that first semester together, we became so close that her exterior glamour sort of melted into an inner glamor that I loved deeply. We didn’t compete on a superficial level; we gained a bond that surpassed all that and started to really understand each other; we accepted each other for our strengths and weaknesses, and appreciated and admired them the way true friends should.

In short, all the pressure to stand out or ‘one up’ each other fell away, and all that was left was something pretty amazing — a strong, genuine friendship.

Now what happened senior year over some bonehead guy to throw everything off  is a whole different story.

Ahem.

But the point I’m trying to make here?  It’s a great example of why that great mystery of life, chasing what we don’t have, is a fool’s errand.  Why that trail leads to nowhere…

Why we shouldn’t compare ourselves to other people and just another reason why  Theodore Roosevelt so aptly stated, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” 

It’s because even with the noblest of intentions, the truest of friends will slide back into misery and ruin as long as the focus is not rooted in something higher, something that transcends man’s concept of excellence.

I think AZ Tozer gave the idea of comparisons the right adjustment with these words.

“The only person we should compare ourselves to is Christ.” 

While it’s true we will never reach His standard in this lifetime, because we know He met that perfect standard for us by taking our place, the pressure is off.  The chains are broken.  We are free. We can escape that feeling of longing in a profound new way.

He fills in all the gaps.  He’s the only one that can.

When we truly understand what He has done for us, our motivation changes; our love increases and wells up to new heights. The pressure to be something we are not finally disappears, and we can finally become who we were designed to be, motivated to trust and obey because of what HE has done, not because of what we could never do.

By staying focused on Him, suddenly, everything else that we thought we had to have or that we really wanted, becomes dim.  We realize that we have already been equipped with all that we will ever need, and it is infinitely enough.

Escaping the Imagination Dustbowl (A Lesson in Comparisons, Part 1)

It’s interesting to take a peek out into the world and see what is happening in any particular field –  whether that’s art, music, entertainment, science, literature, or space travel. You needn’t look long before you find someone that is doing work you never dreamed of — work that will blow your wildest imagination into the dust.

One thing I have realized is that “into the dust” is not where I need my wildest imagination to live.

When I conduct research for new ideas, I try to keep this truth as well as Theodore Roosevelt’s famous words in mind, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Some new ideas came in the middle of the night just a short while ago (blogging was one).  I sat up straight out of my bed like some zombie in a horror movie and literally started dictating notes into my iphone.  Because I am such a champion procrastinator, I made a commitment to post something by a certain date (no matter what), and then edit and improve along the way.

I did that for a reason; I know me, and if I said I tend to rethink things, it would be a HUGE understatement. I’m very easily distracted.  Sorta like that dog in the Up movie …. SQUIRREL!!!!!

Actually, I think its fair to say I could be the reigning can-of-worms opening champion of the world.

But of course there is not such a thing. Something else comes along before the great match begins, and off everybody goes.  Good ideas – poor execution.  But I digress…. does this shock you?

I used to become paralyzed into inaction when I would encounter work that was more sophisticated or polished than mine.  I would keep adjusting until it wasn’t relevant anymore and it would land in the trash. Now that I have peeked past my little ipad book library, I have discovered a vast and fascinating land of giants (this blogging world is that), with new insights and fresh perspective at every turn.

Have you ever read stories where one of the characters gets stuck unknowingly in an eternal world?   Somehow they are transfixed or waylaid by something that fascinates them enough that they never quite make it back to their quest?  That character would normally be me.

However, what’s happened in my faith has released me from that path in a way I had not expected.

Christians who are aspiring to be like Jesus are working to improve and edit themselves toward His perfect standard for the rest of their lives.  Even the “best of the best” will never achieve that in this world.  However, according to the Christian doctrine, with His sacrifice we are already made perfect in Christ. We are made complete through Him and once that happens, all the pressure is effectively off. The burden is lifted; we can feel justified and adequate without having to hammer down on ourselves constantly for any reason that man’s idea of greatness throws our way.

Once you decide that you are working for God and not for man, the comparison game has fallen away. You can “be all you can be” for God and God alone.

You can know that right now, right here, you are good enough; To the degree that this idea sinks in, the feeling of freedom is overwhelming.

You are free to go forward at a pace that makes sense –  to let God shape, mold, and perfect you with his loving embrace.  You can be in step with His will instead of fighting like mad. You can find SOME place to bless others and glorify Him in the little things until they become more.

Sharing a post, encouraging a friend, praying for someone in need, telling a joke to the girl at Walgreens to make her smile.  God can take the little things and grow them into something amazing.  Just like he can take our little acts, where we are now and build them into something more; he can take us, where we are now and shape us into something we never had expected.  We can become all we are designed to be; something light years above and beyond anything we can envision today.

He uses the weak to show his strength.  He uses what seems foolish to man to show the depth of his wisdom.

I always figured by that standard I was a David hidden in a huge hunk of concrete, waiting for Michelangelo to start carving away.  When you think about it, that concrete didn’t look so hot for a long time. It looked like a lumpy, funky piece of rock.

Clearly, there is a David waiting inside all of us – perhaps there is some serious carving work to be done;  but as long as we are willing to surrender ourselves to that process and endure some pain along the way, the magnificent work of art is inevitable.

 CS. lewis said,

“We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character. Here again we come up against what I have called the “intolerable compliment.” Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble: he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be. But over the great picture of his life—the work which he loves, though in a different fashion, as intensely as a man loves a woman or a mother a child—he will take endless trouble—and would doubtless, thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and re-commenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumb-nail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.”

C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain 

Thankfully, God loves us enough to keep working, keep shaping, keep editing us as long as we allow him — into a design with a potential beyond anything that we would dare to compare ourselves to in the here and now.

By setting our bar there, instead of here, instead of discovering our joy has been robbed, we have unearthed a new and unending fountain, where our joy never ends.

A Special Night of Hope from “The Small Group on the Hill”

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Life is funny.

Those curve balls have some serious action on ’em sometimes.

You may have practiced for that spin your whole life.

You figure you’ll miss judge a few, but you fully believe that in this ONE place in life? You have the right stuff — EASY.

So you can grow up involved with youth choir, church camp, Bible bowl.  You can go to Christian college, attend studies and workshops, serve in various ministries.

But somehow, you can still find yourself sitting nervously in a sunday school class, hoping someone will talk to you.

You can still find yourself unsure how or where to fit in, waiting and wondering if someone will reply to your calls, emails, or texts.

You can stare blankly at your church’s grouplink page, and as your mouse slowly passes over each description, haunting reminders of your past can flash before you… the day you agreed you could skip church, the day you stopped serving, the day you gave in and gave up.

You can try to block memories of  being on the flip side, and how easy it was to nod in agreement to comments about unimpressed visitors. “They were just looking for an excuse, that’s all.”   “If you look for an excuse, you will find one – pure and simple.”

People can look for excuses, sure; but when you see things from a new perspective, when you walk in those shoes, that empathy is a gift.  It changes you. You are willing to understand, listen, and give back in new ways.

  • You see that your choices brought you here, but more importantly, you realize you had to endure all the pain for the blinders to drop.
  • You see people are just busy with their own lives, they are doing the best they can.
    They have no clue what you are going through.
  • They can’t reach inside you and understand. You can’t take it personally.
  • You have to be willing to keep trying; you have to trust God, stay strong, keep the faith.
  • You have to keep believing in God’s plan, and when you do, there is ALWAYS a rainbow waiting.

While you wait, you can either use that time wisely and see it as a gift, or waste it.
It’s your choice.

Sometimes I REALLY struggle with the waiting, but now I have this covered.

When I open my Bible now, Jame 1:2-3 has a HUGE pink and green neon sign blinking over it.
(It really does… I can show you.)

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.”  James 1: 2-3

The pain, the suffering, it can blow you in one direction or the other, it can make you more cynical, more cold, less willing to try, or it can make you grow, make you more compassionate, more understanding and loving to your fellow-man.  You get to choose.

A few days ago Rick Warren (who tragically lost his son to suicide just last month) tweeted this note:

“Pain changes you. Like a gale force wind, it drives you backward or forward, depending on how you set your sail.”

As for me, there’s no question which way my sail is set. Aside from all the ways I’ve grown, I realize how much more I appreciate the little things. What I used to take for granted means everything – it’s a beautiful gift.

That grouplink click was a gift that keeps on giving. The leaders welcomed me as if I had known them all my life.  I felt the spirit of the good Samaritan upon me before I ever laid eyes on the hostess, and when I showed up that first night, I knew my impression had been right on the mark.  They were Christians in the true gospel sense of the word.  Salt of the earth — humble, gracious and with fruits of the spirit abounding.  Everyone showed me kindness and friendship in spades, and made me feel..  instantly at home.

Often, we never hear about the impact we have on others. I want these good people to know – the kindness they showed me came at a time when I needed it the most, and I will never forget.  As one result, that experience will compel me to share that hope with someone else.

As I drove down the long driveway that night, I looked back. Lights were streaming down, framing their home against a backdrop of stars; it’s a picture that symbolizes something bigger, more meaningful than just the beautiful scene I filed away. I thought, how fitting they should live on this little hill; it was a perfect metaphor for the light shining from their hearts.

As the Matthew 5:14 verse came to mind, I knew I had not been drawn to them by accident; it was by design.

Lord, thank you for the each of the wonderful members of “The Small Group on the Hill.”
Thank you for bringing us together and for all the amazing things you are doing through their service. 

Living in True Freedom – The Point, Part 2

 “My Journey From Fear to Faith”

Catchy…. You Think? Considering its the biggest realization of truth in my life?  Yeah, it works.

This blog is about new beginnings and all the other stuff I wrote about before, but the “tagline” captures the big picture, cause its backed by the weight of all that pesky “hard-way” learning.

The Prison of Fear

It’s often and truly stated, Fear is the opposite of Faith. I believe it’s also the opposite of Freedom. I firmly believe the truth of this quote, which resonates more loudly now:

“One of Satan’s most deceptive and destructive lies is the idea
that a person apart from God is free.” 
   (John MacArthur)

Fear is a prison. It grips you – holds you captive.

It keeps you staring blankly at walls at 3 am— enslaved to dark thoughts, worst nightmares.

You live on the razor’s edge… where it’s ice-cold and black as night.  Fear blocks you from hope like an iron fortress; where every doorway slams shut with a depressing thud.

It rips away the seams of your nerves and gnaws at the edge of your mind.
It’s the assault of a thousand deafening voices converging in an endless echo.

In the harness of fear, reaching out leaves you shivering, alone, empty.
Anxiety sits on top of you like a bloodsucking parasite. It erodes your life force slowly, painfully.

The Freedom of Love

In contrast…  “God is love.” (1 John 4:8)

I will never forget the first time I really heard, (I mean really heard) and understood these words: 

“There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear.”
 (1 John 4:18)

I said them out loud and felt them wash over me like a warm, ocean wave.
I could almost feel them whispered into my ear.

I sensed countless rays of light piercing through the darkness of my soul; I felt weightless, lifted up with the sheer truth of that passage. Then His voice, saying,
“I will never leave you or forsake you.”  (Hebrews 13:5)

Next, it was, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:35-39)

How odd that you can read that stuff your whole life, even have it memorized, then POW.
God reaches down. You can’t put that kind of experience into words.  You can try, but words can’t get it done.

Dawn was breaking at a special family gathering. With sunlight streaming through treetops, tears were also streaming down. Joy filled my heart as God’s love and truth finally broke through.

He had NEVER left me – not through my worst despair.  He had been there even when I had felt so alone; I had just been trusting in the wrong stuff.  You can’t fear like I did if your heart is connected to God the right way.  Perfect love CASTS OUT FEAR.  It’s pretty amazing, shocking even.  When the light dawns on you sometimes in life, it really DAWNs.

(Perhaps the wrong analogy, but I wanted to give you the example of when my oldest daughter figured out that the poop goes IN THE POTTY.  That was a big day for us.  The light just WENT ON.  Clearly it’s not apples to apples but the general, “EUREKA moment?”  YES. Ok, Back to my story.)

If I thought it wasn’t a little over the top, I might post some of the things I wrote that day. Reading them again, I feel it couldn’t have been me writing. I know one thing, it was Spirit-led and beautiful. Hope had found its way back, and this time, it was stronger than ever.  I try to remember to re-read those journal entries when I feel doubt, anger, confusion — about anything really.

In short?  There is Bible verse I really get now that sums up this blog in a way.

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba Father.”   (Romans 8:15)

I won’t go back to living in fear.  It’s a horrible existence, and you don’t realize to what extent, until the death grip is released and you are finally free.

It’s scary to admit I was there.  Not long ago, having the courage to share all this on the web would have been a joke at best.   That’s sort of the whole point….  Fear holds you back, where freedom… lets you live boldly.  If you ever feel tempted to listen to a voice that tells you that being disconnected from God will make you free, take my word for it.  RUN IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION.

Trusting in God?   PEACE.  JOY.  FREEDOM.

I’ve got a long way to go.  A lot of things yank me backwards.  That’s a big reason for this blog – To remind me what I’ve learned and help keep me moving forward.

Lord, help me never to forget my journey from fear to faith.  

Help me never forget the iron clamp that fear had on my life and the freedom and joy that came when your Perfect Love cast out fear from my heart.

Thank you for freeing me from that slavery; I will spend the rest of my life in gratitude and humble service to you — The Author of Life.

 If I can pray for you or encourage you, connect with me!  Visit me at  trustingforpeace.com or increasingthecontrast.wordpress.com