Category Archives: perspective

Ordinary Extraordinary

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img_0592Just read  this post by Melanie Dale, who writes about living a life she didn’t choose. Her story resonates! 

I often struggle with our culture’s obsession with living a big-adventure, unconventional, extraordinary life. While I’m the first one up for a big adventure and extraordinary anything, let’s face it: life can sometimes be downright hard and limiting due to forces far beyond our control. The relentless challenge to live an outside-the-box, call-of-the-wild adventure can sometimes feel more cruel than inspiring.

“Ordinary,” we are told, is a sell out.  If we aren’t pursuing our dreams–and mind you, it better be a BIG dream–then we are, at best, settling. At worst, we are losers because we lack the faith or the personal gumption to “be all that we can be!”

I just don’t buy it anymore.

As a Christian, if Jesus is my model (and he should be, right?)  his version of an extraordinary life is not exactly the adventure-filled, wild ride we have in mind.  But if Jesus taught us anything about living an extraordinary life, he taught us to follow him into places we would never otherwise venture. In fact, he taught us that losing your life is the way to finding it.

What?

Don’t get me wrong. We were created to dream and to cultivate the unique gifts that each of us possess. In fact, Jesus often challenged the too-small thinking of his followers, just as he also challenged them to use the gifts they already had to accomplish extraordinary things.

At the same time, I don’t know about you, but I’ve followed my dreams right off a cliff before.  I’ve learned to be careful what I ask for!

I’m also learning to dream big but then to ask God to help me trust him to fulfill those desires in ways I cannot imagine.

One of my favorite movies is Under the Tuscan Sun. In the film, the main character is a depressed and despondent divorce who, on a whim, buys an old villa in Italy and sets out to renovate both the home and her wreck of a life. All kinds of things go awry, of course, and during one particular low point, she sobs to her only friend in the village, who also happens to be her realtor, about all the dreams she had for her house–dreams of a wedding and children and home filled with friends and family.  “I bought a house for a life that I don’t even have,” she wails.  I don’t want to spoil the film for you, but let’s just say that by the end of it, there’s a wedding, but it’s not hers. There’s a child, but it’s not hers. But she is surrounded by extraordinary love, family, and friendship.  The realtor reminders her: she got everything she wished for and more, just not as she imagined it.  But the reality, though much messier and more frustrating than her dream, was also a better and even more of a beautiful mess than she could have conjured on her own.

No one would choose a cancer diagnosis.  But because of that diagnosis, I’ve been introduced to new levels of extraordinary. Like the regular phone calls from my sons…just to talk. (If you have sons, you know just how extraordinary this is!)  Or like the  friends and family who showed up on my doorstep with food or flowers, or sat all day with me at the hospital. Or my friend, Dawn, who sends me something to laugh about every, single day. Or my friend Connie who cooks for me when we’re together, not because I can’t cook for myself but because she is spoiling me a little.  Or like the quiet back-porch nights with Barry that are even better when it’s storming.

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Or there’s my new friend Audrey at the radiation center. She’s a feisty, sassy grandmother of 10 who loves the Elks Club and likes to wear the hospital cape with the poker cards all over it. She scared, but she’s brave. I like her.

There is a certain amount of drudgery, frustration, and fear in everyday life that no one is immune to. But extraordinary usually happens right there, right in the midst of the muck and mess.  I have a vivid picture in my mind of the first time my son Isaac smiled. I was an exhausted mess of “new mom, ” who was just hoping this 3 am feeding would go quickly so I could go back to bed!  And then he stopped, looked right at me, and grinned from ear to ear. Thirty-three years later, I still see it perfectly.

Losing your life to find it is such a strange but true paradox.  I’m not suggesting that there’s any romantic allure to pain or suffering.  I’m only saying that if we look closely at the cracks in our oh-so-ordinary lives, we may find a bit of glory filtering through.

This post by Melanie Dale speaks beautifully to the whole idea of finding an extraordinary life in the least expected place.  It deserves a read!

Melanie Dale knows something about life not looking like she thought it would. After twelve years of building her family through infertility and adoption, she finally snuggled down with three kids from three different continents, cultures, and stories. She thought, “Now the fun begins,” but then they encountered diagnosis after diagnosis. With words like “autism,”…

via when you’re living a life you didn’t choose — A Holy Experience

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Thorny nests, Dips, and Cul-de-Sacs

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thorny nests

photo by Mr. T in DC

I once read that birds actually build thorns deep into their nests. Apparently, it’s a parenting issue. When Mama bird finds herself with a too-comfortable fledgling, reluctant to spread wings and fly, she says, “I’ll fix this” and begins removing downy layers, one by one, to expose those thorns. Baby bird says, “Hey–ow! That hurts! Ma! What’re you doing?!”

Suddenly, the nest is not so cozy. The idea of leaving seems more inviting.

Is it possible that God himself builds thorns into our nest?  When we find ourselves in thorny circumstances, are we being prodded to leave because the nest has become too comfortable or, at least, too familiar? We refuse to budge, so God lovingly removes the cushioning, making it harder and harder to stay.

Maybe God just wants us to fly. Without exposure to those prickly barbs, though, we might never know the joy.

Over the years, when I’ve found myself in difficult situations, I’ve wondered, “Are these thorns? Is it time to go? Or do I still have things to learn here?”  Very often, I knew the answer deep down. Admitting it…well, that often takes time…and more thorns.

In his excellent little book The Dip, Seth Godin reasons that times of conflict represent either a dip or a cul-de-sac.  Every job, relationship, and circumstance has ups and downs. Sometimes, we’re just in a dip, and the right thing to do is to push through and grow from the adversity. But sometimes we’re in a cul-de-sac, doomed to endless driving in circles…unless we leave.

Dips. Thorns. Cul de Sacs. It takes time and a little cold, hard honesty for me to know when my struggle is a simple dip or a nasty thorn–poking me in such confounded ways that the idea of leaping off the edge sounds infinitely better than staying put. Seen in this light, I can let go of the struggle and come to a place of grace. No need to find someone to blame (though I admit I try).  Truth is, the thorns were probably always there. They were just covered by God’s protective grace for a time. But he sometimes he removes that protection so that I will have no choice but to brave right up to the edge and take a flying leap.

And I suspect that looking back is not a good idea when in flight.

Pay Attention

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One of my goals for this year is to PAY ATTENTION. I simply want to be more aware of simple joys; to tune my ears to hear God’s whispers; to pay closer attention to kindnesses as well as to the needs of others. As an exercise to pay closer attention, I’m keeping my camera handy to capture a few things.

So…in that spirit…here are this week’s “Things that made me smile.”

 

Blessed are those who mourn. Really?

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I’ve been re-visiting the Sermon on the Mount. That’s the one that starts out with the “Beatitudes,” and I’m struck, again, with how strange and totally foreign these words are to our “Anthony Robbins” way of thinking. This is not a success-by-numbers speech. This is anything but.

Think about it. Who are our “golden” ones–our “blessed” ones? Those who pursue their passion. Those who set goals and meet them. Those who courageously and fearlessly plow through obstacles or face fears to win the prize. Our ideals are all wrapped up in performance.

Jesus takes a completely different stance. He says that the blessed ones are those who are “poor in spirit” and “meek.” He lauds those who “hunger and thirst” for righteousness. He calls the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted blessed. He even says that those who mourn are blessed. There is not a hint of stellar performance in these character traits. He describes people who are down on their luck, desperate, and denied. How is that blessed? He contrasts these with those who are rich, fed, comforted, and well respected. He says they are the ones to be pitied “for they’ve already received their reward.” If we are honest, doesn’t “rich” describe most of us who live in the U.S.? Can we even compare our poor to, say, the poor in Haiti? Calcutta? Zimbabwe? I don’t think so.

I don’t think Jesus is condemning material blessings. After all, all blessings come from God, but I do think he is warning us about being lured into a false sense of security and comfort by them. Those who are desperate, those who mourn, those who are hungry–they know all too well their need. Those who are comfortable and well fed can all too easily fall into a belief that they have need of nothing. When we believe we have (or have access to) all that we need because we are comforted and well fed, we’ve missed the real treasure–and in so doing, we’ve missed everything.

I Need a Vista

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As any good writer knows, you need time away from writing projects in order to see them with fresh eyes.

Photo by Kay Johnson

The distance of even a few hours provides fresh insights into what you really want to say. I think that’s what vacations or retreats do for our lives.  We get stuck, don’t we, in the weeds of our own lives.  Distance brings remarkable clarity to those areas where we’ve allowed weeds to choke away our gifts and passions.

photo by Kay Johnson

It isn’t always possible to take a vacation, given life’s demands and financial limitations, but we can still get away regularly, even if only for a drive or a walk.  Every time I get away, especially if I can afford a bit of distance and time, I am amazed at the perspective I gain.  When I come home, it is almost shocking to see how quickly I can delete useless emails.  Priorities and passions crystallize, while useless and destructive time suckers become obvious.  I can suddenly see the light along my pathway.

We can’t always afford to hop on a plane and get away, but we can keep things in perspective through daily “retreats”—even as simple as a few backyard moments to breathe, pray, meditate, and just be with our Maker.

photo by Kay Johnson