Category Archives: passion

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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Do What You Love. Or Maybe Not

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Love Never Fails

photo by Jhon Alfa Tumbelaka

Is it really best to do what you love? Or is it better to just get a job? What if you want your passion to remain your passion and not your job?  If you’ve ever actually tried to make money doing what you love (art, music, writing, teaching–whatever), you know that your passion can be sucked dry by the pressures and sticky details of actually earning a living. Even worse, that thing you love, that thing that was once a joy and release from the every day, has become part of the every day, so now you no longer even have your fun escape valve.

A friend of mine built a business around a passion of hers. After 14 years of running a successful but demanding business, she advocates keeping your creative passions for yourself versus wrapping your sustenance around them. Others say, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”  I don’t know, though. I’ve been doing what I love for a long time, but writing as a business is a whole different animal from writing for the sheer joy of it.  It involves nasty unpleasant things like taxes, bookkeeping, billing, negotiating, and contracts.  I know. I know. This is all just reality. I get that. But is there wisdom in hiding a little piece of your creative soul away from your paycheck?

So, I’m curious. I’m really curious how others who work within their passions or creative gifts address this issue.  What do you do?

Elizabeth Gilbert’s Ideas on How to Survive Creativity

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Just ran across this TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love.  Gilbert wonders aloud about whether creativity is internal and innate, or whether it comes from somewhere outside ourselves. The difference may be critical to the survival of the artist.  As a Christian, I found myself nodding. Hmmm. I think this is what we call the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God the Creator. The Spirit that was there at creation “hovering” over the emptiness like a brooding hen. (See Genesis 1:1) This 19-minute talk is well worth the time.

Addicted to Extraordinary

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sacred ordinary

photo by schmense

Some things in life spoil you for the ordinary. Meaningful volunteer work, crisis situations, military service, even adventure travel—these kinds of things may lead to an addiction to the extraordinary, where our identity clings like seaweed to the “importance” of what we do.  My “spoiler experience” was five-year stint as a young adult with a mission organization. I lived and worked with a pack of fired-up young people out to save the world. We worked in an inner-city mission in Amsterdam, and it seemed that everything we did had eternal significance. Nothing wrong with passion and a desire for meaningful service, but I made the fatal error of deeming that kind of work as “sacred,” while a regular job was merely “secular.”

Of course, now I see things differently. Everything is sacred. I read a book once years ago, whose title I have forgotten, where the author shared his struggle with ordinary life. He was attracted to a radical life of solitude, prayer and meditation, but this guy had a regular job, a wife and three kids. He could barely get in a quiet moment edgewise, much less hours for meditation!  In time, though, he began to realize that before there were any monastical orders, before there was even a church, before the first apostles forged unknown territory to share God’s story, even before Jesus preached or healed or died on the cross—before all of that…there was a Mary and a Joseph.

A housewife. A carpenter. They didn’t do anything any more radical than raise a child.

They got up every day and worked, cleaned the house, paid the bills, and made dinner.  It was all so very…ordinary.  But without that ordinary, or as author Leigh McLeroy calls it, that “sacred ordinary,” the rest of the story could not have unfolded.

I don’t want to miss that sacred ordinary now. Do you? Whatever you are doing, give it to God who redeems all of our work, making it sacred through his grace.

Think Small

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Have you been dreaming about something you would like to do? Do you think it might never happen?  Take some encouragement from writer Leigh McLeroy.  Dream big. Act small.  If you need a little kick in the pants, read her post here.

Wednesday words from Leigh.

It’s the music, too.

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A couple days ago, I referenced a post from music industry blogger Bob Lefsetz where he challenged Hollywood to re-focus on telling a great story versus filling a screen with special effects. (From his lips to God’s ears.) In a similar post, aptly entitled “Credibility,” Lefsetz warns musicians about obsessing over inking the record deal or getting airplay. Before long they lose site of the music itself.

My husband, Barry, just released a CD, so I understand the pressure to pay bills and realize a profit from your investment, but Lefsetz’s post confirmed a gut feeling Barry and I keep coming back to—

Enjoy this.

This is about sharing your passion. It’s about that sweet connection between musicians and audience when the rhythms and melodies turn perfect strangers into friends. It’s about doing what you love and inviting others to be part of it. And it’s about giving voice to other people’s deepest hopes, longings, joys, and sorrows in a way that they cannot themselves create—but they can enter, with full solidarity, into what you have created for yourself to make it their own.

Lefsetz provides thought-provoking tips on what musicians should do instead (excellent advice for other artists as well. Read it!). But I’d like to focus on a poignant response from Colin Hay, former front man for 80s mega-hit band, Men at Work.  Speaking from experience, Hay concurs with Lefsetz and writes about his life now—post-Top 40, MTV mega-stardom. He talks about rediscovering the music, along with the fans, who actually come because of the music versus the image.

He talks about his new CD, Gathering Mercury, and jokes about building his audience to a “massive 900 people or so in New York City, or Philadelphia, or slightly less in charming Clayton, NC.”  He expresses a rich appreciation for the fans he mingles with on tour. “When I got dropped by a major label, my live audience was all I had…They let me be myself. And isn’t that what we all want…to be who we are, and not who someone else wants us to be?” He goes on:

You are correct when you stress the importance of establishing a core audience… My old band had massive radio success and MTV exposure to the max, and when that went away, so did most of the audience. It’s like building a house with no foundations, you can’t.

…Last year I was sound checking at the Birchmere in Virginia, a delightful venue, and I was filled with an inexplicable euphoria. Its intensity lasted a few seconds but it was powerful. A simple experience, the wait staff was setting up tables for the night, the sound crew were twiddling knobs, and I realized that I was exactly where I should be, doing exactly what I should be doing, and all was well in my world.

Paris Musician

Paris Musician. Photo by Barry Johnson.

…I did make a big splash, I did descend into obscurity, and alcoholism. But, my salvation was, and still is, artistic expression, and a vague quest to strip away and reveal something essential, which is seductive, and ever elusive.

Best to you,
Colin

Wonderful food for thought.  And good advice for any of us.
There are people who connect with your deepest passions, whether you are an artist or a farmer.

Flamenco. Nerja, Spain. Photo by Barry Johnson.

Never overlook them because you want a bigger audience.  Play for them. They are listening.

Paris Metro Musician

Paris Metro Musician. Photo by Isaac Johnson.

Filled with Your Fancies

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© Simone Van Den Berg | Dreamstime.com

Ran across this Proverb the other day while working on the book I’m writing. This quote is the voice of “Lady Wisdom” lamenting the decided lack of interest in her offer to help us poor humans learn to live well.

Proverbs 1:29: “They would have none of my counsel and despised my every rebuke. Therefore, they shall eat the fruit of their own way, and be filled to the full with their fancies.”

Ooo…I don’t know about you, but the idea of being “filled to the full with my fancies”  sounds a little scary. Wisdom teaches us, doesn’t it, that we are sometimes the absolute worst at knowing what we really want or need. I don’t know about you, but I’m okay with depending on God to keep me on the right path. When you look back, don’t you see those times when God gave you exactly what you wanted, and you lived to regret it?  I can just imagine God shaking his head sometimes and saying, “Ok…if that’s what you want…but don’t say I didn’t warn you.” I’ve learned to listen a little closer, test the waters a little more carefully, trust my latest passion a little less, and move forward with a heart open to allowing God to make route corrections along the way.

Journey of the Heart

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mountain trekkersIn Dutch, the word for passion is “hartstocht,” which literally translates as “heart’s journey.”  So, in the Netherlands, if you ask “What is your passion?” you are really asking, “What is your heart’s journey?”

A few years ago, our oldest son returned home 5 weeks into a 6-month program with an overseas mission. It just wasn’t for him. His Dad and I were so disappointed. We had met years ago during a 5-year stint in Holland with the same organization, and we’d always seen our time there as the groundwork for later success in life.  At the time, our son didn’t seem passionate about anything except having fun, and we naturally hoped he’d aim a bit higher. We forgot, though, that his heart’s journey would not look like ours.

A passion is something that drives you. It can be completely selfish, or it can lead you to extreme self-denial. Either way, when we are passionate about something, we will pay just about anything for it.  In fact, the root Latin word literally North Carolina Mountainsmeans “suffering” and is used to refer to the torment and death of Jesus. In this sense, you might say that humanity itself is God’s passion, so much so that he was willing to sacrifice himself for us.

Whether we are talking about our passion for our work, our creative endeavors, our loved ones, our mission in life, or our walk with God—our passions dictate our heart’s journey. And because we are all unique, each journey is different and a different sacrifice is required of each of us. When I think of passion as a journey of the heart, I am better able to let go of judgment. Everything about our quest is our own, even our mistakes. Our passions in life may change as well. We may begin by being passionate about ourselves alone—but we may end with a passion for others that leads us to deny self to extraordinary extremes. A journey of the heart doesn’t happen in a 6-month trip. It is the journey of a lifetime.

© 2010 L. Kay Johnson, L is for LaNita. All rights reserved.