When I was sixteen, my parents sent me to Gold Beach, OR to spend the summer working in my aunt and uncle’s restaurants. They owned a dinner house and a drive-through restaurant that were both located near the beach.
I was painfully shy, didn’t make friends easily, and was terrified of talking to just about anyone. After failing the speech class my parents forced me to take my sophomore year (in the hopes it would help curb my shyness), banishing me to my Aunt and Uncle’s for the summer somehow made sense to them.
I remember thinking that my life was over and wondering how I was ever going to make it through the summer stuck in a God-forsaken place like Gold Beach. I told my mom there was no way I would allow her to force me into unpaid restaurant labor for the summer – then I got on the bus that would transport me to the best summer of my life.
My Aunt and Uncle treated me well and seemed to understand me. My cousin Kathy was my polar opposite, a cute, blonde, perky and popular straight ‘A’ student who made friends easily. But we were the same age and, for some strange reason, we hit it off and got along very well that summer. I had a new friend.
We did everything together - movies, beach, shopping, each others hair and nails. As the summer progressed, I began to see how much I was missing by letting my shyness control my life. I watched Kathy interact with customers at the restaurant. She showed me how to wait tables and take orders and in the process of being ‘forced’ to talk with people, I began to see my shyness for what it was - the wall I hid behind to hide my feelings of ugliness and inferiority. I wanted to be like other girls at school who had friends and boyfriends and went to football games and parties, but I just didn’t know how.
But learning to be a waitress and talking to people that summer changed all that. As I became comfortable talking to customers, I began to notice changes in other areas of my life. I was learning about me, and who I was, and who God made me to be. I began to stand up straight and look people in the eye. I began to smile more and was amazed that people smiled back.
As I began to accept myself for who I was I began to actually like the person I saw in the mirror – not an easy thing for many teenage girls. As my self-confidence grew, my entire world opened up. I expressed my new found personality in many ways. I began to dress differently and make new friends. I laughed, took risks, attended parties, and even started dating. In short, I began to live life fully.
In John 10:10, Jesus says, “The thief (fear, shyness, worry) comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
I am still shy but since that summer, I refuse to be crippled by shyness. God gave me that summer to help me discover the part of me that He always knew was there – the part I was unable to see.
I knew you before I formed you in your mothers womb. Jeremiah 1:5
When I was sixteen, my parents sent me to Gold Beach, OR to spend the summer working in my aunt and uncle’s restaurants. They owned a dinner house and a drive-through restaurant that were both located near the beach.
Imagine you are at the park watching your kids or grandkids play in the public fountain. The sun is shining brightly. Happy kids are screaming in delight as they race back and forth through streams of shooting water.
Just as you’re thinking, “Now I can relax for a few minutes and soak up the sun and laughter.” A strong and pungent dose of reality hits you right in the nose - The woman who just sat down next to you reeks of some disgusting combination of body odor and cigarette smoke. She looks worse that she smells – poor hygiene, dirty clothes, oily skin, missing teeth, unkempt hair.
Desperate to move ‘upwind’ and escape the foul stench, your eyes quickly search for an open bench only to discover there are none available. You instinctually turn away from her and shift, then scoot yourself to the far end of the bench. Your indignant disgust escalates to anger as you think, “How can people like that go out in public?”
As an unintentional prayer starts to form in your mind, “God, please don’t let her try to start up a conversation with me”, the sermon from James 2 about favoritism and discrimination that you heard at church Sunday flashes through your mind - the one about not judging outward appearances and treating everybody the same.
“No way, God! Please don’t make me talk to her. I can’t do it. I won’t.”
The sermon tape in your head keeps playing – “Doing everything in love is the key to living as God commanded us. Love God completely and love your neighbor as yourself.”
“But she isn’t even my neighbor - well maybe (technically) for this brief moment she is,” you think. “After all, she is sitting right next to me.”
So you say a short prayer asking God to forgive you for judging her by her appearance. You muster up your best smile and say, Nice day, isn’t it?” She seems startled – as if no one has ever spoken to her before. Then she smiles a smile that lights up her entire face and says, “Yes, it is.”
As you visit, you learn she is at the park with her three year-old grandson. It’s the first time he has ever been allowed to visit her. Her unmarried daughter, with whom she has not spoken for over two years ended up in the hospital with no one else to watch her son. As she continues to pour out her heart, you realize that this meeting is no accident. You know that God put her in your path today.
Sound familiar? Maybe the “bad smell” is something more subtle – something socially acceptable like that grumpy neighbor you’ve never cared for, the irritating coworker who is always brown-nosing the boss, or the couple who brags incessantly about their daughter’s athletic abilities at the soccer game. Perhaps it’s the grocery clerk or the customer service representative from whom you expect special treatment.
Favoritism (giving people what they may or may not deserve based on their status or appearance) and discrimination (withholding from people what they may or may not deserve based on their status or appearance) is a constant battle for me. It runs rampant in our society. Our culture encourages it.
Jesus loves us all the same - the down and out, the poor, the helpless, the mentally sick, the physically sick, and the spiritually sick. And he wants us to follow his example. I’m pretty good at loving the loveable but the unloveable are a different story – something I need to work on.
The bottom line is that people (all people) matter to God – and that is why they must matter to us. We love and serve God best by loving and serving people.
I recently blogged about the closing of our church in a post entitled, “Death of a Dream” (1/19/10). I realized that this sad event was the end of a really great chapter in my life - but it was not the end of the story.
Since then, I’ve been thinking about what to do when something really great comes to an end. Life is full of changing seasons - adolescence, first job, dating, graduation, marriage, children, career change, relocation, business opportunity, grandchildren, empty nest, health issues, loss of loved ones and the list goes on. Seasons change. Transition happens. We have a decision to make. Will we fight and resist change or will we welcome and embrace it? The choice is ours to make.
Gracefully transitioning from one season of life to another is an art form. I don’t know about you, but ‘gracefully’ is not a word that comes to mind when I think about my response to change. I tend to fight and resist change – to hang on to the old season ‘that was’ for much too long. The problem with my tendency is that I can’t embrace a new season without letting go of the old one.
My husband recently preached a message called “Out of the Nest – Time to Fly” from which I learned more about what to do when something really great comes to an end. His text was Mark 9:2-8, the story of the transfiguration – a really great experience that Peter wanted to hang on to.
Here’s what I learned…
1. When something really great happens, pay attention. Don’t miss the moment.
2. Don’t hang on when it’s time to let go (don’t try to build a house at every stop on the journey).
3. When clouds appear, remember that it may be God’s presence – his way of reminding (or forcing) you to listen for his voice.
4. Listen to what God is saying in the midst of the cloud.
5. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. Choose to see no one except him.
It’s that simple. Maybe it isn’t so easy at times but it is that simple.
When a mother bird knows it's time for her babies to fly, she pushes them out of the nest. At first, the little birdies are terrified, angry, and confused as they feel the sensation of plummeting to the earth. Then something tells them to spread their wings and they experience the exhilaration of flying.
As the young birds begin to realize they were created to fly, the security and comfort of the nest from which they were launched seems unimportant by comparison. Though flying is so much better, the fond memories of life in the nest never cease to bring great joy.
No matter what change life’s next season holds for you, I challenge you to savor the moment, let go of what was, listen for God’s voice, keep your eyes on Jesus, and fall back off the cliff of the unknown into the loving arms of the Father. It may be the end of a chapter in your life – but it is not the end of the story.
Sunday was the last service for our church. It was hard to say goodbye - hard to let go of the dream called Mercy Hill Church.
Two years to the week, my husband and I received a flyer in the mail and attended the very first service. We were struck by the friendly acceptance and sincere love of the pastor and his wife - and their passionate vision to impact our community for Christ. We quickly knew we wanted to be part of this new kingdom venture.
At first, we met in a movie theater and eventually moved to the local community center. My husband’s leadership gifts led to an invitation to serve on the leadership team. After six months, he became part of the teaching team and shared preaching/teaching responsibilities with the lead pastor. It wasn’t long before I was using my gifts and coordinating the hospitality ministry.
We were a small but growing church. Visitors experienced the same spirit of genuine love and acceptance that had attracted us to Mercy Hill. Over the months, many visitors let us know they were positively impacted.
As the economy weakened, our little independent church began to struggle financially. It was a struggle that made us stronger and knit us together. We became a real church family. We loved, cared, and ministered to one another. God would use one person to heal and another to be healed, spiritually and physically.
On Christmas Sunday, just three weeks before our final service, one young woman in our church saw her mother, her sister, and her boyfriend come to Christ. A high school student who had been attending for two months and a middle-aged lady who attended sporadically from the beginning also came to believing faith that day.
When I first learned that our church was going to close its doors, I had such a sense of loss and wondered where we went wrong - where we failed. I wondered why God was allowing this to happen when it was clear that so many in the church needed what we had to offer – especially the new believers.
Then I began to realize that this isn’t the death of a dream at all. It is definitely a sad moment - a sad ending to a great chapter in a much bigger story. But it is not the end of the story. It is a new beginning.
Sunday was an interesting day to say the least. It started at church and ended at the hospital after an afternoon trip to the emergency room – so I’ve heard. The funny thing about Sunday is that I have only a vague recollection of a half dozen hazy moments from the entire day and no ability to associate them with that particular Sunday. The few fuzzy memories I can muster occur sporadically and appear along a time line of disconnected events that is out of whack.
The bottom line, according to my husband’s report, was that I instantly and completely lost all memory of events and experiences of the past two to three years without warning (I didn’t even remember I wrote a blog). Apparently, my ability to record and retain any memories of the present as it unfolded completely disappeared as well.
For most of the afternoon, I apparently asked the same question over and over every one to three minutes. After an hour or two, I moved on to repeat a new question over and over again (my poor husband). At first I was aware that I could not remember things and upset by it. After the first few hours, I seemed to be unaware of my inability to remember things.
Following are two of my husband’s favorite examples of what the entire day was like (chosen from dozens). The first one occurred in the car after church less than five minutes after a great conversation about the worship service that morning and the moving testimony I had given from the pulpit. (I have no memory of the service or the testimony). The second one occurred in the emergency room.
• Cassie: Where are we going?
• Curt: (tentatively) Unless you’ve changed your mind, we’re going grocery shopping at Whole Foods after church like you planned.
• Cassie: Church? We were at church? Where do we go to church?
• Curt: (not getting it) Funny. So what do we need when we get there?
• Cassie: I don’t know what we need. Where are we going?
Apparently, I asked where we were going two or three dozen times during the fifteen minute drive to the store.
• Doctor: Repeat these 3 words... rainbow, goulashes, yellow.
• Cassie: Rainbow... goulashes... yellow.
• Doctor: Good job! It sounds like you had to work pretty hard to remember them.
• Cassie: Remember what?
• Doctor: The three words.
• Cassie: What three words?
Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, isn’t it? Through it all, my self identity and self-awareness were intact (who I am, what I believe), my memory of people and relationships was unaffected (“Do you remember John/Mary/Bill/Susan?” and “What are your children's/parent's/sibling's names?”), and my cognitive abilities and knowledge base were unchanged (letters, colors, spelling, math, places, directions, etc.). And there were no physiological symptoms.
Thankfully, it was not a stroke or anything along those lines. The diagnosis was Transient Global Amnesia. A brief definition and overview of symptoms, causes, risk factors, diagnosis and treatment can be found at http://mayoclinic.com/health/transient-global-amnesia/DS01022.
It is a very rare condition and the medical profession doesn’t really know what causes it or how to treat it. It usually lasts for six to twenty four hours and then memory gradually returns. My memory is pretty much back to normal with the exception of twelve to thirteen hours during and immediately preceding the episode.
I don’t mind forgetting the pain of the spinal tap (lumbar puncture) or the stress and anxiety of the visit to ER. I wish I remembered the church service and the moving testimony of what God is doing in my life. Apparently the service was a meaningful one filled with encouragement, laughter, tears, and friendship.
At the same time, I am choosing to trust God. His timing and purposes are never accidental - even for this bizarre experience. I am also rejoicing that this appears to be such an isolated event and not a long term condition. God is good.
As Christians, we walk by faith and don’t always know what lies ahead or up around the bend. On Sunday, I didn’t even know what was happening in the moment. Much like my twenty four hour bout with TGA, God ultimately will bring us safely through the dark places and out of the misty fog in our lives. One day we will see everything clearly.
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. ~ 1 Corinthians 13: 12
Not long ago, my husband registered for a purpose driven church planting seminar in Ocala, Florida. We live in Oregon and there are very few things that scare me more than flying.
If you have ever met my husband, you know he can be very persuasive. He can motivate people to do just about anything and his enthusiasm and passion are infectious. He has such a heart for unchurched people and as soon as I heard him talking about this seminar, I knew I was in big trouble.
He would expect me to come with him and to do that I would have to get on an airplane. So there was only one thing left to do – just tell him there was no way that he and God were going to make that happen. When he gently pointed out that I was acting like a faithless, fearful, negative, paranoid chicken, he was right. But I didn’t care. There was no way I was getting on that plane!
A few months later my husband was on the flight to Florida – with the paranoid chicken right beside him. (I told you he was persuasive.) It might have been the few days of vacationing in Florida or the trip to Disney World (a first for me). In truth, I think it was when he looked into my eyes and said, “Honey, we are a team and I can’t do this without you” that I caved.
So I said yes. Yes, to what I believed would be painful incineration followed by certain death in a fiery crash caused by the crazed terrorist suicide bomber sitting next to me. And why don’t they put parachutes in the seat cushions instead of flotation devices – especially on a flight from Oregon to Florida?
It was comforting to know that my husband would be sitting beside me holding my hand as we crashed and burned our way into eternity - comforting, but not much help. His question to me was” Honey, why would God call us into ministry just to take us home to be with him?” It was a good question for a rational person but it meant nothing to a faithless, fearful, negative, paranoid chicken.
I had tried to prepare him for my extreme terror of flying. But it wasn’t until we were on the plane that he discovered how all consuming my fear was. I started shaking as soon as we entered the tunnel of death that led from the terminal to the plane. An overwhelming sense of dread crept over me as we boarded. Visions of mid-air explosions and bodies burnt beyond recognition flooded my mind as I strapped myself securely into the death tube – my thoughts spiraling out of control.
As we began to taxi down the runway and the plane picked up speed, I heard the roar of the engines and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Then I started to hyperventilate and went into some sort of frozen trance-like state as my mind escaped from my soon-to-die body to another place. How did I voluntarily subject myself to such terror?
Suddenly, it hit me – a terrifying thought that shook my entire body, “I have no control over this situation. My fate is in the hands of a pilot I do not know.” So I sputtered out this short prayer, “Please help me God, for I am completely overwhelmed by this fear.”
In that moment Gods presence became so real to me. It was like falling back over a cliff and suddenly finding my self enfolded in the Father’s loving arms. The fear poured out as his perfect peace filled me completely. I could hear him speaking into my mind, “I am in control. Your life is in my hands and I have a purpose for you.”
As we landed in Florida, I was still holding my husband’s hand but it was no longer the death grip of a terror filled wife. I doubt if I will ever really “enjoy” flying but next time I will remember to place my trust in the pilot of my soul. Jesus is at the control panel in the cockpit of my heart everyday. He will always get us to our final destination and is the only source of peace at 30,000 feet.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 4:7
Has God ever led you to a place you weren’t ready to go?
It happened to me five years ago when my husband announced it was time to leave the comfort of the little country church we attended. He felt our work there was complete and believed God was calling us to plant a church. I was sensing the same thing. I always believed my husband was destined to pastor a church and now it was time to act on that belief.
I rejoiced at the opportunity to follow God’s call and obey his leading in our lives. I resolved to trust God fully and immediately sensed his perfect peace as I let go and totally surrendered myself and our future to him… OH WAIT!
(Scratch that last paragraph and save it for the fictionalized version.)
The truth of the matter was that I was stricken with an overwhelming sense of fear, panic, and terror. I began to question if I was really hearing from God and if it was him, I wondered if he had gotten it wrong.
The irony was that I often encouraged my husband to consider church planting. I knew his passion for ministry and his heart for the unchurched. I believed in him and his leadership abilities but now that it was time to pursue that dream, I choked and defaulted to panic-driven rebellion.
The source of my terror could be identified with one simple question. What qualifications did I have to be a pastor’s wife? Though I could easily picture my husband as a pastor, there was no way I could see myself as a pastor’s wife.
Everyone knows what a pastor’s wife is like, right? A pastor’s wife can sing like an angel and play the piano. She has an advanced degree in sewing, cooking, and homemaking and is a poised and polished speaker who can motivate others and speak authoritatively on just about any subject. She is a tireless volunteer with a calendar full of bible studies, blood drives, soup-kitchen serving days, trips to the senior center, and hospital visitations. A pastor’s wife has perfect kids who have no problems. Plus, everyone knows that all pastor’s wives have the gift of organization. In short, they are just about perfect – OK, they are perfect.
So why would God pick someone like me to be a pastors wife? I don’t have a great singing voice and the only instrument I play is the VCR. I would rather run my fingernails across a chalkboard all day than speak in front of a group of people. I prefer watching movies on Netflix in a quiet and peaceful home to the frantic pace and hectic schedule of an overfilled calendar. My kids are normal with normal problems and as for organization, let’s just say that it is not one of my gifts and leave it at that.
So with all of these thoughts swirling in my head, I was freaking out because I didn’t know how to tell my husband about the tremendous pressure and performance anxiety I was feeling. I was fully convinced that my husband was supposed to plant a church – to be a pastor but I had not a clue as to if, how, and where I would (or ever could) fit into the picture.
My husband laughed when I told him what I was thinking. He helped me let go of my idealized (and unrealistic) picture of what it meant to be a pastor’s wife. He said if my beliefs about pastor’s wives were true that all pastors would be single except for Wonder Woman’s husband (and he’s probably not a pastor). He reminded me that my role as his wife would be the same whether or not he was a pastor.
The good news is that God had a plan that was bigger than my unbelief and he answered all of my questions in wonderful and profound ways. He is still in control and wants to use me just as I am.
Occasionally, my human nature still wants to say, “But wait God, I’m not qualified to do what you ask of me.” But then I remember that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be. God always uses imperfect people to fulfill his plans.
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9