Where do you find inspiration? I woke up pondering this question this morning. When I do that, I am always listening throughout the day because without a doubt I know God is trying to show me something and I should be on the look out.
Last month, my family visited Chicago to attend a surprise party for friend turning 50 — woo hoo! While in Chicago we visited a Saturday evening service at Willow Creek, a church where our friends had served on staff. The music was amazing. The waterfalls outside the windows were soothing. Hearing Bill Hybels speak about the fishing derby with children and adults for special needs was moving. But what really stirred my spirit was what happened during the sermon time, one of the pastors spoke with Catherine Rhor about the ministry with prisoners she founded in the Houston, Texas area. Right out of college she pursued a high powered job making a great money on Wall Street. Yet she kept asking herself if there was more to life. Finally she surrendered to God and prayed the prayer, “Lord Bring it!” Wow, I thought. I’m not sure I’ve prayed those exact words. I thought if you do pray those prayer, you had better be prepared for your world to be turned upside down. Following a mission trip to an orphanage for children with HIV she embraced those hurting and in need and begin to feel her life change. She was invited to speak at an all-male prison in Houston and with that acceptance came an incredible shift in her life. “Lord, bring it” brought on a new way of looking at life and a new passion she had not experienced on Wall Street. It brought compassion for others and helping them through tough times, believing everyone can make a difference simply given to tools and encouragement to do so. After one trip to the prison she began to lead classes with young men to encourage them to follow their passions and dreams and equip them for business once paroled. She finally quit her job, moved to Houston and founded a program the “Prison Entrepeneurship Program” – PEP. She said today the prayer, Lord, give us our daily bread has taken on new meaning. At the end of her interview, 3 graduates from her program spoke. One had been paroled only the day before. To say it was inspiring was an understatement. As we heard their stories and heard about the changes in their lives, the room felt lifted by the hope that was alive in their presence. We cheered as they talked about the work they were doing. I thought, as they spoke of their future, how refreshing it must be to be these three men, standing before this congregation. They seemed fearless, yet I’m sure have been in much scarier situations. They spoke with poise, grace and a confidence in themselves and in a God who always believed in who they were and in what they could achieve. I met Catherine afterwards and said, “I’d be willing to come speak or sing for your guys. Please know I’m willing and able and would love to come.” She smiled with such love and said, “You’ve said it now! When can you come?”
Inspiration — it moves me to action; it moves me to surrender; it moves me to let go of control; it moves me to look around and see what I can do today, where I am, right now.
Years ago I sang in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I have always been inspired by art and was quite a follower of Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting. While I was off on Sunday afternoon I made a visit to her museum to mainly see one of my favorite paintings of her in a series called, “Above the Clouds”. I had a book at home and was drawn to that series and to her interpretation. She said she looked out of a window of an airplane and simply painted what she saw. As I entered the room where one of her paintings of clouds was on display, I sat against the wall of the back of the room, stunned. I had no idea that it would be HUGE. It is the size of two rooms. It was grand in front of me and I was taken by my misjudgement of its size from my coffee table book back home. It was so much better in person. In front of me I saw Georgia’s vision. She wanted it to inspire. I believe that’s why she painted it so big.
What inspires you? When have you been inspired? Where do you gather inspiration? Normally for me, it’s from the everyday things — a picture of clouds, a late-night family swim under the stars, Max having a food drive with his birthday party, or my flowers that grow in spite of my neglect. Sometimes it sneaks up on me, like that morning when I heard the PEP graduates speak of their dreams and desires for the future or when I stood in the presence of that magnificent painting.
While writing this note, I spoke with our dear friends Beth and John Page whose 5-year-old daughter Tanner has bravely been battling leukemia for the last couple of weeks. (You can read about their battle here or visit her Facebook page.) — I went to the hospital and sang for Tanner and despite how badly she must have felt, she still mustered up a smile for “Over the Rainbow”. She and I talked about what kind of hat she might like to wear when she loses her hair. Now that kind of attitude inspires me. It reminds me that everyday we are faced with a decision to choose to surrender ourselves and to trust that wherever we find ourselves — we can do it with grace. Her mom and I recently went to the movies. She let me pry her out of the house. I knew she was tired and a friend of mine suggested I see if she could use some girlfriend time. She and I laughed that at the snack counter as we ordered the couples’ combo – it was a great deal!
Much of the evening she shared how Tanner has handled this with grace. I think of the 5-year-old who should be riding her bike, eating ice cream, catching fireflies. She was planning on taking swimming lessons in our pool this summer. She was having slumb-overs. (A slumb-over is where you cross the street to a friend’s house in the neighborhood with your pjs and a sleeping bag in tow. You have a bath, enjoy a snack, watch a movie at a friend’s house and then when it’s time to go to bed, you cross the street to go back home to her house for the night—I love the idea!) Now Tanner is faced with not only this disease, but with treatment and the side-effects of treatment–feeling terrible, missing out on a ton of fun kid stuff this summer, feeling different, and cares about her future. Her mom says the word that she’s surprised to use, but fits best is grace. Wow! Ok I’m inspired. Tanner has taught me, but also her mom and dad, Beth and John, our dear friends, have bravely, wearily and courageously walked each step of this with such grace. Daily in small ways they have moved me to be more grateful and more thoughtful of others. One of the best parts is that they have been transparent and honest in their response. There are things in life we don’t understand and can’t change, but we can choose how we each respond. We can choose hope each day. We can choose to live hope and grace today. We can celebrate today, to enjoy and to savor each tiny moment (I love the day they shared that Tanner was feeling good, so they had a picnic upstairs in her room.)
We have this moment and we can look for inspiration right here, in front of us. These moments of potential inspiration are the real deal. Like Catherine, Georgia and Tanner, there are those around us who would remind us that life is bigger than we are. Life is filled with inspiration, everywhere. It is more, we are more than where we find ourselves, than our circumstance or what we are going through. Our lives are a blank canvas, so paint away friends, make chocolate covered strawberries for a friend, have a picnic, order the couples combo and don’t be afraid to pray, “Lord, Bring it” and then to be on the lookout to be inspired!