Moments In The Story

Taking time to appreciate the journey….


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Living Vicariously Through Others

We have all been there. Hearing the voice of someone you love breaking up over the phone and turning into a sob. Listening to a friend hesitate, but then slowly pour her heart out about what her home life is really like. Finding out that there is yet another person you know dealing with a life-altering health issue.

The struggles of others take different shapes – some are close friends and it feels comfortable to speak words of encouragement. Other times it is an acquaintance and we struggle to find the words when we cross paths with them.

And sometimes it really strikes home. Recently I’ve had conversations with three different people who are journeying on a similar path I have walked in the past. Though circumstances are different, I have been amazed at how it has taken me back to that place in my own life.

It’s interesting how we handle past pain. Some move on in a healthy way, choosing to grow from the experience. For various reasons, others have trouble moving on – which is understandable.  It’s tempting to say stupid things to try to help the person understand that they will get through to the other side of it. In viewing their situation through our own angle we can minimize their perspective, or we can project our baggage on to them in an effort to relate.

It’s interesting to look at the contrast of sympathy vs. empathy in response to someone else’s struggle. The definition of sympathy is: the fact or power of sharing the feelings of another, especially in sorrow or trouble; fellow feeling, compassion, or commiseration.  The definition of empathy is: the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. I don’t think anyone would say that sympathy is bad. But the challenge of empathy is probably not something we can effortlessly achieve. I’m struck by the idea of vicariously experiencing someone’s feelings, thoughts and attitude. To me that would mean visually placing myself in their day-to-day life activities….. beyond sitting across the table from them at Starbucks….beyond dropping off a meal. But before I can even know what they need, I have to embrace empathy. Empathy is required if I’m going to try to understand a road I have never traveled. But I must go there…sympathy and commiseration will only do for so long. I must allow their pain to light my fire of compassion….so that I move beyond words, to meaningful action.

My quest and desire for genuine empathy is rocking my world. I would go to the moon and back for someone whose pain I have shared. But what about the grief of those I cannot relate to? It’s too easy to stand back. How would my world change…how would my relationships change if I could grasp this?

Rather than being blind to pain that I don’t understand, I choose to seek the path of empathy. It won’t always be comfortable, but perhaps it will provide an unexpected shoulder to rest on…. for a soul who desperately needs it.

Hebrews 13:1-3 (The Message)

“Stay on good terms with each other, held together by love. Be ready with a meal or a bed when it’s needed. Why, some have extended hospitality to angels without ever knowing it! Regard prisoners as if you were in prison with them. Look on victims of abuse as if what happened to them had happened to you.”

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Starting with Sincerity

“Mama, I just want to play with you”. Believe me – I hear that statement about 15 times a day. And the other day, in particular was a rough day. You know…the kind when both kids are taking turns crying, or crying at the same time all….day….long. And like most days lately, I thought I had broken my record for the amount of times I’d said “no” in one day.  And while I was trying to find yet another thing he could play with so I could take my 5-minute “wash only the important parts” shower, he stopped me in my tracks.

“Mama, I just want to play with you”.

There was a soft tone, his eyes meeting mine, and I really saw him. I didn’t see the “whiney” child who will not obey, or the older brother who knows not to take things away from his younger brother…I saw his sincere need. I prolonged my shower again and sat down to play with my son for a few minutes, but with a calm demeanor and a genuine desire. Just a few positive moments with his mama was all he needed. And I needed it even more. His sincerity brought a unique restoration that our relationship was in need of.

Twice in the past few weeks I have sat across the table at coffee shops from someone I dearly loved as we approached a delicate conversation. In each situation both of us listened and received what the other person had to say. And each of us felt heard. We processed, rather than blamed. We saw it as an opportunity to grow as individuals. And we put the person above the issue. Each situation was different, but one thing was the same – we each chose sincerity.

Now doesn’t that sound nice and simple? Well I can’t tell you how much frustration, hurt and confusion I had to work through prior to these meetings. In one case, I was feeling hurt and helpless…and I was getting ready to formulate my position on paper so I wouldn’t forget my points. I was going to do that right after I whizzed through my Bible reading for that day. As I was skimming through my reading, I saw the phrase “draw near to God with a sincere heart”. I stopped and immediately softened. I talked to God about it and I told Him how I really felt. I sensed His mercy and love for the situation. And I stopped planning and kept praying for His help in communicating and listening through a heart of sincerity.

Many times we approach conflicts or miscommunications as a battle to be fought. But I believe that our deepest longing underneath it all is to be understood. It’s scary to ask that of someone who has hurt us or is angry at us. I’ve heard people say, “well I’m just keeping it real”. What they are really doing is spewing – but without transparency, and with an agenda. Or there’s the person that postures as if they are listening, but uses deflection, blame-shifting, or “spiritual” reasoning to avoid owning their part of the problem.

I don’t think we even care about receiving an apology as much as we long for sincerity. It disarms us. It takes the angry breath out of our chest. It brings tears to our eyes. Even love without sincerity means nothing. But our words, spoken through the lens of sincerity can love others well beyond even well-meaning, truthful words. When someone communicates with me through sincerity, their words are received in my heart. And when I choose a path of sincerity, I end up speaking truth, being transparent, and avoiding the tendency to manipulate.

Our lives are busy and our days are full. We don’t always have the time to think through how to respond to every encounter we will have that day. We also don’t have the wisdom on our own to navigate through every difficult, even long-term problem with someone. But there is one thing we can do…we can start with sincerity….and see where it leads. Even if the person does not receive our sincerity, we will have a peace because we have been honest in a loving way. And we will not have regrets. Sincerity is the only “real” way to be. It may not lead to complete resolution, but it will lead to restoration – even if that is only for our own heart.

“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith…….and let us spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10)


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How To Be Like Mother Teresa

I’ve been deeply touched by a book I’m reading about Mother Teresa’s more private life and thoughts. The book contains some of the letters she wrote to her mentors and spiritual advisors who were praying for her as she answered God’s call in founding the Missionaries of Charity.

I have to admit – I obtained this book because I wanted to know about the heart of this woman, and how she could possibly love so much. I wanted to know what her method was. But as I read the first chapter I was struck with the answer. She didn’t want anyone to know. Apparently Mother Teresa sent multiple requests for her private letters about her life’s calling to be destroyed because she did not want any credit to go to her…but only to God. As her ministry grew, she began receiving requests to be interviewed about her ministry and how “she” developed it. Instead of granting these interviews, she pleaded through various communications with leaders in her church to destroy her letters and documents. Some complied with her request, and others did not.

Here is one of her letters, written 3 years after her original request for the documents to be destroyed.

“Your Grace,

Now that you are looking through the file of our Society – I beg you to destroy any letter which I have written to His Grace – not connected with the Society. “The Call” was a delicate gift of God to me – unworthy – I do not know why He picked me up – I suppose like the people we pick up – because they are the most unwanted. From the first [day] to this day – this my new vocation has been one prolonged “yes” to God – without even a look at the cost. My conviction that “the work is His” – is more than the reality. I have never doubted. It hurts me only when the people call me foundress because I know for certain He asked – “Will you do this for Me?” Everything was His – I had only to surrender myself to His plan – to His will – Today His work has grown because it is He not I that do it through me. Of this I am so convinced – that I would give my life gladly to prove it – “

Two years ago a dear older friend and mentor asked me a question that I will never forget. We were emailing back and forth about a wrong perspective I was struggling with. I shared with her in-depth what I was struggling with, my feelings about it, and what I felt like I needed to do to change it. In her response she gracefully empathized but asked me to look back at my email and count how many times I had written the word “I”. I didn’t need to count to see that it was about every other word of my long email! What a gift she gave me. I started thinking about all those “I” statements and I tried to reword them into “He” statements. It gave me a completely new perspective on my situation…as well as a new hope.

We like the next new book, counseling program, or real-life story. And truly, those can be wonderful things if we ask God what He has for us through them. I think the danger comes when we look for a method to follow. Why don’t we believe that God has something personal for us?

Mother Teresa’s secret was simply being with the Father and saying “yes”. There was nothing magical about her. I’ve also learned that she lived a life of saying yes to God immediately, once she knew it was His will. Some criticized her for that – they said she didn’t think things through enough.

Well, before I try to turn this post into a formula….let me just say this – it’s about Him, and not me. And it’s a relief. Thankfully, Isaiah 41:10 doesn’t say this:

“Do not fear, for you are with you;

Do not be dismayed, for you are your God.

You will strengthen you and help you;

You will uphold you with your righteous right hand”


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Pursuing People

Ten years ago I began hanging out with my husband as “friends” shortly after he moved in across the street from me. He hadn’t dated anyone for about five years, and I hadn’t dated for a year due to a long string of bad relationships. So we were a perfect match for one another and each of us had absolutely no baggage to bring into the relationship!

Although we were only “friends” and this is what I told everyone I wanted…I began to feel confused. We had hung out in many settings, and talked a lot…but as time went on I wondered what the heck we were doing. I kept waiting for him to “pursue” me – you know….ask me out, tell me he was interested…sweep me off my feet. I waited for this, just like I waited for it in past relationships. It was my way of seeking redemption in the areas of my disappointment. We always get into trouble when we set up a plan for what healing should look like, and decide that a human being will be that plan. So I waited and waited…and waited. Just like in the past.

One day my wise father handed me two tickets to a Broncos game and suggested I ask Andy to go. He said that maybe Andy just needed me to make the first move…give him some encouragement. So against my nature, I asked him and he said yes. And I got to see him with his shirt off as he had to take it off due to the heat that day. And we relaxed and had fun as a wall between us disappeared.  The next weekend he asked me to go roller blading, so we made a day trip and found a great path. He showed me how to roller blade, and while he was demonstrating how to use the brakes, he tripped and fell.

This was only the beginning of our story, and my need to be pursued is still a struggle for us today. My expectations in this area pop up at times, but I’m so thankful that I did not marry someone who would meet those expectations. Our relationship was cultivated because I chose to pursue Andy, but I continue to be challenged to live this way in our relationship as well as the many other relationships around me.

Whether it’s the beginning of a love story, a conflict, a deep hurt, or preference….I dare say that most of us have the tendency to wait to be pursued by someone else. In some circumstances, we even have the “right” to be pursued by someone who has wronged us, or we have our “reasons” why we just can’t put ourselves out there. I’m not talking about being a people-pleaser or doormat; there is a place for healthy boundaries in our lives. What I’m talking about is going against the grain…taking the narrow path…loving in secret. We may never be acknowledged by the person. We may not get anything in return. We may never feel pursued in a way that makes us feel safe. But nothing in my life has challenged me or grown me more than choosing to love first.

In the study book, “Experiencing God” (by Henry & Richard Blackaby and Claude King), Blackaby states, “God always takes the initiative in our love relationship…no one seeks God on his own initiative”. I believe this…I believe it is much more comfortable to be pursued then to pursue. It’s not just tolerating someone, it’s actively showing love to them.

It doesn’t take much – calling the friend you had that conflict with long ago; not to re-hash everything, but to have breakfast with them; contacting the person who never calls you…the one you always make the effort with first; staying in the friendship you probably have the right to walk away from. You persevere, you choose to love, and you do it because someone much bigger than us all did it first. And we wouldn’t be the same without HIM.

Jeremiah 31:3 – “I have loved you with and everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness”.

© Kristin Gordley and Moments In The Story, November 2012.


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Only God Can Clean My Coffee Mug

Two years ago I went to a great conference. There were a few speakers and each one seemed to thread the theme of humility into their talks – in different ways. After a bit of stammering, I surrendered my thoughts a bit and started to realize that in some areas of my life I lacked humility and teach-ability. I also recognized that I had gone to such great lengths to avoid accepting this truth because it was not an easy thing to discover about myself. Then I had a picture in my head of being like the Pharisees who Jesus referred to as “cleaning the outside of the cup” but paying no attention to the inside. Just when I was about to try and come up with some happy thoughts I instead found myself asking God to help me understand it better. Then John Maxwell spoke and shared a story that really touched me.

Many know of him as a world-renown expert, writer and speaker on leadership. He is also a teaching pastor at a large church. He described a time (in recent years) when he made a leadership decision that was challenged by several people in his congregation. As he was preparing his sermon one week, he decided he needed to give a message to them about humility. His intent was to convict them and show them he was right. After all, he was an expert on leadership. As he reviewed the sermon over and over he felt more and more justified in his position and he was excited to give the sermon. He even decided to practice on his wife and show her the great words he had created. His wife listened, and when he was done she asked if he really felt that was the kind of message he should give to his congregation. After taking some time to pray, John felt God was saying that the sermon was meant for him…not for his congregation. He re-read his words a few times and the truth began to set in. He read it as a message God was giving him and was overcome with humility. He realized he was wrong in not taking the time to listen to people, and he realized he had pride in his heart. He decided to give the sermon to his congregation that Sunday, but he told them the message was for him. Afterward he cried and asked for their forgiveness, and asked them to pray for him.

John also pointed out that as a leader he had to wrestle with the question: can I lead myself? While we are not all “leaders”, I think we all have to wrestle with a similar question: are willing to do what we expect of others? – as parents, workers, spouses, family members, friends…oh, so I guess pretty much every one of us has someone in our lives we influence.

Recently I’ve been reading small chunks at a time of A.W. Tozer’s “The Root of the Righteous”. That guy didn’t sugar-coat anything – phew! But I’ve been challenged by the premise of his book, which (using the analogy of a fruit-bearing tree) describes the danger in only seeking the outcome others have achieved (the fruit in their lives) without learning from the character-building struggles they chose to endure (developing roots). Here is a quote: “Today we write the biographies of such as these and celebrate their fruit, but the tendency is to ignore the root out of which the fruit sprang. Our fathers looked well to the root of the tree and were willing to wait with patience for the fruit to appear. We demand the fruit immediately even though the root may be weak and knobby or missing altogether. Impatient Christians today explain away the simple beliefs of the saints of other days and smile off their serious-minded approach to God and sacred things.”

This is hard-hitting stuff, but I guess it’s not supposed to be easy when you look at it this way. In my zeal to develop more character in my life – woo hoo – it didn’t take long to feel discouraged. How do you change a lifetime of self-centeredness? Well you don’t. It’s only in seeking a relationship with Him – developing roots – that you even start to have a consistent desire. Only He can even give you the “want to” to change. Then it’s one step, one choice at a time. Sometimes it means failure. But you shove that root back into the ground…and you do what it takes to keep it there. You wrestle with God about it. You do what it takes. Instead of picking up the bag of oreos (and who would EVER eat a whole bag at one time??), the drink, or turning to whatever else is your escape….you decide to do business with God. Of course it’s not easy. It means doing it over and over. It means choosing something different than what you have chosen before…and all for fruit that make take years to see.

But what do I really want? And will I waste more years posturing and cleaning the outside of the cup while the inside is filled with nasty coffee stains? No! I root myself in Him and the inside becomes like a new stainless steel mug all on its own.

Jeremiah 17:8: They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.

© Kristin Gordley and Moments In The Story, October 2012.


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Comparison: the robber of growth

I’m on a mission: to surround myself with people that make me grow. In the past I avoided this at all costs. Why now you may ask? Well, I’m not sure why it took me getting into my mid-thirties to grasp this, but I’ve begun to see people differently. Not as a competition to step up against, not as a crutch to lean on, not as a “ministry” or project that I can get some self-worth from. Ouch, it’s kind of hard to admit that I’ve held people in this regard too often in the past. And mind you, I’m not talking as one who has completely overcome this area in my life, but rather as one who is seeking to overcome it. I’m tired of it, almost a bit angry about it. How much of my time and energy has been spent orchestrating my relationships to make me feel better? How much effort has gone into evaluating, criticizing and being offended by others? Too much precious time. I have been robbed of years that could have been spent growing.

I believe God brings people in our lives who challenge us. Can’t you think of that “type” of person that drives you crazy? That makes you mad? The “type” you are always trying to squirm away from somehow – whether it is a co-worker, family member, fellow church-goer, or friend? Who makes you uncomfortable? Do you know why?

For me I have lost myself in a sea of comparison for years. It cost me so much happiness, and honestly it kept me in the same place. My striving to be better than others was to try and prove myself to myself. I thought it was a way to be better as a person in my career, as a mother, as a friend. But it was never enough! Embracing the situations and people that made me squirm would have been the pathway to becoming a more stable, solid, awesome person.

I’ve been trying an experiment for about a year now: when I come across someone I’m tempted to compete with, I stop and ask myself why. I choose to look at their strengths, and then I realize they have something I desire because they are stronger in an area than I am. At that point I can either choose to disengage or I can choose to partner with them. I can let their strengths be…I can even tell them about all the great things I see in them. I can ask them questions, try to learn from them. I can grow in an area I’m (shhhh) weak in. I can make a friend rather than an opponent. “We” can now be better together. Perhaps this could spread and more people could be a part of this. Maybe we become a great team. Maybe we can do some great things…together.

I’m convinced comparison is one of the enemy’s secret tools to keep us from freedom in Jesus. Think about how much it distracts us from growing in our own character and calling in life. Think about how much it hurts the people we come across. It creates more for us to be offended about, hurts those dear to us, and keeps everyone involved from truly living out their strengths.

Help me….help you! (silly Jerry Maguire quote) I want to stop hurting others through comparison, and I want to stop being hurt too. But the only way this will change is if one person at a time chooses to engage, and call out the strengths of someone that makes them squirm.

Will you try with me? What successes have you experienced in opening up your life to people that make you squirm?

© Kristin Gordley and Moments In The Story, August 2012.


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Seeing Others

I was at Panera Bread a few weeks ago and the manager was taking my order. He asked me how my day was going and then I asked him the same thing. He thanked me for asking him and said that while he has been working at that particular restaurant, no customer has asked him that question. He mentioned that since the restaurant was located in the Briargate Shops it must have to do with the people that usually shop and eat there. I was puzzled to tell you the truth. He was inferring that it was a shopping center with perhaps more “well-to-do” shoppers. My experience is that anyone and everyone hangs out at that shopping center, but his comment mostly made me sad because I think it’s an attitude some people have no matter who is serving them or where they are being served.

I also noticed something similar at the grocery store the other day. The cashier was trying to make friendly conversation with the lady in front of me, only to receive forced, one-word answers. Maybe this customer had something on her mind that day…I get that and it happens. I don’t want to question other peoples’ motives, but more often than not, customers I observe can be rude to those serving them.

Last weekend my husband and I celebrated our anniversary at a very nice hotel, thanks to a gift card we received from some of his co-workers when we had our baby. This was truly a 5-star type of place and the only time I’ve experienced people falling all over themselves to serve me. It made me feel a little uncomfortable. What I appreciated most was that wherever we went – to dinner or the pool, the servers would say “Happy Anniversary!” It was a nice touch. The gal at the pool dragged lawn chairs and a table to a special spot by the lake and put our towels over the chair in a specific, comfortable way. Servers came by to ask if we needed anything. I saw one of them bring the wrong drink to someone’s wife and get berated for about five minutes. The wife shook her head the whole time…she must have been pretty disappointed.

All of this got me thinking. I wish we would all treat others like they were rich. The servers at the hotel we stayed at did it because it’s part of their job, and perhaps so they could get a nice tip. Most of them were genuine….don’t get me wrong. I admire their ability to serve. But the reason they do it is because of the kind of people that typically stay at their hotel. They are trained to serve this way, and required to do so.

What if we treated those who waited on us like they were rich, but not because they are rich – but because we choose to see them as important in this world. We ask our dogs and cats how they are doing. Why can’t we ask the server? And why don’t we want to?

I write this not as someone who does this well all the time. It’s easy if I’m in a good mood or if my shopping or eating experience was perfect. But what if my food is wrong? What if the grocery line is long and my baby and toddler are screaming? Well, maybe I don’t act nicey-nice then. But I could choose to. What matters is how we act when things don’t go our way.

I was touched reading the story in the Bible about Sarai and her maidservant Hagar. Sarai was unable to get pregnant, so she had her husband Abram (aka Abraham) marry Hagar so she could have children through her. After Hagar became pregnant Sarai mistreated her and Hagar left and wandered in the desert. An Angel found her and asked her where she was going. He then told her to go back and submit to Sarai…and promised her that God would also make her descendants too numerous to count. Her son was named Ishmael – which means “God hears”.  Hagar prayed to God after this saying “You are the God who sees me”, for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” (Genesis 16) Hagar obviously felt like the lowly, unnoticed one. But what motivated her to go back to a difficult situation was a God that noticed her and gave her hope for the future.

We are not God, but we can embrace and live out the things that matter to God. What a blessing we could be by “seeing” someone else- especially someone whose job is to serve us somehow.  What if we treated them like they were the rich one, or the one we were serving. There are countless ways we could “see” someone else in our day-to-day activities. It may just make their day….

© Kristin Gordley and Moments In The Story, August 2012.