Moments In The Story

Taking time to appreciate the journey….


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What Mom Taught Me About Cancer

I had a knot in my stomach as I walked into the hospital, and looked around for the room where my mom was having her chemotherapy treatments. I was planning to sit with her for the last two hours, just a portion of the time she had to sit there being injected with drugs that would hopefully ensure that no more cancer would spread through her body.

I remember the day in 2009 when my dad called me to tell me that they had discovered my mom had breast cancer…again. I remember the music playing in the background as my son was watching his Baby Einstein video. Even today, when I hear that music I develop a slight lump in my throat. I have to admit – the news that she was facing breast cancer for a second time was devastating and scary. She was only 32 when she received her first diagnosis of breast cancer, and endured several surgeries to ensure it was gone. Her mother (my grandmother) died of breast cancer when my mom was 24 and pregnant with my younger brother; I was almost 2. Her father (my grandfather) died of brain cancer when I was 16.

Haven’t we already had enough cancer in this family? And why would my mom have it again 28 years later? I was angry and scared. I was only 8 years old when my mom had her first bout with cancer. That is a very terrifying word for a child. And it was scary to watch the adults around me fall apart at the news…. my dad, my grandfather, and my parents’ friends. But back then, it truly was alarming as breast cancer was not as easily detected or treated, like it is today.

The day I went to sit with my mom for one of her last chemo treatments, I came in feeling sad, but I left feeling proud of my mom. I had already been proud of her for being so positive and encouraging to us. I had been proud of her for memorizing Psalm 91, and quoting it when she felt uneasy. But I was most proud of her for an act of love that is embedded in my memory. After her treatment was completed for that day, she, my dad, and I started walking down a hallway leading to the parking garage. There was a lady standing in the hallway, quietly crying as she faced the wall. She wore a red wig. I remembered seeing her earlier as she talked with a nurse and filled out paperwork. She had been disappointed when the nurse told her how long she needed to be there that day. “How am I supposed to handle my job too? I have to get back to work today”. And so a bit later we saw her out in the hall crying. As we walked past her, my dad and I both looked at my mom. “Maybe you should talk to her”, my dad said. So my mom did. From a distance my dad and I waited, but saw them talking, and my mom hugged her and told her, “it gets easier”.

My mother literally stepped out of her own pain and difficult circumstances to encourage someone else. And because she chose to do that, I believe the woman found a much-needed glimpse of hope that day.

If my mom had not displayed such trust in God, and had not reached out to so many people during her own trial, I think I would have remained scared during the whole ordeal. She endured surgery, radiation, and chemo….and she somehow found the strength to laugh, love, and encourage other people. And so she gave me the gift of hope in the face of the unknown.

I think it’s safe to say that how we handle a difficult journey and the attitude we choose while going through it will have an impact on how those around us will handle it. I pray I can be that same example to my boys when we face future heartbreaks, which are just inevitable in life.

Thank you mom! I love you.

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Mom –  just after finding about her cancer recurrence, and then a few months after her treatment (cancer-free!)

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From One Ragamuffin to Another

The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning…… I’ve read it twice, each time taking a ridiculous amount of time. The words filling each page are so well crafted and piercing. They are the words of a man that had a connection with God that I can only imagine, but long for.  I guess that’s why I have to take the time to patiently study his writing in order to really grasp it. But perhaps reading the Ragamuffin Gospel  took me so long because I underlined almost every sentence.

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After hearing about Brennan Manning’s death, I pulled out my worn out Ragamuffin Gospel book just to reflect once again on how much the truths in his book have spoken to me. I came to the page shown above and studied it for a while. I thought back to when this book meant so much to me. I can remember where I was while reading it, and what was going through my mind during that season of life. It’s one of my treasured books that I would never give away to Goodwill…and I’ve kept it in a certain spot so I would remember to read it a third time. Perhaps that time is now, because as much as I would like to say I understand authentic grace, the reality is I still struggle. I have trouble accepting it and I have trouble giving it. As I went over my underlined passages again, I realized that most of them are about learning to embrace His grace and love…a familiar feeling today.

Brennan said we should start here: “Jesus’ tenderness is not in any way determined by how we pray or what we are or do. In order to free us for compassion toward others, Jesus calls us to accept His compassion in our own lives, to become gentle, caring, compassionate, and forgiving toward ourselves in our failure and need.” (The Ragamuffin Gospel)

It starts with our acceptance, but it must also be given away. That’s the gift of grace.

“Gentleness toward ourselves constitutes the core of our gentleness with others. When the compassion of Christ is interiorized and appropriated to self, the breakthrough into a compassionate stance toward others occurs. In a Catch-22 situation, the way of gentleness brings healing to ourselves and gentleness toward ourselves brings healing to others.” (The Ragamuffin Gospel)

Recently I was humbled and brought to tears as I thought of a difficult forgiveness journey. I thought of the words I have heard so many times when people discuss forgiveness: “We need to forgive for us so that we do not carry a burden and become bitter”. What about forgiving for them? What if our efforts were spent offering the same gifts we ourselves have received in an effort for someone else to see God…and see themselves as loved and accepted by Him. What if it was about them and not us?

“The gentleness of Jesus with sinners flowed from His ability to read their hearts. Behind people’s grumpiest poses and most puzzling defense mechanisms, behind their arrogance and airs, behind their silence, sneers, and causes, Jesus saw little children who hadn’t been loved enough and who had ceased growing because someone had ceased believing in them”.  (The Ragamuffin Gospel)

May I believe in them.

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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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Like Father, Like Daughter

My dear friend, Vanessa, lost her Daddy a little over a week ago. Although she’s 38 years old, she still calls him “Daddy”. She found him after he had passed away in his bed early one morning. She and her brother had flown out to be with their dad for a fairly routine heart procedure. They decided to come because of an unsettled feeling they had about him going through it alone. Things went well, and Vanessa’s brother flew home the same night. She stayed with her dad, and was alone when she found him the next morning. Several years ago Vanessa also discovered her mom, after passing away from a sudden heart attack in her bathroom. She was alone then too.

My heart has been grieving since I talked to her on that Friday she lost her dad. No words come to mind or can possibly stand up against the devastation of a heart-broken, sobbing person you love. Just when I wanted to say something stupid, like “He is in a better place”, I instead found myself entering her grief and just crying with her. I told her I loved her and I meant it…and we just cried.

I’ve since been reminded of why I love Vanessa so much. When I was nine-years-old, she and her family moved in next door to us. Our younger brothers were also close in age and the four of us became good friends. We did all the normal kid stuff and laughed a lot. When we moved to a different neighborhood two years later, Vanessa and I stayed in touch by exchanging letters and attending each other’s birthday parties. When we would start to lose touch, I would receive a surprise letter from Vanessa. As we got older, every year I would receive a home-made, hand-written Christmas card, and Birthday card. Even when I was away at college, she made the effort to find my address and send me a card.

In our early 20’s, we lived in the same area and began hanging out a lot. We became close during that “transitional” season of life when you are trying to figure out what to do with your life. We were both working and going to school, and socializing a ton. I still laughed a lot around her….just like when we were kids. And she always had “this friend” or “that friend” that would be joining us. I met a lot of new people through her! About eight years ago, she moved to the Washington D.C. area and although we’ve been miles apart…she still manages to keep in touch with me. She still remembers my birthday and she still sends Christmas cards (though now it’s by email to 100 people at once…she wouldn’t be Vanessa if she didn’t continue to accumulate friends!). She is still my dear friend. And when we got together with our brothers and her boyfriend last night….we laughed again like little kids. It’s so rare to find someone that pursues your friendship like that, and makes you feel special even though it is how they are with everyone. And it’s rare to find someone that cares so much about you, and enters into your world even though they’ve just been through a trauma.

At her dad’s funeral I was really moved. One-by-one, folks came up to share about Vanessa’s dad….his golf buddy, his life-long friends, his subordinates, his peers, and his children. Most all of them described the same quality about her dad that meant the most to them – his concern and his availability for people. They would talk to him about their problems. One person never heard him say a bad word about anyone in the twenty years they were friends. Another gentleman shared about receiving a letter from Vanessa’s dad while he was serving in the Army. He hadn’t talked to her dad in years, but somehow her dad tracked down his address and sent him a letter that reached him at just the right time. Vanessa spoke about her dad’s influence in her life, and how she takes after him.

She herself finds that as a college professor, students come in, close her office door, and ask to talk to her about various things. She pursues people, and keeps in touch. She contacts them and makes their day when they needed to hear from a friend. She is a loyal friend that never speaks badly of anyone else. She laughs a lot. She is living out the things people loved most about her Daddy in her own life. Her father modeled it for her, and she became a reflection of His life-changing qualities.

One older gentleman who shared at the funeral pointed out that her father was the kind of man he was because of his parents. Looking at Vanessa and her extended family, he said “Find out who his parents were”.

Those who have gone before us leave a legacy. No one is perfect, but we are wise to examine the qualities that positively impacted the lives around them. And we are wise to follow in their footsteps.

In honor of Willie Little, and his reflections – Vanessa and Jason.

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


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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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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.