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A Fresh Start Amid Chaos

May 10, 2010

Is this thing still on?

I hadn’t posted in more than two months and was flirting with shutting down this thing. Then I read Joan Ball’s book, “Flirting with Faith: My Spiritual Journey from Atheism in a Faith-Filled Life.” I am encouraged by her story and others like it. Any radical change of heart captures my imagination. Like:

  • Saul’s transformation from Christian killer to flaming evangelist on the road to Damascus.
  • Ex-reporter Lee Strobel’s journey from atheism to faith after investigating Christian claims and finding them persuasive.
  • Brian “Head” Welch ditching the metal group Korn and a host of self-destructive habits upon following Christ.

Much of Joan’s life parallels mine, from having a firefighter father to her love of writing. Most of all, I identify with her drive to grow spiritually.

When I first heard she would be publishing her story, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I had been reading her Beliefnet.com blog for a while and only knew snippets of her story. The book, her first, filled in all the gaps — and much more. It’s a terrific read that conveys, in moving detail, the costs and rewards of an authentic Christian life.

After her startling 180-degree turn on an ordinary Sunday morning in 2003, nothing is ever the same. Faith provides new lens through which to interpret her past and a moral compass for moving forward. Though radical changes ensue, her faith holds fast through career changes, illness, betrayal, and more.

She knows little of Christianity’s history or the current landscape of the faith. But she credits the Holy Spirit with helping her get up to speed and, like a divine switchboard operator, helping her make serendipitous, lasting connections with others.

The final chapter, which deals with perfectionism, particularly hit home. It opens with Joan doing something I’ve done about a thousand times: standing in my closet knee-deep in my own “stew of shoes” — cranky that I can’t find the footwear I want, but mostly exasperated that I can’t will my life to be more orderly. More… perfect.

My shoe stew

“The foe was this,” she writes. “There was and always would be a chasm between what I hope to do and what I actually do. No matter how devoted I am to this new life, I am never going to be perfect, and sometimes, even though I know it is not right, that really sets me off.”

I like where she ends up and can’t wait to get hold of her next book.

Till then, will I keep letting perfectionism (disguised as “too busy,” “too disorganized,” “don’t have anything to say,” etc. ) prevent me from blogging? Or finishing that short story? Or developing a long-term interest in photography?

Will I find a way to start fresh amid life’s chaos? We’ll see.

After finishing Joan’s book, I found additional inspiration in a sermon by Pastor Steven Furtick of Charlotte’s Elevation Church.

Most dreams die, he said. But they don’t have to.

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Gerry Reid’s Eulogy

March 15, 2010
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I have never been to a standing-room-only memorial service. Gerry’s on Saturday at Asbury United Methodist Church in Raleigh drew hundreds. When the parking spaces filled up, cars overflowed onto the lawn. Inside, Gerry’s family and friends — some wearing the familiar socks and sandals, others in Carolina Hurricanes jerseys — laughed, cried, and honored a man, gone way too soon, who had made their lives better.

Following is what Mandy said during the service:

At Duke Hospital I had a social worker ask me to tell her about Gerry.  How do you explain Gerry in just a minute?  He is the funniest, smartest person I know.  He is a wonderful caring father and my best friend.  He is patient and honest.  He loves the outdoors and spending time with people.  He adores music and coffee with chocolate milk.  He is an avid hockey fan and he has a love affair with working out.  He loves to exercise, train, play hockey and Brazilian jujitsu.  This is just the tip of the iceberg but that is how I described him.

Gerry is also a gift.  He was an answer to my parent’s prayer for a husband.  My Dad joked he didn’t know anyone who didn’t like Gerry.  I told him the only person I knew who didn’t like Gerry was my boyfriend at the time when I met Gerry.

By Gerry's daughter Emma

Gerry was a gift to me and my kids.  Gerry loved his children very very much.  It was evident how much he loved them when he would drop everything when he would walk in the door from work and get on the floor and play with the kids, spend hours in the street with Caleb playing hockey or kickball with the neighborhood kids.  He loved to exercise and would try to make sure the kids got a good “run,” as he put it, outside.  Vitamin O for outside.  Emma got her fair share of Vitamin O with Gerry being the chief of her Indian Princess tribe through the YMCA.   He longed to take Emma camping and on adventures with this group.  He had a special relationship with Emma and Caleb.  He knew just how to play with them and trigger that sparkle in their eyes.

Gerry was a gift to his friends.  He was an invaluable source of information.  If you needed advice on anything, Gerry would know about it or find out about it.  Not only find out about it, but he would become almost an expert on that subject and tell you his opinion.  He loved his friends and that is evident by all the people in the audience today.  They loved him too.  I’m sure everyone has a Gerry story they can share.  Gerry loved keeping in touch with people via phone calls, instant messages and or email.  He longed for conversations and friendships.  Gerry had that magnetism that just drew people to him and they stayed with him.  I met Gerry 17 years ago and I know people who knew him longer than that who are here today.  Once you became a friend of Gerry … you were a friend for life.

Gerry’s time after the accident was a gift.  I had one of his neurosurgeons tell me it was a miracle that Gerry’s body was intact after the accident.  Gerry’s time after the accident was a gift to me and close friends and family.  To love on him, say the things that need to be said, cry and love on one another.  I was able to lay in the ICU bed with him and watch a Canes game with him.

Gerry was a gift to others.  After his soul went to be with our Lord, he saved the lives of 5 people.  His lungs went to a 51-year-old female, his liver went to a 57-year-old male, his left kidney went to a female and his right kidney went to a male, and his heart went to a 25-year-old male.  In our grief there was some family rejoicing that a donor was available to save their son, brother and or friend.  Gerry also impacted the lives of over 200 people with his organ donations to make their lives better.  That is exactly what he would have wanted … helping others.  If you aren’t already an organ donor maybe you should consider doing so now.

Gerry is a gift to you.  Learn from him and me.  Say the things that need to be said.  Hug and love each other.  Don’t hold a grudge, say the things that need to be said that you are afraid to say it.  Get your life in order and your documentation in order.  You have no idea how many certificates you need after someone has passed on … birth, marriage, death etc.  It’s mind boggling especially if you don’t know where these items are located.  Get Life Insurance!  Don’t put it off … like Gerry, you don’t know when you will be called home when it’s really too soon.  Forgive those people who have done you wrong.  Don’t waste any more energy than you need to if someone has done you wrong … I had friends I hadn’t seen in years show up at the hospital to support me even though we had end up on the wrong terms from the past.  Bottom line … we need to really love people more.  Get off the cell phones, the computers and tell each other things verbally and in person, spend time with each other and hug on each other.  Re-prioritize and not sweat the small stuff.  Talk about your wishes when you go so that others know your wishes.  If my sister-in-law’s grandmother had not passed on and shook me so much I would not have known Gerry’s wishes and his desires for how he wanted to be cremated and spread on a North Carolina mountain.  Although it’s hard to talk about, it is important to talk about it. Again you don’t know when you will be called home before you are ready to go.

Speaking of home, do you know where your eternal home is going to be?  If not you need to get that in order, your spiritual life.  There is no more time like the present.  If I didn’t have God’s help I wouldn’t be able to get through this … there are people you can talk to about this that can help you within this church.  Feel free to reach out and find out more.  I personally will be happy to point you in the right direction.

Everyone has been so helpful, kind and loving.  People don’t know what to say or how to act.  The hugs and letters have been so generous and plentiful.  I would like to thank Duke hospital and the crew at Western Wake Fire and Rescue.  Without their help I wouldn’t have been able to have those last hours with Gerry.    I would also like to thank Trinity Academy for taking such wonderful care of my kids.  Without the Trinity family, life would be so much more different.  The teachers, staff, and parents have been exceptional.  The Trinity difference that Gerry loved was that it just wasn’t a school; it was a family, a community.  Thank you Stoney Manor neighborhood for loving on my family … it’s so heart warming to see all the kids playing together and allowing my children some sense of normalcy.  Thank you to our Asbury Family.  Asbury has been home to me for many many many years and it became Gerry’s home too.  He loved our life group and he was always comfortable at Asbury.

In conclusion, don’t put off anymore what you could be doing today.    Showing your love for someone else, forgiving someone or figuring out where you should be spiritually with God.  Life is too short.   Each day we have together is a gift … use it to its fullest extent.

Gerry Really Did Know Everybody

March 7, 2010

My blog post about Gerry said he seemed to know everybody, and so many comments I’ve read on the Friends of Gerry Reid site on Facebook and his Caring Bridge site affirm that. It made me think about a joke I heard years ago, which I adapt here to celebrate Gerry’s memory:

Gerry mixing with friends.

Gerry Reid was sipping a Sierra Nevada with friends when one remarked that Gerry knows everybody, and everybody knows him. A new acquaintance was skeptical.

“Nobody can possibly know everybody,” he said.

“I’ll prove it,” said longtime pal Mark Turner. “Name someone.”

The new friend thought and said: “Ray Whitney.”

“OK,” Mark said. “Let’s go see Ray.”

So Gerry, Mark and the skeptic drove to Whitney’s house and knocked on the door. Ray himself answered, and his face lit up when he saw Gerry. They went inside and listened as Gerry and Ray chatted about the Carolina Hurricanes, the merits of doing pushups for upper-body strength and many other things before the Hurricanes left winger said he had to go.

Ray Whitney

“Keep in touch!” he told Gerry.

As the three left, the new friend was impressed, but not convinced. “Gerry’s always at the RBC Center, so that he knows Whitney isn’t all that farfetched,” he said.

“All right,” Mark said. “Name somebody else.”

The guy rubbed his chin as he thought. Then he tossed out a name: “Les Claypool.”

Les Claypool

So the three boarded a plane for California. They caught a cab and before long arrived at the home of Primus’ front man/bassist. When Claypool saw Gerry, they high-fived, cracked open some beer, and spent a couple of hours catching up.

Gerry’s new friend was amazed, but still doubtful. “I bet you don’t know Ron Paul,” he said. A trip to Lake Jackson, Texas proved that Gerry and the former presidential candidate went way back.

The skeptical friend was unfazed. “If you can prove that you know the Pope, then I’ll be convinced that you know everybody and everybody knows you,” he said.

When they arrived at Saint Peter’s Square, where the Pope was to make an appearance, Gerry said, “I’ll go stand by the Pope at St. Peter’s Basilica so you can see that we’re friends.” And he went on his way.

Thousands crowded around, and in a little while, the Pope came out to address the people. There was Gerry by his side, waving to the crowd.

The skeptical friend fainted.

When he came to, Mark asked him what happened. The man replied: “I could grasp the fact that Gerry knew the Pope. But it completely blew my mind when that little old Italian woman next to us said, ‘Who’s that man in a robe standing with Gerry?’”

RIP Gerry Reid

March 4, 2010

Gerry and my husband Dean

Funny what you remember when you realize your neighbor, critically injured by an 18-wheeler, isn’t coming home again. The last conversation. The last “hey-how-ya-doin” wave.

My last thought about Gerry Reid before the Monday morning crash was the previous afternoon. I was on the sofa trying to nap when I heard a door slam. My eyes opened in time to see his weight-lifting partner pull away, his truck a red blur through the blinds.

“Ugh,” I think. “Gerry got in a great workout. Here I am being a blob.”

Commitment to fitness was just one aspect of Gerry, arguably the linchpin of our little North Raleigh community.

My husband and I met him and his wife Mandy after we moved into Stoney Manor in August 2003.  She welcomed us into the neighborhood with a homemade peach cobbler.

Our kids chased soccer balls in our yards. We watched Gerry teach Caleb, the younger of his two children, the finer points of street hockey. When the older kids overlooked our son in kickball, Gerry made sure George, the youngest and smallest, got a turn.

Gerry lifts my son to see a bird nest.

On warm summer evenings, when daylight lingered, I’d turn my car into the neighborhood. There Gerry would be, holding court in a swarm of kids and parents.

Holding forth on the day’s news. Dispensing advice. Predicting the outcome of the next Hurricanes season.

Gerry seemed to know a lot about everything. He seemed to know everybody. He couldn’t help highlighting what made people special, particularly their athletic achievements. Through Gerry I learned:

  • One of our neighbors was a collegiate wrestling champion.
  • Another was a collegiate gymnastics champion.
  • A former co-worker of mine was thriving as an athletic trainer.

That guy he lifted with last Sunday afternoon? A decathlete who Gerry greatly admired and considered Olympic caliber.

Our last conversation, not surprising, had to do with fitness. I was staggering back from the Y after a punishing Pilates session. He was working in the yard while his children played.

“Hey, whatcha doin’?”

“Ouch…Pilates.”

“Funny, looks like you’re walking to me.” The trademark grin.

We go on for a few minutes about exercise. I mostly whined about lack of consistency. He went on about his latest regimen. We complained about the interminable winter, and wouldn’t it be nice for spring to get here already?

Keeping watch

Previous conversations at the corner of Stoney Run and Pleasant Meadow were heavier. Like the weekend back in December, when one of three fatal car accidents in Wake County happened a few hundred yards from our homes.

“Your life really can be over in an instant,” he had said.

Gerry died a little before 3:00 this afternoon. My husband and I fell into one another’s arms and wept for our lost friend and his dear wife, who broke the news to Caleb and his sister Emma tonight.

How will this change us? Will we love more and forgive more? Will we take fewer gifts for granted? A God who adores us. Abundance. Good health. I pray that we will recognize and appreciate the blessings we already have.

My morning devotion yesterday included this scripture:  “Whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them and you will have them.”  Mark 24:11

I’m learning that God always answers prayers. Just not always the way I want or expect.

Ordering My Private World

January 17, 2010

A college  freshman showed up for her first history class. For the next hour, she listened as her professor tried to discredit everything she held sacred as a Christ follower.

He told the 300 students assembled that contradictions in the Bible render it unreliable, that Jesus was a mere political figure and on and on. She scanned the room and saw her classmates passively scribbling notes.

She later dialed her father in tears. What the professor said was bad enough, she told him. But what really upset her was the way students seemed to soak it all up and accept it as if it were fact.

The freshman’s father was Jim White, pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church, and he shared this true story as part of a great message today titled, “Ordering Your Private World.”

Jim White

Americans, White said, consume 34 gigabytes of information per day. Via mass media and the internet, we each soak up more than 100,000 words each day. “We’re getting information,” he said, “we’re spending time with information, but not necessarily with knowledge or truth and certainly not wisdom. Big difference.”

The danger of taking in all this stuff without considering if it’s true is that we never develop any spiritual strength or discernment. “Living Christianly,” White said, “starts with thinking Christianly.” Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”

Two ways to get fit spiritually:

1) Read

2) Reflect on what you’ve read

White recommended choosing books well, starting with the Bible, which imparts knowledge that can’t be gotten anywhere else.  One of his own books, “A Mind for God,” suggests other good reads.

I plan to get a copy of White’s book, but I’m already doing something I’ve never done before: committing to read the New Testament in 30 days as part of Elevation Church’s NewThru30 initiative.

I’m actually ahead of schedule. Once I get started reading, it’s hard to stop. I’m seeing familiar scriptures, but am amazed at the new things I’m learning. Sweeping themes, like the way God used haters as well as the faithful to establish/advance the early church.

Familiar figures are also coming into more focus. For example, I understood that Paul was a really smart guy and a killer of Christians prior to his conversion. But I had no idea he was so personable and masterful at public relations.

It was comforting to hear today that Christianity doesn’t require that I check my intellect. It also feels good to dig into the Word for the first time. Wonder where all this will lead?

What To Write In Stone

January 2, 2010

The church of my childhood has its name, service times and minister’s name etched in stone out front. Changing anything on it likely will require significant effort and expense.

Written in stone

At the start of 2010, as I reflect on where I’ve been and where I’m headed, the notion of what to write in stone vs. what to write in chalk looms large.

I like what Thomas Jefferson said on this:  “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

My list written in chalk is pretty long. Exercise frequency, clothing, hair style and color, how I arrange my office, how I get things done and many other things will change many times this year. Any of these decisions can be reversed or altered at any time without much downside.
Other choices I’ve made are, as far as I’m concerned, chiseled in granite. Decisions to follow Christ and grow old and ugly with my spouse…in stone. As are the 1985 choice to stop smoking and 2000 vote to stop drinking.

So far so good in 2010, though the in-stone decision to radically reduce sugar consumption is proving a challenge this weekend. Mom and dad have a house full of leftover holiday goodies. Expressing more generosity and gratitude round out my in-stone list.

It will be interesting to see how it all plays out in 20 years. The goal is to make decisions today that please God — and spare the 67-year-old version of me grief. Experience shows that if I involve Him, the latter is guaranteed.

Making Sure Santa’s Cookies Are JUST Right

December 24, 2009

It’s Christmas Eve. At the Sessions house, that means baking cookies, followed by a attending a church service to celebrate Jesus’ birth.

This has been the slowest, low-stress day of the year for me. 2009 was a blur. An unbroken chain of activity at work. Opportunities weighed, shelved or accepted. Husband’s health scare. Son’s continued good health and development. A marathon trained for and run.

Grateful for every outcome, good and not-so-good.

Merry Christmas!