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The City of Blinding Lights

Mar 06, 2012 // By Marcus Brotherton

Last night Miss Mary and I took the kiddos to IHOP for dinner. As we sat munching on funny face pancakes and omelets, it started snowing outside, big, fat flakes. This type of weather is unusual for the Pacific Northwest in March, a month typically heavy with rain and discontent. We drove home through the slush, put the kids to bed, and sat up watching sitcoms on Netflix.

This morning when I got up, I could see through a gap in the window blind the shadowy white of snow on branches in the backyard. Mary was already up, and I asked her to open the blind further, but she hesitated.

“No, look through the windows on the other side of the house,” she said with a smile. “The sun’s already shining over there.”

On the other side of the house, this is what I saw.

I went downstairs to my office and turned on my computer. Checked news and e-mail and a couple of blogs. Then I cracked open Facebook, and learned that the wife of a longtime friend had just died.

I haven’t been in contact with this friend for several years, as it often the case with Facebook. But I could see from his pictures how his wife, when she was alive, was as brilliant as a field of wildflowers. She died from some evil ailment that stole everything precious.

I couldn’t cope with this news. I think sometimes when you grieve, you grieve for everything you’ve ever grieved for. So I laced up my boots, stole quietly out of the house, and went for a walk over the big hill that’s nearby.

How overwhelming the world is this morning, I thought. Buck Compton passed away last week. Then my Facebook friend’s wife. I know several other close friends who are battling cancer right now—either them or their loved ones. In the news there are tornadoes ripping the legs off young mothers in the Midwest. Children are starving in Somalia.

It’s too much.

What do you do when you feel full? Where do you turn? What keeps you going forward?

As I walked in the icy wilderness, I thought of something a mentor, Darrell Smith, told me years ago. I was working as a waiter throughout graduate school, and a job opening came up to be a youth pastor. I had never wanted to work in a church, but I felt this strange tugging in my insides that this was a direction I needed to go. I asked Darrell for advice.

“Remember who you are at the core,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a waiter or a youth pastor or an author like you want to be someday. The essential ‘you’ will be the same, no matter what your circumstances.”

What’s this “core” all about?

Jesus said only two things ultimately matter in life—loving God and loving people.

That’s what our cores are all about. No matter what we do for a living, no matter what news comes our way, no matter life’s circumstances, we keep going because we’re worshippers and ministers—in the broadest senses of the words. That’s always the invitation. To love God and to love others.

On mornings like today, when there is heaviness in hearts, somehow that thought brings perspective.

Things will be overwhelming, yes. But the call is to keep caring for people the best way we can.

Then, there is comfort in the thought that another world exists.

And in that world, the sun is already up and shining.

  • Marcus, thank you for the encouraging post. I love how God reminds us of his truths in various ways, right when we need them. My personal experience is nowhere near as difficult as cancer or deaths, but I still felt the urge to share. Not 2 hours before I read this post, I was told that I would be receiving my dream job. I was both overjoyed and also terrified. I was afraid because it means I will need to leave the good, secure job that I currently hold to chase a dream. I am evaluating whether that dream-job is what I really want to do, or if I was chasing it to define “me”. Your post has encouraged me to remember that my identity is in Christ, not my career. I still have some tough decisions to make, but now I will have the correct perspective. Thank you.

  • Marcus

    Dustin, great thoughts. Congrats on your new job and new stage of life. Being both overjoyed and terrified at the start of something is not a bad place to be at all. Let us know how it goes. best–MB

  • Anonymous

    I remember when we were in Normandy in 2004 for the 60th anniversary of the invasion. Chris Anderson was a tour guide that summer.

    Near the end of that amazing three-week tour of the battlefields of Europe, we were gathered in a hotel lounge in Belgium where we stopped overnight. He told is the men we knew so well from the history books were now much more than that. We’d met them, grown to know and love them. They became part of our lives. They were our friends.

    And he told us, “. . . now, when they go, you won’t simply mark their passing, you’ll grieve the loss.”

    That has certainly proven to be true. Jack Agnew, Shifty Powers, Buck Taylor, Budd Primrose, all gone. Now Buck Compton. Soon. . . well, soon, there will be no one left, and nothing but memories. Still, we celebrate their lives, and reflect in gratitude on how they touched as and the lasting mark they left.

    Matthew 25:21

    Don Rosen
    Normandy 2004

  • MB

    Don, yes, so, so true …

    “you won’t simply mark their passing, you’ll grieve the loss.”

  • Lee

    What a beautiful picture. I am of no religion but i turn to the inner peace i find when going for a walk or run, or just immerse myself in a book. I have my children to ensure i keep going, and the knowledge that every day is a new day and a new chance to make a better day than what yesterday held.

  • MB

    Thanks Lee. best to you–MB

  • Marc,
    I’m grieving her passing too and struggling with the discontent that comes from reflecting on how someone as “brilliant as a field of wildflowers” can be taken in such a terrible, painful way. God seems so distant and so cruel when the good suffer and the evil survive. Still there is the promise that we hold dearly to as Christians that it will all work for the good and that our tears will turn to joy in the morning. Thanks for the post, it’s helped me process and grieve just a little bit more.

  • MB

    Andy, you’re doing everything you need to do. Grieving, wondering, trusting.

  • Marcus, what a powerful post to carry in my heart today. On the days I feel too full, like it’s too much, I take walks. Like you did. I don’t know if I’m running toward God or running away from the horror on those days. Maybe we simply need the fresh air and expanse of His stunning creation. Either way, you’re right. Loving God and loving people is core. If we allow Him to nestle that in our soul and convey it to others – whether we’re worshipers or ministers – it makes the heaviness bearable. It makes His mission worth it. I’m praying for you and your wife as you grieve.

  • MB

    Donna, thanks so much for the good word. –MB

  • Yuri

    Dear Marcus, a very touching blog here. Sorry for the loss of another friend. This blog comes at a time that I have been thinking a lot about my 33 years old good friend who passed away because of cancer nearly a year ago. Thinking back to the moment of hearing that news still makes me feel sick in my stomach. One thing that keeps us going I guess, are the memories, and knowing the person that passed away. You can turn all the sadness into something good somehow. Often it also brings you even closer to other people you love, because you realize once again how precious life is, and how short. I personally don’t believe in a God or anything like that, but I respect everyone who does. For some reason, it seems that each passing of a friend gives us new strength to have a positive look on many things that would normally bring us down. Funny how that works, right? “Ah, that thing that I thought was a big deal, it doesn’t mean a lot if I think about it”. I just keep going because I am passionate things about the things I care about. I care for my girlfriend with all my heart and passion, but I don’t worship her. (I don’t like that word). I like to think that this is called love. And in the end, love is all we need.

  • MB

    Yuri, thanks for your good words. I’m sorry as well for the loss of your friend, and I’m glad you find comfort in the memories and depth of friendship you shared. Thank you.

    You might have guessed I personally do believe in God, yet I also respect people who don’t. I think it takes a lot of courage to be an atheist. And I want to say that I really like that you interact with posts that discuss spirituality. Thanks for doing so in a thoughtful and respectful way.

    All best to you –MB

  • Yuri

    Hi Marcus, thank you for the reply. It is strange in a way. Although I don’t believe in “life after death”, I often do feel some sort of spirituality when it comes down to World War 2 soldiers who passed away. when I walk throught the Hurtgen Forest, I can just feel the men around me. I have such a strong connection to these men, and that’s something I can’t explain, I only feel that with these men, while I don’t feel that with any of my family members who passed away. Thank you for the kind words, I feel happy to know that you are getting so much good and strength out of believing, in a good way. That’s how it should be, and that’s a healthy thing to have, and as I said before, something I respect very much. I always enjoy reading your thoughts and blogs, they often make me think about the things you write about for a while.

  • Tobias (GER)

    Thank you for this great words Marcus! Sometimes it is very hard to believe in god, when there are so many bad things happening to people. But there are happining more good things than bad. It’s like with searching on google. You get more findings by the word ‘love’ as for the word ‘hate’. About 8 times more at the moment. So I still believe in got and will do it until I die.
    I love to hike in the nature too, and your picture is looking very nice. New snow, sun is shining, I would have chosen the shoes before switching on the computer…haha!

    all the best

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the bestselling author or coauthor of more than 25 books. Welcome to my blog. Thoreau pointed out how too many people lead lives of quiet desperation. Their lives are bland and meaningless, or they make choices that trap them in despair and darkness. By contrast, I want to help people lead lives of excellence. Meet here regularly for powerful stories and insight into how to live and lead well.