Ok, so while I was doing four months in the US over the Summer, I got to spend time with people from earlier parts of my life—high school folks from my home city of Omaha, and college friends during a big reunion.
And I’ll be honest that I do kinda dig the fact that my life and work in the Middle East is sort of cool. It looks exciting, edgy, a bit dangerous, something important that I’m doing with my life, eating food with names I can’t spell—that’s what impressed people sometimes say to me. Yes, part of me enjoys that. And yes, I liked the idea that I was going “back home” with something kind of cool and impressive to show for me life.
So, I got to spend time with old acquaintances, catching up on each other’s lives.
But I ended up being the impressed one.
One of these guys was a “Sports Stud” who I don’t think I had spoken with since he threatened to beat me up in 7th grade science class (Pretty sure I deserved it). I knew of him because he was one of the top guys on our high school football and basketball teams, and somehow I got connected with him on Facebook.
What has he done with his life?
He started a small business. Raised a family. A year or so ago, he and his wife got a call out of the blue about a pregnant young woman who wasn’t in a good position to raise her child. Would they consider taking the baby? They had just become empty nesters, and this wasn’t the plan for how they would enjoy this new season of life.
They said yes.
And here I am, sitting across from them at brunch, this middle-aged couple with a spirited toddler that they’re feeding and loving as their own daughter. For this child they are changing their routine and budget and commitments and everything else—and they are having the time of their lives. They both marveled to me how much they are enjoying this new and unexpected chapter. Raising their biological while simultaneously starting their businesses didn’t always give them the luxury of simply enjoying being parents. This time, they get to savor it.
These are the heroes that stand out to me: everyday folks making choices to live well. To live courageously. To live beyond themselves.
I got to spend time with a lot of old friends like that:
–The “Coolest” person in my class who serves the community as a high-powered director of public radio, yet seems more interested in talking about the young people she mentors at church and the college courses she teaches.
–The “Class President” who has given her career to public education and chose to become a single parent by adopting two kids from an abusive home.
–The “Most Likely to Succeed” kind-of-guy from college, who achieved all the great things he aspired to, but through an experience of brokenness discovered it wasn’t what gave him life, then downsized his world to focus on being a Dad.
–The “Perfect Girl” with the great face and personality and voice and family—she is now volunteering at a local prison, giving new hope and confidence to incarcerated women by teaching them to study Scripture.
–The “Jock” who served our country in the military, battled addiction and now is a servant in his church and community to people seeking recovery.
–The “Brains” of my college English department lives a remarkable life of servanthood and finding joyful wonder as the dedicated parent of an adult special needs child.
–The “Cute Girl Way out of My League” who cares deeply about our aging population and uses her leadership and administrative gifts to advocate for their welfare.
–The “Bandmate” who has been fighting cancer for a number of years, yet lives outwardly with grace and gratitude and beauty.
–The “Campus Smartass” (Okay, I tied for that honor) who uses social media to create community and conversations about important issues.
–The “Stranger” who I didn’t even know except for Facebook who handed me a big check to help refugee kids.
–The “Ministry Superstar” of my seminary class who allowed Christ to restore his life after his addiction destroyed his high profile career; today, he cares for his family and ministers to fellow addicts in the secular workplace.
These are some of my heroes—people whose lives are messy but rich. People doing extraordinary things in everyday life. And, of course, this is but a partial list.
Point is, there’s a lot of people I’ve gotten to know who blow me away by how they choose to live their regular lives: how they give their time to serve others; how they sacrifice for their families and things they believe in; how they use their gifts and wealth for things that make a difference in the world. That stuff that might look “ordinary” is the stuff I find most exceptional.
What is “heroic” or “cool” or “successful” about one’s life?
I’ve been tempted to measure that with positions and awards and affluence, but I always realize (often the hard way) how hollow that is.
It’s about Choices.
Figuring out what matters most.
And how one chooses to walk with what is in front of them.
The Exceptional is in the Ordinary, and lived out in Everyday.