My life has been a journey full of twists & turns, highs & lows. Honestly, I'm not sure I could really define where I'm headed. But one thing I'm learning, the journey isn't all about the final destination but more about how we travel. And fulfillment is found in all that we learn & experience as we journey, not just getting to the end of it. I can't even imagine making mine without Christ before me, behind me, and beside me...

Sunday, October 31, 2010


    There's been a lot of talk about heroes lately...I know what it takes for a Marine to live out "Duty, Honor, and Country" in another war-torn country--for anyone in the military who willingly risks or even gives his or her life so that people in any land can live in freedom--and not just in the US...I have three Marine sons who have served in Iraq, one of them is now in Afghanistan, and another one will be the first of next year. I've been the loved one left at home watching and waiting for soldiers to return, praying that they come home in one piece--both physically and mentally. I've received that phone call that told me my son had been injured when a bomb exploded...And the blessed second call when he called personally and said, "Mom, I'm okay..." My prayers were answered. Except for a few scars inside and out, my son was safe that time...Many moms and wives don't get that second call.
     I know well the sacrifice and the selflessness of those who serve so devotedly right here in our own community--law enforcement, firefighters, and emergency personnel. They put their lives on the line every day to make our home a safe place to live. I thank God for their willingness, their courage, and their perseverance. I am very blessed to know some of them as my friends.
     I know some people who have risen up with courage in the face of tragedy, uncontrollable circumstances, and insurmountable odds. They've looked disaster, catastrophic illness, devastating loss, and great injustices in the eye and they've won--if not in this life, in the next. They fight, they overcome, they take back lost ground, and they don't back down no matter what life throws at them. They've done what others can't even imagine doing for the sake of their families and others, and for their own testimonies. No matter what the consequences are, their stories remain as testament and inspiration for those who share similar struggles. They leave a lasting legacy of faith, perseverance, and courage so that we may have hope.
     Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) When I think about my sons, other military men and women, policemen, firemen, and emergency personnel--all of those who daily put themselves in the line of fire...those who risk their lives for the sake of us--their friends. When I think of those who have battled tragedy, illness, and circumstance with faith so strong that their stories reflect Christ Himself, I know that I have come in the presence of rare courage. All of these people are, without a doubt, heroes.
     I know who the heroes are--I can list many of them by name. I know the stories that make them heroes but I can't help but ponder what goes into the making of a hero. What sets a hero apart from the "un-heroes" (if there is such)? I think about my own personal heroes--those who have impacted my life so greatly that I have been changed because of them. And as I realize why they are so important to me, their qualities stand out as the same characteristics that make up any true hero. God used four certain people to bring me from darkness into light and I will ever be grateful. The one main characteristic that stands out in all of them is that they are ordinary people living extraordinary lives...Just normal people serving an awesome God, yet they are heroes nonetheless. They do what they do because God has put that purpose in their hearts and they live it out with faith, personal sacrifice, determination, and perseverance.
     The first time I went to the Mission, Chad said, "There's a reason you're here." I thought it was pastoral rhetoric--I barely knew him and he didn't know me--but when I came back a few weeks later, he said, "I told Cope you'd be back. There's a reason you're here." I was stunned that I had even been a subject of conversation. Honestly, it was a little unnerving; I didnt' think I mattered...When I went on Nightstrikes the first time, he said again, "There's a reason you're here"...and I met "Blossom" in a homeless camp, a story for another time. Every time I wanted to give up on myself, on life, and on God, he said, "There's a reason you're here." Just something he says to everybody, I thought for a while, but he never gave up and his stubbornness won out over my own. He meant what he said. That was seven years ago and to this day, I still hear him say those words... You see, heroes can see beyond what most eyes can see. Heroes see in us what others don't see and more important, what we can't see in ourselves, and they fight against the odds to uncage the impossible. "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11) My heroes taught me that God had a purpose for my life. 
     Tom was my counselor before he became my friend. The first time I met him, I really didn't like what he had to say. As I left his office that day, I thought, "Who the hell does he think he is?!" You see, heroes speak truth even when we don't want to hear it but I was desperate enough to go back. I learned his harsh truths had a purpose: "Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won't be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ..." (Ephesians 4:14-15) God used him to open doors in my heart that I fought long and hard to keep closed. Tom pushed me to look at some ugly truths in my life, not to hurt me but to help me grow. He made me realize that things that happened in the past mattered--that sometimes it's okay to be angry...and to be broken. That truth became a catalyst that would change my life...
      I've been in "church" my whole life but what I knew in my head, my heart hadn't yet captured. Tom showed me that there is an ever-loving Jesus who shed His blood for my sake so that I don't have to, revealing a Savior who loved mercy more than making me pay for my mistakes, shortcomings, and shame. Tom was also the first to say, "I'm sorry" (though it wasn't warranted) and mean it. You see, I believe heroes are real people--not perfect but using what God has taught them through their own life experience to be life-saving beacon to others. He shed light on my hidden darkness and set me on a journey of healing. 
     Lori befriended me even before I realized who she really was. She offered acceptance and friendship in a away I had never known--and was probably the first woman I ever trusted. She and Tom gave me a car--a gift of great monetary value (in my world anyway) but worth so much more than can be measured by dollars and cents. I offered several excuses why they shouldn't--no drivers license as the main one. But Lori knocked each one down and took me to get that license. More than once, she helped me do what I couldn't do on my own. And she didn't stop with a car or even a license. She encouraged me to reach out to other women (something I never thought I would ever do) and she walked the first mile with me. We started a journaling class that later evolved into H.O.P.E. Their gift began with a car but became much more than something tangible. By their words, their actions, and their love, it became evident. They sought no acclaim or glory for their own sake--Lori and Tom simply believed in me. That alone was the most precious treasure I could have ever been given. They believed that my broken pieces could become something beautiful. They became grace to me and showed me that there was so much more to this life than I believed possible and because they believed in me, I began to believe in myself. And just as Jesus taught the motley crew how to be disciples, Lori taught me how to be one. Because she sacrificed her time and her love for me, I learned how to do the same for others, using my weaknesses to evidence His strength. And in the process of it, He began putting my broken pieces back together again. 
     Lori often quotes 2 Corinthians 12:9--"But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." You see, heroes are also teachers, empowering us rather than enabling us. All of my heroes reached out to me with the intent that I would not dependent on them or their own heroic acts but rather to be dependent on Christ. I'm amazed when I realize how far I've come since I met them. Back then, I built thick walls to keep people at a distance and I was coming undone. Life teaches us that we must be connected to people to be whole, but a true hero enables us to be whole so that we can truly be connected with people.
     And finally, there's "The Syndrome"...Paul. Taking up where Tom left off, he walked with me on the path Tom had set me on. I've been asked if I've ever called him "The Syndrome" to his face--and yes, I actually have. It's not a slam--it's a compliment and I say it with utmost respect. The first time I was in his office, he tried to put me at ease by telling me a little about himself, including his favorite Scripture passage, Romans 7--you know, what I call the Paul syndrome (after the apostle, not the counselor). "For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing." (vs. 19) Kind of an interesting way for a counselor to introduce himself, eh? But it was a "God-thing" because at the time, that particular passage was heavy on my heart. He seemed to have a sense already how shame had defined my life. It's been quite a journey since then--a rocky road, to say the least! But step by step, he has literally taught me how to live again as he sorted through my mess and madness. He allowed me no excuses or self-pity (he's a pretty tough cookie!) but he has given me life-long coping skills and helped me face my worst fears and shame. I wonder if he wanted to give up as often as I did. Armed with a firm but compassionate truth, he pushed me to get back in the race every time I fell down. With painstaking effort, he taught me to view my life in a different way--to see myself as Christ sees me rather than by images and memories of my past. Paul taught me that it's okay to stand up for myself and to set safe boundaries. God has used him to teach me HOW to live--another favorite in Romans 12:2--"Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect." You see, I believe heroes are warriors who defeat our "demons"--our enemies, our fears, insecurities, and stinkin' thinkin'--and teach us to fight too--maybe not with weapons but with truth. They help us to become stronger, healthy people. 
     Not one of these people would define him or herself as a hero. They seek no prize or praise--a hero's most unlikely trait may actually be his humility. Do they have "super powers"? No, not of their own making anyway, but rather that of the Christ in them. HE is who and what empowers them to BE heroes. Each one truly knows and lives Philippians 4:13. "I have learned the secret of living in every situation...I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength." You see, I think real heroes seek no glory of their own, nor boast of what they can do themselves. Instead, their lives and deeds point directly to Jesus Christ. They are living, breathing reflections of Him. When I think of them, I don't see men and women--I see Christ Himself.
     Yes, my heroes--Chad, Tom, Lori, and Paul--are those who have impacted my life so much that I am changed because of them...They are those people who could have become icons in my life. But instead of making me wish to become more like them, by their words and actions--even their very nature--they make me want to become more like Christ. I am changed because of the love and grace they have shown me--the same love and grace they have also received...

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord..." - Philippians 2:6-11

Yes, I am changed because of Christ living in them. I am changed because of Christ....So I guess you could say, Jesus is my ULTIMATE hero...

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