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February 28, 2007

The Extraordinariness of Ordinariness

An article on the narcissism of today's college students and its causes and consequences, combined with the "Look at me! Look at me!" obsession we are bombarded with every time you open the paper, turn on the TV, or just hang out at the mall, got me to thinking about the extraordinariness of ordinariness.

A colleague and I were chatting recently about how even as Christians, particularly in a town like Washington -- where power (and identity) is found in who you know, what you know, and how many degrees you have -- it's difficult to sometimes remember whatever worth, dignity, and meaning we have ultimately comes from being children of God and made in His image. In His eyes, we are on a level playing field, all ordinary human beings, and yet extraordinarily created and loved by Him in order to love and serve Him and others.

Intellectually, I know this, and yet when I'm in meetings or at gatherings where everyone but me has written a book, held public office, is best friends with or is a celebrity or dignitary, the old tape starts playing in my head that says, "You're an average, ordinary, boring nobody."

Then something happens to kick me in the head, stop the tape and remind me of what true extraordinariness really is.

Around 15 years ago, I formed friendships with a group of folks who, like me, had left small-town America for the big city. We became family to one another; grew up emotionally and spiritually together; shared houses, and Bible studies, and beach weekends, and ski trips and holidays until we gradually married, moved away or simply moved on to new adventures and challenges and seasons of life, regathering for weddings, baby showers and children's birthday parties, and staying in touch through emails and the yearly photo Christmas card.

Last weekend, we gathered again, only this time for our first funeral, to say goodbye to one of our own who had lost his second battle with cancer at the age of 40. As we shared old photos and stories, laughed and cried together, and celebrated the life of our friend who had been so much a part of our lives so long ago, I was struck by just how extraordinay this "average Joe" was. He loved deeply -- his God, his wife, the outdoors, adventure, fun, photography and friends. He gave to the fullest -- of his humor, laughter, joy, wisdom, possessions, skills (I can still see him heartily laughing with me, not at me, as trees and parked cars broke my fall when he taught me how to rollerblade). He epitomized the essence of integrity -- he was who he was everywhere, with everyone, all the time. His extraordinariness came from his deep and abiding faith that God was God, that he was His beloved child, and he lived his life not saying "Look at me!" but loving, giving, and serving others.

You won't "Google" him and find thousands of entries, he won't grace the cover of next week's People, and the news channels aren't reporting 24/7 on his final hours, and yet this ordinary guy profoundly influenced the lives of all those who knew and loved him throughout his short time with us. That's the kind of extraordinary we all should aspire to be.

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Comments

abundant-blessings

I really enjoyed your post. In today's culture, we have become so self-absorbed that it is destroying us. Fame seems to be seen as the most important thing you could hope for.

Your friend sounds like he was one of those "extraordinarily" ordinary people.

Dave Howlett

Martha,

You're far from ordinary to all of us Centurions out here. Thanks again for all you do as I'm sure one day you'll be remembered by many others in much the same way you remember your friend.

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