Earp Takes Aim | Faith, Culture, Life

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I will be traveling to Kentucky Christian University next week to speak about how to balance ministry and family.  A big part of my passion in doing this is my desire to share Cindy's story, because I also want to talk about transparency in the midst of tragedy.    

I asked a good friend of ours, Mike Marshall, to assemble a video that could tell the cancer part of her story— because I'm not yet convinced I can do that without crumbling.  Then I asked him to put a link on this web site so all of you could see the fruit of his labor.  

If you have a few moments, I think you will be moved by his ministry through this powerful medium…and even more, by the power of her amazing life.  I am indebted to Mike, personally and professionally, as I believe the images and the story he put together are so deeply moving.  

Please pray for me next week.  I'm still not sure I'm ready to do this, but I DO feel called to do it.  It's up to me, now, to complete our story.  

So I will.  

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Un-slumping Yourself

Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.

Truth is, it can’t be done. 

You should know that.  You’ve spent untold amounts of time, energy and money trying to un-slump yourself.  Counselors, therapists— they too have pitched in to help.  You’ve done group therapy and support groups, all kinds of seminars and nutrition packets and exercise programs all in a feverished attempt to get un-slumped.  

But it hasn’t worked. 

And it won’t work. 

Because un-slumping is God’s work.  In fact, it’s His specialty.  So if you’re slumped right now…?  The recipe is quite simple:

• Acknowledge that Jesus, and Jesus alone, is your source of power. 

• Affirm that He is compassionately moved to meet you at the point of your need.

        • And then, humbly Accept His help. 

And if you need it even simpler than that, try this:  “I can’t, God can.  I think I’ll let him.”

Your world will only get darker if you refuse to seek Him.  In fact, the more you’re willing to embrace being lost, the faster you can get un-lost.  And that’s when the fun begins.  Cuz that’s when you get show everybody that you’ve told them all along…is true. 
This is an exerpt from Breakthrough Series. For more information, visit thecrossroadsaz.com


Three Friends

It’s not like this is my first time to question someone in authority, but when the one I’m resisting is the Apostle Paul…?  To say my resistance gave me pause is putting it mildly. 

Truth is, my rebel self got me stuck.  So stuck…I did something real writers seldom do— I stopped writing.

What got me blocked?  Paul’s famous riff about “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead” {Philippians 3:13}.  A verse I’ve taught many times and one I thought I had fully embraced as an essential item in my spiritual toolbox. 

Forgetting past sin?  Got it, Paul.  Great stuff!

Forgetting past success?  Yep, we’re on the same page here, too.  {What a relief that must be for him!}

Forgetting past scars?  Can’t argue that one, either.

But forgetting Cindy?  Sorry, dude.  Ain’t gonna happen. 


I’m not saying I don’t want to “strain toward what is ahead,” ‘cause I do.  And in recent months, I really have been straining and reaching and stretching and groaning to embrace my life as it now is and will again be.  FORWARD has been my driving ambition, but Mr. Apostle-guy? 

Cindy has been my constant inspiration as I’ve made my FORWARD move. 


Now before anyone starts lecturing me on my woeful misinterpretation of Paul’s intended use of that word, please chill!  I already know what you’re gonna say.  But see, that’s why I got stuck.  Truth never gets us stuck.  But sometimes our response to truth does. 

So I feel God’s healing and I’m eagerly leaning into FORWARD— but this fear of “forgetting” is always right behind me, lingering in the shadows.  I sense a restored passion in my calling, I feel less tense in social situations, I engage emotionally in the life crises of others— and each experience assures me that I’m recovering.  And that I really am embracing my “what is ahead.” 

But forgetting…?


Not if forgetting means no longer remembering.  Not if forgetting means never celebrating the wonder of our love.  Not if forgetting requires me to file our life together under “behind”— a move that must precede the opening of a new folder. 


Two friends helped me with all this— an old friend and a new friend.  And they {along with my best friend} are the primary reasons why I am writing again. 

My old friend, I call him Doc, was just checking in.  {You should probably know that Doc inspired my blog name ‘cause he was the first one who called me a faith wimp/wuss.  More on that in a second}.  Doc was waxing eloquently about pain and giftedness when he said,

“[Earp], your gift has the potential for you to look in the mirror some day and you don’t see you anymore…you died.  What you will see is a totally re-shaped man that resembles our Lord Jesus. 

The journey to this comes through a lot of trial and, unfortunately, pain.  I can’t find many of the great guys who achieved their potential who didn’t come through the valley of death.” 

And then Doc totally rocked my world when he wrote this:

“I am envious of your opportunity on one hand, and on the other?  I am not.  And the “not” is simply because I am a bigger wuss than you ‘used to be.’  Thus I get really scared in the natural mind when I think of the cost of ‘becoming’ like our Savior.  And even though I am not around you to observe?  I know…I know in my spiritual man that you are no longer a wuss.  You have survived being diced and sliced and broken.  You’re tougher now…in your core…all of which allows you to carry more water and burden for others.”

Wow!  My old friend {and hero} says that I am no longer a wuss!  Yes!


My new friend still wears Cindy’s bracelet and assures me that “Cindy still lives in [her] heart and is an angel to many [who knew her].  She wears the bracelet “to remember the lessons I learned from [Cindy] during her illness.”  She also surrounds her work space with verses that inspired Cindy and after listing them, she said,

“I like to think that Jesus allows Cindy to be my spiritual mentor from heaven.  Many times when I am depressed about bothersome things, I look at her reminders to ‘Be Positive’ and I say out loud, ‘Okay Cindy, if you could do it, I certainly can!’”

And then my new friend wrote,

“When you get to heaven Steve, I can imagine Cindy chattering about all you have done for others since her passing.  You must make her so proud!  Who knows, perhaps God will allow Cindy to lead a choir of angels upon your arrival!  You both certainly deserve it!”

My two friends taught me what I couldn’t seem to see on my own:  That forgetting doesn’t mean never remembering.  I’m still trying to fully understand what forgetting DOES mean, but I’ve decided that I can’t let my lack of understanding make me stay stuck even a moment longer. 


I stopped writing because I felt the need to push into “what is ahead,” but the thought of “forgetting what is behind” was too much for me.  I didn’t want to keep rehearsing my grief— because Cindy would be so disappointed if that’s where I remained.  Besides, there is so much more to my current story than just how I am recovering from her grand departure. 

The problem is, I felt guilty whenever I tried to start a new chapter.  I feared that by writing about new things and “ahead” things and other things— that I would lose our thing.  So I closed my laptop instead.


I can’t say that I still won’t wrestle with this. 

I’m not promising that I won’t still write about this. 

But here’s what I can say:  My best friend would want me to keep writing about my faith and quit fretting about “forgetting.”  My new friend assures me that she would be proud of how I’m “straining…ahead” in my desire to do just that.  And my old friend?  He says I’m not a wuss anymore!

So in honor of my three friends?  I’m doing what Paul [in the very next verse] said I should do:  I’m “pressing” on. 


As soon as we can update the banner, we’re adjusting the name of this blog.  Confessions of a [RECOVERING] faith wimp. 

Seems about right, from where I sit.  Because it’s a day at a time, with all of us who eventually choose to recover from whatever has us stuck.  Therefore, it’s not that I am “no longer a wuss”— I just refuse to be one today!  I am not fully recovered, but I am recovering. 

And this blog is gonna also make a subtle change.  It’s gonna become a journal of a whole of other ways that God slices and dices and breaks people like us— so that He can re-shape us into an image that resembles our Jesus.  Never arriving, but always striving.  Never fully forgetting our pain, problems, failures and victories…but not being trapped there, either. 

But choosing not to be stuck, we keep straining and pressing for “the prize.”


Cindy's Lemon Tree

I officiated Terry and Sherry’s wedding several years ago.  He gave me a beautiful clock I still use as a thank you.  Though separated by many miles and now years, we’ve kept in occasional contact ever since.

I wrote “Too Many Firsts” on December 16.  Terry wrote a few days later to tell me that the same day I posted those words, he lost Sherry to cancer. 

I couldn’t read beyond that opening line until this morning.  I suppose it’s because his news was yet another painful first.  My first friend who also lost his wife and best friend.  A friend who now needed someone like me who understood to care. 

And I DO care.  So I wrote Terry.  Not immediately, but who knows?  Maybe though it’s obviously tardy, it may ultimately prove timely. 

“It's taken me a while to write you.  Sorry about that.  I suppose it’s because the loss of our loves in the same year has bonded me to you in a way neither of us would have ever wished for. 

I knew this loss was coming for you.  Even though I never seemed to know it for me, I knew it for you.  And yet, shocked by your loss, I cried for you today…and for me. 

Terry, I want to be there for you as you make your grief-journey.  I can’t take it from you.  I can’t make it easier.  I can’t shorten the duration.  But I can walk alongside.  And I can whisper to you with a persuasiveness that few others can.  See, I can speak words that, when they come from others, they may seem trite, canned and clichéd.  But when those same words come from me, you’ll feel the weightiness of powerful truth from a fellow-struggler who’s walked the same path you now walk. 

I’m only a few steps ahead of you, but please hear me brother:  Your heart will heal, even though your memories will never dim.  Your pain will lessen, though the void Sherry leaves behind will never be fully filled. 

Yes, you will hope again…and maybe also love again.  But the mark she left on you is indelible and for forever.  Because of Sherry, you will see things differently than you ever saw them before.  You will even taste, smell and touch things and be instantly transported to a comforting realization that she shaped the way you touched it and even how touching it made you feel. 

Please let me explain what I mean by that.

As you may remember, Cindy always loved flowers and trees and bushes and plants.  But her favorite botanical pleasure was her lemon tree.  For the first few years it graced our backyard, it yielded nothing.  And then, during the first season it did have a yield?  Jessica picked that meager yield when the lemons were still green [she thought they were limes].  But last year?  Cindy eagerly picked every lemon {though they were admitted still few} and savored every glass of water that was flavored by “her” amazing lemons! 

You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this, so let me end the suspense:  After months of being dormant, Cindy’s Lemon Tree suddenly burst into new life!  And I’ve been watching it for weeks as dozens and dozens of new lemons appeared, burdening its branches and delivering to me such a wonderfully idyllic promise of new life.  Truth is, I was so comforted by those growing lemons that I couldn’t bring myself to pick them…even though they were ripe!  Somehow, me picking them seemed wrong.  After all, these were Cindy’s lemons.

But then, last week we had a frost in Phoenix!  Talk about exciting!  So, fearing I would lose Cindy’s lemons, I coaxed Andrea and Liv outside and we picked every lemon from Cindy’s Tree!  In fact, we harvested, I still can’t believe this, over two huge tubs full of them! 

Somewhere in the middle of all that picking— and then especially as I tried to decide what in the world to do with them— I realized that these were still Cindy’s lemons.  Except now, they weren’t FOR her, they were FROM her.  I just know she nudged someone up in heaven to make her Tree way more productive than one scrawny tree ever should be! 

And once again, I realized that life with Cindy has forever shaped how I see, smell and even touch, even lemons!  Our afternoon “pick” was yet another nudge from her [but mostly from God] assuring me that Cindy’s life far from over…but that her best life ever was just getting started!

Perhaps nobody else who will read that story will get what I’m trying to tell you.  And maybe not you, either.  At least not yet.  But trust me…you will.

Because your Sherry is with my Cindy.  And though your heart is so heavy right now, you can be assured that God will give some Lemon Tree stories, too.  Stories designed to help you make it through. 

I’m sorry, man.  But I’m only sorry for you.  I’m actually quite happy for her.  She’s playing tennis with the greats…and scoring aces like she never did here.  And at some point, maybe weeks or months or years from now, you’ll come across some currently hidden tennis ball and when you find it, you will smile.  And then cry.  And then thank God that you had Sherry…even if for such a brief moment in time. 

I've often said that though I wish Cindy back, she doesn't want to come back.  And somehow, knowing that gives me peace.   And someday, it will give you peace, too.

I've also said, "Don't mess with a man who's lost his wife."  It usually makes other people frown…a scowl that never fails to make me laugh.  Because only someone who has lost as big as you and I have lost is strong enough to take on all other comers. 

Listen, when you’ve lost your life’s love, what other potential loss could even ruffle your feathers?  So bring it, dude!  I can conquer anything now! 

And Terry, so can you. 

A lot of your friends and family will tell you that they understand what you’re going through, but they don’t.  Unless they’ve lost as you have now lost, they may care…but they don’t get it. 

But I have lost big like you…so I DO get it. 

I wish I didn’t, but I do.” 

I wanted to also tell Terry that I was sorry it had taken me so long to write him.  But I didn’t, because I figure he understands.  At least the time will come when he will understand. 

So to my good friend {and clockmaker} Terry:  Keep setting those chimes and winding those clocks!  And then, every time they ring?  And you smile because the tones they sound make you think of her? 

May your heart also smile as you realize:  Sherry’s smiling, too. 


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