Earp Takes Aim | Faith, Culture, Life

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I traveled to the Midwest recently. What I was looking for was a change of place and a change of pace so I could successfully find a change in my perspective.

And I’m happy to report — I found it! At least I’ve found the “change” I’d like my life to have. It’s a change of perspective I’m calling, FORWARD.

For 18 months, I’ve been leaning back.

Back to before cancer. Back to date nights and romantic walks on the beach. Back to laughter and mornings on the patio and sweet, unbridled love.

What I didn’t realize, until my trip, is just how backward my mindset had become. And how could it not be? Truth is, I’ve grown even more backward-focused since three days after Easter.

So backward, in fact — I started my Midwest tour by going to California. I wrote about my visit in a previous post. If you read what I wrote then, you probably thought my trip was a total bust.

I realize now, it wasn’t. Instead, it was in HB that this different perspective took its first uncertain steps. Good friend that he is, Bruce gave me room to back into the question I really wanted to ask. In fact, it took two days of golf and several hours of intense conversation before I asked it.

“Bruce, what will FORWARD look like?”

No, I wasn’t nearly that articulate when I asked it. But that was exactly what I wanted [and was desperate] to know.

Till then, I hadn’t even considered that there would be a FORWARD. Till then, all I longed to do was to hit “backspace” so that I could once again have what I knew I never would have again:

Cindy — back.

My old life — back.

The happiness we had so eagerly shaped together — back.

But at Ruby’s Diner…? I finally and ever so cautiously asked my friend about FORWARD. And I do mean “cautiously.” To be perfectly candid, I wasn’t even sure “forward” was allowed.

Is it too early to want a FORWARD?

Is my life too far gone to expect a FORWARD?

And if not, why do I feel so guilty even considering FORWARD?


This FORWARD theme continued once I finally headed east. I told you yet in another post about the conference I attended. While there, I faced something I knew I would face: A huge conflict between these two competing forces.

On the one hand, my oldest and most cherished friends and peers, seeing me for the first time since Cindy stopped by heaven, showered me with love and sympathy. And though I was warmed by every loving encounter, I found myself battling “backward” again.

But I also met with some other people. Primarily other pastors with whom I know have a shared experience – but who are enough ahead of me that they already forged into their FORWARD. And even though our conversations were marked by many tears, I also found my heart longing to follow in their FORWARD footsteps.


My Midwest tour could be accurately summed as follows: Three steps FORWARD, two steps “backward.” Doesn’t sound all that productive, I realize. But the good news is, even by that unattractive formula? At least there is some progress…even if the distance traveled isn’t all that impressive.

Besides, I’m not convinced checkpoints are worthy markers of the race I’m running. No, the only marker that truly matters is that I want to run this race.

And I DO want to.


After I got home, another old friend sent me a link to a video that was made at his church. It’s the one where people hold up a chunk of cardboard – they write the first part of their story on the front and the rest of their story on the back. He asked me to watch it because he and his family had a part in this moment.

Having seen this drill before, I prepared took a deep breath and then hit play. For nearly 9 minutes, one cardboard flip after another revealed the amazing wonder…of FORWARD. One after another of these mute storytellers would solemnly move into position, slowly reveal their “back” story and then excitedly flip into FORWARD.


Those who had been sexually abused…

Families ripped by divorce and joblessness and disease…

Others who were marked by loss…



Incalculable grief…

Toward the end of the video, Josh and his family stepped into the frame.

“Lost son.”

“Lost brother.”

“…in a tragic hunting accident.”

I had no clue. The miles and years had separated us from one another’s stories. And because I knew their son and brother? I felt that familiar “backward” groan rising up in me…all over again.

But then – they flipped FORWARD.

“He accepted Christ…moments before joining Him in heaven.”

“We’ll see Him in eternity.”

“Jesus always saves.”


And that’s when my heart leaped and I longed for my “flip”, too.

Except…not just “in eternity.” No, if the only hope I have to know my FORWARD moment is only after I cross to the other side…? I’m not sure I can wait till then. And if it isn’t in the cards for me till then…? Then come now, Jesus. Just break through the clouds and do Your thing…now. Now!

Because I am way too burdened by “backward.” I’m weary of constantly reaching behind me for what will never be. “Backward” stinks. No, let’s be real: “Backward” sucks. It sucks my joy. It sucks my hope. But most of all, it sucks my faith.


And that’s why I want FORWARD. I need FORWARD. Because I’m ready to see if there’s any writing on the other side of my cardboard.

As man of faith, I hope there is. I believe in FORWARD. I place all my trust on FORWARD.

But as a faith-wimp, I can’t see FORWARD. Truth is, I kinda fear it. And every time I try to peek through the dark clouds, I’m bombarded by way too many questions and far too few answers.

But armed by my disappointingly wimpy faith, I have made one life-altering decision: With “back” as a forever part of my story, I intend to keep writing my story. And to do that, I need to move FORWARD.


…out of tragedy and into triumph.

…out of stuck and into starting over.

…out of grieving with no hope and into hoping despite my grief.


So I’m setting my compass and am taking some steps. Sometimes backward, other times forward. I’m not making any promises — my journey may be as circuitous as a trip to the Midwest from Phoenix by way of California.

But at least I’m no longer only reaching back. I’m forging FORWARD.


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