“And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are to be pitied more than anyone in the world.” 1 Corinthians 15:19
“We’re born to shimmer. We’re born to shine. We’re born to radiate.” Shawn Mullins
I heard a story about my uncle Dale a few weeks ago. It was on the day of his funeral during the week of his untimely death at an all too young 39 years old. His friend Dave Clark told it to us at the service. And it reminded me why I loved Dale so much.
You must first know my uncle passionately loved to water ski. I grew up watching him dare and conquer new feats: the first time he went to one ski, the first time he braved the infamous barefoot, and then the unthinkable reverse barefoot. I think he skied with a perma-smile.
Dave recounted to us a conversation they had on a ski session a few months ago. Dale was climbing back in the boat after a clearly amazing slalom ski run. Dave yelled from the driver seat over the gurgle of the idling motor, “That was some amazing skiing right there.” “What?” Dale shouted back. “I said that was some amazing skiing,” Dave repeated. And I imagine Dale betrayed a smirk as he said, “Sorry I couldn’t hear you over the sound of my own awesomeness.”
That was my Uncle Dale to a T. Man, it brings a smile and tears even now to remember this about him. He always reveled in his accomplishments and never shied away from letting you know. He enjoyed himself. Some might say he bordered on enjoying too much, dipping his toes into arrogance. Meh. I don’t think so. If he did, he was falling in the right direction.
And then he died suddenly on July 24. He woke up, dizzy and disoriented. And on the way to the hospital in the ambulance, he slipped away. Pulmonary embolism we found out later. But all of us, every single person saying goodbye to him, found no comfort in that answer. We all felt just how suddenly his death had come.
This skiing story has really helped me say goodbye to Dale. Its the thing in the end I’m most grateful for about him. He shined. He lived proud of himself. He took risks and when it turned out awesome, he wanted you to see it. And to me, as a guy who has battled a lot of shame, this was a huge gift. He showed me how to enjoy my own awesomeness.
Do you know your life has an awesomeness to it too? Do you know you are worthy of celebration? You embody the glory and artistic expression of God in some awe inspiring way. Its not just in what you do, but who you are too. Are you living like this?
I think the hardest part for each of us is that this is rarely seen and drawn out of us. No one this side of heaven gets celebrated enough. Not a single one of us gets to feast on the kind of enjoyment and wonder we were meant to live with.
In a recent marriage counseling session, a wife told her husband, “I want you just once to see and celebrate how well I clean the toilets. It’s not easy to do while watching the kids. And I rock it!” And then she teared up and turned to me. “Is that just the stupidest thing? I want him to celebrate me for my toilet cleaning. Who is that desperate?” But it wasn’t stupid. It was her heart – her ache for celebration. To have her life and hard work validated. And she is all of us.
CS Lewis wrote an amazing scene in his book The Great Divorce. The book tells the story of a group of travelers from hell who take a bust tour to heaven and what they experience of its grandeur. One man, obviously an artist, sets out in search of his favorite famous painters – Cezanne and Claude. But unable to find them, he finally stops an angel to help him. The angel fumbles a bit because he doesn’t recognize the names of these painters. Aghast at the angel’s response, the man says, “Don’t you know? Surely in the case of distinguished people you’d hear?”
The angel replies, “But they aren’t distinguished – no more than anyone else. Everyone here is famous.”
I love that picture. Heaven is a place where we are all famous. Your name will carry as much renown as Van Gogh or Bono or Ghandi. You will be celebrated deeply and continually. On the New Earth (when God brings heaven to earth), you will continue to grow as a person. You will finally have all the time in the world to develop your gifts and talents. You will be that great painter or writer or stone mason or friend or athlete. And the rest of us will finally get to see that amazing part of you.
And this will bring glory to God. People will praise God for creating you so extravagantly. You are his creative work after all. So when you are on display, He is on display. And as Dan Allender has pointed out, praise begets praise, gratitude begets gratitude. When someone praises you for your work, doesn’t it make you want to thank them and everyone who helped you in response? Its why every Academy Awards winner has to be escorted off stage because they go on and on thanking everyone they know for their success.
In this way, fame can be a holy longing. We will worship God more passionately and deeply when we revel in the wonder of how he created us.
Some might say this flies in the face of humility. But humility is not about putting ourselves down, which is shame, but bringing others up, honoring them. Remember Paul only taught us to think of others as better than ourselves. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” Or in the words of Jesus, “Love others as well as you love yourself.” Which assumes you do value and love yourself. A humble person recognizes the significance and beauty of other people and celebrates it.
Fame becomes unholy only in the path we choose to get it. When you try and make it happen at the exclusion or cost of others, then its become an unholy thing in your life. Like only talking about yourself in conversations and never taking an interest in others. Its the business owner who neglects his family to make his business thrive at their expense. Or the woman who flirts with a married man and doesn’t care because she just wants to be noticed. Its the Syrian dictator who murders his own people to protect his position of power.
But you can also sin in the other direction. You dishonor God when you stop desiring to be noticed or celebrated too. When you live in your shame, you don’t honor God either. Jesus did say something about hiding your light under a bushel you may recall.
And recognize that in this world you’ll never get enough of what you want. And its not your fault. On this earth, fame is a thing so scantly distributed. We all joke about our fifteen minutes of fame if we make the evening news or get recognized at the company christmas party. We may have thousands of Twitter followers or get a lot of Facebook likes for our big news or blog posts (I never struggle with wanting this). But its never enough. Fame is such a two dimensional thing here on earth. And way too scarce.
Then there is death, the thief. Death took my Uncle Dale’s life too quickly. After his death, I got scared. It was easy. A fear that I won’t fit in all I want to do with my life. But of course I won’t. No one will. Honestly, I think death takes everyone’s life too quickly. My 93 year old grandmother is no more ready to die than I am.
Yet, as Solomon wrote, “eternity is set in the heart of man.” So its coming. You will get it just like you want it one day.
So what’s your awesome? Do you own it? When was the last time you stood back from your work and said, “That is very good”? Do you ever worship God for how gifted you are? Have you asked Him what makes you awesome ? Oh, and can I come to your party in heaven?
Thanks, Dale, for teaching me how to gloat a little more, to stick out my chest, to hear the sound of my own awesomeness and in so doing worship the God who made me so. Can’t wait to watch you ski again and get that smirk on your face when you know you’ve rocked it. Can’t wait to enjoy again the sound of your awesomeness with you.