An ‘Olympian’ Named Cliff (Within and Without)

As you may or may not have noticed…

I’ve pushed the writing ‘pause’ button on my blog as of late.

I had already written the majority of this post and actually used the “P” word.

So I find it VERY interesting when yesterday (Sunday – 7/29/12) my pastor challenged us NOT to push the “pause” button when it comes to various aspects of our lives. (Feel free to download his message ‘Press On’ here: http://vimeo.com/46577034)

There are times, however, when pressing the pause button MAY be necessary.

For example, I also noticed today, that Michael Hyatt had something to say about the need to occasionally press the’ pause button of stillness.’ (http://michaelhyatt.com/the-practice-of-stillness.html. Michael is one of my favorite blogs that I subscribe to. You may want to as well. Practical, honest, and theologically balanced).

And then there are other fellow-bloggers (Bonnie @ Faith Barista, Ann @ A Holy Experience, Judy @ Kindling, Jeff @ Jeff Goins/Writer, Rick @ Rick Duncan, and many others) who have laid open their lives and understand the value of authenticity as they allow God use them in the midst of struggle, and pain, and imperfections, and real life!

While writing is something I enjoy and feel compelled to do, I am still learning to find my way around in this world of words that have become part of my journey in recent years. (I marvel at others who have mastered the daily or weekly discipline of writing who seem to find/make the time to write in barns, airports, nurseries, from mission trips around the world ….no matter what…they write!

You know who you are!

There are others of you who, you may NOT know who you are…but I am thankful for each and every encounter I have had with those of you who inspire me – through your messages, stories, blogs, and comments – to push ‘play’ when it comes to telling my story.

These friends are running well the race our God has marked out for them to run! And while they would never see themselves as such, I see them as blogging Olympians!

Needless to say, I believe God is speaking to me on this whole topic of ‘pause/don’t pause.’

Perhaps he may be speaking to you too?

For me, the truth of the matter is…

  • I’ve missed writing.
  • I’ve missed sharing the journey within with my community of fellow sojourners.
  • I’ve missed exercising my writing muscles.
  • And I’ve missed running with and learning from others who have also embraced the call to write.
  • I’ve missed it all!

By sharing your journey within, you encourage me to share mine!

So….all that to say….what had intended to be only a ‘brief pause’ and life-adjustment, over time…

became a place to hide.

Ouch! Did I just say and type that out loud?

The Journey Within as of late, if I were completely honest, has become an internal struggle in the way I have grappled with questions of identity, worth, and significance.

Questions like…

  • Do I really have anything to say that’s of any value to anyone?
  • Does what I have to say really matter?
  • Why do I feel compelled to write and yet, at the same time, struggle to find my true voice?
  • What are the underlying fears I have that prevent me from telling the story God has been writing with my life?

Just as I began to get some help and a tiny bit of clarity on the subject, my life took a bit of an unexpected turn:

  • “Sure we’ll care for our two (out-of-state) grand-boys this summer.”

And earlier this month:

  • I made a trip to Colorado Springs to mourn and celebrated the life of a dear friend (the Olympian to whom I refer) who has had a profound impact on my life both personally and professionally. (And the focus of this blog – below).

In addition to:

  • an unexpected invitation (out of state) to pursue a new career opportunity.

All the while….

  • trying to balance the rest of my personal life, work life… and all of the above.

I’m not complaining, making excuses, or looking for empathy…and I know there are times in our lives when the pause button is warranted.

Like those times when we need to pull back and rest, reflect, or regain a fresh perspective.

I am simply wondering if…

in pressing the pause button (when it comes to things concerning our writing life, relational life, ministry life, or whatever life)…are we actually running from something God has entrusted to our care?

I am certain that I have spent too much time in the past trying to make sense of all the twists and turns…the ebbs and flows…the highs and lows…the expected and unexpected events….that have taken place in my crazy, wonderful, unexplainable life.

However today, in response to the nagging, compelling, desire within me to finish well this race God has marked out for me to run (in all areas of my life)

I have decided to push “play” once again.

And although I am no ‘Olympian’ regarding my writing life or any other life-role as a wife, mother, grandmother, friend, or co-worker…

I know someone (in addition to Jesus) who is…or rather, was.

So…

I’d like to share with you the post I began several weeks back. I wrote this to pay tribute to those people God brings into our lives, whose life and impact – change us forever.

They are in essence…‘Kingdom-minded Olympians!’

Cliff Anderson is that person for me.

(Me & Cliff - Colorado Springs - 2003)

Cliff went to be with the Lord Jesus just a few weeks ago on July 4th. He was 72 years young!

What a glorious moment it must have been for him to gain True Freedom when he crossed from death to life – from a life of earthly labor and faithful ministry to advance the cause of Christ, to that moment when his six-year battle with multiple myeloma cancer ended…and Cliff met Jesus face to face!

Cliff has been that one-of-a-kind, gentle-giant-of-a-man, who has left a deep and permanent mark upon my heart – my career – and more importantly, my journey within as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

My relationship with Cliff began the year following the fall of 2000 when I gladly put my home furnishing/color consulting business aside to follow the open door that the Lord had set before me to join Young Life staff and begin a ministry to teen moms in the Greater Cleveland area.

After a season of being trained in the Young Life way of doing ministry (relationally, life-on-life, a model based upon the way Jesus loves and meets others where they are), I began to cast vision to others and developed a team of volunteers who would help me serve the practical, emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of teen moms.

I eagerly and passionately recruited and trained women as mentors and developed a monthly Club where moms could feel safe and grow in their understanding of God’s love, forgiveness, and grace.

The following summer (2001) I took my first group of teen moms and leaders to Young Life’s ‘Woodleaf’ camp property in northern California for the very first YL camp, exclusively designed for teen moms and their children.

I met Cliff just a few weeks prior to that camp when I received an invitation from the Presidents office to join a handful of other US teen mom directors in Colorado Springs, where Young Life is internationally headquartered.

For three full days, we discussed the growing needs of this focused ministry area and ended our time together crafting a document outlining the ideal candidate profile, so that Young Life could begin its search for their first national director to oversee the teen mom ministry.

Cliff, at that time, was Young Life’s VP of training (among a lineage of God-sized projects he established and launched his career), and also oversaw four other specialty ministries of Young Life; (Capernaum; ministry to disabled teens; Multicultural/Urban; Small Town; and WyldLife (YL’s initiative to Middle School kids); and it was Cliff (leader extraordinaire) who led this Summit gathering of female leaders.

As Cliff learned more about each of us women gathered that weekend, he invited us to begin praying for the filling of this position and asked us to let him know if any of us were sensing a call from God to this position.

The following morning we planned to conclude our summit gathering by attending Cliff’s adult Sunday School class at First Pres (of Colorado Springs), grab a quick lunch, and then head to the airport to return to our respective homes.

Throughout our last day of meetings and that entire last night, I began to feel ‘something strange’ taking place within me.

  • I didn’t understand it.
  • It was like nothing I had ever experienced before.
  • All night long, I felt the presence of God pressing in on me from every side – and at every turn.

I prayed…and read…pressed pause, just long enough to ponder the Lord’s activity in my life up to that point …as well as the present action that was taking place within my mind and heart at that present point in time:

  • … a teen mom whose life and purpose were redeemed by the love of Jesus Christ
  • … a marriage to the man of my dreams
  • … a life focused on knowing and following Christ and HIS plan for my life
  • … eight amazing children, and
  • … the privilege of telling others about God’s amazing grace, love, and forgiveness.

I was not at all expecting what followed, but the question I was being confronted with was this:

Was God calling ME to this press ‘play’ regarding this role?

Is that what this crazy thing taking place within me was all about?

Internally, I recited the chorus of Moses:

“Who am I, Lord? Don’t pick me! I am not eloquent in speech and I lack credentials.”

My conversations with God seemed to mimic the stuttering responses of my fourth child when his young heart would get aroused by fear or excitement.

There were indeed others there that weekend who were indeed more ‘qualified’ than I. But I also knew enough about God to know

  • …that my life was not my own.
  • …that I was bought with a great price…
  • …that God often chooses the ‘least’ the ‘last’ and the ‘lost’ to do accomplish his work in the world.

How could I refuse the Lord’s calling, if he had indeed called me for such a time as this?

I planned to keep it to myself, return home, and simply pray and wait on the Lord.

But at the hotel restaurant at 5:30am that Sunday morning…

I was joined by the woman who gave birth to the vision to reach teen moms, Mary Somerville.

May sat down with me and joined me and my early morning coffee fest (while inwardly freaking out); she came right out and asked me…“Betsy, is the Lord speaking to you?”

  • How could I remain silent?
  • What should I say?
  • I am caught off guard by her kind, yet forthright frankness.

Wasn’t she the more likely person? It was she that had labored in the field as a pastor’s wife and advocate for teen moms. It was she that had prayed for the day when Young Life would more intentionally ‘go after’ this growing audience of teens so they too could hear about the life-changing message of hope in Jesus Christ. It was she that the Lord should be hounding…not me!!!

I gulped deeply then responded cautiously…

“I don’t know what is happening, Mary, I only know that something is happening.

She offered nothing but love and support and affirmed what I was sensing. She assured me that her responsibilities of being a pastor’s wife were where God had placed her and that she was not being called to a candidate for the proposed role.

“We need to talk to Cliff today before we leave!” she concluded.

And there in the sanctuary of First Pres, in response to Cliff’s request to “let him know if we sensed a call to the position,” Mary and I together, let Cliff know that indeed, the Lord was speaking to my spirit about this new role.

He smiled and hugged me in his sweet, affirming Cliff way, and assured me he would be in touch.

After sharing the entire experience with my husband, I began the process of waiting on the Lord – giving room for the Spirit of God to confirm his plan for my life.

Six weeks later – after weeks of prayer, and input and counsel from family and friends, I flew back to COS for final interviews. I was not the only one being interviewed.

But I knew intuitively that Cliff had sensed God’s call on my life. I saw it in his eyes that day. In his smile. In his questions; and in his desire to hire not the one most qualified by human standards.

Cliff understood, like I was beginning to understand, that…

(Photo Retrieved from TwitPic)

Even still, a final decision had not been made. More time was needed.

That summer, as planned, I took ‘my girls’ and mentors on our planned camp trip.

While there, during YL’s traditional 20 minutes of silence given to all campers, 65 teen moms pressed the pause button to examine their hearts and lives. In their brokenness, they scattered beneath the evening sky… heads bent over long, legs curled, and heads buried, against porch banisters, against large pines, against the message of the cross – as they paused long enough to consider all that Jesus’ life – and his death on a cruel cross – accomplished for them, individually.

I returned to the Club room.

And I too was bent low. Postured in humble gratitude…and remembering the day I too bowed low in brokenness.

I lingered there…praying, still, awed….with confident joy that God could give them a future and a hope beyond their ability to comprehend if they would just ‘press play!’

  • Because of God’s redeeming love, they too could enter the life of faith!
  • It was theirs for the asking!
  • The decision to respond to God’s choosing them was theirs alone.

As I prayed, the indescribable began to take place within me….my heart was beating strong….loud…hard! In the moments that followed, these words seem to whisper firm and strong to the within part of my being:

“I am laying my heart over yours.

This is how my heart beats for them.”

I wept.

And right there in that club room, I humbled myself again and surrendered to God’s call on my life to serve the least, the lost, and the unlovely.

I received Cliff’s personal call several weeks later (after more prayer…and more waiting) asking me if I would accept the national director position of Young Life’s ministry to teen moms. The Lord had confirmed his plan for me over and over again. Only one thing remained…

To accept the call.

And that’s when my friendship with Cliff really began!

Cliff became my direct supervisor for the majority of my 6-year run leading the YoungLives ministry.

But I am only one of literally thousands – whose lives have been forever changed because of Cliff! And his memorial in recent weeks testified to the far-reaching extent of his kingdom impact throughout the span of his life and career.

It was also a complete privilege and honor, as you can imagine, to return to First Pres in Colorado Springs (where my adventure with Cliff began) to join the band of others who had also c0-labored with Cliff in ministry as we walked in together and sat in the massive choir loft as his “cloud of witnesses.”

We became a visual symbol (Cliff’s idea) to those attending his memorial, of that final day when we too will stand in the presence of our maker and King, along with our “cloud of witnesses” as we are reminded in Hebrews 12:1-2.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Cliff was the kind of leader that encouraged all who knew him to stay close to Jesus, to grow and learn all we could about what it means…to serve well….to love well…and live well.

Cliff was an Olympian of Faith for many reasons, but here are a few that stand out in my mind:

Cliff saw in me what I never saw in myself.

  • He saw me through eyes of potential.
  • He saw me for what I was becoming.
  • He believed I was called to ‘greatness’ because God is great.
  • I didn’t know I was a writer, a strategist, a planner of sorts, a branding/marketing person, a visionary, a leader with a shepherds heart, a candidate for seminary. But Cliff did. And God used Cliff to draw it out of me.

Cliff mentored me as a leader.

  • He affirmed God’s call on my life.
  • He valued and respected me as a female leader.
  • He showed me what great leadership looks like in the way he lived and treated others.
  • He taught me that leadership has more to do with follower-ship

As both a supervisor and as one of my leadership professors…

Cliff always inspired me to grow.

  • He encouraged me to get my Masters/Seminary degree from Fuller Seminary Colorado Springs (of which he also established).
  • I graduated with a MA in Christian Leadership the summer of 2007
  • He modeled a life of ministry that kept Jesus front and center.
  • He inspired me to read more (always exchanging book lists).

Cliff taught me about the power of encouragement by the way he encouraged me and others.

  • He always gave me positive feedback.
  • He would call or send me notes/emails to let me know what a great job I did on a particular project, presentation, task, or whatever.
  • If he ever did give you constructive criticism, you never knew it was criticism, because it was done so positively.

(a book Cliff gave me early on)

Cliff taught me that our identity is not to be found in our ‘work’.

  • He based his life on his relationship with Christ, his love for God’s word, his church, and an incredible love for people, and the advancement of the kingdom of God.
  • He lived relationally and modeled what it meant to live in community with others.
  • He lived missionally-minded in all aspects of life.

Cliff lived and died with profound grace.

  • He shared his journey through ‘the valley of the shadow of death’ vulnerable, yet always full of hope and peace, never complaining.
  • He continued to run his race until the very end…serving others, loving others, always straining to advance the cause of Christ.
  • His memorial had his fingerprints all over it – not wanting to bring attention to himself, but to honor Christ and those who served with him in the many ministries that developed and grew under his watchful eye.

My life is different and better because of a man named Cliff Anderson.

And although I am no longer leading a ministry with teen moms, I am taking hold of this next chapter of my empty-nest life and the new opportunities God has placed before me.

One, of which, is to write.

Not only has Cliff inspired me to live, lead, and love well…

Cliff’s life inspires me to finish well!

I am pressing ‘play’ so that I might press onward and upward to finish the race my God has marked out for me. And I do so with a heart of gratitude for all the God has done for me in Christ!

Why in the world would I want to press pause?!

What about you?

Have you been blessed to know such a man or woman?

Have you too pushed the pause button on your faith? On your life-mission? On your family? On other relationships? Is there an area of your life that you should consider pushing the ‘pause’ button?

Will you join me in pressing “play” and taking hold of all that God has in store for you and I?

I’d love to hear about the “Cliff” in your life …and/or…how God is challenging you to get back in the race he has marked out for you. And will you join me in praying for Cliff’s wife Mary (below) and his family? I also join you and ask you to join me in praying for those in our lives who are facing the shadow of death even now…that God’s presence would draw us all closer to his loving arms as we look with eyes of faith to the author and finisher of our faith.

(me and Cliff's sweetly strong wife, Mary)

Until next time friend,

Press ‘Play’ if you need to move forward – or Press ‘Pause’ if you need to rest a while. And let God show himself mighty to you right where you are as you pursue and take hold of all that he has entrusted to you!

God’s peace to you friend,

Betsy

2 thoughts on “An ‘Olympian’ Named Cliff (Within and Without)

    • betsystretar says:

      Thank you dear Ann. You played such a key role in making one of our Lost Canyon trips very special. And I will never forget the many ways God used you! 🙂 I am so grateful we have maintained our friendship journey and so thankful for you!

      Like

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