Closer to the Flame

Closer to the Flame

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Last month we read about the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. Arek O’Connell’s story is one of the most inspiring stories I’ve ever heard! My Christian life, in contrast, is much different. I’m what Arek’s wife, Jamie, calls a day-to-day Christian. I was born and raised in a two-parent Christian home. I’ve always attended a Christian church and a Christian school within the comfortable confines of Cutlerville – a conservative, Christian community.

Arek’s experience compels him to pursue the Holy Spirit with a driven passion. My life experience lends itself to conforming to the familiar. Arek is the after of the before; I’m more a long continuum and that, unfortunately, lends itself to a faith that sets itself on auto-pilot.Just like Cutlerville – only warmer

In my interview with Arek and Jamie, I found Jamie’s life is a lot like mine. She grew up in a community in southern California that is just like Cutlerville: a two-parent Christian home, Christian church, and Christian school in a Christian community.  But during our interview, I sensed that unlike me, her faith is just as vibrant and dynamic as Arek’s. When she was eighteen, her faith would be tested like mine has never been. A routine physical found an abnormality in her neck, and the results of the biopsy came in a phone call.

Jamie recalls, “My mom answered the phone and when she turned away and lowered her voice, I knew… I just knew! I needed to be alone so I could cry.”

Why me? Why now? Why this? As the shock began to sink in, the song “Amazing Grace” was playing on the stereo. Jamie looped that track so that it played over and over, and after an hour, she realized she would not go through this alone. She had a faith that was stronger than her, the cancer, and the fear. The surgery brought more bad news: the cancer had already spread into her lymph system and with that a treatment plan of radiation was required.

Every family has a member who is the rock, the one person who provides an emotional grounding; in Jamie’s family, that person is her dad. So it was her dad who accompanied her to the radiation and treatments. The result was a father-daughter bond that grew ever stronger. Today, her dad has a place in her heart of love and gratitude that no one else will ever have.
Jamie continued with her plans to attend Biola University, the same school Arek was attending.

“I remember the first time I saw her,” says Arek. “I didn’t know how, but I was going to do everything I could to meet her! There was just something about her – wow! I can’t describe it… just wow – what a beautiful woman!”

Their first date was at a Starbucks and they talked until early that next morning. Arek had too much respect for Jamie to not be completely honest, so he told her everything about his life: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

What I find surprising is what Jamie’s reaction was not. It would have been very reasonable for her to respond with a dismissive, “Well…thanks for all that information…so would you look at the time…sure is late, isn’t it….anyway, good luck with all that…bye” Instead Jamie took an interest in Arek, and for the second time in his life, he felt the intense feeling of unconditional acceptance. Arek knew how to pursue this relationship: with the same love, respect, and willingness to serve Jamie that characterized his new relationship with God. “So how did you introduce Arek to your family?” I asked.
Jamie laughs, “A little bit at a time.”Arek smiles and adds, “They seemed to accept me early on. So for the third time in my  life, I experienced this intense feeling of unconditional acceptance.” Jamie’s family are gifts of the love, acceptance and belonging that Arek didn’t have before his new life. Because of their faith, God planned long ago to use her parents to bring Jamie into the world and Arek into their family. Her parents, Linda and Bill, were being used in God’s plan to bring blessings and gifts in a way they’ve probably never realized.

I had to ask, “Why would you move from some place just like Cutlerville, only warmer to, well, Cutlerville?”
“I needed a job,” replied Arek. But as you read last month, you know what Arek wants his maximum impact to be, and Cutlerville is where God wants Arek and Jamie to make that maximum impact.

What does Jamie see as her maximum impact? “Because I grew up just like the youth at Hillside, I can identify with them.” She knows what it’s like to be a day-to-day Christian, but she also knows you don’t have to settle for a faith on auto-pilot. Her testimony is her impact.

Since my interview with Jamie and Arek, I find myself re-examining my own faith. Each, in their own way, are challenging me at 57 years old to disengage the auto-pilot and to fly closer to the flame that is the Holy Spirit.

by Bob VerBurg

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart” Proverbs 3:5
“I know the plans I have for you” Jeremiah 29:11

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