The Extraordinary Ordinary: A Case Study

Paul says, “To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, [God] will give eternal life.”

I want to paint this verse in five inch letters on my bedroom wall. Because sometimes I forget that well-doing, ordinary doing well, is the path to immortality, my extraordinary destiny.

Today is the last post in our series on the extraordinary ordinary. It’s possible I’ve already said enough, but I don’t feel like we’re done without one, concrete, fleshed-out example, and I have just the example to share.

Meet my friend, Belinda Curtis:

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Recently I sat in Belinda’s living room and we talked about death.

She said, “I’m not afraid to die.”

I’ve heard people say that before, people diseased and aging, but the shake in their voices and the nervous in their wrung hands gives them away. I’ve heard twenty-somethings say it, too, as they crane their necks to catch a glimpse of death, so seemingly distant and innocuous. 

Belinda said, “I’m not afraid,” her voice unwavering. She said, “My thinking has been, ‘Bring it on.’” She said it bravely, staring in the face of a thick and fast-approaching darkness. 

Belinda was diagnosed with brain cancer a year and a half ago. She says it’s the kind with the tentacles that reach down into the brain, the kind her doctor says is “the most efficient way to die.” Chemo and radiation haven’t helped. Hospice has stepped in to care for her.

Barring a miracle, Belinda will die. Likely soon.

And she’s fine with that.

I visited her on a Saturday to interview her. My questions were mostly about dying—about cancer and saying goodbye and the certain uncertainty of the afterlife. I knew she would be courageous and wise.

What I realized quickly was that Belinda was far less interested in dying than in living. Dying, the process, was exhausting and terrible and unfair. It had robbed her of experiences she wanted—traveling, ministering, having grandchildren. Death, the end result, would be great for her and painful for the people she loves.

That’s all there was to say about it.

Living, though, she had a lot to say about that.

Belinda’s my example of extraordinary ordinary because there’s nothing more ordinary than dying. And because even in the face of death, Belinda’s trying to be and do well.

As soon as we sat down, she started talking about getting “ready” for Heaven. She’s had this song lyric stuck in her head, “Make me for thy rest more ready,” and while she isn’t certain what it means, so far she’s decided it means living now, exhausting herself in service.

She says she sees no reason to rest before she rests. She said, matter-of-factly,  ”I’d rather pass on than go on living with no purpose and not be productive.”

The other day, she wrote this note to herself:

"I will live this day as fully alive as I can." 

Belinda is showing up.

For her, showing up looks like this:

Reaching out to the Hospice nurses. Every day Belinda musters the strength to talk to her nurses. She asks about their marriages and their kids. She listens and then asks if she can pray for them, and they almost always say yes. She’s surprised at how much they tell her and how thankful they are for her prayers. She does meaningful work as she speaks words over these women, opening the gates of Heaven in their names. 

Mentoring young mothers. These days Belinda can’t invite anyone over for dinner. She can’t babysit for overwhelmed moms or speak to them at the women’s events she once headlined. What she can do is invite young mothers to come sit in her living room. She sits patiently and listens as they unload and untangle and decompress. Then, she offers all the wisdom she can articulate. 

She told me, “I’m trying to help others through difficult times.”

It’s not easy though. She’s so tired, always tired. She feels like every day she wakes up with the flu. When I left my interview, Belinda went to sleep. She slept most of the day before I came. It took weeks of coordinating with her husband Tim for me to find a day to see her; she can only accept one visit per day and then only on good days.

But Belinda refuses to let the fatigue stand in the way of her work: ”I keep praying God will give me the strength I need to do what’s in front of me.” She says, “He always does.”

I sat there, in my comfy chair facing her wheelchair, my wandering eyes landing on greeting cards from church friends heaped in big baskets, on pictures of her beautiful family on the walls, and I wondered not so much if I would die like this (although her strength and faith are striking) but mostly if I was living like this, so fully, so extraordinarily.

At one point in our time together Belinda sighed and said,  ”[God’s] clearly not finished with me yet.” And she’s right. He’s not.

So she is patient in well-doing, showing up every day, praying for hurting marriages and listening to tired mothers, and in so doing seeking glory and honor and immortality.