Seeking Out Inspiration

Terry Lieb Challenging Yourself, God Finds, Mindfulness 4 Comments

Inspiration: the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative (or different)

I often run my ideas for possible post topics by friends, especially a few who tend to be honest and candid.  Sometimes their responses simply move me to put the possible topic back on the shelf. Other times their feedback drives me deeper into the topic. This time a thoughtful response challenged me to do some serious self-reflection!

I had floated my idea for a post on seeking out inspiration by a friend and faithful reader. His response was, “Are you expecting everyone else to be as motivated to seek out inspiration as you are? I’ve known you a long time and you have always be obsessed with this kind of thing!”

Those are the kind of challenging questions I appreciate and they certainly deserved some honest reflection. As I mulled over his response, I found myself feeling slightly defensive. After I spent some time chewing on my response, I figured out my defensiveness was related to the word “obsessed.”

I looked up the definition and found it means “to preoccupy or fill the mind of (someone) continually, intrusively, and to a troubling extent.” This was largely accurate. I do get very excited about seeking out inspiration and attempting to be open to where that experience may take me. It even could be said to have an “addictive” quality to it. But I wasn’t sure I could agree with “troubling”!

A few days later my friend and I continued our discussion and I shared my reaction to the word obsessed. I told him I was willing to embrace the idea of being obsessed if we could change the word troubling to challenging? To my surprise he immediately replied, “Actually, I believe ‘challenging’ describes your attitude much better!”

With that piece out of the way, I returned to the first part of his comment. His question, “Are you expecting everyone else to be as motivated to seek out inspiration as you are?” ran even deeper for me!

Was I projecting—or even more disturbing to me, was I, to some extent, unconsciously imposing—my evolving approach to my life journey onto others? This would clearly go against some core tenets I believe in!

After a brief silence he said, “I have always appreciated that part of you and at times your strange ideas have inspired me, but to be honest I have learned years ago to tune you out at other times when it becomes overwhelming. I expect your constant desire to seek inspiration in order to change is probably way too much for most folks! The nice thing about your posts is that folks can just take a break if it becomes too much for them.”

You can’t buy that level of honest feedback! If this post or any of my writings become too much for you or feel like an added pressure or burden rather than a path to greater fulfillment, just close it!

For myself, if I’m addicted to seeking inspiration, I’m not presently motivated to seek treatment! Finding new and unexpected sources of inspiration is a constant pleasure and springboard for action that has enriched my life in immeasurable ways. A few days ago when I was doing my morning meditation, it struck me how often “inspirers” are showing up on my daily gratitude list. I’d like to share just three examples that I’ve run across recently.

I’m often inspired by my counseling patients. One woman who I have been counseling for several years has been choosing each day to somehow manage to gather the courage to continue to dig her way out of an 11-year bout with severe, debilitating depression. She demonstrates a level of courage I find myself envious of at times. This level of tenacity and desire to survive has inspired me in ways I am still trying to comprehend.

In one of our most recent sessions, as has become a pattern, she started out with, “First tell me how you and Rita are doing?” I expect some of my colleagues would question the professionalism of allowing or responding to that question. For me the personal exchange has become yet one more learning as to the purpose and value of the therapeutic relationship!

After my brief update she said, “I remember that special flower garden you planted for Rita with her favorite flower, Black-eyed Susan’s. I expect a few of those in a small vase where she can see them when she first wakes up tomorrow morning would make her feel extra special.”

Not only was I inspired by her interest in and compassion for other people even in the midst of her own troubles, but her suggestion also rekindled in me the importance and value of doing the little things each day for folks around you, especially those we tend to overlook! (You can’t begin to imagine how many points those three Black-eyed Susans racked up for me!)

Although my favorite inspirers are generally people, I often find inspiration in things I read or hear. The next Sunday as we sat in church we sang a new song called, “Ask The Complicated Questions.” Just the title alone challenged me to read and listen carefully to the words (folks around me quietly rejoice when I choose not to sing!).

The affirmation, permission giving, and yes, inspiration was overwhelming for me. Take a few moments to read the words slowly to yourself:

  • Ask the complicated questions
  • Seek the disconcerting answers
  • Test competing truths for wisdom for in tension new life grows
  • Knock on doors of new ideas
  • Test assumptions long grown stale
  • For in struggle we discover truth both simple and profound

There is wisdom buried in each of these verses but focus on just one and see where it might take you! Allow your mind to go there, you can decide later if you have the strength and courage to fully embrace it.

The following morning I received a call from a close and longtime friend, Dave. Dave and his wife, Linda, have both been major inspirations in my life. In 1974, just four years after they were married, Linda was driving with their two young children in the back seat when they were hit by a drunk driver. Linda remained in a coma for several months and as a result struggled with a variety of disabilities for the remainder of her life. Her mobility was significantly compromised, along with her speech.

I first met Dave and Linda soon after he accepted the position as Chaplain at The Lutheran Home where I was serving as the Director of Family Life Services. My initial encounter with this amazing couple was in the cafeteria. They were having lunch and Linda was in a wheelchair.

When I introduced myself both greeted me warmly with big smiles but immediately I felt awkward because I had trouble understanding Linda’s speech. With no sensitivity or thought I blurted out, “I’m sorry but I can’t understand anything you’re saying!”

Linda immediately responded with an even bigger smile and an emotional statement that I struggled to understand with little success. I turned to David for help. He also had a huge smile and interpreted Linda’s response for me, “Thanks for your honesty; I think we will become good friends!”  These words turned out to be prophetic! Fortunately, over time I learned to understand Linda much better and they became close friends of both Rita and myself.

Dave was calling to tell me that Linda, who had been in a nursing facility and recently placed on palliative care, had died the day before—probably right as I was struggling with the words to  that song! He shared with me his evolving thoughts about the memorial/celebration of life service he would like to have for her.  He would be asking family and friends to identify and share one way in which Linda has touched their lives.

Near the end of that difficult phone conversation Dave also shared that he had contacted several programs that would accept Linda’s body and through research will attempt to compile information that could be valuable in a variety of ways for persons with similar disabilities as Linda and also for medical research and physicians treating folks with a variety of disabilities.

Inspired once again, we will give serious consideration to doing the same when that time comes.

As we ended our phone conversation, I considered Dave’s request to come up with one way Linda had touched my life. I quickly substituted the word inspire for touch and then begin the overwhelming task of picking just one of the many ways Linda has challenged, inspired and indirectly prodded me to grow over the past forty years!

Throughout our evolving friendship, Linda had unconsciously encouraged me to push through my uncomfortableness, fear and at times prejudice regarding folks who were different than myself. Differences come in all manner of guises; it could be skin color, nationality, social status, age, sexual identity or any of the many “categories” that divide us.

With Linda it was a variety of physical challenges that I initially allowed to cause me to question if a friendship would even be possible. Linda didn’t question that for a moment, but I did! Fortunately, her persistence, courage, humor, and wisdom in truly understanding the value of friendships won out. Linda and Dave became close and valued friends over the years.

Linda and David

Linda has clearly inspired me to actually seek out those folks whom I have labeled as different than myself, to gather the courage to face my awkwardness, discomfort, fears, and prejudices.

What I often discover is to “ask the complicated questions,” “seek the disconcerting answers,” and “test assumptions long grown stale,” “for in struggle we discover truth both simple and profound”!

Many of these folks have shared the simple and profound truths they have discovered in the midst of their struggle, truths about friendship, the value of diversity and different perspectives, and the things we all share, regardless of differences.

As I finish this post it occurred to me that I never really shared with Linda how she inspired me to become a risk taker, to venture into the lives of folks who I really don’t understand and as a result I’m gradually evolving into more of the person I believe this Sneaky God is calling me to become.

This writing and reflecting has inspired me to begin a list of folks I need to talk with and let them know how they have inspired me so I’m not trying to put it into words for their memorial service!


  1. Assuming each of us are at a different spot in terms of interest in actively seeking out inspiration, where would you place yourself on a scale from one to 10? Are you comfortable with your place on the spectrum? Why or why not?
  2. In the last week, where have you found inspiration? If you can’t think of anything, think harder!
  3. What kind of potential inspirers do you find most interesting: music, art, films, animals, experiences, etc. (or as in my case all of the above but people are clearly on the top of my list!)?
  4. If you were to do a gratitude list, who would be on it? What’s one small gesture you could make to brighten their day? What’s stopping you?
  5. Which of the lines of the song, “Ask the Complicated Questions,” did you focus on? What did it bring up for you?
  6. How comfortable are you interacting with people you perceive as different? What are some of your hesitations? What might you possibly miss out on if you don’t push past them?
  7. If you have been inspired by a person either by their behavior/actions or by something they created, did you take time to share how they impacted your life journey?  If so, how was that experience for both of you? If you didn’t, are you able to identify why you chose not to?

Banner photo by Gary Meulemans on

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September 3, 2023 2:17 pm

Thank you once again for being that shining beacon in the dark. At times I do get disturbed at all the negative news out there BUT, thank God there is always a but. There still is much good out there and we sure do need all the inspiration we can get. We not only get that but much more….we get to THINK about it all. Thank you for your, always, inspiring posts. God bless

September 4, 2023 7:48 am

As always, your messages challenge me to think about my relationships with other people. “Do the right thing” comes to mind when I failed to speak up under uncomfortable circumstances. Thanks for the inspiration that nudges us to do better.

James Buskirk (Jim)
James Buskirk (Jim)
September 4, 2023 12:41 pm

Thanks, Terry and your helper Rita also. For years I have been in a parallel effort “To Know My God”, but didn’t know what to call it until your series came along. I’m on my 4th or 5th time reading the Bible cover to cover. The first time it was just to get to the end so I could say I’d done it. But, each successive time I’ve slowed down and pondered and prayed for understanding. Now, as I read it quite often even though I’m reading about ancient times it is as though the pages are speaking to me… Read more »

Tom Orsulak
Tom Orsulak
September 4, 2023 12:58 pm

What inspires me often leaves me wide-eyed an open-mouthed. Creating within me a sense of awe.