Friday, September 23, 2011

Muddy Dancing Shoes

Paul took life's bumps with a smile.  He often said
"You just can't ruin my day."  We worked together
a full day on a misbehaving airplane back in March.
One of God's greatest gifts to His followers are the encouragers that He gives us.  Papua lost one of God's gifted encouragers on Thursday.  My friend and fellow pilot Paul Westlund perished in an aircraft accident, along with his two Papuan passengers.  Our hearts are heavy.  We do not grieve as those who have no hope...but we do grieve.  I ache for Paul's wife Lavonne, their grown daughter Joy, and their teenage son Mark.

As God now has Paul with Him, I suppose there's some danger for those of us left behind, that as we remember Paul, we glorify the person and God gets lost in all the accolades for the one He created.  But God also gave us each other to "spur one another on to love and good deeds," and as I remember Paul, that is exactly what my spirit is longing to do...follow the example that Paul set for me in so many ways.

Paul was without a doubt the most encouraging person I've ever been around.  God would plant harebrained ideas in Paul's head about how to love on someone and, unlike me, Paul gave the matter no further thought: he simply went out and did it.  He would walk into my office with no other purpose than to say a kind word to me...and then leave.

Can you read my favorite verse?  Langda 2007
Having worked with Paul for almost 14 years, I can say that he was one of the most upbeat and carefree people I've ever known.  One of his favorite parts of the life God gave him was participating in the celebrations when a people group received God's Word in their language for the first time.  At the celebration Paul would always get a copy of the newly printed Scriptures and begin grabbing everyone he came upon and ask them to read his favorite verse.  Then he'd have them sign their names in the front of the Bible.  His favorite verse?  I Peter 5:7

Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.

Paul was locked into that amazing truth...God cares for us.  And what a gift that promise is to those of us left behind.

At the end of my last post, written four days before Paul's death, I wrote the following:

So I live my life here with the knowledge that my days on this planet are limited.  My opportunities to fully submit and follow hard after God, in this place, are numbered.  I can tread water until that day when my body quits, living an average life, on a pleasant path of my own choosing.  But what an opportunity I have to make the most of these short days to enjoy the adventure of following Him fully.
Paul fully enjoyed the adventure that God laid out for him.  He was just your average American, living an average American life, when a man walked into the motorcycle shop he was working at and challenged him to follow God into a life of missionary service.  Paul didn't give the matter another thought.  He dropped his tools and followed Jesus down the path.

How about you?  Is Jesus calling?  Are you giving it thought?  Or, are you, like Paul, ready to drop everything when the Master calls, and follow Him?

The path ahead?  Who knows.  That's what an adventure is all about.  You're following Jesus, not blazing your own trail.  His path is one of satisfaction and significance...a deep sense of meaning in a broken and chaotic world.

I'm convinced that God is calling more Paul Westlunds out from among His people.  Don't turn away in sadness like the rich young ruler...take a deep breath, get off your path, take Jesus' hand and follow Him.


If you've read this far, you may be wondering what does Muddy Dancing Shoes have to do with all this?  I'd like to leave you with a beautiful piece that my friend Scotty Wisley wrote yesterday.  I post this with Scotty's permission and his express desire that God get the glory.
Every time Paul Westlund landed his Porter in Bokondini I smiled.  He was one of the most positive, upbeat, enjoy-life-to-the-full guys I’ve ever met.   I never thought about it till yesterday, but it was sort of like he was dancing through life.  I would never think of him as a dancer.   Pretty much every time I saw him his shoes were muddy and he had part of his shirttail hanging out from a long day of work.  He would uncoil his lanky body out of the little cockpit and say something like “you should have seen the waves we had last Saturday, your brother got one of the longest rides I’ve ever seen.”  You didn’t have to spend much time with Paul to see that most of his enjoyment of life was cheering others on.  The next time he would land he would say “hey Scotty, I just had the coolest experience, I got to haul in a whole bunch of people for a Bible dedication in this tiny village in the middle of nowhere.  Those guys now have God’s word in their own language.  How cool is that that!!”
Paul often got his shoes muddy giving kids 'free flights.'
I don’t know how many times Paul has pulled us out of Bok.  Each time I looked forward to sitting next to him.  I was always drawn to Paul because of his positive attitude, I wanted  some of that to wear off on me.  I am so negative and critical and so easily discouraged and then comes Paul, brightening up my day and just showing me that it isn’t nearly as bad as I’ve made it out to be.  This last year Paul shared with me how he had been terribly hurt and wronged by a fellow missionary a number of years back.  He didn’t share enough details to make it gossip but he shared enough that I could see myself in his shoes.  Then he shared his path to forgiveness and how God freed him from lugging a load of anger and resentment.  He hadn’t always danced through life.  Paul’s positive attitude and joy were not just natural, it was a choice.  He intentionally chose how he was going to live and then he did it and we all benefited from that choice.
In The Mission the bishop dude says “this building of a paradise on earth, how easily it offends.”  One time when I was bitter and angry Paul showed up all happy and positive.  I laid into him.  “You are just happy cause you have everything you want.  You love your wife and there is nobody on earth you enjoy more than your son.  You live in a mansion, you have all the money you could want.  You get to surf every weekend and there is nothing you would rather do than be a jungle pilot.”  Paul just shrugged his shoulders, “what’s wrong with that?”  And Paul was right.  My theology that we are suppose to suffer and be miserable to somehow earn something or do penance had no place in Paul’s world.   Paul’s world was one of joy, a place where every set of shoes he owned were for dancing.
And those shoes have left footprints in all of our lives.  I don’t know how many tiny villages in the middle of nowhere Paul regularly landed at but he brought a little joy to each one.  Paul impacted the lives of many missionaries.  Maybe none are as bitter and angry as me but I know I want to be more like Paul.  I want to change shoes and get into a pair like what Paul wore.  Paul loved life.  His boy Mark was the apple of his eye and there are few kids on this earth who have had more great dad time than Mark enjoyed.   I didn’t really know Paul’s wife but he never said a negative thing about her and it was clear in every conversation that he loved and respected her.
When Paul died yesterday in his little plane with two passengers, I know he was bringing joy.  I know right now he has got on his dancing shoes before the King and he is doing what he did best on this earth.  He is cheering God on and totally enjoying his new life.   Paul Westlund danced through this life and he is still dancing.  I can just about see him leaning over to the guy next to him and saying, with that big smile on his face, “did you see what God just did?  How cool is that!!”
Please praise God for Paul’s life as a good husband, dad and jungle pilot here and please pray for his family and friends who grieve his death.  Please pray for the families of the two passengers who died with him.  


Anonymous said...

A wonderful tribute... Thank you.

Josh and Kari said...

Thank you for writing such beautiful words about Uncle Paul. We are so proud of him.

Mindy said...

This is simply perfect. Thank you so much for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Amen. A great guy with a terrific "serve". May His tribe increase.

Gloria said...

My heart soared in thankfulness to God this morning as I read this powerful testimony to His grace. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Glory to God!

Anonymous said...

My prayers are for a great man who served others so well. May God be with his family and the families of the other two men and give them the strength and courage they need at this time.
Sister Mary Lou Eltgroth
Little Falls, Minnesota

Anonymous said...

We love you, Paul.
Thanks for the fun times together and for all of the great memories.
You are a special friend.

Our hearts and prayers go out to LaVonne, Joy and Mark, and the parents and others who are grieving Paul's death.
We praise God for all that Paul did in this life...and we look forward to being with him Heaven someday.
Dan & Linda Fox
Lancaster, PA

Anonymous said...

I want to thank you for taking the time to write this tribute, I am a stranger to this man and his family but I have been wrestling some with some choices that have to be made for myself and a dear one in my family. This testimony encouraged my heart, it gave direction. Thank you again

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this, Nate. We are grieving with you all from afar, and remembering our experiences with Paul,too.
Donna Williams

Sheri Breuker Hoek said...

Great Tribute. Thanky for posting. Our hearts are broken and we grieve with all of you. Praying for all of you and Pauls family.
Sheri Breuker Hoek

AFWilliams said...

Well said Nate. You have captured so much of who I knew my friend Paul to be. He has been a great encouragement to me as I know he has been to so many others. I'm thankful that I was able to be with Paul, LaVonne and Mark last week. It breaks my heart to know that was my last time with him this side of eternity. My prayers are with his family family and all of you who grieve his death.
Al Williams

michelle mueller said...

Thanks Nate for posting this and reposting Scotty's story!!! You and Sherry are in our thoughts and prayers! We know you are here in spirit with your big family here in Papua!!! We miss you all!

Michelle Mueller

Anonymous said...

Terima Kasih banyak...
Tuhan memberkati Keluarga Westlund.. Terima kasih karena mau datang ke Papua...
Tuhan memberkati selalu.....

karin chase said...

If anyone has any pictures/memories that they would like to share, please email them to me! Paul was my uncle (he was my mom's brother) and we are trying to collect as many things as we can :o)

Also, we are collecting money for a college fund for Mark, so please let me know if you would like to contribute!

Anonymous said...

Nate - a friend in PA sent me the link to your blog after she heard of the accident at Paul's wife's home church. We've always loved your writing and it's nice to know it's viral. We heard of the accident again Saturday night in Portland OR at the reunion of the old WWII GI's who started SEND International -- the speaker, Commodore Gary Stubbs, was the father of another Wycliffe pilot in Papua. Small world. Thanks for sharing the writing "Muddy Dancing Shoes" and the powerful reminder that encouragement goes far further than criticism. Elizabeth Givens, SEND

Barbara M. Gay, Bishop Seabury Church, Groton, CT said...

Thank you so much for your wonderful article. It expressed everything I perceived about him and his lovely wife when they visited our Church upon their home visits. They were a wonderful team. Yes, what a positive and joy-filled person he was. You could tell he loved his Lord, his mission, his family, his people.
What a wonderful example when one totally gives himself to the Lord. Our prayers and sympathy to LaVonne, children, and loved ones.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this Uncle Nate, Its encouraging. The more I think about uncle Paul the more I see that he was truly living out Christ's love to the Papuan people. There is no doubt that Paul was a man of God, that he was a good father, and a good husband. He'd go out of his way to serve others and bring joy to their lives.

Lennart Kroneman

Anonymous said...

A wonderful testimony about one who obviously represented our Lord well. What an example for others to follow! Ken Stoltzfus

Rick in Indiana, USA said...

Thank you for sharing more about Paul. I did not know him but am involved with Wycliffe Assiciates, am familiar with JAARS, and share a love for flying. I heard about his death from some New Tribes friends who enjoyed his upbeat supply flights, often bringing them fresh pineapple as a treat. What a neat servant of God!

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed getting to know Mr. Westlund through your post. Thanks!