Purposes and Plans

purposeI will never forget my mother saying to me one morning, not long after reaching her 90th birthday, I just don’t know what I should do with the rest of my life. At the time, she felt hardy and hopeful and she was ready to take on something new. This idea of seeking purpose and planning toward it, has been with us all for a long time. Self-help books abound, whether secular or faith-based, “What is your purpose? What is the point? What is God’s will for my life?”

For the past few months, I have been participating in a series of classes under the umbrella of the Hillsong Ministry School at Restore Church. The entire first semester was like a walk through the Bible, broad swaths of understanding and patterns. But this semester is turning inward. Who am I in relationship with God, with Christ, with the Church?

rich-young-rulerTwo weeks ago, after class, I actually went home deeply depressed. I was feeling overwhelmed with I was not. I had a sharp and somewhat uncomfortable epiphany in which I understood the plight of the “rich young ruler” [Mark 10:17-23]. Not because I am a woman of wealth, per se, but there are experiences I still want to have and things I want to do that are not wrapped inside the cocoon of the church. And so, like him, I hung my head a bit and walked away. I want to be an expression of God in every day life, there is no doubt about that. And my faith in God is steady and even deep, but I am feeling a push back within. (In a recent sermon, Jess talked about the way he had been limiting his exercise: “I’ll do anything, just don’t ask me to do cardio.” — so it is with me, I guess.)

But I am off the homework questions of what God’s purpose is for my life? The correct answer is that everyone’s love-the-lordpurpose is pretty much the same: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind & strength, and your neighbor as yourself; AND, go into all the world and preach the gospel. . . ”  That has manifested as serving in the local church, adopting children, performing and speaking for about the things of God, and blogging my heart devotionally. Can I say that I have been called by God to these things? Not with confidence.

Some years ago, I spent a long time working through a study to help me articulate a personal mission. I still use it on my site: My personal mission is to inspire meaningful change, build faith in God, and connect people with resources that will make a difference in their lives. This sentence grounded me in my work at the library as well as my work in the church and my work in the arts.

I believe God has blessed my writing and indulges my desire to write both devotional and secular material. But I would also like to use my 30 plus years of marriage and faith to counsel others; is it too late to go in that direction? I don’t know. I want to simplify my life.

passionMy strengths are my passion for God, my enthusiasm for the things that resonate within me, my ability to speak in a group with confidence, my humor, my writing. My weaknesses are my losses – words don’t come as quickly as they di did before, I forget names and faces, my memories are no longer crystal clear. I am a bit adrift since Mike’s death and although I soldier on, I am a bit unhinged for he grounded me. I scatter my energy across an array of interests. For those who know the Enneagram, I am a true seven.

I am pretty capable with technology, although I am losing ground as “virtual reality” becomes more pervasive and I never really did much gaming. It’s not that I didn’t really like it, I was afraid of becoming addicted to it for I do have an addictive personality (which I learned the hard way back in the day before my faith in Christ cut me loose — I don’t test God in this anymore).

I’m not as good of a listener as I should be. I tend to be a “fixer.”

Don’t want to ask others what they think my strengths are etc. I know what they will say. I’ve been around this bend too often. They see what I let them see. I don’t have many friends, but the few who are close are far. I am not perceived as needing any.

prayerMy spiritual goal is to become a more consistent woman of prayer, working toward achieving a 5% tithe of my waking time spent in direct conversation, contemplation, and reflection within 6 months from today. Some of the strategies I will use will be to plan for prayer each day and week. 5% of 16 hours is approximately 45-50 minutes a day. I will record my time and what I learn in whatever time I spend, whether it’s 10 minutes or an hour, but I will see an increase over the weeks. And out of that time in prayer, I expect to return to familiarity and intimacy. And from there, this idea of purpose will be grow more authentically.

victorian-writerMy life goal is still to write a book, no not just write it, but finish it (after all the re-writes) and get it published. And then another. And another. And quite honestly, to have success in this arena, I must give, at minimum, the same amount of time. Funny. I have a gut feeling that these two efforts were always joined at the hip. So be it.

Trust in the Lord and do good;
    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lordtrust in him and he will do this . . . [Psalm 37:3-5, NIV]


Not Just Any Sacrifice

helping-othersTherefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. [Romans 12:1-2, NIV]

Me, my body, my person, a sacrifice, but not unto death, no, that’s a very different thing. In some ways, to sacrifice one’s life and to die for something is amazing and total renunciation, but let’s face it, once and done. Is that crass? I’m not trying to be, honestly, but I keep pondering this living sacrifice concept and I’m seeing a lot of time involved here and commitment and ongoing surrender in the midst of daily life. It’s re-framing everything. It’s a state of mind of “otherness” where God’s way, no matter how we might disagree or misunderstand or hedge, is to be submitted to completely. God is God all the time. And of course, then, it makes sense to call this one direction, worship. It’s total mindfulness, Presence, and prayer.

In our not so distant past, there were “people of the cloth” (clergy, nuns, priests, and so on), who entered their calling with these words emblazoned on their hearts. And although this may still be true, there is a new trend where people of all walks of life are being called into a more consuming surrender.

Am I there yet? Not even close.

I have had a few supernatural immersions into the heart of God. My most memorable was over 20 years ago, and yet it has stayed with me as a very sweet memory and experience. A friend once told me that God often gives us glimpses of the kingdom of God, that we might get a taste of heaven and “see” God. To make a long story much shorter, this was a time of intense study and fasting when I lived alone in a cabin in the woods for a short season. My heart was seeking the “secret place” and I found it. I was mesmerized. I experienced a peace that passes all understanding. I walked in trust. I entered into comprehension and walked in that peace for . . . wait for it . . . a week. Yah. Only a week.

So the question remains: Do I really hold back from God, this living sacrifice? I do. Even after all this time. Not in every area. I’m pretty good in the tithe area, at least for standard income and I do volunteer. But, am I so close to God that I check in before I fill in that calendar square? Not so much. They say one’s calendar reflects one’s sacrifices of time to who or whatever appears the most.

As a somewhat artistic type, there’s always a type of tension when it comes to dedicating one’s time to the traditional things of God. Let’s face it, everything I write isn’t straight-up Godly or spiritual, but the process itself, the flow of words from inspiration to thought to words on screen or paper, that process (especially when it’s flowing) feels Spirit touched. Or taking and processing photographs, or cooking a meal, or making something for someone else, or acting/directing; these all have moments of giving. I can remember back in my early years of faith when I so wanted to be “all in” for Jesus and a popular Christian teacher of the day pronounced my love and work in theater as unacceptable to God, in fact, he believed all performance was out since it was too close to edifying self instead of God. I was crushed. I avoided my love for doing theater for quite a while. But that wasn’t me either.

heart-rock-on-the-beachSo here’s where I have landed on this score. It’s probably not 100% right, if there is such a thing as a right/wrong in this discussion. I am more about my heart being surrendered to God. I am convinced that the more doors (particularly those secret ones) I open to the work of the Holy Spirit, the more my life will reflect Christ in me so that no matter what I do or where I am, I am in a state of service to God. And how do those doors open? Prayer, meditation, self-examination, and selfless serving (giving of time and energy). The church is the easiest place to serve but it’s not the only place (e.g. the mission field, the soup kitchen, hospitals, shelters, emergencies, etc.). Generally, it’s the church that creates opportunities to serve, that’s the point.

And because it’s directed outward, whatever it is, in the name of God, there is an element of worship present. But if our acts of service or whatever, lose the focus, it becomes self-serving.

Asking, Seeking, Knocking

askSo I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. [Luke 11:9-10] 

I think I used to think of these three terms as sequential. But today, as I read this passage, I wonder if it’s not a reminder that any of these will work, depending on the circumstances. Sometimes, it’s best to simply ask for for what is needed, but in other cases, I may need to go looking for the answer, and still another time may require me to face an obstacle with stubborn persistence.

Perhaps, if I thought about it, I would need to confess that I do a lot more asking than seeking or knocking. Asking is the drop back and punt position. I know I am not alone in that kind of prayer life, filling the space with ask after ask after ask.

But, when the answer is elusive, do I seek and search. Do I prowl the scriptures for an answer or a direction? Do I speak with others more knowledgeable than me? Do I go into my prayer closet with an open mind to hear something new?

And knocking, well, I’m quite sure that’s the last of my choices. I’ll simply cave in and say, this must not be for me. If it doesn’t come easily or right away, I don’t really persist like I could.

Just taking this time to study a bit through the Hillsong Ministry School, is a beginning of seeking; getting back into a small group; meeting with other widows through Modern Widows Club; reading and writing again. It’s a start.

My circumstances have made me somewhat weary, I know. It’s been a tough year and a half, so many changes and challenges. But moving to the next level means I must begin to work my spiritual muscles again, to get back to the “gym” of God.






Voice of the Shepherd

John 10:1-18
The popular metaphor of the shepherd, the gate, and the sheep: what does it speak to the believer, to the reader?

sheepIt’s a simple but powerful edict: listen, understand, and follow. It has three parts that work together as one. I must listen, to understand and I must understand, to follow, or at the least, to avoid following blindly. Jesus never asks us to follow blindly. Perhaps the way may appear dark and even fearsome, but God promises to go ahead of us, to lead, and therefore, we are asked to trust.

The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. [vs 3 & 4]

Note that we come out of the pen first and gather together and wait for the shepherd to finish the work of calling out his own, those that recognize the voice. Do I recognize the voice of Christ? It is a nagging question. And yet, I am still here. I am still a follower. I still trust God’s Presence. But I also know that I can hamper my own progress when I don’t “practice the presence” of God, when I don’t still my mind in meditation, when I don’t listen. It’s not that I will fall down or go over a cliff, but the way could be smoother if I would spend more time in prayer and stillness.

What do I know about the Shepherd or the sheep? The shepherd is different from the sheep. He knows the ways of sheep; he knows what sheep eat and need to survive; he knows how to protect them. He is an expert on sheep. But sheep still see the Shepherd as other. In fact, most sheep probably see other sheep as other. Sheep are not the sharpest knife in the drawer, as they say. More facts about sheep: they have good hearing and are sensitive to noises, they have good peripheral vision, they have poor depth perception, they prefer light over dark places, they have an excellent sense of smell, they are “flock” animals and very gregarious, they do not do well separated from the flock, and sheep, by their nature, tend to follow a leader (whether a strong sheep or a shepherd).

Sheep need other sheep. Sheep need a Shepherd. I think I sometimes think I can go against this basic; I imagine I can go it alone or I imagine I don’t need that Shepherd. Experience has shown otherwise. But I can still stumble along.

Sheep do have long-term facial recognition. So, that means, they can know their Shepherd. But it takes time. And effort.

Intellectually, I know this metaphor can break down here and there. After all, the Christ Presence is ultimate patience. God in Christ is unrelenting in love. The question is whether I can be taught? What is the best way to learn from this face, this voice, this Shepherd?

Repetition of contact. Learn the commands, the basics. Listen. And be gregarious with other sheep. Sometimes, we may need to follow the flock who hear better than we do.

Why the Lord’s Prayer?

lords-prayer-lukeI don’t know. Just sayin’ and I really mean it. First of all, it’s slightly different in Matthew and Luke. And for so so many years, I was like the rest of the Western Christian world and was speaking it in King James English. For heaven’s sake, what is that all about? It renders the thing beautiful but archaic. It became a rote kind of thing with little understanding or meaning.

But then, for a long season, about a year and a half, I practiced a lay version of “Praying the Hours” and the Lord’s Prayer as well as the Gloria Patri and they always played a key part of those days. I became somewhat entranced by the power of the Lord’s Prayer and spoke it often and daily. Since that time, I have lost its potency, nor is it practiced much in my current church home.

So what is God saying to me today?

If it is true, as I understand it, that Luke’s version of the gospel was always geared to the non-Jewish believers. In essence, the same people we are trying to reach in our local church. Then we should be teaching them to pray this simple prayer:

Father, hallowed be your name (God – your name is holy and sacred)
Your kingdom come (Bring your domain to us, we surrender)
Give us each day our daily bread  (Feed us when we are hungry, just enough)
Forgive us our sins (Give us amnesty for our mistakes)
For we forgive everyone who sins against us (We understand we have to do the same for other people)
And lead us not into temptation (Block the way when we try to go down the wrong road.)
Amen. That’s it.

And there’s one other key here which I picked up during that year and a half. This prayer has always been and will always be a WE prayer, not an I prayer. When we prayer this prayer, we’re doing it together with a lot of other folks and we’re praying for them just like they are praying for us. This is a humanity prayer. Dogs don’t pray it and trees don’t pray it. Just us. Humans. And each and every human needs it. No strings attached.

I’m coming back to this prayer. You should too.

Lifestyle and the Church

lifestyleSo here’s a few questions for you and my answers. Feel free to add your two cents in the comments.

  • What is the kind of lifestyle your local church is encouraging you to live?
    • This is an easy answer in my church, that is Restore Church, because they advertise their lifestyle “code” throughout the building and on the website. It is the church’s desire that each and every person would discover what it means to live a faith-filled life, to take risks for God (outside the box as it were), reach people with the message of God’s grace, to live in a judgment-free zone, to give generously of our time and resources, to bless others when they least expect it, to be spiritual contributors instead of consumers, and to be united under one vision, just to name a few.
  • Secondly, how does the church demonstrate this lifestyle?
    • Because there is a strong vision for this church, most of the activities and ministries of the church are vetted in relationship to the code. Like a personal goal, the question is asked, does this activity move us closer to reaching people far away from God and bringing them closer to a new life in Christ.
    • So what are these activities? There is a lot of emphasis on outreach in the community from the largest egg hunt in the MidAtlantic (100,000 filled eggs) to movies in the park in various communities throughout the area. The church partners with a sister non-profit called Good Cause Foundation to give generously to those in need such as Drop & Swap for families (free clothing and child equipment) as well as Single Moms’ Spa Day in addition to other fundraisers to have funds available for needy families.
    • Within the church, there is an effort to draw people together in the quest for reaching outliers because serving together is more powerful than serving alone: Small groups, women’s & men’s ministries, children’s ministry during services, Awana, and a variety of volunteer teams that bring folks together (AV, greeters, parking lots, food, teachers, etc.)
  • But the third question is more critical: How do I demonstrate this lifestyle?
    • And there’s the rub. Do I? In some ways yes, I do. I am committed to the church and the church mission. I serve faithfully each week in one or more services as a host and prayer intercessor. But it is only on occasion that people come up and ask for prayer. I feel underused in this capacity. Do they not come because of the flow of the service and people are ready to leave, or do they not trust me, in particular, with their prayer needs? Have I shown myself worthy to intercede? Perhaps not.
    • I am in the Hillsong Ministry School because I believe my designated role as lay pastor demands a commitment to this process as well. I get that.
    • Historically, I have been in small groups, some more successful than others. So far, I have not had much consistency with a group here. I have been invited to attend a group (first time), and am hoping to attend, but there is the reality of my work schedule in which I must often work 1-2 nights per week. How many nights out are too many? I struggle with this all the time.
    • Sometimes, I just push back. I want to stop and just be still. But even that is somewhat unrealistic. My home is not merely my own but shared with a single daughter and her infant son. If I am not busy outside the house, then I am expected to be helping inside the house.
    • Summary: I don’t serve as much as I could. When I do serve, it is with a heart full of faith, which over the last year, I know, my heart has truly been tested and I know that I know that my faith is indeed built on rock. In that way, I am all in. And that is probably the core of it for me.

murphyThat’s me. I’m a bit sheepish to say I started acting like one of the disciples yesterday. And why? Because nothing went the way I thought it would or should. As others might say, Murphy was busy. (If there’s anyone on the planet who hasn’t heard of the adage, Murphy’s Law, it goes like this: If anything can go wrong, it will. Murphy was not a believer, for sure.) Wikipedia says this attitude has to do with a belief in the perversity of the Universe.

And although it may be true that a fallen world may be a challenge, my response to my circumstances is supposed to be different. I should have learned by now. I could have been grateful and expectant; I could have been trusting and at peace in the now. I could have pulled out this scripture:

rejoice“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  [Philippians 4:4-7, NIV]

But I didn’t. Oh, maybe I tried for a little while. The first several hours, I put up a pretty good face, but by Midnight, the perverse universe scored.

So, what did the universe hand me that was so dreadful? Nothing serious, more like a constant buzzing bee. At 9:30 am, I started out on a much needed vacation to a long awaited destination (Alaska). I was driving to the airport and realized I did not have my phonephone. For those who know me, the missing phone is one of my beleaguering habits. My mantra: “Have you seen my phone?” I had to go back home to get it and I lost 30 minutes of a 1.5 hour trip to the airport. It would be close.

I was traveling on a buddy pass. It’s also called “non-rev” by the airline industry (meaning non-revenue), which a dear friend gave me. We would meet halfway and go the rest of the way together to Anchorage. But the hour was not enough. The Philly economy parking lot was maxed out and the bus picked me up at “A” and traveled the entire alphabet. At ticketing, I was shuttled from one line to the other to get someone to print my “quasi-boarding-pass” also known as a seat request for standby. Too late. Too late. I missed the plane.

I could still make it if I could get on the next flight, a couple of hours later. Listed, waited, but missed a seat by one, a captain needed the hop.

The next plane to Minneapolis was scheduled for 6 hours later, there was some hope I could pick up the last flight to Anchorage, or try another connection. My friend suggested I switch to Salt Lake City and then go to Anchorage from there.

Then the weather hit. Somewhere. Not in Philadelphia, but somewhere and as a result, every flight was delayed by one to two hours. Not one flight could connect me in time to Anchorage. Which way to go? Back to the Minneapolis plan or stay with Salt Lake plan?

minneapolis airportAfter several phone calls, we opted for me to head to Minneapolis. I could possibly stay with a friend, not so bad, and just accept the loss of the day. So, I changed and got hit with the fee for re-booking. Then that flight was delayed further. By the time I got to Minneapolis, it was after midnight. And my friend, it turned out, was vacationing in, of all places, Maryland.

Should I stay on the airport floor (they offer mattresses and blankets in plastic, like one might find in an emergency shelter) or bite the bullet and pay to stay in a hotel/motel (are there any motels anymore?) But of course, as one would expect, all nearby hotels were booked. I ended up in a town 15 miles away. Whatever money I saved on my buddy pass was consumed by a night’s stay and a $50 cab ride.

My friend made it to Anchorage fine. And off they have gone to their first moose adventure today. Or whatever it is that people do for fun there.

Rejoice in all things.

I’m at the airport now, waiting for the next flight, the next day and 36 hours after leaving home. Will I make it on the flight? Who knows? Does it matter? In the bigger scheme of things? Not so much. As my pastor says, a lot of my anxiety is caused by FORO (Fear of Running Out . . . of money).

letting goRejoice. Trust. Breathe. It’s all out of my hands. Pretty much, all of it was and is. Except for the phone. That doggone device has got us all hopping doesn’t it? I wonder now, could I have lived without it? If I had gone forward instead of back, could I have done vacation without being “connected?” Was that the real lesson? I think maybe it is so.

That is a lesson that will probably come around again.





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