Category Archives: Service

Thoughts on “Discovering My Purpose”

The following is an essay I wrote for the Faith and Culture Writers Conference 2014. It is the essay that I mentioned in an earlier post that was scored 29/100 by one judge and 68.5/100 by the other. One of the comments I received from the first judge was that if the first sentence of the third paragraph was so important I should give it more than a passing mention. As I’ve thought about that comment this week, and struggled with whether to post this essay here, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t need to say any more about the past than I have here. That is not my real story and the details aren’t that important. Rather, my story is the story of Redemption through Christ and to focus on the details of the past does not further that story.

Discovering My Purpose

We are all born with a unique purpose. I now know my purpose is to glorify God with my writing and poetry, but I didn’t always.

Writing is in my blood and is the backbone of much of what I have done in my life. Naturally, I pursued a career that involves writing—I became a lawyer and now hold the title Director of Legal Publications. I am also an avid blogger and poet for the Lord. But I’m getting ahead of myself. My journey towards realizing my purpose as a poet has involved walking through darkness and pain, which I often masked with my own personal achievement and pride.

I went to college largely to escape the small town I had grown up in, having been gravely wounded there. I pursued a political science major at a small liberal arts college, which required writing numerous long research papers and essay exams. I enjoyed the process of consulting diverse research sources and crafting cohesive arguments. Despite the admissions director’s warning that I would surely earn some C grades, I immersed myself in my studies and excelled, graduating in the top 11 percent of my class without one C.

Next, I attended law school and again thrived. Writing meticulously-cited research papers and briefs as well as challenging essay exams suited me. In fact, my first semester Contracts professor distributed copies of my final exam as an example of an A+ essay. I learned the IRAC writing method—IRAC stands for Issue, Rule, Analysis, and Conclusion. Because of my naturally organized writing style, I excelled and graduated cum laude. I was on my way to greater success!

During this time I believed in God but He took a backseat to my life and achievements. I was proud of my accomplishments and failed to recognize my writing ability was a God-given talent. I had great knowledge about writing, but I didn’t have wisdom to know what He had created me to write.

After law school I accepted an associate position at a small construction law firm. I was thrust into a world where writing was not the key to success as I had assumed it would be for any lawyer. Meanwhile, the small-town past I had buried under mounds of academic achievements caught up with me and I took a nosedive into major clinical depression. My boss and I “agreed” that this firm was not right for me; I found myself looking for another job. I landed one easily enough, but it didn’t last either.

For the next six years I battled with depression, with the devil himself, trying to find myself and get back on track. During this time most of my writing was private journaling—primarily rants about how hopeless my life was. I wrote a few poems, but they weren’t very good and were quite self-focused. For example, I wrote this untitled poem:

The me that no one knows
writes poetry and prose

The me that people see
writes briefs in legalese

The me that no one knows
seeks counseling for my woes

The me that people see
pretends I’m always pleased

There’s really only one of me
but different sides I reveal
depending on the circumstances
or how I think I should feel

I tried medication and counseling to find relief from depression, all to no avail. My doctor told me that I would be on antidepressants for the rest of my life, though I couldn’t see how they were helping me. I researched depression, trying to find the answer, and came across a book titled, “The Broken Brain.” Reading it, I concluded that my brain, the thing upon which I had hung my professional hat, was irreparably broken. I felt helpless and hopeless, to the point of contemplating ending my life, thinking my husband and young son would be better off without a wife and mother who was so broken.

And this is where God stepped in through the kindness of a Christian friend who invited me to Bible study. During that months-long study of Ezra and Nehemiah, God brought me back from my exile into darkness and depression. He taught me that it was not my brain that was broken, but my heart and my soul. He showed me that anger and unforgiveness I had been harboring for over 15 years drove my depression. He gave me wisdom and strength to forgive. He healed my brokenness and gave me hope. He became my Light, my Rock, and my Redeemer. I learned to boast in Him, not myself. (Jeremiah 9:23-24.)

Not long after, God led me to an unadvertised position as managing editor of a legal newsletter. I was writing again! That position became a stepping stone to my current position in legal publishing, which I love. But still something was missing in my life. I was not passionate about what I was writing at work. In my managerial position, sharing God’s gift of salvation was not appropriate. I longed for a spiritual outlet for my writing.

In September 2009, through a series of God-orchestrated events, I started blogging. Initially, I wrote short essays about faith, life, music, and forgiveness. I was blessed to become part of an active community of Christian bloggers. I had long given up on being a poet, but as I befriended other Christian blogging poets I was encouraged to try my hand at Christian poetry.

I started small with acrostic poems for holidays. Then I ventured into writing poems about thankfulness for my Thankful Thursday theme day. Finally, I found my voice—my purpose—and began to express how God had rescued me from the darkness and despair of depression through His forgiveness and grace. A favorite of my poems is one titled Learning to Forgive.

Someone I don’t know commented on my blog: “thank you for writing this if i didn’t read this when i did i never would have been able to forgive my father for what he has done. so thank you again.” This heartfelt, healing response to one poem that God had led me to write blessed me with a greater feeling of accomplishment and purpose than all of my academic and professional writing combined. I finally realized that my purpose in this life is to share God’s grace and love, to give voice to lost souls struggling in the darkness, in need of the light of Christ to bring them healing. At last I was being used by God for His glory.

Since embarking on my poetic journey, I have focused on two things: truth and craftsmanship. First, and foremost, everything I write must be true to who God is and true to the valley of the shadow of death He has walked through with me. I rely on the Holy Spirit to give me the best words to convey healing wisdom and truth. At times, particularly during periods when I have challenged myself to write daily, I have prayed specifically for what to write and the Lord has been faithful to place in my mind the first stanza and framework of a beautiful poem.

Second, I desire to hone my poetic craftsmanship, so God’s truth is clearly and beautifully communicated to those who need His healing grace. I’ve read poetry blogs with lessons on various forms of poetry, such as triolets, pantoums, and trireme sonnets. I love writing poetry to form because it utilizes the structured writing skills I learned in college and law school, and more importantly because it beautifully conveys that He is a God of order, not chaos. This triolet melds repetition, meter, and rhyme for a reminder of who Christ is and who we are in Christ.

I am blessed to have discovered my purpose. “Now the one who has fashioned [me] for this very purpose is God, who has given [me] the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” 2 Corinthians 5:5.

2 Comments

Filed under Faith, Jesus, Life, Poetry, Service

The Cross – A Cinquain

I’ve been struggling to post very often lately, and starting this week I’m taking on another responsibility as a Bible study small group leader. It occurred to me that I could embrace my love of short-form poetry and thereby continue to post with some regularity. And so here is a cinquain for today.

The Cross

The cross
around my neck
Instrument of mercy
The solution to my dismay
My hope

5 Comments

Filed under Faith, Jesus, Life, Poetry, Service

This Is My Gift to My King

Today is Epiphany. This morning on our way to church I said to my son, “Yesterday was the 12th day of Christmas and today is Epiphany.” He replied, “Did you just realize that?” Clearly his gift is a quick wit among other creative talents.

Epiphany is the church holiday in which we celebrate the Magi from the east visiting the child Jesus. They brought Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but before they bestowed these gifts on the young Jesus they offered Him their worship. The Magi worshipped Jesus not for what He had done for them but simply because of who He is. The story of their visit is recorded in Matthew 2:1-12.

In church this morning our pastor talked about the significance of the three gifts the Magi brought, and then he asked what gifts we can give to Jesus. I decided I would share the significance of the Magi’s gifts, as well as my thoughts on my gifts to my King.

The first gift of the Magi was gold. This was the customary gift given to kings. This gift points to Jesus as being a king from His very birth. He is the highest of royalty. The Magi sought Him as the King of the Jews. He is ultimately revealed to be King of kings: “On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” Revelation 19:16 (NIV).

The second gift of the Magi was frankincense or incense. It was customary for priests to use incense in the temple as part of their worship of God. It was the priests who presented sacrifices in the temple to atone for the sins of the people. But these sacrifices were only temporarily effective for that purpose and had to be repeated over and over. This gift of incense points to Jesus as the final priest. “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” Hebrews 4:14 (NIV). He has been our sacrifice once for all to atone for the sins of the world.

This third gift of the Magi was myrrh. This is a spice that was used in burial. This points to Jesus as a prophet who will be killed for preaching the truth just as the prophets of the Old Testament were killed. Jesus said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” Matthew 23:37 (NIV). Jesus knew that He would be treated just as the prophets were. He was born for this purpose — that He would die and be buried with myrrh to atone for our sins. But praise God, He rose again.

So what then is my gift to my King? What can I give that is worthy of His glory? First of all I give my worship of Him simply for who He is and not for what He has or will do for me. I can give my time and myself. As I listened to the sermon this morning, though, it occurred to me that one of the greatest gifts I can give to Jesus is this blog. As I write to glorify His name and to share His mercy and love with others, I hope that this gift is pleasing to Him so that someday I will hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Matthew 25:21 (NIV).

What gift will you bring to the throne of the King?

7 Comments

Filed under Faith, Family, Jesus, Life, Service

It Is Finished Even as It Begins

A new year begins today. It’s another year to live and work and play, and to make resolutions to be better than last year. It’s another year in which many will again strive to earn God’s grace and their own salvation by singing in the choir, volunteering for the altar guild, giving to the poor, attending church or mass each week, or any number of other good deeds.

But why do we work so hard to add to what Jesus has already done? Why do we try to earn what has been given as a gift from God? On Calvary Hill Jesus said, “It is finished.” John 19:30. Paul wrote that Jesus said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you.” 2 Corinthians 12:9. There is nothing more that we can or need to do for our salvation.

Even the act of believing in Jesus, the ability to have faith in His saving grace, is a gift from God: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV).

So as you begin 2013, rest in the grace of Jesus assured of His mercy and your salvation.

Go forth and sing in the choir out of gratitude for what He has done, but do not fret if you miss a practice or are unable to sing for a Sunday service.

Help out with the altar guild to share the blessing of God’s grace with others, but do not allow yourself to grow weary with the work.

Give to the poor out of thankfulness for the bounty God has bestowed on you, but do not give out of mere obligation and with resentment.

Attend church or mass because you desire to fellowship with God and other believers, and to worship the Lord in community, but not because you think you will lose points with God if you do not.

Perform good deeds as the Spirit leads, in the power of Jesus, so that God might be glorified, but don’t be deceived into thinking such deeds are necessary for your salvation.

For centuries Satan has tried to strip the children of God of the peace of knowing His love and grace. The Accuser engenders fear and doubt in the minds of believers, trying to deceive us into believing that God hates us and requires us to pay for our own sins and earn our own salvation.

But God’s Word is clear on this point: It is finished. The atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the embodiment of God’s love and mercy; His grace is sufficient to cover every sin and grant us eternal life with Him. Nothing Satan says or does can change this truth.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrews 13:8.

3 Comments

Filed under Faith, Jesus, Life, Service

The Blessing of Generosity

Today is the first day of the Advent season. This is the season leading up to Christmas when we look forward to the coming of the Christ child into the world.

This year my church put together an Advent devotional and I was asked to contribute two entries. I previously shared on of my contributions, and I decided for the start of Advent to share the other. The scripture readings this devotional article is based on were chosen by our pastor. I encourage you to click on the links to read them before reading my thoughts on how they are connected.

Scripture References: Amos 6:1-8; II Cor. 8:1-15

Devotion

The prophet Amos warned those who had plenty but failed to care for those in need. Though they enjoyed the lap of luxury, they would “be among the first to go into exile” because of their complacency.

By contrast, Paul writes of the Macedonian church that lived in extreme poverty and yet exhibited a generosity towards others that was beyond their own ability to give. He then urges the Corinthian church (and each of us), “as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.”

It is easy when we are blessed with material possessions to spend all our time enjoying them and forget about those in extreme need. Perhaps the reason the Macedonians were so generous is because they never forgot what it was like to be in physical need and had compassion on those in similar circumstances. As a result they were blessed with spiritual wealth and the grace of our Lord.

God is honored by our desire to give and to help those in need; He is honored even more by the fulfillment of that desire. He does not expect us to give beyond our ability, but to give out of the grace we have known in Christ. The spiritual wealth we gain through a closer walk with Jesus and sharing with others is better than all the gold and jewels in all the earth.

Thought to ponder/challenge

We must guard ourselves that we not allow wealth and material possessions to be our comfort, forgetting those in poverty. We must remember to always give out of the grace we have been freely given.

Prayer

Our gracious Lord Jesus, help us to not grow complacent because of the wealth you have blessed us with, but well up within us a desire to be generous and share your material and spiritual gifts with those in need.

3 Comments

Filed under Faith, Jesus, Life, Service

That the Blind Might See

My church is putting together an Advent devotional for this coming Advent season. I was asked to write two of the devotions for the booklet. I am really looking forward to seeing what the other contributors wrote. I always like reading through a devotional for Advent and I think it will be extra special this year because I know all of the people who are writing them.

I finished one of my two assigned devotions yesterday. It is based on Isaiah 35:3-7 and Luke 7:18-30. I was limited to 250 words for the devotion section and the assignment called for also including a thought to ponder or Challenge, and a prayer. It was really hard for me to only write 250 words. I had to go back and cut some, but the final devotion was 249 words. I decided I wanted to share what I wrote here, but add back in some of the thoughts I didn’t have room for.

Devotion

Isaiah gave us many prophecies of the first Advent of our Lord Jesus. Many of those prophecies serve also as a promise of Jesus coming into the life of each believer as well as of His Second Coming. Isaiah admonishes us to not be afraid because we know the Lord will bring forth His promised blessings of sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and youthful agility to the lame.

John the Baptist continued the prophetic message of Isaiah, but unlike Isaiah he saw the fulfillment of God’s promises in Jesus. Not only did he hear his disciples’ recounting of the great healing work of Jesus, John saw it with his own eyes. What John witnessed was that the blind could see, the deaf could hear, the lame walked, the sick were made well, and the Good News was real.

Today Jesus continues to fulfill the prophecies about Him as He give spiritual sight to those who believe in Him and are baptized in His name. The Holy Spirit gives wisdom and hope to those who trust in Jesus as their promised savior.

But like the Pharisees and experts in the law, many people today reject God’s purpose in their lives because they have not believed in the saving grace of Jesus. They try to do what is right in their own eyes and by their own power. They try to live by the letter of the law, but they do not see the truth of God’s love and the wonder of His mercy. These people are spiritually blind.

We must not forget that we were once spiritually blind, too. Our place is not to judge, but to remember that Jesus came to give sight to such as these. He came to save the whole world if only they will believe. He came to remind us of our purpose, which is to be in relationship with our Creator. He came that we would have no need to fear.

Thought to ponder/challenge

Just as John the Baptist was a messenger paving the way for the first Advent of Jesus, we are called to share the Good News of how Jesus gives sight to the spiritually blind and purpose to everyone. “He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” 2 Corinthians 3:6 (NIV). How will you share the Good News today?

Prayer

Heavenly Father, bring to final fulfillment Your promise to bring spiritual sight to all who are still blinded by this world and who reject Your purpose for their lives. Give us wisdom to be as John the Baptist, preparing Your way into the hearts and lives of those around us.

1 Comment

Filed under Faith, Jesus, Life, Service

Why Is It So Hard?

This morning in church we had the founder of Global Eye Mission speak about his experiences as a medical missionary and how he has seen the provision of medical care to those in need open doors to share the gospel where it would never have been received otherwise. He told the story of when he was called to be part of a mission team in Tanzania.

He went to a predominantly Muslim village where evangelists of the Gospel regularly had stones thrown at them and where a Muslim converting to Christianity would typically experience death threats often carried out. His role was as an ophthalmologist who performed numerous cataract surgeries that restored sight to people who had been blind for years.

After several days of providing this much-needed medical aid, he attended a gathering at which the evangelist in the group presented a bold statement of the Gospel of grace. He remembered thinking that surely this was going to cause a riot and some stones being thrown. But instead, when asked if they would like to learn more about Christ, dozens of Muslims in the audience raised their hands.

Last week we had another missionary give our sermon message. He and his wife were involved full time with Eastern European Missions. His emotional and moving story of how this organization brings light into a world darkened by three generations of communism and atheism was incredible.

He shared how this whole mission had been started by a church in a small town in northern Minnesota that invited some teachers and students from Russia to visit them. By showing these people love and care, they were able to pave the way for the Gospel to be shared where it was illegal for so many years.

These missionaries are examples of people who have given up a comfortable life here in the United States to go out to a world in need of both creature comforts and the message of salvation through Jesus Christ. It is a challenging life, to be sure. But when you hear missionaries like this speak it is easy to see that the reward they receive is well worth the sacrifice.

As I listened to the Global Eye Mission speaker this morning, I wondered to myself why it is so hard for me to share with those close to me what these missionaries travel halfway around the world to share. They show incredible courage as they face possible persecution and death at every turn, going into places violently hostile to the Gospel. Why then do I lack the courage to share the love of Christ and His offer of forgiveness of sins with my own family and friends who don’t know Him?

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
Isaiah 6:8 (NIV).

2 Comments

Filed under Faith, Family, Jesus, Life, Service

Priorities in Practice

This afternoon I attended a session at the ACLEA conference I am at that was titled “Put Your Oxygen Mask on First.” It was all about taking care of oneself so that we reduce our stress and can then be available to accomplish those things we are called to do and to care for those people we are called to care for. This requires some sort of balance in one’s life.

With audience input, we came up with a definition of balance: “Prioritize things that matter most. Live according to your priorities.”

At the beginning of the session the speaker asked what movies, songs, quotes, or other things people used to reduce their stress. My answer, which he asked me to repeat into the microphone, was to remember Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, bring your requests to God.” This is my go-to quote when I feel stressed.

For me, my priorities are spending time with God and in the Word, spending time with and taking care of my family, taking care of my dog, giving my best when I am at work (but leaving work at the office), giving back to others the blessings that I have received, and staying healthy so I can do all of those things.

As I pondered the goal the speaker set before us—to do one thing differently—I actually came up with several things that I want to do in order to live according to my priorities.

  1. Almost two years ago, I decided I wanted to read the entire Bible again, but in the New Living Translation this time. As I survey in my mind the checklist of verses to be read in a year, realizing it’s been almost two since I vowed to read His Word each day, I see there are many checkmarks but there are also many chapters remaining to read tomorrow and each day. One thing I could do differently is to get back on track with my daily reading schedule.
  2. Something that always makes me feel better is to take my little dog Roman for a walk. It’s good exercise for both of us. I often see him nose his leash and I see the tennis balls lined up on the windowsill where he looks out onto the world. But I seldom take him for a walk. One thing I could do differently is to take Roman for a walk every day after work, even if it’s just a short walk.
  3. There are some songs that just make me want to dance, and I do love to dance, but I don’t do it very often. It is great exercise and always lifts my spirits. When I was younger I used to dance all the time. One thing I could do differently is to turn on music and dance a little while I’m making dinner several times per week.
  4. At work, my office is on the third floor. I know it’s only two flights of stairs to get there, but for some reason in the morning I’ve developed the habit of taking the elevator (even though it drives me nuts when it is so slow). I use the excuse that I’m carrying things, but it’s not really a very good reason to ride the elevator instead of climbing the stairs. Considering I sit most of the day for my job, taking the stairs in the morning would be really good for me. One thing I could do differently is to take the stairs up to my office each morning even if it does leave me out of breath.

So there are, not just one, but four things that I could do differently to reduce my stress level and help me live my priorities without feeling burned out by all that I have to do. What are your priorities and what could you do differently to live your priorities?

2 Comments

Filed under Faith, Family, Jesus, Life, Music, Service

Thankful for Small Blessings

Okay, this is going to be a strange little post about something that happened to me last week. I was going to post it last Friday since it is somewhat food related, but I was traveling and just didn’t have time.

On Wednesday of last week I left work early to go home and change so I could get to Shepherd’s Door in time for my church’s service project there. We were going to be making my Texas Skillet Dinner for 40 women and children, and I was in charge of bringing the avocados and the spices. My list of things to do before I hit the road for Shepherd’s Door was pretty short: change clothes, mix spices in a zip lock bag, and stop at Safeway for a latte and avocados.

Somehow, in spite of the brevity of my to-do list, I managed to forget the spices. I realized it about halfway to the shelter. It was too late to turn back to home and still be on time, but you really can’t make Texas Skillet without the southwest spices.

I decided to stop somewhere on N.E. Halsey Street, towards the end of my trip, to pick up the essentials, even though I had no idea what stores I would pass. I found a Fred Meyer, parked my car, and went in. I headed straight to the spice aisle. There I found the chili powder, marjoram, and oregano that I needed, but no chipotle pepper.

Then, to my delight, I spied a spice I love and have been unable to find at any of the stores near me in months: Spice Islands Rosemary Garlic that comes in a grinder bottle. I love this spice mix on so many things, especially chicken on the Traeger. I had tried just putting rosemary in an empty grinder bottle but it wasn’t the same. I was so excited I bought three bottles right then and there.

So you might be asking: “What is the point of this story? What lesson did I learn?” Well, here is what I took away from this experience.

Sometimes, when we take the time to care about others, such as by wanting them to have the right spices in the dinner we are making them, God chooses to bless us in ways we never thought of.

When I realized that I had forgotten the spices, I could have simply decided to use whatever they had available for spices at Shepherd’s Door, which may not have included chili powder (the most essential spice for this dish). Instead, I went out of my way in an unfamiliar neighborhood to get the right spices. It never occurred to me that I might find this other spice that I’ve been searching for these past 6 months. But God chose to bless me by bringing me right to it.

I suppose I could just attribute this to coincidence, and many people do attribute such blessings to coincidence. I choose to thank God for this small but wonderful blessing.

1 Comment

Filed under Faith, Jesus, Life, Service, Women

Worship – A Poem

The past two Sundays I have not attended church because we were out camping both weekends with family. I know that attending church is not necessary for my salvation, but I miss it terribly when I don’t go (even when I’m enjoying whatever I’m going instead, like spending time with family or reading a good Christian novel).

I know there are some denominations that believe that missing church on Sunday is a sin, but I’m not sure that is the most useful way to view missing worship services. I believe that the clergy do a disservice to the Gospel when they guilt their congregants into attending Sunday (or Saturday) services.

Sin is anything that separates us from God. It is an attitude of the heart, not the location of our body, on any given day that is important. Attending church services is a privilege, not a duty.

I do believe that the act of corporate worship is important when it strengthens our relationship with God and with one another. It is an essential part of the Christian life because the Christian life is one grounded in relationship. Habitual avoidance of church can certainly lead to a weakened faith and tendency towards sin and separation from God. But occasionally missing a church service does not preclude worship of the Almighty.

As I thought about this, and about how thankful I am that we enjoy the privilege of corporate worship without fear of reprisal in this country, this poem came to my mind.

Worship

Hands lifted high
Our voices rise in adoration
Songs for the King upon His throne
The One who died to save our souls
This is our act of worship

Head bowed down low
On bended knee in supplication
Prayers to the King who does listen
The One who cried for my lost soul
This is my act of worship

Feet on the move
Sharing His love in appreciation
Service of the King who loves deeply
The One who tried to redeem all souls
This is our act of worship

Sneaking through the night
Seeking others in congregation
To learn of the King who reigns eternal
The One who died to save their souls
This is their act of worship

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritualact of worship. Do not conform any longer 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).

Leave a comment

Filed under Faith, Jesus, Life, Music, Poetry, Service