Tag Archives: Gratitude

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.

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A Matter of Comparison

As humans, we have a tendency to compare ourselves to others. Either we see someone with a talent that we admire and wish we had, or we see someone who is sinning in a way that we are proud we don’t.

I admit that when I hear other women in church or in my Bible study sing in a beautiful soprano voice I feel a little jealous—okay, a lot jealous—that I cannot sing very well.

And when I see greedy, self-centered, immoral, and wicked people on TV I sometimes feel a twinge of superiority because I don’t act as they do.

But God has not called me to compare myself to others, whether it makes me feel less than them or better than them. It doesn’t matter if I don’t have the talents that others have, because I have the talents that God gave me. It doesn’t matter if I don’t sin in the same way as others, because I still fall short of the glory of God.

There are only two people in this world that I should ever compare myself to. The first is my former self—solely for the purpose of realizing what the Lord Jesus has done in my heart, how He has made me a new creation, and how I have used the talents He has given me. The second is Jesus—for the purpose of knowing what the gold standard of required behavior is, what I am striving towards with God’s help.

So who are you comparing yourself to today? What talent that God has given you are you neglecting because you are wishing for the talent He gave to someone else? What sin that God wants to save you from are not seeing in yourself because you are too busy focusing on the sins of others?

Won’t you change your focus with me today and keep your eyes on Jesus? He is the author and perfector of our faith, the source of our talents, and the power to overcome all our sins.

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End of the Story – An Object Poem

The prompt over at dVerse Poets Pub Meeting at the Bar today was to write a poem inspired by someTHING — to write about the sensory and memory perceptions from an object old or new. A particular object immediately came to mind, and I tried to come up with something less obvious for me, but once an idea takes hold in my mind there’s no point in fighting it. So here’s my object poem about my favorite copy of the New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs.

End of the Story

It holds only
half the story
but the better half
the ending
where peace and joy
reign with the King

Soft red leather
feels like velvet
in my cool hands
smooth as a feather

Parchment thin pages
slide through my fingers
and tiny words require
removal of my glasses
evoking a feeling of
closeness to the Word

And powerful
that’s how it makes me feel
And sad, and grateful

So many memories
of tucking it into
my purse or suitcase
heading to Vegas,
Hawaii, or Salt Lake City

Salt Lake stands out
reading next to my seatmate
heading off on his first
required mission trip
reading a book of his own
That led to quite the
interesting discussion

On my bedside table
a vision of comfort
a source of wisdom
a reminder that I am able
to know my Savior
like a best friend

Now I have a new memory
whenever I gaze
at my favorite little book
and see the tattered spine
chewed by a curious kitten
in his wild and crazy days

And though it is the
end of the Story
its story has not
come to an end
just because of a few
kitten nibbles

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Filed under Faith, Family, Jesus, Life, Poetry, Psalms

As My Mother Used to Say – A Poem

The Meeting at the Bar prompt over at dVerse Poets Pub today is to write a poem using common speech, the language of home. I immediately thought of a saying my mom used to use and that I’ve repeated more times than I can count.

As My Mother Used to Say

“It’s better than a poke in the eye
with a sharp stick,” my mother used to say
As if most everything isn’t better

I guess it was her way of reminding us
that we had it pretty good and shouldn’t complain

I remember talking one day to a stranger
who happened to share my mom’s maiden name
and in the midst of our conversation he said,
“It’s better than a poke in the eye
with a sharp stick!” Imagine my surprise

Turns out he came from the great state
of Michigan, same as my mom
That phrase had traveled from Michigan
to California to Washington to Oregon
Who knows where it went with him

I had a dog once who actually managed
to poke his eye with a sharp stick in the woods
Tore a cornea, then promptly pulled out the stitches
because we didn’t put on his cone of shame

Poor dog had to go under the anesthesia
a second time—it took enough to put
a doberman under, and he was just
a little cocker spaniel.

If anyone understood what was better
than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick
it was that dog

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The Snare Is Broken – A Poem

This short poem is inspired by Psalm 124, which is also rather short but full of hope.

The Snare Is Broken

My soul
entangled in the snare
of the evil one
hopeless and dying
struggling to be free
my struggles tightened the snare
entangled me more

The Lord
broke the snare
clearing the way
for me to escape
clinging to His side
my greatest hope is Christ alone
I am set free and alive
forevermore

This poem is shared today at dVerse Poets Pub for Open Link Night.

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The Widow’s Offering – A Pantoum

This poem was inspired by the story of the widow’s offering recorded in Mark 12:41-44. I wrote it for an Advent devotional that my church is putting together. Each daily reading from the devotional will be offered for all to read on the church website at www.cofaith.net beginning on December 1.

The Widow’s Offering

You gave all You had to give, You gave me Your life
Like the widow’s offering to the treasury
Through Your great poverty, with love my soul is rife
Blessed by the abundant life, my sin You bury

Like the widows offering to the treasury
I am called to give what truly belongs to You
Blessed by the abundant life, my sin You bury
Now I embrace through You this life that is brand new

I am called to give what truly belongs to You
Without worry that it’s all I have left to give
Now I embrace through You this life that is brand new
And as You forgave me today I will forgive

Without worry that it’s all I have left to give
Even if lowly as the widow I may be
And as You forgave me today I will forgive
Praying others will see You when they look at me

Even if lowly as the widow I may be
Through Your great poverty, with love my soul is rife
Praying others will see You when they look at me
You gave all You had to give, You gave me Your life

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Worthy to Be Praised – A Psalm of Sorts

When I consider the immensity of my sins
I can scarcely bear the weight of shame
Yet You bore it all, not only mine
but the sins of the whole world
You are worthy to be praised

When I consider the greatness of Your miracles
I can scarcely comprehend the wonder
of all that You have done, not only for me
but for all of Your beloved creation
You are worthy to be praised

When I consider the beauty of Your sacrifice
I can barely grasp the majesty of Your love
Yet deep in my heart I know
Your grace is not only for the world, but for me
You are worthy to be praised

When I consider who I am
When I consider who You are
I am convinced
You are worthy to be praised

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My God of the Little Things

The God of the Universe has done some very big things, like creating the Universe and all that it is in it for starters. He enabled Moses to part the Red Sea, caused the walls of Jericho to fall, walked on water, and calmed a raging storm. And the biggest thing He did was to give His life to save ours, thereby defeating death forever.

So when we think of God, we think of the big stuff and sometimes think it is only the big problems that we should bring to Him in prayer. We pray for cancer to be cured, wars to be ended, and the economy to turn around. Many people think that we shouldn’t bother God with the little day-to-day issues that we all deal with. But I disagree. Although God is indeed the God of the big stuff, I know that my God is also the God of the little things.

He proved this fact to me just last week. Let me tell you what He did.

Several weeks ago I was asked to be a group leader for a local evening class of Bible Study Fellowship. I attended the pilot class last spring and the evening timeframe worked great for me because I work fulltime and could never attend the day class. But there’s added responsibility and time commitment with being a group leader, not the least of which is the leaders’ meetings that start at 5:30 a.m.

Now anyone who knows me will tell you I am not a morning person. Most mornings my alarm goes off at 6:15 a.m. and I hit the snooze button two or three times before dragging myself out of bed. And most mornings when I do get up my feet hurt terribly as I walk to the bathroom. It generally takes two cups of coffee before I feel awake. So I was very concerned about how I was going to get up at 4:20 a.m. so that I could make it to the leaders’ meeting on time. So I prayed about it and asked the other BSF leaders to pray about it, too. It was a little thing – getting up on time for an early meeting – but I prayed about it anyway.

The morning of the meeting came. I had set my alarm for 4:20 a.m. When the alarm went off, my eyes popped open and I was wide awake. I got right out of bed without hitting the snooze button even once. As I walked across the floor, I realized my feet didn’t hurt at all. I started the coffee, but didn’t have a cup until after my shower and then I only had one cup before leaving the house. I took a travel cup with me, but it took me most of the two-hour meeting to finish it. Even more amazing than that, I wasn’t tired all day long at work.

My God of the little things was with me that morning, and I trust that He will be with me as I continue to fulfill the responsibilities of BSF group leader that He has called me to.

Whatever little things you are facing today, trust in the God of the little things to see you through. Don’t wait for the big stuff before you call on Him; the little stuff that matters to you matters to Him, too.

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Orzo Pasta Salad for Recipe Friday

It has been just over a year since I posted my last recipe. Early last year I had to give up dairy and have really been trying to avoid gluten as well. The combination has been very challenging and has left me not really feeling like posting recipes. My focus has been on modifying my old favorites to make them dairy free.

But this past weekend we had a party with all my family over and I made a gluten-free pasta salad that was a huge hit, even with the people who don’t care about eating gluten-free. I told my nieces that I would post the recipe and send them the link. So Recipe Friday—with a new focus on dairy-free and gluten-free—is back.

Gluten-Free Orzo Pasta Salad

Ingredients

2 cups Pappardelles Gluten-Free Italian Pesto Blend Orzo
1 cup fresh peas
1 can quartered artichoke hearts
¾ to 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes
¾ to 1 cup shredded carrots
½ to ¾ cup Newman’s Own Lite Balsamic Vinaigrette
1 tsp summer savory
Salt

Directions

Boil pasta for 14 minutes. Strain and rinse in cold water. Refrigerate to cool.

Shell 1 lb of fresh shelling peas to yield approximately 1 cup peas. Rinse and make sure all stems are removed. Drain artichoke heart quarters and cut into 3 or 4 pieces each. Cut sun-dried tomatoes and shredded carrots into small pieces. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Chill and serve.

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Battling Enemies – A Book Review

A couple of months ago our pastor did a sermon series based on Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley. He encouraged the whole congregation to read the book along with the sermon series. I resisted buying it because I knew if I went to Amazon to buy it I would end up with one or more other books in my cart so that I could get the free super saver shipping that comes with spending more than $25.

Then one evening my husband found a towel rack for our kitchen on Amazon and since I have an Amazon account he asked if I could get it for us. Well, of course I had to add something else to the cart for that super saver shipping. So I decided to get Deep & Wide. But once I added it to my cart I still was below $25, which prompted me to look around for another book to buy. I ended up with another Andy Stanley book called Enemies of the Heart.

I have yet to crack the spine on Deep & Wide, but I read Enemies of the Heart cover to cover in less than a week. I found in this small book some truths that I knew but needed to hear again in a new way.

The great thing about Andy Stanley is that his writing style is so readable. The concepts he shares are deep, but he doesn’t use big words and convoluted arguments to convey them. The message of Enemies of the Heart is simple: there are four emotions that if left unchecked will control our lives in a negative way, but God has provided a way to deal with each of these toxic emotions. The four emotions are guilt, anger, greed, and jealousy.

I’m going to share Stanley’s insights in a nutshell, but I strongly encourage you to read the whole book because it is the anecdotes and the scripture references he uses to flesh out these insights that have really helped me to hold onto their truth. So here’s the nutshell version:

  1. Guilt says, “I owe you.” This emotion stems from actions we have taken that have hurt others. The solution is confession, not just to God but to the person we have hurt.
  2. Anger says, “You owe me.” This emotion stems from actions others have taken that have hurt us and the debt we feel they owe us. To solution is forgiveness, which requires that we figure out what the other person has taken from us, and then to make the conscious decision to cancel that debt.
  3. Greed says, “I owe me.” This emotion stems from a fear that we will lose what we have, that our future is uncertain, and a tendency to hang onto our possessions matter what. The solution is generous giving, which ultimately leads to a trust in God to provide our needs.
  4. Jealousy says, “God owes me.” This emotion stems from a belief that if God could provide a nice car, a big house, a great job, etc. for my neighbor, then He could have done the same for me. Jealousy is not a problem with the person who has what we want, it is a problem with God, who has not provided us with what we want. The solution is to celebrate the blessings of others.

All of these enemies of the heart involve debt—and debt must either be repaid or cancelled, or it will always cloud relationships. Sometimes we don’t even realize a debt is owed, so often just identifying the enemy is the first step. Stanley does a great job in this book of getting to the heart of the matter and helping the reader to identify the emotional enemies that are holding them back from enjoying loving and vibrant relationships with family, friends, and God. I would give this book a definite 5 out of 5 stars.

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