If You Lose Your Purpose…

“Maybe that’s why a broken machine always makes me a little sad, because it isn’t able to do what it was meant to do… Maybe it’s the same with people. If you lose your purpose…it’s like you’re broken.”

We watched the movie Hugo tonight. Well, in the interest of full disclosure, the kids watched it. I caught snippets, in between cooking and plating dinner, serving the kids (on the couch; the home renovation is moving along quite nicely, and we’ve given up on the dining room until they finish) and leaving to pick up Daniel from drumline. What I saw, I really liked. It was a beautiful movie.

As I sat back down to engage in the final 10 minutes of the film, the kids said, “Mom, you missed the best part. About purpose.”


“If you lose your purpose…it’s like you’re broken.”

I’ve felt broken, on more than one occasion. And here recently, I’ve experienced that sadness, the absence of purpose, more frequently than I’d like to admit.

Although it feels so, it is not that I have lost my purpose. I’ve simply been unable to see it.

I guess the end result is one and the same – brokenness. Sadness.

Been there. Done that.

But here’s the key, the good part, the sweet stuff: With a change in perspective, an open heart, the counsel of the wise and the faith that the Promise is true, what is unseen can be revealed.

A combination of all of the above caused my eyes to open.

Most powerful – surprisingly so (to me, anyway) – has been an abrupt change in my schedule. I’ve been working full-time and teaching privately three days a week at our family music store. I love both. But the cost was great; I saw it first in my children. My absence made a difference. I knew that I was tired, fractured, stressed.

And so I quit for a season, which was oh-so-hard, because I have this heightened sense of self-importance that makes me think, sometimes, that the world itself will stop spinning were I to stop doing something. I know I’m an effective piano teacher, and I love it; but someone else stepped in and I find myself with time at home now, room to breathe, and I am better for it. As our my children. And, I daresay, most of the people I come in contact with, because I’m present now, for all of it.

And the world is not going to end because I can’t jump on Facebook right now and post something witty or clever. Although at least six times a day I doubt the truth of that statement, I know that’s another thing I am learning in these days. I am tempted daily to reactivate my account (deactivated as a Lenten discipline) and reengage, because I think I have something to say.

I always have something to say.

I’ve learned, instead, to be quiet. I’ve learned to be patient. I’ve learned to pick up the phone, to send a personal email, to be present, to pray, to give myself space to think and breathe instead of filling up every moment with words.

Facebook is this for me: a chance to say, over and over again, “I’M HERE! I MATTER! WATCH ME SAY SOMETHING WITTY! ARE YOU SAYING SOMETHING WITTY? LET ME AFFIRM YOU! LET ME SHOW YOU I CARE! LET ME SEE WHAT ELSE YOU ARE SAYING! LISTEN! I’M GOING TO SAY SOMETHING ELSE NOW!”

Etc.

I have been more thoughtful in conversation. I certainly spend more time in prayer. I breathe. I think.

Undoubtedly space to breathe and think is the result of my new schedule, no longer teaching, leaving room for both. But it is also the removal of distractions. An it is honest conversation with people that I know believe the best, have my back, love me. 

Clearing away the clutter, I rediscovered my purpose. I feel restored. I feel grateful.

And though the valley may come again, I’ll take this focus for this moment and be grateful for it.

What’s distracting you? Who might speak some truth into your life, if invited? Who might benefit from your words?

Fixer

Well, my most recent post depressed even me.

So here’s an update:

My husband is good medicine. 


The most dangerous place for me to be is in my own head.


After an hour of tears and conversation, with no effort on his part to do anything but listen – no fixing, no rationalization – I feel better.

Still stung, but in a better pace.

I am grateful.

Authorized dealer in fixing broken hearts. That’s him.

Loser

It’s funny how quickly things can turn, pushed along by what comes to our ears. A word of encouragement, a “This is what I see in you” comment that layers a thread of fragile confidence in the torn fabric of my daily questioning. I was given a word like that yesterday, from a trusted friend, someone who tells me the truth, who I believe has my best interest at heart.

The Proverb says, “Gracious speech is like clover honey – good taste for the soul, quick energy for the body.” I can give that a hearty “amen”.

And it’s funny how quickly things can turn, pushed along by what comes to our ears. An overheard conversation, expression of frustration that filters into my ears and heart as failure on my part. Again, words from a trusted friend, someone I count on to tell the truth.

But this time, the taste was bitter, and crushing. Those words were not meant for my ears, but they snaked their way in anyway. And they offered no quick energy, no life.

Instead, they fueled the cloud of insecurity and self-doubt that seems to hover just outside the joy that strengthens me daily. Energy for that nagging opportunist, the shrieking soprano that pushes through every opening to state its repetitive claim on my soul. Sometimes she whispers, but today she is screaming.

“you’re an imposter. 
you can’t do this. 
you’ve gone as far as you can go. 
there is no more hope. 
give up, let it go, walk away. 
you’re just not good enough.”

I find it ironic that the negative so quickly replaces the positive, that the darkness has such power to push away the light. I will cling to the bad, wallow in it, roll the words off my tongue for hours; and all but forget the positive. I know better; but I struggle to do better.

It’s so damned frustrating to think that in almost five decades of life, I am still feeding off the bottom of negativity and self-recrimination, stuffing my self with a pile of garbage until I vomit. Ask me how I am today; ask me who I am today, and I have one word for you.

Loser.

I know better. But today, right now, I cannot live into what I know.

And so I have a Keith Green playlist running on Pandora, and I sit watching over an empty music store, allowing words of life to wash over me, praying that the taste of the goodness of the Lord will wash away the bitter.

here’s my heart, Lord
take and seal it…

Happy Friday And Random Thoughts

I have more to say about my study break, particularly this:

The church is not supposed to be a society of perfect people doing great work. It’s a society of forgiven sinners repaying their unpayable debt of love by working Jesus’s kingdom in every way they can, knowing themselves to be unworthy of the task. – N.T. Wright, Simply Jesus

But I’ll wait to dig into that. Let me just say reading my first N.T. Wright book was a profound experience. I strongly encourage you to consider picking up a copy of Simply Jesus.

And here are a few other things:

Mark Batterson is the real deal. A good author, a comfortably powerful speaker and a consistent blogger. Follow him here.

How To Talk Evangelical is an intriguing name for a blog. This post I found compelling, especially as we are planning an upcoming series that will dig into the power of ritual, reality and relationship. Religion and relationship; mystery and understanding; silence and prayer. Good stuff.

I’m partial to this guy; and I found this post profoundly moving. This one, too.

I’m late to this party, but I love this blog about design. And seeing inside people’s houses. I just like that.

Finally, my friends John, Tricia and Eli Tiller are chasing the wild goose. They are doing amazing things. I’m so excited for them and blessed by them. You will be, too.

Happy Friday! And for your viewing pleasure, here’s a random photo of my 16-year old.

Also, I gave up Facebook for Lent. I miss my friends. Still processing what that means….

Drums in a gym! This is what my son does, hour after hour after hour..

Ashes

“Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

I knelt this morning at the altar of a small Episcopal church. Thin in number, six of us – women, all – wrapped around the gentle curve of the wooden frame. The priest, a man I’d met just 30 minutes earlier as I walked in the door, placed his thumb on my forehead and said my name.

“Beth – it is Beth, right?”

I was a stranger to the ritual, and it was not comfortable. I kept one eye open, watching the others for cues. How do I do this? What comes next? What will make me look like I belong?

Interesting, that thought process. We moved through the motions; I heard the words, felt the prayers around me, found the give-and-take rhythm of the Psalm we batted back and forth with the priest.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; 
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 
Wash away all my iniquities and cleanse me from sin.”

Later we proceeded past the mostly empty pews to the altar again; the priest placed the crisp, unleavened communion bread on my tongue. We drank from a common cup.

The bread and wine and words filled my mouth, flooded my heart, rushed through my limbs.

I belong.

Making Circles

My study break was launched in a circle.

The circle spun into six full pages of notes in my little blue Moleskine.

Mark Batterson came to town, and I went to sit in a room with him and about 30 other people doing ministry in our immediate area. He was there to give us Five Leadership Lessons. I took notes, and somehow I ended up with six on my list.

Go figure.

Leading up to the Leadership Lesson List, he talked about prayer. I listened to Batterson speak.

And I heard God.

I set up this day.


When is the last time you prayed for me to increase your faith?


The spirit specializes in that space between the eardrum and the auditory cortex.


Sometimes your plans have to fail so that My plans can succeed.


One mission trip can be worth 52 sermons.


If you are praying in the will of God, you have all authority and power behind you.


The anointing is for everyone. 


Without the “THIS IS CRAZY!” moments, you never the “THIS IS AWESOME!”


Consecrate yourself….


Pray. And then say to God, “I trust you.”


It was powerful. At one point, a room of staid Baptist church folk were on their knees around our plastic banquet tables. Praying.

You know how you are somewhere and you just know that you were meant to be there?


Yeah. That.

For the record, here’s my list of SIX Leadership Lessons:

  1. One God idea is better than 1,000 good ideas.
  2. One picture = 10 million words.
  3. A 1% change = a 99% difference
  4. 5 + 2 = 5,000 remainder 12. God is a God of multiplication.
  5. Change of pace + change of place = change of perspective.
  6. Everything – Jesus = nothing. Nothing + Jesus = everything.
I highly recommend to you Mark Batterson’s The Circle Maker. It is one of the most encouraging, powerful books on prayer that I have read. And if you have an opportunity to hear Batterson speak, take it. He’ll be at PCC June 24. Don’t miss it.

Study Break 2012

Today ends my first study break of 2012.

Let me explain, first. Almost six years ago Brian Hughes sat down across from me at Rosa’s Restaurant. Over a plate of cheese sticks, he invited me to leave my teaching job in Chesterfield County and come work for PCC.

I laughed. I was – I am – the least likely candidate for a full-time ministry position that I could imagine.

But Brian convinced me that God used broken people to reach broken people, and I knew he was right. I saw the evidence in the PCC community – that people far from God were finding hope – and so, with a deep breath, clinging to Godworksallthingstogetherforgood, I accepted the offer.

I left a fairly decent job, with excellent benefits, to work for less money and no benefits. The bonus of working in Powhatan with flexible hours carried a lot of weight, as did the fact that it was, indeed, a calling from God (I moved in faith then; I only recognized it in hindsight). But taking a cue from my brother, who is a creative person working in a church, I asked for some time that I figured I would need to refresh and refuel. Three weeks of “study break”, to be used at my discretion, was part of my package, per my request.

I have, every year, used those weeks with gratitude and very tangible results. I’m not sure I’d still be working at the church had I not done so. Amazing things have happened as I changed my scenery, altered my routine, read, pursued art, played music, prayed and otherwise took time to nourish my soul.

(If you are so inclined, you can read about my other break times here, here and here. Also, here and here. I like to re-read them. You? Maybe not so much. But just in case, there they are.)


This year, my break was complicated. Family schedules, crazy weather; nothing quite worked out as planned. I went nowhere. I stayed home, with stacks of books and piles of paper. I cooked for my family. I sat with my husband and my children.

But here’s the thing: outside the normal routine, amazing things still happened. It has been a powerful, prayerful week. I will wake up tomorrow, back to work, but different than I was a week okay.


A study break changes my attitude. It brings about powerful paradigm shifts.

This has been an incredible week. There are several reasons. I’m going to process a bit of what I’ve experienced over the next few days, here on this blog. I hope you’ll come back and allow me to share – to bear witness – of what I have learned and who I have encountered.

But today?

Today, my break ends. Today is Fat Tuesday – Mardi Gras.

Mardi gras is French for Fat Tuesday, referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday… Related popular practices are associated with celebrations before the fasting and religious obligations associated with the penitential season of Lent. Popular practices include wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, sports competitions, parades, etc. In English, the day is called Shrove Tuesday, associated with the religious requirement for confession before Lent begins. – Wikipedia

I’m not sure I’ll celebrate with masks and costumes. There are no particular social conventions I wish to overturn. But today does mark an end, not only of this week apart, but also of some of the more vapid, selfish internal games I play with myself. And I have a few confessions.

I confess this: my faith has been weak, my commitment has wavered. I have struggled in a world of transition, allowing the shallowness of current culture to define the thin, shape-shifting lines of discipline that I daily skirt.

I confess this: that I want more, different, deeper, richer; and that I do very little to obtain that which I desire, except to gaze across the fence at those who appear to possess that which I think I want.

I confess this: that to remain as I am is such a violent disgrace to the One I claim to follow, that I wonder how it is that He has not spit me out of His mouth in disgust.

I confess this: that I long to be part of the kingdom of heaven as it is here on earth, in a way that rises above my weak self-indulgence.

I have spent a week reading, thinking, praying, making art, being still, tending to my family, being me. I have felt fully inhabited, at times, by the spirit of God. I have felt a lightness to my being that has more to do with perspective that busyness. And I am persuaded that this is the life to which I am called, and that I must do all that I can to live this life. 


Ash Wednesday is tomorrow. In my current faith community – my church – we do little to commemorate the day or the season. We are yearning for Easter, leaning into the celebration already, anticipating the joy and the music and the victory.

But this year, I am so cognizant of the struggle, of the darkness, of the need for patience and humility as we wait for the coming of the kingdom. I am going to live into Ash Wednesday, into sacrifice and into Lent as best I can. I believe I am called to do so.

I have to go where I’m called.

Journal notes…