Beginning the Work Again :: Jesus There

Splash of color.

How lovely are you.

“Be watchful—the grace of God appears suddenly. It comes without warning to an open heart. Sweep out the stable of your existence and the King will gladly enter.” 


I’m sitting cross-legged on my couch. It’s this past Saturday morning, around 8 a.m. 

I take a deep breath in. Let a deep breath out. I close my eyes, then breathe in, then out. I find a still place in the center of myself where I know God lives. 

Thinking of this still place inside of me, I turn my eyes to the right, where sits a used copy of Joyce Rupp’s The Cup of Our Life that arrived a few days ago. On the cover is the drawing of a cup held between two hands. I pick up the book. Read the first few pages again — the story of Joyce’s encounter of cup as spiritual metaphor.

I set the book down and return to that still place. Eyes closed. Breathing in. Breathing out. The image of a cup in the center of my being, filled with God. 

A few moments later, overcome with stories of my life, seen as a panorama, I get up off the couch. Walk over to my desk. Pull my vintage typewriter off the small side chair and onto the surface of the desk. I sit down and scroll a sheet of paper into its feed. 

I reach for my earbuds, folded up in the corner of my desk. I untangle them. Plug them into my iPhone and place them in my ears. Pull up the music app and scroll to Eustace the Dragon, then tap “White as Snow” and make sure it’s set to play on repeat. 

Turning my attention to the typewriter, I type the date. Hit return. Then indent. Start typing the first paragraph of the panoramic view I saw inside my head. 

After one paragraph typed, I stop. Cross my arms, folded, on the desk and listen to the song playing on repeat in my ears. Eyes closed.

I become aware of his presence. Jesus. He’s just behind my shoulder. 

I’m inside my memory — that memory, the one that feels like running full-out into a thick black wall and then wrenching myself away, black and blue, bruised. 

And there Jesus is. Right behind my shoulder in that memory. 

Inside the memory, I turn my head back a bit to look at him. The memory is still happening, like a video playing inside my mind, every moment of it happening right there in front of me — in front of us — and what I notice is him. 


This. This is my moment of deepest shame and humiliation. This. Right here. 

And there Jesus is, with me. Calm. Strong. Radiating peace. 

The first thing I notice is his presence with me. Solid. Fully there and attentive. With-ness

The next thing I notice is that while he is fully present to me and my consciousness of him, he is also fully aware of what is happening inside that memory. He sees it happening, and he doesn’t flinch.

He sees it happening. And he doesn’t flinch.

What grace washes over me. In the moment of my deepest shame and humiliation, he sees it and doesn’t flinch. He sees it and doesn’t flinch.

For the first time in 19 years, I see it, too, and do not flinch. 

It’s a miracle. Happening inside me and before my very eyes. 

I become aware of the truth: Who I am, the reality of me in the eyes of Jesus, is deeper than this memory. I am more than this moment of shame. 

This? This is healing. 

This? I’m reminded of what I’ve learned so viscerally before: This is how forgiveness becomes possible.

And I realize in that moment that if I can find this truth in the place of my deepest shame, then so can others. Hope floods me.

This is not the first time I have experienced Jesus with me inside my memories. It is not the first time he has healed me in such a way. 

At other times, I have asked him the question we all long to ask: Why did you let this happen? You were there. Why didn’t you intervene? Sometimes I’ve asked this question in anger. In hurt. 

He has always answered.

The answers, too, are a healing.

I notice that I don’t feel angry this time, seeing him there with me, not moving to stop the events. The feeling of his presence was so strong and peaceful and full of his attentiveness to me that I could feel no anger. Only gratitude. 

I did ask the question, though. Quietly.

I don’t know if he’s done answering the question yet — why he let it happen, why he didn’t intervene, why he allowed aspects of my story to collect the way they did. But here’s one impression I had that is feeling very true: If that memory happened for the sole reason that I would land here, experiencing the potent presence of Jesus in the way I did right then, that maybe is enough. 

He is my greatest treasure. He is the most beautiful one of all.

“How lovely … how lovely are you.

“How lovely … how lovely your voice, your face.”

—Eustace the Dragon, “A Song for Sparrows”

Beginning the Work Again :: It's Messy in Here, and I Feel Like I'm Back in High School

Craggy heart.

Craggy, dark, and broken.

On the evening of Good Friday, I got to participate in a Stations of the Cross service at my church. At one point, when I was standing in the main aisleway of the church, maybe around the 12th or 13th station, listening to our rector share the reading for that stop along the journey, a thought flashed through my mind that surprised me.

I can’t even tell you what the actual thought was. I don’t remember it.

But it had something to do with God, and it was a way of thinking about God that felt quite old, like it was reaching its way to me across miles and miles and belonged to another age. It recalled a sense of God as imperious judge, someone closed and narrow and cold and certainly harsh and wrathful. 

And I realized: 

That’s the image I carried of God in high school. 

Suddenly I was back there again, and it was a moment of feeling myself caught on the plane of an alternate existence, my heart and mind stretched backward nearly 20 years, back to a very young and undeveloped view and experience of God and myself. 

I’ve been reconnecting with the 15- and 16-year-old version of myself in this new place, revisiting some acute memories and remembering what it was like to be me in those exact moments. I remember the scratchy, stretchy fabric of a favorite fitted blouse I used to wear then. I remember the color and texture of my living room carpet. I remember the grandfather clock that stood in our entryway and how it lit up at night. I remember how it felt to walk into my bedroom.

And now, I’m remembering how I felt about God — and what I believed God felt about me.

It was a confusing time, but I didn’t know it at the time. And now, here I am, revisiting it. 

Here’s what I’m learning: It’s messy in here. I’m finding that sometimes I can’t think straight here. I can’t feel straight, either. It’s wordless, this place, sometimes. Just a jumble of memories and impressions and fumbling for my own response. In the place words should exist, I see black boxes instead, covering up the words. Coherence becomes impossible. 

And so, right now, I’m sitting with that.

Going backward in order to go forward — returning to the broken places — means that we might find ourselves believing in old and outdated versions of God. It means that we might feel like a confused, jumbled, wordless mess. 

That’s just the way it is right now, here at the beginning.

The Body Series: Considering Our Roots

Life abides.

One of the most helpful places to start in a series about the body is an assessment of our relationship with our own — and particularly the earliest roots of that relationship.

What are the early roots of your relationship with your body?

Here are a few of my own answers to that question, and I encourage you to share your answers (if you’d like) in the comments: 

  • Given the choice to be outside or inside, I would choose inside 100 percent of the time. While my siblings rushed to play outdoor games with the neighborhood kids, I preferred to sit in a chair in the living room with a book and read. I was not disposed toward physical activity.
  • In addition, I wasn’t very good at physical activity anyway. Three years of city softball and only hitting the ball once — not to mention getting hit in the nose with a softball during a pre-game practice — didn’t bolster my confidence in my body’s attunement to sports. I felt disqualified from anything having to do with athleticism.
  • My sister, on the other hand, was a natural-born athlete. She loved scraping her knees and making a mess, and she proudly identified as a tomboy. I, on the other hand, preferred to stay clean and tidy, and I certainly wouldn’t go for anything that might lead to scrapes or bruises. I was the bookworm; she was the athlete. Somehow those clear lines comforted me — made it easy for me to keep saying no to exertion.
  • I had a sweet tooth growing up. (I still do.) The kind of sweet tooth that would find me unable to finish my dinner but always save room for dessert. The kind of sweet tooth that had me refusing to finish my dinner, even, unless the dessert option made it worthwhile. The kind of sweet tooth that had me scooping quarters and dimes from my dad’s coin jar so I could walk to the store and buy candy after school. And since I could eat anything and still remain stick-thin, I came to believe that eating junk food in no way impacted my body.
  • What’s more, I seemed to have a different body type than most people in my family — one that followed the small-boned, no-curves pathway of my dad’s mother — which I came to believe would insulate me from body issues the whole of my life. Even though I didn’t “develop” much once I hit puberty, I felt pretty lucky to be as thin as a beanpole, wearing sizes 0, 2, and 4 all the way through college and beyond.

Not believing myself athletic, not enjoying athletics, eating whatever I wanted without consequence, and believing my body type to be immune from weight gain set me up for this: a whacked-out view of my embodied self. As I shared in a post last year on my personal blog, I truly believed my body to be an object that was supposed to serve me — to make me look good and not flinch at anything I gave it to consume. 

It’s a lot to undo, and it’s led to a ton of body confusion in recent years. 

What are the roots of your body image?

Pieces of Formation: Faith Foundations


What was the faith component of your early years? Was there any? 

I’ve shared in this space previously some of my formative faith foundations — of always having had a sense of the presence of Jesus near me, of being raised Catholic until I was 9 years old, of moving to a nondenominational Christian church after that. It also made a real difference to my formation to be raised by a mother whose faith was personal and real. 

Sometimes I think about the presence of Jesus I’ve always felt near to me, even from my earliest memories, and I wonder why God saw fit to give me that kind of experience of himself. I don’t know the answer to that question. But I do know that the reality of this nearness I’ve experienced has deeply informed my sense of calling in the work that I do. I can see that my knowledge of Jesus and what he’s chosen to share with me of himself is meant to be shared with others. 

In that way, I hope to honor well the gift he’s given me of his nearness.

How would you describe the foundation of faith in your own life? What was your experience of God like in your early years?

Pieces of Formation: Significant Conversations


I learned to read when I was 3 years old.

And not just the rudimentary kind of reading. My mother tells the story that I asked my preschool teacher if I could read a particular book to the class and she — mistakenly — thought I wanted her to read it. When she eventually understood I wanted to read it myself, she thought I had simply memorized it. She was then amazed to discover I could read any book she pulled off the shelf. 

When it came time for kindergarten two years later, my parents wondered: Did I really need to go? So I took a test to determine if I could skip kindergarten and go straight into first grade. 

I remember the day of decision so clearly.

My mother came home from work, and I was playing in the garage. The light shone through the open garage door as she crouched next to me where I played. They’d gotten the results from the test, she said, and I had passed. What did I want to do? 

It took me aback to learn the decision was to be my own.

And so I asked questions. What would I miss if I didn’t go to kindergarten? Fingerpainting. Some fun. And learning to read. But I already know how to read. Yes, my mother said. What would happen if I went to first grade? I’d learn new things, she said. But I would be a year younger than everyone else, and that would be true throughout the rest of my life at school. 

It was a significant conversation.

I learned that my parents entrusted me with major decisions that affected my life. At 5 years old, that was quite something to take in. What trust and respect they had for me and my life. But it was a little scary, too. What did I know at 5 years old would be best for me? What if I chose “wrong”? 

In case you’re curious, I decided to skip kindergarten, and I’ve never once regretted that decision. But I think of that day often — how significant it was to my life. I carried that “younger by a year” decision with me throughout my school career. It was always there, underneath the surface, my being just behind my peers in age, development, and experiences.

What significant conversations of your upbringing shaped your life? What did those conversations teach you about yourself and about others?

A (Near) Month of Thanks: Influences

Right now.

If you had a glimpse of my interior world in college (and high school, and junior high, and grade school), you’d discover I was a pretty wound-up perfectionist constantly worrying and straining to make things right. If there’s a word to describe the image I hold of my young self in all those days, it would be the word scruples

But then God cracked me open, and a whole bunch of messiness ensued.

Confusion. Exploration. Possibility. Hope. Life. Grace. Love. Freedom. Depth. Calm. Solidity. Openness. 

The spiral of life and growth continues along these lines, with each new season bringing its portion of disorientation, exploration, discovery, and life. It leads to increased rootedness but usually requires a bit of freefall first. 

When I look back over the terrain of my spiritual journey and who I’ve become and am continuing to become, I’m incredibly thankful for the many wise influences, mentors, guides, and spiritual parents who have shaped me. 

When it comes to influences, I am thankful for: 

  • Clifford Williams, whose book Singleness of Heart began me on my heart journey
  • Anne Lamott, who first taught me about grace and the beauty of imperfection
  • Don Miller, who put language to some of my experiences and modeled permission to explore
  • St. John of the Cross, who first taught me about spiritual formation
  • My friend Sara, who gave me space to process the journey
  • Jesus, the first model for all I believe and do today
  • Henri Nouwen, who opened deeper the world of interiorities and helped clarify my sense of vocation
  • Mother Teresa, whose model of love still teaches me
  • Gandhi, who was and always will be the father of my nonviolence journey
  • Martin Luther King Jr., another father to me in the road marked by love and conviction
  • Thomas Merton, my spiritual father in contemplation and peace
  • Julian of Norwich, who currently models for me my life of prayer

Who are the influences that have shaped your life, and how would you express thanks for them?

A (Near) Month of Thanks: Growth

Crawling the wall.

Last night, when I was awake in bed for a couple hours and couldn’t sleep, I listened to the first couple chapters of Richard Rohr’s latest book, Falling Upward, on audio. 

The book is very, very good. Its central premise is that the tools we use to build the first half of our lives are not the tools that will work in its second half.

This got me thinking about growth.

To me, our capacity to grow is one of the most interesting things God built into the created order. And so today, I thought we could reflect on the ways we’ve grown over the course of our lives and how that growth causes us to give thanks. 

When it comes to the growth I’ve experienced in my life, I give thanks for the following: 

  • I’m thankful for the ways my family upbringing shaped the listener and peacemaker in me.
  • I’m thankful for the difficult experiences I sustained in grade school that later shaped my connection to Jesus. 
  • I’m thankful for the way pain in my life has made me a more sensitive being.
  • I’m thankful for a solid foundation of faith that paved the way for its deepening when I became a young adult.
  • I’m thankful God brought me to the end of myself when I was 19, even though it terrified me.
  • I’m thankful Jesus sat with me in the dark for two years, growing my trust in his patience and faithfulness toward me.
  • I’m thankful God has opened the doors of my heart to greater honesty and tenderness.
  • I’m thankful for the way my divorce experience helped me learn to receive grace.
  • I’m thankful I’ve become a person accustomed to taking risks. 
  • I’m thankful for the relationships in my life that have helped me settle into an identity of being loved.
  • I’m thankful for the stripping seasons in my life the grace God has given me to say yes to them.
  • I’m thankful for the ways God has given me a greater and greater heart of love.

When you look at the growth in your own life, what makes you thankful?

A Turn in the Suffering :: When It Creates a Reckoning

Welcome into the light.

I’ve shared here previously that I walked through a marital separation and divorce in 2003-2004 and that it was an experience that created a heavy cloak of shame that I wore the length of my body every single day. 

I remember sojourning back to California from the Midwest, where I’d been living the previous year, with all that belonged to my name packed in the backseat and trunk of my little white Volkswagen Jetta. I arrived at my dad’s house, which would be my new home for the first part of that new season, and stepped into the tiny guest bedroom feeling all out of sorts and wondering what, exactly, my life had become. 

I was starting over. Starting from scratch. Re-entering the familiar context of my hometown, surrounded by people I’d known my whole life, but nothing was the same. 

Those first few months created a cocooning of sorts inside my soul. I would hole up in my room at the end of each day and play Sarah McLachlan’s new album over and over and over. I sat in that room with the door closed tight behind me. It was the safest place I knew.

And it was grief. Disorientation. A place where I pulled my shame cloak just a little tighter about my shoulders each day. 

But I’ve also shared that, eventually, I began to rethink all the beliefs that had been stamped into my soul through that experience. That was I worthless and thrown away … but no, I was beautiful to Jesus. That I was a single girl on her own for the first time … but no, I was now the bride of Christ. That I was less than desirable … but no, Jesus found me to be lovely

And then, in what was one of the most pivotal moments of turning around inside that season, there was the belief that my shame was merited because my new life as a divorced woman was counterfeit … but no, God sees me as Christianne, his daughter, not Christianne, his divorced daughter.

It became a season of reckoning. 

My suffering brought me face to face with what I truly believed about myself, others, and God. And by leaning into what those beliefs really were, God and I could look plainly at them together. In the context of that painful honesty, he could begin the work of reforming my crumbled foundation. 

A Turn in the Suffering :: When It Connects to a Broader Scope

Sun over trees.

I mentioned yesterday that my first turn in the suffering happened about 10 years into my heart’s journey with Jesus. One morning, I was sitting in a session with my spiritual director and was presented with the invitation to revisit a particular wound. 

I could see myself in that scene I shared with you already of being nine years old and given responsibility that was way beyond my years and then being held responsible for the disaster that resulted. I saw myself in the room of my sentencing, and my spiritual director gently invited me to explore whether Jesus was in that room with me that night.

Where was he? What was he doing?

He was sitting right there next to me, and he didn’t lift a finger.

It really angered me to see that — to see him sit calmly by while injustice happened to me. What’s more, as I’ve already shared, that night had far-reaching ramifications on my life, and Jesus did nothing about it. 

That really, really hurt. 

I sat in my director’s living room, eyes squeezed shut and tears streaming down my face. My thoughts raced with anger and sadness, wondering what Jesus could possibly say to me, wondering if he could say anything at all that would begin to help me understand or make what happened — his inaction — okay. 

I didn’t think it was possible. I’d lived with that wound far too long. 

But then slowly, like an onion, I felt him unraveling the cloth strips that were wrapped around my head, covering my eyes, the cause of blindness. 

Slowly, he unwrapped them in order to let me see. The weight of the cloths began to fall away. Dots of light began to shimmer on my eyelids.

And quietly, gently, I heard him say to me: “My daughter, it is true. I did allow that to happen. I was there, and I did not lift my finger. But you see, I had a greater scope in mind. I saw a vision beyond the story you could see. There is the greater story of your life, and how I’ve planned to use you. Because of what you’ve carried, you can come alongside those who also carry these burdens. You can touch them, because you know how they feel. You know what it feels like to be where they are.”

It isn’t that God was absent. It isn’t that he was uncaring. It’s that he had a different aim in mind entirely.

Sometimes our suffering connects to a broader scope that we cannot see. When we are in the woundedness, it pains us to even hear that. But when we are ready to heal, Jesus can lead us through.

Taking the Suffering Seriously :: How It Forms Us

Gritty heart.

It’s with not a little fear and trembling that I wade into the waters of this new exploration with you. Most of yesterday, I noticed anxiety hanging on me and around me about this. This morning, I have a pretty thick bundle of butterfly nerves. 

I’m just noticing that response and letting it be what it is: what happens when you take a really hard reality seriously and then decide to talk about it out loud.

So, we’re going into the water anyway. And thankfully, Jesus will be with us as we go. 

The first aspect of suffering that I want to explore with you is the way it forms us. 

For instance, here is one story from my own life. 

One of the most formational moments in my life — and one that formed me not-for-the-better — happened when I was about nine years old. I was left in charge of two people who were stronger and bolder and brasher than me. Plus, they had a pretty combustible relationship. And what happened during our time together should not have been surprising: chaos ensued. What’s more, real damage was done to the structure of the building where we were. 

Although I had not participated in the chaos, I was given the same severe sentence the other two were. And when I mustered the courage to ask why, I was told that I could have prevented what happened. 

This was incredible to me.

I was nine years old and clearly the weakest link among the lot. I was not prone to aggression of any kind. And yet I was made responsible — more responsible than those who had done the deeds that put us in the sentencing-room in the first place, becauseI could have stopped it from happening

I cannot tell you with enough force how much that moment formed me. 

From that moment on, I believed I was responsible for everything. My two tiny shoulders were responsible for keeping every situation around me peaceful and in the right order. If anything ever went wrong around me, I felt responsible and to blame. If something went wrong somewhere on the other side of the world, even, I felt responsible for that, too. 

It’s amazing how, in an instant, our whole system of reality can shift. This belief formed the bedrock of my whole existence from that moment forward, and mostly on an unconscious level. It became so much a part of me that it informed everything I did, everything I thought, everything I believed, everything I saw happening around me, everything I felt about myself, and every decision that I made.

I was, in reality, warped by that experience. Our suffering so often has that effect — of forming us in ways that actually de-form us away from the truth about ourselves. 

In what ways has your suffering formed you not-for-the-better?

All That Happens Is ... Perfect?

Patch of light.

I Promise

Has not the Architect, Love, built your heart

in a glorious manner,

with so much care that it is meant to break

if love ever ceases to know all that happens

is perfect?

And where does anything love has ever known

go, when your eye and hand can no longer

be warmed by its body? 

So vast a room your soul, every universe can

fit into it.

Anything you once called beautiful, anything

that ever

gave you comfort waits to unite with your

arms again. I promise.

— Hafiz

dear friend of mine included this poem in the weekly inspiration e-mail she sent out this morning, and thinking on it has gobbled up my morning.

It speaks of the very things I fiercely believe:

  • that our hearts are, indeed, built in a glorious manner
  • that they break when we cease to know the perfection of love
  • that the shattered pieces of the love we once knew inhabit whole universes of secret rooms inside of us
  • that the heart waits, even yearns, to be rediscovered and to heal and to be made whole and connected with our full selves once again

There is a bit of a sticking point in this poem, though. It says that the heart, in the way it was made, “is meant to break if love ever ceases to know all that happens is perfect.”

This implies that everything that happens is, indeed, perfect … even if it doesn’t feel that way. 

I’ve wrestled at various times, for various reasons, with this idea that everything that happens is perfect. I know wounding. I know pain. I know the imperfection of love, for sure. I know this world is pretty fantastically, grievously broken.

So, how can all that happens be, somehow, perfect? Is this poet speaking true?

I think this has to do with believing — trusting — that something greater than the pain is present even in the midst of our being grazed by it. It’s the idea that something holds all things together and has a greater, grander scope than we can see in the midst of our wounded, pain-filled realities.

This is a hard idea. I know.

And when we are in the midst of pain, this idea is the last thing we want to hear.

But here is something true.

I have come out on the other side of hell — several times, actually —  and have discovered, on the other side of it, a perfect love that casts out the fear that doubt implanted. I have discovered a more perfect love that encompasses and heals those painful, disturbing wounds. I have discovered Someone faithful and capable to hold all things, even the most painful realities I have known, in his hands. 

And incredible as it may sound, I have become thankful for the pain. 

It is only because of encounter with the perfect and intimate love of Jesus that I can say today that I am thankful for it. The perfect love of Jesus makes everything — even seeming darkness — beautiful in its time.

But I won’t pretend. This is a really hard idea to hold. It’s one I still wrestle with, in various forms, today.

Here’s a possibility, though, in the midst of the struggle. Perhaps the more we feel the pain and grope in seeming darkness toward the light of love, the more overwhelming and sweet that light will be once we find ourselves inside of it. 

I know, for myself, that the measure of my love for Jesus is inextricably tied to the very personal ways in which he has met me in my distresses. 

What is your response right now to this idea that everything — perhaps all things — are just as they’re meant to be?

Discernment Concerns a Process, Not a Conclusion


When I was at the retreat that prompted me to write this short series on discernment, one of the instructors shared a quote by Richard Rohr that I find to be immensely helpful when considering the role discernment plays in our lives: 

“God becomes more a verb than a noun, more a process than a conclusion, more an experience than a dogma, more a personal relationship than an idea. There is someone dancing with you, and you are not afraid of making mistakes.” 

— Richard Rohr, The Naked Now, p. 23

This gets at the idea I shared in my previous post about all of life being a process of foundational experiences that reveal to us the unique story of redemption and healing and wholeness that God is about in our lives. 

So often, when we are in a process of discernment about a choice we’re trying to make in our lives, we are focused on the concluding outcome of that decision. What is the right decision here? What am I supposed to do? Did I make the right choice? Have I landed in the place I was supposed to land? 

But in the quote from Richard Rohr above, we are reminded that life with God is more about living through a life with God than arriving at a particular point or conclusion or decision. Life with God is a verb and a process, he says. It is active and ongoing. It involves continuous change, and that change concerns our inward and outward being. 

Who is God making us to be? What is the fullness and wholeness of us that is his aim over the whole course of our lives? And how does one decision or another affirm that work of wholeness in us? 

These are the real questions at the heart of discernment. 

It is not about one right answer or another that will bring us to a place of arrival. It is about how a decision continues to shape us into the person God intends for us to become in the broader, longevity-seeking scope of our lives. 

What is the work of healing, wholeness, and redemption God seems to be about in your life? And how might the decisions you are seeking to make be a part of that broader work?

How Our Foundational Experiences Can Aid Our Discernment III

Inviting rest.

Earlier in this series on discernment, I invited you to consider your foundational experiences of God, and in the second post on that subject, we narrowed our consideration to those experiences when we knew in an intimate way that God was speaking to us or intervening in our lives. 

Today, I’d like to broaden our consideration of foundational experiences to those experiences in our lives that made an impact on us in some significant or meaningful way. 

What are the experiences that marked you, scarred you, taught you, helped you, harmed you? What are the memories you revisit often, that made a deep impression on your heart? What moments in your life contributed in great measure to the person you have become?

I’d like to suggest that even these experiences can aid us in our process of discernment, too.

In fact, I would like to suggest that every meaningful moment of our lives — the moments that form the stuff of our story — are part of the specific story of redemption, grace, healing, and purpose God is weaving through our specific lives. 

It is my deep conviction that the stories we are living are not senseless.

In the places we experienced deep wounding, God wants to touch and heal us. In the places we were misguided, God wants to come and redirect our steps. In the places we experienced great consolation, God wants to teach us about himself and about ourselves.

When we look back over our lives, we may see the litterings of tiny moments or big moments that made an impact in some way. And it is in those moments that God wants to enter in and heal, touch, teach, and guide us.

He wants to make us whole and complete, lacking nothing, and therefore is about the work of redemption in our lives in exactly those places that broke us, splintered us, harmed us, or de-formed us.

This is how our foundational experiences — whether they were specific encounters with God or simply encounters with life — can guide us in our process of discernment. 

What is God about in you, because of your story? What are the themes of needed redemption in your life? How might that inform the decision you are seeking to make? Which path will take you deeper into the healing or fullness of that redemption?

How Our Foundational Experiences Can Aid Our Discernment II

Sky above trees.

We’ve been talking quite a bit lately about our foundational experiences — and specifically our foundational experiences of God — and how they can serve as a guide for us when we are in need of discernment.

There are so many ways to undertake a process of discernment — so many ways this subject has been explored and examined and written about through the centuries and the ages — and so much of that material is immensely helpful in uncovering what discernment is, what the process is about, and how to learn and determine the best path forward. 

We’ve been spending a bit more dedicated time in this small series on discernment exploring an aspect of discernment that is, I think, quite lesser known and considered as a point of value in the process. 

Let’s consider for a moment what discernment is about. What is being discerned, exactly, when we are needing discernment? 

Usually this is a process of trying to determine the right way forward in our lives. This could apply to a large decision we are trying to make — whether to take a particular job, whether to move to a new place, whether someone we are dating is the right person for us to share our lives with, what to do with our lives.

It can also apply to the smaller, everyday encounters of our lives. How ought we respond to that person with whom we have such difficulty? What is my real motive in wanting to pursue a particular path right now? Is this the right church for me? 

And then, there’s perhaps the most intimate question of all: how is God speaking to me right now?

As I mentioned above, there are volumes that could fill whole wings of very large libraries on the subject of discernment. It is clearly not a simple subject for us humans to understand, and we have been trying to understand it and seeking guidance on the matter from the wise ones we know for a very, very long time. 

I think something helpful to notice here is that discernment is needed in those very places that are not clear cut. If there was a simple answer to our question — a very clear response that God indicates would be the right way forward in a given situation, given what has been indicated to us in the scriptures or the tradition of the church — then discernment is not really needed. 

Discernment is required in those very grey and fuzzy places where we don’t have the readily available gift of a black-and-white answer on the matter. 

And this is where our foundational experiences, I’m coming to believe, can provide an immense gift of their own.

One thing I will say about this approach to incorporating our foundational experiences into our process of discernment is that it assumes God is personally acquainted with each one of us. And not just acquainted with us, but invested in us.

It assumes that the significant experiences of our lives — every single one of them — is part of the specific formation God is about in us. 

I’m going to write a bit more about this on Friday. (I won’t be writing here tomorrow, which is the Thanksgiving holiday here in the United States.) But until then, I’ll invite you to consider this question: 

Have you ever viewed the foundational experiences of your life as significant to God in some way and integrally a part of the formation he is about in your life? 

How Our Foundational Experiences Can Aid Our Discernment I

The doorway.

So, it’s taken several posts to get here, but I’d like to invite you to consider how your foundational experiences of God can help you navigate through a process of discernment. 

I mentioned in Friday’s post that I’d like for you to recall those foundational experiences of God that you knew at a very deep, intuitive, gut-level place inside of yourself were a true encounter of God interacting with you. 

As you take and hold those experiences, I’d like to invite you to regard those experiences as having provided you with a sense of God that can continue to direct you. 

To make this a bit more practical, let me share with you an example from my own life.

This has to do with the way Kirk and I have learned to discern God’s direction in our life about big decisions — where to live, where to work, whether to say yes to an opportunity being offered to us, and so on.

We’ve learned that, for us, God’s direction often carries the quality of a stone emerging out of the water at just the right time. 

This sense of God’s movement in our life was born out of several foundational experiences that all carried that similar quality of God’s provision and direction and which we have now learned is a means of guiding us continually in these kind of life decisions.

One of the first times I can remember this happening was when Kirk and I got engaged on St. Patrick’s Day in 2006.

I had a feeling Kirk would propose that day, even though we hadn’t discussed any particulars about getting engaged, nor had we discussed anything about when or where we would get married, where we would live when we got married (while we were dating, I lived in Southern California and he lived in Central Florida), or what our life would look like after we joined together. 

Still, I had a feeling we were going to get engaged on the weekend that we did, so in preparation, I began to mentally brainstorm some of the more specific details I knew we would discuss once he asked me to marry him and I said yes. 

One of the first things I knew we would discuss was the wedding. Would it happen in California, where my family lived, or in Florida? Would it be a large or small affair? Would it be a regular kind of affair at all? 

This was a second marriage for both of us, and I had known all along, after my first marriage ended, that if I ever married a second time, I would not want a normal kind of ceremony. I didn’t really know what that meant, but I just knew all along I would want it to be different.

I began to consider the idea of eloping to Ireland.

What a strange idea, I know!

But it seemed very much in line with who we were — we had first met and become casual acquaintances in Ireland, we had begun our initial e-mail correspondence on St. Patrick’s Day, and we were (most likely) going to be getting engaged on St. Patrick’s Day the following year. You could say that Ireland already loomed rather large in our life and history together.

But the real “foundational experience of God” in our life of decision-making together happened when we did, indeed, get engaged. For the very first time, we began to discuss some of the particulars and possibilities for our wedding, and I shared with Kirk the idea I’d begun holding in my heart about the possibility of eloping to Ireland.

I am not joking when I say that he pulled the car over to the side of the road, opened the trunk, and pulled out the latest issue of National Geographic that he had received in the mail that very same week. The cover story concerned the ancient Celts, and inside the cover story was the mention of a monastery ruins site on the island of Inis Mor in Ireland where a priest regularly performed wedding rites. 

Needless to say, that’s where we got married, and I cannot imagine the process being any easier than it was.

And really, our continuing life together these last five years has been comprised of many similar moments.

It often looks like this.

We will begin a seemingly innocent conversation — perhaps about whether to move out of our first studio apartment, or whether to revisit the possibility of employment for Kirk in a certain place, or what sort of next steps might be possible for me when my graduate program ends — and very simply and deftly, the answer to our question will emerge out of nowhere, often very soon after the conversation begins. We’ll come upon a house for rent while out for a Sunday drive, or the phone will ring and it will include a job offer we didn’t know existed at that very same place we had been considering employment, or we’ll be invited to breakfast with friends and a new opportunity will be presented that I couldn’t have imagined for myself. 

We’ve learned again and again that God brings just the right thing at just the right time to us, without our having to go searching or hunting or planning or forcing it along, just like our wedding in Ireland came together for us.

Accordingly, since we’ve learned that God often works in this way with us, we can revisit this foundational sense of God’s work in our life when presented with new opportunities. Does it have that similar quality as all those other opportunities did, like a stone emerging from the water at just the right time and place? Did it come to us organically? Does it feel like it’s happening in an unforced and natural manner?

These things guide our decision-making often, and it’s one practical example of how a foundational experience of God’s movement in our life can aid in our process of discernment.

How might your own foundational experiences of God guide you in a similar way? What sense do they give of God’s interaction in your life that can provide a compass of sorts for your decision-making?

More on Foundational Experiences

Sun peeking through.

I mentioned that I’d be writing a short series on discernment for the duration of this week, but we’ve gotten to the end of the week and I’m realizing there are a few more thoughts I’d like us to consider together on this subject. So I’ve decided to extend the discernment series a bit longer into next week. I hope that’s okay with you! 

Accordingly, today I’d like to revisit the ideas shared yesterday about our foundational experiences of God

I realized after writing that post that in asking you to consider your foundational experiences of God, those experiences may not have been positive. Perhaps you came into the faith without realizing fully what that meant. Perhaps you were raised in a church or a home where your understanding of faith was twisted into a pretzel and all that resulted was fear and confusion and pain. 

What we might term “foundational experiences of God” may be foundational indeed — but they may have done more harm than good, and now we’re left to pick up the pieces.

So today I’d like to invite you to consider your foundational experiences of God in a slightly different, more focused light. 

Let’s recall those moments in life when you just knew it was God. Perhaps it was a moment when the truth you’d learned about God’s love or truth or forgiveness or grace somehow clicked and became real for you, not just head knowledge anymore. Or perhaps it was a moment when you knew God intervened in circumstances because there was just no other possible explanation. Or perhaps it was as simple as a felt presence surrounding you or following you around or showing up at occasionally odd moments, and you just knew it was God somehow.

These are foundational experiences of God, too. They’re the foundational experiences of God that teach us, truly, who God is to us — how he intervenes in our lives and relates himself to us. 

This is the kind of foundational experience Jesus had in those baptismal waters when he heard that voice from heaven speaking his beloved sonship over him. He knew it was God. He knew it was truth. It was not twisted or confused in any way.

So, what about you?

What are those foundational experiences of God in your own life? What do they, upon considering them, speak to you about God? How did he relate himself to you in those moments? What did he communicate about himself to you? 

What Are Your Foundational Experiences of God?

Celtic cross of peace.

Three years ago, when I had just begun my training as a spiritual director, I attended an instructional retreat weekend that had the topic of discernment as its central focus.

On the very first evening of that retreat, we watched a short clip from Mary Ann Scofield, one of the founders of Spiritual Directors International, talking about our foundational experiences of God and how they can serve as touchstones in our ongoing lives of faith. And this past weekend, as I attended a similar retreat weekend on that same topic, we revisited this idea of foundational experiences of God and how they can serve us in our discernment processes. 

Consider the baptism experience of Jesus in Matthew 3.

Jesus comes up from the water, and a dove descends from the clouds as a voice from heaven says, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” This was a declarative moment in the life of Jesus — a moment that confirmed his identity not only as the Son of God, but also as one who is beloved. 

We see Jesus move from the bapstimal encounter into the wilderness, where he is tested by the devil at that very point of his identity. Three times, the devil tempts Jesus by saying, “If you really are the Son of God, do this … or this … or this.” He is testing the very meaning of what it means for Jesus to really be the Son of God, and Jesus must go back to that foundational encounter and remember. Reconnecting with his true identity that he received directly from God in that baptismal encounter allows him to respond to each temptation.

What about you? 

What foundational experiences of God have formed your life? What did those foundational experiences teach you about God and yourself? How might returning to those foundational moments serve you in your own process of discernment?