L o r n a O w e n s
Scroll Down to Start Reading the Book.
C O N T E N T S
Foreword 04Chapter 1: “Engage With God” 06
Chapter 2: “Quiet Time” 18
Chapter 3: “Caring For Your Soul” 40
Chapter 4: “Angel on My Shoulder” 00
Chapter 5: “Power of Prayer” 00
Chapter 6: “Making the Connection” 00
Chapter 7: “True Self” 00
Chapter 8: “Sensing The Divine” 00
Chapter 9: “Becoming A Change Agent” 00
Chapter 10: “Re-entry” 00
Chapter 11: “Surrendering to Grace” 00
Chapter 12: “Choosing to Be Whole” 00
Chapter 13: “Living in the Now” 00
Chapter 14: “Mustard-Seed Faith” 00
Chapter 15: “Born to Serve” 00
Chapter 16: “Small Miracles” 00
Chapter 17: “We Can Always Go Home 00
Chapter 18: “Gratitude” 00A Final Word 00
F O R E W O R D
We all tell stories about what we’ve endured as a way to celebrate our triumph over adversity, and to encourage each other to believe in better days. We know, too, that sharing our delight in the wonderful things that happen to us lifts our own hearts and inspires others. The stories you will read in this book have been contributed by men and women from all over the world. I share them for the purpose of connecting us all to the truth that every day we experience grace and miracles. We need only to look closely and listen carefully to see the hand of God and hear the voice of God in our lives. When we learn to tune into the presence of God, our hearts are open and our lives are full of joy.
Imagine, as you read, that you are joining with the many thousands of others who are reading this book as well. Know that we are gathered together in this shared experience of passing on stories in our own voice. I hope this book will encourage you to share your stories of grace and miracles in ever-widening circles, and that perhaps you will pass along the stories in this book to support someone else.
To order Everyday Grace, Everyday Miracle click Here.
c h a p t e r T W O
WE LIVE IN A FAST-PACED WORLD where we often spend more than we earn trying to feel good, look young, and impress others. We are constantly scanning for something new and different, and are often far too busy. We are in debt to the hilt, we are stressed, we are anxious, and, sadly, we are out of touch with our deeper nature and with God. We badly need moments of calm in our lives, but instead we stay "productive" by working long hours, running errands, e-mailing, shopping, and cleaning. When our work is done, we tend to stay distracted by watching television, surfing the Internet, and still keeping up a frantic pace even when we have an opportunity to slow down.
Sometimes, we schedule quiet time, but instead of tuning into the stillness, we are lost in a jumble of thoughts and become more anxious as a result. If we load up our precious free time with pursuits that keep us totally occupied, we loose a sacred opportunity. And, ironically, we can even overdo our desire to improve our lives by spending our free time reading books and attending workshops and retreats to learn how to have a better life, and then neglect to take the time necessary to integrate what we have learned in stillness and in quiet. I say, let’s get out of our own way. Let’s get out of our own heads and give ourselves some quality quiet time.
From Frantic to Godly Quiet
A friend of mine recently complained that her brain hurt. I asked for clarification. Did she have a headache? She responded that her brain hurt because it felt overloaded with so much going on at work, so much to do at home trying to be the perfect wife and mother, and then trying to take care of herself as well. When she told me what she did in just one day I had to admit that my brain hurt just hearing her tick off the long list. It's hard to make a living, to try and raise a Godly family, and to be a super man or woman. And our lives are often incredibly stressful.
We tend to experience stress from four basic sources:
1. The Environment. The noise, pollution, and visual over-stimulation that is so common in our surroundings and can overwhelm us.
2. Social stressors. Outside forces such as deadlines, financial pressures, long hours on the job, and the demands of friends and family can keep our stress levels at the boiling point.
3. Physiological stress. Chronic health conditions, biological stresses like menopause in women, serious illness, aging, and a lack of exercise and weight gain can significantly increase stress.
4. Our thoughts. The brain interprets our emotional distress and turns on our body's emergency responses. If we are constantly in a flight or fight mode, we overtax our ability to cope. How we interpret and label our experience and how optimistic we feel about the future can either relax us or stress us even more.
Hans Selye, one of the first people to conduct major research on stress, found that any problem, real or imagined, can cause a biological response. When a potential stressor is identified by your brain, the cerebral cortex sends an alarm to the hypothalamus. That, in turn, stimulates the sympathetic nervous system to make a series of changes in your body. Your heart races. You start breathing faster. Your hands and feet get cold as blood is directed away from your extremities and digestive system and into the larger muscles that help you fight or flee.
Problems arise when the fight or flight response continues to be stimulated—as it does under the conditions of chronic stress. Your adrenal glands secrete corticoids (adrenaline or epinephrine and norephidrine), which inhibit digestion, reproduction, growth, tissue repair, and the response of your immune and inflammatory systems.
Fortunately, the same mechanism that turns on the stress response can also turn it off. This is called the relaxation response. As soon as you decide a situation is no longer stressful, your brain stops sending panicked messages to your nervous system. Three minutes after you send the signal to shut off the threat, your brain stops sending those urgent messages to your nervous system and the fight or flight response burns off, allowing your metabolism, heart and breathing rate, muscle tension, and blood pressure to return to normal.
Knowing that we are so much better off quieting our stress, what can we do when faced with more tasks than we can ever really accomplish in a day? I think the place to start is by praying for guidance about our true priorities and deciding what to do based on our inner guidance. The most powerful tool we have in dialing down the stress of our lives is to give ourselves the gift of Godly quiet.
This kind of quiet means more than the absence of noise and distraction. This kind of quiet is about doing nothing, resting deeply, and letting God fill the space in our body and soul.
Be Still and Know That I Am God
The stresses of our lives can take us to some dark places and it can seem as if we are walking alone, but when we rest, we go into the silence and gather our strength. It is in this holy silence that we ask for and accept God’s help. Even though God is always there for us, He does not force that help upon us. We have the opportunity to exercise our free will and invite that assistance. Then we learn to trust God’s heart, even when we cannot see His hand.
When I speak of Godly quite time, I mean something different from prayer time. For me prayer is a time to give thanks and to ponder the word of God and ask for His guidance. The quiet time I'm referring to is the empty space we need in order to hear God speaking to us—once we're done talking ourselves. Here's one example to illustrate why I think quiet time is so important.
One day after I had prayed and meditated, I was sitting on my balcony overlooking the water and letting the quiet fill me. I had been crying out to God for help. I was financially broke, I was broken in spirit, and my body was exhausted. I did not know what to do. As I waited in the quiet, I heard God say to me, “And the women gather.” I did not know the phrase, but found it comforting. I jotted the words down in my journal with the note that perhaps one day I would write a book with the title And The Women Gather.
At another time a couple of years later I heard the guidance, The time is right. I inquired, For what? And again the phrase and the women gather, came into my consciousness. I said, I have not begun to write that book yet. But the voice said, it is an evening of empowerment by women for women.
That was five years ago, and that evening event has now evolved into an award-winning Literary Jazz Brunch that includes the inspiring words of best-selling authors from around the world. Five hundred women come. We have a great time and are motivated to live well. We laugh, we cry, we listen to jazz, we have a soul-nourishing and delicious brunch, and then we go home to live our lives with renewed enthusiasm until we return to be together again on the third Saturday of every March.
This event supports a nonprofit effort I began that trains women who are incarcerated to make better choices and inspires them to improve their lives in dramatic ways. The ninety-day empowerment program I conduct with inmates has touched many lives, and I intend to implement it in other locations around the world. All of this soulful work and great fun came from simply sitting still in one moment and listening to what filled the silence.
These gifts and breakthroughs come through clearly in the silence of our quiet time. If you are open to experimenting with this concept, start now with just five minutes of silence. It's hard to spend longer until you've developed the habit, but I've found that as soon as people get accustomed to taking five minutes every day to listen to God they can comfortably extend the time. It is important not to rush or force these few moments. Remember, this is your God time—all you have to do is to be open to what the Holy Spirit wants to share with you.
The Lilies Of The Field
As I write these words I am sitting at an open-air restaurant at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Jamaica. Only five years ago, I was looking under my couch cushions for change to buy groceries, and today I'm listening to a steel band playing softly in the background and enjoying a cup of tea and a gentle breeze. My Jamaican waiter tells me his name but I don't quite catch it. When I ask him to repeat his name, he smiles and tells me I can call him Lemon Pie. I laugh and thank him for the gift of who he is. I watch as he engages with the other guests, having fun, and clearly loving his job. The goodness and peace of my surroundings and the happiness of those around me lifts my soul with joy. I take one of my quiet moments right there in front of everyone. I'm the woman with the blissed-out smile who closes her eyes and then gazes at the sky in silence. I enjoy the minutes that pass. I listen to God in the quiet.
Worry not about tomorrow and what you should eat or drink, and consider the lilies of the field the scripture tells us. If God provides for the birds and the flowers of the earth, how much more does He provide us? These days I find myself taking one precious day at time. I slow down enough to notice my brothers and sisters and to fully experience the feeling of grateful for the abundance that surrounds us all.
I have been in Jamaica for four glorious days. I am here to make arrangements for a new retreat called Women Travel First Class. I am excited, but I also feel trepidation. I know it is a big commitment of time and money. Yet I am at that place in my life where I need to take the next step. As I sit, I quiet my thoughts so that I can hear from God. I am seeking guidance about where to take this retreat. I want to have a good feel for who will come and what God has in store for the women who will take part in the event. I want to know how I can support the event in all the right ways. I feel I have been instructed and guided in this direction and I do not want my ego or fear to mess it up.
In the past, I've experienced many kinds of success and failure and these experiences have taught me that God has a plan for my life that is better than my plan. I prefer to surrender to doing what God wants me to do and trust that if I serve Him, the right things will happen at the right time.
In the silence, I feel a sense of encouragement and peace that tells me things are unfolding as they should. Later, I enjoy a massage that grounds the feeling of peace in my body. When I can treat myself to a massage I do, and when I can't, I put my arms around myself and give myself the best massage I can to help take the stress out of my body and to feel at peace.
We need to attend to our body and spirit in the ways that serve who we are. I find something powerfully restorative in fragrant oils, incense, music, and a beautiful candle after a long soak with a good bath salt. I call it scent and sound therapy, and I know that for me it helps produce the alpha waves that take me into a truly relaxed state. Do you know what soothes your soul? Do you know how and where you can create regular quiet time? Is it after reading a good book in front of a warm fire? Can you sit with a nice cup of tea, eat just the right thing, and then relax and pray and listen to the quiet? We all can learn to take better care of ourselves without spending money or leaving home, and our spirits will celebrate the chance to relax.
I am not standing in your shoes, so I do not know how or where you can create quiet time. I do know it is vital to indulge our senses and create a sacred space where we can relax and have time with God. I know a woman who gets up at five in the morning to pray and enjoy some quiet in her closet wrapped in a soft blanket. It's the only time of day and the only place in her house she can find a quite spot to herself, and she does it with joy because it keeps her life in balance.
Here in Jamaica I look and see the explosion of color all around and know our world was built for us to enjoy. I encourage you to put this book down for a moment and look at your surroundings, go outside or look out a window. Note the beauty you find in the first thing you see, take in all of the details with kind eyes and feel gratitude for the world we share.
Nourishing the Soul
I believe God intends for us to pay attention to color and light, the sound of the waves crashing on the shore, the songs of birds, and the happy clatter of the city. We benefit from paying attention to the moment we are experiencing, and we nourish our souls when we take the time to do nothing but let ourselves and the world be. Everyone I know, including me, feels guilty confessing, "I didn't do anything." We feel we've been wasteful, that we haven't been productive. I'm working to retrain myself to answer the question, "What did you do?" with the answer, "I nourished my soul." Instead of saying, "Nothing."
We move so fast these days that sometimes we just need to catch up with ourselves. We need to recover, recuperate, and regroup and bask in the wonders of God. We need to take the time to shout praises. All this and more is given birth in the stillness.
Nourishing the soul is much simpler than we might realize, and it has nothing to do with money. Don't put off quiet time or nourishing yourself by thinking that if you had the money you'd take a vacation to somewhere exotic and special. Beauty and peace can be found everywhere. I am writing in Jamaica, one of the most exotic and lovely places on earth. Yet, I see visitors and locals all around me who are running here and there not noticing the details of this place because they cannot sit still. I just spoke to a tourist who told me she was determined to pack every activity she could into her one week here. Her husband, she says, just wants to be as lazy as a llama. I encouraged her to soak up Jamaica like a plant taking in sunshine and water, and to experience her time here in whatever ways would be most nourishing to her soul.
Right now, look at your calendar and note four important words, prayer time, quiet time. They need to fit somewhere on your schedule and you need to have these times regularly. Everything else that needs to be done is less important. If your schedule is booked too full, find something on your list that isn't as essential as prayer time, quiet time and let it go. I decided I could find my time by being disciplined about not opening my e-mail first thing in the morning. I've learned to take prayer time, quiet time at the beginning of my day, before anything else demands my attention. I've learned to save things that aren't urgent for later; take my name off lists that generate busy work; make phone calls brief, warm, and to the point; turn off my cell phone; and to prioritize the tasks that fill the rest of my day. All of them are less important than the prayer time, quiet time that begins the day. One recent Sunday, I saw someone answer her cell phone in church. That seemed to confuse the point of what was most important in that particular moment.
Caring For The Body
I believe God wants us to engage fully in our lives and to appreciate and love our bodies. I think we're meant to face our days rested and full of the spirit. That's when we make good decisions, love well, and serve God. Take a break during the day when you feel tired. Stretch, take a deep cleansing breath, look up from your computer screen, take a brief walk, and meditate even for just a few minutes. Then go back to the task at hand and know that you will do much better and get more work done. Our body works in tandem with the work of our soul when we treat it with respect and care. Drinking extra coffee or a high energy drink to force ourselves to stay awake only provides a rush of false energy that will unfortunately lead to a crash. Not eating properly cheats us of the fuel we need to live well and with enthusiasm.
Being constantly busy and under stress can affect your body's defenses against infection. It affects your immune system and all the organs of your body. We must be very concerned about continuous stress. Stress can accumulate and pile up when the stress receptors are constantly turned on. If you haven't let go of it, the stress you hold in your body from years ago could still be affecting you now.
I didn't understand this at the time, but when I finally closed my law practice I was at the final stages of burnout. My body had begun shutting down in order to try to save me. Now I understand how important it is to cope with stress, and recognize when I need to ask for help, or simply stop. Stress is deadly, and it is insidious because we adjust and cope and are falsely proud when we continue to soldier on somehow. Don't become accustomed to the stress you're under. Tune into it and reduce it as a gift to yourself.
To learn about how your body holds onto stress, simply scan slowly from the bottom of your feet to the top of your head: do this right now to see where you are in this moment. Take a mental inventory of the areas where you feel tension and stress in your body. Now that you know where you feel the stress, focus your attention and touch to release it one area at a time. If you are like most people you might feel out of touch with your body at first. As you practice scanning and releasing tension, remind yourself that holding onto it hurts you, and that releasing it sets you free.
I also recommend keeping a stress-awareness journal in your calendar for a period of at least two weeks. Make a note of the times of day that are most stressful to you and what activity you are involved in when you feel the greatest stress. Be very specific so that you can identify negative patterns. For example: 8:00 a.m., just arrived at work and already feel tension in my neck and jaw. Your notes will teach you where the stresses are, when they occur, and how you can release them throughout the day.
Harness Your Imagination
You can significantly reduce your stress and improve your vision for your life with something enormously powerful and wonderfully personal to you—your imagination. While it’s hard to will yourself into a relaxed state, you can imagine the feeling of relaxation spreading through your body and can visualize yourself in a safe and beautiful space. This act of imagination trips circuits in your brain that help you actually achieve the relaxation you first imagined.
Emile Coue, a French pharmacist, believed the power of imagination far exceeded that of the will. Coue asserted that all of our thoughts can become reality. Do you become what you think? What you obsessively worry about in a state of fear and stress can become your focus and feel real to you, unless you choose instead to dream of and work towards positive things, noting with optimism the good things that happen along the way. If you think sad thoughts, your sadness is reinforced and you become sad. When you look for the positive aspects of a situation you are likely to experience more hope.
There are some simple ways to make your visualization more effective. First, find a quiet place where you can be by yourself. Loosen your clothing, lie down, and close your eyes. Mentally scan your body to see if there is tension in any specific muscle. If you find tension, relax that muscle. Use a short and positive affirmation that reinforces your ability to relax in this moment. Use present tense and avoid negatives. Don’t tell yourself “I am not tense," or "I must relax,” but rather, say, “I am relaxing. I am relaxed. I feel at peace.”
Imagine what your life would look like with greater balance and more of a connection with God. Imagine it fully and know that God wants that life for you and will attend to the challenges of helping you get there. Do you want more time with family and friends? More time to tend your garden? Work that is more fulfilling? Begin with your imagination and visualize what it will take to make those changes in your life. Imagine what you want to create as you relax and let go of stress. Then invite God to help make it possible.
The challenge is to choose with intention and care and follow through in ways that serve your larger goals in life. A friend of mine was experiencing so much stress at work that she decided to take a brief vacation to the south of France. She decided not to take her family; this would be time just for herself. She could afford the trip, so the cost wouldn't be a stress. I looked forward to hearing the details once she returned and assumed the experience would be soul-nurturing for her.
My friend had not visualized what she wanted from the experience. She hadn't gotten in touch with her body or soul about the trip. She had just booked a wonderful hotel and gone. She could have intentionally rested, wandered the streets with an open heart to see things in a new way in a new place, read a great book, enjoyed wonderful food, and spent time getting to know herself and engaging with God more fully. Sadly, that's not what happened. I had not heard from her a full week after the time she was due to return, so I called her. "How was your adventure?" I asked. "I hated it." she blurted.
My friend has been happily married for seventeen years and has two sweet children who are ages eleven and seven. She had never taken a vacation without her family. The moment she landed in France she decided she had made a big mistake taking the vacation without them. She imagined that it would have been perfect with them, and therefore would be a rotten experience alone. She spent all her time calling and e-mailing them and wishing she was having a different experience than the one she was having. I ached at the missed opportunity for her to have been more intentional about her journey, but I learned an important lesson as a result.
If you imagine that you cannot experience relaxation and joy unless you can afford to treat yourself to a trip to the French countryside, remember that you always take your reality with you, whatever it is, and however you choose to see it. You can find more joy in a long lunch at the French restaurant around the corner than my friend found in France, if you are present to the joys available in the moment.
Another friend of mine broke out his credit card and purchased a family cruise, then spent the weeks leading up to the trip experiencing terrible stress, worrying how he was going to pay for it. His wife saw his agony and the family sat down together to discuss the situation.
He got quiet and took the time to understand his stress and what was beneath it, and an answer emerged. He realized that it wasn't so much a question of not being able to afford the cruise, as it was feeling guilty about spending money on pleasure and relaxation. He had been raised to feel that fun was a waste and he simply couldn't feel good about spending hard-earned money on something frivolous. Together, he and his wife and children came up with a budget and a plan for affording the cruise without stress. Then they imagined the trip going well and visualized the closeness they would experience as a family and the memories they would make together. When it came time for the trip, they threw themselves into making the most soulful use of the experience. They had a great time, became closer, and nurtured themselves as individuals and as a family.
Sometimes that chatter in our heads can really do us in, until we let some stillness take care of it
Nourishing Your Spirit
The best advice I've ever received was that, above all else, I should feel passion for life as a way to praise the Creator who provided it. Nourish your spirit. When I say spirit, I mean whatever you know of as spirit in your own heart. In the German language, there are two words to represent distinctly different kinds of spirituality. Geistlich means spiritual matters reflecting a religious orientation, and Geistig refers to spiritual matters without ties to a specific religion. For some of us, organized religion is a good fit, for others a more personal spirituality is the key to our connection with God. At different times in our life, we might be drawn more to one kind of spirituality over another. Whatever your spiritual path, attend to your spiritual life by communing with God either in the presence of a congregation, or with the seagulls at the beach.
Recently, a woman named Kathy Bruins shared her story of spiritual renewal with me. Her experience is singular to her, but is also universal, since new doors opened as soon as Kathy invited God to help guide her life. Kathy was communing with God and walking her dog, when out of nowhere emerged the thought that she needed to lead a prayer ministry in her church. I'll let her tell you what happened next.
“Why am I thinking about this, God?” I wondered. I had never thought about the prayer ministry at all, but there the idea was and it was making my heart pound with excitement. “Lord, I don’t know how to pray in any proper way!” What I meant was praying with structure and with eloquent words. God was probably thinking, “Just what are you doing right now?”
I thought I would walk a little more and perhaps the feeling would go away, but it hung on. “God, if this is of You, then You will have to make it very clear to me, because I’m not going to grab onto this idea by myself.”
I finished the walk and returned home. I poured a cup of hazelnut coffee, enjoying the aroma as I walked to my desk. The phone rang as I sat down.
“Hi, Kathy. This is Lisa. I have a quick question about the drama coming up on Sunday.” Lisa is one of the actors from the drama ministry I was leading. She is a very talented lady who has a great desire to serve the Lord. After talking a few minutes, she said, “Did you see that ad in the bulletin about the prayer leader position?”
I thought she would be the perfect person for the job. As I was about to encourage her to go for it, she said, “I really think you need to do it.” I was speechless. Lisa finally asked, “Well, what do you think?” I shared with her my walking experience of less than fifteen minutes before. She laughed and said she knew God was guiding her.
I became the church’s prayer leader. So, now what? I prayed that God would give me some direction, since He had gotten me into the situation. An image of a house came to mind, a literal house of prayer. I called my friend, Mike, who is great at building things and asked if he could create a model of a house of prayer with seven separate rooms. He came up with a drawing, which was perfect. After he built it, I thought it needed some color. A teenager who is on the drama team has many artistic gifts, so I asked her if she could design the colors and label the rooms of the house. She did a wonderful job!
I felt like Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams. If you build it, they will come. I displayed the House of Prayer visual along with a description of the prayer positions for each “room” or each team that would work in the House of Prayer. It was amazing how easily people came forward to be a part of the team. In a small church of only about two-hundred people, thirty-seven members of the congregation signed up. Seven of that number became the prayer facilitators who lead each team.
A conference was held in Grand Rapids called Prayer Fire. I signed up with a few other people to learn more about prayer and how we could make the most of our group. A workshop was being offered on healing prayer. Coming from a Reformed background, uneasiness about attending this workshop came over me, but at the same time, I felt drawn to attend it. The pastor leading the workshop explained the concept of healing so well that I felt no intimidation. I was excited to hear about his experiences with healing prayer. My heart again was grasped by the desire to pray.
At the end of the conference, the leaders of the workshops stood in a line. The host encouraged anyone in the audience who wanted prayer to come forward and stand before the next available person, who would then pray for them. There were hundreds of people who went up to receive prayer, but only about fifteen prayer leaders. I wasn’t in a hurry, but I did think to myself, what would be the chance that I would end up with the healing prayer workshop leader?
As I got closer to the front, I saw that he was busy praying for someone. Then it was my turn. He looked at me, smiled, and waved me over. I told him I wasn’t sure what I needed prayer for, but that I felt called to the healing prayer ministry. He anointed me with oil, prayed over me and I felt something that I hadn’t felt before—a powerful feeling of energy. I couldn’t move. He continued the prayer and whispered some words that I couldn’t understand. I believe he was talking in tongues. The whisper sounded like a shout to my heart. I opened my eyes. I felt different, but not sure how. I thanked him and went back to my friends.
A few months passed, and after an evening service at our church, I asked another member of our drama team how he was doing. He explained that he had been suffering from sinus headaches all month. He was worn out from not being able to sleep because of the pain. A voice in my head said, “Go ahead, give it a try.”
“Lord, I can’t do that, they’ll think I’m weird,” my mind spoke back. “Don’t worry. I will be with you.”
I nervously said to him, “John, I would like to pray for you here, if you don’t mind.”
He agreed. Other people were standing around, so I invited them to join us. At this point it just kept taking big leaps of faith.
We encircled John and I laid my hand on his shoulder. I invited everyone to pray who felt led to do so. It was a wonderful time of prayer. I, the person of little faith, began to think, what have I done!
About a week later, I saw John and asked him if he was feeling any better. He explained that the results were amazing. After he had returned home the night we prayed with him, he went to bed and woke up about midnight, and his sinuses had drained. His head was completely clear and he was in no pain at all.
Upon hearing this I felt like doing cartwheels in praise to the Lord. On the outside, I just calmly remarked how great it was that God answered our prayer. That began a long list of miracles and blessings for the House of Prayer ministry at our church; a ministry that is still going strong. In fact, I've continued to stretch beyond my comfort zone and have published a couple of articles about our prayer ministry, and I've spoken at conferences and churches about what God has done. I continue to be stretched, and am continually amazed by what God is doing in the prayer ministry. It began on a silent walk with God and I'll always be grateful for the guidance I received in those moments of quiet.
Kathy's experience makes it clear that quiet time offers us more than peace. It gives us a connection to God. Once we establish a relationship where we pray and then carefully listen for God's answer, the grace of everyday miracles will attend us.
To order Everyday Grace, Everyday Miracle click Here.
c h a p t e r T h r e e
Caring For Your Soul
THE SOUL IS A LIVING THING that is powerful and also fragile. Our soul is indestructible but it can also be weakened with a lack of care. If you lose your soul connection, it does not matter how much money you have, where you live, your level of education, or whether you are married or single. If you are not connected to your soul, you will never feel peace and will never have a sense of contentment. When someone has lost her soul connection it will show in her eyes in a vacant look, even if everything in her life seems perfect. When you see someone who is present in her eyes, you know she is in touch with her soul.
When we lose the connection to our soul we often try to fill the void from the outside. We buy a new house, we get married, we get divorced, we make changes we hope will make us feel better, or we numb the pain of disconnection with drugs and alcohol. Moving to a new state or new a country will not make a difference if the same soulless version of you continues to direct your life.
I've learned to work on matters of the spirit first, having faith that everything else will fall into place once a foundation with God is set.
How can you act in your own best interest until you know God and know your life purpose? This is the place to begin. With the understanding of your purpose firmly in place, you will then be ready to take action—the kind of action that will be fulfilling and that will support you in staying on track.
I believe every human being has a purpose on this planet and that this soul-purpose is written in our very DNA. A plan for our potential was put forth even before we were born. The question for each of us is, will I carry out God’s plan for my life or will I work against my own agenda? Our soul's purpose should not be confused with our job or position in life. Our purpose can be fulfilled in many creative ways and in almost anything we do.
Begin with the question, why were you born? Spend time asking the question and praying and listening for an answer. Ask God, What do you want me to do? How can I be your hands, your feet , your eyes, your ears? Who do you want me to touch during my lifetime? Once you determine your purpose, you will know how to take care of your soul. Your purpose will act as your guide to right action.
I have a friend who was so soul sick that she said she just wanted to get in her car and drive to Canada, leaving her old life behind. If I thought she was in touch with her soul's purpose at this point, I would have encouraged her to do just that. But her cry was one of distress and she wasn't inspired about what to do next, so I offered to help her sort things out. Because this friend was a lawyer with a private practice and might be stressed out about running her own business, I checked in with another friend who was an attorney to see if she could advise our heartsick friend. The second friend, a government lawyer, was free of the stresses of making payroll and generating business, but she said that even with retirement, full insurance, and paid vacations, she didn't feel solid and safe and wasn't content.
I knew both friends worked hard and both were in very different work situations, but each told me they could not even remember the last time they had felt joy. I asked each woman what she did feel, and both described being very much out of touch with their feelings and certainly were not in touch with their souls.
As the discussions unfolded, I realized that as quickly as I made my suggestions about changes that might support a more joy-filled life, the more I heard excuses about how things couldn't be better, wouldn't change, and that this misery was just part of the career. But was that really true? I talked to a third friend, Florence, who is an immigration attorney. She explained how much she loves her work, how fulfilled she is by it, and every time she speaks about her cases I see a light in her eyes. She is full of enthusiasm, passion, and God is at work in her. It is easy to see that her professional skills and training and her soul's purpose are well-aligned and that this is what brings her joy.
It is always a soul thing. The other two lawyers who are miserable have somehow lost their soul connection and they aren't even actively trying to get it back, but are suffering unhappy lives and blaming their work as the root cause. How aligned are you with your purpose and how does your work support it? As I speak around the world, I see so many brilliant people, men and women alike, who are burned-out and who have lost their soul connection. If you have lost your soul connection, you'll need to address that issue before you begin to work on anything more "practical." Once you connect with your soul's purpose, you'll be able to see what changes to make and how to proceed, but until them go gently.
Basic Soul Care
Every day you must do something, even if it's just something small, to nourish your soul so that you are always moving in the direction of God. The frightening thing about losing a soul connection, is that it can happen so incrementally that you might not even realize you are losing touch. It is like the example of putting a frog in tepid water and raising the temperature of the water so slowly that the frog does not understand it is dying. If we ignore the more subtle symptoms of being out of touch with our soul, we can find ourselves in a desperate situation.
On the other hand, daily attention to the soul brings both inward and outward joy. Here are some important ways we can nourish our soul.
· Do not be careless with your words or thoughts and don't gossip or use your words to harm others.
· Do not judge, but instead try to find compassionate connection with people, and show kindness to everyone with whom you have contact.
· Become a giver of that which you can give without being depleted, and do so with joy and generosity.
· Be patient and slow to anger, process and release anger, and be tolerant and understanding of yourself and others, and learn to wait on the Lord.
· Make sure your words and deeds are congruent and honest.
· Show pure love to yourself and to everyone else and offer forgiveness easily.
· Honor your connection to God and give it importance in your life.
I try to remember that what I put in my mind is just as important as what I put in my body. I know that junk food and junk thoughts are not soul nourishing, but that good books always lift my spirit. My purse is a mobile library. I always have a book with me. I read every where I go, while waiting in line, or waiting for a meeting to start. Sometimes, when someone else is late for a meeting I don't even realize it, because I am lost in an inspiring book. I listen to good music and books on tape in my car, and the time I could spend just "getting around" is time that instead takes me higher.
When Others Aren't On The Same Page
I am often asked how we can be loving toward others who don't share the same desire to live the Godly life we do. How can we respect them, yet not allow them to bring us down? We know that our most important connection is with God. Once that relationship is in order, we are ready to look with gentleness at ourselves and at those around us. I've learned that speaking about what I'm trying to do in my life to people who don't share these interests is not fruitful and leaves me feeling too exposed. On the other hand, I don't want to live in ways that are not authentic, or miss opportunities to speak about sacred matters in ways that will inspire others.
Your inner guidance will help you know what to say and when to say it, and the more you tune into your soul, the more you'll be guided in all things. If you need to extend your circle to include more people who share your interests, that is a great way to build support for living a soulful life. Sometimes, not only do we need to change our inner dialogue with ourselves and God, but we also need to shift our environment and change even the people we hang out with. There are some incredibly negative people out there who can drain energy and cause us to lose power and life force very quickly. I've found that I can lovingly and prayerfully release them. Without confronting them and they just move gently out of my life.
It is possible that even though you are working hard, you feel you have nothing to show for your effort. When you have done all you can, just wait and trust. God is already working in your favor and he does not work with linear time. There is no yesterday or tomorrow—all is the same to God. Scripture tells us to turn things over to God and when we do we experience grace and everyday miracles.
The things that test and try us can be a powerful catalyst for change and so we can honor the struggle. I learned important lessons about taking care of my soul when my father died. My grief was hard to bear, but at my father's funeral not only did I hear about his religious faith, but I also heard from people he had helped directly, and the lessons of his life changed mine. My father did not have a lot of money, but he was still generous. He did not put off giving until he was in a position to do so easily—he gave based on what he had at that moment and he trusted in God.
A Sacred Promise
During my growing up, I saw my parents practice unconditional giving. They gave money, they gave advice and time. To this day, my mother is a wonderful listener and her prayers for people and her concern for them is an important part of her soul's purpose and her ministry. From her, I have learned to do something for my soul every day and to operate from the level of the soul in everything I do.
When we make a sacred promise to attend to our soul, we ask daily questions. Am I walking in integrity? Am I demonstrating with this act that I am my sister and my brother's keeper? Did I show love to someone today? Am I acting in ways that are consistent with my soul's purpose? It is a constant soulful inquiry. On any day, when the answer to these questions lets us know that we have not done our best, we can continue to affirm the sacred promise and be gentle with ourselves. We can try to do better tomorrow and stay in close contact with God. Practicing forgiveness calls us to forgive ourselves and to simply commit to trying again. There are always great lessons to be learned in the cycle of striving, failing, succeeding, recommitting, and making progress.
Vera Thomas is someone who made a sacred promise and now works to keep it. She does this with great humanity and courage. Her story is a perfect illustration of the challenges and joys of caring for the soul. She writes:
It was only during the midst of a terrible storm that I realized my place in Amber's life, and how much more I could help her attend to her soul.
Amber is my niece by marriage. She had previously lived with me for about six years prior to the time I divorced her uncle. In July, on a dreary summer day, when rain brought sheets of humidity, there she stood at my door. I knew about her present situation but had not seen her in person to confirm it. Amber was showing her pregnancy at six months and was only fifteen years old. Her eyes were weary and pain was evident even in her voice. She spoke softly and sadly, “Can I come in?”
At first, I wanted no part of this ordeal. Her uncle and I had been separated for over a year. Amber and I had only been related through marriage and I had just begun to pick up the pieces from my own broken life. I had sacrificed a four-bedroom home, a level of financial security, the luxury of family vacations, and the ability to continue to be a stay-at-home mom. But it had been worth it for the peace-of-mind I felt. My children and I were starting over with just the minimum—a small home in a remote area, government assistance, and a budget tighter than the lid of grandma’s canned peaches. But I felt nothing but gratitude knowing that I had a chance to live again, this time for God and not for man. Every day brought new strength and drew me that much closer to the unchanging love of God.
But here was Amber, and she was hungry, helpless, and homeless. It hurt my spirit to see her in such a desperate situation. With everything I had, I wanted to help her, but the past can affect even the most tender situations and allow doubt and fear to settle in and fester.
Amber and I had a rocky past. She had often criticized me and my methods for trying to raise her when she had lived with us. She had complained about me to anybody who had ears. Was I a terrible caregiver? No. I just wanted for Amber what nobody had ever given me. I thought she needed to be raised according to God’s word. There were rules and guidelines in my household that she had to follow. I expected her to get good grades, I wouldn't allow phone calls from boys without my permission, household chores had to be done and church was a privilege not a punishment. Well, in this day and age all of that seemed “old school.” She felt my guidelines were harsh and that I was keeping her away from the world.
The truth was that I hadn’t far left the places that she would have to journey through. And since she had lost her mother to drug and alcohol abuse, you’d think the world would be the last place she’d look to for guidance. I was convinced that if I had received half the raising she had been getting with me, life would have dealt me a much better hand. I was trying to save her from the life I had led. Amber tried every trick of the trade to bypass my rules, but as every parent would say, “You can’t pull that over me. I’ve tried everything you’ve tried and then some.”
When her uncle and I separated, he left her behind. It was an abusive relationship and his intentions were to leave me helpless with our three children and Amber, so that I wouldn't be able to make it on my own and would have to come running back. That didn’t happen. My ex had been physically, mentally, and emotionally abusive for ten years. And one day, I drew enough strength to say, “Enough is enough!” The determination I found in my new connection to God became my strength. Nothing could make me stay. I decided I'd rather live in a box and have a peace of mind than to stay in that mess! So I left. I packed what I could in a duffle bag, grabbed on to the love of my children and ran as fast as I could. Amber had remained with me six months after the ordeal of leaving.
Emotionally, I was a wreck at the beginning. I became withdrawn and felt flat. I often-times closed off from the world and hid in solitude. Amber, didn’t understand. She thought that I was neglectful and that I didn’t want her around. Amber decided my actions toward her were personal rather than pitiful. So, she found a way to locate her estranged dad of fourteen years and began to complain to him about having to live with me.
One cool Monday in October, when the leaves were just beginning to fall from the trees, Amber withdrew from school at his request. She had secretly packed her belongings over the weekend and left to live with her father. He had made promises to her about their new life together and she was excited. Very soon, she found that all of his promises were lies. There was no new life for her, but instead a hatred that had built up between them. He left her abandoned with a family she did not know and in living conditions she was not accustomed to. She was supposed to cook and clean for three other children near her same age and share a bed and her clothes with them.
Many times, the children were left in the house by themselves, and Amber also had to deal with frightening verbal abuse. As for her dad, he would disappear for weeks at a time until eventually he wasn’t around at all. Of course, she wanted to come back and live with me but there wasn’t much that I could do. Once her dad got legal custody, I had no rights. Besides, we were barely making it ourselves. I was making ends meet out of ends meat. I was spending more that I was bringing in and battling in court with my ex over everything from the mattress to the mortgage. I was uncontrollably losing weight, losing my hair from the stress, and undoubtedly my mind. Stability wasn’t something I could give her when I hadn’t acquired it yet myself.
That is when it happened. She met “the guy” who was going to take all her troubles away. What she didn’t realize was that no one can shelter you from the storm like the Lord, but she wasn't using that umbrella, so the storm was going to rip through her life. Honestly, I was in that same storm at the same time, had the umbrella in hand, but failed to use it.
So, there we stood on each side of my doorway. Amber wet from the summer rain, and I from the puddle of tears that soaked my cotton blouse. As I looked in her sorrowful brown eyes, I saw a very young version of myself. I had experienced so many doors slamming in my face with no one to let me in and guide me. I had to learn on my own the hard way. I knew I needed to do something for Amber. I couldn’t let her life continue to be a mirror of my own. We had lost so much. It was time to reclaim what was rightfully ours.
I stepped away from the entrance and let her in. We embraced one another like never before. Her heart pounded against mine and the life growing inside her danced from her cries. “God,” I prayed aloud, “guide us and strengthen us. Bless this journey that we are about to embark on together and keep us tuned in to your voice and vision. We need you to stand in the gap. Heal our wounds and restore our hearts. And most of all, Lord, thank you for bringing Amber back to me and her soul back to her. The road may be dangerous and the waters may be rough, but, dearest Lord, steer the course of our lives and guide us to salvation. Amen."
The last time I heard from them, Vera and Amber were doing just fine— and so is the lovely baby girl who blesses their home. Amber is on the honor roll at school and calls Vera "Mom," in honor of the role she so powerfully took on that rainy night. They are both living the truth that care of the soul is the first priority, the best way to solve problems, and the only way to get grounded in this world. We all build up from that.
Guard your soul like the treasure it is and use it as a rudder to steer your life. The grace we find in each day comes through love of ourselves and others, and most importantly, to our connection with our Creator.
To order Everyday Grace, Everyday Miracle click Here.