Why I spent a year of my life doing the Ignatian Exercises

In January 2017, I decided to invest an entire year of my life on the journey in discernment (doing the Ignatian Exercises).  I found myself at a critical crossroad. My work, my marriage, my heart needed attention and care. The future felt looming and did not excite me.I decided to do an ancient, year long, proven way of deepening my own heart and experience with God that helped me; renewed my heart and is rekindling love in my marriage.  I think I've morphed into a new place; a new space and a new way of living my life and expressing my faith.I did this because:

  • as I aged—my answers and boxes were not working or fitting me or others anymore. Old paradigms were crumbling. I was de-constructing.

  • as I worked and poured my life into others—I needed to be poured into;

  • as my marriage also aged, we both saw thin spots-- with sounds of the ice cracking around us. We needed deep renewal and rekindling or we would not end well. We were not coupling well. We admitted that something was wrong.

  • as I contemplated my future being relatively healthy, yet acknowledging my inner weariness—I needed to find some answers about my next stage.

  • I needed to find some answers to questions that seemed to have plagued me nearly all of my life. I felt unsettled in thinking about repositioning my life but unsure how to do what I wanted to do.

 Motivated by these questions and certain disillusioning events that had happened in a key staff relationship at my work,  I felt like I was at my end. I well recall telling our Board, “I’m done. I cannot go on. I’ve hit a wall and I will not recover from this impact.”

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Sacred Synchronicity: When Life Comes Together

Synchronicity is "the coincidence of events that seem related". It is a coming together of events, people in places and in time that could not manipulated or “MANiuplated.”(Emphasis entirely my own and intentional.)As we look back on our lives, we can most likely remember times in our lives when a door opened that changed our direction or perhaps our entire life.  Somehow and in some unimagined way, things came together and this coming together was a good thing--a very good thing. Before THAT precise time, life looked cloudy—foggy and it was hard to find the way. There was no coming together. There was no synchronicity.  But then the fog lifts or the cloud separates, the light comes and we see...oh, do we see.For those of us have have been raised in the church, there is some church language which speaks of a similar kind of synchronicity. But in the church world, it is called, “divine providence.” Divine providence "is the governance of God by which He, with wisdom and love, cares for and directs all things in the universe."  Honestly, it's easy for us to get tripped up on words like "governance" and such and in the getting tripped up, alas we have over 250 Christian denominations who cannot agree on the amount of water to baptize someone or the alcoholic content of grape juice or wine. It's sad that we cannot major on the majors and minor on the minors.I think perhaps because most of my work is with people have suffered at the hands of hair splitting doctrine and pulpit pounding preachers, that I feel at liberty to choose another way to explain what I want to give a witness to at this important stage of my life.I once heard a very distinguished theologian say that there is no such thing as “divine” providence for all providence is divine. That, again, seems more to me like splitting hairs and fighting about words which folks in the church world are experts at. What's important here is to expand our thinking and our experience a bit and to wake up to some of the mysterious ways of God that we cannot explain in a PowerPoint presentation or in a bullet point list of explanations.Synchronicity helps me embrace mystery more than logic. It helps me live in the clouds of the transfiguration moments of my life rather than choosing to be like Peter in that precise moment of a cloud enveloping him and choosing to do a logical, manipulated, developed strategy of build three, mind you, monuments.  And Luke gets us to laugh at the Peter in each of us when he says, "He, Peter did not know what he was saying" (Luke 9:33).One of the great malady's of our particular day and age is that we have left mystery and embraced  a more left brain approach to knowing God. It's a desolation for sure. Because what embracing mystery and synchronicity teaches us is that God is in love with cloud like moments in our lives and in the clouds is where we can experience God most deeply. It is in the clouds where the transfiguration moments happen or they do not happen at all, perhaps.But the more I sit with with the word “synchronicity” the more I am liking this term: Sacred Synchronicity. By this I mean, that when things in life come together in such a way that there is no real human explanation for it is just as a sacredness to it.It felt like sacred synchronicity when Gwen and I met each other and finally realized that “we” were meant to be. We attended the same high school. Raided in the same town. But I never knew her until sacred synchronicity unfolded.  It felt other worldly. It felt, as I look back on it as sacred synchronicity.It felt like sacred synchronicity with Gwen and I had a vision to move out west from North Carolina to pioneer and envision an entirely brand new ministry called, Potter’s Inn. There was a "done-ness" in me that invited me to leave all I knew and to embark on a journey with great risk and danger. Yet we did it and that moment of choosing to follow the unknown path has made all the difference in my life, marriage, family and heart. That "done-ness" led us to a synchronicity of beginning Potter's Inn and again at this important time of envisioning a new chapter of our lives as we reposition and prepare ourselves to slow down and throttle back. You know, "retire."It felt like sacred synchronicity when on a frigid, cold, windy day in January 2018, I met a man who I just somehow knew would one day buy our very own retreat that we have labored so hard to establish and build for these 20 years. His heart and my heart met while climbing the summit at the retreat and I felt a deep, surreal—impression that “this” was the person to take the retreat and to continue to use the retreat for God’s glory.The sacredness of events in our lives that truly do “come together” in a way that there is no real, logical, left brain, linear way of explaining the coming together but by God.This is really a foundational principle taught by Paul, the writer of most of our New Testament about a God who cares and who is able to orchestrated events in a way that is beyond the human capacity to do. One verse that we often quote or go to for comfort was penned by Paul when he said:"Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good" (Romans 8:26-26, Message).This is a foundational principle that Ignatius of Loyola expounded upon in his brilliant treatise four hundred years ago. It is simply this: In life, we learn to see God in all things. God in all things becomes our heart beat. God in all things becomes our heart's desire. For once you've tasted the good wine of tasting God's goodness in this, I'm not sure you can ever go back.We see God in the details or our events. We see God in the movement in nature and in the movements within the human heart. We can learn to trace his movement to see a sort of sacred synchronicity happening and we are humbled by it. We drop to our knees because of it. We wind is knocked out of us and we breath both shallow and then sigh in magnificent relief.The journey of discernment—of seeing clearly—of seeing through the fog and beyond the clouds and to see into the very heartbeat of a very personal God who loves us enough to show off a bit by bringing things together from time to time so that we might enjoy his power; his ability; his might and his great care.

Re-Thinking Our Lives: Using the Language of Repositioning and Discernment

Allow me to share my own personal reflections about what I am thinking regarding "the rest of my life." As I think out loud regarding my own life, it may give you a portal into your own life. Through what I share, it may become a window for you to stare into regarding your own life and future.  My hope is that these reflections will give you some language and tools to help you navigate your own choices ahead and to help you reflect back on choices you made in the past--be they good and healthy choices or decisions that you can know glean wisdom from which become an invitation to choose more wisely in the future.Here, I may offer you some language which may be a bit different than you are accustomed to now.  Some of the language, stories and insight I will share here are the fruit of my year long path of discernment.  So I am your companion in this journey to both understand and explore discernment and finding great clarity about our future pathways.  I"ll tell you about this later.When we travel in a foreign country and hear a different language, it can take a while to learn a few basic sentences to navigate our way through that foreign and distant place. Learning some basic language about the landscape of repositioning is key in not only growing in our own self-awareness and God-awareness but also in terms of knowing where we are right now and where it is we want to head out to next on this incredible journey called life.When it comes to knowing God's will for our lives and how to "do" God's will; how to make wise decisions and move with some sense of inner assurance that what we have decided, is in fact--God's best for our lives--this is what this is all about. So my hope is that this will help anyone at any stage or season of life that wants to live with a greater sense of confidence; a deeper sense of peace and an inner knowing that we are truly not alone in this journey--but that we can deeply sense God is with us--every step of our way.So, the language of our soul, caring for our soul and discerning our future lives in some respect is warranted not matter at what intersection your find yourself at right now. You may be single, thinking of marriage. You may be married, considering children. You may be in your second job realizing that this job is not what you signed up for and you want to hunt again for the right fit. You may be newly divorced, a widow or just buried a parent. You may be full or energy or experiencing burnout. You may be, like me on the threshold of what is called, “retirement” but somehow knowing that you don’t want to quit—you really want to reposition yourself to do what you’ve felt drawn to do for a long, long time. But, before we set out on a course and lock in our GPS on a new direction, let’s first, get some language and some new tools down to help us make wise choices and sense that God is in this deeper work of what I am calling repositioning. Re-Thinking Our LivesAll of us, to one degree or another, are re-thinking our lives. As the world changes, so we do also. Just think of it—the iphone came onto the scene in 2007 and look at how all of our lives have changed with the times. We may not all like what has happened but nevertheless, we are all citizens of this globe we call home and we all need more light for some of the dark paths we must navigate. With the advent of email, technology and social media, all of our lives have been impacted to some degree. In the light of current events, nuclear threats and such hatred going rampant, the world is not the same as it was. It feels more tense; more fragile and more dangerous than at any other time in my life time. There’s angst. There’s fear. There is uncertainity. All of this combined with our own personal circumstances, needs and desires. All combines, I'm not sure I have met a person who is not--at some level--re-thinking their lives.It’s important to realize that when I speak of repositioning our lives. I am not speaking of a linear, programmatic and cookie cutter way to do this—to reposition our lives. To reposition one’s life begins with understanding some language of the soul—the kind of terms and vocabulary that every soul knows deep down inside. This language is what this book is about. It is about like a reading primer that some teachers used in our early grade school experience when we were introduced to words, phrases and finally sentences and paragraphs to begin to learn to read.To learn to read the deeper movements of the soul—the shifts, urgings, longings, aches and consolations of our soul is all apart of what we will explore. What “repositioning” means:Let’s begin with getting our minds and hearts wrapped around the word: “repositioning.”The word, “reposition” means to shift—to adjust. Our internal shifts happen in us as we journey through life making modifications and adjustments. We have been told that the “only constant in life is change” and with this reality, then we are the ones who must make some shifts to reposition ourselves.This adjustment—this amending of our lives—this re-thinking of our future direction is what I call “repositioning.”We are seeing major repositioning of people groups around our world who are forced to reposition themselves physically because of threat, war or persecution. We call such people refugees. They are fleeing one place and in route to a safer, more hospitable place. They may be forced to flee. They may not want to flee. They may dread the entire journey of fleeing but nevertheless, some kind of physical shift is necessary. But, long before these people groups began to move physically from one place to another, there began an inner shifting—a changing of the tectonic plates of their worlds that motivated them to shift from one place to another.  They came to their senses; they somehow intuitively knew; they had what we call a "sixth sense" that informed them that they needed to go. They were under pressure—perhaps pressure they could not take any longer. They were seeking a better life—a better way to do their lives. Their anxiety over what might happen motivated them into action. And also, most refugees do not flee alone. They band together and move in mass to a safer new world.My ancestors immigrated to the United States from Ireland. Something in their souls was stirring. Something inside their hearts was pulling them forward to both leave something familar behind but also to reach ahead for something that was "not yet".  As they repositioned their lives--my very life right now stands on the shoulders of men and women, who stood up and moved out and ventured forth.  As you think back on your own ancestors, perhaps you will be able to grow in a deeper appreciation of what they did--of what they did for you.Clearly it is one thing to have to be a refugee and a whole other concept of repositioning one's life.  But what is important to remember that somewhere along the way--whether one is a refugee or is simply repositioning one's life--there was first some kind of inner movement that gave birth to an action--an action that required a shift, change, new season or new beginning of some form or another. We are all on a journey. We are all pilgrims. The language of the Bible offers us a word that helps define who all of us are as refugees, white-collar migrant workers, blue collar machine workers, medical professionals, pastors or global leaders—we are all pilgrims. We are all on a journey—a journey that defines us throughout our lives on the long road to heaven. The Psalmist knew this language well when he wrote;“Blessed are those whose strength is in you,whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.”—Psalm 84:5 (NIV).Pilgrimage best defines our lives on planet Earth. We start out at in utero in our mother's womb; following a path in our formative years; build travelling companions or friends and navigate the many paths ahead of us. There are the choices of a spouse or not, the kind of job that we feel like that fits us and we are gifted for; where we want to live out of all the choices before us and the pathways of parenting, living out of lives through seasons, trials, joys and sorrows. Each of these seasons are really times of repositioning ourselves for the next leg of the journey.  From womb to tomb, we wake up to the fact that we all are pilgrims on a journey.When author and scholar, Eugene Peterson finds the right and descriptive words to translate for us the Psalmist’s intent in his sacred poem, Peterson helps us with these words:“And how blessed all those in whom you live,whose lives become roads you travel;”—Psalm 84:5, The MessageOur lives are the very roads that God travels. You you imagine for a moment what this might actually look like and feel like? God is on this joruney with us--sometimes a silent companion; sometimes a companion who might pull the rug out from under us to get our attention in some way; and in all ways God is present whether God is seen or unseen. Our own lives are the pathway that God hovers about and within on the long road home. God is our Companion on this pilgrimage and as we age, as we journey forward, this awareness grows deeper and deeper within us to truly know—God is with us. He is not only “with us” but God is in us---moving within us to awaken us; give us keener insight and understanding about our journey.As we shift; as we transition; as we reposition, we can be assured that God is moving on our inner roadways of longing and desire; lament and grief and fears and peace. Knowing this—is like recognizing some road signs that are posted along the path we’ve been trekking.  When we reposition, we can learn to pay attention to the inner road signs--the inner movements of God within us to nudge us this way or that way.  Discernment is about knowing the inner trail markings that can and do offer us the invitation to follow with clarity and certainity. ( I will continue this in future blogs and I would invite your comments, feedback and insights! Please consider posting your thoughts and reflections here on the blog to allow others to have insight and encouragement!)