What are you doing when your soul is deeply glad?

This is a post is part of a series based on questions from Steve Wiens' book Beginnings. To learn more, check out this post. I love for you to join me by linking up with your own post, or commenting below. 

Today's question comes from page 76, at the end of the chapter called "Seeds." It is a chapter that asks about what gifts within us are longing to be born.

Last year, my One Word 365 was TOV. That's what this chapter is all about.

what makes your soul glad

Questions about gifts and purpose and calling and "what is God's will for our lives" tend to loom large in Christian circles. Naming our gifts can feel like standing in the street naked... in the winter... with a crowd looking on. Is the vulnerability worth it? Meanwhile, the idea of God's will can feel like a frantic search for the x on a treasure map. If we don't get to just the right spot, will we miss it?

All this leads to a tension. On the one hand, we feel the pull to live a life of purpose and meaning. We long to use the gifts within us to bring good things to the world. On the other hand, we feel the pull to avoid the questions that feel too big and risky to answer.

Which is why I love turning questions of calling into questions of delight. We may not be able to articulate our best gifts, but we can often name what brings us joy. What if reflecting on the things that delight us is what opens the door to learn more about our truest selves? What if it shrinks the big questions into pieces we can move towards one step at a time? 

Here's my challenge for all of us today. Let's make a list- What are the big and small things we do that bring our souls gladness, joy, and fulfillment? Here are some of mine:

  • Engaging in deep, meandering conversations in which no one notices how much time has passed.
  • Eating delicious food.
  • Teaching the Scriptures and helping people see their relevance.
  • Helping people unlock their potential.
  • Listening to music I love.
  • Cooking.
  • Traveling.
  • Running through the woods on a beautiful day.
  • Watching people's eyes light up with the reality of learning something new at just the right moment.
  • Leading a meeting. (Seriously. I have so much fun leading engaging meetings, and I hate sitting through boring ones.)
  • Hosting people at my house.
  • Laughing with my children.
  • Snuggling with my husband.

Now, let's look through our lists- Are there any threads connecting pieces? How might those threads lead us? 

For me, the most noticeable thread is people. I am a people-person through and through. This tells me something important about how God has wired me and what kinds of seeds I may be designed to plant in this world.

Maybe with lists like these, the question of calling can feel a little less scary... and a lot more fun.

- Steph


Your turn: What are you doing when your soul is deeply glad?

If  you are a blogger, link up with your post below. If you are not a blogger, you can also link up to an Instagram post, how cool is that? Or, maybe now is the the time to step out of the shadows and respond with a comment. I promised I will reply to all comments left. 


Now it's time for next week's question, from page 109 of Beginnings, "How would you describe the season you find yourself in these days?"

Come back next week to link up and respond. 

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To New Years and New Beginnings

One year ago today was the day first day of a new beginning for me. Not because it was the first day of 2016, but because it was the day after my last day of work. I had spent the months previous wrestling through the sense of feeling called to leave, and being present to the difficulty of saying goodbye. But one year ago today, the goodbyes were done and I was in a new place.

One year ago today, I stepped from the job I knew into the wilderness of an unknown future. I wandered there for quite awhile. It was dry and difficult, but also a place where God spoke. After all, the Hebrew word for wilderness is midbar, and the root word of midbar in Hebrew means to speak. In the Scriptures and in our lives, the wilderness always seems to be a place God speaks. We hear whispers about who we are and who we are not, about how we are trusting and how we are holding too tight, and about how to let go of the trappings that have enclosed us so we can be embraced by our Creator.

The wilderness is not a place I would have chosen to go, but it is exactly the place I needed to be. 

If you are one of my regular blog readers, this is not news to you. Many of my reflections last year were about what I was hearing on this journey of sorting out who I was and where I was going. 

One year later, I look back and am in awe of all that has transpired and how it has led me to where I am. I have never felt more like the real me than I feel right now. I have a sense of my own calling, and am living out a beautiful mosaic of doing those things as my vocation. My OneWord 365 was "tov" and wow, is that a word that inhabited my life. 

As I look with anticipation and hopefulness towards a new year, I can't help but to look back on the year that has been, and be filled with gratitude for it, even the painful parts. 

There are a few people who have been particularly helpful as I have struggled my way through this new beginning. One of them is Steve Wiens. He is my friend and my pastor, and someone who has spoken into my life in powerful ways over the years I have known him. Whether through coffee conversations, sermons, blogposts, or podcasts, Steve has a way of calling out the best in those he is with. He has helped me find courage, believe in my own potential, and trust in a God who never stops redeeming my life.

Today, Steve's book, Beginnings, hits the shelves, and the timing could not be more perfect. Beginnings is about the first days of creation, and noticing how they form a pattern that repeats itself in the Scriptures and in our lives. It is a deeply redemptive book that gives you the chance to hear Steve's voice calling out the best in you, just as it has for me. 

It is a book for anyone who believes or wants to believe that...

"God wants to usher all of us into new beginnings, no matter our motives and no matter how blurry our picture of God. God isn't finished creating and recreating, and it's precisely because God is continually generative that we keep getting invited to grow and change and become, despite the fact that we keep landing ourselves in the same old garbage heap that we found ourselves in last year, and the year before that." - Steve Wiens, Beginnings, page 8

It is a book for anyone whose soul stirs when they hear someone say...

"Do you dare to believe there are seeds of life planted in you by God that ned to be born? What would it mean for you to give birth to them, as messy and difficult and dangerous as that may be?" - Steve Wiens, Beginnings, page 52

It is a book for anyone who wants to give up and needs to be reminded...

"One of the great invitations of any beginning is to follow it through its life cycle rather than demanding that it stay the same. Beginnings move from waiting, to hoping, to abundance, and then, finally, to their inevitable endings. We cannot cheat that life cycle, no matter how much we want to or how hard we try."  - Steve Wiens, Beginnings, page 82

It is a book for anyone who needs the hope of the words...

"When you stop running away from who you are, you will turn to find Someone calling you to return to who you are. Then you will see the names you assumed were scars, covering the innocent and beautiful name that has been yours from the beginning of time." - Steve Wiens, Beginnings, page 139 

It is a book to highlight, save, and reread until the binding falls apart, any time you face another new beginning in your life.

I want to give a copy of Beginnings away to you. It's the start of a new year. What kind of new beginning do you hope for as you look forward? Comment and share a word or a story. On January 8, one week from today, I will randomly choose from the commenters and mail you a book. 

If you don't win, or even if you do, you can also go buy one. This is not a sponsored post. I get no benefit whatsoever from you following that link and making a purchase. I just want to you to buy it because it's good, and you won't regret it.

Just to prove it, let me leave you with one more quote. One that I like so much that I made it into an image. Put it up on your wall, save it to your phone, dare to believe that it could be true.

#beginningsbook quote- there is God, making us new.

May your 2016 be touched by a God who makes things new.

On Finding a New Calling and Going in a New Direction

In February of 2014, my eyes were opened to a way of gathering around the Scriptures that was unlike any I had experienced before.

There were a dozen or so people plopped down on pillows, chairs, and couches around the living room. Rabbi Alan, our teacher, asked us to go around the room, say our names, and share something we had been thinking about lately. After everyone had spoken, he said, “Based on what was shared, here are three passages I think we could study today.” He described what the verses were, and gave us a glimpse at why they could be relevant. We voted, and moved forward into a study of 1 Samuel 1. 

The four hours that followed flitted by in an instant. We talked about the meanings of the Hebrew names and they symbolic narrative that could perhaps be coupled with the historic one. We dug into themes that took us back to Genesis and the delicious word “tov” that I’ve blogged about in this space before. We cried with people who had been relative strangers just hours before about the places in our own lives where it felt like God wasn’t showing up. We wrestled through questions and frustrations about the text and how our stories intersected with it. We were given words of blessing from the rabbi and from each other that felt like the study had been designed specifically for each one of us.

The Spirit of God, the Word of God, and the people of God danced and twirled around that living room that day. I walked to my car in breathless wonder. How is it that I had been a Christian and a church leader for so long and never known a gathering could be that way?

That day was the first of many studies and emails and conversations with this rabbi. I had no idea they would change my life as much as they have.

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When they were in the wilderness, the Israelites were instructed to set up the tabernacle in the center of camp, with the twelve tribes encircling it. When the people were at rest, the fire of the Lord that led them by night and the cloud of the Lord that led them by day would settle over the Tent of Meeting.

It’s easy to breeze past instructional and informational verses such as these in the Old Testament, without thinking about how this would have affected the people’s lives and also how it might inform ours. 

If I were at that camp, looking across to see my community, I would see God between us. And if I were at that camp, looking at the center to see God, I would see my community through the Lord's Presence.

What if modern Scripture study could feel that way?

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At the end of 2014, I left my job at a church. 

I have gone to seminary, been a pastor, and worked in vocational ministry most of my adult life. Yet, when the ministry I was part of came to a crossroads, and I prayed and wrestled and cried and discerned what that might mean for me, I knew God was telling me it was time to leave. 

So, I walked away from the life I had known, without having a clear direction for what that meant or where I was going. I just felt called to follow, one step at a time. Of course, those first steps went into a sort of spiritual wilderness, a time of searching for what might be next, feeling thirsty for validation, letting go of familiar comforts, and pleading for relief. 

In the beginning of February 2015, one year after that first study with Rabbi Alan, the scenery changed to a landscape hope. Just as I knew it had been time for me to leave, I knew what it was time to do now.

It was time for me to lead studies like those I had experienced. 

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They are called “Socratic Scripture Studies,” though I’m still not sure that’s what they should be named. It’s a unique experience that’s surprisingly difficult to put into words. 

As the teacher, I spend hours diving into texts, exploring word origins, historical context, and threads that run from one passage to another. I dig into Jewish roots and ways of understanding I have learned from the rabbi and other sources. I bring that study together not into a sermon or a lecture or an essay, but into questions. Questions that can come to life when a group gathers around them and the Spirit of God helps us see, the Scriptures and each other.

Socratic Scripture Studies are a way of diving into the Bible that mixes scholarly and mystical, practical and pastoral, personal and communal. Even when I’m the teacher, I always learn and grow from conversation and life that happens when the group comes together. The study is uniquely alive with the way the Spirit of God is at work in and through the people who are there. 

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I hesitate to use words like “God called me.” They tend to feel like an unfair trump card that can be played in a conversation. You can’t argue with a someone’s choice of direction if it’s the path God called them to take. You can’t question someone’s ability to play a role of it’s the place God called them to be.

Yet

I cannot talk about what I am doing now without saying how much it feels like God has called me to do it. Not only from what I have learned over the past year of study, but because of how my experience, gifts, and passions all feel like they have brought me to this. I don’t know the details of where this path will go, but I know Who is leading me and am learning walking in trust. I am terrified, excited, and fulfilled by what has already happened, and the potential of what will happen in the future. 

People are leaving churches, feeling dissatisfied with the treatment of the Bible, and griping about the platitudes spoken by those standing on stages. I wonder how this way of gathering could help people feel once again like the Spirit of God is real and the Word of God still speaks.

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Socratic Scripture Studies

Mark, a faithful reader of this blog for a long time now, emailed me recently to ask what I was doing these days. I realized that though I have had conversations about all this with people I see face-to-face, I had not yet described them to my readers. I’ve hinted at the transitions, the wilderness, and the direction shift, but not specifically put into words what I was doing now and how I got here. I am grateful for the prompt to write about this to you. You may have already noticed a shift in my writing, especially how Hebrew words and contexts have crept into my reflections. Now you know why. 

If you are local to Minneapolis, I would be honored if you would join me for a group. You can learn more about current gatherings on my Socratic Scripture Studies page. You can also sign up for my email list so you will be the first to hear about more gatherings in the future. I lead a few groups per month.

If you are not local to Minneapolis, I would be honored if you would consider bringing me to your community. We could organize studies with your friends or neighbors or church group- whoever in your life might be hungry to dive deep into these types of gatherings. Please email me if you’d like to explore that option. These studies can provide the sort of rejuvenation people look for in conferences, but for a much cheaper price point and with a much more personal experience.

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Blogging has played no small role in my process over these years. I am honored that you have stuck with me through all the changes in my writing and in my life. Thank you so much for reading.

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