One Word

This Lenten season our church has been talking about Transformation. Many members have shared their personal stories of transformation, so I thought I would share more of what God has been doing in my life.

During Lent, we are often encouraged to take on additional spiritual disciplines. Some common ones are prayer, journaling, fasting, worship, silence and solitude, etc. These practices are tools we use to be intentional about drawing closer to God. These tools can be used anytime, not just during special seasons.

The spiritual practice of choosing One Word to focus on with God each year has been very powerful for me. I started this practice in 2014 when our pastors invited the congregation to pick a word for the year. As I pondered what my word would be for that year, I realized if I had chosen a word for the previous year, it would have been ‘Listen’. I had taken some Spiritual Formation classes where I learned how to be still and listen to God’s tiny whispers in my heart.

For 2014, I settled on the word ‘Wisdom’. In my experience, sometimes you choose a word and sometimes a word chooses you. This word came to me during a Healing and Wholeness service in a swirl that reminded me of the stories of Pentecost. It was the Wisdom from the Serenity prayer.

Lord, Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.

The word encouraged me to put into play the truths I had learned, to live by these truths rather than just ‘knowing’ them in my mind. It guided me to start healing from the effects that my mother’s alcoholism had on my childhood, and my adulthood. It led me to realize my own issues with alcohol, and other addictive substances like wheat and sugar. Through this word, God showed me how to lay down destructive behaviors and choose a better way.

Then in 2015, the word ‘All’ chose me. I was not happy with this word. I would have preferred a more biblical word, but it stuck and I couldn’t get rid of it. This word had two lessons for me. The first lesson was to give God my all as in Mark 12:30, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second lesson was to let God be my all. Looking back, I see that these lessons bled into subsequent years.

In 2016, I started wrestling with a call to ministry. I couldn’t settle for just one word — more truthfully, I would not accept what the word really was — so I worked with the words ‘Open’ and ‘Trust’. The Pharisee in me wanted to be legalistic and use just one word. I told people my word was ‘Faith’, which felt like a combination of being open and trusting. It was such a nice gentle word, but it wasn’t really my word. By August of that year, I finally admitted that my word was really ‘Surrender’. Now that is a tough word, but it’s what God calls us to do, over and over again. I thought the best way to surrender was to go to Seminary to prepare for ordination as a pastor. I applied and I was accepted to start school the following fall.

This gave me plenty of time to work on my word for 2017, which was ‘Confidence’. Confidence in myself, in my ability to complete graduate studies, in my willingness to tell people about my calling, confidence in telling my story. But this was not the whole lesson, as it never is. God had a much bigger lesson for me to learn. It was about God’s son, Jesus Christ. This was the lesson I resisted most.

My first class in Seminary was on Pluralism. In class, we discussed the possibility that believing in Jesus Christ was not the only road to salvation. As someone who did not grow up in church, this idea was very appealing to me. That the road could be wider, that the sacrifice not so great, that it could be easy. As I wrestled with the material, God wrestled with me. Or rather, I wrestled with God. I don’t think God ever really wrestles with us. I think God stands firm, while we try with all our might to budge God to our will. Like a toddler wrestling with a parent. We always know who wins that battle, yet we fight anyway.

At about mid-term, life got in the way and it became clear that now was not the time to pursue a degree. After many tears and much disappointment, I withdrew from Seminary. Because I had been so public about my decision to go to school, I posted a light-hearted story about withdrawing from school. I felt peace with the decision but I was a bit heart-broken. I knew that I didn’t understand the full picture. God still had not revealed everything there was to know. The confidence lesson still needed to be learned. I had lost a bit of confidence in my abilities and in my discernment. I felt a bit ungrounded, like I had jumped off a cliff but had not yet hit bottom. I was not sure where I was going to land.

A few weeks later, I had the opportunity to go on a Spiritual Retreat. I had gone the previous year and had enjoyed the opportunity then to talk to many pastors about their call to ministry. This year I wasn’t sure what to pursue, so I just went open-minded and open-hearted. The speaker was an amazing storyteller. She told a story about a baby eagle that had been raised with chickens. The eaglet walked around pecking at the ground, with its wings tucked in like all the other chickens. One day an adult eagle flies overhead and sees this young eagle acting like a chicken. The adult eagle yells, “Stretch your wings. You are not a chicken. You are meant to fly, to soar.” So, after some arguing, the young eagle stretches his wings and flies. She tells the story in such a way that I can believe I am an eagle who just needs to stretch my wings to fly, to soar.

I am mesmerized by her storytelling and my heart is wide open. Then she starts a story about Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. She talks about how Samaria was the ‘no-go’ area at the time and how people would go far out of their way to avoid going through Samaria. But Jesus went straight through. She then asked us, “What is your Samaria? What is your no-go area?”

As she tells the story, I notice the name of the man sitting next to me. Some writers I follow, talk about being aware of synchronicity; when circumstances seem to all swirl together with what others would call coincidences. Christians call them ‘God-things’. They say, “It was a God-thing”. Since I started paying attention, I have been blown away by the synchronicities. The way God can orchestrate the simplest things over and over again to accomplish His perfect will. The people I end up sitting by have been a pattern of these synchronicities. When I went to a retreat in Illinois to help discern whether to pursue Deacon or Elder ordination, the woman seated next to me was an ordained Deacon whose job was helping people discern their calling. When I was considering meeting with a counselor, everyone I sat next to for the next few weeks just happened to be a Licensed Counselor. So I was curious about the one sitting next to me at this retreat. His name was Peter. Yes, Peter, who denied Christ three times.

Oh, I am Peter.

“What is my Samaria? What is my no-go area?”

I realized that ‘Christian’ is my no-go area. Jesus is my Samaria. I am Peter, who acts like a follower but then denies Jesus when the pressure is on.

I hear Jesus address me as He addressed Paul on the road to Damascus, “Marissa, why do you persecute me?”

I hear Jesus ask me, “Do you love Me?”

I reply, “Yes, I love you.”

“Do you love Me?”, He asks again.

“Yes, I love you,” I answer.

“Marissa, do you love Me?”

And I can’t answer that third time. It is my no-go.

Hmmm…well that is something to ponder. Something to work through. I prayed and journaled a lot that week as I wrestled with God.

Who was Jesus to me? I’ve always liked the name Rabbi for Jesus. Teacher. I love to learn from Jesus’ wise teachings. And trusted friend. I saw Jesus as trusted counsel who could guide me through tough times. But Lord and Savior? Lord had always been my name for God, not for Jesus. And Savior was a churchy word that we used at Christmas when we sing, “A Savior is born”. I didn’t really understand the full meaning of these words. But then there was a shift in my heart. I realized that when I cried, “Lord”, I really was calling to Jesus. That I was aching to be saved. To be His. But I didn’t know how.

I met with a friend who is very comfortable discussing such things. I shared that I had never experienced one of those moments people talk about where they accept Jesus in their hearts as their Lord and Savior. She mentioned praying a prayer of surrender with an open and willing heart.

I had been learning about Jesus, I had been teaching about Jesus, and I wanted to follow Him, but…

I liked the duality. I was of two worlds and I wasn’t ready to give up my non-Christian status, my secular friends, my secular life. I liked having my options open. I am always amazed at how stubborn I can be. I was willing to go to Seminary, to study to be a Pastor, but I was not willing to be fully Christian. I loved Jesus with my mind and with my strength, but I wasn’t willing to give Him my heart or my soul.

I remembered a time after a powerful Healing and Wholeness Service when I was so overcome by emotion that I had to kneel at the cross in the Prayer Room to pull myself together. My heart cried out this strange prayer to Jesus, “Take me with you,” as if I were waiting for God to convert me. Just make me do it. Take me, rather than me having to make that big step. I found myself in a stalemate, with Jesus standing there with His hand stretched out saying, “Come.” And I’m standing there waiting for Jesus to come to me, “Come play by my rules, my will.” But I couldn’t hold out any longer. The surrender I had worked on the previous year finally came.

I’ve had some trouble with my back lately so I was in bed when I prayed this prayer of surrender.  The exact same place where I first felt Jesus’ presence as a hand on my shoulder when I was so sick during pregnancy, the first time I felt that I was not alone. Fourteen years later, I prayed this prayer and surrendered my heart and soul to Jesus.

So my lesson this past year was not about confidence in myself, but confidence in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. What a beautiful, powerful lesson. It always amazes me what God will accomplish in us with just a little bit of intention from us. God is so good.

My word for 2018 is Steadfast. A combination of Hope and Perseverance. To Stand Firm in who God is, who Jesus is, and who I am created and called to be. I am confident that it will be a great lesson! My guiding verse for the year is:

Psalm 51:10 ~ Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.



(This story was also posted on the First United Methodist Church of Grapevine Spiritual Formation blog at




The Woes & Adventures of a Seminary Dropout…

Well, it was a short adventure, but a good one. I have withdrawn from Seminary. Yes, after just seven weeks. But that was enough. It was enough for me to learn what I needed to learn, for now. I knew going in that it was an exploratory venture. That I would ‘check it out and see’. I also knew that there was a chance that it would be temporary. Whenever I was struggling to learn the material, I would pray:

“Lord, I know I am going to learn something. Please help me learn what You want me to learn, even if that is different than what my professors want me to learn, or even what I want to learn. Help me learn the lessons You have planned for me. Amen.”

I have figured out from experience that the lesson is not always what we think it is. So, what did I learn? I learned that I still do not fully understand my call. I re-learned that we can always make a U-turn, that we always have choices. And I was reminded that God is always leading us, if we are willing to follow.

This last one makes me think of Vacation Bible School when I lead kids around the church grounds between sessions. Many times, I will take the long way around and circle a picnic table or the fountain just to see if they will follow (and because it is more fun!). When they were younger, the kids always followed even when they wondered why. But this year, the group was older and they did not follow and it made me sad. I pray that I always follow God’s lead even when it makes no sense to me or others.

As I have mentioned before, my word this year is ‘confidence’. It can be tempting to let something like this shake my confidence, but now I actually have more confidence in many ways. After getting feedback from professors and deans on my assignments, I have more confidence in my writing and speaking abilities. I have more confidence in talking to people I don’t know and more confidence in sharing my story. I have more confidence in my ability to discern when I am on the wrong path, or in the wrong timing. I have more confidence in being authentically me. I have confidence in the loving people along the path who want to help me discover God’s will for me rather than pushing me to pursue their will. Having worked many years in the corporate world, that has not always been my experience with people, and it is a refreshing and nurturing change. I also have confidence in the support of my friends, family, and church community. I have confidence that new opportunities will arise as I continue to discern and pursue this calling to share my faith.

I am really grateful for the experience, and I am so glad I went. Can’t wait for the next adventure!

So rather than “Woes”, I like “The Adventures of a Seminary Dropout” instead.

p.s. For those of you concerned that I may be ‘throwing away my shot’ (my daughter will be so excited that I included a Hamilton reference), I want you to know that my standing as a Seminary student is good for a full year. I can choose to go back if I feel that is the right thing to do. It is really great to have so many wonderful options.

Now off to continue discerning….


Dear Loving and Faithful God,
my Wise Teacher and Guide –

I pray that I always have confidence in Your Guidance and Your Leading and Your Path, U-turns and all.



Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.

~ Proverbs 3:5

This is my (Crazy) Story…Crazy for God

This week I shared a bit more of my story on my church’s Spiritual Formation blog.  You can follow the link to see the post, or read the text below.

First United Methodist Church Grapevine Blog post

This is my (Crazy) Story…Crazy for God

God is calling me to Ministry. I am not sure exactly what that means yet, but I know it is true. And I have been wrestling with it and resisting it for a while. I feel the pull in my heart, but my mind is not quite there yet. It doesn’t really make sense to me. I still feel so new to this faith. The whole thing seems a little crazy.

I did not grow up in church. I was baptized as a baby, and I remember attending one Sunday School class in first grade. And that’s about it. As a teenager, I attended some services with friends and with my grandparents. But I was always uncomfortable in an itchy dress, afraid I would sit or stand at the wrong time or say the wrong thing. I have lived a very secular life.

Sometime in my early 30s, after a conversation with friends about religion, I asked my husband, “What does it mean to be a Christian?”

And he answered, “Well for one thing, it means that you believe Jesus is the Son of God.”

And I remember thinking “What?! Seriously?! That’s really crazy! Do people really believe that?! Do you believe that?!”

My curiosity was piqued.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I was really sick and I had to quit my job. I did not have many friends locally other than work friends, so suddenly I was isolated. I was lonely and afraid. I felt like I was supposed to do it all on my own and I had no idea how to do that. And then I felt a Presence, an overwhelming sense of love and peace and strength, a hand on my shoulder saying, “I am here. You are not alone.”

That’s when I began my journey toward Christ.

When my oldest daughter was three years old, we started looking at Preschools. We checked out Creative Learning Center (CLC) here at FUMC Grapevine, but I was unsure. It was an older building; no computers in the classrooms; it was not bright and shiny like the competition. But my husband, Rick, knew it was right….because of the smell. Yes, the smell. It reminded him of his church and his Sunday School. And because of the teachers and the old buildings. It seemed a little crazy to me, but he knew. So we trusted. And it was good. It was very good.

Once we decided on CLC, we decided to check out the Worship Services here. We had wanted to find a church home, but never seemed to start the search. The first service we attended here was on Easter 2007. The head pastor, Ken Diehm, handed out orange bracelets that read, “Do all things without complaining.” (Philippians 2:14)

“What? All things?”, my mind exclaimed.

Again, I thought, “Wow! This Christian thing is really radical, because that is crazy!”

But Rev. Rick Mang played the guitar and Pastor Ken gave his amazing sermons and we kept coming. So the following Easter, a year later, I mentioned to Rick that maybe we should join the church. But he said he was not quite sure yet.

So I suggested, “Well, if we are not ready to join this church, maybe we should keep looking.”

He responded, “I don’t want to look at other churches. I like this church.”

And we joined.

In the meantime, not only was the Preschool great for my daughter, but it was great for me too. I was home with my youngest daughter, who was one, and I was still sick with a lot of food sensitivities and probably some undiagnosed depression. Pickup time was the only adult conversation and interaction I had all day. Those few minutes on the front lawn of the Preschool with other tired mamas were the highlight of my day. And then one day, a fellow mama mentioned the Bible Study class she took with Kenda Diehm, Ken’s wife. I was curious, but I did not own a Bible. So I went to Mardel and asked a lot of questions about the different versions and bought myself a cute pink women’s devotional Bible. I was ready.

I had never studied the Bible before. I had never even read the Bible before. Kenda was starting a study on Exodus, which was handy for me. I just had to read Genesis, one book, and I would be caught up. So I started reading. And I have to say, I was truly shocked to see that Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was really a story in the Bible. I had always heard the story, but I never knew that it was really scripture. Wow! Again, I thought, “This Christian thing is kind of crazy.”

The Creation story tripped me up a bit too. I had been raised on evolution and never considered another option. My aunt came to visit from a small town out of state and wanted to go to a “megachurch”, so we went to a service at one of the larger churches in the area. The sermon was about Creation, and I remember being shaken.

“Can’t we just ease into this a bit? Do we have to start with believing that God created the entire world? That seems like a big leap for a beginner. It’s a bit crazy.”

So another year goes by, and I’ve been in worship services listening to the Ministry Moments talk about needing Children’s Sunday School teachers. I had been volunteering at my daughter’s school and was really enjoying it. I was interested in working with the kids at church, but I didn’t have much biblical knowledge. (I was only through the first two books at this point!) But after two years of listening to the plea, I finally said, “Yes”. Again this seemed a bit crazy. How would I teach kids about the Bible when I knew so little about it? But the ad in the video said, “You just have to be willing.” Okay, I am willing.

I started ‘teaching’ my daughter’s Kindergarten class, but I had to demote myself to Preschool when it became glaringly obvious that the Kindergartners knew more than me. It was around Easter and we were playing a trivia game, but there were only questions, no answers. As teachers, we were supposed to know these ‘easy’ kindergarten facts. One of the questions was about the Garden of Gethsemane. I didn’t know the answer. I didn’t know what it was, and I certainly didn’t know how to pronounce it. Luckily, I was team-teaching with someone who knew the answers. So I demoted myself to Preschool the next fall, and taught my youngest daughter’s four year-old class every Sunday for a year. Consequently, most of what I know about the Bible I learned in Preschool Sunday School as a 40 year old.

As I read the stories and the lessons each week, 90% of the time it was the first time I had heard the story. I had to look up each one to learn who the author was and the context of the story. But in addition to learning Bible stories, I also learned that God was giving me the ability to see the message in a story or a situation. And God gave me the ability to explain that message so others could understand.

This was the beginning of my ministry. God equipped me to share biblical truths, in spite of my lack of knowledge and lack of experience. It was crazy.

I taught children’s Sunday School for a few more years. I also helped with Children’s Choir. I love helping children worship and praise God. I’ve helped with VBS. Again, I love helping children discover God and fall in love with Jesus.

And then recently, I’ve moved into Adult Ministry, which is much harder for me, much scarier. Kids are pretty forgiving, but that’s not always true with adults. Most of us want to be forgiving and full of grace but we are so busy and overscheduled and tired to truly be kind. We don’t really have time for inexperience. So I have been more guarded. I have been resistant to ‘Leading’ or ‘Teaching’ adults, not believing that I have anything of value to share, not wanting to waste their precious time.

But I still love helping others discover and draw closer to God. I love Spiritual Formation, which teaches us how to be quiet and listen; to create space in our lives and in our hearts for God to do amazing work.

And now I’m being called to this big scary thing. This crazy, radical thing. To create space in my life for God to mold me. To create space in my heart for God to do amazing work. To just say “Yes”. To follow.

My word last year was ‘Surrender’, but I was in denial for the first part of the year. I told everyone that my word was ‘Faith’, which is a much more gentle word. I knew it was to be ‘Open’ and ‘Trust’. So I’ve been praying and worshipping with my hands open, hoping that my heart will follow the example. Open to Receive, Open to Give, Open to Trust that God is big enough.

Mid-year I finally admitted to myself that my word was really ‘Surrender’. That’s a tough word. It’s a radical word. But it is what God calls us to do.

This year my word is ‘Confidence’. Confidence in God, Confidence in myself, Confidence in the work God has already done in me, Confidence in the work God will continue to do in me.

As I surrender to my call and gain confidence in God’s equipping, I will start Seminary in the fall at Brite Divinity School (TCU) so I can continue my crazy, radical journey toward Christ.

This is my crazy story, this is my crazy song, praising my Savior all the day long.


Dear Loving and Faithful God,

Nurturing Mother and Father,

Majestic Creator,

Almighty Lord of Lords –

Thank you for being a radical God. Thank you for helping me follow You even when it seems crazy. Please continue to give me the confidence to surrender to Your will and Your path. And thank You for Your unending patience when I resist.

 Please catch me when I fall, and guide me when I fly.

 In Jesus holy name I pray,