The Moments Without the Oar

I’ve been taking an online class on spirituality and poetry (The Spiral Way: Celtic Spirituality and the Creative Imagination – It was a four week class and the final class was a doozy with several writing exercises. The subject was pilgrimage, specifically a form of Irish pilgrimage called Peregrinatio. Irish monks would be prompted by a dream to head out on pilgrimage. They would set off in a small boat called a coracle without a rudder or an oar and just go where the current took them. It was a spiritual journey of trust and exploration. In the class we were given several writing prompts and the first one was: “I step into the coracle and release the oar.” Here is my writing exploration and my poem: 

I am reminded of kayaking on Webb Lake in Maine. My husband, Rick likes a direction and a purpose. Yet I remember the experience of just being in the kayak on the water. The temptation to drop the oar and just see where the lake takes me. What does she want to show me? Somehow I trust her more than my own choice of direction. Sometimes I just want to be taken somewhere wonderful. I don’t want to risk making the wrong choice. I’d rather trust the wisdom of the water to show me what I need to see.

But then I have the memory of racing to shore before the storm let loose. I was very grateful for my oar at that moment. Would the lake have carried me to safety? Maybe my own instincts are more trustworthy than I give them credit. Maybe we can partner. The spirit of the water can suggest a direction. And then I can choose. Sounds like a good life and a good journey.

The Moments Without the Oar

I can trust
those moments
without the oar.

I can trust the Spirit,
your Spirit,
to deliver me to dry land

the land of your suggestion,
one you think fits me
for the moment.

I can choose
to step ashore
and venture

into something new
or something old,
whatever awaits.

I can trust
that when it is
time to journey again

the coracle will be
at the shore
waiting for me.



My brain is drafting a conversation about ‘comfort zone.’ In Sunday School today we talked about calling and how sometimes it can be hard to follow a calling because we are not willing to go outside our comfort zone. At the time, the thought of being willing to find a new comfort zone came to mind. I think sometimes I get stuck in the thinking that my current circumstances are my only comfort zone. But once upon a time, whatever it is that makes up my current comfort zone was new. To even get where I am today, I had to leave a previous comfort zone. I was also thinking about how what if our comfort zone was not really about our external circumstances but about our relationship with God. What if God is our comfort zone? What if following Christ is our comfort zone? Being in God’s will is our comfort zone? I think about how at the end of every school year my daughter, Lindsay, wouldn’t want to leave her existing grade. She loved her teachers and her classmates and her schedule…it was her comfort zone. As a parent, I knew that soon the next grade would become her comfort zone just as it had the previous year. I think God is like the parent in that situation — knowing that whatever this next thing is, that it will become our new comfort zone. And that God will be in the midst of it all.

I don’t know if that paragraph eloquently explains exactly what I am thinking, but it hints at it. I think in a conversation it would make more sense because someone else would fill in the blanks for me. In community, we would be able to flush out the truths behind the words. God’s truths. In Sunday School today, Charlie brought up community and that many times we find our calling in community. I believe that is so true. That we ‘become’ in community. I think that is God’s design for us. I think that is why God gave us family and the church. So that we would live and grow in community and become God’s people together.

I am thinking, “Who is my community today?” Obviously, my immediate family, Rick, Lindsay and Rachel, and even my crazy dog Molly. And then my extended family is my community. My neighborhood is my community. My church is my community. My friends are my community. My seminary peeps are my community. My candidacy cohort is my community. Even the greater world is my community. Last week my friend, Shandon, invited to me try out a new small group practice. In this practice, you choose a discipline to lean into during the coming week like Worship, Scripture, Prayer, etc. The one that jumped out at me was Community. And then I join one of my communities for a Sunday morning discussion and we talk about community. Ok God, I am listening.

This week was hard for me regarding community as I am mourning the loss of one of my family members, one of my community members. That community is now rocked with grief at his absence and I am unable to be physically present with them. Actually, unable to be physically present with most of my community.  It makes me treasure my immediate family all the more, my immediate community, the community I am grateful to be sequestered with. I have also been thinking about community in regards to school, my school and the girls’, as we wonder what community will look like in the fall. We have all decided to start school online for the first nine weeks, so school community will be a virtual community. I am so grateful for the technology that can keep us connected. I guess that is what most of the bible is, if not all of it. A ‘technology’ that keeps us connected. Much of scripture is letters that were written to separated communities. Paul wrote to churches when he could not be physically present. The scriptures were documented and passed on to future generations so that we may all be connected even though we are not physically together. I think about what I write and how that is used to connect me to a broader community and hopefully connect us all to God. Hopefully it is a conversation — that someone else will fill in the blanks of what I share so that we all might find the truths behind the words. God’s truths.

Mark 12:30 comes to mind:

“You shall 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 is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 

That is community. 


Thank you Lord for loving us in and through community. Help us to share your love as we lean into the communities you have so lovingly provided for us. Help us honor and love as you do.

In Jesus name I pray,




Thirteen Years

I am reading the book Gently Awakened by Sara Joseph about the intersection of faith and art/creativity, about giving it all to God and letting God work through your art. In the chapter titled “The Precision of Timing,” she talks about her dream of having an art studio. When she finally has one and is first setting it up, she is drawn to the story of Joseph in Genesis 41. She realizes that it was thirteen years from the time Joseph first has his God-given dreams to the time those dreams became a reality. She also realizes that it was thirteen years earlier that she first prayed about her art and handed it over to God.

I started thinking about where I was thirteen years ago. Thirteen years ago, I was not a Christian. Thirteen years ago, we had just enrolled Lindsay in preschool at First Grapevine UMC. She had not yet started class. I had not yet started bible study. We had been to one worship service. I had no idea that thirteen years later I would be in Seminary. That thirteen years later I would be having my Ministry Orientation for Elder Ordination. That thirteen years later I would be on the Strategic Team planning the future of our church. That thirteen years later I would be writing about God. That I would be sharing my faith…a faith I didn’t even have at the time.

I could never have dreamt a dream that big. I was craving more and God gave me more, and then some. Thank you, Lord.


Ephesians 3:20b  ~  Abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine





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