Purpose Reconsidered: An Alumni Story
My journey with purpose has been fraught with fits and starts and loads of apparently meaningless lulls in between. I was born and raised in Texas and my worldview was highly influenced by the predominantly white southern Baptist church that taught me about Jesus and who He expected me to be. It became my understanding that my purpose in this world consisted of marrying a godly man, having a few children who would also be raised to love Jesus via that same patriarchal, racially-biased lens in which I grew up, speaking quietly, and taking up as little space as possible.
Fast forward to my early 30’s. I’m doing my best to be the good Proverbs 31 Christian woman that I continue to understand Jesus expects me to be. I attend church every Sunday, read my Bible every morning, lead Bible studies, volunteer with high schoolers and college kids at church, honor my parents, love my family, avoid leading people away from God and wait for the blessings of marriage and a family. To my sorrow and shame, I remain single with no kids. This was a conundrum. I was baffled, confused, and feeling at a loss. Was I not trusting God enough? Had I done something to merit God’s disapproval? Was I somehow inherently defective? What is my purpose if not to be a wife and mother?
In 2002, when I was 34, I lost my job and wrestled with what to do next. I was disheartened and at a crossroads. Following college graduation, I had taken one job after another where I found no real meaning or purpose, so the job loss was difficult, but also an opportunity to dream bigger about the reason I was alive. Even so, I walked through a period of confusion, fear, and desperation for God to show me what to do. I longed for a clear sign. The one thing that seemed certain during this time was that I would not take another for-profit job similar to those I had worked in previously. I was yearning for a holistic purpose. I was searching for meaning that extended beyond a job or paycheck.
As fate would have it, I stumbled onto The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, formerly Mars Hill Graduate School. In September 2002, I applied and was accepted to seminary in Seattle, registered for classes, found a place to live over the phone, packed up my apartment, and within six months from losing my job, moved to the Pacific Northwest. At the time I failed to recognize the courage required for this leap of faith. I had never visited this part of the country and yet I was leaving my family and all that I had known to follow my bliss, as Joseph Cambell says in his work on the Hero’s Journey. Little did I know that God was forging a path for me that would allow space for my heart and soul to be cracked open. Through those cracks, I would begin living into purpose and meaning in ways I have never imagined!
After graduating from The Seattle School in 2006 with a Masters in Counseling and Master of Divinity, I returned to Dallas to be near family. You know the saying “you can never go home again”? I learned there is truth to that. I also learned that moving back to Dallas opened the door for me to courageously and wisely re-engage relational, professional, and environmental spaces with a fresh and more integrated perspective. It was not easy, but completely worthwhile.
Shortly after returning to Dallas, I started a career in the non-profit public health sector, and over the course of 13+ years, I found rewarding, impactful, and meaningful work. I strongly desired centeredness and balance, but I don’t think I experienced the fullness of a balanced purpose. As I reflect over the past decade, I can see that when one area of my life flourished, another would be faltering. For instance, when I was in a romantic relationship, work didn’t seem to matter as much. Or, if I was excelling with physical activity and nutrition there may not have been room for a relationship. Balance seemed elusive.
I learned about Resilient Leaders Project’s Certificate in Resilient Service (CRS) in 2019. The timing was perfect. Similar to the transition that led me to The Seattle School in 2002, I could sense another major shift was imminent. I was not certain what that change would be, but I could feel it in my bones and sense the spirit whispering within me. The Resilient Leaders Project program did not disappoint.
Over the nine-month program, it quickly became apparent that the theme of transition was shared by all of the program participants. While each one of us was coming to CRS from our unique experiences and perspectives, we were all at a critical juncture and wrestling with the inevitable and often difficult choices that change requires. In one way or another, we were each seeking purpose, meaning, and balance. The CRS community became a reliable conduit to collectively lean into curiosity and uncertainty with courage and wisdom. We listened to, shared space with, and encouraged one another in ways that allowed us to choose courage and hope.
Several of us have chosen paths completely different from those we were traveling when we entered the program. It is my belief that these brave decisions and changes are possible only, or at least primarily, within the context of relationship. Through CRS I was reminded that the life we are all seeking…one of purpose, meaning, and balance…is impossible apart from intentional and intimate relationships. To that end, we must have people in our lives to share the journey…to bear witness for one another. We must trust that the Holy Spirit is breathing truth, creativity, and wisdom into our steps. We must step into our fear.
The prophet Micah synthesizes our shared purpose when he wrote, “He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord really wants from you: He wants you to carry out justice, to love faithfulness, and to live obediently before your God.” (Micah 6:8, The Bible, New English Translation)
Jesus tells us our ultimate purpose in Mark 12:30-31 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (New English Translation)
I am loath to condense the complexities, nuances, and elastic nature of living into our purpose into a couple of Bible verses, but I sincerely believe the previous verses nicely synthesize humanity’s collective purpose while simultaneously allowing for the intricacies involved at an individual level. Honestly, I continue to wrestle with resting in the specifics of my purpose. At this point in time, I find comfort in a shared purpose and am hopeful at the prospect of making meaning of my life in the context of community. Since I finished the Certificate in Resilient Service, I left my job to dream about what is possible and design a future where the evolving nature of purpose is integrated throughout.
Learn more about Resilient Leaders Project and the Certificate in Resilient Service.