Group Spiritual Direction was my introduction to the ministry of soul care. After my stroke, I experienced extreme anxiety. The anxiety was emotionally and spiritually paralyzing. I could barely go to the grocery amidst strangers, let alone be surrounded by people wanting to hug and communicate (at church). The church wasn't causing my anxiety. My anxiety simply didn't allow me to be present at church, which felt conflicting and overwhelming.
It was an isolating and lonely season. A friend knew I was in this searching season, trying to discover God in new ways. So when she heard that her church was offering a group spiritual direction series, she asked me to join the group. I had never heard of the ministry of spiritual direction. I was hesitant and also curious. You would think something brand new would have been harder to embrace than what I knew but what I needed in that season was simply a small group of people to hold space for me and my struggles on my spiritual journey.
This little group of listeners soon helped me hear God in brand new ways. They listened fully, completely, and without judgement. They didn't try to "fix" my challenges or change me. They helped me notice God's activity in my life and I'm forever grateful.
According to Rose Mary Dougherty, three conditions are essential to the life of a spiritual direction group:
Are you willing to be open and honest about your relationship with God (struggles and all)? Are you in a season of change, discernment, or longing? Do you simply want to learn to be a better listener? You're invited to join us for our first online small group inside our new Peace Seekers Community.
Attendance is important since our group will be intimate. Our time will be an introduction to spiritual direction so you don't need to know a thing about this ministry to begin. We'll meet for 4 Sessions on Zoom, Wednesdays from 10:30 AM - 12 PM Central beginning October 28, 2020. We'll offer safe space to share and ask questions about your spiritual journey among peers and with me (a trained spiritual director). You'll participate in weekly guided scripture meditations for listening to God's activity in this intimate group (limited to 6 participants). Your investment in this 4 sessions is the cost of 2 private spiritual direction sessions. You can find full details and register at this link.
BONUS: You'll become a member of our new online community during the time of our group. This community offers you support from other Peace Seekers, weekly scripture passages and ponderings, as well as connection.
Will you join us?
Short version: I'm going back to school.
Long version: As my journey in ministry unfolds, I'm grateful to be living into my work as a spiritual director, writer, retreat leader & yoga instructor. And, I've been accepted as an official candidate for the Order of Deaconess and Home Missioner in the United Methodist Church. This is a lay role for a person who makes a lifetime commitment to full-time cutting edge work (which I am doing now!) in ministries of LOVE, JUSTICE & SERVICE. As I move toward joining this movement, I connect with others all over the world who are part of this covenant community.
Entering into this relationship as a Deaconess candidate has not been an easy or quick discernment process (which began almost a decade ago) yet I'm grateful for God's clarity and this community who support my work and my calling! And with that, I will be continuing my education!
So what? I'm sharing this update with you as you may notice a few things shifting as I return to seminary coursework. For those who have supported my online community page on Patreon (where I offered guided prayers, audio scripture passages, and live sessions in 2018) that space will close at the end of this year as I focus my efforts on my coursework, yoga & spiritual direction at the studio and writing (here at my blog and elsewhere as time allows). My hopes are that as the community page on Patreon closes, I can begin adding more downloads and other resources here at my blog for you to explore! Also with the closing of the community page on Patreon, I am opening three additional spaces for monthly spiritual direction for supporters who may wish to go deeper with God on their journey. You can find out more about spiritual direction by clicking here.
So, that's the longer version of what is next on my journey of living this "with God" life. I pray 2019 continues to offer you clarity in life as well and that you feel God's companionship along the way.
What's shifting or new in your life? Drop me a message or comment here, I commit to offering a prayer for you as we begin new journeys together in 2019.
The Lenten season is here! This year for Lent, I’m welcoming more silence (and giving up chocolate almonds - yes, that’s a sacrifice). I recently wrote this poem about silence and offer it to you as encouragement for why we sometimes avoid the quiet in and around our lives. How do you meet silence?
Silence: A Poem
by Whitney R. Simpson
She is my companion
yet I avoid her gaze
She is my teacher
yet I push back at her instruction
She is my guide
yet I veer from her course
She is my friend
yet I wonder why she comes near
She is my gift
and I long to savor her more fully
She is inviting me to a oneness with God,
listen...do you hear her?
I avoid her gaze
because at first she looks lonely
I push back at her instruction
because of my own agenda
I veer from her course
because I am easily distracted
I wonder why she comes near
because there is always another choice
Yet I long to savor her
like never before
And once I say yes to her
I receive an awareness I never knew
she could introduce to me
She is my companion,
She is God's gift
As for the seed that fell among thorny plants, these are the ones who, as they go about their lives, are choked by the concerns, riches, and pleasures of life, and their fruit never matures. The seed that fell on good soil are those who hear the word and commit themselves to it with a good and upright heart. Through their resolve, they bear fruit. - Luke 8:14-15 CEB
Recently, much change has occurred in my personal life. The change was unplanned and not on my radar or written in my planner (I’m told most people don’t plan change, so that statement simply confirms my type A personality). Once our family accepted the change was coming (a move to a new home in a different city) it seemed 100% right.
All the pieces for the move fell into place as God orchestrated the change for our family. We were excited for the opportunity to be closer to extended family. And yet, this change impacted me more deeply than I expected. As I sat in our empty home loading the last boxes a flood of emotions and tears emptied out of my physical body. There was so much to leave behind. Memories of building our first home, the birth of our son, moments of health crisis and recovery, birthday parties, bike rides, snow fights with neighborhood kids, delicious meals, and warm bonfires. My heart ached to leave and yet it was also excited for the new growth and seed that God was planting.
When life seems uncertain and I become overwhelmed, meditating on God’s word soothes my soul. As I breathed in my favorite scripture, “Be still and know that I am God,” I was reminded that God knows our plans. God knows what is to come. God knows the good things that are in store for each of us. God knows our worries. God knows change unsettles us. God knows we can cling to his word and his promises. It is a relief to be still and know that God has all our best interests at heart. I may be uncertain of much but I am certain that God is with me among the change.
Thomas Merton reminds us, “every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.” As we each face change in this new year (big or small), may we face it with hope and great expectation! Every moment we face and every change that occurs shapes our soul. May we embrace the seeds that are sprouting in our souls and foster them as they grow. And although we currently have record low temperatures at my house, that seed God is planting will still sprout, I’m certain. Our God provides soil that is rich. May the seeds of change in 2014 bear much fruit in your life and your soul.
This post originally appeared at AbingdonWomen.com.
“Reach high, for stars lie hidden in your soul. Dream deep, for every dream precedes the goal.” ― Mother Teresa
One thing that I’ve been reminded of a lot recently (in life and in ministry) is that dreams do not come to fruition overnight. It seems I meet dreamers who think their dreams will never come true or that their dream will not matter or help another person as they envision. I am guilty of not always acting on my dreams and letting them fade into the morning sun. But, I’m learning to pay better attention and to partner with God’s nudges to “do something” about them more often. Instead of letting these dreams and ideas we may not fully understand fade, maybe we just need to do something about them and let God decide if they are reality. Recently, I’ve seen one of my dreams collide with another dream at a local non-profit and it’s been an exciting and confirming experience.
For most of us, our dreams begin as nudges or feelings in the pit of our stomach to "do something." What began as an urge to "do something" in one community five years ago has turned into a dream not only for the dreamers but also for those locals without reliable health care.
A group of individuals began meeting to dream about providing health care for those in Wilson County who were working but did not have health insurance. This small group began researching local health clinics, recruiting volunteers and within a short period of time was offering basic health care for a very small fee in a local office building. What began as a dream, quickly turned into a 501(c)3 non-profit, Charis Health Center. Thanks to the hard work, passion, and vision of the volunteers, the center continues to grow.
In 2010, Charis added a part-time nurse practitioner as the first staff member thanks to grant funding. In 2012, they hired a part-time Executive Director, Karen Rudzinski, to continue dreaming alongside the Board of Directors and office volunteers to manage grants, funding, and volunteers. Just months ago, this booming non-profit closed the doors of that original office building and moved into a much larger and spacious vacated physician's office. No longer are the volunteers just getting by with available space, but they now have dedicated medical space to offer quality health care and a prayer room for spiritual care as well. The prayer room has been made available for patients, volunteers, and the community. Charis was founded on the belief that wellness incorporates body, mind, and spirit. This faith based clinic from the beginning wanted to offer space for both health care and spiritual care for their patients.
This is where my dream fits into the picture. My dream to "do something" began after years of personal health crises (one crisis after another including cancer, stroke, and brain surgery occurred in my 20's and 30's). God nudged me during my own healing to begin walking with others in 2010. The calling was to reach out and help others find healing and wholeness through spiritual care by offering spiritual direction and retreat leadership. Charis opened their doors for my practicum coursework and we are now partnering to offer spiritual care alongside primary health care for interested patients. Studies show that patients show greater motivation to complete the task of healing when their spiritual needs are met and that spiritual care may even help improve pain management.
The vision from just a few is now helping so many. It really is amazing how God can begin working on our hearts without the full details. Just this month, a local physician, Dr. Joseph Ozenne announced he is now volunteering as the clinic's medical director. According to Dr. Ozenne, the opportunity to more fully incorporate his faith into his medical practice has been a dream of his for some time. Without following that nudge from the Holy Spirit to do something, there would be no Charis Health Center for the patients, staff or volunteers. Since opening the doors in January 2008, Charis staff and volunteers have served more than 2,800 patients and provided over 7,800 office visits. I’d say that is doing something!
We often think our dreams are unlikely, improbable, and impossible. We think we can't make a difference by starting out with just one person in need or one part of a community. We get scared off by the big picture. In reality, only God can fulfill the dreams he places on our hearts. Have a dream? Like that amazing group of people who had a dream and a vision for starting Charis Health Center, maybe you should do something about yours.
What is your dream? Who will you share and invite into your dream?
Posted originally at MinistryMatters.com. Ministry Matters supports ministry leaders with resources, community, and inspiration. Follow them: @ministrymatters on Twitter | ministrymatters on Facebook
We'd surely get bored and complain if seasons didn't change (or at least I know I would). I was reminded recently by a new friend that our lives consist of different seasons. For the past several years, I've been in a season of slowing down and looking up. That season was one of the most amazing and blessed seasons of my life. I didn't really want it to end.
But, just as Summer ceases and Fall begins, we have little control over the season in which God places us. It is also a blessing that I've moved into a new season. And, although I really miss my seminary travels, I'm so blessed to be putting my studies into action now. Charis Health Center has added Spiritual Care for their patients and the community one day per week. This is a service that can assist patients as well as others in finding God in their present situation. It isn't always easy to find God, and it is often more challenging when you're sick. I'll never forget walking through my recovery and illness trying to find God in my day to day struggles. I had support in many ways but finding God's presence wasn't one of them. It is such a privilege to help others look and find God's activity in their own situation. I'm also continuing to teach and serve at Gallatin CARES Worship Center and meet with patients from the health clinic two days a week. I'm positively overwhelmed with these opportunities to be in ministry in these places and with people I love. I often think I am there to serve others, but serving has had a huge impact on my own spiritual formation.
For those of you who have been following this journey a while, you know i began blogging after my stroke in 2005 to journey toward healing and wholeness. I love to write. Writing helps me process and heal. It also lets me share my heart. Since that time, I've gone from writing about physical therapy exercises to God's grand activity in my life and the lives around me. Recently, I was contacted by Abingdon Press regarding an opportunity to author their new Abingdon Women's blog. This opportunity excites me, humbles me and even scares me just a little bit! I'm interviewing Bible Study authors, posting about living in God's word, and connecting women to good solid opportunities for studying God's word as a spiritual discipline.
When I told a friend I was a little nervous, she looked at me and said, "good, I'd be worried about you if you weren't." I loved that reply and it has made me think! Here is what I've learned; this new season may seem a little busier, it may have more demands, AND I may feel a greater opportunity to make mistakes, but God has called me to serve. God has walked me to this season of life and he is asking me to embrace what he puts before me. God wrote this story, he is still writing it. I could choose to bury myself in leaves and try to stay in one season. But, he is asking each of us to stand up and embrace what is to come. He is asking us to live into our stories.
What's this season like for you? What's God calling you to be nervous about?
As the only student on my recent learning journey who was not seeking ordination as a deacon or elder in the church, it caused me to go deeper and seek confirmation from God regarding my call. I do remain confirmed in the path that I am taking, or that God has put before me. The path I am on is a path that seeks to gain trust and connect with people both inside and outside the walls of the church by pursuing my Certification in Spiritual Formation. Even after this journey with others on the ordination path, I feel confirmed as laity. I feel called to help people seek and find peace in their life amidst the turmoil and distress of this life both inside of and outside of the walls of the church.
I am not called to be the church; I am called to the parts of the church. I am called to help people find their hearts strangely warmed as John Wesley did when his experience with God went from a head experience to a heart experience at Aldersgate. I am called to help us return to the roots of how this church was brought to America. The irony here is that John Wesley was escaping church as he knew it to start a different kind of church. He wanted to offer healing and wholeness to people through a personal relationship with God. We must look at our history and realize that today we are the agents of change. This means answering the call of connecting people to their relationship with God, not the church. This was never the intent. I am called to take it from head knowledge to heart knowledge.
Ironically, I think my story and experience with God has been opposite of that of John Wesley. I feel like I came to know God through my heart first and now God has called me to learn more about him with my head. You see, both are important. The way of salvation is to have God in our hearts. Knowing God in our heads will not give us the kind of relationship we can have with God in our hearts. I believe that knowing about God makes knowing God in your life even more meaningful. Everything that happens in your life is Spiritual Formation. Opening your eyes to see it as such is what makes all the difference. I hope I can walk alongside that path with others whose eyes are being opened so they can too feel their hearts “strangely warmed”. We must stop doing church and just be God’s church. This may look like new ways of being the hands and feet of Christ. It may look like self care, covenant groups, social justice, Sabbath time, missions, or worship.
As I was concluding these thoughts, the word “United” on the front of my hymnal jumped out at me in a new way. We are United. We are a United church. The United Methodist Church is just the means in which I have chosen to accept and live out my faith. It is not my identity because my identity is that of a child of God. This time of learning was a reminder of why I have chosen to answer God’s call on my life to walk with people on their spiritual journeys. It reminded me of the importance of community and of learning from our mistakes. It gives me passion to rejuvenate God’s people in historical and ancient ways. The connection is essential. I look to our Lord for the hope to share that peace, for he is the lover of my soul.
Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide,
Till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide;
Oh, receive my soul at last.
Other refuge have I none,
Hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, ah! leave me not alone,
Still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed,
All my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head
With the shadow of Thy wing.
Wilt Thou not regard my call?
Wilt Thou not accept my prayer?
Lo! I sink, I faint, I fall--
Lo! on Thee I cast my care.
Reach me out Thy gracious hand!
While I of Thy strength receive,
Hoping against hope I stand,
Dying, and behold, I live.
Thou, O Christ, art all I want,
More than all in Thee I find;
Raise the fallen, cheer the faint,
Heal the sick, and lead the blind.
Just and holy is Thy Name,
Source of all true righteousness;
Thou art evermore the same,
Thou art full of truth and grace.
Plenteous grace with Thee is found,
Grace to cover all my sin;
Let the healing streams abound;
Make and keep me pure within.
Thou of life the fountain art,
Freely let me take of Thee;
Spring Thou up within my heart;
Rise to all eternity.
“Jesus, Lover of My Soul”
Charles Wesley, 1740
I have always had a love-love relationship with food. And, for the girl who was raised to ponder if "Little Debbie" deserved her own food group, I have come a long way in learning to love "real" food. But, chocolate is one thing I simply love. These days I do have a deeper appreciation for food and the good (or not so good) it does for my body. However, chocolate is something I will always love and the research that shows dark chocolate is good for you, gets lots of excitement from this girl!
Anyway, this weekend I had the opportunity to lead guided prayer, lectio divina (meditative scripture reading) and an introduction to a labyrinth walk at St. Mary's Retreat Center in Sewanee, Tennessee on a yoga retreat with my yoga instructor, Leighanne.
It was wonderful to share these tools with others and give them new experiences during our time of retreat. For some time now I have been in a stage of discernment. I have felt God's nudge to learn, study, and journey but now I am supposed to start putting all of this into practice. I have been taking advanatage of opportunities that were placed in my path and really trying to listen to where I am supposed to be. I know that I have a desire to share what I'm learning with others. But, where, how, when, what? One of my professors suggested recently that I ask God to "hurry up" and give me some clarity. My time of discernment is coming to an end and it is time to start "doing" and not just talking about "doing". I thought the idea of asking God to hurry up sounded a little silly. But, this man is wise. So, I've started doing just this and have begun asking Him, "Where am I supposed to be?".
When we arrived on Friday, Leighanne brought along tea lights, some essential oils and a bag of Dove chocolates. So, we planned to prepare the rooms for our guests with fresh scents and a sweet treat. As Leighanne handed me a bag of chocolate to distribute, I immediatly placed one of the chocolates on each of our pillows then headed to the other rooms to complete my task (we couldn't be left out!).
Later we enjoyed some wonderfully fresh dinner and I returned to my room for that chocolate for dessert before we started our evening yoga. I opened the wrapper and much to my surprise, it said, "You are exactly where you are supposed to be. Love, Dove". Wow, God. Thanks for speaking to me through my favorite food and also greatest weakness (chocolate). And, this message from "Dove" is even special since Exploring Peace is symbolized by a dove. Who knew such beauty could come imprinted on aluminum foil? This message seemed to be sent directly to me from above.
Yes, I must admit, I had more than one chocolate. I also had messages that said things like, "Embrace your sense of adventure." and "Calories only count if you count them." Both of those are true for me as well. But, the chocolate on my pillow was meant for me that weekend. It was a reminder for me and for you that "you are exactly where you are supposed to be".
Maybe you are ready to transition to a new place but the place you are in at this moment holds something for you to savor. Even the most desolate of places in our life holds something for us, doesn't it? Where are you? Where are you going? Where are you supposed to be? What is it you can learn from the place you are right now?
For some time, I have felt God tugging at my heart to use my story of healing and wholeness to help others but I’ve just not been sure how I was supposed to do that… I started a blog called "Whitney's Journey" after my stroke and brain surgery in 2005. This was my online journal and was even before blogs were called blogs. At that time, I mostly used my blog to process and vent about my recovery and log the often boring details of my progress in Physical Therapy. I also shared my joys and victories as I conquered everyday new tasks like multi-tasking (something I still often struggle with). Most recently I used that blog to post God sightings in my life and the successes I’ve had on my journey of healing. Those writings were very personal for me and helped me to record my faith story. Writing is something I encourage anyone going through a difficult time to do, it does not have to be fancy or formal, just write. It can be a private paper journal or a public blog. We so often do not allow ourselves the opportunity to process what is taking place in our hearts and minds. Journaling (privately and publicly) not only helps us see the progress we make, but it also helps us to keep tabs on our emotions and witness how God is working in our lives. Often times, we are so close to situations that we fail to see God’s work within them. Writing helps.
God has been calling me to pursue deeper study for the past several years. Since the Summer of 2009 God has been calling me to return to school and study Spiritual Formation - specifically to learn more about facilitating retreats and spiritual direction. So, as I pray and dream about where God plans to use me each day (as well as in the future) and what this all means, I felt it was only appropriate I start fresh with a new blog because it isn’t about “Whitney’s Journey”, it never was. It’s God’s journey and I’m just along for the ride.
Notice the dove? God has me on a journey of exploration as I seek to find peace and share it with others in my life. The word peace is very dear to me as it was a comfort during my health crisis. It is a word that came to me at my most fearful moment and a word that brought me closest to God. I truly believe that this exploration is a journey that I am supposed to share. Not only am I to share my victories, but also what I learn from my failures. For the journey to find peace is not a direct route but an exploration. Will you join me?
Whitney R. Simpson
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Whitney R. Simpson,
Exploring Peace Ministries, LLC