Bulking Up My Faith Muscles

I recently told you about my resolution to do more than talk a good game about my faith. I remember a minister who taught a Bible study I once attended. He said that you have to be careful when you pray for faith. Sometimes, God will just give you more faith. Sometimes, however, he may put you in a situation which requires you to exercise your faith, thus growing that faith. And, sometimes, if you are really blessed, God will test you in a way that demonstrates to you just how much faith you already have. These are some scary possibilities but I am beginning to realize that to grow faith, one must actually step out in faith. Talking is not enough. Action and practice are necessary. To bulk up one’s faith, one must exercise the faith muscles.

A few months ago, I led an Alpha course at my church. This was the fourth Alpha course I have helped lead. Alpha is a program made up of eleven weekly evening sessions, plus a day retreat. The original purpose of the course was to provide a place for people who would not identify themselves as churchgoers or Christians to grapple with the big questions of life, faith, purpose, and God. However, we find that the course has dramatic benefits for people at any point on their spiritual travels. Each evening begins with a dinner, followed by a video presentation on some aspect of Christianity. Then, the guests break into small discussion groups to talk about their perspectives, experiences, questions, doubts, fears, observations, and anything else they wish to say. Coordinating the program is a rewarding, enriching, and soul-feeding experience for me. In the past, it has also been exhausting and stressful for me.

At the beginning of this Alpha course, my life coach challenged me. He advised that I prepare no more than half as much as I would have in the past. He encouraged me to trust the Holy Spirit, trust my own competence, and trust the qualities that God created in me. Faith in God and faith in myself was a radically different strategy than my previous modus operandi of trying to anticipate and guard against any possible (or, for that matter, impossible!) uncomfortable eventuality. I always said that we only opened the door and turned on the lights during the Alpha course. God was the one who did all the work. Despite what I said and despite my intellectual understanding that it was true, I could not seem to refrain from doing, doing, doing in any spare moment between sessions to try to cover all my bases. I felt terrified at the very notion of dialing back on preparation… but also strangely liberated. I decided to try it. Why not? I convinced myself that it wasn’t brain surgery, and no one was going to die if something uncomfortable happened. In fact, someone might grow.

Someone did grow. Me.

I had FUN during this Alpha course. I not only said I was going to let the Holy Spirit take the reins. I actually did it. The burden was much lighter. In the past, I had to beg and plead to get people to provide meals. I usually ended up providing several myself. This time, I had a surplus of people agreeing to help with the food. One of my precious sisters by selection who attended the course in the past and enjoyed it volunteered to be my production partner. This reduced the work, the worry, and the responsibility of the program by way more than half. I didn’t worry about things going wrong. Nothing really went wrong. When something went a little bit off center, I relied on help from the team and even the guests to get us back on track. I also relied on my own personality and sense of humor to offset any awkwardness. I figured out that every offering, no matter how imperfect, is a priceless gift to God. We had the largest number of guests we have ever had on an Alpha course and our guests had the highest level of consistent attendance. The guest feedback was stellar.

God has been working on me, clearly. Let me tell you a story. When I first agreed to help with Alpha (without ever having attended a course, by the way), I did so because I did a lot of group facilitation work in my career. I was not necessarily thinking about roles that involved cooking, serving meals, and providing a cozy, hospitable environment. I had never even hosted a party in my life. I grew up in a family that did not entertain. I eat like a four-year-old, so my cooking repertoire is extremely limited. I am as introverted as one can get on the Myers-Briggs scale. Somehow, I wandered into the path of a runaway volunteer recruiter and ended up being the Alpha hospitality princess. I stepped out in faith. I, who had never thrown a party in her life, was holding dinner parties for fifty every week. And nothing tragic happened.

During that first Alpha program, one of the guests brought up the subject of Lent. We were talking about how to use the Lenten season as a time of spiritual growth. I told the small group that I wanted to learn to pray better during the time leading up to Easter. One of the participants in the course was the chaplain for our church ladies’ group. She made it her business to nominate me to succeed her, telling me it would be an excellent way for me to develop my prayer skills. I stepped out in faith. It was a jarring jolt to my system, but my nominator was absolutely right. In acting as the chaplain, I became more intentional about prayer. I excavated and rebuilt the foundation of my own prayer life. I experimented with leading the monthly meeting devotionals with different types of prayer. I looked for ways to engage and involve our membership in creating active, powerful prayer. I presented a workshop about prayer, which culminated in a time of focused, peaceful, silent prayer. Our ladies told me they felt as if they truly felt the spirit of God in the room with us. I allowed myself to be more vulnerable in sharing my own writing and prayers. There is no question that I developed my prayer skills during the two years I served as chaplain. And I loved doing it.

Over the past few years, I have expanded the scope of my “stepping out in faith” activities beyond Alpha. I have been involved in leadership in my church. The issues under discussion are more sensitive and controversial- sometimes even divisive. I have never been a fighter. All my life, I have avoided conflict and confrontation. My idea of peace-making and negotiating is appeasement. I give up instead of standing up. I have always convinced myself that whatever the issue in question was, it wasn’t a big deal, and I just did not care enough to fight. Although I hid from it, I did always understand that there are some things that are big deals and that I do care. Lately, God has been leading me to step out in faith in trickier situations. I believe He has put it in my heart to stand up and be counted on some issues- maybe even be a warrior.

It has not been easy. I struggle with myself and with others as I take this step out in faith. It is hard for me to trust my own thoughts and perspectives, especially when others resist. Some relationships have been strained. I try to do everything, even disagree with people, with love. I am aware, however, that my heart sometimes gets heated. I wonder if I am truly doing what God wants of me, especially since fighting is so counter to my nature. I wonder if I am simply pridefully pursuing my own perspective Selecting me to do spiritual battle seems a funny choice for God to make. On the other hand- precisely because this behavior is so unlike anything I would choose for myself- perhaps it must be God.

I guess I always thought that by the time I reached the advance age of sixty-four, God would be finished with me. I figured that He would have already equipped me with whatever attributes or talents He needed me to have to do the work He wanted me to do. It never occurred to me that He would want me to take on something completely out of character once I hit chapter three in my own personal book of life. I have to confess that I am still not sure that is what is happening because it is so darn difficult. The robe of authentic righteous indignation fits me poorly. There have been many times when I have tugged on the hem or pushed up the sleeves. More than once, I have had it half over my head to remove it. This experience requires me to surf wilder waves in my faith than ever in my life. I said a couple of weeks ago that I feel like I’ve struggled with my faith, but I know that “grown” is a better word that “struggled.” I sometimes think about what it has meant to stand up for one’s faith. The early Christian martyrs died for Christianity. There are still places in the world where people are jailed and murdered for their faith. Even in Western countries, there are people who are ridiculed and isolated from family and friends because they choose to become Christians. I have never experienced anything like those kinds of spiritual trials. Maybe the reason God is choosing me to stand up in this small way now is to show me that I can do it. God doesn’t need me to protect Him, but He wants me to trust that He will protect me.

What experiences have you had that has stretched your faith? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a muscle bound day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

Thinking About Thanking

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the United States. People all over the country will be counting their blessings. I like to think I count my blessings every day. Gratitude is a big deal to me. Every Thursday, I post five of the things for which I am most thankful from the preceding week. I have been celebrating “Thankful Thursday” in this way for about 15 years. It is a rare week when my “thankfuls” do not fall trippingly off my fingertips along the keyboard. There are sooooo many things that I receive with great gratitude every single week. It is hard to know what to do as an encore for Thanksgiving Thursday!

That is not going to keep me from trying, however.

Here is a whole passel of thankfuls that have come my way in 2023:

  1. I am thankful for Max, who loves me and grows with me all the time.
  2. I am thankful for Todd Payne.
  3. I am thankful that I was finally able to release the huge burden of pain related to my marriage that I carried for over 40 years.
  4. I am thankful for learning to draw boundaries.
  5. I am thankful for the beautiful, precious, amazing family of friends that inhabit my life.
  6. I am thankful for the congregation at St. James Episcopal Church.
  7. I am thankful for Tom and Kathleen Trees.
  8. I am thankful for a beautiful, joyful, rewarding Alpha course experience, after a three-year hiatus.
  9. I am thankful for the oceans and beaches.
  10. I am thankful for beautiful and fragrant flowers.
  11. I am thankful for tall trees that dapple the paths beneath them with sunlight and shadow.
  12. I am thankful for mountains and streams.
  13. I am thankful for the leaves changing color.
  14. I am thankful for Cathy and Jim Gocella who supported me through the difficult time when my much-loved cousin Ann passed from this life to the next.
  15. I am thankful that good homes were found for Ann’s cats.
  16. I am thankful for my pretty, sweet, cozy house.
  17. I am thankful for soft, snuggly blankets.
  18. I am thankful for air conditioning.
  19. I am thankful that no hurricanes hit my neighborhood this summer.
  20. I am thankful for our vacations this year that were not only fun and beautiful, but also enriched me in terms of confidence, peace, and connection.
  21. I am thankful for the return of gingerbread at Starbucks.
  22. I am thankful even for the struggles and challenges of this past year because I can see how God has grown me through them.
  23. I am thankful that God did not leave me alone and orphaned during the struggles and challenges- because without God, there would have been only destruction instead of growth.

I am stopping at 23 because there is something satisfying and orderly about having 23 thankfuls for 2023. Also, it is Wednesday, and I am already late posting my blog for this week. Please know, however, that there are many more reasons for my gratitude this Thanksgiving week. If you are reading this today, YOU are one of those reasons!

Have a thankful day!


What are your “thankfuls” this Thanksgiving week? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

The Scriptures According To Terri

After writing The Scriptures According To Tinker Bell, I started thinking about my own relationship with the Bible. Once again, I am hoping that no one will take this blog post as blasphemous or disrespectful. I am in no way comparing myself to the godly Hall of Famers that God chose to transcribe His Holy words. I just think that, for the scriptures to live, we all need to integrate them into our own experience. In doing so, we open the door for God to create very specific, personal guidance in each of our hearts.

Over this past year, I have been bumping along on my way down a rougher, less developed expanse of my spiritual road than I am used to navigating. My initial impulse is to say that I have “struggled” with faith. Upon reflection, I realized that perspective is blatantly inaccurate. I would use the word “grown” instead of the word “struggled.” Growth spurts are usually uncomfortable. They have the capacity to make us feel less capable, less grounded, and less confident. That is what the last year has been like for me. On the other hand, growth spurts also have the capacity to make us stronger, more powerful, and more steadfast.

Recently, my church presented a “spiritual gifts inventory” as part of our annual parish stewardship dinner. As I scored my inventory, I found some predictable conclusions. There were a few surprises, however. I scored rather low in the “faith” category of spiritual gifts. This gave me pause because most of the people in my life think of me as a faithful person- not just in the sense of being loyal in my relationships, but in the sense of having spiritual trust and maturity. I rarely perceive in myself the godly faithfulness others say they see in me.  I have always prioritized faith development in my life and tried to grow in my relationship with God. I guess I’ve always felt that, if I intentionally tried to grow spiritually, my efforts would result in a stronger, deeper, more secure faith.

It seems that faith development takes more than just being intentional.

The reason for my lower “faith score” is likely my habitual inclination towards worry. All of my life, I have struggled with self-doubt and incessant, unreasonable worrying. It is hard to reconcile my irrational fears, overthinking, and over-the-top preparing with my professed faith in an all-powerful, all-loving God.  Someone once said that faith is the opposite of fear. The Bible tells us repeatedly not to be afraid, but to trust in the providence of God. I want to integrate all of these admonitions into my very soul but worry still wins out a good percentage of the time.

In grappling with this problem of mine, I’ve tried many different strategies. Undoing a lifetime of hard-wired anxiety is not easy. I remember composing a memo from God that I posted on my office tack board. It said:

To: All humankind

From: The Sovereign God and Creator of the Universe

Subject: Worrying

Effective immediately, you are to stop worrying. Additionally, you are to stop trying to control the world. That’s my job.



It was good to have a visual reminder. I think it helped. I doubt anyone who ever worked with me would agree that it helped at all. I am a very talented worrier. Worrying was my brand. Again, not really congruent with my profession that I am a Christian believer who places her faith in God.

I am beginning to realize that to grow faith, one must actually step out in faith. Talking is not enough. Intellectualizing is not enough. Action and practice are necessary.

Over the past year or so, I have been trying to take that step out in faith by acting rather than just mouthing platitudes. It has not been easy, and I have encountered resistance. I decided I wanted another visual reminder to encourage me. Psalm 46:10 tells us, “Be still and know that I am God.”  This, I thought, is the perfect verse for me. I decided to search Etsy to see if there were any rock-painting artists who offered small rocks with customized designs. Writing the whole verse on a rock seemed like too much to fit, but  I thought I could get one with  Psalm 46:10  written on it. I found someone who did this work, and I promptly ordered my rock right there on my cell phone.

My rock appeared a few days later. I was so pleased. It had a little picture of a flower on one side and the Scripture citation on the other.  I slipped it into my change purse and made a habit of looking at it whenever I pulled out some cash.

One day, I was writing an email and wanted to quote my comforting Scripture verse. Because I have never been very good at memorizing Bible verses, I could not recall the citation. My purse was handy, so I pulled out my rock. As I began typing the Scripture reference, something just felt wrong. I decided to check the verse on my phone. Apparently, because of my haste when I ordered the rock and because of my clumsy fat fingers, I erred when I typed in the particulars for my order on Etsy. Instead of “Psalm 46:10,” I inadvertently ordered “Psalm 46:19.” 

Psalm 46:19 does not exist.

At first, I felt deflated and inadequate. How could I mess up like that? How could I be so disrespectful of God’s holy word? I did not even want to order another rock with the correct citation on it. I actually felt ashamed and embarrassed.

Then, I realized something. I made a mistake, but I had only good intentions. God could use that mistake for good (Romans 8:28.) I started thinking about what God might want me to know. Maybe Psalm 46:19, although not in anyone else’s Bible, is a verse God is trying to inscribe on my heart. What would God say to me, if He was going to offer a new Scripture verse just for me and for my struggle with worrying and self-doubt?

After some prayerful reflection, I came up with this:

I am a precious child of God and I bring joy to the world. I can trust that He has created me elegantly and equipped me perfectly to live the life He sets before me.

Psalm 46:19

God does not make mistakes and He uses even our mistakes to work for the benefit of those who love Him. Maybe everyone could use a mistake as an opportunity to consider what God’s private Scripture for each of us might be.

If God wrote a Scripture verse just for you, what would it say? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com

Have a faithful day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

Sometimes You Feel Like A Nut; Sometimes You Don’t- part 2

Thank you for returning to read the denouement! As promised, here is the final chapter of our New England saga…

Directions were an adventure all their own for the entire trip. My confidence in GPS turned out to be somewhat unfounded in the White Mountains and the Green Mountains. Google Maps floated in and out of commission on my phone. This made me tense. Luckily, Max’s phone did a better job of picking up the GPS signal, so we did not end up in Canada. It was all a little stressful, never knowing exactly where I was headed when I put the car in gear.

We stopped at Queegee Gorge on our way to our next stop- Killington, Vermont. I was feeling pretty chuffed that I had found my way back to Vermont, so I suggested we take the hike down into the gorge. I fully expected Max to politely- or not so politely- decline. When I asked if he felt up for the hike, he said “sure.” He must have been feeling pretty chuffed, too. It turned out to be a wonderful, beautiful, uplifting experience. In fact, that hike stands out to me as a top favorite moment in a week of almost nothing but favorite moments. The hike was exhilarating enough to feel challenging and rewarding but was not so difficult to leave me feeling defeated. The greens and golds and browns of the trees filtered the sunlight, weaving webs of shadows under the canopy of branches. I went to New England to see the fall colors. The fall colors were mind-blowing, no question. I also have to say that the green-gold tapestry in the forest surrounding the Queegee Gorge trail was magical also. 

Since we were in the area, we also stopped at the Simon Pearce showroom. For those of you who have never heard of Simon Pearce (which included me until a month or so ago), the company makes hand-blown glassware that is clear and pure beyond anything I could ever have imagined before I saw it. We were able to watch the artisans making some of the products while we were there. The showroom is a every s huge open space. Every surface is covered with crystal confections catching rays of light, faceting those rays of light into thousands of tiny bits, and throwing confetti of light back into the atmosphere. It is a starry night, without stars and without night. I wanted my own piece of star, but the prices at Simon Pearce are not for the faint-hearted. I hemmed and hawed and debated until I finally walked away without purchasing. I would like to say I felt good about myself for demonstrating excellent impulse control, but that would be a lie. I did not feel good about myself.  I have yet to recover from leaving Simon Pearce empty-handed.

We spent the next day in Woodstock, enjoying the shops and autumn decorations. The day began auspiciously when I found a magnificent parking spot- quite a feat in a village without parking structures- Predictably, my GPS abandoned me, and  I got lost when I tried to get to Billings Farm after our Woodstock visit. It turned out that I was going in the wrong direction, which we found out when the GPS finally roused itself. We were going in the wrong direction… right past Simon Pearce. You would have thought I would have taken this as a sign from God, but I did not. I once more passed up the opportunity to acquire very expensive glass table décor.

We did eventually find our way to Billings Farm and had a delightful time. My favorite part was loving on the newborn baby cows. One of these enchanting critters named Fig was especially enamored with me. She nuzzled me, slipped her head under my hand for pets, licked my hands and forearms, and gnawed on my fingers and hands. It didn’t hurt. In fact, it felt kind of pleasant at the time. About half an hour later, I grabbed a railing to steady myself as I walked down a flight of stairs. As soon as my hand made contact with the rail, I realized my hand hurt. I looked at my hand and saw a light bruise in the perfect shape of a calf’s upper palate. Note to self for the future: beware of champing bovines.

On our final full day in Vermont, we headed back to Burlington. I heard about this incredible, over-the-top Christmas store in Shelbourne, right outside of Burlington. I was sure it had my name written all over it. As we approached Shelbourne, I noticed a sign on the side of the road pointing the direction to the Vermont Teddy Bear Company. I made a wild, spontaneous, and madcap decision that we should stop there. Actually, it was not so much a “decision” as it was a “primal calling.” Max and I have a thing about bears. Being in the proximity of the Vermont Teddy Bear Company was complete serendipity. I did take this as a sign from God. After exploring the whole facility, taking a tour,  and learning all about how the good people in Vermont build a teddy bear, I plunked down my credit card to pay $100 for a limited edition fall foliage teddy bear. Her name is Maple Sugar. After taking the tour, I at least knew WHY a teddy bear should cost $100. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

After the teddy bear nirvana, we stopped at the Christmas store which was indeed a sight to behold. I circumnavigated the shop at least four times and kept seeing new items every time. It was like somebody took all the fancy decorations in all the fancy holiday windows in Manhattan, along with all the leftover Christmas merchandise, and stuffed it all together in a 2000 square foot barn… and then let the public wander through the Christmas explosion for free.

When we reached the hotel in Burlington, we encountered another complication. The hotel had no record of our reservation, despite the fact that I had an email confirmation. I made the reservation through a third-party website and, it appeared, that somehow the reservation information never made it to the hotel. After several unsatisfactory phone calls and online help chats, I got ahold of someone who promised to check and call me back. The hotel had only one more room left. Since I prepaid with my reservation, I was not too excited about renting the one remaining room and paying twice. Still, both Max and I were getting nervous about waiting on the customer service person to get back to me because we feared the room would sell before we resolved the problem. Another gentleman, who had been staying in the hotel for business for the past several weeks, overheard our conversation. He told us that it was Parents Weekend at the nearby University of Vermont and, also, Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. He helpfully advised us that it was unlikely that we would find lodging anywhere in the vicinity that night. We took the one remaining room, and I figured I could try to mop up the issue with the third-party website when we got home.

All of this took some time, and I was getting hungry. We did have a dinner reservation at five, so we headed out to the restaurant. On the way, we got lost again. Surprise, not surprise. As we made a U-turn to right ourselves, I noticed a very attractive, tony kind of Vermont gift store strategically placed across the main highway from the restaurant. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed glassware  in the window. Simon Pearce? I resolved to check it out after ingesting some nourishment. We enjoyed a delicious dinner in a great environment with excellent service. It was a great “cherry on top” end to our trip. While we were at dinner, I checked the gift store’s website. Indeed, they did feature Simon Pearce glass. However, they closed at 5:00pm. Final opportunity to acquire expensive glassware thwarted!

The next day, we traveled home. Aside from a  layover (originally 3 hours, extended to 6 hours) in JFK airport, all was well. We got back to our house around 11:00pm, tired and relieved to be home.

Over the past weeks since we have been back, I’ve reflected on the trip often. When we left, I really felt like I wanted and needed a vacation. I was looking forward to rest, relaxation, refreshment, pampering, and a generous helping of TLC. This trip was not that. It was not a vacation. It was an adventure. It was thrilling and exhilarating and confidence-building. It was organic and real and vibrant. I suppose most people would not have considered our adventure “edgy,” but it was for us. Sometimes it is good when God shakes you past your comfortable frontier and into the expanded unknown. Sometimes, you want a vacation, but you need an adventure.

Sometimes you feel like a nut and sometimes you don’t. And sometimes you don’t feel like a nut, but find you enjoy it once you bite into one!

on our hike into Queegee Gorge
Fig, the woman eating calf
Me with Maple Sugar Bear
Despite everything, I was still sad to leave New England

Have you ever taken a trip that did not play out the way you expected, but was still an amazing experience? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have an adventurous day!

Terri/Dorry 😊