Reflections In The Desert

I said in my last post that the trip to Las Vegas provided an opportunity for me to shed my default perceptions about myself and explore some new possibilities. Or, at least, I said something like that. The world around me in Las Vegas was so dramatically different from where I routinely live, my pre-programmed brain pathways went all wackadoodle. Because I was unable to rely on those pre-programmed thought processes, my brain had to figure out whole new ways of thinking about the world and about myself. The trip was another dramatic and somewhat disconcerting episode in the “I have turned into a completely different person” saga I have been living the last couple of years. I have become so extra. I was weird before, but now I’m even weirder- but I am largely unabashed about it now.

It all started on the plane ride. I was sitting between Max and a strange guy. When I say “strange,” I mean “unknown to me” as opposed to “odd” or “sketchy.” Even though he wasn’t odd or sketchy, I was still anxiety-ridden. My biggest fear is being trapped in the middle seat of an airplane with a chatty stranger sitting practically in my lap for four and a half hours. Usually, I employ whatever strategies I can concoct to ward off people like this, especially men. That was my initial reaction this time, too. I soon realized I was using way more energy to resist the attempts to engage that I would use if I just allowed the conversation to unfold and trust myself to cope with it. I changed tactics. I answered his questions and asked some questions of him… just like a normal human being. I realized that this man was purposely engaging with me to chat rather than avoiding contact with me because I am so repulsive and off-putting. Recognizing that truth made it much easier to go with the flow.

Later that evening, we went to a Neil Diamond tribute show. We had excellent seats, and it was a small venue. The performer seemed to be singing right to me. Normally, I would have felt uncomfortable and embarrassed. I would have tried to shrink into my seat. This time, though, I leaned into the moment. I smiled and let my body move in time to the music. I enjoyed the attention… or, at least, my perception of attention. Either way, I had a great time.

The next evening, we went to a Bee Gees tribute show. We had great seats, but this was a larger venue and I doubt the singers were identifying too many individual audience members. At one point early in the show, the performer playing Robin Gibb interacted with the crowd to learn how far people had traveled to see the show. The winners were a table of 6 or 7 Brazilians at the back of the theater. That point was going to become more important later in the show. Towards the end of the concert, the performer playing Maurice Gibb began exhorting people in the audience to come up to an area at the foot of the stage to dance. He ran over to that space, which he dubbed “Club Mo.” The band began playing “You Should Be Dancing.”

I initially experienced a brief rush of desire to go join Club Mo. It was a faint stabbing somewhere below and to the right of my stomach. It might have hit me on one side of my large intestine. My reaction to that impulse was fear and horror at my own audacity. At any rate, I immediately squelched the idea because it “isn’t something I do.”  The table of Brazilians immediately sauntered over to Club Mo. Really, they danced their way over, moving gracefully and rhythmically from the far corner of the room all the way to the front. Their movements resembled a combination of a conga line and a carefully choreographed ballet sequence. A few other people hesitantly got up to dance under the neon “Club Mo” sign at the front of the showroom.

My squelched desire to join the dance brigade unsquelched itself. I had an absolute compulsion to get up and enter the Bee Gees mosh pit. I wanted to join the dancer brigade but was worried that it would look weird. That scary stuff ran through my mind in about a nanosecond. On instinct and self-acceptance, I rose from my seat to join the Club Mo dancing. I’d say there were about thirty of us dancing at the front of the showroom. The Brazilians made me feel super welcome. Every time I turned away from their little group, one of them would tap me on the shoulder to rejoin their circle. Max was grinning and pumping his fist at me. There was no alcohol involved in this little episode, but the whole thing was such a rush. And so unlike me.

The next day, I noticed some pretty bracelets in a store. They had various versions of the same bracelet, with different words engraved on them. They highlighted different words- “thankful,” “courageous,” “faithful,” “strong,” etc. I was trying to pick between them. I felt drawn to “happiness,” but kept redirecting myself to one of the more virtuous ones. I had it narrowed down to “faithful” or “thankful,” but part of me still nagged to opt for “happiness.” I finally realized I genuinely wanted the “happiness” one, so I bought it.

On the plane ride home, I realized what a metaphor that bracelet dilemma was for my life. I’ve never felt I was simply entitled to happiness. The only way I thought I might be deserving of some glimpse of happiness was if I earned it by being good. Of course, being virtuous does not mean I am going to be happy. And I do not have to be virtuous to merit happiness. I do get a lot of satisfaction from trying to manifest the virtuous attributes engraved on those bracelets, but those virtuous attributes are not, on their own, some sort of happiness-attracting talisman. When I started thinking through all this, I started to cry… mostly because it felt so good to realize this is a “depths of my soul” kind of way , but also because I was sad for the me of the past who didn’t understand it.

So, you see… travel, even to one of the most artificial cities in the world, does expand the open mind and authentic spirit. The reflective life in Las Vegas may not look like what most people think of as a spiritual retreat in the desert… but that doesn’t mean it can’t be one!

What weird place have you discovered some profound truths about yourself? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at

Have a happiness day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

We all deserve happiness!

Sin City

Recently, I went on vacation to Las Vegas. Many people who know me are baffled at my repeated trips to Sin City for leisure activity. I agree it does seem incongruous on the face of it, especially for people who are not familiar with Las Vegas. There is plenty of extravagant, in-your-face sin opportunities. I would never walk the streets, especially after about 4:00pm, with children. There is too much confusing and bizarre behavior that would certainly lead to conversations I don’t think anybody really wants to have. For adults, though, it is relatively easy for me to ignore the weirdness. I do not even have to try that hard. In fact, I often walk right by tantalizing occasions of sin without even noticing them. Most of the sinsational opportunities don’t interest me. They tend to land on my frontal lobe as “icky.” They do not even sound fun. I might come uncomfortably close to greed and envy now and again, but the more corporal temptations just don’t float my boat.

So if I don’t go to Las Vegas for the sin, what is the attraction? Why do I go? I recently tried to explain this to a friend of mine.

The biggest draw for me is the eye candy. The level of color and sparkle and beautiful décor in the big Las Vegas hotels and casinos is fabulous. Also, many of the hotels have “loss leader” attractions to bring gamblers through their doors (as opposed to the hundred or so other doors that also lead to slot machines and table games.) For instance, Caesar’s Palace has an indoor shopping mall that makes you feel like you are roaming through ancient Rome under a starry Tuscan sky. The shops are all high end, “museum shopping” kind of places. I doubt many of the tourists strolling under said starry Tuscan sky are spending much in those shops. I doubt any of those stores actually make money, but it does not matter. They are there simply to bring people into the property, hoping that those people might drop a few bucks into a slot machine while they are there. There is a phenomenol carousel with flower-covered horses positioned in the Wynn Hotel, just at the entrance to the casino. At the Venetian Hotel, you can take an actual gondola ride through a wonderful, if slightly smaller scale, recreation of the Piazza San Marco.

My very favorite example of this eye candy is the Conservatory at the Bellagio Hotel. The hotel horticulturalists create a new amazing fairy land each season in a space about the size of an airplane hangar. The difference is that the conservatory is light, airy, and uplifting. A hangar is designed to contain a plane. The conservatory is designed to let your spirit soar on wings of fantasy. There are flowers, sculptures, water features that dance over the heads of visitors, and talking trees. Whimsy is the order of the day. I remember I was there one Christmas season and they had floral-covered reindeer about the size of minivans tethered invisibly to the ceiling. On this last trip, the theme had to do with teapots. People have apartments smaller than the elaborately decorated teapots erected in the conservatory. It is hard to explain the experience of walking around the conservatory if you have not seen it in person. Even in person, it is hard for me to form words when I am there. I mostly wander around in a bliss-induced out-of-body experience with my mouth hanging open.

Food is another reason for my trips to Las Vegas. Gluttony is a sin, of course, but I don’t think I descend into the “gluttony” level… especially in light of the 8-9 miles of walking I do each day when I am there. In a lot of ways, I probably eat better when I am in Las Vegas because I do focus on savoring what I am eating. I eat two or three meals a day, with maybe one snack in between. But what meals! I had crab cakes and shrimp cocktail the first night we were there. I had dinner at one of those “celebrity chef” restaurants. I had the world’s best chicken at Ruth Chris Steakhouse, watching the lights of the Strip come on while I ate my dinner. I had In-And-Out Burger, something I only get when I am in California or Nevada. I had part of a Ghiradelli hot fudge sundae for dessert.  Breakfasts, also, were yummy. We rarely go out for breakfast in non-vacation mode. Having fluffy, vanilla-tinged pancakes accompanied with perfectly cooked, crisp bacon is indulgent!

Another lure to Las Vegas is the shows. There are some shows that fit the “ick” category. Many years ago, we went to one of those by accident. The hotel where we were staying threw the tickets in for free when we booked a lodging package. When we saw the show, I was appalled. It was not that I was so prudish. I just couldn’t understand why it was supposed to be entertaining. All it really involved was people strutting around in clothing that would not even qualify as “skimpy.” Truthfully, it might not have even qualified as “clothing.”

The kind of shows I enjoy in Las Vegas are of a different ilk. My idea of fun is behaving like a slightly rebellious teenager. We’ve gone to see tribute shows of the Beatles, Bee Gees, and Neil Diamond. I’ve screamed and clapped and sang along with the rest of the wild crowd of senior citizens. I’ve also seen Donny and Marie, Rod Stewart, and Barry Manilow. In addition to hearing some fantastic music and seeing great choreography, it was wonderful to let the energy of the shows infuse me.  It makes me feel alive and young. I think Rod Stewart is my new role model. When I saw him, he was 77 years old and could still kick his leg over his head. I can barely get up off the kneeler at church without help.

Finally, they say that travel expands the mind and the spirit. While Las Vegas might not be known as a catalyst for personal growth, the opportunity to escape my normal world in such a dramatic way does provide a different path within my brain. It forces me to think differently and see things differently because the normal, default pathways in my brain are so confused and out of kilter. This trip provided a textbook example of this phenomenon. Stay tuned for my next post for the evidence!

What are the important factors you consider when deciding where to go on vacation? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at

Have a mind-altering day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

Discipline Of The Dolphins

A few months ago, I joined a book group discussing Celebration of Discipline: The Path To Spiritual Growth by Richard J. Foster. It has been a rich, thought-provoking, and challenging experience. Dr. Foster develops so many ideas and suggestions for spiritual development. I think all of us in the discussion group have been experiencing some “fireworks moments”- times when the uncontainable truth of the Holy Spirit explodes within us. There is a remarkable balance between resting and rejuvenating in the Christian practices we already embrace and challenging ourselves to find new ways- often uncomfortable ways- to move closer to God. Blessedly, we all have different core Christian disciplines that come naturally, and we all have ones that take more stretching to accomplish. As companions on the journey, we help each other.

I missed our last meeting. That meeting discussed chapter six- The Discipline Of Simplicity. I missed the meeting because I was vacationing in Las Vegas. Pause for a moment and let that statement really sink in. Yes, I was missing the meeting on the spiritual discipline of simplicity because I was wallowing in the world’s most “extra” city. The irony is not lost on me. I also have to say that I have a bougie propensity toward recreational shopping. I have way more stuff than anyone needs. I tend to drip pixie dust. It is probably not a good thing that I missed that particular meeting. Certainly, the discipline of simplicity is a challenge for me.

I discovered a vastly different take on the book’s next chapter- The Discipline of Solitude. I think this might be one of my most naturally integral spiritual disciplines. I read the chapter yesterday. I read the chapter yesterday during my annual day with the dolphins at Discovery Cove.

Yes, I studied and meditated and prayed about solitude- and its conjoined twin discipline of silence- at a theme park. As counter intuitive as that seems, it felt absolutely right.

For one thing, Discovery Cove is intentionally unlike other theme parks. They have limited admissions each day. There are no lines or gathered crowds of people. There are numerous little hideaway spots sheltered from main activity areas. The eating areas are spacious; tables are spread out with plenty of room between them. They built Discovery Cove with privacy in mind. It is completely surrounded by lush jungle type flora. That greenery provides a barrier from the bustle of Orlando tourism. You can’t see it and you can’t even hear it. Once entering the parking lot, you would never know you were across the street from Sea World and that you turned into the park from International Drive- home of the world’s largest gift shop, chain hotels and restaurants of every ilk, and the massive Orange County Convention Center. There is music playing, but the soundtrack is a gentle compilation of easy listening pop/rock tunes played on steel drums, with a side of ukelele. With the exception of the 30-minute dolphin interaction experience, all activities are solitary. Once admitted into the park, it would be easy to go the entire day without saying a word to anyone. Aside from the dolphin interaction, I do not think I said more than a “thank you” to another person all day long. I spoke more to animals. I spoke much more to God. I listened to God even more than that.

I began my day walking through the entire park. After giggling at the flamingos, feeding birds in the aviary, and wondering at the natural beauty of everything around me, I settled myself in for a ramble down the lazy river. One of the features of the river is a large cavern. The cavern has stalactites growing from the ceiling and there is a large open area at the apex of the structure. Looking up, you can see a canopy of tangled variegated green vines and branches with the sun weaving its way through the leaves. There are also open window type areas on one wall of the cavern. Looking out of those open areas, you can see a beautiful bay. Waterfalls streak the views out those window areas. It is quiet and serene in the cavern. Visitors sometimes wander through the cavern but do not linger. The allure of the seductive current of the river coaxes them onward.

I, however, purposely let myself gravitate towards a little alcove in the cavern and settled in for some time of meditation. As I looked up at the skylight feature, I showered in the sifted sunbeams. I let my mind sit in the knowledge that God created this beautiful world, and it is good. My first thoughts were of the nature around me- the water, the earth, the sky, the plants, and the animals. Just thinking about all that made my heart joyful and so grateful for the life I have. Then, something new hit me. A new thought bloomed in my mind. I am part of this creation. God created me. I am beautiful. And that is good.

I continued playing my way through the morning. I swam with the sting rays. I visited the marmosets on their secluded island. I played tag in the water with the otters, with only a plexiglass wall between their pool and mine. I gathered with my dolphin group to interact with Capricorn, Maui, and Titan. I ate a lot of junk food. When lunch time came, I was not too hungry. The hot soft pretzels, rice crispy treats, and other non-food foods were pretty filling. Still, I grabbed a piece of pizza and made my way to a secluded, shaded table in a distant corner of the restaurant patio. I brought out Dr. Foster’s book and read the chapter on solitude. As I read, I filled the margins with my reactions and thoughts. I prayed a little, challenging myself to open myself to whatever God has planned for me.

After lunch, I wandered back to the lazy river. Again, I found my alcove in the cavern. I spent forty minutes praying. I praised God again for His glory and the beauty of His creation. I named my blessings before God, humbled and grateful for all He has given me. I acknowledged areas of my life that I have held back from God. I looked hard at my soul and lay the broken pieces at God’s feet. I brought petitions for all the people in my life. I discussed my loved ones with Him. I discussed the people who have hurt me with Him. I discussed the people I have hurt with Him. I discussed people I do not even know with Him. We talked together about His power and compassion. We talked together about the great privilege He gives me when He allows me to help demonstrate that power and compassion. I reenlisted my commitment. I joyfully volunteered to be the object of His grace and a vessel of His love in the world.

So, yes, silence and solitude are achievable in a theme park. It was not even that difficult. Dr. Foster argues that silence and solitude are woven together. You cannot have true solitude without silence. Noise reminds us that we are not alone. Dr. Foster also hypothesized that silence and solitude are not dependent on where you are or who is around you. The absence of sound and people around you does not mean you have achieved silence and solitude. What is important is to empty your soul of sound and people for a time… and to give God the space to fill that emptiness. When you quiet the internal noise and reserve the essence of who you are for God alone, you will never be empty. God will fill that emptiness with what you need, even before you know you need it.

I spent the rest of my day in peaceful silence. I caught myself smiling a special kind of smile… the kind of smile you smile when you share a thought, a memory, a feeling with your most precious friend without even having to say a word. I was not at Discovery Cove alone. I was there with my God.

As my book group continues to study Celebration of Discipline, I may learn to practice many of the spiritual exercises that Dr. Foster suggests. I doubt very much, however, that I will celebrate any of them as much as I celebrate the Discipline of the Dolphins!

Have a disciplined day!

The Terri and Titan Mutual Admiration Society!

How do you find your alone time? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you may email me at

Pilgriming Lab Report

Hey everybody…. This is the last of my blog posts on my church visits. I had this crazy idea to structure it in the proper format of a lab report. I thought it sounded like a cute idea, but I’m not sure it works when all is said and done. According to my research, a lab report is supposed to be in passive voice and the author should not use personal pronouns to refer to herself. I followed that rule in my first draft, but found it way too awkward and uncomfortable. I am apparently too obsessed with myself to avoid all references to my own role in this experiment. Anyway, I will let you decide for yourself if my “cute idea” works at all. I just wanted to explain what is going on in case you read this and think- “what the heck is this? It doesn’t sound like Terri!”

Pilgriming Lab Report


After a period of turbulence in my current church experience, an experiment to evaluate a sample of other congregations seemed appropriate. Previous life experience has provided me with the opportunity to worship in numerous Catholic churches, several Episcopal churches, two Baptist churches, one Missouri synod Lutheran church, and one non-denominational megachurch.  However, most experiences with these congregations did not intentionally purpose to evaluate their characteristics. They were simply episodic, casual experiences.  The current experiment purposed to methodically sample different ways other congregations formatted their worship services, presented their core beliefs, implemented inclusiveness, and engaged visitors. Upon gathering the sampling data, the plan was to evaluate whether or not a different faith tradition, denomination, or congregation would more effectively enhance my spiritual development and give me more impactful ways to serve than my current church.


If different church experiences suggest that another congregation aligns with my core theology, values, spiritual journey, and ideas on interpersonal relationships/congregational development, it is incumbent upon me to change churches.


Preparation for the experiment involved researching the internet about different denominations. The goal was to assess different denominations for some key factors in order to narrow down the number of churches to visit. The following items were considered in the internet search:

  • Theology
  • Policy statements on particular challenging or controversial issues in Christendom
  • Role of women in the church
  • View of Biblical truth
  • Degree of emphasis on social justice/liberation theology
  • Understanding on the nature of the Eucharist

After evaluating the information on the overall denominations, it was decided to limit the church samples to the following:

  • Lutheran- Evangelical Lutheran Church of America synod
  • Lutheran- Missouri synod
  • United Methodist Church

These denomination seemed to follow theology that is roughly in line with my views. They are well-known, mainstream Protestant religions. They provide three different experiences so that the sampling is not homogenous.

Next, the websites for churches of these denominations within 30 miles were reviewed. In this review, the following factors were considered:

  • Distance from home
  • Ease of use of the website
  • Faith formation opportunities
  • Ministries
  • Biographies of staff
  • Size of congregation
  • Recent newsletters and bulletins
  • Financial status of congregation

 Three churches were selected for further study- one Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (Sample A,) one Missouri Synod Lutheran Church (Sample B,) and one United Methodist Church (Sample C.) One traditional 10:00am Sunday morning (Sample A,) one contemporary 4:00pm Saturday evening service (Sample B,) and one traditional early 8:00am Sunday service (Sample C) were chosen to get a diverse mix of experiences.

Upon visiting the churches, it was determined that Sample B was actually another Evangelical Lutheran Church of America rather than a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. However, the experiences were still quite different. Sample A was a traditional service. Sample B was a contemporary service. Sample A had a congregation of about 50 people. Sample B had a congregation of around 400 people. It was determined that Sample B was sufficiently different from Sample A to proceed with the methodology as planned.

Several factors were observed during the church visits. These included:


The three sample churches were visited in a three-week period.  The data is subjective, based on my criteria. Each church was rated on each criterium, on a scale of one to five, with five being the highest rating.

Criteria                                                           Sample A      Sample B          Sample C                                                                                                                                                                                         

Welcome                                                                  3                  3                  2

Size of congregation                                                  3                  4                  3

Format of the service                                                 4                  4                  3

Sermon                                                                    2                  4                  2

Faith development and service activities                     2                  3                  3

Music                                                                       2                  4                  3

Comfort level of environment                                      4                  4                  4

Connection with the people                                         3                  2                  3

Financial health/transparency                                     4                  3                  NA

Total                                                                         27                31                23

I also rated the church I am currently attending on the same criteria.

Welcome                                                                  5

Size of congregation                                            4

Format of the service                                           4

Sermon                                                                    5

Faith development and service activities     4

Music                                                                       3

Comfort level of environment                             3

Connection with the people                                   4

Financial health/transparency                              5

Total                                                                         37


Clearly, the ratings on these criteria are subjective, based on my own preferences. The reasons for the ratings varied. In the case of sample C, the lower rating does not arise from not being friendly enough; the rating arises because the people were too alarming friendly for my introverted soul. The ratings on the size criteria again demonstrate my own preference for a mid-size congregation of 100-200 people. Sample A and Sample C had very small congregations at the services and Sample B was a megachurch. I slightly preferred the larger congregation. Other people would likely have different preference. Since this was my experiment, it seems fair to weight my own preferences as the standard.

It was not always possible to tell everything about the church based on an internet search and one visit. It was especially difficult to assess financial health and transparency, although I was happy to note that Sample A did include some financial information on their website. Their finances were not rock solid, but they did have clear information about their economic status and philosophy towards stewardship.  For Sample B, I had to do some extrapolating about finances by considering the rapid growth in membership and campuses. I had no way of evaluating this criterium for Sample C.


While it is an interesting exercise to apply scientific method to evaluating a church home, choosing a church is largely a matter of intangibles. I learned many things during my individual church visits (which you can read in my previous blog posts on each individual visit) and most of them were not quantifiable. Also, church culture and congregational development are not necessarily painted with a wide brush. For instance, in evaluating the “connection with the people” criterium, I clearly realized that no one is going to have the same level of connection with everyone. In some cases, the connection vibe may be lukewarm across the board. In other cases, the connection vibe may be intensely strong and bonded in some percentage of people and  painfully shredded with others. Such is the nature of intimacy. In both situations, the net “connection” might rate a 3 but for different reasons.


There is more to choosing a church than scientific data. That choice is more about how the Holy Spirit leads your heart. In visiting different churches, I was able to clear my mind of the pain that the recent congregational flashpoints in my current church caused me. I was able to look beyond the giant trees that seemed to be falling on me so that I could see how beautiful the forest really is. I learned things about the churches I visited and about myself that made me realize that being brave enough to dodge the falling trees might be worth the effort if it means I can live in that beautiful forest.

The statistical data and scientific analysis also suggest that my current church is the right choice for me.  Of course it did. It is God’s science!

I’d love to know what you think of my “scientific” spiritual experiment.  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at

Have a scientifically spiritual day!

Terri/Dorry 😊