Holding on with Open Hands

My friend, a Spiritual Director in the discipline of St. Ignatius, said something recently that set me aback to ponder, “If in prayer you truly want God’s will, you have to detach yourself from the outcome.” I’m still processing that—and have had glimmers of understanding I’d like to share with you. After all, surely I’m not the only one who prays according to the longings of my heart. Oftentimes, my ‘favorite’ prayers begin with something to the effect of, “Oh Jesus, if you EVER loved me, please    (fill in the blank with whatever it is I’m asking Him for)   .” Recognizing that if what I want is not His best, I’d be better off if His answer was, “No,” yet still desiring what I want to be His will.

The Book of Hebrews (4:16) urges us to approach the throne of Our Heavenly Father with boldness to find mercy and grace for the help we need. So we know that our desires are of interest to Our Father – and He sometimes gives us what we want despite whether it’s His best for us. That said, then what does it mean, “Detach yourself from the outcome?” To begin my study, I had to understand the ‘attachment’ I have to the outcome of my prayers.

Prayers with strings attached

I believe in praying faith-filled prayers. In Mark 11:23-24 Jesus said that if we pray in faith, believing that we receive what we ask for, Our Father in Heaven will give it to us. So I readily admit to being personally invested in the outcome! If you ask me to pray for your healing, I believe that when I do so, God will heal you – and I want regular updates to know how ‘my prayers’ are performing in your return to health. OK, I’ll admit: sometimes my prayers sound more like a list of demands than they do humbly brought petitions.

Fluid prayers without rigidity

St. Paul, in the Book of 1 Thessalonians (5:16-18) instructs us to rejoice in every situation and to pray all the time – he goes so far as to say, “…this is God’s Will…” Is that even possible? What would that look like? I’ve come to believe this kind of rejoicing and continual prayer can be practiced through the Ignatius Spiritual Exercises through which the aim is to, “conquer oneself and to regulate one’s life in such a way that no decision is made under the influence of any inordinate attachment.”

Trust in the process

There are many kinds of prayer found in Sacred Scripture: (prayers of) thanksgiving, petition, intercession – to name just a few; and there seems to be a formula: “Ask + Believe = Receive.” I think what I’m learning in the Ignatius way is that our approach to God in prayer is unfettered; He longs to hear from us in any way we approach Him—and in the same way, we need to be unfettered from expecting His answer to come in a package that meets our specifications. We need to learn to pray as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane: This is what I want, but nevertheless, even if I must suffer, let Your will be done.

Prayers in open hands

So. I’m learning to sit with my prayers in open hands; allowing my petitions to perch on the palms; not grasping them tightly, demanding or expecting a specific result. I’m finding the more I do that, the more miraculous God’s intervention in the things that concern me—and the outcome He wills is far more astounding than what I’ve dreamed or imagined.

Mary Moments in a Martha World

Remember Mary and Martha, the two sisters of Lazarus (the man Jesus raised from the dead)? Martha was busy – always busy; the image imbedded in my brain is Martha Stewart on steroids! Making her home warm and cozy; ensuring her guests had a memorable time while under her roof; whereas Mary was one who followed her heart – and her heart lead her to sit at the feet of Jesus; to anoint him with costly perfume; to run to him when her heart was broken.

Most of the time I identify with Martha: my days are a whirlwind juggling-act of tasks that (mostly) keep all my balls-in-the air. But simultaneously, my heart longs to be Mary: to linger over my coffee with my Bible, study materials, and a notebook before me. Reading, listening with my spirit, while recording thoughts that ‘may someday’ find their way into an article, a talk, or just be shared in conversation with someone who’s hurting; someone who needs a shoulder and listening ear.

I suspect I’m not alone in this dichotomy: wanting the one, while emulating the other. But does it have to be a matter of either/or? Can it be both/and? Is there a balance point? Although I have yet to find it – I have to believe that somewhere, balance is possible. On the craziest of days, my heart longs to simply sit at the feet of Jesus. Yet, when I pull aside for an extended quiet time with my Lord, my thoughts race–strategizing how to catch up with my ever-lengthening Do List.

Can you relate? Is this your struggle, also? How do YOU cope?

Until I find that elusive balance point, all I can do is make moments within my Martha World to slip away and be like Mary. For me, that means spending time in the Adoration Chapel – or taking a drive up to Ignatius House or over to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, and walking the grounds in silence and solitude. The contemplative life draws my heart – yet my calling is to serve those who serve others.

My Mary Moments are precious – and I suspect, yours are, also. In fact, Mary moments are the very oxygen that enables us to live out our calling within our Martha World. Mary Moments allow us to breathe life into the lives of those who depend on us! I believe it is our Mary Moments that keep us from burning out. Whether our lives are disciplined enough to have extended Mary Moments every day, or we have to carve them into our crazy schedules, Mary Moments are a must if we are to survive in today’s society.

So I challenge you: look at your schedule for the upcoming week; see what you can push back, put off, or eliminate completely, in favor of taking at least one opportunity to just be Mary, sitting at the feet of Our Lord, learning from Him. Then write that moment into your calendar; circle it in red; make it the highest priority on your appointment list – and KEEP IT. If you will accept the challenge, I promise you won’t be disappointed. Jesus always keeps His appointments with those who schedule Mary Moments.

PS – Mary Moments are NOT for women only!


New Beginnings

Keto isn’t for everyone, but if you’d like to learn more, please ask! I would be delighted to share my research sources.

It’s amazing: the change that can happen in just a few months!

In mid-January I learned of a new chiropractic place in Decatur called The Joint. It’s a network of independently operated franchises that are set up like a health club in the sense of membership, and makes chiropractic care very affordable. Hoping there was something a chiropractor could do to help correct the spinal misalignment that had so impacted my mobility, I made my first visit to The Joint on January 16th. After reviewing my MRI DVD and report, Dr. Tony Weston agreed that he could, in fact, help me.

Just a few days later, one of my great-nieces introduced me to the Ketogenic Lifestyle (way of eating,) and after a bit of research I decided that I would give this “keto-diet” thing a try over the course of Lent. Being a bit hesitant to jump right into it, I began phasing carbohydrates out of my meals (and cupboards) on January 27th in preparation for being at full keto as of Ash Wednesday (February 14th.)

By Ash Wednesday I had already lost a considerable amount of weight – and due to regular chiropractic adjustments was able to stand up straight without the assistance of a cane, although I still needed it to walk outside of my home. With weight loss happening so quickly, I asked Dr. Weston for a list of approved exercises I could do to tone-as-I-go, and joined Planet Fitness. By the end of February, I no longer needed the cane at all!

At this point, I’ve had just over two months of chiropractic care, not quite seven weeks on the Ketogenic Lifestyle, and one month of regular work outs at Planet Fitness. To date I:

  • Have lost 20 lbs., 2.5 inches, and am down 2 sizes in clothing
  • No longer use a cane
  • No longer use a motorized cart for grocery shopping
  • …and am choosing most of the time to not avail myself of disability parking privileges.

I still have a long way to go, but I already feel so much better that going back is simply NOT an option. Thank you my friends, for your support and encouragement through this process.

Client Profile: Alpha South Carolina

I met Margaret Cotton, Director of Christian Ministries of the Carolina’s / Alpha South Carolina, during my years of working with Alpha USA. Now, under the auspices of Victoria Nimmo-Walters & Associates, I have been assisting her with data management and publication of her monthly newsletter, as well as preparing her annual correspondence with a foundation that underwrites the youth ministries aspect of her work.
Recently, Margaret was interviewed by a Christian newspaper that is local to her area. I thought you might like to read about this remarkable woman and the Kingdom building work she is doing through Alpha South Carolina.

Carolinas Compass Header

Feet in the vineyard
Margaret Cotton
By Prioleau Alexander
(Reprinted with Permission)

Margaret Cotton-0483

When her husband passed away at the age of 55, Margaret Cotton was understandably devastated. Struggling with countless questions and needing a support group, she found her way to an Alpha course — Alpha is a program that teaches the basics of Christianity, then allows participants to break into small groups to discuss the teaching presented. Interestingly, the course is specifically designed for sceptics, seekers and agnostics. Clearly the course was a transforming experience, as Margaret went on to serve as an Alpha Small Group Facilitator for the next five years. In 2009, she was approached by the leaders of Alpha USA and asked to become the director of Alpha South Carolina. Leaving her career in advertising and accepting this position was certainly a leap of faith, as the job would require she serve as a “missionary,” raising all the necessary funds. Fortunately for South Carolina, Margaret accepted the job. Recently, Margaret provided the Compass with an interview.

How is Alpha doing in South Carolina? It’s been amazing. When I started there were only five or six churches in the state offering Alpha and over the past eight years that number has grown to close to 200. There are also courses running in prisons, campuses and workplaces. This past year, three of the ministries at The Citadel offered Alpha (Baptist, Methodist and Catholic) and we had close to 200 cadets participating.

How did Alpha begin? Alpha started in the 1970s in London at Holy Trinity Brompton Church and spread organically for more than a decade; eventually requests for Alpha materials and training grew to the point where the team at Holy Trinity Brompton had to create an entire division to handle the demand. As the Holy Spirit has continued to bless the fruits of the program, the need for a bigger team has grown, as it’s now a global ministry. Incredibly, it is now is offered in 169 countries in over 112 languages, crossing all denominational lines.

What changes have you seen in the last few years? Traditionally the teaching sessions were presented as an on-stage recording of course-developer Nicky Gumbel speaking to an audience at Holy Trinity Brompton; it works because his wit and charm quickly win over the toughest audience. The basic course “recipe” is still the same, but one new development is the addition of an instructional film series filmed all over the world. As a result, churches now have three DVD options: The “classic” Nicky presentations, the new Alpha Film Series and Alpha Youth. We’ve found the new film series appeals tremendously to the younger generation.

Why do you think Alpha is so effective? Alpha is offered in an easy going, non-judgmental way, starting first with a free dinner. Conversations over a meal allow people to get to know one another and build new friendships. Members of the team are trained to assume every guest is a non-believer and thus the conversations focus on the guests’ personal interests; discussions about faith are left for the presentation and the small groups. Each presentation deals with one of the concepts of the Christian faith, followed by small group discussions. Everyone in the group is treated as a VIP, regardless of their beliefs and all are encouraged to ask hard questions and seek satisfactory answers. There is never any pressure to speak and no question is off limits. People no longer want to be lectured to; they want to be listened to.

What advice would you give a church thinking about starting Alpha? Check it out! I am happy to meet and discuss how best to run it, train the staff/leaders and provide coaching. The materials are free online and since I raise my own funds, I offer my services free of charge. It’s the Alpha philosophy that churches can no longer sit back and expect people to come to them. Jesus tells us “to go.” If a church seriously wants to step into outreach or evangelism, Alpha provides one of the very best tools to do that. Work in the Vineyard takes many forms — some plow, some plant and some gather in the harvest.

Margaret Cotton’s calling and work with Alpha assists all these efforts in a unique way, as her work is that of teacher … teaching others to plow, plant and reap. I hope all Compass readers will make 2018 a year to learn more about the Alpha Course.

Margaret may be reached at MargaretCotton@AlphaUSA.org

It’s a Wonderful Life (not a perfect one)

The last seventeen years have been difficult, to say the least, but here we are at Christmastime, 2017 and there’s a lot to love about my new (albeit unasked for) life.

2017 began with an intensive planning session. This would be the year to finally be debt free. A year of saving; a year of renewed health…at least that was my point of view in January. Then in early February, I got that dreaded call: my job was being absorbed into a team effort, and the team had more “writer’s” than it needed. So my role had been deemed redundant and would end on February 15th. Along with the job loss, came the loss of health insurance, meaning I was unable to follow up on the great strides I’d made physically in 2016. With that, January’s planning went straight out the window, while I regrouped to strategize my next steps. It was scary! Almost as scary as the day just over seventeen years ago when I awakened to the reality of sudden widowhood. Gratefully since then, I have a gained new a skill-set that came to my rescue!

On May 3rd (after quite a bit of ground-laying) I incorporated Victoria Nimmo-Walters & Associates LLC, putting to use the Bachelor of Science degree in Business, which I earned in 2015. The purpose of VNW & Assoc., LLC, is to assist nonprofit organizations with their fundraising, through strategizing and implementing overall campaigns, and approaching foundations with targeted grant proposals. While I would not yet call business “booming” it is growing at a rate that makes me quite happy.

In other life-changes, at the beginning of the year I accepted a position on the board of directors for Villa International Atlanta; and in September was elected as the Southeast District president of the Atlanta Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women (AACCW,) which is also a board position. Both of these roles are proving to be great learning opportunities. Not being one to let things go easily, I continue to serve my parish as president of Corpus Christi Women’s Guild, and Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) Team Leader.

Within the same time frame, my health has deteriorated and my mobility is hampered by having to keep one hand free to grasp hold the cane that is now my constant companion. So it is a tremendous blessing to be able to operate my business and do the behind the scenes work required by my volunteer roles, all from the comfort of my home office!

While it hasn’t proven to be the year I initially planned, it’s been a wonderful year—filled with the love of family and friends.

To each of you I say, Merry Christmas! And offer my heart-felt wishes that 2018 will be a better year for all of us.

Pressing onward,

Victoria Nimmo-Walters