How to Stop Existing and Live Purposeful

by | Jun 1, 2016 | Identity, Writing


From a comfy chair in the corner of my dining room, I sip tea, talk to God, and ponder items on a mental agenda. The longer I gaze out the window, I’m distracted by the repetitive flight pattern of a small, podgy, red-breasted robin.  Could it be? Is it possible? After a year of failing to cultivate a desirable habitat, I’ve finally succeeded in drawing birds to my garden?

From a fence, the robin alights on a string of festoons for a few seconds as if to catch her breath before pushing off with a beak full of detritus. Fluttering up an ivy covered wall, she pushes through a verdant curtain of new growth and repeats the cycle until sundown.

“Once you’ve tasted purpose it’s real hard to be satisfied with existence,” I heard Jeff Foxworthy say once in an interview about ministering to the homeless. For a few quiet moments, I watch a bird’s predictable rhythm in creating a nest and witness a metaphor for why I have been quiet here lately.

Preparing to birth what God has been cultivating in my spirit, I realize, has caused me to live purposeful.


Last week, H and I borrowed a car and filled every nook and cranny of the boot with our favorite food from Costco. It felt like going home for a shot of American culture and returning to our London flat in time for cocktails, peanuts, and BBC headlines.

H cleaned out the garage to make room for a million rolls of toilet paper and then washed, dried and folded six loads of blankets. A heap of damp cotton used to protect furniture from damage while sailing from the US to London over a year ago. The box springs to our queen size bed that won’t fit up the narrow stairwell is now a fixture propped up next to the wall.

After I cleaned the oven, refrigerator, backsplash, countertops and cabinets in the kitchen; rearranged the closet and every drawer in the bedroom, I told H I wasn’t sure what had gotten into me. “I haven’t felt like this since I was pregnant,” I heard myself say in a voice from the past.

The natural precedes the spiritual.

That phrase adapted from I Corinthians 15:46 is one I grew up hearing from the pulpit, a profound truth that I never quit fully grasped for the mystery. But since practicing a rhythm of Sabbath, it has all started making sense to me.


First we bare the image of dust and then the image of heaven.  What happens in the everyday is often a hint to what God is up to in the heavenlies. But when we are busy, we miss the connection.

A life navigated on tiredness is a nest of moments scattered over the floor and countertops. The pieces are there, but nothing is cohesive or connected and meaning is lost in the fibers of the carpet.

But when we are rested, time unrolls the evidence of God’s preparation with holy purpose. We see how a bird building a nest can be a teachable moment, a hint from the Teacher about the way to move forward.


I have not been blogging because I am focused on finishing my first book, due in October.

Like that bird’s determination to collect tiny twigs and strands of coconut hair from day break until dusk, I have been editing, creating new content, brainstorming marketing pieces, learning about branding, designing a new website, dictating, organizing and garnering speaking engagements. Mostly I am learning to pay attention as I prepare to fly in the future.

But finishing the book is only part of the reason I haven’t been able to write here much. We recently renewed a contract allowing us to be committed immigrants in London for three more years. H and I have helped a church walk through the process of finding a new vicar. But I won’t bore you with the mountain of details required to make that happen.


We might assume arriving at the place we dream about comes in a magic moment of meeting the right person, bumping into celebrity, or finding the right hook. Instead, life is a clump of moments, a nest of every day detritus collected through faithful, concentrated work.

Success happens not by waiting for someone to do it for us or copying the latest trends but by building a life one day, one twig, one tiny decision at a time. We don’t arrive, we forge ahead despite stormy weather and the obstacles life throws at us.

Remain focused while the world spins. Because one day, you will stop and stare out at the world from the hidden place where you are perched and incubating hope with a deadlock of focus.

You will realize, that one special moment when your dream finally hatches wasn’t the goal but a labor of love God orchestrated through a million tiny details holding your microscopic imprint.

Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds. Matthew 6:26, MSG


How is your everyday, walking around life informing you about what God is up?


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  1. Pam, apples of gold

    Wonderful thoughts woven in a beautiful piece of writing here, Shelly. Love the metaphors God is speaking into your heart and life. 🙂

  2. Nancy Ruegg

    “What happens in the everyday is often a hint to what God is up to in the heavenlies. ” This statement already had me questioning what God might be up to in my everyday life, even before I reached the end of your superbly-written, thought-provoking post. He’s surely still working on me (Isn’t he always?!), perhaps preparing me for a bend in the road–a new direction. (I may be retired from a career in teaching, but don’t feel ready for a rocking chair yet!) Meanwhile, I’m striving to impart the love of Jesus to our granddaughter, whom I babysit frequently. My grandmothers left a strong impression of love and faith in me; I’d like to do the same for our little one. You are so right: building a life, a legacy, happens one twig, one choice at a time.

  3. Pat S.

    Beautiful. Just beautiful.

  4. Tina

    Thank you for writing this, Shelly. And for the beautiful photographs.

  5. Linda Fitzpatrick McClellan

    That is so true, the last paragraph really got my mind opened some…….and your photography is soo beautiful. May God bless you and for sharing the talents He has given us…

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