purpose and meaning

Oh this sweet boy! He was one of the Indigenous children who lived in the orphanage in the highlands of Guatemala where I worked and lived. And he had my heart from the first day I met him.

Two years after I had graduated from college, I discerned that I was going to work and live in solidarity with the marginalized. I didn’t want to just work at a free clinic and then go home to my nice apartment. I wanted to be alongside the marginalized. I looked into Peace Corp and I was about to go with them when an international faith-based organization held a discernment weekend in Milwaukee. I went to it. And within a few hours, I knew this was the organization I would join.  And I would go to Guatemala and El Salvador.

When I told my parents that I wanted to go to Central America to work for a human rights organization, at first my dad was concerned and didn’t want me to go. I’m sure that it’s not what my dad would have chosen for me. I’m sure he would’ve preferred for me to continue working, investing in my retirement account, and moving up the corporate ladder.

But ironically enough, the way my parents raised the four of us children – to live with integrity, value, and in service to the Divine within each of us – created the path for me to follow the deep callings of my heart and spirit.

I shared with my parents how this was what I was born to do at that time.  And soon, they could see the sincerity within me.  They came to see that this is what I HAD to do. They understood that this was part of my life’s purpose.  When my dad saw that knowing within me that I had to do this, he paused and was quiet.  Then he said to me, “Okay, let’s go get the gear you need to do this.”

I still have that raincoat we bought together over 20 years ago. I can’t get rid of it. I wear it on rainy and snowy days and I think of how my parents chose to support me in one of the biggest, most influential decisions in my life.

Now, over 20 years later, our family can look back and say that the two+ years I lived and worked in some of the poorest barrios and villages of Guatemala and El Salvador have influenced and shaped who I am today.  Even after all these years, I still have a hard time describing just how these experiences and the people I met are weaved into the fabric of who I am.  To this day, I am still in contact with some of the people I met.  We walked the dirt roads, road crazy buses, sang, ate, lived, and worked for justice together.  I am forever grateful to the Salvadoran and Guatemalan people for opening their homes to me, for bearing with me as I learned Spanish, inviting me to their family gatherings, and sharing their stories of war, suffering, poverty, and hope.

And today, I carry their spirits with me in all I do.  They taught me about presence and generosity, and in honor of them, today I try to be a person who is fully present to the person I am with and I try to live with a generous spirit.  There are so many more lessons that they taught me that have influenced the sacred, intentional way in which I try to live, serve, and do my part to create a more compassionate world.

These boys and young men showed me the ropes when I first moved to the orphanage. The little one who is standing in front of me — he went to the market with me and taught me how to eat my first mango. To this day, I still remember it as the most wonderful mango I have ever had. The kindness, generosity, and commitment to service they showed me have influenced me beyond words.

Now as a parent myself, I see that my children have interests that are different than what I might have chosen for them. But my husband, Brian, and I are conscious of planting and watering the same seed my parents had done with me – the Seed of Meaning and Purpose.  Brian and I want to water that seed by helping our children to discern and “listen within” for what is on their hearts and the meaning and purpose God has in store for them. Not MY version of it. That’s between them and God.

It’s scary to surrender and to not try and control the kind of meaning and purpose we want our children to have. We can plant and water that Seed of Meaning and Purpose in our children by giving them the breathing space to explore, to discover what they are interested in, and to walk with them in discovering and then living out the call of the Divine within them.

I do believe this is the most sacred work of parenting.

In a busy world filled with “shiny objects,” it’s easy for us and our children to get distracted from what really matters.  In a success-driven, productivity-prizing world, it’s easy for us and our children to get swept up in doing more and being busy.  In a material world marketing the latest addictive video game and social media, it’s easy for us and our children to live life on the surface and forget how important our relationships are.

Meaning and purpose give a richness and depth to our lives.  And our children need this seed of meaning and purpose planted and watered — again and again — in their hearts and minds.  We water this seed of meaning and purpose with knowing what we value as a family — and holding tight to that, especially in a day and age when the distractions are many, the pressures are high, and the depth is so very shallow.

We as parents, teachers, grandparents, and anyone who is influential in a child’s life can dig deeper, plant strong roots for our children that will support them in growing strong, confident, compassionate, and connected to the meaning and purpose of their lives.


*2019 Update:

*If you are a parent, a professional, or a person who influences the life of a child, check out my online course, Regarding Our Children.  This is all about setting our children up to thrive.  I bring in my clinical, trauma-informed expertise working with clients; my decades of mindfulness; and my experience being “in the trenches” as a mom to share with you researched-backed ways to instill a sense of resilience in your child, empathy, compassion, a growth mindset, and how to support them in developing the emotional intelligence, growth mindset, and confidence to be “leaders of their own lives.”


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