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Katherine Martin

Living a Courageous and Abundant Life
by Katherine Martin


To live a courageous life is to prosper in deeply meaningful ways. It is to be rich with understanding of who you are, down at the bone, and bold enough to take a stand for that. It is being authentic, not bending to what others think you should be or do. It's refusing to live a life that does not reflect who you really are--your unique strengths, talents, and gifts--and abundantly honoring those strengths, talents, gifts by using them to their fullest. It is refusing to be smaller than who you really are. It is to champion your dreams like they were your children.

Women of Spirit by Katherine Martin

Over the past seven years, I've interviewed and written about courageous people. One of those stories is at www.soulfulliving.com/followyourwisdom.htm. The story below is about a woman with rich intuition who dared to dream abundantly, to vision bigger, outside the box, and to listen to her inner calling even when it appeared to be irrational, illogical.

~   ~   ~

Mary Manin Morrissey is founder and senior minister of Living Enrichment Center in Wilsonville, Oregon, serving almost four thousand people weekly. Her message is spread to more than a hundred countries through radio outreach as well as a nationally broadcast TV program that reaches eighteen million homes. Her latest book, No Less Than Greatness: Finding Perfect Love in Imperfect Relationships, offers spiritual principles that help bring us closer to God, to ourselves, and to others. Her popular book Building Your Field of Dreams became a PBS documentary and has been used in churches across the country. Mary is a renowned humanitarian who has addressed the United Nations on nonviolence and has worked with the Dalai Lama.

My life was shaped by a moment in my youth that infused me with the knowledge of something greater than me, a recognition of the presence of life energy thatís everywhere, always. I would draw on it not only to live but also to live bigger and truer to myself than I could ever have imagined.

I grew up in a Leave It to Beaver town, in a split-level home in the heart of middle-class America with doting parents and a shaggy dog. My junior year of high school started out predictably with my being elected class vice president, making the dance team, and being crowned homecoming princess. Perfect.

But then it all started to crumble when I missed my period.

Ten days after a doctor told me I was pregnant, I was sitting on a hard bench in a courtroom waiting for a judge to sign a marriage license. Abortion was out of the question. And unwed mothers lived in other peoplesí towns, not ours. Nine months later, I gave birth to a baby boy. My young husband became a milkman to support us, and at night I finished school in the segregated high school for juveniles. Both of us had had dreams. Now I carried mine in my pocket in the form of a tattered piece of paper on which Iíd written the single word teacher to remind myself of it.

Less than a year later, I collapsed with kidney failure and was given six months to live. My right kidney was gone, and the left one was failing quickly. The night before my surgery, a minister came to see me, Dr. Mila Warn. My mother-in-law had heard her preach and had asked her to visit me in the hospital. "You know, Mary," she said sitting at my bedside, "everythingís created twice. First as a thought and then as a thing. When youíre embarrassed, your face gets red. When youíre scared, your hearts beats faster. And when you think toxic thoughts, your body gets toxic. Right now, your body is full of toxic energy. So whatís been bothering you?"

Who was this woman? Toxic thoughts, toxic body? Never mind, it was the question, "Whatís been bothering you," that caught my attention. I told her about getting pregnant, about shaming myself, my family, my school. I hated myself for that, hated my body.

"Can you imagine that both your kidneys are healthy?" she asked after Iíd unloaded.

I told her of course not. My right kidney was gone, Iíd been told so, by the doctors.

"Okay. Then letís work with the possibility that, when they remove your right kidney tomorrow, everything that is toxic in you goes with it and that your body gets well, instead of getting worse."

During the next several hours that night, she and I imagined all my shame and guilt and diseased thoughts being swept into my right kidney. And then we focused on my left kidney being perfectly healthy. More important, we began to envision what my future would be.

That night, I chose life.

As the surgeons worked on me the next day, they were baffled. My left kidney had not a trace of disease.

My spiritual awakening had begun.

Before this experience, my gods had been the guys in the white coats with "M.D." following their names. The Minor Deities. Their word was the Word. They ran tests and assessed results. Now I recognized that a Higher Word was available and that, by accepting the diagnosis but not the prognosis, I had healed.

Very few people know when theyíre in their last week, their last day. We operate as if life is going to go on forever: "Someday, Iíll do this" or "When I fill-in-the-blank, then Iíll do that." But right now is the some day. Everything that makes life worthwhile is available today. Over time, I came to recognize that the people I admire because they seem to have such great lives are no less insecure than I. They have all the same challenges and difficulties. They donít go forward in the absence of fear, they go forward in its very presence.

Having been on a very short leash, I now wanted to know more: What am I a part of? What makes life meaningful? I didnít want to live a mediocre, skim-the-surface life. I wanted to go deep. And the place I started was Christianity. I wanted to know everything I could about it. Eventually, I would also want to know about mysticism and ancient philosophy and psychology and the worldís religions. In Aldous Huxleyís The Perennial Philosophy, I began to see that one truth surfaces in all religions and philosophies: Life is good, and itís all about love. Loving your life, loving what you do, loving the people around you is what gives life meaning. From Lipke, I learned the difference between life happening to you and life happening through you; I learned that life is the projection of our own thinking.

Up to this point, my way of thinking had led me dangerously down a path toward death. Clearly, I needed a new way of thinking and people who would support me in a new way of living. I wanted to stop being someone who thought life was happening to her and start being someone through whom life was happening. No longer would I be the victim of my circumstances. I would choose the life I wanted to live, set my intention there, and with God working through me, bring it to fruition. But I couldnít ask God to do it all. It was up to me to choose, to make the commitment. To live on the growing edge, which meant always looking for whatís most truthful, right, and life giving. That took courage. If I was stuck and unwilling, my dreams would be stuck. Even God canít steer a parked car.

I was on my way to becoming a minister.

After getting a degree in psychology, I followed my husband, Haven, into the seminary. I wanted to be a minister. In my last year, I received offers from three churches. It hadnít occurred to me to do anything other than work for a church. I wanted to be around people with whom I could practice the craft. I also wanted the support of being within a church system and, practically, I needed the security of a paycheck to help support our growing family.

A few months before graduation, I started getting this nudge to pioneer a work. I had never even thought about pioneering a work. It just sort of dropped in as an idea. I didnít know where it came from, but it shifted my thinking, even though I had not a clue how to do it.

Our lives are defined by the decisions we make and the direction we take. Where I went for guidance on this issue was critical. If I went only to the intellectual, factual, and rational, then circumstances would always define my decisions. If I went to the intuitive while also honoring the facts, then what I decided would be right, life giving, and truthful. In the end, the important questions were, "What seems most true? Most life giving? Most right?" Even though the church felt right in terms of economic responsibility, I had to follow the bigger vision of my ministry or Iíd forever be operating out of compromise. And I just couldnít do that. I was too committed to a life connected to spirit and partnered with God.

We moved our family back to Oregon, to a family farm. With Havenís brothers joining us, we had great romantic notions of living off the land, of a life that would bring us closer to God. Never mind that none of us had ever farmed. We worked like dogs and lost ten thousand dollars the first year. On Sundays, we held services that no one attended. Even our closest friends began to think we were fooling ourselves.

Four years later, we had a congregation of fifty. The hall we rented cost twenty-five dollars; we paid for it by washing the floors and scrubbing the toilets. We set up an office and waited for somebody to call. Holding the energy of believing when nothing in the world confirms your belief is daunting. Was I really meant to pioneer a work? It certainly wasnít happening the way I had imagined. Tenaciously, I clung to the belief that I was on the right track, even though I didnít have any evidence in the world to substantiate it. During that time, I had to carve a deeper faith in myself than in the results.

Then suddenly, the church began to grow. For a good six years, it grew rapidly, until the congregation numbered about 1,800 people. We called ourselves the Living Enrichment Center, and, for Sunday service, we rented a movie theater in a mall in Beaverton, Oregon, where I grew up and lived that Leave It to Beaver life. To accommodate classrooms and offices, we rented twenty thousand feet of office space in the building next door.

On the churchís ten-year anniversary in 1991, we held a visioning process in which each member wrote down his or her dream for the church on a card that we put in a time capsule to be opened in 2001. As I read the statements in the privacy of my office, it became very clear to me that the church wanted its own home. We no longer wanted our sanctuary to be a dark, dirty, sticky-floored theater smelling of popcorn.

And so the board and I began to envision building our own church in ten years. According to the architects, it would cost about fifteen million dollars. We had about forty thousand dollars ó enough to make a down payment on bare land, which we could pay off over a period of three years while at the same time raising money. Once the land was paid for, weíd have equity to get the loans to build our church. It seemed possible. And it seemed doable in ten years.

As we worked, the board and I would imagine actually living our vision statement, which read, "We have a global headquarters. Itís a beautiful home, a campus with landscaping that reflects Godís beauty: trees, flowers, meditation gardens with benches, resting places, statues of holy people. Our home is large enough to meet the needs of our community, with room for expansion. Our sanctuary is simple, yet an elegant place in which to worship. We enjoy natural light streaming in to bless all in attendance. As our churchís children are of high priority, we invest in lavish youth facilities and childrenís play areas. We have a kitchen, large enough to meet the needs of our congregation, where we have lunches, brunches, and Wednesday night dinners. Our facilities are ecologically sound and environmentally pleasing."

One day, a board member said, "If we had a symbol of celebration to signify that weíd made it, what would that be?" At just that moment, I was opening my desk drawer and inside was a deflated green balloon. I held it up. "This." I blew up the balloon and taped it to the wall and we all huddled underneath it and said, "We made it!" When we delivered the collective vision statement to the congregation, we shared this symbol of celebration. And thatís how the entire congregation began using the visual cue of a green balloon to remind them of our new home.

Around this time, a mentor of mine, Jack Boland, came to town to speak at our church. He was then senior minister of the Church of Today in Warren, Michigan. And he was dying of cancer. Although I knew he was sick, I didnít know that he had only six weeks to live. Jack was a major figure in my life. He had believed in me and my ministry, and felt I had a great calling. He helped me to believe in myself.

Over breakfast, he said, "Okay, so, enough about me. I want to hear about you. Whatís happening, whatís your dream for the church this year?"

Telling him about our collective dream, I said, "This year weíre going to acquire our land, and then weíll spend about three years raising the money to pay it off. Then, weíll use that as an equity base to build our first building." I was very excited and continued to paint the picture of what we would accomplish in ten years.

Jack looked at me and said, "Why donít you just have the whole church this year?"

"Itís a fifteen-million-dollar dream," I said, "and we have only forty thousand dollars in our building fund."

"Do you believe you can have your church this year?"

"Not this year, but eventually."

Back and forth we went and finally, he said, "Mary, do you believe that I believe you can do it this year?"

Now, I knew the faith of Jack Boland was great. He believed outrageous things all the time and saw them manifest.

I smiled. "Yes, I believe you believe I can do it."

And he said, "Well, believe in my belief. Let my belief carry you now."

With that comment, I saw how I had closed off avenues of support from the universe by deciding that the dream would happen in a very linear and logical way. Buy land. Pay off land. Use land as equity to borrow money. Build. Ten years. Certainly, it might happen that way, but I had left no room for miracles. I had it all figured out.

"Be transformed by the renewing of your mind," say the Scriptures.

It wasnít likely that we would have a fifteen-million-dollar building that year, but it was a possibility. I left that breakfast transformed. A corner of my mind had been opened by Jack Boland.

Six months later, in July, we received our eviction notice from the movie theater. They were going to remodel and make smaller theaters, none of which would hold our congregation, which was now at 2,500. We had thirty days to move. The eviction couldnít have come at a worse time, since Haven and I were struggling with our marriage, which was coming to an end.

As the thirty-day countdown began, the church board and I considered the possibility of moving into a giant tent outside the mall, but it would last only a few months before mother nature froze us out. We found a beautiful facility to rent, but I worried that this temporary move was going to eat into our precious building fund.

Recalling this moment in my book Building Your Field of Dreams, I wrote, "As we move toward our dream, at times we may find ourselves faltering, tempted to scale back our plans. We may doubt our own abilities. Here, our partners in believing help propel us forward. They tell us that we do not have to limit ourselves to the confined world of practicality. Our greatest dreams require that we learn to practice outrageous thinking, and our partners keep us attuned to the outrageous by constantly asking, ĎIf you didnít believe it was impossible, what would you do?í"

At our church, we became outrageous thinkers.

I wanted a church just off the freeway, the right location for a business, according to everything I read. Location, location, location. When we heard about forty-five acres in the country for sale by the state of Oregon, I knew it was wrong for us. I went out to look at it anyway. The main building on the property was 95,000 square feet. At one time a rehabilitation center, it had sat empty for years and was badly run down. It cost three million dollars. It would take another three million just to renovate it and another four million a year to run. That year, the church would bring in about two million dollars. Financially, it made no sense. But I felt I had to let the congregation make the decision.

We gave tours of both the beautiful rental facility and the forty-five acres in Wilsonville. We had a core group of about four hundred congregants who were strongly committed and contributing, people we knew would be there for the church long-term. We made sure they were included in this decision. Personally, I had no sense about where we should go. The rental space was safe. The forty-five acres had great potential, but the drawbacks were big.

The vote from the congregation was exactly fifty-fifty. It was up to me. "Youíre the spiritual leader of this community," said my board. "Youíre going to have to make the decision."

I went home that night and said, "Dear God, I need help." In my meditation room, I prayed. "I felt the nudge from You that said, ĎStart this church and pioneer a work that genuinely honors all paths to God.í What do You want for this church now?" I heard nothing.

The next morning, I was awakened at 6:30 by a call from a consultant who had worked with us on envisioning our dream. He said, "I woke up in the middle of the night with a voice telling me to make sure you go back to Wilsonville with an open mind."

"Iíve pretty much decided against it, because itís three miles off the freeway, down a two-lane road, and thereís no light at night. Nobody will come out there."

"Well," said the consultant, "the voice said to tell you to go with an open mind."

So I drove back out by myself. The main building had been empty for eight years. It smelled bad. The pond was completely covered over like a swamp. Animals had been on the property, and it stank of them. I looked out over the dilapidated property. "Whatís the right thing to do?" I asked.

In the quiet of the moment, it was as if a veil lifted. I could see into the future. Kids on the lawns having Easter egg hunts. People in different garb doing ceremonies outside. It was startling. It scared me to my bones. If I said "yes" to this and it flopped, it would flop big. It would be a huge failure. But I had to choose what gave life, not what was safe.

When I told the board, some of the business people said, "Thereís really no way we can do that." But a couple of people believed along with me. One was my board chairman and the other was a consultant for the church. They both said, "We donít know how, but we believe itís doable."

Ten months from the time the congregation had created a collective vision of a new home for the church, we moved into our permanent facility in Wilsonville. Ten months. Not ten years.

The courage to make that decision to go forward in the absence of knowing how we were going to do it was huge. It came from asking, down deep, "Whatís the truth?" When we get to the bedrock truth, we can tap an energy that leads us to live a life thatís greater than the life weíve known before, free from the limitations of the past. It comes from the coeur of courage, living from the heart.

Bringing the dream of the Living Enrichment Center into reality took the steady, unshakable faith of a few. Jack Boland taught me that we need other people to believe with us. And those two other people who stead-fastly believed with me carried us through; we hung onto one another. We called and supported one another. There was never a moment when all of us gave up believing, so we could lean into one anotherís believing. It was very, very powerful. And thatís what I think Jesus meant when he said, "whenever two or more of you are gathered in my name." The dream happens in the presence of like-mindedness, beyond circumstances. The result is transformation.

I could have spent ten years safely growing my ministry by renting a facility that would never make me look bad. Or I could take a giant leap into the abyss believing that I had been guided, even though I didnít have any concrete evidence to prove it. With this leap, the risk of looking bad was huge. And I felt a tremendous responsibility to the people who contributed money. At every level, I was scared, both for myself and for the people who believed in me.

How does divine power get transmitted through a human being? If you want divine power in your life, how do you get it? It doesnít happen to you, it can only happen through you. Itís in the action. Move in faith, move in your believing, move in unison with others who support that believing ó and then, the energy of divine power can move to manifest what you believe. A lot of people want the power first, and then theyíll take the step. But it doesnít work that way.

Living in courage means youíre always on your growing edge asking, "Where is aliveness leading me?" Itís the border between the reality weíve known and the reality we could live in if we step into a bigger picture. We need to move vigorously in the direction of our dreams while remaining pliable so that God can guide us to our true destination. Be restless. Donít settle for a little life.

Last Easter, we had a thousand kids hunting for eggs on the beautifully manicured lawns of the Living Enrichment Center. Not long ago, we had a group of Sufis here, wearing their turbans and white garb, doing a ceremony outside. Seeing them was a dťjŗ vu, a remembering of that vision I had while standing outside a dilapidated, dank, wretched-smelling building. As I looked out over their ceremony, I wept and said, "Dear God, You are so good."

Last year, Mary was invited to be a part of a group of fifty people who spent four days in conversation with the Dalai Lama. Shortly after, she was part of a small gathering with Nelson Mandela, discussing nonviolence. Sheís currently working on a project with the United Nations, which has designated the first ten years of the new millennium as the Decade for Nonviolence. "The challenges now," she says, "are about accepting our greatness and being willing to play bigger, to stand up taller. It takes tremendous courage to do that."


From the book, Women of Spirit. Copyright 2001 by Katherine Martin. Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. Toll-free 800-972-6657 ext. 52 or www.newworldlibrary.com



Katherine Martin has spent the last seven years researching, speaking and writing of courage. Sold-out theater performances and two ground-breaking books are the result of her work: Women of Courage: Inspiring Stories from the Women Who Lived Them and Women of Spirit: Courageous Stories from the Women Who Lived Them. Both books feature first person stories from the famous and the not so famous. Stories from Isabel Allende, Dana Reeve, Marianne Williamson, Faith Popcorn, Judith Orloff, Judy Chicago, Sarah Weddington, Mary Pipher, Riane Eisler, and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray. And from Geraldine Ferraro, Iyanla Vanzant, Judy Collins, Joan Borysenko, Julia Butterfly, Wit star Judith Light, SARK, Cherie Carter-Scott, and many others.

Through her books, lectures, public appearances and media interviews, Katherine provokes a new conversation about courage, busting myths, getting real, and empowering people to live their lives boldly and authentically. She is the ďresident courage expertĒ at women.com, an iVillage company and the pre-eminent womenís website. Katherine hosts the Courage Board and contributes articles and excerpts from her books. She is also executive producer of a television adaptation of a story from Women of Courage.

An award-winning screenwriter, Katherine co-wrote an original Showtime movie and an independent feature film starring George Segal. She authored Non-Impact Aerobics with fitness experts Debbie and Carlos Rosas and has written cover stories and profiles for the San Francisco Chronicle, Esquire, Ms., Parents, Working Mother, Womenís Sports & Fitness, and numerous other national magazines. She was the senior editor of New Realities magazine.

Learn More About Women of Spirit at: www.katherinemartin.com


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