How Far Would You Go To Live Your Purpose?

I still remember the moment I knew that I could live in Alabama.

My husband Jonathan and I were visiting the Southern town where we live now, walking hand in hand past the elegant public library.

Not much was happening on the outside, but from within a simple knowing arose: I could walk to this library. This could be our hometown. We could live here and be happy.

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When You’re Not Sure What’s Most Important: A Course in Priorities, Courtesy of John Franklin Stephens & Tim Shriver

Reading at L’Arche

I settled down at my desk to start my workday, plunging into administrative tasks. Deep down, I knew that this wasn’t the best idea, but I didn’t feel like writing. I didn’t have any ‘good’ ideas.

But then I started feeling guilty. Why hadn’t I called my friends in the Northeast, where Hurricane Sandy hit? Granted, I knew they were safe, but I wanted to hear their voices.

So I made a few calls. But then I felt guilty that I wasn’t getting work done. I thought, My inner perfectionist is having a field day today.


The feelings of guilt seemed to stem from being stuck between competing demands. But when I considered other times when this feeling of frustration had arisen, a pattern started emerging. Frustration kicks in when neither of the things I’m doing is the thing I most need to do.

True, I need to do administrative work for my business, and I take time to talk with friends during the workweek. But what makes or breaks my workday is whether or not I do creative writing.

Until I do some real writing, I feel adrift. When I deny that priority, everything else in my workday feels out of whack. But when I put it at the top of my list, everything else flows from there.


Sometimes we lose sight of our priorities, and it takes a crisis to reveal them anew. We never wish for crises to come, but such defining moments do have a way of bringing out what matters most.

For example, Ann Coulter’s recent use (and defense of) the r-word set off a firestorm of controversy. Yet the heartfelt responses to her insensitivity have blown me away. One need only read this letter from John Franklin Stephens on Tim Shriver’s blog to her to see how powerful grace-filled words can be.

When I read his letter, I wiped away tears and thought to myself: Thank God John Franklin Stephens was willing to spend a day writing this … and thank God Tim Shriver took the time to post it.

I’m sure there were many other things both men could have done with their time; I’m sure that they had to set some things aside in order to share this post with the world. In fact, I know that they had to set aside anger and defensiveness. They could have lashed out; instead, they chose to tell the truth with love.


Not sure what you need to prioritize today? Ask: At the end of the day, what will haunt me if I don’t make progress on it? (Or, What would give me a feeling of freedom if I did do it?)

We tell ourselves we’re “too busy” to listen for true answers to these questions, but what we really mean is, “I’m too afraid.” Why? Because listening in to our true priorities can be scary. It can lead us in new directions, ones that diverge from the paths that others expect us to take. It can seem selfish.

Prioritizing beauty, Fall 2012

Yet Stephens’ letter reminded me that it’s much easier to be kind and loving towards others when your own priorities are clear.

As an ambassador for the Special Olympics, Stephens prioritizes a message of welcome and inclusion … one that extends even to those who would ridicule people with disabilities. 


There’s one last thing I should tell you: When I worked as a program director at L’Arche* Arlington, Tim Shriver would visit our homes on a regular basis. He even had a workspace in a L’Arche basement, where he’d come to do research and write.

Shriver is the Chairman and CEO of the Special Olympics, which supports nearly 4 million athletes each year. He could have chosen to work in a posh office, but he prioritized visiting with our humble community.

Working from L’Arche might seem like a strange decision for a CEO, just as coming to serve there might seem like a counter-intuitive choice for a would-be writer and Vassar College graduate. But L’Arche has inspired both of us to write by surrounding us with people about whom we can say, with John Franklin Stephens:

“No one overcomes more than [they] do and still loves life so much.”


What helps you to prioritize each day? Join the conversation in the comments!


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*L’Arche is a faith-based non-profit organization that creates homes where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together. I spent 5 years serving the DC community in various caregiving roles.