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.
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 that’s
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
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 peoples’
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 I’d 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,
"everything’s created twice. First as a thought
and then as a thing. When you’re embarrassed, your
face gets red. When you’re 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 what’s been bothering you?"
Who was this woman? Toxic thoughts, toxic body? Never
mind, it was the question, "What’s 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 I’d unloaded.
I told her of course not. My right kidney was gone, I’d
been told so, by the doctors.
"Okay. Then let’s 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
Very few people know when they’re in their last
week, their last day. We operate as if life is going to
go on forever: "Someday, I’ll do this" or
"When I fill-in-the-blank, then I’ll 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 don’t 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 didn’t 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 world’s religions. In Aldous Huxley’s
The Perennial Philosophy, I began to see that one
truth surfaces in all religions and philosophies: Life
is good, and it’s 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
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
couldn’t 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 what’s most
truthful, right, and life giving. That took courage. If
I was stuck and unwilling, my dreams would be stuck.
Even God can’t 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 hadn’t 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 didn’t know where it came from, but it
shifted my thinking, even though I had not a clue how to
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 I’d
forever be operating out of compromise. And I just
couldn’t 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 Haven’s 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 wasn’t happening the way
I had imagined. Tenaciously, I clung to the belief that
I was on the right track, even though I didn’t 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 church’s 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 — 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, we’d 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. It’s a beautiful home, a campus
with landscaping that reflects God’s 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 church’s children
are of high priority, we invest in lavish youth
facilities and children’s 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 we’d 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
that’s how the entire congregation began using the
visual cue of a green balloon to remind them of our new
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
didn’t 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. What’s happening, what’s
your dream for the church this year?"
Telling him about our collective dream, I said,
"This year we’re going to acquire our land, and
then we’ll spend about three years raising the money
to pay it off. Then, we’ll 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 don’t you
just have the whole church this year?"
"It’s 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
"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
Now, I knew the faith of Jack Boland was great. He
believed outrageous things all the time and saw them
I smiled. "Yes, I believe you believe I can do
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 wasn’t 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 couldn’t 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
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, ‘If you didn’t believe it was
impossible, what would you do?’"
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. "You’re the
spiritual leader of this community," said my board.
"You’re 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, ‘Start this
church and pioneer a work that genuinely honors all
paths to God.’ 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."
"I’ve pretty much decided against it, because
it’s three miles off the freeway, down a two-lane
road, and there’s no light at night. Nobody will come
"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. "What’s 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, "There’s 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 don’t
know how, but we believe it’s 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, "What’s the
truth?" When we get to the bedrock truth, we can
tap an energy that leads us to live a life that’s
greater than the life we’ve 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 another’s believing. It was very,
very powerful. And that’s 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 didn’t
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 doesn’t happen to you, it can only happen
through you. It’s in the action. Move in faith, move
in your believing, move in unison with others who
support that believing — and then, the energy of
divine power can move to manifest what you believe. A
lot of people want the power first, and then they’ll
take the step. But it doesn’t work that way.
Living in courage means you’re always on your
growing edge asking, "Where is aliveness leading
me?" It’s the border between the reality we’ve
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.
Don’t 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 déjà 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.
She’s 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 “resident courage expert” at women.com, an iVillage company and the pre-eminent women’s 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, Women’s Sports & Fitness, and numerous other national magazines. She was the senior editor of New Realities magazine.
TO "FEATURES" PAGE