He took him outside and said: “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so,” he added, “will your descendants be.” Genesis 15:5
“Count the stars,” God said.
“What an impossibility,” Abram must have thought. There were just too many of them, and on a cloudy night, nothing could be seen.
That command has been handed down throughout the ages, each time asking us to believe what we don't see. This is faith. It asks us to believe that with God, the impossible can happen. To believe that the stars are there even when circumstances obscure any evidence of it.
I'm just back from a true mountain top experience, and I'm still pinching myself and asking, “Did that all just really happen?”
I had the honor and privilege of speaking at FOCUS SLS18, a conference for 8,000 young Catholic leaders. Hand on my heart, I have never seen anything like it.
The theme of the conference was “Count the Stars,” and young adults gathered from all over (USA and beyond) to learn how they could pass their faith on to their generation in a winsome and genuine way. Just as Abram looked in the sky to imagine how his family was to grow, our thoughts centered on the spiritual multiplication we long to see in world.
How many of us have heard the discouraging statistics about youth and religion? Those dire stats are real, but last week, I witnessed what many claim is impossible. Many would tell us that there's not much evidence of spiritual revival coming from this next generation. After my experience with these phenomenal young people, I'd compare those statistics to the inky black sky obscuring the stars. I was able to see the curtain pulled back, and thousands of young Catholics were shining there, on fire for Jesus and ready to usher in a wave of change.
I was asked to speak about how I have answered the call to ministry and motherhood. To be honest, I doubted the young adults would want to hear about the discipline required to do both. I wondered if there was a hunger to hear about the call to motherhood- the importance of putting that first- above personal passions, outside interests, and measurable accomplishments.
To any of you who have felt discouraged about the state of the family, if you have wondered who is going to tend to the hearts at home, let me assure you, these young people are willing, eager, and tender in their desire to both impact the world for Christ and welcome and raise godly children in their homes. The conversations I had with them will remain some of the most precious in my life. They renewed my faith and hope in the future of the Church. You won't hear any millennial jokes from me. These young people are utterly amazing, ready to serve sacrificially, and stepping out with a level of spiritual maturity that blows me away.
One could say that what I witnessed was a miracle, and in many senses it was. But it was also the result of a generation that went before these young adults, taking seriously the call to pass on the baton of faith. I witnessed the fruit of many parents' sacrifices, and of the faithfulness of the FOCUS missionaries who have committed to disciplining their peers on the college campuses.
God is on the move! The Holy Spirit is alive and active! The young Church is on fire! Do not lose hope. We can't count the stars and we can't imagine what God has up His sleeve right here, right now. I got a glimpse of it, and believe with all my heart that there is more to come.
If you'd like to see my keynote, check it out below.
With love and gratitude to God!
Founder and Chief Purpose Officer
Walking with Purpose
“As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:4
It's surprising to find myself struggling to find the right words when it comes to writing about Mary. Not because I have no words, but because I have too many. She's kind of my homegirl. Mary and me? We go way back.
My mother introduced me to our Blessed Mother when I was young. Medals and statues were given as gifts, Hail Marys recited at the kitchen table (cue: teen rolling her eyes) prayer cards with her image slipped into book pages and left on countertops. My mom is the best spiritual gardener I know; planting seeds tirelessly, she must have understood how much I would need my heavenly mother as the years unraveled. How one day, this Holy Mother of God, who I had shamefully reduced to a plastic statue hidden on a shelf, was going to get me through some of the darkest days of my life.
Sitting sorrowfully at my dining room table, a friend rushed over to my side, gifting me with a favorite portrait of Mary. She sits on her bed in deep contemplation, a bright light shines upon her; she is so young, so beautiful, and truthfully, she looks a little bit unsure. Amazing how everything you need to know and love about Mary, the artist managed to capture with a stroke of a brush. Gentleness, humility, trust, but most of all, her “yes,” despite not having all of the details.
The world celebrates New Year's Day today, and in following secular tradition, we will make a resolution-give up gluten, get organized, work-out- and we will choose our “word of the year” - joy, hope, brave. But the Catholic Church, rich in tradition, has so much more to celebrate. Today is the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. We acknowledge her unique role in God's plan for salvation; her unique role in our own lives, as our Mother. And so I am thinking that while giving up gluten or working out more is good for us, maybe we can do better. What if this New Year's Day we resolved to respond as Mary responds, to contemplate as Mary contemplates, to give God our “yes,” even when we are a little bit unsure?
My word of the year? Mary. My resolution? Contemplation. My bread of choice? Full of gluten. And I have no plans to work out either.
I am praying for all of us, through the intercession of our Holy Mother of God, on this Solemnity of Mary. And for a most blessed New Year that is filled with peace, pondering and gluten.
Regional Area Coordinator
Walking with Purpose
Read Laura's blog here: http://www.lauramaryphelps.com/
I thought I was going to throw up on my way to the first WWP board meeting. Reading Robert's Rules for Dummies had helped me to some degree, but a boatload of self-doubt remained. The only part of forming a nonprofit board that seemed doable and appealing to me was having a board retreat. So once the paperwork was completed, I talked four friends of mine into joining me for a weekend away to see if we could get this idea off the ground.
We crafted a mission statement, and set the audacious goal of launching five new Walking with Purpose groups in the next five years. Little did we know what God had planned. We began to grow at a rate of 100% every year, purely by word of mouth.
As we celebrate our 10 Year Anniversary, my heart is overwhelmed by God's faithfulness to us. We have just welcomed our 225th parish, and have over 16,000 women participating in the program. God has done “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20).
From the beginning, our desire has been to give our very best to the women who have entrusted us with their hearts. When I add up the hours given by our leaders, I stand amazed. But even more than giving time, they have given their very selves to our mission. Early days of board meetings around my dining room table, the spirit of “all hands on deck,” and the creation of a pink and green revolution were some of the hardest yet happiest days I've experienced. My gratitude for that group of women will stretch into eternity.
One lesson that I've learned over the past decade is that what we offer to the Lord does not need to be perfect in order to be good. In fact, when we are weak and imperfect, that is when He shows up most powerfully. We bring Him the best we've got. Sometimes it's enough; sometimes all we see is the shortfall. But when God is pursuing His beloved daughters with the gospel of grace, He is never limited by our limitations. He breaks through barriers and gives us just what we need to press on.
In hindsight, it has been during times of brokenness that I have most fully seen God's goodness and blessing being extended to me. This has been the case personally and within Walking with Purpose, and often, the two experiences have been interwoven.
But in the middle of a season of disappointment or suffering, it's very hard to see the blessings. It's during times of brokenness that we are most susceptible to lies about the heart of the Father. We question His love, His goodness, His power, and His interest in us.
In his book, Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen writes about the two best responses to brokenness. The first is to befriend it- to “face it squarely” instead of trying to stuff our emotions or deny them. The second response is to put our brokenness under the blessing. In His words…
This putting of our brokenness under the blessing is a precondition for befriending it. Our brokenness is often so frightening to face because we live it under the curse. Living our brokenness under the curse means that we experience our pain as a confirmation of our negative feelings about ourselves. It is like saying, ‘I always suspected that I was useless or worthless, and now I am sure of it because of what is happening to me.'…When we have cursed ourselves or allowed others to curse us, it is very tempting to explain all the brokenness we experience as an expression or confirmation of this curse…The great spiritual call of the Beloved Children of God is to pull their brokenness away from the shadow of the curse and put it under the light of the blessing.
It's our desire at Walking with Purpose to help women accept themselves as the Beloved in the very moments when they feel least deserving of it. Recognizing that lies about God make it hard for us to draw near to Him, we lead women to the truth found in Scripture. Jesus speaks to our hearts, quieting the clamor of the voices that cause us confusion and doubt.
I'm moved by John Steinbeck's words, “And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good.” When we can rest in God's grace, when our belovedness doesn't feel like it is perpetually on the line, we are free to love. Recognizing that God loves us in our brokenness frees us from the chains of perfectionism and allows us to extend that same grace to others. We can invite our loved ones to exhale and drop the mask. We can become soft places for others' hearts to land because we aren't so busy trying to prove ourselves. The unconditional love we have received is passed on to people who are desperate for a place to belong and call home.
Happy Anniversary, dear friends. You are a part of a sisterhood. This is your tribe. You are welcome here, as is. Not the cleaned up version of you, but the real one. In your weakness, in your brokenness, you are called Beloved.
Today is my favorite day of the year. It's my birthday, and there hasn't been a season when I haven't looked forward to it coming, certain that something delightful was bound to happen. People have always asked me if I hate having a birthday so close to Christmas- if I get shortchanged or passed over. They wonder if I've received too many birthday/Christmas combo gifts. The answer is no, and I have to give some serious credit to my mother for always making sure that my special day was given focus, that gifts were wrapped in pink- not green and red, and for still giving me things to look forward to on December 15th. There are some benefits to having a mother whose love language is gift giving.
That's led me to think about Advent- this season of waiting- and our Good Father. A day of waiting isn't something that sounds appealing to any of us. Don't we want the end result? The full satisfaction of our longings? The big celebration of Christmas? But with God, every day is a day when He is celebrating us. There are gifts to be discovered- chosen for us individually- wrapped up (therefore hidden) every day.
What is needed is a spirit of expectancy. Part of the reason my birthday is always a special day to me is because of the buildup to it and my expectation that something good is going to happen. This means that I head into the day with eyes wide open- looking around for the affirmation that today isn't like every other day. Whether it's a free birthday coffee at Starbucks or a surprise text from an old friend, joy ends up being sprinkled around like confetti. I'm not at all sure it's because that many more lovely things are happening. I think a big part of it is the fact that I am looking for them.
One of my favorite songs is “Shepherd” by Bethel Music. Amanda Cook sings:
In the process, in the waiting
You're making melodies over me
And your presence is the promise
For I am a pilgrim on a journey
You will lift my head above the mighty waves
You are able to keep me from stumbling
And in my weakness
You are the strength that comes from within
Good Shepherd of my soul
Take my hand and lead me on
What would change this Advent if we tuned our ears to hear God's voice “making melodies over us”? If we started each day looking for evidence of God's presence, provision and protection?
God is always speaking words of blessing over us- we just don't always “tune our ears” to His station. All too often, we are listening to the radio station that tells us our value lies in what we do- how we perform- what we look like- how much is in our bank account. We take all those messages in, often unconsciously, and wind up feeling discouraged and weary. It's up to us to switch the station.
'In the waiting season, which continuously tempts us to listen to the voice saying we're not doing enough, God's voice calls us to lay the to-do list aside and turn our eyes to Him.'
This is what we're doing when we wake up in the morning and open our Bibles. It's a critical decision to start the day listening to the Voice of Blessing that tells us we are beloved, rather than the Voice of Shame that tells us we're already behind the eight ball.
The third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, is around the corner. God's voice of blessing will be spoken over you through the readings, and I encourage you to tune your ear in such a way that you personalize what you hear. The second reading is my prayer for you today:
“May the God of peace make you perfectly holy
and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body,
be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The one who calls you is faithful,
and he will also accomplish it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
In the waiting season, which continuously tempts us to listen to the voice saying we're not doing enough, God's voice calls us to lay the to-do list aside and turn our eyes to Him. He calls us to holiness, but this is so different than a taskmaster demanding that we get on the treadmill of performance. How do we know this? From that final verse, “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it” (emphasis mine). He will do it in and through you. You can leave the heavy lifting to Him.
Praying you'd know how beloved you are-
Founder and Chief Purpose Officer
Walking with Purpose
Hello, my friend!
Today I'm welcoming back one of my favorite people to the WWP blog: Laura Phelps. One of my favorite things about Laura is the way she makes me laugh. She also shares my love for Jesus and women, and I know you'll enjoy her writing. In addition to raising her four children and loving on her husband, she works for WWP as a phenomenal Regional Area Coordinator. Laura blogs for us once a month, and once a month you'll hear from me. With love,
It's such an interesting message the world sends us this time of year, and by interesting, I mean flat-out ridiculous. Get your shopping done, wrap those gifts, mail those Christmas cards and photos (the ones you took back in August), bake those cookies, host those parties, assemble the gingerbread houses, deck the halls. And that's just the first week of December.
'I insist that this is the year Christmas will not be reduced to the to-do list the world writes for me, but rather, it will be a period of intentional waiting, an Advent season where my gaze is truly fixated on the empty manger, pregnant in the anticipation of being filled with the complete and awesome wonder of a newborn King;'
I might have dropped dead on my floor yesterday morning when I saw how a friend on Instagram was already done with her Christmas preparations. FINISHED. Didn't help that our Thanksgiving leftovers were still sitting out on the counter, next to the rotted Halloween pumpkin, when I came upon her post. And she planned it this way so that she could actually enjoy the month of December. Which I suppose, is a brilliant idea, if you have that kind of motivation. I, however, am the kind of woman who still has a stack of half-written and never sent Christmas cards from last year, stuffed into my china cabinet drawer. If you're lucky, maybe I will send you one…in time for Easter.
And you know, every year I say the same thing. “I am not going to miss it.” The purpose. The meaning. The reason. The incredible build up of the immense weight of glory that is about to be born. I insist that this is the year Christmas will not be reduced to the to-do list the world writes for me, but rather, it will be a period of intentional waiting, an Advent season where my gaze is truly fixated on the empty manger, pregnant in the anticipation of being filled with the complete and awesome wonder of a newborn King; a King I so desperately need to come, to be born, and to rescue me, again and again. And then suddenly there I am, tearing at rolls of gift wrap with my teeth like a great white shark, and cursing out the stupid scotch tape dispenser like a full-on crazy woman, ordering my poor husband to go back out to Petco on Christmas Eve to purchase the third guinea pig that week, because the first two I brought home were not longhaired enough, and insisting that he must go back to Costco for more cheese and a larger ham, because I mean really, what on earth was he thinking buying so little cheese and such a small ham? It's CHRISTMAS people…you get the mother lode of cheese and you bring home the giant freaking ham!!!!!
Because that is exactly what Mary did the night before she gave birth to the Son of God. She scrambled like a lunatic for last minute gifts and sent Joseph to Costco, because the birth of her Son just wasn't enough.
And this pierces my heart as I write it…that the newborn baby Jesus…He just isn't enough. And sure, maybe we don't really mean that, but I think that maybe, we can surely act like that. When we stress over perfect menus and the matching kids clothes, and spend more time worrying about will we have enough money to grant everyone's wishes, and will we be able to provide a good Christmas for our friends and family…well…I think when we do this, it is as if we are saying that baby Jesus, being born and with us, is not enough.
And I don't believe we do this intentionally. I do not believe we push Him aside, promising to get right back to Him, just as soon we complete all of our preparations, on purpose. I think it just happens. I think we so easily get caught up in the race, and dragged into the malls, and busy with the online shopping that is all too easy, and before you know it, we are getting pulled into Petco (OK, so maybe that last one is just me) because we actually have really good intentions. We want the kids to be happy on Christmas morning. We want our holiday guests to feel at home. We want our feast to be delicious. We want to eat our body weight in cheese. We want to do all of these things because we want to have a beautiful Christmas. We are all about the baby Jesus, it is just that sometimes? Sometimes we just go about it the wrong way. Sometimes we get pulled in the wrong direction. I know I do. And when I do? I miss it.
There is a balance in all of this, isn't there, and for those of you who have mastered it, please share. Because it is not easy to do and I think no matter how many of us try, we often fail. I do believe that we can have the baking, and we can have the gifts, and we can do all of our traditionally fun and expected things, if in fact…they are still fun and not just something we feel we ought to do because that one perfect lady we follow on social media does is, and look at how happy her family looks! But, how can you tell? How do you know what should stay, and what ought to go, this Advent? Well, before hitting your Christmas to-do list, might I suggest, you pray over it. Seriously. Take that list to prayer. Ask God what He would like to see you do for Him this Advent season. Because my guess is that God's way of preparing might look slightly different from the world's way of preparing. So it is wise to check in with Him, and ask….will doing this bring me closer to Your Son? Will this task, next on my list, deepen my love for You? How can I offer up this activity as praise and glory to You? Will this third guinea pig fill our home with the true joy of the birth of Jesus Christ?
And the answer to that last one is a resounding NO. The three guinea pigs have only brought true smell to my daughter's bedroom. Zero Jesus. If you are considering that Santa bring a live pet this year, come on over to my house first, and smell my upstairs.
You know, when I really meditate on the nativity, when I truly take some quiet time alone, escaping the chaos and the anxiety that without fail, washes over me this time of year, I can not help but find my tired mind taking me back to that one Christmas, five years ago; that one Christmas, that followed after the shooting at my children's elementary school. That one Christmas, where my community felt the groaning labor pains of the birth of unspeakable and devastating loss. That one Christmas, where we suffered such sorrow and disbelief, and couldn't imagine, for the life of us, how Christmas would come. Should Christmas come? And the miracle? Not only did Christmas come, but it came powerfully. It came beautifully. It came just as it promised. Because when you are reminded with what this life is all about, and you are slapped in the face of the reality that we need God like never before, guess what happens to that to-do list? Guess how much you care about the cookies and the parties and the wrapping? Everything takes on new meaning. Suddenly, you long for real presence, not presents. That Advent was like no other Advent I have ever lived through before. It was truly what Advent is supposed to be. A holy waiting period. A sacred preparation. A stripping away, a pulling apart, and a re-focusing. An awakening to the undeniable truth that the only thing we need, the very best gift we can ever hope for, is that swaddled baby boy, that newborn King. His presence is the only present. And until that sorrowful Christmas, I never knew how badly I wanted, how crazy much I needed, that gift. That baby.
And that is what the Advent season needs to be about. And I know it is hard. It took my being stripped away of everything, in the most hideous way, to see where I actually needed to be. It took giving up on my idea of what our Christmas was supposed to look like, and surrendering to God and His idea of what Christmas needed to be. It took my handing over my list…LITERALLY….and allowing friends to swoop on in and do what I was too sad to do. And guess what? Christmas still came that year. Sure, it looked different. It carried a weight of sorrow. But if you were to kneel next to Mary right now…right there in the stable…get on up close next to her, with the hay and the animals and the smell of the stable…and if you were to reach out and pick up that sweet babe, swaddled up tight, and gently kiss his head, and press His heart close into yours….would you not feel a tinge of sorrow? Yes, the birth of our savior is a joyful occasion, but because we know His mission, because we know His sacrifice, because we know that the same baby we reach for in the manger is the same man who we hung on the wood of the cross, how can we not weep?
And so maybe this Advent season, if you feel that earthly pull, if you feel that building anxiety and the stress of the world's to-do list, maybe it is a good idea to just stop. To be still. To give your list over to the Lord. And then, go on into the stable. Kneel down next to Mary. Close your eyes. And in joyful expectation, wait with her by the empty manger. Just wait.
He will soon be born, sweet friends. The hope we wait for. The grace we need. The Christmas presence that is beyond compare to any other present on our list. And He is more than enough.
So let's prepare wisely. Let's not miss it.
Regional Area Coordinator
Walking with Purpose
Read Laura's blog here: http://www.lauramaryphelps.com/
Isn't it strange that we need to be reminded to be grateful- we who live in the most privileged of circumstances? Most of us are wealthy by the world's standards. Do you make $35,000 a year? Then you are in the top 4 percent of wealth in the world. Fifty thousand? Top 1 percent.
In the words of Jen Hatmaker, “Excess has impaired perspective in America; we are the richest people on earth, praying to get richer. We're tangled in unmanageable debt while feeding the machine, because we feel entitled to more. What does it communicate when half the global population lives on less than $2 a day, and we can't manage a fulfilling life on twenty-five thousand times that amount? Fifty thousand time that amount? It says we have too much, and it is ruining us.”(1)
The month of November invites us to change our perspective- to focus on what we already have, and express our gratitude for it. November asks to be remembered as its own month, and to stop letting December creep in and switch the focus to Christmas and all the shopping and planning it entails. Don't get me wrong, no one loves Christmas more than I do, but let's give November its moment in the sunshine.
The most impactful place for us to practice gratitude is in our relationship with God. Thanking God for what He gives us is really important, but true praise means thanking God for WHO HE IS. This lifts our focus to a higher plane, and reminds us that it's not all about what we have and what's going on here on earth. There is an eternal perspective that we need in our daily living, one centered on God- His goodness, His mercy, His steadfast love, His holiness, His unchanging nature, His faithfulness, and so much more.
What might change if we began our days by breathing in the fresh air and just thanking God for sustaining us, for the fact that we are ALIVE? What if we followed that act of gratitude with the remembrance that with our generous God, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning?” (Lamentations 3:22-23)
He is a good, good Father to us, providing for our needs. Take a moment to reflect on the way He cares for us by watching the video below and entering into a heart posture of worship. It was filmed at our last WWP Leaders Gathering, and was a truly anointed moment of Eucharistic adoration and praise. (It's especially dear to my heart because one of the singers is my son, Jonny.)
Praying that our hearts would swell with gratitude to the One who calls us THE BELOVED and has proven His love time and again…
Founder and Chief Purpose Officer
Walking with Purpose