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For five months now, I have needed to pick up a bundle of clothing from the cleaners. That’s right, almost half a year ago, I dropped off some dresses for cleaning and then forgot about them for two months. When I finally remembered, I avoided picking them up. I told myself that I was just too busy. I have too many kids to pack into the car, and the errand will have to wait.  

You are probably thinking, Mallory, just go get the clothes. You are being silly. I have told myself the same thing, and I have still not remedied the situation. Why? Because I’m afraid. I don’t want to suffer the embarrassment of picking them up after leaving them there for so long. I don’t want to take the chance of hearing the words, “We gave them away,” which, by now, is a real possibility.

The cleaners are only one example of things I avoid out of fear. I could write this entire blog post about friends I didn’t call, opportunities I passed up, and chances I didn’t take. I could give you a million reasons why I didn’t do these things and convince you that I am just being smart or prudent. But in the end, all of those reasons boil down to one. Fear. Fear of what? Fear of what others will think of me, of failing, or of looking like a fool. I fear getting hurt and not being good enough. I fear many things, and when I let them rule my life, I start hiding and stop living. 

Do you ever feel like you live your life from behind your fears? The more I talk to women, the more I understand that we often make our decisions according to our fears. We tell ourselves that we are using good judgment, and then we stop stepping out in big and small ways. Slowly but surely, we build lives that are predictable, setting boundaries that keep us safe but leave little room for the Holy Spirit to move. We might be comfortable, but we miss out on the abundant life that God offers to us.  

Scripture reveals that an abundant life requires risk. The entire Bible is story after story of God asking someone to take a chance, that person eventually obeying God in faith, and then God performing a miracle. The Christian life is an adventure, not an afternoon coffee break, and it requires that we do some things that make us uncomfortable.

Take Moses, for example. Moses was the man to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and to the edge of the promised land. But before he was that guy, he was a man on the run for killing an Egyptian. If he returned to Egypt, he could be killed for his crime, a great reason to stay away. Yet, God chose Moses to set His people free. 

In Exodus 3, the Lord appeared to Moses and told him that He had seen the misery of His people and had come to rescue them out of Egypt and bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey. The Lord said, “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10). Moses responded to this high call with four excuses. He had good reasons for thinking he was not able to say yes. 

First, he said, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11). Moses was not wrong to raise this objection. After all, he was not a diplomat; he had no political power. He was an outlaw.

How did God respond? He said, “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12). Who Moses thought he was didn’t matter. The fact that the God of the universe would be with him mattered much more. 

Moses then brought up the second reason he was not the guy to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’” (Exodus 4:1).

Again, Moses’ reason is legitimate. He would sound like a crazy person running into Egypt saying that he heard a message from God. God’s response? He turned Moses’ staff into a snake and reminded him that He is the God of miracles (Exodus 4:2–4). There is no obstacle He can’t overcome. 

Moses again contested, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either heretofore or since thou hast spoken to thy servant; but I am slow of speech and of tongue” (Exodus 4:10).

This was Moses’ best argument. He did not have the skills to do what the Lord was asking. God replied, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Exodus 4:11–12). 

Finally, Moses was out of excuses, and he revealed his fear: “Oh Lord, send I pray, some other person” (Exodus 4:13).

Moses had every reason to be scared. Can you imagine approaching Pharaoh’s throne and asking him to let go of the labor force that had served Egypt for over 400 years? Can you imagine having to convince the Israelites to leave everything they had ever known? Moses could have said no, and who would have blamed him? He would have avoided the risk and the hardship that came from saying yes, but he would also miss seeing God perform incredible wonders. 

And so back to you and me. What scares you? Take a moment to write it down and then answer these two questions: Why are you afraid? What is your fear stopping you from doing? 

Is fear keeping you from being more generous or stepping into leadership? Is it keeping you from having a much-needed conversation or apologizing to a person you have wronged? Avoiding these things may save you from an awkward or embarrassing situation. It might even keep you from pain and hardship, but it will also keep you from seeing God move in the chances you take. 

For clarity’s sake, the Lord is not asking you to be reckless or run into harm’s way with disregard for wisdom and good decision-making. Instead, He asks you to be obedient to Him, even if you have to take risks to do so. He invites you to reject the spirit of fear and embrace the spirit of freedom. 

Years ago, Fr. Mike Schmitz gave a sermon in which he highlighted Piglet from Winnie the Pooh. He said that Piglet was the most courageous character in the children’s story because he was afraid of everything but accomplished great things despite his fear. Courage is not fearlessness; it’s doing something even though we are afraid to do them.

So here is my challenge to you for 2022. Tell the Lord all that you are afraid of and let Him answer you with a mighty, “I will be with you,” or “I am the God of miracles.” Then, do the thing that you are afraid to do even if your voice trembles and your legs shake. Make the phone call even if it’s awkward, risk the embarrassment of putting yourself out there even if you make a fool of yourself, or step up to lead even if you don’t feel qualified. Start small and go from there. As for me, I am starting with a trip to the dry cleaners.

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7)



My best conversations happen unexpectedly in grocery store aisles. The most recent occurred at The Big Y, right here in town, next to the leg of lamb. I ran into my friend Diane who I had not seen in a while. She had come straight from confession where she had the most incredible encounter. Not in the confessional, but outside of it. 

“There was a young woman waiting first in line who I had never seen before. She looked uncomfortable, and so I struck up a conversation, hoping to put her at ease.” (I love this about my friend. She sees into hearts, anticipates their needs.) “There is nothing you will say in there that the priest hasn’t already heard,” Diane encouraged her. The woman, sensing that my friend was a safe listener, shared that it had been many years since she had been to the sacrament of Reconciliation. Later, the young woman walked out of the confessional beaming. She glanced over at Diane and gave her two thumbs up. And as she headed to the pew to complete her penance, the young woman shared, “I think that I am going to stay for the 4 o’clock Mass.”

And that’s not even the incredible part of the story.

The incredible part of the story is what happened next. Diane invited the young woman to a church event the following evening, and with a genuine love for this stranger, right there next to that tasty ol’ leg of lamb, she quietly confessed to me, “I really can’t wait to see her tomorrow night. I hope that she comes. I really do.” 

I stood in awe.

And after helping an elderly man choose a rib roast marinade (Diane, not me…I know nothing about making a rib roast, let alone its marinade), she turned the spotlight onto me. “And how are you?” she asked. “I see all of these wonderful things you are doing! YouTube videos, writing, and speaking! You are amazing.” Then the light that she had been radiating dimmed ever so slightly. “You know, I wish that I could do something big for God like you do.” To which I replied, “You just did.” 

Do you know that before you were born God consecrated you and planned you for a specific mission? (Jeremiah 1:5)

Do you know that you have received hand-picked gifts from God that are to be used to glorify Him? (1 Peter 4:10)

Do you know that you are His handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared beforehand? (Ephesians 2:10)

Do you know that your desire to make a stranger feel at ease, your courage to extend an invitation that has the power to bring a woman into a deep relationship with Christ, and your compassion that leads you to help an old man find a recipe for a rib roast marinade are total gifts from God?

We are all tempted to take our eyes off our own paper and look at the gifts God hands out to our friends. Other people’s things always look better, don’t they? Seriously. Have you ever spent the night at a friend’s house and used her shower? She always has better soap and shampoo. And how about when you were a kid? Did you ever trade lunches with a classmate? I did. With Eunice Cha. Why? Because Eunice Cha’s mother made the most delicious sandwich and packed the best snack—pizza-flavored Goldfish in a baggie—that I had ever had. It’s human nature, my friends. We see, we covet, and then we wonder why God gave us the baggie with the boring Goldfish.

But you see, here’s what we need to remember. There are no boring gifts in God’s Kingdom. All His fish are flavored because God doesn’t create boring. And everything He creates has purpose and matters. Think about it like this: We are each like a puzzle piece in the world’s greatest puzzle ever. Have you ever worked hard on a puzzle only to discover that you are missing the last piece? It is maddening, isn’t it? You need that piece! You get on all fours and crawl beneath your kitchen table like you are a golden retriever just to find that piece. It doesn’t matter if it is the most detailed piece or the most nondescript piece. All you know is that you spent the last two weeks of your life trying to complete a picture that will never be complete unless you find that missing piece.

Like a puzzle piece, we too are meant to complete a bigger picture. If we focus on our one small piece, we lose sight of the greater narrative. Every piece matters. If, after reading this, you are still thinking to yourself, But I don’t want the nondescript piece! I want the cool piece!—ask yourself this: Am I using my gifts for God’s purposes or my own?

Do you want to know the truth about the work the Lord has called me to do? It is hard, and more often than not, I doubt that I have what it takes to complete it. I love it and it tortures me all at the same time. Ask my friend Beth how I get before a writing deadline. Or ask my husband how I feel the day I have to travel for a speaking engagement. So, if writing and speaking are so difficult, why do I choose to do it? Well, I didn’t choose. God did. And whatever God calls us to do, He supplies the means for it (Acts 1:8). For whatever reason, this is my mission. It is how the Lord asks me to serve Him, and the truth is, if I were to ignore this call that He has engraved on my heart, there would be a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I would grow weary from holding it in (Jeremiah 20:9). 

And the truth about my friend, Diane? She is like St. Paul—speaking of what she has seen and heard to all she encounters (Acts 4:19–20)—and the last time I checked, Paul was an apostle that did pretty big things for God. Sure, she doesn’t have a YouTube series or a podium and microphone to preach the Gospel, but she doesn’t need those things because that is not where God needs her. What my beautiful friend doesn’t know is that she is doing the same exact work that I do, only better. Few people may see her piece in this grand puzzle of life. But God sees. And the leg of lamb sees. And really, what could possibly matter more than that?

With prayers for your mission,
Laura

P.S. I can’t help you out with a good recipe because that would imply that I cook, but I can tell you the first episode of Truth with Handles: The Conversation premieres this Thursday on the Walking with Purpose YouTube channel. Subscribe now—and remember to turn on notifications—so you don’t miss a single episode of season 2!
Bible Study

This is the time when we all start to think about what we wish we hadn’t eaten over the holidays and other ways we’d like to improve ourselves. Two currents of thought run through our minds. One stream bubbles with excitement over a new challenge. But discouragement flows in the other one, because try as we might, bad habits are hard to kick. Swimming in the discouraging stream leads to self-loathing and negative self-talk. The result? We remain stuck.

God doesn’t want us to be stuck in self-destructive habits. He has not only laid out a plan for healthy human flourishing, He’s given us what we need to live accordingly. In 2 Peter 1:4, Saint Peter writes that because of Jesus, we have “become partakers of the divine nature.” This is the opposite of being stuck with an unaided, flawed human nature. The study notes in my Bible explain that becoming partakers of the divine nature is “a strong expression to describe the transformation of human nature by divine grace.”[1] But how does this happen? And does the Incarnation have anything to do with the transformation we are longing for?

To answer that question, I turned to Saint Athanasius and his little book, On the Incarnation. In it, he asks if it had to be God the Son who became incarnate. Could it not just as well have been God the Father? He then answers his own question, saying that it had to be God the Son, and the reason for that is found in John 1:1–3: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made.”

Jesus, the Word of the Father, the Word of God, made the world—everything and everyone in it. Man was given a nature full of grace, immortality, and a paradise to live in. But we know the story. Man threw away this birthright of beauty,[2] and death and corruption entered the world. 

The result was that things became worse and worse. Man’s sin surpassed all limits. It went from bad to worse. This is the truth of what human nature is like without God, as opposed to a utopian view of the world that thinks that if we can just get the right laws, the right political party in power, the right systems, then everything is going to be good again. We are always looking for something to fix this problem of man’s capacity for evil, our insatiable appetite for devising new kinds of sins,[3] but we want the solution to be anything but God. We see this clearly during this current cultural moment. But it’s nothing new. This has always been the case. 

The solution is not to be found in human systems, institutions, politics, or policies. God has always known that we don’t hold the solution in ourselves. And in His goodness, He wasn’t content to sit back and watch us flounder. Athanasius writes, “Man, who was made in God’s image…was disappearing, and the work of God was being undone.”[4] God wasn’t going to let His creation and His children be ruined.

What would God choose to do? We find the answer in John 1:14, “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.”

God decided that the Word who had brought creation into being was to come into that very creation, take on a human body, and re-create it all. The One who made it would restore and renew it. Not from a distance, but from within. 

In some sense, the Word of God has never been far from His creation, because He fills all things that are—as we see in Ephesians 1:23, “the fullness of him fills all in all.” This has always been the case. But with the Incarnation, “He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us.”[5]

He looked at the tremendous amount of suffering we endure.
He looked at His daughters, so desiring to change what was sinful in them, but falling into the same bad habits time and time again.
He looked at our dashed dreams.
He looked at the death of our loved ones.
He looked at the tension and disappointment between spouses who had committed to love each other forever.
He looked at the exhaustion of his people who are just trying so very hard and feel they will never be able to keep up.
He looked at the way disease attacks the bodies of His beloved and wreaks destruction.
He looked at children making self-destructive choices as their parents helplessly looked on. 

God decided that He wasn’t going to just toss us some platitudes or good advice in the face of heartache and the corruption of the good. He was going to step down and come into the very midst of that mess and heartache. He became incarnate so that “neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39).

The message—the miracle—of the Incarnation, is that the Word of God has not only come to earth, He has come inside of you. He is with you in your suffering. You are never alone. But that’s not all. He has made you a partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). He is in you, just waiting for you to invite Him to recreate you, to renew you, to transform you so that you become just like Him. 

Where are you placing your hope at the start of 2022? Are you counting on the gym membership, new organizational principles, or sheer grit to bring desired change? May this be the year when the reality sinks in that the hope of glory is Christ in you. “The secret is simply this: Christ in you! Yes, Christ in you bringing with him the hope of all glorious things to come.”[6]

With you on the journey,
Lisa

[1] Commentary on 2 Peter 1:4 from The Great Adventure Catholic Bible (Ascension Press).
[2] Ibid.
[3] Saint Athanasius, On The Incarnation, 17.
[4] Athanasius, 19.
[5] Athanasius, 21.
[6] Colossians 1:27, J.B. Phillips Translation

Warning: Hot Button Topic Ahead. 

When loading utensils into the dishwasher, do you place them handle side down or handle side up? 

Call me crazy, but I just realized why my father would load the dishwasher so that all of the utensils would be handle side down. With the handle side down, the part of the utensil that is sticking up is the part that touches the food, the person’s mouth, and needs most of the cleaning. By loading the dishwasher this way, MORE utensils can be loaded and fit into the basket! This makes each wash more efficient and effective. No longer will I empty the clean utensils only to find a dirty fork that didn’t get washed because it was stuck in the basket, or find a spoon that still has dried up cereal on it because it was hiding amongst a bunch of other spoons. 

BRILLIANT! (Not me, the dishwasher.)

You may be wondering: does this really have anything to do with my spiritual life, or have I just spent 10 seconds getting a silly dishwasher planning lesson? 

Hang tight, sister, I got you! It dawned on me—right there while loading dirty dishes into the dishwasher—I AM THE DIRTY FORK. 

I am the dirty fork that is not placed correctly and doesn’t get fully clean. And when I don’t get cleaned, I don’t get used.

Who else feels like a dirty fork? 

My life needs to be put in the right order! Just like utensils facing the right way in the dishwasher allows for efficiency and effectiveness, so does rightly ordering my life. Placing everything in its rightful place will allow me to live more effectively and efficiently, so that I’m not wasting my time on the wrong things.  

How many of us wake up in the morning and automatically think of the always growing list of things that must be accomplished in the next 18 hours? How many of us soon begin to divide our list into sub-categories? 

When asked, “How are you doing?”, how many of us think for a split second, If only you knew how I was really doing, you wouldn’t want to ask me how I was doing. And then actually answer aloud, “I’m fine. How are you?” 

God created the sea, the stars, and land out of nothingness. He made every animal that crawls on the earth, swims in the oceans, and flies in the air. He created man and woman in His image. And then, on the seventh day, did He look at everything He had created and say, “Meh, it’s fine”?

NO! That is not what happened, my friend! 

God did not create you, the only YOU that will ever grace this world, just so that you can be fine! God did not create you to check boxes, make never-ending lists, and just get through life.

“I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

We just celebrated Our Lord’s birth into this world—the One who came so we could have an abundant life. And let’s remind ourselves that Jesus did not come as a powerful ruler or majestic king that had everything all together. Rather, He arrived here as each of us does: a helpless, dependent, defenseless baby. A baby’s survival is completely dependent on his parents. If a baby had to rely fully on himself to be fed, to sleep, and to clean himself, then he would surely not thrive.

Are you thriving? Or are you striving?

Could it be that our Good Father knew that in our humanity, we would have a hard time relying on Him? In His Divine Wisdom, He gave us His Son to use as a model. Jesus was born completely and solely dependent upon His parents. Are we solely dependent on God the Father? 

A sure sign we are relying more on ourselves than we are on God is when we feel overwhelming exhaustion—mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion. We may feel as though we are just on the outside of our lives looking in, that we are checking out or numbing out rather than being an active participant—when we are that upside down fork and we are striving instead of thriving.

I don’t want to numb out or check out from my life! I want to live effectively, as a wife, mother, sister, and friend. Effective living means I’m utilizing my time well. Effective living means creating a rightly ordered day. Rightly ordering my day means first seeking the Kingdom of God. FIRST. Jesus gave us these words in Matthew 6:33 as a guide, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” In the previous verses, Jesus tells us what “all these things” are: food, drink, clothing, our body. Jesus continues, “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself” (Matthew 6:34). 

Do you see what He did there? He rightly ordered our to do lists for us. 

Seek FIRST the Kingdom of God, and everything else—our things to do, our families, our worries, our future—will fall into its rightful place. Everything else AFTER the Kingdom of God is a bonus. 

If you, like me, are the dirty fork desperately needing to be placed handle side down in the dishwasher, and you are unsure where to start, then I want you to read this next sentence carefully:

“I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3)

And then read it again. 

The first step to rightly ordering your life and shedding ungodly self-reliance is to read the truth of who God is and have faith that this truth pertains to you. You are not left out of the salvation equation! God did not forget to add you in! And if even one ounce of you doubts this everlasting love of our Father, then open your Bible and read Psalm 139 or Isaiah 43:1–5 over and over again.

When we believe who we are and who we belong to, we can hand over our to-do list to Him, and allow Him to rightly order our day. Seek Him first, sister. I do not want to let one more day go by and not experience life how the Lord intended me to live it. I don’t want to be a dirty fork, and I don’t want you to be either.

Let’s ring in this new year with clean forks and a rightly ordered to-do list: 

  1. Seek first the kingdom of God. 
  2. Everything else. 

Blessings,
Jeannine

Our newest Bible study, Ordering Your Priorities, is an immensely practical study that helps us rightly order our lives. Let’s begin by paying attention to the One who made us, because He can best tell us what we need for our lives to run well.

The best way to spend the final week before Christmas is making a solo 1,370 mile drive with two dogs in the backseat. At least this is what I told myself when I set out to create an unforgettable Christmas experience for my family. I didn’t factor in the relationship my puppy wanted to develop with the dog staying across the hall at the hotel. She “talked” to our neighbor all night long, which contributed to a delightful sleeping experience along the way.

The thing is, I can justify almost any complication of an event if I am certain that making “it” happen will bring guaranteed delight to my kids. And everyone knows that puppies make Christmas extra magical. The way I have approached the holiday season (if I’m honest, it’s the way I approach my life) is to figure out what is possible. Can I somehow make it happen through grit, hard work, and perseverance? Then the juice is worth the squeeze! Until it isn’t.

I don’t know how you are approaching these final days before Christmas, but I would guess that most of you are starting to feel a little panicky over the things you have left to do, and as a result, you’ve got a creeping sense that you are going to be disappointed by the end result. Which just might be motivating you to run even faster and try even harder. At least that’s the way I have lived for decades.

But I am trying to make a change, and although I still justified the drive with the dogs, I can see some glimmers of transformation. Instead of asking myself, “Is this possible? Can I somehow make this happen?” I am asking myself, “What’s the simplest option here?” I am growing in my appreciation for the simple, and it’s not just because I’ve read Marie Kondo’s book. It’s the result of realizing that nothing satisfies me like a quiet and still heart. I’ve learned that in order to encounter the Lord, everything in my life needs to slow down. It’s not about getting everything done and then giving myself permission to stop. I need to set a goal of doing less, so I can create space for Him.

When there’s a little space, I have the chance to ponder what I’m going to offer Jesus as a gift for His birthday. Typically, I offer Him a nicely decorated house, bulging Christmas stockings, loads of food, and Christmas presents spilling over the floor in front of the tree. But when I stop to think about it, none of these things are for Him. They are for my family. And while I know Jesus feels loved when I love well, I am kidding myself when I ignore the fact that any thoughts of Him are pretty far away when I’m doing all of that prep.

What gifts were given to Jesus when He came to earth and was born in a manger? It was simply the gift of people’s presence. In the midst of the mess of the stable, the noises of the animals, and the emotions that accompany things when they don’t go according to plan, Mary and Joseph let the rest of the world fade away and just welcomed their baby. Their hands were empty, which meant there was room for Him.

Instead of patting myself on the back when I can present Jesus with a picture-perfect Christmas, I have come to see the value in offering Him a calmed and quieted soul (Psalm 131:1). Instead of feeling like I need to come with all my to-do’s wrapped up in my hands, I’ve learned that the gift He likes best is my empty hands, upturned in humble worship.

Padre Pio has been ministering to me these months with these words,

Live simply. Eat simply. Love one another simply. Do not complicate matters unnecessarily. How do you live simply? You remove activities that are not necessary or that pull you away from duty…Apostles of Jesus Christ must set an example of service and obedience but not hectic service. There should be calm and if there is not calm in your life, change your life and keep changing it until you find calm.[1]

There is still time to do what matters most this Christmas season. I’m not talking about the gifts, the cookies, the decorations, or the parties. What matters most is finding a pocket of calm, emptying your hands, and upturning them to offer thanks. A humble thank you to the God of the universe because He stepped into our mess as Emmanuel, God with us. Take a deep breath, my friends. Your peaceful presence is more important than the perfect present. That’s what is remembered most.

So offer Jesus your empty, upturned hands this Christmas. There’s no better gift.

With you on the journey,
Lisa

[1] http://messages-from-heaven.org/Stress/m2.htm

It’s Advent. My favorite time of year. Every morning in December, I get to wake up before the entire house and pray by a Christmas tree. It’s glorious. For four weeks, I get to meditate on the mystery of God becoming man, and I love it. I love it because I love God, I love Christmas trees, and I love history. And while all of these things make me feel good, I rarely allow these delightful moments to transform the way I live.

Advent is a season for preparation. During this time, we prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming, but that preparation should not only affect our hearts and minds. The work we allow God to do in us during Advent should leave a mark that makes us different during the rest of the year. But how? How should praying through old prophecies and thinking about Jesus’ being born in a manger change us? It should change us because, when we meditate on them, they tether us to reality, and when we live in reality, we will live more joyful and ordered lives.

Frank Sheed, a Catholic theologian, said in his book, Theology and Sanity, “Seeing what the Church sees means seeing what is there.”[1] When we see the world as it really is and interact with it how it actually works, our behavior harmonizes with truth, which brings on peace and guards against anxiety.

The issue is that this is easier said than done. It is not easy to live grounded in reality because we are surrounded by illusion. Our society is a marketing machine that is constantly telling us what should make us happy, sad, or afraid. It sends the message that life is about our comfort, our preferences, and our happiness at the cost of humility and sacrifice. If we do not deliberately hold on to the truth, we will eventually live as though the world revolves around us—even if we don’t believe it in our hearts. Meditating on God’s promises during Advent can break us out of the cultural narrative because it draws us out of our daily grind and into the broader story of God’s faithfulness throughout history. It reminds us of our role in the story.

One of these promises does just that. These words remind us of who God is and who we are in His plan of salvation: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them, light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy” (Isaiah 9:2–3).

Notice where the people are. They are in darkness. Notice that it doesn’t say, “The people in darkness have themselves walked out of the darkness and into the light.” No, the people were pretty helpless, and it was while they were still in darkness, the Light began to shine. The hero in the story is God, the Light, that saved the people. The people themselves did very little. They may have responded to the Light, but it was God who did all of the work.

Dear sister, this Advent season, as I pray through Isaiah 9, I am declaring over and over again that the world does not revolve around me. I am not the point of the story; God is. I don’t believe it in my heart, but I often live as though I am the center of the universe. How do I know? Because I am easily inconvenienced and offended. I’m also quick to believe that I am pretty amazing, and if others don’t verbally recognize my greatness, I am overcome with discouragement.

What about you? I bet that you know that the world does not revolve around you, but how do you live? What are your knee-jerk reactions? Examine your thought life. What do you think other people owe you? Answer these questions, and you will quickly find out whether you act as though life is about you or God.

During these weeks of Advent, if you let Him, God will gently but boldly put you back into your place. He will remind you of what is real—that all of history is about His goodness. We are the ones in the darkness, and He is the light. We needed a savior, and He did the saving. He is meant to be served and glorified, not us.

The season of Advent is ultimately about freedom. God became a man to set us free from sin, and in doing so, saved us from ourselves. He is the center of everything. When we live our lives according to this truth, wonder becomes attainable and joy becomes common. We become free of the burden that comes from trying to be the star on a stage that was never meant to be ours in the first place.

So, as we approach Christmas, let this season change you. Let it change how you respond when others upset you or fail to notice you. Let it free you from the tyranny of self-love so that your life reflects the reality that it is all about the One who is Love itself.

Come Lord Jesus, set us free from ourselves so all that is left is love of you.

[1] Frank Sheed, Theology and Sanity (Ignatius Press: 1993), 22

Do you want your life to change?

This was the question that Dynamic Catholic Founder, Matthew Kelly, posed to a packed church parish hall ten years ago. I can’t speak for the other attendees’ responses at the retreat that day, but I can share mine. It was a solid yes.

The solution Kelly offered wasn’t anything that I was expecting and certainly didn’t align with the solutions the world offers. He didn’t tell me to go to therapy, practice mindfulness, walk in the grass barefoot, or lose weight. (Which, for the record, are not bad things. In fact, I’ve done them all.) He simply suggested, “If you want your life to change, go to daily Mass every day for two weeks.” He followed up with, “Some of you will, and some of you won’t.”

As for me? I did.
And he was right.
My life radically and profoundly changed because of the Mass.

But please do not mistake “changed” for “eliminated trial and tribulation.” My active participation in the holy sacrifice does not serve as a magic pill that makes troubles melt away. (If it did, the churches would be filled.) Dare I say, some troubles have seemingly gotten worse. The “change” goes deeper than external and current circumstances. It is an ongoing stretching and pulling of the heart. An interior transformation. It is hard to explain the mystery of it all, but I have narrowed my own experience of how the Mass has changed my life down to three significant, yet super simple points that might help you to better understand; and, if you so desire, can apply to your own life.

1. Start every day with God’s Word. Do you realize that when you reach for your phone before you get out of bed you have just given every voice in your feed permission to shape your heart and steer where you stare? What we allow to daily enter our minds has the power to bring us peace or unrest. Life or death. Scott Hahn said, “If we do not fill our mind with prayer, it will fill itself with anxieties, worries, temptations, resentments, and unwelcome memories.”[1] And maybe you are thinking, I do pray every morning. I do not have to physically go to a church to pray. And you are correct. Sort of. Because…

2. The Mass is an invincible weapon. We are in a daily battle. In the Book of Revelation, we read how “the huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it” (Revelation 12:9). And “when the dragon saw that it had been thrown down to the earth, it pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child...then the dragon became angry with the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring” (Revelation 12:13, 17). Sweet friends, I don’t mean to alarm you, but we are the offspring. We have an accuser who accuses us “day and night” (Revelation 12:10). I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a terrifying and losing battle!

However, Ephesians 6:13 offers a plan: “Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.” How much armor are you wearing? Because I want to wear the full armor. I want the armor of personal prayer, but I also want the armor of the holy sacrifice of the Mass! The Eucharist! Christ present on the altar in flesh and blood! I cannot rely on my own strength, and so I need to literally consume the strength of Christ. Where do we find this strength? In the Eucharist. The Eucharist strengthens us in charity, preserves us from future mortal sins, and unites us more closely to Christ.[2] And speaking of being united with Christ…

3. The Mass rightly orders our worship. Here’s the truth we don’t want to hear: we are all addicts. Everyone is addicted to something. As the saying goes, “Addiction is giving up everything for one thing. Recovery is giving up one thing for everything.” Jesus is everything, and yet so many worldly addictions compete with Him. What is the one thing that you drop everything (Jesus) for? On the days I skip time with Jesus present at the daily Mass, it is my addiction to self-reliance that has taken God’s place. The moment I start to look at everything piled on my plate and start to imagine all of the things that I will accomplish with that extra hour is the moment I give up everything that Jesus wants to give me. Truly, it’s the work of the enemy. Because there is nothing on my to-do list—not even those things I can do for my children—that will ever be more important than hearing the Mass. I know…every parent reading this thinks I have lost my mind. But hear me out. Our children, no matter their age, are watching us. They see what matters to us and what does not. In his book, Parents of the Saints, author Patrick O’Hearn writes that “these devout parents show us that there is no greater gift a parent can pass on to their sons and daughters than the Holy Eucharist. Other gifts will never satisfy or last—toys will be abandoned, clothes will be outgrown, cars will break down, and sports teams will disappoint, but the Holy Eucharist is the gift that never stops giving and always satisfies.”[3]

Some of you will read this and feel inspired to attend daily Mass. Others will find my suggestion highly inconvenient and logistically unrealistic. Others will think how strict and outdated the rules of the Catholic Church are that, in today’s busy day and age, church attendance is even a requirement. “But the true state of the case is that the law of the Church is so strict because Christ is present in the Mass.”[4] Of course, we know that God is everywhere. “But it is in the Holy Mass alone that He offers Himself to His Father as the Lamb that was slain. How can we forego that sweet and solemn action?”[5]

This Advent, I made a vow to give up my worship of self-reliance and to get back to “the works I did at first” (Revelation 2:5). Namely, worshiping God at daily Holy Mass. And in just one short week, the fruits and rewards are undeniable. The bottom line is that wherever this lands on your heart, I want you to know this: Ten years ago, I wanted my life to change, and it did...because of the Mass.

Do you want your life to change?
If so, go to daily Mass every day for two weeks.
Some of you will and some of you won’t.

I pray that you all will.

[1] Scott Hahn, Signs of Life: 40 Catholic Customs and Their Biblical Roots (2009), p.91.
[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, p.352, 1394, 1395, 1396
[3] Patrick O’Hearn, Parents of the Saints:The Hidden Heroes Behind Our Favorite Saints (Tan Books, 2020), p.30-31.
[4] Father Lasance, The New Roman Missal (Christian Book Club of America, 1993), p.40.
[5] Father Lasance, The New Roman Missal (Christian Book Club of America, 1993), p.40.
Bible Study

Thanksgiving can be the best of times or the worst of times. As was said on the iconic '90s sitcom, Friends, “It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a little emotional scarring.” Hopefully that won’t be your experience, but when you throw family together with issues simmering under the surface, add a little pressure around what is expected to be a fabulous meal, and things can get a little stressful.

So what can we do to increase the odds that the day will be a good one? In Colossians 3:12-17, St. Paul gives us 4 steps that can start us off on the right track.

1. Wear the right outfit.

No, I’m not talking about making sure we’re wearing yoga pants so that we can eat whatever we want. I’m talking about the attitudes we need to take off and the ones we need to put on in order to welcome the people that God has placed in our lives on this particular day. In the words of St. Paul, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:12-14).

Instead of just stuffing our emotions and doing our best to fake fine, let’s take a moment this week to get alone with God and journal about any hurts we are carrying to the Thanksgiving table. Perhaps there will come a time when we’d benefit from a face-to-face conversation with the person who hurt us, but we don’t need to wait until that opportunity to get rid of an unforgiving, bitter attitude.

Begin this time with the Lord by remembering who you are. Choose to define yourself as God’s beloved daughter. Look at your good qualities. Look at all the gifts you’ve been given. Allow your heart to be filled, not with self-pity but with gratitude. What will result? Freedom. This will clear a path for God’s love to transform and heal you. Because of His healing touch, you’ll be free to offer forgiveness to others.

It is only as our hearts are filled with gratitude that we’re able to forgive. This truth is addressed in the book From Anger to Intimacy: How Forgiveness can Transform Your Marriage:

No matter what has happened, you are invited to forgive just as God has wholly and fully forgiven you.  Where do you find that kind of forgiveness? Through the person of Jesus Christ. Matthew 10:8 says, “Freely you have received, freely give”...If you are not a forgiving person, if you have unresolved anger, bitterness or resentment in your heart, and you do nothing to get rid of it, then you have not yet experienced or realized the forgiveness you have received.¹

Do we truly appreciate the forgiveness that Christ purchased for us? Or have we become callous to its reality? Do we take God’s forgiveness for granted?

2. Facilitate life-giving conversation

Paul goes on to encourage us to “let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15). One way to avoid tension filled conversation is taking control of what’s being discussed. Our daughter Charlotte’s favorite thing is to put conversation cards by each person’s plate and then discuss them over dinner. You could make up your own questions or use some of these suggestions to direct conversation toward a deeper and more positive sharing of hearts, hopefully avoiding topics that lead to sharp and unkind words:

“Describe your perfect weekend.”
“If you were going to give me a tour of the town you grew up in, where would you take me first?”
“What is bringing you joy right now?”
“What’s saving your life right now?”
“What’s on your bucket list?”

3. Get your heart in the right place.

There is nothing that changes my attitude like music. This is why I really pay attention to what I listen to. I almost always listen to praise and worship music—not because I am so holy, but because without it, I am so weak and prone to complaining. I encourage you to pay attention to which lyrics are filling your mind and how they are altering your mood. If you want to follow St. Paul’s advice, then you’ll “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).

To help you get your heart in the right place, check out our Thanksgiving Spotify playlist.

4. Focus on the audience of One.

It doesn’t take much for us to feel sorry for ourselves because of how much work is expected of us over the holidays. Listening to good music can do a lot to keep our hearts in the right places, but we might need a little mind reset, too. St. Paul challenges us to keep our eyes on the One we are serving. Sure, some of the people at your table might not be expressing the gratitude to you that they should, and they may not be helping you in the way that you wish they would. If this is your situation, instead of turning inward and growing bitter, imagine Jesus sitting at your table. Prepare the meal for Him. “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).

Praying for you this Thanksgiving, and thanking God for you!
Lisa

[1] Dr. Gary Smalley and Ted Cunningham, From Anger to Intimacy: How Forgiveness can Transform Your Marriage (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2009), 137-138.

This post originally appeared on our blog on November 26, 2019.

What are the final thoughts that usually run through your mind when you try to fall asleep? Do you review a litany of unaccomplished tasks, mentally moving them onto tomorrow’s list? Are you thinking with dread of all that’s going to be required of you tomorrow? Do you feel regret over the way you have treated certain people who matter to you? 

Almost every night, most of us can think of many things we wish we could have done that are being left unfinished. We can’t always fit in a little bit more. A life well lived is made up of days when the things that are most important are done first and many good things remain undone. As Stephen R. Covey wisely wrote, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”[1] Our big rocks are our priorities. But how do we figure out what should be the most important thing?

I don’t believe that a single one of us wants to waste his or her life. We want our lives to count. We read Jesus’ words in Mark 8:36, “For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” Or in other words, what does it do for you if you gain the whole world but end up losing your soul? We don’t want to come to the end of our lives having pursued the wrong things.

The world is constantly communicating its priorities to you. You are to prioritize having a perfect body, having as much money as you can, having an HGTV perfect house, and making a name for yourself with your accomplishments. You should be able to present your life in such a way that it lays out beautifully on Instagram—providing a feed worth following. 

But is that a life that is truly satisfying? Even if you were to gain all those things that the world says matters most, is it possible that you could lose your soul—who you truly are—in the process?

What kind of a life do you want to build?
If you want to build a life where you love well…
if you want to build a life that feels simpler…
then I’d like to invite you on a journey.

My newest Bible study, Ordering Your Priorities: Building a Life Well Lived, is where that journey begins.

Ordering Your Priorities lays a foundation that helps women focus on the things that matter most. Diving into the pages of Scripture, we’ll connect our modern-day challenges with the changeless truths of our faith. If we want to live lives of purpose and meaning, we have to start in the right place. We need to begin by paying attention to the One who made us, because He is the one who can best tell us what we need for our lives to run well. 

My prayer for you and me is that we would apply the principles contained in Ordering Your Priorities and create a life well lived. In John 10:10, Jesus said, “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” That is what we are pursuing here.

Join us on a journey to build a simpler life where you love well. Your transformation is just around the corner!

Love,
Lisa

[1] Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill, and Rebecca R. Merrill, First Things First (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 161.

Above my bed hangs a couple of one hundred-year-old pictures: one of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the other of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I love them. I love that they hung on someone’s wall going back to the early 1900s. I love how they remind me that the Catholic Church spans across the world and throughout history. And I like to look into Jesus and Mary’s eyes as I go about my day—except when I am working out. With four tiny children, a gym membership is an impossibility, so my bedroom is also my gym. Whenever I hit the play button for my forty-minute exercise video, those pictures that I dearly love spark accusations in my mind. When I look at them, I hear: Why aren’t you using this time better? Couldn’t you be reading and studying for ministry? Shouldn’t you be meal planning right now? Yes, I probably should be meal planning. And I immediately feel the desire to hide. It becomes difficult for me to look into the eyes of the portraits even though I am fully aware that the accusations I hear do not come from the real Jesus or Mary that the portraits represent.

And it’s not just my workouts. Sometimes, I have a hard time looking at the tabernacle during Mass; because I am so busy chasing my almost-two-year-old, very few prayerful thoughts enter my mind. When I finally glance at the tabernacle, I shamefully think, Jesus, I am trying. Other times, I find myself wanting to walk into the adoration chapel with sunglasses on so maybe I can pray without being noticed by the Blessed Sacrament. 

Although these moments don’t happen often (well, the workout one does), they happen enough for me to ask myself why. I know that God loves me and even likes me. I know that He is a good Father. I know Scripture tells me that I am chosen and precious in His sight. So why is it that even after learning all of this, I still believe in my heart of hearts that what God really wants is the cleaned-up version of me? After all this time, I act as though God’s love depends on my ever-wavering behavior instead of His steadfast goodness. 

Do you ever feel this way? Maybe you know the Truth about God’s love and have experienced His love and His mercy again and again. Perhaps you recite Bible verses and battle the lies in your mind with the truth of Scripture, but in the everyday hustle, the remnants of those lies persist. They say, “God will love you more when you can get a grip at work, or stop nagging your children, or finally kick that sin, or become better organized, or get married, or have a better attitude about your tragic situation, or (insert struggle here).” 

Why do you think those lies get at you? Why do you think you still have a lingering desire to hide from the God who loves you so much? I have done some searching in my own heart and have found an answer that might help you as well. 

I realized that when reading the Bible’s descriptions of saintly living, I read them as though one day, if I try hard enough, I will finally possess what it takes to be holy. I don’t approach Scripture from the perspective that God has already given me the qualities of a saint simply by making me in His image. I fail to take joy in the fact that God sees me as good and is using that goodness to lead me further down the path of holiness. Instead, I think He sees me only as a project—not His daughter. This is a lie. 

Recently, I finished watching season 2 of The Chosen, a series about the life of Jesus. If you haven’t taken the time to watch it, I highly recommend it. The finale of season 2 depicts Jesus preparing to give the “Sermon on the Mount” to a crowd of thousands. Throughout the episode, Jesus practices his sermon with Matthew, who eventually tells Jesus that He needs a better intro (keep in mind, this is a fictional portrayal of a real-life event). Jesus spends all night in prayer with the Father to complete the introduction to His sermon. In the morning, Jesus approaches Matthew and recites what we know as the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-11). But as He does it, He thinks of each one of His disciples.[1]

When He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” He thinks of Nathaniel. 

When He says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” He thinks of Peter and Andrew. 

When He says, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth,” He thinks of Thaddeus and James. 

When He says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled,” He thinks of James and John. 

When He says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy,” He thinks of Mary, His mother. 

When He says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” He thinks of Thomas. 

When He says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,” He thinks about Phillip. 

When He says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” He thinks of John the Baptist.

And when He says, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you,” He looks lovingly at Matthew, who is writing down the sermon, unaware of the Master’s loving glance.

At this moment in the episode, I realized that when Jesus spoke about what it means to be holy, He did not speak about impersonal attributes in imaginary people. He spoke about what He already saw in those closest to Him as they unknowingly reflected God’s goodness in their everyday life. He was already pleased with His disciples. Despite their failings, they were already on their way to sainthood. 

Does this not reveal God’s heart toward us? Those slight accusations that you and I hear are not from Him. When we allow them to stew within us, they keep us from recognizing just how much goodness is already within us. They keep us stuck—continually hiding from God who sees everything and still takes deep delight in who we are. 

So the next time you are reading about how to live a holy life, I challenge you to read it as though God is looking directly at you and calling out what He already sees in you. Can you be better? Sure. But God has already placed Himself within you. Own it. Throw away any desire, however small, you have to hide from God, and let Him love you with abandon. Despite yourself, you are a delight to him, and that, dear friend, is enough. 

[1] The Chosen, Season 2, excerpt from Episode 8, “The Beatitudes,” Youtube, 3:27, uploaded July 13, 2021, https://youtu.be/02hbIq7rFDs.

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