Don’t you just love it when someone starts a sentence with, “No offense, but…”? Beginning a conversation like that instantly insinuates that what you are about to be told is going to 100% offend you.
By definition, offense is “annoyance or resentment brought about by a perceived insult to or disregard for oneself or one's standards or principles.” That word perceived tucked neatly in between resentment and insult? Kind of huge. Don’t brush by it. Because perception is not always reality. And when you factor in that we are the most hypersensitive society ever, walking on eggshells, and doing our best to embrace all the truths and offend nobody, you can only imagine how many of us are living feeling offended because we perceive we have been insulted.
Over the past couple of weeks I have had the privilege of speaking to women about radical discipleship—digging into the truth of our chosenness and the unique mission that God has called us to and sent us into the world with, which is to convert hearts and form other disciples. For those of us already doing the work of a disciple, I know that I do not shock you when I say get ready to offend and to be offended. It is one of the perks. This is why we must invite the Holy Spirit into our minds and hearts before we ever entertain the thought of going out into the world and proclaiming the good news. And yet, here is the twist: it is impossible to be led by the Spirit if we choose to remain offended. When we are so self-focused, brewing in bitterness and upset, we cannot discern the voice of God. I don’t care how learned you are in Scripture or how well-spoken you are, if you are not filled and guided by the Holy Spirit, you cannot do God’s work.
Does this offend you? If it does, let me share this piece of my heart with you. I only write about what I personally struggle with. I possess both the gift and curse of extreme vulnerability. I don’t just share the facts, I tell you my story. And the truth about my story is that, in just one month, I have felt betrayed, misunderstood, left out, forgotten, and unfairly treated—not by strangers, but by people I love. People I have welcomed into my life with open arms, only left to feel hated and rejected, because my guess? I offended them. Have you ever felt offended by a family member, spouse, child, coworker, or a close friend? Have you ever been told you were offensive, when truly that was never your intent? If so, me too. And I am sorry. Because offense is a terrible and, dare I say, fatal feeling.
Does that sound too dramatic? Because being dramatic is another one of my gifts. However, I don’t think it applies to this. I stand firm in what I say. According to Pastor Kynan Bridges, “To live offended and stay that way denies the very nature of the salvation you claim to have received.” He calls offense a trap, likening it to a deadly disease, spreading rapidly, corrupting the mind. When we live offended, we are not living in freedom because we are allowing ourselves to be ruled by our feelings. If you have ever handed your feelings the car keys and allowed them to drive your life, you know that what I speak of is serious. We need to look at our offense with clear eyes and minds and stop taking everything so personally. (And just a side note: never let yourself be driven by your hurt, sorrow, or anger. I can say from personal experience that these are feelings that should never be allowed on the road and will most likely total your car.)
Why am I making such a big deal of this? Because no one wants you to remain feeling offended more than the enemy. He is the world’s greatest identity thief, and he wants to steal yours and keep you miserable. He lives to frustrate God’s plans for you, and so he disguises himself as a legitimate thought, creeps into your mind, and strips you of your identity by keeping your gaze off Christ and, instead, on your crisis. He stirs up your ego and pride with one hand, while holding you face down in offense with the other. How do you know when you are living offended? You will know by the fruit that you bear. And the fruit of offense according to Scripture is always betrayal, hate, and a cold heart (Matthew 24:10-11). That’s some pretty bad fruit.
As women who have been chosen and sent to share the good news and bear good fruit, it is crucial that we find ourselves a good defense against offense. Just as Jesus sent the twelve, making it clear to them that it was time to move, we need to move, too. But if we are shackled by offense, too afraid to offend others by our faith, we will not get very far. So, what do we do? The answer is surprisingly simple. Even Taylor Swift knows it.
Shake it off.
“And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town” (Matthew 10:14). This, my friends, is how we are to react to those who do not receive us. Notice, Jesus does not say get angry, leave hateful messages, ignore them, or engage in useless arguments. He instructs us to respond by shaking off the dust. And can we just say insanely hard? Our pride really wants to have the last word, and our insecure, sensitive selves really want to be passive aggressive. It’s how we are wired. So, what can we do? How do we find freedom from offense?
What helps me in the moments when my desire to respond unlike Jesus is super strong is to remember the enemy behind the scenes—and then I remember the bigger picture. Truth of the matter? As disciples of Jesus Christ we have too much work to do to get hung up on pride and our need to be right. We have souls to get to heaven! Our own, included. And remaining offended is not going to help us one bit. Just like choosing not to forgive, when we choose to stay offended, we are the ones that stay hurt.
Whether our perception is off or spot on, offense is the devil’s bait and shaking it off is never a bad idea. Like St. Paul shaking the viper off his hand and suffering no harm, so should we. Don’t let the dust trap you and keep you from moving forward. You have too much good work to do to be bothered. Listen to Jesus, turn up Taylor Swift, and let the haters hate. But you, my friend? Shake it off.
“I’ve had a lot of time to think,” I dictated aloud to my phone to record my musings on October 21, 2020. I had been recovering for twelve days after a freak accident put me in the hospital for almost a week. Doctor’s orders were to rest and allow my brain injury to heal—no reading, writing, driving, or screen time. Life came to a screeching halt.
During my time of recovery, I was utterly dependent on others. I required help to walk around the house, get dressed, and remember simple facts like my kids’ birthdays. For months, our friends and family provided meals, helped with our five children, and did countless other things for us that I previously did on my own every day. I am eternally grateful for it all.
As much as I wouldn’t have wished for it, this experience has given me a new perspective on being dependent on others and specifically, being dependent on God.
In our society, accepting help from others is a humbling experience. It requires acknowledging that we can’t do it all on our own. This, as I described in my dictated notes, “was a real gut check” for me. Women are capable of doing so much, and God has made each of us for beautiful, unique missions. Answering His call for our lives is our privilege and duty. Often though, we take on so much that we aren’t aware of our own limitations. We begin believing the lie that “it’s all up to us” and that accepting help is a form of weakness. In fact, our society praises this type of independence.
In Fearless and Free, this mindset is described as ungodly self-reliance, or pride , which often prevents us from being fully grounded in God’s love and grace. It places our worth (which God defines as His beloved daughters) in something other than God (what and how much we do).
While I don’t think God intends for bad things to happen to us, I think He uses hard times to bring us closer to Him. When we are dependent on others in times of need, it’s a reminder that we were never meant to fight our battles alone. And often, it’s not until we are stripped of the things we thought were in our control that we are shown the degree of our dependence on God.
Our dependence on God should be a daily practice. And for many of us (read: recovering) self-reliant folks, this is a struggle. I think C.S. Lewis sums it up best when he says, “Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done.” 
What does reliance on God look like? Allow me to reintroduce you to the Beatitudes—in particular, the very first one:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes being poor in spirit as voluntary humility.  It’s consciously recognizing we cannot “do it all,” and we are utterly dependent on God for everything. This applies to us all—no matter how capable, independent, or gifted you are. I don’t know about you, but I want to be in the group that Jesus says possesses the kingdom of heaven. And the ticket in? Humility.
Sometimes it takes a life-altering event to come to the realization that not only can we NOT do it all, but also we were never meant to do it all. Regardless of where you fall on the self-reliance spectrum, can you join me in fostering a true dependence on God every day? Let’s begin by meditating on the virtue of humility.
 Fearless and Free 6-Lesson Bible Study, Lesson 3 Talk, “Grounded,” https://walkingwithpurpose.com/fearless-and-free-videos/.
 C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer.
 Matthew 5:3
 Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2546, https://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a0.htm#2546.
I doubt that many of us would be willing to wear the clothes seen on the fashion runway in exactly the way they are displayed, with all the accessories and interesting makeup. I look at the pictures and think it all looks ridiculous. But I remember thinking the same thing initially about ripped jeans, ankle boots and leopard print on the runway, yet all of these have eventually found their way into my closet.
We look at things in the extreme and laugh. We're no one's fool. We know where sensible ends and ridiculousness begins. Or do we? Is it possible that we are better at recognizing extreme fashion translating into items in our closets than we are at calling out extremely foolish definitions of what really matters in life and the way those views end up in our heads and hearts?
Why exactly do we feel so messed up? Why can we not answer the question, “Who am I?” Why don't we know our purpose in life? Why are we so unhappy?
Whether we realize it or not, we have been steeping in a false way of looking at life in the same way that a tea bag steeps in a pot. Bit by bit, it colors everything. Our culture has bought into a bunch of lies that are leading us on the road to nowhere. But perhaps most concerning is that many Christians are heading down that same road, and have no idea how inconsistent it all is when compared to how God sees things.
I think much of our trouble boils down to how we pursue happiness. To begin with, we need to start with the truth that God actually wants us to be happy, and knows just what will make that our reality. All too many of us have a faulty view of God—seeing Him as a cosmic killjoy, or as nothing but a disciplinarian who doesn't care how our heart is feeling as long as our behavior stays in line. Both of these ways of looking at God are wrong, and will keep us from knowing Him and finding true fulfillment.
God wants you to be happy. He knows exactly who you are meant to be, why you are here, the things that you need put inside you to work well, and the virtues that are going to keep you on the right path. But instead of asking Him for the answers to these questions, we turn to Instagram for a little inspiration. This is the sort of thing that we find:
“You are the author of your story.”
“Know this one great truth, you are in control of your life.”
“Live for you. Believe in yourself.”
“You are enough.”
“Trust in your own power.”
No matter how much it may make us feel good to stand in front of a mirror and recite these quotes to ourselves, it doesn't make a single one of them true.
Do you see who is at the center of all of these quotes? The almighty you. The empowered you. The tended to, self-care focused you. This means your focus turns inward, which means things can get very dark very quickly.
If we want to find our way out of the mess, our starting point must be our ending point. Everything in your life is bringing you one step closer to the end, the day when you stand before God. That's the one sure thing; the appointment that can't be canceled or delayed. When that day comes, we're going to want to be sure that we've spent our lives preparing well.
In contrast to the messages of the world, God says:
“I am the author of your story.”
“Know this one great truth, I am in control of your life.”
“Live for me. Believe in me.”
“I am enough.”
“Trust in my power. It is made perfect in your weakness.”
We are the most depressed, anxious, lost, and empty people because we have moved our collective focus from God and placed it on ourselves. And we are collapsing under the weight of what was meant only for Him. But there is a way out from under that pile of garbage. It starts by shifting your focus away from you and placing it on God. It means stopping the pursuit of glory for yourself, and instead living every moment of every day for God's glory. In the words of Peter Kreeft:
Offer up everything to Him, everything you do and everything you see and everything you think and everything you love. For everything you do is to be done for Him, and everything you see is a preparation for seeing Him, and everything you think is a tiny truth that is part of His whole Truth, and everything you love is loved only because it resembles Him in some way Who is the Only Totally Lovable One. He left some of His perfume in the things He made, and as He passed by; and you can't help falling in love as you smell it.
There is a way out of the mess. God will give us everything we need for a fresh start, but His freely given gifts must be freely received. What do you need to let go of in order to lift your empty hands to the Only One who can fill them?
 Peter Kreeft, Practical Theology (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2014), 58.
This post first appeared on our blog on May 20, 2019.
There is a path in town I frequently walk with my dogs. Perfectly paved and lined with wild flowers, there is one specific stretch that always catches my eye. Carefully placed, hand-painted rocks with words of positive affirmation are sprinkled along its curve: be awesome...be kind...you are brave. This morning, a new message appeared: blaze your own trail.
I was reminded of the final Connect Coffee Talk in Opening Your Heart, the most tried and true Walking with Purpose Bible study. Titled Outside Activities: Set the World on Fire, women completing this study are encouraged to recognize the battle and stoke the fire by going out into the world and doing something. Something risky. Something bold. Something that appears impossible, but with confidence in God, is totally possible. It is a call to find our holy discontent, check our motivation, and then peel our lazy selves up off our comfy couches and set the world ablaze.
And I wonder. Are we doing this? Because let’s be honest. Our couches are really comfy, Netflix is easier, and starting a fire is dangerous. Why reach for the matches when the remote control is so much closer, not to mention safer?
Oh, how the enemy of our souls loves Netflix.
Ever since my friend Mallory sent me a link to a talk on the cosmic battle, I have been contemplating my own personal battle—examining where I fail to respond to God’s call, and in return, allowing the enemy to ever so slowly extinguish my fire. I have been tracing my own steps and actions, looking for the change in behavior, searching for signs of transformation. And while I am good to report that my branches are not completely void of fruit, I would like to report better than good. For God, I would like to do great. Risky, even. And bold. In the marrow of my bones I know that I have been called to set fires. Not sit by them.
So what trips me up?
Fear. Fear of offending. Fear of looking outdated. Fear of being ridiculed, mocked, hated, or misunderstood. Fear of not being intelligent enough to defend my faith. Fear of negative and mean-spirited comments. You see, I want to be obedient to God’s call, but out of fear, I tend to settle for a shallow faith. Oh, my faith runs deep in the privacy of my home or at Mass with my people or on a phone call with my best friend. But out in public? With the skeptics and doubters and lukewarm Catholics? Not so much. Why? Because I like to be liked. I hate confrontation. Plus, I am a busy woman, and I don’t feel like adding “radical discipleship” to my to-do list. And so I nod my head in agreement when you speak of “your truth” (as if there is more than one), and I have zero response to you when you put down my faith in the frozen food aisle at ShopRite. (And by “you” I really don’t mean you. Unless that was you. Then yes, I am talking about you.)
See? I don’t even like writing that.
From the desire of being loved, deliver me, O Lord.
And yet, to ignore this call from Jesus would be detrimental. Not only to my soul, but to the countless souls He could reach if only I were an obedient disciple. Because, you see, without obedience, discipleship is incomplete. According to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, author of The Cost of Discipleship, “obedience is the first step of faith.” When I choose to be “obedient enough,” there is nothing radical about my discipleship. I am not taking a full step. A devoted disciple understands that following Jesus is not on their terms but on God’s. We don’t get to choose how we follow and tell Jesus our plans. We are shown how to follow, and then He waits to see how we will respond. If we will respond.
And nothing is ever more important than responding in obedience to Jesus’ call.
Do you know what we call those with a negative response to Jesus’ call? The “would-be followers.”
How would you like that engraved on your tombstone?
Here lies Laura...Loving mother, wife, and would-be follower of Christ.
I didn’t make this up. It’s Scripture:
As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” And another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62)
Deep breath now ladies, because this is insanely hard. And it is precisely why so many of us choose “easy Christianity.” True discipleship means we let go of who we used to be and step wholeheartedly into the woman God desires us to be. It means breaking old habits, letting go of comfortable sins, and stepping into a brand new life of obedience to Christ. It means embracing a personal relationship with God; trusting Him so much with our lives that we lose our fear of starting fires.
And if you are anything like me, your heart is leaping out of your body screaming, “yes to true discipleship,” while your head is simultaneously shaking, “no way!” There may even be a part of us that assures ourselves, “God doesn’t really mean this. He would never ask us to let go of everything and follow Him.”
Oh, how the enemy loves it when we doubt that what God says is true.
So, practically speaking, how do we do this? How do we lose the fear of being a devoted disciple? How do we connect our heads with our hearts? Honestly? I don’t have a complete answer for you yet. But I can offer one simple step that I am taking because it is what the first disciples did...and it worked.
We get on bended knees and pray in confidence to the Holy Spirit. We beg for the strength to live the Gospel with fervor, to speak the Word of God with boldness, and to increase our zeal for Christ. We ask for the help to defend the Church, to speak of the one and only Truth, and to fearlessly set fires wherever we go.
The world has enough would-be disciples. We can do better. We must do better. It is time to quit reaching for the plow while craning our necks to look at what we are leaving behind. Time to trust that the kingdom we are after is far better than anything we give up here on earth. Are you ready to take your holiness seriously? To step into radical and devoted discipleship and become masters of an unquestioned obedience? Oh, sweet friend, I pray that you are. Because if we collectively do this, imagine the fires we’d set!
 Matt Chandler, “The Cosmic Battle,” The Village Church Resources, 43:03, March 15, 2021, https://www.tvcresources.net/resource-library/sermons/cosmic-battle/
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship. (New York: Macmillan, 1966).
 cf. Acts 4: 23-31
I am currently finishing a documentary called Sheep Among Wolves Volume II about the underground Church exploding in Iran. You may not know this—I surely didn’t—but the Iranian Christian Church is the fastest-growing Christian movement in the world. According to the U.S. State Department report on international religious freedom, in 2017 there were 350,000 Christians in Iran. That number is rapidly approaching a million today. Praise God!
Hearing the stories of these church leaders, their faces blurred and their voices dubbed in the film, has been devastating and inspiring all at the same time. They walk out the door to worship every day at the risk of not returning, while I have to muster up the motivation to get in my car so that I can sit freely in the adoration chapel. No, I am not writing a guilt-trip post for those of us who live in the west. I could write that post (and make a good case that we need to step it up), but this is about something in the documentary that deeply encouraged me. It is about the women. The testimonies from the women are incredible.
Because everything is underground, the Gospel must be spread from one person to the next, and it’s the women who are leading the movement. They have been unstoppable when it comes to telling everyone about Jesus. Why are the women leading so powerfully? One church leader answered this question as she shared her story.
She shared that she grew up in a culture that doesn’t value women, and she was oppressed and abused repeatedly by the men in her life. She learned to be an atheist from her mother, whose heart was hardened toward God from similar oppressive experiences. After spending her entire young life with no faith, carrying around crushing pain, she tried one last time to end her life. Right before she did, she opened a crack to God, and the Holy Spirit rushed in. She shared that after two years of neither laughing nor crying, she wept all night as she experienced the divine healing of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit transformed her pain and she felt the love of God despite years of feelings unloved, she became relentless. She is now one of the most involved leaders in the Iranian Church.
Listening to her with tears in my eyes, I was reminded of the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well in John 4:7–42. It is clear from the account that this woman carried a similar pain in her heart from the years of her life that were worn by sin, and Jesus gently but directly addressed that pain. He offered to transform her pain into glory as He offered her Himself, the living water. Once she realized who He was, she accepted His invitation, and became the powerhouse that brought her whole town to Jesus.
The Iranian woman also reminded me of the women who delivered the news of Jesus’ resurrection. In Luke 24, Jesus appeared to two of his disciples as they walked on the road to Emmaus. They didn’t recognize Him and so started to recount the events of Jesus’ crucifixion and death. This is what they said about the women: “Some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive” (Luke 24:22–24).
It was the women who went to the very place of their most profound sorrow, the grave of their dead Savior. There, they learned that Jesus had risen and became the first to herald the news of the resurrection.
Ladies, the pain we carry from living in a sinful world, and giving in to the sin ourselves, runs deep and is personal. Whether we experience major trauma or just the beat down of everyday life, the suffering that we experience goes right to the core of our being, and the enemy will do everything in his power to make sure that it is never transformed. He encourages us to verbally degrade ourselves and embrace the belief that we are not valuable, because he is fully aware that the same power that transforms women into relentless kingdom builders will do the same through us. He knows that the moment we allow all of that baggage to be transformed, we will become unstoppable for Jesus and His Church. He will do anything to stop us. The enemy knows just how dangerous you are. Do not let him win.
Dear sister, no matter what your daily life looks like, no matter how you view yourself, God created you to stand confident in His love and to have an impact on His Church that goes far beyond your imagination or understanding. Do you believe that? I’m not talking about fame or achievement. I’m talking about the holy influence that leads others to Christ for eternity.
Every time you choose to lean into holiness, God uses you. Every single time you say no to discouragement and allow the Holy Spirit to transform your pain into glory, He uses your story to reach the heart of another. Just look at your sisters in Christ throughout history and around the globe. They were born into original sin just like you were, they carry similar pain, and they have the same magnificent Savior. Throughout the Church’s history, God has used women just like you to build His kingdom even when their place in society could not have been more insignificant. This Easter season, what does He want to do in and through you? Will you believe that you are worth it? Will you let Him do the work? Say yes—the world will be better off because of you.
 FAI studios, “Sheep Among Wolves Volume II,” YouTube video, 1:53:18, August 23, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SAPOLKF59U
 “2017 Report on International Religious Freedom,” U.S. Department of State, May 29, 2018, https://www.state.gov/reports/2017-report-on-international-religious-freedom/
 Jayson Casper, “Researchers Find Christians in Iran Approaching 1 Million,” Christianity Today, September 3, 2020, https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/september/iran-christian-conversions-gamaan-religion-survey.html.
“I am held hostage by the Eucharist.”
These are powerful words; I wish I could tell you that they are mine! They were spoken to me by a dear friend, a woman I have come to know, respect, and admire through my Walking with Purpose parish program. We connected when she first joined WWP to study Opening Your Heart, and I was her small group leader. One of the things I absolutely cherish about a WWP Bible study is the opportunity for women of all ages and all seasons of life to join together in fellowship, share our journey, and speak truth and love into each other’s hearts. She is in a later season of life than I am, and if it weren’t for this Bible study, our paths most assuredly would not have crossed.
I was instantly drawn to her fiery nature, but also her intelligence and the peaceful manner with which she spoke. She claims that she was born without a filter. I claim that she shares abundantly her God-given gifts of authenticity and honesty. She speaks what she feels, but I have never witnessed her doing so at the expense of others. Her thoughts are well-spoken, however blunt she may seem. She is a widow. She struggled with fertility. She is in recovery. This woman has lived a life marked by struggle. Yes, she has had mountaintop moments. But also low valley moments. What continues to draw me to this woman of wisdom, integrity, and humility is that throughout all she has stood firm in her faith. Many times she was tempted to leave the Church for one reason or another, but she spoke these words to me as the reason she cannot possibly leave: “I am held hostage by the Eucharist.” I will write them one more time, friend, because they are THAT striking. “I am held hostage by the Eucharist.”
These words—how they have convicted me! These words are now imprinted on my heart. I have taken these words to prayer. I have made these seven words my battle cry. These words offer a glimpse into the intense power of the host. As Catholics we believe that Jesus—body and blood, soul and divinity, His entire presence—is the host. Lisa Brenninkmeyer, in Opening Your Heart, shares that “the principal fruit of the Eucharist isn’t something Jesus gives us, it’s someone. It’s the gift of Himself.” And when we consume that into our bodies, we are filled with His immeasurable grace.
When we think of being held hostage we most likely think of being bound, held captive, or even chained. Here, I want to offer a radical thought for you to consider, sweet friend: by being held hostage by the Eucharist, by Jesus Christ Himself, we actually are free. St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians that “you, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free” (Galatians 5:13).
It’s the freedom offered through the body and blood of Jesus Christ, through His sacrifice on the Cross, that offers us freedom from sin and the gift of eternal life. We are chained to our sin and the sin of this world no longer. We are offered a chance to “have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). When we have tasted the freedom of the life Christ offers us, our eyes begin to open to the captivity the world has had us in. And by world, I mean the enemy. The enemy has held captive the beliefs of who we are and what we are worth. The enemy tells us that our worth comes from how we look, how much money we make, what our instagram feed looks like, our productivity, and the list goes on and on. And if you don’t think you are held captive by any of these things, ponder this: how many of us put a filter on our photos before we post them? How many times a day do we tell ourselves, “If only I could just lose that 10 pounds.” So much of our minds and hearts are held captive by the enemy and his lies!
In stark contrast, Jesus Christ in the Eucharist offers us truth. “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Jesus Christ is available to us each and every day through the beautiful sacrament of the Eucharist. As I remember well from my parochial school upbringing, a sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give us grace. In this spirit, every time that you receive the Eucharist you can choose to embrace the supernatural grace being offered. That’s not just any old grace, friend, that’s the superhero-sized supernatural grace. Do you remember St. Paul before his conversion? He persecuted Christians. After his conversion, filled with the grace of Jesus Christ, he went on to become a prolific evangelist and missionary. He writes to us in 2 Corinthians 9:8, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” And again, he tells us, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phillipians 4:13). Notice, St. Paul says all things, even the hard things. The grace that allows us to ask for forgiveness, the grace that allows us to forgive another, the grace that we need in order to return to Confession, and the grace that we need to break chains of sin—this grace flows abundantly from Jesus.
It is this grace that has filled my friend’s heart and keeps her eyes solely fixed on and held hostage by Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. The next time you go to Mass, lean in to the moment when the priest says, “Do this in memory of Me,” as he elevates the host. Fix your eyes right there—at the full presence of Jesus Christ—and by His grace may you remain held captive there, held hostage by His great love for you, free from sin.
 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Opening Your Heart: The Starting Point (Walking with Purpose, 2019), 143.
Did I ever tell you about the time I bought a homeless man lunch at McDonald’s? His name was Robert. And he cried when I called him “Sir.” That was over ten years ago, and to this very day, I wonder how Robert is doing.
I’ve lived in both Los Angeles and New York City, so encountering the homeless was as likely to happen as my purchasing an overpriced latte. Very likely. But I have to admit that until I had grown children of my own, while I always had compassion, I felt very little sting. Where I used to throw them a quarter or two, now I dig deeper, looking for the larger bill, giving them more. I see their worn faces and vacant eyes and wonder, what is your story? What happened to you? People have told me not to bother with the hand out—"They are just going to buy drugs or alcohol. You are not helping them.” And maybe that is true. But I can’t help it. I dig into my pockets, and I give them the handout. Because every time I drive by a person begging on a street corner, I not only see him, I see his mother.
He has a mother.
And that kills me.
I’ve spent some time today praying with the Sixth Station of the Cross: The Veil of Veronica. Veronica quietly approaches Jesus as He walks the path toward Calvary, and very courageously and lovingly uses her veil to wipe the blood and sweat from His face. I can only imagine what the crowds were thinking. What is she doing? Is she crazy? It was a bold move. And while not recorded in the Bible, here we are during Lent, thousands of years later, meditating on this wordless act of love. And Veronica? Well, as the story goes, Jesus blesses her by leaving an image of His face on her veil.
Have you ever watched your child or a loved one carry a heavy cross? Have you ever stood by and watched them repeatedly fall beneath its weight, wanting so badly to step in and carry it for them? It is a helpless feeling, isn’t it? We want to be the ones who save them, don’t we? We so badly want to remove their pain. And I don’t know about you, but this has been the hardest part of motherhood. We watch and weep, while praying to God that our presence and tears are enough.
But then there is Veronica. And she puts a whole new spin on the way of the cross. Because I picture our Lady watching her Son from a distance, and witnessing this young, holy woman take care of her Son when she could not. Of course, she could have stepped in. But God’s will for Mary was not for her to step in and save her Son from the cross. Quite the opposite. God’s will for Mary was that she accompany Jesus to the cross, and participate in His crucifixion as only the Mother of God can. This was the culminating moment that began with Mary’s “yes,” and “yes” she would say right up to the foot of the cross. What gratitude our Lady must have felt then in that moment as Veronica stepped out of the crowd and carefully wiped clean the face of her Son; a face she must have cleaned herself many times when He was young. I imagine Mother Mary looking on, watching and weeping over the compassion Veronica so lovingly offered Jesus.
This is why I can’t drive by the homeless without thinking of their mothers. And I wish I had something really powerful to close this with. Some sort of theological statement that knocks your socks off. But honestly? All that I have today is a mother’s heart. A heart that is so grateful for the Veronicas in my own children’s lives. The Veronicas in all of our lives. The unrecorded moments and wordless acts of charity that step into our loved ones' paths as they walk toward their own Calvary, helping them along the way when we cannot.
If you are among the watching and weeping, know this, my friend. Mother Mary watches and weeps with you. God has a Veronica for you. Your presence and tears are enough.
The small television that sits on our kitchen counter between the knife block and the coffee maker was flecked with dried brown batter bits from my son’s attempt at making brownies the night before. As I carefully scrubbed the splatter with the corner of a sponge on Saturday morning, I watched the news, which was concluding its coverage of the March 16 Atlanta spa shootings that left eight people dead—most of them women of Asian descent. As the segment ended, the cameraman zoomed in on two glass prayer candles that burned brightly where they were left on the sidewalk as part of a makeshift memorial. The countenance of Jesus that graced one slender, intricately decorated candle was beautiful and serene.
In the days following the Atlanta spa killings, debate has ensued over whether or not the shooting was a hate crime. What is not up for debate is that violent attacks against Asians have skyrocketed over the past year, and many Asian Americans are afraid.
Prior to Friday night’s brownie baking debacle, we were in the kitchen eating pizza, as Lent + Friday = pizza for many Catholic families with teenage boys. In between bites, my husband admitted that the violent acts targeting Asians had him worried, and my oldest son nodded in agreement. They are Chinese—my husband (and therefore, my sons)—but I was surprised to hear that they were worried. Looking at the three of them towering over the open pizza box, I saw only a confident and robust wall of men. Granted, they were likely more worried for female relatives, especially older ones like Bobo (“grandma” in Chinese). But they were truly concerned, and I, of Anglo-Saxon descent, felt guilty for not innately and instinctively feeling what they felt.
It is always comforting to remember that “light shines in the darkness and the darkness shall not overcome it” (John 1:5). In a year that has been blighted with incidents of violence aimed at racial minorities, there have been bright spots. For example, the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, DC, hosted a virtual "Christianity Beyond East and West: A Celebration of the Lunar New Year" event last month. My husband’s grandfather was a Chinese Catholic author of some renown (as well as China’s former ambassador to the Vatican), and a reading of his poetry was part of the celebration. How great is that—an event to celebrate the Chinese New Year at the shrine of Saint John Paul II!
I think it could help for us to take a moment and recall what made Saint John Paul II such a beloved peacemaker, not only among Catholics but among people of various religions and ethnicities worldwide. He was a pioneer in interfaith bridge-building, recognizing Muslims and Jews as partners in spirituality. He made pastoral visits to 129 countries during his time as pope. And he spread messages of love and acceptance wherever he went.
Let us pray for the victims of the Atlanta-area shootings, and for all lives violently lost at the hands of men who did not love as Christ loved.
I leave us with these words from Saint John Paul II:
“Yours is the gigantic task of overcoming all evil with good, always trying amidst the problems of life to place your trust in God, knowing that his grace supplies strength to human weakness. You must oppose every form of hatred with the invincible power of Christ’s love.”
Last month, I had a field day fostering my anger while doing the dishes. Who was the perpetrator? My husband. His crime? Going to dinner with his dad. Ok, well, it wasn’t just that. I had held down the fort for three nights while he was on a work trip. He had come home but had made dinner plans with his dad leaving his poor, pregnant, martyr of a wife to handle bedtime yet again. Dish by dish, my resentment grew as I spun a story with me as the hero and him as the villain. I repeatedly told myself some iteration of, “If only he would _____, then I would be happier. Is that so much to ask?” I admit, this isn’t me at my best but it’s true, and I’m guessing you can relate.
My husband eventually came home and immediately apologized over the length of the outing. We talked about it, and I forgave him. With the ordeal over, I settled in to finish The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. If only I had known what I was about to read, I might have put it down to avoid the uncomfortable truth headed my way. The Lord brought me face to face with myself.
If you haven’t read The Great Divorce, it is a fictional story of characters living in hell but are not stuck there. The main character boards a bus with his fellow resident and travels to the foothills of heaven. At the foothills, they find that they are too weak to make the journey up the mountain. Each character meets a representative from heaven who will accompany them up the mountain and help them gain strength along the way. All they have to do is let go of anything keeping them from God, and heaven will welcome them. Sadly, most of the characters refuse to give up what is necessary to climb to heaven and receive God Himself. They freely choose to head back to the bus and spend eternity in hell. The moral of the story is that many of us will choose heaven only if certain conditions are met. In doing so, we choose to stay in hell.
At the end of the story, the main character witnesses a woman come down the mountain to try to convince her earthly husband to make the journey with her to heaven. Obsessed that she doesn’t “need” him, he throws himself a pity party and eventually returns to the bus. The main character is offended by the woman’s refusal to follow her husband into hell and her attempt to force him to join her on the mountain. As he tries to work out what he perceived as a lack of sympathy, his heavenly mentor corrects his perspective.
“Son, son, it must be one way or the other. Either the day must come when joy prevails, and all the makers of misery are no longer able to infect it: or else forever and ever the makers of misery can destroy the happiness they reject in themselves.”
I reread it. At some point, misery must lose its ability to infect joy. Ouch. I have been a maker of misery for far too long, only accepting joy when my self-imposed terms have been met. No wonder joy is constantly slipping through my grasp.
This attitude that I and so many others have embraced is the attitude of joy if. It’s a joy with conditions, and I have a million conditions. I think I’ll be joyful if my husband acts in a way that pleases me. I will have joy if my kids are healthy and kind. I will be joyful if things go well at work, if COVID goes away, if the government does what I think is right. If all these external circumstances bow down to my will, then I will be happy. How exhausting. How common. How many of us are joyful Christians only when the stars align and our wills are fulfilled? That joy then rarely comes, and if it does, it certainly doesn’t last. There is too much out of our control for us to allow our terms to be the dictator of our joy. In the end, “joy if” isn’t joy at all. It is preference, and in God’s eyes, it is disobedience. He wants more for us.
The Lord commanded over and over again that His people live with His joy. Romans 12:12 tells us to “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Scripture goes further in James 1:2: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, wherever you face trials of many kinds.” St. Peter echoes the same idea when he wrote, “But rejoice in as much as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).
If we know this and repeatedly hear that we should be joyful in all things, why is it so hard to accomplish? I believe it’s because most of us never move from “joy if” to “joy even if.” God offers an “even if” type of joy. It is a true joy. It transcends the ebbs and flows of circumstance because it does not depend on conditions but rather, on the faithfulness of God, who is always faithful.
Every few weeks, when I am on Instagram stories, I ask for your prayer requests, and I am always blown away by your answers. From illness to high-risk pregnancy, infertility, employment issues, anxiety, family issues, and worries about the future, you are dealing with it all. Ladies, you are amazing. You carry a broken world on your back, and so often, you do it with unbelievable strength. When I pray for you, I pray that you can hold onto your joy even if your suffering is great. I pray that your spirit holds on to the hope Christ offers you and your mind is filled with the truth that He is always with you. I don’t necessarily mean happiness or positivity. Joy is more than an emotion. It is a disposition of being that is marked by the truth that, in the end, our situations will bring us closer to God and His glory.
If you have fallen into the trap of “joy if,” ask Him to transform your thinking to “joy even if.” After all, this is exactly how the Lord loves you. He loves you even if you turn away from Him. He is faithful even if your sins are many. He carries you even if you are trying to hold up the weight of the world by yourself. And He offers you His joy even if your life is far from perfect.
“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails, and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:17–19)
 C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2001), 136.
You matter to God. All that you carry in your heart—your dreams, desires, needs, and heartaches—all this is seen by God. Far from being an impersonal deity who expects you to suck it up and soldier on, God pays attention to everything that touches you. In Psalm 56:9, David writes, “My wanderings you have noted; are my tears not stored in your flask, recorded in your book?” Let that sink in. The Creator of the universe sees you, takes note of your every tear, and holds them. He keeps your tears. When you cry out to Him and say that you are at your limit—that you can’t take anymore—He sees everything that led up to that point. He sees it, and He cares. You are known and understood by God. You aren’t too much for Him; you aren’t too complicated; you aren’t a mess in His eyes. God sees your beautiful, wild heart.
But God is not the only one paying attention to the state of your heart, or women’s hearts in general. This has been a subject of interest and debate for some time. There is a deep longing found in the hearts of women which has always existed. Betty Friedan wrote of it in The Feminine Mystique in the 1960s, describing it as “the problem that has no name.”  It’s an interior restlessness, an inner ache for more.
We have all seen the effects of a persuasive writer who is able to name what people are currently feeling but are unable to express. When someone nails it and artfully communicates what we’ve all been sensing and perceiving, powerful trends are born. Those trends translate into belief systems that are embraced and passed to the next generation. This is what happened with the writing of authors like Betty Frieden, Gloria Steinem, Kate Millet, and others. Their writing and influence birthed a movement that set out to heal the hearts of women by liberating them from the effects of patriarchy and the chains of home life and motherhood. Decades later, it’s worth asking: are women happier as a result of their efforts? Statistics indicate they are not. Women have never been more medicated, addicted, and confused.
This mission to liberate women has been picked up by women in each subsequent generation, and writers and influencers continue to persuasively describe women’s current feelings. Women read their books, blogs, and social media posts and think, “Yes. That’s me. She sees me. She understands me. She’s putting into words what I’ve not been able to name.” Influencers tap into women’s discontent, articulate what women are feeling, and then offer their solutions.
A #1 New York Times Best Seller, which has sold millions of copies and is considered a book packed with wisdom for women today, offers the following solution:
We do not need more selfless women. What we need right now is more women who have detoxed themselves so completely from the world’s expectations that they are full of nothing but themselves. What we need are women who are full of themselves. A woman who is full of herself knows and trusts herself enough to say and do what must be done. She lets the rest burn. 
In years past, I have enjoyed this author’s personality, sense of humor, authenticity, and vulnerability. She has raised millions of dollars for people in need, and I commend her for it. But I pause and am deeply concerned with the direction in which her writing is going. We need more women who are full of themselves? I don’t think so.
You are being delivered a steady message through the media regarding the best way to care for yourself. Self-care represents a $10 billion per year industry in the United States.  Make no mistake, there is vested interest in getting you to care for your heart in such a way that keeps the economic engine running. But is it possible that you are being offered counterfeit self-care? Could it be that the bill of goods we’ve been sold for decades isn’t delivering on its promises? Might it be that the very things that we are “letting burn,” are the things that we most need in order to be fulfilled?
I’m thinking deeply about what true self-care is—the kind that satisfies our yearning to know who we are and what we are worth. To begin with, it’s essential that we connect with our hearts. This means paying attention to what we feel, and inviting God into the places within that need healing. We also need to put in the time to learn what God says about our worth, and then choose to listen to Him more than all the messages that contradict His perspective.
Another key component of self-care is cultivating an unhurried life. I know. Easier said than done. I highly recommend John Mark Comer’s book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, as a fabulous starting point.
A valuable shift in perspective that has real impact on self-care is looking at our body as a temple of the Holy Spirit. What are some of the alternatives to this? Treating our bodies as workhorses or obsessing with outward appearance. The latter can appear to be self-care, but can actually lead to an unhealthy self-focus.
Are you ready to allow the Creator of your heart to show you what will truly satisfy your deepest longings? Let’s pursue true self-care—the kind that satisfies our yearning to know who we are and what we are worth.
Grace and peace,
 Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 2001), 433.
 Glennon Doyle, Untamed (New York: Random House, 2020), 75.
 Alice Hickson and Lilly Blumenthal, “The Self Care Obsession,” March 25, 2019, The Tufts Observer, https://tuftsobserver.org/the-self-care-obsession/, accessed February 10, 2021.