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Since childhood, I’ve been inspired by an incredible woman of faith named Elisabeth Elliot. Elisabeth was widowed with a ten-month-old daughter when her husband was savagely speared by members of a violent Amazonian tribe. Jim had gone to Ecuador to share the gospel, but the mission ended tragically. One might have excused Elisabeth if she wallowed in self-pity or raged against God for taking her husband when he was only trying to do good. But instead of doing any of these things, Elisabeth gathered her daughter, her Bible, a snakebite kit, and tremendous courage, and moved to the very place where her husband had died. She was determined to offer a hand of forgiveness and friendship to the very people who had killed the one she loved most, and many of them came to faith in Christ as a result. 

So when Elisabeth Elliot talks about suffering, I listen.

In her book, A Path Through Suffering, she writes:

Each time God gives us a hard lesson He desires also to give us Himself. If we open our hands to receive the lesson we open our hearts to receive Him, and with Himself His vision to see the glory in the surrender…

He stands ready today to supply us with His wisdom to understand what He wants to teach, and His strength to carry through, for He never allows us to undergo anything for which He has not promised the strength to endure. His commands are always accompanied by power to obey. The Everlasting Arms are always underneath us, the everlasting love always surrounds us.[1]

But difficult circumstances don’t automatically make us saints. It isn’t the circumstances themselves that do the shaping. It’s our cooperation. When life throws us a curveball, we have a choice about how we’re going to receive it. We can choose to become bitter, to be filled with self-pity, and to dwell on our doubts. We might begin to ask questions like, “Where was God in this situation?” “Why didn’t He intervene by giving me the answer I wanted?” “Doesn’t He love me?” “Isn’t He powerful enough to do anything about it?” The choice is set before us. We can water the seeds of doubt by focusing on our circumstances. Or we can focus on the fact that somewhere in the midst of the current state of affairs is an opportunity to be transformed. 

When we are going through trials—little ones or big ones—deaths of a sort, and experiences of brokenness, it’s important to remember that Jesus understands suffering from experience. Jesus entered into what appeared to be meaningless suffering. This means He is never indifferent to what you are enduring. He sees all the little and big deaths that you experience. And He stands ready to bring new life in those places that feel desolate.

The prophet Jeremiah wrote of that process of transformation: “This word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Arise and go down to the potter’s house; there you will hear my word. I [Jeremiah] went down to the potter’s house and there he was, working at the wheel. Whenever the vessel of clay he was making turned out badly in his hand, he tried again, making another vessel of whatever sort he pleased…Can I not do to you as this potter has done? Indeed, like the clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand” (Jeremiah 18:1–6).

These are the verses that get me through hardship. In difficult times, I don’t want to experience what I am going through. I want to escape. But these verses stop me before I give in to bitterness or numb out. They remind me that I have a choice. I can offer myself to God as clay to a potter. I can say to Him, “In this particular set of undesired circumstances, I give you permission to shape me—to mold me—to transform me, because I want to experience a better eternity. I want to become the woman you created me to be. And if a death of sorts is required for new life to be born in me, I accept it. I say yes. I say, Jesus, I trust in You.” 

When the potter sees a bubble or a defect in the pot, he has to press the clay back onto the wheel and reshape the pot. But all the while, he is making it into something of great beauty. So here is the question: can we trust God that when He asks us to experience something that is hard, He promises to use it to mold us into vessels that are filled with His Spirit? May we never forget—He can turn brokenness into blessing and beauty. 

After enduring twenty years of imprisonment, confinement, and hard labor in the Gulag of the Soviet Union, Walter J. Ciszek, S.J. wrote a phenomenal book called He Leadeth Me. In it, he wrote, “God’s will was not hidden somewhere ‘out there’ in the situations in which I found myself; the situations themselves were His will for me. What He wanted was for me to accept these situations as from His hands, to let go of the reins and place myself entirely at His disposal.”[2]

Perhaps you feel hemmed in by your circumstances. You feel stuck. You wonder if things will ever change. The enemy wants you to keep your focus on all those thoughts. But the Lord invites you to raise your eyes and gain a higher perspective. “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11).

What if the peace we so long for is on the other side of surrender?

With you on the journey,
Lisa

[1] Elisabeth Elliot, A Path Through Suffering (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell Publishing, 1990), 87.
[2] Walter J. Ciszek SJ, He Leadeth Me (New York, NY: Random House, 1973), 81.

Recently, I opened my youngest son’s school folder to find an envelope addressed to him. I told him about it, and he excitedly rushed over to open it. And when he did, the biggest smile erupted on his face. It was an invitation to his friend’s birthday party. In the midst of COVID, the birthday party invite was one of a thousand things that we had to forego. My 7-year-old son has not been able to celebrate his own, his cousins’, or his friends’ birthdays together for more than 2 years, so this invitation was special. It was obvious that my son felt eager and excited for this party. 

Tomorrow, we celebrate Ash Wednesday. On this day, we enter into a season of deep reflection and prayer. Our heavenly Father invites us on a 40-day journey into the desert. He invites us to be part of the crowd during a procession of palms and Hosannas. He desires our presence at a very special dinner and an evening garden gathering. And don’t forget, He invites us to play a part in a dramatic, yet real-life Passion play. The last place He wishes for us to visit is an empty tomb on an early Sunday morning. Will you be there? Please RSVP—ASAP. 

Will you accept this invitation as eagerly and with as much joy as my 7-year-old accepted his birthday party invitation? 

We often don’t think of entering into the Lenten season eagerly and with joy, do we? I know what you are thinking: Lent = sacrifice and fasting. And none of that necessarily equals joy. Or does it? 

Today, I want to encourage you to accept this invitation extended by the Church and our heavenly Father WITH EAGERNESS AND JOY. 

This Lenten invitation is gifted to us right in the middle of Ordinary Time in order to remind us that our Christian call is to be extra-ordinary. I don’t know about you, but I need the reminder right about now. In the middle of our ordinary lives, the Church, through the season of Lent, invites us to go deeper into the desert with Jesus. But we must remember, Jesus was not alone in the desert. Encountering Jesus there gives us the opportunity to become attuned and aware of who the other—very real—player is: the enemy of our souls. And the enemy would like nothing more than to distract us from our time with the Lord and lure us to join him for a succulent feast, tempting us with all of our favorite worldly desires, material goods, and pleasures.

The enemy tempted Jesus in the desert in three specific ways. He invited our Lord to do what FEELS right instead of what IS right, to question our heavenly Father’s love, and to desire His own glory over the Kingdom of God (Matthew 4:3–10).

I bet we don’t even have to think too hard to realize the temptations the enemy used with Jesus are ones that we are all too familiar with ourselves. How many of us, in the words of St. Paul, “do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7:19)? I know I have some bad habits that I just can’t seem to kick. Or I kick them for a time, but then slowly, when I’m tired, stressed, or frustrated, those habits start reappearing. How many of us hold onto the shame of a past sin—one that we’ve received absolution for but continue to beat ourselves up about? How many of us get caught up in envy or jealousy when we see another person garner attention or acknowledgement for something we desire? Each of these situations can lead us down the road to sin, and none of them result in joy. 

Good thing the Bible didn’t end there in the desert. With each temptation offered, Jesus battled the enemy back with Scripture, “the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). And the devil left Him. 

Sister, the invitation into the desert with Jesus is to remind us who has won. Jesus didn’t just win the battle in the desert—He won the war on the cross! Lent reminds us that He fought for us then, and He fights for us now. Can we allow this truth to spark in us a desire to enter eagerly into Lent, into the desert of our spirits? It is in this season of Lent, in the desert with Jesus, that we are given the opportunity to discern how the enemy tempts us, to identify his plays against us. We are given the opportunity to learn how we respond to those temptations, and where we need Jesus the most. 

Here’s a hint: if we aren’t responding to the enemy with Scripture, as modeled by Jesus, then let this season be the time to change that. When we stop the enemy in His tracks with the truth of Scripture, he has no other play.

Sister, we have the blessing of knowledge on our side. We know what extraordinary events occur at the end of these 40 days. We know what happens the week after we read the Passion at Mass. We know that when Mary Magdalene and the other women approached the tomb of Jesus, the stone had been rolled away, and an angel greeted them and said Jesus was not there “for He has been risen, just as He said” (Matthew 28:6). What joy and eagerness the women must have felt as they set out to tell the other followers of Jesus! What joy and eagerness Jesus must have felt to be able to meet with His friends and His mother again, to reassure their doubts, to settle their fears, to forgive them and embolden them. 

Let’s allow what we already know and who we know to penetrate our hearts. We know Jesus rose from the dead. We don’t have to wait until Easter Sunday to allow that joy to fill our hearts. We can choose to live joyfully through this Lenten season knowing the desert is not the end, knowing the cross is not the end. 

Sister, this Lent, let us confidently accept the invitation of this season without reluctance or hesitation. Let’s resolve to be joyful in our discernment of what to abstain from each day or which spiritual book or devotion to begin. Let us choose to fill our hearts with a sense of extraordinary eagerness to return to confession, to ask for forgiveness, or to mend a fractured relationship. 

And let us remember our Lord's words to His disciples and to us: “I have told you all these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Take heart, sister. He has won. Let’s celebrate the victory by having an extraordinary Lent. Let us RSVP to Lent—to Jesus—ASAP and with joy in our hearts. 

Your sister in Christ,
Jeannine

Are you wrestling with a decision you need to make, and aren’t sure what you should do? Do you wish the right choice was obvious, but instead feel that each of your options look equally viable?

In James 1:8, we are warned against being double-minded. This means having two opposing views in your mind at the same time. Some people call it cognitive dissonance. What results is inconsistency, vacillation, acting one way today and a different way tomorrow, and having trouble making a decision and sticking with it. No one wants to live like that, but too many of us do. Here are some tips for decision making, and a prayer that will invite God into the process.

1. Get in touch with your deepest longings. 

Identify what drains you and what energizes you. Make a list of each. This will help you grow in awareness of what you truly desire and separate it out from others’ expectations of you. Once you’ve made your list, check that your desires, if they came to fruition, would pass the death bed test. In the end, will you consider this thing to be important? Are you choosing a project over people? Accomplishment over relationship? Also note whether or not the things you have listed reflect what God desires most for you. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be happy, but God wants you to pursue the holiness that will provide you with eternal, not just temporal, happiness. 

Do those longings pass those two tests? Then look at the decision you face in light of those desires. Which decision leads you closer to those longings becoming your reality?

2. Follow the traffic signal.

Picture a traffic signal with three circles: green, yellow, and red. Now imagine that the red circle is the Word of God. Does the red light come on when you think of making a certain decision? Has the Word of God actually already given you an answer? Don’t move forward if God has already said no in Scripture. No red light? Continue to the next circle.

The yellow circle is godly advice. The key word is godly. As you discuss the decision you face with loved ones, pay attention to the life choices being made by the person you are talking to. Is this person pursuing God? Does this person understand God’s desire that you be holy? Don’t just talk to people who tell you what you want to hear. Seek the advice of people who are spiritually mature and love you enough to speak truthfully. Their yellow light might tell you to slow down. But if they give you a go ahead, move onto the next circle.

The green circle is the feeling in your gut. Over-thinking and over-analysis can be paralyzing. Our fear of failure can prevent us from taking necessary risks. Ask God to help you discern the difference between nervousness (which often accompanies a good decision) and true unrest in your spirit, which is your own life-earned wisdom letting you know you are moving in the wrong direction. Imagine yourself having made the decision. Walk around for a day imagining that was the direction you went. How does it feel? 

3. Learn from St. Ignatius of Loyola.

We want to make all our decisions prayerfully. We’re crazy to charge ahead without consulting the One who hung the stars, sees the long-term view with total clarity, and loves us like no other. St. Ignatius of Loyola talks about the importance of praying for confirmation once you’ve made a decision. This prayer takes place before the action of the decision. St. Ignatius also discourages making decisions when you are in a period of spiritual desolation. When everything around you feels hopeless and dark, this is not a good time for change. When that’s your reality, St. Ignatius advises that you make no new decisions. That you wait. The desolation will pass, and clarity will return.

To help you invite God into your decision making, I wrote the Litany of Decision Making. I hope it gives words to the thoughts and feelings swimming in your heart and mind, and carries you down the road to clarity and peace.

With you on the journey,
Lisa

“Are you there, God? It’s me, Kristy. I need some help with this decision and would really appreciate it if you could just tell me what to do. I want to do the right thing, and I don’t know what that is. So, can you please show me?” 

*Looks expectantly toward the sky for a lightning bolt with a sign.* 

Gosh, if only it was that easy, right? I can’t tell you how many times that’s exactly how it goes in my prayer life, and I walk away frustrated (or laughing at myself in my naivete). But hey, the lightning bolt thing could happen one day—you never know. 

Making decisions has always been something I struggle with. From little things like which movie to watch (I could give you three totally valid reasons for and against each choice) to bigger things like if I should start writing that book that I feel called to write (or perhaps I should wait a few years until my kids are older). Can you even imagine how the really big decisions go for me? Praise God that He gifted my husband with heroic patience!

How about you? Do you struggle with making decisions? More specifically, do you struggle with hearing God’s voice and discerning His will for your life? 

If this is you, welcome—and pull up a chair. I have come to learn a few things about hearing God’s voice and making decisions, and friend to friend, I want to share them with you. 

For starters, I’ve realized that life isn’t a relay race of decisions that we have to make, with each choice shaping and determining the next lap. I used to think of God providing the coaching at each lap when I asked for it, inviting Him in only when I needed His direction. It was more about the outcome and less about the journey. I’ve since learned that life is less like a frantic relay race and more of a slow walk with the Lord, who is with us each and every step of the way—in the big and small things. 

In John 10:27, Jesus tells us, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” What does His voice sound like? It’s not a lightning bolt or crack of thunder (at least not in my experience). His voice often speaks through Scripture, which is literally the Word of God.[1] The more time we spend in Scripture, the more we know His voice and can recognize it when He does call us. This requires a conscious decision to slow down and spend time in prayer and reading Scripture. It sounds so simple, yet it’s true. You will be able to better discern God’s will for your life if you spend more time in Scripture—there is no shortcut here.  

The next thing I’ve realized about making decisions and discerning God’s will is summed up perfectly by both Robert Frost and Joan of Arc. (I couldn't decide which quote I liked better, so I’m giving you both.) 

“The best way out is always through.”[2]  —Robert Frost

“Act, and God will act. Work, and He will work.”[3]  —St. Joan of Arc

They are both on to something. Something that, quite frankly, sounds terrifying to me. We just have to take a step, even if it turns out that it was the wrong step. 

How can the wrong decision be good? A priest friend once gave me some wise advice when I asked how he makes big decisions that impact an entire parish community on a daily basis. He said, “Once I’ve come to a decision through prayer, I ask the Lord to bless it and pray it’s the right one. If it’s the wrong decision, I ask Him to stop my plans. And if He doesn’t…then I ask Him to help me learn from it.” 

What a humble, yet confident way of approaching decision-making! Humble in the way he admits God is in charge of the outcome either way—he knows he’s not big enough to thwart God’s plan. And confident in the way he knows his role and responsibility to the people he was sent to serve, and God will use whatever his decision is for good. Following this model has truly enabled me to feel peace about decisions that I make. 

When we make our decisions with this type of humble confidence, we allow the Holy Spirit room to work in our lives. Choices that used to bring stress and worry become opportunities for joy as we cooperate with the Lord and allow Him an active role in our lives. It enables us to grow in trust and experience the depth of love that God has for us. 

I still really don’t want to make the wrong decisions in my life. And you know what, God knows that about me. And He knows your doubts and fears about discerning things in your life, too. So, if He allows me (or you) to make the wrong decision, you can bet it’s because He wants to teach me (or you) something because He loves us. 

My spiritual director was advising me in this area lately, and she said, “Kristy, we almost never get certainty from the Lord. But we can often have clarity. And most of the time, that’s all we need.” 

Praying the Holy Spirit will give you clarity in your decision-making, and that you may step out in humble confidence, trusting that the Lord is with you—no matter the outcome. 

P.S. Here is an easy decision: check out the Walking with Purpose YouTube series, Truth with Handles: The Conversation, where I chat with fellow WWP bloggers Mallory Smyth and Laura Phelps about issues that matter to Catholic women today. While you’re there, don’t forget to subscribe to the WWP YouTube channel and turn on notifications so you don’t miss a single episode.

[1] https://www.usccb.org/sites/default/files/flipbooks/catechism/32/
[2] https://www.poetryverse.com/robert-frost-poems/a-servant-to-servants
[3] https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/holiness-of-st-joan-of-arc-5569

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.

I was at the playground with my seven-year old son the other day, watching him play and (thank goodness) burn off some energy so I could read a few chapters of a book. Suddenly, he came running up to me grinning ear to ear. “Mommy,” he said, “I made a new friend! His name is Evan and he likes Minecraft just like I do!” He scampered off to go swing and talk about all the “Minecrafty” things with his new friend. It made me smile because this is so like him. He’s the kid who will make a new friend no matter where we go. He is vulnerable, honest, and genuinely wants to get to know the other person. It’s a joy to watch. 

As I sat on the bench, eager to go back to my book, a thought crossed my mind. Kids have no preconceived notions when they interact with other kids. They have a simplicity and a sincerity in the way they approach new situations and people—something that many of us, myself included, have lost.

We tend to spend time with people who validate our beliefs. And it seems that the longer we are committed Christians, the fewer non-Christian friends we have. Enjoying a solid faith community of friends is essential, but what is the consequence of this in terms of the need for us to share our faith with others? Faith is “caught” more than “taught,” and that requires starting with the strong foundation of a relationship.

Jesus has chosen to depend on Christians to carry forth His mission of salvation, to be the “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.”[1] “Through baptism and the Eucharist, he gives us his own divine life; through the teaching of the Church he fills us with his truth; and he is counting on us not to hoard these treasures, nor let them go to waste.”[2] We simply cannot do this if we remain comfortable in our Christian bubbles. It requires a degree of vulnerability and trust in the Lord as we seek to reach out to those around us and share the treasure we have received. 

Sisters, this may require a certain level of discomfort. In order to reach others for Christ, we have to earn the right to be heard, and that often takes time through building relationships, listening well, and being authentic. Being uncomfortable for the sake of another is something that every Christian encounters sooner or later in their faith journey. As Dorothy Day once said: “An act of love, a voluntary taking on oneself of some of the pain of the world, increases the courage and love and hope of all.” 

This doesn’t (necessarily) mean you need to walk up to a stranger at a playground and ask them about Jesus (kudos to you if you have ever done this—I haven’t!). But you can step out of your bubble in your daily life as a parent, grandparent, student, professional, volunteer, or neighbor. 

I encourage you to ask yourself these questions as you consider how Jesus has called you to be salt and light to the world: 

If the Holy Spirit tugs at your heart after reading one of these, take it to prayer. Ask Jesus how He wants you to bring others to Him. And remember that He will “fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

[1] Matthew 5:13, 14
[2] John Bartunek, The Better Part (Circle Press, 2007), 92-93.
[3] 1 Peter 3:15

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.” [1] 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. [2]

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. [3] 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,
Lisa

[1] Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 2001), 433.
[2] Glennon Doyle, Untamed (New York: Random House, 2020), 75.
[3] 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.

 

 

 

I’ve had many spells of homesickness over the years. Typically, I’d try to soothe myself by looking at houses online in the town where I grew up. I imagined what it would be like to move back to Duluth, Minnesota. Could I relive all the comforting memories? Would my desire to belong finally be satisfied if I could go back to those familiar people and places? Maya Angelou writes, “The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” This makes sense to me. Maybe you long for roots, too. Considering how often extended families no longer stay close together as jobs and preferences transfer people to different parts of the country, I doubt that I am alone with these feelings.

I felt this homesickness most acutely when I lived in Mexico—in large measure because I was surrounded by the most beautiful display of family traditions that I’d ever seen. Families, by and large, stayed close geographically, with weekly gatherings for comida where multiple generations stopped their activities and devoted the afternoon to each other. I admired it from the outside looking in because my family was far away. At that time, I also felt I was rattling around within the Catholic Church. I was a card-carrying member, but I didn’t feel like I belonged. I had a sense that there was an inner circle, a set of behaviors that I wasn’t clued in on, and a heritage and vocabulary that I wasn’t born with, which meant I was destined to be on the outside. This lasted far longer than anyone would have guessed.

But Jesus met me in the pages of Scripture no matter what country I was in or how disjointed my life felt. I might have felt disconnected from the familiar, but I found safety and steadiness in those timeless, sacred words. These were years when I put my roots down deep into God’s Word. In the pages of the Bible, I encountered a Living God who drew me close.

And yet, I didn’t realize in those years that there was more. God wanted me to experience a spiritual family that stretched across the globe; a shared worship where, no matter where we found ourselves, we all turned our hearts to the Lord and prayed in unison, reading the same words of Scripture. He wanted me to continue to experience His words as “sweeter than honey to my mouth” (Psalm 119:103), but to do so nestled in the heart of the Church.

This is the gift that Franciscan University of Steubenville has given me, and it’s a grace that’s been extended to me without me having to move. I still live in Florida, and that vibrant community is in Ohio. But the university has created an online experience that has been absolutely life-changing for me. For years I have wanted to delve deeper in the study of theology, but I couldn’t see how I could possibly find the time. With seven children and now in-laws and grandsons, my life and schedule are full. I work full-time in ministry, write, travel, and speak at conferences. How on earth could this dream of further study be possible? And was it selfish to pursue it? I played around with these thoughts for years until one day I realized that if I had just taken one class at a time, starting when the dream began, I would now be done. My degree would be in hand. And so I applied to the graduate school and began the journey toward my Master's in Theology.

This program was developed for people like me who are pursuing their studies while living full lives at home and in their careers. Is it demanding? Yes. I have to be self-disciplined with my time. But the way the classes are structured has made it possible to keep it all in balance, and the rewards far exceed any sacrifice I am making. I remember taking undergraduate religion classes in college and leaving them feeling more confused than anything. Franciscan offers an entirely different experience. The theological gaps are being filled in for me, explanation and proofs are being given, and my faith is being strengthened. The more I learn, the more my appetite grows for more.

It occurred to me the other day that I no longer had the same ache to belong that I used to struggle with. This surprised me, and I tried to figure out when that changed. I realized it was a gradual change—not something that happened overnight. It was one of the fruits of my study at Franciscan. As I have seen how Scripture is the soul of sacred theology, I’ve also seen how it’s within the heart of the Church that it truly comes to life. The pieces have come together for me. The richness of our faith started to unfold for me as phenomenal professors have made theology understandable. They’ve made sure their students don’t just learn truth, but also grow in love for Christ. My questions are being answered. Doubts are being settled. What I feel in class after class is an overwhelming sense that it’s all true. The ache has been satisfied.

This doesn’t mean I never hop on Zillow and picture myself living in my old stomping ground. But it does mean that I feel grounded and welcomed right where I am. If this can be accomplished in an online experience, I can only imagine the fullness of the experience for students on campus. To give credit where credit is due, I must thank Franciscan University of Steubenville for welcoming me home and making me feel like family.

With love,

Lisa

P.S. I invite you to explore all the online graduate programs offered by Franciscan University of Steubenville. It’s never too late to embark on a new educational journey!

What a start to the year. Just when we’d packed away the Christmas decorations and swept away the pine needles, chaos erupted. Some might say things have gotten worse; others would say it’s always been this messy, and we’re just seeing more evidence of what lies below the surface. Regardless of all that I see that is not right, my faith tells me that there is much that is right, and I need to build on that. I don’t know about you, but I need to have a fresh attitude as I journey through January, even if my circumstances haven’t changed much.

This has led me to delve into some reading about the virtue of joy. If you’ve spent much time in a Walking with Purpose Bible study, then you’ve already encountered the truth that joy is not found in a perfect state of affairs. Whatever it is that we think will guarantee happiness is simply the next rung on an ever-expanding ladder. We never get to a place where enough is enough, and those who keep trying to get there end up disappointed and often bitter. But even when we understand this lesson and know that perfect circumstances will never be our reality (they won’t satisfy anyway), we can still find joy to be elusive.

We’re promised in Galatians 5:22 that joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit, which means it’s a gift given to us—something supernaturally infused into our being. That being said, I think that for many of us it resides deep down in the soul, so deep down that it doesn’t make its way up to our faces. In Great Expectations, Charles Dickens described one of his characters as a woman “who called her rigidity religion.”[1] Sadly, there are quite a few examples of this in our day as well, but that would never have been said of Jesus.

Jesus has gone before us and gives an example of how to live joyfully in the midst of unrest and severe hardship. We read in Hebrews 12:2 that Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross.” We’re encouraged to “consider him” so that we don’t “grow weary or fainthearted” (Hebrews 12:3). St. Catherine of Siena’s words, “All the way to heaven is heaven,” suggests that it is possible to follow His example. 

But how?
What do we do when the way to heaven doesn’t feel very heavenly?
Where does joy come from, and how can we get it to bubble up so it’s our lived experience, rather than a virtue just out of reach?
And does it really matter?
What’s at stake if we lack joy?

In his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson wrote about a friend who was a dean in a theological seminary. He would occasionally call a student into his office to share these words:

You have been around here for several months now, and I have had an opportunity to observe you. You get good grades, seem to take your calling to ministry seriously, work hard and have clear goals. But I don’t detect any joy. You don’t seem to have any pleasure in what you are doing. And I wonder if you should not reconsider your calling into ministry. For if a pastor is not in touch with joy, it will be difficult to teach or preach convincingly that the news is good. If you do not convey joy in your demeanor and gestures and speech, you will not be an authentic witness for Jesus Christ. Delight in what God is doing is essential in our work.[2]

St. Teresa of Calcutta said that “joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” Our authentic witness for Christ is on the line. We are what He has chosen to work with, for better or for worse. We are “ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20). So how do we grow in the virtue of joy? I have discovered three things that are currently helping me in this regard.

#1: There is joy in obedience
The equation “joy = obedience” is one I was taught as a young child, and I am so grateful for it. There’s so much that we cannot control, but we can always choose how we respond to our circumstances. While we don’t know what God thinks about every subject, there is a tremendous amount that we do know in terms of how He wants us to react and behave. When we live in such a way that we can end our day knowing we did all we could to obey God, a deep sense of satisfaction results. We remain under the umbrella of God’s eternal protection, and this brings us an abiding joy, uncoupled from our circumstances.

#2: There is joy in managing expectations
One of the biggest barriers to joy is unmet expectations. Things don’t go as we hoped, and discouragement sets in. But what if the expectations were problematic to begin with? I have found that when I’m disappointed, it’s good to examine my expectations by asking myself the following questions:

What expectation did I have that’s not been met?
Was that expectation based on a promise of God that I can find in Scripture?
What should I do to change the expectation?
What can I learn from this that will affect my expectations in the future?

#3: There is joy in Jesus
Jesus is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). He is joy itself. If we really believe that Jesus is present in the Eucharist (John 6:51), if we really believe the He is present in the body of believers (Ephesians 1:22-23), if we really believe that where two or three are gathered in His name, He is there (Matthew 18:20), then we need to really pause and consider what we are missing if we are not gathering for worship. We need Him. If you haven’t been able to go to Mass since the pandemic began (I know this varies from diocese to diocese), then you are going to feel that absence. He is not absent, but one of the primary ways He infuses us with joy is something that, for many, has been out of reach. 

So let’s cling to Jesus in whatever way we can, trusting Him to fulfill His promises. This is the path where joy is found.

Grace and peace,
Lisa

[1] Charles Dickens, Great Expectations (New York: Heritage, 1939), 198.
[2] Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (Dowers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 191.

Deep abiding joy—the kind that helps us to rejoice even when weary—wouldn’t that be the most amazing Christmas gift? This is what we long for, but for many, it’s difficult to hope because 2020 has held many disappointments. Plans haven’t gone the way they should. Words have been spoken that have pierced many hearts. Much is broken, and we aren’t sure how to put it all back together again. In the midst of a Christmas with more chaos and confusion than we’d like, does the night of our dear Savior’s birth still make a difference?

The ancient words of St. John Chrysostom give me food for thought…

“On this day of Christmas, the Word of God, being truly God, appeared in the form of a man, and turned all adoration to himself and away from competing claims for our attention. To him, then, who through the forest of lies has beaten a clear path for us, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, we offer all praise, now and forever.”

Could it be that experiencing deep abiding joy is connected to what we adore? Is it possible that some competing claims for our attention have gained our primary focus this year? Has our gaze shifted, and have our bodies followed our eyes into a forest of lies?

I’ve discovered some things about myself this year. All the changes that COVID has brought have made it clear that I adore the following: My comfort. My well-laid plans. Experiences that give me something to look forward to and a burst of joy when I’m in the midst of them. These aren’t the only things that I adore, but when they are taken away, I wilt a little bit.

Since all three of those things have been hard to rely on this year, I can see competing claims for my attention at work. When I lose control on a macro level (hello, pandemic), I try to control things on a micro level. I do this without even thinking about it. I push the dig deeper button, get to work, and rely on grit. My ability to control something as small as my to-do list competes for my attention with “the better part” that God offers me—the invitation to come away and rest a while.

When I ignore His invitation to rest, I’m led into a forest of lies—lies like:
“It’s all up to me.”
“It doesn’t matter how I feel.”
“Things will never get better.” 

One thing is for sure—I’d better get out of that forest of lies if I want to have the kind of Christmas that includes rejoicing despite weariness. And here’s the good news: Jesus has beaten a clear path through the forest of lies to bring me to the Father. He’s cleared that path for you, too.

When I say, “It’s all up to me,” Jesus says, “No, my sweet sister. It was all up to me. And I did for you that which you couldn’t do for yourself. So lay down your burden (Psalm 55:22). The earthly work will never be done. I invite you to rest in my all-sufficiency and let me take care of the things that you didn’t finish.”

When I say, “It doesn’t matter how I feel,” Jesus says, “No, you’re wrong on that point. The heart of the Father is always turned toward you with tenderness, and He has put your tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8). He cares deeply about what’s going on inside you. He is listening. He is paying attention. He neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4).”

When I say, “Things will never get better,” Jesus says, “Don’t you remember what I said in Revelation 21:5, ‘I make all things new?’ I am at work, I promise! Don’t forget the truth of Isaiah 43:19, ‘Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.’”

When we feel too weary to rejoice, we can receive God’s joy as a gift—as a present—delivered by the Word of God incarnate through the Word of God inspired. So let’s declare truth as we leave the forest of lies and journey to the manger in Bethlehem.

For I declare that God gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength (Isaiah 40:29).

I declare that God will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul He will replenish (Jeremiah 31:25).

I declare that those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:31).

I declare that the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).

I declare that my flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever (Psalm 73:26).

I declare that God’s presence will go with me, and He will give me rest (Exodus 33:14).

I declare that I will lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety (Psalm 4:8).

I declare that weeping may last for the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5).

Oh that we would rejoice despite our weariness, celebrating the One who has led us out of the forest and into a place of true rest for our souls.

Praying for a merry and refreshing Christmas for you.
With love,
Lisa

 

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