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We are in full transition mode in my home. Gone are the days of relaxed schedules, chlorine-smelling hair, hands stained with sidewalk chalk, and flip flops all over my entryway. Our dining room table is full of uniform kilts and pants that need to be hemmed, piles of school supplies, and rolls and rolls of contact paper just waiting to be opened.

With this transition in our home, a burst of excited energy enters my heart. The start of the school year brings with it the fall launch of the Walking with Purpose program at my parish. I have missed this community.  

I have missed the warm and welcoming smiles. I have missed walking into a room and feeling confident that the women meeting me there are rooted in the love of Christ. There have been many lessons learned in these past 18 months of lockdown procedures, virtual school, remote work, and live-streamed Mass. But one is ever present in my heart as summer comes to a close: nothing can replace the joy found in a fellowship of women that come together from all seasons of life and faith journeys to bear witness to the Word of God. 

What I think I have missed the most is the order and organization my spiritual life takes on when I am around these women. How we desperately need the fellowship of like-minded women running the race of life together!

We find ourselves in a world that is broken and fallen, and it is all too easy to be consumed by the world’s empty promises. This world easily invites us to forget about ordering our life toward Christ, and instead pushes us down an alluring rabbit hole of individualism, self-absorption, and pleasure. Do what you want to do, it whispers, when you want to do it, and how you want to do it. And no matter what it’s okay, because it’s your truth. Our world has forgotten that there is one truth, there is one authority. We have forgotten what our Catechism beautifully reminds us, “The worship of the one God sets man free from turning in on himself, from the slavery of sin and idolatry of the world.”[1]

When we get caught in the rabbit hole of worldliness, we need our community to reach out to us and lead us back to relationship and unity with our Lord. Scott Hahn masterfully tells us in his book, It is Right and Just, that “it is in recognizing and living out the truth of the uniqueness of our relationship with God that we bring ourselves into right order with Him and all of creation.”[2]

Right order. This is what WWP does for me and for thousands of women across this country. This community of women believers—standing together, praying together, and yes, breaking bread together (in the form of casseroles, cookies, and other sweet and savory treats)—helps me to rightly order everything. My WWP community reminds me of our early Church forefathers and mothers. They too found themselves in a world saturated with false idols, corruption, fear, anxiety, and persecution. They knew just how vital and necessary building a community was to combat the pressures of the world around them. They ran their race together. 

They lived together, ordering their daily lives around prayer, worship, and caring for each other. They lived counter to the culture they were immersed in and bore witness to the belief in a purpose higher than themselves—to give glory to God. “Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32). They lived for the good of the community, not seeking individual pleasure. “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to the breaking of bread in their homes” (Acts 2:46). Did you catch the order of what they did? Worship first. They worshiped together, praising God, grateful for His presence among them. The order was God first, community second. 

“There was not a needy person among them because each person shared their possessions for the good of the community” (Acts 4:34). They lived by the two greatest commandments spoken by Jesus: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39). The commitment to the authority of Jesus Christ and confidence in His Word and promises led them to live life differently

Each Christian made the choice to order their lives around the Lord. And the joy that followed this choice and “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phillipians 4:7) was seen in their faces and appealed to those around them. Thus, the early Church exploded and spread rapidly amidst a pagan and morally destructive culture. How we need a similar explosion of truth today! 

Where can we light the match of truth? How can we fan the flame of faith and hope? 

Through community, sisters.

The noise of the world is LOUD. And the sway of worldliness is so strong. But we have something stronger. We have the might of the heavens in our corner. Communities of faith, like Walking with Purpose, encourage us to “throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12). 

Communities of faith offer us what the world cannot—hope. Hope that it is not all up to us. Hope that we are not alone in our suffering. Hope that we are seen and loved just as we are. A drop of hope goes a long way to soften a heart that has been hardened by the brokenness of the world. Softened hearts allow space for movements of grace. And grace changes everything. Grace—this free and undeserved gift from God—helps us to live a life rightly ordered to Christ. 

Sisters, it is time to remember that we too are counted in the commissioning of Christ, to “go out and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 18:19). It is time to act with the gift of grace and, through the choices we make (big and small), model the love of Jesus Christ to others.

[1] Catholic Church, “Life In Christ,” Catechism of the Catholic Church (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1995), 2097.
[2] Hahn, S. & McGinley, B. (2020) It is Right and Just: Why the Future of Civilization Depends on True Religion. Emmaus Road Publishing.

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 know the conversation gets good when the person on the other end of the phone leads with, “I love Jesus, but what I really struggle with in the Catholic Church is…” 

We all struggle with our faith. Whether it be with a long personal suffering, a devastating betrayal from our church leaders, or a hard teaching to accept, at one point or another, we will scratch our heads and wonder what on earth have I signed up for? And while it is good to wrestle with and question matters of faith, we have to be careful to whom we bring such questions, because often, it is here in this place of doubt that the enemy senses an unsteady soul. And then we are presented with a choice: Do I jump ship, and settle for earthly consolations because this faith is too difficult to understand and live out; and if I am being honest...it’s totally impractical and irrelevant and besides I am super tired? Or, will I choose to be spiritually grounded and unmovable; like a peg driven into a firm place (Isaiah 22:23), will I remain steadfast no matter the size of the waves or the length of the trials?

I think the reason why so many of us are disappointed, questioning our Church, and completely over our suffering is because we have a shallow understanding of Christ. We want to believe that we are all in for Jesus, but when pushed to the edge of endurance, our thoughts and actions tell a different story, don’t they? Oh, we have faith...to a point. But when the rules feel too rigid and the tests too long, even the most holy among us can begin to wonder, what’s the point?

For years, I wondered this. Why get up before dawn every morning to seek Jesus in silent prayer only to discover that His plan is to break my spirit before lunch? Why volunteer at my parish, write books, or speak at retreats sharing the joy of the Gospel if I am just going to continue to be tested? Why all the rosaries, why all the tears, why all the mortifications if nothing ever changes? And better yet, what if it changes for the worse? Again, I ask...what’s the point?

“The point” was unexpectedly discovered and shared by actor John Voight in an interview with Tucker Carlson. “I was in a lot of trouble,” he confessed, “...and I was really suffering for many reasons...and I found myself on the floor saying, ‘It’s so difficult. It’s so difficult.’ I said it out loud. And I heard in my ear, ‘It's supposed to be difficult.’” It was an audible voice; one of wisdom, kindness, and clarity, and it spoke into Voight’s ear what he will never forget and what forever changed him: It’s supposed to be difficult.

It was on a silent retreat, in the worst accommodations you could ever imagine, that I made the decision to embrace the difficult by surrendering my whole heart to Jesus. And I mean all of it. As in, take what is most precious to you, carry it up a mountain, strap it to wood, and sacrifice it to the Lord kind of surrender. I had been withholding this piece of my heart for years, too afraid to give it to God out of fear of losing it forever. But after years of being tossed about, trying to pray the difficult away, I realized that until I embraced the difficult, I would forever miss the point. And do you know what happened when I offered God what I love most? Do you know what happened when I embraced the test with unwavering confidence in my Lord? I learned to live at God’s pace. I grew in holiness. I began to cultivate a worthy heart. I experienced a holy joy. Not because the trial was over. Not because things got easier. But because I chose obedience in the midst of the difficult.

“Count it all joy” looks great painted on shiplap or printed on a cute mug, but if we stop at the joy we miss the point. The full verse from the Letter of James reads, “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3). Drop down a few more verses and we are assured that “blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). I read this, and it all sounds very clear; difficult to obey, perhaps, but not to understand. There is a point to the tests. They steady our soul, detach us from the world, keep us from getting tossed about, earn us the crown. And so I can’t help but wonder. Could it be that we are standing on shaky spiritual ground not because our God is too demanding or the Church outdated, but rather, because we are holding God to promises He never made?

It would be wise to get to know this God better, lest we become victims of deception. Practically speaking, what does this look like? How do we become steadfast?

  1. Make God a priority. Crave the Eucharist more than your Starbucks. Frequent the sacraments. Grab a friend and commit to a daily devotional that you can discuss together.
  2. Find a community of like-minded people who are seeking to know and understand Christ better. Get yourself in a small group. Lead a Bible study. Ask the hard questions and wrestle with your doubts with people who will lead you to Truth. This is crucial, not optional.
  3. Write down His promises. Not what the world promises. Not what you want Him to promise. But His actual promises. 

Whatever trial you are facing, please know that God is not out to break your spirit. I speak this with authority as I know all too well the risk of surrender. The cross you carry is the same cross that Christ carried; not meant to crush your heart, but to widen it. So stand firm and claim God’s promises. Surround yourself with people who encourage you to embrace the difficult, not remove it. There is a point, my friend, and you can count it all joy. You can even go ahead and paint that on shiplap if you want. I won’t judge. And when you find yourself on the ground asking “what’s the point?” remember this: a faith tortured by questions and still believes is far greater than the faith that never questions at all.

“Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast.” (James 5:7)

With love and prayers for you,
Laura

Bible Study

 

My dear friend, author Sarah Swafford, is guest blogging for us today! Please read and enjoy Sarah’s post about cultivating interior stillness. —Lisa

Do you ever run into Scripture passages that touch your heart, but also make you pause to think, “But what does that actually mean?” I have always loved the verse Exodus 14:14: “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still.” As a wife of sixteen years, mother of five children, speaker, author, and also a recovering firstborn perfectionistic people-pleaser control freak (you may know the type), let’s just say that I have always been a bit of a “doer” and a go-getter. I love all my roles in life, and I also love my prayer time and quiet and reading and learning. Navigating daily life (the big and small battles) can at times be exhausting as I try to balance and maintain peace in my own heart and in my family…and tend to the countless responsibilities and tasks that are inevitable each day. 

Recently, I felt compelled to dig into the above verse and pray through this gravitational pull I had to the word “still.” If you break open the book of Exodus, and in particular chapter 14, you will see that this verse is spoken by Moses to the Israelites right before the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea. Their backs were up against the sea and Pharaoh's army was charging. Can you imagine the sheer panic the Israelites must have felt in that moment?! Do you ever feel that way? Do you ever feel like life is coming down on you and you’re scrambling to “get it all done,” to protect, to guide, to reign in your emotions, to find the strength to do battle against the attacks that come at you from a million different directions? I know I do sometimes. 

“The Lord will fight for you…” Yes, that is what I want! “Please Lord, step in and go to battle for me! I am exhausted and scared and overwhelmed and…and…and…” Not only does the Lord desire to fight for you, He also longs for you to ask for His help. It is not a form of weakness, but a deep realization that we can’t do it all, and we can’t do it without Him. Just like the Israelites with their backs up against the sea with a charging army, they knew they needed a miracle. And the Lord showed up for them, and all they needed to do was be still.

You may be thinking, “Okay, Sarah, right, like I can just ‘be still’ and all the tasks, chores, emotional angst, etc., will just disappear.” I know I used to think like that, that being “still” was just a little too far out of reach for my life. But as I read the book of Exodus and prayed on these verses, I started to realize that I was looking at it merely as a matter of physical stillness—to just stand around and wait for the Lord to show up and help me get it all done or figure it all out. 

Through prayer, I started to realize that this verse really points (for you, me, and the Israelites) to an interior stillness, something that generally doesn’t come about overnight. If I put myself in the story, as an Israelite with my family watching Pharaoh's army charge, I’m sure I would panic and try to take matters into my own hands; but there would also be a realization that I have just watched the Lord deliver us from our enemies through a series of plagues and a host of other supernatural phenomena. As with the Israelites, so also with us: God is worthy of our trust. I have seen Him fight my battles. 

So how do we cultivate this interior stillness? To be able to stand with our backs against the sea and trust; to not panic, to not flail around in our lives and try to take matters into our own hands? That’s not an easy task. I don’t have all the answers, but I know we can turn to the Scriptures and saints for a wealth of wisdom, and they would point us to the power of daily prayer and quiet stillness with the Lord. I say “daily,” but what I really mean is hourly—in the moment—in the present moment where we encounter our struggles; this is the place of battle, when we need to turn to the Lord in trust. 

It is helpful to recall the ways He has battled for us in the past because this can give us confidence that He can and will do so again. Each time we do this, we slowly develop a habit of surrendering to Him again and again, cultivating a deep awareness of our need for God. By returning to Him over and over again in the small things every day, we develop the instinct to turn to Him when the big things come our way—like when Pharaoh's army is charging and there is nowhere to go. 

Is it easy to trust, to turn to God in every need, and cultivate interior stillness? No, but the alternative will always be chaos, self-reliance, panic, and fear, and that is no way to live. He wants to fight for you. He has already laid His life down for you. I promise you—He is trustworthy. We need only be still. 

Need more inspiration to move toward daily prayer and quiet stillness with the Lord? Check out the Walking with Purpose 365-day devotional, Be Still. And while you’re here, be sure to sign up to get our weekly blog delivered to your inbox!

Sarah Swafford is the founder of Emotional Virtue Ministries. She speaks internationally to people of all ages on a variety of topics such as: emotional virtue, dating and relationships, modesty of intentions, and interior confidence. She shares her message at school assemblies, retreats, rallies, and conferences around the world and is the author of Emotional Virtue: A Guide to Drama-Free Relationships. 

Sarah is a contributor to Chosen, Ascension Press’ confirmation program, and YDisciple’s True Beauty; she has also contributed videos for www.womenmadenew.com. Sarah is a proud team member of Chastity Project and speaks at Steubenville conferences in the United States and Canada.

Sarah also works on special projects for Catholic identity at her alma mater, Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, where she resides with her wonderful husband, Dr. Andrew Swafford, and their children: Thomas, Fulton, Cate, Kolbe, and John Paul. You can find more information about Sarah and Emotional Virtue Ministries at www.emotionalvirtue.com

One of the many side effects of being trapped at home during a pandemic—according to the woman who sold us our new dining room set and chandelier—is refurnishing your home. “People are bored and have nothing else to do but stare at their living space,” the saleswoman told us. “Figured they might as well make it beautiful.” Anyone else wallpaper a bedroom, buy a new area rug, or rearrange the furniture to keep the boredom at bay? Or did you buy a dog? 

We considered the third dog but opted for a full kitchen remodel and a new dining room set instead. Not because we were bored, but because I wanted to create a beautiful space that fit all of my family and friends. I desired to make my home a place of warm invitation, where there is always an empty chair at the table and charcuterie board within arms reach. When the days grew lonely and hope ran low, it was this vision—this dream of connection and conversation permeating my home and rising like incense—that kept me from spiraling into despair. 

That and potato peel pie.
I’ll explain.

During quarantine, I fell madly in love with the novel turned film, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Set in 1941 on the island of Guernsey during German occupation, the islanders were no longer allowed to have meat. However, a local woman managed to hide a pig from the German soldiers and invited her neighbors into her home to share in a pig roast. Carefully slipping handwritten invitations beneath wooden doors, this strange but irresistible group came together, nourishing more than just their physical bodies. One guest made an offering of his famous potato peel pie, which was exactly what it sounds like. A simple pie made of nothing but potatoes and their peels. 

Later that evening when caught out after curfew, the witty, loving, and quick-thinking character, Elizabeth McKenna, claimed that they were a book club who had been so engrossed that they lost track of time. A club they ridiculously named on the spot: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. What began as a cover for residents breaking curfew during the German occupation turned into a weekly Friday night refuge. And what began for me as just another Saturday night Netflix movie turned into a stirring of my heart and a conviction of what I already knew to be true: without connection, we will starve to death. 

“We were all hungry,” says the narrator. “But it was Elizabeth who realized our true starvation for connection—for the company of other people, for fellowship.” I replayed that movie three times in one week, completely captivated by Elizabeth and potato peel pie.

Are you like Elizabeth? Do you sense the hunger around you? Do you recognize the needs of others? 

As our world (and let’s be honest, our Church, too) grows more divided, angrier, and motivated by fear, are you able to see through the feelings and emotion and recognize the true hunger at the root of it all? The hunger not for potato peel pie but for godly connection and community rooted in truth. If this sounds like you, I ask that you pay attention to this call. God has placed this desire on your heart. He is calling you to build community so people can experience His kingdom here on earth. 

I say this with urgency because we need more people like Elizabeth. We need more women who are willing to step onto the battleground, which is steeped in isolation and division. We need women like you to feed truth to those who are starving for it. And yes, we specifically need women, because we are the heart of the home, the distillers of hope. We are an “irreplaceable support and source of spiritual strength for other people.”[1] Yes, even the other people we disagree with. Yes, even the other people who stand on the opposite side. My friends, if we are not the ones to extend a hand, share a meal, and reflect the image of Christ to all people, then tell me, who will? 

We have got to up our game.

We have got to start building Christ-centered communities.

We have got to step out in the confidence that what we have to offer is far greater than the cheap imitation of the living water that’s being bought and guzzled down like cheap wine.

It is not enough to say “we have the Truth”...we have to share it. We have to let others in on our reason for hope. 

And then...we need to lose our desire to be right, check our pride at the door, and listen well. I fear we have forgotten how to do this. 

I received a text last week from a friend, coincidentally (or not) named Elizabeth. It read: “The Holy Spirit has placed something on my heart, and before I brush it away, I’m going to reach out right now to invite you all to come to my house so that I can share it with you!” Amazingly, we all RSVP’d “yes” immediately. My guess? We were starving. And Elizabeth not only recognized it, she did something about it. It was as simple as that. Do not overcomplicate what it means to build community. You do not need engraved invitations, a fully planned agenda, a parish hall, a perfectly coordinated Bible study, or a new dining room set. Nor do you need to roast a pig—unless, of course, roasting pigs is one of your spiritual gifts. Then by all means, roast away. But honestly? It is much simpler than we think. It starts with spending time in prayer, opening our eyes to the people around us, and then extending an invitation. 

In Hebrews 10:24–25 we read, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together...but encouraging one another.” Can we commit to doing this? Can we agree to live this verse out loud? To stirring one another up? To losing the excuse that we are too busy to get together by saying yes to that invitation? To rejecting the lie that “I have no friends” by going out and making friends?

How?

Approach the woman you see at daily Mass. Sure, you will feel weird, but that is okay. Weird won’t kill you, and weird just might save her life. 

Call that friend you lost touch with because you couldn’t believe who she voted for, and ask her to meet you for a cup of coffee. Do not let the enemy use politics to poison your friendships. You are holier than that.

Reach out to your pastor, and ask if he knows of a woman in need of a friend. Will this feel uncomfortable? You bet! Do it anyway, because spoiler alert: the Catholic faith is rarely comfortable.  

Heck, you can reach out to me, and my own little potato peel society will happily pray with and for you.

I am more convinced than ever that we, God’s beloved daughters, are exactly what the world needs right now. And what a tragedy it would be for us to hear the Holy Spirit, only to brush it away.

It is time to stir up one another. To send that text. To brew that coffee. To roast that pig. Community building is what we women do best. Dare I say, it’s as simple as making potato peel pie. 

Get out your peelers, ladies...we’ve got good work to do.

[1] https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/1988/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_19880815_mulieris-dignitatem.html

Bible Study

Ah, summer 2021. A time that will forever be remembered as the post-quarantine summer. The world is opening back up again, and some people are making up for lost time as soon as possible.[1] Others are experiencing what some experts are calling “re-entry anxiety.”[2] 

I wonder where you fall on this spectrum as things begin to return to normal. Statistics have shown that women were especially hit hard during the pandemic with rates of depression, anxiety, and alcohol consumption skyrocketing.[3] For me, I’m somewhere between making up for lost time (“Hello, live music—I have MISSED YOU!”) and experiencing re-entry anxiety (“Do I need a mask in this store?” “Can we hug now?”). Our lives look different than they did a year ago, and our habits have likely changed as we have learned to cope with All. The. Things. 

In John 10:10, Jesus told us, “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” I feel like my life during the past year definitely wasn’t abundant, but that this year has potential. How about you? Do you feel like your life is abundant right now? 

So, what is an “abundant” life? I think having an abundant life means having a life you love, not one that you want to run away from. I also think the abundant life Jesus spoke of is offered to us here and now, and isn’t related to our state in life or how much we are “making up for lost time” post-pandemic. This abundant life is one of peace, joy, and grace. It sounds lovely, in theory, but how do we attain it? I believe it requires a choice—a conscious decision to get back to the basics.

“Do the work you did at first.” (Revelation 2:5)

In his message to Ephesus in the book of Revelation, John praises the members for their works and virtues, but admonishes them to repent and return to their former devotion. 

This makes me think that the abundant life (having a life that we love) and doing the work we did at first (getting back to the basics of our faith) are intrinsically linked. Will you take a moment and pause with me to reflect on the last time your life felt full and abundant? What were you doing then? When was the last time you felt close to God? What are you not doing now that you were doing then? What habits have you dropped? 

Summer is a great time to reset our calendars and our priorities. Here are some basic things I’ve consciously decided to re-focus on in order to live the abundant life Jesus promised us. Will you join me in getting back to the basics this summer? 

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” —St. Francis of Assisi

As we re-emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, we have some choices to make. Don’t be swept back into the hurried life you had before, and know that you don’t have to carry bad habits from quarantine with you. You can build a life you love—starting now—one step at a time. The abundant life Jesus offers is waiting for you. 

 

[1] Jordan Valinsky, “7 signs that summer is about to be lit,” CNN Business, May 29, 2021,  https://www.cnn.com/2021/05/29/business/summer-2021-back-to-normal/index.html.
[2] Maya Kachroo-Levine, “How to Work Through Your Re-entry Anxiety, According to a Licensed Therapist,” Travel+Leisure, May 28, 2021, https://www.travelandleisure.com/travel-tips/covid-reentry-anxiety.
[3] Dawn Sugarman and Shelly Greenfield, “Women, alcohol, and COVID-19,” Harvard Health Blog, April 6, 2021, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/women-alcohol-and-covid-19-2021040622219.

 

Do you long to find your people? Does the thought of belonging to a tight-knit group of loyal friends sound just amazing but you don’t know where to begin? 

I was recently at an after-school pool party with a group of new friends. They had all been close for some time, and I was a new addition to the mix. Their private jokes, easy laughter, and closeness to each other’s children had often caused me to want in. At the same time, I was aware that true belonging takes time. But on this day, at the pool, someone outside our party had said something rude to me and these new friends sprang to my defense. The truth is the comment wasn’t that big of a deal. I was ready to brush it off. But watching a group of women rally around me, try to shield me from careless words, and get ready to rumble for my sake felt really good. Surprisingly good. It made me realize that this is one of the things we like about friendship—a strength in numbers, a knowledge that you aren’t alone, and a sense that your people will defend you to the outside world. Once you feel on the inside of a group of women, most of us will do anything to stay there. In Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, King Solomon wrote, “Two are better than one…For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up.” We’ll make a lot of sacrifices, even sacrifice who we want to be, if it means we can avoid being alone. We need friends.

But are all friendships good ones? Not necessarily. They may be good in the sense that we belong or feel protected; we know we are unconditionally accepted and aren’t judged. Friends may be fabulous at lifting us up when we fall. These things are good and desirable, but unless a friend is leading you toward a good, virtuous life, then no matter how great it seems, it doesn’t classify as a good friendship.

Why can I make that claim? Because we become like our friends, slowly but surely. Proverbs 13:20 says, “He who walks with wise men becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” When pivotal life circumstances hit, the people closest to you will greatly influence how you are going to respond. Are you going to become bitter? Are you going to embrace suffering as a way for you to grow? Are you going to lean into God or become distant from Him? Are you going to turn to Him, or will you seek to escape through alcohol, Netflix, scrolling through your feed…anything to distract you from what you feel? Which choice you make will often be determined by the people around you and the perspective they offer.

In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis writes about the difference between companionship and friendship. He writes of true friendship being a type of love where two people see the same truth or at least care about the same truth. He writes, “The man who agrees with us that some question, little regarded by others, is of great importance, can be our Friend. He need not agree with us about the answer.”[1] This leaves room for honest dialogue and sharing at a deeper level. It keeps us from living superficially and leads us to life-giving conversation.

I would like to suggest that an important question to think about in terms of our choice of friends is what we believe will make us happy. Others are “what matters most in life,” “why are we here,” and “what place does God play in these pursuits.” All these questions relate to our overall direction in life. Our answers to those questions impact the direction we are turned in. When we try to figure life out, do we turn upward to God, or do we turn inward to try to figure things out ourselves? Friends who point us to God help us wrestle with life’s big questions in the best of ways.

After unpacking the importance of friends pursuing truth together, C.S. Lewis goes on to say:

That is why those pathetic people who simply ‘want friends’ can never make any. The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends. Where the truthful answer to the question Do you see the same truth? would be ‘I see nothing and I don’t care about the truth; I only want a Friend,’ no Friendship can arise—though Affection of course may. There would be nothing for the Friendship to be about; and Friendship must be about something.

Maybe our problem is that our expectations for friendship have been too low. Could it be that there’s a level of friendship that we will experience only through being a part of a group of women that is pursuing the good life according to God’s plan?

This is where the Walking with Purpose community comes in. 

If you are looking for your people,
if you want to ask the deeper questions and be sharpened and helped by women around you,
if you are looking for a place where no one’s going to judge you,
if you want to be able to talk about your faith and who you are without editing your conversation, then I want to encourage you to come back to community.

This is where you’re going to grow in your faith, and you’re going to discover a depth of friendship you didn’t know was possible. You’ll experience edifying, authentic conversation in a place where the masks are dropped. You’ll be strengthened, you’ll be refreshed, you’ll be encouraged to stay on the path to the good life that God has for you. You weren’t meant to journey alone. We are here for you. The door is open. Will you take the next step?

With you in the pursuit of the deeper, good life-
Lisa

[1] C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, 84.

 

I’m thrilled to have my friend Heather Khym guest blogging for us today! You’ve likely heard Heather on the Abiding Together podcast. Read on for a beautiful reminder about building our lives with Christ as the foundation. —Lisa

Last year we had the amazing experience of building a new house that we hope to be in for the rest of our lives. I’ve watched so many Chip and Joanna Gaines renovations, I felt like I was ready for my honorary design certificate and to get started on my own project. In the midst of my excitement, I underestimated how many important decisions needed to be made before we got to the fun design part. The most important of which was laying a strong foundation so we could have the security and confidence that it was going to last.

One night, a few months after we moved in, my husband woke to our alarm beeping because the power had gone off. On his way back to bed, he glanced outside and noticed there was a huge storm. The trees were bent over with the wind, our entry lantern was erratically swinging back and forth, and our neighbors were outside with flashlights because the storm had damaged their house. My friend later told me that she woke up with the sound of the wind hitting the windows so loud that she thought they were going to shatter. Do you know where I was? I was fast asleep. I didn’t hear a thing. Our house was so strong and insulated that it was completely unaffected by the severity of the storm outside. I was safe and cozy in my bed without a care in the world, because we had prepared for the storms before they even happened.

As a part of our preparation of the home, we had written scriptures all over the wood framing when it was being built. In the basement, I had written the scripture from Matthew 7:25: “The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.” It reminded me that building our home on a strong foundation is important, but building our life on a strong foundation—with the Word of God as our anchor—is vital.

We have all experienced suffering and trials throughout our lives, especially this last year. We have been overwhelmed with change, disappointments, sufferings, losses, and pain. On top of it all, leaders and institutions we trusted have also let us down. There is only one who has been and always is steady, secure, trustworthy, and safe: Jesus. He is the unchanging One, faithful and good, and He is strong. He truly is the only foundation that is firm and worth putting our hope in.  

It’s so easy for our priorities to shift, and when they do, we have an opportunity to reestablish Jesus as our foundation. We can do this through recommitting our life to Him, through prayer, drawing close to Him through the Sacraments, and through His Word. In recent years, the Word of God has been my most crucial weapon against the tactics of the enemy who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). It has been my daily reminder of where my hope comes from, of the goodness of God, of His plans for my life, and that He truly has won the battle against the enemy once and for all. It has also been the protection and power that I declare over the storms of life.

When we place our hope in anything other than Jesus, we will end up disappointed. When we build our life and place our hope in Him, we can rest easy that He is going to take care of us in the midst of our joys and sorrows. Of course a life built upon Jesus doesn’t mean the storms stop. Jesus clearly says in John 16:33, “I have told you 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.” A life built upon Jesus means that we are not alone in the trouble, and the One who is with us is bigger than the trouble. Not only is He strong, but He has the power to change trouble into something beautiful.

New to the WWP blog? Be sure to subscribe to get our weekly posts delivered to your inbox!

Heather has more than 25 years of experience as an established evangelist and speaker. She attended Franciscan University of Steubenville where she studied theology and catechetics and met her husband, Jake. Currently, Heather speaks on a variety of topics, leads conferences, retreats, and women’s ministry, and has a successful podcast called Abiding Together. Her passion is evangelization, discipleship, and creating an environment for people to have a personal encounter with God. She lives in British Columbia with Jake and their three teenage children. Follow Heather on Facebook and Instagram

Standing on the treadmill, scrolling through a library of podcasts, my eyes landed on The Ed Mylett Show and his latest episode, Mindset That Conquered Paralysis with Chris Norton.[1] Truth be told, I had no idea who Chris Norton was; yet, without hesitation, I hit PLAY on the podcast and START on the treadmill, as I began to move one foot in front of the other.

It was the word paralysis that got me.

As we have been given the green light to slowly emerge from one of the most challenging years ever, I have noticed a reluctance and fear amongst many women. No matter the long-awaited vaccine, a newly elected president, the church doors that have swung open, the CDC dropping the mask mandates, or whatever else it is that had voices insisting “when this happens, then we can get back to normal,” many of us have yet to move forward. There appears to be this feeling amongst women of great overwhelm mixed with a severe lack of motivation—a paralysis, so to speak. 

Be honest. Have you been knocked down hard by the pandemic and feel like you can’t get up? Despite the desire to get back to a life you love, are you feeling stuck in place, grieving what’s behind you, too afraid to move forward? If so, you are not alone.

Chris Norton was a college football player who was paralyzed when he mistimed his jump by a split second, and instead of being in front of the ball, he collided with the ball carrier’s legs. Told he would never walk again, Chris held on to his faith and family and defied the odds by regaining mobility in some parts of his body. He not only walked across the stage to accept his college diploma in 2015, but three years later, he walked 7 yards down the aisle on his wedding day. Does this mean that Norton’s life went back to normal? Absolutely not. But is he moving forward and thriving? You bet.

I can’t help but think about us—the women who have taken a hard hit this past year. Mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually tackled, leaving us numb from the neck down. We have been so focused on taking care of everyone else: turning our bedrooms into home offices, kitchen tables into classrooms, and putting on brave faces for children. It is no wonder we are in a mental health crisis. We weren’t asked to become stay-at-home moms but forced to become stuck-at-home moms. If the loneliness has not yet suffocated us, the anxiety has. And while not all of us feel this way, statistics are revealing that many of us do. And so, as women of faith, it begs the question:

How can we move forward in this time of transition, not just surviving but thriving?

Norton’s Netflix documentary, 7 Yards,[2] impelled me to write down a list of three simple things we can do to increase our desire to move forward and step into this time of transition with excitement and hope.

1. Reframe what matters.
Norton says that too often we get stuck thinking about all of those “should haves.” As in, “I should have been doing this now,” or “I should have had this.” “It is very easy to start thinking about what should have been,” he says. “While it is natural to feel this way, these words can get us in trouble by focusing too much on what’s out of our control. When done too often it can distract us from the present and future possibilities. We must resist the temptation to dwell on what cannot be undone.”[3] Norton also encourages us to focus on what we can do, not what we can’t. 

Yes, go ahead and recognize what you have been through and acknowledge what’s been lost, but instead of it dragging you deeper into a pit of despair and self-pity, let it allow you to root yourself more deeply in Christ. Remember that the blessings you have received are probably someone else’s “should haves.” So, give praise and thanks to God for all of the lovely things He has given you. St. Paul encourages this mindset in Philippians 4:8, “...if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Paul was reframing what matters. We are called to do the same.

2. Be a gift to someone.
I love the saying, “If you feel helpless, be helpful.” And maybe you are reading this thinking, “I am so depressed and lonely that I can’t even help myself!” If this is you, listen up. God uses our loneliness and brokenness. Rather than see it as a defect, let it prompt you to do something beautiful for someone else. Drop flowers off at a friend’s door. Make that phone call. Check in on the one woman you used to see weekly at Bible study but haven’t talked to since quarantine. Invite your neighbor to go on a dog walk. And if your neighbor doesn’t have a dog, buy them one! (Just kidding. They can have one of mine.) It doesn’t take much to brighten someone’s day, and in doing so, you will inevitably brighten your own. 

3. Do one more thing
Chris Norton had a simple but highly effective game plan for moving forward and thriving: Do one more thing. If he was scheduled for two hours of physical therapy, he’d ask for three. Perhaps one more thing for you looks like forgoing the online grocery shopping this week and walking into the store and smiling at real live people. Maybe it’s getting back to meeting your friend at the local coffee shop after daily Mass. For me, one more thing looked like getting myself an appointment with a trained counselor to help me navigate life. I share this with you in case you are like me—so consumed by the needs of others and getting them help that you fail to see that the reason you feel so stuck is that you are the one who could use the extra support! Sometimes the best way we help others is by modeling how we help ourselves. And for the record, seeking help outside of God and prayer does not make you a bad Christian nor does it mean that prayer doesn’t work. So you can shut those lies down right about now.

I am confident that while this past year feels like one enormous, out-of-control loss, God knows exactly what is up, and He is going to use every bit of it in glorious ways that we could never dream up or imagine. I know that this time of transition feels hard, but it is time to move forward. Not back into the life that we once had, but nonetheless, into a life that we love. To cope is one thing. To thrive is another. And we, my friends, were made to thrive.

[1] https://www.edmylett.com/podcast/chris-norton-mindset-that-conquered-paralysis/
[2] https://chrisnorton.org/book-movie/
[3] https://www.edmylett.com/podcast/chris-norton-mindset-that-conquered-paralysis/

Bible Study

 

Do you ever have one of those days when you don’t feel bad, but you don’t feel good, either? When you lack motivation and willpower? You feel stuck where you are but can’t quite get yourself to get moving?

If this is where you are today, you are not alone. Women across the United States are emerging from a year of societal lockdowns, uncertainty, and monumental changes. We are collectively pushing the door open, moving from a dark room into the bright outside world. We’re blinking our eyes and thinking about what we’re supposed to do next. There’s a sense that we should be feeling better than we are, but we’re feeling aimless and lackluster. We’re not necessarily burned out or depressed, but we’re definitely not flourishing. Author Austin Kleon pointed out that the Oxford Dictionary of English notes that plants may appear to be languishing simply because they are dormant. He goes on to say, “I’m not languishing, I’m dormant. Like a plant. Or a volcano. I am waiting to be activated.” The right conditions will make all the difference in terms of when and if the flourishing can occur.

It’s been a chaotic and disorienting year. Challenges came at us relentlessly, without notice. Moms who had never signed up for homeschooling found themselves managing virtual school, often while balancing work commitments outside their homes. Searching for necessities like toilet paper, worrying about the coronavirus, widespread loneliness and isolation, death of loved ones with or without a funeral, racial injustice, political unrest, canceled vacations and events—these things and more made it feel like a surreal or lost year. 

If we all were honest, I think we’d find that a high number of women are feeling tired of their lives. We’re dragging. Although things seem to be looking up, we’re not sure if we can trust the bits of good news we’ve received. If we get our hopes up, we risk being disappointed. Again.

My observations and musings are obviously anecdotal, but current statistics back me up. What’s pretty clear is that women are not doing very well. Current statistics indicate that women’s mental health has been suffering, alcohol consumption has risen drastically, and feelings of disconnectedness are widespread. Escapism gives us a momentary reprieve from our circumstances, but when it’s excessive it prevents us from ever getting to the root of our problems. 

If Austin Kleon is onto something when he describes us as dormant, it begs the question—what kind of an environment will help us bloom? What can help us see clearly and move forward? What will anchor us and help us regain our footing? We are longing for things to feel settled and normal again. We’ve got choices to make. Which ones will lead us toward the path to true flourishing? 

As I’ve reflected on the rising rates of alcohol consumption, Netflix binging, and online escapism, I am arrested by the following question: Instead of needing to escape our lives, how about if we build lives we don’t want to escape?

I’m obsessed with this question. I am convinced that if women could start to build lives they don’t want to escape, we’d find that so many of these destructive coping mechanisms wouldn’t be needed. And can we just be honest for a minute and admit that these coping mechanisms are found just as much in the lives of women who love God and are following Him? This isn’t a problem “out there,” it’s here.

We weren’t meant to journey alone. The isolation we have been experiencing has not been good for our hearts. We desperately need good community. Now, this might sound like I am diminishing the importance and significance of God. Shouldn’t He be enough? To be clear, encountering God personally is a total game-changer. His personal and never-ending love for you guarantees that He has never left your side. But even God Himself considers community a non-negotiable. God exists in community—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He invites us into that divine relationship and wants us to move out in the world, gathering people closer to our hearts and His.

That is what the Walking with Purpose community and Bible studies set out to do. The accountability and comradery of a small group provides the support and encouragement that helps keep us on the right path. The study guides provide truth to ponder and questions for reflection, making Scripture accessible and relevant. We have all heard that we need to “do the work,” and we get it. We know there isn’t a magic pill that will fix what we don’t like about our lives. But doing the work in isolation with nothing but inspiring Instagram posts and grit will only get us so far. We need each other, we need structure, we need a guide, we need the Holy Spirit’s power. WWP leads us to those things and helps us move from good intentions to a new reality. It’s not one more thing on our plates—it is the plate. In John 10:10, Jesus said, “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” That is what we’re pursuing at WWP. 

I am inviting you to come back to community and start building a life you love. Wondering where to begin? Grab one friend. Ask her if she’s feeling the same way. Commit to getting together once a week and chatting about a WWP Bible study lesson. Gather a few more friends. Keep going. Don’t give up. You need each other. Move over to the parish and keep gathering. Again, we need each other. That woman you think will be annoyed if you invite her to Bible study? It’s likely that she’s feeling disconnected, too. You may be the key to her experiencing the abundant life—starting to bloom instead of settling for being dormant. 

My friends, let’s get moving. I know summer is coming and we just want a vacation. But will a trip fix that listlessness inside? I think not. Don’t settle for a vacay when community is what you truly crave.

With you on the journey-
Lisa

[1] https://austinkleon.com/2021/04/26/im-not-languishing-im-dormant/

 

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