“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23)
Life has kicked into gear around here. No more sipping iced tea on the porch. Summer is over, and September calls for organization and productivity. It can feel like a shock to the system after months of an easier pace. Do you have so many balls in the air that you are afraid one is going to drop? Are you hustling through your day, yet in the evening, doubt that you have done enough?
We live at a time in history that is more productive and efficient than ever before, yet so many of us are walking around (rushing around) accompanied by a strong sense that we fall short of who and what we are supposed to be. If this describes your life, how long has it been like this? Weeks? Months? Years?
We can so easily fall into the habit of just existing. Of measuring the value of our lives by our productivity, by whether or not we get the job done, by how far we climb up the ladder. But none of those things can give us joy. I was talking to someone about this pace the other day. She said it sounded to her like I was treading water while trying to keep a bunch of balls in the air, which sounds pretty much impossible. That description wasn't news to me. It didn't feel particularly insightful, just observant. But then she went on to say something that really stopped me in my tracks. “I think that at the same time, you are kicking your heart away from you. Not because you think your heart doesn't matter. You just don't have time to stop and take care of it.”
I haven't been able to get her words out of my head. I know that, above all else, I need to guard my heart. I believe wholeheartedly that everything I do flows from my heart. The heart is the essence of who I am, not what I do. It's where joy is found.
Joy does not reside in a life that is all about checking the boxes, even if the boxes are for really good things like spiritual growth, service, and loving your family. When most of what we do is preceded by “I should” or “I must,” then there's a pretty good chance that we are lacking in the joy department. But this is a tricky thing. God asks us to obey Him, and so a ton of things get put on our “I must” list. People around us need to be actively loved, and that makes the “I should” list a million miles long.
I'm committed to wrestling through this paradox. I want to continue to be sold out for Christ. I want to love people tangibly, and I want to obey God completely. But I want to figure out how to do those things in a way that doesn't feel like one enormous should. Not just because it doesn't feel good—it's because the motivation isn't right. And when we operate for too long simply because we must and we should, we become robotic and a little bit dead inside. I want to avoid this at all costs, and I'm sure you do, too.
I want to fight for joy, because “the joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). If I don't have joy, I'm weak—prone to burnout, discouragement, and frustration. I believe “the joy of the Lord” comes from knowing we are God's beloved daughters and living out of that reality. As a loving father, God wants us to experience getting lost in pure delight. He wants us to be replenished. He wants the blinders off our eyes so that we can see all that we have to be grateful for. He wants us to take time to rest. In fact, He's commanded that we rest (Exodus 20:8). He knows us completely—we are the apple of His eye (Zechariah 2:8). He wants us to take the time to figure out what truly brings us joy. Not what numbs us, distracts us, or just keeps us busy.
There will always be many things that simply need to get done. Laundry doesn't fold itself, and the bills need to be paid. But let's make sure that we lift up our hearts each day and give them a little tending. That we hold them up to our heavenly Father and ask Him to pour out His love and grace over them. He never withholds that request. And let's look for the little things that bring us joy, and give ourselves permission to lay down the uncompleted to do list and do something that simply breathes life into our hearts.
May we truly LIVE EVERY DAY of our lives and continue to fight for JOY.
This post originally appeared on the WWP blog on September 1, 2015.
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.”
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.”
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.
 Catholic Church, “Life In Christ,” Catechism of the Catholic Church (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1995), 2097.
 Hahn, S. & McGinley, B. (2020) It is Right and Just: Why the Future of Civilization Depends on True Religion. Emmaus Road Publishing.
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.
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.” 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?
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.
You matter to God. All that you carry in your heart—your dreams, desires, needs, and heartaches—all this is seen by God. Far from being an impersonal deity who expects you to suck it up and soldier on, God pays attention to everything that touches you. In Psalm 56:9, David writes, “My wanderings you have noted; are my tears not stored in your flask, recorded in your book?” Let that sink in. The Creator of the universe sees you, takes note of your every tear, and holds them. He keeps your tears. When you cry out to Him and say that you are at your limit—that you can’t take anymore—He sees everything that led up to that point. He sees it, and He cares. You are known and understood by God. You aren’t too much for Him; you aren’t too complicated; you aren’t a mess in His eyes. God sees your beautiful, wild heart.
But God is not the only one paying attention to the state of your heart, or women’s hearts in general. This has been a subject of interest and debate for some time. There is a deep longing found in the hearts of women which has always existed. Betty Friedan wrote of it in The Feminine Mystique in the 1960s, describing it as “the problem that has no name.”  It’s an interior restlessness, an inner ache for more.
We have all seen the effects of a persuasive writer who is able to name what people are currently feeling but are unable to express. When someone nails it and artfully communicates what we’ve all been sensing and perceiving, powerful trends are born. Those trends translate into belief systems that are embraced and passed to the next generation. This is what happened with the writing of authors like Betty Frieden, Gloria Steinem, Kate Millet, and others. Their writing and influence birthed a movement that set out to heal the hearts of women by liberating them from the effects of patriarchy and the chains of home life and motherhood. Decades later, it’s worth asking: are women happier as a result of their efforts? Statistics indicate they are not. Women have never been more medicated, addicted, and confused.
This mission to liberate women has been picked up by women in each subsequent generation, and writers and influencers continue to persuasively describe women’s current feelings. Women read their books, blogs, and social media posts and think, “Yes. That’s me. She sees me. She understands me. She’s putting into words what I’ve not been able to name.” Influencers tap into women’s discontent, articulate what women are feeling, and then offer their solutions.
A #1 New York Times Best Seller, which has sold millions of copies and is considered a book packed with wisdom for women today, offers the following solution:
We do not need more selfless women. What we need right now is more women who have detoxed themselves so completely from the world’s expectations that they are full of nothing but themselves. What we need are women who are full of themselves. A woman who is full of herself knows and trusts herself enough to say and do what must be done. She lets the rest burn. 
In years past, I have enjoyed this author’s personality, sense of humor, authenticity, and vulnerability. She has raised millions of dollars for people in need, and I commend her for it. But I pause and am deeply concerned with the direction in which her writing is going. We need more women who are full of themselves? I don’t think so.
You are being delivered a steady message through the media regarding the best way to care for yourself. Self-care represents a $10 billion per year industry in the United States.  Make no mistake, there is vested interest in getting you to care for your heart in such a way that keeps the economic engine running. But is it possible that you are being offered counterfeit self-care? Could it be that the bill of goods we’ve been sold for decades isn’t delivering on its promises? Might it be that the very things that we are “letting burn,” are the things that we most need in order to be fulfilled?
I’m thinking deeply about what true self-care is—the kind that satisfies our yearning to know who we are and what we are worth. To begin with, it’s essential that we connect with our hearts. This means paying attention to what we feel, and inviting God into the places within that need healing. We also need to put in the time to learn what God says about our worth, and then choose to listen to Him more than all the messages that contradict His perspective.
Another key component of self-care is cultivating an unhurried life. I know. Easier said than done. I highly recommend John Mark Comer’s book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, as a fabulous starting point.
A valuable shift in perspective that has real impact on self-care is looking at our body as a temple of the Holy Spirit. What are some of the alternatives to this? Treating our bodies as workhorses or obsessing with outward appearance. The latter can appear to be self-care, but can actually lead to an unhealthy self-focus.
Are you ready to allow the Creator of your heart to show you what will truly satisfy your deepest longings? Let’s pursue true self-care—the kind that satisfies our yearning to know who we are and what we are worth.
Grace and peace,
 Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 2001), 433.
 Glennon Doyle, Untamed (New York: Random House, 2020), 75.
 Alice Hickson and Lilly Blumenthal, “The Self Care Obsession,” March 25, 2019, The Tufts Observer, https://tuftsobserver.org/the-self-care-obsession/, accessed February 10, 2021.
I have been doing this thing for years where I spend way too much time looking at myself in the mirror. I lean over the counter and get up real close, taking my face in my hands and stretching my skin back, while calling out to my husband, “Look! See? Look at how much better I look without all of those wrinkles!” He doesn’t quite see me the same way. In fact, he thinks I look creepy with my face pulled back. What does he know anyway?
The aging struggle is real, my friend. And no, you can’t give it up for Lent.
Last week, after an emotionally draining weekend, I found myself staring back at my own reflection while running on the treadmill. Usually, I am good at tearing apart what I see. A face that has gotten way too thin. (Seriously. If it gets any thinner, both eyes will be on one side of my head like a flounder.) Grey hairs sticking straight up out of my scalp. (Why straight up, Lord?) And don’t get me started on the sagging breasts. It’s terrible that I speak this way of myself. It is actually a sin and makes God so sad. I am His beautiful creation. A masterpiece. Even if I look like a flounder.
But this time something different happened. Last week, as I ran and reflected on the arena I was thrown into and how, despite years of the battle, I am still standing, my reflection told me a different story. In fact...that just might be IT in a nutshell.
I didn't see me. I saw A STORY.
A beautiful, fierce, and strong story. A life that despite tragedy and trauma still glorifies God.
Why on earth am I just seeing this now?
The Psalmist begs, “Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; and give me life in your ways” (Psalm 119:37).
Tell me, friend. Do you turn your eyes from looking at vanities?
I have spent years ignoring this verse and focusing on every imperfection instead. Staring at everything that is wrong and failing to be grateful for so much that is right. I have been scrolling through Instagram boxes that are filled with plump faces and toned bodies, longing for my youthful, fuller face. You know, the face I had in my youth that I thought was too full. Can we say never content?
But it was while I was running and thinking about the hard places God has called me to—the hard place I am currently standing in and the uncertainty of a future I have tried to control—that the scales fell from my eyes, and I heard a question being asked of me.
What if the lines on your face that you so badly want to erase are your roadmap to heaven?
The wrinkles of worry and fear that glide across my forehead, the deep crevices of sorrow and despair that circle my mouth, the fine lines that shoot out from my eyes like rays of light: these are not signs of OLD age. These are signs of BOLD age. These tell the story of who I am, and where I have been. These are a warrior's markings, honoring the mountain tops I have rested on, the deep valleys I have completely crumbled in, and every place in between. Like the black ink on a child's bedroom wall that charts his growth, these are my growth chartings. They are quite literally my life lines. And right there on that stupid treadmill, for the first time in my life, I loved them. I was proud of them. And I was honored to wear them.
I got on the treadmill believing I had been beaten down by life and that it showed; that I was worn out by my circumstances and that it showed. But listen up. Suffering has not handed me a worn out life, but gifted me with a life well worn. And sure, I can erase them all. I can get fillers and Botox and a really good moisturizer and wipe away my life. But why? Why would I do that? Why would I take away the visible reminder of what I have endured? Why would I hide the signs of my suffering so well?
When it is my time to go home, I want every nook and cranny of my face to speak for me; to tell the beautiful story of surrender and sacrifice and hope against hope. The story of standing strong in the battle and weathering the storm because of a house built on rock. The beautiful tale of a warrior girl who met Jesus at the foot of the cross and knew there was no safer place to be.
During Lent, I will have the privilege of co-leading live discussions on two Walking with Purpose Bible studies: Fearless and Free (with Kristy Malik) and Harmony (with Sarah Swafford). Over the past two weeks, I have started to pray through the studies and want to share with you what it has been bringing up in my heart.
Before I started, I was giddy at the thought of the prayer time I would get. I could not wait to dive into God’s Word and spend more time with Him than my busy life typically allows. As an eternal optimist, I literally pictured myself walking with the wind of the Holy Spirit next to a stream in a meadow during springtime. My expectations were far beyond reality, as usual. For starters, it’s winter and I don’t live near a meadow, but more importantly, the glories of sainthood are still far off. Only two lessons into each study, my brokenness is rearing its ugly head, and I am trying harder than usual to hide it from God.
It’s not that I’m necessarily embarrassed to let God see my failures. I know that God sees the darkness in my heart, and He loves me anyway. My desire to hide comes from the fact these are still my failures. There is no doubt that God’s goodness and mercy have completely changed my life. My behavior looks different today than it did when I was living away from Him. But it’s the deep-seated stuff, the heart-issue sins, that I can’t seem to overcome completely. How is it that I have been on fire for God for so many years and still struggle with jealousy, gossip, pride, comparison, vanity, and a whole host of other sins? How is it that the freedom and joy that I know is mine through Christ still feels slightly beyond my grasp?
I wonder if you have looked in the mirror lately and found yourself frustrated that you are not further along in your spiritual journey. Have you walked into the confessional ashamed that you are confessing the same sins? Or avoiding the confessional altogether? Are you finding it difficult to understand why you haven’t overcome your vices when you really love Jesus? Take heart, friend. You and I are further along than we think.
You may feel stagnant in your walk with Christ, like you are constantly taking two steps toward God and one step back, but His view of things is different. St. Paul reminds us in Philippians 1:6 that, “He who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Even if you can’t see it or feel it, God promises us that He will bring our transformation to completion. This is a promise that we can claim even if some of that transformation is completed in purgatory.
Can we actively make better choices? We can, and we should. Should we take every thought captive to Christ and seek therapy when necessary? Absolutely. Should we put in the work to love God with all our heart, mind, body, and soul at every moment of our lives? You bet. There is no doubt that our personal choices actively move us toward or away from the kind of life God wants us to live, but the deep transformation, eradicating sin at the core of our being, is a work that we cannot accomplish.
John Mark Comer, a Christian author, spoke of this struggle in his own life in a recent interview. He explained that he comes from four generations of hyper-perfectionism and OCD, which manifests in him being a neat freak, controlling, angry, and critical of his wife and kids over a messy house. He then explained that willpower alone isn’t enough to eradicate that sin from his life—it is woven into his body at a cellular level from generations before. He said that he needs deep healing from the Holy Spirit; to be re-habituated through practices that index him toward love, peace, kindness, acceptance; and to rediscover what it’s like to live in a messy world yet be at peace.
While hiding sounds safe and trying harder seems like the natural solution, neither is helpful or effective. There is an easier, more effective way, but it requires humility, admission, submission, and patience.
To begin, we must not only admit our failures to Him, but we must recognize, without shame, that we are powerless to overcome them on our own. After we accept this, we have to submit to God. Most of us don’t like the idea of submitting to anything, but if we don’t, we won’t get anywhere. Submission requires us to overcome our pride, stay faithful, and give Him space to work in our hearts. We do this through prayer, silence, time in Scripture, and repentance. We rid ourselves of the constant distraction and consumption that often gets in the way of God’s work. We also have to leave behind the expectations that we place on ourselves and receive the healing He offers.
In the midst of all this, we must be patient with our progress. As we continue to walk with Him, He will do the work that sets us free. And when He does, we will be able to look back and see some progress. We will see that we are a bit freer, a bit more like Him. We will recognize how He was moving through those moments when we felt like we were getting nowhere. Then we can praise His name and give Him the glory because it was His power that overcame our weakness.
In a recent conversation with a friend, I confided in her my frustration with the sin that I cannot overcome. I told her how desperately I desire to live a life of total freedom in which I don’t let little things get to me, and I annoy the rest of this cynical world with a spirit of unbreakable joy. She responded by telling me that she was beginning to experience that type of freedom in her life. Some of the struggles over which she had no power had started to melt away, and she knew that she had nothing to do with it. She said that when she fears the struggles will return, she hears in prayer that the Lord has taken them away for good. He did the work, and the healing is permanent.
Encouraged by our conversation, I am refusing to hide. I am instead making an offering to God of these struggles that, yes, I still have. What are you doing with yours? Do not try to hide them. Do not try to ignore them or let them be the source of your shame. Give them to the Father; He is not surprised or scandalized that your struggles are still your struggles. He wants your holiness more than you do, and He is more patient than you are with yourself. He is walking beside you, finishing the work that He began.
 John Mark Comer. Interview with James Bryan Smith. Things Above, audio podcast, January 20, 2021. https://apprenticeinstitute.org/2021/01/20/conversation-with-john-mark-comer/.
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.
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!
At six o'clock this morning, I rolled out of bed and sleepily made my way to the coffee maker. I poured my coffee, as I do every day, and settled into my favorite chair. It was prayer time—my favorite time of day. As usual, I began to fall back asleep in the middle of my prayer. Instead of dreaming, however, my mind began to mull over a million tiny grievances that others have committed against me. I am not talking about deep-seated anger or long-harbored grudges, but rather, small annoyances that come from the dirty cup left out by my husband or the imperfectly worded text from a friend. It's these offenses that leave me thinking, "Doesn't he know that I like to wake up to a clean kitchen?" Or, "Doesn't she know that a quick phone call would have solved this problem?" By the end of my prayer time, before anyone else in my house is even awake, I am trying to work my way out of a bad mood. So much for holiness. I guess I'll try again tomorrow.
Can you relate? It's not that you are always mad or even seeking to hold an action against someone; it's just that you often think that someone else could have been more considerate or accommodating to your needs. If they had just tweaked their words or actions by the smallest degree, they would have met your expectations, and all would have been well. But they didn't, and now you are going through life experiencing low-grade grumpiness because of all the people who didn't meet your secret expectations and desires perfectly.
Dear sister, if this is you, there is no judgment. It is clearly me, too. We live in a culture that teaches us to be easily offended. Now, please don't misread this. I am not talking about the issues of justice and equity that ignite a passion in us all. That is not what this post is about. I am talking about small offenses. Most of us go from day to day slightly offended by the family member who said the wrong thing, the friend who forgot to call, the coworker that didn't communicate properly, and the rude coffee shop barista.
Why is it that every imperfect interaction has the power to pick and prod at our confidence and flare up our entitlement? Genesis 11 reveals to us the root of this problem. The people of the ancient world came together and said in Genesis 11:4, "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves; otherwise, we will be scattered all over the earth." The Lord then saw the city and the tower. He got angry, confused their language, and scattered the people across the earth.
Where did the people go wrong? They came together and said, "Let us make a name for ourselves." In their effort to seek out the greatness of their own names, they turned their gaze away from God and His glory. They bought the lie that humanity is the center of the universe, and it is our glory that should be sought at all costs. They failed to see that it was God who gave them their place in life, and they turned their heads away from Him to focus on themselves. Their desires and expectations became the main focus. Romans 1:25 explains it this way: "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator."
Part of our problem is that we have the choice to make God the center of our universe (the truth) or make ourselves the center of the universe (the lie). When we place ourselves in the center, everything and everyone becomes subject to our preferences. When they are not met, it makes sense that we would be offended because we see our own preferences as the most important.
Luckily, in the very next chapter of Genesis, God shows us a better way to live. In Genesis 12, God revealed Himself and His plan to a young man named Abram. God told Abram, "I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great so that you will be a blessing" (Genesis 12:2).
Did you catch the difference? In Genesis 11, the people were out to make their own names great. In Genesis 12, God told Abram that He would make his name great. Abram received God's blessing, and he recognized that God is the center of the story, deserving of all the glory. Abram was part of the story, but he wasn’t the center. It is the same with us. We are part of God’s story—not the center of our own.
Who is the center of your universe, the star of your life? Many of us acknowledge God with our lips, but then live as though it is still all about us at the end of the day. It is not. It never was. Every single thing, even our own good, is ultimately about Him and His glory.
There would be a welcomed change in the state of our spirits and tone of our relationships if we moved out of the center and let go of our expectations. We would experience a fresh freedom if we stopped tending to our own greatness and reminded ourselves through unceasing prayer and radical generosity that God’s preference matters most. He will do what He wants with our hearts and our lives if we will only step aside, let go of offense, and join in with the saints and angels, whose unceasing focus is on the One who is worthy of all.
P.S. I loved leading our live discussions through Beholding His Glory and Beholding Your King on social media last summer and fall because both Bible studies focus on God as the center of history. Join Kristy Malik and me on Instagram and Facebook this Lent as we lead a live discussion on the Fearless and Free 6-Lesson Bible study (Thursday nights at 8 PM EST starting February 18). Our focus will be on God as the center of our hearts and how He leads us to healing and wholeness.
Last Sunday, my second daughter, Eliza, turned three. If you don’t already know this, it’s because you don’t live in my town. She told the whole town. And whoever may have missed the news undoubtedly heard it from her older sister, Penny, who was also shouting it from the rooftops. My three-year-old basked in the joy of her birthday all weekend. She listed off the presents she received at every chance she got, and her older sister did the same. One’s joy was the other’s as they soaked in the glory of this great celebration. As I watched them, it dawned on me that it is hard for adults to do this. It is hard for us to embrace joy, share joy, and celebrate with others. Joy takes courage.
It is so much easier to focus on all that goes wrong in our lives and the lives of other women. All too often, when women get together, it isn’t long before the conversation turns negative and stays negative. Someone starts to share about her struggles and before long, everyone has jumped in. It has become popular to label those conversations as “real” or “raw,” and while they can be genuine, they easily devolve into unnecessary complaining.
Please don’t misread this. We should not float along as if nothing ever goes wrong or hide a bad day by pushing our feelings under the rug. Life can be messy and difficult. We need to be able to share honestly with trusted friends for comfort and advice.
That being said, it is much more difficult and risky to focus on and share about the good things that happen to us. There is more at stake. For starters, focusing on the bad is normal. We expect things to go wrong and so when they go well, we don't know how to handle it. Vulnerability researcher Dr. Brené Brown claims that, “Joy is the most vulnerable emotion we experience.” Most of us have not been trained to live with a joyful disposition. Even if we find ourselves experiencing it, we dare not share it with others. Being positive, if we are honest, can be downright annoying. No one wants to be a Pollyanna in a Kill Bill world.
Sharing joy is not only risky because we might annoy someone. We also risk the possibility that we will magnify another woman’s pain. If we share that we received a raise at work, will we hurt the woman who just got laid off? If we share that we are connecting with Jesus in our prayer lives, will another woman feel like she is not enough because her prayer life is dry? What if our kids are behaving, and we are genuinely enjoying our time with them? Will this news twist a knife into the heart of the mother who is struggling to have a relationship with her kids? We are keenly aware that it may seem like we are bragging, and we are all too familiar with the jealousy we have felt at the good fortune of another. With these things in mind, we keep our joy to ourselves or downplay it when we are in a group of women. This is a mistake.
Joy is not a finite resource. God created each of us to share in His infinite joy and to celebrate when good things happen to others. For example, Elizabeth was joyful at Mary’s news that she was chosen to be the Mother of God. She was not jealous, but instead she celebrated with Mary as they glorified God together. Mary, in turn, celebrated with her the news that she was pregnant with John the Baptist against all odds. There is plenty of goodness to go around.
So where do we start? How do we shift our focus and become courageous? How do we embrace joy in a cynical world? We start by sitting with the God who is joy. We start by allowing Him to renew our minds so that we can recognize His goodness, share His goodness, and celebrate when He reveals His goodness in the life of a friend.
In the new Walking with Purpose devotional, Rest: 31 Days of Peace, Lisa Brenninkmeyer shares how we are to renew our minds. “We saturate our minds with what is true—and that’s found in the Bible. This is God’s love letter to us. He is not silent. He speaks to us through His Word.” When we renew our minds by sitting with Him daily in His Word, He gives us the rest we need to discover the joy that He has reserved for us. He blesses us with a spirit of gratitude that enables us to be joyful for others.
Romans 12:15 implores us to “rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” There has been so much weeping this year. At every level of society, there is tragedy. Every morning we can wake up and be overtaken by the nastiest news cycle of our lifetime. We can look in the mirror and remember just how hard the last year has been. For honesty’s sake, we may need to do this, but where does it lead? Does it lead us into the spiral of despair, or does it lead us to our Savior who endured the very cross for the sake of the JOY set before Him (Hebrews 12:2)? Jesus did not wallow in His suffering for the sake of seeming “real” or “raw.” He endured it, honestly, and held on to the joy, the never-ending joy, that awaited Him. He offers the same to us. He celebrates His goodness with us. We need not be afraid to feel it. We need not be afraid to share it. What is going well in your life? Are you recognizing it with humble gratitude? With whom can you share it? How can you rejoice in the joy of another?
This, dear sister, is the attitude shift that could change the tone of your year and the years to come. Take courage. Take the risk, and reveal your joy.
 "Dr. Brené Brown on Joy: It's Terrifying," SuperSoul Sunday, Oprah Winfrey Network, (YouTube Video, March 17, 2013), 5:58.
 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Rest: 31 Days of Peace, (Walking with Purpose, 2020), p 67.
I recently picked up I Thirst: 40 Days with Mother Teresa by Joseph Langford, M.C., and this line spoke to me:
“God is eternally fresh and alive. It can happen that we grow stale by force of routine, at which point we need to enter again the freshness and vivid life of God’s call.” 
Let me ask. Does God feel fresh and alive in your life?
As the pastoral co-coordinator of our Walking with Purpose parish program, I asked our leadership team how they were feeling as we gear up for a virtual kickoff; specifically, what fruits of the Holy Spirit could they use a good shot of before we welcome the 100+ women who are eager to dive back into God’s Word? One woman spoke up. “I need joy. I don’t feel joy.”
Can you relate?
For many women, it is the face-to-face fellowship that brings them joy. For others, it is understanding Scripture for the first time. But the reason why Walking with Purpose is so much more than a Bible study is that in encountering Christ through Scripture in community, you inevitably encounter yourself. What do I mean by this? I mean it is only when we come to know Jesus in the way that He lived that we discover our true selves and what He created us for. He created you with a purpose, you know. He has a personal and intimate call for each of us. Even during a pandemic.
I think we can all agree that the last eight months or so have worn us down. We have isolated and sanitized and we have no idea what day it is anymore. As a result, watching Mass on the couch has become easier than remembering to register for a spot at church. The initial zeal for family get-togethers on Zoom has grown old, and there are even those of us who have decided to pass on our favorite Bible study this fall because the idea of meeting virtually makes us want to pull our masks over our eyes and drive into oncoming traffic.
Please don’t do that.
It’s not safe.
Just hear me out.
I am sick of the screens, too. Going virtual for everything, including my beloved Bible study, kills me; not only because I crave human contact, but because I have the technology skills of a dead monkey. Yes, I said dead, because I don’t want to insult the living monkey who can figure out Zoom breakout rooms and screen-sharing way better than I can. And yet, here we are and we don’t have many choices, but this I do know: not choosing to help women encounter God through Bible study will never be an option for me. This is my call. Nothing, not even a pandemic, will mess with that.
Has the pandemic messed with your call? Because if so, I want you to be on guard and pay close attention. It is not the pandemic messing with you. It is the enemy. He doesn’t want you to encounter Christ. He doesn’t want you to lead others to Christ. And he surely doesn’t want you to live out your purpose. He wants to steal your joy.
He has no idea who he is dealing with.
As our fearlessly positive WWP Founder and Chief Purpose Officer Lisa Brenninkmeyer shared with the National Team on our company call, “Could it be that the enemy is panicked because he thought he shut us down in March?” Friend...do not let him shut you down. I am speaking to the woman who is so lost in grieving what day-to-day life used to be, she has forgotten what God is able to do. Our God can move mountains. Our God can part the seas. He can clean the leper, give sight to the blind, heal the sick, and raise the dead back to life. Surely, He can work miracles through our Zoom calls, too. Do not underestimate God. Our circumstances are not an obstacle, but a great opportunity. I believe we will be able to reach more women and bring God’s light to places we never could have before. We may not have an open chair, but we do have an open square. The possibilities are endless.
But we need you on board.
I know what you are thinking. “But this isn’t how it was supposed to be.” You love the pink tablecloths, hugging your participants, and the sisterhood that has saved your life in a million ways. Personally? I enjoyed eating every last cracker and cube of cheese left on the platters as we broke down tables and chairs. I agree. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. But I imagine the disciples felt the same way, staring up at Jesus as he hung on the cross. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Or was it?
Because death did not hold Him, did it? He took the most horrific tragedy and turned it into the greatest victory. He always makes a way for us. Today is no different.
God wants to work big things through us and for us. No matter the season or circumstance, He invites us into His life. Friends, do not let “virtual” get in the way of the Lord’s call on your heart. Do not believe the enemy’s lies that you cannot have intimacy or meaningful conversations through screens. Do not give him permission to keep you from being who God made you to be. Mother Teresa reminds us of what God says to each of us: “‘I have chosen you.’ Never be tired, Sisters, of repeating that sentence. We have been chosen for a purpose: to quench the thirst of Jesus for souls.” 
The women are thirsty. I bet you are thirsty, too. And I happen to know where we can quench our thirst. As Jesus says to his disciples, He says to us, too: “Come and see what you were made for: Come and know the love of the Father. Come and see where I live. Come home!”
It is time to reclaim our joy, sweet sisters; to enter again the fresh and vivid life of God’s call. It is time to come home.
With love from your virtual sister in Christ,
P.S. We know how creative our Walking with Purpose community is, and that meeting virtually does not mean an end to the hospitality we are known for! If you have a great picture of your virtual kickoff or a hospitality hack, we would love to see it. Please share with us by posting your picture on your social media and tagging Walking with Purpose using our handles on Instagram (@walkingwithpurpose_official), Facebook (@walkingwithpurpose), and/or Twitter (@walkingwpurpose). And don't forget to add the hashtag #wwpcommunity.
 Joseph Langford, M.C., I Thirst: 40 Days With Mother Teresa, (Augustine Institute, 2018), p.33.
 Joseph Langford, M.C., I Thirst: 40 Days With Mother Teresa, (Augustine Institute, 2018), p.34.