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I spent last weekend speaking to an incredible group of women in the deep south. Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is home to the University of Alabama, the SEC school that everyone loves to hate—including me—however, no longer living in the south, my ire has waned in recent years. The women who welcomed me were so charming, despite their university loyalties, that I could not help but fall in love with them. 

As I was visiting with one woman, she confided in me that she didn't feel like she fit in with the other women at the retreat. I told her that I often feel that way but could especially relate to her because the retreat center was next to fraternity row. All weekend we could hear music booming from several house parties, and during the consecration of the Eucharist at Mass, the tune "I Love Rock and Roll" blessed our ears and entered our hearts (the perfect song for a post-communion meditation). The sights and sounds flooded me with memories of my own experience in a sorority at LSU, and the feeling I remember most from those days was often feeling like I didn't fit in.

More than I'd like to admit, I felt like a fish out of water when I was around a large group of women. This was not something that one could have seen from the outside. I had friends, participated in a ton of social activities, and was involved in campus life. Yet, much of the time, I felt different from everyone else. I left functions with groups of women feeling like my dress wasn't quite right, and I didn't say the right things, think the right things, or act the right way. If they knew what I was really like, I felt that I would lose my friends and be left alone.

Have you ever felt this way? At the risk of being wrong, let me assume your answer: Yes, you have felt this way. My working theory is that all women—no matter how put together or popular they seem to be—feel like they don't fit in at some point. Feeling insecure and isolated in a group is a universal experience for us, no matter our age. It is as true for the young girl in middle school as for the college student, new mom, working woman, or retiree. Even the woman you think has it all together has felt as insecure as you have. You are not alone if you feel this way, and I am here to tell you that this feeling does not have to be a bad thing. It can be an invitation to remember who you are and why you were created. 

First, when you feel like you stick out like a sore thumb, remember that you don't feel at home in this world because you were created for another one. C.S. Lewis famously said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”[1] 

You were made for something greater than this passing earth and this wavering culture. God created you for Himself. He is the only one who can fully know you. He is the only one who can completely enter your heart, soul, and experience. When you feel like you don't fit in, let it lead you into God's presence. He is your shelter and your stronghold. He is your hope and your home, and it is only with Him in eternity that your earthly longing to be fully known and entirely accepted will be fulfilled.  

Second, recognize that you may feel out of place because God has set you apart for His purposes. Throughout history, God has consistently called those He loves to stand out. In the Old Testament, God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments and commanded that they live differently from the rest of the world.

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God.” (Exodus 20: 2–5)

At the time, there was no such thing as a monotheistic religion. By commanding that the Israelites worship Him and Him alone, God set them apart from everyone else. He set them up to become holy in a world that was anything but holy. Those Ten Commandments eventually led the leaders of the Jewish people to set up 613 rules for the people to follow. The way they lived looked different because they were different. They belonged to the one true God.

Thousands of years later, in the New Testament, St. Paul echoed God's call to be set apart: “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:25—29).

Following God means that our lives are supposed to be different so we will feel that difference. We are not supposed to fit in. We are supposed to be holy. 

Reflecting on my own experience, I am so grateful for the times I've felt different from the crowd. Why? Because, many times, that feeling of alienation saved me from making decisions that I would have deeply regretted. It is that feeling that propelled me to seek God, and it is the same feeling that reminds me that I am aiming for an eternity in heaven. 

If you often feel like you just don't fit, reject the lie that you are, in some way, not enough. Instead, let it drive you to seek the presence of the God, who created you for His unique purpose. Let it remind you that your hope is in heaven. Then, setting your eyes on Jesus, stand confident in the fact that He is setting you apart to be His hands and feet in a world that desperately needs to see someone who is different.

[1] Lewis, C. S., Mere Christianity. (United Kingdom: HarperCollins, 2001), p 136,137.

Never change. 

I can’t tell you how many friends wrote that in my high school yearbook. Never change. Could you imagine if I never changed? Since 1988? I don’t know about you, but if I never changed, there’s a good chance I’d be dead. Or still wearing shoulder pads. 

In the past week, I have had multiple close friends comment on a change they see in me. A good change. A deep soul change. Praise the Lord for friends who aren’t afraid to call out spiritual progress. All too often we don’t recognize our own transformation unless someone points it out. But this change? This is one that I am, and continue to become, acutely aware of. 

The people I am closest to don’t just see the change, they understand it. As for those who don’t know me as well, I am not so sure they understand. To protect us all from repeating conversations I was never present for (remember Sirach 19:7–9), let’s just say that the people are wondering, Where did Laura go? And not just where, but why?

It’s a fair question. Let me explain.

When COVID hit hard and the world shut down, I was already suffering my own personal pandemic. What felt like an endless doggie paddle through the raging waters of mental illness and addiction, I was already exhausted by years of treading in place before we were forced to shelter in place. I know I am not alone. I know that many of us were in the midst of fighting our own battles, only to be told to stand still. Put it on hold. Stop paddling. Stay where you are. 

The problem with not paddling? You drown.

As I watched everything close its doors—doors to things that we had worked so hard to open—the church closing was the final straw. And please do not mistake this post for a debate on whether this response from the church was right or wrong. I do not have the emotional bandwidth for that discussion, and more importantly, to veer off the point here would be unfortunate. This is not about right or wrong, safe or unsafe. This is about my total reliance on God and my need for the sacraments. The Eucharist is my strength, my sanity, my food, my oxygen, my therapy, my everything. It is what keeps me afloat when sinking to the bottom looks like a far better option. And so, when the church doors closed, I did what I knew I needed to do to keep my head above water. To be a good wife and mother. To continue to bear my share of hardship for the gospel (2 Timothy 2:3). I found a church with open doors. 

That’s where I went. And that’s where I have stayed. 

Because, when I walked through those doors, what I found was not only the most beautiful, reverent Mass, but also a holy presence that stilled my soul and silenced the storm in my mind. At a time when the world was spinning out of fear, chaos, and confusion, the Traditional Latin Mass offered a peace and security that transcended all understanding (Philippians 4:7). So caught up in its beauty, I found that participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was not so much about me anymore but about Him. When we read that God works all things for good (Romans 8:28), this right here would be a most appropriate example. What aimed to take me down by keeping me from the sacraments, the Lord has used for me to experience them even greater; to experience Him deeper. No longer treading in my desperation, I found myself swimming in His grace.

And it has come with a cost.

Imagine going from a leader in your parish to nobody knowing who the heck you are. Imagine that one day you are co-coordinating your church’s most vibrant ministry, and the next, you are settling quietly in the back pew, hidden by your veil. And then, imagine how the enemy delights in playing with your mind when word gets back to you that the people are talking. The people are wondering, Where did she go? Does she think that she is holier than thou? Now, I am not going to lie. I would love to be holier than you. In fact, I desire to be as holy as I possibly can be! And you should too. But that’s not why you do not see me anymore. In fact, it was never about you.

I went to where I was unknown by others so as to be convinced that I am known by God. 

And this is the spiritual journey, is it not? A sign of maturing faith. Nobody grows by staying the same. Yes, I have embarked on a new stretch of pavement, but make no mistake, the road I travel is the same, for its destination is eternal glory. If you crave a deeper faith—and you should—don't plan on staying comfortable. Jesus didn't command you to pick up your electric blanket and follow the crowd to Starbucks. He asks that you pick up your cross and follow Him. Not everyone will understand why you do what you do. And that is okay. Since when did being a believer require that everything makes sense? At the center of our faith is total Mystery. If you ask me, understanding is overrated. Blind obedience is where it’s at.

The Lord has been doing a new thing in my life. He has been making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland (Isaiah 43:19). And I am utterly amazed by His faithfulness. True, He never changes (Hebrews 13:8), but praise God, I do. So do not be afraid, my friend, when the Lord calls you to something new. If He closes a door on you, rest assured, He will open another. You just need a little more courage than fear to walk on through.


Bible Study

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

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

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

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

I stood in awe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With prayers for your mission,
Laura

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If God were real, why would He allow so many horrible things to happen?
If God really loved us, why wouldn’t He just step in and fix everything?

Have you been asked these questions before?
Have you ever asked them yourself?
There’s no shame if you’ve questioned His goodness.
Lord knows I have.

As I shared with a beautiful group of women last week, it is because I have been blessed by tragedy that I can view this temporary home of mine with an eternal lens. Yes, you read that correctly. Blessed by tragedy. It is through trial and tribulation that I have learned the all-important lesson: Aside from the way that I respond to suffering, I am in control of nothing. It is this acceptance of God’s will over my own that has brought me deep and profound peace.

Yes. I am one of those Catholics that embraces and praises God for suffering. But honestly, what other choice do we have?

Well, actually, we do have a choice. We can carry our cross or try to escape it. Walk toward God or walk away. And I am here to tell you that walking away doesn’t work. While heading for the back door sounds way more appealing than running headfirst into pain, running away from the cross is not going to make it disappear. Trust me. I have tried.

But what about those of us who feel like God is the one who walked away first? What about those of us who have been on bended knees, faithfully persevering in our loneliness, troubled marriages, and the relentless battle of anxiety, depression, and addiction...and can’t find relief? At what point do we get a pass to tap out—to ring the bell, wave the flag, and say, “Enough is enough, Lord; I am tired of waiting for you to show up and make things better”

If this is where you are, I want you to know that I spent years in this miserable place. I threw tantrums, hosted pity parties, and shook my fists at the heavens. I debated losing hope. I begged to escape. But Jesus does not command us to escape, does He? He asks that we trust. In his book Soundings from St. John of the Cross: The Impact of God, Father Iain Matthew writes:

In the fourth gospel, Jesus shows himself anxious about His disciples’ future suffering. They will be excommunicated, even killed. Jesus knows this, but his anxiety is not that they will suffer—that will happen, and he does not suggest a way of avoiding it. His anxiety is that they may panic, collapse inside, "stumble" in their faith (cf. John 16:1-2). Hence Jesus’ most frequent exhortation is not "Escape" but "Do not be afraid.”  

Choosing to trust when our insides are falling out is not our human tendency. Being obedient to a plan that looks like a recipe for disaster does not come easily. Thank God for the example we have in our Lady. Mary’s only desire in life was to do the will of God. From the Annunciation to the crucifixion, Mary saw everything from an eternal perspective. It was out of blind obedience that she would have said the same words to Jesus on the cross that she said at Cana, “Do whatever He says.” With the help of our Lady, I can embrace what I am called to suffer. I can stand at the foot of the cross because she shows me how.

I am excited to share with you that my new book, Sweet Cross: A Marian Guide to Suffering, has been released. I wrote it with many of you in mind, your names pressed upon my heart. Countless women have courageously reached out and shared their own stories of suffering with me, and it is a privilege to be invited into such a sacred space. You have encouraged me to pick up my cross daily and follow. You have echoed back to me the words of St. Paul: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). And I mean, really...is this not the purpose of all that we are asked to carry? Dare I say, the most beautiful shared moments in life are the ones that involve the cross.

If you are struggling to see your tragedy as a blessing, I pray that you will pick up a copy of Sweet Cross. By imitating our Lady’s virtues you will learn to embrace your suffering and see the cross as it truly is: the place where Jesus shows his incredible love for us, and where we are given the opportunity to love Him in return. 

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you.” (1 Peter 5:10)

With you at the foot of the cross,
Laura
Bible Study

“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 goodit'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 weakprone 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 completelywe 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.

Blessings,
Lisa

This post originally appeared on the WWP blog on September 1, 2015.

Hi friends! Today I’d like to share with you a fresh perspective on the feminist movement, written by renowned Catholic scholar and author Carrie Gress. —Lisa

There is something in the female nature that is drawn to fashion and trends. Words like savvy, fresh, and cosmopolitan evoke a woman who is smart and hip. Trends don’t end with skirt hems, eye shadow shades, and changing seasons; ideas can also be fashionable. For the past fifty years, western women have been told by an unrelenting chorus that feminism is a trend we should all get behind.  

Today, feminism feels built into the very fabric of our culture. Few of us can imagine our lives without its influence. And yet for all its sway, we haven’t seen an explosion of happiness and fulfillment among women. The happiness metrics tell a different story when we look at the numbers for suicide, depression, divorce, and sexually transmitted diseases. All of these have continued to climb over the decades.

As Catholic women we can feel a tug to engage with feminism, promote it, and be grateful for it, but like more and more women, we are beginning to see that it isn’t delivering on its promises. 

Women often feel an allegiance to feminism because it has somehow become bundled in our minds with our basic rights, like voting, driving a car, or owning a home. What radical feminism has deftly done is to make us think that if we look behind the curtain, we are somehow betraying ourselves and all the courageous women who fought for these things. Questioning the source for the liberties we hold dear feels like we are betraying our womanhood. We live in a type of co-dependent relationship where we agree to look the other way when it comes to feminism’s vicious elements (like abortion and destruction of the family), as long as we get to keep our vote, homes, jobs, and so on. 

What few of us realize is that the feminists of the 1960s and 70s wove Marxist theory into the effort, twisting it into something that would have been unrecognizable to women like Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Second Wave Feminists made being a man the real ideal (or idol). Fifty years later, we still live with their lies that women are entitled to the sexual liberty of men—and not good men—and children are the main obstacle to our happiness. And like all lies, these have destroyed many women.

We don’t usually see these casualties. The women we see on TV, in magazines and social media, and on the catwalk and the big screen are curated to sell the narrative of success and happiness. Elites in the media, academia, politics, Hollywood, fashion houses, magazines, and book publishing have conspired to show us what they want the ever-trending feminism to look like. Their success is built on the false notion that feminism really has our best interest in mind. This is what ideologies do. They promise bliss and deliver misery.

But perhaps the most curious trend, especially among Catholics, is the effort to try to correct radical feminism’s errors with more feminism, further draining the word of meaning. Yes, there are vestiges from the First Wave of feminism that still could have some relevance for women today, but by and large, feminism has come to mean the Second Wave ideal. If we compare this approach to other ideologies, we can see why it is ineffective. To defeat Nazism, did people ever think, “Why don’t we become a new kind of Nazi, so that we can convince the real Nazis not to be Nazis” or “Let’s call ourselves the Mafia, but a new kind of Mafia, to help straighten out the old Mafia.” These might seem extreme, but when we consider that radical feminism has actually ended many more lives (62 million in the US alone) than either of these two blights on humanity, it suddenly becomes clear that there has to be better strategies.

The Church has more than 2000 years of wisdom to draw upon and doesn’t actually need a twisted ideology propped up by lies to help it lead women to happy and healthy lives. It was truly Christ, the Church, and our Lady who brought to light the equal dignity women have to men. This was not a gift of feminism. One only has to look at what is happening to women in Afghanistan to see how very different things could be. Or to consider the erasure of womanhood in our own culture, leaving most stumped when asked what it means to be a woman. 

Women don’t need feminism to flourish. It can be a hard thing to separate ourselves from what everyone else is doing, but it is something we must have the eyes to see and the courage to do if we want to help women be healthy and happy and to truly become who God made us to be.

In Christ,
Carrie

Carrie Gress is a Fellow at The Ethics and Public Policy Center and a Scholar at The Institute for Human Ecology at Catholic University of America. She is a prolific writer and author of several books, including The Marian OptionThe Anti-Mary Exposed, and Theology of Home. A mother of five, she is also the editor of the online Catholic women's magazine, TheologyofHome.com.

Confession: I’ve been one of those rare Catholics that does not have a deep devotion to Mary. There, I said it. I wasn’t planning to admit this in my first blog after three months away, but here it is. I hope you can forgive me. 

Don’t get me wrong. I think she is great. I recognize just how important she is, but I have never been stirred in devotion to her. That, however, all changed last Saturday. 

As I entered the chapel for a moment of quiet, my parish priest handed me a print of the Magnificat, Mary's hymn of praise. I knew we would be reflecting on Mary, which, as stated above, was not my favorite thing. This time, however, it was different. The priest presented a new title for Mary, and it made me desperately want to be more like her. He called Mary the “Enemy of Pettiness.”

Pettiness is an undue concern with trivial matters, especially of a small-minded or spiteful nature [1], and Mary is its enemy. Wouldn't you love that title to apply to you? Maybe it does, but it doesn't apply to me. I am easily discouraged by minor inconveniences and quickly offended by the comments of others. I make assumptions about what other people are like based solely on their social media posts, and regularly allow my mind to go down the rabbit hole of worry about the future.

Pettiness takes up way too much space in my life despite my deep desire to be holy. And so, if Mary is its enemy, I want to live how she lived and approach life with her perspective. 

So, how did Mary live, and what was her perspective? Mary's Magnificat reveals her posture toward life and how she saw the world. Both are examples for us to follow. 

In the first line of the Magnificat, Mary says, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46–47).

Mary did not live her life for her own comfort or glory. Instead, her life was a magnifying glass. Others could not help but look at her and see God. A magnifying glass is different from other types of glass because it has a different shape. The lens is convex so that it magnifies the object behind it. Mary was human like everyone else, but matters of the world did not shape her heart, her soul, and her mind. Matters of heaven shaped them.

Hers was a life in which prayer was the priority, not a priority. Obedience to God's voice was more important to her than her comfort, convenience, or popularity. Because she lived her life in this way, she became conformed to God's will and was able to magnify Him in every circumstance. The world looks at her and cannot help but see another world—an eternal world lit up by the glory of a mighty God.  

The second part of the Magnificat reveals that Mary had a broad understanding of God's faithfulness. She says, “And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation...He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever” (Luke 1:50, 54–55).

Mary knew not only that God had been faithful to her people throughout history, but she also knew how He had been faithful. She knew from Scripture the stories of how God had rescued His people again and again despite their unfaithfulness, and through Scripture, she also learned her identity (Beloved) and God’s character (Good and Faithful). So when the darkness of present circumstance entered in, she turned to what she knew: God would not abandon her, He already knew about her circumstances, and His faithfulness would triumph in the end.   

Friend, what is it that pulls you down into the petty things of this life? What is it that keeps you stuck and worried? 

Many days, it seems like our external circumstances just won't let up and inner joy cannot be found. We live in serious times, and, in these times, we can no longer be passive about how we live and how we see the world. Our Lord must be at the center of it all or pettiness and worry will consume us. So I ask, what is shaping your soul? What is your perspective? How do you view yourself and God? 

And if you can't answer these questions, let me start you with a reminder. According to Ephesians 2:1–2, “You were dead through trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world.” Ephesians 2:4-7 then says, “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” 

This is the gospel message, the grace offered to you by Jesus Christ that should shape your life. 

How can the world see a God in which it does not believe? Only by looking at people who have conformed themselves so deeply to God that they can't help but magnify Him. Only by encountering people whose perspective gives them the ability to live with a peace that surpasses understanding.

Need an example? Look to our Lady. She did this to perfection. The same God that shaped her longs to shape you. Give Him your whole “yes,” so that, like Mary, you can call yourself an enemy of pettiness and a woman whose life exists for the sake of God’s glory. 

[1] “Pettiness,” Lexico, accessed September 7, 2021, https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/pettiness.

 

I will be honest, the last couple of weeks have been hard. And would you believe it has nothing to do with Covid, pandemic restrictions, or even vaccinations? This was a different kind of hard. This hard was fueled by swirling negative self-talk and comparisons with other women in which I always ended up short. Old wounds were uncovered in my heart, and with those old wounds came powerful feelings of not being good enough, of feeling less than, of feeling ugly. I was emotionally leveled. 

And all of this happened to bubble up to the surface during a week in which I was planning the ending celebration of my women’s group’s 33-day Consecration to St. Joseph, my youngest was preparing to graduate from kindergarten, my husband was working longer hours on a big project, and my older children were in need of me to help them study for their finals, not to mention being the point person for all of the drop-offs and pick-ups for the various activities that they were now back to. My daily responsibilities were not going to stop just because my emotions and old wounds were getting the better of me. 

I’m not proud to admit that my go-to response has always been to push through the day, do what was needed of me and/or what was required of me and then crawl into bed, pull the covers up, let those negative thoughts wash over me, and succumb to them. I tend to isolate, withdraw, and not allow anyone into my hurt...including God. My seven years of Bible study through Walking with Purpose has strengthened my relationship with Christ, and I know that the enemy is cunning, “prowling around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). At that point, however, I was not strong enough to resist the attack. My rational brain was throwing red flags up everywhere, telling me that this was exactly what the enemy—the “father of lies'' (John 8:44)—does, this is his game plan, this is where he wants me—isolated, alone, despairing, and questioning my worth. My defenses were weak this time around. I stayed right where I was and I believed every lie. This ultimately led to heightened anxiety and rising levels of anger and frustration. My behavior toward those I love most (hint: my husband and children), therefore, was less than stellar, and not my finest moment.

But what the enemy did not count on this time around was that in these past seven  years of WWP, the Lord had been intentionally placing women in my life who He knew I needed alongside me on my journey. Don’t you just love God?? The Lord had been cultivating these authentic friendships in my life in order to grow the fruits of healing and unconditional love. It was these fierce women who picked me up when I was too weak to fight this battle alone, who picked up their own shields of faith to place in front of me and defend me from the arrows of the enemy. These women called me out of the darkness of isolation and into the light of community in Christ. 

This journey that we are on, sisters, we were never meant to be on alone. From the beginning, the Lord meant for us to be in relationship. We were each made in the image and likeness of God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As the three persons of the Holy Trinity are in communion with each other, so too are we called to be. Mary DeTurris Poust writes in her book, Walking Together, “We see in the three personas of the Trinity an openness. The Father, Son and Spirit are generous with one another and in constant connection...the three personas are distinct and separate from each other, never in danger of overtaking one another or suppressing one another. There is a harmony there [emphasis added].”[1]  When our friendships are rooted in God, there is a true desire for the other to flourish. There is no judgment or comparison between each other. There is building up, not tearing down. 

We can see examples of holy friendships throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament, Ruth displays fierce loyalty and faithfulness as she refuses to leave Naomi, and instead accompanies her to Naomi’s family’s home—a place where the culture, language, and traditions were unknown to Ruth. “For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God,” Ruth tells Naomi (Ruth 1:16). And Naomi reciprocates these feelings as she urges Ruth toward a marriage with a kind and loving man, telling her, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you” (Ruth 3:1). These women desired true happiness for one another. 

The greatest examples we have of holy friendships are those between Jesus and His chosen disciples. He called each one to follow Him, seeing special gifts unique to each person. Knowing these men and women would be called for a greater mission after His death, He helped them along their paths toward holiness. He inspired virtue and called out lies and prejudices. He declared truth into their hearts and modeled trust, compassion, and forgiveness. Jesus knew that His disciples would need each other. He sent them out during His ministry two by two (Luke 10:1). And just as He reminds them “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20), so too does He remind us that when we ground our friendships in Him, He will be there too. 

Are you seeking harmony in your relationships? Are the friendships you have right now ones that keep you on the path of virtue and in the pursuit of holiness? Sister, are you spending time with others who edify you, who call out your gifts, and encourage you to be a better version of yourself? If not, spend time in prayer, asking for the Lord to lead you to these women. And if you are lucky enough to have these women already in your life, say a prayer of thanksgiving, and then invite these blessed friends back to community and fellowship with you. 

[1] DeTurris Poust, Mary. (2010). Walking Together: Discovering the Catholic Tradition of Spiritual Friendship. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, pp. 21-22.

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.

Bible Study

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