About
Find a Group
Bible Studies
The Latest
Printables
Shop

I doubt that many of us would be willing to wear the clothes seen on the fashion runway in exactly the way they are displayed, with all the accessories and interesting makeup. I look at the pictures and think it all looks ridiculous. But I remember thinking the same thing initially about ripped jeans, ankle boots and leopard print on the runway, yet all of these have eventually found their way into my closet.

We look at things in the extreme and laugh. We're no one's fool. We know where sensible ends and ridiculousness begins. Or do we? Is it possible that we are better at recognizing extreme fashion translating into items in our closets than we are at calling out extremely foolish definitions of what really matters in life and the way those views end up in our heads and hearts?

Why exactly do we feel so messed up? Why can we not answer the question, “Who am I?” Why don't we know our purpose in life? Why are we so unhappy?

Whether we realize it or not, we have been steeping in a false way of looking at life in the same way that a tea bag steeps in a pot. Bit by bit, it colors everything. Our culture has bought into a bunch of lies that are leading us on the road to nowhere. But perhaps most concerning is that many Christians are heading down that same road, and have no idea how inconsistent it all is when compared to how God sees things.

I think much of our trouble boils down to how we pursue happiness. To begin with, we need to start with the truth that God actually wants us to be happy, and knows just what will make that our reality. All too many of us have a faulty view of God—seeing Him as a cosmic killjoy, or as nothing but a disciplinarian who doesn't care how our heart is feeling as long as our behavior stays in line. Both of these ways of looking at God are wrong, and will keep us from knowing Him and finding true fulfillment.

God wants you to be happy. He knows exactly who you are meant to be, why you are here, the things that you need put inside you to work well, and the virtues that are going to keep you on the right path. But instead of asking Him for the answers to these questions, we turn to Instagram for a little inspiration. This is the sort of thing that we find:

“You are the author of your story.”
“Know this one great truth, you are in control of your life.”
“Live for you. Believe in yourself.”
“You are enough.”
“Trust in your own power.”

No matter how much it may make us feel good to stand in front of a mirror and recite these quotes to ourselves, it doesn't make a single one of them true.

Do you see who is at the center of all of these quotes? The almighty you. The empowered you. The tended to, self-care focused you. This means your focus turns inward, which means things can get very dark very quickly.

If we want to find our way out of the mess, our starting point must be our ending point. Everything in your life is bringing you one step closer to the end, the day when you stand before God. That's the one sure thing; the appointment that can't be canceled or delayed. When that day comes, we're going to want to be sure that we've spent our lives preparing well.

In contrast to the messages of the world, God says:

“I am the author of your story.”
“Know this one great truth, I am in control of your life.”
“Live for me. Believe in me.”
“I am enough.”
“Trust in my power. It is made perfect in your weakness.”

We are the most depressed, anxious, lost, and empty people because we have moved our collective focus from God and placed it on ourselves. And we are collapsing under the weight of what was meant only for Him. But there is a way out from under that pile of garbage. It starts by shifting your focus away from you and placing it on God. It means stopping the pursuit of glory for yourself, and instead living every moment of every day for God's glory. In the words of Peter Kreeft:

Offer up everything to Him, everything you do and everything you see and everything you think and everything you love. For everything you do is to be done for Him, and everything you see is a preparation for seeing Him, and everything you think is a tiny truth that is part of His whole Truth, and everything you love is loved only because it resembles Him in some way Who is the Only Totally Lovable One. He left some of His perfume in the things He made, and as He passed by; and you can't help falling in love as you smell it.[1]

There is a way out of the mess. God will give us everything we need for a fresh start, but His freely given gifts must be freely received. What do you need to let go of in order to lift your empty hands to the Only One who can fill them?

[1] Peter Kreeft, Practical Theology (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2014), 58.

This post first appeared on our blog on May 20, 2019.

Pretty much all of my life I have wanted other people's approval to a degree that hasn't always led to the best decisions. Wearing acid-washed jeans and curling my bangs sky high in high school come to mind as examples.

This desire hadn't lessened when I moved to Germany as a newlywed. I wanted my husband's family to like me, my neighbors to be glad I had moved next door, and the lady checking me out at the grocery store to think I was a great asset to the community. This might have been setting my sights a little high, but you can't fault me for trying.

I packed my suitcases full of all manner of trendy, American 90s clothing and enthusiastically landed in Düsseldorf where everyone wore black or dark brown. I remember wearing a particularly favorite outfit one fall day when I met my next door neighbor. Proudly sporting a bright, floral Laura Ashley romper (picture a button down one piece with slightly ballooning pants coming in tight above the ankle with a coordinating t-shirt underneath—there was even a matching hat, Lord, have mercy), I answered the doorbell with my husband Leo wearing a wide smile. Our neighbor, Frau Hoffmann, launched into an explanation of something in German, and since I didn't understand a word of it, I figured the best response was to give her the biggest smile I could muster so she would know I was friendly. It turned out that she was explaining to us that her husband had just suffered a massive stroke. My reaction was perhaps not the most appropriate one.

Determined that she would like me, I decided to make her some homemade cookies and bring them over. I knew that her husband had fought in WWII and wasn't really excited that “the Allies” had moved in just when he was ready to enjoy retirement. Not to be deterred by this, I headed over.

I knocked on the door, and heard her call out, “Ein Minute, bitte!” Since I spoke all of NO words in German at this point, I just waited, feeling a little self-conscious, because maybe she had just told me to come back later. But no…I could hear her on the stairs…and then the door opened. There stood her seventy-year-old self, in all her glory, buck naked, holding a little bathmat in front of her. May I stress the word little. It didn't cover much. She insisted that I come in (I could figure out what she wanted by her gestures and truly did not want her to get more expressive with her hands—she was barely holding that little bathmat in place), so I followed her naked, saggy rear end up the stairs to the second floor. She excused herself a moment, put on a robe, and came back to receive the cookies. Since she didn't speak English and I didn't speak German, the whole thing was unbelievably awkward to say the least.

And I learned a lesson. While it isn't good to spend your whole life trying to get people to approve of you, a little bit of concern probably serves one very well. I cared too much what people thought of me, but she didn't care quite enough (in my ever so humble opinion).

The place to be is in between those two extremes. If we desire to be a people pleaser more than anything, then any failure in that regard will be crushing, and criticism will derail us. But if we say we don't care what anyone thinks, we'll inadvertently put a wall around our hearts. We won't be vulnerable. And as a result, we'll miss out on true connection with people that only comes from a place of authentic openness. We need to stay in the middle ground where we aren't being a people pleaser but also aren't so hard as nails or loopy that we just don't care what anyone thinks.

We find some very good guidance about this from St. Paul in Galatians 1:10. I know this verse very well because when I was at a Bible study in college, a random person came up to me and handed me these words. Once you read them you can imagine how fab that made me feel. I'm sure my face went red and I felt totally self-conscious (as in, what did I just do that made this quiet observer see that I needed this reminder). It also opened my eyes to an area of my life that definitely needed a bit of correcting. So here is what was written on that piece of paper:

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10)

This verse tells us that we have to choose. Either we run after pleasing people, seeking their approval and letting their expectations dictate our behavior, or we run after pleasing God. Simultaneously pleasing all the people in our lives is utterly impossible. We will invariably disappoint someone, no matter how hard we try. By contrast, God promises that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30). He knows our limitations and our weaknesses, and He will never ask us to do something that He doesn't equip us for. He gives grace when we are weary. He gives strength when we feel like giving up.

Freedom is found in living your life for an audience of one. Live it to please God. If at the end of the day you figure He is happy with you, that's all that matters. Because ultimately, what we'll want more than anything will be to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23)

I'm praying that the choices we make—from what we wear to who we are—are all pleasing to the One whose opinion truly matters.

And I'm praying that when making those choices disappoints people we care about (and I promise you, at some point, it will), we'll have the maturity to LET IT GO.

With you in that struggle,
Lisa

This post originally appeared on our blog on February 15, 2015.

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

I have been avoiding writing this post for hours. I keep finding excuses to get up and walk away from the keyboard. It’s the combination of feeling like I have nothing to say and yet, so much on my mind. And my heart? Well, it’s just a confused mess. I keep thinking that the Lord is going to show up and help me carefully construct a deep, well-written blog post, backed up by Scripture and inspiring stories. And He did show up. Oh, He showed up alright. But He didn’t clear things up for me. Instead, He challenged me. “Speak from the mess. Preach from the confusion.”

And so here we go.

I have been praying the 54-Day Novena for a loved one. If you’re not familiar with the 54-Day Novena, it is a beautiful devotion that consists of saying the Rosary for 54 days in a row. The first 27 days are said in petition—asking Mary for her prayers for a particular intention. The remaining three novenas, said over the last 27 days, are in thanksgiving—whether or not you received what you brought to prayer. This is my second time praying the 54-Day Novena for the same intention. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that part of me feels like the first go at it “didn’t work.”

Last Sunday, on day 27 of my novena, I received a call at 2:00 AM. If you’ve ever received a call at 2:00 AM, you know that rarely is it ever good news. And do you want to know what the very first thing was that came to mind? “It is day 27. The asking is over.”

Just a few hours later, I slipped out of my bed, lit a bright fire, and on bended knees, began the second portion of my novena—the thanksgiving. There in the glow of red and orange flames, I thanked God for answering my prayer, despite the fact that the phone call tempted me to believe quite the opposite. And yet, in that moment, this was not difficult to do. I am a firm believer that some things need to get worse before they get better; that the breakdown always precedes the breakthrough. This was just more breaking down. I fully believed that my prayer was being answered. That it had been answered. It just didn’t look like it from where I was sitting. And so I clung onto hope and resisted the doubt, choosing to walk by faith and not by sight.

Only God sees the bigger picture, after all. With my head bowed in humility, I accepted my sliver of the story and continued whispers of thanksgiving.

But today? Today, thanksgiving feels hard. Today feels like nothing is happening. And if something is happening, well, it feels like moving backwards, away from the prayer. And if you know me at all, you know that I actually prefer being in chaos to feeling like nothing is happening. Chaos allows me to feel like I can still control things. But nothing? You know what nothing does? Nothing ushers me into the waiting room, asks me to take a seat, maybe offers me a cup of coffee, and then...it leaves me there. And oh, how I try to fill nothing with something. 

I know! I will listen to a podcast!
I know! I’ll get out my essential oils and make rollers to give away!
I know! I’ll make a phone call!
I know! I’ll get myself a bowl of almonds!
I know! I’ll make a pot of coffee!

I literally did all of these things, practically at the same exact time, because hello lack of focus, so nice of you to join me in my state of nothingness. Have a seat and feel free to confuse me even more! But praise be to God, for He truly can work with anything! Today, it was through the voice on the other end of the phone.

“Have you been silent before the Lord?” she asked. And then she continued, “So often I think that I am praying, but what I am actually doing is repeating my worries over and over to the Lord. Telling Him, ‘I don’t want this’ or ‘I can’t do that’...minimizing all that He can do.” (And yes, I grabbed a pen and paper and made her repeat that because it is GOLD.)

Honestly, friends? No. I have not been silent before the Lord. I am praying my novena and reading my Bible, but silence? As in, just sitting? Not speaking? Not asking for something? No. I have not done that. I have been repeating my worries and calling it prayer.

Forgive me, Jesus.

Perhaps the nothingness I feel today is actually God’s invitation into the silence. It is so hard for me to slow down. I am addicted to projects and filling the space, because it gives me the feeling of being in control while taking my mind off what I have zero control over. And when I do this, I so easily forget that my prayer—that one thing that I repeat over and over again, as if the Lord has forgotten...as if He forgets...as if He isn’t on it—is a battle that belongs to the Lord. And no matter how much I keep trying to convince God that He really needs my help with this, He hands me a day of nothingness instead of promoting me to the fourth person in the Trinity. He reminds me of my nothingness. And He invites me to be silent so that He can speak.

Do you have trouble sitting in the silence before the Lord?
Is waiting on the Lord not at the top of your “fun things to do today” list?
Do you prefer chaos to nothingness?
Are you repeating your worries over and over again and calling it prayer?

If you answered yes to any of these, you are not alone. And while I am no expert at waiting in the silence, I do want to share with you what my friend and I have chosen to do in case you’d like to follow along. For the next 30 days, we will be setting aside 20 minutes a day for nothing but silence. Yes. I said 20 minutes. I know...it’s not going to be easy. But nothing worthwhile ever is. And we have kept the plan super simple.

  1. Choose a time for your silence and stick with it.
  2. Place yourself before the Throne of God. For me, this is sitting in the dark in front of the crucifix. For my friend, it is pulling up Adoration on her computer.
  3. To keep distractions at bay, we will meditate on a word or phrase from Scripture and/or put ourselves in His story. Maybe you can stand next to Mary at the foot of the cross or sit quietly with her at the Annunciation.

Will distractions creep in? You bet. That is why I will dump everything out into my guided prayer journal before I begin.

From the time that I sat down to write until now, a steady snowfall has begun. Birds of gray, red, and white are flocking to the feeder, storing up seeds before the storm. And me? Well, I am going to pour another cup of coffee and marvel at the quiet that is literally falling from the sky, blanketing the earth in perfect silence. And it is right here in the nothingness that I will wait; wait and listen for the Lord.

Speak Lord. Your servant, at long last, is listening.

Bible Study

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

My sister, a mother to five children, was having a particularly difficult day of parenting. Giving in to the frustration and feelings of powerlessness, she raised her voice at her children, slammed a few doors, and angrily stomped her feet on every step as she made her way down the stairs. And amid her meltdown, she happened to look up. Hanging on the staircase wall was the most peaceful portrait of Mary, the Immaculate Conception. My sister paused, took in a long, deep breath, and exclaimed, “What are you looking at? You had one kid, and He was perfect!

It can feel this way, can’t it? We can try to make excuses for our sin because Jesus was perfect (and how can we live up to that!), and we could make the same excuse that Mary was also perfect. Surely, if you or I were conceived without the stain of original sin, we would never raise our voices at our children! We would float around the house in a flowy blue dress, hands folded in prayer, wearing a permanent smile while smelling like roses! Unfortunately, Eve messed everything up. My sin is her fault. Not mine. And honestly? Who can relate to Mary, anyway? That’s an impossible standard that leaves me feeling more discouraged and hopeless than I already feel. Obedience to God was easier for Mary.

That’s what I used to think. Until Mary appeared to me.

She didn’t appear in the way that you might think. I didn’t have a vision of Our Lady. She didn’t show up in my laundry room floating on a cloud. And yet, she has been profoundly present. She has been the quiet comfort when pierced with the sword of a life I did not plan. She has been the gentle nudge in the right direction when fear and anxiety tempt me to choose my way. She has been the warm embrace when I find myself staring at another prayer having gone (seemingly) unanswered. She is the presence of something greater to come when life in this world feels weary and bleak. And maybe you are wondering how I can be so sure this is Mary if I have not seen her with my eyes? It’s a good and fair question. And I have a good and fair answer.

Relationship.

Mary, the Immaculate Conception, whose feast we celebrate today, is as Father Peter Cameron writes, “the living, breathing conception of God’s ineffable goodness, truth, beauty, fidelity, compassion, justice, mercy, peace and love.”[1] The closer I grow in relationship with Mary, the closer I grow in relationship with her Son. And this, my friends, is what our faith is all about. Relationship. It is the very thing the serpent went after to destroy in the garden of Eden and what God ingeniously restored through the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The very grace and holiness that God offered to Mary is offered to us as well, and it is through the Immaculate Conception that we are invited back into relationship with God! You might be wondering how. How does one get to this level of grace and holiness? How does one foster a relationship with God the Father and Mary the Blessed Mother? The answer is prayer.

Let me ask. Do you hate that answer? Do you find it unhelpful? Because I used to. I knew I was supposed to be praying, I just wasn’t sure how. Plus, I am a perfectionist and a control freak and wanted some kind of "in my hands" proof that what I was doing was right. And while God doesn’t give prayer receipts to shove in the back of my Bible as evidence, I have discovered something that is even more effective and gratifying than a paper receipt. Prayer journaling. In my closet, I have a stack of over twenty journals filled with the longings, sorrows, joys, and hopes of my heart (give or take a few grocery lists). These empty pages are where I dump it all out—the clutter and the fear and all the things that tempt my mind to wander when I sit down for some quiet time with the Lord. Once I have unraveled my mind, I can be fully present to God, offering Him an open heart, ready to receive. Prayer journaling, which I believe is prompted by the Blessed Mother, has been my guide into a deeper relationship with the Lord.

Why do I say prompted by the Blessed Mother? Because Mary pondered. Mary thought deeply about the circumstances in her life. Mary considered all things and treasured them in her heart. Mary held every situation up against the backdrop of God’s promises, which she knew to be true. This is precisely what happens when I prayer journal! More than a list of wants and needs I hand over to the Lord, journaling allows me to create a sacred space of receptivity. It allows me to sort out the lies in my head, guiding me to the truth of who God is. As Lisa Brenninkmeyer writes, “prayer journaling is how I transition from my perspective to His.”[2] Who lived life from God’s perspective better than Mary?

I had a parenting day similar to the one my sister had just the other day. I was sideswiped by a child in crisis, and those familiar feelings of powerlessness and frustration got the best of me. I can honestly say I was free-falling fast into despair; my worst case scenario thoughts steering me straight into a brick wall. And then Mary appeared to me. No, not in a vision, but as a gift in my mailbox! The new Walking with Purpose guided prayer journal, Praying from the Heart, miraculously arrived at the moment I needed it. (Because moms are like that. They anticipate their children’s needs.) And I wish we could sit face to face over a cup of coffee and pore over the pages of this journal together, because, my friend, it is unlike anything you have ever seen. If Our Lady were to create and use a journal, this would be it! And on this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, you can bet that my first entry will start with praise and adoration for a God who loves me so much to give me such a mother as Mary. As Father Cameron so beautifully says, “In Mary the Immaculate Conception we are given a corrected conception of the image of God: The Mother takes all our fear away in the way that only a mother can.”[3]

Thank you, Immaculate Mary, for always looking out for me, taking all my fear away, and guiding me to pray from the heart.

[1] Father Peter Cameron, Mysteries Of The Virgin Mary: Living Our Lady’s Graces, (Servant Books, 2010), p. 17.
[2] Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Praying from the Heart: Guided Journal, (Walking With Purpose, 2020), p. 4.
[3] 
Father Peter Cameron, Mysteries Of The Virgin Mary: Living Our Lady’s Graces, (Servant Books, 2010), p. 17.

Bible Study

If you had told me when I was younger that I would be involved in women’s ministry as an adult, I would have rolled my eyes and laughed at you. I would have said, “No way. Girls are mean and unpredictable, and can’t be trusted—I’d rather just be around my guy friends.”  

Now, as an adult, I could try to laugh off the silliness of that comment and the ignorance of  “my youth.” But the truth is, I bet many of us have felt, or still feel, the same way. The wounds of rejection, gossip, and betrayal from women in our lives can be deep and long-lasting. I challenge you to find a woman today who hasn't been hurt by (or hurt) another woman in some way. 

Often, the wounds of our hearts can hinder us from being who we are truly meant to be. They can cause us to close ourselves off to new relationships for fear of being hurt again. This is what the devil wants. He wants us quietly suffering, immobilized, and feeling like we are all alone. He knows that when women know who they are and where they are meant to be, they are a formidable force. 

Since encountering Walking with Purpose, I’ve had a profound shift in my feelings about the value of female friendships. I have come to realize that deep and meaningful connections with other women are something that we, as women, really need in order to thrive. 

For me, this shift came from experiencing firsthand what it looks like to be in authentic friendship and community with other women through Walking with Purpose. I have seen women encourage someone experiencing the loss of a parent [1], work alongside each other to serve families in need [2], offer to babysit so that a young couple could get some desperately needed time away [3], use their gifts and talents to create beautiful spaces and places for women to meet [4], and weep when an unexpected tragedy occurred and rejoice when a fervent prayer request was answered [5]. These are just a few of the many examples I could share with you from the last ten years of my involvement with Walking with Purpose.

There is something powerful that happens when women come together in an intentional community and encourage one another to live out their lives authentically: women thrive. We thrive because we are given a chance to be heard, to belong, and to be loved. And the result? Confident women with an unshakeable sense of peace and a knowledge of who they are to their core. I’ve seen this happen beautifully through the wisdom and community of authentic friendships in Christ, and I am so grateful for it. 

Maybe you haven’t experienced this kind of friendship yet. Maybe you are praying for this right now. Maybe you are struggling with wounds from gossip or betrayal that are years old but still feel fresh. Maybe you have no idea where God is calling you at this moment, and you are just trying to make it through the day. Trust me, I can relate. I can also tell you that discovering the peace and unshakeable confidence mentioned above will only fully come through knowing Jesus Christ and His Church. And that is what Walking with Purpose is all about. We know what it looks like to be broken women in need of a Savior—because that is who we are too.

Take some time in prayer today and ask God to heal the wounds you may have from past rejection, gossip, or betrayal. Ask Him to remove any obstacles you are holding on to, preventing you from living your life to the fullest in Him. This might not be a one-time process, sisters. But trust me that He wants to heal your wounds, He wants you to have authentic friendships, and He wants you to be fully who you are meant to be—starting now. 

[1] Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, as indeed you do. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
[2] We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. (Hebrews 10:24)
[3] Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)
[4] Be hospitable to one another without complaining. As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace. (1 Peter 4: 9-10)
[5] Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)

 

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.”[1] 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.”[2] 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.

[1] "Dr. Brené Brown on Joy: It's Terrifying," SuperSoul Sunday, Oprah Winfrey Network, (YouTube Video, March 17, 2013), 5:58.
[2] Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Rest: 31 Days of Peace, (Walking with Purpose, 2020), p 67.

Do you ever feel like you are not enough?

As a young girl, it was my talent and looks that left me wanting. I never felt pretty enough, smart enough, or talented enough. I am not going to lie and say that at fifty years old I am finally comfortable in my skin and grateful for the way that the Lord has fashioned me, especially when it means I have a beard and can’t read a spreadsheet. Because I am not. And in an attempt to appear like a good Catholic woman of a mature faith—one who has her priorities straight—I suppose I could just lie to you and say I have overcome all issues of vanity. But I just went to confession, and honestly? I don’t want to have to go back to the priest just yet. He’s new to our parish, and I really want to impress him with my extreme holiness.

So here is the truth. I do not feel like I am enough. And before you try to tell me otherwise, here is another truth. I am right. I am not enough. And guess what? You are not enough either. Isn’t that great news?

Let me explain before you cross my name off the list of potential future speakers at your next women’s conference.

The last few weeks have been difficult at home, especially for my daughter who is beginning to buckle beneath the weight of one disappointment after the next. And I would love to tell you exactly how she is feeling, but she won’t tell me. She doesn’t want to talk about it, and we used to talk about everything. She walks around, a shell of who I remember, pushing me away while she attempts to carry her cross on her own; refusing my help, when all I want to do is swoop in and swaddle her, read her Goodnight Moon, and sing a soft lullaby as I nurse her to sleep. She’s seventeen years old, by the way.

I was sharing with a friend how hard this season is for me; the helplessness of it all. “No matter what I do or say, what I have done or what I offer, it’s like…” But before I could finish my sentence, my friend finished it for me. “You are not enough.” And we both stood still for a moment as the words “not enough” flashed like a neon sign above our heads. I went home and pondered this all evening. If I, the woman who gave birth to and protected this child for seventeen years, is not enough for her, then who is?

When I can’t shake a word from my head it usually means God has written it on my heart, and so I immediately go to my friend Merriam-Webster and look up its meaning. Enough, by definition, is: in or to a degree or quantity that satisfies or that is sufficient or necessary for satisfaction. The words “satisfy” and “sufficient” jumped out at me because, thanks to studying Scripture, I recognize that those words are characteristics of God. Not me. Only God satisfies. Only God is sufficient. Therefore, only God is enough.

I was reminded of Saint Paul’s words in Philippians 4:12:

“I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance, and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.”

Paul’s secret to living contently had nothing to do with what he could give, and everything to do with the actual Giver. Why? Because on his own, he knew he was not enough. It was God in him that gave him the power and strength to persevere in every situation. And as much as I would like to believe that I am the savior, it is God that will fully supply me, my daughter, and every one of us with whatever we need (Philippians 4:19). Thank the Lord that I am not enough for my loved ones, for if I were, they would never need Jesus.

As I pondered the word enough, the Lord placed another word on my heart: contentment. I not only wrestled with feeling like I was never enough but also struggled with the fear of never having enough. Am I content with being not enough? Am I content with what I have? The answer is yes. Not only content but grateful. 

Friends, after years of God trying to get my attention, painfully watching me turn to cheap substitutes and false idols in the hopes of feeling a sense of enough, it would be my weakness that eventually leads me to Him. It was my absolute inability to make things right, fix my problems, get a grip on my emotions, and climb my way out of a pit—that by the way, I dug myself—that I finally threw my hands up and said, “Enough! I can’t do this anymore. Please, God, I need your help.”

In any substance recovery program, this is what’s called hitting rock bottom. But you don’t have to struggle with addiction to experience this. We all have a rock bottom. It was when I finally had enough of seeking satisfaction and abundance in everything but God, that I turned to Him. And lo and behold, Saint Paul was right. Connect your life to Christ, and life stays together. Leave God out of your life, and it all falls apart. This is a lesson we all need to learn, and, dare I suggest, we don’t always like the Lord’s lessons, but man, they are good.

How do you know if your life is connected to Christ? Lisa Brenninkmeyer asks three questions in Lesson 2: Balance Through Contentment, from the Walking with Purpose young adult study Perspective, that can help us find the answer:

Is there something falling apart in your life?
Have you come to the end of your resources?
How can you invite Christ to hold it together for you?

Here’s the thing. We will all have a season, or two or three (but who’s counting), when life falls apart. The only thing more painful than your own falling apart is watching your loved one fall apart. And sure, we can try to jump in and do the saving ourselves. We can pretend that our love is enough and we are sufficient. We can throw out the safety net and cushion our loved one’s fall as many times as we’d like. But remember, Jesus fell three times on His way to Calvary, and not once did His mother try to prevent the crucifixion from happening. Instead, she followed Him, she kept her eyes on Him, and she stood with Him. And then, she waited for Him to rise. I have to believe we were left with this model for good reason.

Friends, if you feel like you are not enough—not enough to heal a hurt, not enough to make things better, not enough to fix what’s broken—do not despair, because not only are you in good company, but also, not enough is a really great place to be. For it is only when we admit our weaknesses that we can tap into His strength. It is only when we let go of self-sufficiency that we have free hands to hold fast to the One who is all-sufficient. You, beloved daughter, were never asked to be enough—only to open your heart to the Father who is.

True contentment is found only in Him. So follow Him. Keep your eyes on Him. Stand with Him. Then wait for Him to rise. He is more than enough.

Your sister in Christ,
Laura

[1] Lisa Brenninmeyer, Perspective: Keeping in Balance Young Adult Series, Part II, (Walking With Purpose, 2018) p. 40.

Bible Study

No matter what is going on in our lives, we all want what Jesus offers in Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” But how often do we read those words and think they are beautiful but hard to experience? Does this type of rest seem intangible? The seeming disconnect between the truths of our faith and our everyday lives can leave us feeling bewildered and discouraged. 

Henry Drummond, a Scottish evangelist from the 1800s, suggested that while many people don’t regret their religion, they are perhaps disappointed by it. He went on to write, “Men sigh for the wings of a dove, that they may fly away and be at rest. But flying away will not help us…We aspire to the top to look for rest; it lies at the bottom. Water rests only when it gets to the lowest place. So do men. Hence, be lowly.”[1]

There is a lot of wisdom in Drummond’s words. First of all, yes, we all find the idea of escape very appealing. Man always has. Drummond is drawing from Psalm 55:6, penned by David, “O that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.” While few of us “sigh for the wings of a dove,” we do seek to escape through excessive online shopping, another glass of wine, binge-watching shows, and other activities that take the edge off. We think they will leave us feeling rested, but we’re rarely satisfied by them. Why does escapism not help us? Because the solution isn’t somewhere “out there;” it’s found in the interior life. It’s located in the soul. This is where God meets us, in the present moment, and offers us rest.

Drummond says that rest isn’t located at the top, but lies at the bottom. If we think that hitting a certain goal or reaching a level of achievement will finally give us permission to rest, we’ll be sorely disappointed. Just when we think we’ve reached “the top,” we’re surprised to find that there’s another whole level to go. So what’s going on at the bottom? Is that where we go when we just give up and decide to stop trying? What does Drummond mean by getting to the lowest place and being lowly?

I believe he’s describing the virtue of humility. Humility isn’t thinking that you’re worth less or putting yourself down. It’s seeing yourself as God sees you. Changing the way you see yourself, seeing yourself through the eyes of God, doesn’t always come easy. For some of us, we think our past mistakes cause God to be disappointed in us. We feel that if we could just develop better coping mechanisms, get rid of our selfishness, and get our act together, He’d love us. But in the meantime, we figure we fall short of what God requires. We wonder how He could possibly love us. 

If that’s where you are at, I wrote my latest devotional, Rest: 31 Days of Peace, for you.

It’s for those who have heard Bible verses or messages about God’s tenderness and whispered to themselves, “That may be true for other people, but not for me.” It’s for those whose impression of God is of someone who is indifferent, impotent, or disapproving. If you know with your head that Jesus loves you, but it doesn’t feel like it in your heart, this book is for you.

I wrote this devotional for those of us whose hearts have been hurt, who are experiencing weariness overload, who long to feel treasured but find it hurts too much to hope. It’s for those of us whose inner voice is unkind and who fall asleep at night while a litany of failures runs through our minds. It’s for those who have called out for God and found Him to be silent.

The Bible is full of assurances of God’s love for His people. But I know that believing those verses in theory and feeling that they are true for you personally are two different things. What I am hoping to do through this little book is close that gap. 

So I am inviting you on a journey of the soul. I know that might feel scary or like a waste of time. But what if there is more than what you are currently experiencing? What if it is possible to come to a place of inner peace where you know who you are, and know beyond a doubt that you are seen, known, respected, and loved? 

Going to the lowly place means bowing your head for God’s blessing and outpouring of grace. It’s accepting that you are loved beyond measure and longed for by your Savior. It’s seeing yourself through His eyes.

It’s my prayer that the message of Rest will be a balm to the heart during a time when we all desperately need hope, peace, and a good dose of kindness. Order Rest: 31 Days of Peace for yourself and anyone with a hurting heart. 

May His perfect love drive your fear away,

Lisa

[1] Henry Drummond, Pax Vobiscum (Palala Press, 2015), 30.

 

Copyright © 2009-2021 Walking with Purpose, Inc.