We had waited all year for this moment. Giddy with excitement and overwhelmed by the beauty of the hotel we would call “home” for the next five days, we threw our suitcases in our room and then ran down to the lobby to grab a bite to eat. Before we finished our dinner, or unpacked our carefully chosen outfits (and good grief, they were cute), we heard the news. FLOURISH 2020, the Walking With Purpose Women’s Conference that we and 700+ other women couldn’t wait for, was not going to happen.
There is still a piece of me that remains in disbelief. Then there is that other piece of me; the larger piece that looks up to the heavens, winks at God, and says, “I see what you’re doing.”
And perhaps I have driven a few close friends crazy with what appears to be my lack of concern. But on the contrary, it is actually the refusal to fall into fear and disappointment, because here is the thing: every battle, every hardship, every trial and let down that I have endured in my life has prepared me for such a time as this. I have been trained, for better or worse, to look a hard season in its face; not trying to understand “why,” but rather, to look for the lesson. The defining moment that prepared me for such battles was the day a gunman entered my children’s elementary school, killing 20 first graders and six educators, turning life upside down in an instant, and wiping the calendar clear of every single plan we had made. It was the moment I learned the most important lesson that I will never forget: Tomorrow is not promised to any of us.
There was a second lesson hidden in the sorrow and chaos that I cling to equally as hard: HE WILL RESTORE. And not only will He restore, but He will restore twice as much to you (Zechariah 9:12). This, my friends, has been my experience. God is in the business of extra. He super-sizes anything we bring Him. Give Him a fish, and He will hand you a seafood buffet. Give Him a few locust-eaten years, and He will make it all up to you and then some. And if He takes something precious out of your hands, you better believe it is because He has something greater to place back in them. He has more in store. He magnifies our dreams. Some of us believe this, and some of us hurt too much to dare to. But I promise, it is the truth.
Only a week after the cancellation of Flourish, Lisa Brenninkmeyer texted me with a Holy Spirit-inspired idea: “What I’d like to do for our women is something to help their Spiritual Communion next Sunday.” Immediately interested, I continued to read: “I am working on a Bible study using next Sunday’s readings.” She went on to fully describe Defining Moments; the format of this free Bible study, her plan to hop on social media every Saturday to give us a short teaching on the Gospel, and I mean honestly...I don’t think I had even unpacked my suitcase from the trip that never happened, and she had already written a Bible study?! Unbelievable.
And yet, totally believable.
Because this is what our God of hope does.
Our God is a God of abundance, double portion, and multiplication. He took our retreat—all that hard work, all that hope, all that energy, all that prayer, and the deep, deep desire to reach the hearts of 700+ women—and do you want to know what He did? He tripled it! He far exceeded our expectations! Through Defining Moments, Walking With Purpose is not only reaching more women than a retreat ever could have, but we are reaching entire families; engaging women and men in a whole new way, helping to prepare thousands of hearts, and challenging them to deeply feast on the Word. What looked like loss, the Lord turned into a win.
Whatever it is you have had to let go of, cancel, put on the back burner, say goodbye to, and wait another year for, I want you to know, I get it. The WWP Team gets it. But we also want you to know this: God wastes nothing. Your plans, hopes, dreams, and efforts matter to Him. So much so that He weeps alongside of you as you mourn. And yet, this is not the end of the story. God is still writing, you know. What appears dead to you, God will raise back to life. What you are suffering now, He will restore.
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
Hey Friends! Visit www.walkingwithpurpose.com/defining-moments to download our new FREE Bible study, Defining Moments, and receive it in your inbox every Monday. Then join Lisa Brenninkmeyer LIVE on Instagram and Facebook, this Saturday at 2 pm ET / 11 am PT, as she takes us deeper into the Holy Week Mass readings.
The kids piled into the minivan, and as we pulled out onto the street, my fourth grade son suddenly remembered his one homework assignment: bring poster board to class. So I did what all good mothers do. After dropping three kids off at school, with a baby on my hip, I put my own plans aside, raced to the store, purchased some poster board, and brought it to his teacher. Feeling like a hero, I was surprised to be greeted with anything less than praise and gratitude for rescuing my son from the serious wound of humiliation directly caused by his not having poster board. Instead, in front of the class, I was greeted with, “Oh, I am sorry Mrs. Phelps. I can’t accept that from you. It was not your homework assignment. It was your son’s.”
You would think after being called out in front of 20 fourth-graders, I would have learned my lesson. But as a young mom who believed that saving my children from all discomfort was a reflection of my love, I continued to jump to the rescue, no matter the cost. Forgot your backpack? I am on my way! Left your lunch on the kitchen table? I’ll bring it right over! Math assignment on the your bedroom floor? Give me ten minutes...I can swing by the school!
It’s what we do. Convinced that without our help something tragic will happen to them, we love out of fear and we help to control; all the while thinking we are just doing our job.
But it is not our job.
It is God’s job.
And last time I checked, he wasn’t looking to retire.
In the secular world, we call this enabling. It is excusing, justifying, ignoring, denying, or smoothing over a behavior. Not because we support or condone it, but because we are so incredibly anxious and affected by it; not because we approve of our loved ones choices, but because we can not bear to see them walk through the consequences. I tell you this, sweet friend, with authority, as I am a recovering professional enabler. I tried so hard to keep my own child from having to deal with that one big crisis that I managed to prolong the problems by keeping him and my family living in a constant state of smaller crises. At best, a distorted attempt to solve problems, I never did succeed at removing his suffering, but sadly, only postponed it.
How many of us are wasting our time and energy trying to prevent our loved ones from suffering? And how many of us, if we are being honest, aren’t stepping in to clean up their mess because of their potential pain, but rather, because of our own? Let’s face it. It hurts to watch a loved one hurt. It is so much easier to just do for them what we know we can do so that unpleasant conflict is avoided, hard consequences are erased, and can we move on with life.
I have sat in enough circles to finally understand that the key to breaking the pattern of enabling is to return responsibility to the person it belongs to. As a firm believer in therapy that is rooted deeply in faith, I’d like to take this a step further and say that the key to breaking the pattern of enabling is to return responsibility to the God it belongs to.
This thought was confirmed yesterday as my Walking With Purpose small group discussed healthy boundaries and relationships in the Keeping In Balance study. Galatians 6:2 teaches that we ought to bear one another’s burdens. But verse 5 commands us to bear our own load. This is some game-changing truth to chew on. Lisa Brenninkmeyer further explains:
Loads are made up of things we’re all expected to do for ourselves. We are to help one another with burdens, but be responsible for our own loads. When do we get into trouble? When we find ourselves carrying others’ loads or refusing to compassionately help others carry their burdens.¹
Raise your hand right now if you are carrying someone else’s load, and ask yourself...why? What am I afraid will happen to my loved one if I hand this load back over to him/her? What am I afraid will happen to me if I do not carry if for him/her?
Handing over a load that we have been trying to carry and control, all in the name of love, is no small matter. It is painfully hard. But you know what’s even harder? Never letting it go. Not because it will exhaust the one who is doing the carrying, but because of the message it sends to the one who was meant to carry it in the first place. The message that, “You aren’t able to carry this. You are not strong enough. God might not show up, so I must step in.”
I shared my exhaustion in confession. I told the priest that I felt like I have been handed a giant clay cistern full of water and holes. Each hole is one of my children, and every time I get one hole covered up, another hole starts spouting. “I feel like it is my responsibility to keep every hole covered...like it is my job to spackle everything...keeping everything smooth...everything at peace.” And the priest, in love, corrected me: “You are not the spackler.”
Not only are we not the spacklers, but in attempting to be so, we add unnecessary stress to our lives. The fact is, no life is without suffering, our pain has purpose, and we gain nothing but an anxious heart when we believe otherwise. The love we have for others is not measured in how much our hands carry, but rather, in how much we place in the hands of God.
Your Sister in Christ,
¹ Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping In Balance (Walking With Purpose, October 2018) p.66
For someone who likes words and lots of them, editing a book can be hard work. After pouring over each sentence and getting to the point where you love them all, no author wants to hear that she has to cut hundreds of words. But that is exactly what a writer is told and tends to be reluctant to do. When I was in the midst of that very process, I received great advice from an editor. Surprisingly, it applies to Holy Week. She said, “You have to kill your precious.” To the writer, every word seems golden. But unless you “kill your precious” and get rid of the parts that are unnecessary, the finished work won't be as concise or impactful.
Holy Week offers us opportunities to kill lots of precious. It's the home stretch, the last incline of the journey of Lent. It might be tempting to just switch gears and start focusing on Easter Sunday, but if we skip over these key days in the Church calendar, we'll miss out. The spirit of sacrifice is hard for us pleasure-seeking people, but a few more days of focused effort can make the celebration of the resurrection that much sweeter.
We all have those sins that we like to justify. The ones that we hide and don't think matter much. I struggle in this way too. It makes me think of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings and the way he called the ring that he coveted “his precious.” This was something he had possessed that wasn't actually good for him, but he longed for it nevertheless.
What is it that you reach for when you are longing for security or comfort or an escape? Maybe it's attention from someone who doesn't belong to you. Perhaps it's too much wine. Maybe it's shopping and spending money you don't have. It can be porn, or Netflix, or eating food to try to fill a void in the heart...anything that distracts or diverts. Maybe it's your ego that needs to die a death. Instead of a hearty dose of accomplishments and accolades, you are actually needing to grow in humility. Even as I write this, it all sounds quite horrible to me. I suppose it does to us all, which is exactly why we reach for these things. They feel so good in the short-term.
God is asking us to “kill our precious,” not because he is out to spoil our fun, but because He knows that's the very thing that is holding us back from the life that is truly life. He is asking us to have a long-term perspective. He wants my eye not just on the reward of Easter Sunday but on the ultimate reward of being in His presence in heaven. Which do I want more, short-term gain or long-term glory?
What I have found very helpful is to kneel before the altar with that “precious sin” on my mind. I picture holding it in my hands. And this is what I pray: “This is the sin I am wanting to play around with. This is what looks so good to me in the short-term. But I want to be a saint more. And I want to be free.” Romans 6:16 tells us, “You are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
I wish that our desire to grow closer to God meant that the enemy of our souls would just give up and leave us alone. But nothing scares him more than people who know their true identity as beloved children of God, and he is terrified of the ones who take their faith seriously. The more committed to God we get, the more the enemy will tempt us to settle for mediocrity. Let's resist him with all we've got- especially during this Holy Week.
Our lives are too short and our calling too great to play around with sin. We're in the home stretch, the final incline in the marathon of Lent. Let's finish well. Let's fling aside those sins that entangle and cling so closely. Let's ask God to kill our precious, and do all we can to stay on the path of holiness.
The song “Shallow” from the A Star Is Born movie has been in my head for three weeks. If you don't believe me, ask my family. I am driving them crazy.
When I told my friend I hadn't seen the movie, her response was absolute horror. You would have thought I told her that I was leaving the Catholic Church. Or growing out my facial hair. After the Academy Awards, she kept at me, “You have to see how they performed the song! Bradley rested his head on her shoulder while they sang! They looked so in love!” I had to see what she was so taken by. And so I googled, “Academy Awards Shallow Song.”
And now, a moment of silence...because, Oh. My. Word.
When it is time for me to go home to the Lord, if His gaze on me is anything like the way Bradley Cooper looks at Lady Gaga, then take me home now, sweet Jesus! Let's just say I am a little bit obsessed with this movie, or to be more specific, with this on-screen connection. Full disclosure, I could have done without the language, but that aside, this story touched me deeply. I felt like I was right there with Gaga and Cooper, sitting in the parking lot, listening in on a personal conversation. And when the movie ended, I missed their relationship - as co-dependent and tragic as it was - because deep down, I ached for a similar connection of my own.
Who doesn't yearn for deep connection?
I watched an interview with Lady Gaga. She said she originally wrote the song as a solo, but when Cooper heard it, in a stroke of brilliance, he added his voice. “It is a conversation about a man and woman and he actually listens to her,” she said. “Women today want to be heard.”
My husband and I can be pretty poor listeners, because we both work from home, and one of us always seems to have a phone in-hand, and by one of us, I mean my husband. I find I have to repeat what I say because after I wait for his reply, he looks up blankly and apologetically says, “I am sorry. Can you say that again? I wasn't listening.” And sure. I can easily throw him under the bus, but how often do I do the same exact thing? How many times has one of my children carried on with a story that I am half-interested in, only to give a, “that's great!” when I notice they have stopped talking. Or what about that woman you run into at the grocery store who stops to talk and all you can think about is the laundry at home and the appointment you have to get to and how badly you wish she picked up on social cues and closed her mouth? Listening takes time and well, our time is valuable. We don't like to waste it on things like...people.
And if that last line sounds bad, that's because it is.
Let's just admit it. We are losing our listening skills and our relationships are suffering as a result. We want to be heard, but rarely do we have the patience to listen. It is something I am working on this Lent. Looking people in the eye and listening to what they have to say without forming an escape route, or planning in my head what I will say back while they are still speaking.
And we wonder why so many of our relationships feel disconnected.
Or maybe we don't. Some people think we are connected just fine and there is no problem. After all, with technology today, we are communicating with people at an unprecedented rate. But connection beyond screens is different and not just different but vital. In Opening Your Heart, author Lisa Brenninkmeyer writes,
The truth is, we are growing increasingly socially isolated while online social networks are exploding. We are seeking connection, but so many of our connections aren't satisfying. Too many of our relationships feel superficial, artificial, one step removed from the real thing. This isolation can be soul deadening.1
Why are we so in love with the song “Shallow?” Because in this performance we see everything we long for -- deep connection, face-to-face communion; someone who gazes back at us, hears what we are saying, and offers us a safe place to land. Two people who so beautifully identify and call out what the other yearns for and the exhaustion that comes from filling the void with superficial things. And sure, doesn't hurt that Bradley Cooper is just so darn easy on the eyes, and Lady Gaga's vocal talent is flat out off the charts insane. But don't be fooled into thinking that's all there is on the big screen that tugs at the heart. The hook is not the talent, it is the intimacy they invite us into; the power of deep connection, the moment when you realize that you are not invisible, your voice is heard, and you are finally seen for who you are.
You know, the shallow end of a pool is just three feet deep. How many of us are swimming in the shallow when it comes to our relationships? With our spouses? Our children? Our neighbors? Our friends? Our Church? Our God? How many of us can sing, “I'm off the deep end, watch as I dive in, I'll never meet the ground…?” This Lent, I invite you into the deep end of faith. How? Run to Adoration, grab someone's hand and bring them to Mass, sit across from a friend who simply needs her voice to be heard, really listen to the women at your table in Bible study instead of needing to be the one who is constantly speaking. Put your phone down and look into the eyes of the person you are sharing a room with. Because that intimacy we ache for in a Hollywood story...it is available to us, right here, right now. Truth is, we were made for more than the shallow.
Your Heavenly Father is waiting in the deep end...it is time to dive in.
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For a special February treat, read these words from St. Therese of Lisieux…
I ASSURE YOU THAT THE GOOD LORD IS MUCH KINDER THAN YOU CAN IMAGINE. HE IS SATISFIED WITH A GLANCE, WITH A SIGH OF LOVE…IN REGARD TO MYSELF, I FIND IT EASY TO PRACTICE PERFECTION, BECAUSE I HAVE LEARNED THAT THE WAY TO JESUS IS THROUGH HIS HEART. CONSIDER A SMALL CHILD WHO HAS VEXED HIS MOTHER BY A DISPLAY OF BAD TEMPER OR DISOBEDIENCE. IF THE CHILD HIDES IN A CORNER THROUGH FEAR OF PUNISHMENT, HE FEELS THAT HIS MOTHER WILL NOT FORGIVE HIM. BUT IF INSTEAD, HE EXTENDS HIS LITTLE ARMS TOWARDS HER AND WITH A SMILE CRIES OUT: ‘LOVE, KISS ME, MAMMA, I WILL NOT DO IT AGAIN,' WILL NOT HIS MOTHER PRESS THE LITTLE ONE TO HER HEART WITH TENDERNESS, AND FORGET WHAT THE CHILD HAS DONE? AND YET, THOUGH SHE KNOWS VERY WELL THAT HER DEAR LITTLE ONE WILL MISBEHAVE AGAIN AT THE FIRST OPPORTUNITY, THAT MEANS NOTHING IF THE CHILD APPEALS TO HER HEART. HE WILL NEVER BE PUNISHED… ~ST. THERESE OF LISIEUX
An appeal to the heart of God never goes unanswered. It's always met with goodness, mercy, and grace. So why do we so often behave as if God is a harsh taskmaster? The lover of our souls wants to shower us with His love, and we run in the other direction, afraid of His disapproval.
Never enough. Does that phrase ever describe how you feel? Do you wake up and think, “I didn't get enough sleep”? Do you race through the day and crawl into bed thinking, “I didn't get enough done”? Never perfect enough. Never thin enough. Never beautiful enough. Never happy enough. Never enough.
Whose voice is this? Let me tell you emphatically, it is NOT God's. God looks at you with kindness, and His heart fills with pride. This is the good kind of pride. It rejoices in the wonder of who you are. He says to you, “You have been given fullness in Christ! You are complete in Christ!” (Colossians 2:10).
So who is creating these expectations? Is it possible that we have heard what God desires from us, and then added our own expectations and those of others? Could it be that the feeling of being overwhelmed and inadequate is coming from trying to do things that God hasn't called us to do?
What means the most to God? Is it an impressive resume of volunteering, our accomplishments at work, or the cleanliness of our homes? It's none of those things. What God cares about is how we love. That's how He measures success.
When the voice whispers, “You're not enough,” speak the words, “I choose love.” I choose to stand under the shower of God's love and just soak it up.
I choose to be measured by God's love for me- and it's unconditional, limitless, and steadfast. I choose God's love instead of perfection, love instead of expectations, love instead of a never-ending rat race of busyness.
I won't get all the things done today that feel so important to me. Instead of giving into feelings of discouragement, I'll choose to be defined by love. I'll choose to return God's love by admitting that I don't have nearly as much control over things as I sometimes imagine. Then I'll confirm my love for Him by telling Him I'm glad that He's got it all under control. I don't know what's going to happen, but I'll give it all to God as an act of love. As I fill up with His love, I'll ask Him to let it overflow into the lives of those around me. On my own, I'm not enough. But “Christ in me, the hope of glory”…now that's a different story.
Praying that you experience a February full of awareness of how crazy God is about you and choose love.
This blog post originally appeared on the WWP website in February 2013.
“All good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father.” James 1:17
As Christmas approaches, I'm freshly inspired to create the perfect Advent setting in my home. I picture beautiful arrangements of greenery and berries by my front door, a lovely tree by the roaring fire, homemade cookies, and peace and harmony wafting through the house like a scent of cinnamon, cloves, and orange. I want everything on my Christmas Pinterest board to magically appear in my house. Regardless of my good intentions, my reality never seems to match my ideal. Take for example the Advent calendar that I always forget to fill until mid-December. Why on earth I bought the Advent house that has little tiny openings that hardly any candy actually fits in is beyond me. But now it's a tradition (although an empty one, literally), so each year I bring it out and hope that I'll get my act together a little earlier. And then there's the nativity set with no baby Jesus. This isn't because we're waiting to put him in the manger on December 24th. It's because we lost him, and every time I buy a new nativity set, I manage to lose that baby Jesus, too.
Thankfully, a meaningful Advent season isn't dependent on a perfectly decorated house, consistent traditions, homemade cookies or Christmas cards sent out on time. What is Advent all about? It's about getting ready, spiritually preparing, for the coming of Christ. As we wait to celebrate Christ's birth, we remember the long wait the Israelites had as they anticipated the coming of their Rescuer- the Messiah. During their wait, God stretched out a long Advent Calendar, where, from time to time, they were able to “open” a gift that reminded them they were drawing closer to the realization of His promise. These gifts were prophecies that pointed to Christ, and glimpses of God's plan of redemption. Literally hundreds of Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus.
He continues to fill up a very personal Advent Calendar for each one of us. Every day. Jesus (who is the giver of all good gifts) sends us reminders of His love that are handpicked for His precious daughters. Pope Benedict described this in his Apostolic letter, Porta Fidei, dated October 11, 2011. He wrote, “Faith grows when it's lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy.” When we see God's love at work in our lives, our faith grows. Unfortunately, these graces often go unnoticed by us as we dash around, always busy, slaves to our lists of to-do's. Perhaps this Advent season can be different. Look for His unexpected gifts. How is God helping you to experience His love today? Did you listen to a beautiful piece of music? Did you receive an unexpected kindness? Did a piece of Scripture speak to your heart and encourage you? Did your child give you an unexpected hug? What reminder of His love did He send you today? God knows what delights you. It blesses His heart when we recognize what He's sent. I encourage you to make an Advent list, recording what He has given. We can forget and take things for granted so quickly.
For a reminder of how much God adores you and loves to lavish you with the things that delight, take a look at the Connect Coffee Talk from WWP 101, “Priority #3: Your Heart- You Are Captivating!”
Wishing you an Advent season with time to pause and be filled with Christ's sweet love.