If quarantine has taught me anything, it’s that there’s no escape. The quick and temporary cure to suffering that the world had so generously offered me in the past (yes, I am talking to you, TJ Maxx) is no longer an option. I have had to learn how to sit in the undesirable a few hours longer than I care to, and in times of distress, I am forced to turn to God instead of HomeGoods. And I suppose I should thank COVID-19 for this needed lesson in spiritual growth. But, if I am being honest, I kind of want to kick COVID-19 in the face.
I miss people. All people.
I miss the unreasonably happy barista.
I miss the crying kids at Mass.
I even miss the aggressive man at the mall kiosk who chases me down with his free sample of hair serum.
And I miss groups of people. Big, loud, smelly groups of humanity. Put me in the Splash Mountain line for eight hours next to the grown man in the Goofy hat. I don't care. I’ll love that guy straight to Jesus, and not once will I make fun of his hat.
And speaking? Evangelizing? Worshipping? Retreats? Being in a room full of like-minded people talking and singing about Jesus? I miss that most of all.
Until I was told I could not be in a group of people, I had no idea just how much I needed a group of people to be in. But not just any group of people. A faith group of people. There is a difference, you know. You see, a faith community is not merely about good coffee and a break from the kids. It is about the literal hand of God uniting us together, leading us to Him. God specifically designed us to not only desire to be in relationship with others but to thrive in it.
Right now? I am not thriving so much. I need my tribe.
Hebrews 10:24-25 comes to mind:
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Why, right now, does everything feel so hard? It’s because we are not living as God created us to live. We have given up meeting together. The words social and distance are in direct opposition with each other, and it has disordered our lives. I don’t know about you, but what I am witnessing in the faces of people is far more concerning than the threat of my contracting this virus. While I may not know all that there is to know about this world or my Catholic faith, I know that a society divided and driven by fear and self preservation is not how the Lord wants us to live. Yes, as a country, we have a responsibility to follow the law and guidelines and keep one another safe. But as Christians, we also have a responsibility to step out in love, to extend real hope, and to get God’s people back together again. And if that sounds risky, well, my friends...welcome to the faith.
I will be honest. Even though I write this, it still feels hard. Even though I know this, I too worry about the risk. And to be totally transparent, I woke up this morning over it all...phoning in prayer with zero enthusiasm to tackle the day ahead. The thought of another drive-by birthday or Zoom call gathering has me weary, because I, sweet friends, am at about 5%. With piles of work and a family standing in front of me, I am desperately trying to figure out where the needed 95% will come from. And then my eyes fell upon 1 Peter 4:8-11:
Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
This? This is why I am at 5%. Not because I can’t go to TJ Maxx, but because I have been separated from my tribe. Keeping fervent in love for one another, and glorifying God in all things, is only possible when we do it together. My community has kept me “sane and sober” for years, and being without them has left an undeniable, spiritual virus that is making me weak. The cure we need does not come from the hand of the scientist but from the hand of God. If we want to get back to life, we need to get back to each other. Community is the cure that we crave.
So, how do we do it?
How do we hold community together, six feet apart?
I am excited to announce that this Thursday night, June 4, we will get the real support and encouragement we need to get back to community and live the way that God intended for us from the beginning of creation. Walking with Purpose Founder and Chief Purpose Officer Lisa Brenninkmeyer and CEO and Board Chair Julie Ricciardi will host a free webinar, The Art of Creating Community. To join us on this Zoom webinar, please register here. If anyone can lead us through this, it is Lisa and Julie. Walking With Purpose was born out of their authentic friendship and a deep desire to see every woman’s hearts open to the love of Jesus; not in isolation, but in community. For years, they have lived out and modeled Romans 12:4-5 for us, reminding us that we are better together than we are alone. I challenge you to find two greater champions of Christ and community than these mighty warriors.
If you are at 5% my friends, I invite you to join me for this night of much needed assurance. I can’t give you a hug or pour you a drink, but I will be there with you in spirit, spurring you on. In the midst of a world that is scaring us into isolation, let us be different. We can do this. Our health of spirit and mind depend on it. Community is where we belong, and it is time that we return.
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” Psalm 133:1
We had a perfect plan set in place. We were ahead of the game. And we felt really good about it.
Our Walking With Purpose parish program was set to wrap up in April. By March 1st, our fall courses had already been chosen, next season’s registration was getting ready to roll, and the details for our final luncheon were set. With everything falling neatly into place, I dared to exclaim, “At this rate, we will be done with ministry planning by June!”
Stop laughing, God. I can hear you.
Whether you are a WWP co-coordinator or not, chances are, you too were in the midst of planning for something when everything shut down. And so we are left in this weird space of...what now? How do we continue to plan for a future we cannot predict? For the type A, control freak, live by my planner kind of folks, this space can feel like torture, am I right?
And yet, isn’t this precisely what God longs for from each and every one of us? Confidence in Him, not in our plans. Perseverance in the race—not because we can see the finish line but because we can’t.
The world shutting down does not give us the excuse to give up doing what we do for God because it doesn’t look like what we had planned. COVID-19 is not an obstacle to upbuilding the church, encouraging one another, and offering consolation. It is an invitation to find another way. Christian author and speaker Priscilla Shirer remarked in a virtual conference, “How do we see personal dilemmas? As a hiccup in our plan? Or as an opportunity to glorify God in another unique way?”
In today's first reading, the Acts of the Apostles 16:22-34, Paul and Silas are stripped, beaten, and thrown into the innermost cell with their feet secured to a stake. Why? Because as they were going to a place of prayer, they were “met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by soothsaying” (Acts 16:16). A Catholic definition of divination is “The art of knowing and declaring future events or hidden things by means of communication with occult forces.” This girl, as told in Scripture, followed Paul and Silas for many days, and was super annoying. So Paul finally turned and said to the spirit, “I charge you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her” (Acts 16:18). And it did. The owners of this slave girl were not happy, as this meant their gain was gone. No more seeing into the future.
I have never sought out a fortune teller, or even desired to have my palm read. I’d like to say it is because I trust and follow God’s commandments so perfectly and wouldn’t dare seek out any more light than that for my next step ahead. But honestly? I don’t care to know the future because the present moment is often terrifying enough! And yet, while I do not intentionally seek out divination, I have prayed that God would tell me as clear as day what the heck He wants me to do, exactly how long will my suffering last, will my loved one who is ill make it out of this okay, and should I or should I not plan to have my Walking With Purpose parish program back up and running on my church campus this October? I admit it. Knowing what the future holds would be nice. You know, for planning's sake.
Which brings us right back to that weird place of “what now?”
Thankfully, Scripture has the answer.
“But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and every one’s chains were unfastened.” (Acts 16:25-26)
Amazing. They didn’t complain. They didn’t get angry. They didn’t cry. And they didn’t give up. They found another way, by praying and singing to God...and the prisoners listened.
As we navigate our way through our own inner cells, what is the message we are sending to those who are listening? Are we spreading a message of hope or despair? Are we sharing the good news of the Gospel or the toxic news of the media? Are we pulling chains loose or tightening them? You see, we may not be able to get back to things as usual, but maybe usual is overrated and not meant to get back to.
What if this weird space is not weird at all, but a divine invitation to stay where we are, praying and singing? If you are a visionary with huge ideas for Jesus like I am, this sounds insanely hard, doesn’t it? If you are a Walking With Purpose co-coordinator, this almost sounds reckless and unproductive, am I right? But hear me out. The prisoners are among us and trust me, they are listening; waiting to see and hear the way the believers respond when they have been stripped and beaten and their pink and green tablecloths have been taken away. Listen, our feet might be fastened and our doors may be shut, but the God that rescued me is a God who has no problem shaking foundations, swinging doors open, and unfastening chains.
This, my friends, is what “what now?” looks like. It is not about knowing what we will do in the future, but about trusting what God is doing in the present. What now is about new opportunities. What now is about glorifying God in a whole new way. What now is about showing the world that we do not need pink and green tablecloths and large group gatherings to edify the Church, Amen?!
You see, the slave owners were mistaken. They thought that in not knowing their future, their gain was gone.
But as slaves of Christ Jesus, we know better; it is precisely in embracing the unknown that our gain is found.
He is working in the waiting, and those doors will soon swing wide open. Until then, wherever you are, sing and pray loud with me, dear sisters! You never know who is listening.
With you in the waiting,
Go to our events page now to learn about two wonderful opportunities to gather remotely with your friends and all of us here at Walking with Purpose! WWP Founder and Chief Purpose Officer Lisa Brenninkmeyer will lead a free webinar on June 4 that you won’t want to miss: The Art of Creating Community. What’s more, our Instagram team will kick off a virtual summer Bible study on June 11. Click here for details on both, and to register for the webinar.
 CatholicCulture.org. (2020). Catholic Dictionary: Divination. https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/dictionary/index.cfm?id=33143
My 77-year-old mother is a model of efficiency. When she has news to share with her three children, rarely will she make three phone calls. If you ask my mom, email is sufficient for most communications. She also seems to doubt that group texts actually work. But group email? That’s her game. And the most recent email she sent to my brother, sister, and me read exactly as follows:
“The doctor called. I have the virus. Quarantined for 14 days after symptoms go away. Mom.”
Unfortunately, this was not the first piece of news I had received informing me that COVID-19 hit close to home. Over the past couple of months, a steady stream of texts and phone calls has revealed to me that someone tested positive, someone else was hospitalized, someone else passed away, and so on. I live in the NYC suburbs, and I need two hands to count the number of close friends and family members who were seriously affected by this virus.
However, the email from my mother was the first piece of news that kicked my anxiety into full swing. It was the first time in my life that I had to come to terms with the possibility of losing a parent.
At the same time, my high schooler was completely ignoring his remote learning, my husband was stressed out at work, and thoughts about Walking with Purpose had been keeping me awake at night. COVID-19 cancelled all the WWP spring events and impacted Bible study sales, and as the director of marketing, I’m constantly thinking about what I can do to support the ministry.
By late April it was clear to me that absolutely everything in my life was out of control. But friends, you will be relieved to know that I didn’t try to control it. If there’s one thing I learned from the Walking with Purpose Bible study Opening Your Heart, it's that God is in the driver’s seat.
But what to do about the constant anxiety? Yes, we can give up control and hand our struggles over to Christ, but I seem to have feelings of panic and worry that come on quite suddenly, triggered by stressful moments, no matter how much control I give up. When the Director of the CDC announced a week ago that a second and more difficult wave of COVID-19 was coming this fall, I uncorked a bottle of Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc faster than you can say quarantine.
Clearly, I needed better coping techniques.
In the Walking with Purpose Bible study Keeping in Balance, there’s a lesson that talks about anxiety as a barrier to contentment. It is such a helpful lesson that Walking with Purpose sent it out as a PDF to our email list last week (you can find that PDF here). In this lesson we are asked to reflect on 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, “Take every thought captive to obey Christ.” What I love about WWP Bible studies is how author Lisa Brenninkmeyer makes scripture passages easy for newbies like me to understand. Lisa says the way we take a thought captive is by “replacing the worry with a truth that builds [our] trust in God.”
That right there? That is an action item I can turn to (in place of the wine).
Here’s the truth I came up with to build my trust in God: Christ is present in humanity’s compassion, and that compassion is so clearly EVERYWHERE these days!
COVID-19 has unified humanity into the most massive force of good that I think this planet has ever seen. Millions around the globe are doing whatever it takes to fight the virus. From philanthropists pledging billions to speed the development of a vaccine, to medical professionals risking their lives to save COVID-19 patients, and school children collecting canned goods for food pantries, people are overflowing with kindness, and I recognize God in them.
As I finish writing this blog post, I’m singing in my head, “...every little thing, is gonna be alright.”
PS: I’m sorry to keep you hanging about my mom. She battled the virus quite easily, actually, and pulled through quickly. Thank you for all of your prayers!
 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping in Balance (Walking with Purpose, July 2019), 151.
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.