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I am currently finishing a documentary called Sheep Among Wolves Volume II about the underground Church exploding in Iran. You may not know this—I surely didn’t—but the Iranian Christian Church is the fastest-growing Christian movement in the world.[1] According to the U.S. State Department report on international religious freedom, in 2017 there were 350,000 Christians in Iran.[2] That number is rapidly approaching a million today.[3] Praise God!

Hearing the stories of these church leaders, their faces blurred and their voices dubbed in the film, has been devastating and inspiring all at the same time. They walk out the door to worship every day at the risk of not returning, while I have to muster up the motivation to get in my car so that I can sit freely in the adoration chapel. No, I am not writing a guilt-trip post for those of us who live in the west. I could write that post (and make a good case that we need to step it up), but this is about something in the documentary that deeply encouraged me. It is about the women. The testimonies from the women are incredible.

Because everything is underground, the Gospel must be spread from one person to the next, and it’s the women who are leading the movement. They have been unstoppable when it comes to telling everyone about Jesus. Why are the women leading so powerfully? One church leader answered this question as she shared her story.

She shared that she grew up in a culture that doesn’t value women, and she was oppressed and abused repeatedly by the men in her life. She learned to be an atheist from her mother, whose heart was hardened toward God from similar oppressive experiences. After spending her entire young life with no faith, carrying around crushing pain, she tried one last time to end her life. Right before she did, she opened a crack to God, and the Holy Spirit rushed in. She shared that after two years of neither laughing nor crying, she wept all night as she experienced the divine healing of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit transformed her pain and she felt the love of God despite years of feelings unloved, she became relentless. She is now one of the most involved leaders in the Iranian Church. 

Listening to her with tears in my eyes, I was reminded of the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well in John 4:7–42. It is clear from the account that this woman carried a similar pain in her heart from the years of her life that were worn by sin, and Jesus gently but directly addressed that pain. He offered to transform her pain into glory as He offered her Himself, the living water. Once she realized who He was, she accepted His invitation, and became the powerhouse that brought her whole town to Jesus.

The Iranian woman also reminded me of the women who delivered the news of Jesus’ resurrection. In Luke 24, Jesus appeared to two of his disciples as they walked on the road to Emmaus. They didn’t recognize Him and so started to recount the events of Jesus’ crucifixion and death. This is what they said about the women: “Some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive” (Luke 24:22–24).

It was the women who went to the very place of their most profound sorrow, the grave of their dead Savior. There, they learned that Jesus had risen and became the first to herald the news of the resurrection.

Ladies, the pain we carry from living in a sinful world, and giving in to the sin ourselves, runs deep and is personal. Whether we experience major trauma or just the beat down of everyday life, the suffering that we experience goes right to the core of our being, and the enemy will do everything in his power to make sure that it is never transformed. He encourages us to verbally degrade ourselves and embrace the belief that we are not valuable, because he is fully aware that the same power that transforms women into relentless kingdom builders will do the same through us. He knows that the moment we allow all of that baggage to be transformed, we will become unstoppable for Jesus and His Church. He will do anything to stop us. The enemy knows just how dangerous you are. Do not let him win.

Dear sister, no matter what your daily life looks like, no matter how you view yourself, God created you to stand confident in His love and to have an impact on His Church that goes far beyond your imagination or understanding. Do you believe that? I’m not talking about fame or achievement. I’m talking about the holy influence that leads others to Christ for eternity.

Every time you choose to lean into holiness, God uses you. Every single time you say no to discouragement and allow the Holy Spirit to transform your pain into glory, He uses your story to reach the heart of another. Just look at your sisters in Christ throughout history and around the globe. They were born into original sin just like you were, they carry similar pain, and they have the same magnificent Savior. Throughout the Church’s history, God has used women just like you to build His kingdom even when their place in society could not have been more insignificant. This Easter season, what does He want to do in and through you? Will you believe that you are worth it? Will you let Him do the work? Say yes—the world will be better off because of you.

[1] FAI studios, “Sheep Among Wolves Volume II,” YouTube video, 1:53:18, August 23, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SAPOLKF59U
[2] “2017 Report on International Religious Freedom,” U.S. Department of State, May 29, 2018, https://www.state.gov/reports/2017-report-on-international-religious-freedom/
[3] Jayson Casper, “Researchers Find Christians in Iran Approaching 1 Million,” Christianity Today, September 3, 2020, https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/september/iran-christian-conversions-gamaan-religion-survey.html.

 

“How can you all have so much joy when you are going through something so painful?” That's the question the new face at my support group asked last night. Followed by, “I want what you all have!”

As I have mentioned before, this group I attend is not faith-based. Of course, if I were to personally give witness to where I have found such joy, all fingers would point towards God. And yet, there is more to it than faith.

It's also about community.

I have always known that God did not create us to be alone. Genesis 2:18 clearly lays this out for us: “Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” But this isn't just about man finding woman. This is about man not having to go it alone.

And we do this, don't we? We try to go it alone. Be it out of shame of our circumstance or fear of rejection, how many of us choose isolation over connection? How many of us stop reaching out, strap on our masks, and white knuckle through the day, relying on our own strength? Maybe this sounds familiar to you. And if so, I ask. How's it working for you?

You see, I have recognized an undeniable truth. When I am connected to community I thrive. I become inspired and animated. Notice, I did not say, “when life is smooth sailing, I thrive.” My life circumstance is not what controls me. Only Jesus controls me. And when I immerse myself in community; be it a coffee date with a friend, a Wednesday morning at WWP Bible Study, attendance at weekly Mass, or going to my support group, loneliness loses its grip, making way for joy. The truth of “me too” wipes out the lie of “no one understands”, and like a Gospel miracle, I am healed. No doubt, this is the work of the Holy Spirit. No question that when two or three are gathered in His name, He is there. (Matthew 18:20)  And in the most beautiful way, this overwhelms me.

If you read this and feel sorrow because you do not have a community to run to, I am here to say...you do. Walking with Purpose is not about selling Bible studies and throwing pretty pictures up on a website. Walking with Purpose is about handing out life vests and anchors to women struggling to keep their eyes above the waves. Women who are swimming into a storm believing they have to go it alone. We are about sisterhood and support and encouraging one another.  If you do not have a parish program near you, please reach out to us. Let us help to connect you someway, somehow. And no. I am not working on commission nor was asked to say this. This, sweet sisters, is so ridiculously heavy on my heart, because my Walking with Purpose family is what gave me the strength to walk into that other support group. In her Netflix special, Call to Courage, researcher and storyteller Brené Brown says, “Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage.” I learned how to be vulnerable from my WWP community. And I do not exaggerate when I say, it has saved me.

When searching for Scripture verses that best describe community to me, my eyes fell upon Hebrews 10:24-25, and a smile spread across my face, and truth be told, it is still there. “We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

Something about we should not stay away grabs me. It is how I feel about my support group. It is how I feel about Walking with Purpose. It is how I feel about a certain friend who calls me in the middle of the day to shout, “I know you are writing and I hate to interrupt but I have to talk to you about the Holy Spirit!” When you encounter people who allow you to be vulnerable and encourage you to be the best you can be, how can you stay away? And when you find friends with a common thread, who weep when you weep and rejoice when you rejoice, how on earth can you not be encouraging?

How can there be joy in the midst of so much pain? Because “two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

Praying the Holy Spirit fills us with the desire to step out into community, to supply us with Sisters who are eager to love us and lift us should we fall. Grant, I pray, all our shame of not being worthy be destroyed, as we courageously step into our place, advancing the Kingdom of God.

Bible Study

We sat in the last pew at the back of the Church. Knees to the ground, beads in our hands. This was her idea. “I know this sounds crazy, but would you meet me before Mass tomorrow and pray the Rosary?  Will you let me pray for you?” And when we completed our meditation, she looked directly into my eyes, and begged, “Don't lose hope. You can't. I know you are weary. But please. You have to have hope.”

We have all been there, haven't we? When life's disappointments reach the point of just too much. When God's plan for good is impossible to comprehend, and we doubt there is a finish line. And what happens when we begin the fall into despair is one of two things. We either choose to take the easy route we write up ourselves; the road that avoids difficult decisions and giant leaps of faith. Or, we quit the race altogether. As soon as we recognize, “hey, wait a minute, Lord...following you is no longer fun,” we stop running. We exchange our hope in Jesus for a false sense of hope in ourselves.

Being grounded in anything but hope has led me into the lie that my suffering is pointless. Being grounded in anything but Jesus has led me into the lie that I am too weak for the race that God has mapped out for me. When hope is absent from my heart, fear claims the space that is reserved for God. And when I give in to fear, I rely on my own strength. This, my friends, is a recipe for disaster. Because apart from Him, I can do nothing. I am not the Savior, no matter how hard I try to be. I also can't cook. So following my own recipe is bound to disappoint on so many levels.

But God can cook, and His recipes are good. (And I hear He saves the good wine for the end, so don't quit too soon.) Especially the recipes for hope we find in Hebrews. The entire book of Hebrews is based on this central truth; that God reigns Supreme, and it is by His strength and grace that we can persevere. These are the ingredients I should be reaching for, rather than grasping at useless things around me. Things like complaining versus praying. White knuckling instead of surrendering. Comparing instead of thanking.

So how do we hold onto hope? Hope do we turn hope into more than a pretty word we like to paint on wood panels and frame over the fireplace? How do we remain steadfast when life is unsteady? How do we hold onto hope as an anchor, when we'd rather throw the anchor at the back of someone's head?

Here is what I do.

REMEMBER

When I start to spiral into despair, I start listing all of the times I lost hope, doubted God's plan...and then He showed up. And when I say “showed up” please don't mistake this for “then I got my way.”  My most fruitful seasons are the necessary hardships that dragged on way longer than I had wanted, and didn't end the way I told God they needed to end. These are the seasons that shaped me and strengthened me more than I ever imagined possible.

RUN TO MARY

Mary stood at the foot of the cross, not because she felt no pain or sorrow, but because she believed that the promises of Christ would be fulfilled. I made a vow to start every morning praying the rosary. Oh, how we could linger over many cups of coffee as I share with you the powerful intercession of the Blessed Mother in my life when I needed it most.

BE HOPE

There is no greater joy for me than when given the opportunity to point a despairing soul in the direction of hope. As painful as life has been, when I can sit across from a friend and assure her she is not alone and she will make it to the finish line, I can say with total confidence that it has all been worth it. Sometimes the best way to have hope, is to be hope.

If you are weary from running your race, I want you to know: I GET IT. I know how you feel. No hope is quite possibly the most painful thing I have ever felt. But I can also share this: no hope is a lie. Remember, we are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and will possess life (Hebrews 10: 39). And if you were here with me now, I would grab your hand, and I would take you to the last pew in the back of my Church, and I would pray with and for you. On our knees. Every bead. And with tears in my eyes, I would look into yours and I would beg, “Don't lose hope. You can't. I know you are weary. But please. You have to have hope.”

Ground yourself in Him and run with me.

Your Sister in Christ,

Laura

 

If you are looking for additional encouragement to run your race, you might want to read Grounded In Hope, our newest study coming out in February. Click here to purchase Grounded in Hope.

Laura Phelps author bio

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