My youngest child was just four years old when we moved from California to Connecticut. The main reason for this major uprooting? To be closer to family. My sister, just a few towns away now, suggested she take my four kids to a movie so that I could unpack the eight million boxes I was staring at. I jumped at the offer and gathered the kids and ushered them out into the driveway. But as I buckled my youngest into the car seat and kissed him goodbye, a thought hit me.I never told him where they were going! And as my sister started up the engine and began to back out, I called out, “Luke? Do you even know where Aunt Kathy is taking you?” And with a trust and peace that truly transcends all understanding, he looked at me, smiled, shrugged his cute little shoulders, and said, “nope.” And I laughed, as they drove away.
I still think about this moment, eight years later. My precious one? He knew me so well, and was so certain of my love for him, that there was no need to question why I was putting him in another car, strapping him down, and sending him off without giving him the details. He trusted me so much, believed in me so much, that concern or worry about what the plan for him was, was a non-issue. He willingly accepted that he was not in charge, but that because I had proved my love to him over and over again already, he had nothing to fear. So long as he was in my hands, he was in good hands.
This is the beauty of a childlike faith.
And good grief, I want it.
And because God knows I want it, he is doing all that he can to teach me it. Which depending on the day you ask, I may or may not boast of His faithfulness and goodness, because asking God to bless you with a childlike faith is basically asking Him to strap you into a stranger's car and have them take off, without telling you where you are going. It is a prayer of surrender. And we all know how easy it is to surrender, don't we?
Ugh. Why is surrender so difficult? Seriously. Think about that question. Because most people find surrender incredibly hard. I sure do. Surrendering goes against everything my earthly self automatically desires. Things like full control, and knowing the future, and some sort of guarantee in writing - or quite possibly blood - that everything and everyone will be okay. Surrendering means emptying my soul of all those feelings I tend to cling to and rely on as truth, of accepting the “supporting actor role” of my life because I understand that I am not the hero of my story, but rather, God is.
Did you hear that?You are not the hero of your story.
Does that last line make you angry to read? I gotta admit, it is a little scary to publish. But I am feeling feisty today, so I am going with it. And more than feisty...I 100% believe in this. You see, I have heard and read the “girl power encouragement” that is floating around out there, and while most of it is wonderful, some of it makes me incredibly uncomfortable, as I think of all the young women who are embracing these statements as truth: You are the hero of your story. You are in control of your life. Because, I swear on my love of chips and salsa, sweet friends, this is simply not true.
In Laura Story's book, When God Doesn't Fix It, she asks us to think about the characters in the stories in the Bible.“Their stories aren't in the Bible because these characters are heroes. Their stories are in the Bible because God is the hero of their stories.”  She asks us to really think about it, pointing us to Daniel being saved from the lions, and to Noah who was saved from the flood. Were Daniel and Noah the heroes? Or was it God, the Great I AM who swooped on in and did the saving? Every story you read in the Bible points to one hero, and that hero is never us. It is God. This life we are living? This story of ours? It is God's story. And we are not called to control it or re-write it. But we are called to be a part of it. And it starts with surrender.
If you are like me; if you struggle with understanding your place in God's story, and the idea of surrendering with a childlike faith, might I suggest we do a few things together. Why together? Because I like your company, that's why. And...we can hold one another accountable. Plus, we don't even like to go into a public bathroom without bringing a friend along, so why should growing deeper in our faith be any different? But as I was saying...here are three things we can do together to develop a childlike faith:
I think we need to start by praying for bravery.
In the Walking with Purpose six-week study, Living In The Father's Love (LIFL), author Lisa Brenninkmeyer reminds us that “Living a life that says 'yes' to God and His purposes requires bravery.” And so let's pray for that. Let's ask for the courage to not be the dead fish that goes with the flow, but to be the strong, brave fish, that swims against the tide. Any decision we make out of fear is the wrong decision. So let's pray to be brave...Daniel and the Lion kind of brave...and let's see how our hero comes through and saves us. Because He always does. He always will.
The second thing we need to do?
I think we ought to read HIS story, to understand our place in it.
Remember...my son trusted me to buckle him up and send him on his way with zero idea of where he was going, because he knew me so well. How well do we know our Father? How certain are you of His love for you? Sure, we can all recite “God is Love,” but what does this really mean to you? Honestly. Do you believe that God the Father adores you? That He will go the long haul for you? That there is nothing you have done, or will do that will ever change how He feels about you? That He has a unique and divine purpose for your life? That you are beautiful, worthy, and forgiven? Do you believe this?
Because I think these are the real questions that women who are struggling ask. In Chapter 2 of Living in the Father's Love, Lisa assures us that, “The more we are rooted in a deep understanding of just how crazy God is about each one of His Daughters, the better we will be able to wrestle through these questions.”  This is such an important chapter with an honest-to-goodness life changing teaching. Lisa walks us through the beautiful truths of God, who He is, and how very much He is for us. Sweet friends, we will never, ever trust God if we are unable to list His faithful characteristics and promises. I highly encourage you to go back to this section, which challenges us to seek God's motive in relationship with each of us, to literally list the characteristics of love and God as found in 1 John 4:16, to make a conscious effort to reject any lies or half-truths that might be keeping us from trusting God with a childlike sincerity.  This chapter is so good I just scheduled an appointment at my local tattoo parlor to have it written in permanent ink on my entire left leg.
And the third thing?
We need to get to know our WWP Patron Saint a little bit better. Or a lot better, even.
There is no better example of embracing a life of surrender and childlike faith, than sweet Saint Therese, whose Feast Day is October 1; I am giving you permission to go buy yourself a dozen red roses and an 8 inch chocolate cake on that day to celebrate. In Chapter 1 of LIFL, appropriately titled, The Beauty of a Childlike Faith, Lisa directs us to the words of this amazing young woman, in an effort to accept that we are not in charge.
“I desire neither suffering nor death, yet I love both; but it is love alone which attracts me. Now it is the abandonment alone that guides me. I have no other compass. My heart is full of the will of Jesus.”
Oh, how I pray we can all say these words along with Saint Therese, and mean them….my heart is full of the will of Jesus. Because this? This, sweet friends, is the answer to all those doubts and fears that keep us awake at night. This is the answer to what is my purpose, and does God really love me? This right here is the answer to every single obstacle that stands in the way of our unclenching our fists and dropping our arms and resting peacefully in the center of God's will.
May we have no other compass, as we surrender to our guide - bravely taking our place in HIS story as we come to know and live in the Father's love.
Saint Therese, pray for us.
With faith in the hero of our story,
PS: You don't have a copy of the WWP six week study Living In The Father's Love? That's okay! Just click here to purchase! And while you are at it, why not enjoy our LIFL playlist while reading more about our Patron Saint here!
Laura Story, When God Doesn't Fix It (Thomas Nelson, 2005), 186
Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Living In The Father's Love (Walking With Purpose, 2010-2015), 33
Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Living In The Father's Love (Walking With Purpose, 2010-2015)
Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Living In The Father's Love (Walking With Purpose, 2010-2015), 26
Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Living In The Father's Love (Walking With Purpose, 2010-2015) d'Elbee, I Believe In Love, 86-7.
To the mamas out there in the trenches…
To those who are spending this Advent waiting for a miracle…
This is for you.
We all dread the phone call that comes unexpectedly and causes life to feel like one big “before and after.” There's the bad news that sideswipes us and no one is at fault, and then there's the news that makes it very easy to point a finger. So many emotions can explode in those moments- fear, shame, guilt, embarrassment, worry, anger, resentment.
As a mother, there is nothing worse than a call that involves your child. From the moment our children are placed in our arms, we make an inner vow to do all in our power to protect them and give them the best that we've got. The more years I live and the more broken hearts I encounter, the more certain I am that we all are giving mothering the best that we've got. Is it perfect? Far from it. But for the most part, we are doing the best we can with what we know and are able to do in the moment. But this doesn't mean that outcomes are guaranteed. Each child comes with his or her own journey ahead, and while we play a significant role in it, it isn't all up to us. The grand majority of it is up to them and the choices they will make with the great gifts of freedom and life that God has given.
With seven children, I've gotten my fair share of those phone calls. Each time, a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach has taken hold. My breath shortened and my hands felt clammy. I listened, and prayed that it wasn't true. And then I began walking the unpleasant road of picking through rumors, truth, lies and some shattered hopes and dreams. Was the various news I received the end of the world? Absolutely not. But did my heart feel devastated? Yes. Each time.
Someone asked me if I would be worried about Walking with Purpose if my “worst case scenarios” regarding my kids came true and became known. Without a moment's hesitation, I said, “Absolutely not.” The reason I responded in this way has everything to do with the way that I define success and failure. I think it's worth sharing, because I think there are a lot of moms out there who are dealing with their own set of disappointments that involve their families, and there's a lot of hiding going on. This hiding doesn't help anyone or anything, and is actually the devil's playground. He loves the shadows. So many mothers feel like failures, and I believe they are using the wrong measure to determine how well they are doing in this critical area of life.
We live in a world that tells us the success of our children is measured by the outward appearance. Physical beauty, athletic ability, academic accolades and a charismatic personality are all sought after and considered the highest prize. As long as outward appearance looks good, all too often mothers are willing to hide-or more tragically, ignore-sins and deficits of their child's character. We don't want our children to suffer, but perhaps just as much, we don't want their reputations to suffer. In our world, reputation, what people think of us, is everything. As a result, we step in the way of natural consequences that God wants to use to teach our children deep, lasting lessons. We make excuses, cast blame, and bail them out so that their spirits aren't crushed. And in doing so, we warp their understanding of choices and consequences. We leave them ill-equipped for a world that will not continue to soften the blows or buffer them from discomfort. The result? They will never grow up.
Why do we do this? Because we are caught up in the very things the world values. We are mixed up with it all ourselves. We gain an extra ten pounds and feel less valuable. We measure our worth against what we accomplish. Striving and hustling to be considered good enough, we focus on the tip of the iceberg and ignore the enormity of what lies beneath.
God leans into this mess and reminds us, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) He cares about what's going on underneath the water. The tip of that iceberg may look great and earn us a lot of applause, but God is disinterested in those bells and whistles. He looks beneath, and measures our success by how we love. First and foremost, He cares about how we love Him. The first and greatest commandment is this: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)
One of the ways that we love Him is by raising the children He has placed in our care. Raising children today is a battleground. We no longer live in a society that backs us up when we teach our kids what is most important. Leading our children to love and serve the Lord is incredibly hard in a culture that says truth is relative, everything in life revolves around them and their happiness, and that actions don't have consequences. The older our children get, the more we recognize what a battle it is. It's hard, and so many of us are weary.
Those of us who have determined to let the shoe fall, to let consequences be felt, often feel so alone on that path. We want to give up. We want to give in. We desperately want everything to just get comfortable again, even while we recognize that discomfort is exactly what our kids likely need in order to learn. Many of us are facing really serious battles with long term consequences, and too many of these warrior mamas feel like failures because their kids are seemingly not learning these lessons.
I believe that even when we recognize the battle for what it is, too many of us are fighting with the wrong weapons, and we're getting discouraged about the wrong things.
The true battle isn't what we see with our eyes. Ephesians 6:12 tells us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the power of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” The battle is in the spiritual realm. Only one kind of weapon can meet the battle in the air. It's described in 2 Corinthians 10:3-4: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.”
The weapons of the world are reputation, money, influence, power and a shiny outward appearance. They can take us only so far. And from the Lord's perspective, all they are affecting is that tip of the iceberg, evident to all. But the weapons that have impact below the surface are far, far, more powerful than the worldly weapons.
The sword of the Spirit is the word of God (Eph. 6:17). This is an offensive spiritual weapon. Prayer is tremendously powerful because it literally moves the hand of God and calls down angels to battle on our behalf. The Eucharist has been used in physical battle, and the rosary's power has been seen for hundreds of years.
It's what's going on under the water that makes all the difference and is the true measure of success. And that's where we employ the weapons discussed in 2 Corinthians 10. The spiritual battle is a hidden battle-done in the quiet of our homes and adoration chapels. It's waged on our knees and literally pushes back the darkness.
If we copy the world and use its weapons, we are guaranteeing a lack of power. This is because those weapons have nothing to do with the release of the Holy Spirit. If we seem to win a battle by using the world's weapons, from God's perspective, we have lost. The reverse is also true. If we seem to lose a battle but we have relied on the Lord, trusting in Him and the weapons of prayer and God's word, we have won. We have WON, regardless of what it looks like to the rest of the world. This means that what others might say is a failure can actually be an enormous victory.
Join me, precious mamas, on your knees. Engage in this spiritual battle with heartfelt, fervent prayers. Let's storm heaven as we plead on behalf of this next generation. Do the hard things. Let the hammer fall and the consequences be felt. Don't stand between God and the lessons He is trying to teach your child. And over all these things, put on love. Tough love is real love. And isn't this what God is teaching us during Advent? The gift of love is always costly, but always redemptive.