Years ago, in the midst of a crisis, my husband and I found ourselves with a very small window of opportunity to get on the road and head toward help. I don’t recall too much of that car ride, but this I do remember: the dumpster fire. Not the dumpster fire that was our lives, but the actual dumpster fire we drove by on the side of the highway. Can you say, good one, Jesus? We still laugh about it to this day.
Women often ask me, “How can you laugh in times of suffering?” The secret?
Surrender is something I struggled with for years because it felt like I was giving up hope. But to be completely transparent, I think what held me back most was the fear of being taken out of the game. I was addicted to the chaos. The chaos of the trial itself, but also the chaos of trying to manage it. If I released control, what the heck would I do now? It would have to be all up to God, and while I know that’s the right answer, it's also a risky one. What if He didn’t show up and meet my desire? What if He dropped the ball? I’d never have the strength to keep living. Not with this kind of pain, or at least the kind of pain I could only imagine I’d feel if God held out on me.
As reasonable as my thoughts were, they were lies. How do I know? Because God, Himself, told me so.
“When you pass through waters, I will be with you; through rivers, you shall not be swept away. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, nor will flames consume you.” (Isaiah 43:2)
God never promises us lives free of hardship, disappointment, or pain. Nor does He promise that when we surrender to Him, our prayers will be answered. What He did promise was that He would be with us in our darkest moments; that no matter how life-threatening the situation, God Himself would see to it that the trial does not consume us. He promises, “I will be with you.” But did you notice? His presence is in the circumstance. He walks with us through it, not around it. And let’s be honest. We don’t want to walk through it. We just want God to answer our prayer, because deep down we fear that what waits on the other side of surrender is worse than where we are currently standing.
We are all for looking at the dumpster fire. Just don’t make us jump in it.
But here’s the catch. God wants us to walk through it. He never offers “the way around,” but He always offers “the way through.” If you are not convinced, just meditate on the Passion. Our Lady stood at the foot of the cross while her son died on it. Neither took the shortcut, and it was love that made it all possible. Their love for the Father was so great that if doing His will meant watching her son die on a cross, so be it. It was our Lady’s example that changed me. It was standing next to her in my lowliness at the foot of my cross that I recognized what I needed to do. I needed to love and desire God’s will for my life more than I loved and desired my own.
In the small but powerful book Trustful Surrender To Divine Providence: The Secret of Peace and Happiness, the author writes, “In order for us to enjoy peace and calm we need to have nothing opposing our will and everything done in the way we want it. But who can expect to have such happiness except for the man whose will is entirely conformed to the will of God?”
Conformity to God’s Will is the secret to surrender. Practically speaking, what does this look like? It looks like accepting all from the hand of God without questioning. It looks like presenting your desires to God but asking that He does only as He wishes, because He knows what is best for you. It looks like obedience and trust, even when you are uncertain of how it all ends. It looks like staying close to the Blessed Mother because she has been where you are. And it looks like prayer.
“Whoever makes a habit of prayer,” says the great St. Teresa of Avila, “should think only of doing everything to conform his will to God’s. Be assured that in this conformity consists the highest perfection we can attain, and those who practice it with the greatest care will be favored by God’s greatest gift and will make the quickest progress in the interior life. Do not imagine there are other secrets. All our good consists in this.”
Surrender is not giving up, it is giving over. But that doesn’t mean your desire will go away. The longings of a woman’s heart run deep, and that is okay. In these moments when I am caught unexpectedly by grief over an unanswered prayer, I allow the tears to come, finding comfort in knowing that my God is right next to me as I pass through the river. The grief will not consume me. His grace does.
 Father Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure, S.J., St. Claude dela Colombiere, S.J., Trustful Surrender To Divine Providence: The Secret Of Peace And Happiness, (Tan Books, 2012), p. 33.
 Father Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure, S.J., St. Claude dela Colombiere, S.J., Trustful Surrender To Divine Providence: The Secret Of Peace And Happiness, (Tan Books, 2012), p. 29.
I can’t tell you how many friends wrote that in my high school yearbook. Never change. Could you imagine if I never changed? Since 1988? I don’t know about you, but if I never changed, there’s a good chance I’d be dead. Or still wearing shoulder pads.
In the past week, I have had multiple close friends comment on a change they see in me. A good change. A deep soul change. Praise the Lord for friends who aren’t afraid to call out spiritual progress. All too often we don’t recognize our own transformation unless someone points it out. But this change? This is one that I am, and continue to become, acutely aware of.
The people I am closest to don’t just see the change, they understand it. As for those who don’t know me as well, I am not so sure they understand. To protect us all from repeating conversations I was never present for (remember Sirach 19:7–9), let’s just say that the people are wondering, Where did Laura go? And not just where, but why?
It’s a fair question. Let me explain.
When COVID hit hard and the world shut down, I was already suffering my own personal pandemic. What felt like an endless doggie paddle through the raging waters of mental illness and addiction, I was already exhausted by years of treading in place before we were forced to shelter in place. I know I am not alone. I know that many of us were in the midst of fighting our own battles, only to be told to stand still. Put it on hold. Stop paddling. Stay where you are.
The problem with not paddling? You drown.
As I watched everything close its doors—doors to things that we had worked so hard to open—the church closing was the final straw. And please do not mistake this post for a debate on whether this response from the church was right or wrong. I do not have the emotional bandwidth for that discussion, and more importantly, to veer off the point here would be unfortunate. This is not about right or wrong, safe or unsafe. This is about my total reliance on God and my need for the sacraments. The Eucharist is my strength, my sanity, my food, my oxygen, my therapy, my everything. It is what keeps me afloat when sinking to the bottom looks like a far better option. And so, when the church doors closed, I did what I knew I needed to do to keep my head above water. To be a good wife and mother. To continue to bear my share of hardship for the gospel (2 Timothy 2:3). I found a church with open doors.
That’s where I went. And that’s where I have stayed.
Because, when I walked through those doors, what I found was not only the most beautiful, reverent Mass, but also a holy presence that stilled my soul and silenced the storm in my mind. At a time when the world was spinning out of fear, chaos, and confusion, the Traditional Latin Mass offered a peace and security that transcended all understanding (Philippians 4:7). So caught up in its beauty, I found that participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was not so much about me anymore but about Him. When we read that God works all things for good (Romans 8:28), this right here would be a most appropriate example. What aimed to take me down by keeping me from the sacraments, the Lord has used for me to experience them even greater; to experience Him deeper. No longer treading in my desperation, I found myself swimming in His grace.
And it has come with a cost.
Imagine going from a leader in your parish to nobody knowing who the heck you are. Imagine that one day you are co-coordinating your church’s most vibrant ministry, and the next, you are settling quietly in the back pew, hidden by your veil. And then, imagine how the enemy delights in playing with your mind when word gets back to you that the people are talking. The people are wondering, Where did she go? Does she think that she is holier than thou? Now, I am not going to lie. I would love to be holier than you. In fact, I desire to be as holy as I possibly can be! And you should too. But that’s not why you do not see me anymore. In fact, it was never about you.
I went to where I was unknown by others so as to be convinced that I am known by God.
And this is the spiritual journey, is it not? A sign of maturing faith. Nobody grows by staying the same. Yes, I have embarked on a new stretch of pavement, but make no mistake, the road I travel is the same, for its destination is eternal glory. If you crave a deeper faith—and you should—don't plan on staying comfortable. Jesus didn't command you to pick up your electric blanket and follow the crowd to Starbucks. He asks that you pick up your cross and follow Him. Not everyone will understand why you do what you do. And that is okay. Since when did being a believer require that everything makes sense? At the center of our faith is total Mystery. If you ask me, understanding is overrated. Blind obedience is where it’s at.
The Lord has been doing a new thing in my life. He has been making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland (Isaiah 43:19). And I am utterly amazed by His faithfulness. True, He never changes (Hebrews 13:8), but praise God, I do. So do not be afraid, my friend, when the Lord calls you to something new. If He closes a door on you, rest assured, He will open another. You just need a little more courage than fear to walk on through.
“Are you there, God? It’s me, Kristy. I need some help with this decision and would really appreciate it if you could just tell me what to do. I want to do the right thing, and I don’t know what that is. So, can you please show me?”
*Looks expectantly toward the sky for a lightning bolt with a sign.*
Gosh, if only it was that easy, right? I can’t tell you how many times that’s exactly how it goes in my prayer life, and I walk away frustrated (or laughing at myself in my naivete). But hey, the lightning bolt thing could happen one day—you never know.
Making decisions has always been something I struggle with. From little things like which movie to watch (I could give you three totally valid reasons for and against each choice) to bigger things like if I should start writing that book that I feel called to write (or perhaps I should wait a few years until my kids are older). Can you even imagine how the really big decisions go for me? Praise God that He gifted my husband with heroic patience!
How about you? Do you struggle with making decisions? More specifically, do you struggle with hearing God’s voice and discerning His will for your life?
If this is you, welcome—and pull up a chair. I have come to learn a few things about hearing God’s voice and making decisions, and friend to friend, I want to share them with you.
For starters, I’ve realized that life isn’t a relay race of decisions that we have to make, with each choice shaping and determining the next lap. I used to think of God providing the coaching at each lap when I asked for it, inviting Him in only when I needed His direction. It was more about the outcome and less about the journey. I’ve since learned that life is less like a frantic relay race and more of a slow walk with the Lord, who is with us each and every step of the way—in the big and small things.
In John 10:27, Jesus tells us, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” What does His voice sound like? It’s not a lightning bolt or crack of thunder (at least not in my experience). His voice often speaks through Scripture, which is literally the Word of God. The more time we spend in Scripture, the more we know His voice and can recognize it when He does call us. This requires a conscious decision to slow down and spend time in prayer and reading Scripture. It sounds so simple, yet it’s true. You will be able to better discern God’s will for your life if you spend more time in Scripture—there is no shortcut here.
The next thing I’ve realized about making decisions and discerning God’s will is summed up perfectly by both Robert Frost and Joan of Arc. (I couldn't decide which quote I liked better, so I’m giving you both.)
“The best way out is always through.” —Robert Frost
“Act, and God will act. Work, and He will work.” —St. Joan of Arc
They are both on to something. Something that, quite frankly, sounds terrifying to me. We just have to take a step, even if it turns out that it was the wrong step.
How can the wrong decision be good? A priest friend once gave me some wise advice when I asked how he makes big decisions that impact an entire parish community on a daily basis. He said, “Once I’ve come to a decision through prayer, I ask the Lord to bless it and pray it’s the right one. If it’s the wrong decision, I ask Him to stop my plans. And if He doesn’t…then I ask Him to help me learn from it.”
What a humble, yet confident way of approaching decision-making! Humble in the way he admits God is in charge of the outcome either way—he knows he’s not big enough to thwart God’s plan. And confident in the way he knows his role and responsibility to the people he was sent to serve, and God will use whatever his decision is for good. Following this model has truly enabled me to feel peace about decisions that I make.
When we make our decisions with this type of humble confidence, we allow the Holy Spirit room to work in our lives. Choices that used to bring stress and worry become opportunities for joy as we cooperate with the Lord and allow Him an active role in our lives. It enables us to grow in trust and experience the depth of love that God has for us.
I still really don’t want to make the wrong decisions in my life. And you know what, God knows that about me. And He knows your doubts and fears about discerning things in your life, too. So, if He allows me (or you) to make the wrong decision, you can bet it’s because He wants to teach me (or you) something because He loves us.
My spiritual director was advising me in this area lately, and she said, “Kristy, we almost never get certainty from the Lord. But we can often have clarity. And most of the time, that’s all we need.”
Praying the Holy Spirit will give you clarity in your decision-making, and that you may step out in humble confidence, trusting that the Lord is with you—no matter the outcome.
P.S. Here is an easy decision: check out the Walking with Purpose YouTube series, Truth with Handles: The Conversation, where I chat with fellow WWP bloggers Mallory Smyth and Laura Phelps about issues that matter to Catholic women today. While you’re there, don’t forget to subscribe to the WWP YouTube channel and turn on notifications so you don’t miss a single episode.
The best way to spend the final week before Christmas is making a solo 1,370 mile drive with two dogs in the backseat. At least this is what I told myself when I set out to create an unforgettable Christmas experience for my family. I didn’t factor in the relationship my puppy wanted to develop with the dog staying across the hall at the hotel. She “talked” to our neighbor all night long, which contributed to a delightful sleeping experience along the way.
The thing is, I can justify almost any complication of an event if I am certain that making “it” happen will bring guaranteed delight to my kids. And everyone knows that puppies make Christmas extra magical. The way I have approached the holiday season (if I’m honest, it’s the way I approach my life) is to figure out what is possible. Can I somehow make it happen through grit, hard work, and perseverance? Then the juice is worth the squeeze! Until it isn’t.
I don’t know how you are approaching these final days before Christmas, but I would guess that most of you are starting to feel a little panicky over the things you have left to do, and as a result, you’ve got a creeping sense that you are going to be disappointed by the end result. Which just might be motivating you to run even faster and try even harder. At least that’s the way I have lived for decades.
But I am trying to make a change, and although I still justified the drive with the dogs, I can see some glimmers of transformation. Instead of asking myself, “Is this possible? Can I somehow make this happen?” I am asking myself, “What’s the simplest option here?” I am growing in my appreciation for the simple, and it’s not just because I’ve read Marie Kondo’s book. It’s the result of realizing that nothing satisfies me like a quiet and still heart. I’ve learned that in order to encounter the Lord, everything in my life needs to slow down. It’s not about getting everything done and then giving myself permission to stop. I need to set a goal of doing less, so I can create space for Him.
When there’s a little space, I have the chance to ponder what I’m going to offer Jesus as a gift for His birthday. Typically, I offer Him a nicely decorated house, bulging Christmas stockings, loads of food, and Christmas presents spilling over the floor in front of the tree. But when I stop to think about it, none of these things are for Him. They are for my family. And while I know Jesus feels loved when I love well, I am kidding myself when I ignore the fact that any thoughts of Him are pretty far away when I’m doing all of that prep.
What gifts were given to Jesus when He came to earth and was born in a manger? It was simply the gift of people’s presence. In the midst of the mess of the stable, the noises of the animals, and the emotions that accompany things when they don’t go according to plan, Mary and Joseph let the rest of the world fade away and just welcomed their baby. Their hands were empty, which meant there was room for Him.
Instead of patting myself on the back when I can present Jesus with a picture-perfect Christmas, I have come to see the value in offering Him a calmed and quieted soul (Psalm 131:1). Instead of feeling like I need to come with all my to-do’s wrapped up in my hands, I’ve learned that the gift He likes best is my empty hands, upturned in humble worship.
Padre Pio has been ministering to me these months with these words,
Live simply. Eat simply. Love one another simply. Do not complicate matters unnecessarily. How do you live simply? You remove activities that are not necessary or that pull you away from duty…Apostles of Jesus Christ must set an example of service and obedience but not hectic service. There should be calm and if there is not calm in your life, change your life and keep changing it until you find calm.
There is still time to do what matters most this Christmas season. I’m not talking about the gifts, the cookies, the decorations, or the parties. What matters most is finding a pocket of calm, emptying your hands, and upturning them to offer thanks. A humble thank you to the God of the universe because He stepped into our mess as Emmanuel, God with us. Take a deep breath, my friends. Your peaceful presence is more important than the perfect present. That’s what is remembered most.
So offer Jesus your empty, upturned hands this Christmas. There’s no better gift.
With you on the journey,
It’s Advent. My favorite time of year. Every morning in December, I get to wake up before the entire house and pray by a Christmas tree. It’s glorious. For four weeks, I get to meditate on the mystery of God becoming man, and I love it. I love it because I love God, I love Christmas trees, and I love history. And while all of these things make me feel good, I rarely allow these delightful moments to transform the way I live.
Advent is a season for preparation. During this time, we prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming, but that preparation should not only affect our hearts and minds. The work we allow God to do in us during Advent should leave a mark that makes us different during the rest of the year. But how? How should praying through old prophecies and thinking about Jesus’ being born in a manger change us? It should change us because, when we meditate on them, they tether us to reality, and when we live in reality, we will live more joyful and ordered lives.
Frank Sheed, a Catholic theologian, said in his book, Theology and Sanity, “Seeing what the Church sees means seeing what is there.” When we see the world as it really is and interact with it how it actually works, our behavior harmonizes with truth, which brings on peace and guards against anxiety.
The issue is that this is easier said than done. It is not easy to live grounded in reality because we are surrounded by illusion. Our society is a marketing machine that is constantly telling us what should make us happy, sad, or afraid. It sends the message that life is about our comfort, our preferences, and our happiness at the cost of humility and sacrifice. If we do not deliberately hold on to the truth, we will eventually live as though the world revolves around us—even if we don’t believe it in our hearts. Meditating on God’s promises during Advent can break us out of the cultural narrative because it draws us out of our daily grind and into the broader story of God’s faithfulness throughout history. It reminds us of our role in the story.
One of these promises does just that. These words remind us of who God is and who we are in His plan of salvation: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them, light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy” (Isaiah 9:2–3).
Notice where the people are. They are in darkness. Notice that it doesn’t say, “The people in darkness have themselves walked out of the darkness and into the light.” No, the people were pretty helpless, and it was while they were still in darkness, the Light began to shine. The hero in the story is God, the Light, that saved the people. The people themselves did very little. They may have responded to the Light, but it was God who did all of the work.
Dear sister, this Advent season, as I pray through Isaiah 9, I am declaring over and over again that the world does not revolve around me. I am not the point of the story; God is. I don’t believe it in my heart, but I often live as though I am the center of the universe. How do I know? Because I am easily inconvenienced and offended. I’m also quick to believe that I am pretty amazing, and if others don’t verbally recognize my greatness, I am overcome with discouragement.
What about you? I bet that you know that the world does not revolve around you, but how do you live? What are your knee-jerk reactions? Examine your thought life. What do you think other people owe you? Answer these questions, and you will quickly find out whether you act as though life is about you or God.
During these weeks of Advent, if you let Him, God will gently but boldly put you back into your place. He will remind you of what is real—that all of history is about His goodness. We are the ones in the darkness, and He is the light. We needed a savior, and He did the saving. He is meant to be served and glorified, not us.
The season of Advent is ultimately about freedom. God became a man to set us free from sin, and in doing so, saved us from ourselves. He is the center of everything. When we live our lives according to this truth, wonder becomes attainable and joy becomes common. We become free of the burden that comes from trying to be the star on a stage that was never meant to be ours in the first place.
So, as we approach Christmas, let this season change you. Let it change how you respond when others upset you or fail to notice you. Let it free you from the tyranny of self-love so that your life reflects the reality that it is all about the One who is Love itself.
Come Lord Jesus, set us free from ourselves so all that is left is love of you.
 Frank Sheed, Theology and Sanity (Ignatius Press: 1993), 22
Do you want your life to change?
This was the question that Dynamic Catholic Founder, Matthew Kelly, posed to a packed church parish hall ten years ago. I can’t speak for the other attendees’ responses at the retreat that day, but I can share mine. It was a solid yes.
The solution Kelly offered wasn’t anything that I was expecting and certainly didn’t align with the solutions the world offers. He didn’t tell me to go to therapy, practice mindfulness, walk in the grass barefoot, or lose weight. (Which, for the record, are not bad things. In fact, I’ve done them all.) He simply suggested, “If you want your life to change, go to daily Mass every day for two weeks.” He followed up with, “Some of you will, and some of you won’t.”
As for me? I did.
And he was right.
My life radically and profoundly changed because of the Mass.
But please do not mistake “changed” for “eliminated trial and tribulation.” My active participation in the holy sacrifice does not serve as a magic pill that makes troubles melt away. (If it did, the churches would be filled.) Dare I say, some troubles have seemingly gotten worse. The “change” goes deeper than external and current circumstances. It is an ongoing stretching and pulling of the heart. An interior transformation. It is hard to explain the mystery of it all, but I have narrowed my own experience of how the Mass has changed my life down to three significant, yet super simple points that might help you to better understand; and, if you so desire, can apply to your own life.
1. Start every day with God’s Word. Do you realize that when you reach for your phone before you get out of bed you have just given every voice in your feed permission to shape your heart and steer where you stare? What we allow to daily enter our minds has the power to bring us peace or unrest. Life or death. Scott Hahn said, “If we do not fill our mind with prayer, it will fill itself with anxieties, worries, temptations, resentments, and unwelcome memories.” And maybe you are thinking, I do pray every morning. I do not have to physically go to a church to pray. And you are correct. Sort of. Because…
2. The Mass is an invincible weapon. We are in a daily battle. In the Book of Revelation, we read how “the huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it” (Revelation 12:9). And “when the dragon saw that it had been thrown down to the earth, it pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child...then the dragon became angry with the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring” (Revelation 12:13, 17). Sweet friends, I don’t mean to alarm you, but we are the offspring. We have an accuser who accuses us “day and night” (Revelation 12:10). I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a terrifying and losing battle!
However, Ephesians 6:13 offers a plan: “Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.” How much armor are you wearing? Because I want to wear the full armor. I want the armor of personal prayer, but I also want the armor of the holy sacrifice of the Mass! The Eucharist! Christ present on the altar in flesh and blood! I cannot rely on my own strength, and so I need to literally consume the strength of Christ. Where do we find this strength? In the Eucharist. The Eucharist strengthens us in charity, preserves us from future mortal sins, and unites us more closely to Christ. And speaking of being united with Christ…
3. The Mass rightly orders our worship. Here’s the truth we don’t want to hear: we are all addicts. Everyone is addicted to something. As the saying goes, “Addiction is giving up everything for one thing. Recovery is giving up one thing for everything.” Jesus is everything, and yet so many worldly addictions compete with Him. What is the one thing that you drop everything (Jesus) for? On the days I skip time with Jesus present at the daily Mass, it is my addiction to self-reliance that has taken God’s place. The moment I start to look at everything piled on my plate and start to imagine all of the things that I will accomplish with that extra hour is the moment I give up everything that Jesus wants to give me. Truly, it’s the work of the enemy. Because there is nothing on my to-do list—not even those things I can do for my children—that will ever be more important than hearing the Mass. I know…every parent reading this thinks I have lost my mind. But hear me out. Our children, no matter their age, are watching us. They see what matters to us and what does not. In his book, Parents of the Saints, author Patrick O’Hearn writes that “these devout parents show us that there is no greater gift a parent can pass on to their sons and daughters than the Holy Eucharist. Other gifts will never satisfy or last—toys will be abandoned, clothes will be outgrown, cars will break down, and sports teams will disappoint, but the Holy Eucharist is the gift that never stops giving and always satisfies.”
Some of you will read this and feel inspired to attend daily Mass. Others will find my suggestion highly inconvenient and logistically unrealistic. Others will think how strict and outdated the rules of the Catholic Church are that, in today’s busy day and age, church attendance is even a requirement. “But the true state of the case is that the law of the Church is so strict because Christ is present in the Mass.” Of course, we know that God is everywhere. “But it is in the Holy Mass alone that He offers Himself to His Father as the Lamb that was slain. How can we forego that sweet and solemn action?”
This Advent, I made a vow to give up my worship of self-reliance and to get back to “the works I did at first” (Revelation 2:5). Namely, worshiping God at daily Holy Mass. And in just one short week, the fruits and rewards are undeniable. The bottom line is that wherever this lands on your heart, I want you to know this: Ten years ago, I wanted my life to change, and it did...because of the Mass.
Do you want your life to change?
If so, go to daily Mass every day for two weeks.
Some of you will and some of you won’t.
I pray that you all will.
 Scott Hahn, Signs of Life: 40 Catholic Customs and Their Biblical Roots (2009), p.91.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, p.352, 1394, 1395, 1396
 Patrick O’Hearn, Parents of the Saints:The Hidden Heroes Behind Our Favorite Saints (Tan Books, 2020), p.30-31.
 Father Lasance, The New Roman Missal (Christian Book Club of America, 1993), p.40.
 Father Lasance, The New Roman Missal (Christian Book Club of America, 1993), p.40.
Above my bed hangs a couple of one hundred-year-old pictures: one of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the other of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I love them. I love that they hung on someone’s wall going back to the early 1900s. I love how they remind me that the Catholic Church spans across the world and throughout history. And I like to look into Jesus and Mary’s eyes as I go about my day—except when I am working out. With four tiny children, a gym membership is an impossibility, so my bedroom is also my gym. Whenever I hit the play button for my forty-minute exercise video, those pictures that I dearly love spark accusations in my mind. When I look at them, I hear: Why aren’t you using this time better? Couldn’t you be reading and studying for ministry? Shouldn’t you be meal planning right now? Yes, I probably should be meal planning. And I immediately feel the desire to hide. It becomes difficult for me to look into the eyes of the portraits even though I am fully aware that the accusations I hear do not come from the real Jesus or Mary that the portraits represent.
And it’s not just my workouts. Sometimes, I have a hard time looking at the tabernacle during Mass; because I am so busy chasing my almost-two-year-old, very few prayerful thoughts enter my mind. When I finally glance at the tabernacle, I shamefully think, Jesus, I am trying. Other times, I find myself wanting to walk into the adoration chapel with sunglasses on so maybe I can pray without being noticed by the Blessed Sacrament.
Although these moments don’t happen often (well, the workout one does), they happen enough for me to ask myself why. I know that God loves me and even likes me. I know that He is a good Father. I know Scripture tells me that I am chosen and precious in His sight. So why is it that even after learning all of this, I still believe in my heart of hearts that what God really wants is the cleaned-up version of me? After all this time, I act as though God’s love depends on my ever-wavering behavior instead of His steadfast goodness.
Do you ever feel this way? Maybe you know the Truth about God’s love and have experienced His love and His mercy again and again. Perhaps you recite Bible verses and battle the lies in your mind with the truth of Scripture, but in the everyday hustle, the remnants of those lies persist. They say, “God will love you more when you can get a grip at work, or stop nagging your children, or finally kick that sin, or become better organized, or get married, or have a better attitude about your tragic situation, or (insert struggle here).”
Why do you think those lies get at you? Why do you think you still have a lingering desire to hide from the God who loves you so much? I have done some searching in my own heart and have found an answer that might help you as well.
I realized that when reading the Bible’s descriptions of saintly living, I read them as though one day, if I try hard enough, I will finally possess what it takes to be holy. I don’t approach Scripture from the perspective that God has already given me the qualities of a saint simply by making me in His image. I fail to take joy in the fact that God sees me as good and is using that goodness to lead me further down the path of holiness. Instead, I think He sees me only as a project—not His daughter. This is a lie.
Recently, I finished watching season 2 of The Chosen, a series about the life of Jesus. If you haven’t taken the time to watch it, I highly recommend it. The finale of season 2 depicts Jesus preparing to give the “Sermon on the Mount” to a crowd of thousands. Throughout the episode, Jesus practices his sermon with Matthew, who eventually tells Jesus that He needs a better intro (keep in mind, this is a fictional portrayal of a real-life event). Jesus spends all night in prayer with the Father to complete the introduction to His sermon. In the morning, Jesus approaches Matthew and recites what we know as the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-11). But as He does it, He thinks of each one of His disciples.
When He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” He thinks of Nathaniel.
When He says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” He thinks of Peter and Andrew.
When He says, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth,” He thinks of Thaddeus and James.
When He says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled,” He thinks of James and John.
When He says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy,” He thinks of Mary, His mother.
When He says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” He thinks of Thomas.
When He says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,” He thinks about Phillip.
When He says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” He thinks of John the Baptist.
And when He says, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you,” He looks lovingly at Matthew, who is writing down the sermon, unaware of the Master’s loving glance.
At this moment in the episode, I realized that when Jesus spoke about what it means to be holy, He did not speak about impersonal attributes in imaginary people. He spoke about what He already saw in those closest to Him as they unknowingly reflected God’s goodness in their everyday life. He was already pleased with His disciples. Despite their failings, they were already on their way to sainthood.
Does this not reveal God’s heart toward us? Those slight accusations that you and I hear are not from Him. When we allow them to stew within us, they keep us from recognizing just how much goodness is already within us. They keep us stuck—continually hiding from God who sees everything and still takes deep delight in who we are.
So the next time you are reading about how to live a holy life, I challenge you to read it as though God is looking directly at you and calling out what He already sees in you. Can you be better? Sure. But God has already placed Himself within you. Own it. Throw away any desire, however small, you have to hide from God, and let Him love you with abandon. Despite yourself, you are a delight to him, and that, dear friend, is enough.
 The Chosen, Season 2, excerpt from Episode 8, “The Beatitudes,” Youtube, 3:27, uploaded July 13, 2021, https://youtu.be/02hbIq7rFDs.
I’m not sure I was quite prepared for all that came along with my daughter turning 13. I was a teenage girl once, so I sort of knew what to expect. I was familiar with teenage mood swings, the temper tantrums, the eye rolls, and sarcastic tones; however, I was completely unprepared for her direct arrows of anger that, quite frankly, left me emotionally LEVELED.
Following a direct shot to my heart one afternoon, tears instantly filled my eyes. I felt my anger rising like water in a flood-driven river—overwhelmingly fast, surging, and nearly uncontrollable. My body shook. Somehow, I refrained from screaming what I wanted to in response to her stinging words that broke my heart.
Trembling, I managed—through clenched teeth—to get the words out, “I’m going to pray.” As quickly as those words left my mouth, I was gone, out the door, in my car, and driving to the perpetual adoration chapel at my parish.
I was shattered. How could my little girl, my precious girl, hurl such cruel words at me? I had made a deal with the Lord years ago when my husband and I were desperate to conceive. If He would answer my prayer to bear a child, then I wouldn’t just make up for what I thought my childhood lacked, but I would be infinitely better—no, I would be THE BEST mother. And now, according to my daughter, for whom I had prayed to God for, I was so much less than that.
I held it together as I walked into the chapel, and not wanting to offend the other woman already there, silently knelt to pray. Mercifully, she left only a couple of minutes later. Alone in the chapel, I let it all out. Heaving sobs echoed in the small room. Tears streaming and eyes lowered, I wept, “Lord, I am so sorry!”
My deepest fear had been revealed—I was a failure. And it had been revealed by someone so dear to me. My mind raced as the tears fell. I begged aloud, “What should I do? What should I say? How can I make this right?”
I couldn’t possibly return home and be the mother she needed me to be! I wasn’t cut out for this! My heart screamed. I ferociously journaled my feelings and all the ways I had not lived up to my promise to the Lord.
And then, just like that, I literally stopped sobbing. The tears just stopped. I looked up from my clenched hands for the first time since I had entered the chapel. I locked my eyes on Jesus in the monstrance.
“Do not be afraid. I am here,” I wrote in my journal at that very moment.
I kept writing with my prayer to the Lord: “Father, only You will make my heart right. Only You will make her heart right. Soften our hearts toward each other, Lord. Allow her to soak up Your love for her. We are your beloved daughters.”
I realized then that it was no longer about my failure or my daughter’s anger. It was about Him. Jesus. I couldn’t possibly make this right by myself. I didn’t know what to do by myself. I stopped looking at this problem as being all up to me to figure out. It became less about me or even about my daughter. It became all about Him. “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30).
In that moment, in front of Jesus, it became less about me and all of the things that I had said or done wrong.
It became less about my daughter’s words, her hurt feelings, or even my own self-doubt.
It became all about Him.
It became all about His love for my daughter. It became all about Jesus filling my heart with the grace I desperately needed.
It became all about His grace softening my heart and her heart, so we could open our ears to each other and listen with love instead of shouting with anger.
It became less about who I was in my own eyes or in my daughter’s eyes. It became all about who I was in His eyes.
It became all about laying this situation at the foot of His cross and taking my eyes off myself so I could lift them to meet Him.
When I stopped clenching my hands and beating myself up, I opened my hands to receive His love. I was right where Jesus wanted me to be: in His presence, receiving His love. Author Henri Nouwen writes in his book Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith, “Each human being has a place of poverty. That’s the place where God wants to dwell.” In this moment of feeling like a failure as a mother, in my poverty, Jesus lifted my gaze to meet His. He did this so that in my weakness I could receive His love, grace, and strength. And there, in my poverty, revealed for Him to see, I could RECEIVE His blessing and, in turn, bless others.
I’d love to tell you that I left the chapel that night, returned home, and instantly became a perfect mother. I didn’t. I did leave that chapel filled with peace. With God’s grace, I returned home, my anger and hurt feelings replaced with fierce love, open ears, and clarity. Resolving the issue with my daughter took time, patience, firm discipline, and love. And all of that came from the grace God filled me with as I poured out my heart to Him. Without His grace, my anger surely would have won. And when anger wins, we all lose. I am convinced that all of this only happened with God’s grace.
I will never be a perfect mother. But HE is perfect. I will never love perfectly, but my daughter and I are perfectly loved by Jesus.
 Nouwen, Henri. Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith (New York: Harper One, 2006).
If God were real, why would He allow so many horrible things to happen?
If God really loved us, why wouldn’t He just step in and fix everything?
Have you been asked these questions before?
Have you ever asked them yourself?
There’s no shame if you’ve questioned His goodness.
Lord knows I have.
As I shared with a beautiful group of women last week, it is because I have been blessed by tragedy that I can view this temporary home of mine with an eternal lens. Yes, you read that correctly. Blessed by tragedy. It is through trial and tribulation that I have learned the all-important lesson: Aside from the way that I respond to suffering, I am in control of nothing. It is this acceptance of God’s will over my own that has brought me deep and profound peace.
Yes. I am one of those Catholics that embraces and praises God for suffering. But honestly, what other choice do we have?
Well, actually, we do have a choice. We can carry our cross or try to escape it. Walk toward God or walk away. And I am here to tell you that walking away doesn’t work. While heading for the back door sounds way more appealing than running headfirst into pain, running away from the cross is not going to make it disappear. Trust me. I have tried.
But what about those of us who feel like God is the one who walked away first? What about those of us who have been on bended knees, faithfully persevering in our loneliness, troubled marriages, and the relentless battle of anxiety, depression, and addiction...and can’t find relief? At what point do we get a pass to tap out—to ring the bell, wave the flag, and say, “Enough is enough, Lord; I am tired of waiting for you to show up and make things better”?
If this is where you are, I want you to know that I spent years in this miserable place. I threw tantrums, hosted pity parties, and shook my fists at the heavens. I debated losing hope. I begged to escape. But Jesus does not command us to escape, does He? He asks that we trust. In his book Soundings from St. John of the Cross: The Impact of God, Father Iain Matthew writes:
In the fourth gospel, Jesus shows himself anxious about His disciples’ future suffering. They will be excommunicated, even killed. Jesus knows this, but his anxiety is not that they will suffer—that will happen, and he does not suggest a way of avoiding it. His anxiety is that they may panic, collapse inside, "stumble" in their faith (cf. John 16:1-2). Hence Jesus’ most frequent exhortation is not "Escape" but "Do not be afraid.”
Choosing to trust when our insides are falling out is not our human tendency. Being obedient to a plan that looks like a recipe for disaster does not come easily. Thank God for the example we have in our Lady. Mary’s only desire in life was to do the will of God. From the Annunciation to the crucifixion, Mary saw everything from an eternal perspective. It was out of blind obedience that she would have said the same words to Jesus on the cross that she said at Cana, “Do whatever He says.” With the help of our Lady, I can embrace what I am called to suffer. I can stand at the foot of the cross because she shows me how.
I am excited to share with you that my new book, Sweet Cross: A Marian Guide to Suffering, has been released. I wrote it with many of you in mind, your names pressed upon my heart. Countless women have courageously reached out and shared their own stories of suffering with me, and it is a privilege to be invited into such a sacred space. You have encouraged me to pick up my cross daily and follow. You have echoed back to me the words of St. Paul: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). And I mean, really...is this not the purpose of all that we are asked to carry? Dare I say, the most beautiful shared moments in life are the ones that involve the cross.
If you are struggling to see your tragedy as a blessing, I pray that you will pick up a copy of Sweet Cross. By imitating our Lady’s virtues you will learn to embrace your suffering and see the cross as it truly is: the place where Jesus shows his incredible love for us, and where we are given the opportunity to love Him in return.
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you.” (1 Peter 5:10)
With you at the foot of the cross,
Hi friends! Today I’d like to share with you a fresh perspective on the feminist movement, written by renowned Catholic scholar and author Carrie Gress. —Lisa
There is something in the female nature that is drawn to fashion and trends. Words like savvy, fresh, and cosmopolitan evoke a woman who is smart and hip. Trends don’t end with skirt hems, eye shadow shades, and changing seasons; ideas can also be fashionable. For the past fifty years, western women have been told by an unrelenting chorus that feminism is a trend we should all get behind.
Today, feminism feels built into the very fabric of our culture. Few of us can imagine our lives without its influence. And yet for all its sway, we haven’t seen an explosion of happiness and fulfillment among women. The happiness metrics tell a different story when we look at the numbers for suicide, depression, divorce, and sexually transmitted diseases. All of these have continued to climb over the decades.
As Catholic women we can feel a tug to engage with feminism, promote it, and be grateful for it, but like more and more women, we are beginning to see that it isn’t delivering on its promises.
Women often feel an allegiance to feminism because it has somehow become bundled in our minds with our basic rights, like voting, driving a car, or owning a home. What radical feminism has deftly done is to make us think that if we look behind the curtain, we are somehow betraying ourselves and all the courageous women who fought for these things. Questioning the source for the liberties we hold dear feels like we are betraying our womanhood. We live in a type of co-dependent relationship where we agree to look the other way when it comes to feminism’s vicious elements (like abortion and destruction of the family), as long as we get to keep our vote, homes, jobs, and so on.
What few of us realize is that the feminists of the 1960s and 70s wove Marxist theory into the effort, twisting it into something that would have been unrecognizable to women like Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Second Wave Feminists made being a man the real ideal (or idol). Fifty years later, we still live with their lies that women are entitled to the sexual liberty of men—and not good men—and children are the main obstacle to our happiness. And like all lies, these have destroyed many women.
We don’t usually see these casualties. The women we see on TV, in magazines and social media, and on the catwalk and the big screen are curated to sell the narrative of success and happiness. Elites in the media, academia, politics, Hollywood, fashion houses, magazines, and book publishing have conspired to show us what they want the ever-trending feminism to look like. Their success is built on the false notion that feminism really has our best interest in mind. This is what ideologies do. They promise bliss and deliver misery.
But perhaps the most curious trend, especially among Catholics, is the effort to try to correct radical feminism’s errors with more feminism, further draining the word of meaning. Yes, there are vestiges from the First Wave of feminism that still could have some relevance for women today, but by and large, feminism has come to mean the Second Wave ideal. If we compare this approach to other ideologies, we can see why it is ineffective. To defeat Nazism, did people ever think, “Why don’t we become a new kind of Nazi, so that we can convince the real Nazis not to be Nazis” or “Let’s call ourselves the Mafia, but a new kind of Mafia, to help straighten out the old Mafia.” These might seem extreme, but when we consider that radical feminism has actually ended many more lives (62 million in the US alone) than either of these two blights on humanity, it suddenly becomes clear that there has to be better strategies.
The Church has more than 2000 years of wisdom to draw upon and doesn’t actually need a twisted ideology propped up by lies to help it lead women to happy and healthy lives. It was truly Christ, the Church, and our Lady who brought to light the equal dignity women have to men. This was not a gift of feminism. One only has to look at what is happening to women in Afghanistan to see how very different things could be. Or to consider the erasure of womanhood in our own culture, leaving most stumped when asked what it means to be a woman.
Women don’t need feminism to flourish. It can be a hard thing to separate ourselves from what everyone else is doing, but it is something we must have the eyes to see and the courage to do if we want to help women be healthy and happy and to truly become who God made us to be.
Carrie Gress is a Fellow at The Ethics and Public Policy Center and a Scholar at The Institute for Human Ecology at Catholic University of America. She is a prolific writer and author of several books, including The Marian Option, The Anti-Mary Exposed, and Theology of Home. A mother of five, she is also the editor of the online Catholic women's magazine, TheologyofHome.com.