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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.

In Christ,
Carrie

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 OptionThe 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.

Confession: I’ve been one of those rare Catholics that does not have a deep devotion to Mary. There, I said it. I wasn’t planning to admit this in my first blog after three months away, but here it is. I hope you can forgive me. 

Don’t get me wrong. I think she is great. I recognize just how important she is, but I have never been stirred in devotion to her. That, however, all changed last Saturday. 

As I entered the chapel for a moment of quiet, my parish priest handed me a print of the Magnificat, Mary's hymn of praise. I knew we would be reflecting on Mary, which, as stated above, was not my favorite thing. This time, however, it was different. The priest presented a new title for Mary, and it made me desperately want to be more like her. He called Mary the “Enemy of Pettiness.”

Pettiness is an undue concern with trivial matters, especially of a small-minded or spiteful nature [1], and Mary is its enemy. Wouldn't you love that title to apply to you? Maybe it does, but it doesn't apply to me. I am easily discouraged by minor inconveniences and quickly offended by the comments of others. I make assumptions about what other people are like based solely on their social media posts, and regularly allow my mind to go down the rabbit hole of worry about the future.

Pettiness takes up way too much space in my life despite my deep desire to be holy. And so, if Mary is its enemy, I want to live how she lived and approach life with her perspective. 

So, how did Mary live, and what was her perspective? Mary's Magnificat reveals her posture toward life and how she saw the world. Both are examples for us to follow. 

In the first line of the Magnificat, Mary says, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46–47).

Mary did not live her life for her own comfort or glory. Instead, her life was a magnifying glass. Others could not help but look at her and see God. A magnifying glass is different from other types of glass because it has a different shape. The lens is convex so that it magnifies the object behind it. Mary was human like everyone else, but matters of the world did not shape her heart, her soul, and her mind. Matters of heaven shaped them.

Hers was a life in which prayer was the priority, not a priority. Obedience to God's voice was more important to her than her comfort, convenience, or popularity. Because she lived her life in this way, she became conformed to God's will and was able to magnify Him in every circumstance. The world looks at her and cannot help but see another world—an eternal world lit up by the glory of a mighty God.  

The second part of the Magnificat reveals that Mary had a broad understanding of God's faithfulness. She says, “And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation...He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever” (Luke 1:50, 54–55).

Mary knew not only that God had been faithful to her people throughout history, but she also knew how He had been faithful. She knew from Scripture the stories of how God had rescued His people again and again despite their unfaithfulness, and through Scripture, she also learned her identity (Beloved) and God’s character (Good and Faithful). So when the darkness of present circumstance entered in, she turned to what she knew: God would not abandon her, He already knew about her circumstances, and His faithfulness would triumph in the end.   

Friend, what is it that pulls you down into the petty things of this life? What is it that keeps you stuck and worried? 

Many days, it seems like our external circumstances just won't let up and inner joy cannot be found. We live in serious times, and, in these times, we can no longer be passive about how we live and how we see the world. Our Lord must be at the center of it all or pettiness and worry will consume us. So I ask, what is shaping your soul? What is your perspective? How do you view yourself and God? 

And if you can't answer these questions, let me start you with a reminder. According to Ephesians 2:1–2, “You were dead through trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world.” Ephesians 2:4-7 then says, “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” 

This is the gospel message, the grace offered to you by Jesus Christ that should shape your life. 

How can the world see a God in which it does not believe? Only by looking at people who have conformed themselves so deeply to God that they can't help but magnify Him. Only by encountering people whose perspective gives them the ability to live with a peace that surpasses understanding.

Need an example? Look to our Lady. She did this to perfection. The same God that shaped her longs to shape you. Give Him your whole “yes,” so that, like Mary, you can call yourself an enemy of pettiness and a woman whose life exists for the sake of God’s glory. 

[1] “Pettiness,” Lexico, accessed September 7, 2021, https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/pettiness.

 

Which side are you on?

A dangerous question to ask in this space, don’t you think? Don’t worry. This post is not about politics or the pandemic. It’s about Christ.

And that’s why we are here, right?

In fact, politics and the pandemic are my least favorite things to talk about. This has nothing to do with how little or how much I care about our country and our health. I care deeply. But I have noticed a trend when it comes to discussing these current events—there is no discussion. Gone are the days of critical thinking, which, as explained by Gabe Lyons, founder of Q Ideas, is the process of thinking carefully about a subject or idea, without allowing feelings or opinion to affect you.[1] Lyons says that critical thinking is essential for believers. And so this is a huge problem. Without the ability to critically think, you are either right or you are an idiot. And the outcome? Division and diversion. Our world, country, communities, churches, ministries, and families are being scattered as quickly as roaches on a kitchen counter at the flick of a light. Our minds are so occupied with things we can’t control that we have lost focus on our mission. It is difficult to get close enough to hear God’s whisper when the world’s continuous (and not always so obvious) message of “we will keep you safe” and “please keep your distance” is on a constant loop running in our ears.

Oh, my friends. The world cannot keep us safe. Only Jesus can keep us safe. 

I learned this lesson the hard way and am all the better for it. It took a school shooting, an addiction, and my incredible gift of co-dependency to acknowledge and accept what none of us want to admit: there is nothing we can do to keep ourselves, or anyone, for that matter, safe. Sure, we can be cautious. And yes, we should always look out for our neighbors. But at the end of the day? We are not in control and safety is not up to us. “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8 RSV).

Do we believe this?

Because here is the catch: Jesus doesn’t feel very safe, does He? He feels risky and radical. And He is both of these. But we already knew that, didn't we? We have read the Gospels. We know the stories, and better than knowing them, we believe them. In fact, this is precisely what makes us Christians. The true marking of a believer is not safety—it is the cross that we willingly embrace. And ironically? This is where we find our safety. At the foot of the very place we are too terrified to stand. And despite what our circumstances look like, we choose to follow anyway. True believers do not leave Jesus, and those with a resilient faith will choose death for Christ before even considering otherwise. If this sounds too dramatic and far-fetched, just look at our Christian brothers and sisters in Afghanistan today. Right now. Dying for the faith. Obedient to death.[2] Would we do the same?

As we are called to weather one storm after the other, I had a thought. It happened just a few days before Hurricane Henri hit. I pulled into the grocery store parking lot on a Thursday morning and was shocked to find it packed. When I walked into the store, masked people rushed through the aisles frantically. I literally panicked thinking, “Thanksgiving is not this weekend, is it?” (I mean, really—does anybody know what day, month, or year it is anymore?) Thankfully, I ran into a friend who informed me that not only are we still in the month of August but that there was a hurricane expected to hit in a couple of days. The people were preparing.

As I found myself, once again, staring at shelves long cleared of bottled water, ice, and toilet paper, all to the quiet hum of “stay safe” and “keep your distance,” I thought: What would the world look like if we prepared our souls for heaven with the same urgency? 

What if the message whispered into our ears constantly was Jesus saves...Come closer...Arm yourself with the rosary?
What if we followed Christ as closely as we followed the latest news and statistics?
What if we shared our faith on social media more than we shared the latest political meme?
What if, in times of looming disaster, we ran to the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Adoration Chapel, and our rosary before the grocery stores and gas stations?
What if we cared for our souls more than we cared for our comfort?
What if we lived out 1 Thessalonians 5? (Yes, I am encouraging you to open your Bible.)

Living as a true believer, fully committed to Christ, does not mean we are irresponsible or selfish. It means we are obedient. Looking out for each other and loving our neighbor goes beyond our preference to mask or not mask, vaccinate or not vaccinate. As St. Thomas Aquinas instructs, “love is willing the good of the other; seeking what is best for the other.” And that greater good has nothing to do with their safety on earth but everything to do with getting them safely to heaven. Souls are at stake, and as Jesus’s disciples, we have been commissioned to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). 

Are we doing this?

Because this is our goal. And this, my friends, is our call. And no, it is not easy. In a culture where feelings drive what people believe is objectively true, preparing for the journey ahead is going to require way more than a few gallons of water and some spare hand sanitizer. The call to choose Jesus is everything, and it will come with a cost. I suppose the question to ask is, is Christ worth it to you? Is dying for the truth worth it? Because you were and still are worth everything to Him, down to the very last drop of His blood. Our King and Savior humbled and emptied Himself as He was arrested, questioned, tortured, killed, and left utterly naked to hang on a cross. What looked like the world’s greatest defeat turned out to be our greatest victory, for it purchased for us eternal peace and security with God. This is why we are alive today. Not so that we can save our lives on earth, but so that we can lose our lives for heaven.[3] 

I fear this message is unpopular and so has gotten lost and drowned out by the secular world. As we appear to grow more divided and distracted by the minute, might I suggest that we make this the message we hear and believe? There is freedom and healing when we turn away from the world and choose blind obedience to Christ; when we resist the enemy’s temptation to divide and divert, and instead, cling all the more to Christ and the safety of the cross.

So, again, I ask. Which side are you on?

I pray that it’s Christ’s.

With love,
Laura

[1] https://qideas.org/qmoments/our-need-for-critical-thinking/
[2] https://www.spreaker.com/user/jennieallen/s8-ep25-bonus-fc3
[3] Matthew 10:39
Bible Study

You know the conversation gets good when the person on the other end of the phone leads with, “I love Jesus, but what I really struggle with in the Catholic Church is…” 

We all struggle with our faith. Whether it be with a long personal suffering, a devastating betrayal from our church leaders, or a hard teaching to accept, at one point or another, we will scratch our heads and wonder what on earth have I signed up for? And while it is good to wrestle with and question matters of faith, we have to be careful to whom we bring such questions, because often, it is here in this place of doubt that the enemy senses an unsteady soul. And then we are presented with a choice: Do I jump ship, and settle for earthly consolations because this faith is too difficult to understand and live out; and if I am being honest...it’s totally impractical and irrelevant and besides I am super tired? Or, will I choose to be spiritually grounded and unmovable; like a peg driven into a firm place (Isaiah 22:23), will I remain steadfast no matter the size of the waves or the length of the trials?

I think the reason why so many of us are disappointed, questioning our Church, and completely over our suffering is because we have a shallow understanding of Christ. We want to believe that we are all in for Jesus, but when pushed to the edge of endurance, our thoughts and actions tell a different story, don’t they? Oh, we have faith...to a point. But when the rules feel too rigid and the tests too long, even the most holy among us can begin to wonder, what’s the point?

For years, I wondered this. Why get up before dawn every morning to seek Jesus in silent prayer only to discover that His plan is to break my spirit before lunch? Why volunteer at my parish, write books, or speak at retreats sharing the joy of the Gospel if I am just going to continue to be tested? Why all the rosaries, why all the tears, why all the mortifications if nothing ever changes? And better yet, what if it changes for the worse? Again, I ask...what’s the point?

“The point” was unexpectedly discovered and shared by actor John Voight in an interview with Tucker Carlson. “I was in a lot of trouble,” he confessed, “...and I was really suffering for many reasons...and I found myself on the floor saying, ‘It’s so difficult. It’s so difficult.’ I said it out loud. And I heard in my ear, ‘It's supposed to be difficult.’” It was an audible voice; one of wisdom, kindness, and clarity, and it spoke into Voight’s ear what he will never forget and what forever changed him: It’s supposed to be difficult.

It was on a silent retreat, in the worst accommodations you could ever imagine, that I made the decision to embrace the difficult by surrendering my whole heart to Jesus. And I mean all of it. As in, take what is most precious to you, carry it up a mountain, strap it to wood, and sacrifice it to the Lord kind of surrender. I had been withholding this piece of my heart for years, too afraid to give it to God out of fear of losing it forever. But after years of being tossed about, trying to pray the difficult away, I realized that until I embraced the difficult, I would forever miss the point. And do you know what happened when I offered God what I love most? Do you know what happened when I embraced the test with unwavering confidence in my Lord? I learned to live at God’s pace. I grew in holiness. I began to cultivate a worthy heart. I experienced a holy joy. Not because the trial was over. Not because things got easier. But because I chose obedience in the midst of the difficult.

“Count it all joy” looks great painted on shiplap or printed on a cute mug, but if we stop at the joy we miss the point. The full verse from the Letter of James reads, “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3). Drop down a few more verses and we are assured that “blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). I read this, and it all sounds very clear; difficult to obey, perhaps, but not to understand. There is a point to the tests. They steady our soul, detach us from the world, keep us from getting tossed about, earn us the crown. And so I can’t help but wonder. Could it be that we are standing on shaky spiritual ground not because our God is too demanding or the Church outdated, but rather, because we are holding God to promises He never made?

It would be wise to get to know this God better, lest we become victims of deception. Practically speaking, what does this look like? How do we become steadfast?

  1. Make God a priority. Crave the Eucharist more than your Starbucks. Frequent the sacraments. Grab a friend and commit to a daily devotional that you can discuss together.
  2. Find a community of like-minded people who are seeking to know and understand Christ better. Get yourself in a small group. Lead a Bible study. Ask the hard questions and wrestle with your doubts with people who will lead you to Truth. This is crucial, not optional.
  3. Write down His promises. Not what the world promises. Not what you want Him to promise. But His actual promises. 

Whatever trial you are facing, please know that God is not out to break your spirit. I speak this with authority as I know all too well the risk of surrender. The cross you carry is the same cross that Christ carried; not meant to crush your heart, but to widen it. So stand firm and claim God’s promises. Surround yourself with people who encourage you to embrace the difficult, not remove it. There is a point, my friend, and you can count it all joy. You can even go ahead and paint that on shiplap if you want. I won’t judge. And when you find yourself on the ground asking “what’s the point?” remember this: a faith tortured by questions and still believes is far greater than the faith that never questions at all.

“Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast.” (James 5:7)

With love and prayers for you,
Laura

Bible Study

 

I will be honest, the last couple of weeks have been hard. And would you believe it has nothing to do with Covid, pandemic restrictions, or even vaccinations? This was a different kind of hard. This hard was fueled by swirling negative self-talk and comparisons with other women in which I always ended up short. Old wounds were uncovered in my heart, and with those old wounds came powerful feelings of not being good enough, of feeling less than, of feeling ugly. I was emotionally leveled. 

And all of this happened to bubble up to the surface during a week in which I was planning the ending celebration of my women’s group’s 33-day Consecration to St. Joseph, my youngest was preparing to graduate from kindergarten, my husband was working longer hours on a big project, and my older children were in need of me to help them study for their finals, not to mention being the point person for all of the drop-offs and pick-ups for the various activities that they were now back to. My daily responsibilities were not going to stop just because my emotions and old wounds were getting the better of me. 

I’m not proud to admit that my go-to response has always been to push through the day, do what was needed of me and/or what was required of me and then crawl into bed, pull the covers up, let those negative thoughts wash over me, and succumb to them. I tend to isolate, withdraw, and not allow anyone into my hurt...including God. My seven years of Bible study through Walking with Purpose has strengthened my relationship with Christ, and I know that the enemy is cunning, “prowling around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). At that point, however, I was not strong enough to resist the attack. My rational brain was throwing red flags up everywhere, telling me that this was exactly what the enemy—the “father of lies'' (John 8:44)—does, this is his game plan, this is where he wants me—isolated, alone, despairing, and questioning my worth. My defenses were weak this time around. I stayed right where I was and I believed every lie. This ultimately led to heightened anxiety and rising levels of anger and frustration. My behavior toward those I love most (hint: my husband and children), therefore, was less than stellar, and not my finest moment.

But what the enemy did not count on this time around was that in these past seven  years of WWP, the Lord had been intentionally placing women in my life who He knew I needed alongside me on my journey. Don’t you just love God?? The Lord had been cultivating these authentic friendships in my life in order to grow the fruits of healing and unconditional love. It was these fierce women who picked me up when I was too weak to fight this battle alone, who picked up their own shields of faith to place in front of me and defend me from the arrows of the enemy. These women called me out of the darkness of isolation and into the light of community in Christ. 

This journey that we are on, sisters, we were never meant to be on alone. From the beginning, the Lord meant for us to be in relationship. We were each made in the image and likeness of God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As the three persons of the Holy Trinity are in communion with each other, so too are we called to be. Mary DeTurris Poust writes in her book, Walking Together, “We see in the three personas of the Trinity an openness. The Father, Son and Spirit are generous with one another and in constant connection...the three personas are distinct and separate from each other, never in danger of overtaking one another or suppressing one another. There is a harmony there [emphasis added].”[1]  When our friendships are rooted in God, there is a true desire for the other to flourish. There is no judgment or comparison between each other. There is building up, not tearing down. 

We can see examples of holy friendships throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament, Ruth displays fierce loyalty and faithfulness as she refuses to leave Naomi, and instead accompanies her to Naomi’s family’s home—a place where the culture, language, and traditions were unknown to Ruth. “For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God,” Ruth tells Naomi (Ruth 1:16). And Naomi reciprocates these feelings as she urges Ruth toward a marriage with a kind and loving man, telling her, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you” (Ruth 3:1). These women desired true happiness for one another. 

The greatest examples we have of holy friendships are those between Jesus and His chosen disciples. He called each one to follow Him, seeing special gifts unique to each person. Knowing these men and women would be called for a greater mission after His death, He helped them along their paths toward holiness. He inspired virtue and called out lies and prejudices. He declared truth into their hearts and modeled trust, compassion, and forgiveness. Jesus knew that His disciples would need each other. He sent them out during His ministry two by two (Luke 10:1). And just as He reminds them “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20), so too does He remind us that when we ground our friendships in Him, He will be there too. 

Are you seeking harmony in your relationships? Are the friendships you have right now ones that keep you on the path of virtue and in the pursuit of holiness? Sister, are you spending time with others who edify you, who call out your gifts, and encourage you to be a better version of yourself? If not, spend time in prayer, asking for the Lord to lead you to these women. And if you are lucky enough to have these women already in your life, say a prayer of thanksgiving, and then invite these blessed friends back to community and fellowship with you. 

[1] DeTurris Poust, Mary. (2010). Walking Together: Discovering the Catholic Tradition of Spiritual Friendship. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, pp. 21-22.

One of the many side effects of being trapped at home during a pandemic—according to the woman who sold us our new dining room set and chandelier—is refurnishing your home. “People are bored and have nothing else to do but stare at their living space,” the saleswoman told us. “Figured they might as well make it beautiful.” Anyone else wallpaper a bedroom, buy a new area rug, or rearrange the furniture to keep the boredom at bay? Or did you buy a dog? 

We considered the third dog but opted for a full kitchen remodel and a new dining room set instead. Not because we were bored, but because I wanted to create a beautiful space that fit all of my family and friends. I desired to make my home a place of warm invitation, where there is always an empty chair at the table and charcuterie board within arms reach. When the days grew lonely and hope ran low, it was this vision—this dream of connection and conversation permeating my home and rising like incense—that kept me from spiraling into despair. 

That and potato peel pie.
I’ll explain.

During quarantine, I fell madly in love with the novel turned film, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Set in 1941 on the island of Guernsey during German occupation, the islanders were no longer allowed to have meat. However, a local woman managed to hide a pig from the German soldiers and invited her neighbors into her home to share in a pig roast. Carefully slipping handwritten invitations beneath wooden doors, this strange but irresistible group came together, nourishing more than just their physical bodies. One guest made an offering of his famous potato peel pie, which was exactly what it sounds like. A simple pie made of nothing but potatoes and their peels. 

Later that evening when caught out after curfew, the witty, loving, and quick-thinking character, Elizabeth McKenna, claimed that they were a book club who had been so engrossed that they lost track of time. A club they ridiculously named on the spot: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. What began as a cover for residents breaking curfew during the German occupation turned into a weekly Friday night refuge. And what began for me as just another Saturday night Netflix movie turned into a stirring of my heart and a conviction of what I already knew to be true: without connection, we will starve to death. 

“We were all hungry,” says the narrator. “But it was Elizabeth who realized our true starvation for connection—for the company of other people, for fellowship.” I replayed that movie three times in one week, completely captivated by Elizabeth and potato peel pie.

Are you like Elizabeth? Do you sense the hunger around you? Do you recognize the needs of others? 

As our world (and let’s be honest, our Church, too) grows more divided, angrier, and motivated by fear, are you able to see through the feelings and emotion and recognize the true hunger at the root of it all? The hunger not for potato peel pie but for godly connection and community rooted in truth. If this sounds like you, I ask that you pay attention to this call. God has placed this desire on your heart. He is calling you to build community so people can experience His kingdom here on earth. 

I say this with urgency because we need more people like Elizabeth. We need more women who are willing to step onto the battleground, which is steeped in isolation and division. We need women like you to feed truth to those who are starving for it. And yes, we specifically need women, because we are the heart of the home, the distillers of hope. We are an “irreplaceable support and source of spiritual strength for other people.”[1] Yes, even the other people we disagree with. Yes, even the other people who stand on the opposite side. My friends, if we are not the ones to extend a hand, share a meal, and reflect the image of Christ to all people, then tell me, who will? 

We have got to up our game.

We have got to start building Christ-centered communities.

We have got to step out in the confidence that what we have to offer is far greater than the cheap imitation of the living water that’s being bought and guzzled down like cheap wine.

It is not enough to say “we have the Truth”...we have to share it. We have to let others in on our reason for hope. 

And then...we need to lose our desire to be right, check our pride at the door, and listen well. I fear we have forgotten how to do this. 

I received a text last week from a friend, coincidentally (or not) named Elizabeth. It read: “The Holy Spirit has placed something on my heart, and before I brush it away, I’m going to reach out right now to invite you all to come to my house so that I can share it with you!” Amazingly, we all RSVP’d “yes” immediately. My guess? We were starving. And Elizabeth not only recognized it, she did something about it. It was as simple as that. Do not overcomplicate what it means to build community. You do not need engraved invitations, a fully planned agenda, a parish hall, a perfectly coordinated Bible study, or a new dining room set. Nor do you need to roast a pig—unless, of course, roasting pigs is one of your spiritual gifts. Then by all means, roast away. But honestly? It is much simpler than we think. It starts with spending time in prayer, opening our eyes to the people around us, and then extending an invitation. 

In Hebrews 10:24–25 we read, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together...but encouraging one another.” Can we commit to doing this? Can we agree to live this verse out loud? To stirring one another up? To losing the excuse that we are too busy to get together by saying yes to that invitation? To rejecting the lie that “I have no friends” by going out and making friends?

How?

Approach the woman you see at daily Mass. Sure, you will feel weird, but that is okay. Weird won’t kill you, and weird just might save her life. 

Call that friend you lost touch with because you couldn’t believe who she voted for, and ask her to meet you for a cup of coffee. Do not let the enemy use politics to poison your friendships. You are holier than that.

Reach out to your pastor, and ask if he knows of a woman in need of a friend. Will this feel uncomfortable? You bet! Do it anyway, because spoiler alert: the Catholic faith is rarely comfortable.  

Heck, you can reach out to me, and my own little potato peel society will happily pray with and for you.

I am more convinced than ever that we, God’s beloved daughters, are exactly what the world needs right now. And what a tragedy it would be for us to hear the Holy Spirit, only to brush it away.

It is time to stir up one another. To send that text. To brew that coffee. To roast that pig. Community building is what we women do best. Dare I say, it’s as simple as making potato peel pie. 

Get out your peelers, ladies...we’ve got good work to do.

[1] https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/1988/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_19880815_mulieris-dignitatem.html

Bible Study

Do you long to find your people? Does the thought of belonging to a tight-knit group of loyal friends sound just amazing but you don’t know where to begin? 

I was recently at an after-school pool party with a group of new friends. They had all been close for some time, and I was a new addition to the mix. Their private jokes, easy laughter, and closeness to each other’s children had often caused me to want in. At the same time, I was aware that true belonging takes time. But on this day, at the pool, someone outside our party had said something rude to me and these new friends sprang to my defense. The truth is the comment wasn’t that big of a deal. I was ready to brush it off. But watching a group of women rally around me, try to shield me from careless words, and get ready to rumble for my sake felt really good. Surprisingly good. It made me realize that this is one of the things we like about friendship—a strength in numbers, a knowledge that you aren’t alone, and a sense that your people will defend you to the outside world. Once you feel on the inside of a group of women, most of us will do anything to stay there. In Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, King Solomon wrote, “Two are better than one…For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up.” We’ll make a lot of sacrifices, even sacrifice who we want to be, if it means we can avoid being alone. We need friends.

But are all friendships good ones? Not necessarily. They may be good in the sense that we belong or feel protected; we know we are unconditionally accepted and aren’t judged. Friends may be fabulous at lifting us up when we fall. These things are good and desirable, but unless a friend is leading you toward a good, virtuous life, then no matter how great it seems, it doesn’t classify as a good friendship.

Why can I make that claim? Because we become like our friends, slowly but surely. Proverbs 13:20 says, “He who walks with wise men becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” When pivotal life circumstances hit, the people closest to you will greatly influence how you are going to respond. Are you going to become bitter? Are you going to embrace suffering as a way for you to grow? Are you going to lean into God or become distant from Him? Are you going to turn to Him, or will you seek to escape through alcohol, Netflix, scrolling through your feed…anything to distract you from what you feel? Which choice you make will often be determined by the people around you and the perspective they offer.

In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis writes about the difference between companionship and friendship. He writes of true friendship being a type of love where two people see the same truth or at least care about the same truth. He writes, “The man who agrees with us that some question, little regarded by others, is of great importance, can be our Friend. He need not agree with us about the answer.”[1] This leaves room for honest dialogue and sharing at a deeper level. It keeps us from living superficially and leads us to life-giving conversation.

I would like to suggest that an important question to think about in terms of our choice of friends is what we believe will make us happy. Others are “what matters most in life,” “why are we here,” and “what place does God play in these pursuits.” All these questions relate to our overall direction in life. Our answers to those questions impact the direction we are turned in. When we try to figure life out, do we turn upward to God, or do we turn inward to try to figure things out ourselves? Friends who point us to God help us wrestle with life’s big questions in the best of ways.

After unpacking the importance of friends pursuing truth together, C.S. Lewis goes on to say:

That is why those pathetic people who simply ‘want friends’ can never make any. The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends. Where the truthful answer to the question Do you see the same truth? would be ‘I see nothing and I don’t care about the truth; I only want a Friend,’ no Friendship can arise—though Affection of course may. There would be nothing for the Friendship to be about; and Friendship must be about something.

Maybe our problem is that our expectations for friendship have been too low. Could it be that there’s a level of friendship that we will experience only through being a part of a group of women that is pursuing the good life according to God’s plan?

This is where the Walking with Purpose community comes in. 

If you are looking for your people,
if you want to ask the deeper questions and be sharpened and helped by women around you,
if you are looking for a place where no one’s going to judge you,
if you want to be able to talk about your faith and who you are without editing your conversation, then I want to encourage you to come back to community.

This is where you’re going to grow in your faith, and you’re going to discover a depth of friendship you didn’t know was possible. You’ll experience edifying, authentic conversation in a place where the masks are dropped. You’ll be strengthened, you’ll be refreshed, you’ll be encouraged to stay on the path to the good life that God has for you. You weren’t meant to journey alone. We are here for you. The door is open. Will you take the next step?

With you in the pursuit of the deeper, good life-
Lisa

[1] C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, 84.

 

Do you ever have one of those days when you don’t feel bad, but you don’t feel good, either? When you lack motivation and willpower? You feel stuck where you are but can’t quite get yourself to get moving?

If this is where you are today, you are not alone. Women across the United States are emerging from a year of societal lockdowns, uncertainty, and monumental changes. We are collectively pushing the door open, moving from a dark room into the bright outside world. We’re blinking our eyes and thinking about what we’re supposed to do next. There’s a sense that we should be feeling better than we are, but we’re feeling aimless and lackluster. We’re not necessarily burned out or depressed, but we’re definitely not flourishing. Author Austin Kleon pointed out that the Oxford Dictionary of English notes that plants may appear to be languishing simply because they are dormant. He goes on to say, “I’m not languishing, I’m dormant. Like a plant. Or a volcano. I am waiting to be activated.” The right conditions will make all the difference in terms of when and if the flourishing can occur.

It’s been a chaotic and disorienting year. Challenges came at us relentlessly, without notice. Moms who had never signed up for homeschooling found themselves managing virtual school, often while balancing work commitments outside their homes. Searching for necessities like toilet paper, worrying about the coronavirus, widespread loneliness and isolation, death of loved ones with or without a funeral, racial injustice, political unrest, canceled vacations and events—these things and more made it feel like a surreal or lost year. 

If we all were honest, I think we’d find that a high number of women are feeling tired of their lives. We’re dragging. Although things seem to be looking up, we’re not sure if we can trust the bits of good news we’ve received. If we get our hopes up, we risk being disappointed. Again.

My observations and musings are obviously anecdotal, but current statistics back me up. What’s pretty clear is that women are not doing very well. Current statistics indicate that women’s mental health has been suffering, alcohol consumption has risen drastically, and feelings of disconnectedness are widespread. Escapism gives us a momentary reprieve from our circumstances, but when it’s excessive it prevents us from ever getting to the root of our problems. 

If Austin Kleon is onto something when he describes us as dormant, it begs the question—what kind of an environment will help us bloom? What can help us see clearly and move forward? What will anchor us and help us regain our footing? We are longing for things to feel settled and normal again. We’ve got choices to make. Which ones will lead us toward the path to true flourishing? 

As I’ve reflected on the rising rates of alcohol consumption, Netflix binging, and online escapism, I am arrested by the following question: Instead of needing to escape our lives, how about if we build lives we don’t want to escape?

I’m obsessed with this question. I am convinced that if women could start to build lives they don’t want to escape, we’d find that so many of these destructive coping mechanisms wouldn’t be needed. And can we just be honest for a minute and admit that these coping mechanisms are found just as much in the lives of women who love God and are following Him? This isn’t a problem “out there,” it’s here.

We weren’t meant to journey alone. The isolation we have been experiencing has not been good for our hearts. We desperately need good community. Now, this might sound like I am diminishing the importance and significance of God. Shouldn’t He be enough? To be clear, encountering God personally is a total game-changer. His personal and never-ending love for you guarantees that He has never left your side. But even God Himself considers community a non-negotiable. God exists in community—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He invites us into that divine relationship and wants us to move out in the world, gathering people closer to our hearts and His.

That is what the Walking with Purpose community and Bible studies set out to do. The accountability and comradery of a small group provides the support and encouragement that helps keep us on the right path. The study guides provide truth to ponder and questions for reflection, making Scripture accessible and relevant. We have all heard that we need to “do the work,” and we get it. We know there isn’t a magic pill that will fix what we don’t like about our lives. But doing the work in isolation with nothing but inspiring Instagram posts and grit will only get us so far. We need each other, we need structure, we need a guide, we need the Holy Spirit’s power. WWP leads us to those things and helps us move from good intentions to a new reality. It’s not one more thing on our plates—it is the plate. In John 10:10, Jesus said, “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” That is what we’re pursuing at WWP. 

I am inviting you to come back to community and start building a life you love. Wondering where to begin? Grab one friend. Ask her if she’s feeling the same way. Commit to getting together once a week and chatting about a WWP Bible study lesson. Gather a few more friends. Keep going. Don’t give up. You need each other. Move over to the parish and keep gathering. Again, we need each other. That woman you think will be annoyed if you invite her to Bible study? It’s likely that she’s feeling disconnected, too. You may be the key to her experiencing the abundant life—starting to bloom instead of settling for being dormant. 

My friends, let’s get moving. I know summer is coming and we just want a vacation. But will a trip fix that listlessness inside? I think not. Don’t settle for a vacay when community is what you truly crave.

With you on the journey-
Lisa

[1] https://austinkleon.com/2021/04/26/im-not-languishing-im-dormant/

 

I doubt that many of us would be willing to wear the clothes seen on the fashion runway in exactly the way they are displayed, with all the accessories and interesting makeup. I look at the pictures and think it all looks ridiculous. But I remember thinking the same thing initially about ripped jeans, ankle boots and leopard print on the runway, yet all of these have eventually found their way into my closet.

We look at things in the extreme and laugh. We're no one's fool. We know where sensible ends and ridiculousness begins. Or do we? Is it possible that we are better at recognizing extreme fashion translating into items in our closets than we are at calling out extremely foolish definitions of what really matters in life and the way those views end up in our heads and hearts?

Why exactly do we feel so messed up? Why can we not answer the question, “Who am I?” Why don't we know our purpose in life? Why are we so unhappy?

Whether we realize it or not, we have been steeping in a false way of looking at life in the same way that a tea bag steeps in a pot. Bit by bit, it colors everything. Our culture has bought into a bunch of lies that are leading us on the road to nowhere. But perhaps most concerning is that many Christians are heading down that same road, and have no idea how inconsistent it all is when compared to how God sees things.

I think much of our trouble boils down to how we pursue happiness. To begin with, we need to start with the truth that God actually wants us to be happy, and knows just what will make that our reality. All too many of us have a faulty view of God—seeing Him as a cosmic killjoy, or as nothing but a disciplinarian who doesn't care how our heart is feeling as long as our behavior stays in line. Both of these ways of looking at God are wrong, and will keep us from knowing Him and finding true fulfillment.

God wants you to be happy. He knows exactly who you are meant to be, why you are here, the things that you need put inside you to work well, and the virtues that are going to keep you on the right path. But instead of asking Him for the answers to these questions, we turn to Instagram for a little inspiration. This is the sort of thing that we find:

“You are the author of your story.”
“Know this one great truth, you are in control of your life.”
“Live for you. Believe in yourself.”
“You are enough.”
“Trust in your own power.”

No matter how much it may make us feel good to stand in front of a mirror and recite these quotes to ourselves, it doesn't make a single one of them true.

Do you see who is at the center of all of these quotes? The almighty you. The empowered you. The tended to, self-care focused you. This means your focus turns inward, which means things can get very dark very quickly.

If we want to find our way out of the mess, our starting point must be our ending point. Everything in your life is bringing you one step closer to the end, the day when you stand before God. That's the one sure thing; the appointment that can't be canceled or delayed. When that day comes, we're going to want to be sure that we've spent our lives preparing well.

In contrast to the messages of the world, God says:

“I am the author of your story.”
“Know this one great truth, I am in control of your life.”
“Live for me. Believe in me.”
“I am enough.”
“Trust in my power. It is made perfect in your weakness.”

We are the most depressed, anxious, lost, and empty people because we have moved our collective focus from God and placed it on ourselves. And we are collapsing under the weight of what was meant only for Him. But there is a way out from under that pile of garbage. It starts by shifting your focus away from you and placing it on God. It means stopping the pursuit of glory for yourself, and instead living every moment of every day for God's glory. In the words of Peter Kreeft:

Offer up everything to Him, everything you do and everything you see and everything you think and everything you love. For everything you do is to be done for Him, and everything you see is a preparation for seeing Him, and everything you think is a tiny truth that is part of His whole Truth, and everything you love is loved only because it resembles Him in some way Who is the Only Totally Lovable One. He left some of His perfume in the things He made, and as He passed by; and you can't help falling in love as you smell it.[1]

There is a way out of the mess. God will give us everything we need for a fresh start, but His freely given gifts must be freely received. What do you need to let go of in order to lift your empty hands to the Only One who can fill them?

[1] Peter Kreeft, Practical Theology (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2014), 58.

This post first appeared on our blog on May 20, 2019.

It’s Thanksgiving week, and although COVID-19 has messed with a fair share of travel plans, I would guess that many of us will still be sharing the holiday with loved ones. While this is something that can result in joyful feelings of anticipation, it also leaves some of us worried about how people are going to get along around the table.

If only we all agreed on religion and politics.
If only awkward and hurtful things wouldn’t ever be said.
If only we knew how to encourage one another in a way that really hit the mark. Wouldn’t that make things easier?

I think we often conclude that the only way to get through holidays with sticky relationships is to keep things on a very superficial level and not talk about anything that really matters. But when we settle for this, our relationships aren’t very satisfying. How can we take things to a deeper level without things getting fractious? 

I believe that asking certain questions and truly listening to the responses can be a game changer. Here’s a link to some conversation starters that we’ve created with diverse groups of people in mind. Most of us have different views represented around the Thanksgiving table. These questions help us to get to know one another on the heart level without focusing on our differences. 

Perhaps there is someone on your heart who you know is not open to God and spiritual growth. If the opportunity presented itself and the groundwork has been laid first with good listening, you might want to ask him or her, “What if there’s more?” Allow that question to sink in. Respect the question enough to allow time for silence and processing. Don’t hesitate to leave your loved one with the question hanging. It’s a good one to wrestle with.

When asked how to evangelize in a culture that is indifferent to God and religion, Bishop Robert Barron has said that we should begin with the beautiful, which leads you to the good, which points you to the truth. We need to show that Christianity is attractive. As Blaise Pascal famously said, we are to make good men wish it was true. 

So how do we do this? How do we begin with the beautiful? Creating a lovely Thanksgiving table is a quiet way of ministering to the heart. Beauty breaks down barriers. Another way is to increase our exposure to beautiful and good literature, art, and music. The imagination can offer a spiritual opening as we begin to consider the possibility that there is something of meaning, something that moves us, something more than the superficial things that surround us. 

Bishop Barron has said, “Agnostics are often deeply interested in beauty, goodness and truth. Find out which one they are interested in—that’s your hook. That’s your string that you need to follow. Keep going in that search for ultimate meaning. The passion for justice is an echo of the voice of God in you. It’s summoning you. The conscience—what is it—what is calling you to something better, something good, something just? Could that be God?”

Perhaps there is someone at your Thanksgiving table who is spiritually searching, but he or she is searching in the wrong direction. You are probably really tempted to point out what is wrong about their search. I would encourage you to resist that temptation. Instead, you might want to consider pointing out the things he or she is doing well. Is he seeking truth? Desiring a life of purpose? Let her know you are proud of her. This is something we never stop needing to hear.

I pray that you start having more conversations with your loved ones about the topics of meaning in life, purpose, what we want out of life, how we can be truly fulfilled, and how we can be happy. I pray you’d be able to enter into these conversations and listen. To resist the urge to give the answer. To allow your children to talk. 

In preparation for Thanksgiving, you might want to pray the following for the loved ones who will be around your table and those far away.

Dear Lord,

I ask that you would give my loved ones a heart to know you, that you are the Lord, so that they will be your people and you will be their God. May they return to you with their whole hearts. (Jeremiah 24:7)

I pray that you would give my loved ones a new heart and a new spirit…that you would remove their hearts of stone and give them hearts of flesh. (Ezekiel 11:19)

May you open my loved ones’ eyes and turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in you. (Acts 26:18)

I pray that you would grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil. (2 Timothy 2:25-26)

God, we know that no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws them. May you draw our loved ones to you. (John 6:44)

May you overwhelm our loved ones with the reality of your love, so that he or she can “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.” (Ephesians 3:18-19)

For I declare that “He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge.” (Proverbs 14:26)

I declare that you “will contend with those who contend with us, and you will save our children.” (Isaiah 49:25)

I declare that “not one word has failed of all your good promises.” (1 Kings 8:56)

I declare that the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers. (1 Peter 3:12)

I declare that all my children shall be taught by the Lord; and great shall be my children’s peace. (Isaiah 54:13)

I declare that you have begun a good work in my loved ones' lives, and you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6) 

Happy Thanksgiving, my friend!

Grace and peace,

Lisa

PS: Don’t forget to claim your two free gifts: Thanksgiving Table Conversation Cards and my Thanksgiving Prayer for Loved Ones, beautifully formatted for you to print and save.

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