I’ve had many spells of homesickness over the years. Typically, I’d try to soothe myself by looking at houses online in the town where I grew up. I imagined what it would be like to move back to Duluth, Minnesota. Could I relive all the comforting memories? Would my desire to belong finally be satisfied if I could go back to those familiar people and places? Maya Angelou writes, “The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” This makes sense to me. Maybe you long for roots, too. Considering how often extended families no longer stay close together as jobs and preferences transfer people to different parts of the country, I doubt that I am alone with these feelings.
I felt this homesickness most acutely when I lived in Mexico—in large measure because I was surrounded by the most beautiful display of family traditions that I’d ever seen. Families, by and large, stayed close geographically, with weekly gatherings for comida where multiple generations stopped their activities and devoted the afternoon to each other. I admired it from the outside looking in because my family was far away. At that time, I also felt I was rattling around within the Catholic Church. I was a card-carrying member, but I didn’t feel like I belonged. I had a sense that there was an inner circle, a set of behaviors that I wasn’t clued in on, and a heritage and vocabulary that I wasn’t born with, which meant I was destined to be on the outside. This lasted far longer than anyone would have guessed.
But Jesus met me in the pages of Scripture no matter what country I was in or how disjointed my life felt. I might have felt disconnected from the familiar, but I found safety and steadiness in those timeless, sacred words. These were years when I put my roots down deep into God’s Word. In the pages of the Bible, I encountered a Living God who drew me close.
And yet, I didn’t realize in those years that there was more. God wanted me to experience a spiritual family that stretched across the globe; a shared worship where, no matter where we found ourselves, we all turned our hearts to the Lord and prayed in unison, reading the same words of Scripture. He wanted me to continue to experience His words as “sweeter than honey to my mouth” (Psalm 119:103), but to do so nestled in the heart of the Church.
This is the gift that Franciscan University of Steubenville has given me, and it’s a grace that’s been extended to me without me having to move. I still live in Florida, and that vibrant community is in Ohio. But the university has created an online experience that has been absolutely life-changing for me. For years I have wanted to delve deeper in the study of theology, but I couldn’t see how I could possibly find the time. With seven children and now in-laws and grandsons, my life and schedule are full. I work full-time in ministry, write, travel, and speak at conferences. How on earth could this dream of further study be possible? And was it selfish to pursue it? I played around with these thoughts for years until one day I realized that if I had just taken one class at a time, starting when the dream began, I would now be done. My degree would be in hand. And so I applied to the graduate school and began the journey toward my Master's in Theology.
This program was developed for people like me who are pursuing their studies while living full lives at home and in their careers. Is it demanding? Yes. I have to be self-disciplined with my time. But the way the classes are structured has made it possible to keep it all in balance, and the rewards far exceed any sacrifice I am making. I remember taking undergraduate religion classes in college and leaving them feeling more confused than anything. Franciscan offers an entirely different experience. The theological gaps are being filled in for me, explanation and proofs are being given, and my faith is being strengthened. The more I learn, the more my appetite grows for more.
It occurred to me the other day that I no longer had the same ache to belong that I used to struggle with. This surprised me, and I tried to figure out when that changed. I realized it was a gradual change—not something that happened overnight. It was one of the fruits of my study at Franciscan. As I have seen how Scripture is the soul of sacred theology, I’ve also seen how it’s within the heart of the Church that it truly comes to life. The pieces have come together for me. The richness of our faith started to unfold for me as phenomenal professors have made theology understandable. They’ve made sure their students don’t just learn truth, but also grow in love for Christ. My questions are being answered. Doubts are being settled. What I feel in class after class is an overwhelming sense that it’s all true. The ache has been satisfied.
This doesn’t mean I never hop on Zillow and picture myself living in my old stomping ground. But it does mean that I feel grounded and welcomed right where I am. If this can be accomplished in an online experience, I can only imagine the fullness of the experience for students on campus. To give credit where credit is due, I must thank Franciscan University of Steubenville for welcoming me home and making me feel like family.
P.S. I invite you to explore all the online graduate programs offered by Franciscan University of Steubenville. It’s never too late to embark on a new educational journey!
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.
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,
My mother recognized the power and influence that women were going to have in my life. Instead of leaving that influence to chance, seeing who I might naturally be drawn to who may or may not have pointed me toward God, she took charge. Throughout middle school and high school, she found women who she believed would have a positive spiritual impact on my life. She asked them if they would be willing to mentor me.
Carolyn Searway, Tenley Ireland, and Laurel Lufholm (two of these women are no longer living) all had a part in shaping who I am today. They drew from their experience, had me read certain books that we’d discuss, baked cookies with me, prayed with me and for me, held me accountable…they changed my life. Carolyn taught me what to look for in a husband—challenging me to think long term even when I was in high school. Tenley taught me how to have daily quiet time and the importance of it. It was Tenley who challenged me to choose something that I wanted to be an expert in—something I was going to be passionate about and take to the next level. I debated making my one thing the theater, but I chose the Bible instead. She introduced me to the idea of living your life according to priorities and giving God first place. Laurel taught me that it isn’t so important that we be charismatic when we talk about Christ—it’s far more important that we be faithful in the hidden places.
My mom didn’t wait to see if this was what I wanted to do. Quite honestly, I didn’t. But one thing I could not deny, these women cared about me. I knew they were busy and were offering me what was precious: their time. They kept showing up, and I kept showing up, and without even realizing it, I was learning life principles that I still go back to today. I wonder how often they wondered if what they were doing was worth it. Perhaps they did. But they didn’t give up. They made a mark on my soul.
There comes a point when kids naturally want some independence from their mothers. When my mom saw that coming, she chose someone to step in; she chose who she wanted speaking into my life. This is something you can arrange for your children, but what I really want you to think about is being that person.
You may feel ill-equipped. But I promise you, God has given you everything you need. In the words of St. Paul, “God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).
My friends, this next generation is ours to raise. All of us. We all are needed. Godmothers, aunts, stepmothers, grandmothers, sisters, coaches. The words they listen to matter. The words we speak matter. So we choose to speak life—about this generation and to this generation. We look in their faces and tell them there is hope. We tell them that they are beautiful and beloved. We tell them they are needed, and they have an important place here in our hearts and here in the world. We encourage them to love well and extravagantly, to sacrifice for others, to be kind, to search for truth, and to persevere. We do all we can so they can stand on our shoulders—so they can reach higher. Don’t underestimate the power of your words, written and spoken. But not just the words spoken to them; also the words spoken about them.
The next generation is listening, and more importantly, they are watching. Young women are looking at our lives for evidence that Christ really makes a difference. They are asking the perennial questions that we need to wrestle with, too.
Everyone asks, “Who am I?”
Is your identity rooted in Christ, or in your achievements, possessions or reputation?
Everyone wants to know, “How can I find real love?”
Do they see selfless, other-focused, forgiving love in your life?
We all ask, “What does it mean to be happy and live a good life?”
Does your loved one see Christ in you, resulting in joy?
People are asking, “How can I find lasting peace?”
What is seen more in your life: peace or worry?
I know that we are all on our own journeys. None of us is perfect. But if we are serious about passing the faith to the next generation, then we’re going to have to take a serious look at our personal witnesses. Do young people want in on the quality of our lives?
This next generation is ours to raise.
So we will not let go. We will not give up.
We will not allow the flame of faith to be blown out—not on our watch.
P.S. This month we’re inviting the WWP community to send messages of gratitude and encouragement to the faithful women who have prepared the way for Christ in our lives—women like Carolyn, Tenley, and Laurel. Join us as we build up our sisters in Christ and pay it forward to the next generation at the same time. Learn more here.
Are you worried about how everyone is going to get along this Christmas? Is there a pit in your stomach because you are dreading the interpersonal dynamics that are about to engulf your family? Does it seem like your family members revert back to childhood roles and behaviors when they get together? Is the cloistered life sounding pretty good to you right now? If this is how you are feeling, you are not alone.
Your family is a mess? Jesus’ family was dysfunctional, too. Just take a look at His family tree. Matthew 1:1-16 lays out His genealogy, and in it we find a liar, a cheat, a woman who slept with her father-in-law, a prostitute, a refugee, an adulterer, and a murderer. I’m not making this up. It’s all in there. These are some messed up people, my friends. God’s Word is meant for flawed families with real baggage and problems.
Could it be that God chose this particular family line for Jesus in order to teach us how He can redeem even the most broken families? What was amazing about the Holy Family is that they allowed God to write a new narrative with their lives, despite what had happened before. Instead of continuing in the same old patterns, they chose to sacrificially love in the hard places. They didn’t shrink back when love became costly. They leaned in. As a result, the pain and wounds weren’t transmitted—they were redeemed.
It’s been said that friends are the family you choose. In the words of Beth Moore:
We form most friendships out of personal preferences, but we’re not automatically the better for it…Many of us have distanced ourselves from extended family because we’ve replaced them with people we prefer. Though some elements of the transition are justified and godly, others are selfish. Let’s face it. Family is more trouble than friendship, and the fear that we might share similarities with some of our members also carries an indictment too strong to face on a regular basis. For one thing, we can drop friends more easily when the relationship becomes inconvenient. Here’s the rub and maybe the help: God chose our family even if we didn’t. Even the challenges they pose can be effective motivation to seek His throne, His help, and His healing (AKA deal with our stuff). 
Jesus has factored the dysfunction of your family into His plan for your good. All the garbage, the aggravating habits, the opposing political views, the childhood hurts, the unkind words, the unspoken judgments, the laziness of one and the workaholic nature of the other, the mental illness (yes, even that)… God can use all of it to benefit you and yours. It’s through the rub of our closest relationships that God chisels our hearts to better resemble His.
While friendships we can choose and discard at will may be easier, easy does not always equal good. Very often, good = hard. Nowhere is this truer than with families.
What might change if in addition to issuing gifts to our family this Christmas, we issued a challenge? What if we challenged one another to press in when we want to disengage from each other? What if we challenged each other to stay and love in the hard places, to have honest conversations, to face our demons, and to hold each other during the process? What if we committed to each other that home would be a safe place to let it all unravel… to follow the thread of tears and hurts… inviting the Lord to heal and redeem us each step of the way?
I know this isn’t easy and that most of us would rather numb out or distance ourselves from the dysfunction. But perhaps a better choice would be to encourage each other to go to counseling—calling out any shame under the surface and firmly rejecting it. Maybe things would change if instead of shutting down or being distracted, we said, “Tell me more.” What watershed moment might come if we had the courage to ask for or offer forgiveness?
There is no perfect family here on earth. We all have flaws galore, no matter how well we can pull it together when the neighbors come by. Jesus doesn’t ask us to come to Him when we’re cleaned up. He asks us to invite Him into the mess. Isn’t this the message of the manger? That’s where He first showed up, to the manure, animals, smells, and discomfort. Invite Him into your home and family this Christmas. I promise you—He will come.
Praying for you and yours,
 Beth Moore, Stepping Up: a Journey Through the Psalms of Ascent (Nashville, TN: Lifeway Publishing, 2007), 155.
Thanksgiving can be the best of times or the worst of times. As was said on the iconic 90’s sitcom, Friends, “It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a little emotional scarring.” Hopefully that won’t be your experience, but when you throw family together with issues simmering under the surface, add a little pressure around what is expected to be a fabulous meal, and things can get a little stressful.
So what can we do to increase the odds that the day will be a good one? In Colossians 3:12-17, St. Paul gives us 4 steps that can start us off on the right track.
1. Wear the right outfit.
No, I’m not talking about making sure we’re wearing yoga pants so that we can eat whatever we want. I’m talking about the attitudes we need to take off and the ones we need to put on in order to welcome the people that God has placed in our lives on this particular day. In the words of St. Paul, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:12-14).
Instead of just stuffing our emotions and doing our best to fake fine, let’s take a moment this week to get alone with God and journal about any hurts we are carrying to the Thanksgiving table. Perhaps there will come a time when we’d benefit from a face-to-face conversation with the person who hurt us, but we don’t need to wait until that opportunity to get rid of an unforgiving, bitter attitude.
Begin this time with the Lord by remembering who you are. Choose to define yourself as God’s beloved daughter. Look at your good qualities. Look at all the gifts you’ve been given. Allow your heart to be filled, not with self-pity but with gratitude. What will result? Freedom. This will clear a path for God’s love to transform and heal you. Because of His healing touch, you’ll be free to offer forgiveness to others.
It is only as our hearts are filled with gratitude that we’re able to forgive. This truth is addressed in the book From Anger to Intimacy: How Forgiveness can Transform Your Marriage:
No matter what has happened, you are invited to forgive just as God has wholly and fully forgiven you. Where do you find that kind of forgiveness? Through the person of Jesus Christ. Matthew 10:8 says, “Freely you have received, freely give”...If you are not a forgiving person, if you have unresolved anger, bitterness or resentment in your heart- and you do nothing to get rid of it, then you have not yet experienced or realized the forgiveness you have received.¹
Do we truly appreciate the forgiveness that Christ purchased for us? Or have we become callous to its reality? Do we take God’s forgiveness for granted?
2. Facilitate life-giving conversation
Paul goes on to encourage us to “let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15). One way to avoid tension filled conversation is taking control of what’s being discussed. Our daughter Charlotte’s favorite thing is to put conversation cards by each person’s plate and then discuss them over dinner. You could make up your own questions or use some of these suggestions to direct conversation toward a deeper and more positive sharing of hearts, hopefully avoiding topics that lead to sharp and unkind words:
“Describe your perfect weekend.”
“If you were going to give me a tour of the town you grew up in, where would you take me first?”
“What is bringing you joy right now?”
“What’s saving your life right now?”
“What’s on your bucket list?”
3. Get your heart in the right place.
There is nothing that changes my attitude like music. This is why I really pay attention to what I listen to. I almost always listen to praise and worship music—not because I am so holy, but because without it, I am so weak and prone to complaining. I encourage you to pay attention to which lyrics are filling your mind and how they are altering your mood. If you want to follow St. Paul’s advice, then you’ll “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).
To help you get your heart in the right place, check out our Thanksgiving Spotify playlist.
4. Focus on the audience of One.
It doesn’t take much for us to feel sorry for ourselves because of how much work is expected of us over the holidays. Listening to good music can do a lot to keep our hearts in the right places, but we might need a little mind reset, too. St. Paul challenges us to keep our eyes on the One we are serving. Sure, some of the people at your table might not be expressing the gratitude to you that they should, and they may not be helping you in the way that you wish they would. If this is your situation, instead of turning inward and growing bitter, imagine Jesus sitting at your table. Prepare the meal for Him. “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).
Praying for you this Thanksgiving, and thanking God for you!
¹ Dr. Gary Smalley and Ted Cunningham, From Anger to Intimacy: How Forgiveness can Transform Your Marriage (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2009), 137-138.
She scrolled through the list on her phone -- at least fifty names -- one name after the other, along with a description of how far she had gone with each. Most of them she'd slept with on the first date. Longing desperately for love, she wondered if she would ever find it. With confusion in her eyes, she asked why they never came back for a second date.
I can't get her question out of my head. This is not because I don't know how to answer it; it's because this precious young woman is not an anomaly in the millennial generation. The level of lostness, confusion, sexual experimentation, lack of purpose, and anxiety among young women has reached a crescendo that I find deeply concerning. They cannot answer the most important questions: Why am I here? Who am I? What is my purpose? How can I be happy? I am talking about our daughters. Our granddaughters. Our nieces. Our loved ones.
St. Paul spoke prophetically about our times in 2 Timothy 3:1-7:
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman...haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it…Among them are those who make their way into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and swayed by various impulses, who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth. (emphasis added)
By the millions, young women scroll through their social media feeds, listening to anybody, but never arriving at a knowledge of the truth. This isn't just true of them; this is true of our society.
In his book How Now Shall We Live, Chuck Colson writes:
When we embrace nonmoral categories to explain away moral evil, we fail to take it seriously,and we fail to constrain it. When we refuse to listen to the true diagnosis of the sickness of the soul, we will not find a true remedy, and in the end, it will destroy us.
In any society, only two forces hold the sinful nature in check: the restraint of conscience or the restraint of the sword. The less that citizens have of the former, the more the state must employ the latter. A society that fails to keep order by an appeal to civic duty and moral responsibility must resort to coercion-either open coercion, as practiced by totalitarian states, or covert coercion, where citizens are wooed into voluntarily giving up their freedom.
When morality is reduced to personal preferences and when no one can be held morally accountable, society quickly falls into disorder. Entertainers churn out garbage that vulgarizes our children's tastes; politicians tickle our ears while picking our pockets; criminals terrorize our city streets; parents neglect their children; and children grow up without a moral conscience. Then, when social anarchy becomes widespread in any nation, its citizens become prime candidates for a totalitarian-style leader (or leader class) to step in and offer to fix everything. Sadly, by that time many people are so sick of the anarchy and chaos that they readily exchange their freedom for the restoration of social order-even under an iron fist. The Germans did exactly this in the 1930s when they welcomed Hitler.¹
My friends, in this regard, we are vulnerable. It is time for us to stop wringing our hands, and go after the hearts of the next generation. How do we do this?
First, we pray. This is not a second-rate action item to be used only after we've tried everything else first. The biggest block to God reaching the hearts of our children is stubbornness and pride. Yes, the cultural myth that faith and science are contradictory has, unfortunately, been taught to and embraced by many of our children. Yes, the difficulty of reconciling a good God and the suffering and evil in the world can create a barrier. Yes, many of them have been convinced that faith in God is just a crutch. All these things get in the way of our children finding God. But if a heart is proud and stubborn, it doesn't matter how much proof is presented. The heart will still resist. And the only one who can get into the heart and soften it is the Holy Spirit. So praying for this softening is critical and the first step.
Second, we cling to hope while taking action. I realize our children are leaving the Church in droves. But how many of them are setting off on this path, hoping for misery? That would be zero percent. They are all searching for authentic happiness, and we know that true, transcendent happiness is found in Christ. It is possible to be fulfilled, satisfied, and clear about who you are and why you are here. There are answers to their deepest questions. But it's critical that we meet them where they are, help them to explore the questions they care about, and give them space to journey at their own pace. You may be wondering exactly how to do that. I have spent the past two years noodling on this very topic with a sense of urgency and passion that I haven't experienced in a long time, and things are starting to become much clearer to me. This is why we are throwing open the doors to all women (ages 18+) for Flourish 2020, our first-ever women's conference on March 13-15, 2020.
We are creating a curated experience that encounters women on their search for happiness, and leads them to the only One who will satisfy. Please join us. Please bring your daughters. I am writing this content for them. I know it isn't easy to work out the costs and logistics for a women's conference, especially if it isn't in your neck of the woods. I know it's hard to talk your daughter into coming to something that sounds religious, but getting yourself and your loved one to this conference is going to be worth the effort. Instead of a birthday or Christmas gift, ask your daughter to give you the gift of her presence with you for the weekend. I promise you, God will meet her there. And He will meet you, too. The deepest desires of your daughter's heart are likely your desires as well. God alone will quench the thirst.
¹ Chuck Colson, How Now Shall We Live (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), 191, 199.
“Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord?” 1 Samuel 15:19
If we can't wait to tell our girlfriends about our new favorite Netflix series, you can be sure that when we taste the difference that Jesus makes in our lives, we'll want other people to experience the same. Nowhere is that desire more intense than when mothers want to pass their faith to their children. I'm often asked about good resources for this, and what to do about older kids who have stopped coming to us for advice and who probably aren't listening to us much at all. It would be so simple if the solution was found in a book or a program that I could recommend. But that's not what I've seen to be the most effective. Here's what I think is the total game changer: MAMAS WHO ARE RADICALLY OBEDIENT TO GOD.
In 1 Samuel, we find Saul, a man who stood head and shoulders above all the Israelites. God chose him as Israel's first king, but even with all his accolades, good looks, brawn, and leadership opportunities, Saul had self-esteem issues. We know this from the words of the prophet Samuel, Israel's spiritual leader. In I Sam. 15, Samuel was calling Saul out for not obeying the Lord. Saul was supposed to wait for Samuel to come and offer a sacrifice before a battle, but fear crept in, patience wore thin, and Saul took matters into his own hands and did it himself.
The first words out of Samuel's mouth when he saw Saul was this: “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel.” (1 Sam. 15:17) He then went on to ask Saul why he didn't obey the voice of the Lord after being given clear instructions.
Samuel was basically saying, “Saul, even though you don't think you are adequate or amount to much, God has chosen you for a really important task. He anointed you to LEAD. He told you to obey. So what were you thinking?!”
Saul responded by saying, “I have obeyed the Lord. I went on the mission he sent me on. These are all the things I did do. Why the obsessive attention to minute details? I obeyed in the big things. Isn't that good enough?”
And Samuel's answer brought down the hammer; “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22) Then the news was delivered that God had rejected Saul as king. Obedience didn't just matter in the big stuff. God was concerned with the details.
So back to our kids and our desire to pass our faith to them. There are great materials and programs out there, and we are wise to expose our kids to them. But there is nothing that will have greater effect on our children than our own radical obedience- not just in the big things, but in the little day-to-day decisions that most people in our lives don't see but our children do.
Romans 12:1 says that we are to “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” This is a picture of us offering everything we have on an altar to God. It's a declaration that we are willing to take our hands off our lives and let God be utterly in charge. It's giving Him the right to call the shots on the big things and the little things. It's committing to a life of prayer where we are in touch with God throughout the day so that we recognize the small ways He's asking us to obey, not just the big and obvious ones. It's committing to radical obedience where we do what He has asked ALL THE WAY, RIGHT AWAY. This is what our kids notice. This is what impacts them deeply.
Our kids are asking the question, “Is this faith thing for real? Does Jesus really make that big a difference?” And they look to our lives more than our words for the answer.
We hear that call to offer our lives as living sacrifices-to obey radically-and all too often we say, “God, I'll obey you if….”.
Make no mistake. Whatever is on the other side of that word “if” is what we want and worship most. That is what we are willing to sacrifice for. And our kids know it. They see it. We all worship something. Whether it's comfort, a career, a relationship, status… there is something that we will give anything to have and hold onto. God asks that it be HIM. He asks that our obedience not be tied to conditions.
The only way we will ever be able to obey Him in this way is if we see Him as infinitely wise and infinitely kind. We need to know Him in order to trust Him. This is why we delve into Scripture- so that we can know Him better. So that we can see evidence of His wisdom in order to trust in His plan for our lives. In order to hear of His kindness so that we remember He is utterly FOR US.
Where is God asking you to obey right now? What choice is in front of you? Who will you worship in this moment? What is holding you back?
I pray that we can follow hard after God in the big and in the small, because what our world needs is women whose trust in God translates into brave and radical obedience. Being up to date on our social media feeds, having perfectly organized homes, nailing it with deliverables at work- all of that feels great. But the simple acts of obedience CHANGE THE WORLD.
*This post first appeared on the WWP website in February 2017.
I received the call halfway through my drive from Florida to Maine. With the dog in the backseat and the car full of Christmas presents, my world stopped for a moment with the news that Amy, our oldest, was in labor. We were about to welcome little Luke Anthony into the world, I was becoming “Nana,” and I couldn't get on a plane to them fast enough. Since I was in Philadelphia visiting my son (who couldn't hide the dog in his dorm room), I had to re-work plans and meet another son at the airport in Boston to pass off the dog, car, and gifts. Slight aside-this son met me curbside with his blonde hair dyed red; never a dull moment. But I digress.
Knowing how Amy's life was about to change, wanting to comfort her during any pain, desperate to hold this new precious life… I told every person I encountered that I was becoming a grandmother. Someone told me once that when you have a grandchild, all the love you have for your own child just multiplies and passes to the new baby. It's a chance to do motherhood again, but without the heaviness of responsibility. I'm allowed to just enjoy little Luke, to kiss his little cheeks and enjoy his snuggles, and know that while my prayers for him will be powerful, the disciplining is someone else's job. My husband, Leo, and I were able to enjoy a taste of this delicious experience this weekend, and it was the supreme gift.
When we were driving back to the airport, Leo talked about the effect little Luke had on him. “When I just held him, sleeping on my chest, all the things I've been worried about just faded away. There was a power in that little baby. He commanded all the attention in the room, simply by being there.”
It makes me think of a night thousands of years ago when another baby was born. It was the night that changed everything. Hope was ushered in, just because of His presence. Suddenly, everything else faded in importance. The door between heaven and earth was opened, and a baby entered. In the words of Ann Voskamp, Jesus came “as the most vulnerable imaginable. Because He wants unimaginable intimacy with you. What religion ever had a god that wanted such intimacy with us that He came with such vulnerability to us? What God ever came so tender we could touch Him? So fragile that we could break Him? So vulnerable that His bare, beating heart could be hurt? Only the One who loves you to death.”
Mingled with this outpouring of love is death. The incarnation and the Cross. This self-giving is the price of true intimacy. It's always demanding and brings with it a feeling of vulnerability.
I wonder where this Christmas Eve finds your heart. Is it weary from giving? Is it apprehensive, wondering how family dynamics will play out over the next few days? Are you feeling tempted to self-protect, to draw back, to fall into old coping mechanisms? Stress does that to the best of us.
So my prayer for you is that you can pause and feel the power of the baby in your midst. The Christ child comes and reminds us that all else can fade in importance, if we will focus on Him. It's His birthday, but He comes to offer gifts to us. He offers us kindness, hopeful that we will use it to offer forgiveness to those who don't seem to deserve it. He offers us patience, hopeful that we will use it to listen to the relative's story that we have already heard a million times. He offers us goodness, hopeful that we will do small things with great love for the people who are sitting in their chairs when we think they should be helping us. He offers us gentleness, hopeful that we'll be the balm between frustrated loved ones. He offers us self-control so that we close our mouths when the quick retort is on the tip of our tongues.
Just as being a grandmother offers a fresh opportunity to love again and perhaps love differently, the advent of Jesus gives us a chance to chart a new course in our relationships. So we pray…Oh come, oh come Emmanuel, and breathe new life into our families and homes. This Christmas Eve, we welcome you.
At the end of my first year of BLAZE, I turned to my darling group of middle school girls and asked them what they had learned.
One girl responded and said, “In BLAZE I learned that God loves us no matter what; that no matter what we do, He will still forgive and love us.”
I nearly cried.
This truth is one which I believe to be among the central messages of BLAZE: nothing that you do can make God love you any more or any less.
I was filled with joy to hear this eighth grader reflect on her year of BLAZE by sharing this reality in her own words. She had really understood it. She heard Jesus calling her the beloved and she had come to believe a truth which will be foundational as she moves forward in her walk with the Lord.
You see, middle school is a time of self-doubt. Ask anyone to reflect upon their time in middle school and they will probably describe a detestable period of life plagued with awkwardness, bullying, rejection and uncertainty. Girls spend most of their time - whether they know it or not - grappling with their identity, figuring out what they believe, and discovering who their real friends are.
This is where BLAZE comes in.
BLAZE provides girls with the tools they need to hear who God is calling them to be over and above all of the other voices coming their way. BLAZE builds a foundation from which they can continue to grow.
And what I have been more surprised by than anything in my time working with these seventh and eighth grade girls is that middle schoolers desire to build this foundation. They are teeming with questions and thoughts and they want more than anything to ask and be heard. Every Wednesday, they look up at me with eager, attentive eyes ready to learn and respond. Sure, these girls have to attend BLAZE, but I was shocked to find out that these girls want to attend BLAZE. They want to learn about who Jesus is.
Last week, Lisa Brenninkmeyer shared a beautiful overview about what Blaze is and how the Blaze Leader's Guide can be used. But, there is so much more to BLAZE than just a Leader's Guide. BLAZE is a versatile program with a wide variety of components that can be used in nearly any context.
Here is a brief explanation of the different aspects of BLAZE which we are so unbelievably excited to share with you in August:
1. A Leader's Guide: The Blaze Leader's Guide is a twenty-lesson course designed specifically for seventh and eighth grade girls. With this book, women will have the ideal resource to lead middle school girls to a deeper relationship with Christ. Each lesson compares the lies of this world with the truth found in Scripture. As the girls are introduced to the Bible in relevant and fresh ways, they will grow in their ability to hear the voice of Jesus Christ telling them how loved and beautiful they are. They'll receive powerful tools to help them distinguish between truth and lies, and will be stronger young women as a result. This book is used in conjunction with “The BLAZE Kit,” described below, however it is not directly related to any other component of BLAZE.
2. Between You and Me: Mother-Daughter Conversations: This is a 40-day devotional for mothers and daughters to read together. Each day compares a lie of our secular culture with the truth found in Scripture. The daily reflection, opportunity to journal, discussion questions and prayer prompts will springboard the mother/daughter relationship to a new level of honesty and intimacy. If you want to share your faith with your daughter but could use some help with the words, this book is tailor made for you. The Mother-Daughter devotional can be used beautifully alongside the other components of BLAZE, but it can also be used completely on its own.
3. The Discovering My Purpose Bible Study: This six-session Bible study is designed for middle school girls. This resource opens girls' eyes to their unique purpose, gifts, and God's love. It includes the Blaze Middle School Spiritual Gifts Inventory, a fabulous tool to help girls discern where God is calling them to be world-changers. Discovering My Purpose can be used individually or in a group setting. Again, this study can be used alongside the other components of BLAZE and can also be used completely on its own.
4. The BLAZE Kit: This box of fun contains all of the supplies that you need to use the Blaze Leader's Guide curriculum. This includes, lesson-based take-home gifts, Truth vs. Lie Cards, Icebreaker supplies, packaging supplies and a Prayer Journal! Kits can be purchased for one girl or for five girls.
5. The Prayer Journal: This introduction to journaling as a form of prayer is a part of “The BLAZE Kit” but it can also be purchased a la carte on our website. This journal is a guide for middle school girls to use as they begin to learn how to pray through journaling. Each page of the Prayer Journal contains a Bible verse and the acronym, “ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.” The girls will have space to write down prayers in each of these sections. This product is wonderful for girls whether or not they are using any other component of BLAZE. Here girls will learn how to share their thoughts and feelings with God by writing out their prayers of each day.
We also have two BLAZE retreat guides on the way so stay tuned!
I have spent the past year watching Jesus use BLAZE to transform the hearts and lives of middle school girls by giving them the freedom that comes with understanding His love and grace.
I am now overjoyed to hand BLAZE over to you. It is not the answer to all of the problems plaguing young girls today, but I believe that it is an ordained tool which the Lord will use to move mountains in the lives of your daughters.
The most important thing to remember is this: BLAZE is not the Savior. We are not the Savior. You are not the Savior. And, this is good news because my friends, Jesus is the Savior!
And so, I pray that you may receive this new program with open arms, readily accepting this gift while simultaneously holding onto it loosely in an attempt to let Jesus step in to do the real work.
We hold you and your middle school girls in our hearts and we can't wait to walk alongside you during this most important season of life.
In her book Yes Please, author Amy Poehler wrote something that really stuck with me. She said that early on, she determined that her currency was not going to be her looks- it would be her sense of humor. What did she mean by currency? It's whatever gains us entrance into the room and allows us to stay there. It's like our ticket at the door- that thing that sets us apart and makes us acceptable. For some people it's their intelligence, for others it's their physical attractiveness, it can be their money, their power, or the fact that they are always the nicest person in the mix. It's what you rely on to make you feel secure in a million situations in life. It's what we start to use to create our own sense of identity and security, and all too often, it's one that leaves us depending on something that can be taken away from us.
This caused me to think about how old girls are when they start to feel that just showing up as themselves isn't quite enough. When do girls stop twirling with joy, asking you to look at how pretty they are? When do girls stop standing up for themselves and telling on the mean kids? When do girls start editing who they are- holding back their truest, most beautiful selves for fear that they'll be rejected?
I believe this starts in earnest around age twelve- in middle school. And I have a middle school daughter, so this matters to me a great deal. At the end of her seventh-grade year, she came to me and asked me why I spent all my time helping women but I never helped the girls in her class. I told her that it was because I was pretty sure that the girls in her class didn't want to hear from her forty-something mother. She looked straight at me and said, “You haven't even tried.”
And that got me in the gut, because I deeply care about these girls. I would guess that there is a young girl in your life that you care about, too. Perhaps you, too, have observed what is happening to our daughters and their peers, and have felt powerless to do anything about it. This is what women always say to me when I travel around the country and speak. “What can you do for my daughter? What can I do for my daughter?”
Ask any parent today and they will tell you that this young generation is different from all others. Peer pressure has taken on new forms with social media following our children wherever they go. The need to look good, achieve, and constantly keep their image intact can create anxiety, loneliness and even depression. There have always been pressures, but the way in which kids today are glued to their phones means that there is never a break from it. It follows them from school to the home and causes the peer group to feel like their entire reality.
The problem is not that we don't see the issues. The problem is not that we don't care. The problem is that we aren't sure of the right words and are lacking the right tools to reach out to that generation and show them how to be strong, whole, spiritually solid women.
So I told my daughter that I'd try, on one condition. That she would do it with me. That she would help me to speak into her generation. That she'd be honest about what they are struggling with, about what helps them, and about what goes over their heads.
Together, we set out to learn how to meet this generation of young girls where they are and to point them to the only One who will love them perfectly and satisfy their need to belong and be valued. And Blaze was born.
Blaze is the Walking with Purpose program developed for middle school age girls. Our mission at Blaze is to speak truth into the hearts of girls who are bombarded by lies about their true worth and beauty. Every week, they are introduced to a lie in our culture, which is then countered with a Biblical truth. The Bible becomes relevant, and the girls begin to recognize the difference between the loving, affirming voice of their heavenly Father and the voices that tell them they aren't good enough. The girls in Blaze grow in confidence as they recognize there is nothing they can do to lose God's love. Even when peers hurt them, they know that God's approval is what matters most. They encounter an inner strength that changes everything. Teaching these young girls how to use the Bible as a tool for spiritual growth encourages daily prayer and that strengthens the bond with God and family. It can be implemented in schools during lunchtime, in a small group at home, or one-on-one.
I long to see an army of women-equipped and unleashed- setting out to win back the hearts of our daughters, turning them to God. When women get their spiritual oxygen masks on, they almost always turn around and go out to save others. But they need tools. They need help to do this. We have put these tools together, and they will be available in our online store on August 1st.
Are you ready to see the hearts of your daughters set on fire with love for Christ?
Let's set out together to capture girls' hearts and keep them engaged in their faith at a time when we often start to lose them.
Praying you'll join me,