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“Enjoy the little things in life because one day you'll look back and realize they were the big things.” —Kurt Vonnegut

I framed this quote for my kitchen wall years ago, during a season when it felt like much of my day was spent doing inconsequential, little tasks. I needed this reminder whether I was continually washing a child’s dirty hands and face, picking up toys that were only going to get taken out again, or doing laundry with no end to the pile. Those days with littles are in the rear view mirror for me now, but my life is still full of little things: listening to an older loved one repeat stories I’d heard before, trying to respond with patience when someone is going slowly in front of me, and picking up the phone to listen to an aching heart instead of letting it go to voicemail. Then and now, I’ve always felt the temptation to rush forward toward “tasks that matter,” things that I can measure, accomplishments that make me feel productive. And God’s still small voice tells me to slow down, pay attention, and savor.

“But,” I remind the Lord, “You Yourself have a big and bold mission! Revelation 7:9 tells us that You are in the process of gathering together a multitude of people—a group so great that no man can number it, from every tribe, nation, people and tongue. And then You’ve invited us into that mission, to ‘go therefore and make disciples of all nations’ (Matthew 28:19). ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few’ (Luke 10:2). So don’t I need to get going and do something that has far-reaching impact?!”

It is true that we worship and serve a big God who has a big vision for His people. Yet, despite the grandeur of His overarching plan for mankind, God has a remarkable love for the small. In fact, in God’s economy, it’s often the smallest of things that have the most significance in His eyes. In Matthew 6:4 we see that God notices us during small moments. It says that our Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward us. Jesus lauded the generosity of the widow’s mite—a tiny financial donation by worldly standards (Mark 12:41–44). And Jesus modeled and encouraged taking time to be with children (Matthew 19:13–15).

Yet I must admit, I often have trouble sharing God’s love for the small. When things start to feel small, I am prone to complain. I can wonder if my efforts are worth it. I feel hemmed in. Discontentment grows in my heart.

If you relate, perhaps you’ll be encouraged by the word of the prophet Zechariah in Zechariah 4. He spoke to his people who were captivated by a big vision, and it was a God-given vision to rebuild the temple. God didn’t tell them not to dream and not to work toward that goal, but He said this:

Do not despise the day of small things.

Zechariah was speaking to people who were returning from exile and were rebuilding the temple under the leadership of Zerubbabel. But these were people who could remember Solomon’s temple, and what they were building seemed so sad and small by comparison. They had dreams of former glory, but their dreams were dying in the day of small things.

They were weeping, but God was not. He had big plans for His people, but He valued the small steps that would bring that vision about. The fact that the progress was slow wasn’t a sign of His displeasure. God was with them, God had rescued them, and God’s plans were going to prosper, but there were going to be many “days of small things” along the way.

The Israelites wanted to see the glory of the temple restored, but the true temple was to be the incarnate body of Jesus. That miracle wasn’t to come for over 400 years. Our big God was patient enough to endure centuries of small days. His kingdom (which will one day cover the earth) did not begin big. It began with a baby in Mary’s womb and spread to twelve uneducated men. And then the world began to change, one heart at a time. Slow, but real, transformation.

The application for us is clear. While we might long for opportunities to serve that are worthy of a social media post, a platform, or at least a little attention, God longs for us to be content with faithful obedience in the small things. And if we will do these small things right away and with the right attitude, we’ll find that all these acts of obedience cumulate and ultimately change who we are. This allows us to leave a faith-filled legacy in our wake. 

We can dream big and pray big and work for the big, and at the same time, remain faithful and content while devoting ourselves to what is small and hidden. Each little act of love matters. The day of big things is coming, but until then, we are not to neglect the day of small things.

Zechariah’s words again ring true: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). Our human efforts alone can never produce the day of big things, but if we invite God to work through our small offerings, His purposes will prevail. Big things will come. In the meantime, He asks us to be faithful, one small step at a time. 

With you on the journey,
Lisa

 

Does the importance of a family decrease when children start to leave the home?
Is a homemaker still needed when the laundry pile is small, “chauffeuring” duties are done, and there are fewer places to set at the table?
Does an “empty nest” signal it’s time for a mother to reinvent herself?

These are some of the questions I have been musing over as Leo and I fly home after visiting our adult children on the other side of the country.

Our boys are living full and independent lives—one married, one single. This could lead me to conclude that the days when I am needed are over and that my role is to recede into the background. And to some degree, that is true. They don’t need me telling them what to wear, when to shave, or that they need to put on some sunscreen. But I still have a role to play in their lives. The home I create in Florida is still to be an oasis for all, and my heart can be a home that my family travels to whenever needed. 

The Catechism tells us that the family is the original cell of society (CCC 2207). But this doesn’t mean that a family is like a basic building block where one unit can serve as well as another. Each family is unique, and all are strengthened when the family affirms that each member (whether the mother, father, brother, or sister) is a distinct and unrepeatable person, imbued with dignity. When family members see themselves in this way, they are better able to fulfill their mission of being “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). A Catholic family has a mission to spread the warmth, hope, and peace of Christ into the communities that they are a part of. Saint John Paul II summed up this truth with the words, “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.” This mission doesn’t end when children leave home.

Most people navigate fear, confusion, worry, and hopelessness on a daily basis. They exist in a world that values them in relation to their productivity. Far from being seen as irreplaceable people of dignity, they are expected to fit into a framework which leaves no room for God and sets a very high bar for success and significance. Even at the end of the day, true rest and restoration is elusive. Many return home just to dash out to evening activities (there’s still more to achieve and accomplish) or to numb out in front of a screen. 

Our homes are meant to be sanctuaries in the midst of the world—to be life-giving alternatives to a sterile way of existing. Our families are called to be the church in miniature, a place of welcome and healing. If we could grasp this vision and reorient ourselves around it, I believe we would find that the need for this kind of a homemaker would never diminish. We’d quickly discover that there is always someone who longs to be invited into this kind of environment. 

I recently watched a video about the transcendental of beauty by philosopher Roger Scruton.[1] In it, he describes two different kinds of beauty. The first is grand and perfect. You know it when you see or hear it. It’s the rose windows in Chartres Cathedral, the face of the Blessed Mother in Michelangelo’s La Pietà, and Andrea Bocelli’s tenor voice. There’s a harmony and a perfection. The second kind of beauty is the type that matters most in our homes. It’s the everyday kind of beauty—the ordinary beauty. We express it in the way we garden, cook, set the table, and fluff the pillows. The reason this beauty is important is because it’s the way we cultivate an environment where things and people fit together, creating an atmosphere that restores. Although this beauty lies all around us, Scruton notes that we need eyes to see it and hearts to feel it. But the most ordinary event can be made something beautiful when people see into the heart of things.  

Scruton considers this kind of beauty as an instrument of peace. It creates a sense of home. It’s an imperfect beauty, but nonetheless, it settles us. It’s not the beauty of a perfectly clean house, a designer interior, or an updated color scheme. It’s the beauty of a space that’s become a haven for all who enter. It’s a place that has been cultivated by a committed woman who has made it her mission to create an atmosphere of warmth and welcome. She has prepared for each person’s homecoming (whether a family member or not) by focusing on each person’s unique dignity and unrepeatability. When we think of home in this way, it’s clear that the significance of a homemaker’s role continues throughout the decades. 

Author Leila Lawson writes, “A lot of homemaking consists of being ready for those times when someone needs you—and it’s hard to justify this way of using time to a world that measures productivity in equal units and output.”[2] The world is pulsing, action-oriented, and distracted, rewarding the self-centered. But if we have chosen to center our lives on God, we no longer need to justify the way we use our time to anyone other than Him. He invites you to measure your days by how you love, not by what you produce. And loving well means being available. 

Your heart and home can be a sanctuary. Just being available is a tremendous gift you can offer to those you love. An empty nest is not a signal that you need to reinvent yourself. Those in our care will always need a shelter—a place to come home to where they don’t need to produce something to be considered worthy, where they are received as the gifts that they are. 

Perhaps, as Dostoevsky claimed, beauty really can save the world. What might change if more women responded to this high calling to cultivate this kind of home?

With you on the journey,
Lisa

[1] “Why Beauty Matters” by Roger Scruton, https://vimeo.com/128428182, accessed April 4, 2022.
[2] Leila Lawson, The Summa Domestica (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2021), 208.

It was the year 2000, and we had a good plan. A plan that involved leaving our New York City apartment and heading out west. Despite our friend's warnings, selfish ambition got the best of us. “We will be back in a year,” we promised our loved ones, “when we have enough money to live comfortably.” And so we said goodbye to everything and everyone that we knew and loved in pursuit of success at all costs.

The future was ours to create. Or so we believed.

Living one year in sunny California turned into ten years stuck in Los Angeles. The money, status, and comfort we left our family for were replaced with bankruptcy, stress, and regret. Turns out, we were not the masters of our fate. So much for the good plan.

The great irony is that 22 years later I look back on that season and would give my right arm to relive just one of those days. As I prepare for one daughter’s 21st birthday and another’s high school graduation, suddenly the Scripture verse that warns me that I am “a puff of smoke that appears for a little time and then vanishes”[1] sounds like the obnoxious ticking of the world’s most insensitive time bomb. I want my four small kids back. I want that tiny one-bedroom apartment. I want to drag my family’s dirty clothes to the laundromat with kids in tow, cover every corner of the kitchen table with glitter and glue, and go on an “adventure walk,” which really was just picking up snails on our way to add quarters to our laundry card. 

It was a hard season. So why do I long for it?

Turns out that my struggling life—the one I was so eager to get ahead of—was a deliberately crafted garland of ordinary moments strung together by the wisdom of God. Knowing the confident pride I am prone to fall into when planning my future, He gifted me with four little sanctifiers and a husband who made barely enough money to cover rent just so I’d keep tethered to the better part. All those years when I dreamed of where I thought I ought to be, I was, in fact, exactly where He needed me to be: witnessing Christ to others in the little places and messy spaces we called home.

Oh, sweet friends…do not buy into the lie that you belong somewhere else.
Do not believe for a minute that you are replaceable, not enough, or incomplete.
The season you are in is not God’s mistake, oversight, or His just killing time.
And if the glitter drives you crazy, have no fear. It, too, will disappear. 

The older I get the better I understand that God has a divine plan. What looked like obstacles to my living a good, secure life (four small kids, no babysitter, a tiny apartment, and a disappointing paycheck) were opportunities to depend on God’s grace, mercy, and will in every moment. Our good plan was never going to bear us lasting fruit; not only because we were living in the confidence of ourselves, but because, spoiler alert, man’s plans are always tentative. 

If you’re struggling with the season you are in, here’s a fun fact:
the season you are in is the only season you are guaranteed.
The opportunities of today may not be available tomorrow.
So, stop worrying about the future, and who you think you need to become, and be present to the woman you are right now. Be her. I am more than confident that someone in your life really loves and needs her. Not tomorrow. But today.

We read in the Letter of James, “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. For you are just a vapor that appears for a little while, and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. So for one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, for him it is sin.”[2]

I am not denying the value of a sound plan, nor am I calling you evil for having a future vision. Sometimes a future vision is the only thing that gets us out of bed. However, Scripture makes it very clear that our lives, fragile and temporary, are not to be focused on tomorrow. We cannot predict the future, we do not live forever, and nothing we plan is permanent. The only thing secure is today.

I don’t know where you are right now, but I can tell you where I am. I’m living in the present moment; choosing to love God in my every move and serve Him where He has placed me—not where I am striving to place myself. You know, back in the day, I would have cooked, cleaned, wiped noses and kitchen counters, and grumbled to myself, “What is my life?” It can be difficult to see Jesus in the ordinary, and yet, dare I say, it’s His favorite place to be. 

The season you are in might not be where you want to be, but it is where God needs you to be. Today, for as long as it lasts, is always a good place to be. So open your eyes to today, my friend. If you’re lucky, you will not only see Jesus, but you may also catch the sparkle of glitter from a long time ago—hidden but present in the messy places and spaces of this temporary home.

[1] James 4:14 (NAB)
[2] James 4:14–17 (RSV)
Bible Study

 

Do you remember Linus, Charlie Brown’s best friend from the Peanuts comic? He was the one who carried his blanket everywhere. Well, I have a “Linus” in my own house—my youngest son. His blanket is named “BearBear,” and he goes everywhere with us. I mean everywhere. He attended ski school this past winter, nicely zipped into my son’s jacket as he went down the mountain. He’s basically a member of the Malik family—he’s in our family photo that hangs on the wall. My older kids know how to leap into action when BearBear is lost and can find him in a matter of minutes.  

Our collective vigilance on BearBear’s whereabouts did not prevent us from having a minor catastrophe a couple weeks ago. We went to Mass and accidentally left BearBear at home. In the shuffle and craziness of getting five kids out the door for church (on everyone’s favorite daylight saving Sunday), BearBear got left in the dust. We only realized this tragedy ten minutes into the Mass when my son noticed BearBear’s absence and began to wail. 

Now, I know kids love their stuffed animals, and it’s cute that something so simple can bring them comfort when they’re young. My older kids have all outgrown their old favorite stuffed animals, and I look back fondly on those memories. I’m sure the day that my youngest son doesn’t need BearBear anymore will be coming soon. (I do pray that it comes sooner rather than later because if any kid would bring a stuffed animal to college, it would be this kid.) 

In my 15 years of dealing with crying kids at Mass, I can usually handle the situation one way or another (ask me about “the look” or “the walk of shame” some other time). But this time was different. My son was heartbroken. I could see on his face that he didn’t want to cry; he was trying so hard to be tough, but he just couldn’t help it. He wanted BearBear and literally nothing else would suffice—no amount of comforting, bribing, or reasoning worked. 

I need to be honest—part of me became annoyed at this point. I wanted him to calm down, yes, but what struck me more was how much I didn’t want him to be so affected by something so trivial. The more I tried to calm him, the more I kept thinking how we were sitting in the (literal) presence of the Lord while focusing on the upsetting consequences of a missing blanket. 

I love the way the Lord works, though, because after Mass, my husband and I were talking about the “BearBear incident” (which we affectionately call it now), and our perspectives couldn’t have been more different. 

I explained to him my feelings about the “BearBear incident,” and how it made me think how we are similar to children in this regard. We all have something in our lives that our happiness is dependent on, even though Scripture warns us against this all-too-human inclination.[1] I started telling him all the trivial things that I felt were taking up space in my heart where the Lord should be (as I silently patted myself on the back for recognizing this divine revelation). 

My husband, however, had a much more paternal—and loving—perspective on the “BearBear incident.” He felt it revealed a deeper truth about the Lord and His goodness. He explained that as trivial as the blanket may seem to us, our son loves it. And how when we are lost, God is even more heartbroken than our son was about his lost blanket. God longs to be close to us at all times—much like our son never wants to be separated from BearBear. 

Talk about convicting. Thank God for the sacrament of Marriage. 

You may have heard St. Augustine’s quote, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you,” but have you heard the beginning of that quote? He says, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” He made us for Himself because He loves us. Our Maker knows what our hearts need, and nothing this side of heaven will ever fully satisfy. He wants us to give Him our hearts, and in return, He wants to love us with the closeness of a loving Father. 

So, as we’ve crossed the halfway point of Lent, let’s take an honest look at our hearts. Joel 2:13 says, “Rend your heart…and return to the Lord.” What is your heart focused on? Is there something directing your heart away from the Lord? Have you thought about God’s heart for you, and how it breaks when we are separated from Him by sin? How can you return to the Lord with your whole heart?

My son eventually calmed down that Sunday as I listened to the end of the homily. The priest was talking about the Transfiguration story from Luke 9. He pointed out that Jesus wasn’t simply reflecting the glory of God. He was transfigured into the glory of who He is—from the inside out. He explained that we too can be changed from the inside out; that transfiguration can happen in our lives too. He finished by saying that bringing our hearts to Jesus in the sacrament of Confession is how this can happen. 

Rending our hearts prepares us to be transformed from the inside out. And when we are transformed from the inside out through confession, we draw ever closer to the heart of the Father. 

Can you take a moment to rend (examine) your heart today?
What treasure takes up space in your heart where God should be? Is it an expectation? A relationship? Something material?
How is the Lord calling you to return to Him these last few weeks of Lent?
Have you considered how God’s deep love and desire for closeness with you is possible through the sacrament of Confession?

[1] “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” (Matthew 6:19–21)

The best way to spend the final week before Christmas is making a solo 1,370 mile drive with two dogs in the backseat. At least this is what I told myself when I set out to create an unforgettable Christmas experience for my family. I didn’t factor in the relationship my puppy wanted to develop with the dog staying across the hall at the hotel. She “talked” to our neighbor all night long, which contributed to a delightful sleeping experience along the way.

The thing is, I can justify almost any complication of an event if I am certain that making “it” happen will bring guaranteed delight to my kids. And everyone knows that puppies make Christmas extra magical. The way I have approached the holiday season (if I’m honest, it’s the way I approach my life) is to figure out what is possible. Can I somehow make it happen through grit, hard work, and perseverance? Then the juice is worth the squeeze! Until it isn’t.

I don’t know how you are approaching these final days before Christmas, but I would guess that most of you are starting to feel a little panicky over the things you have left to do, and as a result, you’ve got a creeping sense that you are going to be disappointed by the end result. Which just might be motivating you to run even faster and try even harder. At least that’s the way I have lived for decades.

But I am trying to make a change, and although I still justified the drive with the dogs, I can see some glimmers of transformation. Instead of asking myself, “Is this possible? Can I somehow make this happen?” I am asking myself, “What’s the simplest option here?” I am growing in my appreciation for the simple, and it’s not just because I’ve read Marie Kondo’s book. It’s the result of realizing that nothing satisfies me like a quiet and still heart. I’ve learned that in order to encounter the Lord, everything in my life needs to slow down. It’s not about getting everything done and then giving myself permission to stop. I need to set a goal of doing less, so I can create space for Him.

When there’s a little space, I have the chance to ponder what I’m going to offer Jesus as a gift for His birthday. Typically, I offer Him a nicely decorated house, bulging Christmas stockings, loads of food, and Christmas presents spilling over the floor in front of the tree. But when I stop to think about it, none of these things are for Him. They are for my family. And while I know Jesus feels loved when I love well, I am kidding myself when I ignore the fact that any thoughts of Him are pretty far away when I’m doing all of that prep.

What gifts were given to Jesus when He came to earth and was born in a manger? It was simply the gift of people’s presence. In the midst of the mess of the stable, the noises of the animals, and the emotions that accompany things when they don’t go according to plan, Mary and Joseph let the rest of the world fade away and just welcomed their baby. Their hands were empty, which meant there was room for Him.

Instead of patting myself on the back when I can present Jesus with a picture-perfect Christmas, I have come to see the value in offering Him a calmed and quieted soul (Psalm 131:1). Instead of feeling like I need to come with all my to-do’s wrapped up in my hands, I’ve learned that the gift He likes best is my empty hands, upturned in humble worship.

Padre Pio has been ministering to me these months with these words,

Live simply. Eat simply. Love one another simply. Do not complicate matters unnecessarily. How do you live simply? You remove activities that are not necessary or that pull you away from duty…Apostles of Jesus Christ must set an example of service and obedience but not hectic service. There should be calm and if there is not calm in your life, change your life and keep changing it until you find calm.[1]

There is still time to do what matters most this Christmas season. I’m not talking about the gifts, the cookies, the decorations, or the parties. What matters most is finding a pocket of calm, emptying your hands, and upturning them to offer thanks. A humble thank you to the God of the universe because He stepped into our mess as Emmanuel, God with us. Take a deep breath, my friends. Your peaceful presence is more important than the perfect present. That’s what is remembered most.

So offer Jesus your empty, upturned hands this Christmas. There’s no better gift.

With you on the journey,
Lisa

[1] http://messages-from-heaven.org/Stress/m2.htm

What are the final thoughts that usually run through your mind when you try to fall asleep? Do you review a litany of unaccomplished tasks, mentally moving them onto tomorrow’s list? Are you thinking with dread of all that’s going to be required of you tomorrow? Do you feel regret over the way you have treated certain people who matter to you? 

Almost every night, most of us can think of many things we wish we could have done that are being left unfinished. We can’t always fit in a little bit more. A life well lived is made up of days when the things that are most important are done first and many good things remain undone. As Stephen R. Covey wisely wrote, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”[1] Our big rocks are our priorities. But how do we figure out what should be the most important thing?

I don’t believe that a single one of us wants to waste his or her life. We want our lives to count. We read Jesus’ words in Mark 8:36, “For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” Or in other words, what does it do for you if you gain the whole world but end up losing your soul? We don’t want to come to the end of our lives having pursued the wrong things.

The world is constantly communicating its priorities to you. You are to prioritize having a perfect body, having as much money as you can, having an HGTV perfect house, and making a name for yourself with your accomplishments. You should be able to present your life in such a way that it lays out beautifully on Instagram—providing a feed worth following. 

But is that a life that is truly satisfying? Even if you were to gain all those things that the world says matters most, is it possible that you could lose your soul—who you truly are—in the process?

What kind of a life do you want to build?
If you want to build a life where you love well…
if you want to build a life that feels simpler…
then I’d like to invite you on a journey.

My newest Bible study, Ordering Your Priorities: Building a Life Well Lived, is where that journey begins.

Ordering Your Priorities lays a foundation that helps women focus on the things that matter most. Diving into the pages of Scripture, we’ll connect our modern-day challenges with the changeless truths of our faith. If we want to live lives of purpose and meaning, we have to start in the right place. We need to begin by paying attention to the One who made us, because He is the one who can best tell us what we need for our lives to run well. 

My prayer for you and me is that we would apply the principles contained in Ordering Your Priorities and create a life well lived. In John 10:10, Jesus said, “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” That is what we are pursuing here.

Join us on a journey to build a simpler life where you love well. Your transformation is just around the corner!

Love,
Lisa

[1] Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill, and Rebecca R. Merrill, First Things First (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 161.

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.

You matter to God. All that you carry in your heart—your dreams, desires, needs, and heartaches—all this is seen by God. Far from being an impersonal deity who expects you to suck it up and soldier on, God pays attention to everything that touches you. In Psalm 56:9, David writes, “My wanderings you have noted; are my tears not stored in your flask, recorded in your book?” Let that sink in. The Creator of the universe sees you, takes note of your every tear, and holds them. He keeps your tears. When you cry out to Him and say that you are at your limit—that you can’t take anymore—He sees everything that led up to that point. He sees it, and He cares. You are known and understood by God. You aren’t too much for Him; you aren’t too complicated; you aren’t a mess in His eyes. God sees your beautiful, wild heart.

But God is not the only one paying attention to the state of your heart, or women’s hearts in general. This has been a subject of interest and debate for some time. There is a deep longing found in the hearts of women which has always existed. Betty Friedan wrote of it in The Feminine Mystique in the 1960s, describing it as “the problem that has no name.” [1] It’s an interior restlessness, an inner ache for more. 

We have all seen the effects of a persuasive writer who is able to name what people are currently feeling but are unable to express. When someone nails it and artfully communicates what we’ve all been sensing and perceiving, powerful trends are born. Those trends translate into belief systems that are embraced and passed to the next generation. This is what happened with the writing of authors like Betty Frieden, Gloria Steinem, Kate Millet, and others. Their writing and influence birthed a movement that set out to heal the hearts of women by liberating them from the effects of patriarchy and the chains of home life and motherhood. Decades later, it’s worth asking: are women happier as a result of their efforts? Statistics indicate they are not. Women have never been more medicated, addicted, and confused.

This mission to liberate women has been picked up by women in each subsequent generation, and writers and influencers continue to persuasively describe women’s current feelings. Women read their books, blogs, and social media posts and think, “Yes. That’s me. She sees me. She understands me. She’s putting into words what I’ve not been able to name.” Influencers tap into women’s discontent, articulate what women are feeling, and then offer their solutions. 

A #1 New York Times Best Seller, which has sold millions of copies and is considered a book packed with wisdom for women today, offers the following solution:

We do not need more selfless women. What we need right now is more women who have detoxed themselves so completely from the world’s expectations that they are full of nothing but themselves. What we need are women who are full of themselves. A woman who is full of herself knows and trusts herself enough to say and do what must be done. She lets the rest burn. [2]

In years past, I have enjoyed this author’s personality, sense of humor, authenticity, and vulnerability. She has raised millions of dollars for people in need, and I commend her for it. But I pause and am deeply concerned with the direction in which her writing is going. We need more women who are full of themselves? I don’t think so. 

You are being delivered a steady message through the media regarding the best way to care for yourself. Self-care represents a $10 billion per year industry in the United States. [3] Make no mistake, there is vested interest in getting you to care for your heart in such a way that keeps the economic engine running. But is it possible that you are being offered counterfeit self-care? Could it be that the bill of goods we’ve been sold for decades isn’t delivering on its promises? Might it be that the very things that we are “letting burn,” are the things that we most need in order to be fulfilled? 

I’m thinking deeply about what true self-care is—the kind that satisfies our yearning to know who we are and what we are worth. To begin with, it’s essential that we connect with our hearts. This means paying attention to what we feel, and inviting God into the places within that need healing. We also need to put in the time to learn what God says about our worth, and then choose to listen to Him more than all the messages that contradict His perspective. 

Another key component of self-care is cultivating an unhurried life. I know. Easier said than done. I highly recommend John Mark Comer’s book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, as a fabulous starting point.

A valuable shift in perspective that has real impact on self-care is looking at our body as a temple of the Holy Spirit. What are some of the alternatives to this? Treating our bodies as workhorses or obsessing with outward appearance. The latter can appear to be self-care, but can actually lead to an unhealthy self-focus.

Are you ready to allow the Creator of your heart to show you what will truly satisfy your deepest longings? Let’s pursue true self-care—the kind that satisfies our yearning to know who we are and what we are worth.

Grace and peace,
Lisa

[1] Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 2001), 433.
[2] Glennon Doyle, Untamed (New York: Random House, 2020), 75.
[3] Alice Hickson and Lilly Blumenthal, “The Self Care Obsession,” March 25, 2019, The Tufts Observer,  https://tuftsobserver.org/the-self-care-obsession/, accessed February 10, 2021.

 

 

 

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.

With love,

Lisa

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.

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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