I spent last weekend speaking to an incredible group of women in the deep south. Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is home to the University of Alabama, the SEC school that everyone loves to hate—including me—however, no longer living in the south, my ire has waned in recent years. The women who welcomed me were so charming, despite their university loyalties, that I could not help but fall in love with them.
As I was visiting with one woman, she confided in me that she didn't feel like she fit in with the other women at the retreat. I told her that I often feel that way but could especially relate to her because the retreat center was next to fraternity row. All weekend we could hear music booming from several house parties, and during the consecration of the Eucharist at Mass, the tune "I Love Rock and Roll" blessed our ears and entered our hearts (the perfect song for a post-communion meditation). The sights and sounds flooded me with memories of my own experience in a sorority at LSU, and the feeling I remember most from those days was often feeling like I didn't fit in.
More than I'd like to admit, I felt like a fish out of water when I was around a large group of women. This was not something that one could have seen from the outside. I had friends, participated in a ton of social activities, and was involved in campus life. Yet, much of the time, I felt different from everyone else. I left functions with groups of women feeling like my dress wasn't quite right, and I didn't say the right things, think the right things, or act the right way. If they knew what I was really like, I felt that I would lose my friends and be left alone.
Have you ever felt this way? At the risk of being wrong, let me assume your answer: Yes, you have felt this way. My working theory is that all women—no matter how put together or popular they seem to be—feel like they don't fit in at some point. Feeling insecure and isolated in a group is a universal experience for us, no matter our age. It is as true for the young girl in middle school as for the college student, new mom, working woman, or retiree. Even the woman you think has it all together has felt as insecure as you have. You are not alone if you feel this way, and I am here to tell you that this feeling does not have to be a bad thing. It can be an invitation to remember who you are and why you were created.
First, when you feel like you stick out like a sore thumb, remember that you don't feel at home in this world because you were created for another one. C.S. Lewis famously said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
You were made for something greater than this passing earth and this wavering culture. God created you for Himself. He is the only one who can fully know you. He is the only one who can completely enter your heart, soul, and experience. When you feel like you don't fit in, let it lead you into God's presence. He is your shelter and your stronghold. He is your hope and your home, and it is only with Him in eternity that your earthly longing to be fully known and entirely accepted will be fulfilled.
Second, recognize that you may feel out of place because God has set you apart for His purposes. Throughout history, God has consistently called those He loves to stand out. In the Old Testament, God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments and commanded that they live differently from the rest of the world.
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God.” (Exodus 20: 2–5)
At the time, there was no such thing as a monotheistic religion. By commanding that the Israelites worship Him and Him alone, God set them apart from everyone else. He set them up to become holy in a world that was anything but holy. Those Ten Commandments eventually led the leaders of the Jewish people to set up 613 rules for the people to follow. The way they lived looked different because they were different. They belonged to the one true God.
Thousands of years later, in the New Testament, St. Paul echoed God's call to be set apart: “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:25—29).
Following God means that our lives are supposed to be different so we will feel that difference. We are not supposed to fit in. We are supposed to be holy.
Reflecting on my own experience, I am so grateful for the times I've felt different from the crowd. Why? Because, many times, that feeling of alienation saved me from making decisions that I would have deeply regretted. It is that feeling that propelled me to seek God, and it is the same feeling that reminds me that I am aiming for an eternity in heaven.
If you often feel like you just don't fit, reject the lie that you are, in some way, not enough. Instead, let it drive you to seek the presence of the God, who created you for His unique purpose. Let it remind you that your hope is in heaven. Then, setting your eyes on Jesus, stand confident in the fact that He is setting you apart to be His hands and feet in a world that desperately needs to see someone who is different.
 Lewis, C. S., Mere Christianity. (United Kingdom: HarperCollins, 2001), p 136,137.
My favorite part of leading BLAZE is getting to answer questions.
Middle school-aged girls are filled with questions. They have doubts, they desire clarification, and they want to share their thoughts in a space that will allow them to make their relationship with God personal and meaningful.
Somewhat in contrast to past generations, seventh and eighth graders of today are unwilling to go through the motions. They want something more.
BLAZE was created to give women the words and the tools they need to lead their daughters closer to Christ with confidence. But BLAZE is only a conversation starter. For this curriculum to truly have a long-lasting effect, it must be brought into conversation outside of the school or the small group or the youth group. For the words in this written curriculum to truly transform the hearts of young girls, it must be brought into the home.
We have done our best to create a component of BLAZE to make this possible. The Between You and Me: Mother-Daughter Devotional was put together to give moms the words to spend intentional time in conversation with their daughters about the lessons taught in BLAZE. Whether or not this is used in conjunction with any of the other aspects of the curriculum, this beautiful book has the potential to lead to the most important form of faith formation: conversation in the home.
But, I am writing to you today because I am very aware of a challenging truth; it is not enough to just make conversation starters like this accessible. You - as moms, grandmas, aunts, and sisters - need to invite this sort of dialogue into your homes. You need to be willing to create the space for girls to express their doubts and share their ideas. Sure, the Mother-Daughter Devotional is a beautiful gift that will look lovely on a bedside table, but for it to truly serve its purpose, it must be opened. My hope is that this book looks well-loved after it is read. I hope it is bookmarked and highlighted and scribbled in. And, I pray that the words no longer exist only on the pages. I pray that these words have ventured off into the hearts of both you and the precious child of God who you are reading with.
But above all, whether you use this curriculum or not, I hope that the open space which you create in your home for conversation is a hospitable one. May it be a space where girls can feel comfortable asking any and every question on their heart about God and faith and the Catholic church. Trust me, they have all of the questions and I guarantee, some of them will make you uncomfortable. For many of these questions, you will not have the answers. But fear not, your job is not always to respond. Your job is to hear and embrace. More than answers, your daughters need to know that their questions are okay. Their doubts need to be affirmed.
I know you want to have all of the answers. I do too. I know that you will fumble to answer certain questions in an effort to be the best at-home catechist that you can be. I do this all of the time. But it's time to be okay with not knowing. Your daughter would much rather you sit in the unknown with them than try to answer their doubt away.
And here's the beauty of entering into conversation and diving into the BLAZE curriculum at home...if you allow it to, it will teach you too. I pray that you are open to this.
And if you don't know how to sit in the unknown, let me give you one small piece of advice: let your daughter try to answer the questions for herself first. Find out what she thinks. Ask her questions. Let her know that you don't know all of the answers and give her permission to brainstorm what she thinks the answers may be.
In a truly fruitful conversation, both parties leave the dialogue with a takeaway. Give the middle schooler in your life permission to teach you about God in your attempt to teach her. I guarantee, if you welcome BLAZE into your home, it will change your heart as much as it will change your daughter's.
So, here is BLAZE. I hope that you are as excited about this gift as we are to give it to you. I pray that you may not only welcome it into your school and church, but that you would welcome it into your home as well.
Your daughter needs you. She wants to ask you the same questions that she is asking her friends or her religion teacher. Give her the space to do that.
In BLAZE, you will find some of the words. You will find a few of the answers. But mostly, you will find conversation starters. You will have the tools to learn about the Lord alongside your daughter. I implore you, don't let this moment pass you by. The time for your daughter to build a foundation for her faith is here and now and you are the best person equipped to lay down the bricks, one conversation at a time.
PS: I know you have a million and one questions about BLAZE and we have done our best to answer as many of your questions as we can! For further questions, please see our FAQs and if you still need answers, please contact us!
I arrived at the home of an 8th grade boy, whom I had never met. I had no idea what his mother looked like or what her name was. My daughter, also an 8th grader, had texted me the address. The instructions were to show up, silently take pictures, and leave.
It was the highly anticipated 8th grade dance, and this moment was the infamous “pictures before the dance” event. It was all a very big and important deal, and by invite only. And to be honest? It was weird.
Let me tell you why.
The girls? They were all beautiful. Not that being beautiful is a problem, but I mean...they were crazy beautiful. As in, they looked like they were thirty years old beautiful. The dresses their teenage bodies were poured into were a far cry from what I wore to my 8th grade dance. Honestly? I think I wore a circus tent that my mother found on the floor, beneath the sale rack at Burlington Coat Factory. That is not even a joke. If I find a picture I will post it to prove it. But these dresses? These were adult woman, red carpet dresses. Cut low, and hemmed high, if it were not for the braces and awkwardly posed selfies, you would never guess they were just fourteen. And yes. I was the mother who brought my daughter's dress to the tailor to sew up the plunging neckline, and who had to resist the urge during picture taking to run up to my sweet and innocent girl, pull her dress down, all while praying out loud to Saint Maria Goretti.
I have two incredible daughters. One is the nose pierced, dressed in all black, insanely talented artist who is “room cleaning” challenged, did not have a date for the 8th grade dance, and who has a plan to skip college and become a successful and highly sought after tattoo artist; a dream I have come to peace with. The other is the long haired, varsity cheerleader with a boyfriend on the football team, and who keeps her room clean with a plan to get married young, become a mom, and do good work as a therapist. They are different in so many beautiful ways, but at their core, both girls are compassionate and hysterical and I am proud to say, have a personal relationship with the Lord. They have their own “friend group” and they keep busy with art, school, cheer practice, work, social activities with their peers, family time, as well as their fair share of hours in front of a screen. On the outside, they are typical and healthy girls who are doing great. But spend a little time with them, and you will quickly learn that on the inside? On the inside they feel anxious, depressed, ugly, and often very much alone.
And when I was their age, guess what? I felt that way, too. And it almost killed me. I think it is killing our daughters, too.
Does that sound too dramatic? I recognize it might. And yet, I will not edit my words. I have four children and I have watched my very own race a million miles in the wrong direction, all in the hope of fitting in. And yes. Death is a very real option if we do not catch them in time. And as I presently travel a road I pray no parent ever has to travel, I know that the truth is....many of you are already traveling it...and many more of you will. And so I feel charged to proclaim the truth of what is happening even if it hurts your ears and pierces your heart. I feel obligated to break this “kid code” that our children are living by and forcing us, as parents, to cooperate with; this “do not say anything to that parent of the kid bullying me or that teacher who treats me unfairly, or to the mom of the underage kid who is drinking because if you do, you will make life for me worse” code. Have you heard your own child say this to you? It is an incredible system our children have silently agreed to follow, leaving parents feeling helpless, and putting countless young lives in real danger.
Sisters, the truth is, our girls are slowly dying. And it starts in the Middle School.
Before sitting down to write, I threw out a question on my personal Instagram account asking young girls, “What was the hardest part of Middle School for you?” Many responses came in, and they all said the same exact thing.
One girl brought me to tears, sharing, “If you do not fit in, you are nothing, which is obviously not true, but the feeling kinda' starts in middle school.”
Another wrote, “The hardest part for me is learning to stay true to myself and not go with the popular kids.”
Both girls address the lie, and the pressure it places on them. Is it better to be popular by being someone God did not intend you to be? Is it better to fit in even if it means being someone you are not? According to the responses left in my feed, these are the serious struggles, and all too often the answer to these questions is an astonishing and most heartbreaking “yes.” Most girls will do whatever they need to do in order to fit in. I spent the majority of the day wishing I could cup these girls faces in my hands and through my own tear filled eyes tell them, “You are not nothing. You are chosen. You are beloved. Do you understand that? You are not nothing.”
My daughter's friend was over the day my own Blaze Kit arrived, and so we went through it together, like kids on Christmas morning. I pulled out the “truth vs. lie” cards and read them out loud. Everytime I read the LIE (“I need a boyfriend to be happy”) the girls would giggle then say, “Oh yeah, that IS true!” And sure, they were being silly, but even so, I had to pause and think about it. In their heads they knew these were lies. But in their hearts, they believed otherwise. Because the truth is, they are fed the lie more than they are fed the truth. And as far as I can tell by my own weekly grocery bill and the size of my children, if you want something to grow, you feed it. And so I have to wonder. In a world that will not rest at feeding our young girls lie after lie, are we doing our part? Are we feeding our girls enough truth?
I absolutely love how Lisa Brenninkmeyer opens the lessons in the Blaze Middle School Curriculum by quoting not Jesus, not the Pope, not a Saint. She quotes Taylor Swift. “Unique and different is the next generation of beautiful. You don't have to be like everybody else. In fact, I don't think you should.” Wonderfully said, Miss Swift. I believe this, and I am sure you believe this too. Now, we need to convince our girls.
On our way home from cheer practice, I shared with my daughter with her BLAZE water bottle in hand, that even though she was going into High School, the BLAZE program would be really good for her and her friends....and that maybe...I would lead them through the study. I honestly don't remember her response, which could go both ways, and if I am being honest there was the whisper in my head saying, “Good grief, Laura, you don't have time to shave your legs, how on earth will you add this to your plate?” But here is the deal. I can't lose another child to this Godless world that throws empty lie after empty lie in their faces and leads them away from Christ. I just can't. Our children are dealing with very grown-up issues and enormous feelings at an incredibly young and impressionable age. They are self-harming by cutting, vaping, underage drinking, experimenting with drugs, taking pills, being sexually active, fantasizing about suicide and going down some very dark and frightening roads, and I am telling you, more than half the time we have no idea. Not because we are not present. Not because we are bad moms. But because the world is moving too fast and we have not been given the tools to keep up. And this numbing, reckless, self medicating behavior does not begin when they are in high school, nor when they are in college, and certainly not when they turn twenty one. It starts in the Middle School. How do I know? Because I asked. And the girls told me.
I firmly believe as mothers, aunts, sisters, Godmothers, friends, and good women of faith, we are being called to step into the arena WITH our girls and fight hard for them. We need to become an undeniable presence and an unleashed force of protection in their lives that goes beyond signing up to bring snacks to the lacrosse field, or volunteering as class mom. We need to win their hearts back. We need to saturate them in truth. And we need to do it before it's too late.
BLAZE has intersected my life by nothing other than the almighty hand of God. As a mom who has been present, who did volunteer (up to a point) and who runs a home where church is non-negotiable, I have been struggling to see how I allowed one of my precious own to fall through the cracks. I have been beating myself up for not keeping my baby safe. And I have been searching for ways to ensure I am not blindsided by what is really going on with our youth ever again. What a blessing that the BLAZE program has done the bulk of the work for me. From the Middle School Girl's Curriculum Guide, to the Between You and Me Mother - Daughter Conversations devotional (my favorite!) to the 6-lesson Bible study to the Blaze Kit take-away gifts that reinforce each lesson from the Blaze Curriculum (the old catechist in me is crazy about this), BLAZE just might be the most important study in the Walking With Purpose library. I believe this. And I believe in this. And I pray you do, too.
So, where do we start? We start right now, by listening to Lisa, in her own powerful words, describe not only the importance of BLAZE, but of our crucial role in our daughter's lives. And we pass it on. We send the link to a friend, we share the videos with our girlfriends, we spread this truth like a blazing wildfire. And we purchase BLAZE. Not because I am asking you to, but because I believe God is calling us to. BLAZE is a life vest and oxygen mask - and we would be crazy not to reach for it. Sisters, these are the tools we need to save our girl's lives. Purchase BLAZE materials for your daughter, buy it for a friend's daughter, give it as a thank you to your Director of Religious Education, wrap it as a birthday gift. Just get BLAZE into someone's hands now.
My prayer is that with the help of BLAZE, God will make up for whatever I lack as a mother and fail to notice, and speak directly to my daughter's heart. I pray that one day soon, all of our girls will not only recognize but truly believe that they are not nothing but rather something; something so much greater than they can even comprehend. They are God's masterpiece, perfect in every way, and they need not ever kill themselves over trying to fit in, because the truth is, with God, they already do.
It's time we bring our girls hearts back home where they belong.
Won't you please join me?
Your Sister in Christ,
*When you purchase your BLAZE study, would you please send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and provide us with the first name of the precious girl receiving this gift? We would love to pray for her in our daily intentions!!!