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Hello Sisters in Christ! The below is one of my early blog posts, published in 2012. I enjoyed re-reading it and I pray it resonates with you this Advent. – Lisa

ALL GOOD GIVING AND EVERY PERFECT GIFT IS FROM ABOVE, COMING DOWN FROM THE FATHER. – JAMES 1:17

As Christmas approaches, I’m freshly inspired to create the perfect Advent setting in my home. I picture beautiful arrangements of greenery and berries by my front door, a lovely tree by the roaring fire, homemade cookies, and peace and harmony wafting through the house like a scent of cinnamon, cloves, and orange. I want everything on my Christmas Pinterest board to magically appear in my house. Regardless of my good intentions, my reality never seems to match my ideal. Take for example the Advent calendar that I always forget to fill until mid-December. Why on earth I bought the Advent house that has little tiny openings that hardly any candy actually fits in is beyond me. But now it’s a tradition (although an empty one, literally), so each year I bring it out and hope that I’ll get my act together a little earlier. And then there’s the nativity set with no baby Jesus. This isn’t because we’re waiting to put him in the manger on December 24th. It’s because we lost him, and every time I buy a new nativity set, I manage to lose that baby Jesus, too.

Thankfully, a meaningful Advent season isn’t dependent on a perfectly decorated house, consistent traditions, homemade cookies or Christmas cards sent out on time. What is Advent all about? It’s about getting ready, spiritually preparing, for the coming of Christ. As we wait to celebrate Christ’s birth, we remember the long wait the Israelites had as they anticipated the coming of their Rescuer – the Messiah. During their wait, God stretched out a long Advent calendar where, from time to time, they were able to “open” a gift that reminded them they were drawing closer to the realization of His promise. These gifts were prophecies that pointed to Christ, and glimpses of God’s plan of redemption. Literally hundreds of Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus.

He continues to fill up a very personal Advent calendar for each one of us. Every day. Jesus (who is the giver of all good gifts) sends us reminders of His love that are handpicked for His precious daughters. Pope Benedict described this in his Apostolic letter, Porta Fidei, dated October 11, 2011. He wrote, “Faith grows when it’s lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy.” When we see God’s love at work in our lives, our faith grows. Unfortunately, these graces often go unnoticed by us as we dash around, always busy, slaves to our lists of to-do’s. Perhaps this Advent season can be different. Look for His unexpected gifts. How is God helping you to experience His love today? Did you listen to a beautiful piece of music? Did you receive an unexpected kindness? Did a piece of Scripture speak to your heart and encourage you? Did your child give you an unexpected hug? What reminder of His love did He send you today? God knows what delights you. It blesses His heart when we recognize what He’s sent. I encourage you to make an Advent list, recording what He has given. We can forget and take things for granted so quickly.

For a reminder of how much God adores you and loves to lavish you with the things that delight, take a look at the Opening Your Heart Connect Coffee Talk “Priority #2: Your Heart – You Are Captivating!”

Wishing you an Advent season with time to pause and be filled with Christ’s sweet love.

Lisa Brenninkmeyer

Walking with Purpose

A friend texted me last night with good news. It was a long time coming. She deserved it. Her child deserved it. And yet, something prevented me from celebrating with her. A not-so-great feeling crept into my heart, blocking my ability to rejoice in her rejoicing. Instead of praising God for answering her prayer, I wanted to know why He had yet to answer my own.

"Why can’t I be happy for her blessing?" I asked another friend. "Why does her good fortune steer my eyes towards my misfortune? And why does this need to be about me anyway? And what even is this? Jealousy? Envy? Ugh. I hate it."

Determined to pull up this sin by its roots, I knew God had the answer and remedy that I desperately needed. 

According to a Catholic definition, jealousy is when you guard something you have and are afraid it will be taken away, whereas envy is when you strongly desire something that somebody else has. Jealousy and envy are some of the worst feelings ever. In fact, they are the only sins we commit that never feel good! They are joy, love, and relationship killers. Not only do they never make us feel good, but they have the potential to lead us into serious spiritual danger. Doing their best to pull us into the pit of discontent and ungratefulness, jealousy says, “What God has given me is just not enough!” while envy whispers, “Someone else got what I deserve.”  

The text I received? The good fortune that God bestowed upon my dear friend? I wanted it for myself. I desired what she had received from the Lord so badly, that her happiness made me sad. Her abundance highlighted my lack. Her more made me feel less. I could not be happy for her because with my laser-focus on God working in her life, I was blind to His works in my own. 

Have you ever felt this way?

I called my friend again this morning. I was not done talking about envy. Still hard-pressed to find the remedy, we went back and forth, trying to get to its core, when finally she said something that was like a slap on the face; something I think can be a gamechanger for all of us who wrestle with this sinful attitude:  “I don’t like that the only way I can feel better about someone getting what I wish that I had is by telling myself that one day, it can all fall apart for them! It is awful to wish for suffering for another! I don’t like it and I need to fix this now!”

And the conversation paused. I knew exactly what she meant. I, too, am guilty of making myself feel better by thinking, “Sure, her daughter is successful now...her husband makes good money now...her kid is the star of the team  now...her job is going great now...but you know, this could all take a turn for the worse tomorrow.” And then, she said this….

“At my WWP table this week, the table leader shared a verse she goes to whenever she feels envious; whenever she sees the people around her living the life she thought she would have...the life she thought her children would have. The life she felt she deserved.” And it comes from Lisa Brenninkmeyer’s “I Declares” from the Bible study Fearless and Free. I could hear the pages of her Bible flipping until her eyes rested on the very words—the remedy—both our hearts had been searching for. “Yes! Here it is. Phillippians 1:6.”  And then, my friend declared Truth over us:

I declare that you have begun a good work in my loved one’s life, and you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.¹

Next to Jesus showing up and breaking through the darkness of one’s heart, the greatest blessing one can hope for is a faithful friend who allows His light to shine through her. Someone humble enough to admit her sin, and brave enough to declare the truth. A friend who walks alongside you on life’s journey, stopping every few steps to remind you of who God is. Of what He is doing. And that He is not done.

Merciful Jesus, forgive me for believing the lie that you answer everyone’s prayers but my own. For forgetting Who you are. For allowing the enemy to hold me face down in the mud, so that I am not able to see Your glory. For being so focused on myself, I can not be happy for others. Please pull the sin of envy out of the root of my heart. I want to be changed. I am so grateful for all that you have given and continue to give and I pray to never lose sight of that. But because I know that I will, thank you Jesus, for sending me a friend who never shrinks back from correcting me, who listens to my craziness with compassion, who always takes me by the hand and leads me to You. If this friend is all that I am given in this lifetime, You have given me more than enough. I have been blessed with more than I deserve.

Gratefully yours in the name of Jesus,
Laura

Bible Study

¹ Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Fearless and Free (2019), 178.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Walking with Purpose

“For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God.” Genesis 33:10

While the digital age connects us like never before, there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction. No email or Facebook message can ever compete with the joy of seeing someone's face light up when you enter the room. My grandparents' home was always an oasis for me for that very reason. When I'd arrive, both of them wouldn't just say they were glad I'd come; it was written all over their faces. No matter how much uncertainty, disappointment, or worry I was experiencing, one look at the two of them reminded me that I was accepted just as I was.

“For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me.” A man named Jacob spoke these words to his brother, Esau. You might think that a huge compliment like that was born out of a beautiful, loving family relationship. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jacob and Esau were twins who had been rivals even in the womb. Their childhood was marked by favoritism, competition, and deceit. The final straw: Jacob wanted Esau's birthright and inheritance, so he deceived his blind father into thinking he was his brother, and stole it. It made Esau so mad that Jacob had to flee for his life.

Decades had passed, and Jacob was returning home. He had no idea how Esau would receive him. He knew he deserved an angry and bitter reception. But Esau surprised his brother, and showed grace. He accepted his brother with open arms. He offered undeserved favor and unconditional acceptance. He proved that the bond of family was stronger than sin. That's what caused Jacob to say, “I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God.”

God gazes at us in that same way, only with greater purity, love and delight. Because we have been adopted as God's daughters, His divine blood runs through our veins and proves stronger than any sin. “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ,” (Ephesians 2:13). “And because you are [daughters], God has sent the Spirit of his Son into [your] hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!' So you are no longer a slave, but a [daughter], and if a [daughter], then an [heiress] through God,” (Galatians 4:6-7). Because we are family, we receive unmerited grace and are accepted just as we are. Soak up that truth. When God looks at you, He says, “Hello, beautiful.” He adores you. He delights in you.

And what does He want us to do with all that grace that He's poured over us? He tells us in Ephesians 5:1-2, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love.”

If we're going to imitate Him, then we have to ask ourselves the question: What do our faces communicate to those we encounter? Do people leave our presence feeling like they've seen the face of God?

Or do our faces tell people that they don't matter much, because we are SO BUSY with incredibly important things like checking out the status updates of some old acquaintance?

Do our faces tell people that they aren't accepted, because their behavior doesn't match our opinion of “the right way to do things”?

If it's true that 93% of all communication is nonverbal, we'd better pay attention to what our faces look like.

Of course, this all would be easier to do if people would just act the way we want them to. But unfortunately, some people can be pretty annoying. Often those we love most can aggravate us to distraction.

So here's the good news. You've got some serious mojo to draw on when you feel like you just don't have it in you to reflect the face of God. Remember what you just read in Galatians 4:6. It says that if you're a daughter, then you're an heiress. You've inherited wonderful things (you can read about some of them in Ephesians 1:3-14). One of the things you inherited is the fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22 says that we've got the following things at our disposal: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. That's the mojo I'm talking about. Mojo is the power to control natural forces through supernatural means. It means that God can supernaturally help us to control our natural reactions of disdain, cynicism, criticism, anger, disappointment and disinterest.

Your inheritance is there for the asking. So no long faces as we continue through Lent. Let's show the world what an amazing God we worship and reflect HIS FACE to everyone we meet! Now that's a great way to celebrate His resurrection!

Blessings,
Lisa

*This post first appeared on the WWP website in April 2014.

Walking with Purpose

I always knew I would have a traditional Catholic wedding. It was what we did. My parents got married in the Catholic Church. My sisters got married in the Catholic Church. I, a cradle Catholic, would obviously get married in, yup...you guessed it... the Catholic Church. And so we attended pre-Cana, chose the readings, brought the family-friend priest in from out of town, and an incredible Catholic ceremony happened on a beautiful fall day on the Upper East side of Manhattan. And just like that, we became husband and wife.

We were so in love.

And yet, we had no idea what true love was.

Why? I think it's because I always held tight to this one moment in the courtship stage of our relationship. When I surprised him at the hotel where he worked on my way home from my job, his face would light up, giving birth to a smile that stretched deep and wide; I swear, in that instant, I had never felt more wanted for being just who I was.  Surely, this was true love. This being seen and joyfully embraced for doing nothing other than just showing up, it was all so easy that it must have been love.

But beware of falling into the trap of believing that love is a feeling.

Be sure to ground yourself in something greater than how someone makes you feel.

It took being anchored to nothing and drifting away to wake up to truth; that love is not a feeling but an intentional action, a choice. That love is not about how much I can gain, but how much can I give. It is not about how much you fill me, but how empty can I be. And because I have chosen to love you in all times, then I will also choose to die to myself and invite Jesus into this relationship without delay, because a marriage without Jesus in the middle is just as good as bringing your boat to dock and never dropping the anchor.

It will drift away.

As did mine.

But because God loves nothing more than stepping into our brokenness, if we let Him. He rescued me from my “quit and stay” attitude towards my marriage. And He didn't lead me down a  path of rose petals lined with scented candles. He didn't gently place me down on a soft lounge chair, beachfront, with a tropical drink in my hand. But He took my hand and He walked me to the foot of the cross. He led me to the wood that my own hands nailed Him to, the thorns that pierced His head, and He showed me that…. THIS. THIS is love. The betrayal, the scourging, the beating, the heavy carrying, the nails, the unfairness, all that He endured for me, was endured out of love. And He reminded me that while none of that felt good, while not a moment of it was easy, all of it, every single bit of it, was fueled by love. A love so deep, so life giving, that not even death could not destroy it.

I am still learning about this love. And it has not been through romantic dinners, or exotic getaways that my husband and I have come to know love. It has been by the cross we have been chosen to carry. The necessary hardships we have been entrusted with. The long suffering placed upon us. And it has been by His grace upon grace, that we receive it as a gift; a way to minister and intercede to and for those who walk the same path, who yearn for relief, who have been burdened by a similar cross. And in this sharing and uniting, we get a glimpse of the sorrowful heart of Jesus; the indescribable love that is let loose and takes over; the very thing that by its beating and breaking, miraculously holds us together.

You know, I hear my young girls talk about love. The world is trying to redefine it for them. Music lyrics write love off as an emotion, something you can throw away, a gift that's totally dependent on your looks and body. Social media wants them to believe that without a boyfriend, they are undesirable, alone, never complete. And they chase after this secular love…this lie...and they believe that love is something that will only make them happy, feel wonderful, and will free them of any pain, anxiety, worry, or problems. It is all so wrong and upside down and couldn't be a more inaccurate definition of what true love is.

You see, real love is messy, painful, hard, and risky. I pray that my children, in witnessing how their parents have lived through hard times and yet held tight to Jesus, recognize that the glue in this relationship has nothing to do with the occasional bouquet of roses or heart shaped box of chocolates, but everything to do with the cross.  Feeling in love is great, for sure. But if you want to feel great, go and eat a piece of cheesecake or watch Nacho Libre. But if you are seeking true love, run to the foot of the cross. Point your children, who are dying to be seen, known and loved, in that direction as well. Offer Him everything you are and have and invite Him into your heart. Hand Him your loved ones. Trust Him with your very life. Anchor yourself to Him, who is love; to Him, who joyfully embraces you for doing nothing other than just showing up.

 

With all my love,

Laura

Get your copy of Harmony, Part I of the Keeping in Balance Young Adult Series, here!

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