I just walked from my bedroom, down the stairs, and into my living room to begin writing this blog post, and do you know what I did the entire time? I scrolled through Instagram while walking. Have you ever done that? Or have you ever started scrolling on your phone only to realize that forty-five minutes have passed, your eyes are dry, and your heart is empty? There is no question that the opportunity to scroll over the world through our phones invites addiction and that addiction has real-world effects.
Don’t worry. This blog post isn't about the dangers of social media. Instead, I want to explore a phrase that enters my mind almost every time I finish scrolling through Instagram or Facebook. It’s a phrase that I think reveals where we have landed in our society, and it comes from the book of Job.
If you are not familiar with the book of Job, it is a sad story with a critical lesson. Job is a man who is faithful to God and to whom God is faithful. God blesses Job with a fruitful family (ten children), immense prosperity (thousands of livestock), and status (greater than anyone in the east). At the beginning of the book, Satan approaches God and claims that Job is only righteous and blameless because God has blessed him, but he wouldn't be if God removed those blessings. God gives Satan permission to run roughshod over Job’s life. Job loses everything: his family dies, his livestock dies, and he is struck with severe boils all over his body.
In chapter 38, Job gets the opportunity to approach God with his grievances. His whole life was ruined without any wrongdoing on his part. He has legitimate questions for God about all that had happened to him, and so one would expect God to be compassionate toward Job. Instead, the first words out of God’s mouth are, “Who is this that darkens counsel with words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2). God questions Job for the next four chapters, asking questions like:
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7)
Throughout all the intense questioning, God reveals His unfathomable glory, and Job realizes that his perspective is wrong. Job spends time with God, and in doing so, gains God’s wisdom. Job responds by saying,
I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. “Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.” I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:2-6)
Every single time I close my social media accounts, I think of God’s words to Job: who darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? We have become men and women who are full of words with minimal knowledge—myself included. These words indict our society as we busy ourselves with silly things that have no eternal value. They also indict us personally as we no longer take the time to seek God’s unchanging truth or view our present circumstances from His perspective.
In my own life, I tend to look at my circumstances, someone else’s sufferings, or the news and find endless, seemingly legitimate grievances against God. How can there be so much dysfunction, tragedy, and heartache in the world? How does God not show up when a friend or I so desperately need Him? How does He not simply fix families, or grant fertility, or bless financially, or comfort aching hearts, or stop the evil of oppressive governments around the world? From my view, it seems pretty easy, and yet most of the time, my opinion lacks His wisdom. I forget what 1 Corinthians tells me, “The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” If I fail to seek God’s wisdom, I’m more likely to misunderstand my circumstances and make bigger messes in my life.
So what exactly is wisdom? It goes deeper than knowing information or having brilliant intellect. Wisdom is seeing the world from God’s perspective and then applying that perspective to our lives. Proverbs 3:19 says, “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth, established the heavens by understanding.” When we seek wisdom, we seek to know God’s mind and act according to His unchanging truth. We then respond to situations from an eternal perspective. We begin to look at our hopes, dreams, and sufferings from God’s point of view instead of our own.
The result? We live with less anxiety because we no longer see each success or failure in life as a make-or-break scenario but rather as one more step toward eternity. We live with more hope and less fear, because we know that God is not surprised by tragedy and turmoil. We are nicer to ourselves, because we know that the Lord sees our imperfections and still walks with us to make us holy. We are kinder to others, because we recognize that God loves them more than we ever will and works in their hearts just as He is working in ours. We are also not swayed by popular fads or ideologies, because we know that the spirit of the age is passing but God stays the same.
And so I ask you, where do you land? Are you a woman who is genuinely seeking God’s wisdom, or do you consume information without thought and allow that information to form your understanding of the world? Ladies, in a world that buzzes along a technological surface and exalts human wisdom through popular ideas and one-sentence conclusions, we are called to go deeper. We must seek God’s wisdom, or we will crumble at the first sign of trouble in our lives or unpopularity in our communities. This is hard because the invitation to turn off our brains and consume is only one click away at all times.
Don’t give in. Bring your questions to the Lord; spend time with Him searching out His ways, and He will give you His wisdom. Don’t know where to start? Pick any one of our Bible studies, dive in, and listen. He will speak.
Proverbs 8:10–11 says of wisdom, “Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold; for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.”
Wisdom is God’s treasure, and He offers it to you. Seek it with all your heart and He will give you His understanding.
If God were real, why would He allow so many horrible things to happen?
If God really loved us, why wouldn’t He just step in and fix everything?
Have you been asked these questions before?
Have you ever asked them yourself?
There’s no shame if you’ve questioned His goodness.
Lord knows I have.
As I shared with a beautiful group of women last week, it is because I have been blessed by tragedy that I can view this temporary home of mine with an eternal lens. Yes, you read that correctly. Blessed by tragedy. It is through trial and tribulation that I have learned the all-important lesson: Aside from the way that I respond to suffering, I am in control of nothing. It is this acceptance of God’s will over my own that has brought me deep and profound peace.
Yes. I am one of those Catholics that embraces and praises God for suffering. But honestly, what other choice do we have?
Well, actually, we do have a choice. We can carry our cross or try to escape it. Walk toward God or walk away. And I am here to tell you that walking away doesn’t work. While heading for the back door sounds way more appealing than running headfirst into pain, running away from the cross is not going to make it disappear. Trust me. I have tried.
But what about those of us who feel like God is the one who walked away first? What about those of us who have been on bended knees, faithfully persevering in our loneliness, troubled marriages, and the relentless battle of anxiety, depression, and addiction...and can’t find relief? At what point do we get a pass to tap out—to ring the bell, wave the flag, and say, “Enough is enough, Lord; I am tired of waiting for you to show up and make things better”?
If this is where you are, I want you to know that I spent years in this miserable place. I threw tantrums, hosted pity parties, and shook my fists at the heavens. I debated losing hope. I begged to escape. But Jesus does not command us to escape, does He? He asks that we trust. In his book Soundings from St. John of the Cross: The Impact of God, Father Iain Matthew writes:
In the fourth gospel, Jesus shows himself anxious about His disciples’ future suffering. They will be excommunicated, even killed. Jesus knows this, but his anxiety is not that they will suffer—that will happen, and he does not suggest a way of avoiding it. His anxiety is that they may panic, collapse inside, "stumble" in their faith (cf. John 16:1-2). Hence Jesus’ most frequent exhortation is not "Escape" but "Do not be afraid.”
Choosing to trust when our insides are falling out is not our human tendency. Being obedient to a plan that looks like a recipe for disaster does not come easily. Thank God for the example we have in our Lady. Mary’s only desire in life was to do the will of God. From the Annunciation to the crucifixion, Mary saw everything from an eternal perspective. It was out of blind obedience that she would have said the same words to Jesus on the cross that she said at Cana, “Do whatever He says.” With the help of our Lady, I can embrace what I am called to suffer. I can stand at the foot of the cross because she shows me how.
I am excited to share with you that my new book, Sweet Cross: A Marian Guide to Suffering, has been released. I wrote it with many of you in mind, your names pressed upon my heart. Countless women have courageously reached out and shared their own stories of suffering with me, and it is a privilege to be invited into such a sacred space. You have encouraged me to pick up my cross daily and follow. You have echoed back to me the words of St. Paul: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). And I mean, really...is this not the purpose of all that we are asked to carry? Dare I say, the most beautiful shared moments in life are the ones that involve the cross.
If you are struggling to see your tragedy as a blessing, I pray that you will pick up a copy of Sweet Cross. By imitating our Lady’s virtues you will learn to embrace your suffering and see the cross as it truly is: the place where Jesus shows his incredible love for us, and where we are given the opportunity to love Him in return.
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you.” (1 Peter 5:10)
With you at the foot of the cross,
We are in full transition mode in my home. Gone are the days of relaxed schedules, chlorine-smelling hair, hands stained with sidewalk chalk, and flip flops all over my entryway. Our dining room table is full of uniform kilts and pants that need to be hemmed, piles of school supplies, and rolls and rolls of contact paper just waiting to be opened.
With this transition in our home, a burst of excited energy enters my heart. The start of the school year brings with it the fall launch of the Walking with Purpose program at my parish. I have missed this community.
I have missed the warm and welcoming smiles. I have missed walking into a room and feeling confident that the women meeting me there are rooted in the love of Christ. There have been many lessons learned in these past 18 months of lockdown procedures, virtual school, remote work, and live-streamed Mass. But one is ever present in my heart as summer comes to a close: nothing can replace the joy found in a fellowship of women that come together from all seasons of life and faith journeys to bear witness to the Word of God.
What I think I have missed the most is the order and organization my spiritual life takes on when I am around these women. How we desperately need the fellowship of like-minded women running the race of life together!
We find ourselves in a world that is broken and fallen, and it is all too easy to be consumed by the world’s empty promises. This world easily invites us to forget about ordering our life toward Christ, and instead pushes us down an alluring rabbit hole of individualism, self-absorption, and pleasure. Do what you want to do, it whispers, when you want to do it, and how you want to do it. And no matter what it’s okay, because it’s your truth. Our world has forgotten that there is one truth, there is one authority. We have forgotten what our Catechism beautifully reminds us, “The worship of the one God sets man free from turning in on himself, from the slavery of sin and idolatry of the world.”
When we get caught in the rabbit hole of worldliness, we need our community to reach out to us and lead us back to relationship and unity with our Lord. Scott Hahn masterfully tells us in his book, It is Right and Just, that “it is in recognizing and living out the truth of the uniqueness of our relationship with God that we bring ourselves into right order with Him and all of creation.”
Right order. This is what WWP does for me and for thousands of women across this country. This community of women believers—standing together, praying together, and yes, breaking bread together (in the form of casseroles, cookies, and other sweet and savory treats)—helps me to rightly order everything. My WWP community reminds me of our early Church forefathers and mothers. They too found themselves in a world saturated with false idols, corruption, fear, anxiety, and persecution. They knew just how vital and necessary building a community was to combat the pressures of the world around them. They ran their race together.
They lived together, ordering their daily lives around prayer, worship, and caring for each other. They lived counter to the culture they were immersed in and bore witness to the belief in a purpose higher than themselves—to give glory to God. “Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32). They lived for the good of the community, not seeking individual pleasure. “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to the breaking of bread in their homes” (Acts 2:46). Did you catch the order of what they did? Worship first. They worshiped together, praising God, grateful for His presence among them. The order was God first, community second.
“There was not a needy person among them because each person shared their possessions for the good of the community” (Acts 4:34). They lived by the two greatest commandments spoken by Jesus: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39). The commitment to the authority of Jesus Christ and confidence in His Word and promises led them to live life differently.
Each Christian made the choice to order their lives around the Lord. And the joy that followed this choice and “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phillipians 4:7) was seen in their faces and appealed to those around them. Thus, the early Church exploded and spread rapidly amidst a pagan and morally destructive culture. How we need a similar explosion of truth today!
Where can we light the match of truth? How can we fan the flame of faith and hope?
Through community, sisters.
The noise of the world is LOUD. And the sway of worldliness is so strong. But we have something stronger. We have the might of the heavens in our corner. Communities of faith, like Walking with Purpose, encourage us to “throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12).
Communities of faith offer us what the world cannot—hope. Hope that it is not all up to us. Hope that we are not alone in our suffering. Hope that we are seen and loved just as we are. A drop of hope goes a long way to soften a heart that has been hardened by the brokenness of the world. Softened hearts allow space for movements of grace. And grace changes everything. Grace—this free and undeserved gift from God—helps us to live a life rightly ordered to Christ.
Sisters, it is time to remember that we too are counted in the commissioning of Christ, to “go out and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 18:19). It is time to act with the gift of grace and, through the choices we make (big and small), model the love of Jesus Christ to others.
 Catholic Church, “Life In Christ,” Catechism of the Catholic Church (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1995), 2097.
 Hahn, S. & McGinley, B. (2020) It is Right and Just: Why the Future of Civilization Depends on True Religion. Emmaus Road Publishing.
Are you feeling depleted—like you’re running on fumes and you still have a hill to climb? Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to be infused with exactly what you need for the week ahead? These questions remind me of a recent visit to my son in Los Angeles. We were strolling through the streets of Santa Monica and happened upon a shop where they were giving people drip IVs for fatigue, hangovers, migraines, and colds. The sign in the window promised that these super-doses of vitamins and minerals would get right into your bloodstream for immediate impact. Walk-ins were welcome, and if you bought four shots, you got one free. I’m not endorsing this therapy, nor did I try it, but I must admit, I found the concept intriguing. It sounded like instant relief.
But even if there was something I could safely and instantly take that would boost my energy, it still wouldn’t get to the root of what I desire most. What I really long for is connection—connection to God and to other people. Isolation, we have all discovered, does not make us feel better long term. It’s one thing to have a few hours of solitude with a good book and a great cup of coffee. It’s quite another to feel like you are doing life alone and there’s no one to give you a hand when the road gets rough. I want deep, authentic friendship with people who are running their race with their eyes on Christ. I agree with Ecclesiastes 4:9–10, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up.”
Another thing that I long for is to see some improvement in areas of my life where I struggle with habits I hate. St. Paul writes about this in Romans 7:15: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Can you relate?
Do you want to quit eating so much sugar but you crave the pleasure it promises?
Do you want to drink less but find that you keep faltering in your resolve because you think you need it to relax/have fun/loosen up?
Do you long to be more hope-filled and positive but find that your words and attitudes are as negative as a newsfeed?
Do you want to follow Christ and obey Him but find yourself in the familiar rut of the same old sins, over and over again?
Maybe you, like me, have made yourself all sorts of promises, have set goals time and time again, only to find that old patterns of behavior die hard. Something I know beyond a doubt, one of the reasons I fail is because I try to do things on my own. I want an injection of everything I need so I don’t have to rely on anyone. Self-sufficiency sounds strong and appealing. But God asks me to lean on Him and others. He invites me on a journey where I’ll need to reach out for help instead of turning to self-reliance.
Do you want to grow spiritually but you feel stuck?
Are you longing for friendship, acceptance, meaning, and a weekly shot in the arm?
Are you tired of running your race alone?
Do you want strength to get through your next week?
How about reassurance that you aren’t crazy for the way you look at the world from a Christian perspective?
If you are longing for these things, I wonder how you are attempting to satisfy those desires. One thing I know for sure, there is nothing like a regular gathering of a small group of like-minded women to make all the difference in the world.
I’m not talking about a group known for its uniformity, rather its unity. I’m not talking about a group of women who are holier than you. I’m describing a group of friends who are on a spiritual journey together, women who have taken off their masks and are honest about the difficulties of life. It’s a judgment free zone—a safe place to share a part of your soul with women who understand. It’s relaxing to be able to talk about your faith and who you really are.
If you are not connected to a Walking with Purpose small group, I want you to prayerfully consider why not. It could very well be that THIS is exactly what you need—this is what would be the game-changer for you. Better than an IV drip full of vitamins. Better than a workout class. Better than a boozy mom’s group. There is support out there. You don’t need to figure your life out on your own. We are here to help you connect to God and sisters in Christ so that you are infused with true, lasting wellness.
Click here to see if there’s a WWP group near you.
No group near you? Could it be that God is tapping on your shoulder, asking you to be the connector, the instigator, the one to gather just a few women who are longing for the same thing as you? Click here to see how we can help.
With you on the journey,
One of the many side effects of being trapped at home during a pandemic—according to the woman who sold us our new dining room set and chandelier—is refurnishing your home. “People are bored and have nothing else to do but stare at their living space,” the saleswoman told us. “Figured they might as well make it beautiful.” Anyone else wallpaper a bedroom, buy a new area rug, or rearrange the furniture to keep the boredom at bay? Or did you buy a dog?
We considered the third dog but opted for a full kitchen remodel and a new dining room set instead. Not because we were bored, but because I wanted to create a beautiful space that fit all of my family and friends. I desired to make my home a place of warm invitation, where there is always an empty chair at the table and charcuterie board within arms reach. When the days grew lonely and hope ran low, it was this vision—this dream of connection and conversation permeating my home and rising like incense—that kept me from spiraling into despair.
That and potato peel pie.
During quarantine, I fell madly in love with the novel turned film, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Set in 1941 on the island of Guernsey during German occupation, the islanders were no longer allowed to have meat. However, a local woman managed to hide a pig from the German soldiers and invited her neighbors into her home to share in a pig roast. Carefully slipping handwritten invitations beneath wooden doors, this strange but irresistible group came together, nourishing more than just their physical bodies. One guest made an offering of his famous potato peel pie, which was exactly what it sounds like. A simple pie made of nothing but potatoes and their peels.
Later that evening when caught out after curfew, the witty, loving, and quick-thinking character, Elizabeth McKenna, claimed that they were a book club who had been so engrossed that they lost track of time. A club they ridiculously named on the spot: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. What began as a cover for residents breaking curfew during the German occupation turned into a weekly Friday night refuge. And what began for me as just another Saturday night Netflix movie turned into a stirring of my heart and a conviction of what I already knew to be true: without connection, we will starve to death.
“We were all hungry,” says the narrator. “But it was Elizabeth who realized our true starvation for connection—for the company of other people, for fellowship.” I replayed that movie three times in one week, completely captivated by Elizabeth and potato peel pie.
Are you like Elizabeth? Do you sense the hunger around you? Do you recognize the needs of others?
As our world (and let’s be honest, our Church, too) grows more divided, angrier, and motivated by fear, are you able to see through the feelings and emotion and recognize the true hunger at the root of it all? The hunger not for potato peel pie but for godly connection and community rooted in truth. If this sounds like you, I ask that you pay attention to this call. God has placed this desire on your heart. He is calling you to build community so people can experience His kingdom here on earth.
I say this with urgency because we need more people like Elizabeth. We need more women who are willing to step onto the battleground, which is steeped in isolation and division. We need women like you to feed truth to those who are starving for it. And yes, we specifically need women, because we are the heart of the home, the distillers of hope. We are an “irreplaceable support and source of spiritual strength for other people.” Yes, even the other people we disagree with. Yes, even the other people who stand on the opposite side. My friends, if we are not the ones to extend a hand, share a meal, and reflect the image of Christ to all people, then tell me, who will?
We have got to up our game.
We have got to start building Christ-centered communities.
We have got to step out in the confidence that what we have to offer is far greater than the cheap imitation of the living water that’s being bought and guzzled down like cheap wine.
It is not enough to say “we have the Truth”...we have to share it. We have to let others in on our reason for hope.
And then...we need to lose our desire to be right, check our pride at the door, and listen well. I fear we have forgotten how to do this.
I received a text last week from a friend, coincidentally (or not) named Elizabeth. It read: “The Holy Spirit has placed something on my heart, and before I brush it away, I’m going to reach out right now to invite you all to come to my house so that I can share it with you!” Amazingly, we all RSVP’d “yes” immediately. My guess? We were starving. And Elizabeth not only recognized it, she did something about it. It was as simple as that. Do not overcomplicate what it means to build community. You do not need engraved invitations, a fully planned agenda, a parish hall, a perfectly coordinated Bible study, or a new dining room set. Nor do you need to roast a pig—unless, of course, roasting pigs is one of your spiritual gifts. Then by all means, roast away. But honestly? It is much simpler than we think. It starts with spending time in prayer, opening our eyes to the people around us, and then extending an invitation.
In Hebrews 10:24–25 we read, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together...but encouraging one another.” Can we commit to doing this? Can we agree to live this verse out loud? To stirring one another up? To losing the excuse that we are too busy to get together by saying yes to that invitation? To rejecting the lie that “I have no friends” by going out and making friends?
Approach the woman you see at daily Mass. Sure, you will feel weird, but that is okay. Weird won’t kill you, and weird just might save her life.
Call that friend you lost touch with because you couldn’t believe who she voted for, and ask her to meet you for a cup of coffee. Do not let the enemy use politics to poison your friendships. You are holier than that.
Reach out to your pastor, and ask if he knows of a woman in need of a friend. Will this feel uncomfortable? You bet! Do it anyway, because spoiler alert: the Catholic faith is rarely comfortable.
Heck, you can reach out to me, and my own little potato peel society will happily pray with and for you.
I am more convinced than ever that we, God’s beloved daughters, are exactly what the world needs right now. And what a tragedy it would be for us to hear the Holy Spirit, only to brush it away.
It is time to stir up one another. To send that text. To brew that coffee. To roast that pig. Community building is what we women do best. Dare I say, it’s as simple as making potato peel pie.
Get out your peelers, ladies...we’ve got good work to do.
The small television that sits on our kitchen counter between the knife block and the coffee maker was flecked with dried brown batter bits from my son’s attempt at making brownies the night before. As I carefully scrubbed the splatter with the corner of a sponge on Saturday morning, I watched the news, which was concluding its coverage of the March 16 Atlanta spa shootings that left eight people dead—most of them women of Asian descent. As the segment ended, the cameraman zoomed in on two glass prayer candles that burned brightly where they were left on the sidewalk as part of a makeshift memorial. The countenance of Jesus that graced one slender, intricately decorated candle was beautiful and serene.
In the days following the Atlanta spa killings, debate has ensued over whether or not the shooting was a hate crime. What is not up for debate is that violent attacks against Asians have skyrocketed over the past year, and many Asian Americans are afraid.
Prior to Friday night’s brownie baking debacle, we were in the kitchen eating pizza, as Lent + Friday = pizza for many Catholic families with teenage boys. In between bites, my husband admitted that the violent acts targeting Asians had him worried, and my oldest son nodded in agreement. They are Chinese—my husband (and therefore, my sons)—but I was surprised to hear that they were worried. Looking at the three of them towering over the open pizza box, I saw only a confident and robust wall of men. Granted, they were likely more worried for female relatives, especially older ones like Bobo (“grandma” in Chinese). But they were truly concerned, and I, of Anglo-Saxon descent, felt guilty for not innately and instinctively feeling what they felt.
It is always comforting to remember that “light shines in the darkness and the darkness shall not overcome it” (John 1:5). In a year that has been blighted with incidents of violence aimed at racial minorities, there have been bright spots. For example, the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, DC, hosted a virtual "Christianity Beyond East and West: A Celebration of the Lunar New Year" event last month. My husband’s grandfather was a Chinese Catholic author of some renown (as well as China’s former ambassador to the Vatican), and a reading of his poetry was part of the celebration. How great is that—an event to celebrate the Chinese New Year at the shrine of Saint John Paul II!
I think it could help for us to take a moment and recall what made Saint John Paul II such a beloved peacemaker, not only among Catholics but among people of various religions and ethnicities worldwide. He was a pioneer in interfaith bridge-building, recognizing Muslims and Jews as partners in spirituality. He made pastoral visits to 129 countries during his time as pope. And he spread messages of love and acceptance wherever he went.
Let us pray for the victims of the Atlanta-area shootings, and for all lives violently lost at the hands of men who did not love as Christ loved.
I leave us with these words from Saint John Paul II:
“Yours is the gigantic task of overcoming all evil with good, always trying amidst the problems of life to place your trust in God, knowing that his grace supplies strength to human weakness. You must oppose every form of hatred with the invincible power of Christ’s love.”
I have been doing this thing for years where I spend way too much time looking at myself in the mirror. I lean over the counter and get up real close, taking my face in my hands and stretching my skin back, while calling out to my husband, “Look! See? Look at how much better I look without all of those wrinkles!” He doesn’t quite see me the same way. In fact, he thinks I look creepy with my face pulled back. What does he know anyway?
The aging struggle is real, my friend. And no, you can’t give it up for Lent.
Last week, after an emotionally draining weekend, I found myself staring back at my own reflection while running on the treadmill. Usually, I am good at tearing apart what I see. A face that has gotten way too thin. (Seriously. If it gets any thinner, both eyes will be on one side of my head like a flounder.) Grey hairs sticking straight up out of my scalp. (Why straight up, Lord?) And don’t get me started on the sagging breasts. It’s terrible that I speak this way of myself. It is actually a sin and makes God so sad. I am His beautiful creation. A masterpiece. Even if I look like a flounder.
But this time something different happened. Last week, as I ran and reflected on the arena I was thrown into and how, despite years of the battle, I am still standing, my reflection told me a different story. In fact...that just might be IT in a nutshell.
I didn't see me. I saw A STORY.
A beautiful, fierce, and strong story. A life that despite tragedy and trauma still glorifies God.
Why on earth am I just seeing this now?
The Psalmist begs, “Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; and give me life in your ways” (Psalm 119:37).
Tell me, friend. Do you turn your eyes from looking at vanities?
I have spent years ignoring this verse and focusing on every imperfection instead. Staring at everything that is wrong and failing to be grateful for so much that is right. I have been scrolling through Instagram boxes that are filled with plump faces and toned bodies, longing for my youthful, fuller face. You know, the face I had in my youth that I thought was too full. Can we say never content?
But it was while I was running and thinking about the hard places God has called me to—the hard place I am currently standing in and the uncertainty of a future I have tried to control—that the scales fell from my eyes, and I heard a question being asked of me.
What if the lines on your face that you so badly want to erase are your roadmap to heaven?
The wrinkles of worry and fear that glide across my forehead, the deep crevices of sorrow and despair that circle my mouth, the fine lines that shoot out from my eyes like rays of light: these are not signs of OLD age. These are signs of BOLD age. These tell the story of who I am, and where I have been. These are a warrior's markings, honoring the mountain tops I have rested on, the deep valleys I have completely crumbled in, and every place in between. Like the black ink on a child's bedroom wall that charts his growth, these are my growth chartings. They are quite literally my life lines. And right there on that stupid treadmill, for the first time in my life, I loved them. I was proud of them. And I was honored to wear them.
I got on the treadmill believing I had been beaten down by life and that it showed; that I was worn out by my circumstances and that it showed. But listen up. Suffering has not handed me a worn out life, but gifted me with a life well worn. And sure, I can erase them all. I can get fillers and Botox and a really good moisturizer and wipe away my life. But why? Why would I do that? Why would I take away the visible reminder of what I have endured? Why would I hide the signs of my suffering so well?
When it is my time to go home, I want every nook and cranny of my face to speak for me; to tell the beautiful story of surrender and sacrifice and hope against hope. The story of standing strong in the battle and weathering the storm because of a house built on rock. The beautiful tale of a warrior girl who met Jesus at the foot of the cross and knew there was no safer place to be.
During Lent, I will have the privilege of co-leading live discussions on two Walking with Purpose Bible studies: Fearless and Free (with Kristy Malik) and Harmony (with Sarah Swafford). Over the past two weeks, I have started to pray through the studies and want to share with you what it has been bringing up in my heart.
Before I started, I was giddy at the thought of the prayer time I would get. I could not wait to dive into God’s Word and spend more time with Him than my busy life typically allows. As an eternal optimist, I literally pictured myself walking with the wind of the Holy Spirit next to a stream in a meadow during springtime. My expectations were far beyond reality, as usual. For starters, it’s winter and I don’t live near a meadow, but more importantly, the glories of sainthood are still far off. Only two lessons into each study, my brokenness is rearing its ugly head, and I am trying harder than usual to hide it from God.
It’s not that I’m necessarily embarrassed to let God see my failures. I know that God sees the darkness in my heart, and He loves me anyway. My desire to hide comes from the fact these are still my failures. There is no doubt that God’s goodness and mercy have completely changed my life. My behavior looks different today than it did when I was living away from Him. But it’s the deep-seated stuff, the heart-issue sins, that I can’t seem to overcome completely. How is it that I have been on fire for God for so many years and still struggle with jealousy, gossip, pride, comparison, vanity, and a whole host of other sins? How is it that the freedom and joy that I know is mine through Christ still feels slightly beyond my grasp?
I wonder if you have looked in the mirror lately and found yourself frustrated that you are not further along in your spiritual journey. Have you walked into the confessional ashamed that you are confessing the same sins? Or avoiding the confessional altogether? Are you finding it difficult to understand why you haven’t overcome your vices when you really love Jesus? Take heart, friend. You and I are further along than we think.
You may feel stagnant in your walk with Christ, like you are constantly taking two steps toward God and one step back, but His view of things is different. St. Paul reminds us in Philippians 1:6 that, “He who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Even if you can’t see it or feel it, God promises us that He will bring our transformation to completion. This is a promise that we can claim even if some of that transformation is completed in purgatory.
Can we actively make better choices? We can, and we should. Should we take every thought captive to Christ and seek therapy when necessary? Absolutely. Should we put in the work to love God with all our heart, mind, body, and soul at every moment of our lives? You bet. There is no doubt that our personal choices actively move us toward or away from the kind of life God wants us to live, but the deep transformation, eradicating sin at the core of our being, is a work that we cannot accomplish.
John Mark Comer, a Christian author, spoke of this struggle in his own life in a recent interview. He explained that he comes from four generations of hyper-perfectionism and OCD, which manifests in him being a neat freak, controlling, angry, and critical of his wife and kids over a messy house. He then explained that willpower alone isn’t enough to eradicate that sin from his life—it is woven into his body at a cellular level from generations before. He said that he needs deep healing from the Holy Spirit; to be re-habituated through practices that index him toward love, peace, kindness, acceptance; and to rediscover what it’s like to live in a messy world yet be at peace.
While hiding sounds safe and trying harder seems like the natural solution, neither is helpful or effective. There is an easier, more effective way, but it requires humility, admission, submission, and patience.
To begin, we must not only admit our failures to Him, but we must recognize, without shame, that we are powerless to overcome them on our own. After we accept this, we have to submit to God. Most of us don’t like the idea of submitting to anything, but if we don’t, we won’t get anywhere. Submission requires us to overcome our pride, stay faithful, and give Him space to work in our hearts. We do this through prayer, silence, time in Scripture, and repentance. We rid ourselves of the constant distraction and consumption that often gets in the way of God’s work. We also have to leave behind the expectations that we place on ourselves and receive the healing He offers.
In the midst of all this, we must be patient with our progress. As we continue to walk with Him, He will do the work that sets us free. And when He does, we will be able to look back and see some progress. We will see that we are a bit freer, a bit more like Him. We will recognize how He was moving through those moments when we felt like we were getting nowhere. Then we can praise His name and give Him the glory because it was His power that overcame our weakness.
In a recent conversation with a friend, I confided in her my frustration with the sin that I cannot overcome. I told her how desperately I desire to live a life of total freedom in which I don’t let little things get to me, and I annoy the rest of this cynical world with a spirit of unbreakable joy. She responded by telling me that she was beginning to experience that type of freedom in her life. Some of the struggles over which she had no power had started to melt away, and she knew that she had nothing to do with it. She said that when she fears the struggles will return, she hears in prayer that the Lord has taken them away for good. He did the work, and the healing is permanent.
Encouraged by our conversation, I am refusing to hide. I am instead making an offering to God of these struggles that, yes, I still have. What are you doing with yours? Do not try to hide them. Do not try to ignore them or let them be the source of your shame. Give them to the Father; He is not surprised or scandalized that your struggles are still your struggles. He wants your holiness more than you do, and He is more patient than you are with yourself. He is walking beside you, finishing the work that He began.
 John Mark Comer. Interview with James Bryan Smith. Things Above, audio podcast, January 20, 2021. https://apprenticeinstitute.org/2021/01/20/conversation-with-john-mark-comer/.
Deep abiding joy—the kind that helps us to rejoice even when weary—wouldn’t that be the most amazing Christmas gift? This is what we long for, but for many, it’s difficult to hope because 2020 has held many disappointments. Plans haven’t gone the way they should. Words have been spoken that have pierced many hearts. Much is broken, and we aren’t sure how to put it all back together again. In the midst of a Christmas with more chaos and confusion than we’d like, does the night of our dear Savior’s birth still make a difference?
The ancient words of St. John Chrysostom give me food for thought…
“On this day of Christmas, the Word of God, being truly God, appeared in the form of a man, and turned all adoration to himself and away from competing claims for our attention. To him, then, who through the forest of lies has beaten a clear path for us, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, we offer all praise, now and forever.”
Could it be that experiencing deep abiding joy is connected to what we adore? Is it possible that some competing claims for our attention have gained our primary focus this year? Has our gaze shifted, and have our bodies followed our eyes into a forest of lies?
I’ve discovered some things about myself this year. All the changes that COVID has brought have made it clear that I adore the following: My comfort. My well-laid plans. Experiences that give me something to look forward to and a burst of joy when I’m in the midst of them. These aren’t the only things that I adore, but when they are taken away, I wilt a little bit.
Since all three of those things have been hard to rely on this year, I can see competing claims for my attention at work. When I lose control on a macro level (hello, pandemic), I try to control things on a micro level. I do this without even thinking about it. I push the dig deeper button, get to work, and rely on grit. My ability to control something as small as my to-do list competes for my attention with “the better part” that God offers me—the invitation to come away and rest a while.
When I ignore His invitation to rest, I’m led into a forest of lies—lies like:
“It’s all up to me.”
“It doesn’t matter how I feel.”
“Things will never get better.”
One thing is for sure—I’d better get out of that forest of lies if I want to have the kind of Christmas that includes rejoicing despite weariness. And here’s the good news: Jesus has beaten a clear path through the forest of lies to bring me to the Father. He’s cleared that path for you, too.
When I say, “It’s all up to me,” Jesus says, “No, my sweet sister. It was all up to me. And I did for you that which you couldn’t do for yourself. So lay down your burden (Psalm 55:22). The earthly work will never be done. I invite you to rest in my all-sufficiency and let me take care of the things that you didn’t finish.”
When I say, “It doesn’t matter how I feel,” Jesus says, “No, you’re wrong on that point. The heart of the Father is always turned toward you with tenderness, and He has put your tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8). He cares deeply about what’s going on inside you. He is listening. He is paying attention. He neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4).”
When I say, “Things will never get better,” Jesus says, “Don’t you remember what I said in Revelation 21:5, ‘I make all things new?’ I am at work, I promise! Don’t forget the truth of Isaiah 43:19, ‘Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.’”
When we feel too weary to rejoice, we can receive God’s joy as a gift—as a present—delivered by the Word of God incarnate through the Word of God inspired. So let’s declare truth as we leave the forest of lies and journey to the manger in Bethlehem.
For I declare that God gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength (Isaiah 40:29).
I declare that God will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul He will replenish (Jeremiah 31:25).
I declare that those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:31).
I declare that the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).
I declare that my flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever (Psalm 73:26).
I declare that God’s presence will go with me, and He will give me rest (Exodus 33:14).
I declare that I will lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety (Psalm 4:8).
I declare that weeping may last for the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5).
Oh that we would rejoice despite our weariness, celebrating the One who has led us out of the forest and into a place of true rest for our souls.
Praying for a merry and refreshing Christmas for you.
I crawled out of bed while it was still dark, turned on the pre-set coffee maker, let the dog out, lit my candle, and started a fire. The significantly colder air and naked tree branches were doing their best to take my focus off the present peace, tempting my mind to jump ahead to what I dread: winter. I am not a fan.
It has been ten years now that the dark and barren months of winter trigger inner and outer unrest; both a spiritual and physical fight for me to not give in to despair and to hold onto hope. Because I recognize this war within, I know what I must do. This morning, as I eyed the dying leaves that blanketed the ground below me, as if whispering, “keep looking down,” I got myself close to the fire, breathed in the silence, dug into my pocket, and pulled out my rosary.
And it whispered, “keep looking up.”
In the pitch black, with only flickering flames for a light, I opened my scriptural rosary book and began to pray the Glorious Mysteries. This sweet book is a new favorite because it includes the virtues associated with each Mystery, in addition to a short reflection, prayer, and one simple question to help bring you into deeper union with Jesus. On the second Glorious Mystery, the Ascension of our Lord into Heaven, my eyes fell upon its virtue, and peace rushed in, flooding my soul. The virtue of hope. And following was this question: Do I put all of my hope in heaven, or do I live for this world?
I closed my eyes and placed myself next to our Lady, pondering this question in my heart. Our Blessed Mother’s entire life was a journey of hope. From the Annunciation to Calvary, she models perfect faith and obedience, without complaint or resistance to the cross she had been handed. She did not attend the crucifixion of her son to run away in fear or walk away in despair because Jesus did not turn out to be the king she had hoped He would be. Mary participated in the Cross, sharing in the sufferings of her son, watching and standing, her focus always on heaven. Mary never surrendered her hope.
And I am wondering where you might be today. Are you watching and standing? Are you focused on heaven? Or have you surrendered your hope?
I have had my heart shattered by two devastating crosses; crosses of tragic loss and heart-piercing disappointment, both of which were accompanied by a heavy dose of fear. When everything was chaos and all appeared meaningless, it is this virtue of Mary’s—her heroic hope—that saved me. You see, Christian hope is not a wish but a confident and joyful expectation that the promises of Christ will be fulfilled. This is a hope that doesn’t disappoint; a hope that protects us from becoming paralyzed by fear and discouragement when things do not go our way. This is the virtue that keeps heaven before us through our earthly trials; the whisper of Mary that encourages us to keep God in His rightful place and to keep looking up.
Easier said than done, right? Personal and worldly troubles will never cease to tempt us to take our eyes off Christ. The enemy of our soul takes great delight in watching us as we let go of God and reach for the lesser things of this world to anchor us. Friends, do not fall for this. Only Jesus Christ is our anchor. Divine hope comes from the Cross. Our hope is found in Christ alone. He has the power. He is almighty. He is sovereign. He is good. He is our cornerstone. He is our stronghold. He is called Faithful and True. He is the One that even the waves and winds obey. He is a good Father who keeps His promises. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and He is always in control. ALWAYS. And I know you have heard all of this preached at you before, and you have probably been bombarded by similar words on social media. But let me ask...do you believe it?
“Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”
Mary had hope because she believed. If we want to be like Mary, courageous to the extreme, filled with the Holy Spirit, and rocking the virtue of hope, we need to run to her, and we need to run now. We are not walking alone in this hurting and broken world. We have a mother in heaven. A mother who desires to bring us into deeper union with her son. A mother who has felt and sees our pain, takes our hand, and points us to Jesus. She protects us beneath her mantle and intercedes on our behalf, as she kicks the leaves from our feet and uncovers the ground, lifting our chins up to heaven while whispering, “keep looking up.”
Praying that we, like Mary, keep looking up, recklessly hoping for the world to come.
Your sister in Christ,
P.S. If you were unable to join Lisa Brenninkmeyer on the Rosary Call for Our Country, you can watch and listen here anytime. The Rosary is our greatest weapon and our quickest remedy to despair. If you are low on hope, my friend, run with me to our Blessed Mother.
 Gospel of Luke 1:45 NASB