Ever since I dropped some packages off at the post office and the postal worker handed me a receipt for $6.66, and I looked at him and him at me, until finally he said, “I didn’t want to say it out loud” and I said, “Well, I am mailing religious books, so take that Satan!”...well, ever since then, things have gone incredibly awry. I will spare you all the horrible details that fell somewhere between the $600 cat surgery and the dead guinea pig, but let’s just say that I must be doing something right because someone down there is not happy.
Being a soldier of Christ Jesus is not for the faint of heart, my friends. Some days I wish I had chosen to become a soldier of anything else...like a soldier of lattes...or manicures…or sleep.
Sitting at my desk while trying to fight off all of the useless questions we like to ask God in times of suffering, questions like, “Why?” and “How long?”, I pulled up the first video for the Living in the Father’s Love Bible study, The Beauty Of A Childlike Faith. In this video, Lisa Brenninkmeyer lists three childlike qualities that God desires to see in each of us. I was most drawn to the second: Having confidence in God, trusting that only He can do what we cannot.
So, let me ask. Do you? Do you trust that He is in control? Are you confident that He has a good plan for you? When the ground is falling out from beneath your feet, do you trust that God knows what He is doing?
I’d like to think I have a firm trust in the Lord. I’d like to say that my confidence is not in myself but all in Him. But then...the cat’s ear blows up and I find the guinea pig hard as a rock and everything starts to crumble around me, and well, suddenly the obedient Christian life is not looking like such a great fit for me!
Have you ever felt this way?
Have you ever gotten to the end of your resources?
Have you ever looked at the path the Lord kept calling you to walk down and thought to yourself, “Good grief, Jesus, can I please get a new path? Or at least a scooter?”
Do you ever feel like no matter how hard you pray, how dedicated you are to being a servant of God, you are the one who continues to draw the short stick?
It is hard to have a childlike faith in the midst of the battle. Staying confident when the storms of life seem to pound and pound to no avail can feel unrealistic and impossible. And as I found myself in this place of doubt, I recognized that unless I physically move, I will remain spiritually stuck. So I took a walk down a long paved path, praying the sorrowful mysteries each step of the way. And I asked the Lord to please conform my will to His. I begged that He remove the doubt and desire to self-rely, and that I would have a firm trust in Him no matter the outcome; that I would still love Him just as much as I do on the mountain top as I do in the desert. That should He say “no” to my prayer, I would continue to say “yes” to whatever He chooses, out of love for Him.
Because here is the thing. When God chooses, He chooses from an eternal perspective. And I can’t even begin to pretend that I know how to wrap my head around that. But I have just enough faith, sprinkled with a good amount of grace, to know that this is a leap worth taking. A true and free gift from God. I am able to accept this; that He has the bigger picture. Not me. And if He does not give me what I ask for, it must be for my good. That this very cross I want to lose is actually my bridge to Heaven. And as hard as this can be to understand, I simply do. Because if this isn’t true, well then, none of it is.
As I neared the end of the path, a vision of Simon of Cyrene came to mind. Simon was the man compelled by the Romans to help carry the cross of Jesus. He was pulled from the sidelines observing, and took action by positioning himself under the cross with Jesus leading the way. I’ve heard many a reflection on this encounter—usually pointing to the theme of discipleship, stewardship, and helping others carry their burden. But, for the first time, a different image came to mind. This time it was not Jesus asking me to go out and help carry the load of another, but very specifically, He was inviting me to help carry His. How could I not step in and help Jesus carry what was meant for me? How could I not suffer under the weight of my cross when He already did? How could I not offer to share in the suffering when I am the one who caused it in the first place? This image completely changed my perspective. What looked impossible to carry only moments ago now looked like a gift. A walk that began in anxiety and doubt was now completed in confidence.
If your confidence in yourself is stronger than your confidence in God, ask yourself: What path of obedience is God calling me to that I am afraid of? Then offer up your need to understand. Say, “Here you go, Jesus. Here is my heart. It is weak and it is imperfect, and sometimes, it is as hard as my dead guinea pig. But here ya’ go, it is all yours.” Make no mistake. This is not giving up hope. This is saying, “I love you so much that I am willing to say “yes” to whatever you choose because you choose from an eternal perspective, and you always choose what is good.” This is how we become like children. This is how we remain confident when the storms of life rock the boat. This is how, compelled by love, we get off the sidelines and take action, positioning ourselves under the cross and walking the path of obedience with Jesus leading the way.
Did I ever tell you about that time I gave up portobello mushrooms and goat cheese for Lent, and while out to lunch with my husband, he had the nerve to order the portobello mushroom and goat cheese sandwich?
There is so much to unpack in this one question that I hardly know where to begin. How about we start and finish with the fact that, at one point in time, my Lenten sacrifice was not eating portobello mushrooms and goat cheese. I mean, exactly how many portobello mushrooms and how much goat cheese was I consuming? Clearly, enough that to not eat it qualified as an appropriate sacrifice to the Lord, who gave up His very life in exchange for my sins. Safe to say, based on the level of suffering that must have caused, I experienced some radical spiritual growth that Lenten season. Didn’t Saint Teresa of Calcutta give up something similar? Or was that the 2000 vintage cote de boeuf and hunk of gouda?
Lord, have mercy on me.
The Lenten sacrifice. I struggle with it every year. Not so much the sacrifice itself but the motive behind it. Do I give up sugar, carbs, and eating between meals for love of Jesus, or for love of weighing less? Do I give up shopping at Target for love of Jesus, or because I will save us some money? Do I fill up bags of my possessions to donate for love of Jesus, or am I just cleaning out my junk drawer? Because if the motive is anything other than love of Jesus, then He will rise and the Alleluia will be proclaimed, but I will be no different. Perhaps I will be thinner with more cash in my pocket and a clean closet, but where it counts—nothing will have changed.
I told my husband we needed to start thinking about what we will give up for Lent now; that we must be intentional about how we journey. Of course, in “wife code language,” what I was actually saying was, “You need to get off of your phone, honey.” Something I should probably give up is telling my husband what he needs to give up. Is it just me or is it so much easier to see what’s in the way of other people’s relationship with Christ than it is our own?
So, what is in your way?
What are your disordered attachments?
What do you choose to tie yourself to?
What or who do you run to in place of Jesus?
What is your biggest obstacle to surrendering it all?
What is that thing you do repeatedly that breaks God’s heart?
These are the questions I have been asking: Lord, what do you see that I am allowing to get in your way? What are the distractions I reach for that have become so second nature, I don’t even recognize that they are distractions? What sins do I love so much I refuse to believe they are sins? Where do I live “for the show,” putting out all of my good but hiding my true self? Show me the attitude of my soul. Give me the grace to want to suffer for love of You.
As I have been praying with these questions, the Holy Spirit has been ever so gently nudging me...specifically at bedtime. You see, I get into bed with every intention to pray my nighttime prayers. Yet, it never fails that every time I go to set my phone down, I do one last Instagram check. Yup. You know where this is going, don’t you? That one last check turns into thirty minutes later, leaving me too tired to pray and knowing all sorts of unimportant things about people I don’t know that play zero role in getting myself to heaven. The easy sacrifice this Lent would be to give up Instagram, right? (I know, crazy talk.) Or maybe, at least, give it up before bedtime? There. Done. Easy, right?
Because I am a girl that requires a big plan. If I want real Easter morning transformation and resurrection, I need something meaningful to put in the space that I clear out. And I need to be held accountable.
Sisters, I have an idea…
This Lent I will replace the thirty minutes of bedtime scrolling with the Walking With Purpose short study, Living in the Father’s Love. And I can’t make the excuse that there is no way I can add a second Bible Study to my schedule due to lack of time. If you checked the daily screen time on my phone, you would see that not only do I have the time to add another study, but I have the time to write my own study, in three different languages! And get this, sisters: Because I love you all so much, I am inviting you to join me in this daily thirty minute Lenten challenge! (That’s the being held accountable part.)
Here is what we will do: The Bible study is six weeks long so we will begin on Ash Wednesday, February 26th, and end just in time for Jesus to rise from the dead!
What will you need?
For starters, you will want to identify your own time waster in your life—that thing you do or reach for that adds no value to your life but sucks up a whole lot of your precious time. Maybe it is scrolling through social media. Perhaps it is Netflix binging. Do you have a gift of mindless online shopping when you start to feel restless? Whatever your time waster is, identify it. But don’t just identify it, commit to replacing it with studying God’s Word.
Next, you will want to order the Living in the Father’s Love study guide right now! Two Connect Coffee Talk videos bookend this study. You can watch the videos for free on our website or purchase the videos on DVD or as a digital download.
Then be sure that you are following Walking With Purpose on Instagram. This is important because every week I will hop on Instagram stories, and we will go over the lesson together! We will discuss, interact and share, and come on now, how great will this be?
Sure, you can say there is no way you have the time for this and choose to give up Starbucks this Lent instead. And that is fine and all. But wouldn’t you rather use this Lenten season as an opportunity to pray with your WWP community and root yourself in a deeper understanding of just how crazy God is about you...while drinking your venti coconut milk latte?
Looking forward to not giving up coffee, and living in the Father’s love with you,
PS: Got a middle school age girl? Our Instastories content contributor Kristy Malik and her daughter Hana will be studying the BLAZE Bible study, Discovering My Purpose, this Lent on Instagram stories. They would love for you to join them! Interested in our Young Adult Bible studies? My daughter Annie will be hopping on Instastories as she works her way through Beloved, part I of the Opening Your Heart Young Adult Series. So many beautiful options and women to journey with this Lenten season! Check Instagram on Ash Wednesday (February 26) for more details.
My youngest child was just four years old when we moved from California to Connecticut. The main reason for this major uprooting? To be closer to family. My sister, just a few towns away now, suggested she take my four kids to a movie so that I could unpack the eight million boxes I was staring at. I jumped at the offer and gathered the kids and ushered them out into the driveway. But as I buckled my youngest into the car seat and kissed him goodbye, a thought hit me.I never told him where they were going! And as my sister started up the engine and began to back out, I called out, “Luke? Do you even know where Aunt Kathy is taking you?” And with a trust and peace that truly transcends all understanding, he looked at me, smiled, shrugged his cute little shoulders, and said, “nope.” And I laughed, as they drove away.
I still think about this moment, eight years later. My precious one? He knew me so well, and was so certain of my love for him, that there was no need to question why I was putting him in another car, strapping him down, and sending him off without giving him the details. He trusted me so much, believed in me so much, that concern or worry about what the plan for him was, was a non-issue. He willingly accepted that he was not in charge, but that because I had proved my love to him over and over again already, he had nothing to fear. So long as he was in my hands, he was in good hands.
This is the beauty of a childlike faith.
And good grief, I want it.
And because God knows I want it, he is doing all that he can to teach me it. Which depending on the day you ask, I may or may not boast of His faithfulness and goodness, because asking God to bless you with a childlike faith is basically asking Him to strap you into a stranger's car and have them take off, without telling you where you are going. It is a prayer of surrender. And we all know how easy it is to surrender, don't we?
Ugh. Why is surrender so difficult? Seriously. Think about that question. Because most people find surrender incredibly hard. I sure do. Surrendering goes against everything my earthly self automatically desires. Things like full control, and knowing the future, and some sort of guarantee in writing - or quite possibly blood - that everything and everyone will be okay. Surrendering means emptying my soul of all those feelings I tend to cling to and rely on as truth, of accepting the “supporting actor role” of my life because I understand that I am not the hero of my story, but rather, God is.
Did you hear that?You are not the hero of your story.
Does that last line make you angry to read? I gotta admit, it is a little scary to publish. But I am feeling feisty today, so I am going with it. And more than feisty...I 100% believe in this. You see, I have heard and read the “girl power encouragement” that is floating around out there, and while most of it is wonderful, some of it makes me incredibly uncomfortable, as I think of all the young women who are embracing these statements as truth: You are the hero of your story. You are in control of your life. Because, I swear on my love of chips and salsa, sweet friends, this is simply not true.
In Laura Story's book, When God Doesn't Fix It, she asks us to think about the characters in the stories in the Bible.“Their stories aren't in the Bible because these characters are heroes. Their stories are in the Bible because God is the hero of their stories.”  She asks us to really think about it, pointing us to Daniel being saved from the lions, and to Noah who was saved from the flood. Were Daniel and Noah the heroes? Or was it God, the Great I AM who swooped on in and did the saving? Every story you read in the Bible points to one hero, and that hero is never us. It is God. This life we are living? This story of ours? It is God's story. And we are not called to control it or re-write it. But we are called to be a part of it. And it starts with surrender.
If you are like me; if you struggle with understanding your place in God's story, and the idea of surrendering with a childlike faith, might I suggest we do a few things together. Why together? Because I like your company, that's why. And...we can hold one another accountable. Plus, we don't even like to go into a public bathroom without bringing a friend along, so why should growing deeper in our faith be any different? But as I was saying...here are three things we can do together to develop a childlike faith:
I think we need to start by praying for bravery.
In the Walking with Purpose six-week study, Living In The Father's Love (LIFL), author Lisa Brenninkmeyer reminds us that “Living a life that says 'yes' to God and His purposes requires bravery.” And so let's pray for that. Let's ask for the courage to not be the dead fish that goes with the flow, but to be the strong, brave fish, that swims against the tide. Any decision we make out of fear is the wrong decision. So let's pray to be brave...Daniel and the Lion kind of brave...and let's see how our hero comes through and saves us. Because He always does. He always will.
The second thing we need to do?
I think we ought to read HIS story, to understand our place in it.
Remember...my son trusted me to buckle him up and send him on his way with zero idea of where he was going, because he knew me so well. How well do we know our Father? How certain are you of His love for you? Sure, we can all recite “God is Love,” but what does this really mean to you? Honestly. Do you believe that God the Father adores you? That He will go the long haul for you? That there is nothing you have done, or will do that will ever change how He feels about you? That He has a unique and divine purpose for your life? That you are beautiful, worthy, and forgiven? Do you believe this?
Because I think these are the real questions that women who are struggling ask. In Chapter 2 of Living in the Father's Love, Lisa assures us that, “The more we are rooted in a deep understanding of just how crazy God is about each one of His Daughters, the better we will be able to wrestle through these questions.”  This is such an important chapter with an honest-to-goodness life changing teaching. Lisa walks us through the beautiful truths of God, who He is, and how very much He is for us. Sweet friends, we will never, ever trust God if we are unable to list His faithful characteristics and promises. I highly encourage you to go back to this section, which challenges us to seek God's motive in relationship with each of us, to literally list the characteristics of love and God as found in 1 John 4:16, to make a conscious effort to reject any lies or half-truths that might be keeping us from trusting God with a childlike sincerity.  This chapter is so good I just scheduled an appointment at my local tattoo parlor to have it written in permanent ink on my entire left leg.
And the third thing?
We need to get to know our WWP Patron Saint a little bit better. Or a lot better, even.
There is no better example of embracing a life of surrender and childlike faith, than sweet Saint Therese, whose Feast Day is October 1; I am giving you permission to go buy yourself a dozen red roses and an 8 inch chocolate cake on that day to celebrate. In Chapter 1 of LIFL, appropriately titled, The Beauty of a Childlike Faith, Lisa directs us to the words of this amazing young woman, in an effort to accept that we are not in charge.
“I desire neither suffering nor death, yet I love both; but it is love alone which attracts me. Now it is the abandonment alone that guides me. I have no other compass. My heart is full of the will of Jesus.”
Oh, how I pray we can all say these words along with Saint Therese, and mean them….my heart is full of the will of Jesus. Because this? This, sweet friends, is the answer to all those doubts and fears that keep us awake at night. This is the answer to what is my purpose, and does God really love me? This right here is the answer to every single obstacle that stands in the way of our unclenching our fists and dropping our arms and resting peacefully in the center of God's will.
May we have no other compass, as we surrender to our guide - bravely taking our place in HIS story as we come to know and live in the Father's love.
Saint Therese, pray for us.
With faith in the hero of our story,
PS: You don't have a copy of the WWP six week study Living In The Father's Love? That's okay! Just click here to purchase! And while you are at it, why not enjoy our LIFL playlist while reading more about our Patron Saint here!
Laura Story, When God Doesn't Fix It (Thomas Nelson, 2005), 186
Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Living In The Father's Love (Walking With Purpose, 2010-2015), 33
Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Living In The Father's Love (Walking With Purpose, 2010-2015)
Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Living In The Father's Love (Walking With Purpose, 2010-2015), 26
Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Living In The Father's Love (Walking With Purpose, 2010-2015) d'Elbee, I Believe In Love, 86-7.
Hello, my friend!
Today I'm welcoming back one of my favorite people to the WWP blog: Laura Phelps. One of my favorite things about Laura is the way she makes me laugh. She also shares my love for Jesus and women, and I know you'll enjoy her writing. In addition to raising her four children and loving on her husband, she works for WWP as a phenomenal Regional Area Coordinator. Laura blogs for us once a month, and once a month you'll hear from me.
It took my owning three dogs to reach the conclusion that I am not a “dog person.” I have spent hundreds of dollars just so that I am not that person whose house you visit, and with one step in the door, you are greeted by a barking, jumping, out-of-control dog. And guess what? I am that person. But I am wondering now, after years of chasing unruly canines through the neighborhood, always braless in my pajamas clenching a pound of roast beef in my hand, if perhaps the reason I do not embrace this ownership is not so much because of the dog's inability to be trained, but my own inability to train it. Truth is, I might have paid for training, but I did not reinforce it.
Last week we took the plunge and bought an invisible fence. It might have been the dog's dangerous sprint across a road and through the neighbor's yard and down to the lake that encouraged us to finally do so. Also, the foaming at the mouth. Her, not me. But trust me, I was close. I cannot even explain the unspeakable anger that rises up inside of me when she runs away. The frustration that washes over me when I call her name, as she completely ignores me and runs away faster. Her defiance is a combination of total inconvenience, and absolute terror, with a healthy dose of embarrassment, because did I mention? Braless. Pajamas. Roast beef. But if you were to dig beneath the pile of negative emotions that grip me, what you'd find at the bottom of it all is…I am afraid. I am afraid for her safety. I am afraid she will not return home. I am afraid that what looks fun and exciting and completely innocent in the moment is going to ultimately be what kills her. So enter in the Invisible Fence.
Because love does this. Love builds hedges and boundaries and will even resort to shocking because life is too precious to risk losing. Love does what love has to do to protect those who do not know any better.
And I have got two words for you sweet friends. GAME CHANGER. After just two days of the dog walking into the shock, she understood, ”that space over there? It kinda' hurts.” And every time she would tap into that zap, she would take fast notice and then I would call her name and she would run back to me. And then, down on her level I would hug her, and praise her and tell her “good girl.” And I will be honest. At first, I worried that she was sad. I feared that she would never sprint and run with that same joy and exhilaration-that euphoria you could see on her furry face when she would escape. I wondered if by giving her such strict boundaries, I was cramping her style, stealing all of the fun out of being a curious dog. Would she be bored outside now that she can't explore the way she used to? Would she not love me as much because instead of allowing her to do whatever she wants, I have put in restrictions? And I questioned the safety of it all, because what if she broke out of the fence? Would she still come when called? Or would she go back to her old, wandering, undisciplined ways?
I realized that these human thoughts of mine were just that. Human. Because we do this, don't we? We see boundaries as things that keep us from the fun. We see discipline as a punishment. We see fences as things that keep the excitement out. And we want the excitement in. When we have to give things up, things we like to do and hold onto, we tend to only see the loss involved. But as I stand outside now-not only wearing a bra but dressed as well, with no lunch meat in sight-while my leashless dogs plays, I am struck by her freedom. The freedom to run, the freedom to be happy, the freedom to be what God made her to be…without the risk of getting hurt. And quite possibly the greatest beauty born out of this invisible fence is not so much that she no longer runs from me, but that she runs straight to me. Into my arms, head buried into my lap because she knows that with me she is safe. By giving her boundaries, and teaching her where she can and can't go, I see a trust and compassion that were not there before. This fence has brought us closer together and dare I say, I love her more. Dare I say, she loves me more, too.
With Lent just a couple of weeks away, it is good to think about our own invisible fences and where we might need to install them. Where have we been wandering that is not safe? What things do we run to that have the potential to hurt us or others? When God calls our name, do we keep on running away, or do we run back to Him? And I know there are people who just don't get us crazy Catholics. All of this prayer, and self-sacrifice, and giving alms and good grief, for forty days? I mean honestly, what is the point? So long as we are kind, isn't that enough? But ya know, I don't think so. I mean, my dog? She is super kind. Don't let her Chow tongue fool you. But even the kind are prone to wander. Even the kind fail to respond when they are called. Even the kind need to be reeled in from time to time.
My dog is not a sinner. Because well, she is a dog. But I am. And it took a whole lot of wandering and running away from truth to realize that I was a woman who was dying for boundaries; a daughter of Christ that was in desperate need of His protective love.
This invisible fence we call Lent is not about what God wants to keep from us. It is not about what we lose, but actually, about all that we gain. It is an incredible opportunity for us to strip ourselves of everything that keeps us from running to Him, all of those temporary things we strive for, that never satisfy. All of those fun in the moment things we do, only to find that they have left permanent scars that never fully heal. This time of preparation, if we walk through it intentionally, can be the most exciting, most beautiful journey to freedom we will ever know. But we have to allow God to train us. Not because he's a taskmaster. And not because He wants to control us. He trains us because He loves us. Do you even know how precious you are to Him, or do you doubt if He really loves you? In Lisa Brenninkmeyer's six-week Bible study, Living In The Father's Love, she writes, “The more we are rooted in a deep understanding of just how crazy God is about each one of His daughter's, the better we'll be able to wrestle with this question.” And maybe you do struggle with this. Maybe you can't trust the invisible fence works because you are uncertain of the love your Master has for you. If so, I highly encourage you to pick up this short but powerful study, and make it your Lenten promise. See how settling into the truths of the Bible and growing in the knowledge that we are so incredibly loved by our Father, is going to transform your life. Like the invisible fence was to me, I promise this study will be to you too : GAME CHANGER.
You see, God just loves you. And He puts all these supports and protections in place so that we stay close to Him. He loves us, and He wants us near. And come Easter morning, He wants nothing more than for us to rise and turn to Him with a whole heart. So let's use these weeks to prepare wisely. Let's think about those things that get in the way of Him, and tempt us to wander. And let's be grateful for the boundaries that help us to know love better; that invisible love that guides us to come to Him when we are called, to run straight into His arms, to bury our heads in His lap knowing this is the place where we are safe, this is the place where we are loved, this is the place where we are truly free.
Regional Area Coordinator
Walking with Purpose
Read Laura's blog here: http://www.lauramaryphelps.com/