Does the importance of a family decrease when children start to leave the home?
Is a homemaker still needed when the laundry pile is small, “chauffeuring” duties are done, and there are fewer places to set at the table?
Does an “empty nest” signal it’s time for a mother to reinvent herself?
These are some of the questions I have been musing over as Leo and I fly home after visiting our adult children on the other side of the country.
Our boys are living full and independent lives—one married, one single. This could lead me to conclude that the days when I am needed are over and that my role is to recede into the background. And to some degree, that is true. They don’t need me telling them what to wear, when to shave, or that they need to put on some sunscreen. But I still have a role to play in their lives. The home I create in Florida is still to be an oasis for all, and my heart can be a home that my family travels to whenever needed.
The Catechism tells us that the family is the original cell of society (CCC 2207). But this doesn’t mean that a family is like a basic building block where one unit can serve as well as another. Each family is unique, and all are strengthened when the family affirms that each member (whether the mother, father, brother, or sister) is a distinct and unrepeatable person, imbued with dignity. When family members see themselves in this way, they are better able to fulfill their mission of being “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). A Catholic family has a mission to spread the warmth, hope, and peace of Christ into the communities that they are a part of. Saint John Paul II summed up this truth with the words, “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.” This mission doesn’t end when children leave home.
Most people navigate fear, confusion, worry, and hopelessness on a daily basis. They exist in a world that values them in relation to their productivity. Far from being seen as irreplaceable people of dignity, they are expected to fit into a framework which leaves no room for God and sets a very high bar for success and significance. Even at the end of the day, true rest and restoration is elusive. Many return home just to dash out to evening activities (there’s still more to achieve and accomplish) or to numb out in front of a screen.
Our homes are meant to be sanctuaries in the midst of the world—to be life-giving alternatives to a sterile way of existing. Our families are called to be the church in miniature, a place of welcome and healing. If we could grasp this vision and reorient ourselves around it, I believe we would find that the need for this kind of a homemaker would never diminish. We’d quickly discover that there is always someone who longs to be invited into this kind of environment.
I recently watched a video about the transcendental of beauty by philosopher Roger Scruton. In it, he describes two different kinds of beauty. The first is grand and perfect. You know it when you see or hear it. It’s the rose windows in Chartres Cathedral, the face of the Blessed Mother in Michelangelo’s La Pietà, and Andrea Bocelli’s tenor voice. There’s a harmony and a perfection. The second kind of beauty is the type that matters most in our homes. It’s the everyday kind of beauty—the ordinary beauty. We express it in the way we garden, cook, set the table, and fluff the pillows. The reason this beauty is important is because it’s the way we cultivate an environment where things and people fit together, creating an atmosphere that restores. Although this beauty lies all around us, Scruton notes that we need eyes to see it and hearts to feel it. But the most ordinary event can be made something beautiful when people see into the heart of things.
Scruton considers this kind of beauty as an instrument of peace. It creates a sense of home. It’s an imperfect beauty, but nonetheless, it settles us. It’s not the beauty of a perfectly clean house, a designer interior, or an updated color scheme. It’s the beauty of a space that’s become a haven for all who enter. It’s a place that has been cultivated by a committed woman who has made it her mission to create an atmosphere of warmth and welcome. She has prepared for each person’s homecoming (whether a family member or not) by focusing on each person’s unique dignity and unrepeatability. When we think of home in this way, it’s clear that the significance of a homemaker’s role continues throughout the decades.
Author Leila Lawson writes, “A lot of homemaking consists of being ready for those times when someone needs you—and it’s hard to justify this way of using time to a world that measures productivity in equal units and output.” The world is pulsing, action-oriented, and distracted, rewarding the self-centered. But if we have chosen to center our lives on God, we no longer need to justify the way we use our time to anyone other than Him. He invites you to measure your days by how you love, not by what you produce. And loving well means being available.
Your heart and home can be a sanctuary. Just being available is a tremendous gift you can offer to those you love. An empty nest is not a signal that you need to reinvent yourself. Those in our care will always need a shelter—a place to come home to where they don’t need to produce something to be considered worthy, where they are received as the gifts that they are.
Perhaps, as Dostoevsky claimed, beauty really can save the world. What might change if more women responded to this high calling to cultivate this kind of home?
With you on the journey,
 “Why Beauty Matters” by Roger Scruton, https://vimeo.com/128428182, accessed April 4, 2022.
 Leila Lawson, The Summa Domestica (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2021), 208.
Do you remember Linus, Charlie Brown’s best friend from the Peanuts comic? He was the one who carried his blanket everywhere. Well, I have a “Linus” in my own house—my youngest son. His blanket is named “BearBear,” and he goes everywhere with us. I mean everywhere. He attended ski school this past winter, nicely zipped into my son’s jacket as he went down the mountain. He’s basically a member of the Malik family—he’s in our family photo that hangs on the wall. My older kids know how to leap into action when BearBear is lost and can find him in a matter of minutes.
Our collective vigilance on BearBear’s whereabouts did not prevent us from having a minor catastrophe a couple weeks ago. We went to Mass and accidentally left BearBear at home. In the shuffle and craziness of getting five kids out the door for church (on everyone’s favorite daylight saving Sunday), BearBear got left in the dust. We only realized this tragedy ten minutes into the Mass when my son noticed BearBear’s absence and began to wail.
Now, I know kids love their stuffed animals, and it’s cute that something so simple can bring them comfort when they’re young. My older kids have all outgrown their old favorite stuffed animals, and I look back fondly on those memories. I’m sure the day that my youngest son doesn’t need BearBear anymore will be coming soon. (I do pray that it comes sooner rather than later because if any kid would bring a stuffed animal to college, it would be this kid.)
In my 15 years of dealing with crying kids at Mass, I can usually handle the situation one way or another (ask me about “the look” or “the walk of shame” some other time). But this time was different. My son was heartbroken. I could see on his face that he didn’t want to cry; he was trying so hard to be tough, but he just couldn’t help it. He wanted BearBear and literally nothing else would suffice—no amount of comforting, bribing, or reasoning worked.
I need to be honest—part of me became annoyed at this point. I wanted him to calm down, yes, but what struck me more was how much I didn’t want him to be so affected by something so trivial. The more I tried to calm him, the more I kept thinking how we were sitting in the (literal) presence of the Lord while focusing on the upsetting consequences of a missing blanket.
I love the way the Lord works, though, because after Mass, my husband and I were talking about the “BearBear incident” (which we affectionately call it now), and our perspectives couldn’t have been more different.
I explained to him my feelings about the “BearBear incident,” and how it made me think how we are similar to children in this regard. We all have something in our lives that our happiness is dependent on, even though Scripture warns us against this all-too-human inclination. I started telling him all the trivial things that I felt were taking up space in my heart where the Lord should be (as I silently patted myself on the back for recognizing this divine revelation).
My husband, however, had a much more paternal—and loving—perspective on the “BearBear incident.” He felt it revealed a deeper truth about the Lord and His goodness. He explained that as trivial as the blanket may seem to us, our son loves it. And how when we are lost, God is even more heartbroken than our son was about his lost blanket. God longs to be close to us at all times—much like our son never wants to be separated from BearBear.
Talk about convicting. Thank God for the sacrament of Marriage.
You may have heard St. Augustine’s quote, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you,” but have you heard the beginning of that quote? He says, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” He made us for Himself because He loves us. Our Maker knows what our hearts need, and nothing this side of heaven will ever fully satisfy. He wants us to give Him our hearts, and in return, He wants to love us with the closeness of a loving Father.
So, as we’ve crossed the halfway point of Lent, let’s take an honest look at our hearts. Joel 2:13 says, “Rend your heart…and return to the Lord.” What is your heart focused on? Is there something directing your heart away from the Lord? Have you thought about God’s heart for you, and how it breaks when we are separated from Him by sin? How can you return to the Lord with your whole heart?
My son eventually calmed down that Sunday as I listened to the end of the homily. The priest was talking about the Transfiguration story from Luke 9. He pointed out that Jesus wasn’t simply reflecting the glory of God. He was transfigured into the glory of who He is—from the inside out. He explained that we too can be changed from the inside out; that transfiguration can happen in our lives too. He finished by saying that bringing our hearts to Jesus in the sacrament of Confession is how this can happen.
Rending our hearts prepares us to be transformed from the inside out. And when we are transformed from the inside out through confession, we draw ever closer to the heart of the Father.
Can you take a moment to rend (examine) your heart today?
What treasure takes up space in your heart where God should be? Is it an expectation? A relationship? Something material?
How is the Lord calling you to return to Him these last few weeks of Lent?
Have you considered how God’s deep love and desire for closeness with you is possible through the sacrament of Confession?
 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” (Matthew 6:19–21)
The best way to spend the final week before Christmas is making a solo 1,370 mile drive with two dogs in the backseat. At least this is what I told myself when I set out to create an unforgettable Christmas experience for my family. I didn’t factor in the relationship my puppy wanted to develop with the dog staying across the hall at the hotel. She “talked” to our neighbor all night long, which contributed to a delightful sleeping experience along the way.
The thing is, I can justify almost any complication of an event if I am certain that making “it” happen will bring guaranteed delight to my kids. And everyone knows that puppies make Christmas extra magical. The way I have approached the holiday season (if I’m honest, it’s the way I approach my life) is to figure out what is possible. Can I somehow make it happen through grit, hard work, and perseverance? Then the juice is worth the squeeze! Until it isn’t.
I don’t know how you are approaching these final days before Christmas, but I would guess that most of you are starting to feel a little panicky over the things you have left to do, and as a result, you’ve got a creeping sense that you are going to be disappointed by the end result. Which just might be motivating you to run even faster and try even harder. At least that’s the way I have lived for decades.
But I am trying to make a change, and although I still justified the drive with the dogs, I can see some glimmers of transformation. Instead of asking myself, “Is this possible? Can I somehow make this happen?” I am asking myself, “What’s the simplest option here?” I am growing in my appreciation for the simple, and it’s not just because I’ve read Marie Kondo’s book. It’s the result of realizing that nothing satisfies me like a quiet and still heart. I’ve learned that in order to encounter the Lord, everything in my life needs to slow down. It’s not about getting everything done and then giving myself permission to stop. I need to set a goal of doing less, so I can create space for Him.
When there’s a little space, I have the chance to ponder what I’m going to offer Jesus as a gift for His birthday. Typically, I offer Him a nicely decorated house, bulging Christmas stockings, loads of food, and Christmas presents spilling over the floor in front of the tree. But when I stop to think about it, none of these things are for Him. They are for my family. And while I know Jesus feels loved when I love well, I am kidding myself when I ignore the fact that any thoughts of Him are pretty far away when I’m doing all of that prep.
What gifts were given to Jesus when He came to earth and was born in a manger? It was simply the gift of people’s presence. In the midst of the mess of the stable, the noises of the animals, and the emotions that accompany things when they don’t go according to plan, Mary and Joseph let the rest of the world fade away and just welcomed their baby. Their hands were empty, which meant there was room for Him.
Instead of patting myself on the back when I can present Jesus with a picture-perfect Christmas, I have come to see the value in offering Him a calmed and quieted soul (Psalm 131:1). Instead of feeling like I need to come with all my to-do’s wrapped up in my hands, I’ve learned that the gift He likes best is my empty hands, upturned in humble worship.
Padre Pio has been ministering to me these months with these words,
Live simply. Eat simply. Love one another simply. Do not complicate matters unnecessarily. How do you live simply? You remove activities that are not necessary or that pull you away from duty…Apostles of Jesus Christ must set an example of service and obedience but not hectic service. There should be calm and if there is not calm in your life, change your life and keep changing it until you find calm.
There is still time to do what matters most this Christmas season. I’m not talking about the gifts, the cookies, the decorations, or the parties. What matters most is finding a pocket of calm, emptying your hands, and upturning them to offer thanks. A humble thank you to the God of the universe because He stepped into our mess as Emmanuel, God with us. Take a deep breath, my friends. Your peaceful presence is more important than the perfect present. That’s what is remembered most.
So offer Jesus your empty, upturned hands this Christmas. There’s no better gift.
With you on the journey,
What are the final thoughts that usually run through your mind when you try to fall asleep? Do you review a litany of unaccomplished tasks, mentally moving them onto tomorrow’s list? Are you thinking with dread of all that’s going to be required of you tomorrow? Do you feel regret over the way you have treated certain people who matter to you?
Almost every night, most of us can think of many things we wish we could have done that are being left unfinished. We can’t always fit in a little bit more. A life well lived is made up of days when the things that are most important are done first and many good things remain undone. As Stephen R. Covey wisely wrote, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” Our big rocks are our priorities. But how do we figure out what should be the most important thing?
I don’t believe that a single one of us wants to waste his or her life. We want our lives to count. We read Jesus’ words in Mark 8:36, “For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” Or in other words, what does it do for you if you gain the whole world but end up losing your soul? We don’t want to come to the end of our lives having pursued the wrong things.
The world is constantly communicating its priorities to you. You are to prioritize having a perfect body, having as much money as you can, having an HGTV perfect house, and making a name for yourself with your accomplishments. You should be able to present your life in such a way that it lays out beautifully on Instagram—providing a feed worth following.
But is that a life that is truly satisfying? Even if you were to gain all those things that the world says matters most, is it possible that you could lose your soul—who you truly are—in the process?
What kind of a life do you want to build?
If you want to build a life where you love well…
if you want to build a life that feels simpler…
then I’d like to invite you on a journey.
My newest Bible study, Ordering Your Priorities: Building a Life Well Lived, is where that journey begins.
Ordering Your Priorities lays a foundation that helps women focus on the things that matter most. Diving into the pages of Scripture, we’ll connect our modern-day challenges with the changeless truths of our faith. If we want to live lives of purpose and meaning, we have to start in the right place. We need to begin by paying attention to the One who made us, because He is the one who can best tell us what we need for our lives to run well.
My prayer for you and me is that we would apply the principles contained in Ordering Your Priorities and create a life well lived. In John 10:10, Jesus said, “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” That is what we are pursuing here.
Join us on a journey to build a simpler life where you love well. Your transformation is just around the corner!
 Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill, and Rebecca R. Merrill, First Things First (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 161.
I was at the playground with my seven-year old son the other day, watching him play and (thank goodness) burn off some energy so I could read a few chapters of a book. Suddenly, he came running up to me grinning ear to ear. “Mommy,” he said, “I made a new friend! His name is Evan and he likes Minecraft just like I do!” He scampered off to go swing and talk about all the “Minecrafty” things with his new friend. It made me smile because this is so like him. He’s the kid who will make a new friend no matter where we go. He is vulnerable, honest, and genuinely wants to get to know the other person. It’s a joy to watch.
As I sat on the bench, eager to go back to my book, a thought crossed my mind. Kids have no preconceived notions when they interact with other kids. They have a simplicity and a sincerity in the way they approach new situations and people—something that many of us, myself included, have lost.
We tend to spend time with people who validate our beliefs. And it seems that the longer we are committed Christians, the fewer non-Christian friends we have. Enjoying a solid faith community of friends is essential, but what is the consequence of this in terms of the need for us to share our faith with others? Faith is “caught” more than “taught,” and that requires starting with the strong foundation of a relationship.
Jesus has chosen to depend on Christians to carry forth His mission of salvation, to be the “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.” “Through baptism and the Eucharist, he gives us his own divine life; through the teaching of the Church he fills us with his truth; and he is counting on us not to hoard these treasures, nor let them go to waste.” We simply cannot do this if we remain comfortable in our Christian bubbles. It requires a degree of vulnerability and trust in the Lord as we seek to reach out to those around us and share the treasure we have received.
Sisters, this may require a certain level of discomfort. In order to reach others for Christ, we have to earn the right to be heard, and that often takes time through building relationships, listening well, and being authentic. Being uncomfortable for the sake of another is something that every Christian encounters sooner or later in their faith journey. As Dorothy Day once said: “An act of love, a voluntary taking on oneself of some of the pain of the world, increases the courage and love and hope of all.”
This doesn’t (necessarily) mean you need to walk up to a stranger at a playground and ask them about Jesus (kudos to you if you have ever done this—I haven’t!). But you can step out of your bubble in your daily life as a parent, grandparent, student, professional, volunteer, or neighbor.
I encourage you to ask yourself these questions as you consider how Jesus has called you to be salt and light to the world:
If the Holy Spirit tugs at your heart after reading one of these, take it to prayer. Ask Jesus how He wants you to bring others to Him. And remember that He will “fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
 Matthew 5:13, 14
 John Bartunek, The Better Part (Circle Press, 2007), 92-93.
 1 Peter 3:15
It’s Thanksgiving week, and although COVID-19 has messed with a fair share of travel plans, I would guess that many of us will still be sharing the holiday with loved ones. While this is something that can result in joyful feelings of anticipation, it also leaves some of us worried about how people are going to get along around the table.
If only we all agreed on religion and politics.
If only awkward and hurtful things wouldn’t ever be said.
If only we knew how to encourage one another in a way that really hit the mark. Wouldn’t that make things easier?
I think we often conclude that the only way to get through holidays with sticky relationships is to keep things on a very superficial level and not talk about anything that really matters. But when we settle for this, our relationships aren’t very satisfying. How can we take things to a deeper level without things getting fractious?
I believe that asking certain questions and truly listening to the responses can be a game changer. Here’s a link to some conversation starters that we’ve created with diverse groups of people in mind. Most of us have different views represented around the Thanksgiving table. These questions help us to get to know one another on the heart level without focusing on our differences.
Perhaps there is someone on your heart who you know is not open to God and spiritual growth. If the opportunity presented itself and the groundwork has been laid first with good listening, you might want to ask him or her, “What if there’s more?” Allow that question to sink in. Respect the question enough to allow time for silence and processing. Don’t hesitate to leave your loved one with the question hanging. It’s a good one to wrestle with.
When asked how to evangelize in a culture that is indifferent to God and religion, Bishop Robert Barron has said that we should begin with the beautiful, which leads you to the good, which points you to the truth. We need to show that Christianity is attractive. As Blaise Pascal famously said, we are to make good men wish it was true.
So how do we do this? How do we begin with the beautiful? Creating a lovely Thanksgiving table is a quiet way of ministering to the heart. Beauty breaks down barriers. Another way is to increase our exposure to beautiful and good literature, art, and music. The imagination can offer a spiritual opening as we begin to consider the possibility that there is something of meaning, something that moves us, something more than the superficial things that surround us.
Bishop Barron has said, “Agnostics are often deeply interested in beauty, goodness and truth. Find out which one they are interested in—that’s your hook. That’s your string that you need to follow. Keep going in that search for ultimate meaning. The passion for justice is an echo of the voice of God in you. It’s summoning you. The conscience—what is it—what is calling you to something better, something good, something just? Could that be God?”
Perhaps there is someone at your Thanksgiving table who is spiritually searching, but he or she is searching in the wrong direction. You are probably really tempted to point out what is wrong about their search. I would encourage you to resist that temptation. Instead, you might want to consider pointing out the things he or she is doing well. Is he seeking truth? Desiring a life of purpose? Let her know you are proud of her. This is something we never stop needing to hear.
I pray that you start having more conversations with your loved ones about the topics of meaning in life, purpose, what we want out of life, how we can be truly fulfilled, and how we can be happy. I pray you’d be able to enter into these conversations and listen. To resist the urge to give the answer. To allow your children to talk.
In preparation for Thanksgiving, you might want to pray the following for the loved ones who will be around your table and those far away.
I ask that you would give my loved ones a heart to know you, that you are the Lord, so that they will be your people and you will be their God. May they return to you with their whole hearts. (Jeremiah 24:7)
I pray that you would give my loved ones a new heart and a new spirit…that you would remove their hearts of stone and give them hearts of flesh. (Ezekiel 11:19)
May you open my loved ones’ eyes and turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in you. (Acts 26:18)
I pray that you would grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil. (2 Timothy 2:25-26)
God, we know that no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws them. May you draw our loved ones to you. (John 6:44)
May you overwhelm our loved ones with the reality of your love, so that he or she can “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.” (Ephesians 3:18-19)
For I declare that “He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge.” (Proverbs 14:26)
I declare that you “will contend with those who contend with us, and you will save our children.” (Isaiah 49:25)
I declare that “not one word has failed of all your good promises.” (1 Kings 8:56)
I declare that the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers. (1 Peter 3:12)
I declare that all my children shall be taught by the Lord; and great shall be my children’s peace. (Isaiah 54:13)
I declare that you have begun a good work in my loved ones' lives, and you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)
Happy Thanksgiving, my friend!
Grace and peace,
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” Ephesians 5:1
Before I leave the house, my husband always asks if I have my wallet. I forget it all the time, and he says it’s good to have your ID with you so you can identify yourself. He’s right—when I don’t have my wallet, I’m lost, in a sense. If someone asked, I couldn’t take proof out of my pocket and point to who I am.
The definition of beloved is “to be dearly loved” or “pleased with.” From the moment we were merely a thought in the mind of God, each of us were marked “beloved” as the very core of our identity. It’s not simply something about us—it’s our identity. There’s nothing we’ve done to earn it. There’s nothing we’ve done or that’s been done to us that can take it away. Beloved is who we are. And yet, how many of us live our lives out of that truth?
Five years ago, I was introduced to a book called Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen that changed my life. The book revolves around the idea that every day we’re surrounded by voices. The voices of society, negativity, lies we’ve believed, our peers, etc. What would it look like if we could silence the noise and listen to the voice, that at the center of our being, calls us “beloved”? While reading the book, I realized that instead of owning and living out of my belovedness, I was only owning my mistakes. My journey is far from over, but I work every day to own the truth of who I am.
The problem is, we can be our own worst enemy. Negative self-talk has plagued humanity since the beginning. Too often, all we see in our reflection are the things we’re not, rather than embracing all that we are. Anything can set it off. A bad hair day, how you reacted to a situation at work or school, accidentally snapping at your spouse or child, an interaction with a friend. We own our negative qualities far too quickly, and we allow those thoughts to control our actions and our beliefs about ourselves. Before we know it, we’re beating ourselves up without putting up a fight. If a friend said some of the things to us that we say to ourselves, she would no longer be our friend. And yet we allow our internal chatterbox to persist, often without even realizing it.
Our identity isn’t based on our accomplishments or failings, what people think about us, or how we view ourselves in the mirror. Our identity is that we are the beloved children of a relentless Father who loves us unconditionally.
I’m reminded of a stained-glass window in a chapel in which I used to spend a lot of time. The image was of Jesus holding a sheep close to his chest. This is the goal of a Christian. To be so close to the heart of the Shepherd that you hear His heartbeat and can conform your life to that rhythm. When you do this, you’ll go into each day knowing you are loved, not looking for ways to earn it. This is freedom.
I wrote the song “Belovedness” first and foremost because I needed to sing it. I needed to remind myself of these truths. When you sing truth over yourself, it releases something internally. My prayer for you when you listen to it, and what I hope you’ll pray for me, is that we see ourselves and others the way the Lord sees us. Beloved isn’t a badge to earn, a club to join, or a gift to withhold from others. It’s our identity, it’s our name, and it’s the strength we need for the journey.
You are beloved. Period. Full stop. There is nothing you’ve done, nothing that’s been done to you, nothing that’s been said to you, no lie you’ve believed, no mistake you’ve made, no sin you’ve committed, no past or future thing that can take away your identity as a beloved child of God. It’s time to silence the chatterbox and allow the truth to grow. It’s time to own our belovedness.
You've owned your fear and all your self-loathing
You've owned the voices inside of your head
You've owned the shame and reproach of your failure
It's time to own your belovedness
You've owned your past and how it's defined you
You've owned everything everybody else says
It's time to hear what your father has spoken
It's time to own your belovedness
He says, "You're mine, I smiled when I made you
I find you beautiful in every way
My love for you is fierce and unending
I'll come to find you, whatever it takes
“Nothing gives me greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth,”(3 John 1:4). John the Apostle wrote these words to people he loved and led, and closed the letter by saying, “I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink; I hope to see you soon, and we will talk together face to face” (3 John 1:13). This is how I feel as I write to you. How I wish we were together and dialoguing in person. The best communication is face-to-face. Much can be misunderstood in the written word—there’s no chance to read body language, to clarify a point made, or to listen. In the current atmosphere of division, attempting to communicate with one another via social media feels like a war of words. A blog isn’t an ideal way to talk with you, either. I’m longing for greater closeness.
I know that so many of you have experienced your life being upended in the past few months. Many of us have lost a loved one. Most of us are worried and unsettled about the future. Much that we have counted on, things that used to be in our control, narratives that used to make sense seem to be shaky and uncertain. Where do we turn when life feels out of control? How can we experience the peace that passes understanding when what is underneath us feels like shifting sand?
I’ve been asking myself these questions, and I have sensed the Lord asking me what foundation I am standing on. This led me to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:24-27:
Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.
Saying we have built our house on the rock and actually building our house on the rock are two different things. It has to do with where we find our source of security and safety. Where do we turn? Who do we believe has the answers to what is broken in our world? Building our house on the rock starts with an acknowledgement that without Jesus, we are without hope. But with Him, we can stand firm despite what swirls around us. With Jesus as our firm foundation, we can then move forward into our day, walking in the truth.
What does it mean to walk in the truth? It means we enter each day with our minds renewed, having spent time reading Scripture and praying so that our thoughts are the ones that God wants us to dwell on. The source of truth is God Himself, so we need to start with Him. God wants us to be transformed so that we think and live and love like He does. This means that on a daily basis, we’ll need the Holy Spirit to fill us with His presence so that we step out into the world with supernatural power and perspective.
It is only as we saturate our minds with God’s truth that we will have the strength to look at our own truth and that of others whose experience is different than ours. Walking in the truth requires drawing from all three of those perspectives. No one’s is more important than God’s, that’s why we begin with Him. Then we turn to our own truth. How are we doing? Where do we need strength? Are we feeling unsettled? Where are we tempted to cling to “being right” because we want to feel secure? An honest look at the state of our own hearts should be a daily priority. This allows us to invite God into the mess of our hearts to bring healing. Only then will we be equipped to wisely respond to what life throws our way instead of reacting with raw emotion.
So we look at God’s truth, then the truth about our own hearts, and finally the truth of others whose experience is different from our own. How do we take this third step? We begin by asking God to give us the virtue of empathy. In this time of social distancing, there is an acute need for our hearts to draw near to one another, offering a love that is robust and powerful. This kind of love allows the virtue of empathy to flow into our aching world. Empathy is a movement of the heart that looks at life from another’s perspective and enters into their pain. It’s endeavoring to understand what is true of another person’s experience, even if it is not true of our own. It’s a shift in focus from what I feel and how things are affecting me, to how it feels to walk in another’s shoes. It doesn’t come easily, especially when we are feeling insecure. But it’s critical that we do so in order to bridge the ever-widening divide of our country.
Author and speaker Shauna Niequist shared the importance of empathy in a recent Instagram post:
Empathy is why we wear masks, because our concern is not only for our own health, but the health of every person we pass at the grocery store or on the sidewalk.
Empathy is when white people listen to the stories and experiences of their Black friends—without defensiveness, without trying to distance or absolve themselves from white supremacy or systemic racism.
Empathy is choosing to see what connects us all: our common humanity. Our common resolve as well as our common fragility, our common grief and terror and exhaustion as well as our common hope and joy and delight.
Living empathetically goes against the grain. When the world feels scary and insecure, our desire to self-protect and circle the wagons increases. This means it is absolutely critical that we start our day in the presence of God—asking Him to change us from within, and giving Him permission to do in and through us what does not come naturally.
In order to walk in the truth, we need God’s truth, the truth of Scripture of what is going on in our hearts, and the truth as experienced by others. We need all three, but only God can be a firm foundation in the midst of uncertainty. We are promised in Hebrews 13:8 that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” He is unchanging. Start your day listening to the One who has seen every moment of history, who can see into the depths of our hearts, and who holds the future in His capable hands.
Is Jesus the one you are turning to first? Are His words in Scripture saturating your mind each and every day? Many of the ways in which you have drawn close to God have been limited or removed the past few months. But your Bible is always available. Something you might notice as you read: God’s Word is honest about history and the human heart. If the Bible was a PR tool, there are quite a few parts that one might recommend be removed. But God is all about the whole, unvarnished truth. May we walk in it and have the courage to be lifelong, humble learners. May what we learn motivate us to display sacrificial love in our fractured, hurting world. May this be love in action, not just thought and good intentions.
She was up, dressed and out the door by 6am. “Bye!!” she joyfully shouted from the bottom of the staircase. My husband couldn’t believe that our 18 year old daughter, who is never out of bed before noon, was not only awake and dressed but happy about it. What got her up? Love.
My daughter was offered a job as an assistant make-up artist on a bridal photoshoot, and she was over the moon excited. Art is her gift and passion. It is where she thrives, becomes animated, and feels her most comfortable self. Art is her love, and no question about it, love is what got this girl out of bed.
I thought about this as I blow-dried my hair, mentally preparing myself for the day ahead. I wondered, what gets me out of bed in the morning?
There was a long stretch of time, which felt like forever and could possibly kill me, when I dreaded opening my eyes to see another day. My focus was on my circumstances, which were not very good, so I greeted each sunrise with fear and anxiety, worry and despair. I started sleeping in later just to avoid waking up, and going back to bed was the thing I looked forward to the most. It was a dark season of suffering that came with a cross I was unwilling to accept. Wanting the pain to just go away, I refused to love my cross.
And I know. You read that and think, who loves their cross? That’s crazy talk! You are right. It is crazy talk. But here is the thing: God is love, right? And this God who is love did some crazy things out of love for us, like taking on the whole world’s sins and willingly getting nailed to a cross. And after dying and being buried, three days later, He rose. Turns out, death could not hold Him. Why? Because love got Him up.
It’s just what love does. When my husband and I started dating, I came back from a business trip one winter night to find him standing outside of my upper east side apartment in below zero weather, holding a giant Christmas tree. He was freezing and tired, the tree was heavy, and the street was dark, but he didn’t care because he was in love. Love got him up.
When my child needed help that required the logistics and strength of a superhero, I didn’t think twice. I got in my car, and I drove in the dark, pouring rain for six hours. I never stopped once, and I prayed the entire time. Yes, I was scared, but that didn’t matter because I love my child. Love got me up.
And it’s funny, because in my head I struggle with love. I grasp onto the thought that God’s love for me is based on something I did to deserve it. I dwell on all of my past sins, convinced that it was something I did or did not do that has caused present sorrow. And so I pray those rosaries and recite those novenas and coordinate that program, all the while wondering, “Is this enough to be worthy of His love?” In his book Unbound, author Neal Lozano writes, “In our pride and self delusion we often believe that God loves us and forgives us because of something we did, that we somehow deserve the mercy of God. This deception leaves us in a very vulnerable place. We have been set up for the fall. The results? Every time we fail, we face the whisper of the accuser: “Does God love me?” (1)
Recently, in the midst of confessing my sins, the priest asked me, “When your children were born, what did they need to do for you to love them?” I laughed because the answer is obviously nothing. He pushed deeper and asked, “But why?” As grace poured down, my laughter turned into tears as I whispered, “Because they are mine.”
It was when that dark season led me to surrender that I was able to understand the depth of my sin and the meaning of God’s sacrifice. How can one love their cross? Because it was the suffering that led me to the reality of God’s love. And so I wake up early again. 5:00 AM. No matter the present trial, no matter the long suffering, no matter how tired or afraid. I get up. Not to pray all those rosaries, recite those novenas, and get to work on ministry. But simply to be with my Love. To sit with coffee in the presence of the One who loves me so much that while still a sinner, He died for me. To abide in the One who calls me His own.
What gets me up? Love.
It’s the answer to everything, really.
(1) Neal Lozano, Unbound: A Practical Guide To Deliverance (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen Books, 2003), p. 74.
I’ve just celebrated a milestone birthday—my 50th. As I survey the landscape, it’s looking like pretty fertile ground for gratitude. There are some hard-won interior victories that have allowed me to see progress in areas of my life where old patterns remained for far too long. I lost years of joy by allowing other people’s opinions of me to dictate my sense of self-worth. My mood and self-esteem would fluctuate according to how this or that person saw me and treated me. It was a seesaw life emotionally. But after some deep soul work, I have been tasting freedom in this area. I’ve been better able to live for an audience of One, getting a little closer to being able to say along with St. Thomas More, “I do not care very much what men say of me, provided that God approves of me.”
Some of my favorite things about starting this new decade:
A friend of mine read my list, and asked me to help her brainstorm a list for her. She, too, was celebrating a milestone birthday, but said that, while she wished she could just take my list and run with it, her story was unique. There are challenges she is facing that are different than mine. I suggested the following, with hopes that she’d use the list as a springboard to personalize it, tweak it, and come up with her own ideas:
Getting older brings all sorts of things we don’t want (failing eyesight, colonoscopies, and overall sagging, to name a few), but there are a number of things that are undeniably better if we have been good students of life. Suffering can make us more mature or more bitter; it’s up to us which we become. Gratitude factors in here in a big way. The perspective we choose is critical. If we are continuously on the lookout for disappointments, failed dreams, inadequacies, and times that people and life have let us down, we’ll find ample examples. Focusing on them will feed the heaviness. But if we will do the work of finding the good in our current set of circumstances, if we thank God continually for those things, we’ll start to notice all sorts of other small and surprising blessings.
How about you? Can you make a list of your favorite things (lessons learned, victories achieved) as you head into this new decade? May gratitude serve as a catalyst for happiness in 2020 and beyond for each one of us.