There is a path in town I frequently walk with my dogs. Perfectly paved and lined with wild flowers, there is one specific stretch that always catches my eye. Carefully placed, hand-painted rocks with words of positive affirmation are sprinkled along its curve: be awesome...be kind...you are brave. This morning, a new message appeared: blaze your own trail.
I was reminded of the final Connect Coffee Talk in Opening Your Heart, the most tried and true Walking with Purpose Bible study. Titled Outside Activities: Set the World on Fire, women completing this study are encouraged to recognize the battle and stoke the fire by going out into the world and doing something. Something risky. Something bold. Something that appears impossible, but with confidence in God, is totally possible. It is a call to find our holy discontent, check our motivation, and then peel our lazy selves up off our comfy couches and set the world ablaze.
And I wonder. Are we doing this? Because let’s be honest. Our couches are really comfy, Netflix is easier, and starting a fire is dangerous. Why reach for the matches when the remote control is so much closer, not to mention safer?
Oh, how the enemy of our souls loves Netflix.
Ever since my friend Mallory sent me a link to a talk on the cosmic battle, I have been contemplating my own personal battle—examining where I fail to respond to God’s call, and in return, allowing the enemy to ever so slowly extinguish my fire. I have been tracing my own steps and actions, looking for the change in behavior, searching for signs of transformation. And while I am good to report that my branches are not completely void of fruit, I would like to report better than good. For God, I would like to do great. Risky, even. And bold. In the marrow of my bones I know that I have been called to set fires. Not sit by them.
So what trips me up?
Fear. Fear of offending. Fear of looking outdated. Fear of being ridiculed, mocked, hated, or misunderstood. Fear of not being intelligent enough to defend my faith. Fear of negative and mean-spirited comments. You see, I want to be obedient to God’s call, but out of fear, I tend to settle for a shallow faith. Oh, my faith runs deep in the privacy of my home or at Mass with my people or on a phone call with my best friend. But out in public? With the skeptics and doubters and lukewarm Catholics? Not so much. Why? Because I like to be liked. I hate confrontation. Plus, I am a busy woman, and I don’t feel like adding “radical discipleship” to my to-do list. And so I nod my head in agreement when you speak of “your truth” (as if there is more than one), and I have zero response to you when you put down my faith in the frozen food aisle at ShopRite. (And by “you” I really don’t mean you. Unless that was you. Then yes, I am talking about you.)
See? I don’t even like writing that.
From the desire of being loved, deliver me, O Lord.
And yet, to ignore this call from Jesus would be detrimental. Not only to my soul, but to the countless souls He could reach if only I were an obedient disciple. Because, you see, without obedience, discipleship is incomplete. According to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, author of The Cost of Discipleship, “obedience is the first step of faith.” When I choose to be “obedient enough,” there is nothing radical about my discipleship. I am not taking a full step. A devoted disciple understands that following Jesus is not on their terms but on God’s. We don’t get to choose how we follow and tell Jesus our plans. We are shown how to follow, and then He waits to see how we will respond. If we will respond.
And nothing is ever more important than responding in obedience to Jesus’ call.
Do you know what we call those with a negative response to Jesus’ call? The “would-be followers.”
How would you like that engraved on your tombstone?
Here lies Laura...Loving mother, wife, and would-be follower of Christ.
I didn’t make this up. It’s Scripture:
As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” And another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62)
Deep breath now ladies, because this is insanely hard. And it is precisely why so many of us choose “easy Christianity.” True discipleship means we let go of who we used to be and step wholeheartedly into the woman God desires us to be. It means breaking old habits, letting go of comfortable sins, and stepping into a brand new life of obedience to Christ. It means embracing a personal relationship with God; trusting Him so much with our lives that we lose our fear of starting fires.
And if you are anything like me, your heart is leaping out of your body screaming, “yes to true discipleship,” while your head is simultaneously shaking, “no way!” There may even be a part of us that assures ourselves, “God doesn’t really mean this. He would never ask us to let go of everything and follow Him.”
Oh, how the enemy loves it when we doubt that what God says is true.
So, practically speaking, how do we do this? How do we lose the fear of being a devoted disciple? How do we connect our heads with our hearts? Honestly? I don’t have a complete answer for you yet. But I can offer one simple step that I am taking because it is what the first disciples did...and it worked.
We get on bended knees and pray in confidence to the Holy Spirit. We beg for the strength to live the Gospel with fervor, to speak the Word of God with boldness, and to increase our zeal for Christ. We ask for the help to defend the Church, to speak of the one and only Truth, and to fearlessly set fires wherever we go.
The world has enough would-be disciples. We can do better. We must do better. It is time to quit reaching for the plow while craning our necks to look at what we are leaving behind. Time to trust that the kingdom we are after is far better than anything we give up here on earth. Are you ready to take your holiness seriously? To step into radical and devoted discipleship and become masters of an unquestioned obedience? Oh, sweet friend, I pray that you are. Because if we collectively do this, imagine the fires we’d set!
 Matt Chandler, “The Cosmic Battle,” The Village Church Resources, 43:03, March 15, 2021, https://www.tvcresources.net/resource-library/sermons/cosmic-battle/
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship. (New York: Macmillan, 1966).
 cf. Acts 4: 23-31
Are you tired of your list of good intentions that never translate to action? How many times have you made a resolution (and really meant it) only to fail within a few short weeks?
We’ve all been there. It isn’t that we aren’t aware of the ways we need to improve…but actually making the changes can be overwhelming. In her book, Girl Wash Your Face, Rachel Hollis talks about this very issue. Sharing about how she has changed her own patterns and behaviors, she explains that she decided to establish a rule in her life that she would never break a promise to herself, no matter how small. And that changed everything. She writes:
If you choose today not to break another promise to yourself, you will force yourself to slow down. You cannot keep every commitment, promise, goal, and idea without intentionality. If you recognize that your words have power and that your commitments carry covenant weight, you won’t agree to anything so easily…You’ll slow down and think things through. You won’t just talk about a goal; you’ll plan for how you can meet it.
But which promises are the truly important ones to make and keep? We don’t have time to achieve every goal on our list. We have to say a lot of no’s to say the best yes.
What I’d like to propose to you is that our most important goals are the ones that impact eternity. There are loads of worthy resolutions and self-improvements that no doubt make life more enjoyable. But if we don’t make our primary focus our spiritual lives, then our success will be superficial and short-lived. I don’t know about you, but one day when I am standing before God giving an account of the choices I’ve made, I do not want to have a bunch of frivolous, self-centered accomplishments to be all I’ve got to show Him. God doesn’t care how much you weigh, how perfectly decorated and ordered your space is, and how far you got in your career. But He cares big time how you have loved—how you’ve loved the people He’s put in your life and how you’ve loved Him.
God also cares about how you love yourself. There’s a lot of talk about the importance of self-care, and I am all for it. But true self-care should be more than a bandaid; it should address how your soul is doing. Your heart matters to God. He doesn’t just want you to believe the right things or behave in a certain way. As a truly good Father, He wants your heart to flourish.
God never intended for us to navigate the spiritual life in isolation. His plan for us has always involved community. We need sisters around us who are encouraging us and challenging us to value the right things, and we need to be fed truth to counter all the lies we’re surrounded with.
So who is walking alongside you?
Who is challenging you to grow closer to Christ?
What is helping you know Him better right now, and what is helping you to understand His will for your life?
How is your heart?
Changes in these areas don’t just happen automatically. We have to make it a priority to cultivate these kinds of friendship, and then get our eyes off our phones and into God’s truth. It means we make a promise to ourselves to put the most important things, the eternal things, on our calendars, and then we follow through. We’ll plan for how we’re going to get to our goal. The perfect time for this is now.
If you don’t know where to start, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Opening Your Heart, our most popular Bible study. It meets you right where you are and offers game-changing, practical Biblical teaching. You’ll learn new ways to love yourself and others well. Commit to going through it with a girlfriend to increase the likelihood that your best intentions will turn into real change. Contact our WWP support team to find a parish near you that is offering the study and get to know even more women like you who are ready to kick-start real change in their lives.
I’m challenging you to move from good intentions to real change. Do you struggle to get your priorities in order? Do you have questions about your faith that haven’t been answered? Do you sense that there is something more to the Christian life than what you have been experiencing? Then come on over and dive in to Opening Your Heart. It’s tailor made for you—a safe place to come with your questions, confusion, hopes, and dreams. I promise you, you won’t be the same person by the time you finish the study, in all the best of ways.
Order your copy of Opening Your Heart today!
With you on the journey,
 Rachel Hollis, Girl Wash Your Face (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2018), 17.
This post originally appeared on our blog on August 19, 2018.
My confessor admitted to a common theme he’s hearing among COVID-19-related confessions: no more patience. I think Mother Angelica hit the nail on the head when she said, “We’d all be perfect if it weren’t for people.” Quarantining with the same people, day after day, will certainly challenge one's holiness, don’t you agree?
But here’s the thing. I was struggling with people before COVID-19. And by people, I mean my family. I am just going to come out and say it at the risk of you not liking me, because up until now you had no idea how selfish I was, but here it goes: why do I always have to be the one to go first?
The first to make the coffee.
The first to ask, “Can I get you more coffee?”
The first to do the dishes.
The first to say sorry.
The first to put others first.
Why can't you go first?
This, sweet sisters, is a toxic weed that we need to pull at the roots. Nothing kills a relationship faster than a tally chart in your head and a stone of pride in your heart. And yet, nurturing the weed is easier than lovingly serving our husbands or friends, especially when it requires putting our own comfort aside.
If we look to Scripture, there is no denying that to “go first” is what we are called to do. Matthew 20:26-28 says, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” And in Philippians 2:3 we are commanded, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Try preaching that one at your next cocktail party.
It’s tempting to follow the world instead of Christ. The world, after all, would support my complaint. The world would see nothing wrong with the bitterness I harbor and anger I justify when, once again, I have to be the one in a relationship that goes first. Have you ever experienced this feeling? Have you ever been in a relationship that was dying a slow death because you couldn't let go of the resentment for always having to go first? If so, I’d like to offer you one small piece of practical advice; a little something that works for me when resentment invites himself into my heart, and I reach for that tally chart.
I turn to Ephesians 6:5-8:
“Slaves, be obedient to your human masters with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ, not only when being watched, as currying favor, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, willingly serving the Lord and not human beings, knowing that each will be requited from the Lord for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.”
There is a sentence tucked neatly in the middle that jumps out at me. Did you catch it?
“Do the will of God from the heart, willingly serving the Lord and not human beings.”
How do we do this? How can we willingly serve God as we struggle with wanting to be served? How do we see God in all of the human faces that we have been staring at for the last three months? I have an idea. And listen up, because I am not saying this is easy but nothing worth gaining heaven ever is. The next time you are called to go first, and something in your heart starts bubbling up, and it is so not love...ask yourself this:
This cup of coffee I serve, I serve to God?
These dishes I clean, I clean for God?
That loving response I offer, I offer to God?
This is how I have been slowly transforming my heart. Ridding it of the bitterness and anger, and replacing the desire to be served with the desire to be the servant. And not just any servant. But a servant of Christ. Because here is the thing. I do love Him. And I don’t want anything to get in the way of that love.
Just this week, as I grabbed myself a cup of coffee (coffee that I made; one check for me on the tally chart!) and settled on the couch with my Bible, I opened up to begin my morning prayer. The reading was from the First Letter of John, and was not a coincidence:
“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
And so I got up, threw out my tally chart, poured a second cup of coffee, and lovingly brought it to my husband. You see, when we ask, “But why do I have to go first?”, we must remember...we don’t. God does.
God went first.
P.S. If you relate to this struggle, I highly recommend watching the Opening Your Heart Connect Coffee Talk 4: Priority Three Marriage (Lesson 14: Marriage - Transformed By Grace in the study guide). You can watch it for free over at the Walking With Purpose website!
My 77-year-old mother is a model of efficiency. When she has news to share with her three children, rarely will she make three phone calls. If you ask my mom, email is sufficient for most communications. She also seems to doubt that group texts actually work. But group email? That’s her game. And the most recent email she sent to my brother, sister, and me read exactly as follows:
“The doctor called. I have the virus. Quarantined for 14 days after symptoms go away. Mom.”
Unfortunately, this was not the first piece of news I had received informing me that COVID-19 hit close to home. Over the past couple of months, a steady stream of texts and phone calls has revealed to me that someone tested positive, someone else was hospitalized, someone else passed away, and so on. I live in the NYC suburbs, and I need two hands to count the number of close friends and family members who were seriously affected by this virus.
However, the email from my mother was the first piece of news that kicked my anxiety into full swing. It was the first time in my life that I had to come to terms with the possibility of losing a parent.
At the same time, my high schooler was completely ignoring his remote learning, my husband was stressed out at work, and thoughts about Walking with Purpose had been keeping me awake at night. COVID-19 cancelled all the WWP spring events and impacted Bible study sales, and as the director of marketing, I’m constantly thinking about what I can do to support the ministry.
By late April it was clear to me that absolutely everything in my life was out of control. But friends, you will be relieved to know that I didn’t try to control it. If there’s one thing I learned from the Walking with Purpose Bible study Opening Your Heart, it's that God is in the driver’s seat.
But what to do about the constant anxiety? Yes, we can give up control and hand our struggles over to Christ, but I seem to have feelings of panic and worry that come on quite suddenly, triggered by stressful moments, no matter how much control I give up. When the Director of the CDC announced a week ago that a second and more difficult wave of COVID-19 was coming this fall, I uncorked a bottle of Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc faster than you can say quarantine.
Clearly, I needed better coping techniques.
In the Walking with Purpose Bible study Keeping in Balance, there’s a lesson that talks about anxiety as a barrier to contentment. It is such a helpful lesson that Walking with Purpose sent it out as a PDF to our email list last week (you can find that PDF here). In this lesson we are asked to reflect on 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, “Take every thought captive to obey Christ.” What I love about WWP Bible studies is how author Lisa Brenninkmeyer makes scripture passages easy for newbies like me to understand. Lisa says the way we take a thought captive is by “replacing the worry with a truth that builds [our] trust in God.”
That right there? That is an action item I can turn to (in place of the wine).
Here’s the truth I came up with to build my trust in God: Christ is present in humanity’s compassion, and that compassion is so clearly EVERYWHERE these days!
COVID-19 has unified humanity into the most massive force of good that I think this planet has ever seen. Millions around the globe are doing whatever it takes to fight the virus. From philanthropists pledging billions to speed the development of a vaccine, to medical professionals risking their lives to save COVID-19 patients, and school children collecting canned goods for food pantries, people are overflowing with kindness, and I recognize God in them.
As I finish writing this blog post, I’m singing in my head, “...every little thing, is gonna be alright.”
PS: I’m sorry to keep you hanging about my mom. She battled the virus quite easily, actually, and pulled through quickly. Thank you for all of your prayers!
 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping in Balance (Walking with Purpose, July 2019), 151.
As a Catholic newbie, I think the biggest mistake I make is trying to figure out God. I sometimes can't help asking myself (and Him) why things happen the way they do.
To be fair to myself, it is human nature to ask, to wonder, to want to learn. Even though my pastor reminds us on Sundays of “the mysteries of faith” (chanted in his delightfully off-key voice), the mystery-solver in me just can't seem to let some things go. And by some things I mean the bad things; especially the bad things that happen to good people.
I've been thinking a lot about Sue, a woman in my parish who has four children, and who has the worst illness I think I've ever heard of. Sue has ALS. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is very rare, affecting fewer than 20,000 people a year. It is a devastating disease in the way that it attacks the body, and there is no cure.
I haven't seen her since she was diagnosed in December. I've been thinking about her a lot recently, though, and wondering if she thinks the way I do. Is she asking God why-why she must suffer so horribly? Sue is Catholic, and I wonder if her faith is being tested or if it's what gets her through it all.
Sometimes I picture myself in Sue's situation, and I test my faith in an imaginary way. If I told you that I could be 100% buoyed by my relationship with Christ and the promise of eternal life while fighting a terminal illness, I'd be lying.
Over the summer, I ran into a friend at a party who gave me a quick update on Sue, which birthed in me an almost manic need to write Sue a letter. I thought constantly about the letter I wanted to write and agonized for weeks about the words I'd choose. Clearly, phrases like “you'll beat this… you're strong... you have the best doctors” wouldn't work at all, and standard get-well-soon sentiments just don't apply when you're fighting a losing battle with ALS.
Could I find the right words in the Bible? I seriously considered googling “Scripture verses for sick people.” Then I decided one night as I lay sleepless, deep in thought about Sue, that Lisa Brenninkmeyer (founder of Walking with Purpose) would have the right words for my letter.
The next morning I turned to the Walking with Purpose Bible study Opening Your Heart (authored by Lisa), and specifically to Lesson 15, which is about the role of suffering in our lives. I expected to be able to pluck Lisa's favorite Bible verse related to suffering right out of Lesson 15, and scrawl it onto a notecard for Sue.
In her wisdom, Lisa writes in the introduction to Lesson 15:
“I don't know about you, but when I am in the vise grip of suffering, I don't really want to hear someone whose life looks a heck of a lot easier than mine quoting Romans 8:28: 'We know that all things work for good for those who love God…'”¹
Fair point. I read on.
“When we encounter suffering, nothing robs us of peace like expectations.”²
We expect to understand God, Lisa says, and when we don't, confusion shreds our faith. We expect God's definition of happiness to be the same as ours, but when things go wrong, we wonder if He cares. And we expect to see evidence of God when we need him, but often, he remains invisible.
Opening Your Heart Lesson 15 is five days of learning, Bible study, and reflection. After taking in this lesson a second time, and clearing my heart and mind of all those expectations, I came out of it with a tremendous sense of peace. And I wrote a card to Sue and put it in the mail.
I should tell you that I didn't find words for Sue in Lesson 15, but I found peace and comfort for my heart, and a clear mind to come up with the right words all on my own.
I told Sue she was an amazing mother, that her four kids were terrific (which they really are), and that I was praying for her.
PS: After I finished writing this blog, a well-known truth from Scripture landed in my email in-box. I find it so comforting and feel compelled to include it here:
It is the Lord who goes before you; He will be with you and will never fail you or forsake you. So do not fear or be dismayed. (Deuteronomy 31:8)
¹ Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Opening Your Heart (July 2018), 173.
² Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Opening Your Heart (July 2018), 174.
Now that July is here I've decided to remove the Christmas cards we received last December from the wall in the den where they are currently adhered with yellowing, curling tape.
Do not be alarmed: I'm not a scattered, hot mess of a homeowner who still has Halloween candy in the pantry; only last year's holiday cards are still kicking around. The Thanksgiving placemats, Christmas lights and nutcracker soldiers are all safely packed away in boxes in the basement.
The reason there are dozens of greeting cards still taped to the wall seven months post-Christmas is simply because, after a certain amount of time, we stop noticing things around us. Even though I'm in that room daily, I stopped seeing the cards.
I remember my first visit to my in-laws' house before my husband and I were married. I walked around their compact stone colonial and noticed crucifixes on the plastered walls of most rooms. I wasn't raised Catholic so seeing this was new to me, and I remember telling a friend, “His mom hung crosses in pretty much every room of the house!”
Are those crucifixes still there? I suppose they are, but I can't say for sure because I stopped noticing them. And I've been in my in-laws' house countless times over the past twenty years.
Six months ago I spiffed up my home office by hanging some framed prints of the beautiful Walking with Purpose free scripture printables. I don't notice them very often anymore.
It goes without saying that the way to keep a strong relationship with God is through daily prayer and Mass -- not by hanging things on the walls. Yet, while a day can begin perfectly with prayer, as it progresses, we often travel away from that perfect place and find we are no longer immersed in His presence.
I am happy to report that there is something I encounter throughout the day now that immediately brings Christ to mind. It inserted itself into my life quite unexpectedly last month when a very popular New York Metro Area radio station went off the air. It was one of those stations that played the same pop hits repeatedly, and it was the #1 station in the area for decades. (I can remember the summer before college listening to the station on a silver boombox as I begrudgingly helped my father paint the kitchen of my childhood home with Bobby McFerrin telling me Don't Worry, Be Happy in his sing-song voice.)
That pop radio station is gone now, and the Christian station K-Love took over its spot on the dial. And because I am constantly in my car, Ubering my kids around (and because I have no idea how to play music from my phone through the car sound system), K-Love is constantly on as well.
In case you were wondering, the lyrics that are currently stuck in my head are, I raise a hallelujah, my weapon is a melody...
I will admit that my kids are less than enthusiastic about this alteration to our drive-time soundtrack. I tell them their complaints hurt Jesus's feelings.
When I surround myself with music or the words from a good book, the messages I take in stay near the forefront of my brain, steering clear of the back with its unfulfilled spring cleaning tasks and new year's resolutions. Those K-Love tunes -- just like my WWP Bible study books -- offer a wealth of reminders, and a consistency of message that strengthens my connection with Christ.
The Walking with Purpose Bible study Opening Your Heart transformed me when I experienced it with a parish small group earlier in the year. When my group finished that study, my heart was opened, but as I admitted in this blog post, it might not have been opened all the way. My relationship with God was stronger, but not absolute. Love for Christ was not taking up all the spaces in my heart.
So now I'm reading Opening Your Heart again, this time on my own. And I am less concerned with completing the homework assignments and more concerned with absorbing the information; letting Lisa Brenninkmeyer's words stick around as long as they can in the forefront of my brain like the lyrics to a song. I'm allowing myself to really let it sink in when Lisa tells me that, “More than anything, He is utterly consumed with love for you, and it's the real kind of love that truly wants you to thrive.”¹
Knowing that truth, how could I not want to work on loving Him back?
Do you have any WWP Bible studies on hand that you may have read in the past? If you were to pick one up again, I assure you, the truths would grab hold of you a second time, and warm your heart with love for Him.
¹ Opening Your Heart, p. 34
In the spring of 2018, my parish wrapped up its first full year of Walking with Purpose. Women's hearts were full, leaders were engaged, and our parish clergy and staff were supportive; but more than anything, participants were excited to share their experiences with others.
This newfound enthusiasm is exactly what makes Walking with Purpose parish programs so special. You may have heard comments just like these:
Finally, this is exactly what I've been waiting for, but better!
I love that it incorporates scripture, as well as our Church's history and teachings all in one!
I love my small group!
It's true that Walking with Purpose fulfills a longing for many of us. We want to share what we've found, which is fantastic! This is evangelization at its finest, and the Holy Spirit at work in our Church.
There are a few challenges as we seek to share abundantly what we've found, but hold tight! Walking with Purpose Bible studies allow us to meet the needs of many women in one place at one time without draining our leadership teams. This is an opportunity for us to admit that we cannot (and should not) do it all. We must hold our Walking with Purpose programs loosely.
As my parish approached its second year, we had the following to look forward to:
My dreams as we approached our second year included:
I committed these dreams to prayer, and remembered them during daily jogs with my sidekicks, Annie and Rosie (Yellow and Black Labrador Retrievers, respectively) while praying the Rosary. I'm not great at sitting still, so with fresh air and some movement, I found myself face to face with the image of our Savior through the eyes of our Blessed Mother.
The prayers on these jogs allowed for the Holy Spirit to lay out a plan which became a tremendous support to our parish program. Key ideas came to fruition:
First, we looked at all of our Opening Your Heart small group leaders as one group so that our daytime and evening Opening Your Heart small group leaders could support one another. This group received a one page leaders' guide for each week's lesson.
Second, we created a video conference meeting time for all of our Opening Your Heart leaders. We used the leaders' guide to go through the main points of the lesson and discuss any ways that we might make the week special. Most importantly, we prayed for each other and the women in our groups. This was especially important for our evening leaders because this was their only leadership team meeting. Two of my favorite parts of the video conference meeting were that we could be in our own homes and we could record the meeting for those who needed to listen later.
Third, our daytime Opening Your Heart leaders were excited to experience the study planned for our returning participants. Even though they would not lead that study, they completed Touching The Divine as their personal study, which we all discussed at our daytime leadership team meetings.
Finally, we wanted to communicate our schedule and Connect Coffees clearly despite offering two studies at one time. To do this, we created a one-page document with the Opening Your Heart and Touching The Divine schedules side-by-side. We did the same with our invitations to Connect Coffees. We created an attractive one-page invitation with a brief summary of both studies' talks. These were emailed, texted and handed to potential guests. We began to talk and pray about our Connect Coffees a couple of weeks in advance. We promoted them as “easy evangelization” while reminding women that when God places a friend or neighbor on our hearts, we must respond. We began to share simple evangelization tools with everyone in our program. This included prayer and obediently responding to God's prompting by asking the friend more than once (that's the hard part).
I have a dream for each of our parish programs and my dream is a big one! I'm not afraid anymore of asking for big dreams when I know that God has placed them on my heart. So here it is:
Let's all offer Opening Your Heart in our parish programs every time we meet.
Our God is not a God of limits or boundaries. He is a God of miracles and overcoming obstacles. Let's just do it! Yes, you! Place an option for Opening Your Heart on your registration forms alongside each and every one of your study offerings. I promise God will work out the details. I love Lisa's “I Declare” over a fear of the future from 2 Timothy 1:7 --
I declare that God has not given me a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind.
Let's counter our fears with truth in God's word and offer our parish program up to our Father. Sisters, breathe in the words of Saint Paul to the Philippians, “Let us be confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” May God bless you abundantly for placing your trust in the arms of our Savior and incorporating the details for welcoming new women into your parish program through Opening Your Heart.
P.S. Walking with Purpose has turned many of these ideas into leader tools and training videos which are now available in the WWP Leadership Portal! If you don't yet have access to the online Leadership Tools, register for access today.
Based in Kansas, Emily Thengvall is a Walking with Purpose Regional Area Coordinator (RAC), supporting WWP parish program coordinators at 33 parishes in the midwestern and southwestern US.
Some nights, it is the pale blue glow visible in the gap under the bedroom door that gives him away.
On those nights, I stand in the dark hallway, press my forehead against the closed door, and speak into it. “Jack, turn your phone off and go to sleep, or I'll take away your phone again.”
“My phone isn't on!”
Other nights, it is different but the same. The sound of eager young fingers tapping away on a computer keyboard. On those nights I tell the door, “Turn your laptop off and go to sleep, or I'll take away your laptop again.”
“My laptop isn't on!”
My husband and I have tried different tactics to correct our son Jack's undesirable nocturnal behaviors. We've taken the phone away on many occasions… until Jack convinces us that he needs the phone for school (“Coach is gonna text about practice!”), and we reluctantly hand it back.
We've also installed an app on our wifi that cuts off internet access at night. This limits Jack's technology time... until he convinces us that he needs to sync his laptop with the school server, or offers another similar excuse, and we back off to give him the access he claims he needs.
Of course, the worst of the bad behaviors -- the heartbreakingly bad one -- is the lying.
If you read my January blog post or this one from March, you know that I am currently experiencing the Walking with Purpose foundational Bible study Opening Your Heart in a parish-based program. (Shout out to my girls at Holy Name of Mary in Croton, NY!) Each week we meet to review another lesson from Opening Your Heart, and each week it amazes me how applicable the lessons are to my life.
A few weeks ago, my group gathered to watch the Connect Coffee video that goes along with Opening Your Heart Lesson 18, “Reaching Your Child's Heart.” When I watch these videos it's as if author Lisa Brenninkmeyer is speaking just to me, which is awesome, and others in my group have said the same. (Although there was one part of the video I didn't watch because the most delicious toddler accompanied his mom that day, and when an 18-month-old is clutching your legs and grinning up at you, he just cannot be ignored!)
The good news is that the pages in the study guide reinforce what I may have missed in the video, and Lesson 18 made me rethink everything.
“Behavior is simply what alerts you to your child's need for correction. But don't make the mistake that so many parents make and allow your desire for changed behavior to replace your desire for a changed heart. If you can reach the heart, the behavior will take care of itself.”¹
Changing Jack's undesirable nocturnal behaviors wasn't working because his heart wasn't changing.
This concept is rooted in Scripture. Lesson 18 goes on to say this:
“A change in behavior that does not stem from a change in heart is not commendable; it is condemnable. Is it not the same hypocrisy that Jesus condemned in the Pharisees? In Matthew 15, Jesus denounces the Pharisees who honored Him with their lips while their hearts were far from Him. Jesus censures them as people who wash the outside of the cup while the inside is still unclean.”²
It became clear that I needed to spend some time inside that teenage boy's bedroom (not just talking to the door), and I needed to figure out how to wash the inside of that 15-year-old cup.
Jack and I sat down. I told him how hurtful his dishonesty was, and before I could get to the “lying is a sin” part of the talk, he interrupted.
“If you'll stop trying to control my life, I'll stop lying.”
I was certain there was truth in that statement. If Jack was given free reign with technology and internet access, he wouldn't have much to lie about.
However, it was not a deal I could make. It was, I think, a deal with the devil.
The wifi in our house still shuts off at night, prohibiting internet access. And Jack is still trying to find ways around it. Apparently we are the “only” parents who restrict access to their kids' cell phones and internet. And I think Jack might hate us for it.
Did the "inside of the cup" get washed? Not yet. That's a place I can't go; that's a process I can't force. My husband and I don't have the power to change Jack's heart, but we are fiercely protecting it. And when He's invited in, God can go deep in the heart, to the "inside of the cup." I pray that will happen.
In Lesson 18 of Opening Your Heart, Lisa includes a “Monthly Prayer List for Our Children” and one of the talented WWP designers turned it into this beautiful free printable. (Download the file, print it two-sided, and cut off the extra paper to make the perfect bookmark.) For anyone who has children or grandchildren, this list of twelve prayers is something you'll want to save and turn to. Often.
¹ Opening Your Heart (2010-2018), p. 219
² Opening Your Heart (2010-2018), p. 220
In November, I enjoyed a girls' weekend away with friends from grammar school and high school. Yes, we sat around drinking wine in our PJs, swapping stories about our families. But something else was discussed in far greater detail than whose husband snored the loudest, and it dominated the weekend's chatter, and it was all about getting our kids into college.
My oldest child (Jack) is just 14, but I absorbed every word of this complex subject, fascinated by the lengths to which many parents would go to get their son or daughter into a “good” college.
Honestly? Some of what I learned was just downright crazy, but before I knew it, I had jumped right on that college crazy train.
It became my mission in life to get Jack's grades up, which you should know is about as easy as launching myself into space, since Jack is by no means a scholar and he Just. Doesn't. Care. About. School.
I should qualify that by saying Jack does just fine in the subjects he enjoys (theology and English), but he doesn't give a hoot about his other classes.
And the more I'd push Jack to pay attention in class, and focus on homework, and study for tests, the more frustrated I'd get, because my pushing wasn't paying off (I may have even completed a number of ninth-grade Biology assignments, because we don't need any more homework zeros now, do we?).
In between all the pushing, I allowed myself brief moments of daydreaming about the college sticker on my future car; the sticker from the prestigious university attended by Future Jack. Uppercase block letters in the center of the rear window. That sticker had become my Holy Grail.
My husband was not riding the college crazy train with me. He wasn't having any of the pushing, helping or college-daydreaming. To punish Jack for not trying hard enough in school or to let him fail were the two courses of action my husband would consider.
What, seriously, should a parent do with a kid like Jack? Punish? Accept bad behavior? Pray for divine intervention?
Last Fall I joined an Opening Your Heart Bible study group. Opening Your Heart is the Walking with Purpose foundational Bible study, and often as I progress through the lessons, answers to questions like these emerge from the pages, to my great joy, and relief.
A few weeks ago, my small group was reviewing Opening Your Heart Lesson 8, “What is Grace and What Difference Does it Make?” I'll admit that I was a little fuzzy on this topic going in. How grace worked exactly, and the role it had in our lives was hard for me to grasp as a Catholic newbie. But Lesson 8 taught me two things:
Takeaway #1: I'm pretty sure that me writing Jack's biology labs isn't the “free and undeserved help” we're talking about here.
Takeaway #2: The grace I need to give to others, to my children? I think it is the infinite love, support and forgiveness that I give, even when they don't deserve it.
Something else from this lesson that jumped out at me:
“The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God.” (3)
Merits - our abilities and achievements - are pure grace. I was really happy to come across that Catechism Clip when I did.
The artistic renderings that Jack sketches on his tablet in lieu of listening to a bio lecture? The piano songs he composes instead of finishing his math homework? Art and music are, for Jack, gifts from God that I was completely overlooking in my quest for a high overall GPA and a college bumper sticker.
Jack's merits don't stop there. Over the years I've watched this son of mine win home-run trophies, sing solos at baseball stadiums and earn cross-country medals as well.
That Opening Your Heart lesson on grace? For me it was a game-changer. It was God saying through the pages, Stop doing ninth-grade biology homework, forgive your son, and watch where his God-given talents take him.
When solutions to my personal problems reveal themselves from the pages of a book, it's a beautiful thing. But this Bible study offers so much more than practical parenting lessons. Opening Your Heart is an incredibly effective guide to lasting transformation of the heart, and to a deeper relationship with Christ. I look forward to meeting Future Jen when she has completed this 22-lesson study 🙂
1 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1996
2 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Opening Your Heart (2010-2018), p. 95
3 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2011
It was 11 PM and pitch dark as I crept up Signal Mountain for the first time. My best friend had warned me that the path to her new Tennessee home was lined with hairpin turns. Although I heeded this warning, I also shrugged it off due to my decent amount of experience driving up and down mountainous terrain. What I expected was not what I drove up to find.
I had never seen a road like this before. It was not filled with hairpin turns; it was filled with literal u-turns. I could not see what I was turning into. There was a line of cars behind me. My entire body was trembling.
I knew that I had to get up this mountain and, whether or not it was wise, I decided to play the blind faith game. I turned my wheel all the way and accelerated just enough to creep around this u-turn of death. I made it. Then, I drove on to find two more of these death traps.
By a sheer miracle, I finally made it to the top of the mountain alive and practically fell out of the car and into my friend's arms to reveal my anything-but-steady hand. She quickly realized that my GPS has taken me up what is known as “The W.” This was not the road with hairpin turns, but rather the route up the mountain with three u-turn-like twists which create the shape of a W.
I assumed a road like this would seem far less terrifying in the daylight and so I was eager to see it the next day (with someone else driving, of course).
The W was even more alarming when you could see the path. The turns were, in fact, so sharp that only one car could make them at a time. I could not believe what I had survived, in the dark, the night before.
Sometimes, I'm thankful God keeps us in the dark.
When I am in the dark, I feel the most out of control and I have the potential to be the most scared, but sometimes, it is simply easier to walk along the path by faith than by sight.
Recently a sweet nun was telling my Walking with Purpose, Opening Your Heart small group a story when she said this simple phrase: “If it is of God, it will happen.”
Her lack of pause led me to believe that she had no idea what a profound statement she had just made and yet, it has redirected all of my thinking. Since that evening, I have been doing all that I can to live with an, If it is of God, it will happen mentality. This, as with most good things, is much easier said than done.
But oh, how freeing it is to trust in God's sovereignty.
I want you to stop planning, to stop wishing, and allow Me to give you
The most thrilling plan existing...one you cannot imagine.
I want you to have the best. Please allow me to bring it to you.
You just keep watching Me, expecting the greatest things.
Keep experiencing the satisfaction that I am.
Keep listening and learning the things that I tell you.
Just wait, that's all. (1)
How simple. How beautiful. How hard.
What is God's job? To plan, to give, to create, to wow us with the plan He has for us.
What is our job? To wait.
God's job is detailed and intricate and complex while ours is simple. And yet, we make our part so much more difficult than it ought to be.
I think sometimes God keeps us in the dark for a reason. When I was making my way up the W, I had no choice but to trust. I had to keep plugging forward with no idea what was in front of me.
In life, God often asks us to keep moving forward without knowledge of what lies before us. Often when we say “yes,” we have no real idea what we are saying yes to. We can plan and hope and expect, but in the end, only time will reveal what is truly in our path. Experiencing fulfilled promises builds trust, and thankfully, our God is a God who fulfills promises.
In the words of author Eugene Peterson, “The fulfillment of God's promise depends entirely on trusting God and His way and then simply embracing Him and what He does.”
Does this mean we sit and do nothing?
No, that is not what waiting is. Waiting in faith is active. We say, “yes.” We trust that if it is of God, it will happen. We embrace what God does. We rest in His love. And we continuously press forward in the path set before us, chasing after the One who loves us.
In thanks for the sovereignty of God,
P.S.: To learn more about trust and surrender, check out Part III of the Opening Your Heart Young Adult series, Steadfast
1) Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Walking with Purpose, Steadfast, 19.