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I crawled out of bed while it was still dark, turned on the pre-set coffee maker, let the dog out, lit my candle, and started a fire. The significantly colder air and naked tree branches were doing their best to take my focus off the present peace, tempting my mind to jump ahead to what I dread: winter. I am not a fan. 

It has been ten years now that the dark and barren months of winter trigger inner and outer unrest; both a spiritual and physical fight for me to not give in to despair and to hold onto hope. Because I recognize this war within, I know what I must do. This morning, as I eyed the dying leaves that blanketed the ground below me, as if whispering, “keep looking down,” I got myself close to the fire, breathed in the silence, dug into my pocket, and pulled out my rosary. 

And it whispered, “keep looking up.”

In the pitch black, with only flickering flames for a light, I opened my scriptural rosary book and began to pray the Glorious Mysteries. This sweet book is a new favorite because it includes the virtues associated with each Mystery, in addition to a short reflection, prayer, and one simple question to help bring you into deeper union with Jesus. On the second Glorious Mystery, the Ascension of our Lord into Heaven, my eyes fell upon its virtue, and peace rushed in, flooding my soul. The virtue of hope. And following was this question: Do I put all of my hope in heaven, or do I live for this world? 

I closed my eyes and placed myself next to our Lady, pondering this question in my heart. Our Blessed Mother’s entire life was a journey of hope. From the Annunciation to Calvary, she models perfect faith and obedience, without complaint or resistance to the cross she had been handed. She did not attend the crucifixion of her son to run away in fear or walk away in despair because Jesus did not turn out to be the king she had hoped He would be. Mary participated in the Cross, sharing in the sufferings of her son, watching and standing, her focus always on heaven. Mary never surrendered her hope.

And I am wondering where you might be today. Are you watching and standing? Are you focused on heaven? Or have you surrendered your hope?

I have had my heart shattered by two devastating crosses; crosses of tragic loss and heart-piercing disappointment, both of which were accompanied by a heavy dose of fear. When everything was chaos and all appeared meaningless, it is this virtue of Mary’s—her heroic hope—that saved me. You see, Christian hope is not a wish but a confident and joyful expectation that the promises of Christ will be fulfilled. This is a hope that doesn’t disappoint; a hope that protects us from becoming paralyzed by fear and discouragement when things do not go our way. This is the virtue that keeps heaven before us through our earthly trials; the whisper of Mary that encourages us to keep God in His rightful place and to keep looking up. 

Easier said than done, right? Personal and worldly troubles will never cease to tempt us to take our eyes off Christ. The enemy of our soul takes great delight in watching us as we let go of God and reach for the lesser things of this world to anchor us. Friends, do not fall for this. Only Jesus Christ is our anchor. Divine hope comes from the Cross. Our hope is found in Christ alone. He has the power. He is almighty. He is sovereign. He is good. He is our cornerstone. He is our stronghold. He is called Faithful and True. He is the One that even the waves and winds obey. He is a good Father who keeps His promises. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and He is always in control. ALWAYS. And I know you have heard all of this preached at you before, and you have probably been bombarded by similar words on social media. But let me ask...do you believe it?

“Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”[1]

Mary had hope because she believed. If we want to be like Mary, courageous to the extreme, filled with the Holy Spirit, and rocking the virtue of hope, we need to run to her, and we need to run now. We are not walking alone in this hurting and broken world. We have a mother in heaven. A mother who desires to bring us into deeper union with her son. A mother who has felt and sees our pain, takes our hand, and points us to Jesus. She protects us beneath her mantle and intercedes on our behalf, as she kicks the leaves from our feet and uncovers the ground, lifting our chins up to heaven while whispering, “keep looking up.”

Praying that we, like Mary, keep looking up, recklessly hoping for the world to come.

Your sister in Christ,

Laura

P.S. If you were unable to join Lisa Brenninkmeyer on the Rosary Call for Our Country, you can watch and listen here anytime. The Rosary is our greatest weapon and our quickest remedy to despair. If you are low on hope, my friend, run with me to our Blessed Mother.

[1] Gospel of Luke 1:45 NASB

Bible Study

Today is a significant day in our country—one where we are able to exercise the incredible right to vote and influence our society. This particular election finds our country polarized along political lines. Many lament our collective inability to take part in civil discourse, fueled no doubt by the influence of social media. Distance demonizes, and many people feel burned out and deeply discouraged by the political process. 

I can think of no better response to the current political climate than to go to our knees in prayer. Not to talk about prayer, but to pray; because prayer moves the hand of God, and with God, all things are possible. All things are present to God, all at once. He is above time, above knowledge. He is still in control of our spinning world. This is where our hope lies.

I don’t think any verse addresses this better than 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 

When God addresses the issue of a land that needs healing (and I think we all agree that ours does), who does He begin talking to? Is it the group of people who are far from Him? No. He begins by talking to HIS OWN PEOPLE, the ones who are called by His name. He starts with family talk. And what’s the first thing He asks us to do? To go out and convince people to look at things the way that we do? No. The first thing He asks is that we’d humble ourselves. That we’d seek His face. That we’d turn from OUR wicked ways. 

This isn’t where we want to start. Our desire for justice all too often causes us to look outside of ourselves. That's where we want God to start making things right. But He insists—the place to begin is within each of our hearts. 

I invite you to join us today at 1 PM ET to pray the rosary for our country. We’re going to do the very thing described in 2 Chronicles 7:14. We’ll start with confession. We won’t just be confessing sins that we have personally committed. We are confessing on behalf of our Church, in the same spirit that the prophet Daniel did when he confessed on behalf of the Israelite people in Daniel 9. Daniel was known for his holiness, but perhaps he was able to confess in this way because his humility reminded him that there was nothing the Israelites were capable of doing that he wasn’t capable of doing, and that the sin of one affected all. We are all in this together. 

Another thing we’re going to pray for is that people would experience conversion of heart. There is nothing more critical than this. Nothing. All too often, what we begin with is a focus on outward behavior. We jump right away into discussions about how we are supposed to act as Christians. If this is as far as we go, then we have done an enormous disservice to the gospel. The heart of the gospel message does not begin with us cleaning ourselves up and behaving in the right way. The critical starting point is an acknowledgment that we cannot save ourselves. We need a savior. We need Jesus. It is only when we are in a relationship with Him that we’ll experience the Holy Spirit giving us what we need to be holy. We do not start with behavior. That leads to self-righteousness and moralism. We start with confession and the gospel. That leads to Jesus.

I love this quote by Pope Francis: “The spread of the Gospel is not guaranteed either by the number of persons, or by the prestige of the institution, or by the quantity of available resources. What counts is to be permeated by the love of Christ, to let oneself be led by the Holy Spirit and to graft one’s own life onto the tree of life, which is the Lord’s Cross.”[1] So let’s turn our eyes to Him. Let’s go to Jesus, through His mother. I hope that as we pray, we’ll catch a glimpse of His beauty. I pray that we’d be overwhelmed with gratitude for the costly grace He offers us—paid in full, by Him, for us, because of His love. Let’s go to our knees, on behalf of our country.

Join us in praying the rosary for our country today, Tuesday, November 3, 2020, at 1 PM ET. This is a free event but you must register to receive the Zoom link. If you are unable to join us for this live event, we will post the call on our website.

[1] Homily, Mass with Seminarians and Novices, July 7, 2013.

 

For years my daughter begged for braces. No denying, her teeth are all sorts of crazy, but the cost of braces is even crazier.  Finally giving in, we met with the orthodontist where it was explained that in order for Annie to obtain her dream smile, she would need to do two things. 1. Wear braces. 2. Wear the Herbst Appliance. What is the Herbst Appliance you ask? Well, imagine every piece of metal and hardware in the entire world, and then put it all in my fifteen-year-old's mouth. Because there is so much metal involved, the doctor suggested Annie do braces first, then once removed, put on the Herbst. He said, “You can do both at once if you are in a rush to get this done. It will be uncomfortable and take weeks to get used to. But you will get your perfect smile faster. It's up to you.”

Given the option - fast results or patiently waiting it out - take a shot at what my teenager chose…

Yesterday, the Herbst went on, on top of the braces. By the time this blog post is published, I am not confident that anyone within a five-foot radius of Annie will still be alive. She is not happy, folks.  And do you want to know the worst part of all of this is? It's not Annie's mood that's the problem. It's not even the cost. It is me. It's my reaction to her reaction. As she went on and on about her looks and appearance, with zero gratitude for the privilege of dental care and a mother who had to sell her kidney to afford it, I unlovingly stood in her bedroom doorway reminding her, “This is what you wanted. So, you can be patient and get used to it, and quit being so vain….or tomorrow we can go and get it taken out of your mouth.”

It is ironic, isn't it? We grumble about children today; how they wait for nothing and only know instant gratification, and I have to wonder... am I any different? Sure, maybe my teenager doesn't have patience with this process… but guess what? Neither do I. As quick as she was to choose the shortest road to the fastest results, I am just as quick to pull the stupid metal out of her mouth with my own teeth simply to put an end to her vanity-filled complaints.  Let's face it. Waiting is hard, and there is a reason why patience is a virtue and none of this comes easy. And honestly? This isn't even about my straightening my daughter's teeth. It's about straightening priorities. And all of this takes time.

I am just going to say it. I am lacking the patience for my children to encounter Jesus Christ because deep down I fear that they never will. I am afraid that God will show up hours too late, like my sister on Thanksgiving who signs up to bring the appetizer and arrives as we are serving dessert. And so I preach, and I throw Scripture at them, and I stand in their bedroom doorway in utter frustration, because for some unknown reason I have decided that I am their Savior and turning their hearts towards Christ is something that can only be accomplished by my hand.

Welcome to my ugly.

I am not proud of it, but here is the thing: I can do something about it.

If your lack of patience for a loved one's journey to the Lord tends to stomp on newly planted seeds, here are three things you can do:

  1. Recall your own faith journey. I did not encounter Christ until my forties, so why I am panicked when my teens and young adult children show little to no interest in God? Do I wish I had come to my senses sooner? YES. But then I catch myself. Regret is useless, and we really have to resist the urge to rewrite our stories. Including our children's. Even though I struggle to believe it, deep down I know that God's timing is good. It helps me to pray with Habakkuk 2:3 (CEV), “At the time I have decided, my words will come true. You can trust what I say about the future. It may take a long time, but keep on waiting- it will happen!”
  2. Meditate on the fifth mystery of the Joyful Mysteries: Finding Jesus In the Temple. Ask for the grace to carry out difficult tasks with patience, praying, ”Jesus, loving and patient, live in me.” Even when love is our motive, all too often, our frustration with our circumstances makes our good intentions look more like judgement. The Scripture verse that reminds me to be patient because of love comes from Genesis 29:20 (NAB), “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, yet they seemed to him like a few days because of his love for her.”
  3. At this year's Leader's Gathering, Lisa Brenninkmeyer sent us off with the most powerful “I Declare” Scriptural prayer to be prayed over our loved ones. I have had this prayer copied and laminated. You can find it here and do the same.

Praying today that our patience with His plan grows deeper roots than the weeds of fear and control. And I really pray that Annie doesn't need to get on an airplane anytime soon, because honestly...that girl will never make it through the metal detector.

In patience and love,

Laura

Bible Study

So, the question came up last night, “Can you grieve and still have hope?”

Let me backtrack here a bit, to give you the full picture. Currently, I run in two different circles: my Bible Study, which aims to lead women into a personal relationship with Christ through Scripture, and my Support Group, which aims to offer encouragement and hope to those who care for, or have tragically lost, a loved one afflicted with substance abuse disorder. This question came up at Group.

What has become crystal clear is my total inability to keep Jesus out of any discussion. To keep Jesus out of any circumstance. To keep Jesus out, period. Because I have grieved without hope; back when I did not know God's character, back when I reduced the Blessed Mother to a plastic statue, back when I believed the Gospel stories to be outdated and unrelatable, back when I did not know...truly know...my Catholic faith.

I see this a lot with cradle Catholics, fallen away Catholics, and non-Catholics. We know bits and pieces of our Catholic story but not the whole thing. Ironically, many of us wind up learning about Catholicism from our friends who have left the Church and encourage us to do the same. We misinterpret Scripture and allow the world to tell us who God is, and our hideous news feed becomes the icing on top of this lopsided cake. Then enter in the blind side: an unexpected twist in the road that takes us out at our knees, pulling us right out of hope and straight into despair; because I mean, really...if God were real, He would never have let this happen. If God were love, why would He stack one more thing upon our already burdened shoulders?

I so get it.

But here is the other thing I so get: God never promised that life will be easy or we will only be given so much. In the Gospel of John, He promises that we will have trouble. And the statement that we love to throw out in times of suffering? You know the one. “God will never give you more than you can handle.”  Fun fact, folks...that phrase is not in Scripture! As Proverbs 31 Founder, Lysa Terkuerst, points out in her book, It's Not Supposed To Be This Way, “Nowhere in the Bible will you read that God will not give you more than you can handle. God does say He will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear and that He always provides a way out (1 Cor 10:13) but that's not the same as God not giving us more than we can handle. He sometimes will allow more and more and more.”¹

Saint Paul's words in 2 Cor 1:8-9 confirms this hard to swallow truth.

“...we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.”

God absolutely gives us more than we can handle...beyond our strength...because He wants us to rely on Him. God does not expect us to handle it all on our own; He asks that we hand it all over. If you do not believe you can have hope while grieving, meditate on the Joyful Mystery of the Holy Rosary. The Annunciation cannot bring Mary the joy of carrying the Son of God without the grief of letting go of a life she had planned. The Presentation cannot offer Mary the joy of dedicating her Firstborn to the Lord without grieving the news that her son will be rejected and both will suffer greatly. Joy and Sorrow. Hope and Grief. Our Lady perfectly models how they can live side by side. But to be able to do this, you need to be like Mary; you need to accept whatever God has given you to carry and believe that what He says is true.

Herein lies the obstacle for so many of us: how do we accept something we do not understand from someone we truly don't know? It is the not knowing Jesus that ultimately trips us up. It is our lack of intimacy with Christ that directs our misplaced hope. We have all of these expectations for ourselves, our loved ones, our marriages, our future, and when those expectations we hold tight to do not line up with God's plan, we stay stuck in the need to understand what God is doing; to understand how this plan, which is often endless and painful, could actually be good. I have been stuck in this place myself, sweet friend. Stayed there too long, and it is a recipe for an extinguished faith.

Coincidentally, only hours before sitting in Group and faced with the question, “Can we grieve and still have hope?”, we had just chosen our Parish's Walking with Purpose Bible study for the fall: Grounded in Hope. The course description is as follows: “In a world where levels of despair, addiction, and suicide are rising, we need more than clichés or positive thinking. Grounded in Hope will help you encounter Jesus in such a powerful, comforting, and stabilizing way that He can become your lifeline.”²

If you are in the midst of a suffering causing you to lose hope, maybe the question is not so much, “Can you grieve and still have hope?” but rather…“What has become your lifeline?”

Praying we always stay tethered to the Anchor that grounds us in hope.

Your Sister in Christ,

Laura

 

¹ Lysa Teurkerst, It's Not Supposed To Be This Way, 2018, p.111,112

² Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Grounded in Hope, Walking With Purpose 2019

Bible Study

We sat in the last pew at the back of the Church. Knees to the ground, beads in our hands. This was her idea. “I know this sounds crazy, but would you meet me before Mass tomorrow and pray the Rosary?  Will you let me pray for you?” And when we completed our meditation, she looked directly into my eyes, and begged, “Don't lose hope. You can't. I know you are weary. But please. You have to have hope.”

We have all been there, haven't we? When life's disappointments reach the point of just too much. When God's plan for good is impossible to comprehend, and we doubt there is a finish line. And what happens when we begin the fall into despair is one of two things. We either choose to take the easy route we write up ourselves; the road that avoids difficult decisions and giant leaps of faith. Or, we quit the race altogether. As soon as we recognize, “hey, wait a minute, Lord...following you is no longer fun,” we stop running. We exchange our hope in Jesus for a false sense of hope in ourselves.

Being grounded in anything but hope has led me into the lie that my suffering is pointless. Being grounded in anything but Jesus has led me into the lie that I am too weak for the race that God has mapped out for me. When hope is absent from my heart, fear claims the space that is reserved for God. And when I give in to fear, I rely on my own strength. This, my friends, is a recipe for disaster. Because apart from Him, I can do nothing. I am not the Savior, no matter how hard I try to be. I also can't cook. So following my own recipe is bound to disappoint on so many levels.

But God can cook, and His recipes are good. (And I hear He saves the good wine for the end, so don't quit too soon.) Especially the recipes for hope we find in Hebrews. The entire book of Hebrews is based on this central truth; that God reigns Supreme, and it is by His strength and grace that we can persevere. These are the ingredients I should be reaching for, rather than grasping at useless things around me. Things like complaining versus praying. White knuckling instead of surrendering. Comparing instead of thanking.

So how do we hold onto hope? Hope do we turn hope into more than a pretty word we like to paint on wood panels and frame over the fireplace? How do we remain steadfast when life is unsteady? How do we hold onto hope as an anchor, when we'd rather throw the anchor at the back of someone's head?

Here is what I do.

REMEMBER

When I start to spiral into despair, I start listing all of the times I lost hope, doubted God's plan...and then He showed up. And when I say “showed up” please don't mistake this for “then I got my way.”  My most fruitful seasons are the necessary hardships that dragged on way longer than I had wanted, and didn't end the way I told God they needed to end. These are the seasons that shaped me and strengthened me more than I ever imagined possible.

RUN TO MARY

Mary stood at the foot of the cross, not because she felt no pain or sorrow, but because she believed that the promises of Christ would be fulfilled. I made a vow to start every morning praying the rosary. Oh, how we could linger over many cups of coffee as I share with you the powerful intercession of the Blessed Mother in my life when I needed it most.

BE HOPE

There is no greater joy for me than when given the opportunity to point a despairing soul in the direction of hope. As painful as life has been, when I can sit across from a friend and assure her she is not alone and she will make it to the finish line, I can say with total confidence that it has all been worth it. Sometimes the best way to have hope, is to be hope.

If you are weary from running your race, I want you to know: I GET IT. I know how you feel. No hope is quite possibly the most painful thing I have ever felt. But I can also share this: no hope is a lie. Remember, we are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and will possess life (Hebrews 10: 39). And if you were here with me now, I would grab your hand, and I would take you to the last pew in the back of my Church, and I would pray with and for you. On our knees. Every bead. And with tears in my eyes, I would look into yours and I would beg, “Don't lose hope. You can't. I know you are weary. But please. You have to have hope.”

Ground yourself in Him and run with me.

Your Sister in Christ,

Laura

 

If you are looking for additional encouragement to run your race, you might want to read Grounded In Hope, our newest study coming out in February. Click here to purchase Grounded in Hope.

Laura Phelps author bio

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