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When was the last time you could not fall asleep because you were worried about the future? Was it last night or sometime this week? What are you worried about? 

The older I get and the more I hear your stories as I meet you when I travel, the more I understand. To be a woman almost certainly means to worry deeply about the future. And if you are one of the few who cannot relate, count yourself among the lucky. 

Allow me to illustrate precisely what I am talking about: 

You are thinking about how much you like your job, and then suddenly, you convince yourself that you will eventually lose it. Before you know it, you are planning how you will make due for your family with no income and no hope. 

You are staring at your sleeping baby in pure, unadulterated joy. In a flash, you find yourself spiraling as you consider all the ways that one of you could die. 

As you stay up late worrying about your adult children, you are consumed with regret of all the ways you think you have failed. Things did not turn out the way you had hoped for them and your heart aches as you wonder if they will ever achieve the happiness you so desire for them. 

You turn on the news, and before you know it, you are consumed with fear about the future of society. What will you do when there is no food left and society resembles a scene from the Hunger Games?

Whatever it is, we often allow anxiety about the unknown to consume us. It is a disordered expression of our love, and it leaves us incapable of embracing the joy that God wants to give us. Instead, we tepidly welcome life’s joyful moments—holding them at arm’s length and always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Now, I am not writing this post to tell you that you should never worry. Worry, when properly handled, can be helpful to our well being. I recently read an article titled, "How to Worry Better," that explained worry’s usefulness. “When it comes to worry, that function is pretty clear: It draws our attention to the fact that there’s something we maybe should be doing or preparing for or preventing, and it gives us the motivation to do something about that.”[1] 

And yet, 85 percent of the things we worry about will never happen. Yes, 85 percent![2] Ladies, we lose so many hours of sleep. We miss so many moments because we are stuck in our heads, afraid of things that will most likely never happen.

Some of us struggle with anxiety that can only be helped through counseling and medication. But many of us do not struggle with a clinical type of anxiety—we have convinced ourselves that this is just the way we are.  

Today, I want you to know that you can find freedom. You do not have to live in bondage to the cycle of anxious thoughts, worrying over things that most likely will not happen. The Lord calls you to let His peace control your heart (Colossians 3:15). I get that this can be hard. Life can be brutal. And yet, even if it begins incrementally, you can have peace. Instead of focusing on what could happen, God invites you to focus on what did happen. Let the reality of His victory shape the way you handle the unknown. 

Colossians 2:15 says, “He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in [the cross].”

St. Paul wrote this letter to the Colossians, who were pagans before they accepted Jesus. They worshiped these powers, or in Greek, stoicheia, a word that means “transcendent powers that are in control over events in this world.”[3]

These transcendent powers were not kind. They sought to enslave and control men. Today, we recognize them as “Satan and all his evil spirits who prowl around the world seeking the ruin of souls.”[4]

In verse 15, St. Paul said that Jesus “triumphed” over these spirits. This phrase would have evoked the well-known image of a Roman general who had won a major victory. To spread the news of the victory over all the land, the general marched his victorious army through many villages, dragging members of the defeated army behind them. 

Fr. John Riccardo described a depiction of one of Julius Caesar’s triumph parades in his book Rescued: “The whole Roman Empire was in the streets to greet their victorious hero, a long line of captives behind him. At the very end of the line was a cage with a man in it—naked and chained, with a sign above his head that read, 'This is the one who used to threaten and tyrannize us. He won’t do that anymore.'”[5]

So what does this have to do with our anxiety about the future? When you find yourself unable to stop worrying, remember that Jesus has won a complete victory over the enemy who has brought so much misery onto this world. Your life is not in the hands of one who wants to harm you but One who will protect you. And although tragedy is inevitable, your God wants you to remember that your life is “hidden with Christ" (Colossians 3:3). He has given you His complete protection. He has promised you that you will never walk alone no matter what you walk through. Your Savior has stripped the evil one of his power. You are not in his control, so do not let him deceive you into giving him power that does not belong to him.  

If you are struggling with anxiety about the future, be encouraged. Have peace. Your life is hidden with Christ. 

Recently, I opened the book Jesus I Trust in You: A 30-Day Personal Retreat with the Litany of Trust by Sr. Faustina Maria Pia. In the introduction, she said that in her prayer, she heard Jesus asking her to “Trust in me, not in your circumstances.”[6] Why? Because Jesus is worthy of your trust, and whether you can see it or not, He is with you in your circumstances. Cast your anxieties on Him, for He has won the victory, and now He offers you His peace.

[1] Pawlowski, “How to Worry Better,” NBCnews.com, NBC, accessed May 3, 2022,  https://www.nbcnews.com/better/pop-culture/praise-worry-why-fretting-can-be-good-you-ncna757016
[2] Pawlowski, “How to Worry Better,” NBCnews.com, NBC, accessed May 3, 2022,  https://www.nbcnews.com/better/pop-culture/praise-worry-why-fretting-can-be-good-you-ncna757016
[3] Bible Tools. https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/topical.show/RTD/cgg/ID/1627/Stoicheion.htm
[4] Prayer to St. Michael
[5] Fr. John Riccardo. Rescued (Maryland, The Word Among Us:2020) p. 121
[6] Sr. Faustina Maria Pia, Jesus I Trust in You: A 30-Day Personal Retreat with the Litany of Trust, p. 2

 

He chose to be Judas. No one chooses to be Judas! Except my son did. He was asked to play the role of Jesus in his school’s Passion play—a role that, historically, is offered to a student who teachers feel demonstrates the values of the school’s patron, St. Joseph: humility, compassion, and self-respect. (Insert proud mom smile!)

To which he said no. Why, you ask? Because in the role of Jesus you have to take your shirt off when he gets scourged and then “hung” on the cross. Instead, my son chose to play Judas. His reasoning in response to my pointed remarks of disagreement with his choice was: “We are all Judas, Mom. We all walk away from Jesus. He just didn’t walk back.” (Take out the dagger of pride and insert an arrow of humility to my heart.)

Why am I bringing up Judas so soon after Easter Sunday?

Because all of us are Judas, or can be. We have our moments when we choose sin—when we choose to serve ourselves, our comfort, or our pride over others. We have moments when we feel so overcome by shame and self-loathing that we cannot face the Lord. The enemy’s tauntings become the endless tape we replay in our minds causing hopelessness and despair. And like Judas, we will choose to walk away from Jesus. Our Lord knows all of this. He also knows that it probably won’t take too long after Easter Sunday for this to happen. 

Mass readings during the Easter season draw our attention to the communion Jesus desires to restore with His disciples following His crucifixion. In these readings we are reminded of the hope the resurrection promises, despite our very human choices. This past Sunday’s Gospel in which Peter encounters Jesus on the beach for the first time since his own betrayal is among my favorites. 

It’s early morning, and I imagine the scene to have been eerily quiet, save the noise of the boat rocking in the water. The weight from the discouragement of not having caught any fish was not nearly as heavy as the internal burden Peter was carrying, distraught over his repeated denial of our Lord in His time of need. Peter’s shame and self-loathing had to have been on par with Judas’ own desperate feelings. Rod Bennett writes in his book, These Twelve: The Gospel Through the Apostles' Eyes, that Peter may have been the worst betrayer among the close friends of Jesus.[1]

Scripture reveals that Peter showed himself to be overconfident, prideful, and arrogant so often throughout Jesus’ ministry. He denied Jesus’ own words to him, denied the faults Jesus was pointing out to him, and ultimately denied knowing Jesus. Following Jesus’ statement in Matthew 16 hinting of His Passion to come, Peter takes our Lord aside and rebukes him: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you” (Matthew 16:22). Jesus responds to Peter’s denial of His words by calling out the enemy in him, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Matthew 16:23). In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells Peter that Satan will indeed take hold of him, and Peter argues, “Lord, I am prepared to go to prison and to die with you” (Luke 22:33). We know what follows is Jesus’ foretelling of Peter’s ultimate denial that happens only a few short hours later. 

Flashbacks of his own bravado and lack of humility had to have been tormenting Peter in the boat that morning on the Sea of Tiberias. And yet in a flash of acknowledgement of our Risen Lord in the distance, Peter, in his despair, does not turn away as Judas did. Instead he leaps toward Jesus. He leaps toward reconciliation, forgiveness, and restoration. He turns away from self-destruction and self-rejection and emphatically chooses the love of Jesus. Fr. John Bartunek writes of this moment in Scripture: “Once so self-reliant and independent, so authoritative and in control, now Peter climbs onto the shore wet and bedraggled, overjoyed to kneel at Jesus’ feet and embrace his Lord.”[2]

In Acts 5 following his reconciliation with Christ, Peter along with other followers, is brought in front of the Sanhedrin and high priests. This time Peter does not deny Christ. He stands in front of this crowd and boldly proclaims, We must obey God rather than men. The God of our ancestors raised Jesus though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins. We are witnesses of these things, as is the holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:29-32). Following the punishment inflicted, Peter and the other apostles “left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of His name” (Acts 5:41).

Do you see the striking difference in Peter? Peter, bathed in the mercy of Christ and overflowing with humility, is transformed. Relying on the grace of the Holy Spirit instead of his own strength, Peter desires only to glorify Jesus. He rejoices, not denies. What a gift Peter’s transformation is to us! When our own discouragement and self-rejection is as intense and overwhelming as it was for Peter, we need only to look to Scripture to be reminded that our risen Lord is in constant pursuit of communion with us.  

“There is nothing you can ever have done, nowhere you can ever have been in your life that can ever stop you from turning right now to God, asking forgiveness if you need it—and begin again.”[3]

Judas, lacking in this supernatural grace and unable to hold on just a little longer, missed his opportunity to begin again in communion with Jesus. Let’s not miss ours. Yes, there will be times when we will walk away from Jesus, but more important is our choice to turn back and begin again. 

[1] Rod Bennett, These Twelve: The Gospel Through the Apostles’ Eyes (Catholic Answers Press, 2022).
[2] Fr. John Bartunek, The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer (Circle Press, 2007).
[3] Fr. Timothy Gallagher, Overcoming Spiritual Discouragement: The Wisdom and Spiritual Power of Venerable Bruno Lanteri (EWTN Publishing, Inc, 2019).

 

It was the year 2000, and we had a good plan. A plan that involved leaving our New York City apartment and heading out west. Despite our friend's warnings, selfish ambition got the best of us. “We will be back in a year,” we promised our loved ones, “when we have enough money to live comfortably.” And so we said goodbye to everything and everyone that we knew and loved in pursuit of success at all costs.

The future was ours to create. Or so we believed.

Living one year in sunny California turned into ten years stuck in Los Angeles. The money, status, and comfort we left our family for were replaced with bankruptcy, stress, and regret. Turns out, we were not the masters of our fate. So much for the good plan.

The great irony is that 22 years later I look back on that season and would give my right arm to relive just one of those days. As I prepare for one daughter’s 21st birthday and another’s high school graduation, suddenly the Scripture verse that warns me that I am “a puff of smoke that appears for a little time and then vanishes”[1] sounds like the obnoxious ticking of the world’s most insensitive time bomb. I want my four small kids back. I want that tiny one-bedroom apartment. I want to drag my family’s dirty clothes to the laundromat with kids in tow, cover every corner of the kitchen table with glitter and glue, and go on an “adventure walk,” which really was just picking up snails on our way to add quarters to our laundry card. 

It was a hard season. So why do I long for it?

Turns out that my struggling life—the one I was so eager to get ahead of—was a deliberately crafted garland of ordinary moments strung together by the wisdom of God. Knowing the confident pride I am prone to fall into when planning my future, He gifted me with four little sanctifiers and a husband who made barely enough money to cover rent just so I’d keep tethered to the better part. All those years when I dreamed of where I thought I ought to be, I was, in fact, exactly where He needed me to be: witnessing Christ to others in the little places and messy spaces we called home.

Oh, sweet friends…do not buy into the lie that you belong somewhere else.
Do not believe for a minute that you are replaceable, not enough, or incomplete.
The season you are in is not God’s mistake, oversight, or His just killing time.
And if the glitter drives you crazy, have no fear. It, too, will disappear. 

The older I get the better I understand that God has a divine plan. What looked like obstacles to my living a good, secure life (four small kids, no babysitter, a tiny apartment, and a disappointing paycheck) were opportunities to depend on God’s grace, mercy, and will in every moment. Our good plan was never going to bear us lasting fruit; not only because we were living in the confidence of ourselves, but because, spoiler alert, man’s plans are always tentative. 

If you’re struggling with the season you are in, here’s a fun fact:
the season you are in is the only season you are guaranteed.
The opportunities of today may not be available tomorrow.
So, stop worrying about the future, and who you think you need to become, and be present to the woman you are right now. Be her. I am more than confident that someone in your life really loves and needs her. Not tomorrow. But today.

We read in the Letter of James, “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. For you are just a vapor that appears for a little while, and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. So for one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, for him it is sin.”[2]

I am not denying the value of a sound plan, nor am I calling you evil for having a future vision. Sometimes a future vision is the only thing that gets us out of bed. However, Scripture makes it very clear that our lives, fragile and temporary, are not to be focused on tomorrow. We cannot predict the future, we do not live forever, and nothing we plan is permanent. The only thing secure is today.

I don’t know where you are right now, but I can tell you where I am. I’m living in the present moment; choosing to love God in my every move and serve Him where He has placed me—not where I am striving to place myself. You know, back in the day, I would have cooked, cleaned, wiped noses and kitchen counters, and grumbled to myself, “What is my life?” It can be difficult to see Jesus in the ordinary, and yet, dare I say, it’s His favorite place to be. 

The season you are in might not be where you want to be, but it is where God needs you to be. Today, for as long as it lasts, is always a good place to be. So open your eyes to today, my friend. If you’re lucky, you will not only see Jesus, but you may also catch the sparkle of glitter from a long time ago—hidden but present in the messy places and spaces of this temporary home.

[1] James 4:14 (NAB)
[2] James 4:14–17 (RSV)
Bible Study

 

I spent last weekend speaking to an incredible group of women in the deep south. Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is home to the University of Alabama, the SEC school that everyone loves to hate—including me—however, no longer living in the south, my ire has waned in recent years. The women who welcomed me were so charming, despite their university loyalties, that I could not help but fall in love with them. 

As I was visiting with one woman, she confided in me that she didn't feel like she fit in with the other women at the retreat. I told her that I often feel that way but could especially relate to her because the retreat center was next to fraternity row. All weekend we could hear music booming from several house parties, and during the consecration of the Eucharist at Mass, the tune "I Love Rock and Roll" blessed our ears and entered our hearts (the perfect song for a post-communion meditation). The sights and sounds flooded me with memories of my own experience in a sorority at LSU, and the feeling I remember most from those days was often feeling like I didn't fit in.

More than I'd like to admit, I felt like a fish out of water when I was around a large group of women. This was not something that one could have seen from the outside. I had friends, participated in a ton of social activities, and was involved in campus life. Yet, much of the time, I felt different from everyone else. I left functions with groups of women feeling like my dress wasn't quite right, and I didn't say the right things, think the right things, or act the right way. If they knew what I was really like, I felt that I would lose my friends and be left alone.

Have you ever felt this way? At the risk of being wrong, let me assume your answer: Yes, you have felt this way. My working theory is that all women—no matter how put together or popular they seem to be—feel like they don't fit in at some point. Feeling insecure and isolated in a group is a universal experience for us, no matter our age. It is as true for the young girl in middle school as for the college student, new mom, working woman, or retiree. Even the woman you think has it all together has felt as insecure as you have. You are not alone if you feel this way, and I am here to tell you that this feeling does not have to be a bad thing. It can be an invitation to remember who you are and why you were created. 

First, when you feel like you stick out like a sore thumb, remember that you don't feel at home in this world because you were created for another one. C.S. Lewis famously said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”[1] 

You were made for something greater than this passing earth and this wavering culture. God created you for Himself. He is the only one who can fully know you. He is the only one who can completely enter your heart, soul, and experience. When you feel like you don't fit in, let it lead you into God's presence. He is your shelter and your stronghold. He is your hope and your home, and it is only with Him in eternity that your earthly longing to be fully known and entirely accepted will be fulfilled.  

Second, recognize that you may feel out of place because God has set you apart for His purposes. Throughout history, God has consistently called those He loves to stand out. In the Old Testament, God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments and commanded that they live differently from the rest of the world.

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God.” (Exodus 20: 2–5)

At the time, there was no such thing as a monotheistic religion. By commanding that the Israelites worship Him and Him alone, God set them apart from everyone else. He set them up to become holy in a world that was anything but holy. Those Ten Commandments eventually led the leaders of the Jewish people to set up 613 rules for the people to follow. The way they lived looked different because they were different. They belonged to the one true God.

Thousands of years later, in the New Testament, St. Paul echoed God's call to be set apart: “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:25—29).

Following God means that our lives are supposed to be different so we will feel that difference. We are not supposed to fit in. We are supposed to be holy. 

Reflecting on my own experience, I am so grateful for the times I've felt different from the crowd. Why? Because, many times, that feeling of alienation saved me from making decisions that I would have deeply regretted. It is that feeling that propelled me to seek God, and it is the same feeling that reminds me that I am aiming for an eternity in heaven. 

If you often feel like you just don't fit, reject the lie that you are, in some way, not enough. Instead, let it drive you to seek the presence of the God, who created you for His unique purpose. Let it remind you that your hope is in heaven. Then, setting your eyes on Jesus, stand confident in the fact that He is setting you apart to be His hands and feet in a world that desperately needs to see someone who is different.

[1] Lewis, C. S., Mere Christianity. (United Kingdom: HarperCollins, 2001), p 136,137.

Recently, I opened my youngest son’s school folder to find an envelope addressed to him. I told him about it, and he excitedly rushed over to open it. And when he did, the biggest smile erupted on his face. It was an invitation to his friend’s birthday party. In the midst of COVID, the birthday party invite was one of a thousand things that we had to forego. My 7-year-old son has not been able to celebrate his own, his cousins’, or his friends’ birthdays together for more than 2 years, so this invitation was special. It was obvious that my son felt eager and excited for this party. 

Tomorrow, we celebrate Ash Wednesday. On this day, we enter into a season of deep reflection and prayer. Our heavenly Father invites us on a 40-day journey into the desert. He invites us to be part of the crowd during a procession of palms and Hosannas. He desires our presence at a very special dinner and an evening garden gathering. And don’t forget, He invites us to play a part in a dramatic, yet real-life Passion play. The last place He wishes for us to visit is an empty tomb on an early Sunday morning. Will you be there? Please RSVP—ASAP. 

Will you accept this invitation as eagerly and with as much joy as my 7-year-old accepted his birthday party invitation? 

We often don’t think of entering into the Lenten season eagerly and with joy, do we? I know what you are thinking: Lent = sacrifice and fasting. And none of that necessarily equals joy. Or does it? 

Today, I want to encourage you to accept this invitation extended by the Church and our heavenly Father WITH EAGERNESS AND JOY. 

This Lenten invitation is gifted to us right in the middle of Ordinary Time in order to remind us that our Christian call is to be extra-ordinary. I don’t know about you, but I need the reminder right about now. In the middle of our ordinary lives, the Church, through the season of Lent, invites us to go deeper into the desert with Jesus. But we must remember, Jesus was not alone in the desert. Encountering Jesus there gives us the opportunity to become attuned and aware of who the other—very real—player is: the enemy of our souls. And the enemy would like nothing more than to distract us from our time with the Lord and lure us to join him for a succulent feast, tempting us with all of our favorite worldly desires, material goods, and pleasures.

The enemy tempted Jesus in the desert in three specific ways. He invited our Lord to do what FEELS right instead of what IS right, to question our heavenly Father’s love, and to desire His own glory over the Kingdom of God (Matthew 4:3–10).

I bet we don’t even have to think too hard to realize the temptations the enemy used with Jesus are ones that we are all too familiar with ourselves. How many of us, in the words of St. Paul, “do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7:19)? I know I have some bad habits that I just can’t seem to kick. Or I kick them for a time, but then slowly, when I’m tired, stressed, or frustrated, those habits start reappearing. How many of us hold onto the shame of a past sin—one that we’ve received absolution for but continue to beat ourselves up about? How many of us get caught up in envy or jealousy when we see another person garner attention or acknowledgement for something we desire? Each of these situations can lead us down the road to sin, and none of them result in joy. 

Good thing the Bible didn’t end there in the desert. With each temptation offered, Jesus battled the enemy back with Scripture, “the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). And the devil left Him. 

Sister, the invitation into the desert with Jesus is to remind us who has won. Jesus didn’t just win the battle in the desert—He won the war on the cross! Lent reminds us that He fought for us then, and He fights for us now. Can we allow this truth to spark in us a desire to enter eagerly into Lent, into the desert of our spirits? It is in this season of Lent, in the desert with Jesus, that we are given the opportunity to discern how the enemy tempts us, to identify his plays against us. We are given the opportunity to learn how we respond to those temptations, and where we need Jesus the most. 

Here’s a hint: if we aren’t responding to the enemy with Scripture, as modeled by Jesus, then let this season be the time to change that. When we stop the enemy in His tracks with the truth of Scripture, he has no other play.

Sister, we have the blessing of knowledge on our side. We know what extraordinary events occur at the end of these 40 days. We know what happens the week after we read the Passion at Mass. We know that when Mary Magdalene and the other women approached the tomb of Jesus, the stone had been rolled away, and an angel greeted them and said Jesus was not there “for He has been risen, just as He said” (Matthew 28:6). What joy and eagerness the women must have felt as they set out to tell the other followers of Jesus! What joy and eagerness Jesus must have felt to be able to meet with His friends and His mother again, to reassure their doubts, to settle their fears, to forgive them and embolden them. 

Let’s allow what we already know and who we know to penetrate our hearts. We know Jesus rose from the dead. We don’t have to wait until Easter Sunday to allow that joy to fill our hearts. We can choose to live joyfully through this Lenten season knowing the desert is not the end, knowing the cross is not the end. 

Sister, this Lent, let us confidently accept the invitation of this season without reluctance or hesitation. Let’s resolve to be joyful in our discernment of what to abstain from each day or which spiritual book or devotion to begin. Let us choose to fill our hearts with a sense of extraordinary eagerness to return to confession, to ask for forgiveness, or to mend a fractured relationship. 

And let us remember our Lord's words to His disciples and to us: “I have told you all these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Take heart, sister. He has won. Let’s celebrate the victory by having an extraordinary Lent. Let us RSVP to Lent—to Jesus—ASAP and with joy in our hearts. 

Your sister in Christ,
Jeannine

It’s Advent. My favorite time of year. Every morning in December, I get to wake up before the entire house and pray by a Christmas tree. It’s glorious. For four weeks, I get to meditate on the mystery of God becoming man, and I love it. I love it because I love God, I love Christmas trees, and I love history. And while all of these things make me feel good, I rarely allow these delightful moments to transform the way I live.

Advent is a season for preparation. During this time, we prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming, but that preparation should not only affect our hearts and minds. The work we allow God to do in us during Advent should leave a mark that makes us different during the rest of the year. But how? How should praying through old prophecies and thinking about Jesus’ being born in a manger change us? It should change us because, when we meditate on them, they tether us to reality, and when we live in reality, we will live more joyful and ordered lives.

Frank Sheed, a Catholic theologian, said in his book, Theology and Sanity, “Seeing what the Church sees means seeing what is there.”[1] When we see the world as it really is and interact with it how it actually works, our behavior harmonizes with truth, which brings on peace and guards against anxiety.

The issue is that this is easier said than done. It is not easy to live grounded in reality because we are surrounded by illusion. Our society is a marketing machine that is constantly telling us what should make us happy, sad, or afraid. It sends the message that life is about our comfort, our preferences, and our happiness at the cost of humility and sacrifice. If we do not deliberately hold on to the truth, we will eventually live as though the world revolves around us—even if we don’t believe it in our hearts. Meditating on God’s promises during Advent can break us out of the cultural narrative because it draws us out of our daily grind and into the broader story of God’s faithfulness throughout history. It reminds us of our role in the story.

One of these promises does just that. These words remind us of who God is and who we are in His plan of salvation: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them, light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy” (Isaiah 9:2–3).

Notice where the people are. They are in darkness. Notice that it doesn’t say, “The people in darkness have themselves walked out of the darkness and into the light.” No, the people were pretty helpless, and it was while they were still in darkness, the Light began to shine. The hero in the story is God, the Light, that saved the people. The people themselves did very little. They may have responded to the Light, but it was God who did all of the work.

Dear sister, this Advent season, as I pray through Isaiah 9, I am declaring over and over again that the world does not revolve around me. I am not the point of the story; God is. I don’t believe it in my heart, but I often live as though I am the center of the universe. How do I know? Because I am easily inconvenienced and offended. I’m also quick to believe that I am pretty amazing, and if others don’t verbally recognize my greatness, I am overcome with discouragement.

What about you? I bet that you know that the world does not revolve around you, but how do you live? What are your knee-jerk reactions? Examine your thought life. What do you think other people owe you? Answer these questions, and you will quickly find out whether you act as though life is about you or God.

During these weeks of Advent, if you let Him, God will gently but boldly put you back into your place. He will remind you of what is real—that all of history is about His goodness. We are the ones in the darkness, and He is the light. We needed a savior, and He did the saving. He is meant to be served and glorified, not us.

The season of Advent is ultimately about freedom. God became a man to set us free from sin, and in doing so, saved us from ourselves. He is the center of everything. When we live our lives according to this truth, wonder becomes attainable and joy becomes common. We become free of the burden that comes from trying to be the star on a stage that was never meant to be ours in the first place.

So, as we approach Christmas, let this season change you. Let it change how you respond when others upset you or fail to notice you. Let it free you from the tyranny of self-love so that your life reflects the reality that it is all about the One who is Love itself.

Come Lord Jesus, set us free from ourselves so all that is left is love of you.

[1] Frank Sheed, Theology and Sanity (Ignatius Press: 1993), 22

I just walked from my bedroom, down the stairs, and into my living room to begin writing this blog post, and do you know what I did the entire time? I scrolled through Instagram while walking. Have you ever done that? Or have you ever started scrolling on your phone only to realize that forty-five minutes have passed, your eyes are dry, and your heart is empty? There is no question that the opportunity to scroll over the world through our phones invites addiction and that addiction has real-world effects.  

Don’t worry. This blog post isn't about the dangers of social media. Instead, I want to explore a phrase that enters my mind almost every time I finish scrolling through Instagram or Facebook. It’s a phrase that I think reveals where we have landed in our society, and it comes from the book of Job. 

If you are not familiar with the book of Job, it is a sad story with a critical lesson. Job is a man who is faithful to God and to whom God is faithful. God blesses Job with a fruitful family (ten children), immense prosperity (thousands of livestock), and status (greater than anyone in the east). At the beginning of the book, Satan approaches God and claims that Job is only righteous and blameless because God has blessed him, but he wouldn't be if God removed those blessings. God gives Satan permission to run roughshod over Job’s life. Job loses everything: his family dies, his livestock dies, and he is struck with severe boils all over his body. 

In chapter 38, Job gets the opportunity to approach God with his grievances. His whole life was ruined without any wrongdoing on his part. He has legitimate questions for God about all that had happened to him, and so one would expect God to be compassionate toward Job. Instead, the first words out of God’s mouth are, “Who is this that darkens counsel with words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2). God questions Job for the next four chapters, asking questions like: 

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7)

Throughout all the intense questioning, God reveals His unfathomable glory, and Job realizes that his perspective is wrong. Job spends time with God, and in doing so, gains God’s wisdom. Job responds by saying, 

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. “Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.” I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:2-6)

Every single time I close my social media accounts, I think of God’s words to Job: who darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? We have become men and women who are full of words with minimal knowledge—myself included. These words indict our society as we busy ourselves with silly things that have no eternal value. They also indict us personally as we no longer take the time to seek God’s unchanging truth or view our present circumstances from His perspective.

In my own life, I tend to look at my circumstances, someone else’s sufferings, or the news and find endless, seemingly legitimate grievances against God. How can there be so much dysfunction, tragedy, and heartache in the world? How does God not show up when a friend or I so desperately need Him? How does He not simply fix families, or grant fertility, or bless financially, or comfort aching hearts, or stop the evil of oppressive governments around the world? From my view, it seems pretty easy, and yet most of the time, my opinion lacks His wisdom. I forget what 1 Corinthians tells me, “The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” If I fail to seek God’s wisdom, I’m more likely to misunderstand my circumstances and make bigger messes in my life. 

So what exactly is wisdom? It goes deeper than knowing information or having brilliant intellect. Wisdom is seeing the world from God’s perspective and then applying that perspective to our lives. Proverbs 3:19 says, “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth, established the heavens by understanding.” When we seek wisdom, we seek to know God’s mind and act according to His unchanging truth. We then respond to situations from an eternal perspective. We begin to look at our hopes, dreams, and sufferings from God’s point of view instead of our own. 

The result? We live with less anxiety because we no longer see each success or failure in life as a make-or-break scenario but rather as one more step toward eternity. We live with more hope and less fear, because we know that God is not surprised by tragedy and turmoil. We are nicer to ourselves, because we know that the Lord sees our imperfections and still walks with us to make us holy. We are kinder to others, because we recognize that God loves them more than we ever will and works in their hearts just as He is working in ours. We are also not swayed by popular fads or ideologies, because we know that the spirit of the age is passing but God stays the same.

And so I ask you, where do you land? Are you a woman who is genuinely seeking God’s wisdom, or do you consume information without thought and allow that information to form your understanding of the world? Ladies, in a world that buzzes along a technological surface and exalts human wisdom through popular ideas and one-sentence conclusions, we are called to go deeper. We must seek God’s wisdom, or we will crumble at the first sign of trouble in our lives or unpopularity in our communities. This is hard because the invitation to turn off our brains and consume is only one click away at all times. 

Don’t give in. Bring your questions to the Lord; spend time with Him searching out His ways, and He will give you His wisdom. Don’t know where to start? Pick any one of our Bible studies, dive in, and listen. He will speak. 

Proverbs 8:10–11 says of wisdom, “Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold; for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.”

Wisdom is God’s treasure, and He offers it to you. Seek it with all your heart and He will give you His understanding.

 

Which side are you on?

A dangerous question to ask in this space, don’t you think? Don’t worry. This post is not about politics or the pandemic. It’s about Christ.

And that’s why we are here, right?

In fact, politics and the pandemic are my least favorite things to talk about. This has nothing to do with how little or how much I care about our country and our health. I care deeply. But I have noticed a trend when it comes to discussing these current events—there is no discussion. Gone are the days of critical thinking, which, as explained by Gabe Lyons, founder of Q Ideas, is the process of thinking carefully about a subject or idea, without allowing feelings or opinion to affect you.[1] Lyons says that critical thinking is essential for believers. And so this is a huge problem. Without the ability to critically think, you are either right or you are an idiot. And the outcome? Division and diversion. Our world, country, communities, churches, ministries, and families are being scattered as quickly as roaches on a kitchen counter at the flick of a light. Our minds are so occupied with things we can’t control that we have lost focus on our mission. It is difficult to get close enough to hear God’s whisper when the world’s continuous (and not always so obvious) message of “we will keep you safe” and “please keep your distance” is on a constant loop running in our ears.

Oh, my friends. The world cannot keep us safe. Only Jesus can keep us safe. 

I learned this lesson the hard way and am all the better for it. It took a school shooting, an addiction, and my incredible gift of co-dependency to acknowledge and accept what none of us want to admit: there is nothing we can do to keep ourselves, or anyone, for that matter, safe. Sure, we can be cautious. And yes, we should always look out for our neighbors. But at the end of the day? We are not in control and safety is not up to us. “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8 RSV).

Do we believe this?

Because here is the catch: Jesus doesn’t feel very safe, does He? He feels risky and radical. And He is both of these. But we already knew that, didn't we? We have read the Gospels. We know the stories, and better than knowing them, we believe them. In fact, this is precisely what makes us Christians. The true marking of a believer is not safety—it is the cross that we willingly embrace. And ironically? This is where we find our safety. At the foot of the very place we are too terrified to stand. And despite what our circumstances look like, we choose to follow anyway. True believers do not leave Jesus, and those with a resilient faith will choose death for Christ before even considering otherwise. If this sounds too dramatic and far-fetched, just look at our Christian brothers and sisters in Afghanistan today. Right now. Dying for the faith. Obedient to death.[2] Would we do the same?

As we are called to weather one storm after the other, I had a thought. It happened just a few days before Hurricane Henri hit. I pulled into the grocery store parking lot on a Thursday morning and was shocked to find it packed. When I walked into the store, masked people rushed through the aisles frantically. I literally panicked thinking, “Thanksgiving is not this weekend, is it?” (I mean, really—does anybody know what day, month, or year it is anymore?) Thankfully, I ran into a friend who informed me that not only are we still in the month of August but that there was a hurricane expected to hit in a couple of days. The people were preparing.

As I found myself, once again, staring at shelves long cleared of bottled water, ice, and toilet paper, all to the quiet hum of “stay safe” and “keep your distance,” I thought: What would the world look like if we prepared our souls for heaven with the same urgency? 

What if the message whispered into our ears constantly was Jesus saves...Come closer...Arm yourself with the rosary?
What if we followed Christ as closely as we followed the latest news and statistics?
What if we shared our faith on social media more than we shared the latest political meme?
What if, in times of looming disaster, we ran to the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Adoration Chapel, and our rosary before the grocery stores and gas stations?
What if we cared for our souls more than we cared for our comfort?
What if we lived out 1 Thessalonians 5? (Yes, I am encouraging you to open your Bible.)

Living as a true believer, fully committed to Christ, does not mean we are irresponsible or selfish. It means we are obedient. Looking out for each other and loving our neighbor goes beyond our preference to mask or not mask, vaccinate or not vaccinate. As St. Thomas Aquinas instructs, “love is willing the good of the other; seeking what is best for the other.” And that greater good has nothing to do with their safety on earth but everything to do with getting them safely to heaven. Souls are at stake, and as Jesus’s disciples, we have been commissioned to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). 

Are we doing this?

Because this is our goal. And this, my friends, is our call. And no, it is not easy. In a culture where feelings drive what people believe is objectively true, preparing for the journey ahead is going to require way more than a few gallons of water and some spare hand sanitizer. The call to choose Jesus is everything, and it will come with a cost. I suppose the question to ask is, is Christ worth it to you? Is dying for the truth worth it? Because you were and still are worth everything to Him, down to the very last drop of His blood. Our King and Savior humbled and emptied Himself as He was arrested, questioned, tortured, killed, and left utterly naked to hang on a cross. What looked like the world’s greatest defeat turned out to be our greatest victory, for it purchased for us eternal peace and security with God. This is why we are alive today. Not so that we can save our lives on earth, but so that we can lose our lives for heaven.[3] 

I fear this message is unpopular and so has gotten lost and drowned out by the secular world. As we appear to grow more divided and distracted by the minute, might I suggest that we make this the message we hear and believe? There is freedom and healing when we turn away from the world and choose blind obedience to Christ; when we resist the enemy’s temptation to divide and divert, and instead, cling all the more to Christ and the safety of the cross.

So, again, I ask. Which side are you on?

I pray that it’s Christ’s.

With love,
Laura

[1] https://qideas.org/qmoments/our-need-for-critical-thinking/
[2] https://www.spreaker.com/user/jennieallen/s8-ep25-bonus-fc3
[3] Matthew 10:39
Bible Study

What does it mean to live the good life? How can I be happy? What choices will get me there? How we answer these questions has everything to do with the voices we choose to listen to. A life is formed through many small, seemingly insignificant decisions. Bit by bit, we become the result of choices that we all too often make without much reflection.

As summer ends, many of us are feeling that our schedules have heated up. We're jumping back in to life with varied degrees of readiness and are determined to start well. Our focus turns to our calendars, and it's tempting to assume that as long as we are checking off everything on the agenda, we're nailing it. But how are our hearts doing in the midst of the increase in activity? Are we riding the rollercoaster of appointments and checklists without making sure our minds and hearts are in the right place?

How our day unfolds and feels has less to do with our circumstances and activities than our mindset. While we can't control which events we'll encounter, we can always decide what our attitude will be. Will we filter everything that happens through a lens of gratitude? Will we be kind to ourselves by seeing ourselves through God's eyes? Will we look at suffering as something that always has purpose?

More and more, I am convinced that getting our attitude in the right place has everything to do with how we start each day.

St. Josemaría Escrivá coined a phrase that I think is so compelling: the heroic minute. He writes,

The heroic minute. It is the time fixed for getting up. Without hesitation; a supernatural reflection and…up! The heroic minute: here you have a mortification that strengthens your will and does no harm to your body. If, with God's help, you conquer yourself, you will be well ahead for the rest of the day. It's so discouraging to find oneself beaten at the first skirmish.[1]

I realize that reading the word mortification probably makes you want to run for the hills. Who wants to start the day with something that sounds unpleasant? But stay with me for a minute. How do you feel when you get up and are behind the eight ball before things have even begun? Your first movements are rushed, requests come at you and require your attention, and all you can think is that you have got to clear your head and get some coffee. It's starting the day reacting instead of responding. It's feeling under siege and not knowing exactly why. It's also entirely avoidable.

Giving God the first minutes of your day will pay dividends later. I promise you He will multiply your time. You'll get more done and have a peaceful heart while doing it.

But it's not just a matter of hauling your body out of bed. Resetting your mind is the critical step if you want your day to be the best it possibly can. Which begs the questions:

Which mindset will best equip me to face the day with inner strength and gratitude?
How do I gain that mindset?

St. Paul talks about this in Romans 12:2, “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” We renew our minds by looking at things from God's perspective. This is something we need to do every day. Otherwise our thoughts and emotions will be in the driver's seat, and the ride will be anything but smooth. The best mindset is God's, and we gain it by listening to Him. While few people hear His audible voice, we all can hear His voice speaking through Scripture.

As you head into this new season, I pray that you will make Scripture reading a high priority in your life. Doing this in the context of authentic community makes it even more transformative. Walking with Purpose Bible studies are formatted to make it easy to read the Bible each day. Instead of opening up to a random verse, you're guided to relevant passages and questions for reflection that help you apply what you've read. The readings give your mind something to chew on for the day. If you actually apply what you read, you will make significant progress in the spiritual life. What I've written relates to the problems, heartaches, and searching that I've experienced over the years. As I've traveled and spoken to thousands of women, I've had the privilege of listening to them unburdening their hearts. I've found that our struggles are universal. We are not alone. My writing aims to touch the heart, strengthen the will, and enlighten the mind. The goal is transformation—that what we read would impact how we live.

But what if you can't start your day this way? No worries. Just look for the first pocket of quiet in your schedule. It always comes, but we usually don't notice because we've fill it with mindless scrolling through our social media feeds or checking our email. What might change if instead of grabbing your phone, you did a short Bible study? It'll just take 15 minutes, but the impact of that choice will be felt throughout the day.

Much of what I've written speaks of God's unconditional love for you, and everything I've written should be filtered through that perspective. When God asks us to get moving, or change a bad habit, or do something that feels out of our comfort zone, it is always because He wants what is best for us. He is not a cosmic kill joy. He is a good Father who wants His children to flourish.

May what you read travel from your mind to your heart, going beyond information to transformation. May you meet Jesus in the pages of His Word, and may your trust in Him grow. “Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen.” (Jude 24-25)

With you on the journey,
Lisa

[1] St. Josemaría Escrivá, The Way (NY: Doubleday, 1982), 33

This post originally appeared on the WWP blog on August 27, 2019.

You know the conversation gets good when the person on the other end of the phone leads with, “I love Jesus, but what I really struggle with in the Catholic Church is…” 

We all struggle with our faith. Whether it be with a long personal suffering, a devastating betrayal from our church leaders, or a hard teaching to accept, at one point or another, we will scratch our heads and wonder what on earth have I signed up for? And while it is good to wrestle with and question matters of faith, we have to be careful to whom we bring such questions, because often, it is here in this place of doubt that the enemy senses an unsteady soul. And then we are presented with a choice: Do I jump ship, and settle for earthly consolations because this faith is too difficult to understand and live out; and if I am being honest...it’s totally impractical and irrelevant and besides I am super tired? Or, will I choose to be spiritually grounded and unmovable; like a peg driven into a firm place (Isaiah 22:23), will I remain steadfast no matter the size of the waves or the length of the trials?

I think the reason why so many of us are disappointed, questioning our Church, and completely over our suffering is because we have a shallow understanding of Christ. We want to believe that we are all in for Jesus, but when pushed to the edge of endurance, our thoughts and actions tell a different story, don’t they? Oh, we have faith...to a point. But when the rules feel too rigid and the tests too long, even the most holy among us can begin to wonder, what’s the point?

For years, I wondered this. Why get up before dawn every morning to seek Jesus in silent prayer only to discover that His plan is to break my spirit before lunch? Why volunteer at my parish, write books, or speak at retreats sharing the joy of the Gospel if I am just going to continue to be tested? Why all the rosaries, why all the tears, why all the mortifications if nothing ever changes? And better yet, what if it changes for the worse? Again, I ask...what’s the point?

“The point” was unexpectedly discovered and shared by actor John Voight in an interview with Tucker Carlson. “I was in a lot of trouble,” he confessed, “...and I was really suffering for many reasons...and I found myself on the floor saying, ‘It’s so difficult. It’s so difficult.’ I said it out loud. And I heard in my ear, ‘It's supposed to be difficult.’” It was an audible voice; one of wisdom, kindness, and clarity, and it spoke into Voight’s ear what he will never forget and what forever changed him: It’s supposed to be difficult.

It was on a silent retreat, in the worst accommodations you could ever imagine, that I made the decision to embrace the difficult by surrendering my whole heart to Jesus. And I mean all of it. As in, take what is most precious to you, carry it up a mountain, strap it to wood, and sacrifice it to the Lord kind of surrender. I had been withholding this piece of my heart for years, too afraid to give it to God out of fear of losing it forever. But after years of being tossed about, trying to pray the difficult away, I realized that until I embraced the difficult, I would forever miss the point. And do you know what happened when I offered God what I love most? Do you know what happened when I embraced the test with unwavering confidence in my Lord? I learned to live at God’s pace. I grew in holiness. I began to cultivate a worthy heart. I experienced a holy joy. Not because the trial was over. Not because things got easier. But because I chose obedience in the midst of the difficult.

“Count it all joy” looks great painted on shiplap or printed on a cute mug, but if we stop at the joy we miss the point. The full verse from the Letter of James reads, “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3). Drop down a few more verses and we are assured that “blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). I read this, and it all sounds very clear; difficult to obey, perhaps, but not to understand. There is a point to the tests. They steady our soul, detach us from the world, keep us from getting tossed about, earn us the crown. And so I can’t help but wonder. Could it be that we are standing on shaky spiritual ground not because our God is too demanding or the Church outdated, but rather, because we are holding God to promises He never made?

It would be wise to get to know this God better, lest we become victims of deception. Practically speaking, what does this look like? How do we become steadfast?

  1. Make God a priority. Crave the Eucharist more than your Starbucks. Frequent the sacraments. Grab a friend and commit to a daily devotional that you can discuss together.
  2. Find a community of like-minded people who are seeking to know and understand Christ better. Get yourself in a small group. Lead a Bible study. Ask the hard questions and wrestle with your doubts with people who will lead you to Truth. This is crucial, not optional.
  3. Write down His promises. Not what the world promises. Not what you want Him to promise. But His actual promises. 

Whatever trial you are facing, please know that God is not out to break your spirit. I speak this with authority as I know all too well the risk of surrender. The cross you carry is the same cross that Christ carried; not meant to crush your heart, but to widen it. So stand firm and claim God’s promises. Surround yourself with people who encourage you to embrace the difficult, not remove it. There is a point, my friend, and you can count it all joy. You can even go ahead and paint that on shiplap if you want. I won’t judge. And when you find yourself on the ground asking “what’s the point?” remember this: a faith tortured by questions and still believes is far greater than the faith that never questions at all.

“Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast.” (James 5:7)

With love and prayers for you,
Laura

Bible Study

 

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