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. 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. 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.
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.
 Matthew 10:39
We are in full transition mode in my home. Gone are the days of relaxed schedules, chlorine-smelling hair, hands stained with sidewalk chalk, and flip flops all over my entryway. Our dining room table is full of uniform kilts and pants that need to be hemmed, piles of school supplies, and rolls and rolls of contact paper just waiting to be opened.
With this transition in our home, a burst of excited energy enters my heart. The start of the school year brings with it the fall launch of the Walking with Purpose program at my parish. I have missed this community.
I have missed the warm and welcoming smiles. I have missed walking into a room and feeling confident that the women meeting me there are rooted in the love of Christ. There have been many lessons learned in these past 18 months of lockdown procedures, virtual school, remote work, and live-streamed Mass. But one is ever present in my heart as summer comes to a close: nothing can replace the joy found in a fellowship of women that come together from all seasons of life and faith journeys to bear witness to the Word of God.
What I think I have missed the most is the order and organization my spiritual life takes on when I am around these women. How we desperately need the fellowship of like-minded women running the race of life together!
We find ourselves in a world that is broken and fallen, and it is all too easy to be consumed by the world’s empty promises. This world easily invites us to forget about ordering our life toward Christ, and instead pushes us down an alluring rabbit hole of individualism, self-absorption, and pleasure. Do what you want to do, it whispers, when you want to do it, and how you want to do it. And no matter what it’s okay, because it’s your truth. Our world has forgotten that there is one truth, there is one authority. We have forgotten what our Catechism beautifully reminds us, “The worship of the one God sets man free from turning in on himself, from the slavery of sin and idolatry of the world.”
When we get caught in the rabbit hole of worldliness, we need our community to reach out to us and lead us back to relationship and unity with our Lord. Scott Hahn masterfully tells us in his book, It is Right and Just, that “it is in recognizing and living out the truth of the uniqueness of our relationship with God that we bring ourselves into right order with Him and all of creation.”
Right order. This is what WWP does for me and for thousands of women across this country. This community of women believers—standing together, praying together, and yes, breaking bread together (in the form of casseroles, cookies, and other sweet and savory treats)—helps me to rightly order everything. My WWP community reminds me of our early Church forefathers and mothers. They too found themselves in a world saturated with false idols, corruption, fear, anxiety, and persecution. They knew just how vital and necessary building a community was to combat the pressures of the world around them. They ran their race together.
They lived together, ordering their daily lives around prayer, worship, and caring for each other. They lived counter to the culture they were immersed in and bore witness to the belief in a purpose higher than themselves—to give glory to God. “Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32). They lived for the good of the community, not seeking individual pleasure. “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to the breaking of bread in their homes” (Acts 2:46). Did you catch the order of what they did? Worship first. They worshiped together, praising God, grateful for His presence among them. The order was God first, community second.
“There was not a needy person among them because each person shared their possessions for the good of the community” (Acts 4:34). They lived by the two greatest commandments spoken by Jesus: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39). The commitment to the authority of Jesus Christ and confidence in His Word and promises led them to live life differently.
Each Christian made the choice to order their lives around the Lord. And the joy that followed this choice and “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phillipians 4:7) was seen in their faces and appealed to those around them. Thus, the early Church exploded and spread rapidly amidst a pagan and morally destructive culture. How we need a similar explosion of truth today!
Where can we light the match of truth? How can we fan the flame of faith and hope?
Through community, sisters.
The noise of the world is LOUD. And the sway of worldliness is so strong. But we have something stronger. We have the might of the heavens in our corner. Communities of faith, like Walking with Purpose, encourage us to “throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12).
Communities of faith offer us what the world cannot—hope. Hope that it is not all up to us. Hope that we are not alone in our suffering. Hope that we are seen and loved just as we are. A drop of hope goes a long way to soften a heart that has been hardened by the brokenness of the world. Softened hearts allow space for movements of grace. And grace changes everything. Grace—this free and undeserved gift from God—helps us to live a life rightly ordered to Christ.
Sisters, it is time to remember that we too are counted in the commissioning of Christ, to “go out and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 18:19). It is time to act with the gift of grace and, through the choices we make (big and small), model the love of Jesus Christ to others.
 Catholic Church, “Life In Christ,” Catechism of the Catholic Church (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1995), 2097.
 Hahn, S. & McGinley, B. (2020) It is Right and Just: Why the Future of Civilization Depends on True Religion. Emmaus Road Publishing.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” (2 Corinthians 1:3–5)
Could you use some comfort? Most of us would say yes, because none of us gets through life without some suffering. One thing we all seem to have in common are circumstances in our lives that we feel like rob us of joy. We all have a cross to carry.
How about you? What circumstance or heartache is the #1 thing you wish God would relieve you of? And please don’t just scroll through that question…take a moment and think about it. Write it down. Which messy part of your life do you pray God would fix?
Now take a look at what you wrote. That is an area of your life where you are suffering. And your suffering matters. It may be hidden or it may be on public display. It may be something you’ve endured for years or it may be something that sprang up suddenly and acutely. God sees it all and cares deeply. He wants to comfort you in that area of heartache, disappointment, and pain.
But the enemy of your soul wants you to look at that heartache and conclude that you are all alone. He tempts you to think that your suffering is pointless and your circumstances are never going to change. He wants you to believe that God is either not paying attention to you because He doesn’t care, or God IS paying attention to you, but He can’t be bothered to help you.
Those lies are from the pit of hell, and in the name of Jesus, I reject those lies, and I declare these truths over you:
God will never leave you or forsake you.
All suffering has meaning and purpose.
This is not the end of your story. You are not stuck. Things will change.
God IS paying attention to you, HE CARES, and HE IS AT WORK.
And God wants you to take your unique suffering and allow it to better equip you to display an outpouring love for people in your life. That is what St. Paul was talking about in 2 Corinthians 1:3–5.
I remember a time years ago when God delivered this message to me loud and clear. I had just had a miscarriage, and I was sitting in a hospital room. A nurse came into my room, took hold of my hand, and drew very close to my face. “Why are you here?” she asked.
I said, “You know why I’m here.” I didn’t want to say the words. I didn’t trust my voice or my ability to hold it together.
The nurse replied, “I want you to say the words.” So I told her that I had lost my baby. “Yes, that’s right,” she nodded. “You’ve lost your baby. But you are not alone.” And then she drew closer still. Knowing nothing about me, having never met me, she said, “How do you think you are going to help other women if you have never suffered?” She squeezed my hand and left. I never saw her again.
We all have crosses to carry, but we get to decide how we carry them. 2 Corinthians 1:3–5 pitches a vision of cross-carrying that ministers to others, making every moment of suffering deeply meaningful.
It makes me think of Simon of Cyrene in Matthew 27. When the soldiers told him he needed to help carry Jesus’ cross, he didn’t do it willingly. He was forced to do it. But something must have changed in his spirit over time. Fulton Sheen writes, “Though at first reluctant because compelled, [Simon] nevertheless must have found, as Our Lord said His followers would, ‘the yoke sweet and burden light.’ Otherwise his two sons would not later have been mentioned by Paul as pillars of the Church.” Simon’s children watched how their father carried the cross, and learned from his example, every step of the way. Who is watching you? Is the way you carry your cross compelling or complaining?
The most difficult suffering to bear is that which appears meaningless. But if we determine to “comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God,” we’ll be strengthened to persevere. And as we receive the strength from God to take one step at a time, we’ll be a living witness of the difference that Jesus makes.
As much as we wish that our suffering would go away, if we will allow it to, it will make us more tender and help us to be a soft place for others to land.
With you on the journey-
 Fulton Sheen, The Life of Christ (New York: Doubleday, 2008), 533.
I was at the playground with my seven-year old son the other day, watching him play and (thank goodness) burn off some energy so I could read a few chapters of a book. Suddenly, he came running up to me grinning ear to ear. “Mommy,” he said, “I made a new friend! His name is Evan and he likes Minecraft just like I do!” He scampered off to go swing and talk about all the “Minecrafty” things with his new friend. It made me smile because this is so like him. He’s the kid who will make a new friend no matter where we go. He is vulnerable, honest, and genuinely wants to get to know the other person. It’s a joy to watch.
As I sat on the bench, eager to go back to my book, a thought crossed my mind. Kids have no preconceived notions when they interact with other kids. They have a simplicity and a sincerity in the way they approach new situations and people—something that many of us, myself included, have lost.
We tend to spend time with people who validate our beliefs. And it seems that the longer we are committed Christians, the fewer non-Christian friends we have. Enjoying a solid faith community of friends is essential, but what is the consequence of this in terms of the need for us to share our faith with others? Faith is “caught” more than “taught,” and that requires starting with the strong foundation of a relationship.
Jesus has chosen to depend on Christians to carry forth His mission of salvation, to be the “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.” “Through baptism and the Eucharist, he gives us his own divine life; through the teaching of the Church he fills us with his truth; and he is counting on us not to hoard these treasures, nor let them go to waste.” We simply cannot do this if we remain comfortable in our Christian bubbles. It requires a degree of vulnerability and trust in the Lord as we seek to reach out to those around us and share the treasure we have received.
Sisters, this may require a certain level of discomfort. In order to reach others for Christ, we have to earn the right to be heard, and that often takes time through building relationships, listening well, and being authentic. Being uncomfortable for the sake of another is something that every Christian encounters sooner or later in their faith journey. As Dorothy Day once said: “An act of love, a voluntary taking on oneself of some of the pain of the world, increases the courage and love and hope of all.”
This doesn’t (necessarily) mean you need to walk up to a stranger at a playground and ask them about Jesus (kudos to you if you have ever done this—I haven’t!). But you can step out of your bubble in your daily life as a parent, grandparent, student, professional, volunteer, or neighbor.
I encourage you to ask yourself these questions as you consider how Jesus has called you to be salt and light to the world:
If the Holy Spirit tugs at your heart after reading one of these, take it to prayer. Ask Jesus how He wants you to bring others to Him. And remember that He will “fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
 Matthew 5:13, 14
 John Bartunek, The Better Part (Circle Press, 2007), 92-93.
 1 Peter 3:15
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.
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,
 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?
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,
My dear friend, author Sarah Swafford, is guest blogging for us today! Please read and enjoy Sarah’s post about cultivating interior stillness. —Lisa
Do you ever run into Scripture passages that touch your heart, but also make you pause to think, “But what does that actually mean?” I have always loved the verse Exodus 14:14: “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still.” As a wife of sixteen years, mother of five children, speaker, author, and also a recovering firstborn perfectionistic people-pleaser control freak (you may know the type), let’s just say that I have always been a bit of a “doer” and a go-getter. I love all my roles in life, and I also love my prayer time and quiet and reading and learning. Navigating daily life (the big and small battles) can at times be exhausting as I try to balance and maintain peace in my own heart and in my family…and tend to the countless responsibilities and tasks that are inevitable each day.
Recently, I felt compelled to dig into the above verse and pray through this gravitational pull I had to the word “still.” If you break open the book of Exodus, and in particular chapter 14, you will see that this verse is spoken by Moses to the Israelites right before the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea. Their backs were up against the sea and Pharaoh's army was charging. Can you imagine the sheer panic the Israelites must have felt in that moment?! Do you ever feel that way? Do you ever feel like life is coming down on you and you’re scrambling to “get it all done,” to protect, to guide, to reign in your emotions, to find the strength to do battle against the attacks that come at you from a million different directions? I know I do sometimes.
“The Lord will fight for you…” Yes, that is what I want! “Please Lord, step in and go to battle for me! I am exhausted and scared and overwhelmed and…and…and…” Not only does the Lord desire to fight for you, He also longs for you to ask for His help. It is not a form of weakness, but a deep realization that we can’t do it all, and we can’t do it without Him. Just like the Israelites with their backs up against the sea with a charging army, they knew they needed a miracle. And the Lord showed up for them, and all they needed to do was be still.
You may be thinking, “Okay, Sarah, right, like I can just ‘be still’ and all the tasks, chores, emotional angst, etc., will just disappear.” I know I used to think like that, that being “still” was just a little too far out of reach for my life. But as I read the book of Exodus and prayed on these verses, I started to realize that I was looking at it merely as a matter of physical stillness—to just stand around and wait for the Lord to show up and help me get it all done or figure it all out.
Through prayer, I started to realize that this verse really points (for you, me, and the Israelites) to an interior stillness, something that generally doesn’t come about overnight. If I put myself in the story, as an Israelite with my family watching Pharaoh's army charge, I’m sure I would panic and try to take matters into my own hands; but there would also be a realization that I have just watched the Lord deliver us from our enemies through a series of plagues and a host of other supernatural phenomena. As with the Israelites, so also with us: God is worthy of our trust. I have seen Him fight my battles.
So how do we cultivate this interior stillness? To be able to stand with our backs against the sea and trust; to not panic, to not flail around in our lives and try to take matters into our own hands? That’s not an easy task. I don’t have all the answers, but I know we can turn to the Scriptures and saints for a wealth of wisdom, and they would point us to the power of daily prayer and quiet stillness with the Lord. I say “daily,” but what I really mean is hourly—in the moment—in the present moment where we encounter our struggles; this is the place of battle, when we need to turn to the Lord in trust.
It is helpful to recall the ways He has battled for us in the past because this can give us confidence that He can and will do so again. Each time we do this, we slowly develop a habit of surrendering to Him again and again, cultivating a deep awareness of our need for God. By returning to Him over and over again in the small things every day, we develop the instinct to turn to Him when the big things come our way—like when Pharaoh's army is charging and there is nowhere to go.
Is it easy to trust, to turn to God in every need, and cultivate interior stillness? No, but the alternative will always be chaos, self-reliance, panic, and fear, and that is no way to live. He wants to fight for you. He has already laid His life down for you. I promise you—He is trustworthy. We need only be still.
Need more inspiration to move toward daily prayer and quiet stillness with the Lord? Check out the Walking with Purpose 365-day devotional, Be Still. And while you’re here, be sure to sign up to get our weekly blog delivered to your inbox!
Sarah Swafford is the founder of Emotional Virtue Ministries. She speaks internationally to people of all ages on a variety of topics such as: emotional virtue, dating and relationships, modesty of intentions, and interior confidence. She shares her message at school assemblies, retreats, rallies, and conferences around the world and is the author of Emotional Virtue: A Guide to Drama-Free Relationships.
Sarah is a contributor to Chosen, Ascension Press’ confirmation program, and YDisciple’s True Beauty; she has also contributed videos for www.womenmadenew.com. Sarah is a proud team member of Chastity Project and speaks at Steubenville conferences in the United States and Canada.
Sarah also works on special projects for Catholic identity at her alma mater, Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, where she resides with her wonderful husband, Dr. Andrew Swafford, and their children: Thomas, Fulton, Cate, Kolbe, and John Paul. You can find more information about Sarah and Emotional Virtue Ministries at www.emotionalvirtue.com
I will be honest, the last couple of weeks have been hard. And would you believe it has nothing to do with Covid, pandemic restrictions, or even vaccinations? This was a different kind of hard. This hard was fueled by swirling negative self-talk and comparisons with other women in which I always ended up short. Old wounds were uncovered in my heart, and with those old wounds came powerful feelings of not being good enough, of feeling less than, of feeling ugly. I was emotionally leveled.
And all of this happened to bubble up to the surface during a week in which I was planning the ending celebration of my women’s group’s 33-day Consecration to St. Joseph, my youngest was preparing to graduate from kindergarten, my husband was working longer hours on a big project, and my older children were in need of me to help them study for their finals, not to mention being the point person for all of the drop-offs and pick-ups for the various activities that they were now back to. My daily responsibilities were not going to stop just because my emotions and old wounds were getting the better of me.
I’m not proud to admit that my go-to response has always been to push through the day, do what was needed of me and/or what was required of me and then crawl into bed, pull the covers up, let those negative thoughts wash over me, and succumb to them. I tend to isolate, withdraw, and not allow anyone into my hurt...including God. My seven years of Bible study through Walking with Purpose has strengthened my relationship with Christ, and I know that the enemy is cunning, “prowling around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). At that point, however, I was not strong enough to resist the attack. My rational brain was throwing red flags up everywhere, telling me that this was exactly what the enemy—the “father of lies'' (John 8:44)—does, this is his game plan, this is where he wants me—isolated, alone, despairing, and questioning my worth. My defenses were weak this time around. I stayed right where I was and I believed every lie. This ultimately led to heightened anxiety and rising levels of anger and frustration. My behavior toward those I love most (hint: my husband and children), therefore, was less than stellar, and not my finest moment.
But what the enemy did not count on this time around was that in these past seven years of WWP, the Lord had been intentionally placing women in my life who He knew I needed alongside me on my journey. Don’t you just love God?? The Lord had been cultivating these authentic friendships in my life in order to grow the fruits of healing and unconditional love. It was these fierce women who picked me up when I was too weak to fight this battle alone, who picked up their own shields of faith to place in front of me and defend me from the arrows of the enemy. These women called me out of the darkness of isolation and into the light of community in Christ.
This journey that we are on, sisters, we were never meant to be on alone. From the beginning, the Lord meant for us to be in relationship. We were each made in the image and likeness of God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As the three persons of the Holy Trinity are in communion with each other, so too are we called to be. Mary DeTurris Poust writes in her book, Walking Together, “We see in the three personas of the Trinity an openness. The Father, Son and Spirit are generous with one another and in constant connection...the three personas are distinct and separate from each other, never in danger of overtaking one another or suppressing one another. There is a harmony there [emphasis added].” When our friendships are rooted in God, there is a true desire for the other to flourish. There is no judgment or comparison between each other. There is building up, not tearing down.
We can see examples of holy friendships throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament, Ruth displays fierce loyalty and faithfulness as she refuses to leave Naomi, and instead accompanies her to Naomi’s family’s home—a place where the culture, language, and traditions were unknown to Ruth. “For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God,” Ruth tells Naomi (Ruth 1:16). And Naomi reciprocates these feelings as she urges Ruth toward a marriage with a kind and loving man, telling her, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you” (Ruth 3:1). These women desired true happiness for one another.
The greatest examples we have of holy friendships are those between Jesus and His chosen disciples. He called each one to follow Him, seeing special gifts unique to each person. Knowing these men and women would be called for a greater mission after His death, He helped them along their paths toward holiness. He inspired virtue and called out lies and prejudices. He declared truth into their hearts and modeled trust, compassion, and forgiveness. Jesus knew that His disciples would need each other. He sent them out during His ministry two by two (Luke 10:1). And just as He reminds them “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20), so too does He remind us that when we ground our friendships in Him, He will be there too.
Are you seeking harmony in your relationships? Are the friendships you have right now ones that keep you on the path of virtue and in the pursuit of holiness? Sister, are you spending time with others who edify you, who call out your gifts, and encourage you to be a better version of yourself? If not, spend time in prayer, asking for the Lord to lead you to these women. And if you are lucky enough to have these women already in your life, say a prayer of thanksgiving, and then invite these blessed friends back to community and fellowship with you.
 DeTurris Poust, Mary. (2010). Walking Together: Discovering the Catholic Tradition of Spiritual Friendship. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, pp. 21-22.
One of the many side effects of being trapped at home during a pandemic—according to the woman who sold us our new dining room set and chandelier—is refurnishing your home. “People are bored and have nothing else to do but stare at their living space,” the saleswoman told us. “Figured they might as well make it beautiful.” Anyone else wallpaper a bedroom, buy a new area rug, or rearrange the furniture to keep the boredom at bay? Or did you buy a dog?
We considered the third dog but opted for a full kitchen remodel and a new dining room set instead. Not because we were bored, but because I wanted to create a beautiful space that fit all of my family and friends. I desired to make my home a place of warm invitation, where there is always an empty chair at the table and charcuterie board within arms reach. When the days grew lonely and hope ran low, it was this vision—this dream of connection and conversation permeating my home and rising like incense—that kept me from spiraling into despair.
That and potato peel pie.
During quarantine, I fell madly in love with the novel turned film, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Set in 1941 on the island of Guernsey during German occupation, the islanders were no longer allowed to have meat. However, a local woman managed to hide a pig from the German soldiers and invited her neighbors into her home to share in a pig roast. Carefully slipping handwritten invitations beneath wooden doors, this strange but irresistible group came together, nourishing more than just their physical bodies. One guest made an offering of his famous potato peel pie, which was exactly what it sounds like. A simple pie made of nothing but potatoes and their peels.
Later that evening when caught out after curfew, the witty, loving, and quick-thinking character, Elizabeth McKenna, claimed that they were a book club who had been so engrossed that they lost track of time. A club they ridiculously named on the spot: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. What began as a cover for residents breaking curfew during the German occupation turned into a weekly Friday night refuge. And what began for me as just another Saturday night Netflix movie turned into a stirring of my heart and a conviction of what I already knew to be true: without connection, we will starve to death.
“We were all hungry,” says the narrator. “But it was Elizabeth who realized our true starvation for connection—for the company of other people, for fellowship.” I replayed that movie three times in one week, completely captivated by Elizabeth and potato peel pie.
Are you like Elizabeth? Do you sense the hunger around you? Do you recognize the needs of others?
As our world (and let’s be honest, our Church, too) grows more divided, angrier, and motivated by fear, are you able to see through the feelings and emotion and recognize the true hunger at the root of it all? The hunger not for potato peel pie but for godly connection and community rooted in truth. If this sounds like you, I ask that you pay attention to this call. God has placed this desire on your heart. He is calling you to build community so people can experience His kingdom here on earth.
I say this with urgency because we need more people like Elizabeth. We need more women who are willing to step onto the battleground, which is steeped in isolation and division. We need women like you to feed truth to those who are starving for it. And yes, we specifically need women, because we are the heart of the home, the distillers of hope. We are an “irreplaceable support and source of spiritual strength for other people.” Yes, even the other people we disagree with. Yes, even the other people who stand on the opposite side. My friends, if we are not the ones to extend a hand, share a meal, and reflect the image of Christ to all people, then tell me, who will?
We have got to up our game.
We have got to start building Christ-centered communities.
We have got to step out in the confidence that what we have to offer is far greater than the cheap imitation of the living water that’s being bought and guzzled down like cheap wine.
It is not enough to say “we have the Truth”...we have to share it. We have to let others in on our reason for hope.
And then...we need to lose our desire to be right, check our pride at the door, and listen well. I fear we have forgotten how to do this.
I received a text last week from a friend, coincidentally (or not) named Elizabeth. It read: “The Holy Spirit has placed something on my heart, and before I brush it away, I’m going to reach out right now to invite you all to come to my house so that I can share it with you!” Amazingly, we all RSVP’d “yes” immediately. My guess? We were starving. And Elizabeth not only recognized it, she did something about it. It was as simple as that. Do not overcomplicate what it means to build community. You do not need engraved invitations, a fully planned agenda, a parish hall, a perfectly coordinated Bible study, or a new dining room set. Nor do you need to roast a pig—unless, of course, roasting pigs is one of your spiritual gifts. Then by all means, roast away. But honestly? It is much simpler than we think. It starts with spending time in prayer, opening our eyes to the people around us, and then extending an invitation.
In Hebrews 10:24–25 we read, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together...but encouraging one another.” Can we commit to doing this? Can we agree to live this verse out loud? To stirring one another up? To losing the excuse that we are too busy to get together by saying yes to that invitation? To rejecting the lie that “I have no friends” by going out and making friends?
Approach the woman you see at daily Mass. Sure, you will feel weird, but that is okay. Weird won’t kill you, and weird just might save her life.
Call that friend you lost touch with because you couldn’t believe who she voted for, and ask her to meet you for a cup of coffee. Do not let the enemy use politics to poison your friendships. You are holier than that.
Reach out to your pastor, and ask if he knows of a woman in need of a friend. Will this feel uncomfortable? You bet! Do it anyway, because spoiler alert: the Catholic faith is rarely comfortable.
Heck, you can reach out to me, and my own little potato peel society will happily pray with and for you.
I am more convinced than ever that we, God’s beloved daughters, are exactly what the world needs right now. And what a tragedy it would be for us to hear the Holy Spirit, only to brush it away.
It is time to stir up one another. To send that text. To brew that coffee. To roast that pig. Community building is what we women do best. Dare I say, it’s as simple as making potato peel pie.
Get out your peelers, ladies...we’ve got good work to do.
Ah, summer 2021. A time that will forever be remembered as the post-quarantine summer. The world is opening back up again, and some people are making up for lost time as soon as possible. Others are experiencing what some experts are calling “re-entry anxiety.”
I wonder where you fall on this spectrum as things begin to return to normal. Statistics have shown that women were especially hit hard during the pandemic with rates of depression, anxiety, and alcohol consumption skyrocketing. For me, I’m somewhere between making up for lost time (“Hello, live music—I have MISSED YOU!”) and experiencing re-entry anxiety (“Do I need a mask in this store?” “Can we hug now?”). Our lives look different than they did a year ago, and our habits have likely changed as we have learned to cope with All. The. Things.
In John 10:10, Jesus told us, “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” I feel like my life during the past year definitely wasn’t abundant, but that this year has potential. How about you? Do you feel like your life is abundant right now?
So, what is an “abundant” life? I think having an abundant life means having a life you love, not one that you want to run away from. I also think the abundant life Jesus spoke of is offered to us here and now, and isn’t related to our state in life or how much we are “making up for lost time” post-pandemic. This abundant life is one of peace, joy, and grace. It sounds lovely, in theory, but how do we attain it? I believe it requires a choice—a conscious decision to get back to the basics.
“Do the work you did at first.” (Revelation 2:5)
In his message to Ephesus in the book of Revelation, John praises the members for their works and virtues, but admonishes them to repent and return to their former devotion.
This makes me think that the abundant life (having a life that we love) and doing the work we did at first (getting back to the basics of our faith) are intrinsically linked. Will you take a moment and pause with me to reflect on the last time your life felt full and abundant? What were you doing then? When was the last time you felt close to God? What are you not doing now that you were doing then? What habits have you dropped?
Summer is a great time to reset our calendars and our priorities. Here are some basic things I’ve consciously decided to re-focus on in order to live the abundant life Jesus promised us. Will you join me in getting back to the basics this summer?
“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” —St. Francis of Assisi
As we re-emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, we have some choices to make. Don’t be swept back into the hurried life you had before, and know that you don’t have to carry bad habits from quarantine with you. You can build a life you love—starting now—one step at a time. The abundant life Jesus offers is waiting for you.
 Jordan Valinsky, “7 signs that summer is about to be lit,” CNN Business, May 29, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/05/29/business/summer-2021-back-to-normal/index.html.
 Maya Kachroo-Levine, “How to Work Through Your Re-entry Anxiety, According to a Licensed Therapist,” Travel+Leisure, May 28, 2021, https://www.travelandleisure.com/travel-tips/covid-reentry-anxiety.
 Dawn Sugarman and Shelly Greenfield, “Women, alcohol, and COVID-19,” Harvard Health Blog, April 6, 2021, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/women-alcohol-and-covid-19-2021040622219.