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Middle schoolers are not my jam. If I’m being honest, other people’s kids are not my jam. I’ve never been the mom who hosts playdates or coaches soccer. I lead Walking with Purpose small groups with ADULT women—adult women who already love Jesus and whose prefrontal cortex is completely developed. Imagine my shock when I felt very clearly called by God to lead BLAZE, the WWP ministry for girls. I ignored that still, small voice. I shook it off for years. But the voice persisted, and the message was clear. Little did I know that this calling was as much about me and my heart as it was about these girls (who I came to find out—spoiler alert—are AMAZING!).

Let’s rewind to last year when I attended a spiritual retreat. It was during this retreat that I felt strongly convicted by a root sin I never realized I was fighting: vanity. Did you know that the sin of vanity is not just being conceited or obsessed with your own looks? I had no idea! Since I don’t color my hair (yet), I take less than three minutes to apply my “going out” makeup, and have a relatively unremarkable sense of style, vanity was not on my radar.

What I learned at this retreat, though, was the root sin of vanity is basing our security on what other people think of us. I was immediately convicted. I am aware that my love language is words of affirmation, which manifests as me wanting others to see me, to appreciate me, and to affirm and praise me. I began to realize that my primary motivation for doing good in the world was not to serve God and man, but to be SEEN serving God and praised for my good deeds and good heart. 

Why is this dangerous? If I’m doing good, who cares what my motivations are? Because, it’s intoxicating. If I’m basing my worth on getting that “atta boy,” no amount of praise will ever be enough. As St. Augustine says, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” 

Once I was aware of this root sin of vanity, I found the restlessness that St. Augustine speaks about everywhere! If I did something and didn’t receive recognition, I felt invisible. I caught myself bragging (even worse, I employed the “humble brag” and stealthily camouflaged my brag with modesty! Is anything worse?) and realized I was essentially soft-shoeing through life for the accolades. In this time of prayerful discernment, the realization came that I was focused more on praise and acknowledgment than on my relationship with God. 

God’s timing is always perfect.

I had answered the call to lead BLAZE Masterpiece and started the program with my daughter and six of her friends. It was as I was struggling with renouncing this sin of vanity, this need for approval and affirmation, that I sat down to prepare my BLAZE lesson for the week. The title of the lesson happened to be “Audience of One.” (I see what you are doing here, God!) Every BLAZE lesson focuses on one lie from the world countered with one truth from God. This week’s lie? “I need the approval of my friends to be happy.” The truth? We are called to “live for an audience of one.”[1]  

As I spent the hour of BLAZE with these beautiful girls, my deepest desire was for them to see how worthy and beloved they are in the eyes of the Father and to live for Him and Him alone! I prayed that He would be their security. He would be their identity. 

During the lesson, I could see the shift in their faces and hearts as we discussed their eagerness to “fit in.” They were gaining a new awareness that God gives them the power to live as strong, courageous world changers. The girls expressed to me that there was freedom in seeing themselves through His eyes. One of the girls shared, “If living for God brings God joy, then that means that He will put that joy back in my heart.”

This time with the girls led me to the passage, “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). This was my call to action. I cannot simultaneously serve God and seek approval from the world. I must step out from under this need for praise and live for an audience of one. God gently focused my eyes back on Him. He led me to a conversion of heart —less of me, more of Him.

God is not asking me to abandon my love language. He is asking that I not place my worth in the approval of others. In Romans 5:8 St. Paul says, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God shows me my worth on the cross. I am loved simply for who I am: His beloved daughter. 

Like the girls in my BLAZE group, I have found freedom in the acknowledgment that God wants us to live in a state of belovedness. God spoke so gently into my heart that others' approval of me doesn't shine a spotlight on me. I shine with the light of Christ. I see this light in the girls that come every week to BLAZE. They shine so brightly, and I am simply drawn to them, captivated by them. 

I began BLAZE with the prayer that the program would begin a transformation in the hearts of the girls in my group. I prayed that this group would help them to know and love God, and that they would base their worth in their identity as His beloved daughters. In His perfect plan, I was the one who began a transformation. Slowly, and with loads of grace. 

“Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25) And thanks be to God for bringing these beautiful girls into my life.

Consider giving the gift of BLAZE to the girls in your life. I invite you to prayerfully discern leading a BLAZE group at your parish, school, or in your community. The WWP ministry support team is ready to answer questions and help get you started.  

[1] Lisa Brenninkmeyer, BLAZE Masterpiece Leader’s Guide (Walking with Purpose, 2019), 133.

About the Author:
Elizabeth Durastanti is a ministry support representative for Walking with Purpose and BLAZE small group leader in her local community. After years in DC, London, and New York City, this city girl at heart settled down in her hometown, Severna Park, Maryland, to raise her three kids with her cutie husband! She loves Jesus and naps and Netflix (in that order). She could just burst with gratitude that each day we are given a fresh opportunity to pursue holiness.

My son’s friends are all starting to sport mullet haircuts, and my daughter thinks low-rise jeans are the coolest things. Are you cringing along with me? What is happening with fashion lately, and why does it feel like we’re entering the twilight zone?

We are told these fashion styles are new and exciting, but those of us who have been around for more than 30 years know these trends have been around before. 

Ecclesiastes 1:9–10 says it best: “Nothing is new under the sun! Even the thing of which we say, ‘See, this is new!’ has already existed in the ages that preceded us.” 

The wisdom of Ecclesiastes goes deeper than passing fads. It speaks to the meaning of life, spoken from the perspective of one who has seen the effects of a life seeking all different kinds of things. The author of Ecclesiastes highlights where people tend to spend their time and energy—primarily pursuing money, pleasure, and wisdom—and the bottom line? “Vanity of vanities…all things are vanity!” (Ecclesiastes 12:8)

The Hebrew word for vanity, hevel, means futility, a chasing after wind, a grasping after shadows.

For centuries people have sought money, pleasure, and wisdom. In many ways, we are not unlike the generations that have come before us—even if the way we experience these things looks different. In essence, they are not new. Generations pass and the lessons learned by our ancestors are often forgotten by future generations. Whatever we have accumulated during our time on this earth will eventually fade away. Yes, even the low-rise jeans will leave one day (praise the Lord). 

However, if there’s more to this life than what we see (2 Corinthians 4:18), and our lives matter to God (Isaiah 44:2), then everything we do matters to Him (Colossians 3:17). 

And the difference between a life that is meaningless and a life that is meaningful?

Surprise, it’s you! More specifically, it’s what you choose to do with the one life you’ve been given. 

You are a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

You are able to do all things for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

You are able to offer encouragement to those who are afflicted, because you have received encouragement from God (2 Corinthians 1:4).

We have been given this time on earth to glorify God and bring others to Him. Everything else is vanity. 

Sisters, we are uniquely equipped to tell the coming generations about the goodness, truth, and beauty of God. It’s our privilege to be His witnesses and ambassadors. We can share how God has worked in our own lives and in the life of our universal Catholic Church, with 2000 years of tradition and a history that extends even beyond that. Using the fleeting things of this world (money, pleasure, and wisdom) for His glory and to bring others to Him is precisely how we flip the switch from meaningless lives to lives rich in meaning. 

Let us not be women who chase after the wind or grasp for shadows. Let us be women who stand firm and hold out our hands to offer the good news to a generation that desperately needs it (much more than low-rise jeans).

Everything else is vanity. 

Sometimes I come across a gospel story that doesn’t make sense to me. I can read it over and over again and listen to explanations, but something about it doesn’t click. Jesus often spoke in parables and veiled language to His followers. Two thousand years later, it’s easy for me to find my head spinning as I try to figure out what He was saying. 

One story has left me perplexed for years. It comes from Matthew 8: 

Now when Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. A scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:18–20) 

A scribe approaches Jesus and tells Him, “I will go wherever you go,” and how does Jesus respond? He doesn’t say, “Welcome, good servant,” or “Are you sure you have considered the ramifications of your decision to follow me?” He doesn’t seem to acknowledge the scribe’s statement at all. Instead, He gives this vague response: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.”

As many times as I have read that paragraph, I have never been able to grasp what Jesus was trying to say. Jesus did have somewhere to lay His head. He camped with His apostles, and villagers often hosted Him and His followers as they traveled. So what did He mean? 

Last week, I was sitting with this passage—confused yet again—but this time I kept reading. The story following this encounter is called “Jesus Calms the Storm At Sea.” 

And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O men of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him.” (Matthew 8:23–27)

It was that first sentence, verse 23, that unlocked everything. I had never caught it before. “And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him.” The disciples obediently followed Jesus. They followed Him directly into a storm. The experience of the storm wasn’t a byproduct of their decision to follow Jesus—it was directly because of it. 

Jesus gives us a sober understanding of the stakes of following Him in both passages. When Jesus told the scribe in Matthew 8:20, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head,” He wanted the scribe to understand that following Him would lead only to Himself, nowhere else. Yes, following Christ can lead to a great adventure, but the adventure isn't the point. The point, the end goal, is that we get Jesus. When Jesus led the disciples into the storm, He wanted them to understand that even in utter darkness, even when we don't feel His presence, He is right there. He never leaves. He is always faithful.

Our current society likes to attach many other promises to Christianity. We are told that our lives will be easier if we follow Jesus. We are told that following Christ will lead to comfort and financial prosperity. Even if we don't explicitly believe these messages, they seep into our culture, and inadvertently, we begin to think that life should be easy for Christians. None of this is true. We will easily be fooled by these messages if we aren’t careful. We will then find ourselves only willing to follow Jesus if He leads us where we want to go—toward our preferred way of living. We will walk away from Him the moment the journey becomes difficult or we find ourselves in uncharted territory. 

But Jesus never promised us an easy life; He promised us abundant life. John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” So what is the abundant life? It’s Jesus. That’s it. Him. All of Him—nothing more, nothing less. 

And so, dear sister, put yourself in the shoes of the scribe and the disciples as we encounter them in Matthew 8. There is a good chance that if you are reading this, you have a desire to follow Jesus. Are you willing to follow Him if, in the end, you only get Him? Do you have the courage to let go of your life’s expectations and let Him have complete control? Will you follow Him wherever He leads you, for better or worse? 

At many moments, for me, the answer is no. In my heart of hearts, I know my commitment waivers. I have expectations for my version of the abundant life that I refuse to release so He can give me His abundant life. I'm afraid of the storm into which He may lead me, so I withhold my love from Him. I sit comfortably in my curated Christian life while He beckons me to go deeper. 

Years ago, I sat with a very holy priest who told me, “Mallory, I see in you that you could be a great lady. When situations get messy and people start to fight and gossip about each other, I see you as having the ability to rise above it—to live on a different level. You could be that lady, but you are not that great lady yet.” 

I am not that great lady yet because I haven’t yet chosen Jesus over everything else. But what if I did? How much more would I know Him? How much more would I love Him? How much more peace would I experience in my own life if I just gave Him a total yes. I would become that great lady. I wouldn’t necessarily be a wealthy lady, a famous lady, a successful lady, or even a popular lady. I’m not opposed to any of these things, but more than these things, I want to become a great lady. One who dared to follow Jesus wherever He led, so that in the end, I would receive Him as my prize.  

So what is holding you back? If you find that you can only get so far in your faith, maybe it’s time to let go of something. Perhaps it’s time to go all in, no matter where He leads. Because in the end, He is the abundant life. It is He who leads us. He makes us great, and life with Him is all that matters. 

 

Friendship is not extra. It is not optional for the Christian. It is particularly crucial to the Christian woman. Perhaps you’re already nodding. Perhaps you’re even thinking of the faces of the women who form your Walking with Purpose community, remembering how those women acted as “an elixir of life” to you (Sirach 6:16).

But what if you’re not at this point? What if you…well, don’t really have any “bosom friends”? What if you’ve expended all your relational energy with your children or at work? You feel the press of immediate needs and don’t think it would be responsible to step away. Isn’t it more likely that having friends is something you do with leftover time?

At the Last Supper with the disciples, Jesus stresses to them what was most important to Him: communion. Jesus immerses His disciples in the reality that communion with the Father and one another is the meaning of life. In John’s Gospel, Jesus expresses His unity with us as the true Vine, in whose love we are to remain. Jesus says, “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father” (John 15:15). Jesus, who is the Word of the Father, has told us—shared with us—all. He wants us not to remain on the outside of things but to know the logic of love from within, through participating in it. 

The Lord has designed you and destined you for intimate participation in love. This participation is called “communion,” and the entire Christian life has communion as its aim. You have come from a communion of love—the Trinity—and you are destined for communion—the communion of saints, the communion of the Trinity. You are not the best version of you, you are literally not yourself, alone. To be you, to be a person, is to be in communion.[1] This is why friendship is not extra but essential.

For a while, I forgot this, and I forgot who I was in a basic way. I was fully immersed in survival—moving four times in 5 years, having twins, homeschooling older children—I had no bandwidth to be concerned with anyone outside my immediate family. The intensity of my insularity was ugly but nearly invisible to me. During this time, my eldest daughter signed up for a musical theater production of The Wizard of Oz. This commitment necessitated that I volunteer for 12 hours. As I walked into the wings, I thoroughly resented the coerced volunteering, certain I was more put-out than any other mom because I had to bring three other children with me—who sat under tables in Hair and Makeup. Thirty minutes later, I was not the same woman who had started applying makeup. I was electrified. Coming home from productions at 10 p.m., I couldn’t sleep until I’d told my husband about every meaningful conversation I had with each mom, munchkin, and monkey. There was a lot to tell! On the third night of the show, I was nearly shouting at my husband: “I’m an extrovert! I can’t believe I forgot I was an extrovert!” And let me tell you, the man behind the curtain in this moment was the Lord.

He lifted the curtain of my heart revealing to me that “[Wo]man cannot live without love. [S]he remains a being that is incomprehensible for [her]self, [her] life is senseless, if love is not revealed to [her], if [s]he does not encounter love, if [s]he does not experience it and make it [her] own, if [s]he does not participate intimately in it.”[2] Woman is the one who is especially characterized by making room for another in her intimate spaces—her body, home, mind, family, and social groups. Our feminine genius disposes us to recognize and affirm the humanity, the goodness of the other. This is why the world needs women in order to be properly humanized. 

Of course, a woman can live this “genius” for people without being gregarious, but sometimes a hyperbole, like myself, makes a good illustration. One of the next things I did after rediscovering that I loved people, especially women, was to form a Well-Read Mom book club. At our first meeting, we could barely summon the courage to repeat the novel’s basic plot-points—and I was relieved when the ladies went home. Ouch. But, by our last meeting, we were disagreeing with each other over different interpretations and laughing about it. It was as if we had awakened—after being asleep—to our deepest questions. And if literature and fiction helped us awaken to our questions and desires, is it surprising that nearly the same exact women who’d formed the book club formed our first WWP Bible study group?

In making friends as a grownup, I learned that friendship expresses principles of Christ’s own affection for me. Friendship is a form of communion, where we meet Christ's own love for us. This is why friendship is not extra for the Christian. 

In the next few days, ask the Lord to show you why friendship matters so much to Him. Then, step forward in faith. Perhaps you can simply start by adding a friend-event to your calendar. Perhaps you could shift your energy from social media friendships to one or two actual, embodied friendships. Perhaps you could revisit Jodi Dauses’ encouragement to take the first step in repairing a faltering friendship. Dare to believe that Jesus desires the joy of friendship for you, that His “joy may be in you and your joy may be perfect” (John 15:11).

[1] Pope John Paul II, “General Audience November 14, 1979,” Vatican.va, https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/audiences/1979/documents/hf_jp-ii_aud_19791114.html. (See also, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, “Concerning the Notion of Person in Theology,” Communio, https://www.communio-icr.com/articles/view/concerning-the-notion-of-person-in-theology.)
[2] Pope John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, section 10, March 4, 1979, Vatican.va, https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_04031979_redemptor-hominis.html.

About the author:
Charity Hill lives in the Austin area with her husband and four children, but she really dwells with them at the intersections of theology, literature, and laundry. Charity produces her children’s literature podcast Bright Wings: Children’s Books to Make the Heart Soar. At Bright Wings, Charity ponders what makes a book worth reading and wonders how children’s literature can help save the world.

How are your friendships? In the Bible study Reclaiming Friendship: God’s Plan for Deep Connection, Mallory Smyth encourages us to take inventory of the type of friend we are by asking, “Are you trustworthy? Do you keep your confidential secrets to yourself? Do you give as much as you take from your friendships? In what ways can you change behavior to grow into Christlike maturity in your friendships?”[1]

As I tell my teenagers, often we gossip, ghost, or distance ourselves from a friend because we do not have the courage to say TO her, what we are saying ABOUT her. Ouch, that’s tough to admit! But if we long for authentic friendships (and we all do!), God is calling us to get honest and keep “short accounts” with each other. 

What does this practically look like?

When I was a college student, I had the honor of attending the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., with my parents. One of the keynote speakers, a U.S. congressman, introduced us to what he called the “5% rule,” based on the teachings of Jesus Christ. The concept rattled me. He encouraged us, if we had a disagreement with someone, to first look intently at our part in the exchange. But here was the kicker, he invited us to initiate asking for forgiveness for our part, even if we were 5% in the wrong and the other party was 95% to blame. No matter how little we personally were at fault, and no matter how badly we had been wounded by the other party, he challenged us to take the first step toward reconciling. 

From then on, our family of six adopted this rule toward forgiveness. When a conflict, misunderstanding, or unkind words were exchanged between us, we learned how to prayerfully ask God to help us discern our “5%” and ask forgiveness for our part, no matter how small. I have carried this principle of “owning the 5%” into my marriage, parenting, and friendships. It has not been easy, but each time I ask Jesus for His sacred, humble heart to help me take the first step.  

Imagine what would happen to our marriages, interactions with family members, disagreements with coworkers, and friendships if we adopted this 5% rule! 

We would be wise to take heed of Ephesians 4:26–27: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger and do not give the enemy of our souls [the devil] a foothold.” Imagine if we resolved to keep short accounts with each other and not let the day end before we reached out in reconciliation. How would this change our relationships?

Speaking the truth in love requires we see others the way Jesus sees them—as His beloved children. Reclaiming Friendship says: 

We can often get stuck playing the blame-game, but the Lord is inviting us to do the next right thing in our friendships. If we have been hurt, Jesus encourages us to forgive. If we have done the wounding, we are called to ask for forgiveness. No matter if our part is 5%, 45%, or 95%, Jesus is inviting us to take the first step. This is not natural because we long to point the finger at what others did wrong, but God is calling us to maturity. We must be brave enough to open our friendships up to healthy communication. We must lead with kindness and authenticity. When we have the courage to do this, we sharpen each other. Honesty helps us develop fruitful, virtuous friendships.[2]

Consider your current friendships. Are there small tensions that could easily be diffused by speaking the truth in love? What keeps you from looking at your part? Is there a friendship account you need to settle today? 

Even if we played a part in the rupture of a friendship, redemption is always possible. Jesus always speaks the truth in love to us. It is His kindness that leads us to repentance and reminds us that He will finish the good work that He started in us. To follow Him fully is to increasingly become better at relationships, to become a better friend.[3]

Let’s have enough courage to have hard conversations with those we love and be humble enough to admit our own personal barriers to friendship. Let’s keep short accounts with one another. Before our head hits the pillow this evening, let’s seek forgiveness from those we may have hurt, even for the most minor infractions. Let’s look to the words of St. Francis of Assisi to guide us: “Blessed is the servant who loves his brother as much when he is sick and useless as when he is well and can be of service to him. And blessed is he who loves his brother as well when he is afar off as when he is by his side, and who would say nothing behind his back he might not, in love, say before his face.” [4]

Totus Tuus,
Jodi 

P.S. Want to dive into Reclaiming Friendship? We’ve got two digital options for you: e-Book (iPad/tablets/smartphones) and Amazon Kindle. Perfect to take on your upcoming vacation or day trip to the park. 

[1] Mallory Smyth, Reclaiming Friendship: God’s Plan for Deep Connection (Walking with Purpose, 2021), 49.
[2] Smyth, Reclaiming Friendship, 48-49.
[3] Smyth, Reclaiming Friendship, 50.
[4] Francis of Assisi in His Own Words: The Essential Writings, Translated by Jon M. Sweeney (Paraclete Press, 2018).

It’s a safe bet that my husband knows too much about ballet. He’s a #dancedad. Our 14-year-old daughter has been dancing since she was 2 ½, so we are fairly used to recital weekends in our family. For the past several years, my daughter’s annual recital falls on the weekend of Father’s Day. So instead of planning a day of kayaking or BBQing—anything that my husband would want to do—he spends his Father’s Day at the theater. He sits through hours upon hours of ballet, jazz, hip hop, and contemporary routines. 

This year during one of her last recitals of the weekend, as our daughter was on stage dancing, I saw from the stage lights this shining smile on my husband’s face. He was beaming with delight and joy as he watched our daughter doing what she loves. He leaned over and whispered to me, “I could watch her do this all day long.” It didn’t matter that it was a day that was supposed to be dedicated to him and his role as father. He would not have chosen to be anywhere else.

It was this precious moment, on Father’s Day, that led me to reflect on how we often forget the fatherness of God. The radiant smile that I witnessed on my husband’s face is the smile that I believe God, our Father, has on His face for each of you, His daughters. I don’t think we can ever be reminded enough that we are not just loved but are delighted in by God the Father. He is totally captivated by you—who you are, what makes you smile, what brings you joy.

And as my husband’s face radiated such pride and love for his daughter as she was dancing—something she truly loves and has a talent for—our Lord’s face also beams when we use the gifts He has given us, the talents that He has blessed us with. And when these gifts are used for His glory? Well, Zephaniah 3:17 tells us, “[The Lord] will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” 

And as a good and wise Father, the Lord doesn’t want us to get lost in self-adulation. It always feels good to know that something we do or something we’ve accomplished or just who we are makes someone else happyso happy that Zephaniah says God is exulting over us and singing over us. God’s delight in us is not meant to put the spotlight on ourselves. He doesn’t want us to stop there. Rather, our pausing to reflect on His delight in us serves to increase our delight of Him. It’s a beautiful feedback loop, defining and enhancing our two-way relationship with God. We focus on His goodness in our lives: His unceasing and steadfast love, His mercies that never come to an end, and His faithfulness to us is great (Lamentations 3:22-23). Our trust and confidence grows and our behaviors begin to align with His will for us. If we are busy delighting in Him as daughters, we are distracted from the trappings of the world and protected from those who would seek to turn us away from Him.

Scripture is abound with passages that speak of what we receive when we delight in our heavenly Father:

“I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken” (Psalm 16:8).
When we set the Lord before us, we grow in fortitude and faith.

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:4).
We live fearlessly.

“The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe” (Proverbs 29:25).
Our Father is trustworthy; He protects His daughters.

“The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. And he thrust out the enemy before you” (Deuteronomy 33:27).
He will catch us when we fall each and every time. 

See how good of a Father He is? He looks out for us, always. And He provides for us through His unending mercy and love. Whether or not we see it, whether or not we follow God’s will at all times, His hand remains upon us. Following Adam and Eve’s sin, they were naked and on their way out of the Garden of Eden, never to be allowed back inside. And what did God do? Genesis 3:21 tells us that the Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and Eve to be clothed. He couldn’t let His beloved children go out into the wilderness naked, without clothing. He provides.

This is the fatherness of God.

How lucky we are that we can celebrate God the Father every time we receive the sacrament of Holy Eucharist. As the priest, standing in the place of Jesus Christ, lifts the host for consecration and says the words, “Do this in remembrance of me,” we are reminded of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice—of God the Father’s ultimate act of provision. Through the death and resurrection of His Son we are gathered into the embrace of our loving Father. It is through Jesus Christ that God provides a way directly to His heart.

This is the fatherness of God.

No matter what it is that you find on your plate for this week, I challenge you to be mindful of God as Father. To keep foremost in your mind His delight of you, His beaming smile in the work that you are doing for the vocation He has called you to. And let His delight of you focus you ever more intently on His precious and abiding love, and on the ways that He continues to provide for you, His beloved daughter. 

In God’s Grace,
Jeannine

 

If you are married like I am, most of us will be celebrating an anniversary between now and October.[1] This year, my husband and I will have been married for 15 years. We both happen to have an advanced degree in theology of marriage and family, and so, I’ve been wondering for all these 15 years about what makes “the best” kind of marriage, comparing the theology I studied to my lived experience and the marriages I’ve observed. I have always wanted—and I still want—to have the best kind of marriage, the kind of marriage that is an image of Christ’s love for the Church.

Throughout graduate school the phrase “marriage is a sacrament of Christ’s love for the Church” was repeated and invoked constantly. But what does it really mean? 

Let’s remember that sacraments bring about what they signify. So, marriage is making present Christ’s love for the Church? Maybe you’re thinking, This is happening in other marriages, pretty marriages—not painful marriages like mine. I promise that if the sacrament brings about what it signifies, we are going to see His love for the Church especially in the most difficult marriages, because Jesus “loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). We’re going to see heroic love—for Jesus loved those who were “his own” not just to the end of his life but unto their fulfillment.

Beginning with Baptism, the Christian’s whole being is immersed in Jesus. Because my being is “in Him,” my loving always draws from this source. I cannot have a genuine love for my spouse apart from Christ. And, when we marry, something yet more novel happens to us. God gives the married person a unique grace—a unique sharing in Christ’s own life and in His own intimate and spousal love. Marriage is an “efficacious sign” of “the covenant of Christ and the Church” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1617). “Efficacious” means “it’s effective; it’s really happening.” So, the grace of marriage brings about the intended result of Christ’s spousal union, His particular, intimate, and redeeming love. Marriage communicates this specific grace to the couple and gives them the power to enact this spousal love of Christ for his Church, each to each. 

It is not merely human affection that enables spouses to love one another with self-donating, life-creating love. For Christian spouses, “Christ is the source of this grace” (CCC 1642). So, if the affection I have for my beloved is true, it already is sourced from the one love of Christ for my husband. When we marry, we are infused with the power to love each other “with the love with which Christ has loved his Church” (CCC 1661). Christ in me loves the Church in my husband. When we beg the Lord to help us love our spouse, we beg, “Give me Your very own love for this man, my husband; fill me with Your love, that I may love him with that.”

So, for the last 15 years I’ve been looking for Christ. I’ve been looking for Him in the marriages I have known, seeking the face of the Lord who loves His bride the Church. And for us women, I think we need to see that grace is real. Christ has promised that marriage brings about what it signifies. Will we see Christ loving His spouse? Surely, where we see this, won’t we see the best marriages?

Joanna, a nurse, was living with her family in a remote location when she discovered her husband had been unfaithful with a younger, local woman. They separated. While he acted like he was single, she faithfully cared for their children. Then her husband had a near fatal work accident and hovered at death’s door. Joanna returned and cared for him, helping him to make a complete recovery.

Is her heroic fidelity Christ’s love for the Church?

My friend Elizabeth works so hard on her marriage. For a year, she prayed a special prayer just regarding her marriage. She’s sought out personal therapy in order to do her part for healthy relating. Recently, she and her husband went on a couples’ retreat that made a big impact and renewed their unity and joy. “But,” she says with a slow head-shake and a wry smile, “I think our marriage may always be like a bad back. It’s just the way it is; it’s not really anyone’s fault. It needs tenderness; it needs tending. Other people have other worries—health or money or children. We have our back problems.”

Is her loving tenacity Christ’s love for the Church?

My friend Hannah and her husband are givers, united in their approach to faith and family and united in enabling their large family and parish community to flourish. When she told me about the unity in her marriage, I thought, Oh, I guess I can see that. Hannah and her husband are not ostentatious people; they simply do the good thing, over and over. Sometimes, people take this quiet couple for granted, especially their own families. 

Does their humility make present Christ’s love for the Church?

I used to think that the best marriages would have the least conflict, the most transparent communication, with mutual respect and affectionate reciprocity. But, the Lord intends heroic virtue to be a feature of every marriage. Thus, perhaps the “best marriages” are not the easy ones. Perhaps the best marriages are the ones which can only be explained by Christ’s love, enacted for His beloved. 

In my 15-year marriage, my husband is just so good to me. The man brings me coffee every morning—a persistently tender habit left over from when I was breastfeeding throughout the night. What can I do in the face of such persistent love? I can be persistently grateful and receive it. And when he discloses to me that on the day we start our family vacation, he’s actually going to be returning from a business trip, and he wonders if it “would it be too much trouble if you load up the kids and start the 1,000 mile drive to Colorado by yourself, and…hey, could you pick me up in Dallas?” I can drop the resentful response and smile with something like the love that Christ has for the Church.

Every marriage is called to heroic virtue. The opportunities are here. The grace is here—though living the grace of your marriage is going to look as different as your face is different from mine.

[1] https://priceonomics.com/whats-the-most-popular-time-of-year-to-get-married/ accessed June 10, 2022.

About the author:
Charity Hill lives in the Austin area with her husband and four children, but she really dwells with them at the intersections of theology, literature, and culture. She holds a master of arts from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, writes on children’s literature for Well-Read Mom, and coordinates a WWP parish program. Charity exercises “planned neglect” of the laundry to produce her children’s literature podcast Bright Wings: Children’s Books to Make the Heart Soar. If you’re looking for her, check the van or behind the microphone.

They shall not fear an ill report; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord. (Psalm 112:7)

“We’ve been here before.” I told myself this in response to bad news. With what can feel like bad news lurking around every corner, it’s easy to spiral into an abyss of despair and depression. There’s one problem with this response: We are Christians. As women of faith, we persevere in prayer, offer it up, count it all joy, and rejoice in all circumstances. 

Only sometimes we don’t.

When the hull is breached, the ship begins to take on water, and you can’t get the Titanic theme song out of your head, tell me, how’s that Christian response working for you?

Since trials are a part of every life (John 16:33), and we ought not to be surprised by them (1 Peter 4:12), I figured it would be wise to plan for these unexpected moments that make rejoicing insanely hard. I will be honest; I didn’t come up with this plan. It was the Holy Spirit. His power led my hand straight across coffee-stained journal pages until I stopped and found that I had written a simple formula for the Christian way of responding to bad news in two minutes. Knowing that I am not the only woman needing such a plan, I’ll share it with you. 

The best way to respond to bad news is by reminding yourself of these four realities:

  1. I’ve been here before.
  2. It didn’t last forever.
  3. God made a way then, and He will make a way now.
  4. I’m stronger because of it.

I’ve been here before.
The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble (Proverbs 16:4).

When faced with the day of trouble, we become perfect prey for Satan, because his specialty is attacking our hope. I found that what keeps my eyes focused on Christ, and not on the crisis, is to look back on the last difficulty that I found myself in, and then I ask these two questions:

It didn’t last forever.
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you (1 Peter 5:10).

It can be hard to believe that the end is in sight when you're in the thick of suffering. And dare I say, sometimes the future is not in view. Oh, it is there, but not always in sight and possibly not even on this side of the veil! The enemy loves it when we are stuck in this place, because it is where our doubt in God’s goodness grows. Therefore, I have found it extremely important for my faith to remind me of this one simple truth: the crisis does not last forever. The way that I do this is by reflecting on the last situation and asking myself:

God made a way for me then, and He will make a way for me now.
God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial, he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

The most effective way to put your circumstance in perspective is to go back to a previous trial and see how God showed up for you. This practice of gratitude is different than the secular world’s because it comes with a particular emphasis on the faithfulness of God. We kick the devil in the teeth and strengthen our faith when we can look at the hard times and see how God came through for us. Evidence of God’s faithfulness in the past is the secret to persevering in the present. And so, in looking back, I ask myself:

I’m stronger because of it.
Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2–4).

Seasons of rest and refreshment are necessary for us to catch our breath, but the trials and tribulations offer us the opportunity to grow in faith and grace. Every battle is a test—God’s way of preparing us for what lies ahead. And so when I find myself amid a struggle, I look to the last time God called me to the frontline, and I ask myself:

Nobody likes to receive bad news, but in the words of Saint Rose of Lima, “Without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach the height of grace. The gift of grace increases as the struggle increases.” 

May we remember this in our day of trouble.

Your Sister in Christ,
Laura

Bible Study

When I was 22 years old, my 23-year-old friend invited me to attend a women’s small group Bible study. Walking into the room that first night, I quickly realized that my friend and I were the youngest—by well over twenty years. Every other woman sitting at that table landed somewhere between the ages of 45 and 75. 

My hesitation played out in my head. I don’t know these women. I wasn’t expecting them to be so much older than me. Will they think I’m stupid? What if we have nothing to talk about? 

As we met week after week, my initial hesitation transformed into delight. These women, having so many more years under their belts than I had, were a gift. 

Sitting at their feet, I got to hear about the struggles and joys of their marriages and process the choices of their adult children. I listened to the stories of their joys and their tragedies, their good choices and the ones they wished they could change. I saw how Scripture hit their hearts differently at different stages of life. And they did not think that I was stupid. I was also a gift to them, offering them the fresh perspective and energy that accompanied me in my youth.The experience was incredible―nothing less than transformative. 

It is natural to stick with women our own age. Why? Because we are going through the same things. When we sit with women who are in our current state of life, we can process our day to day struggles with women going through it too. When we sit in a group of women from our generation, we laugh at the same jokes, reminisce about the same cultural references, and make connections over similar joys and struggles. This is a very good thing, and we should lean on women who resemble us in age and state of life. However, if we only invest in relationships with women who are in our same generation, we are greatly missing out. 

In the book of Judges, Joshua, a great Israelite, dies. Because Joshua was faithful to God, he was chosen to be the successor to Moses and lead the Israelites into the promised land. Over the course of his life, he honored God, leading the Israelites with courage and virtue. Judges 2:7–8 says, “And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work which the Lord had done for Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of one hundred and ten years.”

So what happened in the wake of Joshua’s death? 

Judges 2:10 reveals that “there arose another generation after them, who did not know the Lord or the work which he had done for Israel.”

This is why fellowship across generations is so important. Joshua was part of an incredible generation. His generation was alive during the Israelites’ wanderings in the desert. They witnessed the incredible, unspeakable miracles of God. They had experienced the benefits of obeying God and the dysfunction that followed their disobedience. They were also the generation that took hold of the promised land. Each of them had an incredible story to tell of God’s goodness. Yet, for some reason, there was a disconnect. Those stories did not get passed down. The young and the old did not sit together. As a result, an entire generation of people rose up not knowing God or how He works. 

As I survey our current cultural climate, I submit to you that we are in a similar situation. We no longer spend significant time with each other across generations, and we are suffering because of it. And so while I encourage you to enjoy relating to women your own age, I challenge you to form relationships with women who are from a different generation than you, older or younger. 

You may be reading this knowing that there is more life behind you than there is ahead of you. I have spoken to women like you who look at the young women at their parish and express how they feel like they have nothing to offer. This could not be further from the truth. Friend, your story is important and needs to be told. You have a wisdom that only comes with age. Young women need to know that their state of life will not last forever, and may not be the hardest. They need to hear about your sufferings and regrets, as well as your joys and your hopes for the future. Please do not discount yourself. Your story may be the light that guides a younger woman into peace and telling it to a younger ear may bring a new kind of healing to you as well. 

You may be reading this knowing that there is more life ahead of you than behind you. Sit and listen to older women. Become their friend and hear their story but recognize that you have something invaluable to offer to them. You have a fresh spirit to offer. If you are willing to sit with someone who is older and share your life with them, you may very well soften a heart that has been hardened by unkind years. In you, older women see hope. They see that life might not be as bad as it looks on the news. Your energy is contagious, and your stories may bring up fond memories for them. When you reach out to a woman who is older, you may be the one who brings her out of loneliness and into communion. Do not discount what you can offer to someone who is ahead of you in life. Step out and be the one who reminds her that her story still matters.

Scripture repeatedly speaks to both young and old. Psalm 71:18 says, “So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to all the generations to come.” 1 Timothy 4:12 tells us, “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” Each of us has something to offer another generation. Let us not keep it to ourselves. Rather, let us step out across generations, so we may be encouraged into our old age and each generation rises up knowing the glory of God.

“We’ve got a ‘Code Adam,’” the manager said discreetly into his walkie talkie. Immediately, the name-tagged employees from around the store looked up and mobilized like it was their daily training drill. The manager continued, speaking calmly, “An 11-year-old boy with glasses and a gray shirt.” He looked at me and said, “Ma’am, please head to the exit and keep an eye out for your son there. We’ll search inside.” He looked concerned but determined and something about his authority persuaded me to obey his request. 

I stood at the exit feeling helpless with a pit in my stomach, my heart racing, and no sign of my son. I had already scoured the store looking for my son before asking for help. Had I waited too long? As the adrenaline kicked in, all I could pray was Jesus, find my son

After what seemed like 20 minutes, the manager approached me and smiled saying, “We found him.” As we went back inside, he whispered, “Do you want to know where he was?” He grinned. “Picking out a Squishmallow in the toy section. He didn’t even realize he was separated from you. Kids, am I right?” 

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I hugged my son and kept repeating “thank you” to the manager, who simply replied, “It’s no problem, ma’am. It’s my job.” 

My son had not left with a stranger, thank God. He had just wandered off from me in search of something more interesting than the produce section—the largest stuffed animal he could find. 

As we walked out of the store, I glanced at my phone. I had called my husband immediately after approaching the manager for help, and it had only been two and a half minutes since then. Only 150 seconds. 

On the way home, as I began to calm down, I wanted to call everyone I knew and share my joy with them. That feeling of relief and joy reminded me of the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15:6:And, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’” 

Did you know Luke chapter 15 contains three separate parables in which Jesus describes His particular concern for those who are lost and God’s love for the repentant sinner? 

Jesus wasn’t referring to lost kids in grocery stores in these parables; He was talking about people who have turned away from God. We have all been the lost ones in need of rescue in these parables at one time or another. But when we are the ones who are seeking and hoping for the return of a loved one, it can be a uniquely heart-wrenching experience. 

Maybe your loved one has inadvertently slipped away from God, not realizing how lost they are, like my son in Costco. Or maybe your loved one has freely chosen to turn their back on God, and it doesn’t seem like they will change their mind any time soon. Either way, those of us left seeking can feel helpless while we wait for what seems like an eternity for them to return.

If this is where you are today, sister, I want you to remember that this is why Jesus came. He told us so in Luke 19:10: “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

It’s HIS job to seek and save. Like the store manager who was prepared for that moment when I walked up to him and told him my son was lost, Jesus lives to seek and bring back His children who have wandered off. If the earth is a giant Costco, then Jesus is the manager. 

Remember these truths today if you are longing for the return of someone you love:

In his hand is the soul of every living thing, and the life breath of all mortal flesh (Job 12:10).
Jesus knows the heart of every person, and no one can take your loved one from His hand. 

The lost I will search out, the strays I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, and the sick I will heal (Ezekiel 34:16).
Jesus knows where lost sheep tend to go. He never stops seeking them and calling them back to Himself, even if we don’t see it.

With the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day (2 Peter 3:8).
His time is not our time. What seems like twenty minutes is only 150 seconds.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you (Matthew 7:7).
Yes, I believe Jesus answers our prayers to find our lost loved ones—we should never stop praying for this. I think the question we should also be asking Him is, “What would you have me do, Lord?” Jesus knows how we can be most helpful in the search, and His answer to that prayer may surprise you. 

Perhaps the hardest lesson I learned from this experience is that the manager knew how to look for my son more quickly and effectively than I did, his own mother. Going to the exit is not what I had in mind; although in hindsight, it makes perfect sense. In a similar way, Jesus knows how we can be most helpful in bringing our lost loved ones back to Him. Have you asked Him what He would have you do? 

Pray this prayer with me today:
Lord, You know my heart. You know how desperately I want ____ to be reunited with You. Help me to trust and believe that You never stop seeking him/her. Enlighten me as to how I can be most helpful in bringing ____ back to You. Jesus, guide my words, actions, and prayers so that I may remain steadfast and in union with You, the Good Shepherd. Amen.

With you on the journey,
Kristy

 

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