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I’m thrilled to have my friend Heather Khym guest blogging for us today! You’ve likely heard Heather on the Abiding Together podcast. Read on for a beautiful reminder about building our lives with Christ as the foundation. —Lisa

Last year we had the amazing experience of building a new house that we hope to be in for the rest of our lives. I’ve watched so many Chip and Joanna Gaines renovations, I felt like I was ready for my honorary design certificate and to get started on my own project. In the midst of my excitement, I underestimated how many important decisions needed to be made before we got to the fun design part. The most important of which was laying a strong foundation so we could have the security and confidence that it was going to last.

One night, a few months after we moved in, my husband woke to our alarm beeping because the power had gone off. On his way back to bed, he glanced outside and noticed there was a huge storm. The trees were bent over with the wind, our entry lantern was erratically swinging back and forth, and our neighbors were outside with flashlights because the storm had damaged their house. My friend later told me that she woke up with the sound of the wind hitting the windows so loud that she thought they were going to shatter. Do you know where I was? I was fast asleep. I didn’t hear a thing. Our house was so strong and insulated that it was completely unaffected by the severity of the storm outside. I was safe and cozy in my bed without a care in the world, because we had prepared for the storms before they even happened.

As a part of our preparation of the home, we had written scriptures all over the wood framing when it was being built. In the basement, I had written the scripture from Matthew 7:25: “The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.” It reminded me that building our home on a strong foundation is important, but building our life on a strong foundation—with the Word of God as our anchor—is vital.

We have all experienced suffering and trials throughout our lives, especially this last year. We have been overwhelmed with change, disappointments, sufferings, losses, and pain. On top of it all, leaders and institutions we trusted have also let us down. There is only one who has been and always is steady, secure, trustworthy, and safe: Jesus. He is the unchanging One, faithful and good, and He is strong. He truly is the only foundation that is firm and worth putting our hope in.  

It’s so easy for our priorities to shift, and when they do, we have an opportunity to reestablish Jesus as our foundation. We can do this through recommitting our life to Him, through prayer, drawing close to Him through the Sacraments, and through His Word. In recent years, the Word of God has been my most crucial weapon against the tactics of the enemy who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). It has been my daily reminder of where my hope comes from, of the goodness of God, of His plans for my life, and that He truly has won the battle against the enemy once and for all. It has also been the protection and power that I declare over the storms of life.

When we place our hope in anything other than Jesus, we will end up disappointed. When we build our life and place our hope in Him, we can rest easy that He is going to take care of us in the midst of our joys and sorrows. Of course a life built upon Jesus doesn’t mean the storms stop. Jesus clearly says in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” A life built upon Jesus means that we are not alone in the trouble, and the One who is with us is bigger than the trouble. Not only is He strong, but He has the power to change trouble into something beautiful.

New to the WWP blog? Be sure to subscribe to get our weekly posts delivered to your inbox!

Heather has more than 25 years of experience as an established evangelist and speaker. She attended Franciscan University of Steubenville where she studied theology and catechetics and met her husband, Jake. Currently, Heather speaks on a variety of topics, leads conferences, retreats, and women’s ministry, and has a successful podcast called Abiding Together. Her passion is evangelization, discipleship, and creating an environment for people to have a personal encounter with God. She lives in British Columbia with Jake and their three teenage children. Follow Heather on Facebook and Instagram

Standing on the treadmill, scrolling through a library of podcasts, my eyes landed on The Ed Mylett Show and his latest episode, Mindset That Conquered Paralysis with Chris Norton.[1] Truth be told, I had no idea who Chris Norton was; yet, without hesitation, I hit PLAY on the podcast and START on the treadmill, as I began to move one foot in front of the other.

It was the word paralysis that got me.

As we have been given the green light to slowly emerge from one of the most challenging years ever, I have noticed a reluctance and fear amongst many women. No matter the long-awaited vaccine, a newly elected president, the church doors that have swung open, the CDC dropping the mask mandates, or whatever else it is that had voices insisting “when this happens, then we can get back to normal,” many of us have yet to move forward. There appears to be this feeling amongst women of great overwhelm mixed with a severe lack of motivation—a paralysis, so to speak. 

Be honest. Have you been knocked down hard by the pandemic and feel like you can’t get up? Despite the desire to get back to a life you love, are you feeling stuck in place, grieving what’s behind you, too afraid to move forward? If so, you are not alone.

Chris Norton was a college football player who was paralyzed when he mistimed his jump by a split second, and instead of being in front of the ball, he collided with the ball carrier’s legs. Told he would never walk again, Chris held on to his faith and family and defied the odds by regaining mobility in some parts of his body. He not only walked across the stage to accept his college diploma in 2015, but three years later, he walked 7 yards down the aisle on his wedding day. Does this mean that Norton’s life went back to normal? Absolutely not. But is he moving forward and thriving? You bet.

I can’t help but think about us—the women who have taken a hard hit this past year. Mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually tackled, leaving us numb from the neck down. We have been so focused on taking care of everyone else: turning our bedrooms into home offices, kitchen tables into classrooms, and putting on brave faces for children. It is no wonder we are in a mental health crisis. We weren’t asked to become stay-at-home moms but forced to become stuck-at-home moms. If the loneliness has not yet suffocated us, the anxiety has. And while not all of us feel this way, statistics are revealing that many of us do. And so, as women of faith, it begs the question:

How can we move forward in this time of transition, not just surviving but thriving?

Norton’s Netflix documentary, 7 Yards,[2] impelled me to write down a list of three simple things we can do to increase our desire to move forward and step into this time of transition with excitement and hope.

1. Reframe what matters.
Norton says that too often we get stuck thinking about all of those “should haves.” As in, “I should have been doing this now,” or “I should have had this.” “It is very easy to start thinking about what should have been,” he says. “While it is natural to feel this way, these words can get us in trouble by focusing too much on what’s out of our control. When done too often it can distract us from the present and future possibilities. We must resist the temptation to dwell on what cannot be undone.”[3] Norton also encourages us to focus on what we can do, not what we can’t. 

Yes, go ahead and recognize what you have been through and acknowledge what’s been lost, but instead of it dragging you deeper into a pit of despair and self-pity, let it allow you to root yourself more deeply in Christ. Remember that the blessings you have received are probably someone else’s “should haves.” So, give praise and thanks to God for all of the lovely things He has given you. St. Paul encourages this mindset in Philippians 4:8, “...if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Paul was reframing what matters. We are called to do the same.

2. Be a gift to someone.
I love the saying, “If you feel helpless, be helpful.” And maybe you are reading this thinking, “I am so depressed and lonely that I can’t even help myself!” If this is you, listen up. God uses our loneliness and brokenness. Rather than see it as a defect, let it prompt you to do something beautiful for someone else. Drop flowers off at a friend’s door. Make that phone call. Check in on the one woman you used to see weekly at Bible study but haven’t talked to since quarantine. Invite your neighbor to go on a dog walk. And if your neighbor doesn’t have a dog, buy them one! (Just kidding. They can have one of mine.) It doesn’t take much to brighten someone’s day, and in doing so, you will inevitably brighten your own. 

3. Do one more thing
Chris Norton had a simple but highly effective game plan for moving forward and thriving: Do one more thing. If he was scheduled for two hours of physical therapy, he’d ask for three. Perhaps one more thing for you looks like forgoing the online grocery shopping this week and walking into the store and smiling at real live people. Maybe it’s getting back to meeting your friend at the local coffee shop after daily Mass. For me, one more thing looked like getting myself an appointment with a trained counselor to help me navigate life. I share this with you in case you are like me—so consumed by the needs of others and getting them help that you fail to see that the reason you feel so stuck is that you are the one who could use the extra support! Sometimes the best way we help others is by modeling how we help ourselves. And for the record, seeking help outside of God and prayer does not make you a bad Christian nor does it mean that prayer doesn’t work. So you can shut those lies down right about now.

I am confident that while this past year feels like one enormous, out-of-control loss, God knows exactly what is up, and He is going to use every bit of it in glorious ways that we could never dream up or imagine. I know that this time of transition feels hard, but it is time to move forward. Not back into the life that we once had, but nonetheless, into a life that we love. To cope is one thing. To thrive is another. And we, my friends, were made to thrive.

[1] https://www.edmylett.com/podcast/chris-norton-mindset-that-conquered-paralysis/
[2] https://chrisnorton.org/book-movie/
[3] https://www.edmylett.com/podcast/chris-norton-mindset-that-conquered-paralysis/

Bible Study

 

Do you ever have one of those days when you don’t feel bad, but you don’t feel good, either? When you lack motivation and willpower? You feel stuck where you are but can’t quite get yourself to get moving?

If this is where you are today, you are not alone. Women across the United States are emerging from a year of societal lockdowns, uncertainty, and monumental changes. We are collectively pushing the door open, moving from a dark room into the bright outside world. We’re blinking our eyes and thinking about what we’re supposed to do next. There’s a sense that we should be feeling better than we are, but we’re feeling aimless and lackluster. We’re not necessarily burned out or depressed, but we’re definitely not flourishing. Author Austin Kleon pointed out that the Oxford Dictionary of English notes that plants may appear to be languishing simply because they are dormant. He goes on to say, “I’m not languishing, I’m dormant. Like a plant. Or a volcano. I am waiting to be activated.” The right conditions will make all the difference in terms of when and if the flourishing can occur.

It’s been a chaotic and disorienting year. Challenges came at us relentlessly, without notice. Moms who had never signed up for homeschooling found themselves managing virtual school, often while balancing work commitments outside their homes. Searching for necessities like toilet paper, worrying about the coronavirus, widespread loneliness and isolation, death of loved ones with or without a funeral, racial injustice, political unrest, canceled vacations and events—these things and more made it feel like a surreal or lost year. 

If we all were honest, I think we’d find that a high number of women are feeling tired of their lives. We’re dragging. Although things seem to be looking up, we’re not sure if we can trust the bits of good news we’ve received. If we get our hopes up, we risk being disappointed. Again.

My observations and musings are obviously anecdotal, but current statistics back me up. What’s pretty clear is that women are not doing very well. Current statistics indicate that women’s mental health has been suffering, alcohol consumption has risen drastically, and feelings of disconnectedness are widespread. Escapism gives us a momentary reprieve from our circumstances, but when it’s excessive it prevents us from ever getting to the root of our problems. 

If Austin Kleon is onto something when he describes us as dormant, it begs the question—what kind of an environment will help us bloom? What can help us see clearly and move forward? What will anchor us and help us regain our footing? We are longing for things to feel settled and normal again. We’ve got choices to make. Which ones will lead us toward the path to true flourishing? 

As I’ve reflected on the rising rates of alcohol consumption, Netflix binging, and online escapism, I am arrested by the following question: Instead of needing to escape our lives, how about if we build lives we don’t want to escape?

I’m obsessed with this question. I am convinced that if women could start to build lives they don’t want to escape, we’d find that so many of these destructive coping mechanisms wouldn’t be needed. And can we just be honest for a minute and admit that these coping mechanisms are found just as much in the lives of women who love God and are following Him? This isn’t a problem “out there,” it’s here.

We weren’t meant to journey alone. The isolation we have been experiencing has not been good for our hearts. We desperately need good community. Now, this might sound like I am diminishing the importance and significance of God. Shouldn’t He be enough? To be clear, encountering God personally is a total game-changer. His personal and never-ending love for you guarantees that He has never left your side. But even God Himself considers community a non-negotiable. God exists in community—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He invites us into that divine relationship and wants us to move out in the world, gathering people closer to our hearts and His.

That is what the Walking with Purpose community and Bible studies set out to do. The accountability and comradery of a small group provides the support and encouragement that helps keep us on the right path. The study guides provide truth to ponder and questions for reflection, making Scripture accessible and relevant. We have all heard that we need to “do the work,” and we get it. We know there isn’t a magic pill that will fix what we don’t like about our lives. But doing the work in isolation with nothing but inspiring Instagram posts and grit will only get us so far. We need each other, we need structure, we need a guide, we need the Holy Spirit’s power. WWP leads us to those things and helps us move from good intentions to a new reality. It’s not one more thing on our plates—it is the plate. In John 10:10, Jesus said, “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” That is what we’re pursuing at WWP. 

I am inviting you to come back to community and start building a life you love. Wondering where to begin? Grab one friend. Ask her if she’s feeling the same way. Commit to getting together once a week and chatting about a WWP Bible study lesson. Gather a few more friends. Keep going. Don’t give up. You need each other. Move over to the parish and keep gathering. Again, we need each other. That woman you think will be annoyed if you invite her to Bible study? It’s likely that she’s feeling disconnected, too. You may be the key to her experiencing the abundant life—starting to bloom instead of settling for being dormant. 

My friends, let’s get moving. I know summer is coming and we just want a vacation. But will a trip fix that listlessness inside? I think not. Don’t settle for a vacay when community is what you truly crave.

With you on the journey-
Lisa

[1] https://austinkleon.com/2021/04/26/im-not-languishing-im-dormant/

 

A couple of weeks ago, our parish began to move toward a more open mask and attendance policy. As usual, I hadn’t read the email making this announcement and was surprised to see the tape gone, relatively full pews, and mouths—so many mouths. 

Honestly, it was a bit jarring. The world as it was before COVID-19 seems so long ago that it feels unfamiliar. As happy as I am that things are starting to feel a bit more normal, I have been fumbling through what seems like a long transition to the other side of the pandemic. There are so many questions. When my children move around at church, do they make other people uncomfortable? There is a good chance that they do, which, in turn, makes me uncomfortable. And my friends who I haven’t seen, how should I reconnect with them? How do we rebuild? Do we hug? Do we wave? There are so many questions and so many ways to mess up or be insensitive that it can feel paralyzing. A year after shutting down the country to slow the spread, we face another challenge. How do we emerge well? How do we reconnect well with the people that we love? 

That day, as I awkwardly sat in our first “normal-ish” Mass, our priest gave a homily that spoke to this very question. Quoting from Ecclesiastes 3, he reminded us, “For everything, there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” He then explained that the last year was a season in which we were called out of our normal circumstances to respond to a crisis beyond our control. We buckled down and took precautions that we needed to take, and this came at a cost. We have mourned many losses. We have mourned the loss of regular schedules, coffee dates, restaurant outings, and kids in sport. We have mourned the loss of predictable futures and canceled plans. We have also mourned the loss of loved ones who were taken by the virus or died alone. 

A year later, however, we are entering a new season that our priest described as one of hope. He told us to embrace hope, and then challenged us to enter into this new season with the distinct intention to reconnect with our community and rediscover the joy of sharing our life with friends.   

I wonder how you are handling this new season. I wonder about the state of your friendships today. Every study that I have read on the secondary effects of the pandemic illustrates a decrease in women’s overall well-being across the board. Compared with last year, our mental health is less stable, our responsibilities have increased, and with social distancing in place as protection from the virus, so our loneliness has also increased. A study conducted by the Mayo Clinic reported that a significant decrease in women’s friendships has contributed to a major increase in women’s reported loneliness.[1]

Have you felt that? Have you seen your friendships fall to the wayside amid all your buckling down? Have you found yourself wondering if certain women were ever your friends in the first place? I bet you have. I bet there is room for healing and forgiveness in this area of your life, and the good news is that God is ready and waiting to do something new. 

The topic of friendship has been at the forefront of my mind over these months as I have written Reclaiming Friendship: God’s Plan for Deep Connection, a six-lesson Bible study coming later this summer. I have explored and prayed through Scripture to find out what God has to say about friendship, and it turns out that He has a lot to say. Our very salvation included a plan for Him to make Himself available for our friendship. 

In John 15:15, Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.” 

Therefore, in the eyes of God, friendship is of utmost importance. The love that Jesus has for you is completely deliberate. He chose you simply because He wanted to, simply because you are you. Your earthly friendships were meant to reflect this love. They were meant to be a source of joy in your life and a witness of God’s love to others. 

Ancient philosophers understood the importance of friendship in a way that often is lost on us today. They recognized that it is one of the supreme gifts of life because it is a relationship in which the people in it choose each other for no other reason than they want to choose each other. Pastor Tim Keller said, “Friendship is the only love that is absolutely deliberate,”[2] and St. Thomas Aquinas took it a step further, stating, “There is nothing to be prized more than true friendship.”[3] Wow, what a statement. Do you think that’s true? Has this year shown you that your friendships may have been more important than you thought? I know for me it has. 

When I began to write this study, I thought that friendship was a "nice" topic to explore because we have so many experiences with other women, and most of them are not good or godly. While women’s friendships can be an incredible gift, all too often, jealousy, gossip, and competition make friendship feel like it’s not worth the investment. We bring so many of our insecurities and baggage into our friendships. We have wounds and scars that go back as far as our childhood run-in with the mean girl at recess. The effects of COVID-19, however, have revealed the importance of friendship in a new way. Yes, friendship is a good topic to explore, but it’s more than that. It is a necessary part of our well-being. It is a gift from God, and He wants us to reclaim that gift, placing Him at the center of these relationships for the sake of His glory.  

In Isaiah 43:19, the Lord challenged His people to face forward. He said, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

This is as true now as it was then. The Lord is moving as you emerge from this year-long pandemic. He will use this new season to reclaim what was lost for His purpose and your joy. 

As you figure out how to emerge from a season marked by loneliness, don’t forget your friendships. Remember that the Lord is moving.

If you don't receive our emails, be sure to sign up to receive them to be the first to know when Reclaiming Friendship is in our store. In the meantime, plan to grab a group of women later this summer, and let God reclaim your friendships in this new season.

Love,
Mallory

[1] Katerina Lim, “Women Report Higher Levels of Loneliness During Pandemic,” woqw.com, March 9, 2021, https://wqow.com/2021/03/09/women-report-higher-levels-of-loneliness-during-the-pandemic/.
[2]  Tim Keller, “Friendship,” YouTube video, 38:05, October 21, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Tc4VIQrXdE.
[3] Saint Thomas Aquinas, “On Kingship to the King of Cyrus,” book 1, chapter 11, paragraph 77.

Don’t you just love it when someone starts a sentence with, “No offense, but…”? Beginning a conversation like that instantly insinuates that what you are about to be told is going to 100% offend you.

By definition, offense is “annoyance or resentment brought about by a perceived insult to or disregard for oneself or one's standards or principles.”[1] That word perceived tucked neatly in between resentment and insult? Kind of huge. Don’t brush by it. Because perception is not always reality. And when you factor in that we are the most hypersensitive society ever, walking on eggshells, and doing our best to embrace all the truths and offend nobody, you can only imagine how many of us are living feeling offended because we perceive we have been insulted.

Over the past couple of weeks I have had the privilege of speaking to women about radical discipleship—digging into the truth of our chosenness and the unique mission that God has called us to and sent us into the world with, which is to convert hearts and form other disciples. For those of us already doing the work of a disciple, I know that I do not shock you when I say get ready to offend and to be offended. It is one of the perks. This is why we must invite the Holy Spirit into our minds and hearts before we ever entertain the thought of going out into the world and proclaiming the good news. And yet, here is the twist: it is impossible to be led by the Spirit if we choose to remain offended. When we are so self-focused, brewing in bitterness and upset, we cannot discern the voice of God. I don’t care how learned you are in Scripture or how well-spoken you are, if you are not filled and guided by the Holy Spirit, you cannot do God’s work.

Does this offend you? If it does, let me share this piece of my heart with you. I only write about what I personally struggle with. I possess both the gift and curse of extreme vulnerability. I don’t just share the facts, I tell you my story. And the truth about my story is that, in just one month, I have felt betrayed, misunderstood, left out, forgotten, and unfairly treated—not by strangers, but by people I love. People I have welcomed into my life with open arms, only left to feel hated and rejected, because my guess? I offended them. Have you ever felt offended by a family member, spouse, child, coworker, or a close friend? Have you ever been told you were offensive, when truly that was never your intent? If so, me too. And I am sorry. Because offense is a terrible and, dare I say, fatal feeling.

Does that sound too dramatic? Because being dramatic is another one of my gifts. However, I don’t think it applies to this. I stand firm in what I say. According to Pastor Kynan Bridges, “To live offended and stay that way denies the very nature of the salvation you claim to have received.”[2] He calls offense a trap, likening it to a deadly disease, spreading rapidly, corrupting the mind. When we live offended, we are not living in freedom because we are allowing ourselves to be ruled by our feelings. If you have ever handed your feelings the car keys and allowed them to drive your life, you know that what I speak of is serious. We need to look at our offense with clear eyes and minds and stop taking everything so personally. (And just a side note: never let yourself be driven by your hurt, sorrow, or anger. I can say from personal experience that these are feelings that should never be allowed on the road and will most likely total your car.)

Why am I making such a big deal of this? Because no one wants you to remain feeling offended more than the enemy. He is the world’s greatest identity thief, and he wants to steal yours and keep you miserable. He lives to frustrate God’s plans for you, and so he disguises himself as a legitimate thought, creeps into your mind, and strips you of your identity by keeping your gaze off Christ and, instead, on your crisis. He stirs up your ego and pride with one hand, while holding you face down in offense with the other. How do you know when you are living offended? You will know by the fruit that you bear. And the fruit of offense according to Scripture is always betrayal, hate, and a cold heart (Matthew 24:10-11). That’s some pretty bad fruit.

As women who have been chosen and sent to share the good news and bear good fruit, it is crucial that we find ourselves a good defense against offense. Just as Jesus sent the twelve, making it clear to them that it was time to move, we need to move, too. But if we are shackled by offense, too afraid to offend others by our faith, we will not get very far. So, what do we do? The answer is surprisingly simple. Even Taylor Swift knows it. 

Shake it off.

“And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town” (Matthew 10:14). This, my friends, is how we are to react to those who do not receive us. Notice, Jesus does not say get angry, leave hateful messages, ignore them, or engage in useless arguments. He instructs us to respond by shaking off the dust. And can we just say insanely hard? Our pride really wants to have the last word, and our insecure, sensitive selves really want to be passive aggressive. It’s how we are wired. So, what can we do? How do we find freedom from offense?

What helps me in the moments when my desire to respond unlike Jesus is super strong is to remember the enemy behind the scenes—and then I remember the bigger picture. Truth of the matter? As disciples of Jesus Christ we have too much work to do to get hung up on pride and our need to be right. We have souls to get to heaven! Our own, included. And remaining offended is not going to help us one bit. Just like choosing not to forgive, when we choose to stay offended, we are the ones that stay hurt.

Whether our perception is off or spot on, offense is the devil’s bait and shaking it off is never a bad idea. Like St. Paul shaking the viper off his hand and suffering no harm, so should we. Don’t let the dust trap you and keep you from moving forward. You have too much good work to do to be bothered. Listen to Jesus, turn up Taylor Swift, and let the haters hate. But you, my friend? Shake it off.

[1] https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/offense
[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDCVhnIXKlw

Bible Study

I doubt that many of us would be willing to wear the clothes seen on the fashion runway in exactly the way they are displayed, with all the accessories and interesting makeup. I look at the pictures and think it all looks ridiculous. But I remember thinking the same thing initially about ripped jeans, ankle boots and leopard print on the runway, yet all of these have eventually found their way into my closet.

We look at things in the extreme and laugh. We're no one's fool. We know where sensible ends and ridiculousness begins. Or do we? Is it possible that we are better at recognizing extreme fashion translating into items in our closets than we are at calling out extremely foolish definitions of what really matters in life and the way those views end up in our heads and hearts?

Why exactly do we feel so messed up? Why can we not answer the question, “Who am I?” Why don't we know our purpose in life? Why are we so unhappy?

Whether we realize it or not, we have been steeping in a false way of looking at life in the same way that a tea bag steeps in a pot. Bit by bit, it colors everything. Our culture has bought into a bunch of lies that are leading us on the road to nowhere. But perhaps most concerning is that many Christians are heading down that same road, and have no idea how inconsistent it all is when compared to how God sees things.

I think much of our trouble boils down to how we pursue happiness. To begin with, we need to start with the truth that God actually wants us to be happy, and knows just what will make that our reality. All too many of us have a faulty view of God—seeing Him as a cosmic killjoy, or as nothing but a disciplinarian who doesn't care how our heart is feeling as long as our behavior stays in line. Both of these ways of looking at God are wrong, and will keep us from knowing Him and finding true fulfillment.

God wants you to be happy. He knows exactly who you are meant to be, why you are here, the things that you need put inside you to work well, and the virtues that are going to keep you on the right path. But instead of asking Him for the answers to these questions, we turn to Instagram for a little inspiration. This is the sort of thing that we find:

“You are the author of your story.”
“Know this one great truth, you are in control of your life.”
“Live for you. Believe in yourself.”
“You are enough.”
“Trust in your own power.”

No matter how much it may make us feel good to stand in front of a mirror and recite these quotes to ourselves, it doesn't make a single one of them true.

Do you see who is at the center of all of these quotes? The almighty you. The empowered you. The tended to, self-care focused you. This means your focus turns inward, which means things can get very dark very quickly.

If we want to find our way out of the mess, our starting point must be our ending point. Everything in your life is bringing you one step closer to the end, the day when you stand before God. That's the one sure thing; the appointment that can't be canceled or delayed. When that day comes, we're going to want to be sure that we've spent our lives preparing well.

In contrast to the messages of the world, God says:

“I am the author of your story.”
“Know this one great truth, I am in control of your life.”
“Live for me. Believe in me.”
“I am enough.”
“Trust in my power. It is made perfect in your weakness.”

We are the most depressed, anxious, lost, and empty people because we have moved our collective focus from God and placed it on ourselves. And we are collapsing under the weight of what was meant only for Him. But there is a way out from under that pile of garbage. It starts by shifting your focus away from you and placing it on God. It means stopping the pursuit of glory for yourself, and instead living every moment of every day for God's glory. In the words of Peter Kreeft:

Offer up everything to Him, everything you do and everything you see and everything you think and everything you love. For everything you do is to be done for Him, and everything you see is a preparation for seeing Him, and everything you think is a tiny truth that is part of His whole Truth, and everything you love is loved only because it resembles Him in some way Who is the Only Totally Lovable One. He left some of His perfume in the things He made, and as He passed by; and you can't help falling in love as you smell it.[1]

There is a way out of the mess. God will give us everything we need for a fresh start, but His freely given gifts must be freely received. What do you need to let go of in order to lift your empty hands to the Only One who can fill them?

[1] Peter Kreeft, Practical Theology (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2014), 58.

This post first appeared on our blog on May 20, 2019.

There is a path in town I frequently walk with my dogs. Perfectly paved and lined with wild flowers, there is one specific stretch that always catches my eye. Carefully placed, hand-painted rocks with words of positive affirmation are sprinkled along its curve: be awesome...be kind...you are brave. This morning, a new message appeared: blaze your own trail.

I was reminded of the final Connect Coffee Talk in Opening Your Heart, the most tried and true Walking with Purpose Bible study. Titled Outside Activities: Set the World on Fire, women completing this study are encouraged to recognize the battle and stoke the fire by going out into the world and doing something. Something risky. Something bold. Something that appears impossible, but with confidence in God, is totally possible. It is a call to find our holy discontent, check our motivation, and then peel our lazy selves up off our comfy couches and set the world ablaze.

And I wonder. Are we doing this? Because let’s be honest. Our couches are really comfy, Netflix is easier, and starting a fire is dangerous. Why reach for the matches when the remote control is so much closer, not to mention safer?

Oh, how the enemy of our souls loves Netflix.

Ever since my friend Mallory sent me a link to a talk on the cosmic battle,[1] I have been contemplating my own personal battle—examining where I fail to respond to God’s call, and in return, allowing the enemy to ever so slowly extinguish my fire. I have been tracing my own steps and actions, looking for the change in behavior, searching for signs of transformation. And while I am good to report that my branches are not completely void of fruit, I would like to report better than good. For God, I would like to do great. Risky, even. And bold. In the marrow of my bones I know that I have been called to set fires. Not sit by them.

So what trips me up?

Fear. Fear of offending. Fear of looking outdated. Fear of being ridiculed, mocked, hated, or misunderstood. Fear of not being intelligent enough to defend my faith. Fear of negative and mean-spirited comments. You see, I want to be obedient to God’s call, but out of fear, I tend to settle for a shallow faith. Oh, my faith runs deep in the privacy of my home or at Mass with my people or on a phone call with my best friend. But out in public? With the skeptics and doubters and lukewarm Catholics? Not so much. Why? Because I like to be liked. I hate confrontation. Plus, I am a busy woman, and I don’t feel like adding “radical discipleship” to my to-do list. And so I nod my head in agreement when you speak of “your truth” (as if there is more than one), and I have zero response to you when you put down my faith in the frozen food aisle at ShopRite. (And by “you” I really don’t mean you. Unless that was you. Then yes, I am talking about you.)

See? I don’t even like writing that. 

From the desire of being loved, deliver me, O Lord.

And yet, to ignore this call from Jesus would be detrimental. Not only to my soul, but to the countless souls He could reach if only I were an obedient disciple. Because, you see, without obedience, discipleship is incomplete. According to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, author of The Cost of Discipleship, “obedience is the first step of faith.”[2] When I choose to be “obedient enough,” there is nothing radical about my discipleship. I am not taking a full step. A devoted disciple understands that following Jesus is not on their terms but on God’s. We don’t get to choose how we follow and tell Jesus our plans. We are shown how to follow, and then He waits to see how we will respond. If we will respond.

And nothing is ever more important than responding in obedience to Jesus’ call.

Do you know what we call those with a negative response to Jesus’ call? The “would-be followers.”

How would you like that engraved on your tombstone?

Here lies Laura...Loving mother, wife, and would-be follower of Christ.

I didn’t make this up. It’s Scripture:

As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” And another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62)

Deep breath now ladies, because this is insanely hard. And it is precisely why so many of us choose “easy Christianity.” True discipleship means we let go of who we used to be and step wholeheartedly into the woman God desires us to be. It means breaking old habits, letting go of comfortable sins, and stepping into a brand new life of obedience to Christ. It means embracing a personal relationship with God; trusting Him so much with our lives that we lose our fear of starting fires.

And if you are anything like me, your heart is leaping out of your body screaming, “yes to true discipleship,” while your head is simultaneously shaking, “no way!” There may even be a part of us that assures ourselves, “God doesn’t really mean this. He would never ask us to let go of everything and follow Him.” 

Oh, how the enemy loves it when we doubt that what God says is true. 

So, practically speaking, how do we do this? How do we lose the fear of being a devoted disciple? How do we connect our heads with our hearts? Honestly? I don’t have a complete answer for you yet. But I can offer one simple step that I am taking because it is what the first disciples did...and it worked.

We get on bended knees and pray in confidence to the Holy Spirit. We beg for the strength to live the Gospel with fervor, to speak the Word of God with boldness, and to increase our zeal for Christ. We ask for the help to defend the Church, to speak of the one and only Truth, and to fearlessly set fires wherever we go.[3]

The world has enough would-be disciples. We can do better. We must do better. It is time to quit reaching for the plow while craning our necks to look at what we are leaving behind. Time to trust that the kingdom we are after is far better than anything we give up here on earth. Are you ready to take your holiness seriously? To step into radical and devoted discipleship and become masters of an unquestioned obedience? Oh, sweet friend, I pray that you are. Because if we collectively do this, imagine the fires we’d set!

[1] Matt Chandler, “The Cosmic Battle,” The Village Church Resources, 43:03, March 15, 2021, https://www.tvcresources.net/resource-library/sermons/cosmic-battle/
[2]
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship. (New York: Macmillan, 1966).
[3] cf. Acts 4: 23-31

Bible Study

 

I am currently finishing a documentary called Sheep Among Wolves Volume II about the underground Church exploding in Iran. You may not know this—I surely didn’t—but the Iranian Christian Church is the fastest-growing Christian movement in the world.[1] According to the U.S. State Department report on international religious freedom, in 2017 there were 350,000 Christians in Iran.[2] That number is rapidly approaching a million today.[3] Praise God!

Hearing the stories of these church leaders, their faces blurred and their voices dubbed in the film, has been devastating and inspiring all at the same time. They walk out the door to worship every day at the risk of not returning, while I have to muster up the motivation to get in my car so that I can sit freely in the adoration chapel. No, I am not writing a guilt-trip post for those of us who live in the west. I could write that post (and make a good case that we need to step it up), but this is about something in the documentary that deeply encouraged me. It is about the women. The testimonies from the women are incredible.

Because everything is underground, the Gospel must be spread from one person to the next, and it’s the women who are leading the movement. They have been unstoppable when it comes to telling everyone about Jesus. Why are the women leading so powerfully? One church leader answered this question as she shared her story.

She shared that she grew up in a culture that doesn’t value women, and she was oppressed and abused repeatedly by the men in her life. She learned to be an atheist from her mother, whose heart was hardened toward God from similar oppressive experiences. After spending her entire young life with no faith, carrying around crushing pain, she tried one last time to end her life. Right before she did, she opened a crack to God, and the Holy Spirit rushed in. She shared that after two years of neither laughing nor crying, she wept all night as she experienced the divine healing of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit transformed her pain and she felt the love of God despite years of feelings unloved, she became relentless. She is now one of the most involved leaders in the Iranian Church. 

Listening to her with tears in my eyes, I was reminded of the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well in John 4:7–42. It is clear from the account that this woman carried a similar pain in her heart from the years of her life that were worn by sin, and Jesus gently but directly addressed that pain. He offered to transform her pain into glory as He offered her Himself, the living water. Once she realized who He was, she accepted His invitation, and became the powerhouse that brought her whole town to Jesus.

The Iranian woman also reminded me of the women who delivered the news of Jesus’ resurrection. In Luke 24, Jesus appeared to two of his disciples as they walked on the road to Emmaus. They didn’t recognize Him and so started to recount the events of Jesus’ crucifixion and death. This is what they said about the women: “Some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive” (Luke 24:22–24).

It was the women who went to the very place of their most profound sorrow, the grave of their dead Savior. There, they learned that Jesus had risen and became the first to herald the news of the resurrection.

Ladies, the pain we carry from living in a sinful world, and giving in to the sin ourselves, runs deep and is personal. Whether we experience major trauma or just the beat down of everyday life, the suffering that we experience goes right to the core of our being, and the enemy will do everything in his power to make sure that it is never transformed. He encourages us to verbally degrade ourselves and embrace the belief that we are not valuable, because he is fully aware that the same power that transforms women into relentless kingdom builders will do the same through us. He knows that the moment we allow all of that baggage to be transformed, we will become unstoppable for Jesus and His Church. He will do anything to stop us. The enemy knows just how dangerous you are. Do not let him win.

Dear sister, no matter what your daily life looks like, no matter how you view yourself, God created you to stand confident in His love and to have an impact on His Church that goes far beyond your imagination or understanding. Do you believe that? I’m not talking about fame or achievement. I’m talking about the holy influence that leads others to Christ for eternity.

Every time you choose to lean into holiness, God uses you. Every single time you say no to discouragement and allow the Holy Spirit to transform your pain into glory, He uses your story to reach the heart of another. Just look at your sisters in Christ throughout history and around the globe. They were born into original sin just like you were, they carry similar pain, and they have the same magnificent Savior. Throughout the Church’s history, God has used women just like you to build His kingdom even when their place in society could not have been more insignificant. This Easter season, what does He want to do in and through you? Will you believe that you are worth it? Will you let Him do the work? Say yes—the world will be better off because of you.

[1] FAI studios, “Sheep Among Wolves Volume II,” YouTube video, 1:53:18, August 23, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SAPOLKF59U
[2] “2017 Report on International Religious Freedom,” U.S. Department of State, May 29, 2018, https://www.state.gov/reports/2017-report-on-international-religious-freedom/
[3] Jayson Casper, “Researchers Find Christians in Iran Approaching 1 Million,” Christianity Today, September 3, 2020, https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/september/iran-christian-conversions-gamaan-religion-survey.html.

 

Did I ever tell you about the time I bought a homeless man lunch at McDonald’s? His name was Robert. And he cried when I called him “Sir.” That was over ten years ago, and to this very day, I wonder how Robert is doing.

I’ve lived in both Los Angeles and New York City, so encountering the homeless was as likely to happen as my purchasing an overpriced latte. Very likely. But I have to admit that until I had grown children of my own, while I always had compassion, I felt very little sting. Where I used to throw them a quarter or two, now I dig deeper, looking for the larger bill, giving them more. I see their worn faces and vacant eyes and wonder, what is your story? What happened to you? People have told me not to bother with the hand out—"They are just going to buy drugs or alcohol. You are not helping them.” And maybe that is true. But I can’t help it. I dig into my pockets, and I give them the handout. Because every time I drive by a person begging on a street corner, I not only see him, I see his mother.

He has a mother.
And that kills me.

I’ve spent some time today praying with the Sixth Station of the Cross: The Veil of Veronica. Veronica quietly approaches Jesus as He walks the path toward Calvary, and very courageously and lovingly uses her veil to wipe the blood and sweat from His face. I can only imagine what the crowds were thinking. What is she doing? Is she crazy? It was a bold move. And while not recorded in the Bible, here we are during Lent, thousands of years later, meditating on this wordless act of love. And Veronica? Well, as the story goes, Jesus blesses her by leaving an image of His face on her veil.

Have you ever watched your child or a loved one carry a heavy cross? Have you ever stood by and watched them repeatedly fall beneath its weight, wanting so badly to step in and carry it for them? It is a helpless feeling, isn’t it? We want to be the ones who save them, don’t we? We so badly want to remove their pain. And I don’t know about you, but this has been the hardest part of motherhood. We watch and weep, while praying to God that our presence and tears are enough.

But then there is Veronica. And she puts a whole new spin on the way of the cross. Because I picture our Lady watching her Son from a distance, and witnessing this young, holy woman take care of her Son when she could not. Of course, she could have stepped in. But God’s will for Mary was not for her to step in and save her Son from the cross. Quite the opposite. God’s will for Mary was that she accompany Jesus to the cross, and participate in His crucifixion as only the Mother of God can. This was the culminating moment that began with Mary’s “yes,” and “yes” she would say right up to the foot of the cross. What gratitude our Lady must have felt then in that moment as Veronica stepped out of the crowd and carefully wiped clean the face of her Son; a face she must have cleaned herself many times when He was young. I imagine Mother Mary looking on, watching and weeping over the compassion Veronica so lovingly offered Jesus. 

This is why I can’t drive by the homeless without thinking of their mothers. And I wish I had something really powerful to close this with. Some sort of theological statement that knocks your socks off. But honestly? All that I have today is a mother’s heart. A heart that is so grateful for the Veronicas in my own children’s lives. The Veronicas in all of our lives. The unrecorded moments and wordless acts of charity that step into our loved ones' paths as they walk toward their own Calvary, helping them along the way when we cannot.

If you are among the watching and weeping, know this, my friend. Mother Mary watches and weeps with you. God has a Veronica for you. Your presence and tears are enough.

Bible Study

The small television that sits on our kitchen counter between the knife block and the coffee maker was flecked with dried brown batter bits from my son’s attempt at making brownies the night before. As I carefully scrubbed the splatter with the corner of a sponge on Saturday morning, I watched the news, which was concluding its coverage of the March 16 Atlanta spa shootings that left eight people dead—most of them women of Asian descent. As the segment ended, the cameraman zoomed in on two glass prayer candles that burned brightly where they were left on the sidewalk as part of a makeshift memorial. The countenance of Jesus that graced one slender, intricately decorated candle was beautiful and serene. 

In the days following the Atlanta spa killings, debate has ensued over whether or not the shooting was a hate crime. What is not up for debate is that violent attacks against Asians have skyrocketed over the past year, and many Asian Americans are afraid.

Prior to Friday night’s brownie baking debacle, we were in the kitchen eating pizza, as Lent + Friday = pizza for many Catholic families with teenage boys. In between bites, my husband admitted that the violent acts targeting Asians had him worried, and my oldest son nodded in agreement. They are Chinese—my husband (and therefore, my sons)—but I was surprised to hear that they were worried. Looking at the three of them towering over the open pizza box, I saw only a confident and robust wall of men. Granted, they were likely more worried for female relatives, especially older ones like Bobo (“grandma” in Chinese). But they were truly concerned, and I, of Anglo-Saxon descent, felt guilty for not innately and instinctively feeling what they felt. 

It is always comforting to remember that “light shines in the darkness and the darkness shall not overcome it” (John 1:5). In a year that has been blighted with incidents of violence aimed at racial minorities, there have been bright spots. For example, the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, DC, hosted a virtual "Christianity Beyond East and West: A Celebration of the Lunar New Year" event last month. My husband’s grandfather was a Chinese Catholic author of some renown (as well as China’s former ambassador to the Vatican), and a reading of his poetry was part of the celebration. How great is that—an event to celebrate the Chinese New Year at the shrine of Saint John Paul II!

I think it could help for us to take a moment and recall what made Saint John Paul II such a beloved peacemaker, not only among Catholics but among people of various religions and ethnicities worldwide. He was a pioneer in interfaith bridge-building, recognizing Muslims and Jews as partners in spirituality. He made pastoral visits to 129 countries during his time as pope. And he spread messages of love and acceptance wherever he went.

Let us pray for the victims of the Atlanta-area shootings, and for all lives violently lost at the hands of men who did not love as Christ loved.

I leave us with these words from Saint John Paul II:

“Yours is the gigantic task of overcoming all evil with good, always trying amidst the problems of life to place your trust in God, knowing that his grace supplies strength to human weakness. You must oppose every form of hatred with the invincible power of Christ’s love.”

Peace,
Jen

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