This post originally appeared on our blog on March 1, 2015.
As I carried the overflowing laundry basket up the stairs, it occurred to me that its weight felt nothing like the heaviness that was sitting on my heart. I had been reading about world news this morning, and article after article brought me to prayer. ISIS, human trafficking, so much suffering…and it was just getting layered on top of the stories that were really the greater issue for me. These are the stories of the people I love who are in the midst of real trials and pain right now, in this very minute, and I feel helpless in the face of it all. The worry feels like it has wrapped itself around my mind and woven itself into the fabric of my heart. It’s a lead weight. It’s sapping me of strength.
Can you relate to what I’m talking about? Have you been waking up in the middle of the night with worry and then can’t get back to sleep? Is it following you around all day and becoming a filter that clouds everything?
How can we get out from under this thing? God has commanded us not to worry (“Do not be anxious about anything” Philippians 4:6), so it must be possible to bring our thoughts under His control. God never asks us to do something that He doesn’t equip us for. In 1 Corinthians 10:13, we’re told, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.” So we’re not alone in this struggle. St. Paul goes on to say, “And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” So that’s what we need to discover. What is the way out for us? What do we have to do to get to the escape door that frees us from the pit of worry?
Friends, I’m preaching to myself here. So lean in as this fellow worrier tries to remember the things that she’s been taught by people wiser than she. And then let’s pray for each other that we would apply these truths.
When I am worrying, I’m projecting myself into the future and envisioning how things could turn out. The problem is, God is not there in my “fantasy worst-case scenario.” The majority of the things we worry about will never happen. The truth is, the present moment is rarely intolerable. What’s miserable is to have your body here, right now, but your mind dwelling in the future. This dichotomy is unsettling and robs us of peace.
If we can get it through our minds that all God is asking is for us to obey Him and love like Christ for these next five minutes, we realize that step by step, we can move forward. It reminds me of the proverb, “Worry is like a rocking chair—it gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you anywhere.” Which is really a description of being stuck. Far better to stay in the present moment and ask the Lord, “In this moment, are you asking me to act: to do something specific, or are you asking me to accept: to acknowledge that my current situation is beyond my control and therefore needing to be placed in Your hands?”
God provides grace and strength for us to do what He asks us to do. He does not provide grace for worry. This means that when we are dwelling in the land of “what if’s,” we are envisioning an outcome without the miracle, without the inexplicable peace that passes understanding and without the divine strength that enables us to persevere beyond our normal limitations. God is faithful to step into reality and transforms bad circumstances into something beautiful. God does not step into the worries in our heads. When we focus on our worries, the best we’ve got is our own solution to the problem. And if we’re worrying, we’ve probably already realized that our own “best solution” is either out of our control or simply not good enough. As Linda Dillow wisely wrote in her book, Calm My Anxious Heart, “Worry doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” And we need all the strength we can get.
Pass the burden over to God. If you have to do this 10 times in one minute, then do it 10 times in one minute. The human heart isn’t strong enough to carry it all. The weight gets to be too much, and the heart begins to despair. Each time we pass the burden over to God, we are making an act of faith. In doing so, our faith is being strengthened. God is faithful to honor your act of faith.
The solutions to our problems do not lie in our heads or in our hearts. God holds the solutions, and only He can see the whole picture. Only He can see the way in which the trial of today is a part of a grander story. If we could see the whole thing, we wouldn’t worry. So let’s pray for one another to trust God with the larger plan that He is utterly in control of—a plan that He promises is ultimately FOR OUR GOOD and FOR HIS GLORY. God is not limited by time or space. He is already in the future, taking all the threads of our lives and weaving them into a beautiful tapestry.
With love and prayers for you,
If quarantine has taught me anything, it’s that there’s no escape. The quick and temporary cure to suffering that the world had so generously offered me in the past (yes, I am talking to you, TJ Maxx) is no longer an option. I have had to learn how to sit in the undesirable a few hours longer than I care to, and in times of distress, I am forced to turn to God instead of HomeGoods. And I suppose I should thank COVID-19 for this needed lesson in spiritual growth. But, if I am being honest, I kind of want to kick COVID-19 in the face.
I miss people. All people.
I miss the unreasonably happy barista.
I miss the crying kids at Mass.
I even miss the aggressive man at the mall kiosk who chases me down with his free sample of hair serum.
And I miss groups of people. Big, loud, smelly groups of humanity. Put me in the Splash Mountain line for eight hours next to the grown man in the Goofy hat. I don't care. I’ll love that guy straight to Jesus, and not once will I make fun of his hat.
And speaking? Evangelizing? Worshipping? Retreats? Being in a room full of like-minded people talking and singing about Jesus? I miss that most of all.
Until I was told I could not be in a group of people, I had no idea just how much I needed a group of people to be in. But not just any group of people. A faith group of people. There is a difference, you know. You see, a faith community is not merely about good coffee and a break from the kids. It is about the literal hand of God uniting us together, leading us to Him. God specifically designed us to not only desire to be in relationship with others but to thrive in it.
Right now? I am not thriving so much. I need my tribe.
Hebrews 10:24-25 comes to mind:
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Why, right now, does everything feel so hard? It’s because we are not living as God created us to live. We have given up meeting together. The words social and distance are in direct opposition with each other, and it has disordered our lives. I don’t know about you, but what I am witnessing in the faces of people is far more concerning than the threat of my contracting this virus. While I may not know all that there is to know about this world or my Catholic faith, I know that a society divided and driven by fear and self preservation is not how the Lord wants us to live. Yes, as a country, we have a responsibility to follow the law and guidelines and keep one another safe. But as Christians, we also have a responsibility to step out in love, to extend real hope, and to get God’s people back together again. And if that sounds risky, well, my friends...welcome to the faith.
I will be honest. Even though I write this, it still feels hard. Even though I know this, I too worry about the risk. And to be totally transparent, I woke up this morning over it all...phoning in prayer with zero enthusiasm to tackle the day ahead. The thought of another drive-by birthday or Zoom call gathering has me weary, because I, sweet friends, am at about 5%. With piles of work and a family standing in front of me, I am desperately trying to figure out where the needed 95% will come from. And then my eyes fell upon 1 Peter 4:8-11:
Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
This? This is why I am at 5%. Not because I can’t go to TJ Maxx, but because I have been separated from my tribe. Keeping fervent in love for one another, and glorifying God in all things, is only possible when we do it together. My community has kept me “sane and sober” for years, and being without them has left an undeniable, spiritual virus that is making me weak. The cure we need does not come from the hand of the scientist but from the hand of God. If we want to get back to life, we need to get back to each other. Community is the cure that we crave.
So, how do we do it?
How do we hold community together, six feet apart?
I am excited to announce that this Thursday night, June 4, we will get the real support and encouragement we need to get back to community and live the way that God intended for us from the beginning of creation. Walking with Purpose Founder and Chief Purpose Officer Lisa Brenninkmeyer and CEO and Board Chair Julie Ricciardi will host a free webinar, The Art of Creating Community. To join us on this Zoom webinar, please register here. If anyone can lead us through this, it is Lisa and Julie. Walking With Purpose was born out of their authentic friendship and a deep desire to see every woman’s hearts open to the love of Jesus; not in isolation, but in community. For years, they have lived out and modeled Romans 12:4-5 for us, reminding us that we are better together than we are alone. I challenge you to find two greater champions of Christ and community than these mighty warriors.
If you are at 5% my friends, I invite you to join me for this night of much needed assurance. I can’t give you a hug or pour you a drink, but I will be there with you in spirit, spurring you on. In the midst of a world that is scaring us into isolation, let us be different. We can do this. Our health of spirit and mind depend on it. Community is where we belong, and it is time that we return.
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” Psalm 133:1
Six years ago, I heard Lisa Brenninkmeyer preach on Loving People To Christ. Since that day, I have gone back to view the video of this talk at least ten times. And there is one line that always gets me. It's the kind of line you hear that cracks you up and has you elbowing your girlfriend next to you, because it is not only funny, but sadly...it is true.
In the spirit of evangelization and reaching the farthest woman out there, Lisa shared that whenever she gives a shout out and says, “I want everybody to come back here next year with a friend”, we kind of go, “Oh, well, they're all here, so I'm good! Done. Check.” Does this sound familiar? Because it does to me. In fact, I just reviewed my Parish's annual Walking With Purpose Program Survey, and I kid you not, but in answer to the question, “Did you invite women to join you on Connect Coffee days”, someone responded, “No. All of my friends are already there.” See why we laugh?
And I am not picking on any woman who responded this way. I am not laughing at someone out there. I am laughing at me. Because I could've written that response myself.
I am going on my sixth year in Walking with Purpose, having served in a variety of roles, and I will honestly share that the year I simply participated, I got oh so comfortable. I figured I had reached out enough. I had been a Coordinator and a small group leader. I had even worked for National as a Regional Area Coordinator. It was clearly time I got some well-deserved rest, and let some other laborer hit the fields and bring forth the harvest. Now, make no mistake, God is all for our rest and refreshment, and when it comes to ministry work, we especially need it. But rest and complacency are not the same thing. The truth is, if we want to contribute to the building up of God's Kingdom, I am pretty sure we need to cross feeling comfortable off of our lists.
How did I know I was too comfortable? It wasn't because I started showing up at Bible Study in my pajamas (as tempting as it was). It was because I stopped reaching outside of my circle.
“We get comfortable in our holy huddle”, Lisa says, referring to these circles. ”We turn inward. The circle gets smaller and smaller and what we become are spiritual consumers looking for the next thing to feed us and keep us going and the focus stays right here.”
Let's be honest. We want to be the one that God sends out, so long as He doesn't send us outside of our comfort zone. We come up with all sorts of reasons why God shouldn't send us: we don't know enough; we are not the right woman; we can just live it out right where we are with the small circle of friends that we have and that is good enough. But ladies, God is not calling us to comfort. He is calling us to go and gather every single one of His precious daughters, and by the power of His spirit, to lead them to Him so that He can break open their hearts just as He has done to our own. We are called to freely give away what we ourselves have been given, and the only way we can do that is if we broaden our circles.
Is this scary? Yes. Is evangelization going to be a battle? Absolutely. But the biggest battle we are facing is one that is hidden. “The war is against our selfish hearts”, says Lisa. And I nod my head in agreement to the beat of my own selfish heart, because really, do I practice as I preach? Do I reach out so that I feel the stretch? Hebrews 12:15 instructs us to “see to it that nobody misses the grace of God.” Notice, the Scripture verse does not say, “see to it that nobody within your small circle misses the grace of God.” Nobody refers to everybody.
Did you ever consider that your story might be what saves another woman? Did you ever consider that there is someone in your neighborhood, at your school, in your grocery store, at the gym, at your Bible Study, that is in desperate need of your specific story? You will never know the difference your story can make in someone's life if you sit in the same chair and tell it to the same person, year after year. As Lisa says, “We all agree in the power of His presence, but we sometimes underestimate the power of ours.”
This year I have decided to leave the comfort of my Walking with Purpose seat at my table, and step back into the role of Coordinator. Perhaps God is calling you to step out of your comfortable seat as well? Widening our circles, and reaching beyond who we know, is both responsibility and gift. We can still keep our comfy circles. Building His Kingdom can be both. As a wise woman told me, “We need to embrace the power of ‘and.'” We can love our like-minded friends who know us so well, and reach out beyond our comfort zone to the woman whose face is familiar but whose name we don't know. Matthew 10:8 says, “Without cost you have received, without cost you are to give.”
This is the charge. This is God's command. It's time to get uncomfortable and start drawing bigger circles.
View Loving People to Christ video.
My favorite part of leading BLAZE is getting to answer questions.
Middle school-aged girls are filled with questions. They have doubts, they desire clarification, and they want to share their thoughts in a space that will allow them to make their relationship with God personal and meaningful.
Somewhat in contrast to past generations, seventh and eighth graders of today are unwilling to go through the motions. They want something more.
BLAZE was created to give women the words and the tools they need to lead their daughters closer to Christ with confidence. But BLAZE is only a conversation starter. For this curriculum to truly have a long-lasting effect, it must be brought into conversation outside of the school or the small group or the youth group. For the words in this written curriculum to truly transform the hearts of young girls, it must be brought into the home.
We have done our best to create a component of BLAZE to make this possible. The Between You and Me: Mother-Daughter Devotional was put together to give moms the words to spend intentional time in conversation with their daughters about the lessons taught in BLAZE. Whether or not this is used in conjunction with any of the other aspects of the curriculum, this beautiful book has the potential to lead to the most important form of faith formation: conversation in the home.
But, I am writing to you today because I am very aware of a challenging truth; it is not enough to just make conversation starters like this accessible. You - as moms, grandmas, aunts, and sisters - need to invite this sort of dialogue into your homes. You need to be willing to create the space for girls to express their doubts and share their ideas. Sure, the Mother-Daughter Devotional is a beautiful gift that will look lovely on a bedside table, but for it to truly serve its purpose, it must be opened. My hope is that this book looks well-loved after it is read. I hope it is bookmarked and highlighted and scribbled in. And, I pray that the words no longer exist only on the pages. I pray that these words have ventured off into the hearts of both you and the precious child of God who you are reading with.
But above all, whether you use this curriculum or not, I hope that the open space which you create in your home for conversation is a hospitable one. May it be a space where girls can feel comfortable asking any and every question on their heart about God and faith and the Catholic church. Trust me, they have all of the questions and I guarantee, some of them will make you uncomfortable. For many of these questions, you will not have the answers. But fear not, your job is not always to respond. Your job is to hear and embrace. More than answers, your daughters need to know that their questions are okay. Their doubts need to be affirmed.
I know you want to have all of the answers. I do too. I know that you will fumble to answer certain questions in an effort to be the best at-home catechist that you can be. I do this all of the time. But it's time to be okay with not knowing. Your daughter would much rather you sit in the unknown with them than try to answer their doubt away.
And here's the beauty of entering into conversation and diving into the BLAZE curriculum at home...if you allow it to, it will teach you too. I pray that you are open to this.
And if you don't know how to sit in the unknown, let me give you one small piece of advice: let your daughter try to answer the questions for herself first. Find out what she thinks. Ask her questions. Let her know that you don't know all of the answers and give her permission to brainstorm what she thinks the answers may be.
In a truly fruitful conversation, both parties leave the dialogue with a takeaway. Give the middle schooler in your life permission to teach you about God in your attempt to teach her. I guarantee, if you welcome BLAZE into your home, it will change your heart as much as it will change your daughter's.
So, here is BLAZE. I hope that you are as excited about this gift as we are to give it to you. I pray that you may not only welcome it into your school and church, but that you would welcome it into your home as well.
Your daughter needs you. She wants to ask you the same questions that she is asking her friends or her religion teacher. Give her the space to do that.
In BLAZE, you will find some of the words. You will find a few of the answers. But mostly, you will find conversation starters. You will have the tools to learn about the Lord alongside your daughter. I implore you, don't let this moment pass you by. The time for your daughter to build a foundation for her faith is here and now and you are the best person equipped to lay down the bricks, one conversation at a time.
PS: I know you have a million and one questions about BLAZE and we have done our best to answer as many of your questions as we can! For further questions, please see our FAQs and if you still need answers, please contact us!
I arrived at the home of an 8th grade boy, whom I had never met. I had no idea what his mother looked like or what her name was. My daughter, also an 8th grader, had texted me the address. The instructions were to show up, silently take pictures, and leave.
It was the highly anticipated 8th grade dance, and this moment was the infamous “pictures before the dance” event. It was all a very big and important deal, and by invite only. And to be honest? It was weird.
Let me tell you why.
The girls? They were all beautiful. Not that being beautiful is a problem, but I mean...they were crazy beautiful. As in, they looked like they were thirty years old beautiful. The dresses their teenage bodies were poured into were a far cry from what I wore to my 8th grade dance. Honestly? I think I wore a circus tent that my mother found on the floor, beneath the sale rack at Burlington Coat Factory. That is not even a joke. If I find a picture I will post it to prove it. But these dresses? These were adult woman, red carpet dresses. Cut low, and hemmed high, if it were not for the braces and awkwardly posed selfies, you would never guess they were just fourteen. And yes. I was the mother who brought my daughter's dress to the tailor to sew up the plunging neckline, and who had to resist the urge during picture taking to run up to my sweet and innocent girl, pull her dress down, all while praying out loud to Saint Maria Goretti.
I have two incredible daughters. One is the nose pierced, dressed in all black, insanely talented artist who is “room cleaning” challenged, did not have a date for the 8th grade dance, and who has a plan to skip college and become a successful and highly sought after tattoo artist; a dream I have come to peace with. The other is the long haired, varsity cheerleader with a boyfriend on the football team, and who keeps her room clean with a plan to get married young, become a mom, and do good work as a therapist. They are different in so many beautiful ways, but at their core, both girls are compassionate and hysterical and I am proud to say, have a personal relationship with the Lord. They have their own “friend group” and they keep busy with art, school, cheer practice, work, social activities with their peers, family time, as well as their fair share of hours in front of a screen. On the outside, they are typical and healthy girls who are doing great. But spend a little time with them, and you will quickly learn that on the inside? On the inside they feel anxious, depressed, ugly, and often very much alone.
And when I was their age, guess what? I felt that way, too. And it almost killed me. I think it is killing our daughters, too.
Does that sound too dramatic? I recognize it might. And yet, I will not edit my words. I have four children and I have watched my very own race a million miles in the wrong direction, all in the hope of fitting in. And yes. Death is a very real option if we do not catch them in time. And as I presently travel a road I pray no parent ever has to travel, I know that the truth is....many of you are already traveling it...and many more of you will. And so I feel charged to proclaim the truth of what is happening even if it hurts your ears and pierces your heart. I feel obligated to break this “kid code” that our children are living by and forcing us, as parents, to cooperate with; this “do not say anything to that parent of the kid bullying me or that teacher who treats me unfairly, or to the mom of the underage kid who is drinking because if you do, you will make life for me worse” code. Have you heard your own child say this to you? It is an incredible system our children have silently agreed to follow, leaving parents feeling helpless, and putting countless young lives in real danger.
Sisters, the truth is, our girls are slowly dying. And it starts in the Middle School.
Before sitting down to write, I threw out a question on my personal Instagram account asking young girls, “What was the hardest part of Middle School for you?” Many responses came in, and they all said the same exact thing.
One girl brought me to tears, sharing, “If you do not fit in, you are nothing, which is obviously not true, but the feeling kinda' starts in middle school.”
Another wrote, “The hardest part for me is learning to stay true to myself and not go with the popular kids.”
Both girls address the lie, and the pressure it places on them. Is it better to be popular by being someone God did not intend you to be? Is it better to fit in even if it means being someone you are not? According to the responses left in my feed, these are the serious struggles, and all too often the answer to these questions is an astonishing and most heartbreaking “yes.” Most girls will do whatever they need to do in order to fit in. I spent the majority of the day wishing I could cup these girls faces in my hands and through my own tear filled eyes tell them, “You are not nothing. You are chosen. You are beloved. Do you understand that? You are not nothing.”
My daughter's friend was over the day my own Blaze Kit arrived, and so we went through it together, like kids on Christmas morning. I pulled out the “truth vs. lie” cards and read them out loud. Everytime I read the LIE (“I need a boyfriend to be happy”) the girls would giggle then say, “Oh yeah, that IS true!” And sure, they were being silly, but even so, I had to pause and think about it. In their heads they knew these were lies. But in their hearts, they believed otherwise. Because the truth is, they are fed the lie more than they are fed the truth. And as far as I can tell by my own weekly grocery bill and the size of my children, if you want something to grow, you feed it. And so I have to wonder. In a world that will not rest at feeding our young girls lie after lie, are we doing our part? Are we feeding our girls enough truth?
I absolutely love how Lisa Brenninkmeyer opens the lessons in the Blaze Middle School Curriculum by quoting not Jesus, not the Pope, not a Saint. She quotes Taylor Swift. “Unique and different is the next generation of beautiful. You don't have to be like everybody else. In fact, I don't think you should.” Wonderfully said, Miss Swift. I believe this, and I am sure you believe this too. Now, we need to convince our girls.
On our way home from cheer practice, I shared with my daughter with her BLAZE water bottle in hand, that even though she was going into High School, the BLAZE program would be really good for her and her friends....and that maybe...I would lead them through the study. I honestly don't remember her response, which could go both ways, and if I am being honest there was the whisper in my head saying, “Good grief, Laura, you don't have time to shave your legs, how on earth will you add this to your plate?” But here is the deal. I can't lose another child to this Godless world that throws empty lie after empty lie in their faces and leads them away from Christ. I just can't. Our children are dealing with very grown-up issues and enormous feelings at an incredibly young and impressionable age. They are self-harming by cutting, vaping, underage drinking, experimenting with drugs, taking pills, being sexually active, fantasizing about suicide and going down some very dark and frightening roads, and I am telling you, more than half the time we have no idea. Not because we are not present. Not because we are bad moms. But because the world is moving too fast and we have not been given the tools to keep up. And this numbing, reckless, self medicating behavior does not begin when they are in high school, nor when they are in college, and certainly not when they turn twenty one. It starts in the Middle School. How do I know? Because I asked. And the girls told me.
I firmly believe as mothers, aunts, sisters, Godmothers, friends, and good women of faith, we are being called to step into the arena WITH our girls and fight hard for them. We need to become an undeniable presence and an unleashed force of protection in their lives that goes beyond signing up to bring snacks to the lacrosse field, or volunteering as class mom. We need to win their hearts back. We need to saturate them in truth. And we need to do it before it's too late.
BLAZE has intersected my life by nothing other than the almighty hand of God. As a mom who has been present, who did volunteer (up to a point) and who runs a home where church is non-negotiable, I have been struggling to see how I allowed one of my precious own to fall through the cracks. I have been beating myself up for not keeping my baby safe. And I have been searching for ways to ensure I am not blindsided by what is really going on with our youth ever again. What a blessing that the BLAZE program has done the bulk of the work for me. From the Middle School Girl's Curriculum Guide, to the Between You and Me Mother - Daughter Conversations devotional (my favorite!) to the 6-lesson Bible study to the Blaze Kit take-away gifts that reinforce each lesson from the Blaze Curriculum (the old catechist in me is crazy about this), BLAZE just might be the most important study in the Walking With Purpose library. I believe this. And I believe in this. And I pray you do, too.
So, where do we start? We start right now, by listening to Lisa, in her own powerful words, describe not only the importance of BLAZE, but of our crucial role in our daughter's lives. And we pass it on. We send the link to a friend, we share the videos with our girlfriends, we spread this truth like a blazing wildfire. And we purchase BLAZE. Not because I am asking you to, but because I believe God is calling us to. BLAZE is a life vest and oxygen mask - and we would be crazy not to reach for it. Sisters, these are the tools we need to save our girl's lives. Purchase BLAZE materials for your daughter, buy it for a friend's daughter, give it as a thank you to your Director of Religious Education, wrap it as a birthday gift. Just get BLAZE into someone's hands now.
My prayer is that with the help of BLAZE, God will make up for whatever I lack as a mother and fail to notice, and speak directly to my daughter's heart. I pray that one day soon, all of our girls will not only recognize but truly believe that they are not nothing but rather something; something so much greater than they can even comprehend. They are God's masterpiece, perfect in every way, and they need not ever kill themselves over trying to fit in, because the truth is, with God, they already do.
It's time we bring our girls hearts back home where they belong.
Won't you please join me?
Your Sister in Christ,
*When you purchase your BLAZE study, would you please send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and provide us with the first name of the precious girl receiving this gift? We would love to pray for her in our daily intentions!!!