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The Walking with Purpose St. Therese Society recognizes the leadership-level contributions of supporters who make gifts totaling $1,000 or more in the fiscal year (May 1- April 30). Donors who establish recurring gifts of at least $84 per month also qualify for membership in the Society. Your generous, tax-deductible contribution to Walking with Purpose will support our mission of helping every Catholic woman and girl in America encounter Jesus Christ through our Bible studies.

We moved our daughter into her freshman dorm last week, and the operation went surprisingly smooth if you were to ask me. If you ask my husband, he would say otherwise. Perhaps you heard him after he carried four gigantic bins up nine flights of stairs in 95-degree weather. He was the angry father repeatedly threatening a heart attack, exclaiming, “If I die, I want you to sue the school!” 

He didn’t die.

In his defense, things like stairs become tricky when you reach your fifties. Right around floor five, my own heartbeat spiked, and I vowed to be reunited with the treadmill when I returned home. Despite the heat and exhaustion, I never felt anger or desire to sue the school. It’s not because I am holier or in better shape than my husband. It’s because I knew things could be worse, because things have been worse. 

Being told that “things could be worse” while suffering is annoying and not helpful. I prefer the biblical way of saying “things could be worse,” which can be found in Hebrews 12:4 [1]: “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” Remembering what Jesus endured while we are in pain does not disregard our suffering; it gives us perspective, and perspective changes everything. Easier said than done.

Why is keeping our eyes on Jesus so difficult when faced with an obstacle?

The human tendency is to focus on our circumstances, to keep our gaze inward and downward. Not the best posture to run the race set before us, is it? The world grows very small, and our vision fatally narrows when we do this. If we remain looking down, how will we see the finish line? If our focus is on ourselves, how will we see that great crowd of witnesses over us? The bottom line? When we lose sight of the finish line, there is no good reason to keep running. Why keep fighting if there's no prize at the end of the fight? 

And yet, we know that there is a prize, and better than a prize, a promise. As Saint Paul exhorts, “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). Now, I don’t know about you, but I want a share in all the holiness, so starting right now, I need to prepare for the race. And let me just say, it’s going to take more than buying a new pair of Adidas sneakers and a Lululemon sports bra to get into shape. It’s time to get serious, strip down, and start running.

But where to begin? Using Saint Paul’s exhortation in Hebrews 12:1–4 as a guide, I have narrowed my training down to four questions.

What weighs me down?
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

Saint Paul is clear. The cheering section of the stadium is packed with the saints who have run and finished the race, but that’s not enough. We also need to lose whatever sins and distractions cling to us so closely. In other words, we must lay down those things we refuse to let go of. Is it an inordinate affection and concern for your body? Are you consumed with your children’s suffering and desire for their happiness? Are you harboring jealousy, envy, or resentment? Do you covet your friend's marriage, regret your past, or strive to control your circumstances? Ask the Lord to reveal to you what is pulling you down, making life heavier and more complicated than it needs to be.

Where is my focus?
“Looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:2)

Jesus is the finish line, and we are to fix our eyes on Him. He is the mark we run to and the prize we run for. If we take our eyes off Him for one second, we risk running off course. Like a ballerina performing a pirouette, she finds a spot to block and never takes her eyes off it. Is Jesus your blocking point or something else? Are you looking at your friend’s race and wondering why she got the scenic route? Are you staring at your suffering, convinced that nobody’s life stinks like yours? Ask the Lord for the strength and faith to keep your eyes on Him.

What’s the point?
“…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

We endure the hard things here on earth for the same reason Jesus did: for the joy that awaits us on the other side. Jesus has already shown us that this is possible! The shame, pain, and suffering were worth it in the end. He sits on the throne! Have you lost sight of where you are going? Ask the Lord to keep the joy on the other side of the cross before your eyes.

Is Jesus worth it?
“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Hebrews 12:3–4)

It is good to meditate on the life of Jesus. All the caffeine in the world won’t give you the energy to persevere. Recalling what Jesus did for you will. Have you considered what Jesus endured? Ask the Lord for the grace of endurance and thank Him daily for His sacrifice.

With my daughter gone, many friends have reached out, checking in on my heart. And I must say, while I miss her presence here with me, it doesn't compare to the joy of watching her spread her wings as she flies into a new chapter. Undoubtedly, there will be bumps and bruises along the way and quite possibly a few flights of stairs. But I have something brighter in view under the sorrow of saying goodbye, which makes it all worth it. If she can run forward, then so can I.

[1] Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Grounded in Hope: A Study of the Letter to the Hebrews (Walking with Purpose, 2019), 277.

Bible Study

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. 

  • Friendship reminds me that I am not alone, but that love is at the core of my identity.
  • Friendship is a mirror. Friendship reminds me of who I am. My friends refuse to see me as the sum of my weaknesses and failures. They literally tell me, “I see that you are more than that.” 
  • Friendship reminds me that I am acceptable, that I am lovable. Acceptance liberates me to face the truth about myself, the full truth about who God has made me to be.
  • Friendship reminds us that love is gratuitous and surprising. God gives us to one another and He knows what will bless us. Some friends you wouldn’t have picked for yourself are given to you as gifts. 

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.

God gave me a heart for prisoners. Actual people in prison. I don’t write them letters or send books as my dear friend has, but I pray for them often. No matter their crime, by God’s grace, I suppose, the good that I believe is in them shines brighter for me than whatever evil they have done. Our culture is one of pointing fingers, laying blame, and crucifying, and I am sorry, but I just can’t hop on board. As corny as it sounds, we are all God’s children. Especially the ones in prison.

I have had the blessing of meeting faithful, loving parents of children who have been incarcerated. I have sat in a courtroom and witnessed young, lost men led out in shackles, their loved ones waving from a distance and mouthing, “I love you.” What I have seen has changed me. Deep wells of compassion have been dug in my heart that would have never existed if it were not for my life experience. And it has convicted me of my darkness within, because the reality is, we all sin. Whether we care to admit it or not, when given the choice of life or death, sometimes we love to choose death. Are we not all living behind the bars of our disobedience? Sin is jail, and no one escapes being sentenced. The difference between us and those in actual prison? We haven’t lost our minds. Not entirely, at least.

We read in 2 Corinthians 4:3–4, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God.”

Sin not only hardens our hearts, it also veils our minds. In other words, the gospel remains hidden and misunderstood not because it is lacking in clarity, but because the perishing (those spiritually dead) do not recognize the face of God. Sin blocks the light from penetrating. When we lose the light, we risk losing our minds. They are no longer our own. “Every attack on your flesh begins in your mind, and from there, desires are birthed that lead to action.”[1] Satan, the god of this world, has a favorite battlefield and that, my friends, is your mind. If he can get you to doubt the goodness of God and abandon your faith, he can get you to do anything; things you never dreamed you were capable of doing. 

Jacques Fesch was the murderer of a French police officer and died by guillotine in 1957. Born into a wealthy family, his parents divorced when he was seventeen, and he grew up so lazy and self-absorbed that he abandoned his Catholic faith in exchange for a life of partying and trouble. (Sounds like a typical teenager.) Married with a daughter in his early twenties and another child with his mistress, it is safe to say that Fesch was feeling trapped by his own poor choices.  

Looking for a way to escape his chaotic life, he asked his father for the money to purchase a boat and sail away. When his father refused to help him, I believe it was the final straw. Jacques lost his mind. 

This is where it all goes wrong. Fesch decided to rob a currency shop, but when his brilliant plan to escape his life got botched up, he shot and killed one policeman and injured three others. It’s a tragic story that I cannot stop thinking about, because I do not believe he ever intended to take someone’s life. I believe he was trying to escape his own.

Have you ever looked at your life and been so overwhelmed that you wanted to buy a boat and sail away? Have you ever felt like you were drowning in your own poor decisions that sinking to the bottom felt like the only option? You can’t see me, but I am raising my hand to my questions.

So, what’s the point of this story?

Life without the light of the gospel is chaos, and if it were not for my holy habit of meeting Jesus in Scripture, I might be searching for a little extra cash and a cheap boat for sale. Praise God for Walking with Purpose, a ministry that teaches women how to read the Bible. A community that showed me what breaking open Scripture looks like, and that no matter how crazy I feel (which, for the record, is super crazy most of the time), God’s Word has the power to penetrate my heart and heal, restore, renew, and recreate my mind. No matter what I have done or where I have been, what God speaks to me in Scripture is the truth that I am loved, I am His, I am worthy, I am forgiven, and I am free. And fun fact: the same goes for you, too.

After three years and eight months in solitary confinement, Jacques Fesch experienced a profound conversion. His story reminds us of Hebrews 4:12: “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it can judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” 

In his last journal entry before execution, he wrote, “In five hours, I shall look upon Jesus!”[2] Jacques Fesch has been proposed for beatification, proving that the hope of redemption is for every soul and that God’s grace can break through anything. Even prison bars.

[1] “The Attack On Your Mind,” Hour of Power, https://hourofpower.org/the-attack-on-your-mind/.
[2] Heather King, “Light Upon the Scaffold: The Prison Letters of Jacques Fesch,” July 10, 2017, https://www.wordonfire.org/articles/light-upon-the-scaffold-the-prison-letters-of-jacques-fesch/

Bible Study

 

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).

Last year my husband and I went on a marriage retreat. During one of the sessions, the retreat leaders performed an illustration. They asked a couple to go up to the front of the room and stand back to back. One leader asked each partner to describe what they saw. The wife said she saw windows, a snack table, and an audience. The husband said he saw a white board. The leader looked at us and said, “Two people can be standing in the same place and see completely different things. It is your job to seek understanding so that you can move forward in unity.” 

It was a great illustration, but I found myself with questions: What if the couple cannot come to an understanding? What if both are convinced the other is wrong? Can they still choose to be unified in action? The answer, for the most part, is yes. The couple standing back to back can still move together in unison—for example, doing a jumping jack. It is possible to have different perspectives, or even vehemently disagree, and still commit to working together. 

This brings me to the biggest Supreme Court decision of my lifetime. 

A little over a week ago, the Supreme Court caused an earthquake when it released the Dobbs vs. Jackson decision which overturned Roe vs. Wade. I know that you, like me, have seen the public response, heard the sound bites and seen the memes, and are processing your own strong feelings about this decision. 

Walking with Purpose reaches 50,000 women a year. Each is made uniquely in God’s image and is irreplaceably different from the other. Each is a work in progress―an imperfect woman who God is patiently leading into deeper holiness. The women who read our blogs, order our devotionals, and dive into our Bible studies are at different places in their faith journey and search for God. And much of the time, they stand in similar places and see totally different things.

The Catholic Church clearly states, “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.”[1] 

Many committed Catholic women know the Church’s stance on abortion and disagree. My reason for writing is not to attempt to argue for the Church’s position. I am very happy to do that but not in this post. My reason for writing is to explore how women of goodwill, who have come to different conclusions regarding this matter, can still act together in Christian unity to uphold the sacredness of life in society. Can it be done? I declare that it must be done! So where do we start?

One of the more productive internet conversations concerning a post-Roe world has revolved around how the government can better support families. Some are calling for legislation requiring fathers to become financially responsible for their children during the mother’s pregnancy by paying for a portion of the medical bills and child support. I have seen others advocating for better policies around paid family leave. Still others say that if we are going to support working mothers better, the government should provide universal pre-k. 

These are the beginnings of great discussions that will hopefully lead to government policy that better supports marriage and family. But the love of Christ compels us to not wait for the government’s permission. We are His hands and feet, and it is time to lean into Christ’s mission with our entire beings. We have been given an opportunity to use our money, our time, and our energy to support mothers at every stage of life, and to create local communities that make it easier for families to thrive. It is here that I believe that women with good intentions, who desire to live for God, can come together no matter how they feel about the Supreme Court’s decision.  

So here are five things you can do right now that can help families in your local community: 

Examine the way you speak about motherhood and family
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.”[2] Marriage and family is most spoken about in a negative manner. Not only is it discouraging to those who are trying to raise children, it convinces others that marriage and parenthood are not worth the hardship.

We are called to speak about marriage and family as the blessing that it is. Does that mean we shouldn't be honest? Of course not. But take a moment to examine how you speak about marriage and family. How can you speak with joy about these gifts and start to change the societal tone? 

Invest in your own marriage and children
The Catholic Church calls the family the domestic church. “It is a community of faith, hope, and charity; it assumes singular importance in the Church, as is evident in the New Testament.”[3] Many people, however, did not experience family the way that it should be experienced. Let it be different with your family. Take time to invest in your marriage. Work to create a family culture of love and security where each member can experience love, joy, and security while being challenged to grow in maturity.

Offer to help the families in your church and your neighborhood
“Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”[4] 

If you do not have children or your children are out of the house, I invite you to think of a family that you might be able to help. Perhaps you could help with errands, meal planning, or babysit for a few hours a week so a mom can get a bit of space without having to pay a ton of money for childcare. Motherhood is an incredible gift. It can also be unspeakably hard. You might be able to lighten the load for a mother in your church or neighborhood. 

Donate and volunteer at your local pregnancy center
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”[5]

For many women, a positive pregnancy test leaves them in despair. They aren’t married and feel they don’t have the resources to raise a child. There are many nonprofits that exist to help these women. Most need donations and volunteers. Jesus calls us to care for these women and offer them hope in their despair. Let us answer that call and give our help where it is needed. 

Pray about foster care or adoption
I recently heard about a church in Florida whose congregants emptied the foster care rolls in their county. Can you even believe that? That is radical love, and it comes with a high cost. As Christians, we are called to embrace that cost if the Lord is calling us to this kind of love. Some of us are being called to step up and consider adoption or foster care. I invite you to pray about it and answer that call if it is you! 

I know many of us might disagree passionately, but we are still the Church—broken and beautiful. These are only a few suggestions. Go to God and ask Him how He wants you to be His light to the world. Then, go and be that light. 

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2258.
[2] Colossians 4:6
[3] CCC 2204
[4] Galatians 6:2
[5] James 1:27

 

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.

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