Recently, I opened my youngest son’s school folder to find an envelope addressed to him. I told him about it, and he excitedly rushed over to open it. And when he did, the biggest smile erupted on his face. It was an invitation to his friend’s birthday party. In the midst of COVID, the birthday party invite was one of a thousand things that we had to forego. My 7-year-old son has not been able to celebrate his own, his cousins’, or his friends’ birthdays together for more than 2 years, so this invitation was special. It was obvious that my son felt eager and excited for this party.
Tomorrow, we celebrate Ash Wednesday. On this day, we enter into a season of deep reflection and prayer. Our heavenly Father invites us on a 40-day journey into the desert. He invites us to be part of the crowd during a procession of palms and Hosannas. He desires our presence at a very special dinner and an evening garden gathering. And don’t forget, He invites us to play a part in a dramatic, yet real-life Passion play. The last place He wishes for us to visit is an empty tomb on an early Sunday morning. Will you be there? Please RSVP—ASAP.
Will you accept this invitation as eagerly and with as much joy as my 7-year-old accepted his birthday party invitation?
We often don’t think of entering into the Lenten season eagerly and with joy, do we? I know what you are thinking: Lent = sacrifice and fasting. And none of that necessarily equals joy. Or does it?
Today, I want to encourage you to accept this invitation extended by the Church and our heavenly Father WITH EAGERNESS AND JOY.
This Lenten invitation is gifted to us right in the middle of Ordinary Time in order to remind us that our Christian call is to be extra-ordinary. I don’t know about you, but I need the reminder right about now. In the middle of our ordinary lives, the Church, through the season of Lent, invites us to go deeper into the desert with Jesus. But we must remember, Jesus was not alone in the desert. Encountering Jesus there gives us the opportunity to become attuned and aware of who the other—very real—player is: the enemy of our souls. And the enemy would like nothing more than to distract us from our time with the Lord and lure us to join him for a succulent feast, tempting us with all of our favorite worldly desires, material goods, and pleasures.
The enemy tempted Jesus in the desert in three specific ways. He invited our Lord to do what FEELS right instead of what IS right, to question our heavenly Father’s love, and to desire His own glory over the Kingdom of God (Matthew 4:3–10).
I bet we don’t even have to think too hard to realize the temptations the enemy used with Jesus are ones that we are all too familiar with ourselves. How many of us, in the words of St. Paul, “do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7:19)? I know I have some bad habits that I just can’t seem to kick. Or I kick them for a time, but then slowly, when I’m tired, stressed, or frustrated, those habits start reappearing. How many of us hold onto the shame of a past sin—one that we’ve received absolution for but continue to beat ourselves up about? How many of us get caught up in envy or jealousy when we see another person garner attention or acknowledgement for something we desire? Each of these situations can lead us down the road to sin, and none of them result in joy.
Good thing the Bible didn’t end there in the desert. With each temptation offered, Jesus battled the enemy back with Scripture, “the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). And the devil left Him.
Sister, the invitation into the desert with Jesus is to remind us who has won. Jesus didn’t just win the battle in the desert—He won the war on the cross! Lent reminds us that He fought for us then, and He fights for us now. Can we allow this truth to spark in us a desire to enter eagerly into Lent, into the desert of our spirits? It is in this season of Lent, in the desert with Jesus, that we are given the opportunity to discern how the enemy tempts us, to identify his plays against us. We are given the opportunity to learn how we respond to those temptations, and where we need Jesus the most.
Here’s a hint: if we aren’t responding to the enemy with Scripture, as modeled by Jesus, then let this season be the time to change that. When we stop the enemy in His tracks with the truth of Scripture, he has no other play.
Sister, we have the blessing of knowledge on our side. We know what extraordinary events occur at the end of these 40 days. We know what happens the week after we read the Passion at Mass. We know that when Mary Magdalene and the other women approached the tomb of Jesus, the stone had been rolled away, and an angel greeted them and said Jesus was not there “for He has been risen, just as He said” (Matthew 28:6). What joy and eagerness the women must have felt as they set out to tell the other followers of Jesus! What joy and eagerness Jesus must have felt to be able to meet with His friends and His mother again, to reassure their doubts, to settle their fears, to forgive them and embolden them.
Let’s allow what we already know and who we know to penetrate our hearts. We know Jesus rose from the dead. We don’t have to wait until Easter Sunday to allow that joy to fill our hearts. We can choose to live joyfully through this Lenten season knowing the desert is not the end, knowing the cross is not the end.
Sister, this Lent, let us confidently accept the invitation of this season without reluctance or hesitation. Let’s resolve to be joyful in our discernment of what to abstain from each day or which spiritual book or devotion to begin. Let us choose to fill our hearts with a sense of extraordinary eagerness to return to confession, to ask for forgiveness, or to mend a fractured relationship.
And let us remember our Lord's words to His disciples and to us: “I have told you all 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” (John 16:33).
Take heart, sister. He has won. Let’s celebrate the victory by having an extraordinary Lent. Let us RSVP to Lent—to Jesus—ASAP and with joy in our hearts.
Your sister in Christ,
When was the last time that you told Jesus, to His face, that He is not enough? For me, it was last week. Was it my finest moment? No. Was it a necessary moment? Yes.
Here is the story...
As we were making dinner one night, my husband asked, “Mallory, I have to go to a conference in Florida. Do you want to come with me and stay in a nice hotel for the weekend?” “Let me think about it,” I replied. “Just kidding. Florida in January with one kid instead of four? I. Am. In.”
As soon as I agreed to go, expectations began to form in my mind. A weekend trip could be a much-deserved break. I could pray, read, rest, and work out. I’d have one baby (who can’t walk), warm weather, and one very busy husband. Finally, “me” time. It’s the thing I had been longing for, and I could not wait.
The first day of the trip arrived, and as always, the actual unfolding of events was far from the dream I had spun in my mind. To begin, we landed in Florida to find the weather so cold and dreary that I barely took off my jacket the entire weekend. So much for warm weather. I was disappointed, but I refused to let the weather stop me from enjoying my break. It wasn’t until the next event occurred that I started to crumble.
We arrived at our swanky hotel only to discover that there had been a mistake. We didn’t have a room. And not only did we not have a room, but there were no more rooms available. We would have to find another place to stay. Even as I type this I realize it seems small, but it was too much for me at the time. I waited in the lobby for three hours as my husband got settled at the conference and figured out the room situation. While waiting, all I could think was that this break for which I had longed was slipping away. I was so angry I could barely talk. Seeing my silent rage, my husband suggested that I go to adoration. (This was a Catholic conference.)
Reluctantly, I walked into the chapel and knelt in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Before I could even stop myself, the words spilled out of my heart: Jesus, I love You, but right now, You are not enough. Ouch. Shame immediately came over me. I’m not supposed to say that. Heck, I’m not supposed to feel that. I make a living by telling the world that Jesus is enough, and there I was, laid bare before Him over a hotel room problem. My heart is so fickle.
Through the shame, however, I heard God say, “Are you willing to hand me your idol?” I didn’t even know I had an idol, and yet, there it was before me, unable to be ignored.
It was the break.
I was so desperate for a break from the often intense responsibilities of mothering such small children that I didn’t even realize that I was starting to live for the break. I accomplished tasks at work to get a break. I loved my kids so that, in the end, I could have a break. I began to think that alone time was the answer to all of my troubles. I had been doing everything to get to a place where I could finally tend to myself and only myself. So when I finally thought that the break would be mine, I could not handle the fact that it might not happen.
That, dear friend, is idolatry. It is looking to something else to receive what only God can give. While a break in my life may be good and even necessary, it will not give me the deep heart satisfaction, the soul rest that I so desire. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Jesus is the rest, not the break itself. So when I finally do get a moment alone, I must connect with Him, or I will enter back into my life still desperate.
And so I ask you, what are you striving for in all of your activities? Are you living for the break, the moment when you can finally get some alone time? Or are you looking to something else to finally give you the rest and satisfaction for which you long? It may be recognition, comfort, compliments, or achievement. Whatever it is, it can only serve as an avenue to God; it cannot give you what only God can.
Psalm 115:3–11 says, “Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them.”
The idols that we worship in our lives are dead, and Scripture tells us that we will be like them if we worship them. But God is fully alive, and it is only He who can bring us into the fullness of life. “God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Ephesians 2:4–5).
Pope Benedict XVI is commonly quoted as saying, “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness!” The implication here is that you were made for discomfort. Why? Because you were made for God, and He is good enough to root out anything that keeps you from Him, even if it means withholding from you the very thing that you think you need.
In the end, my trip to Florida was a good trip. It was not the trip I wanted; I never really got my break. It was, however, the trip I needed. I got the opportunity to lay down an idol. I got some honest, raw time with the Lord, and that is what I needed most.
What is it that you think you need? The Lord may not be giving it to you because He wants more for you. He wants your holiness, your sainthood, and your greatness over your immediate and momentary comfort. In the end, He wants you with Him forever, and there is nothing better than that.
For five months now, I have needed to pick up a bundle of clothing from the cleaners. That’s right, almost half a year ago, I dropped off some dresses for cleaning and then forgot about them for two months. When I finally remembered, I avoided picking them up. I told myself that I was just too busy. I have too many kids to pack into the car, and the errand will have to wait.
You are probably thinking, Mallory, just go get the clothes. You are being silly. I have told myself the same thing, and I have still not remedied the situation. Why? Because I’m afraid. I don’t want to suffer the embarrassment of picking them up after leaving them there for so long. I don’t want to take the chance of hearing the words, “We gave them away,” which, by now, is a real possibility.
The cleaners are only one example of things I avoid out of fear. I could write this entire blog post about friends I didn’t call, opportunities I passed up, and chances I didn’t take. I could give you a million reasons why I didn’t do these things and convince you that I am just being smart or prudent. But in the end, all of those reasons boil down to one. Fear. Fear of what? Fear of what others will think of me, of failing, or of looking like a fool. I fear getting hurt and not being good enough. I fear many things, and when I let them rule my life, I start hiding and stop living.
Do you ever feel like you live your life from behind your fears? The more I talk to women, the more I understand that we often make our decisions according to our fears. We tell ourselves that we are using good judgment, and then we stop stepping out in big and small ways. Slowly but surely, we build lives that are predictable, setting boundaries that keep us safe but leave little room for the Holy Spirit to move. We might be comfortable, but we miss out on the abundant life that God offers to us.
Scripture reveals that an abundant life requires risk. The entire Bible is story after story of God asking someone to take a chance, that person eventually obeying God in faith, and then God performing a miracle. The Christian life is an adventure, not an afternoon coffee break, and it requires that we do some things that make us uncomfortable.
Take Moses, for example. Moses was the man to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and to the edge of the promised land. But before he was that guy, he was a man on the run for killing an Egyptian. If he returned to Egypt, he could be killed for his crime, a great reason to stay away. Yet, God chose Moses to set His people free.
In Exodus 3, the Lord appeared to Moses and told him that He had seen the misery of His people and had come to rescue them out of Egypt and bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey. The Lord said, “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10). Moses responded to this high call with four excuses. He had good reasons for thinking he was not able to say yes.
First, he said, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11). Moses was not wrong to raise this objection. After all, he was not a diplomat; he had no political power. He was an outlaw.
How did God respond? He said, “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12). Who Moses thought he was didn’t matter. The fact that the God of the universe would be with him mattered much more.
Moses then brought up the second reason he was not the guy to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’” (Exodus 4:1).
Again, Moses’ reason is legitimate. He would sound like a crazy person running into Egypt saying that he heard a message from God. God’s response? He turned Moses’ staff into a snake and reminded him that He is the God of miracles (Exodus 4:2–4). There is no obstacle He can’t overcome.
Moses again contested, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either heretofore or since thou hast spoken to thy servant; but I am slow of speech and of tongue” (Exodus 4:10).
This was Moses’ best argument. He did not have the skills to do what the Lord was asking. God replied, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Exodus 4:11–12).
Finally, Moses was out of excuses, and he revealed his fear: “Oh Lord, send I pray, some other person” (Exodus 4:13).
Moses had every reason to be scared. Can you imagine approaching Pharaoh’s throne and asking him to let go of the labor force that had served Egypt for over 400 years? Can you imagine having to convince the Israelites to leave everything they had ever known? Moses could have said no, and who would have blamed him? He would have avoided the risk and the hardship that came from saying yes, but he would also miss seeing God perform incredible wonders.
And so back to you and me. What scares you? Take a moment to write it down and then answer these two questions: Why are you afraid? What is your fear stopping you from doing?
Is fear keeping you from being more generous or stepping into leadership? Is it keeping you from having a much-needed conversation or apologizing to a person you have wronged? Avoiding these things may save you from an awkward or embarrassing situation. It might even keep you from pain and hardship, but it will also keep you from seeing God move in the chances you take.
For clarity’s sake, the Lord is not asking you to be reckless or run into harm’s way with disregard for wisdom and good decision-making. Instead, He asks you to be obedient to Him, even if you have to take risks to do so. He invites you to reject the spirit of fear and embrace the spirit of freedom.
Years ago, Fr. Mike Schmitz gave a sermon in which he highlighted Piglet from Winnie the Pooh. He said that Piglet was the most courageous character in the children’s story because he was afraid of everything but accomplished great things despite his fear. Courage is not fearlessness; it’s doing something even though we are afraid to do them.
So here is my challenge to you for 2022. Tell the Lord all that you are afraid of and let Him answer you with a mighty, “I will be with you,” or “I am the God of miracles.” Then, do the thing that you are afraid to do even if your voice trembles and your legs shake. Make the phone call even if it’s awkward, risk the embarrassment of putting yourself out there even if you make a fool of yourself, or step up to lead even if you don’t feel qualified. Start small and go from there. As for me, I am starting with a trip to the dry cleaners.
“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
What are the final thoughts that usually run through your mind when you try to fall asleep? Do you review a litany of unaccomplished tasks, mentally moving them onto tomorrow’s list? Are you thinking with dread of all that’s going to be required of you tomorrow? Do you feel regret over the way you have treated certain people who matter to you?
Almost every night, most of us can think of many things we wish we could have done that are being left unfinished. We can’t always fit in a little bit more. A life well lived is made up of days when the things that are most important are done first and many good things remain undone. As Stephen R. Covey wisely wrote, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” Our big rocks are our priorities. But how do we figure out what should be the most important thing?
I don’t believe that a single one of us wants to waste his or her life. We want our lives to count. We read Jesus’ words in Mark 8:36, “For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” Or in other words, what does it do for you if you gain the whole world but end up losing your soul? We don’t want to come to the end of our lives having pursued the wrong things.
The world is constantly communicating its priorities to you. You are to prioritize having a perfect body, having as much money as you can, having an HGTV perfect house, and making a name for yourself with your accomplishments. You should be able to present your life in such a way that it lays out beautifully on Instagram—providing a feed worth following.
But is that a life that is truly satisfying? Even if you were to gain all those things that the world says matters most, is it possible that you could lose your soul—who you truly are—in the process?
What kind of a life do you want to build?
If you want to build a life where you love well…
if you want to build a life that feels simpler…
then I’d like to invite you on a journey.
My newest Bible study, Ordering Your Priorities: Building a Life Well Lived, is where that journey begins.
Ordering Your Priorities lays a foundation that helps women focus on the things that matter most. Diving into the pages of Scripture, we’ll connect our modern-day challenges with the changeless truths of our faith. If we want to live lives of purpose and meaning, we have to start in the right place. We need to begin by paying attention to the One who made us, because He is the one who can best tell us what we need for our lives to run well.
My prayer for you and me is that we would apply the principles contained in Ordering Your Priorities and create a life well lived. In John 10:10, Jesus said, “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” That is what we are pursuing here.
Join us on a journey to build a simpler life where you love well. Your transformation is just around the corner!
 Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill, and Rebecca R. Merrill, First Things First (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 161.
We are in full transition mode in my home. Gone are the days of relaxed schedules, chlorine-smelling hair, hands stained with sidewalk chalk, and flip flops all over my entryway. Our dining room table is full of uniform kilts and pants that need to be hemmed, piles of school supplies, and rolls and rolls of contact paper just waiting to be opened.
With this transition in our home, a burst of excited energy enters my heart. The start of the school year brings with it the fall launch of the Walking with Purpose program at my parish. I have missed this community.
I have missed the warm and welcoming smiles. I have missed walking into a room and feeling confident that the women meeting me there are rooted in the love of Christ. There have been many lessons learned in these past 18 months of lockdown procedures, virtual school, remote work, and live-streamed Mass. But one is ever present in my heart as summer comes to a close: nothing can replace the joy found in a fellowship of women that come together from all seasons of life and faith journeys to bear witness to the Word of God.
What I think I have missed the most is the order and organization my spiritual life takes on when I am around these women. How we desperately need the fellowship of like-minded women running the race of life together!
We find ourselves in a world that is broken and fallen, and it is all too easy to be consumed by the world’s empty promises. This world easily invites us to forget about ordering our life toward Christ, and instead pushes us down an alluring rabbit hole of individualism, self-absorption, and pleasure. Do what you want to do, it whispers, when you want to do it, and how you want to do it. And no matter what it’s okay, because it’s your truth. Our world has forgotten that there is one truth, there is one authority. We have forgotten what our Catechism beautifully reminds us, “The worship of the one God sets man free from turning in on himself, from the slavery of sin and idolatry of the world.”
When we get caught in the rabbit hole of worldliness, we need our community to reach out to us and lead us back to relationship and unity with our Lord. Scott Hahn masterfully tells us in his book, It is Right and Just, that “it is in recognizing and living out the truth of the uniqueness of our relationship with God that we bring ourselves into right order with Him and all of creation.”
Right order. This is what WWP does for me and for thousands of women across this country. This community of women believers—standing together, praying together, and yes, breaking bread together (in the form of casseroles, cookies, and other sweet and savory treats)—helps me to rightly order everything. My WWP community reminds me of our early Church forefathers and mothers. They too found themselves in a world saturated with false idols, corruption, fear, anxiety, and persecution. They knew just how vital and necessary building a community was to combat the pressures of the world around them. They ran their race together.
They lived together, ordering their daily lives around prayer, worship, and caring for each other. They lived counter to the culture they were immersed in and bore witness to the belief in a purpose higher than themselves—to give glory to God. “Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32). They lived for the good of the community, not seeking individual pleasure. “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to the breaking of bread in their homes” (Acts 2:46). Did you catch the order of what they did? Worship first. They worshiped together, praising God, grateful for His presence among them. The order was God first, community second.
“There was not a needy person among them because each person shared their possessions for the good of the community” (Acts 4:34). They lived by the two greatest commandments spoken by Jesus: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39). The commitment to the authority of Jesus Christ and confidence in His Word and promises led them to live life differently.
Each Christian made the choice to order their lives around the Lord. And the joy that followed this choice and “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phillipians 4:7) was seen in their faces and appealed to those around them. Thus, the early Church exploded and spread rapidly amidst a pagan and morally destructive culture. How we need a similar explosion of truth today!
Where can we light the match of truth? How can we fan the flame of faith and hope?
Through community, sisters.
The noise of the world is LOUD. And the sway of worldliness is so strong. But we have something stronger. We have the might of the heavens in our corner. Communities of faith, like Walking with Purpose, encourage us to “throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12).
Communities of faith offer us what the world cannot—hope. Hope that it is not all up to us. Hope that we are not alone in our suffering. Hope that we are seen and loved just as we are. A drop of hope goes a long way to soften a heart that has been hardened by the brokenness of the world. Softened hearts allow space for movements of grace. And grace changes everything. Grace—this free and undeserved gift from God—helps us to live a life rightly ordered to Christ.
Sisters, it is time to remember that we too are counted in the commissioning of Christ, to “go out and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 18:19). It is time to act with the gift of grace and, through the choices we make (big and small), model the love of Jesus Christ to others.
 Catholic Church, “Life In Christ,” Catechism of the Catholic Church (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1995), 2097.
 Hahn, S. & McGinley, B. (2020) It is Right and Just: Why the Future of Civilization Depends on True Religion. Emmaus Road Publishing.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” (2 Corinthians 1:3–5)
Could you use some comfort? Most of us would say yes, because none of us gets through life without some suffering. One thing we all seem to have in common are circumstances in our lives that we feel like rob us of joy. We all have a cross to carry.
How about you? What circumstance or heartache is the #1 thing you wish God would relieve you of? And please don’t just scroll through that question…take a moment and think about it. Write it down. Which messy part of your life do you pray God would fix?
Now take a look at what you wrote. That is an area of your life where you are suffering. And your suffering matters. It may be hidden or it may be on public display. It may be something you’ve endured for years or it may be something that sprang up suddenly and acutely. God sees it all and cares deeply. He wants to comfort you in that area of heartache, disappointment, and pain.
But the enemy of your soul wants you to look at that heartache and conclude that you are all alone. He tempts you to think that your suffering is pointless and your circumstances are never going to change. He wants you to believe that God is either not paying attention to you because He doesn’t care, or God IS paying attention to you, but He can’t be bothered to help you.
Those lies are from the pit of hell, and in the name of Jesus, I reject those lies, and I declare these truths over you:
God will never leave you or forsake you.
All suffering has meaning and purpose.
This is not the end of your story. You are not stuck. Things will change.
God IS paying attention to you, HE CARES, and HE IS AT WORK.
And God wants you to take your unique suffering and allow it to better equip you to display an outpouring love for people in your life. That is what St. Paul was talking about in 2 Corinthians 1:3–5.
I remember a time years ago when God delivered this message to me loud and clear. I had just had a miscarriage, and I was sitting in a hospital room. A nurse came into my room, took hold of my hand, and drew very close to my face. “Why are you here?” she asked.
I said, “You know why I’m here.” I didn’t want to say the words. I didn’t trust my voice or my ability to hold it together.
The nurse replied, “I want you to say the words.” So I told her that I had lost my baby. “Yes, that’s right,” she nodded. “You’ve lost your baby. But you are not alone.” And then she drew closer still. Knowing nothing about me, having never met me, she said, “How do you think you are going to help other women if you have never suffered?” She squeezed my hand and left. I never saw her again.
We all have crosses to carry, but we get to decide how we carry them. 2 Corinthians 1:3–5 pitches a vision of cross-carrying that ministers to others, making every moment of suffering deeply meaningful.
It makes me think of Simon of Cyrene in Matthew 27. When the soldiers told him he needed to help carry Jesus’ cross, he didn’t do it willingly. He was forced to do it. But something must have changed in his spirit over time. Fulton Sheen writes, “Though at first reluctant because compelled, [Simon] nevertheless must have found, as Our Lord said His followers would, ‘the yoke sweet and burden light.’ Otherwise his two sons would not later have been mentioned by Paul as pillars of the Church.” Simon’s children watched how their father carried the cross, and learned from his example, every step of the way. Who is watching you? Is the way you carry your cross compelling or complaining?
The most difficult suffering to bear is that which appears meaningless. But if we determine to “comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God,” we’ll be strengthened to persevere. And as we receive the strength from God to take one step at a time, we’ll be a living witness of the difference that Jesus makes.
As much as we wish that our suffering would go away, if we will allow it to, it will make us more tender and help us to be a soft place for others to land.
With you on the journey-
 Fulton Sheen, The Life of Christ (New York: Doubleday, 2008), 533.
You know the conversation gets good when the person on the other end of the phone leads with, “I love Jesus, but what I really struggle with in the Catholic Church is…”
We all struggle with our faith. Whether it be with a long personal suffering, a devastating betrayal from our church leaders, or a hard teaching to accept, at one point or another, we will scratch our heads and wonder what on earth have I signed up for? And while it is good to wrestle with and question matters of faith, we have to be careful to whom we bring such questions, because often, it is here in this place of doubt that the enemy senses an unsteady soul. And then we are presented with a choice: Do I jump ship, and settle for earthly consolations because this faith is too difficult to understand and live out; and if I am being honest...it’s totally impractical and irrelevant and besides I am super tired? Or, will I choose to be spiritually grounded and unmovable; like a peg driven into a firm place (Isaiah 22:23), will I remain steadfast no matter the size of the waves or the length of the trials?
I think the reason why so many of us are disappointed, questioning our Church, and completely over our suffering is because we have a shallow understanding of Christ. We want to believe that we are all in for Jesus, but when pushed to the edge of endurance, our thoughts and actions tell a different story, don’t they? Oh, we have faith...to a point. But when the rules feel too rigid and the tests too long, even the most holy among us can begin to wonder, what’s the point?
For years, I wondered this. Why get up before dawn every morning to seek Jesus in silent prayer only to discover that His plan is to break my spirit before lunch? Why volunteer at my parish, write books, or speak at retreats sharing the joy of the Gospel if I am just going to continue to be tested? Why all the rosaries, why all the tears, why all the mortifications if nothing ever changes? And better yet, what if it changes for the worse? Again, I ask...what’s the point?
“The point” was unexpectedly discovered and shared by actor John Voight in an interview with Tucker Carlson. “I was in a lot of trouble,” he confessed, “...and I was really suffering for many reasons...and I found myself on the floor saying, ‘It’s so difficult. It’s so difficult.’ I said it out loud. And I heard in my ear, ‘It's supposed to be difficult.’” It was an audible voice; one of wisdom, kindness, and clarity, and it spoke into Voight’s ear what he will never forget and what forever changed him: It’s supposed to be difficult.
It was on a silent retreat, in the worst accommodations you could ever imagine, that I made the decision to embrace the difficult by surrendering my whole heart to Jesus. And I mean all of it. As in, take what is most precious to you, carry it up a mountain, strap it to wood, and sacrifice it to the Lord kind of surrender. I had been withholding this piece of my heart for years, too afraid to give it to God out of fear of losing it forever. But after years of being tossed about, trying to pray the difficult away, I realized that until I embraced the difficult, I would forever miss the point. And do you know what happened when I offered God what I love most? Do you know what happened when I embraced the test with unwavering confidence in my Lord? I learned to live at God’s pace. I grew in holiness. I began to cultivate a worthy heart. I experienced a holy joy. Not because the trial was over. Not because things got easier. But because I chose obedience in the midst of the difficult.
“Count it all joy” looks great painted on shiplap or printed on a cute mug, but if we stop at the joy we miss the point. The full verse from the Letter of James reads, “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3). Drop down a few more verses and we are assured that “blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). I read this, and it all sounds very clear; difficult to obey, perhaps, but not to understand. There is a point to the tests. They steady our soul, detach us from the world, keep us from getting tossed about, earn us the crown. And so I can’t help but wonder. Could it be that we are standing on shaky spiritual ground not because our God is too demanding or the Church outdated, but rather, because we are holding God to promises He never made?
It would be wise to get to know this God better, lest we become victims of deception. Practically speaking, what does this look like? How do we become steadfast?
Whatever trial you are facing, please know that God is not out to break your spirit. I speak this with authority as I know all too well the risk of surrender. The cross you carry is the same cross that Christ carried; not meant to crush your heart, but to widen it. So stand firm and claim God’s promises. Surround yourself with people who encourage you to embrace the difficult, not remove it. There is a point, my friend, and you can count it all joy. You can even go ahead and paint that on shiplap if you want. I won’t judge. And when you find yourself on the ground asking “what’s the point?” remember this: a faith tortured by questions and still believes is far greater than the faith that never questions at all.
“Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast.” (James 5:7)
With love and prayers for you,
One of the many side effects of being trapped at home during a pandemic—according to the woman who sold us our new dining room set and chandelier—is refurnishing your home. “People are bored and have nothing else to do but stare at their living space,” the saleswoman told us. “Figured they might as well make it beautiful.” Anyone else wallpaper a bedroom, buy a new area rug, or rearrange the furniture to keep the boredom at bay? Or did you buy a dog?
We considered the third dog but opted for a full kitchen remodel and a new dining room set instead. Not because we were bored, but because I wanted to create a beautiful space that fit all of my family and friends. I desired to make my home a place of warm invitation, where there is always an empty chair at the table and charcuterie board within arms reach. When the days grew lonely and hope ran low, it was this vision—this dream of connection and conversation permeating my home and rising like incense—that kept me from spiraling into despair.
That and potato peel pie.
During quarantine, I fell madly in love with the novel turned film, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Set in 1941 on the island of Guernsey during German occupation, the islanders were no longer allowed to have meat. However, a local woman managed to hide a pig from the German soldiers and invited her neighbors into her home to share in a pig roast. Carefully slipping handwritten invitations beneath wooden doors, this strange but irresistible group came together, nourishing more than just their physical bodies. One guest made an offering of his famous potato peel pie, which was exactly what it sounds like. A simple pie made of nothing but potatoes and their peels.
Later that evening when caught out after curfew, the witty, loving, and quick-thinking character, Elizabeth McKenna, claimed that they were a book club who had been so engrossed that they lost track of time. A club they ridiculously named on the spot: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. What began as a cover for residents breaking curfew during the German occupation turned into a weekly Friday night refuge. And what began for me as just another Saturday night Netflix movie turned into a stirring of my heart and a conviction of what I already knew to be true: without connection, we will starve to death.
“We were all hungry,” says the narrator. “But it was Elizabeth who realized our true starvation for connection—for the company of other people, for fellowship.” I replayed that movie three times in one week, completely captivated by Elizabeth and potato peel pie.
Are you like Elizabeth? Do you sense the hunger around you? Do you recognize the needs of others?
As our world (and let’s be honest, our Church, too) grows more divided, angrier, and motivated by fear, are you able to see through the feelings and emotion and recognize the true hunger at the root of it all? The hunger not for potato peel pie but for godly connection and community rooted in truth. If this sounds like you, I ask that you pay attention to this call. God has placed this desire on your heart. He is calling you to build community so people can experience His kingdom here on earth.
I say this with urgency because we need more people like Elizabeth. We need more women who are willing to step onto the battleground, which is steeped in isolation and division. We need women like you to feed truth to those who are starving for it. And yes, we specifically need women, because we are the heart of the home, the distillers of hope. We are an “irreplaceable support and source of spiritual strength for other people.” Yes, even the other people we disagree with. Yes, even the other people who stand on the opposite side. My friends, if we are not the ones to extend a hand, share a meal, and reflect the image of Christ to all people, then tell me, who will?
We have got to up our game.
We have got to start building Christ-centered communities.
We have got to step out in the confidence that what we have to offer is far greater than the cheap imitation of the living water that’s being bought and guzzled down like cheap wine.
It is not enough to say “we have the Truth”...we have to share it. We have to let others in on our reason for hope.
And then...we need to lose our desire to be right, check our pride at the door, and listen well. I fear we have forgotten how to do this.
I received a text last week from a friend, coincidentally (or not) named Elizabeth. It read: “The Holy Spirit has placed something on my heart, and before I brush it away, I’m going to reach out right now to invite you all to come to my house so that I can share it with you!” Amazingly, we all RSVP’d “yes” immediately. My guess? We were starving. And Elizabeth not only recognized it, she did something about it. It was as simple as that. Do not overcomplicate what it means to build community. You do not need engraved invitations, a fully planned agenda, a parish hall, a perfectly coordinated Bible study, or a new dining room set. Nor do you need to roast a pig—unless, of course, roasting pigs is one of your spiritual gifts. Then by all means, roast away. But honestly? It is much simpler than we think. It starts with spending time in prayer, opening our eyes to the people around us, and then extending an invitation.
In Hebrews 10:24–25 we read, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together...but encouraging one another.” Can we commit to doing this? Can we agree to live this verse out loud? To stirring one another up? To losing the excuse that we are too busy to get together by saying yes to that invitation? To rejecting the lie that “I have no friends” by going out and making friends?
Approach the woman you see at daily Mass. Sure, you will feel weird, but that is okay. Weird won’t kill you, and weird just might save her life.
Call that friend you lost touch with because you couldn’t believe who she voted for, and ask her to meet you for a cup of coffee. Do not let the enemy use politics to poison your friendships. You are holier than that.
Reach out to your pastor, and ask if he knows of a woman in need of a friend. Will this feel uncomfortable? You bet! Do it anyway, because spoiler alert: the Catholic faith is rarely comfortable.
Heck, you can reach out to me, and my own little potato peel society will happily pray with and for you.
I am more convinced than ever that we, God’s beloved daughters, are exactly what the world needs right now. And what a tragedy it would be for us to hear the Holy Spirit, only to brush it away.
It is time to stir up one another. To send that text. To brew that coffee. To roast that pig. Community building is what we women do best. Dare I say, it’s as simple as making potato peel pie.
Get out your peelers, ladies...we’ve got good work to do.
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.
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,” and St. Thomas Aquinas took it a step further, stating, “There is nothing to be prized more than true friendship.” 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.
 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/.
 Tim Keller, “Friendship,” YouTube video, 38:05, October 21, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Tc4VIQrXdE.
 Saint Thomas Aquinas, “On Kingship to the King of Cyrus,” book 1, chapter 11, paragraph 77.
Last month, I had a field day fostering my anger while doing the dishes. Who was the perpetrator? My husband. His crime? Going to dinner with his dad. Ok, well, it wasn’t just that. I had held down the fort for three nights while he was on a work trip. He had come home but had made dinner plans with his dad leaving his poor, pregnant, martyr of a wife to handle bedtime yet again. Dish by dish, my resentment grew as I spun a story with me as the hero and him as the villain. I repeatedly told myself some iteration of, “If only he would _____, then I would be happier. Is that so much to ask?” I admit, this isn’t me at my best but it’s true, and I’m guessing you can relate.
My husband eventually came home and immediately apologized over the length of the outing. We talked about it, and I forgave him. With the ordeal over, I settled in to finish The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. If only I had known what I was about to read, I might have put it down to avoid the uncomfortable truth headed my way. The Lord brought me face to face with myself.
If you haven’t read The Great Divorce, it is a fictional story of characters living in hell but are not stuck there. The main character boards a bus with his fellow resident and travels to the foothills of heaven. At the foothills, they find that they are too weak to make the journey up the mountain. Each character meets a representative from heaven who will accompany them up the mountain and help them gain strength along the way. All they have to do is let go of anything keeping them from God, and heaven will welcome them. Sadly, most of the characters refuse to give up what is necessary to climb to heaven and receive God Himself. They freely choose to head back to the bus and spend eternity in hell. The moral of the story is that many of us will choose heaven only if certain conditions are met. In doing so, we choose to stay in hell.
At the end of the story, the main character witnesses a woman come down the mountain to try to convince her earthly husband to make the journey with her to heaven. Obsessed that she doesn’t “need” him, he throws himself a pity party and eventually returns to the bus. The main character is offended by the woman’s refusal to follow her husband into hell and her attempt to force him to join her on the mountain. As he tries to work out what he perceived as a lack of sympathy, his heavenly mentor corrects his perspective.
“Son, son, it must be one way or the other. Either the day must come when joy prevails, and all the makers of misery are no longer able to infect it: or else forever and ever the makers of misery can destroy the happiness they reject in themselves.”
I reread it. At some point, misery must lose its ability to infect joy. Ouch. I have been a maker of misery for far too long, only accepting joy when my self-imposed terms have been met. No wonder joy is constantly slipping through my grasp.
This attitude that I and so many others have embraced is the attitude of joy if. It’s a joy with conditions, and I have a million conditions. I think I’ll be joyful if my husband acts in a way that pleases me. I will have joy if my kids are healthy and kind. I will be joyful if things go well at work, if COVID goes away, if the government does what I think is right. If all these external circumstances bow down to my will, then I will be happy. How exhausting. How common. How many of us are joyful Christians only when the stars align and our wills are fulfilled? That joy then rarely comes, and if it does, it certainly doesn’t last. There is too much out of our control for us to allow our terms to be the dictator of our joy. In the end, “joy if” isn’t joy at all. It is preference, and in God’s eyes, it is disobedience. He wants more for us.
The Lord commanded over and over again that His people live with His joy. Romans 12:12 tells us to “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Scripture goes further in James 1:2: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, wherever you face trials of many kinds.” St. Peter echoes the same idea when he wrote, “But rejoice in as much as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).
If we know this and repeatedly hear that we should be joyful in all things, why is it so hard to accomplish? I believe it’s because most of us never move from “joy if” to “joy even if.” God offers an “even if” type of joy. It is a true joy. It transcends the ebbs and flows of circumstance because it does not depend on conditions but rather, on the faithfulness of God, who is always faithful.
Every few weeks, when I am on Instagram stories, I ask for your prayer requests, and I am always blown away by your answers. From illness to high-risk pregnancy, infertility, employment issues, anxiety, family issues, and worries about the future, you are dealing with it all. Ladies, you are amazing. You carry a broken world on your back, and so often, you do it with unbelievable strength. When I pray for you, I pray that you can hold onto your joy even if your suffering is great. I pray that your spirit holds on to the hope Christ offers you and your mind is filled with the truth that He is always with you. I don’t necessarily mean happiness or positivity. Joy is more than an emotion. It is a disposition of being that is marked by the truth that, in the end, our situations will bring us closer to God and His glory.
If you have fallen into the trap of “joy if,” ask Him to transform your thinking to “joy even if.” After all, this is exactly how the Lord loves you. He loves you even if you turn away from Him. He is faithful even if your sins are many. He carries you even if you are trying to hold up the weight of the world by yourself. And He offers you His joy even if your life is far from perfect.
“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails, and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:17–19)
 C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2001), 136.
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