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 : “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.
 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Grounded in Hope: A Study of the Letter to the Hebrews (Walking with Purpose, 2019), 277.
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.
They shall not fear an ill report; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord. (Psalm 112:7)
“We’ve been here before.” I told myself this in response to bad news. With what can feel like bad news lurking around every corner, it’s easy to spiral into an abyss of despair and depression. There’s one problem with this response: We are Christians. As women of faith, we persevere in prayer, offer it up, count it all joy, and rejoice in all circumstances.
Only sometimes we don’t.
When the hull is breached, the ship begins to take on water, and you can’t get the Titanic theme song out of your head, tell me, how’s that Christian response working for you?
Since trials are a part of every life (John 16:33), and we ought not to be surprised by them (1 Peter 4:12), I figured it would be wise to plan for these unexpected moments that make rejoicing insanely hard. I will be honest; I didn’t come up with this plan. It was the Holy Spirit. His power led my hand straight across coffee-stained journal pages until I stopped and found that I had written a simple formula for the Christian way of responding to bad news in two minutes. Knowing that I am not the only woman needing such a plan, I’ll share it with you.
The best way to respond to bad news is by reminding yourself of these four realities:
I’ve been here before.
The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble (Proverbs 16:4).
When faced with the day of trouble, we become perfect prey for Satan, because his specialty is attacking our hope. I found that what keeps my eyes focused on Christ, and not on the crisis, is to look back on the last difficulty that I found myself in, and then I ask these two questions:
It didn’t last forever.
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you (1 Peter 5:10).
It can be hard to believe that the end is in sight when you're in the thick of suffering. And dare I say, sometimes the future is not in view. Oh, it is there, but not always in sight and possibly not even on this side of the veil! The enemy loves it when we are stuck in this place, because it is where our doubt in God’s goodness grows. Therefore, I have found it extremely important for my faith to remind me of this one simple truth: the crisis does not last forever. The way that I do this is by reflecting on the last situation and asking myself:
God made a way for me then, and He will make a way for me now.
God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial, he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13).
The most effective way to put your circumstance in perspective is to go back to a previous trial and see how God showed up for you. This practice of gratitude is different than the secular world’s because it comes with a particular emphasis on the faithfulness of God. We kick the devil in the teeth and strengthen our faith when we can look at the hard times and see how God came through for us. Evidence of God’s faithfulness in the past is the secret to persevering in the present. And so, in looking back, I ask myself:
I’m stronger because of it.
Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2–4).
Seasons of rest and refreshment are necessary for us to catch our breath, but the trials and tribulations offer us the opportunity to grow in faith and grace. Every battle is a test—God’s way of preparing us for what lies ahead. And so when I find myself amid a struggle, I look to the last time God called me to the frontline, and I ask myself:
Nobody likes to receive bad news, but in the words of Saint Rose of Lima, “Without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach the height of grace. The gift of grace increases as the struggle increases.”
May we remember this in our day of trouble.
Your Sister in Christ,
When I was 22 years old, my 23-year-old friend invited me to attend a women’s small group Bible study. Walking into the room that first night, I quickly realized that my friend and I were the youngest—by well over twenty years. Every other woman sitting at that table landed somewhere between the ages of 45 and 75.
My hesitation played out in my head. I don’t know these women. I wasn’t expecting them to be so much older than me. Will they think I’m stupid? What if we have nothing to talk about?
As we met week after week, my initial hesitation transformed into delight. These women, having so many more years under their belts than I had, were a gift.
Sitting at their feet, I got to hear about the struggles and joys of their marriages and process the choices of their adult children. I listened to the stories of their joys and their tragedies, their good choices and the ones they wished they could change. I saw how Scripture hit their hearts differently at different stages of life. And they did not think that I was stupid. I was also a gift to them, offering them the fresh perspective and energy that accompanied me in my youth.The experience was incredible―nothing less than transformative.
It is natural to stick with women our own age. Why? Because we are going through the same things. When we sit with women who are in our current state of life, we can process our day to day struggles with women going through it too. When we sit in a group of women from our generation, we laugh at the same jokes, reminisce about the same cultural references, and make connections over similar joys and struggles. This is a very good thing, and we should lean on women who resemble us in age and state of life. However, if we only invest in relationships with women who are in our same generation, we are greatly missing out.
In the book of Judges, Joshua, a great Israelite, dies. Because Joshua was faithful to God, he was chosen to be the successor to Moses and lead the Israelites into the promised land. Over the course of his life, he honored God, leading the Israelites with courage and virtue. Judges 2:7–8 says, “And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work which the Lord had done for Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of one hundred and ten years.”
So what happened in the wake of Joshua’s death?
Judges 2:10 reveals that “there arose another generation after them, who did not know the Lord or the work which he had done for Israel.”
This is why fellowship across generations is so important. Joshua was part of an incredible generation. His generation was alive during the Israelites’ wanderings in the desert. They witnessed the incredible, unspeakable miracles of God. They had experienced the benefits of obeying God and the dysfunction that followed their disobedience. They were also the generation that took hold of the promised land. Each of them had an incredible story to tell of God’s goodness. Yet, for some reason, there was a disconnect. Those stories did not get passed down. The young and the old did not sit together. As a result, an entire generation of people rose up not knowing God or how He works.
As I survey our current cultural climate, I submit to you that we are in a similar situation. We no longer spend significant time with each other across generations, and we are suffering because of it. And so while I encourage you to enjoy relating to women your own age, I challenge you to form relationships with women who are from a different generation than you, older or younger.
You may be reading this knowing that there is more life behind you than there is ahead of you. I have spoken to women like you who look at the young women at their parish and express how they feel like they have nothing to offer. This could not be further from the truth. Friend, your story is important and needs to be told. You have a wisdom that only comes with age. Young women need to know that their state of life will not last forever, and may not be the hardest. They need to hear about your sufferings and regrets, as well as your joys and your hopes for the future. Please do not discount yourself. Your story may be the light that guides a younger woman into peace and telling it to a younger ear may bring a new kind of healing to you as well.
You may be reading this knowing that there is more life ahead of you than behind you. Sit and listen to older women. Become their friend and hear their story but recognize that you have something invaluable to offer to them. You have a fresh spirit to offer. If you are willing to sit with someone who is older and share your life with them, you may very well soften a heart that has been hardened by unkind years. In you, older women see hope. They see that life might not be as bad as it looks on the news. Your energy is contagious, and your stories may bring up fond memories for them. When you reach out to a woman who is older, you may be the one who brings her out of loneliness and into communion. Do not discount what you can offer to someone who is ahead of you in life. Step out and be the one who reminds her that her story still matters.
Scripture repeatedly speaks to both young and old. Psalm 71:18 says, “So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to all the generations to come.” 1 Timothy 4:12 tells us, “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” Each of us has something to offer another generation. Let us not keep it to ourselves. Rather, let us step out across generations, so we may be encouraged into our old age and each generation rises up knowing the glory of God.
Years ago, in the midst of a crisis, my husband and I found ourselves with a very small window of opportunity to get on the road and head toward help. I don’t recall too much of that car ride, but this I do remember: the dumpster fire. Not the dumpster fire that was our lives, but the actual dumpster fire we drove by on the side of the highway. Can you say, good one, Jesus? We still laugh about it to this day.
Women often ask me, “How can you laugh in times of suffering?” The secret?
Surrender is something I struggled with for years because it felt like I was giving up hope. But to be completely transparent, I think what held me back most was the fear of being taken out of the game. I was addicted to the chaos. The chaos of the trial itself, but also the chaos of trying to manage it. If I released control, what the heck would I do now? It would have to be all up to God, and while I know that’s the right answer, it's also a risky one. What if He didn’t show up and meet my desire? What if He dropped the ball? I’d never have the strength to keep living. Not with this kind of pain, or at least the kind of pain I could only imagine I’d feel if God held out on me.
As reasonable as my thoughts were, they were lies. How do I know? Because God, Himself, told me so.
“When you pass through waters, I will be with you; through rivers, you shall not be swept away. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, nor will flames consume you.” (Isaiah 43:2)
God never promises us lives free of hardship, disappointment, or pain. Nor does He promise that when we surrender to Him, our prayers will be answered. What He did promise was that He would be with us in our darkest moments; that no matter how life-threatening the situation, God Himself would see to it that the trial does not consume us. He promises, “I will be with you.” But did you notice? His presence is in the circumstance. He walks with us through it, not around it. And let’s be honest. We don’t want to walk through it. We just want God to answer our prayer, because deep down we fear that what waits on the other side of surrender is worse than where we are currently standing.
We are all for looking at the dumpster fire. Just don’t make us jump in it.
But here’s the catch. God wants us to walk through it. He never offers “the way around,” but He always offers “the way through.” If you are not convinced, just meditate on the Passion. Our Lady stood at the foot of the cross while her son died on it. Neither took the shortcut, and it was love that made it all possible. Their love for the Father was so great that if doing His will meant watching her son die on a cross, so be it. It was our Lady’s example that changed me. It was standing next to her in my lowliness at the foot of my cross that I recognized what I needed to do. I needed to love and desire God’s will for my life more than I loved and desired my own.
In the small but powerful book Trustful Surrender To Divine Providence: The Secret of Peace and Happiness, the author writes, “In order for us to enjoy peace and calm we need to have nothing opposing our will and everything done in the way we want it. But who can expect to have such happiness except for the man whose will is entirely conformed to the will of God?”
Conformity to God’s Will is the secret to surrender. Practically speaking, what does this look like? It looks like accepting all from the hand of God without questioning. It looks like presenting your desires to God but asking that He does only as He wishes, because He knows what is best for you. It looks like obedience and trust, even when you are uncertain of how it all ends. It looks like staying close to the Blessed Mother because she has been where you are. And it looks like prayer.
“Whoever makes a habit of prayer,” says the great St. Teresa of Avila, “should think only of doing everything to conform his will to God’s. Be assured that in this conformity consists the highest perfection we can attain, and those who practice it with the greatest care will be favored by God’s greatest gift and will make the quickest progress in the interior life. Do not imagine there are other secrets. All our good consists in this.”
Surrender is not giving up, it is giving over. But that doesn’t mean your desire will go away. The longings of a woman’s heart run deep, and that is okay. In these moments when I am caught unexpectedly by grief over an unanswered prayer, I allow the tears to come, finding comfort in knowing that my God is right next to me as I pass through the river. The grief will not consume me. His grace does.
 Father Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure, S.J., St. Claude dela Colombiere, S.J., Trustful Surrender To Divine Providence: The Secret Of Peace And Happiness, (Tan Books, 2012), p. 33.
 Father Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure, S.J., St. Claude dela Colombiere, S.J., Trustful Surrender To Divine Providence: The Secret Of Peace And Happiness, (Tan Books, 2012), p. 29.
I can’t tell you how many friends wrote that in my high school yearbook. Never change. Could you imagine if I never changed? Since 1988? I don’t know about you, but if I never changed, there’s a good chance I’d be dead. Or still wearing shoulder pads.
In the past week, I have had multiple close friends comment on a change they see in me. A good change. A deep soul change. Praise the Lord for friends who aren’t afraid to call out spiritual progress. All too often we don’t recognize our own transformation unless someone points it out. But this change? This is one that I am, and continue to become, acutely aware of.
The people I am closest to don’t just see the change, they understand it. As for those who don’t know me as well, I am not so sure they understand. To protect us all from repeating conversations I was never present for (remember Sirach 19:7–9), let’s just say that the people are wondering, Where did Laura go? And not just where, but why?
It’s a fair question. Let me explain.
When COVID hit hard and the world shut down, I was already suffering my own personal pandemic. What felt like an endless doggie paddle through the raging waters of mental illness and addiction, I was already exhausted by years of treading in place before we were forced to shelter in place. I know I am not alone. I know that many of us were in the midst of fighting our own battles, only to be told to stand still. Put it on hold. Stop paddling. Stay where you are.
The problem with not paddling? You drown.
As I watched everything close its doors—doors to things that we had worked so hard to open—the church closing was the final straw. And please do not mistake this post for a debate on whether this response from the church was right or wrong. I do not have the emotional bandwidth for that discussion, and more importantly, to veer off the point here would be unfortunate. This is not about right or wrong, safe or unsafe. This is about my total reliance on God and my need for the sacraments. The Eucharist is my strength, my sanity, my food, my oxygen, my therapy, my everything. It is what keeps me afloat when sinking to the bottom looks like a far better option. And so, when the church doors closed, I did what I knew I needed to do to keep my head above water. To be a good wife and mother. To continue to bear my share of hardship for the gospel (2 Timothy 2:3). I found a church with open doors.
That’s where I went. And that’s where I have stayed.
Because, when I walked through those doors, what I found was not only the most beautiful, reverent Mass, but also a holy presence that stilled my soul and silenced the storm in my mind. At a time when the world was spinning out of fear, chaos, and confusion, the Traditional Latin Mass offered a peace and security that transcended all understanding (Philippians 4:7). So caught up in its beauty, I found that participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was not so much about me anymore but about Him. When we read that God works all things for good (Romans 8:28), this right here would be a most appropriate example. What aimed to take me down by keeping me from the sacraments, the Lord has used for me to experience them even greater; to experience Him deeper. No longer treading in my desperation, I found myself swimming in His grace.
And it has come with a cost.
Imagine going from a leader in your parish to nobody knowing who the heck you are. Imagine that one day you are co-coordinating your church’s most vibrant ministry, and the next, you are settling quietly in the back pew, hidden by your veil. And then, imagine how the enemy delights in playing with your mind when word gets back to you that the people are talking. The people are wondering, Where did she go? Does she think that she is holier than thou? Now, I am not going to lie. I would love to be holier than you. In fact, I desire to be as holy as I possibly can be! And you should too. But that’s not why you do not see me anymore. In fact, it was never about you.
I went to where I was unknown by others so as to be convinced that I am known by God.
And this is the spiritual journey, is it not? A sign of maturing faith. Nobody grows by staying the same. Yes, I have embarked on a new stretch of pavement, but make no mistake, the road I travel is the same, for its destination is eternal glory. If you crave a deeper faith—and you should—don't plan on staying comfortable. Jesus didn't command you to pick up your electric blanket and follow the crowd to Starbucks. He asks that you pick up your cross and follow Him. Not everyone will understand why you do what you do. And that is okay. Since when did being a believer require that everything makes sense? At the center of our faith is total Mystery. If you ask me, understanding is overrated. Blind obedience is where it’s at.
The Lord has been doing a new thing in my life. He has been making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland (Isaiah 43:19). And I am utterly amazed by His faithfulness. True, He never changes (Hebrews 13:8), but praise God, I do. So do not be afraid, my friend, when the Lord calls you to something new. If He closes a door on you, rest assured, He will open another. You just need a little more courage than fear to walk on through.
“Are you there, God? It’s me, Kristy. I need some help with this decision and would really appreciate it if you could just tell me what to do. I want to do the right thing, and I don’t know what that is. So, can you please show me?”
*Looks expectantly toward the sky for a lightning bolt with a sign.*
Gosh, if only it was that easy, right? I can’t tell you how many times that’s exactly how it goes in my prayer life, and I walk away frustrated (or laughing at myself in my naivete). But hey, the lightning bolt thing could happen one day—you never know.
Making decisions has always been something I struggle with. From little things like which movie to watch (I could give you three totally valid reasons for and against each choice) to bigger things like if I should start writing that book that I feel called to write (or perhaps I should wait a few years until my kids are older). Can you even imagine how the really big decisions go for me? Praise God that He gifted my husband with heroic patience!
How about you? Do you struggle with making decisions? More specifically, do you struggle with hearing God’s voice and discerning His will for your life?
If this is you, welcome—and pull up a chair. I have come to learn a few things about hearing God’s voice and making decisions, and friend to friend, I want to share them with you.
For starters, I’ve realized that life isn’t a relay race of decisions that we have to make, with each choice shaping and determining the next lap. I used to think of God providing the coaching at each lap when I asked for it, inviting Him in only when I needed His direction. It was more about the outcome and less about the journey. I’ve since learned that life is less like a frantic relay race and more of a slow walk with the Lord, who is with us each and every step of the way—in the big and small things.
In John 10:27, Jesus tells us, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” What does His voice sound like? It’s not a lightning bolt or crack of thunder (at least not in my experience). His voice often speaks through Scripture, which is literally the Word of God. The more time we spend in Scripture, the more we know His voice and can recognize it when He does call us. This requires a conscious decision to slow down and spend time in prayer and reading Scripture. It sounds so simple, yet it’s true. You will be able to better discern God’s will for your life if you spend more time in Scripture—there is no shortcut here.
The next thing I’ve realized about making decisions and discerning God’s will is summed up perfectly by both Robert Frost and Joan of Arc. (I couldn't decide which quote I liked better, so I’m giving you both.)
“The best way out is always through.” —Robert Frost
“Act, and God will act. Work, and He will work.” —St. Joan of Arc
They are both on to something. Something that, quite frankly, sounds terrifying to me. We just have to take a step, even if it turns out that it was the wrong step.
How can the wrong decision be good? A priest friend once gave me some wise advice when I asked how he makes big decisions that impact an entire parish community on a daily basis. He said, “Once I’ve come to a decision through prayer, I ask the Lord to bless it and pray it’s the right one. If it’s the wrong decision, I ask Him to stop my plans. And if He doesn’t…then I ask Him to help me learn from it.”
What a humble, yet confident way of approaching decision-making! Humble in the way he admits God is in charge of the outcome either way—he knows he’s not big enough to thwart God’s plan. And confident in the way he knows his role and responsibility to the people he was sent to serve, and God will use whatever his decision is for good. Following this model has truly enabled me to feel peace about decisions that I make.
When we make our decisions with this type of humble confidence, we allow the Holy Spirit room to work in our lives. Choices that used to bring stress and worry become opportunities for joy as we cooperate with the Lord and allow Him an active role in our lives. It enables us to grow in trust and experience the depth of love that God has for us.
I still really don’t want to make the wrong decisions in my life. And you know what, God knows that about me. And He knows your doubts and fears about discerning things in your life, too. So, if He allows me (or you) to make the wrong decision, you can bet it’s because He wants to teach me (or you) something because He loves us.
My spiritual director was advising me in this area lately, and she said, “Kristy, we almost never get certainty from the Lord. But we can often have clarity. And most of the time, that’s all we need.”
Praying the Holy Spirit will give you clarity in your decision-making, and that you may step out in humble confidence, trusting that the Lord is with you—no matter the outcome.
P.S. Here is an easy decision: check out the Walking with Purpose YouTube series, Truth with Handles: The Conversation, where I chat with fellow WWP bloggers Mallory Smyth and Laura Phelps about issues that matter to Catholic women today. While you’re there, don’t forget to subscribe to the WWP YouTube channel and turn on notifications so you don’t miss a single episode.
The best way to spend the final week before Christmas is making a solo 1,370 mile drive with two dogs in the backseat. At least this is what I told myself when I set out to create an unforgettable Christmas experience for my family. I didn’t factor in the relationship my puppy wanted to develop with the dog staying across the hall at the hotel. She “talked” to our neighbor all night long, which contributed to a delightful sleeping experience along the way.
The thing is, I can justify almost any complication of an event if I am certain that making “it” happen will bring guaranteed delight to my kids. And everyone knows that puppies make Christmas extra magical. The way I have approached the holiday season (if I’m honest, it’s the way I approach my life) is to figure out what is possible. Can I somehow make it happen through grit, hard work, and perseverance? Then the juice is worth the squeeze! Until it isn’t.
I don’t know how you are approaching these final days before Christmas, but I would guess that most of you are starting to feel a little panicky over the things you have left to do, and as a result, you’ve got a creeping sense that you are going to be disappointed by the end result. Which just might be motivating you to run even faster and try even harder. At least that’s the way I have lived for decades.
But I am trying to make a change, and although I still justified the drive with the dogs, I can see some glimmers of transformation. Instead of asking myself, “Is this possible? Can I somehow make this happen?” I am asking myself, “What’s the simplest option here?” I am growing in my appreciation for the simple, and it’s not just because I’ve read Marie Kondo’s book. It’s the result of realizing that nothing satisfies me like a quiet and still heart. I’ve learned that in order to encounter the Lord, everything in my life needs to slow down. It’s not about getting everything done and then giving myself permission to stop. I need to set a goal of doing less, so I can create space for Him.
When there’s a little space, I have the chance to ponder what I’m going to offer Jesus as a gift for His birthday. Typically, I offer Him a nicely decorated house, bulging Christmas stockings, loads of food, and Christmas presents spilling over the floor in front of the tree. But when I stop to think about it, none of these things are for Him. They are for my family. And while I know Jesus feels loved when I love well, I am kidding myself when I ignore the fact that any thoughts of Him are pretty far away when I’m doing all of that prep.
What gifts were given to Jesus when He came to earth and was born in a manger? It was simply the gift of people’s presence. In the midst of the mess of the stable, the noises of the animals, and the emotions that accompany things when they don’t go according to plan, Mary and Joseph let the rest of the world fade away and just welcomed their baby. Their hands were empty, which meant there was room for Him.
Instead of patting myself on the back when I can present Jesus with a picture-perfect Christmas, I have come to see the value in offering Him a calmed and quieted soul (Psalm 131:1). Instead of feeling like I need to come with all my to-do’s wrapped up in my hands, I’ve learned that the gift He likes best is my empty hands, upturned in humble worship.
Padre Pio has been ministering to me these months with these words,
Live simply. Eat simply. Love one another simply. Do not complicate matters unnecessarily. How do you live simply? You remove activities that are not necessary or that pull you away from duty…Apostles of Jesus Christ must set an example of service and obedience but not hectic service. There should be calm and if there is not calm in your life, change your life and keep changing it until you find calm.
There is still time to do what matters most this Christmas season. I’m not talking about the gifts, the cookies, the decorations, or the parties. What matters most is finding a pocket of calm, emptying your hands, and upturning them to offer thanks. A humble thank you to the God of the universe because He stepped into our mess as Emmanuel, God with us. Take a deep breath, my friends. Your peaceful presence is more important than the perfect present. That’s what is remembered most.
So offer Jesus your empty, upturned hands this Christmas. There’s no better gift.
With you on the journey,
It’s Advent. My favorite time of year. Every morning in December, I get to wake up before the entire house and pray by a Christmas tree. It’s glorious. For four weeks, I get to meditate on the mystery of God becoming man, and I love it. I love it because I love God, I love Christmas trees, and I love history. And while all of these things make me feel good, I rarely allow these delightful moments to transform the way I live.
Advent is a season for preparation. During this time, we prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming, but that preparation should not only affect our hearts and minds. The work we allow God to do in us during Advent should leave a mark that makes us different during the rest of the year. But how? How should praying through old prophecies and thinking about Jesus’ being born in a manger change us? It should change us because, when we meditate on them, they tether us to reality, and when we live in reality, we will live more joyful and ordered lives.
Frank Sheed, a Catholic theologian, said in his book, Theology and Sanity, “Seeing what the Church sees means seeing what is there.” When we see the world as it really is and interact with it how it actually works, our behavior harmonizes with truth, which brings on peace and guards against anxiety.
The issue is that this is easier said than done. It is not easy to live grounded in reality because we are surrounded by illusion. Our society is a marketing machine that is constantly telling us what should make us happy, sad, or afraid. It sends the message that life is about our comfort, our preferences, and our happiness at the cost of humility and sacrifice. If we do not deliberately hold on to the truth, we will eventually live as though the world revolves around us—even if we don’t believe it in our hearts. Meditating on God’s promises during Advent can break us out of the cultural narrative because it draws us out of our daily grind and into the broader story of God’s faithfulness throughout history. It reminds us of our role in the story.
One of these promises does just that. These words remind us of who God is and who we are in His plan of salvation: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them, light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy” (Isaiah 9:2–3).
Notice where the people are. They are in darkness. Notice that it doesn’t say, “The people in darkness have themselves walked out of the darkness and into the light.” No, the people were pretty helpless, and it was while they were still in darkness, the Light began to shine. The hero in the story is God, the Light, that saved the people. The people themselves did very little. They may have responded to the Light, but it was God who did all of the work.
Dear sister, this Advent season, as I pray through Isaiah 9, I am declaring over and over again that the world does not revolve around me. I am not the point of the story; God is. I don’t believe it in my heart, but I often live as though I am the center of the universe. How do I know? Because I am easily inconvenienced and offended. I’m also quick to believe that I am pretty amazing, and if others don’t verbally recognize my greatness, I am overcome with discouragement.
What about you? I bet that you know that the world does not revolve around you, but how do you live? What are your knee-jerk reactions? Examine your thought life. What do you think other people owe you? Answer these questions, and you will quickly find out whether you act as though life is about you or God.
During these weeks of Advent, if you let Him, God will gently but boldly put you back into your place. He will remind you of what is real—that all of history is about His goodness. We are the ones in the darkness, and He is the light. We needed a savior, and He did the saving. He is meant to be served and glorified, not us.
The season of Advent is ultimately about freedom. God became a man to set us free from sin, and in doing so, saved us from ourselves. He is the center of everything. When we live our lives according to this truth, wonder becomes attainable and joy becomes common. We become free of the burden that comes from trying to be the star on a stage that was never meant to be ours in the first place.
So, as we approach Christmas, let this season change you. Let it change how you respond when others upset you or fail to notice you. Let it free you from the tyranny of self-love so that your life reflects the reality that it is all about the One who is Love itself.
Come Lord Jesus, set us free from ourselves so all that is left is love of you.
 Frank Sheed, Theology and Sanity (Ignatius Press: 1993), 22
Do you want your life to change?
This was the question that Dynamic Catholic Founder, Matthew Kelly, posed to a packed church parish hall ten years ago. I can’t speak for the other attendees’ responses at the retreat that day, but I can share mine. It was a solid yes.
The solution Kelly offered wasn’t anything that I was expecting and certainly didn’t align with the solutions the world offers. He didn’t tell me to go to therapy, practice mindfulness, walk in the grass barefoot, or lose weight. (Which, for the record, are not bad things. In fact, I’ve done them all.) He simply suggested, “If you want your life to change, go to daily Mass every day for two weeks.” He followed up with, “Some of you will, and some of you won’t.”
As for me? I did.
And he was right.
My life radically and profoundly changed because of the Mass.
But please do not mistake “changed” for “eliminated trial and tribulation.” My active participation in the holy sacrifice does not serve as a magic pill that makes troubles melt away. (If it did, the churches would be filled.) Dare I say, some troubles have seemingly gotten worse. The “change” goes deeper than external and current circumstances. It is an ongoing stretching and pulling of the heart. An interior transformation. It is hard to explain the mystery of it all, but I have narrowed my own experience of how the Mass has changed my life down to three significant, yet super simple points that might help you to better understand; and, if you so desire, can apply to your own life.
1. Start every day with God’s Word. Do you realize that when you reach for your phone before you get out of bed you have just given every voice in your feed permission to shape your heart and steer where you stare? What we allow to daily enter our minds has the power to bring us peace or unrest. Life or death. Scott Hahn said, “If we do not fill our mind with prayer, it will fill itself with anxieties, worries, temptations, resentments, and unwelcome memories.” And maybe you are thinking, I do pray every morning. I do not have to physically go to a church to pray. And you are correct. Sort of. Because…
2. The Mass is an invincible weapon. We are in a daily battle. In the Book of Revelation, we read how “the huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it” (Revelation 12:9). And “when the dragon saw that it had been thrown down to the earth, it pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child...then the dragon became angry with the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring” (Revelation 12:13, 17). Sweet friends, I don’t mean to alarm you, but we are the offspring. We have an accuser who accuses us “day and night” (Revelation 12:10). I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a terrifying and losing battle!
However, Ephesians 6:13 offers a plan: “Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.” How much armor are you wearing? Because I want to wear the full armor. I want the armor of personal prayer, but I also want the armor of the holy sacrifice of the Mass! The Eucharist! Christ present on the altar in flesh and blood! I cannot rely on my own strength, and so I need to literally consume the strength of Christ. Where do we find this strength? In the Eucharist. The Eucharist strengthens us in charity, preserves us from future mortal sins, and unites us more closely to Christ. And speaking of being united with Christ…
3. The Mass rightly orders our worship. Here’s the truth we don’t want to hear: we are all addicts. Everyone is addicted to something. As the saying goes, “Addiction is giving up everything for one thing. Recovery is giving up one thing for everything.” Jesus is everything, and yet so many worldly addictions compete with Him. What is the one thing that you drop everything (Jesus) for? On the days I skip time with Jesus present at the daily Mass, it is my addiction to self-reliance that has taken God’s place. The moment I start to look at everything piled on my plate and start to imagine all of the things that I will accomplish with that extra hour is the moment I give up everything that Jesus wants to give me. Truly, it’s the work of the enemy. Because there is nothing on my to-do list—not even those things I can do for my children—that will ever be more important than hearing the Mass. I know…every parent reading this thinks I have lost my mind. But hear me out. Our children, no matter their age, are watching us. They see what matters to us and what does not. In his book, Parents of the Saints, author Patrick O’Hearn writes that “these devout parents show us that there is no greater gift a parent can pass on to their sons and daughters than the Holy Eucharist. Other gifts will never satisfy or last—toys will be abandoned, clothes will be outgrown, cars will break down, and sports teams will disappoint, but the Holy Eucharist is the gift that never stops giving and always satisfies.”
Some of you will read this and feel inspired to attend daily Mass. Others will find my suggestion highly inconvenient and logistically unrealistic. Others will think how strict and outdated the rules of the Catholic Church are that, in today’s busy day and age, church attendance is even a requirement. “But the true state of the case is that the law of the Church is so strict because Christ is present in the Mass.” Of course, we know that God is everywhere. “But it is in the Holy Mass alone that He offers Himself to His Father as the Lamb that was slain. How can we forego that sweet and solemn action?”
This Advent, I made a vow to give up my worship of self-reliance and to get back to “the works I did at first” (Revelation 2:5). Namely, worshiping God at daily Holy Mass. And in just one short week, the fruits and rewards are undeniable. The bottom line is that wherever this lands on your heart, I want you to know this: Ten years ago, I wanted my life to change, and it did...because of the Mass.
Do you want your life to change?
If so, go to daily Mass every day for two weeks.
Some of you will and some of you won’t.
I pray that you all will.
 Scott Hahn, Signs of Life: 40 Catholic Customs and Their Biblical Roots (2009), p.91.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, p.352, 1394, 1395, 1396
 Patrick O’Hearn, Parents of the Saints:The Hidden Heroes Behind Our Favorite Saints (Tan Books, 2020), p.30-31.
 Father Lasance, The New Roman Missal (Christian Book Club of America, 1993), p.40.
 Father Lasance, The New Roman Missal (Christian Book Club of America, 1993), p.40.
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