At any point during the day, there is an alert mechanism that goes off in my brain when my house becomes too quiet for too long. It’s like a “mom radar” notifying me of an imminent disaster, and unfortunately, it’s usually correct. In our house, prolonged silence is usually the prelude to an inevitable sticky/bloody/flooded/broken mess just around the corner.
As the mom of five (virtual or home-schooling) children, age preschool to high school, I crave silence daily. I look forward to the quiet cup of coffee in the morning, the afternoon lull where I can sit down and breathe, or the evenings with my husband when we can relax and chat or watch a movie. These quiet moments are necessary, and I have learned to carve out these times in my day for my own spiritual and emotional well-being (Keeping in Balance was life-changing for me in this area). These times of silence are “golden,” as they say.
But silence is only golden until it’s not.
While creating silence can be a good thing, there are times when it can be harmful. Sometimes we choose to be silent out of fear or anger. Fear and anger can be powerful motivators with devastating effects.
Sometimes we need to say something and we don’t.
That time I could have spoken up in defense of justice or life for those who need an advocate? I silenced a voice in my head that was longing to speak up because I was afraid of what people would think of me. That could have been a moment the Holy Spirit wanted to use me to reach someone’s heart. When truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.
Sometimes we need to deal with something and we don’t.
That hurtful memory from my past that I never addressed? I silenced my pain by ignoring it and hoping it would go away. My instinct to bury or sweep it under a rug only delays and magnifies the inevitable pain. As Fr. Richard Rohr says: “If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.”
Sometimes we need to hear something from God and we don’t listen.
Those times in my day when I turn to my phone or a glass of wine to escape from the stress of the day? I silence the call from God to place all my worries on him because He cares for me  by being lazy and zoning out. Those are missed opportunities to turn to God and allow His voice to penetrate my heart and mind with truth.
Rest assured, sister, this is not how God has called us to handle these situations. He wants us to live fearless and free as his beloved daughters. Walking with Purpose has an entire Bible study devoted to this truth: Fearless and Free. Through this study, we learn to recognize His voice (and therefore our true identity), wrestle with the lies and truths in our minds by taking every thought captive to Christ, and finally reclaim ground and move forward.
It’s also important to remember that we are not big enough to hinder God’s plans. He writes straight with crooked lines. All. The. Time. So if you’re like me and catch yourself silencing something that you shouldn’t, it’s never too late to open up and let God back in. To begin, we have to start by listening to the right voices. Do you recognize the Father’s voice in your life? His is the one that speaks hope, life, and direction into our lives.
P.S. Mark your calendars to join Mallory Smyth and me for live, weekly Lenten discussions of Fearless and Free 6-Lesson Bible study on Facebook and Instagram (Thursday nights at 8 PM EST / 5 PM PST starting February 18).
 Yevgeny Yevtushenko, “Excerpts From Yevtushenko Statement,” New York Times, Originally published in print on February 8, 1974. https://www.nytimes.com/1974/02/18/archives/excerpts-from-yevtushenko-statement.html.
 Fr. Richard Rohr, “Transforming Pain,” Center for Action and Contemplation, October 17, 2018. https://cac.org/transforming-pain-2018-10-17/.
 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you.”
Do you ever feel like you are not enough?
As a young girl, it was my talent and looks that left me wanting. I never felt pretty enough, smart enough, or talented enough. I am not going to lie and say that at fifty years old I am finally comfortable in my skin and grateful for the way that the Lord has fashioned me, especially when it means I have a beard and can’t read a spreadsheet. Because I am not. And in an attempt to appear like a good Catholic woman of a mature faith—one who has her priorities straight—I suppose I could just lie to you and say I have overcome all issues of vanity. But I just went to confession, and honestly? I don’t want to have to go back to the priest just yet. He’s new to our parish, and I really want to impress him with my extreme holiness.
So here is the truth. I do not feel like I am enough. And before you try to tell me otherwise, here is another truth. I am right. I am not enough. And guess what? You are not enough either. Isn’t that great news?
Let me explain before you cross my name off the list of potential future speakers at your next women’s conference.
The last few weeks have been difficult at home, especially for my daughter who is beginning to buckle beneath the weight of one disappointment after the next. And I would love to tell you exactly how she is feeling, but she won’t tell me. She doesn’t want to talk about it, and we used to talk about everything. She walks around, a shell of who I remember, pushing me away while she attempts to carry her cross on her own; refusing my help, when all I want to do is swoop in and swaddle her, read her Goodnight Moon, and sing a soft lullaby as I nurse her to sleep. She’s seventeen years old, by the way.
I was sharing with a friend how hard this season is for me; the helplessness of it all. “No matter what I do or say, what I have done or what I offer, it’s like…” But before I could finish my sentence, my friend finished it for me. “You are not enough.” And we both stood still for a moment as the words “not enough” flashed like a neon sign above our heads. I went home and pondered this all evening. If I, the woman who gave birth to and protected this child for seventeen years, is not enough for her, then who is?
When I can’t shake a word from my head it usually means God has written it on my heart, and so I immediately go to my friend Merriam-Webster and look up its meaning. Enough, by definition, is: in or to a degree or quantity that satisfies or that is sufficient or necessary for satisfaction. The words “satisfy” and “sufficient” jumped out at me because, thanks to studying Scripture, I recognize that those words are characteristics of God. Not me. Only God satisfies. Only God is sufficient. Therefore, only God is enough.
I was reminded of Saint Paul’s words in Philippians 4:12:
“I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance, and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.”
Paul’s secret to living contently had nothing to do with what he could give, and everything to do with the actual Giver. Why? Because on his own, he knew he was not enough. It was God in him that gave him the power and strength to persevere in every situation. And as much as I would like to believe that I am the savior, it is God that will fully supply me, my daughter, and every one of us with whatever we need (Philippians 4:19). Thank the Lord that I am not enough for my loved ones, for if I were, they would never need Jesus.
As I pondered the word enough, the Lord placed another word on my heart: contentment. I not only wrestled with feeling like I was never enough but also struggled with the fear of never having enough. Am I content with being not enough? Am I content with what I have? The answer is yes. Not only content but grateful.
Friends, after years of God trying to get my attention, painfully watching me turn to cheap substitutes and false idols in the hopes of feeling a sense of enough, it would be my weakness that eventually leads me to Him. It was my absolute inability to make things right, fix my problems, get a grip on my emotions, and climb my way out of a pit—that by the way, I dug myself—that I finally threw my hands up and said, “Enough! I can’t do this anymore. Please, God, I need your help.”
In any substance recovery program, this is what’s called hitting rock bottom. But you don’t have to struggle with addiction to experience this. We all have a rock bottom. It was when I finally had enough of seeking satisfaction and abundance in everything but God, that I turned to Him. And lo and behold, Saint Paul was right. Connect your life to Christ, and life stays together. Leave God out of your life, and it all falls apart. This is a lesson we all need to learn, and, dare I suggest, we don’t always like the Lord’s lessons, but man, they are good.
How do you know if your life is connected to Christ? Lisa Brenninkmeyer asks three questions in Lesson 2: Balance Through Contentment, from the Walking with Purpose young adult study Perspective, that can help us find the answer:
Is there something falling apart in your life?
Have you come to the end of your resources?
How can you invite Christ to hold it together for you?
Here’s the thing. We will all have a season, or two or three (but who’s counting), when life falls apart. The only thing more painful than your own falling apart is watching your loved one fall apart. And sure, we can try to jump in and do the saving ourselves. We can pretend that our love is enough and we are sufficient. We can throw out the safety net and cushion our loved one’s fall as many times as we’d like. But remember, Jesus fell three times on His way to Calvary, and not once did His mother try to prevent the crucifixion from happening. Instead, she followed Him, she kept her eyes on Him, and she stood with Him. And then, she waited for Him to rise. I have to believe we were left with this model for good reason.
Friends, if you feel like you are not enough—not enough to heal a hurt, not enough to make things better, not enough to fix what’s broken—do not despair, because not only are you in good company, but also, not enough is a really great place to be. For it is only when we admit our weaknesses that we can tap into His strength. It is only when we let go of self-sufficiency that we have free hands to hold fast to the One who is all-sufficient. You, beloved daughter, were never asked to be enough—only to open your heart to the Father who is.
True contentment is found only in Him. So follow Him. Keep your eyes on Him. Stand with Him. Then wait for Him to rise. He is more than enough.
Your sister in Christ,
 Lisa Brenninmeyer, Perspective: Keeping in Balance Young Adult Series, Part II, (Walking With Purpose, 2018) p. 40.
My 77-year-old mother is a model of efficiency. When she has news to share with her three children, rarely will she make three phone calls. If you ask my mom, email is sufficient for most communications. She also seems to doubt that group texts actually work. But group email? That’s her game. And the most recent email she sent to my brother, sister, and me read exactly as follows:
“The doctor called. I have the virus. Quarantined for 14 days after symptoms go away. Mom.”
Unfortunately, this was not the first piece of news I had received informing me that COVID-19 hit close to home. Over the past couple of months, a steady stream of texts and phone calls has revealed to me that someone tested positive, someone else was hospitalized, someone else passed away, and so on. I live in the NYC suburbs, and I need two hands to count the number of close friends and family members who were seriously affected by this virus.
However, the email from my mother was the first piece of news that kicked my anxiety into full swing. It was the first time in my life that I had to come to terms with the possibility of losing a parent.
At the same time, my high schooler was completely ignoring his remote learning, my husband was stressed out at work, and thoughts about Walking with Purpose had been keeping me awake at night. COVID-19 cancelled all the WWP spring events and impacted Bible study sales, and as the director of marketing, I’m constantly thinking about what I can do to support the ministry.
By late April it was clear to me that absolutely everything in my life was out of control. But friends, you will be relieved to know that I didn’t try to control it. If there’s one thing I learned from the Walking with Purpose Bible study Opening Your Heart, it's that God is in the driver’s seat.
But what to do about the constant anxiety? Yes, we can give up control and hand our struggles over to Christ, but I seem to have feelings of panic and worry that come on quite suddenly, triggered by stressful moments, no matter how much control I give up. When the Director of the CDC announced a week ago that a second and more difficult wave of COVID-19 was coming this fall, I uncorked a bottle of Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc faster than you can say quarantine.
Clearly, I needed better coping techniques.
In the Walking with Purpose Bible study Keeping in Balance, there’s a lesson that talks about anxiety as a barrier to contentment. It is such a helpful lesson that Walking with Purpose sent it out as a PDF to our email list last week (you can find that PDF here). In this lesson we are asked to reflect on 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, “Take every thought captive to obey Christ.” What I love about WWP Bible studies is how author Lisa Brenninkmeyer makes scripture passages easy for newbies like me to understand. Lisa says the way we take a thought captive is by “replacing the worry with a truth that builds [our] trust in God.”
That right there? That is an action item I can turn to (in place of the wine).
Here’s the truth I came up with to build my trust in God: Christ is present in humanity’s compassion, and that compassion is so clearly EVERYWHERE these days!
COVID-19 has unified humanity into the most massive force of good that I think this planet has ever seen. Millions around the globe are doing whatever it takes to fight the virus. From philanthropists pledging billions to speed the development of a vaccine, to medical professionals risking their lives to save COVID-19 patients, and school children collecting canned goods for food pantries, people are overflowing with kindness, and I recognize God in them.
As I finish writing this blog post, I’m singing in my head, “...every little thing, is gonna be alright.”
PS: I’m sorry to keep you hanging about my mom. She battled the virus quite easily, actually, and pulled through quickly. Thank you for all of your prayers!
 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping in Balance (Walking with Purpose, July 2019), 151.
So here we are, 60 days into the New Year, and I’ve already broken my New Year’s resolution.
I can’t pinpoint the exact day it happened. It wasn’t as if I resolved to give up junk food, and then tore through a bag of Doritos while binge-watching Jane the Virgin one particular evening.
As well, I can’t fault the resolution itself. Inspired as it was by Scripture, it had to be a solid resolution, right?
Love your neighbor as yourself.
In early January I made physical and mental lists of the names of people to love; people to whom I thought I needed to show more kindness and attention. My husband, my parents in Connecticut, my brother and sister-in-law in California, the pregnant woman next door, the friend whose fiftieth birthday party I missed...the list went on. And on.
The list was lengthy, and somehow, right after making it, I forgot about nearly everyone on it as I plowed through the first two months of 2020 trying to meet all my deadlines at work along with daily duties as my kids’ personal chef, chauffeur and laundress.
While I was disappointed in myself for neglecting my list, it was also clear that my expectations were a little high. Why in the world did I expect I could pour myself into so many others simultaneously while barely keeping my own life together?
Hoping to find an answer to this question in the Walking with Purpose Bible study, Keeping In Balance, I re-visited the page on the topic of Balancing Expectations titled, “My Expectations of Myself.”  On this page author Lisa Brenninkmeyer directs us to write down the expectations we have of ourselves; then circle the ones that matter to God. And that’s when I had an “aha” moment—there was not a lot that needed circling on my list.
Truth be told, I wanted to squeeze quality time with dozens of people into my schedule so that I could stop feeling guilty and start feeling like I accomplished things. And I don’t think that feeling victorious after checking names off a list mattered much to God.
The dinner in Manhattan that I’d been trying so hard to set up with that friend whose birthday I missed wasn’t for her. It was for me, so I could stop feeling bad about missing her birthday.
I had missed the mark, but last Saturday, I was given a second chance at the Sisters of Life Feminine Genius Brunch in Pearl River, New York. If you know me as the picky, junk food-binging, vegetarian that I am, you won’t be surprised to hear that I didn’t partake of the brunch. But I did drink lots of coffee, and I made new friends among the ladies seated at my table. And we all got to hear Sister Virginia Joy deliver an inspiring talk on The Beauty of the Feminine Heart.
Sister said something that has stayed with me—spoken with more eloquence than how I’m about to retell it here, but it was something like this:
Let God’s grace touch others through you.
Sister Virginia Joy gave examples of women who did this, and those women weren’t moving mountains or launching nonprofits or feeding armies. One woman simply reached out on a crowded train and helped a stranger with her crying baby.
That, my friends, is what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.
I think I’ve got it figured out now. I think the kind of love we’re talking about doesn’t live on a to-do list. It is spontaneous, joyful and unselfish. It is simply letting God’s grace flow through us to others.
 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping in Balance (October 2018), 46.
Last month I managed to do something right. On most days in December, I was able to balance the business of Christmas shopping, decorating, cooking and celebrating with a peaceful mindset focused on His coming. I’ll admit I sometimes didn’t balance the two evenly, and there were days when party prep and presents kept my eyes off the real prize. But I did give more of my attention to Him than I had during past Christmas seasons. I am a work in progress!
So here we are at the start of a new year, and once again I feel compelled to make a New Year’s resolution. Doing so might be a waste of time since I’ve never stuck to any resolutions I’ve made in the past, but it doesn’t hurt to try.
Putting God first every day of the year (not just during Advent-Christmas) would make for a great resolution, right? But, I am a full-time employee of Walking with Purpose, and the act of working for a ministry of Jesus Christ keeps Him front-and-center daily. More than that, He and I are in cahoots here in my home office. I pray each day for the Holy Spirit to guide me in my work, and He certainly responds.
I already know He’s Priority Number One.
Which brings me to Priority Number Two, and my resolution for 2020. I got the idea from Matthew 22:37-40:
[Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
Christ says the second most important thing is to put others next, in the #2 spot to God. Not ourselves. Thinking about this, I realize that there are people in my life who really should be elevated to that #2 spot. People who, sadly, I sometimes ignore. My aging parents and my husband come to mind.
But then, the self-centered part of me that worries about my sanity takes over my thought process. Really? It says. You’re going to give more of yourself to your parents, even though it is always you who visits them and not the other way around? They are the retired ones, after all. How in the world are you going to fit more two-hour-long road trips into your packed schedule?
That selfish voice also has a problem giving my husband second-to-God status. You both work full-time yet it is always you doing the laundry and cooking meals. When’s the last time he made you dinner? Why do you eat Doritos while he and the kids enjoy the steak dinner you prepared for them?
(Side note: I’m a vegetarian, and the rest of the household are big-time carnivores. However, the time it takes to make two dinners each day is time I just don’t have.)
The WWP Bible study Keeping in Balance has a lesson all about putting people “next.” In it, author Lisa Brenninkmeyer reveals the key to actually making it happen. She writes:
“The principle of ‘loving your neighbor as yourself’ works only if you treat yourself well. Do you habitually neglect yourself, forsaking prayer, rest, good nutrition, exercise, and healthy emotional boundaries?...Do you agree that this is a necessary first step in order to love others well?” 
You can’t effectively love others if you don’t love and care for yourself first. Which I think means I need to stop eating Doritos for dinner.
It looks like I might have two resolutions for the new year: Providing more TLC to my “neighbors,” and to myself. I’m going to try like heck to stick to this because of something else Lisa writes in Keeping in Balance:
“At the end of our lives, God isn’t going to ask about all that we have accomplished. He will look at how we’ve loved. This is the true measure of significance.” 
 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping in Balance (October 2018), 32.
 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping in Balance (October 2018), 33.
The kids piled into the minivan, and as we pulled out onto the street, my fourth grade son suddenly remembered his one homework assignment: bring poster board to class. So I did what all good mothers do. After dropping three kids off at school, with a baby on my hip, I put my own plans aside, raced to the store, purchased some poster board, and brought it to his teacher. Feeling like a hero, I was surprised to be greeted with anything less than praise and gratitude for rescuing my son from the serious wound of humiliation directly caused by his not having poster board. Instead, in front of the class, I was greeted with, “Oh, I am sorry Mrs. Phelps. I can’t accept that from you. It was not your homework assignment. It was your son’s.”
You would think after being called out in front of 20 fourth-graders, I would have learned my lesson. But as a young mom who believed that saving my children from all discomfort was a reflection of my love, I continued to jump to the rescue, no matter the cost. Forgot your backpack? I am on my way! Left your lunch on the kitchen table? I’ll bring it right over! Math assignment on the your bedroom floor? Give me ten minutes...I can swing by the school!
It’s what we do. Convinced that without our help something tragic will happen to them, we love out of fear and we help to control; all the while thinking we are just doing our job.
But it is not our job.
It is God’s job.
And last time I checked, he wasn’t looking to retire.
In the secular world, we call this enabling. It is excusing, justifying, ignoring, denying, or smoothing over a behavior. Not because we support or condone it, but because we are so incredibly anxious and affected by it; not because we approve of our loved ones choices, but because we can not bear to see them walk through the consequences. I tell you this, sweet friend, with authority, as I am a recovering professional enabler. I tried so hard to keep my own child from having to deal with that one big crisis that I managed to prolong the problems by keeping him and my family living in a constant state of smaller crises. At best, a distorted attempt to solve problems, I never did succeed at removing his suffering, but sadly, only postponed it.
How many of us are wasting our time and energy trying to prevent our loved ones from suffering? And how many of us, if we are being honest, aren’t stepping in to clean up their mess because of their potential pain, but rather, because of our own? Let’s face it. It hurts to watch a loved one hurt. It is so much easier to just do for them what we know we can do so that unpleasant conflict is avoided, hard consequences are erased, and can we move on with life.
I have sat in enough circles to finally understand that the key to breaking the pattern of enabling is to return responsibility to the person it belongs to. As a firm believer in therapy that is rooted deeply in faith, I’d like to take this a step further and say that the key to breaking the pattern of enabling is to return responsibility to the God it belongs to.
This thought was confirmed yesterday as my Walking With Purpose small group discussed healthy boundaries and relationships in the Keeping In Balance study. Galatians 6:2 teaches that we ought to bear one another’s burdens. But verse 5 commands us to bear our own load. This is some game-changing truth to chew on. Lisa Brenninkmeyer further explains:
Loads are made up of things we’re all expected to do for ourselves. We are to help one another with burdens, but be responsible for our own loads. When do we get into trouble? When we find ourselves carrying others’ loads or refusing to compassionately help others carry their burdens.¹
Raise your hand right now if you are carrying someone else’s load, and ask yourself...why? What am I afraid will happen to my loved one if I hand this load back over to him/her? What am I afraid will happen to me if I do not carry if for him/her?
Handing over a load that we have been trying to carry and control, all in the name of love, is no small matter. It is painfully hard. But you know what’s even harder? Never letting it go. Not because it will exhaust the one who is doing the carrying, but because of the message it sends to the one who was meant to carry it in the first place. The message that, “You aren’t able to carry this. You are not strong enough. God might not show up, so I must step in.”
I shared my exhaustion in confession. I told the priest that I felt like I have been handed a giant clay cistern full of water and holes. Each hole is one of my children, and every time I get one hole covered up, another hole starts spouting. “I feel like it is my responsibility to keep every hole covered...like it is my job to spackle everything...keeping everything smooth...everything at peace.” And the priest, in love, corrected me: “You are not the spackler.”
Not only are we not the spacklers, but in attempting to be so, we add unnecessary stress to our lives. The fact is, no life is without suffering, our pain has purpose, and we gain nothing but an anxious heart when we believe otherwise. The love we have for others is not measured in how much our hands carry, but rather, in how much we place in the hands of God.
Your Sister in Christ,
¹ Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping In Balance (Walking With Purpose, October 2018) p.66
I once worked for a magazine written for career-minded women. In every glossy issue, we offered tips and articles to help our readers find balance in their busy lives: Four Ways to get Hubby to Help… Finding a Caregiver who Cares... Dinners You Can Make in Minutes! We offered solutions to help our target audience keep all the balls in the air and jump through hula hoops while walking a tightrope. (Yes, like a circus clown—only in high heels instead of shiny red clown shoes.)
This fall I began the Walking with Purpose Bible Study Keeping in Balance. In its pages I expected to find helpful tips and tricks just like that magazine offered. Three passages from Scripture to evoke calm and promote sleep! Jesus said “no” sometimes; you can too! Instead, the first two lessons took me on a deep dive into authenticity. Like a scuba diver looking for treasure on the deep ocean floor.
To live authentically is to live the life we were created for—truthfully and purposefully; raw and real. But how many of us do that? When your Facebook friend shares pictures of her new dining room set or the red roses that were delivered to her workplace “just because,” is your friend showing her authentic, #nofilter self or the carefully-curated parts of her life?
I really shouldn’t judge. While I don’t post on social media, I’m guilty of doing plenty of things for the sake of appearances. Take my volunteer work. I served on the board of my son’s travel baseball league and didn’t even enjoy it (I was made treasurer—a role I am terribly unequipped for)! So then what did I do? I volunteered to be treasurer of my kids’ school PTA. I didn’t enjoy that either. But the two experiences provided admirable bullet points to spiff up my LinkedIn profile. My PTA work even earned me an engraved piece of lucite. (No clue where that award is now, BTW.)
But sisters, here’s the thing; there’s more to an authenticity deep-dive than exploring how authentic you are to others. Being authentic with ourselves and with God is equally important.
Here are some questions for us to think about: when you experience conflict or are hurt emotionally, how do you react? Do you express your feelings in a healthy way, or do you ignore or “stuff” them away? I’ll admit that I’m a stuffer. That’s what us major-conflict-avoiders do—we put on a mask and push our emotions way down deep.
There’s a quote in Lesson 2 of Keeping In Balance from Peter Scazzaro’s book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, that underscores the problem with burying or ignoring our feelings:
...To the degree that we are unable to express our emotions, we remain impaired in our ability to love God, others, and ourselves well...When we deny our pain, losses and feelings year after year, we become less and less human. We transform slowly into empty shells with smiley faces painted on them.¹
This, my friends, is not what God wants. He wants us to be the authentic women He created us to be!
While I may not be totally authentic with myself or with those around me, I think I’m authentic with God. My prayers to Him are honest, unpolished, and at times, border-line puerile, but I learned in Opening Your Heart that not only is it OK to talk to God as a child might, it’s a good thing (and I blogged about that here).
Back to the magazine where I used to work: I now know it didn’t truly help women keep their lives in balance. It simply provided coping strategies for living life in a challenging way.
So, let’s remember that it’s OK for our lives to be imperfect. We don’t need to wear a mask or hide our struggles from others or from God, who really does like the messy versions of ourselves anyway.
But [the Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
¹ Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping in Balance (October 2018), 20.
I always knew I would have a traditional Catholic wedding. It was what we did. My parents got married in the Catholic Church. My sisters got married in the Catholic Church. I, a cradle Catholic, would obviously get married in, yup...you guessed it... the Catholic Church. And so we attended pre-Cana, chose the readings, brought the family-friend priest in from out of town, and an incredible Catholic ceremony happened on a beautiful fall day on the Upper East side of Manhattan. And just like that, we became husband and wife.
We were so in love.
And yet, we had no idea what true love was.
Why? I think it's because I always held tight to this one moment in the courtship stage of our relationship. When I surprised him at the hotel where he worked on my way home from my job, his face would light up, giving birth to a smile that stretched deep and wide; I swear, in that instant, I had never felt more wanted for being just who I was. Surely, this was true love. This being seen and joyfully embraced for doing nothing other than just showing up, it was all so easy that it must have been love.
But beware of falling into the trap of believing that love is a feeling.
Be sure to ground yourself in something greater than how someone makes you feel.
It took being anchored to nothing and drifting away to wake up to truth; that love is not a feeling but an intentional action, a choice. That love is not about how much I can gain, but how much can I give. It is not about how much you fill me, but how empty can I be. And because I have chosen to love you in all times, then I will also choose to die to myself and invite Jesus into this relationship without delay, because a marriage without Jesus in the middle is just as good as bringing your boat to dock and never dropping the anchor.
It will drift away.
As did mine.
But because God loves nothing more than stepping into our brokenness, if we let Him. He rescued me from my “quit and stay” attitude towards my marriage. And He didn't lead me down a path of rose petals lined with scented candles. He didn't gently place me down on a soft lounge chair, beachfront, with a tropical drink in my hand. But He took my hand and He walked me to the foot of the cross. He led me to the wood that my own hands nailed Him to, the thorns that pierced His head, and He showed me that…. THIS. THIS is love. The betrayal, the scourging, the beating, the heavy carrying, the nails, the unfairness, all that He endured for me, was endured out of love. And He reminded me that while none of that felt good, while not a moment of it was easy, all of it, every single bit of it, was fueled by love. A love so deep, so life giving, that not even death could not destroy it.
I am still learning about this love. And it has not been through romantic dinners, or exotic getaways that my husband and I have come to know love. It has been by the cross we have been chosen to carry. The necessary hardships we have been entrusted with. The long suffering placed upon us. And it has been by His grace upon grace, that we receive it as a gift; a way to minister and intercede to and for those who walk the same path, who yearn for relief, who have been burdened by a similar cross. And in this sharing and uniting, we get a glimpse of the sorrowful heart of Jesus; the indescribable love that is let loose and takes over; the very thing that by its beating and breaking, miraculously holds us together.
You know, I hear my young girls talk about love. The world is trying to redefine it for them. Music lyrics write love off as an emotion, something you can throw away, a gift that's totally dependent on your looks and body. Social media wants them to believe that without a boyfriend, they are undesirable, alone, never complete. And they chase after this secular love…this lie...and they believe that love is something that will only make them happy, feel wonderful, and will free them of any pain, anxiety, worry, or problems. It is all so wrong and upside down and couldn't be a more inaccurate definition of what true love is.
You see, real love is messy, painful, hard, and risky. I pray that my children, in witnessing how their parents have lived through hard times and yet held tight to Jesus, recognize that the glue in this relationship has nothing to do with the occasional bouquet of roses or heart shaped box of chocolates, but everything to do with the cross. Feeling in love is great, for sure. But if you want to feel great, go and eat a piece of cheesecake or watch Nacho Libre. But if you are seeking true love, run to the foot of the cross. Point your children, who are dying to be seen, known and loved, in that direction as well. Offer Him everything you are and have and invite Him into your heart. Hand Him your loved ones. Trust Him with your very life. Anchor yourself to Him, who is love; to Him, who joyfully embraces you for doing nothing other than just showing up.
With all my love,
Get your copy of Harmony, Part I of the Keeping in Balance Young Adult Series, here!
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