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Does the importance of a family decrease when children start to leave the home?
Is a homemaker still needed when the laundry pile is small, “chauffeuring” duties are done, and there are fewer places to set at the table?
Does an “empty nest” signal it’s time for a mother to reinvent herself?

These are some of the questions I have been musing over as Leo and I fly home after visiting our adult children on the other side of the country.

Our boys are living full and independent lives—one married, one single. This could lead me to conclude that the days when I am needed are over and that my role is to recede into the background. And to some degree, that is true. They don’t need me telling them what to wear, when to shave, or that they need to put on some sunscreen. But I still have a role to play in their lives. The home I create in Florida is still to be an oasis for all, and my heart can be a home that my family travels to whenever needed. 

The Catechism tells us that the family is the original cell of society (CCC 2207). But this doesn’t mean that a family is like a basic building block where one unit can serve as well as another. Each family is unique, and all are strengthened when the family affirms that each member (whether the mother, father, brother, or sister) is a distinct and unrepeatable person, imbued with dignity. When family members see themselves in this way, they are better able to fulfill their mission of being “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). A Catholic family has a mission to spread the warmth, hope, and peace of Christ into the communities that they are a part of. Saint John Paul II summed up this truth with the words, “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.” This mission doesn’t end when children leave home.

Most people navigate fear, confusion, worry, and hopelessness on a daily basis. They exist in a world that values them in relation to their productivity. Far from being seen as irreplaceable people of dignity, they are expected to fit into a framework which leaves no room for God and sets a very high bar for success and significance. Even at the end of the day, true rest and restoration is elusive. Many return home just to dash out to evening activities (there’s still more to achieve and accomplish) or to numb out in front of a screen. 

Our homes are meant to be sanctuaries in the midst of the world—to be life-giving alternatives to a sterile way of existing. Our families are called to be the church in miniature, a place of welcome and healing. If we could grasp this vision and reorient ourselves around it, I believe we would find that the need for this kind of a homemaker would never diminish. We’d quickly discover that there is always someone who longs to be invited into this kind of environment. 

I recently watched a video about the transcendental of beauty by philosopher Roger Scruton.[1] In it, he describes two different kinds of beauty. The first is grand and perfect. You know it when you see or hear it. It’s the rose windows in Chartres Cathedral, the face of the Blessed Mother in Michelangelo’s La Pietà, and Andrea Bocelli’s tenor voice. There’s a harmony and a perfection. The second kind of beauty is the type that matters most in our homes. It’s the everyday kind of beauty—the ordinary beauty. We express it in the way we garden, cook, set the table, and fluff the pillows. The reason this beauty is important is because it’s the way we cultivate an environment where things and people fit together, creating an atmosphere that restores. Although this beauty lies all around us, Scruton notes that we need eyes to see it and hearts to feel it. But the most ordinary event can be made something beautiful when people see into the heart of things.  

Scruton considers this kind of beauty as an instrument of peace. It creates a sense of home. It’s an imperfect beauty, but nonetheless, it settles us. It’s not the beauty of a perfectly clean house, a designer interior, or an updated color scheme. It’s the beauty of a space that’s become a haven for all who enter. It’s a place that has been cultivated by a committed woman who has made it her mission to create an atmosphere of warmth and welcome. She has prepared for each person’s homecoming (whether a family member or not) by focusing on each person’s unique dignity and unrepeatability. When we think of home in this way, it’s clear that the significance of a homemaker’s role continues throughout the decades. 

Author Leila Lawson writes, “A lot of homemaking consists of being ready for those times when someone needs you—and it’s hard to justify this way of using time to a world that measures productivity in equal units and output.”[2] The world is pulsing, action-oriented, and distracted, rewarding the self-centered. But if we have chosen to center our lives on God, we no longer need to justify the way we use our time to anyone other than Him. He invites you to measure your days by how you love, not by what you produce. And loving well means being available. 

Your heart and home can be a sanctuary. Just being available is a tremendous gift you can offer to those you love. An empty nest is not a signal that you need to reinvent yourself. Those in our care will always need a shelter—a place to come home to where they don’t need to produce something to be considered worthy, where they are received as the gifts that they are. 

Perhaps, as Dostoevsky claimed, beauty really can save the world. What might change if more women responded to this high calling to cultivate this kind of home?

With you on the journey,
Lisa

[1] “Why Beauty Matters” by Roger Scruton, https://vimeo.com/128428182, accessed April 4, 2022.
[2] Leila Lawson, The Summa Domestica (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2021), 208.

Since childhood, I’ve been inspired by an incredible woman of faith named Elisabeth Elliot. Elisabeth was widowed with a ten-month-old daughter when her husband was savagely speared by members of a violent Amazonian tribe. Jim had gone to Ecuador to share the gospel, but the mission ended tragically. One might have excused Elisabeth if she wallowed in self-pity or raged against God for taking her husband when he was only trying to do good. But instead of doing any of these things, Elisabeth gathered her daughter, her Bible, a snakebite kit, and tremendous courage, and moved to the very place where her husband had died. She was determined to offer a hand of forgiveness and friendship to the very people who had killed the one she loved most, and many of them came to faith in Christ as a result. 

So when Elisabeth Elliot talks about suffering, I listen.

In her book, A Path Through Suffering, she writes:

Each time God gives us a hard lesson He desires also to give us Himself. If we open our hands to receive the lesson we open our hearts to receive Him, and with Himself His vision to see the glory in the surrender…

He stands ready today to supply us with His wisdom to understand what He wants to teach, and His strength to carry through, for He never allows us to undergo anything for which He has not promised the strength to endure. His commands are always accompanied by power to obey. The Everlasting Arms are always underneath us, the everlasting love always surrounds us.[1]

But difficult circumstances don’t automatically make us saints. It isn’t the circumstances themselves that do the shaping. It’s our cooperation. When life throws us a curveball, we have a choice about how we’re going to receive it. We can choose to become bitter, to be filled with self-pity, and to dwell on our doubts. We might begin to ask questions like, “Where was God in this situation?” “Why didn’t He intervene by giving me the answer I wanted?” “Doesn’t He love me?” “Isn’t He powerful enough to do anything about it?” The choice is set before us. We can water the seeds of doubt by focusing on our circumstances. Or we can focus on the fact that somewhere in the midst of the current state of affairs is an opportunity to be transformed. 

When we are going through trials—little ones or big ones—deaths of a sort, and experiences of brokenness, it’s important to remember that Jesus understands suffering from experience. Jesus entered into what appeared to be meaningless suffering. This means He is never indifferent to what you are enduring. He sees all the little and big deaths that you experience. And He stands ready to bring new life in those places that feel desolate.

The prophet Jeremiah wrote of that process of transformation: “This word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Arise and go down to the potter’s house; there you will hear my word. I [Jeremiah] went down to the potter’s house and there he was, working at the wheel. Whenever the vessel of clay he was making turned out badly in his hand, he tried again, making another vessel of whatever sort he pleased…Can I not do to you as this potter has done? Indeed, like the clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand” (Jeremiah 18:1–6).

These are the verses that get me through hardship. In difficult times, I don’t want to experience what I am going through. I want to escape. But these verses stop me before I give in to bitterness or numb out. They remind me that I have a choice. I can offer myself to God as clay to a potter. I can say to Him, “In this particular set of undesired circumstances, I give you permission to shape me—to mold me—to transform me, because I want to experience a better eternity. I want to become the woman you created me to be. And if a death of sorts is required for new life to be born in me, I accept it. I say yes. I say, Jesus, I trust in You.” 

When the potter sees a bubble or a defect in the pot, he has to press the clay back onto the wheel and reshape the pot. But all the while, he is making it into something of great beauty. So here is the question: can we trust God that when He asks us to experience something that is hard, He promises to use it to mold us into vessels that are filled with His Spirit? May we never forget—He can turn brokenness into blessing and beauty. 

After enduring twenty years of imprisonment, confinement, and hard labor in the Gulag of the Soviet Union, Walter J. Ciszek, S.J. wrote a phenomenal book called He Leadeth Me. In it, he wrote, “God’s will was not hidden somewhere ‘out there’ in the situations in which I found myself; the situations themselves were His will for me. What He wanted was for me to accept these situations as from His hands, to let go of the reins and place myself entirely at His disposal.”[2]

Perhaps you feel hemmed in by your circumstances. You feel stuck. You wonder if things will ever change. The enemy wants you to keep your focus on all those thoughts. But the Lord invites you to raise your eyes and gain a higher perspective. “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11).

What if the peace we so long for is on the other side of surrender?

With you on the journey,
Lisa

[1] Elisabeth Elliot, A Path Through Suffering (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell Publishing, 1990), 87.
[2] Walter J. Ciszek SJ, He Leadeth Me (New York, NY: Random House, 1973), 81.

I spent last weekend speaking to an incredible group of women in the deep south. Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is home to the University of Alabama, the SEC school that everyone loves to hate—including me—however, no longer living in the south, my ire has waned in recent years. The women who welcomed me were so charming, despite their university loyalties, that I could not help but fall in love with them. 

As I was visiting with one woman, she confided in me that she didn't feel like she fit in with the other women at the retreat. I told her that I often feel that way but could especially relate to her because the retreat center was next to fraternity row. All weekend we could hear music booming from several house parties, and during the consecration of the Eucharist at Mass, the tune "I Love Rock and Roll" blessed our ears and entered our hearts (the perfect song for a post-communion meditation). The sights and sounds flooded me with memories of my own experience in a sorority at LSU, and the feeling I remember most from those days was often feeling like I didn't fit in.

More than I'd like to admit, I felt like a fish out of water when I was around a large group of women. This was not something that one could have seen from the outside. I had friends, participated in a ton of social activities, and was involved in campus life. Yet, much of the time, I felt different from everyone else. I left functions with groups of women feeling like my dress wasn't quite right, and I didn't say the right things, think the right things, or act the right way. If they knew what I was really like, I felt that I would lose my friends and be left alone.

Have you ever felt this way? At the risk of being wrong, let me assume your answer: Yes, you have felt this way. My working theory is that all women—no matter how put together or popular they seem to be—feel like they don't fit in at some point. Feeling insecure and isolated in a group is a universal experience for us, no matter our age. It is as true for the young girl in middle school as for the college student, new mom, working woman, or retiree. Even the woman you think has it all together has felt as insecure as you have. You are not alone if you feel this way, and I am here to tell you that this feeling does not have to be a bad thing. It can be an invitation to remember who you are and why you were created. 

First, when you feel like you stick out like a sore thumb, remember that you don't feel at home in this world because you were created for another one. C.S. Lewis famously said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”[1] 

You were made for something greater than this passing earth and this wavering culture. God created you for Himself. He is the only one who can fully know you. He is the only one who can completely enter your heart, soul, and experience. When you feel like you don't fit in, let it lead you into God's presence. He is your shelter and your stronghold. He is your hope and your home, and it is only with Him in eternity that your earthly longing to be fully known and entirely accepted will be fulfilled.  

Second, recognize that you may feel out of place because God has set you apart for His purposes. Throughout history, God has consistently called those He loves to stand out. In the Old Testament, God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments and commanded that they live differently from the rest of the world.

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God.” (Exodus 20: 2–5)

At the time, there was no such thing as a monotheistic religion. By commanding that the Israelites worship Him and Him alone, God set them apart from everyone else. He set them up to become holy in a world that was anything but holy. Those Ten Commandments eventually led the leaders of the Jewish people to set up 613 rules for the people to follow. The way they lived looked different because they were different. They belonged to the one true God.

Thousands of years later, in the New Testament, St. Paul echoed God's call to be set apart: “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:25—29).

Following God means that our lives are supposed to be different so we will feel that difference. We are not supposed to fit in. We are supposed to be holy. 

Reflecting on my own experience, I am so grateful for the times I've felt different from the crowd. Why? Because, many times, that feeling of alienation saved me from making decisions that I would have deeply regretted. It is that feeling that propelled me to seek God, and it is the same feeling that reminds me that I am aiming for an eternity in heaven. 

If you often feel like you just don't fit, reject the lie that you are, in some way, not enough. Instead, let it drive you to seek the presence of the God, who created you for His unique purpose. Let it remind you that your hope is in heaven. Then, setting your eyes on Jesus, stand confident in the fact that He is setting you apart to be His hands and feet in a world that desperately needs to see someone who is different.

[1] Lewis, C. S., Mere Christianity. (United Kingdom: HarperCollins, 2001), p 136,137.

There is a path in town I frequently walk with my dogs. Perfectly paved and lined with wild flowers, there is one specific stretch that always catches my eye. Carefully placed, hand-painted rocks with words of positive affirmation are sprinkled along its curve: be awesome...be kind...you are brave. This morning, a new message appeared: blaze your own trail.

I was reminded of the final Connect Coffee Talk in Opening Your Heart, the most tried and true Walking with Purpose Bible study. Titled Outside Activities: Set the World on Fire, women completing this study are encouraged to recognize the battle and stoke the fire by going out into the world and doing something. Something risky. Something bold. Something that appears impossible, but with confidence in God, is totally possible. It is a call to find our holy discontent, check our motivation, and then peel our lazy selves up off our comfy couches and set the world ablaze.

And I wonder. Are we doing this? Because let’s be honest. Our couches are really comfy, Netflix is easier, and starting a fire is dangerous. Why reach for the matches when the remote control is so much closer, not to mention safer?

Oh, how the enemy of our souls loves Netflix.

Ever since my friend Mallory sent me a link to a talk on the cosmic battle,[1] I have been contemplating my own personal battle—examining where I fail to respond to God’s call, and in return, allowing the enemy to ever so slowly extinguish my fire. I have been tracing my own steps and actions, looking for the change in behavior, searching for signs of transformation. And while I am good to report that my branches are not completely void of fruit, I would like to report better than good. For God, I would like to do great. Risky, even. And bold. In the marrow of my bones I know that I have been called to set fires. Not sit by them.

So what trips me up?

Fear. Fear of offending. Fear of looking outdated. Fear of being ridiculed, mocked, hated, or misunderstood. Fear of not being intelligent enough to defend my faith. Fear of negative and mean-spirited comments. You see, I want to be obedient to God’s call, but out of fear, I tend to settle for a shallow faith. Oh, my faith runs deep in the privacy of my home or at Mass with my people or on a phone call with my best friend. But out in public? With the skeptics and doubters and lukewarm Catholics? Not so much. Why? Because I like to be liked. I hate confrontation. Plus, I am a busy woman, and I don’t feel like adding “radical discipleship” to my to-do list. And so I nod my head in agreement when you speak of “your truth” (as if there is more than one), and I have zero response to you when you put down my faith in the frozen food aisle at ShopRite. (And by “you” I really don’t mean you. Unless that was you. Then yes, I am talking about you.)

See? I don’t even like writing that. 

From the desire of being loved, deliver me, O Lord.

And yet, to ignore this call from Jesus would be detrimental. Not only to my soul, but to the countless souls He could reach if only I were an obedient disciple. Because, you see, without obedience, discipleship is incomplete. According to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, author of The Cost of Discipleship, “obedience is the first step of faith.”[2] When I choose to be “obedient enough,” there is nothing radical about my discipleship. I am not taking a full step. A devoted disciple understands that following Jesus is not on their terms but on God’s. We don’t get to choose how we follow and tell Jesus our plans. We are shown how to follow, and then He waits to see how we will respond. If we will respond.

And nothing is ever more important than responding in obedience to Jesus’ call.

Do you know what we call those with a negative response to Jesus’ call? The “would-be followers.”

How would you like that engraved on your tombstone?

Here lies Laura...Loving mother, wife, and would-be follower of Christ.

I didn’t make this up. It’s Scripture:

As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” And another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62)

Deep breath now ladies, because this is insanely hard. And it is precisely why so many of us choose “easy Christianity.” True discipleship means we let go of who we used to be and step wholeheartedly into the woman God desires us to be. It means breaking old habits, letting go of comfortable sins, and stepping into a brand new life of obedience to Christ. It means embracing a personal relationship with God; trusting Him so much with our lives that we lose our fear of starting fires.

And if you are anything like me, your heart is leaping out of your body screaming, “yes to true discipleship,” while your head is simultaneously shaking, “no way!” There may even be a part of us that assures ourselves, “God doesn’t really mean this. He would never ask us to let go of everything and follow Him.” 

Oh, how the enemy loves it when we doubt that what God says is true. 

So, practically speaking, how do we do this? How do we lose the fear of being a devoted disciple? How do we connect our heads with our hearts? Honestly? I don’t have a complete answer for you yet. But I can offer one simple step that I am taking because it is what the first disciples did...and it worked.

We get on bended knees and pray in confidence to the Holy Spirit. We beg for the strength to live the Gospel with fervor, to speak the Word of God with boldness, and to increase our zeal for Christ. We ask for the help to defend the Church, to speak of the one and only Truth, and to fearlessly set fires wherever we go.[3]

The world has enough would-be disciples. We can do better. We must do better. It is time to quit reaching for the plow while craning our necks to look at what we are leaving behind. Time to trust that the kingdom we are after is far better than anything we give up here on earth. Are you ready to take your holiness seriously? To step into radical and devoted discipleship and become masters of an unquestioned obedience? Oh, sweet friend, I pray that you are. Because if we collectively do this, imagine the fires we’d set!

[1] Matt Chandler, “The Cosmic Battle,” The Village Church Resources, 43:03, March 15, 2021, https://www.tvcresources.net/resource-library/sermons/cosmic-battle/
[2]
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship. (New York: Macmillan, 1966).
[3] cf. Acts 4: 23-31

Bible Study

 

Are you tired of your list of good intentions that never translate to action? How many times have you made a resolution (and really meant it) only to fail within a few short weeks?

We’ve all been there. It isn’t that we aren’t aware of the ways we need to improve…but actually making the changes can be overwhelming. In her book, Girl Wash Your Face, Rachel Hollis talks about this very issue. Sharing about how she has changed her own patterns and behaviors, she explains that she decided to establish a rule in her life that she would never break a promise to herself, no matter how small. And that changed everything. She writes:

If you choose today not to break another promise to yourself, you will force yourself to slow down. You cannot keep every commitment, promise, goal, and idea without intentionality. If you recognize that your words have power and that your commitments carry covenant weight, you won’t agree to anything so easily…You’ll slow down and think things through. You won’t just talk about a goal; you’ll plan for how you can meet it.[1]

But which promises are the truly important ones to make and keep? We don’t have time to achieve every goal on our list. We have to say a lot of no’s to say the best yes.

What I’d like to propose to you is that our most important goals are the ones that impact eternity. There are loads of worthy resolutions and self-improvements that no doubt make life more enjoyable. But if we don’t make our primary focus our spiritual lives, then our success will be superficial and short-lived. I don’t know about you, but one day when I am standing before God giving an account of the choices I’ve made, I do not want to have a bunch of frivolous, self-centered accomplishments to be all I’ve got to show Him. God doesn’t care how much you weigh, how perfectly decorated and ordered your space is, and how far you got in your career. But He cares big time how you have lovedhow you’ve loved the people He’s put in your life and how you’ve loved Him.

God also cares about how you love yourself. There’s a lot of talk about the importance of self-care, and I am all for it. But true self-care should be more than a bandaid; it should address how your soul is doing. Your heart matters to God. He doesn’t just want you to believe the right things or behave in a certain way. As a truly good Father, He wants your heart to flourish.

God never intended for us to navigate the spiritual life in isolation. His plan for us has always involved community. We need sisters around us who are encouraging us and challenging us to value the right things, and we need to be fed truth to counter all the lies we’re surrounded with.

So who is walking alongside you?

Who is challenging you to grow closer to Christ?

What is helping you know Him better right now, and what is helping you to understand His will for your life?

How is your heart?

Changes in these areas don’t just happen automatically. We have to make it a priority to cultivate these kinds of friendship, and then get our eyes off our phones and into God’s truth. It means we make a promise to ourselves to put the most important things, the eternal things, on our calendars, and then we follow through. We’ll plan for how we’re going to get to our goal. The perfect time for this is now.

If you don’t know where to start, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Opening Your Heart, our most popular Bible study. It meets you right where you are and offers game-changing, practical Biblical teaching. You’ll learn new ways to love yourself and others well. Commit to going through it with a girlfriend to increase the likelihood that your best intentions will turn into real change. Contact our WWP support team to find a parish near you that is offering the study and get to know even more women like you who are ready to kick-start real change in their lives.

I’m challenging you to move from good intentions to real change. Do you struggle to get your priorities in order? Do you have questions about your faith that haven’t been answered? Do you sense that there is something more to the Christian life than what you have been experiencing? Then come on over and dive in to Opening Your Heart. It’s tailor made for youa safe place to come with your questions, confusion, hopes, and dreams. I promise you, you won’t be the same person by the time you finish the study, in all the best of ways.

Order your copy of Opening Your Heart today!

With you on the journey,

Lisa

[1] Rachel Hollis, Girl Wash Your Face (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2018), 17.

This post originally appeared on our blog on August 19, 2018.

My confessor admitted to a common theme he’s hearing among COVID-19-related confessions: no more patience. I think Mother Angelica hit the nail on the head when she said, “We’d all be perfect if it weren’t for people.” Quarantining with the same people, day after day, will certainly challenge one's holiness, don’t you agree?

But here’s the thing. I was struggling with people before COVID-19. And by people, I mean my family. I am just going to come out and say it at the risk of you not liking me, because up until now you had no idea how selfish I was, but here it goes: why do I always have to be the one to go first? 

The first to make the coffee.

The first to ask, “Can I get you more coffee?”

The first to do the dishes.

The first to say sorry.

The first to put others first.

Why can't you go first?

This, sweet sisters, is a toxic weed that we need to pull at the roots. Nothing kills a relationship faster than a tally chart in your head and a stone of pride in your heart. And yet, nurturing the weed is easier than lovingly serving our husbands or friends, especially when it requires putting our own comfort aside.

If we look to Scripture, there is no denying that to “go first” is what we are called to do. Matthew 20:26-28 says, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” And in Philippians 2:3 we are commanded, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Try preaching that one at your next cocktail party. 

It’s tempting to follow the world instead of Christ. The world, after all, would support my complaint. The world would see nothing wrong with the bitterness I harbor and anger I justify when, once again, I have to be the one in a relationship that goes first. Have you ever experienced this feeling? Have you ever been in a relationship that was dying a slow death because you couldn't let go of the resentment for always having to go first? If so, I’d like to offer you one small piece of practical advice; a little something that works for me when resentment invites himself into my heart, and I reach for that tally chart.

I turn to Ephesians 6:5-8:

“Slaves, be obedient to your human masters with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ, not only when being watched, as currying favor, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, willingly serving the Lord and not human beings, knowing that each will be requited from the Lord for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.”

There is a sentence tucked neatly in the middle that jumps out at me. Did you catch it?

“Do the will of God from the heart, willingly serving the Lord and not human beings.”

How do we do this? How can we willingly serve God as we struggle with wanting to be served? How do we see God in all of the human faces that we have been staring at for the last three months? I have an idea. And listen up, because I am not saying this is easy but nothing worth gaining heaven ever is. The next time you are called to go first, and something in your heart starts bubbling up, and it is so not love...ask yourself this:

What if...

This cup of coffee I serve, I serve to God?

These dishes I clean, I clean for God?

That loving response I offer, I offer to God?

This is how I have been slowly transforming my heart. Ridding it of the bitterness and anger, and replacing the desire to be served with the desire to be the servant. And not just any servant. But a servant of Christ. Because here is the thing. I do love Him. And I don’t want anything to get in the way of that love.

Just this week, as I grabbed myself a cup of coffee (coffee that I made; one check for me on the tally chart!) and settled on the couch with my Bible, I opened up to begin my morning prayer. The reading was from the First Letter of John, and was not a coincidence:

“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

And so I got up, threw out my tally chart, poured a second cup of coffee, and lovingly brought it to my husband. You see, when we ask, “But why do I have to go first?”, we must remember...we don’t. God does.

God did.

God went first.

Love,
Laura

P.S. If you relate to this struggle, I highly recommend watching the Opening Your Heart Connect Coffee Talk 4: Priority Three Marriage (Lesson 14: Marriage - Transformed By Grace in the study guide). You can watch it for free over at the Walking With Purpose website!

Bible Study

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.”[1]

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!

Love,

Jen

[1] Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping in Balance (Walking with Purpose, July 2019), 151.

Walking with Purpose blogger bio

 

As a Catholic newbie, I think the biggest mistake I make is trying to figure out God. I sometimes can't help asking myself (and Him) why things happen the way they do.

To be fair to myself, it is human nature to ask, to wonder, to want to learn. Even though my pastor reminds us on Sundays of “the mysteries of faith” (chanted in his delightfully off-key voice), the mystery-solver in me just can't seem to let some things go. And by some things I mean the bad things; especially the bad things that happen to good people.

I've been thinking a lot about Sue, a woman in my parish who has four children, and who has the worst illness I think I've ever heard of. Sue has ALS. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is very rare, affecting fewer than 20,000 people a year. It is a devastating disease in the way that it attacks the body, and there is no cure.

I haven't seen her since she was diagnosed in December. I've been thinking about her a lot recently, though, and wondering if she thinks the way I do. Is she asking God why-why she must suffer so horribly? Sue is Catholic, and I wonder if her faith is being tested or if it's what gets her through it all.

Sometimes I picture myself in Sue's situation, and I test my faith in an imaginary way. If I told you that I could be 100% buoyed by my relationship with Christ and the promise of eternal life while fighting a terminal illness, I'd be lying.

Over the summer, I ran into a friend at a party who gave me a quick update on Sue, which birthed in me an almost manic need to write Sue a letter. I thought constantly about the letter I wanted to write and agonized for weeks about the words I'd choose. Clearly, phrases like “you'll beat this… you're strong... you have the best doctors” wouldn't work at all, and standard get-well-soon sentiments just don't apply when you're fighting a losing battle with ALS.

Could I find the right words in the Bible? I seriously considered googling “Scripture verses for sick people.” Then I decided one night as I lay sleepless, deep in thought about Sue, that Lisa Brenninkmeyer (founder of Walking with Purpose) would have the right words for my letter.

The next morning I turned to the Walking with Purpose Bible study Opening Your Heart (authored by Lisa), and specifically to Lesson 15, which is about the role of suffering in our lives. I expected to be able to pluck Lisa's favorite Bible verse related to suffering right out of Lesson 15, and scrawl it onto a notecard for Sue. 

In her wisdom, Lisa writes in the introduction to Lesson 15:

“I don't know about you, but when I am in the vise grip of suffering, I don't really want to hear someone whose life looks a heck of a lot easier than mine quoting Romans 8:28: 'We know that all things work for good for those who love God…'”¹

Fair point. I read on.

“When we encounter suffering, nothing robs us of peace like expectations.”²

We expect to understand God, Lisa says, and when we don't, confusion shreds our faith. We expect God's definition of happiness to be the same as ours, but when things go wrong, we wonder if He cares. And we expect to see evidence of God when we need him, but often, he remains invisible.

Opening Your Heart Lesson 15 is five days of learning, Bible study, and reflection. After taking in this lesson a second time, and clearing my heart and mind of all those expectations, I came out of it with a tremendous sense of peace. And I wrote a card to Sue and put it in the mail.

I should tell you that I didn't find words for Sue in Lesson 15, but I found peace and comfort for my heart, and a clear mind to come up with the right words all on my own.

I told Sue she was an amazing mother, that her four kids were terrific (which they really are), and that I was praying for her.

Peace,
Jen Gilbart

PS: After I finished writing this blog, a well-known truth from Scripture landed in my email in-box. I find it so comforting and feel compelled to include it here:
It is the Lord who goes before you; He will be with you and will never fail you or forsake you. So do not fear or be dismayed. (Deuteronomy 31:8)

¹ Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Opening Your Heart (July 2018), 173.
² Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Opening Your Heart (July 2018), 174.

Catholic Bible Study

 

Now that July is here I've decided to remove the Christmas cards we received last December from the wall in the den where they are currently adhered with yellowing, curling tape.

Do not be alarmed: I'm not a scattered, hot mess of a homeowner who still has Halloween candy in the pantry; only last year's holiday cards are still kicking around. The Thanksgiving placemats, Christmas lights and nutcracker soldiers are all safely packed away in boxes in the basement.

The reason there are dozens of greeting cards still taped to the wall seven months post-Christmas is simply because, after a certain amount of time, we stop noticing things around us. Even though I'm in that room daily, I stopped seeing the cards.

I remember my first visit to my in-laws' house before my husband and I were married. I walked around their compact stone colonial and noticed crucifixes on the plastered walls of most rooms. I wasn't raised Catholic so seeing this was new to me, and I remember telling a friend, “His mom hung crosses in pretty much every room of the house!”

Are those crucifixes still there? I suppose they are, but I can't say for sure because I stopped noticing them. And I've been in my in-laws' house countless times over the past twenty years.

Six months ago I spiffed up my home office by hanging some framed prints of the beautiful Walking with Purpose free scripture printables. I don't notice them very often anymore.

It goes without saying that the way to keep a strong relationship with God is through daily prayer and Mass -- not by hanging things on the walls. Yet, while a day can begin perfectly with prayer, as it progresses, we often travel away from that perfect place and find we are no longer immersed in His presence.

I am happy to report that there is something I encounter throughout the day now that immediately brings Christ to mind. It inserted itself into my life quite unexpectedly last month when a very popular New York Metro Area radio station went off the air. It was one of those stations that played the same pop hits repeatedly, and it was the #1 station in the area for decades. (I can remember the summer before college listening to the station on a silver boombox as I begrudgingly helped my father paint the kitchen of my childhood home with Bobby McFerrin telling me Don't Worry, Be Happy in his sing-song voice.)

That pop radio station is gone now, and the Christian station K-Love took over its spot on the dial. And because I am constantly in my car, Ubering my kids around (and because I have no idea how to play music from my phone through the car sound system), K-Love is constantly on as well. 

In case you were wondering, the lyrics that are currently stuck in my head are, I raise a hallelujah, my weapon is a melody...

I will admit that my kids are less than enthusiastic about this alteration to our drive-time soundtrack. I tell them their complaints hurt Jesus's feelings. 

When I surround myself with music or the words from a good book, the messages I take in stay near the forefront of my brain, steering clear of the back with its unfulfilled spring cleaning tasks and new year's resolutions. Those K-Love tunes -- just like my WWP Bible study books -- offer a wealth of reminders, and a consistency of message that strengthens my connection with Christ.

The Walking with Purpose Bible study Opening Your Heart transformed me when I experienced it with a parish small group earlier in the year. When my group finished that study, my heart was opened, but as I admitted in this blog post, it might not have been opened all the way. My relationship with God was stronger, but not absolute. Love for Christ was not taking up all the spaces in my heart.

So now I'm reading Opening Your Heart again, this time on my own. And I am less concerned with completing the homework assignments and more concerned with absorbing the information; letting Lisa Brenninkmeyer's words stick around as long as they can in the forefront of my brain like the lyrics to a song. I'm allowing myself to really let it sink in when Lisa tells me that, “More than anything, He is utterly consumed with love for you, and it's the real kind of love that truly wants you to thrive.”¹

Knowing that truth, how could I not want to work on loving Him back?

Do you have any WWP Bible studies on hand that you may have read in the past? If you were to pick one up again, I assure you, the truths would grab hold of you a second time, and warm your heart with love for Him.

Blessings, 

Jen

¹ Opening Your Heart, p. 34

Catholic Bible Study

In the spring of 2018, my parish wrapped up its first full year of Walking with Purpose. Women's hearts were full, leaders were engaged, and our parish clergy and staff were supportive; but more than anything, participants were excited to share their experiences with others.

This newfound enthusiasm is exactly what makes Walking with Purpose parish programs so special. You may have heard comments just like these:

Finally, this is exactly what I've been waiting for, but better!

I love that it incorporates scripture, as well as our Church's history and teachings all in one!

I love my small group!

It's true that Walking with Purpose fulfills a longing for many of us. We want to share what we've found, which is fantastic! This is evangelization at its finest, and the Holy Spirit at work in our Church.

There are a few challenges as we seek to share abundantly what we've found, but hold tight! Walking with Purpose Bible studies allow us to meet the needs of many women in one place at one time without draining our leadership teams. This is an opportunity for us to admit that we cannot (and should not) do it all. We must hold our Walking with Purpose programs loosely.

As my parish approached its second year, we had the following to look forward to:

  1. We were adding an evening program and a second leadership team.
  2. Our daytime program would have second-year participants and women who were coming in new. We would have women in one room doing two different Bible studies.

My dreams as we approached our second year included:

  • Building upon the camaraderie of our leadership team. Our daytime leadership team had bonded. We'd even welcomed several new leaders over the summer through a leaders' study (Fearless & Free), and God continued to join us together in love and closeness. I hoped this would continue.
  • Making efficient use of our leaders' time. I knew our evening leaders had many demands on their time. We wanted to provide a way for them to bond and prepare for their study together without draining them.
  • Nurturing the spiritual needs of our leaders. I wanted those who were willing to lead Opening Your Heart a second year in our daytime program to have an outlet to continue with our second-year study.

I committed these dreams to prayer, and remembered them during daily jogs with my sidekicks, Annie and Rosie (Yellow and Black Labrador Retrievers, respectively) while praying the Rosary. I'm not great at sitting still, so with fresh air and some movement, I found myself face to face with the image of our Savior through the eyes of our Blessed Mother.

The prayers on these jogs allowed for the Holy Spirit to lay out a plan which became a tremendous support to our parish program. Key ideas came to fruition:

First, we looked at all of our Opening Your Heart small group leaders as one group so that our daytime and evening Opening Your Heart small group leaders could support one another. This group received a one page leaders' guide for each week's lesson.

Second, we created a video conference meeting time for all of our Opening Your Heart leaders. We used the leaders' guide to go through the main points of the lesson and discuss any ways that we might make the week special. Most importantly, we prayed for each other and the women in our groups. This was especially important for our evening leaders because this was their only leadership team meeting. Two of my favorite parts of the video conference meeting were that we could be in our own homes and we could record the meeting for those who needed to listen later.

Third, our daytime Opening Your Heart leaders were excited to experience the study planned for our returning participants. Even though they would not lead that study, they completed Touching The Divine as their personal study, which we all discussed at our daytime leadership team meetings.

Finally, we wanted to communicate our schedule and Connect Coffees clearly despite offering two studies at one time. To do this, we created a one-page document with the Opening Your Heart and Touching The Divine schedules side-by-side. We did the same with our invitations to Connect Coffees. We created an attractive one-page invitation with a brief summary of both studies' talks. These were emailed, texted and handed to potential guests. We began to talk and pray about our Connect Coffees a couple of weeks in advance. We promoted them as “easy evangelization” while reminding women that when God places a friend or neighbor on our hearts, we must respond. We began to share simple evangelization tools with everyone in our program. This included prayer and obediently responding to God's prompting by asking the friend more than once (that's the hard part).

I have a dream for each of our parish programs and my dream is a big one! I'm not afraid anymore of asking for big dreams when I know that God has placed them on my heart. So here it is:

Let's all offer Opening Your Heart in our parish programs every time we meet.

Our God is not a God of limits or boundaries. He is a God of miracles and overcoming obstacles. Let's just do it! Yes, you! Place an option for Opening Your Heart on your registration forms alongside each and every one of your study offerings. I promise God will work out the details. I love Lisa's “I Declare” over a fear of the future from 2 Timothy 1:7 --

I declare that God has not given me a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind.

Let's counter our fears with truth in God's word and offer our parish program up to our Father. Sisters, breathe in the words of Saint Paul to the Philippians, “Let us be confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” May God bless you abundantly for placing your trust in the arms of our Savior and incorporating the details for welcoming new women into your parish program through Opening Your Heart.

 

P.S. Walking with Purpose has turned many of these ideas into leader tools and training videos which are now available in the WWP Leadership Portal! If you don't yet have access to the online Leadership Tools, register for access today.

 

Based in Kansas, Emily Thengvall is a Walking with Purpose Regional Area Coordinator (RAC), supporting WWP parish program coordinators at 33 parishes in the midwestern and southwestern US.

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