Just You Wait.

       “She is too young to really see what’s coming.”

       This was a comment made on one of my recent videos on the beauty of the sacrament of marriage.

       I’m going to bypass the problem of condescension that happy newlyweds and new mothers encounter for a moment here and unpack that on a future day.

       Everyone’s experiences of marriage are different…everyone’s life experiences take on different colors and shapes…but I see cheerful newlyweds met with one sentence all too often...

       “Just you wait.”

        Just you wait until you see what is to come, just you wait until you see how hard it will be one day. You think you’ve dealt with the tough stuff. Just. you. wait.

         I am not annoyed by this woman’s comments, nor am I offended - I am completely open to people saying what they want about me and my outlook on anything as I put myself out there for the free receipt of any commentary. I do find it interesting, however, that people think that age makes people naive or that cheerfulness or joy is a sign of naiveté…especially about marriage.

       There is not a person in this world who knows what another individual has witnessed within the marriages that surround them. When I was a small child, we took family trips to visit my grandparents in Philadelphia. I was able to witness my grandmother care for my very sick grandfather, bound to a wheelchair and quite dependent on her love and care. My parents have been married for over 31 years, an example of stunning unconditional love through incredible highs and incredible lows.  

       She is too young to really see what is coming.

       I was quite young when I witnessed what can come. When I was 12 years old, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. It was a very, very challenging time for our family...and I, a small girl, watched “sickness and health” play out - in the most heart-wrenching, concrete, beautiful way - right before my eyes. I witnessed the hanging on. I witnessed the care and the suffering. I witnessed the fear of losing my mother and watched my father live out his vow. I have witnessed what it means to walk and breathe and live one’s wedding vows for the last 27 years of my life through my parents’ marriage.

       I have watched friends and acquaintances work through serious illness, infidelity, addiction, and more in their marriages. I have watched them face problems the world would tell them are legitimate reason to take off, to part ways, to split…and I have watched them dig in their heels and stay. As they have hung on they have taught me what it looks like to strengthen your resolve and hang on when the storms rage.

       It is incredible what you can learn by paying attention.

       I hold a firm (and perhaps unconventional) belief that if marriage was really such a nightmare married couples would not attend weddings. I think if marriage was so awful and they attended weddings they would stand up and say “DON’T DO IT - YOU’RE MAKING A HUGE MISTAKE!” They absolutely would not let the people they love go through with it. But married couples do attend weddings. Couples who have been married 20, 30, 40, 50 years attend weddings. And they have all seen what is coming. Not a single one stands up and stops any of it. Many married people came to our wedding - friends and family who have been married for 5 years, 10 years, our parents who have both been married 30+ years. And what I saw was a small beach house lit up on a chilly December night filled with one hundred beautiful friends and many married couples smiling at each other, holding one another close on the dance floor and smiling joyfully into each other's eyes.

       I was not too young to see the couples surrounding us on that night who have dug in deep when the going got ugly and decided…we made a vow…we will press on, hand in hand. I watched couples who possess a love incalculably rich and deep - who know secrets only they know, only the two of them who know every turn their marriage has taken, every conversation, every moment of love and laughter that they have shared.

       I have so very much to learn about my husband and about marriage, but I have seen an expansive array of what could possibly be ahead for us. Only God knows what lies ahead, but I hold a deep awareness that life can be impossibly difficult and that Daniël and I will experience great hardship. It does not mean, however, that I will spend my days listening to those who tell me to wait for those hard times.

       Anticipating the bad times when you are living in the good ones is not a helpful or happy way for anyone to live at all.

       Perhaps people who are cheerful about marriage are not necessarily naive about it…perhaps they have seen the worst, and they are grateful to have the person they do have to walk beside them for when the worst in their life does come to be. Some may call it naiveté. I call it a choice. It is the choice to keep building on a firm foundation rather than a hill of sand, so that when the days and months and years are not joyful or happy or fun at all, there is a core to everything that we are together…the core of our faith and the heart of Jesus Christ…the Savior of the world who does not call us to the easy but calls us to the purifying and to the beautiful.

We're All In the Light

       Orange County is a brilliant and breathtaking shade of yellow right now. The mustard seeds have taken flight all over the hillsides and have lit up the vast expanses of space with a brightness I wish would last all year long.

       I was at Costco the day after all the martyrs went to see the face of God while waving their palms and singing Hosanna in Egypt. In the morning I sobbed over the heart-wrecking photograph of the bloody pew and I let it change me in the way that you can choose to let those things change you, then I took a drive to buy fruit, beef jerky, and some salads. I met a lady named Lindalee who gave me a generous sample pour of Jose’s coffee in a small styrofoam cup, and I briefly shared how sad I was about the world upon her inquiry into how my day was going.

       She echoed my sentiments about how dark and sad and scary the world is...and then she stated quite confidently, “Don’t worry, we’re all in the light,” as she bent down to get another pot of coffee to pour out and hand out. It was the second time something had taken my breath away that day and it wasn’t even noon.

       Don’t worry...we’re all in the light.

       We celebrated the Resurrection on Sunday and it was as glorious and wonderful as ever, then Monday came along with the harsh remembering that in the everyday world one can feel quite deeply like they are swimming around in a bunch of muck...angry people in a world lost to sin and evil prowling around the corner at every turn, every click, every channel...

       I am always having to surrender to letting the glory of Easter teach me things.

       Because if I quiet and still myself...if I stop just long enough to let it do such a careful and holy thing...it teaches me that in the midst of the darkness there is a call that has been placed on my life, on our lives as Christians...the call to carry the light of the Resurrection.

       We get the opportunity to seize this responsibility...our honorable and majestic responsibility, really, to carry this light like a flaming torch through the dark, damp, cold streets of this world and let that torch shine light into the broken and cracked windows through which the light has perhaps never shone. We get to carry the light of this triumph over all the dark and scatter it like mustard seeds all over the fields of sorrow surrounding us...

       As I drive down the streets and absorb the beauty of all the yellow I continue to let Easter teach me...I reflect and remember that I believe in a God who is light, a God who broke through and has not ceased breaking through all the cracks and the darkness and who gently holds the shattered pieces of our broken and sorry world and that Saint John was not speaking in analogy when he penned it down...

God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)

       You can carry the light. You can scatter the light. You are a child of the Father of lights.

       We can choose to live like the Resurrection was a nice story that didn’t really change or redeem anything or we can choose to dig into the remembering that the Resurrection was as real as anything has ever been and that it changes and redeems everything...and that while we forge through the muck, one foot ahead of the other, we are in the light...that I am a daughter of the Father of lights, who does not ever change like the shifting of the shadows in the day…

       And as I walk away from her sample table, pushing my cart, cup of coffee in my hand, I say it out loud like I believe it because I do…

       Yes, Lindalee. Yes, we are. We are all in the light.

Photograph : Trini Crocker, trinicrockerphotography.com.

Photograph : Trini Crocker, trinicrockerphotography.com.

The Symphony of Shame.

     Women share their secrets with me. It is a natural part of my work - they share things with me they feel they cannot share with others. They do this, I suppose, because they feel I am someone they can trust. I am an outsider; I am not someone who knows them, their family, their friends, their boyfriend, their husband or their life at all. It is easier to share your secrets with someone who is not woven closely into the fabric of your life.

     A woman emailed me once, opening her heart to share a very heavy burden she carries. It is a serious situation about something that happened long ago, and she has never told her husband. She is carrying a burden that is far too heavy to carry alone, afraid to share it, terrified to bring it to the light. My heart ached deeply at the knowledge of this, and the knowledge that she is not the only woman in the world enslaved by secrets.

     Secrets - when given power - can lock you in a house of great despair and loneliness. Secrets kept in the dark keep hearts in the dark. Carrying around secrets feels like carrying around a bag of bricks - they don’t let anyone feel free.

     There is no way to feel the fullness of life deep down in your bones when you don't feel free.

     As secrets pour into my email inbox from all over the world, I think about the why, the how, the reason behind why humans lock themselves in these dark houses…and the answer is always shame. And what I have come to find shame to be is the devil’s music. It is the awful, ugly noise the evil one projects into our hearts. To the evil one it is like  a symphony…he makes it sound like it is good and true and convinces us that it is what we want to be hearing… that there is no other song to listen to.

     It is the enemy who whispers to us that we should keep secrets, shame, and pain locked away…that we should remain bound in chains that keep our hands and hearts tied. It is the enemy who convinces us that we should not burden others, that we should be able to work it out ourselves, that nobody has time to listen, that sharing it would ruin everything. It is the enemy who magnifies our shame and causes it to spill over into many areas of our life, who tries to get us to believe that repulsive falsehood of a sentence…I. am. alone.

     The symphony of shame...The more you listen to it, the louder it gets. The more you listen to it, the less you can hear the song the Father is trying to sing into your heart…the song of truth and goodness and a love that runs like a river and has no beginning and no end. It is the song at the core of each soul, the song that reminds you that you were created as a child of light.

     The God I know sings this melody of light into darkness. The God of the universe sets captives free. The God I know heals and transforms and destroys the little houses of shame we build…but we have to let Him.

     It is in the light of God’s face that we find healing, it is in the light that we find that we are not alone. But setting oneself free requires incredible vulnerability, with God and with ourselves. Vulnerability and surrender are essential keys to freedom from secrets and shame. We must surrender to God’s love and mercy and allow Him to transform shame into freedom with His mighty hands. But if you’re anything like me, vulnerability and surrender are uncomfortable and on most occasions, quite painful.

     Experiencing pain to get to the beauty? We only got to the Resurrection by way of the cross.

     The Resurrection broke the chains that bind us and God always offers a path out of the darkness. He shows His face in trustworthy friends, family, husbands and wives, doctors, professionals, counselors to open our hearts, our pain, our burdens to. Perhaps you find yourself with burdens, with heavy shame, with secrets that you have stored and locked away in the cellar of your heart. Has the Creator of the galaxies - the one who intimately knows every fiber of your being - prompted you to lay them down?

     God only asks us to do things that will bring us closer to the fullness of who He created us to be. Let Him sing a melody louder than the symphony of shame into your soul. Open up and receive the healing that comes with hearing this melody and letting it penetrate into your soul, into the core of who you are.   

     Shame is a prison. The Resurrection unlocked the doors.

     Walk out of the prison and into the light. Set yourself free.  

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined. Isaiah 9:2

Let the Little Things Go.

      I was in line at the harbor for a whale watching tour. A large group of senior citizens was on a day tour and stepped behind me in line to wait. Two of the women chatted together about different kinds of things, and arrived at the conversation about their spouses.

      One spoke of her husband who was on the tour with them, and the other kindly, profoundly, and honestly said..."I lost my Ed three years ago..."

      She paused for a moment and let the silence convey a sorrow that has not diminished since the day she lost him.

      "You know," she continued. "I miss him every day. I wish I could go back and let more of the little things go...those things didn't matter in the end."

       I was struck to my bones by her statement.

       I wish I would have let more of the little things go.

       My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed our first year of marriage. Many people warned me that I would likely begin to experience incredible annoyance or frustration when we moved in together and began to live a life entirely and tightly woven together. I have not found that to be so...I have instead found marriage to be an unceasing and intentional practice of letting the little things go and focusing on the roots, the heart, the core of what matters every single day.

       Marriage has been a very tangible reminder for me to live in the every day. Because the reality is - I could lose my spouse tomorrow. It has happened to many - the sudden loss of a spouse that shifts the tectonic plates of your life to unexplainable grief and ache and wonder at how to possibly move on. Some people get one year, some get ten, some get 50. I do not know how many I will get.

       I wish I had let more of the little things go, she said.

      I do not want to say this when my husband is gone. I do not want him to say this when I am gone. And I can make sure that doesn’t happen, by letting them go today.

      There are hundreds of little things that you can choose to fight over in a marriage. There are piles of them and mountains of them as you walk side by side, hands clasped within one another, in marriage. And you can let them eat away at a marriage - anyone can. Any spouse can let them consume them and lead them to resentment, anger, or frustration. The piled up little things have as much power to break down a marriage as the big things do if they are given enough thought and energy.

       But the little things are meaningless when I surrender to the reality that tomorrow is not promised to me - or to my spouse.

       It is only when they are gone that we would realize, that we would know. It is only when a spouse, a family member, a friend goes to meet God that we are able to say with all sincerity…those things didn’t matter at all now that I have the eyes that death gives us to see.

      When God separates my sweet husband and I in this earthly life and takes one of us home, I don't want to ever have the urge to utter "I wish." So I attempt to live every day with this truth in my heart - that the little things are nothing. We look at them together, we try to speak kindly through them, and we quickly move on. We do not let them control us or control the sacrament we are living. We give them no power. That takes a conscious, deliberate, challenging choosing. But on many days love - all love - is conscious, deliberate, and challenging.

      I want to let go of the little things now - always and every day - in every moment, throughout the years.

      We only have to choose.

To the Young Man In the Red Sweatshirt on Humans of New York.

To The Young Man In the Red Sweatshirt on Humans of New York,

      I saw your photo and your story because someone pointed me to it.

      You shared openly and vulnerably about how you had just ended your relationship because your girlfriend does not share your Catholic beliefs and you hope for a marriage rooted in Catholicism someday.

      “I want to get married in a Catholic church. I want to raise my children to be Catholic,” you said. “It’s important to me and it’s something that we’d have to deal with eventually. So I didn’t think it would be a good idea to keep putting it off.”

      These are all very honorable things, but the general public of social media decided it was high time to mock and ridicule you for this decision and your reasoning behind it. They commented about what a stupid mistake you made - about how love is more important than any set of beliefs - that you should believe in the person right by your side over the one you have never seen. I do not know if you have seen the commentary; none of it came as a surprise to me.

      My friend, I firstly want you to know that you did the right thing. You did what you - in your heart - felt and knew was right. You are the commander in chief of your life; you have to make the calls, you have to decide what you will and will not do, and you are the one who faces all the consequences of these decisions…nobody else, no person on Instagram or Facebook lives your life, no one else knows your heart and what God is speaking to you in it.

      What these people commenting do not understand is that faith is so much more than stuff we think and believe. It is not a nice little set of flimsy and fluid ideas that can change with the wind - faith and following God, when taken seriously, is the core of who you are. Catholicism involves a rich and beautiful tradition and adhering to many difficult teachings on contraception, family life, and more. Some people do not feel that they wish to enter a marriage where they will have to explain those things, defend those things, or fight for those things and there is nothing wrong with not wanting to have to do any of these things. When young women come to me and have questions about dating men of other faiths or no faith at all, I always ask them…do you desire to date and marry a man who loves his faith deeply, who prays with you and for you, and who believes wholeheartedly that a relationship centered on God is the kind of marriage that will last? These are important questions, and from your story it appears that you have considered them and decided that for you the answer is yes, that this is what you desire, this is not negotiable for you.

      There is nothing wrong with the answer to those questions being yes.

      When I give talks about dating, I speak about two lists each person should draw up. I call them our "non-negotiables" and “negotiables." The non-negotiables are the characteristics you know you want the person you date to possess - shared beliefs, deep respect for all people, desire for children, non-smoker, etc. These are things you do not wish to compromise on, your core values that are very important to you. The “negotiables" are the things that you would like your significant other to possess, but do not have an enormous effect on the success of a relationship, such as musical interests, height, ability to dance, etc. It is clear that you know what your non-negotiables are, and it is clear that many people think that you should change the standards that you have set for yourself in dating - or that you view this ex-girlfriend of yours as less-than because she does not share your beliefs. I know this is not the case; I know you do not think any less of her, because sticking to your non-negotiables does not ever mean you think less of anyone. If more people had the strength to stick to the values, morals, and characteristics they do not wish to compromise on when they are dating for marriage, there would be many more fulfilling and joyful marriages.

      You have already experienced this, but what I have found again and again is that devotion to your faith is going to compel you to make very, very difficult decisions. They will not be easy…some indeed will cause you to sob, as you said you did. Some will be easier than others, but some will cause you temporary confusion or great pain. Some will make you a punching bag for persecution and a prime target for merciless mocking. Unhappy people say the most unkind things. What I can tell you from my years of living out my Catholic faith is this...it is all worth it.

      Christ never said that following Him would be easy…He clearly said we will each have to take up our cross. Crosses are heavy and difficult to carry but it is there where we find Christ - it is in pursuing Him where we find Him in the most unexpected of places. It is there where we find peace and refuge in a heart full of love that knows no end. It is in pursuing Him where He leads us and guides us along a path of fulfillment and deep and lasting joy.

      I could have married any man who did not share my beliefs, but I decided that it was a non-negotiable much later in my life than you did. The other night, when my husband took me in the car to the beach and pulled out his rosary for us to pray together, I was overwhelmingly grateful. I was grateful that he shares the most important part of my heart and the most important part of my life - my faith - that we can talk about it, and pray together, and keep Christ as the center of everything we are, together.

      “I’m hoping God will give me an answer,” you said. He will. He takes His time sometimes, but He will.

      Keep your heart up, my friend. Trust that God makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him.

Sincerely yours,

Emily

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My Top 5 Tips for Catholic Brides

       I love weddings. There are some Saturday afternoons when I think to myself...I wish I was at a wedding right now. I am not an expert on them, but I frequently have the overwhelming responsibility of singing brides down the aisle as I have been singing in weddings, most often Catholic wedding masses, for many years. I have talked with numerous brides who have told me they had never been to a Catholic wedding Mass before their own, so I compiled a list of 5 things that I have learned from singing at many Catholic weddings and from attending my sister’s and my own last year. These tips will certainly not make-or-break a wedding day, but I hope one or even a few of these can be helpful for any bride currently crafting her beautiful day!

      1. Speak Your Vows

      I am not trying to tell you what to do here...and I am not saying that any couple who did not do this did anything wrong...but in the Mass you get two choices. You can either have the celebrant say your wedding vows (Do you, Emily, take Daniël to be your husband...in sickness and in health...all the days of your life?) to which you respond “I do,” or you can look at the man currently-in-the-process-of-becoming-your-husband and say them to him yourself! Some people feel as though they may be nervous and would rather say two words than a few sentences, which is extremely understandable with the magnitude of the day and the amount of people who will have their eyes on you, but it is so beautiful to declare the entirety of your vows to your spouse yourself.

      2. Our Father

      There’s a beautiful blessing for the married couple at the end of the Our Father - and it typically turns very awkward. People are still holding hands and are not sure whether they should let go because they know it is not the Our Father but don’t know what it is if the priest goes right into it...so they often don’t listen and miss the stunning beauty of the whole thing.

“May the grace of love and peace abide in your daughter N.,

and let her always follow the example of those holy women

whose praises are sung in the Scriptures.

May her husband entrust his heart to her, so that,

acknowledging her as his equal and his joint heir to the life of grace,

he may show her due honor and cherish her always

with the love that Christ has for his Church.”

(Just a snippet. Beautiful, right? You don’t want people to miss this stuff.)

I highly recommend asking your celebrant to let people know that they can let go of hands as he will impart a special blessing on the couple. He may already do this, but at many weddings I have attended it is not done. At my sister’s wedding, she and her husband were invited to turn toward the congregation and all guests were invited to extend hands as the priest prayed over them. It was spectacular. At our wedding, Father Dan came down to pray over each of us individually. 

     3. 33 Days to Morning Glory

     Daniël and I walked through the book 33 Days to Morning Glory while we were dating, and consecrated ourselves to Jesus through Mary. We wanted to do it again to consecrate our marriage, so we counted 33 days back from the wedding, walked through the book again, and read the final consecration prayer when we placed flowers at Mary’s feet during our wedding ceremony. I hand wrote the prayer from the book on an index card and sent it over to Daniël’s house in the morning with my wedding day gift to him, so during the ceremony he had the consecration prayer for us to read handy in his pocket. We opted out of the traditional Ave Maria and my sister and aunt sang Holy Is His Name. It was magical in that Jesus magical kind of way.

      4. Cover Ups

      I am not anti-strapless-wedding-gown in any way. I think every bride finds the dress she loves, and if it is strapless that is totally fine! However, some people like the idea of having their shoulders covered in church for a variety of reasons. I wanted sleeves for our wedding Mass, and I searched for hours and days - bought one - it ended up not fitting right...and then I finally found Polina Ivanova’s Etsy shop. I felt like I struck gold. This woman will handcraft the most beautiful lace cover up for you at a fraction of the price you will find in any bridal salon. I was so happy with the one she created for me. Find her shop here : https://www.etsy.com/shop/PolinaIvanova?ref=l2-shopheader-name.

      5. Parents wedding day photo (This does not have to do with Mass or being Catholic, but I wanted to include it anyway!)

      My parents have been married for over 30 years, and their love and marriage is the root of so much of the beauty in my life. I understand that the majority of young people who marry today have parents who have divorced for many different reasons. However, if your parents are still married, I recommend taking this photo. I brought my parent’s wedding photo in my day-of-wedding-bag, and was able to take this photo that I will cherish forever.

All photography by Elissa Anne Photography. 

All photography by Elissa Anne Photography. 

The Time I Was Scolded for Saying Hello to Jesus

      I was biking past church back when I lived in Los Angeles. I decided to stop in to the adoration chapel near my house for a brief moment. As I was entering into prayer, a woman leaned over and whispered to me...How dare you wear something so inappropriate in front of our Lord.

      I was in long Bermuda shorts and a shirt, biking home from running errands. This woman proceeded to reprimand me for about 2 minutes, pointing vigorously at her prayer book in the book of Lamentations about how the Lord laments over my lack of respect for Him and for the world’s lack of respect for Him, before I told her we needed to take this outside.

      We stepped outside. This woman, who was probably no more than 50, went on and on about my lack of decency. After politely listening for a while, I flatly told her that behavior like this is exactly what drives young people away from the Church. I asked her…if I was a 17-year-old girl (which people often think I am) who stopped by this adoration chapel for the first time in a long time or just to check it out, do you think I would ever, ever come back?

      Of course I wouldn’t.

      Scolding like this…judgment like this…not allowing people to come as they are to meet Christ…this drives people away from our Church. I personally was not upset, but completely annoyed, by this woman's actions. I am frustrated much of the time about the Church that I know versus the Church that many people have encountered - because these kind of actions do have the power to deeply upset people. I love my faith, but I do not love that commentary like this woman’s and experiences like this have driven many away, including people I hold very dear, from the Church.

      When we look at the person of Christ in the Gospels, while he lived on the same planet you and I are living on right now, he loved people right where they were. He met them where they were, he loved them in the middle of all that was transpiring in their lives. It is an unwavering truth about who Christ was as a person. He was never judgmental, condescending, or prideful. He never scolded people who came to Him in need - think of the woman caught in adultery, Zacchaeus, the sinful woman, the tax collectors. He did not hand out textbooks to teach people the right way to live…he told stories, parables. His first business was the business of love. He approached people with love and let that love lead the way into deeper conversation. Teaching about His way, teaching about the Cross we must pick up as we follow Him, often came later.

      But sadly, when it comes to the business of love, many people in our Church have lost their way. I watch prideful humanity displayed all too often while people in our churches scold and judge and turn their noses up to people who need to be met with love and warmth rather than hostility and rules. I watch people judge before they even stop to hear a whole story…the woman chastising me did not bother to ask why I was wearing what I was, or I would have been able to tell her that I was riding my bike to the bank and stopped in to say hello to my friend, Jesus. We scold and we scorn before we even make an attempt to know a person or hear about what is really transpiring in their life. Hostility and rules are not what Christ taught…it is a tragedy for anyone in our Church to reflect to people that it was.    

      I have been guilty of disregarding the plank in my own eye. I have not lived a judgment-free life, and it is something I continually and intentionally root out of my own life. But I believe very deeply in letting people come as they are to meet God. Do I think that Christ, the Lord and Savior of the world, should be respected and honored in every way, even in my dress? Absolutely. Do I think that the teachings of the Church are difficult to come to terms with so we should just let people off the hook for not adhering to them? No. Do I think our global Church can strive to do much better in giving people freedom to come to Christ as they are? Beyond a shadow of a doubt.

      The world is broken beyond what seems repairable and the answer is Christ. Our starving society needs real bread and our churches and chapels house the Bread of Life. When we judge others - when we question their motives - when we scold them for the ways they approach the Lord - they leave. They walk away from the bread that sustains. And often times, they blame God. They blame God because people who say they love God and love the Church treat them in judgmental and condescending ways, so that must be the kind of God they follow. How can I blame them for believing this?

      If you have been scolded, judged, or had an encounter with a human or countless encounters with many humans that made you leave the Church, I both understand and am sorry. I am sorry about the ways that frail humanity has driven so many away from the Eucharist because the God who gave us the Eucharist is Love Himself. He loves you still. He meets you where you are. Whatever it is that you have done in your life - there is room yet in his heart to forgive it and shower you with His peace.

      You do not have to have it all together, you don’t have to be perfect in any way. You can be as messy as they come. God the Father still wants you with Him. He is compassionate and loving beyond what we will ever comprehend. In all your sin, in all your shame, with all your questions, in your Bermuda shorts and brokenness…the Lord still and always wants you Home.

Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11 : 28

God the Father, God the Surfer.

       Children begin to surf at the ages of 3 and 4 where we live in Orange County. They wear the tiniest wetsuits and usually go in with mom or dad as they learn to surf the salty Pacific. It is overwhelmingly adorable.

       One weekend this summer, as I paddled back to shore from being out in the waves, I saw a dad paddling out with his daughter on his back. She was tiny - probably 4 years old - and she was clinging tightly to his neck as he glided across the water on his surfboard. Her face was the perfect combination of total thrill and complete bewilderment.

       Her father paddled with great strength and confidence to get them past the break to some calm waters to wait patiently for good surf. She hung on and laughed and enjoyed all the while. As a wave came in, her dad took a few good strokes, stood up, and she clung tightly to his entire body as she screamed and shouted with joy as they surfed the wave together. They did this over and over again as he helped her navigate the waters and grow accustomed to the rhythm of catching waves. It was a scene of magnificent beauty.

       As I sat there, I could only think…is this not the picture of the Father’s love for me? Is this not everything that our good God is constantly trying to tell me about relying on Him in everything?

       The ocean is so often a perfect picture of life. There are times when it is beautifully calm and peaceful. You can sit on your board out in the deep with little to no interruption for long stretches of time. There are times when the waves seem to be coming in perfectly, all is well and joyful, and you are able to enjoy every minute of it. There are other times when you get caught in the wrong part of the break and you get tossed around and you cannot get past it no matter how hard you paddle. The waves crash over your head and pull you around mercilessly to remind you of your littleness against its incredible power. As you get tossed, you try to make sure no one must suffer from your mistakes by getting clobbered by your board. It is a mess out there sometimes because the ocean is unpredictable. It is beautiful. Being immersed in it is an incredible adventure. Life is so much the same.

       And if we resign our lives - our unpredictable, wild, beautiful lives - to the Father, they can look like that of this little girl.

       I imagine, though, how ridiculous it would have been for this girl to hop off and tell her dad she was going to do it herself. Stubborn and naive, I imagine her saying, “I want to do it myself. I don’t need you to help me anymore!” Had she gone out herself, it would have been endless disaster, and her dad would have ultimately had to rescue her.

        That is you and I in many seasons of life - those seasons when we try to control everything ourselves and think we can handle things without God the Father. I can do it myself. It is so easy to fall into this place. Pride and stubbornness and laziness come in and we do not depend on God the Father at all - we begin to believe we are fully capable of managing life alone. I’ve got this all under control. Then the poorly timed, relentless set of waves hits and the water comes barreling in and it may feel like we are drowning - and only then do we call out to God the Father to come save us. It affects us and it can affect others deeply - just like those moments when I pray my board does not hit a soul. Only then do we pray, only then do we realize how much we need Him, only then do we find rescue and cling tightly to it.

       It does not have to be this way.

       If we choose it, our lives can look like trusting in and continually walking with the one who knows how to navigate the water, because God knows well how to surf. There is no confidence he does not have, no size wave he has not ridden. He created you and He knows the rhythm of the waves of your life. You have the option to hold on to Him who is strong and sure. You can cling tightly to the One who knows what He is doing. You can keep your arms wrapped around Him and scream for joy at the great adventure that life is - the adventures that feel just like catching a wave and dropping into it with reckless abandon. Because the rough waters will come, but if you are already holding on to the Father, there is already deep trust cultivated in your bones that He can and will take care.

       We get to choose which board we ride - our own or His - and the little girl on this day showed me the one I need to keep on riding. Because all she had to do...to experience life to its most beautiful and bewildering heights...was hold on and trust her father.

The Difficulty of Womanhood and the Glory of Sisterhood.

HEY, GORGEOUS! IT'S A BEAUTIFUL DAY.

Hello.

He has pulled up and is shouting at me from his car.

You’re beautiful! Why don’t you let me take you out for dinner sometime! You like sushi?

No, thank you. I’m married.

I am walking to my car. He keeps driving.

HAPPILY?

Yes, very happily. Thanks.

WANNA BE EVEN HAPPIER? I KNOW I CAN MAKE YOU HAPPIER THAN HE DOES!

I keep walking to my car. I put my new shoes in the car. I get in my car. I drive home.

       I relayed the story to my husband, as a passing example for him to see the difficulty that it is to be a woman on some days. “Why did you respond to him?” he asks me. It’s an innocent question but it makes me upset inside. I’m upset but I know I cannot fault him for not knowing the why.

       Of course he does not know why I have to respond. My husband is a good-hearted man. Good-hearted men don’t know that you often respond because you don’t know what kind of pig this is. You don’t know if it’s the kind who, when ignored, will drive off - or the kind who, when ignored, will drive up next to you and follow you….What’s wrong? In a bad mood today? Too pretty to talk to me? Ugh. 

       There is great difficulty in being a woman. If you are a woman you know the difficulty that reaches from the trivial of dealing with nasty menstrual cycles to dealing with harassment like this when you are simply trying to buy shoes. Womanhood often feels as though it brings a new challenge each morning. It is hard to deal with the devil over each shoulder, one shouting You’re too much! and the other whispering You’re not enough. Too loud, too friendly, too bright, too animated - not skinny, not pretty, not friendly enough. It is tiring. It is disheartening. It is just plain hard. 

       A few short days after I was shouted at buying my shoes I was on Instagram following sweet Audrey Roloff’s page. She and her husband have created a blog called “Beating 50 Percent” as a way to help couples continually strengthen their marriages. It is an inspiring project. She wrote a post about the weekly communication she and her husband have built into their marriage….and the mean and hateful comments on it were absolutely appalling. Women took to it, tearing her apart….what do you know - thinking you’re an expert giving people marriage advice...ha, come back to me in 40 years...you are trying way too hard. I could see that some of the most disrespectful and hurtful comments had already been deleted.

       Men are shouting at us and we are busy shouting at each other. Why?

       When is it that women will recognize that it is so difficult to be a woman and tearing each other apart with hurtful words, disrespect, judgmental looks and pointed gossip does not help anything? Men sometimes treat us with disrespect that goes far beyond shouting from cars - but the disrespect I witness happening between women is often pointed, uncalled for, and disgusting.

       Friends, I am constantly trying to figure out when women are going to recognize that we too often make life harder for each other and lay it all down and just love one another. 

       There are days when I feel frustrated and sad about the endless cycle of the tearing apart and cutting down, but in my moments of greatest exasperation there are things I know I must hold on to. My sister’s recent baby shower will remain one of these things forever.  

       We threw my sister a pajama party baby shower. Nearly 30 women showed up at our house in their pajamas (side note : us Wilson women throw showers at night because we think they are more fun). We had donuts and drinks and an impromptu dance party. It was so apparent, the reality that there is still a teenage girl living inside every woman who can surface at any moment. It can come right back to us in an instant, the freedom to be cozy and eat Reese's Pieces and enjoy the company of friends and sisters. We surrounded a woman who will bring new life to the world and we showered her with love and laughter and joy and gifts. There were babies in bellies and babies being held and women who hope for children and women who raised children long ago and we all gathered together to rally in sisterhood. There was no judgment, no competition, no tearing down, no gossip...there was only love and celebration and generosity.

       Why is it not more like this every day?

       At the end of this shower we gathered around a sister who needs prayers - one who has endured more suffering than any young woman ever should. We sat around her and extended hands - and, as happens within the bonds of women when one of us is in need - we cried out to God aloud - we sang over her in harmonies - and in the midst of this heavenly moment there was no age, there was no religion. There was only lifting up. There was only sisterhood. There was only the core of what life is all about. 

       The difficulty of being a woman will only take away from the magnificence if we let it, if we focus on the challenge more than we remember the joy. I invite you into this today - dig deep in the joy of being a woman - remember it and live in it and relish it with everything you’ve got. And in that moment that may come by when you feel an inclination to cut another woman down, make it a point to lift her up instead, out loud or in your heart. It will be the first small step to changing everything. 

It's Because of the Bricks.

      In Holland, they build their houses out of bricks. They are beautifully and carefully constructed to last a very long time - the brick makes them quite indestructible.

      Throughout my life, I have had multiple long lengths and seasons in which people have been unusually mean-spirited and cruel to me. I do not state this to play the victim, I state it as a truth that I have had to come to terms with for a very long time. People have said their fair share of unkind things to my face, and even more cruel things behind my back. If you don’t believe me, ask my family. They know my story. They would tell you.

      I have worked for many years to sort through it all and combat the lies - and this summer I have had to break open some things that nobody likes to break open. I have had to dig up and sort through the reality that I make it very difficult for people to get close to me - to be my friend, to love me, and to allow me to be vulnerable with them. I have had to take a long look at the questions...Why do I do this? What is the root cause? And how can I change it?  

      This summer showed me well...it is because of the bricks. I look at the pretty houses in Holland and I know it and I say it to myself...Emily, it’s because of the bricks.

      That little metal triangle-with-a-handle thing people use to lay bricks is called a brick trowel. It picks up the mortar to lay down the bricks. And we all have one of our own. Its purpose is to lay bricks carefully around our hearts so that people cannot get in close enough to hurt us again. Its purpose is to keep people from entering our vulnerable places, so the chance of them saying cruel things is nearly abated, so they do not even get an opportunity to betray us. Maybe you know about this. Perhaps you have been hurt badly in your life, maybe once, twice, or many times, and you’ve begun to lay bricks, too. You have placed them, stacking them higher and higher, each time someone takes a swing at your character, at your beauty, at your talent, at your worth. It is very easy to build such a fortress - but this barrier ultimately hurts others, and hurts us too.

      The thing about these tools is that my brick trowel is always there, ready to be used. For a long time when things were really bad, I always had it in my hand. I always had wet mortar, ready to go, ready to stack and create impenetrable walls as the cruelty of others never seemed to subside. The only currency needed to pay the bricklayers in my heart was malicious words and hurtful actions that were said to my face or came my way. People have paid the bricklayers time and time again and they diligently and faithfully build the walls higher and higher when they are paid to do so...and they have built the walls high.

      It is very easy to lay the bricks, but it is backbreaking work to take a brick wall down. It involves all sorts of heavy duty tools - you must use things like wrecking bars and sledgehammers. It is not pretty work and it is not effortless work. And it is the necessary work that those of us who have been hurt and have built must enter into. It is the work that, if we wish to live bountiful lives of community and friendship, must be done.

      The beautiful news is that God is better at using a sledgehammer than we are. He will use his power and might to help me tear down the walls - and He wants to. You and I, we only have to let Him.

I Choose the Sky.

       My first book is released today and I really just can’t believe it!

       It has been quite the journey, writing I Choose the Sky. It has been a wonderful journey of prayer and soul-searching and reflecting on the lives of the women in the Bible and the lives of the people surrounding me who show me how to live the Gospel.

       This book is the story of seventeen women whose lives were woven into the tapestry of the Word of God. They are women whose lives are relevant and and important, women whose stories mattered enough to be written into the Bible. Many of their stories go untold and unknown - too many women do not know the stories of Tabitha, Esther, Priscilla, or Lydia. I wanted to bring their stories to life. But as I wrote this turned into more than just a book - it turned into a challenge for women to live the Gospel - to live virtue and charity and hospitality - to choose Jesus above all things - and most importantly, to be bold and brave in following Christ. Bringing the stories of these women to life taught me a great deal about our loving God and what it means to be a woman.

       As I celebrate this book being published today, I feel overwhelming gratitude for my most incredible parents. You will read about various people who have touched my life throughout this book, and I highlight them because they have taught me well to do what I am writing about in any given chapter. You will find my parents only on the dedication page. Why? Because they would have been every example I would have used through the book to highlight how I was taught to do all that I wrote about. You would not have read about anyone else! They are the ones who taught me how to live every theme I chose to write about...that I am loved by God, how to open your home to others, how to evangelize well, how to be bold in my faith and witness to what I believe, how to be kind, how to put God first, how to choose virtue, how to give very generously, how to use my gifts to bring glory to God, and that God wants me joyful. They are the first and most important people in my life who taught me and encouraged me to choose joy - to choose Jesus - and to choose the sky.

       This book was also made possible because my parents raised us in a faith-filled home where we were encouraged in making art. In our family home (which we call Wilson World), there is art everywhere. There are instruments galore and a painting or three on every wall. There are bookshelves filled with hundreds of books. Our creativity was always encouraged. It remains a huge blessing to have been raised in this home of artists. My father is a brilliant artist in countless forms and my mother makes the abundantly meaningful art with music and teaching children to sing. My siblings and I all make art in some way, and my words are one of my ways to create art for the world. For that, I am grateful.

       Today, I am also thankful for the love and encouragement of my dear ministry mentor Mrs. Nick. After reading Mulieris Dignitatem in 2009, a passion was set aflame within me for helping young women, but I did not at all know how to channel it. When our life paths crossed, Mrs. Nick was the one who taught me how to do just that…to channel my passion and my love for showing young women who Christ is and helping them to see that a life spent conscious of every waking moment of His love was a life of great joy. I continued to learn how to express myself in words by listening to her talks, by poring over her writing, and in conversing with her every day as we rocked back and forth in our chairs in campus ministry. I do know in my soul that part of what I do is carry the torch of the ministry she created for young women for 20 years - it is an honor and a privilege to have learned from her and to have seen her steadfast, undying, unshakeable love for young women and leading them to Christ. She helped water the seed God planted in my heart when I read Mulieris Dignitatem. While she is not here on earth with us to read my book, I know she would be very proud of this work, and the thought of that brings me joy.

       So, friends, I am honored to have words on paper, I am honored to have been raised by the most wonderful disciples of Jesus, and I am grateful to be a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to women all over the world. Why He chose me to do this work, I do not know, but I am happy, humbled, and blessed that He did.

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Order my book here : http://store.lifeteen.com/ichoosethesky.aspx

To the Girl Being Used by the Guy Next to Me at the Gym.

Dear sister,

       I don’t know who you are. I don’t know your name. But I wish very much that I did.

       I am writing to you because I was sitting next to a guy at the gym tonight who knows you. It was very clear he isn’t your boyfriend, but that he “hooks up,” as he says, with you, or sees you just about every night of the week.

       He and his friend were having a conversation tonight as they lifted next to me, and he said some things about you that I want you to know. He apparently thinks he has you hooked and invested, completely enamored with who he is and the role he is playing in your life. “If only she knew what your game plan was on guys night out! She’d be crushed!!” his friend says as they laugh together. I was growing more upset for you as this conversation went on.

       “Yeah, I’ve got her hooked. And she is going to need some heavy duty scissors to cut herself loose.” These two go on and on. Typical guys you can often find in the gym living in the beach cities of California - muscular, tan, good-looking. “You don’t care about how she feels?” “Heh, of course not. I’ll drag it out, get in a couple fights, then let her go.” 

       They never said your name. They never spoke about you as though you were a woman with real feelings - more than an object for pleasure or play. I’ve been feeling the weight heavy lately - the weight of the sadness women who settle for being disrespected and used - and you know, I don’t know you, but I went to the bathroom and couldn’t help but shed a few tears for you and for all the women settling for garbage like this. I wanted so badly to stand up for you - but my heart is too heavy and I just couldn’t hold it together for long enough to do that.

       I wish I knew who you are because I want to tell you that you deserve more than what you are settling for. This guy deserves nothing from you - he has not earned it. And I tell you this with compassion, not judgment. I want you to know that there is better than this. I want you to know that you are worth so much more than use. You deserve to date a man who wants to commit to you, to treasure you, and to show you the respect you deserve. 

       I want you to know that it is sad that this guy is using you but it is also sad that you are allowing yourself to be used. That you are giving your body away to a guy who could not care an ounce less about your heart, or your feelings, or your soul. I admit I do not know how you feel about the whole situation - I do not know how you have come to this place - I do not know if anyone has ever stopped to tell you just how important and priceless you are. 

       I receive many emails from girls who have friends in situations like yours - friends letting themselves be used by one or many guys like this one. They don’t know what to say to friends who are letting themselves be objectified and played and manipulated. Their hearts are broken but they don’t know how to approach the situation. My sister, we as women have an obligation to one another that is hard, but necessary, to uphold and live out. We are responsible - if we are going to be real, true, good friends - for taking the hands of our friends and looking them in the eyes to say…you deserve better than what you are settling for. Not in judgment, not in condemnation, but in love. We must do this for one another. It is what any shred of an authentic friendship requires - it is what sisterhood demands of us. Too many of us do not do it - we fear our friends will think we are judging, are shaming - but if one person gathers the courage to tell a friend she deserves better, that could just be the one thing she needed to hear to change her ways. We must remind our sisters of their worth. It is our grand responsibility to one another.

       I do not know if this letter will get to you. Maybe one of your friends will see it and share it with you. Crazier things have happened. But I hope that before this guy can drag it out, get in a couple fights, and cut you loose…that you call him and tell him that you deserve better...that you end this thing - and for the rest of your days you only give your time to men who honor and respect you for the glorious girl you are and were created to be. 

You are loved, you are loved more than you know. 

Your sister,

Emily

 

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If you would like to bring Emily to your conference, event, or school - visit the contact page and send us a message! Social media : @emwilss. YouTube : emwilsonmusic.

The First Female President We Actually Need.

       I have hoped for a female on the Presidential ballot since 1992. 

       My amazing mother brought me to the polling booth when she voted for President in that election. I was just over 3 years old, and as my mom engaged me in what she was doing, she told me the choices we had were Ross, Bill, and George. 

       “No girls?”  

       No girls, indeed.

       Yes, I have hoped for a female President since the age of three. It is possible that I will see a female President in my lifetime, and as someone who works closely with women of all ages day in and day out, there are some things I see that women are in great need of…and there are attributes I pray that our first female President, whenever she may be elected, possesses. 

"Women naturally seek to embrace that which is living, personal, and whole. To cherish, guard, protect, nourish, and advance growth is her natural, maternal yearning." -Edith Stein

       This is my hope. 

       I hope that our first female President represents America well, and most importantly represents who we are as women very well. 

       I hope that the first female President is one who champions what women were created for - love. We were made to love, nurture, and care for others - it is woven into the fabric of our God-given DNA. We cannot deny it or escape it. We have “maternal instincts,” which, when encouraged and cultivated properly, have an extremely beautiful impact on the world around us. Women come to life when they are able to carry out their natural longings - when we are encouraged to live compassion and selflessness and grace. We need women who have come alive - not women trying to compete, trying to push, trying to fight - but women alive with love who exist with an inner peace that can transform the world. 

       I hope that the first female President is one who encourages women to be peaceful, kind, gentle, and strong. We were made to be incredibly strong and stand up for ourselves in every situation and season of life, but we were not created to be aggressive. True womanhood and aggression cannot coexist. Aggression is contrary to femininity. Our culture is vehemently promoting the opposite - it pushes the agenda that they cannot exist apart from one another. It is essential to teach women growing up today that this is not the case. 

       I hope for my 3-year-old self that our first female President is a woman who truly supports women, yet helps women to understand clearly that there are consequences to our decisions and our actions. 

       I pray she is a woman who recognizes that a woman who becomes pregnant and unable to care for the child must be supported and loved - not encouraged to kill the child within her. I hope she is a woman who knows and is not afraid to proclaim that abortion is and always will be an act which goes against every fiber of our being…and that support, love, and encouragement toward avenues that will not leave them with lasting and excruciating regret is what mothers who find themselves terrified, lost, or alone truly need. 

       I hope that in her revolutionary role of leadership she sees clearly that "women’s liberation” should be about freeing us from the chains of the culture’s lie that we need Planned Parenthood, freeing us from the lies being told to us that our identity as women is almost solely entwined with the fight over “reproductive rights", and making clear the true definition of women’s empowerment - to empower women to live out their feminine genius.

       I hope that she fights for equality of pay among men and women, because men and women certainly deserve equal pay for executing the same profession. But I also hope she recognizes that men and women are not one in the same. We both deserve to be treated rightly and justly, but are each individually different and contribute magnificent, yet different, offerings to the world. 

       I hope she is a woman who understands that every woman needs to be cheered on and supported well in this trying, taxing, beautiful life - the single woman in Mississippi who has been taking orders at the same small diner for twenty years - the married mother of 7 in Iowa who is running a messy, wonderful household - the twenty something entrepreneur in New York who spends her days climbing the corporate ladder and running business meetings - the single mom in Oregon working 3 jobs and trying to hold her family and herself together. They all need to know they are remembered - they all need to be encouraged to keep on keeping on. 

       She will have a massive job – politics, I know, is a very ugly world. However, there is no denying we have had some great leaders of our country in the past few hundred years – men of great integrity, men who value life, men who were not aggressive or dishonest but had a quiet strength that carried this country to good things.

       There is no way to tell if it will happen in my lifetime – but I pray that if one day a female walks into the Oval Office to lead our nation, she represents the men and women of our country well – and that she embodies who we are meant to be as women by seizing her role with great power and integrity, with authenticity and compassion, and with tremendous strength and virtue.

“The truth is no one else can fill that role. It is a perfect fit, divinely designed… this, the role women are called to live for the common good.” - Mrs. Nick

Wedding Nights and Wedding Rings

       Anyone who has walked the road can tell you...saving sex for marriage is a challenging journey.

       You can listen intently to people who say it is worthwhile and read all about it and see some concrete fruits of it in your dating relationships, and believe wholeheartedly that it will all have been worth the wait if you enter into a new life with a carefully chosen spouse. Everyone who makes this choice makes it for a different reason...some make it for reasons based on faith, some people make it for health reasons, and some people recognize the many benefits outside of faith that come along with such a commitment. Whatever the rationale behind the choice, it is a challenging journey filled with tough decisions, hard conversations, and plenty of snide commentary and patronizing remarks.

       This decision, however, is not like other tough long-term decisions. Consider a weight loss journey - when you decide to lose 40 pounds - you work off 10 and you can feel yourself thinking…wow, this is worthwhile. I’m going to keep at it even though it's really tough. When you have tangible proof of every little hard choice of healthy eating and exercising within days or weeks, it makes it easier to press on.

       But this commitment is not like a weight loss journey, or paying off your graduate school loans little by little and watching the dollar amount go down…there is no way to really know in the thick of it just how worthwhile it will be to endure all the name-calling and laughter in a world that tells you sex is as casual and commonplace as ordering a pizza.

       I have walked the road with all it entails. This is what I have learned; I want to share it with you from the other side.

       Saving sex for marriage is worthwhile because the day after your wedding night you see this ring on your left hand. I picked a sparkly double row diamond band and he chose a white gold pipe cut band. We shopped long and hard to find the perfect ones.

       There is a common misconception about wedding rings, and I know this because I am a woman who has been in conversations with groups of friends about attractive men observed in public…women trying to check to see if there’s a ring…when they see the ring on his left hand flash by... "Darn it, he’s married!”

       Here is the thing…this ring does not just mean he is married…his ring is a sign that a woman promised his life to him. The ring is a sign of her promise, not his. The one she wears is the sign of his promise…as he puts the ring on her hand he says to her, “I give you this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity.” So when you see a wedding ring on someone’s hand, it is a concrete sign there is someone, somewhere in the world who promised to love that person forever.

       On New Year’s Eve 2015, I woke up with a sparkly wedding ring on my hand. The day before, my spouse had placed it on my hand and promised to love me - in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, for all the days of his life. Waiting until that ring was on my hand to give my virginity to a man was the best decision I have ever made (other than my decision to follow Jesus, of course).

       Why? Because this ring did not leave any room for worry. This ring eliminated any possibility of regret, panic, or fear. This ring made it impossible for me to worry about what would happen next…it eliminated the questions that can fill people’s heads after sex with a stranger, with a boyfriend or girlfriend, with a friend….Will he call? What is she thinking? What did I just do? Are we now in a relationship? What happens now? What if someone finds out? What if I get pregnant? Should I feel guilty?

       This ring on my hand was the assurance that none of those questions were necessary. This ring meant he would call. It meant that he would still be around in 3 weeks, 6 months, and five years. It meant that if I got pregnant, he would be right beside me for every moment of a pregnancy, of raising a child, of seeing that child into adulthood. It did not leave any room for feeling guilty, sad, regretful, or scared...it only made way for feelings of deep joy, peace, and the knowledge that I am loved - all of me - exactly as I am.

       Do not let anyone convince you otherwise…

       Waiting until that ring is on your hand is the best thing you could ever do for your current self, your future self, and your future marriage.

       It is a worthwhile decision to save sex for marriage - whether you ever end up getting married or not. And you know...if you have not waited until that ring was on your hand...you can decide to begin anew today. I have countless friends who came to an impactful day in their lives when they decided...from this day forward, I will wait for my husband or wife. Do not underestimate the power of our good God who promises to make all things new.

       My friends, there is often great difficulty in making commitments which uphold our dignity, worth, and value - these resolutions consistently go against everything the culture proclaims from the rooftops about who we are and what is good and what love is. But these are the decisions which bring about true fulfillment, lasting peace, and authentic love. These are the decisions you will never regret...these are the decisions which made our wedding night beautiful.  

Photo by Elissa Anne Photography.

Photo by Elissa Anne Photography.

Finding Light In A World Filled With Hatred.

       In a world full of hatred, we have to choose what we pay attention to. 

       Last week we went out for a Friday night dinner on the beach. We got take out and sat on the sand watching the surfers catch the last few waves before they lost the sun.

       A father and son came down the big wooden staircase to the sand to catch the last few minutes of the cotton candy clouds. The dad, dressed in jeans and a baseball hat, held his son’s hand as they walked down - the son was no more than 2 years old. 

       This toddler hopped around excitedly as his bright blonde curls danced on his head and his dad took in the view. This little boy ran to a big rock, excitedly picked it up with two hands, and tottered over to stand at his father’s feet. He lifted the rock to his dad, who turned around and happily said, “Thank you!” 

       The little boy continued to collect rocks and offer them as gift to dad. He started to make a collection, a little pile right by dad’s feet. 

       In a world full of hatred, it is essential to stop and watch this scene.  

       I soaked in his innocence and his joy - I soaked in his first thought to offer a rock to his daddy - I soaked in the beauty of children’s fascination with the simplest things of the world. 

       You and I are both well aware the extent to which we are surrounded by hatred. As humans kill innocent humans in airports, finishing marathons, going to concerts, while refugees continue to flee for their lives, while nuns fight for their right to religious freedom…the light is hard to see. 

       It is hard to see, but it is there…and we have to choose to pay close attention to it. 

       The light is in watching the toddler give rocks to his dad. 

       It was getting cold and Daniel asked if we could go. I asked for two more minutes to enjoy this little boy’s joy. As we started up the wooden staircase, I asked the dad what the little boy’s name is. 

       “His name is Calvin. We call him Calvie.” 

       You gotta watch Calvie and soak it in. It is no longer a should - it is a must. It is imperative to our survival in our broken and devastated world - it is imperative to holding onto hope that there is beauty to be had and seen. We cannot take moments of joy and peace for granted anymore - they are precious and deserve all of our attention. 

       As I write this in Starbucks, a mom and her daughter are standing in line together. Mom is braiding her daughter’s hair while they talk and laugh.

       The light is out there. 

       Watch closely for it and when you find it, don’t look away from it too soon. 

What I Want to Say to Women Who Have Been Hurt by Men.

       It is coming up a lot these days in my conversations with women and it shatters my heart every time. 

       They share with me stories of hurt, sorrow, manipulation, and abuse at the actions of men. It will never become easier to hear. I will never grow numb to hearing them speak their brokenness out loud. 

       I am grateful for their willingness to share with me. I am thankful that they feel that my heart is a safe place to pour out their pain. I have been moved this week to share some of the thoughts I give to them right here...this is for any young woman I will never be able to speak to in person...this is for all the young women who need to know these truths.   

       Young women, I know that many of you - perhaps all of you - have been hurt by men in some way. For many of you, I know this hurt is very, very deep. While I cannot speak on behalf of men, I first want to tell you how sorry I am for what you have been through. I want you to know that no woman ever deserves to be hurt by a man, and there is nothing you have ever done to deserve the pain you have experienced. No action or inaction you have ever taken warrants the hurt that has been done to you. I am so, so sorry.

       Kelly Clarkson's song Piece by Piece tells the story of the pain she suffered from being abandoned by her father. Later on in her life, in journeying with the man who would be her husband and seeing the deep and genuine goodness within him, she writes...He restored my faith that a man can be kind and a father could stay. 

       Sister, I want you to hear me when I say...The way men have treated you in the past is not the way every man will treat you throughout your life. There are kind men in the world. There are men in the world who are good. 

       It is easy in the midst of significant hurt to submit to the trap of believing that all men are unkind - that all men may be hurtful, manipulative, or abusive. I watch young women yield to this belief, and I know their stories - and I know why they do. I do not blame them for believing it. I do not blame them for allowing men to treat them poorly time after time - they have been conditioned to believe that this is all there is, that these are the only kind of men that exist. If you have given into this belief, I want you to know something...

       There are men in the world who have goodness running through the core of who they are. There are men in the world who are gentle and honest. There are men in the world who are willing to sacrifice and love deeply. There are men in the world who choose to baptize their dying newborn twin daughters in a moment so powerful that when you read about it you can barely keep from crumbling. 

       I promise you this - the good men in the world may be difficult to find, but they are many.

       I want you to know this, too, in your head and your heart - that not every man is out to hurt you, or manipulate you, or abuse you - because I see you running to things to heal this hurt. The world offers us many suggestions as to good band-aids for pain. Those band-aids, however, only cover up...they do not provide any real healing. The real Healer the world would never tell us about is Christ. He wants to place His healing hand on your broken heart, and make it whole again. He wants to restore your faith that men can be kind. He wants to restore your belief in your worth, your wholeness, your beauty, and all that you have to offer the world. 

       In the depths of brokenness, God brings magnificent restoration. Today I pray that if these truths speak to your life, if you have experienced this pain - that God would bring good men into your life - as he did for dear Kelly - to restore your faith that men can be kind. And good. And true. 

I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them glass for sorrow. Jeremiah 31:13

Piece by Piece - A Letter to Dads With Daughters.

       To all the dads with daughters. 

       I write to you today because last night I watched Kelly Clarkson’s performance on American Idol of her song “Piece by Piece.” It struck me right through the heart, showing me evermore the profound role of a father in the life of his daughter. 

       The love a father pours into his daughter’s life is a factor that sets the tone for her walk into young womanhood. Kelly’s father was completely absent from her life - the song is about the love she found in her devoted and selfless husband and the way this love put the shattered pieces of her heart back together, after feeling abandoned and unwanted for so long. The song is astonishingly beautiful. 

       There are so few words to describe the innate and profound desire we have to be loved and accepted by our fathers - it a desire that must be experienced to be fully known. It is a desire that must be lived to be fully felt. A girl’s need for her father’s love runs deep in the fabric of her heart and soul. The inherent desires we feel as females - the desires to feel protected, treasured, loved, and worthy - you are the very first person we look to to fill these desires. You hold a grand responsibility...You draw the blueprint. You create the map. 

       The way you treat your daughter as she grows is the blueprint she will use to determine what she deserves in her early stages of life. You hold the power to show her the love she deserves. The love you give to her is the love she will grow up believing she should accept; it is the bar she will set. If the bar is set very high, she will accept and form relationships with men who treat her with dignity, value, and love you showed her was possible. If the bar is set very low it will take possibly years of restructuring her heart to help her see what she deserves and what kind of love is possible. Kelly Clarkson attributes her realization as to what she deserves to finding a man willing to shatter her low bar to help her believe in the kind of powerful, deep, and unwavering love she deserves. Fathers, you get to choose what the blueprint looks like - the one she will pull out of her back pocket every time she meets a man and gauges whether or not this is what she should accept. She will look at it again and again - and make choices based on it, again and again. 

       I want you to remember that every little outing with you lights up your daughter’s soul. Every time you tell her she is beautiful - inside and out - it gets etched into her young and growing heart. Every time you share a laugh, hold her hand, share a smile, every time you make it known to her by your presence that she is more important than work, than emails, than your phone, than your own friends - you shape her heart. You carve a space into her soul that helps her to always remember...I am important. I am worthy. I am loved by the first man I ever hoped would love me. 

       If you do not pour into her the fatherly love and attention her soul needs, it is likely she will go looking for it in other places. It seems obvious but in a world suffering from a "crisis of fatherhood” - it may not be so obvious to all. There is a reason that when so many girls sit down to have a heart-to-heart with me, they begin their sharing with “Well, first you should know - I have textbook daddy issues.” It is a term I hear more than you would expect - it is the term through which a young woman tells me in lesser words, “I did not get the love I needed from my father, so I have searched or am still searching for it elsewhere. It is part of the foundation of who I am.” My heart breaks every single time. No young girl’s heart should have to be restored and put back together throughout her life because of her father’s lack of love or presence - yet so many young women face this daunting and undeserved journey. It should not be so. 

       Fathers, I know you are busy, and overwhelmed, and stressed with the weight of the world and the weight of your family and the weight of your job on most days. I cannot imagine what it is like to be a father - complete with the many duties of caring and providing for others. I cannot imagine the reality of being surrounded by a family dependent on your work, that ebbs and flows with your successes and shortcomings, and looks to you for leadership. You have an enormous role to play, and a difficult role at that. But there will always be stress. Life’s curveballs will always be overwhelming. There may be days where your humanity screams at you to run from it all. But in the midst of all the commotion of life - your daughter needs you. 

       I have walked with too many young women whose fathers did not have time for them. To make up for this lost time, these dads would buy their daughters stuff to compensate. They would host parties at their home and supply all the alcohol with the intention of earning their daughter’s love and approval. They would buy cars, bags, vacations, and concert tickets to make up for the time they were not spending with their daughter. The girls liked the things, of course - but in reality all of it means nothing in light of a daughter’s real need. Presents will never, ever equate to presence. Your daughter does not need things - she needs you. Your work, your travel, the stresses of your job and life will never be more important than your daughter’s need of your love. Stuff will never fill up her heart. Your love will - time with you will - your belief in her always will. 

       I also know that sometimes you do not know what to say, especially as your daughter grows up. “I love you and I believe in you” resonate in a young girl’s heart beyond what you can fathom. She needs to hear it from you - to be loved and believed in by a father sets a girl free to be herself and believe in herself and her abilities. To know that my daddy believes in me is an invaluable truth that I always keep tucked away in my heart - there are days when it is the reason I press on. Tell your daughter you believe in her - often - and she will gently tuck it away and use it as a pillar to lean on throughout her life. And perhaps, as she grows, you will come to feel like you just do not understand her - do not worry, we as young women often do not understand ourselves. However, she is not looking to be understood - she is looking to be loved. Even on the hard days, when it seems you can do nothing right - she still needs to know you are there, loving her through the mess that is growing up sometimes. Keep on loving her. Keep on offering your presence. Keep on reminding her that you are one constant that she can count on and lean on, always. 

       Lastly, fathers, your daughter is not looking for you to be perfect - she is looking for you to try your very best. Your unwavering love is a gift to her that will stand the test of time. There is good reason I sob like a child every time I read the letter my father wrote me a few hours after I was born. It is my most prized possession. Every time I read it I know that from that moment I have always been wanted by my father. I have always been loved. I have always been cherished. I have always been worthy. I will never take that for granted because I know I am more than blessed. 

Certain is it that there is no kind of affection so purely angelic as of a father to a daughter. In love to our wives there is desire; to our sons, ambition; but to our daughters there is something which there are no words to express.
—Joseph Addison

 

On Marcel Viti, Catholic Lawyers, and Why You Don't Have to Go Into "Ministry" to Change Lives

        A few weeks ago at a conference, I was talking with a young woman in college who was telling me about her plans for the future. She expressed that she wants to be a lawyer, but that she doesn’t know how she could do ministry as a lawyer. She said that she thinks she might have to forego her dream in order to become a youth minister in order to do ministry in her life.

        I was grateful to be able to provide her with an alternate view - the truth that ministry can be practiced in each and every profession she could ever imagine pursuing. I told her about our ever-growing need for steadfast and unwavering Catholic lawyers to fight for what is good and true in our system of law. It was obvious that she had never thought of it this way before…anyone in any profession can do incredible ministry.

        In fact, one of the millions of divine synchronicities that occurred to bring about my existence in this world was the generosity of one amazing Catholic lawyer. His name was Marcel Viti.  

        My wonderful grandfather, Thomas F. Wilson, grew up in an orphanage. During the Depression, his father left the family and his mother could not afford to take care of her children alone. I cannot imagine the excruciatingly difficult decisions people had to make during this time in our country’s history. She decided it was necessary to send them to a Catholic orphanage in Philadelphia to be raised, educated, and cared for, so my grandfather was raised by nuns. He was sent through their high school, and upon his graduation day, he was given a one dollar bill and a rosary. It was all these nuns could send the young boys into the world with - education and faith.

        My grandfather worked different trade jobs throughout his teenage years and into young adulthood. In his twenties, my great uncle George told my grandfather about a lawyer named Marcel Viti who was in need of a secretary in his office. My grandfather applied for the job, and became Marcel Viti’s secretary. 

        Marcel was an extremely influential lawyer and highly-regarded man throughout the world. As my grandfather continued to work in his law office, Marcel saw his dedication to working hard and learning. He made a proposition and offer to my grandfather - he offered to put him through law school if he continued to work in his office during the day. My grandfather accepted and went to the University of Pennsylvania, and after went on to attend night classes at the Temple University School of Law. 

        Marcel supported him financially through his journey to becoming a lawyer. But I can only imagine how badly many children raised in orphanages need someone to look them square in the eyes and say, “I believe in you.” Marcel Viti seized that role for my grandfather. He didn’t need to have “minister” in any of his titles to do powerful and life-altering ministry. He taught my grandfather one invaluable truth that changed the course of his entire life...You can do anything you set your mind to. No matter your past, no matter what you may think your limitations are, no matter what anyone has said you can or cannot do - you. can. do. anything.

        My grandfather did go on to graduate and become a lawyer in Philadelphia. He also went on to meet my grandmother at a party with other lawyers - only God knows how they would have met if not for at this party and had he not gone to law school. He and my grandmother went on to get married and have 5 children - their first being my father. 

       I share this with you today because I want you to truly believe that ministry does not always look like “ministry.” There are too many people with a strict view of ministry as a job in a church or working within an arena that has the title of “ministry” on it - youth ministry, homeless ministry, mom’s ministry, campus ministry. The kindness and generosity of one person who practices everyday ministry can have a ripple effect that touches an incalculable amount of lives. And you can do that in any profession - lawyer, doctor, construction worker, barista, teacher, janitor - you name it - whatever profession it is - it is a space where ministry can happen. It is a space where you can show people in great need great love. Each and every profession can be utilized as an avenue for God to work in limitless ways.

        So today I say thank you - to all Catholic lawyers who have dedicated themselves to doing ministry within their work, who help people in need with their intellect, experience, and influence at every opportunity they can. My life has been affected in powerful ways by your ministry.

         And most especially, I thank Marcel Viti for responding to the call to take my grandfather under his wing and help set him free to become who God created him to be. 

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Colossians 3:17