Firstfruits began with an idea: How could women’s needs to gather with other women, experience God’s love and go forth more centered on their own giftedness and purpose be met? Then the Holy Spirit stepped in and something powerful happened!
In the beginning … Firstfruits began as a vision for a women’s ministry whose purpose was to gather women to experience God’s love. And as a result, be transformed!

As word spread about this unique opportunity, other parishes became interested in hosting a Firstfruits gathering. It became apparent to the founders of Firstfruits that this “gathering” needed to be moveable. We became known as a moveable feast of spiritual opportunities for women.

Chosen

It seems like yesterday, middle school gym class at St. Mary of the Woods grade school in Edgebrook, Illinois. We were picking teams for a game of basketball and, as always, I was picked last. No one ever appreciated the 4’5”, 80lb powerhouse I was. I wasn’t chosen. Have you ever not been chosen for something? Not a good feeling. But I’m here this week to tell, all you unchosen, some really good news. It comes from the same book I talked about last week, The Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen. As I mentioned last week, Nouwen wants us to believe in our Belovedness. The core truth of our existence is that we are the Beloved of God. The world tries to tell us otherwise. We have to ignore those voices that tell us we are worthless or unloveable and remind ourselves that we are the Beloved. Nouwen goes on to say that we are to become the Beloved, not just use it as an adjective. We need to believe it and let that truth filter into our words , actions, and attitudes. That is when we will change and we can then affect a change in others. The greatest gift we can give another is the gift of their Belovedness. So how do we become the Beloved? How do we get that truth so deeply embedded in ourselves that it makes a difference? The rest of the book deals with the four movements of the Holy Spirit that are continually at work in our lives to help us realize our Belovedness. They are described as Taken, Blessed, Broken, and Given. This week I want to talk about Taken, or maybe a softer word for it would be Chosen. In order to really believe the truth of our Belovedness, we need to believe we are God’s chosen ones. Already, I feel a slightly sick, angry feeling in the pit of my stomach. Flashbacks of gym class filling my head. The worldly notion of chosen means when someone is chosen that means someone else isn’t. Someone else is excluded or rejected. In the world of God’s chosen it’s quite the opposite. To be chosen of God does not mean others are rejected. It includes others, accepts others. It is not a competitive choice; it is a compassionate choice. All are chosen. Before we were even knit in our mothers wombs, we were chosen by the eyes of...

Who Are You?

What does it mean to be the Beloved? This was our topic at Well Time at Firstfruits this past Wednesday morning. We looked up the definition of beloved and it said, "greatly loved; dear to the heart." One of the women in the group said that word has never been in her vocabulary. Probably quite a few of us could say the same thing. It’s not a word we would regularly use to describe ourselves, although we should. Henri Nouwen in his book The Life of the Beloved states that the reality of being the Beloved is the core truth of our existence. There is no better or more accurate way to describe our identity. We are, above all else, the Beloved of God. So why is that title so foreign and uncomfortable for us? I think it’s because it’s just too hard to believe. Nouwen goes on to say that the greatest trap in our lives is self-rejection. We so easily fall victim to the voices that tell us what we aren’t, those voices that remind us how often we fall short and screw up. And convince us that everyone else is doing just fine. He sums it up when he says “Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the Beloved.” Do you hear that voice? It’s a gentle voice and comes to us in countless ways. People that have taught us, cared for us, or encouraged us. Simple, tender moments with those we love. The rush of joy or momentary deep sense of well-being that floods through us unexpectedly. We need to listen more carefully. Nouwen says, “Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply. It is like discovering a well in the desert.” If we can become the Beloved, if we can believe and let that knowledge really sink into our every day words and actions, think how different life would be. None of the world’s voices could touch us. We would be free to live and love abundantly and with great joy. And be able to give the greatest gift of all to others, the gift of their Belovedness. This week I challenge you as I challenge myself to claim the truth that you are the Beloved. Broaden your vocabulary! Joan...

Get Off the Fence

We have all been invited to come home spiritually this new year. More specifically, to come to our spiritual home that is Firstfruits. The invite came in the blog last week from the Spirit of Firstfruits. (I’m still recovering from that harrowing experience.) So in an effort to knock you off the fence if that is where you are in your New Year’s resolution to come home spiritually, I’m going to devote this blog to telling you all about some new, really awesome, things that are going to go on at Firstfruits in this new year. The We-Awareness Series Following our study of the book of James last fall, which emphasized the importance of caring for the poor and putting our faith into action, many of the women who participated experienced a growing sense of responsibility and a deepening desire to answer the call to Christian stewardship and solidarity with those in need. The Spirit of Firstfruits heard and answered those desires. We will begin a monthly series called We-Awareness in January. Once a month we will host an interactive retreat day with the leaders and members of different organizations that are providing help for those in need. The goal is to create oneness with those in need and a sense of empowering compassion within this newly formed community. MacCanon Brown, founder of the MacCanon Brown Homeless Sanctuary will facilitate the first of the series on January 23 with some members of the Sanctuary community. MacCanon coined the phrase “We-Awareness” and will share with us her passion for the place of community in successful service to those in need. Join Joan Sitting at my computer each week, relaying random thoughts that come to me usually in the wee hours of the night, to an audience I can’t see, is my idea of the most fun you could ever have. It is such a privilege and a gift God has given me. Then there is the icing on the cake, when I hear from one of you that you actually read those random thoughts and they had some sort of effect on you. The comments I hear are so affirming of the fact that God is real and alive and in love with us. I hear the stories but wouldn’t it be fun if we could hear each other’s stories? If once in a while you could all join me at Firstfruits in the flesh! So, on Sunday, January 19...

Sabotaged

I’ll make this quick. I kidnapped Joan and have her hands bound with duck tape so I can write the blog this week. Here we are a few days before New Year’s Eve. We look back over the last week with gratitude and joy and look forward to this coming week with a sense of newness and second chances. Last week visions of sugarplums danced in our heads. This week visions of slimmer waistlines, empty ashtrays, and cheerful interactions with screaming toddlers fill our brains as we turn to those tried and tried again resolutions. I challenge you to think outside the box this New Years as you make your resolutions.  My suggestion… resolve to come home, spiritually. I promise if you do, all the rest will come. Aren’t you tired of the pretending?  Come home where you can be you. Aren’t you tired of the anxiety? Come home to the peace. Aren’t you fed up with the disappointments? Come home to what your heart really desires. Hasn’t the loneliness gone on too long? Come home to kindred spirits. Haven’t you had enough of the band-aids? Come home to the true healing. There’s a home for you if you are ready. A place where you can come when you need to and always feel welcome. A place that you can come to once in a while and never feel guilty or ashamed for the times you didn’t come. A place that calms your soul. A place where all you have to do is be. A place where others are just being. A place of comfort and support. It’s called Firstfruits. Let your 2020 vision be one of clarity and health in your spiritual life. Imagine yourself coming home. I’ll be waiting for you. The Spirit of Firstfruits...

True Joy

It’s the third week in Advent when we light the pink candle and joy abounds! Everywhere we look, people are rejoicing in the fact that very soon Christmas will be here, the eagerly awaited celebration of the birth of our Savior. Hmm…not exactly, well maybe on the Hallmark Channel. For many, with the lighting of each candle on the Advent wreath, it just means that much less time to get to the end of the To-Do list. It means that much closer to having to face the reality of Christmas without a loved one for the first time, of trying times with difficult family members, or the anxiety of not being able to provide as many presents under the tree this year. Life is full of chores, challenges, sadness, frustration, resentment, and loss, things that steal our happiness. But it doesn’t have to steal our joy. That is, if our joy is in the Lord. Joy in the Lord doesn’t change or slowly fade over time. It is timeless. Joy in Him is not dependent on circumstances or how we happen to feel on a given day. It is a constant source of peace, protection, and refuge. It is a joy that is our stronghold and allows us to prevail. And it is something we can choose. It is a gift we have been given. As we grow in faith, our hearts are touched by the knowledge of the great love Jesus has for us and His deep desire to give us all that we need to live this life abundantly. This powerful joy in Him is one of his desires for us. Chapter 17 in the Gospel of John is a beautiful prayer of Jesus to the Father before he is arrested and begins his journey to the cross. It is also a love letter to us. In it Jesus shows his deep love and concern for us. In verse 13 he says, “But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” The “they” that he speaks of is us. He desired for us that we would have the same joy fulfilled in us that was fulfilled in Him by his close relationship with the Father. A joy that brings with it great strength to endure whatever comes our way. Look at what Jesus was able to endure with the...

Cardigan Sweaters and Bow Ties

This week I saw the new Mister Rogers movie called It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. To say I love Fred Rogers is an understatement. I have often used him in my talks and writings in the past. Anyone who knows me, knows my admiration for him. St. Nick, (a.k.a.- my friend Mary) gave me a magnetic dress-up Mister Rogers. He now has a prominent place on my desk lamp in my office. (See the picture.) I really believe the world would be a better place if more people could let out their inner Fred. We are all born in the image and likeness of God. We harbor within us an inherent goodness, a goodness that has the power to significantly touch the lives of others in a positive way. It can ignite transformation. On top of that we have within us the indwelling Holy Spirit whose gifts are at our disposal all the time. When we stir up the Holy Spirit, our lives bear witness to the fruits of the Spirit, which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Sounds a lot like Fred Rogers. To me he is a good example to us of what a life in the Spirit looks like. His genuine kindness and care for others, especially children, his simplicity, his patience, his gentle disposition, the peace that followed in his wake, and the apparent joy his face reflected, all gifts of the Spirit, all desperately needed in the world today and all within each and every one of us waiting to get out. He reminds us that true power lies in simplicity, humility, genuineness, and vulnerability. The act of simply giving your full attention and listening to someone can change a life. Admitting mistakes and that you don’t know it all, can heal a relationship. Asking for help can give someone purpose. Sharing feelings can release others from the bondage of their own. It’s with these attributes that the Holy Spirit can work. In this second week of Advent let’s ask God to show us how to stir up the Holy Spirit in our own lives, how to unleash the power for good that we all have within us. How to just be kinder, gentler, and more loving. What a beautiful day in the neighborhood that would be. Joan...

Lessons on Advent

Mass began this morning with a video about Advent. One line in the video struck me. It said that if you are tired of Christmas by December 25 you haven’t done Advent correctly. Which begs the question, “How do you do Advent correctly?” And what if you are tired of Christmas before December 25?! Advent isn’t about the shopping, decorating, and baking. It goes deeper than all of that. It’s about preparation, expectation, and joyful anticipation. Preparation of our selves, not our mantels. Expectation of a new birth, an updating of our spiritual lives not our wardrobe. And joyful anticipation of promises fulfilled through a baby, not a large white van. How do we prepare ourselves? What can we expect? And how do we stay focused on the joy during this time of waiting? We find these answers in the behaviors of any expectant mother. The preparation starts slowly as she begins to realize she’s not alone anymore. It’s not just about her anymore. There is a sense of a “We-ness”, a moving out of herself and into a love and compassion for the needs of another. A transition to selflessness. Every decision she makes, with the welfare of another above herself. She expects to be uncomfortable, to be stretched (no pun intended) outside her usual parameters. She expects to be forced into a new way of thinking, living, sitting, and tying her shoes during this time of waiting. There is a surrendering to these expectations. She trusts that they are all a part of this process of new life. They feel odd now but with time will become a new normal. She anticipates, with great joy, the birth of this baby but the heartburn and the swollen ankles try to steal the joy. The anticipation, though filled with challenges and unknowns, brings joy as long as she keeps her eyes on the prize. As long as she never doubts or looses sight of the One who promises abundant life here and for eternity. As longs as she has hope. Let’s learn from our expectant mom how to do this Advent correctly. Focus on cultivating a “We-ness” within ourselves. Reach out to others who need love. Put the welfare of others ahead of ourselves. Expect and embrace changes in ourselves. As we take this time of Advent more seriously and want to shift our focus from how we have spent it in the past, we can expect to...

You Go Thanksgiving!

This is a big week. Thursday we gather with family and turkey, (or a family full of turkeys) to celebrate all our blessings and then right away on Sunday we begin the season of Advent when we start to prepare for and anticipate the greatest blessing of all, the birth of Jesus. I have always felt really sorry for Thanksgiving. It’s like the younger sibling of an overachieving, super popular, glitz and glamor older sibling. It’s always in the shadow of Christmas. Or like the middle child, between Halloween and Christmas. It gets lost in the shuffle. The stores seem to go right from ghouls and goblins to garland and skip over the gravy and gratitude. Of course every day should be a day of thanksgiving but how often is it? I was reminded this week of the saying that has always been very convicting. What if you woke up tomorrow with only the things that you gave thanks for today? I wouldn’t wake up. I never think to thank God for each breath but that is the depth to which our gratitude should take us. Think small, think mundane, think of those things you take for granted. There is so much to be thankful for when we really try. One of the things I am most grateful for is you. Whoever you are out there. To be able to share my stories, my questions, my ponderings and my passion for the Lord with you is one of the greatest blessings in my life. If I didn’t have you to connect with, I may have resorted to a bullhorn and a soapbox in the Food Court at the mall by now. And I am so thankful for the women I get to see regularly at our Firstfruits home. To share life with. To share laughs with. To share the Lord with. I have learned so much from all of you. You have been a lifeline for me. Your encouragement and support have kept my head and my soul above water. I’m looking forward to many more Thanksgivings with all of you. My prayer is that we grow closer to each other as we grow closer to the One who makes it all possible. You can do me a big favor by sharing my blogs with others and sharing the good news of Firstfruits and our beautiful home with others, especially those who need a spiritual home right...

Where’s God

Sometimes my spiritual life reminds me of a Where’s Waldo book. Jesus promises to be with us always, “until the end of the age” as it says in Matthew 28:20. What age, six or maybe seven? Then life begins to get more and more complicated. The logical portion of our brain seems to wake up like a hibernating animal and steals the wonder, awe, and childlike trust we started out with. And the rest of our lives, we spend trying to get that back. As a child we have no problem seeing and feeling the goodness of God. There is so much happiness, joy, laughter, and simplicity. But as we get older we lose that lightheartedness, that joy, because we have a harder and harder time finding God. He gets lost in our pursuits, in our disappointments, in our busyness, in our loses, and in our fears. His promise to be with us always is forgotten, doubted, or clouded by life. But it’s precisely in that life that he can be found and found in a very intimate way if we look with the eyes of our old selves, our childlike selves.  We have to look amongst the fullness and the chaos for simple, small, quiet, peaceful, calm, and comforting proofs of God’s presence. That’s where we find him. And what a thrill when we do spot him! Among the daily grind, if we look small enough, we get glimpses of him. Here are a few of mine since I wrote you last. Spotted him in the smiles and energetic discussions of the one hundred plus women who came out on a cold Saturday morning to spend four hours with me at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton learning about their gifts and their God. What an inspiration. Spotted him in the smile and the clinking of the glasses on my son’s 38th birthday that we celebrated together with a mom-son dinner out. Spotted him in the joy of my daughter as she shared a new awareness of God’s intimate presence in her life at Well Time at Firstfruits. Spotted him in the precious words of my three-year-old granddaughter as we were leaving Firstfruits and she said, “Wait, we didn’t say good bye to Jesus.” Spotted him in the hopeful and holy words of two retired priests, who have been ordained for over 70 years, that I had lunch with at San Camillus. Spotted him in the ugly face, deep belly...

Hope and Happiness in Him

I had the privilege of speaking to a group of women from St. Alphonsus parish Saturday morning. We met at the Conservancy for Healing and Heritage in Greendale. What a lovely place. (See the picture above) As the brochure says, The Conservancy for Healing and Heritage is a 36-acre parcel of land whose centerpiece is a 35-foot deep, spring-fed kettle lake. The lake is flanked by a steep glacial moraine covered in hardwoods. The forest floor is alive with wild flowers in the spring and wild mushrooms in the fall. To top it off there is a beautiful little chapel as you enter the Conservancy. That is where we met. All this is hidden away near 74th and Rawson Street in Greendale.  A space where people can come and “just get better,” says Susan Rabe, CEO of the Conservancy. And who couldn’t use a good dose of “better?” Upon completion of the grounds there will be hiking trails, a gazebo, bridges at tree top level and a healing garden complete with a gently flowing waterfall cascading over rocks right outside the chapel’s towering wall of windows. A place to retreat, exercise, celebrate, and learn. A big part of the mission of the Conservancy is to provide physical, emotional, and spiritual healing through nature. Studies have shown the positive effect that natural environments can have on reducing stress and the many benefits to our general health from that reduction in stress. I have to say my natural environment the last week hasn’t exactly reduced my stress. There is something unnerving about snow falling before the leaves do. It’s disordered. And watching the Trick-or-Treaters stomping through snow to get their Kit Kats leaves me very stressed! It’s not supposed to be this way. The talk on Saturday was titled "Hope and Happiness in Him." It was based on Lysa Terkeurst’s book entitled It’s Not Suppose to Be This Way. The subject matter focused on how to find unexpected strength when disappointments leave you shattered.  Have you ever been shattered by disappointed? Have you ever thought to yourself, “It’s not supposed to be this way?” Disillusioned by the reality of a challenging situation that seems to have no end in sight? We all have. The unexpected strength to rise above all of life’s disappointments lies only in Him.  As Lysa says in her book, it lies in viewing disappointments as Divine appointments. Looking at our current challenges as just what...