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.

Unfolding to Life

Easter is right around the corner. I have fond memories of Easter past (see the picture), when I donned my white patent leather shoes with ankle socks, a pastel dress my mom made, and the ever-stylish white straw bonnet with ribbon accent. Oh the good old days. I can still hear my dad’s voice as he sang In Your Easter Bonnet from the Judy Garland/Bing Crosby movie Easter Parade while he waited for my sisters and brother and I to finish getting ready for church Easter morning. “In your Easter bonnet with all the frills upon it. You’ll be the grandest lady at the Easter Parade. “ But I’m getting ahead of myself. Easter is right around the corner but what a corner we have to get around first. Death, suffering, sadness, and grief before the promise of new life. We are about to start Holy Week. I feel blessed to have been “with you” this Lent. I have heard from many that you are reading these blogs so I do feel like I have traveled this year’s Lenten path with you. And for that I am really grateful. I cherish the support I will feel knowing we are heading into this somber week together in our love for Jesus. And the joy on Easter Sunday will be multiplied by each one of you. This week I would like to share a story I received in an email from Sister Gina who attends many of the events at Firstfruits when she can. She lives at the School Sisters of Notre Dame retirement home just a short walk from Firstfruits. Sr. Gina has struggled with hearing issues for quite some time and this year she made the decision to have a cochlear implant. As part of the process she was rendered “stone deaf”, as she put it for almost a month. She was in complete silence.  She said she felt God’s presence and a deep sense of trust. During that time she penned the following sentiments that are truly inspired and perfect to leave you with as we enter this Holiest of weeks. Blessings this week and always, Joan   UNFOLDING TO LIFE March and winter’s rigid and frigid fingers have let go to April and spring’s gentle and teasing breezes. Earth is warmed by glorious sunshine and responds with green patches of grass and the push-ups of crocus, tulip, and daffodil buds. Winter was a time of darkness in the soil, a time...

Bunnies and Nails

Once again, I am conflicted about this time of year. I’m a sucker for Easter décor. I’ll take a basket of eggs and grass over a fat Santa any day. I love the bright colors and the baby farm animals. So of course, when my daughter and I were shopping last week and I saw this kitchen towel (see picture), I had to have it. Too cute, don’t you think?  Or “kind of weird “ is more like it. However, it fits perfectly with my other decorations, which by the way are still in the basement. I have pulled the “Easter” bin off the shelf and opened the lid but just don’t feel right bringing out the bunnies and eggs just yet. This is where the conflict comes in.  It all started one Good Friday quite a few years ago. I was sitting at Good Friday service waiting for it to begin and an elderly woman came into the pew and walked right up to me and quietly asked me if I could move over because I was in her spot. For a brief nanosecond I was afraid of what was going to come out of my mouth but before I could roll my eyes or sarcastically ask her for proof of her ownership she said, “I grieve better in my spot.” I had never heard anyone talk about grieving the death of Jesus, like he was a family member or dear friend. I slid over physically and something in me slid over spiritually. That encounter had a powerful effect on me. I didn’t really know it at the time but it stuck with me and moved me another space on my path to knowing Jesus more intimately. I still can’t fully wrap my head around the immensity of the love He has for us and the depth of the sacrifice Jesus made for us because of that love. But I know He does and I know He did and now I grieve. These next few weeks are a bit more somber for me than they used to be. There is a thin pall over things, a touch of melancholy. Thus the conflict. But I remind myself the story doesn’t end on Good Friday. Alongside the nails, in the midst of the sorrow and pain there is the hope and promise of new life, of resurrection, of bunnies and colorful eggs. Think of Jesus as your friend....

Kill a Word

I’m moving a little slow today. I stayed up way past my usual 9:30 bedtime last night. My country music-loving husband took me to the Eric Church concert at the Fiserv Forum. He started at 8:30 so by 9:30 he was just warming up. It was so worth it though. He is an amazing entertainer. One of his hits, and one of my favorites is a song called Kill a Word. Loosely paraphrased the lyrics go something like this: If I could only kill a word, I would shoot “good bye,” poison “never,” beat “regret,” pound “fear,” choke “lonely,” hang “hate,” take “brokenness” out back, and break  “heartbreak.” If I could only kill a word. If I could kill a word, I would smack ”busyness” upside the head, stomp on it with my snakeskin boots then fling it in a dumpster. (Hmm…. I just might have a future in country music.) Seriously, it’s a word that does more damage than we realize. Somewhere along the line the world sold us a bill of goods that said that if we are not busy, if our calendar has a blank box on it, if we have time to read for pleasure, take a walk, or pray we are unproductive, unpopular, and unbelievably boring. And we bought it. As a result, we walk around anxious, depressed, and stressed out. We don’t allow ourselves the healing that comes from stillness. We’re too afraid of what that stillness might bring. What if it brings the answer? What if it brings Jesus? The closing song at mass today was Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling. The first verse is “Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me; See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching, watching for you and for me.” Jesus enters our lives in a soft and tender way. Our job is to quiet ourselves long enough to hear him and have courage enough to let Him in. Kill the busyness in your life. Carve out some time in the rest of Lent for stillness and quiet. Don’t be afraid of it. If you are looking for other women to be still and quiet with, join us at Firstfruits on the evening of April 10 as Tammy Groszczyk, Catholic therapist and popular Firstfruits’ speaker enlightens us on how to find hope and peace as we navigate the busyness we find ourselves in. Invite a friend. Tell her you are out to kill busyness and become comfortable with stillness. If she...

The Wishing Well

The gospel today at mass was about the Samaritan woman meeting Jesus at the well. Such great take a ways from that story but today I was distracted by a very random thought that I blame on the fact that the last two houses we lived in were on well water. I got thinking about the fact that these women back in Jesus’ time drank water from a well with no iron curtain, water softener, or reverse osmosis system. No Culligan man. I wish I had that. Actually, I found myself wishing I had more of something else these women had. For the women in biblical times the well wasn’t just a place to get water. It was a gathering place for women. While fulfilling their daily tasks they were afforded the opportunity to be together, to talk, to listen, to laugh. It was the place to not only fill their buckets but also fill their souls with whatever they needed to go back home and live the challenges of their lives with hope. Hope is a powerful thing we can give each other. God wants us to live with a deep and abiding trust that He is in our situations. He promises. That gives us hope. But often we have to be reminded of that promise, especially when it is so hard to see. And often that reminder comes from others who God puts in our lives. The catch is that unless we are willing to admit we have challenges, that we need a good dose of hope, the message those people God has put in our lives to remind us of His promise remains undelivered. We end up carrying our cross in isolation and loneliness. I wish that weren’t true. And we all have a cross we carry. It’s so much lighter when we share it with others. This became evident in a powerful discussion we had at Firstfruits following Mary’s Way of the Cross last week. After reflecting on the Stations of the Cross through Mary’s eyes, we were moved to a very raw and real conversation about the crosses we all carry and the need to share those crosses with others we can trust and feel safe with. This led to talk of an offering at Firstfruits in the future that would address this need. A vision of Firstfruits as our “well.” I’ll keep you posted. Spring is right around the corner....

You Complete Me

One of my favorite movies is Jerry Maguire. There is one scene that the hopeless romantic in me couldn’t get enough of. Toward the end of the movie, Tom Cruise comes to his senses and realizes he is in love with Renee Zellweger and comes to her house to sweep her off her feet. It used to make me swoon years ago. I now know a truth that makes me cringe when I see this scene. In his emotional confession of his love for her, he utters three words that I now know are responsible for much heartache, misunderstanding, and disillusionment.  He says, “You complete me.” How wonderful I used to think it would be to have another human being think of me in that way. My poor husband has bore the brunt of my misguided romantic desire. Needless to say, he has never told me that I complete him. He may have uttered something like “You deplete me.” Or “Could you feed me?” but nothing ever coming close to making me feel that I have filled his deepest void. And you know what? That is ok. Because no other human being can fill the void that only God can fill. No other human being can complete us. Our heartache, misunderstanding, and disillusionment comes when we don’t accept that and we beat our heads against the wall trying to fill that God shaped void with anything other than God. Whether that be a spouse, friend, family member, or casual acquaintance. All that does is bring sadness, loneliness, frustration, and despair into our lives. Every morning I read a daily “conversation” from Jesus in Sarah Young’s book Jesus Calling. In one of the daily readings from last week, I came across a sentence that really touched me. In this particular conversation Jesus says: “Find your completeness in Me so you can help others without using them to meet your own needs.” There is a deep truth in this that we don’t like to admit. How often do we look to others to complete us, to fill that God shaped void? Instead of being free to love others and help others, we use others to get what we need. Imagine if our needs were met. How easy it would be to freely love. To love as we are asked to love. In God’s perfect plan He gives us all we need. He longs to meet our needs. He wants...

Fasting

Over the years I have given up many different things for Lent. There was the usual chocolate, ice cream, or Carmel deLites. (Funny how the Girl Scout cookies always show up right around Lent.) Then I got more creative in my denials. I gave up the radio in the car, which made for some very long rides home to Chicago. I gave up watching Oprah on TV. Yes, I admit that was my guilty late afternoon pleasure. That added a long hour in the After School-Before Dinner abyss. And then there was the time I gave up mascara for Lent.  I don’t wear a lot of makeup but since about 1972 I rarely have left the house without it. In the rare occasions when I did, I inevitably got comments like “Are you feeling ok?” or “You look tired, are you ok?” Forty days of that was too much. That was a one and done. I never did that again. Come Easter Sunday I looked like Tammy Faye Bakker. For as long as I can remember I have followed the tradition of giving up something for Lent. I learned that it was suppose to teach us discipline and allow us to experience some degree of suffering which helped us connect with Jesus during this time when we focus on his suffering for us.  Along with prayer, penance, and almsgiving, fasting was what Lent was all about. I’ve had that understanding of the traditions of Lent my whole life, but yesterday another dimension was added to that understanding. Marilyn Malcolm, the author of The Disciple’s Wife, is facilitating a book discussion on her book at Firstfruits this Lent. During our discussion yesterday, she shared an insight into the purpose of fasting that we all found fascinating. When we fast from physical things we are to do it out of love for Jesus. So, when we are tempted to eat that chocolate, turn on the radio, watch the TV show, or apply the mascara, we are to deny ourselves and in that moment of temptation tell Jesus that we will deny ourselves because of love for him. Let that motivate the action, or lack of action in this case. As we do that more and more Jesus will fill that void we feel with his love for us to the point that we no longer feel we are sacrificing. It becomes easy. As it becomes easier to deny physical...

Coming Home

I remember how excited my parents got when I would come home from college to visit, especially my mom. I still have pangs of guilt when I think about it all these years later because those visits for me weren’t so much about spending time with my family as it was spending time with my boyfriend, my friends, shopping, and sleeping. One of my visits, in particular has stayed with me because of an unusual request from my mother. I was running around getting ready to go out that night. I was removing the pink foam curlers from my hair and deciding which Levi corduroy bell bottoms to wear when my mom came in my room and said “Joannie, sit down, I just want to look at you.” That bothered me. I didn’t have time to just sit with her. What was she thinking? But I did it. And what I felt has followed me to this day. It wasn’t until years later when my own children were college age that I truly understood what was behind my mother’s somewhat odd request. A deep longing to just gaze upon and be with someone you love so deeply. When children are grown and out of the nest, a mother’s life is full of imagining what her kids are doing, what is happening to them, how they are coping. There isn’t the everyday reassurance they are safe, happy, and healthy like when they are under your wing. The world has so many traps. To have them actually in your presence brings much needed relief from the worry and gives your heart someplace to unload all the stored up love. That longing of a mother for her child is a fraction of the longing God has for you and me, his children. Lent starts this week. There is a song we often hear during Lent called Hosea. It’s one of my favorites. The repeating refrain goes like this: Long have I waited for your coming home to me and living deeply our new life. God is longing for you to come home to him. To be safe from the world’s traps in his presence and let him unload all the love he has for you. To find new life with him. This Lent, come home. Give up all that keeps you away. Fast from the things that come between you and time for God. God is asking you to sit down and let him just...

Real Beauty

If I asked you to describe yourself in one word, what would I hear? Short, round, tired, or scattered? Maybe on a good day I would hear smart, fun, caring, or successful. I bet my new hand mixer (see previous blog) that no one would use the word “captivating” to describe themselves. That word has been on my mind a lot lately as I am reading through the book entitled Captivating by John and Staci Eldredge in anticipation of the Lenten series Tom and Carol Sullivan will be facilitating for men and women at Firstfruits in March. I looked up the word “captivating” and it means “charming” or “capable of attracting.” Not top on your list of personal attributes? According to the book, the feminine heart was wired by God to desire just that. To unveil a beauty to the world that is unique and capable of attracting. And I don’t mean The Bachelor television show kind of attracting. We long to be loved and treasured for the beauty that is each one of us. To be precious and enough. To be captivating just as we are. But the world does a great job of breaking our hearts and if we allow it, making us feel less than adequate. Our precious, perfect, unique God given beauty gets buried under the messages we get from the world. And its starting younger and younger as the messages bombard us from everywhere. Maybe that is why I received that random phone call eight years ago. It was a week before the very first Firstfruits gathering and I was praying about what I was going to get up and talk about as I welcomed the women who would be in attendance that morning. The phone rang and it was Fr. Don Zerkel. I had no idea who he was. He said he had seen an advertisement in the Catholic Herald about Firstfruits women’s retreats. (To this day I don’t know how that ad got in the Herald.) He said that as he was doing his daily prayers, the book of Ezekiel came to mind , in particular Chapter 16, verses 8-14 and he felt compelled to call me. He then said “Well, the ball is in your court now, God bless.” And hung up. Of course I ran to get my bible and read those verses. They were perfect. I encourage you to read them sometime. The last verse is...

Old Shoes

The picture above is what I woke up to this morning. And no, that isn’t my husband. Although I have seen that look in his eyes when I tell him I took some of his golf shirts to Goodwill. The picture is my friend Mary’s Huskie named Naly. Mary and I are high school pals who roomed together for four years of college and now find ourselves reminiscing about those good old days and struggling to remember details, especially names. A lot of our conversations go like this: “Do you remember that gal with the really long hair in high school, she was so cool. Oh yes….what was her name? Darn it, oh it’s killing me. Didn’t she hang around with that other gal with the longer hair, oh what was HER name……?” It goes on and on like that for quite sometime until we can just let it go and drink more wine.  I love getting older. Mary is like an old shoe. And I mean that as a deep compliment. You know the feeling of slipping on an old shoe that is molded just right to your foot. The comfort and happiness it brings is priceless. That’s an old shoe friendship and that is what we have. In an effort to shake off the cabin fever that I had been suffering from following the stretch of frigid weather the last few weeks, I decided to call that old shoe friend and invite myself to spend the weekend at her condo in the suburbs of Chicago. And she said “YES!” That is what old shoes do. It felt so good to have a change of scenery, good conversation, and a hairy four-legged companion by my side. (See the picture) Just what I needed. Mary is one of the “Elizabeths” that God has blessed me with. In the book of Luke in the bible we read of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel came to Mary and told her she was pregnant and that her baby was going to be the Son of God. Not a typical day. The next thing we read is the story of The Visitation when Mary leaves her home in haste and travels to her cousin Elizabeth’s house. And what a visit it was. We read of the joy they both experienced with each other and the supportive and affirming words from Elizabeth. Just what Mary needed following life altering...

143

I once bought a box of Conversation Heart candies and on one of the candies was the number 143. I thought it was a typo. I have come to learn that it stands for I Love You. “I” being one letter, “Love” being four letters, and “You” being three letters. Someone had a lot of time on his or her hands to come up with that. Couldn’t it also mean “I can’t run” or “A ripe pea?” All sorts of things. I like to think it refers to a verse in the bible, John 14:3, the ultimate valentine message. (Go look it up.) I thought of this because it’s that time of year again, the very pink and red time of year. It’s supposed to be all about love and romance and heartwarming sentiments but let’s face it, Valentine’s Day can be heart crushing too. I remember my days in college when I lived in the dorms and I’d walk past the front desk and see all the floral arrangements that were delivered from boyfriends far away and alas, none had my name on them. More recently, my practical husband and I decided to stop with the cards and the last-minute stop at the gas station for flowers on the way home from work. Because after thirty-eight years, we’ve said “I love you” in as many ways as possible (whether we meant it that day or not) and heck, every day is Valentine’s Day right? (Note the sarcasm in my typing.) The heart is a mysterious thing. It’s a very powerful thing, but at the same time it can so easily be crushed. It holds our deepest desires, our dreams, and our passions, but so often keeps them hidden under doubts, fears, and insecurities. The heart seems to have ears and it can easily respond more quickly to the world’s voice rather than the Creators voice unless we train it. The feminine and the masculine heart are very different. They both however were created to reflect the image and likeness of God. They are designed to bring life not only physically to our bodies but emotionally and spiritually to our souls, if we allow them to, if we awaken them. This Lent, at Firstfruits, we have an amazing series for men and women called Awaken Your Heart’s True Desire. Carol and Tom Sullivan will take us on a journey of discovery through the book Wild at...