Hundreds of women from the Diocese of Bridgeport and beyond gathered at St. Matthew Church in Norwalk last Thursday evening to hear Lisa Brenninkmeyer share stories of inspiration and hope through her talk “Strong yet Tender: Building Resilience in an Age of Trauma.” The creator of the popular Catholic women’s ministry program “Walking with Purpose,” Brenninkmeyer opened with the question “How can we become strong and resilient women in the midst of heartache?” Oftentimes, she said, the answer lies in scripture.
Brenninkmeyer began by connecting with her audience through personal anecdotes. As a child, her mother-in-law lost her home to the Nazis during World War II, then as an adult buried several children, including an infant and a four-year-old. Through it all though, Brenninkmeyer said, she never lost faith and did not let the trauma define her. This philosophy has sustained Brenninkmeyer as well, even as she lost a child of her own through a miscarriage years ago. When a nurse helped her face that anguish and realize she was not alone, Brenninkmeyer shared that the woman also told her, “Why do you think you can minister to women if you have never had suffering?”
“When the suffering is our own, it’s deeply personal. Some days, it is so hard and so heavy, but seeking help for mental health is not a weakness. I don’t want trauma to be the last word,” Brenninkmeyer said, referencing the passage from scripture that brings comfort to many: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.”
Using the metaphor of the “oaks of righteousness” from Isaiah 61, Brenninkmeyer emphasized how God wants to strengthen women to establish deep roots so they are able to bend but not break. “These trees are often not in a greenhouse but in a dark forest,” she said. “Are you lost in such a forest, desperate to find a way out? Do you think God has left you alone in the woods? No, God is with you. He will provide you a haven in the trees.”
“We all carry wounds in this life,” she added, acknowledging the suffering that those in the audience may be facing. “Even when we’re wounded, we can help others by connecting with them. Strength comes from knowing you are not alone.” Self-pity, on the other hand, can cause us to turn ourselves inward, cocooning that suffering even more.
Continuing with the call for women to be “oaks of righteousness,” Brenninkmeyer lectured on the two trees that God has identified: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. For Adam and Eve, there was no suffering, trauma, depression, anxiety, or suicide—until man decided not to obey God. The results of the Fall, she said, include the complete loss of sanctifying grace and the real subjugation of Satan.
“But God has not left you in the forest alone,” she said. “Scripture tells us that Jesus died on a tree. He reversed the effects of the Fall. Surrender to Him here in the wilderness and become ‘oaks of righteousness.’”
Brenninkmeyer ended her talk with attendees bowing their heads in prayer. “If God is distant for you, call out to Him,” she reminded these women. “Tell Him—I need you desperately, and I want you in my life.”
Following the lecture, Brenninkmeyer held a meet-and-greet and book signing, with copies of her “Walking with Purpose” Bible studies available for purchase. This women’s ministry, begun in 2008, is active in close to 500 parishes throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe, including many in the Diocese of Bridgeport. These groups work to deepen the faith of their members by helping them know God personally.
“He sees into the depths of your soul and loves you,” Brenninkmeyer said. “Through Him, we are called to help women and be a source of comfort because of our own suffering.”