On our family’s summer vacation there were numerous God encounters.
When our 10 year old was helping our 2 year old getting in and out of the pool.
Walking into God’s creativity at Mammoth Cave, the longest cave in the world.
Hearing our children make up silly (and also annoying as heck) games in the car and cracking up with each other.
Walking behind the scene of my husband carrying a kid on his shoulders while taking in new sights together.
These moments touched my soul and made me catch my breath because of one thing they all possessed...beauty.
Beauty is one very real way that God reaches down and pulls our hearts closer to him. Beautiful things and moments are like a sneak peek into heaven for one second.
These moments should be looked for in all things and never taken as anything other than a physical and soulful connection to Our Creator. A moment of him desperately fighting for our attention.
The most powerful God moment I had when on that summer vacation was- cheesy catholic as this will sound- at mass.
We love seeing new churches on vacation and St. Francis de Sales in random little Paducah, Kentucky is now seared into my cherished memories forever.
Just like any old church, the architecture before even walking in lets you know you are walking into Greatness. Into something that will be fighting for your attention. Into something important and something sacred.
We stepped inside this story of our faith and I immediately looked like those kids in Sandlot looking up at the fireworks during their Fourth of July baseball game. My eyes became wide and then my mouth followed in awe.
St. Ignatius of Loyola is big on finding God in all things-and in this moment I was grateful to God for waterproof mascara.
Once we got to the Gloria, man I could have bawled, even ugly cried all the way through.
Hearing this beautiful version that was so reverent and classical took me to the next level and it was as if I could feel all the angels around me praising.
Beauty is powerful stuff. We underestimate its impact on our humanness way too much.
One other thing that I didn’t expect - was a personal choice I’ve just recently decided to add - taking this moment of beauty even deeper and making it more precious.
After much prayer and learning I felt the most gentle invitation from God to begin veiling.
I can not tell you how much I did not want to begin veiling. And why? Because of what people would think. I worried about judgments from all over the place. But, maybe I’ll write more on that some other time. I’ll go on with this time, this one, incredible encounter with God through his beauty in the mass and holy art...I was sitting there with tears and then my veil caught the corner of my eye. And at that moment everything that I had been learning about veiling came together. I understood His invitation.
I felt so beautiful and so loved by God in that instant. All of the ancient reasons for veiling before the Lord came rushing back to mind and my head knowledge shot straight to my heart. It was as if for a moment I saw myself as my Lord sees me...and I felt so incredibly loved.
He sees us all as a part of this beautiful plan.
We are his beauty at its’ finest. And if God, the Creator of the universe went to all these lengths...rivers and mountains, stars and gentle rain...why wouldn’t we give him our love in the same way?
Text and Images Copyright Stephanie Stovall 2019
St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis Xavier, bros.
St. Felicity and St. Perpetua, like sisters.
St. Augustine and St. Ambrose, friends.
St. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, pals.
St. Kevin, St. Comgall, St. Columba, St. Cannich and St. Kieran, all buddies (I only recently found out about this Saintly crew on St. Kevin’s feast day and was blown away by the number of Saint friends he was surrounded by!)
As we get to know the lives of the Saints we quickly see a pattern in their chosen way of life.
Saints surrounded themselves with other souls that were striving for sainthood.
Looking at one Saint you find out that they were encouraged and held accountable by friends that understood their deepest desire- God- and they committed themselves to fully living out the faith.
The Bible is full of friendships that we can learn from.
St. Peter and St. Paul teach us about true friendship through genuine accountability, even if things could get awkward.
David and Jonathan are a beautiful example of deep friendship. Fr. John Riccardo has a fabulous talk on male friendship. This is a great listen that challenges you as you reflect on your own friendships.
Looking back at my life thus far, I can clearly see the fruits from Godly friendships and how I allowed other relationships to derail me from my spiritual goals.
Great friends in college helped me to discern situations like how to spend my free time and even who I should or shouldn’t date. These friends challenged my friendship with God and set examples for me that I still strive for to this day.
After college, solid friends were hard to find. After asking God to provide good Catholic friends for me, he definitely delivered. He has provided women that have helped me make the jump from contracepting to fully committing to NFP. God has put women in my life that challenge me in my prayer life and encourage me when I just don’t feel like wasting time with God when there’s so many other things on the to-do list. They have taught me to let go of crazy ideas like- I can’t invite people over if my laundry mountain is still in my living room. These friends have helped sear in my heart the value of my miscarried babies when others were rolling their eyes at my grief.
Now as a wife and mom I have taken up praying for God to provide great friendships for my family. Of course I hope all of our boys have strong friendship within their brotherly love, but I know the friends they make out of our family unit will impact their lives greatly- and that is something that needs serious praying over.
I have prayed for God to bring my husband friendships with men that are holy and will strengthen him in his journey towards becoming the man he was created to be.
Just recently my husband and I became a part of the Domestic Churchmovement and have been so blessed with “couple friends” that are fighting to stay on the same path we’re fighting to stay on.
We were not meant to live this life on our own. We need so much help to stay the course. Finding other souls that are striving for sainthood, that arecommitted to fighting the same temptations, can truly take our spiritual lives to heights we couldn’t imagine.
“Iron sharpens iron; so one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17
Copyright Stephanie Stovall 2019
You’re walking down the streets of Hollywood, shopping bags from Rodeo Drive on your left arm and fresh Starbucks in your right hand.
You’re taking in the sights and variety of personalities walking past as you have that classic thought, “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
You reach the end of the street and gasp. There, in the middle of a city so saturated by the secular world, is a huge statue of Christ the King. Jesus is holding the world in his hand and standing tall with a crown a top his head.
You are not only mesmerized by this statue and the beautiful Church behind it, you are now puzzled by the number of people that are in a seemingly rush to the church.
You wonder if you’ve hit that sweet spot of a random mass about to begin. You follow the hurried crowds…but they are all bypassing the Church entrance.
You follow them into the Church parking lot and see a tent, chairs and banner- “Catholic Laughs”- curious, you walk up to a table with people selling tickets and ask them to fill you in on what this Church party in the middle of Hollywood is all about…
Catholic Laughs is a clean comedy show for the whole family. They feature many comedians including stand-up acts that have appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Conan and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. They have been officially endorsed by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and – bonus!-travel around the country for “Fun” raisers, conferences and other events.
I had the opportunity to talk with Carl Kozlowski, co-founder and CEO of Catholic Laughs. I was amazed when he said they’ve been averaging 300 tickets or more per show.
Their events have become a hot-ticket because of the guilt-free, quality comedy.
People are coming for the fun and staying for Truth.
An exciting outcome from this ministry of laughter has been the evangelization that takes place. Kozlowski said that at his own parish there have been 3 new additions to RCIA because of the comedy shows. People are coming for the fun and staying for Truth. They are being won over with hospitality and a rare opportunity to be around a priest in a social setting.
Kozlowski shared a story about one of his friends who was raised Hindu but after having gone to the comedy show, attended his first mass. During the moment of consecration, he was taken aback by the “glowing gold light” coming down from above the altar. At the time, he was not aware of the significance of that moment. He’s been going to mass ever since.
Catholic Laughs is a perfect of example of the New Evangelization. The group gives parishes an opportunity to shake up the people in the pews through laughter, with the hope of bringing them closer to their faith.
Fr. Don Woznicki, New Ethos, helped Catholic Laughs get started. Fr. Woznicki has a passion for promoting what is true, good and beautiful through the varying talents God bestows upon His children.
Fr. Darrin Merlino is Catholic Laugh’s spiritual advisor and aides the group in connecting with priests.
If you have an interest in bringing Catholic Laughs to your parish, you can find more information on their website catholiclaughs.com or email: email@example.com
Copyright Stephanie Stovall 2019
The last interview I was priveledged to have was with Chrissy Metz of This Is Us fame.
Metz plays Joyce Smith, the mother of a teenage boy who, after a serious accident, is pronounced dead. The movie, Breakthrough, is based on a true story, and it’s still in theaters so if you haven’t seen it yet, there’s still time!
Metz has a remarkable story herself, one that made her feel born to play the role of Joyce Smith.
Her mom experienced her own miraculous healing just months before Metz was offered the part.
The timing of my interview was of curious timing as well.
For all you This Is Us fans, I sat down with her right after the episode where Kate’s baby was born with major complications. And what did Kate do?
Spoiler! Did you know Metz was a talent agent before becoming an actress?!
IIII know! Me neither!
Watch the full interview below!
Text Copyright Stephanie Stovall 2019
Did you know that Roxann Dawson, the director of Breakthrough, is Catholic? Pretty awesome! Reading Breakthrough was the first time she read a script and said, “This is the kind of story I want to tell.”
I got a chance to chat with Roxann and the producer, DeVon Franklin about God’s hand on this project and how it came to fruition. Watch the video below!
Honestly, this movie is a great family flick. My boys reference the film All. Of. The. Time.
Christian movies have definitely come a long way - and this one does not disappoint. It’ll leave you feeling like you got to sneak a peek at the Spirit’s inner workings in our lives. This is one of those rare instances you get to see the rhyme and reason.
It’s intense. It’s light. It’s great entertainment.
Best of all, it’s some out-of-the-box God time for all.
Catch Breakthrough in theatres now!
Text ©Stephanie Stovall 2019
Have you seen Breakthrough yet?
It’s the miraculous story of a boy that fell through an icy lake, was pronounced dead and is now alive and has a major motion picture based on this event.
All because his adoptive mom, Joyce Smith (played by Chrissy Metz, This Is Us) prayed boldly.
Joyce received the call all parents dread and some strong, faithful prayers and wailing cries later, the Smith family’s life was forever changed. Joyce cried out to the Holy Spirit and the Spirit responded through a pulse in John and a newly beeping monitor.
Today, John Smith is 18 years old with a dream to become a pastor someday.
This wasn’t the dream he had before he fell into the icy waters. John was a young boy with a struggling faith and carried a hurt heart from feeling unwanted by his birth mom.
I sat down with “The Real” John Smith and was privileged to hear him share his heart on the journey he has taken to not only heal but prosper in his faith life through forgiveness.
To say that I was inspired by his words would be an understatement. As I sat and listened to this 18 yr. old going on 40, I was taught a lesson I didn’t expect to hear that day.
Watch my interview below.
Text © Stephanie Stovall 2019
Within a matter of weeks I had the ginormous privilege of attending events where the speakers were Fr. Michael Gaitley, Chris Stefanick, and Scott Hahn.
Stick a fork in me, I’m done.
I’m still living off the graces from that month of mini-retreats.
Seeing these three Catholic powerhouses, all totally different from each other, a thought really took hold of me.
I was in total awe of God’s creativity in each human being he makes.
These three men had speaking, preaching, and teaching styles completely different from each other — and they all left you with that same burning in your heart desire to commit yourself deeper to the Lord.
Fr. Gaitley’s conversational style and honesty was like a breath of fresh air.
Chris Stefanick’s enthusiasm and spunk had you wanting to jump on top of your seat shouting “Amen!”
And Scott Hahn, well, was he Scott Hahn-ing — and that deserves its own verb.
I reflected on how incredible it was to have the opportunity to share in the faith of these guys. I reflected on how amazing it was that their jobs were to bring people closer to God.
Then I thought, man, I want to bring people closer to God so badly, but I’m just not good enough.
Then, the thoughts came flooding in, I’m …
Not good enough to raise tiny saints.
Not good enough to talk about God. (Well, because I’m the biggest hypocrite there is. Only perfect Christians can be true and powerful witnesses, right?! )
And definitely nowhere near good enough to write about faith.
Not good enough.
One of the biggest obstacles in my life is this common thought.
When I step away from those thoughts and hear them as I think God would hear them … I see Him shaking His head at me, placing the palm of His hand on His forehead and exhaling an “Oh, boy. Here she goes again.” And then I hope He smiles and lightning-bolts some grace down to me.
I know better than to think this “not good enough” nonsense.
But, I just can’t help it.
In matters of anything faith-related, I feel there’s always this wall, whether it be my sin or my own crazy thoughts.
Taking a moment to sit with those negative thoughts, I am afraid they are all rooted in fear and pride.
True life-ruiners, that fear and pride.
I am fearful of coming across as a hypocrite, an idiot, “holier than thou” and any other hurtful thought a person can have of me.
All of those thoughts (that for the most part I come up with on my own) pierce my precious pride, and bam, there’s that wall again.
The bad guy wins this battle over me so many times.
I remember back to my senior year of high school, the year I let God rush into my heart for a full conversion.
Man, I was so confident that year. I call it my honeymoon year with God.
I was so on fire with the love of God, that all-encompassing love for me, that I didn’t care for a second what people thought of me. I had just found out God made me who I am on purpose, all my quirks and crazy, and that gave me all the confidence in the world. I loved Him and trusted in His love for me like a child. Nothing else mattered.
Then, lots of life and new insecurities through everything adulthood brings happened … and so many things that shouldn’t matter, matter so much.
I pray I can get back to some form of that honeymoon.
The good news is the awareness of this fear and pride and all of the buckets of grace Jesus has been sending and still has in store for me.
I pray this is only a season in my spiritual walk that I can learn and grow so much from.
I am good enough to be His true disciple, absolutely by no merit of my own, but because he has chosen me.
And that fear and pride, ain’t nobody got time for that.
Text © Stephanie Stovall 2019
Have you seen the movie posters of a boy fighting for his life under water?
Breakthrough hits theatres Wednesday, April 17, just in time for Easter. I had the opportunity to see the film and interview some of the movie’s key players. Here’s the inside scoop and glam red-carpet pics!
Catching up on his news feed on a flight from Dallas to Sacramento, Rev. Dr. Samuel Rodriguez began his journey as Executive Producer for Breakthrough; a story about a boy- John Smith- who fell through a not-so frozen lake, was dead for one hour and through the bold prayers of his mom, was miraculously brought back to life.
John is now 18 years old and sharing the story God gifted him, through the big screen. Evangelization at its’ sparkliest.
Dr. Sam read John’s story, used it in his Sunday sermon and then received a message from a woman telling him he hadn’t done the story justice. Turned out the woman was Joyce Smith, John’s adoptive mother.
The two then began a conversation that would bring them to where they are now, less than a month away from Breakthrough’s opening day.
Through a string of God moments, Producer DeVon Franklin (Miracles from Heaven) came on board the project.
“I just feel like this space really requires authenticity… I think its hard to make movies in this space if you’re not living it. I don’t know that I could produce these types of films and have an ear towards this type of content if I wasn’t out there preaching and speaking in churches regularly…I know it, ‘cause I live it. It’s not something I do for money, it’s who I am.”
Franklin preached his first sermon at 15 years old.
Roxann Dawson is the Director of Breakthrough, as well as a fellow Catholic mom.
Dawson shared that her top reasons for being a part of this movie were here beliefs and her adopted daughter.
“This was one of the first times that I could actually do a film that reflected my personal beliefs…I also have an adopted daughter and that brought me very close to how Joyce feels. I felt that I understood her and not only that, but I felt I understood John better.”
There is a scene in the movie where John reveals his challenges of being adopted through a school project and that very same project was one Dawson’s daughter had to do and happened to experience the same emotions as John. That coincidence between the film and real life spoke to Dawson’s heart.
John’s real- life Pastor Jason Noble, who stayed closely at the family’s side while John was in the hospital, gave us the dish on his rocky relationship with Joyce Smith.
In the movie their new, hip pastor vs. traditional church member drama wasn’t how it played it out in real life, but it was meant to show real world conflict that does exist inside church walls.
Noble also shared why community is so important to Christian life, as greatly showed in the film.
“ I think community is so important because we’re stronger together than we are apart…and it’s something we’ve actually lost, I think, in the church world today. People are so separated with social media…they’re more lonely than ever…Who do you have when you walk through a difficult time with? You have to do it by yourself, it’s difficult, compared to having a whole church around you walking through it.”
John Smith, 18 going on a mature 30, feels “It is a huge blessing, what else can you say, to have your story, something that God did so amazingly to my family be brought to the big screen. It’s just a huge blessing to see how this has all been God-ordained since the time I was born.”
“Breakthrough is so unique, because everyone wants to look at these God-based films and go, Oh- that’s…all cheesy Jesus… it’s another one of these stereotypical easy to predict films. This is yes, a God- based film, but you also have to realize we have science to back it up…God is the source of this whole story, but then we also have this little character behind it going- I have science, I have 300 plus medical documents to verify why I’m alive. And that helps because when I’m talking to an unbeliever… they hear that there is a… number one in his expertise of hypothermia and drowning saying that this is a bonafede miracle from God, what can you say to that? What can anyone say to that? They want to say it was the cold weather, well we have evidence to backfire that…This is such a remarkable film because we have more than just fiction, we have the truth. We have evidence. We have back up.”
Then, my fan moment with This Is Us star, Chrissy Metz who plays Joyce Smith.
Sitting down to talk with her is like sharing a cup of coffee with an old friend.
She shared an incredible story, how three months before Metz knew this movie was going to be made, her mom had a major stroke.
“They were not sure that she was going to make it through the night. There was a lot of swelling in her brain…and I just said to my sisters - We’re going to pray for healing, for the swelling to go down and we’re going to be very specific about what it is that we want and we’re going to visualize it… and only think positive thoughts about it.
I had someone come in and pray and we just sort of held a vigil… and the doctors couldn’t believe that the swelling had gone down and that she had made it through the night and she wasn’t going to have to have surgery. And they said okay, now that she’s done all this, we don’t know that she’s going to be able to walk again. And I said okay, well, you also don’t know my mom, and you also didn’t think she would make it through the night…She now walks over 10,000 steps a day… She’s now the healthiest she’s ever been.”
Don’t forget to save the date for Jesus and Breakthrough, April 17!
Copyright Stephanie Stovall 2019
Remember how at the end of Titanic no one left the theatre? The audience sat in silence through the credits, processing the tragedy they had just watched.
This night was no different, except this time the tragedy being processed was the reality of abortion.
The story was told so well, and the characters… man, their emotions became your own.
Unplanned is based on Abby Johnson’s life, as she shares through her memoir.
The transparency that Abby has given to this story is truly remarkable. Abby’s humility is one to be admired by all.
During the film my heart filled with gratitude for Abby’s openness with decisions she made in her life, but also with gratitude for the movie creators and actors that had no problem putting their careers on the line to bring Abby’s raw story to the big screen. That takes courage only the Spirit can provide. These people are warriors.
The movie left you physically and emotionally aching by the end.
After the movie there was a Q&A with producers and the actors who portrayed Abby (Ashley Bratcher) and Doug Johnson (Brooks Ryan). They were received with a standing ovation.
Bratcher shared she was offered the part and then had to be on a plane to Oklahoma five hours later.
She immediately called her husband and said, “Hey, I got the role! Um, by the way I’m leaving before you get home from work.”
She then went on through tears to tell her powerful personal testimony.
On the fourth day of being on set, Bratcher’s mom called. She decided to share with her mom where she was and the project she was working on. Bratcher wanted to be sensitive while telling her mom details about the movie, knowing her mom had an abortion as a teenager.
Bratcher’s mom broke down and went on to tell her about the day she almost aborted Bratcher.
Her mom had been sitting on the clinic bed, waiting for the procedure to begin when a very pregnant nurse walked in to examine her. Overwhelmed by seeing the nurse’s belly, her mom walked out and chose to keep her baby.
Speaking about God she says, “He plans our steps from conception.”
You could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in the room.
Brooks Ryan then shared his own story.
When he was 12 years old he was inspired by the movie Good Will Hunting to become an actor. He walked out of the theatre, “…as a 12-year old, my emotions were so moved and I was impacted in a way that I just looked up to God and to the universe and said, ‘I’m going to do that one day. I’m going to be a part of something that stirs people’s emotions like that.’”
Ryan left that stirring untouched until he was 25-years old. Feeling stuck and isolated while working in his home state of Oklahoma, he regretted not ever moving to New York or Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. Then one day he heard God say, “You’re going to do it from Oklahoma and you’re going to do it when I’m ready for you.”
Ryan then went on to share the story of God bringing him out of that isolation and to finding his wife. “She has saved me in so many ways, but she had a past of her own, including a doctor one day stopping her IVF treatment halfway because the numbers were so bad. He looked at her and he said you’re never going to have children of your own. And if you want your body to have them, you need to consider a donor, otherwise you need to consider other options.”
She shared this with Ryan early on while dating. Once they knew they were meant to be together, “I began praying over her womb every night… And here we are, in less than two years we have a 17-month-old and 5-month-old.”
The audience erupted with applause.
“ …To hold our children, life means so much to us. As we know it means so much to others. And when you watch this film and you’re a part of it, your emotions are moved unquestionably and all you want to do is reach out and just say anybody that’s impacted negatively, that it doesn’t have to be that way. People will love you, God will love you, and that there’s hope and there is mercy and there’s grace and redemption. And that’s what we want to show with this film, and that’s what Abby’s life shows us.”
But I have to say, the highlight of the entire night for me was the car ride to the screening.
I had the privilege of having dinner with Ashley, Brooks, the producers and other pro-life champions.
Towards the end of dinner, Ashley, a dear friend of mine and I struck up the beginning of a great conversation about God moments. Those little moments when God reaches down and makes a connection with us through people, circumstances and holy signs. We were so into the conversation we decided to ride together to the screening.
In the car Ashley shared her heart so openly, and what struck me the most was her unwavering faith in God.
She spoke of how she finds none of her value in her projects, but in God alone.
She has no fear of not ever working in Hollywood again after this film, because in 2012 she gave her career over to God and she knows He will take care of her either way.
Then we bonded over our love for Hallmark and I thought dang, this girl is the real deal.
At the end of the night one of the producers told us of ways we could help the film.
The number one thing that was requested was prayer.
On Facebook you can search for Unplanned Movie Prayer Team and join the cause.
They are also in need of financial help for marketing. You can go to unplannedfilm.com to donate.
Lastly, go see the movie! Get a big group together for a night out.
This movie has the ability to change hearts and save lives.
How are you going to help?
As I slowly prepare our house for Christmas and my heart for Christ’s Second Coming, I keep circling back to the words of John 1:14.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us
God, in his awesomeness decided that we were worth saving and he stooped so low as to become a baby. A flesh and blood infant, a helpless child whose only communications are whimpers and cries. I have had six babies so far and can definitively say that they can do nothing for themselves. They can’t feed themselves or clothe themselves or even wipe their own heineys. The Almighty God chose this. I can’t even fathom the love and trust that would compel Father, Son and Holy Spirit to do that. Adam and Eve couldn’t even be trusted with a piece of fruit!
Inevitably I think of the Blessed Mother after the Incarnation, how she felt and what she was pondering. What an awesome responsibility to know you are raising the Savior and what an incredible gift to be chosen out of every single woman who was, is and yet to be born. Through her “yes” the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I love that we get to celebrate her appearance to Juan Diego during Advent. I have a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother and the image she left on a humble little tilma is my favorite of her. There are many reasons I love it so much, but one special distinction is that she appears pregnant in the image. The Word Incarnate, the Blessed Fruit of her womb has taken on flesh.
In a special way I think this image asks us to allow the Word become flesh in us. Each one of us are asked to make His love manifest in our lives, to bear fruit. And one of the best ways to do that is to read Scripture. If we can be faithful to reading his Word we can better understand His great love for us and in return love him more. Great fruit will be born in our lives if we make a habit of reading His Word, but even greater graces will flow into the lives of others from our faithfulness. Mary’s motherhood was certainly a gift of crowning glory for her, but more importantly it was a gift for humanity.
Like the Blessed Mother, let us ponder his Word and let it bear great fruit for the kingdom.