Author: Debbie Herbeck

What if Today is the Last Day of Your Life?

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Debbie Herbeck recently wrote about how coming to know Christ transformed her thoughts about mortality from ones of fear into ones filled with hope. We pray her recount of her journey will bring you comfort and peace, and help you also to confront death with faith.

What if today is the last day of your life? What if today is the last day in someone else’s life that you love? What if today is the day the world ends and Jesus returns?

These are challenging questions to ponder. No one wants to think about anything good coming to an end, especially our own lives. I distinctly remember when I was ten years old, lying in my bed late at night having just received the news of my grandfather’s death. That night, for the first time in the dark of night, I also realized that one day I too would close my eyes and never awaken. I know it sounds like a morbid thought, especially coming from a ten-year-old, but it’s a reality we all must face. It was the first time someone close to me had passed away, and little did I know then, that five years later another even more painful parting would shroud our family.

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How to Love Our Daughters with God’s Heart

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This text is taken from a talk Debbie Herbeck recently to the Heart to Heart Apostolate in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Throughout the Gospels, there seems to be a growing awareness, astonishment, and even discouragement in the disciples about how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God.

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” (Mt 19:25)

As the mother of four, a long-time youth minister, and a new grandmother, I’ve had some of the same exasperated conversations with the Lord about the seemingly impossible mission—especially in this culture—of raising teenage girls to know and love Him. But every time I read Jesus’ response to his disciples (and to us), I am reminded of an essential truth:

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Mt 19:26)

Often when we are in the midst of struggles with our teenage girls, we need new eyes to see some important realities about who they are and what they are facing.

God’s Heart for Our Daughters

As much as we love our daughters, God’s love for His daughters is unconditional, unfading, and unrelenting. Whether they are succeeding or struggling, obedient or combative, He looks at them with the eyes of perfect love and sees everything that is good in them, because He created them in His image and likeness. During times of conflict and difficulty with my daughters, I have often prayed, “Lord help me to see what You see, and to love what You love.”

I distinctly remember the first time my eldest daughter walked home from the bus stop alone, got her driver’s license, made the trek home from college, and flew home after a semester abroad. All I could think of was getting her home, safe and sound. We can have lots of plans, ideas, and desires for our daughters, but the Lord has only one ultimate goal: To get His beloved daughter safely home to heaven; to live with Him for eternity.

Nothing else is more important, and God will use everything in her life and yours to accomplish that purpose. It’s easy to lose sight of this overriding goal, especially in the midst of busy teenage years. Do we primarily investing our time, money, and energy in the things that only help our daughters to be smarter, more talented, more popular, and more successful, or are we also investing in the activities, events, and relationships that can help them get to heaven?

I think it helps to check our own motivations so we can think clearly about what’s best for our daughters—not just for high school or college, but also for all of eternity.

  • Am I afraid to say no to her or correct her because I don’t want to deal with the conflict, the drama?
  • Do I want her to engage in certain activities so I can live vicariously through her?
  • Am I envious of her, or view her as my competitor?
  • Do I place too much importance on her successes (or failures) because of how they reflect on me?
  • Do my own insecurities or fears cause me to take her negative attitudes or the conflicts between us way too personally, or am I able to maintain the proper emotional distance that allows me to keep loving her, even when it’s difficult?

What’s Going on Inside Her Mind and Heart?

Every woman, young or old, desperately desires to know that she is loved and valued, beautiful and desirable; that she is good enough. In a culture that is predominantly image-driven, your daughter’s identity and self-perception are easily shaped by what/who she sees—in false images that are doctored, in celebrity lifestyles that are unattainable, and in peer relationships that are shallow and fickle.

Our daughters are in a battle, not just for their time, attention and money, but also in a spiritual battle for their hearts, minds, and souls. Daily and incessantly, your daughter hears (yes, your daughter) and believes these types of lies about herself:

I’m ugly, fat, stupid, disgusting, too tall, too short, too loud, too quiet.

I’m unlovable, unworthy, invisible, and alone.

I’m not smart enough, popular enough, holy enough, funny enough, rich enough, or good enough.

No one really cares about me, it wouldn’t matter if I lived or died; there is only one way out of my pain . . . .”

Although shocking and disheartening, as adults we need to help them identify that these lies come from the pit of hell, and teach them how to fight for themselves and one other. The intensification of the battle is evident in the confusion about identity, bullying, eating disorders, the hook-up culture, cutting, depression, and suicide. In today’s culture, if we don’t take the time and make the effort to form and shape our girls, someone else will.

Walking in Freedom

It is so beautiful to watch a young woman encounter Christ’s love for her and find freedom. What does it look like as she begins to walk in this freedom?

  • She thinks about herself less often and more about others.
  • She serves willingly and selflessly.
  • She cares less about impressing others and more about honoring the Lord.
  • She seeks forgiveness and freely forgives.
  • She uses her words to bless and not to curse.
  • Other women become her allies and not her foes.
  • She finds ways to share God’s love with others.

Like all of us who are on the path of deeper conversion and discipleship, it doesn’t happen overnight, but I know that it is possible. I personally know many teenage girls and young adult women who have encountered this Love and are living confidently and courageously as daughters of God.

Our mission as parents is a marathon, not a sprint, and we can’t grow weary or give up the fight. We cannot protect them from everything, but we also can’t stop parenting when they need it the most. We have to clearly, consistently, and lovingly set boundaries and give guidelines. Say no when you have to and yes when you can; help them understand why you are taking a particular approach to dating, media, phones, etc. It’s exhausting and often frustrating, but it’s worth it.

In this extraordinary time in the history of the world and the Church, Jesus wants to raise up warriors and saints. Let’s not be afraid or lose heart, even when our daughters seem resistant or indifferent. Let’s entrust our daughters to Him and truly believe that “with God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26).

The Most Important Job in the World

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Below, Debbie Herbeck reflects on her meeting with Mother Teresa, whose canonization is Sept. 4, 2016.

Twenty-seven years ago, I was a young wife and mother, struggling in my vocation. I loved my husband, my two-year-old daughter, and my six-month old son, but the mundane and repetitive tasks of daily life, and the powerful messages of the women’s movement, made my hidden and often thankless life as a mother seem insignificant and unimportant.

I was thrilled when Peter announced one day that we had been invited to give workshops at a large family conference in Bonn, Germany. It would be a short trip, with our nursing baby in tow, but it would give me a chance to express some of the gifts I had previously used in full-time youth ministry. Little did I know, this trip was not going to be about what I could do for God, but what He wanted to do for me.

From the moment our plane was airborne, everything seemed to go wrong. Michael cried for most of the flight, slept when everyone was awake, and was awake when we all needed to be asleep. I was exhausted, with a horrible migraine. Our luggage was broken into, with jewelry stolen, and baby food jars smashed. To top it all off, when we arrived, the conference organizers announced that they now only needed one of us to speak, and Peter was chosen. Amidst my fatigue and disappointment, I asked the Lord: “Why did I come? Wouldn’t it have been easier to just stay home?”

On the last day of the conference as we made our way to the large auditorium to hear the keynote speaker, one of the helpers stopped us. “Excuse me, but I noticed you have your baby with you. Mother Teresa would like all the mothers here with babies to sit on the stage with her as she speaks today.” Stunned, I followed her backstage and onto the stage with Michael, as Peter made his way to his balcony seat. A sea of white- and blue-clad Sisters escorted Mother Teresa down the center aisle and onto the stage.

I sat with fifteen other mothers and babies, just a few feet away from Mother. As she spoke about the dignity of the unborn child, you could have heard a pin drop. When the session ended, the same conference worker approached me: “Mother Teresa would like to personally meet each mother and baby.”

Before long, I was standing in front of Mother Teresa. As I bent forward to greet her, she pressed a Marian medal into my hand and blessed Michael with the sign of the cross on his forehead. Then a most amazing thing happened. She pulled me closer and her urgency compelled me to look in her eyes.

“Never forget,” she said, gesturing with a crooked finger, “that your job as a mother is the most important job in the entire world.”

Her words instantly pierced my heart, and I knew, without a doubt, that God had brought me to Germany to speak a word of truth that I was not able to receive at home in my kitchen. Over the years, her words and the subsequent reading I did about her life and calling, became the bedrock truth and inspiration for my vocation as a mother of four children, a grandmother, and a spiritual mother to many more. Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta pray for us, and teach us what it means to be God’s love to a world that so desperately needs it.

How Can We Live Like Disciples?

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Young people gathered around Peter and Debbie Herbeck during breaks, asking questions and desiring prayer and counsel. Image provided by Debbie Herbeck.
By Debbie Herbeck

Last month, my husband and I embarked on a three-week adventure, taking some time off to celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary in the scenic region of Umbria, Italy. From there, we traveled to West Yorkshire, England, to lead a retreat for a Catholic community that contains many members who have emigrated from Poland in the past ten years to find work.

Italy was amazing and inspiring. What’s not to love about breathtaking vistas, culinary delights, great wine, and walking in the footsteps of saints like Francis, Clare, Catherine, Agnes, Bernard, Rufino, Leo, and others? And on a more personal note, thirty years of marriage is no small feat—God’s faithfulness and steadfast love were evident all around us!

But perhaps the most refreshing and inspiring element of our trip was the time we spent with approximately 150 Polish Catholics, many of whom are in their twenties and thirties. It brought me back to the early days of my own encounter with Christ many years ago and reminded me of some of the fundamental building blocks of the life of a disciple.

Community is essential. In the midst of an often hostile culture, we need one another. This means building a life together that intentionally and practically helps us put Jesus at the center of our lives—our marriages, families, friendships, finances—everything. In a highly individualized world in which many young people have difficulty with commitment, we met young people committed to sharing their lives together in community, despite the sacrifice of their time and resources. We witnessed the beauty of a shared vision for life together and the strength and courage to live for heaven.

Hungry for more of God is how I would characterize those I met and observed during our four-day retreat. During the sessions of teaching and worship, everyone was attentive and focused, and the common distractions of cell phones were not even in sight. They had planned for and looked forward to our coming for months and it was clear from the full attendance at every session that this was the most important thing happening for them. Not because they wanted to see the Herbecks, but because they had an expectant faith in God’s action.

Groups of young people gathered around us during breaks, asking questions and desiring prayer and personal counsel. The humility and receptivity present among them was refreshing. These disciples weren’t trying to portray an image of “having it all together,” but were earnestly seeking the guidance and help of others.

A passion for souls was evident by their desire to reach the lost and their commitment to making that happen. Many young people radically converted by the Alpha course are now leading the course and helping their co-workers, neighbors, and family members also experience the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. During one prayer session, a beautiful twenty-one-year-old woman began to quietly weep. She shared with us that on the bus ride to the conference, the Lord had put His heart into hers and had given her a deep anguish for the lost.

The retreat culminated at a four-hour event on the eve of Pentecost. This vibrant community of disciples tirelessly worshipped the Lord at the vigil Mass, conducted a beautiful procession, performed a powerful drama, and adored the Lord in Adoration. And then they stayed until the early hours of the morning to clean up! The cry of their hearts was, “More Lord, give us more!”

How refreshing it is to remember that there is always more, and that the call of the Lord to His disciples is to go deeper and to imitate the Master in a life of sacrificial love. Honestly, I want to be more like them!