Founder of CatholicMom.com says she likes to write from her treehouse
You mentioned in a past interview with Elizabeth Scalia that the virtue of generativity comes most easily for you at this stage in your life. Why is that?
I’ve been the recipient of generative love, people who went out of their way to be in mentoring, formative, generously loving and supportive relationships with me. My own parents are a prime example of that. So much of what I hold dear in my life is because they were generative in their love for me and my siblings.
I would say that now that I’m older and done with the critical years of parenting, especially with catholicmom.com, it makes sense for me to share from the perspective of “I love you and I want to help you in our journey.” Which is what women did for me when I was in those years. To do that with writers and readers is such a great blessing. Also, seeing our writers blossom and flourish, and to leave a legacy. I see the opportunity to do this in my various roles, being a cheerleader, for other women who need support and encouragement and someone to say, “this is a risk worth taking,” whether it’s in family life or professional life.
There’s a lot that could be said about that, isn’t there? Women supporting each other better? It seems to be lacking…
Women can get a bad reputation for being competitive with each other. I don’t know whether it’s the blessing of working within a Church realm, but I see my fellow workers, other web sites, other authors — we are co-workers in God’s vineyard and when we work together, to support each other, the fruit of that is we help draw people closer to Jesus Christ. So there’s no room for competition in this, we’re all hands-on-deck towards the same goal.
How do you deal with fear?
I try to assess the role my own ego has in it. Typically the times I am most fearful are when most people may not be. I’m a pretty adventurous soul and I’ve been to different parts of the world and am always in search of my next adventure. For example, I’m going to Colombia in January with Catholic Relief Services. That made my husband fearful, so blessedly he consented to it, but I have no fear about that trip. I think it’s a beautiful opportunity to share some work that’s being done in a hazardous part of our world — we need to know more about what’s happening there. But where fear comes into play for me is decisions about work types of things, and a risk I might be taking. So I have to sit back and pray about whether I fear embarrassment, or failure, or not being at my peak and what part my ego has in the hesitancy.
But more often than not, now that my children are independent, I feel very little fear in my life. I really feel that God has His hand on me, and as long as I do my best to live in a state of grace, He has me right where He needs to be. It’s really wonderful. Part of that is definitely having older children. When we’re younger mothers, so much of the way we protect ourselves is because we’re protecting our family, and our service to them. But now that my kids are more independent, I find myself increasingly taking risks I may not have taken in the past.
Speaking of risk and adventure, what did you learn during your time in Rwanda?
The Rwanda trip was an amazing opportunity. I was on a journalism fellowship with CRS to study their work with reconciliation efforts in the country. I came away with a more global perspective on the Church. So often in the United States we think about the pressing priorities that we have in our society, things that are first world issues, like raising teens in the digital age. But I met families there who were struggling just to put clean water and food on their tables.
But also this idea that in faith and through faith we can reconcile with one another and with God was a huge learning thing for me there. Conservative estimates are that half a million people were killed in the span of 100 days in the Rwandan genocide, largely neighbor on neighbor, and often in their churches or in trusted places like schools and hospitals. How a country can recover from that, and how communities can live together after something like that, is a huge lesson for us in forgiveness. And when I stop to consider that people who have been harmed by, or perpetuated, such terrible things on each other can move forward, this idea of God’s mercy and unconditional forgiveness though Jesus is so much more tangible to me than it ever was before.
What do you think is the most difficult aspect of being a Catholic today?
In a general sense, it’s understanding the teachings of the Church and then being able to effectively communicate those in a society that is shifting, evolving, changing. It’s being able to challenge ourselves to understand what the Church truly teaches, and then being unafraid of being a mouthpiece for that, in a compassionate way that reminds people that the door to Christ is open and that the Church wants to love and support people right where they are.
You’re an author, among other things. How did you discover your writing talent, and what is your writing process like?
I have to credit Ave Maria Press’s Tom Grady who took a huge risk on me in 2009 when he offered me my first book opportunity. He came to me at a large conference and invited me to go to coffee, and offered me a chance to pray about doing a book with them. My first response to him was, “I don’t know how to write a book! I can write a blog post, and I’m still learning that!” But he recognized something in my voice that he thought had merit. So I thank him for that. And also Eileen Ponder, who’s been my editor on all my non-fiction work. She’s taught me so much about understanding the value in my voice and in my experience.
Sometimes being really personal in your writing can be challenging because it means showing the flaws in yourself, but I have found time and time again that taking the risk to do that is what touches people the most. So when I get to meet people who’ve read my work, often they discuss the most personal and the hardest parts of my writing, which are the times I’ve been critically honest about my own flaws and sinful nature.
As far as my writing process, I don’t have the luxury of locking myself way; I write everywhere. I’ve written in my office at home and in lots of hotel rooms. I have a great treehouse in my backyard, that used to belong to my boys, and that’s one of my favorite places to write. I’ve got a desk up there now. I write wherever I can find a power outlet for my computer. I tend to get it all out in good first draft and then go back and refine. I try to pray before I write and then let it fly.