Category Archives: Blog tour

Make Today Matter by Chris Lowney, as seen by an introvert

Spring’s a busy season.  These days, when it comes to spiritual books, I’m looking for something of substance that I can read in short bursts of free time: between work and picking up the kids, say, or during breaks from grading my towering stacks of papers.

Make Today Matter: 10 Habits for a Better Life (and World) by Chris Lowney is just the ticket.  I’m loving this book: it’s short and sweet, well-written and wise.

As the title indicates, the book looks at ten habits that can improve your life. These habits do not involve drinking more water or planking (both of which, I should add, I’m still trying to do more of).  This book is about your spiritual and emotional life, not your physical life … and yet if  we work on living the best life we can, Lowney demonstrates, everything else – our work, our relationships, our world – will benefit.

Lowney’s a thoughtful guy with quite a resume:  a former Jesuit seminiarian who now chairs the board of one of the country’s major hospital systems. You can tell he walks the walk.  This book is written with heart and conviction and even people who don’t like overtly “religious” books will like the practical, conversational tone of this one.  There’s lots to chew on here, and all sorts of great stories.

For example, Chapter Four is titled “Give Away Your Sneakers: Help Someone Today.”  Lowney opens the chapter with the story of an emergency room doctor who one day treated a homeless patient, a man who had no shoes.  Just as the patient was about to be discharged, the doctor took off his own sneakers and gave them to the patient, so he would not have to go out into the night barefoot.

Lowney cites this as an example of the fact that throughout our day, we have so many little moments where we intersect with people who are in need.  Maybe they need shoes, spare change, a hug, a listening ear, someone to hold the door open for them, or just someone to look into their eyes and see them.  And yet a lot of us – myself included, ahem – don’t take these opportunities.  “Some inner demon – a fear, an insecurity, a bad habit – holds us back,” Lowney writes.  This even happens when what we are called to give is far less than the shoes off our feet.  Sometimes, we don’t take the opportunity even to give a simple “hello” to another person.

This chapter resonated with me and made me think.  I realized that my missed opportunities often have to do with something fundamental to my nature:  my introversion.

I often say that I’m an introvert who does a good job of pretending to be an extrovert (this is not uncommon among teachers, I’ve learned).  But since I give so much energy to my students  – and as a mom, to my own children – I sometimes don’t want to give it to anyone else.  There are days where all I want to do is go hunker down alone and not talk to anyone … even someone who looks like he or she needs a little recognition or affirmation.

I like how Lowney’s book challenges me to look squarely at this tendency, and to consider its role in the little choices I make and opportunities I don’t take.  How much does it cost me to pause and greet, say,  the substitute teacher who is in the lunch room sitting alone?  Not much, and yet it can mean a lot.  A few minutes of chat – “Who are you subbing for?  How is it going?” – is a way of providing welcome to someone who may be feeling like the odd woman out in a group of clubby teachers who all know each other.  It doesn’t cost me much, really, but it can change the mood of someone’s day.  Mine too, honestly.  It’s a little habit I’m trying to adopt lately.  I’m grateful that this book helped get it on my radar.

Anyhow, if you’re looking for a quick but rich read, check out Make Today Matter.  It’s a gift to all of us — introverts and extroverts alike.

Blog tour: “Wholehearted Living: Five-Minute Reflections for Modern Moms” by Jennifer Grant



A few years ago, frustrated by my inability to add  prayer to my busy morning routine, I came up with the perfect solution.  I call it “prayer by stealth.”

It involves pouring myself a cup of coffee and taking it back to my room and closing the door.  The kids don’t bother me because they assume I’m getting dressed for the day, which I am – but before I do, I sit down with my warm mug at the prayer table and take five minutes to read something.  Sometimes I read the Mass readings for the day; sometimes I open a devotional book.  Whatever it is, those five stolen minutes restore my soul, a soul that – in the way of most modern moms – is already harried at 6:45 AM.

So when I read the introduction to Jennifer Grant’s new book Wholehearted Living: Five-Minute Reflections for Modern Moms, I thought to myself: She gets it.

Grant writes:

Wholehearted Living is a book of short, daily readings for women whose season in life affords only limited time for contemplation.  It’s a “pause” button for mothers who want to take a break from talk of juice boxes and snow pants in favor of confronting their fears or reconnecting with their dreams.

It’s for moments when you feel drawn toward the divine, as well as for those times when you feel like your frailties are holding you captive and you really just want to stand in the corner, face the wall, and scream.

Oh, yes.  She gets it.

This is a terrific book, this collection of daily meditations.  I like it for its accessible structure: there is one page-long reflection each day, with a meaningful quotation and an invitation to take the subject of the reflection into your daily routine.  I like it for its focus on real mom-life, with all the joys and challenges thereof.

Most of all, I like it because Grant – a mother of four  – doesn’t  focus every entry on the experience of motherhood.  She has entries that cover other areas of  life, including friendship, spiritual life, marriage.

This speaks to me.  We moms are more than just moms; we are women trying to honor and nurture the other roles in our lives as well.  Often, these other roles are given short-shrift, lost in the day-to-day demands of parenting.  Grant’s insightful reflections affirm that we are also dreamers, friends, aunts, sisters,  pray-ers, romantic partners.   The result is a book that is wonderfully affirming of all the many facets of a woman’s life. (And because I myself am on the other side of forty, I really appreciate that the book reflects the experiences of a mom in midlife.)

All in all, Wholehearted Living is  both inspiring and down-to-earth, a book that meets modern moms right where they are.   It’s a book that is full of heart, yes — but it’s also full of brain, and wit, and soul. Highly recommended.

Wholehearted Living is available through the Loyola Press website, on Barnes and, and on  

Blog Tour: An Interview with Laura Kelly Fanucci, author of “Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting”



It’s hard to remember exactly how Laura Kelly Fanucci and I got to know each other all those years ago. I think one of us left a comment on a third party’s blog, and the other one of us clicked on the link, and somehow in the wonderful web of serendipity that is the Internet, two mother-bloggers became friends.  File this online encounter under the heading “Proof that technology can seriously enrich your spiritual life.”

Because Laura is not only one of my favorite spiritual bloggers (you can find her brilliant posts at MotheringSpirit), she has also written a  drop-dead gorgeous book about motherhood and faith.  It’s called Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting, and has just been published by Liturgical Press.  Laura looks at the hands-on reality of parenting little ones (birthing a baby, taking a toddler cross-country, tackling the dirty laundry, bathing a newborn) through the lens of the seven sacraments of the Catholic faith.  It’s written with sensitivity and honesty and beauty and, yes, grace – and it is guaranteed to make you look at your faith and your family life in a new light.

Can you tell I’m a fan?  It’s an honor to be the first stop on her blog tour and to kick it all off with an interview about writing and faith and the people who inspire her most.  Welcome, Laura!

Give us the three-sentence description of your book.

Everyday Sacrament is a spiritual memoir-meets-parenting memoir. It’s a sacramental theology from the ground up – the messy ground of family life that is both hard and holy. And it’s the story of how I met God as a new mom, on the long days and in the lovely moments, too.

Which sacrament was the easiest to write about through the lens of motherhood? 

 Eucharist was the easiest sacrament for me to write about, not only because this sacrament is central to my Catholic faith but because so much of motherhood in its early years revolves around feeding children! When I have been pregnant or nursing, I often thought about what it means to give of ourselves in love to nourish a child. So I encounter Christ in powerful ways when I can see how the sacrament of Eucharist at Sunday Mass nourishes me as a mom to feed my children in turn.

Writing a book is often a long process from start to finish, and of course kids grow up during that time.  Are there any new “sacramental moments” you are seeing with your oldest son at the age he is now?

Sam started school full-time this year, and it has been a good and growing transition for him and for us as parents to help him take steps into a wider world. I see glimpses of confirmation in the way his new school community notices and nurtures his gifts. And I see his joy in joining a group of peers and learning what it means to be a friend. All of that is holy work, even for a five year-old!

As a mom of three young children, how do you find the time to write? (every mom wants to know the answer to this one!)

I write well early in the morning, so I often try to wake up at 5 am to get in 1-2 hours of writing before the kids start to stir. Many Saturday mornings I steal away to a coffee shop to write, which gives my husband time alone with the boys as well. (Everyone wins!) I’ve learned to write in my head, while nursing the baby or making dinner, and I’ve learned to carry around a journal at all times for wherever I can fit in a few minutes to jot down an idea for a blog post or a new project.

Also, I really slack off on cleaning the house. And I don’t go to the gym. You have to give something up to make time for writing!

Who are the mothers who inspire you?

My own mom, of course. She is one of the most generous, kind, and loving souls I have ever known. My sister inspires me, too, because she has always been so intentional about meeting her kids at each stage as they grow. I’m also inspired by friends whose children have special needs, whose journey through motherhood has been rockier than they expected but who have embraced it with deep love.

And Mary the Mother of God, too. I have grown in my love for Mary in surprising ways over the past few years, and I call on her help in the “crunch” moments when the chaos gets crazy. Her presence is a welcome peace.

Who are the writers who inspire you?

I have so many favorite poets and novelists, but for writers whose work inspires me to bring questions of faith alive in a fresh way, my favorites would be Anne Lamott, Brian Doyle, Kathleen Norris, Ann Patchett and Wendell Berry.

Many of my readers come from other faith backgrounds.  What would you say to a reader who says, “This sounds interesting, but I don’t know anything about the Catholic sacraments.  Will this book relate to me?”

 Even though the subject matter might seem strictly Catholic on the surface, I tried to write the book with an ecumenical heart in the hopes that Christians of many backgrounds might find echoes of their own experiences of God. I think the amazing thing about sacraments is how they lift up the holiness of ordinary objects and actions – bread and wine, water and oil, washing and eating. So many of us hunger for mindfulness in the present moment, regardless of our faith traditions. The sacraments point us back towards the power of practices that centuries of believers have found to be sacred encounters with the divine, which can inspire any of us who have seeking hearts.

What is one of the greatest blessings that has come into your life through your writing?

Writing has brought me greater clarity about my own callings. When I graduated from theological studies, I wrestled with how I would balance ministry with motherhood. As I started writing to make sense of my questions, I discovered that I found God in words. So writing helped me make sense of my work in theology and my work as a mother – and opened me up to how these callings might combine in creative ways. I’m still sorting through these questions, but I’m much more at peace with where God is leading.

If you’re interested in reading Everyday Sacrament (and you should – seriously, it’s fabulous), you can purchase it on the Liturgical Press website, as well as on  It’s a super Christmas gift for any new mom or mom-to-be… and it makes a great gift for yourself as well!  And be sure to visit Laura’s blog Mothering Spirit so you can follow the rest of the stops on the blog tour.

Blog tour for “Angels and Saints” by Scott Hahn, with thoughts on saints in general (and one saint in particular)


Coolest bracelet ever (each medallion is a different saint).

Coolest bracelet ever (each medallion is a different saint).  Also cool: there’s a book giveaway at the end of this post.

It’s fair to say that the saints and I have had an interesting history.  As a kid with a vivid imagination, tales of gruesome martyrdoms positively freaked me out.  For years,  I assiduously avoided books about the saints.

But as an adult, I’ve grown to see the saints as friends.  I ask my favorites  to pray for me in the same way I might ask a buddy to do.  I read about their lives in the same way I would read about the life of a writer or artist I admire: because it’s fascinating to learn how someone grew into the person they became, and because their lives inspire me to achieve my own full potential.  And the  thousands of different saint stories all  bear witness to a fundamental truth: each of us is unique, and each of us has our own unique path to travel.  There is not simply one way to be holy.

So I’m always on the lookout for good books on the saints.  Dr. Scott Hahn’s new book Angels and Saints: A Biblical Guide to Friendship with God’s Holy Ones is one of them.


Angels and Saints
is an edifying read that does a few unique things.  First of all, it explains the traditional understanding of saints and angels in light of Scripture, which is not something I’ve seen in other books.  Secondly, it talks about various practices with regards to the saints, explaining the concept of “patron saint” and what that whole relic thing is all about (if you’ve ever visited European churches, you’ve surely wondered about that.  I know I did.)

What I enjoyed most of all was how Dr. Hahn devotes the last half of the book to telling the stories of a  sampling of different saints and angels throughout the centuries.  One of them is St. Maxilimian Kolbe, often called The Saint of Auschwitz.


Kolbe was a Polish priest who was arrested by the Gestapo and ultimately taken to Auschwitz.   On a July day in 1941, the guards found that one of the prisoners was missing and presumably had escaped.  In retaliation, they randomly chose ten prisoners to die by starvation.  One of them, Franciszek Gajowniczek,  instantly cried out for mercy, asking what would happen to his wife and children if he were killed.  Hearing him, Kolbe suddenly stepped forward and offered to take his place.

The guards agreed, and Kolbe and nine other men were sealed up in the starvation bunker.  He died on August 14, 1941.

I first heard this story in the early eighties, around the time that Kolbe was canonized.  As a Polish-American, I felt connected to him that way, but though my young mind could intuit the astonishing sacrifice he’d made, there was so much of his story that I simply couldn’t grasp as a child.

I couldn’t grasp the enormity of evil that was Auschwitz.  I had no sense for what a slow, agonizing death starvation must have been.  I couldn’t fully understand the terror of being sealed up in a dark place in the knowledge that you would never leave it.   Now, I think I have a clue, and the man’s courage staggers me.

But it’s as a mother that this story resonates with me most.  Kolbe’s sacrifice was prompted by Gajowniczek’s agonized cry of distress about leaving his family.   Kolbe must have realized, in that brief moment, that the death of a father would also mean the destruction of a family.  It would mean a wife without a husband and children without a father.   He died not just for a man right in front of him, but also a woman and children he would never see.  As a wife and mother, I can’t begin to verbalize what that action would mean to me.  Some kinds of gratitude can’t be captured in words,  just as some kinds of heroism can’t be captured in words, either.

Franciszek Gajowniczek survived the war.  His wife did too,  though tragically, both  his children were lost in a Soviet bombardment in 1945. He was present at the canonization of Fr. Kolbe in 1982, and until his death at age 94, he did what he could to speak about and honor the man who volunteered to take his place.

As I read this chapter of Angels and Saints and reflected on Kolbe’s story, I thought about how it’s a story of  sacrifice writ large, as large as it can possibly be.  It’s a story of extreme courage, extreme charity, and it’s one glimpse into the goodness that we  humans are capable of. Perhaps each saint shows a different kind of goodness, some small facet of the overall picture of a human being at once fully realized and fully holy.   I’m very glad that Dr. Hahn wrote this book, shedding more light on the thousands of men, women, and angels who make up the “great cloud of witnesses” and inspire us to our own goodness.

In telling Kolbe’s story, many invoke John 15:13 : “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  In the case of Maximilian Kolbe, perhaps “friends” can best be replaced with “a stranger and his family.”

But on second thought, maybe the verse is fine just as it is.  Perhaps one mark of a saint is that there are no strangers, only friends.

Angels and Saints is published by Image Books, who has generously offered to give away a copy to a lucky winner.  Enter using Rafflecopter below.  Entries close at the end of the day on June 10th.  

HOW TO ENTER: After entering name/email address (or signing in with Facebook), click on the button that says +1.  A window that will pop up saying “Leave a comment.”  You don’t actually have to leave a comment; just click on the button saying “I commented”, and you’re entered!

And if you’d like to visit the other stops on the blog tour — each one featuring a reflection on a different saint — check out the full list here.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Blog Tour: Interview with Vinita Hampton Wright, author of “The Art of Spiritual Writing”


Today, I’m thrilled to help kick off the blog tour for Vinita Hampton Wright’s new book The Art of Spiritual Writing: How to Craft Prose That Engages and Inspires Your Readers.  I’m excited to share this book for a few reasons:

1) Vinita is a terrific writer who writes both fiction and non-fiction (check out her list of books here).

2) She’s a fabulous editor, with two decades of experience in the field of spiritual writing (I was lucky enough to work with her on Random MOMents, and she made the editing process not only edifying but downright enjoyable).

3)  This  wise little book is perfect for writers who are putting their spiritual journeys on paper and want some expert guidance to help make those stories publishable.  As Vinita explains in the book, spiritual writing that is meaningful to the author is not always writing that is marketable.   If you have a story to tell, and you want to know how to tell it so it resonates with others, this book is for you.  Read on for a preview, and for a taste of Vinita’s writing and editing wisdom.

Tell us about how you came to write this book.  

My colleague and our acquisitions editor, Joe Durepos, asked me to write it. He wanted a book that gave straightforward help to writers. Actually, I think he was tired of sending out tidbits that I’d written on this and that—he would help a writer by sending my file on the difference between personal and public writing, or on something else.

As a preview, what is one bit of advice you offer in the book?

No one needs an excuse to write; so many people seem to need permission or validation, but writing is first of all a personal act, and if a person wants to write, she should just do it. However, any writing meant for public consumption must go through a process, and that’s where many writers fall short. The book is a manual about that process.

As an editor, you probably receive book proposals from many bloggers.  How does  blogging  benefit writers who ultimately want to write a book?

A good blogger knows how to get to the point, how to organize material so it’s easy to follow and easy to read, knows how to come up with a compelling title or first line. Good writing must be organized, concise, and interesting.

Does a background in blogging ever get in the way of crafting a strong manuscript?

If you’re used to writing everything in small bits, you have to change gears sometimes to develop a thought into more depth and length. And bloggers use their own voices in writing, whereas, depending on the book, the author’s voice may not be the primary voice. Or at least the author’s voice can’t be as casual as we usually are when we blog.

You’ve been an editor for about twenty years.  How has the “spiritual writing scene” changed in that time?

It’s possible now for any person to put her writing out there for others to read. This can be good in terms of exposure to potential readers, but that means that a lot of material is available that is not well-written and in many cases it’s not been edited. Spiritual writing has become more personal; twenty years ago, many spirituality books were designed to teach—they were more left-brained and formal. Now “authentic” is the buzzword, but unfortunately, to some people “authentic” really means unseasoned and unskilled writing that is emotionally expressive. We need the balance between personal and universal. We also need balance between mere experience written down and experience reflected upon and written with skill.

You yourself write both fiction and non-fiction/spiritual books.  What are the unique challenges of each genre?

Non-fiction can develop tone problems pretty easily. If I use “I” it sounds self-centered; “you” can sound preachy, and “we” patronizing. The wrong vocabulary can shift the tone to too formal or too pedantic or too slang. Fiction is much more demanding, I think, in terms of craft. I might stick with a non-fiction book if the writing is so-so but the information is helpful. If I’m not already captured by page 5 of a novel, then I’ll just put it down and find something else. So I sweat a lot more when I’m working on fiction. And creating a good plot is not an easy thing.

Name one spiritual writer you think is a master craftsman/woman.

I’ve been a fan of Emilie Griffin; her book, Turning, about conversion, was a life-changer for me years ago.

Are there challenges to editing spiritual books that don’t come up with more secular books?

Good writing has the same qualities whether it’s about the Catholic faith or about hiking the Rockies. But I think our religious cultures have encouraged people to put on a good public face, even when they are suffering. So sometimes I must push a writer of spirituality to get more honest and write the fuller truth. It’s not our job to make God look good or to protect the reputation of an organization, such as the church. Yet we do get pressured in that direction sometimes.

St Ignatius of Loyola famously wrote that you can find God in all things.  One of my favorite parts of the book was when you list all the ways that God is present in the writing life (even during the challenging times).  When you were writing this book in particular, where did you find God in the process?

I found God in my own reserves of wisdom and experience. I really didn’t think we needed a book like this—I couldn’t imagine what I would put in it that hadn’t been said many times in many other places. But once I began, all the good stuff bubbled up, and I realized that God had gifted me with an editing and writing career and that these gifts must be shared.

Do you have any favorite patron saints for your creative life?  

I so admire Hildegard of Bingen, who was creative on multiple fronts, who was unafraid to be who she was and to use whatever gifts she had.

Name three qualities you think are essential  to have if you want to write about spirituality.

1) You must be living what you plan to write about. 2) You must be willing to write a lot and maybe for a long time before any of the material is usable in published form—that is, you must be patient. 3) You must be unafraid—of who you are and what you know, and of what must be written.

The Art of Spiritual Writing is available at, Barnes and, and   (If you aren’t familiar with Vinita’s blog Days of Deepening Friendship, check it out — it’s always a rewarding read.)