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

 

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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 Amazon.com.  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.

The best way to say thank you

 

My husband and his mom, sometime in the seventies

My husband and his mom, sometime in the seventies

It was gray and damp, that Thanksgiving Day in 2001, but the weather didn’t matter.  It was the day my husband proposed to me, in the middle of a hike, right before a big family dinner.  I was sitting on a log and he knelt down in the dirt and produced a ring.  I, in turn, produced incoherent babbles of surprise and joy.

We headed from the hike to my parents’ house, where we called Scott’s family and had the fun of sharing our euphoria with them.    Ever since, Thanksgiving has had a warm place in my heart.  It was a day when I had something new to be thankful for, a day when Scott’s family first became part of mine.

This year, Thanksgiving will have a different feel.  Over the holiday weekend, we’ll be having a funeral Mass for Scott’s mother Joan.  Her death was a surprise; though she was having some health issues, she was still active and vibrant.  No one expected the sudden seizure, the ten days in the ICU, the lungs that finally gave way.

Her death has given me so many things to ponder.  Not just the reality of death, or the nature of heaven, though those have been very much on my mind.  Rather, it makes me think about how we can honor the people we love and have lost.

And Joan was eminently lovable.  She was a strong woman, but it was a gentle strength, a solid core clothed in kindness and graciousness.  She donated so much time to her community; her volunteer work kept her busy, but not too busy to write thoughtful handwritten cards to family and friends.  From the first time I met her, she welcomed me with such warmth, making me feel instantly at home.

And I miss her.  Though our homes were far apart and our visits were not as frequent as any of us wished, she was so much a part of our summers and holidays.  The album of my memory is full of snapshots: Joan playing badminton with her grandsons, Joan laughing over a funny story about the boys, Joan humming as she cooked dinner in our kitchen weeks after my oldest son was born.  I remember that last memory with such fondness.  Joan was so happy to be there, visiting her new grandson, and the soup she made was a tangible expression of her love.  Taking care of others was something she did very, very well.

When I think about how to honor Joan, how best to show her that I love and miss her, the answer is clear:  I can honor her by loving her son, by being the most supportive wife I can be.  As a mom myself, I know that there is no dearer wish for a mother than to see her son end up with someone who thinks he is the cat’s meow. I think I do a decent job of showing Scott how much I love him, but the daily stresses of life can sometimes make me snappish and self-absorbed.  That’s something I’d like to change.

Because the guy who proposed to me on Thanksgiving thirteen years ago is the guy I would choose all over again, in a heartbeat.  As the holiday comes around once again, I realize that I am deeply grateful to the woman who raised him and made him the man he is.  Though I miss her, some of her best qualities live on in him.

And all this points to a simple, beautiful truth: The best way to say thank you is to love, and to love completely.

Great Thanksgiving books for kids

Christmas books for kids are easy to find. But Thanksgiving books?  Not so much.  In the area of children’s literature — as in so many things — Thanksgiving gets the short end of the stick.

But in our family library, we have two Thanksgiving books that help get all of us – myself included — into a proper holiday frame of mind.

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Thanksgiving is Here! by Diane Goode is a pretty simple, almost plotless picture book. Grandma and Grandpa host Thanksgiving for a huge, sprawling family, whose members arrive with frequent ringing of the doorbell and throw themselves right into the joyous celebration.  They help with the cooking, move the furniture, push tables and mismatched chairs together, clean up afterward, take a post-meal walk, and just generally enjoy each other’s company.

But even though the story is basic, the book is wonderfully compelling.  There’s a nice rhythm to the words, and Goode’s drawings are fabulous.  Each family member has so much personality, and the pictures of the family activities manage to capture the cheerful chaos of a huge family gathering.   My kids love this book, and I do too, because it reminds me of why I adore Thanksgiving: it’s a holiday that is all about loved ones gathering together around a table and enjoying each other’s company.  You don’t need more than that in life, really, and this gem of a book is a colorful reminder.

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Cranberry Thanksgiving by Wende and Harry Devlin is a classic from my era (written in 1971).   It’s about Maggie and her grandmother, who live in a house on the edge of a cranberry bog in New England.  Grandmother has a top-secret famous recipe for cranberry bread hidden behind the fireplace, and the plot starts to spin when they have two guests come over for Thanksgiving and one of them just might be trying to find and steal it (the cad!).

I won’t give away spoilers, but let’s just say that it’s a sweet story about not jumping to conclusions, and about not judging a book by its cover.  There’s a little theme of forgiveness at the end, too, which is nice.  And the illustrations are so colorful and charming, with that unique early ’70s picture book aesthetic. They are evocative, too; the drawings of the house by the bog always make me feel Thanksgiving-y and oddly nostalgic, even though this California girl would not know a cranberry bog if she fell headfirst into one.   It’s a darling book, and it even has a recipe for cranberry bread on the back cover … a nice touch.

Do you have any favorite Thanksgiving titles to share?  Please do!

Who says we don’t have fall in California?

Here are some photos from my wanderings in the past week.

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The tree below is a liquidambar tree; I always remember it from my childhood, because the street where my piano teacher lived was lined with them.

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When I was young, I loved to walk down her street in the fall.  The leaves were not only gloriously colorful, but they dried so nicely and made such a satisfying crunch when you waded through them.   I can still hear them, and feel them under my shoes.  Isn’t it amazing how those memories stay with you?

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Even inside the house it looks like fall, thanks to this bouquet from my thoughtful guy.

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I think my kids may be getting tired of me oohing and aahing over the beauty and color I see all around me.  On the other hand, isn’t that what moms are for — to help you develop an appreciation for the important things in life?

Happy fall!

Thought for the day

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I love this quotation.  More and more, I agree.

And on a completely different note: If you’ve ever looked up from a home decorating magazine and gazed around your house and thought, “No one in their right mind would ever write an article on THIS mess,” then you’ll enjoy my latest article.  It’s called “If a Home Magazine Did a Feature on my House,” and you can read it over at PowerofMoms.com.

Happy Friday!