As a matter of fact, I just finished Jennifer Fulwiler's acclaimed new book, One Beautiful Dream.
It was a quick read for me, but that doesn't mean it was short on depth and insight and literary gravitas--trust me, that's not it at all. It's actually quite profound. It's just that Fulwiler's writing style is so fluid and entertaining--as if she's just a good friend who's telling you a story over a cup of coffee at the local Dunkin' Donuts (I'm sorry--I was going to say Starbucks, because that sounds a lot hipper; but after living most of my adult life in New England, I will always and forever be a Dunkin' gal) and making you guffaw and have coffee come out of your nose one minute and then saying something so poignant that you have to reach for a napkin to dab your teary eyes the next. If I had the confidence to think that Fulwiler would even want to be my friend IRL (as we introverted writers who have more Internet friends than flesh-and-blood ones like to say), I would sure love to meet up with her for that cup of coffee. But although that's one beautiful dream, I doubt it will ever happen!
I am currently in the middle of a beautifully written novel that I'm enjoying immensely, a soon-to be-released sequel that I've promised to read--and provide feedback--for an author friend of mine. Her name is Annette Young (one of those Internet friends I was talking about, a mom of all boys like me who lives in the far-off Land Down Under, but whom I've come to know through our mutually shared Catholic Faith and love of writing fiction). Annette's first novel, A Distant Prospect, is one of my all-time favorites, and I highly recommend it if you haven't read it yet.
I'm here to tell you that all the glowing accolades, the five-star reviews, and the enthusiastic recommendations are well-deserved. This is one beautiful book, a must-read for any woman who is trying to figure out how to employ her unique God-given gifts, talents, and passions--the so-called "blue flame" that burns within her--while simultaneously being a loving wife and mother who is fully present for and devoted to the care and needs of her family. Fulwiler shows that you really can have it all, if you let go of the need for control and truly put your trust in God's will; "it" just might look different than you thought it would. She illustrates so beautifully how some of the biggest disappointments and setbacks in life actually lead to better outcomes, how God's plan for our lives is infinitely better than anything we could ever imagine on our own.
As I read Fulwiler's book, I felt a true kinship. When she described how writing makes her feel, I wanted to yell, "Yes!" (Maybe I even did.) In her words, "When I did this kind of work, it was as if some dormant part of me came alive. It was more than just a hobby; it felt like a way of connecting to the world--the way I was meant to connect with the world." Like the author, I, too, had dreamed of writing a book (and actually having it published!) since I was a young girl in love with the written word. I, too, had spent much of my time either reading or scribbling stories in school notebooks.
But reading about Fulwiler's journey to make her dream a reality initially filled me with my usual self-doubt: why had I put my dream of writing a book on the back burner for all those years that I was raising my five sons? Why had I waited until I was almost 50, and my youngest son was starting high school, to sit down at my laptop and finally start work on my first novel (Finding Grace)? How come Jennifer Fulwiler was able to write when she was going through a high-risk pregnancy with her 6th baby in eight years, while I had to wait until my boys were mostly grown to get motivated? Where in the world was my blue flame all those years--shouldn't I have spent whatever free time I had writing?
Just when I was letting comparison (which as we know is the thief of joy) get me down, Fulwiler came to a realization in her book that resonated with me. She, too, had been guilty of comparing herself to others whose blue flames burned for different passions than hers did: first to the apparently saintly mom who chose to use her precious babysitting hours to take one of her daughters on a special a one-on-one outing to the bookstore, when Fulwiler had gone there to escape her own noisy house and write a blog post in peace; then to the serene woman from church whose home and children were immaculate and perfectly appointed at all times, when she herself was a messy housekeeper who felt like she was barely keeping it together, with a home that might be described as "warlike, loud, and sticky." But she had an epiphany when this "perfect" woman, around whom she'd always felt so inadequate in comparison, explained that she'd been an interior designer before she'd become a mother: "Style, beauty, all that stuff--it's my blue flame. I'm using my gifts just like you are," she said.
When I was a young mother, my blue flame didn't really burn for writing, not yet anyway; instead, it burned for homemaking. Keeping a house with five growing boys living in it as clean and tidy as humanly possible was a full-time job (and never fear, I did lower my standards so as not to go crazy). But I didn't really mind the cleaning or the cooking or the laundry. And I loved the decorating; I loved working to make my house as beautiful and comfortable as I could on the limited funds left over after the Catholic school tuition bills had been paid. Looking for secondhand store furniture bargains and painting and refinishing them was one of my favorite hobbies. I dabbled in sewing, woodworking, porcelain dollmaking, and doing trompe l'oeil paintings on the walls of my house--mostly of whimsical woodland creatures. When our boys' Catholic grade school opened up a preschool, the principal asked me to paint nursery rhyme characters on the walls of the halls and classrooms, and that whole process was a complete joy to me. I still dreamed of being a writer one day; but I wasn't passionate about it at that point in my life. There were other ways that I used some of the gifts God gave me during those busy childrearing years, and I felt happy and fulfilled.
But eventually, when my boys were almost ready to fly the nest and I didn't have nearly as much to do around the house anymore, I felt like it was finally time for me to realize my lifelong dream of being a writer. I was ready. I was passionate. I prayed to God, right before the beginning of a weekday morning Mass, that if I was meant to write the novel I had always dreamed of writing, He would give me the inspiration to figure out where to start...and I had such a sudden flood of inspiration, it was as if I'd been struck by lightning. The whole first chapter started taking shape right there at Mass (making it difficult for me to concentrate!). I went home and furiously typed up 20 pages of notes on my computer, and I spent the next four-and-a-half years working on Finding Grace. Like Fulwiler, I had to put my writing on hold from time to time to attend to the needs of my family; but in God's own time, I was able to finish it and--talk about a beautiful dream!--see it published.
My path to becoming an author was completely different than the one Fulwiler took--but that's why this book of hers is so wonderful: it will encourage you to be the person God is calling you to be; it will inspire you to do what you are meant to do, when you are meant to do it; and it will remind you that you should never compare yourself to anyone else, because you have something special inside that you, and you alone, can share with the world.
Get your hands on this book if you haven't yet! Jennifer Fulwiler's engaging prose will have you laughing out loud one minute, crying the next...and vowing to conquer the fears and insecurities that threaten to extinguish the flame that burns within you. Ultimately, One Beautiful Dream will inspire you to live your best life, as only YOU can, using your abilities in a way that serves God and others and fills your soul with peace and joy.
Now check out the other books you should be reading, over at A Scribbler's Heart and CatholicMom.com.