Monday, April 16, 2018

Good Enough is Good Enough Blog Tour: Q&A with Colleen Duggan

We are in the middle of Colleen Duggan's blog tour for her new book, Good Enough is Good Enough. Today I am sharing a Q&A with Colleen.

Q: In your book you give glimpses into some of the mentors who have benefited you as you navigated different phases of motherhood. What can you share about finding good mentors to support us along the way?

A: In my own life, I’ve been very fortunate to have found good counselors and spiritual directors. Finding these mentors to help me, however, took prayer, time and energy.

It didn’t happen overnight. 

If you desire some kind of support, I encourage you to begin praying for the right people and if someone comes to mind, approach them and ask them if they can assist you.  Give it a few sessions and if the determine the person isn’t a perfect fit, discern if God has someone else in mind.  There is a bit of trial and error in assembling a support team.  Ultimately, you want to feel comfortable with whoever it is you are working.  They will learn lots of private information about you and it’s important that you trust them. 

Some suggestions:

If you think you might benefit from a counselor, you might check out the Pastoral Solutions Institute.  They offer both telecounseling and spiritual direction over the phone.  Phone sessions can be less threatening than face to face sessions, especially at first. 

To find a therapist in your area, check out to identify trained therapists in your area who might be able to help you with the particular problems you are facing. 

Finding a spiritual director can be a little more challenging.   The job of a spiritual director is to help us sort out our relationship with God and notice the workings of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  They can also help us identify the best kinds of prayer routines given our personalities and temperaments.  It’s important to remember a spiritual director is not a counselor.

If you desire to find a good spiritual director, Father Larry Richards suggests thinking about a priest who loves the Eucharist.  If that priest is reverent and devoted to Jesus through the Sacrament of the Eucharist, they will probably be a good help to you. 

This tip has certainly proven true for me:  good spiritual directors truly love Christ in the Eucharist. 

Q: Writing honestly about our own lives requires vulnerability. What helped motivate you to move beyond that vulnerability in order to share your story? 

A: When I was a young mom, I desperately wanted a safe space to talk about the sufferings I experienced:  issues surfacing in my marriage, feelings I didn’t anticipate I would have when I became a parent (frustration, surges of anger, worry, fear, etc.), unhealthy habits (poor food habits, poor sleep cycles, drinking too much caffeine, exercising too much or not enough), and even parenting conundrums I didn’t know how to handle. 

I grew up surrounded by addiction and I felt emotionally weighed down by that experience, but I also struggled with some of my own unhealthy behavioral tendencies.  I needed someone to talk to about the struggles I was experiencing, but often when I opened up with the people around me, I often didn’t share appropriately, or the other people couldn’t really hear me because of their own sufferings, or people felt compelled to “fix” me (or give advice!) instead of listening to me with care and empathy.

I felt alone (and the reality was that I wasn’t alone because many people struggle in their marriages and parenting) but when I did share, I felt judged, isolated, and misunderstood.   

I’m a verbal processor, I know what I think once I say it out loud, but I didn’t have a safe place to say things, so I walked around thinking,

“I must be the only one who struggles like this; It must be just me.” 

As I grew in my faith, sought counseling and spiritual direction and frequented the Sacraments, however, I experienced personal healing from deep wounds.  As I got older and grew a little more confident in my vocation, I realized how Satan exploits the notion and sways us to believe that we are alone in our familial challenges.   

After years of direction and counseling, I couldn’t deny the freedom, peace and healing I felt when I brought my struggles into the light and examined them under trained guidance. This work aided my realization that I wasn’t alone, that other people struggled too but many of them were like me, convinced they were the only ones. 

I wrote this book so struggling Catholic parents would know there are other parents struggling too, and that God is there, patiently waiting to heal them and give them hope.

Another reason I wrote so openly about my own struggles is because many Catholics are very weary of sharing the Real Deal.  We always have the notion of perfection floating around in the back of our brains and we are weary of giving scandal to others if we share our sinful tendencies or bad habits. 

But we all sin and have bad habits.

It does no one any good to pretend otherwise. 

Sometimes I think well-meaning Catholics actually alienate others because we are so afraid to share the good, the bad, and the ugly that we never engage in the kinds of helpful dialogue needed to help us move forward.  We stay in hiding and therefore stay stuck in sinful tendencies, bad habits, wounds and secrets. 

We forget that we aren’t saints yet! 

I was so honest in my book because I want the mother feeling the effects of woundedness from her family of origin to know she’s not alone, that she can get help, that there are safe people in the world with whom she can share her heart. 

I want to encourage those really struggling in their vocations to seek help both inside and outside the church.  I want them to know healing is possible and we don’t have to stay stuck in our sin or our woundedness. 

Q: In my own prayer life, I have realized non-negotiables. Can you share a little bit about the rhythms and routines of your current prayer practices? 

A: I think it’s always tricky business to share prayer routines because our lives are all so different.  This is why having a spiritual director is so helpful for me.  If he sees that I’m trying to do too much or not enough, he recommends an adjustment to the routine. He knows me well, knows my life situation, and generally his suggestions are appropriate. 

That said, I’m the kind of person who breaks out into sweats when I see in bullet point form the Lenten practices or elaborate liturgical family celebrations and even prayer routines of others. 
I think it’s important not to make our Catholic faith a series of practices we check off like a to-do list.  It’s good to have a habit of prayer but that habit needs to be grounded in growing our relationship with God, not motivated by our desire to feel like a Super Catholic.

While the prayer recommendations/suggestions found in books and blogs are meant to be helpful (and often are to the readers!), I think there is a danger in looking at a list of suggested prayer practices and seeing only those things I’m not doing (and therefore failing at). OR I see that list and I feel smug, accomplished, and maybe a tad spiritually superior because I’m able to tackle most of what’s suggested. What can I say?  I’m a very limited person.

Consequently, I won’t outline for you when I pray and how.  I will say that I have certain prayers I consider foundational to life and all of these have been assumed under the guidance of my spiritual director.  They fit my life and work for me.  Whether these will work for you or not, that’s up to you to pray about and discern.
  • Lectio Devina:  daily reading and meditation of the scriptures.  This practice has been instrumental in cultivating my relationship with God, knowing his will for me in my daily life, and begging the graces from him to fulfill his call.
  • Regular Confession: This will look different for everyone but at this point, we try to go as a family twice a month.
  • Exam of Conscience:  I use this book recommended to me by my spiritual director and I love it.  The important part of the examination for me is recognizing the GOOD in my day first: the blessings God showered upon me (an encouraging word from a friend, a random act of kindness from my husband) BEFORE I look at my sin. 
  • Participation in regular prayer groups/bible studies
  • Regular spiritual direction
Q: I loved the section where you addressed the dangers of the negative impact an over-emphasis on academic pressure and too many extracurricular activities can have on families. I recently reflected on struggles with setting and maintaining boundaries with how I use my time in comparison with others' decisions but ultimately realizing that I have to decide based on what I know is healthy for my family and for me. What do you think has been the hardest part about being able to make your own decisions rather than what seems to be typical or expected? 

It's so hard to ignore the Jones’s!  We all want what’s best for our kids and it’s easy to get swept up into the idea that Rocket Camp or The French Club or a trip to the South of France might be just the thing to grow their life experience and minds.

And maybe those things will do that? 

But I wonder about the effects some of these demanding extracurriculars have on the family—how it limits the time we spend together, the number of meals we have together in the evening, and how it erodes a peaceful lifestyle in favor of a frenetic, demanding one. 

Extracurricular are a great tool to hone a child’s skills but if we aren’t careful, they can slowly eat away at family time. 

I’m not against extracurriculars but as a family we are selective about how we spend our time.  When considering a specific activity for one of our six children, my husband, John, and I ask ourselves these questions in order to determine if the sport/club is a good fit: 
  1. Do we have the money right now for this particular extracurricular activity and the accompanying equipment to participate in the activity (for us this means, can we pay for it out of our pocket and not put it on a credit card or rob Peter to pay Paul)?
  2. What is the benefit of this activity for this child?  What are the downsides of his/her participation?
  3. Do we have the time for it right now?  (This entails a realistic look at the calendar of events and our other commitments.)
  4. If we commit, will we have the emotional and physical energy left over for the rest of our children and for our marriage, which is our number one priority.

Q: You mentioned that "God calls all families to love, follow, and serve him, but the way in which he calls us to do it looks different for everyone." Can you summarize some of your tips on being able to discern God's will for your life/your family's lives?

A: Discernment requires silence and prayer.  It requires listening to the movements of God in your soul in order to determine if He is calling you towards one thing or another.  Discernment also requires we pay attention to those situations, conversations, experiences, which bring us peace and those that don’t.

What is God calling your family to? 

Only you can answer this question and the answer to this requires prayer and silence. It requires discussion with your spouse and your family members. Once you’ve spent a significant amount of time in prayer and in discussion, I encourage you to write these things down and put them in a family mission statement.  Then, evaluate everything in light of that mission statement. 
Should we go on this vacation?  Well, does the trip fit within our family mission?
Should we enroll the kids in this school?  Does the school fit within our family mission?
Should we put the kids in spring baseball?  Does spring baseball fit within our family mission?
There will be pros and cons to every decision you make in life, but I find that when both spouses are united in their vision for their family and they have defined the mission concretely, it makes decision making much, much easier.

Thank you Colleen for sharing your insights with us! You can find information about other stops on the blog tour here

Friday, April 6, 2018

Good Enough is Good Enough Blog Tour

Colleen Duggan's new book, Good Enough is Good Enough has recently been released. Next week a blog tour for the book will begin. Here is a quick glimpse into the blogs that are participating. 

April 11: Sarah Reinhard, Snoring Scholar, review
April 12: Rita Buettner, The Catholic Review blog (Archdiocese of Baltimore)/Open Window, interview with Colleen
April 13: Sterling Jaquith, Coffee and Pearls
April 14: Katie Sciba, The Catholic Wife, interview with Colleen
April 15: Mary Lenaburg, Mary Lenaburg Blog
April 16: Amanda Villagómez, Focusing on the Core, interview with Colleen
April 17:  Michele Faehnle, Divine Mercy for Moms, Excerpt
April 18: Ginny Kochis, Not So Formulaic
April 19: Allison Gingras, Reconciled to You, review
April 20: Erin Franco, Humble Handmaid

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Created to Relate

Last summer Kelly Wahlquist was a speaker at a women's conference at our diocesan retreat center. I enjoyed seeing glimpses into her story and the bends her life has taken - areas where she was called to trust greatly and step forward in faith and moments when the Holy Spirit gave her just the right words at just the right moment. While reading Created to Relate: God's Design for Peace and Joy, I recognized some familiar anecdotes from her talks at the conference, along with additional details and thinking that could not be captured within the time allotted for her talks. I enjoyed being able to have the combination of revisiting some of her thinking, while also having extensions on those thoughts. I could also picture her energetic personality sharing the stories.

The book focuses on relationship to God and to others. While exploring how women relate, Wahlquist made biblical connections to highlight how women are created and different examples of how that can look in different contexts. She gives examples of Lectio Divina and then scaffolds that process for readers, in order to consider implications from the Bible for our own lives.

In her acknowledgements I love that Wahlquist expresses gratitude for Jeff Cavins, saying, "for opening my heart to a deeper relationship with the Lord by introducing me to a love of Sacred Scripture; for recognizing a gift in me that I didn't know I had; for encouraging me to work in that gift; and for creating an opportunity for me to do so by hiring me to literally 'build relationships.'" (Loc 91-95). This made me think about my own journey, considering people and experiences that have helped me to grow closer to God, to love his Sacred Scripture and the Sacraments in his Church, to bring strengths to the surface and to reflect on how God would like to use them. Woven throughout the book is reflecting on individual journeys and discerning God's will for our lives, with examples from her life to understand how the process can work. There is attention to our universal call that unites us, as well as unique differences.

Her experiences resonated with me and helped me to reflect on my own life. I especially loved the layers of seeing how she grew in trust over time by being open to unexpected changes in her life, to the plans she had envisioned for herself. She gives authentic glimpses into all the emotions that can be wrapped up in the process of on-going discernment and trust through the different bends in life. As can be noted in her note of gratitude shared above, the book progresses naturally by thinking first about her relationship with God and then spanning out to how God can use her as an instrument in relating with others built on the foundation of relationship with him. She also shows how an on-going investment in relationship with God is critical throughout our lives. I enjoyed seeing more glimpses into Wahlquist's life and thinking through reading her book. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Loved as I Am

I have been familiar with glimpses into Sr. Miriam James Heidland, S.O.L.T.'s story from Share Jesus videos. Last December I listened to a talk from Sr. Miriam on Formed. In it she mentioned her book Loved as I Am: An Invitation to Conversion, Healing, and Freedom through Jesus, as well as how she has been praying through 40 Weeks and highly recommended it.

I began reading 40 Weeks that same month and finally got her book this month. Loved as I Am is a quick read at 100 pages. but with a lot to ponder. Each chapter begins with a couple of quotes - one from an author, such as C.S. Lewis and another from The Bible. She ends her chapters with a prayer and questions for reflection. The book follows a natural progression of healing, showing how her life up to a certain point unfolded at key moments.

It was interesting to begin 40 Weeks first both because I could see why she would love the book but also because it gave me an example through the life of another of how the healing process works that I have been pondering as I read 40 Weeks. I appreciate the sense of hope through reading about her journey in progress.

As a mom navigating adolescence from the parenting side for the first time, I have appreciated the encouragement of the power of parents praying for their children and Sr. Miriam highlights this point in her book as well.

I really liked reading this book during Lent, linking individual journeys to the healing that Jesus offers.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Introduction to the Devout Life

A little over a year ago a woman moved to our parish, bringing a tradition with her to have people draw a Saint card at the start of the year. This January the Saint I randomly pulled out of the stack was St. Francis de Sales who also happens to be the Patron Saint of my diocese. When I read a post at mentioning his book Introduction to the Devout Life shortly after, I decided to add it to my Kindle.

I loved that this book is a collection of writings St. Francis never intended to be a book initially. Instead, he wrote for a specific person who sought his guidance. He provided a written support so that she could refer to them over time. Eventually another holy person read them and encouraged St. Francis to publish them, knowing they would be beneficial to a wider audience. In the writings, he was specifically thinking about making the case that it is possible to live a holy life for those who have not "altogether quitted the world" (Loc 10). He provides a rationale for why people should desire devotion and shares how to do so considering a range of different angles of everyday life with an encouraging tone.

Within the vocation of marriage and working in a secular career, I fall into the category of needing to navigate seeking holiness within this world, so I appreciated that he specifically addresses married life. Since he lived within the mid 1500s to mid 1600s, there were of course some aspects that have changed over time as far as contexts and social norms; nonetheless, I could still relate to so much of what he was recommending. The ideas seem practical.

He also speaks with humility and a recognition that seeking holiness is a process, noting, "It is too true that I who write about the devout life am not myself devout, but most certainly I am not without the wish to become so, and it is this wish which encourages me to teach you" (Loc 55). His advice also included thoughts on how we should keep a proper perspective, keeping in mind that the purification process is a life-long pursuit. St. Francis includes thoughts on starting points and regular practices to instill in order to make progress.

When giving guidance on temptation, it was helpful that he considered a range of angles, different precautions to keep in mind. Specifically relevant was his attention to the line between pastimes and addiction to those pastimes, stating, "The harm lies, not in doing them, but in the degree to which you care for them. It is a pity to sow the seed of vain and foolish tastes in the soil of our heart, taking up the place of better things, and hindering the soul from cultivating good dispositions" (p. 50).

Early on in the book, St. Francis provides a series of ten meditations. For this part of the book, I would likely rather have a paper copy so that it would be easier to flip between different meditations over time. However, once I am more familiar with them, there is the advantage that I often have my Kindle with me. The ideas in this book complement the concepts I have been reading and praying through this year in 40 Weeks based off of St. Ignatius' spiritual practices. Unlike 40 Weeks, I did not pause to slowly and prayerfully do the meditations as I read that section of the book, so I do need to go back and revisit those mediations. Perhaps at that time, I can mark those that specifically resonate with me for future reference.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Waiting with Purpose

Jeannie Ewing's book Waiting with Purpose: Persevering When God Says "Not Yet" was a perfect book for reflecting on my current life as well as better understanding previous years. I ordered the book because it will be featured as a Catholic Mom book club, starting tomorrow.

The book has 7 chapters, exploring topics such as: Why Is Waiting so Difficult?, Hidden Opportunities in Times of Waiting, and Encouragement While You Wait. Throughout is a thread of hoping in God's promises and keeping in mind that there is so much at work during phases of waiting - so many graces to help prepare us for our next steps.

The last couple of years I have had the phrase "do the next thing" in mind when thinking about how God has the big picture and to only desire to know what the next thing is or the trust that God will reveal to me the next step I need to know when and how I need to know it. Rather than longing to know multiple steps ahead, as I tended to, instead, I am learning to delight in the journey of recognizing next steps and acting on them without fully knowing where it will all lead. Through the process I am growing in love and trust, as well as being able to look back with awe at how God pointed out a path. Ewing's ideas affirmed this growth and thinking.

I also loved how she emphasized the concept of cycles, a reminder I needed to hear. It helped me to reframe my thinking and to view life as phases. I have been in a phase of activity, and this year I have been discerning next steps for the next academic/ministry work year. One way or another I know something will change in order to have more time for my family. Whatever I let go of will require detachment and a sense of loss. A lot of different comments and resources have supported me in being at peace with this, and her book gave me another layer of encouragement to embrace this next phase of a different pace of life or having a shift in priorities. It helps me to focus on how this is for a season and God will let me know if there is a time when I am supposed to shift into a different kind of activity. The book is also helping me to wait well for the pieces to click into place for in my current discernment process as this academic/ministry year comes to an end right as we will be welcoming our 5th baby into the family.

I enjoyed Ewing's writing style and how she wove together her own experiences, the lives of others, and Scripture. I am especially grateful that Catholic Mom selected this as a book club book and that I happened to hear about it from them because the publisher is not one that I am as familiar with, so I might not have heard about it otherwise even though it is such a perfect fit for my life right now.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Good Enough is Good Enough

When I first heard about the concept of Colleen Duggan's book Good Enough is Good Enough, I knew it would be a book that would resonate with me. Since she appeared to navigate some aspects of motherhood that I have not yet, I was anticipating I would be able to learn from her experiences. I was even more excited knowing that it was a Maria Press book. I recently had an opportunity to read the advanced reader copy for review purposes and appreciated Colleen's voice and insight.

After a foreword by Lisa Hendey and an Introduction, the book is organized into 5 sections - each labeled as a Confessions:

  • Confession 1: I Don't Know How to Master Motherhood
  • Confession 2: I Don't Always Take Care of Myself as I Should
  • Confession 3: I Don't Know How to Keep My Kids Catholic
  • Confession 4: I Don't Like Watching My Children Suffer
  • Confession 5: I Sometimes Compare Myself with Other Parents
I enjoyed this creative way to structure her book, and it also alludes to her storytelling style of being honest about the joys and challenges of motherhood, as well as her overall journey from childhood to current life. There is a great sense of humility and a pull towards recognizing limitations and instead relying on God's graces. She ends each chapter with a closing prayer and discussion questions. Though overall the book is about a serious topic, she layered in plenty of humor. 

In the introduction she created a context for connecting to her readers while also recognizing that each person will have their own unique experiences. As I anticipated, Colleen has a lot to offer her readers based on her experiences, while also recognizing that she is a work in progress and still has a lot to learn. I could relate to her referring to recognizing a point in time that her "life had become unmanageable" and the sense that we all have to evaluate our lives from time to time in order to consider our priorities and expectations and then consider implications for growth towards a sense of peace and living aligned to our vocation. She also outlined how she realized she could apply her strengths from her career as an educator to her new context being a stay at home mom. I always love marveling at how God can help us to use experiences from one aspect of our life for a different one in the future in ways we never would have imagined when we were originally developing those strengths. 

Many of her quotes resonated with me, such as:
  • "That's partly what makes this whole parenting gig hard: we are always struggling with the weight of our own brokenness while our children struggle with the weight of theirs. It's exhausting."
  • "Doing God's will in daily life will sometimes hurt, but it will always bring us peace."
  • When discussing the challenges of taking children to Mass, she mentioned, "We didn't know yet that God was using these moments of self-sacrifice during Mass to form us in our vocations [...] Our impossibly high expectations meant John and I felt mostly defeated and discouraged when we attempted Mass, nightly family prayer, reading a small story from The Lives of the Saints, or a liturgical celebration with our kids because we were almost always met with insurmountable problems (also known as normal kid quandaries). [...] We romanticized how we'd like things to be, but we were stuck in the reality of chronic imperfection--our own and our kids'."
I appreciated how she honestly portrayed the feeling of being overwhelmed within the context of being a wife and a mom, considering all the needs we want to meet but feeling too stretched thin to do all we would like to. 

While reading I also noted that her understandings about the role God plays in healing us aligned with another book I have been reading and praying through this year, 40 Weeks by Fr. William Watson. She also referenced another one of my favorite authors, Fr. Jacques Phillipe, as well as other authors and Saints whose lives have inspired me.

I often think about my own journey in recent years and growth on the worry-trust continuum. I enjoyed seeing glimpses into Colleen's life and how she has also grown with being able to place her life and the lives of those she loves into God's hands alongside an on-going commitment to focus on growing in holiness. 

The book officially releases on April 13th, and there will be a blog tour from April 11-20. I am buying a copy of this book to donate to a women's conference in our diocese as a giveaway. If you would like to buy a copy for yourself or as a gift for someone else, there is a coupon code, COLLEEN at Ave Maria Press through May 1, 2018. 

*Note: I did not include page numbers with the quotes since I do not have a finalized version of the book.