Diverse writers see parents, children as vehicles for grace
"Getting Past Perfect: How to Find Joy and Grace in the Messiness of Motherhood" by Kate Wicker. Ave Maria Press (Notre Dame, Indiana, 2017). 135 pp., $14.95.
"Couriers of Grace: My Daughter, the Sacraments and a Surprising Walk of Faith" by Nancy Jo Sullivan. Ave Maria Press (Notre Dame, Indiana, 2017). 110 pp., $13.95.
"BeDADitudes: 8 Ways to Be an Awesome Dad" by Greg Popcak. Ave Maria Press (Notre Dame, Indiana, 2017). 174 pp., $15.95.
"It's Okay About It: Lessons From a Remarkable Five-Year-Old About Living Life Wide Open" by Lauren Casper. Nelson Books (Nashville, Tennessee, 2017). 223 pp., $16.99.
Kate Wicker has given mothers of every age and at every stage of parenting a remarkable gift in her book, "Getting Past Perfect." Her work is born of practical experience and nurtured through the rocky travails of raising children through the lens of unrealistic expectations that the Catholic mom confronts in a humorous, heartfelt and scriptural manner.
"Our highest calling in this life is not mother but a child of God," writes Wicker, whose insights on a mother's relationship to God and responsibility to her children are brutally refreshing in an age where competition against the mythical "Super Mom" is around every corner and on every Pinterest post.
She continues; "No one is guiltier of candy-coating motherhood than the Christian community." Wicker contends quite successfully that Christian mothers have too often idealized motherhood and all that it entails to the point that motherhood is both romanticized and idolized beyond the grasp of women who then feel less than perfect.
"Getting Past Perfect" is written by a mother who has her heart in the church. Her use of both Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church is uplifting and appropriate. Where others have inserted Scripture into books without an appropriate sense of Scripture, Wicker is careful not to use God's word to instill guilt or to propose another "thing" that moms should be doing but points to the power of the word to release mothers from any burden of guilt over the fact they are human and not God.
For those seeking the "perfect parent" test, she states that "God is the only perfect parent and look at his children -- you and imperfect me" and again, "One look at this Father's broken people, and you'd think he has failed miserably as a parent." Evident throughout is Wicker's desire to live out her vocation as a mother which is of the Spirit balanced with how this is lived out in the day to day which is not always of the Spirit. "Christian parenthood is a lot like Christian life: It demands we relinquish control."
"Getting Past Perfect" is a perfect balance of humor, ruthless honesty and Scripture from an imperfect mom that will release the unwarranted pressure that mothers place on themselves and others.
In "BeDADitudes," marriage and family expert Greg Popcak draws from the Beatitudes to enrich the life of fatherhood so every dad can experience the "fullness of fatherhood." The BeDADitudes follows a pattern of drawing out each beatitude spoken by Jesus in a way that's understandable to today's father and then reflecting on what this may mean in their relationship to God, their wives and their children.
The reader benefits from Popcak's years of counseling others and he weaves the wisdom he has gleaned throughout the book. While the book title has "dad" in the title and "8 Ways to Be an Awesome Dad" in its subheading, the reader will enjoy how these beatitudes enable fathers to live their vocation. "Our faith teaches us that fathers find themselves by making a free and total gift of themselves primarily to their wives and children. Why? Because marriage is a vocation."
Popcak's work is ideal for the new father and for those who are a bit further down the road in their own discipleship for as the father grows closer to God, so does the family. Each chapter ends with a prayer and a few reflection questions, making this an easy study for personal reflection and for men's groups.
Lauren Casper is the author of "It's Okay About It: Lessons From a Remarkable Five-Year-Old About Living Life Wide Open." Casper and her husband are the adoptive parents of two children from Ethiopia and the book highlights the life with its joys and struggles through some phrases of their 5-year-old autistic son, Mareto.
Early in the book, the reality that this Christian couple won't be able to conceive is marked by the view from social media. The heartache that photos and announcements of pregnancies and children's first steps from friends and acquaintances can be painful for those who desire children yet are unable. Fortunately, their desire is fulfilled through adoption and the reader is introduced to Mareto and his phrases such as "The hill is very tired," "Aww, that's so nice" and "Or yes, or no?"
Woven into each chapter is a spiritual lesson tying together God's grace, mercy and love with the practical realities of everyday life. In one chapter titled, "Hi, I Nato," Casper recounts a story at a park where her son was being teased by two girls. Mareto didn't realize that he was the target of their teasing and he enjoyed their attention so he came forward and said, "Hi, I Nato."
Casper's interior reaction was just like any mother yet in silence she let the scene play out in between some stern glares at the little girls. She was surprised by the girls' reaction to Mareto's straightforward friendliness. "That's what love does in the face of cruelty. It surprises, confuses, and then teaches."
While the Caspers' son is autistic, the book is useful for any parent who struggles to find God's presence in their life and is open to having God speak to them through their children.
Nancy Jo Sullivan testifies to the life-changing power of the sacraments and focuses on them through the lens of her children and especially her first child, Sarah, who was born with Down syndrome. Her book, "Couriers of Grace: My Daughter, the Sacraments and a Surprising Walk of Faith," gives us insight into God's working through Sarah to bring the light of faith ever more deeply to her family.
Each sacrament that Sarah prepared for and received becomes a moment of grace for Sullivan as she is challenged to reflect on her own life and her struggles and issues growing up with an alcoholic father.
Beautifully written, this emotional read will give the reader pause to reflect on the blessings one has in their own life and how the sacraments can be a source of gratitude and grace in confronting the challenges that being a disciple of Jesus entails.
- - -
Wright is academic dean for evangelization in the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey, where he resides with his wife and four children.