I have to admit, I am new to the Jennifer Fulwiler fan club. I recently discovered Mrs. Fulwiler through the Fountains of Carrots podcast. I was immediately sold on her proposition that motherhood (or anyone’s vocation) does not require us to give up our passions or deny our talents while answering God’s call.
In her new memoir, One Beautiful Dream, Mrs. Fulwiler shares the personal account of writing her first book while raising six children. Throughout the book, her writing dreams and plans are paused by positive pregnancy tests, poo-pocalypse, ringing doorbells, and the Resistance.
Despite my own pauses, I devoured One Beautiful Dream in less than 24 hours (including the five-and-a-half hours of sleep allowed by my teething first-born). Jennifer uses evocative anecdotes that illustrate the frustration and pain she feels as she begins her journey of self-discovery. Beginning with the Green Bean Lady, I was engaged and ready to cheer her the finish line readers knew she would cross. After all, this book is her second!
Regardless of your own vocation, Fulwiler’s exploration of faith, vocation, and a communal dream rather than a personal one is poignant and much-needed in our self-serving culture.
Is the Way We Do Motherhood Normal?
Like many, Fulwiler begins parenthood with visions of beautifully-kept homes, clean, well-mannered children, and a firmly-held belief that she and her husband could do it all on their own. If there is any number one message from Fulwiler’s journey that should be shouted from the rooftops, it is her husband’s revelation in chapter 22:
Never in human history have parents raised kids in isolation. Never. People always had their clans or villages or tribes or whatever to help them.
Fulwiler’s own revelation occurs later when she is finally able to present her beloved grandfather, Papaw, with her first book. Fulwiler uses her grandfather’s deep love and pride in his granddaughter to illustrate that when we allow others into our lives to help us pursue our passions, they are given the opportunity to be a part of a big, beautiful dream as well. God has not called us to live and struggle in isolation. God does not demand that we do it alone.
Letting People Help
Fulwiler illustrates her own family’s growth as they welcome grandparents, friends, babysitters, and strangers into their fold. They accept their generous offers of help, support, food, and even monetary donations. Fulwiler pushes through her own pride to realize that rejecting another’s offer or refusing to ask for help effectively shuts down that person’s own opportunities to pursue what they love to do. In our own lives, we are called to be both Fulwiler and the greater community.
Whatever the season of our life, we have a role to play in the clan or village or tribe that we are part of to help a new generation of young Catholics.
The Importance of Friendship
Fulwiler shows this through her friendships with a variety of wonderful, hardworking women. She has friends with similar passions as her own. Women who love their children deeply but also feel fulfilled by working on creative projects that take them away from their families for periods of time to write, think, or whatever else they need. But she also shows us the women who aren’t sacrificing when they bake with their children. They feel the most alive and delighted by the handmade ornaments they made with their little ones. And all of these women have something to offer that could help change the world, little by little. They only need to overcome the Resistance that interferes with the pursuit of their beautiful dream.
I was struck by how well she identified her past mistakes and struggles throughout the memoir. She clearly marks the places where the Resistance rose up and tried to prevent her from writing. Fulwiler identifies the Resistance as the evil we all know is present. It interferes with our own abilities to do what we have been called to do. She explains that the Resistance is the envy we feel as scroll through social media feeds. It is the small voice the grows louder as we listen to our insecurities. It is our pride that makes us feel like we need to do it all on our own rather than seek help from those around us.
What is Your Blue Flame?
Just like Fulwiler, we each have our own blue flame that God has given us. We don’t have to dim that flame or put it out when we enter a season of life that does not seem ideal for what we love.
She points out that St. Teresa of Calcutta’s organization could have arguably helped more people if they had not taken time for themselves each day. But there is a deep truth in taking time for yourself so that you can serve others.
How can you give another person water if your own bucket is dry? How can we serve others if we have nothing left to give?
Within a few hundred pages, readers grow to know this tall, fighter of a woman who refused to believe that her vocation required her to be miserable in order to be a good mother. Her life lessons, from how to turn preteens pranksters into free babysitters and always grabbing the most important items first in the grocery store to how NFP is a lifestyle, not a contraception, are engaging and valuable. Whatever your blue flame, Jennifer Fulwiler is here to reassure you that with God’s grace and an inclusive and open heart, your dream can be much bigger and more beautiful than you ever imagined.
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LeAnn Wood is a former summer camp director turned middle school teacher. She is a regular consumer of YA literature and coffee. When she isn’t busy with her own little family, she enjoys writing about intentional praying and living on her blog. You can find out more about her here.