Heidi Hess Saxton is an acquisitions editor and founder of "A Writer's Life" and "Life on the Road Less Traveled," resources for Catholic writers, caregivers, and parents of adoptive, foster, and special needs children.
I’ve been told (by those who have experienced both life-changing events) that there are some surprising similarities between writing a book and giving birth to a child: The process can often be painful, messy, and even a little embarrassing. But there is great joy in the end. Because of this, I like to offer a Rosary on Fridays for my authors.
In his book Forgiveness Makes You Free, Fr. Ubald Rugirangoga (RIP) writes about the “rosary of my life,” identifying five painful moments from his own life that he continually offered back to God (see pages 10-15). His early memories of his parents, both of whom were killed at different stages of the genocide, were recollected in these mysteries.
As writers, we can take a cue from Fr. Ubald and use the Rosary as a tool to identify the moments of our lives that have shaped us, and to see even the painful moments of our lives as therapeutic and spiritually enriching.
So let me begin by asking you: If you were to write your own mysteries, what five events would they include?
Until you get to know them, editors can be scary people. But with some concentrated effort, and a little knowhow about the care and feeding of these elusive creatures, you too can become a published author!
For Catholic non-fiction authors writing their first book, the key to your success will be how close your proposed book “fits” with your existing ministry. And one of the best ways to show that is by having a strong online presence. (It’s not the only way, but it’s the first thing I look for as an acquisitions editor.) Here are three things you can do to make your proposal irresistible!
Have a killer author website or blog. You can create a beautiful site yourself — or you can pay someone to do it for you. It should have a speaker’s page (with clips of you actually speaking if possible), information about your other books or contributions, links to your social media, and links to any other online writing you’ve done. Ideally, you would also be collecting email addresses (MailChimp or Constant Contact are good for this) and developing a regular newsletter — shoot for 2000 names. Here are some beautiful examples from Christy Wilkens,Mary Lenaburg, and Kelly Wahlquist. A professionally designed site can run $1000 – $3000 dollars, but you can design one yourself for less than $100 (for hosting and newsletter subscriptions) by using WordPress or other software.
Network with other authors and support their efforts to promote THEIR books. Establish yourself as a team player: Write Amazon reviews (send the author and/or the publicist a link), have authors on your podcast (or guest posting on your blog), or host book clubs at your parish (you might invite the author to Zoom in to a meeting) are all great ways to help. This does two important things: It communicates to the editor that you are familiar with the kinds of books they publish, and that you understand what it takes to launch a book successfully.
Study the publishing website carefully, and be able to articulate how your project “fits” not only within YOUR ministry, but within OURS. Not only should your query clearly indicate what your book is about, who the book is for, and what benefits they will gain from reading it — it should also make a compelling case for why YOU are the right person to write the book, and WE are the right publisher for it.
Investing some time and effort into these preliminary steps can make a HUGE difference in how well your proposal is received by a publishing team. If you are already a published author … what other advice would YOU give?
If you have made it this far in the 20th anniversary edition of the “40 Day Challenge,” you discovered that I made it only a little over half-way before a previous edition kicked in.
There’s a reason for that. Though I didn’t originally intend to drop the ball, at a certain point I realized that I had to choose between getting the series done by Easter … or take one for the team and admit that I didn’t have the bandwidth to do both this and everything else.
While perseverance is an important part of marital success, I’ve also found that finishing something just to say that you’ve finished it is not always a good thing. Whether it’s a trashy novel or a frost-bitten half-pint of Ben and Jerry’s, there are times when it’s really, truly okay NOT to persevere. (While that doesn’t apply to marriage in general, it does provide food for thought about the millions of little decisions we make within that holy huddle.)
In twenty years of marriage, I’ve discovered that our capacities — physical, mental, and financial — change, and often shrink. Now my husband’s energy stores quickly become depleted when he attempts to work several twenty-hour days in succession. I’ve found my sense of humor grows equally in short supply when attempting to be everywhere and do everything at once.
For both of us, when we try to be and do too much, one of the first things that suffers is our relationship. He becomes loquacious, I become irritable. We retreat to opposite ends of the house, instead of meeting in the middle (after the kids and my mother turn in) for a cuddle. And don’t even get me started on what this does to the sex life.
Middle age is a time of transition, a time to dig deep in the storehouse of wisdom that we’ve acquired over time and with experience. So, in closing, I’d like to offer this one last “Prayer of Abandonment: Twenty-Year Edition.”
Let us continue to abandon ourselves, come what may,
not knowing what the future holds, but confident in the One who does.
Let us be ready for inevitable change, and lingering struggles.
Let us say “I do” to each other, over and over and over again.
I offer you all that I am, and all that I have,
to claim or ignore or appropriate, as needed.
Let the love that we have continue to grow,
and to reflect in some small way the Perfection
to which we try to surrender ourselves, body and soul,
I recently hired someone to redesign my website in preparation for the launch of my new book with Ave, The Ave Prayer Book for Catholic Mothers (October 2021). It’s all very exciting and believe me, you will be hearing more about it … but today I want to tell you about a different book. (More of a booklet, really.)
The 40 Day Marriage Adventure will be made available in the next few weeks — I created the booklet from a series of Lenten posts from 2012 — as a daily prayer exercise you can do on your own or with your spouse to give your marriage a “faith lift”. Each day begins with the “Prayer of Abandonment” by Bl. Charles de Foucauld, which was gifted to me by one of my seminary professors who told me, “If you want to transform yourself, pray this every day. If you want to transform your marriage, say it to your HUSBAND.”
He was right about the first part. This prayer has been a tremendous blessing to me, especially during those times when life became overly stressful and I caught myself resorting to the kind of controlling behavior that tends to backfire in a big way. So … if you’re interested in getting the download, hang in there. It should be available soon.
In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about Blessed Charles (who I understand is on the fast track to being declared a saint, fingers crossed), you can also check out a beautiful website on this desert saint by Fr. Lenny Tighe, a retired priest from Boston who has been promoting the life and message of Brother Charles in the U.S. for many years. He has prayer cards in English and Spanish available. He writes,
“I have been promoting the life and message of Charles de Foucauld in the US for many years. I am humbly called ‘all things Charles de Foucauld,’ and I have given out thousands of prayer cards of the Abandonment Prayer.” He also has a Facebook group on this saint.
This morning I cracked open my brand-new Ave Catholic Note-Taking Bible, wondering what God might have to say to me as I begin a new work day. Craig is in Portland on a business trip with his brother, and though he called me last night to tell me they had arrived safely, I couldn’t shake the sense of dread I felt about them flying in his brother’s jet. Small planes terrify me, and the thought of two sixty-something brothers cavorting in the clouds does not ease my mind one iota. I am not prepared to let my husband fly away to glory. Not yet.
Before he left, Craig and I talked about someone who would be going on that same trip, that same plane, someone whose destructive life choices had fractured his family. I had reminded Craig of the great lengths God will go to at times to get our attention, to get us to turn back to him. “We need to just keep praying,” I said to Craig. “That God will get his attention somehow.”
So … imagine my horror to open the Bible this morning and read…
Truly no man can ransom himself, or give to God the price of his life,
for the ransom of his life is costly, and can never suffice,
that he should continue to live on for ever, and never see the Pit.
Yes, he shall see that even the wise die,
the fool and the stupid alike must perish
and leave their wealth to others…. .
The thought came to me: What would I be willing to sacrifice for this person to turn back to God? Would I be willing to trust God to do whatever it takes … no matter what?
The answer is “I don’t know.” I hope and pray God doesn’t require that of me, and that Craig will fly back and return to me unharmed. But at that moment all I could think of were my self-righteous words yesterday, and how God must have heard them and decided I needed a lesson in compassion. How quick I was to wish folly on another human being (in the guise of “spiritual awakening”) so long as it didn’t cost me anything, and all I had to do was sit back and wait for the fireworks.
But this morning I was reminded: redemption always comes at a cost. And very often, that cost may be the one thing we hold most dear. Am I willing — as Abram was willing — to trust him by putting my all on the altar?
“A man’s wealth is measured by what he doesn’t need.” Henry David Thoreau
NOTE: This is a “reprised” post from one I wrote five years ago. Five years later, we are still enjoying the same house — but now we have our eyes set on selling it in a few years as Craig looks toward retirement.
As I write this, Craig and I are making arrangements to close on the first house we have owned in nearly five years. Five years of rentals, of moving at least once each year and three of those across state lines. Yes, it’s as exhausting as it sounds. And so you can imagine my delight and relief when we walked into this particular house, the house that had everything we’d asked for on our checklist, and knew . . . knew we were home at last.
Everything came together in a most delightful happenstance: a generous bonus for Craig, a tax refund we’d been awaiting for months, a generous gift from a family member . . . within a year we’d gone from living from paycheck to paycheck to having a down payment on the house of our dreams. Truly we could not more amazed and humbled knowing that many people — including some close to us — continue to struggle. It may be our turn again soon enough . . . But for now, we choose simply to be thankful for Divine Providence.
Money — both the possession of it, and the lack thereof — can change relationships, even within families. Sadly, having it can cause even more difficulties than not having it. Some of the most generous and genuinely kindhearted people I’ve ever met were desperately poor. On the other hand, money can also create unnecessary barriers between people, leading to a poverty of spirit that Blessed Mother Teresa said is the worst kind of poverty.
Jesus once observed that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven (Mt 19:24). Once the rich man arrives at the Pearly Gates, of course, the playing fields are leveled … the streets are paved with gold, and resplendant mansions have been prepared for each of us. Everyone who makes it, wins the proverbial lottery.
The whole point of what we do here, then, is to learn what it means to be content with our present circumstances, whatever they might be. Like almost every other facet of human experience, our financial well-being can change in the blink of an eye; what must never change is our trust in Divine Providence.
In her lovely book on marriage, By Love Refined (p. 187), Dr. Alice von Hildebrand observes with characteristic candor:
“In too many marriages, the husband is so absorbed in his career that he pays less and less attention to his wife . . . . In such marriages, one unfortunate consequence is that the only time the husbands look at their wives is in the bedroom. They view physical intimacy as a relaxation which enables them to work better the next day. Finally, the relationship between such spouses is reduced to watching TV and sleeping together. What a tragic impoverishment of human life and a maiming of marriage! . . . Tenderness, loving interest, and profound spiritual concern must characterize all your relations.”
I confess her observation struck closer to home than I would have liked. He spent so much time either actually working or talking about work, it was hard not to resent his preoccupation. Of course, you can imagine how this attitude worked against me — why should he come home and engage me, when the dog greeted him at the door with more enthusiasm than his wife?
Does it seem like your husband doesn’t know how to leave his work at the door? You can’t expect your home to be an entirely “work free” zone — your husband needs you to provide a sounding board when he hits a rough patch. But then, he may also need you to “turn the tables” a bit, to redirect the conversation and help him transition back to the comforts of home.
I like to clip “Dilbert” cartoons and keep them handy for the days he needs a chuckle. On the days I know he has a rough patch ahead of him, I drop him an e-mail in the middle of the day, with a little joke or lighthearted quip, letting him know how much I’m looking forward to seeing him at night.
What is your favorite way to get your husband talking?
I love hearing people’s prayer stories — how they put their faith on the line with Jesus (or, in some cases, with his mother, who is also a powerful pray-er. Kind of like my mother). And somehow, their prayers were answered, often above and beyond what they originally asked.
Now, God is not some great Bubblegum Ball Machine in the Sky. You can’t force his hand with selfish demands, like a petulant teenager. “Okay, God, either you give me ____ or I won’t speak to you again” won’t wash with the Almighty. Or his mother.
But God is a patient Father — a patient adoptive father at that. He knows that the bonds of trust take time to build, and that they will be tested. And so, he often goes the extra mile for those who come from hard places, who are looking for him to connect with them in sincereity and truth.
And when those answers come … those, my friend, are #PrayerStories.
Let me give you two such stories, one of which I told recently on Fr. Edward Looney’s podcast “How They Love Mary.” He had invited me to come and talk about my friend Fr. Ubald (+), and what it was like to help him write his book Forgiveness Makes You Free. I confessed that the first time I met Fr. Ubald, I was a little weirded out. It was at a WINE pre-conference gathering, and as I watched him usher in the Holy Spirit and saw several good Catholic women I knew “resting in the Spirit” on the floor … I panicked. I had seen this kind of thing as a Protestant, and had no idea Catholics sometimes prayed this way, too.
But my “inner nudge” told me to stay and be patient. And then I heard him tell the story of how he survived the Rwandan Genocide, in which more than a million people died in just 100 days, including thousands of his own family, friends, and parishioners. Miraculously, he survived … and spent the next 27 years working to bring peace to his country, and healing to the rest of the world. His healing gifts became so well known, in fact, that when he died of COVID-19 complications on January 7, 2021, at his funeral people were already asking how soon his cause would be open.
A little selfishly, I had an entirely different question. Which brings me to my second #PrayerStory: For as long as I’ve known him, I’ve asked Fr. Ubald to pray for my daughter’s healing. When we foster-adopted Sarah and her brother in 2005, we had no idea what a long, hard road was ahead. But now her Bipolar II symptoms, combined with other disabilities, make her future uncertain. So at the wake I approached his casket, touched my rosary to his hands, and said, “Okay, Fr. Ubald. Now you’ve got God’s ear. Pray for my daughter. Ask God to heal her.”
It’s a #PrayerStory I’m longing to tell — and one I suspect I’ll be telling for a very long time. Because very often healings don’t take place instantly, or in the way we expect. Some healings take a lifetime of incremental infusions of grace.
Today’s theme is longing, characterized by the last paragraph of our daily prayer:
Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.
Marriage can be lonely at times, especially in times of stress. As each of you cope, it can be easy to pull away and turn inward. And yet, we were made for companionship, for union. If at times we cannot get what we need from our spouse, all is not lost.
We can take our longing and offer it back to the One who designed us for communion, and know that he will never leave us alone.
When was the last time you felt alone in your marriage? Discuss it with your spouse, then ask . . . What do you find most comforting, when you feel alone? How can I ease that longing for you?
I had been cleaning out a bookshelf and came across some old journals from my twenties in California, and started reading them. It was a real eye-opener, seeing my twenty-something self make choices that, had my daughter made similar ones, I would have moved heaven and earth to “fix.” Trying to decide what to do with these incriminating scribbles, I told Craig about what I had found. He sat very quietly for a minute (did not ask to read the journals, thankfully), and said … “But if you hadn’t gone through all that, we never would have met.”
Truth. Right between the eyes.
My first impulse was to apply this to the reality in parenting: that we can never fully protect our children from bearing the consequences of their choices. And while this is true, it is also true that, as adults, we do sometimes weigh ourselves down with the baggage of the past in ways we don’t always admit or even understand. For example, my husband has watched no more than 2-3 sports events a year in part because of one unfortunate chapter in my dating history, when I was involved with a gambling addict. And so, when Craig and I got engaged, we made a deal: he would limit his sports consumption to a few games a year, and I would make it worth his while (culinarily speaking) on the days he DID watch. Twenty years later, it honestly wouldn’t bother me if he watched more often — his love healed over that particular sore spot. But he doesn’t. I guess he must really like those crab stuffed mushrooms … and he really loves me.
Last year I created a “20 year edition” of my 40 Day Marriage Challenge.Yes, it’s that time of year again! If you are feeling the need for a marriage refresher, why not head on over to take the challenge (perhaps take your spouse with you this time). Let this be the beginning of a happily ever after for you both.
Remember the good news: God measures our stories not in days, but in decades. So go love your spouse … all the way to Easter!