Today, we celebrate a wonderful book by a wonderful mom! I first met Julie Paavola over a year ago via a mutual acquaintance in Northern California. Immediately, Julie struck me as not only a lovely woman, but also a terrific mom and a very spiritual “thinker”. Her contributions here on CatholicMom.com provide a bit of insight into Julie’s gifts and talent, but in her new book The Mother’s Calling: Love in the Heart of the World we get an even deeper insight in to Julie’s heart for mothers.
I’m happy to share our recent conversation with you and encourage you to pick up a copy of The Mother’s Calling: Love in the Heart of the World for yourself and the special moms in your life.
Q: Julie, you and I have had the pleasure of meeting in person and I thank you so very much for your contributions to CatholicMom.com. Would you please begin by introducing yourself and your family to our readers?
Thank you for inviting me to do the interview, Lisa. It is a privilege for me to be part of the CatholicMom.com family. I’m originally from Anchorage, Alaska and my husband is from Minnesota. So we’re both Northerners. We met in Berkeley during graduate school, where he was studying molecular biology and I theology, and since then we have made our home mostly in Northern California. Our two boys are 7 and 10 years old, and they like school and music. We feel very happy about that!
Q: Tell us about The Mother’s Calling — what prompted you to write this book, at this time in your life?
It was really a series of events, but the first and most important one was simply becoming a mother. It was such a life-changing experience! I was married in my 30’s and had children later, so I think it took me by surprise. Writing came out of my need to step into being a mother and make it all part of my spiritual life. Perhaps many women become mothers without being analytical about it, but I just had to think, reflect, and pray about it. And I felt inspired! It seemed to me a very important way of coming closer to God yet not much was being said about that aspect of motherhood at the time. I also had access to inexpensive childcare a few times a week, so that was providential.
Q: Julie I consider you so wise in theological matters, since you combine an advanced theological degree and a deep spirituality. How have these tools blended in your own personal life as you’ve embraced your vocation to motherhood, and how did they color the writing of this book.
I have to say that both played a part in helping me understand myself, and the Church and the way God calls each and every person to live their faith to the fullest. I learned to pray as a teenager, through the Rosary and daily Mass. When I was a girl, one of my younger sisters got lost at a glacier lake in Alaska. She was lost for 7 hours in a place where men where hunting bears, so you can imagine we were all praying and terrified for her. My mother made a promise to God that if we found her, she would take the whole family to daily Mass. We did find my sister and we went to Mass faithfully for many years. Daily Mass was the seed for my first calling, to be a contemplative. I entered a community of nuns dedicated to silence and prayer, the Carmelite monastic community, when I had just turned 19. During the nine years I spent there, I learned the most important thing is to form a lasting relationship with the Lord, one you nurture each day. Many years later, when I became a lay person again, I studied theology. It made me grow in a deeper understanding of the relationship between prayer and service. This was a catalyst for my work as a writer, speaker and spiritual director. I felt I had been given so much! I felt compelled to share the faith and our universal calling to know and love God! Now, as a mother, the challenge is really to combine contemplation and service. I look at the Incarnation and think, “Mary said yes to motherhood and gave the world a Savior… God chose to come in this way!” The book is a beginning exploration of some aspects of our faith from this Marian/motherly perspective.
Q: In the book, you address the many and varied callings and paths to motherhood, and the fact that with our first children we become mothers before we can ever truly be prepared for the calling. Can you say a few words about this and about how our faith can sustain us in times of trial as mothers?
Motherhood humbled me! I was not prepared, because I thought that if so many women were mothers it must be easy or “natural.” But becoming a mother taught me so much, about myself and about other women. I think what can sustain mothers during times of difficulty is to remember we are not alone. This was important for me very early on. I had this experience one Mother’s Day at Mass, where I imagined all the women of faith who have gone before us—Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Elizabeth, Mary and countless others. As a Church we celebrate these women because they were faithful, but also because they took part in the project of salvation as mothers. Their fidelity culminated in the coming of Jesus! When we form our own children in the image of the Lord, we continue in this tradition through our own fidelity. We take part in salvation and please God, so all our work and effort is made holy by this. Jesus lived family life for some thirty years! He said, “He who does the will of my Father is brother and sister and mother to me.” We are part of this greater Family as we love and teach our children to hope in God. Hope sustained Mary and she saw fulfillment of her hope in the resurrection of her Son. That is a strong sustenance for us, to be united to Mary, to hope in God for our children.
Q: I love the “Encounter” and “Practice” sections of each chapter of your book — why are these sections critical to the book’s message and what have you learned from your own experience of these encounters and practices?
If I read a book, I want it to touch me and lead to a change of heart. So, the “Encounter” section helps the reader to come close to God in prayer, while the “Practice” section guides us to action. It is prayer united to service. This dual way exemplifies how God continuously summons us to give in our daily life from what we have received in the inner life of prayer. In this highly practical approach, we see spirituality is never separated from life in the Christian tradition. Knowing this is a source of great joy, as the saints show us. Even if we are suffering it can be a joy, because we do it for God without asking for anything. Like Mother Teresa of Calcutta showed in such an awe-inspiring way… you do things out of this growing love of the Lord.
Q: For mothers who may have difficulty truly embracing the fullness of their vocation or who may resent the sacrifices a mother makes, what words of wisdom would you share?
All of us have difficulty at one time or another. I think being a mother today has some very specific challenges. We are not grouped in families with other female relatives, so sometimes mothers feel lonely. It is so helpful to find friendship with other mothers, especially if they are embracing motherhood as part of their faith response to God. It’s really necessary to talk to other women if we are suffering from anxiety, overwhelmed with worry if we are doing things right. We gain insight and help, we learn we are not crazy! In the case of resentment, it may be an indication we need to be gentler with ourselves, which requires patience and humility. If you care for yourself, you will be far more ready to extend the same virtues towards your family. We may think it’s easy to love ourselves. It’s not. There are many images of women in magazines that tell us who or what we should be. But God loves the ‘woman and mother you are.’ So accept and don’t cast judgment on yourself, since God is so merciful and is delighted in you.
Q: In the book, you discuss the traits of “mother-disciples”, modern day saints whose lives and actions proclaim the value of their calling. What are some of the traits of these saintly mothers?
The insight here is that virtue is ordinary and it’s all around us. In the chapter on the Beatitudes, I mention some of the traits I see mothers practice; opening their doors in hospitality, caring for a special needs child or elderly parent, fostering friendships, using their talents in family and career to enrich others, and many more traits. “Mother-disciples.” Means we are followers of Jesus right in the context of our daily lives. We throw out the prejudice that mothers are too busy to seriously follow Christ. We answer Jesus’ call: “Come, follow Me!” each day.
Q: What did you learn personally as a mom in your commitment to writing The Mother’s Calling? What do you hope others will take from their experience of reading it?
I learned to pay attention to my own experience and accept my life just as it is. I learned to trust my God-given instincts as a mother. I learned to stop judging other women. The best thing of all was, I found consolation and peace in trusting God. I hope readers will share in all this. We have many gifts as women and mothers, and our knowledge is quite valuable, because it’s less abstract and is learned in real life. It is more akin to wisdom. We can do much more as a force for good in the world if we embrace our motherly wisdom, which God gives us. I especially believe we have the potential to protect life and to make war less a part of our global landscape. Mothers know the value of a human life, and when we ponder this in God’s presence, we grow up into the women God is calling us to be. We learn to love all the children of the earth as God’s own.
Q: I know that you are an active speaker and writer — how can our readers learn more about your work?
Email me at [email protected], or call me directly 408-368-4100. You may visit my website at juliepaavola.com where you’ll find a list of talks I’ve given. My blog is at motherspirit.wordpress.com and you can find me writing for CatholicMom.com, of course!
Q: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to share with our readers?
God is never boring! God is a great romantic and a great adventurer. Foster your relationship with the Lord and you will have more love in your life, more interesting adventures, and be an even greater blessing to your family and those around you than you already are.