I will always remember the first time I met my friends Greg and Jennifer Willits. I was a budding podcaster with something like three episodes under my belt, which were largely inspired by Greg and Jennifer’s groundbreaking Rosary Army podcast. I traveled to Southern California to attend a conference, but truly my goal was to meet the Willits, and Fr. Roderick Vonhögen. Imagine my (barely suppressed) glee when later that day I actually had the chance to sit down for a meal with Greg and Jennifer!
What I learned that day, and what has become crystal clear to me in the years since as our friendship has blossomed, is that Greg and Jennifer truly are the real deal. With the Willits, there is no putting on airs or trying to be something they’re not. Perhaps that’s the key to their success as national radio hosts of The Catholics Next Door, where they inspire, educate and entertain five days a week on Sirius XM’s The Catholic Channel. Greg and Jennifer are just like the rest of us, striving for heaven amidst the craziness of daily family life.
I’m thrilled that the Willits have now published their first book, The Catholics Next Door: Adventures in Imperfect Living. When asked to endorse the book, I shared:
Faith-filled and funny, flawed yet constantly striving for perfection, this book will inspire you and encourage you to more fully commit to your own adventurous path to heaven.
This is a book which will leave you striving to give your best to God, your family and the world around you. I’ve learned from my friends Greg and Jennifer that while life isn’t always easy, it is filled with so much grace and God’s goodness is so abundant. They’ve also taught me that when you give your lives and your hearts to God, there’s no way to possibly imagine the path He will lay before you. I hope you’ll enjoy the following conversation with the Willits and that you’ll treat yourselves and your friends to a copy of The Catholics Next Door today.
Q: Please briefly introduce yourself and your family to our readers.
We are Greg and Jennifer Willits. We live in small suburb of Atlanta, GA, have 5 wonderful kids, a few usual pets and a few unusual pets. We broadcast our daily talk radio show called “The Catholics Next Door” for The Catholic Channel on SiriusXM’s 129 right out of our bonus room above our garage. We love to share our faith and laugh, all the while affirming the married life and pro-life witness. We’re either diving into pop-culture and popcorn or dogma and encyclicals. When we’re not on the air, Greg is usually busy managing New Evangelizers, Inc. to help participate in the New Evangelization while I do what I can to nurture the domestic church – i.e. feeding our kids. It’s all part of our zany and Catholic life.
Q: I’ve had the joy of watching your apostolate grow and prosper over the years. What led you to the writing of this book?
While we enjoy the fast-paced nature and excitement of radio broadcasting, we welcomed the opportunity to communicate in a more in-depth fashion through writing. I believe the book opportunity came to us because of the way Greg and I regularly model marital communication on air, for better or for worse. Writing a book together gave us a chance to go deeper with critical and sometimes controversial topics relating to our faith that the radio format doesn’t always allow. Or maybe the fruit was just ripe for the picking. Either way, we feel greatly humbled that the opportunity came to us and that we did in fact have something to share beyond what our listeners hear everyday.
Q: How was it to work on a writing project together? How did you logistically work together in writing? And who was better at meeting their deadlines? Did you edit each other’s work?
Ooooohhh. Great questions! First, the idea of writing this book together seemed much easier in our heads than it proved to be in reality – especially since Greg came into this project with more writing experience than I did. I have to admit that I was a bit intimidated to write along someone like him, but once I saw how fun this project would be, the biggest obstacle became finding a time when we were both in the right frame of mind to discuss the book. Our free time to write never occurred at the same time because of our busy family life and work commitments to the radio show. But eventually, we hammered out an outline of subjects we knew we wanted to include in this book. Once that was done, we divided up the outline and gave each other the freedom to write our respective portions whenever the opportunity presented itself.
Now, you might think this next answer is trivial, but the logistics of writing proved to be another hassle. We quickly found ourselves in a word processor conundrum because we had to be able to share access with each other’s portions to avoid duplicity in our writing. I was fond of simple word processors like Microsoft Word and Greg wanted nothing to do with it. While Greg preferred the practicality of Google Docs because of its web interface and accessibility to other users, Google Docs scared me because it was too easy to mess up the formatting and cause me no end of anxiety. Eventually, we compromised with using a blended approach. I wrote all of my portions on a word processor and then tossed it up to Google Docs for Greg to see. Once we got over the “how to” of writing our book, Greg wisely suggested that I should write all of my portions of the book first and then he would weave in his sections around mine to create a more balanced conversation feel to the book – a he said/ she said style.
Oh, I was definitely better at meeting the deadlines No question about it. Of course, to be fair, I probably had a little more time on my hands and Greg tends to work better under positive pressure. That’s how diamonds are made, right?
We fought about editing, I mean, debated heavily about editing, too. I was adamant that he stay out of my areas of the book. I knew he would be tempted to fix a word here or there and next thing you know the entire sentence would be “Greg-orized” and I would feel like the words were no longer mine. Silly, I know because he would only try to improve my writing for grammar’s sake. But the truth is that I just wanted so badly to stand on my own two literary feet without anyone holding my hands. Greg was so awesome about letting me pout openly about it. Eventually, we wound up letting each other edit one another’s writing because we just stopped caring and the deadline was fast approaching. So, I apparently fussed for nothing.
Q: What were some of your goals for the book and do you think you met them? What priorities did you find shifting during your writing process?
Our goals were to be honest with how our individual and family lives fit in with our Catholic teachings and brutally so. We’ve been told that our transparency with our mistakes and determination to continue onward despite them has been refreshingly honest and relatable. So, yes, we’ll take the positive reviews as a sign that we’ve met our objective with this book.
Sometimes the priority of our book’s outline didn’t always come to fruition once the Holy Spirit was invoked. The outline was a reflection of what WE originally wanted to say and then there’s what we said after praying to the Holy Spirit for writing guidance. For example, while I’m glad we took the time to write about our Catholic viewpoints in today’s entertainment and technology, I’m glad we lingered longer in areas relating to family planning and spirituality. If priorities shift as a result of prayer, then it must be a good thing.
Q: I recommend that couples enjoy reading this book together and using it as fodder for conversation. What did you learn about yourselves and your marriage while writing together?
That we could write a book together without strangling the other. Seriously, we learned that praying about the process of writing while respecting each other’s different writing styles was possible because of our ability to lean on God. Writing this book taught us once again that all things are possible with God. Without Him, we’d just screw it up. And now our marriage has successfully endured the writing adventure. That’s saying something!
Q: What words of support and encouragement do you have for folks who are currently feeling unsatisfied or unfulfilled in their spiritual lives?
We would say that you are not alone. At one time or another, we all go through periods of desolation. While we desire a constant vibrant connection to Christ for a healthy spiritual life, the reality is that we come and go because of our fallen human nature and our tendency towards sin. But if we hold on to the truth as laid out for us in the Gospels, we can take much comfort in knowing that pursuing Christ is often the answer to all of our life’s problems. That and reading our book will go a long way in making you feel better.
Q: How are each us us called to live the New Evangelization?
If you don’t feel energized by Christ in your life, then chances are you don’t know your faith as well as you should. There is much work to do in beefing up our knowledge of living out our call to be disciples for Christ. Ask questions. Research your catechism and other trusted catechetical sources. Don’t settle for not knowing the reason for your hope! Once you start understanding the truth and you get a taste of that zeal for Jesus, don’t keep it all to yourself! Start sharing it with anyone and everyone who will listen. That’s what the apostles did in the early days of the Church. That’s what we are called to do.
Q: Are there any closing thoughts you’d like to share?
Greg and I are not the only Catholics next door. Either you’re one or you know one. Being Catholic is not just something you do at Mass. It’s your identity and it affects every fabric of your life. We are not perfect, but we strive for it because it’s the right thing to do. It’s also not boring! We find ourselves laughing, crying, yelling, moping, questioning and discerning all while continuing to strive toward Christ in this fallen world. If you’re Catholic, our book will affirm your faith. If you’re not, then come take a peek inside our house and see why we do the things we do.
Copyright 2012 Lisa M. Hendey