So many of you have prayed courageously for our CatholicMom.com contributor Cassandra Poppe since the tragic accident that impacted her son Fulton and the entire Poppe family. Over the past few years, it’s been a joy to witness not only Fulton’s valiant recovery but also the way in which Cassandra and Jay Poppe have used this trial as a way to minister to others. Through their newly established platform Friendly Face Forward, the Poppe family is now equipping others who have faced severe tests to go out and to inspire and encourage the world around them. I often share with others that Fulton is my “superhero”. Well, behind every great superhero is a “Super Mom”. Today, I’m happy to share Cassandra’s book Fire of Love, a compelling look at “the rest of the story”. I can’t recommend highly enough this amazing spiritual memoir! I hope that you’ll enjoy my conversation with Cassandra here and that you will ignite your own spiritual renewal with her wonderful new book.
Q: Cassandra, congratulations on the release of Fire of Love. It is such an important book with so many profound truths that will most certainly bless any reader! Please briefly introduce yourself and your family to our readers.
Thank you Lisa! My husband, Jay, is a convert to the Catholic faith, and while many would probably call me a revert, I also consider myself a convert to Catholicism. We are the proud parents of 7 children – our oldest is 22 and is serving in the Air Force, and our youngest is just 1 year old. We are all living and learning together as a homeschooling family on Thunder Duck Ranch – our homestead in Oklahoma.
Q: Many in our CatholicMom.com community are most certainly familiar with your family’s story. But for readers who are not, kindly give us a short overview of the events that led up to your writing of this book.
This past Sunday, January 8, marked the 4 year anniversary of my son Fulton’s accident. He was severely burned while helping on the homestead when he was only 4 years old. And while his accident was certainly a life changing event for us as a family, I became acutely aware of the steady presence of God in my life which actually seemed to prepare me for the suffering and trials that came about after his accident. As He continued to make His presence known, I realized that perhaps there was a bigger story that needed to be told, beyond just my son’s trials and triumphs. And so the book Fire of Love was born.
Q: The book is far more than the story of Fulton’s accident. How do you describe what you’ve written and what are the most important teaching points you are trying to make in this book?
I had a hard time pinpointing an exact genre for my book. It is a conversion story – a glimpse into my personal faith journey to Catholicism. It is also a trial-to-triumph tale for my son. And yet, it is also a compilation of lessons learned and a faith strengthened through tremendous suffering. All of this has been wrapped in the ultimate message that by surrendering oneself to God’s will, anyone can find peace in the trials they face.
Q: Although I have the gift of knowing you personally, much of your story was new to me. How challenging was it to be so honest in your writing? Why do you feel that such openness is essential to this work?
My first draft certainly had elements that resembled a rather shocking tabloid article! I knew some parts should not remain in the final edits, but it was important for me to see it all on paper first – the good, the bad, and the ugly in my life – so that I could draw out what I felt would give God the most glory without getting into the details that might have entertained some people but would have ultimately cheapened the profound journey I was on.
There is always the slight horror an author feels when they realize that there are two very different groups of people who will read what they write. The general population, who will hopefully draw from it what they need to fortify their own journey towards a deeper faith. And friends and family members who will be learning a few things they never knew, and that the author will eventually come face to face with these loved ones at the Thanksgiving table, the playground, or at Mass.
I treated the privacy of my husband and children as sacred and only mentioned them when I absolutely had to. That was very important. But when it came to my story, I realized that readers needed to see that just because I happened to have a sense of peace and acceptance when dealing with Fulton’s accident and care, it was a peace that came with a price. The battles I fought earlier in life, the struggles I still face, all of that had to come out to give other people who may be carrying heavy crosses a sense of hope. I wanted people to see that even a train wreck such as myself could learn to trust in Our Lord and surrender to whatever path He puts me on. And if I learned to do it, anyone can.
Q: You surely now have opportunities frequently to minister to families who are facing heartbreaking suffering. What words of consolation do you offer? What can one person do when faced with such suffering to provide love and support?
I am amazed at the amount of love and support that came our way from complete strangers from the first day of Fulton’s accident up to this very day. I could never say enough thank yous or repay in prayers or deeds what has been freely offered for my family. And being so aware, I try to pass that love on to others whenever I am contacted by someone who reaches out to me in their pain.
While the overall focus of my book is accepting God’s will in all things, I know that the last thing most people want to hear when their suffering is so fresh. So I try my best to minister to their hearts wherever they are in their journey. I have found that the best way to do this is simply to listen.
Our Lord presents to us His pain in the Sorrowful Mysteries – not so we can meditate on ways we could have fixed it, or lessened His pain during His Passion, but simply to draw our hearts closer to His while He suffers. It is the same when I am talking with someone who is still in the throes of their own Passion. Nothing I can say or do will truly ease the pain at its core. But in empathizing with them, it gives them permission to fully feel the pain without shame, which seems to ultimately help them work through that first stage of grief over what has happened, without me overloading them with Bible quotes and a summary of my own spiritual philosophy.
It builds trust. They know that they can come back to me whenever they need to. Some come back months later with more practical questions regarding wound care, surgery preparation, social issues, and so on. And once again, I meet them where they are at and try not to overload them with everything I have learned all at once. Baby steps at every stage, I think, has been the most productive way for me to minister to others.
Q: You know that I’m the president of Fulton’s fan club. Please give us an update on how he is doing?
Burns are fascinating from a medical standpoint, but from a little boy’s point of view, it can get rather overwhelming. Every year different complications arise. He constantly requires more surgeries, and 2016 was no exception. But on top of the regular maintenance he requires, he had 2 emergency surgeries that ultimately kept us away from home for over 2 months. And now, his latest issue is that he is losing hearing in one ear, due to the scar tissue that is now closing off where his ear once was. This will have to be addressed in May, so prayers for all the work that will need to be done for that are greatly appreciated.
But aside from the natural stresses revolving around upcoming surgeries, he is doing very well! He continues to astound people he meets with his quick smile and talkative, cheerful personality. His emotional recovery has been nothing short of miraculous, and even though he is only 8, he has already found ways of breaking through social barriers and even sharing safety information with strangers.
Q: You offer retreats, talks and seminars on the virtues of suffering. How can people invite you to speak to their parish or group? What results come from offering such a resource for parish families?
For anyone interested in contacting me, they may do so on my website at www.cassandrapoppe.com. It is my hope, through my talks, that people will go home inspired to allow God permission to work wonders in their hearts through whatever future trials they may endure, and to begin preparing their hearts and those of their children to learn to surrender their own wills to God.
Q: I continue to believe that God is doing profound work through you, Cassandra! What’s next for you personally and professionally?
My personal plans consist of preparing Fulton for his first confession and reception of the Holy Eucharist in a few weeks, helping my daughter plan for her wedding in May, and my son’s wedding in August, and simply going about my daily wife-and-mother duties on the homestead for my family. In my spare time, I am finishing up my next book entitled the 5 Steps to Perfect Parenting – a gentle plan for disciplining children towards perfect contrition instead of just good behavior. I am also working on a journal for mothers focused on growing in the virtues presented in the Rosary. Lord willing, they will be completed sometime this year!
Q: Are there any additional thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?
I just want to say yet again how profoundly thankful my whole family and I are to you, Lisa, for helping to get the prayer chains going on that dreadful day. And thank you to your followers who have continued to keep Fulton in their prayers over the years. We could not have turned out so well without so many people constantly lifting us up. Thank you!
- Visit www.cassandrapoppe.com to learn more about Cassandra’s apostolate and to order Fire of Love
- Learn more about Friendly Face Forward
Copyright 2017 Lisa M. Hendey
Images copyright Cassandra Poppe, used with permission