A new friend loaned me Susie Lloyd’s first book, Please Don’t Drink the Holy Water! when I was a mother of only three and trying to find my place in a new state, new home and new parish. I remember reading that book and, between the belly laughs, finding sweet relief that being a Catholic, attending a traditional liturgy and having a large family would not require me to give up my sense of humor. When the idea of homeschooling was planted in my brain, I was happy to see Susie on the schedule to speak at our local homeschooling conference, and she was just as funny in person. Her next book Bless Me, Father, For I Have Kids is another favorite. So much so that I invited her back to speak at the same conference a few years later once I was in charge. I’ve been privileged to get to know Susie a bit in person, so when she announced her latest book project and then offered me a copy I was thrilled. (I may have a bit of a homeschool mom crush on her.) We both agreed that if I disliked the book, it would disappear and we’d act like the whole exchange never happened.
Happily, I found “Yes, God! What Ordinary Families Can Learn about Parenting from Today’s Vocation Stories” to be an enjoyable read that gives me hope as a parent. Through the book’s nine interviews, Susie shares the stories of young men and women who answered God’s call to Holy Orders. If you thought, like me, that vocations come only from perfect homes where the mothers do not yell, you will take great comfort in realizing that assumption to be false.
As a convert, I knew no religious growing up and there are none in my family. Even though my husband is a cradle Catholic, there are no vocations in his family either. For the early part of my Catholic journey, my only dealings with religious men and women were through the priest at our college’s Neumann Center and our subsequent parish priests. I never knew anyone whose child chose to become religious and up until seven years ago, I didn’t even realize there were still young nuns in full habits out there. In the last couple of years, I’ve watched a few young members of our parish follow God’s call to the priesthood, convent or Carmel. I looked at their families in awe, but when questioned, neither mother could offer me any advice as to her secret for guaranteeing vocations in my own home.
‘Yes, God!’ asks the questions you’d ask if you could arrange an interview with a priest or sister. Their answers are honest, candid and sometime unexpected. There’s Sister Marianne, who admits to being the family trouble maker growing up and Sister Marie who’s father is not a practicing Catholic. There’s religious from homeschool, private school and public school, and families of all sizes. It’s like we’re sitting at the table for these conversations ourselves, nodding and sipping coffee as Susie offers her own reflections through out each chapter. I particularly like this passage:
Perhaps good St. Joseph once asked himself the same question. [Why would God choose me?] A famously quiet, dutiful soul, he probably felt he was nobody special. If there had been a village yearbook, he would have been voted “Most Unlikely to Make Sudden Epic Journeys.” Yet, it wa s just this plainness, this stability, really, that God wanted for his service. As patron saints go, how spot-on can you get?
I am convinced that God is a fan of dutiful ordinariness. He uses it to do miracles. … How else could a plain-as-parsnips family give a son to the sacred priesthood?…”
I only wish the book was longer. But perhaps that’s just me; maybe I just need more assurance, or I’m too nosey. Maybe you won’t need to be continually beaten over the head to realize that so long as you encourage your children to consider a religious vocation, and support or stand out-of-the-way if it comes along, God will take care of the rest. At only 107 pages, that message comes through loud and clear.
Susie was kind enough to answer some of my questions as well.
Straight out of my quirky head. As a parent, I became fascinated with priests and sisters years ago, especially the young ones. Being a priest or sister is not a popular “career.” So I would always wonder how they were raised – not so that I could make any of our kids become a priest or nun. I just wanted to know how to raise great Catholic kids. Or at least how not to blow it. Then I thought, this is my kind of parenting book.
2) What preconceived notions about the religious and their families, did you have when you started the book? What surprised you the most once you actually starting talking to them?
As a homeschool “lifer,” I had noticed vocations coming from other homeschooled families. I mean, when my daughter Kate had her Sweet Sixteen birthday party, there were about a dozen girls. Three of them later entered cloisters. All of them were from different families and all were homeschooled. Great as this is, I was very glad to find out that other people were growing faithful kids too. They do share something that I have noticed among homeschoolers, a high level of commitment. They didn’t expect their kids to turn out great by accident. They poured a lot into it. A lot of attention to detail. They all had and still have good relationships with their kids.
3)What message should Catholic parents take away from this book?
That depends entirely on the reader and I like it that way. I want the book to be like getting to know some great people. You learn things from your friends just by being around them. What I got out of doing the interviews will not necessarily be what someone else likes about the book. One young reader, a college student, surprised me. She wrote me a note that said, “I didn’t know how much it would impact me when I started reading it. No, I don’t have a call to the religious life, but this book definitely struck a chord in me. I’m in my third year of college at a public university. I didn’t realize how much I have been beaten down into complacency since I’ve been in school this semester. I have forgotten how connected family and faith must be in order to build up the Kingdom. It was really great to read how ordinary people can still do great things for God, even though it is hard to stick up for it. This world is so cynical and sarcastic that a lot of beauty has been lost. Thank you for restoring some of that beauty for me this week.” She isn’t a nun or a parent, yet the friends inside the book gave her hope.
4) Although you sprinkle personal reflections and stories through out the book, how was writing ‘Yes, God!’ different than writing your other books?
This one was much harder to write than my two humor books. First you find people who are willing to tell their story. One lady gave me an interview but backed out the next day out of embarrassment. I don’t blame her. I just mention it so you know what happens. Then you do the actual interviews. Each one then needs followup. Then you have to sort through it all. You can’t just blop it down as is. It wouldn’t make sense. You have to look for themes and threads, etc. Then you make sure each person approves his or her featured story. One required several revisions – not because I revealed too much but because I hadn’t revealed enough. It is impossible to get the full meaning of somebody’s life into one little essay. You have to tell just enough to benefit the reader. Yet, you have to respect the way people feel about seeing their own lives in print. Lucky for me, there were plenty of moments of delight – when I had a free hand or when someone absolutely loved their piece.
5.) Do you think this book might help young Catholics discern a vocation?
My intention was really to write a parenting book. BUT, there is no doubt that “Yes, God!” shows the goodness and the joy of the calling for those who have it. It’s not for weirdos or for plaster saints but for people who could have been very successful in the world if they had so chosen. Right at the beginning, I bring in the sadness of the rich young man of the gospel and juxtapose it with the happiness of those who said, “Yes.” A vocations’ conference organizer liked it so much he bought 150 copies to hand out and invited me in to speak. It was a hit. So, perhaps, if a young reader is called, and something is holding him or her back, that this book will help dispel the doubt.