Happy Reads for February’s Doldrums {February Column, The Catholic Post}

Here is my February book column that appears in this weekend’s print edition of The Catholic Post .  I invite your feedback.

February is the longest month.

Wait, it’s not?

Well, February is the darkest month.

Wait, it’s not that either?

Surely I’m not the only person who dreads the approach of February. It feels like the darkest, coldest, longest month, even though it is technically short, and spring is on the way.

Several years ago I was reading the acclaimed new translation of “Anna Karenina.” It’s a classic and a great read, but my mistake was reading it during February. I wanted to (spoiler alert, sorry) throw the book under a train, so depressing was all the brokenness in that novel.

Since then, I’ve sworn off sad or dark reads during February’s doldrums. I encourage you to take a similar pledge.

With that in mind, here are a few lighter, encouraging reads to help lift our spirits and get us to March:

 Yes, God! What Ordinary Families can Learn About Parenting from Today’s Vocation Stories by Susie Lloyd.

When you get to know someone, learning their story is such a great way to find out about them. How did you choose your career? How did you meet your husband? How did you end up here?

Learning the vocation stories of priests and religious is a great way to get to know them, too.

Each chapter of Yes, God! Susie Lloyd profiles one of ten priests and religious from families, large, small and in-between; broken, barely intact and robustly healthy. The book shares how each family shaped in some way each person’s vocation path, and what makes it unique.

Is there any similarity between the families, a formula that guarantees kids who grow up happy and whole, much less following a vocation? No, and that’s what makes Yes, God! so fascinating. The stories of five men and five women who followed religious vocations is fingerprint-personal to each of those featured.

Tolstoy (yes, in Anna Karenina) famously wrote that “all happy families are alike, and each unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion.”  But as I wrote in a college paper way back, I think he got it backwards. There are myriad ways to be happy and therefore holy.

Look at the saints. Aren’t you grateful there isn’t just one kind of saint or path to holiness? Most of us would be doomed, and I am grateful to hold dear the saints who most speak to my life and spiritual gifts. Yes, God! offers that kind of variety.

At the end of each biographical sketch/chapter, Lloyd offers a reflection of “Saying Yes,” to different virtues that informed the person’s path. For instance, “saying yes to patience,” “saying yes to strength,” and her own thoughts on how this quality helped the person say yes to God’s invitation, and how readers might adopt that virtue. She offers some interesting and quirky reflections from her own family, and offers a peek into the mystery of a vocation.

Pope Awesome and Other Stories: How I Found God, Had Kids, and Lived to Tell the Tale by Cari Donaldson

Pope Awesome is a cleverly titled—and cleverly written—memoir about a young single woman who wants nothing to do with God—until she does. Ten years later, she finds herself married, with six kids and living an unapologetic Catholic faith and lifestyle. How did that happen? Simple enough: she wants “something more,” God takes her at her word, she gradually accepts, and then she gets it in full.

It’s no shock to readers here that I love Catholic memoirs, and Pope Awesome is one of the happiest reads I’ve seen in this category. It’s refreshing to read a memoir from a younger (and convert) author—like a Chris Haw, or Donaldson here—because of the sincerity and beauty of a younger faith. And, as my father (himself a convert) used to say, “There’s nothing like a convert.”

But Donaldson, both earnestly and humorously sharing the joys, tears and sheer craziness of a young family and a growing faith, shows the joy in being always open to God’s plans, however wild they might seem.

Speaking of Catholic memoirs and fun books… if you haven’t read Susie Lloyd’s two memoirs on Catholic family life, consider them.

Please Don’t Drink the Holy Water! is her first, but even better is the more-recent Bless Me Father, for I Have Kids. I mean this in the best way possible—Lloyd is the much-needed Erma Bombeck of Catholic moms everywhere. They’re inexpensively available as e-books, and I highly recommend them as diverting fun for any harried mom.