Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Homegrown Faith

I recently interviewed photo-journalist and author, Heidi Bratton about her upcoming book, Homegrown Faith. Her new book is really quite a gem.

Here's my back cover endorsement:

"Heidi Bratton shows us how to grow spiritually throughout the Church year right in the ordinariness of our family days together with the extraordinary moments we experience as Catholic parents. This down-to-earth witty author gives unambiguous instructions for planting seeds of faith which will bloom in our children’s hearts forever."

Here's our interview:

DONNA-MARIE: Heidi, can you please tell us what prodded you to write this book?

HEIDI: My readers were the real and persistent prod in getting this book into print! Because my background is in photo-journalism, when I felt called to a publishing ministry sixteen years ago, I began with the writing and photo-illustrating of faith-based children’s books, and worked my way into trade books like Homegrown Faith; Nurturing Your Catholic Family. The speaking I was doing back then was for interdenominational mothering groups like Hearts at Home and MOPS, International, and resulted in the publication of eleven Christian children’s books and a successful trade book called Making Peace with Motherhood and Creating a Better You (Paulist Press). Then, just six years ago, I felt the call to become more overtly Catholic in my ministry and so began to write a weekly, Catholic family life column for The Anchor newspaper of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, which is where we were living at the time. I called the column Homegrown Faith and during the first year of its publication, I received many requests for reprints from readers who wanted to share the spiritual nuggets in those columns with family and friends across the country. In hopes of meeting that demand, I expanded publication of the column and other articles to online websites like Catholic Exchange.com and Catholic Mom.com.

This actually enlarged my readership and the requests for reprints even more, so that at the end of that first year, I really felt the Holy Spirit tugging at my sleeve, encouraging me to package Homegrown Faith in book form. So, I put a manuscript together and floated it by some highly regarded Catholics like my newspaper editor, Fr. Roger Landry, my local bishop, Bishop George Coleman, my local archbishop, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, as well as other notable Catholic authors like Kimberly Hahn, Danielle Bean, and Heidi Hess Saxton. After receiving two thumbs up and really precious endorsements from all these reviewers, I set myself to polishing the manuscript and getting a publisher. Since then I have also been very blessed by other endorsements such as yours, Donna-Marie, and that of Lisa Hendey of Catholic Mom.com, and Debbie Herbeck of Renewal Ministries.

Although I still write my newspaper column and publish online even more, a printed book is a very versatile and highly accessible tool for my specific audience; busy Catholic moms in active mothering duty. A book can be peacefully read while nursing an infant, tucked in a purse for inspiration while waiting in the doctor’s office, kept on a nightstand for personal, daily prayer time, or shared with friends in a mom’s group.

Also, by organizing my columns into the 52 chapters of a book, one for each week of the year, I was able to add reflection questions to each chapter, a benefit which is, of course, not possible in a newspaper nor in an online article. I am really excited about the potential for these reflection questions to help my readers personalizing the spiritual seed of each column, to grow that seed in their own hearts and in the hearts of their family members, as well as to be able to more easily share this growth with distance family and friends

DONNA-MARIE: I have a feeling that the title of your column and now your book has a deep meaning for you. Can you tell us a bit more about what "Homegrown Faith" means to you?

HEIDI: When I hear the term, “homegrown,” I think of produce from some of the places around the USA in which I have been blessed to live; of springtime farm stands in California overflowing with baskets of red ripe strawberries, of mid-summer farmers’ markets in Michigan lined with bins of plump blueberries, and of autumn-time U-Pick orchards in New England chock-full of bushels of apples and pumpkins. The very concept of something being “homegrown” makes me think of that thing as being precious, close to someone’s heart, and I feel drawn to it. To be “homegrown” is the opposite of being mass produced. It means that fruit or vegetable was chosen carefully and tended to with great love from the very beginning.

I borrow the term and its appealing meaning for the title of my column and of my new book because I believe choosing carefully what spiritual seeds to plant in our families and then tending lovingly to the growth of those seeds is a great analogy for how to have a family life that is plentiful to the point of overflowing with spiritual fruit. Also, the parallels between growing abundant produce and growing a faith-filled family are abundant and intuitive, such as the need for constant watering, constant pulling of weeds, having seasons of drought, and things like that.

DONNA-MARIE How long did to take to write your book?

HEIDI: It took five years from first inspiration to the printed version now available from Servant Books. During those same five years, however, I continued to home school anywhere between two and four of our children, had a sixth baby at age 41, sent the two oldest children off to college, wrote and illustrated four more children’s board books, and then, in just the last six months moved the family from Massachusetts to Michigan with my husband’s work. So, you I wasn’t writing fulltime by any means, but through all that time and the ever expanding parenting duties, I was gathering quite a bit of material to share with my readers!

DONNA-MARIE: What was the most challenging part of your writing process?

HEIDI: The biggest challenge for me in writing is finding the time, something to which I know all moms in active duty can relate! It can be a really frustrating limitation, but I try to see it as an asset to my work, making what I write all the more real and relevant to my readers. Readers won’t find me waxing nostalgia because, as I mentioned earlier, as I have been writing Homegrown Faith; Nurturing Your Catholic Family, I have also been involved in some pretty all-consuming family activities like home schooling, sending children to college, having a sixth child, and moving cross country.

Someday I might have the time to write out all the spiritual insights the Lord has given me while attempting all of these overlapping activities, really, how enormously fun it would be to live the life of a “real” writer, as I have always imagined such a life to be… spending long hours on the shore of outer Cape Cod pondering ideas and word meanings over a steaming cups of café latte…

For now, however, and with the help of an extraordinarily committed and gifted editor, Claudia Volkman of Servant Books, I have gathered 52 of these spiritual insights from the napkins, the sides of road maps, the white space on church bulletins, and whatever other scrap of paper or diaper boxes I could find to scribble them on and committed them to print for the benefit of more families than just my own.

Another upside of my being time-challenged is that what I have to say is not all lofty and ideal, but very earthy and practical. It should resonate with the challenges and blessings felt by every mom out there today. One of my endorsers, Mary Kochan Editor-in-Chief, of Catholic Lane.com has written that, “To grow through the Church year with Heidi Bratton is to see Truth revealed by the most ordinary things and events of day-to-day home life – a ringing alarm clock, a missed cup of coffee, a pot of boiling water… and it is especially to see how grace is revealed by the most extraordinary things – those eternal beings we sleep, play, eat, and argue with, that collection of souls that God has assembled into a family. Best of all, Homegrown Faith does not stay home; it moves out in mission – to foreign countries, to engage our separated brethren, to change the world. A year spent with Heidi will grow faith in your home – and beyond.”

DONNA-MARIE: Your description of what you thought the writing life would be like really made me smile. The REAL writing life, for a mother anyway, is what you have experienced! That's the best way--the most real way. Then you can weave in all of your rich experiences to make it a far more interesting book!

I agree--Claudia is wonderful!

I really like Mary Kochan's endorsement--very nice.

Heidi, what do you hope your book may be able to accomplish?

HEIDI: For years now I have had a photograph of a mother and child and a quote from the Blessed Teresa of Calcutta tacked on to a bulletin board in my kitchen. The quote reads, “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” I know you can relate to the inspirational power of all of the Blessed Teresa’s words, Donna-Marie, because you knew her personally, but if I can bring to the mothers who read my book the incredible truth and profound meaning tucked into this one quote, I will be one happy, Catholic writer!

Motherhood can be viewed as a limitation, a season of constraint in a woman’s ability to impact the world outside her home, but the Blessed Teresa’s quote gives purpose and meaning to even the most mundane acts of caring for a home, a husband, and children, and I hope that my book will help readers believe and act on the Blessed Teresa’s words by better understanding the truly, far-reaching impact of faith-filled parenting.

DONNA-MARIE: I love that too - "Go home and love your family." It's just so perfect! As you know, I write about motherhood quite a bit, so I can surely relate to your sentiments (and Blessed Mother Teresa's) regarding the profound sublimity of the vocation of motherhood.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your journey?

HEIDI: The second thing I’d like to accomplish with my publishing ministry is to help Catholics learn how to read and to receive insight and grace from the Bible as well as the Sacraments. This is because during the early years of my mothering I attended a weekly Bible Study and it completely changed my life, and therefore the life of our family. My own writing whether it is in a children’s book, in a short article, or in a book like Homegrown Faith is always inspired by and includes insights and quotes from particular Scripture verses.

Studying God’s Word is what helped me to personalize and internalize the love of Jesus, deepen my appreciation of the Catholic Church, and desire more than anything that my children would also know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. I believe God’s Word, the Bible, has the power to do the same for anyone, but to have such a love poured into the life of a parent of young children means that that love will be multiplied for generations to come, and that is more exciting to me than anything else in the world!

DONNA-MARIE: Do you have plans to do any speaking events or book signings?

HEIDI: Yes, I do! Because of our recent, cross country move I have not taken on any new speaking or signing events lately, but, thanks be to God, (seriously, thanks be to God), we unpacked our last moving box just last week, and I am looking forward to getting out there with this new book in the months ahead. Readers who have upcoming women’s retreats, the need for a one-time speaker, or a fundraising idea for either Homegrown Faith or any of my children’s books can contact me through my website at www.heidibratton.com, or directly through my e-mail at homegrownfaith@gmail.com.

DONNA-MARIE: Finally, Heidi, where can we find your book for purchase?

HEIDI: Homegrown Faith; Nurturing Your Catholic Family is available anywhere books are sold. You can purchase it online at Servant Books’ website, at Amazon.com, at Christian Book Distributors.com, and at all local Catholic bookstores.

Thank you, Donna, for the opportunity to celebrate the launching of Homegrown Faith with you and your audiences. I appreciate everything you do to support and encourage Catholic motherhood!

DONNA-MARIE: You are very welcome, Heidi. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing all about this marvelous journey. Thanks a lot for the interview. I pray that Homegrown Faith helps inspire Catholic families everywhere! May God bless you and your family in great abundance!

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