By Patrick T. Brown | Correspondent
The debate over whether women can truly have it all can conjure up an ideal that combines Martha Stewart’s home decorating skills, Mary Poppins’ childrearing habits and Sheryl Sandberg’s career trajectory – with a dollop of Theresa of Avila’s piety to boot.
The problem with that standard, national radio host and author Jennifer Fulwiler told a crowd of about 140 attendees gathered May 14 at St. Paul Parish, Princeton, is not just that it’s unachievable, but that it discourages anyone from cultivating their creative passions that too often are ignored or trampled on by the hustle of contemporary life.
Fulwiler calls these stirrings a “blue flame,” like a pilot light keeping a furnace burning, found where God-given gifts are put to use in a way that makes one feel more fully alive. A secular outlook might deem fame and fortune the ultimate barometer of success, Fulwiler said. But making space for passion projects and big dreams in the midst of family life can be a way to live out the famous quote attributed to St. Iranaeus – “the glory of God is man fully alive.”
“In God's economy,” Fulwiler said, “we can actually have a really big impact using our 'blue flame' in really small ways.” What’s more, she stressed, one doesn’t have to be a corporate executive or a best-selling author to integrate those personal passions into daily life, especially when they can be pursued as a family.
She would know.
The former computer programmer turned homeschooling mom and author of “One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both” stopped by Princeton as part of a month-long book tour that included all six of her children.
Fulwiler offered a precis of her book in a 45-minute talk that ranged from raising children in Neolithic villages to modern-day moms selling homemade jewelry online as a “side hustle.” The audience, predominantly (though not exclusively) female, with more than a few small children in tow, had the opportunity to ask some questions, get books signed and take selfies with the author, who hosts a daily two-hour radio show on SiriusXM’s “The Catholic Channel.”
“It is time for a fresh conversation about work and fulfillment and gender roles, specifically, one that fits with 2018,” Fulwiler said in an interview before her speech. “I hope that this book is a jumping-off point, especially in the Catholic and Christian world, for having a fresh conversation about gender roles and fulfillment.”
Of course, discussions about women “leaning in” to the question of work-life balance or asking whether they can truly “have it all” are nothing new. But Fulwiler stresses that her message of pursuing personal dreams need not come at the expense of family life moves beyond the secular emphasis on professional success.
Catholic Christians can “distinguish our blue flames from the way we make money,” Fulwiler said.
“I have a lot of friends and relatives in economic situations where their job is just not going to be their blue flame, and I would say, that’s OK – think outside the box, find creative ways to minimize the stress that your work causes you to whatever extent you can, and use your blue flame on the side.”
A focus on the things that matter, and the ultimate destination in mind, is another distinguishing contribution Fulwiler would make to the discussion.
“Fulfillment [is more] than monetary gain, than titles on business cards, than accolades ... if you are using your blue flame, and you see yourself having an impact in some small way ... you will see God working through you, even if only five people know that you're doing this,” she said. “That will bring you fulfillment even if you don’t own a business card, let alone have an impressive title on it.”
Residents of Princeton and the broader Mercer County area were thrilled to have a national book tour make a stop.
“I've been reading Jennifer Fulwiler's work for the past 10 years, so it was an amazing experience to get to speak with her in person,” said Serena Sigillito of Dayton, who balances her work at a think tank with raising two kids younger than 3. “I love her take on balancing motherhood with pursuing your passions.”
Msgr. Joseph Rosie, pastor, said the parish was blessed to have Fulwiler and her family visit.
Fulwiler and her team chose Princeton for a book tour stop after plans for a Philadelphia visit fell through, but she felt that God’s providential hand put them in the right location.
“We live in a college town,” Fulwiler said, explaining that the Princeton-area community had the same kinds of questions about how to balance one’s God-given gifts and putting God and family first while paying bills.
The fact that people in and around an Ivy League university town were struggling with these questions in a very different way than individuals where she started the tour, in the deep South, was a reminder not just of the Church’s incredible diversity, but the importance of wrestling with these challenges in a way that finds the right answer for each individual – “there is no one-size-fits-all right answer,” she said.