Hello, everyone! Kevin Thompson here. As we prepare this blog post, we want to remember our brothers and sisters in the Carolinas as well as the other areas struck by Hurricane Florence. As one of many who experienced the eye wall of Hurricane Irma last year and the devastation it can bring, I understand firsthand what they are dealing with right now. But know this: God is there before, during, and after the storms of life, both figurative and literal. We “celebrated” the first year anniversary of Irma on Sept. 10-11th (it occurred during the middle of the night), and one year later, life is back to normal…almost (a few blue tarped homes still remain). Hope is truly eternal and not fixed in the things of this life that moth and rust (and hurricanes) can destroy.
With that, we want to welcome a fellow CAN Author who deals with some of the storms of this life with her writing. Please welcome Maureen Pratt!
Maureen, tell us about your latest book, Salt and Light: Church, Disability, and the Blessing of Welcome for All.
This book is a resource for clergy, lay ministers, churchgoers, and persons with disabilities to better understand and affect full welcome within our church communities. Geared toward Catholic churches, but relevant for all Christians, the book is based on the scriptural and historical contexts of Christ’s love and welcome extended to all, including persons with physical, emotional, and psychological disabilities.
What inspired you to write this book?
Although we have made much progress in our church communities toward accommodation for persons with disabilities, problems still exist. Negative or ill-informed attitudes toward the capabilities of persons with learning disabilities, reluctance to provide physical accommodations, and misunderstandings about persons with invisible disabilities, including mental health issues, are still holding some churches and believers back from being full reflections of Christ’s abundant and all-encompassing love. I live with multiple disabilities, and have experienced these obstacles firsthand. So, the content of this book is both personal and universal–researched and lived!
Why did you write this book?
My other faith-based, nonfiction books have found readers across denominational lines. When I set out to write this book, however, although there are books for other denominations’ experiences with accommodation for and including of persons with disabilities, there are no recent books for my own faith tradition (Catholic) that encompass disability, worship, vocation, and ministry to the extent that Salt and Light does. I am not one to complain without offering solutions to a problem. So, I consciously geared this book to address many of the ongoing challenges toward full welcome (things I have experienced, but also things others have experienced), and offer concrete, faith-based solutions and ways to replace unproductive attitudes with those that forward better opportunities and worship and faith experiences for all.
What is the primary focus of your book?
The focus is three-fold: How clergy and lay ministers, churchgoers, and persons with disabilities need to and can work together to make full welcome in our churches truly happen.
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
I hope that readers will be encouraged by what is possible and inspired to take action in their home churches, and learn from other denominations that have already successfully implemented such measures.
How has God used the message of your book in your own life?
There were times while writing this book that I felt extremely angry about how I or others with disabilities have been treated in a faith context. But each time I felt that anger well up, I prayed that God would use it within me to lovingly express ways to avoid such things happening in the future. In this respect, writing the book was a profound spiritual journey that brought great healing and joy!
What was your greatest challenge in writing this book?
My own health issues, including lupus and systemic, autoimmune sensory polyneuropathy always make writing painful and exhausting. I had to write in small increments, which was frustrating at times. But God’s grace carried me through!
How do you share Christ in your writing?
Christ is the focus of all of my writing, especially His suffering, death on the cross, and resurrection. Our Lord’s amazing mercy and strength through all this fuels my writing. And whenever we focus on Him, in our every action, we share Him, too!
What themes do you return to again and again in your writing?
One of the main themes that I find recurs in all that I write is that, in order to be able to live a Christ-centered life, we have to accept and embrace our suffering. So often, we get “stuck” on waiting for the cure–praying that God will take away our pain, instead of looking for His wisdom and will in the situation. I learned, early on, that there is a vast difference between “cure” and “heal” in theology and faith–To “cure” means to take away the suffering, illness, or affliction. God can do this at any time, but may choose not to–it’s not up to us, it’s up to Him. However, to “heal” means to be made whole, to be brought closer to Christ in His suffering and redemptive grace. This is something that is freely given and available to all of us, and we don’t have to wait for our illness or pain to be taken away in order to receive it. But we DO have to get away from stalling out on demanding that God cure us to the absence of trusting Him that His will is best, and we desire, more than anything, to follow it. I truly believe that Christ doesn’t want us to sit around waiting for a cure, but rather be busy about the Father’s business at all times, no matter what.
How has being a writer impacted your relationship with Christ?
It definitely has brought me closer to Him. To me, writing is praying and ministering at the same time. I absolutely love every part of it, and find Christ’s blessings abundantly moving through each moment.
Why do you write nonfiction?
In essence, I write what I write because God has given me a unique skill- and experiential set of talents and opportunities that have enabled me to write personally and knowledgeably about disability, illness, faith, and God’s abiding mercy and love. I earned my Master of Fine Arts in Theater Arts/Writing from UCLA’s prestigious School of Theater, Film, and Television, and thought I would be writing for Hollywood. I did pen several screenplays, and a couple of my plays won awards. But, when I was diagnosed with lupus and the initial flare nearly killed me, my writing took a decidedly sharp turn toward exploring the places where faith, prayer, and chronic pain, illness, and disability meet. Two of my first non-fiction books were medical–Taking Charge of Lupus: How to Manage the Disease and Make the Most of Your Life (New American Library/Penguin) and The First Year: Hypothyroidism (Perseus Press)–but within them were brief sections about the importance of faith and God. Then, the call to write directly about faith, prayer, and Our Lord’s place in our lives with suffering became absolutely crystal-clear and strong, and has led to abundant blessings in the work that has flowed since. My devotional, Peace in the Storm: Meditations on Chronic Pain and Illness (Penguin Random House) is an example of this; it has been in print for more than thirteen years, and is still being used in church support groups of many different denominations, as well as by chaplains, medical professionals, and patient advocacy groups.
Tell us about your most touching moment with a reader.
I often hear from readers of Peace in the Storm who tell me that they keep the book on their night table and read it every day. That the book accompanies so many through their journeys with chronic pain and illness is a humbling blessing to me, and I bring this responsibility and joy into everything that I write.
What ministries are you involved in, and why?
Writing and speaking in the area of faith, disability, and church has developed into a ministry that keeps me busy! But when I can, I love serving in my church as a leader of song. There is nothing like praising the Lord in music!
What talents do you have aside from storytelling?
I have a knack for learning languages. I speak French and Spanish and have some German, Russian, Italian, and Irish Gaelic. Whole worlds and cultures open up when you master another language. I also love to learn and make it a point to dive into subjects that are new to me, especially aspects of Church history I haven’t studied before, and books about the natural world and travel. Many times, I find bits of information that help craft or inform whatever it is I’m working on.
What are your hobbies or activities or passions outside of writing?
I grow, show, hybridize, and am a judge of African violets and other related plants (gesneriads). Nurturing flowering plants goes well with writing–I can often work out part of what I need to write by digging in the dirt or grooming a plant! I’m also halfway through to earning my Graduate Gemologist diploma from the Gemological Institute of America. This, too, relates in some ways to life with severe illness; suffering can make us feel mighty “rough,” but through prayer and trust in God, we can become refined and shine with His light brighter than we ever thought possible!
Before we close, tell us about your next project.
My next projects are two spoken word/musical works for persons with chronic pain and illness that will be introduced next year. I am a professional singer, so am particularly excited to combine music with writing!
Congratulations, Maureen! And thank you for taking some time out to help our readers get to know you a little better.
For those who wish to learn more about Maureen and her writing ministry, please visit Maureen’s website.
Until next time, May God bless you, and may you bless God!