Jennifer Fulwiler: You Can Pursue Your Dreams and Love Your Family
BOOK PICK: One Beautiful Dream
ONE BEAUTIFUL DREAM
The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions and Saying Yes to Them Both
By Jennifer Fulwiler
Ignatius Press, 2018
240 pages; $25
To order: ewtnrc.com or (800) 854-6316
You know that book, the one that everyone is reading; the book that people are talking about at parties, all over social media (and, in this case, your church group) — and the one that you’d feel kind of left out of the conversation if you hadn’t read it?
Jennifer Fulwiler’s One Beautiful Dream is that book.
A hilarious, motivating and fresh memoir (the story which in many ways picks up where her first book, Something Other Than God, left off), One Beautiful Dream tells the immersive and relatable story of how a career-driven, single woman with no dreams of raising a family ended up becoming a mother of six who loves her life and follows her dreams, not separately from her life as a Catholic mom, but right in the midst of it, together with those she loves most.
Chapter 1 opens in a grocery store, where Fulwiler, pregnant with her third child, banters with her mother-in-law about bringing a possum to the house, all while trying to hurriedly shop and pacify two antsy little ones stuck in the grocery cart.
The drama comes to a head when she and the kids almost run into a woman, whom Fulwiler wittily deems “Green Bean Lady,” and the kids emotionally fall apart while Green Bean Lady subtly admonishes her for having too many children for her to handle.
Interiorly, Fulwiler explodes, questioning her life and family choices as she dashes out of the store — only to realize she had forgotten the one grocery item she came for. Amid the tears that ensue, she mentally mulls over her current life situation: “My love for my kids was infinite. It was my life’s greatest blessing to be their mother. But I wasn’t happy.”
The rest of the book unpacks her search for (and discovery of) happiness as both a devoted family woman and a pursuer of personal passions. In Fulwiler’s case, that passion is writing and storytelling, what her husband’s friend Keith calls her “blue flame,” the passion that ignites a fire within when doing it.
Fulwiler beautifully navigates the tension between individualism (which described her lifestyle pre-children), self-gift to one’s family and living out God’s will using one’s God-given talents and charisms.
Demonstrating her point through personal epiphanies and memorable stories, she doesn’t just tell, but shows, the reader how she, too, doesn’t have to choose between family and life-giving work. As a priest reminded her upon her confessing her struggles about her family and work-life balance, “God is always calling us to connection, to unity.”
What if families helped one another pursue their dreams, all contributing their gifts and passions in their own way to the good of the whole, like instruments in an orchestra, so that they could make beautiful music together? The priest elaborated, “We always think like individuals, like the work that we do has nothing to do with anyone else. God wants us to see what we do as just one small part of something greater.”
I think it is this quest for finding and lighting up one’s blue flame, not decades after children are grown, but right in the midst of the chaos of family life, that makes this book so very relatable to parents today, who often feel overwhelmed about knowing how, when and in what way to follow their dreams without sacrificing their family-first focus in some way.
As one friend of mine wrote on Instagram after reading One Beautiful Dream late into the hours of the night, “I needed to know what all the fuss was about. … Oh my goodness. Jennifer Fulwiler has written a book that pretty much is the inside of my brain. She writes so well I think I need to tell my spiritual director to read it in order to get a better understanding of me!”
I must have read at least a dozen comments like hers since the book was released May 1 — just among my own friends, and not including accolades of the book that highlight readers’ other favorite aspects of it.
One other thing to note about One Beautiful Dream, which Catholics in particular may be interested in, is the subtle evangelistic nature of the story, in which Fulwiler offers distinctively Catholic insights on family planning and spirituality, like in Chapter 4, when she states succinctly to a nurse: “I’m Catholic. I don’t do contraception.” This is a particularly refreshing characteristic of the book, since it is published by a large and primarily evangelical Protestant company. Ignatius Press published the Catholic edition of the book, which features a Catholic foreword and Catholic endorsements.
This book will undoubtedly find its way into the hands of many non-Catholics, who will hopefully be moved by the story’s positive portrayal of authentic Catholic family life.
As my hands are happily full raising a group of my own little ones, loving my family life while also loving pursuing my own “blue flame,” I would recommend this to any parent who is seeking an enjoyable, informative, funny story-guide to living your own dreams while loving your family even more and helping those you love pursue their own goals.
After devouring the book, which seems to be the way this insightful and readable story is best read (though the chapters are fantastically brief for the sake of busy parents who need to consume it in bites), it seems clear that Fulwiler wants the reader to know this: It’s not just that you can follow your passions, you should. Using your gifts can bring joy to you, life to your family and build up the Kingdom of God. Your life, too, can be one beautiful dream.
Katie Warner writes from California. Her website is KatieWarner.com.
This has been updated regarding the Catholic edition
and availability through EWTN Religious Cataloge.