Mary Stories: A Interview with Heidi Hess Saxton

The celebration of women and motherhood is most beautifully portrayed in a new book by Catholic author, speaker, and Catholic Exchange columnist, Heidi Hess Saxton.  Saxton, a convert to the Catholic faith and adoptive mother herself, exquisitely reveals the relationship between Mary and us, her adopted children in, Behold Your Mother: Mary Stories and Reflections from a Catholic Convert.  Beginning with three short personal stories that set the stage for the tone of the book which is one of love, honor, and a clear understanding of Mary's role in guiding us all to Christ, Saxton gives us the perfect book for time spent in quiet contemplation or when we are in need of a gentle reminder of the power we have in calling upon Christ.  It was my good fortune to work with Heidi on this book and then interview Heidi about her work.

Heidi has put together a beautiful presentation for Mother's Day that includes an autographed copy of the book, a special blend tea bag, a bookmark, and a pretty envelope for mailing!  The book also lists her blogspot which celebrates motherhood, her email address, and a list of her other works so that Behold Your Mother truly becomes a wonderful resource and cherished gift for any Catholic woman today.

I love your book, Behold Your Mother: Mary Stories and Reflections from a Catholic Convert, and thank you for sharing it with us.  It is clearly a work of love and commitment to sharing Mary's role in our own personal journey with Christ.  Please give us a little background on your inspiration to write this book.

When I converted to Catholicism in 1994 from the Evangelical Christian tradition, I had no desire whatsoever to get to know Jesus' mother. She was just that – his mother, someone who makes an appearance in the Christmas crèche each year, then goes back into the box. Praying to Mary made no sense to me (though I did ask my friends to pray for me from time to time). I figured, why go to her when I have always gone straight to Jesus myself?

As I continued to grow in the faith, however, I began to change. There were two events that facilitated this change, which I describe in the book: a broken heart, and becoming a mother myself. And yet, I suspect that both these experiences had this affect on me because, as a new Catholic, I had been forced to return to a childlike kind of faith. More than ever, I had a sense that I was a child of God. And it was in that context that I came to experience Mary as truly my adopted spiritual mother.

Sometimes women feel overwhelmed by their role as caregiver and while we love to look at Mary as an "ideal," which can sometimes seem daunting, how can we also look to her as just "another mom?" 

I remember those first weeks after receiving three children into our home (the oldest was later placed with another family), with little sleep and no time for little luxuries like a sit-down dinner or a shower. On one occasion, I watched helplessly as one of the children flushed a sock down the toilet while I was bathing the baby. I think that was the breaking point. "Help!" I cried. "You were the perfect mother, and had one perfect Son. I am and I have neither of those things. Pray for me!"

Outwardly, nothing changed. The sock did not miraculously resurface, the bathroom was still wall-to-wall water and kids. But inside, I was calmer. I no longer wanted to send the culprit down after the sock.

It was studying the Gospel passages about Mary, and imagining the "back story" behind the Gospel account, that led me to the "real" Mary – the woman behind the Man. So much of her life was hidden – as is ours. But she was – and is – first and foremost, human. Taking care of Jesus (and possibly Joseph's children from a previous marriage as well) was no different from raising any other child. The same mess. The same worry. The same choice to offer each moment back to God. When we keep that image clearly in mind, talking to Mary becomes no different from calling up Mom on the phone (except doesn't spoil the grandkids).

I was struck by the realization that this is the perfect "card" for Mother's Day because it can be cherished all year long.  I also see this book as the ideal accompaniment to Eucharistic Adoration.  I actually have a copy in my purse because it is such a great "pocket size."  Is there a particular way you recommend the book be read?

Most people I've talked to read it from cover to cover when they first get it, then go back and read it again at a more deliberate pace (especially the second half of the book containing the reflections). It's perfect for a "Mommy time out"; I enjoy pouring myself a cup of tea and spending some quiet time just letting my mind explore the images and scenes the book describes. It's a particularly good resource to have on hand for those who know of someone who is exploring the Church, particularly those who come from another Christian tradition. (My Baptist sister said she stayed up all night reading it.) The reflections could also work during holy hours or while saying the Rosary … but my favorite way to engage Mary is through momentary ponderings, not formal prayers.

The book has a blogspot (http://beholdyourmotherbook.blogspot.com/) where you invite readers to share their stories.  Please tell us what your hopes are for that blog. 

The subtitle of the blog – "A Bouquet of Love to Mary from Her Children" – really says it all. As I've been exploring a variety of Catholic blogs, I've been struck by how often Mary appears not as "Queen of Heaven" but as a true spiritual mother, mentor and friend.

"Behold Your Mother" is intended to help those who have an intellectual understanding of what the Church teaches about Mary, but who have a volitional or emotional barrier to overcome, often because of their faith background. The reason it's important to overcome these barriers is very simple: You can know someone only so well if you are on nodding terms from across the room. A child gets to know her mother by climbing up on her lap, or sitting beside her and chatting. We can do that by turning our hearts toward her at regular intervals during the day.

You are a woman's retreat and conference speaker.  Could you please give us an idea of some of the topics you offer and how you can be contacted?

One talk I especially enjoy giving is called, "Praying Like Our Lady: the Seven Words of Mary in Scripture." It's an introduction to the various prayer forms we use as Catholics.

Another talk is called "Good Girls of the Gospel," which takes each of the feminine virtues and explores them through the lens of the New Testament. (This one correlates most closely to "Raising Up Mommy: Virtues for Difficult Mothering Moments," which is also available at http://www.christianword.com/.) Of course, Mary is the ultimate "Good Girl" of the Gospel … her life and her fiat provides a model for all of us.

A related talk is called "Taming the Mommy Monster," which examines the seven deadly sins and celestial virtues through the lens of motherhood. 

I can best be reached through my website: http://www.christianword.com/. My books are also available for purchase there by credit card or PayPal.

Is there anything else you would like to share with others? 

I'd like to encourage your readers not to feel rushed or pressured where Mary is concern. Her motherhood does not depend on our response. It took several years before I was really comfortable talking to Mary, and even now I don't pray the Rosary every day (just as I don't talk to my earthly mother on the phone every day). When I have a specific intention, my petitions become more "formal," but most of the time I just talk to her as I would any friend.

Every relationship goes through its chapters and its seasons. Different images, titles, and or quotes about Mary may appeal to you at different times of your life. The important thing to keep in mind is that Mary is God's gift to us – Jesus gave her to us from the Cross, to be mother of the whole Church. When we honor Mary, we honor her Son because all true Marian devotion always leads to Christ.

Cheryl Dickow

By

Cheryl Dickow is a Catholic wife, mother, author and speaker. Cheryl’s newest book is Wrapped Up: God’s Ten Gifts for Womenwhich is co-authored with Teresa Tomeo and is published by Servant (a division of Franciscan Media); there is also a companion journal that accompanies the book and an audio version intended for women’s studies or for individual reflection. Cheryl’s titles also include the woman’s inspirational fiction book Elizabeth: A Holy Land Pilgrimage. Elizabeth is available in paperback or Kindle format. Her company is Bezalel Books where her goal is to publish great Catholic books for families and classrooms that entertain while uplifting the Catholic faith and is located at www.BezalelBooks.com. To invite Cheryl to speak at your event, write her at Cheryl@BezalelBooks.com.

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