Now, if you follow Catholic Twitter or Instagram at all, you’ll have seen it all over the place lately. Released this past spring, it seemed like everyone was saying how wonderful it is. And they aren’t wrong! It’s just that there was one theme running through the story, one crucial idea that left me wondering. What’s wrong with me? I can’t be the only one that feels this way! Where’s my blue flame?
The Good Stuff
The gist of the book is best summed up in its subtitle. “The rollicking tale of family chaos, personal passions, and saying yes to them both.” And, boy, isn’t that a familiar story for just about any mom! For many of us, finding the balance between who we were before kids, who we are with them, and who we want to become is a challenge, for sure. There were numerous passages in the book that felt like I was reading my own story! It was open, honest, and full of emotion as well as being laugh out loud funny.
Jen is an absolutely wonderful story teller. “Your friend Jen” (as she calls herself on her radio show) has a remarkable ability for making a memoir read like a novel. She’s quick-witted, funny, basically brilliant. Her escapades as a new mom to a whole bunch of babies in not many years were touching, humorous, and so easy to relate to! There’s a particular story about finding her young daughter in a “code brown” nap situation that seriously had me rolling with laughter. (And for those of you who aren’t sure what a “code brown” is…think about it for 2 seconds. I promise you’re right.)
Truly, this was a quick and easy read that I found hard to put down. I love a good memoir and the glimpse behind the scenes into how she came to be the author and radio host she is today was really fascinating. Unfortunately, one of the main themes of the book is one I tend to struggle with. No, it’s not life in a large family. Not financial struggles, though we’ve certainly experienced those. It was the idea that we all have a “blue flame,” a passion in life…and it made me wonder. Where’s mine?
The Blue Flame
When I did this kind of work, it was as if some dormant part of me came alive. It was more than just a hobby; it felt like a way of connecting to the world — the way I was meant to connect with the world. It was my theory that everyone has some kind of skill or hobby like this, like my programmer friend who had a side business making scented candles, or my grandfather, an engineer who became a self-taught gourmet chef in retirement. Joe’s friend Keith called this a “blue flame,” the passion that ignites a fire within you when you do it. Writing, storytelling — this was my blue flame. (One Beautiful Dream, p. 24)
I read that line and I was like, Sure! That makes sense. Everybody has a passion, right? And who wouldn’t want to try to incorporate that passion into their everyday life? Or, wouldn’t it be even better if you could actually make a living pursuing it?
Then I got to thinking…
What flame do I follow?
Is it singing? Writing? Sure, these are all things I really enjoy, but do they give me life? I honestly don’t know. It seems to me that maybe we are better at seeing other people’s flames than we are at recognizing our own. Can you call to mind friends who are in tune with their blue flame? Think about it!
I have a friend who runs her own music studio teaching voice and piano to young people. She uses her talents with music every day. Another friend is an amazing NICU nurse. While her days are never exactly easy, she truly loves what she does and gains so much from the challenge and joys that are part of her job. One woman I know started her own business out of her love for organization. Another is insanely crafty and sells her wares all over the place. Then there are the “uber-volunteers.” Whether they are on the PTO, head up the local scout troop, or work on community boards, these people have a call to serve and their lives are made better when they help others.
But what about those of us who really just feel like Janes of All Trades? I know I can’t be the only woman who feels like she is moderately good at a whole bunch of things, but not quite cut out for greatness in any one of them. Do I need to be truly great at something to pursue it? Is interest and ability enough? Why should I even try to pursue what I love when I have kids and a home and a husband that all need to be taken care of? Or what about the woman with the job she doesn’t particularly love, but it pays the bills and therefore it takes priority?
I have a feeling I know what Jen would call these questions and feelings of self-doubt.
Resistance is that temptation…it’s that force that has stopped countless artists throughout the ages, repelling them from their work like two similarly charged magnets. (One Beautiful Dream, p.165)
There is a tendency with anyone who loves any kind of work to fantasize that if you just had endless time for it, you’d be able to achieve perfection in this field. (One Beautiful Dream, p. 175)
I’ll be the first to admit it. A bad combination of resistance and perfectionism are most likely what are keeping me from following, identifying even(!), my own blue flame. I have long ascribed to the notion of if I can’t do it well the first time, I might as well not do it at all. Anyone else suffer from that?
If I can’t make my mom’s homemade biscuits perfectly the first time, why should I even bother trying? What is the point of writing if I’ll never publish a book and nobody really reads it anyway? Why should I try to audition for a musical at the community theater when I have all these kids to take care of? Why does everything have to always be go big or go home?
If not a flame, then a spark
I used to dream of being on Broadway someday. Oh, who am I kidding? Any time I see a musical, I am immediately transported to what that life would be like and I long for a taste of it. But here I am, 41 years old with an absolutely wonderful life and I haven’t been on the stage in 17 years. That particular flame is probably not one that I can realistically follow anymore. But maybe, just maybe, there’s still a spark. And maybe that spark can turn into a similar flame, one that is more suited to who and what I really am.
All of these years of singing in church choirs, for weddings and funerals and the occasional variety show, they haven’t been for nothing! They’ve turned me into the singer I am today! And who is to say that someday I won’t be back on that stage…except this time maybe I’d play the Reverend Mother instead of Maria von Trapp.
The years I spent writing my family stories on my old blog and the work I do now on this blog and for Blessed is She certainly isn’t wasted. Of course it isn’t! Even if it only serves as an outlet for my own crazy musings, then so be it. But if it just so happens that I help, amuse, or inspire someone else along the way, then all the better! Who cares if I never publish a book?
Fan the Flame
Yes, I struggle with this idea of a blue flame. I struggle with finding it, naming it, knowing it’s enough. And God help me if I start comparing what I love to do with the flames He’s placed in other people’s hearts. That is a slippery slope indeed. But, I have to say, it’s probably a really good thing that I read this book. It challenged me, made me uncomfortable, and inspired me to look for the sparks in my own life. For that, I am grateful.
And what about you, my friend? Do you have a flame? A spark that needs some fanning? What is it that brings a sparkle to your eye and energy to your life? What makes you sit back when it’s over and say, Yes! I enjoyed the hell out of that! Can I encourage you to follow it? Can I encourage you to name it out loud when you witness it in others? Even if it’s not what might be considered big or important by today’s standards. It’s important to someone. And someone’s life could be made the better for it.
It occurred to me that you can have it all in the sense of having a rich family life and pursuing excellence in your work, but your’e going to need to reimagine what having it all looks like. Your work will never be your number-one priority. You might need to walk away from glamorous opportunities that don’t allow you to live a love-first life. You’ll be bombarded with one interruption after another, yet you’ll find that those interruptions are the very building blocks of a good life. (One Beautiful Dream, p. 205)