A very imperfect fiat

October 18, 2009 | 32 comments

Yesterday I found myself in the middle of a magical moment: My husband had arranged for me to have the afternoon “off” to get out of the house alone and recharge my batteries, and after swinging by the Adoration chapel for a spiritual fill-up I went down to the local book store to do a little work on my book.

It was hard to find a place to sit because most of the book store’s cafe had been cleared out to make room for rows of metal folding chairs, presumably for some event they had earlier, but I managed to find a seat at the last available table. Whoo-hoo! I spread out my printed notes and began doing some hard thinking about a particularly tricky section of the book. Things suddenly started come together as if some sort of creativity faucet had been turned on full blast in my brain. I started writing wildly, my hand barely able to keep up with my mind. After weeks of frustration from being stuck on a part that seemed boring and overcomplicated yet crucial to the storyline, the answers finally began flowing. “Thank you, Holy Spirit!” I thought, wishing I could have Adoration/writing sessions like this more often.

My thoughts were briefly interrupted by the announcement that an author would be giving a talk in the cafe. I looked up at the folding chairs in front of me and realized that that must be why they were there. I gathered my notes to get up and move to an outside table but didn’t want to leave just yet because great ideas were flowing a mile a minute.

Then came another announcement emphasizing that the author’s talk was starting right now. As I started clearing off my table, hurriedly slipping my folded notes into my purse, something caught my eye: The seats were empty. Not a single person sat in the rows of about 20 chairs. I was suddenly aware that people at three other tables around me were packing up and leaving as well, perhaps fleeing the awkward moment that was about to ensue.

I looked over at the lady whom I figured to be the author, who was chatting with a book store employee next to the podium. “Lord, please, please send someone to listen to her talk!” I prayed.

I grabbed my pen and a crumpled up piece of paper from the table and was just about to head out when I felt something tugging within me. I was pretty sure I knew what it was. I turned to the Lord in prayer, saying something along the lines of: “Ooooooooooh, no! No no no no no no no! You’re going to try to tell me that I am the person sent to listen to her talk. No. I am the person who never, ever gets a completely free moment to write, especially not when I’m actually having a moment of inspiration. To simultaneously have this free time and good ideas is like running into Bigfoot riding a unicorn — it is a rare, precious moment that will likely never, ever, EVER happen again in my whole entire life!”

I looked over and saw the author gathering her notes, and thought that I might have noticed her hands shaking a little. Another person got up and left the cafe. I glanced at an empty table sitting outside in the fresh Fall air, just begging me to sit at it and write stuff. I looked at the time on my cell phone. Depending on how long the talk was, that would probably be it for my free time that day. Yet I continued to feel the Holy Spirit working within me to try to tell me to take a seat in one of those chairs (and for once I was 100% certain that this was the Holy Spirit and not my own subconscious, because my mind was all about LETTING SOMEONE WHO DOES NOT HAVE FOUR KIDS UNDER SIX listen to the talk).

So I sat. I set all my notes aside, turned my cell phone off, and gave the author my full attention. I even made sure to smile and nod to make sure she knew that I was listening and enjoying it.

Before I get some kind of muscle strain from working too hard to pat myself on the back, I should break in here to note that I’m only writing about this because it’s remarkable; normally when my writing time is imperiled by the threat of actual contact with fellow human beings I slither back into my darkened office while hissing, “My preciousssss!” Though I do always want to please God, all too often my attachments to activities that could be broadly defined as “doing fun stuff that I like” win out. In this case it was likely that a big contributing factor to me doing the right thing and following the Holy Spirit’s promptings was that even I am not clueless enough to be unaware of the irony of skipping out on an opportunity to show someone love so that you can go write about how encountering the love of God transformed your life. And I wouldn’t be giving you the full story if I didn’t divulge that the thought did pop into mind, “Lord, I want you to remember this VERY VIVIDLY if I ever have my own book reading! I know we don’t believe in karma per se, but surely I am scoring SOME kind of points here!” (It is admissions like this that make me wish this blog was still anonymous.)

Anyway, nevertheless, I did make the sacrifice and sit down. And it turned out to be a lovely talk — I’m sure that the only reason for the sparse attendance was because of some sort of problem getting the word out. The author was a great speaker, and an employee and another lady eventually sat down as well.

It would make the story more interesting if the Lord showed me the beauty of following his will by giving me some amazing insight for my own book while listening to the talk, sort of like giving candy to a whiny child who reluctantly follows his parents’ instructions. But nothing like that happened. It was a nice talk, I think it made a difference to the author that I was there, and, sure enough, I had to rush home and jump back into the fray as soon as it was over. I never did recapture those great thoughts I had flowing earlier. But that’s OK. I got something better than good content for my book:

First of all, I got a reminder of a lesson so obvious that you’d have to be a spiritual vegetable to need, but that I needed nonetheless: That writing about the love of God should always, always take a back seat to opportunities to actually show real human beings in front of you the love of God.

Mostly, though, I got an insight into the value of the imperfect fiat. Sometimes I feel discouraged that I’m so far away from imitating Mary, who simply said “Let it be done” (in Latin, “Fiat”) when she heard the tremendous news that she would be the mother of God incarnate. I don’t know if there’s one Latin word for “What?! You’ve got to be kidding me. No. I can’t. Forget it. I’m too busy. What? You’re still on me about this? OK FINE!”, but that would be the word for me.

Even in my infinitely smaller situation there in the book store cafe, I couldn’t just say yes to God. I had to drag my feet, whine, bargain, pretend like I didn’t hear a couple times, and then spend some solid time fantasizing about just how very wonderful it would be do what I wanted to do instead. But, it occurred to me as I thought over the situation, I did eventually do it. It’s certainly an area in which I need a lot of work, but at least sometimes, even if only on small matters, I do say yes — eventually. As picked up my purse to hurry back home after the talk, glancing again at that outside table I never did get a chance to sit at, I thought of a look that flashed across the author’s face when I first sat down. Ever so briefly, our eyes met and she looked at me with a mix of happiness, gratitude and great relief. And as I walked out the door, I felt very happy with my imperfect fiat.


  1. Clare

    Thank you. This post was beautiful. Please don't censor your thoughts–even the ones you wish weren't yours. They are so honest, and I really appreciate that in your writing. I am a 21 year old woman who is slowly converting to Catholicism after being raised in an atheist household. Thank god for your writing, you don't even know how much it helps.

  2. Tres Angelas

    Good call.

  3. Christian H

    Have you read On Writing? When Stephen King re-organized his life after overcoming his drug addiction, he moved his desk from the centre of his writing room to the corner, and made a family space where his desk used to be. He said of this change,"Life isn't a support system for writing; writing is a support system for life." (Not a perfect quotation, but pretty close.) He's talking about finances in the last clause, but I think there's a similarity here.

  4. Anonymous

    Hi Jennifer, I know it sounds trite, but it also happens to be true, God will not be outdone in generosity. What you did will and has, I'm sure generated good. Mostly b/c it came at a cost to you and you said yes.

  5. Jennifer @ Conversion Diary

    Thank you all for the kind comments!

    And Clare, God bless you in your journey. I'll be praying for you!

  6. Genevieve

    Jennifer – you are hilarious! I enjoy your blog a lot, both for its honesty and humor, and I can't wait to see your book when it's published.

    Not even two years ago one could easily describe me as an evil agnositc pro-choice feminazi, and here I sit today seriously considering becoming Catholic. (And already "converted" from what was basically a "As-long-as-you-don't-kill-people-it's-All-Good…. and-'fetuses'-aren't-people" moral philosophy to what most would consider uber-conservative.)

    Needless to say, I can relate a lot to your writing. Anyway, keep up the good work!

  7. Kate

    Hi, Jennifer. I just stumbled across your blog, and I'm in love with your writing. I am sitting here, alone, and cracking up! "My preciousssss!" was the part where I lost it. 🙂 If I wake up my myriad small children, it will be YOUR fault!!!

    I'm looking forward to reading more. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with the world. 🙂

  8. Roxane B. Salonen

    Jennifer, consider this a gift, that you've been introduced to the real life and times of being an author. Author events at book stores and such are often not well attended, unless you are a very, very successful author. The events we see on TV with people lining up to be the first at the book-signing table, many in character garb and lacking sleep from having camped out the night before…this vision just doesn't hold up to reality…nor should it. I'm confident you will be a success as an author, but it's good to consider now that there might be times you will be challenged with wondering whether the numbers at your author event equate your worth, and of course, they never will, whether those events are well attended or sparsely attended. Only God can truly satisfy and show us our true worth. 🙂 All the same, I'm proud of you for doing the harder thing…

  9. Enbrethiliel


    I can't be the only one wondering what the other author's talk was about! =)

  10. coffeemom

    I need one of those words too! That is usually how my fiat goes….
    "whaaaaawhyyyyyfiat" Sigh.

    Great post!!!

  11. Sarahndipity

    Can I just say I love your blog? It’s posts like this that keep me coming back. I can’t relate to a lot of the “Catholic mom blogs” I read, but you sound so much like me!

    “To simultaneously have this free time and good ideas is like running into Bigfoot riding a unicorn – it is a rare, precious moment that will likely never, ever, EVER happen again in my whole entire life!"

    This was hilarious – that’s exactly how I think!

  12. Jamie

    I am also wondering what the Author's talk was about!

    Jennifer, I have been enjoying your blog for a few weeks now as I rediscover my own Catholic faith with fervor. I am a sporadic blogger and have yet to even formulate thoughts on some of what you touched on, but I loved the topic Christian H brought up about writing being a support system for life.

    Many, many blessings to you. You lift so many of us up with your candor and you should see your writing as a certain ministry.

    In peace…

  13. Bill

    I remember sitting on an airplane waiting for (what felt like) hours to take off. At that point, I regularly traveled for business, so any extra time on an airplane was hellish.

    Right before we finally took off, I see a family come running down the aisle (apparently their flight had been delayed coming in for the same reasons ours was delayed getting off the ground). A grandmother stood up so very, very thankful that her kids and grandkids were able to make it onto the plane… and I realized then and there that my inconvenience was an answer to someone else's prayer. I've tried to always remember that lesson… standing in line at the DMV, stuck in traffic, etc., etc.

  14. Anonymous

    You gave one of the most precious and rare gifts: the gift of presence. The older I get the more I am convinced that this gift of self is the very heart of charity; of real love. Most of us are walking wounded; the gift of self to other starts with presence, and it is so needed by so many.

  15. Ouiz

    Whoa… wait a minute… did you get that picture from St. Mary's in Aiken SC? That looks EXACTLY like the stained glass window from my childhood parish!!!!

    Thank you for the great post and the wonderful picture! Great memories…

  16. Trisha Niermeyer Potter

    You did the right thing in staying to listen. You never know what heeding the Holy Spirit's advice will bring you, but you can always bet it will be significantly better than what you'd had planned. Sometimes following the Spirit, we can see the fruits right away, other times we've sown the seeds for new growth we may very well see down the road.

  17. 'Becca

    You did exactly the right thing, and I'm glad you were able to make yourself do it!

    It reminds me of a weird situation I got myself into a few months ago, which seemed like one of your "Jen moments," so I am wondering how you would have handled it: I was on my way back to work after finishing lunch 15 minutes early. I was unsettled about some personal problems and felt likely to have trouble concentrating on my work, and I was walking right past the open door of the cathedral, so I thought I'd just stop in there for a few minutes of prayer; that's been so helpful to me other times. There were a few other people scattered among the pews. In the midst of my prayer, suddenly I heard a loud voice behind me and looked up to see a priest (with microphone) praying over a casket that was being carried up the aisle. I WAS ACCIDENTALLY ATTENDING A STRANGER'S FUNERAL. I did my best to pray for this dead priest…but after a few minutes I sneaked out to go back to work, feeling like a big jerk. What would you have done??

  18. Anonymous

    I love your blog. – thank you for your words

  19. Elizabeth

    This was awesome and TOTALLY made me laugh out loud! Sounds like you got your writing mojo back just in TIME to…stop writing! LOL! I love how God works, sometimes. You're an inspiration! Keep up the good work!!

    Elizabeth Esther

  20. deb

    I would have done what you did.
    Partly because I can't say no ,even with body language and impressions.
    And I would have been crying inside for the author.
    Projected self esteem issues.
    But as you said,showing up in life , instead of only writing about it, counts for so much. Who can say what a difference you made to that woman's life in just a few moments.
    Bless you, and your honesty.

  21. Abbot Joseph

    If you read Matthew 21:28-32, you'll see that Jesus was not too concerned about the initial reaction to a call to do God's will, but whether or not it was actually done. You did it.

  22. The Sojourner


    Part of my signature on a writer's forum:

    It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn't in the middle of the room. Life isn't a support system for art. It's the other way around.
    ~Stephen King

  23. Kathleen

    As for losing hold of that brilliant idea: May it return, in all its brilliance, when you least expect it. (In other words, keep a notebook near the shower.:))

  24. Organizing Mommy

    Nice post. God is no man's debtor. He will reward you.

  25. Susan Thompson

    Jen, you must have had courtesy in your mind like Our Lady in this poem by Hilaire Belloc:

    Of Courtesy, it is much less
    Than Courage of Heart or Holiness,
    Yet in my Walks it seems to me
    That the Grace of God is in Courtesy.

    On Monks I did in Storrington fall,
    They took me straight into their Hall;
    I saw Three Pictures on a wall,
    And Courtesy was in them all.

    The first the Annunciation;
    The second the Visitation;
    The third the Consolation,
    Of God that was Our Lady's Son.

    The first was of St. Gabriel;
    On Wings a-flame from Heaven he fell;
    And as he went upon one knee
    He shone with Heavenly Courtesy.

    Our Lady out of Nazareth rode –
    It was Her month of heavy load;
    Yet was her face both great and kind,
    For Courtesy was in Her Mind.

    The third it was our Little Lord,
    Whom all the Kings in arms adored;
    He was so small you could not see
    His large intent of Courtesy.

    Our Lord, that was Our Lady's Son,
    Go bless you, People, one by one;
    My Rhyme is written, my work is done.

  26. Laurie

    I love this tale! I'm sure that as this seed has time to put out some roots, you will find that He actually has given you something big for your book because of the fact that He used this moment to turn a light on in your life and heart. Oftentimes it's the simply reminders that turn out to be powerful points of revolution.

  27. Maria

    Awesome! Awesome post, and so awesome that you listened to God and could be there for the author:).

  28. Cheryl

    Imperfect, but still obedient. 🙂

    Matthew 21:28-31

    "But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard.
    He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went.
    And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not.
    Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first…"

  29. TRS

    Thank you for writing that. And more significantly for tying it up with a ribbon that looks like Mary's Fiat.
    I remind myself to be as faithful and trusting of God's will as Mary – and I seriously FAIL at it.

    Thank you for your sacrifice to provide me that reminder! The Holy Spirit is VERY helpful like that!!

  30. Lana

    I don't know about you, but I feel like interruptions like these are actually part of the writing process. I think that God somehow uses these moments to make a better book for me! I don't really know how to describe what I mean, but because it was so obviously the right thing to do for you to stop the writing and BECAUSE the ideas were flowing, I can't help but believe that these two are not disconnected.
    I feel that "interruptions" like these are all a part of the writing process. Not that we will ever understand how, but that they are all mystically and mysteriously united nonetheless.

  31. monica_divineoffice.org

    You made the right decision by staying for the talk, you will be reworded for the kind gesture!

    Liturgy of the Hours

  32. Bonnie

    Thank you so much for this, Jen. I am not Catholic but I always find so much wisdom in your writing. My thought process reading this was basically "Haha, yeah, obviously *doing* something should come before *writing* about it… wait.. *I* shoo people away so I can write about charity and sweetness and family values… d'oh!" Thanks for the little kick in the butt there. I needed it.

    I think that God will reward you when it comes time to give your own talks, in the sense that He will remind you of that day and how each person listening to you could have been doing something else. The gratitude you feel will be so much greater than it would if you hadn't felt it from the other side.

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