Please welcome award winning Catholic author Nancy Carabio Belanger whose books will be my daughter's birthday gift and the next family read aloud. Order her books at www.harveyhousepublishing.com and visit her at www.nancybelanger.blogspot.com.
One day last year, I was talking to my talented illustrator and friend Sandra Casali LewAllen about the creation of Olivia's Gift, the sequel to Olivia and the Little Way. We had a good time reminiscing about what a busy, joy-filled year it had been, creating this pro-life fiction book about a pre-teen girl who develops a loving friendship with St. Therese. We fondly remembered how much we felt St. Therese's presence as we plotted and planned what would turn out to be a book of which we became very proud.
"Remember how strong her presence was at the restaurant that day?" Sandy asked me.
How could I forget it? It was so strong it was electrifying.
But on the day that we sat at the cafe and planned out the illustrations Sandy would create, I couldn't help but feel a roadblock for one of the plot points. I just wasn't quite happy with one of the elements of my story. I wanted it to be better, more meaningful. We sat there for a bit, deep in thought. All of a sudden, inspiration hit us both at the same time.
"What if you put it this way?" Sandy suggested, who always has great ideas.
I picked up my pen and reached for my ever-present notebook. "And what would you think if Olivia does this instead?"
I scribbled furiously as Sandy and I discussed the pro-life theme of the book and the metaphor I could use. That afternoon, we created what we feel is the most poignant scene in the book. The ideas were coming so quickly that I could barely write them down fast enough. I look at my notes from that day and they are a flurry of ink: excited letter formations, messy arrows, and large circles. At one point, after we had created the scene together, we looked at each other in amazement. We just knew it was Divine inspiration. When we looked at our watches, we were startled to discover that we had spent about four hours at the restaurant that day.
"Do you feel like she's here?" I asked Sandy at one point.
Sandy nodded seriously. "She is, no question."
Sandy eventually had to leave. "I want you to write this scene today," she said firmly. "And then e-mail it to me. I know you can do it."
I was a little nervous to write such an important scene, but I promised her I would. I also told her I was going to stay at the cafe and organize my notes into something more readable before I began writing.
I decided to move to a booth and ordered a salad. I neatly began to copy my notes, pleased with what Sandy and I had come up with. I was feeling very peaceful and happy, and I felt St. Therese's presence so strongly. I couldn't wait to get home and write the scene.
The cafe workers were near my table, busy preparing soups, salads, and sandwiches, and calling out the names of the customers who had ordered them. As I munched my salad and rewrote my notes, I had a sense of excitement I couldn't deny. This book was really coming together. And I had St. Therese to thank for interceding for me.
It was then that I heard the first name being called out.
So deeply involved in my notes was I that the name barely registered.
The worker called it out again, louder this time.
My head jerked up. Had I heard that correctly? I smiled. I supposed I had. That was really cute, I thought as I sipped my drink. Really cute.
I went back to my work, but St. Therese is very persistent. We all know that.
"Rose?" I heard next.
ROSE?! I nearly dropped my drink as an older lady named Rose went to the counter to pick up her sandwich.
Then I laughed, buried my head in my hands, and shook my head. I instantly picked up my cell phone and punched in Sandy's number.
"Sandy? You are never going to believe this. She's still here!"
I went home and wrote the scene in record time. It looks exactly like it did the day I first wrote it.
What a sense of humor our Little Flower has! I have had many “hellos” from her in many different ways, and they never fail to make me smile. Stories are told of how St. Therese used to keep the sisters entertained with her stories in the convent during recreation time. Sister Marie of the Angels once said, "Her head is full of mischief to play on anyone she pleases. Mystic, comic, everything. She can make you weep with devotion and just as easily split your sides with laughter during recreations." She also loved to do impressions, a skill she learned from her father! Perhaps Little Therese was taking a cue from the great Carmelite St. Teresa of Avila, who once wrote, "God, deliver me from sad-faced saints!"
"I always find a way of being happy," Therese wrote in her autobiography, The Story of a Soul. Even in her pain and suffering, she wanted to make others laugh.
One Sunday afternoon, I was giving a talk to a group from the St. Francis Family Center, through Catholic Social Services of Oakland County, MI. Some ladies had organized a benefit tea and had asked me to speak to their group about St. Therese. I thought it was perfect since the motto of this foster parent agency is "Live Deeper, Love Wider." Sounds just like our friend Therese, no?
During this time, I had been praying for a rose from our friend for a special intention I had. I don't even remember what it was at the time, just that I had been asking Therese for a rose. And I wasn't getting one.
I showed up at the tea and it was quite lovely. There were some foster children there who spoke and I happily gave them autographed books. They were amazing, sweet children. When it was time for me to speak, wouldn't you know it: The microphone died. So there I was trying to speak to a large group of ladies and my voice was barely audible. That was a bit discouraging, since I have a voice that doesn't carry well (and I have kids!). I did the best I could and was happy to hear as I signed books afterward that the ladies did, indeed, hear what I had to say! Although the event went well and was enjoyable, it was a rainy, gloomy day and I was feeling a little disappointed and overwhelmed at all of the little tasks mothers have to do at home to prepare for a new week ahead. I kept wondering why St. Therese hadn't sent me my rose yet.
As I was packing up my things and saying goodbye to all of the nice ladies at the tea, one of the ladies said to me, "Did you have any refreshments? Come and sit down! There are plenty."
She motioned for me to sit down and so I did, even though my mind was full of the things I had to do once I got home. Moms are like that.
She pushed a pretty floral teacup toward me and poured some hot water into it. It was then that I noticed that the teacup had roses on it. And the teabag at my place had "Red Rose" printed on it, with a picture of a red rose. And then I noticed that the centerpieces at each table were...roses! I had to laugh, but St. Therese was not done with me yet. Just in case her message wasn't clear enough, she came at me with one last, emphatic try: In the cloakroom, as I searched for my raincoat, I came across a black silk jacket on a hanger. Embroidered on the front were the words: "St. Therese of Lisieux." And a large red rose was embroidered on top of that.
"Okay, okay! I get it, Little Therese! An entire shower of roses is in this room!" I had to laugh.
And I had been too preoccupied with what I had to do that day that I didn't even see!
There are many days I feel I'd like to sit down with her and have a cup of coffee (did she drink coffee? I know as a child she liked hot chocolate for breakfast, like every good French girl!) and a croissant to just laugh and talk. Since we can't do that, she sends me these little "incidents" to warm my heart.
Another time, I was driving to a busy suburban town in Detroit for a doctor's appointment. I always leave plenty of time for driving there, parking, etc. since I know what a busy town it is. I was pretty smug that day, thinking I would arrive nice and early for my appointment. When I got downtown, I pulled up to the parking garage I usually park in, only to find out that it was closed and under construction! Because of this, there were absolutely no parking spots available on the side streets. I drove around and around the town at the noontime rush hour, finding nothing. I'd have to park really far away, and I knew that I would be fairly late if this craziness continued.
Just then I remembered a cute little granny who loved St. Therese telling me that she used to imagine St. Therese sitting in the back seat of her car as she drove around looking for a place to park. She used to ask the saint for help finding a spot. I thought that was very funny. Imagine, picturing St. Therese riding around in the back seat of your car!
But that cute granny's story came to me then as I frantically searched for a parking spot around town. Yet, I couldn't bring myself to do it. All of the serious problems in this world, and I'm going to bother her with something like this? No, I couldn't do it. It didn't seem important enough.
I drove around and around, finding nothing. I was getting desperate. I just couldn't be late for this appointment!
It was time to trust. So I gave in. I pictured her in the back seat of my car.
Yes, I really did.
"St. Therese, please help me find—"
I couldn't even finish my sentence. A car began to back out at the perfect time for me to slide right in, then and there.
St. Therese, you are so funny! That's one of the many reasons why I love you so much!
"... whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, shall not enter into it." Mark 10:15
St. Therese, childlike and simple in joy and suffering, pray for us!
Nancy Carabio Belanger founded Harvey House Publishing in 2008 to celebrate the Catholic faith, the gift of life, and a wholesome childhood. Her books Olivia and the Little Way and Olivia’s Gift are part of Catholic-school and CCD curricula. She is a member of the Catholic Press Association, the Independent Book Publishers Association and the Catholic Writers Guild. She lives with her family in Michigan, where she is writing more Catholic books for children. Her blog is nancybelanger.blogspot.com and her website is www.harveyhousepublishing.com.