Book Review: A Storyteller’s Treasury

Tony AgnesiTony Agnesi is a storyteller. He’s built an audience by sharing his Catholic faith using whatever tools are at hand: writing, podcasting, speaking. You need never have heard of him before in order to enjoy his newly-released book, A Storytellers Guide to a Grace-Filled Life. 

This collection of more than 70 brief stories could be read as a guide, as the title suggests. If “guide” implies to you a cover-to-cover formal approach, though, don’t be put off.  Each story stands on its own. A few minutes at a time with one or two or three of the stories is refreshing. This is a book to leave by your favorite seat at home, or to carry when you’re traveling.

Each story includes some questions – challenges, even – inviting the reader to draw from the well of God’s grace. Scripture references aptly complement each story’s theme. Practical steps and reflections wrap up each piece. A story could take only a couple of minutes to read, and the time wouldn’t be wasted. Taking time to reflect, though, brings the real rewards.

Agnesi never forgets Who’s in charge. The grace of which he writes isn’t his to dispense; it comes from God. Agnesi doesn’t talk down to his readers; he assumes he’s dealing with adults who sincerely seek God, even in the middle of struggles that seem overwhelming. He knows he’s not writing for angels.

His tone is a gift to his readers: calm and kind, with just enough edge and challenge to inspire even a temporarily-bewildered believer. He’s a guide walking alongside the reader, not goading from behind.

The Storytellers Guide is divided into five chapters, each with a theme. The section on Holidays has Lent and Advent entries, as one could expect. A surprising one: Father’s Day. Agnesi takes that secular observance and turns it into what it ought to be: a celebration of the God-given gift and responsibility of fatherhood.

The tone and structure of the book make it adaptable for group study.  While it’s written by a Catholic man, it has no figurative “Catholics only” signs. All it needs is a reader in search of a grace-filled life who is willing to listen.

A Storytellers Guide could have been written by your most encouraging friend, who has seen your messy life (and has probably lived one of her own), and is still willing to help point you in the right direction. No false cheer, no nagging. This is a guide worth seeking out.

SPECIAL OFFER: A Storyteller’s Guide to a Grace-Filled Life is for sale at Tony’s web site. He will personally autograph the book, and he’s offering FREE DOMESTIC SHIPPING (Media Rate).  Go to https://tonyagnesi.com/store to take advantage of the offer!

The book is also available at amazon.com or at Barnes and Noble.

(Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for a review.)

Link shared on #OpenBook linkup at My Scribbler’s Heart and CatholicMom.com.

 

Pro-Life in Secular World: “We Need Everyone to Be On Board”

Excerpt from my report from the 2018 Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life

January 20, 2018, Washington, D.C.

The driver of the Route G2 Metrobus assured me that I was at the right stop. “The building’s straight ahead of you.” I stepped off the bus a little uncertainly, then spotted the protesters flanking the doors of the nearest building. This must be the place, I thought. Nothing like a pro-life event to foster free speech. Welcome to Georgetown University.

The protesters, about two dozen young women, were between chants as I got to the building’s front steps. One of them said to the others in a tentative voice, “OK, let’s do ‘pro-life, that’s a lie,’ OK?” She sounded afraid someone might say no. A moment later they all took up the chant: pro-life, that’s a lie, you don’t care if women die. 

Their voices faded quickly as I moved into the building and was caught up in the friendly crush of a crowd, seven hundred strong, arriving for the Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life. This has been an annual event since 2000, organized by Georgetown students, yet I hadn’t heard of it until just a few weeks ago.

So why did I tack an extra day on to my March for Life trip in order to catch a bus to Georgetown? Because of the speakers, and the conference theme: (Ir)religiously Pro-Life: the Future of the Movement in a Secular World.

I left later with the same questions I’d had when I arrived: how and where is that working? Where’s the synthesis? I don’t doubt that it’s possible – but where to start?
For now, I’m encouraged to know that I’m not the only one pondering the questions.

Read the rest of the post in my email newsletter.

The Incomplete Journey

On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I recall what former President Obama said on another MLK Day a few years ago.

“Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.”

True then, true now. That’s one reason I’m heading to Washington, D.C. in a few days for the March for Life. Presidents of all vintages are welcome to join me.

[adapted from a January 2013 post at Leaven for the Loaf]

Destinations, Found and Missed

I really thought I could nail down that Forest Society patch for visiting 33 Society properties throughout New Hampshire. I’ve fallen short. Dalton and Sandwich did me in, which is to say I haven’t been able to manage a trip to Dana Forest or Eagle Cliff. I’ll settle for earning the patch via tier 2 status, AKA the easy way, which involves concentrating on one specific region and answering a few questions about the properties there. I shall send the Forest Society my entry in a New Year’s Day email.

Madame Sherri Castle, Chesterfield NH

A delightful sight in Madame Sherri Forest, a Forest Society property in Chesterfield, New Hampshire.

Don’t think for a minute that my time on the patch project has been wasted. I loved every  property I visited. Every mile driven was worth the time and effort. Sometimes, I’d go a few miles off-route on a business day just to find one of the reservations or forests on the project list. (Tip: always keep walking shoes in the car.) One gorgeous fall day, I spent hours on the Route 16 corridor plus-or-minus a few miles, discovering four Forest Society properties including High Watch Reserve. I wanted to stay up there on Green Mountain until the last leaf dropped.

Seeking inspiration for your hikes this coming year? Check out the Forest Society’s list. Make a list of state parks you want to visit. Do a web search of conservation commissions in the towns near you; you’ll find a treasury of local trail maps and descriptions.

Just get out there.

(Originally posted at Granite State Walker.)

How I Came to Terms With Santa

I’ve heard of parents who have trouble explaining Santa Claus to their kids. My parents called on the United States Navy to do the job.

I grew up in south Florida, so part of the Santa Claus legend always sounded a little off to me. Our house didn’t look anything like the ones in Santa-themed storybooks. I once asked my dad how Santa got into houses like ours, with no chimney. He assured me that Santa had his little ways. Little did I know that mom and dad had little ways of their own.

Photo by Douglas Rahden (Wikimedia Commons).

One Christmas Eve when I was four or five, we had an overnight guest – a sailor, or at least a man in a sailor suit.  I remember his kerchief and cap because they looked so unusual to me. He was very quiet and polite, as I recall.  We had a small house, and my sister and I slept on the living room couch that night so the sailor could have our room.

Sometime during the night, a sound woke me up – a very quiet sound, like people whispering. I opened my eyes but didn’t move, feeling a little scared. I was reassured to see that one of the people was my dad. The other was our guest, the sailor. Together, they were putting presents under our little Christmas tree.

All kinds of thoughts raced through my little brain. Daddy’s doing Santa’s work! Is Daddy Santa? And why is our new friend helping him? He doesn’t look like an elf. I’d better be quiet because the presents will disappear if anyone thinks I’m awake. And where’s Mommy? Oh, boy, I know something my little sister doesn’t!

I don’t know how I managed to get back to sleep, but I did. When my sister and I woke up, and we saw the tree looking beautiful and presents waiting for us, I wondered if I’d been dreaming. I think I declared something like “I saw Daddy!” Dad responded by gently telling me I must have been dreaming. Mom and our guest promptly agreed with him. My two-year-old sister was no help. Puzzled, but still happy it was Christmas, I went back to playing with whatever I’d just opened.

I never asked my parents about Santa again. I saw Santa on TV and in department stores and in books, and I knew he was make-believe. That was fine with me. I had learned that the same dad who took me to Midnight Mass was the one who did Santa’s work. Amazingly for a kid who had as big a mouth as I had, I never felt the need to spoil any other kid’s Christmas by announcing that there was no Santa. One exception to that: I tried explaining the facts to my sister a few years later. She flatly refused to believe me. So much for my powers of persuasion.

Forty years later, I knew my mom’s health was failing badly, and our days of conversation were numbered. My dad had died several years earlier. I had to clear up my persistent but hazy memory. Had there really been a Christmas with a sailor? “Oh, yes,” she said immediately. She remembered it clearly.

It turns out that the sailor, whose name was John Parker, was the nineteen-year-old son of one of mom’s college friends. He had recently joined the Navy, and he was having his first Christmas away from home. When his ship was scheduled to be in Ft. Lauderdale for Christmas, his mom called my mom and asked if we could take him in while he was on liberty. My folks were happy to say yes. And that lonely 19-year-old kid, who had never met any of us before, got up in the middle of the night to help my father arrange the gifts and finish trimming the tree.

I’m overwhelmed at that thought, even now. Nineteen years old, and he was putting out presents for us. Someone should have been putting out presents for him – although, knowing my parents, there was probably something with his name on it under the tree.

My parents always put the birth of Christ first as we celebrated Christmas. Even so, I don’t think I’m being irreverent when I say that my memory of this kid from the Navy has stuck with me more powerfully than the memory of any particular Midnight Mass we ever attended.

I never saw John Parker again. This recollection is all the thanks I can give him. Whenever I think of him, I’m four years old again, pretending to be asleep, peeking at two unlikely elves.

(Originally posted at Leaven for the Loaf.)

Someday’s here; now what?

My neighbors’ generators hum in the background as I rummage through a pile of work assignments in search of one I can perform without benefit of internet. The power’s out, after an overnight storm. As a freelance writer and researcher, I find the lack of internet access nettlesome. Even cell service is affected today.

It’s quiet as I select the files I can work on. Only a few billable hours in there, but that’s better than nothing. I can work without distractions. The only device at hand is a pen.

As I realize that, it occurs to me that I’ve spent much of my life wishing for days like this. I was sure that if I only had more peace and quiet, less need for structured time, I could…fill in the blank: pray more, study more Scripture, read more devotions, study Church history. I’d go on retreats. I’d have time for more than a morning offering before diving into the day.

I am blessed with children, and grateful for them.  I was blessed to be their “stay-at-home” mom. My husband made that possible. Parenthood never ends once launched, but my kids are now grown. The intense day-to-day five-kids-at-a-time whirlwind is behind me. I distinctly remember thinking in the midst of that whirlwind that someday, things would slow down. Someday, I’d have quiet days to work on other things.

So what am I doing this quiet day? Setting up to work, that’s what. No work, no pay. The power outage nonetheless leaves me a few hours of open time. What to do?

Draft a pitch to a client. Cull no-longer-useful files. Practice a presentation I’m scheduled to give in a few weeks. The to-do list lengthens.

The quiet day I used to call “someday” is here, and I’m finding all kinds of things to do besides the Mass and prayer and study I was sure I’d spend my somedays doing.

The very intensity of today’s quiet – no phone, no apps, no flickering screen – is forcing me to pay attention to what I’m doing, which quickly leads me to what I’m not doing.

I pick up my rosary, trying to put aside thoughts of clients and presentations and when might I get electricity back.

This “someday” stuff is hard. I thought for sure it would be easy, maybe even come naturally. Here I am, though, alone in silence but for the hum of generators down the street. I’m pacing and praying aloud in an effort to turn my attention to God and turn away from the to-do list.

Someday, it turns out, is a matter of intention. Anything less is merely a wish.

As I recite another Hail Mary, a voice inside me is mocking me for ever thinking that someday, all I’d want would be time to live my faith more fully.

Stripped of intention, left to my own undisciplined habits, my spiritual life keeps receding into one someday after another.

What was it St. Paul wrote to the Romans? The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not.

Any resemblance to present company is purely coincidental.

I doggedly finish the Joyful Mysteries. I stop pacing. I sit down, pick up pen and paper, and resume work. That comes easily. The prayers didn’t.

Maybe that was the best reason to see them through.

An Advent Thought

If I had sworn off Twitter for Advent, I’d have missed this from Cardinal Dolan. Great example of the three basics that I teach when I’m introducing people to social media: clarity, charity, brevity.

Veni Emmanuel!

“The world says ‘I’m OK, you’re OK’. Advent reminds us that the world, and our lives, are a mess. We need something – *someone* – to make us whole. We need our Savior! Our lives are like the empty manger awaiting the birth of Christ!”