Kate Braestrup doesn’t set out to write books that inspire, but she does.
“I’m not sure I try to be inspirational, exactly. I try very hard to write truthfully and lovingly about how I understand God and see God at work in my world,” she says.
Her memoirs have offered accessible spirituality to readers for more than a decade. And yes, they are inspiring, from how she handled her young husband’s sudden death and its aftermath in the best-selling “Here if You Need Me,” to reconciling fears and support when her son joins the Marines during wartime in “Anchors and Flares.” Her writing is honest, funny and graceful.
We wouldn’t have Braestrup’s body of work if she hadn’t been on the receiving end of some inspiration herself.
Her first husband, a Maine State Police trooper and father of her four young children, was killed in a car accident in 1996. He had been studying theology and was committed to his ordination. When tragedy struck, Braestrup drew inspiration from his deep conviction. She found a way to begin healing by developing her own vocation and attending the Bangor Theological Seminary. In 2001, she became one of the first chaplains for the Maine Warden Service, offering comfort and compassion to those who wait while wardens search the woods for a lost hunter or when they get terrible news about a loved one’s snowmobile accident, for instance. She continues in that role today with “immense gratitude and satisfaction.” She was ordained as a Unitarian Universalist minister in 2006.
She speaks around the country, writes for national publications and has remarried. In their blended family, she and her artist husband, who live in the Midcoast, have six adult children who “even behave like adults now,” she says.
We spoke to Braestrup about being an inspirational author. Here are excerpts.
Q: Is there a particular positive response from one of your readers that stands out for you?
A: I’ve had a few readers write to tell me that a particular passage in one of my books stuck with them and helped them through an unforeseen time of trouble. A woman wrote to tell me that, not long after she read “Here If You Need Me,” her mother died unexpectedly. She remembered reading that I had taken care of my husband’s body myself after he died, and because of this, she was able to recognize and then advocate for her own wish and need to do the same for her mother.
There is a sense in which a book isn’t really finished until it’s been read. There are a lot of metaphors that I trot out to describe this—the reader completes the circuit that makes the electricity happen, or the writer throws the football, but the pass isn’t complete until someone catches it … you get the idea.
I love it when someone writes to say, “I sat up in bed reading, and I laughed so hard I woke my husband up … then I had to read the funny bits out loud to him.” The idea that you can reach across time and space and make someone laugh is pretty great, but the idea that you can tell a story—like the story of when I bathed and dressed Drew’s body—and it actually makes a material difference in someone else’s life … that’s a throw-and-catch miracle.
Q: Are there any downsides to being a writer who inspires others? Have you ever received any negative reactions from readers?
A: The only downside I can think of off the top of my head is that I’m always sure that someone who has read all my books and finds them really inspiring is going to find me awfully disappointing in person. As it turns out, however, people are pretty polite, so if they do find me sort of “meh” when we meet, they’re nice enough not to say so.
Every now and then, someone will take issue with something I’ve written and write to me about it. By and large, these are very serious, thoughtful letters or emails, and even if the writer disagrees strongly with me, I’m impressed that they’ve taken the time to offer their thoughts. Whether they know it or not, this is really an act of love. You don’t bother to write to someone if you don’t believe that they are somehow worth the effort. So some of the richest “conversations” (via email, that is!) I’ve had with people have begun with: “How can you possibly think X? Don’t you know how wrong that is?”
Q: Do you read inspirational books? If so, by what authors?
A: I like C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton in part because they’re so British … and Father Greg Boyle’s “Tattoos On The Heart” was moving and gripping.
Q: How do you find inspiration in your daily life?
A: Luckily, it usually finds me. I hang around with heroic people, men (mostly men, anyway) “with servants’ hearts.” As the chaplain to Maine’s Game Wardens, inspiration in the form of a guy in uniform doing something lovely and heroic will smack me in the face so often that by the end of the day I’m downright goofy with inspiration. Fortunately, my husband is a patient man—and pretty inspirational himself, now that I think of it.
Here are more books by Kate Braestrup
Anchor and Flares: A Memoir of Motherhood, Hope & Service (2015)
Beginner’s Grace: Bringing Prayer to Life (2010)
Marriage and Other Acts of Charity (2010)
Here If You Need Me: A True Story (2007)
A Braestrup Sampler
“But then, a grateful heart beats in a world of miracles. If I could only speak one prayer for you, my children, it would be that your hearts would not only beat, but grow ever-greater in gratitude, that your lives, however long they prove to be and no matter how they end, continue to bring you miracles in abundance.”
Here If You Need Me
“It is possible that God is the way Annie Payne used to lean her old head against my shoulder … Drew’s arms holding me … Ron Dunham walking out of the woods hand in hand with a child lost, then found. It is possible that God is my neighbor with her pan of brownies standing on my doorstep. It is entirely possible, that is, that the God I serve and worship with all my body, all my mind, all my soul, and all my spirit is love … It’s enough. It’s all the God I need.”
Here If You Need Me
“If you give your committed love to a person, an idea, or a cause, even should that person, idea, or cause be taken from you, or proven false, you will be a better lover—of anyone, of anything—for the experience. Because I am a religious person, I see this in characteristically grandiose, religious terms: The point of being human is to get better (and better) at caritas, at agape, at love.”
Marriage and Other Acts of Clarity
“May the hungry be well fed. May the well fed hunger for justice. Amen.”
“These days, cynicism seems uncomfortably close to despair, and I no longer believe that the only alternative to despair is blind denial. Despair isn’t realism, it is the apocalypticism of the clever unreligious and just as much an abdication of responsibility. Bad things happen but the world isn’t ending. No bang, no whimper, no sudden fix, just this long, slow slog we’re all taking together toward the next shining, inevitable miracle.”
Anchors and Flares
Amy Canfield is the managing editor of The American Journal and Lakes Region Weekly and an editor of Maine Women Magazine.