“Death by Minivan.” By Heather Anderson Renshaw. Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 2018. 144 pages. Paperback: $16.95; Kindle: $9.99; Nook: $10.99.

Nearly 30 years ago, as I was awaiting the birth of my son, a good friend of mine — herself a mother — did two very important things for me. First, she gushed almost as loudly as I did about the new baby, and then she offered some sage advice. “Just remember,” she said, “this is a wonderful event, but there will be lots of days when things aren’t all smiles and baby powder.”

Reading Heather Renshaw’s new book, “Death by Minivan,” I was reminded of that conversation. Although, as the author says, she would fiercely defend any and all of her children to the death, she is also exceptionally honest about just how hard the vocation of motherhood — or mother’hood, as she often phrases it — truly is. She is also humble enough to admit that there is no way she could face each day unless she did it while holding onto God’s hand, tightly. Indeed, it is her straightforward truthfulness that makes this book such a valuable read.

She also doesn’t pretend to have all the answers for anyone. “To be clear, this book is not meant to be a how-to manual, because even after sixteen years in the mother’hood, I don’t always know exactly ‘how to,’” she emphasizes. “Plus your ‘how to’ for life with your family will likely look different from mine, and that’s absolutely okay.” What she does share, however, are the insights gleaned and lessons learned about how the vocation of motherhood is a direct path to God.

To accomplish that, her book is structured around the fruits of the Holy Spirit because, as she said, “I wanted to be more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, gentle, and all the rest. I wanted to walk by the Spirit!” But because that doesn’t just happen, Renshaw quickly points out that “if we want to live by the Spirit, we have to intentionally and consistently choose to incorporate good, godly fruits into our busy lives.” And so, each chapter focuses on one spiritual fruit at a time, beginning with love. The structure of each chapter remains the same throughout — a slice of experience from the author’s own life (often told quite humorously), followed by a prayer to the Holy Spirit, Scripture verses, excerpts from the lives and writings of the saints, a list of further resources and finally, a brief list of discussion questions, plus room for formulating some of your own.

As Renshaw tells her own story, her honesty leads quite naturally to a tremendous sense of humility. At no point does she talk down to or lecture the reader; if anything, many on the motherhood journey may walk away feeling as if they have this “mother” thing mastered far better than they had imagined. By the same token, for those who struggle more than they might like, Renshaw is quick to point out that if anyone finds themselves needing professional help, by all means they should seek it out, and sooner rather than later. “A funny thing happened not too long ago,” she says near the end of the book. “I took a turn from my normal route so I could start taking better care of my kids’ mom. I saw a counselor. And a psychologist.” Add to that regular prayer and spiritual direction, and the difference was palpable. “I’m more accepting of the me I am today, while working on the me God wants me to be,” she concludes.

Although particularly suitable for mothers who are still “in the heat of the battle,” this book would resonate with anyone who has traveled this road. In fact, it would be the perfect Mother’s Day gift, tucked in the basket right next to the flowers and the chocolate.

Author bio:

Heather Renshaw is a wife, a mother of five, a speaker and the author of “Blessed Conversations: The Beatitudes” (2017). She is also a contributing author to “All Things Girl: Truth for Teens” (2014). Her family life column, “Mea Maxima Cuppa,” appears in the Catholic Sentinel newspaper. Her written work has appeared in various online outlets, including Aleteia, CatholicMom.com and Blessed Is She, as well as in several Take Up & Read publications.