“In Full Bloom: Finding the Grace and Grit to Thrive Wherever You’re Planted.” By Claire Swinarski. Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 2020. 111 pages. Paperback: $14.95; Kindle: $11.49; Nook: $11.49.

Of the many inspirational posters that were around in the ‘90s, there was one that I distinctly remember seeing; it was a lovely flower with the message, “Bloom where you’re planted.” It was optimistic because it reminded us that opportunities abound right where we are, if we only know how to look for them.

That, of course, was the issue – what if you had no clue how to go about looking or, even worse, what if your searching revealed that the place in which you found yourself was not at all good for you and was, perhaps, even downright toxic?

These are the questions that Claire Swinarski addresses in her new book, “In Full Bloom: Finding the Grace and Grit to Thrive Wherever You’re Planted.” Much like the ‘90s poster graphic, she divides the topic into four stages of traditional gardening: planning your garden, planting your seeds, a rooted life and bursting into bloom. In each, she gives advice – often from her own life – about how to navigate the place you find yourself in according to God’s grace and purpose.

One of the first things she points out is that we often end up in situations we never expected to be in. The plans we make are altered or done away with entirely and what we are left with are what she calls “titles”, both good and not so good,  that we might not be prepared for – from being a parent, to working at a job we never thought we’d do, to suffering illnesses and setbacks we never expected to undergo. Rather than panic, she says, we need to step back, take a deep breath, and realize that there is “one title that covers a multitude of savory or sad surprises: disciple.”

“To be a disciple,” she continues, “is to walk alongside the Lord … (knowing that) we can bloom as disciples no matter our season of life.”

The remainder of the book invites the reader to listen for and discern how God is calling us to be those disciples at every moment of our lives. First, foremost, and always is to develop a habit of prayer. “We have a God who desires to know and love us,” she notes. “In fact, his Son calls us his friends.  How are we supposed to know what he wants us to do if we aren’t talking to him?”

She also writes about the importance of developing good habits, of acquiring perspective, and reaching out in fellowship to others.  Perhaps one of the most “fun” and relatable chapters has to do with food: “I’m a firm believer that one of the most powerful places in your home is the table,” she says. “The table is the foundation for conversation, both easy and difficult. The most challenging of discussions are made a bit easier when someone’s munching a s’more.”

The table extends far beyond our immediate relatives, she continues. “Community —being with people who believe the same things you do, people who you can eat with and argue with and celebrate with – is the bedrock of human society.” It is also how we can bridge the gaps that inevitably arise in human relationships. “Food is a sensory experience that deepens our senses and reminds us of our humanity,” she concludes. “But it is also one of the most concrete ways we can show love, and one of the most fulfilling ways we can receive it.”  (Swinarski is so serious about this that she includes several recipes at the end of the book.)

She also reminds us that as we go through life, things will change — constantly. People will come or go, situations will begin and end, and we ourselves will grow older and become different people. This should not cause us to fear, however. “If you’re trying to thrive in your current season, you’re blooming,” she concludes. “If you’re looking for the light, you’re blooming.”

Author bio:

Claire Swinarski is the author of books for both adults and children, including “Girl, Arise!” as well as “What Happens Next.” Her work has been featured in Radiant magazine, Blessed Is She, FemCatholic, The Washington Post, Good Housekeeping, Seventeen, Verily, America, and many other publications. She’s also the host of The Catholic Feminist podcast, a top-ranked spirituality show with almost two million downloads. She lives outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with her husband and two children.

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