Maria de Lourdes Ruiz Scaperlanda!
Welcome to “Spotlight’s on…!” This monthly feature highlights fellow mother-writer-faith friends I’ve met over the past years and have had the privilege to know and learn from.
It seems appropriate that the ‘Spotlight’s on…!’ interview for March, the only Lenten interview in this series, will feature a woman whose name derives from Mary. I first met Maria de Lourdes Ruiz Scaperlanda years ago when the two of us crossed paths online through our work as writers for Catholic Parent magazine, for which Maria wrote a column on the life and times of a wife and mother of four. Maria later invited me to join a Catholic writers’ listserv that she moderates. Through that relationship, I’ve come to view Maria as a friend and mentor, and I’m so honored to feature here on Peace Garden Mama today.
If you can, please settle in for a bit, sip on your favorite drink and savor the words of one of my mentor friends.
Maria, first, let me ask, how is Lent going for you so far?
I am thrilled to be here with all of you today. Thanks, Roxane, for inviting me to your Garden! You know, it’s been an interesting Lent already. God is always surprising me, and this Lent started early. On that first Sunday of Lent, when the Catechumen and Candidates from our parish stood in front of the assembly and made a public commitment to enter into full membership with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil, I was touched by tears of joy and thanksgiving for their witness of faith. I have been working as an RCIA Core Team member the past couple of years, and it’s a powerful and beautiful ministry. I love listening to the stories of what brings each person to the Catholic Church. It renews me! It is certainly a special part of my Lenten journey.
As a young mother, I used to devour the parenting columns you wrote for Catholic Parent. In fact, through them, you inspired me to want to write more about my own family life and eventually become a columnist myself. Can you share here some of the things you wrote about, and/or perhaps describe one of your favorite columns?
When I first began writing the column “Heartland” for Catholic Parent I was 37 years old, Michael and I had been married for 16 years, and my four children were between 9 and 15 years old, so I had a wide range of topics I could draw from! It took me a while to believe that anyone was interested in the day-to-day goings-on of a regular, albeit crazy, family like ours, but I learned that this is precisely what readers appreciate — the fact that we ALL go through the same things, we struggle with similar issues with our children, with our spouses, with ourselves. And when the struggles are difficult or even painful, this, too, becomes the glue that binds us together. I learned that if something affected me deeply, it was safe to assume that someone out there would relate to it as well, and that there were lessons in it for all of us. So I wrote about mundane things and the lessons they taught me, such as writing Valentine’s Day cards for classroom parties, sibling rivalry, fighting over chores, family prayer, and the crazy art projects I enjoyed creating with my children. And I wrote about serious life issues that none of us can avoid. Some of the most difficult columns to write became the most meaningful, both to me and to my readers, like describing my feelings over close friends who got divorced, or dealing with a family death, or my own struggles during a difficult time in our marriage. I learned to be honest in the topics that I wrote about, and in sharing how I struggled my way through them — both positively and negatively.
I think one of my favorite columns was called “A Horrible Mother,” and it was simply my candid reflections as I questioned my vocation to motherhood—and my own sanity!
I’d like to add that one unexpected gift from writing the "Heartland" column was the awareness it gave me into the inseparable connection between writing and prayer. As a young mother, still in my 20s, I had the grace of befriending several older women at the parish of St. Thomas More when we lived in Austin, Texas. One woman led and invited me to attend a “Spirituality class” where we read the spiritual writings of some of our greatest saints, such as St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. She also taught us how to pray Centering prayer and invited us to make this a daily prayer routine — a practice I began then and have continued to do regularly as part of my daily prayer. In this quiet form of prayer, I practice the discipline of listening — and of being still! I mention this because that’s also how writing eventually became for me — a contemplative practice where I sit and wait, I listen, and then allow the words to come out from within me. Writing is a prayerful experience for me, and without my prayer, my writing simply would not be real.
During the timeframe the column was published, what did your family think of the fact that you were writing about them? Did they ever cringe upon reading about themselves?
That’s a funny question because it changed over time. At first they were taken back by seeing their names and stories on the printed page, so they handled it by ignoring it, pretending it didn’t happen! I remember once going to an archdiocesan Mass with our two youngest girls, Rebekah and Michelle. When the Mass ended, two women I didn’t know walked up to me and introduced themselves as readers of my column. They had recognized me from the photo in the magazine. But immediately they turned to Rebekah and said, “and you must be Rebekah. I loved your mom’s latest column about you. It was so sweet!” Of course, Rebekah was dying to know what EXACTLY I had said about her, so I suggested that she go home and read it, and so it began. All of a sudden, everyone began paying attention to what appeared in the magazine. The minute it would arrive in the mail, they would steal Catholic Parent to check up who was in it! As they got older, of course, this turned into a contest: which child did I write about the most that year. Well, you get the idea.
I think it was trickier writing about things that involved my marriage. My column was about family, marriage and self, so I knew that it was important to include our marriage journey in writing about what it means to be and live as a Catholic family. But I didn’t want to make anything public that Michael was uncomfortable with, so I made sure that I discussed my topic ideas in this area with Michael, and more than once I had him read the column I wrote before sending it in to make sure he was okay with what I shared about us.
Column-writing is not all you’ve done in your writing career. Among your many accomplishments as a writer is that of author, your most recent book being, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Mary of Nazareth. How did you come to write this book, and what sort of journey did you go on in order to write it?
The Idiot’s Guide to Mary of Nazareth was probably the most challenging book I’ve ever written! Not because of the topic, but because the Idiot’s Guide publisher, Penguin/Alpha Books, requires you to sign a contract saying that you’ll write the book in three months. Three months! I had never done any big project in three months, but I really wanted to work on this book, so I agreed. An agent in Connecticut contacted me to ask if I’d be interested in doing a CIG book on Mary or some other Catholic topic. Someone apparently familiar with my books, including my previous book on Mary (The Seeker’s Guide to Mary, Loyola Press), suggested me for this project. I considered it a privilege to put together an introduction on Mary for the average person. The writing was tough and grueling and intense and amazing. God led me every step of the way, and reminded me that this was Mary’s book, and just to trust the process, and to trust my experience and relationship with Mary. I have published five books and contributed to a number of other books, including one that you recently featured in your blog and radio show: Lisa Hendey’s The Handbook for Catholic Moms. A great new book! I am pleased and thankful that you are so generous in bringing your fellow writers’ work to your readers’ attention, Roxane!
One interesting fact is that none of my books have been my idea. Like the Idiot’s Guide book, all of them have been topics or titles that I have been asked to write about through an agent or a book editor. I am currently discerning what it is that I want to write about…what is the desire that God has placed in my heart? Coming up with my own idea is new for me!
Is Mary someone whom you frequently summon? I know that I have found myself calling upon her many times in my life. What has your relationship with her meant to you as a mother and wife and daughter of God
a Hispanic/Cuban, Mary has always been a natural part of my daily life. A better way to say it may be that I don’t remember a time when Mary was not in my life. Both at home and in my culture, Mary is talked about and consulted as you would to a fellow family member. After leaving Cuba, our family and relatives all resettled together in Puerto Rico, and at that point my grandparents came to live with us. My grandmother Josefa kept a life-size five foot (I’m not even exaggerating!) statue of St. Ann and Mary in her room, and she regularly prayed and talked with her out loud. I didn’t find this strange. Mary was the mother I could talk to when I was scared at night, or worried about going into a new school, or anxious about moving to a foreign country. As a young adult, Mary was unsurprisingly the friend that I asked for advice on how to live a holy life. When I became a new mother, it was to Mary that I turned for prayers and for help on a responsibility that seemed insurmountable and impossible to me. To this day, when I truly don’t know how to help or be a mother to one of my children, I humbly commend him or her to Mother Mary and ask her to mother them. Who else would better understand?
Mary is also our greatest models of Christian faith. For as long as we’ve tried to comprehend the mystery of a God-made-man, theologians have termed this the scandal of the incarnation. A God who chose to come into the world in the form of a baby! A God who sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life–and it all began with and because of Mary. As the first person to hear the outrageous news of the incarnation, Mother Mary reminds me that the only response upon hearing this Good News needs to be: I am the Lord’s servant—let it be.
I am so blessed to have many mentor mothers in my life, you among them. I feel you have helped prepare me for the day when my own children leaving the nest. First, perhaps you should introduce your husband and children to us – names and ages and what they are doing in their lives:
My husband of 28 years is Michael Anthony Scaperlanda, a law professor at the Universty of Oklahoma. Michael and I met at the Catholic Student Center as undergraduate students at OU’s rival school, the University of Texas in Austin! So we are Longhorn fans in a Sooner world, but our neighbors are good sports and put up with our Longhorn and Texas side. We had our first born, Christopher (27) by the end of our first year of marriage. And once we got started, we had the rest of our children all two years apart: Anamaria (25), Rebekah (23) and Michelle (21). Christopher brought into our lives three years ago the best daughter-in-law in the whole world, Mary Clare, and the two of them live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he works as an attorney at a law firm and Mary is a high school teacher. Anamaria is a Notre Dame graduate working and writing from Norman, so we are thankful to have her here with us right now. Rebekah is a Kansas graduate working in Kansas City. And Michelle is a senior at Marquette University. This means that, God willing, we’ll be entering a new era in our lives as of May. No more college kids! I still can’t believe this, but here we are.
I have read some of your daughter Rebekah’s columns, which are quite good. What does it feel like for you, as a mother-writer, to read your daughter’s published words? What has been your proudest moment as a mother?
My children consistently amaze me. They have been truly my grace and my joy. The things that they have already accomplished in their young lives is mind-blowing. I hesitate to name some of these examples because it may sound like mother bragging. But what I want to emphasize by listing these examples is this: they are illustrations of things that I could have never EVER imagined for them. God’s plans and details are continually so much bigger than mine! Let me share with you a few instances from their college years, since that’s the most recent phase in our family’s life:
After a wonderful freshman year at the University of Notre Dame, our son Christopher decided that God was calling him to volunteer with the National Evangelization Team. For a year, he lived out of a van and traveled cross-country giving retreats to high school and middle school students. I will always be grateful to Notre Dame for honoring his commitment to volunteerism and allowing him to return to his program and his dorm to finish out his next three years.
As a sophomore, our oldest daughter Anamaría imagined and put together a conference addressing what it means to be an authentic Catholic woman. This year marked the fifth Edith Stein Conference at Notre Dame. I can’t imagine how it must feel to see something so grand that you founded as a student continue on after you leave!
My amazing middle daughter—who, of course, didn’t want to do anything the same way that her siblings did—graduated with not one but two degrees, while at the same time becoming an integral member of the retreat team at St. Lawrence Catholic Center. As a journalism major she wrote about many things, including a very public testimony of her Catholic faith journey that was published in the University of Kansas student newspaper.
And then there’s my “baby,” Michelle. Two years ago in discerning what to do with her summer, Michelle went to work at a Catholic Summer Camp in Wisconsin, a commitment that is much more a vocation than a job — and one that took her out of her comfort zone and away from her natural desire to be home for the summer.
As proud as I honestly am of their accomplishments, their schooling, and all of that—what brings tears to my face even as I write this is my children’s love of God and their desire to continue to learn and discern what it means to be a Catholic Christian in their world today. As you have noted in your posts, Roxane, God speaks through the voices of our children. My children witness to me daily. As much as I desire a strong faith and pray for them with all my heart, I am nourished and strengthened by their witness to ME in what they do as young adults, and how they do it, in their decisions and their vision for the world.
Of all the writing you’ve done through the years, what is the piece, or book, that stands out as your most satisfying work, and why?
I don’t know that I can answer this question. I have been blessed with many wonderful opportunities in my writing career. I have great memories of meeting and interviewing authors like Madeline L’Engle and some really cool Catholics, like Mary Higgins Clark, Kathleen Norris, and singer Aaron Neville. I have traveled on assignment to some exotic and exciting places, such as Israel, Spain and Turkey. But also to some difficult ones like the slums of Jamaica, Haiti or Honduras after the mudslides of Hurricane Mitch. And I have interviewed many incredible “ordinary” Catholics living their faith in extraordinary ways. Nevertheless, maybe it’s because I’m getting old (I’ll be turning 50 this year, you know!), but I don’t think I can name one particular piece of work. I do remember moments that have been transforming in my writing journey, like the awareness through my column that I mentioned earlier regarding my writing and my prayer life. Or like the book editor who read over my first draft of one of my early books and returned it to me with a note: “The material here is great, Maria. But I’ve marked all the places where I want to hear YOUR voice, not just the facts.” I remember looking at all the gobs of red ink and wondering how in the world I would insert myself there, but I did! Those were very satisfying moments because I realized that I’m called not just to write, but to hear the voice of God deep within me as I string words together into sentences, and sentences into paragraphs.
I am right now in perhaps the most challenging moment of my professional life. After publishing hundreds of articles and columns, and even five books over a nine-year span, my writing came to a complete halt four years ago because of physical problems. I thought I knew how to listen and be still, but I was suddenly forced into the most unsettling silence and physical stillness of my life. In my office, I have a big wall of photos and sayings that I have collected over the years. One of them is a statement by Henry James: “A writer is someone on whom nothing is lost.” So, I don’t know yet how this most recent personal experience will translate into words, but I am hopeful. I would also humbly ask that you please pray with and for me on that.
Other than Mary, do you have a favorite saint, and why?
That would have to be Saint Edith Stein, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross — a Jewish convert to Catholicism who entered the Carmelite order and was murdered at Auschwitz during World War II. I fell in love with Edith while working on her biography, my second book. Edith Stein was a brilliant and renowned philosopher, but it is her open and willing heart that made me fall in love with her. If you’re interested in getting to know her, in addition to my introductory biography of Edith, I would recommend reading her personal letters. She will blow you away!
A personal side story: I was baptized when I was three days old in Pinar del Río, Cuba, my place of birth. Because I was born in 1960 in the midst of incredible political and social turbulence as Fidel Castro took over our country, my parents and their pastor decided to not only baptize me but also to confirm me as an infant! So I have to admit that, as a teenager, when I learned of the tradition of getting to pick a patron saint at Confirmation, I felt a little gypped! I have now adopted Edith Stein as my patron saint and my saint companion on the faith journey.
With a backward glance, what advice can you offer young mothers and writers and faith-seekers who are trying to make a difference in this world?
First and foremost, make prayer, preferably quiet prayer, part of your daily regiment. Yes, I know what I’m asking! I had four kids within a barely six year span. As the Nike commercial used to say, just do it. It doesn’t have to be long or elaborate, in fact, it’s best if it’s not! Being a woman or man of prayer is the greatest gift you can give your children and your spouse, and by extension, it will direct and bless your writing career. As far as writing, my best advice is to work on your craft. If, like I did, you are a mother working out of a home office because you want to be present to your children, working to improve your craft will mean different things at different stages of your life. Go on a writer’s retreat. Join a writer’s group. Take a workshop. Do an online class. Perhaps once the kids are older you can go back to school for a graduate degree. That’s what I did that. Work at becoming a better writer as much as you can, as best you can. No matter how much we accomplish, personally, as parents what we ultimately want for our children is that they do better than us, experience more than we did, know more, etc.
When our children were young, Michael and I worked hard to be deliberate in sharing and living our Catholic values with and in our family. But everything gets murkier during the teen years, when those hormonal young girls and boys begin expanding and discerning who they really are—and fighting with us as parents every step of the way. Things will happen that you never expected. You will not understand why they behave or respond the way they do, and it can be painful for everyone. If you are in this stage or close to it, I want to assure you that it will pass. Something incredible happens as they grow up — and I promise, they will grow up. You will watch them become themselves once again, but this time truly themselves! At every step of the way, keep praying for them, talking with them, sharing with them who you are and what you believe — and trust in the hand of God at work in their lives. Surround yourself with a community of fellow believers, other women committed to living out their vocation of motherhood. Be sure to include older women, those “mother mentors” that Roxane talks about. They will remind you that we all go through these stages. We can’t skip any steps. And then, believe with your whole heart that God is in control, because His vision is so much more than you or I could ever imagine. All I can tell you is that what I have witnessed already as a mother is phenomenal! And I’m not even a grandmother, yet
Maria, thank you so much for letting us pick your brain a bit. If you could point the way to your work, that would be great. And then, if you could end with a Lenten prayer, I would be most appreciative.
I am deeply grateful for this opportunity to enter into your blog community, Roxane. What a beautiful group you have here! I am honored to share these random thoughts with you all. Thank you for inviting me to join you today! You can visit my website for a listing of my work: www.mymaria.net. You can also find me on Facebook and on Twitter, though I am more of a random contributor there.
Let us pray…
God of all creation, you have given us this season of joy to remember and reawaken in us the awareness of your living presence in our world through your Son, Jesus. Grant us throughout this Lent humble and contrite hearts. Bring us closer to you. Help us to open ourselves completely to you, and to the love you so want to give us. May we, through the intercession of your Mother Mary and the communion of saints, come back to you with all our hearts, our minds, and our beings. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.
Thank you Maria! I am turning comments on for the next couple days in case any reader would like to share their thoughts with Maria.