When Hallie Lord’s new book, “Style, Sex, and Substance: 10 Catholic Women Consider the Things That Really Matter,” began with the story of blogger Jennifer Fulwiler climbing out of her minivan’s window like one of the Dukes of Hazzard because the door was broken, I knew I’d be in for an interesting, engaging and funny read – despite the fact that I’m not exactly this book’s prime audience.
“Style, Sex, and Substance” is a collection of honest and revealing essays by a diverse group of women – single, married, stay-at-home Moms, working mothers, a Hollywood screenwriter – whose lives, joys, struggles and insights should be relatable to any modern woman. What’s unique is that they view all their experiences through the lens of faith.
Hallie – a married mother of five who blogs about “romance, beauty and style with a vintage twist” – is the book’s editor as well as a contributor. She explained to me on Christopher Closeup, “When I was choosing the authors, I wanted to find women who were unafraid – who were able to be humorous, but also not intimidated by showing the good, bad and ugly of their lives…I think a lot of times we want to show people the beautiful side of Catholicism – which is an incredible goal – but it can look a little too perfect. I wanted this book to say that this vocation is beautiful, but it’s very human and real.”
Along those lines, Hallie’s chapter deals with a topic that’s important to most women: style. In some Christian circles, a focus on style or fashion may seem like vanity, but Hallie would disagree. She says, “I’ve wrestled with the vanity questions as I know many women do…But what I point out is the way that we present ourselves to the world is actually part of our Christian witness. That’s why I’m definitely not telling women they have to be up with all the trends. I’m more saying to make it a priority to take care of yourself, to put your best foot forward both for your benefit and the benefit of the world-at-large…It sends a message to our culture that we are thriving as Catholic women. I think it goes beyond some silly ‘I love fashion’ kind of thing.”
The importance of a busy woman occasionally taking time for herself is another area of concern for Hallie: “One of the most beautiful things about Catholic women is how much they want to give of themselves. Their number one priority is serving their family and serving their world. But you can mistakenly get into this mindset of, ‘If I’m doing something for myself, that is a moment in time that I am not serving the world.’ But that’s actually not true because when you are taking care of yourself – whether it’s taking a nap, taking a bath, reading a book, going for a run – you’re actually fueling yourself. You’re fueling your body, spirit and mind. It sounds a little trite but it’s true that you have got to put your own oxygen mask on first. If we don’t, we’re going to have nothing to give back to the world.”
Hallie’s Catholic faith isn’t something she was born into; she was raised with neo-pagan beliefs. Her parents, however, always told her that her spiritual journey was her own, and she had to find God herself. In an example of God meeting people where they are, Hallie’s conversion originally started because of fashion. She was watching TV when she noticed a “rockabilly chick” wearing a cute dress she admired.
When Hallie started listening to what the young woman was saying, she heard her talking about Christianity, sin, redemption, suffering and joy. Those ideas resonated with Hallie, and planted a seed in her mind that took years to develop – but develop it did with the help of her boyfriend and eventual husband, Dan.
The fact that Hallie was led to faith by seeing someone on TV was part of the reason she included Barbara Nicolosi’s chapter in “Style, Sex, and Substance” about using Hollywood entertainment as a means of “plugging in and embracing discipleship in the 21st century.” Other chapter titles include Anna Mitchell’s “Single and Seeking God’s Plan” and Elizabeth Duffy’s “Sex, Passion, and Purity.” Regardless of the author or topic, many of the essays in the book reflect Hallie’s own experiences.
For instance, Rebecca Teti writes about the need to trust God more. Early in Hallie’s conversion, that was a lesson she had to learn because she was a perfectionist who liked to be in control. She recalls, “It was my wanting to prove that I was serious about this and I’m going to do everything perfectly for God. My motivation was pure, but what ended up happening is that I burned out because I couldn’t maintain that. I was relying on my own strength rather than God’s strength…I think that was a special lesson God was teaching me. He was saying, ‘You can throw yourself into anything, but if you don’t have Me to guide you, strengthen you and lift you up, you are going to hit a wall.’ I needed to be humble enough to realize that it’s all Him all the time.”
Going back to my comment at the beginning of this article about me not being the prime audience for this book, Hallie suggests that men can get something out of reading it too. She says, “I think it gives men great insight into the feminine genius. Women, I admit it, are a little bit of a mystery. We’re a little complicated. It’s nice for a husband or father to pick up the book, read it and get to understand a little bit more about how his daughter or his wife thinks. It may make some interactions a little less frustrating. It can make them a little more compassionate.”
To listen to Part 1 of my interview with Hallie Lord, along with Part 2 of my interview with “Made In His Image” founder Maura Byrne, click Christopher Closeup Podcast – Guests: 1) Hallie Lord, Part 1, and 2) Maura Byrne, Part 2