Love, Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life


Readers of Mary & Me will know that Mary Humston was that kind of friend for me after the death of my husband in 2012. She still is.

Henri Nouwen was that kind of friend to those who corresponded with him. An internationally renowned priest and author, respected professor and beloved pastor, Nouwen wrote over 40 books on the spiritual life. He corresponded regularly in English, Dutch, German, French and Spanish with hundreds of friends and reached out to thousands through his books, lectures and retreats. Since his death in 1996, his literary legacy has only increased, with readers, writers, teachers and spiritual seekers being guided by his words.

When he died, he left behind a treasury of personal papers, including 16,000 letters. He not only kept every postcard, piece of paper, and greeting card that arrived in his mail, he responded to each of them.

Love Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life is a collection of letters that spans more than two decades, from Nouwen’s years as a professor, to his time as a Trappist monk, to missionary work in Latin American, and finally his role as a pastor of a community of people with disabilities. Friends wrote him about their grief, deteriorating marriages, faltering faith, and job struggles, and these letters in reply are extraordinary.


To a friend considering quitting his job, Nouwen wrote: “…my first inclination is to encourage you in your work which you have started. It seems you are in a spot which is hard, but which has many, many opportunities, and there are indeed people there who need your presence, your encouragement, your insights, and most of all, your deep religious commitment.

I have a feeling that in the future you will be called to other places and to other types of work, but it seems that a few year in this dessert might in fact be a good preparation for the more involved type of ministry.”

He goes on to say;

“Be sure to be very faithful to a regular prayer life, to spend a lot of time in reading and to stay in in good contact with friends whom you trust. I am sure after a while it will become clear where God is calling you, but my first response to your letter is that right now he calls you to be just where you are.”

This is the kind of advice we could all use when we are struggling with something; a reminder to pray, to read, to take some contemplative time, and to be willing to trust God that there is a plan in all of it.

I had to set this book aside for several days after I read it, as I contemplated some of my own struggles.  I have a mentor or two in my own life that I write to, and while their replies are more often by e-mail than snail mail, their advice is similar to Nouwen’s. We get so busy in our hectic lives, we forget to make time to pray, to listen to God.

This is one of the few books of actual letters that I’ve read, and I enjoyed it immensely. It has gotten me interested in reading more of Nouwen’s work.


Carry On: A Story of Resilience, Redemption, and an Unlikely Family

Book Review by Mary Jedlicka Humston

“The script of sports emphasizes competitive bonds and the meaning of a teammate. Dartanyon carrying Leroy legitimized that bond in a tangible way.” (Carry On, by Lisa Fenn, page 93)

A tragic train accident in elementary school claims both of Leroy Sutton’s legs. Dartanyon Crockett is legally blind. When these two poverty-stricken high schoolers become wrestling teammates, their disabilities connect them in countless ways, especially when Dartanyon begins carrying Leroy.

Yes, physically carrying Leroy on his back.

The author, Lisa Fenn, a six-time Emmy Award-winning feature producer with ESPN for thirteen years, hears about the duo who attend a tough Cleveland public school. She expresses interest in producing an ESPN program featuring the inspiring story of their friendship and brother-like bond. Soon, the tale travels far beyond their high school halls.
Carry On grips us from the start, pulling us so deep into Leroy and Dartanyon’s lives to the point where we care what happens to them long after the celebrated ESPN show. Fenn follows Leroy and Dartanyon after high school graduation, into college, and beyond.
Don’t shy away from this book because you’re not a sports fan. There’s much more depth here than Fenn merely detailing an ESPN storyline. She takes us on an incredible journey of the relationship between these two young men and then the one that remarkably includes Fenn and her family.
She says it best when she writes:
“They drew us out of safe places to become bridges across perceived barriers of race and class…They taught us that when we accept what we are called to do, we become who we are created to be. They taught us to carry on.” (page 295)

We can’t help but be moved by Leroy and Dartanyon’s extraordinary friendship and how Fenn’s life meshes with theirs. This is a memoir of guts, poverty, pain, courage, perseverance, and success.
Don’t miss it.

Book Review: Dinner With Edward

Reviewed by Mary Jedlicka Humston

Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship has the feel of Tuesdays with Morrie (by author Mitch Albom) combined with a food lover’s quest for great food, making this little book a delightful read.

dinner with edward.jpg
Isabel Vincent, an investigative reporter for the “New York Post” as well as the author of four books, is asked by her friend, Valerie, to check in on her father, Edward, when her mother, Paula, passes away after sixty-nine years of marriage. Vincent, who lives near Edward in New York, agrees to do this after Valerie departs home to Canada.
What evolves are weekly dinners that create a special bond between the grieving nonagenarian widower and the middle-aged conscientious friend coming to grips with her troubled marriage.
It’s not just about the food, but the food does become a third character in this memoir. Each chapter begins with the menu for that particular week.
Chocolate Soufflé. Grilled Sirloin Steak with Bourguignonne Sauce. Pommes de Terre Sarladaises. Orange Zest Salad. Apple Galette. Fennel Rémoulade over Lettuce. The often-difficult-to-pronounce (for me, at least) dishes are just a smidge of what Edward creates for Vincent.
The narrative will frequently break down the meal by relating step-by-step preparations, but, surprisingly, this doesn’t read like a cook book nor are there actual recipes included in the back of the book.
Like I said earlier, it’s not just about the food. It’s about the dear, close friendship that develops between two lonely people who need each other at this special point in time.
Another reason our “Mary & Me” blog readers will find this book of interest is Edward’s love of writing letters to his wife.
After she died, Edward began writing her letters, telling her about what he had cooked that day, which of their friends he had bumped into. Shortly after we met, he started to write to Paula about me.” (Page 22)
His letter writing inspired Vincent to do the same with her deceased mother.

“One afternoon, when I was particularly upset, I took Edward’s advice and was startled by the result. When I sat down to write to my mother in a notebook, sadness spilled out of me. And once it was out in the open, I could no longer keep it under wraps.” (Page 67)
This story will touch readers in a variety of ways.

Bon appetit!

Women’s Friendship Day Giveaway with $25 Barnes & Noble

This giveaway has ended. Thank you to all who entered on our Facebook Page.

It’s here…your chance to win a prize package on September 18, National Women’s Friendship Day, valued at well over $60. Not only are we celebrating female friendship, but also the one-year anniversary of our book release.

First of all, drumroll please…


We have a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card. (not the one pictured)

Next up, a copy of Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink

mary-meOne winner will also get all this; two packages of notecards, “A Prayerbook for Spiritual Friends” by Madeleine L’Engle and Luci Shaw, a package of cloud/sky paper with matching envelopes, “Signed, Sealed, Delevered: Celebrating the Joys of Letter Writing” by Nina Sankovitch (who wrote a blurb endorsement of our book), “Gift of a Letter” by Alexandra Stoddard, the two books recently reviewed by Mary Potter Kenyon, the lovely “Pen to Paper: Artists’ Handwritten Letters” edited by Mary Savig, and “Nobody’s Cuter Than You: A Memoir About the Beauty of Friendship” by Melanie Shankle, and because both of the Marys journal; “The Journal Keeper” by Phyllis Theroux, “Grace for the Moment 365-day journaling devotional” by Max Lucado, and “The Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude” by Sarah Ban Breathnach. Finally, a box of Sunblooms stationery by Amy Butler with 30 sheets of 6 different designs and matching envelopes.

mary & me prize.jpg

How do you enter?

*Go to our Facebook Page and “Like” it, if you haven’t already.

*Share the Giveaway Post on our Page

*Comment under the Giveaway Post

That’s it. Three easy steps. One winner’s name will be randomly drawn on the evening of September 18.

Good luck!

Book Review: Nobody’s Cuter Than You

Nobody’s Cuter Than You: A Memoir About the Beauty of Friendship was released in April 2015, weeks after Mary & I had submitted our completed manuscript for the September-released Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink.


Had we been aware of this book, we would have added it to our resource chapter. Had we read it, I would have wondered if my friend Mary had unconsciously picked up a phrase from it.

On page 16 of our book, Mary Jedlicka Humston looked back on our first meeting:


On page 3 of Shankle’s book, she said much the same about her first meeting with her friend Gulley.


I read Shankle’s wonderful book in one sitting, marveling at how much like the other Mary she was; forming female friendships with such ease. She was Mary JH, but with more money! Yes, I found myself wondering as I read her book what my life would have been like in elementary school if I’d had the wardrobe Shankle had. Is it easier to make friends with the right clothes, the hip hairstyle, and keys to a car handed to you on your 16th birthday?  It made me think of our Book Club discussion questions at the back of our book.


Certainly having parents pay for college and access to Dad’s credit card made Shankle’s college days more fun than the years at UNI for either of the Marys, who had to pay their own way. I was a married woman my second year of college, had my first baby and worked part-time around my husband’s college classes and part-time job. There were no nights of partying, no groups of female friends. By the time I graduated college, I was the mother of four children, with four more to follow. When would I have had time for weekend road trips in which to bond with fellow females?  I found myself getting a little, um…jealous, and if you’ve read our book, you know that is a very uncomfortable feeling for me. I was even envious of Shankle’s fourth grade summer camp and the resulting turning point in her faith in Christ. I had to wait until age 51, and the loss of my mother for my own turning point in faith.

Nobody's cuter than you envy.jpg

Surprisingly, Shankle tackles the topic of jealousy in her book, too. Maybe one can’t discuss female friendship without broaching the subject. Perhaps everyone deals with envy at some point in their life.

The similarities between our books doesn’t end there. The author obviously shares a love of epigraphs with me. (the quotes of others at the beginning of each chapter). She also touches on loss, and the importance of being there for a friend.  Readers of Mary & Me know intimately of how my friendship with Mary deepened after I faced the loss of my husband.

Nobody's cuter than you2.jpg

After reading Melanie Shankle’s memoir, I want to read her other books. I’m now a follower of her Big Mama blog. I want Melanie and her Gulley to sit down at a table with Mary and me to share a cup of tea (or coffee~ it is not clear which beverage this author prefers) and talk into the night about friendship, faith, jealousy, and what it means to be a Christian woman.

Readers will have a chance to win a copy of this book in the giveaway that I will be posting on our blog tomorrow.  Not only will we be giving away several books, a journal, and stationery, but a Barnes & Noble gift card is involved~  The giveaway drawing will be held next Sunday, September 18, which just happens to be National Women’s Friendship Day.

Book Review: The Bridge Ladies

reviewed by Mary Jedlicka Humston

“Maybe it’s the game that keeps them together more than the bonds of friendship. Maybe Bridge itself is the glue that has kept the ladies together for over fifty years. Sometimes you have to call a spade a spade.” The Bridge Ladies, pg. 316


For the past 55 years on Mondays around noon, Bette, Bea, Jackie, Rhoda, and Roz faithfully gather for lunch and bridge.

Roz’s daughter, Betsy Lerner, and the other women’s children, watched their mothers congregate at each other’s homes while growing up. The longevity of these friendships captivated Lerner. Enough so, that Lerner, the author of two other books and a partner of a literary agency, spent nearly three years attending their bridge sessions and observing them. She visited and interviewed all five Bridge Ladies multiple times, often in their own homes, to better understand the unique bond between the women. She also details (often humorously) her struggle to learn the game by taking lessons from a variety of teachers. What resulted is a fascinating book on friendship.

Interwoven amid the account of these enduring relationships is also the unwrapping of a mother-daughter story, that of Lerner and Roz. Lerner, who grew up in the 70s, isn’t shy about sharing her personal history of that time period with some nitty-gritty details.
But I most enjoyed the Bridge Ladies’ stories, complete with current events from each decade. We learn how they not only shared their joys but stoically weathered parenting challenges, tragedies, and the losses of their long-married spouses (with nary a divorce among them).

If you read The Bridge Ladies for the friendship theme alone, you won’t be disappointed.
If you love bridge, you’ll enjoy this book even further. Though I never learned the game, I’ve played a variety of cards since elementary school. I found the specific bridge details puzzling, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book.

If you want to read the angst of a mother-daughter relationship, then you have another reason to pick up this book.

I believe The Bridge Ladies and their unique friendship is best summed up by Lerner’s mother Roz when she says, “That’s what we do.” It’s a humble but apt statement on the steadfastness, love, and joy of long, enduring friendships.


Book Review: Dear Mister Essay Guy

Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy,
This was my review on Goodreads a few months ago when I read your book for the first time:

Mildly amusing, but only mildly. And I normally like Moore’s essays and articles on essay-writing but this book had zero helpful advice for writers, so maybe it was my expectations, but I was very disappointed.

A few days ago I decided to give it a second look before I added it to the box of books headed to the HalfPrice bookstore that pays cash for my cast-offs.

Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy: Advice and Confessions on Writing, Love, and Cannibals is written in LETTER format. Yes, questions written to author Dinty W. Moore, followed by his humorous, though dubiously helpful, answers.

As an avid reader on the writing craft, I still maintain that there isn’t as much substance to this book as there is to your articles on the art of the essay. That said, I did find the humor a bit more palatable the second time around.

While this book wasn’t for me, it does have merit, and there are fledgling writers who might get more out of it than I did.

dinty-moorereviewed by Mary Potter Kenyon


Pen to Paper, Artist’s Handwritten Letters

No one would mistake one of my letters as a work of art. Consider the missive I began this morning to my friend Mary.

letter to Mary

We stopped caring a long time ago what our letters to each other looked like. If neat handwriting, composition, and proper grammar had been a big concern of ours, we likely would have written much fewer than the thousands of letters that passed between us in the last 30 years.

Neither one of us remembers exactly how or when we decided not to keep each other’s letters, but the sheer volume of them had a lot to do with it. Where would one store such treasures that numbered in the thousands?

I do have a stash of letters I have saved; letters from my mother, siblings, a few from my grandmother, and many from my own children. Would my brother Bill be surprised to discover that I kept the letters he wrote to me when I was 16?

Bill letter

I thought then, and still do today, that my brother’s handwriting reflected an artsy soul. A 2009 letter from my nephew Garrett seemed a precursor to the talent he has since developed as an artist.  I discovered a similarly decorated envelope among my mother’s things after her death. She, too, saved his letter.

Garrett letter

All together, my saved letters number fewer than what Mary and I might have written in our first ten years of letter-writing, but they still take up a good space in the trunk where I store them. Handwritten letters are indeed a treasure trove, as attested by the stash I’ve kept in a trunk and in books like this one.

pen to paer

Pen to Paper: Artists’ Handwritten Letters from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, edited by Mary Savig, is truly a work of art in its own right.
A collection of letters by artists from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, the book reveals how letter writing can be an artistic act, just as an artist puts pen to paper to craft a line in a drawing. Brief essays explore what can be learned from the handwriting of celebrated artists such as Mary Cassatt and  Maxfield Parrish. Each letter is accompanied by an archival image of the artist or a related artwork, with a full transcription at the back. (I needed those transcriptions as the penmanship was difficult to decipher at times.)

I was surprised to see a Dubuque, Iowa art professor listed in the book. Sister Mary Paulita (Helen) Kerrigan, was a member of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She devoted her professional life to painting and teaching, serving for 48 years as an art professor and artist-in-residence at Clarke College in Dubuque, Iowa. In 1962, she left Iowa to spend the summer studying at the Art Students League of New York, sketching in the streets of Manhattan and painting in a studio. This letter was her thank-you letter to noted painter and sculptor Charles Alston.

clarke college

Her handwriting demonstrates the Palmer Method of penmanship, popular especially in Catholic schools in the United States throughout the 20th century. Many of us remember the repetitive drills that brought us our own fluency in similar cursive handwriting. My mother took some art classes at Clarke College before marrying my father. I wonder now if one of her instructors was Sister Mary Paulita.

You can see the same style of handwriting in my mother’s letters that I have saved.

mother's letter.jpg

More than thirty years later, my mother’s written words can bring tears to my eyes. This letter, written in December 1985, was penned during a difficult period for my parents. My mother wasn’t sure she would make it to my mid-December college graduation. She didn’t explain until later why she and my father did not attend. But despite the difficulties they were facing, my mother attempted to look at the brighter side of things, to “be surprised how God works and feel very blessed.”

It is the words “I love you and am so proud of you always” that brings tears. I admit, at the time this letter was written, all I’d seen when I read it was “I might not be there.”  The “It’s a hard life isn’t it!” speaks volumes to me today, the hint that there was so much more to her absence than she could share in a letter.

This treasured letter makes me smile, too. “My heart is full of poetry, like Angie says.” The sister my mother mentions now writes poetry. “And maybe just how you feel, too, Mary?” Yes, oh yes. What a letter written more than 30 years ago can do for me today is make me feel as though my heart, too, is “full of poetry.”

What letter we might write today will be pulled out of a trunk 30 years from now to bring both tears and joy to the recipient?

This lovely book is just the beginning in a series of letter-writing and friendship related books we plan on reviewing in this blog during September. Many of the books reviewed this month and in the past will be included in a prize package drawing on September 18, which is National Women’s Friendship Day. Stay tuned for your chance to win this book and many others.    –Mary Potter Kenyon

Celebrate National Female Friendship Month in September

by Mary Jedlicka Humston

      “The greatest gift of life is friendship. And I have received it.”- Hubert H. Humphrey

Just how many close friends do you have? A Girlfriends survey conducted by Family Circle magazine found 52% of women have between three and five, 19% have six or more, but 4% of respondents said they had no one they could claim as a close friend.
Are you among the one in five women who connect four or more times a day with friends through some form of social media?
Is not having enough time your greatest obstacle to making friends as an adult? If you answered yes, then you feel the same as 40% of the surveyed women.
Would you like to reconnect with a long-lost friend? So would nearly one-third of the survey respondents.

If you can relate to any of the above facts, then you fit right in with the 1,000 women who answered Family Circle’s Girlfriends survey. Purchase their Sept. 2016 issue, and you’ll be greeted with other factual tidbits about BFFs just like the ones above.

How do you plan to celebrate Female Friendship Month?

Will you reach out to a friend from your past? If you replied yes, will you do so by writing a personal letter to tell her what she means to you?

Don’t want to write? Just sign and mail a greeting card, or send an email instead. Would you prefer a “real” conversation? Make a phone call.
Is there someone you can take out to lunch? Invite over for tea, coffee, and treats? Meet for a movie, hike, museum, or gallery exhibit?
Perhaps, a certain name keeps coming to mind. Why do you think that is? What are you going to do about it?

So, I ask again…
What will you do to celebrate your female friends in September?


*As for us, we’ll be celebrating friendship and the one-year anniversary of Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink all month long, with special giveaways, reviews of books related to letter-writing and friendship, and by sharing websites we’ve discovered since our book was released in 2015.*