“Where the two experiences, ministry and writing about ministry, connect is in my intention to give what I’ve got with love.”
Talking with Kate Braestrup
Ten years ago, Kate Braestrup’s husband, Drew, died in a car accident on his way to work as a Maine State Trooper. In the years that followed, Braestrup decided to follow Drew’s dream of entering the ministry. She is now a chaplain for the Maine Warden Service. HERE IF YOU NEED ME is her memoir about those experiences.
It is a thoughtful, moving, and often very funny book, yet it necessarily deals with sadness. We asked Braestrup what it was like to revisit such pain in the writing process. “There were moments when it felt like stabbing myself in the eye with a fork,” she admits ruefully. “An absurd self-torment, in other words.”
The book tour, as well, presented challenges. Being asked to recall her husband’s death was harder than she expected, as was the grief of readers. “For my readers, his death is something they’ve just learned about rather than something that happened a decade ago. For them, I am newly widowed, the children newly fatherless.” In fact, Braestrup is happily remarried and the mother of an expanded brood of children and stepchildren.
Writing and touring may have been tougher than anticipated, but recording the book was pleasurable. “It probably helped to have had the experience of giving sermons--not to mention all the hours and hours of practice I had reading aloud the Narnia books to the kids!” The director and sound engineer actually complimented her, although she reports with a laugh that her stomach’s tendency to growl “tested the patience of the pros. The director would snap, ‘Do you want a cracker or something?’ as my alimentary canal weighed in with yet more gurgled commentary on the action.”
Loud stomach or not, recording the book was a particular pleasure because Braestrup and her children are huge audiobook fans. She listens at home while cleaning the house, which, she jokes, happens seldom. More often, she and her youngest daughter listen while knitting. Braestrup also hears “stacks” of audiobooks while driving long distances for her Maine Warden Service ministry.
Listening to books, writing books, practicing her ministry--they’re all of a piece, says Braestrup. “Where the two experiences, ministry and writing about ministry, connect is in my intention to give what I’ve got with love.” She knows that sounds “greeting-card icky. But I don’t know how else to describe the standard I hold myself to, or try to, anyway.”
The high standard must work, for since the book’s appearance, police and game wardens from many states have applauded the stories in it, which they say that they recognize. Of course, Braestrup has never ministered outside Maine, and details of actual cases have been altered to protect privacy. Instead, she believes that readers are responding to the universal truth inherent in the events she describes.
Braestrup says, “The sustaining nature of love was the first thing I was conscious of in the aftermath of my husband’s death. And it is the single consistent element I see--and seek--in my work with the Maine Warden Service. Love,” she says, “has become my working definition of God.”--Aurelia C. Scott