There comes a moment when something clicks – at a book club or a Bible study; in a carpool circle or a coffee shop. A connection is made, and a gathering turns into a group, taking on a life of its own.
Elizabeth Tomlin has experienced it many times, and as a nomadic army wife, she’s come to rely on it.
There was the time she had just moved to Texas and she showed up at a parish get-together with a casserole. The other young moms embraced her. Fresh flowers, name tags and free childcare eased her entry. Their warm smiles sealed the deal.
There was the time her teenage son broke his arm while her husband was deployed, and a new friend arrived at the hospital with a stroller and blankets, whisking away her 1-year-old.
And there was the time last summer, after yet another move, that housing plans were delayed and her family had to stay in a hotel for 50 days. Elizabeth and another newly relocated mom met at a laundromat once a week. Doing the laundry together became a highlight of the summer.
With each new beginning came more insights into the vital role of women’s ministry. No, she could not bubble-wrap her heart every time the family packed up and moved out. But she could share it with others, experiencing the power of vulnerability and shared faith.
Elizabeth became a founding member of the Military Council of Catholic Women. She served as a de facto consultant to Catholics trying to start or grow women’s groups.
The Washington-state-based mom with curly red hair, an adventurous spirit and a buoyant faith came to realize she had something to say. She began rising at 5 a.m. to write in the dining room, coffee at hand. Stories poured out. Practical tips interspersed with spiritual insights. Reflection questions, prayers and accounts of female saints. Soon she had written a book, which was just published by Ave Maria Press.
The title – “Joyful Momentum” – alludes to the Biblical friendship that offered the perfect starting point: the visitation between Mary and her pregnant cousin, Elizabeth. Their exchange was equal parts joy and mystery.
The title also conveys the practical nature of the book: keys to growing the kind of ministry that develops momentum. It explores how to cultivate spiritual friendships, practice hospitality, embrace your strengths, serve the community, resolve conflict and mentor new leaders.
Women need relationships – more so than ever, perhaps, in an Instagram age.
“Our faith is incarnational,” said Elizabeth, now 39. “We are supposed to walk alongside our sisters in Christ. Face-to-face connections cannot be replicated by social media; and if we try to substitute emoji hearts for actually having a heartfelt conversation, we will fall into the trap of becoming digitally addicted yet interpersonally detached.”
As she settles into her two-story brick colonial on an Air Force base near Tacoma, Elizabeth has an opportunity to live out the lessons she wrote.
“Something I learn and re-learn is that when you accept hospitality, you are also helping the person serving you because you are affirming that person’s service,” she said. “God put us into community to lift each other up.”
There is plenty of laughter along the way.
Elizabeth likes to quote St. Ignatius Loyola, who said: “Laugh and grow strong.”
Laughter helps an absurdity look more like an amusement, an adventure. It softens as it strengthens.
Just as surely as it bonds women finding humor in a shared experience, it also directs them to God, Elizabeth said. “We laugh when our spirits are light. I think of laughter as an involuntary expression of gratitude. When our spirits are light, it’s easy to see God’s goodness.”
Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn.