All the Babies Who Weren't Moses


Hush baby hush,
sleep baby sleep,
God will take care of you

My preschooler turns the pages of his Bible storybook, convinced he's reading what he actually just has memorized. Isn't the story of David and Goliath every little boy's favorite- promising him that children can be braver than grownups, and more powerful than they feel? Mine is no exception. But in a close second place is this one: The story of Moses, his namesake.

Another page turn, and back to the refrain.

Hush baby hush,
sleep baby sleep,
God will take care of you

His little mouth (so much like his daddy's) forms the words into the most innocent of sounds, rhythmic and lispy. A baby. A basket. A mother who dares to take a risk. A close call. An act of compassion. A proof of not only the goodness of God, but of humanity as well. It's touching and it's lovely and it's all the right things.

Except complete.

My own little Moshe doesn't read about the Hebrew baby boys who didn't share our hero's fate; he doesn't need to know, let him stay little a few years more. But it beats through my head like a drum as I look at the smiling cartoon pictures: I hear all the mothers wailing the cries of which Jochebed was spared, see all the tiny carnage of a deranged king's fear. I can barely think of it long before it becomes too much and I have to look away.

The Bible is nothing if not honest about evil, both the force outside of us and that sometimes found within our very own hearts. But we dine on Scripture like the choosiest of patrons, moving our forks right over the unpalatable parts and letting the savory go down smooth. Chase it with a Cabernet, for good measure. We exalt voices who assure us that God wants to "bless us" with financial security, easy relationships, and a comfortable life. We read verses like Jeremiah 29:11 to mean if we do it all right, we are guaranteed those things- or worse yet, that we deserve them.

In college, I had a runner friend who was convinced that God had promised him an Olympic medal. Now, in my mid-thirties, it sounds laughably ridiculous but at the time we drank it down seriously- maybe with a bit of awe on the side. It wasn't that I felt no skepticism, but that I had never met anyone so confident in God's favor. It was admittedly attractive.

Most of us aren't walking around making claims such as my old friend's (to my knowledge he never went to the Olympics), but the same spirit can usually be found given one quick sweep of our hearts. Our version of Christianity so often becomes an expectation of replaying the narrative of Jochebed and Miriam, and we forget about all the babies who weren't Moses.

I don't know what it's like to lose a baby, but I listen to the inconsolable grief of friends who do. I don't know what it's like to be a child who sleeps in a bed a grown man slithers into every night, but I know there are a disproportionate number of little girls who do. I've never witnessed the devastation when hurricanes strike, the earth quakes, or wildfires burn, but I know people all over the globe today are numbly trying to survive the hand they've been dealt.

But I know a little bit about praying for healing and seeing none over and over again, and the paradigm shift in your brain as you are forced to confront what you thought you were sure about God. I know a little about circumstances you're convinced are more than you can bear, and of crying out to the Great Silence from the confines of your closet where no one else can hear.

I have known a God who feels intimately near me and I have known One who won't lift a finger to stir the pot. I have known divine intervention and I have known the perils of free will, and I yo-yo daily about what it all means. Maybe there is no physical throne that He's either on or off; maybe He is simply the love that propels subatomic particles through time and space, the goodness that passes between skin cells when one human shows compassion on another. Maybe the idea of easy Sunday answers fails to hold up against suffering and mystery, and all that is left is to trust in the existence of mercy, pooling black around us, dark as freshly shed blood.

Maybe there is only Emmanuel, God with us. And maybe that could be enough.

Preparing for Advent


Believe it or not, the countdown to Advent is on. (PSA: It always starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas- which this year is December 3rd- not always on December 1st.) I personally seek ways to be more spiritually disciplined during that season and have found that having a guide to work my way through it helps that tremendously, as I am not a disciplined or even particularly self-motivated person. So I am chomping at the bits to get to share this year's Blessed Is She Advent Prayer Journal with you lady friends (sorry gents, better luck next time).

In case you're new or simply didn't know, I am one of a few dozen writers for Blessed Is She, which is a ministry for Catholic women that hopes to foster Scripture-centered prayer and community. (There are also a significant number of non-Catholics represented, who I get the pleasure of hearing from frequently. Hi guys!) BIS is a grassroots ministry founded and organized by visionary women who I am lucky to call friends. I'm naturally skeptical of big, shiny things but guys, BIS is the real deal: No untouchable hierarchy, no icky business practices, just ordinary women serving women with sincere hearts- not perfectly, but following Jesus as best they can. I absolutely love being a part of it.

Okay, sheesh. Dry your eyes, woman, and tell us about Advent.

I didn't lift a finger on the Advent 2017 Prayer Journal but I feel incredibly loyal to it because dear friends of mine did. Laura Fanucci wrote it, and she is one of the most gifted wordsmiths that I know. Erica Tighe of Be A Heart painted the cover and the hand lettering. And a host of other friends did the editing and behind-the-scenes work.

If only it were gorgeous.

Why am I telling you about this in October? Because they always, always sell out. If you think this is something that could benefit your Advent season, it's best to order sooner rather than later.

(And just a reminder, if you have a Blessed Is She membership you will get the journal auto-shipped to your door. No need to order!)

There are a few other special Advent products in the Blessed is She Shop as well, so I'll go ahead and give you a moment to swoon over those too. (Click the photos to view in the shop. All products are handcrafted, printed, and shipped right here in the U.S.A.)

Not Advent-related but a BIS project I actually worked on, our Blessed Conversations small group study guide series, is available on the website now too! There are seven of these babies, and each one explores a different part of the Catechism. I was honored to be asked to write all of the reflections for the series on the Our Father prayer, and I'm really happy with how it came out.

These are super simple: just download, print, and get together with one friend or twelve, one night a week or so and discuss! No prep work required. (And although the goal is to get women wrestling through faith in real-life community, if that doesn't feel possible these guides do still work for an individual.)

I hope you guys have a rich Advent season, and if these resources aren't what you need to get there I hope you find something that is exactly right for you! I just know that so often best-laid plans fall by the wayside without tangible handrails to keep us on track. And bonus points if those handrails are beautiful, am I right?

We just got word that The Catholic Journaling Bible our design team has been working on is available for pre-order! It's being published by Our Sunday Visitor and is scheduled to be shipped out in January. Click the link or photo for more details.

The links in this post are affiliates, meaning I get a percentage of each sale. Thank you for supporting this blog!

Nationalism and the Primacy of the Conscience


I can't remember exactly when it happened, but sometime in the last 15 years, I stopped saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

The day and time are unmemorable because how often does a grown woman find herself in the position of being required to actually say the Pledge of Allegiance? It can't have happened often in the past decade and a half, but still, if I'm going to write on this topic I would like to have a handle on when it was. Instead, all I can tell you is that I no longer do, and I won't teach my children to either.

I have gratitude for my country and for the liberties that are afforded to me here (like the freedom to write a blog post saying I don't recite the Pledge of Allegiance without fear of any consequences beyond fits of rage in the combox). I am the daughter and granddaughter of Army veterans, and while I am a conscientious objector to almost all war, I respect the fact that most individuals in the military are sincerely trying to do the right thing and make the world a better place. (And for the record, my sentiments toward war have been largely influenced by the voice of my post-Vietnam father.)

My gratitude and respect for my country do not conflict with a mind that is determined to think for itself. And over the years I simply realized I could no longer in good conscience pledge allegiance to anything but God alone. Because if it came down to it I would not follow the United States of America or her leaders past the edge of my conscience. I won't, and although you clearly have your own freedom, I don't want you to either. And I certainly don't want my children to.

One thing I love about being Catholic is the degree of felt connection to fellow believers worldwide. Certainly, I hope Protestants experience this gift too, but there's something about your religious affiliation literally meaning "universal" that hammers it in. (Not to mention the fact that our central authority is outside of the United States and that most of our beloved saints are of non-American origin.) You can travel anywhere in the world this week and find a Catholic mass that will be nearly identical to the one in my central Iowa parish on Sunday morning. The Christian faith supersedes nationality, and it should always be that way.

I know that the latest news headlines with the NFL, President Trump, and the Star Spangled Banner are not the same thing, in that what's happening here is not a protest of the actual lyrics in the song. But in some ways, it is the very same thing; because another thing I love about the Catholic Church is the seriousness with which we regard the human conscience. In fact, we hold it in such high esteem that it is discussed thoroughly in the Catechism.

Let's look at a very brief slice:





1776 "Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man's most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths."47

and wait for it, 'cause there's more (emphasis mine):

1778 Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed. In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right.

If the actions of the football players who are taking a knee during the National Anthem were repugnant to me (they're not), I would respect the fact that they are human beings doing their best to live according to their consciences, in protest of a systematic racism that lingers after a national history of slavery and oppression of rights. Whether or not you or I would take the same course of action is frankly irrelevant.

In just the same way as I, a white middle-class mother, can be moved by my conscience to not profess devotion to country above all else while still retaining gratitude for said country, my brothers in the NFL (an organization and very idea that I deplore, by the way) have the right to be moved by their conscience to make the same sort of stand. When any human being is attempting "to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right", who can stand in condemnation of that man?

Maybe a better question- why would you?

Christians, can we honestly imagine Jesus rebuking these men for a lack of patriotism when their hearts are to draw attention to a social ill? That is not our Christ, that is a red, white, and blue god of our own making. May He remove the plank from our eyes and have mercy on our souls.

Spiced Caramel Companions (or, my fall reading list 2017)


It's been an unseasonably warm September here in Iowa but, keeping in the back of my mind how very long winter will be, I'm feeling pretty okay with it for now. Despite the summerish temps the leaves have begun falling and I'm more and more frequently spotting blazing orange trees in a sea of still-green ones. We were given a load of harvest vegetables from friends at a local farm and I happily added seasonal acorn squash to a pasta dish this weekend. (The entree turned out characteristically mediocre, so the autumn magic apparently doesn't extend so far as to transform my culinary skills.) I bought a fall-scented candle and light it every chance I get, even though the preschooler blows it out when I'm not looking and the toddler almost burned his hand on it during our glorious squash dinner. The good news is, now he can say the word "hot".

It's autumn, and here's what's going down on my nightstand.

(View the books at Amazon by clicking the covers. Links are affiliates and I receive a few cents of the purchases you make at no cost to you. Thanks for supporting this blog!)

Just Finished Reading:

It Runs in the Family: On Being Raised by Radicals and Growing into Rebellious Motherhood
by Frida Berrigan

When we were living in Denton our housemate foisted this book upon me and I'm so glad she did. The author is the daughter of two passionate- if not highly controversial- Catholic radicals and political activists. It is both an account of her unusual upbringing in an intentional community and of her own journey navigating motherhood. What I appreciated most about her work is how respectful she is in relating her own parents unconventional family choices (they were both frequently jailed for their political demonstrations, keeping them away from their children for months at a time) while she herself has taken a different approach. It was a quick read and helped me formulate some of my own conflicting thoughts on motherhood and activism.

The Girl on the Train: A Novel 
by Paula Hawkins

I don't usually do a lot of audiobooks, other than stories for the kids in the car, but when I took a solo road trip up to Iowa from Texas to look for us a new house I picked this one up to keep the zzzzs at bay and it served it's purpose well. At this point in my life thrillers always feel a bit predictable to some extent, but they're fun and entertaining regardless. I liked it.

The Sinner's Guide to Natural Family Planning
by Simcha Fischer

I really enjoy Simcha's writing and this book didn't disappoint as she writes about the beauties and woes of Natural Family Planning in her signature "sometimes funny-sometimes slay you" style. This isn't a how-to about the logistics of learning your body's fertility signs and all that fun stuff- this is a book for folks who have been practicing NFP for a while and have big feelings about the whole shebang. Quick and easy but very valuable!

Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World
by Kelly Nikondeha

This is the adoption book that the world needed. The author is both an adoptee from birth and a mother of two adopted children, and her depth of insight is profound. While there are thankfully plenty of awesome book resources for adoptive parents in the thick of navigating our particular complex circumstances, I really haven't found a theologically-based approach to the topic of adoption other than Russell Moore's Adopted for Life, which isn't bad but frankly isn't in the same league as this one. I heartily recommend this to anyone touched by or curious about adoption, or just anyone interested in human connection in general.

Currently Reading:

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life
by Marshall B. Rosenberg

I'm slowly biting through this book, and am finding it incredibly helpful. I mentioned it to my newsletter subscribers this summer, and have only become more of a fan the further I get into it. I've always considered myself pretty good at interpersonal relationships and dialogue, but two chapters into Nonviolent Communication and I was confronted head-on with the truth of how my combination of numbing my feelings and taking responsibility for the emotions of others has been seriously unhealthy to me as an individual as well as for my family dynamics. Yet there is much more here too- it really is a must-read.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
by J.D. Vance

This one was on my list for the summer, but I never got to it due to oh I don't know, the most complicated three months of my life? So I finally started it a few days ago and I have to say I'm a  bit disappointed. Don't get me wrong the author's family is fascinating, but I guess I thought it would be more eloquently written. (To be fair, he clarifies in the introduction that he is not a writer and is surprised that the book is in existence. I just didn't know that going in.) And I'm not quite halfway through, but I had hoped for more noteworthy commentary on the "hillbilly culture" and less details of his own life. It may be coming, but so far I'd say I'm underwhelmed.

The Violence of Love
by Oscar Romero

Up until a year ago, my husband and I had only vaguely heard of Oscar Romero, the El Salvadoran Archibisop who spoke for justice so boldly that he was murdered during a mass. But one of Eric's college students gave him this movie to watch, and we were hooked on the soon-to-be-saint right away. We ordered this compilation of his homilies this summer and are just completely smitten by his courage and clarity. He is a prophet for our times, to be sure.

Will Be Reading:

The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood

My friend Sarah Babbs totally killed it assessing Hulu's series based on this book and its relevance to our times. I had never heard of the book or the series before, but my interest was immediately piqued by her review. I can't wait to dig in!

Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting
by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn

I don't read a lot of parenting books anymore, and whether it's because parenting an atypical child has made me cynical of their content or because my life is so parenting-heavy that I want my books to be far removed from the topic, I'm not sure. But every once in awhile I come across an angle that seems life-giving, and the subtitle on this one caught my eye. I haven't read a book on parenting since Momma Zen (and I really loved that one), so I figured I'd take a whack at it.

The Art of Memoir
by Mary Karr

This has been on my list for a year or two now, but I keep forgetting about it. Regardless of whether or not I ever write a memoir, my personal experiences are always woven into my writing so this book feels apropos. I'm trying to take writing as a craft more seriously and commit to reading more to make the headway I hope for, and this one comes highly recommended.

Poverty of Spirit
by Johannes Baptist Metz

Speaking of highly recommended... okay not this one. I've actually never heard of it before, have any of you? I stumbled upon it when someone gave me the language to realize that the term "poverty of spirit" succinctly sums up a lot of the themes I write about, so then I started googling to see if there were any books on the subject. Based on its brief synopsis on Amazon, I'm expecting to love it. Plus it's pretty cool that it feels like such an undiscovered treasure!

Reading with the Kids:

A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeleine L'Engle

Once we finish up James and the Giant Peach for the 12th time, this baby is next on our list. I absolutely loved it as a child and I think my boys will too, especially the 7-year-old who loves all things sciencey. I'm not as sure about the 3.5-year-old's ability to follow the plotline, but any book that is enjoyable to mama ends up delivering a pretty feel-good experience for everyone. Funny how that works, huh? ;)

Eric is Reading:

Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World
by Ken Wilber

Eric hasn't started this one yet, but it should be arriving tomorrow and my basic understanding is that its a theory of spirituality that seeks to integrate the revolutions in science and culture with the insights of the great religions. Definitely heady, but seems really necessary and timely too!


Your turn! Tell me in the comments or on Facebook what you've been reading lately, or which titles you have your eye on. I'd love to add some of them to my oft-forgotten Pinterest board of books to be read!

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Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)