A Mother's Day Gift Guide (at Blessed Is She)

4/26/18





I feel like I'm supposed to say something to the effect of, "how is it already May?!", but the truth is this long winter has kicked my tail and if you ask me it seems it should be July by now. And yet, here we are. May holds some beautiful days for our family this year: Tavvi turns 2, I turn 35, Alyosha receives his First Communion (!!), and of course, there's Mother's Day. We're a pretty low-key family and how we celebrate big days is in keeping with that style, so for The Day Of The Matriarch, I'm mostly planning on taking an epic nap and giving my mama a ring.

Hopefully, your plans are a bit more specific. Either way, here are some of my favorite Mother's Day gift ideas at Blessed Is She. Whether you're shopping for your mom, grandma, wife, or are yourself a mom hoping to drop hints to your husband (no shame in that game), these items are sure to be a win.

(links are affiliates- thank you so much for supporting my writing!)


Spring Prints

I really love the look of the four of these prints displayed together, but if I had to pick a favorite it would be this one:

Encourage Bible Verse Cards



These Bible Verse Cards are great for memorizing Scripture. They're small enough to keep in your purse or diaper bag, and beautiful enough to display around your home.



Catholic Journaling Bible




I have this Catholic Journaling Bible and am really loving it. And let me say up front: I do not make my journaling beautiful and decorative like so many you might have seen. I'm not artistic in that way, and it's just not my thing. I personally love the lined margins for the note-writing capabilities. There is plenty of room for me to jot down correlating thoughts I've heard in a homily, something I read elsewhere that connects, what I think the Spirit might be telling me, or questions that I have about the passage.



Liturgical Academic Year Planner 2018-19





I have this Liturgical Planner and it truly is the most comprehensive one on the market. If you or the mom in your life thrives on structure and organization (or if her life would simply fall apart without it), this is a worthwhile investment. And for the first time we've rolled out a MINI Planner, that is easier to carry everywhere.


Saint Print Set



Such lovely selection of saints' quotes. But if I had to pick a favorite it would be this guy:
Feminine Genius Tee


Honor the unique gifts women bring to the world and the Church. Love this t-shirt. 



Our Father Poster
The hand-lettering makes the classic Our Father prayer a fun piece of art. This is the newest in a collection of prayer posters; my family has the Grace Before Meals one hanging in our dining room.

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Hope some of these items spark your divine imagination,
 and happy Mother's Day to every mama out there in advance!


Roots and Flings

4/18/18


My childhood was marked by long car rides. We moved around quite a bit there for a while, all the brick houses a long highway's journey to my grandparents in Mississippi. Both of my parents were born and raised there; neither desired to stay. So I grew up comfortable with road trips; back in the good old days, of course, my father would remove the back seat of our minivan completely and my mother would sit on the floor with my sister and me playing Barbies until we fell asleep, curled in a pile like the litter of kittens that would inevitably be waiting for us at Maw Maw and Paw Paw's. No one spays a barn cat.

We'd visit one set of grandparents for a few days then get back in the car for a four-hour drive to the home of the other set. It was a seamless setup until the day my little brother accidentally kicked the gear shift and flipped the car and my un-seat-belted sister broke her leg and we all said thank God it wasn't worse and my uncle put a hot pink cast on her that itched and pricked and nearly thirty years later I'm still using that story to threaten my boys into their seat belts.

Childhood memories are like turtles, like hermit crabs: touch them too abrasively and they'll disappear into their shells. You don't get to control when they come out again.

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When my dad's parents died in my twenties I mourned the loss of people I loved but not the place. When you're young you don't need to be rooted, you think. You've got a wide world before you and who needs home? I was tied to nowhere, a product of parents who followed passion and opportunity to tread across several states. We made fun of mom for how giddy she would get on those trips back home to Mississippi. She wasn't a silly woman, but the nearer we sped the more she would giggle at things that weren't funny. My dad's sarcasm pounced on it, affectionate in his own way. It was a ritual, and we teased her every time. Four hours to go and we cheer, gas station candy bars in hand. Two hours to go and mom can't sit still. Half an hour to go and she puts on more lipstick and fluffs her hair around.

What, I wonder, will be the rituals my own children remember?

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We laid my Paw Paw in the delta soil on Sunday. We knew it was coming: 6-8 weeks, the doctor had said, 6-8 weeks until the cancer takes him. He made it eight weeks and one day, because he's a stubborn Southern farmer and he'll last an extra day just to prove you wrong.

You think you're ready for death but you are never ready for death. Even still, even knowing that, I am surprised by the depth of my emotions. I loved him so. As a kid I would sit in his lap and listen for as long as he'd talk, hearing about cow shows and cotton and how much I looked like my mama. "She's Kay made over," he'd tell anyone who'd listen, pride dripping from his voice. I grew under the shade of his delight.

I am nearly thirty-five years old and to this day I adore the smell of cow manure. It smells like my childhood, it smells like freedom and breath and feeling deeply rooted. My grandparents' farm is home. It is the only place I can go to physically return to childhood memories. It was the only place in my life that had never changed.

Last week it changed. When he passed, the farm changed, the house changed, Sunflower County changed, the delta changed, Mississippi changed. I've never lived in the state and didn't realize that it was the only real home I had until this weekend when I was there and he wasn't. Part of the grief I feel is losing a man (a truly great, kind, generous man) I loved, and part of it is knowing that everything is changing and I can't stop it. But Maw Maw remains in their home; strong as a baby bull, that woman-- she'll probably outlive us all. Some years ago my uncle built a cabin 200 yards away, in the very spot where Paw Paw was born. I have a home there, I know; a changed home but a home still.

I could buy a plot of the family land, I could build a house there, we could make a life there. But outside of the haven of that farm is a state with a sordid history that it's still scraping the scabs off of, and I don't want to bring my multicolored family into that long fight for healing. We are charged with making a home elsewhere.

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The world is the oyster of this generation; we follow jobs, we follow education, we follow appetites for adventure and sensuality. Home is wherever I'm with you, we say, we sing, and I want it to be true but I'm not sure I believe it anymore. I'm not sure I believe it at all.

The Road to Golgotha

3/29/18


We walk to Good Friday the only way we know how: one foot in front of the other, unsure of what we are meant to be feeling, uncomfortable with sadness and grief, untaught in the ways of lament. We are both creators and products of this culture we live out our days in; one that silences the suffering, not out of malice but discomfort. Scripture says that God "sustains the weary with a word," but the imago Dei in me can't seem to remember how.

Ancient societies had elaborate traditions for mourning, but my grandfather is dying and all I know to do is text him pictures of my kids. I want the world to stop; I want my family to walk away from our jobs and our schools and our lives and set up vigil around that old farmhouse for weeks until he drifts into eternal rest. But we haven't set our world up for that. We expect the bereaved to stay on the treadmill. You told him goodbye two weeks ago, after all. What more could you hope for than that? No one says it. No one except society and my own heart.

I peer into the tomorrow of Good Friday tentatively, sure that when the hour of our Lord strikes at 3:00 I will miss it; too busy slathering peanut butter onto apple slices or pulling a bedraggled toddler from his crib. I have only ever observed the day as a mother of young children, and I find myself fantasizing about how holy it will be when they're grown and gone and I have the whole day for silence and fasting and prayer. And then I berate myself because this right here is holy, and when that day comes in the future I know I will cry tears of memory, thinking on how loud and messy and hard and precious Good Friday used to be.

I feebly offer my children what I know of the Triduum; I piece together a liturgy of life that I only hope will anchor them to something eternal as they grow and change. Tonight we will wash each other's feet in mass, and I will cry freely in front of God and men the whole time. We won't receive communion at mass on Friday- we'll kiss the feet of Jesus on the crucifix instead- and maybe the awe-full/awful truth of this holy day will seep into their bones, ready to be unearthed and dusted off in twenty years when their faith feels rootless. Saturday will be still (but they are small boys so it won't be still at all) until the Easter Vigil, when the fire will reflect in their eyes and their tiny hands will grip candles determinedly as the litany of saints dead but alive rolls over their ears.

Good Friday will not feel powerful and sacred; I've been a mother long enough to feel sure about that. But I will walk my children down the road to Golgotha anyway, praying that the liturgy of death and resurrection will be locked somewhere deep within that I can't see, there for the taking when they need it; there for the taking when they are 87 years old and dying, receiving texted photographs of their great-grandchildren to make them smile.

The Pregnancy I (Thought I) Didn't Want

2/26/18


I cried the day I took the pregnancy test.

I had ignored my suspicions for weeks because I didn’t want it to be true. My husband finally made me pee on the damn stick and I collapsed into tears as the positive line burst on the scene like it had been behind a velvet curtain just waiting for it’s time to shine.

We were short on money and even shorter on energy. The youngest of our three boys was not even a year old and had only just begun sleeping through the night- could the universe not throw me a bone here? My work had started to pick up and I’d finally gotten back down to my pre-baby size. It wasn’t that I wanted to be done having babies; I just wanted a break from it for a while. This was not the plan.

When I was younger I fancied the idea of having loads of kids. The mental picture of a dozen half dressed love-children climbing trees and having pillow fights wooed my hippie heart. It wasn’t until I actually started having my own kids that I realized how exhausting they are. Turns out, children spend less time scaling foliage and more time begging for snacks than I originally estimated. And the half dressed thing is only cute until we actually have to go somewhere and all defiant hell breaks loose.

It can be monotonously excruciating, but I do adore motherhood. It doesn’t define, validate, or complete me, but I love my kids passionately and spending my life with them is a gift I am both receiving and giving to the world. Yet my initial reaction was that I did not want this pregnancy. Not now. The guilt of that truth weighed on me, and I alternated between imagining myself the victim and the villain of the story I was living out.

You have nine months to get excited about this child, a wise friend who’d been around the block told me. You don’t have to feel it right now. This was news to me, and it gave me no small degree of relief. As the days and weeks went by, I found myself involuntarily daydreaming about this unplanned baby: it would be a boy, of course (it was), maybe the first to sleep through the night right from the get-go (it wasn’t). I started remembering that new baby smell and the lightest of heaviness against my chest. There’s nothing so cozy as watching Netflix on the couch at night with the man you love while a newborn baby dozes dreamily against you.

We continued to worry about how it would work- how we could possibly do it all- but gratitude was sneaking in too, along with that inexplicable phenomenon called hope. There was no overnight transition from negative feelings to positive ones, and in fact right up until the last weeks I continued to feel the tension of holding wildly contradictory emotions at once. But what I had learned by then was that this is normal.

Our culture is wound so tightly around planning and control that we’re duped into thinking the only way to be a good parent is to make a five-year plan before conception. But statistics say that half of all pregnancies are unplanned, and while many are surely joyful surprises, I have to believe that the majority of those women feel as conflicted as I. After all, neither our freedom nor our love of control go down without a fight. This is a road that women walk- a very normal road. It can be scary, it can be emotional, but it is certainly not odd or even rare. And maybe if more women talked about it we could all better find the support we need.

The day this son was born was every bit as joyful as the days the other three joined our family; all trace of uncertainty disappeared as I beheld and held this incredible gift. Since we’ve been home life is more hectic than before, yes, but oh how love has expanded too. I have four boys- four!- to raise and delight in, and the way they dote on one another moves me to my core. Imagining them in twenty years all home for the holidays, giving each other noogies and getting coffee together, is almost more than my heart can take. I am luckier than I deserve.

For every part of my freedom that I’ve surrendered for this baby, I’ve received equal parts wonder in return. What I feared has now begun. And it turns out, the beginning of it was the only thing that could drive out the fear. Only love remains.

Winter Reading List

2/8/18

Is there really any season more conducive to reading than winter? Even summer, with all it's free time and "best beach read" lists, fails to match it. (Aside: Why is every book you lay hands on in the warm months a "beach read? What kind of hours is everyone else clocking in the sand? How do I get in on that? So many questions.)

gratuitous baby pic

As I continue to narrow my focus on this blog to be "real writing"-centric, I'm going to transition these seasonal reading lists to my newsletter instead. So this will be the last installment you'll see here, but if you don't want to miss my book recs be sure to sign up for the newsletter- an email that comes every 1-2 months with original content not found on the blog.

(Click the image to view the book's description in Amazon. Links are affiliates.)

Just Finished Reading


The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma


This is a fascinating book about the effects of trauma (childhood and adulthood) on the brain and human person. It's heavy, often deeply sorrowful, and scientific- not the typical description of books I usually read or recommend- but is an important work for anyone affected by trauma, whether directly or indirectly. I would even say it's a helpful book for those who don't identify with trauma, as it births understanding and compassion for others whose choices and behavior might baffle you. Great book.


Psalms of a Laywoman


This book of poetry was loaned to me by my spiritual director and oh man, I fell for it and I fell hard. Gateley has a way with words that is powerful yet accessible. I like poetry but often forget to seek it out, so reading this watered my soul. I took this book into labor with me because one piece impacted me so deeply I had Eric read it aloud during contractions. Quite a recommendation, isn't it? ;)


Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth


I wanted to love this one, but it fell flat for me. Granted, I was already very familiar with the Enneagram (if you're not, you can learn about it here!) so it might be the perfect book for someone who is still new to the personality indicator. I was hoping it would delve more into what practical spiritual disciplines/spirituality might look like for each type, and I didn't get much out of it.


Currently Reading


Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life


My dad gave me this one thinking it would resonate after the disappointment of last summer's plan change. I've only just begun it but so far so good!


The Soul Tells A Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life


My friend and podcast co-host surprised me with this gem in the mail one day, and I don't think I've ever read anything like it. As I've tried to grow in taking writing more seriously I've read some good books on the craft, but this is really a lovely observation and guidance on the interconnectedness between creativity and spirituality. I would (and already have) recommend it to other writers.

When We Were Eve: Uncovering the Woman God Created 
You to Be


I had the honor of contributing a short personal essay for the end of one chapter in Colleen's book, and was thrilled when she sent me a bright, beautiful published copy a few weeks ago. I'm a huge fan of Colleen, both as a person and as a writer, and this puppy has been a frequent companion during nursing sessions lately. Her vulnerability and fearlessness is my favorite thing about her writing.


Will Be Reading


Making All Things New: Catholicity, Cosmology, and Consciousness


Does this put me squarely in the "fringe Catholic" club? If so, I'm happy to be there. My husband introduced me to Ilia Delio and I'm a total fangirl now. She's a scientist and a Franciscan nun, so her view of the world is absolutely fascinating and enlightening. I rarely reach for super heady works, but reading this book has evoked so much joy and hope within me. (for you non-Catholics: the "catholocity" in the subtitle is used in the "little c" way, meaning universal, so don't assume it's not for you!)

You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit


One of the women I respect most in the world mailed me this the other day, saying she felt it had a message that parents of young children dearly need. My curiosity is raging from that recommendation because it is clearly not a parenting book. I am forcing myself to finish the other books I've started before I dig in. (Trying to start reading one book at a time! Trying.)

Kids Are Reading 


Because of Winn Dixie


Alyosha, age 7 at the time of reading, really enjoyed this book. Moses, age almost 4 at the time, sat in on a lot of our bedtime sessions and happily listened as well, though I don't know how much he was able to follow the plotline. I loved it because it was thoughtful and addressed some very real family themes while not being a total downer or too heavy. The ending was beautiful, and it was my favorite read-aloud we're shared in quite awhile.


Eric's Reading


The Holy Thursday Revolution


The hubs is gobbling up books at his usual rate, but this particular one stuck out to me to share with you. The premise is that domination has subtly but thoroughly infiltrated Christianity, a huge departure from its roots of humility and servanthood, and the need for us to reverse that. Eric is loving and recommending it, and it sounds like yet another one I need to steal from his bedside table.

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Your turn! Share with us what you're reading and recommending, either in the comments here or on Instagram and Facebook! And read other book recs at Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit linkup!

Childbirth As Baptism and the Family of Things

1/9/18


This old neighborhood seems to shudder and groan under the weight of winter, our geriatric houses holding up generations of stories under beams that ache like knees when it snows. My own home has seen a hundred such winters, and I can't bring myself to trade the richness of its heritage for a shelter less drafty and with more than one toilet. I long to find my place in the family of things, as Mary Oliver wrote, and there's something about homes with creaking floors that make me feel one step closer.

Downstairs, a child belts his ABCs from the couch he's been restricted to. From the bedroom next to me hums the sound machine that has lulled a toddler down for another day's nap. I type from my bed as a two-week-old infant squeaks in his sleep, and I wonder how many babies this house has rocked. Where are they now? What are their stories? Who were those mothers who sat in this room leaking milk and tears in the middle of the long night?

I labored in this room for two hours a few weeks and a lifetime ago. We didn't turn on the lights as the sun went down at 5pm, flickering off the snow outside our windows. Eric lit candles and put music on while I lay in bed, reveling in the fact that the time had finally come to meet this son. He touched my arm when my stomach burned and I told him it comforted me. He did it again every time my body quaked for the next five hours, and I loved him more than I ever had.

The labor was longer than I would have liked and more intense than the one before it. By the end I was gasping for an epidural but there was no time for that; my uterus had done its work and a few breaths later I was pushing him out while the midwife came flying into the room, shoving gloves on late hands. My sister beheld her first childbirth experience and when nurses put him on my chest I looked over their heads to see her choking back tears.

He was perfect. (Aren't they all?)

Oscar Abraham. I'm glad he wasn't planned. It's better to feel this kind of surprised, in the end.

But we brought him home to a house that can be surprised by nothing. Surely she's seen it all. Maybe there were babies born within these walls. God forbid any died within them, but Midwest winters are hard and I can't help but wonder. So many stories that I will never know, yet mine is now entwined with theirs. And who will come after us? What groaning mothers and husbands who touch tenderness to their laboring limbs? What babies with stories of their own to unravel?

Childbirth is the closest I've come to touching death, and mine have all been healthy and without complication. The very nature of the process is a mirror of the life cycle: there can be no new life without suffering to bring it forth. Every mother must dip down under the waters before emerging, heaving, with a new child at her breast.

Every childbirth is a death, every childbirth is a baptism. Every childbirth "calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting- over and over announcing your place in the family of things."



(if birth stories are your thing you can find Moses' here and Taavi's here, as well as Alyosha's adoption story here.)

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)

DESIGNED BY ECLAIR DESIGNS