Childbirth as Rite of Initiation


Lately, in my house, we’ve been thinking about the reality of death. No one is terminally ill, and no one we know has recently died, so I realize this sounds rather morbid. Let me explain.
Last May, my husband joined a hundred other men in the desert of New Mexico for five days to participate in a rite of male initiation. A year ago, neither of us had ever heard of such a thing—at least not in our modern Western context—but when he stumbled upon Illuman and got to know the purpose behind it, he was intrigued. As he researched more on the subject of rites of passage, we were both fascinated to find that some form of such a ritual is present in almost every indigenous culture on earth, and has been throughout history. Clearly, there is something substantial here that our “advanced” Western culture is missing.
His story is not mine to tell, but yes, it is fair to say he was changed—even months later I can see that. He is simultaneously more confident and more compassionate, and there is an awareness of his unconscious that he did not have before. Where did this transformation come from, I wondered. According to my husband, a rite of initiation includes the following:
  1. There must be a loss of control and a reckoning with the truth that your life is not about you.
  2. A confrontation with death that was more mental, emotional, and spiritual, rather than physical.



Lauren Walsh Gallery, Etsy

“I thank Thee God, that Thou hast made me a man and not a woman.” 

So prayed every faithful Jewish man in Israel first thing in the morning, every single day, at the time of Jesus’ birth. Even the most pure-hearted of men, like our beloved Saint Joseph, would have recited these words with the rising of the sun; and so, its only fair to say it's not an indictment against moral character but a product of the time and place they were in.* And yet, there the words are: suspended as the backdrop for every single Bible story we know so well. Potent. Formative. Far from neutral.

Lately, due to circumstances in my personal life, the severity of Mary’s situation has become more obvious to me. Not just in being found with child before marriage, although that alone was cause for capital punishment. But after a good man spared her life—once word got out that she was claiming her baby was the Son of God. Once she refused to denounce the message she had been given, the part of God’s Self that had been revealed to her. What then? Herod sought to end the life of the one-day king, but how many others wanted to snuff out the light of his mother?

How despised Mary must have been by men, especially the religious! She thinks she knows God in a way we don’t? She thinks God could dwell inside her? She thinks God drinks from her breasts?! I cannot fathom a historical reality in which her life would not have been threatened.

The punishment for a woman caught in adultery was public stoning, but what for a woman who claimed to have conceived by the Holy Spirit? At best, she must have been the subject of misogynistic ridicule. At worst, you can’t tell me there weren’t men ready to see her dead.

Shut the woman up. She’s trying to tell the people something about God without our permission. Throw the stones and watch her bleed.

Perhaps this is why men have been so weird about Mary for over 2,000 years, arguing about whether her hymen had torn and composing hymns called “Gentle Woman,” when for all we know she was the fiercest female in all of Galilee.

Why does no one talk about how dangerous Mary was? How endangered she must have been? Mary was too threatening, too powerful. Men couldn’t kill her, so they painted her black eyes blue, muzzled her, and put her on display in European art museums. But she would not be silenced.

She arose in Perpetua.
She arose in Catherine of Siena.
She arose in Clare.
She arose in Hildegard of Bingen.
She arose in Sarah Winnemucca.
She arose in Harriet Tubman.
She arose in Dorothy Day.
She arose in Rosa Parks.
She arose in Madeleine L’Engle.
She arose in Frida.
She arises, she arises, and still, she arises.

And by the grace of God, woman, may she arise in you and in me.

* (The words continue to be recited as part of the morning blessing by Orthodox Jews to this day, but I leave the contemporary wrestling with it to my Jewish brothers and sisters. My stream of faith has enough problems of its own without judging the predicaments of others.)

Bearing Light


artwork by Erica Tighe of Be A Heart Design

One year ago I was numbly picking up the pieces of a broken dream when my friend Jenna Guizar called. Not long before, our family of five had packed up and moved to start an (admittedly, poorly planned) house of hospitality—only to return two months later when it became painfully clear that it wasn't sustainable. The house itself had been a small dream, but it was the larger, older dream that contained it that fell so hard: the dream of doing something big, radical, and impactful with my life. The dream I was sure we were headed for when we said "I do" a dozen years ago and that had disappointed me more times than I could count along the way. That dream died—at least, it felt like a death to me, though no one quite understood why. But I had seen my own littleness, and I grieved the woman I would never be.

When Jenna called to ask if I would write the 2018 Blessed Is She Advent Devotional, I was making healthy steps toward believing that maybe my small little blip on the radar of human history wasn't so insignificant after all—radical though it wasn't. I was writing a book, part spiritual memoir, part theological nonfiction, and I saw God in the surprise that was. I was also nearing the end of another pregnancy, marveling at the astonishment of being a co-creator of an actual human life. 

A little book and a little baby: bit parts in the Divine narrative, but parts to play nonetheless.

I groaned and labored and brought forth my son on the day after Christmas, the feast of the first Christian martyr, and I laughed in the face of a death that couldn't steal life. Week after week, month after month, that baby nursed and napped as I punched key after key, forming words and shaping meaning that would never change the world but might just change me. 

Some days I wrote the Advent book; some days I wrote the little book on weakness. Some days I felt called; most days I felt uncertain. Every day I felt grateful.

I began to observe the people in my life—the women, especially—who toiled and sweated to bring forth something out of nothing in their own ways. I began to notice that God was there, in that labor: God in the nothing, God in the something, God in the in-between.

They were bearing Light. They were bearing God.

The Latin phrase imago Dei means "image bearer," and we are each that: formed in the image of God, Genesis 1 tells us, passively imbued with a dignity unparalleled in creation. But so, too, are we active bearers of the image of God in the world: already, and yet still more to be, in ways smaller and more profound than we expect or believe.

This bringing forth of God is the central point of Bearing Light, the Advent Devotional that has finally come into being. Using treasured traditions of the Church—the Visitation, the Magnificat, Lectio Divina prayer, and three powerful female saints—we will walk through this Advent season exploring what it means to be both made in the image of God and called to birth God into the world.

This book is an offering to all of us who have lost our way and need to find it again. It's for us who question our worth. It's for us who thought we were stronger than this. It's for us who dreamed of changing the world and are finding ourselves the ones changed instead. It's for us who whisper "yes" to God on our pillows at night, having no idea what it means. It's for us who have been so busy under our roofs we've forgotten there is a waiting world outside of it.

We are light bearers; image bearers. And this Advent, we will carry our candles the long way home. We'd love for you to join us.

(links are affiliates)

Why I'm Staying Catholic


The Pennsylvania Attorney General's report of clergy sex abuse is deeply harrowing and necessitates urgent conversations about our Church structure and the need for drastic reform. I have spent time on that topic lately on Instagram and more specifically in this month's email newsletter. (You can sign up here for that if you haven't yet.) This blog post is not about solving problems, but about answering the glaring question so many are asking.

There is no doubt that the Catholic Church is at a pivotal point. Every day the headlines seem to get worse but if I know anything at all, I know that those on top are placing bets on returning to the status quo any day now. Put out the fires and wait for the news cycle to move on. The people will forget. We'll restabilize in no time. It's too old an institution to come tumbling down.

They underestimate how many of us are ready to light a match.

I've heard from many of you over the past two weeks—especially those of you who already felt unsure of whether you belonged and wonder if now is the time to make your exit. Those like me, to be honest. Maybe you're a recent convert too, or maybe you're a cradle Catholic who prefers the evangelical style of worship. Maybe you are a clergy abuse survivor, or maybe your faith simply seems to have outgrown the tradition you once knew as home. Maybe the Pennsylvania shitshow is just too horrific and you doubt a good God could exist at all.

You have reached out, asking me why you should remain Catholic in the light of such abuse of power. Why stay in an institution with a hierarchy so unhealthy and untouchable? Your questions are valid, and time and again I have typed out to you that I don't have a simple answer. Others have their own. Some have said they could never leave the Eucharist. Some have said they want to be the ones fighting within the system for justice and change. Some have said they simply have nowhere else to go.

These are all good reasons to stay, but they're not exactly mine and they might not be yours either.  I don't think it's my place to convince you not to leave; that is neither a role I feel responsible for nor one I am willing to take on. You are free. But I suppose it's only fair to explain to you why I am still here.

I came into the Catholic Church four years ago alongside my husband. We had both left the respective denominations we'd been born into and after giving our formative college and post-college years to nondenominational evangelicalism, we had finally walked away from that theology as well. We'd attended an Anglican church for a while and loved it but couldn't reconcile raising a black son in a stream of Christianity so very white.

But what on paper might look like a process of elimination, in lived experience felt more like a divine drawing. A mysterious, cosmic God tugged on my heart through Catholicism in a way entirely unfamiliar to me. The richness of thought in every possible corner of theology and humanity impressed me. The social teaching inspired me. The liturgy enchanted me. The saints fascinated me. The view of suffering healed me. The Eucharist mystified me.

There were serious mental and theological hurdles to be overcome. But in the end, a friend of ours said it best: "I don't love everything about Catholicism, but everything I love is Catholic."

Even today, being asked why I became Catholic is one of my least favorite questions to answer. How do I succinctly summarize something so complex and uniquely mystical? Readers frequently request I write a "conversion story" blog post, but my conversion is unfinished and a story can never quite capture a symbol. I don't know how to explain the sensuality of my Catholic faith, and if I tried you might get hung up on my choice of the word sensuality.

It's just here; just here in my gut. I'm Catholic. Maybe not in the way your mom or priest is. Maybe not in the way the blogger next door is. But in my own way, which is all that Christ has ever asked of me. Catholicism is a tent big enough for every manner of person, which is weird and wonderful and perhaps what makes it the only place I could ever fit.

But I promised to tell you why I'm staying, not why I came in the first place. It's true that I have by now explored nearly every possible expression of Christianity; Catholicism was in some ways the last stop. I have no interest in living a life of faith devoid of a Body—an individualistic faith is wholly unappealing to me—and I'm running low on options after that mad rush for a spiritual crash pad I did as I turned the corner on 30. Still, there are always alternatives, and that one church downtown seems pretty darn great.

But I'm not leaving. And here's why:

I'm staying because it is normal to dialogue with Buddhism here.
Because a woman can write about her menstrual blood and Saint Agnes here.
Because the Incarnation makes brothers of people who are radically different. And sometimes the Church brings us together.
Because sometimes, not very often, once in a blue moon, heaven comes here.
Because we're unafraid of gore and death and Halloween here.
I'm staying because others of different religions are telling me it is worth it.
I'm staying because Jean Vanier changed my heart.
Because the Catholic Worker changed my life.
I'm staying because we embrace evolution.
I'm staying because Flannery O'Connor is so damn weird.
And because we do myth better than anyone.
I'm staying because my priest has done stand up comedy—and it was actually funny. (I deeply regret not having a link for you.)
Because we have the best heroes.
And the best parties.
I'm staying because Nuns On the Bus exists.
Because I cried the first time I read a Brian Doyle essay.
Because of book lists like this. And this.
Because conservative writers fearlessly lost their jobs for speaking out against Trump.
I'm staying because I can follow both Catholic Women Speak and Blessed Is She, and I don't have to choose between them.
Because it's the largest humanitarian organization in the world.

I'm staying Catholic because these are the people I want to be with. Catholicism isn't a hierarchy or a structure or even an institution to me. It's these people. These mysteries. This activism. This mysticism. This otherness.

I don't love everything about Catholicism—especially not right now—but everything I love is Catholic. And it always will be.

Living in Solidarity with Those We Serve


I used to think it was up to me to save the world. Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you are there. I spent much of my life running from good thing to good thing, hoping that something I did might have impact—might make a difference. Since childhood, my heart has burned with compassion and often sagged under the weight of all the world’s hurts and injustices. I didn’t know what to do, only that I wanted to help, and I thought that meant doing things for those less fortunate. Surely they needed me, right? 

In this mindset, I volunteered at a nursing home, mentored an at-risk child, interned in a Kenyan orphanage, led a small group in a low-income area, spent two years as a missionary in Southeast Asia, and adopted a son. All of these experiences shaped me—and I am thankful—but they also left me with a nagging feeling I couldn’t put my finger on. 

I was with people, but wasn’t one with them. Because I was giving from the resources of my own strength and not seeking to receive anything from them in return, I unwittingly distanced myself from those I sought to love. Maybe it sounds counterintuitive; maybe it seems as though seeking to receive something from a person in need is disordered and selfish. But the truth is a relationship that recognizes the dignity of both parties demands this. 

... Read the rest at The Catholic Woman!

Everything That Loves and is Loved and is Love


I lathered the shampoo gently through his full head of hair, patient with the knowledge that he would whine and pull away. It had taken him an entire hour to warm up to the water at the pool, but I didn't have another one to wait during bathtime. He jerked his still-baby-round head in protest and I chided him softly. Scooped some water up and let it trickle down his fat white back as a peace offering. We grinned.

My knees were starting to ache against the tile floor when our eyes locked, his lashes like butterfly wings delicate on his face. He saw something—pulled in closer. "Daddy right der!" he whispered, pointing at my iris. "Dat daddy right der!"

My own reflection danced in the dark of his pupils; he saw himself in mine.

A chubby finger touched the rim of my eye. "I see daddy der!"

He never stopped whispering, like the discovery was too great a secret to reveal. Had he shouted, perhaps it wouldn't have felt so supernatural; as it was, there was something that pulsed in the air every time his feathered voice broke through.

Everything he knows of love, he knows in community—a trinity of father, mother, son in which one is constantly being found in the other. From this centrality emerges every other expression of love he encounters: siblings, friends, grandparents, parish, community. It all shoots out from the love that exists between the three of us, because love is not stagnant. It must always be going and coming, from and to something.

The doctrine of the Trinity is a complicated one, and other religions rightly find it befuddling. One God in three Persons? Sounds like a man-made idea scrambled to account for the teachings of a masterful prophet who said some incredibly confusing things. Even Christians struggle to understand, let alone explain, such a mystical reality.

But Hindu, Buddhist, Jew, Muslim, atheist all witness to the reciprocity of love, that it will not and inherently cannot be contained. For love to exist, it must be going from one being toward another; it is an intrinsically communal experience (yes, even when it goes unreciprocated). The language that the Christian tradition has given us for this reality is the Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit —wholly uncreated, and together at the beginning of time. "Let us make humankind in our image," the Godhead says in Genesis 1. We claim to know what it means, but we swim in mystery.

"The energy in the universe is not in the planets, or in the protons or neutrons," Fr. Richard Rohr writes in explanation of Trinitarian love, "but in the relationship between them." The universe itself is relationship, is community. Is it really so far-fetched to say that love makes the world go 'round? Perhaps it's quite literal. We are invited to move our thinking past an infantile imagination of three white men up in heaven; the Trinity is in the relationship between protons and neutrons, in everything that loves and is loved and is love (which is to say, everything).

Love, and even being, only exist in community. No man is an island, as they say, but neither is God, for God is in relationship with God's own self — must be, if it is true that "God is love". And we? We are the fruit of that love relationship: we are the reflection that we see in God's eye.

photo source

Compassionate Parenting


I was going to be the best mother. I would blow everyone away with my mothering skills—most of all my husband, who, amid is longing for fatherhood, carried the ominous expectation that it would be the weight to finally completely cripple him with anxiety. Luckily, I knew my motherhood would render parenting our first child a breeze. He'd be ready for six more in no time.

I rounded the corner of my final lap toward family life sure of two things: 1) Parents should be in control at all times, and 2) Children should never be allowed to emotionally manipulate their parents. Bolstered by a stack of books penned by some prolific Christian authors, I was convinced that this two-part theory (with enough nurture thrown in) would guarantee a happy home life.

But when motherhood finally met me at dusk in a little Ugandan orphanage, I furrowed my brow and curved down my mouth at how my expectations failed to fall in line. I had a degree in family studies, for crying out loud. What were these inadequacies and failures doing, showing up in the one area I was supposed to be good at? We finalized the adoption, and, despite all the parenting advice I'd taken in, I couldn't control my son. A year went by, then another, and another. We loved each other deeply, but the Beatles were wrong—love wasn't all we needed. I felt hopeless and defeated; he felt cornered and scared. I didn't know how to get through to him, and he didn't know how to trust me. We were at a stalemate: a very emotional, angry, brokenhearted draw.

And that is exactly where I was the night my husband discovered a man named Jean Vanier in a mediocre-quality YouTube video.

Read the rest in the July 2018 issue of St. Anthony Messenger

Roots and Flings


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.


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?


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.


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


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


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


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.


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


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)