All things made new

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“‘Birds of God, joyful birds, you, too, must forgive me, because I have also sinned before you.’ None of us could understand it then but he was weeping with joy: ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘there was so much of God’s glory around me: birds, trees, meadows, sky, and I alone lived in shame, I alone dishonored everything, and did not notice the beauty and glory of it at all.'”
-Fyodor Dostoevsky, 
The Brothers Karamazov

In my last post, I wrote about the anxiety I was feeling after hearing of the Florida school shooting. All day, day after day, I couldn’t stop imagining the terror those students experienced as they hid. And my the relative ease of my life–the quietness of naptime, the freedom to walk in the sunshine and blow dandelion tufts with my two year old, curling up with a nursing baby and book–felt unfair, imperiled, and worst of all, less real, than the evil carried out on Ash Wednesday this year. And then I found solace in recalling the words of Jack Gilbert, in his poem, “A Brief for the Defense”:

We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubborness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only 
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.

It helped for me to try to distinguish what are the pleasures in my life that I could do without and what are the delights that are good to relish:

It is a pleasure to grab a latte on the way back from dropping the toddler off at Mother’s Day Out, a pleasure to snack on empty carbs, a pleasure to eat meat every day.

But it is a delight to eat boring lenteny fare every day in order to save meat for the feast of Sunday, to pick out a chicken at the farmers’ market, a chicken that spent a happy chickeny life running around in the sunshine, to slow down to prepare and cook it, and to share it with family and friends.

It is a pleasure to skim article after article online and scroll through blog post after blog post leaving my brain numbly buzzing with words, words, words.

But it is delight to really read a good book: to read every word on a page, to relish beautifully-constructed sentences, to penetrate into a thick web of polysemous meaning and immerse myself in the light of truth over mere fact and conjecturing.

It is a pleasure to widow-shop online for things I don’t need. Yes, even beautiful, well-designed things from small, ethical shops.

But it is a delight to reflect with gratitude on the things I do have: a wardrobe which does not perfectly epitomize “my style” but is more than enough, a dining room table that is not big enough for all our gatherings but is sturdy, stain-resistant(!), and has held every home cooked meal we’ve shared since the beginning of marriage, a house with good bones to be lived in and gathered in now and not merely to have its potentialities daydreamed over.

It is a pleasure to peer into the stylized rendering of other people’s lives on social media: to mentally drool over her children’s wardrobe, her following, her artistic talent.

But it is a delight to peer into and drink deeply of my own life: into moments un-stylized, un-captioned, un-framed, un-filtered: the quiet pause with Christ in adoration, Joseph playing that Chopin piece for the hundredth time, Leo’s un-self-conscious singing as he bangs around in the pots and pans cabinet, the azaleas all in bloom. And then to keep those things in my heart and not in my phone.

It is a pleasure to connect with kindred spirits with a felicitous comment here or there tossed up into cyberspace.

But it is a delight to write or receive a letter or email, to engage in the rich, under-sung art of conversation, in private, in the intimacy of friendship.

Maybe this list comes off as twee or superficially aspirational. Or worse, as propping myyy conscious, examined life up over thoose shallow online personalities. I hope not.

I certainly don’t operate at a conscious level of gratitude most of the time. I waste mental energy thinking about the garden that doesn’t exist in my backyard while I sip the drink conveniently handed to me through the drive-through window. I plummet down pretty social media accounts while ignoring “God’s glory all around me”. Or I despair about death and about the passing away of all things. I fixate on the sufferings of rape victims and refugees and battered wives and drug addicts and neglected children all the while rejecting the delight-filled gifts of the breeze in my face and the words of prayer and the invitation to be patient with my tantrumming two-year-old.

And anyway, I’m not trying to say the small pleasures are evil in and of themselves. There is a certain kind of joy in the occasional ease of takeout after a long day, the affection borne of kindred spirits in the combox, and the smartphone snap of my children in good lighting (lovingly gazed at after I’ve miserably pined for bedtime and the babes are fast asleep, of course).

And I’m not trying to say that you get to ignore the evil and do nothing but passively enjoy the beauty around. Christ didn’t just sit around listening to the birds chirp. He had work to do.

But I am trying to say that the Cross does not exist without the Resurrection, the Resurrection without the Cross. And you have to contend with both. The world is filled with every kind of sick horror. But the world is also charged with the grandeur of God.  To seek pleasure alone numbs us to both Cross and Resurrection. But I think real delight tells us the horror will be redeemed and that all will be made new.


All things made new

A rosary for mothers


“the agony, the supreme agony, of motherhood” -E.M. Forster, Howards End

“For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ Luke 23:29

The thing I was least prepared for in becoming a mother was the anxiety. Before I had children, I thought of all the lovely parts of parenthood: the delight of choosing a name, buying tiny clothes, imagining how Joe’s and my genes would combine in these future little people.

But then I had a baby and it amazed and terrified me that a six pound creature could make incarnate for me ALL human fragility. Now, every crisis near or far makes me sick with fear for my children.

But it’s not just anxiety for physical safety. I’ve told friends before–I feel like I have a mini (and sometimes not so mini) existential crisis every single day. Both my faith and my doubts have intensified because a. what a universe to live in where I’ve gotten to be a co-creator of such immense beauty! but also b. to dust they will return and oh God please be real, because have I really brought human lives into a world rife with suffering just to then to be ultimately annihilated?

The horror of the most recent school shooting has been particularly difficult for me to mentally deal with for these reasons and all I can do is pray over and over again for those parents.*

I have, however, recently found comfort in meditating on the traditional seven sorrows of Mary. This devotion in the form of the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows dates back to the 13th century but more recently has gained notoriety through the apparitions of Our Lady of Kibeho to three Rwandan school children in the 1980s.** She foretold of the genocide that was to come and urged them to pray the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows especially.

For me, as a mother of defenseless little ones, it is good to recall that Mary had to confront the thought of the brutal death of her son even as she rocked and nursed him. To know that God died and had a mother who watched it happen, who held His body, who was consumed in grief when they laid Him in the tomb and then to know that her heart is always open to listen to my wild fears for my children is comforting however gravely.

You can find the prayers and history of the rosary of seven sorrows here.

For peace in our hearts and in our world, Sorrowful Mother, Our Lady of Kibeho, pray for us.

*While I’m the first to believe that “more things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of”, the cynic in me doubts how much very needed prayer and penance politicians are actually doing. Though I don’t know…I’m not invited to their inner lives. Anyway, in addition to prayer, let’s take concrete actions against needless gun violence too. These ladies know what’s up.

**Note for non-Catholics: Catholics do not have to believe in apparitions, though the Vatican investigates and declares some apparitions to be worthy of belief. Personally, I get a lot of peace from the idea of Mary reaching out through the veil of heaven into this chaotic world to convert the hearts of her children to her Son.


A rosary for mothers

Favorite books of 2017

Breaking my blogging silence to follow Katherine’s lead in writing about the best books I read this year. I intended to read 24 books, doubling my goal of 1 book a month from the previous year. Little did I realize having a baby and discovering the library ebook apps in the same year would lead to a lot of nursing/binge reading sessions, so I nearly doubled my reading goal (finishing number 47th on NYE).

It’s hard to pick which ones were the best, and I gave more goodreads stars to some that aren’t on here than others that are but I went with the ones that have stuck in my head the most since reading.

Top Nonfiction


I Believe in Love: A Personal Retreat Based on the Teaching of St. Therese of Lisieux: for breathing life into my relationship with God and for helping me to break out of my overly analytical introspection that can be a stumbling block in my spiritual life.

Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting: for forcing me to fruitfully reflect on what worked and didn’t work in my own upbringing, for alleviating a ton of the anxiety and guilt I was experiencing in my relationship with my toddler, and for giving me concrete practices that I use every day.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World: kind of sensationalist, but it was the gut punch I needed to really examine my relationship with social media and screen time and realize just how much I get in my own way of my dreams and goals.

The Benedict Option + Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: a two for one because though they are vastly different books, together they impressed upon me the significance of living as locally as possible. (The fact that my almost four month old can’t spend a minute in her car seat without screaming also impressed local living upon me.) Separately, they convinced me that I should be saying more rosaries and planting a garden.

Top Fiction


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: beautifully captured growing pains and joys and reminded me of how powerfully the inner landscape of our souls can be shaped by good books.

Middlemarch: because Dorothea Brooke should be the literary patron saint for any fiery young person who wants to change the world.

Emma: another book that impressed local living upon me in its own way.

Brooklyn: lyrical and lovely. Reminded me of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but definitely it’s own book. It was better than the film and the film was excellent. I’d happily pick up more Colm Tóibín.

In this House of Brede: a fascinating read for someone who ached for the cloistered life as a teenager. I think I’ve found a kindred spirit in Rumer Godden.

Reading Trends this Year

Jane Austen: two of her novels, one biography, and one sweet memoir of a young man’s life and how it was influenced by Jane. I love Jane all the more and think she would have been great fun to be friends with.

Contemporary reads: I habitually seek the comfort of British lit falling anywhere in the 19th century to the 1960s but I felt like I needed be more conversant of edgy contemporary (or if not edgy, just contemporary) things this year. Twenty-four of the forty-seven books I read were published after 2000. There were truly notable exceptions, but in the future, I think I’ll mostly stay off the best-sellers list and stick to my dead British authors.

Food books: food writing is such a funny thing and I feel like I could write a whole post on it. Somehow, I slipped into several food memoirs and books of food philosopy in 2017 and apparently mean to continue the trend in 2018 since my secret santa got me this book.

Memoirs: also not a genre I typically seek out, but I ended up reading five of them. Julia Child’s was particularly delightful.

Children’s Literature: I made an effort to read more of my favorite genre this year and it did not go unrewarded. I especially enjoyed Tom’s Midnight Garden and Half Magic (I sympathized with the kids feeling like only magical things happen to British children–I had the exact thought as a kid).

Quitting books: I’ve never been one to abandon books but then maybe my concerted effort to read more contemporary writing made me try out a lot of books not in my comfort zone and not to my taste. My conclusion is that I should have quit even more books this past year and that I will resolve to quit more books in the future. Time is short and there are more good books than I could fill a lifetime with.

Up next: my 2018 reading goals

Favorite books of 2017

Drowning in the miracles of motherhood

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All growing up, if you asked me what I was going to be, I’d answer without hesitation, an artist. Ever since I could hold a crayon, I’ve been drawing. Ever since I could talk, I’ve been telling stories. Ever since I could write, I’ve been committing those stories to paper. I believe that the finest artistic works are akin to worship, I believe the vocation of an artist is a holy one indeed, and I believe that beauty truly can save the world.

Now if you ask me what I do, I’ll answer that I stay at home with babies. I still hold lofty artistic aspirations, but reconciling art and motherhood is difficult even as it is beautiful. The miraculous nature of being a co-creator and steward of human life is one of the most artistically stimulating things that can upset your life. Yet, it is precisely the thing that makes the inner silence needed to be an artist difficult to come by. Every hour of my day I am on-call to a fussy, nursing newborn. Any time I start floating away on an inspired trail of thought I am stopped by toddler screams heralding needs rational or otherwise (if intelligible at all). Welcoming babies means it’s no more simply about fighting my deeply phlegmatic nature to show up and hack at my artistic pursuits whether I feel like it or not that day. It’s about having the luxury of the time or mental space to indulge in them at all.

Often I catch myself thinking about what my life would have meant if it was cut short. What would these years mean–mired in spit up and temper tantrums and me never having really cultivated my talents. And of course, this was not a purely hypothetical situation for so many women throughout history. I recently read that two of Jane Austen’s sisters-in-law die in childbirth after years of having back to back babies. Austen, herself, had the opportunity to marry and yet chose to remain unmarried and free to write novels. But what of any of those women who harbored artistic impulses? What of their ambitions outside of mothering that were laid to rest with them?

Losing your identity to motherhood is something no woman wants, and it is undoubtedly bad to cease to exercise necessary self-care or to permanently and unhealthily become a martyr to motherhood. Yet, despite my ache to fully realize the role of an artist, this losing myself to motherhood, this temporary dimming of my interests and shedding of my individuality, this drowning in babies and being incapable of doing much else, seems to be precisely what’s being asked of me right now.

When I look to another group of women seemingly relinquishing their individuality, I glean some wisdom about the limitations of my life as a stay-at-home mother of small children. Religious sisters revoke their individuality in dress and in name, accepting what is given to them, doing what is asked of them by superiors, becoming one in a sea of women tying their wills to unwavering vows. And the lives, particularly of cloistered contemplative nuns, appear to lack any individuality, freedom, or usefulness to the outside world. But contemplation, while not useful in any worldly sense, is a channel into the divine life of God in which a person finds herself most liberated and fulfilled in her identity.

As I said before, even as motherhood is impossibly immobilizing, it’s just as creatively and contemplatively stimulating. The wise look of my sleepy newborn. The emotional molting of my toddler. His little voice singing–a transcendental sound of hope to my anxious self. Being present to these wonders makes me want to transfix them in art, and perhaps at some point that will be my work. But right now my primary work is just to be present to them. Flannery O’Connor writes in her prayer journal, “I do not know You God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.” This also seems an appropriate prayer for the woman struggling with her loss of identity in motherhood. Right now, I am meant to be hidden within motherhood, to contemplate without action, to push myself out of the way so that I may know God.

Whether I die young and this time, fertile in thought and dry in deed, results in nothing in the way of art, or if I live long, write much and write well to the glory of God, and even my children see me as something other than their mother, I hope I might still say that I was present at this feast, taking it all in, more concerned with being a witness to the great mysteries before me than validating my identity to the world.

Anyway Milton said it well four hundred years ago:

“God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Drowning in the miracles of motherhood

Staying afloat


I’m back! Sort of. You probably already know, but in case you don’t and are wondering why I dropped off the face of blogland for the past two months, we just weathered a hurricane, moved into a new house, and welcomed a new baby. Whew.

I do have loads of drafts for posts in varying states of doneness, and even though I’m the slowest of bloggers in normal circumstances, I am itching to get back into this space that helps me get the frazzled, stream-of-consciousness bunch of thoughts that bombard me all day teased out and a bit more composed.

But having two under two is no joke and situations like dragging my soot-covered toddler out of the fireplace with one arm while carrying and nursing my newborn in the other are a daily occurrence.

I remind myself over and over what good problems I have. That books and tupperware and pots and pans and clothes strewn everywhere are a sign of curious, energetic toddler life. That battling mini-existential crises on a daily basis is a sign of being conscious of what fragile beauty is in my care. That the guilt over all my yelling from being constantly overwhelmed is a way God calls me to turn to Him and admit that I can’t do this without His grace.

So it may be a while yet before I’m posting here again…and if you want to say a Hail Mary or ten on my behalf, bless you.

Staying afloat

Reading, Eating, etc.




Middlemarch: loved it dearly. Also, Katherine’s post on shifting ambitions reminded me of the themes in MM and why a life spent loving the people in your community well is actually world-changing stuff.

Peace Like a River: good but some parts did make me think it would be prime material for a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie. Not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing. And some parts were truly arrestingly beautiful.

No-Drama Discipline: full of good information, but annoyingly repetitive at times.

Working on:

The Art of Eating

Green Dolphin Street: for my bookclub. So far (and I haven’t read very far at all) this is really delicious to read. For all the unbelievable-ness of the plot, Goudge can paint such beautiful settings, round out characters so richly, and write such simple phrases that convey so much spiritual depth.


Pregnancy and NFP

Uncharted Territory: Getting Real about NFP

NFP in Real Life: Hard but Worth It: this should be required reading for all Catholics–engaged (because you need to know what you’re getting into), married (because you need to know you’re not alone), clergy and religious (because you need to know what the married faithful are struggling with and how to minister to them), and single lay people (because we’re a family and families help each other–by upholding each other through prayer…and offers of babysitting 😉 )

What miscarriage and birth taught me about letting go: hat tip to the ladies of my bookclub for mentioning this one. Bookmarking to re-read periodically in the future when I feel like I’m drowning in babies.

On pregnancy and body image.

-And more on pregnancy and body image

Other stuff:

It’s okay to doubt.

Growing Up Poor. Here’s How It Changed My Life. “Judging the poor — or pretending that simple rules of logic apply to something often determined by blind luck — makes all of us less human.”

Home Delivery! What will they think of next?

-I use onion powder (and garlic powder) but always feel a sense of shame! Vindication!

-Pretty sure my brain’s already been rewired to be distracted…

-Forever a word nerd: The 35 words you’re (probably) getting wrong.

And because I just posted that downer about social media, here are a few IG posts that spoke to me exactly when I needed them to:

Number 2 (but real talk–how do you stop alllllll the biting??)

– When your vocation feels more like a death than a relief (because that’s an accurate description of what it feels like to parent a toddler at million months into pregnancy in a million degree heat with a million percent humidity.)

“the tough can exist with the good” (because to say I’m nervous about throwing a newborn in our pre-existing chaos is a huge understatement.)

-And finally, this meme spoke to me most of all 😂


Peach creme fraiche pie. Not too sweet–just the way I like my desserts.

Fig, date, and walnut quick bread made quickly before a friend stopped by. It was very, very good (we slathered our slices with fig jam+goat cheese) although I realized two fourths of the way to three fourths that I was using self-rising flour instead of AP. Still turned out perfectly.

-This Tawainese minced pork was delicious (and perfect for doubling and freezing). And very forgiving of my ingredient swaps (marsala for Chinese cooking wine, reg. soy sauce for dark soy sauce)

-I got the DALS cookbook from the library and I’m trying to cook out of it as much as possible before it’s due back. It’s been a really fun way to test out a cookbook before deciding whether I want to actually buy it. Some of the recipes are pretty unmemorable, but on the whole it really is a good cookbook when you’re stumped for what to put on the meal plan. Best recipes from it so far:

Apricot-Mustard Baked chicken (served with the horseradish chard–which converted me to loving chard so I feel I should buy the cookbook for that reason alone)
BBQ Chicken (I used chicken breasts instead of the recommended drumsticks and thighs and it was SO good and juicy after brining it in salted water for a few hours)
Orecchiette with Sausage and Crispy Broccoli
Grilled Fish with Smoked Paprika Butter


Talk to me InstantPot. I’m kind of kicking myself for not getting one on Prime Day, because while I’d like to be a French housewife who would rather be guillotined than trade in her two hundred-year-old beaten copper dutch oven for this modern claptrap…it looks SO dreamy for my sweltering summertime kitchen. Not to mention perfect for all those freezer meals I may or may not make for the baby’s crash landing. Not to mention a more economical way for me to make bone broth than keeping my stovetop running for 24 hours.

Reading, Eating, etc.

Birth plan

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I am officially in the third trimester so naturally I’ve got birth on the brain (and in the womb–braxton hicks all day, every day). This is my second go around with it so I sort of know what to expect. Which is to say I don’t know what to expect.

Last time, I was completely open to either going med-free or having an epidural. On one hand, I had (and still have) this idealistic tendency to romanticize suffering and think of how powerful a force and how uniquely feminine a sacrifice offering up the pain of a med-free birth is for the good of a broken world. On the other hand, I was well aware of how badly I suffer in my daily life–gimme an epidural when I stub my toe, thank you v. much.

But my labor started out with intense, close contractions rather than manageable, gradual ones. I couldn’t even talk through my very first contraction. When we reached the hospital at 2am, I felt like I was at the threshold of the amount of pain I could withstand. Then they told me I had 6cm to go and the thought of all the pain just getting worse and worse made me so, so done with it. So I ended up with the epidural and a nice long nap before the stress of a yo-yo-ing baby heart-rate, a near-c-section, ten minutes of pushing, an un-photogenic face full of broken blood vessels from holding my breath while pushing, a lot ugly, happy sobs, and the terror and wonder of a new life spread out before me. 

Sometimes, I wonder whether the experience of labor depends on pain tolerance or pain perception. Is it simply a matter of being weak-willed (or ill-prepared mentally) or can you actually experience the same pain as another person but more acutely? (I have read that part of being an hsp is a hightened sensitivity to pain)

I’ve never considered a natural birth for the typical reasons. I’m not afraid of medical interventions. I have no desire to wear it as a badge of pride and I have no curiosity about “fully experiencing” labor and delivery. I’m not an au naturel, attatchment parenting type. I don’t feel like it’ll bond me to my baby more deeply.

But I can hardly ever think of birth without thinking of death and of the meaning of suffering. The similarities between the two were highlighted when I read Kristin Lavransdatter last year with my bookclub. For many characters in the novel, the labor of birth and the labor of death last for days–their agonies unmitigated by modern palliative care methods. As a midwife assists a woman in birth, a priest assists a soul at the hour of death:

“Sira Eirik continued to hold him against his chest for a moment. Then he gently laid his friends body down on the bed, kissing his forehead and smoothing back his hair, before he pressed his eyelids and nostrils closed; then he stood up and began to say a prayer.”

Most of us now live in an anesthetized world where suffering is considered meaningless. But I believe in the Christian mentality that says in no uncertain terms that suffering can be intensely meaningful: a means to enter intimately into the mystery of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection, to unite yourself deeply to those mysteries, and something that can be sanctified and offered up for the good of the whole world.

Ultimately of course, when it comes to both birth and death–when it comes to all experiences God allows you to undergo in your life–what matters is abandonment to His will rather than the fulfillment of your own. This might mean a emergency trip to the hospital when you planned a home birth, an epidural when you wanted to keep up your med-free birth streak, an accidental natural birth in the car when you wanted to be entangled in relief-gushing iv’s at the first twinge of pain. You might even have to face the harrowing, rare but real possibility of yours or your child’s death in childbirth.

For this reason, I can never say one way or another what my birth plan is. But I know birth is a kind of death. Death, a kind of birth. We’re encouraged to pray for the dying, for the dead, and for a good death of our own. And so, I also try to make it a habit to pray for women and children in birth and for my own good birth, whatever it might involve.

P.S. Some of my favorite labor/birth posts around the web:

Prayers for Birth

Natural Childbirth and Marathons

Deliver Us: The Sweet Suffering of Childbirth

P.P.S. My own past poetic-ish ramblings on pregnancy and birth here, here, and here.

P.P.P.S. Wouldn’t this or this make a lovely gift for an expectant mother?


Birth plan