Musings + Essays

“Focus on Me, Not on the Storm.”

By: Jen Shoop

Though my faith as a Catholic is a central part of my life, and though it inevitably works its way into my musings on this blog because it shapes the way I understand and navigate the world, I generally and rather fastidiously try to avoid anything too religious here. When I do mention God, I feel I need to caveat by saying “or whatever you believe in.” I’ve written about this elsewhere, but my general ethos in life is “do no harm” and so I strive to be very careful with my language. (I fail at this routinely, but I do make a strenuous effort.)

My Magpie tribe has had all kinds of reactions to the erstwhile presence and absence of religion on the blog: some want me to share more about my faith and have asked for posts on the topic. Others have thanked me for not barreling too hard into Bible verses; they feel more comfortable and welcome here without them. Still others (well, to be fair, one other — the howling wolves and all, right?) have posited that I occasionally come off as “holier than thou” — a critique that makes my face burn and my stomach drop, as I have been audience to members of that tribe and they are insufferable.

And so I vacillate between a scrupulous avoidance of the topic and a shrugging “well, hey — this is me! This is part of me! So I’m going to share what I want to share and hope it doesn’t upset too many people.” (Hello, novena.)

Generally, though, I use the Landon Litmus. Mr. Magpie was not raised within a specific religious tradition and though he is courtly enough to go to Church with me when I ask him to and though he bows his head at grace before dinner every night and though he supports my intention to raise the children as Catholics, there is a difficult-to-articulate-but-easy-to-see line that I intuitively know not to cross when it comes to incorporating religion into our conversations at home. It’s not that he would stare at me in discomfort or dissuade me from expressing myself or my faith, but — there is simply a level of discourse that feels a bridge too far for us as a family. For example, I would never interrupt a vent session to suggest we pray together, though I will often later pray about it myself. I would never say a Hail Mary audibly, though I am often repeating it silently to myself when I am facing a particularly challenging moment of parenthood. Etc. It’s the Landon Litmus: would I do or say this thing at home? If not, it shouldn’t find its way onto the blog.

I hope this has prevented me from turning too many readers away and I certainly hope to avoid the “holier than thou” impression because I make just as many mistakes as the next gal, with or without religion involved.

But so —

All of this to say —

I hope I will not alienate you, kind readers, by sharing a Bible verse today because, well, when I wrote about literary fragments that see me through difficult times, I suppressed a handful of potently important Biblical ones. I felt something like guilt settle across my shoulders the following few days: why hadn’t I shared them? To seem “cooler” in some way? To avoid ruffling some feathers? To…?

So I’m sharing it here today.

From the Gospel of Matthew:

“Focus on me, not the storm.”

I repeated this simple command about four trillion times in the days and hours leading up to micro’s birth, when three different nurses attempted to get the IV into my arm and I thought I was going to pass out, while the doctors attempted to give me my spinal (cringe: there was a “training” anaesthesiologist who administered the medicine to me, and at one point I heard the supervising doctor say: “OK, just take it out and try again” — AHHHH!!! WHAT!!! I was sweating bullets and fighting tears!), and then, of course, during the actual c-section. I remember staring at the blue sheet separating me from the imminent birth of my son, my body shaking, tears streaming down my face, telling myself to breathe, and repeating those words:

“Focus on me, not the storm.”

Even if the peace it offered was evanescent, the calm that would briefly flood through my body as I’d bend my thoughts away from the fracas surrounding me, unhooking myself from the intensity of the moment, was life-giving. It saw me through some extraordinarily bumpy moments. It was emotional lidocaine mixed with something like adrenaline: six words motoring me through one of the most intense hours of my life, minute by minute, breath by breath.

I am so grateful for their companionship. I hung onto every letter of those words hungrily. I needed them.

And though I hope this isn’t the case today, maybe one of you does, too?

Post Scripts.

+This post on an important family prayer has elicited a ton of (warm, effusive) reactions from you, and gave me the confidence to share the above.

+Been getting a ton of wear out of this pretty chambray dress (nursing-friendly!), which I often pair with this denim headband for a BLUE JEAN BABY moment.

+Lunch box notes for mini! (More cute school gear here.)

+Do I need this little floral box bag?! (On sale!)

+Just ordered this pretty dress. I can’t get enough of this midi linen floral look.

+We made good use of this booster seat, which can “grow” with the little one since the insert can be removed. I kind of like it in that “cashmere” color. Minimalist Kanye West chic?

+Micro came down with the saddest old man cough (ugh, second child problems; mini didn’t have a cold until she was maybe eight or nine months old? and micro has already had a bad one at two months of age) and though I swore I’d never use the NoseFrida, my pediatrician suggested it and — well — it works really well. So never say never. (Add this to the long running list of things I said I’d never do as a mom.) A friend prompted me to also buy the brand’s nail clippers, which she described as “life changing.” (This is hardcore mom talk, people — you know you’re in the weeds when you and your friend are texting about nail clippers and she says: “I’m so so excited for you to try them.” HAHA! What is this. Who are we.)

+OK, I LOVE THESE. Great way to get my Emilia Wickstead mules for less.

+Can I concoct a reason to wear this va-va-voom dress?

+Zimmerman vibes for a fraction of the price.

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30 thoughts on ““Focus on Me, Not on the Storm.”

  1. I’m here for the authenticity. Keep sharing as YOU are comfortable!
    I smiled at the memory of that blue sheet, tears streaming down my own face, where I recited (out loud) the Hail Mary hundreds (thousands?) of times during my own C sections, awaiting the births of my girls.

    1. Thanks, Anna — so special to think other moms have been through that exact same experience. Makes me feel so connected and NOT alone. xxx

  2. I’m not at all religious- I’m atheist/agnostic, but I find these posts and reflections interesting- and interesting to read about a different aspect of your life.

    On a totally different matter, I’m pregnant (first time) and would love to read any thoughts you had about pregnancy safe skin/beauty/hair products that you have found good during pregnancy.

    1. Hi! This is reassuring — thanks for your open-mindedness. All are welcome here!

      Congrats on your pregnancy! So exciting. One of my favorite bloggers, Bradley Means, just wrote a post sharing some of her favorite finds, and I’d trust her:

      She’s extremely well-informed on these topics. Personally, I used a lot of Tata Harper, which is known for it’s “non-toxicity” and natural ingredients. I love love LOVE their products, especially their regenerating skin cleanser. I also used Vintner’s Daughter serum, which is $$$ but totally worth it. Finally, my favorite pregnancy beauty products is Clarins Tonic Body Treatment Oil, which I swear prevents stretch marks:

      I used it every day after getting out of the shower all over my belly.


  3. Thank you for sharing about your life, faith, family and career with honesty, self-awareness, light-heartedness and an eagerness to grow. Your words are a daily encouragement to me!

  4. Oh, I needed this today! I have been having a very trying time with a toddler, serious work stress and a husband locked away in renovations. I had to walk away at one stage today to avoid screaming and when I read this it just clicked………..there is a serious storm around me at the moment and I can’t change that. It will end and in the meantime I will focus on me, being the best me in this storm and allowing myself some grace.

    I am Irish and as such a Catholic in name but don’t practice for a variety of reasons. But I love reading about your relationship with religion. It’s your personal blog and that is the appeal! I wouldn’t change a thing; in this day and age, you will always annoy someone so don’t worry about that someone. Write what you enjoy and feel………..from the depth of your comments it would appear you are doing something right!

    1. Thank you, Gilly — for this kind sentiment and also for letting me know that this post resonated. It sounds like a super rocky and exhausting time for you. I can certainly commiserate on the toddler wrangling front. It is a tough, though sweet, age. Sending you some love in this storm!


  5. Jen – I am continuously inspired by your exploration of all of the themes that you are navigating and find myself wondering, in moments, how I would reflect my own experiences if I had the proclivity to write and explore as you do. You cover so much ground, so much internal work, that I do not see echoed anywhere else. I similarly find myself echoing old verses in moments where I don’t know what else to say. Thank you for building out this lovely and thoughtful corner of the internet.

    1. Hi Amy — Thank you so much for the sweet note, and for joining me in this lovely, thoughtful corner of the internet, where I am only half the conversation (you lovely and thoughtful readers fill in the rest). It makes me happy to think that some of my musings have given you the space to reflect on how you feel about these varied topics and themes I grapple with. Thank you for reading, and for taking the time to write.


  6. To echo Christina, you be you because you can make everyone happy! This is your space and as the readers we are free to choose what we read/purchase/apply here and I think you do a wonderful job of acknowledging and respecting different views.

    I do remember the “holier than thou” comment and I don’t recall the context, but I have no doubt it stung. I do think sometimes we can all come off as being “out of touch” when there are much more important things going on in life than pretty shoes and dresses. Nannies, ironing sheets, etc. are such first world problems, right? It doesn’t mean that is all you are! So honestly, I welcome the religious posts and deeper discussions over what may sometimes feel trite.

    1. Ha — girl! Do you know how many times I reread my posts and cringe at the number of typos?! It’s a safe, judgment-free zone here.

  7. As someone who was raised Catholic, does not practice anymore for a variety of reasons, yet still considers herself spiritual, I find comfort and inspiration from the aspects of your faith that you feel comfortable posting. I wholly agree with what Christina commented below: you can’t please everyone, so you might as well stay true to yourself. I think the “Landon litmus” is an interesting way to think about it and will probably keep things on a more moderate keel, if that’s what you’re after. But know that there will be a core group of your readers who are loyal to you, no matter what you choose to write about. For example, I myself haven’t experienced pregnancy or motherhood, but I really enjoy reading your posts on these topics, as they help me relate to what my sisters-in-law and friends might be experiencing as new mothers. I personally read (and this is just in general, not specifically about your blog) to learn from others’ different experiences.

    I’m rambling now — I think I’m just trying to reassure/remind you that this is YOUR space and you should write about whatever your heart feels the need to express! The audience will follow. xx

    1. Aw, thanks MK 🙂 I really appreciate these generous words and all of the ones you’ve extended in the past. You are my cheerleader!!! xx

    1. Hehe – I think that three or four of us had typos in our comments on this post, and I’m sure there are fifty in the actual post itself. Ahhhh

  8. Thank you for your honesty, transparency and trust in sharing your faith with us. I think it’s refreshing. I know how difficult and full of uncertainty it can be. I too have felt guilty at times for not acknowledging my faith when it’s and/or critical to who I am and how I perceive the world, or when I believe it could be helpful in a situation. I’m grateful for this corner of the web. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Carrie. And I’m grateful for you and glad you’re here. Thanks for writing in on this front 🙂 xoxo

  9. “The wind does not break a tree that can bend” is my go-to, and I think runs along the same lines as yours. Good to have a short mantra to tap into during those times of duress.

  10. Regarding religious musings: I think you do a fine job of exhibiting this very significant aspect of your life on the blog, while not letting this be the showcase. It’s a part of you. Childless-by-choice adults wouldn’t expect you not talk about your kids at risk of alienating them. I read vegetarian’s blogs and skip over their recipes in light of the other content. You can’t be all things to all people, and you’ll be exhausted trying to.
    There is also the flip-side to this: some may come her FOR your religious musings. I am not here for your style content (we just have starkly different tastes), but I hope I have the maturity to know to just skip reading when a post, say, is featuring floral dresses or ruffles. Same with pregnancy or baby gear. I’m not interested. And so, I won’t force myself to read it and become frustrated that I’ve waisted my time doing so. I’ll simply move on and check back the next day. You are not ice cream, you can’t make everyone happy.

    1. Thanks, Christina — such good points. And honestly the most consistent piece of feedback I get from readers is that you like the variety here, which is truly a reflection of my motley interests and life experiences and so forth, so…I’ll just keep being me. Thanks 🙂


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