Faithful. Joyful. Purposeful. {CWBN Ohio Conference Recap}

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When I volunteered to host the Ohio region Catholic Women Blogging Network conference, I was confident about that decision... for about 10 minutes. After that, I pressed upon the goodwill of the talented and dynamic Brooke Taylor for help. Good thing she said said yes! Because of that yes, we had the extreme pleasure of hosting about 20 amazing women for what was truly a grace-filled weekend. 

It's hard to know where to begin because there's so much... too much... much more than a blog post. So I'm just going to dump my heart, soul, and photo stash here to give you a peek at what happens when the unequipped, the tired, the overcommitted, and the unconfident say yes anyway. 


                                                                          Photo credit: Jayme Orn Photography

As ladies thanked us for stepping forward to put the event together, I found myself repeatedly laughing at the irony. If they hadn't registered, there would be no conference. For some reason, they felt the nudge to trust that something great could happen even if it was a challenge to attend. Every person there made it happen. I just volunteered to stress my husband out more than some.


For a few of us, the weekend began in the confines of the beautiful and peaceful Sancta Clara Monastery, where the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration live in Canton, Ohio. Saint Clare... the patroness of media. Sancta Clara Monastery... the convent where Mother Angelica, the feisty contemplative woman who transformed Catholic media with her tenacity, faith, and holy boldness, took her solemn vows. (If you haven't yet read her bio written by Raymond Arroyo... Do it! Excellent book.) The significance of the place with respect to our position as bloggers was not lost on us as we entered the doors.


The sisters are cloistered but had a powerful expression of hospitality. We prayed the rosary with them in their chapel, separated by their cloistered wall but united by Jesus' Presence in the Holy Eucharist, exposed between us for all to see. Then we entered their day room for food and fellowship.

                                                                   Photo credit: Theresa of Ordinary Lovely

As different as our vocations seem to be from the cloistered religious, we discovered that, as women, we are not so different. When we found that we had forgotten plates on which to serve the food, Brooke went to the sisters to ask if there was anything that we could use. Sister happily led her into a pantry-type area... and apologized for the disorder. Please ignore the mess! She said. Brooke noted that it was just like any busy mom with kids; different vocation, same desires and stumbling blocks! And don't we always find that our authentic Christ sisters extend us all the grace and mercy that we need? {All gallery pics in this post can be expanded by clicking}

I brought three of my girls with me for the trip. Partially to babysit (boy did they ever!) and also to be near me. These things that we do as moms... sometimes we need to step out alone... but sometimes we need to be mentoring and walking together. So, they came with me and we stayed in the amazing dorm apartments at Walsh University with the wonderful Donna Bishop from What If God Says No. Aside from the pleasant company and comfortable quarters, it was a very short and pleasant walk to the Chapel building in the morning. 


The best laid plans... are subject to change without notice according to the purpose of the Holy Spirit. Our itinerary was set but God had other plans and consequently, what at first seemed like a minor crisis, turned into a perfect schedule. It is, after all, what we had asked for. Hadn't we prayed for God to take the day and make it His own? Indeed, He did! 

The first part of the day was filled with introductions, breakfast, and the joyful noise of the incessant chatter of happy women...


So... about Taylor. I'm still speechless. You really had to be there to understand what she brought to our weekend. She came to be with us and bless us and then had to leave quickly to travel for a family emergency. But she brought the Spirit with her.... and we all worshipped together in the glorious morning. Because isn't that what it's all about? At the end of the day, it's all about Him and so we gave Him our beginnings.

Without having warmed up, Taylor stood with her guitar and worshipped with passionate, talented, and youthful beauty. I had heard her on YouTube. (I also know and love her family and know what a treasure their ministry and lifework has been to the Ohio region.) But it's not the same as being together in person.
Her CD "Be Glorified" is coming out in a week. Please buy it (to keep and gift)... you will not be sorry! 



After we finally got the ladies to stop chatting (a difficult task, indeed!), we moved to the conference room to get down to business.

                                                     Photo credit: Jayme Orn Photography


Full disclosure: I had invited a big beautiful name to come and speak on this topic; a woman known for her holy boldness in the public sphere, grace under worldly pressure, and pursuit of Truth and Beauty. She was eager to come but I asked too late (two weeks is cutting it a bit short, no?) and so... I had to give the talk. It's slightly more challenging to prepare for a talk than I remember, namely because... well... 7 beautiful kids. But I could get used to it again quickly; I honestly enjoy public speaking. It's that introvert quirk that makes a podium less intimidating than a dinner table.

My presentation was about what it means to be a great blogger in the truest sense. About the obligation of bloggers to take their role as leaders seriously - to own it and refine it. To not be afraid to allow Jesus to take you where you might be afraid or feel unequipped to go. Ultimately, we are called to RISE... not on our own power, but Christ's alone. My swag swap contribution (more on that later - pic below) reflected this message that has become so important in my life.

Photo credit and gratitude to Colleen Kessler. I am so glad that I made a deliberate decision to brush my hair that day. It did occur to me that someone at a blog conference might have a camera. The yoga pants stayed home, too. Speaking of which...


Brooke understands evangelization. After spending 10 years on Christian radio, serving as mother of 5 (biological and adoptive), blogging at The Sacred Sink,  founding Mom Squad, and speaking professionally, her expertise is phenomenal; she demonstrated it during her presentation! Her talk really brought home what it means to be Christ to the culture and how we, as bloggers, are conduits of God's grace. I loved her sense of humor and her talent for proclaiming the feminine genius that women possess abundantly. 

Among Brooke's many ministry outreaches is her new family prayer CD which she brought to the conference and is available HERE.  You can also listen to her on Good Things Radio with Jennifer Willits (from The Catholic Next Door) who, incidentally, made all the attendees beautiful knotted rosaries.


Yes, Catholic blogger, you canearn money without losing your soul. Ellen Peppercorn from That Chic Mom knows firsthand and gave a phenomenal presentation on the basics of blog monetization. She is a professional blogger and uniquely qualified to address the issue... but she is also an incredible Catholic mom of 5 girls. I would be remiss if I failed to mention how adorable and stylish she is (even when she's going through a period of child-induced insomnia), which is likely why her blog is called That Chic Mom... because she totally is. You will want her great t-shirts, of course, and can find them in her Etsy shop, That Chic Mom Tees.

Ellen is an excellent speaker and told us how blogging allows her to stay at home with her girls and bless her family with opportunities they otherwise couldn't afford. What does it mean to successfully monetize a blog? According to Ellen, whatever you want it to mean if your efforts at monetizing serve your vocation and you are submitting your work to the Lord each day. "There were times when I worked hard for $25 and a box of Ritz because we needed to eat. Another time, I turned down an $800 opportunity because I could not stand behind the brand." She's the real deal.


After learning how to monetize without losing our souls, we learned from Colleen of Raising Lifelong Learners how to blog without losing our minds. In spite of her toddler-induced fatigue and claims to frequent wandering, Colleen nailed it with truth ("There is no such thing as balance") and love ("Sometimes God does give you more than you can handle... so that you will learn to always turn to Him"). 

She talked to us as sisters and gave vitamins to our souls as well as many practical tips for separating blog time from family time and prioritizing well. She is a teacher, homeschooler, published author,  professional speaker, and a cancer survivor who taught herself to blog professionally in order to afford to stay home with her kids. Now that's moxie! 

Biggest takeaway quote? "Make sure the balls you drop are not the ones that are going to get bruised."  Can I get an AMEN?


Because I wanted to send every attendee home with a stuffed goodie bag but didn't have the cash or sponsor savvy, I came up with an idea for optional swag swap. It turned out fantastic and I hope the other gals enjoyed their bags as much as I enjoyed mine! The idea was to bring something for each bag that somehow represents the attendee and/or her blog personality. And there were some very creative (and delicious) contributions. Our bags were indeed stuffed... almost as full as our hearts. (My 17-year old son would say that is typical "blog mom speak" sprinkled with extra cheeeeze and surrounded by floating happy hearts. To that, I just roll my eyes, cock my formerly-teenage head and say: As if I care.) Some items found in our bags...


(Photo credit for most of these goes to my oldest daughter.)

In between the music and talks, there was an abundance of talking, sharing, laughing, shopping, eating, baby squeezing, and picture taking. And I can't forget the babysitters. They rocked. Lovely young ladies who found the Walsh chapel the perfect place to work on their polyphony. 

At the close of the day, several of us shared a nice meal at the Maine Street Grille while other brave souls drove the hours back home to their people. I could have used an entire week with all these ladies... but I am grateful for the beginning. 

There's absolutely too much to post here. I've got to be content with breaking down different elements into future writing. But I want to finish by linking the blogs of all who attended and encouraging you to visit and like and share. There is so much goodness and joy and faith behind these digital pages and in the women who host them. I don't hesitate to recommend any of them. 

I need to give an important shout out to Carolyn Svellinger of Svellerella (another Ohio superstar) who donated the artwork for our logo. She was all set to attend and then they ended up closing on their first home with newborn and littles in tow. But that logo ended up being a very rich unifying visual part of the event. A great gift. 


Emily Buamgartner / It's the Baum / Fine Linen and Purple

Donna Bishop //  What If God Says No  //  Wonder Doubled   {Donna's recap post}

Theresa Blackstone //  Ordinary Lovely

Michele Faehnle //  Columbus Catholic Women

Emily Jaminet // Motherhood Matters

Colleen Kessler // Raising Lifelong Learners

Kiera Kurak // Contranaut Girl    {Kiera's Recap Post}

Elena LaVictoire // My Domestic Church

Melody Lyons // Blossoming Joy  {Recorded Talk}

Jayme Orn // Jayme Orn Photography

Ellen Peppercorn // That Chic Mom

Melanie Shaniuk // Much Madness    {Melanie's Recap Post}

Andrea Singarella // Velvet Strawberries

Carolyn Svellinger // Svellerella

Brooke Taylor // The Sacred Sink // Good Things Radio // Saint Gabriel Media {Brooke's Radio Recap}

Taylor Tripodi // The Unseen Certainty

Christine Woodruff // A Fly On Our {Chicken Coop} Wall

Lisa Burns // The Fish Mom Squad

THANK YOU! To everyone who cooperated with God's grace to make this event so fruitful. Commence immense gratitude dump...

I am so grateful to the good people at Walsh University for providing an absolutely perfect venue and breakfast. To all of our wonderful sponsors (last on the page but not least). To Brooke for saying yes and stretching far more than she originally intended to (please tell your husband and children that I owe them a solid novena or two in gratitude). To Andrea for the beautiful decorating and so many big and little things (including the jewelry that I bought and my daughter immediately "borrowed"). To Donna Bishop for going all out to make beautiful programs and for being such a great dorm buddy (and fueling my family with morning protein). To Carolyn Svellinger for our logo and support (we missed you so much, lady, but are thrilled that your life is crazy big and beautiful right now!). To Jayme Orn for lending her photography skills and contagious smile (I hope you got your camera equipment out of the impound lot!). To Theresa for driving from New York to bless us with great conversation in spite of your official introvert status (maybe you are really an undiagnosed extrovert?). Christine from Illinois (did you beat your Grandma at euchre?) who did not bring any pigs but we forgive her. To Elena for being such a rockstar mentor and having the holy boldness to get kicked off those crazy forums (your gentle mannerisms are only a cover for your tenacity!). To Ellen for putting together the raffle and wearing those great (free?) shoes all day long (my feet were alternately cringing and wildly jealous). To Taylor for fitting us in even when we were not the biggest priority (and for literally bringing me to tears during worship). To Kiera for getting the food order together and bringing the most adorable play buddy for my girls (so glad there was no ER visit). To Emily (the Baum) for your joyful countenance and great conversation (I'd love to take a poll to find out how many of your delish cupcakes were eaten while driving on the interstate). To Michele and Emily J. for your boundless and youthful enthusiasm and sense of  humor (and the Buckeyes... those went over well with my people). To Melanie for bringing the star of the event and letting people borrow her for a squeeze (and for what it's worth, I'm a spider... can we still be friends?). To Lisa Burns who was such a source of life and light on Friday and who I already missed on Saturday (we simply must meet again.)

That's all. But that's not all. Let the friendships continue and flourish! RISE!

CWBN Ohio Conference Sponsors:

Walsh University
Jayme Orn Photography
That Chic Mom Tees
Cedar Point
Bryan Kemper / Stand True Ministries
TAN Books / St. Benedict Press
Tiny Saints
Columbus Catholic Women's Conference
Big White Farm House
Clarey Clay Works
Stephanie Weinert / Little Bit of Paradise

When the Giver is Changed by the Gift {Catholic Bedroom Makeover}


I never thought I would invite you into my bedroom. It really isn't my way. Something about publicly sharing the space that veils the sacred beauty of my vocation causes me to pause reflexively. Not out of prudery, but out of reverence. I changed my mind only because I want to share a story of blessing - when I risked a little to give a gift and discovered that I had neglected more than just my bedroom decor... but also the joy of having a beautiful space that my husband and I can truly call our own.

It began during a texting blitz with my dear friend, Lena (from Joyfilled Family). I confessed to being in a bit of a funk, a bit oppressed by my own failures... and by an ego that was reluctant to handle even one more apology and humble admission. Write down, she said, something that you would like to accomplish just for yourself. That one was easy. I have a lot of those. But there was one that stood out above the rest: I want a clean and beautiful home. A tall order. Okay, she said. Pick one room. That was easy, too. My bedroom. My ugly bedroom that looked the same as the day we moved in several years ago. My bedroom that looked more like a sterile bachelor pad than a woman's domain. 

I know nothing about interior decorating. We have lived simply and frugally and in a state of transition for many years due to house moves and construction. As I pondered the possibilities, I began to see the truth: the state of my room had far less to do with frugality than it did with my failure to "hold the space" for my husband and myself. "Hold the space" is doula language... always popping up randomly in my mind when I feel protective, defensive... but it fits. Even with babies sharing our beds, I should have held that space against the encroaching noise and clutter and crazy. It is my domain... and my husband deserves peace. 

So I began to plan. I would make it a Christmas surprise and use a fortuitous overnight trip planned by my husband to conquer my room and take it back for him. I've never surprised him before and I was nervous as Lena mentored me through the world of color and bedding. Create a new Pinterest board, she said. Twist my arm! I said. And I began.


Part of the way into my planning, I had a grace-filled conversation with Jennifer Buckley of Graceful Living {at Home} in which she told me about her decorating services and edesign consulting services. I already love her website and her vision for a Christ-centered home. When she offered to work with me, I was giddy... and also terrified. My budget was tiny as far as decorating goes. My timeframe would be even tinier. I told her that it would be a bit like a reality show in which we have neither enough time nor enough resources to bring a plan together. But she said, let's do it. And we did. The photo above was taken at the time of our Skype consultation. 

I want to offer a disclaimer here: Jen offered me many wonderful suggestions and counsels that I was unable to implement either because of financial or time constraints. She is a master of repurposing but I still had to purchase paint and all new bedding which ate up my budget pretty quickly. She promised me that if I followed 85% of everything she suggested, that I would have a knockout room. I'm not sure that I hit that 85% but I tried... and anything you might think is goofy or wrongly considered? It's all me. Jen is a master. If you are looking for help, I can't recommend her highly enough. Check out her stunning blog at Graceful Living {at Home}

Because this was a surprise, it was pretty challenging to secretly purchase and stash a bedroom full of stuff. The picture below is some of what I showed to Jen during our consultation before I had to stash it all away in nooks and crannies to hide again. She nixed the gray pillows, suggesting a "pop of color" instead and we made our way through the rest of the items and space together.

Below is a "before" shot. The walls were green-ish/tan-ish.... I never could decide which and just described them to myself as drab. When I first sent these photos to Jen, I was pretty embarrassed as I realized the extent of my neglect. For almost twenty years, I have used frugality as an excuse to neglect our space. I embraced the moment with what humility I could muster and just began.

Please pardon my poor quality photos. They were taken with an ipad (no flash) at different times of different days during a dreary and dim Ohio Winter with terrible room lighting. I hope you can glean some of the affect from what I have here...

And after...
I've since moved the photo frame from the candle shelf. I preferred the simple shining 8-day candle to more clutter...


I had removed my obnoxiously large dresser mirror a month prior and pulled this unused mirror from storage. I assumed it would go horizontally but Jen immediately had me turn it upright. I told her about my plan for my wedding photos and she sent me a photo from Pinterest showing how to arrange them symmetrically. 

I wanted wedding photos. I wanted a reminder of that young, reckless love that says I do give everything and more forever and ever. And as I cropped, printed, and transferred the pictures onto wood frames, I fell into that teenage love again. My heart began to expand. And I wept more than once at the stale, drab neglect that had begun to crowd in with the random toys and clutter.


My dresser has always said a lot about me. Always full of stuff. Random and scattered. Some of it meaningful, much of it wasteful. The books I have read and reread and intended to read. The spot where the varnish had been eaten through by a broken glow stick that a child had bit into...

... now transformed into a different angle of my heart - the one I gave naively to my husband 18 years ago and have been working on giving more completely and deeply ever since.... 

Of course Blessed Mother should be there. We walked into a Catholic gift shop in South Bend, Indiana on our first wedding anniversary and the Chief bought me this statue of the Bavarian Madonna. It was an extravagant purchase at a time when Weaver chicken patties on buns was our "meat" meal of the week. I remember that it was $50 and how nervous I was that I would drop it accidentally! is one of the few possessions I think I would cry over if it were broken. It was in our room at the beginning... and now it is back.

There are many holy cards and devotions that I cherish. For some reason, this particular "Special Act of Sorrow" is among them. I once saw a gentleman at church handing one to Father and I peeked over his shoulder to see what it was. When I saw that he had a stack of them, I asked him if I could have one. On the surface, it seems sobering and I suppose it is. But it also draws my heart to a place of humility which is where I most easily meet my God of mercy and JOY. When I hold nothing back - no sorrow or regret - I embrace the sweetness of my vocation with a happiness that is beyond description. The mystery of the Cross, I suppose. The prayer is a refinement I offer for my husband and I decided to bring it out of hiding... right next to the rosary he bought me several years ago. The pretty one with roses he saw me admiring in the case and surprised me with later...


First time craft projects don't always go my way but this one went just fine. I bought wood canvases, printed out black and white inkjet photos, used gel medium to transfer the image and a matte Mod Podge finish. I used the instructions here. I enjoyed the project and because I found a sale, was able to put each one together for about $10 a piece. The runner was leftover fabric from the curtains.


I always thought a pretty bed was simply a nice blanket spread over some relatively soft pillows. I'm either easy to please or just uneducated in the finer points of nice decor. Lena and Jen introduced me to the world of throw pillows, and in spite of my tendency to just get all matchy matchy with the neutrals... I bought a little color.

My 13-year old son can't fathom the idea of having pillows on the bed that aren't going to be used and kept asking why, why, why?? I was stumped. Until it dawned on me that they certainly can be used! Just not all at the same time. Which brought me to a perplexing question: What does one do with decorative pillows when one is sleeping? I bought a basket from target and it works just fine...

Does my husband care about the many man hours I put into picking out just the right duvet cover that looked like the one I coveted from Pottery Barn but cost half as much? I'm sure he would consider it a waste. I struggled with it myself and felt irritated with the seemingly endless search for... stuff. But those hours transformed me. Forced me to examine my original purpose and see that, yes, I am building a sanctuary. That is my domain and I claim it in love.

The blank wall behind the bed perplexed me. I had no idea what to put there. My original idea called for a shelf with pictures but Jen nixed it. No, she said. The bed is the focal point and the decoration behind it should accent, not overtake it. She suggested something round-ish or some beautiful words. She had a vision but I remained lost, caught between the pretty round wall hangings at Target and my desire to have that space filled with someone more purposeful. More Christ-focused...


I went to three stores searching, feeling a bit frantic to finish the planning. I spent another large chunk of time online wading through all the religious wall art I could find. And I found the Sacred Heart in iron. I thought it a little too Mexican for my tastes but I bought it anyway. When it arrived, it looked terrible on my ugly drab wall... but I kept it anyway. What a difference a gray makes. We think it's perfect...


The following photo was taken just three minutes before my husband walked in the door. I had worked for 11 straight hours and couldn't imagine what he would think of it. (Apparently, hecouldn't imagine either because I really did manage to surprise him.) I was not as concerned about what he would think of the details as I was if he would understand my heart. I put a letter in his Christmas stocking and waited...

The room is small so it's a bit tough to get a good shot of everything. And the ipad made it tough to get a good shot of anything. One aspect of the project that I never completed was the lighting. Jen made some wonderful recommendations but when it came down to it, my budget was blown. So it's a very dim room... for now. The Chief and I will get to it eventually.


I was really stumped for curtains because I wanted a pretty sheer but also something that blocked light in a non-ugly way. Jen recommended burlap to match other items in the room. I hate sewing burlap so I found a burlap-like tablecloth, added light blocking panels behind and hemmed. 

Jen also suggested taking the curtain rod close to the ceiling and beyond the sides of the window to give the impression of greater size... and using a single panel swept to the more open side of the wall. I love the affect... and I totally love the feminine sheers...


There was a consensus among my female mentors (co-conspirators) that the cherry wood paper organizer on the top of the Chief's dresser had to go since it was a less than attractive focal point. I took it away but I wasn't sure how that would go over. I replaced it with a file box on the floor which I have yet to fill. Presumably, he doesn't mind since he hasn't said anything. Or perhaps I should just presume that he loves me. Lots.


Another dark shot taken shortly before he came home....

I don't know if I mentioned yet that I worked for 11 straight hours on this room from start to finish and ate while standing up. And perhaps it goes without saying how grateful I am to my Dad without whom I couldn't have done it and who stuck it out the whole day. And maybe I didn't mention that I was so sore the next day that I could hardly move. But... this...

I had the best motivation for following through. A gift of love to my husband. A Christmas love letter. Delivered imperfectly but with my whole heart. In reparation for all of the big and small hurts that I have caused over the years. For withholding the best of myself in selfishness. Eighteen years is a lot of time to live with someone... a lot of time to hurt. And a lot of time to bless and be blessed. I worked intentionally, offering it up in reparation and in gratitude for every moment of growth and absolute bliss...

This is a picture of the old wood waiting to be covered with three coats of white paint that still didn't cover all the way. The garage sale Amish cabinet that I looked at constantly in the preceding weeks wondering if he would really mind if I painted everything white as snow...

Another shot of the waiting below. I called in an early Christmas gift (because some dads will do things like that when you need them) and took a risk on a wall fireplace heater. The kids and I saw one on HGTV once and we wondered... if we would hate it or love it. Crash was determined to make it happen, called Grandpa, and we eventually fired it up. The cabinet above was painted, reassembled and the punched tin vegetables covered in leftover fabric from the curtains...

The heater has been a blessing in our cold Ohio Winter. And the fireplace affect inviting and pretty. No regrets. There are many little details that I could not finish because of time or budget constraints. Like brass doorknobs and closet knobs that didn't quite fit when I tried to replace them. And paint that needs touching up because we did the whole room in 11 hours. And the switch plates that we just replaced last week. And the white shadowbox shelves that didn't get installed above his dresser. No matching tables and lamps. A few displaced items.

One little surprise was finding this lion on top of the cabinet. It was from the Chief's childhood and the kids absconded with it many years ago. But one of them apparently remembered that this was Dad's lion... and they returned it, not even knowing that it had been in our room at the very beginning, before they were a twinkle in Daddy's eye...


I don't know whether Lena or Jen would like my corner shelf. But I painted it and insisted on it. Once upon a time, we had a single blessed candle burning perpetually in our home under our living room crucifix. Those were simpler times when children didn't break things daily or hit volleyballs against the walls. I wanted that candle back. And it is now in our room where no chaos is permitted...


When I was a younger mother, I did not see how I had made an idol out of my motherhood. How my children had become the barometer of my happiness. Now that I am older and I am feeling the sting of the many little rejections that children eventually will deliver straight to the heart, I am brought abruptly back to reality: I have given my heart to this man. And when my kids leave and make me proud and break my heart and continue to turn my hair gray, this man will remain my own. For better or for worse. And I pray that I will always be able to offer him a sanctuary. So I have made a little light for our room...

And I'll close with that. Pulling the veil back over the holy place where we find peace and consolation in the midst of a life of great big suffering joy.


Update: A year and a half later, our 8th child was born in this room by the light of this blessed candle.