The Everyday Brave: Abigail Benjamin

(Everyday Bravery, Day 13)

Last year when I hosted a small conference for Catholic women bloggers living in the Mid-Atlantic, one of the women who came was named Abigail Benjamin. I had not previously been acquainted with her blog or her online persona and I had very little personal interaction with her that day. But it didn’t take me long afterwards to figure out what a gem we’d had among us.

Shortly after our conference, Abigail became our group’s greatest cheerleader. Each month she’d ask us what we were working on and what we were excited about. She’d rejoice with us, empathize with us, encourage us. In that group and on her own, she revealed herself to be bright, enthusiastic, compassionate, interested, and motivated. She had big ideas and a bigger heart.

These Walls - The Everyday Brave - Abigail Benjamin 1

I shouldn’t be putting all this in the past tense, because Abigail is very much here and well and still inspiring me via social media. But in the past several months, I’ve been seeing Abigail as so much more than a kind-hearted cheerleader (though that’s a great thing to be) – I’ve been seeing her as an example of great bravery.

Abigail, who is a wife, a mother to six children, and a home educator to five of them, is also a lawyer. Until recently, however, she was not qualified to practice law in her home state of West Virginia.

Then came the summer of 2016. That summer (this summer), Abigail took the majority of her family’s small retirement savings and signed up to take the Bar Exam. She studied for eight to ten hours every weekday while being the primary parent for six kids aged 13 years to 18 months. She took the 12 hour test in 16 different legal subjects more than a decade after “retiring” at age 30 to become a stay-at-home mother. She passed the West Virginia Bar and was sworn in with little kids in tow.

Abigail did all of this without any certainty that she could practice law well once she resumed homeschooling her five children in the fall. Yet she persevered, for the sake of her family and herself, and for her rekindled passions for the environment, her community, and for justice.

I’m about 98% sure I could not pull off such a feat. (I can’t even pull off a write-every-day-for-31-days feat.) What bravery, what dedication, what tenacity, what hard work such a move requires. I’ve loved watching Abigail move towards her goal and I’m so excited to see what fruits this back-into-lawyering thing bears in her life.

(1) What in your upbringing – in your family and/or your faith – encouraged you to be brave?

I’m not sure that I felt brave while I took the test. Instead, I felt pretty stupid and terrified. My encouragement came from Pope Francis, specifically his encyclical on the environment called Laudato Si, published in 2015. After I saw the Pope briefly at a free Papal Parade event with my family in Washington DC in 2015, I decided to read Laudato Si with my parish priest. I spent three hours on two Wednesdays reading the Pope’s encyclical inside my parish hall. At the end of our study session, my parish priest said “I bless your mission.”

At that time, I thought my mission was about film promotion for environmental documentaries. Six months later, my mission expanded enough that I took the West Virginia Bar Exam to become an environmental lawyer in a State that I felt needed me. Nine months later, I opened a solo practice. Ten days after I opened my law firm, I was asked to represent a small environmental group pro bono in the middle of a 30 million dollar natural gas pipeline case.

Whenever I start to become intimidated by going against huge law firms with more than 15 years’ experience in this complex field, I tell myself mentally “I’m working for the Pope here.” Pope Francis might never know my name, but as a faithful Catholic, I feel that I get to claim Pope Francis as “my boss” in my work as well as in my Faith. The Pope’s words in Laudato Si guide me. The Pope’s energy for prayer and his love of people inspire me.

(2) What does bravery feel like to you?

To me, bravery is persistence. It’s doing the hard internal work of listening to God in the stillness of my heart and then working hard to reach God’s goal for me despite all obstacles.

(3) What most threatens your bravery?

I’m a perfectionist. I’m terrified of failure. Taking the bar in the summer of 2016 was a public commitment with a public result. I was afraid that people who knew me only as a mom of a lot of kids would think that I was dumb if I failed the Bar Exam.

(4) Do you think you’re brave enough?

I think our final act of bravery is dying with our hope in Christ. I have no idea if I can make that final challenge. I like to think of all the little acts of bravery like childbirth, or taking this Bar Exam, that will help add up to increase my bravery at the big final moment.

(5) Is there anything else you’d like to offer on the subject?

One thing that helped me was taking the example of specific saints, and tying them to the specific task at hand. I didn’t just pray abstractly to St. Francis of Assisi for help with my law practice. Instead, I might think “Saint Francis of Assisi would love to come help me write the addresses of thirteen lawyers involved in this natural gas pipeline case and then mail my packages at the Post Office with three grumpy children in tow.” That kind of prayer helped me view holiness as not something removed from my life, but very much connected to the daily irritations and hidden sacrifices of my life.

I also want to say that I found the decade that I spent as a housewife really grounded me during this transition. Now when I get a complex case with 144 documents from 13 lawyers I tell myself “this is just like doing the dishes.” I take that same pattern of not being overwhelmed, of matching like and like, and getting down to the nitty gritty without panic. Peaceful work is peaceful work. I’m really grateful to see work as a healthy companion to my prayer life. I’m finding the combination of Catholic, Wife, Mother, Lawyer, Teacher, and Writer to be a pretty nourishing mixture.



This post is the thirteenth in a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month I’m publishing a blog post on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction.

These Walls - Everyday Bravery


Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

Always Starting, Never Ending: Monday Morning Miscellany (Vol. 11)


I think you should know that I’m really, really good at starting blog posts. Like, you would be amazed at the quality of writing I can pour into three opening paragraphs on any given subject. Especially Donald Trump.

I’m about 15% tempted to start publishing blog posts akin to those group story-telling games we used to play at sleepovers. I’ll write the first three paragraphs, then another blogger can take the next three, and so on and so forth until we have some wacky, meandering, hilarious tale like nothing any of us could have created on our own.


This happened over the weekend:

These Walls - Always Starting Never Ending - 1

That’s right folks – stare at it while you can! All of my dishes were clean at the same time. I washed the dirty dishes, cleaned the counters, bleached the sink, and then went to bed. Which means: I woke up to a clean kitchen. Just amazing.


This girl. She’s now four months old. I can hardly describe how smitten with her we are.

These Walls - Always Starting Never Ending - 2


Oops – I didn’t post anything on the blog last week. See number 1.


Nearly six years into this stay-at-home-mom thing, I somehow still struggle with how relentless the work is. I spent this entire weekend waiting for a couple of hours to myself (To organize papers and clothing! Not even to do fun stuff!) and when those hours never appeared, I found myself on the brink of tears. Not because anything was really wrong, not because the weekend had really been bad, not because I was overly tired – just because my days all look the same.

Monday through Friday, I’m in charge of four small children for something like 14 hours a day, I take care of all the cooking and dishes and laundry and cleaning and familial logistics, and I’m at the whim of ever-interrupting hands and mouths and diapers. Call me crazy, but I’d like the weekends to look a little different.

Sometimes they do, but lots of times my husband (who really is a very involved father) works on (necessary! good!) home stuff, so isn’t available to help with much other than breakfast. One part of me gets that. The other part stands at the end of a Sunday night and looks toward Monday morning with something like desperation. Because this work is constant. It is never-ending. And I still haven’t gotten used to that.


We had some storms Sunday evening and when they cleared, the sky was breathtaking. Though it wasn’t quite amazing enough to knock me out of the aforementioned funk, it sure did remind me that funks are temporary. Thank goodness for beautiful skies.

These Walls - Always Starting Never Ending - 3

These Walls - Always Starting Never Ending - 4

Can you spot the beehives?

These Walls - Always Starting Never Ending - 5


Thank goodness for breezes and low-humidity days too. We haven’t yet turned on the air conditioner, so lately I’ve felt like we lived in a jungle or a swamp, or on cooler days, England or Ireland. But today! Today is gorgeously clear, dry, and breezy. It’s just glorious. Hopefully this bodes well for the week!

Happy Monday!

These Walls - Always Starting, Never Ending

That Mommy Dance

Have you seen this post on “Dating for Moms”? It floated around my Facebook feed last week and I just recently got around to reading it. It’s about striking up friendships with other moms, and how doing so can look an awful lot like dating. Pretty funny, to be sure. As I only have two very young boys at this point, I hadn’t given the subject too much thought. My boys aren’t into any sports yet, and my oldest only just started preschool last week.

I am, however, very familiar with a little dance that has always reminded me of trying to gauge whether that cute guy might be into you and whether maybe he’d like to hang out sometime. Only it’s way more transparent – and probably smacks more of desperation than you’d like. It looks something like this:

You’re at the park/grocery store/church/library and you see a woman around your own age, dressed in kinda sorta the same style and/or level of sloppiness as yourself, with a couple of kids hanging on to her (or being chased by her) that look to be about your own children’s ages. You give her some sort of sympathetic smile regarding whatever child behavior she’s dealing with at the moment. You glance at your own children to indicate that you are/have been in the same boat.

You find a way to walk over to her and inquire about her children. You say something about yours.


If she seems likeable and interested in chatting with you, you introduce yourself. This is where you almost stumble over yourself, asking “Do you stay home?” with a sort of wild-eyed desperation that you’re honestly only a little bit embarrassed about.

If she answers yes, your excitement jumps up a few notches because Your Schedules Might Be Compatible! And She Knows What I Go Through! And Maybe She’d Like To Do Play-dates!

You ask a few of the requisite getting-to-know you questions: how many children she has, their ages, where she lives, does she frequent this park/grocery store/church/library, is she from the area, does she know lots of people here, etc.

While one part of your brain is processing the information, another part is just about jumping up and down, singing “I think I like her! I think she likes me! We could be friends!” Another part of your brain is trying to stay cool and not freak her out with your enthusiasm.

If everything goes really well, you get up the nerve to exchange contact information. You’re still trying to be cool about it, but you’re already thinking about how much time is appropriate to let pass before you email her. You might even call a girlfriend on the way home, to share! your! excitement!

Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this little dance.

Playground Climbing

Because I did it this weekend.

And in all seriousness, though the “dance” or the “dating” seems funny when you look at it through the lens of your long-ago crushes, it’s not a game, nor is it insincere.

As a stay-at-home mom, you spend the bulk of your hours surrounded by little people, yet also somehow alone. When you stumble across someone who shares that experience, and in whom you sense a spark of something that could develop into friendship, you grab at it. Or at least I do.

I know that an awful lot of people are too shy to approach a stranger and strike up a conversation. I’m pretty darned outgoing and I still hesitate before doing so. But when it comes down to it, I understand that if I want to have friends in my life who are here, right now, in my own community, I have to do something about it. I have to put myself out there. I have to walk up to somebody and make the small talk. I have to risk embarrassing myself over an awkward, hasty “Sodoyoustayhome?”

Six years ago, I decided to just get over myself and try online dating. I figured that if it lead me to my future husband, it would be worth the hassle and embarrassment. Boy, did it pay off — big time. So now I remind myself to take those smaller risks on the playground, in hopes that they’ll pay off too.

So if you find yourself at a park/grocery store/church/library in these here parts and I walk up to you, please be kind. Take my attention not so much as a mark of crazy-eyed mommy desperation, but rather as a compliment. You must come across as a reasonable, pleasant person who takes good care of her children. Because I’m not going to bother with any other sort.

Playground Slide

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 3)

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!

— 1 —

Whew! I finally took the plunge into controversial topics yesterday with this post on immigration reform. That (posting on controversial issues) was the idea when I started this blog, but so far my posts have focused primarily on the stay-at-home mom thing. That and explaining myself. It felt good to get something out there on a Big Topic. Hopefully I won’t chicken out before writing on any more.

— 2 —

Behind the Laptop

The only reason I was able to write such a long post yesterday is because my 20-month-old (above, haunting the laptop) took a FOUR hour nap! But don’t be too jealous. He only slept that long because he was up until 10:30 the night before. We’ve fallen into a terrible pattern of sleeping late, eating and napping late, and then going to bed way later than is decent for a household with two toddlers in it.

— 3 —

Which is why I keep finding the boys asleep on the sofa:

Both asleep on sofa

J asleep on sofa 1

J asleep on sofa 2

Usually they only fall asleep while eating:

B asleep eating

Jude asleep eating

— 4 —

Maybe we can get ourselves on a better sleep schedule this weekend. We’ll be heading to a family reunion, where my older son and I will “camp” out with my extended family in some cabins in the woods. My family (my grandmother and her nine siblings and their families) have been doing this every other year for 30 years. And all but one of the reunions has been at this same camp. I’m really looking forward to introducing my boys to the woods and the stream and the campfire ring and the trails that I enjoyed so much as a child. Not to mention all the family I love so dearly.

— 5 —

I’m sure my boys, though, are really going to love all the bugs. They have no fear of the little critters. They love picking up ladybugs and ants and stinkbugs from all over our house. I’ve even (I report with glee) trained them to carry the latter varieties straight to the trash can. So this morning I found my 20-month-old laying on his belly, picking up an ant, running it over to the trash can, and then returning for another. Over and over again. Who needs exterminators when you have little boys around?

— 6 —

I thought this short piece in yesterday’s Washington Post was really great. It’s connected to what I was trying to say in this post: Washington’s “brokenness” or inability to resolve policy differences isn’t an accident. It’s a symptom of division in the country at large.

— 7 —

And speaking of division and discord… My boys have recently refined their own particular methods of tormenting each other. The older one (who turns three in just a few days!) has a somewhat scatter-shot approach: he walks past his brother with a feigned innocence, randomly shoves or hits the poor little fellow, and then just keeps on going.

But the little guy is more focused: He stares down his big brother with a scowl on his face and shouts, “No, Beh Boys!” (His nickname for his brother.) And again and again… “No, Beh Boys, No!” The bigger guy Can. Not. Stand it. He howls, “No, Jude! Jude say NO to me, Mommy!” It goes on for some time, the little one steadfast and shouting and clearly in control, the big one cowering and crying.

Oh, my goodness. What in the world am I in for?

Thanks for coming ’round! Be sure to go see Jen for all the other Quick Takes!

These Days

It never ceases to amaze me how dramatically different one stay-at-home-with-the-kids day can be from the next. And how very, very difficult it can be to predict what kind of day you’re in for. Yesterday, for example, we had a really nice, quiet day. Everybody was in a sleepy kind of pleasant mood, nothing happened to stress us out, and the boys both took long naps. (That’s right, both of them! Even the almost-three-year-old who almost-never naps anymore.) Today, though, it was all exasperation and not listening and rising blood pressure. Me with them, them with me, me with all the stuff flying around in my mind.

This morning I was trying to handle all the normal breakfast and dish-washing and diaper-changing and potty-emptying duties, while also trying to make arrangements for a family party this weekend and a visitor this summer. And purchase four plane tickets to visit my husband’s family in Minnesota. And respond to my choir director about my summer schedule. And make my grocery list. And purchase birthday and Father’s Day gifts online. And research car seats so we can get a new one before this weekend. And (though I know I shouldn’t have been thinking about this one, with everything else I had going on) plan out a bunch of posts I want to write for the blog. Oh, and deal with an ant infestation by first wiping them up, then spraying them with poison and flipping out every time the boys approached them, then cleaning all the dead ants and poison spray off the floor, and then repeating the poison/flipping out steps when the ants returned.

All while a boiler repairman walked in and out of my house.

So I was going a little crazy, you know? And I was also feeling guilty because I’m sure to my boys, it looked like Mommy was just sitting at her computer, ignoring them for the heck of it. It’s not like I can explain parties and visitors and tickets and schedules and, and, and… to two toddlers. All they saw was distracted Mommy, typing and mumbling, and then screaming every time they walked on a certain piece of floor. Poor guys.

This evening we were pretty much back where we started. My husband was working late and I was (as usual) unsuccessful in getting the 20-month-old to bed. (My boys will NOT go to bed for me. Me, who takes care of them all day long and who puts them down for their naps. To them, bedtime is Daddy Time. Which is nice, except when Daddy’s working late or – GASP! – away on a trip.) Anyway, my feeble little brain had had enough. So I strapped the little one into his high chair in front of the television (hoping he’d fall asleep if confined), I walked into the kitchen, and I turned off the lights. I was kind of hoping they wouldn’t notice me. After a while, my older son walked in and said, “Mommy, are you mad for me?” (Heartbreaking, right?) I pulled him close and replied, “No, sweetie, I’m not mad at you. I’m just tired and I want to sit still in the quiet and read and write for a little bit. Okay?”

This afternoon, I had planned for us to go to the grocery store, but around 2pm (with no naps in sight!) I surveyed the boys and the house and myself and decided that we all needed a break. So, out with the groceries and in with the playground. We arrived to find it totally empty, the sky gray and threatening rain, and a lovely, brisk wind whipping around. It was perfect. The boys were thrilled to run around and play. I was invigorated by the wind. And I was delighted to see my little guys look like such boys – scraped knees, pink cheeks, sweaty foreheads, tongues sticking out in concentration. My older son kept coming over to me with a huge grin on his face. He said, “You’re a nice mommy,” and “You’re a good mommy,” and “I wuv dis.”

Playground Slide

Like I said, I’m always amazed at how different one day can be from the next, even when so many of the days’ characteristics seem the same at a glance. X amount of sleep plus Y preparation can equal loveliness one day and angst the next. Some days these boys fill me with wonder; some days they make me want to tear my hair out. Some days have peace and light; others the gloom of depression. Et cetera.

So often it is so hard for me to see my way out of whatever kind of day I’m having. But they all come and go, don’t they? I need to be better about keeping that perspective on the hard days. And I need to do a lot more of what I did today: stop, survey the damage, and do what I can to get us – all of us – away from it.

Playground Climbing

Oh, and that repairman? He came to clean out the boiler but (thank you, Lord!) caught a potentially-dangerous problem while he was at it. So he had to replace a couple of parts. This is how he described it to me afterward:

Him: “So, you see this part here? Usually when these things go, they leak a little bit. But even though this was really corroded, it wasn’t leaking. So if it had gone, the pressure would have built up and up and…” (His eyes got big and he made a funny face.)

Me: “Are you saying… the boiler would have… exploded?”

Him: “Well, now I don’t like to use that word.” (But he made the funny face again.)

Me: “Okay…”

Him: “Do you watch ‘Mythbusters‘? You know that one where they have a water heater under too much pressure and it takes off like a rocket? Well, your boiler wouldn’t have done that.”

Good to know.

Three Years In

Three years ago this month, I was put on bedrest to wait out the last few weeks of my first pregnancy. One day I was at work, surrounded by boxes and stacks of papers that I needed to go through before the baby came, and the next I was making my third “oh, never mind” trip to Labor and Delivery, at which point my doctor said, “Enough. Get thee into bed.” (Or something like that.) At any rate, the experience was something of a shock to my system. I went, overnight, from life as a professional, (officially) working woman to a stay-at-home mother and homemaker.

And it was hard. Not that it was physically or even mentally hard at first – I mean, I was mostly laying low, swollen feet up and massive belly resting uncomfortably. But it was emotionally hard. In part because my exit came sooner than I expected: I felt guilty for leaving my successor with so many loose ends and I didn’t get to have that last day at work to walk through the office and say goodbye to the people and the place and know that that’s what I was doing – saying goodbye. The greater part of it, though, was coming to terms with the fact that my life was changing in a big way. I’d spent nearly a decade as an independent, professional woman. And suddenly I was facing a vastly different way of living my life.

I’m not saying that I had doubts about what I was doing – I didn’t at all. I had always, since I was a little girl, wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I enjoyed my work and I was very grateful to have had the experiences that came along with it, but I had always hoped to be able to choose full-time motherhood over a career someday. And here it was: that opportunity, that blessing! But it was still hard to transition to that new way of living my life. I don’t know about you, but any change is a little difficult for me to accept and a big, life-defining change (wonderful as it might be) is a lot difficult. Transitioning from being single to being engaged? Hard to wrap my mind around. Becoming a wife? Harder. Becoming a mother and spending so much time within the four walls of my house and not seeing lots of other people on a daily basis and being fully dependent on someone else’s paycheck and having a tiny person rely on me every single moment of my day? Way harder.

Two days oldOf course, once the baby arrived, my day-to-day life (not just the idea of my life changing) was challenging in much more tangible ways. Life with a newborn is a special kind of difficult. It’s beautiful and full of wonder, but it’s also demanding and stressful and exhausting. Yes, before you know it, that short but intense period passes and you settle into to your new normal. But with that first baby, at the beginning of my “job” as mother and homemaker, I felt lost.

Which really shouldn’t have been all that surprising. I’d felt lost when I began my (other) two jobs, too. My first (well, my first grown-up, real-deal job) was straight out of college. I was working for the federal government, in a field I didn’t know, with people who spoke what sounded like an alphabet soup of a language. (Let me tell you, those Feds know how to do acronyms.) My second job was working as a lobbyist, in an environment I understood, but advocating on issues that were unfamiliar to me. Both times, I felt like I’d been thrown into a lake and told to swim – on a day so foggy I had no clue which direction I should head in, let alone any concept of what the coastline looked like or even how big the lake was.

But, of course, I figured it out. Soon enough that coastline emerged from the fog and I had a frame of reference. I began to develop an understanding of the issues with which I was tasked, and then I was able to discern the direction I needed to go in. With both jobs, I found that there was something special about the three-year mark: that point at which things fall into place and you suddenly just get it. You understand your environment, you know your role within it, and you have the tools to do the work that needs to be done.

That’s where I am right now, in my third and most important of jobs: mother/homemaker. Now, don’t hate me for saying that I suddenly get motherhood. I’m not claiming that the job is easy or that I have it all figured out. I’m just saying that it’s really nice not to feel lost anymore. There are plenty of things I mess up or I’m lazy about or that just plain ol’ throw me for a loop. But on the whole, I do get it now. My “job” makes sense to me and (on most days) I’m confident that I can do it well.

So, yes, this month I’m three years in, and I love that.

These Walls

Hello! I’m Julie Walsh, a stay-at-home mom to two toddler boys. I’m a former lobbyist, an all-day NPR listener, and an avid Catholic-mommy-blog reader. I love, love, love to get into a good conversation. About pretty much anything, but especially about my family, my faith, society, politics, current events… and how they all interact. I have this fantasy of sitting in a cozy coffee shop or a snug little bar and discussing the world’s problems with interesting people.

But I have these two adorable little responsibilities, you know? So the closest I get to my fantasy these days is the occasional play-date with a mommy friend, where we maybe fit in a five-minute visit to A Topic of Great Importance, in between our review of developmental milestones, childhood illnesses, and pregnancy experiences (interspersed with admonitions to share and play nicely and not-to-hit-your-brother). If we’re really lucky, we’re drinking a cup of coffee while we chat, sometimes daring to set it down on this lovely table:

Boys and train table

I’m approaching the three-year mark on my role as homemaker/stay-at-home mom, and in that time I’ve (1) spent entirely too much time on Facebook, (2) spoken lots of my political opinions aloud to the radio, and (3) developed wonderful one-sided friendships with a slew of excellent mommy bloggers who don’t even know who I am. I guess that’s the 21st-Century way of socializing a mother of young children, isn’t it? But still, I keep thinking to myself, I want to join that conversation! I want to say something more than what I can fit into a few lines on Facebook! So after almost three years of wanting to blog and thinking I don’t have time to blog and daydreaming topics for blogs and drafting/trashing blog themes, here I am, finally giving it a shot.

As indicated in the subtitle, I intend to blog about some of the goings-on within my own home. But I expect to focus more on the events and ideas and questions that sometimes seem so very far away from the daily tasks of a stay-at-home-mom. (Or this one, at least.) And aside from the physical walls referenced in the blog’s title, I can’t help but think of the figurative walls we so frequently put up between ourselves and others because of our opinions on any number of issues. I plan to explore these in the blog as well.

Overall, I’m stuck on that mental image of a cozy venue for deep conversation on those Topics of Great Importance (and also topics of regular importance). I hope this space becomes something like that. And I hope those who participate in the conversation will do so with respect and kindness, a sincere interest in growing in understanding… and maybe a tasty beverage in-hand.

Boys asleep wine on table