First: a confession. The series on spiritual practices with newborns? Turned out nothing the way I expected. What I thought would be a practical guide turned into my philosophical wanderings as I processed this summer. Great for me, maybe less for all you new parents who told me you were excited for the series. Thanks for reading along anyway!
Second: an inspiration. All those practices I wrote (and rambled) about? Still wonderful ways to pray when you have a new baby in your life. For those of you drowning in diapers and midnight feedings, I’ve compiled a list of short Scripture verses and quick prayer practices that you can do while caring for baby.
All day long. Up all night. For fussy moments. For peaceful moments.
. . .
Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”
And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
The next time you’re tempted to check the clock when feeding the baby – how long has it been since he last took a bottle? how long have I been sitting here nursing her? – close your eyes instead and give thanks for all the good meals you have enjoyed in your life. Thanksgivings, Christmases, date nights, nights out with friends, family dinners at home.
Pray for someone with whom you shared a memorable meal. Pray for you and your child to nurture generous hearts to share with those who are hungry. Pray in gratitude to God who feeds you.
. . .
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
Each time you clean up after your child today – diaper change, bath-time, spit-up, wet crib sheets or worse! – offer up a petition for their future.
May they always know love. May they always be surrounded by people who care for them. May they always grow in the ways they care for others.
. . .
Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise.
When your baby gets hurt – from shots or diaper rashes or bug bites or scratches – remember that your role as a parent is not always to protect them from every harm, but to help them handle life’s bumps and heal from life’s wounds. Humbly ask God for the strength and wisdom to love like this.
Each time you try to soothe your screaming newborn, hold in mind one way that they may need to heal from hurts as they grow: rejections by cliques and crushes, disappointments in sports or extracurriculars, academic failures, high school heartbreaks, challenges in college, professional and personal setbacks.
Ask God to guide your child through the journeys of hurting and healing that lead into adulthood. Pray for resilience and forgiveness for both you and your baby.
. . .
Tune in next time: how to pray with baby – up all night!
Mommy, I just want to hug you around your scars!
His sky blue eyes flash. His brows furrow. The cheerful animals plastered across his summer pajamas – a grinning monkey and laughing elephant atop a fire engine – smile up at me in stark contrast to the glare on his face.
For weeks he’s been told not to fling his arms around my waist. He can’t plop down into my lap when we read stories. I can’t carry him down the stairs. And he’s just plain sick of it. Tired of dealing with the aftermath of my surgery. I am, too.
But the scars are still healing. We have to keep waiting.
I thought I had postpartum healing figured out the third time around. Lots of rest. Lots of help. Hot baths. Healthy meals. Slow walking. No lifting.
And it turned out that my recovery from birth was even easier this time than in the past. Four days after Joseph arrived, I honestly felt like my old self. No pain, no soreness, no need for Tylenol. Of course I took it easy for a few more weeks, having learned the hard way how quickly a new mom can overdo it and end up paying the price. But I felt amazing, and I was grateful.
We kept remarking on it, astonished, in the few moments of adult conversation we’d steal after all the kids were tucked into bed at night. “I don’t want to jinx it,” he said, “but you seem to be feeling great.”
I agreed. I joked about waiting for the other shoe to drop.
. . .
Healing became the theme of our summer, by no wish of our own.
First was recovering from the aches of pregnancy and the pain of childbirth, of course. I expected that.
But then there was this awful appendicitis that landed me back in the hospital six weeks after giving birth.
And then we suffered a shocking death in our family.
And now people we love are waiting for test results and prepping for surgery.
In short, we’re surrounded by a lot of pain. Personal and communal, physical and emotional.
It will take a long time to heal.
. . .
Do pleas for healing get flung up towards heaven more than any other prayer?
All my life it seems I’ve been praying for someone to get better. Brother. Grandparents. Relatives. Friends. Teachers. Neighbors. Co-workers. Acquaintances. Strangers.
Many of those people stayed sick. Or got worse. Or died.
What exactly do I believe about healing anyway? Is it the reward of the lucky few? The result of the right treatment? The randomness of sheer luck?
And what does God have to do with it? Everything? Or nothing? I’m still not sure.
There are a few things I know. You need the right people to help you heal. People with expertise or experience or compassion or love. (Sometimes even all four.)
You need plenty of time. At least as much as experts advise. Sometimes much longer.
And things will never be exactly as they were before. Like the childhood scars that tried to teach us this truth. Pale pink ridges over once-smooth knees.
. . .
At first it seemed strange to see healing as a spiritual practice. After all, I had no choice in the matter: the baby and the appendix both had to come out. My body had to deal with the aftermath of each.
But when surgery shoved me back to bed after I thought recovery days were behind me, I started thinking about the cycle of suffering and healing. Is it an illusion whenever we think ourselves to be whole, as if healed were a past participle, tidy and complete?
I look around me and I see one family mourning a brother, another mourning a mother, another dealing with an awful divorce, another dealing with a terminal illness.
Around each of those wounds are circles rippling outward: relatives and friends and co-workers and neighbors who are affected by each of these losses. And the world writ large is groaning with pain, too. Russia and Iraq and Palestine and Israel. Too much.
Maybe the post-partum period is a microcosm of how suffering and healing shape all our lives. Some mothers have easy deliveries, some have traumatic births. Some of us have blissful babymoons, some have wretched recoveries. We do nothing to merit these experiences, but we must live through them as they come. We must try to heal as best we can.
To help our broken hearts to stay open, not bitter.
. . .
Three thin lines trace across my skin. Scars from the surgery. Still rosy red, still new enough to remind me daily of the difference between before and after.
This summer will be folded into my story just like soft new scars. This was the summer that Joseph was born and Uncle Jim was killed. (And my appendix failed in the middle of it all.)
But isn’t this the way our stories always wind? The physical and the emotional woven together. The personal and the communal weathered together. The beauty born of pain and the anger born of grief.
Eventually our skin will stretch to cover and accept the scar. We will be changed.
This is surely where God is found in healing. In our carrying of each other’s stories. And in our trusting that something good might be born of pain.
My child, be attentive to my words;
incline your ear to my sayings.
Do not let them escape from your sight;
keep them within your heart.
For they are life to those who find them,
and healing to all their flesh.
. . .
Where in your life are you healing? How have you been changed?
Be still and know that I am God.
Your hands have held things that terrified you. Your first set of car keys. A boy’s sweaty palm. The college admission letter. Cold cans of beer. A brand-new passport.
All gripped by fingers that trembled, knowing the weight of what might come next, the thrill as well as the terror.
God was there somewhere, in what you held.
Be still and know that I am.
Your hips have carried things that taught you. Armfuls of books down high school hallways, then grad school library stacks. Piles of file folders from one job, then another. A niece, then a nephew, then three more.
All slung on one hip, shifted to the side as you walked, aware that what you now held was changing the way you moved, subtly but for good.
God was there somewhere, in what you cradled.
Be still and know.
Your arms have embraced things that overwhelmed you. Sobbing friends after break-ups. Exhausted relatives after funerals. A brand-new family of in-laws. Your first child. Your second son.
All wrapped round with arms that wondered if they could stretch wider, if they were strong enough not to shake even as they tired.
God was there somewhere, in what you accepted.
But maybe nothing else you’ve held has mattered as much as what you hold now, all day and all night, upstairs and down, inside and out, while you soothe and sing and stave off sleep, while you make breakfast and eat lunch and cook dinner.
One small baby, who squeaks and squawks into your neck, who aches your shoulders and slows your steps to heart’s pace.
This is not to say that bearing children trumps all other experiences. Or that parenting’s importance makes other callings pale in comparison. Or that everything up to now has been mere practice. You know none of this is true.
But the weight of what you carry now is no longer your own life. It is possibility within your hands. It is a brand-new person unfolding. With all the beauty and terror and wonder that offers. You know this is true.
Everything is changing because of what you are learning to hold.
Watch the world shift as you pick him up. As you cradle him to your heart. As you hum in his small curl of an ear.
Watch your life stretch, then settle to embrace what you’ve been asked to hold.
Watch yourself becoming someone new because of what you carry.
Watch God find you there. Again and always.
Be still and know that I am God.
He gazes at me, steel blue eyes searching. He gazes. And gazes. Sometimes so intently, for so long, that I have to work to hold my own gaze steady, to meet his eyes with mine.
This is part of the (happy) work of having a newborn. Watching them. Watching them change in front of your eyes. Cheeks rounding, lashes lengthening, hair thickening, thighs plumping, fingers uncurling.
Wondering what they will become. Wondering who this person might be, whose life I hold in my hands.
My grandma used to call this stage “the baby’s face unfolding,” waking to the world. My mom tells me this each time she visits to help and hold our newborns.
It is the same story all parents watch, over and over again. A first chapter opening in a brand-new book.
But you have to look to see it. Behold.
. . .
He’s an old soul, my friend declares, handing the baby back to me. You can always tell by their eyes.
Later I think about her words and wonder if we’ve gotten them backwards. Even setting aside reincarnation, as we Christians do, the saying suggests that contemplative, quiet babies are wise beyond their years. That they hold some distant, ancient knowing behind their eyes.
But babies are able to hold our gaze so intently precisely because they are brand-new. They have no filter yet to smudge up their view of the world, no hurt, no grudge, no knowledge of evil. Their innocence is what permits them to disarm us by their unrelenting gaze. They will not avert their eyes out of shame or drop their glance from embarrassment, not yet. They have not learned that lesson.
What we see blinking back at us in their eyes is not the wisdom of the aged – as clear as their vision of the world can be. Instead, babies bring utter openness. Unclouded vision. Eyes not yet dimmed by the cruelty or sorrow they will inevitably see. Not worried or weathered or wearied by years.
He is a young soul, in fact. Behold.
. . .
What does it mean to behold?
In Scripture it’s the greeting of the angels. Behold, for I bring you tidings of great joy.
In church it’s the reminder that recaptures our attention every time we gather round the table. Behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who takes away the sins of the world.
In literature it’s an air of importance. Lo and behold… There’s a weight to beholding, beyond watching or seeing. You are witnessing an impressive sight.
Even the parsing of the word – to be and to hold – signals a notable duality: you must take a certain stance and accept what it offers.
And when you contemplate in the way that beholding invites, something will happen. You will appreciate or perceive or understand or discern differently than you did before.
You will be changed.
. . .
The one who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”
Then he said, “Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.”
This summer I’m beholding my own life, too.
For the first time in a long time, I’m looking around at everything I have and finding it so good. Yes, there is the exhaustion of the newborn days. And yet I have felt profoundly happy ever since this baby arrived. For a while I joked about it to friends as “really good hormones.” But now I start to see how much deeper this joy and gratitude runs.
I found new motherhood hard, really hard. I remember in the early days reading about the shift that happens when your first child turns five. All of a sudden you glimpse the light at the end of the tunnel – that your life will not always revolve around dirty diapers and 2 am wakings. That your child is growing up, and quickly. Becoming a person before your eyes, a walking, talking, someday-even-rational human being with all the fullness and wonder of what it means to be human.
And I feel that now, with Sam heading off to kindergarten in the fall. Perhaps for the first time, I feel myself settling into motherhood with deep-seated joy, less tinged with the anxiety that accompanied his birth.
I look around me at our growing family, this beautiful bunch of boys, a husband I adore, work that I love, writing that sets my heart on fire. And I feel so blessed, so deeply wrapped in the presence of God. It has been a hard summer already, physically and emotionally, and yet I have not lost sight of the deeper joy here, the stream of goodness running through it all, clear and fast and strong. I can behold my life in bright sunlight, eyes open and willing to hold the gaze.
And I am able to be what I hold.
. . .
The babe is at that lovely stage where smiles start, now only small bursts of wide-cheeked delight, fleeting rewards for the monkey faces I ape at him, over and over, hoping to catch a grin. I have to watch him for a long time to see them. He is teaching me the practice of beholding: the discipline of deciding to stop and see what is right before my eyes.
Perhaps that’s the lesson in beholding: that you have to be here and hold on if you want to witness the joy, to catch the goodness that rushes behind, beyond, underneath the surface.
These things are trustworthy and true, these moments of joy we know to be of God.
Watch the beauty unfolding before you. Watch your own life blossoming. Watch it bring you joy.
Write these words down. Behold.
. . .
For a new twist: today look your child or loved one in the eyes. Behold them. How does it feel to hold their gaze without words? Where do you see the good – the God – within the life you love?
I thought I knew something about accepting help when a newborn arrives.
But then last Sunday’s I wonder why my stomach hurts… turned into maybe we should go to urgent care? to that appendix needs to come out stat and the surgeon is waiting for you in the operating room.
Nothing like an emergency appendectomy to land a postpartum mom right back where her summer started. Recovering, recuperating, resting in bed.
For five days straight I didn’t change a diaper. Didn’t run a single load of laundry. Didn’t read a single book to my big kids, cook a single meal for our family, or even brave the painful walk downstairs.
I needed help to do everything.
And I had to learn the practice of acceptance all over again.
. . .
Since the moment of his birth, we’ve been blessed with help. Friends and neighbors brought dinners to share and offers to babysit. My sainted mom came to stay with us for three weeks, cooking and cleaning and baby-whispering and big-kid-entertaining as only a grandma can do. And my in-laws snuck the boys away for afternoons or mornings so I could catch up on sleep or simply tend to the baby.
But it took a serious setback – a week where everything fell apart, not just mama’s health – for me to remember my utter reliance on others.
What a tough lesson it is to remember.
. . .
Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the sun set.
(Exodus 17: 11-12)
What I love about this story isn’t the magical power of Moses to win battles.
It’s the sweaty, aching, all-day-long reminder that to do the work we’re called to do, we need others to hold us up.
. . .
When I was still in the hospital, groggy from pain meds and aching all over, I tried to nurse the baby again, for the first time. But with incisions all over my stomach, I couldn’t even cradle him across my lap.
So my husband had to cup the baby’s head in one hand and wrangle his wriggling feet in the other hand, to keep him from kicking my tender scars.
All I could do was sit there. With tears streaming down my face. And let him help me, ironically, do the thing that only a mother can do.
(And to think that I thought accepting help was about getting over my guilt of hiring child care while I’m on maternity leave.)
. . .
The truth is that I always need help to do this work well.
Take the case of the summer babysitter. Our family’s routine runs on a rhythm that has always involved help with child care, and now is no exception. When the sitter is here, I can clean, cook, write, run errands, nap or simply tend to a needy newborn. All of which is good and necessary for our family.
I’m learning to be a mom of three, and this cheerful college sophomore is helping me do that, two mornings a week. Thank God for her help.
But interdependence is never the easiest lesson for us to learn, is it? We independent Americans. We people-pleasers. We do-it-all multi-taskers.
And isn’t it ironic that for women who have just given birth, we run ourselves ragged trying to care for the baby and clean the house and write the thank-yous and entertain the relatives and show off the baby? (Hasn’t every first-time mom learned this one the hard way?)
In a time when you give so much – when you have given everything, in fact, yourself, your sleep, your blood, your milk, your sweat, your time, your energy – the hardest part can be accepting that you cannot give it all. That you depend on help from others.
And that this might be exactly the way God created things to be.
. . .
This time around the newborn bend, I have to accept help as a spiritual practice. Even when I had an easy recovery from birth, I still needed my midwives, an amazing lactation consultant, our rock-star pediatrician, and our peppy babysitter to make life with baby possible.
And now that I’m back to healing mode – forced to put my feet up and climb stairs slowly and ask someone else to lug around that bulky car seat – I’m relearning how to embrace humility. To surrender to the truth that I can’t do it all. Because it was never all mine to do.
God whispers, nudges, nods and reminds me – through the triage nurse and the ER doctor and the next-door neighbor and the smiling grandma – that we get through this world by the help of others.
Again and again, my hands grow weary with this work I’m called to do. Thank God there are so many others to help hold them, steady at my side until the sun sets.
Such a gift, to have armfuls of help, even when we hurt.
If I only have the grace to accept it.
. . .
For a new twist: the next time someone offers you help, don’t apologize or protest that you don’t need it. But simply accept, with deep gratitude.
How does it feel to accept when you cannot give back in return?
Babysitter’s been off this week, so free time/writing time has been nonexistent. But I have been slowly working on the next posts in the spiritual practices with newborns series to start back up next week! (Note to self: setting the bar low for postpartum expectations should be a spiritual practice all itself.)
And this week I had the chance to be elsewhere on the Interwebs:
First, an “interview” with the lovely Nell of Whole Parenting Family in her spotlight on three bloggers of faith. She asked us great questions, and I loved the chance to reflect again on what this space and practice of blogging have meant to me.
Second, Practicing Families re-ran a post I wrote after Thomas arrived on 10 Spiritual Lessons from Newborns. Turns out this post still rang true the third time around! And it was what first got me thinking about the new series on spiritual practices and babies.
Third, Catholic Mom has a bit of levity for your weekend church-going. Inspired by the Honest Toddler’s Bunmi Laditan and her latest viral post, I offer you 5 Minutes in a Mom’s Head At Mass. In which you will discover that despite writing a blog about spirituality, I pay full attention about 5% of the time our rowdy crew is at church. #lifewithlittles
Next Sunday I swear I’m getting everything ready the night before. And waking the kids up early. And making them eat breakfast at a normal – not snail – pace. And no potty tantrums before we leave. But then we won’t even need to come to church because IT WOULD TAKE THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST TO MAKE ALL THAT HAPPEN.
Read the rest at CatholicMom.com…
And last – but certainly not least! – I discovered this week that you can check out the cover of Everyday Sacrament here!
Apparently the book is already available for pre-order, so I am officially geeking out about seeing my name on Amazon for the first time, too!
Happy weekend to you & yours…
As a mother comforts her child,
so I will comfort you…
The poor babe is sick. Gift of a cold from his big brothers, generously passed along a week after they finished hacking and sniffling and crying for us all night long.
Neither of them were ever sick so small, and it breaks my mama heart to see his tiny newborn face turn beet-red as he struggles to breathe when he coughs. And when baby is only a month old, there are no cold meds to clear his congestion, no Tylenol to help him sleep. We can only watch and wait for the cold to run its course.
Life with a sick baby increases the yuck factor exponentially, too. He snarfs sticky trails on my shoulder, spits up sour milk puddles into my lap, sneezes a germy spray all over my face.
But all I want to do is comfort him. Every cell in my body screams out, hard-wired to cuddle and cradle him. To try and help what I cannot heal.
. . .
When we pick up a crying baby, we revert to the rhythms which comforted us as children, too. The most ancient rhythms – snuggle and rock, cuddle and coo. The body leads and the lullaby follows: knees soften, hips sway, arms cradle, hands rub, lips hum, eyes close.
There isn’t much to comforting a baby. There is only everything. The filling of the moment with the emptying of the self.
Has it been 10 minutes or 2 hours since we started rocking in this chair, or pacing the path of the upstairs hallway?
And who are we becoming in the process?
. . .
The thing about having a baby and older kids is that you realize how the same soothing rhythms stay with us. Sam wipes out on his older cousin’s bike, and he comes flying around the corner, wailing for a hug. Thomas’ nose runs like a leaky faucet, and he cries out in a most pathetic plea – I just want you to hold me!
I cradle them with the same sway that rocks their baby brother whenever he wakes. The same rub of the heaving back. The same murmurs whispered low. The same lingering kiss on the sweaty forehead. All the instincts that quiet the newborn give comfort to the big kids, too.
Perhaps deep down we are all always this small soft child. Crying out to be seen, soothed, loved.
Shouldn’t soothing be the simplest subject? Something about it is so instinctual that even our 4 year-old starting shushing in his baby brother’s ear the first time he held him.
But all week I’ve been struggling to write this. Not only to steal away enough time to fill the page, time away from rocking and holding and cuddling and nursing.
But also because it seems like a saccharine subject at first glance. The spirituality of soothing? It’s convenient to conjure up a God who comforts. Isn’t that the stuff of the opiate of the masses – creating the God we crave?
Yet I believe comforting is not simply some handy attribute of the divine. It’s an imperative at the heart of faith. The catch with Christianity is that we are called – even compelled by our very nature, created in God’s image – to comfort in turn. And there’s the rub indeed.
Because it’s hard work to comfort. It aches the back and tires the arms and rasps the throat and wearies the head. Comfort is not just about the calm, but the storm.
Sometimes when I’ve held an inconsolable newborn, on one of those crying jags that pound in your eardrums and pulse in your blood, I’ve wondered how God could possibly stay with us – all of us – through our own shrieks and screams and sobs. The only answer I can find is that this practice of love is about deep faithfulness – not some token pat on the back, not mere temporary relief.
Behold, I am with you always. As a mother comforts her child.
. . .
And it’s so sweet to soothe these small ones, too. So undeniably full of love and loveliness – to have the sleeping head finally loll onto your shoulder, to hear the smooth steady breath that once was ragged, to watch the peaceful eyes stay closed when you gently lay the baby back down.
Both sides of soothing – the challenge and the comfort – whisper something about who God is and who we are invited to be in turn. Consolers. Lovers. Peace-makers.
The ones who stop and stoop and scoop up to soothe. The ones who murmur quiet words over the wails and whimpers. The ones who keep watch over the sick, the weak, the wounded.
Come to me, all you who are weary. Christ like a father who crouches down and opens arms wide to embrace the sobbing child, the smallest who comes seeking only one thing, the desperate need in the painful moment.
So I will comfort you. God like a mother clasping her child to her chest, wrapped in the most intimate embrace, beating heart to heart.
This is love with skin on.
. . .
For a new twist: next time you’re comforting your children, remember who has comforted you through past hurts. Have you been blessed to know someone who comforts as God comforts?
Where do you need comfort in your life? What comfort are you called to give?