nurture your mothering spirit

a bouquet of incarnations for mother’s day

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First, gather the flowers. 

At Mass a few weeks ago, my oldest boy leaned into my side while we stood to say the creed together. I recited the words on the projector screen, still prompting us with the new translation of the prayer after decades of The Version We Used To Say.

Absent-mindedly, I stumbled as happens so often, tripping over clumsy words that once were clear:

“…he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was born – dah! was incarnate! – of the Virgin Mary and became man.”

Without thinking, I rubbed the basketball of my belly in that unconscious instinct of expectant mothers. I thought about birth and babies and started to grumble about why we didn’t say “born” anymore, why the abstract theological was deemed better than the concrete physical.

Then I felt baby’s quick jab to my right side, sharp enough to make me wince. And I felt my son’s tired lean into my left side, heavy enough to make me shift my footing.

And I realized. Maybe incarnate was a truer truth.

. . .

Second, arrange the stems. 

Here’s the fact I forgot about incarnation: it was not a one-shot, abracadabra magical minute. Not the mysterious instant of the Spirit making a virgin Mary pregnant. Not the painful moment of pushing the baby into the world of cold and air.

If incarnation means God becoming fully human, that process took time.

Days and days of dark growth in the womb. Weeks and weeks of babyhood in his parents’ arms. Months and months of toddling steps and babbling words and bubbling emotions. Years and years of learning childhood’s lessons, adolescence’s growth, and adulthood’s maturity.

And she was helping to incarnate him through all of that.

Of course I understand theologically what we’re claiming in the creed. That the second Mary said yes and the divine light that was Jesus sparked within her, his life was fully human. I remember learning all the councils and heresies and theologians that fought to argue passionately for Christ’s full humanity and full divinity. I know why it’s essential Christian doctrine.

Yet I can’t help but think we lose sight of incarnation’s depth if we confine it to an angelic visitation or a virgin birth. I believe it was longer and messier and more exhausting. The lifelong journey that a mother’s love sticks around to see through to the end.

All the way to the cross.

. . .

Third, set in sunshine and water. 

How long does it take to raise our babies?

Is it the nine months we carry them within us, or the years we spend waiting for the phone call that will bring them to our door?

Is it the eighteen years of childhood that society (and sarcastic jokes) dictate we’re in charge of their upbringing?

I think of all the parents I know with adult children, how they still lose sleep worrying at night. How they still hope they’ll check in after a long trip. How they still pray for their safety and dream of their success.

If it takes us a lifetime to become fully human – to try and grasp the beauty and the pain of this mysterious, fragile existence – then maybe bringing our babies to the fullness of life takes years, too.

Maybe “incarnate” is a better word than “born” to wrestle our arms around what it meant for Mary to give her daring yes to a life that she never imagined. To a life that would change our own.

. . .

Fourth, drink in the blooms. 

If my boys ever offer me the chance to pick the book for naptime or bedtime (which rarely happens), I always reach for the same favorite.

mama saysMama says be good,

Mama says be kind,

Mama says the rain will come,

But still the sun will shine.

I found the book in our college bookstore when my first baby was brand-new, and of course I cried as I flipped through the pages. Mothers from cultures around the world teaching their sons life’s essential lessons.

Mama says be loving,

Mama says be caring,

Mama says you’ve done God’s will

every time you’re sharing.

To be blessed with one, then two boys to pull onto my lap and share this story – of course it feels like pure gift. There is so much suffering in the world, so many couples crying for a child, so many children who know too much pain. That I can sit in a sunlit corner and rock these small, safe boys in my arms means all my jumbled heart can pray is thanks.

Because motherhood is the work of incarnation. Of daring to partner with God in helping these children become fully human.

A truth which one short line of our creed speaks each Sunday, easy to skip over if you miss it:

“…he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man.”

And a truth which one children’s book states clear as a bell at its end:

Mama says help others, 

And be the best you can.

I listened to what Mama said,

And now I am a man.

how i nurture my mothering spirit – laura

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The overdue last in the series. But hey, when it’s your own blog, you can make and miss your own deadlines. Hope you’ve enjoyed the series as much as I have. Thank you again to all the wonderful writers who shared their stories with us!

Another cold Minnesota night as the lavender shadows of sundown stretching across the glowing white of snow fade fast to sinking black. This time of year I hate to leave the house after dark; winter turns me into a hermit if I’m not careful.

But every Monday evening finds my car winding through the dark along the river road, slipping from small town to small town across rolling fields.

The weekly pilgrimage to yoga.

Yoga is not prayer for me. But my practice makes space for prayer, clears the chaos from my mind, shoves the clutter aside so God can sneak in again.

When I roll out my well-worn mat and begin to breathe deeply, I start to feel the stress of the day slip away. Cranky toddlers who wouldn’t nap. Chores left undone in our messy house. Clutter piled up so high on my desk I feel my blood pressure soar when I open the office door.

I set it all aside, and I sit and stretch. IMG_8877

The peace of the present moment rises once again to my consciousness. I remember the wisdom of all those saints and sages who discovered that God is never more present to us than right now, that every moment offers the possibility of connecting with the Spirit if we only slow our own scattered minds to turn and remember.

Guided by a gentle teacher, I move and hold and push while others around me do the same. We breathe together, lunge, reach and rest. I love the mix of solitude and community that yoga offers: the reminder that my single life is part of something bigger and beyond.

Yoga stretches my limbs and my limits. How much tension can I hold? What would happen if I let go and sunk into the pose a little deeper, released the fears and hesitations holding me back?

I learn about myself – my physical body, my mental flow, my spiritual needs – every time I push back into downward dog. My view of the world is turned upside down, staring underneath my legs at a room of yogis hanging from the floor-as-ceiling. Especially in these early mothering days, so focused on home and our chosen few, I crave this change of perspective, this flip-side reminder, this fresher view.

Perhaps because yoga draws together body, mind and spirit, it sprang immediately to mind when I started this series. I’m grateful to yoga – and to the wonderful studio community I’ve found – for nurturing me as a parent and as a person.

I have little time for working out in ways I used to pre-kids: early morning sessions at the Y before work or daily cardio classes at the gym. Frankly I’d rather write in my wee free time than work out. But I can’t quit yoga. Yoga is sanity, space, silence and stretch. It is the centering practice of my parenting days.

The metaphors come almost too easy. Balance. Strength. Flexibility.

If only I could stay on the mat, I could stay Zen.

Of course that’s not the calling; we all have to come down from the mountaintop and back into the plains. Every Monday night I drive back across the same winding roads, back home to the people to whom I’ve promised my life.

But I’m better for them, and for me, when yoga nights stay sacred. I’m at peace with the contours of my life, with the God that shapes my being.

how to nurture your mothering spirit – check out the series!

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mspirt

What a lovely way this has been to kick off 2013, with weekly reflections from wise women on how they nurture their mothering spirits in busy seasons of parenting.

The last installment in the series will be coming this Wednesday – from yours truly – so in the meantime, check out any posts you may have missed.

Here’s a look back through the past few months…

Nell shared a story of discovering sewing as a way to connect with God in the midst of parenting little ones.

Maureen invited us to join her in a hot cup of chai and a quiet moment of simple pleasures.

Melissa wove her story of learning to embrace centering prayer as a connection with the Divine within.

Lydia considered hands-on crafts like knitting, sewing and baking as ways to enjoy the quiet process of creating alone.

Kate offered a number of simple and creative ideas for nurturing her spirit as a pregnant mama.

Peg evoked the practice of greeting the morning darkness as spiritual self-care while parenting teenagers.

Mihee reflected on life as one big inconvenience and how we encounter God in the unexpected moments.

Leanne wrote about her love of writing and the catharsis of processing motherhood’s challenges through her words.

Roxane evoked the healing powers of pot roast and how we need to nourish ourselves in order to care for others.

Ginny described her writing desk and the need for a private space at home to call her own.

I’m deeply grateful to each of these kindred spirits for sharing their wisdom and words with us here! Please be sure to visit their blogs in turn, where you’ll find even more nourishment for your spirit and soul…

Tune in Wednesday for the culmination of the series. And if you’ve caught up on all these wise and wonderful reflections, take a minute to explore the latest redesign of Mothering Spirit and let me know what you think!

how i nurture my mothering spirit – ginny

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In the classic girls’ book Betsy-Tacy Go Downtown by Maud Hart Lovelace, Betsy’s mother understands the creative process. She gives her daughter an old trunk to use as a writing desk, a special place where Betsy can sit and be alone and pen stories to her heart’s content.

“Betsy’s mother was a great believer in people having private places,” says the narrator.

Betsy’s mother gets it.

I, too, have a private desk of my own. It’s a brown desk in the bedroom, pushed up against the corner where two windows meet. Ever since my second child was born, it has been the place where I go to pray, to read, to write.

It’s a place that is mine and mine alone: the only place in the house where this is so.

Motherhood is all about sharing: sharing one’s time, one’s energy, one’s body, one’s last Kleenex. I would not have it any other way, because all that sharing has stretched me in ways that nothing else could have done. My two young boys are worth every bit of it, and more.

But, like many of us, I still need a small piece of physical space to call my own.

ginny desk

On the writing desk, I’ve put all kinds of special items and trinkets. There are family photos, a small statue of Mary that I bought in Lourdes, a Valentine card sent to us by a dear friend the year that she died. There is a quotation from Hemingway that always jumpstarts my writing process. There are candles to light and books for inspiration. In the desk drawer is a rosary – two, actually – for times when I need the soothing repetition of prayers I know by heart.

The desk is like a little shrine of all the things that sustain me: family, friends, faith, reading, writing.

It’s my own space, and it is capable of working wonders. A few candlelit minutes there in the evening are enough to slow my breathing and help me pick off the burrs of stress that routinely attach themselves to my day.

Whether I pray, or read, or write, or just stare off into space, that desk reminds me that I have an inner life worth cultivating and tending. It’s a reminder that although I am a wife and a mother and a teacher and a writer, underneath it all, I’m always me.

And I’m a more peaceful me when I let myself be nourished in – and nourished by – this special private place.

 . . .

Ginny Kubitz Moyer is a writer, teacher, and mother. She is the author of the new book Random MOMents of Grace: Experiencing God in the Adventures of Motherhood. She blogs at RandomActsofMomness.com.

how i nurture my mothering spirit – roxane

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The Healing Powers of the Pot Roast

In the early part of November 2012, I experienced a profound moment of healing by spoon.

It functioned like salve on my weary mother’s soul – a bowl of pot roast made by my sweet mother-in-law.

She’d prepared the roast and its accompanying vegetables in her Crockpot the night before, the overnight simmering of soup and juices from the meat producing a scrumptious gravy that would have had world-class chefs swooning.

roxane potroast

While the rest of my family was occupied in other spaces – the youngest of them splashing in a nearby hotel pool – I’d found a moment to steal away into the quiet of our dining room to eat what was left of the roast, most of which had been nearly completely devoured earlier by hungry men.

Sitting in the dimly-lit room, breathing deeply, slowly now, I prepared to consume the first homemade meal I’d had in months.

Comfort food, they call it, and this moment made it true for me. With each delectable bite, restoration was beginning.

For nearly a year I’d been trying to do the impossible, working outside the home with five kids still needing so much more of me than I could offer with my attention elsewhere.

But now, after weeks of discernment, I’d made the difficult decision to resign from what had seemed, by all accounts, my dream job. It would mean giving up a paycheck that had lightened our financial load but brought extra responsibilities that weighed down my heart, causing my middle child to utter one day, “You’re not a being a mom anymore.”

I’d done what I could to rearrange the pieces of my life to accommodate all, but came up short. The emotional, spiritual and even physical effects were manifesting themselves, and I had to ask myself whether the job was worth risking an illness that could remove me from life altogether.

Ironically, the kitchen, which I consider the heart of the home, was a room I avoided like the plague during that year. I knew that if I entered, I wouldn’t make it out without depleting the extra energy I needed to push through my busy days.

Fast food had become normal; my oven, a neglected appliance. The dining room was a place to linger only as long as was necessary to gulp down a slice of pizza or a burger.

But sitting before that bowl of real food made with loving hands, placed gently in a warmer and transported 120 miles to our home earlier that day, had reintroduced me to the place where my heart longed most to be.

A few days after leaving the job, I prepared my own slow-cooked meal, and as I scooped out portions to each family member, a surge of love and joy took hold. I was ready now to feed my family, both in food and through my presence in ways that had not been possible for far too long.

And in the midst of it, I became aware that if not for that wonderfully nourishing meal several weeks earlier, the moment would have passed unappreciated. In that gift of warm sustenance, I’d been given a poignant reminder that we cannot offer others something we haven’t first taken in ourselves.

In doing whatever is necessary to create space in our days to ensure we’re nourished, we’ll have something to offer back those we love. And they, in turn, will give to others when it’s time.

A potato, a carrot, a tender chunk of meat – the healing powers of the pot roast.

A bowl full of love that wooed me back to life.

. . .

roxane headshotRoxane Salonen lives in Fargo, N.D., with her husband and five children, ages seven to 17. A church cantor, book reader and coffee drinker, she also works as a faith columnist and features writer for her city’s daily newspaper.

Roxane is the author of two children’s picture books – First Salmon and P is for Peace Garden: A North Dakota Alphabet. Find her pondering on “faith, family and following the muse” at Peace Garden Mama: roxanesalonen.blogspot.com/

how i nurture my mothering spirit – leanne

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I fell in love with writing about the time I learned how to use a pencil.

From that moment on, my imagination ran wild with stories, poems, and songs. For most of my childhood, I could be found with a pencil in one hand and a spiral bound notebook in the other.

If I had a bad day, I immediately took to writing for comfort. When I was lonely, I made up imaginative stories where my fearless heroine had countless friends (or didn’t need any). When something terrible happened, I wrote about it to soothe my angst and sorrow.

By the time I reached high school, life had gotten in the way of my writing. I was busy keeping up with my classes, but I was equally distracted by new friends and the social scene. My writing took a backseat and all my notebooks took to Rubbermaid bins in the basement.

Soon I was a college student and life got even busier. Every now and then a poem would find its way out of me, but I mostly wrote for class.

After college, I became an employee of the real world. My various careers allowed me to dabble in press releases, brochure writing, and the occasional article. That writing left me empty, though.

Once I became a wife and a mother, my fingers suddenly itched to document our journey. I wanted to write about the ups and the downs. I needed a way to process my feelings. I needed to write again. This time, I didn’t reach for a pencil and notebook. Instead, I started a blog.

As I pondered what exactly I do to nurture my mothering spirit, I came up blank at first. I don’t drink coffee. I’m usually too tired to read. I’m hopeless at anything crafty. I’m a terrible cook. I’m more of a spectator than an athlete.

Feeling discouraged, I asked my sister what she thought I did to take care of myself.

“You write,” she reminded me.

Instantly, I realized she was right.

After I tuck my little ones in bed, I take to the computer and let the day flow out through my fingers. When we have a good day, my writing is like a snapshot to preserve those wonderful moments. When we’ve had a bad day, I’m able to reflect, decompress, and eventually change my attitude, all by writing about it. When something terrible happens in our own home or in our world, I write to soothe my angst and sorrow.

Writing is as much my passion now as it was when I was 10. It’s my catharsis. It’s how I unwind from an overwhelming day. It’s how I’m able to wake up the next morning refreshed and ready to take on the adventure of motherhood.

My writing doesn’t take me on wild fantasies as it did as a child, but it energizes me in much the same way. My motherhood couldn’t survive without my writing. Thankfully, there’s never a shortage of things to write about.

leanne headshotLeanne Willen enjoys writing about faith, family, and finding happiness.

Her blog, Life Happens When, encourages others (and herself) to embrace the moment and enjoy the journey of life.

how i nurture my mothering spirit – mihee

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Despite the clean slate of the new year, it feels as if life is bursting at the seams with to-do lists and extra commitments. And in the midst of it all I long for convenience. I need and long for tools to help me make it through each hour, and help me juggle at least a minimum of three tasks, and make me get everything crossed off on the list for that day.

I will be the first to acknowledge the reality that life has a tendency to overflow one’s cup, especially during these kind of seasons, and convenience is almost necessary for survival. And that’s what I love about ordering online – for birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries. I had heard someone on NPR bemoaning the lack of thought and sentimentality in online shopping but obviously this guy didn’t have twins crawling all over the place 24/7. Try to shop for something at the local store? Not happening. Try to organize the pantry? Nope. Try to sew a little handkerchief? Not a chance. So it just warms my heart to be able to get something last-minute – like from the beautiful monolith that is Amazon and have it shipped to the recipient, or to even just get a gift card and send that out.

But.

I was talking with a good friend from college last night. She came for a brief visit between interviews for her medical residency next summer, and happened to be interviewing up in Indy. We figured out she could have stayed an extra day, and rather than flying back home today and then flying out tomorrow somewhere else, she could have just flown directly there from here. But she said she didn’t want to be an inconvenience, to which I replied without really thinking about it – something to the effect of: “Our life is one big inconvenience these days. It wouldn’t have been a big deal at all.”

Our life is one big inconvenience.

The funny thing is that I didn’t mean this in a negative way at all, even though inconvenience is seen as incredibly annoying/frustrating and generally something to be avoided like the plague. I said it with a laugh, tongue planted firmly in my cheek.

Because I remember that the so-called inconveniences I’ve experienced in my life – all the interruptions, disruptions, obstructions – they end up being incredibly…good. When I let myself be open to them, they are opportunities to experience something unexpected and usually, strangely gracious.

. . .

I’m trying to carry some thoughts over from Advent because it feels pertinent in this season of Lent, on the way to Calvary:

You know that saying, you can really tell who somebody is in a crisis?
You can really tell at Christmas, too. That’s because Christmas,
more than any other day in the American year,
is a day when we’re all handed the same stage props.
The same tree, the presents, the meal, the relatives,
and all the same expectations.
And then we all try to create, more or less, the same kind of day.
It’s like hundreds of millions of people all set to work
doing exactly the same art project.
And not just any art project, but a very high stakes art project,
an art project everybody cares about getting right.

And in that setting, the choices people make never seem clearer.

- from Ira Glass, This American Life

All these seasons are a bit funny. For instance, Christmas is supposed to be meaningful somehow while spilling over with tradition and nostalgia but a time of heartache and grief for so many. There’s a lot of truth to what Ira Glass says about how who we are comes out even more during these holidays.

But rather than following the same script every year and succumbing to cultural pressure to buybuybuy, I think that it can be a good time to foster a spirit of flexibility and openness, and a different kind of mindfulness and posture towards the culture around us. All these seasons, especially in this new year, can be a chance to shift our hearts and spirits towards what is unexpectedly nurturing.

Especially in the midst of what seems outside of our plans and visions and lists for the day.

. . .

I wrote this at 5 am in the morning. D had been sleeping horribly and was up crying for about an hour. When I heard him finally hit the pillow and fall back asleep, I found myself completely awake. I got up. I showered. I unloaded the dishwasher and got ready for the day. And I blogged. Sometimes these kind of revelations and moments come at what seems like an inconvenient time…like in the middle of the night.

But even that’s ok. I’ll take it. I’ll take the forced stillness, and the imposed quiet, like the angel Gabriel touching my lips and silencing them in the manner of the encounter with Zechariah. Sometimes those inconveniences are God sending an angel to shut me up so I can listen and see the grace before me.

Lord, it is night.
The night is for stillness. Let us be still in the presence of God.
It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done;
what has not been done has not been done; let it be.
The night is dark.
Let our fears of the darkness of the world
and of our own lives rest in you.
The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us, all dear to us,
and all who have no peace.
The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to a new day, new joys, new possibilities.
In your name we pray.

Amen.

 –  from the Anglican Book of Prayer

Few things nurture my mothering spirit – cultivating patience, flexibility, and compassion – more than those inconveniences. Because, our life, after all, is one big inconvenience anyway.

. . .

Mihee is an ordained clergywoman in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and mom to twin babies with #3 on the way in Hoosier country, trying to keep up with college students in part-time ministry. Zealous about God and church, parenting, books, writing, snow, running, goldfish crackers (i.e. remnants from the babies’ meals), social justice, and fresh air.

She blogs regularly at First Day Walking and recently released her first book Making Paper Cranes: Toward an Asian American Feminist Theology published by Chalice Press. This reflection was originally modified from here.