God of Ash Wednesday, whose hands first gathered dust to create us, whose Spirit breathed new life into brittle bones, whose fingers traced the sand to save a sinner, take the dirt of my life - the tempers lost, the doors slammed, the complaints muttered, the harsh words thrown, the dark doubts seethed - take all these flaws and failings and burn them blazing in the fire of forgiveness. Gather the dust that lingers, the ashes streaked across your healing hands, and trace the ancient cross once again across my forehead. Press its humbling love deep into my mind and heart, let it sink into my soul reminding me that life is fleeting as the dark grey dust. And when I see the same stark sign of sin and death marked on the soft faces of my children, let me breathe in the beauty of now, this present we have together, this gift of a life shared no matter how dark or dry it sometimes seems. Let the touch of another's hand on my bowed head remind me of resurrection, of hope and promise that we are mere dust and yet more - beloved in your eyes, our chins cupped in your hands with a parent's loving touch, our faces traced by the same fingers that forever bear the prints of every ashen life they touch. Amen.
Laundry round here is eternal.
Diapers, dirty dishclothes, daily heaps of socks and shirts and pants and bibs and towels. It piles up in towering heaps overnight, and just when I slam the dryer door shut with a satisfying thwack and declare it tackled, I turn to find my boys covered in marker or yogurt or (worst) mysterious unknowns.
I sigh, strip them down, fill the tired barrel of the washer once more, and set it again to spin.
Laundry without ceasing.
. . .
I have a handful of friends who are pregnant, most of them expecting number three or four, none of them amateurs at gestation but all of their hands and hearts already full to the brimming. I’ve promised them prayers, dip into their days with a quick email to inquire how they’re doing, but it never feels enough, not when I know how dark and depressing and downright overwhelming the burden of bearing baby can be. I wonder what more I can do, especially for the far-flung friends, the dear ones far across the country that I can’t surprise with a casserole and a hug and a how are you really doing?
What can any of us do to help carry the load?
Of course it’s prayer, I know that’s the answer, but it seems so small and trite sometimes. An easy promise to hold up, to keep in mind, to whisper good thoughts and happy hopes to smooth the way. I’m still learning, slowly, stumblingly, what I believe about prayer, but I’m quite sure it’s nothing like the power of positive thinking or the secret that stops the universe to grant my heart’s desire. If prayer is about bending myself to the way of Christ, allowing myself to be changed, humbling myself back into the heart of the divine, what does it mean to carry other’s intentions with me as I go?
I’m still not sure.
But I do know one thing: prayer reminds. Even when it may not help or heal, it reminds.
. . .
I pause from the pile of laundry to read a favorite blog, clicking through the pages as I ignore the clothes around me on the couch, half stacked in neat piles of designated owner, half still strewn in a messy dump from the dryer. When I stumble upon the simple post about praxis of prayer, a tangible mindfulness of uniting intention with the everyday, the idea falls into my lap like a soft jumble of small socks:
I’ll carry my laundry for them.
How many times a day do I bend to grab the plastic handles of the bulky baskets, lug them up and down stairs, stagger them around corners, fill them to the back-breaking brim? How many times a day could I easily remember those expecting, each one of my friends who carry something much weightier and more wonderful than even clean laundry? What difference might it make – for them, for me – if I slowed to remember when I stooped to carry again?
The more I muse, the more laundry I fold, the more it seems right. This is how prayer becomes incarnate: in everyday actions.
. . .
Laundry seems endless in these early years: the late-night laundry, the soaked and stained laundry, the kid clothes and grown-up clothes all tumbling together in the dryer. Pregnancy can feel like that, too: endless and oh-so-bodily. Good work, necessary work, but so tiring, so cumbersome, so overwhelming.
I remember at the end of my pregnancies when my husband rushed to grab the basket out of my hands before I lugged it up or down the stairs, balanced on my basketball of a belly. Let me help! he’d say with exasperation. Let me carry that – you’ve already got enough.
I’d laugh to myself (what did he think I did while he was gone all day?) but without protest I let him help. Let him carry the load. Let myself rest for a moment and remember how much I was already carrying.
Maybe prayer’s like that, too: a willingness to carry and be carried.
To learn when to remember and when to rest in each other’s arms.
Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…
Christ, I’d be impressed if you made it past the driveway.
Cracks lined with weeds. Untrimmed hedges. A half-mowed lawn. Plastic children’s toys abandoned to bleach in the sun in that tacky way I swore I’d never let happen in my yard.
And if you did brave the front door, what would you greet you in the entry as you wiped your sandals on the mat?
A towering stack of unpacked boxes. (Yes, we moved in four months ago.) Two heaping laundry baskets, unsorted and unwashed. Three abandoned, unmatched shoes. Four weeks’ worth of Sunday papers, unread and unrecycled.
And me, standing sheepishly to the side, always apologizing for what’s undone.
…but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.
Help me to breathe into what’s most important – that we who live here care about things like words and soul and healing.
Remind me that I’m called to keep up with Jesus, not the Joneses. That my work is to make a home, not a house. A home that will always be more messy than magazine.
Help me to see people unfolding and not projects undone. Help me to set aside ego and externals and endless to-do lists. Help me to embrace humility always and hospitality anyway. Help me to make a Christ room in my house and my heart.
And especially this week, as my partner in parenting leaves home to work on the other side of the globe, this week when all the child care and cooking and cleaning are left to me, help my work to be full of word and soul and healing. Full of you.
You, Lord, whose home was always full of people interrupting your work (even ripping off your roof to get inside),
who got exasperated with your family at times (and even lost your temper),
who understood how tempting it would always be for the world to seduce (and not the Word to sink in),
help me to seek and find you here. At home.
With dirty dishes in the sink and dog hair on the couch and Duplos all over the floor.
With gratitude for Fr. James Martin’s inspiration:
Sometimes I, too, get so frustrated with your church.
So much I love, so much I hold as true. But so much I struggle to understand.
I look into the bright eyes of my children, so young and trusting. I wonder what questions they will ask about our church. I wonder if they will see my staying as hypocritical. I wonder if they will choose to leave when times get tough.
I want to lead them into a life of faith, but sometimes the road seems so dark. Storm clouds are swirling above, and my light flickers so small below.
When I hear news that disheartens, help me not to despair. Let me remember that we have been struggling from the beginning with blindness and brokenness. But Your Spirit has always been blowing among us, strong and steady. Perk my ears to that small, still sound of hope.
When I’m tempted to shove those who disagree with me into neat boxes with easy labels, help me to look beyond divisions. To see Your face in each of theirs. To learn from the challenges they pose to my faith.
When friends tell me they’ve had enough – that they feel battered and bruised enough to leave – widen my heart to hold their hurt. Bend all our winding paths to you, no matter how far they roam. Remind us that You have always been bigger than our imagination and institutions.
And when I’m tempted to draw the line in the sand, to shout with tears in my eyes that if they push me one step farther I will leave too, pull me even closer to You and whisper words of peace. Remind me that You sent the life You loved most into this world – Your child – to preach peace and forgiveness and radical love. All of which is still vibrant and humming in Your church, no matter how far flung in corners it sometimes seems.
God of light, many people I love are calling this a dark time for the church. The pain on their faces, the anger in their voices, the sadness in their hearts – I share it, too. But I refuse to let go of my stubborn faith in resurrection. I refuse to leave a community that has been full of sinners from the beginning. I refuse to believe that I have it figured out on my own.
God of truth, I am deeply grateful for what this church has taught me. To defend life from its beginning. To work for justice for all. To celebrate sacramental moments. To find You in word and prayer and community and the poor.
When I think of all the gifts your church has given me, I am overwhelmed with love. But when I think of all the ways your church continues to fall short of striving towards Your kingdom, I am overwhelmed with sadness.
When I doubt, help my unbelief.
When I feel alone in my struggles, let me strengthened by all who came before me, who claimed the name of Catholic with fierce and faithful hearts.
And when I worry about how to raise my children, let the memory of their baptisms run deep in my heart. Let the echo of promises, the splash of water, the smear of oil and the spark of light remind me that a whole communion of saints promised to help me on this journey.
When I was younger and people would ask me how I could call myself Catholic in the face of scandals and failures and deep, deep sin, I would respond that I loved Your church like I loved any person in my life – as flawed and broken but beautiful and full of grace.
Now that I am a mother, I think perhaps I’m called to love Your church like my child. Not in a condescending way, but with eyes that see all its potential and promise. With a stubborn heart that loves despite the difficulties. With patience that forgives failure and never gives up on hope.
Help me, God. And help Your church.
Don’t give up on us, and don’t let us give up on each other.
A Prayer for Parenting a Talkative Child:
God of the Word,
This child never stops speaking. I cannot even hear myself think.
From sun-up to sun-down, he’s trying to figure out his world through words. Constant questions, endless repetition; the same books, the same songs. He wonders every blessed thought aloud, and I become his de facto audience. Or his spelling mentor. Or his number guru.
But too often I tune out and turn away, thinking radio’s music more beautiful or voices on the news more important. I long for adult conversation; I pass over the innocent wonder of a child’s chatter.
Help me to listen, really listen. To bend the ear of my heart to his needs, his wonders, his wants. Let me value his voice like you value mine: unique, worthy, loved.
When my mind spins too busy to hear, quiet my heart to a slower rhythm. When my ears grow tired, let me listen with your own. When my lips slip to let a harsh word pass, let me whisper forgiveness in his small, sweet ear.
And when morning’s bright chirps unravel into evening’s grating whine, let me remember the days when I longed to hear any sound of children bounce off these walls.
God of Scripture and song, you find me in words and I find you there, too. When your Word reminds me to ask and it will be given, to cry out when I am in need, to shout praise and sing thanks – all your words ring true to a toddler as to his mother. He is full of questions. And so am I.
Thank you for his words, his wonder, his life. Which has filled my own to the brim, spilling over with shouts and giggles, yells and cries, questions and challenges.
May he never stop speaking, asking why, or wondering aloud.
May I always keep my life open enough to listen.
May we both bring our words to you in prayer.
With ringing ears and spinning mind,
A tired, talked-at mama
A Prayer for Nursing An Older Baby:
God of nurturing love,
Trying to nurse this squirmy worm of a growing baby has become a daily wrestling match.
Each time we snuggle into the rocking chair together, I grow frustrated with how quick he is to push away, holler in protest, lunge towards anything more interesting than his mother. Long-gone are the sleepy newborn days when he would curl contentedly in my lap. As he begins to crawl, the world is his to explore; he can’t scoot out of my arms quick enough for his curiosity.
Help me to give of myself with love and patience.
Turn my eyes from the clock to my child, from my chronos schedule to your kairos moment. Let me rejoice in his eagerness; let me celebrate his growing. So many adventures await him – let my love for him be a reflection of your great love for us, steady and faithful no matter how far and wide we roam.
Thank you for the gift of nursing him. When my frustrations grow high and my temper grows short, let me remember mothers who wanted to nurse but couldn’t, or who feel guilty because they never tried, or who persevere through painful complications. Transform our anxieties into assurance that every mother’s gift of self is life-giving, sacrificial, enough.
God of goodness, each day you offer everything I need: love, patience, forgiveness. Each day I push away from your embrace in search of what seems more pressing, interesting, important. Help me, too, to rest in your love, to drink in what I need most, to be grateful for the simple ways you sustain my life.
In patience and humor, I pray –
An exasperated mama
A Prayer for Wrangling Small Children at Church:
God of infinite patience,
Help me not to lose my mind at Mass today.
When my son falls off the kneeler for the umpteenth time and howls at me indignantly, let me not say I told you so! but I love you.
When the baby gets so fussy during the homily that no one within six pews can hear the priest, let me not sigh with irritation but distract him with smiles.
When I spend communion time pacing the floor of the gathering space, or trying in vain to nurse the baby in a corner of the cry room, or taking the toddler to the potty for the tenth time, help me to see that this is Eucharist, too – the gift of self in love.
When that older couple behind us, the ones I worried about the whole time – that we were annoying them and distracting their prayer and giving them reason to think the future church is going to hell in a handbasket – when they tap me on the shoulder after the final song and tell me we have a beautiful family, help me believe them. And even thank them graciously.
And when we’re tempted to skip Mass next Sunday because it’s just so hard in this crazy season of life, and it throws off nap schedules for the rest of the day, and what are we getting out of it anyway, let me remember the importance of coming. Because children are part of the Body of Christ. Because I need community and they need me. Because much of what is important about parenting isn’t easy anyway.
God, you promised that wherever two or three are gathered in your name, you are in their midst. That means our pew, too. The one covered with spit-up that two boys are trying to climb over.
Bless my hyper, healthy kids. Bless our diverse, dynamic church. Thank you for the weekly reminder of what matters most.
With gritted teeth behind that laughing smile,
A mama in the third row
A Prayer for Moving With Young Children
God who is unchanging through our changes,
Be our companion through this transition of moving to a new house.
More stressful than we planned, more exciting than we realize, this move is pure chaos – but precisely what you use to bring forth new life.
Help us remember that you are the source of all blessings: those that fit in boxes and those that are too big to pack. Thank you for the friends and family who gathered round our table, the babies who filled the bedrooms, the nights of laughter that echoed through the halls.
When the packing and unpacking, the moving and the hauling become too much, help us to slow down and savor a moment of goodness in the midst of hard work. Forgive us our short tempers and cross words. Teach us to ask for help when we need it.
And let us not forget a sense of humor as we try to accomplish anything with crawling baby and curious toddler underfoot.
Bless the young couple who will next make this house their own. May they enjoy its gifts and embrace its quirks. May they grow in love for each other within its walls. May our nostalgia at leaving be surpassed by their joy at arriving. (And please, may they not dig up all those lovely bulbs in the yard!)
Guide us as we begin to create a new home for our family. As we paint the walls, dig up the garden, and unpack endless boxes, help us to celebrate the possibilities in front of us. Open our eyes to take the long view, worrying less about how we will get it all done and imagining more the memories we will create in a new space.
God, time and time again you have led your people – from homeland to far-off shores, from known to unknown, from darkness to light. Let me trust that you lead us still, that you open the way before us.
In peace and hope and promise, I pray –
A frazzled moving mama
I’m willing to bet that M.D. mamas secretly troll Dr. Google for quick answers to questions about mysterious rashes and childhood ailments.
So I’ll admit that one late night recently found me googling “prayer for stressed-out mother.” (Tsk, tsk – such a poor pastoral response for a mother with a MDiv!) Yet my need was great, my desire to pray was strong, and my ability to form thoughts into words was positively shot. And despite stacks of theological volumes around me, I came up empty-handed for a prayer that spoke to my heart.
I needed someone else’s words.
While I didn’t find exactly what my Google search sought, I was delighted to uncover a treasure I’d never found before – a collection of prayers for mothers from Creighton University’s Online Ministries.
The prayer for working mothers touched my heart (and made me chuckle), but I found myself pausing at prayers that didn’t speak to my life situation. The prayer for a mother with Alzheimer’s is heart-wrenching, as is the beautiful prayer for a mother whose children are no longer at home.
What I appreciate most about these prayers is their particularity. They don’t lump experiences of motherhood into one quick blessing. Instead, each one lifts up a unique aspect of mothering. Far from closing the window to those whose lives don’t match the situation described, the sharpened focus allows prayer to reflect in many directions, like a prism’s light.
Every day perfect strangers find my blog in search of prayer. I see the words that bring them here: prayers for pregnancy, prayers for anxiety and parenting, prayers for childbirth. Sometimes I see desperate words: prayers for unexpected pregnancy, prayers for depression. I wonder if they find anything here that speaks to their need; I wonder if I could do something more to help.
But all I can do is pray my own prayers. From the particular perspective of my life, my questions, my circumstances. And yet finding those prayers for mothering that spoke about Alzheimer’s and adoption and all sorts of situations that don’t reflect my own, I realized the merits of praying the particulars: even if they are not my words, someone else’s story can shed light on my own understanding of the divine.
So I’ve started scribbling down some prayers. Prayers for particular situations that are challenging for my parenting these days. Perhaps they’ll ring true to your struggles. Or perhaps they won’t, but they’ll remind you of someone else. Or another season in your life. Or they’ll simply reflect God’s light through a part of the prism you never noticed before.
What I really hope they’ll do is inspire you to pray the particulars of your own life. Because as interesting as someone else’s words may be, the Word of God inspires each of us to speak words of our own.
So if you’re wondering just why I’ve been so stressed out lately, check back tomorrow for the first in this series. (Here’s a hint: we’re eating lots of pizza for dinner and should have bought stock in Home Depot.) Maybe by the end of the week you’ll have your own particular prayer to share, too…
What part of parenting is challenging for you this week?
Yesterday was supposed to be a lovely little family celebration.
The second anniversary of S’s baptism, it was supposed to set the tone for baptism celebrations to come. A special meal, a special prayer, a special candle lit on the dinner table.
And considering this blog gets hits every single day from people searching for baptism anniversary prayers, it certainly should have received at least as much attention as last year.
But then yesterday became One Of Those Days. In which the dog had two (yes, TWO) seizures on top of an already crazy morning. I spent most of the day cleaning bodily fluids off of children, floors, self, and dog. Not a shining star Tuesday in my book.
As the special meal went uncooked and the special candle stayed tucked away in the cupboard, I let myself get mopey. Some mothering spirit I was proving to be.
But then F came home with the kind of news that turns even a mopey, cruddy day on its head. The kind of news that involves good friends and scary surgeries and the ICU. The kind of news that reminds you that safe deliveries and healthy mamas are nothing to take for granted. The kind of news that, in F’s words, is every husband’s nightmare.
I stopped moping about the baptism dinner right then and there. It did not matter one bit.
What did matter was the beautiful, beaming, healthy, happy two year-old who spent the day belting out AH-YAY-YOO-YAH at the top of his lungs because “Alleluia from church” is now his favorite song.
What did matter was the beautiful, starting-to-beam, healthy, happy baby who spent the day nursing in my arms, while just miles away another mother couldn’t even hold her newborn, let alone nurse.
What did matter was that I was healthy enough to drag the whole motley crew out of the house for a long walk in gorgeous fall sunshine.
So in case you, like me, needed a reminder today that life is too short to spend time whining about our own small worries, please go here and read this story and prayer that I serendipitously stumbled across last night. And then go hug your babies even tighter.
Because although every morning’s news brings piles of reasons why we should not take one single day of this life for granted, we seem to need reminders over and over again.
At least I do.