how to prepare for a birth day

There’s the hospital bag, of course. Pre-registration paperwork. The Kegels you’re supposed to be practicing ten times a day. Delivery room playlist on the iPod. Deep breathing exercises. Child care arrangements for your other kids. Out-of-office email reply waiting and set to maternity leave.

But does any of that really prepare you for labor and birth?

Maybe I’m lazier this time around. (Ok, assuredly I’m lazier this time around.) But I can’t bring myself to motivate for so many pre-baby preparations that have typically consumed my thoughts by this point in previous pregnancies: cleaning and nesting, stockpiling frozen meals, setting up the baby gear, washing tiny onesies and newborn diapers.

Now whenever I get a free minute? I mostly want to sleep.

And instead of pouring over childbirth preparation books or crafting the perfect birth plan to hand to the nurses upon arrival at the hospital, I find myself shrugging whenever I think about Delivery-Day. It will come, it will be unexpected, it will be hard. And then it will be over and our baby will be here.

But just as I might have missed the opportunity for deeper reflection upon birth’s meaning the first time around when I was nothing but scared, I don’t want to miss the chance to explore the spiritual side of this huge transition simply because it’s my third time through.

Whether unknown or known, childbirth is a defining moment of a mother’s life. And I believe it is one of the “thin places” between heaven and earth.

So I’m wondering how to ready myself this time. How prayer can be part of the pain. How meditation can be part of my mindfulness. How each contraction can remind me that Christ is within me and beside me and before me.

I’ve already gathered a trinity of prayers for labor and birth. But as Lent surrounds me in the last months before baby arrives, I also find myself thinking about simplicity and surrender. How to let go of any lingering expectations and free myself to enter into whatever God has prepared.


In my latest piece for Catholic Mom, I wrote about the journey from feeling terrified at the prospect of birth to finding peace in what will be a painful but powerful day of discovery:

I’m starting to see the spiritual side of birth in ways that I never would have dreamed when I headed to Labor & Delivery for the first time. Birth as beginning, birth as sacrifice, birth as rite of passage – God is intimately wrapped up in all these ways we understand this work that women do to bring life into the world.

Being intentional about this process – a sort of sacramental preparation – has helped me to bring hope, not fear, to the prospect of bringing another baby into the world.

Lots of ink gets spilled in parenting manuals and glossy magazines about birth plans, birth preparations, even identifying your health care provider’s “birth philosophy.” But approaching a spirituality of birth invites those of us who carry new life within us – as well as those who love and care for us – to view this work as prayer and to place our trust in God who accompanies us from the first contraction to the final push.

Read the rest at

And next week I’ll have the chance to enter intentionally into this deeper reflection, thanks to Peg Conway’s retreat on the spirituality of birth. Nell of Whole Parenting Family and I conspired to bring Peg to the Twin Cities (since both of us are now expecting #3!), and I can’t wait for this afternoon of exploring the prayerful parts of this sacred journey.

If you’re local and want to join us, please find more information on Facebook or at Enlightened Mama in St. Paul, MN, where the retreat will be held. And if you’re too far away to spend Saturday, March 22nd, with us, check out Peg’s wonderful book – Embodying the Sacred: A Spiritual Preparation for Birth.

the sweet aggravation of teaching kids to pray

Have you ever noticed that young children’s timing is absolutely perfect – for them and only them?

Case in point: they only want to put on their own shoes/coat/mittens when we’re already running 10 minutes late.

See also: they realize they are, in fact, capable of recognizing their own need for the potty when we’re in the middle of driving/dinner/Target/bedtime/church.

Otherwise known as: their internal clocks continue to rouse them right on time, regardless of what daylight savings says.

This phenomenon takes on particular irony for those of us with theological training when it comes to prayer. img_3001

Case in point: my toddler now makes a pitiful plea for his bedtime prayer routine to PLEASE be repeated at naptime (when I used to get away with only a quick story-and-song before skipping out the door for blessed quiet to myself).

See also: the mornings we’re rushing to get out the door to school are the ONLY days that my boys ever insist on saying grace, rather than having me instigate the burdening of their every mealtime with my unbearable requests for them to give God thanks.

Otherwise known as: my preschooler inevitably makes his charming request for “meditation AND a Psalm AND OurFatherandHailMary” on the nights when their shrieking bathtime splash-fest soaks up every last precious ounce of energy and all I want to do is rush through bedtime to collapse on the couch.

Every time, the tired/selfish/cop-out words almost trip tempting off my tongue: no, we don’t do prayer at naptime! no, we don’t have time for grace this morning! no, I am too tired to do meditation!

But inevitably, something stops me - whether that stubborn MDiv, or the years I’ve spent trying to develop my own prayer life, or plain old-fashioned nagging Catholic guilt. Whatever it is, I catch the words and cough them back down my throat and try to ignore the clock/exhaustion/aggravation. Deep breath, refocus, slow down.

Of course we can pray. Even now.

I won’t saintly sugarcoat it to say I’m always glad we do. Sometimes I would still rather have gotten out the door 2 minutes earlier or collapsed on the couch 10 minutes sooner. But beyond any momentary annoyance, I’m always reminded where I want the long arc of our family life to bend: towards prayer, towards peaceful rhythms, towards the God who pulls us back together.

Tonight I’m posting about our bedtime psalm-praying at Practicing Families. My oldest and I started praying this way a long time ago, and I have come to love how meaningful this simple, slowing, centering line of Scripture becomes for both of us.

(Even on the evenings I’m fairly itching to close the bedroom door behind me and be done for the day.)

Every night as we go, no matter how antsy I am for bedtime to be done and my few precious hours sans-kids to begin, I always find that one phrase will inevitably catch me and do just what the psalmist says: slow me down and remind me that God is God.

Be still.

Make no mistake about it: he wiggles and giggles the whole way through. Months and months of reciting the ancient centering prayer has not magically transformer my preschooler into a patient monk.

But he knows the words by heart, forward and back, inside and out. The Sunday we sang the same psalm at church and his eyes shot up, astonished that everyone else knew his prayer, too? That was one of the rare moments I tucked away to remember for always.

These words have become so close to him, already in his mouth and in his heart. Now all he has to do is learn how to live them.

All I can tell him is that it takes a lifetime.

Read the rest at Practicing Families

When and how do you love to pray with the kids in your life? (Even if it sometimes drives you crazy, too?)

a mother’s prayer for ash wednesday


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.


carry the load

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.

the house is a mess; come on in

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.

my own prayer for frustrated catholics

With gratitude for Fr. James Martin’s inspiration:

Dear God,

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.


praying the particulars: parenting a talkative child

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

praying the particulars: nursing an older baby

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

praying the particulars: wrangling children at church

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 miss every word of the readings (again) because I was fishing books out of the diaper bag, let me not brood about what I lost but notice the small service I gave to the least among us.

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

praying the particulars: moving to a new house

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.

Sit with us as we say goodbye to our home: as we take down pictures from walls thick with memories and look wistfully on apple trees we planted that we’ll never see bear fruit.

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