an advent book club: week one {hoping}

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EverydaySacrament_quote1“…and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
(Romans 5:5)

This week we’re reading in Everyday Sacrament:

  • “Parenting Toward Possibility”
  • “The Spirit’s Flashes”
  • “To My Children, Called in Childhood”

We hear a lot about hope during Advent. It’s a season full of hope: happy hearts looking toward the gifts and gatherings of Christmas, prayers of plenty and peace singing on the radio.

Especially at the beginning of December, when we’re not yet tired of snow or stressed by shopping, it’s easy to hum along with hope. This will be a great season. This will be the best year yet.

But hope is a hard thing, isn’t it?

Infertility taught me this in spades. We hoped month after month after month that the simple dream we wanted would be ours. But we had to keep waiting much longer than we wanted. And we learned that hope was much harder to hold than we thought.

Hope is a tough stance to take towards the world, to wake up every morning with an openness and expectation that good can come, even when all evidence points towards the contrary.

Now I think hope is something entirely different from what I knew as a child, dreaming that Santa would bring my heart’s desire under the tree on Christmas morning.

Now I think hope is crazy and prophetic and impossible and nourishing. Now I think it is the only way I can live in the world as a Christian, to hope in goodness, even though it’s also the hardest thing to do as I learn more and more about the world’s brokenness and jagged imperfection.

Hope is a humbling and hard and holy gift.

. . .

Let’s chat over wine and chocolate – like any good book club!

  • What do you hope for and from this Advent season?

I hope to find some pockets of peace this Advent. Life was such a whirlwind in November, between the good work (the book coming out!) and the hard work (the child care disappearing!). All I hope from December is to carve out quiet space and time to center myself in God’s peace.

(Ok, and I also hope we find an awesome new nanny and I finish Christmas shopping before December 24th. You know, the little things.)

  • Where have you glimpsed God’s flashes of hope this week?

I’m glimpsing God’s hope in friends who are praying this month will finally bring the gift of conceiving the child they have hoped for years to welcome into their lives.

And I see God’s hope in the ways so many people I know are working hard to create a joyful Christmas for other people who are suffering deeply this year. Generous souls are hope-bearers for me.

  • What are your hopes for the children in your life this Advent?

I hope my kids enjoy the expectation of Advent and our small practices of preparing for Christmas. I hope they learn a little more about the love of the Christ Child. Mostly I hope we can keep this season simple for them.

What about you? Leave your thoughts on hope in the comments below.

. . .

And if you want to read more about hoping…

an advent book club with everyday sacrament!

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Advent is my favorite season of the liturgical year. But it’s also one of the shortest – and certainly the most stressful season in our wider culture. So it’s a perfect time to pause and reflect on the meaning of our lives and loves as we prepare to enter into the celebration of Christmas.

Everyday Sacrament Appvd 2.inddOver the four weeks of Advent at Mothering Spirit, we’ll read through a selection of (short!) chapters from Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting.

Each Monday we’ll gather to share some Scripture, reflect on a few questions, and center our thoughts for the week around an Advent theme:

  • hoping
  • longing
  • waiting
  • preparing

I hope you’ll join me to “chat” in this virtual book club each Monday in December!

(I wish I could serve you wine and dessert, too, but even the Internet has its limits. You’ll have to bring your own.)

As an added bonus, the “blog book tour” for Everyday Sacrament will run during the first two weeks of Advent, too. We’ll be visiting 7 of my favorite blogs, hosted by a gracious group of friends and wonderful writers. Reviews, interviews, giveaways, reflections of their own on the sacraments – I can’t wait!

Each day I’ll post a note letting you know where the blog tour will be heading, and I hope you’ll join us on the journey (and discover a few new blogs along the way).

Happy Advent-ing to you and yours!

If you’re wondering how we’ll be celebrating Advent this year, our kids can’t wait for the Names of Jesus Advent Chain (courtesy of Abbey at Surviving Our Blessings).

I’ll be spending time each morning with the Blessed Is She journal, thanks to the talented Jenna who leads our team of writers in creating daily devotionals to share with you. 

And my husband and I are hoping to revive our practice of praying Evening Prayer with Give Us This Day each night of Advent.

(Wish us luck with our well-paved road of good intentions, ha.)

9 weeks for 9 months: prayers for pregnancy (months 8 & 9)

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“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Galatians 5:22-23

We’re on the cusp of Advent. One of my favorite times of year to reflect on the gifts that pregnancy has brought into my life.

Now that I have been pregnant for three of the past five Decembers (!), Advent has become a sacred season for me to remember the days we found out. Advent also reminds me how my understanding of Mary has changed through the experience of expecting a baby.

Some years Advent feels frenzied. Other years it feels impossible.

But this year, the beginning of Advent offers a perfect pause to share these last two prayers for pregnancy and mediate on the place of gentleness and self-control in the life of faith. Not only when we await the birth of a child, but when we are trying to care for ourselves in the midst of all that life demands of us.

We don’t often hear a good word preached about gentleness or self-control. But Paul reminds us that they are fruits of the Spirit and proof of the presence of the Holy One.

I feel tugged towards both of these gifts this year, when the wider world feels harsh and violent, and my own world feels wildly unbalanced with all that I am juggling.

As we pass from a week of gratitude and thanksgiving into the snowy slide towards Christmas, I find myself leaning into Advent’s invitation more than ever. To set aside anxieties of “how will we get it all done?” and to pick up the peace that what can be done, will be done.

God will take care of the rest.

I pray for you this week, too. That the Spirit’s calm may quiet your heart as we take the first steps towards Advent’s gentle work of preparation.

. . .

prayers for pregnancyMonth 8: A Prayer for Gentleness

God of gentleness,

Help me to be gentle with myself
As I carry this child.
Let me tread lightly on my emotions,
My worries and fears
About birth and motherhood,
Knowing that you prepare me
To do this work.

When the days grow long
And the nights grow restless,
Remind me to care for myself
As I will care for my child:
With gentleness, love,
And compassion.

As my body begins to practice
To birth my baby,
Guide me through each contraction
With the peace of your presence,
Softly opening my heart and mind.

In gentleness I pray,

Amen.

 

Month 9: A Prayer for Self-control

God of self-control,

The final weeks
Of this long journey
Have finally arrived.
Soon the day will dawn
When I will meet my child
And a new world will begin
For both of us.

Help me to prepare myself,
Mind, body, and soul,
For the work of labor
And the wonder of birth.

Teach me to channel and control
The strength of my own self
To offer myself in sacrifice
For the child of my heart.

Let me gather my courage around me –
The power in my bones
And the peace in my heart –
To do the work of love
That a mother is called to do,
The work that you created me to do.

In self-control I pray,

Amen.

© 2014 Laura Kelly Fanucci

Prayers for all 9 months of pregnancy can be found here at the end of this series.
Please consider passing them along to an expectant mother who could use them!

start seeing sacraments: marriage & holy orders

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Every week I’ll share a few favorite images around one of the seven Catholic sacraments, to celebrate my new book: Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting.
Follow me on Instagram at @thismessygrace or tag your photos with #everydaysacrament.
Let’s start seeing sacraments together…

sacraments

Marriage + holy orders.

Aren’t they an odd couple? After all, in the Catholic tradition of the celibate priesthood, you can’t usually have both sacraments in your life (unless you’re a married deacon). Old-school illustrations of sacraments in Catholic catechisms separated these two as opposites: you either chose holy matrimony or religious life. One or the other.

But after this experiment of seeing everyday sacraments, I see these two more similarly.

Both are responses to God’s particular call in our lives. Both are commitments of love that we profess with public vows. Both are opportunities to share our gifts with the world.

So whenever I try to capture glimpses of these sacraments in images, I see them as invitations.

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To remember the vows I have made and to affirm the vows that others have taken.

To imagine where my children will be called and to support those who have already answered their calls.

To see our shared work as holy, whether we are spouses sharing the responsibilities of home or church leaders supporting the vocations of the community.

. . .

I see sacraments of marriage and holy orders in everyday reminders.

Some glimpses of these sacraments are moments to remember. We’re trying to do good work in our callings, tending to the people and the places around us.

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Some are openings to imagine. What will these children of ours become and how can we walk with them?

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And some are just fresh breaths of joy. Running headlong into this world of possibility.

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What a gift it is to be called to share our lives in loving service to others, whatever the path God beckons us to follow.

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Where have you glimpsed reminders of marriage and holy orders? What do these sacraments mean to you?

9 weeks for 9 months: prayers for pregnancy (month 7)

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“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Galatians 5:22-23

Faithfulness.

Keep showing up. Keep trying to believe. Keep your flickering flame lit as the biting winds blow harsh and hard, as the light dims and dances down to near nothing in the darkness.

Remember this when you falter (because you will falter). There is only one call at the center of it all. One still, small voice whispering to you among the noises rising and the other voices screaming louder and louder.

And that still, small voice invites you to faithfulness.

No matter what the stage of my life may be, it seems I am always being beckoned back to remember this. All the tasks on all my lists, every should I conjure into must, each day that dawns with a thousand things to be and do and achieve – they pale when faced with the brightest light of being beloved.

Which is always God’s simple, gentle offer. Abide in me. Let us bear fruit together.

. . .

Writing this prayer for the seventh month of pregnancy reminded me that faithfulness is the simple center of all our trying and hoping and waiting.

The experience of expecting a child is swollen ripe with this reminder. For all our worrying and wanting, our planning and preparing, we ultimately have to quiet our frantic quest for control into the gracious acceptance that life can never be bent according to our will. Neither our own life or our child’s.

Faithfulness is the easiest and the hardest response to whatever we want and wait for today. But it is the shape of love, too. The contours of our calling. The life that we grow into each moment that we try to deepen our faith in all that we cling to as truth.

May it be our prayer today, no matter what we are waiting for.

For the peace to accept faithfulness’ invitation. And the strength to bear its weight with joy.

. . .

month 7Month 7: A Prayer for Faithfulness

God of faithfulness,

As the third trimester begins,
So much remains to be done
To prepare for baby’s arrival.
As I busy myself
With plans for the birth
And the nursery
And our new life after baby,
Keep my heart faithful
To the one true task before me:
Welcoming this child with love.

Every day I wonder
How my life will change
Once my child is in my arms.
Help me remember that in your love
We live and move and have our being.
May I trust in this faithful promise
In the midst of all my to-dos,
My questions and concerns,
My excitement and impatience.

As the weeks draw closer
To the moment of transition,
Draw me closer to your side,
You who are ever faithful,
You who drew me from my mother’s womb,
You who carried me
From my first breath.

In faithfulness I pray,

Amen.

© 2014 Laura Kelly Fanucci

Prayers for all 9 months of pregnancy can be found here at the end of this series.
Please consider passing them along to an expectant mother who could use them!

start seeing sacraments: anointing of the sick

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Every week I’ll share a few favorite images around one of the seven Catholic sacraments, to celebrate my new book: Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting.
Follow me on Instagram at @thismessygrace or tag your photos with #everydaysacrament.
Let’s start seeing sacraments together…

sacraments

. . .

Maybe more so than reconciliation, anointing of the sick is the hardest sacrament to capture in image.

Because it is blessedly removed from my life right now.

Every day I think about the gift of three healthy children. They get runny noses, spike teething fevers, toss and turn the rare restless night with a stomach bug. But thus far their well-check visits to the pediatrician have been routine and uneventful.

So many parents I know do not take this for granted. Babies tangled in IVs in the NICU, toddlers stretched out on the surgeon’s table, kids struggling through school hallways in wheelchairs, teenagers wrapped in heaps of quilts on their deathbed. There is no promise that childhood is free from suffering.

But for me today, the everydayness of this sacrament lies in its absence. At this stage in my life – and this will not last for always, I know – I honor its sacredness only by the smallest reminders.

A stash of Tylenol and bandaids bought to share with our sister parish in Haiti, where parents are pleading for the most basic medications to help their children sick with fever. (Or worse.)

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A coffee-stained Starbucks table that welcomes those with physical handicaps and nudges me to question if my life today does the same.

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A kiss on the oven-burned finger from two big boys who came running when they heard me yelp. Mama, let me make it better. Teaching me how the power of physical touch is a blessing we grasp from our earliest days.

image

. . .

Anointing of the sick is not last rites. It’s a common misunderstanding in popular culture, lingering in Catholic circles, too. But this blessing with sacred chrism oil and prayer is not reserved for our last gasps of breath.

It’s a gift of God’s healing grace to be shared whenever we are suffering deeply – in body, mind, or spirit.

When I first started writing the chapter on anointing of the sick in Everyday Sacrament, I stalled over the fact that I’d never received this sacrament myself. If I’d only seen it celebrated from a safe and healthy distance, what could I possibly have to say about its power?

But then I realized that there are echoes of anointing’s graces in the everyday ways we help each other to heal. Every parent who has comforted a screaming child, bandaged a bleeding wound, or rushed a sick baby to the emergency room understands some traces of this sacrament.

Perhaps we practice these “first rites” at home because deep down we know that some day our children will be wounded beyond our power to heal. And we want them to remember what it first meant to be held and comforted in love. 

Today I celebrate my children’s health. And I pray that they will always know how God’s grace waits to anoint their aches and soothe their scars, even when health is no longer the safe measure of their days.

When have you seen the anointing of the sick celebrated?
What have you learned about healing at home?

the hard and the holy

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Three times I have held this moment.

A baby in my arms, round-cheeked and solemn-eyed, stretching out his chubby hand towards an ice-cold window, swirls of first snow gusting just beyond the glass.

Three times I have watched.

Pudgy fingers smudging up against the pane, leaving a breath of fogged fingerprints behind. Brow furrowing, steady eyes silently wondering what is this? Cold and hard are not the usual domain of babies, the newest ones whose softest skin we wrap in fleece blankets and cuddle with feathery kisses.

Three times I have felt this sacred hush.

What it means to introduce a child to the world outside, a world which can be hard and cold and harsh and cruel. A fleeting foretaste while still safe in mother’s arms of what it will mean for them to brave the beyond.

Three times I have welcomed this same invitation.

To remember that what is hard can also be holy.

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The book is here. The hard part should be over. The dreaming and the writing and the editing and the re-editing and the waiting are behind me. This new baby is in my hands, and it is rushing headlong into the world, too. Now all should be calm; all should be bright.

Except this is never the way it works, is it? In writing, in parenting, in life.

Right when I thought I had hit that sweet spot – of work and family and home all humming along so much better than I dared dream when I pictured life with three kids – right then was the instant something started to unravel.

The child care set-up that was steady and smooth? Now yanked out from under us. We’re scrambling to re-calibrate, and everything is up in the whirling air.

How to juggle all these callings. How to handle all the good work we’ve been given to do. How to be the partners and the parents we’ve promised to be.

All will be well, Julian of Norwich reminds me, in that nagging, knowing truth of the long view. And I believe this. But in the short term? All ain’t great.

It’s far from the end of the world, but it’s the complicating of our small world as it spins today. Stress sneaks back in; what’s nicely knit unravels; we run on fumes and we run down. I know we will be fine; we’ve been here before and we’ve come through. But still.

This is still hard.

And this is still holy.

image

The lesson each baby teaches me, dimpled knuckles banging at snow-streaked window, is that life is always juxtaposed in tensions: soft meets hard, warm meets cold, safe meets scary.

These edges press up against each other all the time, but we lull ourselves into thinking we are confidently on the safe side of calm and control. Instead there is hard, and God is here, too.

So there is holy.

I cannot – will not – say that all that is difficult is divine. There is evil, injustice, abuse, and deceit that cannot be baptized by any best perspective.

But among the few stones of hard truth I have collected about God in the few decades I have been seeking, I know this: God is present.

When it seems it cannot be so, when we ourselves cannot see it, when the whole maddening crowd screams otherwise. God is present.

So whenever there is that too-familiar twisting crunch – of time, of nerves, of expectation, of budget, of hope, of health, of heart – I try to breathe some peace into the space between. To remember how the hard and the holy meet.

To turn over and over in my mind this silent memory of first snow: of each quiet, curious baby perched in my arms, peering out into a world of white, a stark new landscape that covers in strange drifts what was once known.

To see what their fresh eyes see, to feel what their smooth fingers feel, and to trust what their calm wonder trusts. That they are still held.

That we are, too.