the forgotten days of holy week

Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. How easily we pass over them, eyes set eagerly on Easter Sunday. Or anticipating Thursday’s opening of the Triduum.

Our first half of Holy Week probably looks a lot like yours. Work. School. Kids. Meetings. Chores. Bills. The lackluster pregame show before the big kickoff. The forgettable prelude before the fanfare. The ordinary before the extraordinary. 

But the church’s calendar claims these three are holy, too.

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The earliest days of the holiest week are in-between: not quite Lent, not quite Easter. It is a time of anticipating what is right around the corner, practically within reach. We are almost there.

The Main Event looms large on the horizon. All signs point toward its arrival, but the journey here has been so long – can it really be coming?

Ahead of us lies both pain and joy, suffering and peace. How can we possibly prepare for all that? How can we hold all this tension at once?

These are the last days. They matter.

Soon we will remember how everything changes.

. . .

The end of the third trimester is a strange part of pregnancy. The eagerness of almost, the frustration of not-yet.

Like Holy Week’s emotional extremes, this time swings wildly: something to celebrate, something to endure, something to savor, something to push through. Both quiet and flurry, both calm and storm. Each day adding to our anticipation.

My mental countdown clicks steadily. Five more midwife appointments. Five more prenatal yoga classes. Five more weeks to finish all those pressing work projects.

Each Saturday the nesting instinct kicks in with greater intensity. Scribbled To Do Before Baby! list in hand, I clean out closets and drawers, watch the boys build the crib with their father, wash baby blankets and fold diapers in neat stacks.

Ready and waiting.

Every friend and stranger I meet asks how much longer I have left. Around us bubble joy and anticipation. A growing readiness to be done. An impatience to discover what (and who!) comes next.

I wonder. Have I done enough? Yes. And no. Like Lent, this journey of expectation is always bigger than me, beyond my personal penances, my tries and fails, my awareness of my own limits. I am carried by forces greater than my own.

And a calendar that presses ever onward, oblivious to the emotions with which I fill the hours.

. . .

I wonder how to honor this time rather than race too fast towards the end goal. How to see the holiness of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in turn.

I love Thursday, I lean into Friday, I learn from Saturday, I leap into Sunday. But right now are the days before. The days that ask me to pause.

These neglected early days of Holy Week are a different kind of preparation from the Lent that preceded. More immediate. Here and not-here. Upon us, yet still beyond our grasp. The mystery of the middle time, when we think we know what awaits us (all the Easters have we been through before), when we remember that we can always be surprised (each year bringing its own gifts).

Do I remember to reverence these almost-days, these overlooked ordinaries?

The Celts spoke of thin places, spaces and moments when heaven and earth seem to touch, only the slightest trace separating their realities. Perhaps Holy Week is a small hole through which we peer into the deepest mysteries of the life of God. We could never understand all that it contains. But each year we might nudge a little closer, if we try, to imagine what its truth might mean for our lives.

I watch and wait in this almost-time. It could be long weeks till everything changes; it could be mere days. But God is here, too.

And it is not only Easter morning which makes it so. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. All the ordinary days matter, too.

morbid? motherhood & mortality

“Mommy, I don’t want to die.”

His big blue eyes stare up at me, full of – what? Worry? Seriousness? Wonder?

We’ve been revisiting this conversation for months, variations on a theme: Mommy, I don’t want to go to be with God. Mommy, I want to live to be 100. Mommy, I don’t want you to die.

He hasn’t yet brushed with death, not in the aching loss of one he loves. But he’s a curious child, and his love of numbers and wonder about God swirl together to stir up questions of how old God is and how old people can be.

All of which added up in his head to a budding realization of finitude in the face of the infinite.

What do I say? Blunder through the typical lines about how I hope he’ll have a long life, and then when his life is done, he’ll get to go be with God in a new way, and God loves him even more than any person ever could, so wouldn’t that be amazing?

Except, of course, it’s all strange and skeptical enough to make wise adults anxious.

So why would any precocious preschooler accept it at face value either?

. . .

Every year on my birthday, I find myself genuinely astonished to still be here.

I only realized in the past few years that most people don’t share this stark sense of mortality, not at the tender age of thirty-something anyway. And while I wouldn’t say that I wake each morning eager to stare my own death in the face, whenever I think about the length of my life I only see so far ahead of me.

So each March I honestly marvel at how I’ve been blessed to have these many years to my name.

You can analyze it easily as any armchair therapist. My older brother died of cancer when I was 10, so I grew up living with death and loss and grief in a way that many children do not. All of that made me who I am, shaped my faith and my worldview in unmistakable ways, here endeth the college admissions essay.

But now as a mother to young ones waking up to the strange and sad ways the world works, I wonder what I should pass on to them from my own sense of mortality and what I might need to set aside.

Keeping death daily before our eyes is St. Benedict’s healthy advice to his brothers, but how helpful is this for preschoolers?

Mystery is good. Morbidity is not.

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So we talk about not being afraid of death, because it is part of life. We talk about the love that is waiting for us in whatever comes next, because it is full of God who is love.

We talk about how some people might live to be almost 100 like Great-Grandpa, and how some people might only live to be 21 like Uncle Jay. We talk about how we can’t know everything that God knows or make everything happen in the way we would like. But we can trust that God will take care of us.

Is that enough? For now, perhaps. If my wee ones continue to be blessed with a childhood free from trauma or loss, unlike so many children in the world.

But if they are not – if death or sickness or suffering enter into this home as an unwelcome guest, the darkest thoughts that only the thin, lonely hours before dawn tempt me to imagine – will any of that make sense? Or sustain them?

Motherhood is supposed to be about life: its nurturing and nourishing. But is there a place for death in this daily work and love, too?

. . .

Lent is a grateful time to practice all this death-talk, all this suffering-preparation, of course.

In small ways we choose to die to our own whims and wants, setting our sights on the deeper growth that comes from drawing further from our fears and nearer to God.

As with our own short lives, we know that death lies at the end of this liturgical journey, too. There it is on the calendar, Good Friday in all its starkness: church stripped bare, silence echoing in an empty tabernacle.

But beyond this loss lies a truth equally baffling to comprehend: an Easter reversal of everything we thought we knew, a game-changer of existential expectation, a flip-side resurrection of death itself.

Every day we are walking towards Friday’s death-as-we-fear-it. But we also edge towards Sunday’s life-as-we-dare-to-dream-it.

And children are a part of this journey, too.

This is my favorite part of Ash Wednesday. That for once we don’t banish babies to the nursery or preschoolers to the Sunday School classroom. We all walk up together, regardless of age or status, and someone smears dark grey ash on every forehead and tells us that from dust we have come and to dust we will return.

Every tiny curl of a newborn, every wide-eyed toddler, every curious kindergartner – their mortality stares us smack in the face, too. Tiny crosses of truth on softest skin.

Maybe this is part of Lent’s gift. Reminding us that these beautiful beginnings of youth are part of our shared journey toward death.

Be not afraid.

. . .

I started this post several weeks ago and haven’t known how to finish it.

Because there isn’t an easy ending, of course. There are no pat answers when it comes to talking about death. So many of the rote responses and tired clichés we use to wrestle our arms around such a vast and thorny subject are just that – rote and tired.

Theologically unsound, pastorally maddening.

As in so many dark corners of this strange land called motherhood, I find myself flinging wide my arms and releasing my fears, partly in hope, partly in despair.

I do not have the answers, and the questions will only become more complicated.

All I am learning to do is letting my babies go, day by day, into the arms of God who is love.

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.

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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 CatholicMom.com

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.

how to live lent as a pregnant mother

Lenten Approach #1 (aka The First-Time Mother):

Step 1: Read everything you can to prepare. Stock up on all the experts’ manuals. Consult all the conflicting schools of thought. Aim to stack at least five sizable books on your nightstand.

Step 2: Consult everyone you know for their advice. When in doubt, turn to the Internet. Start a Pinterest board for inspiration. Post Facebook statuses asking for suggestions. Email every trusted friend to find out what worked for them.

Step 3: Chart daily progress. Check off each to-do. Secretly compare your progress with others. Start to feel guilty. Worry that you’re doing this all wrong. Entertain temptations of giving up.

Lenten Approach #2 (aka The Second-Time-Around Mother):

Step 1: Check the calendar to confirm that weeks are indeed flying by. Resolve to do something to prepare.

Step 2: Dig out something that worked last time. Try to remember what you liked about it. Decide to use it again anyway.

Step 3: Marvel at how the same book/technique/discipline/philosophy that worked before now produces an entirely different result. Start to let go.

Lenten Approach #3 (aka The Too-Tired-Third-Time Mother):

Step 1: Find yourself shocked to be on the threshold and utterly unprepared.

Step 2: Sigh. Shrug. Sit back.

Step 3: Jump once again into the unknown. Trust that things will work out. Rejoice when they do. Forgive yourself when they don’t. Embrace the unexpected.

. . .

Throughout my life I’ve had all three of these Lents (regardless of gestational status). Maybe you have, too.

The Lents I swore I’d fast like a fanatic and pray like a pro and give like a saint. The Lents I scrambled to remember what worked so well in the past. The Lents when life was already complicated and I didn’t need to go searching for spiritual challenge.

Each one brings its own promises and pitfalls. Each one depends an awareness of the season’s gifts. Each one opens a door of invitation to draw closer to God.

What will this Lent be for you?

Six weeks start here. I still haven’t “decided what I’m doing,” as we say in our Catholic circles. What to fast from. What to pray for. What to give alms to.

Plenty of ideas swim round my mind; good intentions crowd my thoughts. But this year I’m feeling called towards the unknowing. It’s fine to have a Lent that clamors for no contest or competition.

Living as a pregnant mom brings plenty of opportunity for discipline and self-denial. Counting down the weeks till a new baby joins our family makes preparation a daily practice. And looking ahead to a time of great change means that I’m already turning inward to ask God where I will be led.

Lent feels like it’s been here for a while. The question is how I go deeper.

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By the time Easter Sunday arrives, I’ll be 4 short weeks from my due date.

I could choose to go Route #1: read a bunch of books to remember what birth and babies are like; email every friend I know with 3+ kids to ask how they do it; make a detailed to-do list of everything we have to finish before baby arrives.

Or I could choose to go Route #2: mentally nag myself to start getting ready; paw through boxes of baby books and gear to figure out what we did before; ignore my midwives’ advice that this time around will likely be completely different from the last.

Or I could choose to go Route #3. Remember that labor – and Lent – come whether we are ready or not. Remember that the more I wrestle, the harder both will be. Remember that the joy and peace and beauty that are God can never be contained by my own control.

How to live Lent as a pregnant mother? Probably the same way we’re all called to live it.

According to the ashes in our life this year. Towards our hope of what an empty tomb might mean.

epiphany

epiph-a-ny : a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something

It was supposed to be a practice session. She’d gone through the healing touch training and wanted to try out what she learned. I’d been sick for weeks, and she offered to come over one night, hoping it might help the morning sickness lift.

But after she stepped back out into the winter cold and I wrapped back up in blankets on the couch, I stared into the fireplace and realized with absolute clarity. That it wasn’t nausea or vomiting or endless exhaustion that needed healing.

It was fear. Fear that we’d lose the baby again. Fear that I’d never make it to another delivery day. Fear that something was doomed to go wrong.

All of a sudden I saw that the hardest part of this nine-month journey would never be a burden of the body. It was all in the heart.

. . .

epiph-a-ny : a Christian festival held on January 6 in honor of the coming of the Magi to the infant Jesus Christ

“Mommy, why is tomorrow the last day of Christmas?”

Because it’s Epiphany.

“What does Epiphany mean?”

It’s when you see something amazing, that you never saw before.

“So why is January 6th called Epiphany?”

Because it’s the day the three wise men came to visit baby Jesus. They had never seen something amazing like that before.

“So tomorrow we will sing ‘Hark the Herald Angels’ but then on January 7th we will sing regular grace for dinner?”

Yes, that’s right. Because it’s the last day of Christmas, we still get to sing the Christmas songs.

“We should sing ALL the verses. That’s what we should do for Epiphany.”

We should.

We should sing all the songs we know by heart. For all the things we’ve never seen before.

. . .

epiph-a-ny : an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure

For weeks the meteorologists have been worrying and warning about the cold. Record-breaking. Life-threatening.

When the temperature finally plummeted last night and the negative numbers on the kitchen thermometer were enough to make me shiver, I listened as the radio host reveled in the jaw-dropping wind chills. The coldest in two decades.

That’s when it hit me. I’ve only lived here for ten years.

Tomorrow would be the coldest day of my life. When can we ever hyperbolize with absolute truth?

Even though I hate the cold, I smiled to myself as I flipped off the radio and turned upstairs for bed. Tomorrow I would see something I had never seen before.

. . .

epiph-a-ny : a revealing scene or moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way

As soon as we stepped into the dim room, my throat tightened with the memory: the two of us walking down a long, cold hospital hallway, the smell of freshly mopped linoleum and medicinal hand foam as we passed through the doorway, the blond-haired ultrasound tech waiting for us with kind eyes and a gentle voice.

Too much like the last time.

She poured warm gel from the squeeze bottle in a slow circle on my round belly. The grainy grey and black images began to blur and blink as she spun the wand around, trying to find the baby.

I wanted to look and I wanted to look away and I wanted everything to look right.

And suddenly, like a signpost in a swirling blizzard, the face slowly emerged from the whirling snow on screen: eyes, nose, lips. Two tiny hands trying to cram themselves into one small mouth.

All the fear evaporated as quick as a puff of breath into January cold.

I never believed women who said they fell in love so suddenly, when the lines on the test turned positive or the doctor placed the baby in their arms. But there it was.

I was absolutely smitten with what I saw.

Why this one, this second chance, this third child would make my heart leap like cloud nine, I’ll never know. Maybe because even though we had come here today – through bitter cold and biting wind and every wise voice warning us to stay home – hoping to find exactly this, I was still astonished to discover it before my own eyes.

Love in the humblest, smallest, most unlikely place.

Everything changed.

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a fluttering on the feast

Listen! Put it into your heart, that the thing that disturbs you, the thing that afflicts you, is really nothing.

For weeks I’ve felt flutters. The butterfly kicks, the gentle brush of something turning. The quickening I’ve come to expect by this point in pregnancy.

But tonight the movements suddenly felt so strong that I dared to try it. Laid my hand on the low curve of my rounding belly – and there it was.

A kick I could feel from the outside.

Should I have called him to tell him right away, that I could feel our baby now, that maybe he could soon, too?

Should I have dug out the new baby book waiting on the top closet shelf, to record the date, to try and do better by marking milestones for #3?

No. Instead I let tears spring small, then come quick. Because every turn this time around is tinged with sorrow as well as joy. Hope as well as fear.

Please let this last. Please let this be.

Do not let your heart be disturbed. Am I not here, I who am your Mother?

I don’t want to remember. I don’t want to forget.

What I want is to trust. And to rest easy into this promise, to sink back into a womb where love and warmth surround, where all that is needed is given.

At each turn, I try. When the first trimester mark passed. When I started showing. When I could feel movement.

But still the doubt casts long shadows some days. I must accept that I am changed, that expectation will always mean something different now.

I have to relearn this over and over. It will not be the same.

Are you not under my shadow and my protection? Am I not the Source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms?

Yet why should it be the same? This life is unique and fresh all its own. It knows nothing of what came before; it is only here and now. It is full and complete all its own. My trust is what is incomplete.

Maybe this is why we need feasts of signs and wonders. Of roses blooming out of season. Of incredible images imprinted on ordinary cloth. Of proof that a peasant could bring to a bishop.

Because we are human. Faltering. Forgetting.

Maybe today’s Guadalupe celebrates the same truth as a kick I can feel from the outside.

Tangible. Unmistakable. Unforgettable.

We want to conjure up certainty at a moment’s notice, demand some reassurance whenever faith wobbles. But miracles and apparitions are unbidden. They are simply offered.

A gentle kick. A nudge. I am here. Do you not perceive it?

Do you need anything more? Let nothing else worry or disturb you.

 

(Mary’s words to St. Juan Diego, on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe)

mary & elizabeth: back booth, corner bar

We met up at a sports bar, around the corner from the dive where we used to dance until dawn, down the street from the stadium where we spent all those Saturdays every fall. The place was packed with football fans flocking inside from the swirling snow, beer flowing before noon, TV announcers barking out touchdowns and tackles on the sound system blasting overhead.

But in the back corner booth it still felt like our small world again – the world that was cozy enough for one college quint and wide enough for all of us to dream our ways into something bigger. The gift of friends who pick up exactly where we left off.

We laughed and caught up and cracked old jokes like we always did. Except this time when we hugged, we each bumped bellies. Four babies on their way to join us. How far we’ve come down this road together.

One friend is set to deliver in just a few weeks, and as my husband and I drove home we reminisced about the wonder of that moment, the tipping point when you sense your world is about to change completely but you can’t quite grasp the enormity of how.

Parents who’ve walked that path love to pile on the advice - sleep while you can! squeeze in one more date night! enjoy this time while you’ve got it! - but when you’re expecting your first, you shake off all the suggestions because they don’t make sense yet. You’re still in the awe of before, as you should be. And what you need most in the waiting space is solidarity and sympathy. 

The consoling companionship of others in the same boat.

I always think about this when I read the story of Mary and Elizabeth meeting – their bellies bumping, those babies inside leaping with joy. The Visitation is a tale of kindred spirits: cousins in two generations, a path and a plan unfolding that none of them could predict in the waiting time before. Surely there was wonder and joy, also fear and anxiety, but they were in it together.

That was all they needed for the present moment.

The hours we spent together this weekend were far from an easy Magnificat to pregnancy’s glows; there was much more griping about restless sleep and back pain and endless trips to the bathroom.

But for me it was still a soul moment, a sacred meeting of friends who have already journeyed through many changes together and are now on the brink of everything turning again. That time filled me with something that still sings – even after the football game was the bitter coldest in recent memory, even after the drive home was long and dark, even after the same-old pregnancy woes kept me from sleep again last night. There’s always Mary-and-Elizabeth in the meeting of true friends.

My spirit rejoices.

statue visitation

This week I’m wondering about Mary and morning sickness over at CatholicMom.com. Praying the Magnificat during this pregnancy has changed what I thought about Mary’s prayer, and I wonder if – once again – I have much more solidarity and sympathy with her than I realized:

For the Magnificat is a hymn of expectations turned upside down. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. 

These are theological truths about the nature of a just God, but they are spoken from the lips of a young woman who never expected to be pregnant before marriage, who never imagined her child’s arrival would be announced by an angel.

Mary understood the upheaval of pregnancy on its deepest level, and so she could proclaim these prophetic words about God who defied the world’s expectations.

Click here to read more at CatholicMom.com – a new (even nauseous?) twist on familiar words…

my one and only gratitude post

A November full of thanksgiving. My Facebook feed is full of gratitude posts every morning and Twitter’s a-twitter, too. Before the craze of Christmas consumerism kicks in, I’ll take this cultural cultivation of “eucharist” any day.

When we pause and whisper thanks.

There are so many ways to say it, aren’t there? Blessing, gift, grace, abundance. When I look back over the long arc of my life, I’ve known nothing but. Yet so many days were filled with complaining, griping, longing, lunging after more.

Even now it starts to feel like this as my thoughts spin southward: if only I felt a little better, if only I weren’t quite so sick, if only he were home more to help, if only I weren’t so behind in work and writing, if only we could hire someone to clean the house, if only it were December already, if only I could trust that everything would turn out ok.

Instead of the sheer gratitude of spilling out words that say yes.

That say life.

That say again.

Because the gratitude of this one small, overwhelming, mysterious, undeniable fact – that we get to try this again, to hope for another – is tied to every other deep gratitude in my bones.

Gratitude to God from whom all life flows, tiny as a trickle as it starts.

Gratitude to the spouse whose partnership in all things makes our life together – and theirs – possible.

Gratitude to the family and friends who love us through dark and light.

Gratitude to siblings who can’t wait to welcome our baby with love.

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When we first started dreaming of #3, back before we learned about a new kind of loss and grief, I imagined all the fun ways we could share the news. Matching Big Brother shirts on Facebook, photos of boys curled up with “Our New Baby” book, adorable announcements about adding two more feet to our house.

But the truth is, once you’ve been on the infertile receiving end of Facebook photo bombs and unexpected emails, you tread much more lightly on the tender ground of others’ hearts. There is too much pain on the path to parenthood for too many.

And once your heart breaks open to this truth, you clutch it fiercely.

Infertility always shapes our parenting. Now miscarriage is part of our family, too. Announcing and expecting shift into new shades in the light of what we have loved and learned and lost.

And yet here is a child, a child who knows no loss or pain, a child whose life is entirely his or her own, a child whose arrival brings us great joy and greater hope. I have to celebrate this truth loud and clear, too.

So here it is, friends and strangers who grace me with the gift of your presence here and the stories you have shared in this place, too. Here is my gratitude and my prayer. Here is my terror and my fear. Here is my hope and my joy.

It is all wrapped into one new life, and it is twelve weeks young.

I know of no other way to speak this truth into the world than to whisper thanks. Gratitude. Eucharist. Which is, and will always be, a broken heart from which deepest love flows.

It is month of giving thanks. With all my heart, and another now beating strong and steady within me, I can do no less.

. . .

I need ten full moons exactly
For keeping the animal promise.
I offer myself up: unsaintly, but
Transmuted anyway
By the most ordinary miracle.
I am nothing in this world beyond the things one woman does.
But here are eyes that once were pearls
And here is a second chance where there was none.

from “Ordinary Miracle” ~ Barbara Kingsolver

for all our children. tonight and always

This post was supposed to be about children.

All weekend I had these wonderful thoughts running through my head.

About how much I adore the age of four: how he appears in our doorway in the dark dawn hour, hair tousled from sleep, beloved seahorse cradled in his arm, ready to climb in bed with us and snuggle. How he spills over with sweet love these days, so many kisses for his mama, even hugs for his brother, cuddles for the dog.

About how I’m learning to relove the age of two: how he grins like a chimpanzee when I catch him being silly, how his budding scientist self marvels at the miracle of running water in the sink, how he chortles himself breathless at the rhymes he finds hysterical. How he’s starting to sing back to me as I close the bedroom door at bedtime, I love you, mama! Good night, mama!

So I didn’t realize when I finally sat down to write this, when I went to close the browser windows to avoid distraction’s temptation, that I’d left open the New York Times. And this had popped up on my screen:

This Oct. 15, we’ll light a candle for Silvan. From 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. in each time zone around the world, thousands will join us. We’ll mark International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day with a “wave of light” that symbolically sweeps across the globe. Though it’s unlikely anyone will see that wave of light, the image is still powerful.

So for anyone passing by my house this Oct. 15, I’ll be the woman with a candle in my window. Most passersby will not know my candle is for Silvan. But I’ll light a candle to remember more than my own son. I’ll light it to honor all whose lives have been too brief and all who are still here. Please join us.

I didn’t know.

I didn’t even know such a day existed.

I didn’t know it was today, a usually ho-hum October day of property taxes due and two-weeks-left-to-make-those-costumes.

I didn’t know last year at this time that I would even care.

But I do.

. . .

Two months have passed. So many changes. Still the world spins on.

I’m sure most people think we’re fine now, that we’ve moved on. After all it was so early. We couldn’t have been that attached. We have two healthy kids already. We’re young and we can have another.

Is that the way we measure a life? By length, by duplication, by replicability?

What if worth simply comes from being? What if that were the ultimate shock to our systems, so accustomed to striving for success, for uniqueness, for longevity? What if life’s value was simply life?

I believe it is. I believe this in the face of a culture that tosses it away, that bombs it to oblivion, that shoves its poverty to the margins. I believe it because of a God who pulled children onto his lap when his world said they were worthless, who touched bleeding women when his culture said they were unclean, who blessed lepers when his own people recoiled with repulsion.

I believe it, no matter how small this light flickers in the darkness.

. . .

This post was supposed to be about children. And maybe it was after all.

The children we remain as adults, the ones we remember we have always been, when we crawl back into God’s arms and wail like we did into our mother’s shoulder, that it’s not fair, that it hurts too much, that it shouldn’t have to be this way.

And the children we love, even the ones we lose too early.

So tonight, if you drive by our house when the sun has just sunk over the hill into the blue-black of October night and the two wild boys full of shouts are upstairs splashing in the bath, you’ll catch a glimpse through the leaves of one small light flickering in our window. I will make sure of it.

Because it wasn’t just a dream. It wasn’t just a loss.

It was a life. It was a baby.

It is still ours.

blog-candle

the last day of one

It’s time to switch him to 1%.

The doctor’s words echo in my ear as I stand in the cold rush of the open fridge door, shaking the half-empty carton of whole milk. It is the last one we will buy.

. . .

We’re down to six diapers in each load, twice a week. Barely worth washing, but we remind ourselves we can’t complain about a child who trains himself before two.

Stacks of diapers now sit unused on the top shelf of his closet, crammed next to tubs of tiny onesies and plastic bottles.

Every time I pull open the door to stash another neglected toy or outgrown outfit, I try not to wonder when – if – we’ll pull them out again.

What matters is this one is growing.

. . .

May I sit on your lap, please? He toddles over with a grin and I cannot resist a full sentence. So I scoop him up and he smiles while I write.

Seconds later he shoves off in search of something more exciting.

He’s always leaving.

. . .

My husband hauls the changing table down from upstairs. It sits awkward and out of place in the front hallway.

“Should we give it away?” he asks as the kids run around us, shrieking at some game they’ve invented. “We still have the other one.”

“Not now,” I shake my head. “I know it makes no sense, but will you just stick it in the basement? I can’t get rid of it yet.”

He nods.

Now it stares at me every time I slip by the furnace room, empty and alone.

. . .

Nostalgia fills thick August air as the leaves start to yellow and the school buses zip back through the neighborhood, practicing their routes.

I wonder why I am not sad at all about the prospect of preschool starting again, why all the Facebook photos of first days don’t tug at my heartstrings like they usually do. Is it because our oldest is used to school now, that he’s excited to go back, that summer camp’s thrill proved the tears at drop off are now behind us?

No, I realize quietly one afternoon. I am not sad about his back-to-school because I am already sad about his brother’s farewell to babyhood.

My heart is too full.

Of course I know part of this is the loss, the sadness that there is not another baby on the way, to take his place on the changing table, in the high chair, in the clothes that continue to shrink on his lengthening limbs.

But my tug at his turning two started much earlier, when I realized how his own babyhood was whizzing past me. I feel the flow of time’s current quicker with this second child, and I don’t know what comes next.

Maybe my sadness at his turning two – still such a wee small number! why such worry? – comes at my having to release him into this inbetweenness.

Where there is no quick hug and wave at school drop-off, but we still have to learn to say goodbye each day. Where there is no neat curriculum for how the next year will unfold, but he still needs to learn leaps and bounds before my eyes. Where we will both have to muddle through uncertainty and growth and letting go.

Maybe the only spiritual practice is learning to let go. Of our false sense of control, of our preconceived notions of how the world should work, of the fear that change will change us.

All around me is proof. He is no longer a baby.

But God, this is hard to let go.

. . .

Today is the last day of one, the slender straight line of one.

Tomorrow will bring two’s curve and sharp base, the race towards presents and cake and becoming something – someone – bigger.

Today I hold him close and let him go. Hold him close and let him go.

All I can do is keep practicing.

“That moment at the dorm is implied at the kindergarten door, at the gates of summer camp, at every ritual of parting and independence. But it comes as surprising as a thief, taking what you value most…The experience is natural and common. And still planets are thrown off their axes.”

Michael Gerson, Washington Post: “Saying goodbye to my child, the youngster