babies

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!

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!

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.

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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.

9 weeks for 9 months: prayers for pregnancy (month 4)

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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

Patience. 

Perhaps it’s the cardinal virtue of parenting. The holy grail we long to hold, grasping just out of reach, a shimmering mirage on the road before us.

Ironically it’s the way we have to start the parenting journey, too. Whether we birth or adopt or foster, we must wait for a child to arrive. Patiently some days, impatiently others.

Nine long months of wondering, watching, witnessing, and waiting. No swift storks swooping in to deliver these babies to our doorsteps.

The 4-month mark has been where my own pregnancies start to itch with impatience.

Still so sick, and even sicker of everyone asking, wide-eyed, why I’m not feeling better. Counting the weeks and groaning inwardly (ok, outwardly, too) at how many months remain. Starting to show and still so far to go.

So when I started writing these prayers for pregnancy, inspired by the nine fruits of the Spirit?

I secretly loved that month 4 landed on patience. Proof of the wit and irony of that good old Spirit.

Today’s prayer is for patience, wherever you find yourself.

May it be a deep breath reminder to slow down and settle into this present moment – all that it holds and all that God hopes and all that you carry within you.

. . .

month 4Month 4: A Prayer for Patience

God of patience,

Now that the first trimester is past,
And our news has been shared
Far and wide,
Help me to keep waiting patiently,
Enjoying this time.

When I wish away days
Of sickness or sleeplessness,
Of worry or discomfort,
Guide my thoughts lovingly
Back to the baby within me,
Whose life is a masterpiece
That takes patient time to create.

Let me mark each passing week
With gratitude and wonder,
Awaiting all the joy and good work
That will come in due time.

Open my eyes to see
How you are making me a mother:
In your time,
In your way,
In your name.

Bless the child within me,
And all who welcome with eagerness
The arrival of this new and sacred life.
Surround us with your peace
As we grow in love together.

In patience 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!

9 weeks for 9 months: prayers for pregnancy (month 2)

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We’ve been laughing, he and I. Over crock pots steaming with chili and harvest vegetables heaped upon the counter in earthy piles, over the din of Notre Dame football roaring up from the basement below, over the chorus of three small boys tugging for attention and talking all at once in the kitchen.

We’ve been laughing about last fall, tossing jokes about the morning sickness long past, about the garden bounty that rotted in bowls as I slept hard on the couch, about the autumn traditions we didn’t cook or visit or make because mama was growing the baby and in my world that is mighty work.

I marvel at this now – laughing while I close my eyes at oven’s blasting heat as I slide out another pan of sweet potatoes, rolling my eyes at his comebacks while I peel pyramids of knobbly carrots, grinning at the boys who steal fistfuls of green beans even as I turn to dump them in the roiling boil.

I marvel at how we are laughing. How far those hard days seem, and not just those aching, exhausting weeks of trying to keep down water and crackers. But the harder days before that.

The days of losing the baby and floundering for hope and curling inward because the world couldn’t see the pain. Because weren’t we young and healthy and at least we have two babies already and couldn’t we always try again? Because it wasn’t really a baby, was it? Only a handful of weeks along, only the tiniest curve of a body that could slip away so easily.

Only a whisper of a life.

Why should it still echo now, with our plumpy love of a round boy now gnawing at his dimpled fists in the swing and laughing gummy smiles at his brothers’ monkey faces and blinking bright owl eyes in the slanted morning light beside my bed each morning?

I know why now, and these heaps of garden harvest in my dirty hands remind me. Because what grows in darkness is life, even when we cannot see it. And what lies beneath is hope, even if it is a tiny seed. And what bursts forth is holy, even if it is a tender shoot.

I will miss that baby always. The thought will catch in my throat each time, the wonder of what could have been. And the way a body feels differently once it has carried both life and death within it.

I have known deepest joy and deepest pain from these children of mine – all four lives that have sparked into being, that head-scratching mystery, that sacred design that the Weaver knits together in the holy dark. I hold all this wrapped round my heart.

And as I wonder what to say today about a prayer for the beginning, for the first weeks of knowing and loving and hoping and praying, I think it is the same truth that fall teaches me each year.

These rich cold weeks bursting with deep color and deeper change, when we carry the outside inside, when we harvest one season’s hopes for another’s savoring, when we let go of what will not be and learn to welcome what will come.

The truth that we are nurturing life, all of us.

We are tending to its tender beginning. We are carrying its plumping growth. We are sharing its holy fruits with those we love.

. . .

Today it is a prayer for month two of pregnancy. A fragile four weeks: the thrill of discovering and announcing, the fear of worrying and wondering, the unknown of what lies ahead.

But a sacred four weeks, too. The beginning of a life that we will carry close to our own for the rest of our days, no matter what may come. The opening chapter of a book that is written by the Author of Love and the Word Itself.

Today it is a prayer, too, for the gifts we receive and the gratitude we live and the worries we can cast back, over and over in heaps and piles, onto the loving hands of the One who carries all of us.

Today it is a prayer for someone who may need it.

Today it is my gift to you.

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

. . .

Prayers for Pregnancy - Month 2Month 2: A Prayer for Joy

God of joy,
Our hearts sing to you
In our moment of discovery!
We saw proof with our eyes
That new life has begun,
And we saw that it was good.

As a heart begins to beat
And a mind begins to grow,
May my own heart and mind
Rejoice in the wonder of this gift.

Even if sickness turns my stomach
Or tiredness takes over,
Let a deeper joy
Run through my days,
Fast and strong and true.

And if, as weeks pass,
Worries start to circle round,
Threatening to steal my joy,
Let your perfect love
Cast out my fear.

Help me believe
That you hold us both,
My child and I,
In the palm of your warm
And safe and loving hand.

In joy I pray,

Amen.

© 2014 Laura Kelly Fanucci

All the prayers for pregnancy will be found here at the end of this 9 week series. Please pass them on…

9 weeks for 9 months: prayers for pregnancy (month 1)

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I’m so excited for today.

Because today I’m finally launching something I’ve dreamed of doing for years on this blog.

Every day more people visit here looking for “prayers for pregnancy” than anything else. And I always wished I had more to offer them.

Especially for the heart-breaking searches: prayers for trying to conceive, prayers for an unwanted pregnancy, prayers for depression during pregnancy.

My dream is to have prayers for all of those searchers, and I am slowly at work on a bigger project around prayers for pregnancy – including prayers on infertility and miscarriage, and lots more Scripture.

But for now, I’ll be rolling out over the next nine weeks one prayer for each of the nine months of pregnancy. (All the prayers for pregnancy will end up here, too.)

Each prayer is inspired by one of the nine fruits of the Spirit that Paul describes in Galatians:

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

And the whole prayer series is inspired by Paul’s words that sum up the life of Christian faith:

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25)

Because if we live by the Spirit, let these nine months also be guided by the Spirit, whom we profess each Sunday in our creed to be the giver of life. These nine months of expectation and preparation, wonder and worry, joy and hope. All of is it caught up in the Spirit.

So without further ado, here is the prayer for the 1st month of pregnancy.

A prayer for love.

Prayers for Pregnancy: Month 1Month 1:

God of love,
Our desire for a child
Was born out of love:
For you,
For each other,
And for this new life. 

In these first fragile weeks,
While the child within me
Is knit together in love,
Protect us both
And guide our growth.

Help me to remember
That this is how we love:
In the body,
In mystery,
In sacred surrender
To each other.

May my life be one of love,
And may my child grow
Into all that love has waiting. 

In love I pray,

Amen.

© 2014 Laura Kelly Fanucci

(with thanks to the generous & talented Kendra of Catholic All Year for the beautiful memes!)

. . .

And if you’re not expecting a baby (and most of us aren’t!), I hope you’ll pass these prayers along to someone else.

In the meantime, here are some other places I’ve been writing lately:

3 things Joseph taught me about God

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Our sweetest, smallest, newest. (Dare I say gentlest, too?) A mere four months this side of birth, and already it seems his quiet wisdom has been with us always. 

This Joseph gift, this “rainbow baby” promise after loss – he is pure light. Already teaching me all sorts of truths I thought I knew.

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1) Joseph taught me that God is Hope.

By his very existence, this child astounds. Only six weeks after we lost our baby last summer, we found out he was on his way. Did we dare to dream he could be, so soon? And yet he was.

The hope of new life that he brought by his first spark – it did not deny the pain of what preceded, or dismiss the death of another, but it was still profoundly healing.

As he grew and pushed softly against the limits of my skin, he pushed my faith into new places, too. Places that had to stretch to make space for what it meant to lose a baby and gain a baby, all in a short span of time. Layering upon learning how life and death are always twinned.

People use the phrase “rainbow baby” to signal a child conceived after miscarriage or stillbirth. Now I see the shimmer in that truth, the bright sign that stretches over the months of hoping, drawing out of darkness into light.

Joseph will always be for me this resurrection sign of God-as-Hope, of joy flooding our lives.

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2) Joseph taught me that God is Mercy.

As I fling this sentence into the interwebs, I rest fully aware that it may all change in an instant. But this baby? He is the precious easy kind of child a parent secretly wishes for.

He sleeps, he eats, he smiles, he grows. Rare are the crying jags, abundant are the gummy grins. He has slid into our lives with such simple grace that I find it hard to believe there was a time when he was not.

The transition to three has proved so much easier than we expected, even in a summer with too much unexpected challenge around us. Joseph has been the calm center of the storm, quiet and steady and growing on his own.

I joke and call him “the gentle giant” because he is our biggest baby, bursting out of tiny clothes and filling our arms with unexpected weight. But perhaps we needed this bigger presence of peace in our lives right now.

Perhaps God’s Mercy gifted this sweet soul for such a time as this.

His big brothers smother him with love each new morning. They never tire of squealing at his very presence, covering him with kisses. It still astounds me – their pure delight, their unconditional joy. When Thomas was new? Sam had no time for the intruder. But both boys love their baby in the truest sense of the word.

I see now what lavish Mercy looks like, how God loves. And it is so Good.

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3) Joseph taught me that God is Dreamer.

By his name, this child echoes truth to me.

We chose Joseph for all those dreamers in Scripture – the one whose visions shaped his destiny and the one whose angel voices softened his heart. Both these men had to trust their God and their own inner compass to lead. Even when called into the mess of uncertainty around them, they fixed their gaze on God and headed straight in.

And both of them changed the story of their families and their people for generations to come, by trusting in strange dreams.

Joseph reminds me that God is a Dreamer, too. Dreaming of justice and mercy and peace. Dreaming of healing and reconciliation. Dreaming of a love that will reshape the very fabric of our lives if we dare to let it in.

I look into his gentle, dreaming eyes and I hear whispers to keep dreaming, too. To remember how new life springs in strange ways from death. To be unafraid of what others think as I head straight into the messes where I am called. To imagine what might come if I dare to follow wildest dreams.

To trust my life to the One who created and claimed it for goodness.

. . .

What have you learned about God from those closest to you – 

your spouse, children, parents, siblings, or friends?

how my kids became my spiritual directors

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For those of you who are new here, you might not know that I have a book coming out this fall (eek!!).

Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting (Liturgical Press) is the story of how I came to see ordinary life at home with kids as a way to live out the sacraments we celebrate at church. It’s also a story of infertility and miscarriage and all sorts of stumbles on the path to parenthood.

But mostly it’s the story of how my children have taught me about God in unexpected ways.

Last week I was chatting with a friend about how my letter to couples struggling with infertility went viral and how I struggled to write in the aftermath. After all, our infertility story ended with kids, and that’s what this blog has become: a place to explore parenting as a spiritual practice.

But I kept thinking of all these readers who had written me their own heart-breaking stories of infertility. What words could I share about my life today, crazy in the chaos of children, that would speak to them?

I came away from that conversation with a single clear thought: keep writing what you know is true.

And what I know is true is this: the three small boys who are blessedly napping upstairs while I write – they have become three guides on my spiritual journey.

They are challenging and comforting and constantly coaxing me to ask why.

They make me ask uncomfortable questions about my life and my beliefs.

They give me pause to step back and wonder where God is calling me.

They remind me to slow down and lead me to prayer.

I think of all the wise soul friends who have helped me along the way, and I have to add these three names to my list: Samuel, Thomas, Joseph.

They are the best untrained spiritual directors around.

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As part of the practical theology project I’ve been working on for 5 years, we’ve created a video series called Lives Explored in which everyday Christians share stories about their sense of calling – to professional work, to relationships, to people and places.

In part of his story, Ken says this:

I am really a firm believer that God will help you with your life if you are open to it. You have to really be open, you have to listen, you have to look, and you have to expect it to come from the strangest places.
Any person you meet, there is something you can learn from them. 

I love how this wise woodworker sums up so succinctly what centuries of saints have studied: the mystery of the presence of the omnipresent God. The truth that even toddlers and kindergarteners and babies can teach adults about the divine.

With Ken’s words echoing in my head, I’ll be sharing – this week & next – three things that each of my kids has taught me about God.

If you’re inspired to sit down & reflect on what the people closest to you have taught you about God, please share your thoughts in the comments. Or add a link to your own blog post below and I’ll post a round-up at the end of next week.

What have you learned about how God loves, forgives, calls, and heals –

from your spouse, children, parents, or friends? 

a summer of paradox

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My mother sang while hanging clothes
The notes weren’t perfect, heaven knows
Yeah, but heaven opened anyway
This I knew was true

Carrie Newcomer, “Leaves Don’t Drop (They Just Let Go)

It was a year ago that I spent hours listening to her music in the kitchen. Swirling my hands through streams of soapy water as I washed bowl after bowl, pot after pot.

Putting up the summer harvest was part of my healing after losing the baby. Doing something concrete for my family. Saving something good from the soured summer. Looking ahead to a time when it all might not hurt so much.

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I blanched brimming bowls of beans. I cut corn from piles of cobs. I stirred so many pots of soup and sauce, all of it spooned into bags and stacked into the basement freezer. With love, I suppose, but also longing. For what was and what wasn’t and how I had no control over any of it.

So for weeks I listened to Carrie’s albums on repeat: gentle, soothing, pulling me away from myself. There was so much light and darkness in her songs that they made me weep, let me break open to all that needed to rush flooding out.

And every season brings a change
A tree is what a seed contains
To die and live is life’s refrain

This past week I found myself pulling out the same albums again. Popping the Sesame Street Classics! out of the stereo and setting the soft, sweet music to spin. Her voice filled the kitchen again, and suddenly I was right back to a summer ago.

Only now I was thinking of the baby we lost and the baby we gained. Of the summer that was and the fall that will be. Of all the impossible opposites clinging together around me. 

God speaks in rhyme and paradox
This I know is true

It was a summer of new life and new loss. Our family welcomed a baby and lost an uncle. A quick arrival and a too-quick departure. Their names twin together, Joseph and Jim. One waking to his first summer and one who had his last.

It was a summer of healing and hurting. A birth that was nearly perfect and an emergency surgery that was anything but. A natural process that healed with no complications and a painful procedure that left permanent scars. Three intense hours that brought new life into the world and three dramatic hours that may have saved my own life.

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It was a summer of no work and lots of work. Maternity leave and full-time mothering. Leaving one kind of labor and taking up another. The freedom of pausing some responsibilities and the weight of taking on even more.

It was a summer of chaos and calmness. The busy buzz of two big boys and the quiet moments with the tiniest. How much louder the house vibrates when all three are yelling at the same time and how much sweeter the house settles when all three are sleeping soundly upstairs.

And then at the end of this summer of paradox, more people started reading this blog than ever have before. Thousands more. And shouldn’t I be delighting in this? Isn’t this exactly what a writer wants?

Yet, ironically, the reason my words struck such a clear chord is because so many people are hurting and isolated. I can’t bring myself to rejoice in that.

I can only hope that what I write might help us try to open our eyes wider and see each other, together. In the messy midst of all our paradoxes.

Leaves don’t drop, they just let go
And make a space for a seed to grow

I had that post on infertility and invisibility sitting in my drafts for a long time. I only pulled it out to finish after my heart broke again at the news of a loving couple – you know the kind, the ones who want kids so badly it hurts, the ones who should have a babbling brood jumping all over them like wriggling puppies – whose last round of infertility treatment failed.

I was saddened and frustrated and angry when I heard their news, wanting to shake that furious fist at the universe and demand why.

Instead I sat down one early morning in the dark and finished writing the world this letter.

And for the past week I’ve been sitting back, somewhat stunned, watching so many people read it, watching these crazy numbers climb, watching everything spin out of my small control after how many years of thinking this blogging business depended on me. It doesn’t. It depends on you.

So when I look back on all I will carry with me from this summer, I see how I am leaving with a widened heart and a longer list of prayers to pray. In a season of pain and paradox, these are unequivocally good things.

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A summer ago I was mourning a miscarriage, and now I have a bouncing baby boy on my lap. I can’t help but find God in paradoxes thick around me. That Joseph would not be here if that baby had lived.

Now knowing him in all his perfect particularity, I cannot imagine a world without him. Which does not reconcile any death, but does make more space for mystery in the shades of grey that smudge together to make this life.

A portrait of paradox.

. . .

In a fitting end to my maternity leave, my thoughtful co-workers put together this post on our Collegeville Institute blog about my summer series on spiritual practices with newborns. I’m touched by their words and hope you will enjoy it, too!

these are the waning days

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Dear God, I cannot love thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon.

- from the prayer journal of Flannery O’Connor

Right now the days are waning.

There is a thickness in the morning air, the cling of August humidity, beaded in droplets on the windows. The reluctant slide of late summer into early fall, the slow turn of seasons. The steady tick of each almost-school day on the calendar, edges furled by an almost-kindergartner equal parts itching to start and dragging his feet to stay in summer’s ease.

Each day we lose a little light. Browned grass crunches beneath our bare feet, and the tips of leaves start to curl under, steeling themselves against fall’s first chill.

These days are waning.

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Thomas’ third birthday is tomorrow. When we carried staggering armfuls of moving boxes into this house, he was a barely crawling baby. Now when he chases his brother around the kitchen, he’s prone to smack his forehead against the same counter-top that caught Sam’s height when we were first adjusting to our new space.

Another pile of 2T clothes are stuffed back into plastic bins, awaiting a third toddler-to-come. And the pale yellow room that was Thomas’ nursery has been vacated for another, the baby who starts to stir in his crib when we creep into our bedroom at night. Soon Joseph’s wide, unblinking blue eyes will gaze round at strange new surroundings that will one day become as familiar as the back of his own hand. The cycle starts again.

We are always changing. Life with growing children – carne che crese, my Italian father-in-law reminds me – simply sets this truth in high relief.

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But to wane is to leave behind. Thomas’ years of at-home all-day are drawing to their end. One more week and his size-7 velcro shoes will slip off at the preschool doorstep. He might cry a little, and I know I will, and in that way is it any different from the day I birthed him into being? I will always be surprised by my twinned joy and sorrow at the long string of goodbyes that my children’s childhoods ask me to practice en route to adulthood.

These days are waning.

. . .

My maternity leave is waning, too.

These three long months in which I learned to love a new soul, with all the bodily love that babies bring. In which I was wrapped into the enfolding embrace (sometimes smother) of life at home with littles, full-time.

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It has been sweet and hard and almost everything I hoped it would be. I looked around – even in the chaos and the crazy and the children climbing on couches despite twelve stern warnings of doom and impending emergency room visits if they did not stop – and I saw that it was good.

Which makes me reluctant to close this chapter and start a new one, even eager as I am for all that lies ahead, too. This is the promise of the moon. Even as things wane, there is the promise of waxing days to come. Light increasing, brightness building day by day.

This summer has taught me that we are always changing. I need the constant change of children and the unchangingness of God – and Sunday Mass and ancient ritual and dependable moon – to help me see this truth pressing up against my face each day.

It is the quiet, steady presence of the divine Light that peers into the darkness of our nights with a small sliver of silver hope. Even when the moon seems gone, we know it is never gone.

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Tonight the moon is a pale sliver. Like the tiny curve of a baby fingernail, snipped quick before he can scratch his smooth face when startled from deepest sleep. It casts a thin shadow of its glowing fullness, once luminous and round, an expectant silhouette.

Tonight I am watching my children slumber. Two twin bed frames stretching out in the grainy darkness of a newly shared room. Embroidered “Samuel” and “Thomas” pillowcases draped at the foot of each bed, staking their claim like homesteaders’ flags. School will separate these playmates in two short weeks. Their worlds will widen, then settle back in together each afternoon. They are on the cusp of change, as always.

Tonight I am glancing at a faded summer to-do list. Penned with vigor when the baby was still bouncing within. House projects, writing projects, endless organizational aspirations. Most of them undone. Which is good and fine. Which is peace.

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Tonight I am wondering what I leave behind in this summer and what I take with me.

On the phone with a friend this afternoon, I heard myself saying words I haven’t spoken in so long. Words like spaciousness and silence and stillness and so much less stressed. And I know this is not simply because professional work has been on pause (because if you know me, you know I always stretch to fill all the hours and moments anyway).

But because I feel like I am finally learning how to live my life.

Isn’t that a strange thing to say, 33 years into such an endeavor? But baby number three is teaching me something deep and unexpected. How to let go of all false sense of control and fall into the goodness already around me.

Even with the hard edges that this summer brought – and there were some awful, dark times – I feel such a sense of joy wrapped around me. Gratitude so thick I can weave my fingers through it.

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This is what is waxing in my life. What will keep rising and glowing and rounding into fullness even after we leave these long August nights behind.

The embrace of who and what I am called to be.

How it will cycle through seasons and changes, but promise to remain.

How it was Here all along.