on real-izing

When I was playing around with titles for my book, I made a Wordle of the entire manuscript to see what words I used most often. I hoped inspiration might leap out at me from the word cloud. And here’s what I saw:

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The nouns leapt out at me first - God in the center (whew! at least I got that one right), work, love, time, church, mother, baby.

But I have a hunch that if I made a Wordle for this blog, it would be the verbs that would catch me: wonder, remember, imagine, realize.

Particularly that last one. Realize. I find that verb slipping into my posts more than any other. Sometimes I stop for a synonym. Sometimes I let it slide. Lately I’ve been embracing the abundance of realization.

Because this whole blog might be about precisely that.

. . .

Two things I try to do in this space: see truth and tell truth.

First, I try to notice. Good writing comes from open eyes and ears, heart and mind. I try to see the world around me through the lens that asks what is beautiful here? What is hard? Where is God? Being a mom affords plenty of interaction with all three questions.

So part of how I try to realize here is by witnessing and wondering about the everyday epiphanies. The moments that flash brightly with some slant I never saw before. The clearer view that lifts the veil from sluggish or selfish slouching through my day-to-day and invites me to hold my breath. The fresh light that glimmers on some flash of the holy I never expected to find.

To realize is to become fully aware. To understand more clearly. To learn. All of that is wrapped up in why I write, and – I hope – why you might read.

Second, I aim for honesty. For me, the emphasis in writing falls on the first syllable: real-ize. To speak my small truth, what I know of this one wild and precious life. And not to sugar-coat or to sour-puss, but to strike an honest balance between the hard and the beautiful.

Like every writer, I struggle with tone – is this piece too depressing? is this perspective too idealistic? Sometimes I second-guess whether I should tell the stories of the harder times and the darker days. But I always come back round to the idea of God being the Truth and God being the Word. The truer we try to make our words, the more they might reveal of where God can be found. I see this in so much of what I read, and I dare to hope I might try to find it in what I write.

To real-ize is to live fully within the life I am given. To not be afraid of the pain or ashamed of the joy.

. . .

This week I’ve been meditating on “realize” as I dove into Power of Moms’ latest book, Motherhood Realized: An Inspiring Anthology for the Hardest Job You’ll Ever Love.

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In the essay I’m honored to have included in their collection, I wrote about picking green beans from our garden as a practice of gratitude. The piece winds around from our time of infertility to the fullness of life with two little boys underfoot. And when I think of the sharp contrast between aching for motherhood and “realizing” it, I see the fulfillment of a dream, the granting of a hope, the answer to a prayer that someday this calling would be part of my journey.

But in truth my experience of becoming a parent feels like less of an achievement and more of an invitation - to revere the gift, to release the expectations, to respect the enormity of the challenge, to remember the cost of the sacrifice. Realization is wrapped up more in awe and gratitude than easy embrace.

So I see the need to keep gathering those ordinary insights and everyday epiphanies along the way, the hard-fought ones and the grace-filled ones. I love that this book does exactly that: draws together the voices of many women who have truths to tell and stories to share about how motherhood has shaped them, even as its joys and sorrows brought them to their knees.

That is the role I hope realization continues to play in my life – to keep me open to wonder and humbled by how I am changed when I open myself up to love.

And if you’re curious as I am about how others make sense of the deepest truths in their experience, I hope you’ll check out Motherhood Realized. This piece by Katrina Kenison (whose writing I have long loved) sums up so much of what makes this book a beautiful collection:

“Heading Home with Your Newborn” might ease a new mom through the drama of giving birth and surviving the first few sleepless nights. But Motherhood Realized is a book that will live on bedside tables for years to come — well-thumbed, underlined, bookmarked, shared. Here are the personal stories of mothers just like you and me, not experts who have everything figured out or agendas to promote, but ordinary women who have seized time from their daily lives to report from the trenches of firsthand experience and who have summoned the courage to write from their hearts – the ups, the downs, the hard lessons learned, the small moments savored, the tears shed, the priorities reordered, the humble revelations celebrated, the inevitable challenges confronted.

. . .

This week I also have a new post at Catholic Mom about my latest Lenten realization. That all those 40 bags for 40 days I’ve been faithfully collecting for Goodwill? They might be more about me and mine than God or good spiritual practice. Gulp.

I looked again at the bags I’d gathered. Every last one contained the extras, the excess, the unused and the unwanted. It certainly wasn’t the best I had to offer someone in need. All those prettier clothes were still hanging in closets. All those nicer plates and pans were still stacked in kitchen cabinets. All those well-made toys were still saved for my kids to enjoy.

Was my 40-day challenge really about giving to the least among us? Or about saving the best for me?

Read the rest at Catholic Mom…

I’m grateful for this uncomfortable realization, even if it doesn’t have a clean and tidy resolution. Good thing there’s still plenty of Lent left to ponder.

. . .

Sometimes realization is about remembering what you had known but forgotten. Sometimes it’s about discovering something entirely new and unexpected. I believe much of the spiritual journey is spent wandering back and forth between these two – the deepest truths we know and the mysterious realities we never suspected.

Maybe these two aspects of realize - the real and the realization – are the best of what blogging can bring. When someone shares from the particularities of their experiences to invite others to consider their own lives in a new light.

What do you think? Why do you blog, if you blog? Why do you read, if you read?

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.

here is the prayer

We’re back in the tundra today, snow heaped so high by the mailbox you can barely see to inch the car onto the icy street. Wind whips through the front door when I crack it to let the dog limp inside, paws frozen by the sub-zero ground. The forecast for the foreseeable future goes like this: freezing, bitter, worse, terrible, painful, record-breaking, complete surrender.

“Isn’t March supposed to be spring soon?” he sighs when he looks up from his coloring book.

24 hours ago we were beach-side, bare feet in the sugary white sand, skin browning in delicious sun. Hours in the pool every morning watching our frozen children melt into slippery fish. Blue skies and palm trees and a taste of life where winter doesn’t hurt.

A day into our southern sojourn, my latest piece ran at Practicing Families. One of the many to-dos that never got done before we snapped the suitcases shut was to write something here that would tease you to read it, because I was surprised by how much I ended up loving that piece, loved how it sparked out of nowhere on the day of deadline, loved how it hummed with the right refrain, loved how it captured something of the sacred in This Time in Our Lives.

But each lovely, lazy day as I padded up and down the same long sidewalk to the beach with our youngest boy, the toddler who insists on stopping and bending low and smelling every single blessed bloom of every flower he spots, regardless of its appearance or ability to produce fragrance, I thought about that post. And prayer. And what it means to practice as a family.

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I realized I had forgotten something. Prayer is beholding; prayer is presence; prayer is promise, yes. But prayer is also pace.

Slowing down, way down, to the steady pulse of life underneath. Pausing long enough to let the soul catch up. Resting into the remembrance that all we mere mortals were asked to do was to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.

So I walked slowly and humbly in the heat, soaking up the long-forgotten sun, remembering the feel of concrete on bare feet, imprinting the memory of a small chubby hand pressed in my palm, stopping to witness a small boy’s wonder at the tiny beauty of hidden flowers, letting the walk back home take twice as long as it should because who’s watching the clock anyway?

And there was the prayer. Once again, without fail. The most and least surprising of all truths: God right before our eyes.

From Practicing Families

We laugh in low voices as he gets dressed for work. The kids are still sleeping, and as I splash my face with warm water, I contemplate the sweet prospect of a quiet kitchen and a hot cup of tea. Maybe I could pull out the journal and pray for a bit before they wake. I slip on warm socks for the cold winter floors downstairs and turn the knob on our bedroom door.

Then I find our oldest boy waiting right outside, gazing up at me with wide eyes.

I sink to my knees and without a word he folds himself into my lap, clutching his beloved stuffed animal to his chest. We snuggle in the silence for a few minutes, and then he whispers, “Mama, sing ‘Morning Has Broken.’”

I forget about the journal downstairs. Here is the prayer.

are moms the choices they make?

When I was a few months pregnant with my first child, I signed up for BabyCenter’s weekly emails on the development of my baby. My husband and I got a kick out of learning which fruit or vegetable the baby’s size matched that week, and I was amused by the cutaway illustrations revealing what miraculous change might be taking place deep in the dark inside me: eyelashes! kidneys! fingernails!

Then I made a naïve mistake.

I also signed up for BabyCenter’s online “Birth Club” for the month my baby was due to arrive. Pitched as a way to connect with other expectant moms, the birth club was supposedly a great source of support and community as we prepared for our babies to arrive.

But I quickly found myself in a strange new world, more mysterious than anything of the wonders of the womb. Peppered across every post on the online message board were bizarre abbreviations and acronyms:

I’m a EBF, CD-ing, CS-ing AP (Translation: I’m an extended breastfeeding, cloth diapering, co-sleeping attachment parent)

Or: FF, WAHM, LO EDD = 8/24/09 (Translation: formula-feeding, work-at-home mom, little one’s expected due date August 24, 2009)

I couldn’t catch on to their jargon. Was this really how moms conversed? My head spinning, I quickly signed off the birth club as quickly as I signed on.

Yet over the years that followed, I came to see how many women defined themselves by their parenting choices, even if they didn’t use an alphabet of abbreviations. Whether or not to offer a pacifier, let your baby cry it out, vaccinate, circumcise, delay solid foods, use a stroller, or allow screen time – these apparently were not casual choices but commitments that defined you as a parent. And as a person.

Frankly, this phenomenon both terrified and fascinated me. As a first-time mom who felt clueless about nearly everything she was doing in relation to her child, I was overwhelmed by the idea that I should pick a “parenting philosophy” that aligned with my beliefs.

But I was also intrigued by this conception of personhood: that you were the sum of your choices, and that the implementation of your ideals defined you.

. . .

I don’t dispute that some of the ways I’ve approached parenting have shaped me as a person. Breastfeeding changed how I viewed my body, for example. Helping my kids develop good sleep habits taught me how much I value rest and quiet.

But I just couldn’t accept the idea that offering my baby a pacifier or getting him on a nap schedule somehow defined me as a mother. Motherhood meant something deeper, more primal, even more universal than the particular choices I made, given my time and place and social location.

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I thought about these questions – what kind of mother am I? what defines me as a parent? - as I wrote today’s column for Catholic Mom. Settling into my new identity as a mom over the past few years, I’ve come to see that it’s often the overlooked categories or characteristics that drive my self-definition: I’m a mom who craves community, I’m a mom who loves laughing, I’m a mom who hates clutter:

Labels often get a bad rap when it comes to parenting. Too often they back us into opposite corners, squaring off against each other in rival camps.

We want to say something about the kind of mothering we do – breastfeeding, homeschooling, attachment parenting, working outside the home – but these descriptors can have unintended effects. They can heap another layer of judgment on moms who didn’t make the same choices and feel the need to defend their own.

But adjectives are helpful and important, too, as any good English teacher will remind you. Adjectives bring color to our lives, appeal to our five senses, and let our imaginations run wild as we wonder how to describe the world around us.

Maybe if we get more creative about the ways we describe ourselves as moms, we can break out of the tired divisions and find the beauty in our differences and similarities.

What kind of mom are you? Here are a few ways I can fill-in-the-blank:

I’m a goofy mom. I’m a silly nicknames for everyone, dance parties in the kitchen, funny faces in the bathroom mirror, squawky sounds to make them eat their veggies kind of mom. I’m a making up songs in the car, tickle fests before bath, shouting “boo!” from the stairway to make the baby giggle kind of mom..(read the rest at Catholic Mom)

It’s not that I think our choices don’t impact us. Today I also have a piece (re)running at Practicing Families about the choice to approach parenting as a spiritual practice. How the small decisions we make every day can offer us opportunities to put our core beliefs into action:

The more trips I take around the sun, the more I become convinced that the spiritual life is mostly about two things: paying attention and shifting perspective.

It’s about seeing the abundance of grace in small moments.

It’s about reframing my vision to remember God.

Whenever I do these two things – see differently and re-member myself back to the God who is love – it’s no exaggeration to say everything changes. Or at least all the important things change.

These two practices remind me of how to be in right relationship with all that is around me: my God, myself, the people who challenge me, the tasks ahead of me…

Read more at Practicing Families.

But I still can’t define myself as an attachment parent, even if I nurse my babies till they’re two. Or a tiger mom, even if I believe kids need strict discipline at times.

Theological anthropology teaches me that my deepest identity is as a human being created for relationship, in the image and likeness of God. For me, that means every other part of my identity springs from this communal, created, beloved reality.

So I think about parenthood in these terms, too – as the relationship I have with the children I have been given to raise. How I feed or diaper or carry them can’t change the essence of that love.

(Although can I secretly admit that maybe I love them a teensy bit more when they bless me with the first simul-nap in months so that I could crank out this blog post?)

How do you define yourself as a parent? What choices have been the most important for you?

most-ly: a year in review

2013 was a fun blogging year for little moi.

I got the chance to work with so many great writers and inspiring moms who helped bring these two series to life: How I Nurture My Mothering Spirit and How We Spend Our Time.

I started writing more beyond this space, for Catholic Mom and Practicing Families and the blog for the Collegeville Institute.

And – perhaps most importantly – I was delighted to turn a few blogging connections into “real-life” (as in, welcome to my messy house! and my wild kids!) friendships off-line.

(To think I still owe all this to a crazy idea I had years ago when I decided to start a blog and tell no one.)

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Inspired by the “Most” Posts at Amongst Lovely Things, I decided to dig back through the past 12 months of blogging to unearth a few memorable moments in these five categories:

Post with the most clicks: This is Heavy. But We are Also Strong. I loved that Blooma (a great resource for Twin Cities moms!) picked this post to rerun on their blog this week, because it was one of my surprise favorites this year. I wrote it in my head one night while cutting cantaloupe with my youngest, and I never dreamed it would strike such a chord.

Interestingly, it’s still my page on Prayers for Pregnancy that gets the most views (5,000+ this year, yikes). Believe me, I’m cooking up something new for 2014 on praying through pregnancy…so stay tuned!

Post with the most comments: On Carrying and Missing. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, having miscarriage become such a stark part of our 2013. But it was, and so many of you sent your words of love, and I will never forget any of it.

Post with the best picture: When The Marriage Dust Settles. The jumble of photo booth shots from a family wedding sums up the lovable chaos of our lives right now: all four of us clamoring all over each other, laughing and cuddling and making goofy faces for the camera. And at least one boy grinning upside down in every shot.

Post that was hardest to write: The Gossamer Veil. This was one that made me weep while I was typing, but it might be the truest thing I wrote all year. Ever since I was a child, I have carried with me a sharp, deep awareness of the thin thread between life and death, and losing our baby brought all of this too-much-reality right back to the surface of grief. But I’m so grateful I wrote it.

Post that was your personal favorite: When A Calling Comes Full Circle. I loved that the Christian Century blog network picked up this post, because it strikes at the heart of the work I’ve been blessed to do on vocation with the Collegeville Institute: What does it mean to listen for God’s call? What happens when life interrupts our plans? And how can the paths-not-taken come back around when we least expect them?

. . .

Looking ahead…What will 2014 hold? A new baby in May, thank God. And another big surprise I’m getting ready to birth, too…so stay tuned. (You might just have to follow Mothering Spirit on Facebook or Twitter to hear the news first!)

One thing is for sure: none of this would exist without you, the ones who read what I write. Still such a humbling head-shaker for me. You are the ones I count among the many blessings of 2013, of one more year spent spinning around the sun.

May this last day of December be filled with light and laughter and love, wherever you spend it.

i’ve never done this right

I never read a single “how to blog” article before I started.

I never tried to find a niche.

I never strategically stalked other bloggers to boost my stats.

I never joined the blogging networks that pay you for running their ads.

I never worked on sensational titles or pin-worthy photos.

I never got sponsors.

I never tried to make a single post go viral.

I never even told you my children’s names or shared zillions of shots of their adorable faces so you could fall in love with them.

By many standards, I’ve never done this blogging thing right. All the experts scream that readers want sound bytes, top-10 lists, slick design, meme-worthy quotes. I’ve done none of that.

(For crying out loud, it’s been over a week since I last posted. Don’t I know the first thing about keeping readers interested?)

But from the beginning I’ve wanted to do this blogging thing real if not right. Which is to say that when my family or my work or the rest of my life needs me more, I always step back for a bit. I don’t stress about posting; I don’t check the stats; I don’t keep up with the comments.

And the lovely thing about a true passion is that it always forgives you the neglect.

Right now I have lots of irons in the fire. Right now I have plenty of projects in the works, including the biggest and longest thing I’ve written to date (!) and a bunch of other deadlines gently elbowing my side: don’t forget us. Right now I have two busy little boys who run me ragged sunup to sundown with an exhaustion of love and giggles. Right now I have a husband who travels and a house I stopped cleaning and an email inbox stuffed to overwhelming with so many good things and people I need to respond to.

So I let the blog slide, or maybe I let it lay fallow, or maybe I let it slow down. Knowing that coasting and resting and pausing are all part of the ride. Knowing that the energy and excitement always come back to this place.

Because you are here, and I never take for granted the gift that is someone else reading these words. What never fails to blow my mind is how that people keep finding their way here, even when I never intended to draw them in.

So today I’m reveling in all that I don’t do right. The bathrooms I don’t scrub, the homemade meals I don’t scratch together, the to-dos I haven’t done, the errands I haven’t run, the activities I never signed my kids up for, even the blog I neglect.

Because in between all that I don’t do right, I do so much real. With a partner and kids and work and faith that I love.

And maybe because all of that is wrapped tight with hope in the truth that faithfulness was always a deeper call than success, I’m reveling in letting things fall where they may. In this season of falling leaves and dipping temps and letting go, I’m giving thanks for all that is done and undone. Knowing that whenever I turn back to pick up what has fallen, there will be time enough, again.

Time enough, always, for the real. If not the right.

Do you ever revel in this, too?

why you have to tell your truth

What a strange place to realize why you write (because yes, by now you must own that you are a writer) – deep in the thick of Wisconsin woods, tucked back by the leafy shores of a wide sparkling lake, waiting in the white clapboard building of an old YMCA campground-turned-college, surrounded by a hundred pastors twenty years your senior (and you the only Catholic for miles, and a lay woman at that), wandering in your own thoughts as the retreat session begins with a call to prayer.

From over your shoulder someone flutters a piece of paper onto your lap as strangers’ throats clear and chairs shuffle to start the opening prayer, and you look down to read these words:

“Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of hope -

not the prudent gates of Optimism, which are somewhat narrower;

nor the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense;

nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness, which creak on shrill and angry hinges

(our people cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through);

nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of ‘Everything is Gonna Be All Right,’

but a very different, sometimes very lonely place,

the place of truth-telling,

about your own soul first of all and its condition,

the place of resistance and defiance,

the piece of ground from which you see the world

both as it is and as it could be,

as it might be, as it will be;

the place from which you glimpse not only struggle,

but joy in the struggle -

and we stand there, beckoning and calling,

telling people what we are seeing, asking people what they see.”

- Victoria Safford

And you know the prayer must have continued around you, with all those pastors’ kids and smooth-talking preachers warbling on perfect pitch in the summer breeze, sweet enough to break your heart. But you, you have to sit back down into that awkward plastic folding chair and you have to stay with these words, breathe them in, feel them hum against your heart as you clutch the paper in your hands.

Because these words speak why.

Why you started this journey, why you keep tapping these words, why you keep wondering and writing any chance you get – because the only truth you can tell in this maddening world is the story of your own small life.

And because perhaps in telling it, in flinging it out into the void while you retreat, vulnerable and doubting again, you might just hear some faint echo ring to your ears, some tiny rattle of the lone pebble dropped down the dark well.

This well that starts on your own soil, in the middle of your messy backyard, ringed round by little boys who giggle while they spray each other soaking with the cold clear stream of the garden hose.

This well that starts on the surface of the everyday but sinks steadily downward to the deep, to the secrets buried below, to the source of the water that flows beneath us all. The aquifer of human experience, one wise teacher once taught you.

So every day when you sit down to write (because it is every day, it must be, it drags you out of bed every dark morning before the babies stir, every nap time when you sink into the couch to seize the quiet, every exhausted evening once the same boys are tucked bedside again), you write with this aim in mind: to plant yourself at the gates of hope.

To refuse stubbornly to let go, even when the world spins cynical around you and whispers nagging doubts in your ears – no one cares about these questions any more, about God and faith and truth; it’s a waste of time, you know.

To sit tight in the lonely place of truth-telling.

To keep trying to hone the craft, to find the just-right words, to seize the struggles and the searching and the soul and the sacred in this everyday.

To say yes, there is still joy. Always, in the struggle, in the call, in the resistance, in the seeing. There will be joy.

And because all of these things – digging in your heels to hope, never letting go of what you love, teaching truth-telling, honoring the holy, naming the joy – all of this is how your heart is being reshaped into a mother’s heart, too.

For you this writing and this mothering linked arms from the first days and swore a fierce blood promise never to part. And you know they will not.

So even when you are hundreds of miles from the ones you raise, they are still – and will always be – your prayer and the words you seek. For they will always be your joy in the struggle.

They will always be the truth in your words.

when the marriage dust settles

In a week when marriage made headlines, the quiet moments will be the ones I remember.

Glimpsing small cousins plodding down the aisle in tiny tuxedos, child-sized versions of the grooms they may one day become.

Chasing an exasperating (yet still adorable) toddler around the back of church while the priest asks if the couple will accept children and bring them up with love.

Catching only one line from the homily in its entirety, words quoted from Bonhoeffer that it is not the love that sustains your marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.

Hearing a father with a golden voice singing for his daughter as she lit a candle with her new husband.

Saying yes to the bright-eyed boy who asked to take his off his too-tight dress shoes and run free through the lush grass of the golf course green.

Spinning my baby on my hip as he tipped back his head and belly-laughed with glee, wondering whether he’ll ever spin me around another mother-son dance some day.

Late-night mugging for the camera in the photo booth, catching my husband on the cheek with a kiss as so many couples have done before us.

Watching one last burst of fireworks as we pulled out of the parking lot with two tired boys fading fast in the back and a squeeze on the hand from the spouse who knows I love summer night surprises like a six year-old child.

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Beyond the headlines, the everyday work of marriage goes on as before. Work and joy, children and responsibility, forgiveness and laughter.

It is a seemingly impossible promise, to choose a covenant with another flawed human being for the rest of your days. But quietly behind the scenes, millions make it happen without fanfare.

Every wedding we attend, ever since our own, I watch the high hopes of the couple at the altar, standing together in contrasting white and black, and I wonder how fitting it is to pledge love in a place of sacrifice, of lives laid down and broken in gift for each other. We are pointed towards the mystery and crucible of the sacrament long before we can glimpse the long view of what we have promised.

It’s tempting, once you’re no longer newlyweds and have reached the point of settledness—having set up house and established careers and had a few babies—to start sounding more like the seasoned old-timers, whispering while we watch them take their vows: “They’re just kids! They have no idea what’s ahead of them.”

It’s partly true: they don’t. We didn’t. No couple who commits themselves on a wedding day can fully grasp what that covenant will mean or what life will throw their way. We all hear “for better, for richer, in good times, in health” and breeze over the second half of each couplet: the wise and cautious reminders of the sufferings this calling will inevitably encounter.

Yet whenever I’m tempted to run the risk of clucking condescension for the fresh-faced kids standing on the altar, I remember this: we, too, had no idea what was ahead of us. But we, too, knew just enough for that day.

(Click here to read the rest of my latest post at CatholicMom.com)

This weekend’s was one of those weddings when everyone agrees – over glasses of Chardonnay and cocktail hour Sinatra and children shedding suit coats underfoot – that They’re A Perfect Match, that We Couldn’t Be Happier For Them.

We nod and affirm, without ever saying it, that they do know enough for today.

And that the rest of us – jostling babies on the edge of the dance floor, leaning over linen tablecloths to hear grandparents tell stories, clinking forks against glasses to embarrass the newlyweds into a kiss - we are still slowly learning our way into our vows, too.

father’s day from far away

He’s 10,000 miles away tonight. When I finally get him on the phone, I’m a blubbering mess. After a week apart and two more to go, I didn’t yet want to wave the white flag of defeat, but it was such a tough day – too little sleep, too many messes, two little boys with cranky tempers and only one of me, all day long.

Eloquence fails when nerves run this raw: I suck at flying solo.

But the truth was, we’d had so many good days this week: such delight at summer adventuring with my boys, discovering new parks and playgrounds, meeting up with lots of friends to fill our time as a trio. Which is why the spiral downward – from a difficult morning to a disastrous afternoon to a don’t-ever-need-to-revisit-this evening – sank even deeper after enjoying such heights.

C’est la vie, of course, these rolling ups and downs, how life with littles whiplashes from one extreme to the next in a matter of minutes. I shouldn’t have been surprised.

And yet what did surprise me was how quickly his voice calmed my anxiety. How the sound of his sympathy made my whole body relax.

In two minutes he’d talked me off the ledge and back onto the solid ground where a bad day does not make a bad mother. In another two minutes he had me laughing so hard I almost dropped the phone and we started swapping stupid stories about our days, as if he were driving home from work and not working four oceans away.

A sub-par Father’s Day? Probably in most people’s estimations. We never managed to get him a gift or a card or even post a proud photo on Facebook to boast that he (along with everyone else’s dad, according to my scrolling feed) is The Best Ever.

But the simple truth is that the man lives the calling. He is father to my boys beyond my younger days’ wildest hopes of what a partner could be. Whenever I see the way other people notice it, too, that’s when I sit back and soak up the sheer grace of what choosing to love him has brought to my life and to the lives of our children.

He’ll often quote me the line from Fr. Hesburgh that the best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother. And tonight in the smallest way, with a simple (ok, admittedly international, assuredly expensive) phone call, he did precisely that all over again.

Love spreads. His gives me more for them, for a better tomorrow.

Always.

babbo

If you’ve stuck around through the sap, you can treat yourself to theological musings on the subject: I’m blogging here in honor of the holiday – asking whether fatherhood is a relation, an obligation, or a vocation?

(Bet you can’t guess what I think.)

practicing the imperfect

It’s all just practice.

None of this is performance, this work of parenting. Despite my dark moments of self-defeating thoughts to the contrary, no one is watching me with a clipboard, making sure I don’t screw up or that my kids turn out according to someone’s standard of perfect.

blog-008It’s all just practice.

And practice takes time. Years. Sweat. Tears. Those crucible moments when you’re so tired and frustrated you want to scream and give up.

But you don’t. You keep practicing. And things slowly change over time.

The instrument becomes easier to play – and becomes part of you.

The sport changes your body in powerful ways – and becomes part of you.

The play allows you to understand your own life as you act – and becomes part of you.

Every day I wake up and start practicing parenting again: caring and forgiving and teaching and serving. Over time it becomes part of me.

Practice changes us, if we stick with it.

This morning I’m guest posting over at Practicing Families. On practicing a life of faith with kids, and all the messiness and faltering and second-guessing it entails:

The old adage wags its finger at me that “practice makes perfect.” Just like the line from Matthew’s Gospel—“Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”—that makes me cringe at the ideals that fall far short of my life’s messy reality. But I know there’s deeper truth to the good of practice. It makes our muscles strong. It trains our thinking. It strengthens our resolve.

For this family, practice will always be imperfect. We will show up to church five minutes late. We will not always pay attention. We will sometimes skip out after communion when the kids are just too cranky. But next Sunday we will try all over again.

We’re practicing.

Click over to Practicing Families to read the rest…

The Christian life is about practice, not performance – and thank God for that, because we’d all come up short. But the practice that matters is receiving grace in ordinary moments and sharing love in return.

What are you practicing today? What part of parenting is finally starting to feel easier, and what part is more challenging than ever?