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.

this is church right now

Five minutes late (aren’t we always these days). Smudged nametags, courtesy of Crayola markers. Pile of coats on the end of the pew (will it ever be spring?).

Loud whispers requesting books as soon as the lector starts to read. Why can’t we sing that psalm again – I like that one.

Puzzle pieces scattered on the floor during the Gospel. Homily about poverty and divorce and addiction and all the wants we bring before God. Tears over who gets to put the envelope in the collection basket (next Sunday remember to bring two).

No, we are not going to the potty like that little boy. Because you went before Mass and you can hold it, that’s why.

Eucharistic prayers for a bishop at the center of the latest sex abuse scandal. Whining about how hard it is to keep standing (I know, sweetie, I get tired, too). Eyes that light up at the Our Father – I know this one.

Shaking hands with every person within lunging range. Can you be gentle for the Sign of Peace? Headlocks between brothers broken up while the priest breaks the bread. A smiling whisper from the grandma behind us: of course they’re fighting but you have a beautiful family.

Wandering up behind us for a blessing at communion time. Why can’t I have the bread yet? Why doesn’t Mama drink the wine while she’s growing the baby? Snuggles while we sing. Watching babies in the communion line (7 more weeks and everyone will stop asking when I’m due).

Yes, we can read the book about the saints again. Use a Kleenex, not your fingers.

Announcements about a new unemployment support group. Careful practice of the Sign of the Cross at the final blessing. If there’s drumming on the last song, you can dance. But sometimes in Lent we sing quieter songs because it’s a solemn time. Solemn means quiet.

Requests to visit the tabernacle and light a candle and I want to pray for the baby and rainbows and everyone and God. Put down the kneeler carefully, please. Squabbling and a shove over who gets to pick the candle to light.

Why can’t we have donuts during Lent and are we going to Trader Joe’s on the way home? High-five from the priest on the way out to the parking lot. Please hold hands.

You boys did a great job at church today. Thank you. Attempts to revisit the homily’s high points over mounting requests for a favorite CD for the drive home. Brainstorming babysitters for Holy Week services (7:30 on Thursday night will be a disaster otherwise).

Closing antiphon from the littlest one, car seat in the back, dirty boots swinging against the driver’s seat, can you please stop kicking, sweetie:

I love going to church.

. . .

Has it always been so small and so huge, all these questions and concerns wrapped under one roof of one church? Maybe.

It’s the juxtaposition of the miniscule and the momentous, the ordinary and the overwhelming – praying for mudslide victims and pulling up trousers that were indeed too big for Mass this morning, hearing stories of healing in the Gospel while rummaging around in the diaper bag. The whiplash back and forth that defines this time in our lives. All of this is church right now.

Some day we may find ourselves just two again, a quiet couple that takes up only part of a pew. But for now church is chaos. And that’s ok, too.

. . .

Today at Practicing Families I answered our oldest son’s question from last Sunday, a response to his tantrum at the back door:

Why do you have to go to church?

I thought I wasn’t going to have to answer that snarly question for a few more years. Maybe even a decade before you started stomping around with teenage eye rolls of disgust when I ask you to get dressed on Sunday morning, and not in those ratty jeans with the holes in the knees, either. boots

But here we are today, already five minutes late and you’re standing at the back door whining in protest, coat clenched in your fist and your stubborn stocking feet kicking the mud-caked boots you refuse to put on so we can scramble into the car.

Do you want my answer? Ok. This is why you have to go to church.

Read the rest at Practicing Families

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?

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.

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)

sacrament, interrupted

I jostle one boy on my hip and nudge the other a step closer to the front of the line. Herding cats, I think as he wanders into the neighboring line of communion-goers.

Using my one free hand I gently guide him back by the shoulder and whisper in his ear about trying to stay near mama. We’re only a few people from the front when the toddler in my arms lunges away and starts kicking his feet in protest, demanding to walk, informing me in no uncertain terms that he does it himself.

When we reach the priest at the head of the line, I ready myself with a smile – maybe even an apologetic one for my motley crew – but he’s nowhere to be found.

Instead he’s already crouching low to smile at my boy and ruffle his hair before he blesses him, in words just at his level and his own name added at the end as a kicker.

Then he stands up again and does the same for the child in my arms: a welcoming grin, words of love and blessing.

Only then does he turn to me, the one waiting with outstretched hands, to offer another broad smile and the Body of Christ. I gratefully accept both.

I love that this is our parish’s practice, to bless the babies and offer words of communion to the children before they are old enough to receive. But once in a while I find myself restless, wanting the minister to hurry up so we don’t delay the line behind us, or wanting to get communion myself and get on my way.

Exactly the moments it does me good to have this sacrament interrupted.

What is grace if not given freely, not deserve by the one who waited patiently but poured out on every face that comes forth to a welcoming table?

What is sacrament if not shared first with the least, the forgotten, the neglected?

Maybe all sacrament is interruption. God breaks into what’s most ordinary – bread, water, love, forgiveness – and blesses human attempts to make holy. We’re jarred into remembering that wine and oil and candles and rings clasp truth to our hearts in ways more powerful than words. We need the ritual, the rite, the action, the sign. We need it spoken to us personally, like Christ pulling one child onto his lap, and communally, as a church trying to re-member ourselves back into one body.

And we need it to keep interrupting our expectations: that we are in charge, that we control faith, that this life is ours for the taking.

Every Sunday now, as I herd the cats back to our crayon-strewn pew, I hear them plead with a hungry look back towards the line we’ve just left: “I want Communion next time! Why don’t I get bread, too?”

This is how our restless hearts come home, I think.

Learning to long for the love they see extended.

Wanting to receive the blessing they are promised.

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.

what’s a mother’s legacy?

I had stepped outside for a breath of fresh air and – truth be told – a break from the boys inside who were driving me crazy. I walked the dog down to the street and pulled the newspaper from its box, tugged off the plastic wrapper still dripping from the morning’s latest summer storm.

A headline at the bottom caught my eye. It made me stop and read the whole obituary in my driveway: In eight decades as a singer and pianist, she made her name by balancing her family with her career. It’s not every day that a mother’s work-life balance makes the front page.

“Her heart was as big as her talent,” said Paul Peterson, her youngest child. “She was everybody’s mom. They all called her ‘Mama Jeanne.’ She was always so welcoming. Everyone from David Sanborn to Steve Miller rehearsed in her basement on Morgan Avenue.”

“She lived an incredible life and left a great legacy,” said her grandson, saxophonist/keyboardist/singer Jason Peterson DeLaire, who tours in Michael Bolton’s band. “From her, we learned about music and life and love.”

As I walked back up the driveway, I wondered about the questions we all eventually ask ourselves in the quiet of facing mortality.

What might they say about me when I’m gone? What kind of legacy would I leave?

. . .

The video made the usual viral rounds this week, and I should have known from everyone’s Facebook warnings to watch with Kleenex in hand that the coffee shop was not the place to click on the link. But caffeinated click I did, and Colbert choked me up, too.

Setting aside his usual snark and cynicism, he spoke eloquently and emotionally about the woman whose love had shaped his very self. As I tried to coolly wipe my nose with a napkin before anyone noticed, the same questions quietly rose up again:

What would my kids say about me after I die? How can I lead the kind of life that leaves people remembering love?

. . .

Last week I held my youngest in my lap for a blessed three solid minutes while we listened to the priest’s homily. Mass was going so much better than the week before: spirits were high, boys were behaving. I’d even managed to skim the readings for the day over breakfast so I had some clue what was going on even when I didn’t hear it.

But the opening line from the Gospel had bugged me all morning, tripping me up like an annoying pebble stuck in my sandal.

Once when Jesus was praying in solitude, and the disciples were with him…

How could he be alone and yet accompanied? How could he pray so peacefully surrounded by people?

Was this some archaic editorial inconsistency (he’s alone/whoops, he’s with everyone)? Or simply proof of the divinity of He Who Could Meditate Amidst The Annoying Masses Of Humanity Even Though I Can’t Manage An Our Father When My Kids Are Driving Me Crazy?

I wondered about this paradox of prayer. As I cleaned up the breakfast dishes, as I drove the boys to church, as I plied them with books and crayons during the Gospel. I wanted to hear some word about how this worked.

But as the visiting priest started preaching about the obvious heart of the gospel – take up your cross and follow me - I figured the line that caught me would get glossed over.

Until he started telling his own story of feeling called to the priesthood.

He spoke about his mother who raised 7 children. How she prayed in the living room every evening before dinner while the rowdy crew of kids ran circles around her. Unflappable, she’d sit there on the couch with the same small prayer book in hand.

Only after she died, well into her nineties, did her son get a chance to see that prayer book. Wondering what captivated her attention every evening, he flipped it open to the well-worn middle and found that every night she had been praying for her children’s callings – specifically that of the two boys she worried about most, one would get married and one would become a priest. (The current priest admitted he was in fact the former, to the laughter of the congregation.)

But as he quickly moved into the next part of his story, I sat there still thinking about his mother as I breathed in the scent of my boy’s messy curls. I realized this priest had enlightened exactly the passage I’d pondered.

That was how you prayed in solitude, even with all the ramble of disciples around you.

That was how you lived a life where work and love could be braided together in messy beauty.

That was how you left a legacy of compassion and caring so deep that the people you loved would never forget it.

You prayed like Christ. You prayed with a mother’s heart for what mattered most.

where we Sabbath

We went to church on Saturday evening instead of our usual Sunday morning. The promise of good gardening weather and the weekend’s plans all pushed us towards the deviation from the norm.

But the boys were even squirrelier than usual, wrestling out of our arms, racing towards the altar steps, squawking during the consecration. One innocently inquired after communion whether there would still be church donuts since it was Saturday, and I seethed through clenched teeth that No One Was Behaving Well Enough For A Donut So It Didn’t Matter Anyway.

#parentingfail

So Sunday morning found me instead at the park with the boys, whom I soaked up like perfect angels in the bright sun, cringing at my own Mass-time behavior of the night before. We laughed on the slides and ran down to the river and chased each other on the playground paths.

Which is when I noticed: we weren’t alone.

The park was full of families enjoying the clear June day – biking, fishing, walking, jogging. I’ve never seen our favorite haunt so crowded. But it made perfect sense: Sunday can feel like a Sabbath moment whether you go to church or not. A time to pause and play together before the busyness of another week begins.

I have a new piece at Practicing Families on the struggles of Sunday services with little ones, so I’ve been pondering questions of church and family lately:

donutsEach Sunday I eventually discover that I’m grateful we’re there, again. Even when we’ve flunked the Time Trials, botched the Nursery Negotiations, caved on the Bribery Battles, and stand ready to lose the Donut Debate, I still find that God finds us there.

Some small moment arises – a line from the priest’s homily, a stranger’s smile at the sign of peace, a favorite song that makes my boys clap their hands – and I fall in love with church all over again.

It’s good to be here, even when it’s hard to be here.

Click here to read more about our Sunday Morning Fight Club

Weekends like this one, I start to wonder if the park was the place for us to find God and celebrate together as a family.

But I also know that when my kids grabbed each other’s hands to say grace at dinner tonight, I remembered how they had grinned at each other for the Sign of Peace at Mass on Saturday – how they kept shaking each other’s hands and wouldn’t let go, how their happiness was contagious and made even the most curmudgeonly adults around them (ahem) stop and smile.

Church has a grip on me like that, too. I want to be there, even when it’s hard to be there.

How do you choose to spend your Sundays as a family? What brings you the most joy together?

to gather a child on your lap

What I hold on my lap defines me.

Part of the day it is a child, whichever one of my boys needs a snuggle or a story or a shoe pulled on his foot.

And part of the day it is a computer, the aptly named laptop which nestles on my knees as I work or write or (let’s be honest) waste time.

Today I’m posting at Catholic Mom about what it means to gather a child on your lap, to make space for someone smaller than you who needs your love and attention:

September 2012 009Holding a child on your lap means bearing the burden, the interruption and even the annoyance of all they will ask of you.

It is bending low, stopping and stooping, being weighted down by what matters most. It is opening yourself up to the love that will be demanded from you.

Parents, grandparents, godparents, teachers, caregivers, relatives and friends—we share the sacred weight of holding these least among us. When we let a child sit with us, we clear space for what matters most. We honor the gift of their presence.

We accept and embrace that they belong to us.

Click here to read the rest…

Some days I’m torn between what I hold on my lap, whether it’s two boys fighting for my attention or the back-and-forth of work-and-kids that parents know all too well.

But some days I’m simply grateful that my life is so full, that God has plopped the proverbial good measure – pressed down, shaken together, running over – into my lap.

What fills your lap these days? What do you learn from what you hold?