Babysitter’s been off this week, so free time/writing time has been nonexistent. But I have been slowly working on the next posts in the spiritual practices with newborns series to start back up next week! (Note to self: setting the bar low for postpartum expectations should be a spiritual practice all itself.)
And this week I had the chance to be elsewhere on the Interwebs:
First, an “interview” with the lovely Nell of Whole Parenting Family in her spotlight on three bloggers of faith. She asked us great questions, and I loved the chance to reflect again on what this space and practice of blogging have meant to me.
Second, Practicing Families re-ran a post I wrote after Thomas arrived on 10 Spiritual Lessons from Newborns. Turns out this post still rang true the third time around! And it was what first got me thinking about the new series on spiritual practices and babies.
Third, Catholic Mom has a bit of levity for your weekend church-going. Inspired by the Honest Toddler’s Bunmi Laditan and her latest viral post, I offer you 5 Minutes in a Mom’s Head At Mass. In which you will discover that despite writing a blog about spirituality, I pay full attention about 5% of the time our rowdy crew is at church. #lifewithlittles
Next Sunday I swear I’m getting everything ready the night before. And waking the kids up early. And making them eat breakfast at a normal – not snail – pace. And no potty tantrums before we leave. But then we won’t even need to come to church because IT WOULD TAKE THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST TO MAKE ALL THAT HAPPEN.
Read the rest at CatholicMom.com…
And last – but certainly not least! – I discovered this week that you can check out the cover of Everyday Sacrament here!
Apparently the book is already available for pre-order, so I am officially geeking out about seeing my name on Amazon for the first time, too!
Happy weekend to you & yours…
With a summer baby we slip into bed while the sun is setting behind the hill and we wake up when the sky is already bathed with light. And still we haven’t slept a solid stretch. Because all night he is nursing.
All day and all night and all the hours in what feels like the one long day since he was born.
Feeding the baby is a full-time job.
On the surface it seems a simple response to a simple need. You hear the hungry cry. You offer breast or bottle. But nursing newborns has never been easy as pie for me.
Sam had to get a hefty dose of antibiotics right after birth and wound up with a raging case of thrush that we passed back and forth for four months. (My whole body still shudders to think about it.)
Thomas started off with a terrible latch that led to all kinds of bleeding and crying (mine, not his).
And poor little Joseph came into the world tongue-tied. So we’re still waiting to round the corner to that magical moment where every feeding ceases to be Toe-Curling Pain and becomes Smooth Sailing, clear skies ahead.
But no matter what bumps we encounter along the road to keeping babies well-fed, it’s the all-consuming-ness that can feel most overwhelming. How often newborns need to eat. How long it takes to feed them. How their needs never follow a neat schedule.
It’s no exaggeration to say that baby’s hunger sets the pace for the rest of life spinning around it.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.’ (John 21: 15-17)
This is Jesus’s pastoral charge to Peter, of course – to lead and to serve. But it’s also a commission for each of us. Feed. Tend. Feed.
Sometimes we can generalize how we interpret Scripture’s commands – care for those who are hungry in the spiritual/emotional/symbolic sense. But sometimes we have to take the words at face value, too. Jesus is speaking about feeding after he cooked breakfast for his friends, after all.
Feed my lambs. The youngest. The neediest. The ones who cannot feed themselves.
To feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty are the first two Corporal Works of Mercy in the Catholic tradition. And we all know food and drink are the most basic of human needs. We cannot survive without them.
So feeding these smallest and weakest among us?
The teeth-gritting early weeks of learning to breastfeed? Or the tired task of warming up bottles for a screaming babe in the middle of the night? Searching for the right formula, cutting out dairy to fight fussiness, dealing with engorgement or mastitis or low milk supply?
These are spiritual practices, too.
Feeding the hungry. Caring for the least. Giving to those in need.
Scripture’s full of stories of God feeding us. Manna from heaven and bread from the table. John’s resurrection story of Jesus feeding his friends – with fish, then forgiveness – and asking them to do the same. It matters how we feed others.
And when we back up from the bleary-eyed bumble of feeding baby day and night, we can start to see that we are literally sustaining this little one’s life. That we are nourishing another human being while giving deepest comfort. That we are building up their bones with the knowledge that they are heard, loved, and cared for.
Even when baby starts to eat solids, and feeding begins to feel like just another cooking-and-cleaning chore, we can choose to remember that these acts mean more than three-square-meals-a-day. Because this is how we love in the body.
So maybe this is exactly the work we’re meant to be immersed in, day after day. Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.
It’s all he asked of us. Do you love me?
Here we go again! Settling into Newborn Land…
It’s a strange place to live. Everyone keeps odd hours. Crying is common. Spit-up and strange smells are expected. Nothing is ever clean.
But it’s a sweet place to stay, too. Newborn neck nuzzles and curled froggy legs. Milky breath and fuzzy fine hair. Sleepy smiles and softest skin.
The newborn time turns brains to mush. Hearts, too. It reverses routines and casts aside comfort. It makes you crave quiet and sleep so desperately you can taste it.
But it also reminds you how simple life can be. Sleep, eat, repeat. No lofty demands, no stressful schedules.
Just the babymoon cocoon of those dearest and nearest, wrapped up in the needs of the littlest.
. . .
On our third sojourn into Newborn Country, I’ve noticed how quickly the days are spinning by. Mostly thanks to Joseph’s two big brothers who never got the memo on “sleep when the baby sleeps,” choosing instead to play/yell/laugh/eat/whine/run/tantrum while the baby rests.
So the only long, lazy stretches of gazing at my sweet babe are reserved for the wee morning before anyone else stirs.
In those hazy hours before dawn, I think about the practices of caring for a baby. How simple, yet how laborious they can be. How feeding, diapering, and comforting a newborn fill every hour of every day.
If you’ve spent more than five minutes surfing round this blog, you know how my thoughts wind God-ward. So lately, as I nurse and change diapers and rock and swaddle and soothe, I’ve been thinking about how these simple acts can be spiritual practices.
How everyday care for babies teaches us about God and who God created us to be.
Over the next few weeks, as I’m adjusting to life as a mother of three (and a writer with fewer brain cells), I’ll be wandering through Newborn Land, eyes open to the spiritual practices that come with caring for baby.
Feeding, cleaning, rocking, singing, holding, soothing, and resting – to name a few.
Clichés about babies pile up faster than dirty laundry, and advice for new parents abounds. But would you believe Scripture has something to say about these spiritual practices, too?
For those of you in the trenches of Newborn Land (or Toddler Territory, or Preschool-Ville), I hope this new spin on well-worn activities might breathe fresh air into your tired bones.
And for those of you whose days of diapering and nights of rocking babies are now far behind you, I hope you’ll share your wisdom with those of us who still have far to go!
So stay tuned for some spiritual enlightenment on spit-up and soggy crib sheets.
Update: here’s the complete list of posts on spiritual practices with newborns!
First, gather the flowers.
At Mass a few weeks ago, my oldest boy leaned into my side while we stood to say the creed together. I recited the words on the projector screen, still prompting us with the new translation of the prayer after decades of The Version We Used To Say.
Absent-mindedly, I stumbled as happens so often, tripping over clumsy words that once were clear:
“…he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was born – dah! was incarnate! – of the Virgin Mary and became man.”
Without thinking, I rubbed the basketball of my belly in that unconscious instinct of expectant mothers. I thought about birth and babies and started to grumble about why we didn’t say “born” anymore, why the abstract theological was deemed better than the concrete physical.
Then I felt baby’s quick jab to my right side, sharp enough to make me wince. And I felt my son’s tired lean into my left side, heavy enough to make me shift my footing.
And I realized. Maybe incarnate was a truer truth.
. . .
Second, arrange the stems.
Here’s the fact I forgot about incarnation: it was not a one-shot, abracadabra magical minute. Not the mysterious instant of the Spirit making a virgin Mary pregnant. Not the painful moment of pushing the baby into the world of cold and air.
If incarnation means God becoming fully human, that process took time.
Days and days of dark growth in the womb. Weeks and weeks of babyhood in his parents’ arms. Months and months of toddling steps and babbling words and bubbling emotions. Years and years of learning childhood’s lessons, adolescence’s growth, and adulthood’s maturity.
And she was helping to incarnate him through all of that.
Of course I understand theologically what we’re claiming in the creed. That the second Mary said yes and the divine light that was Jesus sparked within her, his life was fully human. I remember learning all the councils and heresies and theologians that fought to argue passionately for Christ’s full humanity and full divinity. I know why it’s essential Christian doctrine.
Yet I can’t help but think we lose sight of incarnation’s depth if we confine it to an angelic visitation or a virgin birth. I believe it was longer and messier and more exhausting. The lifelong journey that a mother’s love sticks around to see through to the end.
All the way to the cross.
. . .
Third, set in sunshine and water.
How long does it take to raise our babies?
Is it the nine months we carry them within us, or the years we spend waiting for the phone call that will bring them to our door?
Is it the eighteen years of childhood that society (and sarcastic jokes) dictate we’re in charge of their upbringing?
I think of all the parents I know with adult children, how they still lose sleep worrying at night. How they still hope they’ll check in after a long trip. How they still pray for their safety and dream of their success.
If it takes us a lifetime to become fully human – to try and grasp the beauty and the pain of this mysterious, fragile existence – then maybe bringing our babies to the fullness of life takes years, too.
Maybe “incarnate” is a better word than “born” to wrestle our arms around what it meant for Mary to give her daring yes to a life that she never imagined. To a life that would change our own.
. . .
Fourth, drink in the blooms.
If my boys ever offer me the chance to pick the book for naptime or bedtime (which rarely happens), I always reach for the same favorite.
Mama says be kind,
Mama says the rain will come,
But still the sun will shine.
I found the book in our college bookstore when my first baby was brand-new, and of course I cried as I flipped through the pages. Mothers from cultures around the world teaching their sons life’s essential lessons.
Mama says be loving,
Mama says be caring,
Mama says you’ve done God’s will
every time you’re sharing.
To be blessed with one, then two boys to pull onto my lap and share this story – of course it feels like pure gift. There is so much suffering in the world, so many couples crying for a child, so many children who know too much pain. That I can sit in a sunlit corner and rock these small, safe boys in my arms means all my jumbled heart can pray is thanks.
Because motherhood is the work of incarnation. Of daring to partner with God in helping these children become fully human.
A truth which one short line of our creed speaks each Sunday, easy to skip over if you miss it:
“…he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man.”
And a truth which one children’s book states clear as a bell at its end:
Mama says help others,
And be the best you can.
I listened to what Mama said,
And now I am a man.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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:
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.
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?
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?
“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.
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.
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?
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)
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.