Catholic

9 weeks for 9 months: prayers for pregnancy (month 5)

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“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Galatians 5:22-23

Recently a girlfriend and I were laughing, with our six kids underfoot, about the irony of things we yell as moms:

BE GENTLE!

STOP YELLING!!

BE KIND TO EACH OTHER!!!

(Oh, the humility of life with small people…)

I often think about kindness as a virtue I have to teach my kids. Don’t kick. Take turns. Play nice.

How often do I think about kindness as something I need to practice – towards myself, towards my children, towards other adults?

This idea I had, to write nine prayers for pregnancy around the nine fruits of the Spirit, has made for some interesting synergy. I’d never considered the place of kindness in pregnancy. But all those incredulous comments I would get while pregnant – on how HUGE I looked, on how FAR I still had to go, on how SICK I could be – they were all opportunities to practice kindness.

Most of the time I failed at that. At best I gritted my teeth and tried to smile. At worst I groused to my spouse at night about the ridiculous things someone had said to me that day. But maybe I could have seen these conversations as openings to grow in kindness and compassion.

And to be kind with my own self as well, as I sacrificed sleep and energy and comfort (to say nothing of caffeine and wine!) for the health of my baby.

This prayer has made me think about kindness in my life today, too. How can I grow into the generous joy it takes to live kindly? Who are the people who challenge me most to be kind? What does it mean for a fruit of God’s loving Spirit to be the simplicity of kindness?

May kindness find you this week. May you share a kind moment with yourself or those you love.

. . .

month 5Month 5: A Prayer for Kindness

God of kindness,

Halfway through this month
The journey will be halfway done.
Twenty weeks past,
Twenty weeks to go.
As I feel the weight and wonder
Of this milestone,
Let my hopes and fears
Be carried by your promise
Of unfailing kindness.

Now that I feel the flips
And kicks and gentle pokes
From the child growing within me,
Let me remember
How you cradle all your children
Within the depths of love itself.

When I finally see
On the ultrasound screen
The dancing feet and waving hands
Of the sweet baby
I will soon hold in my arms,
Help me to trust in what I cannot see:
That you are with us,
That you guide us,
That you will never leave our side.

Help me to be loving and kind
Towards myself and my child,
Family and friends,
Even well-meaning strangers
Who comment on my new shape and size.
Let the words of my mouth
And the thoughts of my heart
Be compassionate and caring,
Even when my body grows weary.

In kindness I pray,

Amen.

© 2014 Laura Kelly Fanucci

Prayers for all 9 months of pregnancy can be found here at the end of this series.
Please consider passing them along to an expectant mother who could use them!
(And h/t again to Kendra at Catholic All Year for creating the lovely images for these prayers!)

start seeing sacraments: eucharist

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Every week until my book comes out, I’ll share images around each of the 7 Catholic sacraments.
Follow me on Instagram at @thismessygrace or tag your photos with #everydaysacrament.
Let’s start seeing sacraments together…

sacraments. . .

Eucharist. Source and summit. Body and blood. Christ at the center.

I see it everywhere, this blessed-and-brokenness of the Christian faith. It’s in our daily rhythms of eating and sharing at table. It’s in our everyday actions of taking and breaking. It’s in our ordinary offerings of sacrificing in love for each other.

It’s in this bread my husband bakes for our family every week, too.

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Every time I nurse the baby, I think of what it means to give of your self.

IMG_1129Every time my husband harvested bowl upon bowl of vegetables from his garden, I thought about what it means to feed others.

imageEvery time we sit down at table to share another family meal, I think about what it means to gather together and give thanks.

imageEvery time we shared our harvest with friends and family, I thought about what it means to be the hands and heart of Christ for each other.

IMG_1376Every time I watch people receive communion at church, I think about what it means to open up our lives to let love in.

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Eucharist can be hard. We break ourselves open to love. Eucharist can be easy. We reach out our hands to be nourished.

But at home? Eucharist is every day. Feeding our family and loving in the body and sacrificing for each other and thanking God who holds it all together.

For these thy gifts, which we are (always) about to receive.

Where do you see Eucharist in your life? What does this sacrament mean to you?

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

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“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Galatians 5:22-23

Patience. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

month 4Month 4: A Prayer for Patience

God of patience,

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

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

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

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

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

In patience I pray,

Amen.

© 2014 Laura Kelly Fanucci

Prayers for all 9 months of pregnancy can be found here at the end of this series.
Please consider passing them along to an expectant mother who could use them!

start seeing sacraments: confirmation

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Every week until my book comes out, I’ll share a few favorite images around each sacrament. Follow me on Instagram at @thismessygrace or tag your photos with #everydaysacrament. Let’s start seeing sacraments together…

sacraments

Confirmation is one of three sacraments of initiation into the Catholic Church (along with baptism and Eucharist). Sacred anointing with holy chrism oil. Laying on of hands by the bishop. Sealing of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Most Catholics receive the sacrament of confirmation as young people. (Too often it becomes a graduation from faith formation.) Others receive it as adults in the RCIA process. Either way we only “get it” once.

But do we ever get it?

This Spirit stuff is slippery. Scripture tells us of the Spirit’s gifts: wonder and wisdom, reverence and right judgment, knowledge and courage and understanding. But how do we live out these gifts? How does this sacrament shape our lives as Christians?

How do we see and taste and hear and feel confirmation every day?

. . .

I see confirmation in the way my children start to chase after their gifts.

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I taste confirmation in the day’s unexpected glimmers of grace.

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I hear confirmation in my callings, trying to listen to the Spirit for guidance in this holy work of parenting.

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I see confirmation in the ways I try to lift my gaze heaven-ward.

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I feel confirmation in the softest flutters of encouragement to share gifts.

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Where do you sense confirmation around you? What does this sacrament mean for your life?

9 weeks for 9 months: prayers for pregnancy (month 3)

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A prayer for peace. Don’t we always need it?

Peace is rare in these parts. As an introverted mama who craves calm and quiet to settle her soul and center her mind, I start to spin some days when the boys don’t stop talking/whining/crying/shouting. I know in my bones that this busy, bustling life is so good and the very gift I wanted, but it is still so frenzied at times that I can barely hear myself think.

And peace in pregnancy? It’s a nearly laughable prospect. My last journey down those nine months brought not only the severe morning sickness I’ve come to know (and loathe) as part of pregnancy, but also all the fear and anxiety of carrying a child after miscarriage.

When I think about what to expect when you’re expecting, peace would be last on my list. 

I try to remember that the God of Peace is always present with us, always calling us back, always inviting us to slow down into silence with a deep breath and a moment’s pause. But peace is still fleeting in this season of life, dancing before my eyes like a startling butterfly, dashing off again as soon as I stop to take notice.

Christ called us to be makers of peace. I think about this often, that peace is something we’re invited to help create, not just passively receive.

How do I make peace? How do I carve out corners for peace to settle in our home? How do I widen the margins of my life with enough space for a deep and lasting peace to guide our hearts?

Today I offer you a prayer for peace. Each new morning our world needs it more and more, millions upon millions of desperate hearts crying out for comfort and calm.

Maybe when we start to nurture peace in smallest ways, even from our earliest days, we can begin to align our lives with the peace that is God’s Very Self.

Wherever the dark chaos of your life calls out for blessing today, I pray peace for you, too.

“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Galatians 5:22-23

Prayers for Pregnancy - Month 3Month 3: A Prayer for Peace

God of peace,
As my appearance
And appetite and energy
All begin to change,
Let me seek the peace I crave
In your unchanging love.

Help me to remember
That you are constant
When all around me is shifting.

Calm my anxieties
With the comfort of your presence.
Quiet the storm of my fears
With your calm.

Whisper still, small words of trust
And cradle my baby
In the warmth of your love.

Help me to celebrate
The life growing within me,
The child taking shape
In the dark chaos of creation.
Keep your horizon of hope
Ever before my eyes.

In peace I pray,

Amen.

© 2014 Laura Kelly Fanucci

Prayers for all 9 months of pregnancy can be found here at the end of this series.
Please consider passing them along to an expectant mother who could use them!

start seeing sacraments – now on instagram!

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Catholics believe there are seven sacraments. These are the capital-S sacraments: baptism, Eucharist, confirmation, reconciliation, anointing of the sick, marriage, and holy orders.

But there are plenty of small-s sacraments shot through our everyday, too. Moments of grace where we encounter God. And the stuff of daily life – water and oil, bread and wine, forgiveness and healing, relationships and work – glistens with the fingerprints of the divine.

This is what my book is all about. Grace in the mess. Extraordinary in the ordinary. God in the Everyday Sacrament.

Since my siblings convinced me to try Instagram this summer, I have been captivated by finding small, sacred moments to capture. I love that this outlet of social media, more than any other I’ve tried, seems to be about sharing glimpses of joy and beauty.

And if you’ve been following me (@thismessygrace) and you’ve wondered why on earth I keep hash-tagging photos with #baptism, #marriage, #reconciliation or #anointing?

It’s because this Instagram lens on my ordinary world provides a perfect way to start seeing sacraments.

Where do you see sacraments in your everyday? A quick kiss from your spouse before work. A cold drink of water on a warm day. A to-do list packed with good work for those you love. A cupboard full of food.

Sacraments are all around us, if we have eyes to see.

sacraments

(Yeah, I went there. You can only stare at so many bumper stickers about motorcycles without getting inspired.)

If we start to limit where we see God, our vision of the whole world narrows. But if we open our eyes wider, then we might marvel at what we find.

Baptism at bath time. Eucharist round the dinner table. Reconciliation after sibling squabbles.

What we celebrate in church is reflected at home. What we live at home is honored in church. And God is present, everywhere and always.

Thanks to this beautiful post at A Deeper Story (from a fellow lover of Saint John’s Abbey and the Collegeville Institute) I recently rediscovered this line of truth from Marilynne Robinson:

“Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration.
You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see.
Only, who could have the courage to see it?”

Let’s have the courage to see it. Let’s start seeing sacraments together.

Follow me on Instagram at @thismessygrace or tag your photos with #everydaysacrament.

Every week until my book is published, I’ll share a few favorite Instagram images here around one sacrament. Starting today with baptism, of course. Where our Christian story begins:

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baptism 2

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how my kids became my spiritual directors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They are the best untrained spiritual directors around.

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

In part of his story, Ken says this:

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

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

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

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

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

from your spouse, children, parents, or friends? 

what to do next: supporting couples through infertility

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I never expected this.

Since those words swam in my head every single month that we were waiting for a baby, I should not be surprised that infertility continues to shape my life in unexpected ways.

But this post? More people have read it – and are continuing to share it – than have read anything on my blog in the four years since I started writing it.

The comments on that post are only a sliver of the stories shared with me through email, on Facebook, and in person. I’m floored by how many people are yearning to hear that they are seen.

So many couples are suffering the invisibility of infertility. And so many of them wish their churches would speak a word of peace to them in their pain.

What can each of us do, whether we’ve struggled with infertility or not, to support the couples suffering around us?

IMG_5943Watch your assumptions. That young couple you see? Don’t assume they’re wrapped up in their careers and are choosing to delay parenthood. That older couple you see? Don’t assume they never wanted kids. Those neighbors with an only child? Don’t assume they didn’t want more. Those co-workers with one boy and one girl? Don’t assume they stopped simply because they got their “matched set.”

Plenty of people have complicated situations when it comes to the question of conceiving and raising children. The less we jump to conclusions about someone based on what we know about them, the more we open our hearts to the more likely truth that we do not know their deepest struggles. We offer people such refreshing freedom when we refrain from slapping on labels or squeezing them into boxes by the judgments we pass from a distance.

Watch your words. Sitting with people in pain is uncomfortable. Our natural tendency is to try and fix the situation. But the words we use to show our concern can wound when we want to skip over someone’s suffering and start to offer advice.

My one pastoral suggestion in almost every situation of suffering is to avoid “at least” statements. At least you’re still young. At least there’s always adoption. At least you have other children. The grief and anger surrounding infertility, whether primary or secondary or after miscarriage, are complex emotions. They cannot be easily smoothed over by statements suggesting that the situation is not as awful as it could be.

Honoring the particularity of someone’s pain by simply sitting with them, listening, and letting them know you care for them is a rare gift. You cannot fix their circumstances, so you do not have to try.

You have so much to offer instead: your prayers, your presence, your patience in letting someone give voice to their own story.

IMG_5831Watch yourself change. Don’t make the mistake of holding back from reaching out, simply because you have not experienced their same sorrow. One of the gifts of believing in the Body of Christ is the reminder that we are not confined by the contours of our own life. We are deeply united with each other. We can share our joys and wounds on a deeper level than mere sympathy because our lives are caught up together.

Let your heart be stretched and your prayer life be widened by the experience of allowing others to expand your understanding of the suffering around you.

And once your eyes are opened to a new kind of struggle – like infertility – keep going. Start to see some other silent suffering sitting next to you: on the bus, in the pew, at the coffee shop. Reach out with one kind word.

See what happens.

When we open our eyes, the invisible becomes visible. Pain is no longer ours to bear alone.

And isn’t that what our communities of faith hope to be? Places where we care for each other. Places where we are pulled out of the worries and wants of our own worlds.

Places where we remember that we belong to each other. And to God.

. . .

If you are new here, welcome! Check out a few favorite posts or more reflections on infertility. And please take a moment to subscribe, or follow Mothering Spirit on Facebook or Twitter.

If you’ve been following for a while, thank you! Here are a few more places I’ve been writing this week: at Practicing Families on raising three white boys after Ferguson and at Small Things With Love on why we owe our babies to NFP.

dear couple in the pew: i see you {on infertility & invisibility}

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Dear couple in the pew across from us:

I see the way you grip each other’s hands when you notice us. I see the way you try not to cry while you watch our kids. I see the way you kiss her forehead quietly; I see the way you lean your head on his shoulder, blinking back tears.

I see the way both of you stare straight ahead, willing yourselves not to think about it.

I see you. 

While my husband and I are trying to corral the Mass chaos of three small kids, your eyes catch mine and then quickly look away. Turning from the sight of someone who has what you want.

Anything to keep from dwelling on what a young, growing family means to you.

I see you at the grocery store, too. At the park. At the restaurant. At the work party, the neighborhood potluck, the family reunion.

But somehow it feels even more painful when I see you at church. Maybe it’s because I know you’ll have to watch our motley crew for a whole hour, not just one quick turn down the store’s aisle or a sidewalk’s length at the park.

But mostly it’s because I remember sitting right where you are.

Praying with Kleenex balled in my fists, praying with tears at the corners of my eyes, praying for the strength not to envy, praying for this to be the month, praying to a God I clung to and yelled at, all at once.

I know the way you’re thinking, because I used to do the math just the same. Early 30s, I bet. Three kids. They’re so lucky. Our time is running out. It’s never going to happen for us. I hate this.

I wish I could tell you it gets better. I wish I could make the miracle happen for you. But besides my prayers – which you always have, and always will – all I can tell you is this: I see you. 

I see your pain and I see your struggle. I don’t ignore it or forget it just because my arms are full of drooling babies and squirmy toddlers.

I remember that is one of the worst side effects of infertility. Not just the crazy hormone swings or the monthly disappointment or the gut-twisting ache when yet another friend calls with yet another excited pregnancy announcement.

It’s the invisibility. The way you feel like the world can’t see your pain.

And the awful truth? The church doesn’t always see your pain either.

Rare are the prayer petitions for couples suffering from infertility or miscarriage or stillbirth. Even rarer is an outreach ministry, a support group, a prayer chain – any resource to tell you that this community cares for you and grieves with you and hopes with you.

But things can start to shift once we start seeing each other. Once we remember that we are seen. Once we remember all the ways that the Body of Christ can be wounded.

IMG_7666Because when I see you, I remember those days, months, and years of infertility. I remember not to take my kids or my chaos for granted. I remember to pray for all those who are in pain or who are longing.

So while you’re sitting there at church on Sunday, feeling alone in your pew and alone in your heart, remember that someone out there sees you.

That there are those of us around you who have lived with that heartache, whether we went on to have children or not.

And we never forget what it feels like to grieve, to cry, to curse, to pray every Sunday, every day, again and again, for the one chance that will change everything. Or for the strength to accept a life that looks different from what we hoped.

We see you. And when we see you, we can start to be part of the change.

Part of the church that can pray for your pain. Part of the community that can support you in your struggles. Part of the Body of Christ that remembers that without each other, we are not whole.

This is how we learn, how we love, how we grow. By seeing what is invisible. 

And I see you.

In love and hope,

From the mom in the opposite pew

a different assumption for today

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August 15th is the Feast of the Assumption. The Catholic Church teaches that at the end of Mary’s life, she was assumed into heaven, body and soul.

You might assume, if you knew I was an Associate Missionary of the Assumption, that I had something to say about today’s feast.

But here’s the truth about how I started my AMA year in France.

I came to Compiegne, jet-lagged and jumpy to start this post-graduate service stint, with just a wee bit of cradle Catholic baggage stuffed inside my giant backpack.

Fresh from college graduation, ink barely dry on the diploma, I felt shaky-sure about faith but full of questions about church. What was the role of women? What was Catholicism’s hang-up with sexuality? Where was my place in the whirling middle of it all?

When I showed up in the pebbled courtyard of 3 Square Eglise Saint-Germain, I wasn’t even sure what I was seeking. Clarity? Conviction? Christ-in-others? Maybe all of the above.

But what I found the moment that big front door swung open was one single certain truth: these Sisters of the Assumption knew how to welcome. They were all wide smiles and warm embraces and let-us-take-your-bags and can-we-make-you-a-cup-of-tea and we-are-so-delighted-you-are-here!

Until that moment I had known few French people and even fewer religious sisters. But suddenly these five women buzzing around me in long burgundy skirts and pale violet veils were bursting apart all of my stereotypes.

They were loving and laughter and compassion and generosity. They were a Mary-and-Elizabeth welcome every time I stepped over their old stone doorstep, before Mass or after work or any time they invited us volunteers over for dinner, which was so often I still hear Sr. Anne’s wise words echo every time I set an extra plate at my table for an unexpected guest: if there’s food enough for five, there’s food enough for six. And if there’s food enough for six, there’s food enough for seven. You see?

Every year I think of the sisters on this feast day. The women I knew who gave their lives to the Assumption. They taught me a different way of being in relationship with others: the women praying and working beside them in their community, the children running around the pews in the parish, the adults with disabilities whom they served in L’Arche homes. They taught me how truth and love are embodied – in laughter, in dancing, in dessert, in daily prayer.

And they helped me change my mind about Assumption. They helped me come to see that embodied love is what today is about.

I think back to a time when I tripped on Marian feasts like today, when I stumbled on my own assumptions of what dogma and doctrine meant. Then a year spent in community with women whose love for Christ and the church hummed in their every breath, who gave the length of their years and the strength of their bodies in quiet service to all who needed welcome – that year changed everything.

Did I know then that the sisters’ faces – wizened and youthful and pale and dark – might be the closest I could glimpse to Mary’s own? Over time my assumptions shifted, slowly like the soft rub on stone over a well-worn step. I weigh what I believe now – about women and sexuality and Christ and the church – with what I thought I understood then. And I realize that I see a feast like today in different light: shades of mystery and possibility.

And above all love and relationship, which is the essence of who God is and what we are called to be.

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Assumptions. Do we grip tight to them? Or are we willing to let ourselves be lifted above them?

Beyond the way we think things should be, beyond what we think bodies are capable of, beyond what our beliefs think possible?

What do we assume today? About the world, relationships, religion, church, God, each other? How might God’s embrace of us – our whole lives, body and soul – begin to soften our hard edges?

Today’s feast is about welcoming the unexpected and celebrating the goodness of love, in flesh and faith. What Mary did all her life.

May it be for us today as well.