children

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…

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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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only a whisper of a life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

Today it is my gift to you.

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

In joy I pray,

Amen.

© 2014 Laura Kelly Fanucci

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

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.

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(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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what your kids taught me about God

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It’s not all about my kids.

I know I’m breaking a cardinal rule of mommy blogging with that one. But this truth runs deep in my tired mama bones:

It’s not about me and mine.

I can’t shake the stubborn, squirming fact that this call to motherhood – this gift I took into two shaking hands when the two lines on the test blurred clear to pregnant and I flung open the bathroom door to tell a father (because he was finally a father!) that everything had changed – this beautiful, exhausting vocation is not simply to the three children whose scuffed shoes are tumbled across our front hall rug.

It’s a call to stretch my heart into a mother’s love for all children.

To burst beyond the limits of what I want to cling to as mine, safe and small. To peer into the pain of how the world’s brokenness crushes millions of hearts like mine – mothers who carried babies and nursed babies and soothed babies and loved babies. To remember how small but mighty shifts can happen once we start seeing each other.

My three wee ones may be the lens through which I view this parenting story, but they are not the whole story. The story is about all of us.

And your children have shaped me, too.

Your kids are starting new schools, clutching those tiny cartooned backpacks or hiding nervous eyes behind teenage bangs. Your kids are braving bullies on the playground or tackling learning disabilities with this year’s IEP.

Your kids are teaching me that God fills us with courage from our earliest days.

Your kids are widening what they know of love, welcoming a new baby or foster sibling into their home. They’re fumbling into tender new friendships after a cross-country move. They’re learning what it means to mourn a grandparent who has gone beyond.

Your kids are teaching me that God’s love is inexhaustible.

Your kids are grown (if any of us can place that verb in past tense). They’re off to college with extra-long twin sheets for the dorm bed or they’re waving goodbye from the International Departures gate. They’re finally starting their first real job and going off your phone plan, or they’re having sweet, small babies of their own.

Your kids are teaching me that God longs for each of us to grow.

Your kids are still not here. They are desperately wanted dreams, slipping just out of reach again this month. They are hopes and glimmers and the mystery of not-yet, but you still love them wildly.

Your kids are teaching me that God is the Source of Life Itself.

Your kids are teaching me because their lives are bound up with mine. And it haunts me, this Body of Christ, this woven-togetherness.

Because what happens when we re-member each other back together is that all the rigid boundaries quiver and crumble. My family. My house. My kids. My life. No. Ours.

One shared stream, and it is one holy blood that pulses in our veins.

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If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.

She never bore a baby herself, but how many pausing photos have we seen of her, wrinkled eyes smiling, sickly scrawny newborn pressed to her cheek, love touching love in the filth of Calcutta’s gutters?

Teresa understood this truth in flesh and bone, and they called her mother for it.

The children who don’t have enough rice to scrape together for a meal, whose dry tongues crack for clean water to drink, who toss and turn to sleep terrified of gunshots outside or abuse from down the hall – they tug on my heart, too. They have to.

Otherwise I have not changed. I have not let my children change me – these wriggling babies whose bodies were once held within my skin, whose hearts beat beneath mine, whose life was sustained by my own.

And they have changed me mightily. 

So I have to keep probing this uncomfortable truth. It’s not about me and mine. It’s about yours, and theirs, and all the ones I will never know face-to-face.

It has to be ours.

3 things Joseph taught me about God

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

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

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1) Joseph taught me that God is Hope.

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

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

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

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

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

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2) Joseph taught me that God is Mercy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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3) Joseph taught me that God is Dreamer.

By his name, this child echoes truth to me.

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

3 things Thomas taught me about God

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Dark-haired. Dark-eyed. Stubborn and spunky. Middle child. All things I am, too.

But this sweet Thomas boy – he is full of surprises. Every day he keeps me on my toes, reminding me that he knows his way. And his way in this world will be bright, blazed all on his own.

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1) Thomas taught me how God is Creator.

Thomas came into the world fast and furious. The way he’s done everything since.

I write in my book about how much he taught me by his birth – which was natural and powerful and even easy. The utter opposite of the overwhelming induction that brought Sam into the world.

While we were racing to the hospital, I freaked out that the baby would be born in the car en route, so intense was the speed at which everything was flying.

But suddenly I looked straight at the clock on the dashboard and knew that I would be fine. Because he would be born at 3:21 am. I have never known anything with such perfect clarity before or since.

Sure enough, he ended up arriving exactly on time – as soon as we flew into the birth center, as soon as the doctor rushed in to catch the baby, and as soon as that clock ticked to 3:21 am. Crazy but true. Now that I know our boy who always makes up his mind in a split second, I’m not surprised. Thomas has always been a boy on his own time.

His birth taught me that I was stronger than I realized. That my body and mind were created to do hard and worthy work. His birth taught me that so much of a child’s personality is revealed in the earliest moments. And these innate qualities are not of our own crafting.

Thomas reminds me that each of us was called into being by a Creator who knew our lives before we took our first breaths. The mystery and wonder of that truth is captured in his birth story that still surprises me every time I tell it.

Just like the boy himself.

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2) Thomas taught me how God is Reconciler.

Another truth I write about in my book (can you tell I have it on the brain since I finished final edits this weekend?!) is that Thomas’ temperament is not far from mine. Which is a nice way of saying that he and I regularly practice reconciliation and forgiveness.

The stubborn Irish temper I share with my second-born? It teaches me time and time again how God is slow to anger, rich in mercy. I wish I could be like that, too. But until my edges (and his) soften over time, this is a lesson that both Thomas and I will have to keep learning over and over. Good things we’re in it together.

Quick to laugh, quick to snap. My prayer is that we will both be quick to love and forgive, too. Like the God who is always waiting to welcome and reconcile, running down the road to meet us with a father’s wild, prodigal joy.

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3) Thomas taught me how God is Trust.

Since the day we chose our boy’s name, the expression “Doubting Thomas” rubs me the wrong way. Sure, I get the Scripture reference. But every time I return to the story with fresh eyes, it strikes me that Thomas was far from cynical or snarky about struggling with the idea of the resurrection. Quite the contrary.

His faith already dug so deep that he demanded to know. He wouldn’t hide behind false fronts or go along with the bewildered crowd. He wanted to see with his own eyes and touch with his own hands.

Maybe he was the apostle who believed the deepest.

The story of Thomas’s name reminds me of doubt’s important role in the spiritual life. It is the stubborn twin brother of faith that keeps wrestling and probing. It is the hunger for understanding that refuses to give up and go quietly. It is the heart’s desire, strong enough to stay and search for truth.

So when I call Thomas’s name, I hear that invitation to Trust all over again. To keep wondering and wanting toward wisdom, asking to come close enough to press my fingers into the love of God.

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

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

3 things Sam taught me about God

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Blond-haired. Blue-eyed. Math-brained. First-born. All things I am not.

And yet this boy, this so-longed-for Samuel – he teaches me about the inner fabric of my own heart and the walls of my soul. By his pushes, by his pulls. Most of all by his tender heart. 

1) Sam taught me that God is a faithful companion.

We waited for Sam. Nearly two years. I’ve written so much about infertility – both here and in my book - that sometimes I’m blinded to the truth that it made me a mother in more ways than one.

Waiting for Sam taught me about the mystery of prayer – that it is not about the answer, but about the asking.

Waiting for Sam taught me about growth through pain – that it is the paschal mystery of dying and rising to a changed way of being.

Waiting for Sam taught me about God’s stubborn companionship – that it is closest to our heart when it feels furthest from our lives.

Yes, we “got” a baby after our years of waiting. But that fact is not what taught me God’s companionship. It was the long Advent before parenthood when I felt God sitting with me, silent and steady in the dark.

I have never forgotten those days, and every time I look at my children – especially sweet Sam – I remember infertility and I remember God’s companionship.

By our waiting, he teaches me.

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2) Sam taught me that God is a caller.

When it came time to choose our first boy’s name, we loved Samuel right away. Hannah’s story was one we held close to our hearts while we were waiting: her tears and her hope. And her child’s name – because I asked the Lord for him - fit our own gratitude perfectly.

But it was the rest of Samuel’s story that has taught me more about God. That God is still speaking. That the tugs on our heart or the voices in the night may just be nudges from the divine.

When I hear or speak Sam’s name, I hear echoes of the story of Samuel and Eli: Here I am, Lord. I’m reminded to keep listening, to lean on the wisdom of mentors and elders, to trust that I will be led if I respond. And not to be afraid of where I am called.

By his name, he teaches me. 

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3) Sam taught me that God is ancient and ever-new.

What a blessing and a burden to be the first. (Writes a third-born.) Sam gets to try everything before the others and boast of his size and age, but he also has to break us into parenting every step along the way. I imagine he will delight and struggle with being the first, much like every other first-born I know.

But here’s the thing he teaches me by going first: God is always already there.

Each time Sam reaches a new milestone – and we too, as his parents – I find God in the newness. In this season of school, I am finding God in the widened circle of people who will care for him. I am finding God in Sam’s delight in what he is learning. I am finding God in the freedom of letting him take small steps into the world without me.

There is nothing tired or musty about God. That wild whirl of Spirit energy, born of life and love itself – it brings constant change and surprise.

Of course it can be painful to learn and grow. Of course I’ve stumbled plenty of times along the way, worrying about Sam when I should have been marveling in wonder, wrestling to control what was never mine to wrangle. But I am better for the stretching.

I keep finding God in the surprise of what Sam brings as our trailblazer.

By being the first, he teaches me. 

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

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

how my kids became my spiritual directors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They are the best untrained spiritual directors around.

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

In part of his story, Ken says this:

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

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

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

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

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

from your spouse, children, parents, or friends? 

a summer of paradox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God speaks in rhyme and paradox
This I know is true

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A portrait of paradox.

. . .

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