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…
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.
A journey of four days, each unique.
With only a few short weeks to go before baby’s birth, I see these feasts through a new slant. Each like its own stage of labor, particular and progressing. Anticipated but still unexpected.
The gentle beginning.
The increased pain.
The powerful transition.
The final push.
The question is how to journey through all four, patient and present, without wanting to skip over all that comes between.
. . .
When you know you’re in labor, call me, she says, a steady confidence behind her steely grey eyes that have seen thousands of babies birthed into the world. We’ll meet you outside the hospital so we can walk and talk and decide when you want to go in.
And we’ll go get you some food first, she adds, turning to pick up the Doppler to check my baby’s heartbeat. You’ll need to keep up your strength for what comes next.
Thursday is washing and feeding. Prepare your body: eat and drink. Let your feet be washed. Bend your own knees to serve others. Try to steel yourself for what comes next, the sacrifice and the suffering.
Except you can never ready yourself for what Friday will bring. It will catapult you back into the arms of God.
. . .
An empty due date comes and goes. I am the only one who notices.
Alone that night, I light a small candle. Another baby kicks and squirms inside me. Is it worth mourning when my body is rounded and ripe again? Of course. The heart once wounded never heals the same.
I remember how it broke me open, the birth-that-was-not-birth. When I walked into the hospital a month ago for routine tests, my whole body tensed at the memory.
I worry that contractions will trigger the fear and grief again. I worry that we could lose, again.
Friday is suffering and sacrifice. Step into a bare church, stripped stark of its presence. Listen to stories of hearts and bodies breaking. Remember the physical pain of love.
But do not forget that Saturday still waits. Dawn’s first hints that despair and loss will be overshadowed by strange new hope.
. . .
Baptism has many symbols, he explains, ticking them off on his fingers while the couple in front of me fuss over their newborn in the car seat carrier.
Water. Light. Oil. A white garment. And one more in our church that you won’t find anywhere else. Can you guess what it is?
My head snaps back to attention, lulled into laziness by baptism classes before and graduate studies before that. I wonder what our deacon means.
The tomb. Next time you walk by our baptismal font, take a look at its shape. It looks like a tomb. Or a coffin. Because we are baptized into Christ’s death before we rise with him to new life.
And we want our wriggling newborn to be plunged into precisely that, I think. Could anything sound crazier? Starkest darkness before the light.
Saturday is waiting and transition. Pause for a moment between death and life. Sit in the tension between agony and delight. Hold a candle to welcome the newest Christians, the ones who shape their lives to a tomb filled in sorrow and opened in surprise.
So do not give up when you fear you cannot make it through. Transition means the joy is almost within your grasp.
. . .
Do you know what you’re having?
Again and again, perfect strangers pose the question. I have to bite back the sarcastic reply before it slips past my tongue – I think it’s a baby - and respond with a kinder smile. We’re keeping it a surprise.
After Easter Mass the gathering space swells with people swarming into pews or spilling out into the parking lot. The grandmother of the family who often sit behind our motley crew reaches out to grab my elbow as I pass.
Remind me, are your boys getting a brother or a sister?
We’ll have to wait and see, I tell her. Not much longer!
She nods, satisfied. And turning to go, she adds, It will be a blessing for your family no matter what.
Sunday is rising and revelation. The miracle bursting forth. What seemed impossible is now before our eyes in flesh and blood. Letting loose an Alleluia we have waited long to hear.
But still we hold traces of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in our Sunday grasp.
To remind us how the journey that brought joy was a winding road through mystery and death. This year, as in every other year. This birth, as in every other birth.
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…
“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.
Today I’m delighted to welcome the Rev. Cathy George for the latest in the How We Spend Our Time series!
Cathy is an Episcopal priest and the author of You Are Already Praying: Stories of God at Work - a collection of stories about people from all walks of life who have come to see their work as prayer.
I’m lucky enough to know Cathy in person, since she is a member of our Collegeville Institute Seminar on vocation and profession, so I have gotten to admire up close her passion for helping people see their work as prayer.
(Full disclosure: I’m also a fan because she graciously invited me to share my story of my work as a mother as prayer – which you can read in her book!)
I hope Cathy’s book and her wise thoughts below will help you to see the way we spend most of our time – at work – as prayer, too.
. . .
1) What is one truth about time you have learned since becoming a parent?
Time passes quickly. It doesn’t feel like it when we sit in the dentist’ s chair, or our days are dedicated to the care of a child’s needs, but it is fleeting. A child is no sooner born, than done nursing, and out of diapers and walking into kindergarten.
Being in the present moment, as fully as possible, is the one truth that I find worth practicing, day in and day out. Its fruits are abundant.
2) What is one practice of using time well that you have developed as a mother-writer?
Not waiting for the perfect time. Rather, stopping to ask myself if I really need to do this (email, phone call, laundry, cooking, etc.) or could it wait so that I could seize the time to write or read?
Setting expectations for myself that are reasonable and that don’t discourage me but take into account all that is on my plate that no one else might notice or acknowledge. Remembering that it is good for my children to see me at work on my work. It does not diminish my devotion to them, but shows them my whole life.
Letting go of writing goals when I was immersed in nursing, napping, feeding a child when the exhaustion was too depleting to expect myself to also be creative and instead to use writing as a joyful getaway, as a time to write, or vent in a journal for the joy of it and not expect myself to produce during a chapter of my life when I was already being productive.
3) What new insight about faith did you gain from writing this book?
I wrote the book because I wanted to encourage people of faith to see their whole lives as an opportunity for prayer. I learned, from those who shared their stories, and from those who are reading the book, that it is a message people need to hear.
Reading themselves into the stories of a mother at prayer, or a realtor, or painter, their lives open up before them as ceaseless moments to be in the presence of God in the tasks, work, play and challenges that make up any given day.
I learned that the sense of taking prayer into one’s actions, and workplace and family is not far off, not something to work hard at understanding, more like an “oh, yeah, I am already praying, now I know what to call it, now I can pray in and out of my whole day and not think of it as less than real prayer, but another form of prayer.”
I learned that we all want to be whole, to have a center to ourselves and our days that everything else revolves around, like the spokes of a wheel that move from the center hub. God is the hub of our life, and there is not a place in our day that God wants to be locked out of.
How we pray in church informs the prayer that goes on unceasingly in us as we leave church. It does not lessen the vitality and importance of our prayer life in quiet, or in Scripture, our living prayer becomes an expression for our faith.
4) What is your favorite way to spend time with your family?
Laughing and relaxing. I love to be with my family when we are laughing at each other, ourselves, or something funny. I love when we are watching a Sunday afternoon game on television, making a meal, folding laundry, and we are in comfortable clothes and enjoying the company of each other.
. . .
Your turn to win! Cathy has generously offered one copy of You Are Already Praying: Stories of God at Work for a reader of Mothering Spirit.
To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below before midnight (CST) on Saturday, July 27th.
And to learn more about Cathy’s book and work, check out this in-depth interview she did with our staff at the Collegeville Institute!
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.
In a week when marriage made headlines, the quiet moments will be the ones I remember.
Glimpsing small cousins plodding down the aisle in tiny tuxedos, child-sized versions of the grooms they may one day become.
Chasing an exasperating (yet still adorable) toddler around the back of church while the priest asks if the couple will accept children and bring them up with love.
Catching only one line from the homily in its entirety, words quoted from Bonhoeffer that it is not the love that sustains your marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.
Hearing a father with a golden voice singing for his daughter as she lit a candle with her new husband.
Saying yes to the bright-eyed boy who asked to take his off his too-tight dress shoes and run free through the lush grass of the golf course green.
Spinning my baby on my hip as he tipped back his head and belly-laughed with glee, wondering whether he’ll ever spin me around another mother-son dance some day.
Late-night mugging for the camera in the photo booth, catching my husband on the cheek with a kiss as so many couples have done before us.
Watching one last burst of fireworks as we pulled out of the parking lot with two tired boys fading fast in the back and a squeeze on the hand from the spouse who knows I love summer night surprises like a six year-old child.
Beyond the headlines, the everyday work of marriage goes on as before. Work and joy, children and responsibility, forgiveness and laughter.
It is a seemingly impossible promise, to choose a covenant with another flawed human being for the rest of your days. But quietly behind the scenes, millions make it happen without fanfare.
Every wedding we attend, ever since our own, I watch the high hopes of the couple at the altar, standing together in contrasting white and black, and I wonder how fitting it is to pledge love in a place of sacrifice, of lives laid down and broken in gift for each other. We are pointed towards the mystery and crucible of the sacrament long before we can glimpse the long view of what we have promised.
It’s tempting, once you’re no longer newlyweds and have reached the point of settledness—having set up house and established careers and had a few babies—to start sounding more like the seasoned old-timers, whispering while we watch them take their vows: “They’re just kids! They have no idea what’s ahead of them.”
It’s partly true: they don’t. We didn’t. No couple who commits themselves on a wedding day can fully grasp what that covenant will mean or what life will throw their way. We all hear “for better, for richer, in good times, in health” and breeze over the second half of each couplet: the wise and cautious reminders of the sufferings this calling will inevitably encounter.
Yet whenever I’m tempted to run the risk of clucking condescension for the fresh-faced kids standing on the altar, I remember this: we, too, had no idea what was ahead of us. But we, too, knew just enough for that day.
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This weekend’s was one of those weddings when everyone agrees – over glasses of Chardonnay and cocktail hour Sinatra and children shedding suit coats underfoot – that They’re A Perfect Match, that We Couldn’t Be Happier For Them.
We nod and affirm, without ever saying it, that they do know enough for today.
And that the rest of us – jostling babies on the edge of the dance floor, leaning over linen tablecloths to hear grandparents tell stories, clinking forks against glasses to embarrass the newlyweds into a kiss – we are still slowly learning our way into our vows, too.
He bounced with excitement as he asked me if he could go write our nametags. I had my hands full with his already-cranky brother, wondering why on earth I bothered bringing them to church alone, without any help. So of course, I said, of course.
And he took off running.
Only after I’d wrangled the crankster and settled us down with a stack of books did I realize how long he was taking. Ten minutes passed, one lector up, another lector down, and still we sat waiting. Finally he tore back across the gathering space with three nametags clutched in his marker-smeared hands.
This is for you, he slapped one on his brother’s back. And this is for me, he spread another across his own chest.
And Mama, this is yours.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Priceless. His first public rendering of my name, and it proclaimed “WAWA” for all to see. I peeled back the sticker and placed it proudly on my shirt.
“Thank you,” I told him. “I love it.” He beamed.
Little did I know the preschool penmanship would prove prophetic.
The boys’ (ok, truth be told, one boy’s) behavior went from bad to worse as the hour went on. Kicking, screaming, throwing and tantruming. None of my tried-and-true tricks made one whit of difference. By the time we got to the “Our Father,” I slouched in the pew, maturely refusing to hold anyone’s hands including my children’s, instead mentally planning our escape. I dragged them up to communion and then dragged them right out the door into the parking lot, hot tears stinging my eyes as I hissed to myself that I was Never Ever Ever coming to church with them solo again.
But when I pulled the nametag off my shirt as I put the car in gear to drive away, I caught myself for a moment. Instead of crumpling it up and tossing it aside as I’d already done with the morning, I slowly stuck the sticker onto the cup holder of the car’s console. I had no idea why I did it. It started back up at me with stark Crayola boldness. WAWA. Or was it MAMA? It appeared the choice was mine to interpret.
So it was a rotten Sunday, smack dab in the middle of three long weeks of solo parenting. But the one good thing that bad day brought me was the realization that I had a choice in how I lived out the rest of my month. I could waa-waa my way through my double-duty, second-shift, all-mom-all-the-time parenting. Or I could mama the way I wanted to. The way my kids wanted me to.
The choice was mine.
Part of me wanted to snark the rest of the days away in a sea of complaining and chocolate and Chardonnay. (I really do love snark.) But part of me knew that just like an optical illusion, I had the ability to shift my perspective depending on what I tried to see.
So I kept that nametag stuck on the console all week, as we cruised around to playgrounds and playdates, to the grocery store and the gas station, through stormy summer downpours and perfect June sunshine.
And all week, whenever I felt tempted to waaaaaaa my way through a long day with little ones, I remembered that I had a boy’s best attempts at capital letters to live up to. So I mama-ed up and try to make it happen. Tried to make the best of what I’d been given.
Which, I remembered, was a whole lot.
. . .
The more trips I take around the sun, the more I become convinced that the spiritual life is mostly about two things: paying attention and shifting perspective.
It’s about seeing the abundance of grace in small moments.
It’s about reframing my vision to remember God.
Whenever I do these two things – see differently and re-member myself back to the God who loves – it’s no exaggeration to say everything changes. Or at least all the important things change. These two practices remind me of how to be in right relationship with all that is around me: my God, my self, the people who challenge me, the tasks ahead of me.
Every day I am faced with opportunities to do one or the other. To take notice of the deeper truth before me, or to barrel ahead ignoring what really matters. To change my patterns of thinking, or to stick with narrowed tunnel vision.
This is not to say the choice is always clear or that I always make the right one. But the times I do, I am surprised to rediscover how way opens before me.
It is a way of opened eyes and humbled heart. It is a way of willingness to see the invitation to love.
It is the way to live up to that which I have been called.