hope

how to live lent as a pregnant mother

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Lenten Approach #1 (aka The First-Time Mother):

Step 1: Read everything you can to prepare. Stock up on all the experts’ manuals. Consult all the conflicting schools of thought. Aim to stack at least five sizable books on your nightstand.

Step 2: Consult everyone you know for their advice. When in doubt, turn to the Internet. Start a Pinterest board for inspiration. Post Facebook statuses asking for suggestions. Email every trusted friend to find out what worked for them.

Step 3: Chart daily progress. Check off each to-do. Secretly compare your progress with others. Start to feel guilty. Worry that you’re doing this all wrong. Entertain temptations of giving up.

Lenten Approach #2 (aka The Second-Time-Around Mother):

Step 1: Check the calendar to confirm that weeks are indeed flying by. Resolve to do something to prepare.

Step 2: Dig out something that worked last time. Try to remember what you liked about it. Decide to use it again anyway.

Step 3: Marvel at how the same book/technique/discipline/philosophy that worked before now produces an entirely different result. Start to let go.

Lenten Approach #3 (aka The Too-Tired-Third-Time Mother):

Step 1: Find yourself shocked to be on the threshold and utterly unprepared.

Step 2: Sigh. Shrug. Sit back.

Step 3: Jump once again into the unknown. Trust that things will work out. Rejoice when they do. Forgive yourself when they don’t. Embrace the unexpected.

. . .

Throughout my life I’ve had all three of these Lents (regardless of gestational status). Maybe you have, too.

The Lents I swore I’d fast like a fanatic and pray like a pro and give like a saint. The Lents I scrambled to remember what worked so well in the past. The Lents when life was already complicated and I didn’t need to go searching for spiritual challenge.

Each one brings its own promises and pitfalls. Each one depends an awareness of the season’s gifts. Each one opens a door of invitation to draw closer to God.

What will this Lent be for you?

Six weeks start here. I still haven’t “decided what I’m doing,” as we say in our Catholic circles. What to fast from. What to pray for. What to give alms to.

Plenty of ideas swim round my mind; good intentions crowd my thoughts. But this year I’m feeling called towards the unknowing. It’s fine to have a Lent that clamors for no contest or competition.

Living as a pregnant mom brings plenty of opportunity for discipline and self-denial. Counting down the weeks till a new baby joins our family makes preparation a daily practice. And looking ahead to a time of great change means that I’m already turning inward to ask God where I will be led.

Lent feels like it’s been here for a while. The question is how I go deeper.

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By the time Easter Sunday arrives, I’ll be 4 short weeks from my due date.

I could choose to go Route #1: read a bunch of books to remember what birth and babies are like; email every friend I know with 3+ kids to ask how they do it; make a detailed to-do list of everything we have to finish before baby arrives.

Or I could choose to go Route #2: mentally nag myself to start getting ready; paw through boxes of baby books and gear to figure out what we did before; ignore my midwives’ advice that this time around will likely be completely different from the last.

Or I could choose to go Route #3. Remember that labor – and Lent – come whether we are ready or not. Remember that the more I wrestle, the harder both will be. Remember that the joy and peace and beauty that are God can never be contained by my own control.

How to live Lent as a pregnant mother? Probably the same way we’re all called to live it.

According to the ashes in our life this year. Towards our hope of what an empty tomb might mean.

the shortest days. the longest nights.

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We’re inching towards a day I dread on the calendar. The winter solstice: shortest day of the year. As a lover of light and warmth, I cringe at the cold, recoiling from the longest dark.

When I worked outside the home, I hated these December days even more – commuting to work in the blue-black before dawn, driving home after the sun had already set. All the life seemed sucked out of the hours before I ever got a chance to enjoy them.

Small consolations twinkle: Christmas lights flashing through dark neighborhoods, a thick cover of snow that glows luminescent all night long. But still I long for summer’s bright yellow light and stretching evenings. Pulling tight the curtains in the kids’ rooms to convince them it’s time for bed even though their parents plan to sneak back outside barefoot once the covers have been tucked under their chins.

But every year in Advent, a season of lighting candles and marking time, we lose sunlight hour by hour. It gnaws at me: how I have to release into the dark to let these days pass.

. . .

When I was pregnant for the first time, my wise friend Anita wrote to me on a baby shower card that the best truth she’d heard about raising babies (and she’d had three, so she knew well) was that the years are short but the days are long.

I’ve heard this comforting adage a thousand times since, so I know it rings true for parents who have passed through the throes of life with little ones. In the endless cycle of dragging days filled with newborns and diapers and toddlers and tantrums and preschoolers and discipline, the years somehow slip by. Quickly and quietly.

I hear parents of grown children tell me to relish these days, because they long for them now. And of course I won’t, any more than they savored potty training or dinners full of whining or 3:00 am sobbing wakeup calls.

Still I respect their wisdom; I know that I will one day look back fondly at the same. How wondrous and fleeting were these years full of tiny ones.

But the same truth echoes across the cold dark snow of this winter solstice, too. A month full of shortest days means longest nights. So much temptation for brooding in the darkness. Advent is a necessary hope: we must light the candles and sing the songs and prepare as the weeks pass.

Otherwise we would despair.

. . .

Some parents call a child after miscarriage their “rainbow baby.” A promise of hope after loss. A shimmer of colored light after bleak rain. A sign of calming peace after the storm.

But for me, this baby has been a full moon. Round and bright in the dark sky. Pulling my eyes back to its light whenever they stray. Casting its glowing shine onto a cold world waiting below.

The full moon has brought me comfort through each passing month. Whenever I would rise at night – from nausea, from anxiety, from restless sleep – I found my companion in that glowing orb.

A single light strong enough to fill the sky and flood the land below.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons by Lachlan Donald from Melbourne, Australia (Flickr)

My longest nights have been full of this presence of God’s promise: that light always returns. Even when the days are short from December’s cold, or the nights are long from children’s demands, there is always brightness somewhere, if I keep searching.

If I keep looking up. Even in the deepest dark.

Christ, be our light. 

a fluttering on the feast

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Listen! Put it into your heart, that the thing that disturbs you, the thing that afflicts you, is really nothing.

For weeks I’ve felt flutters. The butterfly kicks, the gentle brush of something turning. The quickening I’ve come to expect by this point in pregnancy.

But tonight the movements suddenly felt so strong that I dared to try it. Laid my hand on the low curve of my rounding belly – and there it was.

A kick I could feel from the outside.

Should I have called him to tell him right away, that I could feel our baby now, that maybe he could soon, too?

Should I have dug out the new baby book waiting on the top closet shelf, to record the date, to try and do better by marking milestones for #3?

No. Instead I let tears spring small, then come quick. Because every turn this time around is tinged with sorrow as well as joy. Hope as well as fear.

Please let this last. Please let this be.

Do not let your heart be disturbed. Am I not here, I who am your Mother?

I don’t want to remember. I don’t want to forget.

What I want is to trust. And to rest easy into this promise, to sink back into a womb where love and warmth surround, where all that is needed is given.

At each turn, I try. When the first trimester mark passed. When I started showing. When I could feel movement.

But still the doubt casts long shadows some days. I must accept that I am changed, that expectation will always mean something different now.

I have to relearn this over and over. It will not be the same.

Are you not under my shadow and my protection? Am I not the Source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms?

Yet why should it be the same? This life is unique and fresh all its own. It knows nothing of what came before; it is only here and now. It is full and complete all its own. My trust is what is incomplete.

Maybe this is why we need feasts of signs and wonders. Of roses blooming out of season. Of incredible images imprinted on ordinary cloth. Of proof that a peasant could bring to a bishop.

Because we are human. Faltering. Forgetting.

Maybe today’s Guadalupe celebrates the same truth as a kick I can feel from the outside.

Tangible. Unmistakable. Unforgettable.

We want to conjure up certainty at a moment’s notice, demand some reassurance whenever faith wobbles. But miracles and apparitions are unbidden. They are simply offered.

A gentle kick. A nudge. I am here. Do you not perceive it?

Do you need anything more? Let nothing else worry or disturb you.

 

(Mary’s words to St. Juan Diego, on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe)

my one and only gratitude post

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A November full of thanksgiving. My Facebook feed is full of gratitude posts every morning and Twitter’s a-twitter, too. Before the craze of Christmas consumerism kicks in, I’ll take this cultural cultivation of “eucharist” any day.

When we pause and whisper thanks.

There are so many ways to say it, aren’t there? Blessing, gift, grace, abundance. When I look back over the long arc of my life, I’ve known nothing but. Yet so many days were filled with complaining, griping, longing, lunging after more.

Even now it starts to feel like this as my thoughts spin southward: if only I felt a little better, if only I weren’t quite so sick, if only he were home more to help, if only I weren’t so behind in work and writing, if only we could hire someone to clean the house, if only it were December already, if only I could trust that everything would turn out ok.

Instead of the sheer gratitude of spilling out words that say yes.

That say life.

That say again.

Because the gratitude of this one small, overwhelming, mysterious, undeniable fact – that we get to try this again, to hope for another – is tied to every other deep gratitude in my bones.

Gratitude to God from whom all life flows, tiny as a trickle as it starts.

Gratitude to the spouse whose partnership in all things makes our life together – and theirs – possible.

Gratitude to the family and friends who love us through dark and light.

Gratitude to siblings who can’t wait to welcome our baby with love.

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When we first started dreaming of #3, back before we learned about a new kind of loss and grief, I imagined all the fun ways we could share the news. Matching Big Brother shirts on Facebook, photos of boys curled up with “Our New Baby” book, adorable announcements about adding two more feet to our house.

But the truth is, once you’ve been on the infertile receiving end of Facebook photo bombs and unexpected emails, you tread much more lightly on the tender ground of others’ hearts. There is too much pain on the path to parenthood for too many.

And once your heart breaks open to this truth, you clutch it fiercely.

Infertility always shapes our parenting. Now miscarriage is part of our family, too. Announcing and expecting shift into new shades in the light of what we have loved and learned and lost.

And yet here is a child, a child who knows no loss or pain, a child whose life is entirely his or her own, a child whose arrival brings us great joy and greater hope. I have to celebrate this truth loud and clear, too.

So here it is, friends and strangers who grace me with the gift of your presence here and the stories you have shared in this place, too. Here is my gratitude and my prayer. Here is my terror and my fear. Here is my hope and my joy.

It is all wrapped into one new life, and it is twelve weeks young.

I know of no other way to speak this truth into the world than to whisper thanks. Gratitude. Eucharist. Which is, and will always be, a broken heart from which deepest love flows.

It is month of giving thanks. With all my heart, and another now beating strong and steady within me, I can do no less.

. . .

I need ten full moons exactly
For keeping the animal promise.
I offer myself up: unsaintly, but
Transmuted anyway
By the most ordinary miracle.
I am nothing in this world beyond the things one woman does.
But here are eyes that once were pearls
And here is a second chance where there was none.

from “Ordinary Miracle” ~ Barbara Kingsolver

waiting: take two

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The second half of this new series – following each author’s insight on How We Spend Our Time, I’ll offer another perspective on the same theme. Peg Conway writes about waiting. Here’s my take.

She sits across me in the suburban coffee shop, hands cupped around a warm cardboard cup just like mine. Soccer moms with their teams in tow troop through the store, swarms of kids buzzing in and out the door in the morning sunlight.

Her eyes are bright as she talks, but I see the sadness behind her smile, steal a glimpse back into the dark mirror of my own once-waiting.

They’re seeing a new doctor, starting a new treatment, charting cycles and crossing fingers. She’s got a good feeling about this month. Sure, it’s been two long years of trying and she’s creeping closer to forty, but the doctor said her numbers were looking up. And there’s no reason not to be hopeful, right?

Waiting. To have a baby in her arms.

. . .

We’re getting ready for bed in the midnight dark, zipping window blinds down with a snap when I notice that the porch lights are still on across the street. The sleepy home of our quiet neighbors now stands on high alert, beacons shining bright and bold in the black of night.

“What do you think that’s for?” I wonder out loud to my husband. “They never leave the lights on.”

“It’s prom night,” he shrugs as we turn to sleep. “They’re probably waiting up.”

Waiting. To have their baby home safe.

. . .

Parenthood starts with waiting. Nine months at least, sometimes years longer before the due date countdown starts to tick.

But no one told me that pregnancy would be only the beginning of the waiting.

Waiting outside bedroom doors for the baby to stop crying, exhausted after every expert’s advice fails to secure sweet sleep.

Waiting next to the phone for the doctor to call with the test results, heart thumping to hear the news that life will soon ease back to everyday-ok.

Waiting in airport lounges to catch the last flight home, arms aching to get back to the kids and cuddle them close.

Waiting for the baby to wean, the toddler to walk, the preschooler to potty train, the spouse to get home, the fever to break, the teeth to cut through, the school year to start, the summer to arrive.

Some waiting is the natural nervousness of a novice. I look back on the few short years since I became a mother and marvel at how often I made mountains out of mole hills, worrying about milestones they missed or markers that seemed delayed.

Some waiting is the weary work of weathered wisdom. I look around me at parents in all stages of this lifelong calling, waiting for their kids to find a job, to move out, to fall in love with the right person, to follow their own path.

When impatience starts to get the better of me, when I find myself straining forward to see what’s next, when I tire of trying to live in the present, I wrestle with waiting.

But wrestling never wins; it is only when I stop to catch my breath that I realize there is only This. In preparation for That, perhaps. But waiting is about the present, not the future.

It’s the only way I can live right now.

. . .

I lie there in the quiet dark, long after he’s fallen asleep next to me, and I wonder what it will feel like to wait for my boys to come home.

I waited so long for them to arrive, and some days I’m so impatient waiting for them to grow up, and I realize that all this work is a waiting game.

To parent is to wait: to watch, to witness, to wonder what comes next, to want more for your child than what they have today. But to wait is also to be forced to slow down, to relinquish the illusion of control, to put your desires on hold while life makes other plans.

What could be harder than waiting? I wonder in the warmth of my comfortable bed, two blessings of boys tucked in their rooms down the hall, no one I love speeding out on the slippery roads too late tonight.

This life is a relentless pull, asking us to stop when we want to go, making us release when we want to grab tight. We have to wait in the midst of all this back and forth. We never know what’s coming; we waste our time worrying about what never happens.

But when we wait – that is an act of faith.

for the mornings we yell

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For the mornings we wake up determined to make it a better day, and then we don’t -

For the times we promise to soak up the sweetness of these fleeting years, and then we wish them away -

For the days we want to fill with laughter and song, and then they’re darkened by bad moods and cross words -

For the meals we make with love and hope that they’ll be enjoyed, and then we grit our teeth as they’re gagged while chewed -

For the playdates we plan to share the long days with good friends, and then we’re annoyed that a sick child screws up our schedule -

For the glossy parenting magazines whose advice we dog-ear with good intention, and then we shove the stack in the recycling bin instead -

For the calm, cool, collected moms we envy when we wrangle our whiny bunch into the grocery cart, and then we glower over how we’re doing worse at this job than everyone else we know -

For the naptimes when we catch up on the world’s news and resolve again to treasure the rare gift of healthy, safe, sheltered children, and then we’re screaming at them by suppertime -

For the eyes that want to look with love and capture how quickly our kids will be grown and gone, and then they narrow with frustration at messes and mistakes and missing shoes -

For the hands that hope to hold and hug and help, and then they clench into angry balls that bang on the kitchen counter when no one listens to us -

For the boiling-over moments when we try to breathe and breathe and not lose it completely, and then we do -

For the nights we try to treasure bedtime instead of tick off the minutes till we’re done, and then we’re flooded with guilt when closing the bedroom door behind us feels like the best part of the day.

For remembering we’re humans raising humans,

for knowing if we teach our children nothing else, we’ll teach them how to bend down and open arms and say I’m sorry because we have to do it daily ourselves,

for the chance to keep screwing up because it means we keep going,

for forgiving ourselves,

and learning slowly how forgiveness takes the shape of a cross – pulled down in love, stretched out in embrace.

For trying again.

For today. For you.

. . .

Today was supposed to be the last in the series, my part to add to the wise women who shared their stories of how they nurture their mothering spirits, how they find peace in the midst of parenting.

But inspired by this dad’s truth spoken here, and a morning that called for this instead of that, I’m waiting till tomorrow to write about calm. Because today I needed to write about chaos.

Because I thought I might not be the only one who needs to hear it.

And maybe you can share it with another mom who needs it, too.

seeing stars in sunlight

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“The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision…He brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.”

~ 1st reading for the 2nd Sunday in Lent

I always thought Abram was staring up into a dark night sky, dazzled with stars-as-descendants, breathing in cold crisp air as he tried to believe the impossible for a childless man of his age.

Turns out I was wrong.

Read the rest closely. The sun sets later, as the story slips into Act Two of the fateful covenant, as Abram and God seal the deal over a nighttime sacrifice and a burning torch of hope in the darkness. So the day was likely still bright and blazing when an aging Abram was first asked to trust in stars he could not see.

I’m deeply grateful to Ignatian Spirituality’s Just Parenting blog for this insight that turned this Sunday’s Scripture inside out for me. Because I never realized how the time of day adds a final layer of implausibility to the story: God drags the old man outside into noontime sun, tells him to count all the stars he can see and then trust that he’ll have offspring so many.

Either the cruelest joke or the crucial test of faith: to trust what you cannot see.

. . .

Infertility is the foundation of my parenting.

When I’m sinking into a dreadful day of tired tempers and toddler tantrums, when I’m floundering and grasping for air as I spiral downward, infertility is always the solid ground I finally touch with my toes, the reassuring firm beneath my feet from which I pause and push off to rise, to gasp up to the surface again. I remember and right my thinking:

 At least I have them. At least we were able to have children. At least they exist.

Any small annoyance is relativized in the face of my babies’ being, the sheer graced gift of their lives. No matter the current crisis, my view is widened to the scope of what matters. My momentary maternal failings become but a blink.

I remember that I have the blessing of a bad day as a mother.

Because it means I mother.

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I wonder when these daily, weekly, monthly reminders of the blessedness of bearing children will start to fade. Like the people who live tucked in the foothills of towering mountains or stretched along the edge of the vast sea – I always wonder when they start to take the landscape for granted. Time settles us into the way-it-turned-out as if it were always given. But it is never simply given.

The immensity of what we’re asked to trust, in those rare times when we’re asked to truly trust, only becomes visible later. We see what was obvious only in a different time or season.

But in the blinding sear of midday, when the sweat runs in rivulets down our back, when our necks crick from craning skyward, it is easier to wave it away, shrug off with a sneer.

It is always easier to walk by sight than faith.

. . .

Now the stars are clear as night. Now I start to sense the scope of what I was called to trust when parenthood seemed far from predictable. Now I see the bright sparks against the black sky, the wider span of a greater plan than I could grasp during long months of waiting and wanting and wondering and wallowing.

Did I trust the noontime promise, the prospect of distant lights that would shine brighter when I needed them in deepest dark? Mostly what I remember from our years of infertility is sadness, anger, bargaining with God, weeping with jealousy at others’ good gifts.

But from where I watch tonight, staring out at a winter’s wash of white stars shining through cold darkness, I see clearly. How the wrestling with God, the willingness to trust the divine with my deepest desires, was trust enough for that time. Because it saw me through the heat of day to the calming cool of night.

I wonder what I am called to trust today. What noontime stars am I unable to see, squinting into the sun? What promise of a wider view, a multitude beyond imagining? What prospect so much bigger than my one small life, but of which I am still a part?

I stand at the window watching stars and I marvel at Abram’s trust.

All that he believed he could see at midday.