My mother sang while hanging clothes
The notes weren’t perfect, heaven knows
Yeah, but heaven opened anyway
This I knew was true
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.
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.
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.
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!
I never expected this.
Since those words swam in my head every single month that we were waiting for a baby, I should not be surprised that infertility continues to shape my life in unexpected ways.
But this post? More people have read it – and are continuing to share it – than have read anything on my blog in the four years since I started writing it.
The comments on that post are only a sliver of the stories shared with me through email, on Facebook, and in person. I’m floored by how many people are yearning to hear that they are seen.
So many couples are suffering the invisibility of infertility. And so many of them wish their churches would speak a word of peace to them in their pain.
What can each of us do, whether we’ve struggled with infertility or not, to support the couples suffering around us?
Watch your assumptions. That young couple you see? Don’t assume they’re wrapped up in their careers and are choosing to delay parenthood. That older couple you see? Don’t assume they never wanted kids. Those neighbors with an only child? Don’t assume they didn’t want more. Those co-workers with one boy and one girl? Don’t assume they stopped simply because they got their “matched set.”
Plenty of people have complicated situations when it comes to the question of conceiving and raising children. The less we jump to conclusions about someone based on what we know about them, the more we open our hearts to the more likely truth that we do not know their deepest struggles. We offer people such refreshing freedom when we refrain from slapping on labels or squeezing them into boxes by the judgments we pass from a distance.
Watch your words. Sitting with people in pain is uncomfortable. Our natural tendency is to try and fix the situation. But the words we use to show our concern can wound when we want to skip over someone’s suffering and start to offer advice.
My one pastoral suggestion in almost every situation of suffering is to avoid “at least” statements. At least you’re still young. At least there’s always adoption. At least you have other children. The grief and anger surrounding infertility, whether primary or secondary or after miscarriage, are complex emotions. They cannot be easily smoothed over by statements suggesting that the situation is not as awful as it could be.
Honoring the particularity of someone’s pain by simply sitting with them, listening, and letting them know you care for them is a rare gift. You cannot fix their circumstances, so you do not have to try.
You have so much to offer instead: your prayers, your presence, your patience in letting someone give voice to their own story.
Watch yourself change. Don’t make the mistake of holding back from reaching out, simply because you have not experienced their same sorrow. One of the gifts of believing in the Body of Christ is the reminder that we are not confined by the contours of our own life. We are deeply united with each other. We can share our joys and wounds on a deeper level than mere sympathy because our lives are caught up together.
Let your heart be stretched and your prayer life be widened by the experience of allowing others to expand your understanding of the suffering around you.
And once your eyes are opened to a new kind of struggle – like infertility – keep going. Start to see some other silent suffering sitting next to you: on the bus, in the pew, at the coffee shop. Reach out with one kind word.
See what happens.
When we open our eyes, the invisible becomes visible. Pain is no longer ours to bear alone.
And isn’t that what our communities of faith hope to be? Places where we care for each other. Places where we are pulled out of the worries and wants of our own worlds.
Places where we remember that we belong to each other. And to God.
. . .
If you’ve been following for a while, thank you! Here are a few more places I’ve been writing this week: at Practicing Families on raising three white boys after Ferguson and at Small Things With Love on why we owe our babies to NFP.
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…
If you’d asked me this when I knew the most about parenting – you know, back before I had kids – I would probably have replied along these lines (if I answered at all, staring back at you strangely, wondering why you’d ask such an odd question):
Deliberate motherhood? I guess that’d be getting pregnant on purpose.
(Real deep. Also real naïve.)
But if you’d ask me now, just a few years into a ride that will last the rest of my life, I’d answer very differently (that is, if you can hold on just a minute while I refill someone’s spilled milk and break up a slapping squabble over trains and finish making breakfast so we can get out the door to school on time without flipping out over finding everyone’s shoes):
Maybe it’s mindfulness. Thoughtfulness? A desire to be intentional about the way I raise them. An awareness of how important this work is.
And maybe it’s not, maybe it’s none of these things, maybe I still have a long way to go to figure it out, but here’s the difference: I’ve thought about it. That to me is the heart of deliberate motherhood.
It’s the mission of Power of Moms to be a gathering place for deliberate mothers. When a friend first set me a link years ago to a story published there, it felt like a deep breath amid the frantic “what to buy / how you have to do this / why you need to worry” tone I felt from so many parenting magazines and websites.
I loved that Power of Moms was a gathering of different voices, a celebration of diverse perspectives, and a community of women who were trying to be mindful about what it means to approach motherhood deliberately.
None of us are deliberate all the time. Plenty of days I parent on auto-pilot. But the moments that we’re able to be mindful, that we chose to consider why our words and actions and attitudes matter, that we realize how much this journey is shaping us as well as our kids – these are the deliberate moments that make the rest worth it.
Power of Moms just published their Deliberate Motherhood book (and, full disclosure, sent me a copy to review). And my whole-hearted endorsement is that it echoes exactly what I love about the Power of Moms website. It’s a collection of diverse voices, it’s a positive approach to encouraging moms, and it offers just enough concrete tips to make me think positively about how I could bring a little more mindfulness into my life.
The book is organized around 12 “powers” of motherhood – deliberate practices or attitudes that can shape how we face mothering: acceptance, love, patience, individuality, progress, balance, priorities, organization, fun, optimism, and moments. Each chapter is written by a different mom who also draws in stories, insights and ideas from many other mothers who’ve written for Power of Moms. I love the collaborative community voice that emerges here, affirming that our backgrounds and beliefs may be different, but our love for these kids in our lives is fierce. So let’s think together about why it matters how we raise them.
Deliberate Motherhood inspired me to sit down and think about the “powers” that guide my parenting – the attitudes or practices that I want to cultivate and pass on to my kids. Without editing myself, I scribbled down my own list of 12: love, forgiveness, faith, joy, gratitude, hope, laughter, curiosity, community, wonder, mindfulness, compassion.
Since then I’ve been sitting with my list, wondering what it says about the practices that sprang immediately to mind – whether I try to live them out or only hope to aspire to their ideal – as well as the ones that didn’t. (Note that perfection and competition never made the list. Neither did peace and calm.)
What about you?
Which one of the Deliberate Motherhood powers is most important in your parenting? Which is the most challenging? Leave a comment below for your chance to win a free copy of Deliberate Motherhood, generously offered by Power of Moms. (Comments must be left by Friday, September 20, 2013 at midnight, CST, for a chance to win; winner must reside within the U.S. to be eligible.)
Check out Power of Moms to learn more about their work (including another forthcoming book that I’m delighted to be a part of – more details to come!) or connect with them on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. And as part of a special giveaway, for anyone who purchases Deliberate Motherhood in September and sends their receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org, you’ll receive complimentary access to the Deliberate Mothering Podcast series (valued at $20). On October 4th, 10 Grand Prize Winners will be selected to receive the Power of Moms Premium Package (valued at $224)!
I’ve been in a rotten mood the past few days. Kids didn’t nap, sun didn’t shine – if only the dog had up and left, it would have felt like a true, twangy country song.
My attitude towards Eeyoresque moods has been largely informed by the Julie Andrews School of Facing Storms: start ruminating on things I love and the dark clouds slowly lift. I’m not particularly partial to raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens, but you get the idea.
So as I brooded, I found myself thinking about two delightful surprises that had recently come my way – blog “awards” from fellow bloggers who let me know they like my writing.
The first was from Sherry Antonetti at Chocolate for Your Brain. Sherry is a mother of ten and a free-lance writer. To think that my work is enjoyed by someone who knows heaps more than I do about 1) parenting and 2) writing was a lovely boost to my mothering spirit. Sherry passed on the Liebster Award, a German word meaning dearest or beloved. The idea behind the award is to create new connections among up-and-coming bloggers. When you receive it, you pass it on to five bloggers that you enjoy reading in order to spread the love.
The second was the Versatile Blogger Award from Natural Mama Nell at Whole Parenting Family. (You can read more about this award geared towards sharing the love here.) For this award, you’re supposed to share 15 blogs that you follow regularly and then share 7 facts about yourself. Since Nell is quite a versatile blogger herself, I was encouraged to think she enjoyed my writing in the same light.
So for a week where my mood has tended too sour, let’s sweeten things up a bit, shall we? Here are a few** blogs that have become favorites. Some I’ve shared in the past; others are new finds; all are well-worth your time. Simply listing them here has lifted my mood, proof that kindred spirits can always be found, no matter what medium we use. Enjoy.
Small Town Simplicity - Lydia’s writing is breath-taking: poetic, thoughtful, crystal clear. Her reflections on raising her children and living life simply make me slow down and notice small beauties around me.
Homemade Mothering – Talk about a versatile blogger: Maureen touches on everything from healthy cooking to green housekeeping to the joys of life with little ones. And her writing has an eager, honest spirit that I just love.
Peace Garden Writer – “Purposeful pondering from the prairie” is this writer/mother’s tagline, and the articles and columns Roxane shares from her newspaper writing fit her purpose perfectly.
First Day Walking – When I stumbled upon this blog from a “Twin Mom / Pastor’s Wife / Presby Minister / Amateur Writer / Silly Dreamer,” I knew I’d discovered a gem. I love Mihee’s writing about motherhood, ministry, and Asian-American and feminist theology. Check out her Motherhood Mantras series; I’ve clung to a few of these words myself.
What’s Up, Jesus – One of my guaranteed sources of wit on the interweb. Over years and miles and winding vocational paths, Rev. Love-It-Or-Leave-It and I have held onto a friendship based on mutual love of sarcasm and stubborn faith. Doesn’t get much better than that.
Random Acts of Momness – I’m a shameless fan of Ginny’s writing. Few people connect parenting and faith with as much grace and depth as she does, every time. Her blog is a bright place that never fails to disappoint.
Sense of the Faithful - As a thoughtful mother of young adults, Peg offers wisdom from the other side of parenting. She shares stories of brutal honesty about her struggles with the Catholic Church as well as thoughtful reflections on spirituality. (And her upcoming book on pregnancy and childbirth is amazing!)
Rosemary’s Blog – And if you have no time to read but simply want to rest with something beautiful for a moment, this artist’s work is amazing. Seeing Rosemary’s photography each day lifts my spirits.
** I’m too busy these days to read zillions of blogs, so you’ll have to forgive me on sharing less than 15. And does anyone really care about 7 random facts about me? Nah.
Any favorites or new discoveries you’d add to the list?
Not a week goes by that my spouse and I don’t get mocked for at least one of the following:
- having a land line
- not texting
- not having a smartphone
We have plenty of reasons for each. Our house gets terrible cell phone reception, so we need a land line to phone from home. Neither of us likes to text, so we’ve never signed up for a plan. And even though we’re years (yes, years) “overdue” for upgraded cell phones according to our contract, we don’t see the need to get shiny new gadgets while ours still work.
Old-fashioned? Maybe. (Though the New York Times says we’re not alone in clinging to our retro dumbphones.)
But the deeper truth? I can’t let myself get a smartphone.
Do I think they’re slick? Certainly. Handy? Definitely. But I refuse to bring one into this house. Despite my desire for an iPhone, I have to draw the line.
Because boundaries between work and family are already blurred when I work from home.
Because I already struggle with being present to my kids, given all the distractions around me.
Because when I see something like this, it hits a little too close to home:
I spent yesterday at a Social Phonics training in social media with emergent church leaders Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt. At the end of the day, they shared a final list of tips for diving into the social media world.
Get a smartphone flashed on their slick Powerpoint. “Is there anyone we still need to convince to get one of these?” Doug asked with a bemused smile, waving his phone in the air.
My hand floated up.
Both men turned with a look of surprise to the youngest person in the room. They launched into a litany of reasons to get a smartphone: it’s the future of the Internet, it’s the way people communicate today, it’s going to replace laptops in just a few years.
I listened to their logic. I smiled graciously. But all I could think about were my two boys.
They need me to look at them more, not my phone. They need me to listen to them more closely, not my email. And while I can’t be present to them 24/7, I want to show them the power of connecting by disconnecting.
Even though I struggle, it’s a spiritual practice for parenting that I want to cultivate: presence. When my day is already full of email and work, laptop and phone calls, I don’t want to add another constant distractor to the mix. Saying no to smartphones is my act of resistance.
I’m digging in my feet as long as I can, for them. While I embrace email, blogging and social media as ways to connect with people I love, I also have little people right in front of me who need to connect with me even more. I want to be present to them as best I can when they’re still so small.
So for now, this mama is sticking with a decidedly dumbphone. Which is why I never got your text.
(But you can always try our land line!)
We’re on the cusp of the holiest of days.
For those who call themselves Christian, the Triduum is the most sacred time of the year. A truth often buried under piles of Easter candy, pink bunnies and plastic grass.
Each day has a distinct flavor. The earthy service of Holy Thursday: washing dirty feet and breaking bread with friends. The stark emptiness of Good Friday: lamenting death and sitting with suffering. The long stretch of Holy Saturday: wondering and waiting. And the brilliant delight of Easter Sunday: singing joy and celebrating life.
I love Triduum. Every year I slowly slip into a lackluster Lent, but always find myself on the eve of Triduum with childlike anticipation. Because the journey from Thursday to Sunday never fails to surprise as it draws me into the stories and the rituals, the sacred and the mystery.
Triduum sums up what I love about being Catholic: ritual, liturgy, Scripture, sacrament. I wrestle with my faith and my church and my God every other day of the year. But for these four days, I enter in deeply, willingly, openly.
That said, the prospect of multiple church services with a baby and a toddler in tow is practically laughable. I’m sure we’ll end up with good story material this year as we always do. And I know much of our Holy Week will be lived out at home, which is just fine, too.
To balance the mayhem we’ll bring to Mass, I’ve collected a handful of lovely reads and reflections to help celebrate each day at home, during those rare gems of quiet moments to myself. Perhaps a few will intrigue or inspire you as well:
Palm Sunday lessons from an unlikely Pontius Pilate by James Martin, SJ. “Because, as even a six-year-old knows, everyone roses from the dead.”
Strip.ped bare: Holy Week and the art of losing by Richard Lischer for Holy Thursday
Busted Halo’s excellent Virtual Stations of the Cross for Good Friday
What did Jesus do on Holy Saturday? From the Washington Post’s On Faith blog
And lest you get overwhelmed, take this advice and let one piece of the Passion rest in your thoughts this week. The whole is too much for any of us to hold.
(Especially without a good soundtrack to accompany the highs and lows.)
Happy holy week. We’re almost there.
…here’s what would be on my Advent board.*
- a beautiful and easy idea for a nightly family ritual of light to celebrate Advent with kids. Filed away in my memory for later years when candles do not pose an immediate and alluring fire hazard to the toddler set.
- a moving film on “Change,” courtesy of the “Deacon’s Bench” blog, which promises you will never walk by the homeless man on the street without second-guessing your assumptions about where the change you give him might go.
- an important reminder (and clever video) that while we are rushing around to finish our shopping, millions of people in this world need something much simpler for Christmas.
- balanced with a refreshing perspective from The Guardian on why gift-giving really is meaningful – and part of what makes us truly human: Presents: The Real Meaning of Christmas
- I’d probably “repin” some of my favorite Advent poetry from last year, because truth and beauty never get old: week one, week two, week three, week four.
- and finally, a ridiculous outtake of Stephen Colbert doing a liturgical dance to “The King of Glory.” Having watched this about 7 times, I can report that it keeps getting funnier.
* I am still not entirely sure I “get” Pinterest, despite being mildly obsessed with finding new kids’ crafts, home decorating ideas, and other projects I will surely never undertake. So for all of my Face.book friends who keep requesting to follow me, FYI – I have no idea what I’m doing.
But I do love me some Advent.
Give and take. Sacrifice and compromise. The exchanges we make in love.
Our December has turned into a microcosm of our marriage, a portrait of our partnership. First I was gone for five days of meetings, and F had to scramble to stay home with the boys when the babysitter was sick. Now he leaves for a week-long business trip, and I’m the one scrambling to rearrange my schedule.
This month we’re both juggling child care and work responsibilities and housework and errands. We’re sharing dinner duty and diaper duty and sending a zillion emails a day between home and office to coordinate the caring, cooking, cleaning.
One feeds the baby and the other washes the bottles. One makes dinner and the other scrubs the dishes. One does the laundry and the other buys the groceries. One stays up late with the baby and the other gets up early with the toddler.
The next day – or week or month – we switch. And the cycle of sharing starts over again.
Sometimes we’re tempted to keep track or keep score. We’ve sacrificed more, we think. We’ve done too much lately, we brood. But that is the temptation away from agape, from mutuality, from self-giving love. Marriage and parenting are never 50/50, but the allure of the equal makes us constantly renegotiate what’s working, what’s not, and how we can change.
This is the dynamic we’re daily carving out for our family. This is the model of marriage we want to give to our boys. This is the way of life that makes the most sense for us – even when it doesn’t make sense. This is the Trinity of family that teaches me daily what it means to love, to give and to receive.
The nature of our God as Trinity is no dry doctrine. Sometimes it seem mysterious or esoteric, but sometimes it is as close as the people in our own home: those with whom we share a table or a bed.
The Trinity is a dance of love among a family. It is the gifts we give and receive as we help each other become the people we were created to be. It can be messy and demanding but also beautiful and divine.
And in the midst of this busy week in a busy month, I’m humbled and delighted to share the glimpse of God that our family life gives to me. Check it out at Picturing God: Faces and Traces of the Divine.
You know the days. You’ve had them, too.
(I’ve been having too many of them lately, hence the lack of recent postings ’round these parts.)
The days when all you see around you are piles of dirty dishes, heaps of laundry, stacks of bills, messes of toys. The days when email and voice mail and children are all whining for your attention. The days when distraction and disorder reign supreme.
The days when you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and you shudder at the wild-eyed, disheveled soul who glares back.
It was a day like this when I stumbled upon a beautiful website while doing research for work. Picturing God: Faces and Traces of the Divine is an oasis of calm amid the internet’s frenzy, a place of prayer amid the online babble.
The website, run by Loyola Press, is exactly what its name suggests: a collection of photos submitted by readers that illustrate glimpses of God. Many are stunning landscapes or skyscapes; other are places or people with spiritual significance. Some are exotic; others are everyday. Certain photos look professional; most are decidedly amateur. They are both simple and spectacular.
But each daily selection has such depth and conviction and beauty behind it. I love that people saw God in that instant, were moved to capture it, and inspired to share it. The world would be a better place if we all woke up each morning with eyes open to find God in the places and faces around us.
Seeing each day’s photo and reading its description have become God moments in my own day. They slow me down and remind me to see. They give me hope that beauty and peace can still be found all around us. They remind me that the world is full of seekers and soaked with the divine.
And on frenzied days like today, my mothering spirit needs that reminder.
Here’s my* glimpse of God for the day. What’s yours?
*My amazingly talented sister-in-law snapped this shot, so I can take no credit. But hey, recognizing others’ talents is a glimpse of the divine, too, right? And the beauty of baby ears…sigh.