new year

a new year: what to treasure, what to trash

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We’ve been playing endless rounds of Sorry!

Two, three, four games a day aren’t enough for my boy’s insatiable appetite. Maybe it’s the combination of cards with numbers (which he’s always loved) and games for a group (which he’s learning to love). Or maybe it’s because beloved cousins introduced him to the board game at the cabin over New Year’s, thus cementing in his 4 year-old mind the concrete connection of coolness that links friends and getaway and holiday.

Whatever the reason, we’re stuck playing Sorry! from morning till night.

There are worse childhood games to get roped into, as any adult who’s ever tried to cheat to end Candyland can attest. And I actually enjoy playing Sorry! (at least the first time or two) because it takes me back to sprawling on the living room floor as a kid, flipping over the dog-eared deck to crow at the cards that would send my younger brothers back home. Even more than Memory, this game offers enough surprise and strategy to hold a grown-up’s wandering interest.

And it makes me wonder if there’s something to be said for saying Sorry! all day long.

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. . .

Forgiveness is the thorniest bramble of the Christian life. Sometimes I dare to dream I could do a decent job at this Christ-following business if it weren’t for this aggravating truth: that love means forgiveness and forgiveness means love.

Instead, I’m much more inclined – as any cerebral introvert will understand – to brood over the times I’ve been wronged. To nurse secret, sullen grudges over the times I’ve been hurt.

I turn them over and over in my mind, these small slights or serious wounds, until my brooding polishes their jagged edges into smooth stones, comforting to hold in the warmth of my palm. Whenever an old hurt arises – when I’m back in the company of someone who hurt me, or when a memory re-surfaces painful words from long ago – I dig around in dusty pockets for these trusty rocks, to trace their familiar outlines once again, to assure myself that I was right in feeling wronged.

But to what end? What good does this brooding and turning and returning bring me? Perhaps it soothes the soft, small child inside who wants the world to go her way. Or perhaps it builds up a false façade of maturity, of look-what-I’ve-endured.

Either way it rings hollow.

There is no love in resentment.

. . .

I love the dawning of a new year: its hope of renewal, its promise of change.

Lately I’ve found the practice of resolutions to be an encouraging inspiration. As in New Year’s past, I’ve made a few that I hope will bring blessing, no matter how much or how little I end up pursuing them. (And since sharing resolutions here has helped me keep them in the past, I’ll try again.)

First, after a year in which I threw myself into a writing project that stole nearly every moment of my scant free time, I want to return to nurturing friendships that too often got pushed to back burners in 2013.

Second, in an effort to be more mindful of the way I spend time with my kids, I want to be more intentional about their faith formation at home. (An effort which you think might flow effortlessly from a theologically-trained mother, but too often tends to stumble over too much head knowledge and too much fear of screwing up.)

As in every year, both of these resolutions spring from an ever-growing desire for a slower, simpler life and the yearning to nurture meaningful relationships with those around me.

But in resolving to deepen love in these concrete ways, I wonder if I’ve pondered how much forgiveness this will take along the way. How often these happy-new-year prospects will ask me to pardon myself and others.

How often I will have to practice saying sorry!

. . .

On January 1st, Catholics celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Maybe there’s something fitting for our own resolutions in starting the new year by remembering a woman who said yes to great change. Who made a decision that transformed her life. Who let herself be open to the ways God would call her to become something new.

For this feast of Mary, Notre Dame’s FaithND invited me to reflect on the day’s Gospel. As I studied the story from Luke, I found myself returning again and again to this line:

But Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.

For a woman who must have known deep hurt, who surely heard the cruel words that others tossed behind her back, who had plenty of reasons to become bitter by brooding, Mary chose instead to collect the small gems of beauty and hope. She cast aside the trash of other people’s opinions. She smoothed into tiny treasures the words that she could cling to in darkest hours.

Here, finally, were words of wonder and hope—from the mouths of people just like her. Here were shepherds who stopped their daily work to bring her stories of angels singing glory. Here were strangers who asked to see her baby and marveled at what his birth might mean.

Of course she treasured their words, turning them over and over in her heart, wondering what they might mean. While she learned to care for her child, as squalling and sleepless and hungry as any newborn, she gathered strength from their promise.

Perhaps this prayer practice was what sustained her as a mother: to treasure and to ponder

I’m in awe of such wisdom and confidence, such trust and courage. What might it mean for my own habits and choices, my own decisions and resolutions?

. . .

A few months ago, I came across these words: “Other people’s opinion of you is none of your business.”

Such an intriguing twist on our insecurities.

I’ve carried these words with me, trying to muddle out their meaning for my own bad habit of brooding. And I’ve come to this conclusion.

The judgments, comments, even whispers of others only matter to the extent that I respond with love (which is to say, 9 times out of 10, with a heart full of forgiveness.) The opinions of those I cherish, like my children and my friends, should certainly be my business – but only to the extent that I keep trying to respond to them in love, to allow myself to be changed in ways that draw me closer to Christ.

Who is forgiveness, love, and peace.

So I launch into the new year with these questions in mind: What do I treasure? What do I trash?

What serves God and what serves only me? With my resolutions – and Mary’s courage – close to my heart, what changes could this fresh start hold?

most-ly: a year in review

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2013 was a fun blogging year for little moi.

I got the chance to work with so many great writers and inspiring moms who helped bring these two series to life: How I Nurture My Mothering Spirit and How We Spend Our Time.

I started writing more beyond this space, for Catholic Mom and Practicing Families and the blog for the Collegeville Institute.

And – perhaps most importantly – I was delighted to turn a few blogging connections into “real-life” (as in, welcome to my messy house! and my wild kids!) friendships off-line.

(To think I still owe all this to a crazy idea I had years ago when I decided to start a blog and tell no one.)

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Inspired by the “Most” Posts at Amongst Lovely Things, I decided to dig back through the past 12 months of blogging to unearth a few memorable moments in these five categories:

Post with the most clicks: This is Heavy. But We are Also Strong. I loved that Blooma (a great resource for Twin Cities moms!) picked this post to rerun on their blog this week, because it was one of my surprise favorites this year. I wrote it in my head one night while cutting cantaloupe with my youngest, and I never dreamed it would strike such a chord.

Interestingly, it’s still my page on Prayers for Pregnancy that gets the most views (5,000+ this year, yikes). Believe me, I’m cooking up something new for 2014 on praying through pregnancy…so stay tuned!

Post with the most comments: On Carrying and Missing. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, having miscarriage become such a stark part of our 2013. But it was, and so many of you sent your words of love, and I will never forget any of it.

Post with the best picture: When The Marriage Dust Settles. The jumble of photo booth shots from a family wedding sums up the lovable chaos of our lives right now: all four of us clamoring all over each other, laughing and cuddling and making goofy faces for the camera. And at least one boy grinning upside down in every shot.

Post that was hardest to write: The Gossamer Veil. This was one that made me weep while I was typing, but it might be the truest thing I wrote all year. Ever since I was a child, I have carried with me a sharp, deep awareness of the thin thread between life and death, and losing our baby brought all of this too-much-reality right back to the surface of grief. But I’m so grateful I wrote it.

Post that was your personal favorite: When A Calling Comes Full Circle. I loved that the Christian Century blog network picked up this post, because it strikes at the heart of the work I’ve been blessed to do on vocation with the Collegeville Institute: What does it mean to listen for God’s call? What happens when life interrupts our plans? And how can the paths-not-taken come back around when we least expect them?

. . .

Looking ahead…What will 2014 hold? A new baby in May, thank God. And another big surprise I’m getting ready to birth, too…so stay tuned. (You might just have to follow Mothering Spirit on Facebook or Twitter to hear the news first!)

One thing is for sure: none of this would exist without you, the ones who read what I write. Still such a humbling head-shaker for me. You are the ones I count among the many blessings of 2013, of one more year spent spinning around the sun.

May this last day of December be filled with light and laughter and love, wherever you spend it.

how to nurture your mothering spirit – a new series

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We’re all full of resolutions today. To lose weight, to eat better, to quit a bad habit.

Whenever I read the list of popular New Year’s resolutions, I’m struck by the fact that almost all of them have one hope at their heart: to nurture a more mindful, healthy, peaceful life. We each admit there are ways we’re living that aren’t good for our body, mind and spirit, and we want to change.

I love the hope of 1/1. Everything feels fresh by flipping the calendar page. Hopeful and possible. Cynics sneer that the packed gyms will be empty by February, that we’ll all be gobbling chocolate by Valentine’s Day, that the chaos of clutter will once again demand spring cleaning. But each January 1st we resolve to do better, and I like that about us humans. We’re stubbornly optimistic.

I’ve ticked off three for myself again this year: one I want to do (get more serious about my writing), one I need to do (get our finances more organized), and one I have to do (get more sleep). (With a nod to Anne Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow, I’ve dubbed my resolution mantra “yay! groan. zzzz…”)

As I’ve been pondering and planning my resolutions over the past week, I’ve realized that the last one, which seems the simplest, even the silliest, is actually the most important. When I don’t get enough sleep, everything in my life is affected: my mood, my energy, my relationships, my work. But when I prioritize rest, even when it means dragging myself away from a project or chore I feel I have to finish, then everything else seems, surprisingly, to run more smoothly. I’m more patient with my kids, more loving to my husband, more creative at work, more productive around the house. Getting enough sleep is an important part of my own self-care – an essential way that I nurture my mothering spirit.

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This week I’m launching a new series called How I Nurture My Mothering Spirit. I’ve asked some of my favorite bloggers to share what they do to care for themselves and connect with God in the midst of parenting’s hectic days. And I can’t wait to share their words with you.

As their posts have trickled into my in-box, I’ve literally clapped my hands after reading each one, done the goofy happy dance around the kitchen with my kiddos. Because each thoughtful reflection is brimming with mothering mindfulness, just the kind of kindred-spiriting I crave in the hard work of parenthood. And each mother-writer, whether or not she explicitly names God as part of her practice, reminds me that we are all everyday theologians when we seek to care for the spirit within us and connect with the presence of the divine all around us.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll share one reflection each Wednesday. (Because we all need a lift by the middle of the week, don’t we?) I hope this series will help us to settle into a New Year full of promise and hope, that it will shine small lights in the winter darkness, that it will warm your spirit even in the bitter cold.

Here’s to nurturing our mothering spirits in 2013 – and thanks to each of you who lift me up with your words and presence here!

an (un)surprising end to an (un)surprising year

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It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

We were supposed to spend the weekend at the cabin with the family: grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins – all of us under one roof, celebrating Christmas and New Year’s together into one giggly gathering of generations. We went to bed with the bags packed, the car filled, the fridge stocked with food to bring.

But our plans were interrupted when midnight brought a sudden awakening, the unmistakable bark of croup. He heaved with sobs and jagged wheezing whether we whisked him outside in the frigid night air or wrapped him up warm in the steamy bathroom fog. A frantic call to the doctor confirmed that we were staying put. No road trip, no cabin, no party.

Just the four of us at home to end the year.

So we sighed and pulled clothes back out of suitcases, stretched Saturday laziness into Sunday pajamas-till-noon, tried to cover up colds and coughs (now shared by both brothers) with snuggles, songs and stories. And somewhere along the way, between the heaps of laundry and the piles of presents strewn across the floor, I realized that maybe there was no more fitting end to the year than one last upended expectation.

Our weekend wasn’t perfect. There were tantrums and squabbles and interrupted sleep and heaps of housework – the usual ups and downs of life with littles. But there were also quiet moments full of God: doing nothing and resting after, slowing down and listening, living and forgiving each other. I watched us each relax into the rhythm of hours together in the heart of our home, a microcosm of our lives, everything I write about in this space condensed into the final hours of a full year.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. But it was. And the way our weekend ended was exactly the way the last 12 months rumbled along: unexpectedly, a little rocky, but full of grace.

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This morning, the last of the long year, we feasted on a rich breakfast, eggnog French toast dripping with cinnamon and sugar, sweet and sticky on our fingers. The sick boy perched on his tiptoes in front of the stereo, spinning his favorite CDs while he wiped his runny nose on his sleeve. I was grateful he chose a quiet one for the morning, a favorite calming album, and I listened as the lilting voice sang:

Oh, you’re growing up so fast. Right before our eyes. You don’t have to figure everything out; you just take your time. You just take your time.

It’s my prayer for them, and God’s prayer for me, too, I think. To realize the growth, to take the long view, but also to stay grateful in the moment, to breathe in the present.

The unexpected gift of time on the cusp of another year.