how i nurture my mothering spirit – laura

The overdue last in the series. But hey, when it’s your own blog, you can make and miss your own deadlines. Hope you’ve enjoyed the series as much as I have. Thank you again to all the wonderful writers who shared their stories with us!

Another cold Minnesota night as the lavender shadows of sundown stretching across the glowing white of snow fade fast to sinking black. This time of year I hate to leave the house after dark; winter turns me into a hermit if I’m not careful.

But every Monday evening finds my car winding through the dark along the river road, slipping from small town to small town across rolling fields.

The weekly pilgrimage to yoga.

Yoga is not prayer for me. But my practice makes space for prayer, clears the chaos from my mind, shoves the clutter aside so God can sneak in again.

When I roll out my well-worn mat and begin to breathe deeply, I start to feel the stress of the day slip away. Cranky toddlers who wouldn’t nap. Chores left undone in our messy house. Clutter piled up so high on my desk I feel my blood pressure soar when I open the office door.

I set it all aside, and I sit and stretch. IMG_8877

The peace of the present moment rises once again to my consciousness. I remember the wisdom of all those saints and sages who discovered that God is never more present to us than right now, that every moment offers the possibility of connecting with the Spirit if we only slow our own scattered minds to turn and remember.

Guided by a gentle teacher, I move and hold and push while others around me do the same. We breathe together, lunge, reach and rest. I love the mix of solitude and community that yoga offers: the reminder that my single life is part of something bigger and beyond.

Yoga stretches my limbs and my limits. How much tension can I hold? What would happen if I let go and sunk into the pose a little deeper, released the fears and hesitations holding me back?

I learn about myself – my physical body, my mental flow, my spiritual needs – every time I push back into downward dog. My view of the world is turned upside down, staring underneath my legs at a room of yogis hanging from the floor-as-ceiling. Especially in these early mothering days, so focused on home and our chosen few, I crave this change of perspective, this flip-side reminder, this fresher view.

Perhaps because yoga draws together body, mind and spirit, it sprang immediately to mind when I started this series. I’m grateful to yoga – and to the wonderful studio community I’ve found – for nurturing me as a parent and as a person.

I have little time for working out in ways I used to pre-kids: early morning sessions at the Y before work or daily cardio classes at the gym. Frankly I’d rather write in my wee free time than work out. But I can’t quit yoga. Yoga is sanity, space, silence and stretch. It is the centering practice of my parenting days.

The metaphors come almost too easy. Balance. Strength. Flexibility.

If only I could stay on the mat, I could stay Zen.

Of course that’s not the calling; we all have to come down from the mountaintop and back into the plains. Every Monday night I drive back across the same winding roads, back home to the people to whom I’ve promised my life.

But I’m better for them, and for me, when yoga nights stay sacred. I’m at peace with the contours of my life, with the God that shapes my being.

how to nurture your mothering spirit – check out the series!

mspirt

What a lovely way this has been to kick off 2013, with weekly reflections from wise women on how they nurture their mothering spirits in busy seasons of parenting.

The last installment in the series will be coming this Wednesday – from yours truly – so in the meantime, check out any posts you may have missed.

Here’s a look back through the past few months…

Nell shared a story of discovering sewing as a way to connect with God in the midst of parenting little ones.

Maureen invited us to join her in a hot cup of chai and a quiet moment of simple pleasures.

Melissa wove her story of learning to embrace centering prayer as a connection with the Divine within.

Lydia considered hands-on crafts like knitting, sewing and baking as ways to enjoy the quiet process of creating alone.

Kate offered a number of simple and creative ideas for nurturing her spirit as a pregnant mama.

Peg evoked the practice of greeting the morning darkness as spiritual self-care while parenting teenagers.

Mihee reflected on life as one big inconvenience and how we encounter God in the unexpected moments.

Leanne wrote about her love of writing and the catharsis of processing motherhood’s challenges through her words.

Roxane evoked the healing powers of pot roast and how we need to nourish ourselves in order to care for others.

Ginny described her writing desk and the need for a private space at home to call her own.

I’m deeply grateful to each of these kindred spirits for sharing their wisdom and words with us here! Please be sure to visit their blogs in turn, where you’ll find even more nourishment for your spirit and soul…

Tune in Wednesday for the culmination of the series. And if you’ve caught up on all these wise and wonderful reflections, take a minute to explore the latest redesign of Mothering Spirit and let me know what you think!

how i nurture my mothering spirit – mihee

Despite the clean slate of the new year, it feels as if life is bursting at the seams with to-do lists and extra commitments. And in the midst of it all I long for convenience. I need and long for tools to help me make it through each hour, and help me juggle at least a minimum of three tasks, and make me get everything crossed off on the list for that day.

I will be the first to acknowledge the reality that life has a tendency to overflow one’s cup, especially during these kind of seasons, and convenience is almost necessary for survival. And that’s what I love about ordering online – for birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries. I had heard someone on NPR bemoaning the lack of thought and sentimentality in online shopping but obviously this guy didn’t have twins crawling all over the place 24/7. Try to shop for something at the local store? Not happening. Try to organize the pantry? Nope. Try to sew a little handkerchief? Not a chance. So it just warms my heart to be able to get something last-minute – like from the beautiful monolith that is Amazon and have it shipped to the recipient, or to even just get a gift card and send that out.

But.

I was talking with a good friend from college last night. She came for a brief visit between interviews for her medical residency next summer, and happened to be interviewing up in Indy. We figured out she could have stayed an extra day, and rather than flying back home today and then flying out tomorrow somewhere else, she could have just flown directly there from here. But she said she didn’t want to be an inconvenience, to which I replied without really thinking about it – something to the effect of: “Our life is one big inconvenience these days. It wouldn’t have been a big deal at all.”

Our life is one big inconvenience.

The funny thing is that I didn’t mean this in a negative way at all, even though inconvenience is seen as incredibly annoying/frustrating and generally something to be avoided like the plague. I said it with a laugh, tongue planted firmly in my cheek.

Because I remember that the so-called inconveniences I’ve experienced in my life – all the interruptions, disruptions, obstructions – they end up being incredibly…good. When I let myself be open to them, they are opportunities to experience something unexpected and usually, strangely gracious.

. . .

I’m trying to carry some thoughts over from Advent because it feels pertinent in this season of Lent, on the way to Calvary:

You know that saying, you can really tell who somebody is in a crisis?
You can really tell at Christmas, too. That’s because Christmas,
more than any other day in the American year,
is a day when we’re all handed the same stage props.
The same tree, the presents, the meal, the relatives,
and all the same expectations.
And then we all try to create, more or less, the same kind of day.
It’s like hundreds of millions of people all set to work
doing exactly the same art project.
And not just any art project, but a very high stakes art project,
an art project everybody cares about getting right.

And in that setting, the choices people make never seem clearer.

- from Ira Glass, This American Life

All these seasons are a bit funny. For instance, Christmas is supposed to be meaningful somehow while spilling over with tradition and nostalgia but a time of heartache and grief for so many. There’s a lot of truth to what Ira Glass says about how who we are comes out even more during these holidays.

But rather than following the same script every year and succumbing to cultural pressure to buybuybuy, I think that it can be a good time to foster a spirit of flexibility and openness, and a different kind of mindfulness and posture towards the culture around us. All these seasons, especially in this new year, can be a chance to shift our hearts and spirits towards what is unexpectedly nurturing.

Especially in the midst of what seems outside of our plans and visions and lists for the day.

. . .

I wrote this at 5 am in the morning. D had been sleeping horribly and was up crying for about an hour. When I heard him finally hit the pillow and fall back asleep, I found myself completely awake. I got up. I showered. I unloaded the dishwasher and got ready for the day. And I blogged. Sometimes these kind of revelations and moments come at what seems like an inconvenient time…like in the middle of the night.

But even that’s ok. I’ll take it. I’ll take the forced stillness, and the imposed quiet, like the angel Gabriel touching my lips and silencing them in the manner of the encounter with Zechariah. Sometimes those inconveniences are God sending an angel to shut me up so I can listen and see the grace before me.

Lord, it is night.
The night is for stillness. Let us be still in the presence of God.
It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done;
what has not been done has not been done; let it be.
The night is dark.
Let our fears of the darkness of the world
and of our own lives rest in you.
The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us, all dear to us,
and all who have no peace.
The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to a new day, new joys, new possibilities.
In your name we pray.

Amen.

 –  from the Anglican Book of Prayer

Few things nurture my mothering spirit – cultivating patience, flexibility, and compassion – more than those inconveniences. Because, our life, after all, is one big inconvenience anyway.

. . .

Mihee is an ordained clergywoman in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and mom to twin babies with #3 on the way in Hoosier country, trying to keep up with college students in part-time ministry. Zealous about God and church, parenting, books, writing, snow, running, goldfish crackers (i.e. remnants from the babies’ meals), social justice, and fresh air.

She blogs regularly at First Day Walking and recently released her first book Making Paper Cranes: Toward an Asian American Feminist Theology published by Chalice Press. This reflection was originally modified from here.

how to bless our clutter goodbye

Gluttony. Guilt. Gulp.

My gut reactions to the recent New York Times article on “The Way We Live: Drowning In Stuff.”

I actually wondered, for a fleeting second, whether the UCLA researchers had been secretly spying on our recent move. Because if there were one single emotion that dominated this life transition – beyond nostalgia at leaving our first home and excitement at settling into the new – it was a sinking sense of feeling overwhelmed at how much stuff we’ve collected over the years.

Boxes and boxes, tubs upon tubs, books we’ve never read, wedding gifts we’ve never used, Christmas decorations we hung once, children’s clothes they wore twice. All of it saved, stacked, squirreled away in corners of our old basement, now staring at us in our new living room.

I am utterly overwhelmed by how much we own.

We excel at making excuses why we need all this stuff. We live in a state with extreme seasonal swings, so we need clothing to outfit the family from winter’s -30 and summer’s 100+ degrees. My husband is handy and likes to fix things around the house, so we need a garage full of tools. We love to read and I love to write, so we need shelves and shelves of good books. We like to cook and have four hungry mouths to feed three times a day, so we need a kitchen full of plates and cups and pots and pans and appliances.

Need? I wonder.

As I spent hours over the past months packing and then unpacking every single possession I own, I often thought of a good friend who entered a convent last summer. She sold her house and almost everything she owned, and then entered her community with the clothes on her back, a few books, a handful of photographs. I remember talking to her while she was listing furniture on Craigslist and tagging items for a garage sale. It’s tough to get rid of stuff, she said. You realize how attached you are to possessions. But so many times during this move I secretly envied her, the simplicity of a cell without clutter, the freedom of a life without excess.

If you read about the study on how families in our consumer culture accumulate in abundance, maybe you’ll feel the same gut-punch that I did. Recognizing how my stress levels do sky-rocket when faced with clutter. Admitting that my family does overdo Christmas out of our guilt for living so far apart from each other. Realizing that I feel helpless to know how to drastically change my habits as a consumer.

I’m always attempting to manage the clutter. I keep a steady stream of bags flowing to Goodwill. I don’t go shopping for entertainment. I regularly weed through kids’ toys and books to pull out what they don’t use. I always stop myself before I wheel the cart into the checkout to  double-check that I actually need everything I’m about to buy.

But I still find myself in a house so chock full of stuff I barely know where to begin to make real change.

So whenever I read these kind of reports – that we’re drowning in our own abundance, that we’re overwhelmed by our own excess – my initial reaction is always one of guilt and complicity. It’s a first-world problem, and I’m just as swept up in it as my neighbors. But this time I glimpsed one glimmer of hope from the NYTimes piece, a toss-away comment by the lead researcher that “we don’t have rituals, mechanisms, for getting rid of stuff.”

Would it help me if I had a ritual to bless my clutter goodbye?

Ha! Good luck with that, Mama!

So I tried it. At first I felt foolish as I stood over the paper bags stacked by the door, some ready to run to Goodwill, others awaiting their fate on garbage day. Was I supposed to sprinkle the stuff with holy water, perfume it with incense?

But I decided to start by simply thanking God for the good that these possessions once brought me – for the miles I ran in those old sneakers, the meals I fed my babies in those bibs, the photos of dear friends I hung in those frames.

Then I held in blessing the next person who would read the book I never cracked, watch the DVD we never opened, eat from the bowls we rarely used.

And finally I asked for help to become a more careful consumer, to steward my resources wisely, to remember those who go without the basics of food and water and shelter while I have the luxury to worry about my abundance.

Surprisingly, something small did shift inside me. I turned my focus from possessions to people. I felt myself starting to release from the need to cling desperately to every little shred of paper and plastic that passes through my door. A moment’s pause in the midst of purging might be just what I need to break my addiction to materialism and remember how to appreciate material goods for their goodness. That’s a spiritual lesson I want to teach my children, so it’s got to start with me.

But as I blessed our clutter goodbye, I also remembered the most powerful truth about rituals: we have to do them over and over and over again to understand their meaning, to establish them as a life-giving habit. So I sighed, packed the bags into the car, and headed back upstairs with a garbage bag in my fist. Still so much to share, still so little I really need.

At least there’s a whole lot of clutter around me to help deepen my spiritual practice of learning to do with less.