when did we decide that we were bad at art?

Here are watercolors, she said. Paint.

birth retreat 1

Here are pastels, she said. Draw.

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Here is clay, she said. Create.

birth retreat 2A gathering of mothers. A time and space set apart. A whole afternoon to ourselves, to pause and pray and ponder what it means to approach pregnancy and childbirth as something spiritual.

At Peg’s retreat, I thought about birth and babies and becoming a mother all over again. But weaving between these weighty meditations were simpler sensations: the chalky smear of pastels on my fingers, the ghost-white trace of clay under my nails, the wavy curl of paper as watercolors dried.

When was the last time I let myself make art for an entire afternoon?

Sometimes I sit down with the kids at their small table in front of the sunny window and I doodle while they draw. Or I dip a brush and make soft strokes while they paint. Or I roll playdough into long coils while they squish and smash their creations.

But I never make art. Not on my own.

Why? Because I’m too busy. Because it’s not what grown-ups do. Because I’m not good at it.

. . .

All the way home from the birth retreat, I turned one question over and over in my mind: when did we decide that we were bad at art?

Many adults I know, who colored and drew and painted and pasted their way through childhood, no longer make time for artistic expression. It’s considered child’s play. Delightfully entertaining or developmentally enriching for little ones, but not a serious way to spend time as mature, productive members of society.

But when did this shift start? When did art cease to be an essential way we explored the world? When did it become reserved for the talented, the elite, the lucky few?

I used to love making art – at school, at home, in classes at our local art institute. I especially loved the pottery classes: the whirl of the wheel between my knees, the slippery slide of the glossy clay between my fingers, the surprising emergence of something new and warm between my hands.

But then I stopped. I can’t quite remember why – maybe sports seemed more important, maybe art seemed less cool, maybe the insecurity of adolescence whispered that I should shy away from somewhere I didn’t excel.

So now it seems daunting to start making art again – how? where? when? Why am I afraid of what used to seem so simple? Is it still the worry of looking like a fool? The intimidation of not knowing where to begin?

Or the primal, pulsing fear of failure?

. . .

Only six weeks left till the due date. Of course my thoughts wind birth-ward every day.

Heavy with baby, I watch my boys scrawl with sidewalk chalk, paint pages with watery doodles, color their latest crayoned masterpiece. I see how they trust themselves to create, how un-intimidated they are by the blank page, how much energy they pour into their work and how much delight they take in showing it to others.

At night when I dip into the childbirth books on my nightstand, I find myself turning over and over one question: when did I decide that I was intimidated by birth? When did this biological capacity become something to fear, medicate, suppress, or evade? Why do I have to psych myself up with the mental focus of a marathoner for a natural process that my body was created to do?

It’s a gross oversimplification of a complicated question, I know. The process of labor and delivery can be complex and dangerous, to say nothing of long and painful. Even if I had seen a hundred births in my lifetime, as other women my age would have in other cultures or eras, I might still be as terrified of the known as of the unknown.

But I can’t help but wonder what difference it might make to laboring women if we thought of ourselves as powerful co-creators.

If birth had remained at the center of our culture rather than being shoved to the side.

If we understood more about our bodies and their potential.

If we didn’t listen to the voices who told us we weren’t strong enough.

If we hadn’t decided we weren’t good at it.

. . .

I’m trying to practice, a little every day. (Easier said than done.)

Breathe, don’t balk, through the Braxton-Hicks contractions. Focus, don’t flinch, when the pressure of baby gets too intense.

Paint something, don’t write, when my mind wants to muse. Sit with the kids, don’t scurry, when they’re creating.

Step aside from the well-worn grooves of thinking one way. Sit with the possibility that there might be another path.

. . .

Yesterday afternoon my son came to me in tears because the tail of the monkey he was coloring had torn off.

“I can’t do it another way!” he wailed when I gently suggested that he might try coloring the animal before cutting it out, so that he didn’t have to color on such a skinny tail. “I only can do it this way!”

What if we tried it again? I suggested. What if he took a deep breath to calm down? What if we worked together to try a new way?

His bottom lip still puffed out in a quiver, he hesitated. And then he nodded yes as he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, fingers still stained from the morning’s markers.

What if we were all brave enough to try, again?

how to prepare for a birth day

There’s the hospital bag, of course. Pre-registration paperwork. The Kegels you’re supposed to be practicing ten times a day. Delivery room playlist on the iPod. Deep breathing exercises. Child care arrangements for your other kids. Out-of-office email reply waiting and set to maternity leave.

But does any of that really prepare you for labor and birth?

Maybe I’m lazier this time around. (Ok, assuredly I’m lazier this time around.) But I can’t bring myself to motivate for so many pre-baby preparations that have typically consumed my thoughts by this point in previous pregnancies: cleaning and nesting, stockpiling frozen meals, setting up the baby gear, washing tiny onesies and newborn diapers.

Now whenever I get a free minute? I mostly want to sleep.

And instead of pouring over childbirth preparation books or crafting the perfect birth plan to hand to the nurses upon arrival at the hospital, I find myself shrugging whenever I think about Delivery-Day. It will come, it will be unexpected, it will be hard. And then it will be over and our baby will be here.

But just as I might have missed the opportunity for deeper reflection upon birth’s meaning the first time around when I was nothing but scared, I don’t want to miss the chance to explore the spiritual side of this huge transition simply because it’s my third time through.

Whether unknown or known, childbirth is a defining moment of a mother’s life. And I believe it is one of the “thin places” between heaven and earth.

So I’m wondering how to ready myself this time. How prayer can be part of the pain. How meditation can be part of my mindfulness. How each contraction can remind me that Christ is within me and beside me and before me.

I’ve already gathered a trinity of prayers for labor and birth. But as Lent surrounds me in the last months before baby arrives, I also find myself thinking about simplicity and surrender. How to let go of any lingering expectations and free myself to enter into whatever God has prepared.

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In my latest piece for Catholic Mom, I wrote about the journey from feeling terrified at the prospect of birth to finding peace in what will be a painful but powerful day of discovery:

I’m starting to see the spiritual side of birth in ways that I never would have dreamed when I headed to Labor & Delivery for the first time. Birth as beginning, birth as sacrifice, birth as rite of passage – God is intimately wrapped up in all these ways we understand this work that women do to bring life into the world.

Being intentional about this process – a sort of sacramental preparation – has helped me to bring hope, not fear, to the prospect of bringing another baby into the world.

Lots of ink gets spilled in parenting manuals and glossy magazines about birth plans, birth preparations, even identifying your health care provider’s “birth philosophy.” But approaching a spirituality of birth invites those of us who carry new life within us – as well as those who love and care for us – to view this work as prayer and to place our trust in God who accompanies us from the first contraction to the final push.

Read the rest at CatholicMom.com

And next week I’ll have the chance to enter intentionally into this deeper reflection, thanks to Peg Conway’s retreat on the spirituality of birth. Nell of Whole Parenting Family and I conspired to bring Peg to the Twin Cities (since both of us are now expecting #3!), and I can’t wait for this afternoon of exploring the prayerful parts of this sacred journey.

If you’re local and want to join us, please find more information on Facebook or at Enlightened Mama in St. Paul, MN, where the retreat will be held. And if you’re too far away to spend Saturday, March 22nd, with us, check out Peg’s wonderful book – Embodying the Sacred: A Spiritual Preparation for Birth.

how to live lent as a pregnant mother

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.

here is the prayer

We’re back in the tundra today, snow heaped so high by the mailbox you can barely see to inch the car onto the icy street. Wind whips through the front door when I crack it to let the dog limp inside, paws frozen by the sub-zero ground. The forecast for the foreseeable future goes like this: freezing, bitter, worse, terrible, painful, record-breaking, complete surrender.

“Isn’t March supposed to be spring soon?” he sighs when he looks up from his coloring book.

24 hours ago we were beach-side, bare feet in the sugary white sand, skin browning in delicious sun. Hours in the pool every morning watching our frozen children melt into slippery fish. Blue skies and palm trees and a taste of life where winter doesn’t hurt.

A day into our southern sojourn, my latest piece ran at Practicing Families. One of the many to-dos that never got done before we snapped the suitcases shut was to write something here that would tease you to read it, because I was surprised by how much I ended up loving that piece, loved how it sparked out of nowhere on the day of deadline, loved how it hummed with the right refrain, loved how it captured something of the sacred in This Time in Our Lives.

But each lovely, lazy day as I padded up and down the same long sidewalk to the beach with our youngest boy, the toddler who insists on stopping and bending low and smelling every single blessed bloom of every flower he spots, regardless of its appearance or ability to produce fragrance, I thought about that post. And prayer. And what it means to practice as a family.

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I realized I had forgotten something. Prayer is beholding; prayer is presence; prayer is promise, yes. But prayer is also pace.

Slowing down, way down, to the steady pulse of life underneath. Pausing long enough to let the soul catch up. Resting into the remembrance that all we mere mortals were asked to do was to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.

So I walked slowly and humbly in the heat, soaking up the long-forgotten sun, remembering the feel of concrete on bare feet, imprinting the memory of a small chubby hand pressed in my palm, stopping to witness a small boy’s wonder at the tiny beauty of hidden flowers, letting the walk back home take twice as long as it should because who’s watching the clock anyway?

And there was the prayer. Once again, without fail. The most and least surprising of all truths: God right before our eyes.

From Practicing Families

We laugh in low voices as he gets dressed for work. The kids are still sleeping, and as I splash my face with warm water, I contemplate the sweet prospect of a quiet kitchen and a hot cup of tea. Maybe I could pull out the journal and pray for a bit before they wake. I slip on warm socks for the cold winter floors downstairs and turn the knob on our bedroom door.

Then I find our oldest boy waiting right outside, gazing up at me with wide eyes.

I sink to my knees and without a word he folds himself into my lap, clutching his beloved stuffed animal to his chest. We snuggle in the silence for a few minutes, and then he whispers, “Mama, sing ‘Morning Has Broken.’”

I forget about the journal downstairs. Here is the prayer.

the sweet aggravation of teaching kids to pray

Have you ever noticed that young children’s timing is absolutely perfect – for them and only them?

Case in point: they only want to put on their own shoes/coat/mittens when we’re already running 10 minutes late.

See also: they realize they are, in fact, capable of recognizing their own need for the potty when we’re in the middle of driving/dinner/Target/bedtime/church.

Otherwise known as: their internal clocks continue to rouse them right on time, regardless of what daylight savings says.

This phenomenon takes on particular irony for those of us with theological training when it comes to prayer. img_3001

Case in point: my toddler now makes a pitiful plea for his bedtime prayer routine to PLEASE be repeated at naptime (when I used to get away with only a quick story-and-song before skipping out the door for blessed quiet to myself).

See also: the mornings we’re rushing to get out the door to school are the ONLY days that my boys ever insist on saying grace, rather than having me instigate the burdening of their every mealtime with my unbearable requests for them to give God thanks.

Otherwise known as: my preschooler inevitably makes his charming request for “meditation AND a Psalm AND OurFatherandHailMary” on the nights when their shrieking bathtime splash-fest soaks up every last precious ounce of energy and all I want to do is rush through bedtime to collapse on the couch.

Every time, the tired/selfish/cop-out words almost trip tempting off my tongue: no, we don’t do prayer at naptime! no, we don’t have time for grace this morning! no, I am too tired to do meditation!

But inevitably, something stops me - whether that stubborn MDiv, or the years I’ve spent trying to develop my own prayer life, or plain old-fashioned nagging Catholic guilt. Whatever it is, I catch the words and cough them back down my throat and try to ignore the clock/exhaustion/aggravation. Deep breath, refocus, slow down.

Of course we can pray. Even now.

I won’t saintly sugarcoat it to say I’m always glad we do. Sometimes I would still rather have gotten out the door 2 minutes earlier or collapsed on the couch 10 minutes sooner. But beyond any momentary annoyance, I’m always reminded where I want the long arc of our family life to bend: towards prayer, towards peaceful rhythms, towards the God who pulls us back together.

Tonight I’m posting about our bedtime psalm-praying at Practicing Families. My oldest and I started praying this way a long time ago, and I have come to love how meaningful this simple, slowing, centering line of Scripture becomes for both of us.

(Even on the evenings I’m fairly itching to close the bedroom door behind me and be done for the day.)

Every night as we go, no matter how antsy I am for bedtime to be done and my few precious hours sans-kids to begin, I always find that one phrase will inevitably catch me and do just what the psalmist says: slow me down and remind me that God is God.

Be still.

Make no mistake about it: he wiggles and giggles the whole way through. Months and months of reciting the ancient centering prayer has not magically transformer my preschooler into a patient monk.

But he knows the words by heart, forward and back, inside and out. The Sunday we sang the same psalm at church and his eyes shot up, astonished that everyone else knew his prayer, too? That was one of the rare moments I tucked away to remember for always.

These words have become so close to him, already in his mouth and in his heart. Now all he has to do is learn how to live them.

All I can tell him is that it takes a lifetime.

Read the rest at Practicing Families

When and how do you love to pray with the kids in your life? (Even if it sometimes drives you crazy, too?)

for all our children. tonight and always

This post was supposed to be about children.

All weekend I had these wonderful thoughts running through my head.

About how much I adore the age of four: how he appears in our doorway in the dark dawn hour, hair tousled from sleep, beloved seahorse cradled in his arm, ready to climb in bed with us and snuggle. How he spills over with sweet love these days, so many kisses for his mama, even hugs for his brother, cuddles for the dog.

About how I’m learning to relove the age of two: how he grins like a chimpanzee when I catch him being silly, how his budding scientist self marvels at the miracle of running water in the sink, how he chortles himself breathless at the rhymes he finds hysterical. How he’s starting to sing back to me as I close the bedroom door at bedtime, I love you, mama! Good night, mama!

So I didn’t realize when I finally sat down to write this, when I went to close the browser windows to avoid distraction’s temptation, that I’d left open the New York Times. And this had popped up on my screen:

This Oct. 15, we’ll light a candle for Silvan. From 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. in each time zone around the world, thousands will join us. We’ll mark International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day with a “wave of light” that symbolically sweeps across the globe. Though it’s unlikely anyone will see that wave of light, the image is still powerful.

So for anyone passing by my house this Oct. 15, I’ll be the woman with a candle in my window. Most passersby will not know my candle is for Silvan. But I’ll light a candle to remember more than my own son. I’ll light it to honor all whose lives have been too brief and all who are still here. Please join us.

I didn’t know.

I didn’t even know such a day existed.

I didn’t know it was today, a usually ho-hum October day of property taxes due and two-weeks-left-to-make-those-costumes.

I didn’t know last year at this time that I would even care.

But I do.

. . .

Two months have passed. So many changes. Still the world spins on.

I’m sure most people think we’re fine now, that we’ve moved on. After all it was so early. We couldn’t have been that attached. We have two healthy kids already. We’re young and we can have another.

Is that the way we measure a life? By length, by duplication, by replicability?

What if worth simply comes from being? What if that were the ultimate shock to our systems, so accustomed to striving for success, for uniqueness, for longevity? What if life’s value was simply life?

I believe it is. I believe this in the face of a culture that tosses it away, that bombs it to oblivion, that shoves its poverty to the margins. I believe it because of a God who pulled children onto his lap when his world said they were worthless, who touched bleeding women when his culture said they were unclean, who blessed lepers when his own people recoiled with repulsion.

I believe it, no matter how small this light flickers in the darkness.

. . .

This post was supposed to be about children. And maybe it was after all.

The children we remain as adults, the ones we remember we have always been, when we crawl back into God’s arms and wail like we did into our mother’s shoulder, that it’s not fair, that it hurts too much, that it shouldn’t have to be this way.

And the children we love, even the ones we lose too early.

So tonight, if you drive by our house when the sun has just sunk over the hill into the blue-black of October night and the two wild boys full of shouts are upstairs splashing in the bath, you’ll catch a glimpse through the leaves of one small light flickering in our window. I will make sure of it.

Because it wasn’t just a dream. It wasn’t just a loss.

It was a life. It was a baby.

It is still ours.

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why you have to tell your truth

What a strange place to realize why you write (because yes, by now you must own that you are a writer) – deep in the thick of Wisconsin woods, tucked back by the leafy shores of a wide sparkling lake, waiting in the white clapboard building of an old YMCA campground-turned-college, surrounded by a hundred pastors twenty years your senior (and you the only Catholic for miles, and a lay woman at that), wandering in your own thoughts as the retreat session begins with a call to prayer.

From over your shoulder someone flutters a piece of paper onto your lap as strangers’ throats clear and chairs shuffle to start the opening prayer, and you look down to read these words:

“Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of hope -

not the prudent gates of Optimism, which are somewhat narrower;

nor the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense;

nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness, which creak on shrill and angry hinges

(our people cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through);

nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of ‘Everything is Gonna Be All Right,’

but a very different, sometimes very lonely place,

the place of truth-telling,

about your own soul first of all and its condition,

the place of resistance and defiance,

the piece of ground from which you see the world

both as it is and as it could be,

as it might be, as it will be;

the place from which you glimpse not only struggle,

but joy in the struggle -

and we stand there, beckoning and calling,

telling people what we are seeing, asking people what they see.”

- Victoria Safford

And you know the prayer must have continued around you, with all those pastors’ kids and smooth-talking preachers warbling on perfect pitch in the summer breeze, sweet enough to break your heart. But you, you have to sit back down into that awkward plastic folding chair and you have to stay with these words, breathe them in, feel them hum against your heart as you clutch the paper in your hands.

Because these words speak why.

Why you started this journey, why you keep tapping these words, why you keep wondering and writing any chance you get – because the only truth you can tell in this maddening world is the story of your own small life.

And because perhaps in telling it, in flinging it out into the void while you retreat, vulnerable and doubting again, you might just hear some faint echo ring to your ears, some tiny rattle of the lone pebble dropped down the dark well.

This well that starts on your own soil, in the middle of your messy backyard, ringed round by little boys who giggle while they spray each other soaking with the cold clear stream of the garden hose.

This well that starts on the surface of the everyday but sinks steadily downward to the deep, to the secrets buried below, to the source of the water that flows beneath us all. The aquifer of human experience, one wise teacher once taught you.

So every day when you sit down to write (because it is every day, it must be, it drags you out of bed every dark morning before the babies stir, every nap time when you sink into the couch to seize the quiet, every exhausted evening once the same boys are tucked bedside again), you write with this aim in mind: to plant yourself at the gates of hope.

To refuse stubbornly to let go, even when the world spins cynical around you and whispers nagging doubts in your ears – no one cares about these questions any more, about God and faith and truth; it’s a waste of time, you know.

To sit tight in the lonely place of truth-telling.

To keep trying to hone the craft, to find the just-right words, to seize the struggles and the searching and the soul and the sacred in this everyday.

To say yes, there is still joy. Always, in the struggle, in the call, in the resistance, in the seeing. There will be joy.

And because all of these things – digging in your heels to hope, never letting go of what you love, teaching truth-telling, honoring the holy, naming the joy – all of this is how your heart is being reshaped into a mother’s heart, too.

For you this writing and this mothering linked arms from the first days and swore a fierce blood promise never to part. And you know they will not.

So even when you are hundreds of miles from the ones you raise, they are still – and will always be – your prayer and the words you seek. For they will always be your joy in the struggle.

They will always be the truth in your words.

take two: working (and praying)

The second half of the series on How We Spend Our Time. Following each author’s insights, I’ll offer another perspective on the same theme. Cathy writes about work as prayer. Here’s my take:

The easier way, of course, is not to let my work be prayer.

It’s far simpler to zone out while doing the laundry or the dishes than to move through the motions mindfully.

It’s more satisfying to grumble about paying bills or cutting kids’ hair than to approach it as a loving act of service.

It’s even easier to jump into the email inbox and the day’s to-do list than to honor the professional work I do as sacred.

But the stubborn truth is that it’s all holy, this everyday mix of action and reflection, creation and repetition. God already blesses work as good; it’s up to us to see the same.

Maybe we miss it when we call it “work,” when we file it under obligation or drudgery. Maybe if we called it all “prayer” – making breakfast or giving baths or compiling spreadsheets or sitting through meetings or running errands or mowing the lawn – maybe then we would begin to understand how God’s eyes see us.

Maybe.

. . .

I noticed a few weeks ago – while stuffing the day’s umpteenth load of laundry in the washer, then scrubbing all the pots from last night’s dinner, then hustling upstairs to help the potty-trainer in the bathroom – that I had marked each of these spaces with a gentle reminder. A small shimmer of beauty next to each place of dirty work.

Maybe I needed to remember that each one was holy.

In the laundry room, two postcards from the L’Arche community where I worked in France.

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I remember cutting carrots with Daniel, washing dishes with Monique, bathing Claude and dressing Bernard. And I’m overwhelmed at the memory of how holy that hard work was, how I knew God was there, too. I re-member myself back into the way of small things with great love.

In the kitchen, a print of Saint Therese lifting high the plates of the monastery as an offering to God, letting the steam rise like incense.

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Washing dishes is a dreaded household chore for me, so I need a nudge to see the prayer in this necessary work. I remember all the plates that have been washed so that I could eat – in restaurants or cafeterias or homes that welcomed me as a guest. And I load the dishwasher with a lighter heart, grateful for a kitchen full of food to eat and hungry children around my table. I re-member myself back into the faith that breaks bread and shares with the hungry.

In the bathroom, a picture of Saint Joseph cradling his newborn son, a father immersed in his late night work.

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Whenever I’m pulled from warm bed and soft sleep by a boy with soaked sheets or a hacking cough, our trip to the bathroom is bathed in more than the nightlight’s glow if I glance at the kindred spirit on the counter. I remember all the nights that my parents sat up with me when I was sick and surely rocked me back to sleep a thousand times before my memory sealed it to heart. And I wipe my boy’s nose or bottom or feverish forehead with more compassion and less impatience at my own rest lost.

I re-member myself back into the love that washes feet and touches the sick.

Because maybe all this work is prayer, too.

how we spend our time: working (and praying)

You Are Already PrayingToday 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.

. . .

revCHGYour 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!

what’s a mother’s legacy?

I had stepped outside for a breath of fresh air and – truth be told – a break from the boys inside who were driving me crazy. I walked the dog down to the street and pulled the newspaper from its box, tugged off the plastic wrapper still dripping from the morning’s latest summer storm.

A headline at the bottom caught my eye. It made me stop and read the whole obituary in my driveway: In eight decades as a singer and pianist, she made her name by balancing her family with her career. It’s not every day that a mother’s work-life balance makes the front page.

“Her heart was as big as her talent,” said Paul Peterson, her youngest child. “She was everybody’s mom. They all called her ‘Mama Jeanne.’ She was always so welcoming. Everyone from David Sanborn to Steve Miller rehearsed in her basement on Morgan Avenue.”

“She lived an incredible life and left a great legacy,” said her grandson, saxophonist/keyboardist/singer Jason Peterson DeLaire, who tours in Michael Bolton’s band. “From her, we learned about music and life and love.”

As I walked back up the driveway, I wondered about the questions we all eventually ask ourselves in the quiet of facing mortality.

What might they say about me when I’m gone? What kind of legacy would I leave?

. . .

The video made the usual viral rounds this week, and I should have known from everyone’s Facebook warnings to watch with Kleenex in hand that the coffee shop was not the place to click on the link. But caffeinated click I did, and Colbert choked me up, too.

Setting aside his usual snark and cynicism, he spoke eloquently and emotionally about the woman whose love had shaped his very self. As I tried to coolly wipe my nose with a napkin before anyone noticed, the same questions quietly rose up again:

What would my kids say about me after I die? How can I lead the kind of life that leaves people remembering love?

. . .

Last week I held my youngest in my lap for a blessed three solid minutes while we listened to the priest’s homily. Mass was going so much better than the week before: spirits were high, boys were behaving. I’d even managed to skim the readings for the day over breakfast so I had some clue what was going on even when I didn’t hear it.

But the opening line from the Gospel had bugged me all morning, tripping me up like an annoying pebble stuck in my sandal.

Once when Jesus was praying in solitude, and the disciples were with him…

How could he be alone and yet accompanied? How could he pray so peacefully surrounded by people?

Was this some archaic editorial inconsistency (he’s alone/whoops, he’s with everyone)? Or simply proof of the divinity of He Who Could Meditate Amidst The Annoying Masses Of Humanity Even Though I Can’t Manage An Our Father When My Kids Are Driving Me Crazy?

I wondered about this paradox of prayer. As I cleaned up the breakfast dishes, as I drove the boys to church, as I plied them with books and crayons during the Gospel. I wanted to hear some word about how this worked.

But as the visiting priest started preaching about the obvious heart of the gospel – take up your cross and follow me - I figured the line that caught me would get glossed over.

Until he started telling his own story of feeling called to the priesthood.

He spoke about his mother who raised 7 children. How she prayed in the living room every evening before dinner while the rowdy crew of kids ran circles around her. Unflappable, she’d sit there on the couch with the same small prayer book in hand.

Only after she died, well into her nineties, did her son get a chance to see that prayer book. Wondering what captivated her attention every evening, he flipped it open to the well-worn middle and found that every night she had been praying for her children’s callings – specifically that of the two boys she worried about most, one would get married and one would become a priest. (The current priest admitted he was in fact the former, to the laughter of the congregation.)

But as he quickly moved into the next part of his story, I sat there still thinking about his mother as I breathed in the scent of my boy’s messy curls. I realized this priest had enlightened exactly the passage I’d pondered.

That was how you prayed in solitude, even with all the ramble of disciples around you.

That was how you lived a life where work and love could be braided together in messy beauty.

That was how you left a legacy of compassion and caring so deep that the people you loved would never forget it.

You prayed like Christ. You prayed with a mother’s heart for what mattered most.