A prayer for peace. Don’t we always need it?
Peace is rare in these parts. As an introverted mama who craves calm and quiet to settle her soul and center her mind, I start to spin some days when the boys don’t stop talking/whining/crying/shouting. I know in my bones that this busy, bustling life is so good and the very gift I wanted, but it is still so frenzied at times that I can barely hear myself think.
And peace in pregnancy? It’s a nearly laughable prospect. My last journey down those nine months brought not only the severe morning sickness I’ve come to know (and loathe) as part of pregnancy, but also all the fear and anxiety of carrying a child after miscarriage.
When I think about what to expect when you’re expecting, peace would be last on my list.
I try to remember that the God of Peace is always present with us, always calling us back, always inviting us to slow down into silence with a deep breath and a moment’s pause. But peace is still fleeting in this season of life, dancing before my eyes like a startling butterfly, dashing off again as soon as I stop to take notice.
Christ called us to be makers of peace. I think about this often, that peace is something we’re invited to help create, not just passively receive.
How do I make peace? How do I carve out corners for peace to settle in our home? How do I widen the margins of my life with enough space for a deep and lasting peace to guide our hearts?
Today I offer you a prayer for peace. Each new morning our world needs it more and more, millions upon millions of desperate hearts crying out for comfort and calm.
Maybe when we start to nurture peace in smallest ways, even from our earliest days, we can begin to align our lives with the peace that is God’s Very Self.
Wherever the dark chaos of your life calls out for blessing today, I pray peace for you, too.
“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
God of peace,
As my appearance
And appetite and energy
All begin to change,
Let me seek the peace I crave
In your unchanging love.
Help me to remember
That you are constant
When all around me is shifting.
Calm my anxieties
With the comfort of your presence.
Quiet the storm of my fears
With your calm.
Whisper still, small words of trust
And cradle my baby
In the warmth of your love.
Help me to celebrate
The life growing within me,
The child taking shape
In the dark chaos of creation.
Keep your horizon of hope
Ever before my eyes.
In peace I pray,
© 2014 Laura Kelly Fanucci
Prayers for all 9 months of pregnancy can be found here at the end of this series.
Please consider passing them along to an expectant mother who could use them!
We’ve been laughing, he and I. Over crock pots steaming with chili and harvest vegetables heaped upon the counter in earthy piles, over the din of Notre Dame football roaring up from the basement below, over the chorus of three small boys tugging for attention and talking all at once in the kitchen.
We’ve been laughing about last fall, tossing jokes about the morning sickness long past, about the garden bounty that rotted in bowls as I slept hard on the couch, about the autumn traditions we didn’t cook or visit or make because mama was growing the baby and in my world that is mighty work.
I marvel at this now – laughing while I close my eyes at oven’s blasting heat as I slide out another pan of sweet potatoes, rolling my eyes at his comebacks while I peel pyramids of knobbly carrots, grinning at the boys who steal fistfuls of green beans even as I turn to dump them in the roiling boil.
I marvel at how we are laughing. How far those hard days seem, and not just those aching, exhausting weeks of trying to keep down water and crackers. But the harder days before that.
The days of losing the baby and floundering for hope and curling inward because the world couldn’t see the pain. Because weren’t we young and healthy and at least we have two babies already and couldn’t we always try again? Because it wasn’t really a baby, was it? Only a handful of weeks along, only the tiniest curve of a body that could slip away so easily.
Only a whisper of a life.
Why should it still echo now, with our plumpy love of a round boy now gnawing at his dimpled fists in the swing and laughing gummy smiles at his brothers’ monkey faces and blinking bright owl eyes in the slanted morning light beside my bed each morning?
I know why now, and these heaps of garden harvest in my dirty hands remind me. Because what grows in darkness is life, even when we cannot see it. And what lies beneath is hope, even if it is a tiny seed. And what bursts forth is holy, even if it is a tender shoot.
I will miss that baby always. The thought will catch in my throat each time, the wonder of what could have been. And the way a body feels differently once it has carried both life and death within it.
I have known deepest joy and deepest pain from these children of mine – all four lives that have sparked into being, that head-scratching mystery, that sacred design that the Weaver knits together in the holy dark. I hold all this wrapped round my heart.
And as I wonder what to say today about a prayer for the beginning, for the first weeks of knowing and loving and hoping and praying, I think it is the same truth that fall teaches me each year.
These rich cold weeks bursting with deep color and deeper change, when we carry the outside inside, when we harvest one season’s hopes for another’s savoring, when we let go of what will not be and learn to welcome what will come.
The truth that we are nurturing life, all of us.
We are tending to its tender beginning. We are carrying its plumping growth. We are sharing its holy fruits with those we love.
. . .
Today it is a prayer for month two of pregnancy. A fragile four weeks: the thrill of discovering and announcing, the fear of worrying and wondering, the unknown of what lies ahead.
But a sacred four weeks, too. The beginning of a life that we will carry close to our own for the rest of our days, no matter what may come. The opening chapter of a book that is written by the Author of Love and the Word Itself.
Today it is a prayer, too, for the gifts we receive and the gratitude we live and the worries we can cast back, over and over in heaps and piles, onto the loving hands of the One who carries all of us.
Today it is a prayer for someone who may need it.
Today it is my gift to you.
“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22)
. . .
God of joy,
Our hearts sing to you
In our moment of discovery!
We saw proof with our eyes
That new life has begun,
And we saw that it was good.
As a heart begins to beat
And a mind begins to grow,
May my own heart and mind
Rejoice in the wonder of this gift.
Even if sickness turns my stomach
Or tiredness takes over,
Let a deeper joy
Run through my days,
Fast and strong and true.
And if, as weeks pass,
Worries start to circle round,
Threatening to steal my joy,
Let your perfect love
Cast out my fear.
Help me believe
That you hold us both,
My child and I,
In the palm of your warm
And safe and loving hand.
In joy I pray,
© 2014 Laura Kelly Fanucci
All the prayers for pregnancy will be found here at the end of this 9 week series. Please pass them on…
I’m so excited for today.
Because today I’m finally launching something I’ve dreamed of doing for years on this blog.
Every day more people visit here looking for “prayers for pregnancy” than anything else. And I always wished I had more to offer them.
Especially for the heart-breaking searches: prayers for trying to conceive, prayers for an unwanted pregnancy, prayers for depression during pregnancy.
My dream is to have prayers for all of those searchers, and I am slowly at work on a bigger project around prayers for pregnancy – including prayers on infertility and miscarriage, and lots more Scripture.
But for now, I’ll be rolling out over the next nine weeks one prayer for each of the nine months of pregnancy. (All the prayers for pregnancy will end up here, too.)
Each prayer is inspired by one of the nine fruits of the Spirit that Paul describes in Galatians:
“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22)
And the whole prayer series is inspired by Paul’s words that sum up the life of Christian faith:
“If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25)
Because if we live by the Spirit, let these nine months also be guided by the Spirit, whom we profess each Sunday in our creed to be the giver of life. These nine months of expectation and preparation, wonder and worry, joy and hope. All of is it caught up in the Spirit.
So without further ado, here is the prayer for the 1st month of pregnancy.
A prayer for love.
God of love,
Our desire for a child
Was born out of love:
For each other,
And for this new life.
In these first fragile weeks,
While the child within me
Is knit together in love,
Protect us both
And guide our growth.
Help me to remember
That this is how we love:
In the body,
In sacred surrender
To each other.
May my life be one of love,
And may my child grow
Into all that love has waiting.
In love I pray,
© 2014 Laura Kelly Fanucci
(with thanks to the generous & talented Kendra of Catholic All Year for the beautiful memes!)
. . .
And if you’re not expecting a baby (and most of us aren’t!), I hope you’ll pass these prayers along to someone else.
In the meantime, here are some other places I’ve been writing lately:
- CatholicMom.com on 4 easy ways to start your day with morning prayer – when you first wake up or when you drive the kids to school!
- A re-run of my post on spiritual practices with newborns (feeding the baby) at Red Letter Christians
- An essay at Notre Dame’s FaithND on the night before my brother died and what he taught me about hope
Our sweetest, smallest, newest. (Dare I say gentlest, too?) A mere four months this side of birth, and already it seems his quiet wisdom has been with us always.
This Joseph gift, this “rainbow baby” promise after loss – he is pure light. Already teaching me all sorts of truths I thought I knew.
1) Joseph taught me that God is Hope.
By his very existence, this child astounds. Only six weeks after we lost our baby last summer, we found out he was on his way. Did we dare to dream he could be, so soon? And yet he was.
The hope of new life that he brought by his first spark – it did not deny the pain of what preceded, or dismiss the death of another, but it was still profoundly healing.
As he grew and pushed softly against the limits of my skin, he pushed my faith into new places, too. Places that had to stretch to make space for what it meant to lose a baby and gain a baby, all in a short span of time. Layering upon learning how life and death are always twinned.
People use the phrase “rainbow baby” to signal a child conceived after miscarriage or stillbirth. Now I see the shimmer in that truth, the bright sign that stretches over the months of hoping, drawing out of darkness into light.
Joseph will always be for me this resurrection sign of God-as-Hope, of joy flooding our lives.
2) Joseph taught me that God is Mercy.
As I fling this sentence into the interwebs, I rest fully aware that it may all change in an instant. But this baby? He is the precious easy kind of child a parent secretly wishes for.
He sleeps, he eats, he smiles, he grows. Rare are the crying jags, abundant are the gummy grins. He has slid into our lives with such simple grace that I find it hard to believe there was a time when he was not.
The transition to three has proved so much easier than we expected, even in a summer with too much unexpected challenge around us. Joseph has been the calm center of the storm, quiet and steady and growing on his own.
I joke and call him “the gentle giant” because he is our biggest baby, bursting out of tiny clothes and filling our arms with unexpected weight. But perhaps we needed this bigger presence of peace in our lives right now.
Perhaps God’s Mercy gifted this sweet soul for such a time as this.
His big brothers smother him with love each new morning. They never tire of squealing at his very presence, covering him with kisses. It still astounds me – their pure delight, their unconditional joy. When Thomas was new? Sam had no time for the intruder. But both boys love their baby in the truest sense of the word.
I see now what lavish Mercy looks like, how God loves. And it is so Good.
3) Joseph taught me that God is Dreamer.
By his name, this child echoes truth to me.
We chose Joseph for all those dreamers in Scripture – the one whose visions shaped his destiny and the one whose angel voices softened his heart. Both these men had to trust their God and their own inner compass to lead. Even when called into the mess of uncertainty around them, they fixed their gaze on God and headed straight in.
And both of them changed the story of their families and their people for generations to come, by trusting in strange dreams.
Joseph reminds me that God is a Dreamer, too. Dreaming of justice and mercy and peace. Dreaming of healing and reconciliation. Dreaming of a love that will reshape the very fabric of our lives if we dare to let it in.
I look into his gentle, dreaming eyes and I hear whispers to keep dreaming, too. To remember how new life springs in strange ways from death. To be unafraid of what others think as I head straight into the messes where I am called. To imagine what might come if I dare to follow wildest dreams.
To trust my life to the One who created and claimed it for goodness.
. . .
What have you learned about God from those closest to you –
your spouse, children, parents, siblings, or friends?
And he’s beautiful.
And we knew it was him all along.
For 20 long weeks we kept the secret. From family. From friends. From every perfect stranger who would stop us in the grocery store and ask if we knew what we were having.
No matter who inquired whether this baby was a boy or a girl, my response was always the same.
We’re keeping it a surprise, I’d say.
My hunch is it’s a boy, I’d offer.
And if you listened carefully to my phrasing, I never told a lie.
I always swallowed back the smile when people would assure me it was a girl. I can tell by how you’re carrying. I knew from the moment you told me you were pregnant. It’s got to be a girl this time.
I’d nod and chat about how it would be fun to have a daughter – because I always entertained a healthy dose of doubt, even with ultrasound techs and crystal clear pictures that claim to be “99% accurate.”
I wouldn’t know for sure until I held that baby in my arms.
But still we knew. And it was the loveliest secret we’ve ever kept, just the two of us calling him by name, delighting in the prospect of three boys, imagining what new personality might be added to the bunch.
We’d always loved the surprise before. Turned our heads away with resolve at the ultrasound tech’s instructions. Marveled at the discovery in the delivery room. Loved sharing the news with each family member and friend we called in the hours after delivery.
But after our miscarriage last year, my perspective changed. The loss of the unknown and the possibility was the hardest grief to bear. I wanted to know as much as I could about our baby.
So I wore him down, my dear husband who can be as stubborn as I. After a few months of convincing, he agreed to find out – as long as we kept the surprise to share with friends and family once baby arrived.
(And of course we never whispered a word of our secret to the two biggest blabber-mouths we know: Brothers #1 and #2, who openly had their hearts set on a little sister. “Mama, we already have a little brother!” our oldest would remind us exasperatedly.)
So on that freezing cold Epiphany day, we found out. And we both loved it. I will never forget the grin we shared in that dimly lit ultrasound room. Three boys!
Knowing made the waiting that much sweeter, that much more eager, that much more impatient. And now he’s here in our arms.
So it’s a story of revelation – of secret and surprise. And a story of change and conversion. The choices we made for one child don’t have to be the choices we make for another.
But what a joy to share the news we’ve known for so long. Our boy.
Not simply a third variation on a theme. Far from any disappointed attempt to “try for a girl.” Nothing but a beautiful boy and brother and son and child of God all his own.
Sometimes I wondered, in that abstracted telescopic view we sometimes try to sneak on our own lives, whether I wished this baby had been a girl. After all, everyone around me was sure I wanted a daughter. Some of the bold ones went so far as to declare that they hoped I’d “get my girl” this time. Once or twice I felt that twinge of ohhhh when I saw an adorable dress in the baby department.
But when I wrote that I was smitten with this baby the second I saw him, it was no exaggeration.
Every time I thought of him – him - a goofy grin snuck across my face that I can only compare to that feeling of falling in love for the first time. He is exactly the baby I dreamed of.
So there you have it, world. From the girl who can’t keep a poker face, who always bursts to let loose the secret, who can barely hide a joke’s punch line.
Nearly half a year spent waiting to spill the beans.
He’s the best secret I’ve ever kept.
Lots of people love Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
I am not one of them.
I know it’s mostly good-hearted cheer, encouragement for the journey, and wise words from a man who’d seen enough of life to know that the secret lies in looking ahead.
But these two pages drive me crazy: “…a most useless place. The Waiting Place…”
“NO! That’s not for you! Somehow you’ll escape all that waiting and staying.
You’ll find the bright places where Boom Bands are playing.”
What’s wrong with waiting?
Most of us spend much of our lives waiting. Waiting for a situation to change. Waiting for a relationship to heal. Waiting for health to improve. Waiting for a holiday or a homecoming. Waiting for test results, an acceptance letter, a job offer, a new opportunity, a shift in scenery or season or mood.
Aren’t we all waiting somewhere in these winding lines? For crying out loud, Christians are supposed to be waiting all the time.
Lest I be accused of being too harsh on Dear Seuss, I get what he’s saying. Don’t be passive. Don’t get stuck. Don’t expect life to magically improve if you’re not willing to work hard.
But to be true to life’s reality, the book could just as aptly be named Oh, the Places You’ll Wait!
Because we spend just as much time idling at the stop light, itching to accelerate, as we do with the wind whipping through our hair as we race ahead.
Waiting isn’t an evil to be shunned, a burden to be avoided, a drain to keep us from enjoying life. Waiting is life.
I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
. . .
Around here, we’re waiting all the time now.
The clock ticks painfully slowly. Each morning over breakfast, the kids ask when the baby will be here, and I shake my head at the sink, attempting to smile cheerfully while I scrub dishes.
We don’t know! We just have to wait!
I’m an eager and impatient person by nature. Waiting can be excruciatingly hard for me to bear. At 39 weeks pregnant, weary and waddling, I’m consumed by waiting. How I’d love to breeze past these pages of boredom and in-betweenness, of long lines and longing faces.
But life never works like that. Waiting is where we grow. Where God works on us in the long and quiet dark.
Waiting is work, but it’s holy work. God is here, too.
For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from God.
. . .
Ironically I wrote this almost exactly one year ago. I didn’t know how much of the next 12 months would be filled with waiting: waiting for a baby, waiting to heal from losing that baby, waiting for another baby, waiting to work through my fears.
When impatience starts to get the better of me, when I find myself straining forward to see what’s next, when I tire of trying to live in the present, I wrestle with waiting.
But wrestling never wins; it is only when I stop to catch my breath that I realize there is only This. In preparation for That, perhaps. But waiting is about the present, not the future.
It’s the only way I can live right now.
To parent is to wait: to watch, to witness, to wonder what comes next, to want more for your child than what they have today. But to wait is also to be forced to slow down, to relinquish the illusion of control, to put your desires on hold while life makes other plans.
What could be harder than waiting?
This life is a relentless pull, asking us to stop when we want to go, making us release when we want to grab tight. We have to wait in the midst of all this back and forth. We never know what’s coming; we waste our time worrying about what never happens.
But when we wait – that is an act of faith.
Waiting is holy time, not wasted time. Psalms sing it; Jesus spoke it; centuries of Christians believed it.
So maybe the wild Technicolor imagination of the esteemed Dr. was right all along. Everyone is just waiting.
But I believe that’s not half bad.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
Psalm 130: 5-6
In college I had two French professors whose advice I sought out during senior year.
That angsty season of trying to figure out what on earth one could do with a liberal arts degree, thanks to four delightful years of studying the humanities. And what on earth one should do with a heart that was getting ruined for Christ, thanks to four discomforting years of learning about service and theology and ministry.
The first professor had been a favorite since freshman year, first semester. I landed by luck in her Freshman Seminar and took every course she offered after that. She was brilliant, engaging, encouraging, funny and charming. (It didn’t hurt that she was gorgeous and lived all over the world and had a beautiful home where she hosted dinners at the end of every semester.) She mentored me through choosing a major, finding a study abroad program, and starting graduate level work in the department.
The second professor was a medieval scholar with whom I had several classes during junior and senior year. She was calm and quiet, patient and thoughtful, dedicated and hard-working. (Plus she had the most amazing curly hair that she could pin up in gorgeous buns a la the Renaissance damsels she studied.) She understood my passion for languages and let me explore creative approaches to her assignments.
So faced with the college senior’s perennial dilemma of what to do next, I thought of both of them. And in the span of one short month, tulips miraculously springing along every footpath on campus, I stopped by both of their office hours to pick their brains about how I might spend the next year of my life.
The first listened to me babble (in French! those were the days) about how I wanted to do something with my French degree but wasn’t sure anymore if the academic track was right for me. I’d found a few programs that would let me volunteer abroad in Francophone countries, and I wondered if I should try that while I figured out whether I wanted to be a professor.
She listened, nodded, asked good questions. I don’t remember anything concrete she said during the span of that conversation, but I left feeling affirmed – like this mentor of mine understood why I might not want to follow in her footsteps, yet encouraged me anyway.
The second listened to me just as attentively. But my concerns and questions didn’t seem to resonate in the same way. Sensing that she might not be seeing the crux of the question at the heart of my wrestling, I stopped and posed her a question. How did she integrate her faith and her work? This was really the weighty load I was carrying around for senior year – what did this nagging sense of God’s call for my life mean for the clear path I thought I’d set out on?
She looked me straight in the eye and said, You just have to learn to compartmentalize your life. I’m a Christian, and I do that.
She went on to talk about working during the week, dedicating herself to her students and scholarship, and then going to church on Sunday. And as she spoke, I realized with perfect clarity that she had helped me make up my mind. This kind of segregation was not the life I wanted.
At the end of our conversation, I thanked her for her time and stepped back into the corridor, closing her office door behind me.
To this day, I’m sure she has no idea that our conversation changed the course of my life.
. . .
Who are the midwives of our dreams? The ones who believe in our power, encourage our laboring, promise us that the end result will be worth all the blood, sweat, and tears?
For my first two babies, I saw a nurse-practitioner in my regular OB clinic. She was smart and sharp, witty and understanding, clear and confident. I liked her style.
But towards the end of my second pregnancy, I started noticing that perhaps she wasn’t as supportive of my questions as I’d hoped.
I asked whether it would be ok for our doula to be with us during the whole labor again, and she shrugged. Sure, I suppose. As long as she’s not in the way.
I asked whether I could deliver without drugs, free from pressure from the nursing staff, and she smirked a little. If you’re a glutton for pain, I guess. But you’ll probably end up wanting an epidural again.
I asked if baby could room in with us if everything went smoothly with the birth, unlike last time when our son had to stay in the level 2 nursery for the week. If you really want that. But you should give yourself a break and get some rest, too.
I started to leave my appointments with more confusion than clarity. And after a birth that went beyond my wildest expectations – so fast the doula couldn’t get there, so strong that my own power could match it, so smooth that we got to leave the hospital early with our healthy baby – I realized that I wanted something different from a future health care provider.
I wanted someone who understood.
. . .
Only a few months into this pregnancy, I realized why I love my current practice of midwives so much. It’s not because they encourage natural birth or talk about the emotional side of pregnancy or keep prenatal care as non-invasive as possible, although they do all these things beautifully.
It’s because they remind me of the other midwives in my life.
Friends who walked with me through the biggest decisions of college and grad school. Family members who coached me through challenges big and small. Teachers and mentors who guided by example and instruction. Even the 85 year-old Benedictine sister who has graced me with her wisdom as my spiritual director.
I see glimmers of all of them in these midwives. A spirit of gentle encouragement. A strength of loving support. A source of powerful wisdom.
And I wonder if I can be this for my own children one day, too. A midwife for their dreams.
The Psalms speak of God as midwife, guiding us from the first moments of our journey, caring for us from our mother’s womb.
Maybe we are all called to be midwives for each other, no matter our age, stage or situation. Maybe we are called to mirror God who companions us in our most vulnerable, painful moments and assures us that we are strong beyond our fears.
And maybe sometimes we are called to let others serve as midwives for us, too.
To accept their care and support. To surrender to their wisdom, even when we are so wrapped up in our worries that we cannot see clearly what lies ahead. To place our trust in their skilled hands and know that we will emerge safely on the other side.
“Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me
you have been my God.”
Who has helped midwife your dreams?
They are buddies, our two boys.
Far from best friends from birth, but now constant companions. Since full-time school doesn’t separate them yet, they still spend most of their waking hours together. And even though they’re lunging at each other’s throats as much as they’re hugging sweetly – after all, they’re siblings, not saints – they are still an inseparable duo.
A duo that’s about to gain a third.
I listen to them play together before nap. They read books to each other, jump around the room to their favorite music, laugh at jokes that only they understand. Secret words, secret games – they have a world all their own, and it is good that I am not part of it. But I still savor the listening.
Watching them hold hands when they walk through a parking lot, glancing in the rearview mirror to see them singing in matching car seats, I catch myself wondering how their dynamic will change when another is added to their mix.
Three is an odd number. Pair up and someone’s always left out. Instead of the straight line between two points, they will become a triangle of personalities, with all the pointy edges that can come with it. More energy in a trinity, to be sure, but also more complexity.
It will take time to sort out and settle. Reconfigure and renegotiate. As all life changes do, for all involved.
Even the smallest ones.
. . .
One of my professors in grad school used to interpret the Good Friday story from John’s Gospel like this: Jesus rearranges the family unit at the foot of the cross.
To Mary: Woman, here is your son. To John: Here is your mother.
A new family configuration. A small gain in the face of huge loss.
We talked about this Scripture in the context of ministry to families dealing with divorce and remarriage. But I think her wisdom applies to plenty of changes that families face, both good and bad.
Even in the happiest moments of a family’s life – like an engagement or a birth – there is loss. What was the original unit will be no more. Everything is rearranged. Relationships changed, dynamics shifted. We will never be the same.
Because human nature pulls us toward the positive, we tend to gush about what is gained. The best gift you can give your child is a sibling. Isn’t it great when a family grows? But the flip side of every good gain is real loss. And acknowledging this truth does not lessen the joy. It merely sets the change in honest context.
What has been was good (and hard and real). What will be can become the same.
So the image of Jesus rearranging the family at the foot of the cross is a comforting one for me. In times of birth as well as loss, marriage as well as divorce, joy as well as sorrow, we can find blessing in what is broken open.
. . .
What is lost?
The ease of the present time: everyone sleeping (mostly) through the night, no one wearing diapers, each child speaking his needs.
The convenience of being the perfect family size by society’s standards: 2 parents + 2 kids that fit easily into a sedan or a museum pass.
The dynamics we’ve long established, the habits we’ve come to enjoy, the schedule we’ve taken for granted.
What is gained?
The wonder of welcoming a new relationship into our lives.
The love that increases when we stretch out of our comfort zone.
The mystery of a new personality that will bring us joy and growth.
We decided long ago it was worth it, the costs and sacrifices and inconveniences of having another baby. This is the dream we have for our family. But even when we conclude that the gains outweigh the losses, change still brings challenges.
Is there still Christ among us, rearranging our family unit? I think so. In all kinds of situations. Reminding us that God intended family to be a growing, expanding, embracing love.
So whenever our newest member arrives and the sibling squabbles start afresh, I hope I can remember this truth. That the beauty of what we have right now as a family was born of blood, sweat, and tears at its beginning, too.
And so can be again.
Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. How easily we pass over them, eyes set eagerly on Easter Sunday. Or anticipating Thursday’s opening of the Triduum.
Our first half of Holy Week probably looks a lot like yours. Work. School. Kids. Meetings. Chores. Bills. The lackluster pregame show before the big kickoff. The forgettable prelude before the fanfare. The ordinary before the extraordinary.
But the church’s calendar claims these three are holy, too.
The earliest days of the holiest week are in-between: not quite Lent, not quite Easter. It is a time of anticipating what is right around the corner, practically within reach. We are almost there.
The Main Event looms large on the horizon. All signs point toward its arrival, but the journey here has been so long – can it really be coming?
Ahead of us lies both pain and joy, suffering and peace. How can we possibly prepare for all that? How can we hold all this tension at once?
These are the last days. They matter.
Soon we will remember how everything changes.
. . .
The end of the third trimester is a strange part of pregnancy. The eagerness of almost, the frustration of not-yet.
Like Holy Week’s emotional extremes, this time swings wildly: something to celebrate, something to endure, something to savor, something to push through. Both quiet and flurry, both calm and storm. Each day adding to our anticipation.
My mental countdown clicks steadily. Five more midwife appointments. Five more prenatal yoga classes. Five more weeks to finish all those pressing work projects.
Each Saturday the nesting instinct kicks in with greater intensity. Scribbled To Do Before Baby! list in hand, I clean out closets and drawers, watch the boys build the crib with their father, wash baby blankets and fold diapers in neat stacks.
Ready and waiting.
Every friend and stranger I meet asks how much longer I have left. Around us bubble joy and anticipation. A growing readiness to be done. An impatience to discover what (and who!) comes next.
I wonder. Have I done enough? Yes. And no. Like Lent, this journey of expectation is always bigger than me, beyond my personal penances, my tries and fails, my awareness of my own limits. I am carried by forces greater than my own.
And a calendar that presses ever onward, oblivious to the emotions with which I fill the hours.
. . .
I wonder how to honor this time rather than race too fast towards the end goal. How to see the holiness of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in turn.
These neglected early days of Holy Week are a different kind of preparation from the Lent that preceded. More immediate. Here and not-here. Upon us, yet still beyond our grasp. The mystery of the middle time, when we think we know what awaits us (all the Easters have we been through before), when we remember that we can always be surprised (each year bringing its own gifts).
Do I remember to reverence these almost-days, these overlooked ordinaries?
The Celts spoke of thin places, spaces and moments when heaven and earth seem to touch, only the slightest trace separating their realities. Perhaps Holy Week is a small hole through which we peer into the deepest mysteries of the life of God. We could never understand all that it contains. But each year we might nudge a little closer, if we try, to imagine what its truth might mean for our lives.
I watch and wait in this almost-time. It could be long weeks till everything changes; it could be mere days. But God is here, too.
And it is not only Easter morning which makes it so. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. All the ordinary days matter, too.
Here are watercolors, she said. Paint.
Here are pastels, she said. Draw.
Here is clay, she said. Create.
A 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?