resources

a round-up of labor day thoughts

Posted on

How will you celebrate your work today?

Here are a few ways to honor the labor you do, whether out in the world or behind closed doors:

Look at laundry in new light to see how every day is a labor day.

Remember the ordinary, extraordinary labor that brought each of us into this world.

Consider how God works, too: bakingsweeping, washinggathering, or hosting.

Take a page from my pastor on making room for kids in the midst of our work:

It’s adorable, of course, to watch a tall man in flowing robes lean over to talk to a tiny toddler. But sometimes I wonder if we let these interactions change us, if we who are parents let ourselves learn from our pastor.

I admit that I don’t always make such gracious space in my work for my children.

They pull over chairs to the counter in the middle of my dinner prep, and I sigh because little hands will now make a mess in the flour and steal veggies off the cutting board.

They show up at my elbow while I’m writing and ask to sit on my lap, and I grumble because I’m in the middle of finishing an important project with a pressing deadline.

They appear in the middle of folding laundry or sweeping floors or washing dishes, and I mistake the real work for the chore at my hands, not the moment unfolding in front of my eyes…

Read the rest at CatholicMom.com

Check out our suggestions of hymns and blessings for Labor Day from the Collegeville Institute Seminars.

And these awesome Labor Day prayers written by my friend Genevieve at the USCCB.

Finally, treat yourself to this beautiful song by Carrie Newcomer on the holiness of everyday work. I’ve loved her music for a long time, but the beauty of her voice and words have become healing for me this past month:

Holy is the dish and drain

The soap and sink, and the cup and plate

And the warm wool socks, and the cold white tile

Shower heads and good dry towels

And frying eggs sound like psalms

With bits of salt measured in my palm

It’s all a part of a sacrament

As holy as a day is spent

how we spend our time: working (and praying)

Posted on

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!

how we spend our time: waiting

Posted on

Today I’m excited to welcome Peg Conway back to Mothering Spirit! Peg is the author of Embodying the Sacred: A Spiritual Preparation for Birth, a thoughtful guide for women who want to explore the spiritual journey of pregnancy.BookCoverImage - Peg

Drawing from her wisdom as a mother, doula and childbirth educator, Peg’s book is full of prayers, reflections and creative activities for each trimester. She walks with mothers-to-be through pregnancy’s spiritual questions and concerns: Am I strong enough to handle labor? How will my life change once my baby is born? Who is God to me through this experience of becoming a mother?

Pregnancy is a heightened time of waiting, full of impatient expectation. But parents are always waiting for something. Waiting for babies to start sleeping in the night. Waiting for kids to start school. Waiting for teenagers to come home at curfew. Waiting for grown children to return for a visit.

Peg embraces the waiting of pregnancy as a spiritual practice. In a spring season bursting with new babies and pregnancy announcements, I’m reminded of how many people around me are preparing for parenthood through the practice of waiting. I hope you’ll enjoy Peg’s wisdom on how we spend our time as parents as much as I’ve enjoyed her writing on waiting and growing through life’s transitions.

. . .

1) What is one truth about time you have learned since becoming a parent?

As a mother of nearly grown children (two in college and one in high school), I’m especially aware that time is a gift. I’m thankful that I was home during their growing up years, though I perceive now that the motivation was as much from my needs as theirs. My own mother had died of breast cancer when I was 7 years old, and I began motherhood with a lot of unresolved grief that said, “Better be with them today — the chance might be snatched tomorrow.” By God’s grace, mothering brought deep healing and led me to a more balanced, less compulsive attachment, coupled with a healthy awareness that life is short, so important things shouldn’t be postponed.

Peg1

The letting-go transitions of my present stage of parenting are teaching me further that time is a gift to be received rather than grasped. For a long while, moms with toddlers at the grocery store or a new mom nursing a baby at church made me teary with nostalgia. A lot of prayer and journaling shifted my view, to regard those earlier days as gifts I was blessed to receive; though in the past, they are still part of me. Likewise, today I savor the gift of friendship with my young adult children.

2) What is one practice of using time well that you have developed as a mother-writer?

Quite honestly, I’m not sure I have achieved this!  It took a long, long time for me to complete my book. I struggled mightily to balance priorities because I have a lot of interests and tend to underestimate how much time a particular commitment will require. My kids led busy lives too, so I was chauffeuring a lot. One practice that did help was to break down the book into smaller writing segments. This approach allowed me to be productive even during short blocks of time.

Now I really try to spend time writing at the beginning of each day, shortly after my husband and son leave for school and before checking email or Facebook or starting other tasks. My mind is most clear then, and no matter what happens the rest of the day, at least I’ve given priority to my writing. I focus on spending the time – the process – not a set number of words or pages.

Peg2

3) What new insight about faith did you gain from writing this book?

Embodying the Sacred originated with a question about faith prompted by visiting a hospice for the first time:  Why is there so much theological reflection on death and dying but not normal childbirth?  The desire to articulate the holiness of birth’s physicality just grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. All I really wanted to do was write a magazine article and be done, but over time it became clear that a book was called for and that I would just have to keep at it.  Reflecting now on the whole meandering process, from first wondering to finished book, I see how the faith journey is really for the long haul.

4) What is your favorite way to spend time with your family?

The five of us have varied personalities and interests, so even when our kids were young, some of our best times all together were simply around the dinner table.  I think this evolved from very early days, when our older two were in high chairs and we began requiring that they remain at the table at least a little while past when they finished, while my husband and I continued to eat. Over the years, talking around the table became enjoyable for all. Now that we are all together much less often, dinner at home or a favorite restaurant becomes a ritual of reconnection.

Peg3

. . .

Your chance to read! Peg has generously offered to give a copy of Embodying the Sacred to one lucky reader of Mothering Spirit!

Leave a comment below before midnight CST on Saturday, May 25th, to be eligible to win.

Be sure to visit Peg’s website for more of her writing or to pick up your own copy of her book – a perfect gift for any expectant mama in your life.

how we spend our time: celebrating

Posted on

NewFamilyTraditionsCOVERToday I’m thrilled to welcome Meg Cox, author of The Book of New Family Traditions: How To Create Great Rituals for Holidays and Every Day. Her book is an irresistible treasure trove of ideas for celebrating big and small moments with kids of all ages.

Meg has gathered ideas from families of diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds, so no matter what your cultural or spiritual tradition, there are heaps of creative, easy, inspiring ways to celebrate and ritualize the moments that matter.

I had long eyed Meg’s book in Chinaberry’s catalog, and when I saw that the book was now revised and updated for its ten-year anniversary, I had to grab it. As soon as I finished devouring the book – dog-earing so many ideas I want to try with my kids – I knew she would be a perfect addition for this series on How We Spend Our Time.

Whether we’re planning a birthday party or wondering how to brighten up a long winter with a new family tradition, this is an important way we spend our time as parents: celebrating. Enjoy Meg’s insights on how families of all kinds celebrate life’s small and monumental moments with creativity and love:

1)     What is one truth about time you have learned since becoming a parent?

Ritual time is intense time, and it doesn’t have to take a long time to mean a lot. You may spend only a half hour together at dinner, but eating together often, keeping the conversation flowing and having at least one good laugh together creates a very strong bond. I used to pack an enormous amount into 20 minutes at bedtime, including one or two stories, a prayer, and a special good night to everyone in the extended family.

family_dinner_conversation_basket

2)     What is one practice of using time well that you have developed as a mother-writer?

I’ve tried very hard to work intensely while my son is at school, so I won’t be closed off, in the middle of interviews or deadline writing, when he comes home. I also try to model keeping all tech devices away from meals and family time: when we are together, we truly are, together.

3)     What new insight about faith did you gain from writing this book?

For this and my other books about family traditions, I’ve interviewed families from many different faith backgrounds, and I think it’s extremely powerful to have one’s religious faith threaded through all sorts of daily and weekly rituals.

I interviewed a family once that tithed even when they played Monopoly: when you pass Go, you set $20 aside for charity. Now that paper money doesn’t feed a homeless person, but it sure sends a message about making sharing a constant habit.

Heart_Book

4)     What is your favorite way to spend time with your family?

There are many ways I love to spend time with my family, including summer vacations that usually include some time at the Jersey shore. We are all book-lovers, and enjoy a vacation where we can do a lot of reading.

But as my son got older, into his teens, I really learned to love spending time with him in the car, just the two of us, because it’s easier for teenagers to talk without looking a parent in the eye! This also works if you are fixing dinner together, or dyeing Easter eggs or frosting Christmas cookies, because there is a shared focus and not a parent-clamping-down-on-kid atmosphere.

. . .

Meg Cox-small headshotYour chance to win! Meg has generously offered a signed copy of her book for one reader of Mothering Spirit. Leave a comment below about a special tradition your family celebrates.

Entries must be received by midnight CST on Friday, May 3rd.

Be sure to visit Meg’s website as well as her Facebook page for more resources and new traditions!

parenting hacks of faith: what are your tips for church?

Posted on

We were gathered around the table in our parish’s fellowship hall, and the boys were ready to tear into their donuts: the long-awaited, long-promised bribery for behaving themselves decently at Mass.

When it hit me: we could do something more here. Everyone finally quiet and happy? Ready to feed our rumbling tummies? Together at last after another morning of trading off the toddler?

It was a perfect moment to seize.

“Hey,” I began, my own mouth full of cinnamon sugar. “While we’re eating our donuts, let’s each say one thing we liked about church today.”

My husband’s eyebrows went up. I shrugged and mouthed why not?

To my surprise, our oldest jumped in immediately. “I liked the drumming. And I REALLY liked when that baby got dunked!”

I laughed. Me, too.

We went around the circle. The youngest declared he liked donut. (Big surprise.) The adults agreed they liked the music, since they both missed the homily. (Big surprise.)

Instead of scarfing down our treats and hustling to the car, we lingered for a change. And thanks to the beauty of baked goods, I actually got my family to participate in one of the forced “what did you do today?” conversations I futilely try to inflict over dinner.

It made me realize that the simplest changes are often the best. Take what works and try it in a new light. The brilliance of parenting hacks.

. . .

We all have hints and helps we learn along the way to make life easier. Even now when I have no time to read a cereal box, let alone an entire magazine, I still tear open Parents to read the monthly “It Worked For Me!” round-up of clever tips from crafty parents. I love these handy hacks, and I’d love to hear yours.

What “hacks of faith” do you use with little ones at church? Not only to keep kids quiet, but to keep them engaged.

A hack is by definition an inelegant yet creative solution, and I can think of a handful I’ve learned from friends along the years to make our faith life infinitely easier with the under-5 crowd:

  1. Sit in the front. If you slip in the back, it’s all too tempting to slip out. Kids can’t see a thing if they’re staring at adult backsides. But in the front pews, there’s always action to grab their attention. It doesn’t work all the time, and we often end up walking the youngest out anyway. But it works enough to make me muster confidence to walk all the way down the aisle even when we’re rolling in at the Alleluia. Kids love to be front and center to see what’s going on.
  2. IMG_2970Stack the deck. My youngest boy’s godmother made the coolest holy-cards-on-a-key-ring toy for her son, and as soon as I saw it I knew I had to copy it. I am not crafty in the least, but this clever project took me about 5 minutes and cost about $5. Perfect. I get tired of trying to listen to the Gospel and whisper-read books about farm animals, so I figure if the church toys offer at least a couple connections to what’s going on around us, it’s better for all of us.
  3. Make your own. The best busy book I’ve come up with for church is one I made myself. (I repeat, folks: if my un-Pinterest-worthy self can hack it, so can you.) I took a bunch of pictures around our parish one Sunday after Mass and stuck them in a small photo album. (A top ten Target purchase of my life, for all it’s bought me in return.) IMG_2966It’s a great tool to help toddlers point and name what they see. And a picture of a statue, a stained glass window, or a station of the cross offers plenty of possibilities for going deeper with preschoolers. Over the years I’ve added photos from both boys’ baptisms so we could remember them whenever a baby gets baptized at Mass. I’ve also slowly taken pictures of how the church looks in each liturgical season so that we can talk about the colors and environment change. Easy as pie. (Or church donuts.)

They’re hacks, not perfect solutions to be sure. (Ain’t much elegant about wrangling squirmy boys in the front pew, I’ll tell you that much.) But more often than not, they work.

And I am all about helping things work.

What clever tricks are hiding up your sleeves? Let’s share some ideas for sanity next Sunday!

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

Posted on

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 to let the fruit ripen

Posted on

Full confession: our kitchen fruit basket is where produce goes to die.

IMG_5174

Maybe you have this problem, too. Each trip to the grocery store finds the counter fully stocked with too-firm bananas, too-green avocados, the occasional treat of a peach or pear waiting to be savored.

Early in the week I find myself hovering over the bowl, waiting for the fruit to be ready. But before I know it, bananas become spotted and soft, avocados squishy and dark, the precious peach or pear ready to rot.

It seems to take so long for the fruit to ripen, but if I’m not careful I miss my chance to enjoy it.

There’s metaphor hidden here, heaped upon the privileged problem of having so much food that it can go to waste. But when I meditate on this Sunday’s Gospel - the parable of the barren fig tree – the deepest truth it speaks to my life right now is patience.

Patience towards ripening fruit.

I look at these little boys running around my house, knocking into my knees and climbing all over my couches. It can be so hard to stay present to them, not to pull forward to days when we’ll be able to have two-sided conversations or leave the house for a whole afternoon without needing naps. Sometimes I want them to ripen quickly so I can enjoy them fully.

But I know this season of green, of tenderness, of waiting to burst into bloom is a fleeting time. I know that too soon they will be more than ready to wrestle out of my reach and rush into a world ripe for their discovery.

I don’t want to hover over them too closely or hold them too tightly. But I do want to witness their maturing and unfolding, not miss it in the blur of my impatience, always straining to see what’s next around the corner.

I want to cultivate patience towards their slow but certain growth.

. . .

This week I’m posting over at Practicing Families - a wonderful new resource for parents interested in exploring faith with children – with ideas for a family liturgy based on this Sunday’s fig tree gospel.

Simple practices to break open a parable about patience and forgiveness and second chances. Lessons I need to learn and relearn each day of this parenting journey.

Each day that I sigh and wonder why the fruit hasn’t ripened yet.

God, be patient with us as we grow good fruit.
Open our eyes to see how we are growing each day.
God, be patient with us as we grow good fruit.
Help us to forgive one another when we fail.
God, be patient with us as we grow good fruit.
Let us offer each other second chances.
God, be patient with us as we grow good fruit.
Wait patiently with us as we work to bear fruit.
God, be patient with us as we grow good fruit.

(a prayer for the Third Week of Lent)