the forgotten days of holy week

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.

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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.

I love Thursday, I lean into Friday, I learn from Saturday, I leap into Sunday. But right now are the days before. The days that ask me to pause.

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.

morbid? motherhood & mortality

“Mommy, I don’t want to die.”

His big blue eyes stare up at me, full of – what? Worry? Seriousness? Wonder?

We’ve been revisiting this conversation for months, variations on a theme: Mommy, I don’t want to go to be with God. Mommy, I want to live to be 100. Mommy, I don’t want you to die.

He hasn’t yet brushed with death, not in the aching loss of one he loves. But he’s a curious child, and his love of numbers and wonder about God swirl together to stir up questions of how old God is and how old people can be.

All of which added up in his head to a budding realization of finitude in the face of the infinite.

What do I say? Blunder through the typical lines about how I hope he’ll have a long life, and then when his life is done, he’ll get to go be with God in a new way, and God loves him even more than any person ever could, so wouldn’t that be amazing?

Except, of course, it’s all strange and skeptical enough to make wise adults anxious.

So why would any precocious preschooler accept it at face value either?

. . .

Every year on my birthday, I find myself genuinely astonished to still be here.

I only realized in the past few years that most people don’t share this stark sense of mortality, not at the tender age of thirty-something anyway. And while I wouldn’t say that I wake each morning eager to stare my own death in the face, whenever I think about the length of my life I only see so far ahead of me.

So each March I honestly marvel at how I’ve been blessed to have these many years to my name.

You can analyze it easily as any armchair therapist. My older brother died of cancer when I was 10, so I grew up living with death and loss and grief in a way that many children do not. All of that made me who I am, shaped my faith and my worldview in unmistakable ways, here endeth the college admissions essay.

But now as a mother to young ones waking up to the strange and sad ways the world works, I wonder what I should pass on to them from my own sense of mortality and what I might need to set aside.

Keeping death daily before our eyes is St. Benedict’s healthy advice to his brothers, but how helpful is this for preschoolers?

Mystery is good. Morbidity is not.

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So we talk about not being afraid of death, because it is part of life. We talk about the love that is waiting for us in whatever comes next, because it is full of God who is love.

We talk about how some people might live to be almost 100 like Great-Grandpa, and how some people might only live to be 21 like Uncle Jay. We talk about how we can’t know everything that God knows or make everything happen in the way we would like. But we can trust that God will take care of us.

Is that enough? For now, perhaps. If my wee ones continue to be blessed with a childhood free from trauma or loss, unlike so many children in the world.

But if they are not – if death or sickness or suffering enter into this home as an unwelcome guest, the darkest thoughts that only the thin, lonely hours before dawn tempt me to imagine – will any of that make sense? Or sustain them?

Motherhood is supposed to be about life: its nurturing and nourishing. But is there a place for death in this daily work and love, too?

. . .

Lent is a grateful time to practice all this death-talk, all this suffering-preparation, of course.

In small ways we choose to die to our own whims and wants, setting our sights on the deeper growth that comes from drawing further from our fears and nearer to God.

As with our own short lives, we know that death lies at the end of this liturgical journey, too. There it is on the calendar, Good Friday in all its starkness: church stripped bare, silence echoing in an empty tabernacle.

But beyond this loss lies a truth equally baffling to comprehend: an Easter reversal of everything we thought we knew, a game-changer of existential expectation, a flip-side resurrection of death itself.

Every day we are walking towards Friday’s death-as-we-fear-it. But we also edge towards Sunday’s life-as-we-dare-to-dream-it.

And children are a part of this journey, too.

This is my favorite part of Ash Wednesday. That for once we don’t banish babies to the nursery or preschoolers to the Sunday School classroom. We all walk up together, regardless of age or status, and someone smears dark grey ash on every forehead and tells us that from dust we have come and to dust we will return.

Every tiny curl of a newborn, every wide-eyed toddler, every curious kindergartner – their mortality stares us smack in the face, too. Tiny crosses of truth on softest skin.

Maybe this is part of Lent’s gift. Reminding us that these beautiful beginnings of youth are part of our shared journey toward death.

Be not afraid.

. . .

I started this post several weeks ago and haven’t known how to finish it.

Because there isn’t an easy ending, of course. There are no pat answers when it comes to talking about death. So many of the rote responses and tired clichés we use to wrestle our arms around such a vast and thorny subject are just that – rote and tired.

Theologically unsound, pastorally maddening.

As in so many dark corners of this strange land called motherhood, I find myself flinging wide my arms and releasing my fears, partly in hope, partly in despair.

I do not have the answers, and the questions will only become more complicated.

All I am learning to do is letting my babies go, day by day, into the arms of God who is love.

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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sacrament, interrupted

I jostle one boy on my hip and nudge the other a step closer to the front of the line. Herding cats, I think as he wanders into the neighboring line of communion-goers.

Using my one free hand I gently guide him back by the shoulder and whisper in his ear about trying to stay near mama. We’re only a few people from the front when the toddler in my arms lunges away and starts kicking his feet in protest, demanding to walk, informing me in no uncertain terms that he does it himself.

When we reach the priest at the head of the line, I ready myself with a smile – maybe even an apologetic one for my motley crew – but he’s nowhere to be found.

Instead he’s already crouching low to smile at my boy and ruffle his hair before he blesses him, in words just at his level and his own name added at the end as a kicker.

Then he stands up again and does the same for the child in my arms: a welcoming grin, words of love and blessing.

Only then does he turn to me, the one waiting with outstretched hands, to offer another broad smile and the Body of Christ. I gratefully accept both.

I love that this is our parish’s practice, to bless the babies and offer words of communion to the children before they are old enough to receive. But once in a while I find myself restless, wanting the minister to hurry up so we don’t delay the line behind us, or wanting to get communion myself and get on my way.

Exactly the moments it does me good to have this sacrament interrupted.

What is grace if not given freely, not deserve by the one who waited patiently but poured out on every face that comes forth to a welcoming table?

What is sacrament if not shared first with the least, the forgotten, the neglected?

Maybe all sacrament is interruption. God breaks into what’s most ordinary – bread, water, love, forgiveness – and blesses human attempts to make holy. We’re jarred into remembering that wine and oil and candles and rings clasp truth to our hearts in ways more powerful than words. We need the ritual, the rite, the action, the sign. We need it spoken to us personally, like Christ pulling one child onto his lap, and communally, as a church trying to re-member ourselves back into one body.

And we need it to keep interrupting our expectations: that we are in charge, that we control faith, that this life is ours for the taking.

Every Sunday now, as I herd the cats back to our crayon-strewn pew, I hear them plead with a hungry look back towards the line we’ve just left: “I want Communion next time! Why don’t I get bread, too?”

This is how our restless hearts come home, I think.

Learning to long for the love they see extended.

Wanting to receive the blessing they are promised.

when the marriage dust settles

In a week when marriage made headlines, the quiet moments will be the ones I remember.

Glimpsing small cousins plodding down the aisle in tiny tuxedos, child-sized versions of the grooms they may one day become.

Chasing an exasperating (yet still adorable) toddler around the back of church while the priest asks if the couple will accept children and bring them up with love.

Catching only one line from the homily in its entirety, words quoted from Bonhoeffer that it is not the love that sustains your marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.

Hearing a father with a golden voice singing for his daughter as she lit a candle with her new husband.

Saying yes to the bright-eyed boy who asked to take his off his too-tight dress shoes and run free through the lush grass of the golf course green.

Spinning my baby on my hip as he tipped back his head and belly-laughed with glee, wondering whether he’ll ever spin me around another mother-son dance some day.

Late-night mugging for the camera in the photo booth, catching my husband on the cheek with a kiss as so many couples have done before us.

Watching one last burst of fireworks as we pulled out of the parking lot with two tired boys fading fast in the back and a squeeze on the hand from the spouse who knows I love summer night surprises like a six year-old child.

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Beyond the headlines, the everyday work of marriage goes on as before. Work and joy, children and responsibility, forgiveness and laughter.

It is a seemingly impossible promise, to choose a covenant with another flawed human being for the rest of your days. But quietly behind the scenes, millions make it happen without fanfare.

Every wedding we attend, ever since our own, I watch the high hopes of the couple at the altar, standing together in contrasting white and black, and I wonder how fitting it is to pledge love in a place of sacrifice, of lives laid down and broken in gift for each other. We are pointed towards the mystery and crucible of the sacrament long before we can glimpse the long view of what we have promised.

It’s tempting, once you’re no longer newlyweds and have reached the point of settledness—having set up house and established careers and had a few babies—to start sounding more like the seasoned old-timers, whispering while we watch them take their vows: “They’re just kids! They have no idea what’s ahead of them.”

It’s partly true: they don’t. We didn’t. No couple who commits themselves on a wedding day can fully grasp what that covenant will mean or what life will throw their way. We all hear “for better, for richer, in good times, in health” and breeze over the second half of each couplet: the wise and cautious reminders of the sufferings this calling will inevitably encounter.

Yet whenever I’m tempted to run the risk of clucking condescension for the fresh-faced kids standing on the altar, I remember this: we, too, had no idea what was ahead of us. But we, too, knew just enough for that day.

(Click here to read the rest of my latest post at CatholicMom.com)

This weekend’s was one of those weddings when everyone agrees – over glasses of Chardonnay and cocktail hour Sinatra and children shedding suit coats underfoot – that They’re A Perfect Match, that We Couldn’t Be Happier For Them.

We nod and affirm, without ever saying it, that they do know enough for today.

And that the rest of us – jostling babies on the edge of the dance floor, leaning over linen tablecloths to hear grandparents tell stories, clinking forks against glasses to embarrass the newlyweds into a kiss - we are still slowly learning our way into our vows, too.

where we Sabbath

We went to church on Saturday evening instead of our usual Sunday morning. The promise of good gardening weather and the weekend’s plans all pushed us towards the deviation from the norm.

But the boys were even squirrelier than usual, wrestling out of our arms, racing towards the altar steps, squawking during the consecration. One innocently inquired after communion whether there would still be church donuts since it was Saturday, and I seethed through clenched teeth that No One Was Behaving Well Enough For A Donut So It Didn’t Matter Anyway.

#parentingfail

So Sunday morning found me instead at the park with the boys, whom I soaked up like perfect angels in the bright sun, cringing at my own Mass-time behavior of the night before. We laughed on the slides and ran down to the river and chased each other on the playground paths.

Which is when I noticed: we weren’t alone.

The park was full of families enjoying the clear June day – biking, fishing, walking, jogging. I’ve never seen our favorite haunt so crowded. But it made perfect sense: Sunday can feel like a Sabbath moment whether you go to church or not. A time to pause and play together before the busyness of another week begins.

I have a new piece at Practicing Families on the struggles of Sunday services with little ones, so I’ve been pondering questions of church and family lately:

donutsEach Sunday I eventually discover that I’m grateful we’re there, again. Even when we’ve flunked the Time Trials, botched the Nursery Negotiations, caved on the Bribery Battles, and stand ready to lose the Donut Debate, I still find that God finds us there.

Some small moment arises – a line from the priest’s homily, a stranger’s smile at the sign of peace, a favorite song that makes my boys clap their hands – and I fall in love with church all over again.

It’s good to be here, even when it’s hard to be here.

Click here to read more about our Sunday Morning Fight Club

Weekends like this one, I start to wonder if the park was the place for us to find God and celebrate together as a family.

But I also know that when my kids grabbed each other’s hands to say grace at dinner tonight, I remembered how they had grinned at each other for the Sign of Peace at Mass on Saturday – how they kept shaking each other’s hands and wouldn’t let go, how their happiness was contagious and made even the most curmudgeonly adults around them (ahem) stop and smile.

Church has a grip on me like that, too. I want to be there, even when it’s hard to be there.

How do you choose to spend your Sundays as a family? What brings you the most joy together?

celebrating: take two

The second half of this new series. Following each author’s insight on How We Spend Our Time, I’ll offer another perspective on the same theme. Meg Cox got us thinking about celebrating. Here’s my take.

September 2012 124We pulled into the driveway – our new driveway! – grinning ear to ear, grimy hands on the steering wheel, the same hands that had held the pens to sign the deed on our new house an hour before.

And here we were: home.

It was a gorgeous spring day, end of April, full of sun and budding green. We spread out a blanket on our front lawn – our new lawn! – and made a picnic for dinner. No furniture was moved inside yet, so the soft grass was our table and chairs. And the meal was simple – sandwiches for a quick dinner. But it tasted delicious: a family milestone, a sacred moment of starting a new home.

So when it came time to celebrate one year in our new house, we knew exactly what we had to do. Swing by Jimmy John’s, spread the blanket on the grass, recreate our first meal. As we chewed our sandwiches while the sun set, I smiled at my husband. “We should do this every year,” I said. “To celebrate the anniversary of being here. Being home.”

This is how family traditions start: small and silly. Fast-food on the front lawn – nothing fancy. But if we do it every April, if we repeat the ritual and retell the story of the first day this house became our home, then it becomes a real celebration.

It says something about who we are and what we love. It tells a chapter in our family story.

So many celebrations are daunting prospects for parents: find the perfect presents for Christmas; create the elaborate birthday of their dreams. But I’m noticing that my favorite celebrations with my kids are the small, simple ones. The ones that spring up organically and help us mark the seasons in a special way, unique to our family.

What small celebrations do you celebrate in your family? What unique traditions did you love growing up?

. . .

We’re off to celebrate a big moment in our extended family, so I won’t be posting here for the next week while we’re celebrating together. But I’ll be back soon with the next installment in this series – a wonderful author you won’t want to miss!

And I want to wish you a wonderful Mother’s Day, whether you are celebrated for the work you do as a mom or whether you celebrate the women who have mothered you along the way.

May we all be blessed and be blessings to each other, held in the love of God’s Mothering Spirit

how we spend our time: celebrating

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.

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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.

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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!

how i nurture my mothering spirit – laura

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

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

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

The weekly pilgrimage to yoga.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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