spirituality

the blog book tour: day 5. sense of the faithful

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As with most blogging connections, I can’t remember exactly when or how I first found Peg’s blog Sense of the Faithful. But I loved her perspective as a mother of young adults and a woman who wrestled openly and honestly with her questions of faith.

This year I had the chance to experience Peg’s retreat on birth as a spiritual practice (based on her wonderful book, Embodying the Sacred: A Spiritual Preparation for Birth). Her wisdom and guidance were such gifts as I prepared to welcome our sweet baby Joseph on his birth day.

Parenting little ones can be myopic. My vision often tunnels so narrowly to see only what looming concern fills my current days: a baby who won’t sleep, a toddler who’s potty training, a preschooler who’s tantruming through transitions.

So I try to make it a practice to pull myself out of my small world view to rest in the words of others who are not in the same stage or season of life as I am.

Peg’s reflections on watching her children set off for college and work in the world have touched me deeply over the years. She invites me to take the long view on my relationship with my own children. And her words always remind me of my own parents’ perspectives, too: what it might be like to watch my children come into the stage of having children of their own.

Peg has written a beautiful reflection on the sacrament of Eucharist and its echoes at her family’s dinner table. Her words fill my heart with the hopes I had for Everyday Sacrament - that it would inspire people to see glimpses of the sacraments in the holy ordinariness of their own lives.

Please visit Sense of the Faithful for today’s stop on the blog book tour and soak up Peg’s wise words on the seasons of our family tables.

(I promise, if you’re still in the stage of scrubbing yogurt off the kids’ plastic placemats every morning, you will thrill to the idea of shrinking the table back to “just the two of us” again some day…)

Tomorrow is stop #6 on the book tour – only two more days left! Thanks for following along.

start seeing sacraments: marriage & holy orders

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Every week I’ll share a few favorite images around one of the seven Catholic sacraments, to celebrate my new book: Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting.
Follow me on Instagram at @thismessygrace or tag your photos with #everydaysacrament.
Let’s start seeing sacraments together…

sacraments

Marriage + holy orders.

Aren’t they an odd couple? After all, in the Catholic tradition of the celibate priesthood, you can’t usually have both sacraments in your life (unless you’re a married deacon). Old-school illustrations of sacraments in Catholic catechisms separated these two as opposites: you either chose holy matrimony or religious life. One or the other.

But after this experiment of seeing everyday sacraments, I see these two more similarly.

Both are responses to God’s particular call in our lives. Both are commitments of love that we profess with public vows. Both are opportunities to share our gifts with the world.

So whenever I try to capture glimpses of these sacraments in images, I see them as invitations.

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To remember the vows I have made and to affirm the vows that others have taken.

To imagine where my children will be called and to support those who have already answered their calls.

To see our shared work as holy, whether we are spouses sharing the responsibilities of home or church leaders supporting the vocations of the community.

. . .

I see sacraments of marriage and holy orders in everyday reminders.

Some glimpses of these sacraments are moments to remember. We’re trying to do good work in our callings, tending to the people and the places around us.

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Some are openings to imagine. What will these children of ours become and how can we walk with them?

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And some are just fresh breaths of joy. Running headlong into this world of possibility.

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What a gift it is to be called to share our lives in loving service to others, whatever the path God beckons us to follow.

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Where have you glimpsed reminders of marriage and holy orders? What do these sacraments mean to you?

9 weeks for 9 months: prayers for pregnancy (month 7)

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“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Galatians 5:22-23

Faithfulness.

Keep showing up. Keep trying to believe. Keep your flickering flame lit as the biting winds blow harsh and hard, as the light dims and dances down to near nothing in the darkness.

Remember this when you falter (because you will falter). There is only one call at the center of it all. One still, small voice whispering to you among the noises rising and the other voices screaming louder and louder.

And that still, small voice invites you to faithfulness.

No matter what the stage of my life may be, it seems I am always being beckoned back to remember this. All the tasks on all my lists, every should I conjure into must, each day that dawns with a thousand things to be and do and achieve – they pale when faced with the brightest light of being beloved.

Which is always God’s simple, gentle offer. Abide in me. Let us bear fruit together.

. . .

Writing this prayer for the seventh month of pregnancy reminded me that faithfulness is the simple center of all our trying and hoping and waiting.

The experience of expecting a child is swollen ripe with this reminder. For all our worrying and wanting, our planning and preparing, we ultimately have to quiet our frantic quest for control into the gracious acceptance that life can never be bent according to our will. Neither our own life or our child’s.

Faithfulness is the easiest and the hardest response to whatever we want and wait for today. But it is the shape of love, too. The contours of our calling. The life that we grow into each moment that we try to deepen our faith in all that we cling to as truth.

May it be our prayer today, no matter what we are waiting for.

For the peace to accept faithfulness’ invitation. And the strength to bear its weight with joy.

. . .

month 7Month 7: A Prayer for Faithfulness

God of faithfulness,

As the third trimester begins,
So much remains to be done
To prepare for baby’s arrival.
As I busy myself
With plans for the birth
And the nursery
And our new life after baby,
Keep my heart faithful
To the one true task before me:
Welcoming this child with love.

Every day I wonder
How my life will change
Once my child is in my arms.
Help me remember that in your love
We live and move and have our being.
May I trust in this faithful promise
In the midst of all my to-dos,
My questions and concerns,
My excitement and impatience.

As the weeks draw closer
To the moment of transition,
Draw me closer to your side,
You who are ever faithful,
You who drew me from my mother’s womb,
You who carried me
From my first breath.

In faithfulness I pray,

Amen.

© 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!

9 weeks for 9 months: prayers for pregnancy (month 6)

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“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Galatians 5:22-23

Full self-disclosure?

(It’s a blog, ain’t it?)

I struggle with generosity. If this virtue is a fruit of the Spirit, then it’s the luscious fruit I’ve always envied. I admire people who are naturally generous, whose souls leap immediately to give of themselves, whose thoughts turn instinctively towards the needs of others.

I try (at least I think I try) to train my heart to stretch beyond its selfish rhythms. But still I struggle with my knee-jerk reactions: me, mine, my nearest and dearest. 

Motherhood made me simultaneously more and less generous. Pregnancy and childbirth and nursing are certainly sacrifices of love, and I know I have given of myself generously to my children in these ways. To say nothing of trying to stay present to these sweet small souls in the midst of the daily rush.

But parenting young ones also exhausts me, and I find that my calendar has less time and space – and my heart has less energy, to be honest – for the exercises in generosity that volunteering or parish involvement or even dear friendships used to invite.

Maybe it’s natural, even good, that the scope of our world shrinks when we have to care for young children, because they demand almost everything from us: time, love, attention, money, energy.

But I know we are made for others, too, and that the aches of the world grow desperately louder all the time. So I wrestle with this tension. The guilt between wanting to grow into generosity more widely shared and knowing that trying to be generous to my own family is sometimes challenge enough.

In reading a friend’s reflection on her own struggles in pregnancy, I wondered whether generosity is something all mothers struggle with. She is a strong, selfless woman carrying her seventh child, and she wonders if she is selfish. Her honesty alone is generosity towards my own restless heart.

Ironically, since generosity is my growing edge, this prayer for month six of pregnancy turned out to be my favorite of all nine months.

Maybe because it widened an invitation for me to consider generosity as an already and not-yet in my life. Maybe because it made me realize that God is still working to stretch my life into selflessness.

Either way, can we pray for generosity for each other this week? My wrestling heart and yours.

May we carve a little more space for others’ loves among our own.

. . .

month 6Month 6: A Prayer for Generosity

God of generosity,

You came to us that we might have life
And have it more abundantly.
Let me celebrate the fullness of this gift
As my body rounds and stretches
To make space for new life.

Help me to carve space
In my heart and mind
To welcome this child
Into our home,
Into our family,
Into our daily lives.

Remind me each day
How this long journey
Through pregnancy and birth
Invites a mother’s gift of self,
In body, heart and mind.

Grant me a generous spirit
To share my life with this child –
A calling that will change
With each new season,
But will last in love
For the rest of my days.

In generosity I pray,

Amen.

© 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!

9 weeks for 9 months: prayers for pregnancy (month 5)

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“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Galatians 5:22-23

Recently a girlfriend and I were laughing, with our six kids underfoot, about the irony of things we yell as moms:

BE GENTLE!

STOP YELLING!!

BE KIND TO EACH OTHER!!!

(Oh, the humility of life with small people…)

I often think about kindness as a virtue I have to teach my kids. Don’t kick. Take turns. Play nice.

How often do I think about kindness as something I need to practice – towards myself, towards my children, towards other adults?

This idea I had, to write nine prayers for pregnancy around the nine fruits of the Spirit, has made for some interesting synergy. I’d never considered the place of kindness in pregnancy. But all those incredulous comments I would get while pregnant – on how HUGE I looked, on how FAR I still had to go, on how SICK I could be – they were all opportunities to practice kindness.

Most of the time I failed at that. At best I gritted my teeth and tried to smile. At worst I groused to my spouse at night about the ridiculous things someone had said to me that day. But maybe I could have seen these conversations as openings to grow in kindness and compassion.

And to be kind with my own self as well, as I sacrificed sleep and energy and comfort (to say nothing of caffeine and wine!) for the health of my baby.

This prayer has made me think about kindness in my life today, too. How can I grow into the generous joy it takes to live kindly? Who are the people who challenge me most to be kind? What does it mean for a fruit of God’s loving Spirit to be the simplicity of kindness?

May kindness find you this week. May you share a kind moment with yourself or those you love.

. . .

month 5Month 5: A Prayer for Kindness

God of kindness,

Halfway through this month
The journey will be halfway done.
Twenty weeks past,
Twenty weeks to go.
As I feel the weight and wonder
Of this milestone,
Let my hopes and fears
Be carried by your promise
Of unfailing kindness.

Now that I feel the flips
And kicks and gentle pokes
From the child growing within me,
Let me remember
How you cradle all your children
Within the depths of love itself.

When I finally see
On the ultrasound screen
The dancing feet and waving hands
Of the sweet baby
I will soon hold in my arms,
Help me to trust in what I cannot see:
That you are with us,
That you guide us,
That you will never leave our side.

Help me to be loving and kind
Towards myself and my child,
Family and friends,
Even well-meaning strangers
Who comment on my new shape and size.
Let the words of my mouth
And the thoughts of my heart
Be compassionate and caring,
Even when my body grows weary.

In kindness I pray,

Amen.

© 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!
(And h/t again to Kendra at Catholic All Year for creating the lovely images for these prayers!)

start seeing sacraments: eucharist

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Every week until my book comes out, I’ll share images around each of the 7 Catholic sacraments.
Follow me on Instagram at @thismessygrace or tag your photos with #everydaysacrament.
Let’s start seeing sacraments together…

sacraments. . .

Eucharist. Source and summit. Body and blood. Christ at the center.

I see it everywhere, this blessed-and-brokenness of the Christian faith. It’s in our daily rhythms of eating and sharing at table. It’s in our everyday actions of taking and breaking. It’s in our ordinary offerings of sacrificing in love for each other.

It’s in this bread my husband bakes for our family every week, too.

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Every time I nurse the baby, I think of what it means to give of your self.

IMG_1129Every time my husband harvested bowl upon bowl of vegetables from his garden, I thought about what it means to feed others.

imageEvery time we sit down at table to share another family meal, I think about what it means to gather together and give thanks.

imageEvery time we shared our harvest with friends and family, I thought about what it means to be the hands and heart of Christ for each other.

IMG_1376Every time I watch people receive communion at church, I think about what it means to open up our lives to let love in.

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Eucharist can be hard. We break ourselves open to love. Eucharist can be easy. We reach out our hands to be nourished.

But at home? Eucharist is every day. Feeding our family and loving in the body and sacrificing for each other and thanking God who holds it all together.

For these thy gifts, which we are (always) about to receive.

Where do you see Eucharist in your life? What does this sacrament mean to you?

start seeing sacraments: confirmation

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Every week until my book comes out, I’ll share a few favorite images around each sacrament. Follow me on Instagram at @thismessygrace or tag your photos with #everydaysacrament. Let’s start seeing sacraments together…

sacraments

Confirmation is one of three sacraments of initiation into the Catholic Church (along with baptism and Eucharist). Sacred anointing with holy chrism oil. Laying on of hands by the bishop. Sealing of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Most Catholics receive the sacrament of confirmation as young people. (Too often it becomes a graduation from faith formation.) Others receive it as adults in the RCIA process. Either way we only “get it” once.

But do we ever get it?

This Spirit stuff is slippery. Scripture tells us of the Spirit’s gifts: wonder and wisdom, reverence and right judgment, knowledge and courage and understanding. But how do we live out these gifts? How does this sacrament shape our lives as Christians?

How do we see and taste and hear and feel confirmation every day?

. . .

I see confirmation in the way my children start to chase after their gifts.

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I taste confirmation in the day’s unexpected glimmers of grace.

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I hear confirmation in my callings, trying to listen to the Spirit for guidance in this holy work of parenting.

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I see confirmation in the ways I try to lift my gaze heaven-ward.

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I feel confirmation in the softest flutters of encouragement to share gifts.

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Where do you sense confirmation around you? What does this sacrament mean for your life?

3 things Sam taught me about God

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Blond-haired. Blue-eyed. Math-brained. First-born. All things I am not.

And yet this boy, this so-longed-for Samuel – he teaches me about the inner fabric of my own heart and the walls of my soul. By his pushes, by his pulls. Most of all by his tender heart. 

1) Sam taught me that God is a faithful companion.

We waited for Sam. Nearly two years. I’ve written so much about infertility – both here and in my book - that sometimes I’m blinded to the truth that it made me a mother in more ways than one.

Waiting for Sam taught me about the mystery of prayer – that it is not about the answer, but about the asking.

Waiting for Sam taught me about growth through pain – that it is the paschal mystery of dying and rising to a changed way of being.

Waiting for Sam taught me about God’s stubborn companionship – that it is closest to our heart when it feels furthest from our lives.

Yes, we “got” a baby after our years of waiting. But that fact is not what taught me God’s companionship. It was the long Advent before parenthood when I felt God sitting with me, silent and steady in the dark.

I have never forgotten those days, and every time I look at my children – especially sweet Sam – I remember infertility and I remember God’s companionship.

By our waiting, he teaches me.

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2) Sam taught me that God is a caller.

When it came time to choose our first boy’s name, we loved Samuel right away. Hannah’s story was one we held close to our hearts while we were waiting: her tears and her hope. And her child’s name – because I asked the Lord for him - fit our own gratitude perfectly.

But it was the rest of Samuel’s story that has taught me more about God. That God is still speaking. That the tugs on our heart or the voices in the night may just be nudges from the divine.

When I hear or speak Sam’s name, I hear echoes of the story of Samuel and Eli: Here I am, Lord. I’m reminded to keep listening, to lean on the wisdom of mentors and elders, to trust that I will be led if I respond. And not to be afraid of where I am called.

By his name, he teaches me. 

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3) Sam taught me that God is ancient and ever-new.

What a blessing and a burden to be the first. (Writes a third-born.) Sam gets to try everything before the others and boast of his size and age, but he also has to break us into parenting every step along the way. I imagine he will delight and struggle with being the first, much like every other first-born I know.

But here’s the thing he teaches me by going first: God is always already there.

Each time Sam reaches a new milestone – and we too, as his parents – I find God in the newness. In this season of school, I am finding God in the widened circle of people who will care for him. I am finding God in Sam’s delight in what he is learning. I am finding God in the freedom of letting him take small steps into the world without me.

There is nothing tired or musty about God. That wild whirl of Spirit energy, born of life and love itself – it brings constant change and surprise.

Of course it can be painful to learn and grow. Of course I’ve stumbled plenty of times along the way, worrying about Sam when I should have been marveling in wonder, wrestling to control what was never mine to wrangle. But I am better for the stretching.

I keep finding God in the surprise of what Sam brings as our trailblazer.

By being the first, he teaches me. 

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 What have you learned about God from those closest to you – 

your spouse, children, parents, siblings, or friends?

how my kids became my spiritual directors

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For those of you who are new here, you might not know that I have a book coming out this fall (eek!!).

Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting (Liturgical Press) is the story of how I came to see ordinary life at home with kids as a way to live out the sacraments we celebrate at church. It’s also a story of infertility and miscarriage and all sorts of stumbles on the path to parenthood.

But mostly it’s the story of how my children have taught me about God in unexpected ways.

Last week I was chatting with a friend about how my letter to couples struggling with infertility went viral and how I struggled to write in the aftermath. After all, our infertility story ended with kids, and that’s what this blog has become: a place to explore parenting as a spiritual practice.

But I kept thinking of all these readers who had written me their own heart-breaking stories of infertility. What words could I share about my life today, crazy in the chaos of children, that would speak to them?

I came away from that conversation with a single clear thought: keep writing what you know is true.

And what I know is true is this: the three small boys who are blessedly napping upstairs while I write – they have become three guides on my spiritual journey.

They are challenging and comforting and constantly coaxing me to ask why.

They make me ask uncomfortable questions about my life and my beliefs.

They give me pause to step back and wonder where God is calling me.

They remind me to slow down and lead me to prayer.

I think of all the wise soul friends who have helped me along the way, and I have to add these three names to my list: Samuel, Thomas, Joseph.

They are the best untrained spiritual directors around.

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As part of the practical theology project I’ve been working on for 5 years, we’ve created a video series called Lives Explored in which everyday Christians share stories about their sense of calling – to professional work, to relationships, to people and places.

In part of his story, Ken says this:

I am really a firm believer that God will help you with your life if you are open to it. You have to really be open, you have to listen, you have to look, and you have to expect it to come from the strangest places.
Any person you meet, there is something you can learn from them. 

I love how this wise woodworker sums up so succinctly what centuries of saints have studied: the mystery of the presence of the omnipresent God. The truth that even toddlers and kindergarteners and babies can teach adults about the divine.

With Ken’s words echoing in my head, I’ll be sharing – this week & next – three things that each of my kids has taught me about God.

If you’re inspired to sit down & reflect on what the people closest to you have taught you about God, please share your thoughts in the comments. Or add a link to your own blog post below and I’ll post a round-up at the end of next week.

What have you learned about how God loves, forgives, calls, and heals –

from your spouse, children, parents, or friends? 

where is home?

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I am holding half an acre
Torn from a map of Michigan
And folded in this scrap of paper
Is the land I grew in.

Half An Acre” by Hem – 

Right now I am home.

Sitting in the house that we own. Where we are raising our children. Where mail arrives daily bearing my name. Where we welcome family and entertain friends. Where I pull weeds and paint walls. Where my car pulls into the driveway and my shoes slip off in the doorway.

And I am writing about going home. Which is not here.

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The gate agent accepts my folded slip of paper and scans it with a beep.

“Heading home?” she asks, smiling down at the baby in my arms and the two boys running ahead down the jetway. I look at her and wonder how to answer.

What makes a home? The people in it? The relationships they share?

The permanency of an address? The bigger sense of time and place wrapped around four walls and a roof?

Home is here and home is there.

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Right now I am home.

Where the school bus picked me up every morning by the tall elm tree out front. Where we dragged sleds through the backyard to the sledding hill. Where I curled up on the sunlit carpet to pour through books. Where we sang grace for dinner. Where my brother died and every childhood dream I had was born.

Where I am writing about going home. Which is not here.

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For the longest time I had my parents’ number listed as home in my cell phone.

The first number I’d memorized, the digits dialed by grade school friends and high school boyfriends, the number I called from college and abroad, the 10-digit combo where I always knew I would find a voice happy to hear mine, even if just a familiar answering machine.

After I was married, I punched in our newlywed number as Our House. Another house was still Home. Whenever I noticed and thought of changing the obvious, I changed my mind. Did I fear I would lose home forever if I claimed another?

One afternoon I made the switch. Idling in some parking lot, killing time, playing on my phone. That oldest familiar number became Mom and Dad. Ours became Home.

After all, if I wanted to list every place that felt like mine, the list would be blessedly long: Michigan houses and Indiana dorm rooms and French apartment buildings and Minnesota backyards.

I began to see how home was a more expansive concept – more accepting and embracing and growing and shifting.

Maybe this was the moment I understood home theologically. Maybe, as with Sabbath, we are made for home.

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“Is this home?”

Thomas’ dark brown eyes blink up at me through the dusky light settling in the bedroom, the last slants of summer sunset stretching through the shutters.

“This is Gramma and Papa’s home,” I tell him. “It used to be my home, too. This is where I was little.”

“I’m little,” he declares firmly, soft jaw jutting out his resolve. “So this is my home, too.”

“But our home is in Minnesota,” I remind him. “We go home on the plane tomorrow.”

“No,” he insists with a shake of his head. “We stay home here. And then we go home, too.”

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Somewhere I read that every great story is about leaving home or trying to come home. Scripture is full of this. Eden exiles and Exodus wanderings and exhortations to shake the dust from your sandals if the place does not welcome your message.

We are always coming and going. Departures and arrivals. Trying to find where we belong.

There is something ultimate in this longing, I know. Our hearts are restless till they rest in thee. But maybe what Augustine missed was that it’s not only our hearts that are restless. It’s our legs and our feet and our ears and our arms. Our whole self.

Toes that tire of work-day heels and ache to slide into slippers at the end of the night. Ears that once buzzed with children’s babble and now hope to hear grandkids’ feet clamoring up the front steps. Arms that wrap round the beloved waist and itch to slip into bed together again.

Longing for home is a whole body restlessness. Yearning to settle in where we are known and loved.

What Christ meant when he dreamed up rooms in my father’s house and what Eliot knew when he wrote to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

What we all know in our bones. From home and to home.

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But I am holding half an acre
Torn from a map of Michigan
I am carrying this scrap of paper
That can crack the darkest sky wide open
Every burden taken from me
Every night my heart unfolding
My home