When I was playing around with titles for my book, I made a Wordle of the entire manuscript to see what words I used most often. I hoped inspiration might leap out at me from the word cloud. And here’s what I saw:
The nouns leapt out at me first - God in the center (whew! at least I got that one right), work, love, time, church, mother, baby.
But I have a hunch that if I made a Wordle for this blog, it would be the verbs that would catch me: wonder, remember, imagine, realize.
Particularly that last one. Realize. I find that verb slipping into my posts more than any other. Sometimes I stop for a synonym. Sometimes I let it slide. Lately I’ve been embracing the abundance of realization.
Because this whole blog might be about precisely that.
. . .
Two things I try to do in this space: see truth and tell truth.
First, I try to notice. Good writing comes from open eyes and ears, heart and mind. I try to see the world around me through the lens that asks what is beautiful here? What is hard? Where is God? Being a mom affords plenty of interaction with all three questions.
So part of how I try to realize here is by witnessing and wondering about the everyday epiphanies. The moments that flash brightly with some slant I never saw before. The clearer view that lifts the veil from sluggish or selfish slouching through my day-to-day and invites me to hold my breath. The fresh light that glimmers on some flash of the holy I never expected to find.
To realize is to become fully aware. To understand more clearly. To learn. All of that is wrapped up in why I write, and – I hope – why you might read.
Second, I aim for honesty. For me, the emphasis in writing falls on the first syllable: real-ize. To speak my small truth, what I know of this one wild and precious life. And not to sugar-coat or to sour-puss, but to strike an honest balance between the hard and the beautiful.
Like every writer, I struggle with tone – is this piece too depressing? is this perspective too idealistic? Sometimes I second-guess whether I should tell the stories of the harder times and the darker days. But I always come back round to the idea of God being the Truth and God being the Word. The truer we try to make our words, the more they might reveal of where God can be found. I see this in so much of what I read, and I dare to hope I might try to find it in what I write.
To real-ize is to live fully within the life I am given. To not be afraid of the pain or ashamed of the joy.
. . .
This week I’ve been meditating on “realize” as I dove into Power of Moms’ latest book, Motherhood Realized: An Inspiring Anthology for the Hardest Job You’ll Ever Love.
In the essay I’m honored to have included in their collection, I wrote about picking green beans from our garden as a practice of gratitude. The piece winds around from our time of infertility to the fullness of life with two little boys underfoot. And when I think of the sharp contrast between aching for motherhood and “realizing” it, I see the fulfillment of a dream, the granting of a hope, the answer to a prayer that someday this calling would be part of my journey.
But in truth my experience of becoming a parent feels like less of an achievement and more of an invitation - to revere the gift, to release the expectations, to respect the enormity of the challenge, to remember the cost of the sacrifice. Realization is wrapped up more in awe and gratitude than easy embrace.
So I see the need to keep gathering those ordinary insights and everyday epiphanies along the way, the hard-fought ones and the grace-filled ones. I love that this book does exactly that: draws together the voices of many women who have truths to tell and stories to share about how motherhood has shaped them, even as its joys and sorrows brought them to their knees.
That is the role I hope realization continues to play in my life – to keep me open to wonder and humbled by how I am changed when I open myself up to love.
And if you’re curious as I am about how others make sense of the deepest truths in their experience, I hope you’ll check out Motherhood Realized. This piece by Katrina Kenison (whose writing I have long loved) sums up so much of what makes this book a beautiful collection:
“Heading Home with Your Newborn” might ease a new mom through the drama of giving birth and surviving the first few sleepless nights. But Motherhood Realized is a book that will live on bedside tables for years to come — well-thumbed, underlined, bookmarked, shared. Here are the personal stories of mothers just like you and me, not experts who have everything figured out or agendas to promote, but ordinary women who have seized time from their daily lives to report from the trenches of firsthand experience and who have summoned the courage to write from their hearts – the ups, the downs, the hard lessons learned, the small moments savored, the tears shed, the priorities reordered, the humble revelations celebrated, the inevitable challenges confronted.
. . .
This week I also have a new post at Catholic Mom about my latest Lenten realization. That all those 40 bags for 40 days I’ve been faithfully collecting for Goodwill? They might be more about me and mine than God or good spiritual practice. Gulp.
I looked again at the bags I’d gathered. Every last one contained the extras, the excess, the unused and the unwanted. It certainly wasn’t the best I had to offer someone in need. All those prettier clothes were still hanging in closets. All those nicer plates and pans were still stacked in kitchen cabinets. All those well-made toys were still saved for my kids to enjoy.
Was my 40-day challenge really about giving to the least among us? Or about saving the best for me?
I’m grateful for this uncomfortable realization, even if it doesn’t have a clean and tidy resolution. Good thing there’s still plenty of Lent left to ponder.
. . .
Sometimes realization is about remembering what you had known but forgotten. Sometimes it’s about discovering something entirely new and unexpected. I believe much of the spiritual journey is spent wandering back and forth between these two – the deepest truths we know and the mysterious realities we never suspected.
Maybe these two aspects of realize - the real and the realization – are the best of what blogging can bring. When someone shares from the particularities of their experiences to invite others to consider their own lives in a new light.
What do you think? Why do you blog, if you blog? Why do you read, if you read?
First, thanks to all of you who sent so much love with my big announcement last week! I’m floored by your support and can’t wait to share my “baby” with you very soon.
Second, I’ve been getting lots of questions on the details (apparently cryptic reflections on liturgical feasts aren’t enough to satisfy your curiosity?) so I wanted to answer the questions I’ve been getting via email and social media.
What’s the title? What’s it all about?
The book is called Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting.
I call it a spiritual-memoir-meets-parenting-memoir with a twist. It takes the seven Catholic sacraments as a lens for looking at life with little ones in a whole new light. So it’s a sacramental theology from the ground up – the sticky, Lego-strewn, does-anyone-ever-mop-this-floor? ground zero of parenting.
But the book can perhaps be best summed up by this hysterical – unofficial! – trailer that my brother made me. (Ok, actually it’s nothing like this, but I can’t stop laughing when I watch it.) If anyone can catch every single pop culture reference upon first viewing, I will send you an autographed copy of the book:
Who’s the publisher? When is it coming out?
I’m delighted to be working with Liturgical Press, and the book should be out by early fall 2014. Will keep you posted!
And finally, the #1 question I seem to get regarding the book:
How did you find time to write this???
People always want to know how I do this. (I know I’m far from the only mother-writer who gets these baffled looks.) My guess is that it’s the same way any of us make time for the passions we love: stealing spare moments and carving out corners.
But here are five ways I able to write this book (while raising two young kids, working part-time, and surviving a challenging pregnancy or two in the past year):
1) I slacked off elsewhere. I cancelled my gym membership after our second son arrived, and I’ve felt guilty about the lack of exercise ever since. But something’s gotta give in every season of life, and in this stage with little ones underfoot, working out is what I let go. Physically? Not so healthy. Emotionally and spiritually? I’m much happier if I spend my free time on writing. I know someday I’ll have time for regular exercise again, but for now chasing preschoolers and squeezing in yoga will have to suffice.
Also, housekeeping chez nous took a sharp nosedive in early 2013 when I started seriously working on this project, and it has barely recovered. Don’t look too closely at the bathrooms next time you come over. Trust me.
2) I had lots of help. Being blessed with a supportive spouse who sees my writing as a calling makes this work possible. I took a lot of Saturday mornings to write at coffee shops, and he regularly took on the boys’ bath/bedtime routine solo to give me extra hours to write at night. I couldn’t have done this without him.
But I also asked for help from others when I needed it: I paid for a few extra hours of childcare with our sitter when my schedule allowed it, and I leapt at my parents’ offers to watch the kids whenever we were visiting them. Writing a book is a team effort.
3) I learned when I work best. Once I started paying attention to the natural rhythms of my mind and body, I figured when the best times are for me to do creative work: before dawn, between 10 am and noon, and after 9 pm. Now I don’t try to force myself to write during other times of the day, and I find that flow comes much easier.
Of course, my life doesn’t always align with my creative energy. So I stock up on caffeine and chocolate to work during naptime when I’m home with the kids, or I stick to editing tasks during my “off” hours. But knowing when I find flow helps me stop banging my head against a wall when things aren’t going well: I check the clock and decide when to start again later.
4) I organized against my nature. This might contradict my own advice in #3 (know thyself). But I am not a type-A person. I’d much rather enjoy a lazy day, go with the flow, and act spontaneously. Most of the time that doesn’t jive with running a household or raising kids. So over the past year I’ve forced myself – with gritted teeth - to develop some type-A habits.
I methodically meal-plan every week so I never have to come up with dinner ideas at 5:00. I charted all our household chores and made a weekly/monthly schedule so I don’t have to remember what needs to be done. I still bristle at sticking to these uber-organized systems, but they’ve freed up enough precious moments for writing every day to make it worth it.
5) I stuck to a schedule. This is what happens when a humanities major meets an engineer: one person delights in work plans, the other rolls their eyes. But when I got serious about finishing this book in one year, my husband sat down and helped me make a weekly calendar that would allow me to write and edit every single chapter within the allotted months. (I guess this combines #2 – team effort – and #4 - unnatural organization.)
Bless his heart, he hoped I’d track every hour I spent on the project so that I could know exactly how much time it took to write the book. But I will say that knowing exactly what I needed to work on every week, rather than following inspiration’s whim as is my fancy, made it possible to pull off pregnancy + book in a way that surprised even me.
So there you have it: what it is and how I did it. And what a gift this opportunity has been – I am so humbled and excited by how everything has worked out. I can’t wait to see what this year will bring…
This is the moment I’ve been trying to imagine.
When she unwraps her baby from where she’s been carrying him close to her heart for the miles and miles it took to get here. When he stretches his arms and legs in that instant, jerky way that newborns do, shocked by the sudden shift of space. When the old man reaches out his gnarled hands, trembling at the thought that this could be the One he has been waiting a lifetime to see.
When the mother hands the child over to the stranger.
When she lets her heart go.
. . .
I used to think the Gospel of the presentation in the temple was all about Simeon and Anna.
Those marvelous wisdom figures, the prophetic pair, the ancient elders, the seers seeking their savior. Simeon whispers such strange words to Mary, how her heart will be pierced. Anna can barely contain all eighty-four years of her joy, rushing out to tell anyone who would listen that the long-awaited anointed one was finally here.
But I wonder now about Mary and Joseph, too.
The tired travelers, exhausted from their long journey to Jerusalem. The poor couple, unable to afford anything more than a pair of birds for their offering. The new parents, still bewildered by the birth of their baby.
How did it feel to let him go for the first time? To place him into unknown hands? To hear such surprising words spoken about what he would become?
The thrill and fear of such a presentation.
. . .
There are everyday presentations, too, of course. Opening up to a dear friend over coffee. Dropping off at day care in the morning. Undressing for the doctor’s exam.
The moments when we hand over what is most previous and beloved. When we hope that others will hold our dreams with as much tenderness as our own heart surrounds them.
And so on Friday afternoon, the Friday before the Feast of the Presentation, I slipped the big stack of plain white copy paper, printed with 1-inch margins and page numbers in the upper right-hand corner, into a big envelope. I drove it to the post office, weighed it, slapped on the postage, and listened to it drop with a thud into the bottom of the mailbox. I stood there staring at the blue steel that separated me from something that was safe in my fingers just seconds before.
The book I spent a year writing. The book that the publisher will put out this fall.
A baby of sorts. A firstborn of another kind.
A piece of my heart, pushed out into the world, now in the hands of strangers.
. . .
This is the moment I’ve been trying to imagine.
What it would feel like to be done with the solitary stage of writing. What it would mean to open myself up to the world of edits and critiques and readers. What it would sound like to say I wrote a book and have it be past-tense.
The thrill and fear of such a presentation.
I wanted to share this news here in a thousand different ways – in excitement, in hope, in gratitude, in humility, in wonder, in relief, in disbelief.
But maybe this is the only way I ever could have shared the news – of the other creation I’ve been gestating and readying to birth this year.
Through the lens of another story.
Because that is, at its heart, what I hope my calling as a writer means. That I thrust these small stories of mine out into the world, and someone – maybe you – catches a glimmer of their own life in a new light because of these words.
And if reading is an act of communion, then it must start with a presentation. Of joys and sorrows and laughter and loss and learning all over again what it means for me to be who I am: a mother, a writer, a lover, a child of God.
Which means I have to let go.
And see what comes next.
2013 was a fun blogging year for little moi.
And – perhaps most importantly – I was delighted to turn a few blogging connections into “real-life” (as in, welcome to my messy house! and my wild kids!) friendships off-line.
(To think I still owe all this to a crazy idea I had years ago when I decided to start a blog and tell no one.)
Inspired by the “Most” Posts at Amongst Lovely Things, I decided to dig back through the past 12 months of blogging to unearth a few memorable moments in these five categories:
Post with the most clicks: This is Heavy. But We are Also Strong. I loved that Blooma (a great resource for Twin Cities moms!) picked this post to rerun on their blog this week, because it was one of my surprise favorites this year. I wrote it in my head one night while cutting cantaloupe with my youngest, and I never dreamed it would strike such a chord.
Interestingly, it’s still my page on Prayers for Pregnancy that gets the most views (5,000+ this year, yikes). Believe me, I’m cooking up something new for 2014 on praying through pregnancy…so stay tuned!
Post with the most comments: On Carrying and Missing. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, having miscarriage become such a stark part of our 2013. But it was, and so many of you sent your words of love, and I will never forget any of it.
Post with the best picture: When The Marriage Dust Settles. The jumble of photo booth shots from a family wedding sums up the lovable chaos of our lives right now: all four of us clamoring all over each other, laughing and cuddling and making goofy faces for the camera. And at least one boy grinning upside down in every shot.
Post that was hardest to write: The Gossamer Veil. This was one that made me weep while I was typing, but it might be the truest thing I wrote all year. Ever since I was a child, I have carried with me a sharp, deep awareness of the thin thread between life and death, and losing our baby brought all of this too-much-reality right back to the surface of grief. But I’m so grateful I wrote it.
Post that was your personal favorite: When A Calling Comes Full Circle. I loved that the Christian Century blog network picked up this post, because it strikes at the heart of the work I’ve been blessed to do on vocation with the Collegeville Institute: What does it mean to listen for God’s call? What happens when life interrupts our plans? And how can the paths-not-taken come back around when we least expect them?
. . .
Looking ahead…What will 2014 hold? A new baby in May, thank God. And another big surprise I’m getting ready to birth, too…so stay tuned. (You might just have to follow Mothering Spirit on Facebook or Twitter to hear the news first!)
One thing is for sure: none of this would exist without you, the ones who read what I write. Still such a humbling head-shaker for me. You are the ones I count among the many blessings of 2013, of one more year spent spinning around the sun.
May this last day of December be filled with light and laughter and love, wherever you spend it.
Mama, do the Our Father in French tonight.
He whispers his request as he burrows under the comforter, eyes flashing bright in the dim of his bedroom draped in night. Of course, I agree. And in an instant we’re off. I close my eyes and start to sing, and for a moment I drift back.
The cold stone church, frigid even in summer. The rows of plain wooden chairs with ancient woven seats. The prayers of the Mass turned to poetry in another tongue, the words I committed to heart to keep from flipping through my missal every moment like the obvious outsider that I was, even after a year.
I’ve forgotten so many words from that time – the names of strange vegetables at the market, the polite way to ask for directions, the slang on the corner store magazines. But still the language lingers, if not on my lips then deeper.
Even when I thought I’d left it behind.
. . .
Some choices seem definitive. I dropped the journalism minor when I fell hard for the humanities. I left the English major behind when art history flared its passion. But I could never quit the French. Even when it was impractical, indulgent, unemployable, save for the doctorate too many professors tried to push me towards.
So when I finally had to admit to myself that there was a turning, that the longing was no longer for language, that the tug was towards theology – the deepest of the humanities, the heart of the cultures I loved, the Word before all other words – I had to grieve the loss.
There were dreams – of a Parisian address, of doctoral programs abroad, of years spent pouring through poetry – that I had to let slip away.
Maybe somewhere deep down I wondered if it might bubble up again, if I could come back to the conjugations and the circumflexes and pick back up where I’d left off.
But I never really thought it would happen.
. . .
People would ask sometimes: you’re teaching the boys French, right?
And I’d look up at them with dark circles under my eyes from bedtime battles and mid-night nursing and early morning rising to tug soaked sheets off the crib again, and I’d think to myself: you’re kidding, right?
But then little by little, it started to creep back in.
A nursery rhyme here, a church hymn there. A few cooking words in the kitchen while we’d bake. A simple grace before meals. Then one rainy afternoon I taught the oldest Notre Père and we were off.
Suddenly he was digging out the children’s dictionaries and asking me to tell him words-in-French from his favorite books and correcting his little brother’s toddler version of Frère Jacques.
How did we get here? I’d wonder.
. . .
I’d only grabbed the church bulletin out of habit, something to read for the thirty seconds between strapping the last kid in a car seat and starting the car to drive home. But that Sunday a small notice in the corner caught my eye: French translators needed.
Turns out our sister parish in Haiti was sending a team to visit us this fall. Since they didn’t speak English and our folks didn’t know Creole, everyone’s non-native tongue was the only way to email back and forth.
You’re kidding. I thought to myself. I could actually help them with this from home?
So here I am now, the giant black French dictionary back on the desk, the dusty Micro Robert off the shelf to check verb tenses, even the Google Translate cheat to look up words that didn’t exist a decade ago in my college texts. I’m back in the world of delighting at what translates well and laughing at what’s impossible to culturally correspond, back in the world where we reach across differences through the power of language, back in the world where words matter deeply.
And with each email request that pops in my inbox, I remember how much I love this world.
Would I have had the courage, the confidence, even the chutzpah to blow off the dust and start the rusty wheels squeaking again, if it hadn’t been for these little boys who dragged me back first? It’s a terribly humbling thing, to spend years of your life perfecting a language and then fumble for the most basic turns of phrase years later.
But my son’s Montessori teacher talks over and over about synapses, about stretching out the tiny tendrils of a preschooler’s mind so that years from now, when he comes across rhombus or ovoid or quadratic equation, the synapses will already be reaching out across the divide to let the spark jump that much quicker.
Maybe callings run across these same impulses and energies. When we spend years chasing one dream, plowing into the work and sacrifice it takes to strive for a worthy goal, then even when we turn and take up another direction, the pathways do not close completely behind us. There’s still electricity waiting to leap across the now-dark abyss.
In all my work on vocation, these are my favorite stories. Not I knew I wanted to be a doctor from the time I was 5 years old. Not I stumbled into this work, though looking back I can see God’s hand.
But I had this dream once, and I thought I let it go, I thought my life turned in a very different direction, but then it turned out that years later, I did get to follow that dream after all.
So when he cuddles under the quilt and asks me to sing Je vous salue Marie again, I always say Yes.
You never know where Yes will lead.
Today I’m delighted to welcome Ginny Kubitz Moyer to kick off this series with her new book Random MOMents of Grace. I love Ginny’s writing for the glimpses of God she notices in daily life. She is a perfect author to start us thinking about one important way we choose to spend our time as parents: paying attention.
Ginny’s book is all about paying attention to the grace-filled moments that spring up unexpectedly among parenting’s challenges. I love her elegant and wise writing, the everyday subjects she tackles in search of motherhood’s spiritual side, and her chapters that are short enough to read in one sitting when my kids are quiet for five whole minutes. Here are more words of wisdom from Ginny on how she spends her time:
1) What is one truth about time you have learned since becoming a parent?
They say that when you are the mother of small kids, the days crawl by, but the months pass like a shot. I couldn’t agree more. Sometimes it is so isolating to be at home all day with your kids, especially because there are periods of your life as a parent when it is simply too much of a production to get into the car and go anywhere. Those days can feel endless (except for naptime, of course, which moves at twice the speed of light.)
But now that my boys are six and four, I look at baby pictures of them, and I have to catch my breath because I realize how quickly the time has passed. We forget that when we see our kids every day. And the fact is that every phase of parenting has its challenges and its blessings. I’m not changing diapers anymore (thank you God!) but oh, I do miss that adorable baby-hair that Luke had, which stuck straight up as if he’d been playing with electricity.
So, as I write in the book, I’ve learned that I shouldn’t will the time to pass too quickly. When things are frustrating now, it helps to look at my kids and realize what I have now that I will miss in a year, or five, or ten. That’s a reminder to savor it.
2) What is one practice of using time well that you have developed as a mother-writer?
I love this quotation from the writer James Thurber: “I never quite know when I’m not writing. Sometimes my wife comes up to me at a party and says, ‘Dammit, Thurber, stop writing.’ She usually catches me in the middle of a paragraph.” I’m not quite that extreme, but I can relate.
Writers usually want large blocks of quiet time in which to sit down and write, and the reality is that when you’re a mom, you almost never have that. So a lot of what I do, writing-wise, involves letting things simmer in my mind or mentally trying out various adjectives or squirreling away bits of information to use later. This means I can write in the car on my commute to and from work, or while making dinner. If you think about writing as being more than just putting pen to paper or sitting in front of a laptop, you realize there is actually a lot of writing time during the day. Then the only challenge is to remember it all for later ….
3) What new insight about faith did you gain from writing this book?
All writers are people of faith, I think, because it takes faith to face an empty page. You need to have faith that you will be able to put your feelings or your experiences into words that other people will enjoy. I think it also takes faith to slog on through the writer’s block, those times when you feel like everything you are writing is about as exciting as a tax return, and why would anyone ever want to read it?
It was so thrilling to get the contract for this book, but at the same time, it’s a different experience to write when there is a firm deadline. Luckily, I’d been writing the book in bits and pieces for about two years prior to finding a publisher, so nearly all of it was already done. But there was still some work to do on it, and I found myself going on faith that the ideas would come.
I distinctly remember starting one chapter and writing a ways into it and thinking, “Oof. This chapter is not going anywhere. I should just abandon ship right now.” And then, about a week later, I revisited it, and guess what? I found that it was better than I’d thought, and I had some ideas about where to take it. It’s now one of my very favorite chapters in the book. Sometimes, you just need a little distance … and faith.
4) What is your favorite way to spend time with your family?
Oh, so hard to choose! I love the quiet weekend mornings when we’re all just hanging out in our pj’s. I love going on trips where we are out of our normal element and we get to discover a new place or a new experience together. It is so fun to play soccer outside, all four of us, on the front lawn (I am the least athletic woman I’ve ever met, and now I’m playing soccer?!? Motherhood is so broadening.)
Thank you, Ginny! Please visit Random Acts of Momness for the rest of Ginny’s Blog Tour over the next two weeks. And be sure to check out Random MOMents of Grace from Loyola Press, who has generously offered FIVE copies of Ginny’s book to readers of Mothering Spirit! (Full disclosure: they gave me a copy, too – but I was waiting to buy one anyway, so their generosity in no way influenced my opinion.)
To enter the giveaway for your own copy, leave a comment below. And if you’re inspired, share one way you try to practice “paying attention” in your daily life!
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!
Slow down. Slow way down.
Washing dishes in the sink. Running errands in the car. Rushing around the house in the morning madness before work.
A dozen times in the past few weeks, I’ve heard the voice, simple and steady, speaking somewhere between mind and heart.
Slow down. Slow way down.
I ignored it for a while. Bothersome, distracting.
Then during one frenzied moment of both kids crying, telephone ringing, pot on the stove bubbling over, to-do list for the night glaring at me undone, I finally stopped and listened.
As in, white-knuckled hands gripping the sink, head bent down to hear, blood pounding in my ears, really listened.
Slow down. Slow WAY down.
I turned off the bubbling pot. I silenced the phone. I scooped up two crying boys. I cleared a spot on the toy-strewn floor for us to sit down together. I pulled an armful of books off the shelf. I started to read.
I ignored dinner and computer and phone and to-do list. I slowed down. Slowed way down.
And the rest of our night did, too.
. . .
I’m writing a new curriculum for small groups to reflect on God’s call and work (Called to Life and Called to Work). Over the past few weeks I’ve been returning to feedback from facilitators who piloted earlier versions of the program. One particular section of participants’ responses keeps haunting me.
When people were asked to imagine what response they would get if they asked God, “What am I supposed to do with my life?”, God’s responses were consistently kind and full of compassion:
Keep doing what you are doing.
Trust me. I will take care of you. It will be okay.
Live into the commitments you made. Look for love and light.
See me in the unfolding of every day.
Your life is worth something. You are valuable.
You’ve been too hard on yourself.
You don’t have to please others anymore. Follow your heart.
Take care of my people. Feed my sheep.
Real responses from people who did our program. The first time I read their words, I felt the hair prickle on the back of my neck. Because no matter how cynical I sometimes get, when I read words as simple and loving and compassionate and gentle as those that people heard from God, they resonate as deepest truth.
Slow down. Slow way down.
When I look back over my life, a few moments crystallize when I can remember hearing – in that strange, silent interior-but-not-self echo – what I would call God’s voice. I came to recognize it as God’s voice slowly, over time, with lots of testing and skepticism and doubt. And I started to learn that the truth of the voice being God’s – and not my own, or someone else’s, or society’s – was because the voice was not booming or profound or powerful, but because it was quite the opposite: soft, simple, gentle.
Always loving, forgiving, compassionate.
Wanting wholeness, seeking peace, offering hope.
Slow down. Slow way down.
. . .
The refrain keeps nagging at me.
I know I do too much, pack every day full to bursting, stress too much and sleep not enough. I realize the wake-up call is, in fact, a sit-down call.
More than that, I know that the voice will not relent unless I respond. God is persistent in calling, especially where change is concerned.
So I’m trying to slow down, slow way down.
Turning off the noise and listening to the quiet. Clearing space for what matters and letting the rest fall away. Breathing into the prayer of the present moment.
But it’s hard, really hard. God’s voice is so often challenging, too. Why slow down? Why not rush to fill every precious second of this life with something worth living?
Yet the call persists, darn it.
My slow response must, too.
Whether I show this to them proudly or they stumble across it secretly, they’ll be able to find all the words and thoughts and fears and questions I squirreled away in this small place, my secret hideout, my safe breathing space during the chaos of early parenthood.
(Because we all know the interwebs, even surer than elephants, never forget.)
I wonder what they’ll think when they read this. Will they roll their eyes at my drama? (Probably.) Will they laugh at my sentimentality? (Likely.) Will they wonder why I made such a fuss out of every worry that flitted across my new mama mind? (Undoubtedly.)
But here’s my deeper hope. I hope that if they become parents someday, they might dip their toes down into this swirling mess of my words and touch solid bottom.
That they can find camaraderie and companionship in knowing that I had no clue what I was doing either, but I loved them something fierce.
That they will remember that the long arc of the relationship of mother and child, despite its daily dips and difficulties, the tempers and the trying stages, bends towards a deep, lasting bond.
That they might seek solace in their own words-as-prayer, no matter what calling their path finds.
A wise friend once wrote to me that she saw my efforts at trying to raise children in faith as putting little invisible slips of paper with God’s phone number on it in the pockets of the pants and jackets they will wear out in the world someday, helping to make sure that when they need it, they’ll have it. Because that’s all we can do.
I’ve never forgotten her words. And while the songs and prayers I teach them now, the books we read and the churches we visit, the stories we wonder at together and the questions we can’t explain – while all of that is part of the scribbling I do, tucking love notes from God inside the corners of their hearts, the musing and mumbling I do here in this space is part of it as well.
Maybe someday they’ll stumble upon something I wrote, about struggling with faith or struggling with the world’s brokenness, and they’ll pause and think, too. I’m not so naive as to believe they’ll share my questions or so audacious as to assume my thoughts will shed wisdom on their lives. But if they can find a moment’s companionship here, an affirmation that faith can run deep while questions run deeper, a stubborn declaration that even when it wasn’t popular or sexy or clear or easy, I tried my hardest to understand and love the God who is Love, then I will consider these stumblings worth the cost.
And maybe, just maybe, if they become parents themselves, and the transition or the transformation isn’t easy, but by God it’s the most humbling school of humanity they could ever find, then I’ll happily meet them there. Because the journey of becoming their mother, of learning from them every day how flawed I am but how wide my heart can stretch, has been the gift of my life.
And that is a story I’m happy to tell them over and over again.
I’m in the midst of two big writing projects, one professional and one personal. So I’m thinking a lot these days about voice. How to find the right tone, how to connect with a reader, how to speak a word of truth or hope or grace.
Writers often talk about wanting to Find Their Voice, a strange turn of phrase for the muddled, maddening process of translating the noise in one’s head onto the written page with such depth and beauty and clarity and freshness that someone else will want to read it. But desiring to find one’s voice implies that it must be lost; declaring it can be found means that it can be identified in the first place.
I don’t know what my writing voice is, if I’m honest.
Perhaps it’s honest – I try to be, anyway. Perhaps it’s hopeful – I’m stubborn like that. One of the quirks of blogging is that I can see, on the flip side of the page you read now, exactly what posts drive the most traffic. So I can report that people like humor, though I’m not always sure how to write humorously about serious subjects. I can tell you that personal stories connect more readily than grandiose statements. But just because you might like to read something I write doesn’t mean that’s what I should give you. Writing – at least the kind of writing I want to do – isn’t about consumerism. It’s about calling.
Whenever I read the jacket of a book by a new author, I always sigh when I read the comparisons: “the new so-and-so” or “equal parts Famous Writer and Big Name and Everyone’s Favorite.” If I wanted to read Anne Lamott, I would have read Anne Lamott, I think to myself. I want to read this person; let her own voice speak! But perhaps we can’t help but echo the voices that have shaped our own.
Maybe the early years of parenting are like that, too. When we’re starting out, we can’t help but mimic. We imitate our friend’s example or copy the guru’s advice or follow the book’s instructions, praying it will transform us into a confident, knowledgeable Parent. But in order to find our own voice, we have to stop speaking everyone else’s words.
We have to trust ourselves.
This week I made a few important breakthroughs in my latest project for work. I changed my tone, pulled back in some places and pushed forward in others. Momentum is slowly picking up, and I’m grateful. A clearer voice is emerging, one that I hope will resonate with those who will read it. But this process of finding voice took long days and longer weeks, frustrated file folders stuffed with drafts, umpteen creative brainstorming exercises sprawled across my office, winding walks with the dog to seek answers through my sneakers.
But my personal writing project? I have a long, dark, twisted, labyrinthine way to go before I find my voice there. Perhaps not coincidentally, it’s a project that touches on my parenting, a part of my life that still feels new and uncertain and challenging beyond my expectations. But I’m at the point, with my writing and perhaps my mothering, too, where I’m finally feeling ready to push past the voices that talked me here and dare to come face to face with what might be the toughest and trickiest but possibly truest voice I’ll ever find.