mountains and horizons and kindergarten graduation

What I will remember is this.

Not the way he flashed our I love you sign when the principal told the kids to wave to their parents in the crowd.

Not the way he snapped his fingers all cool-jazz-like to the peppy beat of the classic kindergarten songs, a happy hipster belting out tunes about flowers and sun and roots and wings.

Not the way he asked twice (twice!) for his picture to be taken with a friend, our shy guy now hamming it up for the camera with his arm draped around his buddy.

Not the way his teacher teared up at end of the ceremony and my husband standing at the back of the room, jostling the tired baby, said to me later that’s how you know she’s one of the great ones, isn’t it? That she still gets misty after 25 years of teaching.

I hope I remember all that, of course.

I hope I remember the moments wrapped around the milestone.

But what I know I will remember is the astonishing sky as I drove away tonight. Heavy grey storm clouds peeling away in layers. A giant, jagged line of blinding white thunderheads rolling onto the horizon, so thick and startling that they seemed like snow-capped summits, like we’d been spun around and set down in the middle of mountain country.

imageI drove west, into the faux white peaks, nearly careening off the road twice because I couldn’t stop looking up and around. Couldn’t stop seeing the metaphor stretching out in front of me.

Because what rushed over me tonight in the wave of emotion I expected as a first-time mom at a first-child milestone was not nostalgia for the meaning of the moment or a preview of future graduations or the wonder at the baby becoming the boy.

It was the dizzying realization that a whole year had whizzed by.

While I barely blinked.

Older and wiser parents love to tell we new ones this head-shaking truth, that the years fly by and before you know it, they’ll be graduating from high school and I can’t believe how fast it went. I thought they said this because that is what you’re supposed to say. That is the natural voice of nostalgia. That is the happy satisfaction of having parented.

But tonight I kept driving towards those billowing clouds, mountains of white rising on the horizon. And I realized the sadness caught in my throat was because I knew that each staggering summit that seems to rise before my eyes today, daunting and towering and oh-so-important, will become like every other looming line of thick clouds before it.

I will pass through. A new horizon will emerge.

Time will keep rolling on, thunderous and true.

I wanted the years to fly by then. When I would one day be the mother of sprawling teenagers or beaming college graduates or wondering young adults. I wanted to look back then and see time speeding up, picking up pace with each passing year.

But I feel it now, the days peeling by under my feet, the months lunging forward like storm-swept clouds, a whole year whooshing away with the startling speed of a subway train that never even slowed down at this station, that is racing on elsewhere and I am left staring at the empty tunnel as its shadow shrinks behind to nothing.

What I will remember from tonight is this startling truth mirrored in billowing clouds. That today’s mountain is tomorrow’s horizon. That milestones mark what we cannot bear to see every day. That time is already racing by. 

And that it is a still-startling gift that I get to be here. That I get to love these children. That I get to watch a whole horizon of beckoning unknown stretching out before all of us.

And he took one more step toward it tonight. Right before my eyes.

 

the gift of ordinary time

I have a sneaking suspicion this is what matters most.

Not the anticipation of Advent, the celebration of Christmas, the long journey of Lent, or the exuberance of Easter.

But the everyday of Ordinary Time.

Lately our kids have been grumbling about the Christmas decorations being packed away. The house looks so plain, I hate it.

And they’re right. There is something melancholy about tucking away the trappings of such a happy season.

At first glance we see only absence. The gaping space where the tree stood. The empty mantel where the creche was displayed. The bare door frame where grinning faces of friends and family beamed down at us from Christmas cards.

But there is welcome relief in slipping back into the ordinary, too.

Rediscovering the beauty of what was already around us, hidden behind the holiday lights and ornaments. The walls and windows of our own world. The places and peace that we had already worked to cultivate.

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I have noticed over the past few years a stirring within myself. Pulling away from the excitement of The Big Events and drawing towards the quiet everyday.

Part of this awakening came with motherhood, which taught that I am an introvert. A solitude-seeking soul who craves calm. Someone who needs to cultivate space for silence, even in the midst of this good work of raising a busy family.

But part of this shift came from stepping back from the whirl of our culture, its constant reaching for The Next Big Thing, its frantic need to fill the stores with the next holiday’s decorations the second that the latest over-hyped celebration ends.

I’m tired of being bombarded with Valentine’s pinks and reds as soon as New Year’s hats are whisked off the shelves.

I want to savor the spaces in between.

So at home, I’m growing grateful for bare windowsills and sparse shelves. For the glow from a single lit candle. For the quiet dark of winter nights.

And at church, I am remembering how much I love Ordinary Time, too.

I am whispering thanks for the wisdom of a tradition that knows our human need for time and space in-between.

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Jesus did most of his living and working in ordinary time. Thirty years before his ministry became public. We don’t know the ordinary stories from those decades, but they must have been filled with the regular routines that fill our own lives: work, family, learning, growth, rest, repeat.

All of Jesus’s ordinary time added up, slowly over seasons and years, to make him who he was. A son, a friend, a neighbor, a prophet, a healer, a teacher, a leader.

I wonder who we are each becoming in our ordinary time, too. As we wash the dishes, dry the laundry, do our work, love our families. How are we shaped by the routines and regular living of each day?

They are something to celebrate, these unassuming weeks of Ordinary Time. They shape us, slowly over seasons and years, into the people that God dreams we will become.

I suspect this ordinary time matters most. Do you?

. . .

A normal day! Holding it in my hands this one last time,
I have come to see it as more than an ordinary rock. It is a gem, a jewel.
In time of war, in peril of death, people have dug their hands and faces into the earth and remembered this. In time of sickness and pain, people have buried their faces in pillows and wept for this. In times of loneliness and separation, people have stretched themselves taut and waited for this. In time of hunger, homelessness, and want, people have raised bony hands to the skies and stayed alive for this. . .

Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are.
Let me learn from you, love you, savor you, bless you, before you depart.
Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow.
Let me hold you while I may, for it will not always be so.
One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow,
or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky,
and want more than all the world your return.
And then I will know what now I am guessing:
that you are, indeed, a common rock and not a jewel,
but that a common rock made of the very mass substance of the earth
in all its strength and plenty puts a gem to shame.

– Mary Jean Irion, from the essay “Let Me Hold You While I May”
in the book “Yes, World: A Mosaic of Meditation” (1970)

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there will be so many years

There will be so many years, she tells me, of nights so quiet you don’t know what to do with yourself.

I’m perched on my knees, rolling my green yoga mat into a tight spiral, facing the brick wall of the studio so she can’t see my smile when she wishes the class “a peaceful evening.”

You can’t believe it now, I know, she laughs.

Mine are 23 and 25. And the house is quiet. So quiet. 

I tell her I believe her.

. . .

There will be so many years, she tells me, of whole days where you can do whatever you want.

I’m washing dishes in the sink, staring out the water-splattered kitchen window while she finishes her cup of coffee before the boys drag her into another board game because “Grandma, you promised!”

Can you imagine it now, she smiles. Whole days to do whatever you want?

I can’t imagine. I tell her I believe her.

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There will be so many years.

Of calm Sundays at church. Lazy Saturday mornings spent reading the whole newspaper. Spur-of-the-moment Friday nights when we decide to see that show or try that restaurant or watch that movie.

When we do nothing more to prepare but pull on coats and flick off lights as we leave. No planning, no pumping, no prepping the babysitter on everyone’s bedtime routine. We will forget all these details.

We will watch films first-run, take weekend getaways, catch art exhibitions before they close, go to that jazz club whenever the mood strikes us.

We will do laundry once a week instead of twice a day. We will grocery shop with one basket instead of two carts. We will listen to whatever we want in the car. Or we will simply drive and listen to nothing at all.

There will be so many years.

When little boy laughter does not bubble up from downstairs. When bright baby smiles do not greet us from the crib to wake the morning. When they don’t sing silly songs or dance in the kitchen or build basement rocket ships or cuddle onto the couch to read stacks of books.

For most of the years I will know my children, we will all be adults (God willing).

We will still laugh and joke and enjoy each other’s company. But we will also be serious. We will talk about politics and money. We will disagree. They will have their own addresses. We will make plans to meet for lunch. They will insist on picking up the check.

And all I have to do?

Let these years be these years. Let those years be those years.

Refuse to escape the privilege of another present moment with them by reaching ahead for what is not yet. Or longing behind for what was.

All I have to do is be present. To the gift of right now.

. . .

There will be so many years, I will tell her, when you don’t get to carry a baby all day. Believe me, I don’t mind.

She will stand near my elbow, holding another blanket and burp cloth ready, trying not to hover but still hovering because that’s all you can do when your baby is still shockingly brand new.

Can you believe it now, I will ask her as I breathe in that fuzzy warmth again, that there will be days when you don’t hold anyone?

Her eyes will be glassy from one of those painful nights of naps. All she will see are the heaps of laundry shoved in corners before I came over, the mess of bottles waiting to be sanitized once I leave, the dishes in the sink she should have scrubbed, the hair she didn’t wash, the clothes she didn’t change.

She won’t be able to imagine. But she might try to believe.

There will be so many years.

dear dr. seuss: you’re wrong

Lots of people love Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

I am not one of them.

I know it’s mostly good-hearted cheer, encouragement for the journey, and wise words from a man who’d seen enough of life to know that the secret lies in looking ahead.

But these two pages drive me crazy: “…a most useless place. The Waiting Place…”

dr seuss

“NO! That’s not for you! Somehow you’ll escape all that waiting and staying.

You’ll find the bright places where Boom Bands are playing.”

What’s wrong with waiting?

Most of us spend much of our lives waiting. Waiting for a situation to change. Waiting for a relationship to heal. Waiting for health to improve. Waiting for a holiday or a homecoming. Waiting for test results, an acceptance letter, a job offer, a new opportunity, a shift in scenery or season or mood.

Aren’t we all waiting somewhere in these winding lines? For crying out loud, Christians are supposed to be waiting all the time.

Lest I be accused of being too harsh on Dear Seuss, I get what he’s saying. Don’t be passive. Don’t get stuck. Don’t expect life to magically improve if you’re not willing to work hard.

But to be true to life’s reality, the book could just as aptly be named Oh, the Places You’ll Wait!

Because we spend just as much time idling at the stop light, itching to accelerate, as we do with the wind whipping through our hair as we race ahead.

Waiting isn’t an evil to be shunned, a burden to be avoided, a drain to keep us from enjoying life. Waiting is life.

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

Psalm 27:13-14

. . .

Around here, we’re waiting all the time now.

The clock ticks painfully slowly. Each morning over breakfast, the kids ask when the baby will be here, and I shake my head at the sink, attempting to smile cheerfully while I scrub dishes.

We don’t know! We just have to wait!

I’m an eager and impatient person by nature. Waiting can be excruciatingly hard for me to bear. At 39 weeks pregnant, weary and waddling, I’m consumed by waiting. How I’d love to breeze past these pages of boredom and in-betweenness, of long lines and longing faces.

But life never works like that. Waiting is where we grow. Where God works on us in the long and quiet dark.

Waiting is work, but it’s holy work. God is here, too.

For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from God.

Psalm 62:5

. . .

Turns out I write about waiting quite a lot.

Ironically I wrote this almost exactly one year ago. I didn’t know how much of the next 12 months would be filled with waiting: waiting for a baby, waiting to heal from losing that baby, waiting for another baby, waiting to work through my fears.

When impatience starts to get the better of me, when I find myself straining forward to see what’s next, when I tire of trying to live in the present, I wrestle with waiting.

But wrestling never wins; it is only when I stop to catch my breath that I realize there is only This. In preparation for That, perhaps. But waiting is about the present, not the future.

It’s the only way I can live right now.

To parent is to wait: to watch, to witness, to wonder what comes next, to want more for your child than what they have today. But to wait is also to be forced to slow down, to relinquish the illusion of control, to put your desires on hold while life makes other plans.

What could be harder than waiting?

This life is a relentless pull, asking us to stop when we want to go, making us release when we want to grab tight. We have to wait in the midst of all this back and forth. We never know what’s coming; we waste our time worrying about what never happens.

But when we wait – that is an act of faith.

Waiting is holy time, not wasted time. Psalms sing it; Jesus spoke it; centuries of Christians believed it.

So maybe the wild Technicolor imagination of the esteemed Dr. was right all along. Everyone is just waiting.

But I believe that’s not half bad.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;

my soul waits for the Lord

more than those who watch for the morning,

more than those who watch for the morning.

Psalm 130: 5-6

take two: working (and praying)

The second half of the series on How We Spend Our Time. Following each author’s insights, I’ll offer another perspective on the same theme. Cathy writes about work as prayer. Here’s my take:

The easier way, of course, is not to let my work be prayer.

It’s far simpler to zone out while doing the laundry or the dishes than to move through the motions mindfully.

It’s more satisfying to grumble about paying bills or cutting kids’ hair than to approach it as a loving act of service.

It’s even easier to jump into the email inbox and the day’s to-do list than to honor the professional work I do as sacred.

But the stubborn truth is that it’s all holy, this everyday mix of action and reflection, creation and repetition. God already blesses work as good; it’s up to us to see the same.

Maybe we miss it when we call it “work,” when we file it under obligation or drudgery. Maybe if we called it all “prayer” – making breakfast or giving baths or compiling spreadsheets or sitting through meetings or running errands or mowing the lawn – maybe then we would begin to understand how God’s eyes see us.

Maybe.

. . .

I noticed a few weeks ago – while stuffing the day’s umpteenth load of laundry in the washer, then scrubbing all the pots from last night’s dinner, then hustling upstairs to help the potty-trainer in the bathroom – that I had marked each of these spaces with a gentle reminder. A small shimmer of beauty next to each place of dirty work.

Maybe I needed to remember that each one was holy.

In the laundry room, two postcards from the L’Arche community where I worked in France.

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I remember cutting carrots with Daniel, washing dishes with Monique, bathing Claude and dressing Bernard. And I’m overwhelmed at the memory of how holy that hard work was, how I knew God was there, too. I re-member myself back into the way of small things with great love.

In the kitchen, a print of Saint Therese lifting high the plates of the monastery as an offering to God, letting the steam rise like incense.

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Washing dishes is a dreaded household chore for me, so I need a nudge to see the prayer in this necessary work. I remember all the plates that have been washed so that I could eat – in restaurants or cafeterias or homes that welcomed me as a guest. And I load the dishwasher with a lighter heart, grateful for a kitchen full of food to eat and hungry children around my table. I re-member myself back into the faith that breaks bread and shares with the hungry.

In the bathroom, a picture of Saint Joseph cradling his newborn son, a father immersed in his late night work.

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Whenever I’m pulled from warm bed and soft sleep by a boy with soaked sheets or a hacking cough, our trip to the bathroom is bathed in more than the nightlight’s glow if I glance at the kindred spirit on the counter. I remember all the nights that my parents sat up with me when I was sick and surely rocked me back to sleep a thousand times before my memory sealed it to heart. And I wipe my boy’s nose or bottom or feverish forehead with more compassion and less impatience at my own rest lost.

I re-member myself back into the love that washes feet and touches the sick.

Because maybe all this work is prayer, too.

how we spend our time: working (and praying)

You Are Already PrayingToday I’m delighted to welcome the Rev. Cathy George for the latest in the How We Spend Our Time series!

Cathy is an Episcopal priest and the author of You Are Already Praying: Stories of God at Work – a collection of stories about people from all walks of life who have come to see their work as prayer.

I’m lucky enough to know Cathy in person, since she is a member of our Collegeville Institute Seminar on vocation and profession, so I have gotten to admire up close her passion for helping people see their work as prayer.

(Full disclosure: I’m also a fan because she graciously invited me to share my story of my work as a mother as prayer – which you can read in her book!)

I hope Cathy’s book and her wise thoughts below will help you to see the way we spend most of our time – at work – as prayer, too.

. . .

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

Time passes quickly. It doesn’t feel like it when we sit in the dentist’ s chair, or our days are dedicated to the care of a child’s needs, but it is fleeting. A child is no sooner born, than done nursing, and out of diapers and walking into kindergarten.

Being in the present moment, as fully as possible, is the one truth that I find worth practicing, day in and day out. Its fruits are abundant.

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

Not waiting for the perfect time. Rather, stopping to ask myself if I really need to do this (email, phone call, laundry, cooking, etc.) or could it wait so that I could seize the time to write or read?

Setting expectations for myself that are reasonable and that don’t discourage me but take into account all that is on my plate that no one else might notice or acknowledge. Remembering that it is good for my children to see me at work on my work. It does not diminish my devotion to them, but shows them my whole life.

Letting go of writing goals when I was immersed in nursing, napping, feeding a child when the exhaustion was too depleting to expect myself to also be creative and instead to use writing as a joyful getaway, as a time to write, or vent in a journal for the joy of it and not expect myself to produce during a chapter of my life when I was already being productive.

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

I wrote the book because I wanted to encourage people of faith to see their whole lives as an opportunity for prayer. I learned, from those who shared their stories, and from those who are reading the book, that it is a message people need to hear.

Reading themselves into the stories of a mother at prayer, or a realtor, or painter, their lives open up before them as ceaseless moments to be in the presence of God in the tasks, work, play and challenges that make up any given day.

I learned that the sense of taking prayer into one’s actions, and workplace and family is not far off, not something to work hard at understanding, more like an “oh, yeah, I am already praying, now I know what to call it, now I can pray in and out of my whole day and not think of it as less than real prayer, but another form of prayer.”

I learned that we all want to be whole, to have a center to ourselves and our days that everything else revolves around, like the spokes of a wheel that move from the center hub. God is the hub of our life, and there is not a place in our day that God wants to be locked out of.

How we pray in church informs the prayer that goes on unceasingly in us as we leave church. It does not lessen the vitality and importance of our prayer life in quiet, or in Scripture, our living prayer becomes an expression for our faith.

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

Laughing and relaxing. I love to be with my family when we are laughing at each other, ourselves, or something funny. I love when we are watching a Sunday afternoon game on television, making a meal, folding laundry, and we are in comfortable clothes and enjoying the company of each other.

. . .

revCHGYour turn to win! Cathy has generously offered one copy of You Are Already Praying: Stories of God at Work for a reader of Mothering Spirit.

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below before midnight (CST) on Saturday, July 27th.

And to learn more about Cathy’s book and work, check out this in-depth interview she did with our staff at the Collegeville Institute!

“mama, what if we did NOT do resting?”

Resting: take two. The second half of the series on How We Spend Our Time. Following each author’s insights, I’ll offer another perspective on the same theme. MaryAnn writes about resting for Sabbath. Here’s my take:

“Mama, what would happen if we did NOT do resting?”

It’s his version of the endless “why” of being three – the constant questioning, wondering, imagining, repeating, seeking to make sense of the strange world around him.

I’m trudging him upstairs for rest time, the new name for nap, the matured moniker for the oh-so-big preschooler who long ago gave up his luxurious three hours of sweet daytime sleep. My mother-in-law wisely advised me that kids should rest till kindergarten, and I take her words to heart. I can tell that he still needs to lie down and slow down each afternoon. So while his brother naps next door, he has to rest for one hour.

And this is too much to bear.

“Mama,” he whines again at the top of the staircase, “what would happen if we did NOT do resting?”

“You wouldn’t have good energy for playing,” I respond for the umpteenth time.

He’s unconvinced.

“You would probably get really cranky by dinner time.”

Still not budging.

“You might have to go bed early.”

His brow furrows.

“Mama, what would happen if we did NOT go to bed early?”

“Sweet boy, it is Time For Rest,” I declare. I usher him to bed and snuggle him in with a stack of books, closing the door quietly behind me.

But once the house is still and I sit down again at my desk, ready to flip open the laptop and get to work, I wonder about his question.

What does happen when we do not do resting?

My litany of refrains to his plodding question rings clear and true for me, too. I don’t have good energy. I get cranky. I need to go to bed early.

And yet how often I don’t rest – how often I choose the clean kitchen or the updated blog or the finished chapter or the friend’s phone call or the Hulu with the husband or any other good-in-the-moment instead of simple, standard SLEEP.

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I need it. I know I need it. I remember how much better everything flows around here when I prioritize it. Yet just like prayer or exercise or eating well, I still don’t choose what I know is best.

Saint Paul summed it up centuries ago – I do not do the good I want, but what I do not want is what I do – and still it flits past my frenzied brain when the hour comes to crawl into bed. There’s always one more thing to do or read or write or organize, and next thing I know 9:00 flies into 10:00 which slides into 11:00 creeping towards midnight before I can blink my bleary eyes.

And even though the second wind felt so good when I was sailing through it – when the writing turned to flow or the movie was so funny we couldn’t turn it off or the kitchen finally sparkled clean after a week of grubby grime – I drag the next day if I don’t rest. Drag my feet and drag my energy and drag everyone else with me down a tired tunnel towards total collapse.

Every Friday night I declare this must be the weekend we catch up on sleep and start turning in early so we can be more productive come Monday. We agree, resolve anew, revisit how better everyone does when we rest.

And then Paul’s catch-22 catches up with us, and we’re doing it again – the writing or the reading or the Hulu-ing or the putzing – past midnight, past our prime, way past what we know is good for us. Wearing out the flesh in which we live; wringing out the spirit that tires within us.

What happens if we do not do resting?

If I only took a sliver of my own admonitions to heart – if I only followed my own advice and laid down my own head to nap or sleep or rest – how much better would it be? Would I stop trying to outrun my own biology and realize that I need seven straight hours like everyone else? Would I stop trying to defeat my own mortality and remember that living well means letting things go undone?

Sabbath. Sleep. Slowing down. Savoring the rhythms we were meant to live by. There’s so much truth in ancient traditions and the simple fact of being a human on a circadian cycle. When I run myself ragged, even in the name of good things, I’m defying nature and wisdom alike.

I know exactly what happens when I do not do resting. I do myself no favors.

Do you get the sleep you need? What habits do you have to rest well? What do you wish you could change?

how we spend our time: resting

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday I’m delighted to welcome Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana to the How We Spend Our Time series!

MaryAnn is pastor of Idylwood Presbyterian Church in Falls Church, VA, and the author of Sabbath in the Suburbs: A Family’s Experiment with Holy Time.

If you’ve ever wondered how to reclaim space for rest and relaxation into the chaos of your calendar, MaryAnn’s book is the perfect place to start. She tells the story of how her family of five decided to spend a year practicing Sabbath every week, and her writing is so honest and hopeful (and even hilarious) that it made me think this radical experiment might actually be possible.

MaryAnn’s book got me thinking about the place of Sabbath in our lives – not just whether we choose to go to church on Sunday, but how we set the rhythm of our family life to focus on what’s most important. I keep feeling this nudge towards a simpler, slower way of life, so I love the idea that the choices we make to spend our time well include time for resting.

Enjoy MaryAnn’s insights on parenting and practicing time for rest!

. . .

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

That there is not enough time.

I’ve often heard (and preached) a theology of abundance, of radical “enough-ness”: the idea that God provides sufficient resources for what we truly need. I know that works for some people, but it doesn’t work for me, especially when it comes to time. It sets an impossible bar for me to reach. If there is enough time, and I didn’t get important things done (a daily occurrence), then I must have done it “wrong.” I find it much more faithful to say that there is not enough time, but there is enough grace. I call this “holy scarcity.”

But! you may argue back. God does provide! And maybe that thing you left undone, didn’t need doing. Perhaps…but often not. What parent hasn’t had the experience of letting someone down, of dropping a huge ball? It happens. But grace abounds.

I am drawn to the image of parkour, the combined sport/art form that involves running and tumbling through an urban area. (Google it if you’re not familiar!) Practitioners of parkour will encounter obstacles (a wall, a stairwell), and the trick is to move creatively and fluidly through these obstacles. There is great beauty in that process. I strive to be a practitioner of spiritual parkour.

clp-danacov-final2) What is one practice of using time well that you have developed as a mother-writer?
 

Well, my book is about Sabbath so I suppose I should say that! There’s something very freeing about knowing that each week, you will have a time to rest, play, relax and recharge. It gives the busyness of our days a much more grounded perspective.

But here’s something else that’s really tactical: I am a huge believer in the Pomodoro Technique. The idea is very simple: spend a short, fixed amount of time on whatever task needs doing, take a short break of a specific length, and repeat as long as necessary. I like to work for 12 minutes and take a 3-minute break, then restart the process. I wrote the whole book this way! It gave me a way to tend to the distractions and monkey mind (Facebook, ahem) but not let them take over my life.

This is a good technique for anyone, but I find it especially helpful when I only have a short amount of time and a lot of stuff to get through. I get paralyzed by the choice of what to focus on—Pomodoro helps me get started somewhere, anywhere.

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

That children can be wonderful teachers for us.

As adults, we help them learn the language of faith, but they are not empty containers for us to fill. They already come to us with a sense of the spirit, of eternity, of the Holy. In our case, our children understood both the need for Sabbath and the joy of it.

Children are great Sabbath-keepers. Now that the year-long Sabbath experiment is over, we are still committed to the practice, although we’re not as regular as we were. But our kids will let us know if it’s been too long since we’ve had a Sabbath. They call it a lot of different names in addition to Sabbath: a pajama day, a stay-at-home day, etc. Sabbath is a day to remember that we are not God, that the world goes on without us. That’s a vulnerable but ultimately freeing realization. Children inherently get this since that’s their default state of being!

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

We have a state park about 20 minutes from our home called Mason Neck. In fact, if you watch the PBS segment about the book, you can catch a glimpse of it! We love going there every few months to walk around the woods and visit the small beach. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles there–a playground, an occasional program about eagles or other wildlife–but mostly we walk the trail along Belmont Bay, listen for bullfrogs, and draw designs in the sand using shells and old pieces of driftwood.

Having a regular place where we go often means it’s become a great “growth chart” for our kids’ development. Children who used to get tiiiiiiiiired halfway through the trail can make it all the way easily. We can go farther on our bikes as they get older. They are starting to prefer to the woods to the playground. But no matter how old they get, they all still love to play in the sand.

. . .

Your chance to read! MaryAnn and Chalice Press have generously offered a copy of Sabbath in the Suburbs to one lucky reader of Mothering Spirit. Leave a comment below before midnight CST on Saturday, June 8th, to enter the giveaway.

And be sure to connect with MaryAnn at her blog, The Blue Room!

waiting: 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. Peg Conway writes about waiting. Here’s my take.

She sits across me in the suburban coffee shop, hands cupped around a warm cardboard cup just like mine. Soccer moms with their teams in tow troop through the store, swarms of kids buzzing in and out the door in the morning sunlight.

Her eyes are bright as she talks, but I see the sadness behind her smile, steal a glimpse back into the dark mirror of my own once-waiting.

They’re seeing a new doctor, starting a new treatment, charting cycles and crossing fingers. She’s got a good feeling about this month. Sure, it’s been two long years of trying and she’s creeping closer to forty, but the doctor said her numbers were looking up. And there’s no reason not to be hopeful, right?

Waiting. To have a baby in her arms.

. . .

We’re getting ready for bed in the midnight dark, zipping window blinds down with a snap when I notice that the porch lights are still on across the street. The sleepy home of our quiet neighbors now stands on high alert, beacons shining bright and bold in the black of night.

“What do you think that’s for?” I wonder out loud to my husband. “They never leave the lights on.”

“It’s prom night,” he shrugs as we turn to sleep. “They’re probably waiting up.”

Waiting. To have their baby home safe.

. . .

Parenthood starts with waiting. Nine months at least, sometimes years longer before the due date countdown starts to tick.

But no one told me that pregnancy would be only the beginning of the waiting.

Waiting outside bedroom doors for the baby to stop crying, exhausted after every expert’s advice fails to secure sweet sleep.

Waiting next to the phone for the doctor to call with the test results, heart thumping to hear the news that life will soon ease back to everyday-ok.

Waiting in airport lounges to catch the last flight home, arms aching to get back to the kids and cuddle them close.

Waiting for the baby to wean, the toddler to walk, the preschooler to potty train, the spouse to get home, the fever to break, the teeth to cut through, the school year to start, the summer to arrive.

Some waiting is the natural nervousness of a novice. I look back on the few short years since I became a mother and marvel at how often I made mountains out of mole hills, worrying about milestones they missed or markers that seemed delayed.

Some waiting is the weary work of weathered wisdom. I look around me at parents in all stages of this lifelong calling, waiting for their kids to find a job, to move out, to fall in love with the right person, to follow their own path.

When impatience starts to get the better of me, when I find myself straining forward to see what’s next, when I tire of trying to live in the present, I wrestle with waiting.

But wrestling never wins; it is only when I stop to catch my breath that I realize there is only This. In preparation for That, perhaps. But waiting is about the present, not the future.

It’s the only way I can live right now.

. . .

I lie there in the quiet dark, long after he’s fallen asleep next to me, and I wonder what it will feel like to wait for my boys to come home.

I waited so long for them to arrive, and some days I’m so impatient waiting for them to grow up, and I realize that all this work is a waiting game.

To parent is to wait: to watch, to witness, to wonder what comes next, to want more for your child than what they have today. But to wait is also to be forced to slow down, to relinquish the illusion of control, to put your desires on hold while life makes other plans.

What could be harder than waiting? I wonder in the warmth of my comfortable bed, two blessings of boys tucked in their rooms down the hall, no one I love speeding out on the slippery roads too late tonight.

This life is a relentless pull, asking us to stop when we want to go, making us release when we want to grab tight. We have to wait in the midst of all this back and forth. We never know what’s coming; we waste our time worrying about what never happens.

But when we wait – that is an act of faith.

how we spend our time: waiting

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

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. . .

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

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

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