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

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

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

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

It was a perfect moment to seize.

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

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

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

I laughed. Me, too.

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

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

And I am all about helping things work.

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

the song of francis

Even before the conclave met, it was his new favorite book.

You can’t make this stuff up.

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From the messy piles of paperbacks strewn across every room of our house, a few children’s books have squirreled their way onto my own bookshelves. Now every day my oldest boy bursts through the doors of my office, demanding to read the Francis book.

So we do. He curls in my lap, and I turn the pages. We both agree our favorites are the pages bursting with birds whose colorful chorus sings with the saint:

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Some say papal-mania is settling down. But I still see a steady stream of striking articles and thoughtful reflections written about the new leader. Sunday morning I sat down with a cup of tea and two rowdy boys to read this piece in praise of a “slum pope” and this subtle, surprising report of journalists being blessed by a pontiff, regardless of what beliefs they held.

Now every time I sit with my son and read a Song of Francis, I think more deeply about what it means to be a servant leader. A heart for justice, a desire for peace, a vision for those on the margins.

No matter what profession my boy chooses, no matter what callings whisper in his ear, I hope he will become this kind of man. The kind of compassionate, caring person whose life is known by humility and hope.

The power of hope lifts me up this Lent. Another Easter is almost on the horizon, and already I see signs of resurrection. For a Church who knows darkness, the Spirit reminds us of light. For a world scarred by scandal, the Spirit reminds us of life after death. For a people polarized, the Spirit reminds us to turn together towards the poor.

No man is perfect. Not a pope, not a preschooler. But what can bend us slowly towards better is love, perfect love that casts out fear. I feel that today among so many Catholics I know. The power of hope.

The gift of Easter. The song of Francis.

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