what to do for Lent?

Dear friends:

Tomorrow the director of the Collegeville Institute Seminars and I are putting the final touches on a book on discipleship. (I can’t wait to tell you more very soon!)

The day after tomorrow, I’m packing up our family of five for a much-needed vacation. Needless to say, life is buzzing round these parts.

So since Lent is less than 2 weeks away, I thought I’d share a few quick ideas for ways you can celebrate the season. (Yes, you could also call this post “Shameless Plugs: The Pre-Lent Edition.” Apologies.)

For your church or small group:

If you’re new to Mothering Spirit, you might not know that I’ve written two programs for small groups in parishes and congregations to gather for conversations around questions of calling.

Called to Life is a general introduction to God’s call in our lives, and Called to Work explores how our professional work can be a calling. Both programs run for 6 weeks (making them the perfect length for Lent). Best of all, participant and facilitator materials are all available for FREE from our website at the Collegeville Institute Seminars.

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If you’re already in a small faith-sharing group, here’s a perfect way for your group to celebrate Lent together. Otherwise, pass the materials on to your parish staff and get a group organized. (To learn more, check out the Top 10 Reasons to Use Called to Life or Called to Work this Lent.)

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For yourself:

Have I mentioned how much I love being part of the new Blessed Is She project? We’re a group of bloggers who write daily devotionals for Catholic women. You can sign up to get the day’s readings and a short reflection every morning in your inbox. And since our Advent journal was a huge hit, we’ve created beautiful offerings for Lent as well.

I made the (happy) mistake of opening my big mouth in our group’s virtual discussion of what to offer for Lent, commenting that many of us Catholics want to do All The Things for Lent, and then wind up feeling like we’ve failed when we can’t keep up with all our disciplines. What if instead we listened to the wisdom of Mary and Martha’s story and tried to do Only One Thing for Lent – sit at the feet of Christ and listen to God’s Word?

And thus was born:

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I was honored to help write the journal’s reflections, and I can’t wait to use it for my own journey through Lent, too. Order yours today at Blessed Is She!

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what the presentation means for parents

We have to let go.

We knew that, right? People told us from the beginning. The years fly by so fast and before you know it, they’ll be grown and enjoy this time before it’s gone.

We smiled and looked down at the baby in our arms. We knew they were right but we couldn’t imagine not holding this child.

We knew they would grow up one day, theoretically. They would push us away, they would slam the bedroom door, they would refuse to talk to us. They would probably tell us they hated us one day. (We knew because we did all those things to our parents, too.)

But we still couldn’t imagine what it would really feel like. To let them go.

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So we practice letting go a thousand times.

We let go of their chubby hand for a split second while they take their first toddling step towards the couch.

We slip away for a date night while grandma waves goodbye from the front door.

We walk back alone to the car when the teacher promises they will be fine.

Each time our instinct is to reach out and pull them back to us. Each time our heart and mind are divided between need and want, us and them, now and later. Each time there is no script for when or how. Only the bittersweet truth of time and growth.

And the nagging knowledge that they are not ours to keep forever.

They were never ours alone.

. . .

Today’s Feast of the Presentation is this same practice for the Holy Family.

Here are Mary and Joseph: brand-new, bewildered parents. Here are Anna and Simeon: expectant elders. Here is Jesus: newborn and newly named.

They are all letting go. Mary and Joseph hand over their child into the hands of strangers. These prophets hand over their expectations of what their savior would look like.

And God lets go, too. Lets the Son of Love be brought to the temple, hinting at the heartbreak that will happen one day when Jesus comes back to Jerusalem.

Simeon whispers this terrifying truth to Mary, tries to warn her that you yourself a sword will pierce. But his mother can’t grasp what this will mean for her child. For herself. None of us could.

We can only practice letting go in small ways.

We can only trust that we’ll be given strength for what’s to come. 

. . .

Last year on the Feast of Presentation, I wrote about letting go of another baby, sending my book off to be published and wondering where it would go. For those of you whose hands have now held it, I am humbled. Thank you for reading. 

And to the stranger who wrote these words, you took my breath away. You are the one I wrote it for. There is so much light trying to get in. What a gift when we help each other clear away the grime.

the blog book tour: day 6. molly makes do

Remember when I did that series on “start seeing sacraments,” trying to capture images of the seven Catholic sacraments in photographs?

Turns out I should have left it to Molly from Molly Makes Do.

Today’s stop on the Everyday Sacrament book tour is a gorgeous collection of quotes and images she compiled to show the ordinary holiness of her own life. And I’m so inspired by the glimpses of sacraments she gathered.

I first found Molly’s blog when I was writing an essay on the prepartum depression I had while pregnant with our second son. No one I knew personally had experienced this kind of depression during pregnancy, and I had felt desperately alone during those months of darkness.

When I discovered Molly’s words years later, I felt an immediate kinship to another mom who had written honestly about her own struggles with depression and pregnancy. Since then I have been awed and humbled by her reflections on miscarriage and wrestling with motherhood’s darker moments. All of which was wrapped up in my own writing in Everyday Sacrament, too. Making me all the more grateful to have Molly as part of the blog book tour.

Click over to Molly Makes Do to spend a few moments with her beautiful images, and be sure to check out her amazing ideas for Advent at home, too!

(And don’t forget to check back tomorrow for the last stop in the book tour – can’t wait!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9 weeks for 9 months: prayers for pregnancy (months 8 & 9)

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

We’re on the cusp of Advent. One of my favorite times of year to reflect on the gifts that pregnancy has brought into my life.

Now that I have been pregnant for three of the past five Decembers (!), Advent has become a sacred season for me to remember the days we found out. Advent also reminds me how my understanding of Mary has changed through the experience of expecting a baby.

Some years Advent feels frenzied. Other years it feels impossible.

But this year, the beginning of Advent offers a perfect pause to share these last two prayers for pregnancy and mediate on the place of gentleness and self-control in the life of faith. Not only when we await the birth of a child, but when we are trying to care for ourselves in the midst of all that life demands of us.

We don’t often hear a good word preached about gentleness or self-control. But Paul reminds us that they are fruits of the Spirit and proof of the presence of the Holy One.

I feel tugged towards both of these gifts this year, when the wider world feels harsh and violent, and my own world feels wildly unbalanced with all that I am juggling.

As we pass from a week of gratitude and thanksgiving into the snowy slide towards Christmas, I find myself leaning into Advent’s invitation more than ever. To set aside anxieties of “how will we get it all done?” and to pick up the peace that what can be done, will be done.

God will take care of the rest.

I pray for you this week, too. That the Spirit’s calm may quiet your heart as we take the first steps towards Advent’s gentle work of preparation.

. . .

prayers for pregnancyMonth 8: A Prayer for Gentleness

God of gentleness,

Help me to be gentle with myself
As I carry this child.
Let me tread lightly on my emotions,
My worries and fears
About birth and motherhood,
Knowing that you prepare me
To do this work.

When the days grow long
And the nights grow restless,
Remind me to care for myself
As I will care for my child:
With gentleness, love,
And compassion.

As my body begins to practice
To birth my baby,
Guide me through each contraction
With the peace of your presence,
Softly opening my heart and mind.

In gentleness I pray,

Amen.

 

Month 9: A Prayer for Self-control

God of self-control,

The final weeks
Of this long journey
Have finally arrived.
Soon the day will dawn
When I will meet my child
And a new world will begin
For both of us.

Help me to prepare myself,
Mind, body, and soul,
For the work of labor
And the wonder of birth.

Teach me to channel and control
The strength of my own self
To offer myself in sacrifice
For the child of my heart.

Let me gather my courage around me –
The power in my bones
And the peace in my heart –
To do the work of love
That a mother is called to do,
The work that you created me to do.

In self-control I pray,

Amen.

© 2014 Laura Kelly Fanucci

Prayers for all 9 months of pregnancy can be found here at the end of this series.
Please consider passing them along to an expectant mother who could use them!

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

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

Faithfulness.

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

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

And that still, small voice invites you to faithfulness.

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

month 7Month 7: A Prayer for Faithfulness

God of faithfulness,

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

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

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

In faithfulness I pray,

Amen.

© 2014 Laura Kelly Fanucci

Prayers for all 9 months of pregnancy can be found here at the end of this series.
Please consider passing them along to an expectant mother who could use them!

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

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

Full self-disclosure?

(It’s a blog, ain’t it?)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

month 6Month 6: A Prayer for Generosity

God of generosity,

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

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

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

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

In generosity I pray,

Amen.

© 2014 Laura Kelly Fanucci

Prayers for all 9 months of pregnancy can be found here at the end of this series.
Please consider passing them along to an expectant mother who could use them!

start seeing sacraments: reconciliation

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

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Here’s the truth about reconciliation. It’s hard to photograph.

(It’s even harder to practice.)

Trying to capture everyday glimpses of sacraments has been a good exercise. Also a challenging one.

Because baptism and Eucharist? I see them daily in bathtime and mealtime. And I can snap a quick shot in a second – my kids splashing in water or sharing bread at our table. I smile and savor a sweet pause of a moment, a reminder of God’s humming presence at work around us all the time.

But reconciliation? That’s the ugly underbelly of family life. Tempers lost, toys thrown, loud protests and louder cries. The angry moments you cringe to imagine a stranger (or even friend) might dare to darken your doorstep and see how things really are in this house when we sin against the ones we love the most.

How could I capture that on camera?

Tender moments of offering repentance and seeking forgiveness are often too intimate and sacred to share. When we are honest and true, sorry and sorrowful, we are also most vulnerable. Which is, I think, why God invites us to practice this sacrament in quiet humility, one-on-one.

But the few images that I found were scenes I stumbled upon. And isn’t that always how God works, in the stumbled-upon moments? Tripping over truth right beneath our feet.

One afternoon I was playing with the camera, charming smiles from the sweet baby cooing on a soft blanket while his brothers squabbled on the porch behind us. Then I realized the arguing in the background had finally simmered down. Now the boys were building something strong and sturdy together.

Here they were – two brothers at each other’s throats all afternoon until they realized they’d never get their project finished unless they worked together.

And I almost missed it because I was focused on what I thought was beautiful.

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Weeks later we were enjoying a lovely, lazy morning on vacation. Breakfast outside, warm sky overhead, nowhere to go and nothing to do but bask in the sun and each other’s company. I went inside to grab my camera and snap some shot of billowing clouds behind Floridian palm trees. Idyllic inspiration.

When I came back out to the cool concrete deck, there was a sobbing son in his father’s arms. Some minor infraction had reduced him to tears; they had to talk it out quietly and calmly. What it means to disobey and apologize and forgive. (I am still learning this; aren’t we all?)

I forgot about the sun and sky; I had to sneak one small memory of what this moment might look like in image, forgiveness in a frame. What it probably looks like every time I, too, bend my wrestling, wanting, wandering will back towards the One who welcomes its failings with comfort and love.

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. . .

In the Catholic tradition, this sacrament has more names than any other.

Confession. Penance. Reconciliation.

Maybe we need all these hues of the same truth because there are so many movements wrapped round repentance. We speak our sins; we ask forgiveness; we promise to do better. Turn, turn, turn.

Or maybe we need mouthfuls of names to remind us how often we need to practice this lesson of love before our God. Over and over, again and again. Here at home, out in the world.

Everyday reconciliation. Where do you see it?

where i’ve been lately…(and the book is here!!)

Here’s where I’ve been lately. Scurrying around behind the scenes to get ready for this:

Everyday Sacrament

BECAUSE THE BOOK IS HERE!

Surreal is all I can say. I thought the moment I held this baby in my hands would be emotional and powerful and symbolic.

But the package arrived on Halloween afternoon, and thirty seconds after I opened it in tender awe, the baby started howling to be nursed, the boys started screaming at each other over fistfuls of Halloween candy, and the pot of pasta I’d left on the stove started that seething simmer-over – suffice it to say, I did not have a single moment to savor.

Yet I’ve come to love that this book on my desk is doing exactly what I hope it will do in other families’ homes: sit right in the middle of the craziness and chaos and remind us that God is here, too.

I’m planning a “blog book tour” for early December with lots of lovely blogging friends who are helping me to get out the word. Till then you can buy the paperback or e-book from Liturgical Press (it’s already out of stock temporarily on Amazon – thank you, friends!). I am humbled and overwhelmed and deeply grateful for all your love and support.

. . .

And even while I’ve been keeping the blog stocked with series of pregnancy prayers and Instagram shots of sacraments, I’ve actually been doing real writing elsewhere, too.

First, if you haven’t yet heard of Blessed Is She, now is the time to check it out. A bunch of brilliant, inspired bloggers I know have gathered together to create a daily devotional site for Catholic women. It’s beautiful and thoughtful, and it fills my inbox with Word and image every morning.

Here’s an example of a devotional I wrote last week – on the household of God (and why my husband and I often flounder at running our own):

When I got married, the challenges of running a household only magnified. Yes, I had a partner to help with this work, but we also brought different approaches and expectations for household management.

Enter kids into the picture? More laundry, more dishes, more questions about how to pay for it all. I wouldn’t trade this life for any other, but these are still the verbs I use: stretch, crunch, juggle, squeeze.

The household of God? Those words stop me in my tracks. As Saint Paul describes it, the household of God is about people, not perfection. About holiness, not achievement. About community, not isolation.

It’s not about having it all together, but about becoming holy together. Whether we’re single or married, parents or children, friends or neighbors, we are part of a household bigger than ourselves and our to-do lists….

Read the rest at Blessed Is She.

Speaking of our household, we seem to have hit the November slump when all of September’s bright intentions have fallen by the wayside in heaps of leaves. Sound familiar?

Last week I reflected on how setting aside our high hopes for doing All The Things to raise our children in faith might actually be the healthiest and happiest way to live our faith at home. Check out my latest post at Practicing Families on the importance of small habits and tracing tiny crosses:

So often I confuse our practice of faith with excellence in faith. If this family is going to follow Christ, then we’re going to do daily prayer and weekly catechesis and church attendance and Scripture study. We need to do it all and we need to do it right, or else everything fails.

But maybe it’s not about getting all the big things right. Maybe it’s about getting all the small things right.

As a parent, all I can hope to do is trace tiny crosses on my children’s foreheads. Sweep aside their messy hair, wipe off the sweaty smudges, and bless their brows with the smallest sign of the One who calls and claims them for love.

Read the rest at Practicing Families.

And since I have sacraments on the brain these days, my latest at Catholic Mom asks how we can talk about the meaning of sacraments in our lives with those closest with us. Check out these simple ideas for starting conversations about sacraments with your spouse, children, friends or relatives:

Sacraments are central to our Catholic faith. We believe that we encounter God in a powerful way through the experiences of baptism, Eucharist, confirmation, reconciliation, anointing of the sick, marriage, and holy orders. And we believe that Christ instituted these seven sacraments in order to share grace with us in powerful and particular ways.

But how often do we talk with our children, spouses, friends, or relatives about the impact of the sacraments in our lives?

This week, take a moment to share a story of sacrament with someone close to you. Invite them to share their own stories or to ask questions of curiosity, especially if they’re not Catholic.

See what happens when we start talking about God’s presence in our lives through the sacraments…

Read the rest at Catholic Mom.

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

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

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

BE GENTLE!

STOP YELLING!!

BE KIND TO EACH OTHER!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

month 5Month 5: A Prayer for Kindness

God of kindness,

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

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

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

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

In kindness I pray,

Amen.

© 2014 Laura Kelly Fanucci

Prayers for all 9 months of pregnancy can be found here at the end of this series.
Please consider passing them along to an expectant mother who could use them!
(And h/t again to Kendra at Catholic All Year for creating the lovely images for these prayers!)