how to choose life today (wait, you already did)

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…I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life
Deuteronomy 30:19

You already did it today.

When you rolled over and kissed your husband good morning. Or when you threw on that old bathrobe and trooped down the hall to feed the baby. Or when you scrambled eggs for the kids before they caught the bus. Or when you bought your co-worker a coffee on the drive to work. Or when you held the door for the person behind you as you walked into class from the freezing cold.

You chose life.

It didn’t feel like it, did it? The small stuff never does. But right there in that tired moment, that ordinary instant, that moving-on-to-the-next-thing rush, you chose life. You chose Christ.

Every day the choice is set before us a thousand times. Life or death. Good or evil.

Not only in the dramatic decisions or the public protests or the election year ultimatums, but in the thousand tiny choices set before us to do good each day. To choose love. To serve others.

And it matters that you choose life…

Click to read the rest of today’s devotion at Blessed Is She.

lent: what we need is here

And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.

– from “The Wild Geese” by Wendell Berry

Deep breath. Eyes closed. Flying leap.

Each new Lent feels like this. Jumping into the unknown. Flinging ourselves into the arms of the divine. Wondering where on earth we will end up.

We know it ends at the cross and the empty tomb. But the deeper journey into these 40 days? It can wind into unexpected places. Darkest corners and lightest hopes.

If we take the journey, we will be led. This is always Lent’s promise.

What we need is here.

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Ash Wednesday starts out this season of surprises.

Churches are packed even though there’s no obligation. Long lines wind down the aisles. Strangers smudge dirt on each other’s foreheads. We tell small children they are mortal dust.

Each year I write about Ash Wednesday. A mother’s prayer to mark the day. A reflection on motherhood and mortality. Thoughts on tragedies global and local that cross Lent’s path.

It is a mysterious and moving day of the year for me. Maybe you feel it, too. The shifting ground beneath our feet. The uncertainty that shudders when we let go of comfort and clinging old ways. I resist change; I need it more than ever.

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Last night at dinner we talked with our kids about subjects rarely broached at supper with young ones. Prayer and penance and poverty. Why we make sacrifices. Why God asks us to share with those in need.

I looked around the table and realized that these are my companions on Lent’s journey: a kindergartener, a preschooler, and a bouncing baby. My life is not a monastery. This is exactly where I’m meant to be.

Right here in our daily chaos, this is my prayer this year: to be quiet in heart, and in eye clear.

What we need is here.

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As I make my plans for Lent, I’m reminded of my own advice to lower expectations, make small time for short prayer, get creative in easy ways. 

One of my favorite Lenten posts is running this week at Call Her Happy – How to Live Lent as A Busy Mom. I’m grateful that Jenna gave me the chance to remember this season is lived within the contours of our own lives.

I try to let go of the expectation that I can pray like a monk in an abbey with all the time, space, and place set neatly before him. That’s not my life. Nor is it my call.

Instead, I can pray like a busy mother. 

I can take two minutes to greet the day with a whispered word of thanks. I can share a short morning prayer with my kids when they wake up. I can bless our food at meals and remember those who will go without today. I can pray with my kids on the drive to school and in the quiet of their rooms before bed. I can slow down in the day’s whirlwind to give thanks for the gifts in my life.

I don’t have an hour to meditate, but I have hours with many small moments I can fill with a word of blessing, praise, or petition. In this season of my life, that is what I have to give.

And I think God, who cares for us all like a loving parent, understands and blesses that truth.

(Click over to Call Her Happy to read more…)

Lent will give us what we need, if we let it. This is the holy, humbling truth.

Deep breath. Head bowed. Ashes traced. Prayers whispered.

What we need is here. 

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.

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.

start seeing sacraments: eucharist

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

sacraments. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

start seeing sacraments: confirmation

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

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

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

But do we ever get it?

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

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

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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