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.


. . .

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.


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.


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.


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: 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!

celebrating: 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. Meg Cox got us thinking about celebrating. Here’s my take.

September 2012 124We pulled into the driveway – our new driveway! – grinning ear to ear, grimy hands on the steering wheel, the same hands that had held the pens to sign the deed on our new house an hour before.

And here we were: home.

It was a gorgeous spring day, end of April, full of sun and budding green. We spread out a blanket on our front lawn – our new lawn! – and made a picnic for dinner. No furniture was moved inside yet, so the soft grass was our table and chairs. And the meal was simple – sandwiches for a quick dinner. But it tasted delicious: a family milestone, a sacred moment of starting a new home.

So when it came time to celebrate one year in our new house, we knew exactly what we had to do. Swing by Jimmy John’s, spread the blanket on the grass, recreate our first meal. As we chewed our sandwiches while the sun set, I smiled at my husband. “We should do this every year,” I said. “To celebrate the anniversary of being here. Being home.”

This is how family traditions start: small and silly. Fast-food on the front lawn – nothing fancy. But if we do it every April, if we repeat the ritual and retell the story of the first day this house became our home, then it becomes a real celebration.

It says something about who we are and what we love. It tells a chapter in our family story.

So many celebrations are daunting prospects for parents: find the perfect presents for Christmas; create the elaborate birthday of their dreams. But I’m noticing that my favorite celebrations with my kids are the small, simple ones. The ones that spring up organically and help us mark the seasons in a special way, unique to our family.

What small celebrations do you celebrate in your family? What unique traditions did you love growing up?

. . .

We’re off to celebrate a big moment in our extended family, so I won’t be posting here for the next week while we’re celebrating together. But I’ll be back soon with the next installment in this series – a wonderful author you won’t want to miss!

And I want to wish you a wonderful Mother’s Day, whether you are celebrated for the work you do as a mom or whether you celebrate the women who have mothered you along the way.

May we all be blessed and be blessings to each other, held in the love of God’s Mothering Spirit

how we spend our time: celebrating

NewFamilyTraditionsCOVERToday I’m thrilled to welcome Meg Cox, author of The Book of New Family Traditions: How To Create Great Rituals for Holidays and Every Day. Her book is an irresistible treasure trove of ideas for celebrating big and small moments with kids of all ages.

Meg has gathered ideas from families of diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds, so no matter what your cultural or spiritual tradition, there are heaps of creative, easy, inspiring ways to celebrate and ritualize the moments that matter.

I had long eyed Meg’s book in Chinaberry’s catalog, and when I saw that the book was now revised and updated for its ten-year anniversary, I had to grab it. As soon as I finished devouring the book – dog-earing so many ideas I want to try with my kids – I knew she would be a perfect addition for this series on How We Spend Our Time.

Whether we’re planning a birthday party or wondering how to brighten up a long winter with a new family tradition, this is an important way we spend our time as parents: celebrating. Enjoy Meg’s insights on how families of all kinds celebrate life’s small and monumental moments with creativity and love:

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

Ritual time is intense time, and it doesn’t have to take a long time to mean a lot. You may spend only a half hour together at dinner, but eating together often, keeping the conversation flowing and having at least one good laugh together creates a very strong bond. I used to pack an enormous amount into 20 minutes at bedtime, including one or two stories, a prayer, and a special good night to everyone in the extended family.


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

I’ve tried very hard to work intensely while my son is at school, so I won’t be closed off, in the middle of interviews or deadline writing, when he comes home. I also try to model keeping all tech devices away from meals and family time: when we are together, we truly are, together.

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

For this and my other books about family traditions, I’ve interviewed families from many different faith backgrounds, and I think it’s extremely powerful to have one’s religious faith threaded through all sorts of daily and weekly rituals.

I interviewed a family once that tithed even when they played Monopoly: when you pass Go, you set $20 aside for charity. Now that paper money doesn’t feed a homeless person, but it sure sends a message about making sharing a constant habit.


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

There are many ways I love to spend time with my family, including summer vacations that usually include some time at the Jersey shore. We are all book-lovers, and enjoy a vacation where we can do a lot of reading.

But as my son got older, into his teens, I really learned to love spending time with him in the car, just the two of us, because it’s easier for teenagers to talk without looking a parent in the eye! This also works if you are fixing dinner together, or dyeing Easter eggs or frosting Christmas cookies, because there is a shared focus and not a parent-clamping-down-on-kid atmosphere.

. . .

Meg Cox-small headshotYour chance to win! Meg has generously offered a signed copy of her book for one reader of Mothering Spirit. Leave a comment below about a special tradition your family celebrates.

Entries must be received by midnight CST on Friday, May 3rd.

Be sure to visit Meg’s website as well as her Facebook page for more resources and new traditions!

the loveliness of laughter

I once wrote that childhood is full of tears. And it is.

But while I watch my two boys grow and see their sense of humor stretch each day like little spring seedlings sprouting out of the earth, I remember how childhood is full of laughter, too.

We laugh every day in this house. At funny faces and silly words. At goofy games of peek-a-boo and chase-to-tickle. At jumping on the bed and running down the hall and hiding in the curtains and banging on the table and singing in the bathtub.

My favorite moments as a mother are when the deep belly chuckles of boys still too young to hold back squeals of glee bounce off the walls and echo in my ears.

What a gift to have all this time and space to laugh. Childhood’s magic reminds us – we who live in the grown-up world of deadlines and to-do lists, of death and taxes – what it means to delight in life’s simple joys.

Today I’m posting over at Lydia’s lovely blog, Small Town Simplicity. Her beautiful, wise writing on motherhood is some of my favorite stuff on the Interwebs. As she and her family “babymoon” with their latest addition, I’m delighted to share a few thoughts on humility and humor at home:

Watching them take their first steps towards the art of humor not only makes me burst out laughing every day, but also teaches me about the important place of humor in our relationships.

Often it is when we relate to each other on this most delightful level that we learn what humility really means: that we are all grounded in the same “humus,” the same earthy joys and basic desires to be in right relationship with each other.

Read the rest at Small Town Simplicity, and be sure to check out the rest of Lydia’s blog while you’re there!

how to nurture your mothering spirit – check out the series!


What a lovely way this has been to kick off 2013, with weekly reflections from wise women on how they nurture their mothering spirits in busy seasons of parenting.

The last installment in the series will be coming this Wednesday – from yours truly – so in the meantime, check out any posts you may have missed.

Here’s a look back through the past few months…

Nell shared a story of discovering sewing as a way to connect with God in the midst of parenting little ones.

Maureen invited us to join her in a hot cup of chai and a quiet moment of simple pleasures.

Melissa wove her story of learning to embrace centering prayer as a connection with the Divine within.

Lydia considered hands-on crafts like knitting, sewing and baking as ways to enjoy the quiet process of creating alone.

Kate offered a number of simple and creative ideas for nurturing her spirit as a pregnant mama.

Peg evoked the practice of greeting the morning darkness as spiritual self-care while parenting teenagers.

Mihee reflected on life as one big inconvenience and how we encounter God in the unexpected moments.

Leanne wrote about her love of writing and the catharsis of processing motherhood’s challenges through her words.

Roxane evoked the healing powers of pot roast and how we need to nourish ourselves in order to care for others.

Ginny described her writing desk and the need for a private space at home to call her own.

I’m deeply grateful to each of these kindred spirits for sharing their wisdom and words with us here! Please be sure to visit their blogs in turn, where you’ll find even more nourishment for your spirit and soul…

Tune in Wednesday for the culmination of the series. And if you’ve caught up on all these wise and wonderful reflections, take a minute to explore the latest redesign of Mothering Spirit and let me know what you think!

how i nurture my mothering spirit – ginny

In the classic girls’ book Betsy-Tacy Go Downtown by Maud Hart Lovelace, Betsy’s mother understands the creative process. She gives her daughter an old trunk to use as a writing desk, a special place where Betsy can sit and be alone and pen stories to her heart’s content.

“Betsy’s mother was a great believer in people having private places,” says the narrator.

Betsy’s mother gets it.

I, too, have a private desk of my own. It’s a brown desk in the bedroom, pushed up against the corner where two windows meet. Ever since my second child was born, it has been the place where I go to pray, to read, to write.

It’s a place that is mine and mine alone: the only place in the house where this is so.

Motherhood is all about sharing: sharing one’s time, one’s energy, one’s body, one’s last Kleenex. I would not have it any other way, because all that sharing has stretched me in ways that nothing else could have done. My two young boys are worth every bit of it, and more.

But, like many of us, I still need a small piece of physical space to call my own.

ginny desk

On the writing desk, I’ve put all kinds of special items and trinkets. There are family photos, a small statue of Mary that I bought in Lourdes, a Valentine card sent to us by a dear friend the year that she died. There is a quotation from Hemingway that always jumpstarts my writing process. There are candles to light and books for inspiration. In the desk drawer is a rosary – two, actually – for times when I need the soothing repetition of prayers I know by heart.

The desk is like a little shrine of all the things that sustain me: family, friends, faith, reading, writing.

It’s my own space, and it is capable of working wonders. A few candlelit minutes there in the evening are enough to slow my breathing and help me pick off the burrs of stress that routinely attach themselves to my day.

Whether I pray, or read, or write, or just stare off into space, that desk reminds me that I have an inner life worth cultivating and tending. It’s a reminder that although I am a wife and a mother and a teacher and a writer, underneath it all, I’m always me.

And I’m a more peaceful me when I let myself be nourished in – and nourished by – this special private place.

 . . .

Ginny Kubitz Moyer is a writer, teacher, and mother. She is the author of the new book Random MOMents of Grace: Experiencing God in the Adventures of Motherhood. She blogs at RandomActsofMomness.com.

how to let the fruit ripen

Full confession: our kitchen fruit basket is where produce goes to die.


Maybe you have this problem, too. Each trip to the grocery store finds the counter fully stocked with too-firm bananas, too-green avocados, the occasional treat of a peach or pear waiting to be savored.

Early in the week I find myself hovering over the bowl, waiting for the fruit to be ready. But before I know it, bananas become spotted and soft, avocados squishy and dark, the precious peach or pear ready to rot.

It seems to take so long for the fruit to ripen, but if I’m not careful I miss my chance to enjoy it.

There’s metaphor hidden here, heaped upon the privileged problem of having so much food that it can go to waste. But when I meditate on this Sunday’s Gospel – the parable of the barren fig tree – the deepest truth it speaks to my life right now is patience.

Patience towards ripening fruit.

I look at these little boys running around my house, knocking into my knees and climbing all over my couches. It can be so hard to stay present to them, not to pull forward to days when we’ll be able to have two-sided conversations or leave the house for a whole afternoon without needing naps. Sometimes I want them to ripen quickly so I can enjoy them fully.

But I know this season of green, of tenderness, of waiting to burst into bloom is a fleeting time. I know that too soon they will be more than ready to wrestle out of my reach and rush into a world ripe for their discovery.

I don’t want to hover over them too closely or hold them too tightly. But I do want to witness their maturing and unfolding, not miss it in the blur of my impatience, always straining to see what’s next around the corner.

I want to cultivate patience towards their slow but certain growth.

. . .

This week I’m posting over at Practicing Families – a wonderful new resource for parents interested in exploring faith with children – with ideas for a family liturgy based on this Sunday’s fig tree gospel.

Simple practices to break open a parable about patience and forgiveness and second chances. Lessons I need to learn and relearn each day of this parenting journey.

Each day that I sigh and wonder why the fruit hasn’t ripened yet.

God, be patient with us as we grow good fruit.
Open our eyes to see how we are growing each day.
God, be patient with us as we grow good fruit.
Help us to forgive one another when we fail.
God, be patient with us as we grow good fruit.
Let us offer each other second chances.
God, be patient with us as we grow good fruit.
Wait patiently with us as we work to bear fruit.
God, be patient with us as we grow good fruit.

(a prayer for the Third Week of Lent)

how i nurture my mothering spirit – roxane

The Healing Powers of the Pot Roast

In the early part of November 2012, I experienced a profound moment of healing by spoon.

It functioned like salve on my weary mother’s soul – a bowl of pot roast made by my sweet mother-in-law.

She’d prepared the roast and its accompanying vegetables in her Crockpot the night before, the overnight simmering of soup and juices from the meat producing a scrumptious gravy that would have had world-class chefs swooning.

roxane potroast

While the rest of my family was occupied in other spaces – the youngest of them splashing in a nearby hotel pool – I’d found a moment to steal away into the quiet of our dining room to eat what was left of the roast, most of which had been nearly completely devoured earlier by hungry men.

Sitting in the dimly-lit room, breathing deeply, slowly now, I prepared to consume the first homemade meal I’d had in months.

Comfort food, they call it, and this moment made it true for me. With each delectable bite, restoration was beginning.

For nearly a year I’d been trying to do the impossible, working outside the home with five kids still needing so much more of me than I could offer with my attention elsewhere.

But now, after weeks of discernment, I’d made the difficult decision to resign from what had seemed, by all accounts, my dream job. It would mean giving up a paycheck that had lightened our financial load but brought extra responsibilities that weighed down my heart, causing my middle child to utter one day, “You’re not a being a mom anymore.”

I’d done what I could to rearrange the pieces of my life to accommodate all, but came up short. The emotional, spiritual and even physical effects were manifesting themselves, and I had to ask myself whether the job was worth risking an illness that could remove me from life altogether.

Ironically, the kitchen, which I consider the heart of the home, was a room I avoided like the plague during that year. I knew that if I entered, I wouldn’t make it out without depleting the extra energy I needed to push through my busy days.

Fast food had become normal; my oven, a neglected appliance. The dining room was a place to linger only as long as was necessary to gulp down a slice of pizza or a burger.

But sitting before that bowl of real food made with loving hands, placed gently in a warmer and transported 120 miles to our home earlier that day, had reintroduced me to the place where my heart longed most to be.

A few days after leaving the job, I prepared my own slow-cooked meal, and as I scooped out portions to each family member, a surge of love and joy took hold. I was ready now to feed my family, both in food and through my presence in ways that had not been possible for far too long.

And in the midst of it, I became aware that if not for that wonderfully nourishing meal several weeks earlier, the moment would have passed unappreciated. In that gift of warm sustenance, I’d been given a poignant reminder that we cannot offer others something we haven’t first taken in ourselves.

In doing whatever is necessary to create space in our days to ensure we’re nourished, we’ll have something to offer back those we love. And they, in turn, will give to others when it’s time.

A potato, a carrot, a tender chunk of meat – the healing powers of the pot roast.

A bowl full of love that wooed me back to life.

. . .

roxane headshotRoxane Salonen lives in Fargo, N.D., with her husband and five children, ages seven to 17. A church cantor, book reader and coffee drinker, she also works as a faith columnist and features writer for her city’s daily newspaper.

Roxane is the author of two children’s picture books – First Salmon and P is for Peace Garden: A North Dakota Alphabet. Find her pondering on “faith, family and following the muse” at Peace Garden Mama: roxanesalonen.blogspot.com/


September 2012 021

The boys and I have been playing lots of piano lately. (Or I should say: I play while one bounces on my lap and the other bangs on the bass or slams on the treble, depending on his inspired accompaniment.)

During the day we play all the old favorites, the childhood standbys: This Old Man, The Itsy-Bitsy Spider, every tune Woody Guthrie ever dreamed up. The toe-tapping, hand-clapping, doesn’t-matter-if-mama-messes-up-that-key-change-we’re-rolling music that I always dreamed would come when we had a piano in the house.

But at night, after the winter sky sinks dark and the boys are wrapped in bed, I’ve been sneaking down to play alone.

Foot pressed down on the damper pedal so I don’t wake them, I settle into my own old favorites: the Beethoven and Mozart of high school, the Rachmaninoff and Chopin of college. A practice equal parts delightful and frustrating; nothing so humbling as seeing how quickly skill slips away without careful attention.

If I want to sit down and race through a piece without thinking, I’m stuck back around 9th grade for now. To tackle anything I touched in college, I have to take a deep breath and go slow, no matter the marking. Lentissimo.

And if I do slow my rhythm down, slow way down, painfully slower than my normal pace, then and only then do my fingers relax into what they can handle. My mind relaxes, too, slipping back into the deep memory of what these fingers still know: the tricky passages, the troublesome chords. My hands, my feet, my whole body can remember how to play, but only if I slow way down. Lentissimo.

What do I bring to Lent this time around? What do I crave, what do I need? Where is God’s call to go deeper, draw closer?

What might I find if I slow way down into the space set apart, step out of life’s ever-tempting swirls of more-more-more and remember how often I encounter God when I do less?

What would happen if I go lentissimo into Lent this year, simply slow down and let my mind, body, spirit and soul re-remember their way in this world?

It’s aggravating work, this deliberate halting, this restraint of a racing mind and antsy fingers. Lent is aggravating, too, when done right. Why not just binge on chocolate and gorge on Facebook and neglect prayer and forget about justice and ignore the nagging thought of millions of millions who will not settle into such a peaceful sleep as mine tonight?

Lent is humbling, hard work. I need to go slowly and deliberately into these forty days, if I go at all. Lentissimo.