the holy sacrifice of the mess

In French, the word for the Catholic Mass is “la messe.”

First as a student and then as a resident of France, this translation always struck me as slightly irreverent. I understood its Latin roots (Ite, missa est – “Go forth, the Mass is ended” – gives the same root of the word for both French and English). But every time my roommates asked if I was going to “la messe,” the word always landed awkwardly on my Anglo ears.

Because Mass was anything but messy! Quiet and calm, peaceful and prayerful: these were the mot juste to describe Sunday mornings.

Way back then – in cool stone churches full of holy hush, pews lined with the reverent faithful, prayers intoned with perfect pitch, solemn and sacred – the whole point of Mass was that it was a foretaste of heaven.

And I soaked up its beauty like the bright-eyed girl that I was.

Now? Mass is a mess. With two squirming kids in the pew and a bored baby in our arms, we are living a different definition of that French faux-translation. Stuff gets dropped, spilled, scattered, and torn. Tears are shed, fits are thrown, whispers turn to shouts and (worse) screams.

But lately, as my husband and I try to stay faithful to the parental duty of herding cats in the pew while we half-hear the homily, I find myself seeing this holy sacrifice reflected in a whole new light.

Because our life at home is a mess, too.

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No sooner is Mount Laundry conquered than the baby soaks the sheets. No sooner is the kitchen floor mopped than muddy sneakers smudge trails from the back door. No sooner are the bathrooms scrubbed spotless than they are invaded by an eager tooth-brusher, a reluctant hand-washer, or – worst of all worst – a sick child who almost made it to the toilet.

We adults try to keep up, but kids rule the roost when it comes to livable levels of clean.

Translation? La messe.

Living in the mess can be a sacrifice. I idolize living without clutter, but I am called to live within chaos right now. Because the contours of my life these days circle around three small children and all the work that comes with loving, teaching, feeding, cleaning, and caring for them. This is the sacrifice I’m called to – to let go of my need for control and to let growing children live in all their wonderful mess around me.

It will not always be this way. Some day I will clean the house, and it will stay sparkling for a week. Some day I will have a single laundry day rather than an hour each evening spent washing, drying, and folding whatever three small bodies have produced. Some day, I hope, I will be delighted to discover how my grandchildren turn the house upside down with their visits, too.

But today? We are living in the holy sacrifice of the mess. 

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Sometimes I catch glimmers of what an un-messy life once was or what it might be again. The shiny kitchen counter after I wipe it clean at the end of the night. The quiet moment of prayer in a suddenly empty house after everyone rushes outside to play.

But such moments are rare. More often I am right in the messy middle. And I have to remind myself – a hundred times today, a thousand times tomorrow – that God is here, too. I wrote these words to myself in Everyday Sacrament, and perhaps I wrote them for you, too, that “if I’m honest, the God-in-chaos is the God I meet more often.”

So can I let my expectations slide in the church pew along with me? To embrace the holy sacrifice of the mess there, too?

I’m trying. I catch the eyes of tired parents around us, and I know they are, too. We smile ruefully at each other while we wrangle a runner heading up for the altar or a toddler toppling over the back of the pew. We know this is hard and holy work, living the sacrifice here and the sacrifice at home.

And we’re trying to trust – perhaps as all of us do who try to follow in faith – that the outward chaos of our lives does not define our inner center. Because a life full of love and service and sacrifice does not have to look beautiful to be good.

So into the mess we go, where life is still holy. Are you there, too?

Ite, missa est.

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the blog book tour: day 7. fumbling toward grace

All good things must come to an end.

So here we are at the last stop of the Everyday Sacrament book tour.

EverydaySacrament_quote4To say that this virtual gathering of bloggers and friends has been a joy would be an understatement. Each one of them has inspired and encouraged me, and I hope they have affirmed the ordinary holiness of your own life, too.

November and December have been a stressful season chez nous. We’ve had big work deadlines, no child care, international trips, sick kids, broken appliances – you name it, and it feels like we’re floundering.

And in the midst of this already crazy chaos, here came this beautiful little gift of a book showing up on our doorstep. All at once I felt humbled and honored – and overwhelmed, to be honest – by the prospect of sharing this slice of my heart with the wider world.

So when all these kindred spirits, each of them mother-writers in their own right, agreed to help me share the news of this book, I was reminded again what a gift this community of bloggers has become in my life. I’m grateful that each of them let Everyday Sacrament into their homes and hearts. And I hope that through their words, you discovered some new kindred spirits, too.

Today Sarah from Fumbling Toward Grace offers a prophetic reflection on parenting, baptism, racism, and justice. 

I’m always inspired by Sarah’s honesty and heart for Catholic social teaching, and today’s post is a shining example of her committed, courageous faith. If you never dreamed that baptism had anything to do with Ferguson, click here to remember the prophetic roots of this sacrament.

And if you missed any of the earlier stops in the tour, check out the full list of reflections, reviews, and giveaways!

Day 1: Ginny from Random Acts of Momness
Day 2: Abbey from Surviving Our Blessings
Day 3: Lydia from Small Town Simplicity
Day 4: Nell from Whole Parenting Family
Day 5: Peg from Sense of the Faithful
Day 6: Molly from Molly Makes Do
Day 7: Sarah from Fumbling Toward Grace

[AND NOW, gentle reader, I PROMISE THAT I AM GOING TO BLOG ABOUT STUFF OTHER THAN SACRAMENTS AND THIS BOOK!]

When I find time again.

Which will likely be in 2015.

(Because let’s be honest.)

Love & light to you & yours this Advent-tide!

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.

the blog book tour: day 4! whole parenting family

General consensus holds that Nell at Whole Parenting Family may be the most encouraging blogger the Internet has ever known.

It is a gift to call her friend and a riot to watch our behemoth six-month olds drool at each other while their older siblings run wild and feign polite play together. (Some day they will all be in therapy for the things their mothers wrote about them online, so we are glad to encourage budding friendships from a young age.)

Nell embodies graciousness and hospitality, both online and In Real Life, and it is a delight to have her kicking off Week Two of the blog book tour for Everyday Sacrament!

Nell is not only the queen of crunchy living and sage parenting philosophies, and the creator of gorgeous baby items at her Etsy shop, she’s also a genius at giveaways. So head over to win a copy – or one to give as a gift! 

(While you’re there, check out her hysterical photo of aforementioned baby Goliaths. Our almost birthday twins – one day apart!)

And tune in tomorrow for stop #5 on the Everyday Sacrament Express.

Which, coincidentally, you wonderful readers have helped to sell out on Amazon once again! So visit Liturgical Press to buy directly – and the best part? 30% off with the EVERYDAY promo code through January 15th. Can’t beat a Christmas shopping deal.

the book blog tour – day 3: small town simplicity

Lydia’s blog is one of my absolute favorites of the whole blog-o-sphere.

Even when I cut back on blog reading, I always make sure to stop by Small Town Simplicity for her gentle words and peaceful encouragement, both for mothering’s hard days and the challenges of the Christian life in general.

Lydia’s voice is warm and welcoming and wise (I think she’s the next Ann Voskamp, honestly). And even though on the surface, our stories probably seem quite different – she’s a Lutheran homeschooling mom of six-going-on-seven – I feel like she is absolutely a kindred spirit.

In the best Anne Shirley sense of the term.

I’m especially grateful today for her perspective on how this book’s seemingly very Catholic subject – the seven sacraments – still resonated deeply with her as a Christian and a parent.

Today Lydia is hosting the Everyday Sacrament book tour with a review and giveaway. So if you don’t yet have a copy, click over to win one of your own!

(But I think you should stick around and soak up Lydia’s words, too. Trust me, you won’t regret this peaceful pause in your Advent.)

Next week the book tour will continue with four more stops, starting on Tuesday. Happy Advent-ing till then!

an advent book club: week one {hoping}

EverydaySacrament_quote1“…and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
(Romans 5:5)

This week we’re reading in Everyday Sacrament:

  • “Parenting Toward Possibility”
  • “The Spirit’s Flashes”
  • “To My Children, Called in Childhood”

We hear a lot about hope during Advent. It’s a season full of hope: happy hearts looking toward the gifts and gatherings of Christmas, prayers of plenty and peace singing on the radio.

Especially at the beginning of December, when we’re not yet tired of snow or stressed by shopping, it’s easy to hum along with hope. This will be a great season. This will be the best year yet.

But hope is a hard thing, isn’t it?

Infertility taught me this in spades. We hoped month after month after month that the simple dream we wanted would be ours. But we had to keep waiting much longer than we wanted. And we learned that hope was much harder to hold than we thought.

Hope is a tough stance to take towards the world, to wake up every morning with an openness and expectation that good can come, even when all evidence points towards the contrary.

Now I think hope is something entirely different from what I knew as a child, dreaming that Santa would bring my heart’s desire under the tree on Christmas morning.

Now I think hope is crazy and prophetic and impossible and nourishing. Now I think it is the only way I can live in the world as a Christian, to hope in goodness, even though it’s also the hardest thing to do as I learn more and more about the world’s brokenness and jagged imperfection.

Hope is a humbling and hard and holy gift.

. . .

Let’s chat over wine and chocolate – like any good book club!

  • What do you hope for and from this Advent season?

I hope to find some pockets of peace this Advent. Life was such a whirlwind in November, between the good work (the book coming out!) and the hard work (the child care disappearing!). All I hope from December is to carve out quiet space and time to center myself in God’s peace.

(Ok, and I also hope we find an awesome new nanny and I finish Christmas shopping before December 24th. You know, the little things.)

  • Where have you glimpsed God’s flashes of hope this week?

I’m glimpsing God’s hope in friends who are praying this month will finally bring the gift of conceiving the child they have hoped for years to welcome into their lives.

And I see God’s hope in the ways so many people I know are working hard to create a joyful Christmas for other people who are suffering deeply this year. Generous souls are hope-bearers for me.

  • What are your hopes for the children in your life this Advent?

I hope my kids enjoy the expectation of Advent and our small practices of preparing for Christmas. I hope they learn a little more about the love of the Christ Child. Mostly I hope we can keep this season simple for them.

What about you? Leave your thoughts on hope in the comments below.

. . .

And if you want to read more about hoping…