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.

CI-LogoTag-ColorLarge

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.)

ctl cover

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:

 photo 0fd144aa-71a7-45d5-92e7-b6efcae88bef_zpseerwj7xf.png

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!

 photo lent journal2_zpsk2qjanku.jpg

turning a corner

Tomorrow I’m giving my first presentation on my book, Everyday Sacrament.

We’ll be talking about spirituality of parenting and simple practices to connect with God in the chaos of life with children. The sacrament of parenting.

This morning I’m brimming with energy: a little nervous and a lot excited. Tomorrow will be a whole new way of sharing my book with the world, all these hopes and ideas and dreams I’ve pondered in the late-night hours while nursing babies and washing dishes and folding laundry.

Pouring time and energy into writing about everyday parenting as a spiritual practice is a solitary way to spend one’s days.

Lots of stolen moments holed up in my office. Lots of late nights curled around a cup of tea. Lots of wondering – amidst the wildness of chasing three little boys – how God speaks to us in ordinary moments.

It’s not the slickest subject for a blog, not the sexiest subject for a book. But this work resonates so deeply with who I am and what I believe that I know it is a worthy way to spend my time. I know it is a calling.

So I’m eager to make this move now, to shift for a season from writing to speaking. Hoping to invite more people into conversations about the deeper meaning of our vocation as parents.

I’m ready to turn this corner.

. . .

I was so relieved to turn the calendar page to January this year.

2015 feels like fresh air. Deep cleansing breaths. Every slow and simple metaphor that reminds me to pause and take stock of where we have been and where we are going.

The end of 2014 was frantic and frenzied. No child care, lots of work, husband abroad, everyone sick, holiday rush. We lived at an unsustainable pace, and our minds and bodies paid the price. We limped into New Year’s knowing that we needed January 1st.

Maybe more than ever.

Ever since we hung fresh calendars on the kitchen wall, I have felt the turning. We rounded a welcome corner, and we are all better for a new start. The kids are calmer after the holiday sugar-fest has ceased and the presents are put away. The house is settling into sparser, simpler space as we take down decorations.

And I’m relearning the power of inversion. Starting with the important, not the urgent. Catching myself before I slip into old, agitated ways. Watching with wonder as life falls into place more peacefully than when I wrestle with anxious desire to control.

I’m turning habits inside out. Putting people ahead of tasks. Trusting that God will provide the time and space for good to happen.

And it feels so right. Like the awakening inhale of cold morning air that clears the head and opens the eyes.

. . .

We all need to turn corners.

This is why resolutions resonate with us, year after year, isn’t it? Our shared dream of carving out more space to become the person we hope to become.

Sabbath offers us a weekly turning, too. A reminder that we are made for rest, not rush. A call back to God’s ways, not our ways.

I hope you are finding spaciousness in your new year. I hope you are settling into January’s clear horizons with hope.

I hope you are turning corners, too.

The new year always brings us what we want
Simply by bringing us along – to see
A calendar with every day uncrossed,
A field of snow without a single footprint.

- from “New Year’s” by Dana Goia 

P.S. I’ve also freshened up the blog’s look for the new year! For all you lovely email subscribers, I hope you’ll click over and tell me what you think…And if you haven’t yet subscribed to Mothering Spirit, sign up to receive new posts right in your inbox!

what your kids taught me about God

It’s not all about my kids.

I know I’m breaking a cardinal rule of mommy blogging with that one. But this truth runs deep in my tired mama bones:

It’s not about me and mine.

I can’t shake the stubborn, squirming fact that this call to motherhood – this gift I took into two shaking hands when the two lines on the test blurred clear to pregnant and I flung open the bathroom door to tell a father (because he was finally a father!) that everything had changed – this beautiful, exhausting vocation is not simply to the three children whose scuffed shoes are tumbled across our front hall rug.

It’s a call to stretch my heart into a mother’s love for all children.

To burst beyond the limits of what I want to cling to as mine, safe and small. To peer into the pain of how the world’s brokenness crushes millions of hearts like mine – mothers who carried babies and nursed babies and soothed babies and loved babies. To remember how small but mighty shifts can happen once we start seeing each other.

My three wee ones may be the lens through which I view this parenting story, but they are not the whole story. The story is about all of us.

And your children have shaped me, too.

Your kids are starting new schools, clutching those tiny cartooned backpacks or hiding nervous eyes behind teenage bangs. Your kids are braving bullies on the playground or tackling learning disabilities with this year’s IEP.

Your kids are teaching me that God fills us with courage from our earliest days.

Your kids are widening what they know of love, welcoming a new baby or foster sibling into their home. They’re fumbling into tender new friendships after a cross-country move. They’re learning what it means to mourn a grandparent who has gone beyond.

Your kids are teaching me that God’s love is inexhaustible.

Your kids are grown (if any of us can place that verb in past tense). They’re off to college with extra-long twin sheets for the dorm bed or they’re waving goodbye from the International Departures gate. They’re finally starting their first real job and going off your phone plan, or they’re having sweet, small babies of their own.

Your kids are teaching me that God longs for each of us to grow.

Your kids are still not here. They are desperately wanted dreams, slipping just out of reach again this month. They are hopes and glimmers and the mystery of not-yet, but you still love them wildly.

Your kids are teaching me that God is the Source of Life Itself.

Your kids are teaching me because their lives are bound up with mine. And it haunts me, this Body of Christ, this woven-togetherness.

Because what happens when we re-member each other back together is that all the rigid boundaries quiver and crumble. My family. My house. My kids. My life. No. Ours.

One shared stream, and it is one holy blood that pulses in our veins.

sun

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.

She never bore a baby herself, but how many pausing photos have we seen of her, wrinkled eyes smiling, sickly scrawny newborn pressed to her cheek, love touching love in the filth of Calcutta’s gutters?

Teresa understood this truth in flesh and bone, and they called her mother for it.

The children who don’t have enough rice to scrape together for a meal, whose dry tongues crack for clean water to drink, who toss and turn to sleep terrified of gunshots outside or abuse from down the hall – they tug on my heart, too. They have to.

Otherwise I have not changed. I have not let my children change me – these wriggling babies whose bodies were once held within my skin, whose hearts beat beneath mine, whose life was sustained by my own.

And they have changed me mightily. 

So I have to keep probing this uncomfortable truth. It’s not about me and mine. It’s about yours, and theirs, and all the ones I will never know face-to-face.

It has to be ours.

3 things Sam taught me about God

Blond-haired. Blue-eyed. Math-brained. First-born. All things I am not.

And yet this boy, this so-longed-for Samuel – he teaches me about the inner fabric of my own heart and the walls of my soul. By his pushes, by his pulls. Most of all by his tender heart. 

1) Sam taught me that God is a faithful companion.

We waited for Sam. Nearly two years. I’ve written so much about infertility – both here and in my book - that sometimes I’m blinded to the truth that it made me a mother in more ways than one.

Waiting for Sam taught me about the mystery of prayer – that it is not about the answer, but about the asking.

Waiting for Sam taught me about growth through pain – that it is the paschal mystery of dying and rising to a changed way of being.

Waiting for Sam taught me about God’s stubborn companionship – that it is closest to our heart when it feels furthest from our lives.

Yes, we “got” a baby after our years of waiting. But that fact is not what taught me God’s companionship. It was the long Advent before parenthood when I felt God sitting with me, silent and steady in the dark.

I have never forgotten those days, and every time I look at my children – especially sweet Sam – I remember infertility and I remember God’s companionship.

By our waiting, he teaches me.

image

2) Sam taught me that God is a caller.

When it came time to choose our first boy’s name, we loved Samuel right away. Hannah’s story was one we held close to our hearts while we were waiting: her tears and her hope. And her child’s name – because I asked the Lord for him - fit our own gratitude perfectly.

But it was the rest of Samuel’s story that has taught me more about God. That God is still speaking. That the tugs on our heart or the voices in the night may just be nudges from the divine.

When I hear or speak Sam’s name, I hear echoes of the story of Samuel and Eli: Here I am, Lord. I’m reminded to keep listening, to lean on the wisdom of mentors and elders, to trust that I will be led if I respond. And not to be afraid of where I am called.

By his name, he teaches me. 

image

3) Sam taught me that God is ancient and ever-new.

What a blessing and a burden to be the first. (Writes a third-born.) Sam gets to try everything before the others and boast of his size and age, but he also has to break us into parenting every step along the way. I imagine he will delight and struggle with being the first, much like every other first-born I know.

But here’s the thing he teaches me by going first: God is always already there.

Each time Sam reaches a new milestone – and we too, as his parents – I find God in the newness. In this season of school, I am finding God in the widened circle of people who will care for him. I am finding God in Sam’s delight in what he is learning. I am finding God in the freedom of letting him take small steps into the world without me.

There is nothing tired or musty about God. That wild whirl of Spirit energy, born of life and love itself – it brings constant change and surprise.

Of course it can be painful to learn and grow. Of course I’ve stumbled plenty of times along the way, worrying about Sam when I should have been marveling in wonder, wrestling to control what was never mine to wrangle. But I am better for the stretching.

I keep finding God in the surprise of what Sam brings as our trailblazer.

By being the first, he teaches me. 

image

 What have you learned about God from those closest to you – 

your spouse, children, parents, siblings, or friends?

how my kids became my spiritual directors

For those of you who are new here, you might not know that I have a book coming out this fall (eek!!).

Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting (Liturgical Press) is the story of how I came to see ordinary life at home with kids as a way to live out the sacraments we celebrate at church. It’s also a story of infertility and miscarriage and all sorts of stumbles on the path to parenthood.

But mostly it’s the story of how my children have taught me about God in unexpected ways.

Last week I was chatting with a friend about how my letter to couples struggling with infertility went viral and how I struggled to write in the aftermath. After all, our infertility story ended with kids, and that’s what this blog has become: a place to explore parenting as a spiritual practice.

But I kept thinking of all these readers who had written me their own heart-breaking stories of infertility. What words could I share about my life today, crazy in the chaos of children, that would speak to them?

I came away from that conversation with a single clear thought: keep writing what you know is true.

And what I know is true is this: the three small boys who are blessedly napping upstairs while I write – they have become three guides on my spiritual journey.

They are challenging and comforting and constantly coaxing me to ask why.

They make me ask uncomfortable questions about my life and my beliefs.

They give me pause to step back and wonder where God is calling me.

They remind me to slow down and lead me to prayer.

I think of all the wise soul friends who have helped me along the way, and I have to add these three names to my list: Samuel, Thomas, Joseph.

They are the best untrained spiritual directors around.

image

As part of the practical theology project I’ve been working on for 5 years, we’ve created a video series called Lives Explored in which everyday Christians share stories about their sense of calling – to professional work, to relationships, to people and places.

In part of his story, Ken says this:

I am really a firm believer that God will help you with your life if you are open to it. You have to really be open, you have to listen, you have to look, and you have to expect it to come from the strangest places.
Any person you meet, there is something you can learn from them. 

I love how this wise woodworker sums up so succinctly what centuries of saints have studied: the mystery of the presence of the omnipresent God. The truth that even toddlers and kindergarteners and babies can teach adults about the divine.

With Ken’s words echoing in my head, I’ll be sharing – this week & next – three things that each of my kids has taught me about God.

If you’re inspired to sit down & reflect on what the people closest to you have taught you about God, please share your thoughts in the comments. Or add a link to your own blog post below and I’ll post a round-up at the end of next week.

What have you learned about how God loves, forgives, calls, and heals –

from your spouse, children, parents, or friends? 

when the nights were full of promise

My husband and I went to college together. But we didn’t go to college together, you see. In retrospect we figured out that we met during freshman orientation. A failed, forced scavenger hunt mixer between our respective dorms, in which all I remember is lounging on the lawn with one of my budding best friends, laughing snarkily about how those guys over there were so weird but at least they didn’t care about the stupid scavenger hunt either.

But we didn’t start dating until senior year. And only halfway through that.

So whenever we wax nostalgic about college days, we each have our own memories, our own stories, our own epic escapades with our own groups of friends.

Last week we stood outside in the settling dark of a warm summer night. We’d let the dog out before turning to head to bed, all three boys already lost in slumber upstairs.

And as we stood there, barefoot on the edge of another lawn, August grass already curling into early autumn’s brown, I turned to him and asked –

Do you remember when every night was full of possibility? 

When every weekend beckoned with the prospect of an unforgettable night out and unbelievable stories to share with our roommates the next morning. When promise hummed in the late-night air as our group headed for the bar or the party or the dance. When there was always the prospect that tonight might be a night we never forgot – that we’d meet someone, that we’d run into fun just around the next corner, that we’d end up with one of those classic college stories only hilarious to those who were there, who never forgot the mayhem or the nickname that ensued from the night’s events.

When the air was electric with anything possible.

When I think about what changes once college recedes in the rear-view mirror, it is this sense of wide-open prospect that seems farthest gone.

Not only that any evening could turn epic, that even a late-night run to the grocery store could prove entertaining, but that the next class or professor could be the one that changed an interest into a major. That the semester abroad could lead to a career. That the retreat or the alternative spring break or the service project could open up a whole new calling.

Our eyes were open wider than they had ever been before. 

image

And we almost knew it while it was happening. We had a hunch that the alumni who reappeared faithfully for fall football weekends weren’t simply missing friends or classes or campus clubs. They were missing a way of life. The promise of possibility that opens briefly for those of us lucky enough to call a college education our own. The widening of four years in which the world becomes our proverbial oyster and we get giddy off the aphrodisiac.

But of course it cannot last forever.

The choices we all began to make – graduate school and cross-country moves and first jobs and engagements and marriages and babies and houses – they were good and necessary choices. The rest of our life was waiting to happen, beckoning to begin when we stood outside the convocation center, clutching our graduation caps while wild May wind whipped through our hair.

Is every night full of promise and possibility now? At first my instinct says no. These are our tired thirties, after all.

Now nights are full of dirty dishes and diaper changes and wrangling wiggling children into bath and bed, then turning to the disheveled house and the day’s to-dos left unfinished at work, and then how is it 11:30 again? We’re going to be wiped out when the baby wakes us at 5. Let’s get to bed – wait, did you take the dog out and is the dishwasher running and did anyone switch the laundry into the dryer and where did that stack of bills go?

The air around us starts to feel old and tired. The furthest thing from electric.

But sometimes when I try to look with wider eyes, eyes that used to spark at any possibility, eyes that still sense the shadows of what’s most important, even on a dark night under a cloudy sky, I see that maybe the promise of our nights is still there.

Muted tones, softened edges. But still so present.

Every night I get to slip into bed next to that boy I fell in love with when we were 21. Every night one of our children wakes needing something from us – milk or water or simply a snuggle back to sleep. Every night our house stands strong and safe around us. Every night we rest to ready ourselves for another day’s good work.

There’s so much promise brimming there.

Sure, the prospect of possibility looks different at 33 than it did at 22. I’m sure it will shift to change again at 44 and 55 and on and on. Our lives become limited by the choices we make, but these aren’t all harsh constraints. Simply sharper definitions. We become ourselves. Partly the selves we have chosen, partly the selves we have shaped in response to what life has given us.

So perhaps the better question is not where does promise lie but how sharply can our eyes see it?

Back then, footloose and fancy free, we never could have imagined what lay before us. Life’s never this way. Even those easy, eager conversations of oh, I definitely want kids, too that we must have had while first dating – we never dreamed that those breezy hopes would stumble over infertility or miscarriage.

But neither could we have grasped the depths of how all that was tough and hardened would bind us together, closer than we could have glimpsed when we were laughing on that loud dance floor, the night it all began.

. . .

Lately I’ve been mulling over that line from the end of John’s Gospel. Jesus sitting on the shore in the gray light of dawn, staring at the water and telling Peter that when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished.

But - and there is always a but, isn’t there? and you feel Peter cringe because he knows it, too – when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.

And even though our end will never be as dramatic as Peter’s tale will twist, we still sense this truth about adulthood. The truth you cannot grasp when you are on its giddy brink.

You will be taken where you do not wish to go. Your heart will want things it cannot have, and your soul will struggle with truths it does not want. You will be pulled towards people and places you never imagined.

But there can still be promise there, enough possibility to keep you looking skyward even on the dragging days and the darker nights.

As long as your eyes can keep blinking open. Wide enough to see it.

introducing…the book!

First, thanks to all of you who sent so much love with my big announcement last week! I’m floored by your support and can’t wait to share my “baby” with you very soon.

Second, I’ve been getting lots of questions on the details (apparently cryptic reflections on liturgical feasts aren’t enough to satisfy your curiosity?) so I wanted to answer the questions I’ve been getting via email and social media.

What’s the title? What’s it all about?

The book is called Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting.

I call it a spiritual-memoir-meets-parenting-memoir with a twist. It takes the seven Catholic sacraments as a lens for looking at life with little ones in a whole new light. So it’s a sacramental theology from the ground up – the sticky, Lego-strewn, does-anyone-ever-mop-this-floor? ground zero of parenting.

But the book can perhaps be best summed up by this hysterical – unofficial! – trailer that my brother made me. (Ok, actually it’s nothing like this, but I can’t stop laughing when I watch it.) If anyone can catch every single pop culture reference upon first viewing, I will send you an autographed copy of the book:

Who’s the publisher? When is it coming out?

I’m delighted to be working with Liturgical Press, and the book should be out by early fall 2014. Will keep you posted!

And finally, the #1 question I seem to get regarding the book:

How did you find time to write this???

People always want to know how I do this. (I know I’m far from the only mother-writer who gets these baffled looks.) My guess is that it’s the same way any of us make time for the passions we love: stealing spare moments and carving out corners.

But here are five ways I able to write this book (while raising two young kids, working part-time, and surviving a challenging pregnancy or two in the past year):

1) I slacked off elsewhere. I cancelled my gym membership after our second son arrived, and I’ve felt guilty about the lack of exercise ever since. But something’s gotta give in every season of life, and in this stage with little ones underfoot, working out is what I let go. Physically? Not so healthy. Emotionally and spiritually? I’m much happier if I spend my free time on writing. I know someday I’ll have time for regular exercise again, but for now chasing preschoolers and squeezing in yoga will have to suffice.

Also, housekeeping chez nous took a sharp nosedive in early 2013 when I started seriously working on this project, and it has barely recovered. Don’t look too closely at the bathrooms next time you come over. Trust me.

2) I had lots of help. Being blessed with a supportive spouse who sees my writing as a calling makes this work possible. I took a lot of Saturday mornings to write at coffee shops, and he regularly took on the boys’ bath/bedtime routine solo to give me extra hours to write at night. I couldn’t have done this without him.

But I also asked for help from others when I needed it: I paid for a few extra hours of childcare with our sitter when my schedule allowed it, and I leapt at my parents’ offers to watch the kids whenever we were visiting them. Writing a book is a team effort.

3) I learned when I work best. Once I started paying attention to the natural rhythms of my mind and body, I figured when the best times are for me to do creative work: before dawn, between 10 am and noon, and after 9 pm. Now I don’t try to force myself to write during other times of the day, and I find that flow comes much easier.

Of course, my life doesn’t always align with my creative energy. So I stock up on caffeine and chocolate to work during naptime when I’m home with the kids, or I stick to editing tasks during my “off” hours. But knowing when I find flow helps me stop banging my head against a wall when things aren’t going well: I check the clock and decide when to start again later.

4) I organized against my nature. This might contradict my own advice in #3 (know thyself). But I am not a type-A person. I’d much rather enjoy a lazy day, go with the flow, and act spontaneously. Most of the time that doesn’t jive with running a household or raising kids. So over the past year I’ve forced myself – with gritted teeth – to develop some type-A habits.

I methodically meal-plan every week so I never have to come up with dinner ideas at 5:00. I charted all our household chores and made a weekly/monthly schedule so I don’t have to remember what needs to be done. I still bristle at sticking to these uber-organized systems, but they’ve freed up enough precious moments for writing every day to make it worth it.

5) I stuck to a schedule. This is what happens when a humanities major meets an engineer: one person delights in work plans, the other rolls their eyes. But when I got serious about finishing this book in one year, my husband sat down and helped me make a weekly calendar that would allow me to write and edit every single chapter within the allotted months. (I guess this combines #2 – team effort – and #4 – unnatural organization.)

Bless his heart, he hoped I’d track every hour I spent on the project so that I could know exactly how much time it took to write the book. But I will say that knowing exactly what I needed to work on every week, rather than following inspiration’s whim as is my fancy, made it possible to pull off pregnancy + book in a way that surprised even me.

So there you have it: what it is and how I did it. And what a gift this opportunity has been – I am so humbled and excited by how everything has worked out. I can’t wait to see what this year will bring…