the trash tells the story

A month ago I ran into a friend as we were both rushing into church from the whipping winter wind. She held the door for me, and I sprinted inside, breathing steam. As we shivered in the entryway, trying to warm up, she said, “Oh! I meant to tell you – I read your book. I liked it!”

“And wow, it was really personal.”

I stumbled through an awkward thank you and mumbled some self-deprecating snark about hope my kids won’t sue me for those stories. But as we kept talking and wound our way down the hallway, my stomach slunk a little lower.

Because I’ve heard comments like hers before, and I know what they mean.

You’re telling stories I’m not used to hearing.

You’re writing words I’m not used to reading.

. . .

There are plenty of topics I’ve written about – in my book or on this blog or elsewhere – that could make people blush. Sex, pregnancy, miscarriage, infertility, depression, death, and grieving.

(To say nothing of everyday stories of lost tempers, harsh words, parenting fails.)

All of this is part of “parenting as spiritual practice,” in the way I understand parenting, faith, and spirituality. Writing, too. Truth-telling is hard and holy work. Honesty is rough, but essential. Because beauty only blooms when barriers come down and we see each other, face to face.

Sometimes I envy novelists. Fiction is the highest form of writing’s art, in my opinion: not only to tell a story well, but to create characters and craft a whole world. But that’s not the kind of writing I’m called to do. It’s not the story I want to tell.

I’m steeped in narrative theology. When I started reading about it in graduate school, it felt so obvious. Wasn’t it precisely in our lives and our experiences that we came to know God? This is the way I have always understood faith. So I loved finding a body of theology to back up my hunch – that we can find our way to the universal through the personal. That we can find our way to the divine through the human.

And yet.

I’m still wary of sharing too much. My beloved ones become characters in a book when I write about them. I worry about this.

I try to stick to my own story, but lives inevitably intersect – family, friends, strangers. I have to proceed with prayer and care in the ways that I tell a tale authentically, so that I don’t cause pain or betray trust or cross a line.

All in the name of telling a good and true and – yes – personal story.

. . .

My first essay was recently published at Mamalode. It tells a story of the most mundane subject: the trash.

We’ve all got trash, heaps of it. The clinking spill of wine bottles in the recycling bin after a party. The cardboard box bonanza following Christmas cleanup. The Kleenex mountains during cold season, the gift wrap crumbles during birthday week, the pious piles of de-hoarding inspired by spring cleaning.

We empty baskets and drag bins out to the curb once a week. But when do we stop to see what story the trash tells about our lives?

When I finally dragged the whole mess out to the garbage can, sweltering in the August sun, I cried as I dumped its contents into the gaping mouth of the dark brown bin. That was the story of our baby. Gone.

While cramping with cruel empty labor on the cold bathroom floor, I had yanked the wastebasket over toward me so I could throw up. In my panicked haste, I had chipped the smooth curve of its bottom rim on our bathroom tile. Every morning since that day, I have stared at the wastebasket’s chipped edge.

A jagged reminder of the baby that died.

Click to read the rest at Mamalode.com

The only way I know how to write is to tell my own story.

It will be personal. It will not be everyone’s cup of tea. But it might be yours. And you, the ones who read, you are the reason I keep going.

You are the reason I sit down here and try to tell some small truth about what I’m learning on this long walk – of parenting, of faith, of the spiritual life.

You are the reason I’m not afraid to get personal.

Because if something I tell in a story might touch your own life, might help you feel less alone, might let light in through the cracks, then we will change each other for the better. We will help each other become more human.

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when you’ve done everything the wrong way

I sat there squirming in my seat, fingers cramping from writing too fast, frantically trying to scribble down everything she said.

Publicity must done be in advance of publication; six months minimum if you want anyone to notice; early early early is all that matters

A solitary Saturday, a workshop with writers, a warm cup of tea in one hand and a copy of a book I’d written in the other. I thought it had the makings of a perfect morning.

Instead my head spun as the expert kept advising about agents and interviews and networking and advance reviews. While the only coherent phrase I could conjure was that stupid cliché: drinking from a fire hose. Gulp.

When the workshop slammed up against the clock and skidded to a halt, I skittered out of the classroom before anyone else had even snapped shut their sleek laptops. I called my husband from the snowy parking lot, stamping my boots free of slush, trying to laugh it off: I guess I should have been here a year ago. Oh well.

But as I drove home, coaxing my scattered thoughts back into settled silence, all I could think was that it felt so familiar. That frantic sense of feeling so lost, so stretched, so overwhelmed, so far behind the game that had only just begun.

It felt like when I first became a mom.  

. . .

Maybe you are blessed with uber-confident friends, but pretty much every parent I know is convinced they’re screwing up somehow.

I used to think it was unavoidable in these blurry early years, when everything is brand-new and we’re all amateurs and our training is on the job.

So many small stumbles. The night I lost my temper at a sleepless baby only to learn he was cutting shining pearls of new teeth. Or the week I was convinced the toddler was misbehaving and it turned out he had a double ear infection. The days I hollered at one child and the culprit turned out to be the other one.

Mini mistakes in the long run. But in those sinking moments, it still felt like I’d failed the ones who had been entrusted to me. Like I’d done exactly the opposite of what they needed.

But as years passed, I started listening to all those older and wiser and calmer parents, the ones I hope I might become someday. Turns out they feel they’ve done plenty wrong, too. Too little or too late, too much or too long. What can you do but forgive yourself?

Rare is the sweet spot sensation, the celebratory whoop of having nailed it. More familiar is the fumbling, the floundering, the fudging of our own uncertainty under a thin but hopeful veneer. We’re trying. Tomorrow we’re going to try again. Most of the time, that’s enough.

Good things happen – to us, to our kids – either because of what we’ve done or in spite of it. Ditto for the bad things.

So this book stuff? It’s the same deal. Did I follow all the experts’ advice, did I do all the shoulds and musts and needs and have-tos, did I have any clue what I was doing when I first set out?

No. And that will be fine. It will be enough.

. . .

“You only know what you know,” the teacher tried to reassure me when I finally braved to raise my hand and ask what if it’s too late? “If the book came out in November, you can still do something. Probably.” What to do but shrug and smile?

I’ve heard the same consolation before. Don’t beat yourself up for what you didn’t know in the past. For what you didn’t do. For choices you made not knowing any better.

Even when it feels like we’ve done everything the wrong way, that moment of realization can still be a gift: the clarity that we’re actually doing something right. Because we’re still going. We’re still doing, guessing, hoping, moving forward, waking up again tomorrow and starting again.

The way winds long – whether it’s parenting or faith or simply trying to live as human in the world. And we’re still on it. We’re still going. We’re still doing plenty right.

. . .

The baby woke at 4 am. I stumbled into slippers and padded down the hall to his room. When I opened his door, he quieted at the sound of my voice. I scooped him up from his crib and felt my way to the rocker. I nursed him as I dozed, then he stirred and I roused to change his diaper. Moves I’ve done thousands of times before.

Only once I’d settled him back to sleep and I turned back to the door to feel for the knob – only then did I realize I’d done everything in the dark.

It’s been that way for two babies now, this knowing how to night-parent by instinct. Moving through the darkness, not even a nightlight to guide my steps, yet doing exactly what I need to do: nurse, change, soothe, love.

If I’d told myself when I was a brand-new mom that I wouldn’t need bedroom lights blazing to figure out how to latch the baby on correctly or how to change a diaper without making a mess, I would have laughed out loud. Impossible.

Now I’m learning to find my way in the dark. No expert taught me that. But it feels just right.

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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.

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!

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!)