Tag Archives: mama life

{Practicing Benedict} The Finale: A Beginning

The purpose for which we have written this rule is to make it clear that by observing it in our monasteries we can at least achieve the first steps in virtue and good monastic practice. Anyone, however, who wished to press on towards the highest standards of monastic life may turn to the teachings of the holy Fathers, which can lead those who follow them to the very heights of perfection. Indeed, what page, what saying from the sacred scriptures of the Old and New Testaments is not given us by the authority of God as reliable guidance for our lives on earth? … We, however, can only blush with shame when we reflect on the negligence and inadequacy of the monastic lives we lead.

Whoever you may be, then, in your eagerness to reach your Father’s home in heaven, be faithful with Christ’s help to this small Rule which is only a beginning. Starting from there you may in the end aim at the greater heights of monastic teaching and virtue in the works which we have mentioned above and with God’s help you will then be able to reach those heights yourself. Amen.

The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 73 (emphasis mine)

I have this memory of sitting at my computer during August’s naptime six weeks into our move to San Francisco. I had just spent the first 45 minutes of his nap building an Ikea desk. I did it backwards the first time and had to take it apart. Then, I drilled and grunted and propped that delicate fake-wood into its proper settings and set that cheap table on its feet. I placed two things upon it: my computer and my Benedictine Handbook.

Then I opened the screen to check in with my writerly friends from grad school. We were a group of women who had spent Thursday nights together throughout those three years in the early 2000’s. We’d get dinner and talk poetry while drinking tea. We had a little closed blog back then where we would post about what we were reading or writing. My friends were publishing books and teaching writing workshops and writing interesting essays on poetry and feminism. And I was wiping my kid’s butt. Not reading. And definitely not writing.

That afternoon, I opened the laptop to see a thread from a friend about her stressful life situation. She was struggling through an incredibly difficult season: unsure of the future of her marriage, trying to find a permanent teaching position, balancing her writing and her adjunct jobs and raising a toddler. She made a statement in her frustration. She said, “If only I could be some Stepford Wife and let somebody else take care of me!”

That’s all she said. She didn’t purposefully make fun of me. She was hurting and I was the selfish one. And you better believe I cried for myself. I sat at that new Ikea desk, my face smashed into the white plastic wood, and cried. I wept and asked God, “Is that all I am? Am I a lazy wife who lets my husband earn the money and take care of me? Am I useless? Am I wasting my gifts here in my home, washing the dishes and playing on the floor with my kid, making grilled cheese sandwiches?”

I had only just then begun my journey with St. Benedict. I was asking God to show me how to find purpose in this life at home. I was asking God how I was supposed to feel like this staying home business had any value compared to the work I had been in full time ministry just months before. I was looking at myself and my days alone with August and my loneliness in this new city, and I was gut-sobbing, “Please God, give me some help here. I don’t know where the joy is.”

You can read the rest over at Patheos…

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Walk slow and notice

The plane lands and you have a connection to make in a city you’ve never see the ground of. Two or three times your body has hovered close here: once in a suburb, twice at this airport where you taxi now toward the bulding. A bell chimes and all at once, as if a symphony, you all unclick seat belts, reach forward for purses and backpacks, stand to feet with heads bents, eyes facing down under short ceilings, waiting.

How strange it is for you to be alone. Always those boys are attached to you. Always you are the one gathering misplaced playmobile pieces, always cars in the row behind you. Always a baby in a carrier, a child holding onto your hand. Always three bags and plans for the next destination: how to move forward. Always someone is hungry, thirsty, always dirty hands, diapers or quick hustles to the potty.

And here you are. The emptiness around your arms is softer than you have words for. You think, What did I do, once, when my arms were free and I stood alone among strangers? You think: Music. And there on that plane, you pull the wires through fingers, place buds in the your ears. The music shocks you. You’ve heard it before, but lately, so diluted. Watered by voices and calendars and doings. And here, the older woman in her hand-knitted purple shawl looks into your eyes, as if she knows: Oh, her face says, you are alone. Beautifully alone. You smile back. Yes, your eyes answer. Yes.

There are signs of who you’ve become. Perhaps if strangers looked close enough, they’d recognize the extra skin that folds your belly, the tired eyes, the good ache that comes from giving yourself to children. But here, as one by one the people lift their heads, set eyes toward their destination, walk the open path, you know you don’t know what they carry. They don’t know what you are lightened by.

Then, your turn to move. You step into an aisle. How many asles have you walked in your life, sweet Baptist girl? Always walking aisles toward a calling. Always coming forward pulled by grace. And here, you step into this space, arms empty, one bag, a book, this music. You turn it up louder than comfortable. You want it to burn a little.

You move off the plane into the long tunnel and the warm air rushes at you, past you, light skimming your surface on every side. And you are alone in that tunnel, illuminated.

You walk into the maze of spaces and people, all of it moving toward you.

Walk slow, the Voice whispers.

Walk slow and notice.

And every place you step is shimmering, every face is the image of God.

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A ‘Mother Letter’ for the Mamas

Dearest Mamas,

When I was pregnant with my first child, my friend Emily (one year ahead of me in the baby-making) gave me a piece of advice: Have grace with yourself, she said.

She was talking about those first moments when I’d hold his tiny squirming flesh to my breast: When I expected fireworks of passionate mother-love and instead felt afraid, overwhelmed and happy, exhausted and adrenaline-rushed. She said, “Don’t expect the love you feel in that moment to be enough. You love your kid as you learn them.”

Have grace with yourself.

I carried her words over into those first weeks and months of exhaustion. The long nights, the moments of fury at this little thing whom I loved desperately but who was wreaking havoc on my brain and my body. I learned to have grace on myself when my friends were reading their 4-month-olds books for 30 minutes a day and helping them progress in their development and I still felt like it was all I could do to get my baby to sleep and eat and stare at me every day, much less be faithful to my calling and career.

Grace: Such a word for such an act. It’s love, yes. But it’s love that offers free kindness, freedom, acceptance. Jesus gives me that kind of reality. It’s not an act that allows me free reign to ruin myself. It’s an act that draws me in with loving kindness, that sets me up to use my gifts and my heart and offer to the world what’s good that’s already been placed into my hands.

Have grace with yourself, my friend said to me. She knew what I would feel some days: The temptation during your baby’s first year to long for her success, to judge yourself in light of her advancement, to value her in light of what the world values: appearance, physical impressiveness, signs of intellect. How often did I compare my kid with another? How often was I the one bragging of some sign of my child’s superiority?

Have grace with yourself.

When it’s your kid who is screaming on the airplane. When every person around you seems to think they know the answer. When you determine to trust your instinct despite his rage, despite your tears and the bite marks and the passengers who are tweeting about the horrible child and his incapable mother they were stuck with on the flight.

Have grace with yourself.

When every one at the park is obsessed with getting their almost-two-year-olds into language-immersion classes, when your friend’s three-year-old already knows how to read, when your strong-willed child is achingly sweet at home but yelling at the Sunday School teacher at church. When you’re afraid no one but you understands him.

Have grace with yourself.

There may be a day when someone you love questions your parenting choices. There may be a day when you stare at your tear-soaked face in the mirror and ask, “When my kids grow up, how will they remember my failures?”

But motherhood is not a series of situations that have a wrong and right answer. It is a relationship. How many times have I described Jesus that way to one of the high school or college students I’ve ministered to? Jesus is not religion. He is relationship. Engaging with him requires our hearts and our minds and souls and our strength because it involves living, not simply rule-adherring.

Have grace with yourself, Mama. This thing is complicated. You will hold that newborn and you won’t know how to love him but you will and you will wonder is this enough? and it may never be but he needs you any way.

See that’s the secret: You are his only mother. The only mother he will ever know. He loves you desperately. He needs you to love him back, to gather him when he crumples, to jump in the pool when he sinks, to snatch him up when the other kids are picking on him, to trust yourself to know when to protect and when to let him find his way.

So gather her and love her. Laugh and cuddle and read and make choices. And trust that in spite of your imperfections, God is making all things new: even you, even your child.

There is refreshment in that grace: the chance to begin every day, the chance to learn and change, to stick by convictions and let some of them float away on yesterday’s balloon. You don’t have to be the same mother you were last year. You are being refined.

Once, another friend said: Stop being so ferocious with yourself.

I’ll say the same to you, friend. God has given you to your child and your child to you. And every gift you own combined with the strength of God’s Spirit is enough to do this beautifully.

You may not be the mom who speaks two languages in the home. You may not perfectly balance work and mothering. You may not feel secure in the complexities of discipline and correction. You may receive every kind of judgment over the way you sleep-train your baby.

When it’s all too much, promise me this: Walk your stressed little (okay, let’s be honest, probably not-so-little) hinny to the bathroom, look in the mirror. Breathe deep. Look in the mirror again. Imagine Christ’s hand on your head, let his peace wiggle in to those brain wrinkles. And say: “I am loved. I am loved. I am loved.”

Because sometimes, Christ’s love is the only thing that gives us strength to love completely the little ones who have been given to our care.

Linking up with The Mother Letters ProjectRead about it then join your “Mother Letter” to the conversation. And get your copy of the Mother Letters ebook here.

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A list of gifts on a Tuesday

modernhepburn.tumblr.com via Pinterest

  • For a Saturday date night and one long, happy dinner conversation with the Mister
  • For a husband who holds out his arms for our boy when he comes out of the game and cheers, “Yeah, buddy!’ despite August never touching that soccer ball. (Instead he runs around the field with abandon…in the opposite direction of the game). I know I’ve said it before, but how many boys are loved by their fathers unconditionally? I know my husband’s not perfect (he’d agree) but, man, he gets a lot of things right.
  • For a hair salon that has a dispenser for “Hot Tamales” candy! (Why, I don’t know, but I never question a good, free thing that involves sugar.)
  • For my baby’s newly developed dance skills, the squatting of his diaper-clad butt into the air and scrunching his elbows in, all while smiling up at me for appproval. (Which I give, honey, I give.)
  • For the excitement and the risk and the joy of jetting off in two days for the Festival of Faith and Writing: The blogging/Twitter friends who will become real, the chance to fly alone and read a book and take a taxi and take notes…all while not wiping a snotty nose or offering a snack while in conversation or carting around some large and necessary child-supply.
  • For the grace of the “I’m leaving my babies” ache and the goodness of trusting God to supply for them and love them well.
  • For the little boy who wanted his hair cut like Dad’s
  • For chin zits to remind me I’m still young, despite the eye wrinkles that remind me I’m not so young anymore.
  • For food in the fridge, and little tummies fed and the gift of not worrying for the physical needs of our kids
  • For freedom and grace and moments of quiet happiness
  • For boys in the yard kicking soccer balls with their dad
  • For my friend Sarah Bessey’s list of influential Faith Lady-Bloggers. For her courage to honor women and bless the voices out here in our little spot on the Blogville map. (Seriously, if you don’t read Sarah’s blog, today is the day you should start. And then send me cookies for making your life so much richer. I’m not kidding.)
  • For the new book beside my bed that I’m going to start quoting from incessantly and we’re all going to wonder why I even have a blog because really we should just read this book. (But I can’t make that statement yet because I’m only one chapter in.) It’s called: In the Midst of Chaos: Caring for Children as Spiritual Practice. (See, I told you! Just go buy the book and stop reading this blog already!) Listen to this:

“‘Few of the great remembered pray-ers of our tradition were married. Few had children,’ notes church historian Wendy Wright. But this is not all. Many of the esteemed champions of the faith tradition modeled an entire way of life at odds with the life of these church members. They pursued God through the ‘silence and solitude of a hermits’s cell or the mobility of unattached apostolic life’… Limiting spirituality to the ‘inner’ life and restricting theology to the life of the mind ends up excluding a huge portion of the life from both faith and theology” (Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore 5-6, 7).

  • For bedtime snuggles and kisses and “I really love you, Mom” from my growing-up boy. (Who, by the way, has a pretty intense crush on the cartoon character “Isabella” from the show Phineas and Ferb.)
  • For the view of the world from my kitchen window: how blue it is, and green, and alive.

 

PS  Happy Birthday to my mother-in-law, Basia! Hope your day is full of bright flowers…

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A couple of photo shoots, some bluebonnets, and one lovely photographer…

When I made the decision to make the move to Patheos, I knew it was time to spruce things up around here. That meant having a banner with a higher quality photo than Chris’ iPhone pic circa 2008. A friend recommended a local photographer and I had an actual photo shoot. (I don’t think I’ve been in a photo by myself since I was pregnant with August. Why are moms always holding something/someone during pictures? What was I supposed to do with my hands?!)

Erin from Erin Molloy Photography was lovely. And talented. And super fun. This is what she did:


We had such a great time together. Erin was fast and she knew how to get great shots without taking ten gazillion of the same picture. She was encouraging despite my awkwardness and made me feel totally comfortable. Plus, she picked an amazing location (woods, tall grass and city scape in one park!)  The photos were so wonderful, that I asked Erin if she would take pictures of my family. And then I demanded (okay, asked nicely) that she take them in a field of bluebonnets. I’m still stunned by their loveliness. 
 


This is what my life looks like on a daily basis. Minus the beautiful flowers. It also, gratefully, looks like this.

She was great with the kids and able to catch us interacting so that it didn’t feel forced. Plus, she had grace for this mama who was ten minutes late and still slicking down finicky boy hair when we got to the photo shoot. I’m so grateful to Erin for her skill, generosity, and creativity! She is a such a find. (Please visit her website, follow her on Twitter, Like her on Facebook, and send all your Austin-types her way.)

We’re still ironing out details for the move, so I’ll keep you posted. Until then, happy Monday, friends!

Love,

Micha

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A Very Thankful Poem-a-Day Friday

I’ve missed our Thankful Tuesdays, friends! So much so that my mind has been filling over with thankful bullet points and I keep thinking: Scratch that on a list! It just feels too far away to wait till Tuesday. So…

I’m Thankful for:

  • The gift of walking through Holy Week with all of you
  • Being married to a man whose eyes are always a little red and shiny after Easter services
  • A deck where we can host an Easter meal
  • Easter egg hunts and Easter-clad children in the backyard
  • Eating boiled eggs a bit dye-stained on the white and for how little I mind
  • Happy happy news from my brother-in-law
  • Prayers sweetly answered for friends with health scares
  • My baby’s near running skills
  • Looking from the kitchen sink toward the living room and seeing both my boys on their backs on the carpet, holding their blankets and laughing at each other.
  • A baby who can’t stop smiling even when he’s sick (and making fake coughs and fake nose snorts in an attempt to make me laugh)
  • A migraine Sunday night: The small reminder of the suffering so many people live with in daily life. A husband who stays awake rubbing my shoulders and gets up with the kids.
  • August’s love for gardening
  • The joy of trimming back overgrown plants. (Cutting stuff off and pulling stuff out of the ground! So therapeutic! Even though I have no idea what I’m doing!)
  • Austin in the springtime (It’s really so lovely…I know, I know…summer will be rough.)
  • That feeling when the dishes are clean (no matter that it only lasts three hours)
  • Reading a book with both boys in my lap
  • Windows open, birds singing
  • And this Someecard that makes me cackle (yes, I said ‘cackle’) every time I see it.




And now, a poem from my favorite Jane Kenyon (whose poems I should really just quote here every Friday):

The Suitor

by Jane Kenyon

We lie back to back. Curtains
lift and fall,
like the chest of someone sleeping.
Wind moves the leaves of the box elder;
they show their light undersides,
turning all at once
like a school of fish.
Suddenly I understand that I am happy.
For months this feeling
has been coming closer, stopping
for short visits, like a timid suitor.

Jane Kenyon, Otherwise: New and Selected Poems, Graywolf Press, 1996

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Guest Post: The Creaking, Squeaking Altar that Moves

I’m thrilled to interrupt our regularly scheduled Thankful Tuesday to bring you some words from one of my favorite bloggers, Megan Tietz at SortaCrunchy. I consider Megan a kindred spirit and I have been so moved by her story of those early months of motherhood, which she is sharing (along with her co-writer, Laura Oyer) in their new book Spirit-Led Parenting. We are honored to be a sweet little stop in their Spirit-Led Parenting blog tour.




It’s battered and squeaky and hopelessly un-chic, but still I can’t bear to part with it.

It sits by itself all day, hardly touched and rarely sat upon, keeping a watchful eye over the playroom. That old gliding rocker and I go way, way back, and to most everyone else, it’s just a piece of furniture past its prime, but to me, it is a holy place.

My altar from long ago.

When I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, Dacey, I would sit in that rocker in her room, reading my Bible and praying out loud and covering my ever-growing expanse with words of prayer and hope. It was during her pregnancy that something nearly unbearable happened in my family of origin, and that was the first time I knelt in front of that chair (knees and ankles creaking more loudly than the joints of the glider) and poured my heart out to God.

That was the first of many times that plain old rocking chair with the country blue upholstered fabric transformed into a holy place, a quiet sanctuary where I met with God.

Time passed and she was born and then I began to view that chair with a growing sense of distrust. Less and less often was I pouring over pages of Scripture and more and more often I was studying the pages of parenting books, and consistently they were warning me to stay away from the rocking chair if I ever hoped to have a baby who displayed perfectly independent sleep habits.

No matter how much I studied, I just couldn’t get my baby on the program. I couldn’t get myself on the program because the program required me to leave her alone in her crib, even if she cried. And I just couldn’t. I would gather her up in my arms, collapse down into the waiting arms of the rocking chair, and apologize to God for failing Him and her once again.

And so continued my long sleep walk shuffle through the earliest weeks and months of motherhood. I could keep it together during the day – most days – but at night, I was awful. She would awaken to nurse and I would slam down the crib rail before I lifted her out. I was so furious that she wasn’t sleeping through the night and I was furious at myself for not being strong enough to get her sleep trained.

But one night, He rescued me. He rescued both of us, really. God stepped into my pain and hopelessness and despair and lifted my chin.

If you are up anyway, why not pray?

Isn’t it amazing how we try to make things so complicated? Isn’t it incredible how His Voice is always so clear?

And so that rocking chair became a long-term altar, a standing appointment set by my infant daughter that allowed me to know God in the deepest, darkest hours of the night. I would hold her, nurse her, rock her, and pray. Miles and miles we rocked and words tumbled out and in the still, still quiet, I would listen.

I am Southern Baptist from conception until now, so it never occurred to me that I was dipping my toes into the pool of monasticism. I didn’t consider it a ritual at the time – hardly! It was more of a lifeline, a sliver of redemption for my perceived failures. And it was the time I spent with God in that rocking altar that prepared my heart for the message of Spirit-Led Parenting.

It took me nearly a month to write the chapter on infant sleep, so close to my heart and so scarred in my mind are my thoughts on the matter. The passage of time allows me the clarity to know that if it weren’t for those sacred meetings with God in the night, this book would never have been written. And so I want to share with you a short passage from the book that captures, in some small way, what I learned in that season of life:

For in the practice of nighttime parenting, we allowed ourselves to be molded by God’s ever-present hand. We believe the specific reason God led us to view nighttime with our babies differently is because as our Father, He wanted to attend to our specific needs in that moment in life. In the stillness of the night, as we fed our babies, He nourished us with His presence and His word. By the subtle glow of the night light as we changed diapers, He changed us, allowing us to see that through Him, we could be more than we ever thought we could be. As our feet tread miles of footfalls, muffled by carpet and shhhhhhhh, He sang over us words of comfort, hope and surrender.

Thank you so much for allowing us to share our hearts and message with you today. Please join us as we continue our blog tour in the upcoming weeks:

Spirit-Led Parenting is the first release from authors Megan Tietz and Laura Oyer. Megan writes about faith, family and natural living at SortaCrunchy and lives in western Oklahoma with her husband and two daughters. Laura blogs her reflections on the real and ridiculous things of life at In The Backyard, and makes her home in Indiana with her husband, daughter, and son.

rocking chair image via TranceMist

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