Tag Archives: present moment

On Sweetness and Mother’s Day

Copyright © 2012 Erin Molloy Photography

It’s Mother’s Day morning and last night was one of those up and down kinds of sleeps. Chris and I are at the stage where we go to bed in the unknowing: will the boys sleep all night? Will they wake four times? Last night August had to pee, then he couldn’t go back to sleep. Then he still couldn’t go back to sleep. And, then he really couldn’t go back to sleep. Each trip to his room, I found myself accidentally kicking my leg against something: a laundry basket, a couch.

By 5:45 when Brooksie was crying, I was so fuzzy and frantic (my usually style of mid-night waking) that I literally ran into the doorframe in our room. I slammed my cheekbone loud enough that Chris jumped up and I moaned and fell back on the bed. (He went to check on Brooksie.)

So, sleeping in on Mother’s Day morning is not only called for, it’s fitting. I’m sort of a mess this morning, what with my bruised cheekbone and puffy eyes (I accidentally got cucumber juice in them while cooking Friday night and they don’t take kindly to cucumbers. Remind me to tell you a great story about that sometime.)

I’ve been reading in bed with coffee by my side, brought to me by Christopher in my favorite bright red mug. And my boys are in and out. Brooksie loves to waddle in and gaze flirtatious and mischievous at me. He raises his eyebrows, makes a serious face, then smiles and almost laughs and waddles away. So far during my reading time, he has come in to find a waded up receipt (which he played with for five minutes, carrying it back and forth from my room to the kitchen), a green pen (from which he couldn’t remove the cap, thankfully. He used it to “comb” Ezra the Super Cat, who will take any form of attention he can get, even when it involves a green pen in the hands of a one-year-old.). Now, Brooksie is back in the room bare-handed. He walks to the side table, shakes the lamp a few times while I remind him how that’s not a good idea. And then he’s pinching his pointer and thumb together and touching the table. He’s amazed with this development, that his fingers can gather and make a cone of sorts, that he can push them against the table and experience some sort of finger-sensation. He looks at me and smiles. Then he opens his hand and looks inside at his palm. He does some assessments. He’s happy with what he sees. His palm is good, he decides. Then he’s out of the room again. Off to something new.

Soon, Chris calls me to the kitchen where my favorite meals is being served: Eggs Benedict (and I promise my love for the creamy sauce has nothing to do with my love for the saint). Chris makes it for me every Mother’s Day, every birthday. Homemade hollandaise stirred perfectly over boiling water. Today, though, the lemon is moldy and there is nothing Chris can do to replace it. The sauce doesn’t congeal and it doesn’t help that August is crying on the couch. (His morning show on Netflix has been buffering for ages.)

So I enter the kitchen in my pjs, hair in a pile on my head, cheek beaten by the doorframe, eyes puffy from the Cucumber Incident. August is crying about the lack of “Busytown Mysteries” and my husband hands me a mimosa, because that’s just the sort of thing he does. And I think how all of it is perfect: the uncongealed hollandaise, the frustrated three-year-old, the baby astounded by his own hands.

We sit at the table to pray and just before we bow our heads, August whispers to Chris across the table: “Should we get Mama’s flowers?”

“Let’s pray first,” my husband says. And they do, thankful for me.

Then they slip away and return with orchids in a vase. August choose them, he says: yellow, my favorite color.

And on the card: A list of questions Chris asked the boys (of course only one of them could answer):

  1. What is you favorite part of Mama? A: Leaning on her belly.
  2. What is your favorite thing to do with Mommy? A: Play cars
  3. How do you show Mommy you love her? A: This answer is acted out: He squeezes the chair with his arms.
  4. What do you want to say to Mama? A: Thank you
  5. For what? A: She lets me get frozen yogurt even though I didn’t get it for my dessert

 
Also this morning, during the lazy coffee drinking in bed, I read words about sweetness in Lauren Winner’s book Still. They’re the words of a twelfth-century Cistercian named Baldwin of Forde. He says:

“Jesus is sweet…He is sweet in prayer, sweet in speech, sweet in reading, sweet in contemplation, sweet in compunction, and in the jubilation of the heart. He is sweet in the mouth, sweet in the heart, sweet in love; he is the love of sweetness and the sweetness of love…Those who have tasted of him grow hungry, and those who are hungry will be satisfied and the sated will cry out the memory of his abundant sweetness.”

And I think: Is there a better word for this moment, this time in my life while these babies learn to be themselves and my husband loves me better and better, while all at once I feel so young and still so rich with age? Sweetness.

Oh, Jesus, we cry at the memory of your abundant sweetness.

 

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Thoughts on Kairos and Epiphany, the ‘unbidden and unexpected’

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I’ve been reading and loving my newest happy discovery, In the Midst of Chaos: Caring for Children as Spiritual Practice. Its author, Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, is a theologian and the book is a straightforward theological teaching on the things we’ve been talking about around here. She’s a mother who believes the Church has missed its opportunity to honor the spiritual formation that can arrive out of the mess of everyday parenting. Often we’re taught that in order to encounter God we need to step out of the dailyness of life with children. Miller-McLemore, instead, holds up Christ’s own mother (and all that pondering she kept doing!) as our mother-hero of the faith.

Miller-McLemore is sharp and dryly witty and her insight is fantastic. I’m having this problem where I’m underlining every other paragraph and drawing lots of hearts and exclamation points in the margins, as well as phrases like: “Ordinary Awe!” and “Live graciously WITHIN time” and “Mysticism of Everyday life—-> Ignatius.” If all that doesn’t prove it to you already, this book is right up my alley.

So, on this Monday morning following a weekend with four trips to the airport, one night of watching New Girl episodes and eating Vietnamese food with my sister-in-law on the couch, one soccer game, four emotional breakdowns from August, one 93 degree/shadeless soccer game (with a back sunburn to prove it), and two bags of popcorn, I’m going to share some of my favorite words of Miller-McLemore’s so far.

Seriously, I can’t get enough of this stuff.

Just when my six-month-old fell into a predictable sleep pattern and I thought we had it all together, he grew and changed and we had to adjust…

The profoundly interminable and shifting nature of the work of parenting is both its challenge and reward. More than this: many parents would agree that in this practice of attending, they must learn, change and develop or the child will not thrive. For decades, modern psychology presumed that parenthood required little or no change in the already existing mind-set of the parent … Only recently has it begun to dawn on us that birth and rearing children a powerfully transformative for parents an children alike.

If I attend well to my sons over time, there is opportunity, however irregular, for astonishment … Children’s author Judith Viorst has learned , from watching her three sons, that “it is possible to find delight in us hanging around the kitchen while one kid is making a chicken salad sandwich and the other is tossing a napkin into the trash and missing.” It is just this potential for joy int he most mundane moment, pondered and attended to with care, that leads her to conclude, “Family life is better than most any other thing going on in the universe.”

Recently, a pastor who is also a father admitted to me apologetically that family devotions fall by the wayside in his household…

Here’s what I wish I could have said. Although family prayer has its important place … prayer and scripture reading do not alone determine faith. Faith is not one more thing to check off the list. Family prayer; check. Bedtime prayer; check. Ritual for dead hamster; check. It is not something set aside outside regular time. It is what we do in time and space, with our bodies and through our movements. The practices of this man’s family—playing with the children after school, interacting around dinner, greeting and parting, attending and pondering—these practices are formative of faith…

There is no ultimate solution to the dilemma of enacting faith in families in time. One cannot control kairos or schedule an epiphany … This is precisely the gift and bane of kairos and epiphany: such moments come unbidden and unexpected.

In the Midst of Chaos: Caring for Children as Spiritual Practice, Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, 2007 Josey-Bass, 56-57, emphasis mine.

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Dishes and Litany and all that Beauty

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I live in the litany of the putting away. The clean dishes go onto shelves, forks and knives and cups and bowls. And the boys are waiting for their food, always waiting for food. I move from fridge to stove to sink to table, little circles.

Sometimes it’s morning. I listen to the news in my pajamas. Oatmeal for one child. Cereal for another. I’m slicing an apple. I’m pouring a cup of milk. I’m cleaning up a spill. I’m reminding Brooksie that “our food does not go on the floor, little babes.” I’m sipping coffee as I move around that room. I’m not frantic. But I know what needs to get done and my gut is begging me to feed it as well. Take bites. My mom always stood during breakfast too.

Sometimes it’s lunch and the quesadilla has two sides: one swiped with spinach puree for the baby who doesn’t notice green things yet. One plain for the boy who notices everything. “What vegetable would you like today?” I’m saying. He’d like to just once get away with no vegetable. Not in my kitchen! My head sings. And, it’s true: I own this room.

Later, during naptime, there are dishes to wash and floors to sweep and counters to wipe or, possibly, to be left till later. Because, seriously, I need to get on Twitter.

And dinner, and after dinner: All those dishes. All those pans. When we were first married and living on my tiny fellowship in grad school, freezing in Syracuse winter with our heat set to 62, Chris and I stood together in the kitchen washing pans and drying them, washing plates and drying them. That next apartment in Philly had a dishwasher. It was a slice of glory. We filled it with wonder in our eyes. How easily I can forget that.

The other day, I was putting away a glass bowl: the kind that has held salad and cookie dough, a baking soda volcano and playdough mix and I thought: This is it. This is my life.

Granted, sometimes I can have that thought in the kind of way that leads me to cry in my pillow and take a long bath and rewatch the saddest scene in Little Women (you guys know what I’m talking about). But, sometimes, I have that thought and the light shines in through the window and the bowl sparkles and I think: Thank you, bowl, for the volcano and the endless supply of salads. Thank you for the chocolate pudding August and I made in our second apartment in San Francisco and the way he couldn’t quite pronounce “choquate” then. Thank you for the endless circles I’ve scrubbed around you in every home Chris and I have shared for almost eight years. Thank you for the putting away and the getting out and the hope that I can always clean you.

And in those moments when the bowl is good and the litany is good, I realize that my life is this in its most simplest form: these circles I’m moving in around the kitchen and around my day–from breakfast to play time to errands to the kitchen to nap time and writing time and play time and the sun shining down on us outside and back to the kitchen and food and my husband being home and the boys wrestling in the living room and bathing the boys and clean shiny skin and combing their wet hair down and pajamas and teeth brushed and stories read and bodies tucked in and moments with my husband on the couch and our own books and bedtime. And we do it over and over and over. And this is the shocker: That circle is good.

Because this is what I’m realizing: every night as I lay my baby down in his crib and sing the words, “I know that moons rise and time flies and sweet little boys get older…” I see him changing. Some moments I can stop the circling long enough to notice: the way he’s smiling today, the joke he’s trying to play on me, the love he’s inheriting for books. And when I notice, that’s when I remember to pray.

It’s always about paying attention, I was thinking yesterday afternoon, stacking plates on top of one another, hoping not to wake the light-sleeping baby whose room shares a wall with the dishes. And that makes the circle more of a spiral, doesn’t it? We’re always circling, yes. But it turns out in all this doing and putting away and creating and consuming, we’ve been spiraling toward something all along.

And that spiral leads toward a glorious center, the place where God is making all the plain things beautiful and all the sad things untrue.

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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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Let them tell this story: She was always being remade

Photo by the amazing and lovely Erin Molloy Photography

I’m a stressed mom. I’m stressed too often. I worry that August’s most prominent memory of his childhood will be my contorted anxiety face leaning over his carseat, snapping at him and plugging his seatbelt in tight. Sometimes he asks me, “Mama, are you stressed?” Sometimes he tells Chris when he comes home: “Mommy was really stressed today.”

Oh, how I hate that. That is not the story I want for my boys’ childhood. Sweet Lord, I beg from my gut, unweave that story. Put a new one in its place…

Tuesday, when were running late to dinner with some relatives I haven’t seen in years, I felt panic missile-blast (to use my son’s lingo) my insides when August wouldn’t hurry into his seat. He was crouched on the floorboard of the back seat, refusing to climb in. I yelled. I slammed my bag into the passenger seat. I sighed as if my sweet, wide life was oppressive, as if these children had made me late. (The truth: I was never on time before I had children. It’s almost always not their fault; it’s mine.) I called my husband as I pulled out the driveway, saying we were late and I was so frustrated that my relatives would have this impression of me, The Late Person. Mostly, I just talked at a high pitch and made the “Ugh!” noises Chris has come to expect from my late afternoon phone calls.

He sighed: “Well, Mama Monk, what are you going to do about it?” And I groaned. How dare he play that card, like I’m actually supposed to practice what I talk about around here? I hung up and drove tapping my hand on the steering wheel for a few blocks while August’s sweet voice was singing along to the cd. I was completely unable to hear the miracle of that boy’s voice, the glory of a 3-year-old’s vocal chords vibrating rhythm and melody.

We stopped at the light and I squeezed my mind tight enough to hear August’s song, long enough to consider Chris’ words. Then I thought about all of you. The light turned green. I prayed, turning the corner onto the access road by Mopac.

I prayed: Lord, Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

I prayed the words over and over until my mouth was sighing Lord, Lord, Lord.

And, miraculously, my heart pounded strong and matched the sound of my little boy’s voice behind me. I widened my eyes and the world was open again. The tunnel walls fell down and light shimmied in and I breathed. Wow, Jesus, I thought. This time, you fixed me fast.

And that’s true. God is healing me, I know. I know it because each time the slick black slime seeps through my mind and down onto my tongue and slides through my arms and legs to drag me into the dark tunnel, I’m remembering more and more quickly that the tunnel is not my home. The dark slime does not have a bed in my brain anymore. All of this life–the beauty of Brooksie’s chubby legs waddling down the sidewalk, the glory of the budding vines in the backyard, the patter of the rain outside my window–all of it has the potential to break me open into the light and soft curve of God’s goodness.

So, maybe the stressed mom will be the story my boys tell. But, right alongside it, let them tell of the mom who prayed in the car, her left hand on the steering wheel, her right lifted out, offering her broken spirit.

Let them say, She was broken. Let them say, She was always being remade…

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Welcomed into the Story

When I stood on the second row at Jamie’s church last Sunday and watched her baby girl’s baptism, I was a little teary, mostly because Jamie is one of the dearest friends of all my life. She was my maid of honor and I never imagined I would live close enough to her to watch her baby grow, to be part of her kids’ lives, for our little boys to love each other as much as they do. Being able to be present for Eliza’s baptism was grace to my heart.

And then we blessed that sweet baby with these words.

Eliza, we give thanks that God has claimed you
with an everlasting love that will never, ever let you go;
and we will never let you forget that!
We rejoice to welcome you as our sister
in the family of Christ.
Our story is now your story:
you have ridden in the ark with Noah;
you have passed through the sea with Moses;
Christ’s death and resurrection for you is at work in you,
transforming you into the image of God.
Grow with us in grace,
confess Christ crucified,
proclaim his resurrection,
and share with us in his royal priesthood.

There is something so deep and rich and moving about all of us being part of the story of Christ. And there is an honor so mysterious and breathtaking that we would ever have the right, the privilege, to welcome another dear soul into that fabric in which our lives are already woven and patched and restored.

Really, the greatest joys of my life have been in telling the story and welcoming others into the story. That’s why I loved ministry to high school kids. I loved telling them that there was room for them here in the story of Christ, there was forgiveness and acceptance and grace for them just as they were.

And now, how often to do I forget when I’m snapping at my boy for waking up his brother, when I’m frustrated about whatever super important thing I forgot back at the house, or when the ecosystem of my home feels entirely out of whack, that I have been privileged to tell the story and invite my children into it? It feels so easy to forget that this is their one childhood, that what happens today is shaping who they become, how they relate to the world, how they understand love.

My story, our story is now theirs. I’m asked to offer it to them as we live our lives together, as we walk along the road, as we lie down and as we rise. God has already claimed them with an everlasting love. My job is to make sure those two boys never forget.

My job is to invite them to grow with me in grace. And, boy, do they see my need for grace sometimes. So, my prayer is that in my home I would live as the welcomer, the one who always, in love and deep grace, offers my boys a place at Christ’s table. And in doing so, may I never forget that Christ offers me a place as well…

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{Practicing Benedict} The work of God

“When the time comes for one of the divine offices to begin, as soon as the signal is heard, everyone must set aside whatever they may have in hand and hurry as fast as possible to the oratory, but of course they should do so in a dignified way which avoids giving rise to any boisterous behaviours. The essential point is that nothing should be accounted more important than the work of God” (Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 43).

 

As much as I read about monks and write about monks and want to practice monkish habits, most days I’m reminded very quickly of my non-monk status. There’s a reason monks can stop whatever they’re doing (their daily jobs and chores) when they hear the calling of the bell. They can set down the plunger, wash those hands, and walk the length of the monastery to the place of worship. They can do it succinctly; they can do it with purpose.

Those of us in the land of jobs and children and commitments find this Benedictine practice a bit more challenging. I’ve been struggling for almost three years now to know what it means for me to be summoned to prayer by the hours of the day.

For a while, I imagined my days as carved out into a liturgy of sorts, separated into meals and playtimes and snack times and bedtimes, each moment from one to another was supposed to be a sort of bell chime, calling me to “the work of God.” Doesn’t that sound beautiful? Snack time is not just snack time, it’s a time to stop, readjust my heart, remind myself that i have love to offer my children only because I am loved by my Creator.

That idea has slowly evolved as I have. At first I was strict with myself. Being called to the work of God demanded my opening the Bible or my prayer book, directing myself to specific types of prayers at specific times. Then it became a burden, another task I couldn’t complete, another way to forgo grace.

See, snack time is rarely a moment when I sit my children at the table and they patiently wait their turns for cheese and grapes. Usually, Brooksie is scooting around the living room with his snack trap full of cheerios, leaving his own little Hansel and Gretel trail. Usually, I’m throwing a bag of goldfish at August in the backseat of the car, on the way home from school, in hopes that carb-loaded, fake cheddar crackers will keep him from a premature (and unsuccessful) nap.

Usually playtime is outside at the park or in the driveway and I’m engaged in drawing terrible chalk drawings (worst mom-artist ever!) or cheering for the boy on his bike or chasing the baby who’s heading for the street.

There are no bells chiming. There is no one calling me to prayer.

I could go on. I could talk about exhaustion by the time it’s dinner (which I’ve done before) or exhaustion in the early morning (which I’ve done before).

But what I want to say is this:  I’ve never really “succeeded” in what I pictured would be my practice of the hours, but that doesn’t make me a failure. It just means it’s taken me some time to realize what I was missing in the gift of the work of God. (What I was missing was grace.)

Maybe I became so fixated on the “setting things aside” part or the doing away with “boisterous behaviors” (ha!). I wanted to be the woman who could really stop. Who could see the day swinging into its next sacred space and walk with it into the Holy. I wanted to be able to set down the construction paper and glitter and hold up my hands to receive. I wanted to push my kids in the stroller on the way to the park and stop on the sidewalk just long enough to hear God speak goodness to me.

Those things are possible. But not because we tell ourselves to work harder at “hurry[ing] as fast as possible to the oratory.” They are possible because we receive the good news that we are just as much a part of the work of God as the monk in his midday chants, as the pastor who sits in the afternoon with the sick. We do not become a part of the work of God because we can get there fast or because we can focus our entire mind on the scripture.

We join in the work of God when we choose to receive the good news that God loves us in this moment: this snack time in the car, full of unhealthy cheddar bites, this play time in the driveway, this wiping of the counter. St. Benedict describes the greatest work of his monks as being the calling they have to worship: the chanting and reading of the scripture, the praying of the Psalms.

Can we not receive that calling as well? The work of God is not a calling to do more and struggle more and feel ourselves buried under the weight of our prayerlessness. The work of God is a calling to respond to the God who offers grace in all things in every moment. It is the calling to respond to the God who loves us and redeems what our hands are doing and our mouth is saying and mind is thinking. So that, yes, snack time is a reminder to pray, to offer thanks to the Holy God for this holy moment of red lights and goldfish and tired bodies on the way home from school.

So if your kids are sitting pleasantly at the table to receive their grapes and cheese, by all means, open your Bible to the Psalms. And if you are in sitting in a meeting with your boss who has never appreciated an hour of the time you’ve given to your job, by all means open your hands under the conference table to receive from the Savior who loved more than a human is capable of loving, who understands the ache of being unappreciated. I will join you both–oh mother with the pleasant children, oh employee at the conference table. I’ll be at the red light with my hands open too, receiving from the Savior who knows what it is to live with less sleep than a body demands.

Hurry! Hurry to the work of God, friends. Hurry, even though there’s no where we must go. We only receive. See, that’s the secret: me at the stop light, you at your conference table, you at the park, you behind the counter steaming lattes, you folding sweaters and stacking. Open your hands and we will receive.

Hurry. We trust the grace that’s waiting. We long for the arms we’re running into.

 

Every Wednesday I write about my practice of St. Benedict’s Rule
The Sacred Vessels of the AltarThe greatest possible concernOn rising immediatelyIt should normally be shortSeven Times a DayLord open my lipsHumilityWhen it is best not to speakWhen love is obedienceA reputation for holiness

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