Tag Archives: spiritual practice

{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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Thankful Tuesday: A History. And the First Ever Thankful Tuesday Link-Up Partaaaaay!!!

You might be shocked to hear that Thankful Tuesday did not begin as a somewhat piously disguised platform through which to list my kids’ accomplishments. (“Brooksie loves to sign ‘Thank you!’ August understands the theory of gravity!” *Insert eye-roll here.* Though, yeah, it’s a good way to talk about them and I can’t seem to stop, can I?) Also, Thankful Tuesday didn’t begin simply because it is cool to be grateful in the Christian women blogging community. (And, by the way, I’m totally okay with gratitude’s trendiness.)

Thankful Tuesday actually began in January of 1998 in the Behren’s Dormitory second floor (I lived on the second floor, I think?) hallway at my sweet little Baptist college. There, I met with Jamie and Michele every morning at 7 am for prayer. We made a plan. Every day except for Tuesdays we would pray through lists of requests or whatever (seriously, we probably said “or whatever”) but on Tuesdays we would only be Thankful! Why, you might be thinking did we choose Tuesdays for this task? Why not choose Thursdays and have some alliteration up in here? Because, friends, we were much too ironic for that, even as earnest 18-year-olds. Choosing Tuesday over Thursday made us laugh. So we chose Tuesday and I think God was really happy about that as well. We also decided it would be super funny and awesome of us to wish people a “Happy Thankful Tuesday!” every where we went on Tuesdays and insist that our friends tell us why they were thankful.

Click over to the new Patheos site to read the rest and join the first ever “Thankful Tuesday Link-Up Partaaay.” 

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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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Quoting Thankful

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Today for Thankful Tuesday, I want to give you some words I heard over the weekend at the Festival of Faith and Writing, thoughts that have filled me up. I hope they speak something important to you too.

(Note: these are from my notes and they may not be exact…though I did my best–my very best!–at the note-taking.)

“Repetition…locates us, keeps us where we are, keeps us the way a mother keeps her baby.” –Jeanne Murray Walker

“It’s not an accident that Laments [in the Psalms] start individually and then turn into community. The circle widens with the Lament the more love and safety is there. We, the artists, are called to be the ones who bring [the community] into honesty.” –Gregg DeMey

“If I’m complaining to God it feels more healthy than if I’m complaining about God behind his back.” –Susan Isaacs

“Artists are called to be the most observing humans around, which involves a lot of listening.” -Gregg DeMey

“A testimonial is about answers. Good art is about polishing questions.”  -Greg DeMey

Quoting her friend: “Every church has a prase band. When are we going to bring out the Lament band?” –Caryn Rivadeneira

“In all of our rushing, we’re like bulls in china shops. We’re breaking our lives.” –Ann Voskamp

“[Our work is to speak] the language of amazement into a culture that thinks they’ve been abandoned.” -Ann Voskamp

“How did God make every woman to be a maker? He made an empty space inside her… Something always comes to the empty space. And it can be God.” -Ann Voskamp

“You either have to bury your fear in faith or bury your talents in fear. Which is it going to be?” -Ann Voskamp

“Story is in the suffering.” -Ann Voskamp

“When love and theology conflict, love should always be our priority.” -Dr. Vincent Harding paraphrased in Kristin Vander Giessen-Reitsma’s reading of her essay “Choice Cuisine” from the collection, The Spirit of Food

“People are gracious toward religious expression that is gracious to them.” –Marilyn Robinson

“God has never told us we would leave this world alive.” -Marilyn Robinson

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{Practicing Benedict} Offering the Child

“If parents who are from the nobility want to offer to God in the monastery one of their children, who is too young to take personal responsibility, they should draw up a document like that described above and, as they make the offering, wrap the document with the child’s hand in the altar cloth…

Poor people may make the offering of a child in the same way. If they have no property at all, they simply write and offer the child with the document in the presence of witnesses.”

The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 59

What does it mean to offer a child to the work of God?

When I first read this chapter two years ago, I was taken with the image of a child’s hand grasping the document written by his parents, promising him to the community, to the life of monasticism, and making a covenant he can’t possibly understand, his hand wrapped in the altar cloth.

Of course, the thought of what parents chose to do in the 6th century—offering a child’s life to a monastery, giving up rights to that child, both as a kind of tithe, but also as a way to feed less mouths and gain religious “approval” (from God? from the church?)—is disturbing. From our free-thinking, individualistic society, we can’t possibly grasp the culture of the Benedict’s time, what it meant to live in poverty. Or, what it meant to live under the authority of the church.

So I won’t really go there. When I read this passage, I just kept seeing my boys holding the life (the promises) my husband and I are writing for them, their boy hands wrapped in the altar cloth.

Both my boys are blankey types. They would prefer to have their blankets with them wherever they go. Although August is able to go to school and church without it, if there’s a new, scary event happening for him, you bet his “Bup” is in hand and it’s the only thing keeping him from an emotional breakdown. Brooksie has loved his blanket since he was five months old and every time he sees it, he throws his body into it, rubs his face in it.

You know I’m moved by images. Sometimes I stare past the moment I’m in with my kids and I see the eternal: Those two boys crawling and falling onto the couch cushions, laughing and rolling; the three of us on the rocking chair: August hugging my neck from behind while Brooksie sits in my lap and holds the book. What am I writing for them? What is the commitment I’m offering the Lord on their behalf?

Last Saturday night while Chris and I ate dinner at some supercool hipster French bistro (records playing through the speakers!), we talked about the boys, and I whispered across the table the secrets my heart prays for them, what I hadn’t mentioned to Chris till then. I’m convinced that we are always writing the document, this desperate offering to God on our children’s behalf.

The question I’m asking myself is what promises I’m making with the life I’m living in front of them. Am I writing for them a future of compassion, of community, of love for the most broken and most vulnerable? Or am I writing a future of the love of comfort, of success, of self-obsession? Am I teaching them to love things more than people? Am I teaching them to live in fear of the approval of others?

This is picture I keep seeing: As their little tired bodies lie back against their sheets, as their eyes roll backward, their cheeks relax, as they sink into the secret place their minds go in the darkness, they hold in their hands the words I’ve written for them that day: the commitment I’m making on their behalf to the God I serve. And in their hands, the blankets they love, wrapped around their hands, like altar cloth.

See, on the altar is the sacrifice, the grace offered from a merciful God. Yes, each day I write for them a future: some of it sweet and good; some of it broken and failing. But covering their hands, covering my attempts at mothering, at committing those sweet lives, is the grace that covers my hands as well, my tired body pressed into my sheets at the end of the day, the future my parents wrote for me and the promises I’ve made and broken and continue to walk in. All of it grace; all of it wrapped around our hands.

All of it sealed on the altar where Jesus breaks and pours out again and again.

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A list of gifts on a Tuesday

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  • 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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{Practicing Benedict} Do not disappoint me…

“When the decision is made that novices are to be accepted, then they come before the whole community in the oratory to make solemn promise of stability, fidelity to monastic life and obedience … Novices must record their promises in a document … Each must write the document in his or her own hand or, if unable to write, ask another to write it instead; then, after adding a personal signature or mark to the document, each must place it individually on the altar.  As the record lies on the altar they intone this verse: ‘Receive me, O Lord, in accordance with your word and I shall live, and do not disappoint me in the hope that you have given me.’ The whole community will repeat this verse three times and add at the end the Gloria Patri. Each novice then prostrates before every member of the community asking their prayers and from that day is counted as a full member of the community.”

The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 58 (emphasis mine)

It’s Saturday morning. I stuff my mouth full of pancakes at a diner with one of my favorite 19-year-olds. She looks across the table at me as if I am a surviver, someone once sick but now in recovery. She chews slow then stares in my eyes, says, “I feel like I believe in God one minute, like I’m thanking him and watching him do these amazing things…like I can sing worship songs and really believe them, and then, the next, I’m thinking these crazy thoughts. I hear my professors’ voices calling Jesus’ resurrection a myth. I can’t reconcile my brain and my heart. I don’t understand what’s happening to me. I’ve always believed.”

I stare back. How long have I been working through those same thoughts? How much fear sits in me? What right do I have to look in her eyes and talk about Jesus like I do in those cozy study chairs every Thursday night, our circle full of freshmen girls learning the world, and Christ, and themselves in both?

But she knows. I’ve confessed it enough–my doubt. How can I not? Even as we spread open the onion skin pages of the Gospel of John every week, even as I swear to them that God’s love is deeper than their brains, than their faith or lack thereof?

What can I say to her except that I know? What can I say except, Now it is time to lean back, sweet girl. This is a baptism of fire and you will emerge both burnt and refined.

I beg her to remember the past: every sweet moment where God’s voice broke Earth’s barrier and made its way to her ears. Set up a memorial in your mind, I say. Stones of remembrance, I say. And when the voices of doubt break in, hold up that memory and dig your fingernails in deep.

Jacob and the angel, I say. The wrestling that lasted all night. “I won’t let go until you bless me!” And how the wrestling and the clinging left him with the blessing and the limp.

Believe that the world is far more beautiful and far more complex and far more mysterious than your mind has room for, I say. And remember that God has room for all the beautiful, all the complexity, all the mystery.

“I do believe!” I quote a father’s prayer of hope for all of us faith failures. “Overcome my unbelief!” And the mystery of holding both those truths in the same heart, in the same prayer.

Who am I? I pray in my heart, my eyes on her young face, bringing my diner mug to my lips. Who am I to say anything, Lord? I know myself. I know the ache of my heart, how constant the tapes of doubt jog alongside my prayers of thanksgiving, how quickly my soul can break under the weight of their whispers. How often I kneel beside the couch, holding a physical cross to my forehead and begging: Lord, put this cross in my mind, bigger than the whispers. How I beg for my boys before they fade into the still of evening rest: that if they stray from the Lord, he will always bring them home again.

And then, I recall this prayer, offered by every Benedictine in the history of the order. Every monk has scribbled down the “solemn promise of stability, fidelity…and obedience.” Who can ever promise such a thing?

Of course, sweet Benedict offers them the sort of prayer of commitment that only a doubter would choose when presenting his or her life to the work of God. It is not a prayer of sacrifice, of promised perfection. No, it is a prayer that God would receive the promise, and a gut-beggar-plead that God will not disappoint us in our hope.

This freshman girl looks across the table at me as if I am a recovered doubter. As if these thirteen years of begging at God’s table for peace have finally delivered me smooth-faith brain waves. As if I’ve finished the treatment and come out pure. But the secret is this: I’ve been learning how to make promises, how to scratch them down and lay them flat on the altar. I’ve been learning how to pray with all my heart: My God! Do not disappoint me in this hope!

And I rise from the altar and lift my hands and shout out with the congregation on Easter Sunday, “The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!”

And then I sing from my gut as the voices beside me raise:

You make me new. You are making me new…

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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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Filed under Guest Post, Motherhood

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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Filed under the Praying Life