Thursday, February 28, 2013

Revive + Replenish, Part 3: Prayer (Elizabeth's take)

This post is part of our series of Lenten reflections for 2013, focusing on ways that we can nourish ourselves as mothers so that we are better able to serve and bring light to our families, friends, and all the others we come in contact with. 

purple cross

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.

-Psalm 19:1-4

This past Sunday I sang in our church choir. This is not a regular thing for me, although I love to sing; I just love attending Mass as a family. I had to leave a little earlier in order to make it for pre-Mass rehearsal, so I walked the six blocks by myself. It was a beautiful clear morning, and I found myself praying out loud, just praising God for the gifts in my life. This has been a hard month for us, not in any huge way, just in a string of small-ish ways. My husband and daughter have both been fighting colds. My daughter is going through what seem to be never-ending developmental changes that I can barely keep up with. It's hard, but above all, deeply good. I praised God for giving me a supportive spouse with whom I can leave my baby for an hour or two without a trace of worry. I praised Him for the gift of the seasons, even the ones we don't particularly love (late winter, anyone?), because they make us appreciate the ones we do love. I praised Him for allowing me the luxury of staying home to focus on my vocation as wife and mother.

And then I turned my focus outward, praying for others. For friends and family in all kinds of different situations, asking God to meet their needs and be present to them. One by one I prayed for the people who are important to me. My rhythmic steps on the sidewalk a meditation, the sunshine and cool air crystallizing my prayers and drawing them to Heaven. I breathed a little more deeply, allowing the Holy Spirit to minister to me.

I have always felt most deeply connected to God through Creation. "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands." I sense my Creator's deep love for me in the great beauty that is all around, that is all too easy to glide by in the course of our busy lives.  I invite you to take ten minutes this week to walk outside, admiring the beauty of late winter, forgetting to look at your phone, talking to no one but the One who made you. Pray in thanksgiving for your blessings, offer up the concerns of those you love, and pray for the cardinals gathered in Rome, that the Holy Spirit would guide them as they choose the next leader of our Church.

St. Gregory, February 2013

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Revive + Replenish, Part Two: Fellowship

This post is part of our series of Lenten reflections for 2013, focusing on ways that we can nourish ourselves as mothers so that we are better able to serve and bring light to our families, friends, and all the others we come in contact with. 

purple cross

"If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing."
Philippians 2:1-2

We are not alone. As much as it can feel that way on a long winter day in the house, for every high and low we experience as mothers, someone has been there before and someone will be there after. It's liberating and healthy to share the joys as well as the challenges with someone who understands. For this reason, we need other women friends on the journey, and in particular other mothers. There are so many aspects to parenting that are taboo in normal adult conversation (labor, delivery, breastfeeding, diapers...). I've found that if I can't make light of these things with someone who gets it, I will start to resent my role as a mom. 

What's more, becoming "united in heart" with other mothers elevates our call to raising a generation of faithful people. Without good friendships to hold me accountable, I would undoubtedly grow complacent in my vocation. Even if it's just a phone call, text, or email of encouragement, my day suddenly has more meaning when it involves communicating with a good friend. Fellowship refers to this accountability-friendship with others pursuing the same goal. Make it a priority! Check in often and take the time to maintain communication, however small it may be. Getting all wrapped up in motherhood is so much more of a joy when it's shared. Having women friends to lean on is so good for our sanity.

Vocation is a paradox, how it's both personal and communal. What starts in the small unit of the family has the potential to reach so much farther, if we allow it to. One way to nourish our vocations and ourselves is by staying connected to others on the same path. So this Lent and in the years ahead, let us allow ourselves to be revived and replenished by the fellowship in our lives.

"But she will be saved through motherhood, provided women persevere in faith and love and holiness, with self-control."
1 Timothy 2:15

Friday, February 15, 2013

Revive + Replenish, Part One: Caring For Your Body

This post is part of our series of Lenten reflections for 2013, focusing on ways that we can nourish ourselves as mothers so that we are better able to serve and bring light to our families, friends, and all the others we come in contact with. 

purple cross

In my three short months of motherhood, I have learned that taking care of my body is more important, difficult, and pleasurable than ever before. Caring for my little girl is physically and emotionally exhausting, not to mention the constant second-guessing and trying to keep up with all her rapid developmental changes. If I neglect my own needs in favor of hers every time, I become a useless mess pretty quickly. It's tempting to tell myself that something else is more worthy of the time I spend making sure my needs are met. In reality, though, what my family needs is a healthy wife and mamma. When I play the martyr and neglect myself, everyone suffers. I start to snap at my husband, and I resent every little thing I do for someone else. Give me a nap, a bath, or a good meal, and I'm a new person. God provides for all of our needs, but like all gifts, we have to take hold of them with our own hands for them to do us any good.

Let's explore the ways in which the Shepherd cares for us (and invites us to care for ourselves).

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;

Sleep is vital. Sometimes I still have to take a nap when my daughter does in the afternoon (especially if she's been keeping me up at night). I am much more pleasant and effective when I'm rested, and sometimes that means that there are days when I must choose sleep over something more exciting.

He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

The walking paths of righteousness, that is! Get outside in the fresh air for a walk every day, or do some simple stretches and deep breathing before bed. Exercise releases endorphins! Even if it's cold, getting outside for some sunshine and a walk around the block shakes the cobwebs out of my soul and refreshes me immensely. This may not be the time for marathon training, but certainly there is something I can do each day to get moving.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

Treat yourself to whole, healthy food and plenty of water. This is your body's basic fuel, and if you're breastfeeding, your baby's fuel, too. Fruits and vegetables, full-fat dairy, whole grains, omega-3-rich foods like wild salmon, nuts and seeds. If possible, don't give in to the temptation to use super-sugary foods for the quick energy boost; you know you pay for that later. (Don't cut out everything indulgent, though! Moderation is key!) Take a little time to plan meals at the beginning of the week, and prepare as much as you can ahead of time. Keep your fridge stocked with easy, healthy snacks: hummus and baby carrots, yogurt, trail mix, natural energy bars. Mix it up and have fun with trying new things.

You anoint my head with oil;

Most days, a quick shower is all I have time for. I have a really quick makeup routine (seriously, 3 minutes) that I try to do every day, even if I'm not going to see anyone. It makes me feel human. A few times a month, I try to make sure I do a little extra pampering. Run a really hot bath, light a couple of candles, sprinkle in some Epsom salts and lavender essential oil (homemade bath salts! so much cheaper!!), and soak for a while with my eyes closed. Give myself a manicure or pedicure. Do a deep-conditioning treatment on my hair or a clay mask on my face. Cucumber slices on my eyes? Why not?

My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord

Friday, February 8, 2013

Pressed Down, Shaken Together, and Running Over

A friend of mine and her 10-month-old daughter came over for a quick visit this past weekend. I was reeling from a few less-than-restful nights in a row, and she could see the exhaustion all over my face. She asked me, "What do you need right now? From God, your husband, your daughter? What do you need?"

The question has stuck with me this week. I play so many roles: wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend. I think it's all too easy to think constantly about what others need from me, and neglect to check in with the state of my soul. I run the risk of becoming depleted and ineffective when I don't nourish myself.

Before we parted ways, my dear friend grasped my hand and prayed that I would look full in my Savior's face and find everything I need there. With Lent just around the corner, I think I will make that my focus. My life is already replete with sacrifice at the moment, so I will rededicate myself to prayer, to reading God's Word, and to seeking out ways in which to care for myself so that I can better meet the many needs of those closest to me.

How do you fill up your "tank" when you feel empty? God promises to provide for us.

"Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." -Luke 6:38

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

This Too Shall Pass!

The last several days I've woken up to photos in my inbox from my parents, who are vacationing in Florida. Scenes of palm trees swaying in a warm ocean breeze seem quite a contrast when I turn my head and look out at the snow drifts that have been piling up for days. For a second I'm inclined to be jealous that I'm stuck in Chicago instead of on a sunny beach; but then something surprising has been happening. Now that I have a family, I find that in my heart I don't want to be anywhere but right here. 

Of course a day on the beach would be much appreciated, but I'm finding that it is possible to find beauty in the starkness of winter. I'm realizing that it's okay to just be in the midst of this season, knowing that it is a passing season and will soon give way to warmth and new life. As someone who typically struggles with the gray and cold each year, I'm surprised to feel such peace and assurance that we will all soon make it through.

So too with this "season" of parenting young children. Some days it's so difficult to even see through the exhausted haze, and in these moments it's certainly okay, admirable even, to commit to taking things one day at a time. I do think, though, that one of the gifts of parenthood is a little bit wider perspective, when we find the time to look. Maybe that's the reason that winter looks different this year, and I'm grateful for it.