MAYD to Birth: At Your Doorstep

Promoting gentle, empowering mother journies…

Contemplative Parenting ~ We Shall Never Pass this Way Again

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My three oldest children are now 20, 17 and 14.  They are, essentially, young adults.  I am daily reminded of the fact that not only are they increasingly independent and unique people in their own right, the ache in my heart tells me that they are no longer the tiny children they so recently were.  I’ve truly enjoyed my children!  I was never one to feel overwhelmed by parenting, perhaps because I didn’t separate my parenting life from the rest of life; it was all part of a piece.  It’s not an exaggeration to say that my kids ran wild; they did, but in a good way!  I didn’t fuss over them and I encouraged a great deal of outdoor adventuring, tree climbing, reading and private time ~ for all of us!  I loved watching them become themselves!  I cared about my children as human persons and I was awed by the fact of them in my life.   I didn’t think of them as “mine” but as gifts from a recklessly generous God who gave them to me as a stewardship; a caretaker of precious human souls!   I didn’t have a possessive sense about them and that led to the happy circumstance that I didn’t see them as extensions of me, or my husband, nor did I  think that what they did, or didn’t do, reflected on me.   I wanted my children to be who they were and who God created them to be and to accomplish that, I thought I should mostly leave them be.   They weren’t discipline problems, in fact, they were really easy kids to raise!  I expected them to be cooperative and willing to work for the common good and to be respectful of themselves and others, and they were.  I taught them pretty old-fashioned values and manners, actually, because I thought that traditions of self-respect and consideration for others that had been passed on for generations probably had a greater chance of success than something “new” that hadn’t stood the test of time and, being the admittedly lazy mother that I was, I preferred not to have to work at anything that a few ground-rules could make fairly easy for me.  And it worked!  Yes, of course there were “off days” and a few fits of willfulness but all in all, it was a quiet, peaceful and loving household in spite of some very dark and tragic times.  I’ve enjoyed my mothering years to the full and my only regret is that it passed so, so swiftly!

So where does “contemplation” come into all of this?  Everywhere…everywhere.  What I loved most about parenting my young children, and what I still enjoy, as they arrive home each evening full of their respective days and activities, is just being in the presence of their goodness, generosity of spirit, youth, energy and hopefulness.  I love feeling the “be-ing” of them and noticing the moment  ~ living the moment in it’s entirety.   When they were babies and young children, I often paused just to listen to them, or to watch them.  I can remember standing in the doorway between the kitchen and dining room while they were seated around the dining-room table reading, or making pictures, or coloring Easter Eggs and just breathing in the nearness, and dearness, of them.  One of my most valued parenting “tools” was this simple “Contemplation of Mothering”, a small spiritual discipline that finds it’s greatest usefulness in those “horror show” moments when a child is sick, or screaming in frustration, or behaving in a way that exceeds our comfort zone!  In those moments, I had to step back and watch in silence for a few moments, asking myself what I’m perhaps not seeing, not hearing or fearing, or what do I not want to be held accountable for? Am I afraid to BE the parent?  So often, we are afraid to just say “no” and mean it.  When my children were behaving in a way that was willfully disrespectful of self or others, an absolute, clean, clear and unequivocal “NO” was required; the standard bearer had to hold her ground and peacefully refuse to negotiate!  Sometimes “No” is the most respectful and loving way to give of ourselves, and never is that more true than with our children.  My practice of “contemplation” of my mothering and my life allowed me a lot of peace!  The real gifts, though, have come later and been more profound than I ever expected.

The gift of “Contemplation of Mothering” is that we come to realize how quickly it all passes away. It teaches us the value of the present moment and all that lies within it, often unseen and unappreciated because we aren’t willing to slow down and take a good, long look.  When the children are grown and gone, we regret most of all what we intuitively know we missed, or overlooked, in our hurry to get onto the next thing, or with all the time we spent in anxious worry about…what?  Do we even remember? We missed timeless moments of their being with us, alongside us, in our lives for those precious years of childhood.   Our lives, our children’s lives are a rapidly flowing current on a river that travels we know not where…

I cherish every recollection of those moments when I stopped to notice my children; when I stopped what seemed so necessary and pressing just to take them in….

My heart overflows with those millions of moments strung together over what is now a period of more than 20 years.  I became a first-time mother at 30 and I am now in my 50th year!  My oldest son is a grown man busy making those early adult choices that will form much of the next 20 years of his life.  Still, when he comes home and sits down at our same old table in our same old house eating the same stew, or chili or bread I’ve made the same way over and over; he’s at peace and I’m at peace watching him.  I know that the day will soon arrive when my house is emptied of these three oldest children.  In a few short years, our youngest child will be the only one left with her parents to live out the day to day routines and pleasures.  I continue to spend my time as a parent in deep and ever more wonder-filled contemplation of the gifts my children have been to me.  I hope that I have cared for them well; and that they will, in turn, live and grow to find their own practice of contemplation over children of their own.

Your Kneelingwoman

UCAN Birth meeting 3/25/09

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We had our birth stories night this past Wednesday with a group of over a dozen new and experienced moms. Several inspirational stories were shared. One mother recounted the midwife-attended home birth of her 2-week-old son. Another mother shared the story of her second child’s midwife-attended birth center birth and her third child’s unassisted (on purpose) home birth. Additional mothers shared the birth stories of children born at home with midwives. The last story was of a great hospital birth experience.

We also spent time answering questions of pregnant moms wanting to know what they could do to help their upcoming births be positive, joyful, and healthy.

Join us at our next meeting on Wednesday, May 27th at 7:30 p.m. We will be discussing options for birth location and care provider (doctors, midwives, etc.). Find out more information and RSVP to get directions by contacting me at the info in this link.

Moving Beyond Absurdity~ Listening Within

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The spiritual life is a life in which we struggle to move from absurd living to obedient living.  The word absurd includes the word ‘surdis’ which means ‘deaf’.  Absurd living is a way of life in which we remain deaf to the voice that speaks to us in our silence.”

                                                    Henri J. Nouwen in ‘Spiritual Direction’    

Last night, as I was preparing for my internship class this week, I came upon this passage in Henri Nouwen’s writings on Spiritual Direction, spending some time journaling about how appropriate this observation is for all of us, individually and corporately.  Our lives and our culture are drowning in our inability to be still and quiet; to think and listen to our inner wisdom,what I know as the Holy Spirit and what others might call ‘that still small voice within’ or ‘Mystery’.  However we identify it, the inability to live contemplatively by taking time to allow a thought or an idea, or a potential response to a situation to be discerned peacefully; is destroying us.  We see the evidence all around in the AIG scandal; the meltdown of our economy brought about by knee jerk reactions and greed.  We see the panic and the public clamor for a solution to problems that have been years in the making and have, in truth, no simple or short term solution available.  We have become so addicted to instant gratification and to living fast…how many of us don’t become impatient and irritable when our computers seem “slow” to connect us to the internet, or our email isn’t working properly for a few days ( my hand is high in the air )… and we have to admit that we’ve come to feel entitled to a fast fix for everything.  How many of us are unthinkingly quick to sign up for reading an e-book or a synposis online instead of embracing the heft and craftsmanship of a book in hand? How often do we get in the car and drive a mile to a store instead of walking?  How often do we avoid gardening, making bread, or soap, or helping a child learn to garden, clean, read or sew because it will take up so much time? And what do we do with that time once we’ve set it aside?  What are we losing when we reflexively turn to the internet and strangers with a problem, instead of turning inward, to the source of our wisdom and strength; spending time in contemplation, prayer, meditation and journaling in order to find our deeper answers.  How often to do we ‘jump the gun’ or believe that we have to “do” something, anything, in the face of a given situation, rather than wait and trust that there is a greater wisdom that always works for our good if we let it?  If we can quiet our minds and hearts and center ourselves on checking “in” first, patiently waiting in trust until that deeper insight and more helpful course of action comes, we learn Faith and Peace.   Learning to trust in this way generates a deep peace of mind that, once gained, we rarely want to part from!  In my own life, I’ve found that my personal sense of peace is my barometer for whether something is “right” for me, or not.  If I’m not at peace with something, or someone, then I still have more unpacking to do–more contemplation, prayer and inner healing.  I deeply value my peace, and I work actively at maintaining it!  It is the single, most important thing I’ve ever done for myself, and others!
Inside all of us is a fount of wisdom and strength that is accessible, authentic and reliable.  It contains truth and is the only remedy for living an “absurd” life of spiritual and emotional ‘deafness’, as Nouwen put it.   When we are unknown to ourselves, we can never be known or loved, by others.  We can’t offer a false self to the world, and then assume that what we are getting back is “the real deal”.   The great gift of the practice of Spiritual Direction is the development of a relationship of trust such that the person being mentored is allowed the safe and sacred space to explore themselves down to the core, to the essence of being.  A person receiving good spiritual direction will, over time, become more and more willing to face the “false self” that has been built up over a lifetime, allowing it to be stripped away to reveal the truth and wholeness they were created for.  When we arrive in that place, we are no longer held hostage to fear and anxiety, afraid of being “found out” because we are now in the presence of our original creation ~ the person we were intended to be.  We are no longer confused, or uncertain about “how” to behave, think or decide, because it’s all coming from our Center. 
It’s now the third week of Lent and my thoughts at this time always turn towards a deeper integration of these weeks of contemplation over the ‘losses’ represented by my failings, with the possibility of ‘resurrection’ right around the corner.  The great gift of Lent is that we can yearly recount and become aware of, the many ways we’ve not lived true, the ways in which we’ve capitulated to the ‘false self’ which distorts reality and tempts us to all of those thoughts, feelings and behaviors that drive us further and further away from our Source of life and love, however we define it.  
“Moving beyond absurdity” is, in most ways, the real goal of Lent.  Learning to listen to our own hearts and to the God of our understanding who always lives there.  Many people think of it as a time to think about our “sins” and indeed it is.  Most associate it with “giving up” something, with fasting.  But what sin means, literally, is to “miss the mark” and to behave in ways that are not born of Love.  Our fasting, our “giving up” is to create space and emptiness, that we then seek to fill with prayer and “repentence” of our wrongdoing in the previous year.  When we are called to “repentence” during Lent, it’s helpful to understand that the original Greek word for repentence is ‘metanoia’,  which means, “to turn around”.  During Lent, we are called, then, to “turn around” towards our deeper truth, to contemplate our inner reality and to ask where we have not loved, and where we might love better in the future.  It’s not rocket science, not even “Divine” rocket science.  It’s simple and honest and easy once we get past our fear of venturing into the unknown landscape of our souls!  That’s the hard part….
Courage…..courage.  In these remaining weeks of Lent, even if you’ve never really thought of yourself as “observant”, consider giving a little time to creating space in your life to slow down, to not “fill up” every moment with activity and restlessness and anxiety.  Rest your mind in the idea that you were created for Love, and that there is more to your life than your circumstances.  Spend 10 minutes a day reading something that inspires you, or causes you to have to think carefully about it’s meaning.  Take a long, quite walk daily and notice the world around you, the opening of Spring and “new life” all around.  On Easter, think about how miraculous it is that every year, we start over, we spend time letting go of the darkness in the lengthening of days ( Lent ) that moves us into Spring.  
Your Kneelingwoman

"What is Truth" ~ The Role of Kindness and Respect in Telling our Stories

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There is an editorial article in today’s Christian Science Monitor entitled “Bring Integrity to the Internet” that dovetailed nicely with some things I’ve been thinking about, and discussing with friends, that being the notion of how we talk about ourselves, and others, online, on our blogs; in public!  The article is a cautionary tale about the potential for great, personal damage being done to people through the internet, blogs, and websites, observing that there is little to safeguard anyone from being exploited, or attacked, by their own writing coming back to haunt them!  It really begs the question of what we are doing when we think we are writing about our personal and collective “Truth”.

I spend a lot of my time thinking about the intersection of “truth” and “honesty” and how we use them in making decisions about our public discourse.  Scan back to freshman year at University and Philosophy 101 where we learn that to seek truth is to seek after wisdom so, we assume that knowing truth, speaking truth, makes us wise.  It’s a good theory but the chasm between theory and lived reality is often vast and never more so than in our political, social and relational lives.  The blogosphere is the perfect place to observe the finer points of how “telling our truth” can become bullying, passive-aggressive attack, grandstanding, lecturing, criticizing and just plain cussedness ( one of my grandma’s old saws ). How often do we read (or write ) the following:  ”I’m just speaking my truth…I’m owning my reality by saying….I’m just being honest….I’m not trying to hurt anyone but….that’s how I see it, sorry if that bothers anyone….” and on and on in that vein.  We all do this, from time to time, and I’m as guilty as the next person; far too often, I lay claim to “just being honest” when in fact, I’m doing quite a few other things along with it, and the honesty part then becomes suspect in that context.  We all do it and we all find our own, best excuses and rationales’ for it, but do we get around to examining it, that’s the question.

Sometimes we are just telling the “truth”, but what is truth?  Truth isn’t just facts, and it’s more than opinion, so what is it?  Why does it matter so much to us as we write our blogs and state our various cases to the world?  Who are we really speaking to?  Ourselves?  Someone out there whom we secretly wish we were brave enough to communicate with directly?  Anyone at all who might listen?  Is there any value, then, in “speaking our truth” and is it as unsullied by hidden agendas and oblique communication as we claim?

I think not.  I think that blogs have the ability to communicate honestly, and to be horribly duplicitous.  I think they are a chancy vehicle for personal communication such that I really believe that part of the etiquette of blogging ought to be some kind of self-examination, before posting, to ensure that we are not trying to manipulate people through our writing; not trying to state our case without having to be accountable for it.  This is never easy because  all writing for publication is  intended to alter someone’s position, or move them in a new direction and so involves some level of manipulation .  ”Truth”, then, is a very tricky art form!

  For “truth” to be true, it can’t have any kind of “lie” in it!  It’s a very high art, and a discipline, to learn not to lie–even a little, tiny bit!  Every lie we tell diminishes our humanity, and takes something away from the relationships between people.  When we lie to someone, even about a small thing, it means that we don’t trust them, or ourselves, with the truth!  We lie because we believe that honesty is conditional, that it’s something that we can only give to those we deem deserving of our trust, but honesty is a core virtue; we are honest because honesty has intrinsic value!  Honesty that is real, that is genuine “truth” will never be unkind!  It will never be criticism!  Genuine, discerned, loving honesty has no whisper of cruelty, and no sharp edges!  We all know the difference between the kind of loving confrontation that may well call us out on ourselves and our behavior, but still leaves us feeling intact and worthy, and those that masquerade as “I’m just being totally honest with you” that puts us on the point of  a knife and seems determined to leave us mangled on the floor, undone and wounded.  That isn’t “honesty” and you should walk away from it as swiftly as you would someone who was about to take a shot at your jaw with a closed fist!

Whenever we determine to “speak our truth” we have to make sure that no one gets hurt!  
Words are powerful and they linger.  The internet and blogsphere are permanent records of thoughts, opinions and ideas and often, personal feelings, relationships and real, live people who can be deeply hurt by any carelessness in our writing about them, no matter how much we want to consider it merely “our truth”.  Careers, marriages and friendships have been destroyed because something is published thoughtlessly and comes into the wrong hands.  We aren’t spending enough time in public dialogue with each other about the etiquette involved in our writing, or about the integrity that needs to surround our highly enhanced ability to communicate more broadly and so immediately.  Most importantly, we need to reassess what the boundaries are between our private and family lives, and what is truly appropriate to give away to “virtual strangers” which I think is an apt term, given that so few of us are truly familiar with most of the people who might read our words thrown out into the ether!  

So, perhaps when you are writing for a blog, or a letter to an Editor, or thinking about having that tough conversation with a loved one; examine your heart, first.  Really look at your motivations and question, deeply, what you are really trying to accomplish.  Make sure that you protect those you love and care about because they are tender, and easily hurt, just as we are, and “doing unto others as we would be done by” is called the “Golden Rule” for a really good reason.  Loving-kindness, even with those who oppose us, or with whom we are angry or estranged, is a cardinal virtue, and a central spiritual discipline. During these remaining weeks of Lent, take up the task of being kind, and of being aware of the power words have to encourage and build up, or to hurt, diminish and tear down; choose love!  We are frail creatures who deeply need the shelter of each other.  


Your Kneelingwoman

Transitions ~ Making Space for New Life

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I don’t know how the world outside looks to all of you, this morning, but here in southeast Michigan, it’s a gorgeous, early Spring day.  The vary large elm tree just outside my bedroom window is laden with branches drooping from the effort of holding now-heavy buds….I love this time of year!  My friend Debbie wrote me the other day and asked me about getting in my years’ order of Maple Syrup from a Farm up in Northern Ontario and I spent a few contented moments enjoying all these yearly rituals of the “Season of Growth and New Life”.  Much of the last several weeks has gone into my continued contemplation of what I needed to do to engage my own energy, and move forward.  I felt “stuck” in a long-time and much loved work that I hadn’t yet learned how to surrender for a new path ( see the post below ) and I had become aware of a lingering sense of dis-ease over a few of my relationships and knew that I had to at least make an effort to clean them up so that “New Life” could have a chance of happening with them, too.  I think we’ve all been in that place with people we dearly love when something has gone awry somewhere.  At some point,  feelings were hurt, or damage was done, and while the relationship looks “patched up” on the outside; both people are aware that the infrastructure is still wobbly.  We know that there are places inside us that don’t feel healed, or whole, with that person.  We might find ourselves feeling unaccountably angry with them, recognizing that what we’re feeling irritated about doesn’t really have anything to do with it and the anger comes to remind us that something is yet to be cleaned up and made right.  I know that in my own life, I often find myself reacting, or over-reacting, to something seemingly very small indeed and if I can stay aware, I soon realize that I have something left to work through.  After that, the fact that they are eating their entree’ with the salad fork doesn’t bother me a bit!

Many things in life take on this same pattern as we struggle to make things right, to feel whole, and to find a way to live that engages the best of us, and our relationships, and gets everything humming along on “all 8 cylinders” as my Engineer dad used to say.

I reconnected with a dear friend over the last couple of weeks; a couple of them, actually.  One is a former midwifery apprentice of mine; a beautiful and talented woman, a former Peace Corp volunteer, intrepid and courageous student of life and living, mother of three, and soon-to-be-Registered Nurse interested in both Hospice and Midwifery and the other, my best friend from high school–a wonderful man who probably did more to save my sanity and perhaps even my life, as a young woman, than he can possibly know.  I’m in the slow, careful dance of getting to know them both again; we’ve all gone through a lot of changes yet it’s been so wonderful to see how solid and reliable our connections with each other have remained.  With both, there is a sense of no time having passed, of nothing essential having been lost through the years.  It’s a miracle and a blessing and I’m very, very grateful.

And I am making new friends, one of whom, Carol, who writes a wonderful blog of her own, ( has brought me up on charges of writing posts that are too long by half……and she’s right.  They have been too long, largely, I think, because of my indecision and continued struggle to move forward and to be peaceful and loving towards myself with the changes.   I have had a lot of things to work through, this last year, and to struggle with, and unfortunately, I made the struggle all about wrestling things to the ground when what really needed to happen was for me to let go, stand back, and allow them to walk away.  I’ve been the one holding on and maintaining the fight!

My Spiritual Director pointed out to me a couple of weeks ago that what she sees in me is a willingness and the ability to be “Radically Available” to others, and to the world and she invited me, well, no, she really put it to me in a way that I couldn’t ignore ( smile ) that I need to spend time thinking and praying about how I am going to live that out and to get on with it.  The world has so many needs, and people suffer such terrible losses and injustices.  I don’t feel anything like up to the task of tackling any of them and if I had to take on the burdens of the whole world, well, then of course, I would fail, as all of them are too much for any one person.  But I want to engage with the things that are around me, that are brought to my awareness.  I want to be able to act when I am called by those I love, or those in some need.  I want to maintain my ability to be free and peaceful enough to not count the cost; to just move when the Spirit says move.

And that’s today.  With a nod of respect and gratitude to dear Carol….I’m going to make this post a little shorter ( I know, only a little, I’m working on it )…and head on out into the world and the week and see what there is for me to do.

Your Kneelingwoman

Texas Sheet Cake ! My Birthday Party is Tomorrow…

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Hi everyone ~  We’re all on the mend, the virus seems to be giving up and heading back to wherever it is viruses go when they are done with you.  Mary is still coughing and spending much of her time sleeping and doing short-term very quiet little activities like a bit of play-dough, some drawing, a few stories and then back to sleep.  If any of you have had this same kind of illness this winter, you have my sympathy!  The most unusual thing about it, from my perspective, is the fatigue.  I’ve never been so exhausted from an infection of this sort.

But…tomorrow, we are having my postponed birthday dinner!  I am roasting a turkey!  Yup…Thanksgiving in March.  It’s what sounded good to everyone so, that’s what we’re having.  The really amazing thing is the dessert!  My husband, who does all of our “fun” baking–the birthday cakes, holiday cookies, amazing pies and pastries–is making something called a “Texas Sheet Cake” that I saw in a recent edition of Cook’s Illustrated and thought it looked too astonishing to pass by!  He just popped in here with the mixing bowl full of the “cake” batter which, to my mind, has the texture of, and tastes like, chocolate mousse!  Even though it’s Lent, and none of us are big “sweet” eaters, tomorrow is Sunday, the one day during the week that Lenten observances can be suspended without…consequence…and so, we are having my party.   A good friend from the neighborhood is joining us for dinner, and perhaps some other family and friends last minute but mostly, it will be me and mine…my husband and kids, our dog and cat, our little old house and my 49 years and 4 days Birthday!

I did watch U2 on “Letterman” all week; what fun!  They were phenomenally good.  You can catch all the performances, ( if you’re interested ) on YouTube by “googling” U2 on Letterman, or something like that, and there they are, just like magic!  Other than that, I have accomplished exactly nothing all week.  I did a little writing everyday.  I looked out the back window at the bird feeder alot and on our first lovely warm (60 degrees plus ) and sunny day, I sat out on my front porch with a cup of coffee and a book and listened to the birds singing and even heard our local Woodpecker nattering away at the trees; just wonderful.  It’s always so good, after the long Winter months, to open a few windows on the first really warm day, do some housecleaning and sorting and putting away of the heaviest wool sweaters and beginning to wash some of the lighter-weight clothing ~ all those little things that begin to spell “Spring”.  I love the seasons; I don’t think I could live anywhere that the changes didn’t come every year.  I enjoy the first snow, and the first really hot day of summer…it’s just all fantastic if you ask me!  Life is so, so beautiful….

I’ll get back to writing something or other next week; I hope everyone is well and staying healthy!  Don’t let this virus catch you!  If someone you know is suffering through it, wish them well…but stay away from them!  Peace and Love!

Your Kneelingwoman