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Book Birth Day! (and a contest)

It’s Launch Day! 

Long Days of Small Things is born into the world!

As with so many things, Long Days of Small ThingsMotherhood as a Spiritual Discipline was conceived as a spark, an idea, without me realizing that something new and real had begun. Then came a long but joyful gestation period of writing, rewriting, and editing. And then the labor of launching and delivering this book into your hands.

But today is birth day. We’ve made it! We’re here. Long Days of Small Things has finally, finally arrived.

What’s a birthday without presents?? To celebrate I’m hosting a fantastic giveaway. My amazing publisher (NavPress/Tyndale) has put together a lovely collection of gifts. I’m so incredibly excited about it — I only wish I could win it myself!

So here we go — away from the quiet hours of choosing words and crafting sentences, and into this new (and much louder) season of sharing it with you all. Launching a book has been unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I’m grateful and nervous. I’m excited and exhausted. It feels unbelievable and long overdue.

In any case, it is here, now.

I would be honored if you would check out Long Days of Small Things, and enter the giveaway. Enter to win early and often — and help me celebrate by spreading the word.

And of course, happy reading!

Win a Custom Long Days of Small Things Gift Bag!

 

 

Included in the Long Days of Small Things giveaway bag is Canvass – a beautifully designed artistic journaling bible from The Message, a box of Taylor’s organic chamomile tea, a Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day lavender scented soy candle, one tube of Watkins shea butter lavender scented hand cream, a 32 oz package of San Francisco Salt Co. bath salts (Sleep – Lavender), one $15 iTunes gift card, a handmade fair trade organizational pouch from Mi Esperanza*, and – best of all – a signed copy of Long Days of Small Things!

These are all wrapped up inside a lovely and practical “Little Hope Tote”, also from Mi Esperanza*.

*Mi Esperanza (My Hope) was founded in 2002 and works to provide life sustaining change in the lives of women in the villages surrounding Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Committed to fair wages and a healthy and supportive work environment Mi Esperanza produces a line of unique handmade bags and jewelry. They provide free skills training to impoverished women who would not otherwise receive an education, giving them the tools and resources they need to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty and provide a stable future for themselves and their children. Through Mi Esperanza women are finding a new sense of hope, self-empowerment and the stability that is needed to gain control of their future.  You can read more about Mi Esperanza and their mission at their website: https://thewomenofmyhope.org/.

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Long Days of Small Things…We Have a Cover!

Friends, it has been a joy this past year to write my first book, Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline (NavPress, 2017). The book is finished (my end of it anyway) and getting ready to be sold March of 2017…which suddenly doesn’t feel that far away!

At the heart of my book is a desire to free Mamas from the burdens of should and ought to and could have and instead awaken them to the amazing, life-giving work we do every day. No, we don’t spend an hour each day alone with God (we don’t go to the bathroom alone either!) No, we don’t spend time fasting for world peace (we’re trying to get in enough food to stave off “morning sickness” while keeping a hunger-striking toddler alive!).

But we are creating. We are nurturing. We empty ourselves constantly for the sake of others. Our days and nights are already filled with service, sacrifice, and perseverance. As I say in the book, maybe Mommy-bootcamp is even better for my soul than a week of silent meditation.

I pray that this book can be life-giving to you, or to someone you love.

Today, I’m excited to share the cover art, and the link to the Amazon page. The team and designers at NavPress/Tyndale grasped the spirit of this book immediately, and I’ve been so grateful for the privilege to work with them. I’ve never doubted that Long Days of Small Things was in the best possible hands.

And so, without further ado…here it is!

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I’d be so honored if you visited the Amazon page. There you’ll find the cover, the description…and yes, an opportunity to pre-order. 😉

Thank you, friends.

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My Neighbor as Myself

I originally wrote and posted this a few years back after moving into my community, but am re-posting today after reading Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement.

What we want out of life has a lot to do with what we expect from life.

What we expect has a lot to do with how life has gone for the people around us.

Those to whom much is given, much will be required.

I am talking to my new friend, “Rosa.”  I am sitting in her apartment, eating her food, listening to her story.  Already I know her smile and her facial expressions.  But she is telling me how, five years ago, she left her two daughters behind and traveled to a new country – my country – so that she could earn enough money to care for their most basic needs.  The journey was horrible, threatening (and nearly taking) her life. She works now, longer hours than I ever have, harder work than I have ever done, for less money than I have ever earned. She can think of no way that she will realistically ever see her daughters again, but because of the couple hundred dollars she sends back each moth, they survive.

It is one thing to read this story and quite another to hear it while looking at her eyes and sharing her food, calling her my friend.  My children are now the exact ages hers were when she left.  For one horrible moment I try to imagine myself in a position where my children lacked even basic food, water, shelter, and education; where they could survive only if I left them behind forever and moved to a foreign land where I had nothing and no one.  In all the worst-case scenarios that always run through my head, this one has never, ever, come up.  It is unthinkable.

Living with roaches and no washing machine is nothing by comparison.

I am around Rosa and others like her all the time now.  Their lives and losses are each unique, but all within the same magnitude. I am beginning to feel that my standard of living, which recently took a nose dive, is quite opulent.  I consider how many people she shares her tiny apartment with and wonder what I could do to get by on less than I have now; if someone else could somehow have more if I was willing to have less.

At the same time, I also enter a very different world each day. A world that feels “normal” and increasingly not normal at all.  A world in which people are paid all the money they have earned; a world where education can be had; where skin color, language, clothing, and mannerisms invisibly open doors, not slam them shut; a world where we talk about needing a bigger house if a baby’s on the way, or a smart phone, or a vacation abroad, or a PhD.  I participate in these conversations pretending like its normal but I’m choking back something between a laugh of irony and a sob of pain. Because I want all these things too but it sounds so, so funny to me now.

Forget asking which world is normal.  Forget asking even which world is right.  I’m consumed with the question: which world is mine? The one I see everyday, the one who’s injustices and pain call to me more passionately and compellingly each day?  Or the one that made me, the one I have always know and by which I have been known?

Or a third option, as A will always find – living as a bridge between the two.  An endless loop of culture shock and re-entry shock, not daily but several times per day.  And then, where do I learn what to expect?  From the life I have always lived or the life I am surrounded by now?  As my expectations change, so too my worldview and my theology and my understanding of blessing and of responsibility and good news and on and on….

You are the ultimate of love and beauty, yet you lived and suffered with us.  Teach me, please.  Gently.

When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required. – The Bible

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and…love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these. – The Bible

I re-posted this, inspired by the novel Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement.  Ladydi grew up in rural Mexico, where being a girl is a dangerous thing.She and other girls were “made ugly” to keep protect them from drug traffickers and criminal groups. Join From Left to Write on February 18 we discuss Prayers for the Stolen. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

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The Well-Tempered Heart

“Intuition can be misleading.”
He shook his head. “You should never doubt intuition.”
I had to laugh. “Unless you’re me. My intuition is not very reliable. It’s always letting me down.”
“I don’t believe it. Intuition is the incorruptible memory of our experiences. We have only to listen closely to what it tells us.” With a smile he added: “It does not always speak plainly. Or it tells us things we don’t want to hear. That does not make them untrue.”
A Well-Tempered Heart, by Jan-Philipp Sendker

Sometimes it is the most beautiful and valuable things which are the most fragile and easily lost. Intuition could easily be put on the list. In a society that bombards us with data, data, and more data, it is easy to believe that when solving a problem, a stranger on the internet deserves a louder voice than our own.

But somewhere hiding behind all the layers of noise, data, and media that surrounds us, our intuition is there. It is rarely pushy, and may not speak up clearly if we do not allow silence for it to gather its thoughts and reveal itself. But the wisdom it offers is so very needed.

Intuition is not magic – it is, as the quote above describes, the compilation of our experiences. While it may not come with credentials, it has one important edge over all other voices – it is drawing specifically from the applicable experiences of the one to whom it speaks.

Of course, we are our own biggest threats in many cases – our own anxieties, selfishness, and brokenness taint our memories so that painful patterns begin to look like wisdom. Yet, this voice knows us better than we can consciously know ourselves.

When a new mother asks me for advice, I point her to well informed, balanced sources and share my own experiences. But I also remind her that too much input can make us distrust our most valuable adviser – our own sense that something is right or wrong.

Intuition  is a beautiful, powerful tool. Paired together with reason, the two are stronger than either can be on its own.

 

This post was inspired by the novel A Well-Tempered Heart by Jan-Philipp Sendker.  Feeling lost and burned out, Julia drops her well paying job at a NYC law firm. After hearing a stranger’s voice in her head, she travels to Burma to find the voice’s story and hopefully herself as well. Join From Left to Write on February 4 we discuss A Well-Tempered Heart. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

 

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The Courage to Know the Difference

Happier at Home by Gretchin Rubin

In her book Happier At Home, Gretchen Rubin says “Happiness is not having less; happiness is not having more; happiness is wanting what I have.” 

Though she is speaking specifically about possessions, the underlying idea is true to the overall theme of her book and of many of my recent musings about life in general.

The well known and oft-quoted Serenity Prayer implores:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;and wisdom to know the difference.

I find that I can do the first two fairly well – accept the things I cannot change, and summon the courage to change the things I can. But the third is much more challenging – the wisdom to know the difference. Our emotions and perspectives are here to inform us and we should listen to what they have to teach us. If we ignore them, they will control us without our awareness. But once acknowledged and understood they must be tempered, put in perspective, and often surrendered.

Most of us in the Western world with access to the internet to read this post are surrounded by extravagant privilege of choice. But this (perceived) freedom to make your own destiny comes with its own set of shackles – the great responsibility to make things just as they should be in a reality that is still outside of our control and certainly not centered on our desires. When does that sense that things must change need to be surrendered for the sake of contentment? When must it be allowed to grow into the courage to fight for change?

These are questions to wrestle with for a lifetime.

This post was inspired by Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin where she runs a nine month experiment to create happier surroundings. Join From Left to Write on January 6 we discuss Happier at Home. You can also chat live with Gretchen Rubin on January 7 on Facebook! As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

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There Must Be 50 Ways to Leave Your Love

In my childhood I was well trained for the eventuality that one day someone would slam a boot against my chest, a gun to my head, and threaten to kill me if I didn’t relent and confess that, in fact, I had no faith in God. The time was swiftly coming, maybe even in my lifetime I was told, when evil would prevail (for a season) and all that is good and lovely would be snuffed out if we did not stand firm even unto death.

We prepared for this outside threat but we did not prepare for a much more insidious threat, the possibility that one day it would be our own feet wearing the boots, our own hands holding the gun; that evil would prevail against us not by killing us suddenly but destroying us slowly. Who would believe that evil could make us like itself without us even being aware? It is easy, or at least straightforward, to prepare to be a sacrifice if it comes to that; but it takes constant vigilance, humility, and surrender to become a living sacrifice, constantly starving the evil within ourselves and feeding only the good. Deciding to die rather than renounce Love is a one-time decision, but deciding to live in a way that is loving requires much, much more. Yet it is the second that is the deciding question in most of our lives.

We all tend to think that there are good guys and bad guys. Which of us wakes up one morning and decides to cross over to the dark side? If we see ourselves as the righteous ones it stands to reason that those who oppose us are evil; if we see ourselves as in danger it follows easily that we should defend ourselves against this oncoming darkness. But I propose that it is at this moment that we turn from light to dark.

When we are convinced of our rightness we stop looking deeply at our faults with humility, stop looking to understand and love the ones who are different from us, even as we ourselves have been loved and understood. When we are convinced that we need to protect ourselves from an outside danger we begin to isolate ourselves; we stop trusting, start fearing; stop giving, start taking; stop comforting and defending, start judging and demeaning. We may not be killed physically for denying Love, but the love in us will be snuffed out when we do not submit to it when things are hard and scary and ugly.

The culture that raised me has not yet found itself physically threatened as we feared. But I believe the threat of evil against goodness and loveliness was no less real for that. It attacked, as it so often does, not by killing us but by changing so many of us through fear and self-defense. If we are ready to lay down our lives in an instant for Love, we must be ever more prepared to lay down our lives and comforts and rights in the name of Love, Justice, Mercy and Compassion. Otherwise, we become the people wearing the boots.

This post is inspired by Sarah McCoy’s where we are drawn into Elsie’s life in Germany during the last year of WWII. Join From Left to Write

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Forbidden and Forgiveness

Would you believe it? After a very long season of dormancy I am starting up my again. This time around I’m diving into Judaism, and I’m very eager to do so.

Studying Judaism is a bit complicated for me. My own faith, and my own life, is entirely based upon following a man who was himself ethnically and devotionally Jewish, and who made no attempts to become anything different. Much of our sacred scriptures is the telling of Israel’s story. And yet current day Christians, myself included, are so very divorced from any real understanding of Jewish life, traditions, and mindset. How can we understand the man we believe to be the Jewish Messiah if we do not understand the Jewish mind or heart? How can we know the God who first introduced himself to Israel as Creator and Sustainer if we do not know Israel? I have saved Judaism for last because it was so close to me – like a cousin I rarely met. Too close to be introduced without preconceptions, but too far away not to begin at the beginning. And now, here I am.

As it happens, the impetus to jump in came from a novel my read this month, called . I found this book to be gorgeous and utterly compelling, as we follow the lives, beliefs, and dreams of generations of Satmar Jews (a Hasidic sect) from Hitler’s time to today. From the eyes of children we see the horrors of Nazi Germany and as these children grow up we saw how the tragedies and losses impacted their understanding of themselves, their pasts, their future, and their choices. The author does an excellent job of showing us both the beauty and the liability of living and believing in a community such as the Satmars do, and the difficulty of taking one without the other. It was this that sparked my imagination and sent me back to the library.

There are many haunting scenes in this book, but the one that haunts me deepest taps into my other great hobby – the study of . Josepf, whom the reader has known and loved since his terrible childhood, discovers personal news that he considers a sin. The law and scriptures, as he has been taught them, allows for no forgiveness or redemption in this area. He spends literally decades searching the scriptures and teachings, finding only a paradox – messages of God’s unending love, forgiveness and mercy abound, but the law on this particular matter is unyielding and there can be no mitigation or repentance. Which of these is Joseph’s story and path – the individual commands of the law and their consequences for failure or the overarching story arc of mankind’s continued failures and God’s continued redemption and faithfulness? The trees, or the forest?

So many factors determine which of these he will see – his own temperament, what he has been taught, and the questions he asks as he approaches the texts. The impact of our own perspectives on how we understand what we read and hear and “know” is so powerful, and so fascinating to me. Part of what I love in this exploration of World Religions is the ability to see this in others, and then learn to see it in myself.

What Josepf saw and decided was ultimately a combination of his community, his experiences, his beliefs, his mind, and his heart. The same is true for each of us, and for me as I approach this long distant cousin of Judaism.

This post is partially inspired by by Anouk Markovits. Though not sisters by blood but through their Hasidic faith, Mila and Atara views the rules and structure of their culture differently. Mila seeks comfort in the Torah while Atara searches for answers in secular literature she is forbidden to read. Ultimately each must make an irrevocable decision that will change their lives forever. Join From Left to Write

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Exhale

My current lifestyle doesn’t leave room for much of what is commonly understood as “spiritual discipline.” There’s simply no silence or solitude to be found, and I am not the master of my schedule, my diet, my sleep, and in many respects, my life. I’ve many many times heard the message of “that’s ok – there will be time for spiritual disciplines later in life” but I strongly disagree. The things mothers (and parents, and caregivers of all sorts) do with their energy may not be featured in any books on the subject but the reason we don’t have much time for devotion is because we give of ourselves every moment of the day. There has been no steeper road of humility, surrender, submission, service, worship, and prayer in my life than parenting.

One of my greatest passions is to pull back the veil that we so often erect between what is “spiritual” and what is “everyday.” When my hands are filthy from cleaning up another person’s dirty diaper – this is my chance to learn service and humility. When my head is spinning with cries from a million places – I have the opportunity to clear my mind and stay attune to God and the real, live moment I am in. For a caregiver, opportunities for spiritual discipline abound in every moment, if we can look beyond what we have read and see how our souls can be shaped in our day to day.

One thing I do each day, whether I have time or not, is breathe – in and out, in and out, day in and day out. Why not use this as a vehicle? I have been practicing for a few years but was recently encouraged by this:

_ When we are born, we are born into a relationship with air, with breathing. How closely the words wind, air, life, and spirit are linked in human thought. We are creatures into whom life is breathed.
A word we have for inhaling is inspiration. When we are fully inspired, not only are our lungs filled – our beings are also filled, with hope, with potential, with the impetuous to express possibility.
Expired, we are over and done with, stopped…finished.
Our life is lived within this paradox. With every inhalation we are given life. With every exhalation we must surrender that life, for another breath to be given to us. If we could fully enter the rhythm of this paradox we would live with immediacy, and be intimate with birth and death and with life itself. _

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Tables

I read this recently and I loved the idea – the way it turns a daily task into a spiritual goal. I’ve been trying it.
“A table can be so many things – from a desk to an altar. It is around the table that we gather for meals. At the table we study, play games, sort the mail, pay bills, and do so much of what is needed for a household.
_Tables are often cluttered. In a rush we pile them high, be they counters, bureaus, sideboards, desks. or ordinary tables. An empty surface invites this kind of use. _

_Were we to clear one surface in our homes and try to keep it free of everything, we would soon find how hard that is is – and how much our minds are likewise surfaces that clutter up. _

_Keeping a clear table is a form of hospitality, for a conscious empty space reminds us to clear ourselves and so invite our souls. Spaciousness is the home of the soul. _

Even on small surface kept clear is a powerful reminder. Resting our eyes on such a cleared surface invites God’s company and feeds our souls.”

From Simple Ways Towards the Sacred by Gunilla Norris

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My aim is to awaken myself and others to the creative, redemptive work of God in this present moment. I am striving to see beauty, learning to expand my perspective, praying to keep my eyes and heart open.

Connect with Catherine at www.catherinemcniel.com.

 


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