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Everbloom: Stories of Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives… and a Giveaway!

Friends, if you know me at all you’ve heard me talk about Redbud.

No, not the tree — the wonderful, life-giving community of writers to which I belong.

I could not measure, weigh, or calculate the impact the Redbud Writers Guild has had on my heart and mind (not to mention my career) in the past four years.

So I’m excited to share the news that the women of Redbud have collaboratively written a book of essays and poems (including one by me!), and it releases this weekEverbloom: Stories of Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives. 

To celebrate, I’m giving away a copy of Everbloom with an Everbloom mug to go with it. Because doesn’t a book of essay and poems just need to come with a cup of coffee (or tea, or hot chocolate).

To enter once, leave me a comment on this post. (Do this first, otherwise I can’t find you if you win!) For additional entries, subscribe to my blog, follow me on twitter, “like” me on Facebook…you get the idea. I’ll draw the winner on Friday.

Happy reading!

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The Treasonous Act of Small Children Waving Branches

 

For twenty minutes yesterday, young children and palm branches surrounded me on all sides.

Like many churches, we have a Palm Sunday procession to mark the beginning of Holy Week. When I dropped my Kindergartner at her class, I offered to stay and help. My church family has literally hundreds (if not thousands) of children — so organizing this march was no small feat. I was responsible for only a handful of children waving palm fronds, but even so, getting everyone up the stairs, through the hallways, and lined up in place took some doing. Especially when one child’s branch lost its leaves (after being used as a sword too many times) and when another needed an emergency trip to the restroom.

All this adorable chaos made me wonder about the actual “Triumphal entry.” On this day, Jesus completed his long trip into Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. Jesus rode on a donkey, and crowds gathered (as they so often did) and threw their cloaks on the ground; others cut down palm branches and placed them on the ground. Given the symbolism of the time, this was red-carpet treatment. Others in the crowd ran ahead, shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Still others ran behind him. A red-carpet and a ticker-tape parade.

After just ten minute of keeping eleven Kindergartners marching with their branches, I wondered: was someone coordinating the original triumphant event, or was it a truly impromptu expression? What sort of massive headache was this, for whomever was in charge?

But more, I wondered about the parents who came, and brought their children. We know they were there, because later on in Jerusalem children were still shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David” at the temple–and this caused a scandal.

In fact, all of this was a scandal. Every piece of imagery in this parade was rich in royal and Messianic symbolism – from the donkey, to the branches, to the cloaks on the ground, to the words the crowds and children shouted and sang. All of it meant “Jesus is our new King! He’s the one we want!” This is a pretty neutral and safe thing to do in a democracy that values free speech, but dangerous insurrection in a political climate where the Roman government frequently tortured, killed, and publicly crucified anyone who suggested treason. All of it suggested that Jesus was not only King, but the Divine, Messianic King sent from God to save the people from oppression once and for all.

Treason and blasphemy. Each punishable by death.

Those in power — religious or political — could not help but hear this message; and they could not let this message go unanswered.

What sort of desperate hope and courage would it take to send my child to wave a branch and shout a song with a message like that?

If we think we can understand the feelings of that crowd, I think we deceive ourselves.

Yesterday, after too many minutes of keeping wiggly kids from wrestling each other or running down the hallway, our turn finally came. Waving our branches and straining to see parents in the crowd, my small group of Kindergartners proudly marched up and down the aisles as the worship leaders led our own crowd of thousands in song. We celebrated and waved and marched happily. We were merely following family and community tradition, the safest, most nurturing thing in the world.

But those first families, who brought their children, to lay cloaks and branches and shout and sing about their allegiance to the new Messianic King…they were publicly inciting treason. And with the long, painful history they had with oppressive governments and public crucifixions, they couldn’t have lost sight of that for a moment.

The week did not unfold as they had thought, though in some ways as they knew it must.

I watched my own adorable children joyfully waving palm branches and singing, as I do every year, and wondered: could I ever find the courage to stand against an unjust empire (and it’s corrupt religious leaders) in such a public way? Even if it put my children’s lives in danger?

This crowd did. I remember them, these parents, too, this Holy Week.

In the first Holy Week, God’s Perfect Love entered the hate-filled realm of injustice, power, and politics. He showed us what happens to such powerful, fearless, self-giving Love.

And that, even so, this Love triumphs powerfully in the end. He showed us, gave us, the way of Salvation.

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We Have A Winner!

Kayla, I hope  you enjoy each and every item in this lovely bag! Thanks everyone, for entering and sharing! This has been so much fun. Happy reading-spa-day-at home, Kayla! And to all you reading Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual DisciplineI’d love to hear from you!

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Airplane Lessons: An Exercise in Loving my Neighbor

A few years ago I boarded an airplane for a 12+ hour flight. After settling into my (middle) seat, the passenger in the aisle seat next to me arrived and started settling in herself. Like most international travelers, she was armed with a few books, a few electronic gadgets, a bag of airport lunch, a water bottle, a purse, a carry-on bag, etc. She never looked at me or spoke to me, but she did deposit the entire pile of carry-on loot into my lap without a word of explanation or request for help.I was flabbergasted, to say the least.

But, I know how hard it can be to settle into these tiny spaces; she’ll take these things from me in a second, I figured. I won’t be holding them forever. I can be a good neighbor.

She settled in. Sat down. Seat belts. Flips through the airplane magazines. Minutes pass. Then she takes from my arms a cell phone — and makes a call. A long call. Talks on the phone until we have to “please turn off all electronic equipment for take off” and I’m still holding all her stuff.

At this point, I’ve moved from flabbergasted to flummoxed, and incredibly irritated. What is this nut-case-of-a-fellow-passenger thinking?!?

It occurred to me then that this is the scenario Jesus is always describing. The one where I’m supposed to walk the extra mile; where I’m supposed to love my enemies; where I’m supposed to turn the other cheek, give my second jacket to the person who stole my first one; where I’m supposed to be humble, and giving, and patient instead of seeking something for myself, seeking comfort, seeking my rights, seeking a good position. The one where I am to give shelter to those who need it, food and water to those without it, comfort for those who seek it. No matter how undeserving or undesirable the needy person may be, because when I do these things, I’m really doing it to him. As though that person were Jesus.

He was right — it’s easy to do this for my friends who will probably do the same for me. But it’s really hard to do this for a perfect stranger who really seems to be taking advantage of my patience for no compelling reason.

But hey — how about that? Taking advantage of me? Aren’t I supposed to have good boundaries? Not let people walk all over me? This is the place where I go around in circles. How do you love people as though they were Jesus, without becoming an unhealthy doormat?

The answer struck me then in a place deeper than words: if this lady sitting next to me really were Jesus, I would be more than happy to hold his/her bags for 15 minutes — or 15 hours. I would never have to ask myself if I was being manipulated because the change that matters is not in her behavior or intent, but in my own heart. If she really was Jesus, I would spend those 15 minutes or 15 hours blessed beyond belief that I had this opportunity to give, to serve, to be near him.

Being manipulated or taken advantage of comes not because of who she is, but who I see her to be. If I believe that holding her books and loving her gives me an opportunity to directly and physically love and serve Jesus, then she no longer has the power to hurt me in any way. I have already chosen to give freely, joyfully — and I’m getting much more in return than was “taken” from me.

He was right about that too.

She did eventually take her stuff back. Never did speak to me, or look at me. But this taught me something, without words, that a book or sermon or discussion could never have done. Loving the (to my eyes) unlovable as though they were Jesus.

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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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Advent, Hope, and the Chicago Cubs: a Devotion on Devotion

14572263_10154092126768214_5738134130707280860_nHope deferred makes the heart sick,
    but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. (Proverbs 13:12)

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for
    and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)

 

With the dark days of a Chicago winter upon us, hope can feel in short supply. Add in the most divisive political season most of us can remember, and despair can make the heart sick.

In the meantime, you’ve almost certainly heard the news: last month the Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the first time since 1908! I’m fairly certain the cry of joy could be heard from outer space. I know the gathering of five-million people celebrating in Chicago was seen from the skies—the seventh largest human gathering in all history.

It was difficult to carry on normally during those weeks, due to the agony of near defeat, the tension of games too close to call, the ecstasy of victory. And the fact that I was unwilling to wear anything without the Cubs logo emblazoned on it (preferably Cubbie blue).

You might have asked yourself: all this for a ball game??

Well, not exactly.

There’s some powerful alchemy that goes into the emotions we feel around something like this; a recipe that gets at what we humans are to the core and what inspires us to move forward. It’s about individual and community identity, about our placement in the world and in time. It’s about the deeply physical, social, and spiritual elements of hope.

The last time the Cubs played in the World Series (and lost), the year was 1945. World War II had just ended and my Cubs-cheering Dad was only four months old. The last time the Cubs won the World Series it was 1908. World War I was still in the distant future. My dad—and his dad—weren’t cheering because they weren’t born yet; my great grandfather probably wasn’t cheering either, having just immigrated from Sweden and busy setting up the family farm.

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The baby in the high chair is my dad, the year the Cubs last played (and lost) the World Series

That’s a lot of generations ago. That’s a long time to hope for something unseen.

And so, entire generations of Cubs fan were born into families long-hoping for victory, only to live their entire lives and never see it. They birthed children who were taught to do the same, for generations. By the time my children were born, they were handed not only the words to the song “Go Cubs Go” but the weight of their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents who had waited, and hoped, and died without seeing their hope come to fruition.

Yes, but it’s just baseball. They weren’t hoping to see peace come to their homeland, a return from exile, or the coming of God’s final redemption—as so many have throughout human history. That’s true. This is a baseball sized hope.

But when you have the privilege of witnessing something your father’s generation longed to see, and your grandfather’s, and great grandfather’s—and they didn’t, but never stopped hoping, and passed the dream on to you—well, that becomes something bigger than just a ballgame.

This is about loving each other through the ages, and not just today; about faithfulness when it’s difficult and not just when its easy. It is the deep love and loyalty that families feel for each other, the longing one generation has to be united to the ones that come before and behind. It is where we find the strength to move forward, to train up our children, keep the faith, work for redemption and a world made new. There’s power when you believe an ancient dream may finally be realized. It’s about a heart sick from hope deferred, now rejoicing in a tree of life.

The very biggest and best stories are passed down this way; the most transcendent hopes are woven through the generations.

Outside of professional sports we have real lives, with real hopes long deferred. We look at the legacies entrusted to our generation, and wonder if we’re worthy to pass them forward. We trudge through suffering and wonder if we’ll see these longings fulfilled. So we stay faithful in the little things: getting up each morning, caring for family, friends, and neighbors, serving in our jobs, seeking after God, keeping the faith. We long to believe that this everyday-faithfulness is worthy of the legacy of hope, that we are keeping the course for those that came before and those that came behind.

That’s why these small tastes of victory mean so much to us. Spoilers that hint at the end of the story: the ancient hope of our mothers and fathers is alive, even if we won’t taste the fruit in our lifetimes.

There’s a wall at Wrigley Field where fans have chalked the names of their loved ones who hoped to see this day but passed on months ago, years ago, decades ago. Those who have gone before us. Sons and daughters have travelled to far-off cemeteries to listen to Game Seven with the mothers and fathers who longed to listen to such a game their entire lives. Friends are getting tattoos in honor of dearly departed loved ones they wish had lived to see this day.

It is this sweet fulfillment of generations longing together that was tasted, in a small but meaningful way, by millions of Cubs fan now, finally, in 2016.

 

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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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Let’s Feed The Light

With a month left in this election, I’m so very tired. We all are. There is so much hatred and fear in the world, and if we didn’t know that before, we know it now. Without a doubt, if we’re to do any good we must learn to look bravely and deeply into the darkness.

But darkness is not all there is.

There is wonder, beauty, joy, hope, and peace. To make a difference we must practice looking deeply into the light as well.

This month, this October, let’s flood the internet–and our communities–with light. Will you join me? Share stories of wonder beauty, joy, hope, and peace here, or on your own spaces. Use the hashtag or tag me if you feel like it.

Let’s #FeedTheLight.

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Springtime Girl

This morning after everyone else had left, S and I finished getting ready for preschool. We found matching socks, and braided her hair. With her backpack on, I saw my big girl off.

At lunch time, she jumped out of the neighbor’s car and ran to house, backpack bouncing behind her. With shining eyes she showed me her painting and hung up her jacket.

After lunch, I lifted her up into the air. “What will I do without you next year, when you don’t come home at lunchtime?” I asked. She giggled, and I could tell how excited she was for this big change, the adventure of a lifetime. Kindergarten.

In these early days of spring, the realities of next fall are shrouded in mist, as they must be. But they remind me to enjoy every minute of these springtime days, the play-dough and tricycle mornings of the innocent preschool years.

After ten years, the brightly colored things of preschool are fading into the rear-view mirror: nursery songs, puzzles, games, ABCs, colors, and shapes. Coming ahead are chapter books and birthday parties, homework and friends. Strange, how these things have built themselves into my understand of life and family. Strange, how certainly they will be left behind.

I love you, my big girl, my four-and-three-quarters daughter, my baby. You are so eager to meet the years before you; and I am so privileged to walk alongside you.

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Making Things New

Today I spent some quality time with the Creator. I know! Audacious thought. Ridiculous, pompous notion. True none the less. We sat silently on my front porch, drinking tea, listening to the unmistakable sound of gentle wind rustling through dried leaves, and breathing in their sweet, tangy smells.

I shared with Him my thoughts on Fall. My dislike of endings, of decline, of death. My resistance towards sickness and weakness, my struggle against the inevitable coming of cold, dark days. I confessed my tendency to grasp hold of all that is green and growing, hopeful and alive – and not want to let go when it is pulled from my hands.

He listened patiently. But then I heard His side of the story. It turns out that the Creator of Autumn is wildly in love with Autumn. The blue-grey skies, raindrops that seem to spontaneously appear rather than fall. The piles of gourds, pumpkins, and burnt-orange flowers from my garden. The warmth of sweaters, the comfort of sipping hot tea. The sounds and smells of decaying leaves. The brilliant colors of life in decline. The absolute certainly that seasoned life has of who it is and for whom it lives and breathes and has its being. The absolute trust this certainly requires.

I sat quietly, taking it all in – the sights, smells, tastes, feelings, and sounds. I know that He is making something new, even in this season of ending, this close of Autumn. Because he is always, always making things new.

The rain turned to drops, splattering my face and tea. The wind changed, bringing a chill my sweater and tea could not overcome. Turning back towards the house I saw our new sidewalk, freshly dried and already littered with leaves. A new path, never before walked upon. I set my feet on it for the very first time. I am committed to finding His new pathways of grace through this darkening seasons.

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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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