It’s Launch Day!
Long Days of Small Things is born into the world!
As with so many things, Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood 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.
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!
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/.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
After Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden, their story continues into the next generation. Two sons are born to the couple, first Cain and then Abel. Abel becomes a shepherd, while Cain farms the ground. Each brings an offering of their labors to YHWH, but the Lord is pleased only with Abel’s and not with Cain’s.
Once again, the story is sparse, hinging on information not given. What was unsatisfactory about Cain’s offering? We cannot know. Once again, there are boundaries around the characters’ lives and actions regarding which they have no say, and for reasons which we do not understand.
Cain is faced with an (apparently) un-requested difficulty and the question is again is on the table – how will he handle living under someone else’s terms?
Cain becomes angry at the situation and YHWH warns him: “If you do not do right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
Sin here is described as a wild animal, a predator hunting with an eye on Cain. His instructions are not to blindly follow a list of rules, but to gain mastery over a stalker. The assumption given by God is that it is fully possible to summon the strength to succeed.
Cain does not heed the warning, however. He rises in strength not against the crouching predator of temptation but against his brother, killing him. As the rest of the story unfolds, two things are clear – Abel’s life is destroyed literally, but Cain’s life is destroyed as well.
As he did for Adam and Eve, God offers protection and provision along with discipline. Cain’s headstrong behavior, as his parents’ before him, carries a consequence of death. Yet the consequence given is, as was his parents’, less than a death sentence. The ground that took in the blood of Abel will no longer partner with this brother-betraying farmer, and Cain is exiled – again, as his parents were before him. But his life will also be protected. Once more, God is true to the boundaries he has laid, but merciful.
The image of sin as a crouching predator is a powerful one. Cain is warned that he is being stalked by a hungry creature desiring him, yet he is given hope – even an imperative – that he can and must defeat this powerful foe. When he does not, both victim and perpetrator are destroyed. And so here in the story, even more than in Adam and Eve’s story, we are introduced to one of the main characters we meet with in life – sin.
In our current language and conversations, we’re suspicious of the word ‘sin.’ It has been so misused it can hardly be used at all. We tend instead to speak more in terms of brokenness, and there is good reason for this. Yet here in Genesis 4 we find a valuable description of our situation. Sin in this narrative is not the breaking of an arbitrary list of rules as we often speak of it, but a hunter poised to consume us who can and must be defeated. When we give way to this crouching animal it destroys both ourselves and our own victims.
In Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov seems to understand this as he gives his first confession: “Did I murder the old woman? I murdered myself, not her! I crushed myself once for all, for ever.” He has given in to what hunted him, and not only his victim but he too is destroyed.
I can see the truth of this, in my own life, and in the world around me. There is no need to commit murder to see that when we are stalked by temptation, giving in (to anger, self-centeredness, greed, desire, or whatever) destroys both ourselves and those around us.I appreciate both the warning and the empowerment – sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for me, but I must rule over it. This hunter is lethal to both perpetrator and victim, but victory is possible.
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” was Cain’s insolent retort when cornered by YHWH in his guilt. Rabbi Telushkin* suggests that the rest of the Bible is spent answering a resounding “Yes” to that question.
The main character is the Gardener, who lovingly, personally, and relationally forms a man by hand from the dust of the ground, breathing his own life into his lungs. The Gardener then sows his garden and gives it to the man to care for, both plant and animal. YHWH the Gardener is obviously a hands-on sort of God, and he remains intimately and passionately involved in the nurture of the garden and its inhabitants. He walks among them and talks intimately to them throughout.
The human pair have a job to do, sharing in God’s gardening work. They are permitted to meet their needs within the garden, but they also have a rule to follow – no eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Old Testament Scholar Walter Brueggemann sees here an archetype for the reality of human nature: we live in a world where God has given us vocation, permission, and prohibition.* The foil of Adam and Eve’s story is “how will these first humans live in the balance of these three?” Likewise, this is the test in all of our lives. How will we respond and balance the vocation, permission, and prohibition given us by God? Can we find the discipline and trust to manage the boundaries and realities, both good and bad, which we encounter?
The plot thickens. As the story reads “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field…and he said to the woman “Did God actually say ‘you shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” This, of course, is not at all what God has said, but it is a good trap to get Eve talking and thinking. One thing leads to another and soon both Eve and Adam are hiding in shame.
Christian interpreters traditionally see this narrative as the foundation for the rest of scripture and reality – the cause of sin, the cause of death, and the introduction of Satan in the role of the serpent.
Jewish interpreters have traditionally read it differently. There is no Jewish doctrine of “original sin” and they do not see here the story of a “fall” or the introduction of evil, death, or Satan. Instead, most Jewish scholars and theologians believe that men and women sin and die as Adam and Eve did, not because Adam and Eve did. +
Not surprisingly, the Hebrew books – the Genesis text and the Old Testament as a whole – supports the Jewish view. The story itself does not name the snake, nor offer any explanation or analysis. The story is not referenced elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures, much less as the all-pervading source of the ups and downs of humanity and Israel’s attempts at faithful, righteous living. Though the New Testament does make further theological use of Adam and Eve, Christian scholar Brueggeman warns us that the Old Testament itself is never interested in abstract issues such as explaining the origins of evil or death. Instead, the Old Testament has a pastoral focus, addressing our “faithful responses” to the evil and trials we encounter.**
What then is the pastoral message of this deeply descriptive account? As mentioned above, Bruggemann suggests that Adam and Eve’s story asks: What does it mean for humans to live in God’s world on God’s terms? How does mankind live out the balance between vocation, permission, and prohibition?
To begin with, this most certainly is God’s garden, and they are his terms – not only are the human pair not allowed input, they are not given explanation. Why the forbidden tree? The story does not tell us why the tree is there at all. As Brueggemann writes “one might wish for a garden without such dangerous trees. But that is not given to us.” ** Adam and Eve must live and work in the garden, following the terms without understanding them. Their foundation for thriving here must be trust, and mutual investment in the relationship God has initiated with them. The unexplained nature of the boundaries is exactly what the snake exploits.
It is fascinating to this theology lover that the conversation with the serpent is the first instance of theology in the Bible. Eve and the snake are not talking to God or with God, but about God. This might not be a problem in and of itself, but for Eve it subtly begins to take the place of obedience. Her thirst for knowledge begins to corrode the life giving power of relational trust.
Whether because they did or as they did, there is no question that we too chafe against the boundaries and limits placed on our lives and understanding, raging against mortal limits and unsolvable riddles rather than accepting them inside a relationship of trust. We too fill our relationships with conflict rather than sweet, intimate work and rest.
The first chapter of Genesis declares that the world belongs to a good, intimate, relational God who presides over all with a plan of hope. The second and third chapters show us what our posture and role before this Creator must be – and what difficulty we inevitably have in remaining there.
I started out saying that a story is best listened to – so head to Genesis 2-3 and give it a read. What do you find there of interest?
Each New Year I crave organization. Something powerful overtakes me and I find myself overhauling rooms and cupboards, cleaning out and clearing away.
Corners and pockets of my house – previously rendered useless due to clutter or wear and tear – are cleaned up and tuned up and made right again. Entire rooms fall under the sway of my intent; dust bunnies, outgrown clothes, and plastic toys are recycled or re-purposed and I find myself with a functional, tidy home once more. Whether the impetus is a fresh new start for the New Year, an extension of packing up Christmas, or simply being home bound in the cold, I can’t say. But each January finds me searching for order in the midst of chaos.
My reasons for this whirlwind of activity are certainly not theologically driven in the least, but when I take a moment to rest my feet and back I’m cheered by the reminder that this is God-work. Making order out of chaos is his signature move.
The opening chapter of Genesis is a beautiful song in which we find the Creator hovering over the waters. The author observes that “the earth was formless and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the deep.” In the ancient near-eastern minds that first heard this story, these Hebrew words indicate that what was had no purpose, function, or order. It was useless and needing to be arranged into something useful. In God’s hands all this changes. The word we translate as “create” is rich in Hebrew with meaning that connotes filling up and giving purpose – as one would create a home. Suddenly the Creator is forming day and night, rearranging water and land to produce sky, sea, and dry ground. From chaos has come wonderful, wonderful function, beauty and life.
When I’m in the middle of ordering the chaos of my home, it can take days, long days that spill into the night. Frequently, it appears that the situation is getting worse instead of better – when I’m re-purposing a bedroom or cleaning out a closet the contents are spread everywhere, making the house more filthy and cluttered than it ever did before I began this gargantuan task. My children gingerly step over boxes of light bulbs, shoe polishing kits, and stacks of paper looking for their toys and books. It is tempting to throw my hands up in the air and let the clutter take over, but I never do. I’ve set myself to this project, and I won’t give it up until I’m done.
The ancient Biblical hope, held still today by Christians around the world, is not that God will give this Creation up as a bad job and get a few of us out of here. The Biblical, Jewish, and now Christian hope – announced since that first song in Genesis – is that the Creator will not give up on the project he started. That even if the chaos on this earth seems to be gaining ground against beauty and goodness, it is simply because He is not yet finished with the job of creating and redeeming. He has promised to see his Creation through. He has placed his name, his character and reputation, and his Son on the table as collateral against this promise as guarantee. No matter how it may look to us right now in the middle, the Good News we hold to is that under no circumstances will God abandon or give up his Creative project. He will see it through to full function, full beauty, full order – full redemption.
And we have the opportunity to join him, to do our part to bring comfort where there is pain, provision where there is need, love where there is hate, joy where there is fear, peace where there is conflict. Function, order, and beauty where there is chaos.
As I look through my dusty windows at the cold piles of snow, I pick up another stack of papers to sort with gratitude. He is making all things new. And in our own ways, we are invited to do the same.
Next week we’re going to meet Adam and Eve! Stay tuned, and if you’re interested in reading the rest of this series, you can find more of it here.
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