When a Holy Desire is Thwarted

For Red Tent Living this month...

Perhaps you can relate? Ever feel that a genuine, sacred desire is being thwarted? Yeah, that's us.


Clouds move in and the wind picks up. Sunny, blue skies turn gray and thunder ripples west. Another Saturday’s desperate attempt at play, thwarted. Our family story, on repeat. Stuck in a motif we’re rather tired of, weary of.

It began while living overseas. In a megacity of concrete and traffic and millions and millions of bodies, we craved space, nature. We brought picnics to the waterfront patch of green, but stray cats and dogs forced us to move. We bought bikes to transport on the ferry across the sea to an island without cars, but the hordes of people made it virtually impossible to peddle. We left early on weekend mornings to reach a forest outside of the sprawl, spent a refreshing few hours in the trees, before sitting in endless hours of congestion homeward. The hot, stop and go sucked the life from us.

We left the megacity with weary souls.

In the Pacific Northwest, we tried camping with friends. We emptied the nearby camp store of tarps and they were still insufficient to protect us from the onslaught of rain. Years later, when we had all moved to sunny Colorado, we tried again. Memorial Day in the mountains brought rain. We went south in June: Rain. We went to the desert the next year: Rain. We went east to Nebraska: Rain.

It became laughable, so long as we were together. But alone as a family, after a tiresome week of holding trauma for clients or teaching about trafficking or struggling with school friends, we reach for play. When it alludes us time after time, it is not so funny. It is the very opposite of funny.

Continue reading here.

 

Update

It did not rain!

Who Would We Be If We Were A People Of Grace?

For Red Tent Living this month...

If we agree on one thing, perhaps it is that we’re all human?

Since nothing else approaches unifying these days. Perhaps there is that?

A fearful mama writes a post that goes viral. Protecting 3 small children in Ikea, she fears a stalker and tells her Facebook community she is a target of human trafficking. The machine explodes, one side spreads her sincere warning while the other side blasts her misinformed reactionary response.

Mistakenly, she assumed her community was safe.

The same media blamed for not addressing the issue is now blamed for sensationalizing it, fueling stereotypes, spreading inaccuracies. If we didn’t have thoseshows we wouldn’t have these mamas: hysterical and wrong.

The #Ikeamom is not unlike #alllivesmatter and #weareallimmigrants. Well-meaning folks, learning about injustice, trying to synthesize newfound knowledge with lived-experience. Trying to be compassionate. Trying to engage. Trying to support. Doing what they know to do with the understanding they have.

But the machine is ruthless. And there is no space for wrestling truth, stumbling around justice, and just stepping on toes.

What if we all decided it was okay to step on our toes?

Keep reading over at Red Tent Living.

The Long Awaited Guilt-Free Book About Connecting with the Sacred as a Mom

 

Hello Moms! Perhaps you're like me, parenting teens and holding on to a faint memory of having the luxury of time and mental capacity to linger over the Word and in prayer. Many of us go back to work or increase hours as our kids get older, only adding to the depletion of those two valuable assets: time and mental capacity! Can you relate? This is why I love my friend, Catherine McNiel's book, Long Days of Small Things, which launches today! Removing all guilt and readjusting our expectations, she writes of how to turn the everyday, mundane and monotonous moments into something sacred. And it is beautiful!

If you're a young mom friend, beware: This is the book I'll be giving out at showers and sending as congrats this year!

Enjoy getting to know Catherine and her heart for the book in this interview. And pay attention to the last question if you're wondering if you should have pulled "it" together by now with older kids!

Catherine, introduce yourself to us.

Thank you! I’m a mom with three kids (and a few part time jobs). I love to read and garden. I love to study theology and ancient cultures. I’m always trying to learn something new.  I enjoy getting to know my neighbors and learning how different people see the world. I love to explore how theology impacts our real, physical lives…and how our real lives impact theology.  I’m enamored by the creation of new life but find that working in the garden is less exhausting than pregnancy.

Now, introduce us to your book Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline.

Long Days of Small Things is a book that looks at the real life work we do in our everyday lives, and finds God right here in the midst of it. It’s a book for moms (or dads…or grandparents…or caregivers…) who know they don’t have any extra time or energy, but still want a way to connect with God and discover how to find Him.

How do you do that in Long Days of Small Things?

In each chapter I tell stories from our real lives—the seasons and stages of motherhood, pregnancy and delivery, infant days, sleepless nights, caring for children of all ages—and the tasks that fill them. I look at spiritual tools that already hide there—like sacrifice, surrender, service, perseverance, and celebration—and consider how we can open our eyes to the spiritual boot camp we walk through every day. Without adding anything extra to our live or to-do lists, we practice so many disciplines every moment of the day.

Why did you decide to write Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline?

A few years ago I was a work-from-home mom with a baby, a toddler, and a preschooler. These precious, demanding children took me all the way to the end of my rope…and left me there indefinitely! My life changed in every way, yet I heard only the same spiritual prescriptions I’d always heard: spend quite time each day with God. Find 30-60 minutes each day to be in silence and solitude before the Lord. As I considered the classic spiritual practices (which I love!)—prayer, worship, fasting, meditation, service, solitude, etc.—it became abundantly clear that the realities of motherhood meant I was likely to fail. Or opt out entirely.

But my spirit didn’t allow me to do that. I heard a lament rising in the hearts of the women around me—I have nothing left, nothing left to care for myself or give to God. But as I looked at the actual seasons and tasks of motherhood, I was convinced that there was no better “boot camp” for my soul. Each day we mothers create, we nurture. Each day we are pushed to the end of ourselves and must surrender, sacrifice, and persevere. Each day we serve, pouring ourselves out. We empty ourselves for those in our care—and isn’t this emptiness the very reliance on God that the spiritual disciplines are designed to produce?

[bctt tweet="We empty ourselves for those in our care—and isn’t this emptiness the very reliance on God that the spiritual disciplines are designed to produce?" username="bethhbruno"]

I’m convinced that motherhood is doing an eternal work on my soul, even if I’m too exhausted and overwhelmed to notice just now.

What are the “Practices” that you describe in Long Days of Small Things?

At the end of each chapter, I list three things we are doing already—things like walking, eating, driving, changing diapers, going to work. And I explore how we can use these things, already in our daily routines and schedules, to awaken to God’s presence with us. Moms often don’t have time to add additional tasks and tools into our days, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use the tasks already there! In fact, in many cases, I think these natural things are the most effective.

How has motherhood impacted your understanding of spirituality?

We think of spirituality as something that happens in our minds, in silence. We are taught that our bodies, our mess and complications and noise hold us back from being with God. That doesn’t leave a lot of hope for moms, whose pregnant or post-partum bodies, newborns, toddlers, and van-full of carpool kids have no end of loud, messy, physical, chaotic needs.

But God made us, didn’t He? Genesis describes Him getting in the dirt and forming us from the dust by hand, then breathing His own breath into our mouths. That’s pretty physical and messy! Then He actually took on a body Himself. The King of Kings wiggled around in a woman’s womb, surrounded by amniotic fluid. He entered the world through her birth canal. God was born, you guys. That’s our Good News.

All this physical stuff that we feel keeps us from Him is the same stuff He used to meet with us, to speak to us, to save us.

So Long Days of Small Things is a book for moms “who have neither quiet nor time” as the cover says—or dads, grandparents, and other caregivers.

Describe an experience that first caused you to understand motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline.

I was shopping with my three kids. Can you imagine the scene? Lugging my infant in one of those terribly unwieldy baby-carriers. Holding my toddler by the hand, while my preschooler zoomed around the store. The diaper bag was falling off my shoulders, and I clenched the grocery bags with the same hand that grasped my toddler.

And then…the door. I couldn’t figure out how to get us all through. The baby was wailing for milk and a nap, the toddler and preschooler needed lunch (and a nap). I wanted lunch and a nap too, truth be told. But mostly I just wanted to get us out the door. No one held it open for me, but plenty of people watched me make a fool of myself trying to wiggle us all through without banging any heads or pinching any fingers. It felt like a hero-feat, an epic win.

When I finally got everyone home, fed, and sleeping, I sat down to read an article I’d been saving; a short biography of a favorite Christian teacher. The biographer described this hero of the faith as so spiritual, he radiated peace just by walking through the door.

This stopped me in my tracks. The memory of how I looked going through a door was so fresh in my mind. I realized that if spiritual growth entailed developing an aura of peace and radiance, I was never going to arrive—at least not without getting rid of these precious babies!

The contrast between this teacher and myself was so stark, and I realized he and I were simply on two separate paths. I was seeking God through the chaotic but life-giving seasons and tasks of motherhood, and this was going to look entirely different from the classic spiritual practices. “Results may vary” as they say.

How is this book different from all the other books and conversations out there regarding motherhood today?

There are so many books out there for moms on the topic of devotion and spirituality.  Almost all of them have this in common: after admitting that moms are exhausted, stretched too thin, without any margin or time or energy, they look for a few extra minutes here or there which might be harvested for God; or offer a Bible study or prayer list that might fit in the tiny slots. Get up at 4:30am before the baby wakes at 5am! Read two minutes of the Bible each day!

I’m all for doing these things when it works, but I’m convinced that we don’t need to exit motherhood to have a spiritual life. Our children are what we create, and this is where our Creator God meets us. I’m certain of it. Without adding more “should’s” or “to-do’s” to our days, we can open our eyes to a unique spiritual journey, made just for us—and find him here. We’re already doing it. All that waits is for us to breathe deeply and being to drink.

How have you noticed the "practices" change as your kids get older? Can you give one example of how a mother of a tween might experience similar daily spirituality?

That's a great question. My kids are still on the younger side, my oldest is ten. It does seem like the practices change as they get older. Maybe I'm getting more sleep and more time to myself, but I still have ample reasons to lose my patience, or worry, or realize that the parenting task before me is going to require everything I have and probably a whole lot more. And this is where I think parenting becomes a spiritual discipline -- when we have to dig deep and rely on God through stages of suffering, surrender, service, perseverance, etc.

I think the key to everything I describe in Long Days of Small Things is awakening to see that God is already present in each moment we're in. And he invites us to remember him, to reach out to him right there, in the midst of all we're doing. So in my book, I describe what this might look like in the baby stages of breastfeeding and diapers, but I also describe what it might entail when driving carpool, cooking dinner, or punching in at work. Our daily tasks might change as the kids get older, but the key concepts stay the same.

Bio: Catherine McNiel survived her children's preschool years by learning to find beauty in the mayhem. Now, she writes to open the eyes to God's creative, redemptive work in each day. The author of Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline (NavPress, 2017), Catherine cares for three kids, works two jobs, and grows one enormous garden.

*I received this book to review and help launch. 

 
 

When and How to Have Tough Conversations with Your Kids

 
 
person-woman-night-fire.jpg

I had a proud mama moment this week. My youngest, a budding activist who happens to be a 5th grader, declared she was one of a few kids who raised their hands when the teacher asked who knew of Malala. She then apparently took over the discussion about girls’ education and Malala’s efforts, having not only read the book, but watched the documentary, He Named Me Malala.

Malala is her hero.

She knows about the youngest Nobel Peace Prize recipient because I bought her the Junior edition in 3rd grade. In 4th grade, I pulled her out of school when limited viewing of the film came to town. And, we’ve continued to discuss global inequity, girls there vs. here, how education decreases terrorism, and the overall privilege she enjoys. She stayed up late the night CNN aired Michelle Obama’s We Will Rise, celebrated Advent with the family at the After Spring Syrian Refugee documentary, and cried with me over Hidden Figures last week.

She’s an activist because of me. She’s a little women’s rights campaigner because of me.

And I’m proud.

A friend asked how to have tough conversations with kids and I knew, he was referencing porn, sex and sexuality, online safety, suicide… all the things we parents muster up the courage to address. We look for books and ask our elders, hoping for an easy, miraculously “safe” way to handle these sensitive topics. And then, if we’re intentional, we schedule a night, a breakfast, a weekend to convey the information, breathing a sigh of relief. We expect behavioral adaptations will follow.

What if they don’t?

Are my kids the only ones who have a short attention span? Is my son the only teen who says “got it” ten billion times a week as the most obvious attempt at covering up a blow off? Surely, I’m not the only parent who repeats herself.

I think osmosis is more effective than a fire hose. Hanging truth upon experience is what makes meaning. Slow parenting looks like repetition over time plus example. And this? This is not accomplished in a singular event.

We cannot teach our kids media literacy over dinner. We won’t raise sexually pure kids as a result of one special weekend. We will not inoculate them from peer pressure after one bullying presentation.

How do parents have tough conversations with their kids? Start young. Don’t stop.

My 10-year old can handle watching a film about Syrian refugees because we’ve talked extensively about global issues. She could read about Malala’s volatile and dangerous life at age 8 because I didn’t shield her from the world’s pain. She wears a “People Don’t Buy People” sweatshirt to school because she gets modern day slavery. Even if she doesn’t fully understand it or picture what it entails, she gets people being forced to do something they never wanted to do.

Raising children to engage the brokenness and darkness and glories of the world as adults requires exposing them to the brokenness and darkness and glories of the world as kids (in age appropriate chunks). As Kate Conner, author of Enough, writes, “Crack the door and let all of the broken, beautiful humanity flood in like a sunbeam. Let it in; let it move her. Let it inspire her, wreck her, challenge her. Let it change her. If you want her to catch the fire, you’re going to have to put her near a flame.”

person-woman-night-fire.jpg

If you want to have tough conversations with your kids, you’re going to have to get them near the flame. And of course, you’re going to have get near the flame too.

 

21 Years Later. Marriage = Work.

 

I used to get nervous (on behalf of the author) when several books on the same theme released around the same time, as if the publishers didn’t know this was going to happen. As if the other network broke the news first and one reporter would receive an award while the other might lose her job. Now, I realize that this is a sign of the Divine. It’s a good thing. We should take notice. God is trying to get our attention. When several authors start writing about similar things and publishers start publishing, we should wake up because the Spirit is moving. He’s moving in and through his people the way he used to do with his prophets. And are artists not prophets? Is it not the role of artists to protest and warn, correct and critique, exhort and instruct? To make visible the invisible. To make meaning of all the pieces? When writers start writing about similar things, the Spirit of God is trying to make visible the invisible. He’s using the voices of his author-artists to make meaning for us.

So in the last few months, as 3 Christian women have released books about marriage, I’ve paid attention. I’ve read them all. And I’ve tried to discern what the Spirit might be saying, particularly considering how different they are in theology, practice, and voice. I’ve read them as a married person and a friend of married persons and the wife of a marriage counselor. I’ve considered who I might give which book to and why and what God had for me in each one and why.

My big conclusion is that the Spirit is reaffirming the covenant of marriage while also affirming how difficult the relationship is. Yeah, it’s hard, but stick with it because it’s the way I intend to bring you healing, bless your community, make you more like me, and you get the picture. Don’t trivialize this commitment. Don’t be so quick to throw in the towel. Don’t settle for less than what it could really be, but be willing to work (hard) to get there.

Making Marriage Beautiful by Dorothy Littell Greco is written by a writer, photographer, mother of 3 young adult men, and wife of 25 years. Greco’s writing is a mix of personal anecdote, stories from a diverse set of marriages, and instruction on how to allow marriage to change you so that your marriage will become more beautiful. Because she’s a friend, let me share her words: “Making Marriage Beautiful is truly unlike many other marriage books. First, it’s written by a woman to both men and women. This is almost unheard of. Adding Christopher’s words and the eight other husbands ensures that men are well represented. Second, the book contains very vulnerable, real-life stories. Most authors who write about marriage tend not to be as honest as Christopher and I chose to be. I think readers will easily engage and trust me because I’m choosing to trust them. Finally, I refuse to depend upon cliches or formulas. There’s no chapter titled, Ten Steps to a Perfect Marriage! Marriage and transformation is a process and my goal in writing this book is to help men and women navigate that process well. For the long haul.”

Very Married by Katherine Willis Pershey is a memoir of marriage written by a minister, mother of two young kids, and wife of 14 years. Pershey’s writing is witty and wise, crafted with authentic reflection which opens the curtain on her marriage. She does not shy away from tough reality (like her attraction to another man), but invites us in to her relationship through humor and story, so that we might embrace the hard of our own covenant. I've already passed it along to a girlfriend.

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton is also a memoir of marriage written by a controversial figure who not only announced her separation and subsequent divorce to her husband just as the book released, but has since announced her relationship to professional soccer player, Abby Wambach. One of the things that is so difficult about the announcements is that the book is essentially about walking through her pain (and Craig walking through his) to discover how to be better individuals and better spouses. It concludes with a recommitment to one another, celebrating the covenant of marriage while affirming its challenges. Admittedly, it’s a quick devour as her writing style is captivating and the way she tackles each of their responses to pain is beautiful. But, what is the Spirit saying to us through her book? Why did he move in her to write about covenant and pain, but then leave us all feeling like the message is disingenuous? I’m not sure what to do with this one. For now, it remains on the shelf. I’m reluctant to pass it on.

Pre-Order your copy today
Pre-Order your copy today

If my therapist husband were to ask which one of these he should hand to a couple, I would suggest Making Marriage Beautiful. Besides resting in her orthodox view of the marriage covenant, I have confidence men and women can both read it and relate to Dorothy’s voice and instruction. Not only does she include the male voice, but she includes voices from a wide range of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The reader can tell she speaks not only from personal lived experience, but also from 20 years of counseling couples through similar transformative growth.

The Spirit is making meaning of marriage in these days of trivializing this covenantal bond. For those of us committed to a spouse for the long haul, maybe pick up Dorothy’s book this year and invest in change for the sake of beautiful.