Book Reviews

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. 

 
 

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.

 

The Book of Womanhood. It exists!

 
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Women! Are you like me and doubted if it was possible to address the bulk of what we face as Christian women without alienating one end of the spectrum or the other? Did you wonder if there was a framework that could encompass, for example, the realities of our bodies or friendships in a deeply spiritual, yet tangible way? Fellow Redbud, Amy Davis Abdallah, PhD, has crafted such a "manual." It is a comprehensive exhortation to women to live fully into who we were created to be.

Now, here's the funny thing. As I struggled to design a yearlong rites of passage journey for my tween, one of my early thoughts was to organize it the same way Amy has: Relationship to Self, God, Others, and Creation. Some of my original scratch pads contain these wandering thoughts. In grad school, I learned that these 4 categories make up Biblical Shalom - the true meaning of peace.  I decided to go a different route, and I'm so glad I did! I could not have addressed them in the same beautiful and powerful way as Amy.

One of the things I appreciate about The Book of Womanhood is its lack of judgement. Topics such as "Femininity and God" and "Sexy Self-Care" could be rife with conflict, but are handled in a gentle, accessible manner. Another thing I wholeheartedly agree with is the journey mindset which invites the full spectrum of women to contribute and receive. Amy writes, "A rite of passage invites 'younger sisters' to journey together with 'older sisters' who offer wisdom and experience and are still continually growing."

This was written for college women at the college where Amy teaches and seems entirely appropriate for that audience and older. As I continue (6 more weeks!) to usher my own tween through an initial transition from girl to woman, there are solid principles I find helpful even if I won't cover them in detail with her. The only thing missing is a detailed plan of how the college women walked through this material over the course of the year. I want details!

So here's the cool thing women: for ONE WEEK, Wipf & Stock Publishers will offer 40% off The Book of Womanhood. Use the Discount Code "WOMAN" at check out. Don't miss this amazing opportunity to be affirmed and exhorted in your unique design as a woman.

 

Girls Who Rocked The World, Book Review by a 9 year old girl

Girls and Books Girls Who Rocked The World is a nonfiction book about heroines. It is packed full with women/girls who have rocked the world. From the age of the Egyptians to the 21st century, this book will teach you about past girls who have stood up for what they believe in. Along with all of this new knowledge that is included, many girls were interviewed and asked “How will you rock the world?” This will help girls come up with ideas for how they will change lives.

Girls Who Rocked I highly suggest this book to girls 8+ who love nonfiction and have a thirst for knowledge. Some of the girls included in this book you may know, such as Joan of Arc, Sacagawea, and Harriet Tubman. Some you may be just learning about, such as Laura Bassi, Coco Chanel, and Wilma Rudolph. I loved this book because it was very inspiring. This book inspired me by making me want to show everyone that men aren’t the only good engineers. Also, I liked this book because I can connect to some of the emotions felt by the characters. Another reason to adore this book is because each chapter is a good amount of pages so that you don’t get too bored, and don’t want too much more. This book is very good, and I hope you will try it out.

Sophie, age 9