young women

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. 

 
 

Why You Should See "Queen of Katwe"

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Disney's Queen of Katwe opened in theaters on Friday and is a huge departure from the studio's typical films. Based on a true story, it is nothing short of stunning. I took my 10-year old daughter and her first request upon leaving was, "Can we own this one?" Here are 5 reasons this is worth watching:

1. Phiona, the protagonist, is an uneducated girl from the slums of Kampala, Uganda who discovers a talent and a passion embedded within. She is relatable enough to American girls (she argues with her mom) and yet different enough to stretch their familiarity. She is Ugandan! How rarely are we given a heroine from another country whose accent is even difficult to understand at times!

2. This is a story about Uganda: it's economic disparity, it's poverty, it's struggles and it's joy. There are no white people! It is filmed in country. And it does not shy away from the brutal reality of Phiona's life. In a way that is entirely age appropriate, viewers face the fear that Phiona's only future may involve being taken by a man.

3. It is pro-marriage. Phiona's chess coach is a loving, caring mentor as well as husband and father. His wife financially supports their household so he can work with the slum kids. Their relationship is a healthy example of marriage both for the chess club as well as the viewing audience.

4. There are strong female leads without debasing the male characters. Phiona's mother is a richly complex character. In her we see the fight to survive and provide for her children mixed with realism and cynicism. As we watch Phiona develop and change, we see similar growth mirrored in her mother. Theirs is a beautiful, loving relationship.

5. It is simply inspiring! You will find yourself cheering for a chess game and simultaneously crying and laughing with all the kids. They are delightful. (And for those of you with an intolerance to pain, it has a happy ending!)

Get thee to the movies!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4l3-_yub5A

When Broken Bones Resurrect a Heart

Summer began full of glory. I planted colorful annuals. Strung the bistro lights. Dusted off the swim towels.

Our first guest brought chilled wine and we enjoyed grilled chicken on the deck.

Work slowed. Our newly turned 16-year old drove himself to his job. The 10-year old walked to the pool alone. The new teen was babysitting.

It was the first week and all seemed divine.

Cue record scratching (the new teen argues the sound should be that of a pristine stained glass window crashing to the marble floor of a European cathedral). She should get to decide. After all, it’s her story.

On the last day of the first week, she played wildly with her babysitting charges, jumped high on the trampoline, splashed in the hose strung from above, and landed in all the wrong ways. Ten hours later, after x-rays, cat scans, morphine, surgery, and anesthesia, she left the ER with several screws, plates, and a cast the size of a ski boot.

Summer abruptly ended.

I left the hospital numb, but the emotions were not far behind. On day one, I snuck away to cry. Big fat tears streaming down my face for all the losses: her favorite camp, her first job, the 5 days my husband and I planned for ourselves. I also ate: big handfuls of chips and lots of bites of all the sweets family had brought.

On day two, I cleaned. Like a mad woman, I decided to empty our closet of old clothes and file cabinets of graduate papers from 8 years ago.

On day three, I realized I was feeling everything with far more intensity than my daughter. I wondered, perhaps the gravity of it all hasn’t set in. Maybe the deluge of grief will come soon. Yet she seemed happy, chipper.

We drove to the medical supply store to rent a wheelchair and I asked her, what’s going on? Why do you seem so at peace? Why do I seem sadder than you? Teach me.

And she did. My 13-year old injured child had found goodness in the hurt: she felt loved by all the calls, texts, gifts, and visits. Because of her pain, she felt embraced.

My new teen had a long approach to life: there will be more summers, more camp weeks and more opportunities. Life has not ended, though her previously planned summer had.

And this child who self-admittedly lacked gratitude, lay in bed thanking God. Thanking him that it was not her head. Thanking him that it was not the kids she babysat. Thanking him that she would heal and be well again. She had found the gift in the wound. In 3 days.

And so on day 3, I resurrected.

I decided to come out of the grave of grief and join my daughter in the land of the gospel, where hope reigns and the messy beautiful lives.

If my daughter could choose to see goodness despite her discomfort, dependence on help, and overwhelming loss, then who was I to remain melancholy and mopey? If her eyes were set on gratitude, how could I not join her?

Did it dismiss the pain? Did it remove the grief? Of course not. But it aligned our eyes to the one who offers comfort: to see the gift, and gaze upon the giver.

My daughter broke her leg and then she showed me the gospel.

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