Catching My Breath
By Catherine McNiel
I love writing, but my least favorite thing to word-smith are author bios—those short quippy descriptions that accompany each book, blog post, and article. How to summarize one person in two or three short lines, all while sounding both factual and fun? My current go-to bio says I “care for three kids, work two jobs, and grow one enormous garden.” That’s all true. That’s how I’ve spent the bulk of my energy for the past eleven years.
And frankly, that’s a lot of things to be busy with. I learned a key lesson the hard way, long ago: don’t get so busy that the noise of life drowns out the lifegiving voice of God.
Living out this lesson is challenging, now that my main job is caring for those three kids mentioned in my bio. My busyness for the past decade has been caused not by my own overcommittment, but by their basic needs. This is a job that doesn't leave room for much of what is commonly understood as "spiritual discipline." There's simply no silence or solitude to be found, and I am often not the master of my schedule, diet, sleep, or in many respects, my life.
I've many times heard the message: "that's ok—there will be time for spiritual practices later in life." I accept the encouragement intended in these words, and yet strongly disagree with the premise. What parents, and caregivers of all sorts, do with their energy may not be featured in classes on Spiritual Formation, but the reason we lack time for devotion is because we pour ourselves out, in service to God and others, every moment of the day.
There has been no steeper road of humility, surrender, submission, service, worship, and prayer that I have walked in all my life than parenting.
Let’s pull back the veil we so often erect between what is "spiritual" and what is "everyday" for a moment. When our hands are filthy from cleaning up another person’s lunch—or dirty diaper—this is a chance to practice service and humility. When our heads spin with cries and demands from a million impatient voices—we have an opportunity to enroll in graduate-level work on remembering God in the real moment where He is present.
For caregivers, opportunities for spiritual practices abound in every moment, if we can look beyond the veil separating “spirit” from “body” and see how our souls are shaped in the physical tasks of our day to day lives.
During this season we might even say “I haven’t had time to catch my breath today.” But of course, that’s never literally true. One task we do each day, whether we have time or not, is breathe: in and out, in and out, day in and day out. Couldn’t this be a spiritual tool?
I love these words from Gunilla Norris:
When we are born, we are born into a relationship with air, with breathing. How closely the words wind, air, life, and spirit are linked in human thought. We are creatures into whom life is breathed. A word we have for inhaling is inspiration. When we are fully inspired, not only are our lungs filled - our beings are also filled, with hope, with potential, with the impetuous to express possibility. Expired, we are over and done with, stopped...finished. Our life is lived within this paradox. With every inhalation we are given life. With every exhalation we must surrender that life, for another breath to be given to us.
Whatever else we may be doing in these busy seasons, breathing can be one way of making space for God and his voice—even when we’re too busy to realize it. Each time we breath in and then out, we throw ourselves—body and soul—upon God, the One who created and sustains our every moment.
During my first conversation with Whitney Simpson years ago, I knew I had found a kindred spirit. And when I opened her book Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit, I rejoiced in her opening words: “God is the giver of life and breath.”
Yes. Thanks be to God, yes he is.
I still deeply believe this lesson: make a place for God. But I also know that in seasons that call me away from “quiet times” to pour myself out in service, he is powerfully here, already. As long as my life is best summarized as “caring for three kids, working two jobs, and growing one enormous garden,” the One who breathed life into our bodies remains as close to me as my next breath.
Catherine McNiel is the author of Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline (NavPress 2017). She writes to open eyes to God’s creative, redemptive work in each day—while caring for three kids, two jobs, and one enormous garden. Connect with Catherine on Twitter, Facebook, or at catherinemcniel.com.
I have a confession to make. Lately, I may have been stalking you. No, not really...I'm not outside your bedroom window and there is no reason to call the local authorities. My stalking has been perfectly legal, it's actually a pretty well-worn path. I did not give up social media for lent. I gave up chocolate-covered almonds.
And I've been stalking you simply by scrolling - with not one single chocolate almond nearby (although there was that one bag of chocolate covered mangos that jumped into my grocery cart, realizing this may have been a slip of judgement). I've not shared and interacted a whole lot on social media lately but I have been reading your posts, even amidst my longing to purposefully slow down and experience God's joy and delight since releasing my devotional book in January.
When I clearly heard God ask me to step back from some commitments recently, I was not sure what was to come. And, I'm still not. God has offered a ton of grace for what this season looks like. Yet I have filled it with more than my share of...scrolling.
My lenten disciplines and a renewed commitment to honoring my body have kept me away from reaching for those chocolate covered almonds. So lately, I've realized my unintentional avoidance of some things [anything, really...the laundry, the writing time, the bills, the yoga practice, the dishes, meditation] has led to me hopping online to see what you're doing. And, I love seeing what you're doing. You're doing some good things! You, my friends, are: writing amazing books, fighting for social justice, empowering others to love their bodies, sharing the word of God for all to hear, raising families, caring for the elderly and the sick, facing things that scare you, chasing slow moments, and living life fully. You are doing good, deep things on this journey.
Diving deep with God involves risk. And one of those risks includes the thrills and the dangers of discovering a less traveled path on this spiritual formation journey. For me, that means a healthier relationship with this helpful and useful tool known as the Internet. Enter, my friend Esther and her new book, What Falls from the Sky.
I was instantly intrigued by her book because I know how she lives her life - as a homesteader. What I didn't know were the details of what led her and her family to where they are now (and don't worry, you don't have to live in a yurt after you read the book - although I'm seriously considering this for the future myself - I love yurts!). Esther went a year without the Internet. A YEAR. That's a path less-traveled. When I go my entire Sunday Sabbath without "accidentally" logging in, I am so proud of myself. Anyone else?
Just to be clear - Esther went a year without her cell phone, texting, surfing, clicking. Her story arrived in my mailbox recently, and now my sleep patterns are off because I've been reading beyond my bedtime. Guess what? She sent me a book to share with you! So, not that I want to mess with your sleep, but I'm fairly certain your scrolling will be interrupted because #whatfallsfromthesky is a phenomenal story of one woman's willingness to dive deep with God.
Holy Week is such an appropriate time to finish Esther's memoir and share it with you too - it seems a perfect time to admit my weakness, my struggles, my doubts, my joys, and celebrate the good things the promise of Easter offers each of us.
What are your struggles? Do those get in your way of living fully? Could you go a year without digital conveniences? Would you be willing to give it a try? What does the less-traveled path look like, and is it accessible to you?
Contemplate and share your thoughts below if you'd like. I would love to hear from you. You don't have to comment for your "chance" to get this book in your hands, but be sure to complete the form with your email address because I would love to send this gift from Esther to you!
Esther Emery was a successful playwright and theater director, wife and mother, and loving it all - until, suddenly, she wasn’t. When a personal and professional crisis of spectacular extent leaves her reeling, Esther is left empty, alone in her marriage, and grasping for identity that does not define itself by busyness and a breakneck pace of life. Something had to be done.
What Falls from the Sky is Esther’s fiercely honest, piercingly poetic account of a year without Internet - 365 days away from the good, the bad, and the ugly of our digital lives - in one woman’s desperate attempt at a reset. Esther faces her addiction to electronica, her illusion of self-importance, and her longing to return to simpler days, but then the unexpected happens. Her experiment in analog is hijacked by a spiritual awakening, and Esther finds herself suddenly, inexplicably drawn to the faith she had rejected for so long.
Ultimately, Esther’s unplugged pilgrimage brings her to a place where she finally finds the peace - and the God who created it - she has been searching for all along.
What Falls from the Sky offers a path for you to do the same. For all the ways the Internet makes you feel enriched and depleted, genuinely connected and wildly insufficient, What Falls from the Sky reveals a new way to look up from your screens and live with palms wide open in a world brimming with the good gifts of God.
Sometimes you have to zoom out before you can refocus the camera, my friend texted me. Yes, that's what these days before Easter have been about for me. Zooming out so I can see again. Discovering focus. Discovering refuge with God.
2017 has been zoomed in so far - packed with opportunities to share and celebrate the release of Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit. And a time to soak up being in my community offering local events and workshops. April so far has been for zooming out and refocusing (and washing all the laundry!). And I'm so grateful; the timing couldn't be better.
Holy Week is nearly here! There is much to mourn, there is much to celebrate. There is much to experience, to taste, and to see! Psalm 34:8 in the Common English Bible (my current favorite version) says, "Taste and see how good the Lord is! The one who takes refuge in him is truly happy!" In zooming out, I find refuge in God. In zooming out, I find courage to journey off the beaten path. In zooming out, I can taste and see the good things.
Chasing Slow: Courage to Journey off the Beaten Path has been my Audible read during my morning walk/run lately And wow, has it come at just the right time! Many good things are happening with the ministry of Exploring Peace and amidst this my mom asked me recently, "So, are you practicing what you preach?"
Ping. I'm thankful a mother's love can survive asking such a question. Time for a bit of self-reflection.
So, you could say that read came at a good time. Erin spoke to my heart. And her book wasn't all about building boundaries and saying no to life or stuff (well, maybe some of it). Erin's message invites us to journey the path just for us. Erin invites us to taste and see what God offers us! Erin reminded me to discover joy and delight and not to rush past it.
Yes, I share and teach and offer soul care resources for others. I LOVE my job - zoomed in or zoomed out. They say we are drawn to what we long for most. I long for soul care on this journey. I think we all do. And, you know one thing that is really good for my soul? JOY! My spiritual director and I spent an entire year exploring the concept of finding joy and delight (my homework one month was to blow bubbles - a practice I often invite my retreatants to experience). Delight! And, I think I'm finally getting brave enough to pause and lavish in it. Sound ridiculous? Maybe it's time for more bubbles.
Brené Brown reminded me recently (in one of her talks, not over a cup of tea, wouldn't that be fun!?) that as a culture, we don't know how to experience joy. We rush right past it rather than embrace it. We expect the worst. We move on to the next thing. We rush past a lot, don't we? Okay, book release is complete. Oh, well. That was good...done. What's next?
Nope, I'm choosing to pause right here and give thanks for the joy of this season, for the privilege of publishing my first devotional book, for good health that allowed me a ton more travel than I'm comfortable with in a couple of months time, and now for the chance to take long walks while I learn to chase slow. If I'm being honest, finding joy in chasing slow is harder than it seems.
How are you journeying off the beaten path? How are you chasing slow?
In chasing my own slow and finding my joy, I helped set up a prayer room for my son's youth group this week. And, I couldn't find a reflection mandala that fit our theme of Psalm 34. So, I created one! This brought me joy and the only thing that brings more joy is sharing it with you. Download it here if you'd like. And if praying with mandalas is new to you, check out my friend (and fellow Upper Room author) Sharon's new book, Praying with Mandalas. It's a delightful introduction to using mandalas for prayer and reflection.
Blessings on your Holy Week. May you taste and see, may you discover joy and delight in the good around you as you find refuge in our God this Easter season.
Whitney R. Simpson
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Whitney R. Simpson,
Exploring Peace Ministries, LLC