The summer crazies (and a FREE calendar!)

Okay. We’re the first to admit it feels like the crazies are winning. All those long, lovely, leisurely days we envisioned in May have given way to shuttling our school-free children all over the Midwest, frantic loads of laundry between trips, and the subtle sleep-deprivation that comes from staying up way too late, thanks to endless dusk. My best attempts at a daily schedule deteriorated within days of Micah’s kindergarten graduation, replaced by variations on, “Didn’t I just feed you?” and “Leave your brother alone. Now.”

 

Meanwhile, other than an evening sailing and a fun trip to Erin’s hometown in Ohio, the Wasingers and Arthurs have barely managed to greet one another at church, much less meet weekly for dinner. All those good intentions, those small but radical changes for the sake of Jesus, seem to have been obliterated by simply surviving summer.

When did this happen? How did summer become the crash zone for the intentional life of faith? We can’t be the first Christians to experience this, not when monastic communities for centuries have farmed the lands they lived on. Seedtime, harvest, baby livestock, upkeep of the grounds and buildings, storing food for winter, washing every last thing while there’s hot sun to dry it…and yet the daily rhythm of prayer, shared meals, and worship never cease. The bells still ring, summoning the community together. A reminder to pause in your labor. Rest from your striving. Seek the presence of the One whose sustaining power is everlasting, no matter the season.

Breathe.

Consider this update one of those bells. Restore the rhythm. Don’t let the crazies win. Step back from the fray, revisit your spiritual goals. What one small thing are you working on? Is it living simply, befriending the poor and marginalized, caring for creation, seeking justice, being honest about your mental health? Don’t wait for September 1 before you take some practical steps again. Call one of your covenantal friends right now. Today. Reread the chapter that inspired you.

And download this spectacular FREE calendar–a gift from our publisher to you–that tracks The Year of Small Things starting August 1, just like the book itself does. A daily, visual reminder to put first things first, even if they’re small.

 

And if you need some extra encouragement, here are some opportunities for further reflection:

  • We love this excellent interview in Interpreter Magazine: “We’re not in ministry to the struggling. We are called into friendship with those who are struggling. That is a whole different thing.”
  • Here’s a thoughtful, insightful review in The Christian Century: “The Year of Small Things is about doing the dishes. It’s about the hard work of serious discipleship when you have a life and family.”
  • Don’t miss these podcast interviews with Jen Pollock Michel, author of Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home and with Brian Bantum, author of The Death of Race: Building a New Christianity in a Racial World.

Do you hear them, the bells? Don’t let the summer crazies win.

Why it’s not ‘The Year of Safe Things’

Everywhere we go talking about our book The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us, we get questions about what it’s like to practice hospitality with those on the margins. After all, Tom and I have offered housing to the homeless, in our actual homes, on and off for over 15 years. Naturally, people are curious how that works. Isn’t it risky? How do you keep your kids safe? Have you ever been taken advantage of? Do you “screen” people ahead of time?

(In fact, one person wanted to know if there was some agency or other that screens people for being hosted in homes. I almost asked, shouldn’t possible host families be screened too? Because who’s to say we aren’t crazier than average? Another post for another time …)

You need courage to open up yourself to hospitality, covenantal friendship, sharing about your struggles. (Photo by Dave Wasinger)

Something we’re hearing from readers is just how “risky” so many of these small things sound. Sharing about your finances with covenantal friends… that requires real vulnerability. Sharing about your own struggles with mental health, including depression … that’s harrowing. And of course opening your life–whether it’s sharing meals, offering rides, helping with laundry, watching small children, providing housing to those on the margins–breaks every rule about privacy and self-protection that Americans value.

But this is not “The Year of Safe Things.” As C. S. Lewis reminds us in The Four Loves, “There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable.” Safety is not one of the fruits of the spirit, nor is it listed in scripture among the promises of God. If anything, the call of the gospel is to risk outrageously for the sake of Jesus and for the vulnerable whom he loves.

What we propose in our book is to start making the turn. To move in baby steps away from the false promises of the American Dream–safety, security, independence, privacy–and to move closer to Jesus. And moving closer to Jesus moves us inevitably closer to (1) his Body, the community of faith, and (2) to those on the margins (and don’t think for a moment those two groups are separate). Because that’s where we find him hanging out.

So is this year of small things risky? Yup. Is it worth it? Well, here are some of our thoughts about that.

How about you? What are your thoughts on safety versus risk?

We’re coming to West Michigan! (& other fun updates)

In the flurry of activity that was Holy Week (Arthurs & Wasingers temporarily gave up trying to slow down, get ourselves out of the way, take the long view–which is probably what the disciples themselves felt like at that point in the story, anyway…), we have been nonetheless excited to spread the word about some upcoming author events. 

  • Tuesday, April 25th7 PM Author event at Potterville Public Library in Potterville, MI. We can’t wait to join some of our favorite friends in our new favorite small town for a FREE author talk & book signing! We’ll do a drawing for a free book too (choose from any of Sarah’s titles or The Year of Small Things). NOTE: Please call the library to reserve your spot: (517) 645-2989. 150 Library Ln, Potterville, MI 48876.

  • Thursday, April 27th7 PM Book signing at Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, MI. We’re hitting one of our all-time favorite bookstores in West Michigan for a fun author talk & signing — and yes, our signature drawing for a $10 store gift card is in your future! Let us know you’re coming/interested on the Facebook event page. This event is FREE, so bring your friends & family. (P.S. The children’s section is FANTASTIC.)

Some other Year of Small Things goodness: 

  • Don’t miss Erin’s Think Christian article on radical finances. Do you let your covenantal friends review your bank account? Why not?
  • The full text of SOJOURNER’S review of The Year of Small Things (from the print mag) is available online for a limited time. Many thanks to poet Abigail Carroll for her kind, thoughtful reflections.
  • Sarah interviews the famous chicken farmer Joel Salatin on the Small Things podcast.

Eastertide blessings, all!

Motherhood as a spiritual discipline

Our The Year of Small Things perfectly encapsulates the discord between spiritual disciplines and parenthood. For instance: that time our families tried praying with a live candle. Also, the time we had zero energy left to form words, let alone prayers. See also: the time Sarah’s husband remarked that his spiritual life was more Daniel Tiger than the prophet Daniel … on and on.

So we’re thrilled that we got to be in conversation with our Redbud Writers Guild colleague, Catherine McNiel. Catherine’s written a book that speaks to the desire for God in our current realities, and reminds us that God meets us in that everyday chaos. So, so good. Read on and listen to the podcast interview:
 
Download this episode (right click and save).

Catherine, tell us about yourself!

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 quiet 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?

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.

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.

 

++++

Catherine McNiel is 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. Connect with her at Catherinemcniel.com.

Catch the book signing for ‘Year of Small Things’

The more ways you spread The Year of Small Things love, the more likely you are to come out a winner. Literally.

Join us for Saturday’s book signing at Barnes and Noble to pick up a copy (or two) of the book and have it signed by Sarah Arthur and Erin Wasinger. As a thank you for stopping by, we local authors will be giving away TWO $10 Barnes and Noble gift cards!

We’re in practice signing books thanks to Church in a Pub’s book signing.

To enter to win, complete any or all of the prompts listed below. The more you do, the better chance you have for walking out with that gift card!

Saturday’s small things, should you accept:

  • Bring a friend (you both get an entry!)
  • Sign up at our table to receive our blog (or put down your email anyway if you already subscribe)
  • Take a selfie with Erin or Sarah and/ or the book, inside the store (sorry, Mom, you can’t just post my old school photos)
  • Show us that you posted the photo to Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #yearofsmallthings
  • Let us video record you answering this question: “What one small thing are you doing this month?”

We’ll do the drawing at 2:55 PM-ish, and you don’t have to be present to win.

The details you’ll need:

  • What: Year of Small Things book signing
  • When: Saturday (March 11) from 1 PM to 3 PM
  • Where: Barnes and Noble (in the Lansing Mall), 5132 W Saginaw Hwy, Lansing
  • Cost: Free. Books will be available to purchase. (Makes a great gift or an Easter basket surprise. See: Chapter 5, on Stuff. Books don’t count as stuff to Erin.)
  • Also: There will be cookies.

Bonus! Some of Sarah Arthur’s other books will be available for purchase, including Between Midnight and Dawn, a devotional for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide; and Mommy Time, a devotional for new parents.

See you Saturday!

How one church kicked off a series of ‘Small Things’

The Year of Small Things is at its essence a church story. The Arthurs and the Wasingers, who committed to a year of small things, don’t operate independent of Sycamore Creek Church. Our prayers and other spiritual disciplines don’t replace worshiping with our people in Lansing and Potterville. So, you can imagine the energy fueling our five-week series.

Fun part: the energy didn’t come from having me and Sarah preach each message. (We didn’t.) Our fellow Sycamore Creek-ers love us, but they are not impressed by us. They’ve seen us trip over a minuscule patch of ice in the parking lot. Spill our coffee. They’ve heard us sing off-key. We have zero celebrity cred.

The energy fueling the series came from a group of people — small groups of people — who are together reading the book and meeting to talk about the small things they’d like to see in their own lives. Imaginations are quicker to spark when discussions are happening in community.

The book makes a great study or series because of its community-oriented nature. So — interested in plugging in a sermon series? Here are the nuts and bolts: The Year of Small Things series is a five-week study of the themes of the book by the same name (we chose covenantal friendship, hospitality, vows, kid monasticism, and self-care). Because our churches are wonderfully diverse (and most don’t know what new monasticism is), we centered our sermons around Hebrews 13, which touches on just about every theme.

Audio sermons can be heard via the Sycamore Creek website and Potterville’s website.

And, finally, if you’d like to have Sarah or Erin speak on Small Things where you worship or meet for small groups, contact us!

4 ways to get the most from a Small Things book group

One of the crucial components of The Year of Small Things is starting your own year of small things with other people. In the book we use the phrase “covenantal friendship” to describe the kind of relationship where you and another person (or a couple people) promise to hold each other accountable to certain practices.

Hoping to get out of debt? Your covenantal friend’s going to ask you how that’s going.

Struggling to discern what hospitality looks like in your life? Your covenantal friend is going to pray about that with you and offer some ideas. Then he’s going to circle back in a month and ask again. And again.

Get the idea? A Year of Small Things is more doable when you’re not a lone ranger.

A great way to kick-start a conversation that can lead to a covenantal friendship is a book discussion group.

Don’t overthink this — this can be as organize as a small group (a life group) through your church or as casual as talking about the book on your couch with your best friend. Whatever your discussion group looks like, here are four ways to get the most out of your time together:

  1. Listen more than you speak. Take a note from us – if someone’s venting about how hard it is to get out of debt, don’t interrupt with seven ways they could boost their income or that story you love to tell about the time you went debt-free. That’s an awesome story, but save it for later. Practice the art of listening: respond with a suggestion, a gentle correction, or a word of encouragement as the Spirit compels you, but be slow to interrupt. Active listening wins points, too: sum up what your friend’s said before continuing on so they know you’re understanding their intentions (or they can clarify when you’re a bit off).
  2. When you’re thinking about your small things, remember to keep it small. For instance, don’t make the mistake in the Just Living chapter of making your goal to end world hunger. I hear you, but I’m wondering if it’s instead a better idea to give a grocery store gift card to that family you know who is struggling?
  3. Go back and read the full stories in the bible that we reference. Scripture’s a powerful way to keep the focus on what God’s doing through and saying to you, and not on how impossible your small things might seem.
  4. Go slow. The book covers a year. Reading the book quickly and expecting to start a bunch of new habits and practices isn’t going to be sustainable. Instead, read it all at once if you want, but pace yourself for starting new projects or goals. A calendar can help; so can returning to your book club throughout a year to check in.

    And hey, if you’re encouraged by the book, would you kindly leave a review about it on Goodreads or Amazon? We appreciate you sharing the love.

Happy book release day, Year of Small Things!

Welcome to the world, The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us!

Sarah Arthur and Erin F. Wasinger are proud to announce that The Year of Small Things (Brazos Press) is in stores/ online today! The bundle of new monastic, love-your-neighbor, follow-Jesus-right-where-you-are joy could be in your hands now.

Yes, you can hold her.

The conversation’s just beginning:

Subscribe to our blog — especially for a chance to win a copy of our book — to stay updated about events related to the book.

Remember that as you read the book, you can talk about it in the public Facebook group! Join us today and start posting your reactions, questions, stories, encouragements for others, and more.

Remember, too, that as you tweet, IG, or talk about it anywhere online, you’ll find fellow readers through #yearofsmallthings. 

One more thing: we pray that God begins in your life your own small things. All our small things together — that’s something.

Now, cupcakes for everyone*!

(*So to speak.)

Book giveaways & other free fun

It’s hard to believe we’re in the home stretch! Our official book release is just around the corner (Jan 31, 2017), and here are some FREE things to help you party:

1) Book giveaways! Yep, we’re giving away free copies of The Year of Small Things, both here on our blog and on Goodreads (more info soon, Goodreads fans). Here’s how:

  • Subscribe to our blog between now and Feb. 15 by entering your email address in the handy little subscription button on the right of this page. Scroll down the page–see that cute little button? Right there. That’s where the magic happens.
  • The winning email address will be selected at random by someone small & illiterate so you know we’re not playing favorites.
  • The winner will be notified Feb. 16. Even if you’ve already preordered a copy, you can give the extra one to a friend, your local library, your state reps–heck, even the new president*!

2) Time is running out to get your free downloadable Year of Small Things calendar from our publisher! Once you preorder from your favorite online retailer (a great list is here) be sure to hang onto your receipt number, then fill out & submit the form you’ll find on our preorder page.

3) Special book-related events THIS Sunday, Jan 29 in the Lansing, MI area, including:

  • 9 & 11 AM – Erin preaching to kick off the Year of Small Things series at Potterville United Methodist Church in Potterville, MI (105 N. Church St.).
  • 9:30 & 11 AM – Sarah preaching to kick off the same series at Sycamore Creek Church in Lansing (1919 S. Pennsylvania), joined by special guest Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.
  • 12:30 – 3 PM – Free workshop on New Monasticism with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove at Sycamore Creek Church (freewill offering will help cover expenses). Free lunch & childcare. Book-signing proceeds will help kids go to camp for free.
  • 6:30 PM – Teen Fuel Cafe for 6th-12th graders meets at SCC, where Sarah will be bringing the YOST-related thought for the day. FREE pizza, snacks, & activities!

SO MUCH FREE-NESS!!

Stay tuned for other updates via our Year of Small Things Facebook group, which–yes, you guessed it–is also free.

Consider this our thanks for being such supportive fans! 

*suggested inscriptions include Lev. 19:34, Deut. 24:17-18, and/or Matt. 25:43.

5 Small Things you don’t want to miss

Friends, we present you today with 5 small things you won’t want to miss sharing, reading, listening to, or participating in before The Year of Small Things‘s launch day (in two weeks!!).

The feeling of “is this really happening” met its apex last week when at our weekly dinner with the Arthurs, YoST marketing guru and our project editor surprised us with dessert and copies of The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us. The! Real! Book! Soon you’ll have your own in hand … Ah, that new-book smell.

 

Erin’s mom, Phyllis, cradled her latest grandchild last weekend on a visit to Lansing. Erin made her leave the book here. #buyyourown #jk #ErinalreadyhasaMothersDaygiftidea

OK, small talk over. Let’s get to those 5 things:

    1. Dudes, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s on the NEW Small Things podcast! Sarah and I interviewed him about his upcoming visit to our home church, Sycamore Creek Church, in Lansing, Mich. Listen to a preview of what he’ll be sharing with our church and guests at the link above or in the player to the right —>

      JWH picture
      Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
    2. Plan on joining Sycamore Creek in a workshop on this new monasticism thing, community, and hospitality! The basics: Sunday, Jan. 29, 9:30 and 11 AM worship service with Sarah & special guest Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Then, 12:30 — Lunch and Jonathan’s workshop. Be there! (More details here.)
    3. Join the discussion about the Year of Small Things with our Facebook group. Fill that puppy with questions, conversation starters, your #yearofsmallthings photos and more. Sarah and I frequent the page and we love to interact with our readers.
    4. We’re just beginning to get requests for book signings and author events. We’re keeping you in the know on our calendar here (and below). To request us to speak, visit, smile-and-be-friendly, talk, etc., fill out this Year of Small Things Speaker Request form.
    5. Have you pre-ordered your copy (and asked friends to)? All our pre-ordering folks get a special gift from our team: a Small Things companion calendar. Details here.