We had found our church; we had met Tom and Sarah and a slew of other friendly folks there.
But it took us a while to get from acquaintances to deeper friendships.
See, The Year of Small Things’s backbone was a relationship between our two families that went beyond a friendship based on mutual interests. After months of figuring out what to even name this relationship, we settled on “covenantal friendship.” Covenantal because we actually ratified a document between our families. The piece of paper bound us to uphold, support, and challenge each other. Covenantal is serious business.
Covenantal friendship did not come easily or quickly. Weeks—months—into attending Sycamore Creek Church, while wrangling small children on the way out the church door, I maybe mentioned to Sarah what I had been reading lately—and there was the sudden spark: “You too? Wait, you know what new monasticism is?”
But it was another few months before I loaded three kids into the van and headed to the parsonage one wintry morning to talk with Sarah about this thing called “new monasticism.”
Emphasis on “I loaded three kids.”
Reading almost all the new monastic literature in a vacuum had left me hungry for the “how do I really do this with children and debt and no friends” conversation; I wanted someone to say, “Yeah, let’s do this together.”
Or even just, “It’s possible.” Heck, I’d settle for someone who knew what the phrase “new monasticism” even meant.
“Come over,” Sarah said. “We’ll talk.”
(“We’ll talk”? She’s an optimist.) A foreshadowing of all our sabotaged conversations to come hovered over the morning: “Can you two back up, please? Baby needs some space.” We watched Violet and Louisa scoot a millimeter from Sam, who was lying on his belly on a blanket, staring open-mouthed at the two mesmerized little girls. (Parental advisory: Children in imminent danger from other children is a possible side effect of covenantal friendship.)
“So, like I was saying, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is writing about stability and how important it is to be rooted to a place, and it made me think of you and Tom, who have to move when the bishop tells you—what, Violet?”
“I have to go potty.” Another child banged blocks like a drum.
“Mommy, I want to go upstairs,” whined the wavy-haired boy by the basement steps.
“We’re going to stay down here, Micah. Mommy and Ms. Erin are talking—” Sarah wore a cap and a Duke T-shirt and perched, resolute, in the swivel desk chair she’d borrowed from Tom’s office. Drum, drum, drum in the background.
“Can I play this?” Alice asked, lifting the dust cover off a piano keyboard as I tried to wrestle Violet off my arm. Someone must’ve nodded, and it wasn’t me, because Alice found the “power” button.
“Violet, you can go potty without me, honey, it’s just like at home.” I tried to mimic Sarah’s steadfast chair-sitting.
Then Sarah stood. “Should we all take potty-breaks? Micah, do you have to go?”
And an hour later, we found ourselves upstairs. Sarah maybe completed one sentence, total, between our arrival and departure. I think she knew that I wanted to talk about Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s The Wisdom of Stability. I vaguely remember finding a Post-It in my purse of other books I should read, which Sarah must have stuck in there.
I sorta recall a story about the one and only time Sarah protested the death penalty? outside some governor’s house? with the members of Rutba House? But mostly I remember the up-and-down of our bodies in our chairs as we launched toward the keyboard volume button, Micah’s overturned snack bowl, or Louisa’s toddler body on the stairs.
“Okay!” Sarah punctuated the chaos of our lunchtime departure. “So obviously, we have a lot to talk about. Good things.” She watched as I begged four limp fingers and a bent thumb into one last (blessed) child’s glove.
The genesis of this Year of Small Things business wasn’t the result of one spark, one obvious moment of pure community — too many kids for that. But we saw hints of it that morning.
OK, this could be a thing, I thought, as I drove us back home, three kids begging for gum from the backseat. A good thing …
But first: naps.
Erin F. Wasinger and her family moved to Lansing in 2013. Excerpt expanded from the book The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us (Brazos Press, 2017).