Small Things: the perfect gift for those made anxious by the news

Judging by my email’s inbox, everything is up to me.

If its tone is to be believed, the fate of the nation, our children, our forests, the Middle East, our schools — everything — all hinges on my response. My signature. My donation. My action. My prayers. My subscription. My money. My reposts on social media.

What a shock to the mind, then, to remind ourselves of Advent. I’ve been praying for Jesus’ hope a lot. Where is it? Why don’t I feel it? Why can’t I give enough, volunteer enough, pray enough to feel that hope? I sigh a lot now, too, and turn off the news and feel overwhelmed.

Advent, I need more this year than ever.

Over dinner this past week, the Arthurs and the Wasingers talked again about our commitment to small things. Are they enough, we wondered, all of us slouching in chairs in the Arthurs’ living room, tired. Meanwhile, the kids were in the basement rehearsing some bell-less version of “Jingle Bells.” Loudly. We’d had hot-and-ready pizza for dinner because that’s a love language of ours. Sarah and I were a couple hours into taking meds for headaches.

Yeah, small things are enough. It’s what we’ve got.

We hope in Jesus, who multiplies things like fish and bread and disciples. Maybe all our small things can increase in the same way. So: will you live like that’s true, even when we don’t feel it?

Small steps.

If you’ve read The Year of Small Things, engage us and other Small Things people in our Facebook group. Your questions are probably the same that others have; and there’s something about being weird together, right? We’re your cheerleaders.

If you’ve not yet read Small Things with other people, pick up a few more copies this season. Start the discussion. Find your people. Do the things. 

Oh, and we especially recommend our book for that person you follow on social media who can’t help but repost 76 links each day, all with headlines that scream, “SIGN NOW OR YOU OBVIOUSLY DON’T CARE ABOUT THE EARTH/ POOR PEOPLE/ CHILDREN/ SPIDER MONKEYS.”

Small Things might just be a relief to them — and their Facebook friends.

Small Things is available online:

Peace, friends.

(And hope, friends.)    

5 ways to have a simpler Christmas

Remember that one time my family budgeted twenty-five bucks for our family’s Christmas gifts? Yeah, twenty-five dollars total. Luckily, my kids do not remember this grim December. Celebrating was a teeth-gnashing experience: we meant to put more energy and emphasis on the advent and Christmas narrative. Instead of shopping, we’ll go caroling! Instead of plastic toys for our kids we’ll donate toys for someone else’s tots!

Sounded great. Noble, generous.

Instead, we ended up frustrated going through thrift store racks, tired of sewing yet another stuffed animal, and oh-so-ready to be done with the holidays.

So, twenty-five dollar Christmases, we don’t do anymore. But I still … I can’t go back to the days I knew as a child: the mountains of gifts, those gift exchanges where we’d text “What does (some dude) want for Christmas?” from the mall because we and dude didn’t know each other well.

I suspect this might sound familiar. Perhaps you’ve found some kindreds in The Year of Small Things because you want something different — starting with Christmas.

Me too. Let’s do this together.  

I’m issuing a Small Things Christmas Challenge! 

How will you err on the side of generosity this season?

How will you give differently? How will you refrain from buying too much stuff? Here are some ways that’ve worked for our family since our Grinchy Christmas:

  1. Experiences over gifts: My inlaws start asking for Christmas lists before we’ve even trick-or-treated. So, I needed ideas. I’ve started a conversation in our Facebook group (join us!), where the general consensus (hear me, grandparents!) is that experiences are better than stuff. Zoo memberships, movie gift certificates, trampoline park passes, a promise to go camping, and yadda yadda.
  2. The “want, need, wear, read” list: Something they want, something they need … You get it. We’re doing this in a shortened version; please don’t tell my kids all four of these categories or we can’t be friends anymore.
  3. Pay to play: my kids want to do soccer but the fee is ridiculous. Same with swimming, a music class, or whatever sport they choose (that doesn’t meet on weekend morning and only practices maybe once a week).
  4. We “adopt-a-child” through the local children’s home. The kids get to shop and learn how to pick out items other kids would like (not just “CAN I HAVE THIS”), and it generates a lot of conversation.
  5. We talk at the table about our budget, especially letting everyone choose which nonprofits we’ll donate to (besides our church). Generally, we give more away than we spend on our own gifts, and the kids hear that, even if they don’t quite get why yet.
  6. I’m still looking for a new monastic orthodontist. That really has nothing to do with Christmas, but I want to throw it out there.

TAKE THE SMALL THINGS CHALLENGE: Share ONE small way you’re celebrating differently this year.

Join us on Facebook to talk about it, or comment below! 

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?

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.

 

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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.

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!

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.

Preorder ‘Small Things,’ get a free calendar

Really good things come to those who pre-order The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of UsThe creative folks at our publisher (high-five Brazos Press) have created a companion calendar specially for those who order a copy of the book before launch day on Jan. 31.

 

The calendar begins in February and asks questions that complement each month of small things in the book.

Because this is a book that engages different topics in (small) ways over a year, the calendar’s a perfect way to keep your eye — and time — focused on what God’s doing in your life. Plus, the questions make for conversation starters or journal prompts, prompting self-reflection about tough topics like money, social justice, and more.

Getting the calendar for free download is simple. Just fill out the form and we’ll handle the rest.

 

Hey Michigan, meet Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

Hey Michigan, meet Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove will be coming to Lansing, Mich., to join Erin and Sarah’s church community in a conversation about hospitality, new monasticism, and The Year of Small Things.

Jonathan — who penned the foreword for The Year of Small Things — will join Sycamore Creek Church Sunday, Jan. 29, in opening its five-week series on the book’s themes. He’ll join us at SC’s South Lansing location during worship for a discussion with Sarah Arthur about covenantal friendship. A similar message by Erin Wasinger will be held that same morning at SC’s Potterville campus. 

At 12:30 p.m. our venue at 1919 S Pennsylvania Ave., Jonathan will then lead a workshop that will dive deeper on practices such as hospitality and community. Join us for this one-time opportunity to hear from one of the voices who influence Sarah and Erin thanks to his leadership in new monasticism.

(Fun fact: Jonathan’s The Wisdom of Stability is the book that started Sarah’s and Erin’s discussion about the feasibility of new monasticism in our own lives. Geek moment.)

Jonathan is a celebrated spiritual author and sought-after speaker.  In 2003, Jonathan and his wife Leah founded the Rutba House, in Durham, N.C., a house of hospitality where the formerly homeless are welcomed into a community that eats, prays, and shares life together. Jonathan directs the School for Conversion, an organization that has grown out of the life of Rutba House to pursue beloved community with kids in their neighborhood, through classes in North Carolina prisons, and in community-based education around the country. He is also an Associate Minister at the historically black St. Johns Missionary Baptist Church.

Jonathan is a co-compiler of the celebrated Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, and is the author of several books on Christian spirituality, including The Awakening of Hope, The Wisdom of Stability, and The New Monasticism. Bio courtesy of his website.

Admission is free, but a freewill offering will be taken toward event costs.

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At Sycamore Creek Church you’ll hear great music and practical, understandable teaching all in an informal setting. Read: Engaging messages, Paramount Coffee bar, a professionally staffed nursery, and a great kids’ program = the best way to spend a Sunday. We are one church in multiple locations:

Sundays @ S Lansing (1919 S Penn, Lansing) 9:30 & 11 AM 

Sundays @ Potterville (105 N Church St, Potterville) – Traditional Worship @ 9 AM. Contemporary Worship and Potterville Kids and Nursery @ 11 AM

Mondays @ Buddies (Holt & Aurelius Rds, Holt) – 5:30 & 7 PM. Free burger and fries for first and second-time guests.

Year of Small Things: Graphics to share

About a month from now The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us will hit bookstores and mailboxes (eep!). To celebrate, we present this — our first set of shareable graphics for you to paper the Internets in.

Send these graphics whirling around the Twittersphere, bloggosphere, Facebookland, or wherever else you cool cats are hanging out nowadays. Heck, print one and tack it on your fridge. Or your church’s fridge. We have faith your creativity will guide you.

We appreciate your help spreading some of our words. May they spark conversations and imaginations in others as we start to think about our 2017s.

To use: Click the image you want to share — a new page will open with just the image you chose. Right-click and save. Share. Repeat!

Remember to use the hashtag #yearofsmallthings wherever you’re posting! 

 

Thanks for sharing the Small Things love!

Erin & Sarah