Nonfiction, Reading, Reviews

How The Small Things Become The Big Things

Do you ever feel like you’re in the middle of living out a theme? Like all the messages you run into or the conversations you have come back to this one idea, even if you’re not trying to bring it up?

There’s an obstinate theme in my life right now, and the theme is this: the big things and the small things in life are not that different.

Or, more poetically speaking, the small and unseen minutes we live add up to the grand, sweeping, epic whole. Tiny thoughts, words, and actions are the grains of sand that make up the whole.

Image result for the painted desert

It’s a big thing to exercise. It’s a small thing to take a walk. It’s a big thing to be a friend. It’s a small thing to have a conversation. It’s a big thing to feed your kids for an entire childhood. It’s a small thing to make a comforting recipe on a weeknight. It’s a big thing to love someone with your whole heart. It’s a small thing to look straight into the eyes of your child when he’s telling you about the Transformer he’s pretending to be while you’re trying to cook dinner. The small and the big get blurry when we stare at them together.

Church of the Small Things: The Million Little Pieces That Make Up a LifeI didn’t know this big vs. small idea was the ground rock of Church of the Small Things: The Million Little Pieces That Make Up A Life, the newest release from NY Times Bestseller (and the writer of the first blog I ever followed) Melanie Shankle. I signed up to be on her book launch team almost blindly, because all her books are delightful and her blog in its early days spoke straight into my middle-of-the-night pacing with my firstborn and gave me the gift of humor with a shot of perspective. (Being on the book launch team just means I get to read the book early and review it, not that I’m paid or have any incentives for getting others to buy it or anything like that). Now, I can honestly say this is her best book yet, a perfect combination of funny and wise musings about the way a life lived in the small moments is a life worth living wholeheartedly. Better still, it fully forms the thoughts surfacing in my own life about purpose and faithfulness.

Shankle “had me at hello” when her introduction began with the Biblical account of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with a boy’s lunch because she basically asks, “what about the boy’s mother who probably packed the lunch?” I love how she muses about what the mother could’ve been thinking that morning and how the last thing she would have expected was a miracle to come from that packed lunch. You probably know that feeling of doing something so minute as packing a lunch, you’re not even really thinking about it, or if you are, you’re wishing you had something better to give your kid and what is a Bento box anyway? Shankle’s position is that all those little moments of faithfulness are shaping you and shaping the people around you. How true. More often than not, it’s the ordinary faithfulness, the staying instead of going and the hidden jobs that have no platform, that make a person’s character.

It’s easy to resent the never ending meal prep, the staff meeting you are wishing yourself out of, the paperwork you just did, or whatever seemingly unimportant and repetitive task you wake up to day after day. We all feel that way. Here’s my favorite quote about this from the book:

Nothing is wasted when we view it through the lens of what God has for us in whatever life brings our way. It’s all part of who we are and who he is making us to be. For some, that may be a public role on a big stage, but for the vast majority of us, it’s about being faithful in the small stuff: going to the grocery store, volunteering in our kids’ classroom, befriending the new girl, coaching a Little League team, showing up for work every day, being kind to our neighbors.

We need to look for God in the ordinary, everyday things, to pursue our lives and live our dreams and be faithful in the small things, because those are the moments that prepare us for the next thing.

-Melanie Shankle, Church of the Small Things

Maybe we should stop questioning whether what we’re doing at this minute or this stage of our lives is important or worthy and simply, finally believe this: it is all important. To me, that’s so encouraging.

It’s all kind of like that story about the boy with the spool of thread. You know the one? The wise old woman gives Peter a spool of thread that represents the time of his life, and when he gets uncomfortable and wants to skip some part, he does, simply by un-spooling some of the thread. When he gets to the end of his life, and he’s only lived the parts he thought were enjoyable or momentous, who is he? He’s like a shell of a person with an empty life. He didn’t stick around for the crying baby, he couldn’t handle all the school lessons, he wasn’t into working so he skipped the work…yikes. I’m actually glad we can’t do that. But sometimes, we do it as best as we can without a spool of time-thread. I know I do. Distraction, ungratefulness, wishing for other circumstances, it all keeps us from being faithful in the little things.

I’m grateful for Church of the Small Things for finally nailing down the clarity I was seeking in this theme I keep coming back to: the small things become the big things and faithfulness is in every moment.

That is the serious side of the book. What might be even better, though, is that this book will make you laugh. It’s got some deep thoughts in it and that’s what stood out to me after I finished it, but oh, how good it was to laugh out loud while reading about Shankle’s experiences throughout her life. She focuses on stories about seemingly monotonous life experiences that became important, or stories about the people around her whose everyday faithfulness to loving those around them changed the lives around them, one everyday-day at a time, with a huge dose of humor injected in everything.

Church of the Small Things has encouraged me a great deal lately, even more than I anticipated it would. I’m thinking it could encourage many of us, (note: it is mostly geared toward women, though I do force my husband to let me read him particularly funny parts). If you’re thinking about grabbing up a copy, now is the time! There are some pretty cool pre-order bonuses you can get if you order before October 3rd.

Whether you end up reading this book or not, I hope you are encouraged to look at your small moments as more valuable than you realize. As Melanie says, “Nothing is wasted.”

{Plug for future blog post – I’m working up the nerve to post some parenting related thoughts in the coming weeks. It’s been a long season of quiet on that front here at Miathereader.com. If you’re into that, could you comment here if any of these popular posts have resonated with you in the past or do now? Thank you so much, friends!

Put Down the Scissors

Loving the Littles Who Persecute Us

Surface Farming}

Reading, Reviews

The Best Book of The Summer: The Truth According to Us

I’m adding a new book to my Favorites Page today after finishing Annie Barrows’s latest The Truth According to Uswork, The Truth According to Us. This is hands down the best book I’ve read this summer and possibly this whole year. Seriously, it was so good, I’m in a book hangover right now because I just can’t move on.

You may remember Annie Barrows from her co-authorship of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, another book I dearly love.  The Truth According to Us is only similar in the strength of character and setting. Otherwise, it has a whole ‘nother feel and plot to it. In fact, it rings more of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help in style and is almost as compelling, if not equally so.

The Truth According to Us is set in the small factory town of Macedonia, West Virginia in 1939. Layla Beck, a fiesty socialite, falls out of her father’s good graces and finds herself in the Federal Writer’s Project with the job of writing the history of Macedonia. Beck gets much more than the back country, backwards society she bargained for when she lands a boarding room in the house of the Romeyn family. As the book progresses, it turns out that the Romeyn family is the true heart of the book. There are secrets upon secrets that shape this family, but this isn’t a soap opera story. It’s more like a classic family saga in which the characters seem to live and breathe in your mind and the story is wrenching and gripping even though it’s not your own and has nothing much to do with your life at all.

Under it all is this idea that history and the course our lives take is always based on what we believe is true. Though definitely not a morality story meant to drive home a particular point, I couldn’t help but think of how important it is to surround ourselves with truly trustworthy people. Trusting the wrong person can change everything about a person’s life. I can’t say too much more or I’ll give it all away! I think this is the type of book that will span many genres and reader preferences. Grab a copy and get reading!

Reading, Reviews

The Long Awakening Review

And now I get to review my favorite book of the Summer!

The Long Awakening, a memoirThe Long Awakening, by Lindsey O’Connor, is so, so good. I saw my friend Lael Arrington post about this book on Facebook earlier this year. I read the synopsis and then decided that, though I wanted to read it, I’d save it for after the birth of my third child. If you’re the type who can imagine herself into a state of paranoid worry (like me), I’d recommend any other pregnant women do the same! But a few weeks after the birth of my third child, I picked up The Long Awakening and drank in this beautifully written book.

The memoir tells O’Connor’s experience of near death and recovery from a 47-day coma immediately after her fifth child’s birth. O’Connor’s descriptions are entrancing. She has the ability to bring you into a hospital room with her, and then right into her head as she describes what coming out of a coma is really like. The narration isn’t chronological, but the back and forth nature of it is perfect for really relating to the story. The reader learns what happened during three different time periods that are like different lifetimes to O’Connor: before the coma, during the coma, and after the coma. Somehow she manages to jump back and forth while creating a complete and easy to follow timeline, filling in gaps here and there. The effect is that the reader better understands what her recovery was like–a lot of gaps that needed to be filled in for her to feel fully conscious and alive.

Beyond the writing, I was fascinated by how O’Connor, a woman of strong faith, wrestles with the darkness of her experience. This is not your typical “Heaven is for Real” or “90 Minutes in Heaven” story. There was no flash of light and warm cocoon sensation for O’Connor. As O’Connor recovers and wrestles with her experience of near death as a Christian, I appreciated her stark honesty and her realizations that came in their own time.

Violet - 8-18-14-30On a personal note, this book put my own blessings in perspective. As I read it sometimes in the middle of the night while holding my tiny newborn, warm and rosy in my arms, I wanted to soak in the experience more than I ever. The ability to care for my baby from the minute she is born until she’s grown is something I’ve taken for granted. The Long Awakening changed my attitude towards the exhaustion that comes with a newborn. Though there were some wee hours when I thought I could do with a small coma…you know just 24 hours or so…

Definitely check out The Long Awakening next time you’re looking for a riveting, exquisite, and thought provoking read.

See what else I read this Summer, or find my list of favorites.

Photo cred: Wenzel Photography

Reading, Reviews

Don’t Let The Dress Impress

I’ve been in a bit of a book slump lately.  It’s my own fault, because what can you expect when you pick up book after book with a cover featuring a woman in an elaborate, flowing, and frilly dress. Seriously, what was I thinking?

Here are some book busts for you:

The Typewriter Girl Edenbrooke The Time in Between

I don’t have much to say about any of these books except you really shouldn’t bother with them.  I couldn’t make it past the first few chapters of The Typewriter Girl. It was boring. That’s all. I blame Goodreads for putting these books on my recommended reading list. =)

The Dressmaker But I did enjoy The Dressmaker. It’s a light read, but it includes some intriguing history around The Titanic and the political aftermath.  The Dressmaker made me curious about what happened after the catastrophe.  Most of the characters are well done and the plot moves along at a nice pace.  The whole “independent woman” theme can get boring (how many times can readers enjoy a book about a woman going from nothing to success?), but the integrity of Tess, the main character, and the contrasts between characters throughout the book make it more than just entertaining.  I was pleasantly surprised to find it thought provoking. Weeks after reading it, I think of it as a delightful read. I appreciate how clean it was, too. If you’re drawn to books with beautiful, old fashioned dresses on them like I have been lately, pick this one over all others.

I’ve heard good things about The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani, but look at the cover:

The Shoemaker's Wife

No, I can’t bring myself to pick that one up right now.  Maybe someday.

Right now, I’m enjoying The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.  How is it that I have never read this book?  It’s wonderful.

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