erin f. wasinger

stories of loving our neighbors, discernment, & other hard things

Author: Erin (Page 1 of 5)

Their story: ‘America offers everything’

“This is home,” Nael Al Saedi said, sitting on his couch one rainy Saturday afternoon.

Photo courtesy of Dave Wasinger/ for STVCC

His family walked in and out of their living room, taking turns telling stories and listening to each other’s. The home has been theirs for less than a year — bought about seven years after arriving in Lansing as refugees.

Inside, the youngest helped herself to ice cream at the kitchen table. Outside, a red, white, and blue pinwheel spun in the landscaping.

This is home, he said.

Sixteen-year-old Hawraa’s consumed with schoolwork and volunteers at a local hospital. Ahmed, 9, is into soccer (“and recess,” he said). Nadaa, 8, likes reading, dancing, and running. His second daughter, Noor, 15, was at driver’s education class.

Al Saedi said he’s proud to watch his kids pursue their own ambitions — he’d hoped the children would have educational opportunities in America. But, he said, he wants them to remember how they got here.

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And finally, it’s spring: where our words have been

“You must be coming to visit me!”

We were halfway around our block when were stopped by a wave from our octogenarian neighbor who lives behind us. We weren’t technically coming to visit, but our walk turned into a tour of her ever-changing garden. look upHer garden is her thing: I notice her from the kitchen window almost every afternoon. She’s out there with a yard waste bag, her gardening gloves, and a wagon of tools.

She’s got tulips that bloom larger than my fist, hostas that could eat my dog. Later will come roses and irises and a whole slew of blooms (which I won’t be able to name thirty seconds after she tells me). She schools the girls: look at this Jacob’s ladder, see primrose, can you spot the faces on the pansies here.

(Meanwhile, I’m just happy the kids haven’t crushed my peony to death with their bodies. Pretty sure someone watered it from a container of bubble mix, too.)

This is our spring: full of neighbors and walks and finally, flowers.

It’s been a busy spring of writing, too, so I’m here to share what we’ve been sharing.

More substance soon. But for now: besides preaching, freelancing for the newspaper, and mowing the neighbors’ yard for petty cash, you can find us — 

Why I learned to talk about depression in public

Of all the chapters in The Year of Small Things, the hardest to write was about self-care. For one, pretending you’re Dorothy Day feels good; prophetic, even. Talking about depression doesn’t.

 

But. It’s important to talk about with other people if only because it shouldn’t be awkward. Vulnerability was the posture I wrote from, and now that people are seeing the stuff on the soft underbelly (I’ve had three children, what do you want from me), people have felt compelled to share their own mental junk.

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You know, Dorothy Day never voted

Dorothy Day — my patron (almost-) saint — was arrested for picketing for the rights of women to vote.

And even after the 19th Amendment passed, Dorothy Day never voted. 

The cofounder of the Catholic Worker movement felt problems weren’t solved by politics, her granddaughter Kate Hennessy writes in The World Will Be Saved by Beauty: An Intimate Portrait of My Grandmother (out now from Scribner). It’s really, really hard to remember that this week, isn’t it?

More on that later. For now, I’m still lamenting.

And, conversely, celebrating. (Joy and sorrow are different sides of the same coin. Where did I read that?)

My and Sarah Arthur’s book The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us releases TUESDAY. You’ve gotta stop by yearofsmallthings.com for a roundup of hot giveaway action.

And, to hold you over: I had the chance to interview Kate Hennessy for the Englewood Review of Books. Catch a preview of it, below:

Kate Hennessy – New Dorothy Day Bio [Interview]

 

Peace, friends. There will be peace.

5 ways to share Year of Small Things love

The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us (Brazos, Jan. 31) will soon emerge from its cocoon and go out into the world, and to do that takes a lot of brain space.

So do snow days and three-day weekends with children. The Midwest … it’s a tricky thing, you know.

In the days before the book releases, though, there are some ways you can help spread the word about it.

  1. Listen to the Small Things podcast & share away! This week, we interviewed Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, whose book The Wisdom of Stability was influential in Sarah’s and my first conversations.

2. Join and/ or invite others to like our Facebook group for the book. We’ll use the space to communicate with readers and keep everyone up to date on book news.

3. Post photos on Instagram, Facebook, and/ or Twitter and use the hashtag #yearofsmallthings. If you need help coming up with ideas for things to take pictures of, here are some prompts.

4. Join our home church, Sycamore Creek in Lansing and Potterville, Michigan, during our upcoming sermon series on The Year of Small Things. Sarah and I — plus other members of our church’s teaching team — will be talking about key themes from the book and how you can start to see big changes from your small things.

5. Stop by www.yearofsmallthings.com for more inspiration, shareables, and posts unique to that project. We’re geeked to invite y’all on this adventure! Thanks for your prayers, support, and chocolate (in advance?). This is meant to start conversations within and outside the church with individuals and small tribes of friends and framily. Your sharing our words brings the conversation to more folks — and that’s a wonderful thing.

Social justice for ‘the rest of us’

On the way to their town house’s parking lot we smile at each other, quietly, nervously.

You’ve never driven a car, I ask.

No, she says.

Not even once? I ask.

No, she says.

I decide to start in an empty parking lot somewhere; I mention this but I’m unsure if she comprehends. So I drive us to an elementary school on this gray Saturday afternoon.

I wonder often about the limits of our refugees-turned-friends’ current command of English. How do they worry over the way America’s divided about Islam and refugees? How do they react when they hear the voice of our next president?

I’ve not known them long enough to talk politics — actually, that’s not totally true. I guess I just don’t want to have to explain. But of course our friends must understand the tone if not the content of the arguments America’s making among its people. Anger renders our air toxic. We breathe it without choice.

Our friends wouldn’t have asked for it. During the two-year screening process, they only know they want out. I think of that. My friend didn’t know six months ago that she’d be in some American’s (Cheez-Its-scented) minivan doing laps around a parking lot. She didn’t know she was pregnant then. She’s due on my middle daughter’s birthday. She’ll be 34 then, just like me.

They worship at a mosque that received that insipid letter reminding them that terror’s here, too. The letter cheered that Trump’s presidency means what happened to Jews under Hitler will happen to American Muslims under Trump. (Do we not remember? There is nothing new under the sun.) The letter stirred up cries for solidarity and a new feeling of helplessness. Now we’re praying/ wringing our hands/ sending donations to Aleppo.

I hate helplessness. 

I want to do something, to march somewhere, to go somewhere. But here I am. I am the rest of us: the ones who want to be radical but … aren’t. Kids in school, jobs, bills. Classroom holiday parties and we’re out of milk and there’s blue toothpaste all over the bathroom wall — HOW. I WILL KEEP ASKING UNTIL I GET AN ANSWER.

So our family does smaller, such as the small thing of teaching someone to drive.

She’s now behind the wheel. Seat belt on. Feet exploring. She finds the pedal on the left. “Brake?”

“Yes, that’s stop.”

“And — this one?”

“That’s the accelerator. It makes you go.” I charade that.

I learned to drive on country roads when I was 14. My uncle, his daughter, and I took turns behind the wheel of a tiny Dodge, learning the art of accelerating and braking. I think she could use some stretch of country road.

“Now, we’ll go straight” — I motion in the passenger seat like an air traffic controller — “and then we’ll turn.”

“Ahh huh.” She revs it; I put it in gear.

“You push it down slowly. Slowly,” I say, first motioning with my hand, pivoting from my palm. When I realize I’m asking her to catch my words and my symbols, I point to my foot and mime how slowly to push the pedal.

“OK, OK,” she says: and then she does. But now she punches it to the floor and we lurch toward a strip of grass between the lot and a basketball court.  I nicely yell “Brake, brake, brake, BRAKE.” And she finds it. Only the seat belts and Jesus hold us back as we stop.

And we laugh like my girls do when we flip them upside-down — how divine to laugh when all the world is yelling.  

We didn't practice at night, but isn't this pretty anyway?

We didn’t practice at night, but isn’t this pretty anyway?

We practice in that elementary school parking lot for a half hour, going forward and reversing, driving in the pick-up lane. She speaks in Arabic to herself, or maybe to me, thinking like we all do that if we only keep repeating our foreign words (maybe slower, maybe louder), eventually enlightenment and understanding will dawn on our companions.

“More, or are you ready to be done?”

“Stop,” she says, motioning the way umpires call runners safe.  

She notices the school sign. “Yes, that might be the school your kids go to if you live over here when they are 4 years old.”

“Four?” She has the same look as if she’d discovered a $50 bill in her pocket. She giggle-dances just as I did when my youngest started preschool. How divine to laugh when all the world is yelling.  

At her house, I defend her as her husband jokes through Dave: “Is my wife good at driving or hopeless?” Her husband and Dave have learned to clarify what they’re saying to each other using Google Translate. We laugh. And the kids do, to, as they hear Mom drove. They’re in on the joke.   

How divine to laugh when all the world is yelling.

That’s part of our upside-down response, friends. 

Some of us will resist hatred and fear in front of state government representatives and with our congressmen and -women. Some of us will write letters, will march, will carry signs, will go there.

Some of us will drive around a school parking lot.

The lucky might get to do a little of everything. None of us can do it all. So, together we’ll do it all. Because we’re upside-down people. We can yell, but we know it’s divine to laugh.

{Part 2 of 2.}

How we respond here to the refugee crisis

I watch my friend in her sparse kitchen.

She uses a small saucepan to scald milk for us to drink. Dave used to do the same when he baked bread in our kitchen, and the sweet-sour smell reminds me of home. She pours two steaming glasses and then sits on the folding chair, the only piece of furniture in the living room besides the loveseat on which I sit. And their new television.

This is our third visit with this refugee family we’ve begun to mentor through a local resettlement agency, and formalities of hospitality come first.

“We drink,” she smiles, motioning to the plastic tray she’s carried out. It has a bowl of sugar and two true tea spoons: petite and beautiful. “Then we go?”

I nod and try to sip the scalded milk before a film forms on top. Our kids, all six under the age of 9, bat each other with balloons we’ve just blown up. Their bare feet slap the laminate as they run. Incense she lit smells like spices whose names I don’t know. Home.

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My husband and I have been paired by a local resettlement agency to help the newcomers with bus routes, library cards, and their questions. A big percentage of their questions center on snow, and how deep, again, will it get? (A week later, we will stand outside while the children watch their first snowfall. Alice will make a snow angel and Violet will throw a snow ball. Our friends’ children will be terrified of the whole experience. But that’s next week.)

On this particular day, I’ve agreed to help the mother learn how to drive. I’ll be helping the family of almost-six acquire a different kind of freedom than they first received in July, when they arrived from a country in west Africa. Like another family we’ve mentored before, their choices and goals speak to an eagerness to start: quick to get jobs, quick to master English. 

For my American family — whose perspectives are the only ones I can write about — we feel eager, too. The world is breaking apart in places we can find on the maps that fall from the pages of my old bible. Our country is screaming in anger or horror about these things. More loudly are the Americans not screaming in anger at all. The void, the inaction, howls.

Yet, here we are, the lamenting. We sit in this living room, practicing being Boaz.

Remember him? Boaz, the man who married Ruth the Moabite in her Old Testament book, didn’t keep with public opinion about foreigners, either. Plus, Moabites were the sworn enemies of Israel (think of this warm-and-fuzzy life-verse option from Isaiah: “The Moabites shall be trodden down in their place as straw is trodden down in a dung-pit,” v. 25:10 NRSV). Boaz, as an Israelite, was supposed to hate Moabites. Instead, he marries one. Ruth the Moabite. 

He marries Ruth, the community finally embraces her and celebrates the baby that God gave the couple. She’s in Jesus’ genealogy: all evidence that this story’s more than a happy tale. It’s a message. God probably cares more for people than the boundaries we put between us and them.

One person: Boaz was one person who didn’t care for majority opinion. God blessed that.

We’re five people (but three are under the age of 9). We don’t care for the alleged majority opinion either. And God’s here, too.

***

So, here we are on that Saturday, the last one without snow. The mom has her state of Michigan learner’s permit, though in a few moments when we get in my van it will be clear our lessons will start at Point A.

For now, in her living room, her tray holds two spoons and a bowl of sugar. She scoops two heaping spoonfuls into her cup; I mimic her. Her spoon clangs like someone would do in their own home, where they’re comfortable.

“We’re going driving,” I remind Dave. He and the father are messing with a TV antenna that looks like a flyswatter. 

The woman finishes her drink, then moves through the obstacle course of our children, sprawled now on the floor in the spartan living room. She comes back moments later in jeans and a plaid flannel scarf draped around her head.

We’re all ready.

{Part 1 of 2 / Next post}

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