Twelve years ago, Kim Newlen got an inspiration from God. She opened the doors to her home to women she knew and did not know. She called it Sweet Monday (Womenís Socials on a ShoestringÖTied to a Generous God) and today, it boasts outreaches in 44 states and 15 countries. So, how did this former school teacher and stay at home mom become a leader in her community?
Magazine: Tell me about Sweet Monday. How and why did you start
Iíve had 30-75 women here the first Monday night of most months for all of these years and it started after I stopped teaching after almost 10 years of teaching school Ė first at The Covenant School in Charlottesville, VA, and then at Collegiate School in Richmond where my husband, Mark, still coaches and teaches. When Kali, our daughter, turned 2, she stopped taking her morning naps and I didnít know at the time that I would not be able to have more children. All I ever wanted to be when I grew up was a wife and mother; that was my dream. It was my heart and soul. And even though I loved my teaching job, I wanted to be home with Kali.
But it was really going to be tight on our budget. Mark and I took a step of faith and I quit teaching cold turkey. I was so scared because I had such a wonderful job. I could literally walk to the school. In fact, before quitting, I carried my teaching contract with me in a leather bag until it was so crumbled, and on the last day, I signed it just because I had such a wonderful job and all of my friends said they couldnít believe that I was letting the job go.
But that night, I couldnít sleep. I really wanted to do what God wanted me to do; itís just that I never heard Him yell it from the sky. I had signed my contract because of peer pressure.
The next day, I talked to the head master and asked if there was any way heíd graciously let me out of my contract. I wanted to be home. I thought Iíd be the best teacher for Kali, and all of a sudden, I was homeÖand nobody else was home. I felt so isolated and lonely for the first time in my life.
Not only that, I felt like if I had everything because in Christ, I had family and friends, and if I was feeling these feelings, what were all the rest of the women feeling in the world? I asked Mark if he thought there was something wrong with me because my best friend who lived across the street was 72 years old (she died 11 years later - I sort of had a pajama path to her house.), and I was feeling all of these new feelings.
I wanted to bring women together and if I couldnít go to them, Iíd bring them to me. I wanted women to come to my home with no shoestrings attached. I wanted them not to have to stop by the store and bring something disguised as homemade. I didnít want them to have to bring their pocketbook. I didnít want anyone to feel pressured. Women do not have to buy anything. Thereís no admission. They donít have to come every month either.
Basically, a night where women feel no guilt and I keep it so simple they never feel obligated to come back. They can bring whoever they want; no RSVP. They donít even have to change their clothes. Itís going to be the same time and same place. When planning this, I tried to think of what would hold me back from coming to something like this. You know if you have something going, but you change the place every time, sometimes, [people] think, ďOh! I donít have time to get the directions. Iím not going to go.Ē
I decided I would end it promptly at 9pm so women knew when they would get out; they didnít have to worry about the time. They could even leave their cell phones on. There are absolutely no rules. The only rule of Sweet Monday is ďdonít bring me a present.Ē
But I also wanted to bring my neighbors and friends Ė old, young, Christian, non-Christian - all women together. I didnít want it to be separate. I wanted us all to be together and leave encouraged as women.
Encourage means give courage to and so I wanted to encourage women and I also wanted to learn from other women. So I thought I would try it and I did. We didnít have a church building as a young church plant; so I decided to open my home because it would be easier. I was going to make it so simple that I never dreaded it. So we have one dessert and decaffeinated coffee and hot tea. I donít even vacuum before the women come. Before, I thought I had to have every room cleaned in my house, but people are not going into every room. I keep it so simple. That has been one of our principles. Keep it simple, sweet and salty!
AVG: How did you
come up with the name Sweet Monday?
I thought sweet would be the dessert and also that I would share one thing from Godís word. I still get nervous after 12 years of hosting Sweet Monday. But I share the inspirational because God said His word is sweeter than honey to our lips. At the lowest points in my life when nobody could change my circumstances, God has been the best encourager. When I open up the Bible and read what it says, my heart is encouraged. So, I wanted to share and tell the women that God also promises that His word does not return void. So at least I know that they are going to take one thing away of significance. I am not preaching to the women. I am preaching to myself about the things I know are true from His word. His word has something to say about every issue we face.
AVG: Why do you
have themes and what has been your most favorite?
One lady told us how she puts this thing over her head so that her makeup doesnít get on her clothes. I called my mom in S.C. and told her about it, and she just said, ďOh! Donít buy one of those things. I just use an old pair of panties.Ē A friend shared that she used hemorrhoid cream under her eyes to relieve puffiness. The point is, we all have these fun ideas and it was really funny to share them.
The Sweet Monday book has all of the themes, desserts and candy to serve for each particular theme. It has been an act of God that this simple concept has been mailed to every state in the U.S. and to 6 continents. People always ask me whatís my resource for the ideas. Itís the women! I love women because we have so many things to offer and I really love for women to shine.
AVG: So you have
Sweet Monday outreaches all over the U.S. How do you feel about that? How
does that make you feel to see that your work has moved on and inspired
Sweet Monday is really a creative outreach that is evangelistic, fun fellowship, practicing hospitality, genuine encouragement, and older and younger women learning from each other. It is based on biblical principles, so I know that Sweet Monday is not going to go out of style because we need each other.
Also, itís an introduction to Christ. I canít change any womanís heart, but God can through Christ. Especially now that I have gone through breast cancer, I want to let women know they can come through anything with faith and hope.
AVG: Whatís your
advice for women who want to do something like this, but are scared?
AVG: What do you
I am definitely the ďaverageĒ girl, the one who was so afraid of failure that I couldnít even perform a piano recital when I was in middle school or give my dreaded speech in college.
AVG: What do you
want your legacy to be?
So, I have such a heart for women to let them know that God is for them. They can have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. I want Sweet Monday to continue on long after me. Thatís what I work toward now: having a Sweet Monday in every community and church. I want to make it transferable so that women will still be reaching out to women when I go to Heaven, one Sweet invitation at a time.
If you think about it, most of us have grown in our faith or come to faith because someone has reached out to us and maybe itís just not one person, but several. I think as our world moves closer to isolation, we are not reaching out to people. I wanted to have something that I could invite every woman to, that I could say, bring your mama, your best friends: you just come. You donít have to do anything. I want to be ďreaching out to women one sweet invitation at a timeĒ until the day I die.
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