Jeanell Cox: Everyday Theology: Beginnings, Endings, and Everything In Between

Editor’s Note: Three weeks ago our middle child required surgery to repair a badly broken leg.  Our lives were turned upside down with what turned into an almost-week-long hospital stay. Needless to say, lots of things fell by the wayside and one of those was our blog. We’re back on track now (we think!) and look forward to continuing to journey together as ministers and mothers. Grateful for your grace and patience–Alicia Davis Porterfield.

Jeanell writes:

Confession time: I don’t like change. And I truly, deeply mean I don’t like change. I have spent a lot of my life trying to establish security and predictability, only to be foiled every single time by the ways of the world, and the ways of our God who never fails to invite me to consider the unconsidered.

But there is one change I always loved as a child, and still love as a mother. That change is the beginning of the new school year. There’s just something about the smell of a freshly opened box of crayons, the stark possibility of a piece of ruled notebook paper, and the blissful emptiness of a spiral notebook before it is filled with numbers, letters, words and stories.  Unsharpened pencils and pens full of ink and unused watercolor paints can create ideas that change the world.

At the beginning of a school year there is endless possibility in the smirking mischievous first day of school grins that are posted on social media. We don’t yet know what our kids will become over a school year, but we know they will finish somehow changed. Now that’s a change I can live with and celebrate.

On the last day of my first child’s Kindergarten year, he came home with a mostly empty backpack and a pencil pouch containing the remnants of his year. It was such a striking image for me that I snapped a picture of it.


Broken crayons, glue sticks that were one use away from empty, a popsicle stick that didn’t quite find its place in that art project all stared back at me. They were far from the shiny new pencils and whole crayons that brought me such joy.

But the more I looked at that used up, torn up, almost good-for-nothing pile of school supplies sitting on my countertop I began to realize that they were even more beautiful than what I sent in that first day of school with my Kindergartner, full of my own tears of grief as he grew, my fears for him, and my hopes for his future. They were used up, and he was the better for it.

Living this life uses us up. It can take us from shiny new fresh-faced optimists to the realists with crow’s feet and spit up stains and an earful complaints about the terrible dinner we had the nerve to put on the table yet again. It can take us from the idealism of seminary completion to the rugged and dirty terrain of the church or the hospital or the homeless shelter, and the real-life-redeemed people we are called to serve.

In it, God asks us to take out our shiny new crayons and our blank canvases and use them. We are asked to begin, to commit to discipleship, and to be willing to let the crayons break and the pencils dull as we serve. Over my time in ministry,and watching my children grow I have learned that all of it-the beginnings, the endings, and everything in between- matter. They mold us and shape us into more of what God calls us to be. Sometimes the most broken places and the most used up places are the places that God makes into our greatest stories—our greatest masterpieces.

Those broken crayons and used erasers were the beginning of my sweet boy’s journey into not only an academic education, but a much deeper learning about who he is, and who God is calling and will call him to be in and for the world.  And every single time I’ve found myself with broken pieces, somehow God and those around me seem to help me put them back together, or give me something altogether new.

So enjoy your beginnings, and honor the good work that brings the endings. And when you are stuck in the jagged edges in between, not sure how to move forward, remember these words from Philippians 1:

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.


Jeanell Cox is a Board Certified Chaplain serving with Glenaire Continuing Care Retirement Community and as Administrative Coordinator for the North Carolina Chaplain’s Association. She is also mom to three amazing boys and is married to a local church pastor.



Merianna Harrelson: Everyday Theology: When Our Children Serve Beside Us

As true, mutually-supportive sisters in ministry, we’re borrowing from the amazing Merianna Harrelson’s blog for this week’s post as she reflects on serving with her own children. 


This past Saturday as part of ministrieslab, we partnered with Resurrectionsthat has been popping up on Saturdays in downtown Columbia to serve a midday meal for fourteen years. We knew it was going to be hot and we knew that there were going to be a lot of people in need. We also knew we had all three children. We made the choice that all the kids would go and serve beside us. We made that choice not knowing for sure if children had helped serve before or whether there would be tasks they could handle, but knowing we wanted them to understand that serving and helping others in need is part of who we are as a family.

When we arrived, we found that the whole team at Resurrections believed the same thing we did. They believed that willing hands are willing hands, no matter how big or small. They asked our children to jump in by carrying the tents and serving food just like the adult volunteers were doing.

The picture I am taking away from this Saturday is our eight-year-old serving another eight-year-old who was there with her mother. To serve someone her own age and own height was a powerful picture of what happens when we invite children to serve beside us rather than restricting them to children’s missions activities. When we serve together as a family and serve other families in need, there is a powerful communion that occurs. We understand that family is what unites us and binds us, whether we have a lot of whether we have little.

When our children serve beside us, we are welcoming them into the gospel message. We are letting the little children come unto God. We are bringing the kingdom of God here to earth in ways that we as adults can’t see. When our children serve beside us, we hear in their voices, “I like that better than some of the other times we’ve served because we actually got to do something. They actually let us help and serve the food.”

Thanks be to God for pop up meals and for people who understand that when Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food,” he wasn’t just talking to adults.

This post originally appeared on Merianna’s blog, at Follow Merianna’s blog for more insightful, soulful reflections. 


Heather Mustain: Everyday Theology: Courage and Vulnerability

In the last two weeks my husband Chad and I celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary and our baby girl, Jimmie’s, first birthday. Realizing neither of us had taken any time away since Jimmie’s birth, it felt like the perfect time to treat ourselves to a “stay cation” We made plans for Jimmie to stay with her grandparents and we reserved a hotel room in downtown Ft. Worth.

Before having Jimmie, Chad and I loved going to the movies, so the first obvious activity on our staycation was to hit up the local movie theater. The enjoyment of going to see a movie for me is not always about the movie, but about the experience- the ice-cold Coke, popcorn and candy, and a theater so cold and dark you feel as if you’re the only one inhabiting it. The choice of movies wasn’t stellar this past weekend and we agreed we were in the mood to have a good laugh, so we found ourselves at the 1:40 p.m. showing of Bad Moms.

bad moms

My first year as a mother has been filled with incredible joy yet has been tainted with the darkness of postpartum depression. So the movie Bad Moms felt relatable and as the darkness of PPD has dissipated I felt ready to have a good belly laugh about the many times over the course of this year where I have felt like a bad mom.

The film satirically examines the values and beliefs our society holds about motherhood. Gwendolyn, the film’s antagonist, is the school’s PTA president. Every morning while she and her posse stand out in front of the school, every mother dropping of their child falls prey to their overly critical eyes and mouths.

Amy, the film’s protagonist, is always late and seems to never get anything right no matter how hard she tries. Gwendolyn jokingly asks Amy how she manages having a full time job and wonders aloud, “doesn’t she miss her children?” Her comments stab at the heart of a long-held feud between mothers who decide to pursue a job outside of the home and those who decide to stay at home with their children–as if one is more “right” than the other.

Later on in the movie, after being bullied by Gwendolyn one too many times, Amy decides to run for PTA president, a long-held position by Gwendolyn. While Gwendolyn’s campaign platform is all about what mothers could continue to do to be even better, Amy’s campaign platform is about doing less and shedding the idea of perfection. During her candidate speech, Amy admits to her imperfections as a mother and even labels herself as a “bad mom,” for which she receives a standing ovation. Her openness and vulnerability to being a bad mom makes room for other mothers to say “me, too!” A freedom exists under Amy’s new leadership that was choked out by perfection in Gwendolyn’s. In the midst of crude jokes and middle school humor, this caught my attention.

The evening before Chad and I left for our staycation, we had a conversation with friends that continued to linger in my mind and spirit. We were sharing with this couple that after three years in Dallas we still felt a lack of connection and friendship, something we thought this couple would know nothing about. Their natural charisma and outgoing personalities led us to believe that if anyone belonged it was them. Instead they said, “us too.” And as Chad and I reflected upon their “us too” we wondered if we both felt this way, then who else does?

Vulnerability is courageous and it leads others to being courageous too. Admitting our imperfections makes space for others to admit theirs too. And these are moments that lead us to finding solutions that benefit the whole of us and not just part of us. In the movie, Amy’s vulnerability leads hundreds of other mothers to freedom just as my friend’s vulnerability lead Chad and me to ours. And now instead of just wallowing in our own self-pity, vulnerability has moved us to become a conduit to belonging and friendship for other young families and couples who have felt the same. Vulnerability has shifted our perspective and has reminded us that we are not alone.

So today be vulnerable and see what happens. It may just lead to laughter, standing ovations, and a chorus of “me, too!”


Heather Mustain serves as minister of missions at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, TX. An advocate for global missions, Heather graduated from George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University with a Master of Divinity and a Master of Social Work.

Katrina Brooks: Everyday Theology: Pastored by Our Daughters

I began a DMin program the summer of 2015. The first day of class my daughter took me to breakfast, walked me to class and took the obligatory first day of class photo. In celebration of the adventure she designed a planner to make sure I chronicled my journey and kept track of my assignments. That year conversations with my ministry coach often left me with more questions than answers, but for the most part I progressed through the program on track.

In July 2016 I had a meltdown. When I say meltdown I mean broken-hearted, tears rushing down my face, wondering why I was subjecting myself to the humiliation type of meltdown. I probably should have expected it. The two week long DMin seminar was tough.

On the first day I ran to the car at break and cried. The next break I called my spouse and whined. Between weeks I had a week with my family. Correction. I had a few days with my family and a lot of time by myself. The meltdown came the first night of the second week.

The day started out well. I was on point. I was engaged. I was rediscovering my scholar self. I felt refreshed and renewed. When case studies were presented after lunch things changed. By the time I entered the hotel room I shared with our daughter I was one hot mess. Sensing I was “on the brink” my seminary-trained daughter asked a few innocent questions. I melted.

Lost in an emotional downward spiral all I could think of was having another student walk away from the campus organization I served. I was heart broken after one particular student left. The way he exited the organization. The way his words of parting cut me to the core.

And this was the second one in two weeks. Both exited with the words, “God wants me to do something else.” For three years we had done life together and the grief was overwhelming as images, ideas, feelings and run on sentences ran through my mind at world record pace.

Our daughter let me whine. She let me babble. She let me cry. Using her powerful ministerial authoritative voice she demanded, “Give me your hands.” My face must have betrayed my thoughts because this time she insisted, “Mom, give me your hands.”

As my daughter firmly held my hands in hers, she looked deep into my eyes and said, “It’s okay to let them leave. It is okay that they only stay a season and then move on. You didn’t do anything wrong.” For what seemed like an eternity I looked into her eyes and allowed her word to shatter my grief. She then offered, “Maybe you need to think of campus ministry as an interim pastorate. Students are going to leave and that is okay. It is okay if they are only there for a season.”

Her words shocked me, but I allowed them to marinate. What a revolutionary idea–so counter-intuitive to being a local church pastor. Folks are not supposed to leave. Folks visit, join, stay and the result is an increased church roll. The longer I breathed, quickly at first and then finally calm and rhythmically, the idea seemed to take root and then began to spread like a virus. Campus ministry as an interim pastorate?

When our children are young and are navigating a host of crises, parents are the ones who grab their children’s hands, look deep into their eyes and offer words of hope. In July it was my daughter who offered healing to her mom. In grabbing my hands, looking into my eyes and offering hope she blessed me to reimagine who I am in this season and invited me to consider a new ministry paradigm.

Months later I am still wrestling with the implications of my daughter’s words. As I consider new paradigms, dreams and metaphors, I do so empowered by her words. Thank you, Tara Danielle, for being the hands and feet of Christ to your mom that night. Thank you for hearing me and providing what I needed to become the campus pastor I need to be in this season. I love you my ministry sister! PS…the next round of cupcakes is on me (lol)!


Katrina Stipe Brooks serves Lynchburg College as campus pastor and Madison Heights BC as youth pastor. She is the mom of two amazing young adults and the wife of an equally amazing spouse.




LeAnn Gardner: Everyday Theology: Subversive Hope

If you are anything like me, the energy and current of our world can squelch my hope in the future in a matter of seconds. I start to fear for my boys, and before I know it, I’m parenting out of fear. I’m wife-ing out of fear. I’m friend-ing out of fear. Which is not at all the person I want to be.


There is indeed a lot to fear. What I have come to learn about myself is that I cannot let myself go down the spiral of anxiety for too long. Given my personality, sitting in that place would leave me immobilized, isolated and hopeless. It does not help anyone, including these littles I am parenting to stay in that place. I don’t want them to have a mother whose modus operandi is fear.

Nor do I want to live in denial. Because pretending or ignoring that nothing bad happens in our world is inauthentic as well. So what can we do to care for our hearts so that we are not constantly bogged down with helplessness?

First, we decide to ingest images of hope. I am a visual person. If I see something one time, it is locked away forever in my mind’s eye. Because my vocational choices have led me down paths where I heard, day after day, stories horrific of abuse and neglect, I have to be very disciplined about what I choose to hear and see.

This vocation of hearing people’s sadness has put certain things off limits for me- certain movies, books, etc I cannot read. When someone tells me of a great book they have just finished, I ask questions. “Is it graphic? Does it involve abuse of any kind?” If the answer is yes, I can’t do it. Same goes for TV. My husband knows not to even ask me to watch a Quentin Tarentino movie. It’s just not ever going to happen.

This is a conscious decision on my part. This may not be a big deal to you, but I know that for hope to have its full potential to enter my heart, I have to keep certain visuals out of my mind. This is where I’m sounding very preachy and again, everyone is different. What kind of inventory needs to be done in your mind to make room for the seed of hope?

I also believe we have to be intentional about letting the good things in as well. There is new research that says our brains are wired to pay more attention to the negative than the positive. Neuroplasticity means that by simply training the brain to stop and pay 15-20 seconds of attention to small positives (a stranger’s greeting, a sweet kiss from a baby, the sweet signs of a loved one in your life, the chance to feel your lungs and legs working) can actually rewire your outlook to be more positive. Hope is intentional and subversive.

Nadia Bolz-Webber, a Lutheran pastor in Denver, talks about her tendency to become angry and hopeless- and quickly. One Sunday, right before she was to serve the Eucharist to her congregation, someone said something to her that elevated her cortisol levels rapidly and high. She spotted infant twins in the congregation and instinctively asked the parents if she could hold one of the babies. That day, she served the Eucharist with a baby in one hand and the elements in another. She knew that she had to replace her anger with good energy- the energy of an innocent baby- to get through the service and to offer her congregants the elements.

Now not all of us have access to babies when our stress elevates, but the point is it could be helpful to have a strategy to mitigate the stress and fear that enters our brains and hearts at a rapid pace. As we continue being bombarded by election coverage, perhaps we can be on the journey to exploring a good balance of being informed, but not overcome by this election season, knowing that our ultimate hope does not rest in a candidate, but in a Savior.

We surround ourselves with hope bearers. Being in a community of faith makes this one easy for many of us. In my community of faith, we hope together, as a body of Christ, as we gather school supplies for kids who are in a difficult place. We work alongside Metanoia, a holistic community development non-profit, to make lasting community change. And on a micro level, we surround ourselves with intimates who don’t have their heads in the sand, but who believe alongside us, that love wins every single time, even if at that particular time it doesn’t feel like it.

I’m not talking about Pollyanna faith here-I’m not talking about someone who says to a person in deep grief: God wanted one more angel in heaven. NO. I’m talking about the people, who in deep vulnerability, walk alongside the wounded as they grieve, recognizing that pain, death, poverty and suffering are realities.

But even beyond pain, I believe that a church community are witnesses to the wholeness of our lives- even the seemingly mundane part of our lives. We not only celebrate the big things: baptisms, weddings, graduations, births, but we show up and bear witness to new jobs, beginnings of school years, lost teeth, basketball games and new homes. We bear witness to one another’s lives.


We roll up our sleeves and become agents of hope ourselves. What if, instead of allowing our fear to immobilize us or make us angry, we meet fear in the face and defiantly say, “I’ll show you!” And what we show is service. When we fear, we serve. When we have anxiety, we serve. When someone moves, we help them pack. When someone has a baby, we take them food. When youth go to camp, we go as a chaperone. When the church needs locking up, we stay late and lock up. When the children need teachers, we teach. When the tables need moved, we move them. When the Spirit lays someone on our heart, we call them.

My rolling up of sleeves service will look different than your roll up your sleeves service because we are different in our giftings and callings. The point is, as we wait, as we long for the suffering of the world to end, we serve. And we celebrate the good that is already happening in our midst. God knows no one is glad that the Charleston shooting of nine innocent souls happened, nor the trauma of the survivors. But the hope that peeks through in tragedy is God’s business and we have seen the Gospel on display many times throughout the aftermath of that unspeakable tragedy.

Every night as I lie in bed with my four year old or as I rock my two year old, I sing a hymn. It is my quotidian act of subversion; to sing this song of hope into their ears. Hear these words:

“Go my children with my blessing, you are my own. Waking, sleeping, I am with you, never alone. In my love’s baptismal river, I have made you mine forever, go my children with my blessing, never alone.”

We are not alone. We belong to God, the one who gives us our hope. We are loved. We love. And we speak truth to the hope that propels us. Love wins….every single time. Amen.


LeAnn Gardner is a right brained social worker and minister married to a left brained engineer. Together they (sometimes) compose a full brain. She is mother to two boys, ages 4 and 2 years.


Hannah Coe: Everyday Theology: Compassion as a Catalyst


July 7, 2016. I dropped both girls at school. The NPR show On Point came on the radio as I left my last school drop-off. On Point is a show hosted by Tom Ashbrook that looks into pressing issues of the time and is conversational in style (panel discussion, call-ins, etc.). Since I’m usually running late (does anyone else feel like they’ve survived WWIII after they drop off the last child?), I hear the first 30 minutes or so of On Point.

The topic of the day was originally to be on the shooting death of Alton Sterling on July 6, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. But the shooting of Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minnesota on the night of July 6 was added to the On Point discussion. As the show’s host and panel guests for the day reviewed and discussed the video footage of the shooting of Alton Sterling and the moments after the shooting of Philando Castile, it was as if these shootings happened before their very eyes. Even as the host and panel discussed the day’s questions, breaking news rolled in. Disbelief and horror rang in their voices. They could not believe what they were seeing and hearing.

I could not believe what I was hearing. I drove to the wrong place. Scheduled to do weekly hospital visits, I drove to the church and realized, only after parking my car, I wasn’t where I meant to be.

Diamond “Lavish” Reynolds, Philando Castile’s girlfriend, narrated for the world the moments after her boyfriend was fatally shot. Her voice was calm and direct. She became upset once in the back of a police car. In the background, we can hear the voice of her four year old daughter say, “It’s okay, Mommy. I’m here with you.”

It’s okay, Mommy. I’m here with you…

It’s okay, Mommy. I’m here with you…

It’s okay, Mommy. I’m here with you….

The words ring in my heart. They ring, and they do not stop ringing.

They are beautiful because they are words of compassion, mercy, and empathy. They are words I hope this four-year-old little girl has heard over and over and over again from someone who loves her very much, hearing them so often, they came out of her mouth when she saw her mother in pain. Because that’s what you do when someone is in pain. You show compassion, mercy, and empathy. These are Christ’s words, are they not? We can hear them coming from his heart, because Christ, our Companion, is here with us, here with that little girl, here with Diamond “Lavish” Reynolds.

It’s okay, Mommy. I’m here with you…

The words ring in my heart and they change me. I’m not good with chemistry, but compassion is a catalyst, is it not? Compassion urges, encourages, and births impossible transformation. The words tell me that things must change. And I must be a part of the change. I have known this for a long time.

But on July 7, 2016, compassion urged my imagination to see my black, male friends dying in the front seat of that car. Friends, colleagues, brothers who prayed for me at my ordination, sat next to me in seminary class, walked me to my car after class because it was dark, and joked with me on Facebook about the hilarity of life with young children.

Compassion urged my imagination to put myself in the passenger seat, my worst fears coming to fruition–fearing for my life, fearing for my future, fearing for my child, damned if I do and damned if I don’t. Compassion urged my imagination to see my four year old daughter in the back seat of that car. Compassion tells me things must change. Friends, they must change.

I must do compassion and mercy and empathy. I must do the ministry of reconciliation. Just when I feel like it doesn’t matter anymore, I must remember that it really does matter.

It really does matter.

I am praying each day about how God calls me to be a part of change in my community, in my country, in the world. I am praying each day about how to use the privileges I’m afforded to work for justice and for reconciliation. I am praying each day about how I am called to share compassion, mercy, and empathy. I am praying, praying, praying.

I am going to town hall meetings, forums, and other places where I can listen and learn and (somehow) join my voice to build bridges and build hope. I am dreaming up curriculum and planning conversations with children’s ministry leaders in our church in hopes that we can be intentional about teaching the explicit commands of Christ to love our neighbors. I want us to be honest and real about the problems of this world (because children know about them anyway) and to be direct in our conversations about race, class, ethnicity, and the love of Jesus which transcends all those boundaries (cause, yeah, children really believe that, they just need to know adults do, too).

Today I need to tell you that it really does matter. I need to tell you that it really does matter because I need to hear it. I want to tell you because maybe you need to hear it too. Wherever you are on your journey of motherhood and ministry, right now, today, what you are doing matters. Every word. Every hug. Every act of service. Every gracious response. Every explanation of “Katherine, how would it make you feel if Annalina took that toy from you? Sad? Maybe we can find a different way to share toys.” With every act of compassion, mercy, and empathy, the ground becomes more fertile, the seeds are spread, and God’s Dream grows a little more.

I must teach it to my children by telling, doing, and sharing it with them. I must tell it to them over and over and over again, believing that it will come out of their mouths and the very living of their lives. This four year old girl is changing me with her words of compassion. That could have been my little girl in my back seat

Another layer to this story is that I’d selected Luke 10:25-37, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, to preach on the coming Sunday and had spent significant time meditating on the word “mercy” as used by the lawyer to describe the one who was a neighbor. That Thursday morning I had nearly settled on what one scholar calls a Christological reading of the text. A reading in which we picture Christ as the man lying half-dead on the side of the road, in need of mercy. A reading in which the lawyer, and we, are able to see ourselves as the man lying half-dead on the side of the road, in need of mercy. This reading of the text speaks to the world’s deep and desperate need for compassion, mercy, and empathy. This reading of the text gives us eyes to see one another for who we really are: human, which is to be created and loved by God.

There is no ribbon to neatly bind this reflection. No color-coded arrangement that will organize or make sense of the injustice before our eyes. It is what it is. Ugly. Unjust. Unceasing.

The traditions of our faith tell us more than once that we must see the world with double-vision. As it is and as it must be. I’ll admit that seeing the world with double-vision leaves me feeling dizzy and sick to my stomach. Though discouraged, the calling is ever-stronger. Practice compassion. Follow the way of mercy. Work for justice in a spirit of love.


A Georgia native and graduate of Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology, Hannah Coe serves as Associate Pastor of Children and Families at First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Missouri.  Hannah and her husband, David, are parents to Katherine and Annalina. They enjoy playing, eating, and the occasional nap.

Chansin Esparza: Breastfeeding and Spiritual Gifts

“He’s so big!”
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        It’s the constant refrain of my life. Every time I go to worship, the grocery store, a friend’s house – wherever – that’s what people exclaim about my five-month-old baby.  Ever since his two-month pediatrician appointment, my baby has been off-the-charts tall.
      Or …. long. He is off-the-charts long. Babies are long – not tall – because they cannot stand up. It’s been a little awkward as my pediatrician, on multiple visits, has asked me to consider donating breastmilk to the milk bank because he assumes that with such a fast-growing baby, I must have extra-good milk. 
       I blame the baby, not my milk. He had a huge appetite, right from the start! In the early weeks, it felt like the only thing I ever did was breastfeed him. Maybe most babies are big eaters like him. But my husband warns me that if our son is anything like he was, then when our boy hits the teen years it will again feel like all I ever do is feed him. 
      Now that my baby is no longer a newborn, the experience of breastfeeding is more efficient and less painful (thank God!). Since he’s not feeding all the time, I let my mind go to other things once in a while. I occasionally forget about his reoccurring hunger.
      So sometimes he gets fussy, and not really thinking about why, I take him up to change his diaper. Maybe this will help, I think.
       But then as I set him on the changing table and place my arms near his body, he leans his little head up … and tries to bite my arm! He’s rooting on whatever part of my body he can get his mouth close to. I’m hungry! he’s telling me. With his open mouth and fierce eyes, I remember. Oh yeah … you need to eat, little one! And I laugh because he’s desperately grabbing at my arm and trying to put his cute mouth on it. 
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      If I’m being cynical, it can seem like the baby just wants to use me. I’m a means to an end: his full tummy. But it dawned on me that the milk that he is trying to get access to … is not really mine. It’s his. God put that milk inside me for his sake. I don’t need it. It’s a gift from God given to my baby through me. I’m the conduit for delivering the nourishment. 
And that makes me think of the Church. 
      All of us have gifts that God put inside us for the sake of others. We are conduits for delivering what is needed to the people God has brought into our lives. We have gifts of our time and attention and love and resources. And we have spiritual gifts. The purpose of spiritual gifts is to build up the Church. God gave them to us for the sole purpose of doing good in the world. They’re useless if we keep it to ourselves, just like I’d have no use for breastmilk if it wasn’t for my baby. 
      I currently serve a church of people who have a variety of gifts and use them for the sake of others. For example, we have a creative arts camp that we put on for kids at a nearby housing project. In order to bring the love of Jesus to those kids through a fun, safe, organized, and effective camp experience, it takes all kinds of gifted people. A few of them are…
  • The gift of Administration – Martha patiently registered the children who didn’t know how to spell and parents who knew little English.
  • The gift of Evangelist – Jason walked around the apartments, looking for kids and encouraging them to come to the camp. 
  • The gift of Leadership – Pam planned the activities and coordinated volunteers, calling the shots as the day went on.
  • The gift of Serving – Vanessa poured drinks and helped the kids with their crafts. 
  • The gift of Encouragement – Jan spoke positive words to the kids about their artistic abilities and encouragement to the adults for their interactions with the kids. 
  • The gift of Mercy – Lauren remembered the names and stories of the kids from the housing project whose needs are hard to comprehend.
  • The gift of Giving – Stephanie brought supplies and offered her church shirt to me when she learned I didn’t have one.
  • The gift of Teaching – Sarajane taught the children dance moves and instructed them through the bubbles and piñata activities. 
  • The gift of Faith – Val believed in the entire process and expected God to make it successful, even before we began. 
      In Christ, we are one body. The parts of a body need the other parts in order to survive. Just like my baby gets hungry and looks to me for what he needs, we in the Church are at a loss and in need of the gifts that are in our Christian brothers and sisters. 
      God made you the way you are – not just for your sake, but for the sake of others. How are you giving away your gifts to those who are meant to receive them? 
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Chansin Esparza is an Associate Pastor at Life In The City in Austin, Texas. Her husband, Jason, serves the church as well. Their son was born in January 2016. She blogs at

Leah Grundset Davis: Everyday Theology: Everywhere

An article makes its way around social media every year during summer. It details the differences between a vacation and a trip when you’re traveling with young children. It was so true that I laughed heartily as I read it the first time.

With the knowledge that our beach “vacation” was actually a trip (save for the two days Grammy joined us and my husband and I actually ate some full meals sitting down), my husband and two daughters packed our bags and traveled to Hilton Head, S.C., for a week.


We were expecting to take a little break from our daily routines, as anyone hopes to, on our trip. And the news in our world had been heavy. We’d just walked through the first days of grief from the shooting in Orlando and great loss of life in Istanbul and Baghdad. One afternoon while the girls were napping, exhausted from their morning of beach play, I came across this poem by Warsan Shire:

“later that night

I held an atlas in my lap

Ran my fingers across the whole world

And whispered

Where does it hurt?


It answered




This poem rang through my head. It’s so true. There was and is a great grief hanging over our world. There is this deep sadness and pain throughout our world.

And we feel it. Sometimes it is ours directly and sometimes indirectly. But when we are paying attention, we feel it. And it can feel hopeless. Even when we know and believe in hope.

We all went out to dinner our last night at the beach. Waiting outside to enter the restaurant, my soon to be three-year-old, a preacher’s kid through and through, was playing with Bible trivia cards. She promptly walked up to a woman and showed them to her. It turns out, my daughter had naturally gravitated to another minister who was excited to play the game with her. (My daughter’s version of game is naming the characters on the nativity scene on the front and paying no mind to the trivia questions).


As she and her new friend played the game, the sky opened and it started pouring. Her new friend said to her as we all went to our tables, “Lydia, remember you are loved by God.” Lydia said, “so are you!” We smiled and parted ways.

The rain poured as we ate our seafood. When we came out, the rain stopped as suddenly as it had started and a beautiful rainbow stretched over the water of the inlet. Lydia was overjoyed to see her first rainbow in person.


She jumped up and down and loudly proclaimed, “Mommy, that’s my first rainbow I see. That means God loves everyone, everywhere! God loves the whole world!”

At the end of our trip, that was the hope-filled benediction I needed to hear. Some words of healing from the mouth of an almost three-year-old—that especially in the places where it hurts, the love of God is there too.

We return again and again to our calling to be the people of God who hope and love in ways that seem impossible. But we do it. And we work for justice and for peace. We must.

Indeed, God loves everyone.

leah grundset davis

Rev. Leah Grundset Davis is the communications specialist for the Alliance of Baptists. She lives in Bristow, Va., with her husband John, daughters Lydia and Sadie Pearl and dog, Moses.

Melanie Storie: Everyday Theology: When the Everyday Is Interrupted

An ordinary day for me begins with a certain organized chaos. My boys are twelve and fourteen, athletic and smart, so someone will have a sporting event or practice of some kind, a project due. My husband is a pastor and he will likely have meeting or event of some kind, so we discuss who is getting which child to where. Meanwhile, coffee is being poured, showers are starting, dogs are fed, lunches are made, kids prepare for school. Matt and I get ready for work and it’s busy and crazy and good.


This is our everyday. Until one day it wasn’t.

On an ordinary morning in May, Matt sat in his chair, sipping his coffee while I got the boys up. Things were running like clockwork when Matt made a motion for me to turn around. I thought he was being flirty, like when I wear a new dress and he wants me to spin, but I was in pajamas and my hair was sticking up.

“Are you kidding?” I asked him.

He spoke, but his words didn’t sound like words at all. His speech was slurred and garbled. His mouth looked odd, as if it belonged on another person’s face.

“Are you kidding?” I asked again. I wished he was. I knew he wasn’t.

He made another motion with his hand, not for me to twirl, but that he wanted to write something down.

It’s amazing to me how many thoughts can go through a mind in a moment. I registered that my youngest son, Owen was bearing witness to this terrible event and I simultaneously wanted to shield him from it and to get him to help me stop it. I shouted for Owen to get a pen after I picked up a colored pencil that was completely devoid of lead.

Why do we never have pens when we need them? Getting a writing utensil seemed so vital. It was something I could control. What if this is the way he talks now? Stroke. The word throbbed through the moment.

With pen in hand, Matt wrote, “Dizzy.” He said, “Dizzy.” The spell was broken. He was back. He said, “Take me to the hospital.”

Here’s the thing; the entire event from when he made the first hand gesture to the word “dizzy” lasted approximately one minute. That minute is seared in slow motion on my mind. The rest of the day moved rapidly.

Aidan walked Matt to the car while Matt gave our wide-eyed sons instructions about getting on the school bus when it came and proceeding with the day as normal. The moment he was out of ear shot, I told the boys that they were to ignore everything their father had just said. Stay home. Watch TV. Keep your cell phones close.

Gracious, there was nothing normal left to salvage out of the day and it was only 6:30am.

On the way to the ER, my pastor husband who had faithfully visited the sick and hurting instructed me on the best route, the best place to park, and then said he was used to visiting others, not being a patient himself. Since that moment, it has felt like we have entered an alternate universe.

Matt’s been a runner since high school. When my brother called me about “the episode” (as we call it now) he said, “How has this happened to the healthiest member of the family?” The best answer I have at this point is, I don’t know.

He has been scanned, tested, prodded. He is currently wearing a 30-day heart monitor as the neurologist wants to take a closer look at his heart. So far, though, everything looks good.

We have questions. Was it a stroke? A seizure? Apparently it could’ve been a migraine without the headache. And we worry that it might happen again.

When I worry, I think of leaving the ER that day. Several church members were in the hospital lobby and because we were living in that alternate universe, I thought they must’ve been there to visit someone else. It took me a moment to realize they were there to see us. One woman prayed with us. Another said she came because she could sit with me if I needed her. Another said, “Of course we would be here for Matt, he would be here for any of us.”

Living in our alternate universe has made our ordinary lives seem so much sweeter. We have drawn closer together as a family and have seen our boys act with the maturity of young men in doing more around the house with little complaining to make life easier on their father.


The small stuff seems a lot smaller. We’ve learned to let people minister to us now and then. In each of these moments, even in the longest moment of all, God was near.



Melanie Storie is an ordained minister, pastor’s wife and mother of two who lives in Shelby, North Carolina and works as a tutor in a local elementary school. She enjoys writing and has high hopes of publishing her first novel about an Appalachian woman who can “talk the fire out.”

Christie Goodman: Everyday Theology: Like a Mother Wren

There are several milestones in a child’s life that parents celebrate: sleeping through the night, taking those first steps, going to the restroom on their own, making their own breakfast, first day of school, and so on. My husband and I had one of those events this month when our youngest daughter turned 13 – sigh, a teenager.

Not much has changed really, but such events cause us to press the pause button for a bit. Thirteen years ago, she would spend her first 46 days in a hospital NICU. Like her sister two years earlier, she was born nine weeks premature. Weighing under 3 pounds, she was surrounded by big machines and tangled wires. We turned her over with our fingertips.

But I can see now how her personality was already forming. Both of my daughters had to go without feeding for a few days while in the NICU due to some internal bleeding. My first daughter cried hungrily but strategically, only when a nurse was close enough to hear. My second though, took it in stride. No fuss. No stress.

With the pause button still pressed, I remember some of the things going on around us at the time. Just weeks before her birth, a family of barn swallows constructed a nest right above our front door. Every day, I would take a peek at how the family was doing. Once hatched, the baby birds clamored loudly whenever a parent hovered mere inches away with food. They were silent the rest of the time. And when we stepped out onto the porch, one or both parents would swoop down at us doing everything they could to protect their brood and keep us away.


Somehow, I felt a connection – however small – to this little family. Their infants were fully dependent. And the parents were remarkably protective. When we finally were able to bring home our littlest one, still hooked to on a monitor, we were super-protective too. Other than doctor visits, we didn’t take her out of the house until she was several months old. We made visitors wash their hands before they could even look at her. The same had been true with her sister. And the same was true with our friends with newborns, especially those with preemies, even as our children grew.

Fast-forward 13 years. As we prepared to celebrate my latest teenager’s birthday, and for just the second time in my own life, we have a new bird’s nest outside our door. From what we can tell, this is a family of Carolina Wrens. We know something these parents don’t. Two months ago, that flower pot was a hideout for a snake. Last month, some large rodent was hanging out there. Now, it is home to these delicate babies. So we have been watching them in earnest.

We’ve noticed that the parents’ protectiveness looks different than the swallows’. The food deliveries do not lead to loud frantic squeaking. And the parents don’t try to frighten visitors. Oftentimes, when we peer into the nest, we only see the babies. No doubt a parent is nearby, watching, but not imposing, ready to guide their little ones to eat and eventually to take flight once the coast is clear.

New research came out last week revealing that, compared to mammals, bird brains have many more neurons per square inch. This helps explain why they have such complex cognitive abilities in their tiny brains. Various species of birds can store food, make tools, understand cause-and-effect and even plan for the future. So maybe these guys on my porch aren’t as helpless as they appear. I know my 13-year-old isn’t.

I’m learning that the wren’s style of protection is like the role of parents of teenagers. Nearby. Watching. Not imposing. Our babies are no longer completely dependent. Our job is to let them try out their new wings even when they stumble. It is in fact the stumbling that reaps learning and confidence to take the next step.

Perhaps this is what “free will” really means. Maybe it is not just about having the space to believe or not believe, to follow or not follow. Rather, we have ample room to reach, falter, learn and get back up again, stronger. In this space, we are most able to grow to become who he has created us to be – something I have to remember when my teens begin to fluff their own wings.


Christie is manages communication for the Intercultural Development Research Association. With two daughters, she and husband Paul are active with Girl Scouts, March of Dimes and Woodland Baptist Church.