All posts by aporterfield2013

About aporterfield2013

I'm a minister and mother who is always interested in learning new things, listening to stories, and living into grace.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. https://www.facebook.com/christie.goodman.apr

Jennifer Andrews-Weckerly: Everyday Theology in the News

Before I became a parent, I used to be the brunt of many jokes about parenthood. The jokes were justified. Though I devoured The Baby-Sitter’s Club books as a preteen, I never really did much babysitting in real life. It turns out babysitting was not as picturesque as it seemed in the books.

By the time I was a college student, most of my girlfriends were gaga over babies and kids. I, on the other hand, held them at arm’s length, having no idea how to do any sort of mothering activities. And heaven forbid there be a group of children all together. I was like a deer in headlights with too many kids around.

When I became a priest, I was terrified I would have to do children’s ministries. I did not know how to talk to kids, and I certainly did not know how to explain complicated theological concepts to children. I almost cried the week when I prepared my first “child friendly” sermon as an associate.

Becoming a parent meant I quickly got over the physical stuff with children. In fact, I have become much more like my college friends, dying to hold little babies. But what never did come naturally was learning how to talk to children in an accessible way about God. I know this to be true from the many times my six-year old’s eyes have glazed over as I tried to explain something about church or God.Jennifer and Simone.jpg

This handicap has become especially challenging these last couple of weeks. For some reason, my oldest daughter has become fascinated with the news. Whether on TV, looking at pictures in the paper, or listening to snippets of NPR before she makes me change the channel to music, my daughter has started paying attention – and paying attention has meant that questions have started coming.

Last week, the questions were about what a boy from Stanford did to hurt a girl. I struggled to know how graphic to be with a six-year old about sexual assault, consent, and our bodies. Part of the challenge is that my daughter’s questions are usually pretty basic: “Why is he in trouble? Why are people mad?”

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I try very hard to give her basic responses, but how do you not talk about the objectification of women, the bias of our justice system against sexual assault victims, the difference between healthy, responsible sexual activity and rape, and white, male privilege?

This week, the news is haunting me again. The questions were again basic: “Why are they talking about people dying? Why did he kill all those people?” Which topic do I try to tackle: gun violence, homophobia, or cultural differences? She knows that women can marry women and men can marry men, but I am not sure we have used labeling words like gay, lesbian, or transgender. We have talked about Mommy’s aversion to guns, but she does not understand how people procure and use assault weapons.

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And I certainly have no idea how to bring God into all of this. Luckily, she seems to get caught up in the details of the news instead of waxing philosophical with me. But someday she will. And I do not know how I will delicately explain my sense of who God is versus who others say God is.

Though they were not related by blood, Naomi and Ruth were mother and daughter by choice. In a defining moment in their relationship, Ruth declares, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1.16).

Naomi’s job from there on out is to teach Ruth the ways of her people and her God. There will be no escaping Ruth’s presence. So Naomi better start teaching and talking to Ruth.

I remember when my daughter was three or four, I used to immediately skip the news channels when looking for something on PBS or Disney. Now, my daughter wants to watch the news. I suppose her desire to watch, listen, and read is a gift to me – a chance for me teach her about the evils of this world and how God is an agent of love and light despite darkness. That is what I tell the adults in my life every day.

Now I have to figure out how to tell that same story so that a six-year-old, a twelve-year-old, a sixteen-year-old, and a ninety-year-old alike can understand. I will likely fumble my way through. I suppose it is a good thing that God has always worked through me in spite of me.

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Jennifer Andrews-Weckerly is a minister and mother of two living in Williamsburg, Virginia with her husband, Scott. In her free time, she enjoys watching movies and having dance parties in the kitchen.

Photo credits:

http://www.abc.net.au/rampup/articles/2013/11/06/3885317.htm

http://www.wcyb.com/news/money/why-ashleigh-banfield-read-stanford-rape-victims-letter-on-cnn/39925028

Ashley Mangrum: Everyday Theology: Turning People into Humans

I have avoided introducing my children to superheroes for as long as possible. I walk past the superhero aisle at Target, and when asked about the action figure wearing red with a spider on his shirt, I say, “That is Spiderman. He can make spiderwebs with his hands.” I always redirect the conversation because, to be honest, I don’t know how to talk about superheroes with my two and four-year-olds.

Superheroes use weapons to fight the “bad guy” (or in some cases another superhero, further complicating the matter and scraping the bottom of the superhero barrel). The enemy is always defeated by physical force and is often injured or killed in the process. I find it difficult to explain how fighting, injuring, or killing another person (or at least another weird, red, mutated being) is justified only because it’s the “good guy” doing the fighting, injuring, or killing.

Maybe it is just me, but four seems a little young for a discussion about Just War Theory.

When children play superheroes, they no longer pretend to save someone from a fire, for example. They pretend to fight each other–the sad and inevitable outcome of a radically desensitized culture obsessed with violence and victory at all costs. In superhero world, violence is required to bring peace and make the world a better, safer place. I don’t think this view of the world is consistent with the teachings of Jesus.

However, it would seem that my avoidance of superheroes has come to an end. My son has picked up on their existence. We do not live in a hole, so it was bound to happen sooner or later. My son loves to write stories (well, he likes to tell a story and have it written down by someone who can actually write), and one of his most recent stories was about superheroes:

Once upon a time, there was a school bus and a highchair. More than anything else in the world they wanted to be humans. And Batman comes and turns them into humans. Then Batman sees some bad guys coming. Oh wait, this is Spiderman. And Spiderman uses his spider webs to catch the bad guys. A chair and a tree come and they want to be humans, too. Batman turns them into humans because Batman is there and Spiderman is there, and they both have powers to turn people into humans. Then they all go back home. The end.

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It seems all my family’s talk of peacemaking has muddied the superhero waters. According to the imagination of my four-year-old, superheroes turn people into humans. This may seem like mere semantics, but I think he is onto something.

In her book Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “the call to serve God is first and last the call to be fully human.” To be fully human in this sense is to be the person God has created and called you to be, and by living into our true identity, we serve God. To be fully human is not only to recognize one’s own humanity but, perhaps more importantly, to recognize the humanity of others and to value it.

It requires us to acknowledge that each human being comes with a story and a context, hopes and dreams, hurts and disappointments–even the ones we do not like and want to vanquish with superhero strength. Superheroes help us see each other not as mere people but as humans called and created by God. We each have the power to turn people into humans.

I foresee many, many more conversations about superheroes in my future. And I will tell my children that anyone and everyone can be a superhero. Anyone can make the world a better, safer place simply by choosing to love others. Real superheroes use words and not weapons. I will teach them to use their brain and not their brawn to work for what is right.

Real superheroes make peace, not war. They fearlessly live into their humanity as creatures of God. And they help others to do the same.

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Ashley Mangrum is a minister and mother of two living in Davidson, North Carolina with her husband, Ben. In her free time, Ashley is an aspiring artist and cupcake connoisseur.

 

 

 

Griselda Escobar: Everyday Theology and the Ordinary Task

She says she does not know when it began. She cannot pinpoint what caused it. She could not recall the first time she realized it. All she knows for sure is where she is now.

Life has become overwhelming.

The work that once filled her heart with passion became difficult to fulfill. Preparing lunches, making schedules, and following those schedules somehow transformed into too much. Times of enjoying the moment and the family she loves felt scarce. Her child’s laughter –which makes her smile as she thinks of it–could not change the feeling. The continual support of a loving husband were not lifting the weight.

What happened? she asked. How did I get here?

As time went by she has tried different approaches and sought for answers to help her deal with her feelings. She has kept praying. But at times she continues to doubt herself, her feelings, her faith.

Her God has not changed though. And she has become amazed at how God continues to mold her faith . . . in the everyday ways.

In 2nd Kings 5 we find the story of Naaman,  a powerful military leader in a vulnerable place. He was not accustomed to being out of control. In fact, he was always in control.

Here Naaman finds himself in an uncommon situation, a situation completely out of his control: he has contracted leprosy. He is in desperate need of healing. His wife’s servant girl refers him to the God of Israel.

Out of resources, out of control, he goes. He starts at the palace with the king, but leaves empty handed. He’s then referred to the prophet Elisha, who doesn’t even go out to speak to him in person, but sends a servant to relay the message.

Elisha tells Naaman to do an ordinary task in an ordinary place. He is not sent to a special location renowned for its healing miracles. No one promises him an extraordinary experience.

Instead God simply told him, through Elisha, to go and bathe himself seven times in the Jordan.

Naaman goes away angry. He is thoroughly unimpressed with the prophet of Israel. “’I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?’ So he turned and went off in a rage.”

What kind of healing involves just ordinary basic hygiene?! Where was the drama? Where was the flair? Had his servants not intervened and convinced him to try these simple instructions, Naaman may never have been healed.

But God picked an ordinary way to heal him. Here in this ordinary place, doing an ordinary task, in the presence of only his companions, God brought a miracle. Naaman’s healing reflects the sacredness of the ordinary in the hands of an extraordinary God.

Mental illness can be a hard thing to talk about. It is often not discussed, especially by those dealing with it, because it carries a different stigma than being diagnosed with diabetes, heart disease, or hypertension. So it stays hidden in the shadows far too often, with sufferers cut off from resources and people who might help them. In the church especially, our silence and judgment has damaged those who most need us.

The stigma around mental illness might be similar to the stigma that accompanied leprosy in biblical times. Leprosy was viewed as a punishment for personal sin. Today, in many faith communities, depression or other mental illnesses are viewed as a result of a lack of prayer or faith or even because of a “bad spirit.”We turn away from what we don’t understand.

The embedded theology in this stigma around mental illness says that those who struggle with mental illness or love someone who does are being punished by God–or at least forgotten, cast aside, like damaged goods. It says that we are to blame for the illness we are experiencing and our ongoing struggle only testifies to our lack of being “right with God.” If we really loved God (or God really loved us), we wouldn’t be wrestling with this illness.

Unraveling the embedded theology around the stigma associated with mental illness unmasks it as completely false. We do not worship the One who hands out illness, whether  heart disease or depression, cancer or bipolar disorder, as punishment. We worship the One who is near to the broken hearted, who reached out to those everyone else had shunned, who brought healing to people who suffered from all kinds of illnesses. The more we expose the lie of the stigma, the more we shed light on the truth of God’s love and grace.

Today the woman at the beginning of this story is receiving the help that she needs and joy has begun to seep back into her life, especially in the gratitude of ordinary tasks. She has begun to enjoy family game night and movie night. Her laundry room has become holy ground; the act of washing dishes has become a sacred act.

Her home is the holy of holies and she has grown grateful for this process and the family who will experience her healing as witnesses of God’s power. The ordinary tasks of daily life have become a reflection of a loving God. There is no ordinary work, task, or place with an extraordinary God.

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Griselda Escobar is an ordained minister living in Corpus Christi with her husband and son. An experienced chaplain, she enjoys serving God in different church opportunities through preaching and working with women and children.

Joanne Costantino: Everyday Love and Tenderness

“Let all you do be done in love.” I Corinthians 16:14

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As I sat with my Mother-in-law in the Cardiac Cath lab for a ‘versioning,’ waiting for her turn to be prepped for the procedure, I felt my cell phone vibrate. It was my father-in –law. I answered assuming he was just checking on his wife of 60 years.

“Joanne, this is Pops. I’m lost. I don’t know how to get back home.”

`I said to Mom, “I’ll be right back,” and exited to the hallway.

He could clearly identify where he was. I tried to talk him through getting his bearings, but the more we discussed, the more confused he became. I had left an already anxious woman alone while she waited her turn to have electricity zapped to her heart to regulate rhythm. So after instructing him to stay put I called my husband Mike and put him to the task of getting his Dad safely home.

Mom asked what Pops wanted and I somewhat lied, saying I didn’t have the answer he was looking for and had told Mike to call him. But it was obvious she suspected there was more to the phone call.

Once we were through with the medical procedures and well rested at home, we asked if there were other episodes where Dad got ‘lost.’ Mom acknowledged there had been a few, but that lately it seemed to be happening more frequently.

That was over three years ago. After medical testing and evaluations the suspicions were confirmed. Dad has moderate dementia.

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My own grandmother slowly deteriorated with dementia. I remember that her ‘episodes’ affected my mother mostly through hurt feelings. But it was my father who truly suffered the heartbreak of seeing his own Mom become a stranger. She often relived years he could not know, those first twenty years of her life in rural Ireland, sometimes speaking in Gaelic as if we should understand what she was saying.

That is where we are with Pops.

Physically, at 84 years of age, he’s still pretty much a bear of a man who did manual labor most of his life. Mentally, his mind has betrayed what he and his wife had counted on as the “Golden Years.” He has always been loving but ornery. Lately he’s been ornery more often than not.

If you were to ask Mom how things are going, she will shrug her tiny shoulders and say, “Hangin’ in there. Doin’ the best I can.” And that would be the extent of the conversation.

She won’t tell you about his midnight jaunts when he leaves the house to go to one of his ‘side jobs.’ He often worked two and three jobs at a time while Mom took care of their five children.

She won’t detail for you how he claims someone, somehow was in their house and stole a very specific amount of money from his wallet, when in reality he simply hid it and forgot where. She also won’t tell you that the huge hole in the ceiling is because he tried to fix something and eventually decided the fix wasn’t needed after all. She won’t tell you how sad she is to see him do these strange and uncharacteristic things.

This is not her Frank.

We have tried to convince Mom and Dad to consider alternative living arrangements, considering their safety and well-being. But Dad won’t budge. I understand. He knows his own home and in that, there is his personal sense of security.

When I’m with him and realize he’s ‘gone off’ into another time and place, talking about what he did and who he was with and the conversation that happened as if it were present time, I just ‘go with it,’ hanging on to every word he shares. For me, he’s giving me a glimpse in to his past, like a family history lesson.

My siblings-in-law have a different perspective than I do with this inevitable progression of dementia. I understand that, too. They are missing their Daddy, the bear of man who hugged you and then kissed both of your cheeks, with a “Mmmmm. Love ya!”

They are missing the everyday things that defined their Daddy. They miss his velvet voice singing Italian lullabies and Frank Sinatra love songs, him strumming his ukulele while sipping his homemade red wine in the kitchen. They miss the pet names he had for them, like, Rags or Moose or Murph. Because he doesn’t remember.

Most of my understanding is with Mom.

My sainted mother-in-law is torn between preserving her husband’s dignity and the emotional exhaustion of his episodes, which sometimes relive a time she’d rather not. This is not the same man who pursued her in their dating days . . .  and yet he is, during tiny moments here and there.

Maybe those moments sustain her to make every day as ordinary as possible for both of them. She does this with extraordinary strength and grace, love and tenderness. She is his wife and she loves him.

As I watch her care for him, I hear a whisper that love is bigger than shared memories. That even when we forget who we are or lose our way, we are yet loved and valued. That even when, piece by piece, we are losing who we have been, we are still precious to the ones who love us. And to the One who loved us before we knew who we were and loves us through and beyond the day we might forget altogether.

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Joanne and one of her five grandchildren, Mikey

Joanne Costantino is a Philly girl and “cafeteria Catholic” laywoman living in the wild suburbs of South Jersey, where she still pines for city life. She graduated from college in 2008, two weeks shy of the birth of her 4th grandchild and now there are five grands. The “accidental matriarch” of a life she didn’t sign up for, Joanne chronicles that life at www.weneedmoresundaydinners.blogspot.com. We do indeed need more Sunday dinners.

 

Alicia Davis Porterfield: Everyday Theology

It’s Ordinary Time again, the season after Pentecost stretching from late spring into the fall. This is the growing season for the people of God, time to sink our roots deep, nourished by the Word and spiritual practices that bless. No high holy days to prepare for, no intentional seasons, no long list of mandated activities, festivities, or parties.

Ordinary time. (Cue a deep, cleansing breath here).

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For the past two summers, we’ve used the summer of Ordinary Time to host a series about an “ordinary” topic. The first series was “Ordinary Saints” about the people who have shaped or supported us or spoken to our hearts. The second was “Ordinary Miracles” about the God-winks and miracle moments we’ve experienced.

This summer, our Ordinary Time series is “Everyday Theology.”

Every day, embedded theology floats, zings, and crams into our lives through “ordinary” means: TV, movies, commercials, conversations, books, magazines, toys, family history. The messages are directed at us, our families, our children, the people in our ministry settings.

As ministry-moms, we often have a dual awareness: the content of the message and then its underlying theology. While we’re reading the children’s book/watching the commercial/perusing the parenting magazine article with part of our brain, we’re often analyzing it theologically with another part.

What situations, messages, experiences in the kid or adult worlds around you could use some unpacking? What grabs your attention or makes you angry/grateful/confused/uncomfortable and why?

We invite you to reflect, pray, and write about these things. We want to hear what God is stirring in you. Contact us to claim your week to write.

Here’s a brief offering about some of the Everyday Theology I’m unpacking these days:

Love it or Be Loved

We can’t fix anything around our house. I can tighten a screw with a screwdriver and change a light bulb (except the one that broke off in the socket of one of our outside lights. It’s been like that for years now because I keep forgetting about it. Oops). Eric mows the lawn. He doesn’t know how to fix things either.

Our go-to person about how to fix (small) things or who to call to get everything else fixed was always my dad, who died this past November. He was also the person we called to talk through decisions or ask advice or figure out our kids’ math homework, but that’s another post.

So our kids have to live with things that are messed up for long periods of time before we call someone to fix it.

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And since there’s usually multiple things wrong at once, things never get all fixed all at the same time. There is no “Love it Or List It” great reveal.

Enter guilt. Especially as I’ve just wrapped up a 13 month interim pastorate, I am re-discovering about seventeen (seventeen hundred?) things around the house that need to be fixed and have needed to be fixed for a long time.

Broken floor tiles in the kitchen.  The half bathroom sink backsplash, which has always looked like a kindergartener put it up (or like I did–same difference), is now also cracked. The ceiling in our oldest son’s bedroom looks like it might have leprosy and I am ready to consult Leviticus about how to make it clean.

I could call every “fixer” on Angie’s List in a 20 miles radius and still, nothing will ever be fixed all at the same time. Much less in sixty minutes. Especially in a house with three boys.

Images of house perfection (or body perfection or garden perfection or relational perfection or life perfection) are, for many, inspirational and encouraging: “I could do that!” or “I could have that!” or simply, “Oh, how beautiful.” Sometimes I’m there.

But (many) other times (especially when I’m tired), I hear an embedded theology of perfection in these images and ideas. Nothing broken is acceptable. Good is not good enough. It could always be better. Cute could be pretty. Pretty could be beautiful. Keep working, keep fixing, keep rearranging.

Or as my grandmother used to say, “Good, better, best; Never let it rest, ’til the good is better and the better is best.”

Underlying these thoughts, for me, is an embedded theology that we are not good enough as we are. Not acceptable to God, not loved, not part of the story. Unless we’re fixed. Unless we’re cleaned up, spruced up, the very best fresh-and-new version of ourselves.

If I stop and breathe and listen, I can hear “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” And I find rest for my soul, rest in the One who heals instead of fixes–and who is never expecting my perfection.

Then the broken tiles don’t feel like such a big deal.

Because I am loved.

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Grammie, Grandad, and family

Alicia Davis Porterfield (back row, far right) is a ministry-mom who lives in Wilmington, NC. She moderates the Ministry and Motherhood blog and enjoys preaching, teaching, reading, singing, and laughing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christina Ryan Perkins: Blessings and Dust

When  you go to a home, give it your blessing of peace. If the home is deserving, let your blessing remain with them. But if the home isn’t deserving, take back your blessing of peace. If someone won’t welcome you or listen to your message, leave their home or town. And shake the dust from your feet at them. —Matthew 10:12-14

Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that city. And as for those who do not receive you, as you go out from that city, shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them. —Luke 9:4-5

When you’re in seventh grade, building friendships is difficult. I remember the time my best friend from fourth grade, Gemma, decided to host a small slumber party. She invited only three girls: Angel, Mary, and myself. About two hours after Angel and I arrived, Gemma called Mary and asked her if she was still coming. Mary replied, “No, I don’t like Christina, so I don’t want to go anywhere she is.”

I was confused. Mary and I had been in the same school for four months. We did have any of the same classes and our parents didn’t know any of the same people. The only thing Mary and I had in common was that we had both recently been cut from the basketball team during tryouts. I thought to myself, “why doesn’t she like me? She doesn’t even know me. Everyone likes me.”

bullying

(http://www.goodtoknow.co.uk/family/158430/What-to-do-if-your-child-is-being-bullied)

That wasn’t really true. I had always been a victim of bullies. They each picked different reasons to bully me: my petite size, my glasses, the eye patch I wore in early elementary school to “train” my bad eye to work, my being a Protestant attending an almost all Catholic school, my academic talents… the list was endless. People didn’t like me. In fact, they seemed to seek out reasons to not like me.

Yet I still stand by the intentions behind what twelve year old me thought to myself. “Why doesn’t she like me? I’ve not done anything to make anyone not like me.” Then and now, I go out of my way to help and support people. Being a pastor, I see the best in people. I see the promise of perfection in each individual. As an adult and a pastor, I still ask myself, “why doesn’t she or he like me? I have been caring, compassionate, and welcoming.”

Recently, I relived a very vivid experience with the kind of bullying common in many churches. Every Sunday I would welcome people at the door and ask about their family members, their health, the recent concert or ballgame their child participated in. Week after week I received the “grocery store answer.” The response you give the acquaintance you sometimes run into at the grocery store. The person you ‘know’ but for whatever reason don’t really know all that well but still wish to be polite to just the same.

“Oh, dad is home now, thanks for asking.”

I continually send out emails filled with reflections, prayers, congratulations and thank you’s to members of the congregation for the time and services to our Lord. All these carefully crafted and thoughtful emails were left unanswered, unless it was to lob yet another complaint.

Family, friends, coworkers all saw the bullying and identified it. Once the bullying behavior was identified, I knew what to do: Be the pastor I’m called to be by shepherding them and leading them to greener pastures.

I was torn between two lessons from divinity school. The first lesson taught me that tough situations are opportunities to learn and grow. Some churches never seem to recognize that they cycle through the same mistakes time and time again. As pastors, we are called to be prophetic. We are called to speak the truth with grace and to walk the congregation through this wilderness so that once and for all it can break this cycle.

But the second lesson was just as memorable, just as important. As I left a chapel service, someone handed me a paintbrush with these opening scriptures printed on the handle. Simply put, “if they won’t welcome you, leave them and shake the dust off your feet.”

I found the first lesson as part of my calling–walking with the congregation as I lead them to a better, healthier place. So I devoted more time to the congregation. I arrived earlier. I began offering more resources and taking more time to pray.

Of course, more time spent with the congregation meant less time with my family. Unless I brought them along. One weekend we spent eight hours prepping for an event. My two children organized materials, ran errands, and helped me cook. The next day, we arrived at church three hours early. The event went off amazingly well!

But not one volunteer complimented it or thanked us for the work. The next week we headed over on Saturday again to prepare things for Sunday’s big event. Still no thanks voiced or offers to help the next week. Finally, on the fourth consecutive Saturday in a row we had dedicated to preparing everything for Sunday, my typically selfless oldest child paused to ask,

“How long are we going to be at church THIS time?”

In that moment I realized I was sacrificing our family’s weekends to serve a people ungrateful but also unreceptive. I cannot please everyone. People do not have to have a reason to dislike me. Sometimes, for reasons that make no rational sense, people are not capable of appreciating the work that goes into the things I do. Some people simply cannot be pleased and cannot receive the shepherding I am called to provide. I’m wasting my time, I’m wasting their time, and worst of all, I’m wasting the few valuable moments I have with my children.

That is when I realized the second most memorable lesson from divinity school was the most important. I was not received and it was time to go. My best way for me to be their pastor is to open the door for someone they will receive. To hold onto that door and keep trying would be the worst failure of all. The realization freed me–healed me.

I am holding hands with my children as we skip freely away, the dust is flying off our feet, blessing the congregation all the way home.

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Christina Ryan Perkins is a graduate of Campbell University Divinity School and a ministry mom living in  Fort Wayne, Indiana and serving as the Interim Pastor at First Baptist Church, Huntington Indiana.

Kheresa Harmon: The Mystery of Prayer

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We can spend a lifetime struggling to understand how, or even if, our prayers are answered. We beg for the diagnosis not to be cancer. We silently cry for this pregnancy test to be positive. We scream out to God for her not to die today. We groan for the relationship to be restored. We bargain with God to fix it, whatever it may be, one more time. We struggle. Did God hear us? Did God answer us? Why did it turn out this way? Where is God?

We can spend a lifetime struggling with prayer.

A 402 mile bus ride drove my nine-year-old son, Timothy, to his knees. As dusk’s delicate fingers slowly pulled the curtain on Maundy Thursday, my son became sick. He was very sick. Tears welled up in his fearful eyes. Timothy looked frantically at me and pleaded, “Please pray!”

The charter bus swayed and lurched along I-85 South. Timothy rested limply in his seat and I kneeled on the floor. He and I forgot about the other children, their parents, and his teachers. I begged God to take away the headache and the nausea. I begged. The bus swayed and I prayed, “Please help Timothy not be scared, Jesus. Please make your face known to him right now.”

Maundy Thursday darkened. The bus swayed and lurched. Timothy’s nausea and pain intensified. Somewhere along I-85 South in Gaston County, Timothy’s prayer was not answered.

Or was it?

With his eyes closed and his little head resting against the bus’s window, Timothy whispered, “Before I threw up, I was not scared anymore. I just felt safe and that, no matter what happened to me, I would be O.K.”

Good Friday dawned, and health was restored to my son. Timothy and I spent the better part of that holy day reflecting on the sacred moment of prayerful struggle that happened in my son’s life a few hours earlier.

In a swaying bus on a dark Maundy Thursday evening, Timothy struggled with prayer. In his struggle, Timothy grasped what it was that makes prayer so powerful. He did not get what he wanted. The pulsing pain in Timothy’s head did not abate. The nausea would not loosen its grip on him. Timothy vomited, in a bag, on a charter bus filled with peers.

Timothy did not get from God what he asked (nor did Jesus on the first Maundy Thursday, for that matter). Timothy did get precisely what he needed – God’s peaceful presence.

Our model for prayer and the struggle with it is captured perfectly in Jesus’s words in Matthew 6:9-13, and especially in verse 11 – “Give us this day our daily bread.” Our good and gracious God gives us exactly what we need for each minute of the day, even when we are ignorant of our own needs.

What we need is God. We are given God.

Timothy got God’s yes! As the bus swayed and lurched along I-85 South, Timothy felt the powerful presence of the God who is with us. Timothy was not alone. We are never alone, for our God is with us.

The mind-boggling beauty of God’s presence with us is that God’s presence with us is God suffering with us. God does not merely carry us. God holds our hand and groans with our pains as we struggle along this swaying, lurching journey called life.

That is more powerful than a prayerful petition answered simply the way we want it to be.

Kheresa

Kheresa Harmon is married to Steve Harmon and they are the parents of a fourth-grader named Timothy.  A graduate of Campbell University Divinity School, Kheresa serves as the Director of Admissions for the School of Divinity at Gardner-Webb University.

Ashley Neese Mangrum: Remembering Tabitha

In the days and weeks following Pentecost, armed with the new indwelling of the Spirit, Jesus’ disciples were experiencing God in radical ways. A foreign eunuch is baptized on the side of the road; a zealous persecutor turned Christ-follower becomes the church’s greatest missionary; a Roman centurion known as a God-fearer sits waiting for the gospel and radically changes the nature of the church and its mission; and Peter, the denier, is its leader. People who were believed to be dead to God had received God’s spirit, too, and were given a new life and a new home in the Body of Christ.

Wedged in between the famous, radical stories of Saul-turned-Paul and the Roman centurion named Cornelius is a little known woman named Tabitha (Acts 9:36-43). Tabitha is not known by her prestige or position of influence, wealth or the brand of her shoes. She is not known by the names of her husband or children, by her great accomplishments or the size of her jeans. She is known by her kindness. Those who know her associate her name with the overflow of kindness and compassion that fills her days. She is known as Jesus’ disciple.

Tabitha takes her place in the Acts of the Apostles alongside men who did great and spectacular deeds in the name of God–healing, preaching, baptising. She accompanies men who were given life-changing dreams.

But the most flashy thing Tabitha does is die. She dies and everyone mourns and Peter is called. Peter had become known for his healing ability–God’s ability to heal, rather. Peter walks into a room heavy with grief and sorrow where Tabitha’s lifeless body had been lain. He kneels beside what is left of her and prays. And when the time is right, he speaks to her saying, “Tabitha, arise.” Tabitha opens her eyes. Peter reaches for her hand and helps her up. She is raised to walk in newness of life. Tabitha’s life is restored to her but also to those around her, for she most certainly continued in the kindness and compassion for which she was known.

Many read Tabitha’s story and miss Tabitha altogether. Her story is often told as the story of Peter. He is the one doing the healing, after all. But we know that is not true. God is the healer. Peter was simply the faithful conduit. I think Tabitha is wedged in between the remarkable stories of our church’s early days to remind us that being Jesus’ disciple is not just about preaching or baptising, dreaming dreams, healing, or having breadth of influence. Her story teaches us not to get caught up in the flashy and miss the true work of a disciple: acts of kindness and compassion. Deeds that often go unseen and almost always overlooked, as is Tabitha. It is a call to each of us to be like this woman–ministers and disciples known for our abundance of kindness and compassion.

Whether or not we have the kindness and compassion part down, we have each been Tabitha at one time or another. Each of us has been knocked off our feet, laying lifeless in a room thick with sorrow, unable to open our eyes, and instead we see only darkness. The life we knew has been lost. And each of us have been in desperate need of a Peter, someone to sit beside us in the sorrow, pray fervently, and when the time is right, help us get up. We have all needed someone to take our hand and walk beside us.

This is the role of a minister.

As I call each of us to be Tabitha, known by our acts of kindness, I cannot help but recognize that we are also called to be Peter.

A few months ago, I stood at the bedside of a man known for his deeds of genuine kindness and compassion, a disciple often overlooked and taken for granted much like Tabitha. I knelt beside his motionless body and prayed with all my might. I spoke to him saying, “Open your eyes, Dad.” My father, the most faithful and sincere minister I know, was not dead, but he lied in a comatose state after suffering a tragic accident and sustaining a traumatic brain injury.

In addition to my role as minister-mother, I was also now minister-daughter. Perhaps I always have been, but tragedy has a way of bringing the role of minister to the forefront. (Luckily, I also have a minister-brother with unwavering strength and faith.)

To minister to the one who has always ministered to you, to care for the one who has always taken care of you–this is hard. It requires us to wade through even more emotional baggage and fear. We can never separate ourselves from the context in which we were raised, the people and places that shaped us (the good and the bad) into the women and ministers we are today. Ministering with our contexts behind us is a different thing altogether than returning to our contexts to minister within it. Your role as minister-daughter is coming, and for many of you, it has already come. My hope is that we would be as diligent in the role of minister-daughter as we are in the role of minister-mother. I hope that we will be kind and compassionate, quick to pray, and bold enough to speak truth, hope, and restoration.

My dad did not open his eyes, at least not right away. But he did eventually, and I felt as Peter must have felt on that day long ago beside Tabitha: amazed at the power of God to bring light in the darkness and hope when all seems to lost; honored to witness first-hand God’s healing and restorative work in the world.

I don’t pretend to understand healing or our role in it. But watching God work in my dad’s mind and body on the long road to recovery, sheds new light on the story of Tabitha. To be a disciple is to live by kindness and compassion. And to be a minister is to be quick to pray, first and foremost. To be a minister is also to be a faithful conduit of God’s hope. It is to enter into the places of sorrow and remain there for a while, and when the time is right, we take a hand in ours and help her up. The same power that opened Jesus’ eyes and raised him up, the same power that flowed through Peter and into Tabitha’s lifeless body, is present with us even now. We have the ability to speak life and healing, to be the conduit of restoration, the presenter of hope in the midst of sorrow and grief.

So, blessings to you who are like Tabitha for the sincere kindness and genuine compassion that marks your days makes the world a holier place.

And blessings to you who are like Peter for being quick to pray and a faithful conduit of God’s healing and restorative work, helping us see the world anew.

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Ashley Mangrum is a minister and mother of two living in Davidson, North Carolina with her husband, Ben. She is especially thankful right now for good conversations with her minister-father, Shelby, who continues to make a miraculous recovery. In her free time, Ashley is an aspiring artist and cupcake connoisseur.