Category Archives: January 2016

Chansin Esparza: I Know I Love the Church; I Think I Will Love My Kids

I know I love the Church. I think I will love my kids.

My call to the Church has been just as strong … if not stronger … than my call to motherhood. And so I’ve waited. I put off having kids. I know a lot of young people don’t feel the urgency and are waiting to have kids, too. But my waiting has truly been all about the Church.

You see, I already know I love the Church. The people who have been the Church to me have taught me about God, have shown me how to live meaningfully, have affirmed my value, have fought injustice around them, and have lived in true community.

And I love what God thinks of the Church – it’s his bride, the hands and feet of Jesus, the hope of the world. I’ve been hurt enough times by church people to get mad now and again, but I’ve always kept those episodes separate from the greater Church – the true Church –  in my mind. And so I am just overwhelmed with passion for the people of God.

I got married pretty young. I was 22. And I’ve always known I’d want a family eventually. But my husband and I set our eyes on seminary and becoming better equipped to serve the world by serving the church. Kids could wait.

My mother knew from the moment she was married she wanted to build a family. She wasted no time getting started. But I waited seven years. Several of those years were spent earning my Master of Divinity.

And then after all that hard work, I couldn’t imagine not giving my complete devotion to a local church for at least a little while. I needed to work as a minister full-time for at least a year, I decided. But then finding that full-time position as a woman in a new town proved difficult initially. So the timeline was pushed back a bit more.

I was loving the church; I was loving my life. But I was nearing 30, knew I’d eventually want more than one child, and there were biological factors to consider.

So I scheduled it. I was plenty busy serving a church at this point, but the timeline had to be considered, and so I believed God would make a way.

Pregnant chansin in church

I haven’t known many mother-ministers. I figured it would be hard. It didn’t help that – in the midst of me quietly trying to get pregnant – my lead pastor told me not to get pregnant. It was a completely inappropriate comment. I knew he should never have said it. He didn’t have to elaborate for me to know he believed that I couldn’t give my all to the ministry objectives I shared if I had a baby in tow.

And while it made me angry that he would make such a pronouncement, it also voiced the inward fear I’d been harboring for years. Could I be effective in reaching people for Christ, in making disciples of new Christians, in equipping leaders to take Jesus into their workplaces – if I was preoccupied with a little one who was completely dependent on me?

Pregnant chansin church work day

Thankfully, I am now serving in a church where the lead pastor believes I can still be effective with a child. She hired me as her associate pastor with full knowledge of my pregnancy. She sees I am determined to serve. She believes I can be both mother and minister. She did it. She knows it’s possible.

So her beautiful budding church – only a year old – hired me when I was 30 weeks pregnant. They call me their Pastor of Multiplication. The plan is that in a few years my husband and I will plant a second church – an offshoot of this church. My pregnancy gives them fodder for jokes about multiplication … when it comes to their church and when it comes to my family, and I love it all.

They let me preach my first Sunday with them. The pastor sees me as her partner, not her assistant. The church is excited for my expanding family. Barely having served the church for two months, they threw me a baby shower. They are giving me paid maternity leave. Their open arms and all of their generosity only makes me love the Church more.

Pregnant Chansin baby shower

And so when I say that I know I love the Church and I think I will love my kids, I mean it.

I’ve never been a baby person. Kids make it harder to schedule meetings or parties or ministry events. I hear about how exhausted I will be, and I’ve witnessed the struggle of parenting rambunctious, rebellious little ones. But parents say it’s worth it. They say it’s the hardest-greatest joy one could experience. I’m told it will make my ministry deeper in ways I haven’t experienced yet.

Scripture says children are a heritage – a blessing – from the Lord. I am truly looking forward to teaching my son about Jesus. I look forward to growing the Church in this very personal way. And with the confidence of my church community – who believes I can serve both them and a child – as well as the example of my lead pastor and the friends and women who write for this blog – my faith is strengthened.

So here I am, writing this on my due date – truly believing that God equips those whom God calls. God makes us complete in everything good so we can do God’s will. God has prepared us to do good works, and God will see it through. It’s all for the glory of Jesus, after all, and not for me.

I waited to get pregnant. I put off having kids. It looks like my baby is now making me wait a little longer for him to come into the world. Perhaps greater patience is one of the first things God is going to teach me through this new experience of motherhood.

And I will take whatever lessons I learn from God through this baby and pass them along to my congregation. Because I love the Church. And I will love my kids.

Pregnant Chansin maternity

Chansin Esparza is the Pastor of Multiplication at Life In The City in Austin, Texas. She has served in connection ministry, young adult ministry, and youth ministry. She and her husband both have Master of Divinity degrees from Baylor’s Truett Seminary. Their first child is due in January 2016.

Ashley Mangrum: Soulful Question

Over dinner one night last week, my four-year-old asked one of those questions. Perhaps you can relate. He asked a question that I, as an adult, would never think to ask.

It was the kind of question that causes grown-ups to reach into the outermost edges of our hearts, minds, and life experiences for a sufficient answer only to find that the question asked is far more meaningful than anything we might say in response.

We were discussing death. This is not a new topic of conversation at my house. On this particular evening the conversation began with volcanoes.

My son asked about Vesuvius, the volcano famous for reducing the Italian village of Pompeii to dust, which naturally lead to the topic of death. In response to my son’s wonderings about what happens when a person dies, my husband and I repeated what we have been saying since the first time our son asked about death: your soul goes to be with God.

On this particular night, he wanted to know more.

After thinking it over for a minute, he asked, “Can your soul ever be lost?” We asked him what he meant by that question, to which he replied, “Can you lose your soul? Can it ever just fall out of you?”

A heartbreakingly simple and poignant question.

In the silence that followed, my mind and heart racing, I wondered how to answer. There is so much that could be said. The San Bernardino shooting had happened the day before. Yet another mass shooting, and this time, a prominent Evangelical responded by encouraging thousands of college students to carry guns—even in their residence halls on college campuses—in order to get the other guy before the other guy gets them.

Elsewhere, millions of people are running for their lives and the lives of their children, but they run into locked doors and closed borders because the people on the other side are too afraid to open up. Our prisons are filled with predominantly one type of person whose crime, in some cases it would seem, is to have been born with the “wrong” color skin. In the richest nation in the history of the world, children go to bed hungry.

And the list goes on and on.

I look around and ask the same thing as my four-year-old. Have our souls fallen right out of our bodies? Where did we leave them? How is it that we have lost our souls? And how do we find them again?

I thought about an answer to my son’s question long after our dinner conversation ended. I still wonder about it now.

Of course, the soul cannot literally be separated from the body. If the early church fathers and mothers had thought this possible, Christianity as we know it would look very different.

But when I search for answers to why our world is filled with such hatred, bigotry, and fear, why human beings are the source of this suffering, the best answer I can come up with is my son’s question: Have we misplaced our souls? How else could a person created in the Image of God treat another person created in the same Image so soullessly?

We must be disconnected from the fundamental truth of who we are and in whose Image we were created. Somehow, when we weren’t paying attention, we misplaced the most important aspect of who we are. We have lost that which makes us human.

My son was still waiting on a response. I turned and looked into the sweet, sincere face of my son who just wants to know if his soul is in danger of slipping out in the night.

“No, little one. You will not lose your soul.” And I pray with all my might that it will be so.

I pray that his soul is never lost to him, that soul is never severed from action. I pray that he stands on the side of the hopeless and oppressed. I pray that he speaks truth as he lives it.

And I pray he will never have to backtrack to look for a soul that has been misplaced—hoping he never loses it in the first place.

May this be our collective prayer. And now, let’s get busy backtracking, searching for the souls we’ve lost and the places where we left them.

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Ashley Mangrum is a Baptist minister, and the mother of two small children who ask big questions. Until recently, she served as the CBF Campus Minister at UNC-Chapel Hill. She and her husband currently live in Davidson, NC.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bio: Ashley Mangrum is a Baptist minister, and the mother of two small children who ask big questions. Until recently, she served as the CBF Campus Minister at UNC-Chapel Hill. She and her husband currently live in Davidson, NC.

Jenny Call: Grace Upon Grace

12.29.15 197‘Tis the season…
to survey (and contemplate cleaning up) all the mess generated by holiday festivities,
to think about getting back to healthier habits (thanks to the holiday festivities),
to remind the kids to be grateful for all the gifts they have received,

and in reality…
to give up on all chores and resolutions and instead binge on Netflix while the kids fight over their gifts.

According to Target, tis the season to prepare for Valentine’s Day and Easter. Following the church calendar, we are still in Christmastide, but when I went to the store two days after Christmas in search of a good deal on a tree for next year, the Christmas merchandise had been wiped clean with just a single aisle of reduced price wrapping paper and two shopping carts full of assorted goods. In the place where the trees once stood were racks of candy for Valentine’s Day and Easter.

We are nothing if not forward-looking (at least when it comes to consumerism).

I don’t want to rush to February 14th, though, and overlook the New Year’s holiday as I always appreciate the chance for introspection and reflection. The problem comes, though, when I’m quick to remember all the negative things and forget about all the good.

I’m a recovering perfectionist, and the visions of how things “should” be play on an endless loop in my mind. Advent and Christmas are the “perfect” times for me to confront my obsessive tendencies with how things “ought” to be, but I usually pursue my unrealistic expectations, which more often than not, end in bitterness and disappointment.

And I wonder why my kids can’t learn to be more grateful.

I preached about grace this Sunday as I tend to speak on what I most need to hear. In case I wasn’t getting the message, an unfortunate series of events on Saturday night resulted in my computer’s blue screen of death, losing all of my files (including my sermon), and the complete removal of Microsoft Word.

It was tragic, and yet also a lesson in what is not within my control. I went back to my text and felt anew the hope of John chapter one:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (vv. 1-5)

It is both humbling and a relief that God is the Word. It is not my words that make a difference, but I have the privilege to point to the Word, the Logos. Just as John was a witness to the light, my job is to testify to what I have seen and received. That takes me to my favorite line:

“From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”  (v. 16)

Grace. I can’t think of anything I need more in my life.

My head is full of the deafening noise of judgments, rules, and guilt about what I could have done better as a person, mom, and minister. And God whispers into the chaos, “Grace”.

And not just simple grace, but an abundance–grace upon grace. Surely I have fully received that again and again, and this gift of God is a promise that I can count on receiving forever.

Grace will be my word for 2016.

I want to share it in my ministry, my speaking, and my writing. I long to show it more to my family: to my aging mother and grandmother, to my devoted husband, and to the two kids that demand it the most (and yet share it freely with me).

But first I must receive grace myself. As I accept my failures and am still able to see myself as God’s beloved, may I be less critical and judgmental with those I love.

May 2016 be the year of grace and graciousness for all of us.

Jenny Call is writer, mom, and university chaplain at Hollins University. She blogs at www.hopecalls.blogspot.com.