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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 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.
Because Charleston is one of the top three destination wedding cities, I find myself officiating a good amount of weddings. If I’m really lucky, I get to engage in premarital coaching with those couples. The conversations include the “major” topics of marriage: sex, finances, communication, conflict, family relationships, and spirituality.
Most of the couples I marry tend to say the same thing: “We are spiritual, but not religious.” I have heard this phrase so much that I sigh when I hear it. When I ask couples what they mean, they usually say something along these lines: “Church people are hypocrites. We don’t think it’s necessary to be involved in church. I find God in nature and through art. I don’t need to go to church to feel connected.”
Admittedly, I have a bias. I’m a minister and I’m also a church member. I grew up in the church. I went to a Baptist high school, Baptist college and Baptist graduate school. My paternal grandfather was a Baptist minister. I have been “saturated” in church (and Baptist) culture. Growing up, I did not have extended family around and so church friends became family. I still attend church with people who kept me in the nursery and taught me Sunday School.
However, I also have also been hurt by the church two significant times, once when I was a young adult and the second as a young professional, which caused me to question my vocational calling and sense of self. I have seen the gross underbelly of God’s people (including me) who have fallen short of their callings. They, and I, have indeed been, and are currently engaging in hypocritical behaviors. I have seen churches harm people and even commit spiritual abuse. I recoil when I see churches endorse fear, hatred, discrimination and isolation.
But, yet. I keep waking up my children and taking them to church, to learn about God’s big love and lavish grace. I keep taking them to Wednesday night suppers, so that they learn that their family includes a church family, a chosen family with whom we break bread. They will learn that these people are not perfect, but that they are human and, if they are brave, these people, their people, live in the truth that they are forgiven and loved.
Last week at our Maundy Thursday service, we took our two boys to the nursery where they usually go during worship times. Our eldest who is 4, uncharacteristically had a hard time separating from us. We decided, spur of the moment, to take him to the service, a very solemn preparation for the most serious two days of the church calendar. He had never been to a service, so we were nervous. He did quite well.
At the end of the service, our pastors served communion via intinction, where the bread is dipped into the juice. I had never thought about this scenario- whether he would receive communion before he was baptized. I found myself walking up to the front with my active 4 year old and he pulled a crumb of bread from the plate the pastor offered. It wasn’t quite enough to “intinct,” so I dipped my bigger piece and put it in his mouth. I gave my son the elements, as a mama and a minister.*
There are many communities of people who love and care for each other well. Our neighborhood is one of them. I recently stumbled upon a post where someone was so sick she could not leave the house to get medicine. She posted humbly on Facebook that she really needed Ginger Ale. Within seconds, someone (whom she did not know) had volunteered to go to the store and deliver what was needed on her porch. Although not explicitly done in the name of Christ, this was a Christ like action.
But what makes the church different? My couples would say that they give and receive in the way my neighbor did and do not need a formal church in which to live out selfless and loving lives. I get that, I really do.
But the richness in the faith tradition for me is that when we participate in the ritual of the Eucharist, we acknowledge that we are indeed hypocrites, but that we are redeemable and are seeking redemption, both through Christ and the relationships he gives us in which to live out that redemption. I want my sons to grow up experiencing the mystery of taking bread and wine with people who are in our circle because of our desire to love and live Christlike lives, and because we are broken and in need of redemption.
So…to those couples, I say: churches are indeed full of hypocrites. There is no denial of brokenness when you walk up an aisle to receive the Sacraments of remembrance, grace and forgiveness. Like Alcoholics Anonymous, church people (on a good day), readily admit they need help.
Thanks be to God for the redeemed hypocrites with whom we share our lives.
*About 5 minutes after we sat down from taking Communion through intinction (bread dipped in a chalice), my son loud-whispered, “Mama, that stuff I drank from the Piston Cup was yucky!” There is nothing like your child reminding you of the everyday-ness of the elements, especially as related to Lighning McQueen.
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 3 1/2 and 1 year.
One day, shortly after my second child arrived, a friend and mother of three leaned in close and asked, “So, how are you doing? How is your adjustment from one to two going?”
The uncensored version of my internal response is not suitable for online publication. The censored version was something like, “I DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO THIS! PLEASE TELL ME IT GETS EASIER!”
I think I said something like “It’s definitely interesting,” or, “it’s a whole new world.”
I am forever grateful for a friend who invited me to be honest. Her question and genuine listening ear remedied my overwhelmed loneliness.
Mothering two children has been a wilderness journey for me. My nurturing, loving, guiding energies feel depleted. Have I made the right parenting choices? Did I keep everyone’s medicine and menus straight? Do we have enough clean laundry to make it through the day?
I miss the time I got to spend with my husband during our one-child days. There have been long stretches of time through which every moment of every day is consumed with children, home, ministry, and then children again—caring for everything but myself. It’s been a year of transition—two moves, new jobs, new baby. When will I find my normal again?
In this passage from Isaiah 43, God’s chosen people, living in the wilderness of Babylonian exile, find themselves in an unanticipated season of “open possibility.” Under the crushing weight of exile, many of God’s people accepted displacement as the final reality.
We can understand why, when Cyrus of Persia invited the exiles to return home and rebuild their lives, the people had a hard time seeing the shifting political and social climate as a God-given opportunity. They did not expect God to work in such a way, still grieving the loss of what was.
Second Isaiah invites fellow believers to see God’s faithfulness and abiding love revealing itself, before their very eyes, in unanticipated ways. God had not broken God’s promise, but still claimed, loved, and sustained her children, especially in their wilderness.
God has done what God always seems to do—transformed my wilderness into a season of open possibility. Even when I keep looking for the normal that used to be, God ever and always claims me, loves me, and points me toward the “well-watered pathway.” God helps me trade in perfectionism and control for setting priorities and trusting the process.
God strengthens me to say “no”, to practice self-care, and to intentionally make space for what is most important. God emboldens me to have a soft heart that can love and be loved even when it’s risky. God delivers me from the idea that I have to do it all myself.
God whose love will not let us go, we offer gratitude and praise for your working in our wilderness. Embolden and equip us to be faithful witnesses to the working of your grace, power, and love in our hurting world.
 Samuel Adams, “Isaiah 43:16-21: Exegetical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009) 125.
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.
O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1
Have you ever fainted due to extreme emotion? You know, like you watch on TV? You can always count on my kid’s favorite, the Disney channel, for this plot twist: a new father always crashes at the sight of birth, a dramatic scene where a loved one has just been given horrible news and falls to the ground, a young girl comes face to face with her teen idol and down she goes.
I’ve always thought that this sort of Disney-channel-fainting that is mentioned by the Psalmist was made for the dramatic, but never something that happens in real life.
Until it happened to me.
Being a minister and a mother means no matter how well we prepare for each Sunday, they are always chaotic. One particular Sunday morning for me I was knee deep in Advent activities. I needed to make an appearance at the birthday party for Jesus in the preschool area, my youngest daughter Evelyn was participating in the party, and my oldest daughter Ainsley was helping to lead the choir portion of the pageant.
During the 11 o’clock worship service, three baptisms were scheduled, which I was helping to officiate. And there was a church wide caroling event planned for that evening that I was responsible for leading.
My husband Josh followed our typical morning routine by helping the girls get ready and bringing them to church for the birthday party before going to teach his Sunday school class. I was already at church for the first worship service and to prepare for my day.
During the Sunday school hour I was upstairs with children and teachers in the children’s area, which is where I usually meet my oldest daughter, Ainsley. As soon as Ainsley saw me, she brought me downstairs to her sister’s preschool classroom to ask what foods were okay for her sister to eat. The teachers had brought in new foods that were not typical for the class and Ainsley wanted to be sure her sister would be okay.
Evelyn has life threatening food allergies and no one cares for her the way her sister does. I was able to help Ainsley find two things that Evelyn was allowed to eat and helped Ainsley make Evelyn a plate before rushing to the sanctuary to meet my baptismal candidate. Finally, in the baptismal dressing room with the other candidates preparing for worship, I was able to breathe, relax and know that everyone was take care of for the moment.
My relaxation quickly faded however when Ainsley appeared, out of breath, desperate to find one of her parents. “Mom, where is Dad? Evelyn is having a reaction and we can’t find her backpack!” Her tone sounded pretty panicked. It took me a minute to process what she was saying to me. I didn’t bring her to church so I had no idea where her EpiPen was, which is always kept in her backpack.
Immediately I went running. Wearing my white baptismal robe I rushed downstairs, tore through the sanctuary and into my office, which is on the other side of the building. I must have been a sight for others: a white blur wildly running throughout the church in a desperate attempt to get a life-saving drug for my daughter needed to her as quickly as possible.
In my office I started tossing stuff out of the first-aid kit trying to search for Benedryl. Bandaids, antiseptic cream, tooth brushes, and all assortments of first-aid items were landing on my desk, yet Benadryl was no where to be found!
Then I remembered – there is a back up EpiPen in the preschool director’s office! I raced again out of my office toward the preschool hallway with my white robe still flapping in the wind. “Oh my goodness, what did we do with her backpack? I thought we brought it?!?!” As I ran I hollered at random church members to find Josh now.
Then, I turned the corner toward the preschool hallway and there I ran right into a crowd of people gathered around Evelyn’s classroom door. “Oh no, not a crowd. A crowd is not good! There must be a reason for a crowd. Where’s Josh? Where’s Evelyn?”
Then, the crowd moves and there is Josh standing there in the middle of the group with Evelyn. Our eyes meet and he quickly says calmly to me, “Becky, it’s ok. She is fine.” The stress and fear that I had carried with me from the baptism, to my office, and now to the preschool hallway released so quickly that my entire body could do nothing other than dramatically drop to the floor.
Just like on the Disney Channel.
Except this time I’m the featured attraction. Everyone in the hallway got to see the crazy woman dressed in a white robe involuntarily fall to the floor sobbing at the beautiful sight of her perfectly healthy child who was not going into anaphylaxis.
It was the most beautiful sight and I couldn’t wrap my arms around her quick enough.
The psalmist invites us into the same longing to be with God. The longing that the Psalmist had with God was rooted in love and relationship–a relationship that has been cultivated over years. What is it that makes you want to continue to get closer to God? What is it that causes you to call out to all of those you pass?
After officiating the baptism during worship, I quietly left the service to check on Evelyn and of course, she was fine. And there I found Evelyn’s sister and father both sitting in different areas near her classroom, but far enough away that Evelyn couldn’t see them. But they were close by if she needed anything.
God chooses a life near to us as well. May you search for ways to seek God out, building a relationship so strong that the possibility of a life away from God will cause your flesh to faint in the most dramatic of ways.
Rebecca Caswell-Speight, Minister of Families with Children at Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, GA, has served as a minster in many settings. Recently transplanted from Louisville, KY, she and her husband, Josh, are parents to two vibrant, growing girls.
As a preacher, I often write the sermons I most need to hear. But as a mom, I rarely practice what I preach. My toughest “congregants” are my children, who have the misfortune of having two ordained ministers for parents. I can joke about the stereotypes of PKs (preachers’ kids) and their misbehavior, but I worry that story of the cobbler’s children having no shoes might one day apply to us.
Is it possible that two parents who have devoted their hearts and lives to following Christ may raise children who don’t value religion?
In the evangelical church of my childhood, we held tightly to the King James Version promise of Proverbs 22:6– “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
But we are living in a time where church commitment is shifting. More and more of the college students I serve, even those who profess an active faith, see no need in belonging to a church community or don’t make it a priority to find one.
Others have left the church with scars or have been excluded for their sexual identity or beliefs. As former church employees, my husband and I bear our own bruises and we have left broken churches feeling more broken ourselves.
As we find healing in a different church and tradition, I watch my kids to see how faith is taking root in their lives, how they are growing through worship. How much do they understand about why we go to church? How much do they remember about why we left? Are they even listening?
One of this past Sunday’s lectionary passages was on the prodigal son, and it happened to be a week I was scheduled to teach my son’s Sunday School class. The third through fifth graders had a great time acting out the story, particularly relishing the killing of the fatted calf. They empathized with the older son’s anger at the “unfair” treatment his brother received in being rewarded for his foolish behavior, and shared plenty of personal anecdotes of their own.
Then we shifted to talking about grace. In this story, the father is gracious to his wasteful son, accepting and loving him, mistakes and all. He warmly welcomes him back home even though the son had left his father without a second thought. He shows unconditional love and forgiveness, celebrating his beloved child.
As a parent, I long to offer that grace to my children and to myself. I don’t want to hang on to the frustrations and disappointments of our daily battles. I don’t want to judge them for not being who I expect them to be and miss the goodness of who they truly are.
Instead of measuring out things in terms of what is fair, I want to love them as God loves us, extravagantly and without measure. I want to embrace them fully as they are, while also encouraging the potential I see in them.
I was not in this graceful frame of mind when we returned home from church, however. In my haste to get the kids in bed, I was frustrated and short with them. My son was quick to reprimand me for not showing the grace I had just been teaching.
It was a powerful lesson that he had heard, but even more, he was learning through my actions. Likewise, I learned from him and realized how often he shows me grace in my failures. I see it in his trust that each day is a new beginning.
“God’s mercies are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.”
Part of this journey of grace for me is trusting the work of God in their lives, seen and unseen. It is having faith in God’s presence that is always with us, wherever we may roam. Grace shows up in forgiving past hurts and starting each day with a new hope. Grace is teaching through our words and actions, but ultimately trusting in the power of God’s truth and love to transform all our lives.
I know that it must begin with me. I pray for God’s grace to transform my anxious heart. I seek God’s grace in my failings and in helping me to forgive myself and others as I have been forgiven. May my children see God’s grace in me.
I pray that one day, when we send them out to make their own choices in the world, that grace will always guide them back home to find God’s love.
Jenny Call is writer, mom, and university chaplain at Hollins University. She blogs at www.hopecalls.blogspot.com.