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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.

Katrina Brooks: The Momma Lens

Several months ago with the help of some Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV) field staff we began a peer-learning group for youth pastors who are female. There are seven of us and I am the old lady of the group (Read: old enough to be their momma).

These young women are gifted, talented, pop culture gurus who are called and passionate ministers. They are technology savvy and speak a millennial code that transports me back to my Hebrew class as I often grasp the code meaning but not the specific translation.

These young ministers energize me, challenge me and inspire me. They also remind me I am no longer a young minister.

Due to a chronic illness I am protective of my schedule. I rely on folks to open things and carry things. I lead bible study and games from a chair. Regular trips to a hair stylist keep my natural hair coloring “in check” and I take naps. I have traded my stylish shoes for shoes with support and comfort and it has been a long time since I was called cool.

I use a MacBook but can’t seem to figure out how to work on more than one project at a time or load my iTunes account. My iPhone might as well be a flip phone considering the few apps I use and to be honest I prefer books.

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I am an old school (Read: I would use technology if it was available, but I am not going to figure out how to make it available) teacher and facilitator and while I keep abreast of pop culture I am more likely to insert illustrations into a study rather than play a clip.

Life has taught me that far more than any study I lead or any cool game I introduce, my life speaks.

How I treat people, how I love people, how I share my story, how I relentlessly seek after, and even how vulnerable I am speaks louder than any “perfectly crafted” study or “cool” game I demonstrate. I have come to understand there is a sacred holiness to doing life together (Thank you, Bonhoeffer, for that term.).

In doing life together convictions and beliefs, discipleship and mission are caught. Later, when words are necessary, they are used to explain significance and meaning (Thank you, Saint Francis.)

On Sunday I watched as some of our youth girls received communion from deacons who were female. The ones in the pew in front of me took the elements without a thought.

I was not surprised. These youth had been a part of lengthy discussions over the past few years as we wrestled with supportive and non-supportive scriptures.

I then watched our sixth graders. Having only done life with them a short while I wondered how they would react. Tears popped into my eyes as they responded the same as the older youth. Somehow without a lengthy study, without a minister to guide their curiosity and challenge their opinions, they knew the gender of deacons is irrelevant.

Glancing over at the pastor, I evaluated the deacons serving communion. One male was the grandson of a former pastor. Two sibling pairs (one male, one female) were represented. One deacon was the spouse of the former deacon chair (last year they served together). Half of those serving were female. The faces of the other deacons came to mind as tears flowed.

I’d like to say I would have recognized the sacredness of this moment when I was younger, but I am not sure. When I was the age of the women in my peer group life was complicated. I chose to bury myself in my spouse’s ministry and have children.

My call to ministry came after I turned thirty. Truth is, I never was a young minister. I was always the momma.

In that sacred communion moment I realized the things I sometimes think render me less qualified to be a youth pastor actually make me more qualified. Innately, I minister in synergy with other church ministries and leaders. Events and ministry opportunities are intentionally designed to teach the congregation’s convictions as church dreams and visions are implemented.

My “momma lens” helps me interpret behavior, guide gatherings, create opportunities, and informs how I do life with our youth. It is the same in my peer-learning group.

In this season of Epiphany, the Church celebrates the gifts that were brought to a momma and daddy for the Christ Child. Just as Mary marveled at the wonder of it all, I am hoping 2016 will be the year the marvel of doing life with all of these folks will transform this no- longer-young youth pastor into the one she needs to be.

Fierce. Fabulous…and definitely over 50!

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Katrina Stipe Brooks is Youth Pastor at Madison Heights Baptist church in Virginia. The other Rev. Brooks is Tony, who work for the BGAV. Katrina is also mom to Tara, who is also a minister, and Joe, who works for GE.

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.

Hannah Coe: Pregnant with Hope

Luke 1:78-79:

By the tender mercy of our God,
    the dawn from on high will break upon us,

to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Christmas Eve worship, 2014. I was pregnant and uncomfortable. I sat, facing the congregation, belly bulging under my robe. I wondered, “How could I possibly have to use the bathroom again?” I lumbered into the pulpit and read Luke 1:46-55, Mary’s Song of Praise.

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A moment I will not forget. A text full of faith, Mary’s faith. A belly full with the hope and promise of new life, my daughter’s life. A congregation full of love and grace, colleagues and family and friends worshiping together.

Yet, I felt uncertain, a little sad, even. My husband and I were in the final stages of discerning a call to a new place and a new season of ministry. As I mentioned before–uncomfortable. In a matter of weeks, my family moving across the country, newborn and all. Christmas Eve 2015 would look different, but how?

In Luke 1, Mary and Zechariah are on their own Advent journey. When Gabriel visits Zechariah in the temple, Zechariah is overwhelmed with fear. At times on this 2015 journey, I have been like Zechariah—fearful, ready to quiz God, unable to believe what’s right in front of me.

When Gabriel visits Mary, she responds by saying, “I am the Lord’s servant.” At times on this 2015 journey, I have been like Mary—faithful, pondering what God is doing, open to what’s next.

Though their journeys are quite different, Luke 1 ends with both Mary and Zechariah praising God.   Praise from the willing servant, Mary. Praise from the unbeliever-turned-believer, Zechariah.

Transition has, indeed, been our family’s primary experience this year. Master’s degrees completed, new jobs begun, a new baby, a cross-country move—a blur. Yet, as Christmas Eve 2015 comes into focus, I am profoundly and humbly grateful. As God did in Zechariah’s heart, God has turned my unbelief into praise and gratitude. As God did in Zechariah’s heart, God has turned my fear into faith.

May praise, gratitude, and faith find you on your Advent journey.

Tender and Merciful Lord, fill our hearts with praise. When we are fearful. When we are faithful. Turn our eyes to the horizon where Christ’s light breaks upon us, from which Christ’s light breaks through darkness and death. Turn our feet, O Lord, toward the pathway of Peace. Amen.

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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.

LeAnn Gardner: Advent Mom

Four years ago, in the throes of Advent season, I was 41 weeks, 6 days pregnant and my eldest would soon be served his eviction notice.

During this time, I went to our local abbey, Mepkin Abbey, where a group of Trappist monks live their lives counterculturally, sustaining themselves in every way. I was walking on the grounds when one of the monks spotted me and said in a knowing way, “The time is ripe for you.” Believe me, I had heard many comments up until then- almost everyone stopped to marvel at the “ripeness” of my belly.

But these words came from a man who was living the Advent experience and whose life was finely tuned to God’s time. There was a knowing, a connection there, of his understanding that the gestation of life reflected the gestation of God’s liturgical time. At that moment, I felt emotionally and unequivocally connected to my Lifesource and the rhythms of God’s time.

The very next day, I delivered that red headed bundle and tomorrow we celebrate his 4th birthday.

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Last week, on Advent Eve, before we were all fully awake he asked, “Mama, when is God going to come and take away the world?”

This question floored me on so many levels; we are not an “end times” kind of family, but more of a “God loves you, God made everything, God is good” etc. When I recounted this to others, they chalked it up to having heard something on TV.

But my intuition tells me that children have a deep sense of knowing and in his little, but wise soul, he is already starting to grasp the enormity of our lives. And maybe even Advent.

Perhaps what he is asking is “When will the pain be gone?” Admittedly, he has not experienced much pain at all (thank God), but maybe just simply being human is a reminder that all is not right (yet) with the world.

Maybe even red headed 4 year olds long for the making of all things right.

If I’m honest, I also know that the Advent of 2011 was my own personal Advent of being transformed into a mother. The exit out of the labyrinth of labor/delivery and into postpartum was one of the most difficult, yet profound of my life.

I am still becoming, still learning what it means to help usher another human being (now two) into becoming empathic, kind, Jesus loving humans. We all have our Advents of sorts, ways in which the Divine molds us, refines us and all the while reminds us that we are not alone.

In the throes of details, transitions and meeting basic needs, I need these “God rhythms” to remind me of my true purpose, whose I am and what time I follow. My prayer this Advent is that I can sit still in the waiting, in the longing, while at the same time embracing the hope that Christ’s birth and promise gives me.

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LeAnn Gardner is a right brained social worker and minister married to a left brained engineer. Together they (sometimes) compose a full brain. They have two boys, ages 4 and 1.

Alicia Davis Porterfield: Limping Into Advent

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned . . .                                           Isaiah 9:2

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It was dark, in those days. Very dark. Rome ruled Israel, the latest in a long line of conquerors. David’s line seemed all dried up after a succession of useless kings who led a great people to ruin. Caesar had ordered a new census with an eye toward his coffers.

The more people he could account for, the more taxes he could raise; the more taxes he could raise, the more people he could conquer. And so on and so on.

There was no one to challenge him in those days, no one who could shake the grip of the Roman Empire. Israel was a conquered people doing the will of a Caesar they neither chose nor revered nor trusted.

And so it was that Joseph put Mary on that donkey to take the long trip to his ancestral home of Bethlehem. They were not going for a great family reunion, tables laden with favorite foods and local delicacies. They were not headed home for a religious celebration with its own time honored traditions and deep roots in their faith.

They were doing the bidding of Caesar, whose command had come at just the wrong time for their lives, just when Mary’s pregnancy was coming to an end. When she should have been home in Nazareth surrounded by relatives and neighbors who could help her through the trial of labor, she was far from home, alone with only Joseph to attend her.

There was nothing about this story that seemed right, nothing that felt warm and homey and comforting. Mary got pregnant too early and under circumstances no one could believe. Joseph, confused and angry, was ready to quietly un-engage her, until an angel intervened.

And if that wasn’t enough, Caesar interrupted the whole thing with his call for a census, requiring a trip to Bethlehem, a place far from the home and family they knew. They would travel all that way, endangering themselves and the baby, so their conquerors could collect more tax money. This is not a happy story. Not yet.

If you are hurting or angry or confused this Advent season, you are in good company, at least according to the actual Biblical story. If you are lonely or grieving this Advent season, your story is their story, a people who had been conquered for centuries, wondering if God had forgotten them. If you can’t be full of good cheer and cringe at the thought of crowded malls and gift extravaganzas and to-do lists longer than your arm, you are not being a Scrooge or a Grinch.

In fact, you may know better than most the real struggle in this story we know almost too well. Perhaps those with troubled hearts might just have the ears to hear the depth of pain and longing the “holly jolly” approach has written right out of the story. This is the quiet story, not the one of hustle and bustle and ringing cash registers.

This is the story that makes room for pregnant teenagers and confused husbands and people who wonder what God is up to—or even sometimes, if God is up to anything, but who go anyway. This is the true story, according to scripture, the story that has almost been drowned out by demands for good cheer and forced festivities that actually have little to do with the nativity.

The birth of Christ was as far from a Hallmark Christmas special as it possibly could be. Don’t be snowed by the hype. If you are hurting in any way, if your heart is troubled, if you are limping instead of leaping, this is your story.

Advent is a time to prepare for the light coming into the darkness, which means that there is indeed darkness in the story. It does not have the last word, praise be to God. But the darkness is there, the struggle, the loss, the grief, the disappointment and anger–no matter how hard the marketers push to convince us otherwise.

If you are searching for that light, longing for it amidst the darkness, limping into Advent, you are not alone. The Bible tells us so.

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Alicia Davis Porterfield serves, mothers, and writes in Wilmington, NC. After the recent death of her adored and adoring father, she is definitely limping into Advent.

 

 

Alicia Davis Porterfield: Thankful, Tired, and Traumatized

As I write this, a storm front has swept across the valley where my parents live and my father is dying in the hospital bed hospice moved into their bedroom. Daddy has dealt with significant health issues for some time, but hearing two weeks and one day ago that his aortic valve wasn’t closing properly and it was just a matter of time was absolutely traumatic for my two sisters, my mother, and me.

We are losing our father.

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Newborn Alicia, daughter #3, and Dad James

It wasn’t until I left home for college and got out into the world that I really realized that not everybody had a dad like mine, a dad who was deeply invested in their lives, an ever-ready source of help and wisdom, and prayed for them all the time. If I needed to talk, he made time to listen.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not claiming he is perfect. Dad can be short tempered when he is stressed out or over-tired (I inherited that!). Sometimes he might be a bit colloquial. He is definitely a true creature of habit, leading to one of his many nicknames, “Rut-man” (in this area, I pretty much married my father).

But Dad was always there for us. He attended ballet recitals, piano recitals, endless chorus/choir concerts from elementary school to college and beyond, dinner theater fundraisers, variety shows, and even softball games when my sister played in the church adult softball league (we were not big sports girls). He and mom traveled to Northern Virginia years ago to hear one of my first sermons.

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Alicia, Ellen, and Laurel ready for football

Dad taught us to hit and field the softball and throw a tight football spiral (mine’s a little rusty but I can still sometimes impress my three boys). He took us camping and taught me how to trout fish in a freezing-cold Georgia mountain stream, even buying me my own pair of fishing waders when I was about ten years old. Like the great dad he is, he baited the hooks and took the fish off the line for me. I got to do the fun parts, like casting the line and eating Vienna Sausages  (pronounced “Vi-eenie Ween-ies”) straight out of the can.

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Dad, the outdoorsman

Dad welcomed in our friends and boyfriends, getting to know them and giving them his full attention as we all enjoyed Mom’s loving, home-cooked meals. Looking back, I realize that some of these friends needed to “borrow” my dad for a bit, receiving for awhile what I received daily: his loving hospitality, interest in others, and deep appreciation of life rooted in his faith. He and Mom made sure our friends could make themselves at home in our home.

Dad and Mom offered this same loving welcome to the men who became our husbands. In my Daddy, my husband received a second father, someone who listened to him, valued him deeply, and made him laugh with endless stories (many of which have wound up in our sermons or writing) and silliness. Our husbands are losing a father.

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Thanksgiving 2014

Dad’s hope for his grandchildren was that they would feel just as at home in my parents’ home as they did in their own–just as he had at his grandparents’ homes. And they have. Three girls and three boys, ranging from age four to sixteen, all feel as relaxed, safe, and loved here as they do at their own homes. Our children are losing their Grandad (also known as Dega, pronounced “Dee-Gah”).

 

As a pastor and chaplain, I have walked this valley with many, many others. I have sung with them, prayed with them, cried with them, and read with them the scriptures that bring us hope and comfort in darkest days. I know that the valley of the shadow of death is holy, hard ground.

But now I am here in this unfamiliar territory, trying to imagine my life without this man in it. And I find that I cannot face that. I cannot even begin to fathom that.

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L-R: Glenda, James, Laurel, Alicia, Ellen

So I face just this day, just this hour. The hospice people say “soon.”

My sisters and my mother and I try to help him as best as we untrained folk can do. We adjust him in the bed, kiss and pat him, try to get him to take his meds, which has become much harder as he grows weaker and less responsive.

We laugh and sing and remember. We cry in little bursts. It seems too scary to start to really let the tears flow. My mother, who has loved this man for 52 years and been his wife for 50, explained, “I’m afraid if I really start crying, I will cry forever.”

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James and Glenda Davis, circa 1977

The daughter I am knows just what she means. The pastor I am thinks it’s just fine if we cry as long as we need to. But I can’t yet. It’s too scary.

Through the years, I have heard almost every platitude there is and every bully-cheerleader (as my colleague calls them) nonsense that denies grief its true power. I do not need to be reminded that God is good and knows best; I do not want to hear that everything happens for a reason.

My faith is strong, vibrant, and growing here in the land of lament Psalms, where I cry–when I can–the tears of an exile. We are strangers in a strange land and cannot pretend differently.

If someone can’t be with our grief, that’s fine. Don’t be. But don’t try to minimize this loss for me. I am traumatized.

God has given me an amazing father, a Daddy in the truest sense of the word. We are losing him, hour by hour.

We are thankful for every good memory and every blessing in this valley, for every prayer offered for us, for every meal we’ve savored, for every moment shared together.

We are tired in body and spirit from these weeks of grief and goodbye with miles to go before we sleep, to borrow from Dad’s favorite poet, Robert Frost.

And we are traumatized by what is happening, make no mistake. All three are true at the same time: thankful, tired, and traumatized.

Our God is holding all of it, and all of us, close. 

Rev. Alicia Davis Porterfield is a daughter, mother, wife, and minister. She midwives this blog and is currently serving as interim pastor for FBC Carolina Beach, NC, a fabulous part of the family of God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jennifer Andrews-Weckerly: Journeying Through the Darkness

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October is Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month. In some ways, it seems like a strange month to choose. In October, we are often focused on the harvest. We have harvest-themed door wreaths and table decorations. We enjoy a taste of the harvest ourselves – picking apples and pumpkins. This is a time we celebrate abundance, and yet this is also the month when we honor when abundance is taken away.

As a child, I knew very little about pregnancy loss. I had an aunt who sometimes referred to infant she lost by name, but no one besides her talked about it much, and the subject was so hushed and confusing that I never asked many questions. As a chaplain, I experienced my first pregnancy loss with a patient. A whole new world of darkness invaded what had developed in my mind as a world of joy. I was at the age that my friends were starting to have babies. But no one had ever talked to me about the dark side of pregnancy. The darkness still felt very “other.”

Finally, a dear friend – one with whom I had shared many confidences – lost her pregnancy. We lived far away, but I had just seen her pregnant belly at a reunion of friends for the weekend. We had laughed and shared dreams about the child. It had been a weekend of light. And suddenly, that weekend was washed away with darkness. We all rallied, sending flowers, meals, and cards. We prayed and we cried. And we listened. My friend was very good about being vocal and honest about her pain. We journeyed with her through the darkness.

During our mourning period  . . . to read more, click here.

Jennifer Andrews-Weckerly is rector and pastor of the Episcopal Church of St. Margaret in Plainview, New York, and a contributor to Project Pomegranate’s book Though the Darkness Gather Round, Devotions about Infertility, Miscarriage, and Infant Loss. This post appeared originally on Jennifer’s blog Seeking and Serving, was shared on Project Pomegranate‘s blog, and was used here with permission.

Jenny F. Call: Parenting: a spiritual practice in vulnerability

Along with 26 million other people, I first discovered Brené Brown through her TED talks on shame and vulnerability (if you have not seen them, I encourage you to stop reading and watch). She is a social work researcher with the gift of storytelling, sharing her research interspersed with relatable stories of personal struggle and insight. She gives language to the experiences I had growing up in a family culture of guilt, and a church culture that invoked shame in its subjugation of women.

I devoured her books: I Thought it Was Just Me (But It Isn’t), The Gifts of Imperfection, and Daring Greatly. Her focus on wholehearted living resonates with me as I believe this is what faith offers us–the understanding that we are all worthy of love and belonging just as we are. Brené often mentions faith in her work, and her research indicated spirituality as a tool of resiliency for those facing life’s challenges.

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Recently I drove to Nashville to attend a Random House Publishing event for the release of her latest book, Rising Strong. I arrived a couple hours early to get a good seat, and quickly was befriended by the handful of other Brené fangirls who were already waiting at the door. We passed the time sharing how her work had touched our lives and the ways we have used it in our various lines of work.

As women, we had all experienced the tension of vulnerability, knowing that it is a tool for connection and growth, while avoiding it because it feels so scary, and because it is seen as weakness. But Brené views vulnerability as strength. Wholehearted living involves having the courage and compassion to live from a place of worthiness. We can accept our faults and failures and still know that we are enough.

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Parenting and ministry have been my biggest vulnerability challenges. I understood that ministry required it, and yet parenthood has surprised me by the ways it has stripped me raw. It has been a place of great sacredness and great challenge. I have been pushed into uncomfortable spaces within myself when confronted by my selfishness, failures, and annoying quirks that are brought out and witnessed by the two little ones in my home.

I see myself in them, both to my pride and my chagrin. Our children are big feelers, and we work hard to teach them appropriate ways to express their emotions. But when I yell at them to control themselves, I realize that this is something we need to learn together.

The process of rising strong involves owning our stories, and being real about the stories we tell ourselves (“I’m not enough. I’m a failure. Everyone is judging me. Nothing will ever get better.”) Through “the reckoning” (engaging with our feelings and getting curious about why we feel that way), “the rumble” (confronting the stories we tell ourselves by writing down how we feel in the moment), and “the revolution” (making it a practice and integrating it in our lives), I am reminded again that parenting my children will be the greatest spiritual practice I ever take on.

As I come to terms with my own failings, I will be more equipped to help them learn and grow from theirs. Ultimately, I hope to exemplify God’s unconditional love, teaching them of their worthiness so that they can share God’s love with others.

It puts in mind my favorite Psalm, Psalm 139, that beautifully describes how completely God knows us, and yet this knowledge does not scare God off. God lovingly remains present with us wherever we may go. There are many moments in my life and ministry where I have felt this love and acceptance so clearly.

I want this gift for my children as well.

As we learn together in this practice of daring greatly and rising strong, I pray that they will also feel hemmed in, surrounded in a protective and unconditional love that sees them completely for who they are and embraces them wholeheartedly.

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Rev. Jenny Frazier Call is University Chaplain at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia, mom to two school-age children, and wife to John. Check out more of her writing at hopecalls.blogspot.com.

Sarah Bessey: When you feel a bit selfish for pursuing your calling

September 7, 2015

In our new house, I have a little room of my own. Well, technically it’s not “my own” – it doubles as a guest room. But since the guest bed is a hide-a-bed, I’ll just go ahead and call it my “office” so that I feel like a proper adult. I’ve always had a bit of a laugh when serious well-meaning folks ask me about my “writing space” as if it’s a magical area. Nope. I have done 99% of my writing at the kitchen table or a noisy coffee shop or the public library. But now I have my own little room at the bottom of the stairs in the basement: the carpet smells a bit musty, there’s a hearth for a wood stove that doesn’t work, and cedar paneling that has endured since 1983. I love it mostly because I’ve established a No Tinies Allowed Here rule.The other night, I had to do a few final checks on my book manuscript and it was urgent. It has been a busy month with our move in particular, so busy that I hadn’t really properly written or worked for the entire time except as snatches during 30 minutes of Phineas and Ferb for the tinies, so that night after we had cleaned up the supper dishes, I passed the baby to Brian, he set up the Monopoly board with the tinies, and I went downstairs to get my work done. I turned on a bit of music, made a cup of tea, lit a candle, and entered into my work with my full attention for the first time in far too long.

I came up to nurse Maggie an hour later and tuck her into bed. Brian put everyone else to bed. He came down to check on me at our usual bedtime four hours after I had begun, and I turned to him as one resurfacing after a spectacular deep sea dive, my grin wide and my whole being excited. He laughed at my euphoria. I said, I’m just so happy to be working! I love my job! I love having a quiet spot all to myself!

I finished the manuscript checks, got organized for the next week or two, made some plans, outlined some articles, that sort of thing. Hardly any great creative work but it was the kind of work that lays the groundwork for creativity. When I set up the scaffolding, it’s easier to build, I find. I sent the final docs off to my publisher, shut down the computer, blew out the candle, and floated off to bed. I slept like a champ, nursed in the middle of the night with joy, woke up in the morning singing, all of my energy restored by the simple act of doing the work I love to do. I felt more alive, more engaged with my life, in every way.

***To keep reading this fabulous and inspired post, please click here.