Tag Archives: children

Sarah Womble: Everyday Theology: Like a Girl

This week, we hear from double-ministers’-kid and all around talented young blogger Sarah Womble. She reminds us that the problematic everyday theology that skews the phrase “like a girl” can be changed through the power of the Holy Spirit. Thanks, Sarah, for sharing your wisdom and insights with our readers. We are grateful for you and young women like you who challenge us to keep thinking, keep growing, keep praying, keep hoping.

 

Like a Girl

Over the course of the universe, women have been down graded, pushed aside, and under estimated. The last few years have pushed this reality towards the top of humanity’s list of things to fix, yet many have not made it a real priority.

There is, however, an ad by one company that struck my attention. In this 3 minute video, several women and men are asked to do an action “like a girl.” As each person takes their turn I can only think, “Wow! That was wimpy.”

After these adults show their version of what it means to run, fight, and throw like a girl, the video shows several young girls that are asked to do the same things.

This time, the entire atmosphere of the action changes. These girls have not yet come to understand society’s  pathetic expectations of them and they are excited to run faster, fight harder, and throw farther than they ever have for the camera.

There is no fear of failure. There is only passion, faith, and determination . . .

Click here to keep reading and watch the video.

LeAnn Gardner: Everyday Theology: Subversive Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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. She is mother to two boys, ages 4 and 2 years.

 

Hannah Coe: Everyday Theology: Compassion as a Catalyst

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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.

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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.

Sarah Boberg: Holy Hands, Holy Moments

These hands have held the hands of youth in prayer circles filled with laughter and tears. These hands have embraced grieving friends. These hands have held the hands of tiny children as we walked, skipped, and played. These hands have torn up old boards, and gotten a few splinters. These hands have planted new flowers in fresh soil. These hands have scraped and painted many walls. These hands have played basketball, dodgeball, and volleyball in school yards. These hands have served many plates of food. These hands have changed diapers. These hands have pointed and scolded. These hands have held new born life. These hands have been covered in dirt and sin. These hands have been washed new. These hands have been the hands of God.  

I wrote this simple reflection after a powerful Ash Wednesday service. I helped lead the service along with my husband and our music minister. I will have to begin by saying the Ash Wednesday service is one of my favorite during the year. Reflecting on our unworthiness made worthy in the sacrifice of Christ, ashes on the forehead, communion, beautiful music, humble believers – all of these things make my soul break and sing all at the same time.

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However, this year the service took on a whole new meaning. Scarlet, my 2 ½ year old daughter, attended the service with us. This is not her first Ash Wednesday service; as the kid of two ministers she had ashes on her head before she was even a year old. But something about being two makes all things different. (Can I get an Amen?!)

At the beginning of the service she was a bit restless and only wanted to sit with me. Well, I had to participate in the call to worship, so I just took her with me. As I read, she stood behind the podium and held my hand. Then we went to be seated and prayed and sang together. Then it was time for a scripture reading and once again, she went with me, stood behind the podium and held my hand.

During the time for the imposition of ashes she held my hand and we walked to the front. My husband–her dad, our pastor– imposed ashes on our foreheads. We went back to the pew and she started asking, “What’s that?”

Now my theologically trained mind wanted a better answer, but the mother in me simply said, “Jesus’ cross.” She continued to be fascinated by our crosses, wanting to see hers, moving her eyes to try to capture a glimpse of her cross above her eyesight.

Then she sat in my lap, completely still, completely in awe, as our church family continued to receive ashes on their foreheads. She watched in total amazement, almost as if she knew it was a Holy moment. She watched each stroke of her daddy’s fingers, dirty with ashes, as they put the sign of the cross on the foreheads of her friends and family.

Her restlessness returned through another song, prayer, and Brad’s homily. (I have already learned these restless moments bother me way more than they bother others.)

Then it was time for communion. I would be serving the cup. I asked Scarlet if she wanted to go sit with someone else, but no. In my mommy brain I quickly thought, “How is this going to work?”

But there was no time for thinking, only time for doing. So Scarlet and I went to the front and Brad handed me the cup.

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With one hand I held the cup of New Life and with the other I held the hand of my 2 ½ year old daughter.

She once again watched in amazement. She watched as I said to each person, “The blood of Christ shed for you.” She stood right there holding my hand the entire time.

In the beginning I didn’t fully understand the significance of the moment. But somewhere during that communion I realized the power of God through our hands.

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It is a blessing and honor to use my hands to celebrate the blood and body of Christ, shed and broken for the forgiveness of our sins. Each communion served has been a Holy moment and my broken and sinful hands have been used as Holy hands.

But this communion was extremely special. My husband held the bread, the body of Christ. I held the cup, the blood of Christ.   And I held the hand of my child, God’s child, who truly embodies the hope and love of Christ. This was a Holy moment with Holy hands, not just for me, not just for our church, but also for our family.

As we ventured home I could not get over the significance of holding Scarlet’s hand. She has been part of our ministry journey since her arrival. She is a blessing to our church and sometimes a far better minister than Brad and I combined. Her hugs and smiles are the light of Christ in a dark world.

On Ash Wednesday she was a minister. She stood beside me as I read God’s Word. She journeyed with each person as they reflected on their ashes. She helped served communion. Her hands were the hands of God.

Her hands reminded me that life and ministry are more than words, more than carefully planned worship services, and more than tasks to complete. Her hands reminded me we have the opportunity to be the hands of God. Her hands reminded me the importance of Holy moments and Holy hands. So whether changing a diaper or serving communion, these hands will never be the same.

I find that I cannot end this post without saying that this Holy moment would not be possible without a loving and accepting church family. Not all churches would allow or accept their ministers to be parents first. Our church has been extremely supportive of Brad and me as ministers, but even more supportive of our struggle to be parents and ministers together. I did not feel a single condemning eye as our child read scripture with me, served communion with us, or even when she climbed into Brad’s lap as he sat in his chair on the platform as our music minister sang. These people love God, love us, and love our child. This is truly a gift.

I am thankful to serve a church that allows for Holy moments for our entire family.

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Rev. Sarah Boberg is the Minister of Youth and Children at First Baptist Church in Red Springs were she serves alongside her husband, Rev. Bradley Boberg. She is the mother of the beautiful and energetic Scarlet Carolyne and spends her “free” time working on her Ph.D. in Educational Studies with a concentration in Cultural Studies from UNCG.

Jenny Call: Oh, Joy

As we circled the dining room table to light our family’s Advent wreath, the kids got into a fight over who would light the pink joy candle.

I was not feeling very joyful after a full day of trying to keep them engaged and at peace along with working a few hours, attending an evening church service, and participating in our annual tradition of driving around to see the Christmas lights.

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I was tired and frustrated, and wondered why the reality of our family traditions never matched the glowing image in my head of how it “should” be. I was ready to give up on the Advent candle-lighting entirely, but my son reminded me that we had skipped our Bible story reading the night before and had promised to do two tonight.

Should it really be this hard for us to have regular devotions in a family where both parents are ordained ministers? I often feel like I’m failing in the spiritual development of my children, a difficult irony as I have devoted my life to faith and ministry.

The expectations for ministry, discipleship, and parenthood are set exceedingly high for Advent and Christmas. Not only do we preach on waiting, but on the lofty gifts of the season: hope, peace, joy, and love. Meanwhile, the only gifts my kids can think about are American Girl dolls and Legos, and the waiting is excruciating for them.

We speak about light, but our world seems engulfed in darkness as we struggle with reports of torture from within our own government, racial injustice in our law and courts, and increasing allegations of sexual misconduct in our universities.

I remind the college students I serve who are going through finals about the importance of self-care and rest, but my own calendar is full of events with little space for Sabbath renewal. We talk of the joy of the season, but so many people are grieving, hurting, and lonely. We work hard to create magical memories for our children, but worry that it will lead to selfishness and entitlement.

It can feel like too much, and the demands and expectations become a burden instead of opportunities for joy and celebration. Meanwhile we are all waiting to feel something different . . . to be fulfilled.

Our family is in the process of joining a new church. As we were talking to the Associate Rector about the membership process, she asked how the church could help support and nurture us in faith. We answered that they were already providing what we needed.

I asked (with a little hesitation) how we could better serve the church. I want to be actively involved in serving the church, and yet part of me is so weary that I wonder what I have left to give.

But her words were thoughtful and encouraging. She responded, “Just keep doing the ministry you are doing. You are doing the work already. In fact, your most important work is in the ministry of parenthood, and that is so hard. Let us feed you so that you can keep ministering to those in your care.”

I felt both the relief and the challenge in those words.

Too often, I find myself depleted and find it difficult to serve the ones closest and most important to me. I am short on patience and short on faith that the seeds we are planting will take root.

But that’s where the meaning of Advent hits me.

I have always loved the mystery and tension of the “now…but not yet” nature of waiting for something that has already happened. We share the Gospel, knowing that it is true because we have already experienced it in our own lives.

But we wait for fulfillment, when the good news will truly be born in our hearts and transform us. We light candles to remember the light that shines through us from Christ, even in the darkness that surrounds us. We wait, and yet we already have the gifts of hope, peace, joy, and love; they are just waiting to be accepted and opened.

I see these gifts in the wonder of children waiting on Christmas. I see it in my daughter who takes a communion wafer, breaks it, and whispers to me, “The body of Christ.” I hear it in my son singing wholeheartedly with the Christmas hymns. I feel it in the welcoming community of a church that accepts us for who and where we are in our journey.

I know it in the joy that is revealed to me when I understand that God is already present in our messy beautiful lives, just as they are. Emmanuel, God with us. Thanks be to God.

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Rev. Jenny Call is the chaplain at Hollins University in Virginia, a mother of two school-aged children and part of a clergy couple. Her essay, “Letting Go” appeared in A Divine Duet: Ministry and Motherhood (www.helwys.com). She blogs at www.hopecalls.blogspot.com.   

Rev. Dr. Courtney Pace Lyons: “We Are Dancing Still.”

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Easter has a strange rhythm for me. As a child, I looked forward to wearing a new dress to worship and an egg hunt in the backyard. As a believer, I came to appreciate the deeper meaning of Easter, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection and our salvation. As a minister, I looked forward to worshiping with my congregation, planning special performances, and proclaiming the good news that Christ is risen. Though I wished I could be with my family on Easter morning, I cherished the rare opportunities my congregants had to worship with theirs.

This is my fourth Easter as a mother. My son was just a few months old for his first Easter, dressed in the most adorable blue gingham outfit, a gift from Pam Durso. That was my last Sunday at a church where I had been ministering for three years, a strange experience of loss and newness at Easter.

My family came to celebrate Easter with us the next year as well, and after a busy morning of leading worship, I treasured watching my son in his first egg hunt. He was delighted at the first egg he found. He studied it, showed it off to me and his grandparents, and would not put it down. I had to point to several other eggs before he caught on that there were many eggs to be hunted.

My son’s third Easter, I preached my first Easter morning sermon. My parents and grandmother came to hear me preach, and we enjoyed a special lunch at a nice restaurant in town after church. I remember my grandmother ordered cheesecake as her lunch, and I loved her for seizing the day. But it was also my first Easter divorced, and our visitation schedule worked out that my son was with his dad. It was the first time I remember Easter feeling unresolved.

This year, my son’s fourth Easter, was a blend of my childhood and our new life together. We attended church together, the first opportunity we have ever had to do so where I did not have a responsibility in the worship service. Then we joined my family for a meal in the house where I grew up, and Stanley hunted eggs in my old backyard. Even as we are beginning a new tradition for our family of two, I was able to share some of my childhood Easter memories with him. These bones shall live.

As I have pondered the rhythm of Lent, into Easter Sunday, and how this fits in the larger flow of the year, I feel a little off beat. For more than a year, life felt like one long journey of suffering on the way to more suffering, like Good Friday with no Sunday. There were good days and incarnational people, don’t get me wrong. But if you have ever gone through a season of grief, you know that it doesn’t always wrap up neatly for holidays. You sing and dance, but from the depth of your sorrow instead of elation. And sometimes when you sing and dance, you feel a majestic, unshakeable joy rising up within you, shooting out through your limbs, reminding you that the God in whom you hope has been and will continue to be faithful. And sometimes when you sing and dance, you feel nothing, but decide to keep hoping anyway.

Palm Sunday of last year was our first Sunday at what has become our new church home. “Hosanna, Hosanna, he comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna, Hosanna, he comes in the name of the lord,” we sang as the children waved palm branches around the sanctuary. This year, my mother and grandmother came with us for Palm Sunday, and we sang “Hosanna” as the children waved palm branches. I realized, as my son and I walked hand in hand around the sanctuary waving and singing together, how far we have come this year. The weight of my grief has been cast off, and I have been made new. If last year was the journey to Jerusalem, this year has been the deliriously ecstatic sprint from the empty tomb to proclaim the good news that He is Risen! As I remember Christ’s resurrection, I feel my own. These bones shall live!

In our church bulletin on Palm Sunday, I saw a quote from Ann Weems: “Our hosannas sung, our palms waved, let us go with passion into this week. It is a time for preparation…each of us must stand beneath the tree and watch the dying if we are to be there when the stone is rolled away. The only road to Easter morning is through the unrelenting shadows of that Friday. Only then will the alleluias be sung; only then will the dancing begin.” My journey of unrelenting shadows had led me to Easter morning, and there would be singing and dancing. And this time around, I sang and danced with elation Christ has risen from the grave, and my heart was so full of joy and hope that I had to sing and dance about it! Alleluia!

Jan Richardson writes: “In the years to come I will learn how necessary it is to keep dancing, how celebration is not a luxury but a staple of life, how in the grimmest moments I will need to take myself down to the closest festival at hand. It will not do to drown my sorrow or to mask my despair or to ignore the real suffering of the world or of my own self. I will go to beat out the message with my feet that in the darkness we are dancing, and while we are weeping we are dancing; sending shock waves with our feet to the other side of the world, we are dancing still” (from Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas).  

We have all experienced suffering or loss of some kind, and some of us have even hit the bottom of the barrel and been reborn from our own ashes. Thanks be to God that suffering and loss are not infinite. Thanks be to God that out of broken earth, flowers burst forth. Thanks be to God that dead bones live.

This Easter, whether you are in a season of mourning or celebrating, whether your heart is heavy-laden or fancy-free, whether you feel like an abandoned and hopeless disciple or witness to the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God around you, may you know the height and depth and width and breadth of Christ’s love for you. May your life be rich with dancing and singing, even if the best you can do is sing slightly out of tune and dance off pace. As you move to the rhythm of the music, celebrating the good news that Christ is Risen and death has been defeated, may you feel the resurrecting power of Christ in you and around you and through you. These bones shall live, indeed! Alleluia!

Rev. Dr. Courtney Pace Lyons is the proud mother of Stanley. She currently serves as Assistant Director of Student Success and Instructor of Religion at Baylor University. She holds an Honors B.S. in Computer Science Engineering from University of Texas at Arlington, an M.Div. from George W. Truett Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in Church History from Baylor University. She is a member of Equity for Women in the Church and worships with her church family at Lake Shore Baptist Church in Waco, TX. She and her son Stanley love to take walks, read stories, and ice skate together.

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Bailey Edwards Nelson: Identity Crisis

 I can own the fact that I am one of those “I am what I do” kinds of people. Unhealthy? Perhaps. Many have tried to make that argument, particularly while sitting in CPE group sessions. Still, that’s me. It’s hard for a first-born, over-achiever, OCD, Type A personality not to get completely caught up in what you are able to “do”. Every day is a new opportunity to produce or create. It’s another chance to be reminded of your purpose and to achieve something great- or die trying.

I have had many titles- pastor, minister, chaplain, resident (just to name a few). Different periods of my life brought with them different titles and job descriptions. Honestly, it never really mattered what they were, as long as there was something. As long as I was able to call myself something, have somewhere to be and something to do, I was alright. You see, all of these things may read as nothing more than a great professional resume to some people. For me, they read as a resume for my life.

Eleven months ago I lost my job. Eleven months ago I lost my title. Eleven months ago I lost my identity. These days I wake with no sermons to write, no meetings to attend, no lessons to prepare, no parishioners to visit, and no emails or calls to return. I wake up with no requirement of showering and putting on one of those “business casual” outfits that have overtaken my closet. I wake up with no clue when all of this will change, when it will all go back to the way it used to be, or that it ever will.

Seven months ago, I took my (then) three year old son out of school. It’s hard to financially justify daycare when a parent isn’t working anymore. And with that, came a new title, “stay-at-home mom.” Shudder.

I love my son. I love his humor, intelligence, creativity, wild spirit, and even his over-talkative, OCD quirks. He is a lot like me- poor kid. Was it part of my plan to stay at home with him? No. Was it part of my plan to ever be called “stay-at-home mom”? No. And yet, here I am. This job is ten times harder than most would imagine (unless you’ve done it, in which case you know exactly how hard it is). I thought demands were high in the office: semi-sane parishioners calling every second while trying to be everything to everyone at every moment of every day. Forget that! At least those people didn’t follow me into the bathroom!

Now I am in demand ALL THE TIME. I am talked to incessantly and asked to play ridiculous games over and over again. I’m questioned about every smell and sound that enters our house and I’m screamed at when meals do not arrive on time and in proper condition. I’m hugged and kissed and punched and kicked.

I am mom and I am never alone. For an extreme extrovert, like me, that can be a very wonderful thing–unless you’ve lost your identity. Non-stop attention is tough when you don’t know who you are anymore.

You see, I am a good mom. I work hard to make sure that my son feels loved, accepted and supported. We play those silly games and we laugh at the bodily functions that boys love best. I turn food into kid-friendly works of art and I wrestle until my body is black and blue. I read and sing and put on dinosaur puppet shows. I correct and redirect when he goes too far. I listen to screams from the time-out chair one room over. I forgive and hug and move on. I fix boo-boos and fret over head injuries (of which there are many). I do it for hours until even the moon is weary in the sky. And then I get up and do it all again.

When it comes to this job, I am far from the over-achieving picture of perceived perfection that can be seen in the workplace. Rarely do I get it right and I often go to bed feeling like a complete and utter failure. The moments that I lost my temper or used the television to get just a moments peace or went with that sugary snack because I was tired of listening to him beg…well, they happen on almost a daily basis.

But do you want to know a deeper, darker secret? This is the best I can do right now. These mistake-riddled, temper-losing sugar-pushing days are often the only thing I can muster when I wake up and roll out of the bed in the mornings. Why? I don’t know who I am anymore.

OK, yes, I can hear fellow mothers screaming, “But you have an identity! You’re a mom! There is no shame in that!” I agree. I am a mom and that is a title I would never want to lose. Heck, that’s a job description I would never want to lose.

But…dare I say…sometimes being “Mom” just isn’t enough. There are days when I want to curl up in the corner and cry (sometimes I do). There are mornings when the sound of my son’s voice screaming me to rise to duty makes me want to bash my head against the wall. There are nights when I finally sit in silence and wish I were somewhere else entirely.

Depression, anxiety, stress…most ministers are familiar. We scream about our schedules and the demands our congregations place on our time and sanity. Often, we scream the loudest about the lack of time with our families, especially our children. I know that ten hour days at church that left with me a whopping half hour to spend with my son were torture. Ironically, my biggest complaint used to be not having enough time at home with him. Now, I wait and watch for the moment I can go back to work, back to ministry.

Now, are you ready for another confession? My son can smell it. Yep, he can smell the fear, anxiety, stress, pain, grief and longing on me just as strongly as the perfume I put on every morning. He sees in my eyes a lackluster glow where fire used to be. He hears in my voice a quick snap or depressive tone where excitement and joy used to be. He notices my preference of sitting down and being quiet over my once music to the max, swinging from the chandelier approach to life.

But here is the kicker…my son has become my minister. I joked over four years ago now that he also became a “reverend” the night that I was ordained, since he was furiously kicking inside me throughout the service! He seems to be living into that prophecy. When he senses my pain, he offers compassion. Many a morning has he wiped a tear from my cheek saying, “Everything’s gonna be OK mommy!” He can tell when I start sorting through all those bills, to him just a bunch of envelopes and papers, and the stress and worry builds in my body until I snap at his requests for my attention. He moves to another room gifting me with the space he can sense that I need. And when I do return to him hating myself for what I didn’t do for him, he forgives. I get a big smile and, usually, an “I’m so glad you’re here, Mommy!” Or the days when my heart is so heavy with the grief of past hurts and losses and holds little hope for a future, there is my boy ready to heal me. He runs for his plastic doctor kit and begins a thorough check-up, promising to make me feel all better.

My son is my minister. My son is as Christ to me: loving, healing and forgiving when I need it most. My son holds my hand as I walk through this dark valley and I know that when we spot the mountaintop he will look at me and say, “There it is, Mommy! I told you we could do it!”

 

Bailey Headshot

Rev. Bailey Edwards Nelson has served on the pastoral staff of congregations throughout the southeast, most recently as Senior Pastor of congregation in North Carolina. She is a graduate of McAfee School of Theology and Furman University. Bailey holds a deep love for preaching and the creative arts.