Tag Archives: Ministry and motherhood

Griselda Escobar: Everyday Theology and the Ordinary Task

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

Life has become overwhelming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alicia Davis Porterfield: Everyday Theology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love it or Be Loved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because I am loved.

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Grammie, Grandad, and family

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christina Ryan Perkins: Blessings and Dust

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

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

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

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

bullying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LeAnn Gardner: The Church as Redeemed Hypocrites

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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.

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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 3 1/2 and 1 year.

 

 

Anna Kate Shurley: Keep Singing

Luke 19:28-40

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“…Since Christ is Lord of Heav’n and Earth, how can I keep from singing?” So asks the nineteenth-century American minister Robert Lowry in the second verse of his still-famous hymn.

No one could keep from singing Jesus’ praises on that very first Palm Sunday as our Lord rode into David’s city. He had wowed everyone with his acts of healing, his miraculous feedings, and his extravagant (and sometimes scandalous) love for all. He was the Savior King the prophets had promised.

Palm Sunday was great then, and it is great now. Who doesn’t love seeing our sweet children in their Sunday best, walking down the sanctuary’s aisle, waving palm branches and offering “the simplest and best” praises as the organist plays “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna?” Who doesn’t love that? It’s fantastic. How can we keep from singing?

Today is my husband’s birthday. Birthdays are big at our house: we hang streamers; we bake the birthday boy or girl’s favorite cake; we make birthday cards and homemade presents; we sing the birthday song ad nauseum. We can’t keep from singing.

Four years ago, though, we had trouble singing. Four years ago today, we suffered a miscarriage, less than a week after discovering we were expecting our second baby. The praises we had shouted as we learned of that pregnancy quickly turned to crying as we realized the horror that was happening inside my body. Easter seemed a long way away, and while we knew it was coming, we couldn’t yet wrap our broken hearts and minds around it.

We had to move on though—at least in practice. Being the clergy couple that we were and are, we had to continue planning for Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter. When Palm Sunday arrived, I wept my way through the processional. I was so very thankful that our daughter was joyfully singing God’s praises, and yet I was completely devastated that our unborn child would never have that chance. How could I keep singing?

Holy Week is a peculiar, and downright raw, few days. It is pure horror, bound on one side by naïve hosannas and on the other by unbridled hallelujahs. The parade-goers who cheered for the One who came in the name of the Lord had no idea that He would not be meeting their expectations in the ways they thought he would. The Palm Sunday crowd had no idea what the week would bring. They had no idea that their hopes would be destroyed on a criminal’s cross.

We, who are on this side of that first Holy Week, know the whole story though—and thank goodness. We know that Jesus was the fulfillment of every prophetic promise his people had heard. We know that Jesus was not what the people were expecting—he was more. Jesus Christ exceeded any expectations his people could’ve had because he did the unthinkable: he kept on riding.

On that first Palm Sunday, Jesus kept on riding into Jerusalem, knowing the horror that awaited him. He rode up into the temple and challenged the corruption he saw there. He rode into the festive Passover meal with his beloved friends, knowing it would be his last. He rode into an unfair trial and allowed himself to be condemned to death. He rode to the cross and endured its horrors, knowing that by His wounds, we all would be healed.

And then…and then…he rode out of his tomb, having conquered death as only this truly triumphant king could do.

On Palm Sunday and in the days that follow, we are reminded that our Lord has moved with us through our highest joys and our deepest, most unfathomable sorrows, because he moved through his own for our sake. Christ our Lord has vouchsafed that our moments of despair do not have the last word. Instead, the last word is and will be Hallelujah. Joy will come, because Christ has come.

How, then, can we keep from singing?

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Anna Kate Shurley is a Baptist minister, a Presbyterian minister’s wife, the mother of Virginia and Oliver Shurley, a Girl Scout leader, a carpool magnate, a hopefully-soon-to-be-published author, and the Interim Director of Youth and Family Ministries at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Gulfport, Mississippi. She has lots of great reasons to sing.

Hannah Coe: Faithful Witness

Isaiah 43:16-21

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.”[1] 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.

[1] Samuel Adams, “Isaiah 43:16-21: Exegetical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009) 125.
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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: Giving of the Firstfruits

When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket.

Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.”

 The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders.

He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; 10 and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.”

Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. 11 Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household. – Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Giving of the first fruits: But what if my first fruits seem unworthy?                                       

I recently went on our annual Youth Beach Retreat.  We provided lots of snacks during the weekend, including fresh fruit.  (Providing the fruit makes me feel a little better about the tremendous amount of junk food available.)  We always bring the left-over snacks back to the church and leave them in the youth room so the youth can snack on what is left.  This year we had fruit left–surprise!  So I laid the fruit on the counter and very little of it got eaten.

One day my daughter asked for an orange. (We practically live at church, so she makes herself at home, snacks and all.)  I grabbed an orange and started peeling.  It was soft and mushy and not acceptable to my 3 year-old daughter.  The look on her face made was priceless.

This look made me think about firstfruits.  Does God look at my first fruits with the same eyes of disgust as my 3 year-old daughter in response to an unacceptable orange?

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Silly Sarah and Scarlet

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 talks about giving our firstfruits to God.  This passage speaks specifically about land and inheritances.  The idea was the firstfruits of the land were to be given to God as an offering and thanksgiving for all that God had done.  The giving of the firstfruits was an act of worship.

As I read this I couldn’t help but think, but what if my firstfruits look unacceptable?  What if they seem unworthy of an offering?

Firstfruits During Difficult Harvest Seasons

This thought came to mind as I reflected on many difficult times in my life.  In these times the harvest did not seem plentiful and the fruits of my faith were not ripe or beautiful.  Does God still want our firstfruits, even when they seem unworthy?

Maybe many of you have experienced these difficult seasons.  Some of the hardest days for me during these seasons have been Sundays, our day of worship.  I am a minister on staff at a church, so participating in Sunday morning Bible study and worship are requirements for me.

Every Sunday morning, my husband, daughter, and I arrive at church around 8am.  We prepare for the morning mentally, spiritually and physically before others begin to arrive.  We greet everyone and make our rounds around the Sunday school classes.  We participate in Sunday school, rush off to choir practice, and then lead and participate in the worship service.

This Sunday morning ritual is usually a joy for me -people, study, and worship all in one morning – sign me up!  However, I have to admit not too long ago this ritual became a burden.

I wanted to sleep in on Sunday mornings.  I hated getting dressed-up in my “Sunday best.”  I dreaded seeing or greeting people with a fake smile on my face.  I would hide in my office or in the nursery with Scarlet so as to have the least amount of interaction possible.

I went to Sunday school, but cared little about what was to be learned.  I sang in the choir, but only because I felt like I had to. I went through the motions of worship.

I was in what some would call a “funk.”  This funk was simply due to me being overwhelmed by life. Being a wife, mom, minister, student, and overall nice functioning human being can overwhelming at times.

The difference between me being in a funk and the average church member is, the average church member can play hooky on Sunday mornings. I cannot.

So in my spiritual, mental and emotional funk, I entered a holy space and time each week with a not-so-holy attitude.  While I wanted to resent having to participate in the Sunday morning ritual, I realized I was there and that had to mean something, right?

When people would ask me how I was, I would respond with “I am here.”  While in my A-type, perfectionist, over-achieving mind that was not enough, I think in God’s mind it was.  Being present was better than nothing.

In this season of life, my firstfruits were not pretty, not ripe, and maybe not life giving, but they were offered.  Each Sunday, I pulled myself out of my funk and offered myself to God.  Many times during this season, I bowed at the altar to pray.  Sometimes there were no words, I had none to give; however, I offered my tired, worn-out, and over-worked body, mind, and soul on the red carpet steps of a holy place to a Holy God.

Youth Wednesday Night Activity
Youth Wednesday Night

My first fruits felt rotten and unworthy, but my heart for God was neither.   So I continued to offer these firstfruits, no matter how humble.  Why? Because I had not lost sight of all that God had done in my life.  I had not lost sight of God’s provision, power, and love.

“He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.” (Deuteronomy 26:9-10a)

Despite my seemingly unworthy fruits, God continued to do great things with my humble sacrifice. During this season, God continued to bring beautiful spiritual growth to the youth in my youth group.  God did mighty works through me, even when I thought I could do nothing.  God showed me grace and joy through my husband and daughter.  God’s provision prevailed over my unworthy fruits.

God has given me this life, a life flowing with milk and honey (even when I don’t see it), so I bring God the firstfruits, whatever they may be.

Maybe your firstfruits are just making it to church with your children, without make-up on and the children in clean clothes.

Maybe your firstfruits are silence in the presence of God when you cannot even pray for yourself.

Maybe your firstfruits are a smile when you have been crying for days.

Maybe your firstfruits are reading a quick devotion while hiding in the bathroom (for moms of young children, you can picture this).

Maybe your firstfruits are simply getting out of bed in the morning.

Nowhere in this passage does it say we have to offer award-winning fruits.  This passage merely asks us to offer some of our firstfruits.  We are to give ourselves to God as an act of thanksgiving and worship, whatever that means for us.  Sometimes our first or best doesn’t look pretty or isn’t what we think of when we think of a worthy offering, the challenge is to give anyway.

Boberg Family
It’s a small world!

Stop Comparing Firstfruits

Also, in reflecting on my firstfruits I was condemned by how often I compare my firstfruits with the firstfruits of others.  We have to stop comparing our firstfruits.  Your firstfruit may be different depending on your life and season.  God doesn’t want us comparing fruits, but to humbly offer what we have.  Remember the widow’s mite?

I learned this lesson when I became the mother of a newborn.  My firstfruits changed for a season. My fruits were different from the fruits of some of my friends with grown children (who did not have to depend on their parents for every need) and even different from the firstfruits of my past.  I had to learn not to compare my life, offering, or fruitfruits to others.  (I am still learning this lesson.)

Pinterest (and other social media) does the devil’s work when it comes to firstfruit comparison.  I remember spending hours searching for Pinterest ideas for the perfect VBS decorations, youth devotions, or best birthday party ideas, only to have my attempts pale in comparison to the beautiful staged pictures online.

STOP IT!  Stop comparing what you have and what you have to give to that of others.  God doesn’t see in 2×2 inch boxes with beautifully staged pictures that God can scroll through.  God sees the whole picture of your life; every season, every yield, every offering, individually.  He has called you to your own crop. Each of us has different land, a different crop, and different yields.  He knows your firstfruits before they even start to cultivate and grow.  If you are giving YOUR firstfruits, God is pleased.

We have to stop comparing our fruitfruits and simply focus on offering them as acts of thanksgiving and worship.  Our firstfruits are not about us; they are about God.  Your firstfruits are beautiful in the eyes of God whether they are rotten or prize-winning.

During this season of Lent, reflect on your life.  Find the flowing milk and honey.  Remember what God has done for you and know God will continue to provide.  Think about your firstfruits.  In thanksgiving and worship, give them to God.  If you are in a season where your fruits seem unworthy, give them anyway.  If you are in a season of plentiful harvest, give abundantly.

Then you, your family, your church family, your neighbors, strangers, and all those around you will REJOICE in all the good things the LORD your God has given. (Sarah’s translation of Deuteronomy 26:11).

To God be the glory – unworthy, unripe, and rotten fruits and all. Amen.

Rev. Sarah Boberg is a child of God, believer in Jesus Christ, wife to Bradley, mother to Scarlet, and tries to be a minister to all (especially to the family and community of First Baptist Church, Red Springs).  She is a professed control freak and covets the prayers of all who read this that her dissertation work is completed soon!

Mary Elizabeth Hanchey: From dust you have come, and to dust you will return

From dust you have come, and to dust you will return.

This proclamation names our mortality. But the rhythmic painting of ashes that it accompanies – down and then across, down and then across, down and then across – marks us with the sign of our risen Lord. We are at once named death and life. Marked with an ashen cross we enter the wilderness with Jesus and begin plodding along towards Holy Week. We face death and darkness and our own brokenness as a people who also know that Easter will burst forth.

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From dust you have come, and to dust you will return.

Willingly stepping into the wilderness – on purpose – as a part of spiritual practice – could seem counter-intuitive. Those who know the language of Godly Play have heard that no one goes into the wilderness unless she has to. But going into the wilderness, and then living into Easter, is rhythm that is important to practice.

As mothers, and as ministers, and as mothers who minister, we find ourselves in the wilderness more often than we would like. And more often than not we arrive suddenly. We don’t feel led there by the Holy Spirit, as Jesus was. We feel abandoned.

We start our day planning for a bit of mothering and a bit of ministering. Mothering and ministering both require tending to administrivia as well as to profound relationship building and we lay groundwork and balance and stretch and listen and perceive and take action so that we can do all of this tending effectively. And then someone who is angry or afraid or insecure or simply misinformed dumps her mess on our heads and we find ourselves standing in the wilderness soaked and sticky and outraged and alone.

And we are tempted. We are tempted by all sorts of responses that tease at gratification.

Jesus has shown us what to do about temptation in the wilderness. In Luke’s telling, Satan tempts Jesus with three tantalizing suggestions: fill yourself up with your own works; claim authority that is absolute, though Godless; and behave cavalierly. Jesus declines.

In the wilderness, empty and lonely and exhausted, Jesus remains focused on what he knows to be true about God. And he is strengthened for the ministry he is about to undertake.

From dust you have come, and to dust you will return.

Having been named both life and death we step into the wilderness of Lent and practice surviving until Easter. We practice declining the seemingly gratifying temptations we face there. We practice so that when we find ourselves suddenly abandoned in the wilderness on a day that we thought mothering and ministering would be life-giving, we will remember that Jesus is there with us. We practice so that we will remember that we are an Easter people who will not let wilderness overtake us.

We practice so that we can accompany others in the wilderness. Who do you know that is in wilderness? As you lift your eyes to gaze upon the others who are plodding in wilderness, speak to them with a breath tinged with Easter. Tell them what they need to remember in order to survive the fear and loneliness. Make a Lenten practice of naming the spiritual gifts of those who walk beside you. Remind the bearers of burdened hearts and heavy shoulders that they are God’s own.

This week as we step into Lent marked by ashen crosses, let this prayer guide our plodding:

God of the wilderness, fill me with your Spirit. Show me Jesus in this place. Help me to focus on what I know to be true about you. Protect me from despair. Protect my children from my temptations. Strengthen me for the ministry that lies ahead. Put words of encouragement on my tongue. Amen.

 

 

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Mary Elizabeth Hanchey is a Coordinator for Project Pomegranate, which provides spiritual resources for those impacted by fertility grief. A member at Watts Street Baptist Church, she lives in Durham, NC with her husband and three children. She is a student at Duke Divinity School where she is pursuing an MDiv as a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Scholar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elizabeth Grasham: The Truth About Love

The truth about love was hidden in the faux grains of laminate flooring as I, wracked with fever, crawled towards the bed my toddler son had just vomited in.

The truth about love lay deep within the folded skin of my mother’s hands as she helped me pack up my ex-husband’s belongings in tan Home Depot boxes.

The truth about love hung heavy in the air of the fellowship hall kitchen, where kind church members prepared a meal for the vast family that had descended onto Abilene for my grandmother’s funeral.

The truth about love glimmered in the setting sun’s last rays of light as I stood on the beach with my new husband.

The truth about love is that it demands context to take real shape.  The poets and bards of every age have stretched language and birthed metaphor after metaphor in attempt to give love flesh.  But abstractions only serve us temporarily; words just won’t get to the heart of love.
Love, in the end, must indeed have flesh to be love. Or to say it another way, love is only revealed in the midst of other emotion, of other circumstance.
 I tell my son every day that I love him, but I LOVE him when I crawl up onto his top bunk to hold him while he throws up into the sick bucket.
I tell my husband that I love him, but I LOVE him when provide a safe place for him to share his hopes and frustrations.
I tell my congregation that I love them, but I LOVE them when I stand with them by gravesides and hospital beds and wedding receptions.
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There is no such thing as love out of real-world context.  Which is why, I imagine, God eventually showed up in the form of an infant in Bethlehem. God, the first poet, the Singer of the Song of Creation, stretched the bounds of language and metaphor and then crossed the threshold of transcendence.
This is the foundation of our faith, is it not? That love was made flesh?  That was why the writer of the Epistles of John could say, with conviction, “God is love.”
I, like many of you, will most likely buy a valentine’s card for my beloved ones in the coming weeks.  I may even pen a poem for the handsome man I share my life and bed with.
But the truth about love is that it demands an existence beyond the notes and letters we string together between us.  True love rises from within the tangible moments of our shared lives.
In these days and beyond, may all of your loves be true. May your love have heft, have scent, be brilliant as the sun, may it chime like the stars of the heavens.
May your love be made flesh.
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Rev Elizabeth Grasham is the Solo Pastor of Heights Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Houston, TX. She is a mother, a minister, a geek, and has very firm opinions in the Star Trek vs Star Wars argument.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pregnant chansin in church

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

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

Pregnant chansin church work day

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

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

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

Pregnant Chansin baby shower

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pregnant Chansin maternity

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