Tag Archives: ministry

Jeanell Cox: Everyday Theology: Beginnings, Endings, and Everything In Between

Editor’s Note: Three weeks ago our middle child required surgery to repair a badly broken leg.  Our lives were turned upside down with what turned into an almost-week-long hospital stay. Needless to say, lots of things fell by the wayside and one of those was our blog. We’re back on track now (we think!) and look forward to continuing to journey together as ministers and mothers. Grateful for your grace and patience–Alicia Davis Porterfield.

Jeanell writes:

Confession time: I don’t like change. And I truly, deeply mean I don’t like change. I have spent a lot of my life trying to establish security and predictability, only to be foiled every single time by the ways of the world, and the ways of our God who never fails to invite me to consider the unconsidered.

But there is one change I always loved as a child, and still love as a mother. That change is the beginning of the new school year. There’s just something about the smell of a freshly opened box of crayons, the stark possibility of a piece of ruled notebook paper, and the blissful emptiness of a spiral notebook before it is filled with numbers, letters, words and stories.  Unsharpened pencils and pens full of ink and unused watercolor paints can create ideas that change the world.

At the beginning of a school year there is endless possibility in the smirking mischievous first day of school grins that are posted on social media. We don’t yet know what our kids will become over a school year, but we know they will finish somehow changed. Now that’s a change I can live with and celebrate.

On the last day of my first child’s Kindergarten year, he came home with a mostly empty backpack and a pencil pouch containing the remnants of his year. It was such a striking image for me that I snapped a picture of it.


Broken crayons, glue sticks that were one use away from empty, a popsicle stick that didn’t quite find its place in that art project all stared back at me. They were far from the shiny new pencils and whole crayons that brought me such joy.

But the more I looked at that used up, torn up, almost good-for-nothing pile of school supplies sitting on my countertop I began to realize that they were even more beautiful than what I sent in that first day of school with my Kindergartner, full of my own tears of grief as he grew, my fears for him, and my hopes for his future. They were used up, and he was the better for it.

Living this life uses us up. It can take us from shiny new fresh-faced optimists to the realists with crow’s feet and spit up stains and an earful complaints about the terrible dinner we had the nerve to put on the table yet again. It can take us from the idealism of seminary completion to the rugged and dirty terrain of the church or the hospital or the homeless shelter, and the real-life-redeemed people we are called to serve.

In it, God asks us to take out our shiny new crayons and our blank canvases and use them. We are asked to begin, to commit to discipleship, and to be willing to let the crayons break and the pencils dull as we serve. Over my time in ministry,and watching my children grow I have learned that all of it-the beginnings, the endings, and everything in between- matter. They mold us and shape us into more of what God calls us to be. Sometimes the most broken places and the most used up places are the places that God makes into our greatest stories—our greatest masterpieces.

Those broken crayons and used erasers were the beginning of my sweet boy’s journey into not only an academic education, but a much deeper learning about who he is, and who God is calling and will call him to be in and for the world.  And every single time I’ve found myself with broken pieces, somehow God and those around me seem to help me put them back together, or give me something altogether new.

So enjoy your beginnings, and honor the good work that brings the endings. And when you are stuck in the jagged edges in between, not sure how to move forward, remember these words from Philippians 1:

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.


Jeanell Cox is a Board Certified Chaplain serving with Glenaire Continuing Care Retirement Community and as Administrative Coordinator for the North Carolina Chaplain’s Association. She is also mom to three amazing boys and is married to a local church pastor.



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).


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love it or Be Loved

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because I am loved.

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.










Katrina Brooks: Gypsy Girls

My maternal grandmother was born to Carpathian gypsies who came to America to fulfill their bishop’s edict to “settle the heathen Americas and bring the Kingdom of God into the broken world.” As a young woman she married my grandfather, part of the same gypsy clan, and they settled on a farm in St. Stephen, Minnesota and had seven children.

Not content with farming life, my mother dreamed of the places she discovered in books and in the classroom. Routine farm chores provided the perfect incubator for dreams of adventure and greatness.

Upon high school graduation, my mother packed her bags and set her sights on joining the Foreign Service. After two years of business school she joined the embassy corps and traveled the globe as an executive embassy secretary. Embassy life carried her around the world to a life vastly different from St. Stephen, a world in which she thrived as an independent young professional. After ten years of independence, parties and adventure, she married my father and at 33 had the first of her four children.

Raising four children as a military spouse was a different type of adventure. My mother balanced domestic chores, assumed the responsibilities of a proper military wife and–more often than not–functioned as a single parent. I remember being amazed at her grace as she operated under what I, as an independent, feisty adolescent, deemed oppressive decorum. She was so patient as I challenged everything, dreamed of the places I discovered in books and longed for adventure and greatness.

My mother encouraged my independence and fueled my thirst for knowledge, but also took it upon herself to teach me how to function within the boundaries of decorum. She called it the art of hiding your true self in order to function for the greater good. It was a skill she honed as a part of the embassy corps and those skills served her well as a military spouse.

Upon high school graduation I packed my bags and set my sites on a degree in medicine. I not only wanted to experience the world, I wanted to change it. I challenged decorum, boldly proclaimed my ideas and lived life fully. The greater the adventure, the more I wanted it. The anticipation of greatness and accolades propelled me into situations way beyond my experience and I thrived.

And then Jesus called my name and everything changed. I had been a Christ follower for years, but I was not prepared for this new adventure. It was nothing like I expected and everything I could possibly hope for. I married my spouse at 22 and became a mom at 27.

Raising two children as a minister’s spouse was a different type of adventure. I balanced domestic chores, assumed the responsibilities of a proper minister’s wife and sometimes functioned as a single parent. Our first-born was an intelligent, feisty daughter who dreamed of adventure and greatness. I encouraged independence and fueled her thirst for knowledge. I also taught her how to hide her true self in order to function for the greater good. We called it our “diplomatic selves.”


Upon high school graduation our daughter packed her bags and set her sights on international relations. She not only wanted to see the world, she wanted to change it. Passionate and convicted, she challenged decorum, proclaimed her ideas and lived life fully. She positioned herself in places to learn from the best, took risks way beyond her experience and thrived.

And then Jesus called her name. A Christ follower for years, she was invited into a different type of adventure. It was nothing like she expected and everything she could possibly hope for.

Our daughter lives her life as a minister to college students. She encourages her students to be independent, fuels their thirst for knowledge, demands they think critically and empowers them to be activists in the world. Our daughter invites her students to question decorum and wrestle with what it means for Christ followers to love their neighbors. She dares to invite her students to dream dreams, wonder aloud what it means to bring the Kingdom of God to the broken world, serve as beacons of hope and become conduits of love for all of humanity.


My mother and my daughter have greatly impacted who I am as a minister. These independent, intelligent, bold, confident, adventure-loving and passionate women challenge me to think critically, adapt when necessary, thwart the status quo when needed and insist that I be true to myself.

In this season of ministry I am less likely to put on my diplomatic face and more likely to boldly challenge with the question, “why?,” my daughter encourages me to engage culture and awaken to things many in my generation do not see. She invites me into deeper discipleship and challenges me to blaze a new path. It is an adventure I never I expected, but it is everything I could possibly hope for. My mother’s memory reminds me to live life fully, to celebrate the wonder of it all and to take a moment for the occasional dance party.

I think my maternal gypsy ancestors would marvel at the way their descendants have woven our heritage into our ministerial cores and continue the quest to bring the Kingdom of God to the broken world. My mother would be pleased with her girls. I often imagine her in heaven tapping her mother and grandmother on the shoulder, face beaming with pride and excitement, saying, “Those are our girls!”

And Jesus, who just happens to overhear her, says, “Yes, Eileen, they are. Well done, my good and faithful servants. Well done!”


Rev. Katrina Brooks has served as a pastor, campus minister and youth pastor. Part of a clergy couple, she is also a mother to a daughter in Divinity School and a son in college.

Melanie Storie: Apistos, Pistos (Unbelief, Belief)

John 20:24-29 (RSV)

 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

Matthew 16:20-23 (RSV)

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance[a] to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.”

What state should you live in? Which Jane Austen heroine are you? What 80’s song best describes you?

If pondering these questions keeps you up late at night, then might I recommend a Buzzfeed quiz? For me, there is something giddily ridiculous about taking a Buzzfeed quiz. The questions themselves often have nothing to do with the subject matter and the results are dubious at best.

My results on the above mentioned quizzes were Montana (beautiful, but no sweet tea or grits, so it’s out), Fanny Price (not Elizabeth Bennett?!), and “Don’t Stop Believing” (I do have it on my iPhone…). There’s even a quiz entitled “Which disciple of Jesus are you?” Somehow, an algorithm including favorite colors and vacation spots yields me a result of Matthew.

This time, I’m sure the Buzzfeed gremlins are wrong. I am a Thomas and I’m raising a Peter.

Thomas gets a bad rap for his undue reputation as a doubter. Not to get too scholarly, but the word often translated as “doubt” in regards to Thomas is more literally “unbelieving.” Jesus is more closely saying, “Change your unbelief to belief, Thomas.” Then Jesus offers Thomas his wounded hands.

Thomas is often used as a cautionary tale. Don’t be like Thomas. Don’t question. Don’t doubt. Just believe. Thomas reacts to the news that Jesus is alive by questioning. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

I would have reacted the same way.

I grew up in church and made my profession of faith in 6th grade. I was baptized soon after in a hideous yellow overall outfit that I loved. I had a special love for Jesus and a desire to be more like him.

As I grew into my teenage years, my belief in Jesus never really wavered, but I had questions for the people who taught me at church. Why are Christians the only ones to get to heaven? Is it those people’s faults if they haven’t heard about Jesus, a cross, and a tomb? Didn’t Confucius have his own version of the Golden Rule? What does that mean?

I once asked a church camp leader, “When did Jesus know he was the Messiah?” The leader responded by saying that Jesus always knew. At that point, I was older and knew better than to question further. A few years prior to that, I would have asked how a baby could have divine knowledge.

It would have saved me a lot of heartache from weird looks and lectures if one of those leaders had recognized that maybe all of my questions were the beginnings of a call to ministry. One mentor of mine told me that I was “analytical.” It took me a while to realize it was a compliment.

I was so used to the funny look I got when I started to ask the questions I asked. It was the look that said, “Please just listen to the lesson and accept it like everyone else.”

Now, I accept that analytical side of me. Honestly, it’s the part of me that keeps me Baptist when other denominations sometimes seem more attractive to me. I don’t really need or want anyone else to tell me what is “right” when it comes to my faith. I will work on my unbelief and belief between the Holy Spirit, the Bible, and my own mostly capable brain.

My oldest son, Aidan, was baptized a couple of years ago in the New River by his pastor father with our church family gathered around. My youngest son, Owen, might “walk the aisle” any day now.


As parents, communicating our faith at the point in our children’s lives when they are moving from concrete to abstract thinking is a daunting task. My conversations with Owen have been different than my conversations with Aidan were. Aidan is a Thomas like me. Owen is a Peter. And Peter is a different bird all together.

On Good Friday, my boys and I walked through the Stations of the Cross at our church. These stations are designed for people to walk alongside Jesus in his final hours. As we reflect on those hours in the life of Jesus and his followers, the events become more personal to us and our relationship with Jesus is renewed.

Aidan, Owen, and I walked through the stations separately and I could see Owen growing more concerned and emotional as he touched palms and nails and surveyed the wondrous cross. I exited the sanctuary behind him and he broke into tears. As I hugged him, he cried, “I hate the Romans!” As I comforted him and offered him explanations for what he experienced, he said, “I don’t think it’s right that Jesus died for people. I love Jesus. He didn’t deserve it. He did everything right. He shouldn’t have died.”

Peter. Peter. Peter. I could almost hear Jesus admonishing, “Get behind me, Satan!” but in the context of my situation, that would have been cruel, so I just held Owen and gave him comfort.

Who can explain where belief comes from? Is it born from questioning and searching? Does it arrive in a rowboat when the Messiah asks you to feed his sheep?

All of us have our own journey. I can’t take Owen’s journey for him. I can only guide him along the way. This conversation his Sunday School teacher, his Children’s Minister, Matt, and I are having with Owen is a delicate dance. We all want him to come to faith in Jesus, but more than anything, I want him to have a faith that is his own.

Even though I cannot see it, I know that Jesus holds him with wounded hands. Just as he held Thomas and Peter. Just as he holds you and me.


Rev. Melanie Kilby Storie lives in Shelby, NC with her pastor husband, Matt, and her two sons, Aidan and Owen. Currently a tutor at a local school, Melanie is finishing work on a novel, Wildwood Flower set in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina about a girl who can talk the fire out of a burn.

LeAnn Gardner: The Gift of Suffering

About three years ago, I found myself in a place I never imagined: in the throes of Post-Partum Depression. The one thing I had wanted my entire life—a child—had been given to me. A healthy, red-headed, perfect little specimen of a boy rested upon my chest as I lay on an operating table, exhausted and out of my mind.

We marveled at him and I thought, “He is the cutest baby I have ever seen.” But did I feel an instant bond? No.

Suffice it to say, PPD invaded my life and rested its pinions there for a while.

In the days of suffering from PPD, the last thing I was thinking of was serving. I just wanted to get through the hell I was feeling and hoped that at the other end, I would be a good mother. The fears and anxieties were crippling.

In those early days, I had one paralyzing vision: that at my son’s first birthday party, I would be in the shadows of the crowd, being an observer, not an active participant in my son’s day (read: life) because I had not gotten better. I would not have the energy, or even worse, the affection for him, to plan his birthday party.

This may not seem like a big deal, but if you knew me, you would know that I love (L-O-V-E) to throw parties. Not being an integral part, the integral part, of my son’s first birthday party would be a sign that something was really wrong with me….and even worse, that I was not mothering him in the ways that were most authentic to who I was as a person.

That vision still makes me cry because it reminds me how bad things were for me after he was born.

But as the days passed (and it took a lot of days, strung together) I got better. It was not instant. It took a long time, but the light crept in and I was able to finally find my rhythm as a parent, as his parent. I gained confidence in meeting his needs, accepted that my life had indeed changed, and that suddenly my calling had shifted to being his mama.

And I embraced it….and him.

As the days turned to months, my secret leaked out, partly because I “verbally vomit” to process my issues, and word was getting out that things weren’t so rosy for me. Because PPD is a sore thumb amidst baby showers and pools of pink and blue, new mamas feel isolated and alone.

I imagine there were whispers of “LeAnn had a hard time; talk to her.” Connecting with other people in the throes of this darkness was key for my healing. Being a resource to those facing similar demons was healing for me, too.

Jesus is given many titles, but the Suffering Servant is one that seems to be the most reflected during Holy Week. Does this mean that Christ could not adequately serve without first suffering? We Jesus people preach the Incarnation- that Christ put on skin and walked among us, that he experienced our spectrum of emotions, including pain, grief and realities that did not meet expectations.

What does this mean to all of us (humans) who experience struggle? The essence of my faith rests in this notion: that my suffering not only mattered, but had also been experienced in and by Christ. There was a knowing in my soul that a Presence greater than me and my pain and anxiety was with me, minute by minute, day by day, until that string of days equaled a month and then months and then three years!

My second son was born 7 months ago. I found myself, again, lying on an operating table, in a cold sterile room, but something was different. My very being had been changed since the redhead was born. I was already a mother. I had been through hell and back with all of my insecurities and angst, and although I was not perfect, nor he, we together have forged a path of mama and son. That sweet little rosy headed boy has taught me so much (even to this day).

Christ is present in struggle. We know this. We preach it all the time. But it is different to walk it. To feel the pain in the fibers my being and know that Emmanuel has walked the ground where I have stood and suffered is life altering. May we be reminded of this miracle during this Holiest of weeks.

2015-01-25 15.32.18

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 and 7 months.

Katrina Brooks: Forever Friends

Ash Wednesday came and went in my world without its typical markings. No breeze in the air. No warm sunshine. No scrumptious aromas. No reflective liturgy and no ashes on my forehead.

Like most of the great adventures I have embarked upon, this Lenten journey began whether I was ready or not. Like clockwork on Wednesday, my inner self called my name and demanded I begin this year’s quest by counting my blessings.

Two of the greatest blessings in my life are Tia and Debbie. One I met the weekend I came as a candidate to be one of her pastors. The other I met through our daughters before her family became a part of the church.

With both it was love at first sight. My success over the years with female friends was zero, so no one was more surprised than me when we bonded.


Tia invests herself vocationally as an academic principal for middle schoolers and Debbie as a dean of students for a liberal arts college. Tia has a boy and a girl. Debbie has two girls. Tia and Debbie both grew up in ministerial homes…one in the north and one in the south. Debbie is a bit older than I am and Tia a bit younger. Tia builds things and Debbie makes beautiful things.

I am the nontraditional one. I am the one who prefers wild finger nail polish and a hair color I was not born with. I am the one who brazenly challenges orthodoxy. I am the one who lacks homemaker skills and I am the one who is still trying to find herself vocationally after all these years.

These women “get me” even when I do not “get” myself. Having entered their lives as their pastor, I was not prepared for their friendship. Maybe it was their professionalism or maybe it was because they grew up in ministerial homes, but something inspired them to seek me out as more than “their pastor” … I was their friend.

In 2011 the season for being their pastor came to an end when my spouse took a job in a different state. I would like to say it was an amiable transition, but truth be told I fought the move. One day I will write it all down, but for now let’s just say my beloved friends pulled me through. They knew enough about grief and about me to realize that no matter how “adult” I was pretending to be when I exited the church system, I would crash and crash hard.

Unable to stop the crash, these blessings of mine walked with me. They listened and cried with me. They offered insight and thought-provoking questions. They let me grieve.

When the grief slid into depression they upped their game and intentionally connected with me in spite of the miles. Their love kept me afloat.


When I could not find a job, these friends of mine reminded me of my gifts and talents. They pushed me to try something new and not dwell in the past. They inspired me to dream again and boldly step into a new adventure. When I did find a job and it was something outside my wheel house, these women dared me to try.

As I fashion and form who I am in this season of my life, Tia and Debbie continue to inspire me. They ask bold questions and send me thought-provoking books. They encourage me to step out and not settle. They dare me to dream big and insist I boldly step into new adventures.

These women unashamedly remind me to be the one I am destined to be and not less than. They challenge my inappropriate self assessments and dare me to try new things. They invite me to question and to wrestle with my unrest. Our friendship bears witness to a love that keeps covenant.

Gratitude for a love that never gives up, never fails, seems to be the perfect starting marker of a Lenten quest.

These women and I do life together, challenging each other to continue to be formed and fashioned by the One who modeled what love is. In spite of the miles that separate us, we commune together and are real together. We laugh and cry, weep and celebrate.

What began as a relationship between congregants and their pastor has become something very precious to me. I am the minister I am because of Tia and Debbie. I am the mother I am because of Tia and Debbie. I am the disciple I am because of Tia and Debbie, my forever friends.

Brooks pic

Rev. Katrina Stipe Brooks has served as a pastor, campus minister and youth pastor. Part of a clergy couple, she is also a mother to a daughter in Divinity School and a son in college.

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.

advent 3

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.


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.   

Alicia Davis Porterfield: Kitchen Table Pentecost

“In our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deed of power.” –Acts 2:11

The kitchen is the heart of our home.

Not in the HGTV sparkling stainless steel, open concept, granite countertop kind of way. More in the stove from the ’70’s, cups all over the counter (because every time a boy needs a drink of water he also needs a new cup, saith nobody ever!), jelly on the floor kind of way.

At our kitchen table, three boys, ages 8, 10 and 12, discuss their days, the current sport of the season and entertain each other with displays of certain bodily functions. Belatedly, they tack on a mumbled “excuse me” when given the parental stink eye.

Yep, raising them up in the way they should go. That’s us.

The recent table talk is all about the NBA post season, which seems to last a legion of weeks, by the way. As some know, I am not a sports fanatic. And my only sport of choice is baseball, having grown up with the Atlanta Braves back when they made losing an art form and kids all over the metro area got free tickets for good grades.

But I never learned to speak basketball.

Usually, the boys’ chatter washes over me at the table. I interject only to add, “Please chew with your mouth closed,” and “is your napkin on your lap?” and other such vital contributions.

Our middle child sometimes tries to include me.
“Mom, who do you like best: Kevin Love or Chris Paul?”
“Uhhhh . . who’s Kevin Love?”
“Mom!! Only my favorite player (this week, I add silently)! He’s on
the Taco Bell commercial. Chris Paul is the State Farm guy with the fake twin,
Cliff Paul.”
“Oh, right. Chris Paul. He seems like a good sport and his little boy is just

But mostly, waves of baller-speak wash over me. I’m tuned out. Thinking about the Weight Watcher points in this meal and the list of chores between me and bedtime.

Pentecost is this Sunday, when the Holy Spirit swooshed down (get the Nike reference?!) and Jesus’ followers suddenly proclaimed the good news of Christ in languages they’d never before uttered. Passover travelers from all over the Mideast stood in Jerusalem’s streets hearing God’s good news in Christ in their own languages for the first time.

All they had to do was listen. The Spirit was speaking.

And so it is at our kitchen table. Baller-speak winds around me, telling me something important about each child and his perspective, his hopes, his burgeoning faith. With the language of courts and rosters and predictions, each one shares a subtle dialect, unique to who God is shaping him to be.

Baller-speak is not my native tongue. I may never learn to speak it well.

But if I open myself to the movement of the Spirit, I may just hear “God’s deeds of power” right there at our battered kitchen table. All I have to do is listen. Amen.


Rev. Alicia Davis Porterfield is fluent in Mom-speak thanks to the three boys she raises with her husband, Eric. Her passion is empowering others to deeply engage with what God is doing in their lives. Through life coaching, writing and moderating the Ministry and Motherhood blog, she is grateful to be living out her call. Alicia edited a collection of essays A Divine Duet: Ministry and Motherhood (www.helwys.com) and prays to broaden that conversation through the blog. Join us by contacting Alicia: aporterfield@ec.rr.com.

The Very Worst Sports Mom

Image http://www.freedigitalphotos.com/gualberto107 
I didn’t grow up playing sports. In the 1970’s and 80’s, suburban Atlanta was not a hot spot for girls’ sports. A few friends played soccer or softball, but most of us took dance, gymnastics or piano lessons. Rec leagues were mostly for boys.

My father, who played basketball and football in high school, took my two older sisters and me out in the backyard to teach us the rudiments of softball. Patiently, he schooled us on how to swing level, shag pop flies and attack those pesky grounders. Notably, he also had to deal with tears from fat lips (from said pesky grounders), twirling in the outfield and occasional hair pulling between catcher and batter.

I loved those backyard games with Dad pitching perfectly hittable balls in the long summer twilight. Thanks to TBS and cheap nosebleed tickets, we watched Braves baseball growing up and could name every player back when Bruce Benedict was catching. I stayed focused on baseball as the Braves (finally) won several pennants—and even the World Series in the early 1990’s. That was plenty of sports for me.

Then I moved to North Carolina to go to Duke Divinity School, where basketball is king. Strangers asked me intently, “Who do you pull for?,” meaning UNC, NC State or Duke, the big rivalries in the ACC. I took to shrugging and replying, “I’m an SEC girl,” which brought looks of pity and disappointment.

Then, I started dating an NC native who played basketball at a small liberal arts college. I shocked him into silence on our first date when he proudly showed me the “Dean Dome” on UNC’s campus and I asked who Dean Smith was (a hugely famous UNC basketball coach). He got over the shock during the next year and a half and asked me to marry him. I confessed that I would never love basketball. I married him anyway.

Fast forward seventeen years and three little boys later: our garage is filled with sports equipment, ESPN is the go-to channel and evenings/weekends are filled with church, practices and games. I quit loving baseball so much after three years and two boys’ fall AND spring seasons. I have learned to walk around the field at soccer to make the games more pleasant for me and so I won’t catch the “negatives Nellies” from the parent who can’t stop criticizing his son, the referees, the weather, the league . . .

I’d like to report that after years and years of basketball, I have grown to love the game. Not so much. In the close quarters of a hot gym, I find the intensity of the game (and the parents) a bit too much. The fouls confuse me, some of the tactics alarm me and the speed leaves me asking quite often, “What just happened?”



I am trying to learn to speak basketball, as I tell our boys, but it’s not my first (or second or third) language. I’ll be team mom, encourager from the stands, snack-organizer and end of season party-thrower. I have a nice loud preacher voice with a “wooo-hooo!” that can carry a long way. A true extrovert, I’ll clap and cheer and congratulate. But that’s about all I have to give.

I just don’t love sports. It’s not my main metaphor for life. I didn’t grow up in that arena of competition, with the team bonding and  sheer physicality sports demand. My husband and our sons have a wisdom rooted in that early training that is simply not part of my life. The thrill of the contest is not something that compels me. But the contest sometimes ambushes me.

As can happen in any contest, the competitiveness at my sons’ games—especially as they have grown older–sometimes seems to blur into tribalism, that us vs. them duality that can start small and end big. Painfully, I sometimes find myself getting caught up in the fervor—especially when the opposing team has been coached to just skirt the edges of the rules and good sportsmanship—and I become just as overinvested internally as some others do externally. And I deplore that feeling in myself.

In those games and their aftermath, I have to remind myself what our goal is for our boys’ sports involvement. We want them to have fun, learn the game and be shaped by working with their teammates, coaches and the referees. We want them to learn about life through sports, not that sports are life.

Tellingly, this past Saturday, after a particularly intense loss, I found myself feeling like a stranger in a strange land. I walked out of the gym in deep reflective mode. All those emotions, all that intensity, all that time and energy and effort—for a contest between middle school age children?

That evening, I watched a documentary on hunger in America called “A Place at the Table” in preparation for a writing project. My mother-and-minister’s heart ached. One anti-hunger advocate noted that in America, we have the ability and the food to make sure no one goes hungry, but we do not have the will.

I can’t help but wonder what might happen if some of the energy, time and effort we spend on kids’ sports could be harnessed for something that really makes a difference in the world. Maybe we don’t have much will leftover when we are spending so much of it on the sidelines of our children’s activities. Maybe we’re paying too much attention to what is ultimately inconsequential.

I’ll never be a great sports mom. My heart, my will, my interests lie elsewhere. But as long as my little guys are playing, I want to be  be whatever support to them I can be, which, for me, includes reminding them in word and deed what’s really important.  




A native of Atlanta, GA, Reverend Alicia Davis Porterfield is a writer, teacher and certified Life Coach. She is a graduate of the University of Georgia and earned a Master of Divinity and a Master of Theology from Duke University Divinity School. After two years of chaplaincy training at Rex Healthcare in Raleigh, NC, Alicia served as chaplain at Quail Haven Retirement Village in Pinehurst, NC before her family moved to Wilmington, NC. Her husband Eric is senior pastor at Winter Park Baptist Church and together they stay busy learning and growing with their three sons: Davis (12), Luke (10) and Thomas (8). A frequent retreat leader and guest preacher, Alicia loves delving into scripture and learning with others on the journey. 

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.