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Melanie Storie: Resolution: A History of My Life in This Body

I will give thanks to you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14

I am in the bathtub. I sing and play. I wash myself. There is a light brown spot on the back of my leg where the meat of my leg kisses the back of my knee. I scrub at the spot. I scrub and scrub. Until I realize the spot isn’t dirt. It is part of me. I can’t change it.

I am in junior high. I am pale and skinny. Knock-kneed and awkward. The other girls are getting boyfriends. The boys don’t notice me. If they do, it’s to tease how tall I am. How white. How skinny. My nose is big. My family gave me this nose like socks at Christmas. Later, I learn to make fun of my nose before others do. I call it a Mack truck nose so everyone will laugh with me and not at me.
I hate my one-piece bathing suit because it pulls uncomfortably and makes my hip bones stick out. But good girls wear one-piece suits – and tease girls with bony hips.
One day, Nostradamus predicted the world would end. That day, I forget my clothes to dress out for P.E. on purpose. I hate the way my legs look in shorts. And if the world ends, who cares if I have to walk laps outside in my favorite jeans and sweater? I walk and pray for Jesus to come now so I don’t have to dress out and show my knobby knees ever again.

I have filled out in all the places I am supposed to fill out. I get more attention from boys, but I am wary of them. After all, a few years ago I was knock-knees, Mack truck nose, brace face. I remember.
I can’t tan. I freckle a little. I burn. The other girls go to tanning beds before prom. My mom won’t let me. There is skin cancer in my family. I am white. White and bony like a skeleton. I am prone to fainting spells. The doctor tells me to drink milkshakes to gain weight. I think they are all going to my chest.
I am the lead in the spring musical at school with my best friends. I feel confident and strong. I love the dresses I wear onstage and how I look in them.
A month after the show, a lady recognizes me in the grocery store. She asks me if I was the lead in the play. Yes, I say with pride. You were good, she says, but so skinny. Don’t you eat? Believe me, I do, I laugh. I leave the grocery store and go get another milkshake.

I am about to graduate from college and go to seminary. I am still tall, still pale, still unhappy with my nose, but I can walk into any store and buy almost anything in my size and it looks good. I don’t realize at the time how good and wonderful this is. I have a lot of cheap bikinis. Even though I am white, I look good in them.
My hips aren’t so bony anymore. In conversation with one of my guy friends, I tell him how much I want to have children one day. He tells me I don’t have “child-bearing hips.” It bothers me because I’ve always hated my bony hips.
I work at a chain steakhouse restaurant. I hate my uniform. It is truly ugly. One night, a handsome guy (who meets my rule of being taller than me) sits in my section. He has the best blue eyes I’ve ever seen. He tells people later when we relate the story of how we met that he liked how I looked in my uniform.

I’ve just birthed a 9 lb. 1oz. baby boy. With the final push, the doctor let me reach down and pull this slimy, wailing love into the world with my own hands. (I briefly think of my guy friend who said the thing about child-bearing hips. Ha, ha!!) This little boy has relied solely on my body for nourishment for nine months. I ate tons of vegetables, drank gallons of milk, and consumed the more than occasional foot long chili cheese hotdog. For twelve months more, I will nurse him. He depends on me, on my body to survive.
When I take a shower for the first time after the birth, I look down at my body and I barely recognize myself. I will never have bony hips. Not bony anything. Not ever again.

My body has had two babies and nursed them. My body eats and exercises. My body hugs people who hurt. It watches too much TV and reads a lot of books. It laughs. It cries. It is wonderfully made.
My right foot has a bunion that makes shoe shopping a dread rather than a treat. Where I used to grab a pair of jeans from the clearance rack as I breezed through a store, I now take ten pairs to the dressing room. Which pair will be long enough? Which ones will cover up my belly?
My belly. In college, I wore the popular midriff bearing tops. Now, I laugh at the thought. My belly is stretched and fleshy. The nine pounders demolished it. I shop for tankinis, bathing suit bottoms with skirts, bathing suit tops with extra support. I nursed two boys for a year apiece. They literally drained the life from my chest.
I go to my family reunion. My grandpa has died. Cancer took him from us. But I see his nose everywhere. On uncles and aunts and cousins. It is my nose too. It spreads out all over my face when I smile. And I like to smile.
This white, white skin is my grandma’s skin. She was beautiful and pale. She loved to hold my hand. My soft, white hand.
I make a decision. I get out the tape measurer and measure the body I have. The one that was given to me. The one that I’ve earned with healthy eating and Zumba and chocolate cake and nine pound babies and belly laughs with my husband. Maybe it’s not the one I want or the one from my twenties when I didn’t realize how good I looked because I was always comparing my body to someone else’s. I realize that one day I’ll look back on this thirtysomething year old body and wish I’d realized how wonderful it was.
So, I order it: The green and white polka dot 1940’s style bikini. Maybe I have no business wearing it. Maybe I’ll toss a t-shirt over it in a panic whenever we take to the beach. But, I’m wearing it. I’m fearfully and wonderfully made. I’ll see you on the beach in my bikini. You can bring the milkshakes. This time, we’ll drink them just for fun.

Storie pic

Melanie Storie is a graduate of Catawba College and Campbell University Divinity School. While in seminary, Melanie married Matthew Storie, served as a youth and children’s minister, had a son (Aidan, 12), and finally graduated – while eight months pregnant with her second son (Owen, 9). Melanie has served churches in North Carolina and Virginia as Minister of Children. Recently, she served with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Alabama. Melanie currently lives in Independence, Virginia.

The Dance of Ministry and Motherhood

Some days motherhood and ministry collide and some days they dance together, reminding me why I chose this journey.  As a mother, I find it extremely difficult NOT to mother the children and youth who walk into my life.  And I think that’s exactly the way God intended life to be.



One of my favorite times of the day at Touching Miami with Love, the urban ministry I serve as Assistant Director, is the late afternoon.  It’s when our high school students who volunteer at TML come in from school to volunteer with our children’s program.  Their energy and enthusiasm is always such a welcome treat with their fun, jovial ways.  One by one or in small clusters, they pop their head into my office and call out, “Hey Ms. Pittman.”  I enjoy seeing them, many of whom I’ve known since they were young kids in our program.  We chat about school, their classes, and what’s going on in life.  I find it’s pretty hard to turn off my mothering skills and it’s not uncommon for me to playfully tell a teen he needs a haircut or a young woman she needs to show less cleavage.  Apparently, two of our boys were thinking of this and called out, “Hey Momma Pittman!” as they entered TML.

“What’s that about?”  I asked chuckling.

“That’s your new name,” one of them said.

“Oh, okay.  I like it.”  I replied. Just then my husband Jason popped out of his office.  Seeing him the other boy called out, “We should call Mr. Jason, ‘Pastor Jason.’” 

“Yeah, Momma Pittman and Pastor Jason” said the first boy, laughing at the catchy new nicknames they created as they headed off to volunteer with the children.  Jason and I caught each other’s eye and smiled.  It was the best compliment they could have ever paid us.

Picking up my oldest son from high school an hour later, we were chatting when my cell phone rang.  I answered on speaker phone. It was our program director calling, distraught, after a conversation with one of our youth whose family has been struggling with homelessness.  The mom had been saying they were living in a motel room, but today the teenage daughter admitted they were really living in a warehouse–with sleeping bags on the floor and only cold water. This young girl, fearing her parent’s anger at revealing their secret, finally had to let someone know because she’s been in in-school suspension for several days for not having the mandatory school uniforms for in Miami-Dade County public schools. Hearing the news, I immediately thought of the resources and connections we had. Together, we started to develop a plan of action.  When I finally got off the phone, I apologized to my son for having our conversation interrupted.  “It’s okay Mom,” he said “That was really important.”  We talked about trying to go to high school in those conditions and I’m grateful I didn’t shield him from such harsh realities.

Back home I retrieved my younger son from my next door neighbors’ house. As the homework routine settled in, I opened up my laptop to answer a few more e-mails before dinner prep.  This particular night quickly picked up pace.  After putting dinner in the oven, I high-fived my husband on my way out and his way in the door, calling, “Tag you’re it!” I was headed to our son’s PTA meeting.  The situation was reversed an hour later as he left for Scouts with my older son and I picked up our younger son and  headed to Target.

On our way I asked my nine year old son if he knew why we needed to go to Target. I explained, “Well, one of our boys in middle school has shoes that are falling apart and his mom said she can’t afford to buy them.  A church has agreed to buy him shoes and we need to pick out a pair.”  I shared that this growing boy wore a size 11 shoe and had asked them to be “colorful.”  While we were there, I told him we were also going to grab some uniform clothes for the young lady from the phone call earlier.  It was encouraging to see that he was up to the challenge and we had sweet conversation on our way to the store.  Lucas usually hates shopping, even if it’s for him, so I was thrilled when he not only happily joined in the challenge of shopping, but insisted that we check the surrounding stores to find the most colorful pair of shoes. 

In the checkout line, my phone began to ring.  It was Sherry, an older adult I’ve been connected to since my very first month in ministry in 1995.  Her first phone call nearly 20 years ago to the ministry offices where I worked led to six years of bonding over shopping trips, doctor visits, and pick-ups from the ER.  Even after moving to Detroit and now to Miami, Sherry calls regularly to keep me abreast of her mounting health concerns and issues with her neighbors.  Hating to be on the phone during checkout and ignoring Lucas, I assured Sherry that she wouldn’t get evicted from her apartment just because a neighbor spread lies about her when Sherry got her new motorized wheelchair before the neighbor did.

Hanging up as we walked out of Target, I found myself apologizing to my other son for the call interrupting our time.  As he reached out for my hand he said, “I know, Mommy. You have a lot of people to help.”  My heart swelled as I thought back to two other boys I love at TML calling me “Momma Pittman.” And I breathed out a prayer of thanks for the Lord allowing motherhood and ministry to dance together today.


A graduate of Baylor University, Angel Pittman serves as Assistant Director alongside her college-sweetheart husband, Jason, at Touching Miami with Love, an urban ministry in the historic African-American neighborhood Overtown (www.touchingmiamiwithlove.org).  Angel’s education background shaped afterschool programs in Texas, Detroit and at TML as Children’s Director, creating the ToMorrow’s Leaders Program. Her passions are reading and writing about racial reconciliation, government policies and the poor, suburban and urban realities and raising children in the inner city. The Pittmans have two sons, Isaac and Lucas.




Halloween and Life: Standing Out from the Crowd

Passport 2013 065Carol Burnett cleaning lady
I grew up in a house with a mother who greatly disliked Halloween.  In fact, I remember one year when there was no candy in the house so the one trick-or-treater who came to our door received a can of soup.  Really.

A few years before that, as a first grader at South Newton Elementary School, I needed a costume for our annual Halloween Carnival and costume contest. My mother, never one for the store-bought costume, decided that I should dress up as Carol Burnett’s cleaning woman character, the one seen at the beginning of her television show.  Some of you might remember what I’m describing but I’m guessing this reference will be lost on anyone under the age of 40. 

I distinctly remember being on the stage with the other costumed kids, walking in a circle in front of the judges as they considered the display of Halloween finery. I walked around with a feather duster, dusting pretend furniture as I went. Somehow I knew my costume wasn’t typical, but I knew it was original.  And although I didn’t win anything that night, I began to realize that my mother wanted something different for me. She wanted me to stand out even if I felt uncomfortable in the process.

Before you decide my mother is not going to win “Mother of the Year” based on these stories, know that she is a wonderful woman who has set an amazing example of unconditional love and consistent guidance before me and my family through the years.  Looking back, I see what she hoped to accomplish by pushing me down different paths.  She knew the opportunities that would come along simply by standing out from the crowd.

As a woman minister in a Baptist church, I suppose I do my share of standing out.  I realize there are a few in my church family who didn’t support my ordination or the eventual change of my title to Associate Pastor.  And I know there are some who will describe my occasional preaching as “speaking” or, as my ordained minister sister experienced, “giving a little talk.” But the interesting thing for me is that the flip side of these supposed slights can be just as frustrating.  When my ministry is going well and everyone seems completely in tune with me and leadership I am providing, I am tempted to wonder why someone isn’t making a bigger deal of me-—the woman minister.  I know, I know . . . ego trip, anyone? I can hear Jesus’ words ringing loud and clear as I think about this temptation to stand out: “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. (Matthew 16:24 NLT) The ultimate goal is ministry, not finding more ways to be outstanding.

And I realize that when I have asked myself, “When do you feel most like a minister?” that the answer I come up with every time comes down to words just a few may hear or actions just a few may see—ministry that takes place along the way, not in the big events and gestures but in small ways and in the midst of the daily routine. 

So how do I put “standing out from the crowd” in the right context? How do I keep it from reflecting self-centeredness and instead reflect a desire to honor God, especially as I have come to realize the ways God works when we aren’t standing in the limelight?

For me, part of the answer lies in recognizing the ultimate goal—to glorify God with my life. I am free to follow God’s leadership and to listen to the Spirit as the Spirit speaks in so many ways. I may be standing in front or I may be sitting on the back pew, but one thing I can be sure of:  I am an original creation, created in the image of God.  My mother had that divine idea; she knew the truth well before I even considered my capabilities. 

Now I want to teach my own children that they hold endless possibilities.  I want them to know that God has gifted them in wonderful ways that they are just beginning to discover. And I want them to remember that standing out from the crowd isn’t an end in itself—but it may just give them a better view of how they fit best into God’s family.

But I do need to say to my mother that I still think sending me to school that day in 8th grade with the multi-colored leg warmers and clogs was a very bad idea. . .

Reverend Shannon Stewart Hall is the mother of three children: Jonathan—15, Chloe—12, and Caroline—5, who have worn their share of store-bought Halloween costumes through the years. Shannon and her wonderfully supportive husband, David, have been married for 21 years.  Shannon, who graduated from Converse College and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, is Associate Pastor of Music and Family Ministries at First Baptist Church in Graham, North Carolina.  David teaches high school science in the Alamance County School System.


by Nikki Finkelstein-Blair

In the interest of transparency–because we’re all seeking a place where we can be vulnerable, honest, fully Known–I want to begin by admitting that I watch “The Waltons.”

The Waltons

A lot.

Sometimes while knitting.

I’m very aware that this may be an unlikely occupation for a progressive, modern woman. Let’s just say that I’m not the target demographic for the advertisers whose commercials air during the episodes. But since the day a few months ago when I accidentally caught part of an episode, I have found myself peeking in on the life of that 1930s (by way of the 1970s) family. More than forty years after the show began, I’ve learned all the kids’ names: JohnBoyJasonMaryEllenBenErinJimBobandElizabeth. Forty years too late, I let tears roll when Grandma and Grandpa Walton died. Forty years–and more than eighty years since the pre-WWII setting of the stories–and I’m continually amazed by how contemporary the issues are. The relationship between races. The roles of women. The ethics of work. The stability of home. The practice of hospitality. The tensions and tendernesses among siblings; in fact, all the tensions and tendernesses of children learning to grow up and to love and to grieve and to let go.

And, especially, the life of the mother. Especially that.

There’s much about Olivia Walton’s life I can’t begin to identify with, owing to her rural setting and to her Depression-era context. But as a mother, there’s so much that resonates with me, it sometimes catches me off-guard.

Like, for example, the episode when Olivia was restless. Restless in the way I feel when the routines have become too… routine. She was crabby, the way I get crabby when every day feels like a broken record of school lunches, lost shoes, reading logs, arguments over tooth brushing and piano practice, doing dishes, eating dinner and thereby dirtying more dishes, and don’t forget to wash behind your ears, and “just one more story?” And forty/eighty years later, I am right there with her, restless and crabby and unable to explain it to anyone and just needing something–anything–to be new.

Olivia Walton, restless and crabby and just needing something to be new, got a perm.

A really, really bad perm.

Such a bad perm that when she came home, she tried to hide it. Unsuccessfully. And when the various Walton children saw it, each of them, in turn, burst into laughter.

And then, when Olivia Walton wept, so did I.

I know that feeling so well: the impossibility of explaining to those around us how any small change would at least be something different–even if it went wrong. The cognitive dissonance of focusing attention on ourselves, when the callings of our everydays are oriented to others–all the John Boys and the Mary Ellens of our lives, all the school lunches and dirty dishes and bedtime stories. And all the potlucks and parish council meetings, the hospital visitations, the pastoral prayers–the routines and traditions of life together in our faith families, too.

“Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’” (Rev. 21:5) When I am unsettled and fidgety in my days, I yearn for that renewal. I know I need to toss away the outgrown, ill-fitting, uninspired habits I put on thoughtlessly every day. I need to rethink my choices, responses, routes and routines. I need to try on new looks, new colors; I need to taste new words in my mouth and let new thoughts roll around in my head; I need to break the chronic patterns of my days and of my mindset.

God, show me the new ways you would have me go; grant me bravery to take risks, especially those that may end badly; let me show my children–and my church–that it is blessed even to try.

Because not much is permanent, anyway. Hair grows out (thanks be to God!). Routines shift and morph as children grow older, as we accommodate loves and losses, follow callings and shape habits. The litanies of our days, once rote, may become the zones of comfort that we desperately crave, and from there we can safely reach out, seeking not just change for change’s sake, but the newness of life to which we are called. Together we can try, and fail, and try again. Then we can put our restlessness into words so that we can share in the tears that come when we feel most alone, and in the laughter that comes when we see ourselves as we truly are: badly permed, reborn, and beloved.

Nicole Finkelstein-Blair became a U.S. Navy spouse in 2000, graduated from Central Baptist Theological Seminary and was ordained in 2001, and became “Mom!” in 2004. She finds ministry wherever the military and motherhood lead: in four states and two countries (so far), as a parishioner and a pulpit-supplier, as a sometime blogger and devotional writer, and at countless dinner tables and bedtimes. She’s enjoying now… and looking forward to what’s next. Her essay “A Time for Every Purpose” can be found in A Divine Duet: Ministry and Motherhood (www.helwys.com).