Tag Archives: motherhood

Heather Mustain: Everyday Theology: Courage and Vulnerability

In the last two weeks my husband Chad and I celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary and our baby girl, Jimmie’s, first birthday. Realizing neither of us had taken any time away since Jimmie’s birth, it felt like the perfect time to treat ourselves to a “stay cation” We made plans for Jimmie to stay with her grandparents and we reserved a hotel room in downtown Ft. Worth.

Before having Jimmie, Chad and I loved going to the movies, so the first obvious activity on our staycation was to hit up the local movie theater. The enjoyment of going to see a movie for me is not always about the movie, but about the experience- the ice-cold Coke, popcorn and candy, and a theater so cold and dark you feel as if you’re the only one inhabiting it. The choice of movies wasn’t stellar this past weekend and we agreed we were in the mood to have a good laugh, so we found ourselves at the 1:40 p.m. showing of Bad Moms.

bad moms

My first year as a mother has been filled with incredible joy yet has been tainted with the darkness of postpartum depression. So the movie Bad Moms felt relatable and as the darkness of PPD has dissipated I felt ready to have a good belly laugh about the many times over the course of this year where I have felt like a bad mom.

The film satirically examines the values and beliefs our society holds about motherhood. Gwendolyn, the film’s antagonist, is the school’s PTA president. Every morning while she and her posse stand out in front of the school, every mother dropping of their child falls prey to their overly critical eyes and mouths.

Amy, the film’s protagonist, is always late and seems to never get anything right no matter how hard she tries. Gwendolyn jokingly asks Amy how she manages having a full time job and wonders aloud, “doesn’t she miss her children?” Her comments stab at the heart of a long-held feud between mothers who decide to pursue a job outside of the home and those who decide to stay at home with their children–as if one is more “right” than the other.

Later on in the movie, after being bullied by Gwendolyn one too many times, Amy decides to run for PTA president, a long-held position by Gwendolyn. While Gwendolyn’s campaign platform is all about what mothers could continue to do to be even better, Amy’s campaign platform is about doing less and shedding the idea of perfection. During her candidate speech, Amy admits to her imperfections as a mother and even labels herself as a “bad mom,” for which she receives a standing ovation. Her openness and vulnerability to being a bad mom makes room for other mothers to say “me, too!” A freedom exists under Amy’s new leadership that was choked out by perfection in Gwendolyn’s. In the midst of crude jokes and middle school humor, this caught my attention.

The evening before Chad and I left for our staycation, we had a conversation with friends that continued to linger in my mind and spirit. We were sharing with this couple that after three years in Dallas we still felt a lack of connection and friendship, something we thought this couple would know nothing about. Their natural charisma and outgoing personalities led us to believe that if anyone belonged it was them. Instead they said, “us too.” And as Chad and I reflected upon their “us too” we wondered if we both felt this way, then who else does?

Vulnerability is courageous and it leads others to being courageous too. Admitting our imperfections makes space for others to admit theirs too. And these are moments that lead us to finding solutions that benefit the whole of us and not just part of us. In the movie, Amy’s vulnerability leads hundreds of other mothers to freedom just as my friend’s vulnerability lead Chad and me to ours. And now instead of just wallowing in our own self-pity, vulnerability has moved us to become a conduit to belonging and friendship for other young families and couples who have felt the same. Vulnerability has shifted our perspective and has reminded us that we are not alone.

So today be vulnerable and see what happens. It may just lead to laughter, standing ovations, and a chorus of “me, too!”


Heather Mustain serves as minister of missions at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, TX. An advocate for global missions, Heather graduated from George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University with a Master of Divinity and a Master of Social Work.

Christie Goodman: Everyday Theology: Like a Mother Wren

There are several milestones in a child’s life that parents celebrate: sleeping through the night, taking those first steps, going to the restroom on their own, making their own breakfast, first day of school, and so on. My husband and I had one of those events this month when our youngest daughter turned 13 – sigh, a teenager.

Not much has changed really, but such events cause us to press the pause button for a bit. Thirteen years ago, she would spend her first 46 days in a hospital NICU. Like her sister two years earlier, she was born nine weeks premature. Weighing under 3 pounds, she was surrounded by big machines and tangled wires. We turned her over with our fingertips.

But I can see now how her personality was already forming. Both of my daughters had to go without feeding for a few days while in the NICU due to some internal bleeding. My first daughter cried hungrily but strategically, only when a nurse was close enough to hear. My second though, took it in stride. No fuss. No stress.

With the pause button still pressed, I remember some of the things going on around us at the time. Just weeks before her birth, a family of barn swallows constructed a nest right above our front door. Every day, I would take a peek at how the family was doing. Once hatched, the baby birds clamored loudly whenever a parent hovered mere inches away with food. They were silent the rest of the time. And when we stepped out onto the porch, one or both parents would swoop down at us doing everything they could to protect their brood and keep us away.


Somehow, I felt a connection – however small – to this little family. Their infants were fully dependent. And the parents were remarkably protective. When we finally were able to bring home our littlest one, still hooked to on a monitor, we were super-protective too. Other than doctor visits, we didn’t take her out of the house until she was several months old. We made visitors wash their hands before they could even look at her. The same had been true with her sister. And the same was true with our friends with newborns, especially those with preemies, even as our children grew.

Fast-forward 13 years. As we prepared to celebrate my latest teenager’s birthday, and for just the second time in my own life, we have a new bird’s nest outside our door. From what we can tell, this is a family of Carolina Wrens. We know something these parents don’t. Two months ago, that flower pot was a hideout for a snake. Last month, some large rodent was hanging out there. Now, it is home to these delicate babies. So we have been watching them in earnest.

We’ve noticed that the parents’ protectiveness looks different than the swallows’. The food deliveries do not lead to loud frantic squeaking. And the parents don’t try to frighten visitors. Oftentimes, when we peer into the nest, we only see the babies. No doubt a parent is nearby, watching, but not imposing, ready to guide their little ones to eat and eventually to take flight once the coast is clear.

New research came out last week revealing that, compared to mammals, bird brains have many more neurons per square inch. This helps explain why they have such complex cognitive abilities in their tiny brains. Various species of birds can store food, make tools, understand cause-and-effect and even plan for the future. So maybe these guys on my porch aren’t as helpless as they appear. I know my 13-year-old isn’t.

I’m learning that the wren’s style of protection is like the role of parents of teenagers. Nearby. Watching. Not imposing. Our babies are no longer completely dependent. Our job is to let them try out their new wings even when they stumble. It is in fact the stumbling that reaps learning and confidence to take the next step.

Perhaps this is what “free will” really means. Maybe it is not just about having the space to believe or not believe, to follow or not follow. Rather, we have ample room to reach, falter, learn and get back up again, stronger. In this space, we are most able to grow to become who he has created us to be – something I have to remember when my teens begin to fluff their own wings.


Christie is manages communication for the Intercultural Development Research Association. With two daughters, she and husband Paul are active with Girl Scouts, March of Dimes and Woodland Baptist Church. https://www.facebook.com/christie.goodman.apr

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.

Rachel Whaley Doll: Healing Journey

Rachel's painting
Rachel’s painting

Early last spring, as we were preparing to move, my husband, Aaron, brought me several small bags. “I found these in the freezer. Can you believe we still have bags of breast milk?! I’ll just throw them out.” I grabbed the bags, highly offended. “No, YOU did not make this, you do NOT get to decide what happens to it!” I surprised even myself at my passionate response to these little bags. You see, my youngest child is now six, in first grade, and stopped nursing at age one.

But those little bags signified so much I had never dealt with. I put them back in the freezer and spent the next week trying to decide what their fate would be. Our move would take us 800 miles away, so the bags would not be traveling with us. But they represented a time in my life that had been so hard in coming; I was not willing to simply throw them away. It felt like I had a tangible connection to so much untouchable loss. I prayed, I meditated, and I waited to see what would be created from those little bags of breast milk, sitting my freezer.

I’m not sure how I arrived at my plan, but I saw a watercolor forming in my mind. I gathered blues, purples, and black paints; sea salt to represent so many tears. And I waited. It occurred to me that over the course of our ten rounds of fertility drugs, there had been ten embryos that had been created by Aaron and me. Ten. That number was astounding. Those little bags of milk represented the end of a four year struggle with infertility. They represented seven embryos that never attached. They represented the child lost through miscarriage. They represented the cherished time I nursed two amazing children. Still I waited.

One day, amid packing boxes and looming deadlines, the feeling was overwhelming. It was time. I stood at my dining room table and began to swirl the blues, the purples, the black. I left ten little spaces and while the paint was still very wet, I dropped the breast milk onto the canvas and watched as it swirled and mixed and danced with the colors on the canvas. I sprinkled salt over it all, and whispered prayers for each of those embryos, for the space they would always hold in my soul, for the healing I longed to take place there. Finally, eventually, it was finished. The power of that dance; of paint, milk, tears, salt, and prayers – was unspeakable. I had no idea how much I had needed that dance. When it was finished, I sat in silence with the painting for a long time. There was a powerful connection swirling in the air. Eventually the feeling of connection was replaced by a wide feeling of peace inside me. There was a little milk left over, and I walked outside and sprinkled it over the wild blackberries that grew in our yard, knowing it would feed someone; birds, squirrels, friends, strangers.

That was months ago, and the painting is very dear to me. It went to the book launch party with me, and hung that night in the art gallery as we celebrated. After our move, I hung it in our new home, in our bedroom, and enjoy its nearness. A couple of weeks ago, my hand brushed the bottom of the canvas as I went to turn on the light. My fingers came away damp, and I turned on the light to see streams of paint weaving down the wall. The painting was wet. Aaron said the recent high humidity had caused the salt to soak in the moisture from the air.

But why now, in January? It had not done this through the many humid months of summer in North Carolina. I counted up the months in my head; it has been dry and fine all this time. Chills raised the hairs on my neck as I realized it had been painted nine months ago. I realized it was weeping. I cannot explain the journey of this painting except to say we are connected, and in my eyes it is beautiful beyond measure.

Whatever journey you are walking, honor the connections your soul sees, and allow them to dance.

Rachel Doll

Rachel Whaley Doll is an educator, Biblical Storyteller, and lover of beach sand. She is also the author of two books, The Exquisite Ordinary, 2012, and Beating on the Chest of God; A Faith Journey Though Infertility, 2014. Connect with Rachel at rachelwhaleydoll.com.

Sarah Boberg: Holy Hands, Holy Moments

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

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

Scarlet Communion 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scarlet Communion 3

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

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

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

Scarlet Communion 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

LeAnne Spruill Ryan: Death and Life and a New Mom at Lent

My Lenten journey through the wilderness is different this year than ever before. I am not engaging in any fasts of any kind. I try to contemplate Christ’s suffering and death, but the life bubbling within me makes this a difficult task

I am pregnant. 35 weeks pregnant to be more exact. My first born is a boy and he is due the week after Easter. I feel absolved because the Pope grants pregnant women exemption from fasting from any food (I wonder if the Pope will also absolve me for not being Catholic?).

But I am still asked to dedicate myself to prayer and to serving others. I am still called to engage in reflection of Christ’s affliction and death which brings the world new life. From ashes I came and to ashes I will return.

35 weeks

But there is life inside me. Life that jabs with his elbows and feet, stretching my stomach further; life that gets the hiccups; life that presses on my bladder; life that continually engenders my mind to wonder with excitement, expectation, and pure joy.

I can’t help but think of Mary holding her little boy in her womb all that time. Did she worry about swollen ankles? Did she prop extra pillows around her at night just to sleep? Did she send Joseph to fetch weird food cravings?

What excitement she must have felt knowing that God with us was growing inside her! There she could keep him safe. There she could keep him warm and well fed. There she could protect him from the world and from suffering.

In the womb, she could protect him from the cross.

As a minister, I know it is our calling as Jesus-followers to die to self. It is every Christian pilgrim’s duty to take up their cross and follow Jesus. I have taught and preached that the way of Christ is often the way of suffering. This means putting yourself at risk for the sake of others. It means leaving the comfortable and the safe in order to venture into potentially dangerous terrain where God leads you.

As a minister, I know Scripture and I know my own experience with the Lord. I know that we will not always feel God’s presence. I know that life is not fair and that the honest, the innocent, and the faithful do not always see justice in this world. I know that bad things happen to good people and that darkness and depression threaten to dim the light of the righteous.

One of this week’s lectionary texts is Psalm 22. The opening verse of that psalm reads: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?” (NRSV, v. 1).

The Psalmist begins with words of groaning and cries of anguish because he feels abandoned. As the Psalm continues, he is bullied by others who taunt him and his God saying, “Commit your cause to the Lord, let him deliver…” (v. 8)

You can hear the sheer desperation of the Psalmist who maintains faith in God as he cries out, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled; I can count all my bones” (v. 14-17).


Did Mary know that her son would cry out as the Psalmist when she was pregnant? Did she allow herself to contemplate the suffering her son would go through as he was tucked safely in her womb? After she gave birth, did she hold her tiny infant, pray he would breastfeed well, and secretly hope that God would find another way than to let her baby die?

My son is not Jesus, but he will still be called to take up his cross and follow the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He will still be asked to go to uncomfortable places and to put others needs before his own safety and security. He will live in an unjust world with people who will treat him unfairly. Bad things will happen to him whether he causes them or not and I cannot protect my son from everything. There may even be a time when he feels God has abandoned him and his anguish is that of the Psalmist.

I became a mother 35 weeks ago when I became pregnant. As I continue through this Lenten season with the excitement of the life of my son to come, I remember that being a mother also means teaching my son to take up his own cross. It means to teach my son that the ashes on his forehead remind him that he came from the dust and to dust he will return. It means standing by him when the world is unfair and I cannot protect him. It means allowing him to go when God calls him to the uncomfortable or far away.

Oh Lord, teach me to be a good mother! Teach me to offer my son and his life to you.

“To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it” (Psalm 22:29-31).

dog 1

Rev. LeAnne Spruill Ryan lives in Hewitt, TX with her husband Scott who is pursuing his PhD in New Testament at Baylor University. LeAnne enjoys working for Baylor and volunteers through Dayspring Baptist Church in Waco to lead Sunday worship services for their neighbors at Ridgecrest Retirement Center. They have a labradoodle named Jubilee and will soon welcome their first child into the world, Asher David Ryan.

Jeanell Cox: Birthing Baby Jesus

I birthed baby Jesus three times. But before you move on to the next Christmas Eve post citing heresy, please bear with me. I have three boys who were each invited in turn to portray the infant Jesus in church Christmas pageants in two different congregations.

I have a distinct memory of being asked the first time. I was terrified as a first time mother at the thought of handing over my weeks old baby to the teenage girl who was playing the part of Mary. What if he was fussy? Hungry? Just wanted his Mom or Dad? What if she had never held a newborn before? Or, more honestly, what if I simply wasn’t willing to let someone else hold him?

I was at the very beginning of figuring out who this little baby was and how to respond to his cries. I had no intention of giving him to someone else for an hour. But I did, swallowing down my anxieties about the whole thing. And it wasn’t long before I figured out why.

As the young woman clothed in blue began to slowly walk down the candle-illumined aisle, my heart welled up and tears fell down my cheeks. There was my boy snuggled up in white muslin blankets, bright-eyed and cooing at the beauty of the lights against the darkened room. I was transformed in that moment.

Suddenly the fear was gone, and a renewed sense of the importance of Jesus’ arrival as a tiny infant filled me. The world needed an infant to see the love of God so mystically expressed in bright big eyes, round cheeks and snuggles. My sweet baby boy ended up quietly asleep in the arms of his caregiver for the rest of the pageant.

And the second and third times I handed my baby boys to the teen portraying Mary, the fear was gone, but the transformative tears remained.

Bearing babies into the world is hard work, whether they come by fostering, adoption, marriage, or otherwise. Bearing Jesus into the world is sometimes painstaking work.

It may require relinquishing the things that we most fear. It may ask of us things that we never thought possible. It may require working to manage the demands of ministry and the deep desire to care for one’s spouse, child, pet, or self.

It may sometimes require more energy or investment than we think we can muster. It may feel futile, even when God is most at work. It may feel like a risky adventure in uncharted waters. But in our persistence and our willingness to face the fears that come, we are transformed.

Yet we have the opportunity to discover that each and every time we bear Jesus into the world once more, he is also born anew in us.

Perhaps Meister Eckhart says it best:

“We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of Man is begotten in us.”

Go forth, and may Jesus be born in you and in the world once more this Christmas.


Jeanell Cox is a mother of three boys and a Board Certified Chaplain. She is currently a CPE Supervisory Education Student at Duke Hospital in Durham, NC.

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. 

Jenny Folmar: Other People’s Children

Other people’s children. I don’t remember when I started using this phrase, but I do know that it began as a joke. When looking lovingly on a baby, I will sigh and quietly say, “Wow. I sure love other people’s children.” It always gets a laugh. The implication is that I am a single, childless minister who loves the freedom to nurture children for an hour or two and then send them home with their parents who then do all of the hard work. The phrase became a tool. It succeeds in circumventing any questions about children of my own.

Folmar with Baby

With time, that funny little phrase grew sacred, but not until I began to embrace that part of my calling to ministry. I had to first grow comfortable with being a childless mother-figure in the Church. Accepting this part of ministry did not come naturally. I did not have a childhood that included joyful, thriving, childless women. If there were women without children, people spoke about them with a strong dose of sadness, as if they had a terminal disease. I needed to replace those fearful and sad images with new models that offered a bit of hope.

I stumbled upon Mary Salome when my spiritual director encouraged me to find a person of faith to use as an image of inspiration. Out of curiosity, I looked up the saint for my birthday: Mary Salome or simply Salome. Who? There was little more than a paragraph available for this person on the internet. Happily, I read that she was a different Salome than the woman who danced to have John the Baptist beheaded. She grabbed my attention when I learned that she walked with Jesus through his entire life.
In the Bible, Salome is listed twice in The Gospel of Mark among the women who witnessed Jesus’ death and who later encountered an angel at the empty tomb. Mark describes the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, and Salome, saying, “These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.”

Early Christian writings, however, are full of her stories and conversations with Jesus. Some claim that Mary Salome was Jesus’ aunt. Others claim that she was Jesus’ sister or Mary’s midwife. In some traditions, she is married with children and in others she is childless.

Most scholars who study Mary Salome agree on the following: she was present at Jesus’ birth. She remained with Mary and Joseph as they raised Jesus. She followed Jesus through his ministry and witnessed both his crucifixion and resurrection.

Women of the early church were familiar with Salome. They had a model for what it looked like when a woman committed to caring for someone else’s child, who happened to be Jesus Christ. What a gift! Little girls long ago were told stories of their sister in Christ, Salome, who knew Jesus’ mother and became one of his disciples.

As I grow more familiar with Salome, I wish that there were t-shirts or blogs that celebrate her ministry. It would be great to have empowering slogans, like “Following Jesus like Salome,” or “Rockin’ Ministry Salome Style” to dissipate some of the extreme awkwardness for female ministers who walk into church doors without a child or a wedding ring.

But we have no bumper stickers or t-shirts. The reality is that Christian communities have a difficult time with childless women. We catch ourselves asking the unfair question that comes to mind when meeting a kind, smart, loving woman past a certain age. Why doesn’t she have children? The question itself can open wounds or add to the experience of feeling judged for lack of children.

Perhaps some women wanted children but were not able to conceive. Some might have lost a baby and could not bring themselves to have another. Still others are called to serve God and love others without having children of their own. Many of the latter feel as if they are somehow wrong or broken because they do not feel called to be a mother.

My awareness of this tension grows with each year that passes. Before I began pastoring in Iowa, I served in the South where most women marry and have children in their twenties. As I settle into my mid-thirties, I let myself laugh a bit when someone hears my marital status and age. There is always a flash of panic or pity in their eyes that is followed by change of subject or a comment about someone they heard about once who found love in their fifties. Apparently, being thirty-ish and single is the same as being fifty-ish when you are ministering in the church.
These predictable moments are why I adopted the phrase, “other people’s children.”

Other people’s children. With time, I embraced the life that God gave me and my sarcastic little quip began to grow sacred. The shift began when I earned my commercial drivers license to drive the church bus. They never told me in seminary that the most humbling and daunting part of ministry is the trust parents give you when allowing you to drive their child through stormy weather on a busy highway. I found myself saying things like “well, I spent church money on the more expensive brakes because I am about to drive to Florida with a bus full of other people’s children.”

It happened when I arrived in the emergency room to wide-eyed and frightened college students whose roommate had been victimized the night before. I came with doughnuts and Mountain Dew. I prayed with them and asked the nurses questions that college students do not know to ask. A week later, one of the girls said to me, “Thank you for being there. We were so scared. It was like you were our mom. I’ve decided that you are kind of like the mom of our college house.” Her tone had a genuine ring with a bit of humor in it, both funny and sacred.

I like to think that Salome would have showed up to the hospital with doughnuts and Mountain Dew. She, after all, was the first Christian to show us how to walk with another woman’s son as if he were her own. Her model of ministry is seen every Sunday in the church where women of all ages and situations seamlessly love and nurture children together. At its best, church is a place where children know the love of an entire community of adults.

Where else but in the church can a child receive a smile, a correction, or a comforting embrace from any adult who passes her way? Where else does God grant us the honor of covenanting together to raise and nurture newborn babies in baby dedications? Where else, but in our inheritance of saints, does a woman witness the birth of a little boy in a manger and decide to spent her life caring for and following him?

Practically, most of my days are spent in an office or car preparing for the few precious hours each week that we have together as a church. I often forget about the mothering nature of ministry until I am in the middle of a situation and find myself loving someone as if they were my own. Those lines between pastoral care and motherhood seem to blur quite often. My ministry is made much more beautiful by the sacred passing moments when I have the honor to love other people’s children.

Pastor Jenny Folmar with youth

The above was adapted from Jenny Folmar’s essay “Other People’s Children,” in A Divine Duet: Ministry and Motherhood. (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishers, Inc., 2013), available from http://www.helwys.com.

Jenny Folmar grew up in Colleyville, Texas. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communications at Baylor University and then went on to Princeton Theological Seminary where she earned a Masters of Divinity. Jenny currently pastors Shenandoah UCC in Shenandoah, IA and formerly served as the Minister to Youth and College at Memorial Baptist Church in Buies Creek, North Carolina. Jenny most enjoys preaching, worship leadership, and late night conversations with students. She and her dog, Tina Turner, are happily adjusting to life in Iowa.

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.