Tag Archives: mothers

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.

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LeAnn Gardner is a right brained social worker and minister married to a left brained engineer. Together they (sometimes) compose a full brain. She is mother to two boys, ages 3 and 7 months.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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.