I began a DMin program the summer of 2015. The first day of class my daughter took me to breakfast, walked me to class and took the obligatory first day of class photo. In celebration of the adventure she designed a planner to make sure I chronicled my journey and kept track of my assignments. That year conversations with my ministry coach often left me with more questions than answers, but for the most part I progressed through the program on track.
In July 2016 I had a meltdown. When I say meltdown I mean broken-hearted, tears rushing down my face, wondering why I was subjecting myself to the humiliation type of meltdown. I probably should have expected it. The two week long DMin seminar was tough.
On the first day I ran to the car at break and cried. The next break I called my spouse and whined. Between weeks I had a week with my family. Correction. I had a few days with my family and a lot of time by myself. The meltdown came the first night of the second week.
The day started out well. I was on point. I was engaged. I was rediscovering my scholar self. I felt refreshed and renewed. When case studies were presented after lunch things changed. By the time I entered the hotel room I shared with our daughter I was one hot mess. Sensing I was “on the brink” my seminary-trained daughter asked a few innocent questions. I melted.
Lost in an emotional downward spiral all I could think of was having another student walk away from the campus organization I served. I was heart broken after one particular student left. The way he exited the organization. The way his words of parting cut me to the core.
And this was the second one in two weeks. Both exited with the words, “God wants me to do something else.” For three years we had done life together and the grief was overwhelming as images, ideas, feelings and run on sentences ran through my mind at world record pace.
Our daughter let me whine. She let me babble. She let me cry. Using her powerful ministerial authoritative voice she demanded, “Give me your hands.” My face must have betrayed my thoughts because this time she insisted, “Mom, give me your hands.”
As my daughter firmly held my hands in hers, she looked deep into my eyes and said, “It’s okay to let them leave. It is okay that they only stay a season and then move on. You didn’t do anything wrong.” For what seemed like an eternity I looked into her eyes and allowed her word to shatter my grief. She then offered, “Maybe you need to think of campus ministry as an interim pastorate. Students are going to leave and that is okay. It is okay if they are only there for a season.”
Her words shocked me, but I allowed them to marinate. What a revolutionary idea–so counter-intuitive to being a local church pastor. Folks are not supposed to leave. Folks visit, join, stay and the result is an increased church roll. The longer I breathed, quickly at first and then finally calm and rhythmically, the idea seemed to take root and then began to spread like a virus. Campus ministry as an interim pastorate?
When our children are young and are navigating a host of crises, parents are the ones who grab their children’s hands, look deep into their eyes and offer words of hope. In July it was my daughter who offered healing to her mom. In grabbing my hands, looking into my eyes and offering hope she blessed me to reimagine who I am in this season and invited me to consider a new ministry paradigm.
Months later I am still wrestling with the implications of my daughter’s words. As I consider new paradigms, dreams and metaphors, I do so empowered by her words. Thank you, Tara Danielle, for being the hands and feet of Christ to your mom that night. Thank you for hearing me and providing what I needed to become the campus pastor I need to be in this season. I love you my ministry sister! PS…the next round of cupcakes is on me (lol)!
Katrina Stipe Brooks serves Lynchburg College as campus pastor and Madison Heights BC as youth pastor. She is the mom of two amazing young adults and the wife of an equally amazing spouse.
One day, shortly after my second child arrived, a friend and mother of three leaned in close and asked, “So, how are you doing? How is your adjustment from one to two going?”
The uncensored version of my internal response is not suitable for online publication. The censored version was something like, “I DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO THIS! PLEASE TELL ME IT GETS EASIER!”
I think I said something like “It’s definitely interesting,” or, “it’s a whole new world.”
I am forever grateful for a friend who invited me to be honest. Her question and genuine listening ear remedied my overwhelmed loneliness.
Mothering two children has been a wilderness journey for me. My nurturing, loving, guiding energies feel depleted. Have I made the right parenting choices? Did I keep everyone’s medicine and menus straight? Do we have enough clean laundry to make it through the day?
I miss the time I got to spend with my husband during our one-child days. There have been long stretches of time through which every moment of every day is consumed with children, home, ministry, and then children again—caring for everything but myself. It’s been a year of transition—two moves, new jobs, new baby. When will I find my normal again?
In this passage from Isaiah 43, God’s chosen people, living in the wilderness of Babylonian exile, find themselves in an unanticipated season of “open possibility.” Under the crushing weight of exile, many of God’s people accepted displacement as the final reality.
We can understand why, when Cyrus of Persia invited the exiles to return home and rebuild their lives, the people had a hard time seeing the shifting political and social climate as a God-given opportunity. They did not expect God to work in such a way, still grieving the loss of what was.
Second Isaiah invites fellow believers to see God’s faithfulness and abiding love revealing itself, before their very eyes, in unanticipated ways. God had not broken God’s promise, but still claimed, loved, and sustained her children, especially in their wilderness.
God has done what God always seems to do—transformed my wilderness into a season of open possibility. Even when I keep looking for the normal that used to be, God ever and always claims me, loves me, and points me toward the “well-watered pathway.” God helps me trade in perfectionism and control for setting priorities and trusting the process.
God strengthens me to say “no”, to practice self-care, and to intentionally make space for what is most important. God emboldens me to have a soft heart that can love and be loved even when it’s risky. God delivers me from the idea that I have to do it all myself.
God whose love will not let us go, we offer gratitude and praise for your working in our wilderness. Embolden and equip us to be faithful witnesses to the working of your grace, power, and love in our hurting world.
 Samuel Adams, “Isaiah 43:16-21: Exegetical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009) 125.
A Georgia native and graduate of Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology, Hannah Coeserves as Associate Pastor of Children and Families at First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Missouri. Hannah and her husband, David, are parents to Katherine and Annalina. They enjoy playing, eating, and the occasional nap.
When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it,2 take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket.
Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name3 and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.”
4 The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. 5 Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. 6 But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. 7 Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. 8 So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders.
9 He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey;10 and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.”
Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him.11 Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household. – Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Giving of the first fruits: But what if my first fruits seem unworthy?
I recently went on our annual Youth Beach Retreat. We provided lots of snacks during the weekend, including fresh fruit. (Providing the fruit makes me feel a little better about the tremendous amount of junk food available.) We always bring the left-over snacks back to the church and leave them in the youth room so the youth can snack on what is left. This year we had fruit left–surprise! So I laid the fruit on the counter and very little of it got eaten.
One day my daughter asked for an orange. (We practically live at church, so she makes herself at home, snacks and all.) I grabbed an orange and started peeling. It was soft and mushy and not acceptable to my 3 year-old daughter. The look on her face made was priceless.
This look made me think about firstfruits. Does God look at my first fruits with the same eyes of disgust as my 3 year-old daughter in response to an unacceptable orange?
Deuteronomy 26:1-11 talks about giving our firstfruits to God. This passage speaks specifically about land and inheritances. The idea was the firstfruits of the land were to be given to God as an offering and thanksgiving for all that God had done. The giving of the firstfruits was an act of worship.
As I read this I couldn’t help but think, but what if my firstfruits look unacceptable? What if they seem unworthy of an offering?
Firstfruits During Difficult Harvest Seasons
This thought came to mind as I reflected on many difficult times in my life. In these times the harvest did not seem plentiful and the fruits of my faith were not ripe or beautiful. Does God still want our firstfruits, even when they seem unworthy?
Maybe many of you have experienced these difficult seasons. Some of the hardest days for me during these seasons have been Sundays, our day of worship. I am a minister on staff at a church, so participating in Sunday morning Bible study and worship are requirements for me.
Every Sunday morning, my husband, daughter, and I arrive at church around 8am. We prepare for the morning mentally, spiritually and physically before others begin to arrive. We greet everyone and make our rounds around the Sunday school classes. We participate in Sunday school, rush off to choir practice, and then lead and participate in the worship service.
This Sunday morning ritual is usually a joy for me -people, study, and worship all in one morning – sign me up! However, I have to admit not too long ago this ritual became a burden.
I wanted to sleep in on Sunday mornings. I hated getting dressed-up in my “Sunday best.” I dreaded seeing or greeting people with a fake smile on my face. I would hide in my office or in the nursery with Scarlet so as to have the least amount of interaction possible.
I went to Sunday school, but cared little about what was to be learned. I sang in the choir, but only because I felt like I had to. I went through the motions of worship.
I was in what some would call a “funk.” This funk was simply due to me being overwhelmed by life. Being a wife, mom, minister, student, and overall nice functioning human being can overwhelming at times.
The difference between me being in a funk and the average church member is, the average church member can play hooky on Sunday mornings. I cannot.
So in my spiritual, mental and emotional funk, I entered a holy space and time each week with a not-so-holy attitude. While I wanted to resent having to participate in the Sunday morning ritual, I realized I was there and that had to mean something, right?
When people would ask me how I was, I would respond with “I am here.” While in my A-type, perfectionist, over-achieving mind that was not enough, I think in God’s mind it was. Being present was better than nothing.
In this season of life, my firstfruits were not pretty, not ripe, and maybe not life giving, but they were offered. Each Sunday, I pulled myself out of my funk and offered myself to God. Many times during this season, I bowed at the altar to pray. Sometimes there were no words, I had none to give; however, I offered my tired, worn-out, and over-worked body, mind, and soul on the red carpet steps of a holy place to a Holy God.
My first fruits felt rotten and unworthy, but my heart for God was neither. So I continued to offer these firstfruits, no matter how humble. Why? Because I had not lost sight of all that God had done in my life. I had not lost sight of God’s provision, power, and love.
“He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.” (Deuteronomy 26:9-10a)
Despite my seemingly unworthy fruits, God continued to do great things with my humble sacrifice. During this season, God continued to bring beautiful spiritual growth to the youth in my youth group. God did mighty works through me, even when I thought I could do nothing. God showed me grace and joy through my husband and daughter. God’s provision prevailed over my unworthy fruits.
God has given me this life, a life flowing with milk and honey (even when I don’t see it), so I bring God the firstfruits, whatever they may be.
Maybe your firstfruits are just making it to church with your children, without make-up on and the children in clean clothes.
Maybe your firstfruits are silence in the presence of God when you cannot even pray for yourself.
Maybe your firstfruits are a smile when you have been crying for days.
Maybe your firstfruits are reading a quick devotion while hiding in the bathroom (for moms of young children, you can picture this).
Maybe your firstfruits are simply getting out of bed in the morning.
Nowhere in this passage does it say we have to offer award-winning fruits. This passage merely asks us to offer some of our firstfruits. We are to give ourselves to God as an act of thanksgiving and worship, whatever that means for us. Sometimes our first or best doesn’t look pretty or isn’t what we think of when we think of a worthy offering, the challenge is to give anyway.
Stop Comparing Firstfruits
Also, in reflecting on my firstfruits I was condemned by how often I compare my firstfruits with the firstfruits of others. We have to stop comparing our firstfruits. Your firstfruit may be different depending on your life and season. God doesn’t want us comparing fruits, but to humbly offer what we have. Remember the widow’s mite?
I learned this lesson when I became the mother of a newborn. My firstfruits changed for a season. My fruits were different from the fruits of some of my friends with grown children (who did not have to depend on their parents for every need) and even different from the firstfruits of my past. I had to learn not to compare my life, offering, or fruitfruits to others. (I am still learning this lesson.)
Pinterest (and other social media) does the devil’s work when it comes to firstfruit comparison. I remember spending hours searching for Pinterest ideas for the perfect VBS decorations, youth devotions, or best birthday party ideas, only to have my attempts pale in comparison to the beautiful staged pictures online.
STOP IT! Stop comparing what you have and what you have to give to that of others. God doesn’t see in 2×2 inch boxes with beautifully staged pictures that God can scroll through. God sees the whole picture of your life; every season, every yield, every offering, individually. He has called you to your own crop. Each of us has different land, a different crop, and different yields. He knows your firstfruits before they even start to cultivate and grow. If you are giving YOUR firstfruits, God is pleased.
We have to stop comparing our fruitfruits and simply focus on offering them as acts of thanksgiving and worship. Our firstfruits are not about us; they are about God. Your firstfruits are beautiful in the eyes of God whether they are rotten or prize-winning.
During this season of Lent, reflect on your life. Find the flowing milk and honey. Remember what God has done for you and know God will continue to provide. Think about your firstfruits. In thanksgiving and worship, give them to God. If you are in a season where your fruits seem unworthy, give them anyway. If you are in a season of plentiful harvest, give abundantly.
Then you, your family, your church family, your neighbors, strangers, and all those around you will REJOICE in all the good things the LORD your God has given. (Sarah’s translation of Deuteronomy 26:11).
To God be the glory – unworthy, unripe, and rotten fruits and all. Amen.
Youth Wednesday Night
Silly Sarah and Scarlet
It’s a small world!
Rev. Sarah Boberg is a child of God, believer in Jesus Christ, wife to Bradley, mother to Scarlet, and tries to be a minister to all (especially to the family and community of First Baptist Church, Red Springs). She is a professed control freak and covets the prayers of all who read this that her dissertation work is completed soon!
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.”
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).