Tag Archives: serving others

LeAnn Gardner: Everyday Theology: Subversive Hope

If you are anything like me, the energy and current of our world can squelch my hope in the future in a matter of seconds. I start to fear for my boys, and before I know it, I’m parenting out of fear. I’m wife-ing out of fear. I’m friend-ing out of fear. Which is not at all the person I want to be.


There is indeed a lot to fear. What I have come to learn about myself is that I cannot let myself go down the spiral of anxiety for too long. Given my personality, sitting in that place would leave me immobilized, isolated and hopeless. It does not help anyone, including these littles I am parenting to stay in that place. I don’t want them to have a mother whose modus operandi is fear.

Nor do I want to live in denial. Because pretending or ignoring that nothing bad happens in our world is inauthentic as well. So what can we do to care for our hearts so that we are not constantly bogged down with helplessness?

First, we decide to ingest images of hope. I am a visual person. If I see something one time, it is locked away forever in my mind’s eye. Because my vocational choices have led me down paths where I heard, day after day, stories horrific of abuse and neglect, I have to be very disciplined about what I choose to hear and see.

This vocation of hearing people’s sadness has put certain things off limits for me- certain movies, books, etc I cannot read. When someone tells me of a great book they have just finished, I ask questions. “Is it graphic? Does it involve abuse of any kind?” If the answer is yes, I can’t do it. Same goes for TV. My husband knows not to even ask me to watch a Quentin Tarentino movie. It’s just not ever going to happen.

This is a conscious decision on my part. This may not be a big deal to you, but I know that for hope to have its full potential to enter my heart, I have to keep certain visuals out of my mind. This is where I’m sounding very preachy and again, everyone is different. What kind of inventory needs to be done in your mind to make room for the seed of hope?

I also believe we have to be intentional about letting the good things in as well. There is new research that says our brains are wired to pay more attention to the negative than the positive. Neuroplasticity means that by simply training the brain to stop and pay 15-20 seconds of attention to small positives (a stranger’s greeting, a sweet kiss from a baby, the sweet signs of a loved one in your life, the chance to feel your lungs and legs working) can actually rewire your outlook to be more positive. Hope is intentional and subversive.

Nadia Bolz-Webber, a Lutheran pastor in Denver, talks about her tendency to become angry and hopeless- and quickly. One Sunday, right before she was to serve the Eucharist to her congregation, someone said something to her that elevated her cortisol levels rapidly and high. She spotted infant twins in the congregation and instinctively asked the parents if she could hold one of the babies. That day, she served the Eucharist with a baby in one hand and the elements in another. She knew that she had to replace her anger with good energy- the energy of an innocent baby- to get through the service and to offer her congregants the elements.

Now not all of us have access to babies when our stress elevates, but the point is it could be helpful to have a strategy to mitigate the stress and fear that enters our brains and hearts at a rapid pace. As we continue being bombarded by election coverage, perhaps we can be on the journey to exploring a good balance of being informed, but not overcome by this election season, knowing that our ultimate hope does not rest in a candidate, but in a Savior.

We surround ourselves with hope bearers. Being in a community of faith makes this one easy for many of us. In my community of faith, we hope together, as a body of Christ, as we gather school supplies for kids who are in a difficult place. We work alongside Metanoia, a holistic community development non-profit, to make lasting community change. And on a micro level, we surround ourselves with intimates who don’t have their heads in the sand, but who believe alongside us, that love wins every single time, even if at that particular time it doesn’t feel like it.

I’m not talking about Pollyanna faith here-I’m not talking about someone who says to a person in deep grief: God wanted one more angel in heaven. NO. I’m talking about the people, who in deep vulnerability, walk alongside the wounded as they grieve, recognizing that pain, death, poverty and suffering are realities.

But even beyond pain, I believe that a church community are witnesses to the wholeness of our lives- even the seemingly mundane part of our lives. We not only celebrate the big things: baptisms, weddings, graduations, births, but we show up and bear witness to new jobs, beginnings of school years, lost teeth, basketball games and new homes. We bear witness to one another’s lives.


We roll up our sleeves and become agents of hope ourselves. What if, instead of allowing our fear to immobilize us or make us angry, we meet fear in the face and defiantly say, “I’ll show you!” And what we show is service. When we fear, we serve. When we have anxiety, we serve. When someone moves, we help them pack. When someone has a baby, we take them food. When youth go to camp, we go as a chaperone. When the church needs locking up, we stay late and lock up. When the children need teachers, we teach. When the tables need moved, we move them. When the Spirit lays someone on our heart, we call them.

My rolling up of sleeves service will look different than your roll up your sleeves service because we are different in our giftings and callings. The point is, as we wait, as we long for the suffering of the world to end, we serve. And we celebrate the good that is already happening in our midst. God knows no one is glad that the Charleston shooting of nine innocent souls happened, nor the trauma of the survivors. But the hope that peeks through in tragedy is God’s business and we have seen the Gospel on display many times throughout the aftermath of that unspeakable tragedy.

Every night as I lie in bed with my four year old or as I rock my two year old, I sing a hymn. It is my quotidian act of subversion; to sing this song of hope into their ears. Hear these words:

“Go my children with my blessing, you are my own. Waking, sleeping, I am with you, never alone. In my love’s baptismal river, I have made you mine forever, go my children with my blessing, never alone.”

We are not alone. We belong to God, the one who gives us our hope. We are loved. We love. And we speak truth to the hope that propels us. Love wins….every single time. Amen.


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 4 and 2 years.


Chansin Esparza: Breastfeeding and Spiritual Gifts

“He’s so big!”
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        It’s the constant refrain of my life. Every time I go to worship, the grocery store, a friend’s house – wherever – that’s what people exclaim about my five-month-old baby.  Ever since his two-month pediatrician appointment, my baby has been off-the-charts tall.
      Or …. long. He is off-the-charts long. Babies are long – not tall – because they cannot stand up. It’s been a little awkward as my pediatrician, on multiple visits, has asked me to consider donating breastmilk to the milk bank because he assumes that with such a fast-growing baby, I must have extra-good milk. 
       I blame the baby, not my milk. He had a huge appetite, right from the start! In the early weeks, it felt like the only thing I ever did was breastfeed him. Maybe most babies are big eaters like him. But my husband warns me that if our son is anything like he was, then when our boy hits the teen years it will again feel like all I ever do is feed him. 
      Now that my baby is no longer a newborn, the experience of breastfeeding is more efficient and less painful (thank God!). Since he’s not feeding all the time, I let my mind go to other things once in a while. I occasionally forget about his reoccurring hunger.
      So sometimes he gets fussy, and not really thinking about why, I take him up to change his diaper. Maybe this will help, I think.
       But then as I set him on the changing table and place my arms near his body, he leans his little head up … and tries to bite my arm! He’s rooting on whatever part of my body he can get his mouth close to. I’m hungry! he’s telling me. With his open mouth and fierce eyes, I remember. Oh yeah … you need to eat, little one! And I laugh because he’s desperately grabbing at my arm and trying to put his cute mouth on it. 
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      If I’m being cynical, it can seem like the baby just wants to use me. I’m a means to an end: his full tummy. But it dawned on me that the milk that he is trying to get access to … is not really mine. It’s his. God put that milk inside me for his sake. I don’t need it. It’s a gift from God given to my baby through me. I’m the conduit for delivering the nourishment. 
And that makes me think of the Church. 
      All of us have gifts that God put inside us for the sake of others. We are conduits for delivering what is needed to the people God has brought into our lives. We have gifts of our time and attention and love and resources. And we have spiritual gifts. The purpose of spiritual gifts is to build up the Church. God gave them to us for the sole purpose of doing good in the world. They’re useless if we keep it to ourselves, just like I’d have no use for breastmilk if it wasn’t for my baby. 
      I currently serve a church of people who have a variety of gifts and use them for the sake of others. For example, we have a creative arts camp that we put on for kids at a nearby housing project. In order to bring the love of Jesus to those kids through a fun, safe, organized, and effective camp experience, it takes all kinds of gifted people. A few of them are…
  • The gift of Administration – Martha patiently registered the children who didn’t know how to spell and parents who knew little English.
  • The gift of Evangelist – Jason walked around the apartments, looking for kids and encouraging them to come to the camp. 
  • The gift of Leadership – Pam planned the activities and coordinated volunteers, calling the shots as the day went on.
  • The gift of Serving – Vanessa poured drinks and helped the kids with their crafts. 
  • The gift of Encouragement – Jan spoke positive words to the kids about their artistic abilities and encouragement to the adults for their interactions with the kids. 
  • The gift of Mercy – Lauren remembered the names and stories of the kids from the housing project whose needs are hard to comprehend.
  • The gift of Giving – Stephanie brought supplies and offered her church shirt to me when she learned I didn’t have one.
  • The gift of Teaching – Sarajane taught the children dance moves and instructed them through the bubbles and piñata activities. 
  • The gift of Faith – Val believed in the entire process and expected God to make it successful, even before we began. 
      In Christ, we are one body. The parts of a body need the other parts in order to survive. Just like my baby gets hungry and looks to me for what he needs, we in the Church are at a loss and in need of the gifts that are in our Christian brothers and sisters. 
      God made you the way you are – not just for your sake, but for the sake of others. How are you giving away your gifts to those who are meant to receive them? 
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Chansin Esparza is an Associate Pastor at Life In The City in Austin, Texas. Her husband, Jason, serves the church as well. Their son was born in January 2016. She blogs at ChansinEsparza.com.