Tag Archives: women ministers

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.

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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).

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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).

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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.

Rebecca Caswell-Speight: The Art of Transition (and Negotiation)

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went, as the Lord had told him . . . (Genesis 12:1-4a)

Have you seen the Cheerios commercial? The one called “Gracie?” The Dad starts out by saying, “Gracie, you know how our family has a mom (and moves a Cheerio), a dad (and moves another Cheerio).” Gracie, quickly catching on jumps in by moving her Cheerio and says, “and me!” with a big smile. The Dad smiles back, then he scoots one more Cheerio into the group and says, “Pretty soon your gonna have a baby brother.” Gracie checks her Dad out with a sideways ‘I know what your up to glance’ and casually pushes one more Cheerio to the center and says, “and a puppy.”

I love that commercial. I giggle every time at her response. When I first saw it I remember laughing and thinking to myself, as if “Gracie” was a real person, “that child is going to be a master negotiator someday.” That kid knew how to get what she wanted!

Recently my husband Josh accepted a position with the national office of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the network we most closely identify with. This new calling is exciting for him. It is a dream position working with people he loves being around. When trying to decide if it was something that he should do or not, the fit wasn’t questioned. It was where his passion was and it was a calling that he needed to pursue.

When God came to Abram it wasn’t a matter of if he should go. God promised Abram great things. Abram knew that it was a journey that he needed to pursue. But was Abram’s family as excited about his calling? Abram couldn’t become the father of nations on his own. His calling had to become their calling or else Sarai wouldn’t be considered the mother of great nations along side Abram. He needed the support system of the people around him.

When I think of this calling I wonder what kind of negotiating his family went through before they were called to leave Ur and again Haran for an unknown land. Like Abram’s family we have traveled and lived in places that were not home before. We have lived half of our 14 years of marriage away from Kentucky (home). When we moved back to home six years ago, it was supposed to be for the rest of our lives. We had followed God around the U.S. only to finally return home. Abram’s family had moved from Ur to Haran and settled for 15 years, when he received a new call to move once again–this time to an unknown location. While we at least know the area where we are relocating, Josh’s call will still move us away from home. It will move us away from family, childhood friends, my ministry, a cherished church, and our girls’ schools.

I’m not sure if the negotiating ever happened in Abram’s family, but it sure did in our family. Negotiations started with our oldest, Ainsley. At first the negotiation took the form of questions. She wanted to know how she was going to learn without the Montessori approach she has grown accustomed to in Kentucky. Then she wanted to know if her new teachers would be nice. Then she realized that, like “Gracie,” this was her opportunity to bargain! Ainsley responded that she would only move if she could have a turquoise room. We quickly said yes to this easy first demand of Ainsley’s.

So she wisely made another demand, this time for a new bed. No problem. I honestly wasn’t sure the one she has will make it through another move anyway. She realized that she’d asked for two things and gotten the answered she wanted. It was time to go big! She told us she would only move if she got the biggest room in the house, a pool, and if she could go on a big shopping spree. All of a sudden her demands were no longer reasonable and she was not getting the answers she had hoped for from her parents as we quickly answered “no” to these final demands from our daughter. Ainsley learned a lesson in negotiation that day: if you go too big you lose all negotiation power.

Then our younger daughter, Evelyn got involved. She at first seemed oblivious to the whole moving conversation until she realized that her older sister was asking for lots of things and hearing yes from Mom and Dad. Quickly, Evelyn decided that she, too, should get in on the action. She demanded that if we move she should get to bring all her toys to the new house. Then she decided that if we move she wants to take her bed. Done and done! Whew! Good thing she is only three and doesn’t quite understand negotiation quite like her older sister. Those easy “yesses” turned into a request for a “lellow” room and new sheets. Satisfied that her demands had been met by Mom and Dad, she left to go play with her toys happy, that she was going to get a room in her favorite color.

Having witnessed my daughters negotiate with us, I jumped on the band wagon of negotiations with my husband. “So the girls got what they want, now here are my terms for asking us to move” may or may not have been a sentence that I used with Josh when we were deciding to leave Louisville. However, I welcome you to come and visit me in our new home once we get settled to see my new dining room table and Bybee pottery dinnerware set (a Louisville handcrafted original) that my husband has so graciously determined our new home must have once we arrive.

Josh has tried his best to fulfill our demands, but not all of my demands could be fulfilled by him. I found myself arguing with God about it. God, what about my ministry? I’m a minister, too. I am serving a congregation I love. Why do I have to leave them? I don’t feel ready to leave. God, I’ve had the title of minister since before I was married. If I have to move, I will not give that up.

Since the first days of learning that we would relocate, the demands have lessened and transitioned to more questioning. God, what happens if I don’t find a place to fulfill my calling in my life? What then? From that place, I’ve moved further into a position of prayer: Please, O, God walk with me through this new adventure. Creator God, I lift my eyes to you. I know you are there.

The text doesn’t tell us much about how Abram’s family felt. I like to think that Abram’s family went through a progression of accepting the call for themselves. For us, each day is a new progression in our call as we come to grips with the upcoming changes. Some days it feels like we are conquering it together. Other days I’m ready to take a u-turn and tell everyone that we’ve changed our minds.

I know that even as the negotiations and questions continue, we will be OK. Like the Great Family before us, we negotiate and we question, but we keep moving along the path that God is setting before us.

A soon-to-be resident of Atlanta, GA Rebecca Caswell-Speight has served as a minster in many settings, most recently as Associate Pastor at Broadway Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. She and her husband, Josh, are parents to two vibrant, growing girls.