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Author: Merianna Harrelson

I am the Pastor of Garden of Grace UCC and Co-Director of ministrieslab providing tools and resources to churches, clergy, and lay people to meet needs. I am always looking for a good cup of coffee and a great book to read.

Pastor’s Kids


I never thought about being a pastor and a parent as I was growing up because the concept of being a pastor was not something that women did and I certainly never saw a woman with young kids who was a pastor. When I saw these images, it made me stop in my tracks because here my kids sit next to me, supporting and affirming me by being a part of our new congregation, Garden of Grace UCC. Here they sit, as the service is beginning talking to me, asking me questions, wanting to participate and drinking milk from sippy cups.

This an absolute miracle.

When I answered a call to pastor and to pursue seminary nine years ago, I never imagined these pictures would be a reality. I never imagined meeting a partner that would go with me on this journey and affirm and support me as a pastor and as a parent.

As we sit here in these images in the shadow of the cross, I can’t help but remember that these pictures wouldn’t have been a reality without a lot of dying to self and dying to the things I thought I knew about who was called and who wasn’t called.

This is resurrection and evidence of the Risen Christ. Alleluia!

 

Sitting in the Darkness

We’ve walked in darkness for the last 40 day.

We’ve longed and hoped for light.

 

But here we sit –

in the darkness,

in the hopelessness,

in the disappointment.

 

I didn’t understand this part for so long.

Perhaps I don’t even really understand it now.

I was taught Good Friday was good because it was about me.

my sins being forgiven.

my eternal life.

This is NOT about me or my salvation.

 

This is the kingdom of God here on earth.

A kingdom where all have food.

A kingdom where all are welcomed in.

A kingdom where all have shelter and sanctuary.

 

A kingdom so radically different

than the one here on earth

that the one

who was preaching and sharing the good news

would be put to death

in hopes that this idea wouldn’t spread

In hopes that power would remain in the hands of the powerful.

In hopes that systems would not change.

 

This is good news –

there is so much more.

Even in our dustiness,

we can be a part of something so much bigger.

Thanks be to God.

“Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice”

In the girls’ bathhouse at my grandparents’ pool, there was a sign that hung on the wall:

Sugar n’ Spice

and everything nice

That’s what little girls

are made of.

I remember thinking that was a cute saying, especially because it rhymed and painted a picture of a smiling, bow-wearing little girl. Actually, that may have been the image that was painted at the bottom of the sign. Although the saying brings back fond memories, it’s not one that is hanging in our house with three girls.

I don’t want my girls to see that hanging on the wall and think they have to be nice or sweet. This Tuesday one of the most important organizations in the Columbia area, Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands, received threats to the staff and organization because of the work they are doing to combat, educate, and provide healing for sexual assault, rape, and sexual abuse.  Three out of four victims know their abuser before the abuse occurs, so when we teach our girls to be nice and sweet to people they know and fear strangers, we are not recognizing the percentage of sexual abuse, rape, and sexual abuse that is committed by family members, family friends, and other close acquaintances. When we teach our girls to be nice and sweet, are we inevitably telling them that they can’t talk to us about things that aren’t sweet and nice if they happen to them?

The threats to an organization that does such important work prove that there are people who want girls and indeed adults to be sweet and nice rather than fight for safety for our children and against injustices in our society. We live in a world where sexual abuse, rape, and sexual violence occurs every 92 seconds. And I’m going to keep talking about the things that are not nice and sweet until we know that our world is a better place for our children.

Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands had to cancel one of their major fundraisers because of these threats. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could show our support financially?

On Serving Side by Side

Last week, I had the privielge of serving in worship and on a panel discussion with a group of ecunemnical clergy in celebration of Reconciling in Christ designation that Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary received two years ago. I have participated in similar conversations throughout my six years of ministry, but this is the first time I was representing a denomination who as a whole was welcoming and affirming.

The United Church of Christ ordained its first woman over 150 years ago and its first openly gay clergy in 1972 over thirty years ago. Again and again the United Church of Christ has been the first denomination to express extravagant welcome to all people. As I was sitting on the panel, I felt no angst in representing that I believe in wholly and completely affirming members of the LGTBQIA+ community. I felt the burden of my colleagues for whom this is a touchy issue and a difficult subject.

I also felt freedom because in my short tenure in the UCC, I can honestly say this isn’t an issue. It is who we are and because we aren’t spending our time and energy debating and discussing and defending, we can be about the work of offering hope and healing to all people.

I’m incredibly greatful for those who have gone before me who have established a foundation of extravagant welcome and a church of extravangant welcome who called me as their pastor.

From Behind the Table

From behind the table, I see hands being washed.

From behind the table, I see the veil lifted –

the body and the blood revealed.

 

From behind the table, I see the bread broken –

crumbs falling down.

From behind the table, I see the cup lifted –

the smell of fruit wafting in the air.

 

From behind the table, I see

the mystery,

the wonder,

of sacrifice

all over

again.

After the Rain

After the rain,

the early morning earth

sighs in relief.

 

Relief –

of having endured

the storm

the thirst

the lack

the absence

the waiting

the wondering,

 

Wondering –

how long it will be

until the next

refreshment

nourishment

taste.

 

The taste

of the cool, clear

rain.

Strolling

We went for a walk today.

It’s one of those days where Spring is creeping in and there’s just something about the weather that beckons you outside to see the bumblebees flying and flirting with each other and to notice the pollen accumulating everywhere. I found myself breathing deeply into the promise of a new season. When I looked back, I caught sight of the little hospital tag on our seven week’s old’s infant carrier.

I thought about last week when we went into the children’s hospital for a routine ultrasound following her breech position in utero and the good news that came back that all was normal and then I started thinking about all the kids and parents and families I saw in the children’s hospital. Because we needed an ultrasound, we were in the radiology department.

Although it wasn’t busy when we were there I thought about the way the newness of the waiting room took me off guard. I didn’t know where to go, I didn’t know where we were going after the waiting room. I didn’t know anything about the procedure other than the name of the procedure. I didn’t know who would be performing the procedure. I didn’t know what we were looking for or what we weren’t looking for. I thought about how many families spend so much time in this place where we were that there is nothing about the waiting room or procedures or places behind the double doors that are new. I thought about how many people are hurting and how amazing it is that after just seven weeks we were walking together outside in the Spring air with two dogs with their tongues hanging out. I thought about how much pain and hurt goes unspoken and unnoticed in my own city; how many stories go untold. I thought about how bright it was even though it was a cold day when we walked out of the children’s hospital.

Sometimes we get taken to places that are new and scary and uncertain and sometimes those new places open our eyes to a new set of needs just minutes away from our own families.

 

Into the Darkness

I’ve always found it a bit unsettling that the season of Lent coincides with beautiful Spring days like today in the South. While the physical world is beckoning for us to come out and see evidence of new life and the signs that Spring is coming, the spiritual world is calling for us to come within and see evidence of the darkness that resides in each of us.

Perhaps that is the beauty of the season. Perhaps that’s the reason that denominations who haven’t traditionally celebrated fasting and reminders that “we are dust and to dust, we shall return,” have taken on the spiritual practices and rituals of the Lenten Season. Perhaps that is why even cultural Christians can be heard making claims of giving something up during this season.

The paradox of light and dark resides within each of us, but this season especially allows us to acknowledge and live into that paradox. We rise in the morning to darkness awaiting the light. We find ourselves chasing the longer lingerings of light at the end of the day answering yes to our kids’ desire to play just a little longer outside. We crave the light because it gives us hope. We fear the dark because it reminds us of our dustiness. We walk this season with the memory of the cross etched on our foreheads marked as imperfect and mortal.

We walk into the darkness towards the revelation that it is in our imperfections that we become whole.

To Nurse or Not To Nurse: On Aching in the Bones

Oh this question is one that is riddled with mom guilt by too many people because the very nature of the question is binary as if there are only two choices in the quest to nourish and support your child. This is simply not true and the wrong premise. As I work with young mothers and first-time mothers, I often phrase the question, “Are you going to try to nurse?” I explain quickly that whichever they choose is completely fine and that I simply want them to know that I can help them find supplies, resource, and community for whatever choice they make.

If the women I work with tell me that they are going to try to nurse, then I try to point them to resources that will tell them what to expect. My response to this question when I was pregnant with our first child was, “I am hoping to,” understanding that there is no way to anticipate what the labor and delivery experience is going to be like and no way to know what is going to happen with your milk until your baby is actually here. Our firstborn came into the world in a scary and traumatic whirlwind that left me in an emergency c-section and Sam holding our son for close to two hours after he was born and stabilized. There was so much of the time after the surgery in recovery that I don’t remember, but I do remember Sam walking in with our son and saying, “He’s really hungry.” Not sure of how much time had passed since his arrival into the world, I was disoriented and very lost. I pulled him to me and was thankful that he latched immediately and began nursing. This was one thing that went as I had hoped in our labor and delivery story and I couldn’t stop the tears at that moment. That would serve to be the easiest time I fed our baby during the first night of his life full of heel pricks and glucose level reports and ultimately being told we had to give him formula because his blood sugar was too low. We tried to give him the tiny bottle the pediatrician resident gave us only to have him throw up all of it.

By the time the lactation consultant came in the next morning, I was in tears because we had been told that they were going to have to take our son away and keep him for up to 2-3 days. The lactation consultant was the first person I saw after they had taken our baby to the special care nursery. Everything we had experienced all the fear and pain and trauma came out in our conversation, but especially my hope to do the one thing I had left to hope for: to nurse my child. She was wonderfully patient and explained that we could pump and take it to him and that she would do whatever she could to limit the amount of formula he had to get. I was so grateful and relieved.

It turns out that our son only needed one bag of fluids to get his blood sugar back on track and that we were able to nurse from that point on, but there was so much about the actual process of nursing I didn’t know. I didn’t know about the 2-day cluster feeding, but our night nurse was wonderfully supportive and told me each time she came to check his and my vitals what a good job I was doing and how hard she knew it was having had a c-section to reach over and get him to feed him. No one told me about the 2-3 week cluster feeding or how you will suddenly understand the phrase “aching in your bones” in a real and deep way after a night of cluster feeding. No one tells you how physically demanding nursing is or how frequent growth spurts are because your baby needs for more and more milk increases during those first six weeks. And although you may hear a funny anecdote here and there, no one will tell you how frequently you end up in the position where you need to feed your baby and you don’t have the right top on or you don’t have a nursing cover or a blanket and you end up in the bathroom stall trying to feed your baby while not touching anything.

Friends and family may tell you with good intention that “breast is best,” but not how difficult it is to keep your milk supply up if you have to return to the hospital for any reason or return to work or how pumping is not intuitive, but a process with lots of parts and planning. And no one tells you how messy nursing and how many times you will put on a new shirt only to have to change your shirt fifteen minutes later.

I’m thinking about all of these things I didn’t know with our first as we walk this nursing journey again. That lactation consultant who listened so compassionately to our story and told me she would help me learn how to pump and that she would personally go and check on our baby to see what was going came walking through the pre-op curtain the morning of January 22. She told us that she would be the nurse in with us during our c-section and she would be the one who was in charge of watching our daughter and getting us skin to skin as quickly as possible and helping us nurse if that’s what we wanted to do. My partner was the one who recognized her and told her that she was the shining light after our traumatic first night with our son. She smiled and said, “I thought I recognized you.” I don’t know how our nursing journey would have gone if we hadn’t had this woman and the nurse who supported and encouraged me during that first cluster feeding session and if I didn’t have really close friends who sent me articles and sent me stories about their own experiences and told me it was good no matter how long our nursing journey was.

This time I got to be skin to skin with our daughter in the operating room and got to nurse her within thirty minutes of her birth. And although I know so much more this time around, what I ultimately learned is you never truly know how this parenthood journey is going to go and that the most important thing is to feed your child and to seek support from medical professionals, experienced parents, and parents who are right there in the middle of the journey with you. We need community, we need sanctuary to ask questions and to express exhaustion and frustration, we need real stories of real journey and not binary options or easy catchphrases. We cannot do this parenting alone.