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A Divine Blended Family


There’s something about the picturesque nativity scenes that have caused to me to ponder this Advent season. The cast of characters are usually the same in nativity scenes leaving out part of the story like the camel-hair wearing, locust-eating voice crying out in the wilderness. He’s just a little too out there. I mean how would we explain him to our kids?

Not only have I been wondering about why some people are included in these scenes and not others, but I’ve also been wondering about the peaceful expressions on these characters. Last Advent was a blur of new motherhood, but even though it is a blur, I know for certain our family certainly wasn’t this peaceful and put together. And as I’ve thought about our family and this divine family, I’ve been struck this year that they were a blended family. Did Joseph worry about whether his son would look at him one day and say, “You aren’t my real father!” like so many stepparents do? How were they going to explain to this baby that he was different than other families?

And as these questions roll around in my head and heart, I realize that although nativity scenes decorate our communities of faith during this Season, these questions of challenging truths don’t often accompany the scenes. Instead, we preach a peaceful, picturesque gospel that sits on a shelf, decorating our lives, but not transforming our lives.

If we really preached how revolutionary this blended divine family was, then we would have to question our nice, neat faith that allows us to worship both the Christ Child and Santa Claus at this time of year. If we really preached how this Christ Child gathered the outsiders and outcasts of society in a barn where animals slept, then we would have to question our pretty, festive church buildings. If we really preached what the birth of this Christ Child means, then we would have to accept the understanding that Jesus’ birth is a celebration and not a way of life for us.

There is nothing picturesque or peaceful about the birth of the Christ Child.

Wrinkled Joy


We finally got our Christmas decorations up this weekend. We were waiting until we had our girls again and I wasn’t quite ready to move from the season of gratitude into a season of waiting and searching in our home. Couldn’t I teach our kids more about thanksgiving lasting all year if we just left up those decorations?

But as I watched them walk around the tree light debating over which tree would be easiest to pick back up if their younger brother decided to try to pull up on it, I knew we needed this season. And so we climbed the garage to get down the boxes marked Christmas and there at the bottom of the ornament was joy wrinkled and waiting.

Wrinkled joy.

The joy of the birth of the Christ Child wrinkled with the realities of a year of uncertainity and grief in so many ways. Joy that has been packed away, waiting to be brought out for this season of Advent. Joy that just needs to be shaken and ironed out.

Or maybe, this is joy wrinkled by the truth of a messiah born in a manger surrounded by outcasts. Maybe this wrinkled joy is exactly what we have been awaiting.

Waiting to Hit Publish

I clicked “save draft” and forgot about the post. I knew it wasn’t quite right and that my attention was in two or three places, after all it was Thanksgiving week, so I decided not to hit publish, and to come back to it later.

But when I came back to it, it still wasn’t right. There was a tone, a bitterness to the post that I didn’t want in my writing, not here at least. Maybe in the journal I keep by my bed. Maybe my eyes were the only eyes to see these words. Maybe this saved draft would never be published, but instead would live its life out in my bedside journal. Yeah, that was probably a better place for them.

I could have so easily pushed “publish.” The two buttons are so close together. It takes no more effort for me to hit “publish” than it does to push “save draft”, an amazing phenomenon of the digital world we find ourselves living and communicating within, but the editor in me decided not to publish, making the conscious decision that there are words to be said here in this space and perhaps more importantly words not to be said here in this space.

It reminds me of the letters I wrote in middle school when I was so upset by the latest lunchtime seating arrangement drama. I can remember coming home from school and being so upset and my mom suggesting  writing a letter explaining why I was so upset to the person with whom I was upset. Yes! I thought. Yes, I will tell her exactly what I think of her new seating arrangement.

And so I would write, scribbling furiously, and many, many times as I folded the note with one of the special note folding techniques I had practiced at recess, I would decide that the note was too mean, the subject not as important as I had just felt it was, but I felt better having written those words and releasing them from my own self even though they would never be published by giving them to someone else.

Perhaps the most sacred act we can engage in this Advent season is waiting to hit publish or post or send and being mindful of the powerful impact of our words on other people’s hearts.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Holiday Treats

We’ve been celebrating the Christmas season, savoring every minute of having our three kids together by baking homemade treats, watching the Star Wars movie, and wrapping presents. As we have, I have been overwhelmed with gratitude. Gratitude that we had extended time to spend with our girls after a semester of school schedule and after a couple of missed weekends with Ben’s birth. Gratitude that I had a sleeping 5 week old in his bouncy seat. Gratitude that our girls love their brother so much. And most of all gratitude that I get to share this with the man of my dreams.

LC Reading to Ben

MH and Ben

When you share kids, holidays are extremely difficult because everyone wants a chance to celebrate with them. It means having to celebrate birthdays and Christmases on off days. It means lots of driving and traveling to ensure that the kids get to celebrate with as much family as possible.

It means being flexible, something I’m terrible at.

To all those parents who are sharing kids, spending hours in the car trying to make it all work, Merry Christmas today and tomorrow and whatever day you celebrate!


On Finding My Work Bag Again

I can tell you whether the outfits in the diaper bag are clean or dirty. I can tell you the last time Ben ate and the last time that his diaper was changed, but I couldn’t for the life of me tell you where my work bag was. This is becoming more and more important as my work bag contains my preaching Bible, and this Sunday, I am preaching.

It has been six weeks since I stood behind the pulpit to deliver a word to God’s people and now the last Sunday in Advent, it’s time for me to become pastor again. I should clarify that being the pastor of a people doesn’t just disappear when you become a mom and take maternity leave or when you take sabbatical, but it does fade or become minimized for a time. It is this fading and minimizing that allows you, as the pastor, to be more fully who you are with the grace and understanding of your congregation. It’s an understanding that you, too, are a human being who has a family, or in the case of being on sabbatical, needs rest and inspiration. It’s this understanding that allowed me to put aside my work bag as we waited and then celebrated Ben’s arrival.

As I ponder what this new life will look like as I prepare to add back the full weight of responsibility that comes with being called pastor, I have all the questions that any working mom does. How is this going to work? Am I always going to feel like I am giving halfway to both or is there some way that being a parent of a newborn and being a pastor can enrich and deepen our journey as a community of faith?

Even when I do locate my work bag, I know that the answers won’t be contained there, but what I do know is that being community together means understanding that all of us have are trying to understand what it means to be committed to follow after Jesus in the midst of being mothers, fathers, spouses, employees, and friends.

And the only way that we can understand how we can be more fully and wholly ourselves is by fellowshipping together around the table, around the altar, and around the Christ child born into human form just like us.

You Have to Construct Your Own Light Saber

I have to confess that before I met Sam and before our girls started to watch and become fans of the Star Wars canon, I knew very little about Star Wars. I knew the main characters, and I knew I had seen some of the original trilogy, but I had never seen the prequels nor did I understand the mythology and world of Star Wars. Now, most of our discussions in the car have centered around theories of the new Star Wars and which character has found Darth Vadaer’s helmet and of course, who the Jedi Knight with the crossguard lightsaber is and whether this lightsaber is even practical.

We aren’t the only ones discussing the debut of the new lightsaber. There has been much discussion about the new crossguard lightsaber that will appear in the Force Awakens this week and with that discussion brings the reminder that in order to become a Jedi Knight you have to construct your own lightsaber as part of your training. We have certainly discussed as a family whether the new movie would have a scene where a manual was found that contains instructions about how to construct lightsabers or whether someone would find an old lightsaber and then try to construct one himself or herself, but the question remains  (at least until Thursday), how do you construct your own lightsaber?

In this season of Advent, where candles are lit every week to represent love, hope, joy, peace, and finally the birth of the Christ child, we are all reminded that we are light-bearers. We are the ones who display and brighten the world with these traits. This is how the world knows and understands the gospel message, the Advent message. The light that shines forth from transformed lives is how people understand that the kingdom of heaven is indeed here on earth.

But the thing about being a Jedi Knight and constructing your own lightsaber is that no two lightsabers are the same. They are each created and constructed as part of Jedi training, which means they bear the marks of the internal battles between the light and dark side. They bear the marks of the transformation process.

As light-bearers, the light we shine does the same. My battle between the light and dark side and my transformation into one called and dedicated to the hope the Christ child brings to the world is not the same as anyone else’s. There is a different glow to my journey than to my family’s or to my congregation’s journeys. There is something miraculously specific about my journey that no one else can claim. In sharing that journey of transformation, perhaps there are parts that ring true for other people. Maybe there are intersections, but there are never repetitions of our journeys. We each hold the ability and the responsibility to construct our own lightsabers.

And if you’ve yet to begin that training or to construct your own lightsaber, what better time then the season of Advent and the opening of the new Start Wars movie where we are reminded of the difference light can make in a world of darkness.

Two Ordained Years: The Good News


Yesterday marked the second year I have been living this life as an ordained minister. I took time to reflect and read the encouragement offered as I took that step two years ago. I took time to reflect on how I had changed as a person and as a pastor, and I took time to think about how the world had changed.

Can the world change in two years? Can a person and a pastor change in two years? Yes, and those changes can be more than we expected and more than we thought possible.

I look at this picture and see someone who was trying to prove herself as a pastor, as a wife, and as a stepmom. Over the past two years, I have settled into the realization that I don’t have to prove these aspects of who I am because they simply are. I am a pastor. I am a wife. I am a stepmom. I am a mom. There is no need to prove what is.

I also look at the changes that have taken place as MH has grown and changed, especially as she has learned to read and write, and now as she is a doting older sister to her half-brother. I wonder at how she is so sure that she likes Star Wars and spy gear and how she isn’t bothered if other people don’t like those things or think she should like those things. I look at LC and see how much she has grown into who she is as a person and how Kindergarten has captivated her imagination. I wonder at how she is unlocking the mystery of reading and now the mystery of not being the youngest, but being an older sister.

And then I look at the way the world is changing.

Maybe seeing the changes in the world is an aspect of life as parenting. Maybe inevitably, you wonder at how the world is going to be for your children. Maybe you can’t help but look at the world in which you grew up and think that it was easier for you than it will be for your children. Whether this is something that happens to everyone who is a parent or not, the world is changing. The sheer number of mass shootings is surely one way we know this is true. Public discourse has changed drastically with the immediacy and availability made possible by social media and internet access. Radical claims about how we treat people of different beliefs and different backgrounds than ourselves are receiving shouts of approval and those who are speaking out against this mindset are being escorted out and silenced.

As the reality of the world we live in sinks in, I realize that being ordained does not mean what it meant two years ago. Two years ago, as an ordained minister, there was no real concern that someone would come into a church bible study, and open fire. Two years ago the conversation about welcoming and affirming all people regardless of sexual orientation or ethnicity was seen as a way to represent the teachings of Jesus. Now, these teachings are shrouded by a growing number of Christians who want not only to exclude people who are different than they are, but who now want permission to harm those who are different than they are. The scariest part of this mindset is that those who hold these views are finding each other and finding a spokesperson in a presidential candidate.

Being ordained has always meant being set apart. Now being ordained, for me, means speaking out against these changes. This is not what Jesus taught and certainly not what it means to be a follower of Christ.

If the world has changed in these way, then it can continue to change as can our public discourse. In order for that to happen, those of us who believe that what we are seeing and hearing must not be the way our country is ruled or governed, must be roused out of our belief that this too shall pass and stand up and speak out. We must not live in fear of the unknown, but instead live in the reality of the world that we are now in: a world we can indeed transform if we are willing to change ourselves. To change ourselves, we must examine ourselves in relation to our world. Are we truly trying to make the world a better place or are we merely trying to make ourselves more comfortable by surrounding ourselves with people who believe the same thing we believe?

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:

If we believe that God did become man and come to the earth, then the world we see needs the good news of great joy for ALL people even more today than it did two years ago or even perhaps two thousand years ago. Thanks be to God that the good news isn’t the news on our TV, Twitter feed, or Facebook feed.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.


Noisy Peace


All is calm. All is bright.

We don’t have many Silent Nights around our house right now. They are interrupted with shuffling feet, Willie Nelson playlists, and diaper pulls during nighttime feedings that make it hard to determine whether it is night or day; but in the midst of these noises, there is a peace that falls over our house. It’s not a silent peace, but a noisy peace.

It’s a peace filled with tiny squeaks of a three week old sleeping and growing. It’s a peace filled with snoring from parents or another as rest finally comes quickly over them. It’s a peace filled with puppy yips as they settle down now that the baby is asleep. It’s a noisy peace that takes a lot of work to achieve.

And I just wonder in the midst of our peace if it’s not an indication that the peace we all pray will settle over our country needs to be reimagined. Maybe the peace we need to strive towards is a noisy peace filled with discussion, even heated discussion.  Maybe the peace we need isn’t represented in the lovely, melodic songs of the season. Maybe the peace we need isn’t found in a silent night, but in voices joining loudly together to ask for a change.

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me, my voice rising loudly against injustice and brokenness.

Fighting Off Numbness

One of the after effects of having a c-section that I wasn’t prepared for was the numbness that has lasted weeks after surgery. I’ve read that some women actually never regain feeling in parts abdomen post-c-section because of nerve damage. It’s a strange sensation to know that you literally can’t feel pain or any sensation, but this is not a purely physical phenomenon.

Anesthesia is administered to a patient in order to allow a medical procedure to occur in which the pain would prove too intense for the person to experience.  The anesthesia administered during the medical procedure and then slowly wears off, so that the patient can pay attention to his or her body’s need to recover and take it slow. The idea behind anesthesia is not to leave the patient in a continual state of numbness, but rather to offer a temporary way to deal with pain.

I think to some extent, we all experience this numbing sensation emotionally when we read about another mass shooting or when we read about how many mass shootings we have had to date in comparison to the number of days that have passed this year (so far in 2015, we’ve had 274 days and 294 mass shootings). There is just no way that our minds or our hearts can comprehend the pain and hurt of the news of so many deaths and so much pain.

What I fear is that as we approach this Advent season, we will be tempted to ward off the pain and reality of the tragedies we hear about with the messages of hope, joy, love, and peace numbing ourselves to the pain of living in a broken world, a world in need of this very message. It is tempting to take these messages as a way to alleviate our pain, rather than offering this gospel message to a hurting world. In order to make this transition, we have to fight off numbness. We have to feel hurt. We have to feel pain. We have to feel broken for the people who are broken by senseless death. We have to hurt with those who are hurting. We have to think of others before we think of ourselves.

We have to believe Advent is about the Christ child coming to change the world rather than Advent being about our comfort and our peace. Only when we fight off the temptation to numb ourselves and pretend that the world is full of joy all the time can the transformative message of the Advent season really come alive.

A Different Kind of Advent

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I zipped up the garment bag that held my robe and stoles. Today’s vow exchange service was the last time I would be wearing my robe for at least two months. I was 39 and a half weeks pregnant, and had already arranged for pulpit supply to start on the following Sunday just three Sundays before Advent would begin.

I was thankful to have been able to lead our celebration of All Saints Day and to preach before heading into week 39 because having not grown up in a liturgical church, I valued and looked forward to high, holy days. This is why zipping that garment bag was proving to be so difficult. I had walked with my congregation during the ordinary times during my second and third trimester and now I was going to have to abandon them right when we got to the good stuff.

There was only one reason I would step back and let others step in the pulpit during the high, holy season of Advent and that’s for a high, holy life moment. As ministers, way too often, we abandon family and ourselves in the most important moments because of our calling to lead and guide God’s people. Being a female minister, giving birth kinda requires that I be present, and I was so thankful there was no way I was going to wiggle out of the responsibility of caring for this new life.

It doesn’t mean that I am missing Advent. In fact, this Advent there is still a lot of waiting. Waiting for the next feeding. Waiting for his eyes to slowly close and his breath to become steady. Waiting for my body to readjust after nine months of supporting another life.

This is holy work, too.

This is worship, too.

This is Advent, too.