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Shadow Ships

As I was reading Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, there was an image that struck me. She was giving advice to someone who was wondering what her life would be like had she taken a different path and she suggested that the other life was a ship on the horizon. We can see that ship and sometimes it haunts us because of the possibility that isn’t our current reality.

Then I thought about our shadow selves. The ones that are revealed to us in the dark night of our souls. When we don’t wrestle with our shadow selves and come to terms with the best of ourselves, but also the worst of ourselves, then we can’t become fully whole. We have to come to terms with our deepest desires, our deepest passions, and our deepest, most fatal flaws.

But these shadow selves aren’t the only things that can impede us from living full and whole lives. It’s also our shadow ships. In those moments when our realities are so difficult, we long to be aboard another ship, another reality. We fantasize about what that life would be, the one floating on the boat over on the horizon. When we dwell on that boat, we only see the light cascading off the perfect facade, we don’t see the work required to keep that boat afloat.

Our shadow ships have to be sent out to sea. We have to bid them bon voyage when our realities get difficult. Those shadow ships are on a different body of water heading somewhere else and when we try to get to them, we risk capsizing the reality we are in. Rather than pining away for passage on them, be thankful for the journey you are on, no matter how difficult and how different than what you imagined.

Wise Women Road

On Monday as we were leaving Mullins after visiting our grandparents, we ended up heading the wrong way. There was a detour because of road being repaired from Hurricane Matthew that brought us to stop. As we were rerouting, thanks to Waze, we ended up on a dirt road. I glanced at the road as we turning onto it just to make sure that we were finally headed in the right direction.

It read: Wise Women Road.

I laughed not only because so often when I am traveling I have to make U-turns or turn around, but because perhaps there was a greater meaning for this particular turn around. Perhaps five-minute of losing our way was the perfect reminder that sometimes wisdom comes from turning around. Sometimes finding your way means turning around. Sometimes wisdom comes from detours and road closures.

And sometimes teaching your daughters about wisdom means teaching them to admit their mistakes, their weaknesses, and to laugh at how it all whispers of bigger meanings and teachings.

 

5 Best Parenting Books of the Last 17 Months

Tomorrow, Ben will be 17 months! It’s hard to believe that we’ve been caring for this mini-human for 17 months swinging from days where it all feels natural and days where I am desperately scouring the internet and parenting section of the library to figure out what is going on.

Over the past 17 months I’ve read a lot of parenting books and thought I’d share my 5 favorites and why they struck a cord with us:

Hopes and Fears: Everyday Theology for New Parents and Other Tired, Anxious People: Moses and McCleneghan offer the theology that we as ministers and pastors don’t often think about: the theology of our homes. How do we initial create spaces of sanctuary in our homes as we do in our places of worship? How do we manage the balance between home and communities of faith? This was gifted to me by a fellow minister and still sits by my bedside table for reference.

Parenting Without Borders: I’ve written about the profound impact this book has had on me because of the way it brings me out of the American parenting culture and into a world of parenting. This reminds me of my experiences in Germany and that I want this part of my experience to filter into my life as a parent as it is so much a part of who I am. It also brings great perspective to the parenting wars that exist and how these are completely irrelevant in other cultures.

Simplicity Parenting: This book. It reminds me of all the reasons I am overwhelmed and overcome with the stuff that accumulates in our home, but this isn’t just about stuff, it’s also about the over scheduling and anxiety that we pass onto our children when we don’t allow them to just be kids. Kids are looking for safety and security, schedules and patterns, this creates strong, secure attachment that will follow them throughout life. It will challenge you to simplify the stuff in your life, both physical and social commitments for the sake of your children.

Unlatched: The Evolution of Breastfeeding and the Making of a Controversy: In the days and nights that breastfeeding was so overwhelming and I wondered if it really made a difference, this book brought me hope. This is a fascinating read about the benefits and importance of breastfeeding and the history of the “breast is best” debate in America. Great read.

Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue: I have to thank a fellow mom from our story time group at the library for this suggestion! It is a great read in helping to understand where gender identity originates and small ways that you can work with your own kids to create an understanding of gender that includes all types of boys and girls.

Parenting is a team sport, we need each other sharing resources and sharing stories! Happy reading : )

But, Is There Childcare?

Ben’s no longer an infant. He’s not quite a toddler. We’re in this strange phase of development some have termed pre-toddler for the ages of 12-18. He just moved up classes at his drop-in nursery where there are ramps to run up and slides to slide down. There are toy doors to open and close and close and open and open and close, perhaps one of his favorite past times right now.

As a mother, I’ve hit the stage where I don’t have a baby. I don’t have an infant. There’s a stark difference in the conversations I have in passing. It’s no longer, “Is he sleeping? Are y’all sleeping?” Instead it’s “Is he walking? Is he talking?” The questions indicating that no more and more each day he is developing characteristics that will last him into adulthood. But the strange phenomenon is that the more adult-like his characteristics become, the less people think about his needs.

“As I am invited to participate in communities desiring to shape and mold the future of the church, my question still remain. “Is there childcare?” A shocking question that reveals assumptions that childcare is something for parents to “take care of” not something to plan for in order to ensure that the voices of young parents and young professionals are wanted. We inherently understand that the future of the church lies in the hands and feet of these young professionals and their children. We just don’t understand their needs enough to care to meet those needs instead we criticize these young families saying, “They just don’t come,” or “You can’t count on them.” 

Perhaps this missing demographic is missing because your community of faith isn’t considering how to set the table, provide the infrastructure for the lives they lead. The day in and day out routine of changing diapers, filling sippy cups, and finding high chairs. The strain and pull asking all they have. Perhaps what these families need is someone to think ahead for them, someone to want them at the table so strongly that they have already planned to take care of their children.

Are we planning for a church that has been or a church that will be?

Conflicted Identities

Citizenship is the common thread that connects all Americans. We are a nation bound not by race or religion, but by the shared values of freedom, liberty, and equality.

Because of the choices my ancestors made, I am an American citizen and as an American citizen I have certain rights:

  • Freedom to express yourself.
  • Freedom to worship as you wish.
  • Right to a prompt, fair trial by jury.
  • Right to vote in elections for public officials.
  • Right to apply for federal employment requiring U.S. citizenship.
  • Right to run for elected office.
  • Freedom to pursue “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Because of the choices I have made, I am a Christian, a disciple of Christ:

23 Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.

I am an American Christian. I am an America who is a Christian? I am a Christian who is an American?

Identity isn’t easily defined as we live, work, and engage with other people in the communities in which we live. Circumstances can suddenly change our identities from spouse to widow, from employee to unemployed, from homeowner to homeless, conflicting our identities and understanding of who we are.

I have a bit of experience with conflicted identities. I introduce myself by saying, “Hey, I’m Merianna. I’m a Baptist minister,” and more often then not my self-identification in the Bible Belt of SC doesn’t make sense to people. A woman who is Baptist and a minister is not an identity many people have heard of and certainly not met. And here I stand.

But I’m not only a Baptist minister, I am also a publisher seeking out stories to share with communities and people. Stories that transform and challenge. Stories that shape and guide as the many books I’ve read have shaped and guided me. Both of these professional identities are central to what I believe my calling is in this world, but these identities are conflicted identities. Sometimes the formatting has to wait until the sermon is written. Sometimes the grant writing has to wait for the manuscript to be edited. I balance both of these identities in an attempt to be fully and wholly who I was created to be.

I am a stepmother and a mother. I have three children whom I strive to love, challenge, and guide. Both of these identities are central to who I am at my core, but these are conflicted identities. At times, I choose to be stepmother first forgoing a 14 month old bedtime for dinner with cousins or a drive in movie with friends. Still other times, I choose to be a mother first rocking a 14 month old to sleep listening to squeals in the bathtub. The only way I am able to balance these conflicted identities that threaten to rip me apart as I watch our children leave each other with prayers and hopes that videos, pictures, and Facetime will sustain their relationship until they see each other again is because I have a partner in Sam who is walking beside me, challenging and pushing me not to see the conflict and tension, but what comes from the wrestling: a new identity.

Maybe the quarrels among us over what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be an American are outward manifestations of inward struggles of conflicted identities. Perhaps we have never considered giving up our birthright as Americans because we have never been as hungry as Esau coming in from the wilderness taking a bowl of stew from his brother’s hand while giving up his birthright with his own hand. Maybe we have never considered that to be an American and to be a Christian might actually be conflicted identities rather than harmonious identities.

We must all wrestle with who we have been and who we will be. Perhaps it won’t be in the night as it was for Jacob who had to return to those he had deceived, those he had taken advantage in his pursuit of the happiness of securing his future. But the wrestling will come and the choice will be presented again and again: who are you?

If I have to choose, I choose God over country. I choose bringing the kingdom of God here on earth by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting those in prisons of homeless and exclusion.

May God grant you the guidance and strength as you wrestle with your own conflicted identities. May God grant you the perseverance to get up, even as you limp away from the wrestling, and walk towards the new identity of who you will be.

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A Hand Reaching Out

masjid

When Ben and I arrived to jummah prayer service at Masjid Al-Muslimiin, we were immediately welcomed by women of all ages. A teenage girl approached asking what Ben’s name was and then helped me with my headscarf. As I looked around the community gathered in the courtyard, I was speechless that there was a whole community of faith who gathered right off the busy street of Garners Ferry in Columbia on Friday afternoons whom I had never encountered. How many times had I passed the sign and not wondered about this community?

And as we gathered in the small room designated for the women sitting on the red-carpeted ground, I was overwhelmed by the sense of community that was palpable in the body heat of the women and children gathered. I resisted the urge to keep Ben close and let him wander through the sea of arms and legs just as the children for whom this was their faith family were doing. He tried to follow another little boy out of the door, but before he escaped, a hand reached out to stop him. It was a hand of an elderly woman in a burka and as he turned to look into her face, her smile spread across her face. She passed him a lamb stuffed animal to play with while whispering to him in Arabic. He sat beside her mesmerized and I stopped and watched as I held back tears.

We insist on so many boundaries and barriers in our American culture. We insist and protect our privacy, our right to free speech, our right to worship or not worship, our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We are missing so much life-giving, life-affirming love that comes from sitting together and reaching a hand out across those boundaries and barriers. Thanks be to God for this community of faith for their courage in inviting us, outsiders, into their community of faith for truly this is divine, mysterious, transformative, radical hospitality.

Blending Families, Sharing Spaces

It was 2:30 a.m., Sam and I looked at each other and said, “We’ve got to figure out something different.” We had both lost count how many times we had been up, ping ponging from our 6 year old to our 10 month old. They were waking each other up back and forth, sharing space.

This puzzle of blending our family is part of who we are. We are figuring it out and learning to share space together. We have to give each other room as our family grows. We have to give each other understanding. We have to give each other love.

We have to admit that we miss each other and that the transition from being together to being apart is difficult and sometimes makes us grumpy and sometimes just makes us exhausted. We have to admit that blending families and sharing spaces is hard work, but important work, holy work. We have to admit that it’s frustrating when other people don’t understand how hard we work to be family and share spaces.

But we wouldn’t have it another way because blending families and sharing spaces ignites our creativity and our curiosity. It asks us to imagine and dream and plan. It allows us to be ourselves because we have blended our lives and shared our space together as family.

 

 

To Sam-

photo (45)

To Sam, the man who first asked me to be his wife and to be Mama 2 to our beautiful girls,

To Sam, the man who held and entertained our son for the first two hours of his life while waiting for me in the recovery room,

To Sam, the man who cries and laughs with me on this journey of parenthood,

I love you.

It’s Scary as Hell to Be a Parent

Ben and Mama

I did it again.

I went to his room and peaked over the crib railing to make sure he was breathing. He’s been sleeping on his side since he was a day old, but still it scares me to death, especially when he covers his face with both hands, just like he did in all of his ultrasound pictures. I know there are apps and video monitors designed and sold to parents to quell our worries and concerns, but I still have to go and check. I have to see his belly moving up and down with my own eyes or hear his soft snore with my own ears.

It’s scary as hell to be a parent.

Because when you’re not worried about whether he or she is breathing while sleeping, you’re worried about whether he or she is getting enough food or gaining enough weight. And then when he or she stops sleeping and wakes up more during the night you worry about why he or she isn’t sleeping. Is it teething or sickness or a growth spurt?  And then you go to the doctor and they tell you what percentage he or she is in height and weight and head size, giving you three more things to be worried about not to mention the list of developmental goals you are supposed to be monitoring and assessing and encouraging. And then you see other kids around his or her age and wonder if your kid is doing the things those kids are doing. And if your kid is doing something different than the other kids, you wonder if that is something to be concerned about or not.

It’s scary as hell to be a parent.

Because you’re responsible for this mini human and his or her well being. You are responsible for helping him or her grow and learn. And when he or she gets to the point that he or she can do things independently like walk and eat and go to the potty, then you have to start teaching him or her what it means to live in community: to share and do unto others as you would have them do unto you and respect caregivers who give their time and energy and love and support.

It’s scary as hell to be a parent.

Because then you have to walk with him or her when he or she encounters the brokenness that exists in the world. You are the ones who tell him or her when someone they love is sick. You are the ones that have to tell him or her that our bodies don’t last forever and that sometimes the people or pets we love die because people and pets aren’t designed to live forever. And then you have to wonder how to explain the divine to these mini humans whose minds and bodies are really still mostly concentrated and attuned to learning how to be human. And you have to decide whether you are going to tell them what to believe or what we believe or encourage them to believe what they believe even if it’s different than what you want them to believe.

It’s scary as hell to be a parent.

Because you see the worst and the best in your children and you pray desperately that the worst won’t win as often as it wins within you, but that the best parts of you and the best parts of your partner might somehow miraculously be the only parts that this mini human receives. You encourage the good and address the bad trying every parenting method that you’ve read about, sometimes all within one day. And you hope and pray that you are doing something right.

It’s scary as hell to be a parent.

Because then you end up preaching a sermon from John’s gospel and read before a community of faith, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” And you realize that even though it’s scary as hell to be a parent, you are the parcel of peace presented to these mini humans because of the Holy Spirit is dwelling or staying within you. And you remember that even thought it’s scary, you don’t want to teach your children fear, but peace and wholeness in a world of brokenness.

And so you whisper, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you,” as you say goodbye and send your girls back to their mom’s and as you go to peak over the side of the crib railing just one more time to make sure he’s breathing.

I Was Taught to Be Afraid

I was taught to be afraid –

of dying before I knew that I knew that I knew I was saved,

 

of missing opportunities to lead others to Christ,

of not being an example to all the nonbelievers,

of living outside of God’s perfect will,

of being myself.

 

I was taught to be afraid –

of walking in parking lots by myself at night,

of boys with bad intentions,

of talking to strangers,

of the homeless, the helpless, the desperate,

of people different than me.

 

I will teach my children –

awareness to see the needs surrounding them,

compassion for all people,

hope to share with the hopeless and the desperate,

love to heal the broken and those in pain,

confidence in their strength and their instincts,

 

I will not teach fear.