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Where I Come From

This December, I have been immersing myself in local authors. Most of these authors have written and recorded what it was like to grow up in a mill village. I didn’t know my hometown was so centered around mill life until I started working as a second-grade teacher. My principal took the time to take all new employees through the apartment complexes and neighborhoods where our students lived.

I remember when he drove through the mill village and how all the houses looked the same. He told us that since the mill closed down 5 years prior, the demographics changed from 80% white and 20% African Amerian and Hispanic to 80% African American and Hispanic to 20% white. He also explained that because the mill owners moved out from the area, the mill village became low-income housing, owned by someone outside of the state and very rarely maintained. In other parts of the city, mills were being renovated to office buildings or restaurants or commercial buildings, but in this part of the city, there was no renovation planned.

It matters where we came from both in our family history and in the culture and heritage of the place we reside.

Here are the stories I read:

Read about where you came from. Learn about the stories your city, your family and you are built upon.

Holding Onto Advent

This is the longest I can remember our having our Christmas decorations up. Because our celebrations and traditions center around sharing kids, there have been many years where we haven’t gotten our Christmas tree until the second or third week of December. This year we went to get our tree the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  This morning, the Christmas tree is still lit as we await Epiphany.

There’s something magical and mystical about celebrating and studying peace, hope, joy, love and the arrival of the Christ Child and then holding onto each of those until Epiphany. It’s something that we often miss in our haste to celebrate a new year and get things back in order after our Christmas celebrations.

This time invites us to include peace, hope, love, joy and Christ into our lives in the quietness and the stillness. This time invites us to wonder and question what including these things into our lives year-round would really mean.  It’s a time as a Baptist who didn’t celebrate the Christian year that I’ve missed most of my life, and one I hold dearly to now.

May the Christ Child continue to fill us with wonder and awe as we draw near to Epiphany.

A Year of Grieving

What a year it has been for our family! This year has held numerous joyful surprises as well as profound grief. Three of our friends from our first congregation passed away this year as well as close family friends. These are people who held and taught our children. Walking closely with others always brings great joy but then also immense sadness when they are not with us anymore.

For a long time, I fled from grief. I turned my mind to autopilot and the things that needed to get done effectively removing myself from the situation so that I didn’t have to truly feel grief. This year I found I couldn’t run anymore. I couldn’t ignore the impact the people we lost this year had on me, my ministry, and our family. I couldn’t ignore the way the grief of thinking we were going to welcome a new life into our hearts and hands doesn’t disappear, not even after those nine months have passed.

I have tried the best I know how to grieve, not rushing the process, not explaining the process, just being in the midst. This has been extremely difficult for me. It’s driven me to practical action like getting life insurance again and finally creating a last will and testament. It’s slowed me down in the quiet mornings when Ben is up before the sun is up and we are sitting in silence playing with trains. Because I know those mornings aren’t guaranteed. I know because I’ve walked with families and people who have found this to be brutally true.

It’s made me analyze and retire some of the trite phrases we use as we try to console people in the midst of grief. It’s made me struggle and wrestle to find the light, love, and joy in the memories of the times we spent with the people we lost and hold onto those not just with the mind, but with body and soul.

Grieve was not the word I chose for 2017. Grieve chose me this year asking me to be real and honest in a way that I know will follow me into this next year and the years to come. Thanks be to God that Jesus wept and grieved and so can we.

Decorating the Tree

I can remember decorating our Christmas tree growing up. All of the six kids came together to decorate the huge live tree that had been strung with colored lights. The majority of the ornaments I remember hanging were ornaments we had all made in school, Sunday School and Missions activities at church. With six kids, those ornaments really added up.

But I can’t say that ever thought much about what it would be like to hang ornaments on the tree that came from my children I hadn’t imagined their pictures of their little handprints or even their names. I hadn’t thought about whether they would be girls or boys because for the longest time the tree Sam and I decorated still had those handmade ornaments I had made; a gift that had been given to me from my parents.

I was walking by the tree going to grab my keys and I saw this picture. The girls hanging next to one of the first ornaments Ben has made. I had to stop for a minute. A picture I had never imagined, there hanging on our tree. Three kids surrounded by colored lights. Three kids full of light and love. Three kids who helped decorate (or in Ben’s case undecorate) our tree this year.

The longer days and the break from school make the holidays a time to make memories and also to remember how far we all have come since the last time we decorated our trees and houses for this season, something Europeans have been doing for hundreds of years.

Sometimes peace and joy in this season come in the form of tiny handprints and pictures from years ago hanging on a triangular tree that represents the Trinity, the presence of God with us no matter what your journey had held. Thanks be to God for Divine light shining in the dark season of winter.

Sexual Harassment Doesn’t Take Holidays

This year as my family takes a breath and rest, I am reminded of the number of people for whom the holidays are anything but a break. I’ve heard too many stories over the past two months of people for whom family gatherings were full of sexual harassment, sexual assault, or sexual assault. And because it’s family, they are expected to gather and they are expected to be grateful even while suffering abuse and harassment.

Family isn’t always safe. Holidays aren’t rest for everyone. In our culture of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and sexual abuse, downtime is much too often a window for abuse.

Even as I am grateful for the number of people who are talking and discussing what they have experienced in hopes that we can reveal the depth and breadth of our culture of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and sexual assault and change it, my heart is still heavy for those who will experience more abuse in the midst of the holidays. If we take a break from talking about how we can do better, how we can be better, then we aren’t helping. We must remember, especially in the midst of the holiday, that there is still so much work to be done.

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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