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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.

A Week Ago

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A week ago, we headed to the doctor for our 40 week appointment. I convinced Sam to put the hospital bag, camera, and car seat into the car just in case they sent us straight to the hospital after the doctor’s visit. He humored me, but he knew it wasn’t time yet.

A week ago, at 40 weeks and 3 days, we walked into the same doctor’s office that we walked into today. Last week, we had an ultrasound and found out that Baby H was estimated to be 8.5 lbs., and that he was head down getting ready for delivery. This week, three of us walked into the doctor’s office.

A week ago, we sat on the same couch in the waiting room. I leaned on Sam’s shoulder every 8-10 minutes as the pre-labor contractions came and went. Today, I leaned on his shoulder and peered down into a baby carrier and into Baby Ben’s blue eyes.

A week ago, Sam was right, and we headed back to the parking lot to our car to head home with the explanation that if something happened before 6 am on Thursday morning to come to the hospital, but if not, to come to the hospital, so that the induction process could be started.

A week ago, Sam tried desperately to entertain me and detain me from walking to the hospital as back labor was added to the contractions I had been feeling all morning. A week ago, we walked around Target, Panera, and the parking lot trying to do all those things you are supposed to do before you go to the hospital and to avoid going to the hospital and being sent back home.

A week ago, we came back home and made it until 3 am on Thursday morning when my water broke, and I finally had the reason I needed to head to the hospital.

A week ago, we checked into the hospital at 4 am and made our home in a labor and delivery room knowing that we would soon meet our baby. A week ago, I received an epidural and a drip to keep labor progressing. A week ago, as the medicine kicked in, I was able to rest for the first time in 24 hours.

A week ago, Sam sat by my side hour after hour as we waited and welcomed each happy report that “things were moving along.” A week ago, we talked and predicted and bet about what time he would be born. A week ago, we received the report that the illusive 10 cm had been reached, and it was time to practice push. A week ago, I looked at Sam and said, “Finally.”

A week ago, we waited between practice pushing sessions for the doctor who was “just next door finishing another delivery” and wondered why they got to go first. A week ago, the doctor came to tell us that we were back down to 8 cm and that it was time to start talking about the possibility of having a C-section because Baby H was turned to the side a little bit.

A week ago, Sam held my hand as I cried because I was so ready to see our baby and simultaneously uneasy and nervous and scared about having major surgery and not knowing what all that entailed. A week ago, Sam looked at me and said, “It’s ok. This is what he needs us to do.”

A week ago, they rolled me across the hallway into the OR and Sam sat by my head and whispered that we were so close to getting to see Baby H. A week ago, we heard a cry that meant Baby H was finally here.

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A week ago, we met Baby H who we started calling Big Ben because he weighed 8 lbs 7 oz and was 20.5 inches long. A week ago, I fell in love with Sam all over again for being by my side and for being my rock and for being Big Ben’s dad. A week ago, I was left speechless by the miraculous power of life and birth and breath in our baby boy.

What a difference a week makes.

“Do you have a baby in your belly?”

We were on the playground as part of our Fall Break celebrations when another 5-year-old merged into playing with our girls. I stepped back to let them play, but inevitably was called to “Watch this!” on the monkey bars. When I came over, the other 5-year-old looked hard at me and paused for a minute, then asked, “Do you have a baby in your belly?”

I explained that yes I did and asked her if she thought it was a boy or a girl. She looked at MH and LC and declared confidently that it was another girl. I told her that it was actually going to be a boy. LC took over from there to explain that the baby was going to be sleeping in her room and that she was pretty sure that the baby wasn’t ever coming out.

I chuckled and wondered about the memories that our girls were making in the waiting and anticipating their brother’s arrival. More than likely, they won’t remember much of this waiting period because soon their memories will be crowded with a new sibling and this side of their family will be new and different.

As we approach All Saints Day and the practice of actively remembering those who have passed on this year, I can’t help but wonder if this active remembering isn’t something that we should incorporate into our daily and weekly lives.

Active remembering is different than reminiscing in which there is a wistfulness to return to the time before. Instead, active remembering is what God has asked God’s people to do throughout the biblical narrative.

But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark; and God caused a wind to pass over the earth and the water subsided. Genesis 8:1

Then God remembered Rachel and gave heed to her and opened her womb. Genesis 30:22

Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Exodus 20:8

He will remember his covenant forever. Psalm 111:5

And he took the bread, gave thanks, and broke and gave it to them saying, “This is my body given for you; this do in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:19

Active remembering is a holy endeavor. It reminds us of where we have come from. It reminds us of the journey in which God has spoken to us. It reminds us of the people who have influenced and invested in our lives.

As we celebrate All Saints Day this weekend, this do in remembrance of God’s love for us.

On Nesting and Nursery Decorating

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This weekend we are celebrating the girls’ fall break. We have gone to Riverbanks Zoo for Boo at the Zoo, and they have also been helping with deliveries of the donations we have received from Fernwood Baptist Church, but mostly we have been preparing for their new brother to come.

The girls have both taken time to practice pushing the stroller. We’ve been washing clothes and decorating the nursery. We’ve also had discussions about what are his toys and what are his things and remembering that being siblings means respecting each others space because he will be expected to do the same for his sisters.

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And we’ve been practicing his name:

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In the midst of my need to organize the Tupperware cabinet and rearrange the nursery for the 14th time, there is a quiet anticipation that has fallen over our house. The girls know the next time they come to visit us, there will be a baby. The next time we go to Boo at Zoo, there will be a baby. When we celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, there will be a baby.  For us as a family, the Advent season is starting now at the end of October with a pumpkin-size baby we can’t wait to meet, knowing that Baby Ben will change our family, will change us, just like the Christ-child changed the world with his birth.

Two Years, Two Puppies, Two Girls

All TogetherToday Sam and I celebrate two years of marriage with two kids and two puppies, but it will be the last anniversary that we will go two by two. At 37 weeks, our house is being transformed to include another new life that is now well-contained in my belly.

There is no way I would be where I am (the pastor of a church, the editor-in-chief of an independent publishing house, the stepmom of two beautiful girls, and puppy mom to two rescue pups) without Sam. He continues to challenge me and see things in me that I can’t see.

Thank you, Sam, for changing my life, for changing me.

“And they have two mommies, right?”

We were in the car talking about our plans for the weekend. We were talking about who we were going to see, something we do often since our girls have double the amount of people in their lives to keep track of. In talking about one place we were going, our 7-year-old asked me about a family, “And they have two mommies, right?”

I paused for a second, not because the girls don’t know people at our church and who are our friends who have same-sex parents, but because this family didn’t. It took me a minute before I put it together, “No. The last time we saw them they had their mommy with them and a babysitter.”

She didn’t reply and wasn’t phased by the conversation at all.

And I realized that the world she is living in, the world both our girls are living in, and the world our soon-to-arrive son will be raised in is very different than the world I knew growing up. It wasn’t that same-sex relationships didn’t exist and that those couples didn’t have families, it’s just that I didn’t know any. It wasn’t until college that I realized that there were people who were openly gay or lesbian and not until much later that I realized the spectrum of sexuality isn’t binary.

I couldn’t help but smile at our 7-year-old’s sense of understanding and openness. She has it figured out much earlier than I did. She understands that every family looks different and that as much as some of us would like to believe it, there is industry-standard when it comes to parents or families or relationships. We are all learning to live with each other.

It’s a good thing that she and her sister and her baby brother will be the ones to guide and lead us. Now, if only those of us who grew up in a world that doesn’t exist anymore, can step aside and let her generation teach us, we might actually have a chance to make the world a better place.

On Cooler Breezes and a Bigger Belly

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As I let the dogs out this morning, my bare feet encountered cold kitchen tiles. I knew even before I opened the door that the weather outside was going to smell different and fell different. It was going to feel like fall. I smiled as I opened the door and was met with the cool breeze of a fall morning. My soul breathed a sigh of relief that the hot, sticky Columbia summer was coming to an end.

Then, I remembered that with the change of this season, it meant the change from being a family of four to being a family of five in just 8 short weeks. This weekend, we celebrated Baby H with our Emmanuel family as well as friends in Columbia. What a fun time for our worlds to collide as we anticipate Baby H’s arrival and yet another reminder that life as we have known it is changing.

Fall has always been a time of transition for me. As a teacher, it meant a new challenge in a new grade level (I never taught the same grade two years in a row) or a new country. When I started seminary, it meant the change from teacher to student with a full load of classes that would ask me to challenge what I had always known and who I always believed I was. At the end of seminary, it meant the change from pulpit supply preacher to pastor and from girlfriend to wife and stepmom. Fall has always been a time of new beginnings for me.

It’s getting harder and harder to ignore my growing belly and to ignore the fact life is going to change. I am going to change. As I organize onesies and diapers of varying sizes, it’s easy for me to pretend that after walking this road with siblings and friends, I have a good idea how life will change and then, I wake up from a dream in panic because in my dream I have forgotten to feed the baby and realize there’s no way to know for certain what lies ahead.

Although I am tempted to panic over all the unknowns, I breathe the cool breeze and remember every change in the previous falls has brought me here to this place. This place of partnering with the man of my dreams. This place of being who I was created to be. This place of laughing and crying and loving two beautiful girls. This place of walking with two huge pups who can’t help but be excited about the new smells of fall.

This place of the beautiful now that if I’m not careful I’ll miss if I don’t stop and savor.

Third Trimester Thoughts: Blending Families

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We just started the third trimester of this crazy journey called pregnancy, and I feel like someone has pressed the fast forward button. After days and days of thinking and feeling like 9 months would take forever, now it seems like the days are speeding by so quickly.

Of course getting back into the school routine with our oldest two has impacted that feeling. The slow summer saunter that invited us to linger not worrying so much about bedtimes or schedules has transitioned into fall’s fast pace that means we go back to our weekend schedule of seeing our girls, which never feels long enough.

As Baby H’s closet gets filled with clothes, I wonder how these half-siblings (it took us awhile to figure out that they will indeed be half-siblings and not step-siblings!) are going to interact together and how our family will transform with his arrival. Blending two families is never easy, but we know how important it is for them to know each other and spend time with each other, even if it’s just for weekends during the school year.

I’ve always heard of families like ours described as blended families, but I think a better description is blending families because our girls are constantly changing as are we and for us to be a family means spending time talking about those changes and working through those changes. Some changes came pretty easily, like the addition of MH’s new bed. Some changes came hard, like our move to Columbia. For kids who have to deal with changing houses, changing parents, changing households, every change makes a bigger impact, every change makes us cognizant of just how much we are asking of them.

Yes, there are things and events we miss in our girls lives and there are things they will miss in their half-brother’s life, but there’s still no doubt that we are family.

On Being Off Balance

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This weekend was full of celebration for Baby Boy H. It was great to gather with friends and family in Spartanburg on Saturday morning, but it was also surreal as I opened little footed-bear pajamas and overalls and baseball outfits.

It isn’t that I haven’t felt pregnant because I certainly have (just ask Sam…on second thought, don’t ask him), but because the people who were gathered around me had known me since middle school and high school and some of them had even signed the registry for coming to see me when I was born. It was surreal because I was surrounded by the circle of life.

As we drove back to Columbia, I reflected on the fact that there was really no question anymore whether I was pregnant or not. There were no quick glances over the shoulder, no more wondering eyes. And if the stomach wasn’t a big enough clue, there were the moments where I bumped into counters I had been around my whole life at my mom and dad’s house and that one incident in which I knocked my two-year old nephew down because I didn’t see his head, which lined up exactly to Baby H.

Certainly the growing belly and baby are asking me to exist in this world differently from what I drink and eat to how I fill the space around me to how I interact with friends and family and even strangers. It is all so new and different sometimes and other times it feels so natural and like this is exactly where I am supposed to be right now.

And I wonder if we find ourselves in predictable patterns in life because there really are predictable patterns or whether we create this seemingly predictable patterns ignoring the fact that the world around us is changing. We are getting older, the people we grew up with are getting older, the Supreme Court is passing a Marriage Equality Act, the South Carolina State House is taking down the confederate flag, people are hacking into cars as people are driving on the interstate…

We can get so caught up in trying to maintain balance and equilibrium that we ignore the rapid change that is all around us because we don’t want to be off balance. We want to stand strong and confident and sure of what we believe and how the world operates. We want to know what the future holds and be sure that the way we are spending our time is the right way to spend your time.

But we can’t know that.

Because even the earth itself is sitting at a 23.5% tilt, a little off balance.

And maybe when we can get to the point that we acknowledge that we are off balance and we don’t know what the road ahead holds, than we can really hold this moment as something unique and special, something that will never happen exactly the same again.

Maybe that’s when we can truly become whole beings living in this off balanced world.

A Pastor’s Persepctive A Year Later

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I look at this picture from a year ago and wonder if I knew what I was getting into in accepting a call to pastor. I wonder if my family knew what they were getting into in supporting and encouraging me to pursue my call to minister.

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A year later, we are all looking at the camera. The girls are much bigger and older and wiser and overall growing way too fast. We are in a different church building. I am wearing another beautiful gift from my congregation. (It’s a scapular, in case you were wondering.) There’s also another Harrelson growing and changing us all as we await Baby H’s arrival in November.

But I wonder more than anything if I look as different as I feel. Sure, my hair is shorter, and I think the circles under my eyes are more pronounced, but as I look at the first picture, I can see myself looking into the future for our congregation. I can see the hope of the future and the excitement for the vision God has given me for God’s people.

In the second picture, a year later, I am looking directly into the camera because we are living the future God has called us to. We are more fully grounded in who we are as a congregation and what God has called us to. We are standing taller and more sure-footed than we were a year ago not because our journey has been easy, but rather because our journey has asked us to stretch our definition of what it means to be church and what it means to be followers of Christ. And because the more we have answered God’s call on our lives, the more God is calling us to do.

It’s not easy to be a community of faith together not only because of the rapid changes that are occurring culturally, but also because it’s hard to live in community together. I am so proud to be pastoring a community that is willing to change and be flexible and who is willing to take risks. They are teaching me about what it truly means to be a follower of Christ.