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Fairy Gardens

I can’t believe LC just turned 7!  We have dubbed this her fairy, magical birthday because so many of her gifts have to do with fairies and magic, and I am loving it. The idea of creating a fairy garden to hold your dreams to escape from this world and to gain perspective is important for her at this age. The idea of tending to something like beans and wheat grass everyday to remind yourself to care for some other living things is powerful. But more importantly to remember to imagine and dream and wish and believe in something that you can’t quite understand or put your finger on is so important.

We ask a lot of our girls who travel between homes and communities. We ask them to be strong and brave and resilient. We ask them to be flexible and adaptable in a way I never was asked at 7 and they have stood strong.

But sometimes, they just need to be kids and imagine a world full of fairies and magic dust and wishing stones and dream stones and mystery.

On Clinging to Hope

I don’t know how many time I’ve uttered the phrase, “I hope so” in the past, but I know it’s too many to count. But the importance of hope and finding hope didn’t really resonate deeply in my heart and mind until six weeks ago when our family went to see the ultrasound of our second baby, a secret we had been keeping quiet hoping to reveal to our community of faith and family and friends the excitement of new life in the midst of Eastertide when we all need a reminder that new life keeps showing up riding the waves of the resurrection. But what we hoped would be a time of celebration has become a season of grief, a sharp juxtaposition of almost life in the midst of Eastertide.

There was no heartbeat at the ultrasound, which would ultimately lead to our experiencing a miscarriage.

Where were we supposed to put the hope of of celebration? Where were we supposed to put the hope of new life? Where were we supposed to find new hope?

For me, this has been a deeply spiritual journey to discover what hope is. Dickinson’s words took on a new meaning as I realized, “Hope is a thing with feathers,” means that hope can simply float away without any warning rather than something “that perches in the soul.”

“Now faith is the confidence in what we hope for and assurance in what we do not see.” But did I still have faith in new life? Could I still hope when we wouldn’t see the life we had dreamed and envisioned when we found out we were pregnant?

And suddenly, I understood Sarai standing at the tent listening to strangers telling her what her life would. And certainly, I have laughed just like her.

Hope? Have you read the news? Have you been to the emergency room or noticed the number of people who are jobless, homeless, hungry? Hope? What’s that supposed to do about anything.

But as I’ve walked with this grief, I’ve come to understand that hope isn’t wishful thinking. Hope is a statement of belief of the revolutionary, life-transforming belief that God who has done the impossible will surprise again. God who overcame death and offered new life will revive again. God who created life out of dust will create again. 

And I believe.

And I hope.

I don’t believe or hope in any specifics in regards to our family, but that God will still whisper and call me to create alongside of God. I believe and hope my eyes will open to see how pastoring a church named New Hope in the midst of deep grief isn’t just coincidence, but the divine presence walking beside us in the midst of the pain and suffering life brings.

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 : )

How total depravity of humanity and biblical submission impact women

I stepped out last week to share my wrestlings with the theology of depravity of humanity and offered instead the suggestion that perhaps we were created inherently good. As I have thought and read about total depravity, I have found that this theology is often taught in connection with biblical submission or the idea that men and women were inherently created different, each having a unique role. This belief often manifests in the practice of not ordaining women as deacons, ministers, or allowing women to preach or teach men.

The impact of these two theologies combine to impact women drastically. Total depravity teaches women that they are inherently flawed. Biblical submission teaches women that they are inherently lesser than men and are restricted in what they can and can’t do. The compound effect of these two theologies is a vast number of women who believe, “I am not good. I am not enough.”

As a baptist woman in minister, I have found it doesn’t really matter if you grew up in a community of faith who taught total depravity or biblical submission because the impact of these two theologies have now made their way into our culture. The result is women who believe they are broken and that they have to try to be good enough. The manifestation of this constant attempt to try to live up to standards that are based on these theologies is to attack other women and remind them that they are not good nor enough.

If you aren’t sure this is true, ask a woman minister who has been the loudest and fiercest in objecting to her answering her call to ministry. I can almost guarantee you, her answer will be other women. I’ve heard this story over and over again.

The recent campaigns to stop mommy wars is a good and important step, but until we uncover the heart of the matter of where the need and desire to shame and guilt each other begins, these efforts will only cover the surface.

How about I start?

I not only believe that you are inherently good, I believe that you are enough. You as a woman are enough. You as a woman are inherently good.

I believe wholeheartedly that the true self that lies at your very heart is good and enough. I don’t believe you are lesser than. I don’t believe you are lacking, flawed, or stained. I believe at the very core of who you are resides the divine breath.

I believe that you are godly and good in the very essence of who you are, not because of what you do or don’t do.

I believe, we as women, have believed in theologies that keep power in the hands of the powerful and maintain hierarchies in religious institutions. And I believe, we as women, will be the ones who change this as soon as we start believing that we are good and we are enough.

On Teaching Communication

Having a 15 month old is….busy might be the best adjective to describe our lives right now. Just as soon as you have one sock on and are trying to remember where you’ve placed the other sock, you have to interrupt your search in order to remove the hair dryer from your son’s hands and close the cabinet from which the hair dryer was taken. You look down at your feet, trying to remember what you are looking for only to hear something banging into the bathtub, which you hope isn’t that borrowed book from your friend that you now have to air dry out. And as you go to investigate that banging sounds, you realize you still haven’t found your other sock, not to mention your shoes.

In the midst of all the quick, moment-to-moment decisions, you also look in awe at the way this little mini human who used to be so easy to contain is exploring and discovering the world. You look for opportunities to introduce him to words and objects as he points at things and calls, “da ba ma.”

“Yes, that’s right, that’s a dog with a ball,” hoping that you are encouraging the development of language in a whole and healthy way. When he looks at you and mimics the same number of syllables, you realize that he is listening and learning in a way that he never has before.

As a minister, I can’t help but wonder about the task and calling we have as proclaimers…that is one who speaks out the word. Isn’t our role the same as parents of toddlers learning to master the language heard everyday in his or her home? The great weight of bearing the responsibility of teaching a mini human to communicate weighs heavily on my shoulders as does the responsibility of teaching, or especially in our current political and social context, re-teaching the people of God how to communicate with each other and those with whom they disagree.

The examples of discourse we have heard and read in the midst of the political season we have just weathered have made it more difficult for those of us who are attempting to use language and the power of words to offer hope and healing. How can we offer love and peace when our conversations and feeds are full of hate and attack?

At times, I am tempted to repay hate-filled speech for hate-filled speech, and then the gospel lesson for the week is “You’ve heard it said, an eye for eye, but I say love your enemies.”

Love demonstrated in action. Love demonstrated in language. Love demonstrated in the frustration of trying to find your other sock. This love filtering through every word and deed will teach us how to communicate, but more importantly, how to commune with one another.

Thanks be to God for 15 month language learners who help us remember why learning to communicate with love is so very important.

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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You Don’t Have to Buy One, Get One Free

Yesterday, I was overwhelmed with the realization, “I have a baby.”

I know this sounds odd, but there are points that you are so nose to the grind of what needs to be done in the daily care of a mini human that you can’t ever remember a time that you didn’t have a baby. I would feel nervous sharing this with you except I have heard from so many other mother that this exact same sentiment washes over you at the strangest time. The realization that you are in a phase of life that you’ve thought about, but never knew what it would actually be like. The realization of the enormous weight and responsibility you are carrying as you nurture and guide a child.

For me that realization came yesterday afternoon as I was watching Ben have his snack. He was sitting in his high chair and I decided while he was content, I would clean out the cupboard and get rid of things that had accumulated that needed to be thrown out. Then I began to check expiration dates. Here’s what I found that had expired:

I was embarrassed. How had I let so much go by unnoticed? Why hadn’t the desire to clean out and check expirations dates washed over me sooner? Oh right, I have a baby.

I wanted to land squarely on that justification, but then I noticed I had doubles of things. Why in the world did I have two cans of breadcrumbs both of which that had been opened and both that were past their date? Because of the allure of the buy one, get one free. It’s why I had boxes of crackers (not expired!) that would probably go to waste (or let’s be honest, expire in my cupboard).

But it’s a good deal, I wanted to argue with myself. And it means I won’t have to put that item back on my grocery list for two weeks, I continued to reason with myself. Sure, but it also means that you have to store twice as much food, have twice as many choices, and have much less room because of all the repeat items.

But more than anything, my frustration with what this cleaning out episode revealed to me was that I had fallen prey to the “I Need More,” mantra that pervades our society. Didn’t I work every week with people who are in need? Didn’t I understand the privilege of having this much stuff? Didn’t I know by buying into the buy one get one free, I would eventually have to throw away way more food thus contributing to the overconsumption that plagues our society?

Not to mention, I have a baby. A baby who I want to raise with the profound truth that less is more. That we don’t need as much as we have and only when we acknowledge this can we start to bridge the great divide between the haves and the haves nots. A baby who I hope will understand that even if buy one get one free is a good deal, we only need one, even if our society and the marketing at the grocery store tells us otherwise.

We Now Return You to Your Regularly Scheduled Programming

I was surprised to discover on Monday that Ben’s school was actually opened. For some reason, maybe because the girls were out of school and Sam had a rare day off work, I had just assumed his school would be closed as well. So, did I return him to his regular routine even as the rest of the family was still on holiday break or did we all exist in this alternate reality that is Christmas break for a while longer?

I decided to take him for a little bit, just to get back in the habit. Back in the habit…just three days into the New Year it seemed that these small steps are what I needed, too. I needed to get back in the habit of running, of drinking water, of getting as much sleep as possible when caring for mini humans….back in the habit.

Back in the habit, sounds so much like back to the grind or back to work. These phrases that whisper of returning to something predictable and patterned. Isn’t it interesting how we crave the time off and then as soon as we have a couple of different days, we then beg for the consistent comfort of routine?

And all around me I see big life changes upsetting and rerouting routine: friends moving, 13 months old learning to walk, friends starting new jobs, or dealing with the aftermath of huge diagnoses. Is there really ever a consistent, predictable routine or do we just try to convince ourselves there is? When we do crave the routine, then are we really making change even harder when it inevitably creeps into our lives and turns everything upside down?

Perhaps in the changing dynamics of our families, society, and lives, there is something powerful about admitting the chaos that exists all around us. Perhaps when we can name the chaos, then we can also name divine breath that breathes into that chaos creating order in our midst. Perhaps when we step fully into the chaos, we are able to admit to the unknown: the unknown that our lives can change in a minute from death to life, chaos to order, with just one divine word.

Let there be…

Now we return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Healing Through Cooking

“Well, you’re becoming quite the cook,” Sam’s grandmother said to me as she opened her Christmas present of homemade pasta sauce, cowboy caviar, and pickles.

“Just try it first before you say that so certainly,” I joked back.

It was a surreal conversation to me because for so many years, there has been no question that I am a bad cook, maybe bad isn’t the right adjective, but dangerous certainly would be an appropriate descriptor.

In an effort to try to impress Sam early in our relationship, I decided I wanted to cook for him. Chicken fajitas seemed like just the right meal because it was a step above regular tacos, but still seemed manageable. And it is, for most people. For me, it resulted in third degree burns on my left hand and arm and a trip to Urgent Care. Scars I still bear years later. I’m pretty sure he still has a wave of anxiety every time I declare I was thinking I would cook dinner.

When Ben went in for his four month check up, we found out that his weight had dropped significantly. This was surprising with his over eight pound birth weight and his 10 lbs 2 oz two week check up weight. We were exclusively breastfeeding, but it seemed with his activity level and his growth pattern that it was time to add solids into his diet. We started with baby oatmeal and decided to make our own baby food, so that we could be sure he was getting lots of vitamins and good fat to up his weight. Our days started to be ordered around how long a sweet potato took to cook, how many oatmeal bars were left, and whether it was time to make more applesauce. It became just a natural routine over the course of the year that making his birthday cake, the task was exciting rather than intimidating.

And so began a change in our daily schedule that included cooking, and a lot of it. I found myself engrossed in baby-led weaning websites and in the cookbook section of the library! Truly, motherhood had changed me.

Over the course of the year, I have had many more disasters (none resulting in a trip to the Urgent Care, thankfully), but I’ve gotten to the point where preparing and planning the time to make something homemade is relaxing as well as a spiritual. For surely, there is something mystical and divine about enjoying something created by someone else’s hands. Couldn’t homemade pimento cheese slathered on a piece of bread be the body of Christ? Couldn’t gathering around the table eating and fellowship rather than rushing through a meal to get to the next thing be something that transforms us as a society and as families? Couldn’t a good old-fashioned potluck be what our communities of faith need to discuss budgets and the changes in our society? It’s harder to be angry and defensive when there’s warm pound cake to be enjoyed, isn’t it?

And I can’t help but think back to the times the kids have helped prepare our meal as we were all gathered in the kitchen and remember hearing their moans of how difficult it is to peel potatoes and then how good the potato soup was because they had helped make it. Or how they didn’t think they liked broccoli and cheddar soup, but because they tasted it along the way, they wanted a mug full.

There’s something about the divine and mystical process of creation that we can capture and hold onto in the kitchen. When we invite our children and families into that creation process, the Divine whispers gently to their hearts and hands that they, too, can create something new, something that sustains both the body and the spirit. When we invite others to come and fellowship around the table, we can’t help but wonder if this isn’t exactly what Jesus was doing as he ate and drank with people he wasn’t suppose to talk to much less share a table and meal with.

My resolution last year started simply: I’m going to learn to hard boil an egg, but it whispered of a much deeper need in my life. I’m going to learn to practice even when I fail again and again. I’m going to learn to wait until things are fully cooked and then fully enjoy them instead of trying to hurry up the process. I’m going to learn to be aware of people who are in need around me.

Because sometimes pumpkin bread left on someone’s doorstep says, “You are not alone. I see you,” in a way that words and good intentions can’t.