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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.

I Just Want You to be….Kind

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I admit it, I teared up as Handy Manny and his tools delivered gifts to the major for kids whose parents couldn’t afford presents this year. Maybe it was because Ben and I had just returned from Florence where we dropped off presents and bags of food for children who lost their homes or whose parents lost work during Hurricane Matthew. Maybe it was because I am overwhelmed by Santa pictures and Santa Christmas lists and am wondering how as a parent you teach your children to think of the people who don’t have food or toys during Christmas before they rattle off their own lists of wants.

Gross-Loh in her book Parenting Without Borders explains:

In 1970, the primary goal stated by most college freshmen was to develop a meaningful life philosophy; in 2005 it was to become comfortably rich.

This is disturbing because it means our children are thinking first of their own comforts and seeking those comforts whatever the costs. This lack of empathy is part of our culture now and engaging in some of the cultural practices especially around this time of year may just be teaching our children that this is what life is about.

Gross-Loh explains:

[A] survey of high school students from five different U.S. schools asked them to rank what they wanted in life. Did they want to be happy? Did they want to be good, caring for others? Two-thirds of the students ranked happiness above goodness, and said they believed their parents held the same goal for them.

Wow.

Perhaps as a parent, I need to revisit my own rhetoric and refrain from saying I want you to be happy or asking what would make you happy and instead ask what would be the kind response? What could you do to show you care for someone? Perhaps as a parent, offering the invitation for our children to choose between thinking about themselves first and thinking of other first would open up conversations and truths within our children we haven’t seen before. Perhaps it’s within this next generation that hope, love, joy, and peace reside if we but offer the space and place to let them be who they are rather than who we want them to be.

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Wrinkled Joy

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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.

Sometimes You Forget…

Sometimes you forget that what you’ve experienced and been through is not what everyone else has experienced and been through. Sometimes you forget that sharing your story and experiences might be exactly what someone else needs in that moment. Sometimes you forget that you can offer hope and understanding by just sharing who you are.

I hold a Master’s in Literacy, something I forget about in my day to day being because teaching isn’t my profession. I also hold a Master’s in Divinity, something that is more in the forefront of my mind as I prepare to preach and worship with the amazing community of faith, New Hope Baptist Fellowship.

Sam also has teaching experience and theological education and as we journey together as parents, we are trying very intentionally in what we do and say to raise and foster kids who are compassionate, aware of the needs that surround them, and who understand that they each have something they can offer no matter how old they are to offer love and hope.

One way we do this is by what we read to them and in front of them. Here’s what we’ve been reading lately and why we chose it:

I love this book a teaching friend gave us when Ben was born because it teaches kids that even when you have always seen yourself to be a certain way, there is always a chance that you will encounter someone who will change and transform you.

 

Peter Reynolds is brilliant in how he addressed the magical, mystical element of creation for young readers. This one in particular shows that even when the people around you try to discourage you, you shouldn’t give up what you love to do. Also, being the voice of encouragement to someone can change their whole perspective.

 

Not only does Mo Williems write the Elephant and Piggie series incorporating the 100 site words for first graders, he also hits the nail on the head in topics. This is one of our favorites for teaching that waiting and patience often allow us to experience something miraculous.

 

 

We love this one for the way it plays with rhyme and meter, but also for how it reminds us that there is always need surrounding us. When we barrel over other people, they won’t be quite as willing to help us when we need help.

 

Looking for specific age suggestions for your own children or grandchildren? I’m happy to help! I love talking about children’s literature and the powerful impact it can play in teaching our children.

A Week Ago Part 2

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A week ago, Sam called to tell me that he had been in a wreck, which lead to a series of events that took over our week including doctor’s visits, insurance calls, and rental car arrangements. It wasn’t how we were expecting to spend our week and there were many times last week that I asked, “why did this happen to us?”

And then I on Wednesday when I picked Ben up, I got his first ever school craft. A simple reminder of the season of Thanksgiving that we are approaching. I looked at that footprint and remembered in the hospital the first attempt to take his footprints were too bloody to take home because of the glucose tests they had to do by sticking his heels and I remembered the week Ben was born and how I was left speechless by the miraculous power of life and birth and breath in Ben.

And a week ago I was reminded again of the beauty of life and breath as Sam walked away from the car wreck. I breathed deeply as I held this simple picture because even though our lives were overtaken and redirected last week, we were still together as family.

This is not an easy time to be a parent, to be a minister, or to be a family. It is hard work to redirect our thoughts to being thankful and grateful. It is is hard work to try to engage in the important work of trying to speak love into the divisive rhetoric we hear, read, and often repeat. It is hard work to stop and reflect and imagine what we could become together if we are thankful instead of ungrateful, selfless rather than selfish, and understanding rather than defensive. But this, this is the hard work we are called to do as partners, parents, and ministers.

And for a community of people who are working towards these same goals, I am thankful.

Parenting in the Midst of Crisis

As I watch the news and await the impact of Hurricane Matthew on South Carolina, I think back to the parents who were in the Victorian Lakes Mobile Home Community during the flood last year and the stories they told about the police coming and knocking on their door telling them to pack a bag and be ready to go. I remember them telling me with tears in the eyes of the weeks and months that followed of bedtimes filled with fear and anxiety. I remember their telling me about their children looking into their eyes and asking, “Are we going to be ok? Are we going to have to leave?”

I remember that we were supposed to have the girls on that weekend and that we, as parents, decided together that it was a better idea if they stayed with their mom. I remember the disappointment and questioning that followed that decision on Saturday as there was no rain, and then the relief on Sunday knowing they were safe. I remember wondering how much we were going to tell them about what had happened to families here and whether we would show them the houses and businesses that were destroyed.

The same question I was asking then, rolls around in my heart and mind as I hear about another school shooting, this time resulting in a child dying or potential flooding, “How do I parent in the midst of crisis? How much do I tell my children about what’s going on in a manner that facilitates understanding and empathy, but not fear?”

I don’t have the answers to these questions nor would I beg to offer the answers to these questions to any other parent, but what I do have is a community of other parents who are wrestling with how to parent in the midst of crisis in a way that fosters wholeness and compassion and love.

Thanks be to God for community and conversation as we walk this road together.