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Author: Merianna Harrelson

I am the Pastor of Garden of Grace United Church of Christ in Columbia, SC and the Director of Consulting at Harrelson.Co. I am always looking for a good cup of coffee and a great book.

Coming to the Surface

At some point in our afternoon, backyard adventures, I got a splinter in my finger. As I was washing dishes I realized that it was there and asked Sam to take a look at it. He looked and said, “That’s pretty deep, it’s going to have to come to the surface.”

I looked down and thought about that. There is so much that this coming to the surface during this pandemic. We are reminded that of how many people are hanging on by a thread living paycheck to paycheck. We are seeing how many small businesses might close in the next six weeks. We see the lines at food pantries getting longer and longer and can’t help but be confronted by the truth of how many families are living in food insecurity.

While we may have been able to ignore the splinters in our society that are deeply embedded into our very makeup, the pandemic has brought them to the surface. We are not ok. We are deeply splintered. We are deeply divided. We are deeply steeped in inequality.

Now that we have seen the inequalities and splinters that exist, we have a choice to make: Are we going to try to get them out or let it continue to infect us?

The Waiting Bench

In the afternoons, we try to spend as much time outside soaking up the sun and Vitamin D, creating pirate ships, and practicing climbing fences. This time is one of my favorite times of the day because it reminds me of the creativity and spontaneity that children just naturally carry with them.

At times there are things that both kids want to do at the same time, especially the spiderweb swing. Enter the waiting bench. Really it’s just the picnic table bench but renamed for the purpose of keeping one child a safe distance from the swing until it’s their turn. If we get to a point where they both want to swing, I’ll remind them that they have to take turns and then send one to the waiting bench and one to the swing. After a few swings, they switch. Watching them wait and then run and laugh as they switch makes my heart smile.

I have to admit, I am not all that great at waiting on the waiting bench. There are so many parts of life right now that are filled with waiting. Waiting for the grocery pick up. Waiting for test results. Waiting for communication from schools to see if things are open or if you are in quarantine. Waiting to see if you show symptoms. Waiting for hope. Waiting for change.

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.

May this waiting strengthen our faith and our hope for the coming Christ Child.

Puddle Walks

The past few days have provided the setting for our favorite kinds of walks: puddle walks. As we walk through the neighborhood, we try to ride through every single puddle. The cyclist goes first and we watch the water ripple before the stroller takes a turn.

It’s little small things like this that draw us in reminding us to take notice and to see what the world looks like this morning because the world doesn’t look exactly the same each day. Even in the midst of this life that can feel repetitive, there are things changing all around us.

Watching the ripples always makes me think about the way what we say and what we do leaves tracks. When we pretend that our choices don’t impact others, we try to ignore the ripples. We splash through worried only about where we are going rather than who we might douse in our hurry.

Slow down, look around, and watch the water ripple by.

Missing Parts

Yesterday, I spent the better part of the day looking for one part of a kid’s water bottle I had taken apart to wash. Each time I washed the dishes, I looked for it in the sink, in the dish dryer, and down the disposal. Each time I came up empty handed.

As I was finishing the last load of dishes, I just figured I had thrown it away by accident and started to think of alternative that would work. This has obviously happened in the past.

I went to do one last thing before headed to bed and as I turned in the faucet, there the missing part was. It was a bit camouflaged sitting next to the faucet handle, but it was right there and had been for the whole day.

I shook my head and laughed because I had started to doubt my own memory as I looked for that piece all day. “Am I going crazy? There was one more part wasn’t there?”

These are not easy times. These are times that are taken every bit of our strength and our attention. If you feel like there are parts of you missing or that you can’t keep it all together, you are not alone. I am here with you searching for missing parts too.

Pandemic Parental Guilt

Since March, working parents and caregivers have been overwhelmed while trying to balance the demands of work and the care and education of their children. Parents got up early and stayed up later trying to get work completed as well as becoming homeschool teachers and tech support. And as the duties and responsibilites continued to pile on, they were still trying to offer comfort to their children who were trying to cope with the reality that their lives had completed changed over what seemed like the course of a weekend. Even as much as working parents were trying, it seemed like they were being crushed.

It’s not as if parental guilt is something that the pandemic conjured up. Parental guilt is deemed by some as the silent epidemic. The Mommy Wars made this silent epidemic into epic memes and hashtags that brought to light just how entrenched we can get in our own viewpoints.

As we come closer and closer to the election, there is a compounded impact of the pandemic parental guilt caregivers have been shouldering. Now added to the question of whether it is better/safer/more responsible to send our kids back to school or to choose a homeschool/virtual school option, we are now in the midst of a contentious election season. Even as I write there are two town halls occurring. A battle of the airwaves because the second presidential debate was canceled. As parents watch the election season get more and more conflicted and confusing, there is an additional weight on their shoulders to “choose the right candidate” for the sake of their children’s health and futures.

Parenting is hard enough in community with the support of childcare and schooling. If you are feeling overwhelmed, burdened, and inextricably tired right now, don’t give up.

You are not alone. You are doing great. We’re all in this together.

Yesterday’s Grinds

As I was making coffee, I went into autopilot and when the kettle went off, I didn’t even look into the french press to warm it up. As I was pouring the hot water into my mug before adding it back to the french press, I noticed that yesterday’s grinds were still in the bottom of the french press pot. I was thankful that I realized this before adding new grinds to the coffeepot.

And then I wondered how would it impact my cup of coffee to have yesterday’s grinds mixed in? Would it make it more bitter? Would it make it less strong? I wasn’t sure about what impact it would have, but I was certain it would impact today’s cup of coffee to have yesterday’s grinds mixed in.

As I took my first sips, I thought this is kind of true about conversations and interactions and challenges in our lives. When we mix yesterday’s worries and concerns into today’s new day, then it is quite easy to forget the promise that “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, great is thy faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

This doesn’t mean that what happened yesterday doesn’t impact today. It does.

I think instead the inclination is that how we start our day and whether we immediately go to the work that didn’t get done yesterday, the disappointments we experienced or hurt and pain we felt, or whether we look for the morning light and a reminder that God is with us will indeed impact our heart and soul for the rest of the day.


Peeling Pomegranates

It’s been years since I peeled a pomegranate. I usually take the easy way out and buy the seeds of pomegranates or even the juice, but yesterday I decided to buy a pomegranate to show our four and half-year-old and our twenty-month-old as we were talking about seeds and how things grow.

Something happened as I sunk my fingers into the stem and pulled the peel back to reveal the red, ripe fruit. I was transported in that minute to sharing a pomegranate with a friend in Germany eleven years ago. I was transported to the same place and same time where we were sharing stories of what it was like to be a foreigner in a foreign land.

I felt tears brimming in my eyes for the memory that connected me to who I was to who I am now for the briefest moment. I was overwhelmed with the reminder that our experiences are connected to the here and now in a way that maybe only the mysterious Spirit understand.

In a time and place where connection feels so different and absent, sometimes a simple fruit is the holiest communion.

I Saw the Light

In January 1947, Hank Williams was riding in the car with his Mama coming back to Montgomery after a show. He was sleeping in the backseat of the car, when she woke him and told him, “I saw the light,” telling him that they were almost home.

This is one of the songs that sometimes get stuck in my head. I am not sure where I first heard it, but I know it was in church and in the summertime with guitars and banjos. Maybe it was at a reunion. Maybe it was at a church picnic.

Wherever it was, we were all invited to sing the chorus together:

I saw the light, I saw the light
No more darkness, no more night
Now I’m so happy no sorrow in sight
Praise the Lord I saw the light

This is the part in particular that gets stuck in my head. I find myself humming and even tapping my foot sometimes. One of the reasons it is getting stuck in my head more often right now is because there’s so much darkness. We are getting closer and closer to the long, dark days. We are surrounded by the darkness of uncertainty. We are inundated with the darkness of the death of over a million people worldwide from COVID-19.

Sometimes, I just need the reminder that I saw the light. I have witnessed and seen the way the light of the world has transformed people and continues to whisper to us.

I saw the light, I saw the light
No more darkness, no more night
Now I’m so happy no sorrow in sight
Praise the Lord I saw the light

On Not Being Prepared

I wasn’t prepared for the chilliness in this air this morning as I walked out the door to run. Yesterday’s run was humid and hot and I expected this morning to be the same. I knew if I didn’t just start running, I might convince myself to retreat back into the warmth.

Oh, I have certainly not been prepared before. Just last week, I found out that I had never actually purchased on our of the books for a class I am taking. The realization came the day an assignment was due. Many times as a classroom teacher, I would look at my twenty-five students only to realize I didn’t prepare for their questions or have the right materials. Even as a pastor, I have walked into Sunday morning worship and suddenly realized the person who was supposed to lead the children’s sermon was absent and have to put together a children’s sermon together. This modifying and adapting was always fun for me, like a jigsaw puzzle where pieces just needed to be put together.

But this year,  I wasn’t prepared for this. has taken on a whole new meaning. I didn’t see a global pandemic coming and I had no frame of reference for understanding how deeply this would impact us all. I didn’t understand how long we would be in quarantine and I certainly didn’t understand how quickly the way we experienced so much of our lives could change. I wasn’t prepared to be a homeschool teacher or a virtual preacher.

As a person who loves a good plan, this year has taught me about my strengths and weaknesses. It has brought me to my knees as I have realized over and over again that we are ash and to ash, we shall return. It has brought me to shouting hooray as I watch the wonder and curiosity as our children discover the world and take all the newness in stride.

I wasn’t prepared for any of this.

Optics and Opportunity

While watching the debate, I was overwhelmed with the optics of three old white men debating the future of our country. For years, I have been the voice in worship planning that asks the question, “But does it look like we welcome and affirm women?” when the platform or worship participants are only males. Nothing about tonight’s debate looks like we value voices of females, voices of Black people, voices of Latinos, voices of LGTBQIA+.

“But the vice-presidential debate and the post-debate analysis will be different!” Yes, it will be, but there is still tonight and tonight it feels heavy to watch and listen to voices who have always been watched and listened to.

The New York Times reported this week that the pandemic will push working women, particularly working moms, 10 years back in the workplace:

Before the pandemic, many American mothers were effectively forced to stop working for some period of time because they could not afford paid child care. And research shows that the longer a woman is out of the work force, the more severe the long-term effects on her earnings will be.

This reporting comes after the reporting in May that women were disproportionally feeling the financial impact of the pandemic:

“Last month’s shattering job losses make clear that women are in the bullseye of this pandemic,” Emily Martin, VP for education and workplace justice at NWLC, said in a statement. “In leisure, hospitality, education, health care and retail — the sectors that are getting hit the hardest — women are the ones who are falling victim to the first massive waves of this economic crisis.”

I have talked to so many working moms who are getting up before the sunrise hoping to get some work done while juggling childcare options for kids who are quarantined, waiting to be tested, were possibly exposed, and whose childcare option simply disappeared with little to no warning. They spend their days caring for their children while desperately trying to keep the foot in the door at work in naptimes or rest times or after the children go to sleep only to do the whole thing over the next day. They are exhausted.

And then tonight, their voices are not heard and not represented.

Optics matter. Optics signal opportunities. And it’s clear tonight who has the opportunity and who doesn’t.