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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.

A Year of Less

Today is our baby girl’s first birthday! There is plenty I don’t remember in the blur of breastfeeding and sleeplessness and recovering from a C-section over the past year, but there are lots of things I do remember. I remember the conversation with my partner about whether I would have time to start the practice of Panda Journaling that emphasized gratitude and intentionality in the midst of having a newborn. I can remember the magical book that appeared from my dear friend and fellow podcaster called The Artist’s Way, which helped me see that there are people that cross our paths who are crazy-makers, spreading chaos to thwart our creativity because of their own blocked creativity. I can remember the early mornings and late nights of feedings and pumpings and those all coming back up with the mild reflux.


I can remember the look in her big brother’s eyes as he met her for the first time and the look in her sisters’ eyes as they met her for the first time. I can remember the relief and awe of my partner’s eyes as he helped pull her out amazed that everything was so easy this time around.

 

Over the course of this year, I’ve stored all these memories and moments treasuring them and realizing that these are the moments that are the most important to me. These are the moments that I want more of. I’ve resigned from jobs and boards and commitments this year. It’s been a year of less meetings, less coffee dates, less shopping, less of all the busyness.

This year of less has turned into a year of more. More afternoons chasing a baby to the stairs. More laughter and giggling as our youngest learned to crawl and kiss and tackle her four-year-old brother. It’s been a year of more time with our nine-year-old learning how to be an older sister to a sister. It’s been a year of more baby holding and baby snuggling for our baby-loving twelve-year-old. It’s been a year of more parenting and more coffee and more hoping and praying with my partner for our family and our children. More healing, more love, more hopes and more dreams for our children and making our world a better place for them to grow and learn and thrive.

I can’t wait to see what the next year will hold!

In the Midst of the Hurrying

“Get your backpack please,” I said for the fourth time as we were trying to get out the door.

“But mom,” I heard from our four-year-old. He wanted to tell me something about the dream he had where there were all kinds of cars and he got to see Jackson Storm and Lightning McQueen really race. As we were walking down the steps, I just had grabbed his backpack to speed things up, he found a dandelion and started to say, “Look, mom, look!”

In my mind, I know the minutes are clicking away. The minutes that mean we might hit the train and be late for school. The minutes before the 11-month-old gets so sleepy that she falls asleep in the car rather than in her crib. The minutes that can change the whole morning and if I am honest can alter my mental state all day long.

But he doesn’t care about the minutes. He would welcome being stuck by the train and counting and naming the different kinds of cars that speed by. He would love to see his sister fall asleep and report that she was asleep to me.

And so I stop for in the midst of the hurrying and explain that when he blows the dandelion, the white tufts are seeds that might grow into new dandelions.

“Blow them towards the bushes and then we can check and see if new ones grow there,” I say.

His eyes light up because in the midst of the hurrying, I have entered his world and stopped the hurrying that pushes him around morning after morning.

 

In the Midst of the Magic

Over the holidays, all of us were sick. We didn’t take turns but overlapped in the spreading of coughs and runny noses that happens when there are multiple kids and multiple schools. There were tissues all over the place and water cups and our counters were lined with cough syrups, antibiotics, and saline sprays. We made it all the way until our youngest was ten months old before we started spreading things back and forth and then this.

I have to be honest and say that I didn’t have the best attitude in the midst of all the sickness. When you don’t feel well, it’s easy to see the gray that is all around you instead of seeing the bits of sun shining through promising warmth and light.

And it’s hard when you don’t feel well to take care of mini-humans, especially when they feel well and you don’t. They still want to go and do things and see things and learn things. They still want to explore and discover the magic that’s out there in the world.

It was on one of those days that we ended up at the playground to get some fresh air and some sunshine. Our park has an incredible walking trail that makes you feel like you are hiking through the woods and we almost always end our time at the playground with a nature walk around the loop looking for messages and magic.

This is the one we found on our first nature walk of the new year: “You are awesome.” I like to pretend I don’t need these messages. These are messages for our mini humans who are still developing their sense of self and their self-worth. These are the types of messages that we need to flood them with for the times when they encounter failure and frustration.

On this day, I needed this message. I needed to stand in the midst of the magic of someone taking the time to write this on the nature trail. I need to stand in the midst of the magic of our four-year-old discovering a secret message on a nature walk. I needed to stand in the midst of the magic of our four-year-old finding and using a walking stick. I needed to stand in the midst of the magic of an almost one-year-old laughing at her brother every chance she found. I needed to stand in the midst of the magic of a free park maintained and cared for by a community who want to encourage people to be outside.

I needed to stand in the midst of the magic and remember I am but a bit of stardust in this great cosmos of mystery.

In the Midst of Rain

Yesterday, I was trying to do a quick grocery store run before the thunderstorms rolled in with our four-year-old and our 11-month-old in tow. I was convinced I had timed it just right. I talked our four-year-old son through the planning because he gets a little nervous during storms. We had a plan and we were going to work together to accomplish it.

We got to the dog food aisle when the first thunder boom hit. The four-year-old stopped in the middle of the aisle and declared, “Mom! We have to get home to be safe during the thunderstorm.”

My first reaction was one of joy. He believes and perceives our home to be safe, his sanctuary from all the learning and growing he is going through right now. My second reaction was one of dread because I knew what was coming. I was going to have to try to load up the groceries, two children, and myself in the midst of the rain.

After we checked out, I took a minute to stop and think through things because I knew as soon as we were in the midst of the rain, my brain would be trying to move as quickly as possible. I tried to put my raincoat on the 11-month-old who found it hilarious to play peek-a-boo with it. I got the four-year-old all set with his umbrella. I got my keys ready and we went for it.

There we were in the midst of the rain. One dry four-year-old finding all the puddles and stomping in them in no hurry because his umbrella had him covered. An 11-month-old playing peekaboo with the coat, her eyelashes catching the raindrops. and there I was already soaked when we were only halfway to the car.

In the midst of the rain, I found myself belly laughing at what we must look like. Two children laughing and splashing and one Mama soaked through trying to remember every moment.

Do you need an umbrella?

This morning as I was pushing the stroller with our almost one-year-old and the dogs, it started to drizzle. I wasn’t concerned because it was just a light drizzle, but as we continued on our route the light drizzle began to add up so that everyone who wasn’t in a stroller was damp.

We were on the final stretch home when a car passed by wound down the window and the driver asked: “Do you need an umbrella? I have one back here.” I thanked her and told her that we were almost home, but that I really appreciated the offer.

This is such a small act. Something so little but that shows intentionality and kindness.

Sometimes we become convinced that we can’t have a big impact and so we choose not to try. Sometimes we are just too in our own hearts and minds and daily schedule to look up, stop, and think about what it would be like to be in someone else’s shoes.

This small act reminded me that I am not alone. There was someone who saw me, noticed that it was raining and that I was walking, and went even further to imagine what might help make the situation easier.

More of this in this new year and new decade, please!

A Year of Rebirth

A word always chooses me at the end of the year and 2019 has been no different. It isn’t that I don’t set intentions or affirmations at the beginning of the calendar year, but rather that by the end of the journey of one more trip around the sun, a word has followed me through the year.

This year has been a year of rebirth.

In January, I accepted a call to pastor Garden of Grace United Church of Christ. It is the first time, I haven’t been baptist in my thirty-four years of life. I accepted that calling while eight months pregnant with our daughter. Starting something new while being so close to having a newborn is kind of the way my calling has always worked. It is something that doesn’t make sense to a lot of people. A whispering, a pulling me to something new.

This year I have reclaimed my identity as an evangelical or a re-evangelical, an identity that I have shied away from because of the conservative, fundamental experience as a child. This in and of itself is a rebirth, a joining of my childhood experiences to my expressions and experiences of faith over the past seven years as a clergy member.

The birth of our daughter was a scheduled c-section after our son’s emergency c-section and traumatic birth. I had heard over and over again that the experience of having a planned c-section after an emergency c-section would be healing. To be sure, knowing what was coming and when our daughter was coming was much different than our experience with our son. When we met the team who was going to be with us in the operating room, we recognized a familiar face. It was the lactation consultant who was the first hospital employee we met after the first night of our son’s life that was filled with heel pricks and tears and fears. She was the one who listened and cared for us after such a scary night and she would be the one who was caring for our daughter and me. Funny how things work, isn’t it? Our daughter’s birth was textbook in so many ways. In fact, there were two USC nursing students who were able to observe her birth and experience a c-section for the first time because there was no trauma or fear involved. Sam even got to help the doctor pull her out. This was so healing and so very important to me as a mother.

Two years ago, I accepted a job as an Administrative Assistant in the Academy of Faith and Leadership. This led me to a two-year journey to become certificated as a spiritual director and opened a whole new depth of my calling as a minister and as a pilgrim. I read and learned and healed from so much hurt in my own spiritual journey and I have begun to offer space and sanctuary for others who are also seeking to heal and deepen their own spirituality.

This year has also brought a rebirth to our business. Sam and I started working together again at Harrelson Co and we moved into a new office space, which is reminiscent of our time in Asheville where we worked together. Sam and I met while teaching at the same school so the time that we spent working in separate environments often felt off in some ways. Now we are back to creating and learning and growing together.

Rebirth is never easy. It is painful and awkward. It means revisiting old wounds and learning to walk again. Rebirth always brings new life, transformation, and understanding. Thanks be to God for this year of rebirth.

 

 

Best Books I Read in 2019

Every year for the past three years, I have participated in the book challenge on Goodreads. Every year I have set my reading goal for fifty books and I have yet to meet that goal. This year I read twenty-seven books out of the fifty and I am proud of that. This is a good experience for me year after year because it reminds me that I can’t do everything even those things I really want to do. I will keep setting this goal every year.

I have read some really good books this year, here are my top five books for 2019:

  1. The Artist’s Way: My dear friend Elisabeth sent met this book. She is a creator and she said that it changed the way that she approached creativity and the way that she approached her art. As a content creator, I knew I needed a little boost and this was exactly what I needed. This is not just a book, but a course of study that asks you to reflect on the things and the people who are getting in the way of you creating art.

2. The Minimalist Home: This was a random grab off the staff picks table at our local library and I still cannot stop thinking about it. I started this year by taking the LifeinJeneral #31daychallenge to declutter our home in preparation for our baby. This lead to a Lenten study of what we really need through the book Seven. This year concluded with this book and it was such a good ending to this year of focusing and analyzing needs and wants. To be sure, I have a long way to go, but this year has been a huge step on trying to living purposefully and intentionally.

3. Panda Journal: Although this isn’t a book I read this year, this is a book that has changed my life this year. I was trained as a teacher and this book planner/journal appeals to all my teacher-ness. It asks you to offer gratitude for three things every morning, as well as three things that you are excited about and three priorities. Only three. This has been such a huge visual reminder of what is really important and how time gets filled each and every day. I have already started on this year’s planner and I can’t wait to see what insights another year of starting the day with gratitude and excitement will bring.

4. The Mental Load: A Feminist Comic: This book appeared on my desk one day. I found out that a co-worker had sent it for me to read via Sam. I finished it in two days with tears streaming down my face. I have a wonderful partner in life and work that helps in so many ways, but trying to explain and articulate the things that are weighing on your heart and mind each and every day is extremely difficult. This year I have felt this much more with our baby thrown in the mix. Packing lunches, making sure that everyone has something weather-appropriate to wear, doctors’ appointments on top of trying to lead and guide a congregation has certainly not been easy. As I read this book, I felt seen and heard and that I wasn’t alone in this journey.

5. The Purity Myth: I am not shy about being raised in the height of the purity movement as a girl in a conservative evangelical environment. Even though I talk and write about spiritual abuse often, I didn’t realize how much work I still needed to do in owning my own sexuality. This book revealed so much about how sexuality, purity, pregnancy, and pro-life vs. pro-choice is all a part of the same conversation. A conversation that involves silencing women and seeing women as girls who are unable to speak for themselves and decide for themselves. This has started a lot of reflection and I know will show up in my writing in the coming year.

In the Midst of Sickness

It took us until September of this first year of our daughter’s of life until our two youngest kids passed sicknesses back and forth. Since September we have passed quite a few sicknesses back and forth in the way that happens when you add another mini human to the family mix.

As these moved back and forth, I found myself in Urgent Care two days after Christmas answering the nurse’s question: “Have you been around anyone who was sick recently?”

“Well,” I answered. “My son had a viral throat infection and then the croup. My daughter has had a double infection and another ear infection and my partner has had a flu-like cold.” The nurse looked at me and smiled, “So you probably just got all of that.”

My official diagnosis was a sinus infection and ear infection with a partially permeated eardrum (who knew you could even do that?).  As the doctor was telling me the medicines he was going to prescribe, I mentioned I was still nursing. He asked me how old our daughter was and I told him that she was eleven months. He then proceeded to tell me that the amoxicillin and other medication that he was prescribing really shouldn’t be taken while breastfeeding. After this, he delivered a lecture explaining there weren’t any benefits to nursing a baby past two weeks and really two months was the max benefit. He mentioned his credentials: he had been in family medicine before he started working at Urgent Care. I nodded and didn’t contest his analysis, but then he pushed and asked me what my plan was for feeding my baby while I took the medicine, waiting for an explanation before he would give me the prescription. Even in the midst of my not feeling well, I could tell that this was an abuse of power. I told him that I would figure it out and he asked, “So you will give her formula?”

At this point, I was not only shocked, but I was also upset. I knew enough to know that although there are medications you can’t take while breastfeeding, amoxicillin wasn’t one of them. In fact, our daughter had just finished a round of amoxicillin for her own ear infection. I explained that I had enough milk saved up hoping that would end the conversation, but he pressed again, “Enough for ten days?”

I answered with a curt, “Yes.”

So much of this experience reminds me of stories I’ve heard of mothers who have been involved in similar pressured conversations where medical professionals overstep the boundaries of their job to care for the mother to use their position of power to influence a mother’s decision on how to feed her baby. This is an abuse of power that isn’t only in the medical profession.

I can remember similar pressured conversations with religious leaders growing up in the midst of conservative evangelicalism where I was forced to answer questions that were inappropriate and way past boundaries that should have been maintained. This abuse of power is called spiritual abuse when it is enacted by a religious leader and one of the experiences that causes so much distrust within a person’s spirit, especially women who have these experiences.

Expertise and experience do not entitle or enable a person to take away the choices or decisions of another person. Expertise and experience without compassion and empathy only serve to cause more harm than good.

The fact that this medical professional took advantage of my vulnerable position of needing medication and used it as an opportunity to not only lecture but demean my ability to decide what is the best way to feed my daughter is unacceptable.

This has to stop in the medical world and in the institutional church.

Greatest Night of Giveaways

The past three nights, there has been Ellen’s Greatest Night of Giveaways. The unsuspecting crowd was drawn in under the pretense of filming another show. The winners of thousands of dollars were interviewed under the pretense of a show that was about how people in difficult situations turn their lives around never giving up and always holding onto hope. And of course, the audience was surprised with six-day getaways, new exercise equipment, gift cards, and the latest and greatest technology.

If you watched the show or tuned in on Instragram or Twitter, you found yourself laughing and crying. I found myself hooked on the stories of the families whose lives she was turning around. The boy who was raised living in his car with his family who started being a sign spinner who received a car and a job, his life taking a completely different trajectory than before. The single dad who lost his job who was sent to Europe with his daughters for a month. The single dad whose wife passed away just six weeks ago whose mortgage was paid off. Surely, this is the reason for the season. Surely, this is what power and influence and money can do for good.

Ellen ended each show by saying, “Merry Christmas. Spread some Christmas cheer today and remember to be kind to each other.” I couldn’t help but compare this to the impeachment hearings and the way our leaders are yelling at each other and at witnesses. The rhetoric of our political leader in regards to a sixteen-year-old girl who has a passion and a calling to change the world.

Why is that we are so unkind to each other? Why is that we are so competitive with each other? Why is that we find ourselves so entrenched in identity politics that we can’t even see the needs of other people around us?

It takes a lot of intention, reflection, and prayer to renew our minds and to open our hearts to the needs of other people. Instead of asking why the person is on the corner holding a sign asking for money or food, it takes wondering what it would feel like to be at the point where you have to hold a sign to ask for food. Instead of complaining about the fact that it is raining, it takes imagining what it would be like to sleep outside in the rain all night long and then be damp for the rest of the day as the rain continues.

It takes thinking outside of our lived experiences and imagining the lives and the realities of other people. It takes an understanding that the economic system that we live in has privileged some above others and continues to do so. It takes shifting our thinking from “I deserve this,” to “we deserve this.”

And if there is ever a season in the church year when we can change our thinking and that the Divine turns things upside down, it’s Advent. Watch and wait. Something is coming that will change the way we see the world and indeed change the powers of the world.

Just wait.

In the Midst of Waiting

This time last year, we found out that our baby girl would be coming about ten days earlier than we expected. I can remember the feeling of panic that washed over me as I thought about having less time to wait on her. Even though we were ready to meet her, I was not ready to undergo another C-section quite yet. I was starting a new job and something about having her in January instead of the first week of February just felt like it was so much sooner.

I can remember the feeling of waiting four years ago when we were in the midst of the Advent season and I was on maternity leave. I was ready to be back in our community and I was ready to be back in the pulpit. I didn’t want to wait. I was impatient.

It’s interesting to me the way this high, holy season works. There are some weeks that seem like they are going so slowly and other weeks where it seems that we are rushing through the week. I find myself in the midst of waiting both impatient and not ready for the Christ Child to come, for God to be among us in the flesh.

For our family, this season of Advent has been one of new beginnings. Four years ago we welcomed our son who played baby Jesus on the last Sunday of Advent and last year we were waiting for our daughter hoping and praying she would continue to grow and that she would stay put. This year, we are chasing her around as she begins to explore her surroundings including the dog bowls and benches and all of her brother’s toys.

It is so easy to be distracted by the waiting and forget that it is in the midst of the waiting that the revelation comes. We are waiting for something more and yet the waiting is the magical, mystical preparation that opens our hearts and our minds to what is to come.