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Jumping Into the Deep End

Right as summer was winding down this week, our three-year-old surprised us by saying he wanted to jump off the diving board. First he wanted to jump with his swim vest on and then he surprised us even more by saying that he wanted to jump off without his swim vest.

As I watched him on the edge of the board, I thought about how far we had come in regards to swimming. Memorial Day weekend, I dragged him into the water because it had been a year since we had been in the water and because he had a healthy sense of fear about the water. And now three months later he is jumping into the deep end using his courage and his strength to keep himself afloat.

I watched him jump over and over again and marveled at his confidence and his courage.

Why does that disappear as we get older? Where does the self-doubt enter and change our ability to say, “I am going to jump and I am going to swim by myself?” Perhaps it’s because we have lost the feeling of sheer excitement and anticipation of standing on the edge of a diving board ready to be immersed in a new experience. Perhaps it’s because we have lost our sea legs and allowed the stiffness of routine to set in.

Whatever the reason, watching that smile creep across his face as he leaped into the air reminded me that we are never too old to jump into the deep end and never too old to be courageous.

Six Months Postpartum

This week our youngest started her nursery school. When I went to pick her up, the teachers told me that she was still sleeping and I chuckled to myself. Being the fourth child, I can just imagine that the dark and quiet room was just what she needed to get some good rest. Six months is a big marker because there is so much that starts happening all at once. She is flipping from tummy to back, back to tummy, tummy to back and actually moving different places. She has the cutest laugh that usually follows something her older siblings have done.

Six months also mark two seasons of being together as a family of four. We hibernated during the season of winter getting to know each other. We watched her grow and move and start to smile as the flowers bloomed and everything turned green. Now we are relaxing in the long summer days and nights playing games, watching movies, and going swimming.

Six months of being a family of four together learning and growing together. I can’t wait to see what the next six months will hold.

A Year of Grieving

What a year it has been for our family! This year has held numerous joyful surprises as well as profound grief. Three of our friends from our first congregation passed away this year as well as close family friends. These are people who held and taught our children. Walking closely with others always brings great joy but then also immense sadness when they are not with us anymore.

For a long time, I fled from grief. I turned my mind to autopilot and the things that needed to get done effectively removing myself from the situation so that I didn’t have to truly feel grief. This year I found I couldn’t run anymore. I couldn’t ignore the impact the people we lost this year had on me, my ministry, and our family. I couldn’t ignore the way the grief of thinking we were going to welcome a new life into our hearts and hands doesn’t disappear, not even after those nine months have passed.

I have tried the best I know how to grieve, not rushing the process, not explaining the process, just being in the midst. This has been extremely difficult for me. It’s driven me to practical action like getting life insurance again and finally creating a last will and testament. It’s slowed me down in the quiet mornings when Ben is up before the sun is up and we are sitting in silence playing with trains. Because I know those mornings aren’t guaranteed. I know because I’ve walked with families and people who have found this to be brutally true.

It’s made me analyze and retire some of the trite phrases we use as we try to console people in the midst of grief. It’s made me struggle and wrestle to find the light, love, and joy in the memories of the times we spent with the people we lost and hold onto those not just with the mind, but with body and soul.

Grieve was not the word I chose for 2017. Grieve chose me this year asking me to be real and honest in a way that I know will follow me into this next year and the years to come. Thanks be to God that Jesus wept and grieved and so can we.

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.

A Year of Healing

I found myself lying on the floor staring at the ceiling next to a basket of unfolded laundry unable to believe that 2016 is almost over. The day had started with a celebration at Transitions with the youth of New Hope Christian Fellowship and our three kids where we sang carols, drank cocoa, and ate cake together. We fellowshipped and celebrated making it through Christmas, one of the hardest holidays for the homeless population we have been working with over the past seven months. I was thinking about the forty people we had crammed into the big day room and wondered what was going to happen if our numbers continued to grow at the rate we have been growing. This was already the third room we had been moved to because we had outgrown the space in the other two rooms.

But even as I reflected and breathed a deep peaceful breath that all of the planning from Advent and all of the celebrations with family were concluded, the overwhelming thought that kept repeating itself was, “I never thought I’d be here.”

Even though I haven’t been vocal about it, I make a commitment each year to concentrate on a mantra or discipline, something that will stretch and challenge me, something that I hope will bring me new insights and new understandings.

In 2015 I concentrated on new life and on rebirth as I stepped fully into the role of pastor without being a student/pastor. I concentrated on nurturing and feeding the baby that grew within me. It was a beautiful time of recognizing and practicing resurrection helping my first community of faith to see that there is always a new start and a chance for joining in creating alongside of a Creator who walked with humanity in the cool of the evening. It was a year of anticipation and excitement.

2016 has been one of the hardest I’ve chosen because it’s been a year of healing.

In January, I had to acknowledge the impact nine months of pregnancy, hours of labor, including back labor, two attempts at an epidural before one actual took had taken on my body. I learned what my grandmother meant when she said she was “bone weary” as we navigated cluster feedings and growth spurts nurturing and caring for a mini human trying to wake up to the world around him. It’s been a year where I have had to accept more help than I’m comfortable and leave more things undone than I’d like.

It’s been a year that I have wrestled to understanding my story, one that includes spiritual abuse and will always include people who would rather me not tell my story. It’s been a year where I’ve had to say goodbye to a community of faith so influential in my journey as a follower of Christ and pastor.

It’s been a year where we’ve had to wrestle with the question of what’s next for months and months of uncertainty and fear in a contentious presidential election and then attempt to find our footing after the results came in.

It’s been a year when I’ve finally felt strong enough to start running again: running a long race, running old paths. And just when I started to feel my body heal, we were confronted again with how our whole lives can change in a week as our journey of healing moved from me to Sam. I’ve wondered how it be so tiring to give your mind and body time to heal. Isn’t it supposed to be a peaceful and restful process? And the image of Jacob limping away from this wrestling creeps into my mind knowing what the long journey of healing he had ahead of him looked like. 

As I got up and reached into the basket and started folding clothes dividing them into three stacks for our three sleeping kids, I wondered why I had made those late night promises to God to take time to heal in the early part of this year. Why hadn’t I chosen a different word, a different journey for this year? But even as the questions came to my mind, I knew that this time of cocooning ourselves and trying to give ourselves time to heal has been so important.

And as I look to next week, next year I can’t help but wonder has this all just been a part of the metamorphosis to come?

What will 2017 hold?  

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.

The Sound of Sleeping

Summertime brings longer visits with our girls and longer times when all three of our kids together. Last night as we came back to our house, the 7 month old and I from a week at General Assembly and Sam and the girls from a trip from Asheville, the house slowly began to settle into the sounds of sleep that heavy breathing that turns into snoring. Willie, ever the nanny dog, wandered from room to room checking to make sure he heard the soft snoring or quiet from each child before finally settling in our room.

As I listened to the sounds of sleeping taking over our house, I thought of those overnight visits at grandma’s house in which we are all nestled into one room: Ben in the pack and play, the girls on pallets in the floor, and how well they sleep when we are all together. Our western idea of family is that we have rooms for the kids, rooms for the parents, rooms for cooking and eating and living. But this wasn’t always the care. We aren’t too far removed from a time when there were one-room homes. Homes in which everyone was together. Homes in which you could always hear the sounds of sleeping as you nestled into bed at night. Homes where you didn’t need sound machines to mimic the white noise of living and sleeping in close proximity to each other.

And churches were the same way: one room to gather for worship, one room to gather to pray, one room to gather for news. But as we have “advanced” we have built bigger buildings. Buildings with more walls, more divisions, more opportunities to sort and label each other, more opportunities to be separated forgetting that just on the other side of the wall is another human. Perhaps if we concentrated on gathering together, of occupying the same space where we can hear each other cough, sneeze, and breathe, we would be reminded of each other’s humanity. Perhaps if we concentrated on gathering together, of occupying the same space we would begin to question why we built the walls and divisions in the first place. Was it to allow more people in or has it kept people divided and separate?

Perhaps if we gathered together and occupied the same space without words spoken and settled instead into being present with one another, we would hear each other’s breathing and remember how miraculous that breathing really is. Perhaps if we gathered together and occupied the same space without words spoken, our breathing would start to develop a harmonious rhythm as we slowly began to breathe together. And perhaps in the synchronized rhythm, we would hear the sounds not of sleeping, but of peace beginning  to wash over our churches and communities as we sat together without worry or concern of being attacked, labeled, or excluded, and instead breathing that divine breath Creator God shared with us.

love you. call.

MH and Ben

Our oldest daughter has an email account that she uses in conjunction with her Chromebook. She uses her computer at school and for reading books, but just recently since the summer, she has also used it to communicate with her parents as she has developed as a reader and a writer.

Yesterday, I got an email with the subject line “love you. call.” with some emoticons as the subject of the email. When I read it, it made my heart skip a beat. There was an urgency to her message as well as an invitation to participate in her day off of school. I typed an email back to her searching the emoticons much longer than I’m sure she did, and then called.

When I called, she immediately asked to see her brother, but I wasn’t offended by that. She wanted to check on him and see him. She wants to be a part of his life, and so she used technology to reach out to him via me. It really is pretty amazing to be a parent in this day and age when your eight year old can contact you and you can see her from two and half hours away, especially when you are sharing kids.

It’s really easy in the midst of all that we have to get done everyday to forget the simplicity of saying, “love you” to the people we care about the most. It’s even easier to forget the power those words can have in overcoming miscommunication and distance and differences of opinion.

Call and connect with those people you love. It will change your day and transform you and make you a little more human in the midst of a world that is much too often harsh and inhumane.

Willie: The Nanny Pup

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Three years ago, Willie Nelson Neely Harrelson came into our lives and home. It’s funny to think about how little he was! And it’s hard to believe that this was three years ago. As he has grown, he has gained a puppy brother, a job as a therapy dog, and now a mini-human to take care of.

Believe it or not, I was terrified of dogs when I was MH and LC’s age, especially big dogs. We had a Dalmatian named Sparky who lived outside because I had siblings who had dog allergies, and I had been knocked down more than once from his jumping up to greet me. I can remember standing in the carport really close to the door and being nervous and scared as Sparky ran around playing. There was always someone who was close to me and watching me and could pick me up if I needed to be rescued, but I can still remember being terrified, so it’s surprising to much of my family that I ended up in a family and a house with two one hundred pound dogs.

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As I watch Waylon laying on MH’s feet as she watches a movie and Willie snuggle with the girls as we read at bedtime and their hands naturally pet the pups’ head, I realize the impact caring and living with another living being can have on kids. Ben already smiles at Willie as he comes and smells his ear, his diaper, and his hands to make sure he is ok.

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Willie reminds me so much of Nana from Peter Pan. He knows that Ben, LC, and MH are his pack, his pups. He knows part of his work is to care for them and love them. His serious about his work and his purpose in life. I sure am glad he came into our lives three years ago.

I Have Work To Do


I’ve been reading Yes Please by Amy Poehler and in one of her chapters, she describes how she feels about getting older. She explains that she does not feel middle-aged, but she knows she is approaching middle age. She reflects that although she is nearing middle age, she still feels like she has work to do.

That struck me. She has work to do.

I have work to do.

It’s a phrase I’ve probably used a hundred times, but there is something that struck me about the fact that there is work for me to do. Me. Not anyone else, but me.

And it’s important work. Whether it’s folding onesies or plaid nightgowns or new Star Wars shirts with Rey on it or feeding a tiny human or walking two huge dogs or preparing a sermon or counseling or unloading the dishwasher, it’s important, life-affirming work.

Sometimes I forget that life-affirming part because of any of this can feel like just plain, hard, tiresome W-O-R-K.

Thank you, Amy for the reminder.