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On the Road Again

On our trip back to Asheville, the kids and I noticed the smell of a skunk. Our three-year-old loves to point out when we smell a skunk because one of his favorite episodes of Curious George has George getting sprayed by a skunk multiple times. He has to take a bath in tomato juice, which is very silly to a three-year-old.

I didn’t think much about it. Smelling skunks along the road as you travel is something I remember from my childhood travels as well. It is a part of traveling in the south.

But then, we noticed a second skunk. This was within an hour of the first on we smelled and my antennae were up. Since beginning the journey towards reconnecting to my intuition, I have begun to notice when the cosmos repeats sights, smells, and occurrences. Smelling one skunk was not unusual. Smelling two skunks in the course of such a small distance was unusual.

I asked our oldest to look up what it meant to smell or encounter a skunk. Although she wasn’t sure why I was asking, she looked it up and we both discovered this:

Skunk symbolism is presenting you with the perfect opportunity to become more confident in your interactions with others. In other words, you must realize that you can meet life’s challenges with a calm and peaceful heart.

We were on our way to take our oldest girls back. The first weekend trip we had done since the long visits of summer. To be sure, I needed this reminder, this wink from the universe to meet the challenge of sharing children with a calm and peaceful heart.

Sometimes when we open ourselves to being present and to being a part of the deeper work of being connected to yourself and the world around you, you get the reminder that you need at just the right time.

Keeping Pace

This morning I stretched out of the longest run since our six-month-old was born. It wasn’t anywhere near the mileage I was running two years ago when we found out that she was going to be joining our family, but it was significant because it was the first time since she was born that I started and ended my run keeping pace the entire run.

There’s an awkwardness to getting back into habits and routines after you have a baby, even if you have had one before. Everything feels a little bit different. The route looks a little bit different. The thoughts swarming around in your head sound a little different. As I turned onto the road that would add another mile to the run, I breathed deeply thinking, “I remember this feeling.”

I was remembering what it felt like to be connected mind, body, and soul because running always realigns me. I was remembering what it felt like to feel strong. Just as I was remembering and recentering, I heard breathing behind me. I knew it was another runner who must have turned down the street I did. I could feel my heart rate start to increase as I felt her presence. My high school field hockey coach’s voice suddenly sounded in my ears, “Pick it up! Beat her!” I felt my pace increasing inadvertently thinking I needed to outpace and outrun her. I didn’t want to get passed.

Even as I heard her getting closer, I steadied my breathing and steadied my steps. She is not running my path. She is not running my route. She is running her own. Maybe she’s at the end of her run and that’s why her pace is faster. Or maybe her pace is just faster than mine. Either way, my goal in my run this morning was to keep a steady pace, to get back to the rhythm of recentering and realigning. My goal was not to win or compete against anyone else. I was finding my own stride again.

This is perhaps the hardest thing for me as a mom and a professional to remind myself of. Instagram and our comparative culture make us want to outpace and outrun other moms and other professionals. We want to outdo each other by proving we are fast, efficient, and balanced. But the outpacing and outdoing each other is actually what undoes us. We wear ourselves running in circles trying to be better or more put together than someone else. What we need more of is people who are keeping their own pace and their own rhythm unaffected by the harried and hurried busy culture we find ourselves in.

Breathe deeply. Run your race. Keep your pace.

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.

Behind the Scenes of Worship with an Infant

Recently Baptist News Global posted an insightful reflection of CBF’s General Assembly that challenged CBF to continue to push to include voices that haven’t been heard. While I appreciated the author’s reflection, there was a part of it as a woman pastor with a nursing infant that stuck out to me. The author reflected that there were baptist babies as a part of luncheons and lined up at the back of worship. She noted that this was a sign of growth and the advent of a new generation, which it is.

However, as a woman pastor with a nursing infant having attended CBF General Assembly being in the back of worship and trying to participate in meaningful professional development is difficult, to say the least. CBF General Assembly provides no childcare for children under preschool-aged. When I was nursing our now three-year-old son, I queried about the availability of a nursing room and was told there simply weren’t any rooms available. When I asked the hotel and conference personnel upon my arrival, they immediately showed me to a room that could be used for nursing, pumping, and safe storage of baby gear (something by law every business has to provide). What this means is that the conference organizers never even asked the hotel staff is this was available. They didn’t think about the number of woman pastors and young parents who would need quick access to a space to care for their infants that they would be caring for since there was no infant childcare available. Since I didn’t attend this year’s conference, I don’t know and can’t comment on whether this has changed or not. I hope so.

Preparing space for all kinds of pastors and ministers means attending to the needs of those pastors and ministers. When purposeful and intentional planning doesn’t take place, the default is to favor and include voices of a certain demographic and exclude or regulate to the back of the room new and different voices. When my partner and I attended General Assembly with an infant, we took turns attending worship (something that is not all that uncommon for young parents); one of us went to worship, one of stayed in the room to put our infant to bed. If the CBF truly wants more woman and young ministers in pastorates positions and truly wants these voices in worship and in breakout sessions, their practical needs must be met. Otherwise, young parents, men and women, will be confined to the back of worship trying to balance the responsibility of caring for their infants and participating in worship, something many pastors and ministers don’t get to do often enough.

By comparison, I was recently a part of an ecumenical worship experience where I was asked to preside over communion for a morning worship experience. I was asked to participate even though I had just had a baby. I was included and respected as a minister, not regulated to the back room. I led communion while wearing our daughter because morning worship aligned with her morning nap time (another scheduling consideration that reflects purposeful and intentional planning). As I presided over the table with my four-month-old nestled against my chest, I was able to be both fully minister and fully mom. I didn’t have to choose. I didn’t have to be one or the other. I was invited to be fully who I was in this season of my life and in this divine calling.

If we believe there is room enough for all, then we intentionally plan and create space for all kinds of people and their needs. When we don’t, we send a message and a picture about which voices are valued by being on stage and which voices are not as valued at the back of worship.

Finding Yourself Again

I remember with our first child, looking at the woman in the mirror and not recognizing the eyes looking back at me. To be sure that was because he came into the world through an emergency c-section after a long labor. I didn’t realize the trauma I had been through until my partner showed me the pictures I hadn’t seen before. The pictures right after his birth, the pictures I don’t remember taking. He held us both steady throughout that first night until we both were labeled stable.

This time it’s been a bit easier to find myself again. Maybe it’s because our daughter’s arrival was less traumatic. Maybe it’s because there was some idea of how this whole mom life goes. Maybe it’s because we lost one in between our two that solidified the true miracle that is life coming into this world.

Whatever it is, I find myself more readily and more eagerly saying no to things and relationships that take away my energy, our energy. I find myself excited for the days that we have at home to ourselves to grow into family. I find myself not wanting to wish this time away or plan this time away, but just to be in the moments of our three-year-old holding our four-month-old’s hand, hearing them talk to each other, seeing them learn to love each other.

I marvel at how they can look so similar, but already be so unique and different. I marvel at how I can be the same person I was when he was four months old and be a completely different person for her now. With him I was always worried I was losing myself: my body and my schedule were dependent on the food he needed and when he needed it. What was threatening then, is reassuring now. There is so much of me in both of them: so much struggle, so much wrestling, so much accepting, so much forgiving and now so much being that they are both here together forming and informing each other.

And here we are together growing into family. Challenging and forgiving. Holding each other steady when one of us can’t find themselves until we each find ourselves again.

Pastor Mom

Our church photographer captured this photo after service and I can’t imagine a better picture of what it looks like to be a Pastor Mom. I have so much help in an amazing partner and an amazing community who are so generous. With their help, I feel like I can truly step into both of these roles: inviting God’s people to dream and grow and inviting this little one who joined us four months ago to dream and grow.

At times, I catch my breath because as a young girl I never saw a woman pastor. I never saw a woman preach. I never dreamed that this picture could be possible.  At those moments, I am caught up in the holy mystery that calls to our deepest selves. The holy mystery that whispers possibilities of wholeness and newness in ways we never imagined. That holy mystery beckons to each of us inviting us to see parts of ourselves long hidden or oft silenced. That holy mystery comes powerfully into our lives, transforming and changing us into new creations.

No matter where we are on this journey, the holy mystery offers us communion with something so much greater than ourselves and I believe that the holy mystery cradles us and offers us milk, safety, and rest for the journey we are on.

Perhaps the holy mystery is whispering during this Eastertide season to lay back and drink deeply resting in the truth that death has been overcome and transformation and resurrection are all around us.

Postpartum Profit: A review of maternity and postpartum retail

The postpartum period is one that is grossly neglected in American healthcare. Once a woman is released by her doctor at or around the six week period, her postpartum care is nil. At six weeks, the postpartum period is completed. You can resume your normal activities, except you are completely different and so is your body.

There have been some movements, especially body positivity movements that have tried to counter the oppression and depiction of maternity leave as a vacation in America, but way too often those body positivity movements are met with trolls encouraging the women brave enough to depict their real postpartum bodies to get tummy tucks or to never post again.

In the midst of all of this, there is a very practical issue that your clothes don’t fit. The maternity clothes you have make you look a little too pregnant, your pre-baby clothes don’t fit at all or are snug in completely new places. And so the postpartum retail space has opened up including tops that make it easy for nursing moms to nurse, supposedly.

Thanks to a generous and understanding partner I have had three experiences with postpartum/maternity companies and they were all completely different:

Teat and Cossett: For Christmas, my partner gifted me with two nursing tops in preparation for our new little one. One was a sweatshirt that could be worn around the house and another a nice gray dress I could wear to work as I tried to balance nursing and working. Just this week, five months after he purchased the item and three months after we had our daughter, I inquired about returning the items because they finally fit, but they were the wrong season now that Spring has come to South Carolina. Here’s what I received in response to my inquiry:

Hi there:

I am very sorry, but you have certainly passed our return and exchange window.  Your items were purchased five months ago.  Please let me know if there is anything else I can assist you with.

Best,

Zara

Something about the “certainly” flushed me with shame that I didn’t fit in the size I thought I would fit in after having our second daughter. On doing a bit of investigating, I found that there return policy to contact them and then 10 days to get the item back to them. 15 days. I am not sure what the expectation is here, but I know I certainly was not able to keep up with what day it was and certainly would not have remembered that there were postpartum clothes I needed to return if they didn’t fit, especially since my body was changing every single day.

Milk Nursingwear: I really have an amazing partner who not only tells me I’m beautiful but also encourages me to buy clothes that fit and that are comfortable and allow me to nurse and pump. I ordered a nursing tank and a dress from Milk and was very impressed with the fact that they sent a return label with the order. I tried them on and was immediately disappointed as they accentuated unflattering portions of my postpartum body as well as clinging to my incision scar. As I went back to look at the Instagram posts I had seen, I slowly realized that the models they were using were probably not, in fact, postpartum moms as the clothes fit the models perfectly. Even though I was disappointed, the return was so easy and I had a full 60 days to make a decision on whether I liked the clothes.

Kindred Bravely: This is where I purchased my favorite nursing bra. The fabric is so soft and it also doesn’t show stains or leak through to clothes. I am not sure how they do it, but it really is amazing. Not to mention, they are currently running a special where you buy a pair of pajamas and they donate one to a mom with a baby in the NICU.

The maternity and postpartum retail industry is a $2 billion domestic industry serving 6 million new moms, but ultimately it is still an industry, an attempt to profit off of women and families in the joy and uncertainty of bringing new life into the world. I have heard and read so many posts of moms who are struggling not only with the way their bodies have changed but also with how their lives have changed.

I still consider myself to be postpartum and our baby was born in January. I considered myself to be postpartum for the whole first year after our son was born and I considered myself postpartum after our miscarriage. I too fall prey the societal pressure to “look like I did pre-baby” and to “bounce back to work,” but slowly and intentionally I am saying no. No to things that sap my energy so much I can’t care for our new little one and the rest of our family. No to companies who have return policies of only 15 days and no to companies who design to a certain type of postpartum body.

Clinging to Safety

As our baby turned three months, she has developed a habit while nursing of clinging to something, anything that she could hold onto: the collar of a shirt, the string of a hoodie, a lock of hair, an available finger. Her grip is strong and fierce as she holds on. Our three-year-old in preparing to go to bed tucks his stuffed dog under his arm clinging tightly to the safety of his lovey as he drifts off to sleep.

As adults, the way we cling to safety is a bit less visible. Instead of clinging to an object, we cling to patterns and routines, even furniture set up. I have found this especially true in places of worship. To be certain, coming into a community of faith is asking and inviting the Divine to reveal our most vulnerable places and our deepest wounds, so it follows that in those revelations, so too would our instinct to cling to something safe and comfortable arise.

Business meetings that discuss carpet color or paint color are much like our three month old’s grip tight and fierce not because we truly want to keep the carpet from 50 years ago the same or that we can’t see the paint that’s chipping and needs to be replaced, but rather because we need to be assured that we are safe. We need to be assured that even if the paint and carpet of the church changes, this will still be a place of sanctuary for us.

As we hear about places of worship being invaded with death and violence, this is of the utmost importance. Although we may concentrate on the physical safety of the building and those who have gathered, may we not forget the spiritual and emotional need for reassurance that rest in our hearts and souls as we hear the news. May we offer something deep, hope-filled, and so authentic that those searching may cling to. When we offer this soul-filling type of worship and teaching, we can be sure that those gathered won’t need to cling to paint or carpet colors.

Perhaps the hardest words that Jesus speaks to his disciples in the gospel of John are:

Do not cling to me because I have yet to ascend to the Father.

As much as we want to cling to the safety of what we already know and how things have always been, we have to let go of the Risen Christ so that the Spirit of God can come in all its Mystery. In order to allow the Spirit of God to work, we have to let go of the very things we hold so tightly. We have to let the Spirit of God move and change and transform. Only then we will truly see the kingdom of God here on earth.

Pastor’s Kids


I never thought about being a pastor and a parent as I was growing up because the concept of being a pastor was not something that women did and I certainly never saw a woman with young kids who was a pastor. When I saw these images, it made me stop in my tracks because here my kids sit next to me, supporting and affirming me by being a part of our new congregation, Garden of Grace UCC. Here they sit, as the service is beginning talking to me, asking me questions, wanting to participate and drinking milk from sippy cups.

This an absolute miracle.

When I answered a call to pastor and to pursue seminary nine years ago, I never imagined these pictures would be a reality. I never imagined meeting a partner that would go with me on this journey and affirm and support me as a pastor and as a parent.

As we sit here in these images in the shadow of the cross, I can’t help but remember that these pictures wouldn’t have been a reality without a lot of dying to self and dying to the things I thought I knew about who was called and who wasn’t called.

This is resurrection and evidence of the Risen Christ. Alleluia!