This week in the move to our new office, we moved a bookshelf. As my partner was taking it out the door, the three-year-old started crying. We both stopped for a minute thinking that something had fallen and hurt him, but when we asked if he was ok, he responded, “But I don’t want it to move.” Let’s just say we’re at an age where we are more than a little resistant to changes in environment, schedule, and apparently bookshelves.
He’s not the only one that I’ve heard lamenting change. In my work as an editor and offering advice to writers who would like to become published authors, I often hear: “But I didn’t think I was going to have to change things.” Change is never easy no matter how old we are.
Interestingly, the idea that we are not changing constantly is something that we have convinced ourselves is true when in fact it’s not. We are constantly changing. The air around us is constantly changing. The temperature increases and decreases throughout the day or changes. Our bodies are changing digesting and reacting to the food and liquids we have consumed. The places we live and the transportation we use are constantly changing as wear and tear begin to take hold.
Change is all around us and indeed within us.
When we say we hate change, what we really are saying is that we hate being confronted with the reality that we don’t have control. We like to think that we have created something that will hold and that will remain stable from day to day. And when something bigger than a bookshelf moves or changes, we find ourselves in the same position as our three-year-old crying and reaching out for things not to move and change.
What if instead, we clung to the reality that things are always changing and that change is the only constant we can depend upon. Then we would ride the waves of the air current, marveling at the way that sun moves across the sky, and being astounded by all the work our bodies do every single minute to keep us breathing.
Our plans were changed because of bad weather on the weekend we were planning to carve our pumpkin. By the time we were able to carve it, let’s just say it had been with us for a while. I had this feeling that once we got inside, we were going to find something besides just the seeds and pumpkin guts. As I worked to pull off the top, just as I had expected, there was a big spot of rot (see where the pumpkin top looks like it has a bite out of it?). Although I expected that there was something not quite right with our pumpkin, I didn’t really know what was going on until we took a look inside.
The same holds true for our own lives. We might look orange and pretty on the outside, but if there is something that is eating away at us, a broken relationship, unresolved conflict, fatigue or exhausation, slowly by surely that one spot will grow bigger and bigger until what’s going on inside leaks out.
This is what self-care is: taking a look inside. Cracking open the top to see deep into the parts of ourselves that have hold all the seeds. The seeds of our past. The seeds of our hurts. The seeds of our hopes. The seeds of our passions. The seeds of our calling. The seeds of our fear. The seeds of our worries. The seeds of who we are.
When we don’t take the time to look inside or take a look at whether those seeds nestled within us are getting enough water and light and space, then rot begins to grow, comprising all those seeds of possibility.
Maybe you’re like us, the time that you meant to spend in self-reflection or self-care got rained out of stormed out by the fierce urgency of now. Maybe you think that you can’t make up that time or that the time has passed. What we discovered was that once we got inside our pumpkin, even though it was a little worse for the wear, we were able to scoop that rot out. We were able to clean out the part that was threatening the rest of the pumpkin and we were able to transform our pumpkin into a new creation.
See how happy our pumpkin is that we took the time to look inside!
During the day, we don’t take time to clean up the toys that find their way out into the living room and into the dining room and into the kitchen. We try to provide space for the kids to explore and play even when that play results in stepping on legos or cars or both at the same time.
And in the moments when I step on a lego or a car comes crashing into my ankle, I can look at everything around and think I am standing in the midst of messiness. There’s no way this is ever going to get cleaned up or put up or we’re going to find all the pieces to that one puzzle.
When my mind starts to go in that direction, I spot the humus in the baby’s hair and the dried sweet potatoes by her gummy smile and think there’s probably still sweet potatoes in her high chair and I’m going to have to put her in her high chair in the midst of the messiness.
In these moments, my mind can stream towards wishing away this messy stage of life. My mind can start to wander into time traveling to a different season where the house is neat, but the carpet details aren’t a train track and the porch isn’t a race track or the bookshelf a fire rescue scene.
It takes purpose and intention to bring me back here in the midst of the messiness of this stage and this phase realizing that it won’t be again. The nine-month-old won’t have her first Halloween or Thanksgiving or Advent again. The three-year-old won’t be doing a daily countdown to his fourth birthday again skipping some numbers to try and get to the day faster. If the stories from other parents prove true, I will long to be in the midst of the messiness again.
And so I take a deep breath and a big step sitting down in the midst of the messiness. My arm immediately becomes a ramp and my hair a leverage point for the baby to pull herself up to a sitting position so that she can plan her next route to the next item she wants to explore.
In the past couple of months, our three-year-old’s legs have grown just long enough that he can pedal himself on his tricycle. The afternoon on the porch was like any other post-school playtime. He got on his tricycle using it more as a scooter than a tricycle. I said the same thing I’ve said for the past two years, “Hey buddy, try to use the pedals.”
Except for this time when he did, he was able to pedal all the way around propelling the tricycle forward. His face immediately lit up. He started singing our song of accomplishment, “I did it, I did it, I did it by myself.” As I watched I felt the smile stretched across my face. I don’t even know the number of times that he has tried without being able to pedal or how many times we have walked behind him with his feet on the pedals.
There was no way of knowing that this afternoon would be the afternoon that his legs had grown long enough, he felt enough confidence to try something that he had failed at so many times before, which made the accomplishment even more miraculous.
Right now, he is slow and steady, but I feel like we are on the verge of a season where what we are crying is not “try something new” or “try again,” but rather “Slow down!”
It’s easy to forget the vast number of things we are able to do without thinking. The things that took us so many failed attempts to master. The things that tried our patience and our resilience, but watching someone else in that moment of mastery reminds us that whatever we are facing we can get back on the bike and try one more time.
October always marks a season of remembering for our family because it is when our family became a family. This year Sam and I celebrated six years of marriage and six years of creating and learning and growing together. There’s a lot about this season that feels familiar with the high chair back in the kitchen and the inspections of the floor for legos that might find their way to the mouth of a curious younger sibling, being partners not only in life but at work, too. In other ways, this season feels all new. Having a middle schooler for the first time, having four kids in four different schools, moving into a new office.
I find myself wanting to remember everything about this moment. The cars that find their way to the fall centerpiece. The toys strewn across the living room. Sparkly pumpkin costumes. Blanket-built forts. The late-night conversations with my partner about theodicy, parenting, and the origins of the Ceaser salad.
I wonder if the most miraculous work of the Holy Spirit is the way that we become and create family together. The way that we bring in tastes, experiences, personalities, passions, and dreams to live together in one space. Maybe the way that we create together and live together and eat together and cry together and hurt together and dance together is exactly what it means to be church.
Maybe in trying to figure out what our calling in this world is, we find our way home first. Then suddenly, the world and our place in the world looks a little bit clearer and a little bit easier because we aren’t alone on the journey.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.