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How are you Feeling?

In the midst of the global pandemic, we are feeling everything. We are hopeful and happy in one moment only to become distressed and grief-stricken the next moment. We are vacillating between emotions so frequently as we try to find equilibrium that we are exhausted, depleted, and some days even numb.

One of the things we ask in circle time every day is, “How are you feeling?” We are trying to help our four-and-half-year-old have space to express what he is feeling and know that there is space and a place for his feelings.

More and more adults are also taking the time to journal or ask themselves this simple question: “How are you feeling?” each day. Rather than reacting, taking time to reflect and track on our feelings is an important practice for our mental health.

To help counteract the negative effects of a quarantine situation, keeping a daily schedule and an emotions and activity tracker can help foster motivation, reduce stress, and may act as an anchor in helping to re-center you.

You may think, there is no time for me to add something else to my plate as I am managing and trying to balance work and family responsibilities, but using something like the chart above can allow space for us to tune into our selves, our souls, and our spirits.

This work is so important as we are intaking so much change and so much fear at such a rapid pace.

So, how are you feeling?

Today, it’s the leaves…

Today, it’s the leaves

waving to me,

 

soaking up warmth,

giving in to the rain

storing the droplets for refreshment.

creating food and nutrients

releasing oxygen into the air

inviting us all to breathe.

 

Soon the leaves

will remind us

that the seasons change

and the way we must fall

in order to let other things grow.

 

Evening Storms

It’s definitely summer here. As the sun sets, the skies often turn dark me. The darkness is followed by the rolls of thunder and the flash of lightning on the horizon.

There’s a mad dash to the porch to pull in the riding toys we’ve been using daily since quarantine, so they don’t rust. Sometimes as the rain begins to pour and the porch door opens a dog that’s been left outside rushes in.

These are the days that remind us that the summer sun and the summer heat do have counters. The evening storms also bring cool morning breezes.

The summer storms aren’t the only storms we are encountering. Every day here in our state, the number of case numbers roll in as the day begins to wind down. Every night there are reports of protests around the country. Every day there are stories of another soul who has lost their life from police brutality.

And as the storms roll in, some of us make a mad dash to avoid the conversations and confrontations. Some of us are glad that the porch door is finally open and we can find others who are seek to provide sanctuary. Some of us have been out in the storm so long our voices are getting rusty.

“Let justice roll down like waters and righteous like a mighty stream.” Martin Luther King Jr. Letter from a Birmingham Jail

There’s Something About

There’s something about the rain

that brings people together

huddling under thin awnings

gathering into lobbies

looking out

planning a quick escape.

 

There’s something about the rain

that refreshes souls and people

reminding us of summer days

running through sprinklers

humbling us

by drenching our hair and clothes.

 

There’s something about the sun

that warms broken and lonely hearts

demanding we get outside

basking in the light

remembering that a new day dawns.

 

There something about the sun

that recalls resurrection

transforming us into new creations

asking us to believe in hope and love

again.

In the Midst of the Current

One of my friends asked me the other day if there was something in the air. Our three-year-olds had both had similarly difficult mornings getting going and wanting to determine their own schedules and as good pattern seekers, we were trying to figure out what it was about this specific day that was causing them such consternation.

It’s a funny question when you think about it because there is always something in the air. People in India are finding out that what is in the air can actually be very dangerous. It is so difficult to see what is in the air and so we often forget that we are in the midst of a current.

Just like water has currents, so too are there air currents moving and changing all around us. We are in the midst of a current of air constantly moving and changing. This has a great impact on our body chemistry and indeed on our children’s body chemistries.

There is always something in the air. An invitation to remember that we are in the midst of current, but a small part to play in the energy and movement all around us.

In the Midst

I was updating a dear friend on Facebook about where our family was and what we were up to last week and she responded: “In the midst of ministry…” That phrase, “in the midst,” has been walking with me over the past week.

It fits so much of this stage of life. Our nine-month-old is in the midst of getting a tooth, a process that has seemed to take forever. She is also in the midst of learning to sleep through the night. Our three almost-four-year-old is in the midst of developing his independence, his voice, and his passions. We are in the midst of the school year with four kids in four different schools spanning from middle school to nursery school. We are in the midst of getting settled into a new office space, a new phase of our company’s identity and history. We are in the midst of our first year at a new church with an amazing community of faith.

It’s easy when you are “in the midst” to want this season and this phase to be over. Your life seems like it is in constant transition and is constantly changing. And it is.

You aren’t sure what each day or night is going to hold. You wake up with one kid coughing and try to hide the other kids from him praying that the cough doesn’t go through every single member of the family, but just a small percentage. But in the midst of all the uncertainty and all the changing and transitioning, there are small glimpses of what life may look like in two years or three years. There the overwhelming moments of all four kids dancing and laughing together. The disbelief that an office door now holds the logo and name of something you have built from an inkling, an idea that just wouldn’t stop waking you up at night.

This is the part of being in the midst I love. The awe and wonder that each new day holds.  The invitation to witness the miracles of growing mini-humans. The collaboration and creation of working with your partner where work and life and family all meet in the midst of this rainy October day.

On Being an “Experienced” Mom

The last two weeks have been filled with the awe and wonder of new life. Memories of the first days of our three-year old’s life have flooded back in as we get into a routine of feeding and sleeping and being a family all together. Yesterday I took our two-week-old for her two weeks check up and the doctor said, “Do you have any questions?” and I only had one. I can remember that appointment with our son being filled with questions. Is he ok? Is this normal? Am I doing this right?

As the pediatrician was dictating notes to her nurse to go into our daughter’s chart, she said something that struck me: “Mom, is an experienced mom and nurser.” I was caught off guard. I immediately thought: Mom, whose mom, her mom? I hadn’t thought about the fact that I am no longer a first-time mom, at least not of a newborn. I’ve done this before. This idea still hasn’t sunk in.

This week was also marked with the arrival of a parenting book compilation in which I have a short piece. As I reread my own words and my reflections about when I first became a mom five years ago, I realized that five years is a significant amount of time. Five years does mark a threshold that is often called experienced or is listed as a time interval for having experience in a field or profession.

If that’s the marker, then I am also an experienced preacher, an experienced pastor, and an experienced puppy mom. How in the world did that happen?

I guess it happened somewhere in the minutes that made up the 1,825 days of the past five years. The interactions, the challenges, the conversations, the sleepless nights, the minuscule decisions and the time in silence and solitude reflecting, seeking, and wondering if I was doing any of it right.

And all I can think about is all the times that I wish I had been fully present in those moments rather than lost in what ifs and maybes. Because really the challenge no matter how long we’ve been at this parenting thing or this pastoring thing is just that: to be present and to be aware of where we are. To understand, at least in part, that this moment, this conversation, this interaction won’t happen again in the same form or the same place or the same time.

I don’t really think I am experienced at any of this because our daughter is different than our son and our older two girls. This church is different than the other churches I’ve pastored and perhaps that’s where you get labeled as experienced. When you know that you don’t really know and can fully and freely admit that you need all the help you can get from parenting books, from pediatricians, and most importantly, for me, from a partner who is right there beside you traveling the road full of moments with you.

Overripe

With all of the traveling I did last week, there were aspects of my weekly routine I had to let go; one of which was checking to see if we had any vegetables that were ready to be picked in our garden. If I’m honest, I forget to check the garden and tend the garden even when I’m not traveling (please don’t ask about the recent flood of the fairy garden I was supposed to be looking after), but I’ve tried to make the garden a cognizant and consistent part of my routine.

When Ben and I finally got the chance on Friday to check to see what had grown after a break in the rain and storms, we found this. I had to look up why this cucumber was so yellow-y orange. I found out it was overripe. It had been left on the vine too long. We could have still tried to eat it, but it would have been sour and bitter; much less appetizing than the cucumbers we’ve enjoyed so far this summer.

This cucumber reminded me of the vast number of churches who are overripe. They have too much building, too much financial responsibility, and have spent too much time tending to their own needs rather than picking the good fruit they grow and feeding people hungry for real, authentic food. These churches have turned sour and bitter. They aren’t appetizing to those who are searching for refreshment and homegrown nourishment. As a result, their overripe buildings are becoming emptier and emptier.

It’s heartbreaking.

Just like finding this almost good cucumber. If I had only gone out two days earlier, just to check, I would have been able to enjoy a little cucumber and tomato salad or a cucumber sandwich, I’ve told myself again and again. And too many churches are stuck in this mindset as well. “If only we hadn’t engaged in that building campaign years ago….” “If only this pastor had stayed one more year…” “If only…”

It’s easy to live in the “if only,” but what if instead churches did what I did this morning with the help of my three kids. Go tend your garden. Pull up the weeds. Harvest the good fruit. Discard the overripe fruit of sourness and bitterness. Open a fresh bag of soil and spread it out. Drag the hose around the house, no matter how hot it is, and water what plants you have left. Something will grow.

There is still time. There is still sun. There is still a Creator God who brings life out of dust.

Thanks be to God for the invitation to create, to get dirty, and to get to work growing the kingdom of God here on earth. And if there happen to be cucumbers along the way, we’ll enjoy those, too.

A Hand Reaching Out

masjid

When Ben and I arrived to jummah prayer service at Masjid Al-Muslimiin, we were immediately welcomed by women of all ages. A teenage girl approached asking what Ben’s name was and then helped me with my headscarf. As I looked around the community gathered in the courtyard, I was speechless that there was a whole community of faith who gathered right off the busy street of Garners Ferry in Columbia on Friday afternoons whom I had never encountered. How many times had I passed the sign and not wondered about this community?

And as we gathered in the small room designated for the women sitting on the red-carpeted ground, I was overwhelmed by the sense of community that was palpable in the body heat of the women and children gathered. I resisted the urge to keep Ben close and let him wander through the sea of arms and legs just as the children for whom this was their faith family were doing. He tried to follow another little boy out of the door, but before he escaped, a hand reached out to stop him. It was a hand of an elderly woman in a burka and as he turned to look into her face, her smile spread across her face. She passed him a lamb stuffed animal to play with while whispering to him in Arabic. He sat beside her mesmerized and I stopped and watched as I held back tears.

We insist on so many boundaries and barriers in our American culture. We insist and protect our privacy, our right to free speech, our right to worship or not worship, our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We are missing so much life-giving, life-affirming love that comes from sitting together and reaching a hand out across those boundaries and barriers. Thanks be to God for this community of faith for their courage in inviting us, outsiders, into their community of faith for truly this is divine, mysterious, transformative, radical hospitality.

Spiritual Abuse and Name Calling in the Purity Culture

I didn’t know I grew up in the Purity Culture. I didn’t realize that my age corresponded to a growing movement called True Love Waits that reached national attention right as I entered a conservative, evangelical youth group. I didn’t realize that for years and years the church governed mostly by men had been determining and deciding what was best for women’s bodies. I didn’t understand that the message of the Purity Culture often led to women who were guilty and ashamed and prime targets for rape.

All I knew is I didn’t want to be called any names.

I didn’t want to be called “whore,” “slut,” or “easy:” all names that heaped shame on the head of girls in my youth group who were considered to be “on the wrong path” and “unequally yoked” to bad influences. More than anything I didn’t want to be one of the girls who fell into this category. I’m not sure I knew what any of those names meant, but I knew what they implied: a girl who was living for herself and not living for God.

This is spiritual abuse.

This fear of being labeled of being shamed has been difficult to overcome. It’s why hearing a presidential nominee use name calling and guilt and shame as motivators to action sounds a little too familiar. But the labeling in the Purity Culture and in evangelical circles is so important to eliciting the type of behavior desired from congregants that is hard for many spiritual leaders to rid themselves of this practice, even spiritual leaders who wish to engage in healthy and whole practices of ministry.

The implementation of the Purity Culture is inundated with spiritual abuse practices like name calling that distract and defer from the message and intent of the gospel. These practices and the Purity Culture have left many, many millennials who were raised in the midst of the rise of the Purity Culture lost, shamed, and broken after years and years of faithful attendance to church.

The future of the church is in the midst of this brokenness. This brokenness caused by the institution of church. This brokenness caused by good intentions and failed implementation. This brokenness that has left scars and bruises in the next generation of church goers.

To minister now is to minister in the midst of this hurt and brokenness. It will take minister who are vulnerable. Ministers who openly and honestly address their privilege. Ministers who have advisory teams to determine whether they are engaging in spiritual abuse. Ministers who meet people where they are.

And ministers who are mobile because these who have been hurt and broken are going to have trouble returning to the place where they were abused, shamed, and broken.