Reconciling Jesus

Here’s how my sermon prep really goes. I read the text, I pick liturgy and hymns a few months in advance, then I don’t really look at it again until the week of. Then I read commentaries are the text works on me (yes, works on me) through the Holy Spirit all week. I look for stories and modern day examples to use, but don’t write a lot of words down, maybe an outline.

I knew this week would be hard because it’s the first time divorce has come up in the lectionary since I’ve been divorced. I looked at past sermons, wow… did I not have a clue how hurtful this text was.

So, here’s my sermon from today, the congregation loved it but so did I. I took a deep breath and disagreed with Jesus. Then, I decided to reconcile with him too. God is not black and white friends, and we can’t take scripture that way either.

Have a listen:

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Fertility Windows & the Existential Crises

I went to the doctor yesterday for my annual checkup. My doctor has a 5 month old baby, her first. Last time I saw her she was very pregnant. She’s doing well, looked tired, has half the workload she did before baby. The woman I saw a year ago had perfect clothes and makeup, put together in “all the ways”. Today her hair was in a pony tail, no makeup and her shirt looked laundered but that’s about it.

I did not fully understand her before, but this woman, I know.

In the course of many, many questions she asks, “Are you going to have any more children?” “NO!” I snapped back with a look of horror and disgust, as if that was the most unnatural thing in the world to ask. (Getting to this “no” was never easy and yes, does have a tiny hint of sadness there, “in theory” but in reality- NO!)

She was completely taken aback, especially after I had just nodded my head through her telling me about her birth and a quick synopsis of feeding and sleeping schedules. Why would I want to do that again? Pssht.

Rewind a half hour earlier when I had been opening the door to her office. It’s an office with many kinds of doctors. Specialty medicine, general practitioners, OBGYN and psychiatrist/therapists. I was looking at one of the psychiatrist’s names and had a two sentence conversation in my head, it went like this:

“I think I’m having an existential crisis…”

“What else is new?”

As the day went on I was completely worn down, tired, thirsty, moody. I came home and laid in bed. I realized that I had an emotionally exhausting dream the night before that left me pondering the questions, “To whom do I belong? Who really am I, if it’s just me?”

I took my daughter to softball practice. I brought my camping chair and went a reasonable distance away from the other parents that said, yeah, I’m good over here all alone, but not too far away so as to say, I’m a bad parent. Anyway, one mother (imagine a petite WASP with brown hair) “Did you hear Prince Died today? So sad.”

Roots.jpgI looked up at her from my phone in which I had been posting Prince articles onto Facebook. “Yeah…” I said in the please don’t talk to me kind of way. Then I realized I was wearing my “The Roots” t-shirt. And I’m not talking about some subtle obscure concert T where you don’t know if it’s for a band or coffee or what. I mean it says “THE ROOTS” in 5″ letters across the top. I wanted to yell at her, “Umm… excuse me, in what world does a woman wear a Roots t-shirt and NOT know Prince died!”

Yeah, it was dusk and I was in full on bitch mode, then I came home and accused my boyfriend of being annoyingly literal when he corrected something I said (which he was being). I was waiting to eat dinner and getting more and more annoyed. Then I looked…

I use an app on my phone called “Clue” to keep tract of my “womanly days”. Like most woman I’m not as predictable as the phases of the moon. Originally I turned off all the other functions except for when I would start my period. I mean, I don’t want to have any more kids (did you read the beginning of this post?) And therefore don’t need to know when my “fertility window” is, but I have since turned it back on because I found myself “hormonal” (a way overused word) on those days.

Until I had a thought, my whole day started to come together (sometimes I’m a little slow)… The dream and question “To whom do I belong?”, “Are you having more kids?”, The death of one of my all time favorite musicians, not fitting in to the normal parent “mold” and just overall fitfulness of the day, I opened the app.

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It’s the first full day of my “Fertility Window”. F*ing hormones… 

And yet… It would all make sense wouldn’t it? That Every month I have an existential crisis at the very same time my body is reacting hormonally by releasing an egg to to be fertilized and playing a real life Russian Roulette.

Once a month I have restless leg syndrome for the soul. It’s an illease that sits in my chest and whispers “do more, be more, go deeper, make smarter decisions” and do all of this while meditating like Don Draper during the final scene of Mad Men. 

Huh… More to ponder, I shall experiment with this over the next few months. Thoughts?

I Got This

Shortly after I became a mother someone very close to me in my life thought they could parent my children better than I could, it wasn’t anything personal against me, (took be a long time to figure that out) it’s just that she thought she was the best at mothering, ever.

I would get so upset, she would change the rules for my young children, rules and schedules that worked for my family and my household. I’m not talking about a visit to grandma’s where cookies before dinner were okay, I mean implementing strict household rules in my household. I mean sitting at my dinner table while I answer a question to my daughter and having myself interrupted for her to give her instruction to my daughter.

I would sit in my therapist’s office and cry in anger.

I realized, with my therapist help, that she thought there was not enough discipline in my household, so she was going to fill the role. And who disciplines? The parents, or the leaders. So with the help of my therapist I learned a phrase. One to “keep in my back pocket.” I let the little stuff go, but when I needed to I would pull it out. “I got this.” I would hold my hand up calmly and methodically and say, “I got this, thank you though.”

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It has proved helpful in so many ways.

Years ago when I was working on my pastoral identity (an ongoing process) I painted a picture for my spiritual director of how I worked as a leader. (this BTW is not a perfect analogy)

I come along when the church is in a rut. There’s a leadership (non violent) fox hole (or bunker) with no one or very few people in it and a lot of people standing starring in. I come in and fill it. Sometimes with dirt (things that don’t need to be replaced) or dig out space (for new things) as I have the gifts and the ability to do almost everything in the church bunker. It took a while in my first call learn that I couldn’t do that for very long, without it being soul crushing. So I started pulling people in with me, supporting them and teaching them to take over roles, not just anyone, but the people called, using their gifts. When the bunker was full or someone got tired or toxic we learned to replace or shift them and have a steady stream of people in and out, moving around, and eventually I am no longer needed and am lifted out, off to find a new bunker.

The most important thing for your ego as a leader, admit that all those people that came to replace you, may not do it better than you, but it’s better that they are doing it.

Do you get that? Because it’s kind of beautiful when it works. John 14:12 says that once he is gone, we will do all the things that Jesus has done, and more.

We are not Jesus, but we are better together. This is proven over and over in every leadership book. If I do it all myself (for longer than a short period of time), then when I get out of the bunker, there is still a void. And voids, my friends, is where destruction happens.

There is a catch or two- 1) you MUST be called to THIS bunker at THIS time, it’s the Esther moment. The other problem with this is that sometimes someone or a group of people jump in the bunker and say, “it’s time for you to get out now.” This person/group are the ones who want to be the ones to fill the void, they think there’s glory in it, or just simply don’t understand the process.

When creating a healthy system from a leadership void you almost have to overstay your welcome in the bunker. At my last church I overstayed by about 2 years. I needed to for family reasons and it gave them a sense of security in a rough time. I used to think this was a bad thing for all of us, but now I realize that it was the best thing.

Things aren’t perfect there and some may even be mad at me for “abandoning” them, but I needed to leave the bunker so they could see what they were made of, they knew how to run that church and they hired a pastor who did the things they needed him to do, and ONLY the things they need him for. In other words they said, “We got this!”

If I left earlier then the confidence wouldn’t have been there. God is pretty wise sometimes…

However, my heart breaks for the moments of mutiny. I have been working with several young pastors who really relate to this analogy, and I’ve been there. Either they seal a lid on you leaving you stranded and alone, or they force you out without understanding that important last step, “overstaying”. Because overstaying is where you pretending to be holding on to the seat, but really, they’re riding the bike all on their own without training wheels.

It’s about confidence. Without the last step of perceived overstaying, they never gain the confidence ride freely, to look back and say, “I got this, thanks though.” As you wave them into their future.

Snow Daze

*steps on soapbox* *taps mic* “is this thing on?… ehem…

An opinion writer in the Baltimore area wrote a piece on how we Baltimorons need to get over our fear of snow. Then, a Minnesotan decided to weigh in, and now we have a war…

I grew up in Kentucky and Tennessee where snow shut the place down, why? A few practical reasons. Large snows were rare, and it would have been wasteful spending to have the amount of supplies sitting around each year “just in case”. Second, and most importantly, we had higher temperatures.

Having lived in upstate New York for seven years I know this: in northern states in the winter, it gets below freezing and it stays that way; in the mid-atlantic or the south, it doesn’t.

A few frigid days after 2-3 feet of snow we are above freezing again and all this fluffy white stuff starts to melt by the miracle of the sun. Then my the light of the moon, it freezes again. Ice, is dangerous.

Now that our science lesson is complete, let me tell you the more important sides to snow days.

Do. Nothing.

Why are we in such a hurry to get back to work? Back to normal?

Yes, our kids have cabin fever, I hear ya. Totally. But stop! This is a God given sabbath. A few precious days to sit in my bed and read a book, watch the kids play, make popcorn and play video games. The meetings will wait. So will the work.

I am not insensitive to those who do not have the privilege of jobs on salary. I am not insensitive to those who are working tirelessly to get the snow cleared and hearing nothing but complaints.

These public complaints are not coming from those. They’re coming from us overachievers who need to get to our offices and keep the daily drone of work alive. What is so important that my child misses school for another day? I would rather them drive me crazy at home than to hear about bus crashes and accidents because the roads were not safe.

My road is drivable, my driveway is dug out, but I will admit, yesterday I left my house once for therapy, and I was a hinderance to those working tirelessly to get the road cleared. There is one lane where there should be 2, there are 2 lanes where there should be 4 or 6. When they ask you to stay at home, it’s for a reason!

Calm down people, take a nature imposed sabbatical. Work will be waiting.

Remember all those projects you never have time for? That journaling you always want to do? That new recipe you wanted to try? The conversation with your loved ones you wold like to have if you just had time?

And most importantly, why, dear God, why are you in such a hurry to leave your elastic waiste pants?

Snow and Jesus say you’re welcome.

*steps down*

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plowing the neighborhood after the snowstorm, the plow is stuck.

Just Keep Swimming

I have a 4 letter word for you. Those of you who know me will not be surprised, I say a lot of 4 letter words. This one, however is different, it feels shameful, one I cannot speak in private or in public.

Debt.

Last night I sat in a meeting where we evaluated a 2016 budget. Well, 3 budgets actually. And when all is said and done, those 3 budgets will add up to over a million dollars. I read a story during the opening devotion of that meeting that talked about the way we grew up talking about money. Some grew up with small family owned businesses or farms where they very much “knew the value of a dollar.” Others, like me, grew up in homes that never discussed money.

I was privileged in my childhood, I grew up in a middle class family where we had more than we needed, but we also lived above our means. If you didn’t have the money for it, that’s okay, that’s what credit was for. There was an, “I’ll deal with it later” attitude.

When you live like this, I have learned as I continued this pattern for a while as an adult, you have “everything you want” but are constantly under the weight of debt, and that, friends, is a heavy burden.

I have spent very little of my adult life where I did not owe someone something. Some of this is “good debt” like student loans, mortgage, car loans, etc. these are not the things that weigh me down as much, they have good interest rates and were “investments” (although NOT what they used to be.) Other debt is “bad debt”, like credit card debt.

Credit card debt didn’t become a became a problem for me after my first child was born. I worked full time out of the manse of the church and my husband was in law school, then the financial decline of 2008 and he graduated and no job. By the time we moved to Maryland in 2012 my daughter was 4 and I the amount of credit card debt I had accumulated was equal to the childcare costs for my children over the last 4 years. I didn’t think this was bad, I made $30,000 a year and was the sole income provider for 3 of those 4 years. It felt manageable.

At that time my husband and I had been married for 9 years, we had 2 kids, gotten 2 master’s degrees during that time and the only way we lived outside of our means was equal to what we had paid nannies and preschools.

So what changed?

The rabbit hole that is credit card debt is deep and great. I was taught how to move money around to get the best interest rates and “tried” to pay off the debt. Then, divorce.

Now, divorce is devastating emotionally and physically. But here is my public service announcement: Divorce screws you financially in every possible way.

First, I lose half my household income. My ex and I make roughly the same amount right now, he is a lawyer who has been practicing for under 5 years and I am a minister with 12 years experience, and share our kids 50/50. All of which is good, no one pays alimony or child support until our income changes (which his mostly likely will significantly and mine incrementally over the years). We took our respective debts (cars, student loans, mortgage) and split the joint debt in half. All of this is great in theory, but…

Banks are the devil, we all knew this right?

It all makes sense and all, BUT I was married for 12 years, most of the credit card debt was in my name alone, and some of the larger debts (car, personal loan, etc.) was in our name jointly. I had the better credit and for half of our marriage was a sole income provider, so it makes sense that the majority of the debt would be in my name.

Banks could care less. You think Chase cared what my divorce decree says when I tell them, “yeah, my ex-husband is responsible for that debt, so really, when you run my debt to income ratio, that’s not right…” no. And they also cut my credit in half due to the fact that my household income is less.

I get it, I understand it mentally, but after all the pain, after all the emotional turmoil, after all the investment in a life that will no longer exist, I feel as if I have been stripped to nothing and shackled with large chains of debt – a car I wouldn’t have bought (and yes, I have one of those, thanks VW), a house I wouldn’t have bought, a lifestyle I wouldn’t have lived if I had known that I would be raising 2 children on a pastor’s salary alone. I am standing in quicksand and someone is yelling “just keep swimming” and so I simply sink faster.

It’s stressful. It’s heartbreaking. It’s exhausting. It plays into the “never enough” fear and I have no idea what to do next. This is not an unusual story, especially for people my age and in my position. This does not make it better…

(Update: I don’t ACTUALLY need 6 million dollars, but you get the idea…)

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Part Time Mother

 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.        ~ Romans 8:38-39

For the last year I have shared custody with my ex-husband. We have 50/50 custody, we live about a mile apart, we are (for the most part) amicable in this arrangement. I am lucky. There has not been any scaring or damaging court battle. We do not pin our children against each other. We have our complaints, but overall, we co-parent as well as two people ever could. We do not speak ill of each other or put our children in the middle of our own disagreements in front of our children. We make every decision together. This is the way it has always been since we became parents, this is the way, we both pray, it will always be.

When we first separated I read a lot of articles like this one and this one about brave women being honest about how they enjoyed their time away from their children and how they are better moms for it. I admit, I thought this would be me, and some days, it is. Some days are hard and I’m glad I don’t “have my children” those days. I have the flexibility to schedule meetings without the “guilt” of not being home for dinner. I can go to yoga without having to worry about what time the kids need to be picked up. Last night I didn’t eat dinner until 9pm and no one complained but me.

Truth is though, I had that before too.

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I was never intended to be a “mother” the way my foremothers were (BTW- spellcheck wants to change that to “forefathers” or “housemothers” I kid you not). I didn’t seek, nor ever intended to be a stay-at-home mom. In fact, I really wish I had it in me, I feel like a lesser mother because I don’t. (guilt for women if you do, guilt if you don’t…) But alas, I am a career mom (and proud for many reasons of it).

The agreement with having children in the first place was we had to be equal partner in it all. I was not cut out to do it alone. My ex-husband stayed home for 6 months at a time with each of our children when they were babies, I went back to work 8 weeks after giving birth both times, and was ready to do so. Yes, I took care of them as I worked from home many days a week, parenting was never one sided, it was always together. Seriously, he and I could write a book on model co-parenting. (PS- It’s consistency. Particularly with communication and scheduling).

In fact, I didn’t notice the problems in our marriage for so long because we were such great co-parents. We had great communication. We rarely had issues where the kids were concerned. We covered with and for each other, we were in agreement with the daily decisions and the big ones, we worked together. We do still, but it is very different.

I have no idea what they’re doing when they are not with me. We have issues with little things like not brushing my daughter’s hair or using the right shampoo (with my kids, hair is a big problem), did they get their allergy medicine? All the shoes and coats got left at his house and change of weather clothing is a demon in and of itself!

When I first separated people were trying, and trying hard to help me see a bright side. “I would kill for a weekend alone!” Guess what, those weekends alone? I don’t know what to do with myself! When I have my kids it’s exhausting and overwhelming, when I don’t, I get depressed. It’s all or nothing, no moderation. But it’s actually not “nothing.”

Because I may only have my kids part of the time, but that does not make me a part time mother. 

YES- I like going out without paying a babysitter. YES- I like having a Saturday without catering to every whim. YES- I like eating cookies and ice cream for dinner without explaining myself. YES- I love sleeping in.

But that does not mean on those days I stop being a mother. That I don’t think about, make decisions for, or feel guilt about not being with them.

In Romans, Paul lends beautiful pros to how God loves us. There is nothing we can do or not do to separate the love. If we reject God, God does not reject us. There is no way for God to STOP being God.

I am doing the best I can. Truth is, I have the “ideal” setup for divorced parents and it sucks. I want my kids all the time AND I want to share the responsibility of parenting, we just can’t be married or live together anymore. Do I stop being a mother when my kids are at school, or when they’re on a play date? No. You cannot separate me from my motherhood. Not having my kids all the time does not make me a part time mother. There is no such thing as being a part time mother. Period.

I am a mom. I am divorced. I share custody of my children. On the days I do not see my kids, I am still a mom.

By the way, If you sang Steve Wonder when reading this title, we are bonded forever as friends.

(un)earthed

The city burns. The heart aches.

I tried to fall asleep last night but panic attacks took me over. Not out of fear of safety. My bio jokes that I live In “the safest part of Baltimore, the suburbs.” I didn’t sleep much, my eyes were closed, my body was still, but I was focused on my breath in sadness and tried to keep the attacks at bay.

It does not take much in a city like this to unearth racial tension. It is palpable. I cannot speak as a native Baltimorean. I cannot speak as a black person. I can tell you what I have been taught as a middle class, suburban, white girl growing up in the south.

My parents are good people, they are, and the story I am about to tell is a small piece of who they were, they have grown as people, please know that. They are products of their times and places, it does not excuse their behavior, but it was ignorance, in the best use of the word, they had no experience otherwise and the world they grew up in didn’t ask them to.

My parents grew up in the midwest where the first black people they saw were on TV. They moved to the south before I was born. My sister and I were raised in Bowling Green, Kentucky and Goodlettsville, Tennessee (suburb of Nashville) by 2 midwestern parents and 2 native Kentuckian step-parents.

There was an “us” and a “them”. I was surrounded by white people. In my neighborhood, in my social circles, all of it. “Nigger” was a regular curse word in our house, the ultimate insult hurled by my step-father. Racial jokes were told on a daily basis, to roars of laughter. I can still hear my step-mother’s “Buckwheat” impression.

One of the first friends I remember having was a mixed race girl with adopted white parents. She was okay because of that. My middle school my best friend was a black girl. One labor day weekend I was told I could invite a friend to the pool, I asked Belinda. I had to resend the offer. That’s when I found out the country club we belonged to was “exclusive”. In high school, one of my best friends was a black man. We were both told, separately by our parents that being friends was fine, but we were never allowed to date. He (and later is family) was the first and only black person I ever saw in my parent’s house.

However, it wasn’t so much the blatant racism, is was the subtle, culturally imbedded racism that had the real power. When spoken I could consciously disagree. I didn’t always verbalize it because these were my parents, but I sure as hell didn’t believe it. Well, later I didn’t believe it.

I was in the first grade when I noticed that I hesitated before drinking out of a water fountain after one of my black classmates. I froze after I realized it. I questioned myself, why would I do that? Was it a “long lost” picture of Jim Crow laws and “Colored” and “White” water fountains? Or was it just something bred in me.

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From that moment on I challenged myself (yes, I know how that sounds) and when we would line up for the water fountain I would make sure to stand behind one of my black classmates, or use the restroom they just came out of. By 7 years old I was determined to unearth the racial injustice already bred into my life.

I am so ashamed I never speak of it. I am ashamed and I am afraid that by speaking I will do more harm than good. And this is my vow in Christ. Do no harm. But it’s impossible, isn’t it?

I will never be fully aware of my white privilege, it is impossible for me to fully understand. It is intwined in my social and economic status. It is enmeshed in every part of my life.  The neighborhoods I live and work in are almost exclusively white. My children go to school in some of the best schools in the country where she is taught that a long time ago people owned other people, that there were laws separating them and that is all over now.

My sister is a school teacher in the Deep South, she’s taught in Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. When I am at her house I am uncomfortable with the way her friends talk about certain restaurants being “black” restaurants, and therefore wouldn’t recommend them. Being around black people is automatically unsafe. Yet, she fights in her schools as she watches they black students get treated as “other”. She stands up for them and their voice because it’s just wrong.

We must unearth our white privilege. We much dig deep inside ourselves and not pretend that we understand how the “black community” in Baltimore feel, not to mention the fact that the “black community” isn’t one little group of people organizing a pep rally. We’re talking about a city where black outnumber white by 2 to 1. A state where we have more black millionaires than any other. Yet oppression and racism is so intertwined it cannot be underestimated.

We must unearth injustice and then step out of the way for the people WITH the experience to speak. We must not look a looter and say “they” are all the same.

We must admit that we are part of a system, both racial and economic that has kept them poor and oppressed. We must admit that they have every right to be angry.

We must unearth our own fears and step aside giving room and a place for theirs.

Pray for Baltimore, pray for those oppressed, unearth your own fears.

This post is a part of the UNCO synchroblog. April’s them is “UnEarthed”. You can read the other posts in the series here

Raising HPSTRS (because they’re too cool for vowels)

List your accomplishments: No.

I look good on paper, to the world I am a definition of success. People like to hear about a smart, strong, successful woman. To the world I am the product of successful public school systems, a state university, and a private seminary. I am a young, up-and-coming doctoral student, pastor, president of a non-profit, and valued member of society. When in reality, the “product” that I am, has to do with a handful of teachers that knew how to teach a creative brain. They were my lifeline.

The summer after I graduated college I was at lunch with my mother and my sister. My sister was a band director teaching in a Middle School. I was heading to seminary.

My mother was proud of us both, but wondered, “Why is it the one that hated school (read: sucked at it) is going back and the one that loved (read: straight A student) school is out of it?” My answer was simple, “Because it’s only now starting to get interesting.”

People are always shocked when they learn that I actually didn’t learn to read until I was in the 4th grade. Or at least that’s when the teacher noticed. I got a tutor, I learned eventually. I’m still a slow reader. My freshman year of high school was the first time I read a book, like a real book, it was Shane, then I read the Count of Monte Cristo, and I fell in love.

This astonishes people “HOW?!?” they ask. I just paid a lot of attention. We had reading groups I would listen to them read like they were stories. In comprehensive questions I would find similar words from story to question. I could remember almost verbatim what the teachers said when they taught. My sister would read things for me. I am a visual and audible learner. It was easy, but concentration was hard. I was bored out of my mind.

Yesterday I had a parent/teacher conference at my son’s preschool. They want him accessed for fine motor skills and speech, but there was more to the conversation. At 4 years old, he is a creative brain. My son, lives in his own world, because the world in his imagination, is SO much more interesting than the world he lives in. I like that about him.

I can imagine this is frustrating as a teacher, and I understand that you cannot change a whole classroom for my child, and that there’s no way to assess him when he doesn’t articulate the answer to the question you just asked him, but ask him to tell you about his day? Ask him to tell you what he’s thinking about? And O the places he goes!

We value creativity, not creatives.

After the meeting I went home and looked up books on parenting creative minds. I came up short. There were hundreds on books on Amazon explaining how to raise your child to BE creative. There are also many books on raising autistic or ADHD children. But what about us caught in the middle?

“If the parent find wonder in everyday as will the children, if the parents are creative the kids will mimic.”

There was no way my children were not going to be creative in some way. Just as if either of them had straight hair I would have returned them to the hospital because it could not be my child, they were destined to be creative. I am a creative brain. There is absolutely no question, my stream of consciousness is unreal. It amazes me, and I really have no idea what’s going on up there.

The first time I ever concentrated on anything was music related, it connected me to something larger than myself, something I now see and understand to be God. I’m a photographer, a very amateur one, but one nonetheless. It’s my media, how I express myself, I am also an orator. Poetry, sermons, blogs- writing is fine- but speech and presentation… storytelling is my gift.

My ex-husband’s creative drug of choice is the pencil or stylus. He is a cartoonist, a sketcher, animator, and writer. Graphics of all kinds.  He lives in his brain, and not just in the “I’m an introvert” kind of way (although yes, HUGE introvert), but he could draw you a picture before he would tell you his thoughts.

I do not see any of this as bad. This is who we are. My 7 year old daughter is an introvert, she is also a writer and painter. Last year she had her art chosen for 2 different showcases. She would rather write me a note and draw me a picture than talk to me. I respect that. She is in bed by 9pm and up by 7am, clockwork. Also, the outfits! Whew, that girl and her color pallet!

My son, who is 4, is a flaming extrovert. He lives in the world he created in his mind. He does not like to draw or write, he does love to dance, sing, and play in the sand, he likes to build things out of nothingness. The more activity around him, the more stimulated he gets, he is awake most nights in his room until 11-12pm. On Saturday’s when I don’t force him out of bed, I gently wake him after 11am. He was born a hipster. He matches pitch perfectly, he has natural rhythm, even when banging on the drums or piano.

I will spend the rest of my life fighting for his rights in school. I will be an attentive parent, I will do what needs to be done, but I pray that this society that claims to value creatives will not beat it out of them. She will survive, as she has the ability to sit and concentrate, articulate her thoughts, people-please. He, on the other hand, he might have already flunked out before he began.

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Hot Dog Buns & Smushed Up Grapes

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This Sunday I got to do something very special. Something near and dear to my heart. I got to serve 3 children communion for the first time. It was icy and snowy Sunday and therefore had about half out normal size for the 11:00 service. We decided to gather around the table to serve communion. As we did the three siblings were brought by our Christian educator to stand in the circle with us.

After the prayer she started mouthing something to me. The elder next to me asked what was going on, I told her, “I have no idea.” Finally, I figured it out. The children had never taken communion before. Their parents were standing next to me, I asked them if they could, the mom asked me if they could. “Yes!” I quickly answered.

This family has been attending our church for about 6 months, I had noticed before that the kids hadn’t come forward during communion. The mom told me the kids had been baptized and I knew the kids had an understanding of God and faith.

It didn’t need to be me “the pastor” to give them their “first communion” that is not our faith about the table, but I wanted to do it. As the plate and cup made it’s way around the circle I knelt before the kids. “Mom won’t let us!” the middle one told me. “Mom said it was okay” I told him. All 3 of them leaned around me to look at their parents. Mom gave the head nod.

As the plate and cup approach I ask them if they believe in God, I tell them that the bread and cup are one of the many ways God reminds us that Jesus loves us and was God on earth. Do you believe that?

The older two shake their heads yes. The youngest looks at me and says, “I don’t want any juice!” I smile, “It’s just grape juice, you don’t like grape juice?” He shakes his head no. “Well, then just dip the very corner in and you’ll never know.” We talked about saying “amen” or “thanks be to God” afterward.

The plate and cup arrive. I stopped and turned to the circle, “everyone this is the [family name]’s first time taking communion. The organist stopped, they all watched with the pride of family. I said each of their names and “the body of Christ, broken for you.” “The cup of salvation, poured out for you”. The youngest dipped just the corner in the cup and smiled reluctantly.

The super quick version of my story goes like this: I was born to a Roman Catholic father and a Presbyterian mother. By the time I was 3 they were divorced and I split my time between the two churches, one week Catholic, one week Presbyterian. Mother remarried to a man  who was Methodist by his previous marriage, so one week Catholic, one week Methodist. After some time they left the Methodists and we went to the Southern Baptist Church (the church my step-father was raised in). You guessed it. One week Catholic, one week Southern baptist…

But not for long. I was 8 or 9 and my interest in church was waining. Dad had stopped taking us to the catholic church after he moved away and let’s just say the Southern Baptist church and I never really got along.

But some rituals of the churches stuck. Prayer, worship, reading of scripture, and surprising one… first communion.

Here’s what I remember about communion: It was off limits. I remember my grandmother (an life long Irish-Catholic) specifically telling me on Christmas Eve to “stay here” and how awkward it was to have people step around us to get out of the pew. I was in the nursery at The Presbyterian Church during communion and the Methodists went forward and knelt at the altar fence (sorry, I’m sure it’s called something great and awesome, but as a kid that’s what I thought it was!) and it seemed weird to me.

I was thinking about it this morning. I don’t EVER remember communion in the Southern Baptist Church. I really don’t. My family attended there over 10 years and not once do I remember having communion. Really not surprising, but interesting given people who put so much emphasis on the blood of Jesus.

ANYWAY…. time went on and I never took communion. I had never received my “first” and therefore wasn’t allowed.

My First Communion: At 16 I started attending the Presbyterian Church (again) by myself. I was just there to sing in the choir, but eventually I went to youth group. I was on a mission trip. We were working in a church in Eastern Kentucky, the Appalachian Mountains, the poorest part of the country and the Youth Pastor and I were discussing the whole communion thing.

“I don’t take communion” I explained. He went through a dissertation on why as Presbyterians we believe all who have been baptized and believe in God are allowed to participate in communion. It was the first time I heard the phrase “open table”.

I was not buying it.

I don’t know, I needed it to be special. Eventually, he figured this out. “What if we did it here, just us (meaning the youth group) just your friends, your adopted family, what if you let us make it special?” I reluctantly agreed, I saw my grandmother’s face telling me to “stay here.” I took a deep breath.

Everyone gathered in a circle and we waited, there was commotion in the kitchen, my youth pastor and one of our adult leaders argued a little. A few minutes later they come out, looking sheepish. The youth pastor prayed, prayed for me, for our group work, talked about the great things God had done, for the body and blood of Christ, for the spirit to descend.

That’s when we realized, all of us, what the commotion was about. “On the night of his arrest Jesus took the bread…” we giggled, the only bread they could find, the body of Christ in that moment, were hot dog buns. “…He blessed it and broke it and gave it to them saying…”

“In the same way when the meal was over he took the cup…” He held up a styrofoam cup, and poured the contents of the cup into another styrofoam cup. It clumped and splashed. It was strange.

He walked up to me and said, “Shannon, the body of Christ broken for you” I looked down and tore off a piece of hot dog bun, and dipped it into the cup. They had been unable to find grape juice, but they did have grapes, which they had quickly smushed with a fork. I smiled. It was exactly what it should have been.

It tasted terrible, but it was one of the most precious moments of my life. Jesus is the body and blood of this Holy Communion, even if the visible sign comes in the form of a child who doesn’t like grape juice, or comes in the form of hot dog buns and smushed up grapes. Thanks be to God, Amen.

God is Doing a New Thing

fontThis week I had the privilege of leading chapel with my DMin class, as we planned we chose this text from Isaiah:

Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise. ~Isaiah 43:18-21

Some of you may already know, although it has not been publicly announced on this blog or social media that my husband and I are separated. It is a fairly new reality, as the official separation started July 2 when I left for this trip. When I return home my home life will be completely different. Monday we will meet with a family therapist and deal with the realty of telling our children. We have yet to tell them given that they were without a parent for almost 2 weeks.

As anyone who has ever gone through separation and divorce knows this is not a simple admission. And for those of you who haven’t, I cannot tell you how heartbreaking it is. As a child of divorce I understand all too well that children are resilient, yet I also understand that this will forever change my children and the life I dreamed for them.

I have a great community, friends, and the support of family, both blood relation and not. I have a wonderful therapist and a church who supports and comforts me. However, this is a difficult, vulnerable, and very raw time in my life. Everything has changed, and over the next year of this separation and impending divorce everything will continue to change.

Isaiah’s message is that God is going a new thing. For me, a new thing is definitely happening, I don’t know if God is doing it or not, but it is happening. However, my faith tells me that God is always doing, reforming, “working” on me. But what is provocative about this text is – notice where the new thing is… it’s in the wilderness and the desert. It’s in a difficult place. We like to lift up a “new thing” as if it is the salvation from the old thing, but there’s a part of me that really liked that old thing. I was comfortable there. I liked being married, I liked my family, no it wasn’t perfect, but I was happy and wanted it to work.

Maybe this “new thing” is for the best, although I admit, I can’t quite perceive that yet, or maybe I just need to believe that. But right now I am tired and thirsty in the desert. Right now I am cold and lost in the wilderness.

God will make a path, and God will make the waters come, Isaiah says. Because sin and death does not have the last word, because I will not sit in this darkness forever, because I believe in a God of resurrection, a God of a new thing, even when I cannot yet perceive it.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus, and guide my way. Amen.