Sundays

For the second time in my ministry, I am appointed to family leave.  The first time was when my older daughter was one.  As she grew and became more aware and fun, I struggled with the competing roles of mother and pastor, not unlike many working parents.  It hurt when I picked her up from our wonderful caregiver, and she did not want to leave.  It hurt when she was at a church meeting with me and then my husband picked her up on his way home from work to put her to bed.  It hurt that she always wanted him, because he was the one putting her to bed most nights.  Even as I am married to a well-adjusted preacher’s kid (PK), the fears of the horror PK stories would sometimes cause me to hold my breath.

It was so difficult to leave a church I loved, but I did not regret my decision.  Those early years were fun, though totally exhausting at the time.  With my issues with pregnancy, I was right in knowing that I could not care for a toddler, a church, and be pregnant all at the same time.

This family leave is different.  My girls are 8 and 11, and so independent and self-sufficient.  However, it hurt when I came home so emotionally exhausted and had nothing left to give them.  It hurt when they needed me, and I had to go back to work. It hurt when I had to let go of a tiny hand or remove a child from my lap in the pew to go up front to lead worship. It hurt when, after worship, they want to tell me about Sunday School, and I ignore them to finish a conversation with a parishioner.  Like my competing children, I often felt like my parishioners and children were competing for my attention. Whoever I chose to focus on, the other felt hurt.  I knew which parishioners adored my children, and who felt jealous when I was mothering someone else, whether my own children or another parishioner. 

Being a clergy mother is a beautiful privilege.  However, it is not many jobs where you bring your family to work, and your family is expected to be present.  Literally being all things to all people takes its toll.  Sometimes that work of trying to do it all hurt my heart. 

I hope both my congregations I left for family leave understand it is more about me than them.  I want to do everything well, and the divided life of active clergy and mothering always make me feel like I do nothing as well as I could.  I also hope when they receive a clergy parent, and especially a clergy mother, they will give her the space to occupy both roles in a healthy way. 

The call to be a mother is sacred.  The call to be a pastor is sacred.  I do not feel like the calls compete, despite my choosing to step away from active ministry.  Being a mother made me a better pastor.  My capacity for love grew as my body swelled with my first pregnancy.  I understood more completely God’s unconditional love for us.

Sundays are sacred for Christians, because it is our Sabbath. More than just a rhyme, Sundays are Fun-days. 2020 has changed our Sundays. Since March, most congregations have online worship. Many do not know when they will return to the building. My congregation went to livestream, so each Sunday I still went to church to lead worship. My routine changed considerably. I was able to arrive an hour later, and leave hours earlier. There were none of the typical conversations or check-ins that pastors need to have with people. I was surprised how quickly I adjusted to this new way of church. Watching my Facebook page, reading comments, it really did seem like people were gathered and we were experiencing worship together.

August 9 was my last Sunday at my congregation. Now I don’t know what to do with myself on Sundays. There is no need to wake up early to pray and prepare. Though we have aligned with a new congregation, each week we are choosing where to worship so I can hear different colleagues and see different styles. I preferred a later worship start as pastor; now as someone at home, I want to worship and then move on with my day. Except that I don’t really know what to do with myself. All the extra time on Sunday morning does not feel right.

I hope someday to return to active ministry. What that looks like, time will tell. For now, I will continue to adjust to a new rhythm. I will try to enjoy the slower pace, the lack of obligations, and support my colleagues instead. The focus on my family feels right, and I hope I will eventually settle into our new routine.

Pastor Mother

As I leave the school office to walk to my younger daughter’s classroom, I wonder who else I will get to see.  This school, the closest elementary to my church, is filled with “my” kids.  Not just the two I birthed, but many more from my congregation.  The hallway is crowded, and I see Eleanor.  I wave, and her face lights up as she smiles and waves back.  There is Will.  He is in line and focused like he should be, but as I walk by, I say hi, and he somehow becomes even cuter as he smiles.  Nora probably saw me before I saw her.  She smiles when our eyes meet.  Finally, I arrive at Brynna’s classroom.  There are no other church kids in her class, so now I am fully mother to just her.  When she sees me, she runs over and gives me a big hug, and I am just as thrilled to see her and have her back in my arms.

I tell my husband that I almost feel like a celebrity walking the halls of our school.  Unlike a celebrity, I am seeking certain little faces. When our eyes meet, I try to send as much love in the gaze as possible.  I hope they see nothing but delight on my face when we pass in the hall. 

I think we all need someone to be delighted to see us.  We long to know we are loved.  My call to ministry has always been to share God’s love with everyone, to help them know how completely and unconditionally God loves them.  It is easy to share that love with all “my” kids.  I have watched them grow, baptized them, given them Bibles, and talked about their favorites.  I do love each one of them, more than I can put into words, and I know the capacity for such love comes from God.  As a pastor, I am representing God to them.  I love each one of them unconditionally, and I understand God’s love more and more every day. 

In our baptism, we celebrate that God claims us as beloved children.  When I became a pastor, I gained a new understanding of that love as I loved all “my” kids, who at that time were college students.  No matter where I serve, I cannot help but love the people.  True, some are easier to love than others. 

I hope my young friends who were happy to see their pastor at school, felt the love I sent them.  I hope they equate God with love, as we have tried to teach them.  I hope that my biological children always see delight on my face and know how unconditionally I love them.  Love is powerful, and sharing love is the way I can communicate God’s infinite love with others.   God loves us even more than our mothers do, which as a mother, is incomprehensible. I am at my best when I am loving others and letting them know in my words and actions how much they mean to me. 

This post is part of the book launch blog tour for Embodied: Clergy Women and the Solidarity of a Mothering God. Embodied includes reflection questions at the end of each chapter, to instigate conversations that lead to support and new perspectives. The book is available this September from Bookshop.orgAmazon, or Cokesbury

#embodiedmotheringgod

You are Good

You are good.  The goodness of God is inside you, and the Holy Spirit prompts you to act out of that goodness. 

The fruit of the Spirit outlined in Galatians 5: 22-23 is “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” The Greek word ἀγαθωσύνη (agathosune) means intrinsic goodness, the goodness that comes from God.  It is found only in biblical and ecclesiastical writings, according to Strong.

You are made in the image of God, you are God’s beloved child, and you are good.  Goodness is different from kindness that way.  You are good.  You don’t have to do anything to be good; you just are good.  Kindness is the action you take because of that goodness. 

In her book Rising Strong, Brene Brown asserts that  “The most dangerous stories we make up are the narratives that diminish our inherent worthiness. We must reclaim the truth about our lovability, divinity, and creativity.” 

You are good.  You are worthy of love; to give love and to be loved.  You are enough.  Many of us have had conversations about that feeling of unworthiness that creeps in that holds us back from doing what God has called us to do.  God is in you; God invites you to be a co-creator with God not because God is good.  God will equip you to do what God calls you to do.

It is out of the inherent goodness of God within us that we respond to God and want to serve God and God’s people.  It is what makes us want to be good and do good.  Because God created each one of us uniquely, we have different skills and gifts for how we share our goodness with the world. 

You are good.

Diana Butler Bass was one of my college professors. In her newsletter (https://dianabutlerbass.substack.com/p/another-monday), she quoted Marcus Borg  in his final book Convictions– “The fruits of centering in God are many and intertwined, but the most important are compassion, freedom and courage, and gratitude.”   Diana says, “These traits are central to the most important thing – “loving what God loves, participating in God’s passion for a different sort of world.” They are directed toward love of neighbor, a natural growth and being centered in God. 

In the Gospel of Matthew 22:34-40, the Pharisees ask Jesus what is the great commandment of the law? Jesus reminds us what is most important: to love God with all your heart soul and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself.  The goodness within you makes you desire God, and fills you with love for others too.

Each of you is good. I love to hear your stories of how you have seen and experienced God at work. I believe that Psalm 23:6 is true:  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life.

Cast all your anxiety on God

1 Peter 5:7: Cast all your anxiety on God because God cares for you.

Are you anxious?  I know many of you are anxious about schools opening or not.  Many of you are waiting to hear how you will be needed to care for family members based on school decisions.

Some of you are anxious awaiting tests or test results.  Some are awaiting doctor appointments.  Some of you are healing from procedures.

Many of us are anxious about covid-19 and the rising number of cases.

Many of us are anxious.  The first time I was diagnosed with anxiety was when I was 4.  I work hard at managing my anxiety.  Perhaps that is why I have always had such an active prayer life.  I am constantly turning over my anxieties to God (and too often, then taking them back instead of leaving them with God). 

Whatever anxiety you may have, I encourage you to give it to God, and leave it with God, for God cares about you. 

Rest for the Weary: A sermon

We keep hearing that we are in unprecedented times.  Our lives have totally changed in the last few months. We have watched horrific murders and arson, and we have also seen our communities join together in love and care.  We have seen people who refuse to wear masks, and also the way so many of you have made masks for each other and sent masks to the Navajo nation.  I have seen information shared on social media to help us learn more about racism and how to be an ally, and I have been disappointed in friends and family members who do not want to understand.  Instead of gathering, we have online worship.  Instead of small groups, we have zoom meetings.  Zoom exhaustion is a real thing, and I have it.  It is wonderful to see people’s faces, and yet, I always leave the meetings tired. 

I am weary.  Are you?

I feel like our current world is much like Matthew 11: 16-19. We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’”(11:17)    There is so much sadness, and judgment.  Matthew reminds us that John the Baptist and Jesus were both rejected and ridiculed. Groupthink and culture wars happened in the ancient world, and they are happening right now. 

I am weary. Are you?

Jesus calls all of us who are weary.  Jesus promises us rest.  Jesus provides us a safe place where we can share all of the burdens that are on our hearts.  Jesus invites us to take a break and renew our strength and our spirits so that we can get back to work. 

The 4th of July is always a fun holiday, though this year it will be different.  You may have extra day off, of vacation, or maybe this year it just feels like every other weekend.  We can use this holiday to reflect on how our country began.  It was not an easy process.  The Revolutionary war lasted 7 years, but there had been years of unrest prior to the war.  The Declaration of Independence, that we celebrate this weekend, was the beginning of the war.  Sometimes things have to change.  But the change process is not always comfortable, easy, or even safe.

I can’t help but wonder if God is using this time of pandemic to help us change.  We have opportunity to look at the way things were pre-pandemic, and decide what we miss and what we don’t miss.  WE have the opportunity to change.  21 days makes a habit, and we have had a much longer time.  What do you want to leave behind from the pre-pandemic world?  What have you learned these last few months that you want to keep doing or carry forward?   Then looking bigger than ourselves, what do we want for our community?  What work do we need to do so that our community is a safe place for everyone?  What justice work do we need to do on behalf of our brothers and sisters of color? On behalf of our LGBTQ+ friends and family?  What work do we need to do to make God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven? 

As we reflect, we need to also prepare for action.  We need to strengthen our bodies, minds, and spirits.  We need to rest in Christ.  We need to turn all of our fears, any feelings of resistance to change, any traces of hate or judgment that lie in our hearts for any side, we need to give all of that over to Christ.  We need to release our burdens.  We are not in this unprecedented time alone.  We do not have to do the work that lies ahead alone. 

Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (11:28-29)

If you are like me and feeling weary from living in quarantine, Jesus says come to me. If you are weary from what you see on the news, Jesus says come to me.  If you are weary from physical, emotional, or mental health issues, Jesus says come to me.  Jesus invites us to rest.  To take a deep breath and recollect ourselves.  Our souls need rest, and Jesus offers us that rest.  We just have to allow ourselves time with him.  Maybe you spend time with God in prayer.  Maybe it is reading Scripture.  Maybe it is journaling.  Maybe it is going for a walk.  Maybe it is signing up to come walk the labyrinth here at church.  Maybe it is a nap.  Give yourself permission to let your soul rest. 

I want to share with you a prayer from the late Australian pastor, Bruce D. Prewer. (http://www.bruceprewer.com/)

Jesus says: “Come to me, all who are battling on under heavy load,

and I will give you rest.”

Let any who are feeling at odds with life, come, and find reconciliation.

Let any who are sad, come, and find comfort for your aching hearts.

Let any who feel worn and weary, come, and find rest for your souls.

Let any who are afraid, come, and find faith and renewed courage.

Let any who feel ashamed, come, and find unadulterated forgiveness.

Let any who are feel unwanted, come, and find hospitality that is divine.

Let all who are feeling happy, come and have your happiness blessed.

Let all who wish to renew their vows, come and trust the Spirit of truth and joy.

Let all who love the Lord come, and let and let your love overflow in praise.

Amen.

Peonies

My paternal grandparents’ farm has one long driveway that is a semicircle. The main driveway was gravel, but there was another part of the driveway, dirt, that went behind the house back to the highway. Along that dirt driveway, my grandpa planted peonies.

Every spring when they bloomed was exciting. When Marty and I were planning a spring wedding, I wanted peonies, but my florist said they were too fragrant.

It is my intention to divide and transplant some peonies from the farm to my yard. I learned, in talking with family on facebook, that some of the original peony bushes came from my great grandmothers on two sides. I also was reminded that there are some already here in Minnesota. Isn’t it amazing how one flower, one scent, can transport you to a different place? Seeing or smelling a peony bush takes me to this farm.

My grandpa died on April Fool’s Day, exactly 31 years after his father. I remember the morning my great-grandpa died. I was in first grade, and I thought it was too awful of news to be an April Fool’s joke. My grandpa’s death was not unexpected, and yet of course it was. Years earlier I had promised my grandma that I would officiate both their funerals. Because I was in the midst of chemo, I couldn’t even attend the funeral, let alone officiate. My cousin offered to drive me, but I didn’t have enough energy for the trip. I couldn’t be there for my dad. Though I knew in my heart that Grandpa would understand why I wasn’t leading his service, and why I couldn’t even attend, that knowledge was not a comfort.

Grandpa was a man of few words. “Well.” A one-word complete sentence that could mean many different things, based on his tone. I’ll never forget the time we were living with them before we moved to Memphis and my mom made him laugh so hard his drink came out his nose. I’ll always be grateful for him teaching me how to drive in the field. He would ask about school, and I never doubted how proud he was of me. He would occasionally type letters, purposely misspelling “dawg” and “Grandpaw” so that you could hear his voice.

So many things I wish I would have asked him. I didn’t have much energy for grief four years ago, so I am grieving today. I love you, Grandpa. Thank you God, for gifts like peonies that will always remind me of him.

Hefted

Before we left for our Celtic pilgrimage, Rev. Mike Miller warned us that we might feel “hefted” to Iona. Hefting is a common practice among shepherds, where sheep are allowed to graze without fences.  The ewes teach their lambs where to graze, and therefore feel a sense of belonging to a certain area.  As predicted, I am now “hefted” to Iona.  I did feel at home there, almost immediately. 

Iona is a small island, about 1 mile wide and 4 miles long, in the Inner Hebrides on the west coast of Scotland.  On our pilgrimage walk to St. Columba’s Bay on the southern part of the island, it seemed like a much bigger place (in other words, a challenging hike for me).  St. Columba’s Bay is covered in rocks instead of sand.  It is where St. Columba landed on Iona when he fled Ireland and began a Christian mission there in 563.  We were encouraged to pick up two stones:  one representing what we wanted to leave behind to be thrown into the ocean, and the other to bring back to remind us of what we wanted to pick up or commit to in our faith journey.  It was easy to know what I wanted to leave there, and a bit more prayer time to listen to what God wanted me to do before I made a commitment.  Worship on Iona was of course meaningful and beautiful, and I long to be back in the old abbey with the modern words of the liturgy. 

I want to share with you a prayer from the Iona Abbey Worship Book about commitment: 

God, our Creator, you have wonderfully made us.  You have planted in us different gifts, no two of us are the same.  On our own we may or may not shine, but together, in your company, you turn us into a kaleidoscope of grace.  Sometimes we lament the busyness of our lives, sometimes we bemoan the emptiness.  These are the signs of our longing for a fulfillment we cannot create, but which we can receive from the One who made, knows and loves us.  Lover of all and of each, enable us here to be fully open to you to all you have to offer, to all that you ask of us.  Amen.  

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