“Does the mommy guilt ever subside long enough to feel good about anything you’re doing?” This was the question that a new mom in my congregation who was returning to work following her all-too-brief maternity leave tearfully asked, and I resonated deeply with her grief, anxiety and, yes, her guilt. It wasn’t that long ago that I had returned to work after ten weeks of maternity leave with my second child. And just because I had done it once before hadn’t made it any easier—if anything it made it more difficult, because now I knew just how quickly the time passes and before you know it they’re not babies any longer.
Elizabeth’s question brought me back to my first day back and the first full day that that my son had been with his babysitter. I got a little more than an hour with him (just barely enough time to nurse him, change his diaper and, oh yeah, get a bite to eat myself) before I had to hop back in the car to fight the rush hour traffic in order to get to a community action. And I cried all the way there, thinking about missing my babies.
Pastor and poet Sharon Benton sent these poems last month with the comment, "It's the end of January, so baptism texts may be over..." And yet the themes of void, chaos, formlessness, and being born to new life are timely as we approach Ash Wednesday and the reflective season of Lent. In Mark Jesus' baptism is followed "immediately" by his wilderness sojourn. And so it, oftentimes, with us as well.
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I am the baby of my family. My sister was sixteen years old when I was born. We never attended the same schools or shared the clothes in our closets. In fact, most of my memories of my sister growing up are around holidays, when she was home from college. As I grew older we were close, but the age difference meant it was a different relationship than my friends had with sisters closer in age. I went away to college and she had a baby. We talked on the phone, sent cards and saw each other at family events, but our busy lives sent us off on our own journeys.
I graduated from college, unsure of where God was calling me. My journey led me to serve two years as a missionary for the United Methodist Church in Pennsylvania. I then returned to California, to work in the non-profit world, I thought. Meanwhile my sister was a mother, a teacher, a wife and also seeking what was next in her life. The answer came as a call to ministry, beginning seminary part time. I journeyed on as a youth director, an active layperson and an executive assistant in the private sector. I too was seeking, and finally answered my call to ministry. I began seminary in the fall of 2002, five years after my sister did, at the same seminary as a full-time student. My sister was still in seminary, taking the long route, one or two classes a semester.
It is here that our story as sisters in ministry together begins.
Preached on Feb. 3, 2008 at First Baptist Church of Gaithersburg, MD
After preaching for the third consecutive year on Transfiguration Sunday, I found myself amazed that I had something new to say on the same passage.
After my father’s second year of seminary, my parents got joyous news that changed everything for them. My mom unexpectedly discovered that she was pregnant. Without the funds to support this new addition to their family, which would be me—my dad knew he needed to find another job, even if it meant quitting school temporarily. With my dad’s new family responsibilities, it took him until my third birthday to complete his MDiv. I don’t recall this but the following story has been told to me so many times that I feel like I could actually remember it myself.
There are moments, we say, when the Holy breaks in. Moments in our earthly messiness when God’s majesty soars down to meet us. Moments in our worldly brokenness when God’s perfect peace burrows up to find us.
Moments when the miraculous takes hold, and we are left breathless. Filled with awe for the beauty that surrounds us, for the peace that passes all understanding. Moments such as a baby’s birth or an illness cured.
The miraculous moment when a couple says “I do”.
Mary, Mother of our Lord: Only you would know. You could only understand when an angel appears and tells you not to be afraid when that’s all you are. You’re terrified of what seems impossible. And yet, the angel reads your mind and assures you that nothing will be impossible with God.
The word hits you like a stone in your gut. Or at least, that’s how it hit me. In the fourth week of Advent, I sat with your faithful to study this story where an angel appears and tells you that you will be the Mother of our Lord. Their faith is strong. They believe you were a virgin. They are comforted by your submissiveness. They are encouraged by your faith. But, that’s not what I see. I hear something that I have never heard before in your familiar story. It wasn’t until today, when that phrase was read by one of your faithful, that I feared the impossible. It hit me right there.
Oh. My. God. I'm late.
I don't exactly know when I became a resident in the Land of Completely and Obviously Pregnant. I do know by the time mid-January rolled around, a stranger at an interment identified my pregnant belly under four layers of vestments: clericals, cassock, surplice, and, for lack of a better description, giant black cape.
Of course, I had to tell the congregation a child was on the way long before that. While all working women have to figure out how to tell an employer of a growing family, to be a pregnant priest or pastor is to be pregnant in a rather public way. Below the fold are a few to consider as when you become pregnant while serving a congregation:
When is life not a multiple choice question? When does life challenge us to make one choice rather than selecting the ever-tempting ever-impossible All of the Above? There is only one of choice -- or at least, this is what Director Danny Boyle presents in the story of Jamal Malik in the award-winning film Slumdog Millionaire. There are four choices: cheating, luck, genius or destiny. Which will Malik choose in answering the final question on the popular game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire to award him 20 million rupees?