Genesis 17:1-7 and Galatians 3:26-29; 4:4-7
The Christmas tree is down, the decorations stored away and family members have returned to their own homes. At least in theory we have accomplished this “putting away” of Christmas. Yet, is Christmas really tucked away in neat boxes, orderly piled in our attics until the day after Thanksgiving next year?
Why then, did we sing a Christmas hymn as our opening worship song this morning? Why are we still referencing Emmanuel, God with Us, in our liturgy? And as much as we love the Christmas season, isn’t it just a season? We’ve endured hearing the same Christmas music on the radio for at least a month or more, isn’t it time to move on?
“Get up! Where are your shoes? Stop! Get down! What are you wearing? Is it clean? Stop! Get off of that! Don’t eat off the floor! Put it down!”
That’s my regular discourse every morning with my two children, ages 10 and 2. Particularly on this Sunday morning, I had to take a deep breath and remind myself that children are a blessing from God. “You’re a minister, don’t you realize that”, I said to myself. As we enter the church doors I am towing a diaper bag, a bible case, and a Mickey Mouse stuffed animal. I make my transition from mommy to minister. “Good morning, Sis. So-and-So.” “God bless you Bro. So-and-So.”
I love this photo. Exemplified in this photo is where my life as a mom and as a pastor intersect. This is the day that my daughter was baptized. I love how my son is looking up and probably wondering what is going on. My husband who is also a pastor had the joy of baptizing my son. So on this day, I had the unique pleasure of baptizing my daughter. There is something special as a pastor/mother to be able to say the words to your daughter as you pour water on her head, "You are special. You are created in God's image. God chose you and loves you before you are able to do anything to deserve it." I often look at this photo as a reminder of the blessings I have in being a pastor/mother, especially on those days when the blessings are not so obvious.
My kids mostly go to church with me every Sunday because my congregation is very kid-friendly. My church makes it possible for me to be both pastor and mother. Recently, I asked my son what he thought I did for a living. He said, "I don't know." I reminded him that I was a pastor. He replied, "I thought John (my head of staff) was the pastor." "What do you think I am doing every Sunday alongside John?" "I never thought about it. Just being mom, I guess."
The Monday morning after Mother’s Day we found out we were pregnant. 4 weeks later, on my father-in-law’s birthday, we found out we were having a miscarriage.
It’s impossible to describe the deluge of emotions that shift as quickly as the wind, or the vast sea of questions, anxieties, and surreal moments that colored those several months of my life; and I know that new revelations and wounds and emotions and holy moments will continue to surface. Miscarriage is something that is experienced in drastically different ways; and my words certainly do not speak for the experiences and emotions of anyone other than myself; nor do I offer my own musings as the “right”, “good”, or even “healthy” way for anyone other than me to process what happened. I simply offer my story as one of many (often unspoken) stories; and from the somewhat unique perspective of a woman in ministry.
There was a relatively small Super Secret Society of close friends and family who knew we were pregnant, and they were a wonderful, trusted group to lean on in our grief. Our dear family and friends loved us well in that difficult time; sending cards, flowers and food, sitting with us in the sharp, shadowy whirl of the stages of grief, sharing our tears, hugging us, and holding our hands as we tried to keep moving forward.
As of this month, my husband will no longer be bringing home the benjamins. Or rather, he’s bringing the ultimate Benjamin home: himself. Ben resigned his position as a case manager at a nonprofit organization so that he can once again spend a season as a stay-at-home father. His last day of work is my last day of maternity leave.
I thought I was indestructible. In 2009 I had easily managed to graduate from seminary, have a baby, begin my ministry as a solo pastor in rural Wisconsin, and buy a house. Everything went as smoothly as it could, the transitions were managed well and I was able to balance my roles as wife, mom, and pastor. But this had to end. And it did, abruptly.
In the spring of 2011, a week after the birth of our son, I, who was indestructible, was diagnosed with a potentially fatal heart condition: peripartum cardiomyopathy. Not only was I facing a potentially devastating disease, I was told that I needed to immediately wean my son, and was urged to never have children again. Suddenly my ability to remain calm and put together was shattered. I was struck with a grief I had never experienced; never, ever, did I think that I would be told when I was done having children. I felt like something had been stripped violently away from me, stolen from me without my permission. And all of this left me feeling very lost and alone. But even in the midst of that loneliness there was something always present: my congregation.
Outwardly, I’m sure it looked as if I was listening intently as the assisting minister read from Isaiah. Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.
Inwardly, I was counting the number of hours since my daughter had last eaten, worried that my breast pads would not hold and that I was about to step into the pulpit and demonstrate the irrefutable truth behind this metaphor.
After years of infertility, testing, treatments, loss, and nine months of vomiting, I have entered new territory in my life: I am a nursing mom. A nursing mom-pastor, to be exact. I read someplace that we only encounter those “seventh and eighth weeks of Epiphany” lessons about once every twenty years, which seemed right for me – that the congregation and I are entering this newness together, a place we have rarely trod as a church. My male colleague has a daughter also, but she’s eighteen, and I doubt he ever worried about leaking onto his alb.
When I accepted my first (and current) call, I was intentional in looking for congregation that had time and space carved out for children during the week. To put it bluntly, I was look for on-site childcare for the future, hopefully at a reduced (if not free) price for future dream fulfillment. Four months into my call, I became pregnant with our first child (“that was quick,” my head of staff remarked with amusement). At three months old, Daniel was just three doors down from my office. At two and a half years old, he is now two doors down, having graduated from the baby room to the “two’s.” In the fall, one door away at the “three’s.” While the privilege of bringing my son to work was beyond measure, the blessing was hundred-fold when my marriage fell apart.
I don’t recommend divorce.
Then again, I kind of do.
Becoming a divorced clergy who also happens to be a single mom was a huge adjustment, and it came hurtling so quickly that I’m not sure I was standing for much of 2009. I stood for Daniel when I had him, but the days when I found myself alone in my apartment fighting depression over shared custody and a slew of other divorce-y battles left me wondering how long the waters would be up to my neck. In his absence, I would gather Daniel’s favorite stuffed animals (doggie, tiger and bun-bun) and slept in his sweet embrace, my soul emptied not just of spouse, but now too of child three days a week.
Scripture text: Luke 24:13-35 (NRSV)
It’s an interesting opportunity to preach today. Around the worship planning table, Matt (the senior pastor) suggested this date to me so that the new mom might lead on Mother’s Day. Since then, I’ve been wrestling with where to go with it.
I struggle with Mother’s Day. I don’t struggle with a day set aside to recognize mothers in all their varied appearances –by birth, by adoption, by marriage, by relationship and blessing. I struggle with the way Mother’s Day sometimes tries to press all these brilliantly and wonderfully diverse meanings of what it means to be a mother into a flat reality, as uninspired as some greeting cards. I don’t want to do that this morning, but I do want to speak from my authentic experience.
I feel like people often ask me this question when they find out I am a solo pastor, part of a clergy couple, a mother of two young children—and I don’t live near my family. This question immediately makes me feel terribly defensive. I start to wonder what the questioners are really saying to me. Do they think I don’t spend enough time with my kids? Do they think I’m completely nuts and I’m slowly damaging my reputations as both a mother and pastor as I try to merge parenthood and an active congregation? Am I crazy working without other pastors on staff with me? Are my children doomed? A fellow pastor, pregnant with her first child, told me recently of a friend who asked her about what her plans were after she had the baby. This fellow pastor talked of her dream to be a solo pastor and described how she hoped to manage daycare. Her friend then said, “Well, it won’t be ideal.” My heart burned for her after she told me of this comment.
In motherhood, like ministry, it’s really hard to tell when I’m doing things right. And much of the time I feel like I’m doing most things a little bit wrong. When people ask me “How do you do it?” and I overreact, I realize this reaction is birthed from my own deep insecurities. The reputation of the behaviorally-challenged, anti-religious, emotionally scarred pastor’s child is powerful. This reputation formed when most children of pastors had mothers who stayed at home. How will my children fare with two parents who are pastors? Whenever my children have challenging days, my first reaction is to blame myself. Many days I struggle with the idea that I may be a better pastor than a mother. The guilt I feel as a parent is a soul-sucking, anxiety-producing, terror-inducing emotion.