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The Power of Affirmation

As we approach Cooper’s 2nd birthday, I might be getting a bit sentimental thinking “way back when……..”

When we brought Cooper home from the hospital, we were amazingly at peace. I thought we’d be nervous wrecks. I thought we’d be overwhelmed, and there were moments of that for sure, but we kind of fell into place as parents with a strange sense of peace — well, at first.

As the days went by I can remember discovering that there would be both times of great ease and times where there would be questions we simply could not answer. As the weeks went on, I can remember being confused more than settled. Early in mommy-dom, the greatest thing you could ever have said to me was, “Sara, you’re going a good job,” or, “Sara, you’re a good mom.” I confess that now as we enter toddlerdom I might need those words even more. 

I’m 3.5 years into ministry — a journey that began a long time ago — and there are days that I feel oddly at peace — as though the Holy Spirit is drifting in and out of all that happens and all that I do, and I am comfortably confident that I’m not screwing up. Then there are days that I can’t win for losing (though, generally I’m my own worst critic), and I’d do anything for a pat on the back and a word of encouragement. 

A few weeks ago, Craig and I had lunch with our peer group in Jackson. We do this once a month. It’s valuable and almost always just what I need. I was overwhelmed all through lunch because, of course, I wasn’t just eating and checking in — I was also chasing Cooper and trying to keep him happy. It was getting to be exhausting and I’m sure I was only hearing half the stories going around the table. I ate my food so fast I couldn’t taste it (which was a shame because we were eating at Panera and I love Panera). After 2 hours we changed Cooper’s diaper and prepped to leave. 

As we were loading the tired toddler in the car and taking a deep breath before we got in the car ourselves and drove the little-over-an-hour home, a peer of ours (who’s been in ministry for many years), pulled alongside us in his car and said with great assurance, “I just want you to know, y’all are doing a great job.” It wasn’t in some cheery, make-you-feel-good way. It was truthful and honest and assuring. It wasn’t an ego-stroke. It was a third-party perspective we didn’t have and I knew that it encompassed all we are — mom, dad, pastor, student, peer, friend….

The fact is, we’ve not been down every road. I could have twice as many degrees and not be prepared for everything that comes my way. There are incredible and intelligent folks who’ve gone before us — some paving smooth roads and some knocking holes in the pavement. Words of encouragement, advice, care, or prayer are the most incredible gifts our predecessors can give us. The fact is, words stay with us — they visit us in our sleep even, and for years to come they either deepen wounds or encourage us along. 

Whether you’re the best parent or most-skilled pastor, a district superintendent, bishop, or professor, you have an incredible power — a gift — that you can share with us along the way. There will be times when we’re at peace and trucking along just fine and there will be (more often) times when we’re digging through a trench confused, scared, and ready to throw in the towel. In either of those times offer that small piece (peace) of yourself to someone else. We promise to pass it along when it’s our turn. They are words that will not fall on deaf ears.  

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Walking Through the Valley

It’s certainly that day. It’s not that day I’m on the mountain. It’s not even that day I’m on a hill. I am deep in the valley and it does not feel good.

First thing this morning I discovered that LeBonheur Children’s Hospital, a Methodist affiliated hospital in Memphis that we love and support, lost a registered nurse, a respiratory therapist, and a pilot in a helicopter crash outside of Somerville. It was heartbreaking and is, as I’ve since discovered that the pilot had a wife and two children and the women were both married, each with three children. It’s heartbreaking. It’s terrible. It’s the kind of thing that makes me want to completely internalize the situation and put my arms around my son and squeeze him as if he was those children who’d just lost their mommy or daddy. Then there’s my child who won’t let me put my arms around him if I tried!

It’s that day. I’m 26 hours into solo-momdom — it’s every week. Craig heads to class in Memphis and doesn’t come back for 36 hours. This time it is more like 39 hours because he needed to meet with someone in Jackson to fulfill an assignment for class. It’s 3 extra hours and boy can I feel it.

Cooper’s in a place where he doesn’t want to eat just anything. He doesn’t begin to want to change his diaper and he puts up a BIG fight every time. He doesn’t want to ride in the car without watching Elmo on the iPad. So, of course, today he’s being super-picky about eating, he kicked me HARD in the stomach while I was trying to change THE worst diaper resulting in a bad word from me, poop everywhere, and a laugh from him and all this happened while the new pup that can’t seem to “get it” was leaving a friendly deposit on the living room floor–a deposit he couldn’t seem to leave outside 10 minutes earlier because he was too busy chasing someone down the street. Oh and the iPad battery ran dry coming home from the store and we won’t even mention that terrible trip.

Today is that day. I spoke to a woman on the phone earlier whom I could not visit yesterday at the hospital because yesterday was a bit of that day too–that day when I cannot seem to get ahead or effectively duplicate myself because the technology isn’t there yet–that day where my husband, who I know doesn’t WANT to be gone, will probably “get it” even though it’s not his fault, I’ll cry, and I’ll feel like a failure.

It’s usually reserved for funerals but Psalm 23 fits today. “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” Pause. This isn’t the part. It’s more, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” and now, “I will fear no evil for thou art with me.”

It surprises me sometimes. I do NOT want to be in this valley or any valley of life. Why on earth would God be here too? Well, because despite the bad word and poop, despite the LONG to-do list or feelings of inefficiency, that God sees the good. It’s still here. I’m disheveled and tired and blogging from my phone and though I feel just rotten and overwhelmed, God sees good.

All throughout history, God picked the craziest bunch. Sarah laughed. Abraham lied. Jonah ran. Jacob tricked. Rahab, well, let’s just say she had a questionable profession. Even Jesus asked God to change the plan. I fit right into that list — even on this day — even though I’m walking through the valley.

There’s hope in this. My only conversation partner today has a 20 word vocabulary and then there’s God. God doesn’t much mind the bad word, the poop, or the tears. God even encourages me to let up on myself and though God’s in the valley with me, God doesn’t necessarily want me to be there and God’s grace is a sufficient stepping stone up.

Take a step. I am.

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Rest

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26

Oh is this a good one to start this drowsy Monday morning. It’s not really that it’s a ‘Monday.’ I don’t mind Mondays all that much. Generally I’m just thankful for another day to be all the things that God hopes I’ll be. You know, THE best wife there ever was (rolls eyes) or the Mom-of-the-Year! Yeah, not gonna happen. Maybe the best pastor my churches have ever had! Well, I already know that I’m following some pretty great pastors so I bet that one won’t come to fruition either. Maybe I’ll just give it my all today and see what happens and I think resigning to that notion is okay.  

I’m oh-so-tired today — fatigued almost. Sunday was very long — blessed, don’t get me wrong (I feel like I need to say that) but long. I thank God that church was a blessing. I thank God that my men cooked an excellent breakfast for the congregation and a few guests. I thank God that charge conference is over and was a blessing and I thank God that our kickball team won last night but I thank God more that I didn’t have to play. It’s not my forte and, let’s face it, I was oh-so-tired. 

I am tired. Most people know that I haven’t slept well in two years. Now, I’ll say this, it isn’t because I have a bad sleeper. This pastor-mom has the best sleeper EVER. Cooper sleeps from 8:30pm until 8:00am (or more) and then eagerly takes a 3 hour nap in the afternoon. I have NOTHING to complain about. So…..why don’t I sleep?

When I was about 6 weeks pregnant with Cooper and all my tiny blood vessels started pumping extra blood my nose rebelled and since then, without the help of a generic Afrin substitute only found at Walgreens, I can’t breathe. I don’t doubt my allergies have evolved over time as well. Then there’s that business syndrome that I think many suffer from. That, “I can’t shut my mind down,” syndrome. So, I take a unisom every night to sleep but don’t often get the time prescribed for sleep when taking it. Then the neighborhood dogs generally chime in a bit before I’m ready to wake up, Craig tosses; I turn. I just don’t sleep well anymore. 

Last night, around 2:00am, Cooper couldn’t find his blessed paci. Neither could we. For some reason I like the “clear” pacies rather than the colored ones and those aren’t easy to find in a dark nursery at 2:00am. When we found the paci and, well, pacified the little man, and went back to bed, I began to run my mental-to-do list. 

I need to call the UMW lady back in the morning to schedule a mission event in February. I’ve got to lay out next week’s bulletins and get started on my Luke sermon. I really need to buckle down some All Saints plans, clean the living room that was a mess when we went to bed, and schedule some visits. Yeah…..so……I guess I should lay here and think about all that while I need (very badly) to be sleeping, and I did. 

So I’m tired this morning and scripture is calling me out on it!

“My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Exodus 33:14

“Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” Hebrews 4:9

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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.” Matthew 11:28

And on, and on, and on. Whew! There must be a reason that God inspired so many texts concerning our rest and our resting in God. I mean, even God did it. Cooper does it. Craig does it. It’s my prayer today for this pastor-mom, to not only find physical rest but mental and spiritual rest in a God that’s got this to-do list and will, very truly, wait patiently for me to get to it. That’s just how God is and God, well, God’s good — all the time. 

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Full-Time

I feel like I have to write this. It’s been written, well, kind of written, before. Yes, it’s another one of those, “I’m a stay at home mom so that means I work all day,” posts. Well, like I said, kind of.

It’s complicated. It’s different in my house from probably anything else you’ve ever seen and that’s ok. I am a SAHM (Stay At Home Mom), yes. All that means is that I don’t have full-time (or even what I’d consider to be part-time) childcare. Yay! I’m raising my child — influencing him and his growth and decisions — not missing any firsts! It’s amazing and I’m so lucky.

We were blessed and lucky, back in July, to score a spot in Dyersburg First United Methodist Church’s Mother’s Day Out program. Yay!! Happy dance! You won’t believe the happy dancing I did over getting into this 6-hour-a-week program. Yes, you read that right. I have childcare (for sure) Wednesday from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m during the school year and not around holidays…… It’s a 30 minute drive to and from twice a day for that 6 hours which means we’re (one of us) on the road for 2 hours for 6 hours of childcare one day a week.

Now, back to it….I’m a SAHM. My house is a complete mess. I clean it. Craig helps. I cook in it. Craig, well, offers meal suggestions. I cater to the cutest and sweetest little needy face all the live-long day just about every day and I’m blessed to be able to do it. It’s work! It’s hard work from the second I hear him babbling over the monitor around 8:00 in the morning until that blessed 3-hour (yep!) nap he takes in the afternoon like clock-work and then again until he goes to bed at 8:30 that night. Meals. Baths. Books. Diapers. Yep. That’s me. Well……that’s us.

Craig is a SAHD (Stay At Home Dad) but he’s also a student 2 days a week in Memphis (over-night), runs most of the errands, oh, and, he’s also a rock-star pastor of 3 churches. Now, here’s where it gets confusing….

I’m a SAHM and I do all the work that goes into being a parent who spends 80% of my time with my son. In that respect to the moon and back I can praise the heck out of SAHM’s. They’re constantly covered in something wet and gooey related to their children and still greet the mailman (er…person) with a smile. Yep That’s what we do. They deal with the terrible-two’s in all the best ways (hiding in the closet eating a chocolate bar and crying a little). They are AWESOME.

But I also have a full-time job. It’s crazy really. In the midst of the nuttiness, I get next door to keep office hours. I change out of the gooey clothes in the afternoons to make visits during that nap (no, that’s NOT when the laundry gets done or the house gets cleaned). I write a full 4-5 page paper a week just like I was in school but I do it after hours of exegesis and prayer — it’s called a sermon. I have meetings usually in the evenings when everyone else is off work. I take phone-calls in the laundry room where it’s the tiniest bit quiet from the little dude. I race to get paperwork done in the down moments. We grab groceries in passing as we’re running to and from one place or another. I’m a full-time SAHM and a full-time pastor of two churches. Yep, like Jesus, I am fully one thing and fully another ALL THE TIME.

It’s not a complaint! It’s this awesome thing but just thinking about it is overwhelming! How and when and where and with what resources do we EVER get it all done? I get that question at least once a week and, no, I don’t ever feel like I get it all done. I don’t begin to know. Only by God’s grace.

So, as much as I’d love to, I’m not that SAHM who has time to watch the cartoons in the morning (but he does and he’s happy). Generally the clothes get washed and not put away. I don’t get to squeeze in all the visits I wish I could make or write my own beautiful liturgies for worship — the skill and desire is there but the time and, more importantly, the energy isn’t. I’m a SAHM and a full-time pastor. I care for the souls and lives of about 100 people and their entire community. I pray for them, stay with them, and come running to them when they need me — sometimes, with Cooper on my hip.

So I praise God for SAHM’s. I also praise God for those mommas who work. I praise God for those mommas who answer God’s call for their lives no matter what that looks like. And to those mommas who do it all — who juggle all those things and probably more — know you’re not alone. You have my praise, admiration, and always, my prayers, because I know it is filled with sore backs, feelings of inadequacy, and tears.

It is so hard. It is not perfect. God is with you. God is with us.

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Hello Once Again

Me and C

I kept a blog for a very long time. It was truly a random assortment of thoughts and expositions — recipes, theological reflections, rants, photos, etc. It was “followed” relatively well considering my thoughts were relatively meaningless. I stopped writing back in March. I’d kept the blog pretty religiously for 5 years and just stopped.

This isn’t me picking up the loose ends and marching forward. It’s a new something. I’m not entirely sure what it is yet, but I’m hoping that it is simply reflective of what it more-or-less means to be a mom who wears pastor-shoes. Now, that’s relatively different from anything I’ve ever done. It really means putting the primary hat of “pastor” on the shelf and writing more about my tiny person and I’ve been told that I probably can’t do that. Thus, this is an experiment. Don’t get excited; it’s likely to be more of a struggle than anything.

Join me for the adventure. Be patient as this unfolds. Be blessed.

Love, Sara — The Pastor-Mom