God, on this inauguration day we come to you almost breathless.

We have lived through so much that tested us, exhausted us, and called us to action in ways we never would have expected.

We have watched our Muslims friends be barred from entering our country and protests at airports.

We have watched children from Central America taken from their parents and put in cages while law makers turned a blind eye.

We have watched LGTBQ friends have their advocacy agencies taken away and wonder when the next blow will come.

We have watched the rise of white supremacists grow in power and influence bringing terror to cities like Charlottesville.

We have watched the manifestation of systematic racism as beloveds like Briana Taylor and George Floyd were murdered at the hands of the police.

We have watched 400,000+ Americans die as a pandemic fueled by lies and mismanagement.

We have watched our Capitol looted and overtaken by those who wish our democracy harm.

These have been a long 4 years. Very long 4 years.

We have weeped.

We have marched.

We have prayed.

We have lost friends who called us "too political."

We have voted.

And so even though a new president will take the oath of office today that promises to tell the truth and make the bleeding stop, we have full plates of broken hearts.

In our sorrow--

Help us to believe again.

Help us to work together again.

Help us to laugh again.

Help us lean into the hope that this new day brings. We are ready for change, God.

AMEN

Pentecost Sunday. Our world certainly looks differently than last week, doesn't it?

Not only have 100,000+ lives been lost to Covid-19 but yet again another unarmed black man in Minnesota has died because a police officer had his knee on his neck.

If your social media feed is anything like mine, it's full of rage, anger, tears, disappointment and laments of "How long O, Lord?" THIS MUST STOP.

Then, this weekend, the streets in Chicago, Dallas, my home base in Washington, DC and beyond have filled with protesters. In Atlanta on Friday night, i watched protesters ignite a police car in flames.

And I could think of no better word on a week like this to offer than fire.

Fire has several definitions but here are a few of my favorite:

Cities and their citizens all across America are erupting in fire right now. What can we learn?

This Sunday, the text I'm preaching on at my church is all about fire. We're celebrating the birth of the church and the gift of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost-- the day when a fresh wind blew from heaven like fire.

It's a metaphor I've had trouble wrapping my head around in previous years on Pentecost day, but not today.

For when there is a fire: we all stop and take notice. You can't unsee it. You can't pretend it never happened. You smell it. You taste it. You hear it burn.

Fire electrifies. Fire projects. Fire eventually refines.

Ashes tell you that you must rebuild from a fire -- from the ground up.

A new foundation must be laid.

There is no going back to the old way after a fire.

And today, the fire has brought to our attention yet again that racism in America is a 400 year+ sin dating back to the arrival of the first Europeans.

And in this recollection, we've been given a call to rebuild after the fire.

Today, my white friends, we must begin again.

But "how?" so many of us are asking. "What can I do?"

These are questions I'd love for you to spend some time thinking about this week especially if you are white. And if you my white friends, need some help getting started, I'd love to suggest this resource or this one too.

May the fire of God's Spirit be upon you this week as you move and learn.

This reflection was sent to our subscribers of Word of the Week. If you would like more reflections like this sent on Sunday morning to your inbox, sign up, here. Would love to be in touch with more!

Are you struggling with knowing how to deal with #covid19?

Are you tired already of your kids being at home? Your spouse being at home? Being home alone?

Scared about the future?

Feel like you are mountain biking up a mountain (and you don't know how to mountain bike?)

To all of our heavy loads I bring a word of hope: persevere.

Persevere: an undertaking in spite of counter influences, opposition, or discouragement.

For it's true: we are being hit at every side.

We're shifting through mental anguish, physical exhaustion and social isolation. TOO, TOO MUCH.

In light of this, if I see one more motivational tweet about how I'm suppose to rise to my better self during these times: be more, do more, achieve more because the world needs leaders now more now more than ever -- I think I might scream.

We are all doing the best we can.

Without warning or time to prepare, so many of our lives were changed in an instant.

We have less resources for help or self-care.

Thriving is not a realistic goal. Yet, I want to tell you this today: persevering is.

One of my favorite scriptures comes from 2 Corinthians 4 which speaks to what perseverance looks like:

"We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. . . . Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day."

Perseverance reminds us that even in the most difficult of circumstances we can be about the work of hope. Life is so much about both/ and.

But how?

I've heard from friends this week that they've loved doing yoga in the morning or dance parties before dinner or night caps with dear ones over the phone. 

I've heard about friends meeting up over Facetime to play games.

I've been busy trying to create community for my church via Zoom and over on You Tube where we share our weekly worship services.

In my case, I've loved keeping up with friends over the app Marco Polo and taking a mental break alone in my room every afternoon when my daughter "naps."  Even something as simple as sitting in the dark and taking a deep breath in the middle of the day has been a gift. 

Reading Psalms before bedtime has given perspective too. There is truly nothing new under the sun. 

Our family motto is "This is a marathon, not a sprint." And so, my friends, let us keep going.

What's one thing you can look forward to today or tomorrow? Sure, the big picture of all of this looks crazy but that's not the work your mind needs now.

My prayer for you right now is that you're able to keep showing up to whatever life-giving practices you need to make it from one day to the next. And give yourself grace when you have a hard day.

We're all going to have hard days (I had one yesterday!) and need to start all over in the morning. For, making it from morning to night and then doing it all over again is a beautiful accomplishment.

Really. I am so proud of all that you are doing. 

Persevere on my friends! You've got this. 

P.S. It's Holy Week- would you like some encouragement sent to your inbox the next couple of days specifically with these times in mind? Sign up here! 

It's that's that time again church. The 4th of July is coming.

And so I'm wondering how much nationalism (or lack thereof) are going to be a part of your congregational experience on Sunday?

When in 2019 our President is turning the holiday on Thursday into a celebration of power, greed and ego, when my city is preparing for the invasion of tanks, flying over jets and military marches, I wonder what the faith alternative may be?

Here's a good place to start, pastor friends, carefully consider how you plan worship. Do not buy into the lie that our faith can ever be nationalist driven.

Though these ideas might not make me very popular:

A good place to start would be: do not sing "America the Beautiful" or "My Country Tis of Thee"

Do not put more flags around the pulpit than you already have (and if you have any take them out!)

Do not adorn your sanctuary in red, white and blue or pass out "I love America buttons" on the way out of the service.

While I know there is so much cultural pressure to do so especially this time of cultural Christianity that we are living in,  please, oh please, do none of these things.

Or if you do, AT LEAST think theologically through WHY you do them first.

Think about what it means to say, "land where my father's died; land of the pilgrim pride"-- is our faith about conquest and battle? What about loving all of our neighbors?

Think about the values of our American history-- whose lands did the first settlers "have" that was not theirs to take? Who did we enslave so that we could prosper as a nation so quickly?

Think about what it means to elevate the supremacy of Americans-- do we really think we're better human beings just because we were born in America? Is our faith one of exclusion?

The way I see it, patriotism is not bad when in the right context. There are rights and responsibilities that come with citizenship in any land.

BUT, faith, my friends is an entirely different topic.

Separation of church and state anyone?

Throughout the gospels, Jesus never links our  faith to our country of origin or vice versa. There were clear lines of distinction between what was "Caesar's" (i.e. the nation) and what was "God's." Jesus and the Apostle Paul remind us over and over again that our citizenship is in heaven, not on earth.

And as faith leaders, we ought to model these different priorities.

We ought to show how God loves not only those who live and work in places close to us, both those far away too. We ought to carefully consider the laws and rules of our land as they hurt the most vulnerable among us both in our country and outside. To love our country more than we love our God, is so very wrong.

So, American preacher friends and church leaders, go on with business as usual. Do what you do every Sunday.

Worship God with thanksgiving.

Pray for our country’s leaders that they may have the wisdom they need to led us in moral paths that benefit all citizens, not just a few.

Consider opportunities to care for those who have come home from war or are in military posts of service right now.

There is a time and place for everything.

When it comes to the actual day, the 4th, I think we all need to use our own conscience to decide what we do.

As for me, I will gather with church friends to be in a community parade away from the hustle and bustle of downtown DC, a neighborhood gathering place for thousands who live around the steps of our church.

We'll meet neighbors, give out popsicles and share "love is love" stickers.

Some of my colleagues have deemed the 4th a day of repentance and national mourning, which I totally respect, I'll be present in my community wearing my clergy collar hoping to have some conversations about what it means to resist the cultural norm.

What about you?

I'm so excited to tell you today that there will be a new book with my name on coming your way in 2020.

After writing my first book, Birthed, y'all kept asking, when the next one?

So many of you felt the ending of Birthed didn't fully satisfy your curiosity for what came next in the Hagan family. You had so many questions about the ends and outs of adoption, the birth story of my daughter and what marriage looks like after sharing some of roughest moments for all the world to see.

Well, hear me say, one day this book will be what I'll offer.

I've been working on another memoir about all things unsaid in Birthed about family and adoption and mothering. I started drafting it even before Birthed had a publication date!

I'm half-way to a completed draft and even attended a 10-day workshop last summer, hoping to hone my craft with this book front and center.

But, memoirs, at least the best ones, in my opinion take time. They take years of wisdom to pen. And re-writes. Then more re-writes. More life to be lived.

And it's not time yet for this new memoir to be born.

However, it is the time for another project!

A couple of weeks ago, I signed a contract with Upper Room Books-- a publisher with a great history of putting spiritual formation resources in to the hands of congregations all around the world-- for a book that I feel is timely.

So I am working on this: Taboo Church Talk: A Beginner's Guide to Having Hard Conversations in Faith Communities. The hope is that Taboo Church Talk will be out and in your hands sometime in 2020.

This book will contain teaching sections, encouraging examples of those who are having hard conversations well and discussion questions.

My hope is that small groups of all sorts will choose to study it together.

How did I get here you might wonder?

While I was in the process of marketing Birthed-- a story about long journey with infertility-- I faced challenges I never anticipated.

I was so excited to share Birthed. I felt so happy to be the first pastor knew exploring her own infertility journey in a publication. But, no one (ok, I don't mean to be overly dramatic, some people did, just maybe not as many people as I would have liked) wanted to talk about infertility.

Though these folks might have liked me. Or might have wanted to celebrate the fact that I wrote a book. But the average church person did not want to talk about infertility, especially my infertility. Too weird.

The longer I marketed Birthed, the more I felt like my topic was a cocktail of all the worst things: sexuality, shame, anger, grief, and loss. And my message was the only way you can real heal from pain is to go deeper into your pain so you can birth yourself. A light read, huh?

But, In my creativity of trying to figure out how to get people to care about my book I cared so much about, I discovered this: infertility was not the only topic that no one wanted to talk about in church.

Folks didn't want to talk about:

Racism

Sexuality

Mental Illness

Domestic Violence

and on and on.

And in our current political state where everything automatically goes to "are you on my team or not?" I couldn't sit on this idea any longer. I knew I needed to create a resource that helped church folk talk about stuff with each other that was a part of their daily lives including but not limited to infertility.

I wanted to create a resource that would not try to persuade folks to believe in a certain way (aka be more like me) but that would keep people talking to each other. And listening. Then listening some more.

I am writing this book now and teaching it as I write this summer with my congregation, the Palisades Community Church in Washington, DC.

I am writing for all of you out there with a gay son that you love but can't talk openly about in your Sunday School class.

I am writing for all you who attend a church where most of the members are a race that is not yours and nobody speaks of discrimination.

I am writing for all of you who know someone who walks in the doors on Sunday mornings with bruises on their faces but will not say why.

I'm so excited that Upper Room was excited about this project too and is helping me craft it in its best possible form for you or your church group to use soon. 

I can't wait to share further updates with you and plan opportunities to come to your church or small group and talk about in 2020 and beyond.

Most of all, I'm doing a happy dance over here because a new book is coming soon!

Has your faith shifted over the years?

Is there some part of your belief system that used to lean one way, but now leans another, almost to the point of not recognizing yourself any longer?

Today I want to tell you more about mine.

Such would be the story of my journey of growing up in a fundamentalist sect of Christianity to now being a welcoming and affirming, liberal leaning pastor.

I couldn't pastor a congregation that is not fully LGBTQ affirming ever again. Full stop.

And, I'm so glad that the congregation I currently serve is fully open to all. (Want to join us Sunday at 10 for worship? Shameless plug of course).

Did you know that June is Pride Month? This weekend in Washington, DC — where I live — folks will be gathering in the streets for parades, marches and celebration of what it means to be both LGBTQ and an ally as well.

Pastors will put on their collars and march in these parades too, at least the pastors I keep company with.

Every time I attend one of these events, I can't tell you how many people, especially when they find out I'm pastor, and a Baptist one at that look at me like: "What? We didn't know you existed!"

I just want to hug as many people as possible.

And every time I do, it reminds me of how important it is for straight allies like me to raise my voice to my LBGTQ brothers and sisters and say:

God loves you. I love you. I don't think you need to change one bit. You are welcome in my church. I'm sorry the church has hated on you for so long.

For those of you who disagree with this, I don't want to offer you Biblical exegesis of the issue. Or to debate with you if you think being gay is a sin. I'm weary of these text-proof discussions.

(If you want resources on this topic check out Matthew Vines‘ book or this video documentary that makes me cry every time I watch it or my colleague Susan Cottrell's e-course. All great resources!).

But I'm glad to answer how I got here to this place. And I want to tell you part of my own story.

Growing up in the Southern Baptist Church in Tennessee, the leadership of the church was ALL about the heterosexual men.

Men preached.

They are called on to pray.

The males carried the title of "spiritual leader of the home"

Women are told to serve the man. Birth the babies. Teach the children.

Never in a church like this do you see a woman taking up the offering or being asked to lead the closing prayer or even teaching under the block of the service called “the sermon.”

But what happens when you grow up and feel called to do exactly the opposite?

What if people tell you as a teenager, “Well, if you were a young man, I’d tell you to be a preacher.”

Then, what if you ARE a leader, a proclaimer, and someone who wants to discern life in conversation with your partner?

How do you respond?

I guess there are many different paths but for many it looks like this:

You must leave your “home church” and the approval of the sweet little old women who gave you peppermints from their purse every Sunday.

You must leave your “favorite” status at family gatherings and now are called "the lost one."

Yet, you learn to sing as clearly as you ever had in your life: “I have decided to follow Jesus. No one goes with me I still will follow. No turning back. No turning back.”

While it sounds fun and revolutionary maybe– from the outside looking it– to actually do it can be one of the hardest things you ever do in your young adult life. It’s lonely.

It was for me.

It takes more courage than you ever thought you had. And most of all, it takes sticking closer to the message of Jesus “to love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself” more than you thought was possible.

But you do it, no matter what. You do it because you know you have to. You chose to save your own soul because in the end, it’s all you can really save anyway!

Brene Brown writes this about such a process in her book The Gifts of Imperfection: “Choosing authenticity is not an easy choice. Staying real is one of the most courageous battles that we’ll ever fight.”

So, though I have never voiced, “I am gay” I have had to say: “I am no less than because I am a woman.”

I've lost relationships with people I love because something about my identity that I couldn't change.

In this small way, I know what rejection feels like.

It’s awful.

I know what Bible verses shoved in your face feels like. I know how costly choosing the real you can be.

But, you know what made it better? Community.

New friends and colleagues saying more “You can” vs. “You can’t.”

New denominational homes like this one and this one too. And a seminary that warmly welcomes you and your call to preach too.

In return, I don't want other human beings to be told they are less than in the eyes of God. At least on my watch.

My heart came out of fundamentalism fast, when I learned that it had no room for the Spirit of God to move in powerful new ways like ordaining women and fully accepting LGBTQ folks in the church and ordaining them too.

Isn’t this the gospel anyway? GOOD NEWS to all. Especially to those left out, kicked out and not accepted, God says welcome home! Everybody else has the story wrong.

I want to be a minister who loves richly in community. I just don't know a church I could attend that is any other way.

Happy Pride Weekend, my friends!

Did you know that statistics say that 1 in 8 couples in the US will experience infertility?

Today, I'm glad to introduce you to the story of Rabbi Debbie and her journey with the statistics of infertility as it came to be a part of her own story.

When I was at Rabbinical College, one of the things that stayed with me most clearly in Practical Rabbinics was  something Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner said in an excellent class on Baby Blessings.

"Every time you celebrate something in synagogue, it causes someone in the congregation pain"

I think this was an incredibly important lesson. Having shared my previous post about infertility, feel conscious that my closing good news could give others pain.

For myself as a Rabbi, I always tried to separate those things that were about me.  And those celebrations that were truly others'. This helped me to participate in their joy.

However one of the most frustrating phrases I heard while struggling through treatment or waiting was 'please God by you'.

This made it much harder to feel happy for others, as it instantly made their joy about my own sense of failure.

It also made me question why it might be that God wasn't making this happen for me

(Of course I don't personally believe in a micro-managing interventionist God like that... but everyone wonders!!)

I had to make peace with the fact that sometimes people don't know what to say, and want you to know they want things to be better for you.

But two of the most important lessons I learned were from doctors.

Yes, it was doctors who said I was most likely untreatable. He offered statistics like this: I'd have a 5% of success in regular IVF, but they also had words of great wisdom.

"You are not a statistic."

He continued: "You don't give up or start talking about adoption or egg donation until you've tried."

The idea that I am not a statistic sounds simple, but it wasn't something I had considered logically.

The doctors say it's this chance, this must be true.

Of course, medical statistics are funny things; in this case they were taking account of one result, and not several others (my PCOS friends may be surprised to learn that IVF has excellent results on PCOS sufferers, although many women have PCOS and never know it because they conceive before being diagnosed).

This wonderful man gave me the courage to push back, and to ask again if the hospital would reconsider.

Which of course they did, trying an alternative method, before discovering my original result was a hormone that was completely lying to them and there was no reason not to be trying the full whack.

I know for many at some point in the fertility pursuit we have to say enough is enough. These folks look to other options, but I was 30 years old, and had never been put through one cycle to even know!

When we were finally being treated the first time round, another doctor said something else. I asked what I could do to boost my chances.

Give up caffeine?

Avoid aspartame?

Cut out sugar?

His response was that I didn't need to change anything.

"The best thing you can do is to be relaxed and happy"

Now those of you who know me know this isn't so far from my natural state of being.

However fertility treatments are enough to drive anyone to distraction, but I tried to not let the little things get to me, and to stay calm even when the big things threatened to, was incredibly helpful.

The power of the mind is not quite as great as the power of the embryologist, but it sure does help, and remembering this in combination with the fact that we are not statistics and no one can predict the outcome gave me huge cause to relax in itself.

That's not to say these things aren't trying. The dreaded two-week wait between implantation and knowing the result is complete torture. And of course, worrying just doesn't help, and laughter is incredibly healing.

With this in mind one of my favorite memories of the process was coming around after my first egg extraction, and feeling a pain in a place ladies don't like to.

I asked the nurse about it.  She said in a strong Spanish accent: "Don't worry, there's been a small prick in there".

She said it completely straight faced. And despite being uncomfortable and still groggy from the sedation, I just burst into giggles.

There is humor in the funniest of places.

Editor's note: The update to Rabbi Debbie's story is she beat the statistics that the doctors offered her.

She now is the mother to a 6 year old as well as a 3 year old.

Both of these kids from the same cycle of IVF. She's thankful to God for her children, though she is also sad that she lost another child around 10 weeks.

And currently, Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers is Community Educator at Reform Judaism. She has a passion for creative ritual, interfaith, craft and comedy! She lives in London, England with her family.

P.S.

Hey! My friends over at FertilityIQ are working hard to provide this community the most helpful information to equip you during your infertility journey. They just launched Fertility 101 last week, but also have courses on Lifestyle ChoicesPGS Genetic TestingIVFIUIEndometriosisMale Factory InfertilityICSI,  Embryo Transfer Guide, IVF Laboratory, AcupunctureEgg Freezing, and Surrogacy for Gay Dads.

Sometimes in life you have to find strength that you don't know you have. 

Today was one of those days as I was asked to lead the service for my father-in-law.

Here are the words of my homily. They come from the most loving place of my heart. 

I can remember the first day I met Mr. Hagan. I was in the metropolis of Sylvania for the very first time.

The crew on Sugar Hill was about to drain the pond and have a community catfish dinner at the church. A big weekend for sure.

Before the pond draining started, Mr. Hagan wanted me to see the shop up town where Hagan and Oliver, his business of 40+ years was located.

I got the full tour and then we sat down for a moment in his office before moving on to the next thing.

Trying to get to know the man who I hoped would be my future father-in-law better, I asked him

“So, do you have any hobbies?” Seemed like a simple enough question.

To it, I got. “Hobbies? What’s that? When I get bored with working, I just build things.”

And as I got to know him and the family better over the course of that weekend and the years to come, my jaw dropped every time I was introduced to some new place around the Hill which began with the statement of “My daddy built this.”

From his own house, to the pond house, to the gazebos on the pond to the steeple at the church where we are all worshipping together now, to the outhouses beside the pond house to the one of the most recent projects, the syrup making shed (or moonshine shed however you want to call it)

What could Mr. Wendell not do?

No was simply not in his vocabulary. If he didn’t know how to do something he wanted to do, he’d just figure out for as long as it took until he got it perfect. I mean perfect.

He was always a man with a plan. He was a man with a vision. And he was a man who knew exactly what he wanted.

He wanted a certain kind of bread with every meal (because you know it wasn’t a meal with him if there was no bread).

He wanted to put trash in the trash can in the way that would make you think it was a religious ritual.

He also had strong feelings on how you ate a hot dog when it came to the placement of the cheese and the ketchup.

As well as how you cut the grass and cleaned the pool.

Really what did he not have a strong opinion on?

But besides just these things: his work ethic could be summed up by the words of an ancient proverb: “Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it.”

Because if he wanted something done. It would be done.

This week as I was reflecting the legacy of Mr. Hagan I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’ words in the parable of the Mustard Seed, a story Jesus tells to encourage his disciples about how they were to build the kingdom of heaven—not just in the life beyond, but in the here and now world that we live in.

Jesus tells them that the kingdom of heaven is a like a mustard seed— which wasn’t saying a lot.

Because have you seen a mustard seed?

They are tiny!

Yet Jesus says, “Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

And so was the vision of Mr. Wendell Hagan. He saw something in this land we are now on.

He saw something in this community where he was born and raised.

He saw value in the resources he had to give to the world and he had faith of a mustard seed.

He wanted to build a little piece of heaven here on earth.

And from that mustard seed Mr. Wendell planted, I dare say his vision came true.

For scripture goes on to say of this mustard seed: “it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

And we are these beautiful branches in the trees of community that Mr. Hagan planted.

For some people having lots of land or buildings or his church almost right next door to his house would be seen as a “status symbol” or “keeping up with the Joneses.”

But not for my father-in-law. He didn't have time for pretenses.

He built for one reason: to bring people together.

Though he’d never say it in that way. It is just what he did. And Mrs. Rachel wondered some year when he’d ever stop!

But he kept going because he had ideas in his head he wanted to see come to life. He wanted to make his home place a place for others to find joy.

And not just for his immediate family (though these people are important to him) but anyone you needed a place to be.

I always loved watching Mr. Hagan’s eyes right before a family or community meal began in his home or at the pond house. He would often be asked to pray (and boy could he pray) but what most fascinated me was watching the twinkle in his eyes, I could always tell he knew his sweat, efforts and financial investment has been worth it.

He gave well.

Paul writes to the church in Corinth to advise them with these words about giving, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

On Tuesday night, I found these words underlined in Mr. Hagan’s Bible.

And I can’t think of a better way to sum up his life than this. With his kind smile and gentle laugh “cutting up” as it called it, he was a cheerful giver.

He sowed generously—loving his wife, loving his kids, grandkids and great grandkids beyond what they even knew.

He loved his work.

He loved his church.

He loved his town.

He loved his peach cobbler.

And so, he also he also reaped generously too. Your presence here today speaks of how Mr. Hagan has touched your life and you knew God's love because of him.

But you know, I think Mr. Hagan would not want this day to be all about him.

He’d want us to talk so much his accomplishments or what an awesome a man he was. He’d want us to talk about God.

I think Mr. Hagan would want us to hear this: when you and I die, only one thing matters: not how much money we have, not how many flowers decorate the alter, not how many people attend, not how many groups or societies we belonged to—only one thing—is it well with our souls?

Are our lives in harmony with God? What will profit a man or woman if he or she gains the whole world and loses his own soul?

Mr. Hagan would want this church to be full not just at his funeral but on every Sunday of the year. (Can I get an AMEN?)

Mr. Hagan would want us to keep praying, keep studying and keep living our faith.

Mr. Hagan would want us to keep loving each other, holding on tight in the good times and the bad and know that find God in our hardest moments in each other.

And taking care of what he built around here as well.

It’s not easy to say goodbye today to such a man who embodied love and was love in our lives—even Jesus didn’t say it was easy.

He told his disciples over and over how hard this life would be. But he did say in the tough times, he would be with us always, he would never leave us.  Jesus would always give us comfort.

The best comfort I know this this. If you know these words why not join with me in saying them?

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Today, we know this: Mr. Wendell Hagan is at rest. And I thank God that he is. It was so hard to see him struggle especially in his last days.

Yet, we are still going.

Let us take this moment not only to honor his life but to join in his mustard seed faith—

Because who knows what the next chapter of this community, this church and this family will be? If we keep on and hold on to our mustard seed of faith just like he taught us too.

There is one thing I know for sure; we’ve got our dear one cheering us on from above, saying, “Keep going. And don’t do it the wrong way.”

We promise, Wendell, Daddy, Granddaddy, we’ll try to make you proud. Thanks be to God for your life.

We were so glad to know you. And for you to be ours.

AMEN

Did you know that one out of every 4 pregnancies result in miscarriage?

Today, I'm glad to introduce you to Phyllis, a fellow mom and blogger who has a story of waiting, trying and praying for her children to be born that mirrors so many of ours. Miscarriage devastated her plans to have a family. Here are her words:

After I got married we decided pretty quick that we wanted to start a family.

Soon the news came: "You're pregnant."

I beamed with excitement and there were so many feelings that I couldn’t possibly explain. A dream come true!

Friends told me that the first trimester is the scariest and it definitely was. Every day. Waiting. Hoping. Wondering how my baby was doing.

But, at 12 weeks I got the news no one wants to hear.

The doctor told me that I'd need to deliver a fetus; on my own without an D&C.  I can remember sitting in my own bathroom and experiencing the worst pain in my life.  I wouldn’t have wished that upon anyone.

Friends, family and loved ones kept telling me just wasn’t “meant to be”.

I heard this advice and took it for what it was worth.  My body could get pregnant again.

But then the best and worst happened: I got pregnant right away…and lost it…again, right away.

The second time I wasn’t as far along but my baby still didn’t survive.

The third attempt…was just that…another failed attempt…and another miscarriage.

At this point I was beside myself.  I felt like a total failure.  How can I not have a baby…that is what women do…they have babies!

It seemed like everyone was pregnant except me!

After many tests and a change of doctors, it was discovered that my progesterone levels dropped dramatically when I became pregnant and that is why I kept miscarrying.

My doctor immediately started me on progesterone suppositories and I was at it again…attempting it for the fourth time.

At that time, as much as I wanted to be pregnant again,  I felt mentally and physically drained.

My husband and I needed a change in scenery.

I didn’t want baby making to be the only thing that I focused on so my husband and I decided to take a much needed vacation.

With all my baby making tools in tow and we headed to Disney World.

We drove and in the cooler in the backseat was my progesterone suppositories, basal cell temp kit and plenty of ice – just in case.

Surprisingly (but then maybe not) Disney World is definitely a MAGICAL place!

We came back from vacation and was tested two weeks later…POSITIVE!!!

However, I was not out of the woods just yet.

I had a lot of meds to take, a lot of documentation to do and a LOT of praying.

To say that I felt anxious was an understatement. Every other week, I found myself in a doctor's office for an ultrasound just to make sure the heart was still beating.   And I heard it.  Every time the heart was beating.

I watched my baby grow and I always said she was my miracle baby sent by the magical Disney Gods.  My baby girl came into the world and restored my faith.  I finally felt complete.

That is, until we tried for baby number two.

Even following the previous baby making protocol, I ended up having miscarriage number four.

At that time, I was given the option to try Chlomid or continue doing what we had done in the past.

I felt it was time for a change and opted for the Chlomid along with added progesterone.

Nine months later and my son was born.

Two years later and I was able to get pregnant and as soon as I found out I ordered up my progesterone.

While my third became my most difficult pregnancy, I gave birth to a second girl at 36 weeks the day after being taken off medication to stop my labor.  She was a determined little thing.

This the wisdom I have to share: each miscarriage felt devastating than the last and changed me in ways I can hardly articulate.

To my sisters who have experienced a miscarriage or two or three know this: the pain never goes away.

Of course, like they say, life does gets easier but it never goes away.  

Even now as my children are grown, every time I look into my kids’s eyes I am reminded of what it took to get each one of them here and I immediately feel blessed beyond words.

I know they say that all good things come to those who wait.   My husband and I waited. And waited. And waited. My kids finally came.

My heart though goes out to all those who are continuing to wait for their miracles. 

-Phyllis Pometta

I am a fun-loving-spirited mom of three (ages 21, 18 & 15). I have been and continue to go through the many stages of parenthood with my husband of 24 years (together for 30 so if that doesn't scream commitment, I don't know what does!). We also have two pups who are equally as crazy as the humans! 🙂 I love to connect with folks over at Instagram. Or, you can read more about what I'm up to over at my Facebook page, Vertified Mom.

Today, I’m glad to offer my friend Lawren’s telling of a story for National Infertility Week: the meeting of strangers with more in common than they could have known.

My career requires occasional travel, often taking a same-day format in which I depart home in the wee morning hours, fly to another city for a daytime meeting, and then return home late in the evening. Inevitably exhausting, this process makes for easy travel with only a computer bag in hand on the plane.

On one such recent trip, I was especially tired.

My meeting had lasted longer than expected, and my team was in a rush to make it back to the airport in time to get home. We boarded in haste on one of those carriers that stubbornly refuses to assign passenger seating, instead embracing more of a free-for-all format that is a full assault on my Type-A personality. I just wanted to get home.

I chose the first vacant seat I found.

The window and middle seats had been claimed by a young woman with a little boy who appeared to be about two years old.

My fatigued brain processed the variables: I’m tired, and I’m peopled-out for today, but this seat is near the front, which means I’ll be even closer to exiting when we land.

I have a child just a bit older than this little one.

Clearly everyone else is scared of toddlers; I’ll take my chances.

I smiled at the woman and sat down. The plane taxied, and we were soon en route back home with me gazing drowsily at a trashy novel, re-reading every few sentences because my mind seemed to be elsewhere.

I was jolted out of my stupor by an ear-piercing note proffered by my small seatmate.

He’d had his fill of every book and toy his mother offered and was actively refusing to stay put.

The flight attendant gently admonished my companions, reminding the mother that everyone must remain belted into their seats for the duration of the flight.

The woman paled, struggling to wrestle the child back into the seat; without thinking, I reached over and helped her lift the boy into place.

I reached back into my bottomless pit of a bag and found a small box of restaurant freebie crayons, quickly repurposing the backside of my printed meeting agenda into a canvas.

I’m not a proficient artist, but I drew a small tree and a bunny face, and I made up a little story about the bunny and the tree. Eager for a new toy, the young boy calmed down at the newfound entertainment and began scribbling with the crayons.

To my dismay, when I looked over at his mother in the dim cabin lighting, I could just make out the sheen of tears streaming down her cheeks.

I made eye contact, and not knowing what else to say, asked if she was alright.

In a hushed whisper, she explained that she had recently undergone a medical procedure that had left her very sore and fatigued; she was embarrassed that she hadn’t been able to control her son or lift him back into his seat.

I simply smiled and encouraged her that I was happy to help for the remainder of the flight, if needed.

Her tears started flowing more freely.

Dismayed by what would cause such waterworks, I again asked about her wellbeing, thinking perhaps she might be in pain from the aforementioned procedure.

She mouthed slowly, “I was pregnant.”

Was. Past-tense. 

I instinctively mouthed, “Oh, I’m so sorry,” fighting back the damp from my own eyes.

Her son started to whine a bit, tiring of his crayon scribbles. His mother encouraged him to lie down, and he quickly settled his head onto her lap.

I watched as she stroked his hair, and he reached up to pat her belly. The tired mother mimed a gesture toward her midsection, then toward her son’s drowsy curls, again mouthing:

“He doesn’t know his sister’s gone – I don’t know how to tell him.”

In an instant I had an out-of-body feeling, flashing back to my own memories, not in any orderly fashion – my bathroom vanity with the ugly red sharps box that took up residence there for months – the sterile exam room that smelled faintly of cleanser and rubbing alcohol – a flash to my hospital bed, yes mine, the one I occupied for so many weeks.

As I sat next to her on the plane, I recalled the pain of wondering if your baby is going to make it.

Soon tears trailed my own cheeks, and seeing that her son was now asleep in her lap, the woman shared her story in a choking whisper.

She’d been expecting her second child, a girl, and had been twenty-some-odd weeks along.

Unexpectedly, she’d started bleeding profusely; an ambulance was called; she delivered the baby en route to the hospital, and the child did not survive.

She explained further that the placenta had not detached, so she’d undergone surgery, hence the physical weakness.

I reached out a hand to her and shared that I too had been admitted to the hospital at twenty-something weeks with severe bleeding.

She asked what I’d done wrong.

Wrong???

Shocked and affronted, I provided a bit more detail on my medical history to this total stranger.

I did nothing wrong. I’d had a number of health issues that resulted in infertility, but my long-awaited pregnancy and resultant complications weren’t wrong. I. Did. Nothing. Wrong.

My son was born prematurely but survived.

I paused for a moment. Given the circumstances, I felt a little wrong for that: my child survived, and hers did not. Still, I certainly hadn’t done anything wrong to cause my circumstances!

She looked at me agape, explaining that in her culture, a failed pregnancy was believed to be a failure on the part of the mother.

Either the mother’s body was inept to carry the pregnancy, or the mother’s behaviors and choices had led to the infant’s demise.

Her family’s response to the loss of her premature daughter was blame.

She choked back sobs, asking what she could have done differently. How had my son survived, despite my complications? Why couldn’t her daughter have the same fate? What had she done wrong???

Nothing. You. Did. Nothing. Wrong.

I don’t know why your daughter isn’t here with you right now; I cannot explain this situation.

There are no answers, no wisdom, no balm for your wounds.

Holding her hand at 30,000 feet was all I could do, while crying a few tears of my own.

I can tell you a million and one times that none of this is your fault, but I know that these small acts are mere drops into the gaping well of sorrow you’re feeling right now.

We flew in silence for a bit, now sharing a few of the clean napkins I’d stuffed into my bag from my hastily consumed lunch earlier in the day.

My suit was rumpled, and I imagined I probably looked like a raccoon with 16-hour-old mascara and eyeliner smeared below my lashes and running in charcoal rivulets down my cheeks.

I gave quiet thanks for the dimmed cabin lighting.

Meekly, she asked again, “You really think there’s nothing I could’ve done?”

How could she believe this; no, how could her loved ones make her believe this?

How could her own mother claim this was her failure?

I gazed at her and spoke slowly, “No. I see how much you love your son and how much you love the daughter who should be in your arms right now."

I added, "She was wanted and loved. You. Did. Nothing. Wrong.”

My own struggles with infertility eventually led me to my son, and while I mourned the loss of my other imagined children, I cannot fathom the pain of losing a fully formed child.

She asked slowly, “Do you think it will happen again?”

I wished for a moment that I could predict the future (how many times had I felt that wish?).

I replied, “I think you have a beautiful little boy who is healthy and happy and snuggling in your lap, dreaming of all the wonderful things children dream. No one can understand more than the present, but I know that you will never forget your daughter; you will always embrace your son a bit more tightly in her honor.”

We sat in silence once more.

The plane’s captain announced our final descent.

I quelled the tears somewhat and mopped the black smears from my cheeks and eyes. I reached down to shove my trashy novel with tear-spattered cover back to the bottom of my bag.

My smaller seat mate slowly shifted his weight, blinking with confusion at waking on the plane. His mother smoothed his ringlets, talking softly in that lullaby voice that parents use with sleepy children. He dozed against her once more, and she continued combing her fingers through his hair. ON landing, I exited the plane with my companions behind me.

We didn’t exchange names. I left the airport in silence.

On the drive home, I couldn’t shake my memories.

I kept imagining that woman’s emotions and recalling my own, albeit under different circumstances.

Glancing at the clock on the dashboard, I cursed my seat choice on this plane.

Why on earth had I sat there? Even a middle seat in Row 27 would have been appealing compared to the crushing emotional fatigue I felt from helping bear someone else’s pain.

No, that Row 8 aisle seat was intended for me. It wasn’t just her pain. Her pain was my own - the pain I’d worked so hard to suppress, the anguish of loss: loss of control, loss of independence, loss of what might have been.

And it found me on this plane.

Infertility and child loss leave vacant seats everywhere, and it’s only those of us with shared experiences who can help fill the void, even if only for a moment at 30,000 feet.

Lawren Bercaw holds a PhD in Social Policy from Brandeis University, with a focus on services and supports for older adults who are aging in place. She works as a full-time researcher and lives with her family outside of Boston, MA.

Today, as part of our series during this National Infertility Week, Melissa shares he story about the ambiguity of infertility as she faced it.  May you feel encouraged if infertility has been a part of your story or someone you love.

Negative.

Nothing.

Rendered ineffective.

Such sad, hollow, empty words. It’s so final.

So hopeless. This is where I found myself 5 ½ years ago.

I learned how cruel, deceptive, and relentless the body can be.

I had suffered a miscarriage earlier in my marriage. After that, my husband and I struggled to become pregnant.

We had some bloodwork and while we were on vacation celebrating our anniversary, my doctor called and said, “Melissa, the tests came back. I’m sorry to say that between the both of you, you’re unable to conceive without the help of IVF.

And even with IVF, I’m afraid that those numbers do not look good.”

Immediately, time froze. I could no longer breathe and my mind was simultaneously going a million miles a minute and  shut down.

Being childless was never in my vocabulary.

I had felt called to be a mother and if I’m honest, saw myself being a mother more than as a wife.

Deflated doesn’t even begin to describe this indescribable place of ambiguous horror. I had been blindsided by my own body and felt doomed in my infertility.

Craig, my husband and I met with an infertility specialist who showed us pictures, drew diagrams and charts.

It was a Health 101 presentation…on crack.

I got to hear about how mine were dysfunctional and combined with Craig’s quality sperm count, were told ICSI would be our only option.

The highest level of IVF—the absolute last resort.

We were given a 15-18% chance of conceiving.

It felt like every time I begin to get a little hopeful, I immediately became disappointed with the numbers, statistics, and the process. I even found myself negotiating with this ovarian dysfunctional terrorist.

But, regardless, we began the hard journey of IVF treatments.

One of the worst parts of infertility is suffering in silence. I didn’t want to share what I was going through outside of family, and even then, at times, was too hard.

My husband is a pastor, so our lives are very open and public.

The congregation to know about my reproductive dysfunctions-- what the horror!

I remember loathing Easter. I didn’t want to hear about an empty tomb. There was too many empty womb sonograms.

I hated the word empty.

Finally, after all the torturous waiting, the day came in August for the results.

Drum roll: NEGATIVE. The first round did not take. We needed the number to be a 5 and mine was a 3.

This had been my life’s theme throughout my infertility discovery. Close, but just not close enough.

For the next round of IVF, my doctor upped the ante: 6-8 injections a day, some pills, different timing.

It was like orchestrating my body, Craig’s sperm, medications, injections, doctors, insurance, pharmacy, a PhD program, and life in general all the while attempting to create 1 big symphony together.

Meanwhile, I was responding to everyone’s ‘How are you?’ with “I’m good.” I wasn’t good.

In fact, I was the opposite of good.

I was a pin cushion and my stomach and hips looked like I had been in a boxing match.

It was as if my life became a guinea pig experiment.

My graduate program studies felt like my only distractions.

I was afraid that if I stopped to think too long about what was going on, I’d crumble into pieces.

In the unbearable moments, I somehow, in a sick and twisted way, found comfort in Lamentations 3:1-36 read from The Message. I felt like Jeremiah was in my head and body, writing my pain into words. “God Locked Me Up In Deep Darkness”. To me, it’s the embodiment of infertility and the endless despair I was shackled in. I especially loved reading versus 12-13:

 “He took out his bow and arrows and used me for target practice. He shot me in the stomach with arrows.”

In October 2014, Craig and I received word that 2 healthy embryos harvested from our second round of IVF. They were implanted and through that round, one took.

We will be celebrating our daughter’s 4th birthday this June.

I want you to know, though, my story does not end with my infertility being solved or ‘fixed’.

It is a multiyear journey to work through this fact: that I am not broken nor dysfunctional.

Yes, I have an amazing child thanks to IVF.

Yes, I was able to carry a baby to term.

Nevertheless, my infertility will always be with me.

It will always be a part of me.

To me, infertility hit my core of my personhood, sexuality, spirituality, and my very being.

It’s a grief that comes with a plethora of meanings, judgements, and unkind words from others.

I’ve had to work on recovering from this deep core grief which has nothing to do with ‘getting over it’.

I like how Megan Devine describes recovery. She writes,

“Recovery is about listening to your wounds. Recovery is being honest about the state of your devastation. It’s about cultivating patience, not the kind that implies waiting it out until you return to normal, but patience in knowing that grief and loss will carve their way through you, changing you. Making their own kind of beauty, in their own ways.”

And that’s what I am doing. Creating a space that acknowledges my grief, disappointment and pain, which then allows me to freely and authentically live and love.

Dr. Melissa Hunter is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate in Texas. She graduated from the University of Mary-Hardin Baylor with a Bachelor’s degree in Religion, received a Master of Divinity (MDiv) from Truett Seminary at Baylor University, and has a Ph.D. in Family Therapy from Texas Woman’s University. After graduating from seminary, she was ordained and served in 2 churches as an associate pastor and then as a children and family minister in North Carolina. While in the doctoral program, she worked as a hospice chaplain. Melissa is a marriage and family therapist in a private practice in Dallas as well as a counselor at a non-profit in Denton. She may be reached here. 

I have been a mother for almost 3 years. Many might say that infertility ancient news for me. That it's in the past. But the thing about it: it never is. It's a mystery.

A while back, I had a scare.

A moment when I thought to myself, "I could be pregnant."

Of course, this sounds foolish.

All our medical reports would call such a pregnancy if it happened a miracle beyond a miracle. (Thanks to 8 years of doctor's visits I know what I am dealing with, really more than anyone should).

But because I'm in the faith business, I have never given up hope.

Not in a longing every day kind of way (that kind of urgency left me years ago). Rather, I am just aware. I don't know how years of ultrasounds and exams wouldn't give you that skill. For the truth is my body is still in that phase of life where pregnancy is not out of the question. I feel both encouraged and taunted by this fact.

And here's where the path gets tricky:

Oh, how folks long to tell the stories. And I listen to them.

You know them. They go like this, "Oh, you know so and so, they adopted and bang they're now pregnant."

"They just needed to relax. Isn't God good?"

But real life is, that while these stories are true for some, they are not always true.

In my journey of sharing my story via the book I wrote, Birthed, I can't tell you how many women (and men) have come up to me with tears in their eyes after a talk saying, "I wish we could have been parents, but it just never happened."

Or, "I always thought we'd have another child. But it wasn't in the cards for us."

Another friend shared with me recently about a similar pregnancy scare, as she hoped for her third child-- a child she knew in her heart needed to be-- only to end in loss and her doctor saying the words "hysterectomy."

Some people never find fulfillment of their particular dreams of parenthood.

And this is REAL LIFE.

There are no amount of cliques that make this reality any better.

So as for me, I sat with some familiar sadness again.

I hated my mind for going there, the "what it would be like if . . ." rabbit trail thoughts that are so easy to get into.

I went back to playing with my miracle child, beaming with joy and so eager to take on life with me as her mom. I counted my blessing that easily could not have been.

And I reminded myself of this bedrock of my faith: life is mystery.

Why do some dreams get fulfilled?

Why do others don't?

Why can't life have an arch of this wonderful thing leading to this?

Why are there so many questions?

I don't know. But just because I don't know, doesn't mean that God isn't present. Or that I might not know one day. Something good beyond all my imagination might be around the corner. Who knows?

And just because I learned these hard lessons once (again see the book Birthed), it doesn't mean I don't have to learn them again.

So I want to say this again today, 3 years after motherhood, infertility is still present.

Not only do you never forget the children that would have been.

But in my case, I know my family isn't complete.

Just because I finally had one child doesn't mean that I can't long for another.

I love being a mom.  It's every bit as wonderful as I imagined it would be.

And I know I can't add to my family in any way that doesn't require a lot of paperwork, time and money. These are all resources of privilege that we do not have right now.

As much as I love the spirit and work of this famous adoptive mom who announced this week that she brought home her second baby, I couldn't help but feel the sting of jealousy.

This is the pain of infertility that goes on. It sneaks up when you are watching the Today Show.

So to all my infertility sisters out there, no matter where you find yourself on the journey:

Waiting.

Not to Motherhood yet.

Longing for more.

Facing new challenges.

Exploring options you never would have dreamed.

Know you aren't alone. And it's ok to feel whatever you feel.

For myself and for you, I cling to the hope of mystery. That all shall be well. All matter of things shall be well.

Even if you wadding deep into mystery right now as you wait on your answer.