Do you have stuff in your life that is unresolved?
How often do you not sleep well because you've got something on your mind? Me: pretty often. Toss and turn. Toss and turn. At least a couple times a week.
My husband thinks I'm an insomniac but the truth of the matter is if I didn't spend enough time in the day sitting with what has happened, my brain won't turn off.
All of our minds are funny like that. They must churn. They must seek answers. They must find resolution.
Unresolved defined as what is not settled or brought to resolution.
A couple of years ago a friend gave me a card a quote from the poet Rainer Maria Rilke.
(If you don't know anything about this author or one of my one of my FAVORITE books of all times, of all times, Letters to a Young Poet, go right now and google it)
"I beg you . . . to pay attention with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions as if they were locked room or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."
I was having coffee with a friend recently and our collective list of unresolved was long. I'm sure you've been there too.
Would we have more children?
When would my friend get a new job?
How would a family member stop an addictive behavior?
Who would help my friend's son get through a learning challenge?
Would I finally get a date night this weekend? (Oh, how I need a babysitter but couldn't find one!)
From the list of large to small, important to not as important our lists were long.
But with every question we offered the conversation, we'd just shrug our shoulders and look at each other and say, "Well, life, right?"
And it's true, I believe.
One of my favorite TV journalists is Diane Sawyer. Not only does Sawyer inspire me as a female trailblazer being the first female reporter on 60 minutes in 1984 and the first females to anchor the evening news at ABC-- but how she leads with curiosity.
She's shared over numerous platforms that curiosity is what she thinks makes her good at her job and a better human being.
Consider this quote from an Sawyer interview:
"I read once, which I loved so much, that this great physicist who won a Nobel Prize said that every day when he got home, his dad asked him not what he learned in school but his dad said, 'Did you ask any great questions today?' And I always thought, what a beautiful way to educate kids that we're excited by their questions, not by our answers and whether they can repeat our answers."
See, questions without answers don't really have to be bad. (And what great parenting advice too!)
So here's my question for you-- what are you curious about in your own life?
Because like Rilke said, unresolved things are in fact like locked rooms or books written in a foreign language. But what we do have are the questions themselves.
Consider this: maybe you didn't get your dream job but your longing for meaningful work can lead you to a beautiful new vocational start.
Maybe you didn't get pregnant when you wanted, but the desire to parent can lead you to your child in exactly the place meant for you.
Maybe your doctor gave you bad news this week, but your desire to be well can lead you to more than just a cure, but true healing.
And I believe "gradually, without even noticing it, you'll live your way into the answer."
Maybe not right away. But in due time all will be well.
On the inside of this card, my friend added this message: "Someday, an answer. Waiting with you." I treasure these words and the care of my friend who sent me the card.
And though there were SO MANY terrible things going on in my life then, I look back on that season of my life now and smile.
For it was true. There was NO WAY I could have found my way to the answers of my many questions by forcing it.
I needed to live more.
There were more tears to cry.
More wisdom from dear ones needed to seep into me.
Sadly, I needed to do deeper soul work. (Of course who wants to do that when you're already in so much pain?)
Yet it was EXACTLY what I needed to do.
Bottom line: the unanswered, the unresolved, the unknown questions in your life can't be rushed.
They have a pace of their own.
Say, "It's ok if I don't know what this means right now."
And keep living.
It’s all the craze these days especially thanks to this Netflix show and I have to admit that I have joined the bandwagon.
Over the past month, I've gotten everyone in my household (visitors included) watching this show.
I've even been reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up while in my car on the way to work.
The premise of Kondo’s advice about tidying up is simple. You can’t tidy without discarding. In the West, we have too much stuff, she hints. And Kondo says it has to go.
But how do you decide what to keep or give away?
Enter the word: joy.
Ok, I know at this point, most people start rolling your eyes. What in the world does joy have to do with what I have in my closet or on my bookshelf?
But stay with me for a moment. Joy, as defined as a feeling of great pleasure or happiness, is essential for this process.
According to Kondo, tidying up begins as you hold an item in your hand and ask, “Does this item bring me joy?” And if the answer is “no”, you say thank you for whatever gifts the item has brought to your life and then you let it go.
You give it away or discard it. Joy-producing items are all that get to remain.
When my husband Kevin saw how much I was giving away on the basis of joy, he wondered if I’d lost my mind. “If I did that,” he said, “I wouldn’t have many clothes left!”
And it’s true, it feels like I might only be wearing 6 outfits for now until who knows when. My joy-bringing items were particular and few. But, when I look at my closet now, gratitude comes over me.
But I have to tell you -- adopting this joy rule to what I own, I feel lighter.
Not only do I feel more confident in the outfits I put together on a daily basis (because hey, what a concept, I LIKE everything I am putting on), but it feels like a metaphor for life and for spiritual practice.
Even if you aren't a Kondo fan (and I need you to know I do not follow her rules for folding-- just too much for me right now), here are 3 insights I've gained about joy from this process:
There’s nothing fake about joy. Either you have it, or you don’t. What is joyous for me, might not be joyous for you. But, that’s OK. Joy springs forth in authenticity.
I am no longer keeping stuff because it is what some professor thought I needed to have in college or a great-aunt thought I needed at Christmas. What I have is what I want to have.
And just like Kondo advises, only surrounding yourself with the things that bring your joy gives you clarity in other areas of your life.
It opens your mind to the possibilities of what you would like to do if you're not so consumed in what other people think.
Joy is not multiplied by having more. It comes when we have what we need. So, why take more than we need?
For example, there was no reason that we needed to keep every little hotel soap that we gathered from a trip. Even though our house has a lot of visitors, we don't have that many visitors.
After cleaning out our bathroom closet seeing how many little soaps I had, the reality hit me that I really needed to find a place to donate them. I had more than my share of them!
Joy has little concern for the past or the future. Joy’s invitation means feeling something right in the moment where we are.
While I was going through my books, I made piles and piles of volumes that I hadn't touched in years. Sure, they might have been important to me back then, but they weren't anymore. I have new theological teachers. I have new authors in my life that are helping me uncover insights in need in the present.
Letting go of boxes and boxes of old books, cleared my book shelf for what my soul needs now, not what it learned 10 years or more ago.
Spiritually, I have to tell you, I feel excited about the future. Why? Because there is open space in my house, in my mind and all around me, really to welcome the new thing that God might want to offer me.
When I think where God is found, I have to believe we experience God when we accept joy’s invitation.
What are you giving up for Lent this year?
How many times have you been asked that question already . . .
I really don't like it when folks ask me that. I'm sure it's because they assume I have something really holy to offer.
Yet I don't. I've never really fasted more than a couple of days. I am never one for long silent retreats (I just think I like talking too much). Or anything else you could name in the super holy category.
Since being serious about Lent in seminary, let me tell you my greatest hits of "giving up something for Lent":
In the past these practices have helped me remember that I am not my cravings. What gives me comfort and life and health is more about what I eat.
Nope. Not a thing.
Reading the gospel reading set for Ash Wednesday helped me arrive at this place: "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them." (Matthew 6:1).
These were Jesus' words from the Sermon on the Mount. They were a conversation changer when it came to how Jesus spoke to his disciples about actions and faith.
There's no reason to have piety for the sake of piety. If an action means nothing to you, just don't do it. Full stop.
Maybe this is why Jesus would later give instructions about fasting saying, "Whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting."
Or a modern paraphrase would be "Don't go out to dinner with friends and make a big show of it when you're just ordering water."
Or, "Don't announce loudly at a dinner party that you've given up chocolate for Lent."
Or "Don't bully your partner into fasting if you are."
But hear me say, I don't think that Jesus is anti-fasting. There are certainly stories after stories of the spiritual practice of prayer and fasting throughout scripture. Fasting helps us rid ourselves of distractions. Fasting helps us align our daily life with spiritual rhythms of prayer. If you feel called to fast, fast I'd think Jesus would say do it.
But don't make a big fuss of it.
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven." (Matthew 6:19)
Because here's the point of Lent, really: 40 days of spiritual preparation for the season of Easter.
Lent helps get our shoes ready for Easter. The time when we get to shout and dance and sing Alleluia all we want. The time we get to celebrate the worst endings to stories never being the end. The time when hope is born again.
That's a lot to prepare for, wouldn't you say?
I'm going to stick to the spiritual journey I began at the beginning of the year during the season of Epiphany.
I'm going to remember the star word that has guided me so far in this new year: mystery.
I'm going to trust that even when my life seems OUT OF CONTROL, it's not.
Faith comes in when I believe the master Creator is orchestrating a beautiful plan I couldn't see coming, even if I tried to dream it up now. And practically what that means as far as daily discipline, I'm going to keep to myself (i.e. not making a big show of it). And do it.
What about you?
How can you find your way to what it means to live out Lent this year?
Here's three suggestions I have as you decide what to do/ not to do this season.
This could be in your car. It could mean getting up a little earlier or staying up a little bit past when your family goes to bed. Be still. And ask God to guide your desire for spiritual growth in this season. Often we're so busy that there is no stillness in our day to simply listen to the voice of the Spirit, what our calling is for now. Listen. And you'll have some clarity. You really will.
Talk through what frustrates you most about your daily routines. Ask for their wisdom about how they see you thriving or living in frustration. Often times, the clarity we need for spiritual practice is right in front of us, and all we have to do is ask and wisdom will appear.
Lent is a season of the year when churches of all flavors open up opportunities for spiritual growth that don't happen any other time of the year.
Is there a prayer group you can join? A class you can participate in?
A practice you could learn more about because it's what your pastor is leading you in worship? There's nothing better than engaging in a spiritual practice in community.
Maybe what you're looking for is already right around the corner from your house. You just have to go!
Wishing you a blessed Lenten journey in whatever way you decide to practice!
Know that as you discern what comes next for you in this holy season, God is with you.
And regardless of your piety or not, God looks at you and say, "You are my beloved child in whom I'm well-pleased."
How do I manage messy relationships?
Such is a question I'm often asked as a pastor and especially when I'm in conversations with young adults.
Do I manage messy relationships well? I know the folks closest to me would say I do have a lot to learn.
Recently I read the book, Love, Henri a collection of letters written by the great modern spiritual teacher, Henri Nouwen. He died in 1996, but on the 20th anniversary of this death this book was published to give readers even deeper insights into his spiritual wisdom.
Love, Henri is a volume of his letters written over his lifetime to friends, colleagues and strangers alike.
Henri's answer was simple: yes. It is possible because that is how God has loved us.
He then goes as far to offer a list of the implications of unconditional love in our daily lives.
Henri shares how it is that we balance self and others in the messiest situations.
What I love about this list is that it speaks to the yin and yang of relationships.
No, we never lose ourselves completely in any friendship-- being in a place where our words, feelings or needs don't matter.
We give others permission to make mistakes, to be wrong, and hurt us from time to time, but to react in such a way that we push people out completely.
There's grace for their becoming as much as there is for ours.
Which point on this list speaks most to you?
It's Time to Start Over . . . a sermon planned for the Palisades Community Church on January 13, 2019 but unable to be given due to snow.
Begin by reading Mark 1:9-11
Anyone here on the second Sunday of January already in need of a new start?
You thought you’d stop eating so many cookies when January 1 rolled around, and well. . .
You thought you’d begin walking more every afternoon or at least take the steps instead of the elevator if you had the choice and well . . .
You thought you’d start the new year off in a more spiritually grounded place, meditating each morning before you got out of bed or grabbed your phone and well. . .
Well, it not going as you planned at all.
We make a lot of fuss it seems in weeks like this of being better, doing better, living better. Because we not only believe we need to, but because everybody’s doing it.
Everybody it seems is starting over. Isn’t that what early January is all about?
Mark’s gospel opens in such a different way from the others tellings of Jesus’ story. Rather than hearing a genealogy or birth narrative or even beautiful prose like, “In the beginning was the Word” Mark simply gets to the point. And the point is this: the ministry of Jesus began after John the Baptist prepared the way for him.
Particularly we read, “In those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.”
Just as hundreds of people had followed the call John made . . . to come to the wilderness, to confess their sins and seek forgiveness . . . Here shows up Jesus and asks for the same from John.
I can remember the time in Sunday School in the Tennessee church I grew up in, when one of my classmates raised their hands (trying to outsmart the teacher) and asked, “Why did Jesus have to be baptized? Didn’t you say last week that he was perfect? What did he need to ask forgiveness for?”
After looking puzzled for a moment my teacher looked this little guy in the eyes and said: “For Jesus, baptism wasn’t about forgiveness. It was about showing us the way.”
I’m not sure any of us fully understood in the class what we heard that day, but the older I’ve got the more I’ve realized that that Jesus’ baptism was all about his humanity.
Jesus, as Emmanuel, God with Us for whom we celebrated the birth of only a few weeks ago on Christmas Eve—embraced his full humanity as baptism.
Jesus was not asking us to do anything that he wasn’t willing to first do himself. Jesus would begin his ministry with a ritual signifying a new start, a new path, a new calling. Jesus would say with his public baptism that his time on earth belonged to God. And even in his frail, complicated and pain producing human skin, he would be faithful to what God called him to do on earth.
And what came next? Scripture tells us that “Just as [Jesus] was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart.”
What I find so interesting about this narration is the choice of verb that Mark uses “torn apart.”
Because couldn’t he have just used the word “open?” Did he really need to be so dramatic?
Yes, in fact he did. Mark told us the heavens “tore apart” because this was a water shed moment in the life of Jesus. It was a moment of clarity, of knowing, of believing!
Jesus was not just your average guy coming up in tattered sandals and a sweaty brow asking to enter the Jordan.
Jesus would no longer be known Joseph’s son in Nazareth working in the carpentry shop.
The verb “torn apart” as Mark uses it here in the first chapter is used only TWICE in the entire book. Once here. And once at the end of the book when the temple curtain is “torn apart” at the moment Jesus breathes his last and provokes a confession of Jesus’ true identity made by the Roman centurion “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
Which makes so much sense when we read what comes next in the post-baptism narration: “and the Spirit descended like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
The heavens had to “tear apart” you see because a declaration or a naming was about to occur!
And here, too a confession was made over Jesus’ life but on this occasion by Jesus’ Father: “YOU are my Son, the Beloved; who you I am well pleased.”
Baptism, you see, became a moment for the truth about Jesus’ humanity to be spoken aloud. Not only is Jesus called Son, God’s Son. But, he’s also claimed as the Beloved one.
And then baptism came to play a central role in what it meant to share the good news of Jesus through the centuries as Jesus’ parting words to his followers were: “Go ye to into all the world and preach the gospel, baptizing them in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.”
One way is right. Another way is completely wrong.
I’ve even been privy to churches where a pastor will speak to a person whose considering becoming a member of their church and call this potential new church member’s baptism by another congregation invalid. (Deep sigh and know that you’ll never hear such foolishness from me).
And where this has gotten us is that we’ve forgotten the GIFT of baptism. The gift Jesus received that day in the waters of Jordan. And the gift that any of us also receive when we embrace baptism.
And that is what baptism offers us: a new start.
It was an honor to be there and to represent PCC in my presence to say that Max didn’t just have one church tradition in his mother’s family’s Catholic roots, but that he had a home and a heritage with us going back generations in the Palisades.
I attended with tribulation as I do as a clergy person in a Catholic setting. As much as I’m so grateful for this church tradition and its rich history that shaped my becoming as a person of faith in the world, I also know that I’m not fully welcomed there.
I can’t take communion, even though the words of institution are words I lead you in regularly and know by heart.
And even though I am a minister called by God, women of my gender are not welcomed into the pulpit there. I tip toe in trying to guard my heart from hurt that I can know can come from this branch of the Christian church.
For these reasons, maybe it’s why I wore my clergy collar to the service. I wear it infrequently being a Baptist and all, but there’s just sometimes I’ve found when it I want to make a statement that indeed I am a pastor. It’s kind of fun to shock people.
So, sitting with Rev. Beth that day, we went through the order of the service watching several babies and toddlers like Max come forward and have the priest bless them with words and water poured over their heads.
It was a beautiful moment to witness baby Max being blessed by so many words and well-wishers.
And then came time for the service to conclude. Only some closing words of blessing were left. The chatter of the small children in the room was growing by the minute.
At this point, the priest leading the service, turned toward me saying how much he welcomed me, his colleague to this service. To my shock, he stepped aside, called me to the center of the room, handed me his gold-plated worship folder and said,
To tell you I was floored is the understatement of the year. Me, asked to pray in a Catholic church? The male priest stepping aside? Me given his holy book?
I thanked this man after the service the best I could saying, how much hope this simple act gave me for ecumenical relations with the Catholic church. I said that his allowing me to be seen as I was at that baptismal service—a minister with people to serve--- encouraged me to re-consider my bias. It encouraged me with hope to begin again when I might be tempted to judge.
I have to tell you I walked out of that church more confident with my head held high. I was seen as I was that day! And with the church I got a new start!
In the same way that this baptismal service was for me in reclaiming hope in an unexpected way, I think the same is true for any of us who might risk the experience of remembering our baptism today.
We are beloved sons and daughters of God, we’re made into a new creation in Christ.
And, we’re called good— as was the word said over us at the beginning of all creation.
We’re welcomed as we are, just as we are, with God handing us the holiest of books and saying, here read, your part of my story too.
It’s easy to stray way from the enormity of what this means, or not even to realize it in the first place.
Yet, if we believed it, if we claimed it and if we lived it, this identity would change everything about how we carry ourselves in this world. Imagine it!
No more defeat.
No more low self-esteem.
No more woe is me, nobody loves me.
You are beloved!
Say with me: I am a beloved child of God.
In response to this word, this morning I want to give us a tangible reminder of our baptism.
Can you remember the day you were baptized? Some of us can.
But others of us might not intellectually remember ours.
It could have been done on your behalf by parents or loved ones who made the choice to raise you in the faith—a decision, Kevin and I made for Amelia over a two years ago now. And so today, you might be saying, Pastor, “How can I remember my baptism?”
You remember it by giving thanks for those who loved you and lead you to faith. And give thanks for the work of God that has been a part of life since then, leading you to this moment in your life—here in a worship space on this Sunday morning.
So, baptized church, in just a few moments, I would like to invite any of you to come forward to receive the sign of the cross from the basin of water on your forehead or on your hand to remember your baptism.
Maybe some of you are realizing today that baptism is something that you’ve never got around to YET, but something you’re interested in having a conversation with me or Pastor Beth about sometime. If that’s you, hang tight today. Let’s talk soon. May the next few moments be for you a witness of hope.
Church, we remember our baptisms today not because there’s any magic in the water or that it does something do us, but because sometimes you and I need tangible symbols of remembrance.
We’re reminding ourselves of the beloved identity that was given to us a long time ago.
During the darkest days of our infertility journey, my prayers went like this: “How long O Lord? How long will you keep us childless?”
There’s not a lot of joy in this. Asking for the same thing over and over. Being stuck.
And as I was recently reading, Michelle Obama's new memoir, Becoming, she talks about this very pain in her own journey. Learning this about a very public figure is a good reminder that infertility is more common than we think.
So, no matter what we are waiting for, where do we find inspiration for our "stuck" times?
Simeon and Anna have become two of my waiting heroes in the Bible. Luke's account tells us that night and day both of these seniors devoted themselves to prayer and waiting for Jesus to arrive in the temple after his birth.
Simeon and Anna waited and waited. And they waited some more.
(If you want the full story, read Luke 2: 36-38).
Anna's entire purpose after her husband died was to be on this waiting journey—to be that prophetic voice that spoke the truth about baby Jesus who was yet to be born.
And then one day (gasp!) Jesus arrived at the temple with Mary and Joseph. Anna knew immediately! She spoke truth. Jesus was God’s Son. Her waiting was not in vain.
But, the longer I waited too, the more gifts the season of waiting gave.
I learned: who I am right now is ok.
I practiced: what I am doing right now is good (even if it not what I would have chosen).
For, no good waiting season is ever wasted time.
God is a mystery beyond all my understanding.
(And if you've met her, you can testify that this is true).
It's not because as many might think "I got what I always wanted."
Or I finally could feel at home in mom's circles.
Or because I could stop crying so much over my Christmas Eve sermons.
I rejoiced in motherhood as I bet Anna rejoiced over Jesus in the temple that day.
I am different kind of mother thanks to infertility. There's no small joy I take for granted. There's no milestone that I don't want to celebrate. There's no happy picture I can't wait to share with family and friends of the fun things we get into (sorry, friends, if I text you too often).
Adoption seemed too hard, too out of reach. Something we'd tried and had failed at too.
Well, until, it happened.
These days, I still look my daughter eyes with joy as she splashes in the bathtub, asks for more water before bedtime, or exclaims she wants to go to the playground yet again, and I thank God.
I thank God for the gift of growing up with her, learning from her and being HER mother.
My waiting season has brought me this joy.
I pray whatever it is that you're waiting on right now, you'll have the courage to keep waiting on joy too! Somehow, someway, it will come.
You won't be stuck forever.
When you find yourself stuck: what then?
And certainly they are the kind of questions that people seek my input on when I'm their pastor.
But proving the point that pastors or helping types are real people, such has been the quandary of my life over the past several months.
Can't seem to find my way to joy. Feeling overwhelmed and not able to do the tasks I really want to do. Disappointed in so many situations around me including those playing out in the news on a daily basis.
Weeks ago, the Senate confirmation hearings for our newest Supreme Court judge really did me in as I know they did for so many women around the country. I found myself sucked into the news that kept playing hope deflating bites.
To feel unheard, silenced or ignored is a dreadful feeling.
It probably doesn't matter to anyone other than me, but I haven't blogged like this in three months. That's like an eternity for "prolific me" as my friend Dana like to say. Writing is a sign of health and well-being if your name is Elizabeth Hagan.
Writing in a public space is a vulnerable task to take on. People are so quick to criticize. And though I've been doing it for years, it's still hard every single time especially now where we tear everyone a part seconds after they show up.
It's all so saddening to me. How afraid of vulnerability we have become! And empathy for another point of view seems to be out of the question.
Let me tell you this: as a mover and shaker and get things done yesterday, it's really terrible for this girl to feel stuck, maybe more than some of you (I'm an enneagram 3).
To pray to ask for help and feel like it's not coming fast enough. Or to realize that hope is present but it's crawling toward you at a snail's pace. Or to wonder when our petty political fights will ever end on Twitter.
Yet, in my personal stuck-ness I'm trying to:
Maybe you are practicing these things too.
I could end this post by sugar-coating it all, but I won't.
Children still are crying at our borders wanting to be re-united with their mothers.
Women are still in hiding because they fear no one will believe their stories of sexual assault.
Patriarchy still rules in our churches, board rooms and highest offices of power in the land.
Our black and brown brothers and sisters are being harassed daily on our streets by the police who are suppose to protect them, but don't.
I believe you need to be fully where you are if you want to fully go where's next.
So, I am here. We are here.
Worried. Disappointed. Sad.
Where are you?
Before we brought our baby home almost two years ago, I thought I had my life pace figured out.
I was in the process of re-defining parenthood as mother without children in her home, but a mother nonetheless. I founded Our Courageous Kids to help me (and others) empower children around the world.
My writing felt like it was in the flow.
My best creative hours of the day were from 3-7 pm (weird, I know). I used the mornings for appointments, errands, and phone calls. The afternoons opened up rich space for me to get lost in the writing zone.
Trusted friends way ahead of me in the mom journey had warned me ahead of time, "Getting married is easy. Having a child changes everything."
I heeded their words. Thanks to infertility I had a long time to imagine what I might become. And then when 1st day of motherhood came, I expected to be magically transported into another mystical planet where I'd meet: "Elizabeth, the mom."
Because, that's what happens right?
Sure, I didn't sleep as much or eat out like I used to or leave the house without a plan first. (No more traveling on a whim!)
Yet, I still wanted to be creative. I still wanted to type out long first drafts of stories I hoped someone would read. I still wanted to soulfully abide in a community of thoughtful people even though I was now "Elizabeth, the mom."
But, how? How could I do both well especially as I took on a part-time pastorate last year too?
For when it came to my personal projects . . .
No longer could I count on my 3-7 pm hours as writing time-- for any parent can tell you that this is the heart of the child care zone of dinner, bath and bedtime.
No longer could I organize as I felt the creative wind-- for the working mom life is all about "I have this block of time to get this done before my child care is over" and then you're done. NO second chances.
No longer could I dance with words as my vocation for the day-- for my first attention went to church work and suppertime.
All I know is this: in the past year especially, there have been pockets of grace where my schedule suddenly clears I know it's God saying, "Just write." And I try to pay attention.
Or a guest speaker comes to church, and I use my regularly scheduled sermon time on Friday afternoon for creative prose.
Or there is that blog post that I must write even when I don't have the time to write it.
And then there are gifts like the week I'm currently experiencing as I'm a resident at The Collegeville Institute for the next 9 days in this beautiful place. The teacher has given us every morning to just write, write, write. Oh, Minnesota summer I am savoring you (and time to write this post!)
In my case, parenthood changed me of course. I know all the words to Goodnight Moon and all the most annoying Elmo jokes for starters. And I love another person more than I thought was possible.
But as Mary Oliver says, I still have my "place in the family of things."
My place finds me as I write.
Not all men are fathers.
Men can long for children and not have them or lost a child in their family.
Families can have their fathers taken from them too soon.
The anticipation of what will be said (or not said) in church, especially on special occasions like Father’s Day is scary for so many.
This is what I know for sure: words really do matter. Words said in places of worship have the power to hurt as much as they can heal. Even if we think we know what someone is going through, we never really know.
As someone who has watched my own husband grieve through an infertility journey and sat with other families struggling in various ways, the words I heard over and over about these days was, “Please talk about me. Don’t leave my story out on Sunday. If you do, we’ll come to church.”
It’s no surprise that we like happy stories in the church that make sense and are straightforward to all. (Enter man with wife and X number of children beside him in the pews.)
So why not take this opportunity on Sunday to name the multitude of many ways all of us connect to fathers, are fathers and hope to be fathers?
Why not honor the ways that men can can father even if is as an uncle, a mentor or a friend?
Why not just be kind to all the men (if you're going to celebrate the holiday at all)?
Below is a responsive prayer I have used in congregational life on Father’s Day. Feel free to use or adapt in a way that fits your congregation’s needs as we all seek to be a welcoming as we can to all on Sunday morning!
Fathers meet us in some very different ways, and today we celebrate them all!
Thank God for the gift of fatherhood!
For those men who have left this earth and who we dearly miss.
Thank God for the dads whose legacy remain strong.
For those men for whom we had/ have difficult relationships as fathers.
Thank God for being our Dad when we needed You the most.
For those men raising his children now making sacrifices—rising early to make lunches, picking up from soccer practice and tugging kiddos in bed at night.
Thank God for the dads whose pace is so hectic today.
For those men who have taken in others’ children through adoption and foster care, showing us that the love of God far extends beyond biological ties.
Thank God for the dads with vision to include.
For those men who have lost a child to death or want to have a child and know they can’t without much trouble carrying on with the pain of lost dreams, often not being able to talk about it at all.
Thank God for the dads who carry heavy burdens.
For all the men in our community; who nurture us, support us and guide us in our becoming who show by their example fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness.
Thank God for the dads who love unconditionally.
We thank you, Lord, for the men who have influenced our lives in so many ways. And lift our voices in your name, O Heavenly Father in whom we adore.
Life is really hard and we have to learn to talk about it.
In so many Christian communities I know, there's such a "How are you?" "I am fine" sweetness in the air.
We look pretty. We talk pretty. And we go home from being together as hurt as we walked in the doors.
For, in the hand shaking, having snacks at coffee hour, or even in the minutes before a committee meeting starts-- we don't say much though we were up half the night worrying about ____.
We don't say that we're having trouble paying our bills this month. We don't say that our marriage is in a rocky season or our child was just found with drugs or is soon going to be kicked out of school.
There's so much we keep to ourselves.
Now, I know I'm stepping on toes as I say this, but from the pastoral seat I've held over the last 12 years, I've seen church folks preferring our vision of reality than our actual reality.
The cost? People are suffering. We're suffering.
And the next call we get on the prayer chain about someone who took their own life might just be someone we'd "never suspect."
Or as my Instagram friend, Stephi Wagner posted recently, "If you are still surprised that people are choosing suicide over living in this broken world, you haven't been paying attention."
Why? Because we have no idea who we're worshipping alongside.
And what happens if your pastor is that person who is suffering silently?
In my book, Birthed, I write about what it was like to be the pastor of a congregation while also going through the deep heartache of child loss, infertility treatments and adoption failure. And then what it was like to move to a part of the country where I couldn't find work and lost all sense of identity outside my husband's. I became a regular church attendee with so much un-ease in my heart.
I might have even been sitting in your church or a church that looks like yours.
It was a season of so many dead ends, heartbreak and loss.
It was a season where nothing seemed to get better as much as I hoped it would. And a season where I felt like life was just too hard to keep living.
Even when I was on a vacation to the beauty of Maine's coast, the sadness still seemed to follow me (as seen in this picture a friend snapped when I wasn't looking).
I have to tell you that I woke up for many months aching physically because my heart was just that sad. And even though I sought treatment from my doctors for depression, it often felt like I was more depressed than the medication could help. I just couldn't get out of bed.
Making myself get dressed and do something every day just felt like too much to ask. My bed was my dear friend.
I share all of this today because I might be the least possible person you'd imagine thought this way.
I seem put together from the outside.
There are pretty pictures on my website. And lots of accomplishments next to my name. There are people who care about what I think on topics of importance.
And I am not alone.
Statistics tell us not only that suicide rates in the US are on the rise by 25% since 1999 and that in 2016 alone 45,000 lives were lost to suicide but that 10 million Americans think about killing themselves each year.
And though I am no longer in this place in my life (thanks be to God!), right now, our churches are full of these folks.
So do your neighborhood a favor this weekend if you attend worship, chat it up with whoever you're sitting beside.
Find out something new about them that you didn't know.
Invite someone over for dinner.
Talk with your faith leaders about not only what they're doing to support suicide prevention, but what their plans are for community building in the upcoming year.
This weekend, Mother's Day, while joy-filled for many is full of anxiety for others.
If you're in the anxiety producing camp, know I am with you.
It's so hard to have complicated feelings about the mothers in your life.
It's so hard to have longings for children (or relationships) unfulfilled. Or to be grieving when everyone else is so happy.
We don't know what to do with these sort of "uneasy" feelings in our "How are you?" "I am fine" culture.
And faith communities really are the worse. Mother's Day is also know as a the day that the grieving don't feel safe at church.
I need to tell you that even as a pastor, one year on Mother's Day, I took the day off. I turned off my phone. And I just couldn't wait till it was Monday already!
I couldn't handle someone else asking me "When I was going to have kids already?"
And even now, though I am a mother with little feet running around my house (after a long infertility journey), I still find Mother's Day so complicated.
As much as there is joy in my life, there is also loss, frustration and delayed expectations.
I don't believe I'm alone in these feelings, so as a pastor, I want to be sensitive to the complicated feelings so many of my beloveds will bring to worship on Sundays.
For it's my belief that we can help the grieving feel safer at church by the attention we give to our words and presence on Sunday (or any day really!)
Here's a prayer I wrote in the spirit of truth-telling, sensitivity and kindness. Adapt, use and share as it's helpful to you.
One: Mothers come in many different forms, and today we remember them all.
Many: Thank God for all mothers.
One: For those women who have left earth too soon and in whom we miss dearly.
Many: Thank God for these mothers!
One: For every woman who is raising children now making sacrifices for her children’s becoming.
Many: Thank God for these mothers.
One: For those women who have taken in others’ children through adoption and foster care, showing us that the love of God far extends beyond biological ties.
Many: Thank God for these mothers.
One: For those women with grieving hearts for children that could have been with futures so different from they planned.
Many: Thank God for these mothers.
One: For the special neighbors, teachers, and friends who’ve nurtured us, supported us and helped us to become the people we are today.
Many: Thank God for these mothers.
One: For mothers in which our relationships are complicated, difficult or strained, but who have forced us to choose healthier paths for our lives.
Many: Thank God for these mothers.
One: Mothering God, help us all to reflect more of your compassion, kindness and strength to those around us today. As Meister Eckhart has said, “We are all meant to be mothers of God. God is always needing to be born” let this be true of us! We need more of you, here, God!
Many: Thank God for mothers. AMEN
If I can be a resource to you, as a grieving mother, particularly, don't hesitate to contact me.
Our National Infertility Week series continues today. (Did you miss the post from Chris Thomas earlier? If so, stop now and read it here). I'm so glad to introduce you to Maren McLean Persaud, my new favorite Canadian who tells a story of hope, longing and loss. Here are her beautiful words-
This past fall, we took all our hope, all our prayer, all our being, and all our money and invested it into the expensive and rigorous fertility treatment known as IVF (in vitro fertilization).
We had been trying to have a baby on our own for almost three years only to find out we had around a 1 to 4 percent chance of that ever happening. IVF was our only option if we wanted to have our own child.
If you have had personal experience with IVF, I don’t need to tell you anything and I salute you.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, IVF is a medical procedure that drains you emotionally, physically, and financially to “retrieve” your eggs and fertilize them with sperm from your partner, or a donor, to create viable embryos that can be put back into you to hopefully achieve a successful pregnancy and live birth.
The process involves a whole lot of needles, drugs, procedures, anxiously waiting for phone calls and embryo updates (spoiler: not all of them make it) and in the end, you might just end up with nothing to show for it.
So we did all that with the confident attitude that it would work, because, why wouldn’t it? We’re young!
And it did work! We got pregnant and even had one little embryo to tuck away in the freezer for a later date. What a great return on our investment.
Three days before Christmas, on our wedding anniversary, we floated into our fertility clinic for the 8-week ultrasound ready to hear the heart beat and successfully “graduate’ from the clinic.
Not even thirty seconds into the ultrasound our doctor said “I don’t have good news”.
After that it’s all a blur, but essentially our embryo was there and had grown, but there was no heartbeat. I would miscarry soon. That night I slept as though I was playing dead. No dreams, no restlessness, just darkness. The next morning, I woke up to myself sobbing, wishing I hadn’t woken up.
‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’
My husband turned into our PR guy, messaging family and friends, letting them know what happened and canceling Advent/Christmas events we had planned to host in our home.
My family rushed in to spend Christmas at our house and they let us be the couch potato, tear-filled slobs we had turned into.
They cooked for us, cleaned for us, looked after us and although we had trouble recognizing it in the moment, brought a lot of light to our darkness.
My husband is a minister and in the days after our ultrasound he had to soldier through services that celebrated a special baby being brought into the world.
Being the bad minister’s wife that I am, I didn’t go to those celebrations with him.
The baby has always been my favorite part of the Christmas story. The fact that God chose to enter our world in that new and hopeful form so full of potential has always filled me with wonder and joy, but not this year.
‘Screw you and screw your baby, God!’
I wasn’t having any of it. How could I hear the ‘good news’ when only days before my Doctor told me there was no good news?
I was literally losing my baby as I rang in the new year.
In the days and weeks that followed I threw myself back into work, almost manically making plans and getting things done.
All the while I was haunted by the exact moment when we heard “I don’t have good news”. I would cry almost every night.
By February every night turned into once a week and by March there was even more space between these “episodes”.
With the Christmas story long behind me I felt like Lent was a good place for me at this point in my life. Focus on the depravity of the human condition while contemplating death on a cross? Yes! Let’s get sad, people!
Lent is coming to an end though and I can feel the tension building in my body as we inch closer to Easter. The Lenten focus on depravity of our sinful nature will turn into celebrating the Love God has for us and death on a cross will turn into resurrection. Ugh.
I’m not pregnant and am still grieving our loss, you expect me to sing Hallelujah soon? I feel like the Grinch, “I must stop Easter from coming, but how?”
Currently, there is hope in the little embryo we have tucked away at the clinic, waiting for us.
There is hope in how even though this experience tried to shred our marriage into tatters, my husband and I have become closer and more tightly knit than before.
There is hope in the stories of infertility and loss that others have personally shared with us; there is hope in that every time I see my psychologist I can honestly tell her I’m doing a “bit better” than last time we spoke.
But ultimately, there is hope because 2000 and some years ago God proved that there is no darkness where God isn’t with us. God will bring all things to a good end, and that is where our hope is.
I will reclaim the doctor's words: “I don’t have good news” and hope that the absence of Good News is not real.
I want to live a beautiful story of hope.
Maren McLean Persaud grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada and pursued her studies in music and theology at Mount Allison University and then Knox College, Toronto School of Theology. Most recently, she worked as Director of Camping Ministry for the Anglican Church in New Brunswick, where she currently lives with her husband, Christian. Prior to that, Maren worked as a ministry student intern in Alberta where she studied the ways that summer camp can teach the wider church to be more creative in community building and spiritual formation. Maren is most passionate about ministry with children and youth and incorporates her experiences in camping and her musical training into that work. She loves spending time outdoors, drinking her coffee black and laughing until she cries.
**If you are looking for another story of loss, hope and healing check out Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility wherever books are sold.***