Word of the Week

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.

But then came a little person. And this little person made my good life even better. But . . .

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? 

But, if there was one thing I knew for sure in the first weeks of my daughter's life, it was that yes, somethings change. And somethings didn't change at all.

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.

So, how in the world can you be creative in a season of life that's overcrowded?

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!)

So, here's my word: if you're in a season figuring out how to be creative no matter your circumstances, all I can say is hold on. Pay attention. The gifts will come in all their different forms.

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.

“Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’”
Matthew 1:19-21

I had a mix of joy and dread as I waited for our son to be born. It’s not that I didn’t want a son. I just feared that I would somehow screw things up. I also couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be a father.

When I thought of having a baby, I couldn’t see how the details would all work. Having a child, in many respects, is a leap of faith. We say yes to this great unknown without any guarantees about what the future will look like or how our lives will change.

It’s easy to jump to conclusions where we anticipate future failures, future conflict, and future regret.

All of these anticipated failures made up enough scenes in my mind to fill up several made for television movies.

In the months that followed the birth of our son, I’ve often meditated on the story of Joseph, the Father of Jesus, who had to take one of the larger leaps of faith. I found someone I could relate to in Joseph, even if our stories diverged in many ways.

Having children is both normal and a dramatic leap of faith. I think we forget that because it’s so common. However, when you’re in the middle of it, the anticipation can be kind of maddening. You’re forced to confront all of your inadequacies and insecurities. You’re going to be completely responsible for this tiny little person.

I can only imagine the pressure that Joseph felt.

He was put in charge of an extraordinary child and included in God’s plan of salvation.


Mess this up, and there won’t be any Messiah for Israel. No biggie.

Where did Joseph find the strength to take this enormous leap of faith? How did he choose to sacrifice his reputation and take a risk that Mary was really telling the truth?

He didn’t.

While Joseph was going to be nice enough about the whole thing and we get the sense that he truly did care for Mary, he didn’t have the faith or strength to take on this enormous unknown of becoming the father of the supposed Messiah. It took divine intervention.

Joseph didn’t seek out God’s help. God practically chased him down, waiting to pounce while he was sleeping. It took a visit from an angel to assure Joseph about what he had to do.

That’s reassuring to me.

Sometimes the “heroes” of our faith seem larger than life, taking bold risks that we could never see ourselves making. We get discouraged when our day to day struggles weigh us down.

I felt terribly guilty and awful and inadequate with all of my fear about becoming a father.

Shouldn’t I want to be a father?

I did, but I also feared it mightily.

God didn’t chase me down in my dreams, but he kept placing me in the company of friends who cared enough to ask how I was doing and to pray for me when I told them I wasn’t doing all that great.

It took these prayers around a kitchen table or while taking a walk down our street to prepare me for fatherhood. That leap into parenthood felt like the biggest challenge of my life. In retrospect, I found that my friends passed along God’s strength to far it with courage and to rejoice in my new role as a parent responsible for a little boy.

I wouldn’t change anything about my life today, and a big part of that is because God healed the fear that held me down through the prayers of others.

That serves as a reminder that when I face another leap of faith, there’s a good chance I won’t feel ready for it. In fact, I know I won’t be. I never was before.

EdCyzewskiLet us pray:

As we face the challenges of this day, Lord, help us to remember that you are always with us. Help us to take leaps into the unknown of waiting for what we cannot see.

Ed Cyzewski lives in Columbus, OH with his wife and son and attends a Vineyard congregation. He’s is the author of Coffeehouse Theology: Reflecting on God in Everyday Life and co-author of Unfollowers: Dropouts, Detractors, and Doubters of Jesus (WPH 2014). He writes at www.inamirrordimly.com.

Sweet baby boy, I will think of you every Halloween when I pass out candy to the trick-or-treaters, wondering what kind of candy your favorite would be. I will think of you every Thanksgiving, setting out a place for you, wondering what type of food would have been your favorite. I will think of you every Christmas morning as your older brother comes bouncing down the stairs, with eager eyes to see what Santa brought him. I will wonder which gifts you would have gotten and what joy it would have brought to your face too . . .

Such were the words shared by a grief striken mother last night over the her deceased son who lived a grand total of 21 days. This child born normally at 38 weeks soon developed a serious heart condition in his second week of life which overtook the strong fighter in him, one week later. This mom who took her newborn to a well-baby check-up, believing all was well, witnessed her child never coming home after this. In the hospital, the doctors did the best he could, but nothing more could be done. And, in those moments of this child taking his last breath when he should have been at home, crying, eating and sleeping, a parents' worst nightmare came true.

For the mourners who gathered at the funeral home, the sadness was so thick it seemed to suffocate ever attempt of breathe in the room. On the altar, in a "Moses basket" laid a little boy with his eyes shut, so sweet looking that you could have thought he was just napping.  But this was an eternal kind of nap.

I served as the pastor at this event, even though I'd never met his parents and the three-year old brother until a couple of hours before the service began. I came into this situation as a volunteer pastor through a relationship I have with a local funeral home to provide spiritual care to those who do not have a formal church home, but want a religious service. 

Countless pastors, I know, don't enjoy or offer to do services like this, but it was a choice I made when I first began full-time ministry to at least try it. It was a great way, at first, to gain experience in one of the most important rituals of pastoral life and to meet a community need. But, the more I've done these type of services, the more I've found doing such funerals as an essential part of my job. Unexpectant deaths are when pastors are needed the most, right? I am so glad that the church which employs me full-time makes allowances in my schedule to have this kind of ministry.

As I walked in the room, I thought I was strong enough to handle what I would find, especially with the natural distance already between us, but I was wrong. The baby on the altar wrapped in a brand new blue polka dot receiving blanket surrounded by baby-blue stuffed animals and teething rings, sought to do me in too.

Even before the mother and father gave their sorrow filled tribute to their son that they'd barely had the chance to get to know, I could only think of how devastating such a loss would be for weeks, months, and years to come. Everything this family had come to know and trust about birth, life and hope was shattered. Why would a loving God allow such a thing to happen? Why must this family suffer so?

As the representative of God in the room, I really didn't want to speak, for knew I was in the midst of so many skeptics. I was in the mist of so many (including myself for that matter) who wanted to shake a fist at God and say, "Why?"  The more I thought of it, I'd almost rather pass out blankets and lead the gathered community of family and friends in a wailing session. Such only seemed appropriate.

But, in my professional calling, I found words to say, "Jesus says, 'I am the resurrection and the life. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the life, the one who wipes every tear from every eye and makes all things new."

And in the hours since the service completed, I can't seem to get out of my mind the images of that sweet baby boy in that dream crushing basket, and his energetic toddler brother, running around the funeral home, unaware really that this story as a human being had been forever altered, and this tear-stained mother's dress that she never intended to wear on such a day that she would never want to wear again.

I have to pray for this family because only a prayer would seem to do. My prayer is for the survival of hope-- hope that can out weight the darkest of days, the loneliness of nights, and the most discouraging of afternoons when these two parents feel they have nothing more to life for. I pray for this older brother who will soon be asking questions as to where the baby is. I pray for this family's close family and friends who will play a significant role in their care in the months going forward. I would ask you to pray for them too as we all say together, "Lord, have mercy."