Category: made me think

Children at the Table: Some Thoughts on Communion and Children

I can’t imagine communion without children being present, partaking in the sacrament right alongside adults. I’m always taken aback, then, when I hear of people or churches requiring communion be reserved for children of a certain age, or for children who have completed some “to do” on the checklist, such as a public profession of faith or catechism class. The Lord’s Supper is a community celebration and it is a place where God’s grace is revealed.  If you or your congregation is wrestling with this, I invite you to consider the following:

Communion is the joyful feast of the people of God, and children understand it as such. 

 I recently had the opportunity to serve communion to a group of children, and the joy they had in receiving the elements was palpable. They sprinted up, tore the bread and happily ate, some of them laughing with excitement. Did their joy dilute the sanctity of the moment? Not at all. In fact, it added to the holiness. Many times adults come to the table with sad or somber faces out of the concern that one must be reverent at the table. I agree that the table should be approached with reverence, but reverence and solemnity are not  the same thing at all. There is such a thing as joyful reverence, and children understand this intuitively. Children, if given the opportunity, don’t grab a tiny square of bread, they tear off a large chunk. Where is it written that the communion bread must be consumed in one, tiny, disintegrating bite?

The communion feast is a symbol of our shared unity and faith. Denying children the elements sends the message that they are not a part of our community.

What kind of message does it send to children when the bread and the cup pass them by? I think the thought of those who elect to have children wait until they’re confirmed or older goes something like this: communion is a serious sign of faith that should not be entered into lightly. Those who partake of it must come to the table having examined its true meaning and understanding its significance. Not only do I think this argument is theologically flawed (more on that in a minute), I think those who offer it as a reason for excluding children from the table underestimate the value in passing on faith to very young children through this important ritual.

I often turn to the important work of James Fowler in Stages of Faith as a guide for understanding how children perceive the actions of the faith community. Fowler says that children in the first stage of faith, are in the “fantasy filled, imitative phase in which the child can be powerfully and permanently influenced by examples, moods, actions and stories of the visible faith of primally related adults.”  (Stages of Faith  p. 133). What better way to influence through action than the table?  Furthermore, what connection are children supposed to draw about God’s table if they’re not allowed to eat at it? Is God for them, or not?

I remember one time when my children came to communion when they were very hungry. As they ate the bread and drank the juice and my child said, loudly “I’m still hungry!” What a wonderful theological statement, and a reminder that those who see things literally have a lot to teach us about how we come to the table.

The table is for all, even those who don’t fully understand it. 

The idea that children should wait until they understand what is happening there is very weak. The truth is, none of us fully understands the mystery of the communion table. Not even adults. John Calvin said, “there is something so mysterious and incomprehensible in saying that we have communion with the body and the blood of Jesus Christ, and we on our part are so rude and gross that we cannot understand the least things of God, it was of importance that we should be given to understand it as far as our capacity could admit.” (John Calvin, Short Treatise on the Supper of our Lord) If we were to exclude all those who do not fully understand the mystery of the sacrament, no one would be able to come. It is wrong to single out children when none of us could fully understand

The sacrament of communion sometimes leads people into deeper faith, rather than the other way around 

Sara Miles beautiful book Take This Bread tells many wonderful stories of how the communion table can be a place of conversion and grace, drawing people in to a place of deeper commitment to Christ. The same is true for children who often have a remarkable ability to explain the importance of coming to God’s table and partaking of the bread and juice.

There is strong historical precedent for children, even very young children, participating in communion. 

The very early church encouraged even babies to take bits of the elements as priests dipped their fingers in the juice and placed it in the baby’s mouth. The Eastern Orthodox church still continues this practice today. Far from being some sort of vogue new trend, communion for children has deep historical roots. 

Paul’s words to come to the table “examined” are taken out of context and used to exclude children from the table unnecessarily. 

One scripture that is used in support of keeping children from the communion table is 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 about those who “partake unworthily.” My short response to this is: this isn’t talking at all about children coming to the table. For a fancier exegesis, however, I’d point folks to professor Wiema’s great article which you can read HERE. (The whole edition of that newsletter is devoted to the topic of children and communion. It’s all worth reading, but his piece on this scripture can be found on page 7 of that link.)

Attention Presbyterians: Children are officially invited to the table. 

Our Book of Order says this: The opportunity to eat and drink with Christ is not a right bestowed upon the worthy, but a privilege given to the undeserving who come in faith, repentance, and love. All who come to the table are offered the bread and cup, regardless of their age or understanding. If some of those who come have not yet been baptized, an invitation to baptismal preparation and Baptism should be graciously extended. So grateful to be a part of a denomination that officially welcomes all to the table!

 

What are your thoughts on inviting children to the table? Would love to hear them in the comments!

 

Shared Truths About Santa and Jesus: How to Talk to Children

Does teaching belief in Santa lead to a feeling of betrayal once a child learns the “truth” about him? How should Christian parents teach about Santa in a way that fosters trust and encourages mystery?

There are certainly a wide variety of opinions out there. Mine is this: Christian parents would do well to teach faith in Jesus and belief in Santa in nearly the same way. Jesus and Santa are both real, true, and rooted in myth. If we are willing to offer children more nuance when talking about Santa and Jesus, we might be able to set them up for a mature faith at a very young age.

If saying Jesus is rooted in myth makes it sound like Jesus is a fairy tale, or if saying Santa is real sounds divorced from reality, keep reading, you might change your mind.

The Myth of Santa and the Myth of Jesus

When we think about myth we often turn to the definition of a false narrative. Oh, she still believes the myth that a going outside with wet hair will give you a cold, or it’s a myth that if you have heartburn during pregnancy your baby will be hairy. The other definition of myth is a shared story that explains a deeper truth.

When it comes to Santa, we get stuck in a mental trap of believing that because Santa isn’t real, he isn’t true, and so we ignore the theological messages we are sending children when we talk about him. The Santa myth is 100% true. Who puts the presents under the tree every year in my house? Santa does. Santa may not be a physical being in a red suit with a sleigh, but he’s a real presence I learned from my parents who learned about Santa from their parents. My hope is that when my children learn that it’s not possible for one person to fly around the world giving presents to everyone they won’t feel “duped.” Instead, I want them to be drawn into a deeper faith in Santa, one that doesn’t rely on Santa needing a physical body.

In the same way, when we talk about our faith in Christ with children, we don’t have to get caught up in explaining all of the mysteries of our faith, particularly resurrection. How is it possible for a person to be resurrected from the dead and come back to life? It’s not scientifically possible at all, but that’s not the point. I’m not saying one way or the other whether or not Jesus’s body was literally and scientifically raised from the dead. I absolutely believe it’s possible, because for God, all things are possible. That said, it’s a mystery, and one that has very little impact on my faith. If the bones of Jesus were discovered somewhere, and there was 100% proof that Jesus’ body did not rise from the dead, I would still have faith. My faith in the resurrection is not tied to a scientific truth about his bones and body, just like my belief in Santa is not tied to one physical being who breaks into strangers houses in the middle of the night, via the chimney.

Some Practical Tips for Talking about Santa in Ways that Encourage a Mature Faith

  • Stop talking about Santa in ways that is connected to behavior. No more talk about Santa bringing gifts when you are good and coal when you are naughty. No more talk about Santa watching you and punishing you if you’re bad. No more “Santa is watching” talk at all. I’ve written about this before. I believe connecting Santa to behavior can be damaging to faith development.

 

  • Do not lie to children about Santa when they ask, but let it be an opportunity to engage some of these deeper discussions. I really like some of the wording in THESE letters that explain the concept of Santa.

 

  • Use words like mystery, shared story, and faith when talking about Santa.

 

  • Do not shy away from making a connection between Jesus and Santa, rather than trying to separate them. I love the idea of teaching about the historical St. Nicholas and connecting him to Jesus.

What do you think? What experience do you have teaching children about Santa and faith? What resources would you like to share? Use the comments below to talk about it!

Stop Giving Parents the Stink Eye In Church

 

Recently I had the opportunity to hear from a young mom who had grown up in the church, spent some time away after she got married, and was now looking to bring her children back to faith in the church. Among many valid critiques about why church was becoming a frustrating experience for her as she tried week after week to find a place that would be good for her children was something that’s so easy for congregations to fix: the stink eye. Ah the “stink eye.” You know what that is, right? It’s that look of disapproval that comes darting over the glasses or sideways. It’s a look that says “shape up” or “shhhhhhhhh” or “those children are too wiggly.”

The stink eye is subtle and obvious all at the same time. You know it when you see it.

The stink eye is one reason young families don’t come to your church anymore. (Note: I didn’t say it’s the reason, there are lots of reasons for this, but I promise you, the stink eye is on the list.) Families who get the stink eye in a church don’t just get turned off from a church, they get turned off from church in general. Even if your church isn’t a stink eye church, you need to be aware of it, because you’ll have to work that much harder to compensate for all the stinky eyed churches out there. Trust me. The woman I heard from a few weeks ago was not the only one who has told me about the stink eye. It’s pervasive. The bad news about the stink eye is that it’s contagious: if your church has a (spoken or unspoken) rule that it’s okay to tell young families to “shape up” or “shhhhhhh” or “those children are too wiggly,” this rule will be enforced by the stink eye. The good news is that the stink eye is easily counterbalanced and shut down by easy ways to help young families feel welcome.

  • Offer a reassuring comment that lets the parents and the children know they’re welcome just as they are. My favorite is “We just love noisy and wiggly children in our sanctuary. It helps us all to hear their lively energy and to know they are present!” or “It’s hard to be still and quiet for a long time in church. You’re doing a great job.” If you are old enough to have raised children in the church you know it can be a challenge. A simple smile with the words “I remember what it was like when my children were small” says more than enough.

 

  • Smile. A warm genuine smile that says “No worries. We’ve got your back here.”

 

  • Engage the family or children. Some churches have worship bags or coloring sheets or even a Prayground for children to enjoy. If you’ve got these resources… show them off!

 

  • Resist the urge to correct or judge. Parenting styles range from very strict to very free range and every parent I know is just doing the best they can with the resources they have. What is appropriate guidance to one is “helicopter parenting” to another. What is helping a child develop independence to one is “laissez faire” to another. Parents are bombarded all the time by people telling us what to do and how to do it. What would it look like if churches were free of this type of judgment?

 

What would happen if your sanctuary was known for being a stink eye free zone? What if, instead of the stink eye, parents received smiles, reassuring comments, and full acceptance when they visited your church? I’ll tell you what would happen: they’d come back.

Boredom as a Spiritual Practice

Recently I’ve been actively working on making sure my children and I are bored on a regular basis. Yep, that’s right. I’m trying to be bored and to make sure the rest of my family is too. It all started a few months ago when I heard an episode of the RobCast called “The Importance of Boredom.” The episode is well worth your time, and it’s a reflection on what it means to be busy all the time, filling up every single spare second with something to do. Bell talks a lot about the time we spend doing things that don’t nurture our souls — aimlessly scrolling through social media, for example.  The episode reminded me of a sermon I heard John Ortberg preach one time. (tangental side note: Why you gotta leave the PCUSA, John Ortberg?!) Anyway, I can’t remember the exact topic of the sermon now, but I do remember he was talking about TV watching. At some point he addressed the congregation and said “Who here, after watching a few hours of TV leaps up from the couch and says ‘Man, I feel great! That was really energizing!’?” The answer, of course, is nobody, because TV isn’t energizing; it’s draining. Boredom, as defined by Rob Bell and by me in this post is the exact opposite of TV watching. Boredom done right can be very energizing. When we are bored our mind has a chance to rest and think, and we’re able to actually be creative and fresh. Sometimes it is in the stillness and silence of boredom where the best ideas are born.

Choosing to be Bored

What does it mean to try to be bored? In my experience, there are many times where boredom might creep in, but  a persistent voice urging me to “be productive!” or “Get something done!” stops it cold in its tracks. I have a tendency to do anything required to shut that voice up. So instead of just sitting in silence while I ride the elevator up to the eighth floor, or mindlessly browsing the silly headlines on the tabloids in line, I feel obligated to read  emails, respond to text messages and flip through my to-do list. Filling up the cracks of the day with stuff to do seems productive on the surface, (see how many things I get done, even while I’m in the elevator!) In reality, though, it just wears me down. After a full day of “productivity” the only thing I want to do is collapse in a heap and watch Netflix. Intentional boredom is a remedy for this way of living. The phrase”Not every second needs to be scheduled” has been my new mantra. Paradoxically, doing nothing is the thing to do. Here are times when I’ve been choosing boredom recently: 

  • In the car — I’ve not even been listening to music or podcasts recently — just silence (there’s a version of this in Faithful Families called “Silent Car Rides.”)
  • In line at the grocery store. No flipping through the phone or texting, or working on the meal plan, just looking at the extra large sized candy bars and thinking “why aren’t they called ‘King Sized’ anymore?” or pondering the crazy tabloid headings
  • While waiting for a meeting to start, or when getting somewhere early — Instead of sitting in the car and flipping through email or Facebook, I take a walk
  • In between tasks – I get up and walk around for a little while instead of scrolling social media or trying to squeeze in one more thing.
  • In the shower – Extra long shower for the win!

Making Room For Children to be Bored

There’s some fairly compelling evidence that boredom is great for children, too. Providing space for boredom in my home is not easy for me. Its easy to feel like I’m being lazy if I don’t have a structured activity for my children to do to do, especially since I don’t have a lot of time with them during the week. On the other end of the spectrum, I’m tempted, not by structure, but by formless screen time.  Sometimes it’s easier to just say “why don’t we turn on Paw Patrol” so I don’t have to think about it. The middle way is, what I’ve been calling “space for boredom.”  We turn off the TV, don’t plan anything to do, and see what happens. It’s not usually the first hour or two that are a problem. They happily play. It’s what happens after the playtime gets, well… boring. When I’m most tempted to say “Ok, let’s go to the museum now!” or “Ok, let’s turn on Paw Patrol” is precisely the time to say, “I know it’s hard to find something to do sometimes” and to go back to making muffins. I’ve been doing this for awhile now, and the results have been even more powerful than I originally anticipated.

Crayons have come out, on their own. Kleenex boxes have been sloppily taped onto Amazon boxes with proud declarations of “It’s an ambulance.” Comic books have been created. It’s magical, but certainly not easy. In order to get there, we’ve had to suffer through many rounds of “Pleeeeeeeeeease can we go to incredible pizza” and “This is SO BORING.” Well, when you’re bored you can think. When you can think you can be creative. Boredom is a gift. Not all the time, but some of the time. Too much boredom isn’t good, of course, but this not the danger for our family and a lot of families like us.

This “dance floor” was born after a long stretch of boredom

It seems to me that previous generations of parents understood this intuitively (plus there were no iPads or TV on demand to compete with.) Boredom wasn’t really something you needed to “make room” for in those days. It just happened. Now, if we want our children to be bored, we have to make sure it happens by intentionally blocking out the time and saying no to extra lessons and classes and enrichment opportunities and parties. We have to make space. 

 

Here are some times when I’ve been making room for my children to be bored:

  • In the car
  • On Saturdays (all day, not just for an hour or two)
  • Sunday afternoons
  • Days off of school
  • At the dinner table — Example: “May I be excused?” answer “In a few more minutes….”

Boredom Apps? Say what?

It seems counterintuitive to think about using technology to find rest and create boredom, but there are actually some tools I’ve found that work remarkably well for this.

Forest App: I’ve mentioned this one before, but the forest app helps plant virtual trees to keep you off of your phone. The more time you’re away from your phone, the more trees are planted. Plant enough virtual trees and forest will plant real trees in your honor. Pretty great. I go through seasons where I use this app a lot. 

Forest App is one of my favorites. Grow trees instead of looking at your phone!

Do Not Disturb Mode: I’ve not had to use this in awhile, but there have been times when I’m so fried and so overloaded by texts and emails that I need to not know that they exist. In order to get in to true do not disturb mode, I need to adjust my phone settings to turn off all notifications for email (I turned them off for social media a long time ago) and also put the phone in “Do Not Disturb” mode (this works well for iPhone. I’m not sure how to make it work for Android, but I’m sure Google will help!) iPhone will kick out of Do Not Disturb mode if someone calls back immediately.

News Feed Eradicator for Facebook: This extension for Chrome has been a huge game changer for me. I love using Facebook for a lot of things, including keeping up with folks in my congregation, keeping connected in clergy communities, and connecting with friend who don’t live in the same city as me. At the same time, it can be a huge way to fill up empty time that should be used for boredom or true rest. The Newsfeed Eradicator removes the newsfeed. You can still get notifications, still check on groups, still update status, etc. It eliminates the phenomenon whereby I log in to Facebook to check on something and 20 minutes later I’m clicking through photos of people I don’t even know because they’re there. HERE’s a link for Chrome. Also available for phones, I believe. 

Boredom has been a gift recently. It’s been the difference between exhaustion and a little room. It’s not been easy, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

What about you? What do you think of boredom? Is there a place for it in your life or home? Share your stories in the comments!

Taking a Spiritual Inventory (with printable worksheet!)

 

The older I get, the more convinced I am that our spiritual health and wellness is vital to our physical, emotional, and psychological health and wellness as well. (I guess I’m in the right profession!) In other areas of wellness I see a lot of resources for assessment. There are lots of ways to evaluate one’s physical health or psychological health, but how do I know if I’m spiritually healthy? How can I identify areas of spiritual health and wellness? I spent some time thinking about this and made a spiritual inventory for myself and others. If it sounds like something you might be interested in using, take a look! I would love to know if you have any questions or thoughts. Peace, and enjoy!

Evaluating Spiritual Wellness: A Guide

NOTE: To download a the questions in one easy worksheet, click  HERE for a DOCX version and HERE for a PDF

At the end of this, the goal is to feel more hopeful and inspired for future growth. If this isn’t the case, you did it wrong. (I mean that in the nicest possible way, of course!) It’s important to approach this exercise with that outset “I’d like to continue to grow spiritually, and I want to take look at where things are. The goal is not to give myself a grade or to feel poorly about how things are going.”

Spiritual health is intimately connected to physical, emotional, financial, and psychological heath. It’s hard to write about “spiritual health” divorced from these things. Often a detailed look into of all of life will yield interesting results or connections, and often one life change can show results in all of these areas. For example, taking up a practice of walking could lead to health in all sorts of areas, not just physical health. These are your questions, so it’s fine to go off on a “tangent.” If reflecting for a bit on spiritual health leads to some changes in the way you manage your money or cook your food, go with it. Maybe the Holy Spirit is up to something!

How to use these questions: Sky’s the limit! Some may choose to write down their answers all in one swoop, on a 1/2 or day long silent retreat. Others may choose to do them in a group, with trusted friends or mentors. Pastors and ministry leaders might want to use them as a “jumping off point” for a retreat or workshop on faith development. Work through them in a language that works for you, whether it’s long form writing or journaling, or painting, or conversation. Return to them as often as is necessary. I ordered these questions with a specific progression in mind. I believe you will get the most value from this exercise if you work through them in order and challenge yourself to complete every question. Enjoy!

1. What do I believe? (Crafting a personal faith statement)

There are no “right” answers here, and honesty is key. What do you believe about the world? About human nature? About God? Which beliefs are central to your sense of identity? For many of us, (pastors too!) we don’t often take the time to look at our beliefs closely, under a microscope. Sometimes, when we do, what we find surprises or even scares us. Consider how you want to write your personal faith statement. Do you want to write it out in narrative form? As a list of beliefs? Do you want to paint it? Make a poem? Tell a story? Select a series of photographs that illustrate your beliefs? Whatever you choose, make it something natural for you. Dig in deeply, here. What do I believe, for real? Nobody will be checking over your shoulder.

2. What are my biggest doubts and questions?

Doubts and questions are great teachers and an important part of mature faith. The purpose of writing these down is not to identify weakness or problems. Quite the opposite, identifying doubts and questions help make space for us to understand how the spirit is at work and where our faith is growing. What haunts you? What is bothering you? What can’t you reconcile? Put these things down on paper.  Sometimes just naming these things and writing them down can do remarkable things.

3. When do I hear God’s voice* most clearly now or in the past?

Perhaps there is a certain place you go where you hear God’s voice most clearly, or a certain state of being you are in when you feel the most connected to God.

I used the words “God’s voice” because it makes sense to me and it’s how I describe a feeling of spiritual connectedness to God and to others. There might be another way that works better for you. Perhaps “when do I feel most spiritually connected?” or “When am I most at peace with myself and others?”

4. How have my beliefs changed over time? How are they in the process of changing? What season or shape is my faith and spirituality taking right now?

Faith and spiritual wellness seems to change with seasons. Some describe “dry” or “dark” times of the soul when things are challenging or difficult. Others talk about “mountaintop” experiences when things seem to be going really well. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what season one is in at any particular time, but it’s helpful, I think, to take a look behind and consider how beliefs have changed over time, or are in the process of changing.

5. What spiritual practices are nurturing to me?

For this question, it might be helpful to think in terms of past spiritual practices, present ones and those that we’d like to try in the future. For this, it’s helpful to think of spiritual practices folks might label as “traditional” (such as prayer, meditation, fasting or acts of service) as well as those that might be unique to you: silence, poetry, art, walking, gardening, journaling, running. Whatever practice helps you to feel most spiritually alive and connected and able to hear God’s voice. Perhaps there is a practice that was valuable to you in the past which has somehow faded away, Write down those that were valuable in the past as well as those in the present. If there is no spiritual practice currently alive and active in your life, note that as well.

6. What goals would I like to implement in order to be more spiritually healthy?

By now, you have laid out a clear foundation of what you believe, what doubts and questions are brewing in you and what season of life you might be in. You’ve also taken the time to think about what spiritual practices are nurturing to you. Now is the time to think about some goals for spiritual wellness. I would caution against jumping straight to this question without doing the reflection that comes beforehand. Though it takes some time, it will put things into sharper focus and help refine what kind of spiritual practice you might want to embark on. A few “refresher course” words about goals. Goals should be as specific as possible and as quantifiable as possible. So saying “I’d like to meditate more” is far less effective than “I’d like to do ten minutes of meditation from Headspace per day for ten days in a row to see how it works for me.” When goals have specificity and can be measured, it’s much easier to see if you’re on track and, if not, to make a course correction. One helpful tip for goals is to make sure not to pile on too many. One or two is a great place to start, you can always add more, change or refine as time goes on.

7. What steps do I need to take in order to make my goals a reality?

Perhaps something needs to be moved off of your schedule in order to have the space and time to focus on a new goal. Perhaps you need to enlist the help of another person to encourage or help you stay focused. A word of caution here: be wary of thinking that your spiritual goals can only be reached by investing a lot of money. Particularly in North American culture, we’re trained to believe that if we just purchase the “right” (fill in the blank) we’ll have what we need. This is a lesson I feel like I’m still learning. Whenever I want to tackle the clutter in my house, I am tempted to buy more baskets or boxes or clutter busting devices when, in reality, what I need to do is this: get rid of the stuff that’s creating the clutter in the first place. There are so many great products, tools, services and “gadgets” to help with spiritual heath and wellness. Over time you may find a natural way to incorporate some of them into your life. At the same time, when you’re laying out your goals and vision, try to resist adding a long list of things to buy.

8. What resources do I have that will help me with my goal?

Here you can list personal resources (motivation, strength, kindness, attention), people resources (friends, spiritual mentors or leaders, family members.) and stuff resources (supplies, books, videos, songs.)

9. When will I begin?

The sooner the better!

10. When will I re-evaluate?

I think it’s a great idea to give yourself a relatively short timeframe (say 6-12 weeks) in which to try a new practice and then re-evaluate with a mini version of this inventory to see how things are going and try something new!

There you have it! My attempt at a spiritual inventory. I’ve done variations of this myself and found it very helpful. If you try it either on your own, or with a group, let me know how it goes in the comments. 

Don’t forget to snag your printable worksheet!  Click  HERE for a DOCX version and HERE for a PDF!

I would love to know your thoughts! Comment below and let me know what you’re thinking!

 

The Power of Storytelling || Some Thoughts

 

Author Philip Pullman said, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”

The human ability to tell stories to one another in order communicate deep truths is a feature of every human culture and civilization “Once upon a time, our ancestors…” or “In the beginning, God.” It is because of compelling stories we have heard or learned that we choose what to believe or disbelieve. I remember hearing Andrew Root say one time at a conference that parents should be saying to their children at the dinner table, “Tell me a story” not “What did you do today?” or “What did you learn at school, today?” Try it sometime with children of any age. I bet you’ll be surprised. Storytelling is an art, a craft, a gift. It’s the ability to frame reality and distill it into something true for your listener. Storytellers know the difference between truth and fact. Storytellers know which details to emphasize and build up and which ones to tone down or ignore completely. We are endlessly enamored with (or disgusted by!) the stories we tell ourselves everyday, as well as the stories others tell us. Stories can heal and connect.

The Positive Power of Storytelling

Last June I had the opportunity to attend a storytelling workshop/lecture/experience (I don’t even know what to call it!) led by Mark Yaconelli of The Hearth. I showed up to the lecture exhausted and not sure what to expect. Thirty minutes into the lecture and I was completely captivated and energized. The ideas from that one workshop have been marinating in my brain all summer. Mark led us through a few short opportunities to tell stories to one another and to reflect on their power. The prompts were simple, but each one was different, and Mark drew something different out of each one.  In just a few minutes, through the power of storytelling, he helped our Presbytery community bond, and laugh, and hold sacred space for one another. It was, hands down, the most powerful use of time at a Presbytery Meeting I’ve ever experienced. (For those who don’t know, a Presbytery meeting is a business meeting for church people). I walked away from that meeting convinced that there was something I would do to begin using stories with my congregation. I am really looking forward to Mark’s future work on this, hopefully including a more in depth “how to” manual or book. If/when such a book comes in to being, I’ll be first in line to buy and read it. For now, though, I’ll be putting in to practice some of the things I learned that day.

Using Storytelling in a Church Setting (aka “Mini Storytelling”)

One of the things Mark suggested was that we have people share stories with each other every week, either as a part of the sermon or a reflection on it. At my church this summer, we’ve not done this every week, but we’ve tried it a few of times, and it’s been great. Here’s how it worked: after the sermon I asked folks to gather around in groups of two or three to answer a question together. The first time the question was about calling “Tell about a time when you felt called by God to do something.” The second time was after a sermon on Deborah and the prompt was “Tell a story about an important woman of faith in your life and what she meant to you.”  The third time we tried storytelling in my congregation was yesterday, and the question was “Tell a story about a time you learned something from someone who was different than you in some significant way.” 

In each case, folks came up to me afterward and talked about how meaningful the moment had been for them. One of the most valuable parts of the exercise was the fact that it allowed people who didn’t know each other very well to talk about something at a deeper level. I intend to continue with this practice from time to time, mixing up the questions. I think the questions will sometimes flow from the sermon topic, but other times might just be a way of building community and friendship among the congregation. Some of the prompts I’m thinking about:

  • Share the story of your name, or something about your name (either first or last)
  • Tell about a favorite worship hymn or song and why you like it
  • Pick one moment from the past day (or week) for which you are grateful and share
  • Share a favorite vacation spot from childhood

Using Storytelling to Build Community in Small Groups

Another time I used the lessons learned in this storytelling workshop was in training some Bible Study leaders who were preparing to teach a year long study on the book of Hebrews. I broke them up into groups and asked them to tell stories to each other. The first was a story about a place from childhood where they felt safe and happy. The second was a story about their first childhood crush. The third was a longer storytelling exercise about their faith journey. The first two came directly from the experience I had at the workshop with Mark Yaconelli. The third was more related to the study we were discussing. After each time of storytelling we reflected a little bit about what the experience of both telling the story and hearing the stories was like. I gave no guidelines for the storytellers other than to try and help the listeners feel very engaged in the story through description and detail. The guidelines for the listeners were also simple: Listen fully. Don’t check your phone or doodle on the page. Don’t ask questions or add to the story or comment in any way. Just accept the story and say “thank you.” The leaders walked away from the experience inspired to do more storytelling with their Bible Study groups and to encourage the groups to tell stories in this very simple way. One person came up to me after the  training and said she’d be using the storytelling in her classroom.

Larger Storytelling Events

One of the things that I heard about at the workshop was the idea of holding larger storytelling “events” centered around a theme. This is not something I’ve ever done, but I am very curious about it. If your church has ever done this, or if you’ve been a part of one in your community, I’d love to learn more. The idea is a lot like The Moth podcast, I think, where folks come forward to tell a story related to a theme. The stories, as Mark described, are carefully practiced and rehearsed so they have a strong beginning, middle and end. The stories are designed to impact the listener in a specific way both individually and collectively. I’ve put out some feelers about this in my congregation, and folks seem interested. I think the process of putting the event together as well as the actual event itself would be very powerful. I thought it was interesting that Mark described the process of helping participants craft their stories as being similar to the process of spiritual direction.

Intergenerational Storytelling

Another thing I think would be very powerful would be to incorporate intergenerational elements to this storytelling focus in the congregation. What would it look like to have little conversation starters at the table at fellowship events, or questions that are focused on a particular universal age and stage in life. What about asking children and adults alike to share the story of losing their first tooth or a favorite experience around the Christmas tree? What if we asked older and younger members to talk about their favorite parts of the worship service? The power of storytelling for both younger and older members is invaluable, I think, and learning from those who are in different life stages is a great way to build bridges, understanding and mentorship.

So what about you? What experiences of storytelling do you have in the church or outside the church? What ideas can you add to this conversation? I’d love to hear more from churches who have put some of these ideas in to practice! Please comment here and share your thoughts!

The Things I’ve Learned from Rob Bell Over the Years…

Yesterday I read this piece on CNN Outlaw Pastor Rob Bell Shakes Up The Bible BeltI have a few thoughts about Rob Bell worth reading, but I really want you to read that article. So if you click on it and read it, my work here is done. You can also read my thoughts and THEN click on it, because I’ll link it up at the end, too.

Where to begin? First can we talk about the fact that somehow talking about welcoming others, letting women preach (gasp) and standing up against hate somehow makes you an “outlaw?”  I mean, honestly. Reminds me a bit of, oh, I don’t know… JESUS. Silly headlines aside, I’ve been “tracking with” (as he would say) Rob Bell for years. One could say I’m a superfan. He would dislike that term, I think. At any rate, he’s in the hall of fame for people who have influenced my thinking and faith journey, and I’ve been wanting to thank him for that, but have missed out on multiple attempts to meet him in person (in recent years, that is.) Rob Bell is a lot like Jesus, methinks, and one of the ways is that people are always wanting to touch his robes and drain the life right out. I get it. It’s hard to narrow down all the things I’ve learned from him, but here are the top ones. Rob Bell, if you’re reading (haha!) thank you so much for everything you’ve taught me. Here are just a few things…

First thing I’ve learned from Rob Bell over the years: Don’t let people co-opt you into their “group.”

For years and years Rob Bell has refused to let people label him.

Then

Everyone: Aren’t you an evangelical?

Rob Bell: Uh….

Now

Everyone: Aren’t you one of those new progressive Christians?

Rob Bell: Uh…

Everyone has wanted to claim Rob Bell and then disown him. He won’t be put in a box. “You’re one of us!” and then “You’re not one of us!” He just keeps doing his thing. Writing his books, speaking his truth. Hanging out with Oprah. It’s annoying, frankly. It’s also inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Second thing I’ve learned from Rob Bell over the years: As you grow in faith, your faith changes. It evolves. This is not an emergency. It’s a good thing.

There’s a box somewhere, probably in my parents’ basement, that has a photo of 19 or 20 year old Traci hanging around a 27 or 28 year old Rob Bell at a Youth Specialties conference. It’s an actual physical photo because no Instas or Facebooks. Just an actual photo, taken with an actual camera. WITH FILM IN IT. (I am not lying.) In those days Rob Bell wasn’t talking about whether or not hell exists. Everyone assumed they knew what he thought about hell, because, “Doesn’t everyone think the same thing about everything?” Nineteen year old Traci had some different views back then. So did nearly 30 year old Rob Bell. You know why? Because people change when their faith changes. True. Story. Rob Bell is one of the few Christian leaders I can think of who has not apologized for changing his views but has said, rather, “Darn right I changed my mind. That’s what you do.” Mark my words, Rob Bell’s faith will continue to change and grow, and he will continue to write about it. More people will try to label him and put him in a box and it won’t work. New groups will try to claim him and dismiss him. It will be ok.

The third thing I’ve learned from Rob Bell over the years: Become a master at forgiveness.

There are a few talks/lectures/poems that I listen to multiple times a year, as therapy or routine. For the last five years, THIS TALK BY ROB BELL is one of them. DVD available HERE.

If you’re a pastor, it’s required watching. Yes, required. I can’t speak to other professions, but I really think it’s required watching for all human beings. It’s in my top five list of important talks OF ALL TIME. There is a draft in my drafts folder for this blog called “Write about the Rob Bell talk Death By Papercuts.” I may still write about it sometime and talk about why it’s so personally meaningful to me, but just, go… watch it.

Final Rob Bell over the years thing: (for now) Preach in the pulpit or outside the pulpit, just preach.

I’ve heard Rob Bell preach at Mars Hill, Youth Specialties, Willow Creek, and all the places. I’ve also heard him preach on CNN and theater stages, podcasts and Oprah. It’s all the same. Worried that the church is in decline, pastors? Don’t be afraid. There are pulpits everywhere.

Rob, thanks for everything. Traci

Here’s that article again from CNN, yesterday.

“Blink and she’ll be 24….” Thoughts on how fleeting it all is + a free practice from #FaithfulFamilies

not little for long!

This morning I was at a cafe getting some work done while my four-month-old daughter Marina Lynn was sitting beside me in her stroller. When her smiling and cooing turned to fidgeting and crying, I picked her up out of the stroller and started to pace around in the cafe. Two women caught our attention. “We’re grandmothers” one said.

“She’s gorgeous!” exclaimed the other  “I don’t suppose you’d let us hold her while you finish up your work.”

“Actually,” I said, “I would love it,” and I plopped Marina into their laps and hurried back to what I was doing.

I listened with one ear as they doted over her, and I finished up my emails as quickly as I could. When it was time to go, one of the grandmothers looked at me, teary eyed and said “I know old people say this all the time, but enjoy every minute. It goes by so, so fast.”

I recognize there are problems with that statement. One does not enjoy every moment of parenting. I did not enjoy it when one of my older children learned to remove his diaper and “made a mess” in his room (I promise you, whatever “mess” you are imagining, the reality was worse). I did not enjoy the dry heaves and vomiting when I was pregnant with Marina Lynn. I do not enjoy trying to balance the pressures of work and writing and parenting. I do not enjoy having to apologize when my child causes someone to trip in the grocery store because he’s not watching where he’s going. And so when these two grandmothers told me to “enjoy every minute,” it would have been tempting to say, “Yeah right! You forgot how it really is!” but instead I said, “You’re right,” because they are.

Whether we enjoy it or not, these years will fly by. Our children are four months old. We blink and they are four years old. We blink again and they’re fourteen. Blink one more time, and our children are having their own children. I know this is true because I have experienced it myself, and because my elders have told me it is so.

So how will we live out these precious few years we’ve been given? I’m a strong believer in tradition and ceremony. We ought to try and make these days count. My book Faithful Families is an attempt to create sacred moments at home. In between the chaos of daily living we can carve out moments of connection. A prayer here, a ceremony there.  Mother’s Day is coming up soon, and many of us will shower our mothers with candy and cards. There’s nothing wrong with that. And yet, my suspicion is that many of the mothers you know are longing for something deeper than this. We’re longing for connection. We want our days to count. We know they’ll be gone too soon.

Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home is a book of simple practices designed for mothers (and fathers) who want to create meaningful connections with their children. On this Mother’s Day our gift to you is the gift of gratitude. Download the free gratitude practice, and enjoy these moments, fleeting though they may be.

How to Transform Scarcity Mentality to Abundance Mentality in Ministry

Do you feel like your ministry is marked by a lack of time, volunteers and money? You’re not alone. Many ministry leaders feel this way, and while there’s no “one size fits all” remedy, I’ve come to believe an abundance mentality is part of a successful ministry.

The idea of abundance mentality comes from Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (now a classic!). Covey writes,

Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else.

In deep contrast to this mentality is the abundance mentality. The abundance mentality says there’s more than enough (time, volunteers, and money) to go around.”

I think this general concept is a very useful one for ministry, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it recently. Often, it seems, when we open ourselves up to abundance, we find it. When we’re in “scarcity mode,” we’re anxious, overwhelmed and unsatisfied. Scarcity mentality leads to cynicism and burnout.

Having an abundance mentality means focusing one’s energy on the belief that resources are not limited, and that there is more than enough to go around. Covey writes that leaders with a scarcity mindset will compete for resources even when there’s an abundance of them.

Properly understood, the abundance mentality can be helpful in combating some of the common struggles and challenges of ministry: lack of time, volunteers, and money. I’ll start with time:

Scarcity mentality: “I don’t have enough time to get everything done.”

Abundance mentality: “I can delegate, prioritize, and let go.”

Being busy is often seen as such a badge of honor and evidence that a person is productive. It’s not true. Some of the most productive pastors, authors and parents I know have plenty of time to relax and enjoy life. Conversely I know some people who are constantly “busy” who don’t seem to produce very much. Lack of time is often lack of time management. When we feel like there’s too much to do, often the solution isn’t more time, it’s a better handle on how to complete the tasks before us in the time allotted. Have you ever had the experience of getting surprisingly little done when you didn’t have that much to do in the first place? That’s because of Parkinson’s Law which says work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion. To have time in abundance, remember to delegate, prioritize, and let go.

  • DELEGATE – Ask yourself, do I need to be doing this task? Which lay leader or staff person might be better equipped to do this? If I feel I’m the only one who can do this, why do I feel that way?
  • PRIORITIZE – At the beginning of the day, ask yourself what absolutely has to happen today? Try, if you can, to get the “must dos” done as early on in the day. One abundance trick I learned recently was to put only three items on the to-do list each day and ask about each item “If this was the only item I got done today, would it be enough?” One of the tricky things about ministry, I think, is that there are so many balls in the air, all the time.
  • LET GO –  I used to have a little post it note on my desk that had two questions: 1. What is the value in getting this done? and 2. What is the risk in not doing it? There are a lot of things we do out of habit and think they are important when, in fact, they take up a disproportionate amount of time for their value. One classic example of this for pastors is Newsletter articles. I agree with MaryAnn McKibben Dana that many pastors should consider not doing them. 

Scarcity Mentality: “I don’t have enough volunteers to do the work of ministry.”

Abundance Mentality: “I can ask, empower, train, and thank.”

Most churches I know run on volunteer power, yet it can sometimes be a challenge to keep everything running smoothly. Working with volunteers is a huge part of ministry, yet it’s not taught or talked about in seminary very much. If you have people in your congregation, you have potential volunteers. To have volunteers in abundance, ask, empower, train and thank.

  • ASK – The first step in getting volunteers is to ask. Seems obvious, but often overlooked, at least when it comes to asking in a way that will get people to sign up. Some common mistakes in terms of getting volunteers, in my experience are
    1. Doing a blanket ask rather than a personal ask. Putting “all calls” in the bulletin or standing up in front of worship and trying to get volunteers is great, and sometimes it works, but nothing is more effective than thinking about the specific job you need done and making a phone call or asking a specific person face-to-face. It’s easy to ignore “if you’re interested in volunteering, please talk to me.” It’s much harder to turn down the personal ask.
    2. Being super apologetic/having a low standard for volunteers. This is something I learned from Doug Field’s book Purpose Driven Youth Ministry back in the day. In that book he talks about how Youth Directors often stand up and say “We need volunteers for the youth group. We’ll take anybody. Pleeeeeease help.” In reality, the pitch should be “Working with our youth group is an amazing privilege and opportunity for you. Apply to help out and we’ll consider you!” His point was that the youth deserve the best possible quality in their volunteers and the volunteers deserve to know that what they’re doing is important and makes a difference. The same thing is true when asking for volunteers to do any other job in the church. It’s important to be confident you’re not asking them to do something painful, you’re asking them to participate in the kingdom of God on earth.
    3. Not being clear about what you want or need. “Can you help with the soup supper?” is a completely different ask than “Will you bring two bags of tortilla chips to church for the soup supper?” or “Will you come one hour before the soup supper and set tables?”
  • EMPOWER – One of the things ministry leaders need to be crystal clear about is that our ministries work better when we’re not the center of everything. I know many ministers who take on all kinds of tasks that would be better suited to volunteers, either because they don’t know how to delegate, or because they’re afraid that if they don’t do everything, their congregations will think they’re lazy. I appreciate the wisdom that says leaders are effective when they’re able to work themselves out of a job, or at the very least, not have catastrophe when they’re away. Empowering means allowing people to take ownership and do things “their way.”
  • TRAIN – Sometimes things that seem obvious to the leader or minister are a challenge to the volunteer. Organizing a youth lock in is a piece of cake to a youth minister who has done it a hundred times before, but to a volunteer, there are a daunting number of moving parts. Take the task you need done and break it up into simple steps. Walk the volunteer(s) through exactly what needs to be done at each turn. Creating guides or videos with the directions is a great way to only have to do the training once.
  • THANK  – Minsters get paid for the work we do. Volunteers are, by definition, unpaid. So often we are running to the next thing that we forget to say thank you. Notes, sincere hugs with “thank you so much,” announcements, and simple gifts of recognition are easy and they increase the likelihood that volunteers will stay engaged.

Scarcity Mentality: “We don’t have enough money.”

Abundance Mentality: “We live within our means, take calculated risks, invest in what matters, and are faithful with what God has given us.”

Let me be clear. An abundance mentality when it comes to money is not the same as saying “If you think positive thoughts or pray hard enough, or are holy enough, you and your congregation will be rich.” I believe there is an important difference between the abundance mindset described by Covey and the message of abundance taught by advocates of the prosperity gospel.  Both are rooted in the idea that it is important to cultivate positive thoughts and think positively, but the prosperity gospel teaches that financial success and health are evidence of God’s will and favor. In writing about an abundance mindset here, I’m not implying that those whose ministries are struggling and suffering are not following God’s will. On the contrary, God always shows up among the marginalized and disenfranchised. That said, a scarcity mentality when it comes to finances often leads churches to destruction because they are unwilling to “think big” or invest in their futures. To have money in abundance, make the following true for your congregation: we live within our means, take risks, invest in what matters and are faithful with what God has given us.

  • LIVE WITHIN YOUR MEANS: In church budgets, as with home budgets, going into unsustainable debt is the quickest way to financial scarcity and anxiety. One of the biggest ways churches run into this kind of trouble is by having buildings that are too large for them.
  • TAKE CALCULATED RISKS: Many times in order to grow, churches need to try something new or take a risk. Oftentimes the best thing a dying church could do would be to spend money on consultants or other investments that would help them get out of trouble. With a scarcity mentality, there’s a belief that spending money in order to grow or get out of trouble is foolish, and “saving money” becomes a self-destructive idol. I love Dan Pallotta’s TED talk The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong  for more on this way of thinking.
  • INVEST IN WHAT MATTERS: Churches aren’t trying to make a profit, so the way we handle money is fundamentally different than the business world. Our “business” is the kingdom of God, so when we spend large sums of money on caring for those Jesus calls the “least of these,” we’re making an investment in something we can’t put a price tag on. Often churches find that when they invest in mission and outreach, the money follows. Why? Because people are inspired and invested and they want to be a part of it.
  • BE FAITHFUL WITH WHAT GOD HAS GIVEN: Recently the church I pastor noticed that a sum of money was in an account that, instead of earning interest, was actually being charged a small amount of money each month. A group of people got together, made a plan, and put the money elsewhere. They did it because it was the right thing to do. Later, when we received a larger amount of money, we were prepared. A struggling church should ask the question “How will we manage our funds when there is a surplus?” and begin to implement the answers right away.

 

So what do you think? Where do you see abundance mindset working for your ministry? Comment and let us know!

Food for thought:

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/252840

http://www.success.com/article/john-c-maxwell-6-tips-to-develop-and-model-an-abundance-mindset

 

On Marina Lynn, Fetal and Maternal Health Worldwide, and Other Musings

Well, well, well… look what’s been going on around here! A little over a week ago, we welcomed little Marina Lynn into the world. She came in to the world at 6 pounds and 4 ounces of pure awesome, and I can’t wait to see what adventures she takes us on. I’ve had so many thoughts this last week, and with so many friends, family, and readers to share them with, it seems like a little reflecting and updating is in order. Here goes…

On her name… 

I love names. I love hearing the story of people’s names, the ways people come up with names for their children, and the story of their nicknames. Names in the Bible are a huge deal, too. In the Bible, people give their children and even places names that are significant to them. Often God or an angel tells them what to name the child or the place.

In this spirit, Elias and I put a lot of thought and discussion behind what we would name each of our children. The name Marina Lynn was “on deck” as a girl’s name for both Clayton and Samuel, and this time we finally got to use it!

Marina was Elias’s mother’s name. Marina raised her two children, Elias and Mavit, all on her own. She worked very hard and taught them the value of working hard, too. Marina loved roses and beauty. Unfortunately for the children and I, we never had the opportunity to meet her, because she died when Elias was just 17 years old.

Lynn is my mother’s name. She’s spunky and energetic and fun and compassionate. She loves her grandchildren like nobody’s business. She blesses our lives and the lives of her grandchildren in immeasurable ways.

We love that this little one is named after her two grandmothers, and the name suits her.  Marina Lynn: it has a nice ring to it, we think! We are excited for her to have two great role models always before her as she goes through life.

On her birth… 

Each of my children has had a birth story as different as they are! Clayton was born after two days of labor, a whole lot of “off script” interventions, and hours of pushing. Samuel came flying out 18 minutes after we left for the hospital. (Elias nearly missed his birth because he was parking the car.) Marina Lynn, too, has a story we will love to tell her as she gets older.

We went to the hospital for her to be induced on Tuesday night, January 17th. Our midwives felt induction was necessary because she had a two vessel cord, and also because she was diagnosed with IUGR. They told us we had every reason to believe and assume that the birth would go well, but we were, as you might imagine, very nervous and ready to get on with it. Soon after we got there, they gave me a medication that was supposed to get things prepared for the next day. In my case, all it did was give me horrible and annoying crampy contractions I could tell weren’t doing anything, and so I asked to be taken off of it so I could sleep and be prepared for labor the next day. Since this was baby #3, they agreed and I got a little bit of sleep. (After watching just half of Bridget Jones’s Baby with Elias. Note to self: re-rent to see how it ends!)

Wednesday morning was when it got really interesting. At 8:00 a.m. they put me on Pitocin, the medicine that starts contractions, and by 9:00 a.m., I was huffing and puffing and crying like nobody’s business! I had been mentally prepared for a day’s worth of laboring and felt so defeated and heartbroken that I was already feeling exhausted after just an hour. Elias (correctly) called it by saying “I think it’s so intense because you’re about to have the baby!” The midwife came in at 9:20 a.m. and agreed that the baby was on his/her way. She said that if she broke the baby’s water, she thought we would see him/her within an hour. She was absolutely right, and by 10:07, little Marina Lynn came out, pink and squirmy and crying loudly. Her one minute Apgar score was 8 and her five minute score was 9. Healthy, happy baby! After all the worry and scare about potential complications from labor and birth, the NICU nurse that looked her over gave her a clean bill of health and she was allowed to stay with us the entire time we were in the hospital.

During the short (and challenging) labor, the things that got me through the most were looking at the “It’s a surprise!” sign the nurse had written on the whiteboard and listening to this song, a song that has helped me through so many challenging times. I also couldn’t help but think of Kelly, my soul friend and the first friend I told when I was pregnant with Marina Lynn. Kelly is another person I hope and pray Marina Lynn has always before her as a role model and example of fierce, principled and warmhearted living.

 

On complications shortly after her birth… 

The morning after we got back from the hospital, Marina’s weight had dropped more than the doctor was comfortable with. We talked about how to get her weight up and she told us to make sure and monitor her wet and dirty diapers throughout the day. Throughout the day Marina was more and more lethargic and her diapers weren’t wet at all. On Friday night we called the on call pediatrician who told us to take her in to the hospital. When we did, the doctors put in the teeniest tiniest IV you will ever see, gave her fluids and ran a variety of blood tests. Thankfully the blood tests revealed that her sugar and electrolytes were good, and there were no other infections or abnormal markers in her blood. The wonderful and compassionate ER doctor listened to all of our questions and spent a ton of time with us. He said there was no reason to think she wouldn’t be able to pick up where she left off after this new “reboot” of fluids and sent us home.

Thankfully, since then we’ve been back to the Dr., her weight is up, and she’s eating (and filling her diapers) like a champ!

On my stitches and recovery… 

I’ve had stitches after each of my babies. Who would have thought that the teeniest baby would have had some of the most painful and challenging stitches of all? I learned from my midwife that sometimes small babies can cause as much (or even more) tearing than larger babies because they don’t smoosh and stretch. In Marina’s case, because her labor was so fast, things were even more problematic in this regard. The stitches I had after Marina’s birth were incredibly painful (worse than the labor itself) and, because I didn’t have an epidural or other pain medication, I felt them in excruciating ways.

As I was stitched up, we realized the local anesthesia wasn’t working.  Having Marina in my arms to look at and snuggle was the only thing that got me through. That experience has been rolling around in my brain a lot this week, which leads me to…

On fetal/maternal health worldwide, giving back and making something beautiful out of all of the challenges… 

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about women, particularly about fetal/maternal health worldwide. I’m mindful of the fact that all of the excellent medical care Marina Lynn and I have had — from the prenatal care and diagnostics that allowed us to know what was happening with her before her birth, to the stitches. (Painful as they were and are, without stitches, my life would be changed forever, just as the lives of so many women worldwide are forever changed by tears and other birth complications that are routine in the US). I have been remembering the book Half the Sky that talks extensively about how women are affected by complications in childbirth and lack of access to healthcare. Though Half the Sky is several years old, there’s a ton of great information, and I absolutely adore the phrase “Women hold up half the sky” from which the book gets its title.

When we got back from the ER with Marina Lynn, I was praying for her continued healing and made a promise to not let all of this pass by without doing something concrete for pregnant women and newborns worldwide. I decided to make a printable for everyone who wants to put this beautiful, empowering message on her wall, or refrigerator, or message board. You can find it in the Etsy store HERE.

100% of the proceeds of this printable will go to the organization Every Mother Counts. For the first 100 sold, I’ll kick in the Etsy fees so your entire $5.00 purchase will go directly to Every Mother Counts. After that, the fees will be discounted, which means that $4.22 will go to Every Mother Counts and .78 will go to Etsy for the fees. Cool minimalistic poster for your wall and helping mothers and babies around the world in honor of Marina Lynn? Yes please! 

On “other musings” 

There’s something about those late night feedings and hours upon hours inside the house that makes a person super pensive and reflective. I’m not sure how all of these thoughts will make it in to the blog or other writings, but I’m very thankful for this time. I think I’ll leave you with this amazing spoken word poem by Sarah Kay. If you haven’t heard it, it’s definitely worth your time, both the beginning

If I should have a daughter, instead of “Mom”, she’s gonna call me “Point B.” Because that way, she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me.

and the end

Your voice is small but don’t ever stop singing and when they finally hand you heartbreak, slip hatred and war under your doorstep and hand you hand-outs on street corners of cynicism and defeat, you tell them that they really ought to meet your mother.

Links:

Every Mother Counts 

Half the Sky Printable 

If I should Have a Daughter 

No Woman, No Cry – a great documentary about women’s prenatal care in the US and Worldwide