Video Chat Life

Shannon and her child try to connect with loved ones through video chatting

I let my breath out slowly through my teeth as my baby kept screaming. I took out my phone and sent a friend a video chat of me, bags under my eyes, hair a mess, holding a tearful, grumpy baby at my desk. I didn’t speak, just gave her a meaningful look. She sent a video chat right back of her own tired eyes, messy hair, and fussy baby.

This moment was not one in which I lamented motherhood — I wanted a baby my whole life and had many losses and failed treatments to get this child, screams and all. Instead, this moment was one that illustrated my overwhelm as the only adult in my home for days on end, whose amount of work kept piling up even as I got less and less sleep. Many of us, especially those of us in communities with high numbers of COVID-19 cases, find ourselves in this unique kind of isolation the pandemic has created. So when I am at the end of my rope, I try reaching out, if only to send my friend a video of my kid crying.

Perhaps video chats of grouchy babies are not the best use of amazing technology, but knowing I had someone to whom to confess all of the Instagram v. Reality of my life grounded me. This fussiness will pass, my video chat reminded me. Fleeting, like this chat. And hers reminded me that I was not alone, even in pandemic isolation.

She is one of my clergy mom friends, and her baby is only three months younger than mine. A few other friends sometimes join us on these chats, some with babies a little older or younger than ours, one who doesn’t have babies anymore but who has some great stories about when hers were little.

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Book Review: Blessed Union

It is the season of love. The stores are filled with candy hearts, blossoms are starting to appear on trees (at least here in Texas!), and marriage is on the minds of many. Into this landscape bursts the Rev. Sarah Griffith Lund’s new book, Blessed Union: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness and Marriage, published by Chalice Press.

Griffith Lund previously published a book entitled Blessed are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence about Mental Illness, Family, and Church. This newly-released book serves as a companion to that, particularly about the way the marriage relationship is impacted by mental illness. Since we’re approaching the one-year anniversary of COVID-induced shutdowns, and we know that the pandemic has greatly impacted mental health, this book is particularly relevant.

Marriage is complicated. Every single marriage goes through times that are unique just to those two people: conversations no one else knows about, decisions that can’t be discussed with others. Some of these are necessarily kept private due to the intimacy of marriage. However, all too often these conversations are kept private due to feelings of shame and fear around mental illness.

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Winter Reading Suggestions from Young Clergywomen

Do you love curling up under blankets with a pile of books in the winter? Have you found more time to read – or needed to make time for your survival – in this pandemic? Young clergywomen (YCW) shared in our online groups some of what we hope to read this winter. Many of the books inspire our work as pastors (some accidentally), and many help us stop and breathe in the midst of such strange times. If you are looking for more recommendations for the year, check out some of these reads.

 

Books to read if you are looking for healing…

Loves…Regardless: Forty Devotions Inspired by Womanist Creative Thought and Theology by Donna Owusu-Ansah

This devotional is written for black women, celebrating #blackgirlmagic. The YCW who recommended the book is white. She wrote, “As a white woman reading this life-giving womanist text, my own soul soars as I remember my own belovedness and cultivate practices that lead toward wholeness.”

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I’m Not Throwing away My Shot

“Do you have kids?” the paramedic administering my vaccine asked.

Taken after receiving the 1st dose of the COVID-19 Vaccine (with appreciation for Virtua Health’s clever sense of humor).

“Yes. Two barrels of energy. They are 3 and 1.”

“A pastor and a mom? Wow.” She said, smiling. “I want to tell you something important. You’ll be scheduling a 2nd dose on the way out, and I want you to do something for me. Schedule the day after your 2nd dose as a PJ day for just you. Take off from work. Get a babysitter. Schedule yourself a sick day. You may feel a little under the weather with the 2nd dose (I did). And even if it doesn’t make you sick, you’ll still get a day in you pjs reading a book. You’ve been through a lot. You deserve it, Pastor.”

I started to tear up. She didn’t know me at all, but she spoke right to my heart. Paramedic as pastor. She was right: I totally deserve a PJ day after momming and pastoring and adulting through this past year.

Yet I wasn’t sure she was right on another point: Did I deserve the vaccine she had just put into my arm? On Monday (January 11, 2021), all clergy in my Presbytery received notice from our Executive Presbyter that one of our local healthcare systems was opening up the vaccine to all “clergy in the community.” By Thursday (January 14) at 9:30am, I had rolled up my sleeve to receive the vaccine shot in my arm. I could hardly believe that I had been chosen to receive the COVID-19 vaccine so soon in the distribution process. As a healthy (but super exhausted) 30-something woman, I figured I wouldn’t be eligible until Summer or even Fall. So many others need the protection from the deadly virus more than me. I don’t have underlying health conditions. I don’t have a job that puts me on the frontlines. I am careful and as safe as possible here in my little bubble, which consists of both home and church on one little block.

Yet I, like the rest of the world, have spent sleepless nights and anxiety-ridden days worrying about contracting COVID-19. My worries are twofold. First, I worry that I could potentially spread the virus to members of my church who are in the high-risk groups. My kids are in daycare and, while we are blessed with an amazing daycare with strict safety guidelines, it’s still a risk that could potentially affect my congregation. Second, I worry that if my family all test positive, my husband and I would not be able to care for our small children if we were very sick ourselves. No one could help take care of our kids because we would need to be in strict quarantine. These two worries alone have driven many of our life choices in these last 10 months.

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Worthy of Love

The Rev. Kerri Clark shared the following message with her congregation and on her blog in the final days of 2020. We want to share her wisdom and encouragement.

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

As 2021 begins, we’re already being inundated with messages about new year’s resolutions, weight loss, and diet plans. Our holiday feasting is labeled as an indulgence, and even sinful, and we are made to feel guilty about, or at least apologetic for, the weight we carry or the state of our bodies in general. The reality, however, is most often not about wellness, but rather money. The diet and exercise industry is hugely profitable, taking advantage of our feelings of discontent and shame about our bodies.

So – here’s your annual reminder that you don’t need to change your body in order to be worthy of love. You are made in God’s image and called good and beloved just as you are. Your body doesn’t need to be able, or healthy, or a certain size to be worthy of love, compassion, and care. Your weight and health are not indications of your goodness, morality, or anything else.

The incarnation is God’s declaration that our bodies are good. We celebrate that Jesus was fully God and fully human. He was not a deity pretending to be human, wearing skin like an ill-fitting costume. Instead, he was born among us with a body like ours, that grew and moved and experienced both joy and pain.

We celebrate all the ways that Jesus’ ministry was embodied – all the meals he ate with his friends; food provided for hungry bellies, and encouragement for hungry hearts; the times he noticed and touched those whose bodies were broken or in pain; when he wept at the death of his friend; when his own body was lovingly anointed and prepared for burial. We give thanks for his resurrected body, which still bore the marks and scars of his life and death, and which promised that our bodies will be resurrected, too.

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You Have to Put the Baby down Somewhere

“You have to put the baby down somewhere”
A Sermon for Port Royal Baptist Church
Christmas Morning 2016; Year A
Luke 2; Titus 2:11-14

Hiking, working in the field all day, mowing the lawn, weeding the garden: Humans are able to do a surprising number of things while holding babies.

A mostly broken animal nativity set that manages to stay in use each year in the author’s house. Here, baby Jesus naps under the kneeling adoration of a lamb while a donkey and camel approach to pay him homage.

Washing hands, cooking, drawing up medicines one-handed, riding in a car, taking a shower, using the bathroom, doing laundry, teaching, preaching, leading worship, eating, washing dishes, typing sermons, studying:

All these things have been done either holding a baby or with a baby strapped on somehow. Did I mention carrying 70 or so pounds of firewood? I’ve seen it done.

You can hold a baby while doing almost anything, if you have to.

But sooner or later, you have to put the baby down somewhere.

You can’t hold them all the time. And sometimes that place is going to be less than ideal:

On the table, in a sink, in a laundry basket, in a dresser drawer, on the ground, in a shoebox on the door of an open oven, on the floor of a public restroom to change a diaper, under the Christmas tree, in a big box in the back of a car, on the floor of the house, in a car seat atop the dryer to soothe colic, on the floor of the shower, on the public restroom floor, propped up on couch cushions, in the bed between you, in the bed with a sibling, in the laundry hallway…

These are all some less-than-ideal places that babies have been put down, and I am sure you can think of a few more.

I had help with this list. I surveyed a group of clergywomen, and they had lots to say about where they slept when they were born, where their older relatives were placed as infants. (The shoebox on the oven door was with premature triplets, and I’m told dresser drawers were pretty common once upon a time.) They had long lists of places they’ve had to put babies down that were less than ideal.

Humans can do an astounding number of things while holding babies. But sooner or later, you have to put the baby down somewhere.

And so did Mary and Joseph.

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A Prayer for the Waiting

Do you like waiting? I write about how in dealing with infertility, you are often stuck in two-week increments: two weeks to ovulation, two weeks of waiting. Repeat. Only, it isn’t always so simple either — long cycles or short cycles, closed clinics or other disruptions. For 53 months, I felt like I was endlessly waiting. Advent is celebrated as the liturgical season of waiting, waiting for Christ to come again. But waiting is exhausting. It’s even demoralizing sometimes. The following prayer does not romanticize the waiting but seeks to be open to God’s presence in the midst of it.

God who wipes our tears away, hurry up already. The weight of waiting has left me spent, unable to focus. I have no control, no reasoning can get me out of this, and scrolling often makes it worse. I want you to swoop in and zap my struggles away. I want you to lift up the lowly, now. I want you to make the world new, now.

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When Christmas Isn’t Joyful Part 2: A COVID Christmas

When I was a kid, I loved going to my grandma’s house on Christmas. Of course I loved the gifts and being with family, but what I really loved was Grandma’s Christmas tree. Have you ever seen “icicle tinsel” that is basically thousands of loose shiny silver strings? That was Grandma’s tree. And by “Grandma’s tree,” I don’t mean a few scattered here and there; I mean the tree in its entirety. Though my grandparents always cut down a live tree, by the time Grandma was done decorating it, nary a pine needle or branch was visible, only silver tinsel illuminated by multicolored Christmas lights she had surely owned since the 1970s.

The author’s 2020 annual ornament.

That tree brought me pure joy. If I close my eyes, I can still see it.

On All Saints Sunday, my spouse and I sat around the breakfast table with our kids and recounted some of our favorite memories of family members who died before they knew them, memories that bring us joy even in the sadness of these loved ones’ deaths. Grandma’s tree was one of those memories for me.

In 2020, we need every ounce of joy in every place we can find it.

Last Advent, I wrote a piece entitled “The Story of the Bird: When Christmas Isn’t Joyful.” I shared about how our family has a particular ornament that commemorates a particularly difficult year, and how we hang it up and tell that story every year. In December 2019 when I wrote that article, I had no idea what 2020 would be.

But here we are, revisiting our ornaments and the stories they tell. You’ve probably seen some of the 2020 ornaments going around this year: dumpster fires, toilet paper, masks, or my personal favorite of the Grinch pictured next to the year 2020 with the words “Stink, Stank, Stunk.”

But did it? Did the whole year “stink stank stunk”? I am not one to silver-line things, as last year’s essay reveals. When we only focus on the “happy things” while overlooking what’s underneath, we aren’t being honest about our true emotions and experiences.

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In Search of a Non-White Baby Jesus and Post-Partum Mary: Board Book Edition

The author’s kiddo approves this message.

My internet search for “Christmas Board Book” was yielding snow, candy canes, Santa, and saccharine messages about “giving” as the true meaning of Christmas. Worse, searches for “Nativity Board Book” and “Baby Jesus Board Book” turned up white Jesus and a skinny post-partum Mary. The closest to a non-white Jesus I could find was the Holy Family as animated vegetables, and even there, Mother Mary was a very skinny veggie with eyeliner and bright red lipstick after just giving birth to a baby pea.

I was searching for a board book that tells the original Christmas story with Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds, and baby Jesus. I am okay with a little historical inaccuracy (like a nativity mash-up that includes the magi with the shepherds – or even a shepherd made of asparagus), but I am not okay with teaching my blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby boy that Jesus looks exactly like him. I don’t want him to connect holiness with gendered beauty norms. My white son needs to know that God chose to come to earth as a brown-skinned Palestinian Jew, and that God celebrates bodies of all genders and sizes, including body shifts after pregnancy. In short, I don’t want illustrated children’s books to promote white supremacy or patriarchy.

There are children’s nativity stories that fit these parameters (like Who Built the Stable? by Ashley Bryan and the out-of-print The Story of Christmas by Jane Ray), but they aren’t available as board books. My toddler is old enough to insist on turning the pages himself but not old enough to turn the pages without ripping them. This means that we need baby-friendly board books with a non-white Jesus and realistic post-partum Mary. “Does this book exist?” I asked on social media. Fortunately, my crowd-sourcing revealed that four such books do exist. Here they are.

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Advent Family Prayers

Advent 2020

For my daughter’s first Advent and Christmas, my husband and I got an Advent wreath for our home, wanting to expose her to a tradition that has been spiritually meaningful for us over the years at church. During her toddler years, it was chaotic to light the candles in a place she could see but not touch, and it was nearly impossible to try to get her to focus for just one minute on saying a prayer.

But last year when she was four, one night at bedtime she told me, “Today was hope candle day. And next week is peace!” She remembered joy and love too. This year, with a five and three year old, we light the candle(s), share answers to a question, and say a short prayer. In response to the hope question, my older daughter inevitably answered, “I hope I get everything I want for Christmas.” Before we could talk that through, our younger daughter chimed in, “I hope for Mama, Papa, Eve, and Rose to be happy.” The girls looked at each other, then us, and then the purple candle burning, and it was quiet for one sacred second of kairos time.

I offer the prayers and questions we’re using this year for you to adapt in ways that fit where you are and who you’re with this Advent season. May they point you to the Light of the World, the One who is already here and who is on the way again this year, yes even in 2020.

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