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2015 YCW Summer Conference

Congress StreetThis Summer, the YCW are GTT[1]

I look forward to the Young Clergywomen Conference every summer. For me, it’s a no-miss July ritual, right up there with hotdogs and fireworks. The Young Clergywomen Conference re-charges mind, body, and soul, comfortably navigating the line between solemnity and frivolity. Where else can you break from evening prayer and adjourn for beers at a local pub? The YCW conference, that’s where.

This year, YCW Conference will kick up its boot heels in Austin, Texas–that weird keeping, laid-back, music-loving capital of Texas. The dates are July 6-9, 2015 and  Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary will be our gracious host. Located just across the street from the University of Texas, and blocks away from downtown Austin, APTS is nestled between restaurants, pubs, and the ubiquitous Texas treat — breakfast tacos. Fellowship with old and new friends is a cornerstone of all YCW conferences, and Austin will provide the perfect context to feed your soul and stomach with the food of friendship.

As it turns out, this conference is all about context — from its location at Austin Seminary, to its keynote speaker, Dr. Margaret Aymer, professor of New Testament at Interdenominational Theological Center (Atlanta).  She’s going to be working with us on Contextual Bible Study, a tool that arose out of the church’s response to Apartheid in South Africa.  You can find her over at Twitter, where she is very active under the handle @mayog.

In addition to workshops, the conference will also offer:

  • Self-Care Opportunities (such as the very popular mani/pedis)
  • Field Trips for Spouses/Partners/Traveling Companions
  • Childcare will be available!
  • Cost: Early Registration fee for 2015 is $160. Childcare, meals for traveling companions (non-conference attending adults), and t-shirts are extra.  You may pre-register here.
  • Hotel: We have a group rate set up at the Holiday Inn-Midtown, Austin. The cost is $99/night.  We may have more housing options available in the coming months.  If you would like to reserve a room at the Holiday Inn-Midtown, please go to this link.  You are responsible for arranging your own housing for the conference.

See y’all in Texas!

[1] gone to Texas

Ask a Young Clergy Woman: Solo-to-Senior Edition

Dear Askie,
Help! After serving for years as a solo pastor, I’ve been called to a senior pastorate, at a church with an associate pastor (she is, as it happens, a somewhat-younger-than-me clergy woman). Yay! I’m excited about the possibilities this new call holds, but a bit concerned about working with an associate pastor for the first time. I’ve supervised staff in my previous churches, but never had a colleague in pastoral ministry. And I’ve heard so many stories about terrible senior pastors who make the associate pastor’s life miserable, I don’t want to mess this up! What do I do?
Apprehensively,
Rookie HOS

medium_6726325417Dear Rookie,
Simply asking this question is a great first step! I’d be willing to bet that the terrible heads of staff you’ve heard stories about approach their supervisory roles with much less circumspection.
Have you worked with any heads of staff you held in high esteem? Maybe you had a wonderful supervisor in a seminary internship? Or was there a wise senior pastor colleague in a local ministerial association at a previous position? Askie can offer some general rules and guidelines, but the senior-associate relationship is very much a matter of individual personalities and styles, so do try to have some conversations with trusted advisors who know you and your leadership style as you continue to step into this new role.
Also, have you had much of a chance to get to know the associate pastor yet? I hope that your new congregation made sure that the two of you spent time with each other during the interview process (lay leaders, take note). If not, you’ve got a phone call to make! As the two of you get to know each other, make sure to have some conversations about your respective personalities, gifts, growing edges, work habits, and conflict styles. If she’s been there much longer than you, she has key information about your new congregation and its culture, so use her as a resource.
A lot of specifics depend on your respective roles, and on your congregation and its polity – is the associate pastor a generalist, or does she specialize in certain areas? Are you supposed to be her supervisor, or do you both report to a personnel committee or judicatory body? Regardless, here are a few guidelines that hold true in a wide variety of settings:
Treat her as a pastor and a colleague, and make sure your congregation sees her that way too! Great senior pastors empower their associate pastors to do ministry. Make sure that she is seen presiding at the communion table and the baptismal font, at weddings and at funerals. Give her opportunities to preach, and not just on Labor Day and “low Sunday,” when the church is empty anyway. Leave her truly in charge on your vacation and your day off. Speak affirmingly of her ministry, and refer to her as “one of the pastors,” not as “my associate” or (heaven forfend) “my assistant.”
Give credit where credit is due. As the senior pastor, you have the challenge and blessing of crafting a vision for your congregation. When things go poorly, you will be blamed; when they go well, you will hopefully be lauded. When something goes well that was actually the associate pastor’s doing, remember to give her credit! (Extra bonus HOS points if, when she messes up, you can help her to save face.)
Don’t micromanage, but do stay connected. Give her space to take ownership of her areas of ministry, but don’t let the fear of micromanaging keep you from checking in and asking questions. Each of your ministries will be stronger if you’re in regular communication. Ideally, you’ll be able to build a mutually supportive, collaborative relationship, but regardless, you each need to have a general sense of what the other one is up to. Set up a standing weekly meeting, if possible, or drop by her office on a regular basis (but don’t expect her to be at your beck and call).
We’ve all heard horror stories of overbearing, authoritative, patronizing heads of staff, and none of us wants to repeat their mistakes. Remember, though, that we young clergy women tend to be more likely to err on the side of being too easy-going, too non-confrontational, too meek. You’ve been called to lead, sister, so don’t be afraid to claim your authority when necessary – to graciously and compassionately hold people accountable, offer vision and direction, and give feedback, in your relationship with the associate pastor and elsewhere. It’s your role, your job, and your calling, so claim it with humility, but without apology.
Blessings to you, your new congregation, and the associate pastor as you begin your ministry together!
Askie

Ask a Young Clergy Woman: Toxic Church Edition

Dear Askie,

I am currently serving in a church that is best described as toxic. The staff is dysfunctional, the personnel committee seems to be disinterested in creating a work environment that is nurturing, anytime I bring up any concern I’m automatically shut down, and I am fed up. I have been searching for jobs for many months now but am having a difficult time. I am starting to realize I may be stuck here for a while. What can I do in the meantime to survive my toxic work environment? Or should I just run for the hills?

Sincerely,

Fed Up

Dear Fed Up,

toxicYou are not the only one. Unfortunately, all too many young clergy women are trying to serve Christ and his church in the midst of dysfunctional work environments. While we shouldn’t regard such situations as normal or acceptable, Askie fears that toxic congregations will probably be part of the lives of some pastors until kingdom come.

You’re wise to search for a new call, and Askie urges any YCW in a toxic setting to keep an updated resumé, Ministerial Profile, PIF, or whatever your denominational equivalent might be. Even if you feel called to stick it out (or are compelled to do so by your familial or financial circumstances), toxic churches have been known to turn unexpectedly on their pastors. So even if you’re not ready to pack your bags just yet, be prepared.
All that said, here are a few strategies for surviving until you’re able to move on:

  • Build (and use) a strong support network: This is important for all of us, but especially so in an environment like yours, where you can’t expect support from colleagues and lay leadership. You may want to work with a spiritual director, a therapist, a life coach, a mentor, or all of the above! Be intentional about nurturing friendships both with clergy colleagues in other settings and with non-clergy friends. Online community (like the TYCWP Facebook group) can be a great source of support as well, although it shouldn’t replace the personal, incarnational support we all need.
  • Be attentive to your spiritual life: When God is your job and your job is awful, your spiritual life sometimes takes a hit. Don’t let them do that to you, sister. Make sure to intentionally care for your soul in this season of your ministry. Could you find an evening or weekday worship service that you can attend from time to time? Carve out more time for prayer? Read books that nourish your soul?
  • Do your homework: If you haven’t studied family systems theory, now would be the time to start! Understanding how systems work can help you figure out how to survive in yours. You might gain some insight about how the system is working, a strategy about how to change the system and your role in it (hint: probably non-anxious presence), or a reminder that interactions that feel very hurtful often have little or nothing to do with you personally. Friedman’s Generation to Generation is a classic starting point, but there are plenty of great resources out there. You may want to look for a course or conference to help you dig deeper, as well.
  • Feed the function: Thankfully, even the most dysfunctional church usually has a few bright spots. See if you can identify the parts of your church that are healthy and put lots of your energy there. Affirming and supporting the healthiest areas of your church’s life helps them to grow… and not only is it good ministry, it’s also life-giving for you!
  • Put on your own oxygen mask first: There are people whom you will never be able to make happy, even if you work twenty-four hours a day and cater to their every whim. So do what it takes to keep yourself healthy physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Get outdoors, take a yoga class, enjoy good chocolate or coffee or wine. Binge-watch some fluffy television from time to time. Spend time with family or friends. Take all of your vacation, and your days off. Sabbath is a commandment, not a suggestion, so don’t let anyone make you feel guilty about it!
  • Find some distance: When Askie is at the absolute end of her rope with some bit of petty church drama, she imagines what a great chapter it will make in her memoir someday. That’s my trick, but you’re welcome to use it, or find one that works for you… something that helps you to step back, to disengage emotionally a bit, and to remember that in a few months or years, this will all be over. When it is, I hope you will find yourself with some hard-won new skills, some outrageous stories, and your integrity. Keep the faith, sister.

Wishing you deep peace and a speedy exit,
Askie

Four Thoughts on Incorporating Faith Into Daily Family Life (For Clergy Moms and Everyone)

Seamless_Faith_cover_5th_proofThere is a proverb in Spanish: “En la casa del herrero, cuchillo de palo.” It means “In the blacksmith’s house, a wooden knife.”

In English we express the same idea when we say some variation of the proverb “The cobbler’s children are barefoot.”

In Chinese: “The woman who sells fans uses her hands to fan herself.”

In Arabic: “The potter drinks from a broken jug.”

It seems to be a universal idea that those with a particular expertise often neglect to use it in the most important ways.

As a mother and a pastor, I am constantly worried about this. Will I spend so much time caring for other people’s families that I neglect my own? What does it say about my family’s work-life balance when I ask my nearly three year old son where he’s going in his pretend car and he says, smiling, “I’m going to a meeting!”?

As many of my clergywomen sisters know, I recently published a book called Seamless Faith: Simple Practices for Daily Family Life. (Chalice Press: TYCWP Series) It’s a lot like a recipe book that gives families easy ways they can incorporate faith practices into their lives. Lesley Ratcliff wrote a lovely review of it in April. Since then I’ve written and spoken a lot to families about how to use it to deepen their spiritual journey together. I’ve talked to ministers about how to empower families in their congregations to incorporate simple faith practices into their daily life.

It’s been a great joy to share the ideas with so many people, but the irony is not lost on me: when I take time to talk about my book or ideas I am, by definition, not spending that time with my family. I wake up at night sweating and wondering: Am I the cobbler? Are my children going to be barefoot? I know I’m not the only clergy mom who worries about this.

So for all of us I offer these four simple thoughts for incorporating faith practices into family life.

  1. You have time – Barna Research group put out a study last year that said 42% of pastors wished they had spent more time with their children[1]. Aside from working to keep to reasonable working hours, I would suggest that the quality of the connection matters as well. It only takes a few minutes to slow down and bless your children before bed. It only takes two minutes to say a prayer or sing a song. I just flipped through the practices in Seamless Faith and 8 out of the 50 can be done in less than 4 minutes. Nearly all can be done in less than an hour. 
  1. It’s an imperfect journey – Tonight I was singing the doxology with my sons. It was a beautiful moment of connection and a glorious experience of faith… right up to the part when my older son, Clayton, started screaming at the top of his lungs “Stooopppp with the church song! I want twiiiiiiiiiinkle!” Trying to practice faith at home is just as difficult any other aspect of family life and there are good days and bad days. We keep trying, we write off some moments as lessons learned and we move on. 
  1. You don’t have to teach or lead everything – One of the fundamental principles of Seamless Faith is that it’s a journey for the whole family. The best way to teach children gratitude is to practice gratitude together as a family. Parents need it just as much as children do. 
  1. You are forgiven. You are free. You are enough. We all know that the answer to the question “Who pastors the pastor?” is “another pastor,” so let me be your pastor for a moment: When you make mistakes in parenting your own children, you are forgiven. In Christ you have been given new life and you are reconciled to God not because of anything you have done, but because of God’s great mercy. You don’t have to do anything. You are enough.

[1] https://www.barna.org/barna-update/family-kids/644-prodigal-pastor-kids-fact-or-fiction#.U4VZsZRdWop

People meeting up

Sometimes You Just Need to See the Love

People meeting upMany of our members have excitedly jumped on board for our very first Meet-Up Week, scheduled for February 16-21, 2014.  (If you’re still looking for one to attend, the link to the map is here.)

But maybe you’re hanging back, waiting to see how it goes first before jumping in.  Or maybe you’re thinking “I am way too busy to add anything else to my schedule,” or “there is nobody anywhere close to me.”  Maybe gathering with other clergy women of any age is considered suspect, or at least odd, in your denomination.  If you’re not currently a member of the project but fit within our audience, maybe you’re still testing the waters of The Young Clergy Women Project.

Meet-Up Week is a way to dip your toes in before deciding whether to take the plunge and get involved in the Project.  But more importantly, it’s a way to carry out the Project’s mission: to remind young clergy women everywhere that they are not the only ones.  What better way to do that than by actually gathering together in person?

Several metropolitan areas have standing YCW gatherings that meet on a regular basis.  They are already reaping the benefits of gathering in person.  And not all of them are in large cities, as you might assume.  (Portland, Oregon?  Oklahoma City?  Albany, New York?  All have their own regularly meeting young clergy women group.)

What happens at these gatherings?  Here’s a sampling:

  • Close friendships, beyond mere acquaintance
  • Colleague relationships that are actually supportive
  • Accountability—but also a safe place to vent and brainstorm how to deal with tough situations
  • Resource and idea sharing (Can you all help me with our wedding policy and fees?  What commentary/curriculum did you use again?  What did you say when you negotiated your maternity leave?  How am I supposed to deal with my senior pastor/council president/deacon/elder/clerk of session/trustees/rector/secretary?  You get the idea.)
  • People who just “get it”–no explanation required
  • Common ground that transcends denominations
  • Shopping buddies for buying clericals and vestments
  • A safe place to discern and ponder transitions and moves (many groups are ecumenical…so don’t worry, these women aren’t from your presbytery/conference/synod/classis/cluster/etc.)
  • Connections made for the sake of young clergy women everywhere, not to mention future young clergy women

Chalk it up to the Incarnation—technology is great, but there’s just nothing like being together in the same room.  As one YCW put it, “Sometimes you just need to see the love and support you have.  Gathering once or twice a month is a life-giving thing for me.  We’ve been meeting for 1.5 years now and I eagerly look forward to it each and every month.”  Another YCW in the same group shared, “It [this group] is one of the few places I can be wholly me—clergy, mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend.  These women know all about my life, all the parts, and we support one another fully.”

Our annual Young Clergy Women conferences are another place to find this support, but even if everyone had access to the time, money, and childcare needed to attend, let’s get real: the conference only happens once a year!  It takes time to develop the trust and safety necessary.  Meet-ups have the ability to provide the deeper support we need, when we need it, where we need it.

So if you’ve been on the side of the pool, wondering if this is the party for you, kick off your flip-flops and dip your toes in.  You never know, you might just find the very thing that will keep you afloat for years to come.

Difference: Stone Walls or Open Doors?

Follow the LightWhen my partner Steve and I met, we learned quickly that our family cultures would collide. I was studying in seminary; he studied science in college and worked in sales.  I spoke the spooky Minnesota “oh’s”; he spoke a southern drawl.  I devoted my life to the church; he was not a churchgoer and frankly didn’t care to be a churchgoer.  We often found ourselves caught in the middle of his family’s Southern gentility and my family’s Northern brusqueness.

Two months after we started dating, we went out for dinner. He drove me home and left. In my solitude, I launched my computer to start a search on WebMD. I had felt pain behind my knee for about four weeks, and I started thinking that it wasn’t merely a strained muscle. I called my doctor and was advised to go to the emergency room.  ASAP.  Sure enough, it was a blood clot.  It was urgent.  I didn’t leave the hospital that night.  I also didn’t call Steve.  He had led me to believe that he had one of the most important meetings of the year that next morning.  It was midnight – too late to call anybody.  I didn’t call my family.  They lived eight hours away from me, and I didn’t want them to wake and drive in the middle of the night. I was safe, I wasn’t going anywhere, and I didn’t want to risk their safety.  I called them early the next morning.  I called Steve during his lunch hour, after his important meeting.

Steve was outraged that I didn’t call him. Certainly a blood clot trumped a business meeting! He burned to question me upon entering the hospital room, but my parents were already there. Yes – my future husband and my parents met over my hospital bed! It was awkward, and the culture clash made it more so. Our relationship was new and we were still adapting to that while simultaneously my parents were forced to deal with my illness and this stranger in their midst. Soon the conversation fell silent between the four of us. I was in and out of queasiness from the pain meds.  We were fishing for things to do. My parents and I tried to show Steve the card game euchre. We failed miserably. Not because Steve didn’t show any interest or want to learn, but because we were too good at playing cards and too bad at teaching. Then I puked.

I spent five nights in the hospital.  Two days later, it was Christmas.  Our Christmas was a mish-mashed mess of mixed family traditions. It was filled with uncomfortable introductions and last-minute gift purchasing.  There were many quiet moments because I needed to rest while everyone else hung out, almost twiddling their thumbs at one another.

These days were exasperating.  New people and situations, uncertainties, insecurities, and misunderstandings seemed to be a whirlwind that lasted two weeks.  When everyone went home, I finally had the chance to process the craziness that had transpired.  I realized the differences that I found so challenging in Steve and his family were exactly the reasons that I knew I would be with him forever.

We’ve made many interesting memories since that hospital Advent in our relationship.  Our Southern family is astounded at the ambiguous gender roles we exhibit.  Our Northern family sometimes shrugs their shoulders.  Some people see our relationship as challenge.  We see it as opportunity.

What would our world be like if we saw differences as opportunity?  Jesus loved Samaritans; Paul welcomed Gentiles.  Could the church be so bold?  We build stone walls between one another in so many ways.  These walls often birth the ugliest parts of humanity: sexism, racism, ethnocentrism, classism, ageism, etc.  I easily see my family differences as opportunity; it’s harder to see when looking at my congregation, my community, or at the larger context of today’s world.

I try – sometimes well, most times wretchedly – to express difference as opportunity.  I often feel as though I am the one behind a stone wall, desperately trying to find a door to open. It took me nine years to get through a four-year process for ministry candidacy and ordination.  I am one of the youngest adult members in my congregation and my rural community. God has called me to be the first female (sometimes pregnant) pastor of my congregation.

I bring an unusual liveliness to ministerial meetings simply because of who I am. For example, when a conservative pastor shares a generalizing opinion about Christianity or what “we” believe, I tactfully remind him that there are Christian people outside of his ideology.  That’s not generally popular.  Some believe this may give people more fervor to say that women shouldn’t be pastors.  Many pastors loathe participating in this kind of conversation. I feel strongly that we need to plant conversational seeds that ask, “Who is this Jesus that we follow?  How do we faithfully follow together? How do we stop building stone walls? In our differences, how is God opening doors for new life?”

Eight years into our marriage, Steve still does not define himself as a churchgoer. He comes to church because it’s important for me and our family. He made the promise at our children’s baptisms that he would.  It’s not easy to be a single parent in the pews.  He supports me wholeheartedly; and when not wrestling with a toddler, he can listen to my sermons.  Steve gives excellent feedback.  He’ll say, “This didn’t make any sense; too much jargon.  Real people sit in the pews, not theologians. Talk to us in real language.”  Every once and awhile, we dig deeper in conversation.  He asks me why I believe the “silly myth” that I believe.  I challenge him to think anew about life lived in Christian community. We have conversation that helps us understand one another and our differences and binds us together as we discover new similarities.  People struggle opening themselves to those who are different.  I struggle with it too.  But living with someone who is so different from me opens all kinds of doors for us to learn more about ourselves and one another.

Steve and I have learned together that we can build doors into those walls our society puts between us.  This helps make our relationship authentic.

We keep hearing from the blogosphere that people in the postmodern, post-Christendom church want a reformed, authentic church. We lose authenticity when we ignore the truth that everyone is fundamentally the same. Differences can overwhelm the similarities; they keep us from seeing that we have the same basic goals: love, security, dignity, legacy, wholeness. When you tear down those fractious walls, our diversity becomes beautiful and we can actualize our common humanity.

I crave that people in our church dig deep into uncharted horizons where we love, honor, and invite different people to join our table. I want to see conversation that is tender yet challenging and visionary.  I hope to find doors built into our defensive walls so that “different” is no longer taboo heresy.  I long for the day when, rather than blaming someone for being offensively different, we embrace one another for our common humanity.  I yearn that one Christian learn from another’s human experience as if it was her own.  I pray to God with Jesus, “that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11b, NIV)  My dream for Christ’s church is that it’s an open door, as bright as a skylight in the dark, thick walls, connecting two divided sides.  It’s an illuminating place where all God’s saints can peaceably abide together.

Rev. Brenda Lovick is the pastor at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in the rural village of Manlius in northern Illinois.  She graduated from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary with an MDiv and an MAMFT in 2006 and completed coursework at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in 2009.  She leads a hobby-less life as she loves church people by day and chases small children by night.

Photo by Victor Bayon, http://www.flickr.com/photos/formalfallacy/2367382622/, August 13, 2013.  Used by Creative Commons License.

Stepping Out

like buttonI came out recently on facebook.  Not as gay.  That would have been no big deal to the vast majority of my friends.  I came out as a religious Christian.

I didn’t really mean to come out.  I just got the email saying I was invited to the candidacy site of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church.  I’d been waiting for that email for months.  I’d considered asking for it for years.  At long last the slow cogs of my heart and church beauracracy clicked into place, and I was so excited I just wanted to celebrate.

“I’m officially a candidate!” I posted.

“For?” was the first response.  Then silence.

I decided I had to answer.  I thought about how much I wanted to say.  I have lots of friends who are spiritual but not religious.  I have some friends who have been hurt by the church.  I have a few friends who are downright hostile towards what they consider to be the idiocy of organized religion.  A herd of fears thundered by, and my excitement fled into the nearest bushes to hide.

“Ministry in the United Methodist Church,” I typed with trepidation.  The words looked clear and confident on the screen.  Post.

I should explain.  As the click echoed off into the void of cyberland, I felt possessed with the need to explain.  I should explain that I might become a pastor, but I still believe in science.  And a woman’s right to choose.  And the full equality of marriage.  I should explain that God calls me, but I haven’t started hearing voices at night.  I’m not going to start asking people if they’re saved.  I haven’t forgotten my screw-ups.  I don’t think I’m better than you.

I should explain that I’m still me.

I decided not to.  I decided my friends, the good ones anyway – the ones who have seen me morph from starry-eyed teenager, to nerdy college girl, to idealistic-to-cynical-then-back-again Peace Corps volunteer, to working actresss, to English teacher – could probably figure that out.

I came back to the computer at the end of the day and was humbled by all the “Congratulations!” and “I’m so excited for you!”  My fears, in their thunderous roar, had underestimated my friends.  Many in my circle have their well-earned doubts about what the church can offer.  But they could tell I was happy, and so they were happy for me.

So I’m out.  Sort of.  I still wrestle, really wrestle, daily, with this new identity I’m trying on for size.  (Do I say I’m working on applications for “grad school” or for “seminary”? Do I say I’m planning on “studying to become a pastor” or “studying theology”?)  Often I wait and see, hedge my bets, depending on who I’m talking to, and go vague rather than face the explanation urges.

It’s getting easier, though.  I don’t see candidacy for ministry as a radical departure from who I’ve always been, but a thrilling synthesis of everything that has always been at the heart of who I am.  The less I explain, the more I come out, the easier I think it will be for my friends to see that too.

photo credit: iluvcocacola via photopin cc

Jesus & 3-year-olds

 41Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for Passover. 42And when Jesus was twelve years old, they all went there as usual for the celebration. 43After Passover his parents left, but they did not know that Jesus had stayed on in the city. 44They thought he was traveling with some other people, and they went a whole day before they started looking for him. 45When they could not find him with their relatives and friends, they went back to Jerusalem and started looking for him there. 46Three days later they found Jesus sitting in the temple, listening to the teachers and asking them questions.47Everyone who heard him was surprised at how much he knew and at the answers he gave. 48When his parents found him, they were amazed. His mother said, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been very worried, and we have been searching for you!” 49Jesus answered, “Why did you have to look for me? (Luke 2.41-29).

Now that I’m a parent, I can completely sympathize with Jesus’ parents. Jesus runs away. Mary and Joseph are worried. They search for him. They find him. And I love Jesus’ response, “Why are you looking for me?” – as if he can’t fathom why his parents are overreacting. This past week has been quite a doozy with my 3 year old. She not only says “no” to everything, but says it in the most melodramatic way possible. She tested my patience to the point where I almost broke. She discovered her new favorite cuss word. She insists on doing everything independently. She yells at her brother and dog for no apparent reason or if they give her contact.

In many ways, I can see a lot of resemblance between my 3 year old and Jesus. I’m not saying that Jesus is precocious, but I find that my 3 year old gives me the same opportunities to grow as my own relationship with Jesus. Here is what I learned from my 3 year old this week:

“I Like My Cheek Butts!”

This is what my daughter told me after taking a bath. In fact, she rarely hesitates to appreciate herself, whether it is how she looks in a dress, her dance moves, or in this case, her cheek butts. I love the fact that she fully accepts herself in every way that God has created her. And isn’t that how it should be – fully embracing the unique way that God has created us.

“NO, I’M Losing My Patience with YOU!!”

After refusing to eat dinner, take a bath, and go to bed, I told my daughter that I am losing my patience with her to which she quickly replied (and in a much louder voice, I must add), “NO, I’M losing my patience with YOU!” I give it to my daughter that she can certainly hold her own and is not quickly influenced by what appears to be my own reality. If what I say doesn’t jive with her own perspective, she will quickly point that out. She is so convincing that it makes me pause and reevaluate the situation. I often feel that with God, especially when I am losing my patience with God. I don’t get an answer fast enough. The situation doesn’t get better fast enough. I don’t get what I want fast enough if ever.

“Princesses Wear a Dress, Eye Glasses, and Ice Skates.”

I love that my daughter isn’t a girly princess. She is more of a ninja princess or an ice skating, near-sighted princess. Her ability to be original and think outside the box always impresses me. I love routine and being comfortable as much as the next person, but I always do feel God calling me out of my comfort zone or to see things in a new way.

“MOM, I FARTED REALLY LOUD!”

Imagine yourself in a library – a quiet library. Parents are quietly reading to their kids. And then all of a sudden, cutting through the silence, I hear a really loud fart, followed by a very proud 3 year old yelling, “MOM, I FARTED REALLY LOUD!” My daughter never ceases to surprise me, especially in the most unexpected places. God has a way of doing that too, surprising me when I least expect it – reminding me of God’s grace in the most depressing times; reminding me of God’s love in the most loneliest times; and reminding me of God’s forgiveness when I least deserve it.

“NOOOOOOOOOO!”

This week, I almost signed my daughter up for anger management classes. It’s one thing to constantly say “no,” but to say it with such volume and disdain is quite exacerbating. It is not a side I like to see of my cute, little girl. It’s not a side I like to see in God. And although, I would like to skip over all the stories where God is angry, I know it is those stories that I need to continue to wrestle with and sit with. Maybe I need to do what I do with my daughter when she is like that. Instead of yelling back at her, which just makes her angrier or walking away from her, which just makes her angrier, I usually just sit with her and wait it out.

“I Can Do It Myself!”

Every morning, my daughter insists on buckling herself into her car seat. If I help her in the slightest way, she will start the process all over again. She is painstakingly slow. The problem with this is that I am usually in a rush to get to church. Today was no different. If I buckle her in without her consent, it is a long and very loud car ride to church. Picture her screaming and blowing snot out her nose for the whole 7 miles to church. It’s best to let her do things on her own time, even if it clearly inconveniences me. Many times, I feel that God’s time is not my time. Why should I feel that it will be any different with my daughter.

“What the [email protected]$K!”

This is what came out of my innocent daughter’s mouth on Saturday morning. She was playing cartoons on my iPhone when she chose a cartoon that said, “What the [email protected]$K!” She immediately squealed with delight – pure delight – and began repeating that phrase over and over again. Trying not to overreact, I told her that was a bad word to which she responded, “No it’s not. It’s a good word because it feels so good.” How can I argue with that? It’s true. Sometimes, it just feels good to say it. Sometimes, no other word will describe the situation. And that’s the truth. While I don’t condone my daughter repeating that phrase, I’m impressed how such a young girl can speak such truth.

And there you have it – things I have learned about God from my 3 year old this week. I can barely handle my 3 year old, I couldn’t imagine what Jesus was like at 3.

Theresa Cho is a Presbyterian Church (USA) pastor who serves as associate pastor at St. John’s Presbyterian Church in San Francisco, California.  An earlier version of this article was published on her blog, Still Waters: Thoughts of a 2nd Generation Korean-American Pastor and Mother.

Photo provided by the author.

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