Saturday, May 10, 2014

Why Mother's Day Matters

My mother is a remarkable woman who has shaped and formed me into the person I am today. I will never know the extent of the sacrifices she made for my sister and me to have the experiences we have had today - college, sorority dues, a semester abroad, a beautiful wedding, dance lessons, piano lessons and a million other costly things. What I do know is what Mom taught me.

Mom never allowed me to forget four things: I am beautiful, I am loved, I have gifts the world needs, and I can do whatever I set my heart on doing. Mom has spent her life teaching me these four core lessons - even when the community around me may have been saying something different.

While Mom cannot tell you where my baptism certificate is or what day it actually occurred, I realize today that Mom intentionally or unintentionally never allowed me to forget my baptism. She never allowed me to forget what it feels like to be cherished, adored, and called to illuminate the light of Christ within me.

It's been more than 20 years since I've lived in the same house as Mom. Since that time, there have been countless other women who have offered similar gifts to me. Many of them are women who have been part of the two churches I have served - women who reminded me that I am cherished and loved, women who called forth my gifts and continued to give me the courage to claim them. Other women are dear friends, especially clergy sisters who have journeyed this road that is filled with both blessing and challenge, never allowing me to forget God's presence in my life and God's call upon my life. Some of these women are my mother's peers. Others are my peers.

I've never given birth to a child. While Craig and I started talking about "Grace Ivy" and "Joseph Donald," the two children we believed would come into our lives, before we were even married, we have yet to behold Grace or Joseph. They never entered the world - something that causes me to wonder if we have made the right decisions on some days while giving thanks on other days. And still, I've been wished a "Happy Mother's Day" several times already this week - from the woman behind the seafood counter at the grocery store, the woman at the Hallmark store, and the woman at the shoe repair store. Rather than saying, "I'm not a mother," I've learned to say "thank you" with a smile on my face as I continue walking.

As a pastor, I know Mother's Day can be painful for women who are struggling with infertility or waiting for their life partner to come along. I know some women will intentionally choose to stay away from church tomorrow, not ready to face the ache that comes with visions of mothers being recognized or celebrated in worship. I long to be as sensitive as possible to these women. I pray every  single day for women in our church who are longing to be moms. And yet, I'm learning more each day why we are are called to be moms - no matter what our wombs have held or not held. We are all called to help children of all ages to remember their baptisms: to remember that they are beautiful, to remember they are loved, to remember they have gifts the world needs, and to remember they can do whatever they set their heart on doing (okay, maybe not always on that final one).

Our church is located in the middle of pain and possibility. Each night, there are boys and girls right outside our walls who are victims of sex trafficking - individuals who have been lured into this business by people who have often noticed a vulnerability, a lack of self-esteem, a lack of claiming their belovedness. We are seeking to fully discern our role in ending sex trafficking on the streets of our city. A police officer suggested that one of the things our church can do to help the most is to pray. We will pray - and we will keep on praying. But I also cannot help but wonder what would happen if faithful communities everywhere did their very best to show up in the lives of young people - to mentor young people - to stand alongside young people in an effort to remind them that they are beloved, cherished, adored, and instilled with incredible gifts the world needs. What would happen if we all sought to show up and remind children of who they really are - especially if they are hearing something else at home, at school, or on the streets?

I think the church fails when it asks women to stand who are mothers while allowing those who have not given birth to sit silently in the pews. I think the church fails when it promotes fertility as a blessing God has given to some while withholding it from others. I think the church fails when the focus becomes the fruit of our womb instead of giving thanks for all the women who have been like mothers to us. But what if we took it one more step.

What if Mother's Day became a time for us to all hear the call placed upon our lives to show up in the lives of children - especially vulnerable children? What if Mother's Day was the day we invited the congregation to remember the vows we make every time a child is baptized?  What if Mother's Day became the time when opportunities to mentor young people were presented? What if Mother's Day became the day when we all sought to do everything we can to help our children - all of God's children - remember the things my mother taught me:
  • You are beautiful - yes beautiful! no matter what others might be saying.
  • You are loved - and there is nothing you can do to make us love you any more or any less.
  • You have gifts given to you by God - gifts the world needs and gifts you are called to share.
  • You are called to become the fullest expression of Donna that you can be - which will sometimes mean doing whatever you set out to do - and other times mean continuously being true to who you really are.
Thank you, Mom, for all you have done to make me who I am. Thank you, women in the United Methodist Church, who have continued to make more of me than I could ever be on my own. 

God, help me be the most faithful mother I can be to all the children you have placed in my life. And help me seek out opportunities around me to instill within young people the lessons my mother instilled within me. Thank you. Amen. 

Friday, May 02, 2014

When It's All Over

Holy Week is my favorite week of the entire year. I love immersing myself in the story, selecting liturgy for each worship experience and planning for Easter. The celebration of Easter is the kind of stuff pastors live for. Most pastors I know, including myself, go to great lengths to craft the perfect Easter message, using creative illustrations to tell a story with a well-known plot. We spend extra time and energy on Easter because we know we have the capacity to welcome more people on Easter than any Sunday in the church year.

And that's the problem. At least it's my problem.

Every year I set myself up for failure. Every year I ask several people how many bulletins we should print, receiving a wide range of responses to the question. Every year I convince myself that we'll have more people than the year before. And every year I get depressed when it's all over.

Rather than being grateful for our Easter crowd, counting each first-time or return guest as a blessing (not to mention the regular attendees), I focus on who was not in worship. I listen to colleagues boast about how they ran out of bulletins while forgetting that we printed 25% more bulletins than the crowd we had last year. I hear stories about standing room only crowds, and I compare myself to these colleagues even when their sanctuaries hold 200 people and ours holds 499. I got tangled last week in a web of self-expectations that were not met, and I sunk to a new low.

Why do we allow the value of our ministries to be reduced to a number?

Why do we ask "How many people were here" before asking "What did God do today to change hearts or lives?"

Why do we have one of the best Easters ever and still allow ourselves to believe it was not good enough?

My devotional reading took me to the side of the Sea of Galilee today. A large crowd is following Jesus. He does not ask how to make it bigger. Rather, he goes up a mountain and sits down with his disciples. It does not take long for the crowds to find him, however, and with the festival of the Passover near, Jesus wants to feed the crowds. He asks Philip where they can buy food. Philip quickly concludes that there is not enough money to purchase food for the crowds. But Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, accesses the situation and sees a boy with five barley loaves and two fish.

We don't know if there was a struggle to get the food out of the boys' hands. We're not sure if money was exchanged. What we know is that Jesus takes the loaves and fishes, blesses them, and shares them with the crowds, enabling everyone to take as much as they want.

It's not the disciples who multiply the boy's offering. It is Jesus.

People simply have to follow Jesus - even to the top of the highest mountain, a climb that could be more treacherous or exhausting than what some of us are prepared for or expecting. And once on top of the mountain, people have to offer what they have, trusting that Jesus will take it, bless it and multiply it.

I wonder how often I choose to follow Jesus, even when it involves hiking boots, versus waiting for Jesus to come to me.

I wonder if I have offered Jesus all I have.

I wonder if I trust Jesus enough to believe that it is Jesus who does the multiplication and not me.

I wonder how next Easter might be different if I do everything I can to give Jesus the food we have prepared - the liturgy, the sermon, the invitations, the music, the lilies, and every other aspect of Superbowl Sunday (which has nothing to do with a football game, by the way) - and trust that Jesus is at work in real and abundant ways, using what we have to reach people right where they are so that no one goes away hungry.

We have more than a few loaves and two fish in our midst. We actually have an embarrassment of riches.

Jesus, will you come and take what we have, including anything we are trying hard to hold on to instead of relinquishing it to you? Will you bless it, multiply it, and then keep reminding us that it is you who does the multiplication and not us? I'd be really grateful. Amen.