Jesus and the Woman at the Well

In her Lenten Reflections booklet, Ruth Haley Barton says,

During Lent we are called to enter more intentionally into prayer, self-examination and repentance for the purpose of restoration and renewal. As painful as it is to be exposed at this level, awakening is evidence of God’s Grace.

Using the story of Jesus and this Samaritan woman we’re going to explore awakening to God’s grace. I want to invite you to join me in the process of restoration and renewal of our souls and to experience the belonging Jesus offers us. 

Last Sunday we read the verses 16-17 of John 3, which say “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

In Chapter 4 of John we see Jesus putting his teaching about salvation into practice. Without using words Jesus shows his disciples that THIS is what he meant by loving the whole world, giving love and belonging to this woman, this Samaritan woman, this abandoned Samaritan woman.

Most of the sermons I’ve heard about this Samaritan woman describe the forgiveness of Jesus and the sinfulness of the woman. But there is no mention of forgiveness or promiscuity here – we have read that into the text. Perhaps this woman’s story is different than that. Perhaps her story is more like ours than we’d like to admit. Though the details may be unique to her story, I believe each one of us is longing for relationship and acceptance, just as she was. And I believe that Jesus offers the same belonging and salvation to each of us as he offered to the Samaritan woman.

This woman had been married five times and she has been abandoned five times…abandoned through death of a spouse or divorce, likely due to her barrenness. The ability to bear children in ancient times was seen as the primary purpose of a woman, carrying on a male’s lineage was the entire point of marriage. If this woman was incapable of this “basic biological function”, she would surely be rejected. Thus when she meets Jesus at the well, she is thirsty for more than water. This woman is in need of acceptance, of relationship, of belonging.

My own story is not unlike this Samaritan woman’s. As a young married woman, I wanted nothing more than to have children. I had framed my future and my sole purpose in motherhood. Thus, I was completely shaken when my body’s functioning wasn’t “normal” and healthy. I, too, was barren. I spent five years of sorrow and darkness and questioning my worth and belonging. My friends were having children, women’s retreats would gather and discuss their kids, and I was on the outside. My infertility was even used as a weapon against me when some people questioned my effectiveness in church ministry if we didn’t have children. How could we possibly connect with the community without kids? These types of statements were both cruel and untrue. Though we knew these words were not of God, the shaming from outsiders was hard to bear.

Gradually my darkness began to transform me. I turned to God with more intensity than ever before. Gently and graciously, He began to unravel the strings I had tied up in my worth as a mother. He began to reveal to me the truths: I was valuable… apart from whether I had children or not. Kids would not fulfill me, my husband could not fulfill me, a job or ministry could not fulfill me. Jesus told me I was loved and I had belonging in him, no strings attached. This is the message of salvation for each of us – love and belonging.

So back to Sychar…there’s Jesus interacting in the most unlikely places with the most unlikely people. Meeting at a well was somewhat scandalous in itself, for wells were often the place where love-matches were made. Jacob and Rachel, Moses and Zipporah, and others like them met their spouses at a well. Jesus’s Jewish heritage came with an unspoken rule to not interact with their rebel-cousins, the Samaritans. And as a man, Jesus was ignoring all sorts of social protocol by interacting with a woman, going as far as to ask her to share her drinking vessel with him. He was risking his reputation in order to share the refreshing streams of God’s love with this thirsty woman.

Even in the Exodus passage we read about how physical needs drive us to God. In chapter 17, the Israelites are complaining and arguing with Moses about how terrible their living conditions were. They were so overcome with their selfishness and their thirst that they went as far as to complain that they were no longer slaves in Egypt! Moses was afraid their rage was going to result in his stoning. (Talk about “hangry”!) In verse 6, God provides the miraculous water from the rock at Horeb and Moses commemorates the occasion by naming the location Massah and Meribah which mean “Test and Quarrel.”

But the thing about each of us, and the Samaritan woman, and the Israelites is our thirst is so much deeper than a dry mouth. Our physical symptoms or outward actions are often an expression of an inward spiritual need.  How often do you find yourself acting out in anger or impatience when the real problem isn’t really your kids or your husband or the barista or the guy in the car next to you. The real cause of your turmoil is something inside you. The stress or selfishness or jealousy causes us to act out, and those feelings are all rooted in a need to be filled with the living waters of Jesus. When we look inside ourselves and begin to dig through the mess we’ve created – the broken relationships, the poor self-image, the fear about money or anxiety about future plans – we find that at our core we need belonging. We try desperately to fill ourselves and take away the ache of belonging…that dream job, the perfect house, that friendship, the 401K, the fairytale wedding, the marriage, those kids, that college degree…none of it works, friends. All of this can just mask the problem unless we let Jesus walk us through the process of releasing our desires and our inadequacies and to be filled with him alone. It’s terrifying, I’m not gonna lie. But what I know for certain is that Jesus wants to save us from ourselves. He wants to give us living water that wells up to eternal life. By believing in him and following him, we find the belonging and we find salvation. And we, like the Samaritan woman, can’t wait to share this truth with everyone we meet.

This woman kept asking more and more questions of Jesus. “How can you be asking me for a drink? Where do you get this living water? Are you greater than our ancestors? Will you condemn me for the life I’ve lived? Where should we worship you? Are you really the Messiah?”

And she believes him. She knows he must be the Messiah and runs to tell everyone in her city that very day. The truth sets us free, friends! And this woman was changed from a shamed barren reject of society to a missionary for the good news about Jesus.

So how does Jesus want to save you? What shame or struggle does he want to free you from? What does he want you to release to his care so he can fill up your real need, your need to belong.

This is salvation, friends: to find acceptance and belonging in Jesus.

 

Enduring Presence,
goal and guide,
you go before and await our coming.
Only our thirst compels us
beyond complaint to conversation,
beyond rejection to relationship.
Pour your love into our hearts,
that, refreshed and renewed,
we may invite others to the living water
given to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

source

 

Sermon given at Monroe Free Methodist Church based on the texts for the 3rd Sunday in Lent

 

Kirsten Grace – Month 11

Dear Kirsten,

Oh goodness, sweet girl, I missed your 10th month post completely. I saw it coming, I saw it fly right past me, and I consciously decided not to chase it down. It’s hard for your mom to let stuff go…to say “I need some margin in my life and I have none right now.” So last month that is exactly what I did, I let it go. And somehow, I am certain you still love me and if you ever read these letters when you’re a little older, I think you’ll smile and say, “Oh mom, why would you worry about that? Of course it’s ok!”
Kirsten Grace Month 11

Baby, you are my absolute favorite person in the whole world. These past two months have brought more wonders to our lives than I imagined. Man, those first few months are just tough. The nursing, the teething, the (no) sleeping. But we got through it together and now I feel like we’re having more fun than anyone should be allowed to have. At least once a day you and I get in these laughing fits…I do something that makes you laugh, or you do something that cracks me up…and off we go! It’s hysterical and so life-giving.

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You have learned to wave and point! Every morning when I pick you up from your crib you want to go to the window, open the drapes and we have “Hi, Outside!” Something out there really gets you excited. You love riding in your k’tan under my umbrella over to church, hearing the raindrops. You have come around to loving walks. I look forward to you asking me to take you for a stroller ride. I just love those times together.
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You love feeding yourself graham crackers, peanut butter toast, and cheerios. You drink with skill from your sippy cup and are trying to use a spoon. Most of the time you demand food from mom and dad’s plates rather than something separate for you. You like curried potatoes, chili, and pizza. You have shown some dislike for bananas and don’t seem interested in my chicken noodle soup, though you eat every other soup I make. Maybe it’s the black pepper?

Your body fought a cold for about 2 weeks in November and finally the doctor gave you your first prescription for Amoxicillin. It never slowed you down, though. Kirsten, you do not sit still. You are a little investigator, always going, going, going. I’ve tried to snuggle with you, but it never works. That’s ok. You’re a learner and an independent spirit. And I don’t think anyone doubts that you love your momma, even if you don’t love snuggling.

We’re still breastfeeding, though I think we’re both working towards weaning. You normally nurse when you wake up in the morning, once before a nap, and once before bed. And all glory to God in the highest….you are SLEEPING THROUGH THE NIGHT! The past week we decided it was time for sleep training. I was still getting up once or twice a night with you, plus nursing you at 5 or 6am when I woke up and then laying you back down. It was torture, sheer torture, letting you scream in your bed for somewhere around 45 minutes. Our hearts were racing, and it took intense will power to stay in our bed. (It was more sleep training for me, I think, honestly.) Seeing you in the morning no worse for the wear, made the decision a lot easier. After the third night, I would hear you now and again, but I could go back to sleep and ignore you for the most part. And now, for the last three nights, I haven’t heard one peep from you (or at the most it lasts for 20 seconds!) You sleep from 7pm to 8am. Holy moly! After 11 months, I am finally catching up on sleep!

IMG_8905This shift in lifestyle is making me feel slightly more comfortable with the idea of being gone for 8 days in January (for my Master’s degree residency). Little girl, please know that leaving you is the hardest thing I think I’ve done. I’m not looking forward to it, but knowing you don’t need me during the night is comforting. You do wonderfully with your daddy during every other part of the day, so by then, I know the two of you will have a blast!

 

For as much as you are a momma’s girl, you are a daddy’s girl too! You still get all bouncy and kicky and grin spreading ear to ear when you see either of us.

 

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You love books more than any other toy. You love playing the drums (on boxes or whatever). You love playing the big piano and smile with such pride up at me.

You clap enthusiastically when I cheer “yay!” You gently pluck mom or dad’s guitar strings. And the only time you sit still is when daddy sits by you, playing guitar. You have an affinity for animals that is tough to rival. Wow, you might actually love dogs more more than mom and dad based on the flapping you do. Landon is one of your favorite friends, and you get (a little too) excited whenever you play with him. (He’s had a few scratches on the face from you talon-fingernails and all the love you’re trying to shower on him.)

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You crawl like lighting and stand up with ease, letting go now and then.  You walk along tables or chairs holding on. We’re waiting for the big moment of first steps any day!

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, and your dad and I are looking forward to reading our Advent Devotional together and lighting our own Advent wreath. We’re going to do stockings on St. Nicholas Day and exchange three gifts for each person – something spiritual, something practical, and something extravagant. 

We love you, Kirsten Grace. Oh my word, do we ever love you.

Pastor

I have been living my calling for as long as I can remember, but I’m only now saying ‘YES’ to that call.

It was those words I began to share my call to pastoral ministry with the Annual Conference.* I have been a leader in church ministries from the time I was a young girl. Heading off to college, I knew I would continue to be involved in ministry, but I didn’t know in what capacity. I didn’t think I wanted to be a “professional” or a “working woman” (so why in the world was I going to college anyways?), nor did I believe that woman should serve as pastors. I was so strong in this stance, in fact, that I once wrote a paper against the idea of women in lead pastoral ministry. My professor, also a mentor of mine, wrote a page long rebuttal and continued to prod me into my calling with every course and conversation. Many other men and women have joined in the efforts of gently and lovingly calling out my gifts and graces for ministry, some of them so subtly that I found myself agreeing without realizing it.

Exhibit A:

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I became the youth pastor at Monroe Free Methodist Church in 2008, but preferred to ignore the “pastor” part of the job title for fear of its implications. I continued in volunteer ministries during our time in Albion (NY), stepping up as a worship leader and youth leader. I have served as a youth camp speaker on multiple occasions and have taught and prayed and led from behind the microphone countless times.

But I was afraid. Not of addressing the crowd or holding a microphone in my hand or praying in front of people. No, I’m thankful that those tasks come naturally to me. I was afraid of the implications of “preaching” and “pastor.” If I said “yes” to either of those calls it would be stepping out of safety, making the decision to “paint with bold colors” rather than the pastels I’d been using, sticking out in ways I’d rather not. I’ve preferred to stay behind my husband, the pastor, rather than beside him. He’s the pastor, I’m just the worship leader. Sure, some Sundays I get to preaching in my worship leading and I sit down as he stands up and mouth the words, “Sorry, I took all of your sermon time.” But nooo, I’m not called to preach. I’m not supposed to pastor. I’ll just stand over here in the shadows not making any waves, thankyouverymuch. 

God has had different plans for me all along. And I’m saying “yes” in a big and bold and all-in sort of way. My gifts and passions are finally making sense to me, coalescing in the context of Pastor. I’m starting to “get it.” (Sorry, Lord, I’m a little slow.)

By God’s grace I went to a Free Methodist College and completed a Philosophy/Religion degree (which is only really “good” for graduate work or…you guessed…the ministry). I have become a member of a denomination that advocates for women in ministry. I have a husband who not only sees my gifts and identifies my calling (long before I do…), but he insists I step out, sometimes even in front of him. He won’t settle for me shirking into the shadows and being _______(insert specific ministry here) pastor. He waited for me to say it, to believe it, and then he said, “Yes, I want you to pastor with me. Co-pastors.”

So I took the FM History and Polity course. I loved it, loved studying the Book of Discipline and learning the reasons behind why we operate as we do. It solidified my love of the Free Methodist denomination. I completed a year and a half as a Local Ministerial Candidate, having been confirmed by my local church as gifted for pastoral ministry. (Note that this was about a year before I confirmed my call to be a pastor.) The MEG board (Ministerial Education and Guidance Board) “vetted” me and voted on my acceptance as a Conference Ministerial Candidate and then last Thursday the Annual Conference voted to receive the MEG board’s recommendation that I be admitted as a CMC.

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The MAC (Ministerial Appointments Committee) also voted to appoint me to Monroe Free Methodist Church, meaning I am now actually and officially a pastorProcess-wise, I will serve three years in full time ministry and complete any education requirements the MEG deems necessary, and prayerfully in 2019, I will become an ordained Elder, which is the final step in ordination in the Free Methodist Church. 

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This Sunday I will be preaching my first “official” sermon as Associate Pastor of Monroe FMC. Not much else will change in the ways Kevin and I function; like I said, I was doing the work of a pastor before I said “yes” to being a pastor. But I feel different. I feel more alive. I feel appointed and called and in the center of God’s will for my life. 

And so with the wise guidance of a pastoral mentor of mine, I enter into this preparation prayerful and with the words of Paul at the forefront:

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

I Corinthians 2:1-5

For more information on the Free Methodist Church’s stance on Women in Ministry click HERE

Freshman Year of College

I’m in many “sandwiched” friendships. I’m close friends with women in their 40s who are getting ready to send their kids off to college for the first time. I’m also friends with those 16-20 year old kids of theirs. It’s a really fun dynamic.

Many of our conversations are centered around the topic of college and I’ve been feeling rather sentimental about my own experience.


Let it be known that when I left for college in 2004, I was equipped with exactly zero computers.  I may have stashed my TI-83 calculator in my bookbag for good luck, but basically I had a pile of ruled notebooks. Oh, and I had a stack of floppy discs for saving my work on the library computers. (No flash drives, no google drive or dropbox, not even re-writable cds. Kevin would tell you I was completely behind the times, and I was a tiny bit, but this was how my high school had taught me.) A few months into school, I bought Kevin’s old laptop off of him so he could buy the iBook4 (which had 60 gbs of memory).

My school email address was my first ever and it was a doozy:  mf230298@arbor.edu. Kevin taught me how to AIM instant messenger and I chatted online with my college friends as “arborfish19.” (My maiden name was “Fish.”) I had a Xanga blog (which I tried to find just now and it has been archived because it hasn’t been used in 5 years …or 10).

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please note: these photos were scanned onto my computer. They were taken with film cameras. I didn’t get a digital camera until junior year. 

I didn’t get a cell phone until the end of my sophomore year and it was a Motorola flip phone with…get this…an antenna you had to pull out to make a call. There was no text messaging.  Each dorm room had a land line phone with an extension and you could call for free from across campus. To make phone calls home, I was loaded with a 1000 minute calling card. You’d better believe I had those 16 digits and a pin memorized.

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Facebook was just getting started my freshman year, and I boycotted this up-and-coming internet-thingy for one and a half school years until I succumbed to the madness. There were no games or chats or even pokes on FB. It was just faces and short statuses that all began with the prompt: “Melanie is…”

I say all this as a way of confessing that I am a bit behind the times, but also to tell you that while technology changes, the disciplines with which you choose to live your life do not need to change. 


To you, sweet girl, going off to college,

What you are about to do is most definitely a big deal. It’s a big deal for you and a big deal for your family. I remember thinking to myself, “Everything is about to change. Nothing will ever be the way it was before.” And while that’s a bit overly dramatic, it’s basically true.

But here’s the bigger truth – You are at a most exciting precipice of life, getting to step more fully into the you God created you to be.

You are going to be met with many new influences – friends, professors, employers, books, theologies, pastors – and you’re going to be forming your own individual worldview. You will take what you’ve been taught by your family, your teachers, your childhood friends, and your church and you’ll add to that foundation a broader view of life.

It’ll be a bit scary at first. You might feel like you’re questioning everything you’ve ever known. (Your parents might freak out a bit too.) But it’s good to question. Questions lead to well-developed answers, answers that you’ve researched and debated and talked to death with your friends in the wee hours of the night. And those answers will transform you. You will come out the other side stronger and more confident, firmer in your faith in Christ. Don’t fear the questions; God isn’t afraid of your questionsBecause in all that searching the Truth will come out and the Truth always sets you free.

You’re going to do a lot of growing up in the next four years. It’s a beautiful time of transition, a gracious movement into adulthood. Why? Well, you’re getting a taste of independence while still having the backing (perhaps even financial backing) of your family back home. Win-Win. But here’s the thing with independence – it must be used wisely. You can survive college on energy drinks and all-nighters and last-minute study sessions and leftover pizza; tons of people do that and do “just fine.” But the thing of it is, God has called you to live a full life, a life honoring to him. I challenge you to make each of your decisions – big and small – with this mindset (Colossians 3:23)

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.

With that foundation, here are my bullet-pointed list of goals for you:

  1. Go to bed. For the love of all that is holy go to bed at a decent hour. Like 10 or 11pm. You can stay up ridiculously late on Friday night if you want, but you’re in college for a reason and you have a job to do. Getting a decent night’s sleep is absolutely essential to living with excellence.
  2. Eat Well. The “freshman 15” is real and is sometimes more like the “freshman 30.” This phenomenon occurs because you have an unlimited buffet at every meal and no one to tell you to stop eating. So try the soft serve ice cream, but decide to limit yourself. Eat the fancy-pants, sugary cereal that your mom never bought you, but limit yourself. Indulge in the delicious French fries and the fountain pop, but limit yourself. Go ahead and buy a pizza or a burger at ten o’clock at night, but only every once in a while. (The fourth-meal syndrome is a big problem and is often solved by going to bed at a decent hour forthelove.) Choose to try vegetables you used to despise and get to know that salad bar. Maybe even have a salad for one meal a day (not with tons of ranch or caesar dressing… that kind of defeats the purpose). Eat whole fruit once or twice a day. Go out to Denny’s at 1am with your friends, but not every week.
  3. Exercise.  This one is really tough for even the best students. Getting up early to work out or run sounds like cruel torture, but it is totally worth it. Waking up an hour early is not too difficult if you’re going to bed at a decent hour and the time alone with your thoughts (often before everyone else gets up) is priceless. You’ll be energized for your day and fight off those extra pounds with ease.
  4. Create a daily routine for yourself. All of the above kind of work into this one. You may not have class until 12:30pm, but perhaps the wise thing to do with your independence is to get up around 7am, go workout, shower, eat breakfast (I know, I’m asking a lot here), and have time in quiet with the Lord.
  5. Set aside at least 30 minutes a day for private devotion with Jesus. This may be in a corner of your dorm room before your roommate wakes up or while she’s at class. It may be in a prayer chapel or under a certain tree you love or on the quiet floor of the library. But get alone with God. Pray. Listen. Journal. Read. Study. I’ll list a bunch of my favorite spiritual discipline resources at the bottom. (And I’d love to have a conversation with you about this topic if you need some guidance.)
  6. Friends. Make lots of friends. Be brave. Go up to that girl and introduce yourself. She feels just as awkward and uncomfortable as you do. Every one of you is leaving the home you’ve always known and having to live with people you’ve never met. It’s going to be hard and your going to feel out of place sometimes. But know you’re not alone. And you’re probably about to make some the greatest friendships. Living with people will do that. :)
  7. Roommates. I highly recommend leaving your freshman-year-roommates up to fate. I’ve known too many people who choose their roommate based on a high school friendship or meeting someone at registration day and then it goes horribly wrong and you lose a friend. Just let Admissions do their job the first time around. And live in a community dorm at least your freshman year. It forces you to share space with others with whom you might successfully ignore if you have a private suite-style room. It’ll be good for you, I swear.
  8. Boys. This could easily be another series of posts. I don’t have succinct advice on this one. But I will say that I made some of my best guy-friends during college and I found my husband during college. So pray a lot. Don’t give in to the pressure to get  “ring by spring.” And enjoy your friendships with guys. If you want to talk more, I’m listening.
  9. Your major. It’s ok to switch your major a million times. I don’t know how anyone expects an 18 year old to know what they’re going to be doing for the rest of your life. I’m 30 years old and only now figuring out what I’m going to be when I grow up. While you have the space in your academic schedule take a class or two that interest you, just for fun. But be sure to have that 4 year academic plan nailed down as soon as you can so you don’t have to tack on a 5th year (especially if you’re going into education.)
  10. Classes. Go to them. Get to class on time, be prepared. Take that syllabus (the whole semester’s plan) on day one and write down all assignments in a planner of some sort. By doing this for all of your classes you’ll know when your weeks are going to be heavy and when they’ll be light. Maybe, just maybe, you can plan to work ahead in one class when you have a ton of stuff due for another class on the same week. Just an idea. For the most part, no professor is going to tell you what’s due and when it’s due. The syllabus was created for that reason and you’re expected to follow it on your own …or get left behind. Sometimes readings are assigned and you’ll never hear them mentioned or even referenced in class…but then there’s stuff on the exams from that material. So follow the plan.

Ok, well, it’s past my grown-up bedtime, so I think I’ll close with this:

I love you. I believe in you. Surround yourself with people who will encourage you and challenge you and help you become more fully the person God intended you to be.

 

Continue reading “Freshman Year of College”

The Dance of Grace & Trust

As my daughter creeps closer and closer to six months old, I get more excited and more freaked out. You see, I had a goal of having her solely breastfed for her first six months. In those early weeks I thought, “there is no way in heck I can survive this for SIX MONTHS.” But a wise friend told me (even before I had my baby girl), “It’s hard, just take it a day at a time. Don’t set up big goals, set tiny ones. I’m going to nurse her this week.” Nursing got easier and easier as I developed the procedures that worked for us and as I figured out what accessories I needed or didn’t need. And here we are….the end of full-time breastfeeding is in sight.

I can NOT wait until her daddy can feed her and I’m not her only source of sustenance and we can watch her experience new foods and sit at the table with us. I have a freezer full of pumped breastmilk and we taught her to use a bottle around 8 weeks. I kept offering to Kevin that I could share the feeding with him and a bottle. But he knew how well things were going and how much I had desired this gift. So he waited.

And I’m so stoked that we made it. But I am sad to see this special season of breastfeeding intimacy transition to something new. It’s been so sweet; most of the time I take it for granted. Lord Jesus, I am so thankful for this gift that was not a given. Thank you for bringing in my milk and allowing her the skill the nurse well and plumping her right up. I am so thankful.

Another paradox of motherhood, right? 

But here’s the real confession: I’m freaked out by what may or may not happen once I ease back on nursing.

I know my fertility will (maybe, probably, perhaps, who knows…) return once I’m not breastfeeding ’round the clock. I know I could conceivably get pregnant (…conceivably….ha. that’s punny…) in the coming months. And part of me thinks, “FOR THE LOVE, I just want to be normal again! I don’t want to be pregnant or nursing or a storehouse of uncontrollable hormones!” (I suppose that last one happens regardless…) I can’t fathom going through that whole ordeal again, so soon. Pregnancy was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Pregnancy is no joke.

But the other part of me thinks, “What if I can’t get pregnant? I’m not getting any younger and I have endometriosis and a whole bunch of other fertility issues and time is of the essence. And what if?” How long do we wait this next time before calling it quits?

So yeah, I want to get pregnant like right now…in the next few months. I would love to have babies close in age. And we always said that once we started a family, we wouldn’t prevent pregnancies until we’re “done.” I don’t want to live once again in the fear of monthly cycles and wondering and waiting and trying to not get all wrapped up in the hope and expectation for the future.

It’s hard to believe that I could move from one worry to another so quickly, despite the glorious answer to prayer dozing in her crib down the hall. 

And so I pray:

Holy Father, giver and sustainer of life, grant that I may know your perfect peace and trust in your infinite wisdom. Keep my mind fixed on the work of your kingdom and content with the gift of “today.”

Amen.

Kirsten Grace – Month 5

Motherhood is the most natural and the most foreign role I have ever experienced. So many aspects of mothering are paradoxical, really. Pregnancy is both wonderfully exhilarating and terribly debilitating. Labor and delivery is the most freakish experience because you’re at the mercy of your body’s process. But it’s also the most empowering experience as you conquer a marathon you never could have trained for. Breastfeeding is a divine invention in which your body responds to your baby’s needs without your consent, yet you have no clue what you’re doing and you wonder why something so natural is so forceful and painful and messy. Then there’s the days and nights caring for the needs of this child. You do it without a second thought while also wanting to justkeepsleeping for the love. All of it manages to drive you absolutely insane while filling you to brim with a love you’ve never known.

Paradox, I tell you.

So here we are, little girl, five months in to our face-to-face relationship as mother and daughter. I think it’s taken this long for either of us to feel like we have a clue what we’re doing. You seem to have finally settled into this new home. “Well, I guess I’m here to stay,” I imagine you thinking. “I might as well get comfortable.” It’s no longer an either-or: Either you’re asleep or you’re crying. (And we thought you were an “easy” baby. Ha. We just didn’t know any better.) Now, you’re awake for a lot more of the day and mostly not crying. You fuss when you’re tired or hungry (or sometimes just for effect), but for the majority of the day you’re a wonderfully happy girl. You like just being with us, sitting in your bumbo or your exersaucer, laying on a quilt on the floor. Basically if you can see mom or dad (or better…both of us!), you’re content. You’ve started giggling when we do silly things or tickle you. (You have the same ticklish spots on your back shoulder blades just like your daddy.) But more than a giggle, you’ve launched into some full fledged laughter! Oh my gosh, there is nothing better than hearing you crack up!

I love watching the joy you bring to other people. When you flash that gummy grin, people just light up. You’re pretty comfortable with different friends or even strangers holding you…just so long as mom or dad is in eyesight. (When that’s not the case…well…your dramatic side makes an appearance.) Your last two weeks in the church nursery were wonderfully successful – you didn’t scream the whole time; in fact, you didn’t even fuss too much. Yay! (Baby Girl, I know Sundays are so hard. The schedule is different, the place isn’t home, mom and dad have to be far away from you for a while. It’ll get easier, I promise. Pretty soon you’ll be rolling under the pews, scampering through classrooms, collecting used communion cups, coloring on bulletins, and being parented by whoever is in your vicinity…because, Lord knows, we’ll need help.)

And as for me, I have been going through the motions of mothering from your very first breath. In those early moments, we gazed at each other through swollen eyes and sweaty brow, covered in all sorts of life-sustaining fluids, and it was love, yes. But five months in, I can’t express how my love has deepened, transformed into a genuine adoration of who you are, Kirsten Grace. We’re finally getting to know one another, getting to like one another, genuinely loving our time together rather than simply surviving in a symbiotic-sort-of-relationship.

The learning curve was so steep in those first few days (and weeks. and months.) My body was recovering from laboring for two days and pushing for 6 hours and 37 minutes straight (I’m not kidding, I really did that) and from carrying a baby for 40 weeks. My mind needed to cope and process what I’d been through. I was learning how to hold a newborn and change her diapers and what her poop is supposed to look like and what her cries are trying to tell me. She and I were figuring out the dance of breastfeeding, which went beautifully from moment one and has continued to nourish her all these months. God answered that prayer of mine with such abundance that I have a freezer full of excess milk.*

*(I could write a whole post on nursing. Oh, the cracked nipples that caused my whole body to go tense when she would latch. Oh, the lightning let down that hurt so badly I cried. Oh, the powerful flow that choked her and sprays all over the place. Oh, the leaking through breast pads and tank tops and shirts. Oh, the engorgement. Like I said, a whole post…(parenthetical statement inside of another parenthetical statement: If any of you pregnant or new moms need advice or want to vent or would like a good laugh, I’m more than willing to share my breastfeeding stories and anecdotes with you.))

Doing all of that ^ on less sleep than ever, while trying to shed my pregnancy pounds and maintaining my house and piles of laundry and getting back to teaching yoga, and keeping up with my church responsibilities and pastoral ministry. Yeah, it was overwhelming at times and I was pretty sure I was going to drop a few of the plates I was spinning, but God is good. I have a husband who shoulders many of my responsibilities with me, friends and family who are more than willing to step in or lend a listening ear, and a church family that has been gracious and excited for our new family and responsive to our leadership and my call to the pastorate.

Being a mom is hard. It’s not always fun and frankly I didn’t have sappy, gussy, lovey-dovey feelings for my new baby right away. I was just trying to cope. I wasn’t depressed at all, but it wasn’t the sunshine and roses I’d thought it might be and I couldn’t conjure up those fluffy feelings of “oh, I just can’t stop looking at her.” So baby-mommas, I am here to tell you it’s ok to be honest with where you’re at. When someone asks how you’re doing it’s ok to say, “I’m wonderful and terrible all at the same time.” Because motherhood is the most natural thing in the world. And motherhood is the most foreign thing in the world. You adore your offspring yet you wish you could just go back to the days of showering for as long as you want and going out to ice cream at 9pm because it’s not your bedtime and you want ice cream, for the love. Your heart aches when you’re away from you baby for more than 45 minutes but you also miss the days of going for a long run and not feeling like your insides were going to fall out. You never could have imagined scheduling things around her nap times, but for the love if someone wakes up your sleeping baby…

Kirsten Grace, you are beautiful and wonderful and silly and lovable. You are the biggest challenge and the best source of sanctification I have ever experienced. You are a living representation of God’s great love for humanity and his tender care of me and my desire to be your mom. You are everything I dreamed you would be and woah so much more. I adore you. I can’t imagine life without you. You are my girl.

I love you.

Mama

Kirsten Grace Month 5

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Writings of a New Mom

No matter how many blogs you read or books you scour, despite the advice and assistance of other mom friends, nothing can prepare you for new motherhood except new motherhood. You dive in face first, splash around in the most undignified sort of way, bob to the surface for a gasp of fresh air, and flounder a few more times. Rinse and repeat. The pattern grows a bit more graceful as the days pass…

…but if there’s one lesson I’ve learned in my four weeks of being a mom it’s that motherhood is not about mastery. Motherhood is a practice. Motherhood is a spiritual discipline. God will use this new role to transform you and sanctify you. There will be times of peace and contentment, feeling confident and mature, closer to His likeness. Through frustration and angst, sadness and tears, He will draw you nearer to himself. All of this is grace.

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As I shared my journey of infertility I learned what healing and strength could come through honest accounts of life and hearts. Friendships are formed, barriers are broken, open wounds become beautiful scars to remind us of our journey.

And so I write. I endeavor to write truth, to share honest accounts of life and transformation, to preach words my own heart needs to hear. I will post pictures and snippets of our days that may seem a little too perfect. Those are my efforts to search for God’s grace, a hunt for goodness and gifts in the everyday mundane of life. I will talk about the moments that bring me to tears or that cause me to shutter at my flesh. And I call this out in each of you, friends. Solidarity is healing.

Today our little family ventured back to our favorite date spot. Kirsten was a little star, one of the employees even got to snuggle her. #kirstengraceeccles

It is like those disciples walking the road to Emmaus (Luke 24) who chose to share the real, raw stuff of life. They were still in the middle of their grief over Christ’s crucifixion. Anger and tears and confusion flooded their minds as their words attempted to process their devastating weekend. And in the midst of this truest sort of community, the risen Jesus himself appeared. 

In the same way our own spiritual journeys are not meant to traversed alone. Community. We choose to walk the road with others, to get through the tough things in life and help one another invite Christ into our midst. I want to be a part of a transforming community – 

men and women gathered around the presence of Christ for the purpose of being transformed in Christ’s presence so they can discern and do the will of God.

(Ideas and quote from Ruth Haley Barton’s Life Together in Christ.)

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Limitations

When people ask how I’m doing with motherhood, I’m never sure what to say. On one hand I have no idea what I’m doing, and I’m fairly confident that I never will. As soon as I think I’ve figured something out, our daughter changes and we have to learn everything over again. On the other hand, I feel like I have settled into mothe2016-01-17 16.28.59rhood very comfortably. I love loving my daughter and parenting next to my wonderful husband. I am so thankful for the pretty decent amount of sleep we’ve been getting. I am over the moon grateful for successful breastfeeding (and for a more balanced milk supply and hardly no more pain). I am amazed at the quick recovery my body has managed before my very surprised eyes.

I was afraid of how frazzled my life would feel. And yes, part of me feels frazzled. But somehow I don’t feel like I’m at my wits end. I have been bathing and putting on nice clothes and make up every day, and I’ve tried to balance productivity with rest. But alas, balance is elusive. I have had moments of tearful breakdowns because I had high hopes for accomplishing all-the-things and feeling like I’ve accomplished nothing. I spent four hours working ahead on worship sets and got exactly one week ….ONE WEEK… finished. The previous version of Melanie would have had 2 or 3 months worth done in that amount of time. I came home in a tizzy from a day when I tried to cram too much in with my newborn daughter. I should have just tackled the trip to the Chiropractor, but instead I added a long visit to Meijer and the result was two girls in stressful, hangry (hungry angry) tears.

I have re-developed a severe case of carpal tunnel syndrome in my right wrist. It tends to flair up once a year when I’ve been sleeping with a crooked wrist for too long. But that is not the case this time. This flare up is because of the way I’ve been holding my baby’s head in my bent wrist multiple times a day. Normal flare ups are moderately annoying numbness. This case is insane. Four of my five fingers are numb and stay that way for hours at a time. The pain is like lightening and is now shooting all the way up to my elbow. I’ll thank my dad for passing on this genetic disposition and pray that I don’t have to have surgery like he did.

Limitations are so hard for me. My time must be spent so differently than before. Caring for my daughter is my first priority. I can’t accomplish nearly as much in my day. And that’s a beautiful ok thing (Do you hear me, Mel?!) I get exhausted so easily, no longer capable of marathon sessions of office work or even just-for-fun outings. By 3pm I feel spent for the day. And if I don’t get a n2016-01-18 17.53.40ap in before 5pm, the evening may or may not go well. My body feels amazing and new and ready to do-all-the-things but I must realize that I’m still healing for a very strenuous labor and delivery…not to mention 10 months of sharing my body with a growing baby!

 
Time.
Rest.
Grace.

These are my new life mottos. Feel free to remind me of them when I appear frazzled or frustrated or in need of a reminder that my value is not attached to how many items I check off a to-do list.

My Postpartum Self

My dear sweet Kirsten,

This is the first letter I’m writing to you as I look at your sweet little face, asleep and expressive right beside me. Last night was the hardest night yet, mostly because you’ve been such an amazing sleeper and eater. I think the most difficult part of your crying is when there seems to be nothing left to do to soothe you. The painful screaming just cuts open my heart. I was actually weeping with you last night, so sad that I couldn’t comfort you.

2016-01-07 22.12.45 But besides those rare moments, you are an incredibly “good” baby. You are an answer to my prayers in more ways than just your presence in my life. First, I prayed long and hard that you and I would learn to breastfeed well. I have heard so many painful and frustrating stories from friends, and I just wasn’t sure I could endure that struggle. Once again, God was overly gracious to me and you were an excellent nurser from minute one. We have been a great team, you and I. In fact, your pediatrician was thoroughly impressed with your health at your 10 day appointment. You weighed 7lbs 1/4 oz (we just ignore that quarter ounce because really?…) at birth and left the hospital at 6lbs 9oz. Just a week later you were up to 7lbs 3oz! What? You were surpassing your birth weight so quickly? and you’re breastfed? by a first time mom? Doctor really couldn’t believe it. And neither could I. That appointment went so well that rather than having us come in weekly for your weigh-ins, the Doctor said just come back at 30 days! Go you, Kirsten!

You have the silliest involuntary facial expressions. I crack up laughing sometimes and I can hardly wait to see you using those muscles on purpose.

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You have officially had two diaper blow outs. The first was a week ago and just a quarter-sized ring wet through your clothes and onto my jeans. But this morning…oh, this morning…after our longer-than-ever night last night it was as if you just had to put the cherry on top. Daddy and I were sitting in bed; I was nursing you and he was reading. You were eating and eating and pooping and pooping. I took a moment to lay you on your daddy while I got out of bed and I asked him to change you. That’s when I saw it! My sheets and my nightgown were soaked through with a huge amount of your poo! And of course I had conveniently just spread the mess to the duvet cover when I laid you on your daddy. Wow, way to go, Little Girl. We got you to the bathroom and cleaned you up. The bed was stripped and sheets were washed..and now I am officially a pro at putting on a duvet cover. I should make a youtube video or something. :)

And then there’s me, your momma. How am I doing, you ask? Thanks to be to God who poured out more incredible blessings. After my long marathon of labor and six+ hours of pushing, I managed to be controlled enough during that last push that I didn’t tear or need any stitches. What?! Another specific answer to a long-prayed prayer? Thank you, Lord. I was sore and moved cautiously those first 3 days after delivery. The sorest part of my body, though, were my arms and shoulders from all that pulling myself up during various pushing tactics. Oh and that TDap shot. ouch.

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By day 10 I felt really great and went on my first 3 mile walk down Keegan. It was a beautiful day and your daddy kept you cozy at home while I spent 45 minutes alone with God. Glorious. I went on another walk that week and the three of us walked laps at the mall last Saturday (since it was bitter cold outside). I have accomplished three different (highly modified) Jillian Michaels workouts, mostly doing strength training – weights and squats. I am avoiding all ab work because unfortunately I did end up with a diastasis. If I avoid making it worse with planks or crunches these next few weeks, I may be able to keep from permanent damage. I pray this is the case because all of yoga is core-based and I need (really want) to be back firing on all cylinders eventually.

Breastfeeding is the most amazing weight loss plan, though. Wow, I didn’t really believe I would be this lucky. I went into labor at 174 pounds, up 34 pounds from my original weight. (right on target. yay!) But even this 174 was distributed through my arms and legs, keeping me from fitting into almost any of my pre-pregnancy shirts and pants very early on. I thought for sure this would hang on for months after delivery. Nope. I came home 164lbs. By Day 8 I was 157lbs and this morning (Day 18), I was 149lbs. Never in a million years did I think I’d see the 140s again so quickly. I am able to wear all of my pre-pregnancy shirts already and most of my workout/yoga gear. My pants situation is a little different because right before I got pregnant I got rid of my “bigger” jeans – those 8s I was so acclimated to. I was smaller than ever and wearing 4s and 6s. Thus, I needed some “in between” pants. I went to goodwill last week and found four pairs of size 10s and was amazed I was already wearing 10s. And now this week, they’re already too big for me. Holy Moly. I’ll take it, though!

I have been managing about 6 hours of broken sleep a night which I appreciate. I tend to feel great and energized all morning and if I don’t get at least one nap before 4pm I’m kind of a mess, physically and emotionally. Know your limits, Mel, and respect them.

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Thank you, Father God, for healing my body so quickly and getting me back on my feet and feeling more beautiful than ever. My perception of my body has changed completely, and even if I never look exactly the same (I can’t imagine ever looking exactly the way I did before carrying and delivering a child), I am so, so thankful for the body I’ve been given. I am going to care for myself with respect and gratitude. And for now, I’m going to keep eating like a horse because ohmygosh breastfeeding makes you ravenous.

Our Church

One of my friends sent me a birthday text that included encouragement of what I’d “accomplished” in my 30 years. She listed “several flourished ministries” and I stopped dead in my tracks, thanking God for the privilege of being a part of his Kingdom Work.

Last Sunday we were excited to attend our former church family in Albion, New York. It was so glorious to be back in the presence of friends-turned-family, to feel the love and knowingness that hadn’t faded because of time or space. Being in that town makes me smile. Eating at that Tim Horton’s, walking down Main Street and waving to passers-by, walking through the halls of that familiar church building. I loved every minute, every conversation, every hug.

And I have to be completely honest when I say I expected to feel some discontentment rising up in my heart during that weekend. For we loved that place and those people fiercely and it was terribly hard to leave. The last year and a half in full time, lead-pastoral ministry has been intense for the Eccles. It’s a big job with a steep learning curve. I thought I’d want to quit and go back to my “happy place.”

But even as I braced myself for the ride home when I might cry wishing I could stay in My Albion, I found that the Lord had already laid seeds in my heart for something totally unexpected – deep contentment, true joy, and resonating peace. As we drive those many turnpike miles, Kevin and I could hardly stop talking about all the things we love about our church, Our Monroe. We had truly missed worshiping with our congregation that Sunday. We realized we truly love everything about Monroe FMC.

And I was somehow surprised that God had done this work. I was surprised that I still felt all the love and affection for my New York church while feeling eagerness and deep connection with my Michigan church. It’s hard for a pastor’s wife to feel truly safe among her congregation. There’s this unspoken expectation that our family should be better and holier than others, that we should have everything all together. It’s hard to know who to trust and who to talk to because your church people are somehow supposed to be those under your shepherding leadership, but also those with whom you share life authentically. It’s a tricky situation. So to have prayer gatherings where tears are shed, life’s hard stories are shared, meaningful hugs are exchanged…it’s like taking a deep breath of fresh air. It’s what Church is supposed to be. And I get to be a part of a growing congregation that is learning this true-life kind of Christianity.

These people know me. I mean, for Pete’s sake I received peanut butter M&Ms, Reese’s cups, Chai Tea, a Nintendo 64, music note earrings, and KALE for my birthday. Those are my favorite things ever. To be known is every heart’s desire. And to be known by the congregation to which you were called to shepherd…THAT is a true blessing.