Some Thoughts on Balancing Motherhood and Ministry by Tammy Abee Blom

Sitting in my home office, I was typing a devotional for an upcoming meeting at church. I could hear my two young daughters playing the famous “laughing becomes crying” game. Soon, the younger was standing by my elbow with copious tears and loud complaints of injustice. Since I was in the moment of the devotional, I pulled her onto my lap, kissed the top of her head, and continued writing about offering a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name.

Shortly after I hit save, I chatted with Audrey about how this was not the first time she had sat on my lap while I had worked. As a baby—less than three months old and certainly before she could roll over—I would place Audrey (and her older sister before her) on my knees between my tummy and the keyboard. I would return emails, craft annual budgets, and write the occasional sermon all while alternately cooing at the baby. The baby was happy because she was held by Momma, and Momma was happy because some ministerial work was getting done. Win. Win.

Audrey loved hearing the story about how she had been Momma’s co-worker as a baby while I was reminded of how inseparable are the roles as minister and mother. Both jobs demand that we respond day or night to cries of distress. Both roles are never ending and produce non measurable results. So how in the world do we manage our roles and keep our sanity?

I utilize three different approaches to balance. First, I am thoughtful and careful about the tasks that I agree to do. Just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should. I don’t have unlimited hours and energy so I must prioritize what I can realistically do.

Second, I am learning to say, “No.” As hard as it is to say, it seems harder for people to hear. However, doing everything partially well is not acceptable to me. When I commit to a responsibility, I want to give it my best time and attention. Therefore, there are tasks I have to refuse.

And finally, the number one way I balance motherhood and ministry is a lot of being gracious to me. On the days when a child is at home sick or a ministry project deadline must be met, balance goes out the window. Rather than obsessing about how I am neglecting one role for another, graciously, I tell myself, “Tomorrow is another day. You’ll get to try again.”

At this moment, one of my girls is sick and out of school. While she rests, I am finishing this blog. With no surprise, today, I am again trying to balance being a mother and minister.

Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, mother of two amazing daughters, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.

Let the Children Come . . . And Then What Are We Going to do With Them? By Stacey Buford

Welcoming children is a mission and a call. Jesus modeled it for us when he threw his arms open wide and gathered up an armload of sweet, giggly, precious children. As a young college student (who felt called to be a summer missionary and lead Vacation Bible School for the rest of my life), I elaborated on this scene with my mind’s eye. I saw Jesus wrapping strong arms around children whose parents had dressed them in their Easter Sunday best and politely taken them to see Jesus, much like we line up in the mall to catch a glimpse of Santa with our tiny tots.

Forgive me for my inexperience. Not only did I miss the reality of the very Jewish context in which Jesus taught, I missed the essence of the real life stuff that happens when we fling the doors open wide and welcome real life children (and by the way, adults) into the embrace and lap of God.

When we lay out the welcome mat, we are saying EVERYONE IS WELCOME, and guess what, everyone is going to come. And then, the real work begins.  Real life children come with runny noses, skinned knees, scuffed shoes, and sometimes no shoes!  Real life children come with enough to eat, with empty tummies, with all that they need and with nothing at all. Real life children come with cancer diagnoses, learning disabilities, and medical needs that stagger the minds of the most brilliant physicians. Real life children come with two parents, with one parent, and with no parents.  The thing is when we throw wide our arms, like the arms of God, REAL LIFE CHILDREN COME!

So, here’s the question, when real life children (and their adults) come, what in the world are we going to do with them? What will we do when your child with autism runs from the children’s Sunday School wing?  What will we do when my child with sensory integration issues hides under the handbell table during Sunday morning worship to shield himself from the lights and sounds that threaten to overwhelm his system? What will we do when my child with a mood disorder explodes and scares your child sitting beside her half to death? What will we do when your ten-year-old has a melt-down reminiscent of a two-year-old temper tantrum, and my child laughs? What will we do when a child visiting our church for the first time calls the medically fragile child raised in our midst a scary monster? What are we going to do when your child loses it and hits my child? What will we do when the cold my child doesn’t even notice threatens your child’s fragile immune system?

These are the real life issues involved in answering the powerful call, “Let the little children come to me.”  I hope we won’t be afraid to talk about them with each other. When we gather up our own real life children (with whatever gifts and challenges they bring) and carry them tenderly into the arms of God through the church . . . we are reaching out to Jesus for a blessing. You and I both come hoping that Jesus will touch the little ones we carry and that their lives will be marked forever by this embrace.

So, now, I imagine the strong arms of Jesus, the carpenter’s son, reaching to embrace your child and mine . . . arms broad enough to handle the load that loving all of God’s children can bring and gentle enough to rock the most fragile of our children through the day and through the night. So, let the children come and let the conversation begin: What will we do with them?

Stacey Buford is an ordained Baptist minister, having worked extensively in pastoral care, hospital chaplaincy and  building families through adoption/foster care. She lives and works in Duluth, Georgia, where she and husband, Jon, are raising three amazing children.

Nurturing God’s Good Gifts in Our Young Girls and Teenagers by Pam Durso

Baptist churches have relied on and enjoyed the good gifts of women for four hundred years now, since the first days of the existence of those churches. And Baptist churches throughout our history have nurtured the gifts of women– some churches have nurtured those gifts more effectively than others and some churches have nurtured more publicly and formally than others.

Baptist congregations have had the opportunity to shape and guide its youngest members—its boys and girls. Our churches have given girls and boys places to study, to develop spiritually, to give of themselves, to be involved. But sometimes as churches we provide activities, programs, and studies but we forget that girls and boys are actually paying close attention.

We forget that by our encouraging them to follow God, to listen to the voice of God—THAT SOMETIMES THEY WILL DO THAT. And we end up surprised—surprised that God has been at work, surprised when a young girl or teenage boy expresses a sense of calling to ministry.

So how can we be more attentive, more intentional, in nurturing giftedness and a sense of calling, especially with our girls and young women?

We need to be teaching and preaching the foundational truth that we are all made in the image of God. We are ALL made in the image of God– men and women, boys and girls. We need to say out loud over and over again that God BLESSED the creation of women just as God BLESSED the creation of men.

We need to tell the stories of women in the Bible. We tell the story of Moses, but we need to be telling the story of Miriam too. She had a gift, a role to play, a calling. We need to tell the story of Esther, whom God called to save her people. We need to tell the story of Mary Magdalene, whom Jesus commissioned to go and tell about his resurrection.

We need to provide girls and young women with visual reminders that God gifts ALL people for leadership. Our worship services need to have women visible in leadership roles—reading scripture, praying, making announcements, greeting guests, and preaching.  Having women leaders each week in worship is a great lesson for our children and for us.

We can also include children in ordinations. I recently attended the ordination of Kellie Denton at First Baptist Church, Gainesville, Georgia, and was so moved as the children with whom she serves surrounded her and who stood together with her during the ordination prayer.

One last thought–we need to be attentive to girls and teenagers who have gifts and passions that could well be a sign that they are called to ministry. We need to listen to them talk, ask them questions, and observe what they do and how they respond to what they are learning. We need to be attentive!

These were just a few thoughts I have been pondering. So what does your congregation do to nurture and encourage young girls and teenager girls?

Pam Durso is the executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.

Reflections on a First Birthday by Julie Whidden Long

February 17 my first child will turn one year old. Needless to say, parenthood has brought many surprises. I did not anticipate the number of diapers she would go through in a week, the medical costs of recurring ear infections or just how difficult it would be to cut those little tiny fingernails without drawing blood.

Neither did I expect what the experience of being a parent would teach this church-bred, seminary-trained, ordained minister about God. I thought I understood a lot of the theological concepts I learned in seminary, but now I “get it.”

For example, in seminary theology class, I heard a lot about how humans are “co-creators” with God. In Genesis 1, when God created humans, God gave us the opportunity and responsibility to continue creating the world. We were challenged to grow plants and care for animals and bring forth human life.

Not until my pregnancy did I fathom the tremendous gift that God gave to us by calling us to create life. Even though I knew this in my head, during my pregnancy, I came to understand it in my heart.

Partnering with God in the creation of a human being and carrying the potential of that life within me was the holiest act I have ever been a part of. Before she was ever born, my child surprised me with a sense of wonderful gratitude toward our creator for letting me be a part of this miracle.

I understand a little better now how God must have felt while forming that first man and woman from the dust of the earth. The heavenly parent declaring those first children “very good” was an understatement.

The love that overwhelms me as I gaze at my sleeping child and the joy that fills my heart when she giggles or smiles surely mirror the love God feels toward every child, even me. I am surprised that I, too, am the recipient of such gracious love.

Photos and videos have captured many of the “firsts” of our firstborn. Her first smile, her first feeding, her first trip to the beach and her first crawl have been carefully preserved and documented.

While I often wish she wouldn’t grow up so fast, I have found myself caught up in all of the hope she brings. I am surprised by how much I anticipate her next “first” and even more wonder about the kind of person she will be as she grows. I imagine God feels the same way about us, celebrating our growth and recognizing our potential with deep hopefulness.

All the feelings of parenthood have not been warm and cozy, however. I’ve learned something about God’s pain.

On a cold night in December, my baby fell and bonked her head on the concrete floor hard enough to leave a scrape and a purple knot. As she cried from the pain, my heart sank to the bottom of my stomach. Watching her hurt was an awful, awful feeling. I was surprised by how much her tears affected me.

While my theology has long allowed for a God who suffers along with people, that December night I saw a glimpse of what that looks like in my own heartbreak. As a loving parent, God sees our pain, holds us tight, weeps with us and comforts us until we are healed enough to go on.

Surprised by gratitude, surprised by love, surprised by hope and surprised by care. My deepest parent’s prayer is to open my heart to all of the surprises that God is bound to bring my way throughout this journey called parenthood.

Julie Whidden Long is minister of children and families at First Baptist Church of Christ, Macon, Georgia. Reprinted with permission of the Macon Telegraph.

Why Martha Stearns Marshall Day of Preaching is Important by Virginia Ross Taylor

I was called to ministry during my junior year in college at a Baptist Student Union conference, and I said, “Yes!”  The only problem was that I had no idea what a woman minister looked like.  I had never seen a woman pastor, or even a woman deacon, and I certainly had never heard a woman preach.

One of the most dedicated Christian women I knew at the time worked with juvenile delinquents, so I just assumed that must be what dedicated Christian women did for work.  I changed my major and began preparing for graduate school in order to earn a degree that would qualify me to work with juvenile delinquents.

But God called again–this time through my Baptist campus minister, who suggested that I work as a campus minister.  I laughed at him!  I had only known one woman campus minister. Not to mention the fact that I felt young and ill prepared for such a task.  But I said, “Yes.”

After serving as a college and campus minister for twenty years, God called me to be a pastor.  While a lot had happened in twenty years, there still weren’t a lot of Baptist women pastors.  My pastor at the time even suggested that I change denominations.  It was probably good advice.  I sure hadn’t seen many women pastors, or even heard many women preach.

The first woman I ever heard preach in a Baptist church was Nancy Hastings Sehested at Prescott Memorial Baptist Church in Memphis, and it was amazing.  I still remember her sermon.  But I also remember that her church got kicked out of the association for calling a woman pastor.  Despite these odds, I said, “Yes” when God called me to be a pastor!

Things are getting better, but there is still a long way to go.  I believe that Martha Stearns Marshall Day of Preaching is one small way that God can do big things in the lives of women in Baptist churches.

You cannot overestimate what hearing a woman preach will mean to young girls and women and to boys and men in your congregation.  For some, it will show them what it looks like to be a woman called to ministry.

Virginia Ross Taylor is pastor of Lystra Baptist Church, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Kindness Echoes Kindness by Tammy Abee Blom

Standing at the deli counter in my local grocery store, Audrey, my four year old daughter and shopping companion, was hopping up and down. The deli worker had just handed me a sample of turkey. Audrey began a loud, demanding monologue. “I want that. I like turkey. Is that for you? Give me some. Give me some NOW!”

Calmly, without missing a beat, I said, “I expect you to be kind to me. So, ask me kindly.” Without missing a beat, she asked, “Momma, can I have a piece of that turkey?” She and I snacked happily while we waited on our order.

“I expect you to be kind to me.” I don’t know when I started saying this out loud to my children but I know it is central to my parenting. I am kind to my children with my words and actions. I work long hours making sure they have healthy meals, clean clothes, and help with homework. I am kind. I expect kindness in return.

One Sunday I was all smiles from leading a very happy and meaningful baby dedication in worship. As the church family streamed out the doors, a female member stopped me and noted, “Those shoes are entirely inappropriate on you. They are too racy.” I looked at those shoes which I thought I wore with grace and style, and then I looked at her and apologized for being inappropriate. She was unkind to me and I accepted it. Why did I not say, “I am kind to you. I expect you to be kind to me.”?

In our ministries, we encounter people who are hopping up and down while making demands of us. Often, these same people are rude and unkind. Obviously we acknowledge grief, loss and pain as reasons people may be uncharacteristically unkind. However, it is often the congregants who we serve late into the night and beyond our resources of time and energy who target us for unkind remarks and actions. At what point, do we calmly point out that kindness is supposed to echo kindness? I am kind to you. I expect you to be kind to me.

Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, mother of two amazing daughters, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.