The God Cake by Tammy Abee Blom

I asked my family, “Are there any requests for the Easter meal?” Immediately, Audrey piped up, “You’re making God cake, right? You know I like the God cake.” I assured her I was making the coconut cake that three years ago received the moniker, “God cake.”

The name came about as the four of us cut into a coconut cake on Easter Sunday. I’d never made this recipe before and as we tasted, there were exhalations of contentment all around. Not knowing what it was called, Audrey asked, “Is this a God cake?” Her five year old mind had concluded that since this was a new recipe and was served on Easter Sunday, it must be called, “God cake.”

God cakeWhat Audrey didn’t know was coconut cake is a long standing tradition in my family. When I was a child, my mom made fresh coconut cake for Easter. First she procured her tattered recipe card from high school home economics class and baked three white layers. Then she scoured all the supermarkets for two fresh coconuts. With much concentration and persistence the coconuts were cracked with the water safely preserved. The cake layers were pierced and the coconut water was poured over them. The shell and inside brown peel were removed, and finally, the coconut could be grated. Then depending on her preference either a seven minute frosting or sour cream frosting was made. The cake was layered with frosting, patted on all sides with fresh coconut and then sealed in the Tupperware container which went into the fridge for a minimum of three days. Oh the anticipation the children built up. Waiting on ketchup from a bottle was not even close to waiting on the first slice of that cake at Easter lunch. The fresh coconut cake required skilled, patient hands for construction and patient hearts for the first slice. It was a fitting treat on a day when joy is celebrated.

During Holy Week, the girls and I visited a local art museum. Featuring religious art, the explanation for the exhibit noted, “During the Middle Ages, illiteracy was high, and it was through religious images that most people understood the basic tenets of Christianity.” Unwittingly my family’s coconut cake has become a religious image which helps us understand the joy of Easter. The construction of a cake cannot be haphazardly manufactured; and for the full taste of the cake to develop, the days must be endured. My mom taught us that goodness is something worth investing in and waiting for. Our gospels teach us Jesus’ resurrection followed days of disappointment, commitment and waiting. As we walk the journey of Easter time from the resurrection to Pentecost, I will continue to look for images to reveal how to live in a time of joy and expectation.

*The God cake is Cold Coconut Cake, recipe by Julie Hunt. You can find the recipe on her blog, Cup-a Cup-a.

Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.

 

 

 

Learning to Pray by Brittany Riddle

I have a 4-year-old friend whose family I often eat with at our church’s Wednesday night dinners.  She is full of energy, has a vivid imagination, and she is one of the few people who can convince me to have a jumping or twirling contest in the middle of dinner.

Recently, during our prayer time after dinner, my 4-year-old friend came over and whispered, “Can I sit with you while we pray?”  She hopped up in my lap and clasped her hands around mine as we prayed.  As soon as we said, “Amen,” she jumped out of my lap and went right back into full-energy mode.

I am sure she did not understand all the words that were spoken in that prayer, but she knew those moments were different than the previous 45 minutes she had been eating dinner and running around the gym.  She knew it was time to slow down as we prayed, and she knew she wanted to be close to someone for those few moments.  I loved hearing her little voice say “Amen” with more confidence that God was listening than most adults can ever muster.

As she clasped her hands around mine, I was reminded of all of the people in my life who taught me to pray and who have held me in prayer throughout my life.

I remember my grandparents who took me to church week after week and sat in on my preschool Sunday School classes when I did not want them to leave my side.  They supported and encouraged me to always follow God’s calling in my life, and they continue to be my biggest cheerleaders to this day.

I remember my Children’s Minister who always reminded us to pray with the words, “let’s bow our heads, let’s close our eyes, let’s talk to God.”  She would later become the first person to offer me a chance to test the waters of leadership in the church.  Without being consciously aware of it, my Children’s Minister’s words have become my own when I pray with children today.

I remember my Sunday School teachers who shared the stories of faith with me.  These dedicated volunteers made sure church was not only a place to learn about God and faith, but also a place to sing songs, play games, and make lifelong friends.  They taught me the words and concepts that would become the foundation of my prayers.

I remember mentors who reminded me to pray even when I was not sure that God was listening.  Sometimes they prayed with me.  Sometimes they prayed for me when I could not find my own words.  Often, they gently challenged me to see God and myself in new ways that led to a greater understanding of my calling in life.

I am grateful to many congregation members who continue to teach and challenge me to pray more deeply and consistently.  They allow me to journey with them through the pain, grief, joy, and questions that each of us experience at one time or another on our journey of faith.  They bless me as they share their life stories with me.

There are so many others who shaped and formed my prayer life, and I am thankful for each one.  As a minister, my own memories of learning to pray make me even more aware of my calling to help create this sacred space for others—whether it is the 4-year old who is just learning to pray or the 94-year-old who has spent a lifetime praying and now needs a hand to hold or help finding words—each of these prayers are holy, each of them brings us a closer together as the body of Christ, and each one draws us a little bit closer to God.

 

Brittany Riddle is Minister to Adults at Vinton Baptist Church in Vinton, Virginia

Brittany Riddle is Minister to Adults at Vinton Baptist Church in Vinton, Virginia

 

Playful and Reverent: The Chaplain in a Tutu by Sara Robb

I currently am serving a year-long pastoral residency at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta as a student chaplain. A chaplain residency is a one-year position designed to give student chaplains a taste of full-time hospital chaplaincy with patients and families, under supervision and mentorship by other chaplains.  I am assigned to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and the Third Floor.

When I visit patients, I seek to instill hope in the patients and parents and to nurture faith in a God who hasn’t forgotten them in the wilderness of hospital hallways, questions and waiting. And when I visit, I always wear a tutu.

Sara Robb tutu

The day my pastoral authority became my own is one I will remember forever, with fondness, gratitude, and delight. It was poignant and touching, revealing and affirming, playful and reverent, and holy; a day of illumination.

I was paged to the room of a mother who had recently lost her husband. She told me that she did not have a church home but recognized a divine presence in her life. She asked me to baptize her baby, who was being discharged from the hospital that day. I quickly tailored a service just for her and headed off to the chapel closet to get the baptismal shell and fill it with sterile water. As we began the service, the social worker, several nurses, and the respiratory therapist gathered with us.

In a mother’s simple request for baptism, she found peace, acceptance, God’s love, and illumination for God gifted her with an extraordinary little community of faith to share in her delight. But for me, I had gotten so caught up in the service planning that I had forgotten that I was wearing my tutu. I had wrestled with taking it off before the service or leaving it on, and just ran out of time to decide, so it stayed on by default. And, somewhere between the wrestling with including this kind of playful imagination in my practice and the sacrament of baptism, my tutu became more than a visiting prop. It became a vestment: a representation of my authority as a creative being, called and crafted by a creative God to minister God’s creative imagination and care to others. My tutu became a sacred vehicle that allowed me to connect with the innocence of children and help parents see in their children the playfulness that is too often buried somewhere in the hospital gowns, blankets, and tubes. My tutu vestment gave me a way of helping them find meaning, purpose, illumination, in this particular time and space.

The Journey by Brittany Riddle

Many years ago I was introduced to the spiritual practice of walking a labyrinth.  I was in college, and I remember wondering how walking in circles could do anything to bring me closer to God.  I was searching for some new ways to practice living into my faith, so I decided it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try.

The first time I walked the labyrinth path, I felt self-conscious and had trouble staying focused on the present moment.  I decided to try again early one morning as the sun was rising and no one else was around.  I remember breathing in and out with each step while walking to the rhythm, “Be still—and know—that God—is God.”

The stress in my life did not magically disappear in that moment, but I felt a sense of peace and began that day feeling refreshed.  I continued to walk the labyrinth on a regular basis and eventually found my own rhythm for soaking up, and resting in, God’s presence. Each day, as I approached the center of the labyrinth,  I released my anxieties and prepared to face the world as I walked the same path back to the outside.

Since my first labyrinth journey, I have incorporated labyrinth walking into my spiritual practice routine as a way to clear my mind and re-center my thoughts and life on God.  I love the image of the singular path that guides me on a journey to explore my inner-most thoughts and deepest prayers and gives me the opportunity to unwind before stepping back into the demands and chaos of daily life.

I am currently leading a monthly, experiential gathering, through which I plan to introduce my congregation to the spiritual practice of walking a labyrinth.  In order to create the experience, I need a large labyrinth, so I gathered a few church members and a lot of supplies, and we spent an entire day making a canvas labyrinth for our church.

The process of making a labyrinth (squatting on the floor all day) reminded me of the hard work that is often involved in the twists and turns on life’s journey.  As we created the path, we planned and made careful measurements, but we also had to have faith that our circles were going to meet in the right place.  We each worked on different parts of the labyrinth, so we had to trust that we were taping and painting the correct edges of the boundaries.  We had some frustrating moments along the way, but we also laughed and grew closer together that day.

The Labyrinth encourages me to get out of my head when I get over-focused on the end goal of a task or ministry project.  Labyrinth walking gives me the opportunity to pray with my whole body.  Most of all, the labyrinth journey reminds me that the relationships made along the way create space for our faith and ministry to be more fulfilling, life-giving, and centered on God.

Thanks be to God for these reminders when I need them most.

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Brittany Riddle is minister to adults at Vinton Baptist Church in Vinton, Virginia

Gum in Church by Tammy Abee Blom

Aunt janI heard the crinkle of foil before the gum slid into my hand. I smiled as I took the gum because I am now an adult and my aunt still treats me tenderly. Her gesture flooded my heart with memories of how often she has lavished care on me.

When I was a child, Aunt Jan would stay overnight with me and my four siblings. Caring for five kids for more than twenty-four hours can be a daunting task, but I don’t remember any anxiety. I remember her standing at the stove flipping pancakes and singing to us. I remember giggling as she told us, “They may be a little doughy in the middle but they’re good.”

I remember Aunt Jan visiting often while my mom battled cancer. For what turned out to be my parent’s last wedding anniversary, my aunt helped us kids prepare and surprise our parents with a steak dinner, and the she took us out for the evening so they could be alone.

I remember Aunt Jan sliding the combs of my wedding veil into my hair as I got dressed for my wedding.

And I remember Aunt Jan visiting after my first daughter was born. To my surprise, she washed every piece of laundry in the house and mopped all the floors before she left.

And that morning when I received gum during the worship service, I sat at my Aunt Jan’s table, and she served me a hot, delicious breakfast casserole and coffee. It had been a long time since someone had gotten up early to bake a casserole and then serve me as I sat at the table.

Aunt Jan has a gift that comes from within her. It can best be explained by a phrase I once heard in a sermon. “Some people have the spiritual gift of caring, and they are always willing to heap boundless generosity on you.”

I am thankful for Aunt Jan’s spiritual gift of caring. She has an amazing ability to generously give good things. I am honored to be a recipient of such care.

Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.

DEAR ADDIE: How Do I Grow a Thicker Skin?

Addie ProvidenceDear Addie,

Someone I respect recently suggested that my skin may not be “thick enough” to serve on a church staff.  This worries me, because I’m preparing for church ministry.  While I hate conflict and can be overly sensitive to criticism, I love the church and want to spend my life serving it. Will my sensitivity be an issue?  How do I grow thicker skin?

Thin Skinned

 

Dear Thin Skinned,

Being a sensitive person probably means that you are attentive to the feelings and needs of those around you, which is a great asset for ministry.   Sensitive ministers can be exceptionally effective in expressing God’s love and grace in thoughtful, creative, untried ways.  Sensitivity is something to celebrate in your ministry.  At the same time, this is a gift that suggests what your growing edge needs to be.

Given your love and commitment for the church, hear the words of your friend not as a vocational dead end, but as a reminder to balance the feelings you experience throughout your ministry with the constant pursuit of God’s vision for your ministry.  Sensitive ministers can be so relational that their primary ministry goal becomes trying to please everyone.  This will prove to be impossible, impractical, short-sighted and unhealthy.   A better goal for ministry is to help the church discern God’s vision.  While striving to follow Christ’s vision may offer you new lessons in church conflict, this will also lead you to meaningful and significant ministry.

As you seek God’s vision for your ministry, your ministry skin will grow thicker.  Thin skin ministers constantly focus on how they are doing, how great or weak their skills and talents are, what kind of leadership they provide, and what their reputations are.  Thick skin ministers can move beyond these concerns and focus on being faithful to the big picture God provides, helping others experience God’s great love, and participating in what the Spirit is doing in the world.

To stay balanced as they spin, ballet dancers look for a particular spot to focus on each time they turn.  Focusing on the point they choose keeps them from falling.  Church ministry keeps us spinning, too. Our tasks can become so chaotic, that we can lose our focus and falter.  When we are wise, we keep our eye on Christ’s vision.

May this way of approaching the chaos and conflict that comes with ministry, keep you dancing in the middle of it—and help your skin grow.

Love,

Addie

 

If you have a question for Dear Addie, please send them to dearaddie.advice@gmail.com.

*The photo of Addie Davis is provided courtesy of Special Collections, Jack Tarver Library, Mercer University, Macon, Georgia.