Ebola Came to My City This Week by Pam Durso

RosesEbola came to my city this past week. I am sure you have heard or read the news. Two American aid workers, infected with the Ebola virus, were transported to Georgia and are now being treated at Emory Hospital here in Atlanta.

The reaction to their arrival has been overwhelming and not all of it positive. Some people are frightened by the possibilities of an Ebola outbreak in the United States. Others have said that they don’t want these two infected folks in “our city.” Others have blamed the aid workers, saying they don’t deserve special care because they brought the disease on themselves by going to Liberia.

While the words used are different, mostly what I hear is “fear.” Fear of contagion. Fear of illness. Fear of powerlessness. Fear of the unknown. Fear of different.

I hear that same fear when people talk about the children who have flooded into our country from Central America. Fear of “them” coming to “our town.” Fear of being financial responsibility for “those children.” Fear that they are dangerous, maybe even terrorists. Fear. Lots of fear.

I must confess that all this fear floating in the air has made me tired. After all, fear is heavy to carry around. Fear is stressful and anxiety producing. Fear is exhausting. This week I have grown weary of fear. I am tired out by fear. Tired of fear on the news. Tired of fear on social media. Tired of overhearing fear conversations in the grocery store. Tired of fear.

I have no solutions, no easy answers for all this fear. I have no answer even for myself . . . except grace.

Today, grace showed up for me. On my way to work, I stopped by Kroger to pick up a few things. I felt drawn to the florist section (where I rarely go). But I saw all those flowers, and I picked up a $7 bouquet of roses. I brought them to the office and put them in a vase on my desk. I have looked at them all morning as I typed away on my laptop. Their beauty reminds me of grace. Beautiful, life-affirming grace. God’s grace.  And today, God’s grace made visible in orange-colored roses reminds me that fear is not, cannot be, the guiding force of my life.

My prayer today has been for all those living in fear–that grace would show up for them and that they might have eyes to see it.

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

Just Ride the Carousel by Tammy Abee Blom

CaroselRiverbanks Zoo and Garden is a favorite get away for our summer days. Since our family has a season pass, we can visit for the day or for the morning. No matter the amount of time we decide to spend, my girls always request to ride the carousel. Audrey likes all of the mounts and will pick and choose according to her mood. Eve rides the giraffe who she has named, “Violet.” Riding the carousel creates a cooling breeze on a hot, humid day and waving at mom on every rotation makes them giggle. The carousel is a must do at every zoo visit, and we always ride more than once.

On a recent ride on the carousel, Audrey called out a different lament to me on every rotation.  As she came around the first time, she called, “Mom. I’m thirsty.” I nodded and waved. Second time around, she called, “I want a bottle of water.” I waved. Third time, “How about we get ice cream when we’re done?” Again, more waving. Then, “Can I have soda and an ice cream?” I waved, but this time my enthusiasm was shot. I wondered, “Why can’t she ride the carousel and enjoy the moment? Why is she focused on what she doesn’t have rather than what she does? Why is she so worried about what comes next?

I found myself wondering why I was so annoyed with Audrey’s angst, and I realized that sometimes I create angst of my own. There are days when volunteering at school, arranging playdates, running errands, cooking meals, and teaching Sunday school are not the ride I had expected. I find myself calling out for something different, more affirming, or a change from the daily business of being a mom and a volunteer. Audrey’s inability to just ride the carousel and let the breeze move frustrated me because I too forget to live in the moment and let the Spirit move as it will.

In Snow Falling on Snow, Robert Wicks writes, “It is very easy to fall into the rhythm of everyday life. It is important we pay attention; we are alert to what is happening around us and we slow down the frames of life.” Wicks expresses what I was feeling about Audrey. I wanted her to enjoy the goodness and not miss it. I want to enjoy the goodness and not miss it. I struggle to slow down the frames of the sameness of my life. I want to pay attention and to embrace God’s work and presence, even when all I am doing is riding the same carousel again.

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.

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

A Creative Journey by Brittany Riddle

Britt-StoleI recently read a study that found that over 80 percent of five-year-olds are using their “highly creative” capacity, but by age twelve, only 2 percent of children (and later, adults) are considered “highly creative.”  These numbers struck me as I would be the first to admit that most kinds of creativity do not come naturally to me—and never have. I instantly get nervous when I walk into a room or a meeting and there are art supplies sitting out. I always feel inadequate when I see the artistic abilities of those around me. This has been true for as long as I can remember. I took an art class one summer when I was young, and the only thing I remember about the first day is that I cried until my mom came to get me, and she promised that I would not have to go back.

After many years of telling myself that I am not creative, I have come to believe it. Recently, though, I have felt like part of me is missing, so I have been on a spiritual journey to (re)discover and (re)claim my own creativity. As the first step on my journey, I decided to register for an online art journaling class with thousands of other people from around the world. This has been a lot of fun, and I find myself enjoying playing with watercolors, crayons, and markers as I create each page of my journal. At the same time, I find myself stressing over each page. Permanent markers and watercolors can not be fixed with a backspace button. Whatever goes on the page in my art journal, stays on the page.

Art Brittany 2Opening up this new part of myself has been a difficult, therapeutic, frustrating, and joy-filled part of my journey. I have had to dig deep within myself to find permission to make a mess and not be afraid to make mistakes. I have had to challenge the message that I am not creative. I have had to change the negative self-talk and open my mind to the possibilities of my own creativity.

In this art journaling course, Brené Brown has challenged us to talk to ourselves the same way that we talk to the people we love. As ministers, we regularly talk about Jesus’ teaching to love others as we love ourselves, which means that we must love ourselves first.  Instead, we ministers are often harder on ourselves than anyone else. We forgive other people when they make mistakes, but have a hard time forgiving ourselves. We beat ourselves up over small mistakes and criticisms. This reminder to talk to myself the same way I talk to the people I love has given me a new starting point for loving others as God would want me to love them—a much more fulfilling and authentic starting point.

Exploring my creativity has allowed me to connect spiritually in new ways as well. As I have been intentional about thinking “outside the box” and giving myself permission to try new things, I see new opportunities for ministry all around me. I find God in unexpected places and people. These opportunities have allowed me to connect with God and the people in my congregation on a deeper level.

Art BrittanyI may never be really comfortable with art supplies in front of me, but this course has helped me realize, and begin to believe, that I am creative. It has opened my eyes to the unique ways every person around me is also creative. Creativity shows up in many more ways than I once believed possible. Even if we have to search deep within ourselves, we all have our own unique ways of being creative. After all, we are created in the image of a creative God. 

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

Too Quiet by Tammy Abee Blom

snow TammyLike most of the southeastern United States, our neighborhood got snowed in last month. Authorities instructed drivers to remain safely at home due to the ice covered road ways. Many businesses closed so as to not risk the health of their employees. All signs pointed to having a quiet day inside. A local man was interviewed at a service station several miles from his home. The interviewer asked, “What made you come out in this weather? Are you without electrical power or heat?” The man replied, “No, I came to get a cup of coffee and get out of the house. It is too quiet there, and I knew if I got to the store, I’d see somebody I knew.” After all the warnings to drive only in an emergency situation, this man chose to drive away from the quiet. Not all of us are suited to long periods of quiet, but there is a benefit to our spirituality if we can be still, if only for one day. Being still permits our brains to rest. We can silence the constant loop of errands to do or church visits to make. Being quiet allows us to stop. For many years, I have been enamored of the verse, “Be still and know I am God.” Psalm 46:10. Being still and quiet can be a challenge for me. Yet I believe there are paths to God that can only be taken if I am still and quiet. There is a poem by Robert Wicks that calls me to the silence of snow. Snow Falling on Snow      Outside, the snow is swirling, the wind whooshing,      and the tree branches scratching against the house, wanting to come in.      Then in the spaces in between, when the wind is forgotten and all is quiet…      I open my heart to listen. I like the phrase “in the spaces in between” because that is where I find my quiet. In the spaces between supervising homework with my girls and washing dinner dishes, I find the quiet to whisper, “Thank you, God, for people who need my brain and my hands.” In between folding laundry and writing paragraphs, I pray, “Thank you, God, for the opportunity to care for my family and share words about you.” Sometimes, it is too quiet and I find myself fighting against being still or struggling to create room for the open spaces. And other times, I thirst for the open spaces because in those places I am renewed. 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.

Distractions by Tammy Abee Blom

BowlingInclement weather trapped us inside for a few days, and it was time for an adventure. The girls campaigned mightily for bowling as long as I bowled with them. So that’s how I found myself at the bowling center with both girls frustrated with me.

I had agreed to bowl with them, but secretly, I had plotted to return emails and organize a church event while they bowled and I participated halfheartedly. I was getting away with it, until Eve bowled a strike. She turned around, caught me with my eyes riveted on my phone and exclaimed, “You missed it. How could you miss it?! I bowled a strike. Mom!” Add preadolescent drama and eye rolling to the words, and you get the picture.

I knew what I had to do. I put the phone in my purse and participated with my girls. It sounds like a simple choice to put away the phone, but the running loop of tasks was not easily ignored. I was thinking about what needed to be done, who needed to be contacted, and what I had forgotten to defrost for dinner. With ball in hand, I took a deep breath as I approached the line and said, “Right now. All I am doing is bowling.” When I found myself adding more to the mental to do list, I reminded my brain, “All I am doing is bowling.”

Once I focused on bowling with Eve and Audrey, my shoulders relaxed, and we enjoyed our time together. But I had almost missed the moment.

There is a Zen saying, “Talk when you talk. Walk when you walk. Die when you die.” I am adding to the list, “Bowl when you bowl.” I have falsely convinced myself that I can do multiple tasks at once and all of them will get the attention they deserve. It is not true. My girls got angry with me when I tried to appease them with part of my attention after I had promised my full self. Not only do my relationships suffer but so does my spirit when I chase distractions rather than focus on the now. This desire to live in the now is called mindfulness or centering. Both Thomas Merton and Parker Palmer sought lives rich with being fully present and focusing on the moment at hand. Henry Thoreau said it like this,

In my walks, I would fain return to my senses.
What business have I in the woods
if I am thinking of something out of the woods?
– Thoreau –

Whether Zen or Thoreau, I am inspired to focus on what I am doing now and do it with attention and passion. When I succeed in being in the now, I see God’s grace and goodness in myself and the moment.

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.

Holy Leisure by Brittany Riddle

SnowDayAs I write this, it is Sunday morning.  I should be leading worship right now. Instead, I’m on my couch, enjoying the warm glow of the lights on my Christmas tree and the crackling sound of ice hitting the ground outside.

I woke up to the early (very early) morning texts from my fellow ministers as we decided that the safest decision was to cancel worship services due to icy conditions. After getting the word out through various media, I curled up on my couch enjoying the warmth and stillness of the moment—a luxury that is not usually a part of my Sunday morning routine.

A snow day seems to be the closest many of us get to understanding the Sabbath. As a child, there was no better feeling than waking up on a snowy morning only to learn that school had been canceled, and the day was unexpectedly free from classes and homework. The only agenda for those days was to play in the snow and drink hot chocolate.

As ministers, we rarely get a “free” day to play or rest. We often fall prey to the societal belief that in order to be good enough (or worthy of God’s love) we must work 24/7 and be available all the time. We buy into the false dichotomy that if we are not being productive and efficient, we are being lazy. But God wove a day of rest into the fabric of creation. By doing so, God tells us that not only is our work important, but our rest is also essential.

As a minister I often struggle to find my own rhythm of Sabbath. Though I love worshiping with my church family and find my work deeply fulfilling, Sundays are often too hectic to be a day of rest. I have a day off during the week, but I find that I tend to use this day to get MORE things done, not as a day to rest in God’s presence.  In The Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster reminds us that the idea Sabbath as holy leisure has been a part of the Christian tradition throughout the centuries. He describes holy leisure as “a sense of balance in life, an ability to be at peace through the activities of the day, an ability to rest and take time to enjoy beauty, an ability to pace ourselves.”

Sabbath is not just about taking a long, afternoon nap. It is not about running errands to free up the rest of the week. Instead, Sabbath is about having a prayerful imagination. Sabbath is about praying, resting, doing those things that fill our hearts with joy, and intentionally inviting the Holy into our lives and encounters with others.

Pray—Work—Rest—Repeat. In the midst of work and other responsibilities, God calls me to rest, to engage in holy leisure, to pace myself, and to enjoy the beauty in the world around me. I am thankful for a “snow day” to remind me that my rhythms are not God’s rhythms. While I strive to DO more and more, God calls me to BE more and more. Thanks be to God for calling us to more than we would be on our own.

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