Sunday, September 5, 2021

What You Don't Know

October 2004. I'm pregnant with my first child. We've been married for 2 years, we have degrees and jobs and a condo and a dog. We're ready.

December 2004. Todd loses his job. He gets a new one quickly. He moves away to Michigan, where we can raise the baby near family. I stay in Chicago until April to sell the condo and prepare for my long-term sub. I go to my doctor's visits alone. I have a very difficult time finding a doctor in Michigan to take me on because I’m so near my delivery date. We buy a house. I stay home for a bit. Todd hates his job but we have good benefits, so he stays. I have to go back to work 4 months postpartum, which was not the plan. I'm glad we have family to help with childcare, because we can't afford it or even access it because I work evenings part-time.


August 2007. I’ve struggled to find a full-time teaching job since Maddie was born, and I finally get my dream job. 

October 2007. I’m pregnant. Though we weren't trying for a baby, we're thrilled. I start bleeding at school. I miscarry over the weekend. I go back to work on Monday. I feel guilty because I think I caused it by not wanting to give up my new job. I’m sad for a while. I have a hard time getting in to see my doctor, but when I finally get checked out, I get a bill coded for “spontaneous abortion”. When I opened it my face got hot and I had to look up what that term meant.

I become hyper-focused on giving Maddie a sibling. I take my temperature and chart my ovulation cycle. I pray the rosary on the way to school every morning. Todd’s career is going well. We’re finally making some financial and professional progress. 


September 2008: I’m finally pregnant again. 

December 2008: Todd loses his job. He can’t find another one. He’s unemployed for almost 2 years. I’m working full-time and working on my Masters Degree. Thank goodness he can stay home with the baby, because we can’t afford child care on my Catholic school teacher’s salary. We eventually lose our home and move into my recently deceased grandmother’s home. We argue a lot. Todd decides to go back to school. We take a huge leap of faith and add on more student loans to our already stretched budget. 


March 2013. Todd is in seminary. I’m home with the kids since we just moved to Illinois for his first pastoral appointment. The kids are on the state insurance plan because we’re low income. I’m pregnant with Harper. I have better access to doctors than I’ve ever had. I have a safe and uncomplicated c-section birth. We’re finally on a stable path financially and professionally. Ava has two years of quality preK because of a state-funded early childhood program.


Todd had a vasectomy around Harper’s first birthday because we decided our family was complete. He didn’t need my permission from his doctor, though he’d have been consulted if I’d decided to have a tubal ligation. His procedure cost us $7 with insurance. I’d rather not count up how much it cost to deliver 3 babies by C-section, but it’s in the thousands of dollars even with insurance. 


I’ve never considered abortion. I always had choices and backups and contingency plans. I had a loving partner, and even though we struggled with money for a while, we always had family to help. We had faith. We had insurance through employers and later through the state. We were lucky. But we were naïve about how difficult and costly raising a family would be. I didn't know how much of myself I'd have to give up to raise kids. I didn't know how much I'd change and grow. I'd still do it all again.

Looking at me and my family now, you might be surprised that we struggled. And that’s the point I’m trying to make: you don’t know what a woman is going through. You don't know what a family is going through. You don’t know. 

Despite what you may have heard growing up, women are capable of making decisions about their bodies with their doctor and their partner. Women should not have to leave jobs to raise kids—unless they want to. Women should make enough to pay for quality child care. Women should have access to birth control if they don’t wish to have children at that particular time. And men should have to shoulder half the burden of the cost of bearing and raising children. 

What is happening in Texas right now is beyond belief. And Texas is just the beginning—other states have signaled their desire to adopt similar abortion bans, and some already have dangerous laws in place that harm women in very vulnerable situations. This episode of The Daily does a good job of explaining why this particular legislative tactic is so successful--it's not because of a great moral or religious certainty, but great legal uncertainty.

My greatest concern with the Texas legislation is that women and those that are trying to help them will be punished for seeking health care, all while the men who made them pregnant face no consequences or accountability. If this were really about the sanctity of life, Texas would not rank 48th in women’s health or 50th in children’s health care and wellness.

You don't know what it's like to need an abortion. Be glad you or someone you love has not been put in that impossible position. But if you don’t know anyone who has had an abortion, consider that maybe you weren’t a safe person to talk to. This is more common than you might think.

You might not know. But please, listen with compassion to those that do.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Moms Know

Since becoming a mother, some stories from the Bible have changed for me. Maybe you’ve experienced this, too? And one came alive for me in a new way this Easter season. While reflecting on the passion story from the John, I read this passage (John 19:25-27):

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman,[b] here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

I imagine a completely broken and exhausted mother, leaning on an equally broken and exhausted friend, united in their grief.
“Woman, here is your son. And here is your mother.”

What a powerful act of love and community. It took my breath away, because I understand a little better now what it means to mother—whether my own kids or otherwise—through my years of parenting, teaching, and pastor’s spouse-ing. Moms know.

We are all connected to one another, we belong to one another, and the well-being of one affects us all. Jesus knew this, and even as he suffered and died, he set a powerful example for his followers to take care of one another through difficult times.

In the weeks we’ve been sheltering in place, this has become real in a new way for me, and maybe for you, too. Staying home is something that’s strange and uncomfortable and even hard for me to make sure my community—not just my own family—is healthy.

It also means I’ve also had a little more free time than usual…so, I did a little research about Mother’s Day as I prepared for this message. In the years before the Civil War, Ann Reeves Jarvis of West Virginia helped start “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs” to teach local women how to properly care for their children. These clubs later became a unifying force in a region still divided over the Civil War. In 1868 Jarvis organized “Mothers’ Friendship Day,” where mothers gathered with former Union and Confederate soldiers to promote reconciliation. In 1870 abolitionist and suffragette Julia Ward Howe wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” a call to action that asked mothers to promote world peace, and campaigned for a “Mother’s Peace Day” to be celebrated every June 2.
And Juliet Calhoun Blakely, a temperance activist also connected to the underground railroad, inspired a local Mother’s Day in Albion, Michigan, in the 1870s. I just had to add this in here, as my husband and I attended Albion College and often passed by the placard placed outside her family’s home in her honor.

So Mother’s Day has at its core education, reconciliation, community, and peacemaking. Because mothers know that we belong to each other and that it takes a village to raise a child.

But like most holidays, it has strayed far from its original purpose. Ann Reeves Jarvis had originally conceived of Mother’s Day as a day of personal celebration between mothers and families. Following her mother’s 1905 death, Anna Jarvis conceived of Mother’s Day as a way of honoring the sacrifices mothers made for their children. Her version of the day involved wearing a white carnation and visiting one’s mother or attending church services. But once Mother’s Day became a national holiday, it was not long before florists, card companies and other merchants capitalized on its popularity. By 1920 Jarvis had become disgusted with how the holiday had been commercialized. She outwardly denounced the transformation and urged people to stop buying Mother’s Day flowers, cards and candies. She launched countless lawsuits against groups that had used the name “Mother’s Day,” eventually spending most of her personal wealth in legal fees. By the time of her death in 1948 Jarvis had disowned the holiday altogether, and even actively lobbied the government to see it removed from the American calendar.

We do this a lot as humans—take a good thing and make it not so good. We forget the heart of what we are called to do: loving one another as God has loved us, just like our mamas and Jesus taught us. So what does that love look like, and how could we honor Mother’s Day today?
Well, by doing what our mamas taught us.

Clean up your own mess.
How often do you recycle? Do you even know how or where to dispose of recyclable materials in your area? And do you know how long recyclable materials hang around in landfills, contributing emissions that dirty our air and water?

Be fair.
Did you know that in Illinois, most coal fired power plants and transportation hubs are located in communities of color? That means our energy consumption and consumer demand harms our brothers and sisters living in those areas in the form of asthma and other respiratory issues. Black children are 10 times more likely to die of asthma-related causes than white children. 

Don’t waste.
Did you know 30-40% of food in the United States is wasted? Think of all the people that are hungry and could really use that food. Think of all the energy and time that it took to produce, transport, and prepare that food—all wasted.

And a cousin of “don’t waste”: turn off the lights when you leave the room!
If you’re still using the old 60-watt incandescent lightbulbs in your house, you should know that it wastes up to 90% of its energy as heat – only 10% of its energy is spent actually producing light. If that huge waste of energy isn’t enough to convince you to switch to LED bulbs, then here’s another reason: Leaving your lights on an extra 8 hours a day adds up to a waste of $900 a year! I can think of a lot of things I’d rather spend $900 on. Leaving your LED lights on all day isn’t quite as costly, but it’ll still cause a significant dent in your annual energy bill. 45 LED lights left on while you’re at work will cost you an extra $180 a year. If you flip those switches off, you could save enough for an annual gym membership. And let’s not forget, when we put demand on the grid to power things that we’re not even using, we’re harming those that live in the path of coal-fired power plants.

Look after your brother or sister when I’m not around.
We’re all we have. And this is the only planet we have. We need to find ways to leave this planet a little better than we found it—another lesson from Mom—and perhaps we can use this time of social distancing to form some new habits and consume less.

Jesus knew. Moms know. We belong to one another, and when we take care of the earth, we’re caring for our brothers and sisters around the world, in space and in time.
Happy Mother’s Day.


Saturday, June 1, 2019

Animal Conference

When Harper was little, she called the annual gathering of clergy and laity of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference “animal conference”. We did correct her, though gently and with humor,  because it was adorable and funny.

Just this week, Harper informed me that she knew it was called “Annual Conference” now. She could pronounce it correctly. If we jokingly tried to get her to say “animal conference” again, she’d roll her eyes and remind us of how old she is now and how she’s learning and growing every day.

This week we’ll be traveling to Peoria to participate in the 2019 Annual Conference. There’s much work to be done, much to be celebrated, many friendships to renew, and deep conversations to have. Our conference is large and covers a lot of ground, so sometimes Annual Conference is the only chance we get to see certain pastor friends and their families. We look forward to it every year, kids and adults alike, even though it can be an emotionally and physically demanding time.

I’ve been reflecting on church a lot this week, as I’m running for a lay spot in our conference’s delegation to the 2020 General Conference in Minnesota. This is a big responsibility, as the delegation will be voting quite literally on the future of the United Methodist Church. After the special 2019 General Conference in St. Louis was called to decide on the UMC’s policies on human sexuality, many have wondered if they can stay in a church that actively excludes beloved children of God. Some have left, unable to stay part of an exclusive and harmful system. Some are staying to try and repair, restitch, or revision the big tent that has long been the UMC—people who are challenged by full inclusion of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers working alongside those that are not because our contexts may be different but we still love Jesus and work for the transformation of the world.

The Christian church in the US (and elsewhere) has been in decline for decades. Fewer and fewer people are opting to raise their families in church. There are many reasons for this: Sundays are no longer sacred, and many folks have to work or attend kids’ sporting events that day; churches may not offer the programs families are looking for; in rural areas, churches can be few and far between; churches can be insulated and unwelcoming to newcomers; people not raised in a church themselves are less likely to raise their own kids in church; church can be seen as hypocritical and antiquated in modern society, failing to feed the hungry and minister to the stranger while holding fast to white supremacy and patriarchy; or simply because people don’t see the point of church anymore.

The United Methodist Church is facing hard decisions. These decisions are not limited to what to do about human sexuality, but those are the ones getting the most attention. To me, it comes down to what our vision for the future will be: will we work toward a just and sustainable Church, where we prioritize care for the earth and each other? Or will we continue to maintain the status quo, which is doing harm to people everywhere?

Much like Harper learned to correctly say “Annual Conference” after patient guidance from those who love her, are we making space for the young members of the church to lead us in a different way? Young people raised in the church, like Todd and I, have been nurtured and challenged in our faith and are feeling a need to lead differently than in the past. Will we trust these emerging leaders? Or will we retreat to how things have always been done hoping our comfort will save us? What would Jesus do in the face of broken systems of oppression that are doing harm to his children?

Church has a terrible history. Church has a deep tradition. Church can have a beautiful future that recognizes these realities but tries to keep moving forward with love and justice as our guide. That’s what I’m praying for this week. I invite you to join me.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

An invitation to a deeper conversation

Through my grassroots interfaith environmental advocacy, I’ve gotten to know lots of men and women in rural Illinois, which is very different from where I grew up in suburban Detroit.

I was raised Catholic, went through 12 years of Catholic education including an all-girls high school. And then I went to a United Methodist affiliated college and met a boy brought up in the United Methodist church. 

We started going to church together, and I started looking at the gospel in a different way. I saw women able to preach and lead congregations for the first time. I learned more about social justice in our first years of marriage than I’d learned in all my years of catechism.

This didn’t create tension in my family, but it did generate some deep discussions about how our faith informs our ideas and our politics on the environment, health care, reproductive rights, economics, and human sexuality, to name a few. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t always agree with my parents. Sometime I don’t entirely agree with my husband. But we’ve been able to develop some ground rules over the years:

  • You can always find common ground
  • Assume one another's best intentions
  • Look for nuance—not everything is black and white
  • Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
  • Ignoring it won’t make it go away   
  • I’m a beloved child of God and so are you
I’ve learned that not everyone goes through this kind of transformation. Not everyone learns how to engage in difficult or political conversations with grace. And some of us opt to stay out of it entirely in the interest of avoiding conflict. This rarely works and only reinforces that we simply don’t know how to TALK with each other about important issues.

All of this was on full display during the 2016 presidential election process and continues to color our country’s political discourse. And in February 2019, my heart broke as I watched my beloved church begin down a path of pain and exclusion.

When the hosts of a podcast I listen to wrote a book this winter, I Think You’re Wrong But I’m Listening: A Guide toGrace-Filled Political Conversations, I read it in nearly one sitting. I had been craving a new way to engage my friends and neighbors in difficult conversations, and this was it.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is this:

“We do not demonstrate love toward our neighbors by demonizing them over how they feel about tax policy or reproductive rights. We do not turn the other cheek when we treat politics as an insular sphere in which fighting fire with fire is the only way. We do not live as the hands and feet of a loving creator when we opt out of the processes that dictate roads and bridges, school curriculum and water treatment, war and peace. Neither stridence or apathy is a virtue.”

The book outlines many of the above rules I’ve employed over the years, and added a few more:

  • Take off your team jersey: ever get between a Cubs fan and a Cards fan? We need to learn to prioritize our relationship with the person we’re disagreeing with rather than our team. That also means prioritizing deep understanding of a topic of disagreement rather than winning, which brings us to #2:
  •  Get curious: does that thing you read on the internet seem completely unbelievable? Does it make you angry? Well…maybe it’s designed to. Do some research. Ask questions. If you’ve been watching the news lately, I think we’ve learned that social media has been used to manipulate our emotions and quite possibly our votes. Know that the truth might challenge your beliefs, which brings us to #3:
  •  Exit the echo chamber: Balance your news outlets and consider the source. If it’s not being shown on several major news outlets, that should give you pause. Time to get curious again and do some research. Take the opportunity to discuss the drama du jour with someone who might think differently than you. And again, make it your goal to deeply understand the topic, not score points for your side.
As people of faith, we’re called to be leaders in doing this well, or at least to try.

That's why I'm running to be a lay delegate to General Conference 2020. That's why I participate in the IGRC Unity group.  And that's why I want to be in conversation with you, dear reader, especially if you're a voting member of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference of the United Methodist Church. 

We have much to decide in 2020. The special General Conference rulings on human sexuality are only a small part of the things I'm passionate about: I am deeply concerned about our disregard for and abuse of creation, our reconciliation with our Native American sisters and brothers, and the status and role of women. I believe God will work with us in our decision making and will use our pain and our joy for good.

What is your hope for the United Methodist Church? Where is the pain? The joy? How are you being called to ministry? Who isn't being heard? 

I'd love to have these conversations in person or on the phone. I want to listen. I want to understand. Email me at if you want to talk.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

My #oneword for 2019

It's my favorite time of year (where my Enneagram 1's at?). Time to get organized! Finish projects! Lose weight! Tidy up (looking at you, Marie Kondo)! But also time to chart a course for 2019 by choosing one word to guide me.

I've done this for the past few years, and I've found it very helpful in setting the tone for the year. For example, last year's word BOLD was a theme in many of the things I accomplished. I continued my work at Faith in Place and transitioned to full time. 2019 will likely bring some bold new changes as I discern becoming an outreach director for our proposed southern Illinois office. 

I spoke and preached. I marched. I organized. I lead. I advocated. I raised almost $600 for Dressember. I traveled. I devoured books, blogs, and podcasts. I learned a lot about myself through the Enneagram. But I started noticing something I needed to do more of: listen.

Since moving to southern Illinois this summer, I've learned that our new community has different needs from the last one. I like to fix things, or at the very least connect people with resources, but sometimes it's best to just listen. So through face-to-face conversations and social media, I've started doing just that. But I see patterns and behaviors that challenge me and my faith: being stuck in black and white thinking or partisan politics. 

I've worked very hard to try and embrace both/and thinking, especially with challenging topics like health care, immigration, gun control, human sexuality, and climate justice (just to name a few). It's possible to hold complicated feelings about these issues that challenge our faith and our politics. I received an advanced copy of I Think You're Wrong (But I'm Listening): A Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations and it has absolutely lit a fire in my soul. With every page I turn, I find myself nodding (or yelling) in agreement. And in one of those late-night reading jags, my word became clear: NUANCE. 

Nuance (noun) nu·​ance | \ˈnü-ˌän(t)s
sensibility to, awareness of, or ability to express delicate shadings (as of meaning, feeling, or value). 

I should say that this word is extremely hard for me. I'm an Enneagram 1. We're not so good at grey area. We are, "Conscientious with strong personal convictions...have an intense sense of right and wrong, personal religious and moral values." But the good news is, we also "...wish to be rational, reasonable, self-disciplined, mature, moderate in all things." So this year, I'm going to try strengthening those parts of me that want things to always be certain or or settled. As a person of faith, I need to learn to embrace (or at least try to remain open to) mystery, uncertainty, and grey area. I'm also hoping to work on finding shared values with those I disagree with and prioritizing relationship over rightness.
While we were visiting family in Michigan at the holidays, we attended worship at our old church in Warren, MI. I scribbled some notes in the margins of the bulletin to think about later, and as I was cleaning out my purse when we returned home on New Year's Day, rereading these notes told me I was on the right track with my word.

Pastor Melissa Claxton said that the new year is, "not about getting back to normal, but about starting something new." She's so right. I want NUANCE to be the new normal in my life. I hope I can make my work and personal relationships stronger by listening more. But most of all, I want my hard work to help me be a new creation, not just a thinner or tidier version of my old self.

What's your one word for 2019?