#Yoked: Practicing Family Devotions

#Yoked: Practicing Family Devotions

Yoked magnet

This is part of a series on clergy couples and their stories. Andy and I wrote a book about being a clergy couple and all the insanity that goes along with it called Yoked: Stories of a Clergy Couple in Marriage, Family, and Ministry.

We sit at the dining room table, our dinner plates in front of us. We share our highs and our lows – the beginning of a family devotion time. His high is about a cool new coffee gadget that the local coffee shop owner shared with him that afternoon. His low is about the Sunday School program he’s working on that just isn’t getting off the ground. Instead of listening without judgment (like I’m supposed to be doing) I offer up some advice.

Have you tried X?
Did you see this article?
Have you checked out that Facebook page?
You should read this new book.

And suddenly we’re both back in work mode, strategizing, brain storming, discussing the big picture and future of the church and youth and family ministry.  The conversation is lively and energizing, full of both hope and lament. But after it’s over, as the dishes are cleared away, the kitchen sink is filling with soapy water, and the baby is whining to get out of her high chair, I realize that while we connected as colleagues, we forgot to connect as husband and wife.

That was the whole point of doing these family devotions. We wanted to get in the habit of connecting as husband and wife, as parents and child, so that our pastor’s kid grows up hearing not only about theology and ministry concepts, but also about the actual faith of her parents.

Why is this so hard?

On one hand, it is wonderful to be able to lament and complain and talk shop with my husband, someone who “gets it” in a way that other friends and family do not. On the other hand, it’s that shop talk that fools us into thinking we’ve connected with one another as something other than colleagues. I know that when my husband shares his work related low, all he wants to hear is that I’m in his corner, that I think he’s great, no matter how that event succeeded or failed. We both want a home where our vocations as spouse and parent are the focus instead of our roles as pastors.

So what do we do?

Maybe it’s as simple as continuing to practice those family devotions. Sharing our highs and lows (including listening without judgment), reading scripture together, praying about our highs and lows, and blessing one another. Living our faith just as much privately as we do publicly.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetMegan Koepnick Clapp is Pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Andover, Iowa. She is passionate about helping God’s people grow in faith that is connected to every part of life, not just the Sunday morning routine.  Megan is married to a pastor and they are constantly dreaming and scheming together about the future of ministry and the church. Megan is a graduate of Luther Seminary (ELCA) and along with her M.Div, received a degree in Children, Youth, and Family ministry.

Speak: On Stories and World-Changing

speak3_final How would your life be different if you shared your stories? …Nish Weiseth exhorts Christians to follow Jesus’ example by using story as a vehicle for change…Speak is a call for grace, openness, and vulnerability. [She] encourages those in the body of Christ to know their own stories of transformation and redemption and to use those stories as a catalyst for change. (From the backcover of Speak: How Your Story Can Change the World)

Utah wedding and portrait photographyI “met” friend Nish Weiseth around a year ago when Sarah Bessey, one of the editors and author of Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women, (shockingly) asked me to be a regular contributor to Deeper Story. What I’ve loved the most about being a part of the Deeper Story collective of writers was the access to a venue where I was encouraged to share the stories closest to my life and it never explicitly had to concern faith. And not just any stories, not pretty stories, not happy-ending or happily-ever-after stories, not even complete stories but snippets of our lives that revealed thin places, where the divine and human intersect in genuine and meaningful ways. All our stories were and are so different but there are so many wonderful ways we overlap, too.

It’s also a privilege to find one of my stories in her book, a blog I wrote called – Beyond Black and White: Yellow Fever and Letting Go of Shame.

Yellow Fever: 1. An infectuous tropical disease carried by mosquitoes. 2. A term usually applied to white males who have a clear sexual preference for women of Asian descent. [From Urban Dictionary]

3. Feeling shame about one”s asianness. (My definition)

I wrote about being “yellow,” being Asian, being Korean feeling like a disease and an illness and so it was yellow fever because I felt shame for this sickness – my skin color and cultural heritage. It was perhaps one of the few times I felt empowered to speak of experiences I’ve kept so close to my heart – stories about shame and racism within the church, and since then I continue to feel more and more compelled to speak out like through another blog called Faith Feminisms.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. -MLK Jr.

I had been asleep, maybe dead for awhile, until I began to speak about God – to speak about faith and church, my family, and about racism and sexism. I spoke about my life, and I didn’t need to qualify it or explain it, defend it or have someone else affirm it. And speaking brought logos-life to my bones, and the resurrection somehow meant more when I saw that God was not man or a white man but someone who shared in my humanity right down to the core of my struggles. God became possibility, the ground of all being, חסד (the Hebrew word hesed – “steadfast love,”  “kindness,” “loving-kindness,” “mercy,” “loyalty”), continuous and constant presence, Wisdom and grace, giver of life, flesh-and-blood passion and love, and beyond-words.

I love Nish’s book for its direct and honest call to all of humanity to delve into stories as a way to transform individuals, communities, and the world. We don’t need more dogma or doctrine, more programs or prescriptives, more agendas or answers. We need stories. And it’s not just about us telling our own stories but about providing space for others’ to tell their stories, too.

Definitely, give her book a chance and check out Deeper Story for people who are passionate about the work of telling the stories of our lives.

When reaching out with our hands, resources, an dlove to those in need, may we always look into their faces and listen to their stories. Even though it can seem like the voices of those on the margins have been silenced…they have stories, lives, and experiences, too…it’s our job to simple be a microphone, offering our volume, influence, and privilege for the sake of those who need it most…May we be the hands and feet of Christ as we sit and listen and tell the stories of the least of these. -NW

#ThrowbackThursday: Oldies But (Maybe, Hopefully) Goodies

#ThrowbackThursday: Oldies But (Maybe, Hopefully) Goodies


Wanted to highlight some blogs and writers who’ve guest-posted here in these last whatever years because periodically I go back and look through the lists and read them – they are still so good. So gracious. So powerful. So much a gift to me. And I want them to be a blessing for you too!

Motherhood Mantras: Stories of Survival was the first series on the blog and truthfully, a relatively selfish and indulgent one. Because I was in the throes of new babyhood (times two) and desperate for someone to share in my literal physical, emotional, spiritual suffering. And needed people to give me a glimpse of that elusive light at the end of that seemingly endless tunnel.

Maryann McKibben Dana’s post has been hitting it home for me this month:

It was the witching hour, and my husband was working late. I’d managed to cobble together some semblance of a balanced meal for the three amigos and me. But there was no getting around it—we had to go to the grocery store after supper. It had been an exhausting day of ministry. As I navigated traffic with the kids in the back, I was lost in my own thoughts about e-mails left unanswered and people who would need to be visited the next day. I was heavy with the burden of pastoral care, not to mention sermon preparation, which percolates underneath everything else, all week long. I love my kids, but I was counting the minutes until they were tucked quietly into bed.

A plaintive request came from the back seat: “Mommy, can we pretend we’re in a spaceship?”

The internal answer was instant and vehement: Ugh, NO! I was just too tired. I wanted to get to the store, buy what we needed, and get home—no muss, no fuss. I had expended all my creative energy during the day. Surely there was nothing left for spaceship play. The internal answer was instant and vehement: Ugh, NO! I was just too tired. I wanted to get to the store, buy what we needed, and get home—no muss, no fuss. I had expended all my creative energy during the day. Surely there was nothing left for spaceship play.

But something in me shifted. What if I went along with them in the game? What if I decided not to do the bare minimum? What would happen if I summoned up some energy I wasn’t even sure I had, in order to play along? “Sure!” I heard myself say, and began barking out nonsensical orders. “First Officer Caroline: monitor our coordinates. Lieutenant Margaret: check the thrusters to see that they’re operational. Sergeant James: give us a report of weather conditions outside.”

A short growl came from the backseat. Oh yeah, James is in his I’m-a-dog phase. “Did I say Sergeant James? I meant Scruffy the dog. Scruffy, you lie down until we get to the moon, then you can help explore.” The whole errand went this way. The Fairfax County Parkway became a giant asteroid belt. The grocery store became a space station where we needed to stock up on supplies. Our garage became a lunar docking station.

Miraculously, bedtime afterward went smoothly, even joyfully. I thought they’d be wound up from our game, but they were content, excited that they’d been able to do something out of the ordinary. What’s more, I was in a better mood too.

Later that night, I remembered a phrase I’d read as a young adult: “It’s easier to do what’s hard than what’s easy.” The author’s point (if I remember correctly) is that people often choose the path of least resistance in their lives, but that path can make life harder in the long run. (Doing the bare minimum to graduate, for example—it’s easier short-term but it can impact career success for a long time.) By contrast, if you put in just a little more effort, it can make a huge difference in the end. What’s initially hard becomes easier over time.

That phrase has evolved into a parenting mantra:

The harder thing is the easier thing.

It’s hard to summon the energy to play Minivan Spaceship, but it’s easier in the long run than dealing with cranky, bored kids, resentful at yet another errand, dragging their feet instead of skipping down the aisles, looking for provisions.  It’s hard to keep the house in a basic semblance of order, but it’s easier in the long run when you know exactly where the permission slip is on the morning of the field trip. It’s hard for me to set aside time for Sabbath each week—a practice our family has been committed to for many years—but it makes life easier because it makes life more pleasant.

The harder thing is the easier thing.

It’s hard to have the tough conversation, or to respond to that angry e-mail with a phone call instead of another e-mail, or to tell the truth the first time rather than fudge it… but it is so much more freeing to be on the other side of it. Sometimes we’re tempted to do the minimum to get by—in life, in relationships. And let’s face it: as mothers, we’re constantly playing triage. A bit more humor, a bit more kindness, a bit more intentionality, require a lot more energy up front. But these things pay dividends in the long run, through stronger relationships and a sense of well-being.

The harder thing is the easier thing.

Like every good mantra, you have to know when embrace its inverse. Sometimes the harder thing is the harder thing. It’s possible to force things, to strive for a perfection that’s not only impossible, but exhausting and dispiriting. I’m a big believer in the good-enough parent. Sometimes simply getting everyone to the store and back in one piece is good enough. Surviving is a victory.

But other times, the harder thing really is the easier thing. And the more joyful thing.

*MaryAnn is at the Blue Room Blog.

Some other tidbits that I still use throughout the day like prayers and chants:

From Courtney Mills Jones Willis: And yet, through lots of trial and error, lots of joy and tears, I have discovered something really beautiful. I have discovered that while I am called to ministry, motherhood too is my calling.

From Galit Breen: It’s just a small moment. Every mothering moment – from the dark to the glowing – is so very small and so very fleeting. Sleepless nights and crying newborns are woven deeply with belly laughs and tiny fingers laced tightly with my own. I can pick up the golden moments, place them in my HeartHand, and enjoy them.

From Micah BoyettHave grace with yourself, my friend said to me. She knew what I would feel some days: The temptation during your baby’s first year to long for her success, to judge yourself in light of her advancement, to value her in light of what the world values: appearance, physical impressiveness, signs of intellect. How often did I compare my kid with another? How often was I the one bragging of some sign of my child’s superiority? Have grace with yourself.

From Katherine Willis PersheyHold the railing. It’s a motherhood nag, not a motherhood mantra. Right? Or perhaps it is a mantra. I repeat the same words to myself, thundering down our creaky wooden steps with the baby in one hand and always, always, something else in the other. They are everywhere, these menaces of gravity and right angles. People fall down the stairs all the time, breaking a hip, an ankle, a neck. Stairwells are just one small danger in what seems like an infinite funhouse of ways to get hurt. We are so vulnerable, so breakable. We cannot fend off every attack or avoid every pitfall or swerve from the path of every errant automobile. It is enough to make a mama weary with worry, or worse, paralyzed by anxiety.

From Caela Simmons Wood: I can only control myself. That’s all there is to it. I cannot control my child. It’s not my job. My job is to help him learn how to control himself. And I can’t do that if I’m trying to control him. I was shocked at how quickly this mantra began to heal our relationship. I can say it to myself when I’m starting to feel angry and immediately begin to feel calm. Better yet, I explained the mantra to my child and it really seems to be helping him with his own behavior, too. In a moment of calm connection, I explained to him that when I get mad, I have to remind myself that I can’t control him, that I can only control myself. I told him that he’s the only one who can control himself. He really seemed to like this idea. I think it made him feel bigger and stronger.

From Katie Mulligan: In the middle of all this, the director of academic affairs asked me, “How do you get out of bed everyday?” I stared at him in amazement, and asked through gritted teeth, What’s the other option?? What’s the other option? And I meant it. I stared at him a while with sharp, angry thoughts running through my head. Who else was going to get the children out of bed in the morning? Who else was going to feed them? Who else was going to make sure they got to every blasted appointment and took prescribed meds? Who else was going to make sure they took a bath? Brush their teeth? Had clean clothes? With my family all the way out in California, and other seminary students busy with their own dramas, who else was there? What was the other option?

Pay Attention: Advent, Christmas, and All Those Signs

Pay Attention: Advent, Christmas, and All Those Signs


Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.

Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

Andy and I are wired differently when it comes to directions. He relies on monuments and unusual buildings to chart the map in his mind. I prefer words – RIGHT on Elm street, LEFT on 3rd street, and so on and so forth. Usually after driving somewhere once I’m able to remember it without the directions. It’s one of the few things I feel good enough to brag about it. I just have a good sense of direction, and don’t even mind getting lost once in a while. It helps fill out the picture of a city in my mind as I inadvertently discover all the ways the streets and neighborhoods connect to each other. But, I suppose showing up somewhere 45 minutes late isn’t ideal even if I’m figuring out how to not get lost in the future.

Bloomington has been pretty easy to navigate around despite the random name changes of streets and lack of signage sometimes (It took me a bit to figure out the bypass…and Country Club to Winslow to Rogers? WTH?). I feel pretty confident I can figure something out even without Google Maps with me (I got rid of my smartphone so have to look up directions and memorize them beforehand). Andy is doing pretty well, too, much better than when we lived in Easton – I would get frantic, last-minute calls from him whenever Ellis had a vet check-up. Because he could never remember how to get there. Never. Ever. Even after almost 5 years of living there.

It’s ok, though right? We all have our MOs and little quirks. Whenever I’m trying to decide something for him – like a sandwich to order – he always tells me, “Just think about what you would want to eat – and choose the opposite for me.” Likewise, lately with directions I tell him, “Whenever you feel the urge to turn left, turn right.” Even though we might see the exact same sign we might remember it differently. Interpret it differently. See it differently.

This season went by so unbelievably fast. My mind is still spinning. But I still caught glimpses. Even when I wasn’t really looking for the signs – I caught a shimmer here and there. Church on Sundays was a little like a map giving me some directions here and there, and though I got lost most of the time – lost in the speed of disappearing days – there were moments of radiance. And that’s one of the best gifts of this season – a moment of radiance in the darkness pointing to Jesus’ birth, and the meaning of God’s incarnation.

Going back to the grind – more seasons of fatigue – but carrying that light with me, and it is good.

Suddenly at my elbow. I only know that a rook
Ordering its black feathers can so shine
As to seize my senses, haul
My eyelids up, and grant

A brief respite from fear
Of total neutrality.
With luck,
Trekking stubborn through this season
Of fatigue, I shall
Patch together a content

Of sorts.
Miracles occur,
If you care to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance miracles.
The wait’s begun again,
The long wait for the angel.
For that rare, random descent.

Countdown: Feels Like Forever

Countdown: Feels Like Forever


…Someone, please give me—who is born again but still so much in need of being born anew—
give me the details of how to live in the waiting cocoon before the forever begins?
― Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

It’s so close I can almost smell it. Smell the sterile hospital hallways. Smell the sweat (I imagine, from both me and Andy) as we work to deliver this baby. Smell the divine emanating from the top of this newborn’s head. Smell the perfectly formed little hands and fingers, and the impossibly wrinkly toes.

It’s also so far. 35 weeks. We’ve come a long ways but to go full – term means 5. MORE. WEEKS. Why does that sound like an eternity? I have a feeling it has to do with being acutely aware of my longing to “get my body back,” and finally letting the twins jump on me and my belly without a thought, letting myself pick them both up like sacks of potatoes and not collapse, letting my feet run, my hands make and create and get on that sewing machine again, my eyes stay up late at night, and having an extra brain cell or two enough to comprehend and enjoy a good book. I’ve missed it. A friend I’ve not seen in so long.

But this is what I’m finding, in glimpses and flashes: this is it. This is it, in the best possible way. That thing I’m waiting for, for that adventure, that movie-score-worthy experience unfolding gracefully. This is it. Normal, daily life ticking by on our streets and sidewalks, in our houses and apartments, in our beds and at our dinner tables, in our dreams and prayers and fights and secrets – this pedestrian life is the most precious thing any of us will ever experience.― Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life

Still. I know there’s something to be said about waiting. Living in on-the-edge-of-my-seat anticipation. Breathing in and out all the questions and uncertainty in the here-and-now as they form and transform me. Embracing and trusting the wonder of dreams I have about this little one knowing that he/she will be more than my most creative, imaginative moments could ever conjure up. I know waiting is good for us somehow. I always tell A to wait when she’s screaming for more raisins or Elmo. God does something immensely important to us in that cocoon space. These moments in the dark in that mysterious shaping – not so unlike the little one being molded in me – they’re undoubtedly significant.

It’s still a bizarre season for me though. I feel cramped. I’m tossing and turning with my thoughts also rolling around. I’m impatient. I’m exhausted … From me. My emotions don’t seem to ever be straightforward but always a mix of contrasts. Feelings of guilt for not having enough energy and strength for the twins especially these last few weeks we have with just us. Feelings of pure joy at the thought of #3. Feelings of pure terror at the thought of #3…and having 3 kids. Feelings of calm that it will all work out. Feelings of frantic anxiety not knowing how it will play out once the dust settles and we are on the ground floor of reality. Still feeling like “Am I doing enough? Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing now?” Navigating all this is a mental and emotional chore in itself especially when I’ve got to lay down on my left side for a few hours everyday. I’m laying here watch these living days slip by so slowly and quickly somehow.

Toying with this quote from Voltaire:

We never live; we are always in the expectation of living.

In some ways it resonates with this season for me right now. And at the same time, I think that even in the expectation…the waiting, the countdown, the marking off of days and weeks – that’s living, too.

Motherhood Mantras: Stories of Survival

{Above image from here}

I started writing about the words that I clung to during the first few months of the babies’ arrival, and then the middle months, and the later months, and…now pretty much all day everyday I rely on a variety of them to keep me from losing it or running away. Some come to me spontaneously, and then I can’t remember them the next day or week. Some come to me from Scripture, poems, Facebook and Pinterest, blogs, books and stories (even children’s books).

So far, the ones that have stuck with me are:

Survive and advance (during March Madness 2011 when the babies were tiny).
Accept the mess.
Savor it.
When in doubt, air it out.
It is what it is.

There’s nothing really inspiring about these words per se, and certainly they are not remotely poetic or even eloquent. Or even interesting. Borderline cliche, probably. But, because these mantras are simple and straightforward I remember them. And I realized these words took root because there are stories – drama, adventure, obviously, tragedy and comedy – that surround these words, and they remind me that these words are anchored in humanity. These words have flesh and blood and tears.

Mantras. I wiki-ed it for my first post, and fell in love with the following definition:

A mantra is a sound, syllable, word, or group of words that is considered capable of “creating transformation.”

Perhaps this isn’t totally sound theologically. Still I think there’s something to be said about the power of logos – it’s not a coincidence that I’m ordained as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament. While these may not exactly be efficacious for salvation or justification, both word and sacrament are definitely necessary for our sanctification…the daily impacting of our lives. The power of the word to shape, destroy, renew, and save is immeasurable. And certainly, I would say, clearly transformative…and surely, not only within Christianity. No one would argue that the beauty of the poetry of Sylvia Plath, Maya Angelou or Langston Hughes speaks just as powerfully and deeply as the words of Jesus, Mohammed, and Buddha.

But, a big piece of what makes mantras so profoundly necessary is community. Words are not spoken in a vacuum and the stories I hear and receive from others are also life-giving. So, I felt inspired – and absolutely and pathetically desperate – to have a series in the month of May on the various stories surrounding mantras from those mothers that encourage – nay, hold me up – regularly. Our amazing writers will have posts up all month.

They include (not in order of schedule but alphabetically):

Larissa Kwong Abazia: The Days Are Long
Galit Breen: It’s Just a Small Moment
Micha Boyett: Have Grace With Yourself
Alice Callahan: Forget Perfection. Embrace Goodness.
Brea Carlson: I Don’t Have to Like Them.
Natasha Chaim: Happy Mama.
Theresa Eunyoung Cho: It’s Good Enough
Laura Choi: Run to The Garden
Maryann McKibben Dana: The Harder Thing is the Easier Thing
Julie Emery: Yell Less. Laugh More. You’re Not Alone.
Katie Loop Foshea: Just Listen and Obey
Christine Julian Gough: You. Are. Loved.
Yena Hwang: Let Go.
Kristin Ireland: I’m Gonna Miss This.
Lauren Joujan: Go Play With Her.
Amanda Medlin: Sow. Weed. Water. Wait.
Carol Howard Merritt: It Goes by Fast
Katie Mulligan: What’s The Other Option?
Katherine Willis Pershey: Hold The Railing
Laura Viau: I Can’t Do This
Kate Wiebe: Keep It Simple
Courtney Mills Jones Willis: This Too is Calling
Caela Simmons Wood: I Can Only Control Myself

I’d love for this series to be a source of rootedness for you in some way, whether you have children or dogs, whatever babies take over your days…a reminder that both words and community can make all the difference between life and death.

A Wilderness Sabbath: Towards Motherhood

[Image via Landon Coate on Pinterest]

Editor’s Note: This article is one in an occasional series called “A Lenten Pause,” running on Fidelia’s Sisters until Easter. As many young clergy women plan to come to our summer conference, Sabbath in the City, in Chicago we’ll be taking a look at the sometimes terrifying topic of sabbath and the role it plays in our ministries.

I changed jobs recently.

My family and I moved to the mid-west in April of 2011. My husband, Andy, who is also a clergyperson, responded to God’s call to serve the First Presbyterian Church in Bloomington as their head of staff. I was an associate pastor for youth and children at Presbyterian churches for more than 7 years, and found myself serving a much smaller parish. There are two members – my twin babies.

Upon their arrival, my vocational identity shifted quite abruptly, and threw me into the deep end into an unfamiliar world out of a space that was home to me for so long. Instead of reading theological commentaries, I found myself scouring books on parenting and baby’s development during the first year. Instead of leading devotionals for committee meetings, I was washing cloth diapers. Instead of crafting alternative worship experiences for the youth on Wednesday evenings, I was bouncing babies in chairs to help them fall asleep. Instead of writing sermons, organizing mission trips, training Sunday School teachers, and branching out to the community, I was doing the bare minimum to survive long enough to make it to the next day where the seemingly endless cycle of feed-burp-change-play-sleep began again. Instead of enjoying a happy hour at the local pub, I was counting down the minutes until bedtime.

Quicker than you can gulp down a shot of tequila, I went from full-time pastor to full-time parent. More accurately, and simply, I became a stay-at-home mom.

I was wandering in a wilderness. Anxious. Fearful. Delirious.

Read the rest at Fidelia’s Sisters.