Balancing Act

It was the day before Toby’s 3rd birthday, and I was engaged in a strange balancing act in the Toys R Us parking lot – heaving bags of toys over my enormous stomach and into my trunk. My water broke as I swung in the second bag. So many thoughts flashed through my head in that instant: “It’s too early. A month early! It’s Toby’s birthday tomorrow. Where is Greg? Who’s going to pick up Caleb from kindergarten? Should I drive home or to the hospital? My shoes are ruined…” (I still miss those shoes.)

I remember the cold steel of the hospital table I shivered on, waiting for a spot in the operating room to open up. I was shaking so badly that a kind nurse put her forehead against mine and whispered, “Shhh, shhhh” to calm me. We performed this balancing act together, this stranger and I, me shaking and her “shhh”-ing. I clung to her for all I was worth.

An hour later, Wyatt and Brooke were delivered by C-section at 6:30 and 6:31, respectively. I got to hold them before they were put into plastic boxes for air, heat and light. They were the tiniest babies I had ever seen. Brooke had dark hair, Wyatt had 2 left thumbs, and to me they were double perfection itself. I spent the night in a tidal-wave balancing act between intense pain, deep exhaustion, fear, worry, joy, and a distinct craving for my new babies.

The next day on Toby’s birthday, he opened his gifts at the foot of my hospital bed. His remote control army tank drove around my bedside table, and I knew this was not the birthday I wanted for him: playing on a hospital floor while I gasped in pain. Suddenly I felt so overwhelmed  by how many kids I had – our family instantly went from 2 to 4 – and the crushing realization how much each one needed me. This was a balancing act I could not fathom. How would I balance it all?

My twins lived in the hospital for 12 more days, and at that time it seemed like the whole community helped us balance. Church ladies made my oldest son lunch, took him to school, cleaned my carpets and did my dishes. So many families brought over meals, and one family kept bringing them for 7 long months. My girlfriends finished painting the nursery and hung all the baby clothes in the closets. My husband steadied me each day as I limped down the hospital sidewalk and into the NICU. Pastors and and friends waited in the lobby for permission to visit the babies, taking turns watching Toby. It was a balancing act, and we all balanced it together, each in small ways and from different corners. Sometimes we learn balance from many teachers.

And then – they came home, and real life stretched ahead of me. Those next 4 months were the hardest 4 months of my life. Looking back, I don’t know how I even did it. Greg was 2 hours away at our new churches. Caleb had to be to kindergarten at 8am each day. Toby was 3 and newly lonely for his older brother. And I had to nurse the twins faithfully every 2 hours around the clock or their weight would drop, and they would end up back in the NICU. I slept in 45 minute intervals, I ate everything in sight, and I cried every day. The needs of so many kids fought for my energy, and I balanced it all poorly, on so many days. People used to say, “I don’t know how you do it!” At the time, I would answer – “I have no choice – I have to do it!” Now, I too am wondering how on earth I did that myself. Sometimes we learn to balance alone. 

Today, 8 years later, our family is striving to figure out another new balancing act: one teenager in distance learning, 3 elementary schoolers in backpacks and masks unloading for in-person school each morning, Greg zoom-teaching from home, and me working full time as a pastor, a chaplain, a writer, an editor, a doctoral student, and so many things besides. We are balancing work and family, fear, and faith in this new world of social distancing and limited gathering. We are balancing the sharp need for friendships with the constant vigilance of safety. We are balancing leadership in a time when nobody’s quite sure how to lead. We are balancing loss and joy and change and disappointment in a community we’ve given our whole hearts to. We are balancing the unknown, against what we do know for certain: that God is faithful, and God will see us through.

Today, on October 12, I am reflecting on the fact that we learn to grow however strong we need to grow, in order to face the challenges that present themselves to us. That we learn to balance sometimes incredibly heavy weights because we have to. Today I’m celebrating this incredible human capability – to balance, to adapt, to grow, to harness strength we didn’t know we had, exactly when we need it. Some of that’s inside us. Some of that’s in the strength of our community. And so much of it is God filling us with things we didn’t have before. Life is a constant balancing act. But I have found that God exists in the balance between me, and whatever lies ahead unseen. This is the story that my twins don’t know they re-tell to me, each and every October. Their lives are a reminder that none of us balance alone.

Fear Is Contagious. But Is Hope?



I was standing in the tomato sauce aisle at Target when the CDC sent out their recommendation for everyone over the age of 65 to stay home. Originally, I had gone to Target to grab shampoo, and the gray rainy day got me craving a big pot of minestrone soup, so I ended up in the food section. I didn’t plan to buy food. I didn’t go there to stock my pantries for quarantine. But here’s what happened: 

People in the aisles suddenly started talking to each other loudly – “Did you hear the new recommendation?”

“I sure did! My mom is 70. She lives alone. I’ve got to stock her up for the week!”

“I’m not over 65, but food’s gonna be gone – I better grab what my family needs too!” 

“Can you guys believe this? Told to stay home! That must mean things are bad. I’m staying home too. I can’t afford to get sick.” 

“My husband and I are both over 65. We better get out of here – fast!” 

Sleepy Sunday morning Target transformed slowly into Jeff Foxworthy’s “Pandelirium.” The store started filling with anxious shoppers. People grabbed cans of beans and boxes of pasta off the shelves until there were no more to grab. Shopping carts filled with cold cereal and instant oatmeal and boxed macaroni. Everyone checked the toilet paper aisle, and came back with nothing. Paper towels were purchased in their place. Rice, bags of potatoes, cans of soup clanked into carts.

Before I knew what was happening, I had grabbed 4 jars of tomato sauce instead of the one I needed for the soup, because there were only 7 left. I also managed to grab the last two loaves of bread, figuring hey – I have 11 people in my house right now, and we need sandwiches. “Oh, great!” someone murmured behind me, “she just took the last loaves of bread – left nothing for the rest of us!” 

Chocolate chip bags were disappearing, and that‘s definitely an emergency, so I popped a few into my cart along with a bag of flour, and a package of frozen fruit for smoothies – one of only 3 left. Fresh things didn’t seem to be in high demand, so I helped myself to carrots, celery, strawberries and bananas while more and more carts pulled into the aisles around me. Voices rose and tension rose as everyone grabbed for the same items. I started making mental lists in my head: what ingredients would I need to feed all of us for the next 2 weeks? What was I missing in my pantry that would soon be unavailable here? Soy sauce, butter, yeast, oil – by the time I went for these commodities, they were gone. 

I checked out amid a swarm of shoppers and headed home through the rain with my prizes. On the way, I passed 2 or 3 other grocery stores where the parking lots were full, and people pushed cartloads of goods like frantic animals. From my car, I called a friend – “It’s crazy out here! Get what you need now!” 

Once I got home and unloaded my spoils of war, it took me awhile to realize what had happened. As I was placing the bag of flour next to the other bag of flour I already have, it hit me: I caught the fear. I got wrapped up in the hype and hysteria of a mob of people, and I totally reacted in kind. Swept along on a sea of panic, I became that person – buying flour and frozen fruit just because everyone else was doing it too. I felt like a fool. I didn’t go to the store afraid. I didn’t go to the store for much food. What had come over me?

Fear is contagious.

When you’re around fear, it’s so easy to suddenly adopt it as your own. Fearful people pass fear like a sickness, creating more fearful people who then create more fearful people. Fear multiplies itself, divides and reproduces at a rate more alarming than disease transfer. Everyone’s following the spread of coronavirus, but not everyone is tracking the spread of fear into our hearts, homes, neighborhoods and cities. But we should be. Because it matters. 

On the one hand, feeling afraid in times like these is not altogether crazy – fear is an appropriate response to a pandemic, to a worldwide health crisis such as none of us have ever lived through before. It’s okay to be afraid. It makes sense to be afraid. There is a time and place for caution, concern, and fear. But when fear becomes insidious, when fear takes over reason, something serious is out of balance. How can we combat this when times are truly worrisome? What can we do to guard our hearts from being overcome by fear? 

In grad school I took classes from one of our church’s top Biblical archaeologists in the field, Dr. Randy Younker, who had studied in Tucson under a man who didn’t believe in the Bible or in God. Day after day, young Dr. Younker’s professor would fill his head with doubts, inconsistencies, and shortcomings he saw in the scriptures.

“How did you keep your faith in the midst of all that?” someone asked Dr. Younker. He paused. He sighed slowly.

“It wasn’t easy,” he admitted. “But I made a deliberate choice to fill my head with as much faith as they were trying to take out of it.”

We waited for him to explain. “It was like inoculating yourself against a virus. If I had 2 hours of classes that dashed my faith against the rocks, I came home that night and read The Desire of Ages for 2 hours. Or the Psalms. Or the gospel of Luke. It’s not like I could afford using my study hours on this. But I also realized very quickly, that I couldn’t afford not to. If I wanted to keep my faith alive, I had to feed it MORE than they were feeding my doubts.”


Two years ago, I stood with a large group of Northern California pastors near some temple ruins outside Jerusalem, and listened as Dr. Younker explained the Biblical, archaeological significance behind what we were seeing. And as I listen to him speak, it hit me: He fought for this. This faith, this trust, this belief he still has in the Bible after all the attacks he endured against it – he fought for this. And he won.

If we want to have more faith than fear at a time like this, if we want to hang onto peace and hope and joy in the midst of change and terror and chaos, this is the way to do it: we must endeavor to deliberately feed our minds just as much faith as fear. Faith, peace, and hope are things we really might have to fight for right now – but we can fight for them. And we can win.


But how can we do that right now? How does that make sense? For so many of us, our workload just doubled and tripled – learning how to do our jobs virtually from home, managing our children who are suddenly out of classes and homeschooling in our living rooms, balancing our regular duties in a time of heightened need and adjusted schedules and limited resources – these days are HARD. Stress is high. Patience is thin. Am I suggesting adding even MORE? Adding several more hours of reading, work, responsibilities? Not exactly.


What I am suggesting is that you keep a close finger on the pulse of your faith. It doesn’t have to look like hours of reading. But it DOES need to look like an intentional turning to Jesus every time we notice the fear tide rising. 


Yes, fear is contagious. Wouldn’t it be great if hope and peace were contagious too – if we could catch peace the way we catch fear and frenzy? Well, I think we can. The Bible says in Gal. 5:22 that peace is one of the fruits of the Spirit – along with a grocery list of a whole bunch of other items we really need right now too: love, joy, PATIENCE (can I get an Amen?), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (I’m looking at you, toilet paper hoarders). What this means, is that these fruits are by-products of time spent with Jesus. We can order these items! We can ask for what’s missing. The Holy Spirit can nurture and grow these qualities inside of us when we make ourselves available to Him, spend time with Him, and ask Him to do so. By protecting time in God’s presence, we can catch Hope – Hope becomes contagious when we hang around with the source of Hope Himself. 


So what do you need today? What are you shopping for, what are you craving or lacking, what is your heart in a hustle for? There’s a lot of things you can catch out there, friends. And we’re doing what we can to make sure we don’t catch or spread the bad stuff. Let’s also do what we can, as a faith community, to make sure we catch AND spread the good stuff. Love, Joy, Peace, Hope. And faith, in the midst of fear.

Jars of Rocks

Jars of Rocks

IMG_0293“Will you keep it FOREVER Mommy?!” Caleb asked me earnestly as he pressed an oblong gray stone into my hand. “I want you to keep this rock forever. Promise!”

“Thank you for such a sweet present!” I remember exclaiming, over the rock. “But where should Mommy keep it?” Read more

Make a Place For Me

Make a Place For Me

200471077-001 “Make a place for me, Mommy!” my son worriedly begs as he approaches me, his face full of concern and stress.  It doesn’t matter where I am sitting – whether in our plush chaise lounge, the small wingback by the fire, or in a single wooden chair at the table – whenever he wants to sit on my lap, he immediately starts to worry that there may not be enough room for him.  He is afraid there is not a place for him here, with me.  He feels doubtful about whether or not I will be able to make one, deeply  concerned that there will not in fact be space for his little body.  Read more

The Meadow

The Meadow

IMG_0151During college preview days at PUC when I was 17, I skipped an entire afternoon of meetings because the old steps behind Winning Hall led me to this meadow. The towering pine at the meadow’s edge beckoned me to climb, and I climbed so high, I could look out over the hills and vineyards of Anwgin. At the top of that tree, I sat shivering in the afternoon wind for almost an hour – a girl on the cusp of everything – and I prayed. I prayed that God would bless me there at PUC, where I knew I would attend college that fall. I asked Him to lead me – into the right major, the right path, the right life. Read more

For Katelyn

For Katelyn

sparrow-3182074The world lost a girl today who was too young to die. At a mere 27 years, she was still a newlywed, and the new mother of a beautiful little 8 month old girl. Her heart was radiant, her spirit was tangible sunlight. Being in the same room with her meant feeling happy. She touched more lives than anyone could count, but today her loved ones are counting anyway – counting for comfort: counting the memories, the stories, the extraordinary moments, the things she said and did, the times she laughed and the moments she touched a heart. Read more

July 8: After the Vote

July 8: After the Vote

shutterstock_176609747I am a woman pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Today the world church voted “No” to letting each world division decide on the issue of ordaining women to the gospel ministry. People are asking me from everywhere – what does this mean? And what will you do now? Well. Let me answer those questions…

1. What does this mean? It means that the Unions in the North American Division will continue to ordain women elders and women pastors (Biblical ordination makes no distinction) as they have done for years and years already. Under the bylaws of the constitution, they still have that right, and have been very clear about their plans to exercise it, since they find both the Bible and Ellen White to support it. Read more

The Parade of Firsts

The Parade of Firsts

 

Colliver, Robert Wayne - Tombstone“The Parade of Firsts” has officially begun:  first sleep in the new house. First swim in the pool. First Sabbath at our new church, first play-date with new friends, first time getting lost in a new town. First apology to the neighbor lady for my dog leaving a “gift” in her front yard.

My family and I are marching in this parade happily, hopefully, somewhat clumsily, and sometimes very out of step. It’s hard to focus during staff meeting when I couldn’t even find the toaster to make a piece of toast that morning. It’s exciting to meet new friends, and challenging to get settled in a new house. It’s daunting to observe the stack of approximately 145,583,246,307 boxes we have left to unpack. The Parade of Firsts is definitely not a smoothly-coordinated event. Read more

Setting Up Stones: Why We Remember

Setting Up Stones: Why We Remember

solid_brick

“Daddy, why do you have a broken old brick on this shelf?” my son asked on a family garage cleaning day in early spring. “It’s got stuff in the middle of it, and this side is black. Is it from the olden days? Are you gonna build something with it?”

I looked up from the box of baby clothes I was sorting. My husband Greg put down the stack of boards he was piling. We looked at Toby, we looked at the brick, and then our eyes met. Yep. It was the one.

“That’s a very special brick, sweety,” I began, “that’s from the fire.”

“You mean when your house burned down?” Toby wondered. “At Auburn? That fire?”

“It wasn’t just our house,” Greg explained, “It was the entire dorm – the whole building. Mommy was one of the girls deans, so we were living inside the dorm when it caught on fire.”

“Do you remember the story, Toby?” I asked him hopefully. “Do you remember what happened?” Read more

The Mother’s Day Poem I Never Got

kids drawing copy

“My mommy is the best because she always cuddles me when I’m sad!” the brown bobbed-haired little girl in the pink skirt read. “She’s as pretty as a butterfly, as sweet as a bunny and as smart as a fox.” Laugher gave way to thunderous applause, as the little girl left the microphone and a boy in yellow approached.

I had been looking forward to this day for weeks. It was the annual Mother’s Day school picnic at the beach, and each child had prepared a special poem for his or her mother, complete with colorful borders and self-drawn portraits of their Moms. The comments were funny, insightful, and inspiring:

“I love my mom because she makes the best pancakes.”

“My mommy makes me clean my room even when I don’t want to, because it’s good for me.”

“My favorite thing is when my Mom takes me on bike rides, even when she’s busy.”

“Mommy always has time to play with me!” Read more