Why I wrote ‘Ordinary Miracles’

Guest Blog Post by Rachel Gerber, author of Ordinary Miracles: Awakening to the Holy Work of Parenting, Herald Press, March, 2014.

RachelGerberRachel and her two oldest sons. Photo by Jen Shenk Photography, Goshen, Ind.)

Being the mother of three boys (in a five year span) is always interesting.  I write this with a huge smile on my face and … heartburn.  It is always a balancing act; holding things loose enough to let curious boys have imaginative fun without them getting too out of hand, having things broken, messy, or hurt.

RachelGerber4Any way you slice it, growing little ones is busy.  As I was playing soccer with my oldest, Owen, followed by a quick round of indoor hockey, it struck me at how active my kids are.  Arts and crafts, anyone ?

RachelGerber2With these, there is no chance—well, maybe for a moment, only until they turn their paper creations into swords, or guns. What is it with boys and firearms?

Sure, raising children is a gift. It is a delightful combination of wonder and awe to see the miracle of life grow and become a little unique person right before your very eyes.  Yet it is also exhausting and demanding—physically straining, emotionally pulling, and mentally draining.  And chronic sleep deprivation due to multiple nighttime nursings, toddler bed-wetting, and five-year-old nightmares doesn’t help matters.  But probably the most difficult thing about parenthood, is that

people rarely talk about how tough it really is.

I never intended on writing a book about parenting.  Yet, when the invitation came from MennoMedia to expand my blog and consider writing a book, I knew, like most sermons, that the words I’d write would speak loudest in my own heart.  As a young parent, I needed to hear a voice reassuring me that the managed chaos of these days—the toil and strain is real and normal—but that hope and joy can accompany.  For I learned that as I opened my eyes and took in the life before me—in all its crazy and hectic,  beautiful and rugged glory—I  saw that it was this way because I. have. three. boys.

Of course.  Such grace.

RachelGerber3Hence the story, Ordinary Miracles: Awakening to the Holy Work of Parenting, was born.  It was birthed out of my own experiences at my own frail awakening to this realization of the sacred work that parenting is. For as I love, care for, and feed my little monkeys, I am really loving and serving the One that created them.

Holy work, indeed.

Yet this book also transcends the sphere of parenthood.  Parent or not, it is so easy to go through life half-awake.  We get up, we go to work, we read the newspaper—often on autopilot.  As we live in this stupor, what gifts are we missing along the way?  What does it mean to embrace the given moment?  To take in the wonder of the morning sun glistening off the snow covered branch—a symbol of God’s glory all around?

OrdinaryMiraclesIn many ways, this book wrote me, reminding me again and again of how the presence of God comes in life.  And in turn, I share these stories with you, because it is so easy to forget.  I forget the blessings that permeate my life and am often blinded by the work, the monotony, the exhaustion, the pull.  Yes, I share these stories with the world so that we can together be reminded that God never leaves.  God never abandons.  God always provides. God always blesses—awakening us repeatedly to see that our ordinary lives are really extraordinary journeys full of miraculous surprises.

RachelGerber5Rachel’s middle son. Photo by Jen Shenk Photography, Goshen, Ind.)

 All other photos, except book cover, supplied by Gerber family.

To purchase Ordinary Miracles (nice mother’s day gift) check here.

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Rachel S. Gerber, is the Mennonite Church USA Denominational Minister of Youth and Young Adults, author of Ordinary Miracles:  Awakening to the Holy Work of Parenting, and blogger at www.everything-belongs, where she reflects on the spirituality of parenting. Rachel lives in Bloomington, Ind. with her husband of fifteen years, Shawn, and three little boys: Owen, Connor, and Zach. 

 

 

 

‘Tis a Gift to Be Simple: Forty Days of More-with-Less

Ben and Heather Kulp’s 40-day Lent journey to cook exclusively from More-with-Less Cookbook.

By Ben and Heather Kulp

The nature of what a true gift is or should be is something that has been discussed much in the Scheiwe-Kulp household this week. We are both, by nature, giving people. With the birthday of a soon-to-be-in-law coming up on April 1st, there was much discussion as to what to get this person. What is too much? What is too little? What would be best for this person? The discussion has been ongoing over the past month.

As has happened the past few weeks, the discussion around the dinner table turned towards what we were going to write about for this week’s blog posting. It took us only a few moments to put our conversation about gifts to good work with the More with Less mentality.

The image of Ben’s mother’s stained copy of More-with-Less cookbook seen in the blog post from last week was the starting point to resolving our question about gift giving. When the questions of the birthday gift again arose this past week, Ben, without hesitation, exclaimed, “Page 287!” To answer Heather’s perplexed look, Ben went on to describe that one of his favorite recipes (of “ALL TIME,” according to Ben) is the Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies on p. 287.  This cookie recipe has been used by Ben’s family for as long as he can remember.

cookiesChocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

What better birthday gift to give to someone who will soon be marrying in to the Kulp family than a treasured recipe? (It also helps, by the way, that the intended recipient of this gift loves cookies). All of the ingredients for the cookies were already located in our pantry, and Ben had fun making them late at night this week in between baby feedings. Further discussion about the birthday gift, after mailing the cookies earlier this week, made us realize that we were giving our gift to someone who himself is a very giving person. Our future in-law created the Parkinson’s Comfort Project, a not-for-profit dedicated to assisting people with Parkinson’s and their caregivers in hard-to-reach rural areas of Vermont and New Hampshire. What better birthday gift to share with someone who himself has given to his local community?

It is an easy rhetorical step to talk of gifts at this time in our lives, especially as we both continue to fall more in love with our newborn son. However, the entrance of our baby boy in to our lives in early February has led to a plethora of changes – both expected and unexpected. After the dust settled from the first month, we took stock of what was in fridge and freezer. The abundance of edible gifts from friends, family, and church congregation is humbling. We enjoyed a meal last night with members of the Mennonite Congregation of Boston. Knowing of our goal of cooking only from More-with-Less for the Lenten season, they brought over the Garden Vegetable Curry (p. 134), and added chickpeas to the recipe.

chickpea veggie curryGarden Vegetable Curry

What was intended to be a shorter dinner hour while Heather and Ben took turns rocking the baby to sleep turned in to a long conversation until 10 pm (a late night for parents of a newborn). The gift of food and intentional preparation for friends naturally extended our time together much later than any of us would have planned for a week night.

The weekends are a time of flux in the Scheiwe-Kulp household as Ben’s job as a freelance musician takes him to venues all over New England.  Fitting in time to be together on Saturdays and Sundays as a family has always been a challenge on what is considered to be the traditional time off from work. This past weekend, as the “gigging season” is not quite yet in full swing, we found some free time on our hands. A friend stopped by with a quiche for brunch, and while Heather, baby, and our friend talked in the living room, Ben put together the Cinnamon Topped Oatmeal Muffins (p. 71), and added strawberries that needed to be used.

muffin2Cinnamon Topped Oatmeal Muffins

The three (adults) sipped coffee and ate fresh muffins before digging in to the quiche our friend had cooked. There are few things more relaxing in life than enjoying the sunshine on a weekend with a steaming cup of coffee.

muffinThis week we learned to expand, and re-examine our notion of gifts to other people as well as recognizing the gifts we received from our community. A pantry full of food from well-wishers after our baby was born is the gift of not only resources, but of the time and care put in to making the dishes. It’s a wonderful meditation as we share our prepared meals as a family. Additionally, the time and care we put in to the present we made is as important as the gift itself, and was a reminder for both of us as to what is truly worth giving to others in our community.

The winner of the More-with-Less cookbook “comment” drawing from last week is Nancy! Thanks to everyone who contributed favorite tips, recipes and comments.

All recipes come from More-with-Less cookbook, available here.

MWL_Cover_hard_2011.qxpDo you have a favorite recipe or food to give as a gift?

How have you come up with a creative gift idea without making a trip to a store?

MennoByte_photo–Ben and Heather Kulp

Rachel Held Evans rolls into town

Why would a small publisher like Herald Press be enthusiastic when an author who publishes with another bigger Christian publisher comes to town?

Well, because it is always interesting to see how other authors roll. And to see what makes a successful Christian author in this time. And you know, to see, if behind the name there is a nice person who all of a sudden worries about what her socks look like in front of an audience.P1050297“Oh I forgot what socks I had on,” she said grabbing for her gray gargoyle socks while perching on a stool in the Common Grounds Coffee House on the Eastern Mennonite University campus here last week. “But you all are Mennonites. You won’t judge me by my socks.”

She was speaking in her smallest and most intimate venue of the day, a class in “Anabaptist Biblical Perspectives” at EMU (which is just up the hill from MennoMedia in Harrisonburg).

The warm socks were perfect for a chilly March day.

P1050289Rachel chatting before chapel with EMU’s Lois Shank, assistant to the provost; president Loren Swartzentruber; and Pat Swartzentruber.

But when your blog gets over a quarter of a million visits each month, 300 or more comments on a single post, plus 29,000 followers on Facebook and 41,000 on Twitter, and one of your books titled A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman found Herself Sitting on Her roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master” (Thomas Nelson, 2012) has been on the New York Times Bestseller list, you can wear whatever you want. When your book got you on the Today Show, the BBC, NPR (and many more), and you’ve been named to Christianity Today’s “50 Women to Watch” list, you likely have other publishers standing in line to take you on.

static.squarespace.comThis author is gutsy enough to tell a university chapel of mostly students and faculty to “just keep the church weird” as the answer to why her generation is leaving the church. “Just do what you need to do,” Rachel implored, and not worry about getting a cooler band or a barista-type coffee shop in your foyer as some megachurches have.

By weird she was referring partly to rituals like communion and baptism, which can be strange if you haven’t grown up with them. This hit her powerfully one weekend when she was speaking to a group of 600 middle and high school youth. She had some angst especially about how to relate to adolescents.

P1050294She joked to the EMU chapel audience that one of the chapters in her humor-filled biblical womanhood book takes on the Old Testament Scriptures that talk about a woman being unclean during her monthly period, and figured she wouldn’t be focusing on THAT with that audience. She earnestly prayed about how she could do “right by these kids,” and connect on their terms. Then during a closing communion service for the conference, when some 600 kids filed by her as she helped to serve them communion, she said to each one the words of institution: “This is Christ’s body, broken for you.”

As the kids shuffled by her, some not looking at her at all, some with tears streaming down their cheeks, some giggling with their friends, some who didn’t seem to have any friends, some in designer jeans, some still in pjs, some who were athletes, class clowns, in braces, and one (knowing her huge affinity for Alabama State football mumbling the rally cry “Roll Tide” as he went by)—she realized there wasn’t anything further she had to do than what Jesus had already done in sacrificing himself. Rachel said after repeating “This is Christ’s body, broken for you about 600 times” she knew that she had ministered God’s grace for them, and while some of them would get it and others would likely not, “God’s grace is enough. We don’t have to try so hard to ‘make church relevant.’ Just do what you need to do.”

In Rachel’s world, that means being willing and comfortable to listen to and be with the questions that most of us run into somewhere in our lives, especially if we grew up in a Christian home and something happens in the world or our lives that causes us to question all that we were taught.

For Rachel two such moments stand out. Though her parents were strong evangelicals, (in a church which she says was “very similar to Southern Baptist where no woman was allowed to teach men” and male and female roles were very distinct), her parents were not afraid of her questions and always stood by her. When she struggled with why she had such bad eczema as a teen, she cried in frustration to her father, “Why did God let this happen to me?” He responded, “I don’t know, but I do know that God loves you.”

But the huge game changer came after September 11, 2001, when she was a junior at a conservative Christian college. The U.S. had just invaded Afghanistan and on campus they watched a documentary, “Behind the Veil,” which addressed the atrocities of the Taliban and showed a woman wearing a burqa who was accused of adultery and finally executed. In discussion afterwards, her classmates felt the woman would have gone to hell because she was, after all, a Muslim, and Rachel couldn’t imagine a loving and all powerful God who could possibly let that happen. “That started unraveling my faith and led me to question and deal with denominational and religious differences.”

I’ve followed Rachel’s blog off and on for the last couple years but had never purchased or read the “biblical womanhood” book until her visit. That’s of course one of the reasons authors need and want to get out, because it helps people get around to actually reading a book they’ve seen or heard about on YouTube or the Today show or NPR. So I’m impressed that her book, like her blog, while wildly funny and full of hyperbole in places, contains so much straight-up analysis and description of a long string of biblical women that you think the writer has to at least have a seminary degree to write so knowledgeably. Her book makes an excellent companion piece to the small study piece MennoMedia published with Mennonite Women USA and Canada, Courageous Women of the Bible by Linda Gehman Peachey.

P1050299So in that smaller classroom venue, I got up the nerve to ask a question that one of my colleagues asked which I framed as, “How are you getting named to these lists of influential persons but it doesn’t look like from your bio you have any seminary training other than your undergrad Christian college experience?”

Rachel kind of laughed and said “lots and lots of research” and admitted she majored in English literature in college. She always wanted to be a writer and author and has written for newspapers and magazine. On her blog there’s a picture of her in elementary school dressed up like an “author” for career day—her dream job.

Rachel went on to say she’s getting a following “because of the online community we’ve built” (and by we she means all of the people who comment, write guest blog posts or who she’s interviewed for the blog) where “people can have a conversation about the things they can’t maybe say in church. The Internet has given me a platform I wouldn’t otherwise have. Where in my home church I wouldn’t have been allowed to even take up the offering much less talk, or give my opinion on theological matters, online I can have a voice. Folks from the margins can have a voice. This is good news!”

Rachel has helped thousands of others struggling with their beliefs about God and the Bible go back to or stick with the church. When all is said and done, “We need a community. I need a community to sort of rein Rachel in a little bit,” she admitted.

Some of the media people who interviewed Rachel about her A Year of Biblical Womanhood did so because of the novelty of her stunt. That’s what it takes these days. But behind the fun and the stunts is a genuinely faithful and scholarly look at what the Bible really says—even the dark passages in books like Judges, which we may wish weren’t in there. And when Rachel gets backed into corners by interviewers who are non-church goers or atheist and ask questions like “So, you seem like a smart person. How can you still believe in God?” she answers by giving all her reasons and then finishes by saying “I’m willing to be wrong—that’s what makes this faith. I’m choosing to obey and follow Jesus in spite of doubts.”

By their fruits we may judge maybe, but not by their socks.

And that’s a little of how Rachel rolls.*

P1050292* When Rachel saw I was trying to snap a picture right before she got up to talk, she flashed a fun and cheesy smile.

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Have you read A Year of Biblical Womanhood? What is your response?

What has had the biggest impact on your faith journey?

MelodieDavisBlogPhoto

Melodie Davis, author, managing editor, and blogger at www.findingharmonyblog.com