My husband, Keith, and I, both pastors, were expecting our first child. This was a special time in my life. I had wondered what it would be like pastoring while pregnant. Would it somehow be different?
It was. From the moment I found out the happy news, my ministry be came even more fulfilling.
You see, the joy of becoming a mother spilled over into my ministry. It seemed that I thought more seriously about life and contemplated more what I was doing as I served in my ministerial role. Throughout my pregnancy, while fulfilling my pastoral responsibilities, I had many conversations with my unborn child. I would often talk to her about life, about servanthood. I even got in some motherly advice! Before I knew her, she was a large part of my life as well as my ministry.
Since this is May, when we celebrate Mother's Day (United States), this article is a tribute to those moms who also serve in ministry. As I share some of my conversations with my unborn child, and later, conversations after her birth, maybe you'll catch a glimpse of how she made richer my ministry, as well as my relationship with God.
November 22, 1992
It's your daddy's birthday. I've just given him the best gift I could ever give him. No other gift ever has, or ever will, match this one. I've given him a card that says "To the Best Daddy in the World," and inside I've written, "See you August 1! I love you, Baby Canwell." He just keeps on looking at me and repeating, "Honey, what does this mean?" I tell him it means we're going to have a baby. With tears in our eyes we're filled with joy and awe. We give you to God tonight. We dedicate you to Him and ask Him to keep you safe until you're born. And we ask that even at this age you'll be filled with the Holy Spirit. When you and I are alone, I sing you a song I wrote just for you:
Little child inside of me,
I wonder how it can be?
You were formed with our love;
We've been blessed from above.
And I'll always love you.
And you'll always be
the greatest gift in all the world
to our family.
No one knows about you yet but your daddy and me. We've decided to keep it a secret until we get together with family at Christmas. On this Sabbath morning, your dad and I are dedicating several babies in our congregation. Before the service we exchange a smile and a knowing glance. As we stand side by side, we feel a common ground with these new parents, although they are totally unaware. After we've dedicated the babies, I quietly say my own dedication prayer for you. When speaking of you to God, I call you "our child," meaning His, mine, and your dad's.
* * * *
I can hardly believe my ears and eyes! We're visiting the doctor for the first time, and even though you were conceived only eight weeks ago, we can hear your heart beating. You really are there! You're alive! Then we're taken into a dark room and through the technology of ultrasound, we can actually see your form on a screen. You're a tiny person. You're only one inch in length, and you look like a peanut with arm buds! Today I nickname you "My Little Peanut." We can see your heart beating strong inside your tiny chest. I wipe tears off my cheek.
Overcome by the wonder of it all, your daddy begins reciting part of Psalm 139 as we look at you. "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." The text goes on to say: "My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was wo ven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be" (verses 13-16, NIV).
It's a cold afternoon as we stand at the graveside of a church member. As I listen to one of the other pastors speak words of comfort and hope, I reach inside my coat pockets and put my hands over you. How ironic, I think, that here we have both life and death. We're saying goodbye to an elderly man, and here I stand with a new life growing inside me. I hope that you won't have to experience death, little one. I hope that Jesus comes in your lifetime.
Your dad and I are at the hospital visiting a very sick member. She needs the healing touch of God, or she'll not live. With one of the other pastors we pray and anoint her. She's at peace, having rested her life in God's most capable hands. After the anointing, while people are visiting, I think of you. I pray that you'll grow up to be a compassionate person. That you'll feel hurt for those who are hurting. That you'll try to ease their pain by gentle touches and kind words. I pray that you'll be a servant.
Today is a special Sabbath for me.
Today is my commissioning service, the day I'm set apart as a woman pastor through a special ceremony and prayer. Some people are unhappy about the service. They think that I should be ordained, just as the pastors who are men. Although I've never been a crusader for the ordination of women, I've always felt it would be an honor to be ordained. And because we know now that you're a girl, I can't help thinking as I sit in front of my congregation, What will it be like for your generation?" Will women in the ministry be a common thing, or will there still be walls to break down gently, showing that yes, God calls both men and women to the ministry? But these thoughts don't overshadow the meaning of this special service. Before I stand to preach, you begin kicking hard inside me maybe you feel my nervousness too!
As the ministers kneel around me in a circle to give the prayer of dedication, I feel that somehow you're being dedicated too, for you're such a part of me. I wonder what form of ministry God will call you to.
Some teenage girls are in my office. They're so excited about you! They all want to feel you move and are full of questions. I'm able to share with them the joy of having a life growing inside me. I want to implant in their minds that this is life, so they'll keep themselves sexually pure and not face an unwanted pregnancy and thoughts of abortion. I try to show them how special it is to have a child when you've found and married the right person and the timing is right.
We're all in robes, waiting in the wing of the baptistry. I've baptized others since you became a part of me, but today seems somehow different. I think about the symbolism here. How these two young people are being "born again." They get the chance to begin their lives again, as if they were babies. Jesus taught this to Nicodemus.
When you're born, you'll be perfect, never having sinned. How I'll ache inside the first time I have to witness you do something wrong a sharp word, being selfish, showing improper anger. Your daddy says it would be wonderful if we could raise you in heaven. What an awesome responsibility he and I have to raise you in this world!
* * * *
Your daddy and I are standing in front of a crowded church as the bride and groom walk down the aisle to ward us. We've done their premarital counseling; now their wedding day has arrived, and we are two of the ministers marrying them. As I watch the bride, dressed in white, my eyes fill with tears. I realize that someday I'll watch you walk down the aisle. I pray you will make the right choice in a life companion---God's choice.
With your daddy at my side, I'm not afraid. This is the moment we've been waiting nine long months for, and I'm thrilled (even if you did decide that 1:30 a.m. was when you wanted to come!). The pain and work of childbirth are exhausting, and I ask your dad to pray as I hold on to him. After many weary hours of labor I close my eyes for a short rest after a hard push when I hear your dad and the nurse say, "Look! Nancy, look!" I look, and there you are! The room is flooded with joy. I'll never forget how soft and warm you felt when they placed you on my chest. I cried and kissed you. You are a miracle. How can anyone think there is no God? As your daddy takes you to the nursery to be checked, he tells you, "I'm sorry I don't have a better world to offer you." But he assures you that Jesus is working on that---that it is for His new earth we live and wait.
Later, when I'm finally alone with you, I hold you close and pray for you. I ask God to take you, to claim you as His child. I ask Him to protect you and to keep you from the evil one. I ask Him to raise you as a girl and then a woman of God, so you'll never leave His side. We've named you Christina, which means "follower of Christ." I pray you will always follow Him.
It's Sabbath morning. You've been home a little more than three months now. After much prayer, discussion with your dad, and counsel from people I respect, I've made a life-changing decision. I stand before the congregation I've come to love over the past five years of ministry. They've been incredibly supportive and affirming of my ministry, and accepted you right from the beginning. My calling and dream since I was 10 years old to be a full-time pastor has been fulfilled in this church. But now I must tell what I feel God's will is for me at this stage in our lives.
I tell them that I'll be taking an extended leave of absence from the ministry until you and any brothers or sisters you may have are older and in school; that I still feel called to the ministry, but also feel called to motherhood. I assure them that I'm not saying our decision is one that every woman should make. Some women must work, while others choose to work. Every family must make their own decision, and this one is ours. I explain to them that your dad and I were committed to raising you our selves, and so we tried taking shifts between home and office, as well as taking you to occasional meetings.
It didn't take me long to realize that this wasn't the kind of life I wanted for you or us. Pastors' lives are so busy, with day, evening, and weekend responsibilities. The reason we had you was so that we could be a family, but we weren't all together enough. Your dad even offered to be the one to stay home for a few years if I didn't want to put a hold on my ministry he's always been this supportive. But no, I wanted to stay home with you. When I was at work I missed you so! In closing, I thank the members for all they've meant to me through the years, and ask for their support as I make the transition from pastor to mother.
As I walk off the platform, they applaud. The senior pastor stops me and hands me a dozen long-stemmed roses. I lower my head so no one will see the tears flowing. When I lift my head a few moments later, I see the entire congregation on its feet, still applauding. They're showing appreciation. But more important, they're saying: We support you in your decision to be a full-time mom.
I see you in the back of the church, cradled in your daddy's arms, and I wave to you. Don't mistake my tears as regret. I want to stay home with you. But if I weren't sad to be leaving the ministry for a time, it would mean I hadn't enjoyed it and I've loved every day of it. Today's a happy/sad day, but that's OK. I have a peaceful feeling that I'm doing what's right. There'll be plenty of years ahead to serve professionally in the ministry, but you won't always be my little girl.
It's nighttime. You've been asleep for a couple hours now, and I tiptoe into your nursery to look at you. You look so beautiful and peaceful lying here. It's been two months since I began my leave from pastoring. Some are disappointed with my decision, I'm sure, while others support it. As for me, I know I'm where I should be here at home with you. You make it all worthwhile, you know your smiles when I answer your cries in the middle of the night; your laughter when I don't even know I've done something funny; your acceptance of me even on those days when the business of being a new mom has kept me from dressing nice or curling my hair; the pleased look on your face when you've learned something new. The list goes on.
I'm glad that I was a pastor before I was a mother. Being a pastor has made me a better mom for you. It's taught me better how to show compassion, how to guide gently, how to discipline my life, and how to show God's love by the way I treat others.
I love you, Christina. You're the desire of my heart. You didn't take me away from the ministry, but rather you've given me a new form of ministry that of raising a child for the Lord. It's a high calling. One that has eternal significance.
Good night, precious child.