Reverend Mama, Part 3 (Dena’s Eyes Sparkle)

The latest edition of the MLCI series seeks to incorporate the voices of those who are both “Reverend” and “Mommy.” There’s many of us out there, in a wide variety of contexts and each with our own celebrations and challenges. We are grateful to the three Disciples pastors who have volunteered to share their reflections with us for this particular discussion, and seek to honor each one’s story as that — HER story, and not necessarily a definitive statement on what it means to balance and live both ministry and motherhood.

Dena and Charlie

Dena and Charlie

by the Reverend Kelli Driscoll, Pastor, Bethany Christian Church, Tulsa, OK

Dena’s eyes sparkle. Nope, there isn’t any glittery eye shadow or mascara. Dena’s eyes sparkle with the joy of life well-lived for 105 years. And I knew that when I had my baby, she needed to meet Dena Fate, the adventurous woman who is now limited to her living facility where nurses are available full time.

When I first came to Bethany, the Fate family introduced me to Dena, their mother-in-law, grandmother, great-grandmother and great-great grandmother. Dena’s tenacity for life is difficult to explain without telling stories.

On one visit, Dena had on her high school class ring. She still had it! She told me about being a nanny for a couple families during that time to support her family during the depression. That was just the beginning of working hard. Dena decided to learn to play the piano in her eighties. She took lessons, practiced, and loved playing on her baby grand, now situated at the end of the hall in a sunroom on her floor. Dena took road trip adventures with her girlfriends and husband, Gene. She and Gene were the first baptized at Bethany. And when the elders take her communion these days, she really prefers for them to bring the wine rather than the grape juice.

On the day I took Charlie, my daughter, to visit Dena, I was unsure as to what it would be like. Dena’s health is failing and there was a possibility she would simply be sleeping or wouldn’t know me. Once Dena spotted the baby, she perked up and we talked a little. Then came time for Dena to hold Charlie. We stopped talking. Dena marveled at Charlie, this tiny eight-week old baby. I marveled at Dena’s enamored gaze. It was this holy moment where time didn’t matter. The oldest member of Bethany and the youngest became the Psalmist’s words alive. “One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.” (Psalm 145:4) I saw the mighty act of God’s incredible creation in those moments. I saw love that surpasses what we understand, particularly with life’s imposing limitations like age, frailty and language.

This is just one gift of being a minister-mama. It’s one gift of the life of community called a congregation. It’s not just the gift my family gets to experience, but certainly we know it in depth. Charlie has a gaggle of church grandmas and grandpas, people whose lives are rich with stories, lessons, and truth-sharing. We walk into a room and I know she is loved. Eventually, Charlie will see that herself. She may know it already, just at three months. As she grows, there are more moments awaiting us and women and men whose adventures she needs to know. For in their journeys and living awaits an opportunity to learn and discover who God made her to be.

There is no doubt that learning to juggle these simultaneous callings is difficult. Yet, it is worth it. I am fully minister, fully mama, fully me when I respond to be them all. Charlie, my husband, Nick, and I are surrounded by a community that wants us to thrive and is committed to helping us live life well.  With their help and examples, we hope to be parents that instill in Charlie a love of life and people. I pray that her eyes sparkle decades from now with awe at God’s creation. Perhaps, even, she’ll take piano lessons at eighty.