A Pastor’s Wife, A Millstone, and A Cup of Tea

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

1 Corinthians 1:27-31

One Sunday of my childhood, my mother pointed out a married couple and said with a shake of her head, “He could be so useful to the Lord if it wasn’t for his wife.” After that, whenever I heard him preach or pray, I would pity him. Just imagine what he could be if his wife wasn’t such a weight.

When my husband told me that he felt the Lord calling him into full-time ministry, I didn’t doubt for a minute that this was what the Lord wanted from his life. It was weeks later that I realized if the Lord was calling my husband, he was also calling me.

The church we attended at the time had a long list of requirements for pastor’s wives, including a demanding homemaker skill set that I still utterly fail to meet. I’ll never forget the disapproval they showed me after my husband announced he was going into seminary. One person cornered me to ask how I thought my nose ring would affect my husband’s ministry. They were upfront about how they felt, nearly telling me outright as my husband and I shuffled our way out the door on our last Sunday there.

I began to question what I brought to the table. “Nothing,” was my only answer.

I’m not a good teacher or public speaker. I’m insecure and easily overwhelmed. I’ve been suicidal and have issues with panic disorder and depression. People I loved emotionally abused me, so I’m wary of close relationships. I am an ugly sinner and a recovering Pharisee.

They were right. Even without a nose ring, I am not “Pastor’s Wife” material. I would be the weight that prevented my husband from being used by God. People were already shaking their heads at me.

I considered scrubbing myself up, but I’d spent the first 25 years of my life living an outward spiritual lie. I didn’t want to go back there. So I decided I’d just continue to read my Bible and quietly worry about how my insufficiencies might weigh down my husband.

We started attending Milford Bible Church during a turbulent period of my life. My messy pregnancy rolled into a slew of postpartum health issues that left me virtually bedridden. My husband fought to keep our family together while I watched from bed, more and more convinced that I dragged him down.

A millstone round his neck.

With the return of my health came opportunities for me to get involved at church, but more importantly, opportunities for me to help my husband. Once again, I cooked the meals, kept house, and cared for our baby. I hoped rhythm would return to life.

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My new equilibrium tottered when God led us to settle in PA. Leaving New Jersey wasn’t in my plan. I love it there. It’s less rural, there’s less snow, and my family is there. But God lit the path that led us to buy our first home in the Poconos. I comforted myself that he would continue to show me the same care he showed during the previous two years of struggle.

The week before Tim’s first Sunday morning sermon at Milford was a disaster. The house was in chaos from ongoing unpacking. The holiday season that stretches from Thanksgiving to New Years holds multiple emotional triggers that make me tense and depressed. Monday I had a meltdown, sobbing myself into hyperventilation. I fell asleep, huddled and trembling beside my husband and got up the next morning already broken and tired. I prepped myself to blast through our overscheduled week, only to discover on Tuesday evening that the week would tax my physical health as well.

Saturday night, I’m sitting with my friend Debbie, swallowing my new antibiotics, and wishing I had a river I could skate away on. Her hand touched mine. She gave it a little squeeze and told me it was a blessing to be in my home.

Her laundry was in my dryer. I’d fed her pancakes for supper on paper plates. My sofa was covered in unfolded laundry, my counter with Thursday’s dirty dishes. Her only real company was a semi-comatose me, but still, she was thankful to be in my home.

I nearly cried as I confided to her my dream of having the kind of home people would feel comfortable stopping by on a whim. A safe place to run to when they’re hurting or lost. A place of comfort and joy and a warm cup of tea.

She told me it was those things to her.

Sunday came. I was so nervous for my husband that I nearly vomited. He took several deep breaths before he started, just enough to make me worry he’d never start at all. Then he opened his mouth. The Lord spoke to me through him, not for the first time, but for the first time from behind a pulpit.

He became a Pastor to me while I cried my way through his sermon. Debbie’s words fed back into my mind. Quietly in the pew, I felt the Lord confirm his calling to my husband and to me.

A young lady stopped me in the foyer and asked me what I thought it meant to one day be a Pastor’s wife. I blinked at her while memories of nose rings and suicide notes rolled through my mind, then said, “I’m still trying to figure that out.”

Even with the confirmation of God’s call, I still don’t know what it means to “be a pastor’s wife.” Maybe it’s nothing more than being a support to my husband. But more and more, I think that something I add to our ministry is my brokenness.

I am so messed up. So sinful and slimy and God, please I need your grace! So when people come to me with mess, I get it, because of all the mess I’ve been through. I can show others the same patience I hope they use when dealing with me. And sure, someday I’ll probably get that tattoo, but the hurting people who need a hug or a cup of tea don’t care about the permanent semicolon on my wrist.

I’m not a millstone. I’m the shattered bits an artistic God can use in a mosaic. God uses broken things. It magnifies how awesome he truly is.

Now Im just a beggar in the presence of a King I wish I could bring so much more But if its true You use broken things Then here I am Lord Im all Yours - Matthew West

Book Review: “The Ragamuffin Gospel” by Brennan Manning

I first picked up The Ragamuffin Gospel over ten years ago. My parents forewarned me that Brennan Manning was basically a heretic, and that I probably shouldn’t read it because I was easily confused. I was rebellious enough to insist I had the wisdom to discern truth from error, but inwardly terrified I’d be led astray. I skimmed it, then promptly reported to the authorities that they were absolutely right and should I throw the book in the trash now?

This time I actually read it.

Manning delves deep into the relentlessness of God’s love. He reminds the reader how small, broken, and messed up we are, ragamuffins all, and how only those who embrace their own innate neediness can be open to the unfathomable love of God. I know there are many who feel Manning is a bit of an extremist when it comes to the overwhelming nature of God’s grace, but I found his book refreshing and beautiful. Though, I also don’t feel the need to agree 100% with everything I read in a book in order to find it encouraging or enlightening.

The church culture of my youth was your stereotypical hellfire and brimstone kind of church. I wasn’t truly introduced to the idea of a compassionate God who relentlessly loved me until I met my husband and began to study the Bible with him. I think that’s what made the experience of reading this book so moving, especially with its timing on my personal journey. The heavy discouragement I’ve experienced in the past year has made this reminder of my position before Abba like a cup of tea after a long winter’s walk.

“On the last day when Jesus calls me by name, ‘Come, Brennan, blessed of my Father,’ it will not be because Abba is just, but because His name is mercy.”
~ Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

Hope Beyond the Mess

Things are hard here, very hard.

I haven’t been well since I got pregnant. I am currently waiting for my endocrinologist to clear me for gallbladder surgery. The idea that I require clearance for surgery is still hard for me to believe. It feels like pregnancy ripped my body to pieces. For months now my first thought upon waking is, “how much of today will I have to spend in bed.”

I’m so tired of being sick.

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I am perpetually afraid of becoming a burden to the people I love, so this season of needing constant rest and assistance is both an emotional and physical strain. My husband is falling down under the weight of my needs, and for all I know so are all the other people I reach to for help. I keep pulling back and telling myself “No, don’t call them, you can do it.” I try. I fail. I end up back in bed, alone with my self loathing, until my depression gets heavy and dark.

During one of my depressive episodes, I sat down with my sister-in-law and told her a dream I’d had earlier that day. I dreamed I overheard everyone discussing how draining I was and how they wished I wasn’t part of the family. I slipped away, devastated that Tim’s family had rejected me, just like my own. I sought out my husband, but he was too involved in his seminary work to comfort me.

I don’t know if she could tell how broken I was, that I was low enough to wonder how much truth there was in my dream. She looked me in the eye and said, “That is direct attack from the Devil, Rachel. Don’t believe it.” She reminded me of how he wants to discourage us, to steal our reasons to hope, and keep us from turning to the God who loves us.

I don’t know where this path of suffering is going to lead me or my family. I don’t know when it is going to end. Finding meaning in all this pain has been a daily battle. But maybe I’m not meant to know the whys right now.

Hope is bigger than whys.

Hope is beyond the mess of my every day. Hope stands beyond my health, my family, my husband’s job, where I am living or if I ever have another baby.

Hope is that I will see my Savior’s face. Hope is that He loves me here in my bed, even when I’m so depressed I turn from the life He gave me. Hope is that He prays for me, even when I’m too angry to pray myself. Hope is that He embraces me, even when I’m too weak to crawl into His arms.

Hope is Him, everything else is a lie.

Facebook Memories

Facebook memories are one of many garbage notifications I get on my phone. Why do I need to remember that article I posted a link to back in 2010, or one of three hundred book memes that I liked, shared and posted.

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Over a week ago, a photo from 2015 popped up in the feed. It was my feet and the screen of my laptop in front of a window that looked down onto a snow covered lawn. The caption read, “Writing at the library.”

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Nostalgia choked me, not for this moment specifically, but for the time in my life it represented.

Our life on Young’s Drive is enshrined in my memory as ideal. Rarely a day goes by when I don’t compare my now life with life then and feel deprived of something beautiful. The apartment, the town, the pace of life. Those Friday nights, just Tim and I, curled up on the floor with paper plates covered in take out, a board game spread out between us. Evening walks, and hours spent reading and writing and sitting in my favorite library.

Every walk we take is not like the ones down Corcoran street. Every library I visit is not organized properly. Every meal we cook, every game we play, every day I live is not as lovely as…

I lowered my phone, letting the sunlight framed memories slide away and looked over at my sleeping daughter. Downstairs, I could hear my in-laws voices, indistinct but comforting, like the warm smell of a fireplace floating in the winter air. My husband was asleep next to me. The house began to settle and still around me until all I could hear was the sounds of my two love’s breathing and my fingers clicking softly as I typed.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been sick for so long, all these days I’ve spent depressed and disheartened, I’ve been reaching for what seemed a perfect time to erase all the pain and exhaustion of my current life, falling to a point so low that I actually look forward to seeing my daily Facebook Memories notification.

But Young’s Drive wasn’t perfect. I was locked in a codependent relationship that sapped my marriage. I felt like an outcast in my church, and went to sleep every night feeling like something was missing from my life, something more than just the empty bedroom that was supposed to hold in it the baby we lost.

Now is different with blessings and pain all it’s own, but what I would miss out on most if I were to trade then for now is the wealth of personal and spiritual growth I’ve gone through to reach this place. And though this time of pain and sickness is not yet over, God never promised us comfort in this world.

But…

…I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. …For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:18-23 ESV)

Yesterday may be worth remembering, but it’s not worth sacrificing today’s blessings and even sufferings for it’s sake. I’m going to count my now blessings, and put aside then as well as my fears for tomorrow. For my hope is beyond all this and today is enough.

Pardon for sin, and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine with 10,000 beside.
Great is Thy Faithfulness, Great is Thy Faithfulness,
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

~ Thomas Chisholm

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Before God and These Witnesses

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The days leading up to it were crazy. At one point I said to Tim, “This whole thing is reminding me why I wanted to elope.”

January 13th came and my stomach was in knots. My husband told me it was just my sympathy nerves, but I think there was also a fear that something would go wrong, that it might not be special enough for the sister I love.

Now I’m standing on the other side, trying to describe what it was like. All I’m getting is a picture of her face. Jess. Simple, beautiful, loving, selfless, God honoring, Jess. I’ve become convinced that the reason she is all I see is because the day was like her. Simple, beautiful, full of love and generosity, and, above all, focused on Jesus Christ.

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The ceremony vacillated from solemn to joyful. The bride and groom randomly giggled, their joy was so effervescent. As the vows started, Jessica passed her bouquet back to Deborah to have her hands free, and got caught in a snippet of conversation. Winston was already speaking his vows, and the room erupted in laughter when he tugged Jessica back.

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As Dad spoke the words that would end the ceremony, I watched Winston’s eyes widen in disbelief. He mouthed something that looked a lot like, “Wait, that’s it?” as though he couldn’t believe they were now actually married. The two of them began to laugh again.

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Dad furrowed his brow, “What’s funny?”

Winston shook his head. “Nothing.”

“Oh.” Dad shrugged. “I thought I said something funny and didn’t know it. That happens sometimes.”

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Thus two families became one, and love swung its arms around us all. Love that originated in Austin, Texas, where God began to write the story of Jessica Svendsen and Winston Terry.

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The day was a together-happiness that began and ended with praise and worship to Jesus Christ. He wrapped us all in his embrace, a new family here on earth and a forever family in Him.

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Meeting the newborn

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Best Man and Maid of Honor speeches

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Their turn comes this summer ❤

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Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Winston Terry. I love you both. ❤

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I Am Resolved

When the new year looms in December people begin to reevaluate how they spent the past year. We look over the good and bad and decide what needs to change. I think what turned me off to New Years Resolutions was hearing too many people say something like, “Okay, so I really need to stop kicking baby goats. Oh look! January is two weeks away. I can kick a few more goats between now and midnight January first, but then I’ll stop for good.”

The idea of “new year, fresh start” is lovely, but every day is a fresh start and every moment you’re breathing an opportunity to try again. Why procrastinate addressing your bad habits if you know it needs to change now. Personally, I stopped doing New Years Resolutions and switched to setting yearly goals. This gives me a years worth of time to break my habits so I don’t have to hate myself when, one week into the new year, I’ve screwed up my diet and have to start over.

I started this new practice in 2015 by writing my 2016 goals down in my journal and dove into the year with gusto. Unfortunately, I made my goals unachievable by overloading myself. When December 31st came I was pregnant, flat on my back, and desperate to keep fluids down. I thought, If pregnancy is going to be this difficult, I’d better make my goals smaller, so I won’t end 2017 feeling like such a failure. I made two goals for the year: 1) live through pregnancy 2) spend more time with God.

Unless this post has been literally ghostwritten, I lived through pregnancy (HURRAY! *throws confetti*). In reality my survival of pregnancy was never in question (though at the time it felt touch and go) so that goal was like those already completed items you put on your “to-do” list just so you can tick them off. This means I really only had one goal.

And to be honest, I flunked it.

It’s arguable that any time is more time, but that wasn’t what I meant. I have always fought against myself to have regular daily time spent on my personal relationship with God. Pregnancy was hard and exhausting, motherhood equally so. I feel like I’ve been non-stop sick since I was three weeks pregnant. It’s frustrating and humiliating and all the more reason to fall into the arms of my creator and father. But I didn’t, not really.

So December 31st rolls past and I’ve failed again, failed to even do the equivalent of a weekly 20 minute phone call to the God who loves me more than I can understand.

Two days later, I’m thinking it over, and the hot tight sensation of panic starts to settle into my chest. I realize I’ve stopped caring. I’ve given up and just don’t care about anything of eternal weight. I’m too tired, frustrated, and drained from everything I’ve been through in 2017. I had so many moments in the past four months where I didn’t even want my next breath that I’ve forgotten the value of time. The panic attack starts. My mind is on fire with self loathing and pity. I wanted to wake my pastor-to-be husband and have him pray over my wayward, sinful self so that I could find hope and salvation.

Then I remembered why I didn’t make New Years Resolutions.

My yearly goal method had become the same limping cop-out that I rolled my eyes at in other people. I was chain smoking my way to midnight with an “I’ll fix it tomorrow” attitude. Tomorrow I’ll spend time with God. Tomorrow I’ll pray. Tomorrow I’ll start reading my Bible. Tomorrow, when I’m less exhausted, less sick, less frustrated, less depressed.

Tomorrow when I have less time.

I stopped waiting. I prayed:

Father,
You know I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. You know I’ve a list of bad habits that could circumnavigate the globe, but I’m here now. Forgive me. I know we’re going to have to do this again, maybe even tomorrow, but you just keep waking me up to what matters. It doesn’t matter if I have to fight through 365 panic attacks this year if at the end of every one we talk until I fall asleep. At least then I’ll have spent more time alone with you.

I had a frank conversation with the God who loves me, the most important relationship in my life that I’d been neglecting. I didn’t wake my husband to do it for me. I stopped and right then spent time alone with God.

I resolved to start over, and immediately did. And that’s what I’m going to keep doing until I get it right, even if I’m doing it with each breath for the rest of my life.

Halfway There

Tah-Dah! We are twenty weeks people (twenty-one by the time this posts), and therefore halfway through this thing called pregnancy!

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Us at 20 weeks

My morning sickness is almost completely gone! I’m finally starting to gain weight. I stuff my face with spinach, eggs, and avocados. I still have an aversion to butter (most dairy actually), toast, and white flour tortillas.

Last Monday, Timothy and I went for the BIG ultrasound. They call it an Anatomy Scan, and they measured and checked out our baby from her adorable head to her sweet little toes. She’s healthy and beautiful and I’m on target for my due date of August 18th.

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Daddy’s favorite picture of his baby girl

Even before I met Timmy, whenever I pictured my future family there was always a little girl there. I pictured boys too, sometimes lots of them, but even in a family with 6 kids, there was always at least one little girl. Sometimes she was fair, sometimes dark, sometimes with blonde curls, sometimes with two brown plaits laying against her shoulders. She was sporty. She was a fairy princess. Her nails were dirty from digging up worms. She hated mud and slime. No matter what form she took, she refused to leave my imagination.

I had a laundry list of worries walking into that ultrasound, but the one that upset me the most was, “what if it’s not a girl.” Yes, it mattered more to me that the heart and brain and feet and hands were all looking healthy and strong. I say “upset me,” because I didn’t want the baby’s gender to matter to me at all. I prayed so many times, “God, just let me not care. Please, give me peace.”

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possible early evidence of thumb sucking?

Looking back, I think he answered that prayer the first time around. I think he was telling me, “Rachel, stop worrying, because I’m giving you your girl,” but I was too scared to believe that it was His voice speaking and not just my own desires. My mother-in-law later said to me, “Maybe God gave you that desire, because he wanted you to have it.” God didn’t have to give me my little girl. He chose to. He has control over the whole cosmos, and knew which soul to put in my womb because he has a purpose for her life.

One of the wacky theological teachings I heard a lot growing up was a kind of “be careful what you ask God for,” strain of belief. Ask God for patience, He’ll give you trials. Ask God for contentment, He’ll burn your house to the ground. But the HUGE thing always missing from these sermons was the truth that God isn’t sitting on his throne rubbing his hands together with glee because you’ve asked for the wrong thing, like a cosmic genie who grants your wish for a million dollars by handing you your loved one’s life insurance policy. True, ugly things will happen to us, but as I learned through my miscarriage, by His grace those ugly moments are never too much to bear.

Whatever he takes, he replaces. Sometimes materially, sometimes with more of Himself. Either way, he will satisfy.

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I prayed for God to take away my desire for a girl or to change my desire to meet his plans for my life. He answered my prayer. He kept my desire there, strong as ever, and waited for me to take hold of the peace he offered me because of the ernest nature of my prayers. I never took that peace, but at least now I’ve got the lesson.

And a baby girl. 😉