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 attempted suicide twice 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

 

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Thank You #NaNoWriMo 2018

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Every November, writers across the globe shoot to get 50,000 words of a new novel down before 11:59pm, November 30th.

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I first heard about it in 2015. That year I wrote the first draft of a middle-grade novel called Land of the Golden Raindrops. In 2017, I wrote the first draft of a YA novel His Brother’s Keeper. This year I took some old notes I’d written back in High School and decided I’d rework them into an adult fantasy novel.

I knew November would be busy, so I tried to plan ahead. I started my outline and made some character notes. I felt confident that I had a vision of where the story would go, at least, enough of one to be getting on with.

About a week in, I was stumped. The characters weren’t speaking to me, and even with all my old notes, I was beginning to realize that the story just had no point.

I spent a few days trying to digest what this meant. I recalled reading about bestselling authors who gave up on projects, things they’d started then realized just weren’t going anywhere. Or an early novel they’d tried desperately to publish, then put aside to write something new, only to discover it was their subsequent novels that people wanted to read.

I shrugged and said to myself, maybe this is just one of the projects I’m going to have to walk away from.

Since pregnancy, my writing time has been minimal. I decided to do NaNoWriMo 2018 because I thought it might help me work writing time back into my schedule. Now I was staring at a novel that I thought I needed to trash.

I didn’t want to quit. I wanted my 50,000 words.

I toyed with switching to another project, but I’d squeezed out a meandering 18k, and I was losing days. If I started over I might never finish.

I’d read before about the work part of writing. The “just get it on the page” days. I’d read a million quotes about how you can edit a crappy sentence but you can’t edit a blank page.

So, I sat myself down and turned my narrowed eyed stare into the heat of my glowing laptop screen. Get it on the page, I told myself. Just get something on the page.

I rambled for an hour. Asking myself questions about the setting and my characters and what the story was about. After two hours of writing, I had my first real scene. Not just a jumble of conversation or an explanation of setting, a whole scene with characters interacting and purpose and movement forward towards a potential plot.

The next night, I put the baby to bed, booted up my laptop, and did it again. Night after night I plugged away. I’d start by typing jibberish and end with full scenes. My characters woke up. My plot and story arch came into focus.

I realized what I was writing about.

I’ve heard some writers make fun of NaNoWriMo as a silly sort of exercise. That you could just be working on your novel at your own speed and don’t need to drop everything for a brand new project every November.

Personally, I love NaNoWriMo, because every time I do it, I find myself learning something new about writing. And even if this year’s novel does end up as an unused file on my hard drive, I can’t wait to see what I’ll learn from NaNoWriMo 2019.

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Before and After

This summer, I’m trying to buckle down and get through a complete rewrite of my fantasy novel, Immortal Bond. It’s been slow going, not just because of our upcoming bundle of joy, but because of the growth I’ve experienced as a writer since last summer.

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I started my rewrite by analyzing my characters in each scene, noticing that I didn’t know some of them as well as I ought. This has made for countless hours of me just pondering them, their individual likes, dislikes, wants, fears, and any desires driving the current scene. I was forced to reconsider things I’d made them do before. The outcome of this exercise was twofold. First, I realized some of their previous actions and behaviors were too dramatic or extreme to be believable which forced me to cut countless lines of dialogue and whole chapters I used to think essential to the story. Second, characters that weren’t my favorite are beginning to feel more real and likable to me.

But all the cutting necessary to evoke this change hasn’t dropped my word count. My next task was to expand my scenes by adding more detailed descriptions of people’s actions and trying to utilize the environment to evoke character emotions instead of expositioning everything to death.

After meticulously implementing these changes in one particular key scene, I went back and compared my before and afters. The difference is dynamic. So much so that it’s embarrassing to look back at the writer I used to be. I keep thinking of all the manuscripts I handed out to people, hoping for feedback that never came, and wondering if I should just call them up and offer to pay them to burn it.

 

Yet, there are really no downsides to realizing this. Even those six or so query letters I fruitlessly sent out were not a waste.

For one, I needed to start somewhere. My inexperience with querying and the life of a writer couldn’t forever keep to my home. Each step forward was a step of learning, even if it required me to trip and fall.

Two, I knew in my heart back then that my novel wasn’t really good enough to be anything to anyone but me. I read too much not to see the difference between solid writing and someone who, though trying hard, is not exactly Random House material. (The difference I am now seeing makes me think I was barely brand-new-small-time-desperate-for-anything indie press.) That was one of the reasons I was such so nervous about handing out manuscripts to friends and family. I knew it wasn’t great, but I also knew I needed all the help I could get. I needed someone to help expose me to my blind spots. Most of those helpers ended up being my professors and classmates. I guess everyone else was too embarrassed to give it to me straight.

I don’t think I’m going to reach my goal of finishing the rewrite before school restarts. (I’ve spent too much of my summer staring vacantly into the void with narrowed eyes, wondering why or if a character would do or not do the thing.) What’s nice is that I no longer care. It doesn’t matter to me anymore how long this process takes, so long as the end product is something I’m truly proud of. Considering my growing love for my characters, and how impressed I am with the difference between my first drafts and my latest, I think I’m a lot closer to that end goal today than I was when I started this journey four years ago.

That, I think, is something to be proud of. 🙂

Open and Honest

One area in my life that I’ve been pushing myself to improve is my total lack of social skills. I am an introvert almost to the extreme, and often find myself content with no other company than my few closest friends. Building new relationships is excessively difficult for me.

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I think one of the reasons I find it so hard is that I kind of hate myself. I see myself as a whiney and annoying person with nothing intelligent to add to a conversation and a waste of space in the room. I labor under the assumption that pretty much everyone else secretly agrees with my self assessment, but are too kind to tell me they’d rather I left. So I leave without being asked. I slip away to be by myself where I’ll read or write or knit or whatever.

Most of this self abasement was encouraged in my upbringing by the way the household was run, and during the darkest periods of my struggle with Depression have led me to some very ugly thoughts. Today, the people closest to me often tell me that I hate myself more than anyone else in the room. I question the complete validity of this statement, but I see what they mean anyway. It would seriously be hard for anyone to dislike me more than I do.

Building relationships with the mental handicaps of Anxiety and Depression, along with my severe introversion, is a steep upward climb, but I recently had a breakthrough that I hope will become a new pattern.

My husband and I have changed churches. Again. These past two years have been the most up, down and unsettled period of my life. Though Timothy keeps telling me that now it’s safe to settle for at least the next three years, I haven’t seen enough in writing to convince me to unpack my emotional suitcase. So when kind and friendly faces in our new church body opened their arms to welcome me, I wanted to walk into them, but also wondered what was going to happen to their presence in my life come September. How much do I open up to these people? How much do I fight against my fears of rejection, only to meet with loss on the other end? Because one thing I’ve noticed in the last few churches we’ve gone to, is that once you’re no longer a member, the people who seemed to care don’t care anymore. It’s like you’ve switched from the goth click to the cheerleaders and you’re dead to all that’s past. All the trying, all the fighting against myself to get close to strangers becomes another example of people not actually caring about me, another example of my not being worth anyone’s time.

But what I’m now realizing is that I’m half the problem, maybe even more than half. My fear of rejection keeps my relationships shallow. Why should anyone miss me when I leave the room? They don’t know me, because I fear being known.

And here I am, standing in front of a woman who wants to get to know me, and I’m stuck. Yes, I’d love to go for coffee with you. It would be good for me in so many ways, and you’re being so loving and kind, but how do I tell you that, despite my being an adult, I don’t often drive places on my own? How do I tell you that I have such crippling anxiety disorder, that I’m afraid to schedule coffee with you on a day when I can’t rely on my husband to be around to prevent me coming home to an empty house?

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My new solution. I just do. I just say it, and hope that, if you really want to get to know me, you’ll help me think of another way. So instead of just telling her the easy bit about not having access to a car, I hear myself admit to her, “I have anxiety disorder, and driving is one of my triggers. I don’t really drive more than 20 minutes by myself right now.” And she says, “I’ll pick you up.” And she says, “I can drive you to the church where your husband is.”

Another falsehood I was taught as a child was that I was never supposed to talk about my mental health issues. It’s a secret that I’m ill, meant for just me and my doctors. So the worse my condition got, the more my relationships withered, the less I wanted to try. People don’t understand, I thought. I’m in the way. They must hate me. I’m such a nuisance. I wish I wasn’t me.

The thing I’m learning, a lesson I can take with me even if we do switch to another church in six months, is that a lot people are willing to help and want to understand, but they can’t do either if I’m not willing to be honest.

Honesty. It makes sense, really. Isn’t honesty a foundational pillar of any lasting relationship?

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Closeness In Silence

I had a lot of fears going into Marriage. There was never any question that I loved Timothy. There was never any question that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. But the process of planning, arranging, and waiting for the wedding day was painstakingly horrendous. The day after he proposed we went to visit his family. They were celebrating November birthdays and they all gushed over me when they saw the ring. When we got in the car to leave, I burst into tears. I hate being the center of attention. Tim held me while I trembled and listened to me gasp “I love you but I don’t know if I can do this” whenever I had breath enough to speak through my semi-hyperventilative state. Needless to say, a little over a year later we got married anyway. (I was half a slow breathing exercise away from passing out during the my vows but…)

One of my weird fears going into marriage was this. A lifetime is a long time, what if we run out of things to talk about? I voiced this fear to a lot of people. The our premarital councilor, my mother and father, Timothy, and random people in the supermarket. They all smiled and said the same thing, “that won’t happen.”

I have been married for two years, but Timothy and I have been inseparable for nearly eight years. I believe they were not telling the whole truth.

Life has been consistently difficult since my miscarriage. Not to say I hate my life because there is beauty in the winter of our lives if you stop and look, but some mornings I wake up and wish to be somewhere or someone else. I often feel like a small child at the ocean for the first time. I ran into the waves with wonder, but their unforeseen strength knocked me off my feet. My head bobs to the surface just in time to meet another breaking wave. The tide is dragging me around and all I can do is wonder when Devine Intervention will rescue me.

I tell my husband everything. We’ve rehashed my current issues over and over until I feel bad about repeating myself. I began to talk to others about it. They’ve all be very patient. But I feel more a burden to them than I do even my husband.

I had another sleepless night yesterday. I listened to some sermons which inadvertently picked the scabs off of old wounds. I laid there in bed, miserable, wishing that I had a friend that I knew for certain would understand if I called them at 2:30 in the morning. I looked over at my tired and hardworking husband. He’s been going to bed early a lot lately because he’s so spent. I wanted his touch. His voice. His comfort. But I couldn’t bring myself to wake him. I laid there for a half hour and finally came to this conclusion, if I couldn’t wake him at 3:00 in the morning when I needed someone, than what was the point of being married.

I rolled over and wrapped my arms around him. I pressed my nose to the bottom of his chin. He stirred.

“Are you awake?” I asked.

“A little.”

“I need you.”

“I’m all yours.” His arms closed around me. I didn’t speak for a while. “What’s the matter?” he asked.

“The same stuff.” I began to cry. “Timmy my heart hurts.”

We didn’t talk much after that. We held to each other for over an hour until we both fell back asleep. To me, it feels as though we have actually run out of things to talk about. I don’t need him any less, but I don’t know what to say to him.

When you love a person for a long time you cannot stay stationary. Things must change or you will stagnate and die. To me, saying that you will never run out of things to talk about is like saying your love will always feel like you just met last week and are still sharing your favorite songs and the funniest stories from your childhood. Timothy knows my whole heart. I hold nothing back. So, right now, there are no words. We have to work to find the words or, if the words don’t come, we have to find togetherness in the silence.

That night I found a closeness in silence with Timothy. By the time I fell back asleep, my heart ached a little less, even though we had run out of things to say.

What Do You See?

I’m in the living room of my apartment. It’s 5am. I’ve been up most of the night reading “The Art of Asking” by Amanda Palmer. I left the finished book and my booklight in the bedroom, lying beside my sleeping husband. He hates to wake up and find I’m missing. He wanders from the bed half asleep, like a child who has just woken up from a nightmare, rubbing his eyes and muttering, “you left me”.

I’ve been slightly absent blogwise as of late. Why? Because I’ve finally hit it. That moment in life where you look around, where you’ve been, what you are, what you know, believe, hope, dream and say, “Crap. Who am I?” My husband calls it an existential crisis. I had to ask Siri what that meant. (Don’t judge! It’s the first one I’ve ever had.)

I was raised to think, feel, be, and do certain things. I’ve had many relationships where I was told what to think and who to be. I acquiesced for many years. Now I find myself looking at the world in a completely different way. It’s as though I’ve suffered for 28 years from a mental stigmatism and someone just handed me a pair of glasses. The world has come into focus but the sudden change left me with a crushing migraine.

One of the biggest changes I’ve had inwardly, is real compassion.

I’ve always been a softie, crying at films or books and crumbling into a hot mess when someone near to my heart experiences any sort of discomfort, but I think I missed what it meant to have real compassion for the people around me, those other lives that you brush with your fingertips throughout the day. I would see things, read things, hear things, and snap judge. A lot of people do this. Everyone probably. But I never realized until recently how wrong it was. Everyone has a heart, everyone has a story. Some guy cuts you off in traffic and you flip him the bird. Sure he could have hit you, but maybe his life is in crisis, maybe he’s just been diagnosed with cancer and flying down the highway makes him feel like he can run away from the fact that his body has turned against him. You don’t know. I don’t know.

Walk a mile in their shoes.

I hate canned phrases. They loose meaning, taste, texture, and nutrients from overuse. Yet this phrase keeps coming back to me lately. Walk. A. Mile. In. Their. Shoes.

We don’t try to see others, not really. When the lady at the checkout counters says, “How are you?” she’s just passing the time of day and expects the canned “fine” in return. A few weeks ago my husband and I were in line at Target. The lady asked me “how are you?” and I replied instinctively with a cheery “fine,” when in reality my heart and head were tangled and screwed into a gordian knot. I’m surprised my lie didn’t merit the tile floor below me splitting open to swallow my mortal flesh.

All that to say, I think I see people now. I haven’t learned yet how to deal with it, but I can see them. The man who holds the door for me at the library and smiles his “good afternoon” more with his grey eyes than his lips. The angry lady at the grocery store who is harassing the checkout girl. The checkout girl being harassed by the angry lady. The man on the side of the road, shivering in the cold, clutching a sign for food.

If seeing is a sign of life than maybe it’s the first sign that I’m beginning to live. If I live then maybe I can use my life to touch the needs in people around me.

So it’s 5am. I’m confused, awake, tired, frustrated, scared, hurt, and alive. ALIVE! Alive with a chance to live my life, not through others, but my own life. A chance to step out and try and touch the needs in other people with the gifts that I’ve been given.

I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t know where to start. I don’t know why I’m telling you this. I’m not even sure where this post is going! I guess I’m just hoping to be seen by someone. My husband sees me. He knows me. Sometimes I think he knows too much of me. But right now I just need to know that someone else out there sees me too.

Can you see me?