What I know now…

It is good for a man, that he bear the yoke in his youth.

                                                                                           Lamentations 3:27

My husband just celebrated a monumental anniversary- 10 years in the parish. It may not seem that big to those outside the church work world, but for those of you in, you know – It’s exciting stuff! 

It got me thinking- what are things that would have been helpful to know on day one? It’s almost like being a new parent. Would I have even been able to listen if someone would have tried to enlighten me on the difficult stuff? For what it’s worth, though, here are some of the things I’ve discovered in this ministry life that I just wish I would have understood earlier. Things they either don’t say in Seminary or my ears just weren’t open enough to hear them.

#1 – Church hurts. 
It doesn’t always hurt, there are endless joys, but I just didn’t know that it would be so hard. There is the timeless joke that church is hard because it’s full of sinners. And this rings true! We are all sinners, so why am I surprised when someone says something hurtful, when someone criticizes my husband unnecessarily, or someone (myself included) fail to put the best perspective on it all? Ministry is a wonderful and beautiful gift from God. But let’s not fool ourselves- It’s difficult. Someone please tell us this. Shake us and tell us the reality of watching families fall apart and children become prodigals and friends walk away from church forever. It won’t scare us away from ministry, it’s part of strapping on the armor. Would I trade it in? No. Because God heals the hurting places, and unlike basic Neosporin, His healing creates something completely new and worthwhile, better than before, and this testimony in Christ will go out and reap a bounty.

#2 – Finances will always be difficult.
No one ever got into the ministry looking for the big bucks, it’s true. But when we pulled out of the seminary parking lot and into the parsonage garage, I thought that with a regular paycheck and some savings in the bank, it might at least get a little easier. Truth: money is a struggle for all people, all the time. Yes, there is contentment and I feel like we’ve gotten there (or at least closer to the “I know what it is to be in plenty and in want…”) but whether you have millions (ha!) or the small salary of covering a vacancy, stewardship always will require thought and sacrifice. Money is difficult because you care about what God thinks about it. You are constantly living in the realm of should we use a little to go out to eat or buy the little one a new pair of shoes, should we spend the fuel to visit a good friend…well, then we have less money if the youth group has that fundraiser next month. Ahhh! Constantly thinking and planning with money is exhausting and there will never be enough of it because our sinful flesh always craves just a little bit more. I am glad I finally understand that there isn’t a magic amount in a paycheck when it just all gets better and contentment comes. It’s time to lay it before God, ask Him to help our churches be faithful to their pastors and help us to be content in each circumstance and help us find answers to the difficult times. He is faithful when people are not. 

#3 – When people don’t choose church, their not choosing between something else and you…they’re choosing between something else and God.
Ok, hear me out- it’s not that when someone misses a Sunday they’ve gone heathen and we’re all judge-y about that. Nope! But it does hurt when a visitor comes and they pick the church down the street, or you invite someone to Bible study for the fourth time and they have too much going on to do it. This is a weird church worker family emotion, that I’m not sure others understand. It’s personal. We have to work to not take it personally, because even in this, it’s about God, it’s not about us. People have to make all kinds of decisions and it’s not the preaching or the programs or the anything that people come to church for, in the end. It’s about Jesus. It’s between them and God. Maybe God has a ministry plan for them in this other choice, maybe they’re ignoring His still, small voice to get involved in a Bible study…who knows, God knows. We invite and we love, He fills the gaps when people disappoint. Know that He thinks highly of you. You are complete enough for Him in Christ, it’s not personal.

#4 – You will need someone to spiritually care for you.
As much as we wish God gave us superhero powers when we entered this church work life as a family, He didn’t. (Well, He gave us the Spirit, so that’s arguable…but you get the point.) We need spiritual care, just like the next guy. And for us, it’s not as easy as showing up and sitting in a pew on Sunday. How many of you feel like a single parent on Sunday mornings? I get the sermon recap at lunch, so that helps. Our husbands are our rocks, but they can not be everything to us at all times. And there is a weird and wonderful and complicated dynamic involved with sleeping with the pastor. This is personal opinion here, not Biblical truth, but I believe we need to seek spiritual care in other places also. Who else do you have in your life that can fill you spiritually? Maybe for you it’s not a person, but your own quiet time with the Word in the evening, or you have a spiritual mentor from your home church, or someone you know that lifts you up in prayer regularly. I have a women’s Bible study that meets every Wednesday. I can share my real self there. I don’t have to hide. I am filled weekly. I have a tiny group of gals from college that I talk to every day in a little chat group. I get a text from my friend, Sarah, that says “What’s your day look like today? I’m praying for you.” almost every morning. These people fill the Spiritual places deep in my heart and my husband helps them to overflow. 

So- would I have listened had someone shared these jewels early on? I hope! But who knows. When we are young, whether in age or experience, we feel like we kind of know. We almost need to be in it to experience the yoke and lift it before the One who can make it something beautiful. 

I pray for ministry wives every day. What would you add to this list? What wisdom can we glean from you, sister? May those yokes of “youth” be a blessing to you eventually. May you always be filled with the Truth and Knowledge of the One who trades us His yoke, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light. 

This is us, feeling youth-filled 🙂

The sacrifice of family

While he was still speaking to the people, behold his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?”And stretching out his hand toward his disciples he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!”

                                                                              Matthew 12:46-49
My sisters visited this weekend. They left, and I think they took a little bit of my heart with them. We laughed and played cards, we ate, and played tag with the kids. We recapped struggles and joys of childhood, we plotted our sisters cruise plans, and lamented living 8 hours apart for 10 solid years now. (And it wasn’t even all my sisters!)
 
This is perhaps one of the most difficult passages for people to “take.” What in the world could Jesus be talking about? His mom just wanted to talk to him. How rude! What is all the talk about ministering to your own family in the New Testament? Here’s Jesus blatantly disregarding the people in His own household. (Of course this isn’t true, but isn’t it a frustrating passage at times?)
 
Here, sisters, is the reality of life in ministry. One of the most difficult things about life in ministry is right here in these passages. We are called to give up our family. Yep, give them up. Many of you have been there. You packed up everything you owned in a small u-haul, you had a garage sale or gave things away so it would fit in the cheaper one; you waved goodbye as you watched little pieces of your heart fly out the window and watched the people you love get smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror. 
 
This is the little-talked about sacrifice of ministry- people. God asks us to once again give up the comfortable and the familiar, and turn it in for the new, the unknown, the stranger. 
We walk away from our niece’s birthday parties.
We miss out on cooking dinner twice a week with our sisters.
We give up being there when Dad gets the diagnosis.
We aren’t the person our nephew turns to when he gets a blue ribbon.
 
But if we believe God is who he says he is. He has a plan, a purpose, and a hope. When God asks us to give something up, he promises to fill us with so much more.
 
In my experience, by giving up our family in ministry, intentionally- acknowledging this sacrifice, bringing it before the Lord in prayer, and being honest that it’s a painful part of the process…we get our family and so much more. 
 
Yes, we still miss the birthday parties. 🙁 But we don’t lose our family. It looks a lot different than we expected, but God teaches us just how much He wants to be the one to fill us. He teaches us what family is in the body of Christ, in a way very few people come to understand without this kind of sacrifice. He primes our hearts for joy and struggle with people we never would have met had we stayed home. He gives us family with different last names, but the same Jesus-shaped heart and he gives us sweet, sweet reunions with loved ones far away. 
 
It doesn’t necessarily make it easier, it doesn’t diminish the tears, but it does make it better. Knowing it’s His.
 
I’m curious about your story. What is it like for you? Who did you “give up” to follow your husband in ministry? What is the thing you miss the most? Feel free to share it with me. We can support each other in the sacrifice, sister.
 
Here’s a picture of my family…in all their crazy wonderfulness. 
 
 
And my sisters and I…until next time 🙂


Scattering gifts…

For the body does not consist of one member but of many.

                                                     1 Corinthians 12:14

One day during Holy Week, my children and I sat around the school table, talking about plant classification (exciting stuff!). Someone was probably lamenting the heavy burden placed on them by Mom, the homeschooling tyrant. Someone else was probably demanding a snack. 
 
My husband innocently pops his head in the door and sweetly says to me, “Hey, were you planning on singing for Easter? I’m just getting the bulletin organized.” I glanced up from my work, and I’m not sure the look on my face, but I know the turmoil inside –
      One more thing, Lord. Really. 
      How am I going to manage?
      Where is the time going to come from?
      Maybe I can practice while the noodles cook….
      No, I need to return that phone call.   
      How about during quiet reading time?
      I need to get Bible study ready for tomorrow. 
 
And so on and so on. We all have the internal dialogue. Mine tends to range from organized files to harried and discombobulated. 
 
My husband looked into my face and gently imparted timeless wisdom for every pastor’s wife –
            “You don’t have to use all your gifts at one time.”   
 
Good call, dear. I’m going to sit this song out. I’m going to praise the Lord on Easter morn from the pew. 
 
I so often want to seize every opportunity, meet every need, heal every hurting heart, but not only is that God’s job, I was placed in a body to serve together. A wise person once said, “A need does not constitute a calling.” Sometimes it all seems so overwhelming, so many hurting people, little things to be done here and there and everywhere. God knows. He has a plan. Even this is in His hands. Sometimes His plan for me is to say, “Thanks, but not this time.”
 
God gave each of us many gifts to use for His glory. I’m sure you have so many ways and places to use them. He is so creative with each of us! Rest in this, sister…
      Use them, bless with them, but remember –
      You don’t have to use them all at one time. 🙂 
 
 


The day autism came to our house…

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.    1 Timothy 4:4-5
                                                   


My sweet Zeke. Precious child of God. He was born 3 weeks early on the night of a voter’s meeting. I didn’t bother to tell my husband I was in labor until midnight…why add to his burden? I’m sure someone can relate.

…And then he was here. 5 lbs, 1 oz. of wriggly tiny old man-looking cuteness. Zeke was precious, and always had lots of needs. He never slept well, he never ate great, he used his swing until he was 18 months old. He had RSV, pneumonia…He hated birds chirping and could do without people most days. He didn’t really talk until he started occupational therapy at 2. 

But oh, the sweetness. When he’s happy, you can’t even imagine how happy. He regales us with his funny matter-of-fact stories, he loves lions and Papa and skipped the Duplo stage and went straight to engineering Legos early on. 

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I always had this deep fear of autism as a young parent. My generation is probably the one made fully aware of autism from the first moment of parenting. I got the message loud and clear that it was painful, difficult, unknown, and a struggle. I thought that with it my child wouldn’t touch me, laugh with me, look at me. I had built misconceptions all up in my mind that fed a fear leaving me praying- “anything but that, Lord. Anything but that…”

And then it came to our house. 

By the time Zeke got his diagnosis of Spectrum (Zeke’s form is what they formerly used to call Aspberger’s), I felt freed by it. Here was my beautiful child, a gift from above, with all his quirks, precious to me. It wasn’t anything like I feared. God gave him to me as a gift. What Satan tormented me with in fear, God made beautiful daily. With Zeke’s diagnosis I can begin to help people understand him and his way of processing the world. I deeply believe Zeke’s way of seeing the world can teach us so much, if we only take the time to see it. 

And isn’t that the way God is. He takes the very thing we feared, the very thing that poked at us and crumpled our hearts, and uses them to take fear from us, to wash the anxiety and build our trust in Him.

God is using Zeke’s testimony already. God has a plan and a purpose, not only for Zeke, but for autistic Zeke, for Zeke’s challenges and his gifts. 
Our church is a different place with a little boy who can’t sit in a pew, but prefers to lay in the aisle. Our church is a different place because getting a “hi” from Zeke is something special and you have to work for it a bit. It’s difficult some days, but I’m reminded that other kids and other parents can be encouraged in knowing we all struggle in the world. Zeke’s struggle simply now has a name.

May our churches flourish with these little gifts. Gifts that remind us that God made us all a little bit different, and what God made is always good. May we lift up the differences, celebrate them, and love them in a way that shouts to the world- This is Christ, alive and well, people!


Through a little boy…praising the Lord, in His own way.

Do you have a child who shouts praises to the Lord in his or her own way? I’d love to hear your story.

The woman in the pew next to me

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
                                                               Ephesians 4:32

My supervisor left a sweet note in my box the other day:
    Heidi,
      I saw this and thought of you. 🙂 

(A generally good way to make someone’s day is to leave a note like this!) Attached to the note was a small magazine with a post-it note marking one tiny article that ran down the side of a page.

The article was entitled “The Women in the Pew Next to Me.”
I didn’t even get a chance to read the article before my mind was working over time. How often do we notice what is happening in the world of the woman sitting next to us on Sundays? 

Who knows if her marriage is happy?
Who knows if her heart is breaking over the decisions of one of her children?
Who knows if she’s losing her house?
Who knows if she’s waiting for a diagnosis from a doctor?
Who knows if she’s working two jobs?
Who knows if if she grew up losing her self-worth slowly to sexual abuse?
Who knows if anyone ever told her she’s beautiful?
Who knows if anyone told her God loves her despite her past, despite her present?
Who knows if she’s exhausted…chasing little people, slogging through laundry, sacrificing dinners out for family time in?
Who knows if someone’s words cut deep into her heart?
Who knows if she feels insignificant- searching for a friend who will listen and laugh, cry and hug?
Who knows if she lost one of her children to heaven in the early stages of her pregnancy?
Who knows if she struggles to control her weight, her beauty, her emotions?
Who knows if she still cries silent tears from the abortion so many years before, or just days ago?
Who knows if she struggles to care for a child whose needs seem more than she could ever fill?
Who knows…


At the risk of sounding too law oriented- have we taken the time to notice, to care, to ask about the tears, real or silent rolling down her face? This, my friends, is the church. This pew is where Christ meets us in the form of people who love us, hold us up when we have no strength, and laugh with us in our deepest joys. 

What if that person is your pastor’s wife? What if one person asked her out to coffee or invited her over for a moment of friendship? What if we included one another in our lives to the degree that we open in our hearts and let Christ do His great big work of Love, and Forgiveness, and Compassion, and Kindness through those of us sitting in the pew together. 



*The original article given to me by my supervisor was in Vol. 7, Issue 1 of Touchpoints (2011), put out by the Columbus Coalition Against Domestic Violence. and written by Poppy O’Guin Steele.