We’re more similar than different – Haiti, ministry life, and encouragement

Sue Matzke teaches us how a little Haiti can change a lot of life…
About first or second grade we had to fill in a worksheet that asked “When I grow up, I want to be a ____________.”
 
I answered missionary.
 

Besides the Holy Spirit, I’m not certain what prompted me to write that. 

Enter my high school science teacher,Mr. Britten, who was once a long-term missionary in Swaziland, Africa. A scheduling glitch gave my section of Chemistry an extra twenty minutes with Mr Britten three days a week, which he dubbed “family time.” He spoke candidly about most everything we needed to hear and he often told us tales about his mission work. I soaked in every single word. It is not surprising that my high school produced numerous short and long term missionaries, but one of them was not me. I became a parochial school teacher and librarian before marrying a pastor and homeschooling our son. 

And then, one day I became one.

 

In December of 2016, I went with Ministry in Mission to Haiti. Mr. Britten always emphasized the relationships he built in mission work, and he was right.

I had been asked to facilitate some Bible studies through a translator with the Haitian women. I was nervous!  I used Heidi’s Think on These Bible Study and focused on the lovely chapter. There was so much laughter. We all shared different things that our husbands find lovely. And of course, what God thinks of as lovely. The women I worked with in Jacmel had many questions for me and seemed very surprised that my husband and son were in the church’s choir but not me! The women love to share songs. We gathered in a circle, held hands, and they sang Creole Advent hymns to me. It’s one of my favorite memories.

The second half of my trip was spent in the eastern portion of Haiti where Hurricane Matthew had done the most damage. One thing we did was to spend two days traveling to very remote churches to follow up on grants that had been given to rebuild roofs on pastor’s homes. Upon our arrival, I was always introduced as “Madame Pasteur” – pastor’s wife. When I was introduced this way, the Haitian pastors’s wives would always get a big smile on their faces and give me the most giant hug. The translators would then go off and do official business, leaving us two pastors’ wives alone. The language barrier kept us from speaking many words to each other, so more often than not, we’d just hold hands and smile. The Haitian pastor’s wife would sometimes walk around with her husband, holding my hand for dear life. I’ve been there too. Sharing a hand with one another may be just the encouragement that woman needs for their ministry. We would say goodbye with that same giant hug. 
 
I simply cannot wait to return to Haiti in January and hug those beautiful women again!
It’s a sisterhood. We women need one another. Church life, ministry, and family life look strikingly similar, no matter our nationality, ethnicity, poverty or wealth, family structure or size, ministry situation, job, gifts or abilities.
We’d love for you to come with us to encourage and receive encouragement from our sisters in Haiti. For more information on the I Love My Shepherd trip to Haiti January 18-25, see this info sheet and registration forms at Ministry in Mission .

To our friends and our church family on Moving Eve

Packing up over a decade of your life into boxes with tape and marked with sharpies seems oversimplified. Staring out at the sea of boxes you wonder where all those years flew by, where you put all the meals and all the laughter, all those shared tears, and the days that seemed to be to mediocre to remember before, but now you feel desperate to never forget.

You can’t box up twelve years of your life. You can only box up possessions: photos, a few greeting cards, a special coffee mug, little pieces of memories of a life shared together.

You can’t box up people and take them with you. I promise you that if this were a possibility I would have duct taped and labeled more than a few individuals with a tag that said “Living Room: friends, must enjoy more often!”

So, instead as we transition to something new, a new day, a new challenge, a new journey, I will only say these few words for our church and our friends. We have lived life well together, in close proximity, and we will live a life well, though there be miles between.

First, Love one another.

Not just love a little. It’s so tempting.

It’s so tempting to show care and concern and stop short of deep and meaningful love. This Love is wonderful and painful. We avoid it because it means knitting little pieces of ourself into others and they into us. The stitching involves recognizing where we have failed, where we are imperfect. It means confession and forgiveness, recognizing what they know and do better than us, and rejoicing that we don’t know everything, that we need one another.

Loving also means listening, really listening. I do this utterly imperfectly. I like my words, but every day I learn a little more what it means to listen to understand rather listen to be heard. By listening, we hear who people really are, not who we think they are, or who we’d like them to be. This is Christ’s perfect love for us in action. While we were still sinners, He walked among us, loved wholeheartedly, and chose the cross rather than losing us in eternity.

Second, be kind.

In 12+ years of ministry I am shocked by the absolute care and affection that God shares through His people. Our body of believers in our local congregation and communities really is family. We have been cared for and loved on and have been blessed to share in life’s greatest moments of joy and sorrow with you all.

That said, I am also shocked by people’s ability to say hurtful things. The human person’s desperation that runs so deep as to destroy another standing right in front of them. Speak well of each other. Speak well to one another. Please speak well of us as we leave. Speak well of the next pastor and their family. We’re all in this together. Those outside the Church on Earth do not know what they are missing in this beautiful Family of God, but they will never know if we only show them our grouchies. Be kind.

And lastly, invite one another in.

It’s so tempting to be private. To keep our dark stuff and our hard stuff to ourselves, and even life’s everyday joys tucked in. If we don’t share, then it might be less embarrassing, less intimidating, but guess what, life doesn’t actually hurt any less. It hurts more. We were intended to share the burden. To walk together. Don’t keep it to yourself. Share it with the person sitting next to you, share it with your pastor, share it with your sister. Going it alone works for a very little while, but if we had known the struggles and gifts and joys that we know after twelve years with one another, imagine what God could do with that! It robs each of us of time and energy, hiding our best and our worst selves.

Let people know you are hurting, you’re sick, or you’re disappointed, in your family, at your work, at church. Don’t hold it all in. Don’t try to manage. This, my friends, this is what the family of God is for – confession, forgiveness, life together, life testifying where in the world Christ is at in the middle of it all, with and for one another.

If I could pack you all up with me, I would. If I could have all those I love in one small commune in the middle of the cornfields, with Ohio sunsets and Nebraska hills, I would. But He has other plans, so I will embrace them wholeheartedly, when it hurts, and when it’s good…and when it’s all of the above, boxed together, closed with packing tape, and marked up with a sharpie.

My “Not a Pastor’s Wife” Shoes

But now, O Lord, you are our Father;
    we are the clay, and you are our potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.
                                                            Isaiah 64:8
I have this pair of shoes. I love them. I was forced to buy them in one of the best bridesmaid purchases of all time. They are hot pink leather and wonderful. The heel is a good three inches. They are freakishly comfortable for their height, and they are completely impractical. They make me feel like a princess and a rockstar all at the same time. Every time I wear these shoes I get compliments without fail. They are a seriously great pair of shoes.
I wore these shoes out, for my husband’s benefit, on our 15thwedding anniversary, just last May. The plan was dinner and jewelry. This year demanded a mark of celebration in the form of refined diamonds- formed deep within the Earth, under heat and pressure. A fair representation of God’s work in us over the last few years. We had made it fiercely through a difficult season, holding hands, and building one another up, by God’s mercy and grace.
We walked into the jewelry store. We had a clear cut budget and a hip jewelry salesperson who understood our language…unique and understated, please. Atypical. Her name was Jaime and I’ll never forget her. She gave me one of the seemingly greatest compliments I’ve ever known.
“You don’t look like a pastor’s wife!”
Jaime’s words set my heart on fire with an elated sense of worth and appreciation. But why? Why was this compliment so valuable to me? It didn’t even make sense. I LOVE being a pastor’s wife! Why would I want someone to recognize that I don’t look like one?! Why does it matter so much to me?
I looked at Dave and told him, “It’s not just me. Most pastor’s wives I talk to desperately want to ‘look like something else.’ Why is that? What’s wrong with ‘looking like a pastor’s wife?’”
It took me 8 months to circle around to a conclusion:
No one wants to be put in a box.
No one wants to be generalized.
We want desperately to be kept outside of a category. While being in a group is fun and special, being seen as an individual, with unique thoughts and contributions, unique and valuable words and actions, this is an important part of who we were made to be.
Being part of the body of Christ is our reality, ordained by God. He sees us as chosen “people” not just a chosen person. He sees us as members fit together as parts, working together, striving together. But he also sees each of those parts very much as valuable pieces of clay, molded and made by Him, set apart for every good work, individual testimonies giving glory to Him, shining His light.
It’s common in “pastor’s wife world” to claim you are atypical. “I’m not like those other pastor’s wives. I don’t dress like them, play the organ like them, talk like them,” we say. But in order to change this perception that there is a “perfect pastor’s wife” or even a “typical pastor’s wife,” we have to change our own language.
There is no typical in God’s economy. Period. When we look at those around us and group people into categories, no matter how useful –
Millennials, jocks, engineers, the mentally ill, artists…
We stop seeing the individual. We turn back into our eighth grade selves, careful of what tables we sit at, and who we invite over. It changes not only us, but our ministries as well. There is no typical pastor, just as there are no typical computer software specialists, secretaries, or cashiers. And there certainly are no typical seminary wives or pastor’s wives.
Jesus has the perfect picture of the pastor’s wife in His Word. Psalm 64:8 proclaims that we are all the work of His Hand. Psalm 139:14 declares that work as wonderful, each of us- wonderful. Songs of Songs 1:15 calls us beautiful, simply as His creation.
And so, I embrace my crazy awesome shoes and wear them with a bit of pride for my solid fashion sense (ha!). I click around happily in them, looking forward to my night on the town, but firmly knowing they have absolutely nothing to do with my identity.
Sneakers, flats, flip flops, or heels…none of it has to do with who I am as a wife that loves my husband and loves Jesus even more.
And so I responded to Jaime’s compliment, “Thanks! I don’t think there really is a cookie cutter pastor’s wife. I do hope you get a little Jesus when I’ve left here today though.”
Because in all of it. That’s all that matters. Jesus proclaimed by every step of my three inch heels.