The woman in the pew next to me

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. 

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

*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.

The trouble with gossip

There is a dessert served in Ohio named the “sinfully delicious dessert.”
I promise you, it is really delicious.
It has crescent rolls involved, cream cheese, butter, cinnamon and sugar…need I say more. The name always took me aback, though. It always left me theologically contemplating while eating said dessert.
Is it so fattening as to become sinful?
Should I really eat something and enjoy it titled sinful?
Why does its deliciousness exceed goodness so much that we deem it “sinful?”
Tell me I’m not the only one who overthinks these things. Obviously, I eventually give up contemplation and dig into my dessert and enjoy the conversation around me.
           
On the same note, one of my favorite nail polish brands is called Sinful Colors. I really like it, it lasts longer than regular store polish, it does have great color options available, but sinful? I don’t get it. What makes it sinful?
Our culture is simply ok with sin. It’s normalized and even in the church we can become numb to the reality that sin is destructive and pervasive. It eats away not only at specific parts of our lives, but our hearts, and the space made by the Spirit for God to reside.
           
I think gossip is like my “sinfully delicious dessert” or my “sinful colors” nail polish. It’s the pretty sin. It’s just so stinking tempting. It makes me feel a little better. It may even bring me “friends” for a moment, willing to swap stories and share heartaches caused by others. I want people to desperately understand my struggle, but I need to be on guard that it doesn’t cause me to sin. Gossip is so tempting in the pastor’s wife world because we feel like we can’t be heard. Sometimes we just want to scream, “Is anyone listening? Did anyone notice I’m here?” and there are people who have wronged us. Most of us have had some kind of hurtful experience in the church, big or small.
           
Ephesians 5:13 speaks to revealing sin for what it is. Sin, brought before God – words spoken in the dark like, “God this is so hard for me. This person really hurt me. I’m angry, I’m sad. I’m just so tired…” is now in the light. Exposed, it has no place in my heart, no power over my life. In fact, this verse tells us that the sin exposed is now a light itself, pointing others to mercy and grace. God promises to use our very struggle and turn it into something better.
           
Let’s paint with some new nail polish – “Colors of Amazing Grace”.  😉
May our lives and our speech be coated by Him. May my pretty little toes point to the change of Christ in me instead of being sinfully delicious in this world with enough sin already.
painting nails with our friends in Haiti

 

God’s grace in my mess

If there was a test for pastor’s wives, I generally feel like I would fail. Well, maybe not fail, but pass just barely. I have some skills in ministry. I have a degree in ministry, two, after all, and a passion for God and loving His people, but that doesn’t mean I feel like I’d pass the pastor’s wives challenge. Can anyone relate?

There is no challenge, of course. No test. No rules. Just real life and real forgiveness. So, here is my story of what felt like failure:  

My husband’s grandma died last week. We came back early from vacation and he prepared to perform the funeral. We were sad, thankful that Grandma Gigi was 98, and had been a wonderful blessing in our lives, but sad and missing her smiling face already.

Funeral day came. I dressed my kids and prayed endlessly for my husband. Lord, give him the words. Lord, give him strength. Lord, give him peace.

The family walked in the church and I sat down with my beautiful kiddos in the pew right behind “reserved for family”, because there was no room in the inn evidentially. My 3-year-old found the nifty wooden sign declaring “reserved for family” and promptly threw it to the floor. He loved the clattering noise and was ecstatic when some kind soul in front of us placed it back on the pew in reach. Three more tries and I found a different home for that sign. 

My 9-year-old, nearly refused to go up and sing with the other children in a rendition of Jesus loves me. He pushed his Old Adam shoes into the bright red carpet and walked noticeably and painfully slowly to the front of the church. 

Midway through the sermon my 11-year-old began weeping in earnest. She loved her Gigi. She was heart broken and sad, and distraught at her first real reminder that on this earth there is death and sorrow. I put my arm around her and tried to gently comfort her, until my 3 year old simply could not be contained in the quiet anymore and began stomping his feet against the pew in defiance of experiencing one more minute of the service. 

All of this was expanded by the sweet woman behind us who clearly had a hard time hearing and whispered a loud play-by-play to her fellow worshipper – “He likes that sign!” “He doesn’t want to go up there and sing!” “She misses her Grandma!” “He’s ready for the service to be over!” She meant well, and in her defense was inadvertently supportive, but it was embarrassing to say the least.

I hauled my 3-year-old out of church, down the middle aisle, burying my face in his neck to camouflage the sobs welling up in my throat. This was a disaster with a capital D. I felt spent, sad, and still anxious for my husband preaching his heart out. 

I stood in the hallway of the church, feeling lonelier than I’ve ever felt. Someone quietly walked up behind me and gave me a hug, a member of our church, a friend.

Her words were simple and sweet. Gospel in my dark moment…

“I’m so sorry. I wish I could make it better.”

The message of the church- the embrace of love in the moment of despair- that’s all I needed. That embrace turned what felt like an epic mom failure and pastor’s wife nightmare into a moment between friends. 

I am not alone.

When I am weak, God gives me strength, often through His people, from someone who simply wanted to help make it better this side of heaven. 

Grandma Gigi and my tribe – We miss her and can’t wait to see her smiling face again in heaven!