Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Distressing Dreams

Last week I had a steady stream of weird, vivid dreams. The first two had to do with my children being in danger and I could not protect them (in the first of the two, I knew we were all going to be brainwashed).

Then I dreamt something involving me in Alaska on a trip with wolves, sleds, and overnight camping in the middle of winter. I like camping, but not in the winter. I'm not interested in a personal relationship with a wolf.

The most recent was a long episode of some people trying to burn down my house. They were kind of mellow about it - turning on my oven, lighting small fires around the house, trying to start a bonfire on the roof. I followed them around putting out the fires and trying to talk them out of arson. It occurred to me to call 911, but I thought the fire dept. would be annoyed that I called for help before there was a really big fire.

I've decided that those dreams involving my children are residual anxiety about the congregation we just left. Everything about our current situation seems good and safe for my kids.

The other two, in which I seem to be taking on challenges above my pay level and delay asking for help... well, that's me in a nutshell. I have become pretty adept at asking for help these days because I must. It's the same reason I wound up talking to a therapist and a pastor in the last couple of years. The pain in my life was too much to bear and I had to get help somewhere.

I have a long habit of imagining that people will think poorly of me if I ask for help. I imagine other people thinking that I should be able to handle things on my own. I can't think of a time when that has actually happened, but real life and my expectations are taking a long time to meet.

I've also noticed that I picture myself requesting/accepting help from now until I finish chemotherapy. Then, I tell myself, I will be well and whole and energetic and independent and help other people. I hope that most of the above will be true, but I also hope that I can sustain my willingness to ask for help when I can use it.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Gracious Insomnia

It's the middle of the night. I've been having a lot of strange and distressing dreams this week, including tonight. Earlier this week they were vivid dreams in which my children were in danger and I could not rescue them. I can't remember tonight's dream, but when I woke I was thinking about the sr. pastor at the church we recently left.

Being now in a congregation that is warm, loving, and gracious is helping me interpret what was off kilter in our last church. I now realize how legalistic the place felt to me. I have often thought that sr. pastor seemed pharisaic, and when I woke from my dream tonight that was on my mind again.

I respect for the pharisees for their effortfulness. They desperately wanted to get it right so that God would love them. I think that's what motivates sr. pastor. He knows the Bible like no one I have ever met. He can whip out a verse for any situation. He works hard to make things happen and wants to align the universe in such a way as to please God.

At other times I have recognized how sad this is, but tonight I feel how tragic this is. The poor man has memorized the Bible and missed the point. God wants to embrace and comfort him and then use him to share God's gracious love with others. He is missing out on the blessing of God's grace because he is working so hard to do right.

Tonight that seems to me an even more desperate situation than a major depression.

The congregation where my husband is now the pastor has expressed no expectations except these two: That God has brought Husband here to care for them and that God is working among them.

It is a stunning blessing to be with people who trust God so thoroughly. It makes me realize that in our last congregation it felt like there were specific expectations about what Husband would be or do, and when he disappointed those the leaders' confidence in God's faithfulness waned. Husband was accused of not listening to the Holy Spirit and of lacking pastoral judgment. I described this accusation to someone recently and she reframed it as "spiritualizing controlling tendencies."

While we were there, those accusation bred doubt in our hearts about our relationship with God and Husband's call to serve as a pastor. Now those same accusations cause me grief for them. How sad, how desperate, to have so little confidence in God's faithfulness.

The pastor who preached at Husband's installation reminded me that there will be challenges and seasons of frustration or unhappiness here, but that "it seems this may be a place of mercy and grace." What else could I possibly hope for? We are weak and broken and sinful, living among people who are likewise. Mercy and grace is what I most crave.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sitting with Sadness

One of the things I've started trying to attend to as a parent is letting my kids feel sad. It's hard. I want to talk them out of feeling sad or frustrated, to move the frame so they just see the happy things. The other day my son lost two rounds of Candyland and he was despondent. He sobbed for about ten minutes. I wanted to say, "Really? Candyland? Buck up, mister. It's no big deal." But to him it was a huge deal. Losing is very sad for a competitive six-year-old. He sat on my lap and I made soothing sounds and waited. After a while he stopped crying and started talking about something else.

For most of my life I have distracted myself from things that are sad. It's much easier for me to be angry, or feel guilty, or tell myself it's not worth being sad about. That's one of the things I learned from talking to a therapist. My therapist doesn't take it personally if I feel sad. Most of the time, she'd nod her head and say something like, "Of course you're sad! Life should not be this way!"

The problem with sadness, for me, is that there is nothing to do about it. It just is. And it hurts. The only thing to do is feel it, say it, complain to God about it, expect it will end sometime, and wait.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Goodbye Depression!

I am DEEEEElighted to report that my depression seems to have wandered away. The last time I checked - last spring - it was still holding tight. Then life went completely crazy and I stopped checking every day to see if I was better. Now things are settling into a routine in our new home and I notice that the parts of me I've been missing for so long are back.

For example:

I enjoy being with my kids. I cannot remember when I last thought it was fun to be the mom at my house. I have been simply enduring the work of parenting for a couple of years. I could see that they were happy and imagined that could be fun for me, but it wasn't. Now I enjoy their silliness, their creativity, their incomparably adorable little faces. Even their tantrums and sassy attitudes are ok with me. I'm the mom, they're supposed to act that way, and I can handle it.

When I am trapped in bed by the exhaustion that comes with chemotherapy, I think about the things I want to do when I feel better. Some are short-term: on good days, I like to write, to read, to cook, to play with my kids. Others are long-term: when this chemo is over, I want to plan a vacation. I want to paint my bedroom. I want to have new friends over for dinner. We live in a parsonage and I've enjoyed imagining an open house for the congregation this spring. A year ago, such a thought would have overwhelmed me.

My husband is not as perky as I. He has been adapting to or trying to prevent incomprehensible, unpredictable unkindness for two years and it will probably take a while to process and cope with that. I understand that, and I miss him, and I am waiting for him to come back to me. I am sad about that. A year ago, I was desperate to fix it. Now I am comfortable with knowing I cannot fix it. I can be next to him, love him, share myself with him, pray for him. These are my roles in his life. God will heal him. It is good for me to feel safe and content even when my husband does not.

If you've ever been depressed, or desperate to heal the pain of someone you love, you'll recognize how revolutionary that is.

I cannot say how thankful I am to be well. It surprises me every day. When I notice that I am happy, in the moment, free of pervasive fear or anxiety, I marvel at what God has done. In the midst of depression, I really thought this would never happen.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Honesty Is Working

Last week I wrote about a note I put in the church bulletin explaining my cancer treatment and related fluctuating energy level. It was a little awkward to explain so much about my life to new acquaintances, but I guessed the benefits would outweigh the awkwardness.

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to visit with a lot of people after worship. No one mentioned my note explicitly, but I could tell many of them had read it and that it helped them know how to talk to me and how to offer help. Lots of people asked if this is a good week -- that is, are you feeling well today? It is so much easier for me to establish comfortable connections with people when they have a context for understanding my varied behavior.

Tomorrow I will have chemo again, and on Sunday I will probably be tired and not too interested in chatting. I will likely rest in my husband's office while the kids go to Sunday school. Me hiding in his office while everyone else is in Bible study could be pretty confusing. But since most people know I need to do that sometimes, I don't think it will be an issue. My husband has even said my note has helped him answer questions about how I'm doing.

Thumbs up for this little project.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Managing Mrs Pastor

I started writing this blog a little over a year ago for entirely selfish reasons. At the time I thought I was a rare specimen: a miserable pastor's wife. Writing about the conflict at our church and my depression helped me cope with it. I thought a couple of people might read it but that I'd mostly be writing to myself.

Turns out that unhappiness among pastor's wives is not so rare! It is deeply satisfying to me to be connected to so many other women who are supportive, empathic, and hopeful in Christ. It also requires a fair bit of energy.

A while ago I set up my computer with two users: me and mrs pastor. When I talk about the blog I usually talk about mrs pastor in the third person. I'm not sure why, precisely, but I feel like I can manage all the weight associated with this stuff better when I keep a little distance most of the time.

I love that some of you write comments and send me e-mail and facebook messages. It is always encouraging and I am happy to chat about our lives. Some days. Sometimes several days go by and I don't log on to mrs pastor because I don't have any energy to cope with my feelings or anybody else's.

Thanks for being a part of this. You make a big difference in my life.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Experimental Honesty

The last time my husband took a call, our three children were between 6 months and 3 yrs. old. We were in the midwest and it was the middle of winter. I didn't get out too much.

I assumed that people in our new church would understand that managing my little gang was a full-time task and it would take me a while to get to know them. We went to worship on Sunday morning and tried to stay for some of the fellowship time, but it was intimidating to be in a crowd of people I didn't know while my children wandered off.

I fretted about the tension between parenting and being involved in church as I thought a pastor's wife *should*. Once or twice my husband told me that some people seemed confused about why they never saw me. SERIOUSLY? It doesn't take much creativity to imagine that a new community, a bunch of little kids, and a husband with a new job = all I can take.

Now, my husband has taken a new call once again and I am in a compromised position once again. This time it's cancer treatment, and it seems like everyone would know because they've been praying for me all summer and are bringing me meals every couple of weeks. But I have learned not to assume. So I wrote this for the church newsletter:

Dear [church] friends,

What a blessing it is for us to be here with you! You have shown us such kindness and care. I am thankful for you.

Thank you especially for your prayers, concern and thoughtfulness for me during my cancer treatment. I have finished 3 of 12 bi-weekly chemotherapy treatments. On the weeks that I have treatment I tend to feel very tired. On those Sundays I love to be in worship but may not have the energy to visit much. Your prayers and patience during these months are a generous gift.

With praise to God for His ministry here,


Nobody has said anything to me about it, and I don't really expect that they will. I feel more at ease just knowing I've made an effort to let them know. It's awkward to tell a couple hundred people I just met about a part of my life that makes me feel so compromised, so distant from the self I know. I've tried fear and anxiety with a congregation and that turned out badly, so this time I'll try trust and see how things go.