Monday, February 28, 2011

The Parsonage

We live in a parsonage. My husband has been a pastor for ten years and this is our first time in a church-owned house. I think I love it.

When we left the seminary I was dead-set against going to a church with a parsonage. I pictured a sad, neglected house and fights with the property board when the toilet broke.

What I live in right now is a lovely, well-cared for home that has plenty of space for our family. Someone else cuts the grass and shovels the snow. Posh!

The main drawback of being in a parsonage is that the fishbowl effect is magnified. Everyone at church knows where we live. Everyone in our neighborhood knows we are the pastor's family because this house has belonged to the church for decades. My husband jokes about "the compound" - as in, "Today I never left the compound. Home, church, home, church." The church is on one edge of the parking lot and our house is on the other.

I've heard that living in a parsonage can blur the line between home and work but for us, it has made the boundary between more clear. When my husband needs to work he can always get to church, so he rarely works at home.

Ten years ago this would have been an unhealthy situation for us. I would have been too sensitive to being so easily known. I would have felt self-conscious most of the time. Now, however, I am comforted by the congregation's care for us and usually like the easy movement between home and church.

That we are here now reassures me that God knows our needs and He provides for us with wisdom we could not understand. May He lead me to trust Him more.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Where I'm Reading This Week

It seems Friday-appropriate to share some blog posts I've especially appreciated this week.

At CLUTCHtalk, a blog designed especially for pw's, there is a series in progress on survival tips for the new pw. Today's tip is out of my league (how to be prepared for surprise overnight guests), but tips #10: Be Real and tip #9: Refuse to Gossip are right up my alley.

A facebook friend pointed me to this post at Steadfast Lutherans. It has an excellent list of ways a church can support and encourage the pastor's wife. The writer makes a good point about the church's responsibility to help the pastor balance his vocations of husband, father, and pastor.

I recently found the Pondering Pastor's Wife blog written by a woman who has experience in a very stressful church. She wrote here about how hard it is to unlearn the habits and expectations she developed there. I appreciate knowing that someone else has moved from an abusive congregation to a loving congregation but still expects disaster. It will be good when we learn to expect grace and mercy.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Depression Symptoms: Recurrent Thoughts of Death

Sometime last year I was driving on the highway alone and when the possibility of a fatal car crash passed through my mind it did not upset me. That was distressing. When I stopped later, I called a friend. I didn’t tell her the whole story, just that I was sad and needed to talk a minute. Reconnecting with the outside world (highway driving is like cocooning) adjusted my brain enough to shake off the mood.

When I described this episode to Therapist, the phrase “suicidal ideations” came up. Me? Really? Suicide? No way. Labeling my thoughts suicidal ideations alarmed me. It was hard to grasp that the urgency I associate with being suicidal related to me.

I cannot imagine that I would ever end my life. I readily imagined, though, how comforting it would be to go on a long vacation and come back in a year or so when the hard part was over. Therapist told me that a healthy person might feel uncertain, unhappy, anxious, but still that "this is my life so I will get through it." I was so wrapped up in my own crazy world that wanting to disappear seemed reasonable. Wise, even.

I get it now. Depression made my world so small and dark that death seemed comforting. I think that telling someone what I was thinking was the most helpful step. As soon as I saw the concern and anxiety it aroused in a friend, I realized the danger. I still felt like there were a million other people who could, and should, take care of my life instead of me but I held onto the assurance that God had given me to my family and that He was with me through my depression.

To read all the posts in the depression symptoms series, go here.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What's My Responsibility?

A Bible study for moms is meeting at my church this morning and I am not there. It's an established group that meets on a regular schedule and, mostly because I've been sick, I have been only once.

It's a fine group. The study is fine. It's not a group I'd be likely to spend much time with were I not the pastor's wife. And there's the rub: what is my responsibility to the women of our congregation as the pastor's wife?

I am the most widely-known woman in the congregation. Some people assume that, because I am married to the pastor, I am "better" at being a Christian than most. This morning when I dropped my kids off for preschool one of the other moms was teasing me about not going to Bible study this morning. "She's the pastor's wife and she's not going to Bible study?" I replied, in the same light tone, that there is no correlation between being the pastor's wife and being a "good" Christian. She thought that was pretty funny.

It happens that the time during which this group meets is the only time I have to be alone. All my children are at school for only 5 hours each week. I treasure those hours! I'd rather not subtract two of them for a group Bible study.

This situation represents a question I am constantly asking myself. What is my responsibility to the congregation? I appreciate that I have a unique position from which to encourage the women of the church. I want God to use me for that purpose. I also want to take good care of myself; to make choices that sustain me.

What would you do?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

3 Things I Try NOT to Say Sunday Morning

1. "My husband says..." If my husband wants someone to know what he thinks, he can tell them.

2. "Sure, I can be on that committee!" The energy of worship and fellowship time can make volunteering for a project seem simple, but it almost never is. Better that I take the time to consider an opportunity before I make a promise. Generally, I think of my role in the church as participatory and supportive rather than leading. My husband leads and organizes a lot and neither the church nor our family needs much more of that from me.

3. "I'm fine." I long for church to be an authentic community. I struggle to be honest, not to vomit the details of my personal life but to be honest when I am miserable or delighted. How can we "rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn" (Romans 12:15) unless we know each other's joys and sorrows?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Mavis Staples

Mavis Staples won the Best Americana album Grammy award last weekend for her newest release, You're Not Alone. She's been recording gospel music for decades and apparently this is her first Grammy. This album is stunning.

I like it because I hear pain and hope in her voice on every track. The title song, which you can hear in the video below, makes my heart cry every time. It's about compassion and knowing that someone else has hurt deeply, too. Staples has the rumbling, earthy voice that makes me feel what she's singing. And she is 71 years old. Awesome.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Praying for the Pastor

I've been thinking of asking someone at church - the elders? the prayer group leader? - to arrange for someone to pray for my husband, with my husband, on Sunday mornings. I feel a little strange about this so I haven't done it yet.

Then I read this post on the blog A Different Story. She explains better than I the seemingly unseen weight on my heart on Sundays.

I know everyone brings grief and joy and sorrow and blessing to the worship service. But if someone else wants to tell the pastor about it, he will listen with the ears of a spiritual guide. If I want to tell the pastor about it, he'll get all wound up and stressed. That is, surely, why clergy families need pastoral care too. We also need all the spiritual care our congregations can provide.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Personal Devotion

I could use some help from you all.

I understand the value of daily, personal study of the Bible and prayer. I understand this as an invitation from God to give Him my burdens, to be encouraged and strengthened through the Holy Spirit.

I do not have a daily practice of doing these things. I want to. The main thing that inhibits me is how exhausting it can be.

Reading the Bible or praying used to be a mechanical, intellectual endeavor. It took some time management and study skills but no emotional engagement. Lately it has become something entirely different. Any time I read even a short passage and ask God to show me what is there for me that day, it turns into a heart-wrenching, tearful conversation. The subject varies - it might be recognizing something about God's character, or a conviction about some failing on my part. It doesn't matter. Everything is tender and tear-prone.

I don't want to have these emotional episodes every day. I appreciate them. I'm glad that God is opening my heart to Him. But I just want to get through the day without drama.

If there have been times in your life that were like this, how did you handle it?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Time to Myself!

Last Saturday you all patiently endured my lament about needing to get away from my peeps (aka children). This week has been MUCH better. Everyone went to school on all the appointed days, which means I had a couple of hours alone on each of THREE separate days. Today I've been out of the house on my own for most of the day. I am feeling much better. Thanks for your encouragement.

I also had to go see another doctor this week. Nothing bad - I'm following the prescribed path. I needed to see another specialist who will do the necessary tests to be sure that the cancer is all gone. I was surprised by how distressing the visit was. When I tried to schedule the procedure - which requires some anesthesia, so I can't drive myself, so my husband needs to come with me, so someone else needs to take care of the kids, so on and so forth for ever and ever amen - I fell to pieces.

When I finished chemo I'd started thinking that we were done. I'm realizing now that "done" is not a useful concept in my life. If I pass this test, which I fully expect to do, there will be another next year. And the next year. For the next 2-3 years I am at the highest risk for recurrence. For 5 years I will continue to see the oncologist. I'm sure the anxiety will wane, but right now that seems like a long time.

God is much less attached to closure than I am.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Now that we are in a church where my husband is the only pastor, I am discovering a new burr in my pastor's wife vest: every sermon and every Bible class comes with baggage. I often know what happened this week that inspired the particular angle he takes on the scripture reading. Sometimes he's funny or off-beat and other people think he is so witty and I think I've heard this story/joke a dozen times before.

It's like being at a dinner party where your spouse is amusing and surprising everyone else and it's old hat to you. A dinner party every Sunday morning. He is funny and smart and witty. I'm glad other people appreciate his creativity. But some days I am very aware of the drawbacks to being married to the preacher.

Do any of you pw's have the same feeling?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Pharmacy Round 1, 2, 3 ...

My husband and I have spent most of this week at the doctor's office or the pharmacy. We took a break for the storm event of the decade. (Like many Lutherans, we live in the midwest.) Our community was at a standstill for a couple of days.

Friday - school nurse calls to tell me oldest child has ringworm and needs doctor's note to return to school on Monday. Schedule appt. with pediatrician and am advised to use Tinactin.
Saturday - husband to urgent care (sinus infection)
Monday - oldest to doctor, who says yes this is ringworm and treat it with Tinactin. (I spent the whole morning and $20 on this.)
Tuesday - storm arrives
Wednesday - life on hold for storm. No school. Crazed children trapped in my house.
Thursday - middle child to dr. (strep)
Friday - youngest child to dr. for follow-up on ear infection. It was in just one ear, now it is in both.

It's the kind of week that makes me feel like I will never be free of my children. I do love them. I love that my oldest is interested in chapter books now. I love that our middle child always has an answer when I ask if he had a dream last night ("I was on a pogo stick shooting bad guys with a water gun"). I love it when our youngest complains that his brother is "saying too many words. I want a turn!"

I also want them to LEAVE ME ALONE! Anyone want to meet me in Hawaii for a couple of weeks on the beach?