My 2 Cents for Ministry Families

We’ve been in this place for one year.  One year of ministry under our belts, and I realize how ill-equipped we were…and still are in many ways…for life in ministry. I am glad I was warned advised (repeatedly) that life in ministry is hard. Life in ministry is challenging. Life in ministry is beautiful. People will hurt you. People will surprise you. There are those who will support you no matter what, and there are those looking for every opportunity to find fault in everything you do. And all of this applies to both the pastor and to the pastor’s family.

We’ve spent the last year trying to learn the culture, trying to understand the people. We’ve spent the last year moving slowly, trying not to step on too many toes, treading water lightly. We’ve spent the last year in tears, crying out to God for healing of hearts, for restoration of relationships.  We have fallen to our knees, praying for growth and renewal and transformation. We have prayed for His Spirit to revive hearts. We have sought God’s guidance, we have listened for His voice. We have begged to have His heart for the people, for the church. We have spent a year hoping to see some fruit from our labors. And we have spent a year waiting on the Lord…

And so I write this blog post, knowing that I know so little, and knowing that our experiences may not be your experiences if you, too, are in the trenches of ministry. I’m writing this to encourage those who are stepping out in faith, embarking on this adventure, and for those who have been at it for years. I know that the longer our life in ministry, the more we will learn and grow and, in 5 years from now, this list may be completely different. There are healthy churches out there, along with some very unhealthy churches, and every pastor’s experience, along with their family’s, will be unique to the place they minister. Some places are easier than others, but every place will have weaknesses, every place will have challenges, every place will be hurting in some way. And in every place, there will be opportunities to see the hand of God at work, to see His redemptive power, to see transformation in the lives of the people.  In every single place, in every type of ministry, there are miracles and joys and healings and beauty from ashes. In every place, the Spirit is moving and hope is present.

Ministry families, this is for you. Know that you are not alone in your journey. The more articles I read about ministry, the more I realize how much we, along with our pastor spouse, need to be encouraged and loved and reassured that we are not alone in this craziness! I write this from a wife and momma’s perspective. If you are the husband of a pastor, I would love to know if this resonates with you also.

So, here is my advice/ $ .02/ words of wisdom (hah!), for whatever it may be worth.

  • Cling to the cross. You can’t do this without God. You need an abundance of His grace and mercy. Soak in His love.  And, if (and when) you feel your heart becoming hardened, escape for an hour, a day, a weekend, and be refreshed. Find a place to connect with your Creator and let Him love you. Let God refill your soul, nourish your heart, and strengthen your passion for Him and your compassion for others.
  • Laugh. Often. Find joy in the little things. Cherish the moments of laughter and delight.  In times of stress, my sense of humor is the first thing to go and I need to be very intentional in finding joy.
  • Remember that your spouses’ job is not your job.  I say that with a grain of salt. I often refer to my husband’s work as “our” ministry.  I truly do believe that we, as a family, are in ministry together, and it is a team effort in my husband’s work within the church.  I help with a lot of stuff in church, often spending 15-20 hour each week volunteering.  I do this because I know how important it is that I show support and encouragement for my husband. I do this so I can help him in his ministry. I do this because otherwise he would end up doing it alone, and I want to relieve some of the stress and workload from an already overwhelmed schedule. I do this so that I can spend time with him.  I do this because I believe God has called me to this, in this season.                                                                                                         However, I was not hired to do his job. He was. I do not have the authority to make decisions, change or transform anything…any more than any other member of the church. And sometimes, I have even less input than the “regular” church folks.  And sometimes, it is a hard truth, that even though I spend far more time, energy, and emotion on the church and it’s activities than most of the congregation, my voice doesn’t carry more weight than anyone else’s.
  • Keep a Sabbath. And encourage, no…MAKE your spouse take one. Keep it sacred, just as the 4th Commandment tells us to do.  Use it as a day every week to connect with God and with one another. We have failed at this one over the last year, and now are trying to regain Sabbath keeping back into our practices. Wednesdays are becoming our holy days this summer, where neither of us work and we have intentional time together as a family and “shop talk” is kept to a minimum. We’ll see how it goes. We are a work in progress.
  • Try not to take it personally.  I struggle with this one. I want to protect my husband as much as possible, and protect my family. Words wound deeply. Actions…and inaction…hurt. They matter, even when you don’t want them to. And sometimes, it is hard to remember that every other person in the church is just as human as I am, makes mistakes just as I do, and is focused on themselves and their needs, just as I am.   They are trying to protect what is important to them, just as I am trying to protect the ones important to me. Hurt people hurt people, as the saying goes. It just stinks being on the receiving end of the hurt.
  • Pray for your spouse. Do this often. Daily. Hourly. In seasons of challenges, pray for their protection. Pray for their faith. Pray for their heart. The attacks on their character, their ministry, their integrity, their emotions, and their faith are the ways of the enemy.  Pray for your spouse, and for your marriage, and for your children (if you have them). Satan will attack everything that you hold dear. Fight back with prayer.
  • Find friends you can be authentic with. We all need a safe place to be real, to bare our souls, to share our burdens. My husband and I were lucky that we met other families who are also in ministry in our town shortly after we moved here. They understand the life we lead because they, too, are on the journey, trying their best to follow God’s call on their lives.
  • Remember why it all matters. There is a much bigger picture than any of us will ever see.  We know that God wins, but the battle can be excruciating. We know that the work we do is to bring people to Christ. It is to grow the kingdom of Heaven here on earth.  And it is hard, hard work if we are trying to do it on our own, which is why it is so important to remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Friends in ministry, you are in my prayers. Our lives are not easy ones. We have taken on a yoke that we can only get through with the grace of God. Some of us have chosen this life willingly and joyfully, embracing our spouse’s invitation by God to join in ministry. Others of us have felt pulled along by our spouse, hesitant to embrace this life of service to others. Whichever camp you fall into, I pray for grace and mercy to abound in your lives. I pray for you to find safe places, safe people, to be real and authentic with and for deep, abiding friendships to nurture your soul.

For those of you who may not be in positions of ministry, may I ask one thing of you? Encourage your pastor. Love on their families. Reassure those who minister to you. Show them grace and mercy.  I’m not saying to blow smoke, but give authentic encouragement when the Spirit moves you to. Most people do not hesitate in giving complaints or criticism, but are much more reticent in giving encouragement. A kind word given, a nod of encouragement shown, can go a long way to lessen the burden and cheer the soul.

Life in ministry is hard. It is challenging. Over the course of the last year, my husband and I have failed miserably at much all of the above. There have been times when we’ve become weary, where we’ve been overwhelmed. There is loneliness, there is isolation, there is heartache.  We’ve forgotten to laugh, and we’ve worked too much and too hard, not resting in the Lord. We’ve been hurt, and I’m sure we’ve probably hurt others. But we’ve also been shown grace and given glimpses of the kingdom of Heaven breaking through. We’ve seen healing. We have watched others grow in faith. We have delighted in the presence of the Lord, and we know that He is at work in our midst.

And we wait on the Lord, hopeful to see the fruit of our labors, but knowing that our timing is not always God’s timing and that we may be long gone from this place before the harvest is ready.

Even still, we work. We worship. We wait….

 

On your mark, get set….

It is a crazy thing, a bucket list.

You think about the things that you want to do, to accomplish.  It is a list of the things you dream about doing, people you want to meet, places you want to go, goals you want to hit.

My list isn’t written down, it just floats about in my thoughts.  It has been added to, edited, tweaked, revamped, added to again, and some (very few) items have been checked off.

Some of the items on my bucket list are:  setting my feet upon every continent, visiting every one of the 50 states, running a half-marathon (check!), riding in a hot-air balloon, opening/running a B&B with a spa, learning how to cook a whole chicken (okay, so some of my dreams aren’t very big!), and living to see all of my children graduate,  get married, and meet my grandbabies.

And run a marathon.

That one is just about ready to be checked off.

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Back in January, I signed up to run in the Mankato Marathon.  I’ve spent the last nine months, hours upon hours, training, running, focusing on accomplishing this goal.  For nine months, I’ve been a bit obsessed over training plans, calendars, carbohydrates, and fueling.  For nine months, I have told everyone I know that I am going to do this, and probably annoyed everyone around me with talk of it.  For nine months, I have sacrificed almost every Saturday morning to spend running for 3, 4, and sometimes, 5 hours.  And now, in just 9 days, I will put my feet at the starting line, and push forward with 1,500 other men and women to run for 26.2 miles, up and down hills, through long straights and sharp curves, all for the right to say I’m a marathoner.

But it is going to be ugly. That I already know.

I live currently in a very, very flat part of the state.

Mankato? Not. flat. at. all.

It’s going to hurt. It is going to be hard.  My goal? To finish. My other goal? To finish under the 6 hour, 15 minute time limit allotted for the race. Long past after most of the other 1,500 runners finish.

Fast? No. But finishing? That is what is important to me.

That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.

I’ve never been a fast runner, never been much of a runner at all. In fact, I still have a hard time calling myself a runner, even after finishing a half-marathon, a 7 miler, a 10K, and a couple of 5K races. But I am stubborn, determined to finish what I start.  Of course, I would love to finish in less that 5 hours (definitely not going to happen).  I’d be thrilled to finish in less that 5 1/2 hours (probably not going to happen, either).  6 hours, 15 minutes, the time limit allotted? Hopefully, I will finish in less time than that. I am hoping I won’t be the last person to cross the finish line.

Because, yes, I might be that shallow, that proud.  There is something within me (probably the mental scars from junior high phys ed) that doesn’t want to be the last one to cross the finish line. As if there is shame in that. As if conquering 26.2 miles of ascents and descents is not enough, I think I have to do so in a certain time limit, held to some standard in my head that I have to come in before somebody, anybody, else. Shallow, right? (Or maybe all runners think that, and I’m just putting it out there for the world to know…)

And there is fear, too. Fear that I can’t push through, fear that when it gets hard, when I lag behind the crowds, that I may just want to fold up and quit.  Other than having babies, there is nothing else that I have committed 9 months in preparation for.  But you can’t quit in the middle of labor.

You can’t just stop in the middle of pushing, and say “Yeah, enough of this. I’m done. I’m going home.  Just leave that kid in there.”

Running? There is an out.  It hurts? I can quit at any time. There is nothing that commits me to finishing, other than my own mental fortitude. Nothing forcing me to follow through, except for myself.

I have been thinking through how I am going to deal with it when the pain starts, when the fatigue sets in.  Having read plenty of articles about running a marathon, I know there will come a time when I hit a wall, when the carbs from breakfast are used up, when the energy stores run low, when the blood sugar crashes, when it will get hard.

My plan when it gets hard? To focus outside of myself.  I have started a list of people I want to think of, pray for,  when it starts to get tough.  Each mile of this race, I want to dedicate to a loved one, some who are still here, some who have passed on.  I’m making a mental list, but I am pretty sure I will need to write it down before race day. Who knows what my mental processes will be like by mid-race, and I want to make sure I don’t forget anyone.

My nephew with a heart defect, who has been through multiple surgeries, and who still needs a miracle.

My father in law, who passed away several years ago from cancer.

My husband’s great-grandma, almost 102, and my baby girl, almost 4.

My children. My husband. My family of origin.  My family I have been blessed to marry into.

My friends who are like family.

Sweet friends who are mourning the loss of their first pregnancy.

Other friends who are mourning the loss of their parents.

The list is long already, and growing.  Each mile will have a focus, and every mile will be special.  The names will be written on my arm, and tattooed upon my heart.  They will be carried with me over every mile, and they will carry me in every way.  This is how I will get through the (literal) ups and downs of this race, by turning outward rather than inward, by thinking and focusing on what is greater than me, and the One who is greater than me.

And that finish line? It really doesn’t matter how long it takes me to cross it. Running, walking, stumbling, or perhaps even crawling….I just gotta cross it.

And if I am the very last person out of 1,500 to cross that line?  Well,  I’ll just hold fast to the statement I’ve heard…

Finishing = Winning

All I have to offer are words

I have not written anything in a while, not since before our move back to Minnesota.

I’ve tried.

I have started, and discarded, three or four different posts.

I have written paragraph after paragraph, only to press delete after a bit, finding them too selfish, too self-absorbed.

In the past month, I have found myself floundering, torn between the emotions of transition and trying to settle into this new place, and the heart-breaking, heart-wrenching news of the world around us.

My heart has been broken, time after time, in the personal, the minute, and then shattered over the greater, bigger issues in this world.

My thoughts are haunted, filled with the images I can’t unsee, filled with the words, the callous, heart-wrenching, flippant words of “Another boy.”  “A twin.”

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Oh, how my heart breaks.

I can’t watch the videos. I can’t  bear having those images burned into my memory, can’t bear to see what shouldn’t be seen.

And yet, I haven’t been able to avoid the images entirely.

Pictures come up on my Facebook news feed as I scroll through, pictures that disturb me, nauseate me, bring me to tears.

The sweet little hand, perfectly formed.

A foot. A leg.

Torn apart from a little body.

Discarded pieces of a life not lived.

I can’t bring myself to watch the videos. But I have read the transcripts. I feel as though I need to know, to understand, to be informed.

Perhaps they are heavily edited, as the skeptical ones claim. But perhaps not. Perhaps they are what we need to stir us all into dialogue, in order to have a greater understanding for what happens in an abortion.  Let’s not even begin to travel down the path of possibility of Planned Parenthood is profiting from the sale of organs of these discarded children, but instead let us dialogue with a better understanding of the broken state of this world that brings us to this.

It is easy to raise our voices in disgust and anger, to shake our fist at a business that seems to be primarily in the business of eradicating lives.  It is easy to shout out with frustration that our concerns are not being heard, that we are “crazy” or “zealots” because we believe that life begins at conception.  For those of us who are Christian, our beliefs seems to automatically give us less of a credible voice within the culture around us. It is easy to spout off on social media, caught up in the arguments, the inflammatory statements, the hatred.

However, it is not always easy to be kind in our approach, to hold another’s story gently, to put aside our own desires and leanings in order to be present with another when it is needed.  It is not easy to listen in love, without judgement, without condemnation. It is not easy to consider all sides of the issue. It is not easy to read the hatred from all sides, the shame-casting, the wounding words thrown carelessly about, and not be full of despair.

It is not easy to love as Jesus loves.

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Because, if we say we are pro-life, shouldn’t we also be caring for the life of the mother? Shouldn’t we also be grieved for the situation that she finds herself in?  Rather than passing judgement, have we tried to pass love? To care? To minister to her in this, what may be her greatest time of need? Rather than shaming her, should we not be sheltering her?

Both mother and child bear the Imago Dei (the image of God) imprinted upon their souls. His fingerprints are all over them. For Psalm 139:13-14 tell us that:

13  For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14   I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Can we not hold them both as equal in their importance because they are both created by the God who created the universe? Can we not see that Christ did not die for one of them, but for both of them?

Ann Voskamp recently wrote a blog about this same issue far better than I ever could:

“The time has come to be done with either/or thinking and champion both/and thinking — being for both humans in utero and humans in crisis.… That’s what this generation is about — not turning a blind eye to any distress of any human anywhere.”

Her essay struck a resonating chord within me. I was convicted of my lack of convictions. When has my outrage stirred me to outreach? When have I given of myself, my time, my finances, my gifts?  When have I layed down my own life, my own desires, and borne the burden of another’s life?  If this is an issue that is important to me, why am I not doing more, praying more, caring more about all of the issues that go with it….affordable health care for women, education on sexual issues, eradicating violence against women, viable choices for those who are faced with a pregnancy they didn’t want, prenatal care, and, if they choose not to terminate, help with the children that are born, both in the immediacy of their new life, and as they grow, nurturing them in their childhood.

I am not one who usually voices my opinion on controversial topics. At least, not with anyone but those I know and trust. Conversations, face-to-face interactions, are better for difficult topics.  But if this is the start of my offering, my outreach, then this is what I have to offer in this moment, at this time.

And the beginning of outreach is something tangible I can hold on to, even in the midst of feeling as though there is so little that I can do. My one voice, lost in a sea of voices, cries out for the lost, the lonely, the struggling, the hurting, the woman and the child.

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