#amwriting, Family, Interim Ministry, Ministry, NaBloPoMo, NaNoWriMo, The Minister's Wife, Writing

Life is full

Victorian House floor plan I'm adapting for the family in my novel.
Victorian House floor plan I’m adapting for the family in my novel, from this book. Because you can’t describe a life without knowing where the sunlight comes through the windows and how far the bathroom is from the bedroom.

It turns out I am more of a promoter of NaBloPoMo than a participant in it. I have, however, been working on my novel, which is fun, although I do not have enough time for it, not really. Today I plan to spend some time on the novel, some time on a sermon and some time on overdue essays for Lectionary Homiletics, a sermon publication. That’s a full day of writing.

Every day this week has been a full day of living. Among the hats I have worn are Long Distance (College Student and other grown up people) Mama, cook, laundress, furniture duster, Pastor’s wife, Bible study leader, non-profit ministry Director (with it’s sub-categories of technical support, Social media minister, event planner and erstwhile visionary), book editor, novice novelist, floor plan researcher, freelance curriculum/sermon resource writer, colleague, friend, Facebook friend, Words with Friends player, step-mom, stationery supply shopper, cat owner at vet (twice, each with a different cat), leader, reader, pray-er, Stewardship letter writer, pastor myself and wife (minus Pastor’s for the times that isn’t the priority).

That leaves off a few descriptors for things I didn’t get around to doing.

Juggling multiple part-time jobs (Interim Pastor, Director of RevGalBlogPals, writing/editing) requires me to learn compartmentalization, a skill I have both envied and resented in others. This week I spent time on that task by setting up another email just for church and a connected Evernote account that works across devices. That’s my to do list just for church. And the truth is, I really only look at that Evernote in the blocks o time assigned to working at the church. It goes against my nature, but it has to be that way if I’m going to keep to the 20 hours a week for which I am contracted and also have time to do other work and be present to my family.

Oh, and God.

There are a lot of days in this season of life with its delicious if sometimes exhausting fullness when I count on God’s presence more than I invoke it. I think a lot about what God wants for and from me, from RevGalBlogPals, from the church I am serving, even from the church my wife is serving. There is not much downtime in which to regroup, much less to be contemplative, but I can feel the need for it. I made an appointment with my Spiritual Director — much-needed — but I can see the pace is going to continue this way for the foreseeable future.

So, I may not blog every day. But I am writing every day, at least a little, and I feel good about it.

Grace, Love, Ministry, Orientation, Preaching, The Minister's Wife

The phone call from Nairobi

Plants vs. Zombies, in case you thought I made it up.
Plants vs. Zombies, in case you thought I made it up.

We woke up in the dark on Sunday morning, because young children and old lady cats don’t abide by “fall back.” I wanted to assure the preacher next to me of more sleep, so I leapt out of bed to intervene at 5:15 a.m. with the yowling cat and the fully-dressed third grader also in full voice, singing. When the iPod Touch of the latter could not be surfaced, I retreated to the pitch black bedroom to get my phone, offering him a session of Plants vs. Zombies (Now! on your stepmother’s iPhone! How awesome is she?!?!!).

When I picked it up I saw two missed calls, which arrived somewhere between bedtime and 5:15 a.m. This is worrisome, naturally, so I put my glasses on and looked at the number more closely. It had too many digits, far too many. I handed the phone off to keep the peace, but promised myself to go back later and Google the number. Turns out it belongs to a “Christian pastor in Nairobi” who leaves comments on the blogs of Christian pastors in other places, encouraging them to call. I’m pretty sure he’s as reliable as a Nigerian prince with a legacy that needs getting out of the country, but I did follow a link or two to see who else he might be approaching.

The trail led to the blog of a retired Southern Baptist pastor, Joe McKeever, with whom I disagree on many points, although I admit he sounds moderate compared to some until you get to the more high-pitched social issues. In the post where our mutual friend from Nairobi left a comment, Joe made a reference to pastor’s wives, and since that is one of my callings now, I took an interest, and I searched his blog for more.

Joe is in his 70s. He entered ministry in a time when his wife did not work outside the home, the era of “two for the price of one.” He is transparent about his own failings as a young pastor when it came to putting the family first and has really nice things to say about his wife and the way she has been a partner in ministry. No jokes here — from him or from me. Although we are theologically different, I liked a lot of what he had to say, despite his old-fashioned ways of saying it. For instance, in reference to the church he attends now, he writes of the pastors’s wife, “what Terri does for her pastor/husband is what every pastor’s wife should do for her man.” Ack. Hairball. Cue Tammy Wynette. Close tab.

And yet…

I seldom vacuum, but I am often found wearing pearls.
I seldom vacuum, but I am often found wearing pearls.

After church on Sunday, knowing kathrynzj was tired and still getting over a cold, I watched for a break in her conversations during the reception for Consecration Sunday. I made sure she got a drink, and then another, and something to eat, too. When I took her cup away to refill, she told the guys she was talking to how good it was to have a wife.

“(S)he who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from The Lord.” (Proverbs 18:22)

No, she didn’t quote Proverbs, even sideways. I’m doing that. I admit it sounds a little Ward and June Cleaver, and I know I am in the role of June on Sunday mornings. It’s okay. I like it. Keep reading.

Because the truth is, we are both pastor’s wives. Our ministries shape differently, but we are both pastors and proclaimers of the Good News. And we both have a wife.

So hold on. I’m going to open up a post he wrote and tell you how it works for me. Here are Joe McKeever’s five points about the pastor’s wife in his post “What my pastor’s wife does for him better than anyone else.”

1. The pastor’s wife is solidly Christian herself.

Our idea of fun.
Our idea of fun.

McKeever is pretty patriarchal in his interpretation of how the will of God needs to be filtered down through the husband, but I want to say how right he is about the importance of two strong faith lives when there are ministers in the family. One of the gifts of this marriage is our mutual interest in reading the Bible, studying texts for the purpose of teaching and/or preaching them, and generally trying to stretch our understanding of God’s work in the world and the place we have in it. I’ve pushed on some of kzj’s ideas, and she has influenced me so heavily that I used the word sovereign twice in my last sermon (and meant it in a good way). But neither one of us is dependent on the other for *having* a faith life. These pastors’ wives are solidly Christian themselves.

2. The pastor’s wife has her own ministry in the church.

Now, I know you’re reacting the way I did. Doesn’t he know that pastor’s spouses have other work to do, careers outside the church?

Somewhat hilariously, however, because it’s very 1950s, I am teaching a women’s Bible Study on the Narrative Lectionary at kzj’s church. Is there anything more “pastor’s wife” than a weekday morning women’s group? I am Mrs. Pastor.

But guess what? She has a ministry in my “congregation,” too, writing for the Narrative Lectionary feature at RevGalBlogPals. We are doing things that grow out of our gifts and interests and supporting each other’s ministries while pursuing our own. McKeever writes, “God has given her a ministry.” God certainly has.

I think this one's sweet.
I think this one’s sweet.

3. One of the best things a pastor’s wife does is sit down front and support the preacher by her presence, her prayers, and her full participation.

Some of the sweetest Sundays of my life have been the handful when kzj sat in the pews, right up front, smiling while I preached. We made a point of scheduling her vacation Sundays this summer to coincide with preaching days for me, and it was a genuine loss when a situation at her church prevented that from happening on Labor Day weekend.

The best of those days ever, at a time when we were just starting to parse where our relationship might be going, came when I preached in the morning, and she preached at my Installation that afternoon. This guy is right. It’s super-special to have a loving partner beaming that love at you when you preach. I think he probably means it in a way that has to do not only with the personal support but also with the public perception, but if you really love someone, and you really love God, seeing that person proclaim God’s grace and mercy, hearing her exhort the faithful, is a gloriously joyful thing.

McKeever concludes, “God uses her support to bless her man.” I know God uses our mutual support to bless these women, even when we don’t get to hear the sermon in person. There is no opinion short of God’s that matters to me more than hers. I sit in the pew and hear her preach (sometimes twice!) a sermon I’ve already heard the night before, and it is fresh and exciting the third time around. I know everyone can see it on my face. (I do try *not* to say the words with her when I’ve gotten to know them well enough.)

4. The pastor’s wife protects his personal time.

Omigosh, this matters. We work with each other on this.

I have a call to a ministry that is 24/7 on the Internets (and at this point, still unpaid), and she reminds me it’s okay to answer that email on Tuesday instead of Monday.

I remind her that she hasn’t had a day off since…*

About Time - yes, I get it.
About Time – yes, I get it.

She nudges me about whether I’ve spent time writing, which I think of as my other ministry, and listens to me talk about how to juggle writing and RevGals. We both turn the focus to the assorted children when they need us, whether that’s reading with Mr. Dimples or Skyping with LP or #2 Son. (And if the very grown-up #1 Son ever needs us for anything, you know, we’re open.)

We both love what we do. That’s a good thing, and a hard thing, because we want to finish one more thing, respond to one more person, check on one more detail. How can we work smarter, not harder? We don’t do this perfectly, but we have each other to keep mutually honest about it.

And here’s a public pledge: we *are* going to the movies this Friday night, just the two of us.

5. The pastor’s wife prays for him better than anyone.

McKeever’s point is that no one can pray for you better than someone who really knows you, recognizing the nuances of self-doubt, the ups and downs of the preaching life, the buttons other people push or the triggers put in place by life’s past injuries. He assumes a full adulthood spent together, all the churches, the time in seminary. We don’t have that, but we do have years of friendship that created a deep bond before anything else. McKeever calls the pastor’s wife “a God-called encourager of her man.”

That resonates with me, minus the man. I feel like a God-called encourager of my pastor-wife and her ministry. I feel I have the same in her.

In case you're worried, we do get out sometimes.  Penn State game, 11/2/13
In case you’re worried, we do get out sometimes.
Penn State game, 11/2/13

I started off writing this thinking it would be a possibly ironic report on my role as June Cleaver if she were married to a pastor, but in truth, the phone call from Nairobi pointed up how valuable it is to have a partner whose faith is strong, who supports one’s ministry by having her own, who shows up and lets people see the love, who understands the big moments and the small disappointments, who calls you to account on the way time is spent and who holds you in prayer. These gifts go beyond gender and orientation. And I’m not just giving them. I’m receiving them, too.

******

I fear this would scandalize Joe McKeever, who thinks the church needs to be firm on homosexuality, so I’m not going to link to him, but I’ve used his name because I give him credit for his apt conclusions. If he should find his way here, I hope he’ll see that gay people can be faithful servants of Jesus Christ, too.

*Since Monday, actually, so this week is going well.

Orientation, The Inner Landscape, The Minister's Wife

Being Mrs. Johnston

When my first marriage ended, I went back to my maiden name. It seemed to make sense at the time. Although I had three children, I did not have a career and was only about a year’s worth of credits into my seminary education, where I was already using all three names. I wanted to take back something that was mine in a positive way after many years of feeling I didn’t matter much.

That was not an uncomplicated decision, and I confess some portion of it was motivated by anger, as if shedding a name I had worn unhappily would restore me to a prior state of wholeness. In fact, I had struggled with being Martha Spong, because everywhere I went I was my father’s daughter. Not that I didn’t love my dad, or admire him. I did. But there was no space to be a separate person. There was a lot of that in my life.

My favorite awful story about deriving identity from others is this:

I am a Senior at the College of William and Mary, greeting girls at sorority rush, and one of them says, “Are you Tommy Spong’s sister?” 

He had been at the College for two weeks.

My father’s daughter, my brother’s sister, my husband’s wife, my children’s mother — finally, from the ashes of disappointment and bitterness, I hoped to arise and craft my own identity.

(I’ve done this more than once.)

Of course, no matter what my last name was, legally and officially, my children’s friends called me Mrs. Their-Dad’s-Last-Name. I appreciate the effort of young people to speak respectfully to adults, whether they are being picked up at an airport in an emergency or getting a ride from someone they’ve known since kindergarten. I let it go by.

The worst place for this mis-naming has always been the doctor’s office, and I speak generically, for there have been many over the years. You would think that in the 21st century, in a setting where families of all sorts of configurations present themselves for care, there would be an awareness that even in opposite-gender, intact families, parents do not always have the same last names as their children.

K avoided this by keeping her married name after her divorce. Unlike me, she had undertaken her seminary education, been ordained and established a career in the church using her married name. When we started talking about getting married, we discussed the trend among couples like us to hyphenate the last names. I indicated that I was all finished changing my name (see above parenthetical),  and besides, hers wasn’t hers in the first place. I invited her politely to take mine if she wished. She indicated that while my name certainly had glittering associations in our field of endeavor, that seemed like an added layer of complication in a setting where coming out was pretty dramatic for all concerned, not to mention see above about establishing her career and so forth, not to mention the convenience of having the same name as her child, which based on my own experience, I totally understood.

Admittedly, I have a bit of an old-fashioned wish that we could all have a name together. I admit that the three name formulation my spouse uses on Facebook (First, Maiden, Previously Married/Professional) makes it sound like she’s still married to the former spouse. But I’ve come to accept that it’s her identity, the one she established for herself, not about her relationship to someone else. Isn’t that what I always wanted for myself?

Then I went to the pediatrician to drop off Mr. Dimples’ summer camp health form, and the nice nurse asked me to just wait for it. I leafed through a magazine in the waiting room, and then I heard a vaguely familiar name being spoken.

Mrs. Johnston“Mrs. Johnston?”

Finally, I turned my head. A more abrupt nurse said, “She’s talking to you.”

To get a form signed, I did not argue with the misunderstanding. 

And no matter where that name came from, my present reality includes frequently being identified in relationship to K.  I am new to the area. Our friends are for the most part her friends. Her work is the center of our universe. As I seek my place in her church family, in worship or in study or in service, I am connected to her. If I speak in Sunday School, I reflect on her. And when I wait while she leads a meeting, wondering what’s happening on the other side of those doors, my identity is tied up with hers in ways that names can’t quite express. No one there would call me by her name, but it often feels like being Mrs. Johnston.