Monday, July 15, 2013

Confessions of a Pastor's Wife, Part Two

3. It can be lonely. I'm not necessarily saying that I am lonely, but that it can be. Loneliness is a strange monster at this stage of life, because most days I don't even get to go to the restroom without a two-year-old audience.  But, as we've probably all experienced, it's quite possible to feel alone in the middle of a crowd.

I remember when my family became friends with another family when I was a teenager; the father of that family happened to be a pastor at a very large church. My parents sometimes felt a little sheepish inviting them over because surely we must be competing with invitations over to other people's houses for meals and parties all the time. They were a fun family, and appeared to be very well connected and social at church. They probably just wanted some time to themselves. My parents mentioned this to the family one time, and they said "Are you kidding? We never get invitations!" Perhaps everyone thought the same thing, but in reality nobody was including them in social gatherings. Being in a very visible position at church means that most people know who you are, but it doesn't necessarily mean that you are known.

It also doesn't mean that you know everyone. I miss the days of pictorial directories, when you could study people's faces and names and look like a pro when you remembered their names in person. Also, the directory makes for a good piece of communal hilarity about a decade after it is printed. I have to remind myself that nobody knows everyone else, but sometimes it gives me stress dreams. Not quite as bad as the frequently recurring dream that I'm in high school and I've forgotten my locker combination, but close. You'd think that after fifteen years, I would stop having dreams about high school locker combos, but no. The crazy thing is that I actually still remember most of my locker combinations from grade seven onward, so you would think that my unconscious brain would cut me some slack. 7-21-7. 0-2-28. 5-16-31. 14-21-8.

According to my slight adrenaline rush upon seeing this photo, I do believe that these were the exact locks my school used.
image source

4. Another reason that it can be lonely is because of some unfortunate advice floating around out there. When  I ventured into life as a pastor's spouse, I received congratulations, condolences, some good ribbing, and advice. The most unsettling piece of advice that I received was to be guarded. Several people who were either ministry spouses themselves, or had close friends who were, advised me not to forge close friendships with people inside the church. Be friendly, form casual friendships, but don't count your closest friends in life from within the church. When your spouse is the pastor, you will inevitably hear criticism of him, his ministries, and the church, and it will certainly be less wounding to hear those things from acquaintances than your closest friends. If and when the time comes to move on to another church, at least you aren't leaving your closest friends behind. If you are vulnerable with people in the church, they could use it against you someday. While I certainly see the value of having close friends outside the church to give you perspective and sanctuary, I have to believe that the risk and vulnerability of having close friends within the church is worth it. The church community is not a country club full of acquaintances, or, at least, that's not what it is intended to be. We are family, walking together in this messy and beautiful journey of life. When we left our previous church after five years, it was terribly difficult to leave our friends, and for that I am glad. It's never as easy to stay in touch with friends after you move to another city, and I still grieve the loss of regular contact with dear friends. How sad would be to leave a church family after five years and not feel as though you are amputating a limb? I'll take that pain over the ache of loneliness any day.

5. Sundays are wonderful. They are also a gong show. Since we are a one-car family, and we arrive super-early because of my husband's duties, we've usually been there for four or more hours by the time the service is done. Since T is still super clingy, I'm in the toddler nursery with him for about 97% percent of the time. He actually pushed the baby gate right out the door frame the last time I tried to leave him in the nursery. When other kids might be getting a bit antsy by the end of the church service and Sunday School, my kids are done. Done. It feels like a lost cause by then to retain any semblance of control over my offspring, so I let them eat cookies from the welcome centre, and whatever other snacks I've haphazardly stuffed into my purse, and release them like wild animals into the gymnasium while we make our lengthy exit. It's a proven fact that every time you think you are ready to head to the car, you are actually going to be there for another twenty minutes. The conundrum is that I love connecting with people and that is the prime time for doing so, but...the children. The cookie-and-granola-bar-lunch, missed-nap, over-stimulated children.

6. Overall I feel lucky have a front row seat (figuratively, remember I live in the toddler nursery at church) to what church is: sharing life with people, building community, and sharing about the freedom and love of God. In the end, I love that guy I married ten years ago so much that I'm happy to be his wife no matter what his profession is.

Our young hands. We were probably mocking the cheesiness of this photo as we were taking it.
Well, pretty much any profession. I'm glad he's not a career criminal, or the Prime Minister.

Fellow ministry spouses, did I miss anything?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Confessions of a Pastor's Wife, Part One

I never set out to become a pastor's wife. I didn't even go to Bible school or the local christian university, which is where most pastor's wives meet their future spouses. I am just a girl who fell in love with a boy after a chance meeting on a soccer field. He became a pastor and I became his wife, which makes me...a pastor's wife. While I don't feel like I'm defined by my husband's profession, it has shaped my life in the past decade in various ways, and sparked the creation of the following unsolicited collection of confessions.

1. My husband doesn't tell me everything. Pastors come into a boatload of confidential, sensitive information. We aren't Catholic, but all pastors hear confessions, along with worries, stories of grief and abuse, and counsel people who are in conflict. I fear that people assume that all of their vulnerable moments are discussed at the pastor's home with his wife and kids in the evening over dinner. Pork-chops and divorces, spaghetti and wayward teenagers - it doesn't happen. If he wants to share something with me, he always asks the permission of the person who shared the information. My husband takes the responsibility of confidentiality seriously, and for this I am thankful. When I get to know people at church, it is without knowledge of things I really shouldn't know about when I haven't even connected a face to a name. "Your name is Petunia? Oh, you are the one whose husband cheated on you with the nanny" [Just for the record, this is a totally fictitious example]. I'm glad to be a listening ear for those who want a friend, but you have the freedom of getting to know me on your own terms. Frankly, I'm also just glad not to have to carry the full burden of all the knowledge of difficult circumstances and events in our church. Some people are better equipped to process and deal with a high volume of difficult information than others; I am not one of those people.

2. At one of the sessions on our recent Pastor & Spouse retreat at Harrison Hot Springs (hello, perks!), I sat behind a woman with her hair in super-long dread locks. I'm so fascinated with dread locks that I had trouble focusing on the session at some points. It looks like yarn. I wonder if you could crochet with it. But what would you make with it? Maybe if you decided to cut it off someday, you would crochet a basket to keep your remote controls or coasters in. How do you wash dread locks? You get the idea. I also thought about how the fact that she had dread locks lead me to a set of fleeting conclusions about her: she eats vegan and organic, recycles everything, attachment parents her children, and dances like nobody is watching. Silly, right? Hair style tells you everything style. Someone being married to a pastor tells you...someone is married to a pastor.

I don't fit the mold of the "typical" pastor's wife, nor do most spouses of pastors. I think that the caricature of the pastor's wife's role came about because of weighty expectations placed on these women, and not because these women desired to be one half of a couple that does absolutely everything in the church. I don't enjoy public speaking, which is definitely understating the issue, I've never taught children's Sunday school, and I don't really play the piano, unless you count "The Entertainer" and the first twelve bars of "Music of the Night" from Phantom of the Opera. I've been working on those two scores for almost a couple of decades now.  I'm involved and volunteer with church happenings inasmuch as any other attendee might be. I'm thankful that my church gives me, and all who attend, the freedom to be involved according to his or her own interests. The days of being hired as a duo with one paycheque are largely a bygone, but I have still seen on a couple of occasions job descriptions for pastors that include an description for the (unpaid) responsibilities of the pastor's wife. I also have my husband to thank for helping to ensure that I don't face unrealistic expectations; he never volunteers me for things without my knowledge and consent.

3. I am afraid of heights. Church leaders and their spouses don't belong on pedestals. Those of you who know me well, with all my foibles and failings are saying "Well of course you don't belong on a pedestal!" You might even be chuckling at that suggestion. Or guffawing. Or laughing so hard that you have tears running down your face.

I sometimes purposely delay mentioning the fact that my husband is a minister until I've gotten to know somebody, because it is often brings about an awkward end to the conversation. With some people, when I talk about my husband's job for the first time, I can almost see the inner clench, the wheels struggling to rewind in his or her mind: "Did I say anything offensive? Irreverent? Admit to any flaws of character?" The conversation grinds to a polite halt, until I think of some way to assure the person that I am, in fact, a real girl, with a real life, and real struggles.

Church leaders are regular people, and so are their spouses and children. I have disagreements with my husband, sometimes about difficult things, and sometimes about silly things. He will be reminding me to squeeze the toothpaste from the bottom of the tube until I have dentures, and I will be convincing him of the aesthetic appeal of cuckoo clocks until we live in a nursing home some day, surrounded by pastel floral and fruit still-life paintings bolted to the wall. I lose my patience with my kids, choose the wrong battles with them, and love them so much that I never want them to grow up and leave me. Is that normal? I have dirty laundry, figuratively and literally. I love Jesus, but I'm not any closer to being a saint than anyone else. I'm not "super-spiritual" and, here's a secret -  neither is anyone else. I think we are all just making sense of new things that we learn in light of what we already know. The thing that scares me the most about the potential for people to view me differently than anyone else in the church is that I'm just as capable as offending or hurting people's feelings as anyone else in the church, but I fear that people will feel "hurt by the church" instead of just being hurt by a girl who happens to be married to the pastor. To extend that thought a little further, we are real people in our capacity to be hurt as well. Sometimes I think that ministers should unionize, but that is a discussion for another day. I sometimes worry about the scrutiny my children will become aware of as the pastors' kids when they are older.
We compromised on two small cuckoo clocks in O's room. Seriously, what's not to like about them?
Stay tuned for Part Two!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Secret Dreams

It's hard to fathom if you know me, but I once dreamed of being a world-class basketball player, perhaps even the first woman to break into the NBA. I believe it was in the fifth grade, shortly after receiving a purple and yellow LA Lakers basketball as a birthday gift. It's a good thing that this dream faded painlessly given my athletic ability pretty much peaked that year, and my growing personal dislike for participating in competitive sports. I wanted to be a veterinarian until I realized that real animals are much stinkier and hairier and bite-ier than their stuffed counterparts. I briefly entertained thoughts of becoming a doctor in high school until I discovered my sensitive gag reflex in biology class. I still have nausea-inducing flashbacks of vitreous humour bursting out of a cow eyeball during dissection. Some dreams fade, and some shatter, but...

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun? 
Or fester like a sore—
And then run? 
Does it stink like rotten meat? 
Or crust and sugar over— 
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags 
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Dream Deferred - Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

What of the dream that is plucked before it has sprouted, before you dare to whisper it, even to yourself? Do we have to thin out our dreams, like thinning out seedlings in the garden to give the strongest ones a real chance to thrive? I don't know. There are days when being thirty-two feels like its half, full of sixteen year old optimism and possibility. But there are days when thirty-two feels like it's too late for dreams.

A few months ago, my husband completed his "credentialing" process. Basically, it's a confirmation of his position as a minister in the Mennonite Brethren church denomination. As an aside, while I love many things about this denomination - our focus on peace-making, disaster relief, and social justice, I think it would be refreshing to update the name of our conference to be gender neutral. Sidenote to my aside, it would be even more fantastic if there was a word in the English language that was the equivalent of "Brethren" pertaining to the female persuasion. We couldn't even change it to a feminine form if we tried, given the current state of language. Mennonite Sistern? Mennonite Sisterhood? Alas, a gender neutral form would be the way to go.

Before the interview component of the credentialing process, my husband had to write a substantial paper, answering numerous theological and practical questions. I also had to submit a comparatively brief written response to several questions. After seven years of being a "pastor's wife," I'm accustomed to the drill of being "vetted," so to speak, in relation to my husband's ministry positions. I've been interviewed by his prospective employers, albeit informally. I'm sure that there are other positions in the world that require some kind of assurance from prospective employees that their family members are decent people, but my involvement in these processes is surprising to some who learn of it. Sometimes, it's still kind of surprising to me.

For this particular credentialing process, the list of questions was fairly standard, along the lines of determining whether I have any concerns about our life in ministry. One directive, however, caught me a little off-guard. "Discuss some of your personal goals and plans for the future. (Dream a little)." The first sentence magically transported me back in time to my grade twelve self, constantly bombarded with the question du jour: "So, what are you going to do after you graduate?" at which point I would cue the chirping crickets and try to devise an acceptable way of saying that I have no clue what I want to "be" when I grow up. Actually, I'm still trying to answer that question. However, paired with the permission to "dream a little" in parentheses, I abandoned my self-conscious lack of career direction and typed the first thing that came to mind with a jolt of giddiness. "I want to be a writer."

I made a mental note to return to that question after finishing the whole questionnaire to think of something more plausible for my future. A month later, sitting beside my husband in the interview process, I chastised my month-ago-self for not doing so. I didn't realize that the interview process would be quite so...formal, important, board-room-and-leather chairs as it was. Of course, when you spend your days with a two year old and four year old, and wearing jeans is "dressing up," it doesn't take much to feel formal. There were about nine people there to interview my husband, mostly pastors and professors, men and women, plus myself and the lead pastor from our church.

Although I don't always relish being interviewed as a spouse, it is definitely a unique opportunity to watch my husband in action. Instead of asking "How did the interview go?", I get to be there. We complement each others' strengths and weaknesses in many areas, including thinking on the spot. I'm always amazed by his ability to respond thoughtfully, intelligently, and quickly in situations. He's kind of a rock star in interviews. I am admittedly a slow thinker. When my turn to answer a few questions inevitably came, the representative from the seminary opened with:

"Andrea, I'm interested to see that you want to be a writer."

Me: Silence. Mona Lisa smile. Inner cringe. Why didn't you erase that part? WHY? Of all the times to reveal your implausible, secret dream, you chose this?

Him: What kind of things do you like to write?

Me: Combination of sigh/nervous laugh. Pull it together here. Well, I have a blog. I silently will him not to ask for the name of the blog as I recall writing all the glorious/gory details of my kids' birth stories. And some short stories. What?! Where did that even come from? Please, brain, tell me I have written at least one short story since high school so that I'm not a complete liar.

Thankfully, nobody asked me to elaborate on the spot, and my blood pressure returned to its normally low state soon thereafter. The conversation mercifully turned to other matters, as I recovered from the shock of revealing my secret dream to a roomful of pastors and theologians, most of whom I had never met before.

After the interview was over, Dave and I waited in the hallway while they discussed amongst themselves. We returned to the room and learned that he passed, of course, probably with extra points because he's so witty and refreshing. It was neat to watch him be affirmed and encouraged, because pastors don't always get much of that on the job. To my surprise, my feelings of being a writer-imposter all but disappeared when they turned their attention to me once again, and encouraged and prayed for me in my interest in writing, wherever that may lead. The truth is, I have no idea where it will lead. Perhaps it will simply remain a creative outlet here in this blog, or perhaps, one day, it will be more.

It is, in any eventuality, sheepishly exciting to admit to myself that I still have dreams, and to realize that I'm not too old to dream. Perhaps we are never too old to dream. Then again, every time I tuck my boys into bed, or walk hand-in-hand with my husband, I realize that I'm kind of living a dream already. Now to remind myself of that during my two-year-old's next tantrum about changing his clothes...

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