Left Behind…by the Church

I was just hit in the gut by this excerpt from the Christian Post. It jumped out at me because of some research I tried to begin 2-3 years ago, with an attempt to poll pastors’ wives to see if any others felt disenfranchised due to itineracy practices in the church (among other issues of potentially perceived neglect surrounding ministerial spouses).


The Hurting Pastor’s Wife

As my post on pastor’s wives became a lively conversation, I was struck by one comment in particular. Indeed I was almost brought to tears as I read it. Here are her words without any changes, additions, or deletions:

I wish my husband would have included me in his life to be his cheerleader. I wish he would have respected my calling and ministry. I wish someone would have told me that he was going to neglect me and forget about our dreams as a married couple. Now he lives for the church. Birthdays and anniversaries do not exist in this home. I’m tired of eating dinners alone and having anniversary trips cancelled because he has no interest. What does he always tell me? Oh yeah, “The Kingdom of God is always first.” Now even my faith in God is at question. How could God give me a husband who is a pastor and so easily live without me? I feel stuck in this marriage. I am unfulfilled as a woman, wife, minister, and mother. Everything he promised me he has broken. I wish someone would have told me it would be this way. Then maybe I would have paid more attention to my gut feeling!

Wow. The pain is so obvious. The hurt is so deep.

Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/confessions-of-a-broken-pastors-wife-102705/#L93j0T7kOsBi2gwU.99


So how does my story relate? Here it is, in as much brevity as I can muster.

I was a widow with two teenagers and an adopted two-year-old (then turned 4) when I agreed to marry my second husband, an educator and youth leader (like myself) who had plans to attend seminary. Even though I had two times of great pause prior to marriage, I reasoned that because of our common interests, I should be excited at the prospect of serving GOD in ministry together. The first 3 years of our marriage were not together, as he attended seminary out of town, while I worked to support us and continued solely to raise my children. A few years of him being in full-time ministry thereafter, I began to realize that my idea of “togetherness” was probably a disillusioned one. Apparently, our life together, in general, was plagued with disappointments (including our family being less than the perfect illusion for which we both may have been hoping).

Our first major personal disagreement happened at 7 years of marriage, at which time he told me he was giving me two days to move out, because the parsonage was for the pastor, not the pastor’s family. I was dumbfounded, thinking of how I’d sold the home I’d provided for me and my children, to help support my husband’s seminary costs and ministry capabilities. My sister was kind enough to provide temporary shelter to me and my youngest son; whereafter, I purchased my own home once more. Upon attempting to reconcile with my pastoral husband, I negotiated to keep my home (which I was afraid to give up, in the event my youngest son and I were displaced again), while my husband maintained residency at the parsonage and came and went from my house as he pleased – as long as I made all the payments and didn’t disclose our living arrangements to anyone at the church. This particular compromise went on for four years, as I completed and he began a doctoral degree. I quietly came to grips with the fact that neither my marriage nor our “shared” ministry had been what I had expected. (I now classify that relational stage as the beginning of isolation.)

That’s when the big relational bomb dropped.

My ministerial husband requested to move churches. Due to growing dissatisfaction, he  informed his District Superintendent that he’d be willing to move anywhere within our Church Conference to accommodate this request (despite my own appeals that, due to my highly specialized job and the timing of my youngest son’s schooling, he should explain that his ability to move among districts was limited). Two months later, my husband informed me that he would be assigned to a church 3 hours away.

I was shocked that neither of the District Superintendents nor anyone in the (administrative) Church seemed too disturbed with the fact that his family could not accompany him. I was further shocked when my husband informed me that, had he requested a limited range of movement, he could have been assigned a 5-point charge (a seemingly unworthy assignment that likely doesn’t even exist). My husband and others in the church system also expressed to our family that it was not befitting to attend our prior church, as it could appear we were usurping the ministry of the new pastor and his wife. Overnight, we had become foreigners in our own land. I was distraught that my husband’s ministerial work position was more important than a ministering position to his family. My son and my friends were also confused, but accepted my superficial assurances. I did the best I could to convince everyone, including myself, that this decision was of GOD, and we should be compelled to support it. In truth, I began to question if GOD was punishing me for not being a more faithful spouse in holding onto a house for emotional insurance reasons, among other thoughts I had been entertaining. I decided that my best plan of recourse was to use the research skills I had acquired in graduate school and try to be a positive voice for spouses who might also feel disenfranchised by the itineracy or other church practices.

At the time of my research planning, when attempting to lay the groundwork, only one person responded to express her frustration in a social network forum meant only for the eyes of pastoral spouses. This pastor’s wife’s responsive post was immediately admonished (literally within seconds) by other wives in the group, who tried to minimize her anguish. Perhaps it was to mask their fears that I’d brought up the potential dissatisfaction that might be costly to their own spouses’ next appointments, had they taken what they perceived to be “the bait.” Or perhaps the immediate negative response by those “in charge” of the group was meant to instill a fear in others of being likewise bullied should anyone else consider responding. Or perhaps, as I reasoned then, the issue was a personal one not shared by many, if any, others. Meanwhile, I physically, emotionally and even spiritually spent myself that next year, traveling up and down the freeway to attend my husband’s church 3 hours away, never feeling fully incorporated into that body of believers. My youngest son and I were brought to the front of the church one Sunday to be added as members (informed by my husband that we were needed on the rolls to numerically increase membership for the year). By the following year, I was so discouraged and burnt out, I struggled to find places to worship locally with friends. (My isolation had transitioned to a longer-term relational stage of isolated complacency.) Never in my life have I felt like such an outsider. 

By the time I laid my research project aside, convinced I’d never hear the truth from others suffering (if others existed), I realized that my own spouse had become completely non-communicative with me, comfortably living at a distance in another part of the state for our final 3 years of marriage, without making any provision for his family. Our personal visits and prayer life had become non-existent; our phone calls had grown sparse and meaningless; and any requests for support (more often emotional than physical) were met with great reluctance or outright resistance. Furthermore, the people from our church grew content to be just as non-forthcoming about “the elephant in the room” – or the one that wasn’t present if you visited either of our very separate residences. If the church’s needs were being met through the pastoral appointment of my husband, the pastor’s family dynamics seemed to be of no great consequence. The church obviously needed an appointed pastor more than his family did. (And, in truth, they got something I never did, since my husband once bluntly stated to me that he could never be my pastor. He had effectively relationally distanced himself, far beyond miles on a freeway.)

After giving so much of myself to the church, including supporting a husband through two graduate degrees (completely financially through the first), I have become a bit disillusioned. Not in GOD. Never in the beauty of how Jesus Christ came to restore humanity to Himself. Just in the reality of how we can so miss the mark of worship in our service to others – particularly to those with whom we make covenant. That greatly saddens me in myself, always left to wonder what blame I should take in being a covenant-breaker. And in all this, I’m left to wonder for what the modern-day church intends to stand. We do a wonderful job of preaching social justice and servitude – while we offer no mercy or grace to those that should reside in our own homes.

I understand that when 1 finger is pointed outward, 3 are pointed back at the accuser. In the perilous exposure of divorce, I’ve had enough accusations thrown my way that I just want to tuck my hands in my pockets and remain quiet. But that may have been where I detrimentally contributed the most. Apparently I, too, missed the mark greatly when I held in my suffering to the breaking point, to the point when upon finally addressing my husband with tears and remorse, I was merely offered an affirmation from him that we really had nothing more to discuss on the matter. An impasse with someone who no longer shared life with me seemed only to equate to divorce. Perhaps I was wrong about that, but given many other collateral circumstances – especially the one where I heard nothing more from him for months, until 2 days before the final hearing (and then only vitriolic criticisms), I don’t think so. I’ve tried to come to peace about that. I know, however, that peace can only come from the Prince of Peace, Himself. I rely on that daily.

As for me, I will confess:
I still feel displaced in church worship –
-as displaced as when my husband told his District Superintendent over 3 years ago that he could itinerate anywhere in the Conference without worry, and persuaded me to corroborate the story, when asked;
-as displaced as when I gave my husband a ride home from Annual Conference this past year, without him speaking a word or sharing a thought with me, knowing it was the last year I would ever spend time there with my youngest son and grandchildren, as this had been our family’s only vacation time;
-as displaced as my (now prior married) name that was so easily removed from all ties with the church, again without a word from anyone there;
-as displaced as the emptiness I feel when I receive the email list of church members who have passed, people with whom I felt relationship, and have no one with whom to mourn;
-as displaced as the lack of mounds of Christmas cards to write to my church family or the exhausting bustle of church demands that this special advent season traditionally brings;
-as displaced as my distrust that now questions the idea of ever sharing anyone else’s name or dreams;
-as displaced and disenfranchised as my research plan.

As for that research, I realize I’ve been gathering my own empirical data for many years now. And, yes, the pain is so obvious. The hurt is so deep.

I pray that the Church will awaken to the detrimental practices of an outdated system that does not work for all pastoral families. And, though it might not have saved my own marriage, I pray that – one day soon – there will be pastors and pastoral spouses who will not be afraid to take a stand of social justice for those who have been disenfranchised by such antiquated ideals.

Until then…I’ll just continue to pray.

Carpe Diem #956 Stars

My submission today is in response to the Carpe Diem prompt: stars. “Enjoy this episode and let it inspire you to create a haiku, haiga or tanka, tank-art.!”

I decided to form a tiny star haiga regarding my personal response to the first time I stood on the bank of Chequamegon Bay on Lake Superior on a clear summer’s night. It was then when I realized the enormity of stars I had never before seen in the sky. (May you also be-dazzled by my humor to the double entendre degree.)

Illumination

 

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: The Colors Blue & White

First, many thanks to Cee for featuring my post last week – Freeways, Expressways, and Highways – among many other wonderful ones. I’m very humbled, since my expertise lies in the photography of humans from the inside out – though I have just as great an amateur passion for trying to capture the beauty I find in the world around me to share with others. So thank you for allowing me a venue for that. 🙂

Now onward to Cee’s challenge for this week, highlighting the colors white and/or blue. For this one, I thought I’d share a few my own little C’s photos that she took at her uncle’s (and now new aunt’s) wedding, using my camera. Whereas I most enjoy taking wider expanse landscapes, she most enjoys closer views of flora and fauna (often mixed with eclectic angles of life from her perspective).

She had no direction, assistance or editing help with these – she just took off with ‘camera in 10-year-old hand.’ So it was great fun for me when I later downloaded the SD card and got to see segments of the day through her eyes!

I often wonder how much more wondrous this wounded world would be –
If we too but tarried and took the time through others’ eyes to see.

Here’s to time well taken,

-jody

 

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Freeways, Expressways, Highways

Cee threw out another of her Photo Challenges this week, the topic being: Freeways, Expressways, Highways – in another words, roads where you can travel fast on.

She left me thinking of how very many places I’ve gotten to travel this past year, and how very different those places often were. I thought I’d put a couple of high contrast images on here as examples (contrast of places and temperatures, not necessarily photo technique).

The first was taken on my iPhone-5 (yes, I still have a 5 & would have my 4 if I hadn’t fallen on it while crossing a creek – what’s your point?)… while traveling on I-70, I believe, on my way toward Idaho Springs. It was last late July; but as we went up into those mountains on the Guanella Pass, the temperature dropped quickly from 80-something degrees to 40 degrees at the top.

colorado

Contrast that with the second image from the first of March this year in the Yei, South Sudan area (in which I dug quickly for my Nikon and stuck it against a dusted plane window around the propeller). I believe this should be the Kaya Highway down below (the large dirt road in front of the mountain range). You might also imagine the contrast in temperature, which was around 105 degrees when we flew out that day (and felt like 140 degrees on the plane), with temperatures that didn’t dip below 90 degrees even in the middle of the nights. I also don’t have to point out the contrast in the types of roadways.

Kaya_Hwy_Yei

As for speed…were you to see the ruts on the Kaya Highway, you would think, “that doesn’t meet Cee’s criterion of roads you can travel fast on.” True…unless you put it into perspective compared to the roads back in the gaba (the bush)…or unless you’re a UN truck on Kaya Hwy. You should see those convoys barreling down that road while waving all pedestrians, livestock, boda-bodas, and four-wheel vehicles out of their way (as if we’re not already wanting to give right of way of our own accord). “What ruts, they say? Only you, if you don’t get out of the way!” (Besides that, I was in a plane when I took this picture – okay, a puddle-jumper, to be exact – but I figure that added some extra speed when my photo was taken!)

Happy trails (and byways) to you!

-jody

An Open Letter to the Unnamed Trucker on Amnicola Hwy Today

Dear Trucker in the Rain on Amnicola Hwy today –

I really feel like I need to have a word with you. In retrospect, I really should have turned my car around today and tracked you down. Had I done so, I probably couldn’t have been held responsible for my actions, though. You see, if you had pulled that truck over, parked, and stepped out, I likely would’ve tackled you right there on the spot. And then possibly laid a big kiss on you. Adrenaline’s like that. It sometimes causes your emotions to get all confused where you do inappropriate things. Or maybe that’s just me and my emotions. As it turns out, you were safe from being assaulted in this manner only because I was shaking so badly from head to toe, the only thing I could think to do was remain on auto-pilot and head back in the direction of my work.

You and I are one of a few select people who know what you did today. Yet, you’ll never receive a commendation for it. I’ll never even know your name. Heck, I don’t even know what kind of truck it was you were driving, besides a pretty one. Let me take that back. It may have been the most beautiful truck I’ve ever seen before in my life – which I still have today (my life, I mean), thanks to you.

As I was sitting there on Amnicola around 2:00, hemmed in by thick traffic at the stop light in the rain, I saw you in my side mirror as you pulled out of the fast lane and started to come up the wet turn lane. I didn’t think too much about it. But just before you came up beside me, something else caught my eye. A little white car came flying out across the two lanes of traffic from my side – and right into your path. As it darted out from behind the black SUV, an old memory flashed through my mind. I thought of a time I saw a German Shepherd dart across a few lanes of traffic when a small pick-up truck hit him. Emphasis on small truck and big dog. Nevertheless, I won’t describe what I saw happen to that dog; it’s too gruesome. I will say it made me cry hysterically for the next two hours. So it didn’t take too much imagination for me to realize that, when your big truck t-boned that little compact car today, I was about to see something much worse.

When you laid down on those brakes and your truck began to bounce, I knew you could see the worst of the possibilities too, despite the fact you were already jack-knifing while sliding down that lane. I sucked in a breath and held it, praying for you and whoever was in that little car, thinking there was no physical way you’d be able to stop in time. I could already hear and see the future debris flying. That’s when I realized there would be another consequence to your decision. That debris wasn’t going to come my way as quickly as your trailer, which was about to take out the entire driver’s side of my own little compact car. I believe I understand enough physics to know that, even after that, that trailer wouldn’t have stayed upright. I’m guessing it likely would’ve toppled onto me and/or the someone else in front of me. I really don’t know how you did the next thing you did, but I watched you pull your wheels the other direction and somehow straighten out your load – while still managing to avoid a certain death about to take place in front of you. Your truck may have bounced and skidded back and forth, but in a gentlemanly fashion, you made sure it kept all of its body parts to itself.

Sir, I commend you on your lightning-fast reflexes. I realize that the person in the little white car had absolutely zero chance of living beyond you stopping in time. I also realize that my only fighting chance would’ve been increased had I been able to get out of my seatbelt, climb over to the passenger side of my vehicle, and dive into the floorboard had that trailer continued coming my way. We both know that Mission Impossible scenario still has a lot of holes in it. Thank God your real reflexes were much faster than my make-believe ones could’ve ever been.

I also commend you on whatever expert driving skills those were that you displayed today. That being said, please don’t take offense to my next words. This event somehow reminded me of watching one of my boys when he was little, playing in the living room with his Tonka truck, picking it up and setting it down exactly in the spot he deemed it should be. You’ll have to forgive me if this example seems too simplistic for the actions you took, but from my point of view, it was like watching the hand of God reach down and do the same with you. I take comfort in that.

Most of all, I commend you on your heart of gold. It was obvious that you were aware of and concerned about not only yourself, but all of those around you on that road today. Because of your quick, alert and clear-headed actions, one or more of us went home to families who would’ve otherwise missed us this evening. When I told my teenage son our story, I can assure you that he expressed his gratitude to you. So please believe me when I tell you that – even though I may never know your name and even though you probably heard no gratitude beyond the gratefulness you had over the silence when you stopped – your actions didn’t go unnoticed. Today, I feel the need to let others know – you truly are my hero.

God bless you.

-jody