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.

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Fortuitous Stories are Made Every Day

I just recently finished my novel, Rolling River. As the writer, I of course have a responsibility to orchestrate events to move my characters towards some form of resolution. Even if they feel everything is spinning out of control, I can’t let them stay that way – no matter how many edits it takes.

Oh, that real life always worked that way, right?

But wait. Every beautiful once in awhile, it does!

Take, for example, this Wednesday.

It didn’t start out too great. My youngest son was diagnosed with pneumonia, but we got that dealt with for the time being.
One of my dearest friends was having a birthday, and a group of us was getting together to celebrate at lunch.

What it looks like when our group of high school friends gets together for lunch

Many laughs later, it was time to go back and face the work world again. I had loitered with two of my besties in the parking lot, encouraging and being encouraged, and then we parted ways. As I got into my car, I thought to warn the canoodling couple in front of me not to let my car startle them when I started it. (It had squealed a little that morning and I had to get it to the shop the next day to be checked out.)

As promised, it squealed. Only very loudly this time. Then smoke started pouring in through my vents and out from under my hood.

An Unrealistic Re-enactment that I found on the Internet.

As I shut it down, I heard the shocked man in front of me yell, “Pop the hood!” Before I could feel guilty that I’d ruined his goodbye kiss, his significant blonde other had come around to assist me.

Looking back, how I think the couple may have actually looked…

No sooner had the helpful stranger diagnosed my problem as “a broken drive belt,” producing evidence of it swinging in his hand, than I heard a familiar voice coming across the parking lot behind me. “Jody, what have you done now?”

I turned to face one of our prior youth leaders at church, Greg, who also fortuitously works in the repair shop closest to where I’d broken down. He told me he could get my car towed and taken care of. I told him I could meet him half-way on the towing – I had AAA.

“Let me get a ride back to the shop and go get my truck. I’ll come back and pick you up,” he nodded.

The lady who had been at the scene of my car’s crime wanted to assure I felt comfortable with those arrangements. (She also offered to take me to the mammogram I’d just cancelled, if needed. I guess she figured Greg wouldn’t want to do that! Any hey, I figured we weren’t strangers anymore about the time I’d told her about the mammogram; but I assured her it was all just as well – I was happy to put that trauma off for a few more days.)

No sooner had the couple left and Greg returned than one of my besties surprised me by coming back across the parking lot. “You go back to work and wait on her car to get there,” she told Greg. “I’ll hang out with her until the tow arrives and then take her to work.”

And that’s how it went. I never had to do much of anything for myself – except make the call to AAA.

But that’s not really the end of this story. It has a better punchline from the grand writer’s perspective.

My oldest son stopped by my house that evening for dinner, and I was telling him about my day. When I finished my story, he leaned back with a big grin on his face.

“You know,” he smiled, “every time I stop to help someone and they try to pay me, I always tell them that I’m helping them because I know if my mom or my fiance’ ever breaks down, God will make sure that someone’s right there to help them.”

My oldest son with his fiance’. (If he ever stops to help you out, he’s a pretty good fella’.)

It wasn’t too long before he was on the phone with his fiance, sharing my story and assuring her, “You know how I know that you’re gonna’ be alright if you ever break down? Because God showed me how faithful He was in watching over my mom today. She didn’t even have a chance to worry, and everybody else had already solved her problem for her.”

Now, I’m not going to tell you that usually happens. I’d never have a chance to grow in life if everybody else always solved my problems for me. But isn’t it nice to know that, every beautiful once in awhile, our faith isn’t tested as much as it’s simply gifted?

Don’t miss those fortuitous stories of resolution in your own life either (’cause I’ll bet they come up more often than any of us truly ever notice.)

Gray sand peas,

Jody

Carpe Diem Haiku #582, Inner Beauty (July 2013)

Carpe Diem is celebrating its 2nd Anniversary this month! Feeling as though it’s been that long since I’ve been a part of this poetically encouraging & educational community, I wanted to stop in today to say Congratulations! to Kristjaan/Chèvrefeuille (and all the Carpe Diem Haiku family who have been a part of this wonderful site over these past two years).

 Unsure my mind was creatively ready to contribute, I was thrilled to see the following invitation for a prompt: “Today we are going further along memory-lane and we have arrived at July 2013 in which all prompts were extracted from the novel “Manuscript found in Accra” by Paulo Coelho….Now it is up to you my dear Haijin, visitors and travelers to write an all new haiku (or if you were a member than back in 2013, you may also share your haiku which you created for this same prompt in July 2013).” So be it! Here’s my blast from the past on Inner Beauty:

*

in what mirror can

I see that which may escape

a world looking out

*

a world looking out

for itself with senses

dimmed from all concealed

*

no more dimmed than me

who cannot fully see who

stares from inside out

438335657_1524477733_414939076_1254005580812

 *

The Way New Lovers Grow

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The young lover was certain

the most miserable feeling was

her unrequited love.

(She hadn’t yet birthed a child then to be embarrassed by her presence.)

The aged lover knew

love was only true when

it lasted beyond her rejection,

continually given,

though never accepted.

(The child recognized her gift with clarity only after the day she was gone.)

Refocusing on Perfection (and other less haughty goals)

Knowing how inconsistent I’ve been in the blogging community this year, I thought I’d better try to get my creative cap back on – even if I’ve managed to lose all of my writing communities and what little bit of interest I might have gained from blogging friends that I appear to have “dumped.”

I had gotten so deep into an intense scientific style of writing, in finishing out my dissertation, that my creativity (and time) felt otherwise pushed to the edge. So, here’s a warm up, as I’m hoping to get back to my other writing projects soon that have gathered lots of dust on the shelf.

I’m including a poem of dichotomy that played through my mind this morning, as well as a couple of images that were sitting on my iPhone (since I haven’t had time to get out and explore the trails with a decent camera in hand lately).

Okay, enough with the excuses…

dichotomous blaze

Dichotomous Blaze

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Refocusing on Perfection
© jody love, 2014

My head rolled up slowly, my focus adjusting on you.
You were close – so very close.
You took my breath.
Our legs circled and entwined.
Your head turned away.
You sighed in contentment.
I closed my eyes and wondered.

In the vastness of this world
What were the chances of running into you?
I realized how perfect this all was.

 

My head snapped up sharply, my focus adjusting on you.
You were down the aisle – so far away.
You took my breath.
Our legs rotated in double-time.
Your head turned away.
I sighed in anguish.
I changed my path and wondered.

In the vastness of this world
What were the chances of running into you?
I realized this was all just…Perfect.

Evening Sunset in Bloom

Evening Sunset in Bloom

Sorry I’ve been MIA

Yes, I’m leaving this one for the grammar freaks to fret about, punctual on punctuation as they may be.

“What ever on earth does she mean here?”

Sorry.

I’ve been MIA to MIA (as was marked on my luggage this past week).

You see, before last week, my brain was burnt. I decided maybe it was time to let my body get that way, instead.

Miami made for a nice brain-break.

The waters looked like the blue and green of the Caribbean this past week, and the sand looked like it was shipped down from the Gulf. (My little iPhone probably doesn’t do either of them justice.)

I actually had no plans to see those wavy waters. As it was, I received a last-minute invitation, based on bumming a portion of a hotel room from my sister, along with the use of her frequent-flyer miles. As awesome as that sounds, I still had to convince myself that our plane rides would allow for the final polishing edits of my dissertation. After much arm-twisting, I decided that was a small price to pay.

After 4 nights and 3 days:

  • I accomplished the best tan I’ve had in the past 2 decades (all in the 1st day, thereafter having to hide beneath the beach umbrella each time I heard my skin sizzling like bacon);
  • I unintentionally swam with 2 sharks (after which my oldest son informed me that it’s never a good idea to follow a school of interesting-looking fish who have been chased into the shallows); and
  • I unabashedly looked forward to a small, delicious piece of dark chocolate snuggled up on my pillow every evening (thereafter being tucked safely in my warm tummy).

Within a couple of days of being home, I managed to:

  • scrape off one side of my tan in a road rash cycling incident,
  • splash around at our waterfront while cheering T as he did a triathlon (thinking maybe I could get some of my tan to come back through the scabs),
  • wave goodbye to T as he hit the road for his big move, and
  • finally submit my (typed) final edits to my committee.

I should mention that I only shed tears on one of those aforementioned occasions, but will leave it to you to decide upon which.

Maybe a surprise vacate does clear the mind for taking on the world once again.

Guess I’m truly not sorry I’ve been MIA.

 

My Chief Lesson

For any additional lightness in my pocketbook today, my heart is feeling many more times heavy.

I lost a best friend last night. A loyal companion. An intense playmate.

He was the one who loved it whenever I put my feet all over him.

He was the one who looked most forward to taking long evening walks with me next to his side.

He was the one who would chase me around our couches, then turn the other direction and run from me – always keeping me rolling in giggles.

And he was the one who would chase his tail just to entertain everyone else.

I guess you’d call him our “pack clown.”

Through highly intelligent eyes, he anticipated what I wanted from him.

Through a curious and loving heart, he didn’t always do what I asked him not to do.

And with that ridiculous tongue hanging out, his humor came through in his big canine smile.

***

Last night, as we were walking home with some of the rest of our pack, he began to wheeze. He veered from a well-known path, desperately trying to remain upright. Within seconds, he was retching and trying to regain his uprightness where he had collapsed. Our 2 T’s headed off to get the car, as I sat helplessly in an unknown neighbor’s yard, watching my buddy’s gums and tongue turn gray, as he strained to squeeze anything through his air passage.

We never saw it coming.

Forty minutes earlier, he and I had been doing the happy dance together. (I had come in from work and asked if he wanted to go on a W-A-L-K, which was my joke with my family – that he was so smart he could spell.)

Chief – that was our sweet boy’s name – ran to the rack where his collar and lead were hanging, jumped around in circles, then came back smacking his long tail into everything that managed to horizontally get in his way. As he saw me grab up my tennis shoes, he impatiently danced around some more, finally unable to contain his excitement, jumping up to “hug” me – just before he turned back and waited to be fitted into his own “sports gear.” He always got so excited about our family walks. He loved to explore, and he loved doing it as a family unit – a pack.

It seemed like it took years to get to the emergency clinic after the incident (since his vet was already closed by then). My oldest son left his ballgame to meet us there, instinctively understanding this would be the last chance he’d have for loving on his pup.

Although they intubated Chief the minute we arrived, that wasn’t going to get rid of the clot in his lung. We were told that he could remain on a mechanical respirator for $1,000 per day, but even if we could afford that, his life would no longer be his own.

Though we got to be with him as he was euthanized, he was already on so much medication to ease his stress, only we were the ones who were aware. Despite our prayer over him, it was a distressful departing. No sooner had we stepped out of one room, after saying our unworthy good-byes, than we were presented with a $400 bill, immediately due. Was that the closure then?

We’re all numb today – traumatized. We brought Chief home, so his remains can at least be close by. But that’s never enough, is it?

I want my friend back. Waking up this morning without him on his bed was disorienting. Driving through my neighborhood this morning, passing the sidewalk of our final journey together, was excruciating. I dread going home this afternoon, to abide in the obvious emptiness without his presence to greet me. My grief feels immense.

Yet, there is a Chief lesson that I’ve learned in this.

Grieving is important. It reminds us of the immense capability we have to love; the importance of sharing in that love as part of living. What would a relationship be worth if there were no pain in its loss?

Chief holds a special place in our hearts. I can’t imagine going on without him to brighten our days.

But I can’t imagine how much less our lives would be had we never had him to love in the first place.

A friend loves at all times…
Proverbs 17:17a