August 25, 2014

Dark Days for a Pastor's Wife

A pastor's wife, who normally encourages church members in their struggles, sometimes finds herself in difficult circumstances where she is the one in need of ministry. This is not a comfortable place for her or for those who look at her as unflappable. It may be unsettling for new Christians to see mature believers stricken. Here is my experience.

Deep Waters
April: Troubles within the church seem to be on an upward cycle and weighing on my husband. People are coping with unemployment, marital issues, difficult children, serious illness or the dissatisfaction of others.
Almost three years to the day after his cancer surgery, my husband gets a blood test that indicates chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a second type of cancer.

May: After several medical appointments for a definite diagnosis and three weeks of not being able to tell the church, we announce that their pastor, my husband, has cancer.
Because he must avoid infection, close contact with people, crowds and visiting the sick (essentially, his pastoral duties), he has to take a medical leave of absence.

June: The first cycle of chemotherapy is delayed, twice, because the medical insurance would not approve it.
Chemo is approved. A day after the first round of chemo ends, I get word that my mom is dying in an ICU in another state. My husband did most of the driving on previous trips to see my parents. This time, I have to go without him. I am the only child, which adds to my loneliness.
My mom dies.

July: My father is still grieving the loss of his wife when his only sibling, my favorite aunt, is diagnosed with acute leukemia.

August: My aunt dies. The summer seems like a blur of medical professionals and tears.

Bright Spots
People are praying. In our church. At home. In other churches around the world. We can feel the effects of prayer every day in a way we have not before.

Our gifted associate pastor has previous experience in stepping in for a senior pastor. God is using his knowledge of the congregation for a smooth transition while my husband is sidelined.

Many people engage in mercy ministry. Health care advocacy. Transportation to my mother's bedside. Rides to medical appointments. Meals. Human contact. Yard work. Flowers and plants. These acts of kindness reflect God's love to us.

The cancer center staff is very compassionate. The treatments have fewer side effects than we anticipated. My husband's overall spirits are good.

We enjoy fun times with our immediate family. They are able to be here at the same time. It is so encouraging to see the next generations following Christ.

God refines my priorities by taking away people and things that I value. In addition, he helps me empathize with the sufferings of others in a new way.

These circumstances are really hard for me. My husband has his own struggles.

Being a pastor's wife adds a unique dimension to all of my life. And, I am often unclear about how God wants me to navigate through it, especially now.

Not everyone knows what to say to me. This makes it seem like they don't care.

Although I am sure where my true comfort lies, I don't always flee to Christ and His Word the way I know I should.

As we all do, I need God's grace in my life to "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." (James 1: 2-4.)

July 28, 2014

Looking Ahead, the Martyr's Great Hope

Just over a month before his martyrdom in May 1567, Guido de Bres, the author of the Belgic Confession, wrote from prison to his wife:
“And I pray you, my dear and faithful companion, to join me in thanking God for what he has done. For he does nothing that is not just and very equitable, and you should believe that it is for my good and for my peace. You have seen and felt my labours, cross, persecutions, and afflictions which I have endured, and have even had a part in them when you accompanied me in my travels during the time of my exile. Now my God has extended his hand to receive me into his blessed kingdom. I shall see it before you and when it shall please the Lord, you will follow me. This separation is not for all time. The Lord will receive you also to join us together again in our head, Jesus Christ.
This is not the place of our habitation – that is in heaven. This is only the place of our journey. That is why we long for our true country, which is heaven. We desire to be received in the home of our Heavenly Father, to see our Brother, Head, and Saviour Jesus Christ, to see the noble company of the patriarchs, prophets, apostles and many thousands of martyrs, into whose company I hope to be received when I have finished the course of my work which I received from my Lord Jesus Christ.  
I pray you, my dearly beloved, to console yourself with meditation on these things. Consider the honour that God has done you, in giving you a husband who was not only a minister of the Son of God, but so esteemed of God that he allowed him to have the crown of martyrs. It is an honour the like of which God has never even given to the angels.”

How do you prepare for persecution ahead of time and find strength in the midst of it? By meditating on eternity.

Godly men and women, suffering for their faith, do not ultimately hope in release from an earthly prison. The wife of de Bres, and many martyr’s wives of the past oriented their hope around heaven, trusting the truth of God’s word that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Rom. 8:18)

When an assembly of judges accused John Bunyan of preaching heresy, Elizabeth courageously declared: “’My lord, when the righteous Judge shall appear, it will be known that his doctrine is not the doctrine of the devil.’” This same confidence in eternal vindication has characterized many godly women of the past. It must also characterize us today.

One of the most poignant stories of a martyr’s wife is that of Isabel, the wife of Scottish covenanter John Brown (1627-1685). On her wedding day, a fellow minister warned Isabel of her new husband’s likely violent death, and he “advised her to keep linen with which to make winding sheets, or grave clothes.”

Three years into their marriage, John Brown was indeed shot in front of his wife and children because he refused to swear the Oath of Allegiance to the king. The commanding officer stood over Isabel as she cradled the body of her husband and asked her what she thought of her husband now. Isabel’s reply shows her sure and certain hope: “I ay thocht muckle [always thought much] o’ him, but now more than ever.”

Will persecution come to the American church and its gospel ministers? I don’t know. But if it does come, I will pray the words of Isabel Brown, when the soldiers arrived at her house: “’The thing I feared has come upon me. O give me grace for this hour.’”

I have every confidence that He will.


Posts in the persecution series:
3 Reasons to Think about Persecution
Seek Peace. Expect Trouble. Make New Friends.
Before We Call Suffering "Persecution"
Knowing Whom We Have Believed

Husband Arrested? Pack Him a Lunch

How to Be a Martyr's Wife

Brendenhof, W.L. “A Reformation Martyr Comforts His Wife from Prison.” The Aquila Report: 16 November 2009. Accessed 21 July 2014.

Deal, William. John Bunyan The Tinker of Bedford. Christian Liberty Press, 2007. Print.

Love, Dane. Scottish Covenanter Stories: Tales from the Killing Times. Neil Wilson Publishing, 2011. Print.
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