September 1, 2014

Worth Asking

One of my dreaded weekly tasks as a pastor’s wife is asking people to come over after church for lunch. 

 I like hospitality. I like grocery shopping and cooking. I like the extra motivation to clean the house. I love the eventual visiting around the table. But I don’t like inviting.

I am so frequently rejected.

I start early in the week: discussing with my husband whom he thinks we should ask, picking up the phone, tracking people down. And then, one after another, I usually hear a long series of “no, thanks.”

People are busy; I get that. They have very legitimate reasons for turning me down—sick kids, other invitations, travel, fatigue. I don’t think their “no” is a personal commentary on my house, or my food, or my family. But it would not be an exaggeration to say that I regularly ask five families for every one that accepts my invitation.

After all these years, I now brace myself for “no” while I dial the phone. While I’m prepping the food, I also try to get ready for rejection.

Sometimes I get all the way to Saturday night, and I’m standing in front of a sink full of dirty pots and pans, and I still haven’t heard a “yes.” Sometimes I cry.

There might be a lesson here for people who receive invitations, but there’s also a lesson for those of us who get turned down. I preach it to myself every week:

It’s worth asking.

When I ask someone to come for lunch (or if I can watch their kids, or if I can run to the grocery store for them) I am saying, “I love you.” I’m saying, “I haven’t forgotten about you. I remember that you are my brother or my sister.” And I hope that by my asking, the members of my Christian family know they are loved.

When I invite someone, I am also saying, “I want to be with you. I want to know how you are and what the Lord is doing in your life. I want to see your smile in person.” Being present with other believers is important—it’s hard to ignore someone with whom you share the same space, hard to miss their sorrows and joys when you are looking in their eyes. And by asking someone to Sunday lunch, I am expressing my desire for closer fellowship with them.

And I am offering to sacrifice something for them. I’m making the first move in dying to self by offering to buy groceries, to use energy to cook, to save time for visiting with them. I’m extending a concrete offer to give.

They might say “no.” And they often do. But I hope that it was worth asking. I hope my phone call reminded them that I love them. And I hope maybe they’ll come another week.

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.

Observations
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.)

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