Pew Wrangling with a 1 year old and 3.5 year old

Growing up, my family of 5 sat together unless my dad or brother needed to usher. I figured that’s how church worked–unless you had extended family in church, you sat with your parents. Consequently, I always imagined that all my children would sit with me in the pew on Sunday mornings.

Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans. . .

I did solo wrangle Babykins and Sweet Pea for over a year. But as Sweet Pea gets older, she gets wigglier and louder. I often have to take her to the back of the church during the sermon. And while Babykins generally sits quietly in the pew, taking her to the back with Sweet Pea and me meant she started crawling on the floor and talking loudly.

I asked our church grandma if I could leave Babykins with her when I needed to take Sweet Pea to the back. After a few weeks of this method, Babykins was begging to sit with Granny the entire service.

I was hesitant–after all, children should sit with their parents–but Babykins had also started to feed off of Sweet Pea’s antics and would try to cling to me as I wrestled with her sister. Truth be told, Babykins behaves better when separated from her sister. Now she peacefully sits with Granny. When I glance back at her, she’s either observing what is happening around her or eating her snack.

As for Sweet Pea, she’s much more of a handful in church than her sister was. Most of this is because she’s so much louder than Babykins! I generally let her be as loud as she wants during most of the service (as long as she’s not screaming for screaming’s sake) and try to keep her quieter during the readings, sermon, and prayer of the church.

I’m still making it through church without a designated “busy bag”, but I do pack her a snack, a couple of crayons, a doll, and a book for Sunday mornings. Sometimes I can keep her quieter during the sermon by whispering the text of the book I’ve brought (I usually choose a book by Joni Walker or a Kloria Publishing book). Often I need to take her to the back during the last few minutes of the sermon because she gets too wiggly to contain in the pew. Sundays are exhausting now, but my hope is that if I keep on patiently teaching her how to “do” church, she’ll be as good as her sister in a couple of years.

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Dear Self: Do You Ever Learn?

Dear Self,

Did you not learn last year? Did you not remember how little time it takes to input tax receipts if you do it on a monthly basis? Could you refrain from repeating the same mistake every year?

Apparently not, because here we are in January and I’m staring at a massive pile of housing and work receipts. What would have just taken 10 extra minutes once a month is now a time consuming project.

You seriously have enough to do with taxes already. Why are you making this harder on yourself? Just do your monthly receipts NOW and bask in a job completed next January! Or just keep doing what you’re doing and we’ll revisit this conversation in about a year.

It’s a date? Oh, okay, great. See you in 2019. I’ll just keep working on 2017 taxes. . .


Silver Lining of Illness: Christmas Edition

‘Twas the week before Christmas and unsurprisingly, one of our kids wound up sick. Poor Sweet Pea caught a little cold, which then turned into an ear infection, which then lead to thrush. Several sleepless nights, 1 trip to the doctor’s office, and 1 trip to urgent care later, Sweet Pea and I were both so done with her not feeling well. She and I missed both services on Christmas Eve and she was a miserable grump on Christmas Day. It was a difficult week for our family.

I don’t think either girl had been this sick before. Most of their illnesses have been little colds and an occasional fever and they’re generally over the worst of their illnesses in a couple of days. The whole miserably sick-for-a-week thing was a new experience for us. Now that Sweet Pea is back to her healthy, happy self, I have a chance to realize we really are fortunate that this has been our girls’ worst illness. There was no ER visit, no hospitalization, and no chronic illness diagnosis. Even though it’s not a bundle of laughs for a pastor’s family to be dealing with illness the week of Christmas, Sweet Pea is healthy now and we can move on with our life.

Merry Christmas!


2017 Open House

We had our annual open house yesterday. This is the fourth open house we’ve hosted since moving here. After constantly moving and changing during the seminary year, it’s marvelous to have annual events like open houses and know exactly what to expect.

Mom does the baking and I do the cleaning (Dad and my husband are the people Mom and I tell, “Hey, go do this!”). We can quickly set up the chairs in the living room because we already know how they will fit. I know about how many people will show up.

Note: Knowing the numbers doesn’t mean I know how much food to make. We always make too much.

We never get a big crowd at our open house–usually about 15 people–but I like to think that everyone still enjoys good food and good company. At any rate, I feel much better about than our first open house. 3 years does make a difference.


Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

It’s been just over 3 years since my husband was ordained and installed at our church in Iowa. 3 years seems to be about the amount of time needed to really start putting down roots. We’re slowly making friends–or at least extremely familiar acquaintances–with people around town, becoming a bit more involved with the town happenings (we actually look forward to the town’s Independence Day festival now!), and getting a better feel for what my husband really needs to do in order to best shepherd our congregation for better or for worse. Aside from giving birth to 2 little girls since we moved, life has almost fallen into a predictable rhythm.

Or I should say, life had almost fallen into a predictable rhythm. Next week my husband starts a vacancy position at another small, LC-MS church 20 miles from our current congregation.

Now we will all pause to ponder the good Lutheran question of what does this mean?

What is a vacancy pastor?

For those of you who don’t know (which was me until some point during my husband’s seminary years), a vacancy pastor is essentially a long-term substitute pastor for a congregation who doesn’t have a called pastor of their own. The vacancy pastor leads the services, visits the shut-ins, teaches Bible studies, attends meetings, and so on, while the congregation works to call a new pastor.

How long does a vacancy position last?

It depends on the church. Sometimes congregation can’t really afford to call a pastor or can’t get their act together to put together call documents, and a vacancy can last for years (note: This isn’t really recommended). From my observation, a vacancy for a church actively seeking a new pastor usually last several months to a year. Calling a pastor can be a long process involving interviews, meetings, votes, etc., so it takes time.

While this congregation is wanting a new pastor sooner rather than later, they have the added complication of needing to be a dual parish with another congregation since they can’t afford a pastor for only their congregation. This means a dual parish agreement with another congregation has to be put together, which of course takes time.

How will my husband take care of 2 churches?

Vacancy pastors are picked in part of their availability. Sometimes a retired pastor will serve a vacancy, sometimes another pastor in the circuit will fill in. My husband was asked based on his proximity to this church and his schedule. Our church is on the smaller side to begin with, not to mention he currently only has a couple of shut-ins to visit, so he has more available time then some of the other pastors nearby. Of course adding another church to his workload will add more work hours to the week (not to mention travel time), but the new church is asking for about 8-12 hours of work a week from him. It’s not easy, but it is doable.

How does this affect our church?

Right now, the main effect of the  vacancy means that our church service time changes from 9 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Likewise, Sunday morning adult Bible study will be temporarily suspended since my husband has to go to the other church for a 10:30 a.m. service.

How does this affect our family?

Currently, the vacancy position means that my husband will be away from home more often. It also means there is the added stress of starting something new (neither my husband or I are the adventurous type). He’s going to be more tired on Sundays after leading 2 full services. He will also have a few more shut-ins to visit.

So, there you have the down low on vacancy positions and the changes in our life. The moral of the story: You never know when life is going to change!


It Isn’t Just Me: “The Harvest Raise” on Being a Pastor’s Wife

I’ve recently finished reading Katie Schuermann’s new book, The Harvest Raise. I enjoy Schuermann’s Anthems of Zion books because they aptly reflect the life of a Lutheran congregation in a small, Midwestern town (although seeing how Bradbury has a college, it would be much bigger than our little town here in Iowa). The books are good for a quick read with some clean laughs along the way (with sound theology!).

What I wasn’t expecting in The Harvest Raise was a peek into my parsonage life–but there it was. Several times I felt shock as Pastor and Emily Fletcher struggled to balance church and family in the same ways I struggle. Those were my struggles, my emotions, my sins. But clearly I am not alone in those thoughts and actions if they were in a book.

For example, Schuermann succinctly described the unique stress of a pastor’s job by explaining,

“Church Stress was [Emily’s] nemesis. It stole her husband’s thoughts and robbed her of his time and attention. It was an invisible thief, and she felt so helpless against its advances. Other than offering up prayers to God for mercy, all she could do was watch from the sidelines as it paralyzed her husband and ate him alive from the inside out,” (91).

Speak to almost any pastor’s wife about the difficulties of life in the ministry and one of the first thing she will mention is how hard it is to watch her husband struggle with things he cannot discuss with her. I know that pastor’s wives struggle with Church Stress but it’s refreshing to be clearly reminded of that.

Likewise, Schuermann has her characters tackle the balance of one man being a pastor and husband. When Emily comes home crying after an altar guild meeting, Pastor quickly tries to figure out the best way to comfort her because,

“He also knew better than to say anything too pastoral in the first inning of the game. Nope, an early swing would most definitely result in a foul ball and an irreversible call made from his ump of a bride: ‘I need you to be my husband, not my pastor!'” (147).

I have certainly shouted at my husband before to stop “pastoring” me because I needed him to be my husband.

One of the biggest surprises I learned from the Fletchers is that pastors and pastors’ wives having fights on Saturdays is actually a “thing”. Schuermann writes,

“The spiritual battle in the parsonage was real. It often was on Saturday nights. Whether it was the devil and his minions sabotaging the upcoming Sabbath with attacks against Pastor’s peace of mind or simply the sinful humans in the house indulging their nefarious natures, there was no doubt that powers and principalities and even people–small and tall–were opposed to God’s servant of the Word having a good night’s sleep before preaching in the pulpit,” (318).

I am not a patient woman. Far too often I lose my cool as church work eats away at our Saturday and my anger flares up while making dinner (apparently the witching hour isn’t just for children). I honestly thought I was just the Worst Wife Ever for letting my temper loose on the one evening a week I know my husband is preoccupied with fine tuning his sermon and Bible study. Nobody ever mentioned that this is a common struggle, yet here it is in print proving that I’m not the Worst Wife Ever but just your average sinful pastor’s wife.

These are just a few examples from the inside of the Fletchers’ parsonage that are oh-so-common for pastors’ families. I am so thankful that Katie Schuermann wrote The Harvest Raise–I desperately needed the reminder that my parsonage life isn’t so unique after all.


Conversations With My Toddler: Crucifixes vs. Crosses

Recently, Babykins has started to notice the crucifixes in our bedrooms. My husband and my bedroom has one hanging above our bed, the nursery has one hanging above the closet door. Whenever she points them out, we talk about how Jesus died on the cross to forgive our sins.

However, in the guestroom we have a decorative cross. Babykins was looking at it the other day and we then had this chat:

Babykins: What’s dat? (points to the cross)

Me: That’s a cross

Babykins: Jesus no on that one!

Me: Well, yes, um. . . That’s because it’s just a cross. When Jesus is on the cross, it’s called a crucifix. Can you say “crucifix”?

Babykins: Crucifix!

Pastor’s kids can have the oddest vocabulary.


Pew Wrangling with a Toddler and Infant

I’m going to regret writing this but. . .

Church with Babykins and Sweet Pea has been going much better than I anticipated.

Please note that I described the service as “going much better”, not that it is “easy”.

When I was pregnant with Sweet Pea, I would sometimes leave the church service and think, “How am I going to do this with 2?!” I would think about trying to catch an escaping Babykins while holding an infant or trying to slip out of the service to nurse Sweet Pea with a toddler in tow. It seemed impossible, especially since we sit up front.

Thankfully, Babykins is currently at a cooperative stage for church attendance. She likes hearing the music and flipping through the hymnal. She also likes being able to see the congregation, hence the reason we sit up front. And somehow I’ve managed to convince her that apple slices are an acceptable snack during the service and she’ll happily munch on those.

Likewise, Sweet Pea is proving to be an easier baby than Babykins was. She isn’t nearly as prone to crying fits as her sister, nor does she have the same intense need for movement when I wear her (I can get by with rocking her in the pew instead of marching around the back of the church). She is also a better nurser and I’m able to feed her in the pew. Sometimes she even sleeps in her car seat! About the only time I’ve left the service for Sweet Pea is when she needed a diaper change.

Of course, I’m still far from consciously getting anything from the service. I sing the liturgy mostly from memory as I awkwardly hold a hymnal open for Babykins. I half hear the readings while trying to get Sweet Pea ready to nurse. I less-than-piously stand for the prayers while keeping one eye open on Babykins lest one of her mischievous hankerings take hold of her. And there are moments throughout the service that I have one child strapped to my front and another child balanced on my hip. It’s exhausting, but manageable.

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However, I’m not naive enough to think that pew wrangling will stay at this manageable level. I know handling both girls will probably get harder at some point (like when there’s 2 mobile kids in the pew. Oh my!). I’ll get frustrated and wonder what’s the point of going to church. Then it will get easier, then harder, then easier, and then someday the girls will be old enough to not need my constant attention during the service. And then I’ll be by myself again and remember with laughing fondness of this time in my life–at least that’s what the church grandmas seem to do.

Now, getting to church on time–well, that’s a different matter entirely. :p


How Every Sunday Service Goes

My Sunday morning at church usually goes like this: Babykins and I arrive at church and set up our pew. I feel optimistic about whatever new pew strategy I’ve created during the week. Snacks, no snacks, a little toy, no toy, crayons, pencils, books, and so on–I’ve tried all these things. Whatever this week’s plan is makes me feel like I can do this pew-wrangling gig.

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Then the next sixty minutes proceed and whatever plan I’ve implemented completely falls apart. Snacks are tossed on the floor, crayons are chucked two pews behind us, hymnals are walked on, and Babykins is yelling because I won’t let her stand by Daddy. By the closing hymn I’ve called it quits and tell myself that I should just expect everything to go wrong in the pew on Sunday.

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But time heals many wounds–or at least allows memory to fade–so by next Sunday I have a new plan and a new sense of optimism.

And yes, this coming Sunday will go well, I can just feel it.


Wednesday Night, Popcorn Night

During the school year, Wednesdays are my husband’s long work day. Confirmation every week and most weeks there is a 7 p.m. meeting. During Advent and Lent, he’ll often have confirmation class, followed by evening service, followed by a meeting. Yes, Wednesdays are long days.

By the middle of Lent this year, I was feeling the drain of the extra work and long Wednesdays. There needed to be a bit of excitement in the evening. So I declared Wednesday night to be Popcorn Night for Babykins and me.

Now, after dinner is cleaned up and Babykins has finished her bath, I pull down my trusty Whirley-Pop and pop up some popcorn. Babykins gets a small bowl for a treat and I have a large bowl set aside to eat later as a reward for getting through bedtime by myself. Bam! A little excitement for those long Wednesday nights.

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