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.
A couple of years ago, one of my sister-in-laws taught me how to cut my husband’s hair. I was so excited to cut barber fees out of our budget (ha, I made a pun!). Then I got pregnant with Babykins and morning sickness and fatigue sapped my energy to do things like cut my husband’s hair. Back to the barber shop he went.
After we moved to Iowa, I had more time and energy again. So, I picked up the razor and continued to learn how to give my husband a haircut. It was a short-lived endeavor because then Babykins made her big appearance and once again my energy was limited. Back to the barber shop he went.
When Babykins was around 8 months old, I decided it was time to really push to get our lives back in order. We had a nice electric razor for haircuts and I wasn’t quite as exhausted as I was when Babykins was itty-bitty. However, Babykins was still a terrible napper and would often wake up and need to be soothed after 30 minutes. My plan was to try to cut my husband’s hair while Babykins was freshly awake and fed. She could sit in her activity saucer and watch me play barber.
I got everything set up in the bathroom–chair, razor, broom. Babykins watched from the doorway. I carefully started to trim my husband’s hair.
Everything went fine for the first couple of minutes, but then Babykins started to fuss. “It’s okay, we’ll be done soon!” my husband and I cooed at her. Then Babykins started to cry. “Shhhh, Babykins, you’re okay!” we continued to coo. Then Babykins started to scream.
Have you ever tried to concentrate while a baby screamed 5 feet from you? It’s difficult. Now imagine that you’re doing this with an electric razor.
Trying to hurry the haircut, my hand slipped and I cut off a big chunk of my husband’s hair. I was completely flustered by this point and Babykins was screaming louder and louder. I started to swear. “I’ve ruined it! I’ve ruined your *@#$% hair!” I cried.
My husband, ever patient and rational, calmly said, “It’s okay. We can stop now and finish later.”
“No!” I yelled, ever impatient and irrational, “I have the #$%* stuff out NOW, we’re doing this @#$*% haircut NOW!” I was crying, Babykins was crying, and my poor husband had to watch as his daughter sobbed and his wife went into hysterics with an electric razor in her hands.
I’m not really sure how I finished the haircut, other than it got done. Still crying, I grabbed the red-faced Babykins and locked myself in her nursery to feed her.
A few days later, my husband suggested that maybe he should just get his hair cut at the barber shop for now. I begrudgingly agreed. I still feel guilty from time to time that we’re spending money on his haircuts when we have a perfectly functioning electric razor sitting in a closet. After all, $12 a month makes a chunk of change at the end of the year. However, I’ve decided to look at it as part of our contribution to the local economy. Likewise, a friend recently pointed out that $12 a month is much cheaper than a divorce or counseling fees.
Today is my husband and my date-a-versary (the anniversary of our first date). 7 years ago, my husband, who obviously wasn’t my husband at the time, knocked on my college apartment door as my giggling roommates scurried out of sight. He brought me flowers. We ate at a fancy restaurant that 2 broke college students really had no business going to, but we were young and a bit naive about money. We then went to a bar that had a local Irish band playing that night. It was a wonderful evening. It was also our last first date.
In a stroke of impeccable timing, my parents happen to be visiting us today. They watched Babykins this morning so my husband and I could go on a date (don’t worry, you don’t have to gag thinking about us planning a date to commemorate our date-a-versary. We planned this before I realized what today was). We went to a fashionable diner for brunch. It wasn’t as ritzy as the fancy restaurant and we wound up sitting next to a couple we suspected might be homeless, but it was delicious food. We could also afford it. Then, we stopped at Walgreens to get my husband some ibuprofen for a headache he couldn’t shake and I grabbed some autumn decorations at 90% off. We ended our date with a quick stop at a gourmet popcorn shop to pick up a treat for us (and buy a little thank you gift for my parents). Today’s date may have had less cliche, romantic moments like flowers and a fancy dinner, but it was still a lovely morning.
Yesterday was our 5th wedding anniversary. It was also our first anniversary since we became parents.
Okay, technically we were parents last year, but Babykins was still in-utero. It was easy to bring her with us and impossible to leave her with a babysitter.
Anyway, my husband and I decided to go on our first date in almost 11 months to celebrate our anniversary. My parents graciously watched Babykins for a couple of hours so we could go out to eat.
We had this conversation on the way to the restaurant:
I recently had an opportunity to go shopping at the local thrift shop sans Babykins. That meant I could actually try on clothes! Since I’m in desperate need of new shorts, I was excited to find a pair that fit and were in a length that I liked.
The only downside: They were in a camouflage pattern.
Usually cameo is not my thing. However, finding shorts that fit is a bit of a challenge these days, so I went ahead and purchased them.
A few days later I wore them for the first time with a forest green T-shirt. My looked at me and said, “You know, if you put on the right style of hat and carried a gun, you would look like some sort of rebel fighter.”
“So you don’t like the outfit?” I replied.
“No, I like it fine. I’m just saying,” he mildly responded.
Fortunately, we’ve been married long enough for me to know that my husband means what he says when it comes to my attire. So he truly didn’t find my outfit horrendous but it did remind him of something a rebel fighter would wear.
I’ll continue wearing the shorts because they’re comfortable, but at least now I have the makings of a Halloween costume.
It’s been a chaotic couple of months for our household with church things like VBS and District Convention, traveling, and hosting friends and family. I finished off this busy spell with a back to my hometown for a friend’s wedding while my husband stayed home to prepare for a funeral.
I wish I could solely blame the fact that my desk looks like a paper tornado blew through, sections of our lawn looks like we’re purposely growing weeds, and the internet payment is late yet again on our swamped schedule, but that isn’t the full truth. No, it’s the fact that after 10 months of having Babykins around I still haven’t found that mystical unicorn called “Balance”.
I understand the theory behind balance. You prioritize some things and let other things go in order to remain healthy, happy, and out of the loony bin. But I haven’t figured out what I should prioritize and how I should do it.
I let the budget slide and we don’t know how much money we can spend on clothes. I ignore the household chores and Babykins starts eating dried spaghetti and cat fur off the floor. I put Babykins down so I can look at this week’s grocery ad and she cries or rolls off into mischief. I use naptime to wash dishes and return phone calls and I feel burnt out from not getting “me” time. And sometimes I look at everything I’m supposed to do, throw in the proverbial towel, and aimlessly scroll through my Facebook newsfeed because I just can’t get it all done.
(Note: As I write this, I’m ignoring the dirty dishes in the sink, the massive pile of receipts on my desk, and the odd amount of grass littering the bathroom floor).
So how do you do stop feeling like you’re doing triage on life and start keeping things under control? I know it looks different for every person, but how do you choose your priorities when there isn’t enough time to do the important things? How do you capture the unicorn Balance?
July 6 was my husband’s one-year anniversary of his ordination. Not to sound cliche, but this past year has flown by–it took my by surprise to realized that we are no longer in the first year of his ministry!
Obviously after only a year, I’m no expert at this whole “Pastor’s Family” thing. However, having gone through the first year has given me some unexpected insights.
1. I often don’t think of myself as a “Pastor’s Wife”. I spent the seminary years taking advice from many pastor’s wives on how to handle this vocation. I was prepared to build my “Pastor’s Wife” persona with whatever congregation called my husband. However, I now realize that I rarely think of myself as a “Pastor’s Wife”. If I were to tell people about myself, I would first say that I’m a wife and mother. I might even mention that I fancy myself something of a writer. But a “Pastor’s Wife”? At most, I might mention that my husband is a pastor.
2. The congregation members let me keep to myself. Again, after spending the seminary years learning about what the life of a pastor’s wife would look like, I was prepared to say no to many church activities. However, the people here mostly leave me alone. There’s been minimal pressure to join the LWML and no one has asked me to do anything like teach Sunday School or head up social events. I’ve been given my space, and I appreciate that.
Of course, having a baby during this first year probably help lessen the pressure. 🙂
3. It’s hard to adjust to the “forever home” mentality. During the seminary years, I became skilled at not becoming attached to places. Now that we’re not moving this summer, I realize that I still feel like an observer of the church’s and town’s going-ons rather than a member.
4. I’m still not sure what to call my husband when talking to other members. Prior to arriving at my husband’s call, I was very adamant that I would not call him “Pastor”. After all, I wash the man’s clothes, budget his paycheck, and bore his child–I would think that would prove that we have more of a relationship than just Pastor-Member!
However, I didn’t realize that people have a tendency to pick up on what I name I call him and use it in conversations with me. I still don’t refer to him as “Pastor” often, but I have become careful not to call him by his first name in front of members. Usually I call him “my husband” or tell something about “us” or “our family”. There have been instances that I opted not to include part of a story simply because I couldn’t figure out what to call him!
5. Learning to filter the questions I ask my husband is difficult. As a couple, my husband and I desire to share most things about our lives with each other. While I can freely tell my husband everything I do during the day, he cannot. Despite my inclination to ask for details about his daily work–after all, I care about him and what he does–sometimes vague answers are necessary. It’s not my business to know details if he only tells me he is “meeting with someone”. And when he has a bad day, sometimes the only reason he can tell me is “church stuff”. Asking questions puts him in the uncomfortable position of having to tell me I can’t know the details.
Of course, not all parts of his work is taboo. I can certainly ask things like how a Bible study went or if so-and-so is home from the hospital.
6. Trying to balance my husband’s needs and my needs on his day off is still a work in progress. In order to fully relax, my husband prefers to leave town because of the fishbowl issue. However, I’m a homebody and would prefer to stay home and do things around the house. We’re still working on finding a balance.
7. Nothing can fully prepare you for your husband’s call. It doesn’t matter how many pastor’s wives panels you attend or how many pastor’s wife blogs you read, you can’t know how your life will look like before arriving at your husband’s church. There are just too many factors: Your husband’s personality, your disposition, the experiences members have had prior to your arrival, the town’s dynamics, and so on. All you can do is trust that this is where God has called your husband–and consequently, you–and make the best of it.
We’re 6 weeks out from my due date. Because due dates are more like guidelines, that means we can reasonably expect Baby to arrive a month from now. Of course, we can also just as reasonably expect Baby to show up two months from now because pregnancy is a fun like that. Whee!
At any rate, my husband and I are getting to the point where our baby to-do list is rapidly increasing. Despite the reassurances that all a baby really needs is your love and blah, blah, blah, there are some things that should probably be included in the baby’s life. Healthcare is one of those things, so I’ve been trying to figure out how to find a doctor for Baby.
Like most things relating to infants, researching doctors is a frustrating combination of endless options and fear-mongering. Do we go with a pediatrician or family doctor? M.D. or D.O.? What about a nurse-practitioner? How should distance factor into our decision?
Then there’s pressure to find a doctor that fits with your parenting philosophy, adding a new slew of questions to figure out. How does the doctor feel about breastfeeding? About sleep training? Vaccinations? And this is all the more confusing because I haven’t figured out how we feel about these things.
So I started lamenting about my confusion to my husband over lunch one day. He came up with a solution:
While his method may be unorthodox, it does simplify the search process. . .
At the beginning of this school year, I realized that I really shouldn’t put off thinking about getting my husband an ordination stole. So one day in September, I set out to plan how to make sure my husband had a decent red stole for his ordination. I immediately became confused and overwhelmed.
For the past 3 years, I heard wives talk about making their husband’s ordination stole for a gift. This plan wouldn’t work for me because I don’t know how to sew (nor did I think learning to sew with my husband’s ordination stole was a good idea). My next thought was to see about getting a nice custom made stole. However, those options proved to be quite pricey. My third thought was to ask my mom to make one. I tried to find a good sewing pattern for a stole, but I can’t recognize a good pattern from a bad one because, well, I don’t know how to sew. I never got around to asking my mom about making a stole.
Months passed and soon it was April. One night, I had a “Holy-crap-you’re-getting-a-call-and-we-have-so-much-to-do” fit and I finally admitted to my husband that I had no idea how to get an ordination stole for him. My husband, being the rational person that he is, explained to me that he never expected me to make him a stole. He then asked if I wanted him to figure out the stole. I told him, “Yes.”
So, my husband set out to find himself an ordination stole.
Thankfully, one of my husband’s classmates had assumed that he would need to buy his own stoles for his first call (something that had never occurred to me) and had already searched for inexpensive stoles. He pointed my husband to this website: http://catholicliturgicals.com/stoles.php.
The site was the perfect solution to my husband’s stole issue. Even though the site is designed for Catholics, some of the stoles were basic enough seem Lutheran. Even better, the stoles were inexpensive. And it turned out that the church that called my husband didn’t have stoles, so he needed to buy a set anyway. Consequently, he was able to purchase a very basic set for less than $100. Are the stoles the fanciest things you’ll ever see? No. Will the work well for a new pastor just starting his first call? Absolutely yes!
Of course, now I need to think of a new gift for his ordination. . .
Where have pastors you know gotten stoles? If you are a pastor’s wife, what did you get your husband for his ordination?
When I was a brand-new seminarian’s wife, I went to the Student Wives Association’s annual Back-to-School Night. This is SWA’s big beginning of the year meeting. It’s also the first time that the wives regroup after all the summer moves take place.
At any rate, this even occurred a couple of weeks after my husband and I moved to the seminary as a married couple (he had already attended classes there the previous year). We had been married less than three weeks prior to the event and I was still trying to figure out how to be both an adult and a wife (I can’t claim that I’ve figured it out yet, but I’ve now embraced my ignorance).
I stood in a crowded room where I knew a handful of acquaintances. Bewildered, I tried to make small talk. That’s when a wife came bustling up to introduced herself to me.
Keep in mind that prior to coming to the seminary, I was a college student. Not only that, most of my fellow students weren’t married and certainly didn’t have children. This wife’s enthusiasm about her relationship and fertility freaked me out. It didn’t help much that it seemed like most of the other wives had a babe on their hip or looked pregnant.
However, I eventually got used to the seminary culture. My jaw doesn’t drop every time I find out someone is pregnant. Not having children of our own can sometimes be awkward for my husband and me, but I don’t get freaked out by the ridiculous number of babies toddling around campus. In fact, they can be kind of fun.
Every once in awhile a first-year wife/fiance will brighten when they hear that I don’t have children. “Wow,” they’ll say, “That’s great because it seems like everyone here expects you to have kids!” Most of the time I simply shrug and explain, “You get used to it.” And truth be told, they’ll most likely have a child of their own soon enough–very few remain immune to baby fever at the sem.
P.S. If you are introducing yourself to others like Jane did to me, please tone it down a bit–you’re freaking out the newlyweds.