20 Things I’ve Learned in 20 Years as a Minister’s Wife

Based on our count, which is slightly fuzzy due to a not-so-clear beginning date to our time in Indiana, December 7, 2022 will be a milestone for us: 20 years of vocational ministry for Clay. That counts youth pastor years as well as pastor years, and both sides of the 2-year Terminix hiatus. As I realized that a couple months ago, and have been reflecting upon our time in the ministry, I was marveling at how God has shaped my view of the church, church people, and ministry, and I wanted to share some of those things here. It’s long, but I pray it’s helpful, encouraging, and enlightening.

Ordination Day, Feb 6, 2005, 4 years into ministry

Things I’ve learned about my husband:

1. My husband is human.

It didn’t take long to learn that the title of Youth Pastor or Pastor was not a magic word that made all my husband’s sin miraculously disappear. (Unfortunately for him, the title of Pastor’s Wife didn’t make my sin disappear, either.) Sometimes, it has been hard to listen to his teaching on a topic that I know very well he isn’t living out perfectly. In earlier years, I had to fight against resentment or at least eye-rolling when that happened. By God’s grace, my own sin commanded my attention often enough that it finally dawned on me that I was holding him to a higher standard than I held myself. I also saw God’s grace working through him–had a front row seat to the transforming power of Christ in his life–enough to see clearly the victory that Christ was working in him, putting sin to death and becoming more like Jesus all the time. It’s becoming easier and faster for me to remember that in the times when I’m tempted to see his sin more than his sanctification. I’m often the only person he can be real with, and that may mean I see more of his sin than anyone else does, but it also means I’m in the position to show him more grace and mercy than anyone else can. I count that as a privilege.

2. Other than the Lord, no one will see my husband’s labors more than I do.

Just like no one sees his sin like I do, no one sees his hard work like I do. Any ministry position is hard in that there is no time clock. A minister is on call every hour of every day. But in a church with only the pastor on staff–no other ministry staff or elders or even a secretary–this is exponentially true. I’m telling you, this man labors for his congregation late into the night and wakes up with texts and messages already piling up, no matter how early he gets up. He works tirelessly to listen when they are full of ideas, counsel when they are hurting, work when he can help meet their needs, connect them with resources when they need things beyond his ability, carve out time to hang out when they need a friend, go after them when they are drifting, warn them when they are in obvious sin–not to mention studying and preparing sermons and lessons, planning and executing all the extra events, overseeing the ministries of the church, fielding all the requests for benevolence aid, and a thousand other things to keep the church running. Sometimes, these are thankless tasks, even in the most appreciative of congregations. Sometimes his labor is seen as intrusion. Sometimes after taking time away from his family or giving up his sleep or free time to help a church member, he’s still accused of not helping enough. Sometimes, he fights harder for someone’s victory over sin than they do themselves and after everything, he has to watch them walk away, having chosen their sin over faithfulness. In these times, I often want to shout in frustration, “Don’t you see how much he’s doing for you?!?” (I need to say: this is rarely his response. I’ve never met anyone less concerned with getting credit for his labor. This is my struggle, not his.) What I’m learning is that God sees all of it, and that’s all that matters. I try to thank him and encourage him as often as I can, but his reward is being stored up and waiting for him in Heaven, so it’s okay when his labors go unnoticed here.

3. I can be either my husband’s biggest encouragement or his biggest discouragement.

One of my very favorite things about being a pastor’s wife is listening, brainstorming, rejoicing, commiserating, and dreaming with my husband about the church and his ministry. I know that many of these times have been encouraging to him. Likewise, when I let him know that his teaching was helpful for me, I listened to and followed his counsel, or his sermon touched or challenged me, I’m pretty sure he is encouraged. My goal is to be my husband’s biggest cheerleader. Not in a fake way, giving flattery that has no meaning, but calling out God’s grace in him, pointing out and celebrating his victories, and letting him know that his labors are seen and they are bearing fruit in my life. Unfortunately, I don’t always do this well. In seasons of my own struggle, I can get so caught up in myself that I forget to see him. I will never forget the day, during the darkest season of my life (a very dark season for him as well) when I just couldn’t seem to see anything but dark sadness and despair. I was giving in to the urge to just give up. I heard his sermon of hope and God’s faithfulness, came home, and said, “That was a good sermon, but I just don’t think I believe it anymore.” I watched him visibly deflate right in front of me and heard him say, “Then I don’t think I can keep going.” And he was absolutely serious. That was the shock I needed to begin fighting my way out of the pit instead of wallowing in it, but also to realize that there is a certain power I have as my pastor’s wife. He had faced hard heart after hard heart in this particular congregation and never been as discouraged as I made him in that moment. If they rejected the faith and turned away from his teaching, it would be heart-breaking. But if I did, it would be crushing. God used that moment to draw me back to Him, but also to impress upon me the importance of being my husband’s encourager. There are enough people who have no problem at all bringing him discouragement. I never want to be one of them.

4. Sunday mornings are not the time to discuss problems.

Sunday mornings can be stressful times for any church-going family. People overslept, kids can’t find their shoes, someone’s hair isn’t cooperating, too many people have too few bathrooms. There is always spiritual warfare when someone is trying to go to church. This is all true in a ministry family, and added to the “typical” family-oriented spiritual warfare, there is ministry-oriented warfare. People texting that they won’t be at church. Technology at church suddenly glitching. Church members stopping my husband right before he teaches or preaches to share suggestions or complaints or worries. Many times, I not only take the brunt of all that’s gone on at home with the children, and also get my fair share of the warfare at church, but also experience internal warfare. Things that didn’t bother me at all on Saturday and won’t bother me on Monday seem absolutely terrible on Sunday. This is spiritual warfare. For years, I turned to my husband to vent, dumping all of these things on him, not realizing that I was making his own battle harder. Through some gentle requests from him, and wisdom gained through years of experience, I’m learning to be a filter for him. If I can handle it myself, I do that. If it is going to need his attention, I judge whether it can wait until Monday. I can’t keep all of it from coming to him, but I can do my best to act as a buffer for him so that he can have as few distractions as possible when he stands up in that pulpit to proclaim God’s Word to His people.

Things I’ve learned about congregations:

5. The ideal can rob you of the real.

When we went into the ministry, at the beginning of the youth pastor years and especially the pastor years, our ideals were high and rigid. We were pretty sure we knew the right way to do things, and had some downright arrogant attitudes at times toward others we saw doing things differently, or those in our churches who didn’t quite catch on or keep up with those ideals. Because of that, I know we missed some opportunities to listen and learn from those around us. We missed the chance to meet them where they were and journey with them. Ideals and visions are great and necessary, but they are destinations, not starting points. When we are willing to walk with the real people we’re serving and enter into fellowship with them, we can slowly move toward an ideal, and we’ll also learn much and be blessed along the way by the real church God has given us.

6. All differences are not divides.

This one is closely related to the last one, but not exactly the same. Some differences rightfully divide. That’s how we decide what denomination or church to join. But every difference doesn’t have to divide. At least, not until one party decides that it does. I think both of us have learned that gospel unity is much more broad than we originally thought, and we’ve also been deeply hurt by those who felt the need to divide with us along differences that we were willing to live with. We’ve been richly blessed by friendships and partnerships with believers in different denominations and churches, because of our common ground in Christ Jesus, while at the same time denied fellowship by those in our own congregation over differences that shouldn’t have divided. We’re learning the wisdom of being slow to divide, while also recognizing that where someone else thinks division is necessary, that in itself makes continued fellowship impossible.

7. You don’t get to choose your family, and that’s a good thing.

Just like our biological families, we really don’t get much say in who is part of our church family. Sure, you can get first impressions before you actually commit to joining a church (or moving there to become staff) but first impressions are all you get, and you have no idea who is going to come and go once you’re there. With the wrong perspective, this can be a negative, frustrating truth. I confess, I’ve had the wrong perspective at times. I’m ashamed of the times I’ve wished this person or that one wasn’t in my church. But God is convicting me and teaching me that it’s actually very good that I don’t get to choose my church family. If we did, most of us would be tempted to gravitate toward people who are basically just like us, because that’s comfortable. Or maybe you have a dream church in mind and you’d choose people who are ideal for one reason or another. But God knows exactly who He wants to use to teach us humility, patience, and compassion. He knows who can teach us about life and theology and love, that we would never think capable of teaching us anything. He knows who will need our help and our teaching, and who He is preparing to help us in a way we don’t even know we need. We would stunt our own growth and keep our world very narrow and small if it were left up to us to choose our church family. I’m so thankful for the way God has grown my world and my heart through church family I wouldn’t have chosen.

8. If a church member doesn’t prioritize church involvement, he/she will drift.

Twenty years as the wife of a youth pastor/pastor has shown me the truth of this. I don’t care how much of a self-feeder you are. You may spend more time listening to sermons and in Bible study than your pastor does. But if you are not regularly, weekly attending, serving in, investing in, fellowshipping with, and being held accountable by your local church, your growth is stunted. We’ve seen it over and over. Membership and life with a local church body is designed by God for many purposes, and one major one is to be a means of grace to each member. There is grace and growth that can be found in absolutely no other way. We’ve seen members attend sporadically because of family time, work, their kids’ sports or school activities, or just needing some downtime on Sundays after working all week. They’ll assure us that they are studying the Bible on their own, listening to all the podcasts, having devotions on the ballfield with their travel teams, even watching our own church service online. None of those things compensate for not being at church in person on a regular basis. If you’re not consistently participating–not just spectating–in person at your own church, you will drift. You may not notice it, but you will. We’ve got tons of evidence for this and absolutely no evidence of exceptions. Plug into your church and be active there.

9. If parents choose their church to please their kids, or make church activities optional for their kids, their kids will be shallow in their faith and they will drift.

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had people tell us that they know the preaching/teaching at such-and-such church is not as good or as solid, and if it were just up to them, they’d never go there, but they think their kids will really enjoy the youth group there, so they’re going to go there. I never know whether I want to cry or roll my eyes or punch a wall in frustration when I hear this. Equally frustrating is when parents come to church without their kids or don’t bring their kids to youth/children’s events because their kids couldn’t get up in time or didn’t want to come or went to a friend’s house or even a friend’s church. Almost every time, in a few years, those same parents have been lamenting the fact that their older-teenage or young adult kids now have no interest in the church at all. Children should not be placed in the role of being the spiritual leaders of the home. Parents who don’t lead their kids to prioritize active church involvement at their own church will almost always watch their kids drift off the narrow path. Now, I’m well aware of and thankful for the times when God wakes up a completely disinterested teenager or young adult and gloriously saves them. Sadly, I also know that the most faithful and committed parents sometimes watch their kids walk away from the faith. But generally speaking, letting your kids have the authority over their own or even the whole family’s church attendance is a decision you will regret.

10. The more I develop a love and passion for the church itself, the more it will hurt when the church falls short of what she is intended to be, but also the greater the joy will be when her members are walking in truth.

In order to find the wherewithal to go to a new place of ministry after being badly hurt at the last one, I had to really dig in and find a new level of love and passion for the local church. God was kind to meet me there and help me do just that. Since then, though, I noticed that things hurt that had never hurt before. People leaving the church, for instance. Always before, I might be disappointed, but not overly bothered. Now, however, I found myself heart-broken and aching. It felt like an amputation. Then it occurred to me that an amputation is exactly what it was. We are all members of the body, and when one member or family leaves–especially if they leave in an unresolved way, as opposed to a move or marriage, etc–it leaves a hole in the body and it hurts. The same is true when we see church members refusing to obey the Scriptures in obvious ways, because I know they will suffer for it. I’m thankful for the deeper love for His church that God gave me, but all love is vulnerable to greater pain. However, deeper love also leads to deeper joy. I’m also experiencing that side of love, when someone tells me how they’ve grown in Bible study or God is growing His character in their life. When we see the church “being” the church to members in need or to those who are hurting. It brings a deeper joy than ever before, simply because I love the church more than ever before.

11. My kids are NOT in vocational ministry, but they ARE real church members.

My kids are not on staff at church. My kids are not on staff at church. My kids are not on staff at church. Sometimes I’ve needed to remind church members of that. Sometimes I’ve needed to remind my husband. Sometimes I’ve needed to remind myself. There should be no expectations of my children beyond that of any other child in the church. Period. Anyone who places extra expectations on them simply because their dad is the pastor is just wrong. However, there is another extreme to avoid, and that is to expect nothing of them. They aren’t on staff, but they are an important part of the church body. When I encourage my kids to go talk to the visitors, that shouldn’t be because they’re pastor’s kids, but because they are part of the church and the church needs to welcome visitors. When we require our kids to be at all the church teaching times and youth group events and special events, it’s not because their dad is the pastor, but because we expect all members to prioritize these things. Our kids aren’t employed by the church but they are church members, and as such, we expect the same commitment from them that we do from adult members. We pray that this will be the commitment that they keep as they leave our house and rules and make their own decisions about church involvement.

Things I’ve learned about myself and my role:

12. It is not our church, and it is not my job to make the church succeed.

I have to remind myself of this almost daily right now, as our little church re-plant just ended the second year of a three-year period of having outside funding to pay the pastor’s salary. I am fighting to trust God with bringing enough people to join, keeping them here, and providing enough income for the church to be self-sustaining once the funding stops. There are times when I’ve felt so frantic about this situation or that one, and finally realized that the root of that was just fear in my heart about whether the the church is going to make it or not. Nothing like having your family’s sole income coming from a church plant or replant to drive you to realize your total dependence on the Lord. We can invite everyone we meet, go out of our way to keep our fingers on the pulse of the people and try to meet all their needs, be on call 24/7, be all things to all people and we still can’t make the church a success. It’s God’s church, and all He’s calling us to do is to be faithful to obey Him each day. He may grow our church and give us a long, fruitful time here. He may keep it the size it is and call Clay to take on another job and serve bi-vocationally. Or He may choose to call all of us elsewhere and close the doors. I have to trust Him with that and serve out of faithfulness, not fear.

13. I’m not here to be served.

I’ve been hurt by the church over the years, it’s true. And the worst of those hurts were indeed caused by sheep acting like wolves. However, many times, my hurt feelings were a result of my own expectations being place on the faulty foundation of wanting the church to serve me. Should a church care for and look after its pastor and his family? Absolutely! Will faithful, healthy churches do that? Yes, they will, and we’ve been blessed in EVERY church–even the hardest ones–by members who did just that. But I was harboring desire in my heart for people in my church to know what I needed and wanted without being told. Desire which turned into expectation which went unmet and turned into frustration and bitterness, when really I had the wrong mindset all along. I fought against this when my husband pointed it out to me, but he was right. My job is to serve, not to make sure I am served. And honestly, that’s not just true of me. It’s true of every church member because it was true of Jesus. He came not to be served but to serve, and we are to be like Him. If I get my vision mixed up and look for ways I should be being served instead of ways I can serve, my heart will be mixed up as well, and I will be left feeling frustrated and bitter. But if I focus on finding ways I can serve and not on ways people should be serving me, then I will find joy in the serving that bring its own satisfaction. I will find my contentment in Christ and in knowing I’m obeying Him, and when the church does love me well and care for my needs, it will be the icing on the cake.

14. I’m always going to be just outside the camp, and I can be content with that.

Once we left our home church and learned what it is to try to transplant into another church, it didn’t take long for me to realize that outsiders don’t infiltrate very easily. Some contexts are easier than others to break into, but I’m learning that even in the best contexts, there will always be a sense of being outside the camp. I fought against this notion, too, but I’ve grown accustomed to it over the years. It’s understandable, and it’s really ok. The church had a history before we got there, and no matter how long we stay, unless Jesus comes back they’ll have a future after we leave. There will be issues the church faces that I can’t vote on. Also, no matter how close we get, there will be a point that my friendships in the church just can’t cross, because it’s not appropriate for me to share certain things with church members. Sometimes this feels uncomfortable, but I’m learning it’s just the way things are. If I can accept this and not blame anyone for it, then I’ll find my place and find contentment and joy there.

15. I will never be able to do enough. My job is simply to be faithful, do the next thing, and keep a clear conscience.

It wasn’t until we arrived at the 5th church we’ve served that it dawned on me that I didn’t have to serve in the nursery. I will never forget being asked, and inwardly groaning because I just didn’t want to. I had four kids age 5 and under and I just didn’t want to spend my Sunday mornings at church in the nursery. It was the only two hours a week that I had the opportunity to spend with grownups. I told her I’d let her know, and I talked to Clay and he said I didn’t have to and my world shifted. I had to turn her down multiple times before she stopped asking–when I got desperate enough to say “I would rather scrub the toilets than work the nursery” she finally got the hint. She never liked me much after that, though. And that’s when I started learning that I will never do as much as some think I should. But even when I know someone is disapproving of my no, I can rest in contentment as long as I am being faithful to what GOD has given me to do, and as long as my conscience is clear. Just because someone thinks I should do something or asks me to do something (or honestly, most often drops hints that I should do something) doesn’t mean God is asking me to do that. My job, thank goodness, isn’t to fulfill everyone else’s to-do list for me. I have one Master, not a whole church full of them.

16. Church members are all different, with different expectations for relationship, and I’ll probably never fully figure any of them out.

Some church members really just would prefer that I don’t have much to do with them at all. Others get upset if I don’t check in every week or know what they need without them telling me. Still others seem to make a sport of switching from one type to another just to keep me guessing. After a while, I can start to figure out who falls in which camp and who is somewhere in between, but honestly, since I’m not omniscient, I never really know if I’m pursuing the right relationships in the right way. Sometimes, the weight of this can be really discouraging, particularly when I get the impression that someone is upset with me. I have to learn that I’m just me. I’m an ordinary woman trying to raise my family, manage my home and our budget and eight people’s schedules. The task of intuitively knowing exactly what level of relationship every lady in the church expects to have with me and then successfully fulfilling that expectation is just way too big for my shoulders. I probably drive some people nuts by texting them too much, and I probably hurt someone else’s feelings by not texting enough. Again, I simply ask the Lord for direction and guidance, do my best to be obedient and have a heart that’s sensitive to who may need me to reach out to them, and rest in contentment when I’ve been faithful to what I know He’s called me to do.

17. As much as depends on you, live at peace with all church members. But sometimes they’ll unfairly stay upset with me, and I can trust God with that.

This goes along with the previous two points. Even when I know I’m saying yes to what God is calling me to do and no to what He isn’t, some people may be upset with my choices. And even when I’m doing the best I can to build relationships to the deepest extent possible in this season of my life, and I know I haven’t actually sinned against anyone, some people may be upset with my choices. It’s so hard for me to know that someone is upset with me when I really feel like I haven’t sinned against them. My natural bent is to want to keep after them until they understand why I’m not in the wrong, to defend myself, but that is very rarely, if ever, a good idea. In this fallen world, there will be times when people are upset with me for things that aren’t my fault. Sometimes they’ll just simmer toward me. Sometimes, they’ll talk unjustly about me to others. In these times, I have to remember that God sees all and only He knows my heart and theirs, and He will let no unjust word, thought, or deed go un-righted in the end. It’s not for me to chase down every wrong attitude toward me and force it to admit that I was right. If my conscience is clear before the Lord, and I have done my best to keep it clear before others, I then have to let it go and trust them to the Lord. It’s super hard sometimes, but it’s His job, not mine.

The three biggest things I’ve learned:

18. A different church may look absolutely wonderful, like the solution to all our problems, but if we go there, we’ll find out that ministry is hard there, too, because the truth is: ministry is just hard. But He gives more grace.

How many times have we been guilty of dreaming of a new church so that ministry won’t be so hard? Even though I thought I had learned the foolishness of that thought, I was still taken by surprise when we got to what was surely going to be the best church yet and things didn’t stay rosy forever! The truth is that ministry is just hard. There is no other way to say it. The statistics and percentages of pastors suffering from burnout, suffering from stress-related illnesses (ahem, stomach ulcers in our case), abandoning the ministry, or even committing suicide give all the evidence we need for the fact that ministry is hard. The sooner we accept this, the better we can prepare for the seasons when the hard is all we can manage to see. The truth is, God gives grace for the hard. Jesus knows exactly what it’s like to try to minister to hard hearts, to not have a steady or sufficient income, to be rejected by those He came to serve, and to be persecuted by those on the outside. The hard He didn’t personally experience is the hard that comes from our own sin, but even then He has compassion and offers forgiveness and renewal. If we’re here for something easy, we’ll crumble pretty quickly. But we have a Savior who is strong enough for the hard, and we also have a long line of saints who have gone before us who persevered through incredibly difficult circumstances and remained faithful, and we can gain strength from their examples. Ministry is hard, but the grace is sufficient and the reward is great.

19. The church is not safe.

It may sound naive, but this one actually took me by surprise. Our first place of ministry was actually in our home church, so we already knew everyone, already belonged, and we were “inside the camp”. We had a sweet time of ministry there, with the only difficult season being one in which we were united with the majority of the body and so felt supported and secure. So when we moved away for seminary and began serving in other churches, and experienced for the first time that churches often hurt their ministers, it was indeed a shock. I had always only known love and belonging in a church, and to experience rejection, injustice, slander, and have no one fight for us was devastating for me. And unfortunately, that happened in one church after another until I began to dream of (and hint to my husband about) leaving the ministry and just finding a big church where we could attend and blend into the crowd and stay anonymous, therefore shielding ourselves from more hurt. I had expected warfare from the world. It was the attacks from the other sheep that wounded so deeply. I was burned over and over, and every instinct shouted at me to just run away from the stove. But God was calling me to go touch the stove again. It has taken layers of hurt and scarring, much counsel from my husband, friends, and eventually a professional counselor, and ultimately the love and compassion of a Savior who knows what it is to be rejected by those He was sent to serve to help me come to an understanding and passion for the local church as God’s plan and design for His body that will withstand the burns that come from the church body.

20. The church is worth it.

Through my seasons of wounds inflicted by the church, this is what I ultimately had to decide. Why do we stay in the fire? Why do we get back up and put ourselves back out there, leaning into the people, pouring ourselves out for those who may very well turn and attack at any moment? Why do we stay, why does Clay keep proclaiming truth that grows more unpopular by the day, when doing so could very well put him (and our family) at risk of persecution in the not-so-distant future? Why do we keep laboring to disciple the uninterested, serve the uncommitted, love those for whom nothing we do will ever be enough, pray for the hard-hearted, give to those who only take, and let our hearts break for those who don’t care? Because the church is worth it. How do I know? Because Jesus died for the church. The church was God’s plan all along. The universal church AND the local church. The church is His design for our sanctification, growth, service, fellowship, and accountability. Yes, those can happen through other means, as mentioned earlier, but the church is the primary means. The church is God’s design to show His light to a dark world, to storm the gates of hell, to provide grace to the believers, and hope to the lost. Yes, it’s made up of sinners for now. That’s why it’s not safe. For now. But to turn my back on the church is to turn my back on God’s Word, His authority, and His plan. By God’s grace, and with His help, I won’t do that. I’ve been hurt by the sheep, and in some cases it was probably by wolves pretending to be sheep, and I probably will be again. But I will follow the footsteps of my Savior who was killed by the sheep and loved them anyway, and I will fight for the church because He does. That’s reason enough for me.

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A closed chapter

We closed on our house yesterday. We haven’t lived in it for more than 13 years, but yesterday, the door closed for the last time, so to speak.

We bought that house in June, 2006. Two starry-eyed young parents, sure that the tide was turning, we were over our bumpy start to ministry, and finally in what would become “our place.” We were ready to put down roots.

But the ground was harder and dryer than we could have imagined, and our roots were not meant to take hold there. It was a desert land for us in almost every way. We headed north to Indiana out of our first real slap-in-the-face ministry situation, only to land right in the middle of the next one. We headed into what we thought would be a stable position that would have our feet on solid financial ground for the first time and very quickly found ourselves praying at lunch for God to provide supper, with credit card bills mounting up with everyday things like groceries and electric bills. We headed into what we dreamed would be a community of believers, reaching young families just like us and college students by the dozens, and instead faced the loneliest 2 1/2 years I think either of us have ever known. We headed into a situation with financial support, mentorship, and boots-on-the-ground help promised to us and found ourselves treading water just to survive, stranded with a mortgage with funding pulled, accusations flying our way, and backs turned to us. We were north of the Mason-Dixon line in a culture we didn’t always understand, the dream that led us there was shattered in pieces within six months of signing the mortgage, our finances grew worse by the month, and our marriage suffered hits like it hadn’t known before and hasn’t known since.

It’s still painful for me to think back to that time, but God was working. Much growth can happen in a desert, even when we don’t realize it’s happening and aren’t doing much to help it along. I trust that those years had a purpose, bore fruit in our hearts, and helped make us who we are and prepare us for where we are today. I’ll admit, I can’t really point to this and that and say, “This–this is a result in my life now that wouldn’t be here without Lafayette.” I really have no idea what the purpose of that season was or what good it did in my life. But that’s ok. I trust the Lord and His word, and I don’t have to see it now.

All that is not to say that there weren’t good moments, or any consistently good parts of our life there. Those were some very sweet years as far as parenting goes. We moved up in June 2006 with two, and moved back down in December 2008 with four–all under the age of 5!

So many, many sweet memories of our little girls when they were baby, toddler, and preschooler. I vividly remember sitting at the dining room table with a spiral notebook, writing three essays on motherhood while they played in the sunroom in front of me–essays that eventually became some of the earliest posts on this blog. And yes, in that house is where this blog began, and where I signed up for a new fad called Facebook. That’s where we had our first day ever of homeschool with one curly-haired preschooler (doing kindergarten level work).

It’s where we binge-watched (when binge-watching was only accomplished by owning a television series on DVD) Mork and Mindy waiting for Hall Baby 3 to decide to finally come six days after faking us out with false labor.

Just 19 months later, it’s where I heard “It’s a boy!” after 10 hours of active labor and we first introduced blue into the sea of pink we’d known to that point.

It’s where our girls lived in dress-up clothes and we never knew what character they’d be playing in any given moment.

It’s where Elliot the beagle came to live with us.

That’s where we experienced winter where snow fell deep and stuck around more than a couple days.

Where trips to the park and the library were weekly at least, and where we learned the art form of going to Meijer and renting the TV cart for a dollar and walking and talking for two hours while our girls watched Bob the Builder on a loop because that’s the only date we could afford and we had no childcare.

It’s where dance class and gymnastics first entered our life. Where three little girls stood on the couch by the window watching for Daddy on the good days when he actually got home before their bedtime.

It’s where Clay worked long, long hours killing bugs for two years after the church plant fell apart, and I was alone with these three-then-four kiddos the bulk of the time. Crazy as it sounds, they were my sanity. In many ways, my lifesavers. If I needed to go somewhere, they all went with me. I was so thankful for whoever invented the grocery cart with double baby seats plus a car in the front, because that way I could strap all four of them in and do the shopping. If one kid had a doctor’s appointment, I packed them all up and we went. But it didn’t seem a hassle to me because that’s just what I did. They were loud and silly and crazy-energetic and most of the time a mess, but I loved it so much. They were the brightest, never-dimming, consistent light in that dark, dry season.

The crazy thing is, as hard as that season was and as many ghosts remain, it’s hard for me to let go of it. We left there swearing to never look back, but like the Israelites, we left Egypt only to find ourselves in new difficulties. And also, like the Israelites, I found myself several times looking back with rose-colored glasses. When things got hard here in West KY–first in one church and then in another–there were multiple times when the knowledge of that house we still owned in Lafayette was comfort in the back of my mind. It was a safety net of sorts. After all, I’d experienced the shock of churches pulling the rug out from under us twice before, and here were signs twice more that it might happen again. But this time, if it did, we had a place we could go.

After so many hard ministry situations, my confidence in vocational ministry is basically gone. Thankfully, my confidence in the Lord is stronger than ever. I’ve learned (am learning) that the church was never my security at all. Only God can fill that role and keep those promises, and He has never failed me and never will. However, I discovered this week at some point during the whirlwind of accepting an offer and signing the papers that I was still finding some comfort in that safety net. And now it’s gone. I won’t pretend there’s not a corner of my heart freaking out right now. But God has shown me that He’s trustworthy and He will not abandon us. And just to prove that, He’s using the sale of my Lafayette safety net to finally wipe out the debt that snowballed during those years. The house that got us into debt is getting us out, and in a way only God could have done. That evidence that God will keep His promises is what is enabling me to let go and let the chapter close, finally, 13 years after we drove south and left that house behind.

He was good there, even in the dark and even when I wasn’t even sure how to seek Him, and He is good here, where things are good now even though I don’t know what tomorrow holds. Maybe I can see a tiny bit of fruit from those years, after all.

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Why Biblical Womanhood?

Today is, apparently, International Women’s Day. Interesting timing. I wasn’t aware that the week our church is kicking off its women’s discipleship program with a book about biblical womanhood would see women being lauded and celebrated all over the world. I’m loving it, though. It’s helping clarify and solidify my passionate commitment to biblical womanhood in my own life, and to encouraging the women around me to embrace biblical womanhood as well.

Why biblical womanhood? What is biblical womanhood, for that matter? Without taking the time to pull out my many resources on the topic and look up a better definition, I’d say that biblical womanhood is embracing what God’s word teaches about being a woman and living it to the fullest. Gender is one of the hottest topics in our culture today, so it obviously matters. There is debate, though, about whether women in a church really need to focus on biblical womanhood specifically. Why can’t we just study theology and doctrine and hermeneutics “just like the men”? Why do we need to talk and study so much about womanhood? Why are there ministries out there that have made biblical womanhood their main focus? (Disclaimer: I work with just such a ministry.)

I believe that question is answered by the fact that all the voices are screaming about gender these days. Shouldn’t the church be the strongest, most compassionate, and most honest voice in this conversation? And not just about what is wrong regarding gender, but even more clearly about what is right?

Evangelical churches that are still holding to true doctrine proclaim that gender is created by God and cannot be altered. A man cannot become a woman, and vice versa. If this is true, and it is, why not? Why can’t someone change their gender? Well, the answer is because God designed gender for a very good purpose, and gender matters. The fact that God made me a woman means something. It wasn’t an arbitrary 50/50 chance. We rightly claim that gender cannot be surgically changed, that it is more than just our physical anatomy. Well, then, ought we not dig deep into what that “more” actually is? If my being made a woman means something, shouldn’t I find out what it means?

That’s the goal of biblical womanhood. To find out what it means that I’m a woman, how that is different from being a man, and how I should live my life as a result. Yes, women in the church should be studying theology, doctrine, and hermeneutics just as deeply as the men. But if we really want to live our lives as God created us to live, then we cannot neglect the study of what it means to be a woman.

And what better way for the church to help women figure this out than for women to be teaching and training women? Just as Paul laid out in Titus 2, it’s vitally important for the older women in the church to be training the younger women in the church. Not that women shouldn’t sit under the teaching/preaching of men–obviously that’s crucial as well since the pastors and elders of the church are men. But there are things that women need to learn from women, and can only learn from women.

This is why many solid churches and ministries rightly focus on biblical womanhood. We desire that the women we are reaching have deep roots in the truth regarding their gender and how God designed them to live as women. As Elisabeth Elliot said, “The fact that I am a woman does not make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I am a Christian makes me a different kind of woman.” We will be a different kind of woman in this loud, clamoring, cacophony of a culture when we have begun to see and live out the beauty of God’s design in our gender.

So, yes, our new women’s discipleship program is beginning with a study of Adorned, by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth. We want roots planted in firm soil so that our women’s ministry will grow strong and true. Although we will move on to study doctrine and theology and books of the Bible, the beautiful truth of biblical womanhood will be framing everything, even if it’s not being overtly mentioned. It’s just that important.

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Top ten reads, first six months

After several years of being in a mental slump, I’m shaking myself out of it this year by attempting the Challies Reading Challenge again. During the first six months of the year, I managed to read 38 books. Here are my top ten, in the order they were read.

  1. Walking Through Fire, by Vaneetha Rendall Risner (A book about suffering)

I happened to see an ad for a webinar promoting this book that also featured Randy Alcorn and Joni Eareckson Tada, so that was a no-brainer for me. Vaneetha captivated me as well, and I ended up taking advantage of the promotion offered that evening and ordered her book. I don’t often just spontaneously order a book, but this was one I didn’t regret. Her story is hard to read, because she has suffered much, but her faith shines through so brightly. I am always drawn to stories of those who suffer well, who give God the glory and graciously submit to Him as the author of their story. This is one of those books for me.

2. A Secret Gift, by Ted Gup (A book based on a true story)

I found this book while doing a library search for Abigail for books on the Great Depression for school. It looked interesting, so we checked it out. I decided to read it, and was so glad I did. I love reading stories like this: ordinary humans living out common grace and making an impact on the lives around them. In this case, no one ever would have known what this man had done if his grandson hadn’t found a suitcase full of letters and refused to give up until he unearthed the story. As the title of my blog would suggest, I’m a big fan of the beauty of an ordinary life that is lived well, regardless of a platform or audience.

January reads

3. A Praying Life, by Paul E. Miller (A book about prayer)

I had read this book before, but I knew that I needed to go deeper in my prayer life, and wanted to go through it again. It is so practical, so accessible, and so encouraging. I long for an intimacy with my Father that naturally flows throughout my day and my life, and while intimacy with God cannot be achieved through a simple 5-step checklist, there were several helpful tips here. It is one of the best books on prayer that I have read.

February reads

4. Choosing Gratitude, by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth (A book about Christian living)

Again, I had read this one before but I can always use a reminder to have a grateful heart. We are commanded over and over throughout Scripture to give thanks and be thankful, yet so often we live in discontentment and envy and greed instead of in thanksgiving. In Christ, we have everything we need, and our Father gives us good gifts in abundance. Sometimes, we need the reminder that gratitude should not be dependent on whether we think everything is great or whether it’s easy to be grateful. Gratitude is a heart attitude that can and should be chosen in a life lived as worship to the King.

5. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak (A book recommended by a family member)

Abigail absolutely loves this book, finally convinced me to read it, and would be disgusted with me if it didn’t make the top of my list. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m not a huge fan of fiction books or movies about World War II or the Holocaust, because there are just too many true stories to tell. But, I did enjoy this one. It was extremely creative and thought-provoking. What would I do if faced with those agonizing choices? It made for a good vacation read, and I’ll join Abigail in recommending it.

6. Discipline: The Glad Surrender, by Elisabeth Elliot (A book by your favorite author)

Well, if it’s a book by my favorite author, it would be a shame if it didn’t make my top ten, and there was no question that this one would make it. There is just no one else who says it like Elisabeth Elliot, which is why she is beloved by so many. This one touches on the need for and benefits of discipline in every area of life. While it is so challenging and convicting, it’s also extremely refreshing to be exhorted to strive for excellence in a culture that fully embraces the “We’re all a mess and that’s ok” attitude. This is one of my favorite titles in her long list of books.

March reads

7. Well-Watered Woman, by Gretchen Saffles (A hardcover book)

After hearing about this book on Revive Our Hearts, I was intrigued. When I saw an ad offering the companion journal, Well-Watered Life, free with the purchase of the book, I took the bait. And I have not been disappointed. There was nothing brand new or earth shattering here, but it was a beautifully-worded reminder from cover to cover of the love of God, the beauty of Christ, and the life-giving power of the Word of God. Reading it refreshed my soul, and I’ve recently started working through Well-Watered Life and it is touching deep places in my soul. I highly recommend them both.

April reads

8. The Undoing of Saint Silvanus, by Beth Moore (A book of Christian fiction)

I’m not going to enter into the debate about Beth Moore, because honestly, I’m not sure where I land. However, she can write a great novel–there’s no question about that. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I’m not going to spoil the plot at all, but if you like stories of mystery, transformation, restoration, and some lovable, eccentric characters, you’ll like this one.

9. The Book of Lost Friends, by Lisa Wingate (A book about relationships or forgiveness)

I saw this book at the library and it caught my eye because I had read and enjoyed another novel by the same author. This one, like the first one, left me wanting more. Taking events from history–in this case, families who were separated by the American slave trade trying to find each other after the war–and writing a realistic fictional story about them seems to be a gift she has. Heart-wrenching stories are all the more gripping because you know that, although these particular people are fictional, this really did happen to real people. She handles a terrible stain in our country’s history with grace and compassion.

May reads

10. We Will Not Be Silenced, by Erwin Lutzer (A book about a current social issue)

As much as I’d like to just stick my head in the sand and refuse to listen to all the bad news and controversies in our culture any further, the truth of what’s happening around us cannot be ignored. I’m trying to guard my engagement and be picky on the voices I hear, and not get dragged down the rabbit hole of despair and theories until I’m wringing my hands in hopelessness, which is something I see happening far too often among believers. I think this book was a good choice to help think clearly about the issues and walk away with courage and hope instead of defeat. It’s so current that the Covid pandemic is included in the discussion, and Lutzer writes so clearly that the issues were easily understood. I highly recommend this book to any believer trying to make sense of the issues in our nation that are changing all around us.

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Out past the fear

I’ve been afraid of things all my life. One of my earliest memories is being one of the first kids to arrive on the first day of kindergarten, being overjoyed that they had Little People toys to play with because that was my favorite, but just sitting quietly in front of them, imagining myself playing with them because I was too afraid to actually play in front of the few others in the room. In my elementary years, a favorite source of teasing in my family was my terror of anything glow-in-the-dark after watching a TV murder mystery with a scene that showed luminol-glowing bloodstains covering the walls. In more recent years, my husband has said how much he wishes he had a highlight reel of all my close encounters with bugs of any kind. I guess I still have some dance moves in me, after all. The list of things I’m afraid of is long and varied.

However, I’ve done a lot of things as an adult that required facing my fear of man, fear of failure, fear of risk or danger or rejection. Enough that I could almost fool myself into thinking that fear is no longer a major issue for me. God chose my husband well, because he is basically fearless and has led me into situation after situation that I never would have entered alone. Moving to new cities, joining new churches, traveling to new places–these things alone have forced me to find courage I didn’t think I had. God has given me countless other opportunities to serve Him that were scary and daunting, like teaching, speaking, writing, and joining the Ambassador program of Revive Our Hearts. Because He is faithful to provide grace and courage in each moment, and because some of those things are much less scary than they used to be, I could start claiming that I’m no longer the scaredy-cat I used to be.

But when some of the obvious, on-the-surface fears have been tamed, it allows a new depth to be reached, and what I have found in those deeper places of my heart are some really firmly entrenched fears from which so many thought and behavior patterns in my life have grown. What I had thought was new-found courage was, in many instances, highly sophisticated “faking it”. I stepped out just enough to minimally obey, or say I accomplished something, or look the part, but in reality I’ve been playing it safe my whole life.

Over the past year or two, there has been a lot going on in my heart and in my life and in my family. Internally, I’ve been wrestling with God over the chapters He wrote into my story that I did not see coming and did not approve of. I’ve also been experiencing all the emotions in a mother’s heart as the seasons change and transitions approach. As to the more visible, my family moved a few months ago–new city, new church, new house, new people, new rhythms to our lives. Our oldest daughter started driving, graduated high school, and is leaving in a few weeks for a year of ministry. Our second daughter just turned 16 and suddenly I’m watching time speed up.

Seeing all this change and transition in this season of life, I could not deceive myself any longer in thinking I was brave. I’ve been forced to admit that I am terrified, paralyzed by fear in so many ways, whether anyone else notices it or not. As I was contemplating a word for my heart and life to focus on in 2021, God made it obvious that He was calling me to dig into the fears rooted in my heart and to be truly Brave.

Around this time, I stumbled across a new-to-me singer/songwriter, Audrey Assad, and one particular song that I’ve played over and over and over, mainly for one simple phrase, from which I’ve borrowed the title of this post.

“Out past the fear, doubt becomes wonder.”

I have no idea what imagery was in her mind as she wrote that line, but because of my love for the ocean, that’s where my mind immediately jumped. On the shore, the water is safe and small and tame, easy to enjoy and fun to experience. And when you stand on the shore and look out into the horizon, the water out there looks absolutely breathtaking. Peaceful, endless, beautiful, deep, and inviting. However, between the shore and the endless ocean are waves. At first gentle and easy to navigate, but growing more intense and strong the further out you venture. You can see the calm, deep water out there, but the more you fight to get to it, the more the waves beat you back and eventually you realize you haven’t made any progress at all. Those waves are my fear. I stand on the shore full of doubt, looking at beauty that seems so unattainable because I know those waves of fear will beat me back the moment I start paddling out. So I stay in the shallows, where it’s safe and tame and honestly gets kind of boring after awhile, looking longingly out into the distance, imagining the wonder that would be mine if I could just fight past the fear to get out there and sail.

I’m pretty sure God is calling me stop imagining the wonder and fight past the waves to get out into the deep and experience it firsthand.

I may get more specific in time, identifying areas in which I’ve played it safe for fear of the waves, as well as some of the bigger waves that have threatened my courage time and again. Honestly, I don’t have all that quite figured out yet. I just know that I want to sacrifice safe for wonder. I don’t want to live the rest of my life in the shallows and on the shore.

“Is he quite safe?” Susan asked the question in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and the answer is classic. “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” They were talking about a Lion, but we all know Who Aslan represents. Walking with Jesus does not always (often?) feel safe. That has been a barrier for me, especially when I’ve mustered up some courage to venture out a little deeper and found that the waves were stronger and fiercer than I ever imagined. Getting tossed back to shore beaten and bruised paralyzed me for a long while. But I’m starting to feel the deep calling me. May God give me grace to be Brave.

Image by sandid from Pixabay
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