Thursday, December 24, 2015

Reality: Merry Christmas from the pastor's family.

As I stand in my living room on Christmas Eve morning, my children are dancing with scarves to Christmas music, and my husband has been gone since before breakfast.  He will join us for lunch and a quick facetime with family from afar, and then be gone until well after bedtime. That is the life of a pastor's family.

Do not get me wrong, here - I would not change any of this for anything.  I am proud of my husband.  I am happy to share him with a world that needs faithful undershepherds.

We all make sacrifices every single day.  It doesn't matter if your husband works in a factory, in an office, or in the church.  Or maybe you don't have a husband.  The fact is, we all sacrifice certain things.  I think it is important for other people to understand about this life, too.  My sacrifices may be very different from yours, but it doesn't mean they are easier or harder.  They are different.

No, we won't be going home for Christmas.
No, we will actually never be going home for Christmas.
Our home is here with our small family, with our church family, and with our iPad for facetiming.

My husband currently has at least four people in the hospital, one person dying in Hospice, and two other members with considerable needs to serve.  Christmas is a joyful time to celebrate our Lord's birth, and yet it brings with it many griefs.  People die.  People get cancer.  People are lonely.  And when the people God gave my husband to shepherd do those things, he suffers next to them and for them.  That is the heart of the pastor.

"Peter, do you love Me?"
"Yes, Lord; You know that I love You."
"Tend My sheep."
(Paraphrased from John 21:15- 16)

Tending sheep involves more than a service on Christmas morning.  It involves much more than preaching a sermon once per week.  I do not remember the last time my husband did not receive at least one phone call while at home from a member who was in need.  And I have no way of counting the number of calls he receives while in the office.

This doesn't mean I want them to stop calling.  Lord, please give them the courage to keep calling when they need him.  He wants them to call.  He is Called to tend and to feed, and therefore, calling him to tell him how he can tend and feed is important.  He has no greater joy in being a pastor than when he is able to tend to sheep in times of need.

God gives great comfort to pastors and their families in this way.
The struggles are real.  The weight is heavy.  The loneliness is dark.

But the peace in Christ is full.  When my husband brings the Word of God to those in need, it also fills him.  When he is full, we are full.

And so this Christmas, be full of peace.
The peace brought to us in the manger and on the cross.
Merry Christmas from one pastor's family.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Reality: When the pew seems more like a trench.

I hear the phrase "being in the trenches" in reference to raising young children.  I have four kids five and under.  I get it.  I know the trench well - it involves lots of mud, bodily fluids, thrown food, blow-outs, and intense screaming.  The trenches are exhausting.

I think that is what makes the Divine Service with children so difficult.  Where God comes to bring comfort, peace, and forgiveness, we bring the trench.  Where I sit to be fed the nourishment to end my hunger, the trench finds a way of distracting the meal.

But the trench needs that comfort, peace, and forgiveness as much as we do.
The trench needs to be fed that nourishment in Word and Sacrament as much as I do.

So, we trudge on and in the midst of it,
we are reminded of our weaknesses,
we are reminded of our own lack of control,
we are reminded that WE are the trench to God.

The trench where He stooped down and took on human flesh.  The mystery of all mysteries.  God became man.

And because He did this, we are free to bring our trench into the Divine Service where it can be molded and fed.

It doesn't mean it will be easy.  My trench is pretty ugly sometimes.  In my four years of sitting in the trench at church without my husband's help, I have experienced all of the following:

- shrieking screams (not me, although I was thinking it in my mind)
- violent body shaking (also not me, but it has been close)
- infant blow-outs (not me, but ON me)
- potty training pee accidents (not me and NOT on me, poor church floor)
- bottlefeeding (including spilled powder formula)
- breastfeeding (including angrily tossed covers or worse - forgotten covers...)
- banged heads, and elbows, and knees, and every other body part (some mine, some theirs)
- temper tantrums (yes, definitely from me, too, I confess)
- dropped approximately 10,000,000,000,000 toys, crayons, books, etc. (anyone know a toy can roll for approximately 10,000 more feet than normal under pews?)
- a toddler who was a runner (and a mother who was quicker than lightening at grabbing shirt collars)
- a pre-schooler who was a clinger (and a mother who prayed for one moment of no touching)
- inappropriate words at loud volumes (I plead the 5th on who those came from)
- broken beaded necklace that made little pings and rolling bead noises all over the church (don't jewelry makers understand that a necklace must be able to hold the weight of a determined toddler swinging from the make believe vines of Mommy Forest?)
- ripped hymnal pages (ugh, just ugh...nothing like the sound of ripping paper as you think, "OH, no, everyone just heard the PKs rip that hymnal...)
- a few appropriately placed "Amen"s and "Lord have mercy"s (AMEN! and most certainly LORD HAVE MERCY!)
- a couple moments of quiet (THANKS BE TO GOD!)
- an open hymnal on a child's lap (SOMEBODY QUICK, GRAB A CAMERA! You know, before he rips it.)

But through all this I have learned a few things.
Here are my words of wisdom for all you trench-dwellers.

*Note - I am no expert.  If you saw me on any given Sunday, you would probably think, "Where does that lady get off giving advice?"  But it never hurts to share some trench tactics.  So, here you go.

The single greatest thing I have learned over the years is that LESS is MORE.  I used to pack my bag full of all sorts of entertaining gadgets, toys, crayons, snacks, and activities.  The more I took, the more there was to manage.  Now, I take three pieces of gum reserved for sermon time, three one dollar bills for the offering time, and each child chooses one book before we leave the house, and they are responsible for it.  Oh, and one carrier/nursing cover for the baby - the only entertainment needed for her at this time.  If I am attending both of my husband's congregations, I bring one snack bag for each kid for the second service.  Two services?  They deserve a reward, amiright?  The days of being a pack-mule for church are over for me.  And it is glorious.  No fighting over all the stuff, no loud toys banging on the floor or pew, and less weight on my shoulders.

The second greatest thing I have learned is to prepare the kids a little in advance.  It doesn't have to be much.  I happened to be married to the pastor, so I can often find out hymn selections in advance.  If you aren't married to the pastor, I can almost place money on the fact that a phone call to him asking the hymn selections for you to practice with kids would be the single greatest call he ever received.  Singing the first verse over the course of the week really helps them recognize it.  They are so joyful when they say, "Mama, we sing this at home!"  If my husband mentions the texts or sermon to me, I try to use some of those words with the kids.  It helps build their theological vocabulary and gives them something to latch onto during the service.

Third, I have hand signals.  We made them up together.  I can say "turn around, bottom on your seat, close your mouth, listen, stand, and hands to yourself" without saying anything (which inevitably ends with actually making more noise).  Build your own sign language.  And practice it.

My last piece of advice is to be prepared with hidden chocolate at home for when all the tactics end in your loss of the battle.  You will need it sometimes.

Eat the chocolate, and then remember that God doesn't depend on you, your actions, or the actions of your children to do what He says He does in the Divine Service.

He feeds you...He forgives you...He teaches you...

Whether or not you can recall even just one line of that sermon.

Trench on, beautiful mamas and papas.  This trench/pew is one worth diving into.