On the Surreality of Being “The Preacher’s Wife.”

Just for the record, I will never look, or dress, or sound like this . . .

So technically Jonathan is not yet a pastor. He is preaching here as stated pulpit supply until he passes his final presbytery exams and can be called and installed as the minister of this congregation. In a direct correlation I am not a pastor’s wife. However, on two occasions in the last month, Jonathan has traded pulpits with other pastors in our presbytery. As we have had the joy of worshiping with other brothers and  sisters in Christ, I have had the strange experience of being introduced as the preacher’s wife.

The title brings with it a sense of inadequacy and not a little bit of anxiety. I found myself standing before a mirror in Nova Scotia psycho-analyzing what my hair would tell the congregation about me. Too elaborate says that I’m vain, too plain says that I’m lazy and I don’t want to look like a grandma, but I certainly don’t want to look like I think I’m still twenty. I put it in a bun, just like I do every Sunday because there is still a rational brain talking back to the crazy. On that same Sunday I employed the phrase “Suck it up, Butter-cup” while telling a story and thought to myself, as I watched the words zoom past me, “Probably not found in the “preacher’s wife accepted glossary.”

But in our travels around our sister congregations, I have had a wonderful realization. I am unlike all of the other pastor’s wives, and they are all unlike each other. There is no type or style or glossary, or wardrobe committee, or list of acceptable hairstyles. The way I am being introduced may have changed, but in reality I have the same job I did in St. Louis, and Columbus when I was just introduced as “Coralie.” I am Jonathan’s helpmeet and the mother of my children. I am married to a preacher. That is just an interesting fact about me, it is not a job description.


Another Kissing Frogs

This is the continuation of an ongoing fiction work I started years ago. If you want to read from the beginning, click “Kissing Frogs so Far” on the tab above the header.

Joey nervously brushed his work boots against the door jam before stepping on the rich plush carpet he saw stretched out in front of him. He had never been to a country club before, and the idea of it had managed to be much smaller than the reality.

 

“Meet me at my club. Joanna will get you the address.” Was all Edward MacManus had said, and then he had hung up. What he was supposed to do and where he was supposed to go once he had parked his work truck in the same lot as those sleek sports cars and fancy SUVs was still a mystery to him.

 

“Joey? Joey!” The call came from somewhere to his right, and he was bumping into the speaker before he saw her as he turned to find the voice.

 

“Joanna? What are you doing here?” He was so relieved to see a familiar face. Joanna smiled up into his confusion.

 

“Tracey and Edward are still talking some things through, so Edward asked me to make sure you were found. It’s quite the maze, isn’t it? Come on. They’re on the patio. Are you still hungry? The brunch buffet is still being served.”

 

She was chattering along seamlessly, but noticed Joey’s hesitation at her suggestion of brunch.

 

“Oh. It’s on Edward. He said to make yourself comfortable.” She grinned at Joey, “And he told me to join you. I’m starving. Let’s eat.”

 

Her relaxed enthusiasm was contagious, and as Joey followed her through a startlingly lush lobby, across a marble courtyard and out to a walled garden, he relaxed and began to look around him in curiosity. Before he knew it, the two of them were sitting at a small table on the periphery of a beautiful garden restaurant. The plate in front of him was a collection of anything Joanna had indicated with “That’s delicious!” He doubted his ability to consume it all, now that he really got a good look at how much was there.

 

Sitting in a booth close enough to see them, but far enough that he couldn’t hear, Tracey and her father were locked in a firm, but seemingly friendly, discussion.

 

“So you and Tracey are okay after that reprimand yesterday?” Joey managed to squeeze the words out between bites of the best food he had ever eaten in his life. He suddenly felt the need to apologize to his mama for even thinking it, but it was true!

 

“Well, it’s not the first time we’ve had a falling out over a man.” Joanna’s flippant words were not matched in her tone, and Joey let the silence hang long enough that she knew he wasn’t buying it. She looked down at her plate and then started again.

 

“I’ve known Tracey since before either of us can remember. We go a lot deeper than this. We’re okay.”

 

“So you’re not fired?”

 

Joanna laughed, “She can’t fire me. I don’t work for her.”

 

Joey’s confusion was evident on his face, even with all the chewing.

 

“I work for her Daddy. I have for years.”

 

As Joey seriously considered licking the hollandaise sauce from his plate, Joanna spun her tale.

 

“Mr. Edward is a salesman. He always has been. You’ve heard about guys who could sell ice to Polar bears? Well Mr. Edward could sell those guys ice. He just wasn’t so good with the details like where the ice was coming from and how it would be delivered. When things were good, they were rolling in success, but things weren’t always good, and twice they were so bad the entire family moved into my family’s basement for six months with only two suitcases between the five of them.

 

The first time it happened, Tracey and I were eight. It was like the best slumber party ever that didn’t stop. We convinced almost everyone at school that we were sisters. We did everything together. I cried when they moved into an apartment the next summer, but Tracey and I stayed close, and even years later we would be asked if we were sisters or cousins.

 

The second time Mr. Edward hit rock bottom was six years later, and it was a completely different experience. Everyone was older, and the bankruptcy hit harder. Tracey’s oldest brother was planning to go to college, but there was no money for tuition. She and her second brother had to drop out of everything from tennis and music lessons to school clubs. She would leave the house twenty minutes early to walk four blocks and get on the bus in a different neighborhood, just so no one would see us living in the same house. She kept a notebook of what clothing combinations she wore so that she could rotate as many top/bottom combinations as possible so that it looked like she owned more clothes. And she hated her father.

 

That time the recovery wasn’t so easy. No one wanted to hire a two time loser, and he was completely out of next big ideas, until he realized that politics was all about selling, and very little about delivery. He ran for state representative in an off year by-election and won, and he has never looked back.”

 

Joey was watching Edward and Tracey over Joanna’s shoulder as this tale was being told. They were wrapping up their conversation, and Tracey was smiling and even laughed once. He looked back at Joanna.

 

“So how come you work for him?”

 

“My degree is in economic development. Every summer I would intern for Mr. Edward in some political capacity or other, but the place I shone was community involvement. I found places where he could step in with a little money and some hand shaking, and build some good will and political capital. Thing is, what I did better than the other interns was finding him projects that would actually last. I wasn’t bringing him playgrounds and overpasses, so when I graduated he hired me. My title is “Constituent Economic and Commerce Developer,” which is a real mouthful. I don’t use it much. Sophia publishing is one of my projects, but Tracey only agreed to head it up if I was her contact, not her father directly. So I work for Edward from a desk at Sophia and because I love everyone involved I also answer the phones and send emails and occasionally fetch coffee and the like. It seems to work for us.

 

Anyway, it all means that I’ll probably still be working with you pretty closely if you take this next project because that’s one of mine too.”

 

She swallowed some of her breakfast, then glanced at her phone.

 

“Oh darn! I’m running late for fight club. Just sit tight here until Edward and Tracey are done. Sorry to leave you hanging. I hear the coffee is really good.” The last sentence was hollered over her shoulder as she dashed out the door.

 


Kissing Frogs . . . Some More . . .

This is the continuation of an ongoing fiction work I started years ago. If you want to read from the beginning, click “Kissing Frogs so Far” on the tab above the header.

 

Tracey’s face went white hot. She could feel anger climbing her spine like a wild rodent and her palms began to sweat. She took a deep breath before putting on her game face.

“I am sorry that you feel that way. I think that if given the chance to speak to a young woman considering going into business I would tell her that my deepest regret was allowing myself to be duped into pretending to be a princess by someone who claimed to be a prince, but was really just a toad in some fancy clothes. I would tell any young woman coming to me for counsel that she should read this book, of which I am especially proud, and that she should realize that she does not have to be a helpless princess and she does not have to be a bitter goddess. If she read the book – which you clearly did not, and that disappoints me more than anything else that has happened to me today – if she read the book and then wanted to talk about what the alternatives look like in a real world instead of the fairytale world of this book, then I would be happy to speak to that young woman about my successes and my failures.”

 

*****

An abrupt commercial break seemed to come as Tracey was in mid breath for more tirade. No one said anything. No one moved. And then all four phone lines began to ring at once.

 

*****

 

The second Tracey heard the commercial music cut in through her headphones, she peeled them from her head, and grabbed her few belongings. She turned to one of the webcams, and smiled her best smile.

“Tracey MacManus. T-R-A-C-E-Y M-A-C-M-A-N-U-S of Sophia publishing. Google it.”

What she wanted to do was sweep majestically from the room without giving so much as a backward glance to Dr. Toad sitting in his wire cage. But her left foot had fallen asleep, so she resigned herself to a slow gimpy walk through the glass doors.

 

*****

 

There was a flurry of activity as the women of Sophia publishing ran to their desks and took battle stations. Amidst the sound of women talking in every office, and the fax machine ringing and printing and the phones ringing incessantly, Joanna quietly stepped to a corner and dialed her cell phone.

 

“Mr. Edward, whatever you are doing to help, please stop. Tracey has done it for herself. Today she is a rock star and she needs you to tell her that.”

 

Then she hung up, and dashed to her despised desk.

 

 


Kissing Frogs is Back . . .

This is the continuation of an ongoing fiction work I started years ago. If you want to read from the beginning, click “Kissing Frogs so Far” on the tab above the header.

 

At some point in the last fifteen minutes, Jack and Joey had found themselves sitting in the break room, staring at the radio. Joanna was pacing, wrapping a strand of hair around her index finger, then un wrapping and wrapping again. In fact, every staff member was sitting in the break room in some form of concentration so deep the speakers should have combusted from the combined force of their listening.

 

“He hasn’t read the book,” said Joanna, for the fourth time.

“He hasn’t even read the promotional materials,” muttered Jack, clearly disgusted. Joey’s head snapped around at that comment, his focus on the interview suddenly broken by his friend’s seeming intimate knowledge of the subject matter.

“What?” asked Jack, “I have three daughters. This is a subject about which I am very concerned.”

The commercial break washed over their combined intense silence with no effect. Everyone’s future was hanging in the balance, and it was beginning to look very dim indeed.

 

*****

It was clear that Andrew hadn’t even glanced at the promotional materials she had given him months ago, let alone read the complete digital manuscript she had given him. This was not the interview that was supposed to happen today, of all days.

“Let’s take a call,” said Andrew abruptly, as he pushed a flashing line on the touch screen in front of him. The sound of a young woman’s voice suddenly coming through her earphones made Tracey jump a little.

“Thanks for taking my call, Dr. Faulkner. I am a twenty-three year old woman, and I just feel like all of my friends are married and having children and moving past me. I want to know what I should be doing while I’m waiting for my life to begin?”

Tracey didn’t give Andrew a chance to even take a breath.

“Thanks for calling. I’m going to assume that you are not being held in a tower by an evil woman who wants to protect your hair. Am I right?”

The caller sputtered for a moment before saying, “No.”

“Then I have great news for you,” said Tracey, brightly. “You are not a Disney princess. What has been happening to you over the last twenty-three years is not backstory. It is the actual story. This is your life. It is happening right now. You do not have to wait for it to begin. It has begun. Congratulations!”

*****

There was a moment of spontaneous applause in the break room, but the feeling of doom did not completely lift from the people gathered anxiously around the radio.

*****

Andrew was unimpressed. His face hardened, and if his demeanor had been controlled at all by his personal feelings for her, it was restrained no longer. She recognized his tone of voice from years of listening to his show. He was going for the rhetorical kill.

“Tracey, maybe you can tell my audience why you think young women are so content to leave the role of princess behind and strive with so much effort toward that unattainable goal of goddess?” Andrew uttered the words without so much as a glance in her direction.

“Well Andrew, and I certainly don’t want to give away any spoilers. I would much prefer that your listeners read the book for themselves. This book is about the fact that those aren’t the only two choices available to women. In fact. . . “

“For instance,” Andrew cut in over her words like she hadn’t even drawn breath, “what would you tell a young woman who was trying to become a goddess by running her own business, based on your experience and regrets in that area.”

Tracey’s stomach fell, and she could feel her jaw clench for a moment as she choked out her response, “I would love to speak to any young woman considering entering the business field. While there are certainly always areas in which I could improve, I have found a measure of success in my field and . . .”

“No one is doubting that you are very good at the things at which you are very good, but I’m talking about the day-to-day business issues that are better left to a man. Like appropriate hiring practices, instead of just paying your friends like women tend to do.”

*****

Joanna’s face went white. She stopped completely in her tracks, but refused to look at the radio, as if she feared that by turning to the radio she would alert Andrew Faulkner to her presence.

 


Not A Redneck Joke

redneck  Two weeks ago, I uttered the sentence: “I’m sorry we couldn’t make it to the tractor pull. We had to move chickens.” Yes. Really.

My children have to pick potato beetles from the potato plants every morning before they can play, and some days we see more tractors and four wheelers on our road than cars. This is rural life.

It is easy when my to do list includes “hill potatoes” and “shuck peas” to present myself as a caricature of the country preacher’s wife, becoming the stereo-type I have always hated to read. It is tempting to go for the easy laugh.

But for all of the ways that our life looks different from the life we lived in St. Louis and Columbus, there are infinite ways that it doesn’t. There are still hurting people and happy people. There are victories and defeats and the mundanes in between. We are praying for health and for jobs and for lost souls. We are doing our best to love people, and we are sometimes failing. The promises of God are true, and we all need to hear them every week (or more) no matter where we have lived.

So yes, there are tractor pulls and chickens, and I have shucked a lot of peas. But there is so much more to this life than those trappings. The people we love and the life we are building here are precious to us, and Jonathan’s calling to serve the church is an honor. It is rural life, and rural ministry, but I will not make it one big redneck joke. It is so much deeper than that.


Book Review: China’s Reforming Churches (Bruce Baugus, Editor)

As I was reading China’s Reforming Churches I was struck by how ignorant I am regarding the history of the body of Christ in China, and how uninformed I am regarding the present state of Christianity there. My personal politics and very limited one and two person removed exposure to China has created a caricatured view of the country, the culture and the state of the church in this largest of all nations on earth. China’s Reforming Churches offers three wonderful challenges to readers who, like me, have been guilty of unintentional bigotry.

First, the Introduction and first three chapters offer a very detailed history of the Presbyterian and Reformed movement in China over the last 200 years. There is some overlap in the details covered, which I didn’t enjoy, but the coverage is comprehensive and lays a foundation for a more well rounded view of the contemporary Chinese church.

Next, many of the contributing authors are Chinese pastors, and several chapters compiled by North Americans, are posts and articles written by Chinese Christians or interviews of local Chinese pastors and elders. Reading their words, and their thoughts about their own culture can quickly dismantle one’s muddle of misconceptions.

Finally, there is no way to read about the contemporary church in China without coming to the conclusion that while the book is titled “China’s Reforming Churches” it should really just be titled “Reforming Churches.” So much of what is written about the church in China could, with the change of only geographical reference, be said about the churches in Canada, or the United Kingdom, or Australia, or the United States. I was startled at how familiar the struggles were, and how universal the answers should be. While this book is written about China, it is a book about how to maintain and grow healthy churches, and how to effectively train pastors and how to engage within culture. The answers are as true in my home church as they are around the world, in China.

While almost all of the book was fantastic, Chapter 9 was a red herring. The discussion of one and two kingdom theology is complex, and universal. It is surely a matter of great discussion in China, as it is across Western reformed Christianity, but VanDrumen’s chapter was irrelevant to the rest of the subject matter. I was disappointed in its inclusion in an otherwise helpful book.

China’s Reforming Churches  is a wonderful book. It is an intensive read, and won’t be consumed in an afternoon by the pool, but it is worth the time and effort to gain a more accurate view of our brothers and sisters in China, and to reflect on the global needs of the Universal church.

I received no compensation for this post. I was provided an electronic copy for the purpose of review. I was not required to provide a positive one.


Things We Learn When we Aren’t Trying

All winter I lived aware of the possibility of losing power. Every time a winter storm was predicted we went through the discussion of how much water we had, and wood for the stove, and meals that could be cooked on said wood stove. We had candles and an emergency flash light. I had spare blankets for the children’s beds.

In the irony of 2014 weather, it wasn’t a winter storm in which we lost power. It was Tropical Storm Arthur. Jonathan and I have lived through a number of hurricanes and tropical storms in our years in Georgia, but this year these places seemingly traded weather, and neither fared so well.

We lost power at 8:30 Saturday morning while cooking for a church breakfast. On Sunday morning I told the children, “this is just like camping, except we got to sleep in comfortable beds!” On Monday morning I muttered to Jonathan, “I’m so over this! I just want a shower.” And when I was woken at 4:30 Tuesday morning to the beautiful sound of our toilet tank filling with water and the blinking 12:00 on my alarm clock, I said, “thank you Lord!” with no sense of flippancy.

Over all, I am pretty pleased with how our little family fared. The children mentioned T.V. only once. We cooked and ate our own food. We had enough water to drink. We spent a lot of time outside working in the garden. (The pea trellises did not approve of Arthur’s Saturday rampage.) Jonathan and I read more and went to bed earlier. I even got to the point of asking a friend if I could borrow her laundry scrub board and hand crank wringer to do my own laundry by hand. (The Lord gave me back power before I had to do that, but I was, at least, willing to try.)

I was also so encouraged that in the midst of personal inconvenience, a good number of our church congregation still arrived at church for both services. Some of them (*coughflewellingwomencough*) looking just as put together as any other Sunday. Some of us looked a little worse for wear. Our worship, however, continued despite our circumstance; possibly even sweeter for it.

So we learned we are capable of enjoying life with less convenience, and we are renewed in our thankfulness that we don’t have to. We are grateful for things we often take for granted, and are grateful for the time and place in which we live and once more thankful for the church to which The Lord has called us.

All of that from a tropical storm in the North Atlantic.


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