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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Just a Touch

There are seasons in the Christian life, and perhaps especially in frontline service, when the path we walk darkens. We find ourselves surrounded by pain or grief, facing burdensome assignments or insurmountable obstacles. The air we breathe reeks of danger and fear … worsened by silence from heaven, the sense we’re alone. All alone.

God promises to be with us always, but sometimes we forget. Thankfully He floods our lives with reminders of His presence.

I learned the value of training my spiritual eyes from Edith Schaeffer, wife of Dr. Francis Schaeffer. Her weekly Bible studies during my years at L’Abri unveiled a fresh perspective. She wove observations of every day sights and situations we tend to overlook into illustrations of God’s hand at work in the world.* Her teaching rivaled the expertise of the miller’s daughter in Rumplestiltskin who spun straw into gold.

Developing my focusing skills bore fruit when I was recovering from hip replacement surgery. The simple task of taking a shower morphed into a prisoner of war experience—small enclosure, drumming water, complete isolation, imminent danger. My cruel captor was the fear of falling, beating me to remain upright when I wanted to hunch in a corner. Darkness like a black bag over my head disoriented me as I clenched my eyes against stinging shampoo. Yet I stood and endured.

In one particular torture session I felt myself tilting sideways and panic surged. My hand shot out and struck the white tiles. No handhold to grasp, but the wall held firm. I leaned into the support and gulped at the security I found. My pulse settled and peace penetrated. I opened my eyes and stood erect. A breath or two and I took hold of the back brush, returning to my mission. Occasionally I poked out my elbow to confirm rescue was less than an arm’s length away.

And so it is with the pilgrim journey in a fallen world. We find ourselves in shadowed valleys, feeling overcome by what’s behind, beside, or before us. Whether in a local church or on the mission field the LORD is our all-sufficient Sovereign, more secure than any vertical upright. He’s the ever-present promise-keeper who rescues and loves on those He calls His own.

Let me encourage you. The next time you find yourself in a tight spot, battered and nearly broken, remember God is closer than your tub surround. You don’t have to open your eyes to find Him. Slip out your hand and lean into His strength. Draw peace from His presence. He’s right there.

“Never will I Ieave you; never will I forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5 NIV1984

*A Way of Seeing, by Edith Schaeffer, is a collection of sixty essays with fresh insights on biblical Truth.

About the Author
Sandra Allen Lovelace is a continuing missionary, a pastor’s wife emeritus, and a homeschool pioneer. She’s a well-respected speaker and author known for her candor and warmth. Sandra’s current manuscript invites wallflower women to reach for the life God intends them to live. She enjoys hiking with a camera in her hand, best done on an international adventure. Sandra and her husband Curt are transitioning to South Carolina.

Get to know Sandra at her website, http://sandraallenlovelace.com/

You can also connect with Sandra on Facebook. If you contact her at Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, or Instagram she’ll be delighted with a reason to practice.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Authenticity and Some Good Advice: An Interview with Sandra Allen Lovelace

Her eyes were bright and her smile contagious, but it was her spirit—something in the set of her backbone and the confident lift of her chin—that drew the attention of everyone at the table. If it wasn’t for Facebook, I wouldn’t have known she was the same woman I’d met two years earlier. After one of those lunches where you forget to eat, I knew I had to share her story with you!

Sandra Allen Lovelace grew up on the coast of Connecticut. Forty-eight years ago, she met and married her husband, Curt, in college. For thirty years, the Lovelaces served in paid pastoral ministry. In the early years, their isolated, international locations meant Sandra didn’t have encouragement from other ministry wives, so she had to figure things out on her own.

I asked Sandra about her calling alongside her husband’s paid ministry, and I think you’ll appreciate her be-yourself attitude. She explained,

We did our best to help others realize I was Curt’s wife and not a co-pastor. At the same time, I saw my responsibility as his wife to come along side and support him in any way I could. Making our home a place he could find peace and harmony was at the top of the list. After that came the task of teaching and training our two children. However, I found myself contributing a fair amount of hands-on participation to his ministry—regular hospitality, attention to newcomers, ladies Bible studies and retreats, curriculum for children’s ministry, cleaning and reorganizing his office and storage areas. There were limits though. I don’t play piano and I’ve been known to forget to add the tuna to a tuna noodle casserole. I never taught Sunday School and only provided refreshments for VBS. Organizing typical ministries, such as meals to shut-ins or secret sisters wasn’t my thing.

Some challenges are unique to minister’s wives. Like many of us, Sandra struggled with the impossible task of trying to please everyone in the church. Looking back on those years, she advises us, “No matter what’s going on around you, remember your life is lived before an audience of One. And by His all-sufficient grace, it’s the condition of your heart He values.” She turned to Romans:

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death."
 -Romans 8:1-2 NIV

Sandra wants you to know she wasn’t the “super saint” people thought her to be while she served beside her husband all those years. And being a pastor’s wife didn’t turn her into a saint either. (I think we can all agree with that for ourselves, too.) She says, “I’m merely an everyday pilgrim along with my brothers and sisters. I make my way with the same Spirit all believers share.” It’s the Spirit Paul described to Timothy:

"For the spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline."
  -2 Timothy 1:7 NIV

She concludes, “What He does for me He can and will do for anyone who comes with a confessing heart.”

When Curt retired, Sandra had to redefine her calling and untangle her role in the church (pastor’s wife) from her role in her family (Curt’s wife). She didn’t retire from being his wife! At about the same time, God began to work in Sandra’s heart in a fresh way. Here’s how she describes it:

My New Look is the outward expression of the recovery God has been granting me. I cried out to Him in desperation when I realized I was a wallflower woman. While the lives of everyone around me benefited from my contributions, I was trapped flat in the wallpaper. There was so much more I wanted to do, felt gifted to pursue. The first hint God might have created me for more than I knew came at a retreat where my true and quirky self was accepted and celebrated. Since then it’s been a thrilling adventure of getting to know the One who calls me the apple of His eye. I’m writing a book about the process to encourage and guide other wallflower women to reach for the life God created them to live.

That straight back and confident chin I first noticed? In Sandra, I found a woman fully enjoying who God created her to be, delighting in her new-found freedom as a daughter of the King, and digging more deeply into God’s purpose and calling than the “wallflower woman” ever could. And that’s attractive.

You’ll get to know much more about Sandra soon because she’s a new columnist for Pastor’s Wives! Give her a big welcome here, and be sure to leave a comment for me or Sandra if this brief interview blessed you.

#PastorsWives #Interview: Your life is lived before an audience of one. @pwconnect @SandraALovelace @Carole_Sparks (click to tweet)

Question for reflection: It always helps our perspective when we verbalize what we’ve learned from our experiences. Even if you’ve been in ministry for only a few years, what’s your best advice for a new pastor’s wife? Feel free to share that advice in the comments below.

About the Author:

Carole Sparks is passionate about God’s Word—about how it can change our everyday lives! After years of globetrotting, she now lives, learns, and loves (plus a good bit of writing) in the hills of East Tennessee. Connect with Carole through her website, http://carolesparks.com or her blog, http://notaboutme1151.wordpress.com.

You can also find Carole on 
FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Stop and Smell the Roses

All too often we put expectations on ourselves that God never intended for us to have. We just got back from a youth trip last night. Let me just tell you about this trip.

The day before we left, our church van broke down. And I'm not talking about a "hey let's take it to the mechanic for a couple hours and have him fix it" kind of break down, I mean a "this van is going to be out of service for a few days" kind of break down. We have already paid for all our reservations and events, so canceling the trip is out of the question. And in our panicked-mode, it took us about 6 1/2 hours to realize we have two working personal vehicles we can take (mine along with a vehicle we were going to sale -- that is until Allen drove it this weekend and fell in love with it again).

Fast forward to the day we leave. 7:00 AM bright and early and all our students are there on time and ready to go. We make it to Ruston, La, (about 25 minutes from our small-town Farmerville) to top off our gas tanks. Then it happens, Allen asks me the question. "Hey sweetie everything goes in the (insert card name) card here right?" Long story short, he had to go all the way back to Farmerville to retrieve the correct cards, so now we are a good hour behind schedule. 

We finally make it to Dallas and have the time of our lives just getting to get away with our students. (We planned this rip to get closer to our students and to let them get away after losing two teenagers to tragedy in our small town this year). Being a youth trip, you never get much sleep (unless you are Allen and can sleep through a tornado). So our 5 hour drive back home (that turned into 6 hours because of a sudden storm) felt like 15 hours for me driving a car while the students are passed out NOT keeping me company. We ate a classic hot pocket and macaroni dinner when we got home and were in bed by 10. 

So, I wake up this morning knowing that I have so much to do. I need to clean house after we wrecked it in the middle of packing. I need to go to the church and price everything we have for our youth garage sale in less than two weeks. I need to plan out the rest of our personal summer (the youth's summer is already good to go). I need to make sure Allen has everything he needs at the office today and that he stops to eat lunch. I need to start packing because we move into our new house in two weeks. The list goes on and on. And as I get up to head to the washer and dryer, I hear it.

That still small whisper..

"Just stop and spend some time with me." 

 "Yes, God of course. I will as soon as I get started with some of this laundry."

"The laundry will still be there afterwards."

Soooooooo... I put my to-do list aside and just sat down and spent some time with God. He didn't have any big revelations for me. He didn't have any life-changing assignments to give me. He just simply reminded me of all the incredible things that happened this past weekend. He reminded me of the smiles on three particular students’ faces who have been facing a lot at home. He reminded me of our youngest student who decided to give his life to Jesus on this trip. He reminded me of the beautiful scenery on the drive to Dallas. He allowed me to just sit and rest in His presence before I started my week.

Many times people in ministry feel they are only successful if they are always going going going and always have a full to-do list. If we don't have a busy and therefore stressful week, then it wasn't a "good week for the ministry." But that's not how it is suppose to be at all. God never calls us to "busy". He calls us to His work. And God knows what is best for His children. God knows that in order to do our best, we also need to rest. God knows that we won't always see the fruit of our hard work immediately, but He always leaves small things for us to search for to know that we are doing well. 

Don't worry about that list. There will be time for it to get done. Stop. Reflect on the beautiful things around you. Smell those roses. The things God allows us to be a part of. Rest in His presence. Love on Him. The renewed strength and refreshed mind that you will have afterwards is far greater than anything even the best night's sleep could give you.

"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed."  
Luke 10:41-42

About the Author:
My name is Katherine Norris, and I am a Youth Pastor alongside my incredible husband, Allen Norris. We got married in August 2016 and live in the small town of Farmerville, La. We are both full-time youth pastors, full-time college students, and I am a part-time barista at our hometown coffee shop. I am majoring in Family and Consumer Sciences, and cannot wait to graduate. We love our students, and I cannot wait to see what God has in store for our lives.

Connect with Katherine:

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Melting Tears

Amid the chaos of coming home late from church and hurriedly beginning to prepare for lunch, I heard the distinct clatter of a bag full of toys being dumped onto the kitchen floor.  With an inward groan of irritation, I turned to see Rachel standing in the middle of a pile of toys sporting a great big grin on her face.   

The troupes were restless to be fed, as was my own stomach, so I asked her big sister Crystal to help her pick up the toys.  With my attention returned back to preparing lunch, I tuned out the commotion going on at my feet until I heard tears of frustration coming from Crystal. 

Looking down, I realized that she had obediently picked up all of the toys and with great discouragement was upset with Rachel for not noticing what she had done to help her.  Trying to soothe her, I reassured Crystal that I had seen her hard work, and that I was truly appreciative of it even if Rachel was oblivious to it. 

As I spoke my words of motherly wisdom to her, it donned on me, here I was playing out the exact scene I had participated in with God on so many occasions.  Only it had been me who was upset for not being noticed or appreciated by someone for the effort and sacrifices I had made for them.  

From where I stood, it was obvious to me that there was little to no hope that our 3-year-old Rachel would be able to appreciate what Crystal had done for her, in the way that Crystal was wanting.  It made me wonder just how many times I may have been wanting something from someone else that they were simply unable to give me.

I, on the other hand, was able to appreciate everything that Crystal had done to help Rachel and was able to understand the value of her effort to an even greater degree than even she was aware of.  

As I praised Crystal for the wonderful helper she had been, I saw her tears melt away into a smile and I knew that the praises of her mother were of far greater value to her.  I realized that is the same for us with God.  Although we search for the praise of others, nothing can satisfy us quite the same as praise from our Heavenly Father. 

Today, I was reminded that as we labor in love for our King our efforts may go unnoticed and unappreciated by others, but they are never overlooked or unrewarded by our Father!  On that final day of judgment, every tear of frustration we have cried will melt into an everlasting smile.  

“Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” 1 Corinthians 4:5

About the Author:

Tracy  Birtch currently lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia and is mom to Crystal, Jamie, and Rachel and a Pastors wife to Aaron.  Six years ago they planted a church which was an incredible adventure that brought them both some wonderful high and painful low experiences.  From this, Tracy has developed a heart to see the emotional wounds of others experience the full healing that God can bring. 

Connect with Tracy:

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Jesus Drive Through

Can I be honest? Sometimes I treat Jesus like a fast-food breakfast from McDonalds. I rush to the Jesus Drive Through and frantically shout my order.

“Hi! I need some peace, joy, and wisdom to go please.”

Then I dash away, not even noticing Jesus in my rearview mirror. If I looked back, I’d have seen Him wearing an apron and holding a spatula. I might have caught the puzzled look on His face as He mouthed the words.

“But, I made you breakfast.”

Seriously, what would you rather eat? A greasy Egg McMuffin? Or a light and crispy Belgian waffle with fresh fruit and real whipped cream? Would you shove that soggy sandwich down your throat while dodging traffic and making phone calls? Or would you rather linger over your waffle on a shady porch with a fresh cup of coffee and a special friend?

Girls, we cannot pour out of empty cups. We have nothing to give if we are not full ourselves.

We try. Trust me, I know. When we are already in the Word for Bible study, Sunday School lessons, children’s church, curriculum planning, youth group, etc. sometimes it gets a little old. Having daily devotions can feel like one more thing we are supposed to do. One more “should” added to the pile. One more way we are not measuring up.

Fortunately, it’s not supposed to be about a checklist or pile of “shoulds”. Daily time with Jesus doesn’t give us brownie points with God. And it doesn’t make us spiritually superior.

God created people to be in a relationship with Him. Jesus died and rose again to restore that relationship. We get to intimately know and be known by the God of the Universe! Sometimes we can get so distracted and consumed by ministry that we forget this.

What does it look like to linger over breakfast with Jesus? Maybe something like this:

  •         Take your coffee (or beverage of choice) out to your deck, porch, or other quiet place, and just be still for a few minutes. Whisper the words your heart is feeling and let Him whisper back.
  •      Use a journal to collect your thoughts. I find that my prayers have more substance when I journal because even if my young children distract me, I know where I left off! It’s also encouraging to go back and see how God answers prayers or works things out.
  •          Go into your bedroom (or another quiet room) and close the door. Light a candle. Listen to your favorite worship songs.
  •          Dwell on a small chunk of Scripture each day and let it soak in. Often meditating on a few verses is more heart-changing for me than trying to consume chapters or do in-depth studies.

Our spirits need nourishment just like our physical bodies. Ministry is hard, friends, and we cannot do it on empty. What can you do today to avoid the Jesus Drive Through and spend time lingering over breakfast instead?

About the Author:

Christy Wood is a former youth pastor’s wife, mother of two, lover of Jesus, hater of legalism, blogger, and hopeful author. After spending her teens in a legalistic Christian cult, Christy is passionate about the truth and about helping people find genuine relationship with Jesus Christ. She blogs at www.letmebefoolish.com.

You can connect with Christy on Twitter (@letmebefoolish) or Facebook.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Book Review: Sacred Privilege by Kay Warren

As pastor's wives, certain struggles can be hard to admit.

That sometimes our marriages need work, too.

That depression and mental illness also affect us and our loved ones.

That criticism hurts.

That change is hard.

That we can struggle with finding our identity and our place in ministry.

That sometimes we just need a break.

In Sacred Privilege, Kay Warren honestly and vulnerably shares about all these struggles and more. Today we know Kay as wife of Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren, advocate for caring for orphans, those living with HIV/AIDS, and those coping with mental illness, as well as a nationally-known author and speaker in her own right. But Kay was once a young pastor's wife struggling with difficulty in her own marriage as well as the scars of childhood abuse, all while figuring out how to do life and ministry. She writes to pastor's wives as one who is in the trenches with us, reminding us that despite the burdens of ministry, serving in Christ's name is still a privilege.

Sacred Privilege is a book for the twenty-first-century pastor's wife. No dated advice about casseroles or lipstick here. Kay is real about the real struggles pastor's wives face today, offering biblical counsel and wisdom gained through her own experiences. The questions she deals with are questions I've asked and heard others ask as well, and I'm grateful that she checked writing a book for ministry wives off her bucket list.

I've got a variety of books for ministry wives on my shelf, but Sacred Privilege is going to the top of my list of books I recommend to new ministry wives and women looking for encouragement in their role as pastor's wives. Get it. Read it. You will be blessed.

Learn more about the book and download the discussion guide here.

About the author:
Leigh Powers is a pastor's wife, Bible study and devotional author, freelance editor, and mother of three from Houston, Texas. She is passionate about helping women find hope and healing by meeting God in his Word. You can connect with Leigh on Facebook or Twitter, or follow her at her blog, My Life. His Story (www.leighpowers.com).

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Keeping Your Marriage Strong in Ministry

“Christmas Greetings from Our Home to Yours,” I read on the card. Opening it caused a family picture to fall to the floor. I picked it up and looked at the friend I hadn’t seen in about a decade. Kathryn has more kids than I remember, I thought. As I looked closer I realized I was not looking at Kathryn’s husband, Mark. I thought maybe I was having a moment of faded memories, so I read what she’d inscribed in the card. No, this was not the couple we’d served on church staff with. It had been a few years, but I hadn't realized so much had changed. Kathryn was no longer married to Mark and was now with someone named Stephen. I searched Facebook for Mark and found he was now married to Anna. “And another one bites the dust, played in my mind as I mentally calculated how many ministry couples I knew who had dissolved their marriages and moved on.

I don’t know the details, nor do I need to, but my heart aches. Not only for my friends, but for their children, their families, and the church they served. It seems the older I get the more I see this happen to people I’d once thought solid. People I’d looked up to and aspired to be like.

While I can’t change things for them I can take steps to make sure my marriage lasts, to make sure the vows my husband and I made that cold winter morning twenty-five years ago are stronger each year. My children and my church family deserve leaders who practice what they preach.

There are three important things that will keep the marriage relationship in top form:

1.     God-Care
This is the most important of all. When my relationship with the Lord is my first priority, I am able to thrive in all other relationships. Life gets in the way of so much and we are easily pulled into the busyness of it all. Unless we are taking time to consciously keep God first in our lives, we will stumble. Make sure to consciously spend time with the Lord and not just spend time doing the Lord’s work. We need to dedicate ourselves to pleasing God so he is able to fully use us.

2.     Couple-Care
Our spouse needs to be a top priority in our lives--even above our church and above our children. We need to nurture the relationship that God gives us so we are better parents, better pastors, and better examples to the world. If we don’t take the time to cherish one another and serve one another, then someone else will gladly step in.

I loved it when Vice President Mike Pence refused to have meetings alone with women who were not his wife. My husband and I have done this for years and I am honored that my husband would take these steps to guard our marriage. His actions make me feel treasured. Nothing or no one should come between a man and wife (uh, wasn’t that one of the lines in our wedding ceremony?) Take time with each other. Consider it an investment in your future. Laugh together. Date each other. Be friends. Be lovers. There is always more to learn about your spouse. Just when I think I know everything about my guy,  I’m amazed by something new. Marriage can be a fun adventure if you dedicate time to it.

3.     Self-Care
As women we tend to neglect ourselves and focus on everyone around us. I’ve learned that taking time to take care of myself is as important as taking care of those around me. If I can’t function well, then how can I serve others? I’ve also learned that these things can be costly. I’ve had to find creative ways to take care of myself without putting a strain on our finances. Some simple things I like to do just for me range from an afternoon cup of tea to buying myself a funny tee shirt on etsy. Self-care can be a hobby or outside interest. Don’t feel guilty about it.

          If you’ve found yourself on the other side of marriage and are beginning again, please don’t feel like you’re worth any less. God is still using you. He is the God of second chances. Learn from the past and make decisions that will help this time around to last.
          As anything in life, you get out of it what you put into it. If you invest in your relationship with the Lord, with your spouse, and invest in yourself you will reap benefits in every area of your life. You will be a stronger person, have a stronger marriage, and be closer to the Lord than you can imagine. It’s worth it. You’re worth it.

About the Author:

Suzanne Schaffer has been in full-time ministry with her husband Wayne since 1992, pastoring in Pennsylvania and Illinois. She has two grown children and spends most of her days either writing or reading with a cup of tea close by. She enjoys attending auctions and sometimes brings home more stuff than she knows what to do with. She believes life is too short for mediocre food and insists on having good chocolate in the house at all times. You can connect with Suzanne at her blog, www.notenoughchocolate.blogspot.com

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Pastors’ Kids are Still Just Kids

Finally! Our three-year-old was old enough to sing in the preschool children’s choir. She was so excited; we were so proud. Sure, it was “Jesus Loves Me” (or something similar), and sure, every church kid ever has done the same thing. But this was our child: our cute, sweet, well-behaved little girl. I put her in her best dress and made sure her pigtails were even for her big debut.

There were probably six children lined up on one side of the stage. Between stage fright, general shyness, and the regular confusion of a three-year-old, we couldn’t hear them over the accompaniment track. My child, however, was not contributing to the singing anyway. Why? Because she was PICKING HER NOSE! Yes. Right there in front of everyone, my cute little girl, the daughter of a paid minister, decided it was the right time to clean out her nose rather than singing the song for which she had practiced so long!

I was mortified.

Looking back more than ten years, I realize it could have been much worse. We laugh about it now, and I tease her occasionally just before she goes on stage. But in that moment, all the pressure of being a minister’s wife and raising my children as role models for the rest of the congregation bore down on my shoulders like one of those harnesses used to pull a semi-truck in a strongman contest.

When it was all over and the beet color drained from my face, I had a few options about how to respond. I can’t remember the sermon that morning, but I do remember the things I told myself over the next few days. Perhaps you need to hear them too:
  1. My child will act like every other child because she is like every other child: a sinner in need of saving grace. And children do childish things. It’s part of the package.
  2. I am not responsible for every action of my child, whether I’m a first-time visitor or the head pastor’s wife.
  3. My friends at church accept me and my child as regular human beings. In fact, they accept us more readily than I accept us.
  4. Another mother in the congregation may have needed to see her child wasn’t the only one prone to gross and inappropriate actions. I hope that mother was comforted in my embarrassment.
  5. If someone judges me for the childish action of my child, that’s not my problem.

So what did I do? There was no discipline for my daughter because I had never told her not to pick her nose on stage. I simply explained that it’s not nice to pick your nose in front of other people, especially when they’re all looking at you.

She got over it quickly. Me? As you can see, I’m still recovering.

Question for Reflection: How do your expectations for your children differ from those of “regular” church members? Should your expectations differ?

Dear #pastorswives, don’t be surprised when your #pastorskid acts like a regular kid. From @pwconnect via @CaroleSparks (Click to Tweet)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Call for Submissions

Are you a ministry wife who wants to encourage other ministry wives? We may be looking for you!

We are looking for additional monthly contributors to join our team at PastorsWives.com. Contributors are asked to write one 500 word post a month and share their posts on their own blogs and social media channels. Our desire is to nurture and champion ministry wives and provide a safe place for encouragement and support.

If you are interested in joining our team, please check out our writer's guidelines. Submit sample posts to Leigh at contact [at] leighpowers [dot] com, or contact us through the contact form.

We are looking forward to hearing from you!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Celebrating Mother's Day With Sensitivity

As Mother's Day draws near, churches are preparing for one of the highest attendance days of the year. Many are planning to honor mothers with flowers or other special gifts. And I'll admit--I look forward to it. Mother's Day is one day I can usually get all my family dressed nicely for church and corralled long enough to take a decent picture. A nap is usually as elaborate as my gift wishlist gets, but it's nice to feel appreciated and honored.

But I also know Mother's Day is not a day of celebration for everyone. I have friends who have lost their mothers this year. Others have lost children. There are women in our congregation in the midst of a painful struggle with infertility, and there are both mothers and children who mourn the broken or difficult relationships within their families.

It is good to honor mothers and those who have been like mothers to us. It is also good to be sensitive that for many, Mother's Day is a difficult, even painful day. How can we as church strike that balance? Here are a few principles that may help:

  • Let Scripture speak. There are a few passages that are perennial Mother's Day favorites, but the Bible is filled with stories of women whose lives were not the Hallmark ideal. Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel struggled with infertility. Leah was unloved. Jochabed saved her son from Pharoah's genocide, and Jehosheba saved her nephew from being executed by a murderous queen. The widow of Zarephath and the widow of Nain both received their sons back from the dead. Naomi mourned hers. These women all coped with difficulties, but they experienced God in the middle of their struggles and found their place in God's great story of salvation. As we honor mothers, perhaps we can benefit by listening to and learning from biblical women whose stories are less frequently told.

  • Listen and acknowledge. There are those in your congregation for whom Mother's Day is a difficult day. Let them know that they are heard. This might simply be an acknowledgment from the pulpit and a mention that your prayer team is available for those who need comfort on this day. It might be included in a congregational prayer, responsive reading, or as part of the welcome address. Honor mothers, but find a way to publicly acknowledge that Mother's Day can be a bittersweet celebration.

  • Honor those who have loved us well. It is interesting that the only direct command in Proverbs 31 is not addressed to the Proverbs 31 woman but to her family and community: "Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring praise at the city gate" (Proverbs 31:31, NIV). It is good to honor those who have physically and spiritually mothered us. Even when relationships are difficult, there are often things there that are worth honoring. Give thanks for those who have nurtured and mentored us. Recognize those who have given us life, and honor those who have given so much to us. We become what we honor.
Q: How does your church honor mothers on Mother's Day? How do you honor mothers while still being sensitive to those for whom Mother's Day is a difficult day?

About the author:
Leigh Powers is a pastor's wife, Bible study and devotional author, freelance editor, and mother of three from Houston, Texas. She is passionate about helping women find hope and healing by meeting God in his word. You can connect with Leigh on Facebook or Twitter, or follow her at her blog, My Life. His Story (www.leighpowers.com).

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Be Who You Are

When I was growing up in the South, there was a stereotype for “pastor’s wife.” She was quiet, long-suffering, always serving but never in charge, always appropriately (and maybe slightly over) dressed, smiling, and just slightly holier than everyone else. My own pastor’s wife once told me she couldn’t tell some parents at our church about their children’s misbehavior because she was the pastor’s wife.

I used to pray, “Oh Lord, I will be and do anything you want, but please don’t make me a pastor’s wife. I can’t live like that!” So of course, I became a pastor’s wife! It’s one of those great ironies of the Christian life, isn’t it?

As I’ve said before, we walked into a first ministerial position with other wives who were diverse and fun. The church body expected us to be involved but in our own ways and in line with our different personalities. The pressures were minimal, except for those I put on myself.

We hadn’t been at this church for long when I went to a certain conference where they offered one class especially for new ministers’ wives. Of course, I signed up. I was so uncomfortable for the entire session! The instructor’s list of “should”s and “shouldn’t”s sucked me back into that mindset from my childhood, where the pastor’s wife could never go to the grocery store in sweatpants or skip a meeting at church. I sat there while my identity in Christ wrestled internally with archaic expectations of tradition. I was too young and inexperienced to say anything, but I escaped as quickly as possible.

I wish I had humbly but firmly spoken up that day, but even more, I wish I could lead a session like that now. Here’s what I would say:

1.      Be authentic. You are a work-in-progress, with areas where God has already given you victory and areas where you’re weak. Don’t celebrate your weaknesses, but don’t hide them either.
2.      Represent well. Whether you like it or not, you represent your husband and your church to the public. Before you walk out the door, take a moment to evaluate what others see. Your local culture will determine what’s acceptable.
3.      Take care of yourself. Spend time in the Word and foster a healthy lifestyle. Your current circumstances will determine what “healthy” means for you, and that’s okay!
4.      Prioritize. Take a look at the different elements of your life. Then prayerfully, intentionally choose where you will invest your energy. Knowing you’re following God’s will gives you confidence to continue down the path He has for you.

We’re not all destined to be demure, soft-spoken paradigms of modesty and humility. We are, however, all being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29), growing in the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), and learning how to navigate the world He’s given us. God knew who you were and who you would become before He called you to this role. He wants you—the real you, not the fake, idealized model-pastor’s-wife version of you—to flourish in this calling! So be who you are.

About the author:

Carole Sparks is passionate about God’s Word—about how it can change our everyday lives! After years of globetrotting, she now lives, learns, and loves (plus a good bit of writing) in the hills of East Tennessee. Connect with Carole through her website, http://carolesparks.com or her blog, http://notaboutme1151.wordpress.com.

You can also find Carole on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Me? A Leader?

I’ve been wrestling with God about being a leader. This has been going on for a few years now. I’ve been in full-time ministry alongside my husband for almost twenty-five years, so one might think I’d be used to being a leader by now. But I’m not a leader by nature. I’d rather be invisible in my world than be noticed, yet the spotlight seems to be attracted to the pastor and his wife.

My problem arises when I look at the people I’m supposed to be leading. People who’ve been in the church longer than I’ve been alive, yet are still feeding on the milk and toddling along with baby steps. I get frustrated with the lack of spiritually mature Christians. I’ve long believed that we who call ourselves Christians are all called to the same standard: Love God. Love people. We should all be doing this—not just those of us in ministry positions. Then God reminded me of the leaders in the Bible, particularly Moses, who led people in circles for decades because they couldn’t get it right. A few laws and they broke them all. They let their wickedness keep them from experiencing the Promised Land.

How many times do we see members of our congregations doing the same? They wander and fall, apologize to God, and then creep back into the same behavior patterns instead of allowing God to change them and move them into the Promised Land He has waiting for them. It saddens me—and honestly can halt me—when I see people unable to move forward because of their own stubborn will.

Moses had some tough words for the people he led in the wilderness for forty years. “I am a hundred and twenty years old today, I can no longer go out and come in…” (Deuteronomy 31:2 NIV)

This man was tired. He had seen it all. He goes on to say in verses 26-27, “Take this Book of the Law, and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there as a witness against you; for I know your rebellion and your stiff neck. If today, while and an yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the Lord, then how much more after my death?”

I feel you, Moses, I really do. We have seen it all.

“For I know that after my death you will become utterly corrupt, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you. And evil will befall you in the latter days, because you will do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger through the work of your hands.” Deuteronomy 31:29

Sometimes I feel the same way. I know once we turn our backs the sheep are going to wander all over the field and get in trouble with one another or get injured. Where does our responsibility lie?

A friend recently shared with me her heartache over the lifestyle her adult son is choosing to live. “Where did I go wrong?” she lamented. This son of hers was raised in the church, knows right and wrong, and is choosing to go his own way. I reminded her that his current choice to live apart from the Lord is not a reflection on her. He has made his own decisions just like the people Moses was concerned about. It’s hard to not focus on the things going wrong and the people wandering away when we’re in ministry, but we need to continue to do the work God has called us to do. And that includes being strong leaders.

Being a strong leader to me means that I keep my focus on my own relationship with the Lord. I grow in Him daily and do my best to live for Him. I choose to turn my back on the ways of the world and grow closer to Him. I engage in activities that are honorable and live as if He’s the only one I’m trying to please. Life is hard. It’s harder when we focus on the neediness of those around us. Yes, we as leaders are to help them through their messes, but we need to take care of ourselves first.

Some guidelines we follow in our home:

  • Regular scheduled dates. My husband and I cannot lead without keeping our marriage a top priority. We refuse to be a statistic. Marriage takes work and we choose to make it more important than church work. The church will still be there after we’ve gone, it’s important that we still have us. 

  • Take time with people who are not associated with our church. We have to. We need the fellowship of people who aren’t going to chatter about what we ordered for dinner or what made us laugh. We need to be able to just be us without being scrutinized. The older I get the more important this has become. 

  • Keeping the Lord first in our lives. This should go without saying, but sometimes we get stuck in busyness and find ourselves slipping away from the one who owns our hearts. Lead with simplicity, humility, and by serving. 

  • Have close friends you can trust. I don’t have friendships—deep friendships—with women in our church. My closest friends are ones I’ve known for decades. These are the ladies I share my heart with. These are the ones I trust with my deepest thoughts, my pain, and my prayer requests. It’s important to have trusted people in your life, and ones who do not attend your church.

As a still somewhat gun-shy leader, I’m learning the importance of leadership and how to overlook the disappointment that can come from the flock. Keeping my focus on the Lord has made all the difference. Sheep are going to do what they’re going to do. It’s my job to be the example. Whether they follow or not. 

About the Author:

Suzanne Schaffer has been in full-time ministry with her husband Wayne since 1992, pastoring in Pennsylvania and Illinois. She has two grown children and spends most of her days either writing or reading with a cup of tea close by. She enjoys attending auctions and sometimes brings home more stuff than she knows what to do with. She believes life is too short for mediocre food and insists on having good chocolate in the house at all times. You can connect with Suzanne at her blog, www.notenoughchocolate.blogspot.com

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Above All Else, Guard His Heart

I’ve heard it said a husband’s role is to guard the home entrusted to him while a wife’s role is to guard the hearts within that home. While responsibilities and roles in marriage vary widely, I like this image of husband and wife standing at the threshold of their home, arms locked, with him looking outward and her looking inward. Both are fiercely protective of the family God has given them, but they approach it in different ways.

King Solomon recognized the importance of protecting our hearts. He urged, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23). While we can’t protect another person’s heart in the same way we protect our own, there are things we can do to make it easier for our husbands to guard their hearts.

The hardest part of a [ministry] career, Mr. Taylor found, is to maintain regular, prayerful Bible study. “Satan will always find you something to do,” he would say, “when you ought to be occupied about that, if it is only arranging a window blind.”[1]

It’s so easy to get distracted. One of the best ways to guard his heart is to make sure he has the mental and emotional—even the physical—space to spend time with the Father. Our husbands need to be “fed” by the Word of God just like everyone else, but it’s easy for vocational ministers to replace their personal quiet times with sermon preparation or other study. It’s also easy for us to think those precious few minutes he spends at home are ours to dictate. After all, curtains need hung, children need disciplined, grass needs mowed, and if he sat down for a cup of coffee with you…well, what could be more important than that?

Ladies, let me just say it: Nothing is more important to your marriage or your ministry than your husband’s intimacy with God.

Prioritize your husband’s personal time with God to see a stronger minister and a better #marriage. #pastorswives @Carole_Sparks (click to tweet)

As you ask God how to prioritize your husband’s quiet time without interfering in his relationship with God (because we don’t want to nag or play the Holy Spirit in their lives), consider a couple of broad applications.

1.      Clear the way for him to grow as God leads him.
For years, I got up first and started the coffee pot at our house. That made it easier for my husband to get up for his quiet time. (These days, it’s the opposite!) Anticipate the obstacles he’ll face tomorrow and do what you can to eliminate them.
2.      Back out of the way of his personal growth.
Be careful your expectations don’t occupy every moment he spends at home. For example, some things on your “honey do” list have been there for months. An extra hour in the morning on his day off isn’t going to make a difference.

If I prioritize my husband’s time alone with God, he will find it easier to continuing growing into the man God has created him to be!

Question for reflection: How can you clear the way or back out of the way so your husband has a greater opportunity for intimacy with God?

About the author:

Carole Sparks is passionate about God’s Word—about how it can change our everyday lives! After years of globetrotting, she now lives, learns, and loves (plus a good bit of writing) in the hills of East Tennessee. Connect with Carole through her website, http://carolesparks.com or her blog, http://notaboutme1151.wordpress.com.

You can also find Carole on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

[1] Dr. & Mrs. Howard Taylor, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret. Hendrickson: Peabody, Massachusetts. 2008 (pg. 201). The bracketed text was originally “missionary,” but the thought applies to all vocational ministers.

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